The Real Me

28 Jul

letter I take most of the pictures in our family. That’s just how it is. I’m more of a “gadget” person than my wife is. That generally means that Daddy doesn’t make it into 95% our pictures of the kids.

Lately though, UnDorkMommy has been making an effort, and I daresay she’s getting better. Framing, composure, lighting… these were all concepts that she had to learn, let alone remembering to pull out the old iPhone at all.

Every once in a while, if you snap enough shots, you get lucky. In those rare instances where someone gets lucky with a camera and I happen to be in the shot with my kids I am that much more grateful.

Last night UnDorkMommy managed to snag a picture that I am very grateful for. There are 100 people in my life, and each of them may see me in a different light. But this picture, this is how I see myself. Like any decent superhero I go to my day-job, slog through the mundane stuff, and then come home to put on my superhero garb and do what it was that I was put on this planet to do. If you ask me, THIS is the real me, and I thank my wife for capturing the moment for me.

real me

Feel free to share this if being a father is the best thing you’ve ever done.

-Dork Dad

Real Househusband

15 Jul

Real Housewife of New Jersey Bethanny Frankle recently blew up the internet with a picture of herself wearing her 4-year-old daughter’s pajamas.

Untitled

 

Dish Nation quickly jumped in with a picture of their own Kellie Rasberry proving she could rock her kids PJ’s just as well. They then issued a challenge to anyone out there to post a picture of themselves with the hashtag #KidsPJs. Well I’m here to say that dads can rock the kids pajamas as hardcore as any real housewife out there.

pjammas

Surgeon General’s Warning:

Prolonged exposure to the above image has been known to induce symptoms including but not limited to diabetic shock, hysterical pregnancy, post traumatic stress syndrome, severe disorientation, contact dermatitis and hyperventilation. People with weak hearts and obsessive compulsive disorder should consult a physician before exposure to the above image as complications could be life threatening. Consult your physician if symptoms last longer than four hours.

 

-Dork Dad

Do You Science?

10 Jun

Sciencebanner

letter big surprise: I used to be a middle school science teacher before I was a dentist. I know – shocker, right? So it’s safe to say I know a thing or two about the “school science fair.”

In fact, surprising though it may seem, my undergraduate degree has nothing to do with science. I was an elementary education major. (Long story. Don’t ask.) As I went through my program it became pretty obvious that smart as my fellow education majors may have been, and as cool as they though science might have been, let’s just say that science wasn’t really their thing. In a world where teachers need to worry about standardized tests , overpopulated classrooms, shrinking budgets and differentiating individualized instruction, it’s no wonder that come science-fair time the finer points of what science *REALLY* is tend to get lost in the noise.

At my kids’ elementary school students get their first taste of the science fair in 2nd grade (at the very end of the year when their attention couldn’t be less focused). “Science” as an entity looms large in our house, so when the assignment finally came Episode IV was all charged up and I, in turn, was all charged up to make this a *REAL* learning experience, rather than an end-of-the-year afterthought.

Kids that age think science is just something cool where some person in a white coat does something dramatic with dry ice, or liquid nitrogen, or giant 3-inch locusts (all of which I have done in their classrooms). That in itself is wonderful. It sparks their interest and gets them excited. But science isn’t a sideshow. Science is about asking questions, rationally collecting information, and then shaping our understanding of the world based on where that information leads us. From that perspective, the first thing kids need to learn is how to formulate a proper (testable) question.

mentos

Case in point, a real conversation at our dinner table:

“So, have you thought about what you want to do for the science fair?”

Episode IV thinks for a bit then, going for the gross-out factor, “How about we get a cow eyeball…” (we had talked about dissecting a cow eyeball for a classroom lesson) “and a human eyeball and dissect them both and see what the difference is!”

Gross, though not surprising if you know this kid. Clearly she was not in the right headspace and needed some proper instruction about what a real scientific experiment is. That sparked a great conversation around the table about control, and variables (two concepts that are most definitely within the grasp of a 2nd grader if presented to them properly) and how to formulate and test a hypothesis. We brainstormed for a while and eventually settled on an idea expanding on the tried-and-true mentos and diet cola experiment.

