How to make a reader in one easy, high effective step

My daughter can read. She's six years-old and started first grade yesterday, and that girl can legitimately read books. Hard books. Real books. She can read books that I can't believe she can read. My girl is a reader. And she loves to read. 

And her brother is only three years-old and can't read yet, but the boy loves books, too. He will sit in the car and turn the pages of book after book, as happy as can be. He begs for additional books every night before bed. He stares at the pages with intensity. He loves books and is well on his way to becoming a reader, too.  

Here's the thing:

I didn't do anything to teach her to read, and neither did my wife. We are both elementary school teachers, and yet we have never delivered a reading lesson to our children.. No discussion about vowel sounds or consonant blends or the magic E. No running records or fluency practice. We barely participated in her kindergarten homework last year, but this girl can read. 

As a parent who wants to take credit for everything that my children do well, this is disturbing. My little girl can read, and I'm not responsible.

Then someone reminded me that my wife and I have been reading books to our children before bed every single night of their lives almost without exception, and that we are often reading to our kids during the day as well.

We don't trace the words with our fingers or point out high frequency words or discuss CVC words. We don't ask them to try to read any words. We don't use any of the literacy skills that we learned as elementary school teachers. 

We just read. 

Remarkably, less than half of all Americans do this. A survey in 2013 found that only one-third of American read to their children every night before bed. Children are more likely to be playing video games and watching television before bed than reading. 

I can't believe it.   

PEOPLE! READ TO YOUR CHILDREN!

Sit down for 20-30 minutes before bed every night and read to your kids. Read the same damn books over and over again, even if you can't stand them. Go to libraries and bring home piles of books. Ask your friends and relatives for books. Make sure that the last thing your child does every single night for the first five years of life and beyond is read. 

Somehow, it works. And I should know it works since as a teacher, I know that all the research in the world says it works.

I guess I just never really believed it.

Best of all, the return on investment is enormous. In exchange for 30 meaningful minutes spent with your child every night, you will produce a child who will one day pick up a book and just start reading, seemingly out of the blue. You will produce a reader who learns her grade level sight words by October. You will produce a child who loves books and loves to read so much that she stays up late at night in her bed reading well after you have told her to go to sleep.

I did almost nothing, and I produced a reader. I'm amazing. I'm the best parent ever. I set my child up for lifelong success. I deserve a medal. Two medals. Two medals and a big-ass trophy. 

And all I did was read to my kids.

My wife helped, too. 

How to annoy a child

As an elementary school teacher for the last 17 years, I have learned many ways to annoy a child. Here are just a few:   

  1. If asked, declare that you have no favorite number.
  2. If asked, declare that you have no favorite color.
  3. Refuse to divulge your own middle name.
  4. Ask a child how many fingers he or she has. When the child says ten, point out that he or she only has eight because two of their digits are thumbs. Then seriously question the child's intelligence. 
  5. Say popular catch phrases in the most robotic and uninspired way possible while pretending like you are trying your best to say the phrase properly.
  6. Explain that the unicorn is not an imaginary animal but an extinct animal. Use the existence of the narwhal, the rhino, and all other horned land animals to support your assertion. 

For the record, I have no favorite number or color. 

I have a middle name but often provide children with a false name.

And I have convinced dozens of children that unicorns were once real before laughing at their naivety. 

My daughter manages money better than most Americans. And unlike me, her savings weren't eaten by a dog named after a video game.

For almost a year, my six year-old daughter, Clara, has been saving her allowance and birthday money for a dollhouse that she saw at Barnes & Noble one day. 

Clara receives $1 per week (plus additional quarters for the completion of additional chores), of which she divides amongst her long term, short term, and charity jars. She is required to put a quarter in each jar and put the remaining quarters wherever she wants. For months, all of her extra quarters (and birthday money) have been going to long term savings.

On Sunday, her total in the long term savings jar exceeded $90, which meant that she had the $89 need to purchase the dollhouse.

When I was ten years-old, I saved $100 selling lemonade, leftover food from my grandfather's picnic, and my brother's toys (I don't think he knows about this even today), only to have my wallet and all but $6 eaten by my dog, Pac-Man. 

I had been selling my grandfather's barbecue chicken, and some of the sauce had gotten on the money, drawing Pac-Man's attention.  

I cannot tell you how impressed I was with my little girl. She made a plan, demonstrated patience and perseverance, and it finally paid off. I know many, many adults incapable of saving money and waiting like she did. 

When we arrived at Barnes & Noble, I immediately went to the cashier and warned her that my daughter would be buying a dollhouse and paying in about $20 worth of quarters and many small bills. I thought it was important that Clara use the actual money that she had saved when buying the dollhouse. I wanted her to connect effort with reward.

