What’s In Your Garden?

It’s raining again today where I live, which isn’t surprising given that I live in Washington state, which is part of a region known for its amount of rainy days each year. But, this post isn’t about rain as much as it is about what the rain produces: green grass. As I was sitting alone one recent morning enjoying a cup of coffee before my kids woke up, I realized that the rain was responsible for turning everything varying shades of green, even through the winter here. During the long dry summers the lush grass goes dormant and turns brown if not watered. My neighbors, however, have a sprinkler system that waters their yard every evening at 10:27 pm. Rain or shine. The lesson, though, isn’t that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence (even if it’s true in this example), but, rather, that the grass is always greener where you water it!

All too often in life it’s easy for me to forget to express my appreciation to the people in my life who love me. As a husband and father I try my best to use my words and actions to encourage my wife and kids, and I know that is music to my ears when they do the same to me. I can’t help being an incurable romantic, so I love it when my Facebook newsfeed contains posts by friends who are publicly expressing their appreciation for their spouses, children, parents or friends. I’ve especially enjoyed reading posts from a husband or wife that is bragging about something that his or her spouse did, said or accomplished. It’s such a simple act that has profound meaning. Genuine kindness and appreciation are the showers that bring life and health to relationships.

Just last week my kids helped me to prepare a small section of soil next to our driveway that we use each year to grow sugar snap peas.

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Rows of Sugar Snap Peas sprouting

We carefully removed the weeds and then planted the rows of seeds. In about 10 weeks we’re going to be enjoying some delicious sugar snap peas because you reap what you sow! The same is true in relationships. If I’m on the lookout for opportunities to tell my wife and kids how thankful I am for them or how much I appreciate something that they did, that’s going to not only strengthen our relationship but also help me to focus on the good in them. As a bonus, it will likely be encouraging them at the same time. It’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, I suppose. I have a friend who posts three things for which she is thankful every Tuesday, calling it GratiTuesday. I love that attitude of gratitude that she intentionally writes about each week. I want to be a husband, father and friend that is known for cultivating kindness and gratitude in his garden of life.

Unfortunately, I’ve learned that the opposite of the attitude of gratitude is also true. The saying “the grass is always greener on the other side” probably happened because the people involved didn’t take the time to notice or appreciate what they had right in front of them all along.

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What’s in your garden?

I firmly believe that if we each spent a small fraction of the time that we usually use to complain about people and instead used that to water own yards or gardens, then we would see some beautiful grass, plants and flowers right in front of us. I know that I can complain about things to my kids or wife, but that only comes off as nagging or pestering and ultimately hurts our relationship. The reality is that if I’m looking for ways to be hurt or things to complain about, I can find them (or manufacture them) pretty easily. Yet, all that does is feed the negativity and create distance and hurt and separation in the relationship because I’m filling myself with contempt for my loved ones. On the other hand, when I choose to focus on the good and to communicate my love and appreciation, our bond is strengthened. I’m finding that looking for the good in my wife and kids is important when I’m not feeling in a particularly appreciative mood. I want my kids to see and feel what it’s like for their dad to love and appreciate both them and their mother, no matter the circumstances. My attitude of gratitude isn’t dependent upon receiving thanks and appreciation from others. It’s a choice that I get to make daily. Sometimes even minute by minute. In the end, though, I choose to be loving and kind instead of critical and ungrateful.

This notion of choosing an attitude of gratitude is actually based in scientific research by people much smarter and more educated than I am. I recently came across some articles from famous psychologists Gottman and Gottman that really confirmed what I had already been feeling and inspired me to be more intentional in looking for the good in my wife and kids (and others, of course). What follows is an excerpt from their findings.

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

“It’s not just scanning environment,” chimed in Julie Gottman. “It’s scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or scanning him for what he’s doing wrong and criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.”

Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there.

People who give their partner the cold shoulder — deliberately ignoring the partner or responding minimally — damage the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and invisible, as if they’re not there, not valued. And people who treat their partners with contempt and criticize them not only kill the love in the relationship, but they also kill their partner’s ability to fight off viruses and cancers. Being mean is the death knell of relationships.

