March 30, 2011

The Great Indoors

Last week, I was minding my own business, working at cleaning up dinner dishes, when I heard a massive booming noise coming from the living room. It sounded like a brontosaurus jumping on a trampoline and smashing a hole in the ceiling with each bounce while shaking a pair of maracas. How's that for a mental image?

Given that my house is not up to code for your standard dinosaur acrobatics and not wanting to see it reduced to matchsticks, I went to put a stop to the destruction before it got out of hand. I was greeted by the sight of Brady, hands braced on a table, scaling the wall with his bare feet and then pushing off and landing with a BANG. And doing it again. And again. And again.

I was intrigued, and my teeth were rattling with each impact, so I got him to stop for a second so I could find out what he was doing. "It's an exercise, daddy.", he said with a touch of condescension, as if it should be obvious, which I'm sure is the case if you're a dinosaur or a four-year-old boy. "OK," I said, "but remember that mommy likes to have the picture frames on the walls, not broken on the floor by Dr. Earthquake." He just laughed and, tickled by his new supervillain name, started in again, this time punctuating each jarring bounce with "I'm Dr. EARTHquake!!!" Way to control that noise level, dad.

Wow, I thought, spring has arrived in the Land of the Great Indoors none too soon. My kids are literally bouncing off the walls.

This winter was so long, cold, and snowy that a family of polar bears actually moved in down the block for a couple of months, apparently thinking they'd feel right at home in our frigid little corner of the world. They were the Robertsons, originally from somewhere in Alaska. Nice enough family. And it's a buyer's market, so I'm sure they got a heck of a deal. But then one day, a neighbor's dog went missing, and we saw police cars at the Robertsons' house a night or two later. Before we knew it, they were loading a moving truck. It's probably just as well; dog eating is frowned upon in my neighborhood, and they were a little weird anyway.

But now spring is here, or so it appears, and with it, a "For Sale" sign in the Robertsons' yard. We were finally able to get the kids outside without their full suits of snow armor the other day, and we saw our first budding flower, a bright yellow one. Ellie, a girly girl who loves pretty things, squatted down to admire it, and for a moment she looked like a bright little postcard from the land of spring, all golden curls and golden flowers. Then, smiling with wonder, she reached out and squished it unceremoniously between her pudgy little fingers. I had to laugh. It was good to be outside with my kids, enjoying the day.

I think of spring in mostly practical terms these days, like the fact that I no longer have to drive on sheets of ice and can now see the potholes in the road and thus avoid them, but there's still a part of me that feels spring the way a child does. It's the feeling of hope it brings, like knowing the last day of school is fast approaching. You can cruise around with the car windows down and listen to music that was popular when you were a senior in high school, and not feel old. You know the warm days and green lawns, the baseball games and family picnics are in front of you, not on the other end of the Bleak Season of Eternally Frostbitten Noses, Toes, and Fingers, more commonly known as winter. It's a good feeling. No, a great one.

So we finally get to leave the Land of the Great Indoors with much rejoicing. What's your favorite thing about spring? Did you have any families like the Robertsons in your neighborhood this winter? If so, how many family pets mysteriously vanished? What's your favorite springtime cruisin' music? I'd love to hear about it, and then make fun of you.

March 23, 2011

Something That Makes Me Jealous

Angry, that is. I meant angry. Jealous is the word Ellie uses in place of angry. So when she sees me with an exasperated look on my face because Brady has just sprinted through the room at the speed of light and bowled over baby Riley without a look back to see what wreckage he's left in his wake, she'll ask, "Daddy, are you jealous?" It's cute.

But I digress, so I'll get back on track. And I'll give you fair warning: what I'm angry about has some politics to it, so if you're not in the mood for that type of thing, now's your chance to tune out. I usually try to keep politics out of parenting, but this is something that has direct bearing on our kids and our ability to do our jobs as parents, and you might learn something, so whatever your views, I encourage you to stick around. I have a forum to use, and I use it now for what I feel is a worthy cause: to help parents make a difference for future generations.

There is an organization called Parental Rights, which I encourage you to check out here. Parental Rights works hard to ensure that parents maintain the right, for better or worse, to make decisions on behalf of their children without the government's say-so or over-involvement. This is not to say that they oppose the involvement of child protection services in cases of obvious abuse or neglect. Far from it. Their goal is to protect the rights of American parents to do their job, to parent to the best of their ability.

The issue at hand is the question of whether or not the United States should ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, or CRC. As of November 2009, 193 nations have ratified the CRC, and the only UN nations not to do so thus far are the United States and Somalia. The stated goal of the CRC is to "establish civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights [for] children." It restricts the involvement of children in warfare. It bans the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography, and it is binding international law to which all ratifying nations must adhere. You're probably wondering why any of this could be a bad thing, as these are all noble goals, but wait until you've heard the rest. There's more to it than meets the eye.

