So You Want to Be My Babysitter… 5 Interview Tips You Should Know Without Me Telling You

You are SO not hired!

Hello!  Thank you for your interest in babysitting my kids.  It’s a fun job – and educational, too.  If you come work for us, you’ll learn the names of all the Thomas trains and how to distinguish them by their creepy mushed-up faces.  You’ll get to know the lyrics of every One Direction deep album cut, especially “Tell Me a Lie” and “I Wish”, which are my son’s and daughter’s “jams”, respectively.  Most of all, you’ll learn the one and only proper way to make a peanut butter sandwich to avoid making a little boy cry.

The job has its perks, too.  Once you’re on our payroll, your kisses are granted the power to heal minor injuries, you’re free to lounge in one of our two backyard (plastic princess) pools, and you can help yourself to all the Penguins of Madagascar fruit snacks you want.  (We’re trying to get rid of those.  They’re “too sticky”.)

I’ve interviewed a lot of people for this position, so before we go any further, allow me to offer you a few tips – just suggestions, really – to help you avoid some of the common pitfalls of our applicants and help you get on my good side.

1.  Show up on time.

What I’m looking for most in a babysitter is reliability, so if we schedule our interview for 4pm, try to arrive by, oh, say 3:59:59 at the latest.  Maybe you’re used to your econ class starting a few minutes past the hour or going to movies that have 15 minutes of previews before Kristen Stewart shows up on screen.  Here in the world of legitimate employment, we start on time, and if you’re not here when you said you would be, you’re likely to see my minivan backing out of the driveway and peeling off on its way to a playdate.

In that case, don’t bother rescheduling.

2.  Don’t look like a slut in your Care.com headshot.

I know your Facebook friends love that picture of you with a beer in one hand, your back arched to accentuate your barely-covered boobs, with that “I’m a naughty girl” expression on your face.  I have no doubt it’s gotten you tons of responses in the Craigslist personals, but you’re going for a different audience here, and they may not appreciate you mimicking the Lolita one-sheet… or the way their husband shouts out, “Whoa!  Hire her!” when he sees your picture.  We gay dads are unlikely to be impressed either.

When I see anything resembling a “Girls Gone Wild” audition still, I picture my daughter in a few years, and I start to weep.  If you insist on the trashy headshot, please include your parents’ phone number in your ad, because I’m going to want to give them a call and express my sympathies.

Surely there’s a photo somewhere of you playing minigolf with your special needs cousin.  Use that instead.

3.  Show the most conservative side of yourself.

I’m aware that I’m from a different generation than most of the young women who apply for babysitting jobs.  They have more liberal attitudes about what body parts they’ll pierce or what colors they might dye their hair.

I would never suggest anyone not be themselves, because I respect your individuality, and besides, I’m going to discover your freaky side eventually anyway.  Still, if you’re the lead singer of a death metal band, maybe you could tone it down a bit for our first meeting.  You must have something other than skull earrings.  Wear those.  Go with a tasteful tongue stud rather than that spike-tipped rod that I have to duck to avoid every time you open your mouth.  Swap the black lipstick out for a pale gray.

I gave big bonus points to the young woman who, during her interview, pointed out and explained each of her visible tattoos.  I would never disqualify someone for their body art — well, maybe Amy Winehouse wouldn’t have made the cut — but the fact that this applicant raised the topic showed a) self-confidence and b) a sensitivity to the squareness of parents like me.

4.  Know your kiddie lit.

This is our Great Gatsby.

I’m going to let you in on a secret.  I have a “gotcha” question.  It’s really tricky, too.  Ready?  Here it is…

“What are your favorite children’s books?”

Gets ’em every time.  First, I’ll ask my interviewee what she likes doing with kids, just to see if “reading” makes the list.  It should.

If not, I’ll ask directly, “Do you like reading to kids?”

“Oh, yes.  I love it.  On my last job, I used to read to the kids all the time.  It was our favorite thing to do.”

“Really?  What were some of the books you read?”

Shrug.  “Nothing in particular.”

I’m stunned how often that question leaves babysitter applicants speechless.

Seriously, is it so hard just to say Dr. Seuss?  The Very Hungry CaterpillarGo Dog Go?  Even people who hate kids can name a couple of children’s books.  I’d trust someone who loathes Dr. Seuss more than someone who can’t quite remember his name.

Originally, I intended to screen out anyone who didn’t know Mo Willems, author of the Pigeon and Elephant & Piggie books.  He was my favorite children’s author before I even had kids, when I used to buy books for my nieces and my friends’ kids.  Yes, I had a favorite children’s author… is that too much to ask of a childcare provider?

I have yet to interview a babysitter candidate who’s even heard of Mo Willems.

What’s up?  Are the other kids you sit for just that lame?  Have you never been to the children’s section of Barnes & Noble?

Now I look at it differently.  You may not know Mo Willems – or Sandra Boynton, Bob Shea or any of our other favorites, but if I hire you, you’ll learn.  We’ll enrich your life with fine literature like Happy Hippo, Angry Duck and Time to Pee.  When your next potential employer asks about your favorite children’s books, you’ll hesitate to answer because you have too many to choose from.

Still, when you first meet me, at least try to prove you’re literate.

5.  Don’t completely ignore my children. 

You may have noticed a couple of other people sitting in on our interview.  They’re small and active, and they didn’t have a lot of questions for you, but you know what?  They were kind of important to the process.  The fact that you didn’t say hello to them when you came in, goodbye when you left or pretty much anything else in between, reflected a bit badly on your children-handling skills.

This is one interview where it might actually have been good to walk away from the boss and brush a Rapunzel doll’s hair for a few minutes.  Once you show up on time, you can drop the professional demeanor.  Silliness is a plus.

See, my kids may not be the ones who’ll pay you or drive you home, but they get a vote, too.  If, after you leave, my daughter confesses, “She was scary”, you’re probably not going to get the job.

So there you have it.  Five easy steps to winning that job babysitting for my kids.  Good luck!  Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to tell me how cute they are.

It’s a Mommy’s World – Exposing Dadscrimination

Nice try, New Yorker cover.  Hey, can you tell me where to find that park where there are so many cool dads that moms feel left out, because I have a feeling you need to live in a cartoon in order to get there.  I’ve been doing the stay-home dad thing for going on three years now, and I still feel like Marisa Tomei at Hillman College, if you know what I mean.

According to the 2010 census, there are 154,000 stay-home dads in the U.S.

154,000?  That’s not even a lot of people in Delaware.  Isn’t that exactly the number of Wayans brothers?  We couldn’t take over Lichtenstein with those numbers.  You really think we’re taking over parks?

Look, I’m not one to cry “oppression”.  I’m a middle-class white male, after all.  My kind have had it pretty good for the last few millennia or so.  Yes, I’m also gay, but let’s put that aside for a minute.  Other than that, I’m fairly demographically charmed.

Still, I’m in a minority group because of what I do for a living, and as a result I face a particular kind of prejudice on a daily basis.

That’s right.  I’m talking about “Dadscrimination”.  There may be more of us than there used to be, but in a lot of ways, the world still doesn’t get us.  We’re second-class parents, a joke or an afterthought.  Yo, it’s hard out here for a Daddy.

From the serious to the semantic, here are just a few of the ways dads get the shaft:

The Mommification of Everything Parent-Related

You never see “Men at Work” signs anymore.  It’s always “Crew Working In Trees”.  We don’t call them “Policemen” or “Mailmen”, they’re “Officers” and “Postal workers.”  But when it comes to parenting, everything’s “Mommy”.  “Mommy movies”, “Mommy & Me” classes, “Mommy wars”, “Mommy Zumba”.  It’s as if the M-word is synonymous with “parent”.  No matter what barriers we break down in terms of gender inequality, inclusiveness goes out the window once you have kids.