The cashier's response should have been a smile and congratulations to my daughter, but instead I received a scowl and a complaint that she didn't have any quarter rolls.

I was annoyed.

Not only was she legally required to accept our payment regardless of denomination, but a little bit of excitement for our daughter;s accomplishment would have been nice. I will never understand who some customer service people don't choose to simply be kind and polite.

Thankfully, by the time we returned with the dollhouse, scowling cashier had been replaced with a cashier who was genuinely excited for my daughter. We counted quarters on the side while she took customers, and once we were ready, she took Clara's money with a smile and many, many congratulatory remarks.  

The way it's supposed to be done.

Clara is saving again. She's not sure for what yet, but she told me that she will start saving while she figures out what she wants next. 

She's also been willing do to extra chores around the house, understanding better than ever how effort can result in reward, and more importantly, what the earned realization of that reward feels like.

The blend of happiness and sadness, pride and envy of the working day is easy on some days. Impossibly hard on others. Also, my son needs to get himself a job.

It’s not uncommon to hear about my wife’s day home with our son or the times that they have spent with friends at a coffee shop or a playground or a gym class and feel incredibly jealous for this time that she has enjoyed at home with our kids.

It’s an odd tug, to be honest. Part of me is so glad that we can do this for her and our children, and part of me is so proud of myself for cobbling together my teaching and writing and speaking and storytelling and DJ and tutoring careers together into some semblance of an income that has allowed us to continue to pay the bills and keep our heads above water while one of us is not working.

But there’s always a part of me that knows that even if my next book is a huge bestseller or my last book is made into a blockbuster film, or even if we win the lottery that we never play because lotteries are for suckers, I will never get this same chance to spend the kind of time with my children that my wife has had over these past five years.

That time is gone forever. Clara is in kindergarten. Charlie will be in preschool next year. Even if I become a stay-at-home dad someday – which may actually happen at some point in the future – it will be a quieter, emptier, far more organized house. There will be chances to volunteer in classrooms and walks to school, but those lazy mornings in bed or those afternoons in the sun are not in my future, no matter what happens.

That blending of happiness for my children and my wife and sadness for what I can never have and pride for what we have accomplished is easier on some days than others.

Some days it’s easy as pie. Some days it’s a stone on my heart. 

But I really shouldn’t be jealous of my son for his time at home. He’s only two years-old, and yet, when I see photos like this, of my son playing in his big sister’s bed, while she and I are off at our respective schools, I can’t help but think that he needs to get a job.

He’s just having way too much fun.

image imageimage

It’s your booger.

I was wrestling with my two year-old son. He was climbing all over me. Squeezing my face. Tickling me. Standing on my chest. Throwing himself onto my head. Then he stopped. Frowned. Pointed at my chest.

“Ew,” he said. “Yucky! What dat?”

I looked. I saw. “That’s your booger, Charlie. Your giant booger on my sweater,” I said. “Not mine. Yours.”

“Yucky,” he said, as if it was my fault. “Throw booger away, Daddy!”

In moments like this, I remind myself that he has never peed on my once while I was changing his diaper.

Small stuff, but it matters a lot.

image

30 lessons learned from six years of parenting

My daughter celebrated her sixth birthday on Sunday. When she turned two years-old, I posted a list of lessons learned from two years of parenting.

I updated that list when she turned four.

In truth, I raised a step-daughter for ten years as well, so I’ve been a parent a lot longer than just six years, but for the purposes of these posts, I have only listed lessons learned since having children of my own.

Here is the latest update to the list.
_________________________

1. The parent who assumes the tougher position in regards to expectations and discipline is almost always correct.

2. Writing to your child on a daily basis helps you better appreciate the moments with your little one and prevents you from wondering how and why times flies by so quickly.

3. Training your child to fall sleep on her own and sleep through the night takes about two-four weeks if done with tenacity, an iron will, and an absolute adherence to the advice of experts. There are exceptions to this, of course, but they are few and far between. Parents must also possess the grudging acceptance that thunderstorms, nightmares, and illness will upset the apple cart from time to time.

4. You cannot take too many photographs of your children.

image image

5. Failure to follow through with warnings and consequences even once is the death knell of effective parenting. Everything begins with you sticking to your word every time. Nothing is more important when it comes to discipline. 

6. Libraries are the greatest child-friendly, zero-cost entertainment options on the planet.

7. The right iPhone app can transform an unfortunate dining experience into a delightful one. There is no reason to suffer in a restaurant. If your child is acting like a jerk, fork over the technology and enjoy the rest of the meal. Make him or her suffer later.  

