A Love of Dinosaurs, Netflix Style

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February is for lovers. But since we’re not really a Valentine’s Day household, we don’t get all sappy with overpriced cards, chocolates, and schmoopy movies. Instead, we engage in hobbies we love.

Will wants to be a paleontologist. It’s been that way since he was in daycare. That means he is OBSESSED with all things dinosaurs, and so we spend a lot of time nurturing that. And when you’ve had six days of school canceled in a three-week span due to 7 feet of snow that’s fallen, that time has increased exponentially as we have to find things for him to do inside.

One such thing was a piece of plaster with dinosaur bones hidden inside. Kids get a tool to chip away at the plaster and reveal a T-Rex skeleton in about a half dozen pieces. It’s a brilliant idea and Will absolutely loved it.

He was so careful as he was chipping away at our kitchen table his “dig site” because “I know how fragile the bones are, dad.” He’d fine the edge of some bone and dance around the kitch — sorry, ahem — the dig site like I did when the Patriots won the Super Bowl. And he was so exacting and precise when extricating bone from plaster, I couldn’t help but be impressed.

But like all good paleontologists, his ultimate success was due in large part to his preparation.

If kids want to learn about dinosaurs, Netflix is a fantastic resource — both for education and entertainment. He has used the online movie streaming service to watch documentary after documentary regarding dinosaurs. Right now, here are some fun ones currently available:

dinosaurtraindinotasiadinoking

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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 iPad Mini. However, as always, my opinions are 100% my own. Check out Netflix on Facebook.

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11 Ways Valentine’s Day Has Changed After Kids

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Look, I wasn’t too fond of Valentine’s Day before I got married and had kids. It’s a contrived, ostentatious “holiday” that does nothing but set impossibly high expectations and create an atmosphere conducive to crashing and burning when the bar isn’t met.

But it doesn’t stop most people from trying.

When I was sans children, I definitely tried to put the saint in St. Valentine’s. I was flowers, jewelry, expensive dinners, and handwritten poetry. Rhyming poetry. In fact, one poem I wrote to a girl started with “On this day of St. Valentine, I’m oh so happy you are mine.” Yup, that’s right. I won’t go so far as to call myself a stud, but yeah — pretty much a stud when it came to Feb. 14 romance. Anyway…

MJ and I were like most couples before they have kids. We were attentive, passionate, and we couldn’t imagine a scenario in which stepping on a LEGO could be an injury that lands us on the sexual injured reserve list (and by us I mean me). We were young, hot, and could choose to spend Valentine’s Day weekend in a tropical paradise if we wanted.

But as kids arrived and time slipped past us, things have most assuredly changed.

As most parents will tell you, children bring a ton of joy to your lives. However, they also have a tendency to bring about the death of romance, sex, and yes — Valentine’s Day. If you’re a parent, these before and after descriptions might have you nodding your head in agreement. If you’re an expectant parent, you might wonder what the hell you were thinking. And if you’re a hot, young, fancy-free couple who gets to have Valentine’s Day sex without using SpongeBob as a distraction, I hate you. And stop judging me.

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Before: You probably went the first year without farting in the other person’s presence. You held it in and put yourself through gastrointestinal torture just to preserve the romance and aura, only releasing the horror outside after you two were finished watching The Notebook and promising to be just like Noah and Allie (yeah I watched it, so what??) forever.
After: Someone just ripped a horrible, nasty fart and now the scent is wafting through the air like a WMD. Also, you don’t even know who it was. Partner, kids, or the dog. For a second you actually have to think about whether or not it was you. Because life with kids is one noxious scent after another, and you can’t help but think how much of a prick that Nicholas Sparks is for his damn, dirty lies.