“CANDY AND SODA — Is there anything that makes it explode better than mentos?”

DorkDoggy got in on the action too

DorkDoggy got in on the action too

Now it should be said that I am also well aware of the “obviously-the-parent-did-this-science-fair-project” factor, and I was determined to let Episode IV do as much of the project as she could. But kids also need guidance and instruction. If someone doesn’t show them HOW to set up a proper experiment, and doesn’t show them how to rationally interpret the data, they’ll never learn anything. So from concept to presentation, letting her do as much work as possible without leaving her floundering, we definitely took a “let me show you how to do a proper science fair project” approach for this first foray into the world of science fairs.

Mentos and diet soda -- it never gets old.

Mentos and diet soda — it never gets old.

That Saturday morning I loaded Episodes IV and V into the car and off we went to the candy aisle at Target. There they picked out as many different candy types as they could get their hands on, and we cleared the shelf of 2 liter bottles of diet coke. Giddy at the prospect of exploding soda (and leftover candy) they bounced in their seats until the car pulled unexpectedly into the Home Depot parking lot. “Why are we here, Daddy?”

Jellybeans and soda... not so great.

Jellybeans and soda… not so great.

“Where else can you get an eight foot piece of border molding and a roll of black duct tape?” They blinked at me, incredulous. “Trust me,” I said.

We got back to the house and, eager though they were to tear into the candy, I made them watch/help as we used to duct tape to mark out two inch stripes on the border molding. “How are we going to measure the explosions if we don’t have something to measure it with?” I stood the zebra board up next to me and the light of understanding clicked on in both of them. We spent the rest of the afternoon gleefully exploding diet coke all over the backyard, taking pictures, eating candy, and writing our results down in a log.

truth

…and wouldn’t ya’ know it? We got a result that none of us were expecting (OK… maybe I had a suspicion, but they didn’t). It turns out that the thing that makes diet cola explode even more dramatically than mentos is a spoon full of BAKING SODA!!

After dinner as the kids were crashing from their afternoon-long sugar binge, drunk on science, sunshine and saccharine, we skipped the usual bedtime YouTube clip and snuggled into Mommy and Daddy’s bed to watch a TiVo’d episode of “Mythbusters.”

Baking Soda And Diet Soda -- Who Knew?

Baking Soda And Diet Soda — Who Knew?

Truly there is no show better suited to entertain the whole family, and joyfully illustrate the sound principals of the scientific method. That night my kids went to bed with visions of glorious science in their heads.

Addendum:

Fast-forward a couple of days. I was tooling around the internet when I discovered that the Mythbusters live stage show was coming back to our area. UnDorkMommy and I went to see it from the nosebleed seats a couple of years ago and it was great fun. We both agreed that it was totally family-friendly and perfect for a kid just about the same age as Episode IV.

mythbusters

So I went into high gear and found that there were still a scant few awesome VIP-level seats available. One swipe of the credit card later and Episode IV and I have front-row seats to see Adam and Jamie bust some myths live on stage in fantastic Mythbusters fashion. And if that wasn’t enough, the VIP level seats also come with “Meet The Mythbusters” access. That’s right. After the show Episode IV will get to go backstage and meet Adam and Jamie in person, the very guys who performed the definitive television experiment on mentos and soda.

When I told Episode IV about it she said to me “Do you think they’ll be interested in our experiment? Can we show Adam and Jamie what we did?”

“I know they will, sweetheart, and yes we can.”

 

-Dork Dad

Not So Fast

9 Jun

notsofast title

letter back when I interviewed Ron Fugelseth about his amazing “Toy Train In Space” video, naturally the conversation turned to parenting. Without prompting he used the exact same words to describe his parenting that I constantly think of to describe my own.

“I just want my kids to be able to look back on their childhood and think, ‘That was awesome.’”

Not “good.” Not “great.” Not even “normal.”

Awesome.

