I love Disney World, but not …


I don’t doubt the magic of Disney World.

49703690002It’s the only place on Earth that can attract tens of thousands of people every day who are willing to pay hundreds of dollars to walk in hellish heat and among crowds thicker than the Florida humidity only to stand in line for an hour to ride a two-minute roller coaster.

People don’t like sitting through a two-minute commercial break on TV. Why would they wait an hour for a ride?

Magic is the only explanation.

I found myself under the spell of this magic last month, but after a couple of days of breathing Tikerbell’s fairy dust, reality woke me up.

The crowds are overwhelming, the lines are horrendous, people are rude, and, well, you get the point.

For all the magic and glory of Disney World, I can name quite a few things I could do without when visiting America’s crown jewel of family getaway spots.

Starting with …

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HuffPost Live: Fatherless fathers can make good fathers


A producer with HuffPost Live emailed me last week to see if I’d participate in a live-streaming discussion on fatherlessness in America.

The discussion would revolve around this HuffPost blog post based on a recurring theme on Jay-Z’s newest album: the fears of a fatherless father.

Though I know next to nothing about Jay-Z, I know a great deal about growing up fatherless and can relate to the feelings he expresses on his new album.

Marc Lamont Hill hosted the discussion with Thabiti Boone, fatherhood adviser to the Allan Houston Foundation, in studio and several panelists joining in via webcams: Derek Phillips, Jeff Zelaya, Mark Anthony Neal, and me.

You can check out the 30-minute discussion here (I chime in at about 21:25):

Marc asked a question to start the discussion: How can you be a good dad if you didn’t know your own?

Simple question, right? Simple answer, right?

Maybe, maybe not. Fatherlessness has many faces, so it’s impossible to answer Marc’s question as simply as he asks it.

But before talking about those faces, I can think of a few cases in which kids are better off without their dad. Most of these involve drugs, alcohol, or some sort of other abuse. Without question, children are better off fatherless than with an abusive dad.

But the question quickly becomes harder to answer.

What if your father left your mother for a younger woman? He obviously didn’t want to stay. Were you better off with or without him?

What if your mother kicked your father out because she no longer loves him? Were you better off with or without him? Would it make a difference if she simply fell out of love with him, or she kicked him out because he was lazy, irresponsible, or exhibited some other negative trait?

What if your father was present in body, but not in heart and spirit? Let’s say he spent his nights glued to his computer and the weekends playing golf. Were you better off with or without him?

Or perhaps the most tragic: What if your father died?

Regardless of the face fatherlessness wears in your life, the first step in becoming a good father is acknowledging the trauma fatherlessness causes. We shouldn’t pretend fathers are dispensable and that fatherlessness is no big deal. Statistics show us otherwise.

My own experience growing up fatherless tells me otherwise as well.

And my own children tell me otherwise practically every day. My 8-year-old son Gavin did just the other night. I had just returned home well after midnight from a business trip in Chicago, and walked in his room to give him a kiss goodnight.

I give him such a kiss every night before I go to bed, and he never stirs. But this night, after I had been away for a few days, Gavin sprung out of bed, yelled “Daddy!” and hugged me like he hadn’t seen me in a year.

I know I matter to him, just like all fathers matter to their children.

Once you accept that fathers are a necessary part of children’s live, the next step is easy: be there.

You don’t have to paint like Picasso to fingerpaint. You don’t have to pitch like Cy Young like to play catch. And you don’t have to swim like Michael Phelps to enjoy a day at the pool. You just have to be there, and you’re well on your way to being a good dad.

Finally, if you’re worried about a being a good dad, you have nothing to worry about. All that worry means is that you are aware enough of yourself to question your own shortcomings. Once you know what those shortcomings are, you can deal with them.

But believe me, your kids will not see them. All they will see is a father who wants to spend time with his children. And that, my friend, is what it means to be a good dad.

If I can do it, so can you.


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Ricky Ricotta’s wicked game of hide and seek


I take Celeste and Gavin to the library once a month or so, and allow them to borrow up to two videos each and as many books as they’d like.

