In this together (like it or not)

4 of usWe aren’t fools.  We realize there will be many moments where we get the cold shoulder.  Where the boys are not into hanging out with their old, stupid parents.    We know the day will come where they want their independence and solitude.  But we do what we can to keep that from happening too soon and to make sure the impact of it, the depth of it, is as minimal as possible.

This afternoon my youngest came to me to see if he could stay home during his older brother’s volleyball tournament.  He noted that his older brother had stayed home for several of his soccer practices.  I considered it for a minute.  He did have some homework to catch up on (more on that in a minute) and he would have missed volleyball anyway if his soccer game had not been rained out.

I told him no, he had to go and support his brother.  I noted that his brother has attended a lot of soccer games and tournaments in the past couple of years, as well as two of his four Middle School musical performances in the past three days.  He said okay, didn’t even fight it a little, and attended in good spirits (although with his nose buried in a book most of the time.

This evening the shoe in many ways was on the other foot.  My youngest had a book report to complete (one that was late and therefore required him to put in more than the usual effort to make sure what goes in is his best, since it will be penalized for being late).  It seems his busy schedule of musical practice and soccer practice has set him back in his school work a tad.  As such, we needed to create an environment for him to focus.  That meant my oldest had to stop his video game play and also had to turn off the TV – nothing major and he didn’t really fight it but still, a sacrifice to be made for family harmony.

It is actually my wife who has set the rule that we all join in together for these types of things.  She grew up in a family that supported one another and went to each other’s events.  As an only child, I never had that type of situation to build from.  But is has worked well.  There is no fighting the suggestion we all go to soccer games an hour or two away.  We try to accommodate everyone’s wants to meals and things to break up any boredom (ala the ipad or a book) but we are used to doing things together and so far, even the teenage years haven’t caused that to change.

Doing these types of things together, whether it is attending sports events or daily meals, is essential to keeping up the communication between us.  Communication is key to knowing what they are doing, what they are going through, what they are thinking.  Knowing those things helps us guide, direct, react and understand.  And how GI Joe used to say, Knowing is half the battle!!

Bites of Responsibility

Well, it’s been four weeks with the puppies.  Twenty-seven days to be exact.  Twenty-seven nights of interrupted sleep.  We aren’t regretting it but it has been trying at times.  The puppies are more like babies than we would like to recall.  But they are getting better about house training.  They generally let us know when they need to go outside (which isn’t always welcome when it is fifteen degrees out).  And they are getting big – when we got them they weighed 14 pounds.  This past week they weighed in at 20.4 and 21!!

For the boys, it continues to be a learning experience.  I don’t think they are regretting it either but at times I am not so sure.  The nibbling on their feet in the morning, the jumping up on them as they watch TV in the evening, the constant “attention” seems to wear down on them at times but they are learning.  We have been watching episodes of the Dog Whisperer and that has helped them learn to stand their ground, defend their space and establish their place in the pack.  It is a slow process and so far the boys seem to be considered more like toys to the puppies than fellow pack members.

But where the boys lack the tolerance for having their socks chewed (while still on their feet), they make up for in helping with the dogs.  They help make sure they get out in the mornings and maintain the peace while we are getting ready.  They help in the evenings with feeding and again, making sure the dogs get out even with soccer practices and the normal family activity schedule.  They help to entertain the dogs in the evening so we can keep them exercised and hopefully tired when it is time for bed.  Tired puppies and good puppies, as my youngest often comments “they are good when they are asleep”.

So aside from having two adorable puppies to play with, chase around when they swipe a shoe or sock and clean up after, the boys are getting a healthy dose of responsibility.  They are learning to stand their ground, establish their place in the pack’s pecking order and realizing that getting dogs (their wish for a long time) is not all fun and games.  Perhaps most importantly they are learning to love and care for a being that is dependent on them- that is a lesson that will carry forward as they get older.

Dog days of Winter

I am still not asking “What have we done?” but that is probably because I am too tired to think.  But then I sit and look at the cute (because she is sleeping) puppy under my left arm as I type this and realize there are benefits.  After several years without a dog, we have become dog owners again and like several other things in our life, we didn’t go small or easy.  We got two puppies at the same time.

