6 Things from My Elementary School Days I Wish My Kids Could Experience

dodgeball

My oldest son Will just started the first grade. And the first thing you’ll say when your kids start school is “holy crap, things have changed!”

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t going to be one of those “things were so much better in my day” posts. Well, maybe a little. But while I fully realize many of the changes are positive and done for good reason, I can’t help but get a little nostalgic and, if we’re being honest, kind of sad my sons won’t have some of the same experiences I did.

6. The Oregon Trail
I never want to see harm come to my kids, unless it’s in the form of virtual dysentery via this classic Apple II game from the 1980s.

My kids will grow up with computers as the norm, but for me in grade school, computer class was UNBELIEVABLE! Unlike my 14-month-old who already knows his way around my smartphone, kids back then were just as amazed as adults as we all stumbled into the technological age together. But while businesses were using computers to work more efficiently, we were making our way along a 2,200-mile trail of incessant hardship to gain riches out west. Would we drown trying to ford the river? Would our oxen die? Could we hunt enough food to survive? The only way to find out was to insert that massive floppy disk and give it a whirl.

When I was six this game (and computers in general) was an otherworldly experience. My 6-year-old, however, has had a Kindle for more than a year and complains when the TV isn’t on an HD station.

5. Report Cards That Make Sense
I figured a lot had changed since I was in school, but getting my son’s first report card threw me for the biggest loop.

I was expecting what most people my age had – the old A, B, C, D, F system. Simple and reliable. An A meant I was getting $5, a B would earn me a buck and a “why couldn’t you get an A,” and a C meant I was grounded for a month. I assume D and F meant “find another place to live.” But when Will brought home his report card, it was some indecipherable chart with a color-coded bar graph that ultimately told me very little about my son’s progress. There was an ideal range to be in but it was OK if he wasn’t in the range in the first part of the year as long as he got into the purple section by the end of the year…frankly, I still don’t get it.

I’m sure it’s a much better system and I’m the problem, but in the end I had to keep asking the teacher “So…is that like an A? Or a B+?”

4. Peanut Butter
I tried really hard to remember any kids in my class with peanut butter allergies so severe they were life-threatening. I came up with nothing. But today, bringing peanut butter into a school is becoming a suspendable offense.

Look, I get it. Kids have allergies, allergies can be deadly, and precautions must be taken. I don’t want to see any harm come to innocent students. But at the same time, it boggles my mind that peanut butter is pretty much considered a Class D substance, considering how prevalent it was in the lunchtime repertoire of my classmates growing up. I’d eat that stuff by the spoonful! But now it’s not just straight peanut butter, but any food that might not even contain peanuts but was made on an assembly line that might’ve been subject to peanut products at some point dating back to the Industrial Revolution.

So while I understand the need for it, it’s too bad bringing peanut butter into school is right up there with bringing in a weapon.

3. Trading Lunches
This goes hand-in-hand with the peanut butter complaint.

Do you remember what would happen when the lunch bell rang and you got into the cafeteria? At my school it was like the opening bell on Wall Street had just sounded and the trading commenced fast and furious. On my best day I traded a PB&J sandwich, an orange, and a Yodel for three Fruit Roll-ups, a snack pack, and two Devil Dogs. But because of allergies, kids actually get in trouble when they trade lunches and it’s a punishable offense.

I was reading a survey that showed 41% of workers didn’t negotiate salary for the job they currently hold. I think this lack of lunchtime bartering means our nation’s youth is ill prepared to haggle later in life.

2. Gifted Programs
In the third grade, I was picked to go into the “Academically Talented Program.” I had no idea what this meant at the time, but I remember it was nice not being bored in class anymore and being challenged in a variety of ways. I wasn’t the smartest kid by a longshot, but I was an early reader and well ahead of the normal curriculum.

Now schools either can’t afford such programs, or reject them so no one is offended.

I’m all for inclusion, but not if it means holding stellar students back. In my own personal, non-expert opinion, I think we’ve stopped nurturing excellence in favor of promoting mediocrity. I get money is tight and gifted programs are first on the chopping block, but if kids excel it’s a shame they won’t have that avenue to pursue.

