No Bad Blood for Taylor Swift

Dear Taylor Swift,

I never would have thought that, at age 42, I would be writing an open letter to a famous person, much less a 25 year old young lady who is one of the most popular performers in pop culture right now. Yet, here I am, trying to not sound like an anxious 13 year old who can’t figure out how to say his own name when the pretty girl at school says “hi”. I’m writing you today to tell you how much I appreciate you. You see, I have six kids who are currently 20, 16, 13, 10, 5 and 2 years old. (The 10 year old is the only boy.) They are all T. Swift fans. When we’re in the van driving somewhere and there’s nothing good playing on the radio all I have to do is ask one of my kids (or do it myself) to put on some Taylor Swift songs. Doesn’t matter which one. They’re all popular with my kids. Within seconds everyone is singing along, belting out the songs with smiles on their faces. The thing is, I’m belting it out right along with them! As a 14 year veteran Stay At Home Dad I’ve had to put up with scores of artists who are questionable in their musical talents or abilities or taste in what passes for music. Please don’t get me started on the ridiculously raunchy and revolting nature of the lyrics of many of the Top 40 songs over the years. One of the things I love about your music is that it’s not only pleasant to listen to from a musical standpoint, but the lyrics are able to tell a story without being graphic or unsafe for my children. Thank you! Being classy never goes Out of Style.

On a road trip a few months ago my youngest daughter (then 21 months old) was having a tough time and was really fussy. As soon as I asked my 15 year old to put on some Taylor Swift she stopped her fussing. Everything (has) Changed as the first measures of “22” filled the airwaves as my baby’s mood became a State of Grace. Seriously. 0708_taylor_swift_autographs_970-630x420Your tunes also provided some fun bonding with my 15 year old just a couple of weeks ago on a hour road trip from our house in Washington to Multnomah Falls in Oregon. We decided it would be fun to learn the lyrics for your current hit Bad Blood (featuring Kendrick Lamar). At first I tried to learn the rap but couldn’t quite get the rhythm down, so my daughter learned the rap while I did my best T. Swift impersonation in my falsetto. I think that we may have permanently scarred my 10 year old son who had to endure hearing us (mostly me!) singing that lovely song over and over again at least a dozen times in a row. I’m going to think of that fun car ride every time Bad Blood comes on the radio from now on.

Two years ago when you came to play your Red concert at the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Washington, we were lucky enough to score a pair of tickets from one of my oldest daughter’s friends. My then 14 year old daughter chose me to attend the concert with her and we both had a great time. I know that 40 year old men are not your target audience, but I’ll happily admit that it was a fantastic experience. Having attended several other concerts with my girls over the years I can say that yours was by far the most enjoyable experience for me. No offense intended to Lizzie McGuire Hillary Duff or Justin Bieber. I left the concert thinking that we had actually gotten our money’s worth and was glad that my daughter liked your music so much.

My family’s love of your music began at least 5-6 years ago when my oldest daughter, now 20, discovered you and your music. At the time she was just learning to play guitar and was also going through some of the difficulties associated with being 14 and tall. You inspired her by simply being you. You publicly embraced your own quirkiness and awkwardness and height while putting out some incredible music. She was tremendously inspired by you and recorded covers of several of your songs on her YouTube channel. swift14f-1-webBut even more inspiring than your music has been how you have used your success and stardom as one of the most popular artists in the music industry. While I can’t possibly pretend to actually know who your are, if your long list of good deeds is any indication, it appears that you have A Perfectly Good Heart. Many famous people seem to forget the rest of the “common” people once them achieve their stardom. It seems that you’ve been able to buck that trend by showering countless people with your kindness and generosity. (Click here for an article about some of Taylor Swift’s good deeds.) Sure, the monetary gifts to help people in need are nice and attract a lot of attention, but the fact that you interact with people on social media to encourage them shows just how much you care, especially because those interactions don’t receive the same fanfare. As a father of five girls I hope that they will use their lives to build others up and encourage them in whatever ways they can. Thank you for showing my daughters and my son that it’s cool to be kind.

