Happy Birthday to Me! (42 Things For Which I Am Thankful)

It’s almost 1 am here in Washington and my four year old is still going strong thanks to a long late-afternoon nap. If you’re a parent you know the double-edged sword of such a nap. My wife told her that she could watch a movie if Daddy stayed downstairs with her (um, thanks?). She unloaded the dishwasher and practiced writing her name (part of the deal) and ran to the sofa, requesting me to get Netflix on for her viewing pleasure. While she’s snuggled in her sleeping bad watching My Little Pony I decided to make some late-night Mt. Dew lemonade out of these here lemons. Oh, and it happens to be my birthday today. Thanks, Mom, for having me on this date in 1972, just a few miles away from where I now live. Crazy how life works like that! Back to my lemonade. I’m going to try to stay awake to compose a list of things for which I’m thankful, one for each year I’ve been alive. The order is going to be pretty random as it’s now past 1 am.

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Just past midnight birthday selfie. That’s our family’s birthday hat. (Obviously.)

Forty-two things for which I am thankful.

  1. My parents. Duh. They had me! Thanks.
  2. My wife. She’s put up with  loved me for over half my life.
  3. My children. All six of them. They fill every day with so much love and laughter.
  4. Being tall. Usually a pretty good thing. Except when I hit my head on a door frame. Or take out a light fixture on a cruise ship.
  5. My English teachers (I must be tired) who told me that I wrote well and encouraged me to write. Even if it took me over 20 years to heed their advice and start writing regularly here.
  6. Netflix. I’m too tired to actually parent right now. Thanks for the small break.
  7. Headphones for my iPhone so that I can listen to my music instead of the awful music and dialog of My Little Pony.
  8. Sunshine. You won’t hear me complain about the sun and heat (even now in mid-September) because I know the cloudy and rainy season is coming soon enough.
  9. Rain. Seriously. I don’t have to shovel it like all that snow that I had to take care of when we lived in Wisconsin.
  10. Football. I know, there’s been a lot of bad press lately about some awful actions by some players. But, I still love to watch my Green Bay Packers. Glad my kids like to watch with me as well.
  11. Christmas music. Guess what I’m listening to right now? Pentatonix PTXmas. Amazing any time of year.
  12. Trains. Just heard one blowing its horn. Reminds me of growing up in Neenah, Wisconsin, and hearing trains at all hours of the day and night.
  13. My bed. Where I should be now. It’s so comfy and warm. And long enough for me. Unlike this comfy sofa.
  14. My sense of humor. I crack myself up daily. I’m hilarious. Seriously. (See what I did there?)
  15. My church. I look forward to going every Sunday and am so glad that my kids also are excited to go with me. Speaks volumes about the kind of community and ministry there.
  16. Leftovers for dinner. That means that we are so blessed to be able to have extra food from a previous meal. It also means that they kids are guaranteed to complain about the menu of “leftovers for dinner”.
  17. The dishwasher. It was broken for six weeks when we first moved here almost three years ago. Enough said.
  18. Dishes, pots, pans, or knives that can’t go through the dishwasher.
  19. FaceTime. It’s not the same as in-person, but it’s a great and affordable way to catch up with family and friends.
  20. Indoor plumbing. I cannot imagine how horrible it would’ve been to have to use an outhouse every day. I mean, where would I find any private time to read? (I’m laughing. Told you I was tired.)
  21. Camping. Ususally at a state park. Although, my son is currently in our large family tent just outside our house. For the 10th night in a row. Accompanied by our dog.
  22. Sleep. Yeah, I went to bed. Well, fell asleep on the sofa while my child watched My Little Pony. Woke up at 4:39 am and trudged up to my comfy bed for two more hours. Hopefully the crink in my back and neck from sleeping on the sofa goes away in a day or two. At least I made it halfway through my list of 42 before crashing.
  23. Reliable transportation. I take it for granted that my car will start every time I turn the ignition. Except that one time that one of the kids left some of overhead interior lights on overnight.
  24. A pile of laundry that needs folding and a dish full of dishes that needs to be loaded into the dishwasher. Even on my birthday, I’m thankful for these things because that means we are blessed enough to have a dishwasher and clothes washer/dryer.
  25. Safe travels. Driving my daughter to school this morning we saw an SUV blow through a stop sign at about 35 mph. Had we been about 5 seconds farther along on our way to school that vehicle might have ended my life. Thank you, Jesus.
  26. The National At Home Dad Network (NAHDN) and the upcoming convention in Denver later this week. Looking forward to seeing my fellow SAHD brothers again. The support and friendship from that group of guys this past year has been nothing short of amazing. My only regret is not knowing about such a network for the first 12 years as a SAHD.
  27. Mountains. I love going to the mountains for recreational purposes. I also appreciate their beauty on clear days as we have a beautiful view of the Olympic Mountains across Puget Sound from our house. I love how the rising sun wraps them in a blanket of pink.
  28. Siri. Yeah, that sometimes annoying iPhone/iPod voice. She’s hilarious. Especially when she mistakes a request to play Jingle Bells and states, “I’m sorry. I’m not familiar with Vagina Bells.” Actually, neither am I.
  29. Good health. Ever since I was a child I’ve been blessed with a strong immune system. Even now, as a long-time Stay At Home Dad who gets exposed to all sorts of germs and such I seldom get sick. I joke that I have a deal with God. In exchange for not complaining about caring for or cleaning up after my wife and kids when they are sick, I don’t get sick.
  30. Computers and technology. Sometimes it seems like we depend on them too much, but overall I enjoy having them in my life. And I’m not even that tech-savvy. I’m sure I’m just using the tip of the technological iceberg, but it sort of works for me.
  31. Credit cards. Really. I use them for most everything that I don’t carry much cash around. So convenient.
  32. Airplanes. Making long-distance travel so much easier. Even if I often feel like a sardine squished in my seat I still don’t mind it.
  33. America. Or ‘Murica. Despite being a flawed Republic with a messed up political system that can’t get out of its own way, there are still a lot of great things about our country. We enjoy a lot of freedoms and privileges that the rest of the world envies.
  34. Being a SAHD. Despite basically working 24/7/365 I love my job. And, for the love of everything, don’t call me “Mr. Mom“. Really. It’s not as funny as you think.
  35. Words With Friends. Scrabble. I enjoy playing word games. Keeps my brain working. I think.
  36. The Bible. God’s word. I’m constantly challenged and encouraged by His words. They’re just as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago.
  37. Music. I love to sing, play/perform and listen to music. Still cannot dance. And I’m okay with that.
  38. Facebook. Yeah, they keep making those annoying changes. Why can’t we just go back to the 2007 settings? Really, though, I enjoy keeping in touch with all of you. Okay, maybe not all of you, because of the weird metrics that screws up my newsfeed so that the sponsored stuff gets shown more. But you know what I mean. The love I’m feeling today from all of the birthday greetings is so uplifting. Yeah, that was a little cheesy, even for me. I really do appreciate the friendship,networking and support from social media.
  39. Netflix. Thanks for the quality shows to watch when I’m cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry after everyone else is asleep. Did I mention that I finally watched LOST last December? Only a few years too late.
  40. The silly humor that my kids inject into my daily life. Like my 10 year old son. This morning he came into the kitchen (while I was making his lunch sandwich) and sat at the table. He set his iPod down and asked Siri, “What is my name?”. Her reply made me laugh until I cried. “Your name is Cornelius. But since we’re friends, you asked me to call you Junio Ten Why Cheo.” WHAT?! (I might still be a little slap happy from the lack of sleep. But that was crazy.)
  41. Perspective. Counting my blessings instead of my shortcomings. Over the last year or so I’ve known far too many people who have gone through some tough times, losing loved ones to cancer, car accidents, and other causes. Life is too fragile and short to focus on anything else.
  42. Friendship. Not just the virtual kind but the people I see in real life. Just this summer I was able to reconnect with a few friends that I had not seen in years, in one case it was a friend who I hadn’t seen since 1991. Even if I have not seen my friends in person I love being able to call or virtually reach out, knowing that our friendship remains. And, I do not mean to ignore the new friends I’ve made since moving here almost three years ago. My life is so much richer for knowing all of you.

