What Motivates A Younger Sibling? The Spotlight.

Despite my belief that I really don’t care if my kids learn to ride a bike, we’ve succumbed to social pressures and gotten our daughters bikes. It really did get embarrassing watching a 4 year-old cram herself onto a tricycle built for a toddler. We got Lucy, our oldest daughter, a bike over a year ago. In that time, she’s ridden it about five times. I’ve asked her if she wants to ride many more times, but I’m not going to pressure her. If she wants to, she wants to. We got Evie, our younger daughter, a bike about a month ago. Evie has already ridden her bike more times that her older sister has ever ridden hers, and she knows it.

The first time Evie tried to ride her bike she sat on it for about ten seconds, pedaled forward about eight inches, and immediately decided she had had enough. Great, I thought, now I have two bikes taking up space in my garage. Should I just resell them now and just assume they won’t notice when they’re gone? Or flat out tell them that since they didn’t ride them, they won’t have them anymore? Luckily for my kids, before I had to take any drastic actions, Evie’s instinct to show up her big sister kicked in.

Both girls said they wanted to ride bikes. Evie got on her bike. Lucy made awkward eye contact with hers. The more comfortable Evie felt on her bike, the more angry Lucy got. Partly at my wife and I for having the nerve to ask her if she actually wanted to ride it, and why she wasn’t riding it. And I think partly at herself for not being able to get over her fear and frustration. Upon seeing her older sister’s frustration overflow, Evie used that as her fuel. Her Luigi Complex was activated. The more Lucy pouted, the faster Evie pedaled. The louder Lucy screamed, the wider Evie smiled. Lucy ended up getting sent to her room, and Evie was free to explore the great outdoors perched atop her little bike. Her face lit with a smile that was an equal mix of pride in herself, joy in her experience, and domination over her sister.

“How do you like this shit?”

In a classic younger sibling move, Evie was doing something her older sister couldn’t do, and she savored every single second of it. Not to be outdone, even our little boy proudly climbed on his newly inherited tiny tricycle and wobbled his way up and down the sidewalk, content in his own little world. Both of them enjoying their time in the sun. Try as we might to treat all our kids the same, our kids have gone and turned themselves into stereotypical oldest, middle, and youngest kids.

Lucy didn’t want to ride her bike because she was afraid she couldn’t do it perfectly, and seeing that her younger sister could do something she couldn’t – she melted down. Evie saw the opportunity to upstage her older sister and she sunk her teeth into it like a hungry puma. The baby brother needed to do nothing other than play with a toy like a normal boy to get all the attention from his mommy he wanted. Were we even a real family at this point or poorly developed characters in a sitcom? Give us a laugh track and a wacky neighbor and we’re ready for the 8:30 time slot on TGIF.

As much as we try to treat our kids the same, is that even possible? Are the dynamics at play and the developed personality types too strong to overcome? I love the fact that my little girl was able to take to riding her bike so quickly, but I don’t love the fact that her key motivation seemed to be pissing her sister off. I get it. But I don’t love it. Why can’t both kids just ride their bikes, or clean their rooms, or get ready for school in the morning, or do anything they are asked to do at all without a determining factor being how their sister will feel about? On one hand, I appreciate the balance this provides. Whenever one kid is being a little shit, the other is overly good to make herself look even better by contrast. On the other hand, can’t they just be good on their own? No, they can’t. The older sister will forever be motivated by showing her younger sister what she can do that they can’t, and the younger sister will forever be motivated by telling their older sister to cram it. This time was bike riding, God help me when it’s boys.

Is Patience a Problem?

Patience is a virtue, but can it also be a hindrance to effective parenting? I’ve always tried to be as patient as I can with my kids, and for the most part I think I have been. Sure, sometimes when a kid throws a block at your face point blank you end up giving them a firm Flair Chop to the chest. But something like that is more out of instinct than out of anger. And I really do think that sometimes a kid needs to be yelled at, but always with a purpose behind it and not because I lost my cool. However, lately I’ve been wondering if my patience with my kids has left them devoid of a healthy amount of fear of their parents.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I want my kids to be afraid me. I don’t want them dreading when Dad gets home from work, or being anxious around me for fear that I might snap. But I do want them to feel at least a sense of urgency when I ask them to do something, and maybe even a small quake in their bowels when I use an angry tone. I think that as a perfectly healthy amount of fear a kid should have of their parent.

