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I’ll Take The Mess

Well, it’s Sunday night and the house is a mess. There are clothes lying on the floor. Empty bags of snacks on the coffee table. Shoes and socks strewn about. A few dishes that never made it into the dishwasher. Floors need mopping. There’s laundry in the dryer to fold and still more ready to go into the washer. Odds and ends desperately need to find a home. Basically, to say our house looks lived in is an understatement. But I don’t care.

I will gladly take the messy house in exchange for a full two days of spending time together as a family. To spend an entire day playing softball together on the first truly nice Saturday of the new year. Seeing all three 2014-02-22 14.49.20kids playing together without pulling each others hair out (well, for the most part). Hanging out together in the house. Having meals together. Arguing together. Working it out together. Spending hours with one on a school project. Having a special dinner with another while the other two spent time celebrating a friend’s birthday. Shooting hoops and playing catch with the third. Weekends like that are too few and far between.

They don’t come easily either. As the girls get older they’d much rather spend the night at a friend’s or go skating with the gang. It took several no’s and turning down other offers to get us all in the same house at the same time for more than an afternoon. No softball practice. No soccer games. No sleepovers. But it was worth it. We had our moments of frustration and we had our share of stress points throughout the weekend. But we worked it out. And when it was all said and done I gathered the troops to thank them all for a terrific weekend together. I wanted them to recognize how special these days are and how important it is that from time to time we shut out the world and focus on each other to remind ourselves that we are a team.

For me personally, to have a weekend without too many projects or deadlines was too good to pass up. Those days are rare as well, especially after a busy week. There were several moments when an hour on the couch 2014-02-17 09.31.25sounded like heaven. But a moment throwing a baseball with my son or making breakfast with another sounded even better. We all had to push ourselves at times and I was proud to see all three of the kids make the effort. Maybe they all recognized they needed it more than any of us realized. It encouraged me to keep putting the mouse down to get back outside to shoot one more basket.

I love my kids. I really do. They push me to new limits on a daily basis. There are times when I throw my arms up in complete disbelief at how horrible a job I’ve done parenting these little demons. And then somehow it all comes together. Just when I’m convinced I completely suck as a parent, the kids remind me of what it means to be a family and how important we are to each other. Smiles and hugs goodnight and three kids laughing together tells us all it was well worth every effort and that sometimes a mess isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

 

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Shop At Your Own Risk!

It is my 100th post and what better way to celebrate than with a progress report. A couple of previous posts focused on the subject of dads shopping for clothes with daughters. It is, in skiing terms, the double black diamond slope of parenthood. I barely made it down my first time, but by the grace of God managed to make it to the lodge without any bruised egos or broken dreams.caution-double-black-diamond

My daughter and I have hit the retail slopes a number of times the past year or two and we’ve made a lot of progress. We still hit our share of moguls, but have managed to avoid any major wipeouts. In hindsight, we probably should have considered starting out on a shopping bunny hill, like, going to CVS for some gum and then worked our way up. Because, like most things, it takes practice to grow accustomed to the environment and find your rhythm. And the reality is, as is the case with most parenting adventures, regardless of where you start, you’ll have your spills and avalanches and may even need a brace or sling after an excursion here or there.

Our own first time out was anything but smooth. I didn’t like her choices, she didn’t like that I was in the same mall. It was awkward to say the least. But over time, we learned to compromise (a LOT) and to focus more on the fact that we were out together having one on one time than the fact that we were shopping for clothes. And oddly enough, now we end up doing both. I had to give on a couple of things and in turn she backed off on others. We’ve worked our way up through green circles and blue squares and are pretty good at navigating the black diamond shopping trails now.

If you’re a dad, single or married, don’t wait until your daughter is sixteen to decide you want to spend time with
her on her turf. Start training now. Today. This very second. I’ve heard too many friends tell me, “and just like that they’re going to shopatownriskcollege and I don’t even know them.” That thought scares the hell out of me. When they’ve had a bad day in high school, I want my kids to feel comfortable coming to me and saying, “dad, today sucked, wanna hit the mall?” Maybe I’m reaching for the unattainable, but I’m going to give it my best shot. And I believe it starts with stopping once in a while and making an attempt to create those moments now when they’re still young and frankly, need me to drive.

Listen, having your daughter grab a pair of jeans out of your hands and tell you, “no way dad, you’re not wearing that” is a gift. (btw, if you’re reading this daughter, thank you for not letting me buy that shorts / sweater combo. I owe you one) Having her share with you why she considers one blouse better than another, is a gift. Talking about her dreams over lunch in the food court, a gift.  And believe me, having her eyes light up over the perfect dress after trying on seventeen at five different stores; all of it, is a gift.

So I just wanted to encourage you to put down the remote, turn off the game, log out of facebook and ask your daughter if she wants to go to the mall. Or, maybe just suggest a trip to Walgreens for a Snickers bar. Thenshoppingsigns work your way up to Claire’s for earrings, and when you’re ready, Target for an “outfit.” The point is to make the effort now before she has friends with cars. And don’t feel like the point is to spend money. This can be a great chance to slip in discussions about budgets, value, needs versus wants etc. Now my daughter is the one telling me she’ll wait until she finds exactly what she wants.

So ask her. She may balk at first, but find a way to convince her to go. You may be a little wobbly at first, but at some point you’ll reach the base and look back at the mountain you just navigated. And what a thrill it’ll be when she’s the one who suggests you get back on the t-bar and head your way back to the top for another go.

 

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Cowsill Life: No Walk in the Park

In today’s post you’re going to learn a little more about who I am and what I do. I typically shy away from this aspect of my life with the blog, but it has relevance this week and there is something specific I wanted to share with you.

