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.

Dad Food: Leftover Chicken Nuggets

As Chris Rock pointed out, the least you can give a Dad to eat is the big piece of chicken. While mostly true, the actual least you can give Dad to eat is a half-eaten chicken nugget. Oddly enough, this is mostly what Dad eats. Like any other kid, I ate my fair share of chicken nuggets growing up. I don’t know how many nuggets I ate in my life before I became a parent, but I am pretty sure I’ve eating ten times as many sense. Sometimes there are bites missing. Sometimes they are completely untouched. Sometimes they’ve been sitting in a puddle of honey for an hour. Every time they are not originally prepared for my consumption.

Dads Hate Food Waste

In fairness, I couldn’t let good food go uneaten before I had kids. Or even average food for that mater. If a doughnut from Friday was left in the office over the weekend and come Monday morning it had the consistency of a hockey puck, you better believe I’m dunking that rock hard sumbitch in my coffee and calling it biscotti.

However, my attitude has shifted from one of “somebody should probably eat that last bagel” to “I paid good money for that bagel.” Its amazing how your perspective on food going uneaten changes when the groceries are going on your credit card. A cold chicken nugget that previously had parts of it in and around a toddler’s mouth becomes much more palatable when you bought them yourself and they weren’t even on sale. Slobbered on or not, somebody has to eat that nugget, and Dad is that somebody. Nuggets with bites out of them, abandoned pizza crusts, nibbled on hot dogs, previously melty but now re-solidified grilled cheese – these are the staples of a Dad’s diet.

A bit of Dad advice: invest in dipping sauces, they are the key to revitalizing your kid’s abandoned scraps. An hours old nugget is a perfectly acceptable vehicle for some quality barbecue sauce.

Uneaten Kids’ Meals Cause Dad Bod

There are many contributing factors to dad bod:

  • Time previously available for going to the gym is now spend keeping small people alive.
  • Playing actual sports have been replaced by athletically themed drinking activities – softball and golf.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio is totally pulling it off.
  • You’re a dad, who are you trying to impress?
  • An entire kid’s meal (minus five bites or less) is eaten as a dessert to your actual meal.

We try to take our kids out to restaurants as a means to introduce them to the world they live in. To teach them how to act in public. To get free crayons. We gave up on the idea of taking our kids out to eat for them to actually eat when our daughter didn’t eat the moderately over-priced mac and cheese we got her because she said it was (I shit you not) “too cheesy.” Fret not, the mac and cheese did not go uneaten.

I am pretty sure the only kids’ meals that I’ve not ended up finishing are pancakes with happy face whipped cream. I wonder what would happen if I put a whipped cream face on a burger? Actually I don’t, I know exactly what would happen. My kid would lick off the whipped cream and peel the cheese off, and I’d end up eating a wet bun and a cheese-less meat patty. Its no big piece of chicken, but I paid good money for that meat patty.

Don’t Make a Kid Clean Their Plate

One reason I end up with uneaten kid food is my own doing. In our house, we don’t make the kids eat all their food. They have to take at least a bite of everything, and they do need to eat as much as we say to get dessert, but we don’t make them sit there and force down their food. If my kid tells me they’re full, that’s fine. If they tell me they don’t like their chicken nugget because its “too spicy” even though it is the exact same brand of chicken nugget they always have but this one just happens to be in the shape of a dinosaur and apparently dinosaur nuggets are spicy, that’s cool. I may not be able to tolerate food going uneaten, but I’m not going to be a dick about it. Just pass me the buffalo sauce.

Though it is amazing how motivated my kids are to eat if they know what dessert lays ahead. On the rare occasions my daughter actually does eat all her dinner, it takes her roughly three hours. However, once we told her she could pick the big brownie, she threw down her dinner in the blink of an eye. I may be entitled to the big piece of chicken, but if it means my daughter will eat her peas then giving up the big brownie is a small price to pay. Plus, odds are she won’t finish it anyway and I’ll get to finish it. Might even got to have a few bits of it as floaties in orange juice. Yum.

