Tag Archives: parenting

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

Signs You’re Raising Your Daughter Right: #17

7 Jan

I may make a hell of a lot of mistakes raising my children, but when my daughter came out with this one over the weekend I knew I was doing something right.

 

signs

 

-Dork Dad

Daddy, Do You Believe In Santa?

9 Dec

do you believe

letter Last night during dinner our family snuggled down in the big comfy couches of our living room and watched “The Polar Express”. Like so many holiday stories, the major theme as revealed at the end of the story is “belief for belief’s sake”. In the epilogue we learn that as the boy’s friends grow up, one by one they lose the ability to hear the sleigh bell as they each eventually stop believing in Santa. But the little boy, he never stops believing. As the credits roll (and “The Polar Express” is no exception in the pantheon of Christmas movies) we are left with the notion that holding on to belief for belief’s sake is a virtue, and that those who have lost it are in some way diminished.

polarexpress2

Teeth brushed, pajamas on, lights out, my 7 year old daughter crawled into her bed, fantastical images of the movie still swirling around in her head, and I laid down next to her for a little snuggle-time. A few minutes pass with the sweet, soft breathing of a child on her way to sleep. After a time she slowly rolled over and whispered quietly to me, “Daddy, do you believe in Santa?”

***

Now it should be said that this girl is a born skeptic. She is nobody’s fool, and she will be the last person bamboozled when the snake-oil salesman comes to town. When we watch “The Wizard of Oz” she sees the little guy behind the curtain more than the billowing, blustering fireball on the throne. This past spring, in a similar bedtime situation, she rolled over and confessed apologetically to my wife “Mommy, I’m sorry but I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny. The Easter Bunny isn’t scientific and I just can’t believe in something that isn’t scientific.” But that said, I think everyone can appreciate how, compared to believing in the Easter Bunny, Santa is in a completely different league.

This being the holiday season, there are faith-centered images and messages everywhere. Children come to school talking about angels and miracles and the little baby Jesus. Relatives openly express their beliefs, different though they may be from your own, at family meals and on holiday cards in your mailbox. Kids are inundated by the notion of “belief” this time of year, and my kids are only just now old enough to listen to the things people say, think about those things to themselves, and then form their own opinions. What follows can be pretty profound.

SupermanRedemptionTPJust this Friday we had Christmas music playing in the house when out of nowhere, my daughter comes up to me and says, “Daddy, why do they say ‘god our heavenly father’? That doesn’t make any sense. God isn’t my father. You’re my father.” Then later in the weekend I overheard a very amusing discussion between my kids and their older cousins about whether or not Jesus actually had super powers. If nothing else these are moments to teach our children that everyone believes something different, and someone else’s beliefs are just as important to them as yours are to you. You have to respect that fact when you’re talking with other people.

That notion is applicable to Santa as much as it is to anything else.

I love that my daughter is a thinker. I’m proud of that fact and I want to celebrate it – to encourage it. But if belief for belief’s sake is the providence of children, then logic and reason are the hallmark of adulthood, and there is no clearer indication that my daughter is growing up more than the fact that she is thinking for herself.

So I found myself at that very uncomfortable crossroad. I’m proud of my daughter’s budding intellectualism and I want to encourage her to let it grow, but I also want her to stay my little girl for as long as humanly possible. I want her to think for herself, but I don’t want her to lose the magical naiveté of childhood belief any sooner than she has to. Meanwhile lying there next to me, my daughter’s heart really wanted to believe in Santa, even if her mind was telling her something else entirely.

My head and my heart are pulling me in two different directions, just as hers are.

So she looked to me, asking for permission… permission to let either her heart or her mind win out over the other. In so doing she was asking me to choose between encouraging her intellectual integrity and selling her snake oil. In that moment I had to decide.

Do I help her grow up, or hold desperately on to her fleeting childhood for one last moment?

***

“Daddy, do you believe in Santa?”

I laid there quietly for a moment not answering, afraid that my silence was enough of an answer for her.

On her bedroom floor against the wall was a little musical instrument her baby brother had toddled in and left earlier in the day – a Velcro wrist-strap with sleigh bells on it. Without answering I rose up from our snuggles, quietly made my way across her room, picked up the sleigh bells and brought them back to her bedside. Kneeling down I kissed her on the forehead and said, “Can you still hear the bells?”