When I look back to my own childhood, the experiences that stand out most are those that were outside the range of “normal” childhood experiences. Sure, there was the paper route. There was biking in the streets with my neighborhood friends. There were little league games and cub scout camping trips and piano lessons. All of these make up the tapestry of my childhood in the same way they do for most other kids who have similar (identical) experiences. I am grateful for those experiences.

But nothing can compare to the time that I went flying with my grandfather up in his airplane and he told me to put my hands on the co-pilot’s wheel. He showed me how it was tied to the pilot’s wheel so when he turned his wheel, mine did as well. I remember feeling my hands turn back and forth with the wheel as Grandpa steered the plane gently right and left. I remember watching out the window as the wing dipped in synchronization with the wheel turning in my hands. The wheel turned left again and the plane leveled out and then… the wheel went limp in my hands.

I looked over to Grandpa to see what was going on and he was leaning back in his pilot chair, hands *OFF* the wheel and laced behind his head, cigar puffing away and a huge smile on his face. “That’s it, buddy. You’ve got it. You’re the pilot now.”

!!!

It’s the experiences like that, the ones that every other kid on my block didn’t have, that I remember best. Those are the experiences that made my childhood awesome. Those are the experiences that I want my kids to have. Whether it’s a backyard hovercraft, or a locust dissection science lesson in 2nd grade, or building a Hobbit hole in the backyard (we just launched that project this weekend), I go out of my way to make sure my kids get as much awesome as I can give them.

10259838_10152463083660909_6538691544467156288_n

For this reason I also feel a natural kinship (if not inferiority complex) to the likes of Ron Fugelseth and Mike Adamick (links provided for your convenience) who inject their steroid-infused, gamma ray creativity into their parenting to provide nothing but “awesome” for their kids. It’s a frame of mind that you can’t necessarily turn off. When I see something I think is awesome my first instinct is to share that with my children. I found myself in that position again this weekend.

Early Saturday morning I found myself at a continuing education course in the staff lounge of a local Oral Surgeon’s office with a half dozen other dentists. There we sipped coffee and orange juice while we watched a particularly interesting and complicated surgical procedure piped into the room on a 60” flatscreen in real time as the procedure was taking place two rooms away. The procedure was fascinating, but for the lay person it would be tough to get past what was essentially a very bloody procedure.

instruments

Nobody would blame you if you cringe at that sort of thing, but it was a room full of dentists. It’s what we do. Sick as it may sound, we all found the procedure completely amazing, and watching it happen in real time was totally awesome.

When the procedure was done we were each handed a flash drive with a video file of the entire procedure and, for better or worse, my very first instinct was “So cool! I can’t wait to get this back, load it up on the computer and show it to my kids!”

*needle scratch off the record* Not so fast there, Tex.

Enthusiasm is great, and I am very lucky to be in a position to provide amazing, out of the ordinary experiences for my kids. But there’s an adage in dentistry: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. My daughter is an amazing human being, with more character strengths than I ever had. But one thing she continues to struggle with is empathy.

She will bug her brothers just for the pleasure of making them scream. She will torment the incredibly patient dog just because she thinks it’s funny. If there was one scoop of ice cream left in the container she would throw elbows and pull hair to get at it first. Thus far the entire universe revolves around her and despite our best efforts to show her otherwise she has yet to figure out that there are other people in the universe, each with needs and feelings that are equally as important as hers.

So yeah… empathy. It’ll come (hopefully) but as of yet it’s still underdeveloped.

As I drove home I wondered if showing a video of a guy getting his rotten teeth pulled, his gums sliced open and peeled back and his bone shaved down to a girl who struggles with empathy might not be the best parenting decision I could make.

Long story short, I didn’t do it and it was the right decision.

Because you know… good parent first, awesome parent second.

