My Daughter’s Favorite Princess is Herself

As much as I’ve tried to avoid it, my four year-old daughter has gravitated to princesses. I made it a point with both of my daughters to never call them “princess.” I didn’t want them to growing up with any kind of sense of entitlement, and I really didn’t want them to grow up to be girly girls. My daughters will know how to change the oil in their car and appreciate the beauty of scoring a run with small-ball. Chicks may dig the long ball, but women dig moving a runner into scoring position.

Anyway, despite my efforts, the appeal of a princess is apparently too strong for a little girl to fight. My girls live in a world of princess toys, clothes, books, movies, and games. I have come to accept this, and am honestly just grateful they aren’t into Barbie. So while making small talk at breakfast with my daughter Evie, I asked her who her favorite princess is. She is generally pretty shallow and says she likes whichever one she thinks is prettiest, so I wasn’t really expecting some profound response, just making chit-chat over a muffin. However, her answer was striking.

“I am”, she said to me.

I asked again to make sure I heard her right, and she confirmed that she was her own favorite princess.I guess you have to appreciate that kind of self-confidence. She’s the star of her own story, even when its fiction.

Grace Kelly, Princess of Monoco
Has nothing on my daughter.

Personality wise, Evie is about a 60/40 spit between Bingo from Bluey, and Giselle from Enchanted. I’ve always believed that if she told me she wanted to be a princess when she grew up, that she would somehow end up being one. I might be a little biased because she’s my kid, but I think she’d make Grace Kelly look like some kind of hobo.

I was curious to see where her mind was going with this, so I asked her, “Does that make Mommy a queen?”

“Yep,” she replied.

Far be it from me to fish for compliments, but I then asked, “And Daddy is the king?”

“Yes,” she said.

Might as well round out the royal family, so I asked about her sister, “Then what does that make Lucy?” Now, I assumed she would connect the dots and make her a princess too, but apparently she had other plans.

“She’s my helper lady,” she replied.

So Evie makes herself a princess and her sister a lady-in-waiting. Or perhaps servant girl. Either way, definitely not a princess.

As I’ve mentioned before, little siblings love to show up older siblings as a means of overcoming the Luigi Complex. But in the moment, it struck me as going a little too far that fantasizing about being a princess was on equal footing with fantasizing about making your older sister make the fire, fix the breakfast, wash the dishes, do the mopping. Unless her imagination has so thoroughly created this world and she knew all the roles that needed to be cast. I suppose somebody has to be the princess’ helper, and its not like Grandpa fits the part. I’m sure that’s not it though. She was absolutely using her imaginary royal status to put her older sister in her fanciful place. Taken aback by her sister’s royal assignment, I forgot to ask about where her little brother fit into the scenario, but I assume he’s a stable boy.

I wonder if she lays awake at night imagining that she’s in her castle, she’s getting ready for a lavish ball, she’s in a big fancy dress, and she needs her corset tied and her chamber pot emptied. Her escape from reality not complete without an escape from her domineering older sister as well. I assume that’s healthy. I mean, it has to be more healthy than treating her sister like a servant in reality, right? Her little kiddo brain is doing its best to keep peace in the kingdom, and its working with what it has. Keeping in mind I have done zero research into child psychology, that seems pretty advanced to me. Light years beyond stealing her toys for sure. If escaping to her own little magic kingdom keeps her happy and coping with her sister then more power to her – as long as I still get to be king.

Though maybe the big takeaway isn’t how she sees her sister, but how she sees herself. To a a four year-old, a princess is the epitome of awesome, and if she thinks she is the most awesome person in the realm, then good for her. I guess it would be fine with me if she turns out to be a princess who mows her own lawn and understands that defense wins championships. I still won’t call her “princess” though. Even if she does end up being a real princess someday, I’ll still call her anything I want. Let the commoners call her Princess Evie, the king gets to call her Goosey Pants.

Can a Kid Hold a Grudge? Yes, They Can.