My kids don’t have that. Years of asking them nicely to clean up the playroom has created the expectation in them that if I have to ask two, or three, or fifteen times that it’s OK. Nothing to worry about, Dad won’t get mad. Until he does. But then it’s weird. It’s foreign. It’s something to be entertained by, not something to light a fire under their little butts. They are yet to realize that despite my patience and this seemingly odd sternness, the hammer will come down nonetheless.

My kids when I ask them to clean their room.

Just yesterday, they made a giant mess of fake Easter basket grass all over the floor. Which by the way is maybe the worst decoration ever. Even under normal circumstances you’re finding random strands of that crap here and there until June. However, their mess was no accident. It was purposely thrown all over, rolled in, tossed in the air, and spread around. I was displeased. They assured me not to worry, they’d clean it up. I stayed calmed and tried to believe them, but I knew that there was no way it was going to happen. I told them that if they didn’t clean it up, they would get nothing – no dessert, bedtime stories, no getting tucked in, no songs, no nightlight, no anything. Despite the fact that they made absolutely no progress in cleaning for over an hour, I stayed patient and reminded them they needed to clean it up before bed. Though because they assumed my patience was endless (and also they can’t tell time yet, so telling them there is 20 minutes to bedtime is as useful as telling them it’s banana o’clock), the time came and they were shocked.

They cried, they yelled, they turned on each other shockingly quickly, but ultimately they still didn’t get it. They asked for help getting their jammies on, and they asked if they could have a light on to read books. When we told them no, they asked why not. They didn’t fear the threat, so they didn’t respect the repercussions. They have been conditioned to expect another patient request, because more often than not, there is one. So where is the line? Definitely somewhere between the second ask and the fifteenth. If three tries is good enough for baseball, probably good enough to apply here. Though the kind of request matters too. Asking for them nicely to not grab each other by the neck feels like two too many chances. Only giving them three tries to ride a big kid bike without whining about being scared feels like not enough. Or maybe not, I mean the bike has training wheels, its really just a glorified tricycle so get your tiny feet on the petals and let’s go kid.

So maybe I should fight against my better nature and try to be less patient. While I’m at it, maybe I should be more greedy to. Those little mooches take a shocking number of “tastes” of what I’m eating, perhaps the hammer should come down there first. Start with denying them the option to lick the spatula when my wife makes cookies, work up to only asking twice to put on their shoes.

A Great Compatibility Test: Vomiting Children

Kids will test many things about you. Your patience. Your ability to function without sleep. Your knowledge of dinosaurs. Your ability (or lack thereof) to braid hair. Your knowledge of basic math. These are things you have to expect going into parenthood. To a certain extent, you’ll also expect that kids will test your marriage. Kids bring a whole new kind of stress for people to deal with, and layering that stress on top of all the other everyday stress of life can be tough for a couple to navigate. However, the one thing that will test your marriage the most is something I wouldn’t have ever thought of before it happens – a kid throwing up in bed.

Responding to this regurgitative emergency is an ultimate test of spousal compatibility. I’ve never been on a dating app, but if “Would you be more willing to clean up a vomit splashed child or vomit covered sheets?” isn’t a question on there – it ought to be. Before my wife and I got married we took course and did a work book that talked a lot about habits around the house and money management, but not one mention of if the smell of somebody else’s puke is going to make you want to hurl. What a wasted opportunity. Pizza topping preference, big spoon or little spoon, opinions on Hugh Grant – sure, these things matter in how well two people fit together. But you can change your habits, you can’t change your gag reflex.

Don’t let this be you.

The ultimate test for my wife and I came at quite possibly the worst time imaginable – Thanksgiving. No, I didn’t under-cook the turkey, we were all hit by a stomach bug. All the food we could eat, and none of it was successfully digested. From the first time the one-year old threw up in his crib to the first time two days later than some crackers were held down, we were a well oiled puke cleaning machine. My wife gets the kid, I get the sheets. Her calming, motherly nature comforts the sick little kiddo, and my ability to rinse chunks of partially digested sweet potatoes off of a pillow case without blowing chunks allowed us to pass the stress test with flying colors.

Over two nights our three kids probably threw up at least twice each. It could have been more, but once you run out of sheets and have to put beach towels on your their beds, you stop counting. By the third or fourth clean up, we had the kid cleaned up and back in a clean bed in under five minutes. We were like a pit crew. Except we were in our pajamas and not matching jumpsuits. Which, come to think of it is a fantastic idea – parental jumpsuits. Suitable for pukey sheets, poopy diapers, and all manner of spills. Could even cover it on all those sponsor patches too. I’m sure the good people at Huggies wouldn’t mind getting their logo covered in spit up. Anyway, compatibility was on full display.