 

-Dork Dad

2 Cups Of Love

12 May

2 cups of love title

letter In the DorkDaddy household my ability to screw-up Mother’s Day (or anything else for that matter) is legendary. I would like to think that given infinite time and infinite resources I would be able to knock it out of the park every year, but I’ve come to believe that there’s something in my DNA that practically *requires* that I blow it somehow.

instructions

Truth told, genetic predisposition aside, I’m sure my epic Mother’s Day screw-ups would be less “epic” with just the smallest incremental increase in the free-time-factor. Between work and kids, our agendas are scheduled right up to the bleeding edge. I see patients from 7am to 6pm, with about 30 minutes (at home) for lunch. Dinner is at 6:15, then it’s bath time, pajamas, stories, bedtime… suddenly it’s 9:00 and I have just enough time to fall asleep in front of a TiVo’d rerun of “Big Bang Theory” before it’s time to wake up and do it all over again. Weekends are packed with soccer games, swim lessons, birthday parties, homework projects, play dates… Needless to say, as Mother’s Day 2014 crept up this year I hadn’t had the mental bandwidth to dedicate one brain cell towards planning something special for UnDorkMommy.

egg1

May is T-ball season, and this Saturday just happened to be the day we were in charge for snacks/drinks for the team. Naturally neither of us had the time during the week, so Saturday morning rolled around and UnDorkMommy sent me out to the grocery store in my pajamas to buy oranges, crakers and juice for 15 (and Starbucks for UnDorkMommy).

beater1

I spent more time than I care to admit roaming the aisles ((where the **** do they keep the ****ing Pirate’s Booty?!?!)) Eventually I found myself in the baking section and a solution to my Mother’s Day problem presented itself. Thank you Betty Crocker.

cleanup

On the way back from the store I dropped off the supplies at my MIL’s house (she’s just around the corner) and informed my wife that after the game I would be taking the big kids with me for an hour or two after the baseball game. Game finished, I swept up Episodes IV and V and we disappeared over to Grandma’s house for a little lesson in following directions, kitchen life-skills and last-minute Mother’s Day shenanigans.

frosting

All told, the experience turned out great. We had a ball on our little project. I was amazed to see how well the kids managed the eggs, measured the ingredients and handled the electric beater. When we were all done it might not have been the prettiest cake ever made, but it was made with an overabundance of love. When we presented it to UnDorkMommy Sunday morning (DorkDaddy knowing full well that she doesn’t particularly “like” cake) she had to admit that the extra helping of love made it the best cake she’d ever had.

siding

 

-Dork Dad

cake

Stitches

13 Mar

sutures

 

letter I’ve written before about that special magic that Mommy has. If it’s a cold, or a boo-boo, or a bad dream, Daddy will do in a pinch. But when push comes to shove, it’s Mommy’s special magic kisses that put the monsters back in the closet and make the skinned knees sting a little less.

Thank goodness my children have that in their lives. I have to admit, it’s a super power that I envy. Certainly we have our roles to play as parents. My wife shows her weakness when the kids need a super geek-out Minecraft session, or discussing the finer nuances of Wookies vs. Ewoks, but all too often it feels like the things DorkDaddies are good at is the *fluff*, where UnDorkMommy is the one to call when things get serious.

You see, my wife is pathologically self-sufficient. She is a fantastic role-model in that way. My kids will grow up knowing that a woman absolutely does not *need* a man to get on in the world. (I won’t get into what that does to a DorkDaddy who pathologically needs to be needed. That’s an entirely different ball of wax.) The bottom line is, very rarely does a situation come along where UnDorkMommy can’t handle it, and she has to call on DorkDaddy to come to the rescue. But in fact that’s just what happened on a recent trip to visit Grandma and Grandpa at the lake.

Episode V and Grandpa having a picnic on the rocks.

Episode V and Grandpa having a picnic on the rocks.

The drought in California has left the water level at Grandma and Grandpa’s lake particularly low, which presents its own opportunities for awesomeness. Episode V got to have a picnic with Grandpa way out in the lake on some rocks that are normally underwater. Episode VI got to have his first walk-out-in-the-water experience with his DorkDaddy. And the big kids got to walk way out under the piers in the mud (and duck sh*t, and dead, rotting fish) to explore all the flotsam and jetsam they couldn’t normally get to.

