Tag Archives: parenting

The Sprout is a Better Writer than Me, These Days


We gave my son a journal about a year ago on his birthday.

He was all excited about it at first, used it a couple of times, and then didn’t do a thing with it for months. No big deal, add it to the piles of toys we get for the kids that suffer the same fate — new, shiny, all-consuming, then forgotten and cluttering up the house and in the way.

Then, earlier this week, the sprout comes to me and asks if I want to read something he wrote in his journal.

Uh, yes, obviously.

“You can’t read the whole thing, dad. Some of it is private. But I want you to read this one.”

The whole thing, eh?

So, I read it. And it was fine. The kid, at nine, has an eye for detail and a straightforward style that, while it’s not exactly compulsory reading, it’s at least as engaging as you could hope for from somebody his age.

But of course, I did what I wasn’t supposed to do. I flipped through some of the other pages. Not to read, you understand, but just to see what the kid has been up to. And he’s filled pages and pages with this stuff, some of it absolute fluff, some of it screeds about how angry his little sister makes him (how much can really be said on the subject? You might ask. Quite a bit, as it turns out), some of it pure creative whimsy. His little journal is over half full, and he’s using it more and more by the day.

And it’s endearing, for pretty obvious reasons, but it’s humbling, too. Here goes a kid of nine years just writing for the pure unmitigated hell of it, and meanwhile I, who fancy myself a writer, have been scared of my own shadow in that department for the better part of a year.

Which is not to say I haven’t been writing in that time. I processed some more edits on the novel I may never finish. I still write (almost) every day in a dusty WriteMonkey file that will never see the light of day. But it has been ….quite some time since I wrote anything outward-facing. (Check the date-stamp of my last blog entry here for proof. (This is a thing I personally will not be doing!))

“Scared of my own shadow” is pretty apt for just now having thought of it that way. And I don’t have a good reason; in fact anything I could say would sound like the antithesis of everything that the oeuvre of this blog seems to espouse. (Don’t feel like it? Do it anyway. Feel like it’s dumb? Do it anyway. Not confident? Cry more, and do it anyway.) I am my own best cheerleader, and my own most crushing disappointment. But at the same time, I can’t just turn off the notions that what I write is trite, or overwrought, or uninformed, or just plain bad.

But if a nine-year-old can do it…

I don’t know what it is, but lately I’ve had to deal with plumbing issues a lot. Leaks here, blockages there. And like … the thing with plumbing is, if it’s not catastrophic, it’s easy to ignore. But by their very nature, plumbing problems don’t get better with time; they get worse. The drip becomes a trickle becomes a gusher. The slow drain gets slower until it stops entirely. And how much time and resources do you waste while ignoring the problem? How much annoyance and frustration do you choose to deal with on a daily basis just to avoid the unpleasantry of doing the work to fix it?

And how much better would things be on the other side of doing that work?

Anyway, all this metaphor is just a pretty way of saying I have allowed my slow drain to become a clog and then a full-blown impacted blockage. Which is not a great place to be, but you can’t get anywhere, no matter how good your maps and your skills may be, if you don’t know where you are.

The other thing about plumbing is, the only way to fix it — really fix it — is to take drastic measures. Empty out the space under the sink, disconnect the pipes and snake ’em out. Tear out the toilet that won’t stop leaking and put in a new one.

Or to put it in more general terms, if you want the situation to change, you have to get off your arse and change it.

What does this mean for this site?

I dunno yet.

But I’m at least going to stop treating this blog like the mad woman in the attic (we feed her, but we don’t talk about her).

See you soon.


The Training Wheels Problem


Our oldest took his first bike ride without training wheels this weekend.

He’s 9, which is old for that step I guess, but our house isn’t the most conducive to practicing bicycle riding and he had never been particularly motivated to pick it up, so it was no big deal … this year, though, he and little sister have the bug and we’ve been going to the local soccer field and doing laps in the parking lot.

(By the way, and just as an aside, the build quality on kids’ bikes is garbage. It feels like we can hardly go five minutes without a pedal unscrewing itself (seriously, what engineering genius threaded it so that it spins WITH the natural pedaling motion instead of AGAINST) or the chain jumping a tooth on the gear and falling off (that one I *might* attribute to the sprout’s bombastic way of “crashing” when he wants to stop…. he’s not exactly gentle on the machine).)