The Proclaimers had their song “I’m Gonna Be” where they say they will walk 500 miles and 500 miles more.  Well, we didn’t walk but we did drive 1000 miles for these pups.  The story goes like this- we had finally come to the decision to get a dog.  We realized that our schedules are not going to free up any more in the near future.  The boys are getting old enough to help.  We aren’t going to suddenly have more free time at home (which was the biggest obstacle, making sure the dogs were not home alone too much) but we did realize through some basic planning adjustments we can get someone home early enough.  So we decided to pull the trigger.

A close friend knew we were starting to look and she had a neighbor who helped transport dogs from shelters to foster homes.  She let us know when puppies were making their way through our area.  The second alert of puppies being hosted by her neighbor included pictures – they were, of course, adorable.  We arranged to go see them when they made it to her house late on Saturday night.

There were eight puppies in the litter.  We played with them all.  Some were a little too rowdy, some a little too disinterested in us.  We bonded with two and started to discuss dogs instead of a dog.  Why not?  Would two really be that much more work than one?  (Ok, you can laugh now)

We shared our interest and the lady who was transporting said that these puppies were on their way to foster homes in Rhode Island but they can typically transport them back down if adopters are found along the way.  We really wanted to take them home that night but that wasn’t “officially” an option (within the rules).  We completed the online forms for the organization in charge of the adoptions (Save A Lab) and contacted them with our intent.

During the following week several emails went back and forth.  On Sunday it was looking like we might not be able to get the puppies – the organization said they were being adopted in Rhode Island, they already had people interested in them and they were steering us to puppies available in Virginia.  We were persistent and became more entrenched in our decision for these  two puppies as the obstacles stacked up.  Guess I am just a little hard headed.

Things turned our way mid week.  The other interested party backed out.  We were approved for adoption and we had our two choices.  But, they were not willing to arrange to transport them back to VA.   If we wanted them we would have to go to Rhode Island to pick them up.  We prepared for a road trip.

On Saturday, February 1st, my oldest and I headed North.  We drove up I-95 through Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey (passing MetLife stadium where the Super Bowl would be played the following day) and through New York where we got to see the Manhattan skyline.  We stopped for dinner in Connecticut on the edge of the Yale campus.  We arrived in Rhode Island after eight hours on the road.  My oldest did a great job serving as navigator on the iPad and made the comment that night “that didn’t seem that long”.  It was a good trip – a little traffic in New York but otherwise uneventful.

The next morning we picked up our puppies.  We had a travel crate for them to ride in and set out from the foster home around 10:30 AM.  They fussed for the first thirty minutes and then settled in.  Around 3 hours into our trip they woke up and we stopped to let them pee.  With all of the warnings about Parvo, we took precautions and set out a sheet for them to go to the bathroom on so they wouldn’t pick up any germs from the ground.  It was quite a process.

Things probably couldn’t have gone better.  The puppies slept for the next several hours.  We took the New Jersey Garden State Parkway to avoid Super Bowl traffic and kept moving.  The puppies slept through our anticipated stop at hour 6.  Traffic around DC slowed us down a little but they didn’t notice.   A little after hour 7 they started to stir but we were now about an hour from home.  We kept moving and after a little over eight hours we were able to introduce them to their new home.

Maybe we are crazy for getting puppies right now.  Maybe we are crazy for getting two puppies right now.  I would agree driving 1000 miles to get them is crazy.  But after a week of this life “adjustment” I think we are going to be okay.  They are going to be good dogs and I anticipate we will be good dog owners.  Just as they are the central focus of our lives right now, they too will probably be the focus of the next few posts so stay tuned for more crazy!

Homework review, sort of

Going over the Rubric for his book report (while he watches his brother play video games, only half paying attention to me):

Me: “So, you have your cover?”

Him: “Yes”

“Your Timeline and Journal entries?”

“Yes”

“Four pictures and a map?”

“Yes”

“A Letter”

“Yes”

“Souvenirs and Mementos?”

“Yes”

Me: “Have you referenced all the pictures?”

Him: “What?”

“Your pictures, have you stated where you got them?”

“I have a bibliography.  So, yes”

“Are you ready for the oral presentation?”

He looks at me with a sheepish smile, “Of course I am”.

He doesn’t lack confidence, that is for sure!!

Spark some interest

IMG_5312 by LoveHouse RadioOne of the best things about the holidays is spending time with family. I particularly like when we get to hang out with “the cousins” – that would be my nieces and nephews, all in high school now (my two are the youngest of the group and we tend to not see them for hours at a time when they are playing with the cousins). It is always fun to play games (we spend a lot of time playing video games when we are together), sports and hearing what stories they have to share of friends and school.

