I did not speak like this when I was ten years old.

The children are trying to argue with me that they are no longer little.

“We’re big kids now!” Charlie said.

I insisted that they are still little. “Look at you,” I said. “You’re short and tiny. I can still pick you up!”

Clara’s response:

“When I refer to myself as big, Daddy, I’m speaking in relation to the little ones. You know, preschoolers and such.”

Maybe she’s not so little after all.

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Worst reaction to a gift ever

Yesterday Elysha and I gave Clara several birthday presents. Books, accessories for her American Girl doll, and a canopy to create a book nook in her bedroom.

Happily, Elysha was in charge of choosing the gifts and ran the choices by me only after her selections were made.

She knows that if I was in charge of the gifts, I would buy far too many gifts.

I am a living contradiction:

I want to overwhelm my children with presents on every gift-giving opportunity but think there’s far too much stuff in our house and think a lot of it should be given away.

I’m a joy to live with.

Clara loved her gifts. She thanked us for them. Hugged and kissed us.

This was a far cry from Hanukkah 2011, when Clara had a decidedly different and hilarious (and heartbreaking) reaction to her gift.

I was recently contacted by a marketing company that wants to try to make this video go viral, and it just might, all thanks to an almost two-year old Clara and her reaction to this present.

Clara turns 10 years-old today.

Clara is ten years-old today. Double digits. I can’t believe it.

From the moment I learned that Elysha was pregnant, I started writing to Clara, and later to Charlie, on a blog called “Greetings Little One.” I wrote a post to the kids on that blog every day from 2008 until late 2015, about eight years in all, so there is a lot of content there.

On the day that Clara was born, a single decade ago today, I wrote this to my little girl.

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Our day began yesterday, at 11:53 PM, when you mother awoke me from twenty minutes of glorious sleep to inform me that her water had broken. In fact, it was still breaking as I awoke. I could hear the splashing from the bed. Despite the hours of birthing class and hundreds of pages that Mommy and I read on pregnancy, we both stared at one another and asked, “What do we do now?”

I doubted that your mother was experiencing contractions, since the brutal, possibly hedonist midwife earlier that day had told me that there was “no mistaking contractions.” Since your mom had said that she thought it might be contractions, I assumed that she was experiencing cramps and that we should probably not go to the hospital yet.

Your mother, in a bit of a panic, insisted that we go. I offered to call the doctor first and bring Kaleigh to the Casper’s house before heading off, but she was not happy with this suggestion.

Oh well. Mommy and Daddy aren’t always perfect.

After loading up the car and waiting for Jane to arrive to pick up Kaleigh, we were off, finally leaving the house at 12:30 AM.

Seven minutes later, we arrived at the hospital, and I dropped Mommy off at the doors in order to park the car. I said, “Don’t wait for me. Just go up.”

She replied, “There’ll be no waiting for you” and exited the car.

I admit that I secretly hoped that by the time I made it up to the sixth floor, you would be well on your way out.

No such luck.

Mommy was filling out paperwork with a nurse when I arrived in the delivery center, and it was at this time that I finally understood the degree of Mommy’s pain. As she was being asked questions, her responses were were fairly incoherent. It turns out that her contractions were coming every three to four minutes, which explains the pain.

After being led to our room, we met Cassie, the first of two nurses who we would come to adore throughout the birthing process. Cassie was with us throughout the evening, making us comfortable and helping us to catch a few hours of sleep. After arriving, we learned that Mommy was almost entirely effaced but not dilated at all. We were shocked. On the way over to the hospital, we took wagers on how dilated she would be.

She said 4 centimeters would make her happy, and I was hoping for 7.

Zero was a disappointment.

Thankfully, our doctor, who doesn’t believe that women should ever suffer through childbirth, offered to administer the epidural immediately, even though birthing class instructors informed us that it would not be done before 4 centimeters. This was the first of what we discovered to be several false statements made by birthing class instructors, including their assertion that the hospital had no Wi-Fi, which I am using at this moment.

