Tag Archives: Sam

I Put the Phone Down For a Day to be In the Moment and Here’s What I Learned

A beautiful moment preserved for all eternity thanks to a smartphone camera

I’m addicted to my smartphone.

If you’re a parent and you’ve ever been on the Internet, you know how shameful a statement that is. Because if we’ve learned anything from other parents who write about parenting on the Internet for an audience that is largely mobile and reading these things on their phones, we know the combination of phones + kids is bad. Harmful, according to so many of these writers who know beyond a shadow of a doubt parents on phones are irreparably damaging their offspring.

On Sunday, I put our canoe on top of our minivan, loaded up the fishing gear, and decided to take my 3-year-old for a canoe ride down the Charles River. When we parked the car at the put-in point on the river, I had a panic attack as a horrific feeling of dread and anxiety washed over me.

I forgot my phone at home.

Truth be told, my first instinct was to jump back in the car and go get it. But I stopped for a second and calmed myself in order to contemplate something truly outrageous — spending the next few hours in nature with my son sans smartphone.

I thought of all the articles I’ve read telling me what a deadbeat I am for using my phone so much around my kids. I thought of how valuable it could be to be present in the moment and not witness life through a small screen. I also thought about the epic tantrum Sam would throw if I told him we had to go home and then come back and how much I hate detours, but I swear I thought about the value of the no phone thing too.

In the end, I decided to go it without technology. Just a dad and his son. Fishing and paddling and talking and connecting with one another and nature. Besides, who needs a camera when the mind’s eye is so wondrous, right?

Well fuck that shit, because the answer is me — I need a camera. And going without my phone was absolutely awful and I’m never doing it again!

I know you were expecting another one of those “I was addicted to technology but I went without it and I had some spiritual epiphany and now I’m a different man and a better father and I’m here to annoy you with my newfound anti-smartphone wokeness” bullshit, but that’s not happening. And here’s why.

First of all, the scenery was really beautiful along the river and capturing some shots would’ve been nice. Second, we saw deer, turtles, an otter, and a family of geese. It was really cool. Know what wasn’t cool? Sam asking me to take a picture each and every time wildlife appeared, and having a fresh new meltdown every time I reminded him I didn’t have my phone on me. It was nice being in the moment with multiple tantrums.

But the big reason I’ll forever kick myself for not going back for my phone is because Sam caught his first fish on this trip — and I missed it.

I’ve let him reel fish in after I’ve hooked them, but this was the first one he caught after casting with no help from me, setting the hook, reeling it in, and then landing it in the canoe. When he realized he had a fish on he FREAKED OUT with excitement and began reeling like a madman. He was shouting “I’VE GOT A FISH! DADA I’VE GOT A FISH! I’M A REAL FISHERMAN!” and his shrieks could be heard clear across Populatic Pond. He and the fish battled but eventually Sam got the better of him and plopped a smallmouth bass into the canoe. Once in the boat, Sam screamed “I CAUGHT A FISH ALL BY MYSELF!!!!!” with triumphant resonance. And as a proud papa, my smile widened as my eyes watered. And at that moment Sam turned to me, cocked his head to one side, and said something I’ll never forget.

“Dad, you got that on video right?”

Don’t get me wrong, it was as Kodak a moment as they get and I’m thrilled I was able to see it. But know what would’ve made it better? A video or picture I could look at any time I wanted. Something I could show relatives and friends. Something I could show him years from now when he’s unable to remember any of this. Hell, something I can refer to when I can’t remember any of this.

All of these parenting “gurus” tell you to live in the moment so I’ll be able to remember things clearly, but I work 50+ hours a week while raising three kids. My days start at 5:15 am and don’t end until the maelstrom of dinner and bedtime has concluded around 10 pm. Half the time I don’t even know what day it is, and I legit can’t remember my kids’ names. I called one of them the dog’s name yesterday. So having every photo and video I take automatically back up to Google Photos and be categorized online for perusal any time I want is HUGE for me.

An that’s the other thing. One of the arguments from these smartphone critics is “You’re taking a photo you’re never going to watch again so what’s the point?” Well maybe we’re a bunch of narcissists in this house, but we watch old videos and go through old pictures constantly. Once in awhile we’ll spend entire evenings going through YouTube videos from years ago and watching the kids grow up. And EVERY SINGLE TIME we say “Oh wow, I completely forgot about this. This is great.

I hate to break it to these professional parent-shamers, but it’s entirely possible to take pictures and videos of your kids and “be in the moment.” Using a smartphone to record kids and being present are not mutually exclusive things, and I’m not sure why it’s now socially acceptable to simply believe that’s the case. If you overdo it then sure, it can be a problem. That’s true for anything — especially dispensing judgey parenting advice on the Internet.

