About Me and Life

kidsLike I said here, I’ve been a dad since my son was born, logically. What a monumental day. Whereas my wife took something like nine months to mentally prepare herself for the reality of parenthood, I, not having grown the baby in my womb, had a few seconds before my mind imploded and I slipped into limbo. I made it, barely. (I’m writing this after seeing the movie Inception.)

That was the day life stopped being about me. My wife had born me an heir – many kudos to her – and it was time for me to establish an inheritance, that is, finish school so I could get a job and keep feeding him his rice cereal and such. Very long story short, I finished the first round of school but started a second, during which time two other children appeared. The rice cereal disappeared quickly, along with other things like my socks and my keys, and both of my wits. Now, I’m still in school. But at least I’m not in limbo, or so it appears.

My kids’ inheritance, at least the tangible portion, consists of my baseball cards, my bike, some cool rocks I found on the beach, a box of wire scraps, and about seventy gallons of camping gear. Also, my tools and my original Nintendo, with games and controllers. Most of the value is in the camping gear and a few of the baseball cards. Once I get a job this list may grow to include more camping stuff. Otherwise, their inheritance will, hopefully, be an intangible but more valuable one. Again, like I said here, our goal is to accumulate experiences, adventures, rather than things.

And so, pondering the depths of life and lots of other profound things, I’ve come up with a proverb: Give a kid a fish, and they’ll have something to play with for a day. Then it will get stinky and gross. Teach a kid to fish, and they’ll probably get the hook stuck in your ear. Then, after you get the hook out, you probably won’t catch anything. But it will be really fun.

Teaching Kids to Enjoy Tomatoes and the Outdoors

camping with dad

Growing up we always had a small garden in the backyard, and it was always dominated by tomatoes, or dermaids, as we called them. My dad would eat a dermaid straight off the vine, with a little salt and pep (we abbreviated a lot – pep for pepper, sammi for sandwich, dermaid for tomato, etc.).

Once he offered me a quarter to eat a single slice. Eww… slimy and mushy, with weird seeds coming out of the middle? Plus, my dad liked them? But I had done worse for a quarter before. I plugged my nose and gagged it down whole. I’m sure I bought some candy with the quarter.

I think I was 19, living in Sicily, the next time I ate a fresh tomato. So delish! I can eat them like apples, until my mouth is full of sores. The old man was right, as usual. And now I’m the old man, trying to teach my kids to enjoy tomatoes, and camping.

There are some things, like vegetables and classical music, that people won’t appreciate until adulthood, if at all. So, I don’t punish my kids for picking out the onions or the tomatoes. They just need time. However, with other things, like camping and sports, I’m resolute. No mercy, no excuses.

My goal isn’t to get them out, it’s to teach them to enjoy it, at least before they’re teenagers. Having grown up camping, and having spent some difficult nights out with the boy scouts and with my own kids, I’ve settled on two principles of outdoor enjoyment:

  1. Be Prepared – The famous Boy Scout motto is critical to happy camping. Too simple or too hasty can translate into unprepared, which may lead to starvation, frostbite, or worst of all, boredom. Thus, know what your getting into and what you’ll need to conquer it and enjoy it. For some people, including kids and spouses, camping may not be inherently awesome. You have to teach them to appreciate it, and sometimes ease them in by bringing a little comfort into the wild. Thus, know your audience, step into their boots and be prepared to help them have fun.
  2. Be Responsible – Another key feature of successful outings is responsibility – outdoors we are completely in charge of our livelihood and survival. The deeper we go the more self-sufficient we have to be. Camping can be empowering and gratifying as we overcome challenges, some of them personal weaknesses, and as we commune with nature, whatever that means. Our less outdoorsy family members or friends need to take on as much responsibility as possible, so that the experience is a personal success. Have them join in the preparations, setting up camp, cooking, and such. They may cramp your style or ruin everything, but kids, in particular, will benefit from having some ownership in every outing.

The photo: Dillon’s Beach, CA, circa 1991 – me, my sis, and my pops.

Lots of Camping

kids at the campfireWhen I was a scoutmaster our troop resolved to camp out twelve times a year, but given the usual logistical and meteorological complications we were content with six. As a family I think we can do better. My first resolution for 2011 is to take the family camping twice a month, rain or shine, in sickness and health. Twenty-four campouts in 2011!

fern hutSome stipulations: Camping consists of sleeping overnight in any structure designed to bring you closer to the outdoors, regardless of accommodations or distance from home. With this definition, an RV would be valid, but not at an RV park in Las Vegas, where a stretch Hummer taxis you to the strip. A cabin, houseboat, and yurt are all legit, as is a natural shelter like this fern hut, a quinzee, or no structure at all.

Some specifications: I think we can agree that another defining feature of camping is a reduction in the less essential comforts of our city or suburban home – some amount of deprivation. Normally I’d say RVing, with plumbing, AC, and a flat screen, doesn’t count as camping. But everyone draws the line differently.

My line is often close to depravity, with many comforts being nonessential (e.g., shoes? wimpy). However, I grew up camping in trailers and RVs, and loved it. Whether we have cakes on the griddle or cold gruel depends on the purpose of the trip. And, of course, related to comfort is cost. Currently, we’re stuck with a tent and whatever we can fashion with our own hands. Depravity works out nicely when you’re aiming for minimal spending with maximal adventure.

Merry Christmas

Our first nuclear Christmas! That is, our first Christmas as a nuclear family. Our first winter break without a trip home to CA to see the extended fam. No hangin with Mr. Cooper, grandma and grandpa, the auties, uncles or cousins. No tennis, soccer or frisbee, no campouts at the beach, and no free babysitting.

This December we’re keeping it simple, we’re laying low, and we’re saving some Gs on airfare. We’re also mixing up the nativity scene reenactment.

barbie nativity
Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes

A merry multicultural non-discriminatory Christmas to all!

How to be two fun parents

Parents often seem to work together as a yin and yang, that is, polar opposites, rather than as Mr. and Mrs. Smith or She-ra and He-man, counterparts with similar strategies and techniques. In the latest episode of “Modern Family” the yin, dad, is super fun, and the yang, mom, super not fun. And so, the question around the blogosphere is, “Can you have two fun parents in the family?” (e.g., Momania).

The answer of course is, yes. And the real question is, how can both parents avoid being super not fun, concurrently?

  1. Dads aren’t innately more fun and this dichotomous parenting isn’t “natural” or “normal,” except in sitcom land. Tim the Tool Man was just clueless, sometimes even when it came to tools, but he tried to be responsible, when his wife threatened him. Wait, that’s a bad example.
  2. Don’t hog all the yin. Parents have to share both the fun and responsible sides of parenting. Clearly, if dad takes up all the yin, mom is more likely to pick up the slack, all the yang (e.g., Mrs. Doubtfire). Instead, each parent takes half the yang, and then spices it with some yin when they dish it out to the kids.
  3. Both parents should be stay-at-home at least metaphorically, or metaphysically, or something. This is a continuation of number 2. Often the working parent focuses their responsibleness on their career, while the stay-at-home parent directs theirs to the kids. This might force parents into a fun/boring dichotomy. Sometimes after a long day alone with the kids I realize I need to step it up with the yang and help my wife out.
  4. You might have to play good cop, bad cop, but take turns. Sometimes I find myself filling in where my wife leaves off – if she gives second chances, I take them away, if she’s unrelenting, I’m lenient. Maybe we’re catching the kids off guard – she lures them in and then I attack. It’s teamwork. Taking turns seems wise. Of course, when the poop hits the fan you may have to play bad cop, bad cop.
  5. Go camping more often.