Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Time My Preschooler Fell in Love

On a recent school-free weekday not long ago, Mrs. Dude took our boys to a nearby park to burn some of their seemingly endless supply of fuel. As I was working in my pleasant 72-degree office, thinking about chasing them around the vast mecca of molded plastic chutes and ladders slowly baking under the 85-degree California sun, I can’t say I was completely disappointed to miss that scorching outing. But a key lesson I’ve learned about parenting, and life in general, is that we often never know what we are missing out on by not doing something. As it turned out, I missed something seemingly big that day. How big? was the real question.

I can see out to the driveway from my home office’s shaded window and usually jump up excitedly, in a way that would make Pavlov proud, when I see Mrs. Dude and the boys return each afternoon. On this day, however, my 5-year-old made a beeline inside before I could even stand up. When the Little Dude bounded into the house he was beyond excited to tell me that he’d had an unplanned rendezvous at the park that day.

Dada, guess who I saw at the park today?

Elmo?

No, guess again…

Buzz Lightyear?

No! I saw Ethan, Braden and Jack from my school!

Oh, that’s awesome.

And guess who else?!

Lightning McQueen?

Come on, Dada. He’s in Radiator Springs. No, I saw Julie from my class.

(I was happy that he mentioned someone I actually knew, as the boys he’d mentioned first are in other classes and strangers to me.)

How exciting! What’d you all do?

We played on the swings and rode bikes and ran for a super long time! And guess what else?!

Ummm, you went down the slides?

Wrong! Slides are for babies. Guess what: Julie is my girlfriend now.

::The sound of a record player screeching to a halt engulfs my mind::

This was not at all what I was expecting from my almost 5 ½ year old’s day out. Thoughts of an imminent wedding rushed into my head before I realized that was highly improbable because neither the bride nor groom would be able to sign the marriage license because they don’t know how to write their names yet.  
Look before you leap
As he smiled his widest grin I’d seen in a while, I thought about how I hadn’t expected to hear about girlfriends for at least another half-dozen years. I know people say that kids are growing up faster these days due to technology and other societal changes, but explaining the birds and bees was not on my immediate radar, nor should it be.

I’m a planner. I’m not into surprises and have the kind of (cursed) mind which races through every possible outcome of a situation before it even begins to unfold. Whether my suppositions are right or wrong is another matter, I just don’t want to be left unprepared with an agape mouth.
So flying without my well-broken-in net, I asked my son what he thought having a girlfriend meant. I anticipated an answer somewhere along the lines of love or kissing or, at the bare minimum, hand-holding. Plus, whatever the reply, I had to be ready with a quip or an anecdote or something brilliant to suppress my suddenly queasy gut about these uncharted waters we were about to dive into.

My son looked at me, still beaming, and I watched his expression shift as he looked for an explanation that he could easily express. No words came out of his mouth for what felt like an eternity before he finally said something that shouldn’t have seemed as unexpected as it did.

I don’t know.

::Exhale::

And just like that I knew my little boy was back, as my nerves began to slowly unwind and return to their normal operating functions.

Him:  Can I go play now?

Me:  Of course. Go have fun.


And thankfully he never mentioned it again. 

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Nosiest Question Parents Get from Strangers

We know each other extremely casually. Our paths cross a few times per week, usually for a couple minutes at most. Why would you think it’s OK to be so nosy? Do I ask you about that prominent scar on your forehead, which must have an interesting story behind it? Do I ask you how much money you make? No. So please stay out of my bedroom.

Having almost made the mistake once, I would never consider asking a woman who is not my wife if she is pregnant. Even if she is currently crowning while in stirrups, you can never be too sure and rather than risk embarrassing either myself or a female I don’t know well enough, and by well enough I mean biblically, I know better than to wonder – at least out loud.

But for some reason there’s a tangential subject that people have absolutely no hesitation about asking: are you going to have more kids? I wrote a while back about people asking if we were going to "try for a girl", which is a very presumptuous subject, IMO, as we're perfectly thrilled with our two boys and don’t need a girl to “complete” our family. The same goes for a third kid.