I (and I assume most other parents as well) choose to be selective in what I believe my kids will remember later on. When it comes to any kind of trauma – getting hurt, getting in trouble, getting dropped – I think, “oh they are little, they won’t even remember this later.” But when it comes to things like family vacations and celebrating Christmas, we are creating memories that I know they will cherish forever. Surely, the spongy developing minds of toddlers and pre-schoolers can properly sort out the events that need to get safely locked away in their long-term memory and which ones can disappear forever. Of course it doesn’t work that way. If anything, it is the opposite, and nobody holds on a to a bad memory like my 4 year-old daughter, Evie.

We were out taking a little bike ride around the neighborhood, and while having no kind of conversation to prompt the thought, she said to me, “Alexia isn’t my friend anymore.” For context, Alexia is her older cousin who she sees a handful of times a year and who she has not seen at all in at least three months.

“What do you mean?” I asked her.

“When we went to get ice cream with Grandpa, she and Lucy (her older sister) just kept talking and interrupting me when I wanted to talk to Alexia.” She explained.

For more context, we live in Michigan and her Grandpa lives in North Dakota most of the year, so I became skeptical of if this actually happened or if this was something that came up in a very elaborate game of pretend she was having with her sister.

“When did that happen?” I asked.

“After your party at the pool when Grandpa took us for ice cream.” she answered.

I knew exactly what she was talking about. We were at a pool party and her Grandpa came and picked up the kids and took them out for ice cream. Ten months ago.

Apparently she had been holding on to that for almost a full year, and to my knowledge had never brought it up before. We have seen her cousin since then, and nothing was said. We have seen her Grandpa since then, and not a word about. She sees her sister every single day, and nothing. But on this pleasant trip around the block, something triggered the memory and she felt so sad about it that she needed to get it off her tiny little chest.

I wonder, was it buried down deep and just now happened to bubble up to the surface? Had it been almost forgotten and then some random occurrence while she rode her bike sparked the memory and re-opened that wound? Where was her train of thought going? “It’s hot out – ice cream would make me not hot – I want ice cream now – I remember getting ice cream with Grandpa – Alexia and Lucy monopolized the conversation – I better tell Dad she’s not my friend anymore.” I guess that isn’t so unreasonable.

But even then, of all the times she has had ice cream there must be some more pleasant frozen treat related memory that she could call to mind. She once ate ice cream shaped like Mickey Mouse, how does that not out rank not being worked into a conversation between other kids? We’ve let the kids build their own sundaes, does that not come more quickly to mind than a hurt feeling? Apparently not.

The other option is that it wasn’t a memory that got shoved down and then popped back up, but that it was rattling around in her mind the whole time. Stewing with each scoop of ice cream. Simmering with every frosty. Boiling up every trip down the frozen food aisle. She clung to that memory and let the burn melt every brain freeze. She wouldn’t let the slightest dessert slight go. She is the Michael Jordan of holding on to ice cream related grudges. Actually, Michael Jordan is probably the Michael Jordan of ice cream related grudges. Wouldn’t be surprised if he has been just waiting for the perfect moment to call out the teenager who was working at Dairy Queen in 1981 who didn’t put enough sprinkles on his cone. Sprinkle related hatred probably fueled the second three-peat. Anyway, you get my point. Unless you’re not a basketball fan, in which case we’ll move on.

So what other minor offenses is my daughter clinging to until she bursts? I now fear that when I’m old and feeble she’ll put me in a home or pull the plug on me because 50-some-odd years ago I said she couldn’t have a cookie. Was making her finish her carrots first signing my death warrant? While possibly detrimental to the health of future me, it is definitely not great for current her. It can’t be healthy for her to be holding on to even the most minor offences for ten months a time. Her personality could be described as “a happy-go-lucky-princess-who-owns-a-unicorn-farm”, but is that just a facade? Is she actually filled with minor hurts that are piling up to create a major problem? Should I make asking her if anything happened last year that she wants to tell me about part of our bedtime routine?

There is a very good chance that some random thing triggered a random thought that called to mind that random memory, but I’ll keep an eye out for other airing of months-old grievances. Might update my will with some kind of clause about how eager she may be to take me off life support too. Just in case.

How Many Dead Kids Is Enough?

We’ve all heard the cliche “freedom isn’t free,” and that is true. Every freedom we enjoy in America comes at a price. Freedom of speech comes with the price of having to hear people say things that you disagree with, that are flat out wrong, or that are said on Fox News. Freedoms provided by our judicial system mean that sometimes former professional football players who murder their wives get away with it. Worst of all, freedom to possess weapons of war means that kids get murdered in school.