This Is What Parental Failure Looks Like

Even before you have kids you wonder if you’ll be a good parent. After you have kids, you wonder even more. It can be pretty easy to be hard yourself. You really need to remember that nobody is perfect, and there is no such thing as a perfect parent. Even though we know this, there are times when you can’t help but feel like you’ve failed. However, I think the bar for parental failure isn’t as high as we think it is. The bar has officially been set at being charged with manslaughter for the murders your teenage child committed.

In the same way that C’s get degrees (see my transcripts for proof), it doesn’t take an extraordinary effort to prevent failure as a parent. But it does take some effort. Some level of attention needs to be paid to your child and their behavior. Seems to me involuntary manslaughter is a result of involuntary parenting.

While it is not always the case with teenage murderers, the warning signs with the kid in Oxford were obvious and abundant, and the deaths were 100% preventable. If only there was somebody in that kid’s life who could have been paying attention to him. Maybe even somebody who lived in the same house as him and would know what is going on with him on a daily basis. Maybe somebody who had an active interest in making sure he was developing properly. Somebody who could help him get the mental health treatment he so clearly needed. Too bad all he has was somebody to supply him the murder weapon.

I am not saying it isn’t the kid’s fault, or even that I feel sorry for him. He’s human trash. But I am saying he wasn’t born that way. It took years for this kid’s mental state to breakdown to the point where mass murder seemed like a thing to do on a Tuesday afternoon. Teenagers lack the self awareness to realize they are dressed terribly, so they can’t possibly be expected to have the ability to take corrective measures for their own mental health. It was the parents’ job to help, and not only did they fail to do so, they actively made it worse. The murderer’s choice to act was his own, the failure to correct the course he was on up to that moment is the failure of his parents. I know there is still stigma around needing mental help, but we live in a time where getting that help has never been easier. But I guess giving the gift of mental health isn’t as cool of Christmas gift as a murder weapon is. What will they give him for his birthday? A shiv?

I hope charging the parents for the crimes of the child becomes standard practice. If a parent can’t be bothered to take an active role in their child’s life because it is the right thing to do, I wonder if they would do it to avoid criminal charges? Sad that it might take the threat of prison to motivate a parent to give a shit, but I guess that is where we are. At least it would be something we could do to prevent school shootings rather than the nothing we’ve been doing since Columbine. I was in middle school when the Columbine shooting happened, and this year my daughter started school. For a generation we’ve somehow allowed the prioritization of an adult’s right to get a rager from owning a big ol’ gun over a child’s right to not get shot in the head on the way to math class. If we want at to allow easy access to implements of violence, then we must hold people accountable for when those implements fulfill their purpose. Make no mistake, a gun’s only use is to make something dead. Fundamentally no different from a bomb. But we’d consider the very idea of “responsible bomb ownership” completely ridiculous. Then again, nobody overcompensates by keeping a pipe bomb in the bedside drawer.

So for all the times you put something with peanuts in their lunch, forgot what time to pick them up from school, dropped them on their head, or even something so egregious as give them the wrong colored cup – remember, that doesn’t make you a failure. That makes you a human person. The bar to clear is not that high. Did you let tell-tale signs of violent behavior go unchecked? Did you purposely arm your mentally ill child? No? Then congratulations! You’re in a first place tie for parent of the year with everybody else who hasn’t produced a murderer.

A Kid’s Concept of Money

My daughter is five and getting to the point where she knows that things exist because she has heard about out them or seen them in a movie, but doesn’t quite understand what it is. Money falls into this category. I know this because she thinks we have “so much” of it.

For the last two weeks or so, we’ve been doing a little exercise at dinner where we write down three things that we are thankful for that day. So far she said been thankful “that we have so much money” at least three times. I don’t know where she got this idea, but I guess I’m glad she is pleased with this lifestyle that she’s become accustomed to. I also don’t know about this “we” stuff. To paraphrase Cliff Huxtable, her mother and I have money, she’s broke.

