The In-Between

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Will is 8. Sam is 2. They don’t share very much in common and the things that do overlap seem to be disappearing at an alarming rate.

The 8-year-old is proving to be the toughest to gauge right now. I watch with a mixture of amusement, admiration, pity, and sadness as he fluctuates between little kid and young adult. He wants so badly to be grown up some days, but at the same time he’s only 8. He is in that No Man’s Land of wanting more responsibility, but immediately reverting back to being a little kid when it proves too much for him to handle. He rushes boldly out into the land of big kids, only to retreat to shelter of childhood when that older world leaves him longing for the innocence back where he came from.

All of that means it’s been an especially rough time trying to get Will to play nice with Sam.

Will is too cool to play with “babies” most days. He wants to ride his motor scooter, his bike, and practice his Taekwondo. When we ask him to play with his little brother we’re most often met with eye rolls I thought wouldn’t start until he was a tween, and sarcastic remarks that sound disturbingly familiar (the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in that regard).

I know the age difference (5.5 years) is going to make that kind of thing inevitable, but I also want my kids to find more common ground. So how do we accomplish that?

By watching TV.

I know that’s not the new age, popular answer. I know I’m suppose to preach screen-free child-rearing and start opining on how technology and electronics are ruining our kids and blah blah blah. Well I’m sorry, I just don’t buy it.

Our Netflix sessions routinely bridge the gap between Will and Sam right now. Obviously I can’t watch The Avengers with Sam like I can with Will, but thanks to the broad array of programming on Netflix I am able to find things we can all watch as a family.

If you have kids with a fairly big age gap, consider these titles to satisfy both of them.

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Will stumbled on this kooky cartoon a few years ago and he still loves it. Even better, he’s passed that love on to Sam, who also can’t get enough of Oscar, Harchi, Buck, and Popy. It’s a nonverbal cartoon and I can hear the hysterical laughter from upstairs as they happily watch it together.

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All kids love animals no matter their age, and my kids are no exception. Martin and Chris Kratt, the two zoologists featured in this show, have taught my children an AMAZING amount about animals. We went to the zoo recently and I was reading from one of the signs near the exhibit, and Will said, “Dad, I know this already. It was on Wild Kratts.”

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Yeah yeah, I know. Some of you think the Princess Bride is too inappropriate for my 8-year-old, nevermind my 2-year-old. Well you know what? Pipe down and keep your judgment to yourself. This is one of my favorite movies and it is awesome for everyone. It’s fun, adventurous, filled with memorable lines, and hasn’t stopped being entertaining after all these years. It also keeps both of my boys entertained at the same time, even if we do have to skip by the ROUS (Rodent of Unusual Size). So yes, I will have fun storming the castle thankyouverymuch.

What movies/shows do you use to bridge the gap between your kids?

StreamTeamBadgeI was compensated by Netflix for writing this post. Although I did not receive monetary compensation, I received free Netflix for a year and an smart TV. However, as always, my opinions are 100% my own. Check out Netflix on Facebook.

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Spring Break, Rhode Island Style

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The country’s smallest state is too often underestimated in a big way.

Everyone thinks because I live in eastern Massachusetts that automatically means Boston, but I’m actually much closer to Rhode Island (20 minutes). In fact, my brother worked in downtown Providence for years, I sang in a professional choir at Grace Episcopal Church on Westminster Street, and MJ and I got engaged at the Capital Grille in Providence 11 years ago.

So yeah, it’s safe to say Rhode Island holds a special place in my heart. That’s why I was thrilled to be invited to #RISpringBreak — a short, family tour of three great attractions the Ocean State offers.

We started out with a bang at the Biomes Marine Biology Center — a place I can’t believe I’d never heard of, but won’t soon forget.

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If you’ve got kids, you’ve got little people who LOVE animals. Will, my 8-year-old, is a devoted Wild Kratts fan, and knows the names of all the species he encounters. That’s why traveling to New England’s only private marine education facility and getting to do things like pet sharks was beyond exciting for all of us.