I look forward to whatever God has in store for me this coming year. In parting, I leave this passage I just came across last night while finishing my Bible study. I hope it encourages you as much as it did me. It’s from Isaiah 43:1-4, paraphrased by me.

This is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze…Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you.

If you’re bothered because this is a “religious” quote from the Bible, I would encourage you to reread it, but this time think of it as a father (or mother) talking to his (her) child. The love that drips from that passage is what I’m striving for with my own family. While I’m certainly not perfect, I am trying to be the best husband and father that I can be for them.

Dear Kids…A Letter About Ray Rice

My dear children,

You kids know that I love to watch football, both college and the NFL. It’s something fun that we do together, cheering on our favorite teams and players. I’m so thankful that my passion for football is wearing off on you. Most of the time this is a good thing. Well, on Monday something bad happened in the world of football that spilled over into the “real” world in a messy way. You see, last February this football player named Ray Rice and his then fiancée, Janey, were at a hotel and got into an argument. As they got into an elevator their argument escalated and they got physical with each other to the point that he punched her with his fist and knocked her out. Cold. After she fell to the floor, he tried to carry her limp body out of the elevator into the hotel lobby. The police were called and they both got into a bit of trouble. Mr. Rice avoided legal problems by agreeing to undergo some counseling for his anger. The two of them got married a short time later.

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Ray and Janey Rice and their daughter, Rayven

The guy in charge of the NFL, Commissioner Roger Goodell, suspended Mr. Rice for the first two football games of this season. When the story first broke it generated a bunch of negative publicity as many people thought that the two games wasn’t enough of a punishment for a crime that violent. There was even a security video from the hotel that showed Mr. Rice dragging her limp body from the elevator. On Monday morning TMZ’s website obtained the entire video of the couple’s altercation, showing them entering the elevator, their ride down and their exit (which was already published). It was very difficult to watch the two of them in that elevator, clearly upset with one another, knowing what was about to happen. Seeing it unfold like that was simply shocking and disgusting. It unleashed a whole new level of public outrage against Mr. Rice, the NFL and his team, the Baltimore Ravens. Seeing what had happened removed any doubt about how it all went down. By the end of the day, the Ravens had fired Mr. Rice and the NFL announced that he was suspended indefinitely. Even the White House released a statement about it.

“The President [Obama] is the father of two daughters. And like any American, he believes that domestic violence is contemptible and unacceptable in a civilized society. Hitting a woman is not something a real man does, and that’s true whether or not an act of violence happens in the public eye, or, far too often, behind closed doors. Stopping domestic violence is something that’s bigger than football – and all of us have a responsibility to put a stop to it.”

Please pay attention to what I’m telling you here, kids. Hitting another person is wrong. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you have no business hitting another person. That is why I’m so serious about you not “playfully” hitting each other when you’re at home. It is a big deal. There has to be zero tolerance of physically violent behavior and it starts at home. I know that I’m not a perfect parent and that sometimes I even raise my voice and get impatient or irritated with something you’re doing. I’m sorry for that lack of self-control at times. But you’ll never see me hit you or Mommy or anyone else. And I won’t tolerate you doing that either. Hitting is not okay. Not even pretend. This isn’t just a “real men don’t hit women” kind of statement. While that is certainly true about men, I also want you, my daughters, to not hit other people when you’re angry. Don’t do it.

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Mr. Rice is a strong man. He is not very tall like I am, but he is very, very strong. While I may not be as strong as him, I am a foot taller than his 5’8″ stature. That said, I have to always be very careful of my body because I could injure someone with it because I’m so big, even if I’m not trying to hurt that person. Ask your mother how many times (mostly when we were first married, but still happens once in a while) I would “bonk” her with my arm or leg because I’m so freakishly large. I sometimes forget how strong I am compared to others. I’m not bragging. It comes with being a “giant” among “normal” people. I have to be careful not to hurt other people, especially little kids when I’m with you at the park or the YMCA. You kids are not small people. To my son, at age 10 you’re taller than many adults. By the time you’re fully grown you’re likely going to be close to my height. You’re going to have to show a lot of self-control with your strength. It is not okay to use your strength and bulk to intimidate other people. That would make you a bully and I won’t allow it.