Before: Remember how you used to search high and low for the perfect Valentine’s Day card? One of those decorative, doily type deals with lace and fancy trimmings. And the wording on the inside described a love eternal, a flame burning hot, and unbridled passion that would bring tears to any eye and yearning to all loins.
After: Shit! You forgot what day it is. Now the store is all out of cards and you’ve only got minutes to spare to get something done. In a panic, you grab some paper and crayons and tell the kids to get busy. The result is a bunch of nonsensical scribbles or yet another tracing of their hands. On the inside is a hastily written “Happy Valentine’s Day! We love you!” And you know she can’t say anything to criticize it because then she’s a bad mom who doesn’t appreciate artwork from her kids. Because who needs those fancy store bought cards when this is from the heart??

Before: I remember one year, I believe it was our first Valentine’s Day, MJ went all out. She had candles lit and the room all decorated, and made a night just for me. In fact, she even put a whole bunch of Hershey’s Kisses on the ground, and told me it’s because she kisses the ground I walk on (no really, this happened!).
After: The floor? Hahahaha!! No one has seen the floor in weeks because of all these toys.

Before: Speaking of chocolates, I used to get MJ divine candies for Valentine’s Day. Boxes of delicious little treats with who knows what kind of scrumptious filling inside. Which one am I holding now? Only one way to find out. Now let me seductively feed this to you in perfect, sexy little increments.
After: Ummmmm…the store was out of chocolate. But I think I remember Sam dropped a half-eaten Peppermint Patty behind the couch. Don’t worry, I’ll get it for you — because romance.

Before: I have one word for you: massage. Ooooooh yeah, baby. You know what I’m talking about. I slowly undress you and lay you down on the bed. Then I get my array of oils and gently but firmly rub my hands all over your body. I massage you into a state of simultaneous relaxation and anticipation until neither one of us can take it any longer!
After: Well, I guess a kid walking on your back kind of counts as a massage.

Before: That hip and fancy new tapas restaurant? You’re damn right I have reservations. I’ve had them for a month because I know how much you were looking forward to this. Order anything you want off the menu baby, tonight is your night. We’ll dine like royalty and then we’ll have “dessert” at home.
After: Crap, we forgot to get a sitter and there are none available because it’s Valentine’s Day. Well, we could try going out to eat with the kids. Yeah, you’re right — terrible idea. Oh well, so should I order pizza or Chinese? Or how about leftovers??

Before: Sweet googly moogly, when I think back on what MJ was wearing during Valentine’s Day of old — yowza! She was dressed to the nines with full make-up, fancy earrings, a dress that makes men fall to their knees, and heels higher than Matthew McConaughey in Dazed & Confused. Like she stepped out of Vogue and onto the runway. Hell, even I managed to put on a suit and tie once in a while and flirt with looking dapper.
After: She’s in yoga pants. I’m in pajamas. Will has a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle outfit on and Sam is sporting this season’s latest diaper trend from Target. Also, is that poop or chocolate on your sleeve? Yeah, you’re probably right. Best not to find out.

Before: Foreplay. When I think back on how much time we had before kids for all things related to sexy time — hellllloooooo nurse! Not to go all TMI on you, but most couples I know were like us. Enjoying being together for hours in various states of undress, taking your time, whispering sweet nothings, whispering dirty somethings, and generally letting the proverbial oven heat up until the timer goes DING!
After: Foreplay consists of the brief moments before someone shouts “JUST HURRY UP AND FINISH, THE BABY IS WAKING UP!!!”

Before: Sex. Doin’ it. Gettin’ busy. The main event. After all, isn’t that what Valentine’s Day is REALLY about? All the fancy dinners, gifts, cards, etc. are really just a prelude to taking a trip to Funky Town. And couples with no kids can do that any time they want. Anywhere they want. At any volume they want. For so many, sex is the end all be all and if it’s good, then everything else is good.
After: Hey parents, without thinking about it tell me which one of these you’d rather do — sleep together or be able to sleep in? Yeah, thought so.

