Adventures in Parenting

Those of you who are parents already know that hardly any pursuit on earth can bring as much joy, passion, frustration, and despair as parenting. Sometimes you might get all four at the same time. Here are some of our latest adventures with Brenden and Jonathan.

The Mirror

When we moved into our house four years ago, two of the bedrooms had those 80s-style mirrored closet doors that slide open. Sometime in 2011, Brenden broke one of the mirrors on his closet door by either kicking it or rolling hard into it. Concerned that he might get cut by the glass, I completely removed and threw away the entire door assembly, leaving his closet open.

Jonathan’s room had the other set of mirrored closet doors, which we kept closed with a safety strap to keep him from tossing his clothes all over the room. Last week, Jonathan got bored one morning and decided he wanted to hide from us before we came to get him up. So he grabbed one side of the door and started pulling. Soon the brass edge piece came off, leaving the edge of the mirror exposed. Then he kept pulling, trying to open the sliding door outward like a regular swinging door. The mirror didn’t like that and shattered into several pieces held together only by the mirror backing. I still don’t see how he managed to do it without carving up his hands or stepping on glass shards. I donned the appropriate safety gear, removed the entire door assembly, and threw it away. So now neither boy has a closet door. We’ll replace them eventually…once they understand that destroying their house is generally a bad idea.

The Dog

I took the boys to the park to get some exercise. Soon after I sat down, a large, hyperactive dog ran up and jumped on me, dragging a leash behind it and chased by a little girl that probably weighed as much as the dog and obviously couldn’t control it. I shoved it away and looked around for the girl’s mother without success. Finally she showed up, and they all walked over to a nearby creekbed. I was already on edge but so far was resisting the temptation to go off on her. My boys were intrigued and watched the dog intently. Soon the dog bounded over to Brenden and started licking his face excitedly. As I hurried over to break them up, the mom tried to act friendly and gave me the typical line from such pet owners, “Oh, he’s fine, he won’t hurt anybody.”

No. You. Did. N’t.

I was nicer than I could have been and wanted to be, but I made it clear that I didn’t share her opinion and that she needed to keep her dog away from my children. She didn’t say anything but did finally grab the leash and lead the dog away.

Many pet people seem to make three bad assumptions:

  • Everyone else is an animal person, so surely everyone else loves their pets and won’t mind if those pets run around and get in everyone’s business.
  • Because their pets have never attacked anyone, they never will attack anyone.
  • Because they aren’t allergic to their pets, other people aren’t allergic to their pets, either.

Fortunately, even though Brenden is allergic to dogs, he suffered no ill effects from this incident. I didn’t shoot the dog or call the cops. I didn’t cuss out a stranger in front of my children. However, I did stand up for them. I hope that in the process, I gave the mom some things to think about.

Note to all pet owners: If your critter is threatening his kids, Papa Bear doesn’t give a bag of dog doo about your feelings or your pet.

The Battle

My children are stubborn just like me. They have no lack of self-esteem, don’t really get their feelings hurt even when they are in trouble, and tend to think their desires are the most important consideration for any given situation. For reasons I’m still unraveling, I want them to follow my directions exactly, much like a computer program or robot, and quickly get frustrated when (surprise!!) they don’t. Being far from a child care expert, my default response is to take a my-way-or-the-highway approach in which I quit listening to what they’re saying and browbeat them until they either comply or end up in time out.

That’s stupid. It’s based on the bad belief that their highest calling in life is to obey me. Please. Yes, they need to obey us, but they don’t need to be robots, either. The backbones that drive us crazy while they are kids will help them stand up for what’s right in the face of opposition when they are older.

So I’m trying to figure out a middle ground where they do what I ask by choice rather than by force. That means doing a better job of listening to them and understanding what they want rather than being too busy to consider their opinion. That means choosing my battles. That means fewer orders and more options, perhaps by setting a goal for them but letting them decide how to reach it instead of dictating exactly how I want it done.