I’ll admit I’ve never been to a Mommy movie, mostly because neither my kids nor I are interested in a film whose title is preceded by the words “Katherine Heigl in…”.

I did take a Mommy & Me class when my kids were young, although I think the kids and I all snuck in through the “Me” loophole.  Some parenting groups won’t even allow men.  I get it.  Ladies want to talk about breastfeeding (and do it) in privacy.  But until there are enough stay-home dads to sustain a decent-sized get-together, we don’t have a lot of places to turn for information.  I’m going to vouch for straight dads, too.  They’re not trying to look at your boobs.  We’re all just doing it for our kids, so please let us crash your party.

The Boob Tube.

My only role model

If you’ve ever turned on TV between when school starts and the work day ends, you know it’s slim pickins for anyone with a moderate amount of testosterone in their system.  Good thing we have Tivo, On Demand and Netflix Instant or we’d be stuck with nothing but endless infotainment featuring doctors, judges and chattering coffee-sippers sitting on stools.  You know what I’m talking about .  The “The” shows.  “The View”, “The Talk”, “The Chew.”  Yes, there’s really a show called “The Chew”, and if I didn’t love my kids so much, that alone would be reason enough to go back to work and throw them in day care.

And what about choosy dads? I’m all ears, Madison Avenue!

Of course, no one is blinder to the existence of stay-home dads than advertisers.  Check the commercial breaks during those aforementioned shows, and you’ll see what I mean.  Look, I buy the Lemon Pledge in my family.  Would it kill you to show a dude dusting his fine wooden surfaces now and then?

The Great Potty Disparity.

Nowhere is the disparity between dads and moms more obvious or extreme than in public restrooms.  I’ve already written about one bad experience I had at a children’s play center, but it’s an ongoing concern.  Too many businesses only put changing tables in the women’s bathrooms, which is not just dadscrimination but sexist, too.  Who says wiping poopy tushies is just a woman’s job?  If dads aren’t changing their kids, they should be.

Photo courtesy of JustBathroomSigns.com

There’ve been times I’ve had to wait outside a women’s bathroom until the coast was clear so I could go in and change a diaper.  Other times, I’ve had to lay my kid down on a scummy men’s room floor in the shadow of a urinal or take them back to my car just to get the job done.

Nothing makes me happier than seeing a Family Bathroom, because I know it’s well-equipped and Dad-friendly.  I know a lot of small businesses don’t have the funds or the square footage to add a third bathroom, let alone one with curtain-shielded rocking chairs for discreet feeding.  But at any public establishment that welcomes families, Koala Kares in the men’s room are a must, or personally, I’m going to find somewhere else to pump my kids full of chicken fingers.

Perv stares at the park.

I don’t hover over my kids at the park, but I’m always watching them closely from afar, for two very important reasons: 1, so they don’t get seriously hurt and 2, so they’re not snatched up by a perv.

We all know public recreation areas are pedophile smorgasbords, but here’s the irony: While I’m standing there by myself, eyes narrowly focused on a child who’s frolicking far off, then turning occasionally in a different direction to eyeball my other kid, what do I look like?  That’s right…

A LOUSY, STINKING PERV.

Ask any dad, and he’ll tell you: In a Mommy’s world, you are assumed creepy until proven otherwise.

Stay-home dads often fit the perv profile — middle-aged guys who look tired and unshaven, wearing yesterday’s Spaghetti-O-stained t-shirt and seeming as if they didn’t have time to take a shower that morning.  We spend a lot of time at playgrounds and toy stores.  And if you catch us in a moment when our kids aren’t eagerly tugging at our pant legs and begging us for some Dora the Explorer fruit snacks, we might look like we’re just there to case the joint.

In researching this piece, I came across this post from Daddy Dialectic, who faced the ultimate indignity.  Someone actually asked him to leave a park because she assumed he was a predator.  He did a survey and found out it was more common than he thought.  Having read that, I consider myself lucky that that’s never happened to me.

When I get a perv stare, I’m always quick to establish contact with my kids, just to prove my credibility.  Of course, that only works when your kids back you up.  One time, while my daughter was throwing a tantrum at Target, she yelled out, “Where’s my Mommy?”  That’s the only time that’s ever happened, but if the wrong person had been listening, I could’ve ended up in a one-on-one with store security.  Thanks, kid.

Mommy cliquishness.

I thought my days of feeling hopelessly uncool ended with high school, but that was before I tried striking up conversations with stay-home moms.  Anywhere moms gather, dads are outcasts.

At least this is one area where gay dads have an edge.  Once I out myself, moms tend to get friendlier.  Maybe their real fear is that I’ll be some suave male homewrecker like Patrick Wilson in Little Children.

I suspect it’s something deeper and darker.  Most women just don’t respect men who stay home with their kids.  They see other women raising kids and think, sure, she’s a traditionalist or a post-modern feminist proving she doesn’t need a career to be a strong woman.  Go, sister!

When they see a man raising kids, they think he’s lazy.  They can’t help imagining his poor wife busting her ass trying to make partner while he stays home wearing flip-flops and eating Fritos on the couch.

The presumption of cluelessness. 

When Drew and I were exploring our parenting options, we saw a counselor to help us sort things out.  She was smart, supportive and extremely helpful.  She quickly became one of my favorite people I’ve ever met.

Then, after the kids were born, I lamented how hard it was sometimes to soothe them when they were crying.  Our counselor just shrugged and said, “Well, you’re a dude.”

I was stunned, but I’ve since realized that’s how a lot of people think.  “That poor guy, alone with his kids.  He must be in over his head.”

Thanks, I’m doing fine, and you can spare me your advice, strangers.  I prefer to screw my kids up my way, not yours.

OK, fair enough.  Moms get unsolicited advice, too, and they hate it just as much.  Maybe this is one area where dads are catching up to moms faster than we’d like.

I know dadscrimination isn’t the worst form of bias.  Nobody’s making us sit in the back of any buses or denying us the right to vote.  I won’t be leading any marches on Washington or trying to become daddyhood’s Malcolm X.  Mostly, I just wanted a chance to vent.

Aren’t dads allowed to complain once in a while, too?

OK, gotta go.  My kids are waking up.

The Littlest Bullies: How (And When) To Discipline Other People’s Children

One day at the park, a little boy pulled my daughter’s hair – hard.  When she started crying, he laughed.  His nanny told him to apologize, but he refused.  She threatened to take him home, but then didn’t.  A few minutes later, he pulled my daughter’s hair again, so hard that I had to bend over him and pry his hands off her head.

That time, I didn’t wait for his nanny to reprimand him.  I got down on his level and told him sternly, “Do not pull her hair!  Do you understand?  It’s unacceptable.”  The nanny muttered half-heartedly, “He’s never done this before,” but I ignored her.  She was a lost cause.  I moved my kids away from that boy… and I kept my eye on him.

He found another kid – a crawling 10-month-old – and pulled his hair so hard he screamed.  Then he did it to another kid.  And another.  It happened at least five times that I witnessed personally over the next 20 minutes.  He never apologized and he never got punished.

The other day in my kids’ art class, a little boy shoved my son so hard he fell down.  It was unprovoked and intentional, and he did it with a smile on his face.  His mother ignored it.  A minute later, he pushed Sutton just as hard.  His mom looked the other way, so I got down in his face and said, “No pushing!”

After that, he left my kids alone, but he kept pushing the other children.  He eventually became fixated on one little girl.  He pushed her over and over, knocked her down so many times that I lost count, but it was at least 10.  His mom meekly muttered, “Don’t push” a couple of times and told the teacher something annoyingly familiar: “He’s never done this before.”