8. Almost all of your child’s annoying behaviors have a short shelf life. They will invariably be replaced by a different annoying behavior, but don’t become consumed with the idea that any one behavior will last forever.

9. Reading to your child every night is one of the best things you can do. Failure to do so is inexcusable.

image image

10. Car seats suck. They may be the worst part of parenting.

11. Parents who are blessed with children who eat almost anything and claim that they are responsible for this behavior should be immediately ostracized by friends and family. Possibly forever.

12. Babysitters who take good care of your children and keep the house clean should be treasured like gold.

13. It’s important to remember that there was a time in human history, not that long ago, when foods like bananas, avocados, and fish were unavailable to vast areas of the world on a daily basis, yet children still grew up healthy and strong. Variety is lovely but not as important as we sometimes think. Don’t sweat it.  

14. Pick up your children as often as possible, particularly when they become too heavy to do so comfortably. The day will come when you can no longer pick them up, and you will regret all the times they asked and you said no.

15. Battles over a child’s choice of clothing are some of the dumbest. As long as your child is adhering to basic codes of decency, stay out of the wardrobe wars. 

16. Changing a diaper is not a big deal and is never something worthy of whines or complaints.

17. Experienced parents always know which toys are best.

18. If your child refuses to wear a hat, coat, or gloves, allow them to experience the cold. Natural consequences oftentimes teach the most valuable lessons.

19. Unsolicited advice from experienced parents should always be received with appreciation. It should not be viewed as a criticism or indictment of your own parenting skills and can be easily ignored if need be.

20. Consignment shops are some of the best places to find children’s clothing and toys unless you are a pretentious snob.

21. The majority of unhappy parents in the world possessed unrealistic or misguided expectations about motherhood or fatherhood before their child was ever born.

22. Don’t become emotionally involved in your child’s poor behavioral choices. He or she owns those choices. Establish expectations, deliver consequences, and offer guidance and love. That is all. You almost never have anything to do with a temper tantrum or your child’s bad decision.     

23. Parents seeking the most fashionable or trendy stroller, diaper bag, and similar accouterments are often saddled with the least practical option.

24. Little boys and little girls are entirely different animals. They have almost nothing in common, and it is a miracle that they might one day marry each other.

25. Parenting is not nearly as difficult as people want you to believe.

26. Telling parents that taking care of your child has been an easy and joyous experience will usually annoy them.

27. A seemingly great majority of the people in the world who are raising children are not happy unless they have attempted to demoralize you with their assurances that parenting will not be easy.

28. Experienced parents who are positive, optimistic, and encouraging to the parents of newborns are difficult to come by and should be treasured when found.

29. The ratio of happy times to difficult times in the first two years of your child’s life is about a billion to one.

30. Parents have a tragic tendency to forget the billion and accentuate the one.

image image image image image image image image image image image image

When do you allow your child to quit an activity? Also, entering into contractual agreements with your child is insane.

In the Washington Post, Katherine Reynolds Lewis writes about when it’s acceptable to let your child quit an activity and how do you handle the anger that children express when forced to continue with something that they don’t like.

She and her his husband have used a  strategy that I will call contractual commitment:

We agree with our girls on the length of the commitment they want to undertake. Whether that’s an eight-week soccer season or 10-week dance class, they agree that they’re going to continue the experience to the end, even if they decide it’s not for them. We put this agreement in writing and everyone signs it. We hope this teaches the importance of follow through as well as the reality that activities cost money, which we’re not interested in wasting.

Once this system was in place, the first time our daughter claimed, “I hate this! You made me sign up!” we pulled out the agreement. Argument over.

May I suggest that rather than signing contracts with your children over the length of time that they will pursue an activity, perhaps your children should just listen to whatever you are saying and obey because you are the parent?

image

This may sound like a novel approach, but if your eight year-old wants to quit the swim team or piano lessons or the Boy Scouts, maybe it should the parent who decides. Perhaps the adult, with years of wisdom and perspective and the well being of their child in mind, should choose how long an activity should be pursued.

Maybe a parent should just act like a parent.

Signing a contract with your child is insane. It’s a perfect way to undermine your authority and your child’s respect for it. It’s a weak-kneed, lily-livered, short-sighted, helicopter-parenting solution to avoiding difficult decisions, temper tantrums, and the measures sometimes necessary for enforcing  rules. 

It will also never work.   

Once this system was in place, the first time our daughter claimed, “I hate this! You made me sign up!” we pulled out the agreement. Argument over.