It is also fun to do something new with them – they always seem up for trying out some of my wild ideas. This past Thanksgiving, based on suggestions from a business associate, we tried to do fire art using burning steel wool and an open camera shutter. In short, you take steel wool, put it in a whisk on a string and light it on fire. Then, you keep the shutter of your camera open for 20-30 seconds and it records all the sparks flying off for that time period. Pretty cool results.

But that isn’t the best of it. The really cool thing is the time together and the fact that everyone is interested in helping out, in getting it setup and working through our “troubles”. With our failed attempts (apparently you have to use very fine steel wool, mine was too rough for our first try at Thanksgiving) we worked together, “ideated” and in the end, everyone was curious to see the results.  Everyone seemed to have some ideas and was willing to help each other support them and fill the roles (flashlight holder, fire starter, fire slinger, etc.).  By Christmas we were able to make our fire art!!

With the holidays being focused on family and get togethers (as well as the meaning of the season), this only amplified that feeling. Even with our failed attempts to light the wrong grade of steel wool we found alternatives using a flashlight to draw images in the air. My brother-in-law did a mean snow man!!  Some even found the flashlight alternative better than the flames!!  (and the flashlight can be done indoors where it isn’t so cold!!)

So find ways to incorporate some fun, creativity and most of all, togetherness in your family get togethers. Focus on the togetherness and the rest will fall into place. And if you come away with some really cool pictures…all the better!!

(New) Habits are hard to keep

So my attempt to write a post a day for the month of December failed after 4 days.  Wow, that was quick.  Life gets in the way but really, 4 days?  Seems my attempt to get in some time on the bike and/or treadmilll suffered the same fate.  Habits are hard to make routine.

It is good I am getting this lesson in now rather than waiting for some New Year’s resolution that I was crazy enough to make.  I still have time to correct my errors.  I have the opportunity to learn and adjust.

I’ve read before that it takes about 3 weeks to a month to establish a new habit.  Zenhabits.com http://zenhabits.net/sticky provides some pointers on making a new habit stick – one of which is to focus on one habit at a time- sound advice.  Perhaps if I focus on the fitness first and writing second (or the other way around) then I can at least make one of them a habit.

For now my plan is to write when I can, write a few posts at a time if I can, and roll them out as I can.  I’ll create whatever time I can to fit it all in but also won’t stress about it too much – there is no use in writing about being a parent to the point that I am a bad parent because I am stressed about writing about…  You get it.

So more to come soon – when?  Not sure yet but soon.

Love to watch them play- and tell them!!

It is always nice to have affirmation that you are doing something right as a parent.  As my youngest son has progressed through youth soccer we have always been careful to be positive but not to over do the praise.  We also try to keep our comments realistic.  Since we both have some background in playing organized sports (my wife more than me with her experience playing soccer and tennis in college), we are able to speak to the game and athletics in general from a knowledgable point of view.  But lately we have modified our comments a little.

Part of this comes from something we learned at the Fall season parent’s meeting for the travel soccer program.  The head of coaching said for post game conversations, rather than tell your child what you thought of the game, ask what they thought of the game.  While you may want to say “Wow, you played great”, they may not feel that the played very well and your comments may come across as fake or bogus.  That seemed like sound advice – find out where their heads are at before you try to lead them in some direction that could confuse or mislead or worse, seem less than genuine.

A comment my wife has made this season regularly is “I just love to watch you play”.  At times I thought she was saying this to alleviate any pressure and it seemed to work, not that she wasn’t simply saying what she felt.  While my son isn’t one to get worked up about a soccer game, he did seem relieved to know that we simply wanted to watch him play, not to watch him score, not to watch the team win, just to watch him play.  Granted, we also comment on making sure he does his best and when he works hard we take notice but much of that doesn’t have to be said.  He knows that effort is what pays off and he generally is one of the hardest working players at practices.

So to my great pleasure I read this article regarding the 6 words you should say to your kid. As it happens, “I love to watch you play” is what we should be saying.  It provides less pressure, affirms that we enjoy what they are participating in and encourages them by letting them set their own goals and measurements.  The article is based on a study of college athletes where they reported the thing said by their parents that gave them the most joy was “I love to watch you play”.  It is an interesting study – any sports parent should give it a read.

