Hey Judgmental Parents, It’s Not Always What It Looks Like

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***I received compensation for this post courtesy of Similac, but all opinions are my own.

What do you see when you look at this picture?

Do you see how the boy has slipped? Do you notice his white knuckle grip as he struggles to hold on and avoid falling? Can you see the slight blur of his feet as he kicks his legs profusely to avoid dropping to the ground below?

If you’re like many people, this picture probably makes you think about more than just the boy dangling from a piece of playground apparatus. After all, someone is behind the camera and that somebody is probably a parent. Do you find yourself thinking of all the playground parents you’ve seen “ignoring” their kids in favor of their cell phones? Is the voice in your head judging the parent and saying “PUT DOWN YOUR DAMN PHONE AND HELP YOUR KID?!?”

Pictures can be worth a thousand words, but words said absent knowledge are folly.

The boy is my son and the photographer is me. It was taken a couple of years ago on a playground when he was 5 years old. And just a few moments after I took it, a mother I never met before decided I was a bad parent. She made it her business to step in and “save” my son, even though I was standing close by in plain sight and watching him intently. Not content to helicopter her own child to the point of absurdity, this snapshot of my more hands-off parenting style was apparently too much for her to bear.

You see, I believe in calculated risks.

In this instance, Will was struggling with a climbing structure and not trusting his abilities. I knew he could do it, but he hadn’t proven it to himself yet. So I took stock of the situation, which included a safe place to climb, being no more than a couple of feet off the ground, and a mulch surface that would provide a soft landing should he fall. Knowing all this, when he slipped and yelled for help I simply told him he could figure it out himself if he didn’t panic and just used his head a bit.

Unfortunately, that’s when Captain America Mom decided it was her job to come to the rescue. Mainly because she saw the snapshot and not the bigger picture.

I believe kids are far more capable than we give them credit for, and not nearly as fragile or helpless as we think. Do I like watching my son struggle and fail repeatedly when trying to master something? Not particularly. However, I believe failure is necessary to achieve and appreciate success. I believe kids are stronger when they overcome their obstacles instead of snowplow parents always clearing the way. I believe just as many lessons are learned in defeat as in victory.

So when Will politely declined her offer, righted himself, and made it across the platform by himself, I smiled that much bigger.

The bottom line is there’s always more to consider and more to the story. This wasn’t a situation where he was in danger or being ignored/abused, but the mom on the playground wasn’t interested in seeing past the snapshot. She didn’t consider the possibility that a different parenting style other than her own could possibly be effective.

If she had, she might’ve seen the importance of parents knowing their kids and acting accordingly. She might’ve noticed there is more than one way to successfully raise a child other than her own. And maybe, just maybe, it would’ve dawned on her that not all risks are bad and letting kids experience a bit of failure helps them in the long run.

So next time you see a snapshot frozen in time that looks bad, make sure you consider the context.

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ABB_SIM_BloggerBadge_250x151I 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. Check out:

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What Movies Will You Pass Down to Your Kids?

netflix_tbt_fathersdayA belief in everlasting love and a healthy thirst for adventure.

If I had to pick the two things I want to teach my kids, those traits sit right at the top of the list. Deep down I’m a hopeless romantic, who genuinely believes two people can be together until the end of time and still be madly in love. It’s how I feel about my wife and it’s how I want my kids to feel about whoever they end up marrying.

And while I hope my kids aren’t adrenaline junkies, I do want to instill in them a sense of adventure and whimsy. An unexplainable urge to explore and learn and try new things. I should’ve done more of that when I was younger and I don’t want my kids having that regret as well.

There are two movies from my youth that exemplify those two traits. Two movies that have stuck with me through all the years and continue to make an impact on me. Two movies I will absolutely pass down to my kids as family heirlooms.

The Princess Bride and The Goonies.

Movies are important to me. The great ones not only entertain, they teach. They enrich. They resonate for the rest of your life and they weave generations together to form a carpet of common ground. My parents were never Saturday morning cartoon people, and so I wasn’t either. But man did we watch movies. So too will my boys.

Sharing Princess Bride and Goonies with Will was just incredible — for completely different yet awesome reasons.

“As you wish.”
“Anybody want a peanut?”
“Mawedge is what bwings us together, today.”
“Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.”
“Inconceivable!”

When it comes to Princess Bride, pick a quote. Any quote. Even though it’s almost 30 years old (holy crap, really???), this is still one of the most quoted movies ever. It’s got giants, epic sword fights, witty banter, shrieking eels, and MLTs — mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe. They’re so perky. I love that.

But most of all, it’s got true love between Westley and Buttercup. Love that begins from a spark of familiarity but grows into an inferno. Love that has to overcome slight obstacles such as pirate abduction, the Fire Swamp and, you know, death.