So I usually tap dance around this more-frequent-than-I’d-like query with a non-committal answer like "You never know...", but I'm pretty sure I know. 

Would our duo sound better as a trio?
I’ve been thinking recently about why this question from people who don’t mean much to me gets me so worked up and I think I’ve finally figured it out. It’s because the truth is that I 
don’t know if we’re going to have a third kid and that makes me a little sad.

I’ve long considered parental age to be an important factor in many facets of parenting. This year my boys will turn 6 & 3 years old while Mrs. Dude and I round 3rd on our 30s and slide into the abyss that is 40. That’s old. Well, it’s not old, but it’s old. Betty White is still going strong at 90-something, but then again she never had children.

40 isn’t as old as it used to be, like 150 years ago when the average American's lifespan was about 45 to 50. But 40 isn’t 30, no matter how badly we might want it to be. In retrospect do I wish I’d started having kids younger than I actually did? Yes! And no. I was trying to carve my life's path during my 20s and early 30s, all of which led me to where I sit today: stuck in this quandary of what to do with the rest of my life, however long that might be.

My mother passed away at 65 and a year later her mother departed shortly after passing 90. Tomorrow is promised to no one, which might be why I’m feeling nervous about my current situation with two small boys who I need to carefully help mold as they progress through school and life.
My lap is currently featuring seating for two.
Since the Littler Dude recently turned 2 ½, it’s not lost on me that my wife and I may have unknowingly smelled the last new baby smell of our own varietal. That scent is indescribably perfect and unique to every child ever born, even when it’s stinky and needs a new diaper. Now we are in the stages of sand-filled socks and still about seven or eight years away from tween boy B.O.  For that, I’m in no rush.

I’m already feeling anxious that I’ll be well into my 50s when my boys finish high school, probably because my parents had three college graduates by that age. It’s absolutely a different time and place now from when I grew up and despite TiVo and iPhones it’s not necessarily a better one. 

I always thought I wanted three kids because I’m a third kid. Mrs. Dude always wanted two because that’s how she was raised and people are often drawn to situations reminiscent of those they were raised in. While I was growing up, my 4- & 7- year older siblings were generally too old to be my playmates.  It wasn’t until during, or more likely after, college when we finally reached the same social stratosphere. If my wife and I were to have a third, he would be almost exactly the same age difference younger from his brothers that my brother and sister are to me. Beyond just the age gap, we’re almost out of diapers and I’m not sure I’m ready to dive back into the Diaper Genie again. I think we have a solid family dynamic with our quartet right now, so is taking a chance on a wild card worth it for us at this point in our almost-40 lives? Or are we missing the jewel of the crown? I don’t have the answer, but the clock is ticking.

So where does this leave me in regard to my nosy acquaintances? Unfortunately not much further ahead than before. All I can say is that if I have something to announce, believe me I will. This decision is grueling enough without your random piqued curiosity. All I ask of you is that next time you see me, please feel free to ask me how my day is, about the weather or the score of last night’s game. Please just don’t ask if we’re having another kid. Those other questions are much simpler, and inifinitely less stressful, to answer. 
Four is the perfect size for man-to-man defense & theme park rides. 

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Joy and Pain of a Work at Home Dad

As a full-time work at home dad, I will admit that sometimes I miss the camaraderie that comes from working in a communal space, where coffee pots drip all day and phones ring endlessly. Though I enjoy the flexibility of my current position, which allows me to drive my boys to school every morning and be there when they arrive home every afternoon, sometimes I do long to be able to discuss last night’s Parks and Recreation with a real human being in the flesh instead of the randomTwitterverse.