Finally, thank you for making the transition from teenage break-out star to full-fledged superstar without going through any embarrassing public spectacles like other recent stars have done. I appreciate the fact that you’re not drinking and driving, on drugs, in and out of rehab and other stuff like a lot of stars who make that trip from teenager to adult along a very bumpy path. It’s refreshing to see someone remain true to herself. Your parents should be proud of their hard work in raising you because you seem to be comfortable in your own skin doing what you want to do, not what others think you should do. I hope that my girls will be as strong as you as they mature into young adults. Thank you also for taking the time to remember where you came from professionally. My oldest daughter has been impressed by your willingness to confront Apple and other recording industry giants over their greedy business practices which don’t hurt you as much as they do the smaller artists. Again, thanks for living your life with such integrity.

1418267354-taylor_swift_1989I know that you’re coming to Seattle in a few days to play at Century Link Field. We live 45 minutes away to the south in University Place, near Tacoma. If you have the time in between your arrival to the beautiful Pacific Northwest and your concert duties my kids and I would love to show you around. The famous flying fish at Pike Place Market or the Space Needle or eating fish ‘n chips at Ivars. Maybe my daughter and I could even regale you with our rendition of Bad Blood. Thank you for being you, Taylor Swift.

Sincerely,

Carl, a.k.a., Big Cheese Dad

PS-In 1989 I was a junior in high school. Ha!

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Five Photos, Five Stories. Day Five: Prom

I was recently nominated by my fellow Stay At Home Dad and Dad Blogger friend R.C., who writes at Going Dad, to participate in a challenge called Five Photos, Five Stories, in which I post a photo and story (fiction or non-fiction) daily for five consecutive days. (Note: I had good intentions to do a post on five consecutive days but I chose time with my kids and sleep over blogging. And I’m okay with that.) It sounded like something that would be a fun to share with my loyal readers here on my blog.

Day Five: Prom

I really enjoy seeing when my kids show true kindness and compassion simply because they know it’s the right thing to do. My daughter E, whose water polo exploits were documented on my blog first in March and then a few days ago, put this into action a couple of weeks ago when she went to prom.

Ready to dance

Ready to dance

But this isn’t some romantic story of first love; nope, not at all. This is a story of friendship and being there for a friend in a moment of need. E, a sophomore, and her friend, C, a senior, bonded over their shared love of water polo. While they didn’t really hang out in real life outside of water polo they managed to become pretty good friends thanks to the long practices and social media. C had been planning to attend prom with a few other girls but her plans fell through just days before the event. E told me about her friend’s disappointment after water polo practice that day and she wanted to know if it would be okay to offer to be C’s “date” for the event so that she wouldn’t have to be alone for her prom. Of course I supported E and I told her how pleased I was that she would do that for her friend. It would’ve been easy for her to blow it off without trying to actually do anything to help out her friend. Instead, she stepped up and put her words into actions. Even though the two of them looked beautiful on the outside, I was more taken with their inner beauty; that which comes from the kindness and compassion within one’s soul.

“There is nothing more beautiful than someone who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others.”
Mandy Hale, The Single Woman: Life, Love, and a Dash of Sass

I enjoy catching my kids doing something good and recognizing them both privately and publicly for it. Even more, I love seeing them grow into people who do not need to be told to do the next right thing…they just do it.

Five Photos, Five Stories. Day Four: Badger Mom

I was recently nominated by my fellow Stay At Home Dad and Dad Blogger friend R.C., who writes at Going Dad, to participate in a challenge called Five Photos, Five Stories, in which I post a photo and story (fiction or non-fiction) daily for five consecutive days. (Note: I had good intentions to do a post on five consecutive days but I chose time with my kids and sleep over blogging. And I’m okay with that.) It sounded like something that would be a fun to share with my loyal readers here on my blog. Today I nominate my friend and fellow SAHD Mike, who blogs at AtHomeDadMatters.