I need my boys to realize when you find true love, you never give up on it and you never let it go. You fight for it, just like MJ and I do for one another. Always and with all the passion in the world.

And when it comes to The Goonies, I don’t think there’s another movie I’ve watched more often. Seriously, we wore out the VHS tape. Despite including a murderous family of gangsters who shoot a federal agent in the head and keep a developmentally disabled person chained up in the basement, The Goonies is adventure personified.

What kid doesn’t want to find a treasure map and go hunt for pirate booty with his best friends? And, oh yeah, save mom and dad’s house, kiss a beautiful girl, and stop the country club yuppies from taking over in the process.

Mikey didn’t know for sure if One-Eyed Willy’s treasure was real, but he trusted his gut. He had friends who trusted in him. And he maintained the determination and perseverance to see it through to the end. Unfortunately, I probably would’ve been the kid talking Mikey out of seeking the treasure because my sense of adventure didn’t flare up until very recently. But I want better for my boys. I want them to seek out new challenges and take (reasonable) leaps of faith in trying new things.

And I still want to try that waterslide through the caves that lead to the pirate ship. Even now.

I know they’re just movies, but they’re also shared experiences with Will (and eventually Sam and Baby #3). They’re a throwback to my youth, and I feel like the movies are a way for my former kid self to geek out with my kids and bond. They won’t even grasp all of it until they’re much older, but the seeds are planted now as we both enjoy movies and discuss them afterward.

So when he asks to stay up a little late to watch one of our favorite movies, you know what my answer is more often than not.

“As you wish.”

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StreamTeamBadge I 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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Flatout Helps Me Get In Shape

Three months ago I weighed nearly 275 lbs, which is near the heaviest I’ve ever been. I decided two things then and there. First, I signed up to run a half marathon this summer. Second, it was time to start eating better.

I began running immediately and although it was (and still is) slow going, my half marathon is this weekend and I think I’m at least to the point where I can finish one. No small feat for someone who was completely out of shape and without training in March. But as anyone trying to lose weight knows all too well, exercise will only take you so far. The rest of it — and my biggest struggle — is in healthy eating.

You see, I’m obsessed with carbs.

I will eat an entire box of pasta in one sitting. Kraft mac & cheese? Yes please! And bread? Well don’t get me started on bread. If I could eat bread all day every day exclusively, I would. Unfortunately, that kind of exorbitant carb intake does nothing to help with weight loss.

So how does a carb fanatic all but give up bread? The answer is Flatout.

Simply put, whenever I wanted a sandwich I would use Flatout wraps instead. Specifically, I used the Flatout Hungry Girl Foldits because they have fewer carbs, calories, and yet still retain plenty of protein and — most importantly — taste.

I can’t stress how important that last one is to me, because as much as I want to lose weight, I won’t sacrifice taste. Thankfully, with Flatout, I don’t have to worry about that because everything from the traditional white Foldits to the whole wheat with flax tastes really, really good.

Now prior experiments with Flatout have already proven they’re a great, low carb and low calorie substitute for burger buns and pizza dough, so that was a no-brainer. This time around, I asked my wife to come up with things I don’t usually eat or haven’t tried, that I could rely on as I continue to try and lose weight. At first she didn’t want to do it because I’m so picky, but eventually she agreed to it. And I’m glad she did because look what she concocted.

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First of all, I’m 35 years old and I’ve never tried avocado. I know, I’m sad. But now that I have, I’m never going back.

MJ took a Flatout Hungry Girl whole wheat Foldit and lined it with hummus. Then she put some grilled chicken topped with avocado, along with some lettuce. The balsamic glaze drizzled on top was the perfect kicker and I ended up absolutely loving this, which means I just added a healthy and delicious lunch meal to my healthy eating arsenal.

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This one I was truly shocked by, mainly because I didn’t think I liked tomatoes.

This is so simple and so delicious, I had all three of these when MJ made them (even though I swore I’d hate them and she wasted her time). All it is is taking some Flatout Foldit Classic White sliders and jazzing them up a bit. She put a thin layer of basil pesto on first, then a slice of beefsteak tomato, followed by a hefty slice of mozzarella. Boom. That’s it.

But despite the simplicity of the recipe, this was a game-changer for me. I love them and they’re tasty as hell. So instead of me having a fatty chicken salad sandwich with white bread, now I have a much healthier (and just as delicious) option that’s completely simple to make.

As you all know (or should know, dammit!), June means Father’s Day. But it also doubles as Men’s Health Month, which means trimming down on the fat content, carbs, and upping your fiber is advisable. And the thing you might not realize (because I sure didn’t) is that it’s relatively easy to do.