We Americans love our freedoms, and for American parents, that's where the problems with the CRC are revealed. You see, the CRC includes a number of provisions that would greatly reduce the amount of control we have over our children's upbringing. Several examples:

  • The outlawing of spanking. Sweden has taken this a step further, making it illegal to give a child a time-out.
  • A child's "right to be heard" would allow a child to seek government review of any parental decision with which the child disagrees.
  • Sex-education would be compulsory, with no opt-out, and must include equal treatment of same-sex relationships. It could start as early as age four.
  • All schools, private ones included, must treat all religions as equal, so a Muslim or Christian school could no longer teach that their religion is the only true one.
  • Any parental decision could be overridden by the government if it determines that decision is not "in the best interest of the child".
  • Minor children would have the right to reproductive health services, including abortions, without parental knowledge or consent.

And those are just a few. All regulations of the CRC are monitored by an 18-member panel in Switzerland, and would overrule all American laws except the Constitution, which, under its Article VI, makes any international treaty such as this the law of the land anyway. In essence, if the CRC were ratified by our government, they would acquire the right and responsibility to monitor your parenting, and non-compliance would subject you to legal penalties including jail time. Wow.

Now, aren't you over-reacting a bit, Mr. Used Diaper Salesman? No, I can assure you that this stuff is very real. But you sound like one of those anti-government wackos who hates the system and wants the freedom to abuse his kids in peace! No, I don't hate the government, and I love my kids. Also, you're really long-winded today. Yeah, that last part's true, but it's because I care about my kids and about making sure that they grow up to be people of integrity who live by their values. Can the government do a better job of that than my wife and I, and should they have the right to try? I think not.

Finally, think about what something like this teaches kids: that their parents are their equals, and that what their parents say can be thrown out the window if the child disagrees with them. A scary thought. If this thought makes you as, angry as it does me, I encourage you to check out the CRC at Parental Rights' website so you can know the facts, and then contact your U.S. senators and ask them to co-sponsor Senate Resolution 99 (SR99), which would block U.S. ratification of the CRC. You can find your senators here.

And if you need a little encouragement, just imagine every angsty, rebellious American teenager showing up at home with a lawyer. This is your cue to shudder.

March 14, 2011

Writer's Block(s)

I haven't been writing long enough to experience it, but I've heard that most writers are plagued by the dreaded "writer's block" at one point or another. It's said that any of a number of things can cause it. A looming deadline, stress brought on by life events, and complete amnesia are just a few.

I've considered this phenomenon a bit recently and concluded that as long as I really don't care what people think about what I write, I should be able to avoid it. Barring amnesia, that is. And it should be said that it's my kids that are the real talent around here, anyway. I have no end of good material.

A few weeks ago, I was playing with my kids and thinking about this very subject while I blocked Brady's, Wolverine's karate chops and punches, pulled Ellie down off the top of the piano, and helped Riley avoid being crushed in the melee. Riley was playing with our set of wooden letter blocks, the ones that have a letter or number on each side and are fun for building towers and even more fun to knock down, so I decided to join him for some building and gleeful destruction.

As I was building, I started to put them together to spell out words. I started with my kids' names (Ellie's name ended up as Elli3; I couldn't find another E), then decided to go for the longest word I could assemble. "Together" was the best I could do, employing that 3 again in place of the second E. Since then, every time I think about the concept of writer's block, an image of these brightly-colored blocks jumps to mind. I can't say why, but it's strangely comforting.

As I was warming to the idea that there was a blog post in there somewhere, my thoughts were shattered by an unexpected flying roundhouse kick from our resident superhero who succeeded in knocking down our tower, knocking his little brother's head against the floor, and almost knocking the wind out of his daddy all in one perfectly executed move.

Normally, I would have praised his technique and tackled and tickled him, but I was caught totally off-guard, and that shock, combined with the pain in my gut and the crying baby with the welt rising on his little noggin, caused me to lose my cool. I yelled at Brady and told him to go to his room.

I didn't call him names or belittle him, but the look on his face when I raised my voice like that was enough to cut me to the heart. I quickly came to my senses and realized that he wasn't the problem here. I was. I gave him a hug and apologized for yelling, and then we both gave Riley a hug. Riley responded by giving me a good-natured punch in the nose as if I were responsible for the bump on his head, and Ellie joined in the group hug. All was right in our little world once again.

The crushed look on Brady's face stuck with me, though, and in thinking more about this post, I drew another parallel. My kids are a lot like those blocks. I build them up with painstaking care, but a single careless blow is all it takes to knock them down. Thankfully, short towers are easier to rebuild than tall ones, so we parents would do well to learn this lesson well while our kids are small.

In short, we're the architects of our kids' self-image, and we spell it out for them in brightly colored letters. This writer hopes his blocks spell out the right things.

