paternity leave

The Best Dad Blog on AJ+

Recently, I was asked to share my perspective on the importance of parental leave with AJ+. I have some pretty strong feelings on it:

  • That no amount of time home is “enough.”
  • That it is effing hard.
  • That the ongoing progressive discussions making it easier for mothers, fathers, and non-birth parents to take paid leave is incredible.
  • That government and business need to continue to work together to create a system that works in the United States.

It was an honor to be featured in this piece alongside some incredible parents that are facing tough situations. I am eternally grateful to have three healthy children, outside of a few ER visits, some uneventful appointments with specialists, and the worst night ever.

The bonus for me was getting to play on camera with Squish and having his smile on display for the world.

dad daughter school

Back to School: Hours Away From Kindergarten

dad daughter school
Outside Beanie’s kindergarten class

As I sit here writing this late on a Sunday night/early on a Monday morning, we’re on the brink of a major life moment.

That’s probably why I’m having trouble sleeping.

In just a few hours, Beanie will start kindergarten.

How in the world did five full years fly by so quickly? How are The Best Mom and I parents of a kindergartner?

Look…your kids are your kids for your entire life. I get that.

But there is only a finite amount of time before they go out into the world, the product of their parents.

And while the REAL venture into the world is still approximately 13 or 17 years away, depending on when you stop counting, this is a big effing milestone on the journey. And one where our Beanie begins to peel away from us.

Sure, she’s been in daycare since she was nine weeks old. But the daycare was in my wife’s office building. And she was surrounded by teachers, friends, and parents she had known since she had been there. Basically, in her entire conscious life, she has never faced a restart like she is going to face by the time you read this.

I remember every single moment of the day she was born – which is a great story for another time. But there are two particular moments from that day that I think about often.

  1. Beanie was being examined on the warming table. I tried to check on The Best Mom who was still in the bed and Beanie reached her hand out to stop me from leaving her side. Just minutes old, she squeezed my finger at the sound of my voice.
  2. Later, when the doctors and nurses cleared out of the room, I shared a quiet moment with my daughter. I left her up and touched our noses. We still do that today.

Now, a heartbeat later, our little Bean is starting a new chapter in her life. New adventures await. New things to explore.

And for parents, kindergarten brings new challenges, too. New school. New teachers. New routines. New letting go.

My first baby is going to kindergarten. And every time I look at her, I want to cradle her like I did that first night, give her a nosy, and rock her to sleep on my shoulder.

But I can’t. It’s time to let her go. And come home after school to tell me about all things she learned and all the friends she made. I may sneak in a nosy.

“I Love You All The Love”

1528556_10152123734075148_564563917_nEvery single day, I tell all of our children the same thing:

I love you all the love.

[As in, all the love that does, has ever, or will ever exist…that’s how much I love you.]

Maybe it’s just a media thing, but how many stories/movies/shows have you seen where the dads can’t mutter “I love you?”

And the fallback response is “they know how I feel.”

Do they, though?

Do kids know how you feel about them if you don’t explicitly tell them?

My hypothesis (driven by no actual science, but by life as a parent of three kids and as a son who heard his dad say he loved him all the time) is that there is no way they can know unless you constantly tell them.

Case in point: Two years ago, my daughter made me watch all three Madagascar movies…about 25 times each, not exaggerating. Now she does not remember them at all. I’ll repeat: she does not remember movies

Us parents, though, we remember what happened two years ago. I will never be able to get certain scenes from those movies out of my head.

As kids grow, they lose their earlier memories and the only reality they know is what is presented to them. By you.

And sometimes it may get cumbersome. Like this recent chat I had with Beanie:

 

Me: Beanie, I love you.

Beanie: DADDY! I know that already. You don’t need to tell me that EVERY DAY!

Me: Yes, I do need to tell you. What if you don’t know?

Beanie: How about this? I’ll tell you the days that I forget that you love me and you can tell me then.

Me: ……………………..I love you.

Beanie: DADDYYYYYY!!!!!!!

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t care. I don’t care how old they get. I don’t care if it embarrasses them in front of their friends. I don’t care if they want nothing to do with me that day.

All I care about is that they know – on each day, no matter what – that their dad loves them.

chime logo

Free Babysitting in Washington, DC

chime logoA night out on the town without kids is every parent’s dream. Peace. Quiet. No baby vomit. No “I don’t like that” screamed when they see their favorite dish.