So c-c-c-cold...

So c-c-c-cold…

And that’s where the problem arose.

It seems that decades ago someone dropped a metal sink (sink?!?!) into the lake and never fished it out. There it sat, festering, among the algae and gunk and bacteria and who knows what else, waiting for my daughter to walk by. From inside the house I heard my father calling for me “Get a wet towel!”

Out under the pier.

Out under the pier.

What in the world? The kids were out in the water, why would he need a wet towel?

I went outside to find this:

Ouchie.

Ouchie.

I knew enough from my pre-med days as an ER medic that this needed stitches. I got her into the shower and washed all the botulism, e-bola and flesh eating virus out of the cut and confirmed my suspicions about the stitches, so naturally my first instinct was to text UnDorkMommy (who was out grocery shopping, so this one was all on me) “Do you have Episode IV’s insurance card? She’s going to need a couple stitches.”

All wrapped up.

All wrapped up.

But the more we thought about it, the less appealing that idea was to me. I didn’t want to bring my precious little 8yo to an ER in the meth-capitol of California. She’d wind up waiting for hours in the waiting room with the bleeding, puking, drunken, cursing, distressed, belligerent denizens you’d expect to find there. There would be bureaucracy, and paperwork, and waiting, and stress, and a $500 co-pay, all for a procedure I knew damn well would only take 5 minutes.

Two amazing women.

Two amazing women.

If only we knew a doctor in the area.

Wait! *I’M* a doctor!!

I’ve watched literally thousands of sutures placed in my pre-med, ER days. They even teach suture technique in dental school, which I tested out of on my first try because of my ER experience. I know exactly what to do and how to do it. I could *TOTALLY* put the stitches in. (This idea made UnDorkMommy visibly nervous. She gave me the “are you sure” look, but stopped short of actually, verbally questioning my competence.) I even have all the stuff I need in my office (every dental office has it, even if they never use it). But my office is 5 hours away. If only I knew a dentist in this town.

Lidocaine.

Lidocaine.

Wait! I *DO* know a dentist in this town!!

One of my favorite instructors from dental school has his private practice in my parents’ town. They are his patients. I know him. He knows me. This could totally work!

So I called his emergency number and, may the dental gods forever smile on him, he opened up his office for me on a Saturday night, set out the equipment I would need, and after I presented him with a bottle of wine in gratitude, told me to just turn out the lights and close the front door when we were done.

sewing

sewing

I brought with me my mother who has spent her entire professional career as a RN. If there was anything she was meant to do on this Earth it’s care for people. To her credit, despite the fact that the nervous patient was her granddaughter, and the nervous doctor was her son (who has placed precisely 12 sutures in his entire life… 10 on a stretched out shammie, and 2 in a patient’s mouth under the supervision of an instructor in dental school) she flipped right into professional-mode and instinctively made every right decision to keep both patient and doctor calm.

She was amazing, and so was Episode IV.

And I even saved the pedi.

And I even saved the pedi.

I am happy to say that in my entire professional career I have now placed precisely 14 sutures: 10 on a shammie, 2 with an instructor over my shoulder, and two in my daughter’s toe. There was no scary ER for her that night. My daughter will remember being in a safe, calm environment, wrapped up in the arms and listening to the soothing, whispered words of someone who loved her, while her daddy came to her rescue and fixed her boo-boo.

S'mores around the fire-pit and staying up late. Reward for being so brave.

S’mores around the fire-pit and staying up late. Reward for being so brave.

I will remember a very special evening where *I* got to be the superhero for a change, because I was the only one in the house who had the super power we needed to save the day.

1 week later, all healed up. Time to take the stitches out.

1 week later, all healed up. Time to take the stitches out.

 

-Dork Dad

Field Trip

9 Jan

what good

 

How does that line go from the old Christmas carol?