To my daughters, I want you to know that it is never okay for your boyfriend or husband to hit you. Ever. Not even on accident. If that should ever happen I want you to get away from him right away. Call me. True love will never motivate someone to hit you. If he hits you he does not love or respect you as a person. He is toxic and will end up hurting you. He is not the kind of man you want to be the father of your children. Run away. Far away. Never look back. Don’t fall for his “Oh, baby, I’m so sorry. I promise it will never happen again. I love you.” If he really loved you he wouldn’t have ever laid a finger on you.

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Finally, let this awful incident be a reminder that our actions have consequences. Both Mr. and Mrs. Rice have made public apologies for their actions. Mrs. Rice even went online to defend her husband the day after this latest video surfaced. Yet, it is really a case of too little, too late. There is no amount of apology from either of them that can change the public perception of Mr. Rice as a violent man who knocked his wife unconscious with one punch. He may well be a good guy. He’s probably involved with charities. He even has a young daughter. Heck, he might otherwise be a good husband. But, right now, none of that matters. What matters to the public is that, in one awful moment back in February, Mr. Rice lost his cool and hit his wife. He lost all that he had worked so hard for over the years in just a few minutes. Let it be a lesson to you about the importance of always having self-control. All it takes is one moment out of control for you to experience some truly awful consequences.

Love,

Dad

Back to School Blues

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Today is the big day. It’s been written on our family calendar for months. It’s a day of anticipation and dread. It’s the first day of school. As a Stay At Home Dad it means the return of taxi driver to my daily routine. As well as alarm clock and lunch-preparer for my kids. Today is a day that I both dread and celebrate, but not for the reasons many parents do. As a former student (a long time ago) and former teacher (not as long ago) I loved the first day of school. There was a sense of optimism and possibility and freshness. A new year with a new teacher and mix of old and new friends. Getting to see friends and colleagues again after the summer break. It almost made the chore of getting everything ready worth it. Almost. After all, it was still school. It also meant the end of staying up late and sleeping in. Playing at the park, hiking at Mt. Rainier, going to week-long camp, and vacationing in Europe, to name a few. Doing nothing and enjoying it. Replaced by getting up early (rude alarm clock) and homework or lesson planning and correcting papers.

What I don’t understand, though, are the parents who are celebrating that their kids are finally out of their hair. Fruit of the Loom (makers of fine underwear) even started a #TGIBTS (Thank Goodness It’s Back To School) campaign to capitalize on this sentiment among parents (although it was aimed at moms). It makes me sad that there are some moms and dads who genuinely celebrate the absence of their kids. I’m going to miss my kids while they’re at school. It’s going to be quiet(er) with only a four year old and one year old at home all day long. What ever will I do with all of my newly-found free time? HA HA HA! As much as the teasing and such between my kids is a little bit annoying, I love having them at home. They bring so much joy to my life on a daily basis. I’m going to miss the fun that we have just doing life together. Yet, I love that they get to go and learn and be with friends and teachers and experience things that I cannot give them. I loved being a student (even though at times I had to work hard) and had a lot of fun in school. While I wasn’t a fan of the significant homework and studying in high school and college I understood it to be a part of my “job” as a student. I hope that my kids will view their educational opportunity in the same way. If anything, I celebrate the new and fun things that my kids will learn this coming year.

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The only bit of dread that I have is in wishing I had done more with my kids during their time off. Did we do enough fun stuff to make up for the days where we did basically nothing? Did they get to do something memorable enough that they can write about it for their first assignment in English class? Will they look back on their Summer 2014 as fondly as I do? I hope that they each can answer yes to all those questions. But, in the minds of my kids, I’m sure they’re probably already starting the countdown. 180 school days to go. June 11, 2015 can’t come soon enough.

Honesty, Always The Best Policy

I was listening to American Pie on my iPhone while driving three of my kids the final 75 miles to our home in Washington from our four day road trip to Northern California. The traffic was light and the sky was blue when out of the blue the music stopped and my phone rang. Even though I didn’t recognize the number I answered it since I already had my headphones in my ears. I’m glad I did. It was the manager of the La Quinta Inn & Suites we had stayed at the night before in Eugene, Oregon, calling to inform me that the person who had cleaned our room after we left found a blue iPod touch. He wanted to know if it belonged to us. I knew that my daughter had one like that and a quick question in her direction confirmed it. She didn’t even know that she had left it behind, thinking it was in her bag. After I told the manager it was, indeed, our device, he told me that he would get it in the mail to us later that day. I thanked him again for his call and hung up.

I glanced over at my daughter who was looking kind of sheepish, not knowing if I was going to be upset with her or lecture her. I wasn’t and I didn’t. I told her that I wasn’t at all upset with her. Accidents happen. Heck, I’d even given the room one last visual inspection before we left that morning and I hadn’t seen her forgotten iPod. There was no need for a lecture. She felt bad enough and there wasn’t anything that I needed to say. I just told her she was fortunate that the person cleaning the room was so honest. She smiled knowingly and I put my headphones back in and listened to some more tunes as we continued toward home. As I drove, I thought about how interesting it was that I was so surprised that the hotel employee had been so honest with my daughter’s iPod. After all, that device cost her several hundred dollars (she saved up for it and bought it on her own) and could have easily been sold on eBay or Craigslist for a nice “bonus” for that person who is likely making near minimum wage. But, instead, that person chose to do the right thing. No one would’ve known if he or she had pocketed that device. Instead, that person had integrity. You know, doing the right thing even when no one else is around. Seems like that’s a lost character trait these days. This particular employee, however, got it right. I believe that is a reflection on the company and the management that hired him or her.

I’m not getting any compensation from La Quinta for writing this blog post. They don’t even know that I’m a blogger or that I’m writing this. I’m not even going to make this into a formal review of the hotel, although it was nice. I got a clean room and my kids and I enjoyed the pool, hot tub and comfy beds. The hotel held up its end of the deal. Enough about that. But what really struck a chord with me was how this cleaning person had taken the iPod to the manager who then called me. My daughter learned a lesson without the pain of losing a valuable device while I was encouraged that there are still good, honest people still out there. I’m grateful for their honesty and integrity and will happily bring my family back to La Quinta Inn & Suites on future trips because of this positive experience. Ultimately, the reason I want to share this story with you is that a good report that is publicly shared on social media is the best way that I can say “THANK YOU” to the people involved whose actions ensured a “touching” reunion for my daughter and her forgotten iPod.