She doesn’t get an allowance. Her only concept of money is that when we go to the store we have to pay for what we buy, and when we go to the drive-up ATM at the bank we put money into the machine. So I get that as a matter of fact in her mind, it is true that we have money. It is the “so much” part that throws me. I don’t know if you know this, but a part-time side gig as dad blogger really doesn’t pay all that well. Or at all. It actually costs me money. Why the hell do I do this again? Anyway, I suppose from her perspective, we do have so much money.

A friend of mine once said that he’d never wish to have a certain amount of money, but would always want to have enough in his pocket to buy what he needed at the moment. To my daughter, that is what we have. Granted, the things that she wants at any given moment is mostly donuts, but anytime we’ve told her we aren’t getting something, not being able to afford it has never been the reason. Is that where privilege begins? Am I raising my daughter to be some kind entitled brat that will contribute nothing to society? The next time she asks for a treat from the store should I tell her that if we get that then she won’t be able to go to college? Of course I’m just kidding, I wouldn’t tell her that. I’m not going to help her pay for college regardless. Can’t let three kids get in the way of my retirement more than they already have. An important financial lesson for her.

Should I be teaching her more financial lessons? She has a chore, I suppose we could start giving her an allowance. What’s the going rate for putting the recyclables in the recycling bin? Then again, what does it matter? I could give her ten cents a month and she’d be thrilled. Probably think it’s so much money. Though, if I am teaching lessons, I should probably take rent out of that ten cents. Let’s see how she gets by on seven cents a month.

Now I wonder, when will her concept of money reach a pivot point? She is in kindergarten now making friends. What if she makes friends with a kid who really does have so much money? Then again, those kids are in private schools so never mind. But there will come a day when she’ll want something we can’t afford, or at least won’t want to pay for, and she’ll need to learn the value of a dollar. Perhaps there is no time like the present. She told me she wants a puppy for Christmas this year, so I think I’ll tell her that puppies cost a million dollars. I’ll get her interested in saving and investing her seven cents each month, and we won’t have to get a dog. Win-win!

Ultimately, if my kid thinks we have so much money, then I think I must be doing something right. She isn’t into having more and more stuff, and she seems to be happy with what she has. If she can carry that with her through life, she’ll be in good shape. And she certainly won’t mind my charging her rent.

The Little Red Caboose Book: Why It Is Obsolete

Last night my daughter picked The Little Red Caboose for her story before bed. I had never read it to her before, and I was surprised she picked it. When I told her to pick a book, I think she panicked and picked the first book she saw on the shelf. I do the same thing when they ask for my order at the the drive through window. Many a chicken quesadilla has been ordered as a hurried reflex. Anyway, a few pages into the book I realized I am wasting my daughter’s time, and young, spongy brain on a book about something she’ll never need to know about.

I get that trains still exist, but I think their usefulness as a subject of children’s books has ran its course, or at least The Little Red Caboose has. My daughter almost always asks questions about things in books, usually related to the pictures, and usually always answered in the next sentence. However, when she asked questions in this book, I realized the answers were irrelevant because the subject matter is as well. My daughter will never see a train like this in real life. Actually, I take that back. There is a vintage train at Disney World. So the train is as real to her as Cinderella.The train is an old-fashioned, steam train, and was pulling a coal car.

“What is that?” she asked. To this point her only reference for coal is what Santa might give you if you’re bad, but even that she probably doesn’t remember that seeing as it only comes up once a year and she’s three years old. While I was trying to think of the quickest answer that would keep us moving through the story, it dawned on me that coal as a source of energy is something for a history book, not a children’s book. We need to position our kids to think forward and to imagine possibilities. The books they read should provide a road map, or a least a positive projection of what their futures could hold. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that in my daughter’s life time coal energy will disappear, or at least that’s what we should be striving for. Of course, global warming and sustainable energy are a little beyond the grasp of somebody who still can’t tell time.

“Those are rocks,” I told her.

The train was also pulling an oil car. While she didn’t ask about that, I noticed that I’d never seen to many references to fossil fuels in a children’s book before. Who published this thing? The Rockefellers? The book was first published in 1953, so a sign of the times I suppose. Another sign of the times featured in the book – racial stereotypes. Who doesn’t love that in a children’s book?