Ricky_RicottaOf course, I make them responsible for what they borrow. The way I figure it, if they are old enough to keep track of their iPods and Nintendo DSes, they are old enough to keep track of a dozen library books.

This arrangement has worked out well given that we never lost a book. Then “Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot” came into our lives, and challenged Gavin to a wicked game of hide and seek.

We didn’t even know the game started until we were at the library checking out the latest round of books. The librarian told us that we couldn’t borrow the books until we paid the fine for the overdue Ricky.

I paid the fine, and renewed the book for three weeks so Gavin could search the house for the elusive Ricky. He started the minute we arrived home. He looked in his book bag. Nothing. He went upstairs to search his bedroom. Zip. He looked in the living room. Empty.

He looked in the basement, the office, the family room, the car. All for naught. Everywhere Gavin looked, Ricky Ricotta remained a step ahead.

“You know what this means, right, Gavin?” I asked.

“That it’s lost,” he said.

“That’s right. And what does that mean?”

He thought about it for a moment. “That I have to pay for it.”

“That’s right. You do,” I said.

“How much does it cost?”

“I don’t know. Maybe $5 or $10,” I said. “We’ll have to ask the librarian.”

“OK,” he mumbled and walked away.

“But you have three weeks, Gavin,” I said. “I renewed the book to give you time to look for it, so you don’t have to pay the fine until it’s due again. You have three weeks to find it.”

I can’t remember if Gavin responded or not, but Ricky Ricotta remained hidden for the next three weeks. The library emailed me a reminder a few days before Ricky’s due date, so I asked Gavin if he had any luck finding him. He didn’t.

“I have an idea, Daddy,” he said. “If it’s $5, how about we split it. I pay $2 and you pay $3.”

I couldn’t stifle my belly laugh. “That’s a good one, Gavin. Why would I pay anything, let alone more than you, when you’re the one responsible for the book?”

“Because you’re the daddy.”

Another belly laugh. “Nice try, Gavin, but it’s not going to work. You have to pay the full cost of the book.”

“OK,” he said.

Ricky’s due date came, so I told Gavin to collect his money to pay for the lost book. He dutifully went to his bedroom, took his piggybank down from this dresser, and emptied it on the floor.

Gavin counted more than $6 in change, which I traded for some singles, and we went to the library. He was silent on the five-minute drive, and solemn as we walked up to the librarian, his head bowed down to the ground and his hands stuffed in his pockets.

“Hello,” I said to the librarian. “He needs to pay for a book he lost.”

Gavin put his $6 on the desk without saying a word.

“Well, why don’t I check for you? Sometimes books are placed back on the shelf without being checked back in.” She looked up our account, wrote the title of the book on a piece of paper, and walked back to the juvenile fiction section.

“I can show her where it is,” Gavin said. “I know right where it’s supposed to be.”

“Let’s just wait here,” I said. “And if it’s there, you’ll be one lucky 8-year-old boy.”

“Yeah, but then what happens to the money?”

“It’s yours. You get to keep it, but let’s see if it’s there first.”

Gavin glowed with anticipation at the thought of keeping the $6, as though he had just won the lottery and was dreaming about how many sports cars he could buy.

A moment later, the librarian walked back to the desk with Ricky Ricotta firmly in her hand. “Always ask us to check,” she said. “It doesn’t happen a lot, but it’s always worth checking first.”

“Thank you,” I said. “We will.”

Gavin nearly skipped his way back to the car. “I have $6,” he said proudly.

“Yes, you do. What are you going to do with it?”

“I don’t know, maybe buy a DS game with it or something.”

“You’ll need more than $6 for a game,” I said.

“I know,” he answered. “I’ll just save for it.”

“You can do that, but you know what, Gavin? I’m really proud of you.”


“Because you took responsibility for losing the book.”

“But I didn’t lose the book.”

“That doesn’t matter. You were willing to accept that you lost it. You counted your money without complaining, and you came here with me to pay the fine without crying.”