50 More Things That Are More Offensive Than Nursing In Public

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August 1-7 marked World Breastfeeding Week and there were numerous articles that shared a variety of viewpoints about breastfeeding. As a 13 year Stay At Home Dad of six I’ve been my wife’s biggest supporter in her desire to breastfeed each of our children for as long as they choose. She has received many dirty looks or sideways glances from people who somehow think her choice to nurse our child is somehow offensive when done in public. The reality is that breastfeeding is natural and beautiful and not at all offensive, even in public! In fact, there are many things in life that are truly more offensive than a woman nursing in public (NIP for those that like acronyms). Almost two months ago I came up with a sarcastic and light-hearted list of 50 Things That Are More Offensive Than Nursing In Public. It quickly became the most-viewed post of my fledgling blog, Big Cheese Dad. Many people added suggestions and I held on to them in anticipation of this post. So, thanks to the collective creative genius of my friends and readers, I am happy to present, 50 More Things That Are More Offensive Than Nursing In Public. As always, please like, comment and share if you enjoyed this list.

  1.  People who have no idea what they want when the get to the register at Starbucks. In store or drive through.
  2. People who drink all but the last couple of swallows of milk and put the jug back in the fridge instead of rinsing and recycling.
  3. People who don’t know how to merge or won’t let you in when you’re trying to merge. You’re supposed to use the gas pedal to merge, not the brake! Ever hear of the “zipper method”? I’m just getting started with drivers. Ugh.
  4. People who congratulate women who aren’t pregnant on their pregnancies (just fat, thanks). <<—her quote, don’t get mad at me!
  5. Backwash. If you’ve ever given your toddler a drink of your water or juice you know exactly what I mean. And exactly what they were just eating. It will be floating in your beverage. Drink up!
  6. Helicopter moms (or dads) at the playground. Let your kids play and explore and have fun. They can do it without you hovering.
  7. When my kids complain about being bored while on summer vacation. Really? I can find you a chore or 50! And, adults who complain about being bored. Really? You’re an adult. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!
  8. People touching your baby. DON’T! She just got better after a week of a runny nose and you’re not going to start that again. Do you know how hard it is for a baby to nurse that has a plugged nose?
  9. Wearing socks with sandals. I thought that was standard here in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. Ask my kids. Actually, don’t. Nothing I do is cool by them.
  10. Guys who think they’re really funny and could do stand up comedy because of that one funny “that’s what she said” joke made by the water cooler that one time.
  11. People who think a pregnant belly in public is an invitation to touch it. When tempted to reach out and touch a belly, channel your inner MC Hammer and think: U CAN’T TOUCH THIS!
  12. People who leave grocery carts in parking spaces instead of walking the 20 feet to put it away. Lifestyle exercise is okay.
  13. Hitting or slapping a child. Disturbingly ironic when done to punish that child for crying or hitting or slapping someone else.
  14. School. Especially math. Who needs it really? Can’t I just ask Siri what 25% off is instead of actually using my brain?
  15. Smokers who think the world is the trash can for their butts.
  16. The Detroit Lions. Submitted by a Michigan resident. This Packers fan won’t disagree. I purposely made this one #16.
  17. Flossing teeth in public. Really, any personal hygiene in public. That includes mining for gold while driving. And, please, don’t eat that booger. Unless you’re a toddler, and even then it’s gross.
  18. Drivers who don’t respect pedestrians or bicyclists.
  19. People who don’t pick up after their dogs. On walks in the neighborhood or at the dog park. You’re giving the rest of us a bad reputation.
  20. Public selfies. At every single tourist spot. Stop already.
  21. E-cigs. And the rude people who try to push them on you at the mall.
  22. Cell phone usage while in the bathroom. We can tell where you are by the echo. Dead giveaway.
  23. Guys texting while standing at the urinal. Put it down and wait. And by it I meant the phone.
  24. Parents who leave their young kids alone in the car. No matter the weather. It’s not worth it. I’m going to call 911…and I probably won’t wait even five minutes if it’s really hot or really cold.
  25. Parents who smoke while their kids are in the car.
  26. Parents who are louder than their kids. Just because we’re bigger doesn’t mean we have to talk over them.
  27. Victoria’s Secret. If you think Nursing In Public shows too much breast then you MUST have an issue with this company. Walk through a mall and you’ll see what I mean.
  28. When people in the back of the plane stand up as soon as the seat belt sign is turned off. You’re in back. You’re not getting off this plane for at least 10 minutes. Sit down. And stop sighing so dramatically.
  29. Saying the F-word and other vulgarities in family-friendly places like grocery stores, parks and swimming pools. My kid doesn’t need to hear that.
  30. Neighbors or relatives who make rude insinuations about your parenting choices or abilities without coming right out and saying it. Passive-aggressive anyone?
  31. This is for my wife…When the new TV show that you discovered and think is really cool and decide that you’re going to follow gets cancelled after only one season. Talking about you, Journeyman and Alcatraz. Yet, we have how many reality-TV shows and game shows?
  32. Candy Crush Saga notifications/invitations. Or Farmville. Or whatever game you’re playing. Waste your own time. Not mine.
  33. People who don’t follow the “walk left, stand right” concept on escalators and moving sidewalks. Or those who stand in the middle, clogging it for all.
  34. Wisconsin drivers in Illinois. (from the Illinois guy, of course)
  35. FIBs driving in Wisconsin. You know you’re from Wisconsin if you understand the reference. Mom, don’t click that link. It’s rude. No, I don’t use it. 🙂
  36. Traffic circles. No. Actually, people who treat traffic circles like a stop sign and always stop.
  37. People who wear yoga pants or sweats or sweaty workout clothes to the store. Too much. Or too little, I guess.
  38. People who show up late for something holding a Starbucks (or other establishment) bought coffee.
  39. People on their phones at cash registers. Or at the doctor’s office. Whatever happened to common courtesy?
  40. People who throw gum on the ground or in urinals. And it’s always the nice or new shoes that attract the gooey gum.
  41. People on their smart phones while at a red light who wait an extra 5-10 seconds to go once the light turns green. And they’re always in front of me. BEEP!
  42. People who try to outrun emergency vehicles. Or those too oblivious to see/hear them to get out of the way.
  43. People who are ungrateful for their jobs in this tough economy. So it’s not your dream job. At least you have a job.
  44. People in restrooms (public or my own house!) who don’t flush. Related, why must people be so nasty in public restrooms? Feces on the walls and TP everywhere? Give me a break.
  45. The South’s obsession with the Confederate Flag/Pride. Y’all do understand the meaning behind it, right?
  46. Waiting rooms. Snotty kids. Loud cell phone talkers. Old and germ-infested magazines. TV on a station no one wants.
  47. The price of gasoline. Which pretty much affects the cost everything else.
  48. The rapid decline of manners in most people. Saying please and thank you and being pleasant is just as easy as being pushy and demanding and patient.
  49. Our general obsession with boobs that fuels multimillion dollar plastic surgery and lingerie industries while at the same time interfering with the primary and most important function of said boobs.
  50. Anyone who thinks that a woman breastfeeding her child is flaunting her breast or her sexuality in everyone else’s face. She doesn’t need to cover up. Maybe it’s too hot. Maybe her baby won’t eat properly with a cover. It doesn’t matter. Ultimately, it’s none of your business. Look away if you’re so offended. But don’t harass the mom and her baby. She’s feeding her child the way God intended. Leave her alone.

