Tag Archives: Will

One Good Thing

onegoodthingI believe the only metric for parental success is whether you raise human beings who are a credit to humanity.

To that end, my wife and I are trying very hard to raise three boys who are a benefit to the world instead of detriments. One way we’re doing that is to impart the importance of compassion, empathy, and kindness to our kids. And that’s not always an easy feat.

Will likes to help people, but he’s only 7 years old and doesn’t fully understand the impact of his words or the importance of tact. Such was the case during the first week of school when he mistakenly thought his idea of helping a girl in his class was to give her unsolicited fashion advice and critique her wardrobe. He thought he was helping, but we had to explain to him how hurtful words can be — even when that hurt is unintentional.

First we explained why it’s not proper to criticize the way anyone dresses because it hurts feelings, and then we had him apologize the following day. But we also saw an opportunity to take things a step further. In addition to apologizing to the girl, we also asked him to figure out something nice he could say to her and give her a compliment.

He was hesitant at first, but he did it. Will told her he really liked her glasses. And then he said “Mom, dad — she smiled. She was really happy and she said thank you. I liked making her smile because I never meant to hurt her feelings the first time.”

And just like that, “One Good Thing” was born.

We told him since he liked complimenting her, he should do it again — except this time to someone else. And he did. Every single day for the last three weeks, Will has gone into school and given someone an unsolicited compliment. He has complimented boys, girls, and teachers. He has positively commented on Minion jackets, cool jeans, how someone got an answer correct in class, and dinosaur shirts other kids have been wearing. He’s complimented friends as well as kids with whom he doesn’t usually talk.

When he gets off the bus, the first thing he does is tell us who the recipient of his “One Good Thing” was, and the specifics of the compliment. It’s become his routine, and a way to inject some positivity into the world.

I won’t lie and pretend he’s an angel who did this without resisting a bit. At one point he rolled his eyes and said “Why do I have to keep doing this all the time?” So we spent an hour or so talking about Karma, and the idea that the good you put out into the world will come back to you tenfold when you need help from others. He looked at me like I was crazy.

But guess what? He no longer thinks I’m a nut.

Will brought his beloved arrowhead to school earlier this month for show and tell, but accidentally dropped it while showing it to friends. It shattered into a million pieces. Will’s art teacher told him she’d do her best to fix it, but it was beyond repair.

However, she had other plans.

She knew Will got the arrowhead at Clark’s Trading Post on a trip this summer with his grandparents. So she graciously took the time to call up Clark’s in New Hampshire and buy another arrowhead for him on her own dime. However, she was talking to one of the owners of the store and upon hearing her story, he generously agreed to send her a new one at no cost.

Boom. Karma explained in a way my meager words ever could.

I’m not a raging hippie or a New Age guru. But I absolutely believe the good you put out into the world is palpable. And contagious. I know it sounds naive to believe the world would be a better place if everyone just did a little more good, but that’s OK. It might be naive, but I also think there’s some truth to it. So I’ll continue to practice small, random acts of kindness. And I’m going to teach all three of my boys to do the same.

One good thing isn’t a lot, but multiple ones add up quickly and this is an easy way my kids can be part of the solution instead of the problem.

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The Other Side of the Table

mewill2ndgradeThe Cinema Pub is a run-down joint in the back of a strip mall that shows second-run movies. And we love it.

I love it because it only costs $7 per person to see a movie. My son loves it because we can eat full meals and snacks while we enjoy our silver screen experience. Instead of regular seats, there are rows of tables and chairs that swivel and roll. There is a waitstaff who checks in with us before and during the movie, and they bring us anything we want. Where two tickets, popcorn, drinks, and candy would cost about $50 at an upscale theater, I paid $40 at the Cinema Pub and received two tickets, two drinks, delicious grilled pizza, perfectly greasy mozzarella sticks, and ice cream. Including tip.

Anyway, this weekend I took Will to see Jurassic World. It stunk worse than a steaming pile of Brontosaurus shit, but I’m not a movie critic and that’s not the point here.

Will is now 7 and starting the 2nd grade. He’s caught in that weird place  between little kid and big kid, where 5- and 6-year-olds are babies but 9- and 10-year-olds are big kids with whom he can’t quite keep up. He strives for independence and to shake off our parental shackles, yet he retreats back under our canopy of protection when he’s bitten off more than he can chew in Big Boy Land.