“Well, I was nervous.”

“I could tell, but you didn’t let your nerves get the best of you. You did the right thing even though you were nervous about it.”

He smiled.

“So what did you learn?”

“Um, to take responsibility for things?”

“That’s right. What else?”

“Um, don’t lose library books.”

“Sure, even though you didn’t. Anything else?”

He thought about it a moment then shrugged.

“That Ricky Ricotta plays a mean game of hide and seek,” I said.

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Some firsts aren’t worth bragging about


I wish I remembered Gavin’s first word.

He learned to talk at some point in his six years on this planet, but I cannot remember the first word he uttered.

emoticonNor can I remember his first steps, his first tooth, or even his first haircut. His first day of school is a shell of a memory, and the first time he felt the sand under his feet is as elusive as the sand itself washing away with the tide.

But I remember his first cuss word. He blurted it out just the other morning.

“I know the B-word, Daddy,” he said with pride, as though he had just returned from the moon on a spaceship he built with Lego bricks.

“You do?” I asked through a distracted cloud. I not only doubted he knew it, but I was focused on dressing for work and preparing him and his older sister for the school bus. “What is it?”

“Bitch,” he said.

But he didn’t just say it. He said it with feeling, as though he was one of the stars on “Mob Wives” and was talking to a waitress who showed too much interest in her man.

I froze.

I didn’t expect the word to come out of his mouth, nor did I expect him to say it with such gusto.

After all, this is the kid who says he loves me “the mostest,” but his diction was clear and tone left no doubt that my 6-year-old son had learned his first cuss word.

I knew this day would come. Though Karen and I don’t cuss as part of our everyday language, kids often learn the more colorful words of the English language on the playground when adult mouths and ears are nowhere to be seen.

Him learning to cuss was inevitable, but I still don’t want him dropping F-bombs from the merry-go-round.

“You’re right, Gavin, that’s the B-word, but I don’t want you to say it,” I told him.

“But I don’t even know what it means,” he said.

I took a deep breath, sat down, pulled him aside, and spoke to him plainly.

“It really just means a female dog, but some people use it to refer to a girl who is not nice,” I said. “But I don’t want you to repeat it. I want you to speak well, use nice words, and be respectful.”

“OK, Daddy,” he said.

As he walked away, I thought briefly about the differences between boys and girls, or at least between him and his older sister. I’ve run across this same issue before with Celeste, but she would not repeat the words she had heard.

In fact, Celeste holds on to the belief that the S-word is “stupid” and the D-word is “dumb.” Part of me thinks Gavin knows different, but I don’t want to ask him. No need to teach him otherwise if I’m wrong.

Truth be told, Gavin is a few years behind in his language development compared to me in my childhood. My mother reminded me not long ago that I had trouble learning to speak, and for some reason every “tr” came out of my mouth as an “f.”

This coincided with a fascination I had with fire trucks, which is perfectly normal for an American boy. Whenever a fire truck roared by, I pointed to it and said, “fire truck.”

But I didn’t just say it. I chased after it like a lion chasing its prey and yelled, “FIRE TRUCK! FIRE TRUCK! FIRE TRUCK!”

But I didn’t I say “truck.” I said, well, you know.

Yep, Gavin’s got nothing on me.

This is a repost of a column that ran in The Gazette on Sept. 29, 2011. I’m sure Gavin has  learned plenty of other colorful words since this column first appeared, but he doesn’t repeat them around me.


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A summer lesson in what to expect


I don’t expect my cat to bark.

When I look at Obi, I expect him to stare blankly back at me as if he were about to say, “Yeah, you think you’re the man of the house, but we all know it’s me. Now go clean my litter box.”

At least, part of me thinks that’s what he thinks when he looks at me, but I don’t expect him to do anything beyond meow softly and go back to sleep. He might squint his eyes at me, but he just as likely might not.

Universal Studios

Universal Studios was a universal flop for both Celeste and Gavin three years ago.

Either way, I don’t expect Obi to be anything other than a 12-year-old house cat who sleeps most of the day and paws at me in the middle of the night if I leave the bedroom door open.

