We Were On “The Today Show”

I never planned to put my kids on camera.  I mean, my cameras, sure.  I have about 10 bajillion hours of video of them doing completely mundane things like drooling or singing that new Taylor Swift song, which in my son’s interpretation, goes like this:

“We are never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, NEVER EVER EVER, NEVER EVER EVER… WE ARE NEVER EVER EVER…”

That’s it, over and over.  It never ends.  Never ever ever.

You can see why I keep these things to myself.

On the other hand, I feel a kind of parental duty to educate people about my family, to make the world a better, more understanding place for my kids, and of course, other kids in nontraditional families.

So when my friend Robin Sindler, who’s smart and talented and amazing and just happens to be a producer for The Today Show, came to me and asked if she could shoot a segment on our family, I thought about it for a bit and then said yes.

Then Drew said no.

Then, Robin said she would fly Susie down for an interview, meaning we’d get to spend a few days with her and her daughter, Grace.

We talked about it a lot, and eventually Drew agreed that if we were ever going to do something like this, we’d want to do it with someone we trust, on a show we respect, so our lives don’t get Jerry Springer-ized or used as a jumping-off point for some loudmouthed debate.

The Susie visit was a bonus, and of course, no story about my family would be complete unless it adequately praised Susie for her gift to us.

A few days later, Robin arrived with a small (and terrific) crew, and Drew and I slogged through what was probably our worst day of parenting ever.  We said things like, “Careful with Daddy’s mic pack!”  “Stay on the swing and keep smiling!”  And, “If you can just make it through one more bit of b-roll, we’ll have McDonald’s for lunch.”  We made the kids sit in the basement watching Beauty & The Beast while we shot our interview.  When Grace started crying, we asked Susie to take her for a walk so it wouldn’t ruin our audio.

We filmed at our swim class.  Usually, Drew’s at work for swim class, and I’m forced to sit with the other parents in a galley area so I don’t distract the kids.  For the camera crew, they let us sit at the edge of the pool, with our feet in the water.  The kids got to swim up to us and show us their moves, while a camera pushed in on their dripping wet faces.  They felt like movie stars.

It reminded me of all the reasons I never wanted our kids to be child actors.  “This is just for one day,” I kept reminding Drew.

I knew it had made an impression a couple of weeks later when we were reading one of my kids’ books.  (I think it was a Curious George book, but I can’t seem to find it now.)  There was a picture of a camera crew, including a woman who was standing in the back, taking notes on a small pad.  Sutton pointed at her and said, “That’s the producer!”

We had no idea how the piece would turn out or how many months would elapse before it would air.  It turned out it was only about three weeks.

I was terrified to watch it.  I didn’t want the kids to see it.  Drew had it on in his office, and he promised to call me afterward with his assessment.

“Go turn it on now,” he demanded.  “Sit and watch it with the kids.  It’s beautiful.”

So we did.  I backed up my Tivo and sat with the kids on the couch.

They were most excited to see their cousin Grace.  “Oh, she’s so cute!” they squealed.  I think they’re so used to seeing videos of themselves that they didn’t see this as anything special.  When it was over, Sutton asked, “Now can we watch another show about us?”

I’ve heard from lots of people since this piece aired — friends who loved hearing the story for what was probably the millionth time, strangers who enjoyed hearing it for the first time.  Now that we’ve seen it, we have no regrets.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy it, too.  It may be the last time you see us on TV for a while.

Until I can figure out how to embed, you can click here to watch the segment.

cookieface

The 10 Biggest Secrets I Keep From My Kids

Hey guys, it’s me, Daddy, and I’m only writing this post because you can’t read, you don’t know what a blog is and because you’re still in that developmental sweet spot where you take everything I tell you at face value.

Suckers.

Your old man is full of secrets, things that could destroy my authority if you ever found out.  Here are 10 highly classified facts that I will take to my grave… or at least wait to tell you until you have kids of your own.

1.  TV is a reward for me, not you.

There’s a reason I never promise you TV for being good.  When you’re behaving, I don’t need to turn on the TV.  Overall, you guys are terrific company… but when you’re not, that’s when TV comes to my rescue.  Those 22 blissful minutes of Yo Gabba Gabba are my reward for getting through the crying, whining, fighting meltdown madness that’s become a recurring feature of your toddlerhood.

Here’s the big secret: if you want more TV, you should act out more.  You know how sometimes I’ll pop popcorn and we’ll have a “movie day”, where we get to watch all of Beauty & The Beast or Toy Story from beginning to end?

When that happens, you’ve been BAAAAAAAAAD.

You can never know this, of course, because that would encourage you to misbehave.  So I have to be clever about it.  I always make sure to calm you down first, so you don’t know that I’m only turning on the TV because I’m on the verge of tearing off your Tickle Me Elmo’s head with my teeth.

2.  While you’re napping, I shove my face full of chocolate chip cookies for two hours straight.

You don’t see me eat much, do you?  It’s not because I don’t require sustenance like every other human being, though if it adds to your sense that Daddy is some kind of awesome superhuman, I’m fine with that.  No, the real reason I never eat in front of you is because when you’re watching, I need to model good eating habits.  You think I like eating vegetables and chewing slowly?  Phooey!

I spend every moment in your presence suppressing my natural urge to shovel peanut butter M&Ms through my maw by the fistful.  When you’re asleep, oh boy, do I make up for lost time.  I practically funnel chocolate sauce directly down my throat.  I watch lots of TV, too, and I sit as close to the screen as I want.

3.  I fall for your crocodile tears about 90% of the time.

I don’t know whose side of the family it comes from, but I’d be willing to bet that you two have some Meryl Streep in your blood.  Your performances are unparalleled.  You are gripping emotional powerhouses, both of you, able to summon cascades of tears at will.  I feel like I should be tossing bouquets of flowers at your feet, or at least teaching you to act out Uncle Vanya so your talents can be put to good use.