Like everything in parenting, it’s a work in progress. Patience is not my strength, but I hope that changing my approach a bit will help it grow.

Colorblind Children

One thing I love about suburban living is the amazing assortment of nearby public parks. I count at least seven parks with solid playgrounds within a five minute drive plus an awesome, huge one that’s maybe ten minutes away. Why spend $1000 or more, not to mention a weekend full of cussing and imposing on friends and family for assembly, to put a smaller playset in our backyard? We can visit a different park every day of the week virtually for free.

Another advantage of playing in all these public parks is the boys’ opportunity to play with other kids. My sons aren’t exactly shy. When we show up at a park where other kids are playing, they happily jump right in and assume they are now part of the group rather than awkwardly lingering on the fringe hoping to get an invitation. For this shy dad, it’s a joy and a relief to see how comfortable they are with complete strangers.

Last week we went to the “Blue Park” – we’ve given each park a name that’s easy for them to remember – that sits near the apartments where Jenny and I lived when we first got married. Lots of kids were playing at the playground that day, many of them connected to a large family gathering that was grilling at a nearby picnic area. As usual, Brenden and Jonathan jumped right in. As I watched them play, I noticed that they were the racial minority at the playground. Most of the kids were black, the ones from the family gathering, and a few might have been Latino or white. I was struck by how, for my boys and seemingly for the other kids as well, race was an absolute non-issue.

They didn’t care whether the other kids were white, black, brown, or any other color. They were just happy to have someone with whom to play superheroes and pile up on the slide and giggle and run around and swing. One of the black boys was older, apparently the leader of the group. He was very patient and helpful with the younger kids of all races. At one point he even pushed Brenden on the swing for a bit, and Brenden loved getting attention from a big kid.

This little experience reminded me of a truth I’ve known for years but sometimes forget: racism is learned, not natural.

Let me be clear and honest here. I’m not perfect in the prejudice department. I’m not completely colorblind, nor am I sure that’s even a good goal given that race is part of one’s identity and is often tied into one’s culture, values, and much more in ways that are difficult for an American white male to understand. I still jump to inappropriate conclusions sometimes based on someone’s race. I still laugh at some racial humor that I probably shouldn’t condone. I choose to live in a suburb with a good school district, and that district does happen to contain mostly white kids. But Jenny and I are trying not to taint our sons’ worldview with any inappropriate prejudices, generalizations, or stereotypes based on a person’s race. I think that’s the main reason why being around kids of other races isn’t a big deal to them. Since we don’t make race an issue, they haven’t gotten any notion that race is worth considering. I like that.

I also want to preserve that perspective in them for as long as I can. I don’t try to persuade them to go to the parks where mostly white kids hang out. (I do try to steer them toward parks that have actual bathrooms rather than Portapotties or secluded trees, but that’s another post) I try to keep them away from racist people so those people’s hatred and ignorance don’t taint my sons’ young minds. I try hard to avoid the subtle Texas racism of describing a white man simply as a guy but a black man as a black guy, even though the man’s race is completely irrelevant to the story. Using language that way reinforces the idea that race is a thing when most of the time, it isn’t.

I also don’t plan to hide my children from “the minorities” by enrolling them in a private school or homeschool them for their entire school careers to keep them away from kids who are different. Brenden starts public kindergarten this fall, and we plan to keep both of them in public school through their senior years, just like we were. I want them to be around different types of people – different races, languages, religions, genders, socioeconomic classes, cultures, and sexual orientations – so they will have a better understanding of how people really are.

I am convinced their lives will be richer as a result, and so will ours.

Game On

For Christmas the boys got their first Nintendo Wii games, Mario Party 9 and Just Dance Disney Party. They had played a couple of our old Wii games before (they particularly loved beating the heck out of each other on Wii Sports Resort), so the fam gave them a couple of their own. I added Toy Story Mania shortly thereafter.