Seriously? An angry, outraged eight year-old child shouts, “I hate this! You made me sign up!” The parent extracts the signed contract and hands it to the child. He or she reviews the document, takes a deep breath, and says, “Right. I forgot this binding agreement that we drafted n the back on my spelling homework. Apologies. I will cease my argument immediately.

No. I don’t believe it.

Adults break contracts all the time, and these are legally binding documents. Breaking them results in lawsuits and financial damages, and still, adults break them all the time. Am I really expected to believe that a piece of paper will bring an end to a child’s anger or disillusionment or a temper tantrum?

How about instead of a contract, you say something like this:

“Mary-Sue, we think that swim class is important for both your future safety around water and your overall physical fitness. I understand that you don’t want to go, but we all have to do things that we don’t want to do. There are many days when I don’t want to go to work, but I must because we have to pay for our house and car and food. You’ve made your argument. We listened. We disagree. Stop arguing and get in the car or I will begin taking away toys from your bedroom, and I will not stop until you are doing what you have been told.”

Instead of acting like a lawyer, may I suggest that acting like a parent is the wiser course of action?

A New Year’s resolution for all experienced parents: Silence the small, sad and stupid. Allow expecting parents to be expectant.

Now that I’ve posted my New Year’s resolutions for 2015, I have a  New Year’s resolution suggestion for all parents:

Spend the next year (or even better, the rest of your life) telling expecting and first time parents that children are joyous miracles, and that being a parent is a remarkable and rewarding journey. Pour forth positivity. Tell stories about your children’s unadulterated adorableness and all the ways that they have made your life better. Glorious, even.

image

Have no fear about portraying parenthood through rose colored glasses. There are more than enough dumb ass parents in the world who are hell- bent on spreading doom and gloom to expecting and newly-minted parents. For every positive remark that you extend to an expecting parent, I promise that there will be a dozen or more nattering nabobs of negativity whining about the cost of diapers, the loss of sleep, and their inability to go out to the movies anymore.

It’s impossible to shut these people up. I have tried.

Instead, I spend my time attempting to balance the world by assuring pregnant mothers and expecting fathers that these whining, complaining, unhappy parents are small, sad, stupid people who cannot find joy in their own lives and choose to spread misery wherever they can. I assure these soon-to-be parents that they are about to embark upon an amazing journey, and the cost of diapers is nothing compared to the happiness that they are about to experience.

Make 2015 the year you bring some balance back to the world. Counter every parental whine and complaint with a story of happiness and joy. Follow every ridiculous warning with an expectation of elation.

Expecting parents should be exactly that: Expecting. Not dreading.

Make this your 2015 resolution.

The girl rejected her mother’s culinary advances, but the boy could not resist

My daughter shows little interest in cooking with her mother. Perhaps, like me, she doesn’t understand why anyone would want to spend time cooking meals when there are other people willing to do it for you.

Even if you’re not married to an excellent chef like me, there are always restaurants, fast food, take out, and Hot Pockets.

What more could a person need? 

image

Happily, my son loves helping my wife in the kitchen. He can be found there almost every afternoon, standing on his stool alongside Elysha, simultaneously helping and hindering the cooking process.

“Help me, Mommy!” he shouts, which is his two year-old version of “Let me help you, Mommy!”

This week, among their other culinary delights, he helped his mother make barbecue chicken.

Yesterday, he appeared on the television show Better Connecticut baking gingerbread cookies in a cooking class at the local grocery store. Maybe someday he will become a famous chef and appear on the Today show, being rushed through a cooking process that should take twice as long so they can hit the scheduled commercial break.

I guess this is why you have more than one child. When the first one lets you down, you roll the dice on another, and sometimes they come up sevens.

Charlie found a whistle. And he was happy.

There are so many great reasons to have children.

I think this needs to be said more often, because whining about the challenges of parenting is a popular pastime in certain corners of this country.

Maybe every corner.

image

I have theories as to why this may be the case, but I’m writing a book on the subject, so you’ll have to wait and see what they are.

Regardless, one of the great things about having kids is the constant reminder about the joy of novelty and simple discovery.

Charlie found my whistle the other day, and it made his day.  

Tiny windows hurt my heart.

The first snowfall of the year took place on November 29. It was enough snow for my kids to run outside and build a snowman.

Other than lifting the middle section atop the bottom section, Clara built the snowman herself, and she and Charlie affixed the eyes, nose, mouth, and other parts completely on their own.

image image 

I felt this odd, elastic-like feeling of both pride and sadness as I watched them finish it off.

My girl is old enough to build a snowman almost completely on her own. Hooray for her.

And…

My girl is old enough to build a snowman almost completely on her own.
She doesn’t need me anymore.

