Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I'm Still Here

Apologies for the radio silence...our home internet connection has been blown out for about a week now and they finally came to fix it. PLUS I am a single dad this week, as Mom in Progress is on a business trip out West. The girls are behaving, but going it alone is tiring. Kudos to all the single parents out there who don't eventually have a partner coming home from a business trip to're to be applauded.

More later...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

What's on Your Playlist?

Ever been on the train, walking down the street, sitting on an airplane or grocery shopping and seen someone, earbuds on, grooving to their iPod? Ever wonder what they're listening to? A person's playlist can surprise, delight, stir memories, beg question or spur conversation...and always provides a glimpse of who thy are.

Because I have no sense of smell, I tend to have a very sharp sense for situational music, and much the same way people remember the smells associated with various life moments, I can remember what song was playing.

In the spirit of sharing, here's a rundown of the newest playlist (called "steely grey") of a thirtysomething dad:

ride: cary brothers
on my way: ingram hill
so slow: ari hest
ordinary day: griffin house
through toledo: greg laswell
the fear you won't fall: joshua radin
amazed: greg laswell
grow old with me: charles kelley
whole new me: jonathan clay
winter: joshua radin
shut your eyes: snow patrol
all that i know: jackson waters
reason why: rachel yamagata
won't back down: matt kearney
a little time: jonathan clay
one step away: rob blackledge
here's looking at you kid: corey crowder
look after you: the fray
almost honest: josh kelley
sad songs: matt nathanson
one sure thing: toby lightman
the last time: christopher jak

Maybe you'll have a better sense of who I am. Perhaps a surprise, maybe an artist you don't know (yet), maybe one you like too. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

As if I Weren't Even There

Last weekend, I stayed in the car with the girls while Mom in Progress ran into the store to return something. The girls were playing their Leapsters in the backseat, and I was playing Bubble Breaker on my mobile phone.

A woman came out of the store, who sort of resembled my wife, and got into another car and left. My youngest said "There goes Mommy in a different car, with another Daddy." So my other daughter points to a man in the parking lot as he walked, saying "And there goes Daddy, bye Daddy."

And then what unfolded was fascinating.

Youngest (Y): "Well, I guess we don't have any parents now."
Oldest (O): "Well, now we can do whatever we want."
Y: "Yes. Like eat junk food."
O: "Right. Like lollipops and bubble gum."
Y: "And soda. And just do whatever we want."
O: "And we can jump on the couch."
Y: "Yes. And we can jump on our BEDS! And they won't tell us to stop it."
O: "And we can get our own cell phones."
Y: "Yes, and then we can call whoever we want."
O: "And we can watch SpongeBob all the time or whatever shows we want."
Y: "And we can stay up late and watch whatever we want."
O: "Cool. And we don't have to take a bath or brush our teeth."
Y: "YAY! Oooh, and we can buy all the toys we want."

And they both erupted into hysterical giggling, like all of this was the absolute ultimate wish for any child.

So I stopped my game and interjected: "Well that's all nice, but if Mommy and Daddy aren't around, how will you have any money to pay for all the things you want to eat and buy, or the phone calls you want to make?"

And my youngest said "We'll just use Nana's wallet!"

I now know two things:

1) Our children hear every word we say, they just don't listen, because clearly they know everything they are not supposed to have or do.

2) Nana is screwed.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Fonedic Speling iz Fune

My 6 year old is the resident scribe.

As her reading skills blossom, she's writing down everything, as if she's keeping a primitive journal (which I think is awesome -- maybe she'll be Daddy's little writer).

She writes on note pads. On mail. On Post-Its. On the shower walls with soap crayons. She types on the mini Mac, she's dying to type something on my mobile phone mail keyboard.