Throughout the first few pages of the book, the train starts in the city and heads out of town and up a mountain. Along the way it passes cars stopped at the railroad crossing, a beach, another train with circus animals in cages (another totally relevant thing to a kid today), a farm, some wild animals in a field, and then we come to a Native American village complete with teepees, a shirtless man taming a wild horse, and kids with a single feather poking out the back of their headbands.* To say that page hasn’t aged well is an understatement. Sure, it was published in another time, I get that. But even aside from that, where the hell is this train going? Under what scenario does a train leave a modern, industrial town and end up in a scene from “The Searchers”? Based on the cars, the factories, and the modern dress of the white people, we’ve already firmly established that this book takes place in present day. So are we to believe that this caricature of a century old Native American village somehow still exists? Or did this train somehow travel back in time? Or could it be that the publishers probably just didn’t give a shit and some guy in a meeting said, “Throw some Indians in there, kids love Indians,” and nobody else at Little Golden Books saw anything wrong with that?

I’m not saying we ban it, and I’m not saying we “cancel” it. I’m saying this book is old. Too old to be in any way relevant to a kid today. Hell, it’s too old to be relevant to kid 20 years ago. The lesson is fine, the little caboose saves the day after feeling like the unappreciated part of the train. Turns out those coal cars were what the people wanted to see, which is another reason I’m fairly certain this whole book was just a propaganda piece for Texaco. Anyway, put this book in a museum next to cabooses and coal burning trains, and let’s get a new one out there. How about a book about an electric bullet train that learns to be appreciated while going past a collection of scenes that are a little more relevant and a lot less racist? If children are the future, let’s leave the past in the past, and not in their nighty entertainment.

So far there are only a few books that I refuse to read my kids at bed time, but I think this one is going on that list. Right next to Baby Shark (the words to the book are literally just the words to the song, complete with the do-do-do’s) and anything over 25 pages – a bedtime story needs to be five minutes or less. I am trying to get my kids to sleep, not make an episode of Reading Rainbow.

*I cannot in good conscience include a picture of this here. If you want to see for yourself, you can find it.

Dropping Off Kids: This Is My Life Now

Being a parent is not a job. It is your life. A life that you sometimes need to remind yourself that you chose on purpose. Certain aspects of parenthood can absolutely feel like jobs – chef, maid, warden. Of course, if those were your actual job they would pay you money, and filling those roles as a parent does the exact opposite of that. Lately, I feel like my most frequent parental role has been that of a chauffeur. And my kids never tip.

This school year, my three kids are at three different places. One at a day care, one at pre-school, and one at kindergarten. Looking back at having to drop one kid at one place, I wonder how I didn’t have time to sit and drink a coffee and read the paper in the morning? Well, probably because the internet exists and I’m not 70 years old, but you get the point. Whether it is dropping off one kid or three kids, we just get used to it. And the kids get used to it too.

The logistics of it all are certainly an adjustment, but they are what they are. You make it work. I just hope my job doesn’t start enforcing rigid start and stop times to the work day. Taking a conference call with kids singing “Into the Unknown” in the backseat would pose a challenge. Beyond the hustle out the door and the timing of the drop-offs, I was surprised how challenging it would be from the perspective of a dad who is very used to being very needed.

Our kids never had a hard time getting dropped off at day care because they all started going at just a few months old, so as far as they know that is just a part of everyday life. Adding the drop off to pre-school changed that. When our oldest daughter started pre-school, when I dropped her off I would walk to her room with her until something distracted her and I could pry her off of me enough to walk out. Over the course of the school year, that got better, but it never got the point where I’d just leave her at the door and send her on her way. For our second daughter, a high five and have a good day in the parking lot is the norm. Partly because Covid has changed the drop-off rules at the school, but I really don’t think she’d expect me to personally escort her to her room. She’s seen her sister get dropped off hundreds of times. Have a good day and see you later, it’s no big deal. By the time our youngest is ready for pre-school, are we just going to slow the car down to a roll and toss him out the window?