Ladies and gentlemen, my sons are gamers, and I love it.

I got my first video game system, an Atari 5200, when I was maybe 6. Jungle Hunt was my game of choice. It was so long ago, the TV I used had a dial to change the channel instead of buttons or one of those new-fangled remotes. Although the systems changed and improved over the years, I’ve been a gamer ever since. Mario and Zelda on Nintendo. SimCity and Super Baseball Simulator 1.000 on SNES. Goldeneye on N64. Grand Theft Auto III and Dragon Quest VIII on PS2. Skyrim and Demon’s/Dark Souls on PS3. So imagine my joy at seeing my sons pick up one of my longest-running hobbies.

No, they aren’t quite ready to smoke you in Call of Duty, but Jonathan is slowly learning the basic concepts of the Wii. Well, OK, sometimes he thinks he’s playing but really isn’t, but give him some time. Brenden, though, is really getting the hang of several of the Mario Party mini-games as well as numerous iPhone games. Now that he’s learning how to read, he doesn’t need as much help with the instructions, either.

Oftentimes Brenden plays alone. Sometimes Jonathan tries to play with him, but I think he’ll be a better gaming buddy in 6-12 months. Sometimes Jenny or I play with Brenden. Once all four of us even played Mario Party at once! It was a bit like heaven combined with a train wreck, but we had a blast. We bought the boys kid-size Wiimotes that fit their hands better than the normal ones and come in bright colors. I’m so excited for them that I stayed up past 4:00am on my night off playing through Mario Party to unlock all the stages for them. I guess that’s the gamer equivalent of staying up all night sewing a dance costume, right?

Although we certainly won’t force them to play, I hope they will maintain their interest as they get older so it can be a way for us to spend time together guy-style: bonding through a shared activity. As they mature, their skills will increase. I will need to go all-out in some cases to beat them. Perhaps someday they will even surpass me, and the Circle of Life (r) will continue.

Their growing interest in gaming also provides another excuse reason to stay on top of things in the gaming world. Brenden and Jonathan surely need a Wii U, don’t they? Gaming is great for hand-eye coordination, problem solving, spatial reasoning, perseverance, and manual dexterity. I’d hate to deny my children any advantage in their development. 😀

Highlights from Disney World 2013

We survived! Our family trip to Disney World, our first extended family vacation, was both fun and difficult. I’ll cover some of the challenges at the end, but first, here are some of the highlights.

The Boys’ Excitement

We visited Disney World in 2007 for our 5th anniversary and tried the vast majority of the rides and shows, so our focus for this trip was sharing the parks with our sons. As we’d hoped, they had a blast! The crowds were light, so they were able to meet many, many characters and do pretty much every ride and show that interested them. Everything at the parks and our resort was new to them, so our stay was a week-long journey of discovery. Seeing them shoot a bow and arrow for the first time, marvel at the Lion King show and the Pixar parade, meet Buzz and Ariel, kiss Merida, play in the Dinoland and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids playgrounds, and ARRRRRR with pirates reminded me what the parks were all about.

Brenden’s favorites included Test Track at Epcot, the play areas, the pirate cruise, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Tom Sawyer’s Island at Magic Kingdom, the resort’s Finding Nemo themed swimming pool, and riding on the bus, preferably in the middle seat in the back row. Jonathan’s favorites included Soarin’ and The Seas with Nemo and Friends at Epcot, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and the People Mover at Magic Kingdom, TriceraTop Spin at Animal Kingdom, both play areas, and hitting on any nearby princesses.

