Saturday, September 27, 2008

Self Help for Dads

Becoming a Dad was the single most life changing event in my life. Graduating college, buying my first home and even getting married have had less impact on who I am than welcoming my children into the world. Before, in my life, I lived for myself. My goals were directed for my best interest. I was only responsible for myself. I had to start considering someone else when I got married, but my choices basically involved the best outcome for us as one couple.

The day our son arrived, ten years ago, was the day I started living for another. I now had someone completely dependent upon me and my choices. From then on, choices I made for myself may have not always been the best choices for my son. I had now been changed to a different person. Or better yet, I had been improved into a better person.

Being a Dad for the first time involved a lot of on the job training. Our son taught me how to feed, bathe and change a baby. As he grew, he presented more tests and challenges for me. He dared me to keep in shape by chasing him around the house. He tested my patience endlessly and taught me to anticipate how messy a situation could become based on my choices of food. When he was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at two and half years old, I experienced a complete attitude overhaul. Asperger's is a form of Autism that causes kids to struggle with social cues, peer relationships and certain sensory challenges.

This diagnosis changed the way I thought of my son. But don't misunderstand me, I didn't change any important goals I had for him. I still expected him to be successful and give his best effort. I still wanted him to live up to his full potential. He was still the great, loving miracle we always had. The only thing that changed was how I saw myself as his Dad. I still gave him tools to accomplish his goals, I just had to learn how to use a different set of tools. I was required to see things from his perspective and adjust my parenting accordingly.

When our son turned four years old, I was comfortable in my abilities and talents to bring up a happy, successful son.

Then his sister came into the picture. She lived by a completely different playbook from her brother. Where he was a good sleeper and napper, she was up all day and night. Things that worked well for him, she would have none of. My confidence as a parent dropped to zero. Time for another learning curve.

My daughter started her Dad lessons almost immediately. Our son must have known early on that I was new to Daddying, in that he was much more patient and content with my efforts. My daughter knew that I had had four years to get ready for her and she wasn't going to wait a second longer for anything she needed. Time get a bigger toolbox.

I continued my parenting school through the next few years. My son was attending grade school and my daughter was in preschool. I had to learn how much freedom and independence to give them and balance it with the right amount of protection. I had to learn not to compare and measure my kids against other kids their age. I am not in competition with other Dads. My kids are competing against themselves. And I am there to support them and be their biggest cheerleader.

Right now, my kids are my investment in myself. It's like I went to the self-improvement section of the bookstore and came out with two self-help aids. In order to get the most out of them, I have to learn how to use them correctly. Luckily, part of their job is to teach their operators how to handle them. Just let them teach you. A Dad has to get down on their level and see the world from their perspective. Only then can he truly understand what it means to be a Dad. My toolbox is constantly being revised. New tools added and old ones retired. Dad training is lifelong and gruelling. But a more rewarding upgrade, you will never find.

Things My Grandmother Baked.

This is a continuance in what, hopefully, will be a series. Weeks ago I posted about the memorable sayings of my Grampa Pete. This week I will give equal consideration to my Gramma Peg. Gramma Peg and Grampa Pete were married sixty years before Lady Di and I tied the knot. Grampa Pete died just a few years ago and Gramma Peg is still going strong at 94 years old.

Growing up I lived a few blocks from both sets of grandparents in a small town, so I was fortunate to be able to spend a lot of time with them. And Gramma Peg knew how to lure me to her home for many visits. Gramma Peg knew how to bake. And she baked a lot. She was even good enough to get my sister and I to eat bran muffins, and like them.

Grandma Peg's specialty, though, was baking pies. Every holiday she made a seasonal pie for dessert. Pumpkin pie, of course, for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Peach pie when the fresh peaches came to the grocery store by the crate in the summer. She had an apricot tree in the back yard that produced apricots only one summer in its life. That year it must have gotten pollinated just right because apricots were bending branches and filling multiple coolers, so Grandma had to bake pie after pie just to keep the fruit from rotting on the ground.

This time of year, however, puts me in mind of her number one pie, apple pie. She makes her own crust, picks her own apples and creates a perfect pie.

Since she was such a prolific pie baker, she would fill her deep freeze with pies to enjoy at a moments notice. One of my fondest memories of college was coming home for the weekend and returning to school with one of Grandma Peg's pies. My roommates were understandably jealous. I would share on occasion, but the slices I cut for them would be the thinnest possible. One related memory that I will never forget is when I had taken my foil wrapped pie back to school. I spent the entire drive anticipating cutting a slice when I got back to my dorm room. When I got to my room, I unwrapped my dessert, cut a piece, put it on a plate and settled in my chair to enjoy. The first bite made me pause. This was not apple pie. I was green tomato pie. Which, amazingly, tastes similar to apple pie, but is not apple pie. Since Grandma Peg was such a prolific pie baker, she understandably would sometimes lose track 0f which pies she had in her deep freeze.