If you agree that women need to feel empowered to nurse in public please share this list across social media platforms. I’d love to be a small part of the growing support for all moms (and dads!) to care for their babies as they see fit and without public scorn.

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Special thanks to the following people (listed in order of appearance, some with multiple entries) who contributed ideas to the list above: Josh Gloer, Kathleen Cleg, Allison Tedford, David Wallach, James Ward, Scott Posey, Benjamin Mullen, Jonathan Criswell, Dawn Rubbert, Cuda Mitchell, Marty Josephson, Bryan Alkire, Laura Hargis, Kelly Berg, Kathy Robinson, Kathy Lehman, Marty Josephson, Trish Sheikh, Tony Hernandez, Jeff Tepper, Eric Williams, Michelle Swank, Jessie Johnson, Janet Crum.

Still Crazy After All These Years

A few weeks after I graduated from high school in June of 1991 I was on an airplane with 11 other people from my hometown to spend nearly a month in Europe. We went to Sweden, Denmark, England and Scotland, making new friends and memories along the way. That trip also marked the last time I saw my friend Andy who lived in the small town of Witham, a short train ride northeast of London. Andy and I had become friends a year before when he traveled to America with a Witham Boys Brigade group that was hosted by the Brigade in Neenah, Wisconsin, where I lived. We had hit it off immediately in 1990 as both of us were athletic and competitive, not to mention exceedingly good looking! We both looked forward to renewing our friendship the following summer when my Brigade group made the long trip across the pond. We shared many memorable moments over the course of just a few short weeks during the summers of 1990 and 1991. Since that was before widespread email and Facebook we were forced to keep in touch the old fashioned way…by writing letters. That worked for a while but, as we were both attending university, the frequency of our exchanges slowed until we lost touch completely.

Fast forward fifteen years to 2006. I received an email from someone at Brigade in my hometown that a guy by the name of Andy from England had contacted them, asking about me. That email included Andy’s contact information, so the ball was in my court to reestablish contact. A ton of memories flooded my mind. Camp Onaway (the week-long camp Andy attended with me in 1991), Six Flags Great America, Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame tour, jokes and pranks, touring London, and, of course, a little bit of guilt for falling out of touch with my friend. That evening I sent Andy an email. He invited me to check out this new thing called Facebook so that we could share pictures of our families with one another. I had heard of it, and, even though I didn’t know much about it, I thought I’d check it out. Well, you know what’s happened with that platform since then. I even invited Andy to participate in a Fantasy Football league that I run because I knew of his passion for American football. Even though his favorite team is the Miami Dolphins I figured he’d be a good addition to our league. Besides, who wouldn’t want to try to engage a British bloke in a bit of trans-Atlantic smack talk? It was bloody brilliant! I’m pretty sure he won the league title in only his second or third year in the league…defeating me in the playoffs along the way. Both of us talked of wanting to get together again but both of us were married and had young children, meaning that a trip would likely have to wait for some time.

That time just arrived with my trip with my daughter to Europe. We’re currently 38,000 feet above Canada on our way back to Seattle after three weeks on holiday. Andy and his wife, Melissa, graciously opened their home to my daughter, E, and me for our last weekend in Europe. While I certainly enjoyed my time with E seeing sights in Germany, Austria, Italy and France, I was always most looking forward to catching up with Andy and meeting his wife and three children. Andy had agreed to pick us up from the train station closest to his town after he finished work that Friday afternoon. Through the wonders of free wifi at a local fro-yo place we exchanged texts that pinpointed the location and time where he would get us. As we waited for him I began to wonder if we would be able to pick up our friendship after 23 years. Would it feel natural or forced? As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about.

Andy pulled up in his car and put out his hand which I ignored and gave him a hug. Not sure if the Brits hug much, but this American is a hugger. After a short drive we arrived at his house and were greeted by his family. While he had warned them that I’m tall, I guess seeing someone have to duck under the door elicits giggles of amazement just like in America. Once past the initial greetings we started in on our wonderful feast of pizza. The best part of the evening was just visiting with my friend and his family, who welcomed us warmly. Even better, Andy’s oldest daughter and my daughter seemed to click, just like he and I had 24 years ago. After the youngest two kids went to bed, the girls (mom included) watched a movie in another room while Andy and I kept on catching up. We talked about all sorts of things, silly stuff like sports (he taught me about cricket and I taught him about baseball) and serious stuff like the passing of our fathers (mine in 2007, his in 2010), how our moms were doing and the joys and challenges of being a father and husband. The conversation flowed naturally and easily as if we had been friends since childhood. And that was just the first evening.

