“Dad, Are You A Cripple?”

Dad, are you a cripple?

Your kids will ask searingly direct questions and you’re liable to be placed on an uncomfortable seat, as I was tonight.

For the record, I’ve got a bad leg subsequent to a long-ago battle with cancer.  The good new is you’ll survive but the bad news…

This question was in response to my having to take a cane along for a scouting event.  I’ve used it on very rare occasions, but today was a bad one for that particular limb so I took it just in case.  As we talked on the way home, I was initially struck since I’ve never thought of myself in that light.  I stumbled on a response and decided to walk with him through the question and what it meant.  No, I can rarely wrestle with the kids anymore because of frequent cramping.  No, I can’t run anymore either.  He knows that when he wants to sit on my lap that he has to approach from a particular side.  And depending on how it feels on a particular day, I might have a pronounced limp.  While my initial impulse was to deny it, I had to finally acknowledge that in some ways, I was crippled.  It was a painful moment.

Young children can’t discern the vagaries of political correctness.  They deal directly in the here and now.  Since the examples that he can comprehend clearly show a physical inability because of a specific problem, then what’s the real value in muddying the waters while protecting my pride?  What it also means however, is that I’ll have further conversations with him about all of the things that I can do in spite of the leg.  And while I have the issues, it doesn’t mean that I’m incapable of doing anything.  In other words, I’ll make an effort to merge direct language with the good intent of political correctness.

Obama’s Speech to (My) Kids:  A PracticalDad Perspective

After all of the hoopla about the positives and negatives of President Obama’s speech to schoolkids today, I took the opportunity to read the president’s transcript.

And I’m actually going to discuss it with them this evening at dinner and reinforce his remarks.  Frankly, the content of the speech is refreshing in that it places some of the responsibility of learning on students themselves instead of focusing solely on teacher ratios or education spending.  Enough – too much – has been said about the failings of the educational system with the root causes being ascribed to:

  • broken families;
  • lack of economic opportunities;
  • inadequate resources, despite per capita spending among the highest in the world;
  • too few teachers;
  • inadequate diet;
  • other factors, depending on your political bent.

But it’s been in the past 18 months that I’ve begun to hear of the need for parents to become more involved and push the value of education.  And now the kids are being reminded that, like life, much of what they get from education is what they make of it themselves. 

It’s also a generational wake-up call for them, even if they don’t realize it.  Our nation is past the point of being able to support all of the promises that have been made to the citizenry and I believe that the generational groundwork is now being sown so that the kids understand there won’t be the financial support that was promised to the Baby Boomers and other adults.  Today’s kids are going to have to be able to compete globally and won’t be able to depend upon the government for its largesse.

For those who argue that this speech is a veiled attempt at political indocrination, I would point out the following.  Children and teens are, by nature, optimists and willing to trust those whom their parents distrust, especially someone who occupies the Oval Office.  And this is a generation noted for it’s unawareness of the greater social/political debate; many are unable to even name their Congressmen and Senators.  So are they really going to be able to read between lines like an experienced politics watcher? 

I highly doubt it.

This is language that actually reinforces what I’ve been telling the older kids for a few years now.  And I’m glad to have someone with some fame and power support me so I’m going to take this big, fat ball and run with it as far as I possibly can.


Do I Include Morality When Answering a Child’s Question About Sex?

When I’m answering one of my kid’s questions about sex, should I include something moral in the answer?

Stunned is too strong, but I was truly surprised to hear the question from a female friend some time ago.  One of her elementary-age children asked a question about sex and she was curious as to whether I thought that it was appropriate to include some moral commentary.  Absolutely, every chance you get was my response.

Kids are going to ask questions about the human body and sex and that’s exactly what you want to happen.  When the kids are younger, the questions will pertain to the human body and its parts.  And as they age and are exposed to other kids and media, the questions will shift to sex.  The body questions are easy and the best response is a simple straightforward answer using the proper terminology.  Because you don’t want kids to view the body as something evil or sinful, you might want to consider the question before inserting any moral statements.  A breast is a breast as far as a six-year old is concerned.

Sex questions however, are more uncomfortable for the parent and there can be a burning desire to give a quick answer with a move onwards to other topics.  Like cooking shows.  But it’s vital to answer the questions in as straightforward language as possible and since you might never discover the question’s source, it’s imperative to let your child know your moral stance.  Dad, what’s a "friend with benefits"?  After giving the answer – a platonic friend who extends sexual activity – let your child know what you think of it.  Be clear and most importantly, be calm, even if your head is ready to explode.  They’re listening and this is a key opportunity to counter whatever is being said by their peers in the locker room or hallway.  I doubt that a testosterone-addled teen is concerned with the feelings or reputation of another teen so you have to take the opportunity presented to get your message across.

Kids and Dirty Humor

What do you do when the kids are coming home with dirty jokes?  This is especially a question that arises with pubescent boys, but it can also crop up more frequently with the girls, and one that my wife and I wrestled with before reaching a compromise.