I mention this to remind myself that I need to have reasonable expectations of people, including children and especially mine. After all, I don’t expect my cat to bark, so why should I expect my children to be anyone other than who they are or to like anything they don’t?

Karen and I took the kids to Universal Studios in Florida last month, and I expected them to love it.

Gavin loves superheroes, and Universal Studios is a magnet for those who can fly like a bird, climb like a spider, and run like lightning — all while looking fairly decent in tights. And Celeste had a blast on the rides at Disney World last year, so I expected her to have as much fun this year on the rides at Universal Studios.

Both places are tailored for families, so if they liked one, why wouldn’t they like the other? They found plenty of reasons.

Celeste and Gavin were underwhelmed by the attractions at Universal Studios, and ready to flee the parks for the hotel swimming pool by 2 p.m. each of the three days we were there. I was as disappointed in their lack of enthusiasm for the parks as they were in the parks, but I can blame no one but me.

I expected them to like it, and they did not meet my expectations.

They didn’t ask to go to Universal Studios. Karen and I chose it for them largely because of the new Harry Potter world that just opened. We have read only the first book to them and they have seen only the first movie, but I still expected them to be awed by walking through the castle at Hogwarts and the streets of Hogsmeade.

How couldn’t they? Children the world over love Harry Potter.

I knew they wouldn’t be able to go on every ride — Gavin isn’t tall enough and Celeste hasn’t graduated beyond small roller coasters — but I still figured they would enjoy it. I expected them to, if only because Karen and I enjoy it so much.

But Celeste found the images in the movie that is part of the main new ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, too scary and didn’t want to give it a second go. And Gavin didn’t like the sounds he heard (the voice of Hagrid, mainly) walking through the woods to ride the Flight of the Hippogriff, a small roller coaster perfect for young children.

As a result, we could not fully enjoy the new world of Harry Potter. In fact, if it weren’t for the five or six attractions in Seuss Landing, a corner of the park revolving around the world created by Dr. Seuss, the whole trip would have just been an expensive jaunt to a hotel swimming pool in Florida.

I don’t blame the children, of course, but my own expectations of them and how they would define a fun trip. As they grow older, I’ll need to keep my expectations in check to ensure I don’t look for either of them to solve the puzzle of the cosmos for their seventh-grade science project or hit that grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to win the game.

Expecting that much can lead to disappointment, which they could interpret as me thinking they are a failure when nothing could be further from the truth. I’ll need to find the right balance between accepting too little and expecting too much, for in that sweet spot of parenthood grows well-adjusted children.

But for now, I need to remember that they can have a blast by spending an hour drawing faces on balloons and chasing each other around the house with them.
And that I don’t expect my cat to bark.

This is a repost of a column that ran in The Gazette on Sept. 9, 2010. Obi died last year, and we adopted two other cats, Clover and Mario, neither of whom I expect to bark. Both Celeste and Gavin have also since seen all the Harry Potter movies (we skipped the scariest parts), and love them all. But we’re still not returning to Universal Studios. Turns out we’re a Disney World family.

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Day at work with Mom inspires Celeste to fill the bowl


Karen and I always try to instill a sense of charity in our children.

Fill the Bowl

The pet food we collected at church on Sunday for the Fill the Bowl Project.

We take them to buy school supplies in the fall for families who can’t afford to buy them for their children. We throw extra presents in the shopping cart at Christmas and they drop them in the Toys for Tots bin on our way out.

They help us go through their old clothes to donate. And we bring food every month to church to give to the Greater Urbana Area Food Bank.

But in all our efforts to help people, one need has remained unmet: their pets.

Until now, that is.

Our 11-year-old daughter Celeste spearheaded an effort through Children’s Ministries at church to collect pet food for our local food bank.

She thought of the idea on Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day in April. Karen brought Celeste and our 8-year-old son Gavin with her to work at The Humane Society of the United States.

