Why I Probably Won’t Play With Your Kid

Note: I wrote this in 2010, when my son was barely six years old.

This may seem heartless or callous to some, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately.

I enjoy hanging out with my son. Whether we’re building things with Legos, folding complex paper airplanes, or just exploring streets deserted by builders caught in a recession, he’s a positive presence in my life. Heck, I even like doing math flashcards with him. Listening to him read? Goes without saying. Sheer delight.

The moment another child is added into the mix, with rare situational exceptions, my interest plummets to zero.

I think this is because in all my 30 years prior to having my own child, I had no interest in children. Perhaps because I was the youngest in my family (that I saw frequently), I didn’t have any experience with children until the birth of our son. I know many men fit that description, but I also see several who possess a seemingly innate ability to jump in with a group of kids and know what to do.

Whatever it is, I don’t seem to have it.

Sometimes it troubles me, but mostly I just let it roll. When my son has a peer over to our house, or we visit one of his friends, I immediately consider it his free time to interact with someone his own age. I am sure I will feel differently in the future, based on what numerous empty-nesters have told me, but for now I just switch into grown-up mode (I didn’t say mature) and cherish the time we adults enjoy covering topics and humor we reserve for just such moments.

Maybe it’s a general social attitude. Superficial social situations do not appeal to me, and I always have preferred small get-togethers over large parties. For the most part, if I can’t hang out with people I really have an interest in and/or care for, I prefer being alone. This intensifies when it comes to children, requiring actual blood relation to get my interest.

Even that doesn’t always help.

I applaud those men who jump in there and become one of the kids. I guess I’m just a stick in the mud.

A Dad Who Left Early

We lost a great dad this week. His name was Steve Caffey.

When I first saw Steve, probably at Christmas in 1992, I thought, “Wow, that guy needs to wash his hands.” Then I learned he was a mechanic, and realized he probably had washed them more times that day than I would wash mine in a week.

I also learned that he had a youthful energy many his age could only hope to possess. At family holidays, he constantly interacted with children — his own and others’. He made them smile, and they returned the favor.

When my wife and I had a child of our own, I started understanding Steve a little better — why he rolled around on the floor with the kids, and played peekaboo.

It was because he loved being a dad.

I spent some time with Steve outside family holidays. I saw his Coca-Cola collection and the animal sculptures he created with concrete and incorporated into parts of their fence. I saw cannibalized remains of laptop computers in various states of disrepair.

He always had his hands in something, but there was nothing like watching him under the hood.

The few times I stood watching him work on my car, it was obvious he knew what he was doing. He was skinny, but deceptively strong. He could quickly reach and work on parts when others might have to spend hours clearing a path. He could tell me in about two minutes what was wrong with my car, if that long.

One time I rode in his truck with him to take Stephanie to a friend’s house. He spoke of his colorful past, which I won’t try to repeat here. I’ll just say that we both ended up starting sentences with “back in my day..” and sounded like old men, but his stories were much more interesting than mine.

Through all that, I still feel like I only caught a glimpse of who Steve was. During the last several visits to Tulsa, I didn’t see him, but I saw his and Johnna’s children. When they were babies I wasn’t very interested, but now they’ve become some of my favorite folks, always warm and welcoming.

Just like Steve.

His children have set up a site to raise money for the funeral services. If you can help at all, it would be hugely appreciated.

Are We in the Jerk Store?

The only customer in the shop, I stood waiting for the nice lady behind the counter to fill my meager order: one white creme-filled donut and two glazed cinnamon twists.

Behind me, the donut shop’s front door swung open with a resounding “ding” and in stepped a graying man, sharply dressed, with two small children flanking him.  Also wearing their Sunday best, they rushed passed him, straight for the counter.  Their dress shoes skidded across the slick vinyl floor.

“Now, remember, one dollar each,” he called after them.

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Woman, Wife, Mom

In the nearly 11 years we were married before you became a mother, I simply knew you as Shannon, and Mother’s Day was a time to buy my mom a card and maybe call her.

When you and I met, we hit it off quickly, and got married sooner than many thought was advisable — including my aforementioned mother.

(click any pic to enlarge)

Roller skatingWhile we didn’t agree with that assessment, we knew we didn’t need to throw a child into the mix immediately. We were never quite where we wanted to be financially, but who ever is? Through the next decade we brought up our sweet dog Lexie from a four-week old pup. Although we learned a few things about taking turns with pet care, and loved her very much, the challenges of taking care of her didn’t even hint at what was to come. We knew that, and so we waited.

Regardless of the various reasons, they all added up to our waiting more than a decade to have a child. We might not have learned much about child rearing, but we learned a lot about one another. Many are thrust into parenthood before they have had a chance to get their bearings as a couple, let alone keep another human being alive with any sense of grace or confidence.