Instead of a breakfast sandwich from a fast food place, put some eggs, bacon, and peppers into a Flatout Foldit and you’ve got an early morning kick starter. Lunch between conference calls? Wrap that turkey or ham up in a Flatout Foldit on the go. And when you get home for dinner, try putting that burger in a Foldit as well. Same great taste, but you’re giving your body a break.

To get you started, here’s a coupon from the good folks at Flatout to save money while you’re saving calories and carbs.

And remember, the best Father’s Day present is the gift of longevity, so eat right and do your part to make sure you stick around to be with your family as long as possible.

***I was compensated for this post but, as always, all opinions are 100% my own.

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Why I’m an Unapologetic Manners Nazi

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“Manners are the basic building blocks of civil society.”
– Alexander McCall Smith

My kids are exceedingly polite and well-mannered. I don’t say that to boast or exaggerate, I say it as simple fact. It’s not luck of the draw or accidental, either. They got that way because my wife and I relentlessly hammer home manners and follow through on punishments should they forget their manners or act rudely in public.

Simply put, MJ and I are “Manner Nazis” when it comes to our kids. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m not sure how or why stressing good manners is controversial, but it is. Television star Mayim Bialik says she doesn’t force manners on her kids or correct them when they forget. Bloggers like this one feel forcing your kids to say “I’m sorry” is bad, because it’s not authentic. Even some of my fellow friends and dad bloggers have disagreed with me on this, saying it’s pointless to force kids to say “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry” at a young age because they’re too immature to know the meaning of those terms.

That last part is true, they are too young to completely understand the concept. But guess what? That doesn’t matter.

Getting kids into good habits, even when they don’t fully understand them yet, is a positive thing. Both Will and Sam learned how to sign please and thank you around their first birthdays. Did they know exactly what the term meant? Of course not. But they knew they had to say it first to get what they wanted, and they learned they had to sign “thank you” afterward to show appreciation. Now, at 22 months, Sam says please routinely when he needs something, and thank you (really it’s more like “Chinch Choo”) after he receives it.

Will, who is 7, also has impeccable manners because we’ve made it a priority.

When he enters a conversation, it’s always with an “excuse me.” If he’s done something wrong, he apologizes. When he was younger, it started with a simple “I’m sorry.” But as he got older and could comprehend more, we’d always have a conversation about what went wrong and we’d explore the reason he’s sorry. Now when he’s done something to offend, he not only apologizes but he tells you why he’s sorry and what he could have done differently.

Unfortunately, parents making it a priority to raise well-mannered kids are in the minority these days.

I know I’m going to sound like the old guy complaining about the damn kids on his lawn, but take a trip out to a store or restaurant and you’ll see what I mean. Kids standing on the seats and even the tables. Older kids throwing food and not picking it up. Children shouting their orders at the waiter instead of asking nicely, with no correction from mom or dad. And then, not surprisingly, I watch mom and dad treat the waitstaff with the same dismissive contempt. Go figure.

Meanwhile, if our kids do make a mess while out to eat, we make them pick it up. If it’s Sam, who is still very young, then either MJ or I gets down on the floor and collects all the food he dropped. One time, a nearby restaurant patron said “Why are you doing that? They’re paid to do it.” I responded with a very simple “Because I’m not a jerk.”

Instilling good manners and politeness in your kids has very little to do with being seen as a good parent, or having your kids reflect well upon you. It’s about much more than that.

Unfortunately, good manners are so rare they are now the exception. That means Will is routinely praised by everyone from his bus driver to random strangers in restaurants who are impressed with how he handles himself. If he keeps this up, that ability to impress will extend to his future teachers, bosses, clients, and even his romantic partners.

It’s learning how to behave and thrive in mixed company, and how to make everyone feel welcome. It’s learning to treat people with respect. It’s knowing if you’re seen as someone who respects others, everything you say will carry that much more weight and value. If he’s up against an equally qualified candidate during a job interview or going for a promotion, perhaps it’ll be his “soft skills” and how he conducts himself that gives him the extra edge.

My main job as a parent is to love and raise quality human beings who contribute something positive to society. As far as I’m concerned, that starts with teaching them good manners.

It starts by parents modeling good manners at home and out in public, and stressing them at every turn. Are my kids perfect? No. Do they occasionally forget their manners? Absolutely. Mistakes happen, and if they’re contrite then no harm no foul. But if they keep being punks after they’ve been warned, then there are consequences.

It sucks to punish your kids, but we do it because otherwise they don’t learn anything. So an “I want ice cream!” one time earns a warning, but a second offense immediately after that means he’s going home with no dessert. Otherwise, if we give in to demands instead of making polite requests the norm, I truly believe we’re contributing to an entitlement problem that already plagues too high a percentage of this generation of kids.