Day Four: Badger Mom

My mom is one of those cool moms who loves football. She’s also one of those smart moms who cheers for the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers. She’s obviously one of those amazing moms because she had me! (That was a joke. You’re supposed to be chuckling to yourself right now.) To cut (through) the cheese here, my mom is pretty awesome and I love her dearly. While she is pretty cool, smart and amazing, this story is about the first time that she returned to her Alma Mater to watch a football game since her days in college. Like me, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, only a few years before me. Unlike me, after she finished her studies at the UW she moved away from Madison and never attended another Badgers game at historic Camp Randall Stadium. Until 2010. My lovely wife received a pair of tickets to a Badgers game and kindly gave them to me because she doesn’t care at all about silly stupid football sports but knew that I would love to take them off her hands. When she told me that she had the tickets she said they were for a game against Ohio State…”are they any good?”. Seriously. In October of 2010, the Ohio State Buckeyes were the #1 ranked team in all of college football. And they were coming to Madison for a Saturday night showdown against the Badgers on national television. It was being hyped as the game of the year in the Big Ten Conference. As I recall, the price of tickets for that game on the secondary market skyrocketed. Yet, as soon as I finished profusely thanking my wife for her amazing act of love (the tickets, remember?), I called my mom to invite her to the big game which was set to take place in five days. After thinking about it for about a tenth of a second, my mom excitedly accepted my invite and we talked about plans for her upcoming visit.

As the day of the game drew closer the fans in Madison grew more and more excited as the anticipation of the showdown for the conference title and inside track to the Rose Bowl reached a fever pitch. (I’ve read way too many sports articles in my time, can you tell?) Decked out in our Badger red we arrived to the stadium area early and grabbed a quick bit at the house of  friends who lived across from the stadium and had invited us to their pregame party. (I’m pretty sure I could eat brats for every meal and never grow weary of it.) As we walked up the steps into the stadium I could sense my mom’s anticipation and enthusiasm growing, much like a kid on Christmas morning. Only this present was going to be shared with over 75,000 loud and probably drunken fans, unlike our family Christmas experiences. Following my lead (it helps that I’m 6’8″) through the crowds we found our seats in the south end zone and watched the players finish their warm-ups before the famous Wisconsin Marching Band put on a spectacular pre-game show. If memory serves me right, there was a fly-over by some sort of military jets after the national anthem, which sent the crowd into another loud round of cheering. The game hadn’t even started and the atmosphere was completely electric. My mom’s face was one HUGE grin and she gave me a quick hug as the teams lined up for the opening kick.

Badgers fans know what happened next. The Wisconsin player (David Gilreath, and no, I didn’t have to look it up) caught the ball at the goal line and returned the opening kickoff all the way back for a touchdown. Right in front of us!

On Wisconsin!

On Wisconsin!

Since no one in the stands was yet seated we all erupted in even more cheers and high-fives and hugs as this was the most unbelievable start imaginable. The Badgers dominated the rest of the first half and withstood a rally by the Buckeyes in the second half to win one of the biggest and most memorable home games in recent memory. As the final seconds ticked away the fans rushed the field and began to dance and celebrate with the players. I love how this picture captures the joyful celebration on the field behind us and the fun moment and memory that we shared that night at Camp Randall. After watching the thousands of people on the field for a few minutes my mom and I eventually headed down there ourselves. It was pretty wild and crazy scene with a lot of people running all over the place and getting pictures and just soaking in the good feelings from a great win by our Wisconsin Badgers. We still reminisce about that great game from time to time, mostly whenever Wisconsin faces Ohio State in football. On Wisconsin!

Five Photos, Five Stories. Day 2: Water Polo

I was recently nominated by my fellow Stay At Home Dad and Dad Blogger friend R.C., who writes at Going Dad, to participate in a challenge called Five Photos, Five Stories, in which I post a photo and story (fiction or non-fiction) daily for five consecutive days. (Note: I had good intentions to do a post on five consecutive days but I chose time with my kids and sleep over blogging. And I’m okay with that.) It sounded like something that would be a fun to share with my loyal readers here on my blog. If you would like to be nominated please leave a comment below and I would be happy to oblige.