What else did these two situations have in common?  The caretakers did nothing.

I’m not talking about the bad kids’ caretakers.  Of course they weren’t doing anything.  That’s why their kids were monsters.  But the victim’s parents didn’t do anything either.  They never addressed the offending kids or their guardians, even as their own kids were getting the crap beaten out of them.

I want to say something to those parents:

Sometimes, you have to lay some smack down with other people’s kids.

I know disciplining your own kids is hard enough, but this is different.  You’re not trying to teach the bad kid how to behave.  That’ll never work, because his parents clearly won’t follow through.  When you discipline someone else’s bad kid, you’re doing it for your own kids – to protect them and to make sure they know that you can’t get away with that kind of behavior.  They should see that the standards you hold them to apply to other kids, even if those kids’ parents don’t always enforce them.

Why do parents sit idly by while their kids get harassed?  I think most of us are just too nice and conflict-averse to question anyone else’s disciplinary practices (or lack thereof).  Well, I’m conflict-averse, too, but if your kid pushes my kid, he’s the one who initiated the conflict.  I’m just stepping in to make sure it’s resolved to my satisfaction.

If there’s one thing parenthood has taught me, it’s that I can be a lot braver on my kids’ behalf than I would ever be on my own.

Yes, this begs the question: Don’t I feel like a bully for intimidating someone 1/3 my size?

You bet, and it’s awesome.  I can see why these kids enjoy it so much, and it’s high time they had a taste of their own medicine.

As I’ve said before on this blog, I’m not an authority on anything, just an overly opinionated man who feels extremely lucky to be a parent and who’s taking full advantage of the meager power this role provides him.  In other words, feel free to ignore my advice.  But if you’re ever in a situation where some out-of-control hellion is tormenting your child, here’s how I would handle it:

Strike One.  You just saw some kid attack your child – or maybe your kid came to you crying and saying something happened, but you’re not 100% sure what really went down.  OK, fine.  Comfort your kid and tell him that the offending behavior is wrong.  Leave it at that.  Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, because everyone’s kids misbehave sometimes.  But from that moment on, watch the other kid closely.

Strike Two.  Now you know exactly what happened, because you had your eye on the bad kid, and you saw him do it.  Now, your focus shifts to his caregiver.  Make sure she or he knows what’s going on without confronting them directly.  Again, give them the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe they didn’t see it happen and they just need your cue to step in and discipline the kid.

Here’s what you do: comfort your kid again, but do it louder.  First, validate your own kid: “Yes, he pushed you.  I saw it.  That was not acceptable.”  Make sure the bad kid and his guardian hear you.  Give the guardian a chance discipline her kid, and if she’s any kind of parent, she’ll be embarrassed and she’ll apologize profusely.

Now you’re watching the kid and the guardian very closely.

Strike Three.  By now, either the guardian has reprimanded the kid appropriately or he hasn’t.  But the kid did it again.  This is where you address the kid directly.  Act as if he were your child.  Be firm, but don’t shout.  “Don’t hit!  Do you understand?  Say you’re sorry.”  The kid will probably be shocked, because no one’s ever talked to him that way before.  You may even make him cry.  (Good!  That’s a sign that he never hears “no”, and you got to be the one to introduce him.  Bravo.)

At this point, don’t make any excuses for the other parent.  Maybe they weren’t paying attention and missed the behavior yet again.  Well, too bad.  They know there’s an issue, so they should be watching their kid closely.  If they’re not, you have every right to handle the situation yourself.

Strike Four.  Tell the other parent to leave.  Their kid is out of control and needs to be removed from the situation.  If you’re at a place of business like an indoor playroom, speak to the manager.

If the other parent refuses to leave and the manager does nothing, then you leave.  Tell your children clearly, “I’m sorry we have to go.  You haven’t done anything wrong, but that other kid is out of control, and I don’t want you around him.”  Don’t wait for a strike five.

I know in baseball, you only get three strikes, but what can I say?  I’m nice.

Does that sound harsh?  It shouldn’t, because here’s how I think you should handle it if your kid is the aggressor:

Strike One.  Let’s say that you didn’t witness the action first-hand, but your kid is standing over some other kid who’s crying and all evidence suggests your kid just did something bad.  Ask your kid what happened, and whether they confess or not, remind them, without directly accusing them, “It’s not OK to hit or push.”  Then, keep your eye on your kid.

Strike Two.  Now you know what your kid is up to, because you were watching your kid closely.  It’s your job to take control of the situation.  Pull your kid away.  Tell him you saw what he did, and it was wrong.  Make him apologize to the other kid.  Then, apologize to the other parent yourself.  Don’t make excuses, don’t assure them that your kid never does that sort of thing.  Everybody’s kid does bad things sometimes.  Your actions at this point will do a lot more to vouch for your parenting than your excuses.

Strike Three.  Repeat step two, but more firmly.  Remove your kid from the area for a serious talk.  If he seems contrite, let him know he only has one more chance.  If he can’t behave himself, you’re going to leave.  (If your kid is uncooperative, don’t even give him another chance.  Just leave.  You know when your kid is out of control, so react appropriately.)

Strike Four.  Leave.  Make sure you apologize to the other parent(s) on the way out.  Let your child know that he’s behaving inappropriately and that’s why you have to go.

Maybe I’m being overly lenient letting my kid get to four strikes, but sometimes with twins, that’s only fair.  I don’t want to make both of my kids leave if only one of them is misbehaving, so I’m going to do all I can to make the situation right before I punish both kids for the actions of one.

Then again, I’ve never actually gotten past strike two with my kids.  As I said, I’m no expert, but I assume that means I’m doing something right.

One final note: don’t be scared of the other parents.  Chances are, if they’re afraid of their own kid, they’ll be even more afraid of you.  I’m a short, scrawny little weasel.  99% of the other parents out there could take me down in a heartbeat.  But no one’s ever roughed me up for talking smack to their kid.  On the few situations when I’ve actually done it, the other parents have been totally speechless.

And witnessing that is the best part of all.

What do you think?  Do you have a better way of dealing with situations like this?  Let me know in the comments.

One Dad Makes the Case for One Direction

When it comes to bragging about your kids, here’s one you don’t hear very often:

My toddlers appreciate boybands at a 13-year-old girl’s level.

Not to be immodest, but with my 2 1/2 year old twins, that would be an understatement.  They squeal with delight when a One Direction song comes on.  We watch the videos for “What Makes You Beautiful”, “One Thing” and “One Thing (Acoustic)” before they go to bed at night.  They beg to hear the album whenever we’re in the car.  They even specifically request “the sad song” with an appropriate degree of tweenage sullenness.

And I, for one, couldn’t be prouder.

My kids clap along to 1D's SNL appearance.

Before anyone gets any creepy ideas, my personal fondness for boybands is in no way akin to Lou Pearlman’s.  I don’t know any of the boys’ names, their favorite colors or their secret celebrity crushes.

My kids are too young to care about those things either (thank goodness).  So why are we a family of Directioners?  (OK, I’ll leave Drew out of it, but the kids and I are all fans.)  Here are a few reasons:

Their music is better than kids’ music.  Occasionally, I can get my kids to listen to The Shins or Wilco, and Bennett will proudly admit that “Motortown” by the Kane Gang is his “jam”.  But most of the time, “Daddy music” just doesn’t cut it, and One Direction is a lot more tolerable to these grown-up ears than The Wiggles.  1D’s debut album, Up All Night, is far less abysmal than you’d expect, and there are no blandly educational lyrics to spoil the fun melodies.