Last week was Spring Break, and a stomach bug struck again. The kids were home from school and the puke was aplenty. Sure, puke and Spring Break go hand in hand, but its a little different when its on the floor in your kid’s bedroom and not on the floor of Daytona’s finest Motel 6. But we fretted not. We comforted, we cleaned, we were back in bed in ten minutes.

I can’t fathom what it would be like if neither of us could stomach cleaning the bed. If we both insisted on wiping down the kid, would we just throw the sheets away? Suppose that would be a better option than constantly fighting back your own spew in the name of laundry. What if neither one of us wanted to put up with a crying, smelly little person? Hosing them down from a far in the back yard would work in the summer, but that’s not really a sustainable strategy. Plus imagine what the neighbors might think if they see you in the yard spraying the puke off your toddler. First, they’d think “what the hell?” Second, they’d think “Sweet jumpsuit.”

Teaching My Kids About Being White

We recently had a diversity and inclusion seminar at my office. At first, I thought the idea was kind of silly. Having a diversity seminar at my office would be like having a scuba seminar in the desert. Not that we discriminate in our hiring practices in any way, but we are in Grand Rapids, Michigan – a city with a population that is 67% white in a county that is 73% white. Statistically speaking, even if our employees were perfectly representative of the entire population of the area, we’d still be about as diverse as the PGA Tour. Unless of course you count some of our great-great-Grandparents being from Poland and some of our great-great-Grandparents being from the Netherlands as us being diverse. Which I don’t.

Then, about ten minutes into the seminar I realized something. Not about lack of diversity or my awareness of it, but about at how late of an age I became aware of my whiteness. I’m not The Jerk, I’ve always known I’m white, but I didn’t grow up knowing just what that meant. Being white wasn’t a topic of conversation any more than being a human was. We just were. I went to a school that just was, in a city that just was. Of course later I would realize that nothing “just was,” but growing up in it I had no idea. Things like redlining or the lasting effects of reconstruction weren’t taught in my social studies class. But we did watch the “I Have a Dream Speech” on Martin Luther King Day. So we got it, right?

The leader of the seminar asked us a question about how we talked about our own race and ethnicity growing up. I literally had nothing to say. My Dad is part Irish so we’d have corned beef and cabbage one day a year, and my Mom is part Polish so we ate kielbasa a few times a year. Thus ends my childhood education on my race.

I now wonder, when is the appropriate age to teach my kids about what it is to be white. To help them understand that they can’t possibly grasp the wide variety of human experience if they only view it through the lens of white suburbia. To let them know that empathizing with others starts with understanding them – both in what makes us similar and in what makes is different. Ignoring race – theirs or somebody else’s – won’t help the next generation overcome racism. Education will.

I don’t ever want my kids to feel entitled to anything, but I want them to be aware that we live in a world where white privilege is real. While they will still need to work for everything they’ll get in life, realistically they probably won’t have to work as hard as somebody who isn’t white. They will need to set and accomplish their goals, but nobody is going to move the goal posts. Honestly, my kids will probably have relatively easy lives. I’m not wealthy, and my kids weren’t be born on third base, but they will at least be in the lineup. Their lives will be a little easier than mine because mine was a little easier than my parents, and theirs a little easier than their parents. Each generation building up the next because the socioeconomic conditions allowed for it.

My grandparents lived in the white-flight-filled suburbs of Detroit and sent their kids to private school. My parents did the same. I went to the same high school as my parents actually. If I look through my parent’s high school yearbook from 1974, I bet I won’t see any people of color. I don’t have my yearbook handy, but I think there were three black kids in my graduating class in 2003. I guarantee you that in 1974 it wasn’t the case that minority families that just didn’t work hard enough, or want it bad enough to send their kids to a school that would set them up well for college or a career. Just like I guarantee you that 30 years later only three did work hard enough. Again, I’m not saying my school had discriminatory admissions practices, I’m saying the broader forces at play allowed for me to be fourteen years old before being in a class with somebody who didn’t look like me.

