Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Power of "No"

Over the holiday break from work, I took the opportunity to do some left-over items on my honey-do list. Of course, these items always involve buying hardware or tools. It’s an unwritten rule of nature. Right, guys?

As I was walking into one store, I saw two women, whom I assumed to be mother and daughter, and a 2- to 3-year-old get out of their car and head in as well. The young mother seemed to be in a foul mood, and was griping at the child. As we reached the doors, the child said something I didn’t understand. His mother stopped, bent over and proceeded to give the toddler a lecture. The gist of it was “No. There will be no talking. You will sit in the cart. You will not move. You will not talk.”

He didn’t cry. He didn’t fight. And he never made eye contact as he uttered his is soft-spoken response, “Yes, ma’am.”

I was completely nonplussed. It almost brought me to tears – probably because he reminded me very much of my own 3-year-old. Days later, I was still affected by it, wondering about that child.

The boy was in clean clothes, with no holes. He was appropriately dressed for the weather. And he was polite in his response. This mother seemed to take care of his physical needs. But he was basically being told, “Don’t remind me that you’re here.”

Now, I have to admit that I have no knowledge of what transpired prior to what I witnessed; there may have been reasonable cause for the lecture. I know that we’ve gotten out of a car mid-lecture, and continued it as we entered a store or restaurant. It happens.

But, given the demeanor of the mom and her child, it seemed to me that he was getting a lecture because his mom was having a bad day and didn’t want to deal with him being a kid. Perhaps she was already frustrated before he asked one-too-many questions in the car on the way to the store. Anyone with kids has been there.

Unfortunately, some kids get this kind of lecture all the time. And it pains me to think of this little boy who appears to want for nothing physically, but who can’t even behave like a kid without it upsetting his mom. What lesson is he learning?

Now, I’m not, in any way, suggesting that parents should just let kids do what they want. It’s our job and responsibility to guide our kids with appropriate “no” and “yes” responses. And parents who refuse to say “no” aren’t doing their kids any favors either.

But finding the middle ground is hard. It’s a constant effort to balance the noes with appropriate yeses, to guide behavior and not stifle creativity. What I witnessed on that afternoon has me questioning the messages I’m sending my kids.

And I hope they know that, not only do I want them to be taken care of physically, but also that I want them around and enjoy their company.

After all, one day I’m going to be paying college tuition and missing those little annoyances that come with having kids at home.

Derek Gwinn is the father of three living in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. He can be reached at dgwinn@jbu.edu.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Who is Going to Dress Me?

I struggled out of bed this morning only to discover I should have already been leaving for work. In between the 1 AM feeding, the 4 AM feeding, and “The Boy” waking up at 5:30 AM and screaming for "Dada" like somebody had lit his polyester pajamas with feet on fire, the alarm got turned off. I am not a morning person to start with, but I am REALLY not a morning person when I am running late. I shot out of bed, showered, deodorized and dressed in record time. I made an English muffin and bowl of cereal to consume on the drive to work and rushed out the door. I was lucky to remember to grab my lunch.  Unfortunately, I didn't realize I had forgotten the coffee I was bringing for everybody in the office until I was about to get on the toll-road. Showing up without coffee on a morning like this wasn't an option, so I turned around and returned home to grab it, thereby making me even later.

The day unfolded in a fairly typical fashion, so it wasn't until I was using the restroom after lunch that I recognized something strange. Looking down at my pants, I noticed the tag on my boxers was on the front. "That is strange,” I thought. When I looked closer, I realized having the tag at the front of your boxers means you are an idiot, and don't know how to put your clothes on properly. Apparently, I am so brain dead at the moment that I don't even know how to put on a pair of underwear. Even worse, I didn’t  notice for over six hours that my skivvies are back side front. I would like to think that had I been wearing the thong Mrs. B got me for Christmas, I would have been able to tell the difference . . . but at this point I am not sure that I could.

In the last couple of nights we have had fairly good luck with the Twin-i-kins sleeping for sizable chunks of time (3-4 hours). The Boy started sleeping through the night at about six weeks, so here is to hoping the twins get there soon. Mrs. B has been getting up with them during the work week, but on the weekend, we work together. In the wee hours of the weekend, I have had time to formulate my new theory on getting a baby, let alone two of them, to sleep through the night.