Their music is catchy enough to be kids’ music.  I may see a big difference between One Direction and The Wiggles, but my kids don’t.  Their tunes are upbeat (even the sad song), catchy and easy to sing along to.  My twins never complain when 1D is on, and I never have to pretend my iPod is broken just to get a moment’s peace.

Their music is cleaner than most pop music.  OK, yes, it’s time for me to strap on my fuddy-duddy hat and chase the rest of today’s top 40 hits off my lawn.  Do you know how hard it is to find songs that are appropriate for 2-year-olds (or 10-year-olds for that matter) in today’s music scene?

Madonna’s song “Give Me All Your Luvin'” seems perfectly pitched at her bediapered fans.  It even has a chorus which consists of shouting out letters, just like on Sesame Street.  And then, just when it seems like fun for the whole family, M.I.A. shows up and drops the S-bomb in a completely unnecessary second rap interlude.  You can’t avoid it either, because there’s no “clean” version of the song available.

My only choice is to lower the volume whenever the offending section comes on.  As a result, my kids have learned two things from Madonna’s latest hit – that “L-U-V” spells Madonna and that “Daddy doesn’t like M.I.A.”

With 1D, I never have to touch the volume knob or hit the skip button.  Their songs are actually even more innocent than their titles suggest.  “What Makes You Beautiful” isn’t “the way you do me, baby” or “that sweet ass”, as today’s Top 40 fan might expect.  It’s that “you don’t know you’re beautiful”.  Aww.  And when the guys say they want to stay “Up All Night”, it’s with the glee of a squeaky-clean teen whose idea of being naughty is thumbing his nose at bedtime.  Why do they want to stay up?  Duh, to dance, of course.

They’re easy to root for.  Just when you thought I couldn’t get fuddier or duddier, watch me double down…  I like One Direction because, well, they seem like nice boys.

They’re goofy and awkward, like 18-year-olds are supposed to be.  They have terrible hair.  They smile like they actually appreciate being famous.  These kids aren’t worried about bringing sexy back.  In fact, they’re doing their darndest to shoo it away again. And good for them!

Watching their TV appearances feels something like spying on the back two rows of a school bus on its way to the senior trip.  They’re laughing conspiratorially, but they’re not really up to anything bad.  They’re just happy not to be doing algebra for a change.

There’s something innocently appealing about that kind of unprofessionalism, especially in a world where we turn to reality TV competitions to make superstars out of novices.  (And of course, the 1D boys were discovered on the UK version of the X Factor.  They came in 3rd.  Aww.)

"Here comes my part. Better start singing!"

Just watch the blonde kid during any of their performances (including the videos).  You can see every single thing that’s going on in his head along the way, from “Oh, right, here’s where we clap.” to “They told me to smile, oops, better start smiling!” to “I wonder if my mates from school are going to see this.”

If one of the One Directions showed up on my doorstep 15 years from now to take my daughter on a date (or – let’s be real – my son), I would be totally OK with that.  In fact, I’d be psyched because Drew and I would have plenty of material to snicker about after the kid left.  (Did you see his sweater vest?  What’s up with that hair swoop?  Is there a nest of bees living in there?  Tee hee hee!)

The Wanted. If you see this band, run and tell a grown-up!

Compare them to the other British boy band of the moment, The Wanted.  Sure, they have a few catchy songs, but frankly, those boys scare me.  They look angry and thuggish.  Just because your band name is “The Wanted”, it doesn’t mean you need to look like you were recruited out of a police lineup.  Seriously, in just what sense are these boys “wanted”?  If I see them in public, I’m dialing 911, just to be safe.

Yes, I know what happens to boybands over time, so I know exactly which “direction” this latest batch is headed.  They’ll get jaded and egotistical, corrupted by the music industry and the bottomless pit of groupie poon at their disposal.  They’ll want to be “taken seriously”, so they’ll add single entendres and M.I.A. interludes to their songs.  They’ll see image consultants who’ll give them reasonable haircuts and walk-on roles on “Gossip Girl”.  I already hate the One Direction of 5 years from now.

But for now, let me enjoy 1D as it is today – a group of harmonizing dorks who have no idea how dad-friendly they are.

And that, of course, is what makes them dad-friendly.

Screw You, American Academy of Pediatrics! 5 Reasons TV is our BFF

If there’s one thing I heard absolutely everywhere when my kids were born, it’s that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a very strict policy when it comes to TV:

No TV under age 2, ever.

Well, now that my kids are 2 1/2 years old, I’ve come up with a reasoned and measured counterpoint:

GO SCREW YOURSELF, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS!

I spent two years feeling guilty and ashamed that I caved into the alluring glow of the magic box in the living room, but I’m here to tell you from the other side: my kids are FINE.  They’re not drooly, brain-dead hyperpunks – well, not most of the time, at least.  They are 2, after all.

I’m clearly not the first person to express this kind of sentiment, because just last year, the AAP softened its recommended policy on TV usage.  The new mandate:

No TV under age 2, please.

In that spirit, I’d like to soften my counterpoint:

Go screw yourself, American Academy of Pediatrics, please!

Really?  Is that the best advice you can offer parents?  An abstinence-only policy?  How about we try to be realistic instead?  TV shouldn’t be a substitute for parenting, but there’s no reason it can’t be a small part of a healthy parenting regimen.  Let’s focus on responsible TV usage.

Sure, there are miserable parents out there who leave their TV on 24 hours a day, but those people aren’t listening to the AAP, and they certainly aren’t reading parenting blogs.

This advice is for the rest of you.  Here, in my opinion, are 5 perfectly acceptable uses for TV before your kid turns 2.

1. TV as distraction – I can hear the TV haters now.  “A-ha!  That’s all TV is!  A distraction!”  Well, yeah!  And if you’re a stay-home parent, you need distractions.  Maybe you have to call the pediatrician for 5 minutes, or you want to cook some mac and cheese without the kids knocking the pot of boiling water off the stove.  Oh, let’s just be honest: this is about what to do when you need to poop.  Everyone poops, right?  You know that because you read to your kids as well, like all good parents do.  So if you have to step out of the room for a minute, there’s no better way to distract your young’uns than with TV.  If it’s only for a small chunk of time, it’s not going to hurt them, at least not nearly as much as pulling that pot of water off the stove would.

2. TV as triage – Pop quiz, hot shot: your baby wakes up in the middle of the night screaming her head off.  She won’t eat, won’t burp, won’t go back to sleep.  None of your go-to methods for calming her are any help.  Is it time to rush her to the ER or page the on-call doctor?  Not so fast!  There’s one fool-proof diagnostic you can try first.  His name is Elmo.

We did it all the time with my kids.  Just when we were convinced we were witnessing a baby appendix in mid-burst, we turned on the TV.  If the kid calmed down immediately (as they always did) then clearly this was something they’d be able to ride out.

Face it: New parents are terrible doctors, and babies are terrible patients.  Sometimes, it’s hard to tell who’s crying harder when something goes wrong.  If a few minutes of TV can defuse the situation before you wake your pediatrician up in a panic, I think that’s something even the AAP would sign off on.

3. TV as a coffee break – What kind of horrible boss doesn’t let you take a coffee break now and then?  Well, guess what?  As a stay-home parent, you’re the boss.  Don’t be a slave-driver.  When your hard-working employee’s frazzled and needs to decompress, pop in a DVD for 10 or 15 minutes.  It not only gives you a chance to catch your breath, but it can calm your kids down, too, so when it’s time to turn it off, everyone feels refreshed.