One of the biggest career challenges I’ve faced was when I began working for a company with a completely remote workforce just before my younger son turned 1-year-old, which coincided with when Mrs. Dude began teaching full-time. She and I made the bittersweet, yet necessary, decision to hire someone to watch our son at home while I was working just a few feet away. Though I keep a separate workspace from our living area, it was frustrating every time I left my office to refuel or relieve and saw him frolicking with the nanny. I desperately wanted to drop what I was doing every time and roll around with my Littler Dude.
This adorable face was staring at me every time I'd grab a drink or snack. It was refreshing and upsetting at the same time.
Sometimes I could do just that, but for only a fraction of the amount of time I would have preferred. Other times he’d run into my office just to see me or sit on my lap for a moment and when the nanny kindly took him so I could resume working, I felt like a part of my soul was being forcibly yanked out every single time.  The irony of my great new job permitting me to be home with my son, while not really being with him, was a struggle that took some time to come to terms with. It was almost a relief when he started pre-school this past fall so that I was no longer faced with the temptation to build block towers instead of PowerPoint presentations on a daily basis.

Working from home is the kind of gift which not everyone wants or appreciates, and that’s OK. The Catch-22 I’ve frequently considered is being able to trade my zero-mile commute for a higher paying job requiring an hour or more each way in L.A. traffic. Now, if my kids need me while I’m working at home just a few minutes away, I can be there if they are sick or to attend their holiday shows at school, no questions asked. What would I do if I worked 25 miles away, which in L.A. terms can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours in traffic?
The view from my desk chair.
My boys are never really out of sight.
The traditional familial roles which my generation, and countless more before us, grew up with have been thrown out the window and just as women’s lib was such a big issue almost 50 years ago, maybe it’s time to consider this an era of men’s liberation. Men can be engaged parents who stay at home to raise their families or work in or out of the home and still take an active role in parenting. The days of the incompetent “Mr. Mom” father are long gone, so it’s time to finally quash that lame stereotype, just as we have so many other archaic cliches. It was nice to see that the tide is turning during several recent Super Bowl ads featuring actively involved fathers. 

Still, when friends mention going out for happy hour after work and I tell them I’m already deep into making Mac & Cheese for my boys at 5:30pm, the dormant phantom limb known as my office-working days starts to tingle. Then I go eat some of Kraft’s finest while looking at some adoring adorable faces and it all feels OK because I know I’ve made the right decision for my family for now.

This is my happy hour.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Moment I Realized My Toddler is Cooler Than Me

From Clark Griswold to Dr. Evil, countless movies have been filled with terribly cliché fathers trying to be cool around their children and failing miserably.  Though I was never the coolest kid in my school, or the least, I was friendly enough to at least stay on the fringe. Now I’m at the point in my life where my desire to be popular is greatly outweighed by my desire for the mythical good night of sleep. Still I want to be and have fun with my kids and if they want to view me as more fun like Vince Vaughn in Old School than known terrible father Darth Vader, so be it.  
But a couple recent events have made me realize that maybe I’m not as cool as I think I am, or maybe it’s just that my boys are already breezing past me right before my eyes. Mrs. Dude and I took the boys bowling recently and I never expected that seemingly innocuous experience to open my eyes so broadly. I hadn’t been bowling in many years, other than on Wii where I’m an expert, so I was surprised at how long the lanes seemed and how heavy the ball felt.

As we took our turns gliding our tie-dyed spheres down the slick lane I felt like I was having a good time. It was fun to get out there with the boys at this stage when they still need us and don’t realize that before long they won’t want to bowl, or do anything else in public, with us anymore. As we took our turns, aided mercifully by the raised bumpers denying any gutter balls, I heard a couple of older kids in the lane next to ours calling the Littler Dude’s name. Not paying much attention because his name is not uncommon, after a moment I realized they were indeed calling for my 2 year old.


I looked up but couldn’t place these kids, who appeared to be about 10 years old, so the fact that they knew my son was both perplexing and concerning. Several thoughts raced through my mind as I stood there when suddenly I noticed the Littler Dude’s preschool teacher standing a little further back in the next lane. These were her kids who had taken a shining to the Littler Dude on a couple visits to his school. Whew.