This place is amazing, and its history even more so.

In 1978, 14-year-old Mark Hall began catching local marine life and selling them for educational purposes to schools across the country. After college he still collected specimens, but put them together in a traveling marine road show in which he would go to local destinations to teach people about marine life in Narragansett Bay. A decade later he set up shop in a building, and now Biomes houses the largest collection of local marine life in the world, with more than 120 species under one roof.

Also, Pufferfish are awesome.

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After that bit of awesomeness, it was time to head to Roger Williams Park Zoo. I won’t lie, this one didn’t really excite me at first, mainly because we’re already members there and we’re pretty familiar with how fantastic it is.

But then I found out they were giving us passes to Birds Down Under!

Picture a bunch of extremely cool, colorful birds native to Australia. Then imagine they’re set free in a large enclosure. Now think what it would be like if you were given a popsicle stick with bird food on it, and allowed to stroll around while birds land on you to feast.

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Yeah. It really is that amazing.

You just walk around among more than 500 birds, including grass parakeets, cockatiels and various species of parrots. After kids get over the initial freakout of “OMG THERE ARE BIRDS LIKE 2 INCHES FROM ME RIGHT NOW!!!” they’ll also get to learn about conservation challenges these birds are facing in their natural habitats.

Oh yeah, did I mention it’s only $3 per person (in addition to regular admission to the zoo) and toddlers go for free?

And finally, we ended the day the way all days visiting Rhode Island should end: with a trip to McCoy Stadium.

I’m a huge Boston sports fan, and all Boston sports fans have traveled at least once to Pawtucket, RI to see the great prospects play for the Pawtucket Red Sox (the “PawSox’), which is the AAA minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.

I love baseball, and it’s really cool to be in the place where so many great careers took off. Before you saw them on SportsCenter, fans in Pawtucket knew them for years and followed them before they were a blip on the radar of most fans. In fact, two Hall of Famers — Jim Rice and Wade Boggs — came up with the PawSox, along with countless other notable and beloved players such as Nomar Garciaparra, Dustin Pedroia, Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, and my personal favorite, Trot Nixon.

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But as much as I love baseball, I have a newfound appreciation for what McCoy Stadium at the PawSox offer now that I’m a parent.

Unlike a trip to Fenway Park, you can afford to take your family to McCoy. Not only that, you can actually buy a hotdog, some popcorn, and the ever popular ice cream in a helmet without taking out a line of credit. Everyone from the ushers to the ticket-takers are incredibly friendly and helpful, and the young stars of tomorrow on both teams are willing and eager to sign autographs and give souvenir baseballs to kids.

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So don’t overlook Rhode Island. Head to the Ocean State and enjoy all it has to offer. You won’t regret it and you’ll never forget it.

Disclaimer: I received no monetary compensation for this post, but I did get free admission to each site I visited. All opinions are 100% my own.

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Fat Guy Running

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“KEEP RUNNING, YOU FAT FUCK!”

I was about four miles into a 6-mile run when the distinguished passenger in the beat-up sedan rolled down his window, leaned out, and shouted his unorthodox greeting at me. Even with my headphones blasting and over the sound of my labored breathing, I heard him. Loud and clear.

He was a kid. Just a dumb kid. I was that dumb kid once, so it’s hard to get too upset. The kid shouting awful things that seem funny to 17-year-olds everywhere, but will cause you to cringe with the passage of time and the gaining of wisdom. A kid who hasn’t yet realized impressing your friends by insulting strangers isn’t funny, and real friends don’t need to be impressed by tearing other people down.

I understand the folly of youth which is why I never even looked back. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t get to me.

Yes, I’m fat. He wasn’t wrong about that. And while fat people make for easy targets under normal circumstances, fat people running is fish in a barrel. Our red faces, heavy breathing, and bouncing parts that shouldn’t bounce create more than fertile ground for hate-filled passersby looking to score a cheap laugh. I get it, and it is what it is.