We spent all of Saturday doing things as a large group. Touring an old English estate and taking in an outdoor performance of “La Boheme” opera. Our families continued to bond as Andy’s four year old daughter took a particular liking to E and spent much of the opera snuggled in her lap. Near the end of the performance she grew of being there and started to collect sticks from the ground. I decided to intervene and invented a game where she and I took turns lining the sticks up in a row. She took to it immediately and was no longer bored. Andy seemed bemused by my game and I was glad that my dad instinct was able to help entertain his four year old until the show was over. It was a similar “game” that I’d successfully used at restaurants using sugar packets. Score one for the SAHD bag of tricks.

After a delicious full English breakfast prepared (for the second day in a row, I might add) by Mel on Sunday morning, we left for a day of sight seeing in London. Andy and his daughter accompanied us as we saw many of the iconic London sights: Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, Horse Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square. Again, both the dads and the daughters got along splendidly. The girls had, without planning it, dressed almost identically. They laughed and posed for countless pictures together. They had fun teasing each other about their failed attempts to talk with an American or British accent. Finally, though, it was time to wrap up our wonderful time together. We took the Tube to the station nearest our hotel and walked up the stairs together. As we walked both Andy and I grew quiet. I know that I had a rush of emotions welling up inside of me. I stopped a couple of blocks short of our hotel and suggested that Andy and his daughter could head back to his wife and kids, that we would be able to get back easily. I wanted to say much more to my dear friend about how much his friendship over the years had meant to me, but I couldn’t get the words out. Instead, a heartfelt hug conveyed the message between two misty-eyed blokes. I choked out the sentiment that we shouldn’t let 23 years pass between our next visit. For the sake of our friendship and that of our daughters!

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10 Lessons from Two Weeks in Europe

I’m typing this from my comfy Eurostar train seat in the Chunnel under the English Channel, heading for London. My daughter and I have been away from home since 25 June and we go home again 15 July. We’ve had an amazing trip with stops in Brussels, Munich, Salzburg, Venice, Rome, Florence, Milan, Paris and London. Being a long time fan of a certain late night host (don’t want to name names in case it’s a copyright infringement), here are my Top Ten Lessons Learned from Two Weeks in Europe.

  1. Mass transit is awesome. We’ve used trains to get all over Europe and it’s been a pleasant and efficient way to travel. There’s no way we could’ve traveled to so many countries if I had been trying to drive us all over the place. While it’s not cheap, it’s nice not to have to drive or worry about finding parking. It’s also great to be able to take a short nap on the train, which is generally frowned upon while driving. Getting used to the nuances of each city’s system was another story, but we usually got the general hang of it by the second day.
  2. I really appreciate the availability of bathrooms in most restaurants and stores in the U.S. that are clean and free. Having to pay to use a Water Closet is overrated.
  3. Europeans smoke. A lot. Everywhere. It’s really annoying. Ok, let me put this in a positive light. I am so thankful for the “no smoking” laws in the States. While there are still many instances in the US where I encounter second-hand smoke it’s nothing compared to here.
  4. Holy cow is Europe ever expensive! Or, maybe the US Dollar just sucks. Either way, YIKES! How much would you expect to pay for a 20 oz. bottle of Coke in the US, maybe $1.75 or $2? Try double that (or more) over here. Drink water instead. Except…there are not very many drinking fountains (bubblers for some of you) to fill up water bottles. There were a bunch in Italy, but not so much in the other countries we visited. And I really don’t care for buying bottled water for my daily travels or even when dining out. Speaking of dining out…
  5. Ordering a meal from a waitress who doesn’t speak English is a bit difficult. And I wish it wasn’t so awkward to ask if the tip is included in the bill. I did find out from a restaurant employee in Florence (on our last day in Italy, of course) that “Italians never tip” since it’s included in the bill. Yet, in France it wasn’t. Or was it? I really don’t know because I got two different answers from two workers in the same Irish establishment in Paris. Come on Europe, make up your mind. I don’t want to be rude but I also don’t want to be a sucker and tip when it’s already been included.
  6. Tourists are easy marks. We stick out even if we try to blend in. There’s no way around it. Embrace it and be prepared to get asked for money by every beggar in every Metro station. And whatever you do, don’t accept flowers from a nice guy in a public area. He’s not being nice. He’s going to expect you to pay him for his, um, “niceness”. Same for the girl in the train station who will find you wandering in the station and ask you sweetly if she can help you. If you let her help you out then you can expect she’s not helping you simply out of the goodness of her heart. She’s going to expect to be paid for her 5-10 minutes of assistance. Although, if you look at it as a chance to skip the long lines at the ticket counter and a learning opportunity (how to use the automated ticket machine) then it’s not such a bad deal. Be warned.
  7. Sandals might not have been the best idea for a three week trip. Not because there’s so much walking. Nope, they’ve been just fine for all the walking. Because they stink. Literally. Probably doesn’t help that I’ve gotten them wet from the rainy places and they’ve never fully dried out. My shoes and feet are so smelly every evening that I have to wash my feet with soap and water and put the offending footwear as far away from my daughter as possible. I also douse them with baby powder nightly. Still doesn’t fully cover the smell. Oops. I’d consider buying some shoes but doubt I could find anything in a size 16.
  8. Basketball is a universal language. I saw some teenagers playing hoops at a park near our hotel in Paris and watched them for a few minutes. A few of them approached me and invited me to play with them. They were enamored with my height (over 2 meters!) and ability to dunk without much effort (yay 9’ rim) despite wearing my stinky sandals. One boy gave me the nickname of “Easy” because I kept making so many mid and long range jumpers without much (apparent) effort. They also wanted to know if I knew LeBron James because we’re both from America.
  9. Sometimes after waiting in line for an hour or two to enter a specific tourist attraction (that happens to be historical) it doesn’t live up to expectations. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Vatican/Sistine Chape, Mona Lisa and Palace of Versailles. Sometimes it does click (Eiffel Tower, Venice, David statue) and it makes it all worth it. You just never know.
  10. I’m pretty sure that people taking selfies EVERYWHERE is just about as annoying as all the smokers ruining the nice clean air I want to breathe. Of course, if you can’t snap your mug in front of whatever thing you’re seeing and post it on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter then it didn’t really happen, right?