Even when I’m sure you’re faking, I get sucked into the performance.  I want to give you that second cookie you’re demanding only because I don’t have an Oscar to hand over instead.

Seriously, I don’t know how you do it.  You cry over the most trivial things, but still, you get me to believe that nothing matters more in the world than you getting a turn with the “good” xylophone.

I don’t want to spoil you by always giving in, but I don’t want to stifle your theatrical gifts either.

Bravo, kids.  Brav.  O.

4.  I don’t know how we’re going to pay for your college.

I’m really grateful you guys have no concept of money, because if you knew what college costs versus how much money we have in the bank, you’d wake up crying at night even more than you already do.

Let’s put it in terms of Play-Doh.  If you add together all the various sources of Play-Doh at our disposal — the cans in the craft cabinet, the little mini tubs that came with the Cookie Monster Letter Lunch set, a few unopened packages we keep stashed in the closet for rainy days — it’s a comfortable amount.

Now picture all the Play-Doh in the world.  That’s what a year of college is going to cost by the time you guys are filling out your applications.  I’m not exaggerating.  Our Play-Doh supply would barely cover one semester of independent study credits at that college in Texas that gets all the oil subsidies.  We’re screwed.

I mean, sure, we have a few years.  We’ll keep stashing away Play-Doh in the meantime, but don’t get your hopes up.

5.  I find your speech impediments adorable.

I’ve written here before about how much I hate baby talk, and I stand by that.  Grownups trying to sound like kids are idiotic.  But secretly, I love hearing little kids try to sound like grownups, and failing.

I love Sutton’s slight lisp, and I get a kick out of the way Bennett drops his “S” from the start of words (“Daddy, ‘utton wants a ‘nack!”)  These things remind me, as you’re growing up, that you’re still going to be little kids for a while.

I know better than to encourage poor speech habits, of course.  I do the right thing, suppressing my smiles and correcting you gently, so you’ll learn to speak properly.  But secretly, whenever you mangle the English language, I’m thinking, “Aww!”

6.  Your other Grandpa, my dad, is dead.

Sorry, this one’s kind of a downer.  I’ve shown you pictures of my dad, and I’ve told you a bit about him, but I’m really grateful that you’re still too young to ask the big question: “How come we’ve never met him?”  To explain that, I’d have to tell you about death.  Then you’d figure out the really big secret, that daddies can die.

Ugh, I just can’t have that talk with you.  And it’s not just about you not being ready.  I’m not ready either.  I don’t know when I will be.

When we talk about your mystery Grandpa, I tell you the good things, and then I change the subject.  I know I won’t be able to get away with that forever, but for now, that’s the best plan I have.

Grandpa loved kids, by the way.  You would’ve had so much fun with him.

7.  “F#&%”, “S*@#”, A$$#@!&”.

You know that Madonna song we love to sing along to?  You’ve probably noticed how I always turn down the volume when M.I.A.’s rap part comes on.  Let’s just say there are a few vocabulary words which may come in handy later in life, but which I’m glad you haven’t picked up on just yet.

8.  I was an even pickier eater at your age than you are.

I spend way more energy than any sane person should trying to get you kids to eat things you don’t want to.  Even your junk food diet is limited.  C’mon, why can’t you see how awesome Taco Bell is?

Here’s the truth, though: If I’m always encouraging you to try new foods, it’s mostly because I don’t want you to end up like me.  I’m living proof you can live to the age of 14 eating nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and pretzels.

Sure, at some point my tastes got a bit more exotic (i.e., Taco Bell), but I’m hoping that, unlike me, you’ll have at least sampled each of the four food groups before you reach puberty.

9.  Someday, I’m going to go back to work.

I know you don’t understand work.  That’s why you’ll sometimes cry in the middle of the afternoon and demand to pick Daddy up at the train station, as if he’s just waiting there all day for us to swing by.

Work takes daddies away from their kids, that’s all you really grasp of the concept.  Well, this may come as a shock to you, but before you were born, I used to work, too.  Staying home with you is better than any job I’ve ever had, and it’s worth every sacrifice Daddy and I have had to make.  It’s not going to last forever, though.  In the future, you won’t need me as much, at least not as much as we’ll need the second income.

A few months ago, I was in the running for a job, one that would’ve been too good to pass up.  I’m not going to lie, I was excited about the prospect.  I was also heartbroken.  I imagined what it would be like to tell you I was going back to work, that you would now have two daddies you hardly ever saw.

Then you’d cry about how much you missed both of us, to a person we hired to take care of you all day.

10.  You guys are my best friends.

I used to think people who were BFFs with their kids were terrifically sad.  Now, I kind of get it.  No offense to any of my grown-up friends, but you’re way cooler than any of them.

Yes, I need adult conversation once in a while.  I need to talk about politics and celebrity scandals and last night’s Breaking Bad.  But in general, your reluctant, unfocused recounting of your school day is better than any of that.  Really?  Billy spilled his juice at snack time?  Tell me more!

Again, you can never know this, because the only thing sadder than you being my best friends would be if I were yours.  You don’t need a graying old doofus roughly 14 times your age as a buddy.  You need me as a parent.  My job isn’t to play trains with you and Billy after school, it’s to serve you juice… and to send Billy’s parents the cleaning bill when he spills it all over you.

F#&%in’ Billy.

******

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Teacher Conference

“Sutton and Bennett’s dad?  Hi.  We had a little biting incident today.”

“Oh no!  What happened?”

“Well, Sutton bit Bennett.  They were just playing around, but then she asked him to bite her back, and he broke the skin.”

“Oh, whew!  So they only hurt each other, not anyone else’s kid?”

“Oh yes.  They’ve never hurt the other kids, though Sutton has a habit of tackling all the boys and kissing them.”

“Great, so I have nothing to worry about then.”

Past Posts Revisited: 10 Reasons We (No Longer) Love McDonald’s

A few months ago, I wrote a post wherein I asked my kids what makes them mad.  Sutton’s response was quick and brutal: my singing.  Well, I’d like to state that her opinion has evolved.  Now when the topic comes up, she says, “I don’t like your voice!”