It truly surprised me that these elementary schoolers would turn their focus from a group of 8 or 10 of their friends to even notice a 2 year old, let alone pay even a smidge of attention to him, but then it hit me: my 2 year old son is cooler than me. This is clearly the beginning of my boys’ upward trajectory and my plateau. Hopefully I’ll have another 50 or 60 years on earth, but I’ll likely never again be as hip as I feel like I once was. (Note: using the word “hip” means I’m clearly not.) I’m not suggesting that I need to be put out to pasture quite yet, but as my psyche is coming to terms with me turning 40 later this year, I realize that I’m no longer a kid. Despite feeling a little sore the day after we bowled, I’m not feeling too many aches and pains yet. I’ve been working on becoming healthier because I know I must keep my machine in solid working order to keep it running smoothly as long as possible. I may be getting older but I don’t intend to feel old in the process.

That afternoon, while the Littler Dude napped, (who’s cool now?), I visited my barbershop for an overdue cut. I saw a new stylist who did a great job (and not only because she noted that I have a good thick head of hair), which really reinvigorated me a bit as I’d been feeling a little shaggy. As she used the clipper to clean up my neck and sideburns, I heard the buzz getting significantly louder when it dawned on me that she was trimming the tiny hairs on my ears. I attributed it to my uber-strong hair follicles and Russian ancestry and let it go.  A few minutes later, though, after she applied the styling goop to my hair in a generous effort to make me look a smidge less like, well, me was when I received official confirmation that I’m not as cool as I thought.

“Do you want me to tame your eyebrows while you’re here?”

“Um, OK,” I sheepishly replied, though the real thought burning my brain at that moment was “get off my overgrown over-eye lawn!”

It’s official: my kids have clearly surpassed me in coolness and there’s likely no turning back.
Bushwacked brows & buzzed ears
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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Trick to Becoming an All-In Parent

Beyond my Monday through Friday preschool drop-off routine, which I adore, as a work-at-home parent I often spend more time at home than I’d like. So on the infrequent occasions when I do get out, I try to make the most of whatever the outing may be.

For some reason we’ve had a slew of holiday-related events to attend this year compared to prior Decembers. When I looked at our calendar with my worn bloodshot eyes a few days ago I noticed a Saturday evening family event that sounded fun if I could stay awake. Then, as luck would have it, I was invited to another event with some dudes the same night and of course at the same time. How could I attend both, which is what I wanted to do, while making sure everyone was happy and no one felt neglected, most importantly the Junior Dudes.

I deliberated what to do as the holiday event would be fun and so would the incredibly-rare “guys’ night out”. So I decided I’d skip the family event to go out with the guys, which seemed reasonable as I’d been to seemingly a thousand family events this month. That night while I slept, along with a dream of going waterskiing in gravy with an octopus, my subconscious told me I’d made the wrong choice. I had to figure out a way to make both things work if I was going to make everyone, include myself, happy in the end.

I consider myself to be an “All-In” parent. I work hard to be actively involved in my boys’ lives and I aim to remain that way. Each time I see disengaged parents at parks, parties and elsewhere, it inspires me to double check where I am with my own boys. I can honestly say that as this year comes to a close, I’ve been more successfully entrenched with my boys than last year.

So I went back to my friends who invited me out and asked if they’d be open to pushing back their invitation a bit so I could attend both events that night. Though I anticipated resistance from a group and an existing event, I was surprised when none came. They were amenable and I was set for a big night out, or at least the kind of big night out a sleep-deprived father of two little ones has these days.
Glow in the dark dreidels are rad. 
I got my boys bathed and ready for our family holiday event and we were on our way. I spent quality time watching them play dreidel, eat latkes, sing and dance at a wonderful Hanukkah event and at the arranged time, my buddies picked me up and we headed out on the town while Mrs. Dude was all set to get the Junior Dudes in their PJs for the ride home and straight to bed.

So where does an “All-in” dad head for a night out? How about to check out Applebee’s new “All-in burgers”? Though I’ve been working toward a healthy lifestyle this year, I know that it’s OK to enjoy deviation from time to time in moderation. As Jack Nicholson said in The Shining, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. I don’t want to be dull, hungry, or the caretaker of a haunted resort so I was eager to check out the “All-in” lineup, where the cooks actually ground toppings into the beef. Brilliant.