Of course, as with any coffee breaks, you have to be careful not to abuse the system.  If you show a 1-year-old the Little Mermaid in its entirety while you let Calgon take you away, then she’s going to get bored and cranky, and you’ve just blown the benefits of your coffee break.  For a long time, our TV limit was 15 minutes a week.  Yes, a week.  It may not seem like much, but you wouldn’t believe how much I looked forward to those 15 minutes and how much I appreciated them when they were done.

4. TV as teacher – Let’s assume you’re not a total loser and you actually read to your kids.  Good for you.  But do you have any Harvard PhDs consulting on your selection of material?  No?  Then why not give the Children’s Television Workshop a crack at your little ones, too?  I’m not saying TV can ever match the value of parental interaction you get from reading, but the right shows can reinforce the things you’re teaching them when you’re going through your favorite books.  And let’s face it, Mom and Dad, you don’t exactly have the production values of The Fresh Beat Band.

I drummed the ABCs into my kids for weeks, with mixed results at best.  But after just a few viewings of a DVD called “The Letter Factory“*,  my kids knew all their letters and the sounds they made.

I’m not suggesting that SpongeBob Squarepants is on par with Jaime Escalante, and I’d never say that TV is the best way for your kids to learn.  But just because you do turn it on occasionally, it doesn’t mean you’re making your kids into couch potatoes.  Encourage them to sing the songs, to repeat Dora’s Spanish back to the screen, and at the very least, to get up and dance when music is playing.

TV is only a passive experience if you let it be.  Anyone who still calls it the “idiot box” hasn’t been paying attention.

* I never accept any endorsements on this blog and I have nothing to do with this company.  But as a parent, I wholeheartedly recommend this DVD.  It really did wonders for my kids.

5. TV as incentive/threat – You nurture your kids, you feed them, you tell them all the time how much you love them.  And in the end, they still like Elmo better than you.  Them’s the breaks.  But you can use that to your advantage.  Nothing snapped my kids in line faster than telling them, “Well, we were going to watch TV after dinner, but now maybe we won’t.”  Yes, it’s petty and it’s probably terrible parenting for a thousand different reasons.  But it works.  And sometimes, you just need what works.

How does Lex Luthor get the best of Superman?  By exploiting his weaknesses.  (He cares about regular mortals.  He wants to hide his identity., etc.) Well, your kids have their own forms of kryptonite – puppetry, repetitive jingles and the warm, welcoming glow of an LCD screen.

If you deny your kids TV, you’re denying them a major weakness and thus a major opportunity for you to get what you need out of them.  You won’t get a rat through a maze if he’s never tasted cheese.  I’m not saying you let him gorge himself.  Just a nibble now and then is more than enough.

There it is.  My case for responsible TV usage.  Or maybe it’s my defense of my own TV usage when my kids were little.  I did it.  I defied the AAP.  I stand by my actions and still consider myself a good parent.

I know the AAP is an organization of highly trained professionals who’ve dedicated their lives to helping children grow and thrive, whereas I’m just a guy with limited parenting experience and a WordPress account.  Decide for yourself who you’d prefer to listen to.  My mission is not to tell you what to do with your kids.  But I want you to know that if you do let them watch TV before they’re 2, you’re not alone – and you’re not a bad parent.

Necessarily.

It’s a Wonder You Can Walk: Why Me No Wuvvy Baby Talk

Do you talk to your kids wike dis?  “Come on, Poopie Pie, open yuh moufy-woufy ’cause da choo-choo’s dewivvering some yummies fwum Taterville!”?

If so, I have a confession to make:

I want to punch you in the face.

Or, to put it in terms you can understand, “Me wanna give big booboo to da poopyhead!”

OK, that was a little harsh.  Me not really wanna give you big booboo, although you are definitely a poopyhead.  What I really want to do is to explain to you calmly and rationally why you’re an enemy of the human race.  You’re Kim Jong Unbearable.  So sit down, grab your binky or your foofoo or whatever the hell you call it and listen up.  ‘Kay, Sweetums?

Baby talk is child abuse.  Worse, even, because it hurts everyone within earshot.  It demeans us as a species.  Every time you say “moo-cow” or “goo goo gaga“, you help the apes rise one more rung up the ladder to overtake us.

I’ve never used baby talk on my kids.  For starters, I don’t have time to learn a new language.  My kids never drank a “baba“.  They drank bottles.  And those bottles contained milk, not “moo juice“.

I was never “Da-da“, always “Daddy”.  It’s not that much harder to say, and it’s so much more satisfying to hear.  “Da-da” could mean anything.  “Dance-dance”, “dazzle-dazzle”, “Dag Hammarskjöld-Dag Hammarskjöld”.

I won’t even add that cutesy “y” to the end of animal names, like “doggy” or “piggy” or “ducky” or “froggy” — geez, it’s not even creative.  You may think those kinds of minor tweaks are sweet and harmless, but as far as I’m concerned, you might as well be teaching your kids Klingon.  Made-up words aren’t doing them any good, and they’re just going to have to unlearn them at some point if they want to function in society.  Snoop Dogg was in his 30s before he finally dropped the Doggy from his name.  It’s a hard habit to break.

“Oh, but it’s cute,” people will say.  “I wuv when wittle Jillsy-Willsy tells me she has a boo-boo that needs Mommy’s magic smoochies to make it awl bettuh.”  Well, between you and me, Jillsy-Willsy sounds like an idiot, and so do you.  Personally, I find my kids cute enough without them talking like mental patients.  Of course, I don’t know Jillsy-Willsy.  Maybe she can use the boost.

When Bennett was in the hospital, we had a nurse who used some of the most egregious baby talk I’ve ever heard.  Bennett had come to fear the nurses, because they were the ones sticking needles in his arm.  When this particular lady leaned over his bed, she assured him, “Don’t you worry, baby!  I just need to check your pulsy-wulsy.  You won’t get any hurties from me!”

I swear the kid looked at me like, “What’s wrong with her?”

Caution: This face could be a sign that you're losing them.

C’mon, lady.  How is my kid supposed to know what you mean when your entire vocabulary comes straight out of your ass?

People who think they need to talk down to kids are using the same logic tourists use when they go to a foreign country and believe they can break through the language barrier simply by raising their voice.  “EXCUSE ME, MONSIEUR, BUT DONDE ESTA THE BATHROOM AT?!!!  BATHROOM?  FLUSHY-FLUSHY???”

As if baby talk isn’t confusing enough in itself, the perpetrators make their words even less intelligible by purposely mispronouncing them.  “Aw, what a sweet wittle guy!”  Wittle?  Do you think that’s charming?  We’ll see how charming it is when Caleb comes home with a broken nose because he told his buddies on the Wittle Weague team he had to make a tinky-tink in the potty.  Ever heard of speech therapy?  Kids spend years – YEARS! – trying to overcome impediments like the one you’re practically forcing down your child’s throat.

I know.  I’m wasting my time.  It’s not like I can expect this message to get through to the baby-talkers themselves.  I didn’t include nearly enough ooh-oohs and wah-wahs in this essay to hold their interest.

So let me speak instead to the poor, unfortunate children trapped in their care:

Hello, young person.

I’m sure your parents love you very much, so it’s a shame they insist on reinforcing the linguistic hurdles you’re struggling so hard to overcome.  They may mean well, but I’m going to tell you something you would probably realize on your own eventually:

Mama and Dada are just a tiny bit insane.

Yes, I know.  The truth hurts, but I’m not going to underestimate your intelligence the way they do.  You can handle it.

It’s not their fault, of course.  Their parents probably spoke baby talk to them when they were growing up.  Maybe it scarred them.  Maybe they thought it was the only way.  But don’t let them hurt you like that.

The cycle ends with you.