Lastly, when I got home, MJ was FURIOUS at me because if something had happened I would’ve had no way to call for help. So in addition to missing a milestone moment,  not being able to capture the cool animals, and disappointing my son, the absence of my phone got me chewed out by my wife to boot.

All I know is I’m going to wield my smartphone all the time and capture as much of my kid’s childhoods as humanly possible. And I’m not going to question that decision or feel guilty about it for one damn second. Because some day years from now, MJ and I will be sitting down getting happily misty-eyed at random videos we’ve taken over the years.

The beauty of this technology is that it’s allowed us to retain the random, wonderful moments that are too often lost through the holes in memory’s floorboards. It’s the virtual recycling bin that allows us to reuse the overflow of memories our minds are simply too full to comprehend for the long-term. Or, more simply put, it allows me to live in future moments as well as the original one.

I will hold on to the memory of Sam’s first fish for as long as my addled mind allows. But I sure do wish I had caught it on video.

It won’t happen again.

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When Brushing Kids Teeth Turns Into a Battle

Our favorite football team gave us reason to keep our smiles fresh

Every night at 7 pm Will and Sam brush their teeth.

This has been the routine for years, yet it seems to take them by surprise every single night. I announce it’s time to brush teeth and they glare at me with a look of affront as if I’ve just suggested something completely outrageous. And then the fight begins.

Will runs away. Sam starts crying. I grab Will and force him into the bathroom (a task which gets tougher every single day as he nears his ninth birthday), and then MJ drags a screaming Sam in as well. You’d think we were forcing them into a dungeon instead of a bathroom. Will does his best to pretend he’s brushing, and I tell him it would take him less time to actually brush efficiently than to carry out this nightly farce of faux brushing three times until we make him do it right. Sam? He just continues to scream and clench his jaws shut like a caged animal. When we do manage to get the toothbrush in there, he bites it like it’s a bone. Sometimes we need to tickle him to get him to open his mouth just for a few seconds.

But eventually we micromanage Will’s brushing and hold Sam down long enough so hopefully a few bristles hit his teeth, and then release them upstairs for bed. Another battle won in a long war that wears us down and makes no one happy.

With Christmas candy still hanging around the house and Valentine’s Day snacks sure to add to the pile of sugary sweets, it’s important to remember the other thing February is known for — National Children’s Dental Health Month.

Did you know that according to the CDC:

  • At least 20% of children ages 5-11 have at least one untreated decayed tooth
  • Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in kids age 6-11 and adolescents age 12-19

This is why we fight the battle. The people who didn’t take great care of their teeth will be the first ones to tell you they wouldn’t wish that pain and cost on anyone later in life. So to prevent that, we’re doing all we can to promote good oral hygiene in our kids and make brushing as painless as possible. That includes:

  • Letting them pick their own fun toothbrushes
  • Having them pick out their own toothpaste
  • Giving them special treats if they brush for a week with no complaining
  • Allowing them to set the timer to make sure they brush long enough
  • Let them pick their favorite songs to play during brushing
It’s all worth it to get healthy smiles like this one

Does it always work? Absolutely not. Does it incrementally improve things? Yes. And anything that makes the battle slightly easier is worth it.

We also include our 17-month-old Tommy, because in 2014 the American Academy of Pediatrics changed their oral health guidelines and said parents should begin using a smear of fluoride toothpaste at tooth eruption. If you need more information on fluoride ingredients and general use, click here.

Here are some additional quick oral health care tips for parents:

  •  Fluoride is an anti-cavity active ingredient available in over-the-counter (OTC) products that helps prevent tooth decay and cavities.
  • Children under the age of 6 should use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and be supervised in order to develop good brushing and rinsing habits and to minimize product swallowing.
  • Parents and caregivers should help a child brushing his or her teeth until mastery is obtained, usually around age 8.

This is a sponsored post. I am collaborating with the CHPA (Consumer Health Products Association) Educational Foundation and knowyourOTCs.org. I was compensated for this post but as always, my opinions are 100% my own. 

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Buzz-buzz

3h0fhhhefsa-i-m-priscilla

“I SAID IT’S TIME TO GO!”

This experience started out like all the rest the last few months — with the best of intentions and me trying to find my back to involved fatherhood. And then it ended like it always has for the last few months — with me getting impatient and yelling at the boys.