When it comes to movies, Will gets scared. But he won’t admit he’s scared because he’s “not a baby anymore!” At the Cinema Pub, we’ve always sat down on the same side of the table because he inevitably gets spooked and wants to be within arm’s reach for comfort — which I definitely love.

So imagine my surprise when, without a word, he walked over to the other side of the table and sat down. Defiantly. Sending a message.

I said nothing, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little verklempt on the inside. The kid grew 3 inches in less than three months, he’s stronger than ever, and he’s smarter than I can describe. Too smart at times, if you know what I mean. And while he no longer needed me to ride a bike or read a book, I figured he’d still need me by his side during scary movies. Maybe he’d even WANT me there.

The lights dimmed, our snacks came, and soon we were lost in a world of prehistoric shenanigans. But then the genetically modified Indominus Rex — part T-Rex, part Raptor, part Chameleon, part Death Machine — began killing everyone and everything in its path. I looked across the table and thought I saw Will wince, but other than that his expression was glass. Total poker face. Unfazed.

I turned my head back toward the screen just as Death Dino ripped yet another man in half, and started kicking myself for falling into the parenting cliche of wondering WHERE DID ALL THE TIME GO??? But seriously, where does it go? It’s here one day and the next, well, three years have gone by and your kid is completely different. He’s grown up. He’s moved on.

When I turned back toward Will I saw that he had literally moved on. He wasn’t there.

My head whipped around for a couple of seconds in panic before I felt a hand on my leg. It was Will. He had ducked under the table and was popping up on my side to take the chair nearest me. He sat down in front of me, grabbed my hand without looking back, and put it on his shoulder while continuing to watch the trail of dinosaur carnage.

I said nothing. But I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, the tears in my eyes had nothing to do with Chris Pratt’s underwhelming performance. I can say it’s nice to still be needed. I can say that.

As he skipped out of the theater, I asked him how he liked the movie.  “It was OK. Not as scary as I thought,” he said with all the false bravado he could muster.

I don’t want him to be scared. But as his dad, sometimes I don’t NOT want him to be scared, either. Just as he’s caught somewhere between little kid and big kid, I’m still finding my way as the parent of a soon-to-be big kid. I’m adjusting to not being needed so much, while reconciling that as a bittersweet sign of progress. Painful, inevitable, necessary progress.

“But…” he uttered slowly. “I’m still glad you were there. You know, just in case it had been scarier.”

Sometimes that’s fatherhood in a nutshell — just in case.

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Should We Tell Kids They’re Special?

photo credit: I am Special via photopin (license)
photo credit: I am Special via photopin (license)

“Dad, am I special?”

What seems at first glance to be a question with an easy, straightforward answer from a parent (“Yes son, of course you’re the most specialiest specialty in the history of special!”), suddenly wasn’t so simple. If you think about it, that question is fraught with unexpected complications and potential repercussions depending on your answer. As a result I had to think long and hard about how I responded.

Some parents are recoiling in horror at this very moment because I didn’t automatically and exuberantly tell my son how special he is. I get it. However, what message are we really sending to our kids when we resort to that?

They say all kids are special. Well, if that’s true, then doesn’t “special” lose meaning? If every single child is special, does ordinary become extinct or nonexistent? Don’t we lose the perspective necessary to make special a distinction if everyone falls into that category?

But more important than that, aren’t we creating dangerous levels of entitlement? Hey, there’s nothing wrong with positive reinforcement for hard work or a job well done. But I’m sorry, you can’t convince me that constantly telling children they are special at every turn doesn’t create a the potential for an unbelievably entitled generation of kids.

Unfortunately, I only need to look at my oldest son for a real-life example.

A few years ago, I played a trick on him and convinced him I ate all of his Halloween candy. Well, the Jimmy Kimmel Show saw it, liked it, and used it. Suddenly Will was watching himself broadcast to millions of people. They even used his image as the thumbnail on the YouTube video, which has been seen by nearly 40 million people.

I was really excited and I went on and on about how special this was, and how special he was to appear on television and be seen by millions of people. Then the local media found out, and we were featured in newspapers and even had a segment on the local TV news. Soon Will was telling his friends, other parents, teachers, and everyone he could that he was a TV star. I just thought it was really cute and I encouraged it, because damn — it’s JIMMY FREAKING KIMMEL!

