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.