Tag Archives: Parenting

Slow Down and build a fort

This month I was going to write about the lack of civility and manners in our society and how we as parents need to step up our game when it comes to teaching our kids what is proper and what is not. Then, the kids had a snow day, and by the time I sat down to write my article, tackling such a serious topic was just not appealing.



Snowbank snow fort

The boys were outside just after six in the morning and really only came in for short spurts the rest of the day. Their first order of business was to task me with building a fort in the snowbank left by the plow. Now, when it comes to projects like these I tend to go a bit Tim Taylor and they usually end up taking me twice as long as I thought they would. This snow fort was no exception. Why, I thought, should I make a fort that you have to crawl on your belly through when I can use some of that old plywood we have as a roof? I laid the boards on top of the snowbank and began to dig. Unfortunately, I got a bit over zealous and dug too much snow out, causing the plywood to be unstable. Not wanting to let down the boys or admit defeat, I scrounged around for more scrap wood and moved onto plan B, then to plan C, then to plan D. I eventually remembered some long poles I had lying near the scrap pile so I kicked around in the snow until I found them. A little sawing here and there and we had a winner with plan E. The boys then spent the rest of the day playing in what is arguably the best snow fort I’ve ever built.


The “Snow Hut”

Thanks to the internet you can spend a lot of time looking at all the different kinds of forts people build to get ideas for your own. Then you can go out and build one for yourself. That is what the boys and I did. It was a good reason to get outside and get some exercise in what has previously been a nearly snowless winter.  It is a nice escape from the stress of life and when it’s done you always have a place to get away to. Building our fort has developed a new type of creativity in the boys. They now notice their surroundings in a different way and are always on the lookout for a good fort locations. It also gives them a sense of accomplishment, even if as the adult, I’m doing a majority of the work.

The whole time I was building the fort in the snow bank I was thinking how lucky I was to get to do this. I would have been perfectly happy sitting by the fire reading or writing my article on civility.  Once again it’s a lesson learned from our boys. Slow down and seize the moment. For soon the snow will melt, the boys will move on and I’ll be left with only my memories. But I certainly won’t have the regret of the time I didn’t build them a snow fort after the biggest snow storm in two years.






Caleb’s Story

Bully LogoIn the fall of 2014, Caleb, a bright blond-headed boy with inquisitive eyes and a great curiosity for learning, started kindergarten. He loved his teacher, made friends easily and was happy to go to school. Then Caleb began to come home with stories of how Joey was tormenting some of the kids on the playground. One time he told his mom, Rebecca, that Joey pushed Timmy so hard that he split his chin on the concrete, requiring Timmy to get stitches. The stories continued, as did the accusations that the recess attendants spent more time talking among themselves than they did watching the children.

Caleb has never been one to tolerate injustice, and he tried to protect the other kids when he saw them being bullied. This quickly made Caleb the target. The gang would chase after him and yell “Get him!” and Caleb would run and hide. His mom talked to him about not running and hiding and perhaps playing closer to the teachers, but Caleb did not like that idea. He and his friends liked to play by the swings where they had a lot of space to run.

One day while Caleb was climbing the ladder on the jungle gym, Joey started beating him on the head, then he tried to kick Caleb in the face. Rebecca sent a note to the teacher and called the guidance counselor, but only got her voicemail. The next day Caleb’s teacher sat down with Joey, Caleb and another boy to talk about what was going on. The boys refused to sit near Joey out of fear. In the end the teacher made Joey write an apology. The teacher told Rebecca that Joey was often in trouble for this kind of behavior.

The guidance counselor, who worked only a couple of days a week, called back a few days later. She was surprised that Joey was acting like this and said she had not heard of him doing such nasty things. The recess attendants, the counselor stated, said that Caleb had started a group of kids who reported bad behavior to one recess attendant in particular––the attendant claimed that Caleb had a wild imagination and was trying to fulfill a dream of being a superhero. The counselor mentioned that school was almost over but nonetheless she would file a report and talk to Joey’s parents. The rest of the year passed without incident, and Caleb reported that Joey was acting much better. Perhaps, Rebecca hoped, things had taken a turn.

