Wednesday, October 30, 2013

An Open Letter to Parents on the Playground: It Is OK to Play With Your Kids

I pulled up to the playground and me and my boys got excited. We come to this playground everyday and no one is ever here. Of course, I was happy about this at first; my social anxieties used to make me uncomfortable around other parents. Over the months, I began to notice my kids weren't having fun because there were no other kids. So imagine our excitement when we saw other kids! Now, imagine our disappointment when we notice you are sitting in your car while your 3 and 4 year olds are playing...Alone and as we approached the play area we heard your honk and then heard your shouts, "Come on! It's time to go!" And then all of our excitement was gone. I know you had to leave and I'm not blaming you for their disappointment but a minute after you left my 4 year old asked me this question: "Dad, why don't they play with their kids?"

I didn't know how to answer that. I couldn't come up with a good answer so I only said, "Some parents can't play with their kids like I can." Which is true. Maybe you had a surgery or you just aren't that young and aren't able to catch up. My kids are great in many ways. One of them being they are always giving me things to think about. This started me thinking.

Parenting is hard. We can all agree on that. All we ever do is deal with kids and when we have a moment, we just want to sit and enjoy it. The little ones are always there and they do not make things easier, that's for sure. But they still need us and play time is one of the best ways we can teach them. Over and over again when I go to the playgrounds that are popular and I see the same sight. Mom's and Dad's just sitting down and messing with their phone while the little ones run around in chaos. Of course, it is not everyone but this message isn't for the 25% (totally made up; number based on experience only) that do play and interact. This is for the phone moms and dads.

Most of the reason I go to this particular lonely park is because it is right next to my wife's work and we have 45 minutes to kill before we pick her up. The other is because I don't have to get weird looks from people sitting down while I am jumping around and playing in the sandbox. I have never liked putting myself in a position where people look at me so I like that I can play tag with the kids and run and slide down slides and jump off swings and...You get the picture. It allows me to act like a kid. You may not realize it but your kids are watching you. When they see you sitting on your phone ignoring everyone they will learn that it is OK to be that way. I think we can agree that is not what you want from your kids. You want them to be social and play with others. You don't want them sitting on the swings with their own phones Instagraming the sun and saying how awesome playing at the park is (which I have seen many time; seriously, anyone under the age of 13 DOES NOT NEED A SMART PHONE! But that's another post altogether). We want them to be friendly and not be afraid to play with other kids.

My point is that it is OK to play with your kids at the park. Let them see you having fun. Let them see you being silly. This is a moment where you can take a break from being mom or dad and be a friend. These little moments go a long way and when they are older they will remember it! Parenting is about having no regrets and raising our children the way they will look back and say, "Mom was so awesome. She was the one all the kids wanted to play with at the park." I am always certain to make moments and traditions that will last forever. When we go to the car; I will race them and sometimes I even let them win. When we are in elevators; I will tell them the elevator needs help and we need to push up with all our strength. These moments will be something my family will always cherish. Don't wait for your kids to create the good times...Create the good times for them.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Experience at the 18th Annual At-Home Dads Convention

Here I am sitting in Parent Hell. Yes I am referring to that parental terror also known as Chuck E. Cheese. It has been a week since the second day of 18th Annual At-Home Dads Convention. Actually, I'm not sitting, I'm standing, chasing down kids left and right. Chuck E. just came out and, while the kids do their dance, before the evil version of Mickey Mouse tosses a box full of tickets in the air causing an onslaught that reminds me of an episode of The Walking Dead, in which I'm not sure if my kids will come out with a hand full of tickets or a face full of tears, I am typing this. Now this isn't a day where we decided to take only our kids on a nice quiet weekday. This is Saturday for a birthday party. But in all fairness, the kids are having fun. They are smiling and being happy which, in spite of my disdain for the place, makes the trip worth it. It is a big difference to how my days were over one week ago.