This is why it’s good to update old posts now and then.  Things change.  Sometimes, my kids grow firmer in their convictions, and sometimes, I ease up on mine.

I have to admit I no longer stand fully behind my post on why I love taking my kids to McDonald’s.  At the time I wrote that, we were only one month into our cross-country move.  I had discovered that the local McDonald’s had a family night every Thursday, featuring a nice magician guy.  He made balloon animals for the kids, while I got to enjoy the snotty teenagers heckling him from nearby.  It was a nice routine, at  time when we really needed one.

The free ice cream on Family Night is the world’s tiniest cone. Who says McDonald’s isn’t concerned about childhood obesity?

That was eight months ago, and I’ve discovered more things to do around our new home.  I’ve also gotten thoroughly sick of McFood.  I don’t think I’ll ever become one of those fast food fascists who never lets their kid step foot inside the golden arches because it’s POISON — POISON!!!, but going there once a week is no longer something I proudly recommend.  Here’s my point-by-point rebuttal of my prior post:

1. My kids are always the best behaved children there.

Still true… but also a source of concern.  You know those balloon animals the magician makes?  My kids ask for giraffes and flowers.  The other kids get swords and guns.  Then they battle each other to the “death” (if only).

Worse are the McDonald’s-es with play places.  Now that my kids know those exist, it’s hard to get them to go to a location without one.  Sure, that labyrinthine plastic apparatus lets them work off the ocean of calories they just consumed, but when you put all those kids together in a confined space, just out of grown-ups’ reach, it’s bound to turn into a miniature, neon-colored Thunderdome.

Adults have no jurisdiction inside those twisty, netted structures, because they simply can’t fit inside or even see what’s going on up there.  There are always some little monsters quick to take advantage of the lack of supervision and go all Lord of the Flies on each other.  It’s a Hobbesian state of nature, every pipsqueak for himself.

My kids mostly stay above the fray in this pop warner Hunger Games… but I wonder how long that will last if we keep going there.  The day I see them with pig blood smeared under their eyes, we’re outta there.

This piece of crap kept my kid busy for 20 minutes.

2. The meal comes with its own entertainment.

My kids still love Happy Meal toys… unless they’re given two different toys and one of them gets a better one than the other… or they’re given the exact same toy but one of them still thinks the other’s is better… or they both get crap toys.  I cringe when I first peek in the bags to see what the toys will be, hoping they will meet my kids’ approval.

3. It kills time.

It’s great getting out of the house for a while… but McDonald’s is not really a fun place for a grownup to be.  If only the McAcoustics didn’t so greatly amplify the shrieking and stomping, maybe I could zone out a bit and forget that the chicken sandwich I’m eating is hastening my demise.

4. The zit-faced 16-year-old slaving over the grill for minimum wage is a better cook than me.

Hey, kid, ease up on the salt… or at least throw some beta-blockers in the Happy Meal box.  Sheesh.

5. It’s an excuse for me to eat McDonald’s.

Nothing on the McDonald’s menu appeals to me anymore.  When I wanted to be sorta healthy, I ordered a salad… which is basically just a chicken sandwich (you can even get it breaded and fried!) on a bed of iceberg lettuce instead of a bun.  Eventually I realized that I could get a halfway decent salad by taking the kids to Panera Bread instead, and they could eat grilled cheese sandwiches instead of French fries.  If one of us is going to settle for food they’re less-than-thrilled about, I’d prefer it be them and not me.

6. It’s cheap(ish).

Panera Bread is about the same.

7. It’s low maintenance food.

So is Panera Bread.

8. They eat a full meal there.

Not anymore.  The food doesn’t have nearly the appeal it used to. My son can eat a peanut butter sandwich every meal, every day and never complain.  But even for him, one serving of McNuggets a week is sufficient.

Half the time, I have to beg them to eat a second McNugget just to make sure they won’t McStarve.  Honestly, they eat more at Panera Bread.

9. The food’s not much worse than what I serve at home.

The food at Panera is better.

10. McDonald’s teaches my kids the value of moderation.

You know what teaches them the value of moderation even better?  That three out of four times we eat out, we go to Panera Bread, instead of McDonald’s.

McDonald’s has become more of a once-a-month destination, and personally, that’s made my meals a lot happier.

When I think back on that original post, I still understand what I felt at the time, I’ve just grown since then.  (Mostly, I’ve grown sick of the food.)  If you’re still in more of a once-a-week mode yourself, more power to you.  I would never judge anyone for taking their kids to McDonald’s that much.  Hey, I’ve been there.

A word of advice, though: if they open a Panera near you, check it out.  And if you have any other family-friendly dining suggestions, please let me know.  I’m gonna be SOOOOOO sick of that place in a few months.

******

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9 Unwritten Rules of the Playground

Nobody ever tells you the Rules of the Playground.  I’m not talking about “No littering” or “No loitering after dusk, teenagers!”  Not the kinds of rules you might actually find posted in a public park.

I mean the unspoken code among parents that governs everything that occurs on surfaces made of asphalt, spongeturf or wood chips.  A trip to the playground is like having a playdate with whoever shows up.  Unless everyone agrees to a few ground rules, things can quickly devolve into a shrunken simulation of the Stanford Prison Experiment.

I’ve decided to take it upon myself to write down these implied rules, as best as I understand them.  Granted, there may be a bit of wishful thinking thrown in.  Here goes:

1.  Everything you bring is communal property.

It’s not just polite to share, it’s the only practical way to do things.  I’m not going to check every toy my kid picks up to make sure it belongs to us.  I’m also not going to shout at them, “Don’t touch that dump truck until we track down its owner and ask permission!”  You brought it, you share it.  If it’s not being used, my kids and I are going to assume it’s up for grabs.  The same goes for the junk we brought.  When my kids get bored with it five seconds into our trip, it’s all yours.  Enjoy.