She writes love letters to her friends in school, little notes to Mommy and Daddy, questions like "How was the weather today?" which actually sometimes looks more like "How wuz tha wethere tudaye?" (by the way, phonetic spelling is totally awesome). But she also has been sharpening her spelling skills, and just received a 115 on her first spelling test (getting the bonus questions right, too!), following in the footsteps of her overachiever Mommy and Daddy, so on a few occasions, it's been hard to believe she wrote it on her own.

This says "Today we had treasure box today They have good things in the treasure box So much cool toys in that thing I tell you."

This is from tonight's bath, the color-coded color list: orange, yellow, blue, pink, green, magenta, black, brown.

And then there are not just the proper spellings that surprise us, but also the things our 6 year-old even knows that totally catch us off guard.

Imagine my shock and utter hysterics when my wife handed me this note the other morning that my little poet laureate left for me:

"Pes owt Homey Daddy." For those for whom phonetic reading is not the first language, that's "Peace out, Homey Daddy."

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"Can Johnny Come Out and (Be Taught to) Play?"

A friend sent me an interesting New York Times story that gives me pause: a new Manhattan playground design with national aspiration that calls for "play workers" to guide a child's curiosity and imagination as they explore the playscape.

One one hand, times have changed. When I was a kid, my bike was my ticket to the most wonderful places in the world. My friends and I went everywhere, and sometimes miles away (did you know that mom?) We found fallen trees whose upturned root balls created natural castles. We climbed trees, strung and swung from ropes, built makeshift bridges over streams, plucked crawfish from the water and put them on trial for invading our land, caught frogs to feed to dragons -- all in the pursuit of defending our kingdom. One of my favorite books was Katherine Paterson's "Bridge to Terabithia" (soon to be a feature film!), and much of my role play stemmed from that book. Exploration and discovery as a result of wandering, combined with my own ideas of adventure and fantasy, provided excellent fuel for my imagination.

Sadly, we no longer live in a world where children can safely go even half a block from our driveways. The thought of my own girls riding their bikes the distances I went as a child is absolutely terrifying. Hell, I've even panicked when I've lost site of them at the playground. So a place full of more than just the standard playground equipment sounds promising. But the needle scratches the record when I think about adult intervention.

Who makes for a qualified "play worker"? Won't this become a whimsical minimum wage summer job for some lackluster teen looking for extra cash? Visit any small town beach these days and you're bound to find a gaggle of "lifeguards" who are more interested in each other's company, well tanned pecs or flirty eyelashes than they are in what's happening on the beach. It's hard enough to even find qualified day care providers.

But that's beside the point. Have parents become so removed that they can't serve this purpose on the playground? I've blogged before about the moms I've seen who use the playground as a babysitter and social gathering spot as their kids run wild, but I've also seen plenty of parents who hop right in and have just as much fun as the kids. But this isn't the point either. Adults aren't supposed to imagine for children -- children are supposed to do it on their own.
I wonder what has happened to make it necessary to always jumpstart a child's imagination. While my wife and I are no strangers to kid videos, SpongeBob episodes on DVR, Web games and the like, moderation is imperative, otherwise we run the risk of raising kids who expect to be entertained instead of responsible for creating their own engagement. I cringe at the thought of my child sitting there waiting for some play worker to help them turn a pond into a lava pit that stands in the way of the beautiful castle.

Most adults left their imaginations behind when they got their driver's license. Most fantasize about new technologies that will make them even more connected and crazy (like the wonderful new iPhone!) or vacations that will help relieve the stress of a daily routine. How often does the average adult daydream about fairy princesses or trolls in the underworld? How willing is the average adult to see something that is not there, to believe something can be what it is not? So why is an adult play helper qualified to properly develop a child's imagination?

Playgrounds are supposed to provide physical recreation. Jungle gyms and monkey bars and swings and slides are all designed to promote physicality.
Thanks to a child's imagination, those staples have become so much more than just jungle gyms and monkey bars and swings and slides. No one told children in 1920 that a jungle gym was, say for example, actually a gigantic turtle's shell that needed to be surmounted to get to the magic river -- that just naturally happened as children connected the things they had heard or read or imagined to the physical structure of the jungle gym. And that's the beauty of the imagination -- like snowflakes -- no two are alike. Every child has the power to see something different, to believe that something is much more than what it seems, but to me, it's a very personal process of idea mapping and attachment with which no one should interfere.