I left the room for the epidural (though Cassie said I could stay if I wanted, which my birthing instructor said would never happen), and even though Mommy hasn’t said much about it, it seemed to go well. The anesthesiologist was a bit of a jerk, but otherwise, the needle, the meds, and all the horrifying aspects of this procedure went off without a hitch. Mommy was terrified during this process, possibly more than any other time in her life, but she held up like a trooper.

With the epidural on board, the pain vanished, the lights were turned off, and Mommy and I managed to sleep for a couple fitful hours. The chair that I attempted to sleep in was a device that harkened back to the Spanish Inquisition. It tortured my neck and back, but I later found the wisdom to open it into a bed and sleep soundly for an hour or two. We slept from about 2:00-4:00 AM, when Cassie checked Mommy again and found her fully effaced and 4 centimeters dilated. Lights went out again until 6:00, when Cassie checked and found Mommy fully dilated.

Hooray. I expected a baby before breakfast and said as much.

She began pushing at 6:30, but in the midst of a shift change, Cassie left us and Catherine took over. It was immediately decided to allow you to drop some more on your own before resuming to push.

When Catherine first appeared, we didn’t know who she was, but being the woman she is, your mother immediately requested her name and rank, and we learned that Cassie was leaving us. Cassie was wonderful; an easy going, friendly, and warm woman with three young kids of her own who was perfect for helping us to rest and relax during the night.

Catherine was warm and friendly as well, but she was also a bit of a drill sergeant, specific and demanding in her orders, and it was just what your Mommy needed when she began pushing again around 8:00. This was the hardest time for your mother. She pushed consistently from 8:00 until 11:30, but because of the placement of your mother’s pubic bone and the angle of your head, you simply would not come out. The vacuum was attempted briefly, but at last, it was determined that a c-section would need to be done.

A few interesting notes from the pushing:

Several times, Catherine encouraged Mommy to find some anger with which to help push. “Get mad,” she would say. “Find something to be angry about.” Your mother continually asserted that she had nothing in her life with which to be angry. “I’m just so happy,” she said. Catherine eventually gave up on the anger angle, acknowledging that she was dealing with the sweetest person on the planet.

Your mother never yelled at me and never uttered a single word of profanity during the entire birthing process.

Throughout the pushing, I was receiving and sending texts to your grandmother, Justine, and Cindy, who were all dying to find out what was going on. I also managed to update my Facebook and Twitter accounts throughout the morning and work on my next novel, finishing up a chapter and starting a new one. Catherine questioned this, but Mommy is no dummy. If I finish and sell this book, she might be able to stay home longer with you, so between pushing, I would roll to the other side of the room and write.

When the vacuum was brought into play, the room filled with about eight doctors and nurses. At one point, a nurse asked me to hold your mom’s leg, which I had been doing all morning. “Not him,” Catherine said. “He doesn’t get off of that stool.”  Though I didn’t feel queasy or weak in the knees, she saw something in me that indicated otherwise. Later I was sent out of the room to “drink some juice.”

This was prescient on her part. After you were born, I went downstairs to Friendly’s to eat and fell down in the hallway from hunger and exhaustion. Nurses ran over to me, expecting the worst, only to find me half-crying about how hungry and tired I was.

When the decision was made to extract you via c-section, things got fast and furious and I left your mom for the first time today in order to don a pair of scrubs while she was rolled into the operating room and prepped. It was at this time that I was forced to remove my Superman tee-shirt, which had been specifically chosen for the event. I wanted your first glimpses of me to be reminiscent of the man of steel.

The best laid plans of mice and men.

When I entered the OR, the doctors were already working on your mother, and I inadvertently caught a view of her and the horror of a c-section before I was ushered to a stool behind the screen and told not to move.

Yikes!