But there are so many obstacles to hitting the streets. Chief among them: childcare.

Who will watch your kid(s) while you wine and dine?

We’re really fortunate to have so much family living close by who enjoy our three monsters, but not everyone is so lucky.

The Neighborhood Restaurant Group in Washington, DC, is partnering with Chime, the new curated, neighborhood-based offering from SitterCity.com to help get parents in their locations.

From the release:

Starting July 27 through Labor Day, NRG and Chime have partnered to offer DC families the opportunity to enjoy a night out without their kids. With nearly 20 NRG restaurants you can choose from an incredible array of dining options. And the best part? NRG is going to take care of the babysitting. Thanks to Chime, your children will be in good hands. Visit hellochime.com and enter code NRG to receive 4 hours of babysitting credits ($60 value).

Basically, they are removing the biggest hassle in having a date night in Washington, DC.

Chime only serves up a handpicked selection from the top 1% of all sitters on SitterCity, and only those close to you – a perfect solution for urban and not-too-far-out parents like us, who live ~5 miles north of the city line. It’s also available in New York, Chicago, and Boston, and I have a good feeling other cities will be added soon.

And NRG has some of my favorite restaurants in the city (like ChurchKey!), making this a delicious deal for all parents to consider.

So, DC Parents, no excuse to not have a night out together. Alone. With some of the best food in town.

[Disclosure: I was invited to a media dinner, which I was unable to attend, and also received credits to use while learning the Chime experience.]

The Changing Table Conundrum

IMG_5585Recently, I went out to dinner at a neighborhood restaurant with my wife and kids. A pretty quiet place, with a seafood-heavy menu.

Not too long after we sat down, Beanie had to go potty, so my wife took her to the bathroom, while I hung out with the boys.

A few minutes after the ladies returned, Baby Squish woke up from a little snooze.

He.

Was.

Not.

Happy.

[By the by: Have you ever met a baby that was glad they woke up? Me neither.]

As any parent knows, there are two scenarios that wake up a baby: hunger and diaper.

In this case, it was both. So we started with the more pressing one: the nasty, stinky mess in his pants.

So I picked him up – it was clearly my turn to do a bathroom run – and walked to the restrooms.

I went into the men’s room. Two urinals. One stall. No changing table.

Well, crap.

There I was – in the middle of a bathroom – carrying a soiled, screaming 3-month old, with no place to change him.

The Best Mom and Beanie came in behind me, as Bug had to go potty, too.

“Screw this. Come with me.”

It was badass, in a Terminator kind of way.

She opened the door to the women’s restroom and pushed me in.

So…to recap: There I was – in the middle of a bathroom – carrying a soiled, screaming 3-month old. And this time, I had a place to change him.

[Aside: It was my first trip into a women’s public restroom since I was so jet-lagged and deliriously hungry from a super-delayed flight into Detroit, but that is a story for another day…]

Thankfully, no women came in to use the bathroom while Squish and I were in there, avoiding an awkward situation.

And that left me with one thought:

Who the hell thinks it’s OK to only put changing tables in women’s restrooms?

Why is that allowed?

Who thinks only women should get the pleasure of changing diapers in public places?

This is not OK.

Three reasons:

  1. Moms should not be forced to change every single diaper.
  2. Dads go out and about town alone with non-potty-trained kids all the time.
  3. Some families don’t have female parents.

These reasons lead to one realistic solution: PUT A DAMN CHANGING TABLE IN EVERY PUBLIC BATHROOM.

Look, I’ll go into a women’s restroom for my kids. But it’s awkward for literally everyone involved.

So, public restrooms: be better.

 

dad's don't babysit

Dads Don’t Babysit

dads don't babysitSometimes, one parent has to go somewhere. Work. The mall. A doctor.

And that leaves one parent alone with the kids.

You never hear “Mom is babysitting the kids while Dad is out.”

But you do hear “Dad is babysitting while Mom is out.”

It may be the most frustrating, unintentionally demeaning thing I’ve heard as a Dad.

That sentiment leans on an out-dated, damaging misperception that Dads can do professional work like a champ, but turn into a chump when children are around.

