Tag Archives: parenting

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

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

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