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Category Archives: Comfort Zones

Pine-sol be Damned!

When we’re married, we each take on different roles within the relationship. Usually some are more stereotypical than others. When I was married, for example, my wife was the one who focused a lot of attention on the state of the household. If it got messy I may have noticed, but it didn’t stress me out. It did however have the potential to affect my ex’s mood. This was especially true when there were socks, shoes, pants, shorts, toys, games, underwear, empty water pouches, legos, cereal bar wrappers, candy wrappers etc. strewn
pine-sol throughout the house. (The kids were even worse). Regardless, I never fully appreciated this fact until I became a single father.

When the duty of keeping up with the house was squarely on my shoulders, I greeted it with ignorant bliss. “How hard can this be?!!!” I said. What was the big deal? Finally I’d have the chance to let our house be a home. No more nagging about picking up things, bottle caps on the counter, a stray potato chip on the floor, jackets hung on the chair; who cares! Pine-sol be damned!

Then, as life continued to take my schedule to higher, more deafening levels, I started to notice that I would become increasingly annoyed by the smallest of specs on the floor. A dog hair on the couch, Barbies in every room of the house, finding ten towels in a bedroom, or dishes under a bed. All of it really started to get under my skin. It was insanity … INSANITY I SAY!

What was happening to me? Who was I? I heard myself saying things I’d only heard my mother say. (OK … and my ex-wife). The stress of keeping up with every aspect of my life only to come home to a mess was starting to get to me and it was only a matter of time before something had to give.

That’s when I had a breakthrough. The reality is, for me anyway, that it’s not so much about the house being clean as it is about my life being in order. A recent rain day tells the story perfectly. Between softball, soccer, a full time job, freelance projects, personal time etc., a lot of things had fallen by the waist side and I felt completely buried. I felt beyond overwhelmed and for the first time in my life, I was embarrassed to allow any of my kids’ friends into the house because of the shape it was in.

Then one Saturday, a heavy rain cancelled a full day of sporting events. And so, the kids and I took advantage of the day to tackle the house. Everything else was put on the back burner. Work, sports, friends, all of it. The kids took on their rooms and helped wipe things down and clean windows. I began to purge all the extra “stuff” that had accumulated on the counters, on chairs, dressers etc. And together we reclaimed the house.

It is impossible to explain to you the difference it made having the house put together. Mind you, it wasn’t perfect, and still isn’t for that matter. But for the most part, it was much more presentable, comfortable, much
MV5BMTE5Njk5MzUyNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwODY2NDM2._V1._SX450_SY518_less cluttered and frankly felt more homey. Even the kids took notice. Oddly enough it was my son who walked by the Pine-sol loaded sink proclaiming, “I LOVE that smell!

For me, the true value was what it did to my mental state. The foundation of order had been set. And suddenly all the other life stuff felt manageable for the simple reason that my home base was in order. It no longer felt like my entire world was unraveling. It honestly felt like clearing the clutter within our house, helped clear the clutter in my head if that makes any sense.

As a single parent, whether you have the kids every other weekend or if you happen to be the primary, life takes on a whole new level of craziness when it’s all on you, especially after you’ve been accustomed to sharing the load. It can at times be incredibly overwhelming. And it all starts with the place you spend the majority of your time, your home. Frankly, having at least that one element of my world in check made all the difference in the world.

So guys; take note. (And some of you already know this). But there is more to having a clean home than having a clean home. There is the sense of accomplishment and a feeling of “having it together” that comes with it. There is a sense that you’re not completely unraveling, that on some level, you’re holding it together. And yes, it brings peace of mind which translates to a greater ability to righten the rest of the ship. Keep in mind, I’m not suggesting you channel Felix Ungar rather, just acknowledging an appreciation for the power of order within, what can be, a world of chaos.

Oh, and yes, the power of Pine-sol (who I promise you is not sponsoring this blog … yet).

 

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Aside

So, how’re you holding up? Keeping it all together?

Sometimes I have a difficult time coming up with a topic to write about. Today is one of those days. And yet I feel compelled to write to you and encourage you to keep moving forward; to keep the faith and to fight throughhow_you_doin whatever negativity you might be dealing with. Some days we simply need someone to tell us we’re amazing. That what we’re doing is epic. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear someone say, “I don’t know how you do it.”