Sitting beside your mom’s head and three anesthesiologists who were busy at work injecting Mommy with more medicine than I could have ever imagined, I listened and waited with her. It took about fifteen minutes before I heard your first cries and one of the doctors leaned over the screen and said, “Here it comes. Do you want to know if it’s a boy or a girl?”

“Yes,” we said in unison.

“It looks like… a girl,” he said, and immediately thereafter, the docs behind the screen began asserting the same. We began crying while we listened to your cry and caught our first glimpses of you as a nurse was preparing to weigh you. A couple minutes later, after managing a 9/9 on your Apgar scores, you were handed to me, the first time I have ever held an infant without the protection of a sofa and many cushions.

You were simply beautiful.

Because of the position that Mommy was still in, she wasn’t able to see you well until Catherine finally took you from my nervous arms, flipped you upside down like a football, and held your face to hers.

I’ll never forget this moment.

Your mom was forced to remain on the table, arms outstretched and pinned, for more than an hour while the doctors stitched her up. She began to go a little stir crazy for a while, unable to move and shivering uncontrollably, and we tried to calm her by massaging her shoulders and rubbing her arms.

Eventually the surgery ended, and you were finally handed to Mommy. The two of you were rolled into Recovery while I had the pleasure of telling your grandparents, Aunty Emily, and soon-to-be Uncle Michael all about you. There were many tears. Your grandfather laughed, your grandmother cried, and in keeping with her character, Aunty Emily was indignant over her inability to see you and her sister immediately.

She’s one demanding babe.

It’s almost 9:00 PM, and we are now sitting in our room, resting and chatting. You are asleep and have been for the past few hours. I must leave soon in order to go home so that I can teach tomorrow and use my time off when you and your mom are at home. My students will be thrilled to see your photos and hear all about you.

For your mother, the hours of pushing were her greatest challenge of the day.

For me, the greatest challenge will be leaving this room tonight and not taking you with me. I want nothing more than to hold you in my arms for the next week.

We love you so much, little one. Welcome to the world.

Charlie can kiss all he wants. He just doesn't want to.

I’m telling Charlie about mine and Elysha’s first kiss when I see him grimace.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “You don’t need to kiss anyone unless you want to, and besides, you’re way too young to be kissing someone anyway.”

“Dad,” he says, sounding exasperated. “I’m old enough to kiss girls. I could kiss girls if I wanted to. I just don’t want to.”

So there you have it. My six year-old son is apparently plenty old enough to kiss a girl if he’s so inclined.

After a brief conversation about consent (to which he rolled is eyes and said, “Of course”), I ran to my computer to record our interaction word-for word.

If he gets married someday, I have my first bit of material for my speech.

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Kids get mad at "Bohemian Rhapsody"

Our kids love music.

Much of this is thanks to Elysha. As much as I love music, she loves it even more.

But it’s also in large part the result to hours of Spotify playlists playing in the car, the music playing often in our home, the endless conversations about music, and our before-bed ritual of climbing onto our bed as a family and listening to a final song to end the day.

As a result of all of this, Clara and Charlie care deeply about music and already have a great deal of background knowledge about music and the artists who make it.

This is almost always a good thing.

But yesterday morning, I was playing a playlist that featured Queen songs when “Bohemian Rhapsody” came on. Clara was in the front of the house, playing with toys, and Charlie was in the back of the house, doing the same. But about a minute into the song, both of them converged in the middle of the house, where I was working, to listen more closely to the song.

“What is this?” Charlie asked. “It makes no sense.”

“Is he okay?” Clara asked. “And why is he singing about Galileo? Does he even know who Galileo is? I don’t think he knows anything about Galileo?”

“What is this?” Charlie repeated, becoming more irritated by the second.

I tried to explain “Bohemian Rhapsody” to my children, but how do you explain “Bohemian Rhapsody” to anyone?

I tried to tell them that it’s a combination of hard rock, an opera, a ballad, and probably some other stuff that I’m not hearing or have forgotten. I told them that I think it’s a song about a man who is waiting to be executed for murder, but that might not be right at all.