2.  It’s your responsibility to round up all your toys when you leave.

Yes, my kids played with your toys, but they’re your toys, so when you’re ready to leave, good luck finding them.

If you don’t like having to round up a hundred things, don’t bring a hundred things.  Kids really don’t need that much stuff anyway.  How many hands do your kids have?  Mine have two.  That’s two toys each, and maybe a ball for their feet.  If they get bored with those, then thankfully, they’re at a park so there’s a good chance they can find something else to do.

And don’t be a dick if some kid is playing with your stuff when you’re leaving.  Bend over and say, “Hey, thanks for taking such good care of our lobster sand mold.  It’s time for us to go now, so we need to pack that in our stroller.  Do you want to play with that shovel over there instead?”  When the kid turns to look, grab the lobster and make a break for it.

3.  If you bring it, label it.

You know that bucket of sand toys you got at Target for $3.99?  Yeah, we all have that exact same set, and it gets confusing.  Put your initials or your kid’s name on it so we know whose is whose.  Think of it like branding cattle.  Come up with a family logo if you want.  Have a blast.

4.  If you can’t bear to share it, leave it at home.

Some parents and kids think their toys are exempt from the communal property rule.  “But it’s Madison’s special Pocahontas doll — it’s like her daughter!”  Sure, I get it, but try explaining that to my two-year-old.  There’s nothing I hate more than when my kid throws a fit because they want to play with some other kid’s toy.  I don’t want them playing with that toy anyway.  I brought them to the park so they could run around and get some exercise.

Other than sand toys or things that can only be enjoyed at the park, I suggest you don’t bring any toys from home.  I don’t get why some parents let their kids bring their favorite Princess Jasmine or Lightning McQueen thingamajig to the park.  It’s a park.  The park is the toy.

If your kid brings her entire Disney Princess collection, then suddenly my kids don’t want to go on the slide or play hide and seek.  They want to sit on their tushies and play with a bunch of crap they could’ve played with at home.  If your kid won’t share, that just adds insult to injury.  Now I have a kid who isn’t getting any exercise and who’s screaming her head off because she can’t play with your kid’s lousy toy.  Screw you.

5.  If you can’t bear to lose it, then definitely leave it at home.

Last winter, a woman came up to me as we were leaving an indoor playground.  “We can’t find the purple car,” she said.  “The one she was playing with.”  She pointed to my daughter.  I already had the kids’ shoes on, and they were zipped up in their coats and most importantly, I’m not the idiot who brought a bunch of toys to a room full of toys.  (Toys which we were paying to play with, no less.)  I took a quick, half-assed look around for the stupid car, but honestly, I really didn’t care if she never saw it again.  I know, she and her kid were very courteous about sharing with my daughter, but like I said, if you bring it, it’s your responsibility. Take a look around.  It’ll turn up.  Or not.  Screw you.

When I go to the park, I bring a couple of plastic buckets and shovels, and maybe a playground ball.  Grand total: less than $10.  Even in this economy, I can afford to take that kind of hit.  If something breaks or someone walks off with one of our toys by mistake, I can easily replace it.  This is another reason not to bring your kid’s favorite thing.

6.  Your kids are your own responsibility, so don’t look to me for help.

Everyone has different rules for their kids.  Maybe you let your two-year-old scale the ten-foot-high rock wall.  Hey, you must have better medical insurance than me.  It’s not my business.  Just because your kid is doing something dangerous, I’m not going to step in, especially when I have two kids of my own to keep out of the emergency room.

It’s not that I don’t care about your kid’s well-being.  I’m going to make sure I don’t hit him with a swing, but it’s not my job to protect him from all booboos in my vicinity while you chat it up with your friends or play Angry Birds or whatever people do on their cell phones for hours at a stretch — seriously, what’s with you people?  If your kid is teetering off the edge of something and my kid is about to eat a bug, sorry, but my kid comes first.  I’ll save your kid’s life if I have a second left over.

By the way, it’s a public park.  You ever watch the news?  Ever heard about the things that happen to kids whose parents aren’t watching them every freaking second?  Yeah, it sucks that you never get a second to sit down and rest, but having your kid end up as an Amber Alert sucks worse.

I’m not saying you can’t ever check your email, but do it quickly.  You want to relax?  Stay home and lock your doors.  If you’re in an open area full of strangers, you’re on duty.  Look alive.

7.  Down the slide has the right-of-way.

Sure, going up the slide is fun.  It’s rebellious.  It’s a challenge.  If I see your kid going up a slide, I’m probably gonna think he’s pretty cool.  But if some other kid decides he wants to come down that slide, your kid better move his ass, fast.  In the war of up versus down, gravity wins, every time.

Oh, and those covered twisty slides are one-way only.  If your kid dares to climb up one and mine flies down like a torpedo, careening around a bend completely unexpectedly and laying your kid out on the asphalt, so be it.

8.  You are the policeman for your child.  I am the bodyguard for mine.

I’ve written about this topic before.  If your kid is being a menace, it’s time to take him or her home.  Yeah, I know, you packed a picnic and planned to stay for two hours.  Well, too bad.  If he can’t stop punching or pushing or pulling hair, he’s not welcome here anymore.  Teach him a lesson — or not, just get your lunatic away from my kid, pronto.

You don’t have to be embarrassed.  Even the best behaved kids can go nutso sometimes.  Maybe they’re tired or pumped up on sugar or trying to get somebody’s attention.  We’ve all been there.  It’s only if you ignore the situation that the rest of us will think you’re a terrible parent.

“But wait!” you say.  “My other kid is playing nicely!  It’s not fair to punish them both!”  Well, why not find another way to reward the good kid?  “We need to go home now, guys.  Everyone who doesn’t have another kid’s flesh wedged under his fingernails gets ice cream.  Sorry, Johnny!”

If you’re going to keep your psycho at the park, you’d better be all up in his business from now on.  My kid’s blood is on your hands.