The start of first grade brought the discovery that none of Caleb’s close friends from the previous year were in his class. Caleb’s new friend, Toby, began threatening that if Caleb did not give him his school store money he would not be Caleb’s friend. In another instance he said he would bash Caleb’s face in if he didn’t give him a drawing that Caleb had done. On top of that Caleb was again coming home with stories of Joey and his gang causing terror on the playground.

Once again Rebecca spoke to the teachers and the guidance counselors, and promises were made to keep a closer eye on things. His parents discussed their options and worried about what had happened to the sweet, curious boy they had sent off to kindergarten the year before. Caleb was now quick to lash out or react in anger, he cried more easily, clenched his fist and hit his dad. By Thanksgiving break even extended family members noticed a difference.

The final straw came when Caleb told his parents about how before the break he was hiding in the tires from a boy who was chasing kids around and hitting them with a stick. Eventually the boy found Caleb and hit him on the back a few times before Caleb was able to run away. He lifted his shirt and showed them the faint marks on his back. Rebecca and her husband felt like the school had brushed them off and let them down. Shortly after Thanksgiving they pulled Caleb out of the school.

Vermont Law states that all schools are required to have a bullying and harassment plan in place that is equal to, or more stringent than, the one developed by the state. There is even an advisory committee through the Agency of Education that helps with the setting up of these policies. We cannot just send our children off to school and think that we don’t need to engage them when they get home. We need to be asking questions, look for the subtle clues and listen to what our children have to say.

I fully believe that to some extent situations like this can make a child much stronger and more fully prepared for the toxicity of our current culture. However, we need to know when to step in and pull them back from the ledge before they become part of the problem or, worse yet, decide it is just not worth facing another day.

Written for the Charlotte News

I’m supposed to be the adult

Luke and I are in the basement playing with the wooden train track he and his brother constructed a few days earlier. One section continually falls over and I move some pieces around to make it more sturdy. Luke warns me that Noah is going to be really mad. I don’t listen. I should have.

Early one morning a few days later, Noah comes down into the basement to play trains. Immediately he sees that the track has changed and begins to cry. It is the latter part of the school week so his coping skills are low, and to compound the situation his mom worked late the night before and was not able to be home for bedtime. The latter always upsets the balance of the house. I quickly offer to help change the track back, but it’s too late. He no longer hears me and begins to take out his frustration by wreaking the track. I take Luke upstairs to have breakfast. Noah follows crying and tries to rip up some of Luke’s schoolwork. I lose my cool, snatch the papers out of his hand and yell at him.

I’m supposed to be the adult in this situation, but I’m not doing a very good job of holding it together. My coping skills erode by the end of the week as well it seems. Getting upset with Noah and yelling accomplish getting my heart rate up, causing Noah to dig his heels in more, and scaring Luke, who at this point is covering his ears and hiding behind the plant in the corner (something I did as a kid when there was yelling). If I’d just taken the papers out of his hand and said nothing and gone about the morning, the situation would have defused a lot faster. That’s not what I did and now I feel horrible that Luke is clearly scared and the morning has crumbled so quickly. However my stubborn prideful self causes me to stand my ground. I should just stop and give Noah a hug and admit I lost my temper. That’s what will work, but instead I continue to be an ass.

I called my mom to see if I had tantrums that were as colorful as Noah’s are. She said she couldn’t remember, though she did say that I stood at the top of the stairs and screamed when I was mad.

“We just ignored you when you did that,” she told me.

Recently my wife and I decided to have a code word for those times when one of us is getting out of line. Coconuts, is what we are supposed to say, the idea being that this will cause the other person to take a step back. It has been working with mixed results. What we really need to do is re-read the book called If I Have to Tell You One More Time. In it the author talks about how bad behavior is often just attention seeking behavior, which is what was clearly going on with Noah on this morning. In hindsight I should have just started putting the track back together the way he had it.