This time it was Sam. I took him to walk the dog down the dirt road across the street from our house. The road ends at a small pond that Sam loves, mainly because it’s now frozen over and he discovered that when you throw a rock on a frozen pond it makes a really cool noise. But when 3-year-olds find something new and fun, they want to do it again. And again. And again and again and again. Over and over until they’ve squeezed the enjoyment out of it like so much blood from the stones they seek to skip along that ice-encrusted surface.

I knew he’d want to linger and I told myself to be patient with him. After all, with the hours I work we haven’t had much time together and I know he just misses me.

So we threw rocks for five minutes and it was fun. Then I felt the familiar sensation of a buzz in my pocket. Work email. Dammit, I’ll have to respond to this. I gently say “Hey bud, it’s time to go back, OK?” He ignores me in favor of picking up another rock and tossing it down to smash against the ice.

Buzz-buzz.

I feel the discomfort growing as I try to read the email, herd Sam, all with the dog’s leash attached to my wrist, which is yanking me as I try to catch up on what I need to do when I get back to the house. I put my phone in my pocket and kneel down beside him and tell him again how we have to go home. He cries and says “NO!” and I can see him digging in his heels. I take a breath and try to reason with him and tell him “Peanut is cold, we need to walk back so he’ll be warm.”

Buzz-buzz.

I’ve now lost my patience and the thought of emails I haven’t yet responded to fills me with more dread and loathing than is healthy. But that buzzing is my job, that job is my future, my future is that house, and that house is everything I want for my family. Which means whatever that email is is the most important thing right now. The ridiculousness of that statement is not lost on me, even in the moment. Yet it has taken hold of me and I can’t fight it. Not now. Not there at the frozen pond with my phone abuzz and my son’s temper flaring and the dog pulling — pulling me in a thousand different directions so that I’m everywhere and yet nowhere all at the same time.

Buzz-buzz.

“SAM, I’VE HAD IT. LET’S GO OR YOU’RE LOSING A TOY!” I scream, too loud. Too close to him. I’ve now triggered Sam’s fight or flight response and he almost always chooses fight. He scrunches up his face, balls up his fist, and grunts like it’s Lord of the Flies. He’s savage now and I made him this way, only now I’m off the reservation too.

I snatch him up but he’s big and I have the dog, who pulls me off balance and forces me to put Sam down. He views this as a victory and runs back toward the pond as I yank the dog to give chase. He’s screaming about wanting to throw rocks. I’ve just threatened to take every toy he’s ever owned or will ever own. Our father-son walk has turned into a grudge match and neither of us is going to yield an inch.

Buzz-buzz.

This imbalance can’t be blamed on the kids or work. It’s my fault. I didn’t do it on purpose but that doesn’t matter, and it’s up to me to fix. I just don’t know how. I don’t know how to excel at my job without working the hours I work. I don’t know how to be a good parent if I routinely go 2-3 days during the week without seeing them, and then spend my weekends being annoyed by them and the work I didn’t get to during the week.

It’s easy for others to tell me I just need to spend less time at work, but my job is what’s allowing us to move into a great house. My wife would work if she could, but she can’t. It’s not good for her health and I won’t have her in that situation again. So I stumble on, hoping to find a middle ground I’m not even sure exists and wondering how much human leeway I’ll be afforded by my family until I’m nothing more than a stranger passing in the night who shows up late for events and spends time screaming at little kids for wanting to throw rocks on the icy pond.

I have no answers, just anxiety. It is the fear of worrying you’re screwing everything up and realizing you won’t really know the answer to that until it’s far too late. It’s the terrifying notion that a job you love and the people you love could very well need more time and attention than you have to give, yet something has to give. Otherwise you end up having WW III over rocks on a pond.

Buzz-buzz.

 

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Now I Know Why They Call Them Rescue Dogs

Haley enjoying Cahoon Hollow Beach on Cape Cod
Haley enjoying Cahoon Hollow Beach on Cape Cod

My dog died yesterday.

It was expected because she was old and in declining health, but unexpected in that she died after being hit by a car. In full view of the kids. The end result of a still mischievous but half blind/deaf dog taking advantage of a door that didn’t quite latch.

I was on the train home from Boston when I got the call, and I immediately broke down in tears. Which is fitting, perhaps, since sadness is what led me to her in the first place.

It was 2007. I was a newlywed living on Cape Cod and working as a journalist. An investigative piece I was working on led to the revelation of some pretty severe canine abuse, and I was so disturbed by what I saw that I began volunteering at the local dog shelter.

But my disgust at the mistreatment of those dogs wasn’t the only reason I was there.