Saying that Dads are just “babysitting” completely minimizes their investment in their kids’ lives.

Sure, I babysat when I was a teenager. It was great. Hang out with fun kids. Watch a movie. Eat some pizza. And call the parents when stuff got real. And then have some cash to fund weekend adventures.

But that was a long time ago.

When my wife needs to run an errand…or take a shower…or see a doctor…or travel for work…or visit a friend or family…I parent my children.

Cooking. Cleaning. Bathing. Teaching. Dressing. Transporting. Disinfecting. All of it.

Because I’m a parent 24/7 – when my wife is home and when she is not.

Am I on “Dad Duty” when I’m parenting solo? Absolutely.

But am I babysitting my kids? Never.

It’s a Beautiful Day in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

dtn-dynamic-515.jpgI’ve been fortunate, over the course of my career, to work on some pretty amazing projects. Many of them have been integral to my professional and personal growth. And one holds a very special place in my heart.

It was a thrill to play a VERY small role in the launch of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood on PBS Kids several years ago.

Before I got to work on it, I fell in love with it.

I saw an 11-minute preview at SXSW breakfast in 2012, when Beanie was not even a year old. While this was a new show, it was effectively a sequel to one of my favorites, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. And, let’s be honest, Fred Rogers was THE standard bearer of educational television. So a show inspired by his work had a a huge responsibility to carry on that legacy.

Daniel Tiger and all of his friends, you see, are the next generation of the puppets in the Land of Make Believe. Even the theme music was derived from the original show.

It was easy to feel the heart of the show – it was so familiar, but updated for kids of today. I can put on episodes of Fraggle Rock, and my kids intuitively know it was not made for THEM, but rather for their ancient father. [I’ll make them Fraggle fans, if it’s the last thing I do!]

Following that SXSW event, I worked with the PBS Kids team on the social media strategy around the launch. Like I said, I played a small part. But enough to gain a lifelong rooting interest in the show.

Over the past few years, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood has become required viewing for our entire family. We’ve watched it with all of our kids. We have “action figures” of the characters that are a bath time favorite. And we even have one of Daniel Tiger’s signature red sweaters!

We constantly sing the “musical strategies” that help kids learn processes and deal with emotions. And we’ve even created a few of our own along the way.

All of this is pretext for how amazing it is that the methodology behind the show has been proven to be a massive success.

New research from Texas Tech connected preschoolers who watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood to having enhanced social and emotional skills.

The kicker is that the development comes when parents and children talk about the show. So many kid shows are hard for parents to watch. Strange storylines, poor character development, lack of any educational merit — these all make it hard to sit and watch a show with your kids, let alone have a meaningful conversation about it afterwards.

However, Daniel Tiger is the opposite of it. The show is so warm and welcoming – and digestible with 11-minute segments centered around a key lessons and musical themes – that its impossible to have it on and NOT watch it.

Beanie has been less interested in the show in recent months – and Bug is influenced by Beanie – so we haven’t had it on as much. However, we explained to the kids that they need to watch the show so they can talk to their little brother about it. And now they ask to watch it when Squish is not around.

I love this show. I love what it’s doing for families. And I’m excited I get to share it with one more kid.

6 Secrets to Make Everything Fun For Kids

IMG_8096
Family Fun Day in Annapolis, MD. We followed the six secrets and everyone had a blast!

A few months ago, another parent asked me a question:

“What are some fun dad/kid activities?”

My response may not have been satisfactory, but it was 100% true:

“Everything…if you package it correctly.”

I come by it naturally.

When I was young, we lived within walking distance of my preschool. Most days, my dad would drive me to and from school. But, on occasion, my mom would walk to pick me up and we’d have “an adventure(!!!)” trekking home down the road, watching the cars whiz by, and even passing through a gas station.

My mom made walking home from preschool into something special.

And that’s what we try to do with our kids, too.

EVERYTHING can be special to kids.

  • Who wants to come to Costco with me? There are yummy treats for you to sample!
  • Bed time is so much more fun when the kids choose how you carry them to their rooms. Giggles Guaranteed.
  • Only doing an activity for a few minutes? Scarcity is special! “Make this the BEST [fill in the blank] ever!”
  • Walks in the woods can be boring. Unless you talk about what you see, hear, and smell. And discuss how going on walks makes you healthy!