I felt like I was being pulled in both directions simultaneously, because I was. It turns out that the window in which  your child needs your help with snowmen is tiny. Yesterday she wasn’t big enough to help at all, and today she almost doesn’t need me anymore.

image image  image image

Happily, I live in New England, where the weather changes by the minute. Just two days later, our snowman looked like this:

image

One day later, he was gone completely.

Snow will fall again, I’m sure, and with it will be more opportunities to help my children build snowmen while they still need me.

Today will be one of the hardest days of parenting so far. I know I’m lucky in this respect, but there is still a hole in my heart.

My daughter is sick. Her kindergarten class has a field trip to the pumpkin patch today.

She’s going to miss the trip.

Last month she was also sick. She missed her class’s field trip to the apple orchard.

Thanks to a couple of poorly timed fevers, Clara is missing the first two field trips of her educational journey.

I cannot describe how much this hurts my heart. I am beside myself. 

image image 

I have a lot of things about parenting figured out. I know that may sound arrogant and nearsighted, but it’s true. Parenting isn’t easy, but it isn’t very hard, either.

And it’s joyous. Joyous on a daily basis. At least for me.

I suspect that a number of factors have allowed this to be the case:

  • A childhood spent as the oldest of five children (oftentimes serving as a substitute parent)
  • Sixteen years spent teaching elementary school
  • My previous experience raising a stepdaughter
  • The clear and rationale perspective that a life of incredibly difficult challenges has brought me
  • Most important: A wife who was also the oldest child in her family (don’t discount this asset) with more than a decade of teaching experience as well

Choose your spouse carefully. As my friend, Kim, says, it is the most important decision that you will ever make.

Elysha and I are also a couple of fairly relaxed, easy-going people who understand and live by the principles of divide and conquer, delegation, and strategic prioritization. Neither of us are control freaks. 

We are also nonconformists. It may surprise you to hear that about Elysha, but it’s true. She’s an undercover nonconformist, meaning she isn’t as blunt and stupid about it as me, but her nonconformity exists in abundance.

This is important, too.

Sometimes I think we hear parents whine about their kids or complain about the restrictions associated with parenting and start to believe it for ourselves. Get a group of parents together, and before long, they’ll start moaning about sleepless nights and the cost of diapers and the price of babysitting.

It’s easy to fall into this trap if you’re not careful. If you don’t assume that the world is a little crazy. If you lack perspective. If your self confidence is low. If you didn’t know what you were getting into when you decided to have kids. 

If you’re not a nonconformist.

These factors, I believe, have combined to provide me with the knowledge, wisdom, and fortitude to make good parenting decisions and raise my children without too many missteps or uncertainty.

Yes, it’s arrogant. But it’s true.

If you feel like I sound too arrogant, please refer to my 2014 list of flaws and shortcomings. It’s a long list. At least I’m balancing arrogance with humility.

But this situation with my daughter missing her first two kindergarten field trips due to illness… I find myself at a loss. My heart aches. I’m saddened beyond description. I have no solution.

Parenting has suddenly become impossible.

Actually, if it were up to me, I’d try to send her to school for the field trip, but my wife would never allow it, and rightfully so. We have already promised her a makeup trip to the pumpkin patch this weekend, but it won’t be the same, and I will always know it.

So will she.

And so I have a hole in my heart. I know that in the grand scheme of things, a field trip to an apple orchard and a pumpkin patch won’t make or break Clara’s life, but in this year, on this day, in this moment, these are enormous events for her.

Enormous opportunities that she is missing.

I experienced so many missed opportunities as a child. So much that I wanted to do but could not. As a result, I want something different for my children. Not a path free of struggle or strife, but a path wider than mine ever was. A path with a multitude of forks.

Forks to apple orchards and pumpkin patches, damn it.

As trite as it may seem, this is a problem for me. I can allow my children to cry it out in their cribs and sit in timeout and save for months for the toys  they want and get no dessert if they haven’t eaten their dinners, and I suffer no heartache whatsoever. No pain. I know that what I am doing is right.

But this… I’m going to think about her friends, riding the bus to a pumpkin patch, running around a field of round, orange orbs, and I’m going to be sad. Heartbroken, really. All day long. And probably longer. Probably a lot longer.

I suspect that Elysha will handle this better than me. I’ll lean on her today. Try to draw from her wisdom and her perspective.

Choose your spouse wisely.

But even the great Elysha Dicks will not be able to fill this hole in my heart.

This is when parenting is the hardest for me. Today will be a hard day for me. Joyous, still. But hard.

My son cracked his head open with a lamp. My wife’s reaction to his head wound was unusual but surprisingly typical.