1. Dodgeball
Nothing brings up more controversy and emotions than this fantastic, oft-banned game.

Depending on where you landed on the dodgeball ladder, you either loved this game or dreaded it like the plague. I loved it despite not being great at it. Sure I took a bunch of balls to the head (giggity) and ended up with a red, swollen face and had to go sit on the sidelines in shame with those dreaded parquet markings implanted on my forehead. But on a few select occasions, I fended off three people by myself and basked in the glow of playground glory.

My son won’t have that opportunity because dodgeball has been banned everywhere in favor of youth sports that don’t keep score and hand everyone a trophy. I guess I’ll have to keep pelting him with red rubber balls on the weekends, as part of a dodgeball homeschooling program.

So good readers, what else did I miss?

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Adrian Peterson, Child Abuse, And Why It Doesn’t Matter If That’s How You Were Raised

peterson

It is never acceptable to beat a little kid bloody with a weapon, because that is always child abuse.

I can’t believe it’s 2014 and I have to spell that out for people. Yet in the wake of star running back Adrian Peterson’s grand jury indictment for reckless and negligent injury to a child, it’s clear there are grown men and women out there who still think it’s OK to strip leaves off a tree branch and whip a 4-year-old until he bleeds. To stuff leaves in his mouth. To cut him on the legs, thighs, buttocks, and scrotum. To whip him between 10-15 times, leaving defensive wounds on the poor kid’s hands that were still readily apparent even a week later when photographs were taken.

What Adrian Peterson did was wrong. That’s fact, not opinion. And yet, for so many, they don’t accept that. Why?

I’ve been told it’s a southern thing. A cultural thing. A black thing. A religious thing. I’ve been told it’s the only way to make sure children are raised to be respectful. I’ve been told if more kids were disciplined like this, there would be fewer school shootings and spoiled children. But mostly, I’ve been told this kind of corporal punishment is acceptable because the parents who do it were raised this way themselves. And after all, they were whipped and they turned out just fine.

Want to know how I know they’re wrong? Because they still think it’s OK to take up weapons against children and beat them bloody.

If this is part of your southern culture, then your southern culture condones child abuse and needs to change. If this is because you’re African-American, then the black community needs some serious internal reflection and a change of heart, because this is wrong. And if this is how you were raised, well…I’m sorry for that. But just because your parents made a terrible mistake out of ignorance, doesn’t mean you have to continue the violent cycle.

Because that’s the thing — your parents weren’t perfect. They made mistakes, probably because they didn’t know any better. Some of our parents smoked while pregnant because the dangers of smoking weren’t well established yet, or didn’t use car seats because the safety standards weren’t in place. Our parents didn’t have the wealth of information available to us today, so why repeat mistakes made out of ignorance when we know better now?

NFL analyst Cris Carter — a black NFL Hall of Famer no less — said he was whipped as a child when disciplined. However, he chose to parent a different way. Watch this.

Cris Carter learned from his mom’s mistakes. But the saddest part of this whole fiasco is Adrian Peterson believes he didn’t do a damn thing wrong.

When Peterson was asked how he felt about the incident, he said, “To be honest with you, I feel very confident with my actions because I know my intent.”

If Adrian Peterson thinks he turned out so wonderful because he was whipped with various objects as a child, just imagine what he could’ve accomplished if he hadn’t been physically abused. And I’m sorry, but when it comes to putting our kids in danger with physical violence, ignorance is no excuse.

And let’s not forget, this is a TEXAS grand jury that indicted him. If I had to pick a state that would likely be the most lenient on a parent engaging in corporal punishment, Texas would top the list. Yet here Peterson is, facing charges. And boy do I hope he’s found guilty.

Also, please don’t let Peterson’s defenders turn this into a public debate on spanking and government intrusion in our lives.

This isn’t about spanking because Adrian Peterson didn’t spank his son. I can count on one hand the times I’ve given my oldest a swat on the butt, mainly because he was attempting to run toward the road or trying to tear off the electrical outlet cover after putting his hand in the dog’s water bowl. And even then, it wasn’t the force that made him cry it was the stern “NO!” that accompanies the light spank.

That’s in stark contrast to Peterson, who reportedly took the time to fashion himself a switch and proceeded to beat his small child bloody with it by hitting him more than a dozen times. A grown man who smashes into offensive linemen and linebackers for a living, whipping a small boy who he’s supposed to love and care for. How anyone can defend that is beyond me.