Yes, per Rule #6, you don’t have to protect other people’s kids from falling off a slide or getting carried off by a predatory hawk, but you do have to protect them from your own kid.

9.  Unless somebody’s crying or bleeding, it’s not a fight.

Knowing when to step in is only half of it.  You also have to know when not to.  You’ve heard the saying about picking on someone your own size?  Well, that goes for you, too.  When you try to mediate a dispute between kids, you’re not an impartial judge, more like a lawyer for your offspring.  So whenever possible, let them work it out.

So you just saw a kid push a smaller kid out of his way and cut in front of him for the weird flying fish bobble contraption?  Your instinct tells you to jump into the fray and teach everyone right from wrong.  But hey, if the kids are cool with what went down, why rock the boat?

Kids don’t always realize when another kid is being an asshole.  If you step in and tell your kid to stand up for himself, then you’re introducing shame to the situation, or showing him that he needs Mommy or Daddy to solve his problems for him.

Besides, injustices occur on the average playground at the rate of about a ten per second.  You can’t possibly police them all, so wait until there’s a safety issue or a really serious offense, then lay the smack down.

I know, your kid pushed mine, and you’re mortified.  But if my kid’s willing to let it go, then so am I.

Go finish your Angry Birds game.

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What do you think?  Anything I missed?  Leave me a comment below, or hit me up on Twitter or Facebook to share your thoughts.

World War Pee

If you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago for a clean, dry place to sit at my house, I probably would’ve recommended one of my kids’ potty chairs.  Those were pretty much the only places that hadn’t been peed and pooped on.

Mercifully, since I last wrote about my struggle to domesticate my 3-year-olds, Drew and I have made a bit of progress.  And yes, the credit goes to us, the grownups, because we’re the only ones here who seem the least bit disturbed that, thanks to what we generously term “accidents”, our entire house has basically become one giant toilet.  My current plan is, when this is all over, we blow the place up and start over — you know, kind of like in that Little House on the Prairie TV movie, the one where they blow the town up and start over.

We really didn’t have a choice but to end our cease-fire with the kids and kick the training back into high gear.  It turns out their preschool teacher wasn’t joking about wanting her students to be underpant-ready.  We’re not even allowed to send them to school in diapers.  The teacher will clean up accidents and put the kids in clean clothes — as long as they happen in underpants.  If your kid’s in diapers, he’s on his own.

When I heard this, it sounded to me like someone else was offering to train the kids for us.  Awesome.  When Drew heard it, he thought we’d failed as parents.

The first day I picked the kids up, the teacher told me that they hadn’t had any accidents.  They both obediently sat on the tiny toilets when the teacher asked them to.  Bennett even peed.  It was hard not to feel like we were being snookered.  Why wouldn’t they do that for us?

I was almost relieved on Day 2, when Sutton had what the teacher called “a tiny accident”.  I just wanted this professional educator to feel my pain.

Like a lot of people have suggested, seeing the other kids use the bathroom really inspired them.  No one ever talks about the bright side of peer pressure.  When the subject comes up, it’s always about jumping off bridges.  Well, from now on, peer pressure, we cool.

School was helping, sure, but the kids are only there for three hours at a time, three days a week.  The rest of their lives, I’m the one cleaning up after them.  Whatever the teacher and the other kids were doing to my children, it was my job to keep it up when they were with me.

I wasn’t going to settle for a quick-fix solution, and I sure as hell wasn’t going back to that insane 3-day method from the internet.  Instead, I decided to do something even crazier: trust my instincts.

There would be no more running through the house to get a kid in mid-pee to the bathroom.  I was tired of cleaning up messes that stretched down the entire hallway.  Instead, if someone had an accident, I would instruct them to stay totally still, so their mess would collect in one giant, easy-to-clean puddle.

Is it a bit awkward for them to stand still in their own urine while Daddy then runs and gets them a pair of clean underpants?  You know what?  That’s not my problem.

I was also done with that “Don’t pressure them, they’ll go when they’re ready” nonsense.  If you haven’t peed in two hours, I’m sitting your butt on the potty until you’ve got something to flush down the toilet.  If you’re dancing around trying to hold your bladder, I’m not waiting for it to explode while you insist over and over that you don’t have to go.  I know a ticking time bomb when I see one.  Onto the potty with you!

I also decided that I was tired of staying home all the time.  Sure, I’m still nervous my kids will have accidents in public, but why should I be punished when I know perfectly well how to use a bathroom like any higher primate should?  And why should my kid be locked up for an accident that hasn’t yet occurred?  What is this?  Minority Report?

Screw it.  When we want to go out, we go out.  I don’t sit them on potties in restaurants like that nutjob we’ve all read about.  Instead, I try to take them to places where it’s OK to let a few pints of urine drip down your leg, should it come to that.  Public parks, for example, and… um, well, maybe just public parks.

I even bought some portable potties for my minivan — a blue one and a pink one, of course.  We folded down the third row of car seats and basically turned the trunk space into an outhouse.  It was a welcome safety net, although one that encouraged the kids to pee in my car.  Great, another behavior I can look forward to correcting someday.

We’re on week three of World War Pee, and while there hasn’t been an official surrender yet, the opposition forces are definitely weakening.  They rarely complain about going to the bathroom anymore.  Sometimes they’ll refuse to go, but that’s usually because they don’t actually have to go.  When they do have full bladders, they’ll sit down and get it over with, and then I’ll knock the roof off our house with my over-the-top pride squeals.

Winning.

Sadly, though, even a victory in World War Pee will only mean an end to conflict #1.  There’s still #2 to deal with.

That’s right.  Even as they get more comfortable with peeing, they still refuse to do #2 in the potty.  They’ll just hold it in for hours, until they finally explode in their underpants and all over the floor.

For now, we let them put on a diaper just on those occasions.  It’s better than cleaning up that kind of mess or letting my kids’ colons swell up like overstuffed sausages.

We’re going to wait until the peeing thing is under control before tackling the next phase.  Then, an even bigger battle looms:

World War Poo.