In addition to seeing Mommy in action at the office and learning about the Humane Society’s efforts to protect animals, they also stuffed information packets for one of Karen’s projects: Fill the Bowl.

It’s a great effort in which people collect, well, why don’t I let Celeste tell you about it in her own words:

Fill the Bowl, C&GDear other people out there,

Hi, I’m Celeste. I wanted to do the Humane Society of the United States’ Fill the Bowl Project at my church.

I want people to think about people who need help feeding their families and their pets. I wanted to do this because I don’t want animals to suffer from starvation. I want them to eat freely.

I also did this because I love animals!

This made me feel proud of myself for collecting so much pet food on the first day! I’m happy for pets eating and their pet owners smiling. Collect pet food for people who need to feed their pets.


On Sunday, members of our church brought in enough food to fill the back of our car and we dropped it off at the food bank. The couple that runs it, Larry and Jo Ostby, were thankful for our efforts and mentioned how some of the families ask about pet food.

I’m sure the pets that receive the food will be equally thankful to have a full bowl in front of them.

The dogs would probably lavish Celeste with more slobbering kisses than she would care to receive, and the cats would, well, let’s not kid ourselves. They’re cats. They’d probably just walk away with their tales held high, which as any cat person knows is an exclamation point on their happiness.

Me? I’m thankful that Celeste is beginning to understand the importance of helping people, even when they aren’t around to say thanks.

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Long-lost friendship tints fatherly talk about drugs and alcohol


If I’ve learned one thing in my nearly dozen years as a father, it’s that the best conversations I have with my children are spontaneous. This is especially true for touchy subjects, whether it’s personal safety or drugs and alcohol.

© Alejandro Duran | Dreamstime.com

© Alejandro Duran | Dreamstime.com

I don’t know why this is, but both Celeste and Gavin pay better attention and are more engaged in the conversation when it happens naturally. It’s even better when they bring it up themselves, which Celeste did the other night.

We had just finished dinner. Celeste was telling us about her day at school and how the teacher taught the fifth-graders a unit about drugs, the same one they have every year only the discussion becomes more detailed and advanced as she ages.

Given that she’s entering middle school in the fall, I want her to be well aware of the dangers she’ll encounter and the intense peer pressure she’s about to face.

I’m happy to say that Celeste paid attention to the unit, and is taking the lessons seriously. So far, she seems intent on avoiding drugs and alcohol, and hasn’t been exposed to either.

Some children her age aren’t so lucky. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, many kids in America take their first hit of a joint or sip of alcohol not long after turning 12, which Celeste will be this fall.

It pains me that not much has changed in the nearly 30 years since I faced these same pressures. I remember critical moments of my youth when I found myself at the crossroads of right and wrong. A soft internal voice often tried to steer me toward the right, but a din of teenage voices and vices sometimes drowned it out and pulled me to the left.

My internal voice ultimately won, but I lost many childhood friendships along the way. One stuck out in my mind as I talked with Celeste about drugs, alcohol and the dangers of peer pressure.

I warned her that even her best friends may one day choose drugs over her friendship, just as one of mine did long ago. He loved the high so much that he allowed it to destroy the kid he was before his first hit. His parents eventually found themselves at their wits’ end, and kicked him out of their home in a show of tough love.

My mother agreed to take him in on one condition: No drugs. The arrangement didn’t last long. As bedtime approached one evening, he told me he was going to sneak out and smoke weed. I tried to talk him out of it, but he shut me down with little thought.

I had a choice to make: allow him to sneak out, enable his drug use, and take advantage of my mother’s hospitality or tell my mom. I found myself facing the hardest and easiest decision of my life up to that point. I valued his friendship and didn’t want him to destroy his life, but nor would I enable his drug use.

I ran upstairs to tell my mom. She followed me back down to see what was going on.

“It’s time for me to go, Kay,” he said plainly.

Most friendships die a slow, natural death as interests change or we age, and few of us ever remember the last breath. I remember that one with painful clarity.

“It’s time for me to go, Kay.” He spoke the words with no emotion, as though the drugs dulled any feeling he ever felt.