Over the last twenty or so years, the price of the gun owners’ freedoms has been firmly established as dead kids. A price that society as a whole continues to pay. Where other countries saw this price and decided that it was too steep a price to pay, America has yet to reach that breaking point. So I ask, how many dead kids will be enough? As I see it, there are three options.

We’ve Already Had Enough Dead Kids

For one group of people, the dead kid price tag was too much to ask for long ago. Columbine was enough dead kids. Sandy Hook was more than enough dead kids. Parkland was plenty of dead kids. This group of people looked at the pros and cons and decided that the con of dead kids outweighed the pro of being able to brag to your friends about how big your gun is. A tough choice to be sure, but they ultimately decided to take a bold anti-dead kid stance.

These people understand that freedom isn’t free, but a child’s life is priceless. They decided that a child’s right to attend school safely is more important that somebody’s right to put in less effort to get an assault rifle than a driver’s license. A reasonable stance to be sure, but this group is actually not a landslide majority because for some, the dead kid price is very reasonable.

Not Enough Dead Kids Yet

The next group of people are still willing to pay for the freedom to pretend they are Rambo with the lives of children, at least for now. To be honest, this is probably a pretty small group, but logic tells me they must exist. They are capable of being moved from their pro-dead kid position, but just haven’t seen a convincing enough argument. They understand that an amendment can be changed, but they really like their Don’t Tread on Me bumper sticker. They don’t love it when the kids get murdered at school, but they do love holding their big ol’ gun. Maybe they can be convinced if the dead kids were murdered in their home town, or at their old school, or if one of the dead kids was their own son or daughter.

Maybe they do have dead kid limit, but it just hasn’t been reached yet. A dozen or so dead kids at a time is a fine price to pay for their freedoms, but maybe 30 dead kids would be the tipping point. If the next mass murder is only 29 kids, then they will fly their Come And Take It flag, but if one extra kid bleeds out in the hallway and it hits an even 30 – that would do it.

There Will Never Be Too Many Dead Kids

Of course there is the third group, who will never see too many dead kids. Their freedom isn’t free, but they are wiling to cash in all the dead kids in the country to keep their high powered weaponry. They understand that the constitution gives them the right to compensate with whatever size gun they can get their hands on, but it doesn’t say shit about a kid’s right to not get shot in the head while hiding under their desk in math class. But don’t blame them, the founding fathers knew exactly what they were doing and could totally comprehend modern man’s capacity for high efficiency murder. They have their rights, they have their freedoms, and if that means a bunch of kids every single school year get murdered, then so be it. We just need to issue guns to every kid on their first day of school. After all, the only thing that can prevent a dead kid without a gun is a dead kid with a gun, right?

Seriously Though – How Many Dead Kids Will It Take?

Really, how many dead kids will be enough? Do you have an answer? If your answer isn’t that there has already been too many, then what is your answer? Are you in the camp of just needing a bigger number, and if so, what is that number? Or do you believe there can never be enough? Every person, parent or not, needs to ask themself that question and feel comfortable with the answer.

I get that change is scary, and that the whole reason you get a gun in the first place is because you’re scared, but change needs to happen. The price of American freedom has always been paid for with somebody’s life. From the revolution to the plantation, from Normandy to Wounded Knee – one person’s freedom meant another person’s death. Enough. I hate to break it to anybody, but your individual freedoms just aren’t that important. Lives matter more than your hobby, and the price we all pay just isn’t worth it.

So please, take a minute and find your answer – how many dead kids is enough?

Dad’s Guilty Pleasure: Golf

Golf is an interesting hobby. It is technically a physical activity, but to spare yourself from something as physically demanding as walking, you drive yourself from shot to shot. Speaking of shots, unless it is being played at a legitimate competitive level, it is often nothing more than an excuse to drink in the middle of the day. It is a hobby that should bring at least some level of enjoyment, but is guaranteed to make you miserable. For a game that can cost a lot of money to play, the whole point is to be done in as few shots as you can and inherently not get your money’s worth of the time on the course. And yet we play.