Running errands? Going to bed? Doing something fun…but not for long? Getting a family walk in?

These things don’t have to be boring. They can be AWESOME, bonding events…but only if the parents present them that way.

What’s the secret to doing it right? There are actually six of them:

  • Talk about what you are going to do in advance to build anticipation.
  • Make it seem like the most fun thing ever by being excited about it. Model excitement and the kids will follow your lead.
  • Reinforce your excitement while you are on your way/packing.
  • Again, led by example by sharing how much fun YOU are having.
  • Afterwards, ask the kids to identify their favorite parts of the activity. This gets them thinking about what you did positively.
  • Information is power – use what they told you when planning future activities.

One of the things I’ve learned over my first five years as a parent is that kids do have a default setting: to have fun everywhere they go. However, they take cues from others on how to act.

As parents, we have a major responsibility to make our kids’ lives filled with joy and learning and love. It just takes some minimal effort and EVERYTHING can be a fun activity for the entire family.

 

 

Dad’s Rules for Dressing Girls

Every family divides responsibilities differently.

Nearly every weekday morning, I get the kids dressed before heading to school.

Naturally, I HIGHLY value speed. Mornings are like assembly lines – things are programmed to the second, and any deviation causes, well, a disturbance in the Force.

Bug really doesn’t care what he wears; he’s easy. Sometimes he wants a different shirt than what I pick out. Easy peasy.

Beanie, on the other hand, is much more…opinionated. In everything. Especially what she wears. And she wants to select her outfit every morning. By herself. With no input. In fact, if I suggest an outfit, she usually disqualifies it from consideration.

To help expedite the process, I have created two rules to guide decision-making. (Hers and Mine)

  1. Is it seasonally appropriate? Does it cover all the parts that need to be covered that time of year? (Example: a wool sweater when it’s 90 degrees is a no-go.)
  2. Does it make her happy?

That’s it.

13516714_10154271890320148_6896755290109556117_nNaturally, the clothes that are in her closet and dresser have been vetted by me and The Best Mom. (Well…more like JUST by The Best Mom).

So nothing in there is offensive. Although picking an outfit a size or two too small could create some consternation.

But Rule #2 is the big one for me. If she likes what she’s wearing – it makes her FEEL good and confident. Even if the colors don’t match. Even if there is a little hole in her pants. Even if she wears some of the same outfits twice a week for a year. None of the arguments against doing that hold water for me.

Yes, we get some pretty amazing, Punky Brewster-style outfits. Beanie gets to express her creativity through her clothes safely and effectively.

And just two rules get it done.

My Father’s Day Wish

 

It’s been nearly a week since the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States. A gunman in Orlando opened fire on a nightclub.

Immediately, there were several ways to categorize the event.

Was it a terrorist attack? His parents were immigrants.

Was it a hate crime? It was a gay club.

No matter what the motive, there were some clear facts:

It was a shooting. With a military-style assault firearm.

While I don’t own guns, I’ve been to the gun range countless times. I’m an Eagle Scout and learned how to shoot a rifle when I was younger. Heck, I even had a gun manufacturer as a client many years ago.

I have friends and family that own guns – some for hunting. Some for protection. That’s not my recreation activity or protection of choice, but as long as they are responsible owners, I have no problem with it.

I am not a gun customer. I am not an advocate. But I’m not anti-all-guns-all-the-time, either.

This background is to set up my main point:

Nobody needs an assault rifle. Nobody.

So let’s, as a society, get them off the streets.

I do get the appeal of them. I mean, who doesn’t dream of reenacting the famous “say hello to my little friend” scene from Scarface? I definitely do.

But that’s a fantasy.

What’s real?

Human beings.

Now I have three little humans in my house. And they are getting older and heading to school. And out into the community.

The sad truth is that mass shootings are now commonplace in their life.

Another sad truth? The victims of these shootings are all somebody’s children, no matter how young or old.

I know banning a class of weapons won’t 100% stop all bad people from doing bad things.

But it may stop one. And make things harder for another. And limit the potential damage on another.

 

As a parent, that’s all I need to know.

Because what if the next mass shooter was in my city? My neighborhood? My children’s school?

Get these weapons of destruction – these weapons of war – out of the hands of civilians.

That’s my Father’s Day wish this year.