Allow me to bottom line this for you. If you think hitting your kid with a stick until he bleeds is an acceptable form of punishment, you’re a bad parent. And, more than likely, you’re engaging in a criminal act. Your culture, race, ethnicity, and upbringing don’t matter in this instance. I don’t care where you’re from or what color you are, because when you decide to whip your 4-year-old with the branch of a tree, you are committing a crime. And I hope you face the same charges Peterson is facing.

But mostly, I hope it doesn’t get to that point. I’m hoping this will be a wake-up call to the parents who still condone this kind of nonsense. I’m hoping people realize you can raise respectful kids without beating them with tree branches and household objects.

Times have changed. And they’ve changed for the better. So stop abusing your kids.

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Should We Have Another Baby?

mjpregs

It was the first really warm day in April. Winter finally released New England from its icy grasp and nature was set free to bloom. Everything was new and the leaves were green in their infancy, and people left their houses, looked around, and smiled while taking in deep breaths of unadulterated spring.

Will and I had just tried our hand at trout fishing, with no luck. But despite the zero tally regarding the fish count, we rewarded ourselves with a trip to the local hot dog stand for footlongs and fries.

After placing our order, Will bolted to the playground while I sat at a picnic table waiting for our number to be called. I briefly turned my head toward the sky and smiled, then glanced toward my oldest who was already making his way across the monkey bars. My old middle school loomed in the background behind my son — an eerie juxtaposition of new and old, past and present.

It dawned on me we were eating at a place I loved in my youth, in front of a school MJ and I attended for three years. At 11 years old I had already met my future wife, despite the fact she’d move away and I’d go four years without seeing her. Then, nine years ago, MJ and I drove to that very school during a blizzard just minutes after I asked her to marry me. We danced together in the empty parking lot, snow swirling around us and flickering in the headlights.

I was lost in thoughts of storms, tranquility, past, and present when my phone rang. Fittingly enough, it was MJ.

“Perfect timing,” I said, skipping over the hello. “I was just sitting at the hot dog stand with Will and looking at the middle school and thinking about us and everything…”

She cut me off before I could finish, and I could immediately tell she was in a panic.

“Come home now. I’M FUCKING PREGNANT!”

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It’s not like we hadn’t discussed having a third child. Of course we had. It’s just that those discussions never ended with any kind of firm answer.

I think if you forced her to answer, MJ wanted another baby. As for me, well…I was truly torn. Do I want a daughter? Yes. But do I really want to go through the newborn phase again when I had such a tough time emotionally with Sam? Honestly, I don’t think so. Besides, we have terrible luck with pregnancies not to mention no room in our duplex (or our budget) for a third kid.

Also, three sounds like a lot.

I talk to parents with three kids and they’re straight up harried. Not like normal parent harried, but “tear your hair out holy crap I need six more hours in the day” kind of stressed. Three is a lot. Three’s company. Three is being forced to abandon man-to-man defense and go with zone. Simply put, three is scary.

So I told MJ the truth — I don’t honestly know how I’d react to a third kid until I was actually put in the situation.

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My first, split-second reaction was shock. Pure shock. And fear.

We can’t afford this baby. We weren’t trying for this baby. How the hell did we even get pregnant when I have a condition that gives us roughly a 2% chance of conceiving on our own without IVF? Where would the baby sleep? What would I ever do with a daughter? What the hell will I ever do with three boys? And it was all made worse by the fact that my wife was in hysterics, I wasn’t with her, and I had to keep it all together in front of Will.

I quickly collected our food and my son, and we hopped in the car to head home. I passed the middle school, I remembered dancing in the snow, I saw my oldest in the rearview mirror, and I looked at the picture on my phone of Sam.

And then I busted out laughing.

Not a giggle or a chuckle, mind you. I started belly laughing my ass off. Uncontrollable bursts of hearty laughter usually reserved for my favorite comedies. Will was looking at me like I was nuts, but for the life of me I couldn’t stop. I was laughing so hard I started crying, yet I was also wearing an ear to ear grin. As I pulled into the driveway, I laughed once more because I quickly realized I had answered my own question.

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Our baby had a due date of December 25. A Christmas baby. Our gift.

We brought Sam to the OB appointment partly because we didn’t have a babysitter (because we didn’t tell anyone the news), but also as a good luck charm — even if neither of us would admit it. Because if you’re new to these parts, we’re well-versed in miscarriages and pregnancy loss. Four miscarriages in as many years. A medically necessary abortion due to a fetal abnormality at 16 weeks. Not good.