Cars Family Suite at Art of Animation

Last year Disney opened a new value resort called Art of Animation just across Hourglass Lake from Pop Century. We reserved a Cars family suite, which included a separate master bedroom, breakfast area with a table that converted to a bed, living area with a sleeper sofa, two bathrooms, two TVs, microwave, and mini-fridge, plus Cars theming everywhere. As expected, the room was amazing. It provided plenty of space and gave us the chance to have time for ourselves to relax and plan the next day without keeping the boys awake. The boys loved their “secret beds” as well as the Cars decorations both in the room and throughout our section of the resort. Check this photo album for pics of the resort. The resort overall was beautiful and well-designed. I especially loved the airline checkin service, which allowed us to check in for our flight and turn over our four bags and two strollers right there at the resort instead of lugging them around. After a tiring week and a half marathon for me that morning, dropping off the bags lifted a huge weight from our shoulders.

New Fantasyland

Disney has spent quite a bit of time and money remodeling Fantasyland. It won’t be complete until the new roller coaster opens in 2014, but the Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid sections are open and look great. Jenny got to meet Gaston (“If I sweat on you, there’s a fee”) outside his new tavern, and we all got to meet Ariel in her new grotto, neither of which we met last time. Both characters were perfectly cast. The new Voyage of the Little Mermaid ride, our primary destination on Day 1 at Magic Kingdom, does an amazing job with animatronics on the characters inside. Rides like this have come a long way from the days of the Spelunker’s Cave at Six Flags Over Texas that I enjoyed as a kid. Beast’s castle sits atop the new Be Our Guest restaurant, which offers a tasty-sounding medieval-style menu but was always too crowded for us to try. Maybe next time.

Disney Transportation

We rented a car last time and were planning to this time, but our friends talked us into trying the Disney bus system instead. We’re very glad they did because it saved us over $200 and relieved us from having to lug two carseats through the airport. Disney’s Magical Express service took us and our bags to and from the airport, and the busses carried us between our resort and the parks with very little hassle. The only times we had any significant wait came at the end of the day when many guests were leaving at the same time, but even then it wasn’t too bad and saved us from having to walk deep into a parking lot to search for our car. Even better, it’s all free.

Garden Grocer

We wanted to eat breakfast in our room for a variety of reasons – healthier food, less trouble, lower cost. A nearby grocery store called Garden Grocer lets you order food and drinks online and delivers them to your resort, where resort staff can take them straight to your room. So upon checkin, we found bags of groceries in our room filled with fresh fruit, bagels, hard apple cider, milk, cheese, and more. No, it wasn’t cheap, but it definitely saved us some money versus $25-30 for breakfast in the resort food court, and it was much easier than trying to eat there with two preschoolers.

Monsieur Paul

To celebrate our anniversary, we enjoyed an unbelievable dinner at Monsieur Paul in the France region of Epcot. Despite my forgetting four semesters’ worth of French and being embarrassingly unable to speak to our server in his native language, we enjoyed one of the best meals we’ve ever tasted from a table overlooking the World Showcase lake. French red wine, beef tenderloin, white truffle mashed potatoes, orange souffle, escargot, and more provided a welcome change from the pizza and french fries we’d been eating in the parks with the boys. They also noticed our “Happy Anniversary” buttons and wrote the greeting in chocolate on our dessert plates.

Disney World Half Marathon

I covered this race in my previous post.

Other Fun Experiences

We met up with my cousin Bryan, his wife April, and their daughter Breanna for dinner at Epcot’s Tutto Italia the night we arrived. They had been at Disney World all week and were leaving the next day, so I’m glad we got to share a meal with them and get some Disney pointers. Unfortunately, the boys weren’t quite in the mood for an upscale Italian dinner after spending all day in cars, airplanes, airports, and busses. But it was still fun to hang out a bit.

