Tag Archives: Will

My Son Is Starting to Doubt Santa – And That’s OK

santame

“Dad, I know the Santa Alarm isn’t real.”

The alarm my 6-year-old references is a tool we use to keep him upstairs on Christmas morning until he wakes us up and we’re all able to go down together.  It’s something my father did to my brother and I for years (more than I’m willing to admit here). I’ve never actually specified what happens if the Santa Alarm is tripped, but years ago Will chose to believe all of his presents would disappear. I never confirmed that fear, but I didn’t exactly refute it either.

But apparently he broached the topic with kids at school, who told him they’ve been downstairs before their parents woke up. Heck, they even opened a gift or two. Lo and behold, none of Santa’s gifts self-destructed or magically transported themselves back to the North Pole.

“It just doesn’t make sense, dad. It’s impossible for the presents to just disappear. That’s how I know you’re lying about the Santa Alarm.”

First of all, never underestimate the ability of small children to start huge and complex discussions just before bedtime. Second, uh oh!

This is the first brick removed from the wall. The initial pinprick leak in the dam. The chink in the armor that will one day spiderweb across the magical innocence of my son’s youth until it finally shatters into a million pieces and disintegrates upon impact.

And honestly, I’m torn on how to feel.

I have walked the Santa tightrope ever since becoming a parent. Before Will was born, I swore I wouldn’t perpetuate the Santa Myth. I was going to be that parent who didn’t unnecessarily lie to his kids. I was going to promote logical thinking and watch with pride as my son used deductive reasoning to summarily disprove and dismiss Santa. And if that upset the parents of his school friends, too bad. They shouldn’t have lied to their kids.

But then I actually became a parent and witnessed firsthand the magic that comes with Santa. Because it is real.

I loved his excitement at the thought of a larger than life figure coming to visit him in the dead of night to deliver gifts. How he longed to feed the reindeer and make sure they’re hydrated enough to continue the journey.  I envied the complete glee and wonder he displayed when one of Santa’s sleigh bells found its way into his stocking. Say what you want, but there truly is magic in it.

And yet…

When he started putting two and two together about the Santa Alarm being fake, I was surprised my first emotion wasn’t fear, panic, and loathing the impending loss of youthful naivete. It was pride. Maybe it’s the journalist in me, but I was proud of him for checking with sources, applying reason, and coming to a common sense conclusion. The correct conclusion, I might add.

In that moment, I couldn’t lie to him. Yet I also didn’t come out and tell him the truth. Instead, I applauded his efforts and told him we all need to gather information and use it to determine what we do and do not believe in. I was like a shrink, turning it around on him and asking “Well what do YOU believe?” I felt like a government official at a press conference in that I would neither confirm nor deny the reality of the Santa Alarm.

Is it a cop-out? Yeah, kinda. But I also think it’s best right now.

He still believes in Santa. I like that. But I also know today it’s the Santa Alarm, but next year (or the year after or the year after that) it’s going to be doubting flying reindeer. And then the mathematical impossibility of Santa visiting every kid’s house in one night the world over. And eventually, the existence of the Big Man himself.

I think too many parents mourn the loss of youthful innocence, while forgetting to simultaneously celebrate the intellectual advancements maturity brings with it. Both have a place in our house, and neither one is better or worse than the other.

One day Santa will be gone, but there’s still magic to be had as your children grow and learn to think for themselves.

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Are Public Schools Discouraging Excellence?

grades

My son is in first grade and this is the standards-based grading system his school uses. Do you see anything that bothers you? We got his report card last week and it took me a few days to really put my finger on it, but I finally figured out what wasn’t sitting right.

You can fail but you can’t excel.

Does that seem inadvisable and fatalistic to anyone else? Right from the start — before they even take their first test — the message is “you can fall short of the standards but it’s impossible to exceed them.” The very best mark you can get is to meet expectations consistently, which I think is very, very wrong.

To be clear, I don’t blame teachers. They’re given a system and told to operate within it, and I know for a fact many of them don’t like grading systems like this one. The explanation I was given in my son’s case is “Well if they’re exceeding expectations they already know everything and should be in the next level.” Sorry, but that makes no sense. You can have a student who exceeds expectations but isn’t quite ready for the next level of work. And conversely, if someone receives an “N” for not meeting the standard, does that mean they should be automatically dropped down to a lower level? No, of course not.