It seems to me that what children need is the proper foundation for imagination: creative materials to use at home on their own accord and with their own rules, opportunities to role play and explore and connect their favorite Junie B. Jones story to their real world discoveries, and parents who foster and encourage creativity with both a short and long leash: sometimes hopping in to join the fun, but often standing back and letting it evolve on its own.

I missed the so-called "De-Lurking Week" but that doesn't mean I don't want to hear from you. So here's a question that may get you typing:

Is it better for a child to have no imagination at all than to be programmed to dream very specific things or play in very specific ways?

*photos from

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Friday, January 12, 2007

My Wife, the Bag Lady

Mom in Progress is acting on entreprenuerial urges and starting a part-time home party business. But not your average run-of-the-mill cooking utensils or fancy body lotions, she found something that's pretty different -- design-your-own handbags. What's cool about it is you're not just buying something already done, but really customizing it to be one-of-a-kind. She gets to try her hand at being her own boss, and I'm going to pitch in and help with some local PR and grassroots buzz.

She just got a big box of samples and the quality is good. Now, I can look forward to two things: 1) hanging out with my girlies while mom goes and does a party and 2) suffering through the parties that are bound to take place here. If anyone in blogland is reading from Connecticut or Western Mass and wants to learn more, hit me at and I'll hook you up with my resident bag lady.

We'll see how adding one more thing to our already hectic lives pans out, but I suppose it's always good to have a little diversion...after all, I'm a blogger.

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End of Week Miscellany

Has this been one hell of week for anyone else? One of those seems so long, but sort of flew by kind of weeks...looking forward to the weekend something fierce.

Commander in Chief
As is quite typical for Mom in Progress and me, we're impulsive people. There's no hemming or hawwing in this household. One of us says "We should (fill in the blank)" and so then we usually just do it. We've bought houses and home electronics that way, had children that way (hi Mom!), the list goes on and on. So last weekend, I said "We should really look into a new car." My lease is up in April, and I was feeling a little fidgety, so I focused on car research over the Christmas break. So we went and test drove a car, while Mom in Progress sat in the van with sleeping children (car dealers really need to have car seats for test driving) and we went inside and sealed the deal. One of the things I love about us is what a great team we are. Being in PR, I can play sort of interested but skeptical, seem informed and researched, yet open to salesmanship. And my wife is all about the bottom line. So we're an awesome match for any car salesman. While I don't mind playing the game, I also get bored easily, so I lose interest in the back and forth and check out. So I was happy to let my wife do the dirty work, and was so proud of her negotiation. We are the proud owners of a 2007 Jeep Commander. I wonder what diversion we'll jump into next...

The Art of Fine "Mah-shaj"
My youngest daughter has taken an interest in back rubbing. Anyone who knows me knows this is a real perk, as I'm the biggest backrub/back scratch mooch in the world. I even stop by the corner of a doorframe and do the reverse hump to cop a backrub or reach an itch (which I learned from my mom). So Fiona likes to give us "mah-shaj-es" and she does a terrific job. She gets us lying flat, hops on top of our lower back and goes to work on the back, then shoots on up to the shoulders, all the while asking "How's that feel?" So I've been loving life lately. The other night I said "I bet I know who taught you to give a good backrub...must be Poppy (my dad)'cause he's a good back rubber." She said "You know who else is a good backrubber? Me!" She certainly is her daddy's girl. And so the mah-shajes have been a great source of entertainment. The other night I said "Maybe you ought to be a masseuse when you get older." And she said "Yeah, except for I want to be a vet-in-arian." So I said, "Well, that's terrific, but a veterinarian could be a part-time masseuse." And she said "Well...(long pensive pause), maybe I can just be somoene who rubs animals."