I can’t say the same for me. My anger exploded moments after he walked out the door. I repeatedly pounded the wall with my fist without feeling a pinprick’s worth of pain.

We never hung out again, and I only ran into him accidentally a couple of times in the immediate years following that night. I have no idea where he is or how his life turned out.

I do hope, however, that he bears no malice against me and understands my decision that night. He chose drugs over our friendship, and I chose to listen to that little voice inside me. It found a megaphone that night, and had no trouble drowning out the din from the pressures of drugs ever again.

Celeste sat silently as I told her my story of that night. She said little if anything when I finished, but I hope she understood my main point: Even your best friend chooses drugs, you don’t have to make the same choice.

I’m proud to say I made the right choice many times, but disappointed I can’t say every time. I can only pray that the wrong decisions I made three decades ago will guide me in helping my children make the right choices today.

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Some tales of peer pressure have happy endings


Peer pressure suffers from a bad rap.

Oh, I’m not talking about the kind in which kids push their friends to do something harmful they might not otherwise do. That kind of peer pressure deserves all the scorn it gets, and then some.

swimming emoticonBut kids pressuring their friends, either directly or indirectly, to do something they needlessly fear can make up for a parent’s shortcomings, or at least those that the dad behind these words can claim as his own.

A recent day at our neighborhood pool in Urbana reminded me of this truth. My kids love spending a hot summer day in the water, but they aren’t the best swimmers no matter how hard I try to teach them.

My 5-year-old son Gavin doesn’t like water in his eyes, so he won’t put his head underwater, let alone attempt any move resembling the doggie paddle. If water accidentally finds its way into his eyes, he screams as though it were acid.

And while my 8-year-old daughter Celeste has no problem going underwater, she doesn’t actually swim. She’ll kick her feet and flail her arms around, but she doesn’t really go anywhere. A few feet, maybe, but Michael Phelps swims farther when he scratches his nose. She’s taken lessons two or three times, but it’s been a couple years and we have found excuses to not try again.

As a result, Gavin is confined to playing in the shallow end of the pool or jumping into my arms and riding piggyback while I stand in about four feet of water. I don’t let him go beyond my reach, which bothers Celeste if it’s only the three of us and she has no one else with whom she can play.

She wants me to give her as much attention as I give Gavin, but I can’t. I’m relieved when Celeste finds a friend to swim with because then I can make sure Gavin does not become a tragic summer statistic and she won’t feel left out.

Part of me feels guilty they can’t swim better, because I remember when I was kid how much I loved swimming on long summer days in The Orchards’ neighborhood pool in Gaithersburg.

It wasn’t much by today’s standards — little more than a long trapezoid with a diving board and a nine-foot deep end — but I still managed to burn my share of skin cells while playing in that water. (No one thought twice about melanoma in those days. Instead of sunblock, people used baby oil so they would tan quicker. Not me, of course. Everyone else.)

From the moment the pool opened at 10 a.m. until it closed at 8 p.m., you could find me and my friends playing Sharks and Minnows, Marco Polo, or perfecting flips off the diving board. We were even known to play our share of cards — a game called Spit, even though it didn’t involve any saliva that I recall — during adult swim.

We simply loved that pool, and my kids love theirs, but they have yet to enjoy it to the fullest because they don’t swim that well.

One day not long ago, the three of us were at the pool for a couple of hours, and Celeste was growing tired of me paying so much attention to Gavin. We were about to leave when some friends and their children arrived — a welcome sight given that Celeste did not know anyone else at the pool that day. She immediately wanted to play with them, which was fine with me.

But after a while, she wanted to follow them and their dad into the deep end, which I would not allow. To say she was not happy with me is akin to saying this summer in Frederick County has been a touch on the warm side.

“But it’s not fair,” she complained to me. “Why can they go in the deep end, but I can’t? Now, I have no one to play with.”

“They can swim better than you,” I replied. “Maybe they come to the pool more often than we do. Maybe they’ve taken more swimming lessons. Maybe it’s both, but you do not swim well enough to go in the deep end, even if I’m with you.”