From my brief time as a parent of a school-age kid combined with my years of covering area school systems for the newspaper, there seems to be a concerted effort to raise low performers into the middle. And don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing. However, it seems to be coming at the expense of high-performing students.

Gone are the days of academically talented and gifted programs at elementary schools. But more troubling than a lack of resources is a lack of recognition. The grading system in place at my son’s school doesn’t even provide a classification if you’re an advanced student, essentially making excellence an impossibility. So while some kids are told they’re not making the grade, the ones on the other end of the spectrum will never hear they’re exceeding expectations.

That’s not right, because it’s counterproductive to make excellence the enemy while raising the bar on mediocrity.

I know some of you are thinking I’m some blowhard parent longing for the days of traditional report cards, but that’s not totally the case. I like some of the changes that have been made, specifically the emphasis on observation with continuous feedback. I think that is much more helpful at accurately gauging progress than a traditional letter grade based off a mash-up of homework, attendance, and test scores at the end of the year.

I’d like to find a way to dovetail the standards-based system with traditional grades and come up with some kind of common sense solution with set guidelines that determine grades. And I’d also like to stop discouraging advanced students — however unintentionally — by recognizing their achievements instead of focusing on getting everyone to the middle of the pack.

It’s the same reason I’m disappointed there are no longer 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes for the annual Science Fair, how we don’t keep score at athletic events until kids reach double digits, and how my son told me he doesn’t need to try hard at sports because all the games end in a tie and everyone gets a trophy. Instead of letting kids explore the thrill of success and learn from the mild pangs of disappointment, we tell them all they’re the same. Everyone is tied. Competition is bad and success will come just from being there.

We’re doing kids a disservice with that mindset.

Let’s continue to work with the kids who need extra help, but let’s not be hesitant to point out excellence. In fact, let’s do more to foster it and let it bloom.

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Why I Have to Stop Saying “She’s Out of My League”

hotandnot

I’ve been saying my wife is out of my league and too good for me for 10 solid years, ever since we started dating. Because…well, look at her and look at me. Many guys express similar sentiments about their wives, and we genuinely mean it as a compliment. Unfortunately, it’s a sentiment that’s really started to harm our marriage.

Background: the same scene has played out in a similar fashion over the years no matter where we go and who we meet. MJ’s beauty turns heads as she enters a room and attracts more than her fair share of attention. It’s not uncommon for strangers on a train to stop her and tell her exactly how gorgeous she is out of left field, even when I’m sitting right there. And speaking of me, I get looked at too. Only it’s very different.

They look at her, then they look at me. Once more at her, and then back to me with eyebrows raised. It’s the “Huh…how the hell did that happen?” look. Is he rich (he is not)? Is he famous (nope)? Did she lose a bet? Does he have her brainwashed? You get the point.

Even my friends, on our wedding day, asked her what the hell she was doing.

Did it sting? Yeah, it did. But instead of letting that show, I just embraced it and went with it. It became my go-to response and elicited laughs every time. Unfortunately, it stopped being a joke when, somewhere along the line, it became my reality.

I’d routinely ask MJ why she was with me. I’d demand to know how someone like her could possibly want to be with a schmuck like me. At first she’d give my ego a stroke and list out my good qualities, but that only lasted so long. Soon when I brought it up she’d just roll her eyes and say nothing. Until recently, when she had PLENTY to say about it.

“Do you have any idea how hurtful it is when you say that? First of all, women like confidence. I don’t want to hear about how awful you are and a list of everything you think is wrong with you as you throw yourself a pity party. Second, you have no idea how insulting it is to ME when you say these things about yourself. If you’re so clearly horrible and you have to constantly ask me why I married you, it makes me feel like an idiot for marrying someone I shouldn’t be married to, according to you. And if you tell someone the same thing long enough, they just might start to believe it.”

Whoa. She’s right. She’s 110% right in every way. And in a fit irony, I realized I now had a very concrete reason for feeling like an idiot.

Like many men, I spent a lot of time worried about leagues and whether I (as a self-described 5 on the 1 to 10 scale), had any business landing what I considered to be a hard 9 (if you need more info and a few laughs, check out this movie). But all those numbers, all those rankings — what a waste of time. Because come to find out, there are no leagues as far as my wife is concerned. The rankings don’t exist. They never did.