Day Two: Water Polo

Back in mid-March I wrote a post about how proud I was of my second daughter, E, for her hard work to improve her water polo skills from her freshman to her sophomore year. It was written right after her first game of the season in which she happened to also score her first-ever goal on a sweet shot from the left side. E went on to become a starter for the majority of the games on her JV team and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for almost every game. I watched her grow in strength, speed and confidence into one of the key contributors on her team. She worked hard and listened to her coach and kept a positive attitude throughout the season. Her team won all but a couple of games and E ended up scoring about 10 goals but also made many assists and played physical defense, often frustrating opposing girls with her long arms (it doesn’t hurt that her daddy’s arm-span is over 7 feet long). I watched with a lot of pride and contentment seeing her take on some leadership within the team while keeping away from most of the drama. Water polo definitely dominated our family calendar for the months of March and April. The regular season came to an end in early May and all that remained on the schedule was the JV State Tournament on May 9th.

E reaching save

The long arm of the law minding the net at JV State.

As the regular season came to an end E’s coach announced that the JV goalie would be playing on the Varsity team so she would not be available for the JV Tournament. Since E had spelled the goalie a couple of times during the regular season her coach asked E to take over that spot at the upcoming tournament. E wasn’t particularly happy about that request as she was looking forward to continuing her strong play in the field. She and I talked about it quite a bit that week before state and I convinced her that playing in the goal would be a great help to her team even though that meant having to sacrifice her personal stats for the good of the team. She wasn’t 100% on board with that but, to her credit, she told the coach that she would play wherever she was told/asked to play. She did communicate that she would enjoy some time in the field, if at all possible. It made me really proud to see her embrace something that wasn’t exactly what she wanted because it was the right thing to do as a teammate.

E’s team played the first game of the tournament and she was in goal to start. She played well although, to be honest, the defense in front of her was stout, only allowing a handful of shots, none of which found the back of the net, thanks to E. Her coach switched her out of goal in the second half as her team cruised to a victory. The same thing happened in the second game, although E allowed one goal before switching out into the field for the second half. Interestingly enough, the girl who replaced E in goal in the first two games had never played as a goalie prior to that day. While she gave a great effort, she did allow a few goals. I commented to my wife after the second game how much better E’s team looked and played when E was in the goal. I bit my tongue and didn’t interfere or suggest to E that she should stay goalie for the whole game. Yet, that’s exactly what happened in the third and final game of the “pool” play. E stayed in goal the entire game. She made a few nice saves and ended up with a clean sheet, meaning a shutout! Are you kidding me? Shutouts are not that common in JV water polo (Until this one I had not seen one in the two seasons E had been on the team), but to do it at the State Tournament? Clutch.

The championship game went roughly the same as the others as E’s team jumped out to an early lead, played suffocating defense and the won the title 10-2 against one of their biggest rivals in the area.  As the final horn sounded I was able to see E’s face and it was pure joy. After the post-game handshakes between teams, E’s team received medals for their accomplishment and the smile on her face stretched from ear to ear. As I gave her a hug and congratulated her she told me that she had asked her coach to stay in goal for the second half of the last two games instead of switching out into the field. I was stunned, because I knew how much she had wanted to be in the field. Yet, it also made me even more proud of her for putting her team ahead of herself. It showed a maturity beyond her 15 years that will serve her well as she continues on in sports and life. I look forward to her final two seasons of high school water polo.

Note: A few days ago I took part in a “men’s masters” water polo at E’s high school pool after receiving an invite from the varsity coach. Holy cow! So much more respect for what the athletes go through to play water polo. I mean, I knew that they’re constantly swimming and that I’m NOT a swimmer (I know how, but I’m not one) and that I’ve never played the sport before. I think I made it up and down the pool three or four times before I needed to sub back out. In that short time during the first game I did, however, manage to take AND MAKE! a shot on goal. (Beginner’s luck!) I played most of the second game in goal before my knee cramped up and I was done for the night. I learned that I’m not a water polo player and gained a whole new level of respect for the strength, skill and conditioning of the athletes.

The Days After Earth Day: 10 ways your family can be more eco-friendly all year long

April 22nd was Earth Day, the one day each year that we pause to really think about how we could take better care of our beloved third rock from the sun. Maybe your kids had a little “Earth Day” program or lesson at school. Maybe they sang “Happy Earth Day” and colored a nice picture. Or even took a pledge to be better conservationists. But when the calendar turns to April 23 and beyond, what will we really do to make a difference that lasts beyond one day? Well, if we all made a few simple changes it could have a profound global impact. Here are ten easy ways that my family celebrates Earth Day…every day of the year!

