C is for Capitalism

I’ve written here before about my sometimes cluttered and messy house. While I have been working on instilling a sense of responsibility in the girls, their compliance has been uneven. Some days they are extremely helpful while others they’re…well, just not. They’re still fairly young, and I am trying to keep my expectations realistic, but I don’t want them growing up thinking that someone else is going to do everything for them.

Sometimes, though, we accidentally hit upon something that motivates them. Like the Chore Tax.

On a day where Daughter #2 was being especially immobile, my wife said something to her out of frustration:

“I would like you to pick up the things we asked you to pick up.”

“No.”

“Okay, we’re taking a money out of your bank.”

We were amazed by how well this worked. After a look of horror on her face, she quickly performed the chore we asked her to do.

Of the two of them, no one is as enamored of money as Daughter #2. Maybe she understands how money works (that we need it for food, clothes, toys and special things like trips), and appreciates its value. Or maybe she just likes that it’s shiny a gets a kick out of hearing the coins go “clink!” in her bank after earning a quarter (or nickel, or whatever we have on hand). And the thought of money coming out of her bank instead of going in…well, that was just more than she could take.

Perhaps bribing your kids to do chores isn’t the best choice. I worry sometimes about creating an environment based on “what’s in it for me?” However, they’re a little young to simply be satisfied by a job well done. They’ll get there eventually. Besides, there is a lesson here as well–you have to do something in order to get something. And if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, there are consequences.

She’s Not As Crazy As I Thought She Was…

At first, I thought my wife was crazy.

She told me one weekend that she was headed to a consignment sale to buy things for the girls. USED things. I was dubious about what she’d find. I expected her to come home with little, if anything, at all.

Boy, was I wrong.

The entire back of the car was full. Bags of clothes. Giant plastic toys. Bags of other things I could not identify. My heart rate started to jump. What could she have possibly found that would prompt her to do this? And, more importantly, how much did she pay for all this stuff?

When she started to unload the car, though, I was amazed. This was most certainly not junk. These were brand-name items, and some of them looked barely used. Toys from Fisher-Price, Vtech, LeapFrog, Little Einstein. Clothes from the Children’s Place, the Gap, Old Navy, Ralph Lauren, Gymboree. There were board books (always a plus–the girls love being read to) and home safety items (outlet covers and the like), some of which were still in their original packaging.

Despite these amazing finds, I cringed at the thought of how much all of this cost. But my blood pressure lowered when I saw her receipt: everything, in total, was a little over a hundred bucks. I was dumbfounded.

So now, we look forward to sale season, every year, twice a year, wondering what treasures we might find. And there is one in particular that really gets us excited: the Just Between Friends Sale held in Glen Mills, PA.

About three years ago, we started consigning things ourselves as a way to make room for new things as the girls outgrew clothes, toys and other items. I have assisted my wife on drop-off day (the day before the presale where the consignors can shop), and I am always amazed when I walk in the door. Racks as long as football fields full of clothes from newborn to child to even some adult sizes. There is a table of books that is probably just as long. Behind those are shelving units of toys, carefully and neatly organized. Disney Princess? Sesame Street? Little People? No problem! There’s a rack for that.

Any new (or veteran) parent can find just about anything they need there, from a play yard with a napper for infants to board games you can play with your teens. Heck, there are even maternity clothes there if you’re just starting out! Believe me, after visiting the JBF sale, you’ll ask yourself why you would ever buy new again. And this is another thing I love about it–I think of all the plastic we’re keeping out of landfills by reusing items other families are finished with.

The key, I learned, is to know what you’re looking for, and to have the patience to find it. It also helps if you know how much things cost new. Case in point: my wife found a Step 2 play kitchen at one sale. Brand new, it goes for over $200. It was missing a few things, so she was able to get it for $15. I called Step 2, and for an additional $15, we were able to replace the drawer, decals, pots and pans, food, and phone. If we wanted to, we could have replaced all of the electronics for $40, but fortunately that wasn’t necessary. So, we essentially got a $200 kitchen for $30. And the girls love it.