Our oldest in in kindergarten now, and the drop-off evolution has advanced more rapidly. When I dropped her off on the first day, me and all the other parents walked our kids up to the school, gave them hugs, and stood around and waited from them to go into their rooms. After a few days, that became walking her up to the school, getting a high five, and then leaving. Last week she asked me if I could just drop her off at the sidewalk and she could walk to the building her self. On one hand, part of me was thrilled that she not only had the confidence to not need me to walk her up to the door, but also had the courtesy to trim five minutes off of my drop-off routine. On the other hand, she didn’t need me anymore. She needed a chauffeur, not a security guard. My job there was done.

At least all my kids are still very happy to see me at pick up time. Though, when my wife picks up our youngest, he runs up to her and gives her a hug. He just says “hi” to me. Maybe I’ll start insisting on a nice, firm handshake from him. But still, they are not yet embarrassed by my presence at their school at the end of the day. I wonder if when they are fourteen they will still have the same enthusiasm about getting a hug from me outside of their school? I assume yes, but we’ll find out. I’m not going schlep them around for over a decade and not take the opportunity to give them a big hug and kiss and yell “Daddy loves you!” on their way into high school. My chauffeur role may not pay, but it will have its rewards.

Including Kids In a Wedding: Adorably Stressful

When my sister-in-law first came to my wife and I with the proposition that our kids participate in her wedding, we were thrilled. Visions of our tiny people dressed like fancy adults flashed before our eyes. A little man in a tie and suspenders? Little ladies in poofy dresses? I am holding back an “Aawwwwww” just typing it. These things are objectivly adorable. Who wouldn’t want that in a wedding? As it turns out, the parents of the kids, thats who.

Waiting: A Kid’s Least Favorite Pastime

The wedding was at 4:00, we were to arrive at the venue with the kids to get ready by 1:00. Time flies when you are getting ready for your own wedding. The exact opposite happens when you are getting your kids ready for somebody else’s. My wife took our five and three year-old girls to get them ready with the bridal party, and I was left to be in charge of our one year-old boy. I was confident he would love some father-son time. I was even more confident he’d love all the snacks I packed. I knew it would be no small task to keep him happy the whole time, but the least I could do was keep him fed.

His satisfaction with father-son time lasted about twelve minutes and he was looking for his mom. But hey, I’ve got Cheerios!

His satisfaction with Cheerios lasted about three minutes. Fifteen minutes down, two hours and forty-five minutes to go.

Two minues afer getting dressed. His clothes would never be cleaner.

Eventually it was time to get him dressed. Little dress pants, little vest, little bow tie. This is what we all came to see. I mean, sure the bride and whatever, but there was no doubt in my mind this handsome little man would steal the show. Getting a squirmy little person dressed in pajamas can have its challenges, getting a squirmy little man in a dress shirt with buttons, so many buttons, started the stress snowball rolling. Why, I ask you, would you make a shirt for a toddler with a button down collar and button cuffs? I sometimes have trouble buttoning my own cuffs, but yeah, let’s expect an 18 month-old kid to hold his hands still long enough to button his cuffs. Million dollar idea – child sized dress clothes that use only zippers and snaps.

After a well-dressed wrestling match to get him in his clothes, it was back to waiting. But hey, I’ve got crackers! And a new challenge – keeping a tiny little man both fed, and clean. An hour and half down, and an hour and a half to go.

The rest of the time was filled with him wandering away, me going and getting him, him smacking me in the face, me putting him down, repeat. He doesn’t talk so if something happens that he can’t say “no” to, he hits. He told me “no” a lot. The schedule of the wedding didn’t allow for a nap and it was starting to show. With each passing minute the wedding was getting closer and he was getting crabbier. I feared he was on a collision course with a tantrum half-way down the aisle.