“Yes,” she answered.

“So can I.”

That was enough for her.

Polar Express Bell

-Dork Dad

L’chaim!!

18 Nov

 

lechaim

letter SSome things are so awesome a socially conscientious person is obligated to share them with the entire world. My sister brought this little gem to my attention. The link she shared came with the following note:

“We’ve got about 23 years. We’d better start rehearsals now.” (Episode IV is 7 years old and, as yet, the only female grandchild on my side of the family)

This is the sort of “Dorking” that gets my full endorsement.

-Dork Dad

Soccer Moms And Aggressive Girls

21 Oct

soccer title

letter when it comes to purifying the essence of humanity, there is no crucible hotter than the cluster of parents at a youth soccer field on Saturday morning.

Most of the time at our weekly games everyone keeps a cool perspective on things.  The kids are young so the competitive-factor is low and the “have fun”-factor is high. But these are our kids we’re talking about. Put together a bunch of parents living vicariously through their children, mix in a diverse collection of personalities, add a dash of competition and what you have is a powder keg just waiting for a lit fuse.

I am well aware of the over-enthusiastic-parent-on-the-sidelines-of-a-youth-athletic-event stereotype (tip of the hat to Mr. Chavez at our high school basketball games). I know my own passions run high, particularly when it comes to my kids, so on soccer morning Saturdays I try really hard to keep that beast in its cage. That being said, there was an – *event* – this weekend where my daughter was singled out by a couple of her coaches. When it happened I’m glad to say I didn’t go all Bruce Banner right there on the soccer field, but it was pretty startling how quickly I transformed from the tranquil, rational Dr. DorkDaddy into “HULK SMASH!!!”

After all, when you come after my daughter you come after me.

A full weekend (and a couple of facebook rage-posts) later the beast is back in his cage and I’m ready to use my blog as a platform for rational discussion. I’ll share with you all the impartial details, make my closing arguments and then let you, The Jury, decide who was in the right.

A little background:

1)      First and foremost, it needs to be said that parents who volunteer their time as youth sports coaches (good or bad) should be lauded from the mountain top. These people are glue that holds a community together. To anyone out there who’s ever coached a community sports team, thank you.

2)      My daughter can be a little… bossy. On the soccer field she puts as much effort into telling her teammates where to stand and what to do as she does chasing the actual ball around. Some would call that “obnoxious,” others would call it “leadership”. In any case, I can appreciate how that behavior could rankle some people. C’est la vie.

3)      Our head coach was gone on vacation all week, leaving the assistant coach(es) in charge of practices and the game.

4)      During practice that week one of the girls got injured. There was concern of a broken ankle that required a visit to the Dr.’s office and an X-ray. Thankfully it was just a sprain, but the player had to miss the game. The details of what exactly happened are sketchy, but the consensus seems to be my daughter was in close proximity when the injury occurred.

soccer1-597x409

On to the events in question:

Just before the game starts Soccer Mom/Assistant Coach #2 comes up to UnDorkMommy and says “Can I talk to you a moment?” She leads my wife away from the crowd, towards the players huddled on the sidelines and they start talking together quietly. Admittedly, the following details are second-hand as my wife was not expecting to get deposed by me after the fact. But what she relayed to me was that Soccer Mom/Assistant Coach #2 told her as they walked towards the players that there was some feedback from some of the other mommies and/or coaches on other teams that my daughter was being a little too “aggressive”. The two assistant coaches were planning on having a talk with Episode IV about it before the game and they wanted my wife to be there when it happened.

By the time my wife and Soccer Mom/Assistant Coach #2 made it to the kids, Soccer Mom/Assistant Coach #1 has taken the initiative and was already finishing up “the talk” with my daughter on her own. The game started with my daughter sitting out the first quarter – which in and of itself isn’t unusual but given the context becomes a little suspect.

