Tag Archives: parenting

An alternate universe in each of my sons

The 303 train from Chicago to Blue Island broke down last night, leaving me stranded in Chicago waiting for a later train.

Unfortunately, that meant I’d miss my son’s track meet.

He sent me this text just as my train pulled up to the Vermont Street stop where I park my car.

Carson RunsWhat’s unique about this text, is that it stems from a conversation we had last night while sitting around a small table at Chipotle.

It’s been a long two-weeks of sickness around our house, with everyone dealing with a combination of allergies and head colds, with a little strep throat thrown in for good measure. We needed to buy Carson a pair of running shoes for his track meet on Friday, so I made an executive decision to eat out, which is rare for us.

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Pervasive Fear and Loathing in the Suburbs: Leaving your children home alone

Tools like Find my iPhone allow parents to track their children's whereabouts.
Tools like Find my iPhone allow parents to track their children’s whereabouts.

I want to establish something at the beginning of this post. My parents are amazing. They are loving, caring, protective and responsible.

The reason I say this, is because what they did to me as a child, directly relates to the way I’m raising my own children.

I don’t remember how old I was the first time I was left alone.

From the stories I’ve been told, I was a bit of a wanderer, often disappearing, leaving my parents to find me preaching to a crowd or singing songs in front of whatever audience I could find.

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Asheville, The Art of War and Cheryl Strayed

IMG_7658I started writing this from the Chili’s across from the Comfort Inn we’re staying at in Dentsville, South Carolina tonight.

The kids are staring at me after I just scolded them for replying to the waitress with their typical “ya,” or barely discernible grunt meant to infer  that yes, they would indeed like fries with their burger.

“This is the South, where people are polite, and when they ask you if you want fries with your burger, you say yes please,” I told them.

They replied with those barely discernible grunts meant to infer that they indeed understood what I was saying.

After a long evening with Jon in Cincinnati, I was up early, as is my usual habit. I showered, dressed and sat in bed for a while waiting to wake my sleeping wife and kids.

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When your son wants to open a Scotch and Cigar bar in Brooklyn

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 10.15.14 PMDinner is a rush of passed dishes, clanking silverware and clinking glasses filled to the top with skim milk, or, perhaps wine.

Once we settle into our food and conversation, we usually meander casually around everyone’s daily experiences or football, to which my wife and daughter roll their eyes and try desperately to change the subject.

Last night Carson opened the evening with this one –

“I want to open a Scotch and cigar bar in Brooklyn.”

It’s not the most surprising thing he’s ever said.

But it made me smile, because he had no fear of putting himself out there on the line for judgement and ridicule, which families are exceedingly good at doling out.

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The Blacksmith

BlacksmithI stopped in to the bar on my way home from work to finish up a couple of emails.

Bringing work home with me, especially work that stresses me out, is against whatever rules I’ve set up for myself.

I ordered an IPA from Michigan and sat sipping the thick, frothy top off a malty, hoppy bomb of a beer minding my own business.

I know the owner, Dave, well, and we shot the shit for a little while, as we do. I got the lay of the beer board and finished up my emails.

For a few minutes, I sat there, silently, just soaking in the dark wood, the sounds of the pin ball games and Operation Ivy’s “Unity” playing on the sound system.

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The Two Graces

The Two Graces – Oil on canvas – by Odilon Redon

This is one of those weeks or, rather, two-week stretches that we don’t have any time designation for, but you learn to dread them when you’re not in the midst of one of them.

My wife worked 10-days straight at a mismanaged Starbucks, and it left some scars.

The younger kids had a half day of school on Friday, and they made plans, but the oldest had school all day, so they had to cancel their plans, which made for a miserable dinner table conversation on Thursday.

There are nights where our robust family dinner-table discussions descend into a circus only Fellini could appreciate.

Lest you think we’re any more put together than you are.

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Dinner Table Conversations: Philosophy, Physics & Religion

Sometimes the questions make me swallow hard.

It’s a way for me to process them before I attempt to answer.

Being a dad is not the easiest job I’ve ever had.

That was working at Burger King when I was 16.

Tonight started off with politics.

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The Boy in the Mirror: Raising Yourself

He came bounding out of the school wearing an old Easter outfit I recognized from a few years ago.

He’s not the paragon of fashion, and I’m okay with that as long as he is.

It was a dark mint shirt with a striped tie where one stripe matched a shade of the shirt. Khaki cargo trousers and a belt rounded out the ensemble.

“How was your presentation?” I asked, sort of feebly.