Getting Kids Down the Aisle: Please Don’t Cry

My younger daughter was supposed to the flower girl. My older daughter was supposed to hold the hands of her little brother and her little cousin, who is also less than two years-old. Part procession, part day care. What could go wrong? The rehearsal had mixed results. The first practice run went pretty well. The second practice run left the flower girl in tears. The actual wedding could go either way.

Half their time was spent spinning. The other half waiting.

The bridal party was lining in the back of the building. The girls were anxious, but mostly fine. The little boy was losing his shit. He had enough. Enough of his fancy clothes. Enough crackers. Enough being picked up and moved from here to there. It seemed the only thing he didn’t have enough of was smacking his old man in the face.

We had been reserving the right to pull him out at the last minute if he was clearly not going to cooperate, but hoped it wouldn’t come to that. The procession started to move, we were making our way to the ceremony, he was still crying. Then my wife pulled out a miracle. And by miracle, I mean half-eaten apple pie Larabar out of her pocket. I now understand why women get so excited when a dress has pockets. If you ladies aren’t using these pockets for snacks, what the hell are you doing?

Snack clenched in his tiny fist, he turned off the tears and started to make his way down the aisle. Thankfully, my wife was the person going up directly in front of him, so I told him follow mommy and hoped for the best. Wobbly step after wobbly step he made his way to the front. At one point he realized a hundred people were looking at him and he came to a stop. The older girls caught up to him, and they all looked a little confused. I prepared myself to swoop in and grab him, but he looked at his snack, regained his composure, and kept on waddling up the aisle. That’s my little prime time player.

Picture Time: A Fresh Hell

The wedding ceremony itself is the hardest part, right? After getting the kids down the aisle the rest is fun, right? Getting kids to walk down the aisle was nothing compared to getting them to stand still.

The high of the ceremony wore off. The kids were ready to party. We told them there would be music, and dancing, and cake after the wedding and they wanted it now. But pictures needed to be taken. Many pictures. This would be the proof that these tiny adorable people were in the wedding. This was the whole reason to have kids in a wedding in the first place – for a perfecly posed picture with adorably dressed children with angelic smiles on their face. That picture doesnt exist. I haven’t seen the photographer’s pictures yet, but I would be totally shocked if there was even one picture with even half of the kids looking in so much as the general direction of the camera. It is much more likely that they have tear streaked faces, snotty noses, and crumbs covering their clothes. Can you photoshop out a booger?

Get grumpy with me, I’ll get grumpy right back.

We begged, we poked, we prodded, we were smacked in the face. We were taking pictures during the pre-dinner cocktail hour. The. Whole. Hour. As starving as my kids said they were, they wanted nothing to do with the available appetizers. Apparently chorizo stuffed mushrooms and teryaki chicken skewers aren’t “kid friendly.” My daughters were reduced to tears at the prospect of eating chicken on a stick. Sadly, you don’t often see string cheese on the h’orderves menu. At one point my fitness tracker buzzed, and I looked at my watch to see what it was. My stress level was too high. You don’t say.

Once pictures were finally done I played cocktail hour catch up. I fired down three scotches in about fifteen minutes. The first two were to take the edge off, the third one was for fun. I mean, its still a wedding after all.

Finally, We Danced

Get yourself together, son.

Eventually, we proved to our kids we weren’t liars. There was music, there was dancing, there was dessert. The kids loved seeing their aunt dance, and they would later say that their favorite part of the wedding was when she kissed their new uncle. By the end of the night the little man was a complete mess. Handsome little outfit in shambles, and I wasn’t looking much better. He had chocolate on his hands, so I had tiny chocolate hand prints on my suit. But at this point I didn’t care. Maybe it was the relief of finally being able to enjoy the party, or maybe it was the open bar, but he could have lit my tie on fire at that point and I wouldn’t have cared. They were all having fun.

To keep my girls from twirling around on the dance floor while the bride and groom had their dances, I held onto them. As I picked them up, one in each arm, I held my girls while we watched the bride have her dance with her father. Right then I realized something. As challenging as them being in this wedding was, it will be nothing compared to what it will be like for their own. At this wedding I was stressed. At their weddings I’ll be a puddle.