Despite having a job I liked and marrying the woman of my dreams, things had turned fairly nightmarish in a hurry. MJ was in the middle of a downward spiral we’d later find out was bipolar disease. Her manic periods had given way to crippling bouts of depression, and she had no love for herself never mind any to give to me. She was sad all the time and talked constantly of running away and never coming back. I would tell her how much I loved her, but that just seemed to make her feel guilty and she shut down.

But the dogs at the shelter were always happy to see me and pummel me with affection. That’s literally what happened the first time I saw Haley — she ran around the counter, jumped up, and hit me right in the balls.

And then she captured my heart.

Haley was brought to the shelter by a wife whose husband thought a dog would save their marriage. It didn’t. As a result, poor Haley was put on a kennel run and largely ignored for 14 hours a day. And because she loved people but was around them so little, she craved attention and closeness. She also thought any time you left the room you were never coming back, so when you did she was so happy she could barely contain herself.

She had endless affection and devotion to give, and I had a limitless need for love and companionship. The only problem? Convincing MJ.

You see, she was fairly open to the idea of a dog but she had conditions:

  1. No dogs over 50 lbs
  2. No ridiculously excitable dogs
  3. No dogs with long hair

Haley was 0 for 3. But I knew in my heart she was the one, so I made one of the only unilateral, executive decisions I’ve ever made in my marriage — I signed up to temporarily foster her. My wife was FURIOUS when I came with a 75-pound ball of excitable, long-haired, slobbery love. But that fury soon gave way to having her heart melted by our sweet girl, and then “temporary” home turned to “permanent” in a matter of days.

haley-002I bought Haley the most expensive dog bed I could find, and then let it go completely unused because she cuddled right next to me on the bed every night. We went everywhere together and walked the Cape Cod Canal, hiked local trails, and went for runs. She was a retriever in name only because she never fetched a damn thing in her life, but she was a slobbering pile of unadulterated love and I loved her right back.

She was a total beta, but if she heard a noise or thought an intruder was present, watch the hell out — her growl was deep and fierce and scared off at least one lurker I can remember. But I didn’t want an attack dog, because we wanted a pup who’d be great with kids — and Haley delivered.

WillHaley_frontHaley was so gentle with kids, even when they climbed on her, pulled her ears, and stepped on her. She really bonded with Will and she was his “sister” for 5.5 years before Sam came along. When we’d practice sharing, Will would have to share with Haley and I’ll never forget how cute the two of them would be, staring out the window every day that I got home from work.

With Sam it was a little different. The two of them got along well enough, but it was always a tempered and grudging respect. Neither of them fully embraced the other, and there was much jockeying for position in the household hierarchy.

haleytommyBut Tommy? I’m not sure what it was about Tommy, but Haley loved him immediately — and vice versa. Tommy’s favorite thing to do is crawl/walk over to Haley and place his cheek gently on her head. I don’t blame him, Haley’s ear are wonderfully soft velvet. When she slept at the foot of the bed, my toes would search for those ears and I’d immediately sleep more soundly and with much comfort.

Comfort. That’s going to be my one biggest regret — that I couldn’t comfort her at the end and pay her back for the massive amount of comfort she brought to me in the nearly 10-year long span we were together.

I knew she was at the end of the road. Her health was terrible, she had tumors everywhere, she could barely stand, she couldn’t navigate stairs, she had lost control of her bladder, and the sound she made while breathing was terrible. We were in the midst of making arrangements to put her down when this happened, I just…well, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Even last night, as my shovel dug a hole through roots and rocks in my parents’ yard where she loved to play, I couldn’t let go. I carried her from the car, wrapped her in her favorite soft blanket, and cried. I sat there for 30 minutes next to her grave, in the dark and the rain, with her head cradled in my arms, because not being able to feel the comfort of those velvety ears seems unimaginable to me. So I kept taking a few more minutes. Just a little more time. One more scratch behind the ear.

We might have given her a good life, but as corny as it sounds, the rescue rescued me. The dog who lavished us with love, slobbered sentiment all over us, and made our home a better place.

What started with her hitting me right in the nuts ended with the gut punch of loss. But in between are countless moments of comfort and peace dogs seem to bestow upon us so effortlessly, yet we take them for granted time and time again. For nearly 10 years she filled our lives with life and love and tons of slobber, and her only goal in life was to be near her people. Actual people live much longer lives and never approach a more noble and meaningful existence.

haleypregoI preferred Haley’s company to that of most people, and I’ll miss her as I would a friend. I’ll miss her frenzied and joyful leaps when I walked in the door, even if I was only gone 30 seconds. I’ll miss her ninja-like maneuvering for food, even at the end when she could barely move. I’ll miss the feel of her fur pressed against my face when I needed comfort I couldn’t find anywhere else. I’ll miss her gentleness with the kids. And I’ll never forget her constant vigilance when MJ was pregnant — resting her head on her belly, and knowing when she was going into labor even before MJ did.