So now, when my wife tells me she’s taking a vacation day to go to the presale, I hardly bat an eyelash. And I wonder what she’ll come home with. And with the great merchandise at great prices at the JBF consignment sale, I don’t have to worry about how we’re going to pay for it. We’ll just have to think about what to consign in order to make room for it all.

The Just Between Friends consignment sale takes place March 26-29 at the Brandywine Youth Club, 41 S. Thornton Road in Glen Mills, PA. Go to jbfsale.com for more information.

coupon spring Glen Mills 2015

Thank you

I didn’t know Oren Miller very well. I admit that I read a lot of his best and most memorable writing after his passing. But I will say this–it is quite possible that I would have abandoned this blog were it not for the encouragement of the wonderful community he helped to create. And for that, I am grateful. Thank you, Oren.

That is all.

Mystery Science Theater 2015

The girls have opinions. Lots of them. And they are not shy about sharing them. Unfortunately, this often takes the form of criticizing whatever it is they don’t like. Daughter #1 has strong opinions about what she is going to wear on any particular day. I can’t count the number of times we’ve had to tell her “No, sweetie, that dress has no sleeves. It’s winter” or “That’s not a dress. It’s a shirt. You need leggings to go with it.” Sometimes she avoids the argument altogether and just dresses herself, and I must admit that a lot of the time she does a pretty decent job of it.

Daughter #2’s opinions tend to come out at mealtime. She likes what she likes. Period. And getting her to try something new is often a battle royale. We try to keep it from becoming a fight, as she’s the kind of kid that, when confronted, will dig in and protest even louder. With gentle persuasion, though, we’ve gotten her to try a few new things, sometimes taking the form of “I don’t like this!” while she continues to eat it. Furthermore, on an unrelated note, you’d better not DARE sing along with a song on the radio or iPod–she will tell you about it. “NO! NO! NO SINGING!!” like Herbert’s father in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

Despite the pitfalls, one of the most satisfying things about being a parent has been listening to my children discover their personalities. And there is no place where this becomes more evident than when we are watching something.

The first time the girls watched “Frozen,” they were rooted to the ground, riveted by what they saw. Now, since we’ve owned the DVD for almost a year and watched it countless times, there is a constant running commentary during every showing. “There’s the Yuck Guy! He makes bad choices,” they say whenever they see Prince Hans on the screen. They’ve even taken to naming his horse “Mr. Crankypants.” And a screening of “Beauty and the Beast” yielded the comment “Gaston is bringing the badness.”

This kind of commentary has even spilled over into the other things we’ll watch. When watching sporting events, they will often refer to the opposing team as “the Bad Guys.” During a basketball game she was watching with me, Daughter #1 told me “I don’t like those Bad Guys. I’m gonna throw them in jail with the Yuck Guy!” The girls have also said similar things during football and baseball games, as well, and this should give you an idea of the kinds of comments we heard during the Super Bowl.

However, it isn’t all snark. Daughter #1 in particular has expressed a great capacity for empathy. Elsa alone on the mountain has elicited “Elsa looks sad. I would give her a hug and make her happy.” Those heartbreaking commercials with suffering shelter pets has her saying things like “That doggie looks sad. I’ll make a house for him and he needs some buddies and a blanket and he can play and be happy.” And it’s been amazing to see her put these words into actions. She will often be the one approaching kids playing by themselves to see if they want to play with her. She will share the good things about her day with anyone who will listen because I get the feeling she wants them to be as happy as she is. As a parent, I am very often my own worst critic, but when I see my kids doing that, I definitely feel as though I am doing something right. And when I hear their running commentary during a movie or show, I’d like to think I’ve done my job encouraging them to watch with a critical eye.

Pretty Good Year

I stole this meme from another blogger friend of mine, and since it’s been about a month since the last time I posted anything, I figured this is a good place to start to get the writing juices flowing again.

1. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?
We did some traveling to places we’ve never been before. We went to Rehoboth Beach with the kids (well, my wife has been there before, but it was the first time for me and the girls), and we went to Montreal for a long weekend without the kids.

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don’t think I made any resolutions for 2014. I did, however, make some for this year.

3. Did someone close to you give birth?
My cousin’s daughter gave birth. My cousin, who is only a year older than me, is now a grandfather.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No.