I said, “It’s not supposed to make perfect sense.”

“No kidding,” Charlie said and stormed off.

Clara listened until the song was done. Then she turned to me. “Do you like that song, Daddy?”

“Yes,” I said. “A lot.”

“Okay,” she said and walked away. Unimpressed. Back to her toys.

I can’t help but wonder what Freddy Mercury would think all these years later if he knew how angry and befuddled my children became upon hearing his song.

I also can’t help but wonder how I reacted when I heard the song for the first time.

Maybe I was annoyed, too. Maybe it’’s the eventual, inevitable transformation of annoyance and befuddlement to acceptance and love that makes us love that song so much. Rather than a simple song with a simple message, “Bohemian Rhapsody” demands something from you, and as a result, it leaves its mark on your heart and soul.

I look forward to watching my kids fall in love with it like I have.

Dad is clearly an idiot

Clara, age 9, came down stairs on Saturday morning, popped open her Chromebook, and started pecking away.

I waited a few minutes, but when she failed to acknowledge my existence, I finally asked what she was doing.

“Just doing a little research on tsunamis.”

“Oh,” I said. “You woke up thinking about tidal waves?”

“Yes, but don’t call them tidal waves anymore, Dad. They have nothing to do with tides. I’m sure I’ve told you that before.

Because this is exactly what I want in the pre-dawn hours of a Saturday morning.

Pre-teen intellectual irritation.

Thank goodness that I'm smart enough to listen to my wife

Photos like these remind me of how stupid I can be.

About eight years ago, Elysha began talking about wanting a second child. While I was agreeable to the prospect of one more kid, I was also perfectly happy with just Clara. She was a happy and healthy little girl who filled my heart with joy.

Did we really need another?

What a stupid question.

I can’t imagine the world without Charlie today. He is such an interesting and lovable human being, but beyond my own love for my son, I can’t imagine my kids without the blessing of each other.

Not only does our boy bring so much happiness to our lives, but Clara and Charlie love each other so much, and I simply can’t imagine them existing without each other.

Listening to my kids talk and play and laugh together is by far my favorite thing in this world.

Thank goodness for Elysha’s infinite wisdom.

The life cycle of a human being through the eyes of a six year-old boy

Behold!

Charlie’s (age 6) interpretation of the life cycle of a human being from the womb to the grave.

The beginning stages and the ending stages are especially interesting.

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A solution to arguing on Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving is upon us. A day of food, family, and friends. A day of giving thanks for all our good fortune.  

And with it, the prospect of strife at the dinner table.

Democrats vs. Republicans
Rex Sox fans vs. Yankees fans 
Carnivores vs. vegans
Beatles vs. Stones
Cat people vs. dog people
Mouth breathers vs. nose breathers

These feuds can sometimes ruin an otherwise festive holiday. I've witnessed a few of these turkey day battles in my time, and I’ve participated in a few as well. 

In fact, I’ve angered the fathers of girlfriends on Thanksgiving to the point shouting at least three times in my life.

I once encouraged folks around the table to pass on food they don’t like while the father - a self-proclaimed chef - watched in horror at the rebellion that I’d stirred.

Eventually he and I had words.

I once repeatedly left the room every time the father of a girlfriend made a racially insensitive remark. That father eventually realized what I was doing and had words with me.

I was also once, (unbeknownst to me) fed my pet rabbit on Thanksgiving, which eventually caused a bit of a row.

I’ve also argued economics during the height of the Great Recession with family members who didn’t know a credit default swap from a toxic asset, debated the future of the NFL with my father-in-law, and argued the stupidity of trickle-down economics with my uncle when I was about fourteen years-old.

I drew a political cartoon that year to make my point, and decades later, my aunt sent me that cartoon. She had saved it for me.

None of these incidents made for a good Thanksgiving. I’m a guy who loves to argue, but not on Thanksgiving. Today is the last day that anyone should be verbally sparring, and yet we do.