Before: Think back to pre-kid times and try to remember what you did after sex on Valentine’s Day. I bet there was some cuddling and almost certainly some spooning. Whether you were big spoon or little spoon, you had time to reflect on the earth-rattling experience the two of you just created, while you breathe in her heavenly scent and feel his strong arms wrapped around you in a beautiful embrace.
After: Get on your own side of the bed! Don’t you dare cross the unseen but very real border that separates us and maintains the delicate peace as we struggle to get scraps of sleep.

Before: At the end of a beautiful Valentine’s Day that consisted of looking our finest, eating an exquisite meal, receiving lovely cards and gifts, and was capped off by the best session of lovemaking EVER, what’s left to do? Chat for a bit about life while gently trailing off to sleep as we gaze into the wonder of each other’s eyes, naturally.
After: Wanna binge-watch Netflix?

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The Timer and the Parenting Clock

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“What the hell is that ticking??”

Of all the cringe-inducing, brow-furrowing, and anxiety-producing things my children play with, the timer is by far the worst. No drum set or obnoxious singing Elmo can possibly compete with the havoc this contraption has wreaked on my addled, fatherly mind. Nevermind the fact that when I first heard it, I thought I was having some sort of episode. But seriously, who the heck gives a timer to kids with a father who is a chronic over-thinker and incessant worrier??

I mean c’mon. I can’t think of a more heavy-handed metaphor in the world than the ticking clock of parenting. From the minute our children are born we’re literally on the clock. At first we time them to see when they utter their first words and take their first steps. Then, when they complete these things at warp speed, we suddenly FREAK OUT and desperately wonder where all the time went as we drop them off at kindergarten, watch them go on a first date, and eventually drop them off at their college dorms.

Parents are in a mortal battle and locked in an eternal death match with time. Except the only way we survive it on a daily basis without losing our damn minds is by keeping it on the back burner and putting it out of sight and out of mind for brief periods of time.

That becomes a bit more difficult when you’re suddenly surrounded by constant ticking and a jolting “BRRRRIIIIIIIINNNNNNGGGGGGGG!” every few moments.

Oh yeah, that’s right. It’s not like this is a modern timer with a palatable little beep when the clock strikes zero. No, no, no. This is one of those old school timers with a little hammer that vibrates between two metal bells. It reminds me of the sound my grandmother’s old rotary phone made whenever she received a call. It’s loud. It’s harsh. It can’t be ignored.

“Dad, how much longer do you have to work?”

I tell him five minutes. I always tell him five minutes. And by all things I hold holy I try to get everything done in five minutes. But even if it takes a little longer I can generally get away with it, because kids lose interest and time is super relative to them. So I squeeze in one more email. One more status update on Facebook. One more tweet. One more —

BBBBRRRRIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNGGGGGGGG!!!!!

Five minutes. On the dot. Followed by raised eyebrows and an expectant glare, thanks to his newfound ability to tell time down to the nanosecond. Crap. I just have one more thing to do. Just a couple more minutes, bud?

I type a little faster now trying to finish up. Oh damn, someone left a nasty comment on my Facebook page. What a jerk! I have the absolute perfect response though, and there’s no way I’m letting this a-hole get away with this crap. Not on my watch. I’m just going to rip this guy a new one by telling him —

BBBBRRRRIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNGGGGGGGG!!!!!

Now the anxiety really sets in. I’m on the clock. I’m on the clock when I’m at work trying to earn money so my family can survive and thrive. I’m on the clock for my freelance gigs and sponsored content, all with deadlines ticking down.

But most importantly, I’m on THE clock. The parenting clock. The only clock that seems to run at a different rate. The only clock that never stops. Yet it’s the clock I push to the side the most. Kids are people and when you’re dealing with them — your loved ones — you’re just hoping for some give — a little human leeway. And they do give, a little at a time. Repeatedly.

Until a sudden and harsh alarm bell lets you know exactly where your priorities should be. Maybe Super Dads don’t need such a reminder, but my cape is at the dry cleaner’s. And just like that, the timer is more blessing than curse. A loud, annoying, perfectly necessary blessing.