IMG_1600

It’s okay to leave the lights on if this is your house

10-Turn off the lights. When you leave a room turn off the light(s). Yeah, if you’re a parent, you probably feel like you’re constantly following your kids around and turning off the lights after them. I’m mean enough to make my kids (once old enough) to go back and turn off the lights themselves. It builds a good habit for later in life. Also, if there’s enough natural light then maybe use that instead of the overhead lights. Or just use one lamp instead of a larger fixture. Small changes will add up quickly.

9-Programmable thermostat. For just a few dollars you (Yes, you! I’ve done it myself a few times and it’s easy.) can install a thermostat that you can program to automatically set back to a lower temperature when you leave the house or go to sleep and then raise it when you return or wake up. Not only is it good for the environment, but it’s also good for your wallet. If you’re really into it like I am, you can even keep it a couple of degrees lower during the day and wear a sweater or sweatshirt.

8-Compost food scraps. Toss those peels and other discarded food scraps in an outdoor composter instead of the trash or sink disposal. You can do the same thing for leaves in the fall if your city doesn’t collect them. After a little while you’ll have some excellent organic fertilizer to spread in your garden.

7-Use re-useable containers for left-overs. Of course it’s obvious to do that at home. But why not take them to a restaurant? Even though it makes our teenagers cringe from embarrassment, we’ve used them when going out to eat as a family, as our little ones often don’t finish their meals.

6-Reusable bags. Because I often forget the bags at home (hey, at least I remembered my kids!), I actually keep a stash of reusable grocery bags in my van. My wife recently got six mesh bags for produce items that would usually be placed in plastic bags. They’re washable and easy to use. Our kids each have their own lunch bags for school lunches so that we’re not going through hundreds of paper bags each year.

5-Cloth diapers.

Cloth diaper baby

Cloth diaper baby

My oldest turned 20 a short time ago. So, that means that we’ve been cloth diapering our six kids for over two decades. With our first four we used the old cloth, safety pins and vinyl wraps. The modern cloth diapers are pretty slick and don’t involve pins. For the record, I never once pricked my kids with a pin while changing thousands of diapers as a Stay At Home Dad these last 14 years. Too bad the same cannot be said for my fingers.

4-Recycle. I know it’s obvious, but just do it. We even take it to the next level by bringing items not collected on the curb to the local recycling center. That also includes plastic shopping bags (see #6 above) which can often be dropped off at grocery stores. It’s worth the tiny bit of extra effort to keep these items out of the landfill. On a recent three-day road trip my 13 year old was looking for a place to recycle an empty box. Finding none, she asked if we could bring it home to recycle it. It’s second nature if you start early with your kids. Bonus: my 10 year old suggests using the empty plastic shopping bags as a trash can liner.

3-Pick up litter/trash. As a parent, I recognize that my kids are always watching to make sure that my actions match up with my words. With that in mind, I routinely pick up trash that is lying around when we’re out in public. It’s especially rewarding when my kids see me doing it and then excitedly copy my actions. Tip: carry a pocket-sized bottle of hand sanitizer with you. Update: I was telling my 10 year old son about this blog and he told me that on our recent trip he picked up an empty water bottle from the ground at a park and put it in our trash/recycling bag to bring home. I didn’t see it happen but it makes me proud to know that my kids are following the example of my wife and me in picking up trash.

2-Buy local. Grow local.

Eating sugar snap peas right off the plant. Yummy!

Eating sugar snap peas right off the plant. Yummy!

Even though it sometimes might cost a little bit more, I like to buy items made or grown locally. We’ve purchased a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share from a local farm for each of the last 13 years. Visiting the CSA farm creates an opportunity for our children to see where some of our food comes from so they can begin to learn that it doesn’t magically appear in the grocery store or in our  fridge.

In fact, we also have a modest garden of sugar snap peas, strawberries, beets, herbs, tomatoes and lettuce/chard/spinach (not sure which of those last three will actually grow). The kids help me to build the garden boxes, prepare the soil, plant the seeds, water and weed as needed, and then harvest the crop. I love it when they walk out to the garden and help themselves, knowing that they (literally) had a hand in growing that food.