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Note: I typed this on 10 July but neglected to post it until now (14 July) because we were having so much fun in London.

We’ll Always Have Paris

Have you ever run into a friend from your past in an unexpected place? Maybe you went to an amusement park or concert and saw someone you went to high school with and one of you commented about what a small world it is. Try this one on for size. Walking from our hotel in a random neighborhood in Paris, France, my daughter and I ran into some friends that we went to church with nine years ago when we were living in Mason City, Iowa. Stunned doesn’t begin to describe what we were all feeling after I greeted them from about fifteen feet away by saying loudly, “I go all the way to Paris and who do I see but the Muyskens family?”. After all five of them (parents and three daughters) whirled their heads to see who just called their name out in Paris, we exchanged hugs and excited “What are you doing here?” silliness. Duh! We’re all on vacation. Yet, here we both were. I’d kept in touch with Dennis and Susan over the last nine years since we last lived in Iowa. The last time I saw them was in 2009, when I took my oldest went back for a weekend with one of her best friends there. While we remained on friendly terms (exchanged Christmas letters/photos) ours was more of a Facebook friendship where we kind of kept in touch but that was about it. And then, this.

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A chance meeting in Paris. They had literally just arrived that morning after taking an overnight direct flight from Minneapolis, Minnesota. They were on their first outing from their hotel, trying to find the nearby Metro stop. Only, they had gone the wrong direction (toward us). Likewise, my daughter and I had just found our hotel after taking the overnight train to Paris from Milan. After our showers we decided that we were hungry and the hotel clerk said that there were restaurants to the left or to the right from the hotel. We opted to go to the right since that was the direction of the Metro stop we would need later to go to the Eiffel Tower. It was at the corner of that street, a block from our hotel, that we chanced upon our friends. Since we were all hungry we decided to grab lunch together at the cafe which was across the street. What followed was a lot of head shaking and What are the odds?! moments. It was great to see my friends again. It’s amazing how quickly kids grow up when the last time you saw them was nine years prior. The Muyskens girls were just finishing 1st, 4th and 8th grades back in 2005 when we moved. Now the oldest is a college graduate, looking forward to teaching art in the fall. The next daughter is in college, a double major (bio and chem) looking at med school. The youngest is a junior in high school. Crazy! Of course, it goes both ways. Susan was my daughter E’s preschool teacher for two years. Of course, E, at age 14, didn’t realize that this was the famous Mrs. Muyskens from preschool and was even more shocked when I told her that fact. 

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Since we’d had so much fun catching up at lunch we decided to accept their kind invitation to tag along on their trip to the Eiffel Tower. (It’s what we’d planned to do anyhow, but better with friends!) I think it was especially nice for my daughter to be able to have this fun time with three other girls roughly her age instead of just me. We get along well but I’m sure she enjoyed the time with other teens. At any rate, the tower was huge. Bigger in real life that I thought it would be. So interesting to finally see such an iconic European structure. We had hoped to go to the top but the lines were about 3 hours long. No thanks! But walking underneath it was also pretty cool. Thinking about how it was built and all the iron needed to do it. What an engineering marvel. After a delicious ice cream/sorbet break and some cartwheels and bridges in front of the tower we meandered found some other impressive buildings – palaces and cathedrals and such – and just enjoyed our unexpected afternoon together. Seriously. If either of us had left our hotels 30 seconds sooner or later we wouldn’t have seen one another! 

At about 5:30 local time, which was 10:30 am Minnesota time, we decided to have dinner together before heading back to our respective hotels, as some of the Muyskens family were starting to feel the effects of jet-lag. After dinner we navigated through the Metro to the stop near our hotels. When we got to our parting spot we stopped to say good bye. Only this time my daughter had made three new friends so the “kids” also participated in the good-bye hugs. Being the clown that I am and not wanting to dwell in the sadness of the farewell moment too long, I spontaneously said with all the dramatic flair I could muster (which isn’t much, I might add), “We’ll always have Paris!“. It received the desired reaction and we left. Our separate European vacations forever entwined by a chance encounter in the City of Light. Au revoir!

A Chance To Pay It Forward

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I started blogging about nine months ago. During that time I’ve shared a lot of stories about my family and how being a full time Stay At Home Dad has challenged me to be a better man, husband and father. I’ve blogged about some of the triumphs and some of the failures that I’ve experienced as a parent. I’ve written about some current events and even shared the story of the Frehley, the eleven year old daughter of my friend AJ who has inoperable brain cancer. Frehley’s story really gave me pause, as it is a parent’s worst nightmare, to see your child get sick and hear the terrible words, “There’s nothing more medically that we can do other than to keep her comfortable.” Well, unfortunately, at the end of May, the founder and creator of a dad-blogger group/community that I’ve been a part of was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. My friend, Oren Miller, happens to also be a SAHD. He has a wife and two young children. The “normal” life expectancy for his diagnosis is roughly 12 months. That hit home for me in a big way. Here’s a guy who gave up his career to be Daddy and, barring a miracle, his children are soon going to be without their Daddy. Just typing that makes me choke up at the very thought.

So, why am I telling you this? Here is an opportunity for you (yes, YOU!) to get involved. Oren and his wife, Beth, have not asked anyone for help. In fact, shortly after receiving his devastating news, Oren wrote one of the most beautiful and moving pieces I’ve ever read. It is because of the love and courage that Oren has always shown – even in the face of such adversity – that one of the guys in the Dad Blog group thought it would be cool if our group of roughly 800 guys could raise $5,000 to send Oren and his family on a nice vacation this summer. That goal was reached within 12 hours. So, the bar has been raised several times and now donations have surpassed $25,000, with a new goal of $35,000. This money is going to help pay for Oren’s medical treatments, to put some money away for his kids and to help pay for some memorable family experiences this summer.