Please do yourself a favor and take the ten or fifteen minutes needed to read the articles which describe their findings in greater depth. (Links to the articles are here: Business Insider article, Masters of Love-Atlantic article)

Perhaps your reaction will be like mine, both convicted encouraged and inspired by what you read there. I hope that your loved ones will appreciate the changes that they see in you and that you will notice how much better they also look once you’ve consistently been showering them with your kindness and generosity. After all, we reap what we sow. So, what’s in your garden?

Daddy Cookies: Snitching Sisters

Last Saturday morning my two and a half year old daughter woke up and came downstairs to find me in the kitchen, where I had just emptied the dishwasher and was enjoying a moment of peace and quiet before everyone else would wake up. She climbed up into my lap and happily announced that she wanted to make cookies with me. But, not just any cookies, Daddy Cookies. As a rookie SAHD back in 2001 I realized that I really enjoyed making cookies with the help of my kids. I stumbled upon a recipe in a Betty Crocker cookie recipe booklet for oatmeal-peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies that were an instant hit with both my kids and me. I’ve tweaked the recipe ever so slightly (extra vanilla is yummy!) and added the secret ingredient, The Mixing Dance. My kids named them Daddy Cookies because it was much shorter and easier to say than the official full name. At any rate, I eagerly agreed and we started to gather the necessary ingredients and the mixer.

After she pushed a chair to the counter by the mixer we began to add our ingredients, starting with the two eggs fresh from our backyard chickens. My daughter is learning to crack eggs and does a pretty nice job for someone so little. (In a related note, her tiny fingers are excellent for picking out tiny pieces of shell.) Just after we added the sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, butter, salt, vanilla and peanut butter and mixed them all up, my five year old arrived downstairs and asked if she could help. My loving two year old excitedly told her big sister that she could help us before I even had a chance to respond. I was really enjoying the fact that she was willing to share this baking experience with her sister and wasn’t feeling threatened by her sister’s presence. I suppose it’s what she’s always been used to, being the sixth of six kids in our family. Well, after we added the next two ingredients, the flour and oatmeal, my girls realized that they needed to snitch some dough. I don’t mind it but I do ask that they use spoons and that they wait until the mixer is turned off. (I know, I’m so mean.) I’ve been snitching raw cookie dough my whole life and have never gotten sick so please spare me any comments about that. I will admit that eating dough is one of my favorite parts of making cookies. All that was left was to add the chocolate chips and we would be set to scoop and bake the cookies. Except there was one small problem.

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My helpers

The can of chocolate chips wasn’t in the cupboard where it was supposed to be. With two teenage daughters and an 11 year old son in the house, I figured that there was one of three places it could be. Since my son was already gone hiking with my wife, I figured that we would check his room first. So, I told my girls that whoever found the can of chocolate chips first would get the first snitch with chocolate chips. My five year old declined, of course. My two year old, however, literally jumped at the chance to go into her brother’s room without him there (usually a no-no). As my two year old started to climb down from her chair by the counter, my five year old decided that it would be fun, after all, to get the chocolate chips and because she would be able to run faster than her little sister. As they ran through the living room I could hear their shrieks: delight from my five year old and dismay from my two year old. It grew quiet as they went upstairs into his room. I was already mentally preparing myself to not overreact or come across as harsh when the inevitable screams would resume in a few moments when one of them would have won the battle for the can of chocolate chips.

So, you can imagine how my heart delighted when those screams never happened and instead I heard giggling. I turned my head just in time to see my two little girls both carrying the jar of chocolate chips. I wish I could have captured a picture of them as they were both beaming broadly and were practically hugging each other and the can at the same time. It was so stinkin’ cute! My five year old told me that she didn’t want her sister to feel sad so she suggested that they both hold the cookies so they could both get the reward. Choking back tears of gratitude for such a kind and generous daughter, I knelt down in front of both of them and wrapped the two of them in a great big Daddy Hug. I told my five year old how proud I was of her for making such a kind and compassionate choice with her sister. They brought the chocolate chips to the counter and each put a scoop of chips in the steel bowl and we finished the final mixing as we danced one more time. As I spooned the dough balls on the baking sheet I noticed that my girls were both grinning and trying to “sneak” additional snitches from the bowl of dough. I feigned a growl as they both giggled some more and we all laughed. While my kids continue to get older I love knowing that they all have very fond memories of Daddy Cookies. 