1-Reuse. Repurpose. And reuse some more.

My baby painted that cardboard M as part of a Mother's Day gift.

My baby painted that cardboard M as part of a Mother’s Day gift.

We reuse things over and over. I used to think it was weird to save old moving boxes and packing paper. Guess what? The kids love to make forts and tunnels with the boxes and both the cardboard and packing paper work great for painting and other art projects. Then the painted paper can be repurposed as wrapping paper for friends or relatives. Our kids get new clothes when needed, but there’s certainly no shame in admitting that some of the outfits my 20 year old wore as a child have made it all the way to kid number six. It’s pretty impressive in my mind that some of the stuff lasted that long. My wife also is a queen thrift store shopper with a keen eye for high-end brand-name clothing for dirt cheap prices. Why pay the crazy amounts for a brand new outfit that your kid may or may not like or wear when you can save money by reusing? Sheets, t-shirts, towels and other fabrics can be washed and repurposed as rags or wipes. We haven’t had paper towels in three years. We made reusable wipes for our baby that work just as well as disposable ones. We bring water bottles on road trips instead of buying plastic ones. And then we often refill them at rest stops and gas stations along the way. Starbucks and other coffee shops often have reusable cups that both save the environment and your pocketbook.

Bonus-Backyard chickens. IMG_2590We’ve kept a flock of backyard chickens for about six years now and I love it for many reasons. The quality and freshness of the eggs is amazing and store bought eggs pale in comparison in color, taste and health benefit. The chickens are good for the environment because they will eat a lot of our food scraps that would either be trashed or composted and repurpose it into wonderful eggs.IMG_3297 They also naturally eat pests, aerate and fertilize our lawn, and further our children’s understanding of where our food comes from. Keeping chickens is far less work than I had feared and quite a rewarding experience with my children.

With the exception of the backyard chickens, the rest of the ideas listed above are pretty easy to incorporate into your daily routine if you make it a priority and a habit. If you have young kids make sure to explain what you’re doing and ask them to help keep you (the parents) accountable. Not only will they learn the new behaviors but they’ll be watching you extra close and will love to playfully remind you to shape up. Let me know if your family does any of these ideas or if you have additional ideas of your own.

I Beat My Kids…and they like it!

RELAX. I’m talking about beating my kids at board games. H-O-R-S-E. Cards. Footraces. Arm wrestling.

Still smiling even after a massive defeat

Still smiling even after a massive defeat

While I was playing my son, C, (age 10) tonight in a couple of games of Carcassonne,I asked him if he wanted me to take it easy on him. He looked at me kind of funny, with a weird expression on his face, not understanding what I was asking. So I rephrased it, “Do you want me to play nice so that you’ll have a better chance to win?”. His response? “NO! I don’t need you to go easy on me. I can win on my own.” Bingo! I couldn’t have said it better myself. We played two games tonight. I won them both. He has yet to beat me in this particular game and we’ve been playing it for quite a while now. He doesn’t complain. In fact, it drives him to get better. The margin of victory was a lot less in the second game. His strategy improved along with his score.

I’ve been a parent now for nearly twenty years, but I’ve been a competitive game-player for as long as I can remember. I can recall long games of Monopoly with my older brother that maybe got a little bit over the top competitive. One in particular, in which I had him basically beaten, so he said he “died” and flipped the game board over and huffed away. I’m especially fond of that win. While my parents didn’t really play a lot of board games with us I have a lot of very fond memories of playing games with both sets of grandparents. My dad’s parents taught us how to play Sheepshead (although they called it the German name). I routinely lost but as time went on I learned the game and became a decent player. Same for my other set of grandparents who taught me all sorts of card, dice and board games: cribbage, backgammon, chess, checkers, king’s corners, sollitare, burn, acey-deucy and pinochle. I grew to cherish the times that we would spend playing those games, often for hours at a time. Never once do I remember them letting me win. If they did, they did a great job of hiding it. What I do remember, though, is learning to win and lose with grace and humility. There was no dancing and hooting and hollering. Maybe a tiny hooray but nothing extraordinary. Of course, whenever I would beat my grandpa in a game head-to-head I got a certain sense of accomplishment, knowing that I had beaten someone who I considered a really good player.