Still not sure we’ve mastered that last part, but who ever does?

Chaperoning a school field tripWhen I think back now I have a hard time recalling what we did before we were parents. Watched a lot more TV, for the most part. Those VHS tapes labeled for each day of the week were ample evidence of that.

Back then, you were my wife. Now, instead of becoming your mom or my mom, you’re the kind of mom our home needs. I am proud for anyone to meet you and our son.

Sure, I’ve always done my share of the parenting, but you are the one who gets him off to school in the morning, and manages him during homework time. You spend the most time making sure he becomes an independent, responsible man. While doing all that you manage our home.

Creating at the Perot MuseumWhen we met I knew you were beautiful, funny, smart, and caring. Soon I knew we had a lot in common, and that I loved you, and you were a great woman. When I married you, you became a great wife. Now you are a great mom, and that has revealed depth in your strength and character that I might never have known otherwise.

How lucky was I that the woman I chose (and who chose me!) happened to thrive on being a caring mother to our son?

Happy Mother’s Day!

Fighting Attention Problems

We have stopped using the TV at our house on weeknights. Well, let me back up a step. We do not turn on the television before our son goes to bed.

Baby steps, people.

This is part of our effort to hit our son’s attention deficit disorder (ADD) from the environmental angle. Included in that is controlling things in his diet like artificial colors and added sweeteners (natural and artificial). I’m not saying we have completely cut those things, but when even my wife is reading ingredient labels before purchasing, I know we’re making progress.

After just one week, his bedtimes already have gone more smoothly.

I am proud to say, also, that the few times he has emerged from his bedroom this week to use the bathroom, he has looked down the hallway to catch us reading and playing Solitaire, not watching TV. It surely must be easier to enforce a rule when you yourself follow it.

Easier, too, when favorite shows like “Downton Abbey” and “Breaking Bad” are not showing new episodes.

It isn’t that we planted our son in front of the television or stuffed him with Skittles prior to these intiatives. On the contrary, he always prefers playing with friends in the neighborhood over anything else, and rarely eats candy. Sometimes, however, we would allow television after school if he had all his homework done and there was nobody available to play with him. From the food angle, I was surprised at some products that use artificial colors.

I also don’t want to come across as saying that TV causes attention problems, although there are conflicting rather than consensual reports on that claim. This seems to hinge on what age the television watching begins. I certainly believe it can aggravate what’s already there, and that for some children (and adults!) it is an unhealthy reprieve from real life. It’s one thing for an adult to use it as an occasional escape, versus letting children camp out in front of it before they have developed reading comprehension and social skills.

I had read at least 10 years ago that watching television stimulates the brain in ways that are not always conducive to calm behavior. Between then and now I also saw studies on artificial colors causing problems for those already predisposed to attention deficit, not to mention the potential cancer-causing effects. We decided to eliminate TV on school nights after a friend did the same and saw positive results in her ADD-afflicted son. Similarly, we started paying more attention to food labels after more than one friend saw fewer attention problems in their children.

We may not be trailblazers, but at least we try to be picky about whom we follow.

That brings me to whom the United States should follow. Why not err on the side of caution, as do many European countries? For one, Kraft Mac & Cheese in the United Kingdom is sold without artificial colors, but in the United States it is loaded with them. Likewise with M&M’s. If they consume these products in other countries, then what makes manufacturers think Americans wouldn’t?

Some companies are responding to consumers’ health concerns — sort of. For one, PepsiCo, already not using brominated vegetable oil (BVO) in Gatorade sold in Europe and Japan, has decided to pull the ingredient from that product in the United States. Sadly, however, they are replacing it with another artificial ingredient (sucrose acetate isobutyrate) that presents its own problems. That doesn’t impact our family because we don’t use Gatorade, but it is a good example of how hard it is to convince companies to go all the way with their efforts.

Aside from using only fresh ingredients and making everything from scratch (just not going to happen in our home), controlling what our family ingests is difficult, and I believe that companies already selling products without artificial ingredients in other countries should do better in the United States.

As far as television viewing time? That is strictly up to parents.

We’re just taking both of these problems day by day.

Further Reading:

Artificial Colors Linked to Behavior Problems in Children (2011)

F.D.A. Panel to Consider Warnings for Artificial Food Colorings (2011)

Food Dyes Suspected of Causing Behavioral Problems in Kids (2012)

PepsiCo Will Halt Use of Additive in Gatorade (2013)

Fixated by Screens, but Seemingly Nothing Else (2011)

There Is No Meaningful Relationship Between Television Exposure and Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Study Finds Link Between Television Viewing And Attention Problems In Children (2004)