*******

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Oh, and those adorable cartoons are from Leslie Patricelli’s book Potty, which is the Infinite Jest of toilet training books.  Five stars.

mommydearest

A Gay Dad Wonders… Do My Kids Deserve a Mom?

I almost wrote this post a few months ago when Bristol Palin said something annoying about gay parents.  Now, it’s Rupert Everett who said something annoying about gay parents.  Forgive me, but I’m having a harder time lately getting annoyed.

It’s the same argument every time: hey, moms are great.  Kids should have one.  (Ditto for dads, but I’m covered there — my kids have two!  Whew!)

OK, you win.  Moms are great.  I agree.  I have a mom.  My mom has a mom.  Abraham Lincoln had a mom.  (Turns out she died when he was 9.  Think how much more awesome he would’ve been if she’d lived a little longer.)

So sure, if you have a mom or two, count yourself lucky.  But don’t look down on my family just because we’re different.  You think my kids are better off with some smack-talking piece of trash like Bristol Palin than with me and my partner?  Or do you want to take her kid away, too, because she’s a single mom and a worthless idiot?  Either way, you’re wrong.  (See that, Bristol?  I’ve got your back.)

A model family

It’s almost too easy to make the counter-arguments to the people who insist that all kids should have exactly one mom and one dad.  Yes, there are those studies that say that kids raised with gay parents aren’t any more likely to knock over a liquor store someday than any other kids.  But all that science overlooks an even bigger argument — namely, what if your mom’s an asshole?

Ever heard of alcoholics?  Child abusers?  Dina Lohan?  Ever seen a little film called Mommy Dearest?  Trust me, plenty of gays have seen it, so it’s no wonder we think we can do the job better.

Come to think of it, I should take it easier on Bristol.  Her mom kind of sucks, too.

Lots of mothers are just plain horrible, and if you’re stuck with one of those train wrecks, you have my sympathies — and an open invitation to come hang out at our place sometime.  You’ll love it.  We don’t have any female role models, but we do have all three major video game consoles and a trampoline.  Sweet, huh?

Again, I’m not trying to badmouth moms, most of whom are loving, nurturing, patient, incredibly generous people.  I just think the anti-gay parents brigade are missing the point.  Since when do we expect every single family to fit some ideal of How Children Must Be Raised, and why is that ideal so often limited to gender roles?

Couldn’t you say kids are better off in smaller families, where they can get more attention from their one mom and one dad?  That they’re better off in affluence than in poverty?  With access to health care than without?  With a good education than in an underfunded public school?  With jetpacks and laser guns and a computer chip implanted in their head that helps them do long division?

You can’t just hold up some hypothetical ideal and tell everyone who can’t provide it that they shouldn’t be having kids at all.  Who would be left?  And what if someone in one of those ideal families dies or gets laid off or moves to Cancun with their secretary?  Families face all kinds of circumstances, positive and negative, and they persevere because they don’t have a choice.  That’s why we need families in the first place — to get through all the garbage life flings at us.

Besides, just having one mom and one dad is no guarantee that all the gender-related territory is covered.  Even with straight couples, some dads are girly and some moms are manly.  Just because a kid has a mom and a dad, it doesn’t mean he’s baking cookies with her and driving monster trucks with him.  It could be the reverse, or neither.  Tell me, Prince Charming from Shrek, how much micromanaging of familial gender roles is necessary to protect children?

Deep down, those of us in the trenches know the truth: families aren’t made by a mold.  They’re made by people who love each other, and they come in all different forms, some of which seem weird to outsiders.  Ours has no mom.  Maybe yours lives in a Winnebago or has a reality show on E!  Nobody’s perfect.  But even though we can’t all give our kids everything we’d like them to have, we do our best.

Before we had kids, my partner and I thought a lot about what they would be missing out on with no mommy.  I was satisfied we could still provide them a good home, but I realized I could never satisfy the people who don’t think two dads should be raising a family.  You think my kids deserve a mom?  Fine, maybe you’re right, but they’re not getting one.  I’m just not capable of loving a woman the way I love my partner, so if we’re going to do this, it’s him and me.

And like it or not, we’re doing it.  We have twin 3-year-olds who rely on their two dads to feed them, tickle them, wipe their butts and protect them from monsters — plus a few million other things we do because we love them to an unfathomable, sometimes ridiculous degree.

I know a hypothetical mom might add certain wonderful things to their lives.  I think about that constantly, because like all good parents, I want my kids to have it all.  I worry what’s going to happen when my daughter hits puberty and my partner and I have to Google menstruation to talk her though it.  It breaks my heart when I pick them up from school and overhear the teacher telling the class, “OK, let’s see if your mommies are here to get you!”  At three years old, they already know our family is different.  Someday, they’re bound to hear the hurtful things that Bristol Palin and Rupert Everett and so many other people say about us, and that bums me out big time.

But that’s the world my partner and I chose to bring kids into, and ours is the family we knew they would have.  And you know what?  I still think we made the right choice.  Our family may be a bit different than most, but our kids know that they’re loved and that their two daddies will always be there for them, possibly with a female friend along if we’re buying a training bra or something.

The good news is that, other than the rantings of a few homophobic celebrities (including at least one self-loathing gay man), gay families are getting some pretty good PR these days.  We have sitcoms like The New Normal and Modern Family that make us look (mostly) good, celebrity ambassadors like Ricky Martin, Elton John and Neil Patrick Harris, even the support of the President.  It’s not always going to be such smooth sailing, though.

Someday, maybe even soon, there’ll be a major news story about some horrible gay parents who kept their kids locked in a subterranean torture prison or made them work at an iPad factory or something horrific like that.  You know it’ll happen, because every sexual orientation, not to mention every gender, race, religion, ethnicity, disability status, blood type, Edward-or-Jacob affiliation and grouping of any kind has its share of douchebags.  And when the media circus springs up around Doug and Bob and the half dozen foster kids they used as drug mules, the Bristol Palins and Rupert Everetts will point at them and say, “See?  See???”  Kind of like what global warming deniers might say on a cool day in August.