Just the fact that you’re there for your kids is something to be both proud of and thankful for. Some dads leave a divorce and put it all behind them, including their kids. I wish there was something I could say to those dads, but chances are those dads probably aren’t reading this blog. I feel bad for those fathers because they’re really missing out on one of the most amazing experiences life has to offer. Keep in mind I’m not talking about dads who want to be there, but have limited access to the kids due to the courts. I’m talking about the dads who just don’t care. Because they would if they knew what they were missing.

But it’s not easy and it doesn’t come without an effort as you well know. It doesn’t come without battles, compromises and standing up for yourself AND your kids. There is a reason why you get up every morning, idadjpg-85702c75c414f9a9make school lunches, stay up late washing a special pair of jeans your daughter wants to wear to school in the morning, coach a soccer team or teach your kid how to make the perfect pancake. There’s a reason you stop what you’re doing when you tuck your kids in at night to spend 30 minutes talking to them about their day. It’s because once you see your kids smile due to your efforts it becomes infectious. When you sense the impact you’re having on your kids you become astutely aware of your true purpose.

It doesn’t happen right off the bat necessarily. And I think that’s where some dads struggle. You can’t just wake up one day and expect your twelve year old kid to be your best pal. It takes time for both you and your kids to find your groove and to respect each other. It takes time to accept certain aspects of being a dad and get comfortable with others. And even when you do, there are going to be days when you struggle to keep the focus where it needs to be. Because along with your kids, there are a thousand other people pulling at you, needing you, expecting things from you. You get lost in a project, or invariably everything lands on the same day between 10 am and noon. That’s when the school calls to let you know your daughter has a temperature. Or your ex texts you to see if there’s any chance you can best_job_ive_ever_had_being_a_dad_mousepad-p144662381049604604eng3t_400meet the kids at the bus stop today because of an emergency.

It’s a balance that takes time to master and even then it’s not always easy when you’re getting it from all sides. So I’m here to tell you you’re doing great. You’re a great dad and your kids need you, typically when they seem to need you the least. But they need you because of the amazing things you bring to their lives. They need you because you’re the only dad they have and over time they’ve learned to appreciate everything you do, even when they tell you you’re the worst dad ever because you made them turn off an inappropriate program or made them clean their room or turn off the computer. They need the boundaries you set, the hugs you offer, the reassurances you give them that they’re awesome and not a freak like so many of their school mates make them feel like sometimes.

They need you dad and they need you because you’ve set the bar. And now that you’ve set it to not maintain it would be letting them down. And the fact that you’ve set the bar is the strongest indication that you’re doing a great job.

How YOU Doin’?

 

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It’s All Downhill From Here

Being born in Western, NY, I grew up with snow. Hence, many of the stories I tell my kids about my childhood involve snow and lots of it. It’s something I think every kid should experience and something I want my kids to know. I want them to know what it feels like to fall face first in it or go, what feels like 120 mph, completely out of control down a hill with 30 mph winds blowing fresh powder in their face. I want them to have a memory ofchesnutridge6 rolling around in 18 inches of fresh pack powder and then defrosting in front of a warm fire, only to go back out into the frozen tundra for another round. I want them to feel huge snowflakes on their eyelashes as they walk up a hill listening to the crunch of the snow packing under their footsteps.

Unfortunately, being that we live in the south those are hard memories to come by.  So every year around this time my kids and I watch the weather forecast in Buffalo, NY very closely. And upon the first sign of a good lake effort storm we pack our bags, grab a new set of long johns, boots, gloves and anything else we may be missing and stay glued to the Weather Channel App. And when it hits, no matter when it is, we jump in the jeep and we head north.

It takes a lot of effort on everyone’s part to make the trip work. Driving that many hours crammed in something other than a mini-van is not something I would recommend for anyone with a weak stomach. But having traveled as much as our kids have in their short lives, they’ve become pros. So they burry their heads in DVD’s, i-pod touches, and Nooks and buckle in for the long journey demanding I go through the drive thru to save 20 minutes. After twelve hours on the road, we usually commandeer an unsuspecting family member’s home. We then proceed to partake in winterpalooza and enjoy two or three days of non-stop sledding, snowman building, chestnutridge5chicken wing eating, snowball fighting and hot chocolate drinking. It’s become a tradition and this year was no different.

I won’t lie. It’s an effort. Twelve hours (both ways) in tight quarters all for the sake of a few hours of playing in the white fluffy stuff is a test for any family. But I’ll tell you. It’s worth it. To hear the first exclamation of “LOOK SNOW!” as we head into Ohio. The giggles of anticipation. To witness the first snowball thrown during a routine stop for fuel and bathroom breaks. And then to see them all bundled up in their snow pants, boots, gloves, scarves, hats and mittens. Ready to brave mother nature’s fury. It’s just amazing and worth every mile.