We enjoyed some appetizers, like the amazing pretzel roll thingamajig, and I settled on the Mushroom Swiss All-in from the 4 options on the menu. Honestly, I was skeptical of how the burger would taste with everything crammed into one mass, but it presented and tasted better than I expected. I’ve been to burger places that try to get too fancy and the myriad toppings all get lost among each other. That didn’t happen here. The mushrooms were perfect and the oozing Swiss cheese was the perfect complement. As my stomach displays, I’ve had many a burger in my time and this is one of the better ones I’ve had lately. My compadres enjoyed theirs, too, so I’d guess that we’re all-in on the “All-in burgers”. 
My #BurgerSelfie
All in all (pun intended), it was a great night. Family, friends, food & festivities made for a great double night out and thankfully I returned home satisfied from both my dinner and my decision to fit both events into the evening.  




Disclaimer: I was compensated by Life of Dad, LLC and Applebee’s for this post, as well as given a complimentary meal to test things out. All opinions and ideas contained in this post are mine alone, for better or worse. 


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Showing My Son How to Help Others

With the holiday season upon us, my 5-year-old Little Dude has made it a daily, if not hourly, practice to remind Mrs. Dude and me which Hot Wheels items he would like to receive. Since he’s now old enough to understand the concept of wish lists, his mother and I are making an overt effort to teach him that while receiving things is nice but giving what we can to help other people is even more important.

We are certainly not rich people, but the reality is that there are always people in need who we can help, and it doesn’t have to be financially either. After the Junior Dudes’ recent birthday bonanza, we suggested they each pick some things that they received to give to kids who maybe didn’t receive anything for their birthdays, Christmas or any other day that we take for granted.

More often than I’d like to admit, I catch myself in the middle of trying to teach my boys a lesson by rambling on about it in a Ward Cleaver-ish manner. What I’ve realized, however, is that concepts like poverty and illness can be opaque for kids not living with them. As part of my ongoing effort to break through that archaic Cleaver-style of parenting, I decided to try another method for teaching them during this holiday season: actively showing them what we can do to help people, instead of just rambling on about a concept that a 5-year-old doesn’t fully comprehend, let alone his 2-year old brother.

When I heard that one of the finest Men/Fathers/Poets I know, Whit Honea of Honea Express, recently underwent surgery to help repair some internal issues he’d been battling for the better (worse?) part of a year, I decided that we should do something to help him and his family during his sure-to-be exhausting recovery period. Having been around more recuperations than I care to admit, one thing I’ve learned is that dealing with the mundane elements of life seems more taxing during those periods when life doesn’t flow along its normal channels.

So what could we do that would show the Honea family that the Dudes are thinking of them? Easy:
food. I’m admittedly less than a novice chef, but there are things I make reasonably well that are good as the mercury drops and with winter ready to spring in just a few days. My culinary specialty is baked penne, so I decided to show my boys how the seemingly simple task of making a meal can brighten a day and lighten a load at the same time. One less dinner to worry about after a long week of hospitals, poking and prodding goes a long way. A twist to the story is that Whit’s procedure necessitated an initial liquid diet for him so I decided to make him some soup, which is warming and filling as the L.A. weather turns a (relatively) chilly 55 degrees.

Though he obviously wasn’t going to help with the slicing and dicing of any vegetables, the Little Dude kept me company as I cooked and helped me with some of the prep work, including the critical cheesing of the bake.

We spent time in the kitchen and in the car ride to deliver dinner discussing what good deeds are and how being selfless is critical when others can use our help. It was only a moment before he was asking about other good deeds we can do and we started plotting a course toward helping others going forward.

My recuperating friend & his wife were thankful to have a night off from cooking after a draining week of hospitals, doctors and the fun they elicit. I felt a sense of pride after having taught my son about the power of good deeds as we headed home for our own family’s dinner. I’d initially considered ordering take-out and bringing it to their home, but that would have just made me a delivery boy. I wanted my son to witness the power of making time to complete something important from start to finish. Though I didn’t get to have any of my garlicky vegetable soup, my chest warmed as though I had. 