About a week after all the hoopla, I took Will on the train into Boston for an event. When we walked on board the crowded car, he was smiling and looking around at everyone. I just thought it was because he loved trains, but after a few minutes his smile faded and he started to get grumpy. I asked him what was wrong and his answer hit me like a brick.

“Why aren’t these people saying hi to me, dad? Don’t they know I’m special because I’m famous from the TV?”

Oh. Shit.

It took quite a bit of doing to walk that one back. I just didn’t realize what was happening, but what did I expect? I spent a solid week telling him how special he is, so how could I be surprised when he believed every single word of it and expected other people to treat him that way too?

I spent a lot of time after that talking less about being special, and more about being privileged. As a writer and blogger, I get some nice perks and things sent to me by companies. But now, when that happens, we spend a ton of time letting our kids know we’re lucky to be getting these things, and it’s not the norm. That they’re not getting them because they’re special, but because companies are advertising. I tell Will he’s no better or worse than any other kid in any other part of the world. However, he’s luckier than most and he needs to try to understand and appreciate that privilege without thinking he’s better than anyone else because of it.

I’m not supporting the degradation of kids or calling for the total elimination of positive reinforcement. Sometimes it takes a teacher/parent/friend showing a special interest in kids to make them feel worthy and propel them to success. However, I don’t want my son thinking he’s special just because he’s been told that all his life. Because make no mistake, far too many children fall into that category. Just ask this guy.

I will tell my sons they were born into a certain amount of privilege that will aid their ability to be great, should they concentrate their efforts and abilities. I will tell them I believe in them and support them wholeheartedly. I will tell them they have great potential that can only come to fruition with hard work and perseverance.

But that doesn’t make them special. It makes them like millions of other kids all over the world. It shouldn’t be a bad thing to tell kids that, either.

So how do I answer the question with which I began this piece? I tell my son he’s special to me and always will be. But other than that, no. He’s no inherently better, worse, or more special than any other kid.

If I do my job right, that message won’t destroy his fragile self-esteem — it’ll push him to work harder and be less self-absorbed.


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The Importance of Grandparents


“If you guys moved a few hours away you could afford a really nice house.”

I’ve been told this by many of my friends, and it’s 100% true. As MJ and I prepare to buy a house in the next 18-24 months, we cringe at the soaring real estate prices of greater Boston. And that cringe turns into a full-fledged scowl when we look at the much more affordable housing prices should we decide to move to another part of the country.

For what we’ll eventually pay to buy a 3BR, 2BA, 1,800-square foot house in southeastern Massachusetts, we could get a house elsewhere that’s 5BR, 3BA, and 3,500 square feet. Hell, even if we moved to the Berkshires (western Massachusetts, 3 hours away) we’d be getting WAY more bang for our buck. And as someone who doesn’t want to be house poor, it’s pretty damn tempting at times.

But we won’t do that. Why? Because grandparents.

Will and Sam (and Baby #3) currently have all three sets of grandparents within a 20-minute ride. Specifically, my parents live 2.5 miles away and MJ’s mom now lives just 6 miles away. We see Grandpa, Grandma, Nana, Papa, and Grammy Donna (and Grandpa B, before he died) all the time, and all of them want the kids as often as possible.

Hell, right this moment Will is in New Hampshire on his yearly trip to StoryLand with my parents. They’ve taken him for four days in the White Mountains of New Hampshire since he was 3 years old, and next year Sam will join in the fun.

Which is why we won’t pick up and move. You can’t put a price tag on having family around, and you can’t underestimate the value of having kids spend a ton of time with their grandparents.

I spent nearly every weekend with my Grandma “Goo-Goo.” We watched movies, played Nintendo (she was a Zelda fanatic), hated on the LA Lakers, and ate ice cream sundaes the size of small mountains. And my Grandma “Ga-Ga” (my parents are sadistic for creating these nicknames) taught us how to play piano and sing. She lived on the town’s reservoir and we spent much of our time outside catching frogs and throwing rocks into the water.

Don’t get me wrong, my parents were great. But grandparents? They’re the ones who spoil you unconditionally. Who take you on special outings. Who do the stuff they were told not to do but they’re going to do it anyway because that’s what grandparents do. Grandparents are completely special, and every kid should know that love.