Whatyadoing, Dad?

Whatyadoing, Dad?

It was a simple and polite question from my 14 year old daughter that both broke the silence of the room and announced her arrival. My youngest daughters had been asleep for a while already and the older kids were in their rooms and I had the sofa, a laptop, and a quiet house at the same time, which meant that I might, finally, get to write a blog post that had been stirring around in my brain and my heart for a few weeks. Yet, here was my daughter, sitting on the sofa next to me, asking me what I was doing. IMG_3066So, I told her that I was (finally) going to write this blog post that would explain my disgust with the conservative governors, U.S. Presidential candidates and the House of Representatives about their response to Syrian refugees. I would neatly correlate that to how so many of them (conservatives) were the same people who responded with #AllLivesMatter whenever they saw #BlackLivesMatter, yet, here they were not acting like ALL lives mattered when given the opportunity to help out those in need. There was a definite NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) tenor to their nationalistic responses and calls for tighter border controls in the face of such an “imminent terrorist threat”. I had all sorts of links saved from articles that I’ve read over the last month or so. I was so ready for this blog.

I was really on a roll as I shared my thoughts with my daughter. This blog post was going to be really amazing if her reaction was any indication. She actually seemed interested in what I was saying and a pretty lively discussion ensued.

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Suspected Terrorist in Planned Parenthood shooting

We talked about the awful and tragic events in Colorado with the Planned Parenthood shooting and how, once again, the conservative Presidential candidates had trouble showing compassion for the situation and the people involved. We talked about America’s obsession with guns and the Second Amendment and how neither of us could imagine that the Founding Fathers could have possibly envisioned protecting the rights of average citizens to have high capacity automatic or semi-automatic assault weapons so that they could engage in terrorism against one another. Then our conversation came back to the Syrian refugees and the notion that ISIS or DAESCH (or whatever they’re called now) would be sneaking operatives into the United States among the refugees.

IMG_3065I mentioned that we should be far more afraid of angry white men going on shooting rampages in public places (schools, malls, hospitals/clinics) than terrorists. I also mentioned, again, how disappointed and disgusted I was at the number of people that I know personally who call themselves Christians yet are unwilling to extend a helping hand to these foreigners in their greatest times of need because they might be terrorists. I may or may not have gone on a small rant about the hypocrisy involved in that line of thinking.

 

As the conversation paused for a moment I noticed that we had been talking for about 45 minutes at that point. Then my daughter said something that was completely unexpected yet filled me with such immense joy. I’ll have to paraphrase it as I don’t recall her exact words.

Dad, I want to do something to help the refugees. I read that there’s an organization that is helping out kids and families that are fleeing Syria. I want to donate to them. Could you please take some of the money out of my savings account and do that?

Yes. So much YES! Here’s my 14 year old daughter, who had saved her hard-earned babysitting and allowance money, asking me to donate to help out others. As a parent, this is how I hope all of my kids will respond to the plight of others: compassion, love and action.

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Terrified child refugee

As we finished our conversation I realized that my long-winded blog post was going to have a much different ending than I had imagined in my brain 45 minutes earlier. So, here’s my new ending. Would you consider joining my amazing daughter by making a donation to help the Syrian refugees? If that doesn’t do it for you, then how about making a donation to a charity that helps veterans or homeless people right here in the United States? Please, just make sure that you actually do something. Make a difference.

Here’s a link to donate to the United Nations Refugee Agency efforts.

Five Photos, Five Stories. Day Three: Kissing Daddy

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 Chris, who blogs at DadNCharge. 