Oh My God, They're Growing Up Too Fast
We have entered the life question stage and it's scaring the hell out of us. My older daughter was telling my sister-in-law about our neighbor having a baby in her tummy, and then said "How does that baby get in her tummy?" which was so totally awesome because we've had that question before, but watching Auntie Nelle's eyes grow big as saucers as she sputtered and spun and finally say "I'm going to let your mommy and daddy answer that" was priceless. Upon returning from school Monday, my first grader said they had "a moment of silent" at the end of the day "because the president of Ford died." My youngest then asked my wife later "Mommy, am I going to die someday? Because that's scary and I don't want to die." The next night, she told my wife "I love being a kid. I don't ever want to grow up and be an adult." I feel that way sometimes, too.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007


Today at church I was reminded of something I've heard before that I think is great and worth sharing, as it relates to all aspects of our lives, as parents, spouses, professionals and people:

"Our greatest fear should not be failure, rather succeeding at something that doesn't really matter."

I don't know who said it first, but he or she was a smart cookie.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

I don't believe in New Year's resolutions. They're like diets and Lenten offerings -- things we do for a short period of time to make ourselves feel better that really should just be permanent changes we make in our lives for the better. So I don't do resolutions. Or diets. Or Lenten offerings. They're just ways of temporarily tricking ourselves.

However, when I set my mind to something, I make it happen and I keep to it. Like when I declared I would not eat red meat anymore. And I didn't, for 8 years. Not one slip. As much as I loved a burger, I didn't do it. Or how I refuse to drink dark sodas. Or food that is blue. And how I quit smoking after years just because one day I woke up and decided I didn't want to do it anymore. I guess you call it willpower. And I'm the perfect mix of Irish and German to have maybe the strongest will on the planet.

So, while I don't do resolutions, I do often look for things inspiring enough to consider making a life change. And one just came to me as I flipped through the Dec. 25 issue of Newsweek magazine. Anna Quindlen's "The Last Word" is one of my favorite reads every other week. And her Dec. 25 column called "The Time Machine" takes a look at what the spirit of the Christmas season means. It's a beautifully written and clever look at what is and is not important in life. Before I noticed it was the pullout quote on the page, I was struck by her sentence:
"The essence of the season is figuring out what small stuff is passing minutiae and what is enduring memory. Come to think of it, that may be the essence of everything."

And it's quite possible Anna should have put the word "everything" in italics.

So, pray tell, what does it mean?

Well, Anna says most of the holiday season stuff is just "small stuff", but then she says that lots of small stuff is really big and has stronger resonance than the things we perceive to be big, like the hot toy on the shopping list.

For some reason, there are small things we escalate to be very big and important things. And then are the small things we let fly by without a second thought. But are the small things we dismiss the ones that will be with us later in life? Do the littlest of little things have lasting significance, but lack the immediate gratification we so aptly place today at the cornerstone of what's really important?

Anna says her "children can track their childhoods in Christmas tree ornaments: the china bell for Baby's first Christmas, the triangle of felt and photograph made in Miss Hawe's third-grade class, the dinosaurs that marked the passionate enthusiasm of the onetime natural historian." I suppose I can trace my life through our Christmas tree, and for sure my girls also have some special ornaments to remember specific moments. But we don't think of it that way as we choose them as gifts or wrap them or give them. Yet, as we unpack them and hang them, their small meanings take on big significance and rekindle memories, feelings and moments. And as we pack them away for the year, we typically put that small moment back in its safe place, only to come out again the following December.