When you see an argument erupting this year or you feel like the family is on the verge of an argument, here is my suggestion:

Tell a story.

Rather than jumping into the fray with disagreement and debate, try to tell a story instead. Return civility and joy to the table by capturing the imagination of your friends and family with an entertaining return to the past. Rise above the ruckus with something like:

"Guess what happened to me last week!"

"I attended quite the birthday party a few months ago!"

"Do you remember the Christmas when the raccoon broke into the house and tore open a bunch of the Christmas presents?"

That last one really happened. I had a pet raccoon as a kid. He managed to sneak into the house on Christmas Eve.

I should tell that story someday. 

Maybe I'll tell it at the Thanksgiving Day table this year.

Anything is better than a fight.

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Just another Saturday night

It’s Saturday night in our house. An evening to relax. Enjoy ourselves. Have some fun.

What did our 9 year-old daughter, Clara, choose to do with her free time?

She read books on ancient Greece and ancient Rome, and then for funsies decided to create a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the two cultures.

She’s cool that way. A real party animal.

My son, the conceptual percussionist

Our son, Charlie, age six, designed a drum kit out of several of his toys.

Then he conceptualized a song called "Exploring Your Life" that... well, he can explain better than I ever could.

Whenever my kids do something like this, I cannot help but think that when I was their age, I was a small, useless parasite incapable of little more than eating, watching television, and playing in the dirt.

News of a pending divorce

When I asked how her day went, my 10 year-old daughter, Clara, said she had a little trouble at recess.

“Yeah,” I said. “What happened?”

“Well,” she began. “We were playing house, and I’m the mother, and this boy is the father, and we have two kids. Sounds good. Right? Except I’ve decided that it’s not going to work, so I told him today that I wanted a divorce.”

I was driving when she said this to me, so I pulled the car over to capture her language as precisely as possible.

“So now what?” I asked.

“Tomorrow I need to tell the kids, and that won’t be easy. Then I’ll have to tell them that they need to take on more responsibilities because it’s just going to be the three of us.”

“Will that be hard?” I asked.

“Very.”

A couple hours later, Elysha asked Clara how the boy took the news of the divorce, and Clara reported that he was fine.

“Anything else?” I asked, feverishly typing into Evernote as I spoke.

“Nope,” she said. “But can we go now? I want to see the kitties.”

I don’t remember every recess I enjoyed when I was a child, but I am fairly certain that none of them were anything like the recesses that my daughter enjoys these days.

At least I think she enjoys them. They sounds incredibly stressful to me.

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Smart cat. Terrible skill.

I know what you’re thinking. There’s no cuter cat in the world. Right?

I thought that, too, until I came downstairs this morning and found the kitchen sink running.

“Damn kids,” I thought.

I turned off the water and went to the table to begin my work. A few minutes later, I heard the water come on.

My first thought: “A ghost?”

Except I don’t believe in ghosts. And it wasn’t a ghost.

It was this:

Yes. My water-obsessed cat has learned how to turn on the kitchen sink.

I’m doomed.

Charlie lost his first tooth. Also, a lot more happened.

Big day for my little boy.

After countless days of wiggling and pulling, Charlie finally lost his first tooth. He was brushing his teeth when, according to him, he felt something. “I stopped brushing, reached into my mouth, and it was my tooth!”

Damn was he excited. I was in the shower at the time, so he came running, crashed into the glass shower door, and said, “Dad! It happened!”

It’s a moment I will never forget.

Earlier that night, he stepped into his bedroom after our cleaning lady had tidied up and said, “Dad, my room looks spectacular.”

Even earlier that night, he stood before a 12-foot, inflatable, animatronic pumpkin headed monster on the front lawn of his Hebrew School and could not stop laughing, gasping, pointing, and uttering, “Oh my God.”

When saying goodbye to his friend, Helen, after an afternoon playdate, he hugged her and she hugged him, so instantly and easily and sweetly, that it made my heart melt.