This post is brought to you by the letter E and the number 3.

March 7, 2011

An Ode to The Original Used Diaper Salespeople

While reading about past adventures of the Used Diaper Salesman, you may have wondered, "Who does this guy think he is, some parenting expert? And where did he get such a cracked sense of humor?" The answers are "No way." and "I have no idea." Ninety-eight percent of what you read here is just me having some fun while trying to figure out this whole parenting thing, and I'm just happy to have you along for the ride. I don't pretend to know any more than you about parenting and marriage, and whether or not I turn out to be any good at those things remains to be seen, but I'm happy to say that I have some excellent role models for both. Thanks, dad and mom.

Parenting is like going to school all over again, but without a textbook which holds all the answers, and when you take the tests, about half of the questions weren't on the homework. I'm learning more all the time about what it takes to raise average kids with the hope that they'll grow into exceptional adults, and the more I learn, the more my appreciation for my own parents grows. I'm a relative rookie to the parenting game, but through my limited schooling on the job, I've gained a bit of perspective on what it took to raise a wiseguy like me. The levels of sheer personal sacrifice and Tums consumption must have been staggering.

Retrospective self-examination, anyone? I don't think I was an unusually difficult kid, but looking back, I can see hundreds of things I did or didn't do that made my parents' job a little harder. I won't bore you with details, but upon further review, just about all of them can be filed under the category of "What the heck was I thinking?".  Normal growing pains for me, but probably quite trying for my parents, who only wanted to see me succeed and live to see adulthood. 

At any of those moments, mom and dad could have thrown up their hands and given up on teaching me the finer points of how the world works, but to their credit, they just took a deep breath, popped a few more Tums, and stuck with it. They'll be the first to admit they weren't perfect, but they did their best, and as far as I'm concerned, they did a great job. They also prayed for me many times daily, and still do. I plan on doing the same for my own kids for the rest of my life, since I'll eventually see them behind the wheel of a car, and only God can protect an invincible seventeen-year-old with a driver's license.

Even if you don't see your parents as the best role models, I'd be willing to bet you could still think of a number of things you learned from them, whether they're things you want to emulate or things that have made you realize what you don't want for your own kids. Either way, they've helped make you who you are, and by extension, the parent you are. The hard part? What you do with what you've learned from them is up to you.

For my part, I'll send out a big "thank you!" to my parents, the original Used Diaper Salespeople, and do my best to carry on the family business. It's a hard job, but somebody's gotta do it.

March 2, 2011

Aliens and Miracles

Let's be honest, folks. When a baby is born, we go to the hospital to visit and coo and ooh and ahh over the little munchkin, saying how beautiful he or she is, but inside, we really think he or she looks like an alien, most specifically the one that pops out of people's stomachs in the movie by the same name. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the folks who wrote the movie were inspired by childbirth and newborns, but since it's Hollywood, they had to add more teeth. An alien with nothing but bright pink gums just wouldn't make good cinema.

It's OK to admit it. Thinking that babies look weird is natural, because they kind of do, although I wouldn't recommend saying so to the new parents after what they've been through. That's a good way to get that stuffed bear you brought as a gift stuffed somewhere you probably don't want it.

But your own kids, that's a different story. They look like Brad Pitt or Gisele Bundchen from day one. Case in point, here's a picture of Riley that his NICU nurse took a few days after he was born:

Eat your heart out, Brad.

Riley is one year old today, and I find myself thinking back to the adventures of this day last year. Being the daredevil he is, he decided to make his birth interesting, live on the edge a little. He came almost four weeks early; he looped the loop and tied a knot in his umbilical cord; he was just four pounds, thirteen ounces and spent six days in intensive care. All in all, a much more adventurous journey than those of our first two kids, but by the grace of God, he was never really in any danger.

On the fourth day of his stay, a baby was rushed into the NICU by ambulance who weighed one pound, one ounce. Yep, you heard me right. There I sat, holding my slightly jaundiced but peacefully sleeping and healthy guy, while nurses and doctors and paramedics scrambled around this still, tiny form, hooking up machines that would likely stay with her for months, saving this one little life. The nurse told me they were pretty confident she'd make it, but that it would be a long road.

It was probably a product of exhaustion, but I wanted to cry. I looked at Riley and wondered why we got to be the fortunate ones who got to go home in just a couple of days. What if the knot in his cord had caused brain damage? What if one of a thousand other bad things happened? What if? But they didn't. Prayer is powerful. God has been incredibly good to us.

To say the experience of bringing a new little alien into the world is a miracle is cliche, but there just isn't another word to describe it. As I pulled the car around to pick up a glowing mommy and baby, I thanked God and said a little prayer for the tiny girl still lying in intensive care. I hope she has people praying for her, and that she has a great first birthday four days from now. She's a miracle, too.

Happy birthday, Riley!