Take the handprint ornament from my older daughter's daycare craft. It's a big, heavy and not so very attractive piece of white plaster of paris with a chintzy red ribbon with smashed scissors curls and red fingerprints from being manhandled.It's no big deal. I think my wife and I even roll our eyes when it comes out of the box every year, as we for a fleeting moment think of how small she once was, then stammer as we try to find a branch strong enough and neatly tucked around back that will hold it. But one afternoon this Christmas season, as it hung on the tree, Skylar noticed it and she said "Daddy, that's my hand when I was just a baby." I told her to place her hand over it, and I was amazed at how much that ugly ornament, in that moment, made me feel. Instantly. The memories of her precious little face, her first step, her first word, her first day of school, her first lost tooth. Like that one little thing had unlocked a whole lot of other little things that I have so neatly tucked away. I said "Look how much you've grown." And she giggled and said "When I was a little baby, I didn't have any hair. I was bald like Uncle Steve." And she's right. And that was another little thing I had forgotten. She was our beautiful but awfully bald little girl.

So how do we track our lives the other 11 months of the year? Where do we hang the small things to serve as little reminders of really big things? Today it may be through a handheld digicam lens, at an online photo sharing site -- hell, a blog, even.

So, since I don't do resolutions, I will take 2007, with gratitude to Ms. Quindlen, as an opportunity to determine which of the small things is passing minutiae and which have enduring memory and see if life as a communications professional, husband, father and friend takes on new meaning.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

School Vacation Week

As school vacation week comes to an end, a quick reflection on some good family things to consider:

Charlotte's Web

The new film adaptation of E.B. White's classic book is actually a very entertaining movie. We went to the in-law's over the weekend and visited the small town old-time movie theater (I love the hometown theaters so much more than the megaplexes) and took in the matinee and the girls loved it. It does get a bit sad, but we all know Charlotte dies, so it's not a shocker. I had forgotten how sweet the story is and the real message of being a good friend. The famous voices and quick witted humor make it just as appealing and entertaining to the parents in the theater without being so adult that the kids don't appreciate it, too. And a surprisingly great new song from Sarah MacLachlan ends the flick, so stick around for the credits. Definitely pack the family into the van and check this one out.

Ice Skating

A bit of a family tradition now is to hit the ice rink during school vacation week. After arguing over why we couldn't wear fancy "twirly" skirts and tights, we wrangled jeans and turtlenecks on the girls and got there a little early to catch the zamboni cleaning the ice. As an aside, growing up a huge hockey fan and spending almost every home game at the Capital Center cheering for the Washington Capitals, I have always dreamed of getting behind the wheel of a zamboni. Since we don't have pro hockey here in Connecticut, I had forgotten about the zamboni fascination until the other day, so it was fun to have the reminder. Our feisty little Irish lassie in progress (aka younger daughter) wanted no help from anyone and kept trying to sneak away from the dasher boards without holding a hand, while our older daughter freaked out every time we tried to let go of her. But, like riding a bike, they both got the hang of it again and did well. We skated for about 30 minutes, taking two breaks along the way, before the girls had to go to the bathroom and then decided they were more interested in the snack bar. But it's always fun to lace up the skates and take a few spins around the ice.

Board Games

You'd think every night was family game night in the old McHousehold this week. We've played Sorry!, Feed the Kitty, Perfection, and Monopoly Jr. Princess Edition what seems like a million times. My youngest is a Sorry! champion -- winning almost every game somehow and has, at 4 years old, mastered the strategy of the Sorry! card and how to exact sweet revenge. We're terrified of what this means. I continue to never win any of the games, but I have fun trying anyway. We also tried the new Blokus Trigon and it's a blast -- a little bit harder to master than the original favorite, but still lots of fun. Unfortunately, I was not able to screw my neighbors in the tri-dimension. But there's always the next game.

Mom in progress and I are sad to see the school vacation week end -- and not just because we have to go back to work -- but we really enjoyed the time off with the girls and made the most of both unwinding and being together. The girls say they miss their friends and teachers, so they'll probably be glad to get back into the swing of things, but Mom in progress and I both will cherish the memory of 2006 holiday break.

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