Because my biggest fear isn’t that time is passing too quickly. It’s that I’m not spending what little time I have wisely enough.

BBBBRRRRIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNGGGGGGGG!!!!!

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Similac: Stop the Judgment Because We’re Parents First

***I have partnered with Similac for this piece.
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The first online parenting community I joined in 2008 almost kicked me out just for being a dad.

It was early 2008 and my wife was pregnant with Will. I didn’t even know what a dad blog was yet, and it would be several months before I’d become an official dad blogger. All I knew was I was about to become a dad and I had no information and a very small support network. So I went to BabyCenter and joined a birth board.

Finally I had a place to go online and talk with people going through the same thing due the same month. Some of them were second and third time parents as well, which allowed me to ask questions that would benefit me down the road. I jumped right in with both feet and asked questions and joined discussions, happy to have a place that finally made me feel like I wasn’t isolated.

Except I’d soon feel more alone than ever.

Suddenly there was talk of “spying” and other women who said they didn’t feel comfortable talking with a man in their presence. There was even a public debate about whether or not to hold a vote that would determine my fate in the group. Not only was I outraged, I was disappointed. The website catered to moms, sure, but it clearly said it was for “parents.” I was on the verge of telling them off once and for all and quitting the group before they could throw me out, when something pretty awesome happened.

A few of the moms contacted me privately and told me to hang in there. When I expressed how pissed I was, they said they understood but they also told me to take a breath and come at it from a different angle.

So instead of getting angry, I joined more conversations than ever. I started threads asking for help and advice, and I offered thoughtful comments when other people asked for help. In short, I made myself an active and attentive part of the community and soon most of the moms there saw that for themselves and came around to the idea of a man in their midst. Not everyone, mind you, but the overwhelming majority accepted me as an involved parent and I stayed in that group for several years.

So what’s the point? Sometimes parenting can feel like a judgmental contact sport played in the Thunder Dome.

“Oh you use disposable diapers? Well I just care about the environment too much to do that.”

“You know, most people who use formula just aren’t trying hard enough at breastfeeding.”

“I heard babies who use pacifiers have lower IQs.”

Look, this stuff is almost certainly going to happen at some point when you’re raising kids. And most involved dads can tell you more than a few stories about exclusion online, getting the stinkeye on the playground, and not being invited to playdates. But the trick I learned seven years ago still applies today, which is just keep plugging. Keep showing people you’re a dedicated parent. Keep being involved no matter what. Sure you could drop a bunch of insults and go nuclear (I’ve fallen down this rabbit hole in the past), but in the end the best comeback is killing them with kindness and making yourself look competent and positive. Eventually people will take notice and then they’ll take your side.

The proof is in the pudding.

Even seven years later, I’m still friends with a handful of moms from that birth board, and we’ve been there for one another as our kids have grown up.

And as far as dads making progress, if you watched the Super Bowl this year you probably noticed dads finally made the marketing big time and have worked our way into the larger conversation. How did that happen? Years of involved fathers publicly embracing the shifting landscape of modern masculinity, making fatherhood a priority, and positively speaking up until we began getting a seat at the table.

Take this very promotion. Similac has invited me (a dad) to take part in a campaign that’s ordinarily been mom-only. More than that, they recognized the importance of including dads by including the #ParentsFirst hashtag.

So when you find yourself in the crosshairs of parental judgment and you feel like lashing out, just remember you’re better than the people taking their insecurities out on you. And if you choose to highlight your positive traits, others will see you shine and join you.

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I was compensated by Similac for the “Sisterhood of Motherhood” campaign, which aims to unite all parents in a judgment-free zone. But as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. I hope you enjoy this fantastic video Similac developed that shows we’re all #ParentsFirst when it comes to raising our kids.

You can visit Similac’s website or go to its Facebook page to learn more.

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Parenting: “It’s Hard, But Great”

handsIt started with chocolate frappes and peppermint stick sundaes.