The remainder of the morning is a roller coaster but I manage to keep calm and use phrases like­–When you leave your bike there, then I am not going to help you put it away. Emphasizing the when and the then (we also learned this from the book) lets children know what the consequence will be and gives them a chance to make a choice. This works better than giving a command.

By the time we head off for school everything is back to normal.






Passive Protest

How do your children show their displeasure? Perhaps they run off and hide, fall to the ground kicking and screaming, stomp their feet or yell at you. If your children are anything like our boys they have done all of these things, sometimes in a single tantrum. Noah, who is five, also employs what I have come to call the passive protest. While the aforementioned actions can be extremely embarrassing in public and contribute to hearing loss, it has been my experience that the passive protest is by far the most exasperating of all the ways children can show their displeasure.

Once a protest has begun Noah will stand rooted to the spot where he became annoyed. It does not matter if that is in the middle of a room, or the middle of the sidewalk, he simply refuses to move. He will stand there with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face. If I try to ask what is wrong he will scrunch his face up even more, pull his shoulders up to his ears, stare straight into my eyes, and say nothing. If I try to move him he will go limp and crumple to the ground.

For the longest time I would use threats of the loss of toys or playing with friends and when these failed I would just scoop him up and carry him out to the car and put him in his seat. Then I’d go back for whatever else I needed, his coat, his shoes, or his little brother Luke. Saying I was going to take something away posed another problem in that I would often forget about it five minutes later. To Noah’s credit, though, he will often remind me of what I said. After a particularly long string of protests I got so fed up that I walked out of the room and literally hopped up and down and roared, looking very much like Yosemite Sam without the chaps and ten-gallon hat and thus learned that you can in fact get hopping mad. After this wonderful display of total loss of control, I decided that I’d better come up with a new approach. Now I meet silence with silence, save for the occasional warning, and if the situation calls for it, the removal of the current favorite toy, at that moment, for the day. The one thing that I don’t do is use the I’m going to leave you here threat, even on the days when I would really like to. Not, because I think it is cruel to say that to your child but because the one time I did say it, Luke broke down into a sobbing, fear-filled frenzy over the fact that we were going to leave his brother who, as he repeated many times, is part of the family. Having a sobbing child and a silent unmoving child is extremely counterproductive. Like all aspects of parenting how I deal with a situation, as well as how the kids deal with it, is always changing. Often our coping ability hinges on how much sleep either party has gotten and how many days in a row my wife has been working. For the most part though the meeting silence with silence seems to be working. I just continue to plod along, and when things get really bad tell myself that other parents must be going through this sort of thing as well.

As frustrating as these protests can be, I am secretly impressed with how strongly the boys hold to their positions. In the age of bullying, extreme peer pressure, and a divided society having the tenacity to stand up for what you believe is right or against what you believe is wrong is something that should be fostered. Figuring out how to do that without becoming a complete pushover is the real trick to all of this.