I didn't complain though. As long as more pies kept coming, I kept eating them. Besides, green tomato pie is pretty good and I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to try one.

I have many wonderful childhood memories and many have come from my grandparents. Number One Son and Sweet Pea were also lucky enough to enjoy a few of Grandma Peg's pies. And who knows, with the holidays coming up in a couple months, maybe they too will get to try green tomato pie.

Thanks, Grandma Peg, for all the pies and so much more.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why buy expensive apples?

We've had a pretty busy week. On Friday, Number One Son and I went to the local high school football game. We met one of his friends there and they got to sit together. They actually sat and watched the game for the whole first half. At half time though, I had to cut them loose for the concession stand. I gave him $5 for snacks for both of us. I learned my lesson at a basketball game last year. If I give N1S more money, he will buy what I asked for and then proceed to spend the rest on anything else they are selling until the money is gone. Which meant extra hot dogs and Gatorade even though we had just eaten supper.

So during the second half of the game, I caught glimpses of N1S and his friend visiting with each other and various friends that they ran into. At one point I saw N1S showing off his dance moves for a certain girl he knows. He set his popcorn and Gatorade down on the ground, placed both hands flat on the ground in front of him and kicked up both feet like a donkey. I guess he picked that up from his dad's break dancing routine.

Saturday found me on the golf course. This has been a rare occurrence this year. I was asked to play best ball with some friends and neighbors. I had a blast and our team finished even par. I was told that we finished first of the three groups, but strangely our prize money hasn't been delivered yet.

On Sunday, the family finally made it to the apple orchard. We went to the same one as last year. Everything was pretty much the same. The kids and I picked and sampled apples while Lady Di picked three pints of raspberries. After picking raspberries, Lady Di's forearms looked like she had been fighting a chicken. Raspberry bushes are mean.

Unfortunately, the apple cannon broke down just as we got in line. But the kids still got to ride in the cow train around the strawberry field. The kids got to pet goats, feed chickens and talk to geese too.

N1S looks like he is getting a little old for this. He really had to bend down just to get his head in. I know SP appreciated him being a good sport.

The weather was warm and windy. A nice day, but I prefer apple picking air to have a little nip in it. We may return in October for the corn maze.

We may have tried to cram too much into the weekend, but it was worth it. Even if it exhausts me, these family outings are a great blessing to me.

We got our apples weighed and tiredly returned home to catch the end of the football game. Another family tradition accomplished. I think this is our third year coming to this orchard. The kids are starting to remember and anticipate these trips when fall comes. Which is the reason we go to ballgames, field trips or stay at home and play board games. If we are together as a family, we will add memories to our experiences.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Did You Hear That Duck?

Recently, the family and I went out to eat at a restaurant. This particular restaurant, Space Aliens, closely resembles Pizza Planet from Toy Story. The food is not too bad and it has a game room for the kids. It also has a game room for adults called the bar, but the guy in the giant alien costume doesn't go in there to pose for pictures, so we had to stay in the restaurant area.

We gave each kid a few tokens to play the games until the food arrived. Two minutes later Sweet Pea comes racing back to the table for more tokens.

"Where are your tokens?"

"I used them already."

"Well, now you have to wait. You should have made them last longer."

Then came the protesting, pouting and finally wailing.

"Just go watch your brother play his tokens."
And knowing her, she probably conned him into sharing his tokens because he is such a nice brother.

Number One Son usually weighs his tokens out very shrewdly. He sets some aside for video games and others for ticket winning games. Because if you get a lot of tickets, you get to buy a bunch of crappy toys with them.

Just before the food came, N1S returned with an armful of tickets, prompting more 'No fairs!' from sister. So they each got a few more tokens after we ate.

At the end of their tokens, each kid fed their tickets into the counting machine and headed for the Alien Gift Shop for some bartering.

This is what they bought.

A Whoopee Cushion and Noise Putty. Can you see the connection? The Noise Putty's container is in the shape of a toilet and when you press down on it with your thumbs, it makes a farting noise. And the Whoopee Cushion should explain itself.

What prouder moment could a father have than when his precious innocents learn the value of money, bartering and supply and demand by buying flatulence novelties.

At least these are toys the kids are actually getting some use out of. Now every night at bedtime, SP blows up her poo cushion and places it under her covers for her unsuspecting parents to sit on when it is story time.

And I forgot to mention that N1S's Noise Putty glows in the dark. So he can have gaseous fun day or night.

The novelty is actually already starting to wear off. I haven't heard any offensive noises from the kids rooms for a while now. No artificial noises anyway. But, Gramma is visiting this weekend, so they may make a comeback.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Time for Plaid

Now that school has started and evening comes ever sooner to shorten our days, it's time to start thinking Autumn thoughts. Even though there are a few weeks left of Summer, a definite nip in the air tells me that Fall is getting ready to drag Winter to our doorsteps.

This nip in the air also signals a change in the wardrobe. Pretty soon the shorts and sandals will be replaced with sweat pants and snow boots. In the between time, I've started the clothing rotation by digging out my very best flannel items. When the temp shows signs of getting chilly but not yet sub-arctic, there is nothing more comfortable than flannel.