There was one point on the third day when we had stopped for our last day of sledding. Wind gusts were 50 mph off the lake and it was only about 20 degrees out. One of the kids refused to get out of the car. But I had promised the other two they could have one more day so I literally picked the disgruntled snow bunny out of the car and carried her to the lodge. Three hours later she was the one pleading for one more time down the hill. And that’s how it goes. Part of the trip isn’t just about the experience of the snow and the environment. It’s about continually demonstrating to the kids what happens when you push yourself a bit. When you go outsidechestnutridge4 your comfort zone and try something you otherwise would forgo in leu of sitting on the couch watching an episode of i-Carly.

To accomplish that, we as parents sometimes have to push ourselves as well and go outside our own comfort zones. In the process we ourselves gain experiences we otherwise would never know the joy of. If I’m thankful for anything, it’s not just the memories of playing in the snow. It’s about the experiences I’ve had because of the kids who pushed me to do things I myself would have never attempted. All for the sake of ensuring they themselves had the chance to try something different.

One thing my ex and I agree on is that memories and experiences far outshine things. It’s not always easy, especially when life gets crazy. But I think it’s important to make these kinds of events the highest priority. Jobs will come and go. Tests can be retaken. Bills will always be there waiting. But their seventh year will only happen once. And then they’ll be going off to college; eventually telling their own kids about their childhood memories. Today is the day to create those memories.

If there was ever anything worth the effort. It’s creating moments for your kids that will last a lifetime. For us one of those memories will be snow.

 

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If The Shoe Fits!

Who hasn’t considered getting their kid, niece or nephew a pair of Nike booties? I mean come on, who can resist a baby sporting some Air Jordans? Even the initial shock of the $44 price tag is often no match for the numbing effects of baby toxins that typically take over our sense of reason as newbies. But hear me now, be careful not to let them get too comfortable with a brand name. It’ll cost you dearly in 8-10 years if you’re not careful.

Case in point. With school fast approaching I took the three rug rats out for shoe shopping. As a household that continues to adjust to a single income, like most homes we’re obviously on a budget. So I put a spending limit of $15 – $20 each on a new pair of sneakers and even then I thought I was being generous. I wasn’t completely oblivious to the cost of shoes these days, but decided to establish a goal and stick to it and see how the kids would do.

My biggest concern was with our oldest who had grown accustomed to wearing brand name shoes. She had recently begun wearing Toms and Nikes and the influence of her school chums was also beginning to kick in. I had some hope as I’d noticed her gravitating to the budget friendly aisles of JC Penny and Sears in recent months. But as suspected, her expectation was that she would walk away with a new pair of what she referred to as “good” shoes. Much to her dismay she soon discovered this was going to be more of a hurdle than she may have anticipated.

Our adventure began at Academy Sports where I’ve routinely found a great range of choices and price points on just about anything I was shopping for. And sure enough, along with the higher end shoes they had available, there were a few pair under twenty bucks. My middle child, who has learned the art of the bargain bin from her mother, found a pair she LOVED. Price: $14.99. One down. Meanwhile, the other two, who I’ll admit tend to take after me when it comes to this sort of thing, kept gravitating toward the $30-$60 sections. After a couple of unsuccessful negotiations I determined it was time to check out and go to plan “B.”

When we walked into Shoe Carnival I was honestly surprised to find that the vast majority of their kid sneakers were $45-$55 a pair with some reaching close to $70.00. I mean really? For something they’ll maybe wear for six months? Wasn’t happening. Offers were made to “pay half,” and “never ask for another thing for a year,” but despite the whining, complaining and eventual hateful, anger phase we headed for the door.

Then, just as we were preparing to leave, my middle child (who if you’ll recall found a pair at plan “A”) shouts, “Hey dad I found these shoes that fit perfectly and they’re only ten dollars!!” DONE! I said. “NO FAIR,” exclaimed my youngest. “She’s got two pair and we don’t have ANY!!!” We then discovered they were an additional 50% off bringing their total to $5.45 with tax, prompting me to point out that she had found TWO pair of shoes for the budget I’d established for ONE! A revelation that left the other two steaming, and ready to put “goody two shoes” up for adoption.

Next stop was Journeys which actually wasn’t too bad. We found a number of Vans & Converse on sale for $19.99 – $24.99, but nothing that the kids liked (shocker). There were more for $35-$45, but obviously over budget and undesired by the crew and so, we moved on.