Needless to say, this was news to us, especially given the fact that we’ve been to every game and every practice and haven’t observed anything inappropriately “aggressive”. If anything we’ve been proud that she’s starting to mix it up a little more and get herself into the scrum of girls clustered around the ball, as opposed to passively staying out of the fray as she has in years past. Granted, she’s taller than most of the girls on the team, and that makes her more of a physical presence… but “aggressive”? I don’t think so. It’s not like anyone’s coming away with a fat, bloodied lip. She isn’t tripping anyone, pulling hair or scratching at eyes. She may be using her body to get into the crowd and get to the ball, but that’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s soccer. That’s sports.

We spend the entire first quarter trying to make sense of this new development. I’m probing my wife for details about what exactly was said, by whom and in what context. She’s doing her best to communicate to me while she’s still trying to process. But basically all we’ve got is that someone thinks Episode IV is being too “aggressive” on the soccer field, and the coaches have now told her she needs to pare it back. Now I’m madly trying to process all the variables and implications, watching her across the field sitting out the first quarter, and naturally I’m starting to get in a lather. One of the other team moms hears our conversation and says  to us “’Too aggressive’? You’re kidding, right?” She reaffirms that she’s never seen my daughter do anything that would lead her to that conclusion.

No matter what, clearly this was something that would necessitate a quiet conversation with my daughter after the game, and to do that I was going to need some facts. While the assistant coaches were busy managing the girls between quarters I quietly made my way around the field to where the assistant coaches are doing their thing. I can hear first-hand what’s going on. As they assign positions for the 2nd quarter they ask who wants to be on offense and who wants to play defense. My daughter enthusiastically raises her hand and says she wants to play offense. Assistant Coach #1 makes an effort to keep her response between her and my daughter, but I was close enough to hear exactly what she said. Here are her words to my daughter, verbatim:

“I know you want to play offense, but you remember that little problem we talked about before the game? You’re going to play defense this quarter so you can work on it.”

Oh… It. Is. On.

As the quarter started and the girls got to playing, I silently moved up behind Assistant Coach #1. “Obviously we’re going to have a talk with Episode IV about all this after the game,” I said over her shoulder, eyes fixed on the game. “I want to make sure I’ve got my details right so I’m going to need a little context from you.”

“Oh!” she said, visibly startled. Obviously she wasn’t expecting to hear a deep, sonorous, authoritative but conspicuously calm and rational voice resonate suddenly from behind her while she was focused on getting the quarter started. There wasn’t much I could do about that. “Well, um, we’ve got some feedback from some moms and some coaches from other teams that Episode IV is being a little too aggressive.”

“OK. Fair enough,” I replied. “Just so I’m clear, is it a sportsmanship issue? Is she playing dirty? Is she pulling jerseys or taking cheap shots? That sort of thing?”

“Oh no. Nothing like that,” said Soccer Mom/Assistant Coach #1.

“So it’s not like she’s playing dirty. She isn’t kicking anyone in the shins or throwing a tantrum if things don’t go her way. Her heart is in the right place.”

“Right, right. She’s just really enthusiastic and that’s making her play really aggressively”

“So what’s the lesson I need to reinforce here?” I asked. “Do you want me to tell her she needs to be a little less enthusiastic? Should I tell her she needs to be more passive?” I was using that tone that my wife hates so much. It’s the tone that on the surface sounds respectful and reasonable enough, but just under the surface makes it very clear how ridiculous I think your position is.

“No, no” she responded, notably flustered. “I told her she just needs to tone it down a bit.”

“I see,” I said in the same tone, hands behind my back, chin up, eyes still fixed on the game rather than on her. “Thank you. I think I have everything I need.” I walked back to the parent side of the field without excusing myself and relayed the details of the conversation to my wife.

At halftime Episode IV came over to us to get her water bottle. “Hey, Honey. What was it your coach told you before the game?” we asked.

“She said I was being too aggressive and I need to not be so aggressive” she replied. “Also *NAME REDACTED* said that it was my fault *NAME ALSO REDACTED* isn’t playing today.”

I kneeled down, put my arm around my strong little girl and whispered in her ear “We are super proud of how hard you are playing. Accidents happen, and what happened at practice was an accident. That’s nobody’s fault. As long as you’re a good sport, as long as you’re nice to everyone on the field, I want you to play as hard as you can. You keep playing aggressive, no matter what anyone tells you.”