Our boy pulled a lamp down onto his head last night, necessitating a trip to the emergency room.

A little glue and some Steri-Strips, and he was fine. He’ll have a scar in almost the same place where his father got his first scar at about the same age.

image image

Of course, because it was a head wound, it bled like hell. And though Charlie was chill at the hospital (to the point that every nurse and doctor commented on how calm he was, even as the glue was being applied), we also weren’t sure if he had a concussion or any other injuries.

It was a big lamp.

Here’s the thing:

My wife is the best in an emergency. Truly. I was outside on the front lawn with the dog when it happened. She opened the door, poked her head out, and said, “Matt, I need you right now.”

Calm. Relaxed. As if she was calling me in for dinner. 

At the moment, blood had already soaked through one wash cloth and Charlie was screaming like the world was coming to an end.

Elysha didn’t panic. Didn’t even seem worried.

I walked in. Saw Charlie covered in blood. Before I could speak, she explained what happened and set me in motion. “Get my shoes. I’m calling the neighbor. Then the doctor. We probably need to go to the ER.”

She was even smart enough to reroute us to the emergency room slightly farther away that gave us the best chance for quick treatment and a timely exist.

She even remembered her knitting. Gave a nurse a knitting lesson while we waited.

She performed similarly a couple years ago when Clara was having what we thought was an allergic reaction to peanuts. Pulled the car over in a construction zone. Flagged down a police officer. Then flagged down a passing ambulance. Got herself, Clara, and my infant son at the time onboard. The whole time remaining calm.

The ability to remain calm in situations like this is a rare thing, and its value cannot be understated. I tend to be a fairly calm, extremely cerebral person in the face of emergency (a girlfriend once accused me of being emotionless because of my failure to panic in the face of danger), but I actually think that Elysha is calmer and even more cerebral than me.

And based upon his reaction to the thing, Charlie may be the same way.

My kids love each other so much, and you can shut your mouth about it.

It’s crazy how much my kids love each other.

image

Even crazier is the number of miserable people who look at a photo like this and say things like, “Enjoy it while it lasts!” and “Sorry to tell you, my friend, but they’ll be at each other’s throats before you know it.”

My inclination, whenever I hear someone say something like this to me, is to stomp on their foot, and while they are crumpled in a ball on the ground, tell them how small and sad they are.

It’s difficult to imagine how much a person must truly suck at life in order to be able to tell a proud father that his children are going to be repellant, dissociative antagonists someday.

It’s even more difficult to imagine how stupid a person has to be in order to presume that his or her family dynamic is universal.

Why do people do this?

I was recently told by someone that in just a few short years,  my daughter is going to close her bedroom door and stop sharing her thoughts and feelings with me.

Thankfully, I’m immune to this nonsense. I simply assume that the person who is telling me this is an idiot.

But not everyone is as arrogant and condescending as me. These inconsiderate, hateful, and oftentimes inaccurate jerk faces are quite capable of ruining the day of an otherwise happy parent.

If you are one of these people, you suck at life. Stop it. Allow proud parents like me to enjoy the moment, expect the best, and remain hopeful about the future. Your apparently unfortunate reality is not the destiny of all, as much as you might wish otherwise.    

My children visited a bookstore on the last day of summer. Their behavior was shocking.

We spent the last day of summer on the Connecticut shoreline. Among our choice of activities was a visit to our favorite bookstore, R.J. Julia in Madison, Connecticut.

image 

Elysha and I once spent hours in bookstores, but when our children entered our lives, that changed. We tried for a while to do some tag-team parenting.  One parent relaxes while the other stops the monsters from ripping every book off the shelf.

It wasn’t fun.

But something happened on that last day of summer. I brought the kids upstairs to the children’s section of the bookstore, and within a minute, with no intervention on my part, this happened:

image image

Not only did they plop themselves down and start reading, but they remained this way for a full 30 minutes.

Just imagine how much better it will be when they can actually read!

I probably couldn’t leave them unattended and descend to the adult section, but while my wife browsed below, I browsed the children’s section, which I sort of love anyway. I’ve written a few picture books that I am hoping to  eventually sell, and I missed out on these books as a child, so I still have lots of catching up to do. 

Even if this weren’t the case, this is a huge improvement over chasing them around, shushing them, and returning strewn books to the shelves.

This is good.

There is hope for the future.

My best piece of parenting advice

It takes a special and exceedingly wise breed of parent to ignore a temper tantrum like this and instead retrieve the camera and document the moment for posterity.

My wife is that kind of parent. She gets it.

image

I have a great deal of parenting advice to offer. Most people think that I am full of bluster and hubris. You probably do, too.