But I think there are a few things that kid should know about the guy he decided to ridicule.

I’m fat, but not as fat as I used to be. I’m working hard to be less fat and more healthy, and the main way I’m doing that is by running.

I ran a half marathon 6 weeks ago. My fifth one in four years. So while I’m sure I look disgusting and lethargic to you, I actually work my ass off and my endurance is probably better than yours. How humiliating would it be to lose a race to Fatty McFatterson?

Sometimes I run with my sons. In fact, I’ve started a really nice tradition with my oldest where he joins me at the finish line of my half-marathons. Would you have screamed that at me with them there? Are you comfortable with an 8-year-old hearing his father rudely cut down by a stranger? How would you feel if someone made fun of your father’s appearance? I bet you wouldn’t like it.

I was in the middle of a 6-mile run. You were riding in the comfort of a car. Now which one of us is lazy?

As you so eloquently pointed out, running does not come easy to me. I’m not built like most runners, and I’m always going to struggle. But I’m out there getting it done anyway, despite knowing there are people like yourself out there ready and willing to take cheap shots.

And finally, why yell at the person actively trying to change? Granted, you shouldn’t demean anyone like that, but to publicly shame the person who had the intestinal fortitude to improve his lot, get out there, and put in the sweat equity to change and improve? That’s low. And your lack of class is far worse than my fat ass struggling to run.

So here’s to all the people out there with a few extra pounds. The people who are far outside of their comfort zones and pushing themselves to limits they didn’t think they could reach. Here’s to the folks running away from health problems and toward a future with their families that isn’t cut short by complications from diabetes or cardiac arrest.

Here’s to all the men and women who might not look the part, but are out there getting it done and putting in the work. The people who will never come in first, but work twice as hard just to finish.

To the immature little punk tearing other people down to make himself feel better, please know this fat fuck will indeed keep running. I can always get slimmer and faster, but you’ll probably always be an asshole.

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LEGO, Parenting, and Monsters

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I’ve never liked LEGO very much. Probably because building something from scratch is terribly difficult, and it doesn’t come naturally to me.

Much like parenting young children. Especially Sam.

If you don’t know, he’s the one on the left. The one whose picture is eternally blurry because he never stops moving. The one who is currently torturing me with a combination of sleep deprivation, a refusal to listen, and a fundamental commitment to being as difficult as humanly possible.

Recently, Sam become a bedtime terrorist. For about a week, he completely regressed in his sleeping habits and began torturing us to the point of absurdity.

One day he simply refused to go to bed. The antics would start about half an hour before his bedtime, which is when I get home from work. Lucky me. I’d walk in the door and my presence would serve as an internal alarm that he goes to bed soon, meaning he began to equate my presence with misery and impending doom.

He screamed. He threw things. He hit people. He bit people. All this while we’re trying to get the baby to sleep and oh yeah, I forgot to mention, he shares a room with his older brother. That means letting him scream means no one else gets sleep either, which isn’t fair. He soon realized this and held us hostage.

He requires three stories — one involving a castle, one involving a cheetah, and the final one involving his brothers, a cheetah, and a castle. Then he needs three songs — Shake It Off by Taylor Swift, Down by the Old Mill Stream, and Share the Darkness by the Saw Doctors.

And his newest addition is a fear of monsters, which required some creative maneuvering on our part.

I came up with magic monster dust which is kept hidden in his closet, and is an invisible dust coated over the entire room that keeps monsters at bay. But that wasn’t enough protection for him. So MJ concocted a Monster Spray (lavender, water, and sparkly stars in a spray bottle) we spray throughout the room before we leave.

If it sounds exhausting, that’s because it is. Also, none of it really worked.

