Archive | July, 2011

May the flush be with you.

28 Jul

I got home from work a little early today. It was too soon to get dinner started so we decided to throw the kids in the minivan and kill a little time at the park. This particular park isn’t the 1st string park in the neighborhood, but it is the closest – which generally means it’s totally empty at 5:00 on a Thursday evening and it’s close enough to get to and from before any meltdown can materialize.

We did our typical thing… swings, slides etc. Then, about 20 minutes into it my son says “Mommy, Daddy, I need to pee.” Now my son is only very recently potty-trained, and just barely at that. For anyone who’s been through it, this is a dicey period. In these final stages of potty-training, when your kid tells you they need to pee you need to drop everything and find a potty. No time to mess around. No margin for error. No time to get in the car and drive home… and to my horror, no potties at the park.

This is one advantage to having a son.

*The story takes a short detour at this point. I promise to get back to it soon.*

When potty-training our kids my wife and I have had success with the incentive-chart method. You find something the kid really, really wants and bribe them for successful potty-experiences with it. The incentive-chart has the benefit of giving the kid something solid (no pun intended) to work with while at the same time appealing to my wife’s type-A, over-organized, former-2nd-grade-teacher nature. We had a lot of luck with a couple Barbie-esque Disney princess dolls my daughter just couldn’t live without. One and a half charts later and she was totally potty trained. The trick is to find that one special thing the kid wants so badly they can barely see straight.

For my boy that “one special thing” presented itself when I let him crawl up the stairs to see what was in the attic. Not three feet from the opening to the attic are my old toy AT-AT’s (those big dinosaur walkers on the snow planet from Empire Strikes Back for you Un-Dork-Daddies out there).

The chart. No confusion about what needs to be done here.

There are two of them that almost stare you down first thing when you get in there (one from the original Kenner line in 1981, and one from the rebooted line in 1997… both complete and working perfectly thankyouverymuch). My son saw those and it was love at first sight. Six times a day he would pester me to go up in the attic and see the AT-AT’s. So shortly thereafter, when it was time to potty-train, it was obvious what his motivator was going to be. I tell you this, it didn’t take him one and a half charts like it did his sister.

So STOKED! He could barely sit for the picture.

He was potty-trained the moment we put the chart on the wall. I have never seen the kid so happy as he was the day he completed the chart and earned his AT-AT.

Daddy needed to bring his AT-AT to the party too.

*Returning now to the story. Quick recap: barely potty-trained son, has to pee, no potties at the park*

I remember when my Daddy peed next to me on the wood pile in the backyard. It was a father-son bonding moment. We were being naughty together, doing something neither of us were supposed to be doing. It was big medicine for a little guy and I thought it was so cool; apparently too cool. As my mom tells the story they had a heck of a time with random brown spots on the backyard lawn that seemed to pop up out of nowhere for the longest time after that.

So I trotted my son out to the most out-of-the-way corner of the park. There, by a small, very unfortunate little maple tree, he and I turned our backs to the rest of the world and engaged in the time-honored, millennia-old tradition of a father and son taking a wiz out in nature together. At first he was a little distressed as there was no toilet bowl anywhere to be seen. He was clearly out of his element. But as any good father would do I lead by example, and he figured things out pretty quick from there. Crisis averted. Back to swings, slides etc.

There’s one essential father-to-son lesson checked off the list. Although my backyard lawn is in such sorry shape we probably wouldn’t notice, here’s hoping there aren’t too many mysterious brown spots that pop up in the near future.

-Dork Daddy

Goodnight my angel.

27 Jul

Lying next to my daughter tonight, trying to get her to sleep, she reached over and put her hand around behind my head. In a sweet, innocent way she began stroking my hair – the way my grandmother used to do for me when I put my head in her lap. Even my own mother could never do that the way my grandma used to.

I took special notice because my daughter did it in the manner of a person trying to comfort someone else – as if she were comforting me, instead of the father comforting the daughter. Any parent spends countless hours comforting their children in such a way, and there is a unique joy that comes with doing it. We all (hopefully) remember these sensations from our own parents. At least from my perspective in that moment, it struck me as interesting – receiving that sensation from my daughter.

Naturally this is a wonderful thing. I want my children to be affectionate, and to be able to express their affection. Touch is so important in defining a relationship, and in our house we make sure there are no inhibitions to expressing our love for one another. “I love you’s” and hand holding are common place with us.

I don’t know if in that moment she was soothing herself, or trying to love on me. If she was soothing herself, then clearly touching is part of her “norm”. If it was an expression of love from her to me then she must be secure enough in our love for her to feel comfortable sharing that love by giving some of it back.