You know what?  Doug and Bob are jerks.  But if you think that says anything about me and my partner, then so are you.

So I don’t have time to be outraged every time someone in the public eye says something negative about gay families.  It’s going to happen again… and again, and again.  Ultimately, though, it’s not what a few people say but what the rest of us do just by living our lives that speaks the loudest.

*******

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The First Day of School: Two Differing Accounts

According to Sutton:

  • There were 2 kids in their class.  No… 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18-19-20.  20 kids.  No, 2 kids.
  • They sang “You Are the Music in Me” from High School Musical 2.
  • They read a book about a hedgehog, but “the bee didn’t like him.  The bee thought the hedgehog story was too silly, so he left the room talking about wonderful things.”
  • The teacher told her to sit down.  She got in big, big trouble.
  • She played with the kitchen.  She made some chips, and she gave them to everyone.
  • They went on the playground and she climbed up a tree, but a little boy said, “No, you can’t climb up a tree, because it’s too dangerous!”  That was not nice.
  • They had a dinner of pretzels and apple juice.  It was yummy.
  • There were kids named Charlotte, Sienna and Quensin.  “You mean Quentin?”  “No.  Quensin.”

According to Bennett:

  • There were 5 kids in their class.
  • They did not sing “You Are the Music in Me” from High School Musical 2.
  • They read a book about a raccoon who kissed a mother on the mouth.  It was called The Wubby Book.  The little kids didn’t like that book.  They cried.  [The part with the bee happened the way Sutton described it.]
  • He played with “the food kitchen”.  He played with some chips.
  • They went on the playground and played on the slide.  Only one slide.
  • They had a snack of pretzels and drinks.
  • There were kids named Peepee and Poopoo.

(Psst! Thanks, Google!)

I Know Nothing About… Potty Training

Sure, but not always where you want them to.

Nothing shocked me more about parenthood than how fast I became desensitized to my children’s feces.  Having twins meant dealing with poop about a squijillion times a day.  It wasn’t long before I could wipe their butts as cheerily as I could mix their formula or play peek-a-boo.  We’d be out at a restaurant when I’d smell one of their tiny dumps, and I’d just shrug it off.  I’ll change them when I get home, I figured, and then, while the scent crept in and out of my nostrils, I’d merrily shove another fistful of waffle fries through my yammer.

One day I found a not insignificant smear of poop on my shirt, hours after the last time I’d changed the kids.  We’d just come back from a long walk.  Oh well.  No biggie.  People probably thought it was chocolate.

I’m not saying I’m proud of any of this.  In fact, Pre-Parenthood Me would be rightly horrified by who I’ve become.  I always figured I’d potty train the kids as soon as they could crawl.  “There’s the bathroom, Buster.  It’s your problem now!”

Turns out, that’s not too realistic.

We bought the kids their first potty when they were 18 months old.  “That’s where you’re going to pee and poo!” we’d say, and we’d all scream our heads off from excitement.  “Hooray!!!”

“Where are you going to pee and poo?” we’d ask.

“The potty!!!” they’d cheer.

“Do you want to go there now?”

“No.”

It was an Elmo potty, and after you used it, you could high-five Elmo and he’d say something like, “Way to go, dude!”  But you didn’t have to sit on the potty to get Elmo to talk.  He’d congratulate you either way.  For months, Elmo told my kids what an awesome job they were doing, when their bare butts had never once touched his pristine rim.

Not that I blame them for not using an Elmo potty.  We were asking them to do some pretty gross things to their hero.  Does Tom Cruise shit on the image of L. Ron Hubbard?  Well, who knows actually.  Scientologists are freaking nuts.

By the time my kids were two and a half, the Elmo potty was just another forgotten toy, something to step over on the way toward unrolling a full spool of toilet paper when Daddy wasn’t looking.  Nobody high-fived him anymore.  Nobody even thought about peeing or pooping on him.  We decided to reboot the entire potty training process.

For Round 2, they each got their own potty — a pink one for Sutton, a blue one for Bennett.  We put their names on them, because they could recognize their names now.  I gave them a bunch of stickers and let them each decorate their potty however they wanted.  It was a fun five-minute activity at a time when the kids needed something new to do every five minutes.

The excitement about the potties was back.

“What are you going to do in the potty?”

“Pee and poo!!!”

“Yay!!!”

“Yay!!!”

“Do you want to pee and poo there now?”

“No.”

We decided to ramp up the incentives a bit.  We got sticker charts with Dora the Explorer on them.  Each chart had rows for five different activities — pulling down your own pants, sitting on the potty, peeing on the potty, flushing the pee down the toilet and washing your hands.  Poop, I guess, earned double stickers.  The point was moot.  The kids would check off the first two categories and be happy enough with those two stickers that they didn’t need the rest.

So we found a Big Prize.  We bought wall decals to put in their room — Dora for Sutton, Thomas the Train for Bennett.  They could have them as soon as they filled up the chart with stickers.

“Can I have the decals now?”

“No, you have to be able to go on the potty first.  Do you want to try now?”

“No.”  They shrugged and walked away.

“But don’t you want the wall decals?  Hello?  Hello?”

We added more incentive.  M&Ms!  (I know, using food as a bribe sends the wrong message, but hey, I was desperate.)

Finally, we had our first triumphs.  Any time I reminded Bennett about the M&Ms and dragged him to the toilet, he would sit there for a minute and squeeze out what he could.  “I’m done!” he’d say proudly.

Drew and I would act like we’d just landed a Mars rover.  “OH MY GOD!  YOU DID IT!  I’M SO PROUD OF YOU!  YOU’RE SUCH A BIG BOY!  WOW WOW WOW!”

“Now can I have my M&Ms?” he’d ask.

Sutton wouldn’t even make an attempt.  If there was an incentive big enough to get her to go on the potty, we never found it.  And we tried.