My know kids will grow up in a more diverse school system than I did. By the time my oldest daughter was in pre-school she had already been in school with more people of color than I had until I was in high school. I know this because she would come home and tell us she played with “Black Matthew.” Never just Matthew, always “Black Matthew.” On one hand, good for diversity. On the other, I doubt Matthew went home and told his parents he played with “White Lucy.” My wife and I didn’t make a big deal of it at the time, and the color of anybody in any of my kid’s classes has never come up again. Perhaps the next time race does come up with my kids it should be their own.

The more aware they are that while their race will probably never be an identifying factor the way it is for Matthew, it is part of their identity. It is part of how they will experience the world. Hopefully the more they understand their own perspective, they will be better suited to understand of perspectives of others as well. I mean, if they don’t understand their own comfortable whiteness, how can they possibly begin to understand the struggles of others? And if they don’t understand, how can they help? Not that I want my kids to have some kind of savoir or guilt complex about being white, but if I’m not raising them to be aware of and empathetic to the challenges of others, what am I doing?

My kids are still very young, and should probably master writing their own names before we tackle a topic like biases in the criminal justice system. But the conversations have to start somewhere. I’d rather introduce concepts to their young minds before they get ideas set in their old minds that everybody must be like them, or worse, they develop misconceptions about people who aren’t.

Kids in the Backseat: What the Hell Is Going On Back There?

What is it about the backseat of a car that seems to instigate bad behavior? Most parents would agree that they would prefer their kids to be on their best behavior in public and act out at home rather than the opposite. But what about the car? It is neither home nor out. They feel the freedom of the open road, and yet are confined in their seat. Mom and Dad are there, but out of reach. It is the wild west, where children seem to think that rules don’t apply.

A Backseat Turf War

My kids could be having great days, being nice to each other, and in great moods, until they get in the backseat of a car. Once they are buckled in, they suddenly feel the need to engage in a car seat version of trench warfare. Much suffering is inflicted, but there is nothing to be gained. The sacred space that is the two inches between their seats is never possessed, only fought over. On a few occasions I’ve told my kids to pretend there is an invisible wall between them, but it presents more confusion than solutions and it becomes a game to go through the wall. On the bright side, it stops them from fighting each other. However, they’ve stopped fighting each other because they are now united against a common enemy – me and my wall.

All things being equal, I’d rather they be against me than each other. The front seat can handle their aggression and is equipped to squash any rebellion, but a backseat divided against itself cannot stand.

The Worst Words You’ll Ever Hear

In my 7th grade history class it was permanently impressed in my brain that World War I was precipitated by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip (shout out to Mr. Coles). It is now permanently impressed in my brain that Backseat War to End all Wars is precipitated by three words – she’s touching me.

Physical contact, not matter how accidental, is not tolerated in the backseat. Never mind the fact that when they are playing they literally sit on each other, the page of a book grazing somebody’s hand is an indisputable act of aggression. Crossing legs is just begging to be kicked. Using somebody else’s arm rest? Get ready for scorched earth.

Short Trips: A False Sense of Safety

I understand kids acting out on long car trips, but I also prepare accordingly. Books, toys, and snacks are must. They still have their moments, and I completely sympathize with that. If you’re in the car for several hours, you can’t expect your kids to be good the whole time, just be glad you have modern conveniences that previous generations of parents didn’t have. What completely blows my mind however, is that by my calculations roughly 103% of all back seat arguments happen in the 10 minutes or less ride to school.

On most days, I have three kids to drop off at three different places. I drop my son off first, and his day care is 5 minutes from our house. It is extremely common that somebody is yelling at somebody by the time we are half way there. When I take my son inside, I leave my two girls alone in the car for 2 minutes. It is extremely common that somebody is crying by the time I get back. Apparently the four sentences they would have had time to say in that time period were very offensive.

Again, what is it about the mix of freedom and confinement of the back seat? They know Dad isn’t in the car so they feel they can say what they want, but they are strapped in their seat and can’t remove themself from the situation should it go south – which, of course it will. They aren’t home, so the rules of home don’t apply, but they aren’t in public so the social pressure of manners doesn’t apply either. They are neither indoors nor outdoors, so inside voices aren’t necessary.

No. No you won’t.

Perhaps most importantly, they face no immediate repercussions for their actions. They can’t yet make the connection that once we get where we are going they will need to answer for their actions in the car. If they are being little jerks on the way to school, the threat of going to their room once they get home from school 7 hours later is too far off to matter. As popular of a threat that it might be, lets be honest, you are not turning this car right back around. You’re an adult on a weekday, you’ve got places to go.