This essay  was  written for the Charlotte News’s Humbled Parent Column

A Letter For Noah On Your 2nd Birthday

Dear Noah,

Another year has gone by. There are moments as of late where I stop in the middle of what I am doing and think, my goodness you are two. So much has happened in these last twelve months that I could write a book, if only I could remember half of it.
Last year at this time we were waiting for you to walk, and now you move so fast and with such purpose, there are days I struggle to keep up with you. Your personality has grown right along with you and it has been amazing to watch you turn into a caring gentle little boy who comes running when his little brother starts to cry. You are so helpful, pointing out and then throwing away garbage, though there was a time when it was not garbage at all and I found myself digging through the trash. You let us know when you have made a mess, by saying “mess” “mess” and then asking for a towel to help clean it up.  Sometimes you like to clean just for the fun of it.
You gave us quite a scare in Florida when you ended up in Pediatric ICU with RSV.  I have felt absolutely helpless a handful of  times in my life, but never as much as I did for those three days sitting at your bed side.  Ever since that trip there are nights when you wake up scared and I have found myself sleeping on your floor, next to your big boy bed, in [close space] the old sleeping bag your grandpa gave to me when I was a boy.
A year ago you said a word or two, but mostly used sign language, then you began to talk up a garbled storm, and now you speak in phrases, such as, “I want to dig.”, “Nana better than Momma” (that made Nana’s day), “I want to go down.”, “Truck, guy driving.” , “Luke crying.”  When we don’t know what you are saying you are not satisfied until we figure it out, never have you allowed us to get away with saying “that is good” and then moving on. We hardly carry you anymore. When we walk you hold onto my finger and know took watch out for cars, to look both ways before we cross the street and to stand aside on the trail when a bike comes along. You love to pretend to pee in the woods, complete with the shake and the zipping of the zipper, sometimes stopping every few feet to do so.  On our hikes, you are tired of walking; you are no longer happy riding in the kid carrier preferring instead to ride atop my shoulders while I have Luke on my chest and a backpack on my back. This works out well until you fall asleep and I have to fireman carry you back to the car.  You love ­to go driving knowing that getting in the car means a new adventure and there is a chance of seeing some kind of large vehicle on our journey. A few times during our trip to Montana I let you sit on my lap and “drive” through the empty parking lot back to the condo where we were staying.
This summer you got your first shiner at daycare, where you have been called the cleanest eater of the class when it comes to eating yogurt, which has been your staple food for the better part of the last year. You never go anywhere without MoMo, your stuffed monkey.  We thought ahead when you first started carrying him around and got a second one, you can tell the difference between them though just by looking at them, and Monkey does not hold the same status as MoMo.  We have been to the zoo so many times this summer to see the monkeys, tigers, ride the train to watch the rhinos “mow” that I am surprised they do not know us by sight. When we went this last time just a few days ago you were more interested in watching the construction of the new exhibit area than you were at looking at the animals.  When you finally got bored with the construction, you weaved your way through the school groups and pushed your way past the older children to get up to the exhibits so that, with wide eyes, you could watch the animals. You have a regular zoo of stuffed animals in your bed with you at night, including a moose of which we have seen many this past year, along with the foxes on our trip to Montana that would come right up to you and sniff wondering if we had any food to give them.
Together you and I flew back to Vermont to visit Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle Tycen, it was a bit cramped on the plane with you sitting on my lap but we made it work. Once while you were sleeping you twitched and stuck your hand right into the drink of the lady next to us. We also went to see Nana and Grandpa in Michigan. On every flight your favorite thing to do is to stare out the window and watch all that is going on before the plane takes off. We watched the horses in Vermont and tried to catch minnows in Michigan, we ate fruit and dug in the sand at the beach. We have flown so much this year that you know that MoMo has to go through the x-ray and you need to take off your shoes when we go through airport security.
There are so many things that happened this year, and with each word I type a new memory comes to mind. I have been your jungle gym, all your teeth have come in, we have built countless tunnels with the pillows from the couch, and collected many rocks while on walks both in the city and in the mountains.   You like to make noise with parts of vacuum and other random house hold items, though you never make a vroom sound; you just say “noise” over and over.  You have become quite the chef with your “cooking” in the pots and pans and then when you are tired of that you head outside to dig, on hot days making your way between the sandbox and the pool several times. You have gone from stacking one color of Legos together to drawing on your easel and putting the track of your train together. Other than MoMo, Tigers, trains, trucks and tunnels are your favorite things.
I am truly amazed at all that has happened in the last year and when I think of how fast it has gone and how much you have grown I feel a little bit of sadness, knowing it will be all too soon that I will be writing about your first day of school.  Though the one thing you have taught me this year is to focus on the now and not the future or the past. For right now, when you are in the moment is when you have the most fun.

Happy second birthday, Noah!