We gave Haley a soft bed, lots of food, and a warm home. She gave us a decade of life, love, and unlimited slobbery kisses. We got the better end of that deal.

Dog owners, give your pups an extra squeeze today. And if you’re thinking about getting a rescue, just realize you’ll probably be the one who ends up getting saved, not the other way around.

Thanks for saving me, sweet girl.

haleyfloor

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There’s No Such Thing as Taking Too Many Pictures of Your Kids

cell phone

“Put the phone down.”
“You’re taking too many pictures of your kids.”
“Your eyes are the best camera.”

If you’re a parent with Internet access of any kind, you know how controversial a topic phones are in relation to your children. You can’t whip out a soon-to-be-outdated phablet without hitting some parenting “expert” or “guru” telling you what a materialistic and superficial jerk you are for posing your kids in a pumpkin patch or posting a selfie with the kids to Instagram during Touch-a-Truck.

I’m pretty confident in my parenting, but after reading so many of these articles talking about how I’m not actually enjoying life because I’m living it through my cell phone camera lens, I started to worry maybe they were right.

So one day I left the camera in the car.

I took Will and Sam on a hike through some local conservation land, and it was gorgeous. It was hot out, but felt 10 degrees cooler when we entered the forest and walked beneath the canopy of towering maple trees. The pine needles padded our steps and my boys bounded forward with youthful zeal, as slits of sunlight periodically found them and dotted their backs.

We explored the forest and inspected downed trees while wondering if a giant blew them over in a fit. We climbed rock formations and claimed them as newly discovered lands (Willtopia, SamLand, and Dada’s Village if you must know). We ran to the next trail map and studied it forcefully, as if it alone held the key to our ultimate survival.

And then we saw the butterfly.

A Monarch butterfly, you know the type. Wings a deep Halloween orange with jet black lines that made it look like an ornate stained glass window. Little white circles dot the tips of the wings and its head, as it rests on some grass seemingly weightless. It was totally still, and so were my boys. Enraptured. Until…

“Dada,” Sam whispered excitedly. “Take picture of butterfly!”

Crap.

“Sammy, I can’t. I didn’t bring my phone with me,” I said with fear rising in my throat. “But that’s OK, wanna know why? Because we have something better than a camera — our eyes. Let’s look at the butterfly and study it really hard, and we’ll take a mental snapshot so we’ll always have the butterfly in our memory.”

I even did that thing where you make a camera out of your hands, hold it up to your eye and snap a “mental picture.” And I immediately recoiled in horror and felt an unyielding desire to kick my own ass.

He knew it was bullshit. I knew it was bullshit. Sam flipped out and started crying, because — well, that’s what almost 3-year-olds do. The unphotographed butterfly must have also sensed the bullshit level rise to dangerous levels, and with his moment of zen interrupted by shrieking, flew off for parts unknown.

In a desperate attempt to stop Sam’s meltdown, Will had a phenomenal idea. He reminded Sam about our geocaching adventures, and started talking about finding hidden treasure. This idea pleased Sam greatly as his sobs subsided and excitement took over as both boys turned to me for the coordinates to our next find.

Coordinates I didn’t have, because I didn’t have my phone with me.

Taking an excessive amount of pictures of your children and adventures is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing. Committing things to memory and looking at the world absent a lens is overrated garbage, mainly because 1) taking pictures doesn’t always take you out of the moment, and 2) my memory sucks.

I’m a working dad. I’m up at 5:30 am, I work all day, I come home to parent, I do some more work, I go to bed. My mind is a ball of mush. It takes me at least two tries to get my kids’ names right, I poured my beer into a sippy cup last week, and the only things I truly remember are random ’90s song lyrics. So while it’s a noble thing to live in the moment and try to commit to memory the look on my sons’ faces when faced with the unparalleled wonder of a Monarch butterfly, I’d rather have my camera so I can have it forever and share it with the people I love who weren’t there.

Cell phone cameras are incredible and allow me to relive moments from years ago whenever I want. You’d be surprised how much I revisit them, especially now with Facebook’s “On This Day” feature that allows you to relive memories from years ago.

Excess can be a real problem in so many areas, but when it comes to pictures of the people and places I love most, there’s no such thing as too much. So have fun being “in the moment” and thinking you’re superior because you left your cell phone in the car. I’ll be busy happily recording memories and avoiding toddler meltdowns.

Just think, if I listened to the know-it-alls and didn’t have my phone with me, I’d miss moments like this.

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