But I believe that my 16 years of teaching experience, in combination with my experience raising a former stepdaughter to the age of 16 and my two own children has given me wisdom that would prove valuable to anyone willing to listen.

Few admittedly do.

A colleague recently suggested to a parent that she ask me for advice on a childrearing issue. The person laughed. So did two other people at the table. The notion that I could have anything useful to offer was ludicrous in their minds. 

Regardless, this photo of Charlie’s tantrum reminded me of my best piece of parenting advice that I have to offer:

Don’t become emotionally attached to your child’s poor decision making, regardless of their age. If your two year-old son is having a tantrum because he isn’t getting what he wants, that’s his deal. You can help him process his emotions and calm down, but the fact that he is having a tantrum should not impact you emotionally.

It’s not about you. 

Instead, ignore the tantrum and take a photo. Capture the moment for future blackmail.

If I was able to choose my children’s teachers, this is what I would want more than anything else.

If I were allowed to choose the teachers for my children, I would almost always choose the teachers with the greatest variation of life experience.

Give me a teacher who has dug ditches in Nicaragua, survived an encounter with a grizzly bear, panhandled across Europe, or spent ten years working in the private sector over a teacher who went from high school to college to graduate school to the classroom, absent catastrophe, epic struggle, or life-altering cataclysm.

image

This is not to say that the traditional path to teaching produces bad teachers. I know many outstanding teachers who have followed this traditional approach. I simply place more faith in a diversity of life experience and the perspective that it brings than I do in a stable life and a college education.

As Mark Twain famously said, “I never let school interfere with my education.”

image

Some of the very best teachers who I have ever known came to teaching from the most unorthodox and challenging routes imaginable.

These are the teachers who are confident enough to both take enormous risks and constantly ask for help.

These are the teachers who easily distinguish between what is important to learning and what is meaningless fluff.

These are the teachers who know which corners can be cut and which are critical  to the success of their students.

These are the teachers who demand great things from their students and know how to shut their mouths and get out of the way in order to allow those students to exceed expectations.  

These teachers tend to be unflappable, remarkably resilient, highly efficient, supremely independent, and beloved by their students.

In the words of one of my fictional characters, these are the teachers who teach school rather than play school.

High school to college to graduate school may transform you into a great teacher. But a diversity of life experience, a broad and varied perspective of the world, and a life of epic struggle, cataclysmic failure, and modest success is what I would look for first if choosing a teacher.

This is what I hope to find in my children’s teachers, far more than advanced degrees in education from the finest universities.

I thought this TED Talk demonstrated the importance and value of a diversity of perspective perfectly. It’s a stark reminder of how easy it is to assume that you and the people around you are the norm, especially when you and the people around you have always been you and the people around you.   

She’s worried about her husband’s diapers. She should be more worried about her child’s early morning routine.

Slate’s Dear Prudence answers a question from a reader whose husband is a lifelong bed wetter who wears a diaper and rubber pants to bed each night. The reader is worried about the possibility of her children discovering their father’s secret and wants to know if they should be proactive and tell the kids before they find out for themselves.

image

First, let me say that this woman deserves a great deal of credit and at least a nomination for Spouse of the Year. While it’s true that if you love your spouse, this would not be a deal breaker, but they way in which she has accepted and even embraced the situation is remarkable.

She writes:

We are both completely comfortable with his bed-wetting and diapers and it’s actually fun getting him ready for bed. I took over getting him diapered and its really made us closer.

This is a woman who you hold onto at all costs.

The thing that Emily Yoffe rarely does in her role as Prudence is comment on issues other than those specifically addressed in the letters she receives. While I have no quibble with the advice that she offers this woman (it’s a private matter that only needs to be explained if discovered), I can’t help but think that the most important sentence in the letter (that Yoffe ignores) is this:

So far, the 8-year-old has not discovered the secret, but routinely comes to our room at 4 a.m. after waking up.

This is the real problem. Your eight year-old should not be routinely waking up at 4:00 every morning (this coming from a person routinely awake at 4:00 every morning), and he absolutely, positively shouldn’t be coming into his parents’ room at that hour.

While we can’t control the time that our children wake up (I’ve tried), we can avoid rewarding them for waking up early by insisting that they remain in their own bedrooms and not disturb our sleep.

At three years-old, this is admittedly hard, and possibly impossible.

At five years-old, it’s probably still difficult.