With the prevalence of electronic media, things today are definitely more raw than when I was a kid.  Jokes are cruder and the ability to see questionable sights and actions on Youtube means that the exposure is wider than two decades ago.  So what do you do with that?

My wife grew up in a family that taught the value of good manners and raised the kids to appreciate finer things.  I grew up in a family that laughed at fart jokes at the dinner table.  And as our kids have grown and come home from school, we’ve not always agreed on how to handle things. 

So what do we do?

  • Highlight the concept of time and place with the kids.  I can’t control what Middle says to his friends in the locker room, but I can control what’s said in the house and at public venues.  There are appropriate times and places to pass along dirty jokes but at the table or in front of the grandparents is neither and is unacceptable.  It’s proven to be a long. long conversation but one that is sinking in as he’s learned the value of self-censorship and has actively refrained from off-color comments.
  • Assure that the kids know that I’m the guy that wants to hear the jokes.  Yes, I like adult humor – within reason – and I appreciate a joke as much as anybody.  And kids do want to share these with their parents, whether the parents realize it or not.  They might understand that Mom and Dad might kill them, but they do want to share.  In our household, Mom isn’t the person for that.
  • Hearing it also gives me the opportunity to see where they’re at in terms of understanding the human body, sexuality and topical events.  I can laugh, but they know that I’ll sometimes ask questions to gauge their understanding of what’s really been said and will even explain or correct misinformation and misunderstandings. 
  • I frequently use these jokes as an opportunity to discuss morality and treatment of one another.  So that’s what the joke’s referring to.  Is that a way that you’d want to be treated?  Or see a member of your family treated?  You might think that they’re tuning you out, but they really are listening and you have to grab every opportunity you can.
  • Hearing it also helps to push the idea of time and place.  There have been jokes that I’ve had to explain and then make sure that they understand why certain jokes can’t ever see the light of day again.  And frankly, there have been jokes and comments that they’re horrified that they’ve made once they understand the full meaning.

You have to accept certain premises to make this work, however.  You have to be able to control your reaction so that the kid isn’t terrified of your response.  And you have to be willing to speak frankly about sex and the body, especially in proper terminology.  Using slang in this situation runs the risk of shifting you from the father/parent role to that of a buddy or someone on the kid’s level, which isn’t what you want in this situation.

So enjoy a good laugh when the kids brings home a dirty joke.  But be sure to monitor your reaction and be ready to talk about it further.

Kids and Caring for Equipment

Our kids learn a huge amount from us and sometimes the best lessons are ones in which we wind up looking like complete idiots.  A case in point is what happens when you don’t pay attention to the cleaning – or any other – equipment that we use around the house.  Specifically, a vacuum cleaner.

For years, we owned and used a Hoover upright vacuum cleaner.  I was familiar with the sound of the motor as an indication that the bag was filling, and I periodically checked regardless even if it sounded alright.  With a shaggy dog and multiple cats, it was necessary.  But as the kids started to use the vacuum to help with the cleaning, I paid less attention.  I mentioned – although they’ll deny that I did – that you have to listen to the motor, but earbuds interfered or the radio was turned up or they just weren’t familiar with the sound of a straining motor.  And the bag filled with my assuming that it was being checked.

Until a few months ago when I found that the vacuum literally wasn’t even picking up a wad of doghair.  I pulled the cover and found the bag was full.  And then pulled the bag out to discover the hoses were clogged with hair and debris, so much so that even with dismantling the vacuum, I was unable to reach debris pockets that continued to clog the device.  The result was a discarded Hoover and a new Bissell.  What pulled me to this new vacuum wasn’t the manufacturer but that it had a clear tank in which you could see the dirt and debris so that  you knew when it needed to be emptied.  So now the kids were able to clearly tell that the vacuum canister was full and could empty it.

But as miffed as I was at having to buy a new appliance for a bad reason, I had to stifle myself since this one was on me.  Why?

  • I’ve routinely done the vacuuming – and other cleaning – when they’re not around and they haven’t had the visual osmosis of seeing Dad follow the routine.  Kids learn a lot by observation and they’ll form the habit of doing things from just growing up watching you.
  • I forgot that kids need to be constantly reminded and aren’t always dependable.  I assumed that because I mentioned it, that it was done.  Don’t forget to check the bag when you’re done.  Did you check the bag when you were finished?  Expect them to squawk and roll their eyes in exasperation, but keep it up or else you live with the results.
  • I wasn’t the adult and simply didn’t even check the damned thing myself and assumed that it was in decent shape.  Attention to detail is a learned trait and one that they have to pick up from the adults in their lives.  In this case, it wasn’t me.

So I’ve had a good kick in the mental butt about my responsibilities.  There are some other areas in which I’ve had to check myself to counter parental laziness and pick up the slack.

Now I have to remind them to actually look at the clear tank canister on the vacuum cleaner.