The Ferris Bueller Approach to Parenting

The daily grind of parenting is absolutely crushing.

Wake them up.

Get them dressed.

Get them fed.

Check their homework is done.

Pack their bags.

Repack their bags because you packed the boy’s stuff in the girl’s bag.

Brush their teeth as they run out the door (hopefully).

Drive them to school or walk them to the bus stop.

Then work all day.

Pick them up from school, a bus stop, or an aftercare program.

Unpack their bags.

Take those muddy shoes off!

Wash hands.

Get a snack.

Work on homework.

Make dinner.

Eat dinner.

Clean up dinner.

Wash lunchboxes.

Fill lunchboxes with dinner leftovers.

Finish homework.

Bath night? Maybe tomorrow?

Brush teeth.

Wipe a tushy or two.

Read a bedtime story.

Tuck them in.

Pretend you aren’t falling asleep on the couch with your laptop open to work and Netflix on the TV.

Crawl to bed.

Lather, rinse, repeat (when was the last time they were bathed!?!?!)

Toss in an extracurricular like a sports practice or a Girl Scout meeting or a school event at least once a week. Oh, and laundry. And folding last week’s laundry that’s still in the basket. And grocery store runs. And maybe a haircut every few months?

I find myself chained to the schedule of getting everything done — because there is JUST. SO. MUCH. TO. DO.

When do we get to enjoy our kids as kids? When can we squeeze fun into that insane schedule?

The answer, as many do, comes from one of the greatest coming-of-age movies ever, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

The story revolves around a high school senior playing hookie from classes and having pretty much the best day ever.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. – John Hughes, written for Ferris Bueller

Appreciate the now, because if you don’t, those days are over.

35329506_10101823612373119_3928292279944478720_nEach of our three kids, as babies and toddlers, loved when I let them lay down on my shoulder while swaying and singing “Rainbow Connection.” Over and over and over again.

The baby, for months – months – would only go to bed if I carried him to his crib from across the house while beatboxing the baseline to “Tom’s Diner.” And all of them had periods of time where they made me lay down on the uncomfortable floor next to the crib so they could hold my hand while they fell asleep.

It took time – and some nights I hadn’t had dinner or changed out of my work clothes. Others nights, I had a mountain of work to finish and had to race sleep to get it done. Every minute counted!

“One day,” my wife said, “you will miss this.”

And now I do.

And there have been so many other segments of our parenting journey that are just…over. Moving from Washington, DC, to California a few months ago caused a lot of changes to accelerate, too.

I find myself playing that quote from Ferris Bueller in my head when I spend too much time trying to make too much happen with the kids.

Why not be silly outside for a minute before going inside after school; dinner can wait a bit.

Why not have a dance party after dinner? Bath night can be tomorrow.

Why not give the kindergartner all of the snuggles he wants? Pretty soon, he won’t want to even be near us.

Why not get froyo on the way home from school every now and then? Add some extra veggies into a snack.

Why not let the kids wear what they want (within reason) to school? Take a picture that could be blackmail down the road and send them on their way.

These years are brutal. But they can also be so happy.

Take the advice of Ferris Bueller. Don’t miss it.

[Your Turn: How do you slow down and enjoy your kids?]

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The Unspoken Truth About Parents

There is a universal unspoken truth about parents. We are all just barely keeping it together. And “It” is “our shit.”

Our lives are governed by unreliable, unstable, wholly-reliant third-parties that are learning to be people.

We are buried by the minute-by-minute decisions and the overwhelming responsibility of guiding them to be – at worst – decent human beings.

We are conflicted about if our choices put them – or keep them – on the right path to being successful, well-adjusted, healthy adults.

black and white person feeling smiling
Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

[And sometimes this manifests with us breaking down at the grocery store because we can’t decided the acceptable percentage of fat in ground turkey meat. Not that I’ve done that before…]

We obsess over which TV shows are good for them to watch while we cook dinner in the other room. And then second-guess if we got too-much or too-little fat in the turkey meat. And do the kids like their pasta al dente? Will they eat it if it’s too soft? Did they get the flu shot?

Plus, we can’t (but sometimes do) forget homework, play-dates, school events, class fundraisers, sports, youth groups.

And behavior. Are the kids playing well together? Or do they tease and taunt and terrorize each other the second you turn your back?

On top of that full-time job, we juggle our own personal and professional aspirations here, too. Work, hobbies, friends, travel.

And cleaning, cooking, shopping for clothes, deciding on Halloween costumes, decorating for the holidays, trying to find the pencil sharpener…the list goes on.

Then we have our own health and wellness – sleep, diet, exercise.

Maybe we want to watch a TV show or two. Maybe we don’t want to fall asleep sitting upright on the couch while watching.

Parents are like web browsers with 100 tabs open at once. 

Our shared reality is that we are all fighting the fight. We are all juggling countless decisions – some big, some small – that compound on each other.

And somehow, even though we are all living the same ridiculousness, we do everything we can to project to everyone how easy our life is.

Honestly, some days, it’s easy…and some days, we’re “Travelling Shitstorm, party of five!”

The trick is to laugh through the ridiculousness. And when you see other parents deep in the muck in public – screaming baby, stinky diaper, kids running off in different directions, didn’t bring the right snacks – go easy on them, because that could be you dealing with that mess.

And it probably will be.

Sorry.

Stay strong.

 

One Day…

One day…

My last kid won’t let me pick him up.

(And one day, I won’t be able to even if I tried.) leg

My son won’t physically stop me from dialing into a work conference call.

He will let us get a good night’s sleep.

He will eat roasted chicken breast and not dinosaur chicken nuggets.

He will learn to use the potty. And wipe himself.

My third kid will talk in complete sentences without animal sounds in between every word.

He will run off to explore his world and I won’t instinctively panic.

He will realize not every color is “green.”

He will NOT tear the house apart looking for an imaginary dragon he dreamed about at naptime.

He will stop eating squeezie baby food.

He will think kale is delicious AND nutritious. And value both things equally.

He will get his own drink at Starbucks and stop beginning to share ours.

He will move from the crib that once belonged to his brother and sister to the toddler bed that once belonged to…his brother and sister. With a fresh coat of paint, of course.

He will stop using the plastic kiddie utensils for his Cheerios.

He will stop cuddling and snuggling and noseying.

One day he will grow up. And then the next day, a little bit more.

Those days will be bittersweet days.

More bitter than sweet.

And that’s OK.

That day, thankfully, is not today.

 

“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.

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.

 

6 Secrets to Make Everything Fun For Kids

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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.