Though the plan to bring dinner to my friend was my own, it happened while I’m partnering with the kind people at Lee Jeans as part of their #LeeGoodDeed campaign. They sent me a pair of their new Modern Series jeans which are incredibly comfortable. Had I eaten the baked penne myself, Lee’s Active Comfort flex denim would have helped as my waistline expanded after dinner. Lee Jeans are available at retailers nationwide and on Lee.com.


Disclosure: I’ve partnered with and been compensated by Life of Dad, LLC for this promotion, plus Lee sent me a rad pair of these jeans, which I’ve barely taken off in the last week. All opinions and ideas contained in this post are mine alone, for better or worse. 


Monday, December 8, 2014

From 0 to 5K with #RunDisney & The Avengers

If you know me in real life, you might know that there are three things I’m typically not a big fan of: waking up early, exercising and birthdays. So naturally when I was invited to participate in RunDisney’s inaugural Avengers Half Marathon at Disneyland, which was scheduled to begin at 5:30am on my birthday, I rejected the concept in my head before I even knew what it was really about. But then I found out about a 5K race being run the day before the half marathon and actually gave it a second thought, and then a third thought, before accepting the invitation/challenge. Oh, did I mention this call was 9 days before the event?
So why would I jump blindly into something like a 5K with no notice? Because I had to. No, neither Captain America nor Mickey Mouse forced me to run, my sons did. It occurred to me over the summer when we’d take our nightly family walks after dinner that I was having trouble keeping up with my two boys. Kids love to run, especially after a meal that has refilled their gas tanks, and mine love to sprint back and forth down the blocks to burn some of that energy. After several weeks of feeling winded from running half a block to catch them, I knew it was time for change. I just didn’t know how to actually do it.

So Mrs. Dude and I started going for power walks in the evenings through our hilly neighborhood. At first I thought I was going to collapse after 10 minutes, but it got incrementally easier the more often we did it and before long we were averaging about 2 ½ miles. The problem was consistency, as my exercise frequency varied between zero and 2 or 3 times per week. Finding the time, or rather making the time, to exercise can be challenging. It can also be daunting to someone like me who’s never really had much fitness experience or education.

So with my almost-big birthday looming and having committed to running the Avengers 5K, I had to figure some things out quickly. And not the least of which was how was this lifelong night owl going to run a race at 5:30am! I knew that my workout inconsistency had to change. I figured that if nothing else I could at least walk the 5K course, but my goal quickly became more than that. I didn’t know how to quantify my goal, but I knew I needed to do a couple practice 5Ks to gauge things. I figured with 9 days to go, I could fit in 3 or 4 trial runs before the actual event.

So that night I set out alone in the dark to figure out how to prep for a 5K. It had been almost a month since my last vigorous exercise, but I wasn’t quite starting from scratch. I knew that 5K equals 3.1 miles and using the “Map My Walk” iPhone app, I started walking until I reached that distance. Up, down and around my neighborhood I watched the app’s odometer inch upward, seemingly very slowly, until I returned home a wheezing, sweaty mess. But I’d done it. I’d now completed a real 5K via a hybrid of mostly walking with bursts of running interspersed throughout.
5 days until the Avengers 5K

Five more times over the next week I did the same thing and despite varying the course on every occurrence, on each instance my overall time improved. I was feeling good about my prospects in the race and, more importantly, also about myself. With only a few calendar ticks remaining until I began the last year of my 30s, I was on a mission for my family and myself. Avengers 5K and Disneyland, here I come…
1 day until my first 5K!
To Be Continued

Disclaimer: I was invited by RunDisney to participate in their Avengers 5K race weekend. All opinions and ideas expressed in this post are mine alone, for better or worse. 

Note: Before beginning any rigorous exercise/training program you should consult with your physician. My exercise/training results and race preparation were not typical. YMMV.