But an eight year-old can be stopped. An eight year-old has reached the age of reason. An eight year-old understands consequences. An eight year-old can and should be stopped.

image

Forget your concerns about your husband’s diapers. Your child is not sleeping enough and is being rewarded for waking up too early. He is disturbing your sleep, as well, which is no less precious,

Sometimes the perceived problem and the real problem are two entirely different things.

Stupid super dads suck

Three of my friends built tree houses for their children.

One (and maybe two) are minor death traps, but still. These men designed and built things with wood and nails.

I can’t tell you how impossible that sounds to me.

My daughter wants a tree house. Knowing that I have twice asked a friend to fix lamp only to find that it needed a new bulb, she is saving her money for one rather than asking me to build one, which makes a lot of sense and also hurts my feelings.

image

Tree houses are one thing. Spacecraft simulators like the one this man built for his sons are an entirely different thing.

He sucks. I hate him. 

I hereby release myself of all parental guilt regarding the iPad. It was shortsighted, stupid, and purposelessly nostalgic.

I brought my son downstairs for breakfast. As we stepped into the kitchen, he saw the iPad on the counter and said, “iPad! Chair! iPad! Chair!”

This is the two year-old version way of saying, “Father, I would very much like to take a seat in my favorite chair and make use of that glorious device.”

A large part of me wanted to deny him the use of the iPad. Breakfast would be ready in five minutes. There are a thousand toys in our home that he loves.

More importantly, I was suffering from iPad guilt.

I should avoid sticking my son’s face into a screen as much as possible, including now.

Charlie continued to beg, and so I surrendered, handing him the iPad. “Thank you, Daddy!” he said, as if knowing that a polite remark of appreciation would improve his chances of getting the device again in the future.

I started to make breakfast, feeling the weight of parental failure on my shoulders. I had done the modern day equivalent of what my parents did to me: Stick the kid in front of the television so he would stop whining.

I was ruining my son’s life. Destroying his attention span. Stealing his boyhood creativity. Taking the easy road.

Breakfast complete, I returned to Charlie to extract the iPad from his tiny clutches. I looked down. I saw this:

 image image

Charlie was sitting in his chair, scrolling through the hundreds of photographs of the family, calling out his sister’s name and touching his mother’s face and whispering, “Momma” whenever he saw it.

In that moment, I dispensed, once and for all, with iPad guilt.

For some incredibly stupid reason, I had decided long ago that smashing a toy fire truck into a toy bus while making growling sounds was an infinitely  more valuable use of my son’s time than using an iPad.

Why is that?

My son sat down in his chair with the tablet, and of all the choices he had (and there were a lot), he opted to peruse the photo album. Had he come downstairs and demanded an actual photo album from the shelf, with real photographs, I would’ve been pleased. Ecstatic, even.

But on a screen? Not as good, or at least I used to think so.

I left Charlie on the iPad, scrolling through photos, while I folded the laundry. About ten minutes later, he closed the photo album and opened an interactive book. A narrator reads the fairy tale aloud as Charlie touches the characters to make them speak and act.

I realized that had Charlie grabbed a physical book and flipped through the pages, I would’ve been pleased.

But reading an interactive book on an iPad? Not as good.

This point of view, however, is insane. Charlie can’t read yet. Charlie flips through books on his own all the time, calling out colors, letters, and the names of objects. The poor boy wanted to actually hear the story read aloud, but for some inane reason, I saw this as a failure on both his and my part.

No more. No longer will I be sucked into this nostalgic, idealized, moronic view of parenting. As I’ve written about before, Charlie knows all of the letters of the alphabet thanks to the iPad. Without my wife or I encouraging, directing, or participating in any way, he learned to identify every letter, upper and lowercase. and knows the sounds that many of these letters make.

In a million years, I couldn't have taught my two year-old son this skill, and I’m an elementary school teacher. But a cleverly designed app, that is both fun, interactive, and deceptively instructive, did the job.

How could I ever think of this was time wasted?

No longer will I view my children’s childhood through the lens of my own childhood, valuing the choices of my childhood over the rest.  My children are growing up in a world in which they will do the vast majority of their writing and reading on a screen. They are growing up in a world where technological ability and efficiency are no longer prized. They are required.

I should not be worried that my two year-old son can operate the iPad, finding photo albums, music, books, videos, and learning games without our help.

I should be thrilled.

Please don’t get me wrong. We don’t let him use the iPad often, and this release of guilt will not change that. We don’t allow him to use the iPad for long stretches. We limit his time, say no to his requests for often than not, and believe that his day should primarily be filled with physical activity and time spend looking and listening and communicating with his family.

But some time spent with technology when his father is making breakfast, folding the laundry, writing an important email, emptying the dishwasher, sweeping the floor, or driving long distances?

No guilt. Not any more.