5. What countries did you visit?
As mentioned before, we went to Canada this summer.

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?
More “us” time for me and my wife. This is one of the aforementioned resolutions. And more non-dad time for me, whenever possible.

7. What date from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
March 18. My wife came home from work early, and after dinner we curled up on the sofa with the girls to watch Frozen for the first time. We had no idea at the time what a game-changer it would be.

8. What was your biggest achievement(s) of the year?
Starting (or rather, re-launching) this blog. I used to do it on a somewhat regular basis about 10-12 years ago or so, but time grew shorter, demands on my time grew greater, and I stopped doing it in favor of things like Facebook posts. However, I missed the the depth of analysis of situations that longer-form blogging provided. That, and I seriously needed a creative outlet to feel more like me and less like “#1 and #2’s dad.”

9. What was your biggest failure(s)?
Losing my patience too often, especuially with the kids. That, and not taking proper care of myself, which led to stress, which led to me losing my patience too often.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing earth-shattering, although I did have a cold with sinus issues that helped spoil some of the holiday events we had planned in December.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
A new TV in the bedroom. I know the research says you shouldn’t watch TV in bed, but we tend to put something on that we like, turn it off when it’s finished, and go to sleep. Sometimes.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My wife, for enduring a tough situation at work that was followed by a new position with new (and better) challenges. That, and she had to put up with my hand-wringing angst all year.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
My own. I look at how I dealt with some of the situations this past year and I say to myself “Really?!?!”

14. Where did most of your money go?
The mortgage, regular bills, and the girls.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Getting Daughter #2 to use the potty after months of ambivalence. Of course, we had no idea that this was going to be a long, protracted process that we’re still dealing with today (we’re very close, though).

16. What songs will always remind you of 2014?
“Let It Go,” naturally. That, and “Happy” (as it’s one of the only songs that will keep Daughter #2 on the potty–see #15).

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? Hard to say. There have been ups and downs.
ii. thinner or fatter? Fatter. I’ve got to get back to the gym and clean up the diet.
iii. richer or poorer? Probably about the same.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Looking at the positive in every situation.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Stressing out about things that are out of my control for the most part.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Christmas for us is a multi-day, multi-stage process. We started off at home for a quick breakfast, then it was on to my mother-in-law’s house to see what Santa brought the girls (since he drops his presents for our out-of-state niece there, he just saves himself a trip and drops the girls’ gifts there, too). We then moved on to my wife’s aunt’s house for brunch and more family gifts, and then back to my mother-in-law’s house for some grown-up gifts and stockings while the kids napped. This was followed by dinner and the trek back to our house.

The next day, we did the same thing at my father-in-law’s house, only this time we came over for breakfast. then, a week later, we did the same thing with my side of the family at my sister’s house, only this time it was for lunch.

21. Did you fall in love in 2014?
No, I was already in love.

22. What is your favorite photo from 2014?
The girls, holding hands, from their birthday photos.

23. What lesson did you learn about yourself?
That I’m really not wired to “wing it.” I do much better with a solid, organized plan.

24. If you had more time to invest in this past year what would you do with it?
I would listen to more music. I don’t get a say on what we listen to in the car any more, which was my previous sanctuary, so I need to remember to have my iPod and headphones for my rare kid-free moments.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
I think hate is such a strong word, but I’ll say this: if all the stuff about Bill Cosby turns out to be true, I am going to be incredibly saddened and disappointed.

26. What was the best book you read?
Lions, Tigers and Bears by George Takei. I’ve read pitifully few books this past  year. Another resolution, perhaps?

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
The Division Bell. It sounds far more like the Pink Floyd of old than Momentary Lapse of Reason ever did. It’s a shame it took me 20 years to pick it up.

28. What did you want and get?
More non-kid time, although I didn’t get that until September. Don’t get me wrong–I love my girls, but I’m the kind of person who needs a little alone time to regroup and digest situations.