Day Three: Kissing Daddy

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Butterfly Kisses

This picture is just over two years old and I chose it for today because that lovely little girl giving her daddy (ME!) is celebrating her fifth birthday today. There really is no story behind this picture other than my daughter decided to plant a kiss on my cheek when we were at Titlow Beach on Puget Sound in Tacoma, just south of the famous Tacoma Narrows Bridge. My mom happened to be visiting from out of town and thankfully had her camera at the ready. This wasn’t a staged shot and I didn’t even know that this picture existed until months later when I happened to see it on my mom’s Facebook page. All I can say is that I love everything about this picture. In fact, I’m going to simply let this picture carry its weight in words (it’s worth a thousand of them, right?) and gracefully bow out by wishing my sweet and sassy little girl a happy birthday. I love you with all of my heart, for ever and ever.

Farts are Funny and Six more Life Lessons from my kids

Over the last couple of months I’ve been trying to really pay attention to my job more than the distractions in my iPhone. Since I’m nearing the end of my 14th school year as a Stay At Home Dad that means my “job” is really my kids. I realized that I had been prioritizing such worthy endeavors like Facebook, blogging, Twitter, Trivia Crack, Words With Friends and the latest sports talk on the radio or the ESPN app. Even though I justified it as only a few minutes here and a few more minutes there, it added up to a less than satisfactory job performance in my own mind. I don’t want my children to think that they are less important than whatever was holding my attention on my phone. As a result of being more present and mindful in my day-to-day life I’m learning a few things that perhaps I’d been too distracted to fully appreciate before.

Farts are Funny. Yeah, I went there right away. Couldn’t hold that one in any longer. (Get it?) Not my farts, mind you. But when my kids let one fly it’s pretty much the most hilarious thing around. How many times have you seen a princess/ballerina playing with her baby dolls pause her play to rip one? I have on an almost-daily basis. Not only that, then she has to comment about how loud it was or how her tummy suddenly feels better. No shame at all. You’d think she was a fifth grade boy, not a precocious almost five year old. Yeah, those of you who know me in real life know that these apples didn’t fall far from their tree.

I love you, Daddy. While my almost two year old isn’t saying those words yet she is able to communicate it pretty effectively by her desire to snuggle with me. I used to use that snuggle time to play on my phone. Lately I’ve just been snuggling her, basking in her unconditional love and adoration and smelly morning breath. There’s something so special about those first few moments after I take her out of her crib in the morning; how she lights up with the biggest smile and literally dives into my arms, burrowing a hole into that spot where my neck and shoulder meet. I’m soaking that up as I know it’s not going to be like that forever.

Games. Games. Games. 

Victory!

Victory!

Instead of checking email or blogging or playing on my phone I’ve been choosing to play more games with my kids. You might recall that I recently wrote about how I beat my kids when we play games. Shortly after writing that blog post my ten year old son finally beat me in the board game Carcassonne. My four year old became interested and he and I taught her how to play and she beat us both in her first game! Just a couple of day

s ago my son crushed me in a game of Monopoly, proudly bankrupting me as he ended up with more money than the bank. I love the quality time we spend together playing games, especially when they earn a well-deserved victory. That victory smile and sense of accomplishment is terrific.

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Camel ride at the zoo

What do you want to do? Instead of trying to be some sort of super-intuition daddy I just ask my kids what we should do today. One week it meant going to the zoo three days in a row. It’s good that we live only ten minutes away and have a membership. Sometimes we stay home and bake cookies, put together lots of puzzles, read lots of books, color, play games, or go to the park or open gym at the YMCA. But in whatever we’re doing we are doing it together and I’m keeping my phone in my pocket or, gasp, even in my backpack/diaper bag. I’m saddened to see so many parents missing out on what their kids are doing at the park or indoor play areas because they’re paying attention to their phones instead. I’m that parent who is awkwardly playing “grounders” with my kids on the play equipment or climbing up the tall slide after my kids have asked me to join them. We even go to the beach close to our house for the sole purpose of throwing rocks into the water.