Celeste sat in silent thought for a few moments as her friends continued to swim in the deep end with their dad. “I want to take swimming lessons again,” she said softly, and I agreed. Her mood improved and we continued on.

A short while later Gavin was jumping to me in the pool, but he was still determined to keep his head above water, as though he had just spent every penny in his piggy bank on a new hairdo. But then he saw one of his friends, who is about two years his junior, swimming around like he was trying to find Nemo.

“OK, Daddy, I’m going to do it,” Gavin announced proudly as he stood on the edge of the pool watching his friend swim without a care.

“Do what?” I asked.

“Swim!” he shouted as he swung his arms and bounced at the knees. “Ready? I’m gonna do it! 1, 2, 3, cannonball!”

He jumped. I was too far away to catch him, so he sunk like a rock. I moved quickly to lift him up and braced myself for him to pop his head above water with an ear-splitting scream.

Instead, he shouted, “Did you see me, Daddy?”

“I did!”

“I swimmed, Daddy! I swimmed!”

“Yes, you did.”

“OK,” he said trying to free himself from my hug. “I’m going to do it again!”

I spent the next 20 minutes catching Gavin as he jumped to me in the pool, and his head went underwater every time without complaint. I can’t count the number of times I tried to persuade him to dunk his head underwater before that day, but I always failed. It just took an unintentional nudge from one of his younger friends, a peer pressure of sorts, to encourage him to do something he needlessly feared.

I smiled, and realized that a similar unspoken pressure, or perhaps “drive” is a better word, that Celeste felt to swim with her friends also persuaded her to want to learn how to swim better.

If only all peer pressure had such happy endings.

This is a repost of a column that appeared in The Gazette on Aug. 26, 2010. Gavin is now 8, and is still learning how to swim. He doesn’t mind dipping his head below water, but holds his nose every time.

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Losing a race, but learning an important lesson


One lesson I continually try to teach my children is the importance of losing gracefully.

Gavin looks over to his fellow racer during the Raingutter Regatta and realizes that he is losing the race.

Gavin looks over to his fellow racer during the Raingutter Regatta and realizes that he is losing the race.

After all, little says more about our character than how we behave when we lose, and I want my children’s actions to show the world how gracious they can be.

I started out a few steps behind the curve, particularly when Gavin was 5 years old.

But he’s beginning to understand the lesson, thanks in large part to baseball. Still, I sometimes hold my breath and brace for the worst during games and other races, most recently during the Raingutter Regatta for the Cub Scout pack.

As we made the boat in the days before the race, Gavin kept repeating how he had never won a trophy before. That this is only his second year in Scouts and therefore only his second regatta made no difference to his 8-year-old mind. He wanted a trophy.

As we made our way to the race, I worried how he would react if he lost. Given that the races are single elimination and the boys’ boat designs varied widely, I knew winning the Raingutter Regatta is much about luck as a boy’s ability to blow air into the sail.

Part of me envisioned Gavin throwing his boat on the ground and walking away in disgust if he didn’t win.

I crossed my fingers when Gavin’s turn to race came. He and the other boy placed their boats in the water, and I positioned myself to take pictures. When the Scoutmaster told them to go, they both started blowing into the sails of their boats as though they were blowing out the candles on their birthday cakes.

As I snapped away taking pictures, Gavin took an early lead as the other boys in the pack cheered on both racers.

For a moment, I thought Gavin might win the heat and advance to the next round. But then he started losing steam and his boat started scraping the side of the rain gutter.

Moments later, the other boy reached the end of the rain gutter and advanced to the next round. Gavin lost by a foot.

I held my breath and walked over to console him as he worked his way back into the crowd. “Hey, you ran a good race, G,” I said, placing my hand on his shoulder. “You did the best you could.”

He shrugged and said nothing.

I took a few steps back to make room for the boys, but stood close enough to watch and see how he reacted to the other boys racing.

Within a few moments, he was cheering for his friends just as they cheered for him. I smiled and stopped worrying.