Either way, lying there feeling my daughter’s fingers in my hair I could close my eyes and imagine it was actually my grandma – a woman who loved colossally, perfectly. In that moment, at least in this regard, I knew my wife and I have thus far raised her right.

-Dork Dad

Hoop Dreams

17 Jul

This afternoon I had a disturbing exchange with my daughter. The US Women’s Soccer team was playing the championship game against Japan. The entire twitterverse was, well… a twitter. These are exactly the sort of role models a young girl needs to see. For a fleeting moment the entire world seemed to be interested in women’s sports, and that’s the sort of thing that can spark a little girl’s imagination. So I took a chance.

At a quiet moment this afternoon, when her brother was taking a nap and the U.S. vs. Japan game was in its final exciting moments, I said to my daughter “Hey sweetheart. Do you want to watch the United States Girls Soccer team play in the world championship game?” Her response:

“No thank you, Daddy. I’d rather watch ‘Alice In Wonderland’”.



I know I said earlier that my daughter doesn’t have to be a varsity athlete. 48 hours haven’t changed my mind in that regard. But honestly, enough is enough. I haven’t pushed the sports with my kids, telling myself that they would find sports organically, on their own like I did. In these early years I’ve opted instead to emphasize all the OTHER stuff that makes for a well-rounded person – art, music, storytelling, fantasy. But after today’s exchange with my daughter I had to wonder if I haven’t over-corrected my stance (to use a sports metaphor). For crying out loud, the pediatrician predicts my daughter will be at least 5’10”, and my boy will be between 6’4” and 6’8” (!!!) I’ve got to at least give ‘em a CHANCE. Time to readjust.

In soccer you're not supposed to use your... oh nevermind.

Off to Toys R’ Us I went. $120 later and my kids had two new soccer balls (one blue, one pink), a portable soccer goal, and an adjustable Fisher Price basketball hoop for the backyard. I also resigned myself to a new rule around the house. First thing when Daddy gets home from work the kids get a choice: baseball, soccer or basketball. Whatever they choose we noodle around in the backyard for 5 or 10 minutes before we move on to anything else. That should cover the “informal” aspect of sports. The “formal” aspect is going to take a little more creativity.

Her Royal Air-ness. (hair-ness?)

The last time I took my daughter to an organized sporting activity was at our local J.C. We went to a football game (I enticed her with the promise of a hotdog and hot chocolate). She was largely unimpressed with the entire experience. If anything got her attention it was the cheerleaders (who sucked). I gave up taking her to games after that figuring she was too young. She’s older now, and I think it’s time “Alice In Wonderland” takes up a little less market share of her attention. So I have downloaded the local high school’s varsity girl’s athletic calendar for the 2011 and 2012 school year (by itself an act that when carried out by a 37 year-old man would normally raise eyebrows with the local Special Victims Unit) with the intention of taking my daughter to any number of games to show her that you can be athletic, and fierce and feminine at the same time.

Call the Stanford A.D. Check out the vertical leap on that 5-year-old.

But for now it’s all about putting the “fun” in fundamentals. I know, I know. I’m probably over-correcting my over-correction. As I said before, they don’t have to do sports if they don’t want to. But if they do want to, they stand the best chance if a big part of the way they think about sports is remembering how fun it was to kick the ball around in the backyard with their Dork Daddy.

-Dork Dad

There’s no crying in baseball!

15 Jul

I was raised with a very accute awareness of a man’s role in a developing girl’s self esteem. I had two younger sisters and my father was very clear to me from the beginning that what they heard and felt from him and me would be the largest influences in how they saw themselves as the grew up. That was a pretty abstract lesson for a little guy to absorb, but it slowly materialized for me as I grew up myself, and as I watched my sisters grow up behind me. I can certainly see how it played out now that they’re adults. In my adult years teaching I saw more young ladies than I care to count with shattered self images which could be traced directly back to their fathers’ failings as parents. Needless to say I am a passionate believer in my father’s religion (which he maintains was passed down to him by his father). From the moment I knew my first child was going to be a girl I was very clear on what my role was going to be in raising her to be a strong, confident young woman.

Self-image aside, my daughter will also have the gender equality issue to deal with as she comes to define herself as a woman. Regrettably a father’s role is considerably diminished in this areena. Assuming things are pretty modern around the household, a girl’s perception of gender equality will be largely based on her experiences OUTSIDE the house. For my daughter, most of these experiences will be well beyond my ability to control. Even so, I have to do what I can.

My daughter is starting kindergarten in the fall. For parents it’s a time that causes all sorts of anxiety because this is the time when external influences begin influencing a child’s development more than influences inside the home. As I think back to my schoolyard days I remember two destinct lines that divided stereotypical girls from stereotypical boys: science, and sports. In the eyes of elementary school kids (or at least the ones I hung out with), boys are good at both, and girls are good at neither. I am determined not to let my daughter fall into either of those traps.