Turn the radio off? Wait, what? Turn down for what? (Yeah, I have teenagers!) Instead of blasting music all the time in the car with my kids I’ve been trying to listen to the never-ending questions of my four year old. She’s become very curious about how different things are made and often asks me to explain it to her as she observes things while we’re driving. Daddy, how was the Tacoma Narrows Bridge built? How are signs made? How are houses built? How are roads built? Are we still in Washington? How are cars made? How was the world made? Did God make the world? How?I could go on but you get the picture. So, I try to explain to her, using vocabulary that she could understand and concepts that make sense to her, the answers to her questions. I was feeling pretty pleased with my efforts on our fifteen minute trip to Costco today as I explained to her how roads were made. It helped that my dad was a civil engineer who worked for the city where we lived during my childhood and that the road in front of my childhood home was resurfaced one summer when I was probably about 10-12 years old so I witnessed exactly what happened. Upon completion of my explanation, my perceptive daughter showed wisdom beyond her years by asking me,

Daddy, do you really know all of these things or are you just making it up?

Seriously. Come on, have a little faith, you little stinker!

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Classics made hilarious by inserting the word toot at opportune times.

Toot Toot. On a recent road trip I was mindlessly playing on my phone while my wife drove and our kids kind of passed the time away, not really doing anything. After her prompting (I love you, honey!), I found some board books that I keep in the car for my almost two year old and began to read them aloud. Only I changed one word as I read them. I added the word “toot” (as in, fart) in place of the word “whistle” in the book Whistle for Willie. I know, it’s kind of juvenile, but, like I wrote above, farts are funny. And you have to know your audience. It’s kind of like playing Mad Libs but with well-known children’s books by beloved authors like Eric Carle, Ezra Jack Keats and Margaret Wise Brown. My kids were cracking up when I read Goodnight Toot, The Very Tooty Caterpillar and Hand, Hand, Fingers, Toot. Of course, now my daughter wants me to read like that all the time. I hope this passes quickly.

Slow Down. Sometimes Most of the time I need to just slow down and let my kids be kids. Let their natural curiosity explore the world around them. Just a couple of days ago this point was driven home for me by my little girls.

Decorating the white flowering bush

Decorating the white flowering bush

We were walking back to our van after playing in the Open Gym at the YMCA. My four year old was being kind of pokey and I was absentmindedly asking her to move faster and hurry up. I was already thinking ahead to trying to get a few chores done at home before I had to get my 15 year old from school in an hour. Only then did I notice what was making my daughter so slow. She was carefully picking up blossoms that had fallen from one of the shrubs and decorating a smaller shrub. Pretty soon my almost two year old joined her big sister and the two of them happily decorated the smaller bush like a Christmas tree. What once was a bush with only a small number of white flowers soon brandished pink, red and purple blossoms. It was fun to see them playing together like that and I was reminded once again of how much I have to learn from my own children.

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!

McDonald’s Playplace Judgement

On a recent Tuesday morning my four year old daughter woke up and promptly announced “I’m bored of staying home and want to go do something today.” As I’m the Stay At Home Dad she knew that would normally be music to my ears. Except that a couple of our normal go-to places (children’s museum and zoo/aquarium) were closed that day of the week. And it was too rainy and chilly for the park. So, I decided that it would be fun to bring the girls (and their 10 year old brother who is homeschooled) to a nearby McDonald’s Indoor Playplace after running a couple errands later that morning. We arrived there just after the noon rush to find about four other families eating and playing. Since my 4 1/2 year old is friendly and not at all shy she immediately found two other girls to play with.

My baby was excited to finally be big enough for the play equipment.

My baby was excited to finally be big enough for the play equipment.