I am sure they will grow out of this, at least I hope so. I’ve got three kids and none of them are big enough to sit in the front seat yet, so a vehicle big enough where each kid can get their own row is not practical. Would it be kind of fun rolling up to the pre-school drop-off in a limo – absolutely. Is preventing Operation Car Seat Storm worth getting a CDL – probably not. I guess I’ll just keep trying to achieve peace in our time, and if I can’t do that I’ll just turn up the radio a little louder.

Preschool Boyfriends, Girlfriends, and Marriage

Having two girls, I know that boyfriends would some day come into the picture. Part of me completely dreads it, but part of me really looks forward to intimidating the young suitors that they bring home. I completely understand that it is probably not the most mature thing, but I really think I’ll get way more enjoyment than I should from busting some 13 year-old dweeb’s chops. Turns out 13 years might be about 9 and a half years too late.

While me and my 3 year-old daughter were sitting at the breakfast table, enjoying some nice conversation over bowls of cereal, she told me about one of the grown up girls at church (a Sunday school aide) who has her very own cell phone. Not only that, but she uses that cell phone to send texts to her boyfriend. My daughter was very impressed. At first I thought he was struck by the fact that a kid could have their own phone, and I braced myself for her asking for one. I did not, however, brace myself for her informing me that she had a boyfriend too.

Now, I know that she in fact does not have a boyfriend because no chops have yet been busted, but I was curious to see where this was going.

“O yeah? Who is your boyfriend?” I asked.

“Hugo,” she responded with a smile.

After confirming that Hugo was also aware of this situation, I asked her what makes him her boyfriend.

“I stare at him,” she said. “We stare at each other.”

Never mind some kind of puppy love, this must be more serious than I thought. I mean, sitting there staring at each other is like 80% of marriage. Most of me knows that she had the concept of a boyfriend on her mind and she probably associated that a boy in her class that she happens to play with, but part of me couldn’t help but wonder if she really was developing a little crush this boy. Should we have him over for a play date? Should I greet him an overly aggressive handshake? What are his intentions with my daughter other than the apparent staring contests they’ve been having?

I was fully prepared to not think about it again, but as luck would have it Hugo happened to be right in front of us in the drop off line at preschool later that morning.

“There’s Hugo!” she said as she did a little wiggle in her car seat as if she was playing charades and was acting out the sound the “OOoooohhhOOOOohhh” sound the studio audience made when two sitcom characters kissed. A reaction like that made me think that perhaps this is a little crush.

“He’s your boyfriend,” her older sister chimed in.

So apparently Hugo has already been discussed between the sisters? Is this serious? Have her illegible scribbles been her way of trying to write “Evie + Hugo 4Ever?”

I needed to get a look at this boy. He was walking away from us so all I could see was that he has the same haircut that all 3 year-old boys have. Not a lot to work with. I did notice that his Dad was very tall. Or perhaps average height, he was standing next to a preschooler so its kind of hard to tell. He had a full head of salt and pepper hair, and based on the window stickers on his Subaru, he seemed outdoorsy. These initial five seconds worth of impressions made it clear to me that my kid could do a lot worse than Hugo.

“Are you going to marry him?” her older sister asked. Getting a little ahead of ourselves here, but ever since they were in their aunt’s wedding the girls have been very interested in getting married. Not to anybody in particular either. They have said they are going to marry me, their uncles, and their baby brother. Us not being hill-people, those clearly are not real options. But Hugo?

“No,” she replied, “I am going to marry Judson. He’s so handsome.”

Where the hell did that come from?

Artist’s rendition of my daughter.

Less than a minute ago she was wiggling in her seat for the lad, and she’s willing to drop him like a bad habit for the handsome kid. The little Jezebel. I feel like I need to course correct this. If she is dropping a perfectly short kid with a perfectly average haircut now, what kind of a bitch is she going to be in high school? I can’t let my kid grow up to be a kind of person I’d hate. It is a slippery slope from here to telling a guy who asked to you prom that you’ll go with him, unless somebody else asks. Is she going to keep one eye out for a handsomer handsome guy right up until she says “I do?” What ever poor bastard she ends up with better have ugly groomsmen.

I had no idea what to say to that so I handed her her backpack and she walked into school. Probably to go string Hugo along. Poor little guy. What if he really does think she is his girlfriend? What if staring at my daughter from across the Lego table is the highlight of his day? Maybe Judson’s dad also has a wonderful salt and pepper mane, but I don’t think I care to find out. And if I ever meet this kid I am going to give him a knuckle crushing handshake. My daughter can make her choices, but I’m on Team Hugo.