As we walked away from the regatta at the end of the night, I knew Gavin had learned what it means to lose well.

“I didn’t win a trophy, but at least I had fun,” Gavin said as he rubbed the edges of his boat with his fingertips. “I can add this boat to my collection. Now I have two. That’s a collection, right, Daddy?”

“It’s a good start, G,” I said.

I could not have been more proud of him, even if he had he won a trophy. I realize it’s just a small step in his development toward becoming a good man, but this journey is made up small steps and each one is worth celebrating.

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Naps are few and far between these days


I love taking naps.

In fact, we have a long-running, er, I was about to say joke, but it’s more of an understanding in our household about Saturday afternoons, and the occasional habit I have of lying down on the couch to “read” a book or magazine.

nappingI place read in quotes because Karen and the kids know that if I have time to lie down on the couch with a book on a Saturday afternoon, no one is reading anything. I’ll fall asleep before I turn the first page.

But since my children have outgrown their naps, I rarely have the chance to catch that quick snooze.

Celeste’s infant days were golden. She would sleep for three hours every day, whether she closed her eyes at noon, 1 or 2 p.m. The rainy days were the best because I didn’t have to feel bad about missing a nice day outside.

Sure, I could have spent the afternoon doing chores around the house, but let’s be real. If you have the choice between doing chores and taking a nap, well, that’s not really a choice at all, is it? It’s like choosing between a piece of chocolate and a sprig of broccoli. Even the president of the VeggieTales fan club would choose chocolate.

Of course, it wasn’t every day. Celeste had her days when she wouldn’t nap, which gave rise to one of the nicknames we have given her over the years: No-nap Allanach.

When No-nap showed up, no one’s afternoon was safe. The days after a sleepless night were the worst because she didn’t give us the chance to catch up on our sleep. Some days I think I’m still running a deficit.

Gavin came along a few years after Celeste, and the beginning of the end to Saturday naps appeared. He would only nap for two hours in the afternoon, and had his share of sleepless days.

He quickly lifted the No-nap Allanach name from Celeste, and at 5 years old no longer naps, which makes for some tense evenings some days. We can tell when he’s had a full and tiring day in kindergarten. He’s punchy and won’t leave Celeste alone no matter how often (loud, actually) she tells him.

When we sit down at the table for dinner, we usually ask the kids about their day, and if they did anything exciting. Celeste’s days are always “fine” or “good,” answers that will serve her well once she starts taking multiple choice tests. (She might need some help with the essays, though.)

It’s harder to tell about Gavin’s day. He’ll usually go off on some incoherent tangent about how one of the kids played Spider-Man or how Iron Man served them lunch — a typical response from a 5-year-old boy who is obsessed with superheroes.

He often runs around after dinner, but when the time comes bed, he develops a sudden and acute leg condition. They stop working, and he complains loudly about how much they hurt. He can’t possibly walk upstairs on his own because his legs hurt “so, so bad.”

It seems to clear up quickly, though, if I tell him that he must be too tired for stories and he should go straight to bed. If the academy had a category for “Best Bedtime Drama Performance,” Gavin would have several Oscars and we’d fight to evade the paparazzi every time we go to the store.

I don’t know where he learned his flair for drama. Celeste is the queen of stall tactics — she always has to stop and pet our cat Obi whenever it’s time to go up for stories — but she isn’t dramatic about it. She just quietly tries to sneak a few more minutes of awake time when it’s time to go to bed.

I suppose I should be thankful they don’t take naps any longer because then they would not feel tired when bedtime rolls around. But it’s hard to feel that way on a Saturday …. on a Saturday nnmmkkkkkk ….. afternoon when …. xxxccccc ….. when my eyelids are heavy, my fingers are clumsy, v;I,dtyu. smkl …. and the only thought on my mind is … zzzzzzzzzzz….////////////////…………………

This is a repost of a column that appeared in The Gazette on Oct. 21, 2010. Both Celeste and Gavin have long outgrown their afternoon naps, but I still like to sneak one in occasionally.


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