With our oldest child, I remember when she was maybe four years old, letting her beat me in a foot race across the front yard. The next day her best friend was at our house and my daughter challenged her to a race, boasting about how she had beaten me every single time the day before. Her friend roasted her every single time because my daughter was so slow. I realized that maybe letting her win all the time wasn’t the best idea. It would be okay for her to learn that she wouldn’t always win and that losing might just fuel her to do better the next time. Right now, my fifth child is almost five years old. She likes to play card games like UNO and Spot-It and even Dutch Blitz (with some help). In some of those games where speed is an important factor, I take it easy on her to level the playing field a bit. After all, no kid wants to lose all the time. That’s not fun and would just turn her off to games completely. Yet, at the same time, I don’t go so easy on her that she wins every time. She’s learning how to win and how to lose.

Proud winner of his first game of Monopoly

Proud winner of his first-ever game of Monopoly

Three years ago I took my son, C, then age 7, on a week-long cruise to Alaska. Since we were “at sea” the entire first day of the trip we spent some time in the game room, where I taught him how to play Monopoly.I warned him that it was a game that would eventually bankrupt one of us, and it would likely be him since he was just learning the game. As it turned out, he had lucky dice like I did when I was a kid (see board-flipping story above) and won his debut Monopoly game. When I asked him tonight if he remembered that game, he beamed, proudly recalling a lot of details, including the fact that he ended up with $4400 to my ZERO!

My older kids, three girls that are all teenagers (for another week until one becomes 20, yikes!) all enjoy playing various games with me, despite my competitive nature. I have not taken it easy on any of them when we’ve played H-O-R-S-E or “Around the World” in the backyard. Or bocce ball. Or Dutch Blitz (a fast-paced card game). Or board games like Ticket to Ride or even Disney Trivia Pursuit. I’m scary good at the Princess movie questions. Don’t judge. In fact, a few years ago, my oldest and I had a running competition in which we played Dutch Blitz for money, a penny a point. Talk about a way to motivate my daughter for pennies. It was so much fun. I think I might have made $5 off her that summer. But, the point is, she didn’t suffer emotional trauma because I beat her (and maybe taunted her, but, in my defense, she was a teenager at the time) and took her money. It was a valuable, if not cheap, lesson in not running your mouth about how good you are in a game if you can’t back it up. To this day we still joke about that competition.

IMG_6038Last summer we managed to clean up our Rec Room enough to actually use the air hockey table. The kids had fun playing it together and my son made the mistake of challenging me to play against him. I told him I wouldn’t take it easy on him, that I would play to win. If memory serves me correctly, it took him 18 games (over several days) to finally beat his old man. But when he finally broke through, the excited hooting and hollering were music to my ears. He knew that he had earned that hard-fought victory on his own accord. We all had so much fun playing king-of-the-table tournaments. I think the longest streak was five wins in a row for one person. We also figured out that it was pretty fun to put all five air hockey pucks on the table at the same time and play.

I’m currently the household king of Trivia Crack and am proud of my trivial knowledge. I love nothing more than to accept the game challenges from my kids, only to crush them swiftly in one or two rounds. Except for that one game last week in which my 13 year old beat me. I ran into some questions about TV shows and movies that I’ve never seen and, obviously, don’t know. After she beat me she told my 15 year old about it. “You beat Dad?! No way! Prove it!” Sure enough, she had the proof on her device. Let’s just say that the games between us have been decidedly one-sided since that blemish on my record.

My ten year old just came near the computer and saw what I’m writing about and smiled. He told me, “It’s okay to go easy on your kids until they’re about six or seven. Once they’re that old you have to go hard on them!” Bring it…and let the games begin!

She shoots…she scores!