When your parents say something asinine, don’t try to figure them out, and please don’t parrot their jibber-jabber back to them.  Let them know you’re not going to lower yourself to that level for their amusement.  I know I can’t possibly teach you all the real words you should be learning right now, so instead, let me offer one all-purpose phrase you can whip out at need:

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Try it.  Say it over and over, whenever your parents talk to you like the baby they want you to remain rather than the well-adjusted grown-up society hopes you’ll become.  Eventually, they’ll get the message.  And hopefully, if they’re capable, they’ll start making some damn sense.

Good luck.  You have a long, hard road ahead of you, like all victims of baby talk.  But whatever you do, even when your parents are at their most insufferably incomprehensible, please resist the overwhelming urge you might have to punch them in the face.

That would be terribly immature.

How to Talk To Your Children About Gay Parents, By a Gay Parent

English: Train Board at Grand Central Terminal

Image via Wikipedia

Imagine you’re at the train station, taking your kids into the city to see the Lion King.  A man steps off the train, and two toddlers run up to him shouting, “Daddy!  Daddy!”  He gives out two hugs and about a thousand kisses and tells them how much he missed them while he was at work.  You’ve witnessed scenes like this many times, but as always, your heart melts.  Then the dad stands up, walks a little further down the platform and kisses… another man.

Well, that’s different.

“How was your day?” the first guy asks, and the other one starts talking about who got time outs, why the kids have maple syrup in their hair and who flushed what down the toilet right before they left.

OK, back to normal.

You’ve probably done the math by now — Look!  Gay dads! — but there’s a decent chance you’ll feel a tug on your leg, and your kid will look up at you and ask, “Yo, what’s the deal there?”

This is the story of my life.  I am a gay dad, and I confuse children.

I’m sure it happens more than I realize – at the supermarket, at the park, at preschool.  Just by acting like any other parents, my partner Drew and I are inadvertently sparking countless conversations that start with, “Where’s their Mommy?”

You’re free to handle that question however you want, of course.  But if you don’t know where to begin, allow me to help.

You see, when Drew and I decided to have kids, we knew that the gay dad job description would include explaining our family to the world for the rest of our lives.  That’s one of the reasons I started my blog.

It’s also why I am kindly providing you, the sympathetic straight parent, with some guidelines.  (Unsympathetic straight parents are free to ignore my suggestions, in which case, I’ll enjoy watching them squirm.)  Obviously, what you say will depend on how old your kids are and how much exposure they’ve had to gay people previously, but in a broader sense, these suggestions should apply to anyone.

I’m not a child psychologist, just a gay dad who’s thought a lot about the issue and who has a big stake in it.  After all, I don’t want your kids coming up to my kids one day and telling them they’re weird for not having a mommy.

If you don’t want that either, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Use the word “gay”.

Everyone’s concentrating on taking the negative connotation away from the word “gay”, but at the same time, let’s not forget to encourage the positive.  We don’t want “gay” to be a curse, so go ahead and teach it to your kids.  That’s how we’ll really take the sting out of the word.

“Oh, Uncle Doug and Uncle Max?  They’re gay.”  “Aunt Vera and Aunt Debbie aren’t sisters, honey.  They’re lesbians.”  “Well, statistics suggest at least 3 of the Smurfs must be gay.”  Don’t make a big deal about it.  Just say it.  If your kids hear some jerk at school sneering, “That’s so gay!”, their response will be, “Yeah?  So what?  So are Uncle Max, Aunt Vera and, most likely, Brainy.”

2. You don’t have to pretend half the world is gay. 

Don’t play down the fact that your kids may have witnessed something unfamiliar.  “Geez, Madison.  They have two daddies, what’s the biggie?”  It’s natural for poor little Madison to be confused, so give her a damn break.

Kids are probably going to assume all families have one mommy and one daddy, because that’s all most of them see.  You can be honest. Use words like “most” and “some”.  “Most families have a mommy and a daddy… but some have two mommies or two daddies.”  As long as you don’t attach a value judgment to that statement, it really is no biggie. (The same goes when explaining single parent families, divorced families or anything else your child might be witnessing for the first time.)

Some kids might say something like, “That’s weird”, or they’ll think you’re playing a joke on them.  That should just be a reminder of why you’re having this conversation.  Get to your kid before ignorance does.  If you’re honest with them, they’ll get it.  Explain that gay families are less common than the usual mommy/daddy family, but they’re every bit as valid.  “It’s not weird, it’s just different than our family.”

3. Get your mind out of the gutter.

It seems silly that I even have to say this, but when some people think about homosexuality and kids, they imagine that you’re suggesting they graphically describe intercourse to kindergarteners.  Um, no.  All you should be doing is answering the questions they’re asking, and save the rest for junior high health class.  If they wonder why Owen has two daddies, it’s because “His daddies are in love”… or because “Some men love other men.”  Hopefully, you’ve taught your kids to understand what love is, so no further explanation should be required.

And do use the word “love”.  That’s what we’re talking about here.  You don’t need to say “attracted to” or “some boys like boys”.  “Like” is how they feel about each other.  A kid might think, “Well, I like boys.  I guess I’m gay.”  Compare it to your own relationship (assuming you have a good relationship).  “You know the way Mommy and I love each other?  That’s how their daddies (or mommies) feel about each other.”  And if your kid says, “Yuck!” it’s probably because they feel the same way about when you and your spouse get all schmoopy-doopy with each other.  That’s progress.

4. Don’t make it about your kid — yet.

Understanding gay parents is a big enough topic of discussion, and your kid probably won’t be prompted to wonder about their own sexuality at this point.  You don’t need to say, “You might marry a man someday yourself, Junior!”  While it’s great to plant the seeds of acceptance early, you’ll probably just end up confusing them more.  Your kids have plenty of time to figure their own feelings out, and when the time comes, make sure you let them know that you love them no matter what.  But no, they can’t marry Brainy Smurf.

5. If your kid does ask you to speculate, you can tell them they’ll “probably” be straight.

Again, only if your kid expresses some curiosity should you even broach the subject.  But if they’re wondering, “Who will I marry someday?”, feel free to tell them, “You’ll probably marry someone of the opposite sex, but I’ll accept you either way.”  Of course, if you’re like the mom from the amazing blog Raising My Rainbow, your “probably” might lean the other way.  Just take your cues from your kid.

6. Remember the magic phrase, “Love is what makes a family.” 

It’s possible your kids will ask something like, “But doesn’t everyone need a mommy?”  Even kids who don’t know exactly where babies come from understand that women are the ones who get pregnant and give birth.  When that’s all you know, then two daddies just don’t add up.

Again, don’t go into any more detail than you need to.  Remind your kid that while it’s a woman who gives birth to a baby, your Mommy(-ies) and/or Daddy(-ies) are the one(s) who raise you. It’s no different than how you’d explain adoption by a straight couple.  “The Strattons flew to Beijing and brought little Daisy home.  Now they’re her Mommy and Daddy.”

What kids want to know is that the little boy or girl they see whose family looks different is still being well taken care of. Assure your children that the kids are in good hands, because love is what makes a family, and those parents love their kids as much as you love yours.

7. Most importantly, just talk to your kids.

Your kids are bound to see a gay family sooner or later, even if it’s just Mitchell & Cameron on Modern Family.  So if they come to you with questions, it’s really important that you don’t get weird about it.  Don’t change the subject, don’t tell them they’re too young to understand and definitely don’t lie and say that the mommy is home doing dishes or off fighting in Afghanistan.  Otherwise the message you’re sending is that there’s a reason to be uncomfortable around gay families.  The same goes for all kinds of families, whether they have two moms, two dads, a single mom, a single dad, foster parents or if they’re being raised by wolves – just explain that that’s a different kind of family and gee, isn’t it nice that everyone’s a little different.