Having one baby is initially very difficult, but you eventually get that kid to sleep through the night. With two adults on duty it is actually pretty easy to get a solid chunk of sleep from time to time. If you will excuse the basketball reference, it is kind of like being a #1 or #2 cede in the NCAA tourney. There is enough talent that you can pretty much handle anything that is thrown at you and come out on the other side fairly well rested. You may have bad night personally, but there is always another all-star ready to step in and share the load.

Having twins is a completely different story. You are no longer the favorite to win night in and night out. Heading into our nightly routine, I have the feeling that we are more like the #16 or #15 cede. We can go out and hit all our shots and still not get much sleep. In order for my team to win (solid chunk of sleep), we need to have our best game and a hefty amount of luck, and even when that happens you most likely still aren't going to "win.”  This is made harder by the fact that we know success in the past.

I know that very soon the twins are going to grow out of this phase and start sleeping larger chunks of time, but during this period of sleep deprivation, I can't seem to focus on when that will start happening. Thankfully, I have the most awesome friend and partner to share the load. Or, perhaps more accurately, I help her share the load, because she does so much.

Minor Baker is sleep-deprived once again with the addition of a new daughter to make him the father of four. When he's not changing diapers or catching a catnap, he can be reached at minorbaker@gmail.com.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Letting Go of the Wheel

“OK, honey, you’re going to run into the stairs . . . Stop!”

“Go ahead; straighten yourself out and let’s back out of the driveway. . . . No, turn the wheel to the right.  No I mean to the left.  Ok you’re going to scrape this side of the car on the gate . . .”

Yeah, my 15-year-old daughter just got her driver’s permit. 

I really didn’t think much about it when I handed her the keys at the DMV and told her to drive home.  Hey, she’s been watching me drive forever and she had to have learned something from playing Midtown Madness on the computer, right? 

Then again maybe that wasn’t such a good thing.  She’s been driving now for a couple of weeks and she’s doing just great except for the occasional loss of consciousness when she just kind of forgets that she has an actual destination.  As I sit in the passenger seat and try to refrain from barking “GO” whenever the light changes (because that kind of freaks her out) I’m starting to think that driving is my “instrument.” 

I live in a household of musicians. Their instruments are musical, mine is vehicular.  So I can empathize with my wife who endures piano students who struggle to get the rhythm of a piece down as I try to not be too bothered as my daughter randomly speeds up and slows down and doesn’t brake or accelerate the way I would.  I then realize that she has only been driving for a couple of weeks, like a grand total of less than 100 miles. Yeah, she’s going to be fine. 

I also start to think that the issue isn’t so much her driving, but my not having control of my vehicle.  I’m not all that crazy about not being in control. Especially when I’m not completely comfortable with who is literally behind the wheel.  I have two options, either I just not let her drive and drive myself, or I can make the effort to help her get better so that I am comfortable riding with her.  Ultimately, I think that’s what being a parent of a teenager is about, helping them get to the point where you are comfortable giving them the control that you previously only trusted to yourself.  Giving up control, helping them gain independence ultimately means freedom for us both.  That being said, I’m glad she won’t be able to drive without me until September.

Both of Darren Sombke's daughters are driving now. He can be reached for comment at darrensombke@aol.com

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Advice from an Old Dad to a New Dad

When I was a new dad I wasn’t really into asking for advice.  I was in my 20’s and I had most of my own answers for the problems in life.  I even found myself offering parenting advice to my older acquaintances, as if my brief parental experience had revealed some new truths to me that must not have been obvious to my older parenting colleagues.

Now I realize parenting is something very challenging, and that every child is completely different. What might have worked well for one or two of your children may not work at all for the third. Or fourth.  Oops. 

I no longer pretend to be an expert.  So why am I writing a column on “advice?”  Because I think we can hold at least these three truths to be self-evident:
1)      Your kids aren’t getting any younger, and neither are you.

2)      Everyone needs a break now and then.

3)   We shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. 

Here are my thoughts on the three truths.