“A pair of Hop-a-long boots and a pistol that shoots
Is the wish of Bonny and Ben
Dolls that will talk and go for a walk
Is the hope of Janice and Jenn
***AND MOM AND DAD CAN HARDLY WAIT FOR SCHOOL TO START AGAIN***

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…”

letter we are currently in my kids’ 3rd and final week of winter break from public school. Most dental offices close down for the two weeks around Christmas and New Year’s, so I got a good, strong 2-week dose of family time. But as much as I love my children, I have to say I practically skipped out of the house Monday morning on my way back to work.

“OKbuhbyekidsgottagotoworkloveyoubuhbye…

…good luck honey.”

butterfly garden

butterfly garden

UnDorkMommy has been doing a herculean job keeping them entertained and out from in front of the TV/computer screen this week. So when Episode IV suggested that they go to the Academy of Sciences yesterday, everyone was onboard.

The Academy is a two hour drive away, so these trips generally mean a long haul both up and back, with a napless baby thrown in for good measure. That’s OK. You’ve gotta do that stuff every once in a while. The text messages I got throughout the day seemed to indicate that the kids were getting along amazingly well, and were having a great time. Cool.

Bunch of goofballs.

Bunch of goofballs.

As it happens, Wednesdays are the days I teach at the dental school in the same city as the Academy of Sciences, and this particular Wednesday was the first day back. Through a cosmic alignment of circumstances we found the entire family in a city 2 hours from home on a day the kids didn’t have school and the dental students didn’t have any high-stakes projects going on. It was an opportunity I just couldn’t’ pass up.

After some bartering via text messages with my wife (there was an over-tired baby and a 2 hour drive home to factor in) UnDorkMommy agreed to drive through the city and swing by the dental school so Daddy could give the big kids a tour (because let’s get real, nothing gives DorkDaddy a thrill like showing off his family).

Daddy came down to the street in his white lab coat and picked them up curbside while the baby stayed (moderately) entertained by a DVD in the minivan with Mommy. I took them to security and got them an official “visitors” badge. We walked through the clinic, a room filled with 200+ dental chairs and positively buzzing with patients, students, staff and instructors. They got to see students of mine, and shake hands with some of my former professors now colleagues. One of the administrators was pushing a cart around, overflowing with free toothbrush samples, so they filled their pockets.

For about 12 seconds I considered taking the kids to the cadaver lab…

…I didn’t. Don’t worry. But I’m still considering it.

Then it was a ride up the elevator to show them what a real dental school classroom looks like. We stepped into the back of the lecture hall – 150 empty seats all facing a projection screen at the front of the room. Episode IV turned up her nose immediately. “This classroom doesn’t look very fun” she said. I suppose I had to concede that one to her.

“Oh, you want to see something really fun, do you?” I replied. The final stop on our tour was the dental school equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Room – the Sim Lab (cue dramatic music). Imagine 150 first year dental students in a room as deep as the eye can see, all working furiously away, drilling little plastic teeth in 150 mannequin head work stations.

Nothing gives me a thrill quite like showing off my family.

Nothing gives me a thrill quite like showing off my family.

We walked through the door and Episode V said “Woah! There are plastic people in here!”

“Yes,” I replied. “And the plastic people are all going to be dentists someday.”

sim

If Episode V looks a little too comfortable in that chair, there’s a reason.

I want to give massive thanks to my students who whisked up my kids, sat them down at the workstations and let them be real dental students, if only for a few minutes. For what it’s worth, I like to tease my dental students with the fact that my 5 year old son has done more real life dentistry than they have. They uaually laugh at me and say “yea right”. Then I show them these pictures and they realize I’m not joking.

She's got him right where she wants him.

She’s got him right where she wants him.

I also want to give massive thanks to UnDorkMommy who tacked on an additional 45 minutes to the daytrip, even though she already had a melting down baby and two tired, overstimulated big kids to deal with. She knows, as I do, that if your kids are going to dream big, they have to be able to picture themselves in those dreams.

Besides, what good is having a dental school if you can’t take your kids to the Sim Lab once in a while…?

 

…or the cadaver lab.

 

-Dork Dad

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