There’s a restaurant one town over from us called Bliss Bros. It’s been a local fixture in southeastern Massachusetts for 85 years, and if you ask the old townies where to go for ice cream and good food cheap, they’ll point you to Bliss. And rightfully so. My family loves it because we can fill our bellies (including dessert), without emptying our wallet.

But I’ve come to appreciate more than just the food there.

The clientele at Bliss is…well, let’s just say it’s on the older side. That used to be a deterrent for me because — if we’re being completely honest — old people kind of freaked me out. And old people eating used to REALLY freak me out. I know that sounds horrible, but it’s the truth. It’s amazing how quickly affordability and quick service trump luxury and extravagance when you become a parent.

When we take the boys, we generally arrive like a collective hurricane. Will is running ahead and we’re yelling at him to be careful in a parking lot. Sam is squealing because he wants to keep up with his brother, but it’s faster than his little legs can carry him. MJ lugs an ever-increasing-in-size diaper bag while I scramble after the kids.

When we get inside, we seat ourselves and I wrestle Sam into a highchair seconds before he goes into the alligator death roll of escape. Will immediately starts asking for crayons and once again requesting only ice cream for dinner, only to whine when we answer no for the 2,000th time. MJ and I haven’t even been able to sit down in the booth yet.

And this is supposed to be easier than cooking at home?

By the time we order I’m already at my wit’s end and Sam is ready to leave. I look down at the table not to eat, but because I’m looking for a spot on which to repeatedly bang my head and make it all stop.

And that’s when it happens.

Sam starts making eyes at the elderly couple across from us. If they don’t notice or they don’t respond, he commences cooing, oohing, and ahhing. They eventually notice and do a double take, but then immediately break into a smile.

Now they’re hooked.

Sam gives them the toothy grin and they’re captivated. Then he throws them a wave from his cherubic little hand, and they stop eating altogether to give him their undivided attention. I know what’s coming next. For his grand finale while soaking up the attention he loves so much, he brings his hand to his mouth, blows a kiss, and makes an adorable “MMMUUUAAAAHHH!” sound.

When they’re done eating and they’ve paid the bill, they come over to chat. And let me tell you, for a guy who used to HATE having strangers talk to him, it’s amazing how much I’ve come to love and appreciate the conversations I’ve had with people like this.

They come over and smile at Sam. They ask Will about being a big brother. Sometimes they gently run leathery fingers through the golden curls on the back of Sam’s head, but mostly they just stare. And smile. And once in a while, I see tears.

Their kids are either grown, moved out of the area, or in some tragic cases, passed away. But right then — right in that moment — they’re back. The wistful smiles tell me beyond a shadow of a doubt, they’re transported back to the days of carpools, school lunches, and the general hustle and bustle of child-rearing. Days they thought were stressful at the time, but are now viewed through the lens of hindsight for what they really were — the good times.

And for a second, the smiles erase the years. It’s like they’ve walked into a warm mist of memories that seems to smooth out the wrinkles and hard lines like no restorative beauty cream ever could.

I think I like it because I’m already fully aware I’ll be that old guy someday. Hell, I’m that guy now when I’m out somewhere sans family and I start missing my kids. Without even realizing it, I find myself gravitating toward families just to be near everything I’m missing. I laugh when I hear the exasperated parents tell their kid to sit with his butt on the seat for the fifth time, and smile when a little sister steals her brother’s crayons and a sibling spat breaks out.

When I took both boys to Bliss by myself recently, I had one of the encounters described above. A very sweet older woman was enamored with Sam and Will and then came over to chat. It was after a dust-up between Sam and Will over Will using my cell phone much to Sam’s dismay, and my playing referee. I shrugged and frowned and said something along the lines of parenthood being a tough job.

What she said in response will always stick with me.

“Parenting is hard, but it’s great,” she said with a sage profoundness. “Never forget that the great should always win out.”

It may have all started with chocolate frappes and peppermint stick sundaes, but it continues to be a reminder of what’s important in life.

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