A recent trip to J.C. Penny had garnished several shirts and shorts for a third of the norm. But there we hit another wall as the oldest continued to hold out for Nike and the cheapest pair they had was $50.00. The whining and complaining began to build in intensity as I became the parent who wasn’t willing to buy his kids “quality” shoes. But I would not bow to these valiant attempts to manipulate my good senses. This inner strength was being reenforced by my middle child, who continued to find bargain upon bargain at every location which only infuriated the others all the more. And so we continued to plan “E.”

We next stopped at Target. As if on cue, my middle child once again found several prizes. “3.99 DAD! Can you believe it?!” There were additional Keds styled shoes for under $14.00, but they had no “SWOOSH” and therefore were unacceptable to “some.”

It was at this point that my youngest apparently got the message. Recognizing that his basket was annoyingly empty he found a pair of sneakers for $19.99. Upper range of our budget, but within it none the less. At first I thought he may have been picking something just to get something. But his enthusiastic “I FOUND SOME!!!” demonstrated a genuine excitement at his discovery. Two down!

And there, surrounded by a darkened, shadowed aura, stood the oldest. Alone and holding out for her Nike standard. DAADDDDD!!! It’s not FAIR!!! A quick discussion about the dangers of paying for a name went in one ear and out the other. She was respectfully determined which I actually admired. Seeing I was holding firm, she asked if we go to the Nike outlet “just to see.” Concerned that we would encounter the same issue of finding something on sale, but still for $29.99, I reluctantly agreed with the understanding that our budget was still $15 – $20.

Now, I have to admit. If I was loaded with cash, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t splurge and get my kids whatever they wanted. It’s easy to preach when you have no choice. And the reality is, as anyone who has gone through a divorce knows, unless you’re ex is a pro basketball player paying you 20K a month in child support, the first couple of years are tough, especially when everything is “times 3.” Little did we know, we were ALL about to I learn that working within a tighter budget isn’t necessarily equivalent to sacrificing on any level.

We walked into the Nike outlet and started looking around and as expected, even the sale items for kids were upward of $35-$45. There were some that were in the $30 range and even a few around $25, but nothing she liked. That’s when I heard my oldest daughter scream, “DAADDD!!!” I turned around and there they were, the least expensive pair of shoes in the entire warehouse. My stubborn, bullheaded, beautiful, determined daughter had found the ONLY pair of shoes in the store for under $15.00. A beautiful white pair of women’s running shoes on clearance for $14.97.

She grabbed what she thought were the smallest pair, a size 5 but even they were too big. And then, with a heavenly glow shining from behind them, hidden at the top of the shelves I noticed a 3 1/2. She tried them on and announced, “They’re just a tad big dad, but I LOVE them!” I was floored, elated, amazed and a little dizzy. The other two were equally shocked and quickly began rummaging for their own treasures. “SEEEEEEEE I TOLD you!” she said to me grinning from ear to ear with pride.” And so she did. 3 Down!

It was at that moment that I decided to put my money where my mouth is. As an avid runner I’d grown accustomed to paying upward of $100 for a good pair of running shoes. But if I was going to ask my kids to budget, it only seemed fair that I join in. I’d needed a new pair for some time, so it seemed like a good opportunity to display some solidarity. And so the four of us began foraging through the various racks when low and behold, one of the kids found a great pair for under $30.00. “They’re not within the budget” I said. “DAD, come on, they’re awesome and their grown up size.” Four down!

And so dads (and moms), there’s hope. It may mean searching, and hunting and ok, maybe carrying an unhappy kid out of a store or two but you CAN find bargains and it can actually be fun. Throw in lunch at the food court (which cost more than the shoes) and you have an amazing day with the family along with some valuable lessons on the side, not to mention a cool new pair of shoes.

As we got in the car, all were beaming and bragging about how we walked away with five pair of shoes for under $80.00. And best of all, no one appeared to feel like they’d gotten cheated. No one suggested that they’d compromised. “I LOVE my new shoes,” “These are the coolest!” “I’m going to set a trend!” echoed from the back seat. Even I, the 26.2 mile snob, have to admit that $30 pair is probably one of the most comfortable pair of running shoes I’ve ever owned. Oh, and did I mention; they have a “swoosh?”

 

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Gosh Darn Lyrics!