Some will dismiss this entire piece as just another crotchety, holier-than-thou parent humble-bragging about how his kids are flippin’ wonderful. And others will continue to tell MJ and me we’re too strict with the boys when it comes to manners, and we need to relax. At least that’s what I think they said. Truthfully, it was hard to hear them over their kids running around being brats.

But the bottom line is manners matter. It’s not only good for society as a whole, but it’ll benefit your children as they grow up as well. Raising polite human beings is important, and the world desperately needs more of them.

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Poop, Pampers, and Preparedness on Father’s Day

 

fatherxs_day_038***I was compensated for this post but, as always, all opinions are my own.

Boston Beer Works, across the street from Fenway Park, used to be one of my favorite pre- and post-game drink spots. But on June 15, 2008, that all changed.

That was a milestone date for me because it marked my first Father’s Day as a dad. Will was a mere two months old, and we went to Fenway for the very first time together. The Red Sox weren’t playing, but they opened up the field to families for a Father’s Day celebration. We were able to walk around in center field, take a little tour of the park, and breathe in some good old-fashioned nostalgia courtesy of America’s favorite pastime.

When that was done, we marched across the street to have a beer and grab some food. And that’s when it all fell apart.

You see, we had only been parents for two months. We were rookies. Novices. Amateurs. In addition to being so inexperienced, we were also struggling financially and seeking any and every corner to cut to make things more affordable. And one of those corners was diapers.

We had been using discount diapers to save a few bucks, because we figured “hey, there’s no real difference in quality, right?” Wrong. Very wrong. Disgustingly and immeasurably wrong.

While sitting down for beers and snacks, MJ began breastfeeding Will. Even though the restaurant was pretty crowded, I still remember the sound that came from that tiny 2-month-old’s body. It was a wet slapping noise accompanied by a full body twitch. Before I could say “what the heck was that,” it became all too apparent what “that” was. Because “that” was running down Will’s legs.

MJ saw the horror in my eyes, but then her own eyes went wide with fright as she felt excrement flowing down her arms. And then onto her lap. And then a little bit on the table and booth.

As newbies, we were petrified. I remember literally being frozen in place with fear because we were out in public, our baby was crapping on everything, and we didn’t know what to do. MJ took him to the bathroom to clean him up, trying to save the outfit which was comically beyond help. But (again, we were noobs) we hadn’t packed a spare onesie either, so we had to just wrap poor Will in small blankets.

We ended up leaving in humiliation before we even ate. And while that didn’t ruin my first Father’s Day, it certainly taught me an important lesson.

Going to Babies “R” Us and spending a little extra money on quality Pampers diapers became Rule #1. We’ve been using Pampers for our kids ever since, because they largely prevent blowouts like this one from happening and they work great even overnight with minimum leakage. Saving money is great, but there are some corners not worth cutting and I’m willing to shell out a little more for a quality product that prevents me from being covered in fecal matter.

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And yet as disgusting as that moment was, I’m not sure there will ever be a more memorable Father’s Day. That’s why expensive gifts and lavish items are completely unnecessary and unwanted on Father’s Day. Instead of that, give me the good stuff. Give me an experience or a mini vacation with the family or a day out on the canoe fishing. I’ll take the gift of time and something the kids will remember over material goods every single day of the week.

As long as the Pampers come along for the ride.

And speaking of great products you can grab at Babies “R” Us, you can head into stores right now for these great items until June 30:

  • $5 OFF LUVS VALUE BOXES OF DIAPERS (REG $35.99)
  • $9.99 PAMPERS SPLASHERS (PERFECT FOR SUMMER!)
  • $19.99 PAMPERS VALUE BOXES OF WIPES (REG $23.99)
  • FREE DREFT STAIN REMOVER 22OZ ($3.99 VALUE) WITH PURCHASE OF ANY DREFT LAUNDRY DETERGENT 100OZ

And if that doesn’t impress you, then this will.

Thanks to Babies “R” Us and Pampers, I’m doing a giveaway just for you guys. In the comments section, tell me your idea of the perfect Father’s Day. Dads, describe what you want most. Moms/spouses, describe what you think your partner’s perfect Father’s Day would look like. I’ll pick my favorite one and the winner will receive this prize pack:

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  • $50 Babies “R” Us gift card
  • Pampers wipes
  • Dreft pen
  • Crayola Chalk
  • Babies “R” Us Changing Pad Station
  • Dad and Me Keepsake Coloring Book

I hope you all have a great (and mess-free) Father’s Day.

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