I want that for my kids. It’s vital they spend time with all of their grandparents, especially since we’re lucky enough to have them so involved.

And yes, I know EXACTLY how lucky we are to have them. Some grandparents died either before kids were born or when they were very little, and others are separated by great distances. Also, I’ve heard horror stories of absentee grandparents who have only seen their grandkids a handful of times and make absolutely no effort.  Whichever camp you fall in, that’s truly unfortunate and MJ and I know we’re privileged to have so many grandparents here for us.

So when we have something come up, we make one or two phone calls and boom — a grandparent appears out of the ether to take the kids. Or if we really want a date night, someone is always all too willing to take the kids off our hands.

Papa and Grammy Donna play video games with the boys and Papa puts Will to work so he stays grounded and learns how to do more chores. Nana will sit and cuddle with Sam for hours on end, play with them at the beach, and then take Will to the fireworks show at night. And my parents practically pry the kids out of our hands to take them on overnights and spoil the ever loving crap out of them in every way possible. It’s to the point our kids cry when they come home to us because they don’t want to leave their grandparents.

Sure, we’re going to pay through the nose for a smaller house that needs repairs. But we can’t put a price on having family nearby, nor can we ever again take advantage of the opportunity to let the kids bond with their grandparents as they grow up. This is a one-shot deal and we can never get this time back, so we’re taking full advantage of it.

Grandparents aren’t around forever, but the memories they create are timeless. I’m just so thankful our kids will have them. Thanks, guys. You mean the world to us.

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It’s No Longer Gay Marriage, Just Marriage


Will is 7 and Sam is almost 2. Some day, down the road a bit, they’ll read something in the paper or see something on TV about “gay marriage,” and they’ll be confused.

“Dad, what do they mean by ‘gay’ marriage? It’s just marriage, right?”

And I’ll have to remind them gay people weren’t always allowed the same rights as the rest of us. I’ll have to remind them it wasn’t until the year 2015 and by securing the narrowest margin of victory by the Supreme Court of the United States, that gay people in America were treated equally when it came to being able to marry who you love.

They’ll stare at me with raised eyebrows and incredulous expressions, because they won’t be able to fathom how stupid that sounds. It will be utterly incomprehensible to them that so many people in this country treated gay people as second class citizens for so long.

It’ll be just how I looked at my parents when they told me interracial marriage used to be outlawed, or black people and women couldn’t always vote.

I don’t go full ‘MURICA!!! too often, but I’m proud of my country today. It took longer than it should have, but ultimately we did the right thing. We haven’t solved homophobia and we can’t stop fighting for LGBTQIA (for any other letters I may be missing, my apologies) rights, but this is cause to celebrate.

Everyone can marry whoever they want in all 50 states. Victory.

Of course, not everyone sees it that way. Check out these erudite ladies and gentlemen:

Yes, these ridiculous clowns are an affront to decency, common sense, and proper grammar/spelling. And honestly, they do upset me and get under my skin at times. However, I’ve come to realize something very important. Something worth noting and remembering in these modern times.

The world is a better place than ever before. And that’s largely because people of the world are more tolerant than ever before.

The old, white, conservative, religious guard isn’t what it used to be, and for the first time they find themselves losing power, influence, and the numbers game. Seeking to deny gay people equality while rejecting proven science regarding climate change and defending the Confederate flag just isn’t going to fly anymore. They’ve lost the middle ground and they don’t seem to know how to adapt.

But when a caged animal is cornered, it gets desperate.

That’s why you’re seeing tweets like these and outrageous public statements regarding current events. It’s fear. People who have held the power for a long time never want to give it up willingly, so the final holdouts will be louder than ever to compensate for fewer people in their ranks. Basically, we’re seeing the death throes of idiocy. And not a moment too soon.

So congratulations to all the gay people out there who can now enjoy marriage equality. Congratulations to the five US Supreme Court justices who had the wisdom and fortitude to make history today. And congratulations to America, a country that has proven today it still holds dear the idea of freedom on which it was founded.

We have put another shameful period of our history in the rear view mirror. Let us keep it in sight to remember how far we’ve come, while always looking to improve our future.

And let’s make sure love always wins in the end.

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