Despite having two beautiful boys and having been through the wringer, being in that room with the ultrasound tech didn’t get any easier.

MJ hopped on the table while Sam bounced on my knee. The grainy image began to take focus on the small screen as I held Sam with one hand and took MJ’s in the other. Sam cooed and raised his hand to the screen, reaching out in an attempt to touch it. His little cherubic fingers finally found the glass, and he started tapping at it.

Right at the void where a flickering heartbeat should have been.

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We’re fine. Really, we are.

I don’t know why or how we’ve lost five pregnancies in the seven years we’ve been trying to have kids. But you know what? I don’t know how I became so blessed to have the two unbelievable boys who call me dad. A lot of people would say we’re unlucky, but we’re not. If anything, we’re incredibly fortunate to have the life we do. To have our happy and healthy sons.

I don’t know if we’ll have another baby. That will most likely involve IVF and all the risks, effort, and potential for disappointment and heartbreak that carries with it. But at the very least, I now have an answer to the question.

I’d be thrilled to have another baby. As if there was really any other answer.

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Celebrate the First Day of School, Don’t Mourn It

school_angstLast September, I stood in my driveway on a cool autumn morning and watched my then 5-year-old beam with pride. After briefly struggling under the weight of his oversized backpack and kissing everyone goodbye, he was literally buzzing with excitement as the big yellow school bus pulled up. He bolted up the steps, found a friend to sit with, the doors closed, and off he went to kindergarten. The kid never even looked back to wave.

Which is to say it was a complete success, because that’s exactly how my wife and I wanted it.

There was no sobbing in the corner. No hand-wringing. No cursing of time and how it robs us of our little babies. No one jumped in the car to follow the bus like some crazed helicopter parent stalker just in case our little cherub had a tough time. Mainly because, in the weeks leading up to the big moment, we treated the first day of school as an exciting and joyously momentous occasion — something to celebrate instead of mourn and fear. And I firmly believe because we took that approach, so did he.

That stands in stark contrast to the script playing out for many other parents, and parent bloggers, who seem to dread the start of school. Some even seem to be making it about themselves instead of their kids.

Look, I get being astounded at how fast the time passes. And, as some pointed out, I also understand getting a little melancholy, or being so proud on the first day of school that you shed some tears out of happiness. While I completely get that we’re all different and so are our emotional responses,  I think emanating a feeling of dread leading up to the first day of school — and then either crying or hovering in front of your kid on the day of — is a potentially terrible thing.

Our kids look to us for direction, so if we’re showing signs we’re upset about a huge transition, it stands to reason they’ll start getting upset and anxious as well. That’s why there was no crying on Will’s first day, and we didn’t go to the school with him to witness his transition into the classroom. MJ and I talked, and we thought getting sad in front of him and showing up at the school sends the message that something is wrong, there’s a reason to be sad, and he can’t do it on his own.

But he can do it. And he did.

Also, I know I’ve delved into this topic before, but I just don’t get the constant wailing about wishing we could turn back the clock. Parents of incoming kindergarten students, you have no idea what kind of amazing things you’re in for this year. If they can’t read already, suddenly they’re reading EVERYTHING. And if they can already read, their skills are sharpened exponentially and taken to the next level. Will grew so much in kindergarten both inside and outside of the classroom, and it was amazing witnessing his progress in real time.

Time flies and lamenting its passage is understandable to a degree. But as a parent, I just won’t let that sadness ooze out in front of him — especially not on the first day of school. I won’t turn something that’s supposed to be exciting into anything resembling a negative. Because as a Facebook acquaintance who works as a kindergarten teacher wrote:

First day of school this year a mom started to cry…what does the boy, who was absolutely fine up to that point, do?? He starts crying – no wonder. If the mom cries the child gets the feeling something must be wrong or even bad about this place, so he starts crying too. The mom stayed all morning (Grrrrrr!!) and sobbed all morning long. Please, by all means go cry if it helps you, but do it AFTER you said goodbye and your child can’t see you anymore!”

See? It’s bad for the kid, the parents, and even the teachers. That’s why when Will has his first day of first grade tomorrow, it’ll be with a smile on all of our faces. A happy day with no tears. A day we’ve been looking forward to, and the start of a new chapter.

I’m saving the tears for three days from now when I’ll be having trouble helping Will with his first grade math homework.