She looked up at me with her knowing smile and ran back to her team. Worth noting: in the 3rd quarter she was thrilled to play in the (notably non-aggressive) goalie position.

Sorry, Supes. Not on this team. You'd be too aggressive. Try a boys team.

Sorry, Supes. Not on this team. You’d be too aggressive. Try a boys team.

***

Perspective break.

This is 7-year-old, non-competitive, girls soccer. This should not be the sort of thing that gets a parent so worked up that he can’t see patients on Monday morning (my first patient today and I had a good laugh about that). But this is also my daughter we’re talking about.

I want my daughter to be a strong woman. That kind of strength will serve her well in life. Women have enough to deal with in the world without getting the message from the authority figures that they should be less aggressive.

What then IS the message that we are sending? What is the lesson that we are teaching here?

This is sports – albeit 7-year-old, non-competitive girls soccer. Priority #1 should be “have fun.” The other priority #1 should be “be a good sport.” Beyond that, what lessons should we be teaching them? Sports are as much about competition as they are about work-ethic. Working hard, playing hard, being aggressive, learning how to be a good citizen in those contexts, these are some of the most valuable lessons we learn from sports.

“Be less aggressive”?!? Unless someone is being unsportsmanlike, I can’t think of a single context where that message is appropriate in an athletic setting. On the contrary, if this had been a boys team at the same level a coach would be fired for giving the advice “be less aggressive.” In fact, ostensibly, it isn’t hard to imagine that if she were a boy, Episode IV would have been celebrated for being aggressive, and encouraged to be more so.

On top of all of that, my wife made the observation that my little lady getting that message from another woman, a grown woman, adds another shameful layer to the entire affair.

In any case we used the entire experience to reaffirm to our daughter the value of sportsmanship, the fact that we are incredibly proud of her, and the notion that sometimes adults, even adults in a position of authority, *ESPECIALLY* adults in a position of authority… can be wrong

***

Today is Monday. It’s a new week. The Head Coach is back and my pressure gauge is safely out of “critical” back down into the green zone.

I am more than willing to acknowledge the possibility that I am way off base here, and if you readers tell me as much in the comments below I will accept it with humility.

But one thing is clear: whether it’s me or Soccer Mom/Assistant Coach(es)#1(and#2), this weekend one of us had our priorities way out of whack.

Your thoughts are welcome.

-Dork Dad

Mixed Signals

17 Oct

wait wait

letter This year for Halloween my son will be going as “John Williams Music”.

…not really. But this picture was so awesome I just had to share.

-Dork Dad

mixed

Why We Have ‘Em

25 Sep

Recently fellow dadblogger and friend of the blog, Alan Kercinik (find him at Always Jacked) just had his third (boy). Inspired by his news I thought I’d share my thoughts, now that UnDorkMommy and I are on the other side of our childbearing years, on what the motivators were behind the decision to have each of our children. To be clear, the decision of when to have children, how many to have and why we have them is incredibly personal and different for everyone. The intention behind this blogpost is not to make judgments on or espouse values onto other people, but rather to express my own thoughts as they relate to my own life.

why we have em

1We had you because we dreamed about you our entire lives. It was the promise of the joy you would bring and the thrill of unknown adventures. It was all the stories of all the parents who’d come before. It was our naïve (though ultimately, totally justified) enthusiasm of youth. It was as much our own selfish desires as it was the timeless pull of instinct. Every decision in our lives we made with you in mind. Step by step, decision by decision, choice by choice, we worked our way towards you. Even before you were here you were at the very center of the life and the home we built together. We waited as long as we could, but no longer than we had to. We knew, just as we’d always known, that every other dream we had took a back seat to the dream of you, and if none of our other dreams came true, realizing the dream of you would make everything else worthwhile. We couldn’t imagine our lives without you, even before we met you.

For this reason, you are the most wanted child in the world.