I am in a generation that was exposed to playing golf via Tiger Woods. Before Tiger, golf was something your old, male relatives always seemed to have on the TV for some reason. After Tiger, it was something a kid in high school wanted to try. I’ve played with the same relative infrequency for the last twenty years or so (wow that makes me feel old to say that), without really getting much better. And that’s fine, because I definitely fall into group who enjoys the afternoon beers more than I enjoy a well placed chip shot. Perhaps that is because I am much better at drinking beers than I am at chip shots, and I just want to play to my strengths. Regardless, the old cliche is true – a bad day golfing is better than a good day working. But is a bad day golfing better than an average day parenting?

A relaxing day on the golf course for me means a day with all three of our kids to herself for my wife. Factor in drive time to the course, 18 holes of bogey (or worse) play, maybe a stop for lunch thrown in there too, and we are talking about four or more hours of me time. Which, don’t get me wrong, is great. For me. But I honestly have to say that sometimes it makes me feel guilty. Not guilty enough to only play nine, but guilty none the less.

Maybe it would be different if I was actually good, and it was a legit passion of mine and not just an excuse to have a few beers with some friends. Sometimes I want to go golfing alone, so I don’t even have male bonding time to use as an excuse. I just want to be alone. I tell myself that golfing alone gives me the opportunity to work on my game and actually improve, but looking back on old score cards, there is no difference in my game when I am focused and alone, or several beers deep with my friends. So what is my real motivation? Just to be alone? To take advantage of the social acceptability of the opportunity for quiet solitude that golf provides? If I tell my wife that I want to go play a round a golf next Saturday morning, she’ll say yes. If I told my wife that I wanted to go sit in the woods by myself for four hours and drink a six-pack pack of beer, she’d have a few objections to raise.

Yet I play. To celebrate my last birthday, I took a day off from work and went golfing by myself. I had an early morning tee time so the course was still pretty empty, nobody within two holes of me in either direction. On a particularly picturesque hole, I sat in the golf cart with a coffee in my hand, a blueberry muffin riding shotgun, and some instrumental music streaming on my phone. I thought to myself, this is why I am golfing today. I don’t remember what I shot on that hole (probably double bogey), but I will remember that moment for a long time. The beautiful solitude disguised as athletics. Which reminds me of my other hobby that actually requires some degree of athleticism because driving to your destination is frowned upon – running. Most nice days I leave my wife and kids at home and run for an hour or so. No stroller, no phone, not even any music. Just the quiet.

Why seek out hobbies that seem to come with an inherent sense of guilt over their selfish aspects? Sure, I did these things before I had kids, but would being responsible for multiple human lives not be motivation enough to alter my leisure habits? Or is it because kids alter so much of everything else that I feel the need to cling to my solitary leisure habits? Is few hours to myself on a Saturday actually not too much to ask when I spend so much of my other hours making sure they don’t fall off of something, or eat something, or get their own poop on something, or on someone? Perhaps there is something embedded deep in a father’s subconscious that drives us to seek childless solitude? Something that dates back to primitive man’s hunter instincts. Maybe going out hunting for mastodon or woolly mammoth was never about keeping track of the animal’s migratory patterns, but about getting the hell out of that cave?

My ancient ancestors armed themselves with clubs and pointy sticks and set out to the wilderness, and today I arm myself with overpriced clubs and pointy tees and set out to a patch of perfectly manicured grass. Each of us leaving our families behind to prove our abilities. To test our resolve. To get at least two hours without somebody asking for something. Thousands of years of evolution, and how far have we really come? If anything, a woolly mammoth seems like it would be easier to hit solidly than a golf ball. I mean, its huge. Literally mammoth. Right there in the name. If my golf ball is sitting in grass that is just a little too long, I’m screwed.

I am sure that someday when my kids get older I’ll take them with me. Though I don’t see that being a replacement for golfing without them anymore than taking my kids out to a restaurant is equivalent to quiet dinner out with my wife. If I am so worried about preventing my kids from doing something stupid that I don’t get to do something stupid, whats the point? So I’ll golf nine with the kids on Saturday, then 18 by myself on Sunday. It will be wonderful, and I’ll feel terrible.

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.