… which leads me to a big secret.

You see, there is a gay agenda.  It’s true.

What most people don’t realize is that the gay agenda isn’t “everybody should be gay”.  It’s “everybody should be themselves.”

Be a nerd, be a Yanni fan, be a real housewife of your particular geographic region.  Whatever.  It’s all part of the same cause, and it’s a great message to teach your kids.

I shouldn’t have to say this in the 21st Century, but for anyone who’s still wondering, NO, I don’t want to make your kids gay.  I just want to live my life with a sense of mutual respect for everyone else on this planet.  If you want the same thing, then let your kids learn by your example.  Show them that nontraditional families are nothing to be afraid of.

Teaching your kids to be accepting of gay people and gay families is a great way to teach them acceptance in a broader sense – and to teach them the ultimate lesson: to be accepting of themselves.

I know some people think differently, but that’s what I call family values.

What If My Kids Are A**holes?

What would you say about someone who exhibited the following behaviors:

  • Demanding things over and over, without even giving you time to respond?
  • Letting every minor inconvenience or frustration spur a complete screaming, crying meltdown?
  • Ordering you around without ever saying “please” or “thank you” unless specifically requested to do so every single time?
  • Dismissing your well-intentioned efforts with a loud “No!” and a contemptuous swipe of their hand?
  • Being completely unmoved by rational arguments?
  • Responding to disappointment merely by increasing the volume and intensity of their demand?
  • Cutting you off with an insincere “Sorry!” when you’re upset in hopes of avoiding a lecture?

Sounds like a real a-hole, right?  But what if they had a face like this:

Only a real douchebag would call them a-holes, right?

And yet… that’s exactly how I would describe that kind of behavior in anyone else.  When I encounter an adult who acts the way my kids do, I distance myself from them as quickly and thoroughly as possible.  I’ve ended friendships over that kind of behavior.  I’ve quit jobs.  I’ve asked to speak to the store manager.

But because they’re my kids, I’m stuck dealing with it.  Even worse, I’m expected to correct their obsessive, petty selfishness and turn them into decent human beings.  Geez, no pressure or anything.

I know this is supposedly a phase that all kids go through, but it’s hard not to worry that what I’m seeing now is something darker, the first true glimpse of my children’s souls.

What if my kids are… just jerks?

What if I’m not dealing with the terrible twos… but with terrible people?

Every short-fused, condescending egotist in the world was 2 years old once.  How do you tell the difference between them and the ones who are just going through a healthy stage of human psychological development?

Can you?

Bennett’s such a happy kid, always laughing.  But sometimes I wonder if he’s laughing at me.  Tell him not to drop his bowl of yogurt on the floor, and he won’t… until your back is turned.  Then you’ll hear a thud, accompanied by a precious little cackle.  He’s a prankster, but what if it’s not just some innocent boundary-testing that he’s doing?  What if he’s a budding Bernie Madoff?

Sutton’s verbal abilities are superior to those of most grown-ups I know.  Drew and I are stunned how quickly she learns and how well she remembers.  It’s gotten to the point where we don’t even have to quiz her on new concepts anymore.  She’ll ask and answer her own questions.  “What does ‘busy’ mean?  It means you have a lot to do!  Who’s that?  Dora’s friend Tico!  What does an elephant say?  [insert trumpeting sound accompanied by upward arm motion]”  It’s impressive and adorable, until we start wondering… are we nourishing a young Cliff Clavin?

Face it.  What’s cute at 2 isn’t going to stay cute much longer.  By 5, it’ll be unbearable.  By 10, it’ll seem downright pathological.  And yet, some kids are undoubtedly headed down that very path.  The world has a long history of a-holes.

I’m sure it was positively adorable when toddler Dick Cheney spat a mouthful of strained peas in his dad’s face.  But spraying his friend’s face with buckshot during a duck hunt?  Not so cute.

What about Donald Trump?  I’ll bet the first full sentence he ever uttered was something along the lines of “I am without question the most admired baby who’s ever lived.”  When he said it, everyone probably went, “Awww!”  Then look what happened.

I try to steer my kids in the right direction.  I give time outs when they’re being particularly prickish.  I reward those increasingly rare occasions when they’re actually nice to their fellow man.  Then they turn around and misbehave again, and I feel like a chump.  Am I painstakingly shaping their malleable little psyches… or fighting a losing battle against their inner nature?

I mean, if one of my kids is the next Newt Gingrich or Shannen Doherty, they’re still my kid, right?  I’m not saying I’d vote for them or cast them in a serialized drama, but I’d set a place for them at Thanksgiving.

So I’ll keep trying… for now.  But at some point, I’m just going to give in and embrace who they are.  It’s not so bad, I guess.  After all, you can get pretty far in life behaving like a 2-year-old.

English: Newt Gingrich

Train Wreck

I’ve barely been in New York a week, and already, I’ve made two enormous enemies.

It started at toddler storytime.

A lady with a Barnes & Noble nametag took to the stage and warned us that she was very soft-spoken.  It seemed strange to me that they got the one soft-spoken person in all of Yonkers to host an event that hinged on holding the attention of two-year-olds.  Her point was that if the kids got bored with her, she wouldn’t be offended if they got up and walked around.  OK, thanks for that.

My kids made it through one book, then lost interest during some snooze-inducing Caldecott winner.  (It was a bedtime book, so maybe that was the desired effect.)  They got up and started to wander.

The children’s section at Barnes & Noble, if you’re not familiar, is full of fun stuff for kids to do, all of which is designed to make them tell their parents, “I want to go to Barnes & Noble!”, after which you’ll walk out with an armful of Dora the Explorer TV tie-ins and maybe a $25 Madeline doll.

Bennett quickly discovered the main attraction – a large wooden train set.  A couple of other boys were already there, pushing train cars around the tracks.  There were only 4 cars to play with, and each of the boys had 2, so all Bennett could do was stare at them longingly, waiting for a turn.

The kids’ moms were leaning nearby, deeply immersed in their own chat.  One of them started to instruct her son to share with my kid, but the other one cut her off and told her not to bother.  Seriously, she told her friend not to encourage her child to share.

I was furious.  It was so rude.  It demanded a comeback.  So I took a move right from page 1 of my social playbook… I sheepishly slinked away and herded my kids back to storytime where I could brood.

The other toddlers were now doing the Hokey Pokey, while the quiet lady was softly instructing them from Elmo’s Hokey Pokey book.  But while they were putting their left foot in and, subsequently, out, I was silently shaking my rage all about.

Why did I cower to that mean mom?  That was a teachable moment if ever I’d been presented with one, and I’d blown it.  Instead of showing my kid that I value sharing and sticking up for yourself, I’d let a bully get the best of me.  Who did she think she was?  If my kid wanted to play with Barnes and Noble’s trains, he had just as much right as her kid.

My kids lingered at storytime for ten minutes or so, but Bennett was itching to get back to the trains.  So eventually, I let him go.  I couldn’t believe it, but those same two boys and their moms were still hogging the four measly train cars.

Round Two had begun.

One boy was losing interest, and he dropped his trains.  Bennett saw his opportunity, so he waddled over to pick them up.  But the kid’s mom saw Bennett coming and — yes, this really happened — yanked the trains out of Bennett’s reach.

A grown lady.  A little boy.  And while she was doing it, she said, “Oh no!  I’m not dealing with that!”  (As if to imply that she feared her son might melt down if he saw someone else playing with the trains.)

Naturally, Bennett started crying.  Loudly.

I wasn’t going to take it this time.  The rematch was mine to lose.