My trip began at 3 am eastern time. I woke to my alarm and ate breakfast. Knowing I wouldn't be eating for a while, I ate some extra calories. Little did I know it still wouldn't be enough and would be eating again for nearly 10 hours. Everything worked out; my plane was on time and I made it on without issues, even after leaving my Fitbit on while going through security I still was in the air at a 6:50am. It was a quiet flight, after all it was really early and most people were asleep. Even the 2 people next to me. I stared out the window as we took off I noticed the sun beginning to rise, I was listening to m83 on the iPod and it had just began to play their song, "Wait." The brilliant colors of the sun coming over the horizon was the most amazing sight I have ever seen (aside from the birth of my kids). It seemed I was the only one to notice. A I am listening to this song I am overwhelmed by emotion. It reminds me it will be the first time in a very long time that my boys will wake up and their dad would not be there. I felt myself begin to tear up and I was sad that I couldn't be there for them in the morning.

"Send your dreams 
Where nobody hides 
Give your tear's
To the tide 
No time 
There's no end 
There is no goodbye 
With the night 
No time" - m83 - "Wait"

After spending the day in downtown Denver, after I finally found some food in downtown, I met up with Eric of Dad on the Run and Don Jackson of Daddy Newbie. It was great being able to hang out with 2 guys I felt I already knew because of Facebook. After about 30 minutes, my roommate and gracious host Al Watts arrived and I was finally able to get in a room and clean up. As a scholarship recipient, Al hosted me in his room without me having to cover any costs. I am still amazed and thankful for everything the National At-Home Dad Network (NAHDN) did to help me get out there. They covered flight, admission to the convention and even covered the cost for the Saturday dinner. After spending a few minutes in the room I met downstairs with Eric and Chris from DadNCharge. I then did something I have never really done before; walked to a bar for a few drinks. After a couple beers and meeting up with Trevor from OneSAHD, we headed back to the hotel for the meet up before we all headed to Lucky Strike.

We were like a gang, laughing and walking through LoDo. Probably around 20 of us all following everyone and no one, hoping at least one of us knew the way. Finally we arrived at Lucky Strike and had a fun time just talking and getting to know one another. I heard and had so many great conversations although the number one question of the night I heard was always, "How many kids do you have?" I had assumed my answer of four would raise some eyebrows but was pleasantly surprised to find many of us have more than 3 kids. It is something we all have in common. This pure love and emotional connection to our children. One isn't enough for us. I felt at home. Rarely was sports the major part of the conversation. Yes it was discussed but I never heard anyone push it like I hear when I talk to guys at bars that have no kids. It was always, kids, wives, housework and playgroups. Oh and poop...Of course. I had an amazing conversation with Chris Routly from Daddy Doctrines about web comics, kids TV and Breaking Bad. Made my night since I haven't talked to many other that have finished Breaking Bad and was able to have a spoiler filled conversation without holding back details and my true feelings about the show.

That night when I finally arrived late to the hotel I was surprised to find my roommate was not there yet; I figured he would have been asleep already since, being the president of the National At-Home Dad Network, he would have a busy day in the morning. He arrived not long after but this began one of my favorite parts of the convention; my nightly conversations with Al Watts. He, being a little older than me, had so much insight at what I am going through and put a lot of things in perspective. It was great talking about the convention, past conventions, future ones, Brian Dickson, how the scholarship works, ect. Learning how much goes in to putting this on made me want to be a part of it. It was the first night that I decided to volunteer to help with the scholarship committee with the hopes to help expand it and help other dads that have financial trouble to make the trip.

Early Friday many of us went to the Food Bank of the Rookies for a community service project and then after lunch the convention officially began.The speakers for the Friday were really great. We were introduced to Dr. Richard Mahogany and, followed by a great discussion with, Al, Hogan Hilling, Chris Routly and Doug French about empowering dads and leading the charge on breaking down negative stereotypes. Something we all deal with on a regular basis; people that don't understand why we are at home with the kids and not our wives. Two people that left a positive impression on me during the whole trip were women. Lisa Duggan and Stephanie Jelley from The Modern Village & Umojawa. They did a nice presentation on mindfulness and at every turn, whether speaking or just hanging around during a meet up, they were always helping us and inspiring us to be great dads.