I’ve already got the science thing covered pretty well with my little girl (see a couple posts below). The sports thing… that’s another matter entirely.

Over the shoulder. Behind the head. Elbow up.

I’ll admit it. I had visions of my daughter becomming an Olympic beach volleyball player. After all, my wife is 6′ tall and we live in one of the beach volleyball meccas of the world. I also had visions of her going to college on a softball scholarship. I was a better than average highschool athlete myself (though it’s difficult to imagine looking at me these days). But alas, my daughter does not seem to be trending in either of those directions. She’s all girl, and would rather spend her time dressing up, drawing her elaborate fantasy princess stories, and putting anything sparkly on her younger brother than spend time kicking around a soccer ball. She does dance with her girlfriends, and thrills at the idea of horse-riding camp during the summer. But suggestions of AYSO Soccer in the fall meet with only lukewarm shrugs.

Focus your eyes on exactly where you want the ball to go.

If she doesn’t want to be an athlete, that’s fine with me. The kid’s got to find her own way. But I absolutely will not let her be pigeon-holed into thinking that she can’t do sports if she doesn’t want to. We’ve all heard the phrase “you throw like a girl”. I remember that one waaay back in elementary school. To my thinking, that’s where it starts. So I told myself, she doesn’t have to be a varsity athlete. But she damn well is going to learn how to throw and catch a ball. Nobody but nobody is going to tell my daughter that she “throws like a girl”.

follow through

So on occasion, when it’s just me and her, we’ll go out in the backyard and toss a ball back and forth. Girls are so desperate for their fathers’ attention, they’ll do just about anything for it. So we sit there, throwing and catching, and I gently coach her on technique. “No. Over the shoulder. Good job. Point your elbow up. Great! Keep your eyes open when the ball comes to you.” I make sure the praise and the positive feedback is plentiful. In return, she soaks it up. It’s one-on-one father-daughter time. She gets a sense of accomplishment as her skills get better, her self esteem grows as she sees the progress she’s making, and our relationship grows as we spend that priceless time together that won’t be there when she’s 12 and older.

I don’t need her to be the first person picked for the team. But I won’t let her be the last either. And when that punk in school throws a ball at her to try to catch her off-guard, I want to see his face (and hers) when she catches it instead of getting hit in the face.

The next lesson is how to paint his ass when it comes her time to throw it at him at dodge-ball.

-Dork Dad

“Dad’s Life”

9 Jul

Dork-Dadism #72: Lots of cheezy videos.



-Dork Dad

This is Joe. See Joe sell comics?

8 Jul

This is Joe. Joe runs the finest comic book shop I have ever known; not because of it’s size or scope, but because Joe is not some skeevy, smarmy comic book wierdo. He is a member of the community, a small business owner, a “chamber of commerce” sort of guy. He goes out of his way to remember your name, to welcome you into his shop, to take care of his employees and to make his customers feel like family. He is every bit (if not more) the professinal that any number of people I know in the community with multiple capitol letters after their name. He is a credit to the community and as fine a sole-propriator as you will ever meet.

When my son needs a fix, he goes to Joe. He knows Joe has the good stuff.

I can hear your eyeballs rolling. He hocks comic books. How gret could this guy be? Well, he’s been running his shop for upwards of 40 years now. In fact they used Joe’s comic book shop to film a few memorable scenes from “The Lost Boys”

Filmed at Joe's shop... ages ago.

(if only Joel Schumacher had stopped there and not gone on to ruin the Batman franchise). I’ll have you know that every single one Joe’s grandkids has graduated college… two from Harvard. He’s a legend in the area, everyone knows him and he knows everyone including all the oldschool comicbook legends: Sergio Argonis, the founders of the San Diego Comicon, John Byrne — and my kids.

Dork-Dadism #47: When my son was born I thought it would be cool to start collecting for him every “Action Comics” (Superman), “Detective Comics” (Batman) and “Superman/Batman” published after his birth. The same month my son was born we moved cities to be closer to my work, and I needed to find a new comic book dealer… er, pusher… er, um… salesman. I found Joe’s shop, spent some time talking to him and now every month he sets aside those three titles for me, runs my credit card, and keeps them stored in bags and boards until I’m able to swing by and pick them up. Next month it will be 3 years running. At first I used to hit the shop every 2 or 3 months as my schedule would allow, but now as my kids get older I’ve started taking them with me.

My boy loves it. He loves to walk around the shop and name all the superheroes he sees on the walls. He loves it that Joe recognizes him, says “hello” to him by name, and always has a free comic book for him. It’s become one of “those things” — hopefully a sweet memory that my son will carry with him long after Joe closes his shop and comicbooks go the way of the do-do.