We got to meet LOTS of characters, including the Big 5 (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto) both in the parks and at Chef Mickey’s for breakfast. Other scores included Buzz and Woody, Merida, Cinderella, Aurora, Rapunzel, Phineas and Ferb, Ariel, Gaston, Mike Wazowski, and Lightning McQueen and Mater (sort of). And that’s not including the ones I met during the race. We bought the PhotoPass Plus service to get digital rights to all the official Disney photos that their pro photographers took. It wasn’t cheap, but we obtained dozens of great shots that way, including many we wouldn’t have gotten as well or at all without it. Here are links to all of our photo albums:

On our last night we took the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage from Contemporary to the Seven Seas Lagoon to watch the Wishes fireworks show. The boys were acting crazy, so it was a bit stressful for us, but the idea was great and we did enjoy it. We gathered in a conference room for a party beforehand with music, cake, snacks, and drinks plus the chance to take pictures with Captain Hook and Mr. Smee. Then we boarded our vessel and sailed out for the show. Our pirate captain learned it was our anniversary, so he had the other passengers sing “Kiss the Girl” for us while we danced in the aisle during the voyage.


As you parents can imagine, spending a week at Disney World with a four-year-old boy and a two-year-old boy can be a bit stressful, especially with boys as active as ours. Despite the relatively low crowds and short wait times, it was still difficult to get them to act nicely in line and to stay quiet and remain in their respective beds in the hotel. We had a few instances where one of them said they wanted to ride or do something only to change his mind once we walked over to get in line. They are the kinds of challenges you’d expect with boys this age in a high-stimulation, high-structure, low-sleep environment like this. Honestly, looking back, I’m a bit surprised they did as well as they did, especially on the days when we rolled the dice and stayed at the park all day instead of returning to the room for a post-lunch nap. We probably would’ve had an easier time if we’d waited a year or two before attempting such an ambitious trip. However, we did enjoy the trip, and the boys had an absolute blast and are still talking about it. We’ll be back, just not tomorrow like Jonathan requested.


On occasion, far too often I’m afraid, I get the chance to step back from the daily struggles of parenthood and look more closely at my children.

They are impossibly, achingly beautiful.

I don’t say that just because they are handsome young men because it’s much, much more than that. They are a mysterious, inexplicable swirl of Jenny and me and her family and my family and God and genetics and chance. No matter how much we try to shape them into some vague notion of responsible, loving, mature young men over their couple of decades in our care, they are separate and independent and amazing little people with their own personalities, wills, and choices to make. It’s amazing that I get to play a small role in their lives.

It’s so easy to get beaten down and distracted by daily life with children – the constant messes, the moments that make me shake my head in bewilderment, the frustration that occurs when I measure childhood logic by grown-up standards, the soul-sucking drudgery of making their compliance with my directions my ultimate goal rather than something more meaningful, the fear that this will be the time when they really do hurt each other and do permanent damage, the numbness that develops after tuning out countless fits and learning how to judge the seriousness of a cry from the other room.

If those are the only parts of parenthood that we think about and remember, it’s hard to be happy as a parent.

But today we went to the boys’ open house at school. Brenden showed us around his room like he was proud of it. He played with a friend on the big-kid playground and yelled gleefully for the friend to chase him, a natural leader like I never was. I saw a drawing he’d made of our house, and it actually looked sorta like our house. Jonathan played dress-up in his classroom for at least the dozenth time. He loves being either a fireman or Superman. He loves his teachers. They love him. He plays with cars in the corner, not because we taught him that boys are supposed to like cars, but simply because he does. They are real people. They didn’t even exist a few years ago, yet now they do, growing and changing every day.

We came home and put them to bed. I remember late last night going up to check on Jonathan when he was coughing, just like I’d done other nights when he’d woken up with a nightmare. He wasn’t scared of the large, dark man he could barely see because he knew it was me, that I loved him, and I was here to help. It’s awe-inspiring to hear my two-year-old say, “Thank you, Daddy,” after I give him a drink or tuck him back into bed.