Please permit me to brag about my 15 year old daughter in this proud papa post. Tuesday evening was my daughter E’s first Junior Varsity water polo game of her sophomore season in high school. While she’s always been a swimmer and started on a swim team early in grade school, last year was her very first time ever playing water polo. By her own admission (and with her permission to share here) she was pretty clueless last year. The few minutes that she played last season were mostly a jumbled mess of mistakes along a pretty steep learning curve. Her lone highlight came in the end of season tournament in which she took a shot on goal only to learn the pain of hitting the crossbar. I remember telling her then that I was proud of her because at least she had taken the shot. Despite not experiencing much success in the sport last year, E refused to give up. In fact, she made it her goal at the end of her freshman season to be starting JV in her sophomore year. She played and practiced water polo with a club team over the summer and winter seasons. She continued to show up with a desire to learn and improve. She swam on her high school’s swim team again in the fall season. She gained confidence in herself as she began to increase her strength and sharpen her skills. She watched as her time trials improved and her coaches approved.

The 2015 season began in early March and E was excited to compete for a starting JV spot. I can admit this now, having seen her improvement from last season, that I was a little leery of her ability to attain this goal. I supported her 100%, but there were doubts in the back of my mind since I had not seen her play at all of those practices from last summer and winter. Still, after just three practices during that first week she proudly announced that her coach had selected her (along with a few other girls) to continue to practice with the Varsity girls, to compete for a spot on the varsity squad. WHAT?! Needless to say, E was ecstatic and I was blown away at the news. I’m pretty sure she was somewhere around cloud nine dreaming about the possibilities. After a few more practices it became apparent to her that she wasn’t quite ready for the varsity level and she was feeling a little down about that after one practice. It was at that moment, while driving her home from practice, that I told her just how proud I was of her. We took a little stroll down Memory Lane and reminisced about her freshman season. I reminded her that her goal had been to crack the JV, not varsity, lineup. I felt that she needed to know how much she had grown and improved from the end of last season to the beginning of this one. She had to know how impressed I was by her dedication and perseverance. I finished my pep talk by reminding her that she had already accomplished something that her old man never would. She had already played on not one, but two, high school sports teams.

E is #12, playing some stellar defense

E is #12, playing some stellar defense

Well, last Thursday was the Intra-squad Scrimmage and E played one quarter. She was on defense from the very first play and her aggressiveness and tenacity were remarkable to everyone there and her coach even pointed it out to all of the parents in attendance. It was a marked change from the timid player E was during most of her freshman season. While she wasn’t in for a long time I was pleased to see such obvious growth and improvement in her game. Those hours shuttling her to and from practices at the different pools were beginning pay dividends. All of this buildup set the stage for the first game against another team.

I didn’t know this but E didn’t make the starting lineup for the JV squad. Even so, she was among the first subs for her team, unlike last year when she was among the last to get in, if at all. Her first game action was the start of the second quarter and I noticed immediately her aggressive confidence as she played swarming defense and swam harder than I remembered her doing last year.

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Pass to #9 or shoot on goal?

A short time later E received a pass and advanced it toward the goal. As the defenders closed in on her she deftly passed to an open teammate who buried the shot for a goal in the wide side of the net. While I was cheering her for making the pass and garnering an assist I could only marvel at the growth from last year. But the best was still to come as E was just getting going. A minute or two later the other team turned it over and E swam hard into the offensive end where she received a perfectly placed pass. She swam the ball forward on a 2-on1 break and surveyed her options: try a risky pass over a defender to her teammate or take the shot on goal herself. All of this happened in a matter of only seconds as the defenders were closing in and her coach was shouting instructions from across the pool.

She shoots...she scores!

She shoots…she scores!

As I held my breath (and snapped pictures!) E made her choice and took the shot. Her powerful toss beat the goalie to the near post and she had the first goal of her career. As she swam back toward the center of the pool she looked up at me, absolutely beaming. If I could have leaped over the railing and jumped into the pool to hug her I would have (but that would’ve been a bit awkward and a tad embarrassing for her).

I’m such a sucker for feel good stories and this one ranks right up there for me as a parent. I’m blessed to be with my children 24/7 as a Stay At Home Dad. I get to witness some pretty amazing things like first words, first steps, first crushes and so on. Now I get to add to that a first goal in water polo. But, more than the physical first-goal itself, it is the sense of accomplishment for my daughter that comes from working hard to improve herself and seeing firsthand the fruits of her labor. I’m so proud of her for sticking with it and for finding the resolve to push herself even when others doubted her. I look forward to watching many more of her games…as well as how it will inspire her younger siblings.