“They’ll go when they’re ready,” people would assure us, so we didn’t pressure them too much.

“My kid came to me one day and told me she wanted to use the potty,” friends would say.  “Then we never looked back.”

“How old was she?”

“Um… a little over 2.”

By then, my kids had turned 3.  “Don’t worry,” people said.  “No one accepts their high school diploma wearing a diaper.”

I don’t know why my kids have been so resistant.  Maybe it’s harder to train them because they’re twins.  Maybe my kids are exceptionally stubborn.  Maybe I’m just bad at this.  I’m guessing it’s some combination of all three.

They start preschool this week, and they’re supposed to be trained when they get there.  So two weeks ago, I decided to go hard-core.  I’m a professional parent, I decided.  This is my job, and I take pride in it.  There’s no excuse for me not to get this done.

I found a website that promised to potty train kids in 3 days.  I was hoping it was a camp I could send them away to, but unfortunately, it was just an ebook written by some woman who claimed to be an expert on the subject.  I paypalled her $25 and downloaded her PDF.

I’m going to save you $25, because here’s her method in a nutshell:

  • Throw out your diapers, and put your kid immediately in underpants.
  • Stay home.
  • Pump the kids full of juice.
  • Remind the kids every five seconds that they should go to the potty when they have to pee or poop.
  • Catch them just as they’re having their accidents and run them into the bathroom.
  • Give lots of encouragement and praise.
  • Repeat until the kid starts going to the bathroom on his or her own.

By the end of the third day, she promised, all kids “get it”.

I followed her instructions.  I’d see my kids dancing around, trying to hold their bladders, and I’d remind them to go to the potty when they needed to.

“I don’t have to,” they’d assure me.

Two minutes later, they’d burst.  “Uh-oh,” they’d say.  “Daddy, I peed.”

“IT’S GO TIME!!!” I’d shout.  “LET’S HURRY!  WE CAN MAKE IT TO THE POTTY!  THIS IS AWESOME!”

I’d pick the kid up and now, instead of being concentrated in one puddle, their pee would leave a trail all the way through our house.

“That’s OK,” I’d say when we finally reached the bathroom and it was all done.  “Next time we just need to get there sooner.”  Then, I’d get down on my knees with a roll of paper towels and a bottle of Windex and spend 10 minutes cleaning while they went back to playing with their toys.  Inevitably, around minute 5, the other kid would have an accident, and now, I’d have to run them through the house, splashing through all the pee puddles from the last kid while making a second trail that I’d soon have to clean up.

This was not fun for any of us.

The kids would scream and cry whenever I picked them up.  They would refuse to sit on the potty, even if they were still peeing when we got to the bathroom.  They never “got it”.

Sutton actually liked getting wet, not because she enjoyed the feeling, but because it meant she got to change into another one of her outfits.  If she had enough accidents, she could go through her entire wardrobe in one day.  Potty training made my little girl into Cher.

Still, the process was taking its toll.  The first night of potty training, Sutton woke up screaming and saying there were monsters in her room.  She’d never seen monsters before, never even had a nightmare.

We spent three days stuck inside, the kids constantly panicking that their bladders would fill up and spawn another sprint to the potty, me going through roll after roll of extra-strength Bounty.

I tried to remember another time when my kids were this miserable.  Then, it came to me: physical therapy.

Since they rolled over at three days old, Bennett and Sutton have been late on every physical milestone — sitting up, holding their own utensils, you name it.  When they weren’t crawling at almost a year old, our doctor sent us to physical therapy.

For an hour every week, I watched my happy little kids scream and wail at the positions the therapist would force them into.  They were miserable, and I swear they were pleading with me with their eyes, as if to say, “Why are you letting her do this, Daddy?”

The therapist taught me the exercises, so I could repeat them at home, every day.  I never did.  I didn’t care if they weren’t crawling.  They certainly didn’t care.  It was actually cuter to watch them roll around everywhere they wanted to go.  To change course, they’d roll up to a wall, use their feet to pivot them in a different direction, then push off where they wanted to go.  It was kind of genius, and they giggled merrily the whole time they did it.

It came down to a simple decision for me… what’s more important: do I want my kids to crawl, or do I want them to be happy?

We stopped going to physical therapy.

Eventually, they crawled without some scary lady posing them like Gumbys every week.  They even started walking… around 6 months later than other kids.  But they were happy, ridiculously so.  And so was I.

So on day 4 of our 3-day potty training course, I put diapers back on my kids and took them to an indoor playground.  They jumped on the trampoline, rode the mini cars, hung from the zip line, built giant block towers and laughed their silly little heads off.

It was fantastic.

Tomorrow, they’ll start preschool… in diapers.  I know I’ll probably get in trouble for not having them trained, but if the teacher gets snippy about it, I’m ready to defend myself.

And if they turn out to be the first kids ever who are still in diapers when they graduate high school, so be it.  They’re getting old enough that soon, they’ll be able to change themselves.  At that point, my job will be done.

“There’s where we keep the Pampers, Buster,” I’ll say.  “It’s your problem now!”

10 Things I’ve Said Over and Over While Potty Training…

… and the approximate number of times I’ve said them in the last 3 days (in descending order).

“You’re such big kids.  You can do this!” (1,400 times)

“Remember, tell me if you have to pee or poop, and we’ll run to the bathroom, OK?” (850 times)

“What are you going to say if you have to pee?  ‘Daddy, let’s go!’  Yeah!” (700 times)

“Every time you pee or poop in the potty, you get a balloon!” (550 times)

“I’m proud of you, just for trying!” (490 times)

“Let’s check underpants!  Still dry?  Yeah, I’m so proud!” (320 times)

“Who wants more juice?” (300 times)

“Guys, please stop walking in the pee!” (250 times)

“It’s OK.  Everyone has accidents.  I’ll be right back with the Windex and the paper towels.” (32 times)

“Yes, you get a balloon!  Hooray!” (2 times)