My raging insecurities put a genuine strain on my marriage. When I think of all the time I wasted basically trying to convince my wife I’m not good enough for her, I want to slap myself as I wonder “what the hell was I thinking?” But even worse, I’m sure I said some of that crap in front of my kids. Sam isn’t old enough to pick up on it, but Will sure is. So a few days ago when he said “Mom, you always look so pretty and dad doesn’t,” it didn’t surprise me at all. It just saddened me that I passed such a stupid message on to him.

Guys, our wives chose us for a reason. Hopefully, many reasons. We showed them love they never had, devotion they always wanted, and support they’ll always appreciate. And we’re attractive to them or else they wouldn’t be with us. We just need to realize it.

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Cold Weather, Heating Bills, and Why New Englanders Are Nuts

noheat

“It’s freezing in here, but don’t you DARE touch that thermostat!”

There’s a game people in New England play this time of year. A game in which the stakes are high, the temperature is low, and financial situations as well as pride hang in the balance. The rest of the country thinks we’re absolutely nuts, yet every year households engage in wintry warfare when cold fronts hit and tempers heat up, as families battle over the most pressing issue of autumn — when to turn on the heat!

I know, I know. Sounds trivial right. Most of you are saying “turn the heat on if you’re cold.” Well you know what I say to that? This isn’t Texas, Florida, or parts of California where 65-degree temperatures cause you warm weather schmucks to don winter hats and gloves and look like assholes.

This is October in New England and the decisions we make now could have long-lasting repercussions.

First of all, this area was settled by Pilgrims (who “discovered” it after Native Americans had been living here for hundreds of years), and the puritanical presence can still be felt to this day. Bars close at 2 a.m. and up until a few years ago you couldn’t buy beer on Sunday. But more than that, we’re cheap. Some of us try to call it “thriftiness” but that’s just a fancy way of saying we’re cheap. And there’s nothing we complain about more than heating bills in the winter. Depending on whether you have oil, electric, propane, or what have you, a Massachusetts heating bill during a cold snap can easily cost upward of $600 a month. Not to mention the cost of snow removal (minimum $50 per plow visit) depending on the length of your driveway.

Which means frugality + stubbornness = an unwillingness to turn on the heat until it’s deemed absolutely necessary. And by absolutely necessary I mean someone loses a finger due to exposure.

It was 60 degrees in our house today. I’m writing this in slippers, wool socks, fleece pajamas, a t-shirt, and a sweatshirt. My wife and kids are dressed in a similar fashion. We have scarves, long johns, blankets, and electric blankets at the ready at all times. If people didn’t know we lived here, they’d think we were homeless. We sleep in self-made cocoons and we’re careful not to leave any body part uncovered, for fear of frostbite. We use each other’s body heat to survive and the kids sleep in thermals to avoid hypothermia during the night. That noise you hear isn’t an appliance on the fritz, it’s the sound of our teeth chattering.

So why? Why do we do it? Why not just turn on the heat and end the misery? Because fuck you, that’s why!

Being the last of your friends and family members to turn on the heat is a badge of honor. Every time you hang out with people and talk about the weather, someone says “you turn the heat on yet?” I smile at the ones who look away in shame as they mutter something about “Well the wife was freezing” or “we had to because of the newborn.” Suckers. These clowns are luxuriating in warmth and enjoying feeling in their extremities, but I’m saving $37 and proving my hardy New England mettle.

But more than that, I’m passing on a rich tradition of misery and sadomasochism to a new generation, who will one day tell their crying children “that’s what blankets are for” and “we don’t live on the west coast, Sally” when they tearfully ask to turn on the heat.

Sure my kids are growing weaker by the second and my wife is seriously considering cutting me open like a tauntaun and using my innards to keep warm, but seriously — where would you rather be during winter? New England winters feature blizzards that cripple the local economy and bankrupt municipal snow removal budgets as your power goes out causing you to buy a generator which you use to power your TV so you can watch the Patriots game instead of heating your house. Now compare that to the cloudless skies of southern California where perpetual temps in the mid-70s make Christmas on the beach a reality. No contest, baby!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need another pair of socks because I can’t feel my toes.

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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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