Who knows if my son will ever get into comic books. They certainly aren’t for kids anymore. The images and the writing are not the sort of thing I’d feel comfortable exposing my young child to. They’re a hell of a lot more expensive than they used to be (these days between $3-4.00. I really miss the days when all I had to do was collect one $8.00 monthly newspaper subscription from one of my paper route customers and I could juice up on enough $0.65 and $0.75 comic books to last me the entire month). And the comic book industry on the whole is in drastic decline.

What I do know is that in my garage there’s a box filled with 3 years worth of untouched Superman and Batman comicbooks that my son is, as of yet, unaware of. Whenever I head off to Joe’s place to pick up my son’s comics my wife likes to say something like “Oh yeah. You’re getting comicbooks ‘FOR HIM’ (doing the finger-quotations thing)” – presumably because my boy isn’t old enough to appreciate them yet. The truth is, they are for him. I haven’t opened or read a single one in the three years since I’ve started collecting them.

The initial impulse to save those comics came from the thought that it would be something cool I could do for my son if/when the day comes that he gets into comicbooks on his own. But this exercise has become more than that. Now it’s a ritual that I share with my kids. When we pass by Joe’s shop in the car my kids both wave out the window and yell “Hi, Joe!”. When I walk in there with my son or my daughter I’m proud to show off how amazing they are to another professional in the community whom I have a lot of respect for. They have big, genuine smiles for him. He has big, genuine smiles for them, and we all have this little ritual, a small part of our larger lives that we all share and is totally positive.

Those are memories — real, forever memories. The comicbooks are just a bonus.

-Dork Dad


5 Jul

Science has always informed my life. My professional life is dictated by science – and my previous professional life was spent teaching science to middle schoolers. As a kid some of my earliest memories are watching Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” with Marlin Perkins. Since then, in my opinion the best programming on television is anything by Bill Nye “The Science Guy”, Steve “The Croc Hunter” Irwin, Jeff Corwin and the “Mythbusters”. Science holds at its core certain values (don’t worry, I won’t let this blog go down the science vs. religion path): critical, rational thinking, weighing evidence impartially before forming an opinion, requiring credible evidence before forming an opinion, and being willing to reformulate an opinion in light of new evidence. In short, science teaches us to think logically, to formulate our own ideas about how things work, to humbly acknowledge that we can always be incorrect in our understanding of things, and to welcome rational discussion that leads to better understanding.

These are values that I want my children to have. I want them to be curious. I want them to explore the world. I want them to have the self confidence that comes with figuring things out for themselves, and I don’t want them to accept blindly somebody else’s logic, no matter what position of authority that person might hold (yeah, I’m looking at you Mrs. Ussery from my 5th grade year).

It’s important for any child to have those skills. It’s especially important for girls.

So I have encouraged all these things in my daughter from the day she was born. I have always encouraged her to ask, touch, feel, smell and explore the world around her. Usually the most interesting things in nature are slimy, or sticky, or stinky. Never have I imparted a value-statement on those observations when my daughter makes them. Instead of saying “Isn’t that stinky/Isn’t that sticky/Isn’t that yucky?” I say “Isn’t that cool?” Young children will look to the adults in their life to tell them how they’re supposed to react to any situation. Try it the next time your kid falls and skins his/her knee. Instead of sweeping them up dramatically in your arms and saying “Does it hurt?” just brush them off and say “You’re all-right”. They’ll believe you either way. My daughter, when presented with something potentially sticky/slimy/yucky, is now conditioned to pick it up, look at it, think about it and then say to me “Look at this Daddy. Isn’t this cool?” Over the course of her 5 1/2 years this has made for some pretty fantastic photo ops.

Dead, dessicated snake found on a hike.

Since this is a post about science it wouldn’t be inappropriate to present the nature vs. nurture argument here. After all, my wife was the one who got in trouble in kintergarden for chasing the boys around the playground with worms (my daughter starts kintergarden in the fall). As my daughter moves into the academic phase of her life, one thing I will never EVER let her believe is that “science is for boys”.

you don't see a bull-sandcrab on the beach very often

Good luck in kintergarden in the fall, sweetheart. After it rains we’ll walk over to the playground together and I’ll show you where to find all the best worms.

Her first banana slug.

Ariolimax californicus

Her mother would be proud.

Stickbug found in grandma's backyard. I had no idea we had those in our neighborhood.

Gastropods! Don't you just love how the sun glistens through their ichor?

Jellyfish... which started an excellent discussion about nematocysts.

frog in our front doorjam

Nymph exoskeleton. "Daddy, what's an exoskeleton?"

How to train a dragon(fly).

OK. She was allowed to say "yuck" to this one.

-Dork Dad

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