278681_10151079206235909_261026053_o

2We had you because as amazing as the first experience was, we quickly realized (and to some degree always knew) that it just wasn’t enough. Without you there was always something missing. Whether it was learning to share, squabbling in the back seat, the happy-squealing sounds of play in the backyard, or the challenge of balancing another totally different personality, in our hearts we knew our family needed siblings. We knew you would need each other to tell and keep secrets, to challenge you when you might not be right, to learn to balance the needs of other people, to grow through life together and to commiserate with when your parents get old and crazy. We knew we needed to balance the equation – to make sure the kids had at least as many seats at the table as the adults. We knew that, at least the way we imagined things, we needed you to make us feel like a family.

For this reason, you are the most wanted child in the world.

412517_10150652308320909_1656854380_o

3We had you because we wanted you – plain and simple. Although it meant stretching things a little tighter and putting off retirement a little longer let’s be clear, like an extra scoop of ice cream after dinner, you were a luxury. Although three children are more than anyone has a right to hope for, the experience of the first two was so amazing, so wonderful we just couldn’t bear the thought of never doing it again. We had you out of pure selfishness. We wanted more love in our lives, more happy chaos, more notches on the growth chart, more art on the wall and more pictures on the fridge — despite the fact that all of it comes with more daily loads of laundry. We were a little older and a little wiser. We knew what having another would mean and we decided it was absolutely worth it. We had you because we could.

For this reason, you are the most wanted child in the world.

-Dork Dad

Where Have I Been?

16 Sep

minecraft title

letter I should preface this post by pointing out that my family has noticed over the past year, with some chagrin, that my 12 year old nephew has steadily withdrawn from family events into the world of his electronic devices. When we’re at his house he’s always locked away in his bedroom on his computer. When he spends the weekend at his grandma’s house he commandeers her laptop (she doesn’t use it anyway) and spends the weekend on that. When he’s over at our house he’s hunkered over his Nintendo DS.

“What are you doing there, dude?” I’d ask.

“Playing Minecraft,” is his answer, without even looking up.

“Yeah? Tell me about it.” Getting his attention is like pulling wisdom teeth.

“It’s nothing, really,” he finally says, when he realizes I’m not going to leave him alone. “You just collect materials and build stuff.”

He probably doesn’t realize it, but he and I have had this exact conversation at least three times in the past 18 months. This is generally the point where I give up trying to make an effort. I can pull wisdom teeth at work, thankyouverymuch.

***

If you have young people in your life, likely you have at least heard of “Minecraft.” If you haven’t at least heard the word, it’s safe to say you are no longer connected to what’s “cool” these days. Minecraft is a video game, released in 2011, that has reached full-on phenomenon-status on the order of Cabbage Patch Dolls in the 80’s, or grunge rock in the 90’s. Even if your kids aren’t playing it, their friends are – or at least they’ve got the lunchboxes and T-shirts at school. For my part, although I’ve been aware of it for some time, I managed to avoid any personal experience beyond flash glimpses over my nephew’s shoulder.

Then about a month ago a fellow dadblogger posed a question to our dadblogging facebook group “I know Minecraft is a thing, but that’s about all I know. Is this something I need to look into and know more about? Because I’m sure the infection is eventually going to spread to my kids.”

That planted the seed.

A week later I posted on my facebook status “OK. Someone who knows, please give me a good reason why I shouldn’t start playing Minecraft.” I got the sort of responses you’d expect:

“Don’t do it man. It’ll eat up your life. It’s a total time-suck.”

“It’s like crack, man. The first taste is free, but after that you’re hooked. They should call it ‘Minecrack.’”

“OMG. That’s all my kids will talk about.”

If these people were trying to ward me off of the game, how could they not know that their comments were having the exact opposite effect.

The next day I got a private message from a longtime gaming buddy of mine. “Dude, it’s amazing. I’ve got a server set up just for me and a few friends. You should come join us.” (If this was the 60’s would he be inviting me to his private farm where he grows special herbs and mushrooms?) In my previous blog post I mentioned “dipping my toe in a new video game”. That was Minecraft.

Today – two weeks later – is the day I finally came up for air.

***

This is the post where I attempt to answer the question for the uninitiated, “What exactly is Minecraft?”