Now My Kid Knows What War Is

While sitting at dinner, my 5 year-old informed me that, “Dad, there is a war today.”

I cringed on the inside. She now lives in a world where war is real and not just a scary scene from Mulan, and a generation of kids has been failed by those that came before them.

Armed conflicts, and current international affairs in general, are not our typical dinner time conversation, so I asked her where she heard that. Apparently a kid in her kindergarten class had heard about it at home. I don’t know this kid or their family, but based on my limited impression of them they definitely seem like people who listen to NPR on the ride to school. I’m more of a listen to Springsteen kind of a guy. But it was brought up, and discussed in class. My daughter told me that war was when a bunch of bullies were starting a fight. You won’t finder a better definition. Except for maybe “all war is hell.”

My initial reaction was that I hate that my kid now aware of this, even if only in the most general sense. The more I thought about it, what really bothers me is that in the year 2022, people still see waging war as a thing to do. For all the advancements we’ve made in other areas, when it comes to conflict we have made essentially no progress in the history of man. Actually, I take that back. We can kill people at a much larger scale now.

I felt bad because my daughter is aware of war, but that is nothing compared to the children living in it. My kid heard a news story about a war? Boo-hoo. Somewhere thousands of kids just had their fathers murdered because they happen to live on a piece of land that a sociopath wants to take in the name of a power grab. Like I said, we’ve failed another generation.

These children of war will undoubtedly continue to live in a world of violence. One war always creates another. The cycle will continue until people are in place to make it stop. Sadly, it is all too common that the kinds of people who rise to positions of power are also the kinds of people who are sociopaths, narcissists, and value power over actual values. (Here is a great listen on power, the kinds of people who seek it, and what happens when they get it.) Today’s power seeker will kill to get it – or more accurately have other people kill for him – until he dies, and he’ll replaced by the next lunatic. Rinse, repeat, and raise another group of kids left make the most of life in war-torn country or as a refugee seeking a new life somewhere. Buy hey, some guy got to lay claim to a patch of dirt that people will still get to fight over for the next decade or so. It’s good to be king, am I right?

Hopefully this cycle will change with future generations. Maybe our kids will be intelligent enough to not see violence as a means to an end but as a desperate act of the mentally unstable. Maybe they will become leaders driven by principles over profit, and value virtue over being really popular on Twitter. Maybe they will stand up to bullies and lunatics at a young age rather than enable them until its too late. Maybe they will value knowledge over opinion. Maybe. But in order for that to happen they need to see that kind of behavior in action. Who is going to be that model? If it’s going to be us, we need to do better.

Hopefully at some point a generation of kids will only know war from history class. Kids will learn about war with the same grossed out disbelief that we learned about chamber pots. Somebody, but we clearly aren’t there yet. I asked my daughter if the war was a good thing or a bad thing. She gave me a silent thumbs down. If only more world “leaders” had the simple wisdom of a 5 year-old.

Dad Takes It Away

Before you have kids you really have no idea what kind of a parent you’ll actually be. You’ll have an idea of the kind of parent you’ll want to be, but until it’s your job to stop a tiny baby from crying there is absolutely no way of knowing for sure. Over time you develop your parenting style – some of it on purpose, some of it on accident, and some of it out of pure necessity. For example, I purposely make the conscious effort not to tell my kids no when they ask if I can play with them or pick them up. I accidentally discovered that the best solution to calm down a cranky baby at bed time is with sad country music. Out of necessity, I discovered that my go-to action for stopping any dispute, correct any behavior, or implement any punishment is to take it away. Whatever it is.

It starts small enough, a baby slams their sippy cup on the table over and over again, so I took it away. Baby hits me with toy, I took it away. Baby rips pages out of a book, I took it away. It is effective for babies in that they have the immediate tangible consequence. They had a thing, they were mean with the thing, Dad takes the thing. A very straightforward way to train your kids to behave a certain way. Well, wouldn’t you know the damnedest thing happened – I trained myself.

I have come to the realization that my immediate reaction is to take the thing from my kids. Whatever it is. Looking back, there was a time when I removed the bedside table and all its contents from my daughters’ room when they were being too silly at bedtime. So a table, radio, lamp, humidifier, water bottles, and books were placed in the kitchen until they woke up the next morning. I also went through the house and collected every bottle of lotion and put them out of reach. Because they were taking it when they weren’t supposed to, five bottles of Aveeno took up residence on top of my dresser for a week. When my daughter lied to me and told me she finished her dinner and started eating her dessert, I literally took candy from a baby. Took her roll of Smarties and fired them into the trash can as she watched in horror. Though, to be fair, Smarties are trash candy anyway and I was actually doing her a favor.