After a week of screaming, banging the door, kicking the walls, and keeping us all up all hours of the night, I lost it. I hit that dangerous breaking point all parents know and fear. The one where your patience, kindness, logic, sanity, and reason instantly evaporate, leaving you only with desperation and white hot rage.

It was in this state I burst through Sam’s door, picked him up, put him on the bed, and read him the riot act. I told him he was slowly killing us, I screamed that I couldn’t stand him anymore, and I roared at him that he was a horrible child. It all just came pouring out in an ill-advised instant of insane sleep deprivation and frustration, in which I lost my self-control and did something I’m ashamed of.

Sam, with his lip trembling, looked shocked as he recoiled. He tearfully reached for something on his dresser and then hit me right in the heart.

“Dada, you monster,” he said, as he sprayed me with the water bottle.

I cried and hugged him and apologized. I hate getting that mad at my kids, and even though I know it happens to all of us it still sucks. And I’m going to try my best not to get to that point again.

I’m going to try to take a lesson from LEGO, and be a builder instead of someone who just tears down when frustrated. I’m going to heed the lessons Sam learns when watching LEGO Friends on Netflix — friendship, teamwork, camaraderie instead of selfishness and divisiveness. I’m going to be like the characters Will loves from LEGO Bionicle, who band together to protect Okoto Island.

Parenting is all about trying to succeed more than you fail, while building kids up from scratch with little to no directions. And while we all occasionally lose our minds when we step on unseen LEGO pieces with bare feet, it’s all about doing your best to have more wins than losses.

It’s time to focus on building.

Check out these two great shows on Netflix:

LEGO Friends Camp Wild Hearts Still 2 LEGO_Bionicle 3

StreamTeamBadge*As part of the Netflix Stream Team, I receive free Netflix and other products.

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Why I’m Proud of My Scrapbooking Son

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“Dad, I’m taking a scrapbooking class!”

Eight years ago, when I found out I was having a son, glad tidings of scrapbooking were not exactly at the forefront of my mind. Baseball? Football? Maybe track? Absolutely. I played three sports a year when I was a kid and I just assumed any boy of mine would follow suit. Not All-American level or anything, but a kid who’d live, eat, and breathe sports.

But you know what happens when people assume.

Will hates baseball. He’s already well aware of concussion problems in the NFL. And having inherited his mother’s balance and lack of grace, anything involving running seems far-fetched. He does swimming and he just started Taekwondo, but team sports and athletic glory are not in his future.

In their place are things I never imagined.

Where I went to basketball and baseball camp during the summer, do you know what Will did last year? He went to Farm-to-Table camp. An entire week of learning how to cook, visiting local farms, and mulling over recipes using food they picked themselves. And cooking — this kid loves to cook. Donning his pink apron, he’s obsessed with ingredients and how everything comes together to make a meal.

And now scrapbooking. He knew he’d be the only boy in the class going into it. Even at almost eight years old, it’s clear there are “boy things” and “girl things.” On the first day, his well-meaning teacher unintentionally drove that point home when she asked him if he was comfortable, or if he needed material in colors other than pink, yellow, and purple.

You know, boy colors. A masculine blue or powerhouse red.

But Will looked her right in the eye and didn’t hesitate to tell her he was fine and there are no girl colors or boy colors. He simply went about his business, comfortable in knowing he was doing something he really likes.

I wish I had that strength and self-confidence at 27, never mind 7 years old. Will isn’t perfect, but his self-assured nature and ability to do what he wants to do no matter the consequences is astounding. He does what feels right to him, which sounds simple but is actually a ridiculously amazing trait.

Before Will, the only way scrapbooking could’ve stirred emotion in me is crying tears of boredom from the mere thought of it. But now? My eyes well with tears because I’m proud of my son. He identifies what he likes and he does it, even though he knows it’s not the popular (or traditionally manly) choice. Doing what’s right for him even in the face adversity? That’s remarkable no matter your gender.

As usual, my son continues to teach me more than I ever thought possible.

 

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