To put it plainly, my nephew was right. Essentially, you collect materials and build stuff. But that’s a 12-year-old’s oversimplification born out of a need to get a pesky uncle to leave him alone.  I think a better way to describe Minecraft is to say that it is an incredibly powerful platform for creativity which, to my thinking, is enough to explain its white-hot popularity. Think digital Legos on steroids. To a mind like mine, the open-ended creativity is incredibly intoxicating. Now that I’ve been there, I could easily join my nephew in the Minecraft-transe.

Gamers classify Minecraft as a “sandbox” style experience. For non-gamers, that means there are no concrete objectives. There are no princesses to rescue. There are no power-pills and ghosts to chomp. There aren’t even any levels to earn or super-tough boss badguys at the end of a long dungeon crawl. You are simply tasked with doing whatever you want to do. It is the player’s job to decide what he or she wants to accomplish. You’re just plopped down in an environment and encouraged to explore, interact and experiment.

Worldview.

Worldview.

The game is essentially set up as a patchwork worldscape made up of multiple, completely interactive biomes (desert, jungle, plains, forest, etc). Players can scoop up a bunch of sand, or chop down a tree, or dig into the dirt, collect the materials from those actions, and use them to generate something new – say, a tool – which in turn gives you the ability to interact with your environment in a whole new way. Your creativity options just explode from there.

You want to dig down to the depths of the earth, exploring underground caverns? You can do that.

After digging deep enough under my castle, I found this cavern waiting for me.

After digging deep enough under my castle, I found this cavern waiting for me.

You want to build a city, complete with villagers, livestock and crops (which you have to protect from monsters that come out at night)? You can do that.

Every block of every structure in this village was placed by me.

Every block of every structure in this village was placed by me.

You want to build a castle with a mosaic floor in the pattern of a symbol that only the most hardcore Star Wars fans would recognize? You can do that.

Notice the symbol on Boba Fett's shoulder? Now look at the floor of my castle's main hall.

Notice the symbol on Boba Fett’s shoulder? Now look at the floor of my castle’s main hall.

You want to build an amazingly intricate subterranean, mine cart roller coaster exactly like the one in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? You can do that.

The very first leg (maybe 5%) of a rail system leading from my home to another player's.

The very first leg (maybe 5%) of a rail system leading from my home to another player’s.

You want to construct an underwater base accessible only via a secret passage in your castle that snakes across the ocean floor and resurfaces right by your buddy’s castle? You can do that.

The picture doesn't do it justice.

The picture doesn’t do it justice.

You want to sculpt a mountain into the shape of a skull with lava pouring out of its eye sockets? You can do that too (and that may be my next project).

Just in case a young Jedi comes along trying to rescue his buddy from carbonite.

Just in case a young Jedi comes along trying to rescue his buddy from carbonite.

And all that is only scratching the surface. The game even has its own version of electronic circuits which power and move mechanical bits, giving you the ability to engineer incredibly complex, working machinery. (My castle has a trap door on the floor activated by a lever on the arm of the throne so I can dispatch of unwanted guests as it pleases me. If there were a Rancor in the game I’d put one in the pit below. Alas.) Someone even built a real, functioning, virtual computer, in a totally digital medium, using nothing but the electronics (they’re called “redstone”) components ingame. Check this video out:

In fact, if I was still teaching science, this game makes an ideal introduction to both electronics and quantum mechanics (the universe is made up of individual particles, each particle has unique properties, and particles interact with one another in predictable ways, which makes the world go round).

***

As with so many things of this nature, when I first became aware of Minecraft I quickly wrote it off as an adolescent’s plaything – especially after observing the effect it had on my nephew. But I’m here to say this game is geared to anyone with a creative mind. If you can think it, you can do it. There is absolutely zero violence. None. In fact there is zero “adult content” in any way shape or form. In that way I can say with confidence that this game is 100% kid friendly.

…ignoring, of course, the totally addictive, all-encompassing tendencies that the game draws you into.

Two addicts in training.

Two addicts in training.

If you endorse your children developing and flexing their creative and problem solving muscles, by all means let them play Minecraft.

If you endorse them turning their lives completely over to a virtual, digital medium, keep them far, far away.

-Dork Dad

1,818 Pages

26 Aug

letter Take a moment to do the math.

“Sorcerer’s Stone” – 309 pages.