Your kids aren’t getting any younger, and neither are you. 
Be sure to take plenty of pictures.  You know your kids change quickly, and those memories can fade pretty fast.  But I can also hear you saying, “I don’t look good in photographs.  I don’t want to be in a picture today.”  Well, someday you’ll be ten years older than now and then you’ll say, “Boy, I sure did look a lot better ten years ago.”  Get over it and get in the picture with your kids.  It will be fun to look back on all those photos later, and you will be surprised at the memories they will reveal.  Try to take pictures of everyday life, the things you do routinely.  Take it from an older dad, today’s routine will seem very precious to you later.

Everyone needs a break now and then. 
Force yourself to plan a family vacation every year.  I know; you’re busy.  They need you at work.  You have 1000 emails to read.  Planning the vacation is work in itself.  But none of that will matter the day you die.  And ten years from now you will never be able to recreate that vacation with your 13-year-old.  When she’s 23, she will be too busy to spend time with you.  Think about it.  Go somewhere fun together, even if it’s just camping for a weekend.

We shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. 
Try to see the big picture.  Most things that seem like really serious issues at the time really aren’t.  So she spilled the milk, or he soiled his pants, or he scratched your favorite table, or she wrecked the car. If it involves things or money, it is a temporary issue, and can usually be fixed or replaced.  If it involves people are feelings, make sure you are paying attention.  These are the important things.

Have fun, laugh, giggle, skip, play some music, act silly, take a video and focus on the big picture.

P.S. If you’re married, don’t forget to also carve out some to be alone with your spouse.  When you’re a better couple, you’ll both be better parents. 

I am interested in your thoughts.  What advice would YOU give?  Reply at Dadoonad@gmail.com. Duane Highley is the father of four older children, ages 18 to 29.  He and his wife Lisa reside in Little Rock, AR.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Does every parent of twins have such difficulty telling them apart when they are babies?  I know this isn't something the father of six-month-old babies should be admitting publicly, but it takes 30 seconds of detailed studying before I am able to correctly name a baby, and that is only if they are side by side.  If I don't have the boys side by side, I might as well just flip a coin because I have no idea.  Even with them side by side, I would say that I am about 70% sure I am correct.  Mrs. B acts much more confident when identifying which Twin-kie is which, but you can see a fraction of doubt in her eyes if you question her. 

Maybe I am just too close to the situation, because within 15 seconds of meeting the boys for the first time, a friend was able to say which one was which and point out the differences. Predictably, all of Mrs. B's friends think the differences are obvious, and yet they still have about as much success as I do when it comes to naming the babies.

Does all of this mean that the Twin-kies are identical....the answer to that remains as clear as the actual identities of each of the babies.  Apparently today's pediatricians don't care if twins are identical or fraternal.  The only thing we know is that there has not been any indication, as of yet that they are fraternal (such as different blood types, different colored eyes, etc.), but there has also been nothing to definitively identify them as identical. 

Mrs. B and I worry about the hilarity that is going to ensue within our little group of guys.  Let’s take a cinematic look back at what kinds of trouble identical twins get themselves into  I would like to start with the Disney classic, "The Parent Trap" (not the Lindsey Lohan version.....Lord knows we don't want that kind of trouble) starring Haley Mills.  A couple of cute girls find out they are identical twins and together they play mean tricks on their step-parent to get their real parents together. 

Example Two (a more contemporary example):  The Scavo twins on Desperate Housewives (2004 – 2012)... since even their parents have a difficult time telling them apart, these two boys are constantly switching identities to allow the other twin to get away with some kind of mischief...does that sound familiar? 

Example Three:  Quite possibly my favorite example, but as a parent it is the scariest.  The Weasley twins from Harry Potter, Fred and George, spend nearly every moment of their existence thinking up pranks and causing all kinds of mischief.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Fred and George have always been my favorite characters in the book. Mainly because even though they get into trouble all of the time, deep down they have a heart for others and a passion for life.  

With my tendency for getting into trouble and love of a good prank, it is entirely possible our boys have a genetic disposition that will lead them down a path similar to that of the Weasley twins.  Although they have a tendency to cause trouble, more importantly, they have big hearts.  I will work hard as a parent to ensure that my boys develop the big caring heart; I am pretty sure the trouble-making will take care of itself.

This post by Minor Baker was first shared about four years ago. Minor and "Mrs. B" recently became the parents of four when a little girl joined her three older brothers. He can be reached at minorbaker@gmail.com.