29. What did you want and not get?
A clean house (I have a whole separate blog post on this one).

30. Favorite film of this year?
I don’t think we made it to a theater this year. As far as home video viewing goes, Frozen did not disappoint.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 43 last year, and we celebrated by going to Shady Maple Smorgasbord for breakfast.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Better weather. Although the summer wasn’t too hot, the winter was brutal. I realize I’m wishing for something that is beyond my control, but just sayin’.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
Don Johnson Ain’t Got Nothing On Me. I didn’t shave very often. I’d give it up completely if I didn’t look so silly with a beard. That, and the girls don’t like it all that much.

34. What kept you sane?
Blogging. That, and the network of fellow bloggers I’ve found. Also, my kids–yes, the sources of a lot of my insanity help keep me sane.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Mike Rowe.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
I tend to keep my political views private, thankyouverymuch.

37. Who did you miss?
Oddly enough, Joan Rivers.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Rojeania. I knew her from Usenet a lifetime ago, but I really got to know her this past year. She’s a fellow blogger, and has been a great cheerleader for my blog. Thank you.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014?
CTFD – Calm The F— Down.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
“My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around.” I know it may be a bit cliché, but I’ve liked that line since the first time I heard it, and this was definitely the year of Elsa.

Everybody loves you when you’re bi…

When I was in 6th grade, I began having trouble seeing what was written on the blackboard from my seat. I was the kind of kid, though, that would just work around the problem rather than solve it, or even ask whether there was problem in the first place. If I couldn’t read something, I would either write down what I thought it was (which was often incorrect), or I would just skip it altogether. As you might have guessed, this had a negative impact on my grades. My Social Studies teacher, who knew I was no slouch, noticed this downward trend, and after a conference with me and my parents, I ended up getting glasses. I didn’t mind wearing them–unlike Jan Brady, I didn’t view it as some sort of horrible cross to bear. They improved my vision and, subsequently, my grades. It was a win-win.

My glasses took on several iterations. First came the plastic frames and, being a middle-school boy and somewhat accident-prone, I was often unintentionally hard on them. This would frequently lead to the “spaz” look of tape on the frames to hold them together until my parents could order me new ones, but this would sometimes be several weeks, or even months. After a while, though, my parents tired of having to replace my glasses so often, and my next pair had metal frames. Not just any metal frames–these were the heavy, industrial-strength, will-hang-out-with-the-cockroaches-after-the-apocalypse frames. This pair, while not attractive, lasted me through to my senior year of high school. However, the lenses were glass, which would become quite heavy (these were the days before scratch-resistant plastic), and were sometimes a bit painful to wear. It was during these times that, like Jan Brady, my glasses did become a bit of a burden–I got the whole “not making passes at guys who wear glasses” thing.

Once I was working, I was able to afford my own glasses and own frames, and was free to pick out sleeker, more stylish, and lighter-weight pairs. Then, my wife introduced me to the world of contact lenses, and I was free to wear sunglasses again (a major plus while driving), and not have to worry about so much wear and tear on my long-suffering glasses. Moving to contacts brought in a whole other category of expenses (lenses, cases, contact solution, etc.), but it was worth it to not have to worry about the prospect of another broken pair.

This went on happily for about fifteen years or so. And then something happened.

One afternoon when I was doing laundry, I went to look at the care instructions on a tag for a piece of clothing I had never washed before. And I found that I couldn’t read it. I turned on a light and backed it away from my eyes a bit, which helped, and I didn’t think anything of it. Until it happened again. And again. And with things that weren’t laundry tags–books, instructions for putting my kids’ toys together, texts I receive on my phone.

I brought this up with my eye doctor during my next visit, and she adjusted the power of my contact lenses and glasses. However, when I went to order my glasses, the technician gave me a bit of a shock:

“So, do you want progressive bifocals or traditional ones?”

Bifocals. This was something my eye doctor hadn’t mentioned. I feel like nothing says you’re over 40 quite like bifocals. However, I knew that this was not a condition that was going to get any better (if anything it was getting worse), so I swallowed my pride and said “progressive, please.”

If you’ve never worn bifocals before, let me explain the experience: for the first week or so, it feels like you’re experiencing a constant state of vertigo as your eyes try to focus on everything all at once. After a while, though, my eyes adjusted, and I figured out where to look and how to tilt my head in order to best focus on faces and text. Now it’s very natural.