As we were listening to Disney Radio on Sirius / XM the other day, I had a revelation. The music featured on the station, in many cases, is also featured on many of the “Current Hit” stations both on satellite radio and your  traditional local radio stations. The challenge this creates as a parent is differentiating between what is appropriate music for your 8-12 year old and what isn’t as the lines have become somewhat blurred. The songs featured on Disney now emulate and are often part of the mix with what can be some of the more adult themed music on your traditional pop stations leaving kids to think it’s all fair game which, for some parents, may be problematic.

OK OK. So at this point you’re probably saying, “whoa there fella, you’re starting to sound an awful lot like one of them snobbish, judgmental, overprotective, ultra-conservative parents we’ve all come to love making fun of.” First, I have a point which I’ll get to in a moment and second; I grew up yelling “My Dingaling,” singing “Little Willy” and blasting “The Telephone Man.” I’m sure even my grandparents sang “It’s really killin’ that he’s so willin’ to make whoopee” along with Sinatra (that heathen).

I also listened to my sister’s psychedelic rock vinyl from the 60′s that emitted some INSANE messages. By age nine I was dreaming of blowing off class to explore Itchycoo Park where I could be eight miles high in a purple haze. I was later introduced to the blues through amazing bands like Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin who enjoyed loving people on an elevator and offering up every inch of that love. Really had no idea what it all meant to be honest with you. At that age I just thought the music was cool. But looking back, I would consider it a crime if I hadn’t had all that great music to explore.

More recently, I’ve begun introducing my kids to all kinds of great music from all genres and eras. Admittedly, from time to time I’ve had to do my best to avoid explaining what it means to have someone squeeze my lemons, kiss you all over, or push push in the bush. And for now a magic carpet ride is something Aladdin took from time to time. But I think it’s important to expose kids to all different styles of music and talk to them about the history and meaning behind a song as much as is appropriate for their ages. And to be clear, as you read this, know that my ex-wife and I continually communicate about the music our own kids are listening to and monitor it to ensure explicit lyrics, foul language and certain topics are avoided and banned from i-pods all together. We’re open, but let’s be real here. There are limits.

Anyway; I was 12 when David Naughton came out with the song “Makin’ It.” I remember sitting in the car with my mom. We were driving through a plaza in West Seneca, NY listening to the radio when it came on. I started singing along and she turned the station. “Why’d you do that?” I inquired. “That song is inappropriate for you!” she explained. “Why?” I asked. “Nevermind,” she implored. “You don’t know what it means.” I did actually. The song was the theme to a sitcom by the same name and was about overcoming the odds and being successful despite your short comings. My mom obviously thought it meant something completely different but didn’t bother to ask.

But we’re getting off track a bit. This isn’t an essay on the pros / cons of rock music. (Well maybe just a little). But I’ve never believed there to be a danger in listening to any kind of music. I actually think the real danger is not listening to enough. Music is magic. The more you listen to the more it broadens your creative senses and ability to paint mental pictures.The music your kids are listening to is something they’ll carry with them the rest of their lives. But it probably won’t influence them the way you think it will. I myself still have my “Itchycoo Park” 45, but despite listening to it 1,423,334 times, I never ‘got high.’ That just wasn’t my scene man.

But back to the point of the whole Disney / Today’s hit music issue and what our kids are listening to. The more I thought about it the more I realized it wasn’t necessarily about the lyrics themselves. For me personally, being aware of what your kids are listening to is more about opportunities to demonstrate to your kids that you’re paying attention and that you care about how the world affects them. With i-tunes, mp3 players, Pandora, Spotify, etc. all so easily accessible to kids in a more intimate and private way, it’s all that more difficult to know what your children are being exposed to. When it comes to music, let’s be honest, like us 20 or 30 years ago, half the time they have no idea what the lyric really means. I had no idea why Alice was small. Sure sounded like fun though. Almost as much as it would be to join Lucy in the sky with diamonds.

As I’ve mentioned, I think I’ve come to the point where I believe this is less about the lyric and more about the opportunities they present for a dad (or mom). Whether your kids and their friends are currently singing about the joys of being  “Higher Than A Mother f-!#% r” or trying to get boys to show them their “Peacock Cock Cock,” as a parent you have an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to your kid that you’re paying attention. If there’s any question, have them go on line and print out the lyrics to a song that may be a concern. Talk about it, discuss the potential issues with them. Explain to them why something may or may not be appropriate. If they hear a song that has lyrics that are degrading to women, it’s a great opportunity to explain why it’s offensive. And find out what THEY think it means. Some valuable insights to be mined are just waiting for you. Build some boundries if you want or don’t. It’s really up to you not the Harper Valley PTA. But the bottom line is, what better way to let them know that A. you’re listening and B. you care.

 

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