I am sure there are a thousand more over the years, and they were all done without a second thought. Last week, I finally recognized and overcame this impulse when it reached, what I realized, was a new level of absurdity. After the full bedtime routine of getting in jammies, getting stories, and getting tucked in, my two daughters refused to stay in their rooms and go to sleep. At one point, they got up and changed out of their jammies into the clothes they wanted to wear the next day. About two hours after their bedtime, they finally got to sleep. The next day was a school day so they couldn’t sleep in, and wouldn’t you know it, the next day at bed time they were over-tired and worse than the night before. They did the exact same thing of changing out of jammies and into their clothes for the next day.

Quick two things. One, how stupid is it that kids get over-tired? If you are tired, shouldn’t it be easier to go to sleep? Shouldn’t rest be a desirable thing if you can barely keep your eyes open? Two, if my kids can change out of jammies and into their clothes in the middle of the night (and by middle of the night I mean 9:30 PM), then why do they beg me to help get them dressed each morning? They showed their hand. Fools.

Anyway, I decided enough was enough. If they didn’t want to stay in their pajamas, then not only would I not help them change into them, but they wouldn’t even have them. I was going to take the jammies. While they were gone at school I was going to go into their drawers and take all the jammies. That’ll teach em! Wouldn’t that teach em? I mean, it seemed like a good idea at first and definitely in line with the kind of disciplinary measures they’ve come to expect. And I was honestly very curious to see how’d they’d react when they’d get ready for bed that night. But then I thought, what if they were fine with it? What if they just started sleeping in their normal clothes? If they developed that habit now, would they ever get out if it? Do I want my kids to stay in their jammies at night? Yes. When they get older do I want them to be the weird kid at the sleepover who goes to bed in jeans? Absolutely not. Slippery slope from there to swimming in a pair of shorts rather than a real bathing suit.

I decided to leave the jammies be. But what is it that has become so ingrained in me to take things from my kids? Is it the remnants of the primitive instinct to be the hunter/gatherer/provider and the flip-side of that is the taker? I provided them with that 24 pack of markers, so it is in my nature to take it back. Is it some innate sense of God-like power that comes from the fact that I created them, and as such, have the power to givith and taketh away the construction paper? Is there a better way to handle these situations where I end up taking something from them? Surely there is some wisdom I can give, some discussion we can have to articulate expectations of behavior and the consequences of when those expectations aren’t met.

The next day at dinner my wife and I explained to our kids why it was important to go to sleep at bedtime, and let them know why the way the had been behaving wasn’t right. They agreed. They understood. They acknowledged that if they got out of their beds for any reason other than to go to the bathroom that there would be consequences. That night they tried to sneak out of their beds at least three times. I took all of their stuffed animals.

A Child’s Laughter: From Adorable to Annoying

There is no sweeter sounds to a parent’s ears that the first time they hear their baby laugh. A tiny little coo or a bubbly little giggle, these are great. The first time they give you a solid belly laugh, the stuff dreams are made of. A kid’s genuine laughter is almost magical. Emphasis on genuine, because a child’s feigned cackle is the exact opposite. Well, maybe not the exact opposite. I suppose the exact opposite would be crying, though I honestly don’t know which one is worse.

Of all the difficult things a parent needs to do, making a kid laugh isn’t that hard. Between funny words (never underestimate the inherent comedy in the word “underpants”) and a good old fashioned tickle, a parent doesn’t actually need to be funny to make their kids laugh. Which is good news for parents, because trying too hard to be funny is where the infamous dad joke comes from. Crappy dad jokes aside, real laughs from a kid are plentiful, yet somewhere along the line they break out a guffaw as fake as it is annoying.

I find that most often these faux laughs come out in response to their own behavior. As if pretending to laugh is the signal to everybody else that what they did was actually funny. Like a sitcom laugh track, it is almost convincing enough to pass as genuine if you don’t actually notice it. The best purpose it can serve is white noise, however, unlike canned laughter used to que you in that what Balki just said was meant to be funny, a small child is incapable of being white noise. Their noise must be front and center. It must be noticed and acknowledged. So when my child says something they they really want to drive home as being a funny, they suddenly change from a kid making what they think is a joke to Ray Liotta busting a gut while Joe Pesci amuses him.