For my girls, it has been a source of unending amusement when I wear my glasses for long periods. “What are you doin’ with those weird glasses on?” Daughter #1 will tease. “It’s not bedtime!” I explain to her that they help me see better, sometimes better than with my lenses in. At my most recent eye exam, the doctor made further adjustments to my contact lenses, so this may change. In the meantime, though, I will continue to (happily) be the butt of their jokes. And I have a feeling that, given how much they love their books (and because of our family’s eyesight history), we will probably be visiting an eye doctor with them in about six or seven years. And then it will be a waiting game to see how long before they ask for contacts.

What a beautiful mess I’m in…

image

My house is a little bit messy. I’m just going to come out and say it.

When we bought our house, we were working from the “five-year plan” mentality–we could stay here for about five years and maybe one kid, and then we’d see if we can move on to something bigger/better/closer to family/closer to jobs/etc. Well, twelve and a half years and two kids later, we’re still here. And we’re a little crowded.

At first, we were hit with the invasion of the Big Plastic Toys when the girls were very little: bouncers, exer-saucers, play yards, and the like. Now that they’re older, we’ve been inundated with the Smaller Toys With a Million Parts: Barbies with a zillion outfits and shoes, puzzles, art supplies, trains, a kitchen with pots and pans and food, and little toy cars to name a few. Even though the size of the toys have gone down, the volume has remained roughly the same.

Don’t get me wrong–our kids aren’t spoiled, and they don’t get everything they want all the time, as tempting as it might be to do so sometimes. We’ve also been teaching them the value of charity, and how it’s good to give some of the older toys they don’t play with any more to children who aren’t as fortunate (Daughter #1 has particularly taken this to heart, and gives willingly and gladly). This also helps to make room for the newer, more age-appropriate toys.

The biggest issue we encounter is the fact that, because we’re still in our Five Year Plan house, there’s just not a huge amount of space. Our public spaces tend to be play spaces for the girls as well, in spite of efforts to try and keep them separate. They’re still a little too little to play completely on their own and unsupervised in their rooms (particularly Daughter #2), so having the play space in the living room isn’t the worst thing, either, from a being-a-responsible-parent standpoint.

While I’ve been trying to instill in them a sense of responsibility for their things, I have to keep in mind that they’re only 3 and 4, and that I need to keep my expectations realistic. The girls have gotten better about it, but even so, there tends to be stuff everywhere. And, very often, I run out of time by the end of the day to get it all cleaned, straightened, washed, folded, and put away. It’s been a constant battle.

I try to stay positive and philosophical about it, but it isn’t easy. I tend to vacillate between “Oh, at least the kids are happy, who cares if the house is a little messy?” and “I am never getting out from under this. EVER.” At the end of the day, though, all I can do is chip away at it, do as much as I can do in the course of a day with everything else going on, and try not to let it bother me too much.

That is, of course, until something goes wrong and we have to call on a professional to fix something in our house.

One night, two of the electrical outlets in Daughter #1’s room stopped working rather suddenly. I went down to the breaker box to find that no breakers had tripped, so I contacted a local electrician who said he would come out the next day to look at it. After texting him my appreciation, I put away my phone, and looked up.

Oh, dear Lord, I thought. I’ve gotta do some cleaning!

The day he was scheduled to come, I quickly swept up the clutter on the living room floor and sorted it back where it went (with help from the girls and my wife). I raced upstairs to remove the random detritus on our upstairs landing/laundry area (if for no other reason than to give him a clear path to my daughter’s room). I gathered loose paperwork together and at least stacked it in neat piles. I got the dishes out of the sink and into the dishwasher. Daughter #1 and I got her room in some semblance of order (which ended up lacking a point, as we had to move a lot of things around in order for the electrician to check all the outlets).

Once the work was completed, and the electrician had left, I looked around once again. And suddenly the task of cleaning and organizing the house didn’t feel all that daunting. When amply motivated, great things can happen. Sure, I still have my moments of despair about the things I ran out of time to tackle during the course of the day, but it didn’t seem quite so overwhelming any more.

So let me ask you this: what are some of the strategies you employ in order to keep the clutter under control? Feel free to comment here or on the Dad Bloggers Facebook page.