While we were lying in his bed, lights out and blue stars projected on the ceiling, listening to Neko Case’s “I Wish I Were the Moon,” he whispered in response to a line in the song, “I hope she’s not so tired anymore.”

Lastly, as he placed his tooth under his pillow, he said to me, “I know you have to work at the hospital tomorrow, but don’t leave until you see what the tooth fairy gave me. I want you to know, too.”

So I sit here at the table, thinking about all that made yesterday so beautiful, recording these moments both here and in my Homework for Life so they will remain with me forever, waiting for that little boy to come racing down the stairs with a golden dollar and a note from Tooth Fairy congratulating him on his first lost tooth.

I hold onto these moments more than anything else in the world, because they are more valuable than anything else in the world. They are my treasure.

First words this morning

My nine year-old daughter, Clara, came downstairs this morning, and before saying another word, asked, “Dad, what started the French and Indian War?”

Why my daughter would start her day with this question is beyond me.

“Did you know,” I said, “that the French and Indian War wasn’t actually between …”

“I know, I know,” Clara said. “The French and Indians were fighting the British. I know that. I want to know what started the war.”

Just like that, she had stripped me of my best French and Indian War fact. But I was not to be deterred.

“Did you know that the war was also called..”

“Yes, the Seven Years War,” she said. “I know that, too.” Now she sounded annoyed. “I want to know what started the war.”

I told Clara that I thought the war began over the fight for land. “I think the French and the British were fighting over land in the west and control the fur trade in those areas.”

“You think?” she said. “Let’s look it up.”

So at 6:10 AM, with many other things to do, Clara and I did a deep dive on the French and Indian War. We discovered that I was correct. Though there are always many reasons for war, the control of disputed land in North America was the primary cause.

We also learned that 22 year-old George Washington led the first attack against the French at the Battle of Jumonville Glen.

We learned that the war began in North America in 1754 but expanded to Europe in 1756.

We learned that Britain gained control of parts of Canada, which was populated with 80,000 French residents, and that those people were deported following the war to make the land available to immigrants from Europe and migrants from the colonies to the south. 

“What a bummer for them,” Clara said.

Then I finally taught Clara something that she didn’t know. I explained that the French and Indian War cost Great Britain a lot of money, and to pay off their debt, the Crown tried to impose new taxes on its colonies. These attempts were met with resistance, until troops were called in to enforce the Crown's authority. These acts ultimately led to the start of the American Revolutionary War.

Great Britain won the French and Indian War, but it ultimately led to the loss of British colonies in North America and the birth of the United Stares.

“Cool,” Clara said and then skipped away. It was 6:35 AM, and she had to go learn about the composition of Neptune on Ready Jet Go.

Hydrogen, helium, and methane, if you were wondering.

My children show me a world I often fail to see

One of my favorite thing about kids - mine as well as other people’s children - is how often I see the world in a new way through their innocent, creative, untainted eyes.

Like this. Who know raspberries could be so versatile? So decorative?

I’ve always thought of raspberries as a nonsense fruit. They last about 19 minutes before going squishy and gross. They have a ridiculous P in the spelling of their name. And they are the only fruit that must sit atop a diaper in their plastic container.

Following my children’s lead, I placed raspberries on my fingers (slightly harder given the size of my fingers) and never enjoyed eating raspberries so much.

Find a kid. See the world differently. Embrace it. Indulge.

Feline interference

I have the same exact struggle with my cat with one exception:

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I’m not just doing surgery when Plto sits across my forearms.

I’m writing.

A far more serious piece of business.

Ocelots have a lot of sex. My daughter told me.

My daughter, Clara just told me that an ocelot mates up to 70 times each day.

My first thought: Sounds like a hell of a lot of fun to be an ocelot.

My second thought: Did my nine year-old daughter just tell me that the ocelot has sex up to 70 times a day?

My third thought: Does Clara even understand what mating (or sex) means?

My last thought: I really, really hope she doesn’t ask me to explain mating at 6:12 AM.

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