As you know, if you live in Minnesota, wearing flannel from Labor Day to Memorial Day is the law. But even if I lived anywhere else in the world, my flannel would follow me. Because besides the high fashion value, flannel is just plain comfortable. Nothing is more cozy feeling than flannel.

So you can see why my excitement level was so high while digging in my dresser. Here is an example of what I am talking about.

The one on the right is my all purpose pair of flannel pants. I wear these when relaxing in front of the TV or outside if I have any showing off to do for the neighbors. The pair on the left I reserve for more formal affairs. Those are worn on Sundays only during the Vikings football game. I need to wear them for good luck for the team. Whenever I don't wear them, the Vikings lose to Green Bay. They've also found ways to lose to other teams regardless of my pant choice, but once you pick a team, you have to follow them no matter how terrible. Plus, a team loss while wearing flannel pants doesn't sting as much.

I am troubled slightly by the fact that I know I had three pair of flannel pants last year and I can only find two of them this year. I'll have to remember to ask Lady Di about that. Or better yet, I'll have to make a shopping trip to Fleet Farm and update my collection with the latest plaid patterns. Lady Di doesn't always share or understand my fondness for flannel, but I know she will eventually learn to embrace plaid.

Flannel doesn't have to stop with pants either. I have a full array of coordinating, colorful flannel shirts to go with the pants. Sometimes I can get the plaid pattern in the shirt to line up perfectly with the pants, causing the ideal camouflage for Lutheran potlucks.

Here's a picture of one of my flannel ensembles from a couple of Februaries ago. Notice, it must have been snowing on a Sunday.

So after a hard day at work, or when the kids run me ragged, I know I can unwind and let my flannel absorb all of the tension from the day. So make sure you always have at least one article of flannel, preferable plaid, in your closet at all times. A roaring fire in the fireplace just isn't entirely cozy without flannel.

Once the weather starts to go polar with talk of wind chill and frostbite, then it will be time start digging for another Minnesota necessity, thermal underwear.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Love Muffin

Happy Post Labor Day! And also Happy First Day of School for those getting up before dawn to hop on the bus. This year the kids get picked up by the bus about the same time as last year. Too early! They each ride separately since they go to different school buildings. Number One Son, again is picked up at the crack of 6:50am. Sweet Pea gets to sleep in since her bus arrives at 7:10am. It's sad that even in September, it's dark when they get up.

Even though she gets an extra 20 minutes Sweet Pea still comes down the stairs a little groggy sometimes.

This morning, Sweet Pea, shuffled down the stairs and settled into her chair at the kitchen table.
"Good morning, Sweet Pea, what would you like for breakfast?", I asked.

I heard a mumble from her haystack morning hairdo that sounded like Cousin It from the Addams family.

"What was that?", I inquired.

"I want one of those bagels.", she drowsily slurred. She pronounces bagel with a short 'a', like in the word bag.

Then she changed her mind, "No wait. I want an American muffin."

"Do you mean an English muffin?"

"Oh, yeah."
Hopefully, she wakes up by the time English class rolls around.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Thank You

Recently I received a nice acknowledgement from Iowa Grasslands. He has awarded me with the Arte y Pico. I don't consider myself particularly inspiring, but am honored that someone may have gotten some inspiration from me at some time. This beautiful award, pictured here, has the normal blog award rules.
"This award was created to be given to bloggers who inspire others with their creativity and their talents, and for contributing to the blogging world in whatever medium. When you receive this award it is considered a “special honor.” Once you have received this award, you are to pass it on to 5 others. What a wonderful way to show some love and appreciation to your fellow bloggers!The rules for passing this honor on are: Pick 5 blogs that you would like to award this honor to.Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone. Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself. Award-winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of “Arte y Pico” blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award from Arte Y Pico."

I don't tend to read very many blogs on a regular basis. The ones I do read, I enjoy quite a lot though. Since I don't read many and some of my reads have deservedly already received a Arte y Pico, I will give you my best list of inspiring reads.

Father of Five is a Dad from MN who I read on a regular basis. Just the fact that he and his spouse have been able to keep their sanity while raising five kids is inspiring.

I was also fortunate enough to be honored with an award from one of my regular reads, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The diamond award recognizes blogs of excellence and reading enjoyment. Many of my favorites have already received this award so it is difficult to choose whom to bestow.

Iowa Grasslands is a blog relating stories from the Midwest. Russell seems to effortlessly post on a vast variety of topics and is always entertaining. His nostalgic pictures also add to the interest of his topics.

I know my lists are short but that doesn't mean there aren't many more deserving blogs. Like I mentioned earlier, most of my reads already have won one or both awards. Go ahead and try them to see what you think.

Stuff About Me

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I'm a 40 year old dad of two. My wonderful wife, Lady Di, and I try to keep the kids from blowing things up here in central Minnesota.