My five year-old after call me “Taddy” instead of “Daddy”.

What is that? Where do they learn that? Even if I accidentally stoop to the level of a dad joke, I never follow up with an over the top hardy-har-har. I follow it with a moment of shame and deep disapointment in myself. I wonder if that is how they feel after fake laugh? Do they panic and think “Oh no, what have I done? I better cover this up by slapping my sister!” Actually, I bet it isn’t far off. If there is one thing parents learn, is that over the top laughter (be it fake or real) is inevitably followed by tears because nobody can ruin a child’s fun like themself.

Perhaps they learned it from school. One day a kid walks into class and does his best Jerry Lewis impression and the next think you know there are 25 kids all yukking it up at themselves. If that really is the case, then for no other reason teachers really are underpaid for their efforts.

If it isn’t a learned behavior, is it instinct? Some primal reaction based on a deep seeded need to make the people around us happy? Do animals do some version of this? If so, it has to be responsible for half of cases of animals eating their young. When a child cries, our natural instincts kick in and we become caregivers. When a child genuinely laughs, we get a true feeling of purpose and our own joy in what we’re created. When a child spews forth a harsh cackle so over the top that Janice from Friends sound normal, in a very instinctual way, you want to tell them to shut the hell up. Sure, it might make them cry, but I honestly would take real anything over fake laughter.

Turning the Volume Up: A Parenting Strategy

As Garth Algar pointed out, parents hate any music played at the appropriate level. Perhaps it is generational, but to me certain music just sounds better loud. It is a scientific fact (probably) that you can’t play Welcome to the Jungle loud enough. There are certain songs that as soon as they come on the radio, you instinctively reach for the volume to turn it up. Usually, this is just out of pure enjoyment, but I discovered an alternate use for turning it up to eleven – drowning out your crying kid in the backseat.

This strategy previously used to ignore annoying sounds the car is making that you don’t actually know how to fix, is also very useful for ignoring annoying sounds your child is making that you don’t actually know how to fix. Though more accurately, you do know how to fix them, but your child has no interest in arriving at a practical solution. They’ve decided to go all in on their tantrum and there is no turning back. They are pot committed on being a little asshole. Little do they know, I’ve got a chip and a chair (and a volume knob) and they don’t scare me.

To give you some background, I picked up my daughter from Kindergarten and we stopped home for a little bit before going to pick up my younger two kids from day care. While we were home, she asked for snack. I said no, wait until we get your brother and sister and then we can all have a snack together. She took this suggestion as a grievous insult on a very personal level. She kept asking, I kept saying no. The meltdown was underway. A Larabar was the hill she had chosen to die on. She whined and cried getting shoes on, jacket on, and getting out the door. By the time we got into my truck, whines were turning grunts. Fun fact: when my daughter gets really mad she grunts like some kind of wild boar trying to establish dominance at the water hole. I enjoy my time in my truck, and I enjoy my music. Rather than let her ruin that, I decided to use it to my advantage.

Much like Gandhi, I decided to meet this aggression with a mellowness that will still resonate and deliver a message. I put on the Rolling Stones and turned it up. Tumbling Dice poured out of the speakers, and screams poured out of her face. I turn it up more. She screamed more. Volume up again. At this point, she wasn’t screaming about her snack anymore, she was screaming at me to turn the music down. I left the volume at an appropriate level and completely ignored the screams from the back seat, though the more desperate she got, the more entertaining it was. As her frustration with my passive aggressive audio assault grew, her anger grew to the point of threatening to rip off her ears. I was almost entirely certain she wouldn’t actually do that, so the volume stayed where it was all the way to the day care.

By the time we were driving back home, she was calm, and I think pretty embarrassed. Keith Richards triumphs again. While I would certainly love it if my kids would just behave in the car, part of me can’t wait until somebody in the backseat starts to whine, pout, or cry. I can teach them a lesson on behavior and good music all at the same time. Perhaps I’ll employ this strategy elsewhere. Between my phone and an Alexa, Led Zeppelin loud enough to turn my kids’ into white noise is never out of reach. What a time to be alive. I pity those poor parents of generations before me who were only armed with Glenn Miller and a Victrola. Of course, those parents would have just hit their kids until they got quiet. Look at me, promoting non-violence in parenting. I really am just like Gandhi.