Saturday began our keynote speaker (Dr. Harley Rotbart) and our breakout sessions. Dr. Rotbart blew me away. His book No Regret Parenting is all about creating those little moments in your kids lives that will stick with them for the rest of their life. It has been an eyeopener in the fact I realize I already do things like, every time we are in an elevator my kids and I will try to lift the elevator up or push it down. My kids always do it even when I'm not paying attention. Hearing what he had to say made me realize how important it is to always do that and make it a moment they expect and have fun with it.

After a great lunch provided by the breakouts began. I attended Returning to Work, At–Home Fitness, Infants & Toddlers, Marriage – Relationship . They all offered a great learning experiences but the one I enjoyed the most was the At-Home Fitness session. It made me realize how easy it can be to get in little workouts and still get stuff done. They actually had us doing the exercises so we can learn them before we take it back home and start to be more fit. 

The part of the whole convention that I enjoyed the most was the end. Not because I was happy it was over but because it offered the most emotion. Al Watts blew us all away with a powerful talk about his daughter and how her recent brush with death was a reminder about why he stays at home and why he helps run the NAHDN. The story had almost every man in that room tearing up. His daughter was horseback riding in Yellowstone and the horse she was riding stepped wrong and fell in a canyon with is 11 year old still on. She stopped around 150 feet down and was trapped there fro 4 hours waiting for helicopters to come and rescue her. I know we were all imagining that happening to our own kids. Afterward we watched a slideshow of pictures of our kids. Seeing all these happy faces of our kids was a bit overwhelming. Having just heard Al's story seeing picture of kids I recognized, kids that looked like guys I just met and then seeing my own brought tears to my eyes. All the pain I felt about leaving them was too much and I couldn't hold back. I don't think I have ever missed my kids more than that moment. 

During closing remarks, I was real proud of all the scholarship dads that stood up and thanked everyone for helping us get to the convention. It is extremely important for dads that are low income to attend something like this because we learn stuff we never would because we can't afford it. There are so many books and classes offered back home but because of our position we can't attend or buy the books. I am very happy we spoke up because it allowed us to put it out there that this scholarship is great and can be better if only we get the word out and bring in more funding to get more dads out to these conventions. I was nearly brought to tears when I heard of some dads, that didn't really know about the scholarship, decided that they would pay for a hotel room for next years recipients. I decided if I couldn't afford it next year, I would rather sit it out than to receive another scholarship and stop someone from missing out. If you can please donate to the scholarship fund and help as many dads as we can.

I guess it't time to close this. I want to thank a lot of people here. For Robb Tavill, thank you for all the work you did to get me out there. For Al Watts, thanks for hosting me at the last minute and for all the amazing conversations. They may have kept us up later than we should have but they were worth it. For Eric Boyette and Don Jackson for hanging out with me while I waited for Al to arrive. For James Kline, thank you for teaching me how to enjoy beer and for the great conversations we had, I can't wait for 2015/2016! For Greg Washington, thanks for being awesome and all the Facebook friend suggestions. For Michael Brown for the great conversation we had that left me feeling inspired about something I can barely remember, one too many beers I guess. And a big collective thanks to the following for just being awesome: Philip Andrew, Will Culp, Rich O'Dell, Ron Crouch, Bill Ekhardt, Justin Faucette, Joe Agro, Ryan Rippentrop, Lance Somerfeld, Doug French, Stephanie Jelley, Jim O'Dowd, Todd Matarazzo, Chris Routly, Lisa Duggan,  Jesse King, Hogan Hilling, Christian Toto, Michael Madsen, David Worford, Jarrod Hindman, Dr. Harley Rotbart, Nick Weber, Alberto Pellicer, Austin Dowd. For the convention sponsors: Huggies,,, Farmrich, The Modern Village, Umojawa,, DAD 2.0 Summit.

I know I missed a few people but if I talked to you and didn't mention you here it is because either we never friended each other on Facebook or I never got your name.

And a huge thanks to Richard Blake and all the other Denver dads for leading the charge on setting it all up!