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The 5 Stages of Spending Time Without Kids

nokids“Holy $*&%, I just need some time for myself and away from these kids!!”

How many parents have uttered some variation of that phrase at some point in time? I know I have. Hell, I just went through life with an infant again this past year. Between Sam’s multiple nightly awakenings, screaming fits, and teething, combined with Will’s adjustments to big brotherhood and the first year of school, I used to fantasize about a life of solitude in a quiet mountain cabin where no one could find me and I could pee alone.

But on the rare occasions we’re granted a parental sabbatical, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend — we miss our damn kids too much!

I don’t know about you guys, but it’s not too long after I’m sprung from the asylum that I start to — gulp — miss it a little. And then a lot. It’s like some sort of parental Stockholm Syndrome. I just spent 55 hours on my own, and here are the stages of kidlessness I experienced.

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Stage 1: FREEDOM!!!!!!!!
The first stage is characterized by an initial and intense feeling of release. Like I’m Andy Dufresne finally escaping Shawshank Prison through 500 yards of shit smelling foulness. Or like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, only if I skipped the torture and got to sleep with Sophie Marceau again instead. Whether your childfree time is going to last for a night or a week, it seems the possibilities are endless and you can do anything. Road trip, baseball game, bar, expensive dinner, or even a movie at the theater that doesn’t have cartoons — the world is your oyster.

Stage 2: Whatever I Want!
Sure, you’re going to put your Vegas trip into action soon. But that can wait for a minute, while you enjoy the little things you can’t do when the family is around. You know, the simple things you used to do when you were single. As for me, I immediately strip down to my boxers, stretch out on the couch, and watch SportsCenter while scratching myself at will. Either that or all the movies no one else likes. Then I have a dinner that consists of Kraft mac & cheese, beer, and Doritos. Normally I’d be chastised for my post meal bodily functions, but only the dog was affected this time (and she was guilty of a few nasty ones too). And then — as the grand finale — I take up the entire king size bed by sleeping diagonally, as opposed to sleeping on the sliver of bed I have after the wife and dog are accounted for. Sure it might SEEM slightly pathetic that a grown man can enjoy farting in peace, leaving the toilet seat up without reproach, and using a plethora of bed space so much, but best not to dwell on such matters for long. There’s work to do.

Stage 3: Reality Sets In
After you’ve eaten like a pig and reveled in smelling like one as well, it’s time to get serious about this temporary kid hiatus. That’s when you start thinking of all your friends and get ready to call them up to have a good old fashioned rager of a party. You call Jim but his oldest has summer baseball and his youngest has a ballet recital. No worries. Skip right to Brian, only to find out he’s going to a concert. Awesome, right? Because you haven’t been to a live show in years. The only problem? It’s a “Wiggles” concert. Andy and Jake moved away, Ted doesn’t want to stay out past 10 pm because he’s coaching T-ball in the morning, and Bill already went out for a night this month so he’s used up his privileges. Suddenly you realize two things: 1) You’re old, and 2) Spontaneity is officially dead. Which makes you sad. Which leads to additional mac & cheese, Netflix, and gas.

Stage 4: This Kind of Sucks
This stage sees panic setting in. You’ve gorged yourself, farted at will, lounged around in your boxers, and realized all of your friends are now lame. You start calling your wife and kids more often just to hear what they’re doing. While you’re watching TV, you see “Jake and the NeverLand Pirates” and consider watching it because you know how much your oldest likes it. But you’re barely even watching TV now because you’re mostly looking at family pictures hanging in the hall, as you make one more call to the family to see what they’re doing now.

Stage 5: COME HOME!!!
This is when things get really desperate. Suddenly your faltering plans don’t even matter, because you’re too busy playing with Transformers and sitting in the kids’ empty rooms getting emotional. You’re not even watching TV because you’re combing through six years of YouTube home videos. You know they’re due home today so you up your calls to every hour on the hour just in case they get home early. In a fit of total desperation and longing, you flip on Frozen and sing “Let It Go” with tears streaming down your face as you promise never to take your family for granted ever again.

When they finally pull into the driveway you sprint out barefoot because you’re so damn happy to see them. You rip open the door of the minivan to see your precious little angels, only to have the youngest sneeze in your eye and simultaneously take a dump the likes of which makes landfills blush, while the oldest bitterly complains you woke him up from his nap.

I need a break…

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