“Chamber of Secrets” – 341 pages.

“Prisoner of Azkaban” – 435 pages.

“Goblet of Fire” – 734 pages.

Grand total: 1,818 pages

((“Order of the Phoenix” – 870 pages.))

Yeah. I don’t think so.

One thousand, eight hundred and eighteen pages... and still 3 books to go.

One thousand, eight hundred and eighteen pages… and still 3 books to go.

At long last we made it to the end of the 4th book in the Harry Potter series; which is to say *I* made it to the end of 1,818 pages – bit by bit, night after night, reading aloud to my two older children over the better part of a year. As per our agreement we let them watch the 4th movie for Friday movie night. As excited as they are about those stories and as pumped as they were for the movie, there has been an twinge of sadness in the air since then because sadly, at least for the time being, this is where we have to stop.

In less than 12 months, with the exception of the odd guest-reader here and there, this DorkDaddy has read aloud every single one of those pages, doing all of the voices and keeping them all straight in my head. I don’t mind admitting I’m exhausted. But more importantly, this is where the subject matter really extends beyond the grasp of a 7 and 5 year old. “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is where the series, much like the kids in it, matures from children’s fare to young adult material. Students at Hogwarts start to notice other boys/girls in *that* way, and the romance angle between Hermione and Ron shows its first signs of life. Thankfully at this point all those nuances are lost on my kids. This is also where Lord Voldemort legitimately comes back to life in a dark, sacrificial ritual and the larger epic life-or-death struggle between dark and light factions comes starkly into focus. A classmate of Harry’s is even killed outright. I think we can all agree that there’s no need to push a kindergartener and 2nd grader into that sort of material before they’re ready.

Finishing book 1, back in November.

Finishing book 1, back in November.

That said, my daughter being who she is, made an impassioned plea to read book 5 to herself, on her own, and keep going with the series. Here’s the thing. The rule in the house has always been that you have to read the book before you can watch the movie. That’s been a great strategy for keeping inappropriate movie material out of their reach. The next book in the series “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” is 870 pages long. In all seriousness, the way I see it if a kid is mature enough to legitimately make it through a 870 page book completely on their own, he or she should be mature enough to handle the subject matter. So when Episode IV made her case, I handed the book over to her knowing the chances were slim.

Still, Saturday night after the boys went down, Episode IV went to her room with a new Harry Potter book to read and a twinkle in her eye. This was big kid stuff. To sweeten the deal I even told her she could stay up as late as she wanted, so long as she was reading from that book. I tucked her in, kissed her on her forehead, wished her “good night and good luck” with a wink, and closed her bedroom door. UnDorkMommy went out for mom’s-night-out with her girlfriends and I settled in to dip my toe into a new video game.

Half an hour later Episode IV came out of her room and padded down the hallway to me. “Daddy,” she said sadly, a defeated look on her face. “I like it better when you read it to me.” Bless her sweet heart, she pushed through seven pages before she had to acknowledge that a book like that is just a little bit bigger than she could chew. I hugged her, told her it was OK, and took her back to her room to tuck her in again.

I know what someone's getting for Christmas.

I know what someone’s getting for Christmas.

“But Daddy,” she said. “What are we going to read now?” The flaw in my plan was revealed. For all my hand-wringing about how I was going to wean her off of the Harry Potter books I forgot to have a viable alternative ready to go. I scrambled quickly through the house for something that might be comparably dorky and appropriate for her age and stumbled across “The Hobbit”. We’ve had a false start or two on that book before when she was younger, but I’m happy to report that the tone and the style of “The Hobbit” is now perfectly suited for my precocious 2nd grader.

After our first installment reading and our 2nd good-night tucking in of the evening, Episode IV said to me “Daddy, I like the Hobbit OK and we can keep reading it, but it isn’t my favorite because there aren’t any girls in it.” Fair enough, sweetheart. Fair enough.

Although I must say I suspect, at least in my daughter’s mind, that Hermione Grainger could hold her own pretty well in a wizard’s duel against Gandalf The Gray.

Any suggestions for female-friendly, 2nd grade appropriate, fantasy-type books would be appreciated.

-Dork Dad

title pages

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