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The kids are alright, until they’re not


There are many stages in parenting, and I have no idea which one I’m currently in. 

I despise parenting advice, so this isn’t advice, in fact, don’t take it as advice. It’s just an experience I’ve had recently. Take it for what it’s worth. 

When your children are born, they are very needy, and your entire life is given over to them. 

Well, your wife’s entire life is given over to them. If you’re a dad, you try to help out where you can, but the blowouts and the, um, feeding, tend to fall into mom’s lap, generally. 

When they get a little older, they gain some independence, and this is both awesome and terrible at the same time. 

They can hold their head up on their own, they can roll over on the bed, which means you don’t have to wake up panicked in the middle of the night fearing your child has expired from sudden infant death syndrome. 

But they can roll off the bed too, which means you suddenly have some freedom, but you also have a different kind of responsibility too. 

Then they learn to walk, and this is exquisite, because you don’t think you can carry them through that Saturday Market one more time. 

And it’s awful too, because now they can run out into the street or disappear in the grocery store. 

For every ounce of independence they gain, parents get a change in responsibility. Children learn things very fast. Their brains are capable of these massive influxes of information. 

As adults, we are losing brain cells and starting to slow down a bit. This has always been a strange dichotomy to me. 

Then there is this interesting moment where your children are old enough to have really intelligent conversations at dinner and where you go to museums together and enjoy good food. 

As a father, you look around at the dinner table at night, and you’re really proud of this little family you helped create. They’re smart and funny and fun to be around. 

And it’s so brief. 

If and when you recognize this moment, it’s too late. You’re already at the end of this golden age. 

Our oldest son became old enough to babysit when we moved to Montana in 2007. This was a righteous blessing for us, since we hadn’t really had a nice hour or two away from the kids in years. 

By the time we moved to Alaska in 2009, the kids were old enough to cook for themselves and generally police their own lives, which gave us a little more independence. 

And then we moved to Chicago in 2012, and we spent the first two months really enjoying each other’s company. Of course I can only speak for myself here. But it’s really true. We had nice meals out in the big, oak-lined backyard. We watched fireflies at night and my wife and I sipped on ice-cold, bone-dry rose while the kids cleaned up the dishes. 

We watched movies together on the really hot days. We went to the beach together and spent Sundays exploring Chicago’s many food choices. 

And then that moment came. 

I was sitting at dinner, and the kids were asking deep questions about world affairs and politics. I felt like the king of the castle. 

Everyone was happy and smiling. It was perfect. 

And then it was gone. 

It might have flickered a little through the winter, there were a few moments here and there, but when the spring rolled around, the kids were gone. 

Off to spend the night at a friend’s house or hanging out at the mall. Skateboarding with the crew from down the street, or flirting with the neighbor girls. 

Even the little one, the joy of my heart, is often gone away to some friend’s house when I come home from work. 

This same one used to run at me full speed whenever I got home. I had to institute a no-hugs-until-I-took-my-shoes-off rule. 

When we go on adventures on the weekends now, the boys automatically opt out, and if I force them to go, they will find a way to ruin the entire experience. If you think teenage girls are moody, I have two boys who say it’s an equal opportunity emotional roller coaster. 

Yes, yes, I realize this is all part of growing up. I understand that this happens. I just wish that I had paid attention enough during the times when everything was perfect. I wish I didn’t just recognize it that last time. 

As I said, I have no idea what stage I’m in currently. Maybe there are a few bad ones before a good one rolls around again.

And this is not advice, merely one man’s experience. Take it for what it’s worth. 

But if you look around your dinner table at night and see your kids elevating the conversation to new levels in an artful way or challenging you with good questions, stop and relish that moment for a bit. 

Because chances are you’re already close to the end of it. 


The complex world of the bully and the bullied –


The only time I ever dreamed of being on the radio was when I was going through my “Northern Exposure” phase, and I thought that of all the jobs I’d like to do in a small town, radio host seemed the most logical.

But that was until I decided to be a newspaper reporter, because radio and television reporters get all their news from newspapers, right?

So it’s still strange to me to be on the air at WBEZ, strange enough that during an hour-long conversation on WBEZ’s the Afternoon Shift with Niala Boodhoo today, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket, and when the conversation shifted to a caller, I stole a peek at my phone to see that my wife had called.

I quickly texted her telling her to quit calling me while I was on-air. It was the second occurrence in two weeks, but it’s really my fault for taking my phone in the studio at all.

She typed back: “Sorry, but I just got a call from Carson’s school. Some kid hit him several times. He is ok, and the kid is suspended.”