So be supportive, be encouraging but keep it simple.  Tell them you love to watch them play, perform, draw, whatever they do.  Your opinion matters more than you probably realize.  Telling them you enjoy what they are doing will go a long way and again, it relieves some of the pressure by simplifying the expectations.  They may not be able to ensure their team will win or they will score but they can play, they can participate in some way, and if that is all that you need to be proud of them then everyone can be happy.

Link again:  What makes a nightmare sports parent– and what makes a great one

Leggo my Ego

My youngest was getting ready for his Holiday Chorus concert and I was helping him with his tie.  As I was struggling to get an adult size tie to a correct length for a shorter frame, I commented that it would be easier to do if he would stop staring at himself in the mirror.  He responded with a comment to the tune of “I just can’t help myself”, and then chuckled.

He has a pretty healthy self-esteem.  But the good thing is that it is SELF esteem, not something fabricated to lift him up or try to make him believe he is something for the purpose of some false incentive.  He is happy with who he is.  He is confident and self assured.  And it isn’t necessarily because we pushed him in that direction or showered him with compliments.

It is great when our kids can establish their own confidence.  Sure, it can go overboard (he likes to play around with it sometimes) but as long as they don’t swing to the egotistical or entitled end of the spectrum, I am fine with them having a strong self-esteem.  And it helps to keep him smiling on stage while singing Christmas Carols.

Alone time, kind of

This past weekend my oldest went away to an indoor water park with a friend.  That opened up a chance for my youngest to have some alone time with us.  He really seemed to cherish the one on one time.  We played a few games, watched football, and even went out to a dinner spot that his brother is not too fond of just because.

It was good to have some quality time together.  All relationships need that focused time to help you appreciate each other’s company.  Whether it is with your spouse or children, having some personal alone time to enjoy each other’s company is crucial.  Allyson Reynolds touches on these and other good reasons for one on one time in her post at PowerOf Moms.com.

Of course in the busy lives we lead it can be hard to find regular time to spend alone together.  Quality time comes at a premium.  But like many things, you can make it work.  You can find the time and find something fun to do.  Over at Lifehack.com, Erin Kurt has a few suggestions but be creative, find something to make your own.

Alone time – well, alone with one of your children.  It is great time.  One on one you can get to know them, get them to communicate with you, find out what is going on in their world.  And you can build bond and memories that last a lifetime.

Lifetime of a Tradition

For several years a Thanksgiving weekend tradition has been a big bonfire at my in-laws.  Living out in the country they pile up branches and cut trees as well as scrap wood and who knows what else throughout the year.  It typically becomes two or three piles so that we light one and keep feeding it from the others.  There have been a couple of years where it has been wet or weather has been a factor to cancel it but for the better part of the past 10 years we have fired up the pile as part of the holiday.

The first few years the kids were in awe.  They stared at the blaze and sat around the fire throughout the day, mesmerized by the dancing flame and taking in the heat on days where November maintained a chill in the air.  They liked it when the fire wasn’t too big so that they could get closer, allowing them to toss on a stick here and there.  But as they have grown older, the allure has diminished a little.  Each year they have come out to see the fire for less time, finding other activities to better entertain them.

This year my youngest set the stage by stating that he would like to see the first start but wasn’t too interested in watching it for too long.  That seemed to also be the case with the others as those who came out (some were still sleeping in when we lit it – teenagers!!) hung around for a little while but seemed to lose interest quickly.  After a while they broke off into a soccer game, paying no attention to the fire (and fire tenders) standing down the hill from their game.

So the question is, should we fight it?  Should we try to push them to be more interested in the tradition?  Should we try to find ways for them to participate?  Forcing it just hasn’t been our style.

Although the bonfire does present a chance for family participation, it also serves the purpose of getting rid of the pile, which actually would be easier if not annually held to such a strict schedule.  If the kids want to do something else (and especially if it is getting exercise outside on a forty degrees day) then we should be happy with that and support it.  Forcing everyone to have a good time in the family truckster and to go see the world’s largest ball of twine is not good for anyone.

So we will likely remain flexible and perhaps this tradition will die.  I am not sure anyone will be too upset and again, it provides options for my in-laws to burn the pile on a day more convenient to them (and perhaps more frequently so it isn’t as big of a job).  And the kids still have a memory to hold on to and perhaps start their own tradition with when they get older – they just have to remember that the tradition may have a lifetime.