“I’m sorry, Bennett,” I said, consoling my child.  “They don’t want to share.”

That’s right.  I’d moved onto page 2 of my social playbook.  I went passive-aggressive on that wench.

Bennett cried louder.

“I know,” I went on.  “It’s not nice, but some people don’t share.  Not everyone’s nice.”  I was about two feet away from the woman at this point, and by now a small crowd had gathered, because this was far more interesting than the regularly scheduled in-store event.

Bennett swung his arm toward the trains and shouted, “MINE!”

I corrected him.  “No, it’s not yours.  It’s the store’s.”

That’s when the mean mom finally spoke up.  “Actually, it’s ours.  We brought them from home.”

Um… what?!

“We brought ours and that boy brought his and that boy brought his.”

I looked at the trains.  Each boy’s were different, backing up her story.  Suddenly, I realized I was the crazy one.  My outrage was based on the assumption that the trains were communal property.

“I’m sorry.  I thought they were the store’s.”

“No, the store used to have some for the kids to use, but people kept taking them home.  Now you have to bring your own.”

Bennett didn’t understand any of this.  He was now in a full-on meltdown.  I was embarrassed, people were watching.  It was not pretty.  The mean mom motioned toward a shelf of train cars for sale.  “Sometimes we forget ours and we have to buy a new one.”

Yes, that was the answer.  I could buy a train and put an end to all of this instantly.  It was that simple.  Then everyone would be happy — Bennett, the mean mom, Barnes & Noble — until some other kid wanted to play with Bennett’s train and suddenly I was the one thinking, “Screw that kid.  We paid for it!”

I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t buy into the system.  Instead of a train, my kid was getting… an explanation.

Bennett screamed as I rationalized the scenario for him.  “You have to bring your own trains.  I don’t think that’s a nice policy, but that’s what Barnes & Noble decided.”  That’s right.  Now I was going passive-aggressive on a faceless corporation.  Not that the kid could hear me over his own wailing.

All around me, moms and employees were surely thinking, “Just buy the kid a damn train.”  It’s then that I realized this was all part of the store’s plan.  When people started stealing their train cars, they didn’t take the tracks away.  They didn’t fit the trains with those shoplifting sensors they put in the books.  They just used it as a way to sell more train cars.

With a trainless train track, they’d set my kid up to fail.  They’d turned their customers against each other.  They’d made their children’s section into Thunderdome.

Thus, I penciled in a new #1 and #2 on my enemies list:

1.  Barnes

2.  Noble

We have some trains at home, but I won’t be packing them up to take to those two anytime soon.  And the next storytime we go to will be at the library.

In case you haven’t guessed, page 3 in my social playbook says, “Blog about it.”

Travel Tips for Families With Two Kids Or Less (Or More)

Nothing brings out the best in strangers like witnessing men try to take care of children.  They tend to think you need help – and even more, that you deserve it.  Like a dude with a baby is automatically in over his head and crying out for a lifeline.  You can take it as an insult, or, if you’re me, you can take the help, because hey, it’s free help, right?

Never does this mentality come in handy more than when you’re traveling.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire airport terminal to get that child to Grandma’s for the holidays.  Soak it up, fellow gay dads, because this is where the new BFFs come out of the woodwork to assist you.  Not that you need them, of course.

Drew and I have made the LA to New York journey with the kids four times now.  That may not qualify me as an expert, but we haven’t lost a kid yet, so I’d say I’m good enough.

With the holidays coming up, I thought I’d share a few of my secrets.

Make a packing list.  It’s easier than it sounds.  Just write down everything you use in a 24-hour period.  Burp cloths, bibs, formula, your “Daddy’s not messin’ around” voice.  Figure out how many of each you’ll need during your flight and how many you’ll use for the rest of the trip.  Use this as your checklist before you leave – and again before you return home.  Next time you travel, it gets easier, because you can use your previous list as a jumping off point.  As your kids get older, you’ll need less stuff with every vacation.  And if this sounds too anal for you, hold on, because it’s about to get way more anal.

Ship, borrow and sacrifice.  Getting your kids through an airport is tough enough.  Don’t take the entire haul from your baby shower with you.  Ship diapers and food to your destination.  Borrow a pack-n-play from a relative or neighbor wherever you’re headed.  Do without the bottle warmers while you’re gone.  Do everything possible to minimize your haul.

Number your key items.  A key item is anything that’s not attached to your body that needs to arrive safely at your destination.  Why do you need to number them?  Because you’d be surprised how fast they add up.  Here’s our key item list from our first trip with the kids:

Carry-on items:

1. Bennett

2. Sutton

3. Bennett’s car seat

4. Sutton’s car seat

5. Drew’s carry-on bag

6. My carry-on bag

7. Diaper bag

Gate checked item:

8. Snap-n-go stroller

Checked items:

9. Drew’s checked bag

10. My checked bag

11. Babies’ checked bag

12. Bennett’s car seat base

13. Sutton’s car seat base

Start with the items you’ll be carrying on the plane, then gate checked items, then checked items.  Any time you make a transition, do a count off to make sure you have everything you should.

From the condo to the car and the car to the airport, we counted up to 13.

From the check-in desk through security, to the waiting area, to the gate, we counted up to 8.

Once on the plane, we counted up to 7.

Keep a list of what the numbers correspond to in case you can’t locate something.  And if you lose track of #1 or #2, it’s time to get on the airport intercom.

Pack food you can serve easily.  You know how hard it is to do something as simple as crossing your legs in a cramped airplane seat?  Well, don’t even think about slicing up strawberries and swirling them into little Joey’s oatmeal.  Keep things as simple as possible.  Chewy cereal bars.  Snacks in no-spill cups.  Those wonderful little squeezey pouch fruit purees.

And splurge on the pre-made formula in cans.  It’s much easier than mixing your own from the powder.  Don’t worry.  The TSA won’t make you taste it.  Just tell them you’re carrying it, and they’ll run it through the X-ray machine.

Get a greeter if you can.  Did you know that, for a couple hundred dollars, you can hire someone to meet you at the airport and help you all the way from the curb until you get on the plane?  These wonderful human beings will deal with skycaps, whisk you to the front of the security line, gain you access to the first-class lounge and come get you when it’s time to board.  They’ll push your bags on a luggage cart, help you gate-check your stroller and even sweet talk the gate agents into letting you pre-board.  Yes, traveling with your kids is already costing you a fortune, but why not make this your Christmas present to yourself?  I assure you, it’s worth it.

Let the kid watch TV.  Your day-to-day job as a parent is to raise a healthy, well-adjusted, intellectually curious child.  For many of us, that means keeping SpongeBob to a minimum.  But when you’re on a plane, your job is to get to your destination without you or the kid melting down.  So go ahead and rot their brain if it helps.

For space reasons, try to avoid bringing a laptop or portable DVD player.  Instead, load your iPhone with Yo Gabba Gabbas and bring your power cord so you can keep it charged.

And finally, the most important rule of all…

Don’t feel guilty if your kid cries.  There’s a crying baby on every plane.  There’s also a jerk who glares at the kid’s parents or sighs audibly to register their annoyance.  Admit it: You’ve been the jerk plenty of times.  Now you get to be the parent.  It’s the circle of life.

But look around.  While your baby is crying, you’re also getting lots of supportive looks from parents like you who’ve been there.  And from this point on, that’s who you’ll be.  When you’re getting off the plane, strangers will approach you to tell you how good your baby was (even if he wasn’t), because that’s what parents do for each other.

It’s really a beautiful thing – sniff, sniff.

Have any secret tips of your own?  Help a Daddy out, and leave me a comment!