Often there’s a stigma attached to people who ask for help or need help. Let’s put that aside and realize that this is simply a chance to make a difference for a hurting family. Even if you don’t know Oren personally (I haven’t met him, but I’ve still been impacted by his friendship and leadership), chances are pretty good that you have a friend or relative who had cancer. Maybe you could make a donation as a way to honor the memory of that loved one. Or, maybe, just do it out of the goodness of your heart. Every bit helps. In this case, the GiveForward site has generously offered to donate an additional $25 for every blog about Oren that links to his donation site, up to 40. That’s an additional $1,000 just for taking the time to write. Think about how much more we could help if we actually got involved. Don’t be afraid to step out and give. There’s this phenomenon that’s commonly called bystander apathy.

This  phenomenon refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. –Startups and Burritos blog

If you’re willing to step out from the crowd and share your blessings with Oren and his family please click here to donate at the GiveForward site. If you’re unable to give financially at this time, I know that Oren and his family would welcome any and all prayers and healing thoughts. As always, please share this with others who might be willing to help make the magic happen.

50 Things That Are More Offensive Than Nursing In Public

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I find it hard to believe that American society still has such a hang up when it comes to the rights of mothers to nurse in public. As a father of six children who all were nursed (some still are!) by my amazing wife, I have always been and always will be a huge supporter and defender of the rights of women to publicly breastfeed. Breastfeeding has been in the news again because Facebook recently relaxed its ban on breastfeeding photos and also because a 25 year old woman graduating from college had the audacity to discreetly nurse her young child durning the commencement ceremony. To fight back, I respectfully (and sometimes disrespectfully!) give you my list of 50 Things That Are More Offensive Than Nursing In Public.

  1. People who give you unsolicited parenting advice.
  2. Using phones for pretty much any reason at the movies, but especially talking.
  3. People who can’t park their cars between the lines in parking lots.
  4. People who talk about politics or religion and then get mad when you don’t agree with them.
  5. Parents who bring their sick (feverish, coughing, sniffling, sneezing, wheezing, hacking or fluid-dripping) child to the park or indoor play area.
  6. People who complain that McDonald’s food isn’t healthy. You’re at McDonald’s. WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?
  7. Drivers who don’t signal their intentions. Use your stinking turn signal already!
  8. The one-upper. You know, that co-worker who always has a story to top the one that was just told.
  9. Moms that dress like teenagers when out with their teenagers.
  10. Garbage dumping on social media. Marginally outdone by #11.
  11. Drama-seeking and Vaguebooking on Facebook. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
  12. People who pay for groceries in pennies. Or a check that they have to hand-write even though the machine will do it in 1/10 the time.
  13. Loud cell phone talkers. Particularly annoying on airplanes, buses and subway trains.
  14. The SBD. Silent But Deadly farts. Might be the guy sleeping next to you on a plane or the person who just exited the elevator.
  15. Left-lane cruisers. Oblivious. Almost always a middle-aged woman in a Prius or Subaru Outback.
  16. Saggers. You know, mostly teens who wear their pants around their knees. No one wants to see your boxers.
  17. People who show up in the Express Lane at the grocery store with a cart that exceeds the 15 item limit by about 30.
  18. Guys who talk about their Fantasy Football team. No one cares. Really.
  19. People who smoke while hiking so others following them get to smell smoke instead of trees, flowers or grasses. Not that kind of grass!
  20. The Duck Face. Just. Don’t. Unless you’re really a duck. Then it’s fine.
  21. Open mouth chewing of food, gum or toothpicks. Don’t even get me started with chewing tobacco and related spitting.
  22. People who abuse handicapped parking tags and plates.
  23. The word MOIST.
  24. My kids that leave one square of toilet paper on the roll but don’t change it because it’s (technically) not out.
  25. Drivers who don’t stop at stop signs. The California roll…
  26. Cyclists who ignore traffic laws and get mad when drivers don’t see them or (nearly) hit them.
  27. Public urination, particularly when the individual is drunk.
  28. Karaoke night. Exacerbated by alcohol consumption and/or false sense of one’s ability to carry a tune.
  29. Texting while driving.
  30. Holding your phone to your face while driving so that nearly half of your vision is blocked so that you nearly run into a father and his child who were walking in the crosswalk. (True story.)
  31. When people overuse the phrases “I know, right?” and “I’m just sayin'”
  32. Drivers who pass a car on the highway, cut in front of them in order to immediately take the exit. Bonus for doing that to a semi-truck.
  33. People who use their cell phones at the dinner table and say, “Oh, nothing. I’m just eating dinner with so-and-so.” Makes your dinner company feel mighty important.
  34. Heck, people who always take calls even if they’re in the middle of a face-to-face conversation with you.
  35. Talking loudly at the movies. Heck, doing anything other than watching the movie. Except breastfeeding, of course.
  36. Drivers that are in such a hurry that they pass around stopped cars and narrowly miss hitting pedestrians in the crosswalk where the other cars were stopped.
  37. America’s obsession with the Kardashians.
  38. People who comment “Blame Obama” for anything online. Same for those who comment “Blame Bush”.
  39. Hit and run jerks drivers.
  40. People who are oblivious to anyone around them. For example: stopping to text while in the middle of a busy sidewalk or blocking the aisle with your shopping cart while texting.
  41. When the person in front of you in line at Subway has a list of subs greater than two. Of course there are complicated toppings for each one.
  42. Neighbors who throw loud parties late into the night (technically early morning) in a residential neighborhood. On a school night. And then proceed to have a loud and obscenity-laced discussion about who makes the best f-ing chili.
  43. Short people who request exit row seating on airplanes.
  44. People who recline their seats on airplanes without looking back or giving any kind of warning and crushing your kneecaps.
  45. People who take to Facebook and spoil movies or tv shows.
  46. Mosquitoes.
  47. Drivers waiting to turn left who don’t pull forward when the light turns green.
  48. Fake accents. Unless you’re really really good at it, you sound like a fool, y’all.
  49. People who use the phrase “Mr. Mom” to describe Stay At Home Dads. Try Dad. It’s shorter and more accurate.
  50. Anyone who gives a nursing mother any grief about her decision to feed her child the most natural way possible. If you don’t like what you see then turn away and look somewhere else. And keep your negative thoughts to yourself.

If you agree that women need to feel empowered to nurse in public please share this list across social media platforms. I’d love to be a small part of the growing support for all moms (and dads!) to care for their babies as they see fit and without public scorn.