My 1 1/2 y.o. adventurously climbed into and up the play structure and was making delighted squeals as she was finally big enough to go with the bigger kids. After I brought my kids their food they came back to our table to eat. Only there was one extra kid, another 4 y.o. girl I’ll call Z. She hopped right up next to my daughter and asked if she could share my daughter’s lunch. In my 14 years as a SAHD this was a new one for me. While I want my children to share, it’s unusual for someone else’s child to ask for food at a Playplace. I responded as nicely as I could, so as to not upset this little girl, saying, “I only bought enough food for my two girls so you should go ask your own mommy or daddy for some. I don’t know if you’re allowed to eat what we’re having.”

Without missing a beat Z responded, quite matter-of-factly, “My mommy doesn’t get me any food here. She says I should share with my friends.” I looked up to see her mom sitting at a booth about 20 feet away, completely absorbed in her phone call, as she had been since we had arrived. I noticed that Z was telling me this while she was chewing an apple slice we had “shared” with her. A moment later Z and my daughter bounded off to the play structure and played together some more. Minutes later my daughter announced (rather loudly, I might add) that she had to go potty. I picked up my toddler and held my older daughter’s hand as I opened the door to leave the play area and walk to the restroom. At that point I noticed that Z was trying to tag along to the bathroom with us. Again, as gently as possible, I told Z that she would have to ask her own mommy to take her to the bathroom. I couldn’t do that for her. Of course Z was already through the door, standing barefoot in the busy counter area. Thankfully, she complied and went back to her mom as we continued to the men’s room. As we were entering the stall inside the men’s room Z bounded in the main door to the restroom, followed by her mother. Still on her phone. In the men’s room! After passing the urinals she finally realized her error and exclaimed that they were in the men’s room and needed to leave. I chuckled a little bit at the absurdity of the situation. Judging her just a little bit as a bad parent.

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As we walked back into the play area and my daughters resumed their fun on the play structure, I was convicted of my own hypocrisy in thinking bad thoughts about this other parent. What did I know about her or her daughter? Had I made any effort to communicate with her? Sure, she was on her phone, talking or texting the entire time we had been there, but still, who was I to judge her? A couple of minutes later she finished her phone activity so I walked over near her table and began a conversation with her that went something like this:

Me: Hi. It appears our daughters are hitting it off pretty well. I just wanted to let you know about something that happened earlier. Your daughter asked to share some of my daughters’ food but I didn’t know if that would be okay with you.

Her: That’s fine. She can have anything.

Me: Oh. Well, she had an apple slice or two. But she appeared to still be hungry. Would it be okay if I got her something more to eat? Maybe a Happy Meal or something?

Her: Yeah. That would be great.

Me: Would you like anything?

Her: No. I’m fine.

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At that moment I realized how wrong I had been to judge this mom. I didn’t know her or her situation. We just happened to be there at the same time with our children. Maybe my purpose in being there at that time on that day wasn’t to be a judgy sanctimonious jerk but rather to do something nice for that little girl and her mom. I contemplated that as I walked to the counter to order a six piece chicken nuggets Happy Meal for little Z. After a few short minutes I brought the food back into the play area and handed it to the mom. She smiled at me and asked if we came there often, making an effort to have a conversation. We talked a bit more and she told me that they came to McDonald’s almost every day after her daughter was done with school since it’s only a few blocks away from her school. Then Z came over to eat her meal and asked her mom where the food came from. Her mom told her that I had gotten it for her and asked her daughter to thank me. After a few moments of hesitation she did as her mother had requested. My daughter asked me why I had gotten Z her own Happy Meal and I told her, simply, that Z seemed hungry and it was a nice thing to do for her. She was satisfied with that answer and happily played with her new friend once she had finished her food. As we got ready to leave my daughter gave Z a hug goodbye and said, as only she can, “Bye, friend. Hope to see you again!”.

Reflecting on that day almost a week later I’m bothered by how easily I started to judge this mom and her child. I’m sure we all do it every day. I know that I do. I also know that I shouldn’t. Instead of judging I’m going to try to be more compassionate and understanding of what others are going through. After all, that’s what I hope my children will do when they meet others. If I don’t do it, how can I possibly expect it of them? Thanks for the lesson, McDonald’s. I’m lovin’ it!