So we’ve been going out for several weeks, and they’re gaining in confidence, like they do, as he’s riding on the training wheels. And the training wheels are … they’re this double-edged sword, right? They keep you from losing your balance and falling over entirely, but they also inhibit the natural function and physics of the bicycle. (It’s impossible to take a sharp turn at any speed greater than a crawl, because on a bicycle you have to lean into the turn, and … well, the trainers don’t allow you to lean.)

This is the training wheels problem: they allow you to do a thing that you may not yet have the skill to do, but they don’t give you the full experience of the thing. If you lean on them too long, they actually stop you from getting better.

And I’m watching, and he’s getting surer and surer of himself, and I’m watching, and on this last pass around the parking lot, the trainers don’t touch down on the ground even once. So, okay, it’s time for those things to come off.

I tell him so.

He freaks.

I’m not ready, dad. I still need them. I’m gonna crash. I can’t keep my balance yet.

“You *are* ready, kid. I watched you ride a hundred yards without using them… you just can’t feel it. You’re ready.”

I’m not, dad. Please don’t take them off. I need to use them for a few more weeks.

This is where parenting gets weird, because you want to respect the kid’s wishes, and what’s a few more weeks? If it’ll make him feel better, what’s the big deal? But you also know things the kid can’t know — namely that these things are doing him more harm than good at this point — so what do you do?

In my case, I tell him.

“Nah, buddy. Next time we come out here, those things are coming off.”

He thinks it over.

Okay, well, if you’re going to take them off next time, can I try just once without them, with you helping me?

“What, right now?”

Yeah.

As the cool kids say these days? BET. I’ve got the ol’ crescent wrench in the van. I whip them thangs off lickety-split. His eyes get big as they clatter to the ground. (I don’t bother setting them down gently; I let them fall dramatically, and allow them to make a ton of noise, because I’m theatrical like that.) I walk the bike over to him.

“All right. Hop on. I’ve got you.”

Don’t let go, okay?

And here’s the lie every parent in this situation tells their kid: “You bet.”

He starts to pedal, I give him a little push, and immediately let him go. He takes off like a shot, loops around the parking lot. I jog to keep up, but it’s never in doubt; he’s 100% dialed-in. He zooms. He leans. He doesn’t crash, not even close. And from there, it’s a total reversal of energy:

Did you see me? Wasn’t that awesome? Did you see how fast I went? Were you watching me lean? I didn’t think I could do it, but then I did it!

This is not exactly a subtle metaphor. It gets re-used all the time, nowhere so heavy-handedly, or adorably, as in Onward, the most recent Pixar film to make me cry. Ian, the younger brother, is learning to use magic, but he lacks confidence along with knowledge. His brother, Barley, knows all about magic but can’t use it. The two need to cross a chasm, and this can only be accomplished by means of magic, so Barley convinces young Ian to try out a levitation spell with the assurance that he’ll keep a rope tied around the young man’s waist, just in case the spell fails. Well, the spell works, and the rope runs out of slack and comes untied, and Ian makes it to the other side entirely out of the safe grasp of his brother… and realizes, safe on the other side (okay, he falls a little bit because movies gotta complicate everything), that he didn’t need the support at all.

And this is the way, right? We use these safeties to teach kids how to do things, and then we slowly take the constraints away. This is education 101. Heck, it’s even how we do bowling with little kids now: those bumpers on the sides of the lanes? They’re just training wheels to keep you from throwing a gutter ball every time you take the line, to give you the kick of knocking some pins over, that dopamine hit to bring you back to the line and throw it a little bit better next time, until you don’t need them at all anymore.

We use training wheels, like we use all safety constructs, to keep ourselves from crashing too hard when we’re learning a thing… but who’s there to tell us when to take them off? When you learn new things as an adult, most of the time you’re learning them on your own. And maybe you put your own “training wheels” in place to one degree or another.

But if you want to really ride, you have to take them off sooner or later. Because we all know that riding a bike with trainers on isn’t really riding a bike. Somebody riding a bike with training wheels is capable of so much more.

Where, in our lives, are we relying on training wheels without even knowing it?

And what would we be capable of, if we just had somebody to take our training wheels off?