Now I’m professional enough to maintain my composure, especially in a situation where I might have to answer another question from the host, which is exactly what happened a minute later. But it was really hard to last the rest of that segment.

Bullying is a big deal to me.

I think it’s partly because I’ve written and read some horribly sad stories on the subject over the course of my career.

And maybe a little bit my own experiences.

My middle son is the most like me of all my kids. Except perhaps for the fact that he’s truly tiny, while I at least had enough pudge to keep me from breaking bones when I fell down.

I hate the thought of bullying, because the circumstances can be difficult to figure out, and solutions can be even harder to find.

When Cheryl asked him what happened, he said it was no big deal. He told her it’s a kid who has problems and doesn’t realize he’s hurting people when he’s just trying to be funny.

But the principal was concerned enough to call us when the teacher noticed marks on Carson’s face after the boy slapped him and then hit him in the head with a box.

I grilled Carson after dinner, trying to solve the problem, which is what dads do.

But sometimes solving the problem can be difficult, especially when the problem is hard to define.

What do you do about someone’s kid who has already had in-school suspension for the same behavior several times this year, and who probably faces the real possibility of expulsion if the suspensions continue? And this would be school number two this year.

There are several proven methods of dealing with a bully, time-tested methods dads have turned to for years and years.

  • The strength-recognizes-strength approach – parents often spend a lot of money on martial arts lessons for kids – to no avail
  • How big is his dad? – This is used to determine if the kid can be threatened into treating your kids better
  • The I-can-run-faster-than-whatever-is-chasing-me approach – Keep your milk money and flee, use books as counter measures
  • You make up in intelligence what you lack in strength, use your strengths against his weaknesses.

These little rules can work in a multitude of situations, but they won’t solve everything.

Case in point, our oldest boy was once bullied by mean girls who would smack him on the back with their lunch boxes. He’d come home with welts and stories about how teachers just couldn’t believe girls would do such things.

Bullying is getting harder to deal with, because it’s getting more complex. Add texting and social media to the mix, and you might not even notice the bullying that can occur.

Carson told me this kid has problems, and that it’s no big deal. But this is what Carson does. He brings puppies home, and he feels badly for people who don’t fit in. Sometimes he lets those people run roughshod over him.

I worked hard not to get bullied when I was a kid. Still, I couldn’t always avoid it.

I was a master of avoidance and placation. Skills born of necessity.

But one time a boy in my 6th-grade class handed out Lemonheads to several of us. I’m pretty trusting, so I took one and went and sat down.

Nothing seemed out of place, but some students started to complain of stomach aches, and soon there was a lot of commotion going on outside the classroom, and I ended up talking to the principal and several police officers.

They asked me if I felt sick at all. And they asked me if this boy had ever given me other candy.

The answer was no, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t a bully who constantly tried to push you down in the hallway or trip you during school concerts.

When I found out he had coated those Lemonheads in some white powder, likely a combination of foot powder and something else, I actually felt sorry for the kid.

Yes, he had tried to poison me and several other students. Yes, he was a bully. But now his life was pretty much over. He was expelled from school and would end up in juvenile detention for most of the rest of his school career.

I could handle the tripping and the shoving. I certainly didn’t need my dad’s help with that. But I was helpless when handed poisoned candy from another kid.

And that’s why bullying is complex. It can be as simple as a random test of strength, or it could result in a mass shooting.

The way your kid responds to these things could have ramifications in the future. And it sucks to have to think about that.

All of these things flashed through my mind when I got that text from my wife while I was on the air today.

And there really is no easy resolution. Yes, we’ll follow up with the principal. We’ll talk to our son and go through scenarios that he’ll likely ignore when the next thing comes around.

And even though it makes me angry that some kid would hurt my kid, even if he thinks it’s in jest, a small part of me feels sorry for him. In the same way I still feel sorry for that kid who tried to poison me all those years ago.

His life was impacted by that bad decision, as lives are, but it cost him an awful lot, and I came through it alright. The possibility that I wouldn’t have turned out alright exists too.

I wonder where he is today.

Facebook allows me to look in on some who bullied in my school days. They are dads now, having to deal with their own sons, who are either bullied or bullies. And I wonder what it’s like from their perspective. Do they have the same rules or a different set?

I still would rather my son be bullied than to be a bully. I think being bullied can build resilience and problem solving skills. Though not always.

I’m not entirely sure what skills, if any, that bullying builds.

As always, in parenting, there are more questions than answers here.