Tonight I put Brenden to bed, and he figured out how to break my concentration and relentless focus on the task at hand. I’d finally brought his piggy bank, a gift from our friends Chris and Demona upon his birth, into his room so he could collect his own coins. He found the concept of a piggy bank amusing. As I’m asking him which song he wants me to sing, he starts saying, “Piggy.” I don’t know why he thought it was funny, or how he knew it would break me, but I laughed. He knew he had me then, so he kept doing it and laughing hysterically at my helplessness. I temporarily lost my “control” of the situation, and I just let it go. I sat by his bed laughing with my son. It felt like we were actually friends instead of parent and child. And I liked it. We agreed upon “Old McDonald Had A Farm.” And yes, Old McDonald had a piggy tonight.

After they were asleep, I looked through the pictures Jenny had taken of the open house. I was blown away by what I saw. Their lives, their personalities, leapt through the pictures into my soul, as if I were seeing them for the first time. Those beautiful boys belong to us, to God, to the world. I don’t deserve them, but I’m glad they are a part of my life anyway.

I want to see them this way much more often.

Blog Stew 9/27/2012

Hmm…Blog Stew…I think I’ll make that a new category for my random thought posts. Sounds tasty! Blog stew is great for those days when I don’t have the idea, time, or motivation to write a long, thoughtful post on a specific topic. Those do take a lot of work, and no matter the topic, it’s sure to only interest some of you. It’s much easier to throw a bunch of different things together in the old Crock Pot and let it simmer. I hope you will find a few interesting morsels.

  • Don’t get too excited yet since we haven’t played any big-time schools, but so far the nation’s top college quarterback in total offense per game attends a little school in Waco, Texas. Sic ’em, Nick Florence!
  • Today will be my final long run (13.1 miles) before the 25k in Tyler on October 13. This will only be the second time in my life I’ve ever attempted this distance, the other being the Cowtown half marathon back in February. But my legs feel great, and I’m excited to get out there this afternoon. Next week I’ll taper, or cut back on mileage to rest up for the race.
  • You Obama-haters can rejoice…briefly. I’m strongly leaning toward going Green with Dr. Jill Stein. I like many things about Obama and will be happy if he wins in November, but he’s also done some things I don’t like and broken some important promises (not closing Guantanamo Bay, not punishing the business execs who nearly destroyed our economy, keeping troops in Afghanistan when victory is impossible, etc.). I don’t agree with Stein on everything, but she and the Green Party seem to have the platform that the Democrats don’t have the guts to pursue, largely because the Greens don’t have corporate sponsors. Unfortunately, that also means they have very little chance of winning anything, much less the Presidency. Romney will carry Texas regardless of how I vote, and Obama will probably get reelected regardless of how I vote, so maybe I’ll just use my ballot to dream big.
  • The pilot-management standoff at American is interesting but sad to watch. I read a comment from one AA pilot that the slowdown isn’t exactly an organized, concerted effort to destroy the operation. It’s more a matter of being extra careful to protect their jobs. Until the judge tossed out their contract a couple of weeks ago, that contract backed them up in the event of an small deviation from the hundreds of company procedures they have to follow when flying the plane. The company can now fire them at will for any mistake they make. I’d be a little more careful, too. Is the pilot’s statement true? I’m not sure, but it made some sense to me. However, with so much anger over there, I’m sure that some of them don’t mind making their employer look bad. I hope both sides can work out a deal soon. And I’m still very grateful to work where I work.
  • You know my son Brenden doesn’t feel well when you have to drag him out of bed in the morning. He is definitely a morning person.
  • Jenny has been accepted at UTA and will start classes there in January. She did awesome on her nursing school entrance test as expected. The only question now is when she’ll be able to take her remaining UTA-specific nursing prerequisites. She meets with a nursing advisor next week who should be able to help.
  • I know it was unnecessary and expensive and irresponsible and all that, but my iPad is awesome. I use it more than my phone or laptop. Blogging on it is a bit more difficult compared to a laptop or desktop since it doesn’t have a separate keyboard or mouse, but it’s easier to carry around than the laptop and has a 4G Internet connection.

Thank you, come again.