Child, Tricycle, Play, Drive, Bike, Bicycle, Toy

We Got Some ‘Splainin To Do


I just got done speaking to a couple of students.

Things are a little … tumultuous right now; in this country, in our school, shoot… in *life generally*. They hung around after the bell just to talk, to ask some questions, to vent… and I’m happy to be that for them. They obviously needed to talk to somebody. Heck, *I* needed to talk to somebody.

I came away from that conversation shaking my head. The older generation has so much to answer for with these kids. They have been robbed of so much, and yet they’re weathering the storm with so much more resolve and level-headedness than so many of the adults in their lives.

I often joke with them about how I’m glad I’m not a kid like them in the world we’re living in (even though it’s not actually a joke).

But the truth is, many of them don’t even get to be kids anymore. They got yanked out of that and plopped straight into adult problems, starting a few years ago, but especially here in 2020.

And even adults don’t know how to deal with 2020.

These kids have it worse.


OMG DAD


The ambush predator lies in wait.

It disguises itself, or hides itself, under bushes or in crevices in rocks, blending in with its surroundings. It lurks.

The ambush predator is not built to take its quarry head-on; it’s not built for that. The ambush predator is not a creature of great strength. If it sees that you see it coming, you are as safe as can be.

But when it can take you unawares …

You will be dead before you even realize you’ve been attacked.

This is how my son tells me stories.

If you haven’t been told a story by somebody younger than 10 lately, let me enlighten you. They know what punctuation is, but they’re not much impressed. It’s like having one of those walls-of-text you see on the internet read to you by an AI voice that doesn’t need to breathe or pause or think. Pure aural overload.

HEY dad i was playing this game and i found this guy and he was a bad guy but you know what i was STRONGER than him so i used my guy’s laser power but it didn’t work so THEN do you know what i did I went and got my sister oh but she as mad at me and she hit me in the leg and I think she should be in trouble for that don’t you because she hits me all the time and it’s not fair but she came with me and we went after the guy and now he’s dead wanna see?

And all I wanted was to make it to the kitchen and back for a glass of water to head back to bed for another thirty minutes.

I mean, the sun’s not even up yet, and I’m being brutalized by this affront to grammar, by this run-on sentence from the sixth circle of hell.

And the thing is, like an ambush predator, he has to spring it on me. He has to wait around the side of a door and pounce on me as I walk through, or sit on the couch in the living room in the dark and wait for me to walk past, or even creep up at the side of the bed while I’m *still sleeping* to launch into one of these impromptu sermons.

He barely stops to breathe.

And it’s sort of cute — sort of — that he’s so enthusiastic about everything. That there’s wonder and amazement in almost everything that happens to him, that a little thing like seeing a bug on a windowsill can get him so worked up that he almost goes red in the face just trying to get it all out and tell me every emotion he had about it.

I wish I had that energy.


Bro


My wife says I should post about the kids more.

“They’re your best posts,” she says.

I think she’s biased. But here’s one anyway.

Sprout the Eldest has taken to calling me “bro”.

This is a cultural thing, I guess. Probably his classmates are saying it a lot. Certainly his mom and I say it a lot (or at least, I say it a lot) in mockery-kinda-sorta-not-really of the way it gets overused these days. (New rule: every time I say “these days” I shock myself with a cattle prod. I should be farting electricity by the end of the week.)

bro GIF

Anyway, it struck me that this is a thing my father would never have stood for, if it were me doing it to him. And doubly so if it were him doing it to his old man. It would have been disrespectful. And probably greeted with the ol’ open-palmed reminder.

Heck, I can even remember once referring to the principal at my high school as “Fred” (which was his name) — just as a joke, just in passing — and my dad got uptight about it. “You don’t get to call him that,” he told me.

And I guess I internalized that? Because I wouldn’t stand for my kids calling the other adults in their lives “bro”. I’d take a page from my dad’s book and call that disrespectful.

But me, personally? I just can’t say I’m bothered by it. It’s cute, it’s funny, and it’s not like the 8-year-old is getting crazy ideas about who’s in charge around the house. Maybe my tone would change if he were five years older.

But there’s just so many other things more worth getting upset about these days.

BZZZZAAAAAPAPPPPPPPP

(Also, a gif-search for “bro” brought me this, which I do not understand, but is heckin’ delightful)

bro minutes GIF

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