I am a film / video director and editor by trade. My focus is primarily the music industry and documenting its stories. A couple of years ago a friend asked me to help her put together a film about a family singing group from the 1960’s known as the Cowsills. Working on the film would become a great focus of my time for two to three years and would change my views on life, parenthood, fatherhood and families in general. 285720_551273038239291_93305052_n

Getting right to the point, despite his ability to recognize and encourage so much of the talent that oozed from his home, Bud Cowsill was an abusive father. He was incredulously manipulative and selfish. And his children, in turn, feared him to the point that they never spoke to each other about what went on within their household. Truth be told, they didn’t live their childhoods, in many ways they survived them. In building the story of “Family Band: The Cowsills Story” Louise and I both wanted people to see the whole story, not just the success and the ride to the top, but the crippling affect that Bud’s controlling and abusive nature would have on both their careers and their lives as adults. With the support of Bob Cowsill and the rest of the family, we were able to to do just that. Along with demonstrating the affects of abuse on a family, our goal was for the film to help families recognize the power of sibling bonds and that no matter how dark the past, a brighter future can be found through love, communication and forgiveness.

The story of the Cowsills, I’ve learned, is not an unfamiliar one. And all too often the story is shared long after the affects of abuse have become rooted in the minds and hearts of the abused. It is a stark reminder that people often project one persona for themselves and their family, when in truth their world is nothing like what people see. For many kids, they really have no idea that their life is any different from others and that the abuse they’re engaged in is normal. It’s not until they’re older that they realize, “hey, you mean most dads don’t assault their kids?”

For me personally, the story of the Cowsills is a wake up call to any father. Louise worked much closer with the family over the eight to nine years it took to capture all of the footage, and has a much broader appreciation for the relationships between the family members. But in the short time I got to work on the film the shear impact of the role that abuse played in the development of each kid is still deeply ingrained in my own head. It speaks volumes to the impact a dad can have on his children both good and bad. Whether or not you’re abusive to your children, how you interact with them and how you approach them over something as simple as putting their shoes away, can create a pattern that will define your relationship with them throughout their lives.

We as fathers have opportunities to provide our children with so many amazing gifts. How we decide to do that will greatly affect their hearts, minds and Cowsills_gold_record_1967souls as they grow into adulthood. As I watch the finished film now and reflect on my own childhood as well as the first several years of my time as a father, it’s obvious to me that working on the film changed my life and how I view my fatherhood. It’s why I wanted to invite you to watch the film. While you do, ask yourself, “how will my kids view me ten, twenty, thirty or forty years from now?” If you’re like me, it may cause you to take a step back and adjust a few things and to see your children as even more fragile than you already do. It may cause you to recognize that we’re not just here to protect their bodies, but their minds as well.

I’ve said this before and it bares repeating. We are building our children’s memories, today. Each experience has the potential to be one that they look back on as a defining moment. It’s up to us to be aware of ourselves, our actions and our reactions knowing that one day our children will reflect and react in life based on those specific times and how we handled ourselves. What our children remember about their childhood is not 100% up to us. But as dads (and moms) we are held accountable for a great deal of it. I believe that regardless of the type of father you are today, there is always room for improvement. Working on the Cowsills film did two things for me. It told me overall I’m probably a better dad than I gave myself credit or. At the same time it showed me that every day I have an opportunity to improve.

“Family Band: The Cowsills Story” is currently airing on Showtime through the month of March and into April and is also available on Amazon.com. If you happen to watch it, I’d love to hear what you think so be sure to share your comments.

Peace.

 

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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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Tea Time!

As parents, it’s easy to get lost in our day, our obligations, our deadlines and just assume the kids will entertain themselves and each other. In the process we often miss golden opportunities to maintain a dialogue with our kids that no doubt we’ll be wishing we had 8-10 years from now when they’re older.

So never underestimate the power of turning off the computer or television about half an hour before your kid’s bedtime and sitting down with them to share a cup of tea or hot chocolate. And if you’re smart, you’ll eventually learn to just sit there, shut up, sip your tea and listen for twenty nine of the thirty minuteskhashayar20101010152119700

Mind you, I’m not an expert by any means. Just a dad trying to learn how to raise three kids and maintain a positive relationship with all three of them. In doing so I typically notice something just about every day that I can do better. One of those things is listening. I’ve sucked at it for as long as I can remember and have to continually be aware of when I’m failing to give someone their proper minutes. And to a child of 7 or 10 or 14 or 45, I think sometimes that’s all they’re asking for. For someone to listen and to take their thoughts and opinions seriously.

About a year ago my daughters and I started having “tea time with dad” just before bedtime. It wasn’t anything extraordinary. Just a chance to end the day together and share a moment where the rest of the world was shut out. From time to time it now includes my son as well, although it’s usually hot cocoa not tea. Over time it’s turned into one of my favorite parts of the week. It’s especially special when it turns into a simple one on one sipping.

There are times I just sit and listen in amazement at the amount of “stuff” my kids have absorbed, even at
tv_turnoff_week_image-copysuch a tender age, and just how much is racing around up there. I can’t help but smile and even laugh out loud at times as I witness how they process all of the information they’re capturing throughout the day. Their perspectives are truly amazing and eye opening as they provide insights into what’s important to them and how they view the world, their mom, their school, their neighbors, their bus driver, their friends and me.

My kids have a lot to say and there are times I ask them to keep their thoughts to themselves, especially when
those thoughts are hateful or demeaning. So providing them with a safe environment to open up, knowing
they’re not going to get a lecture or a rebuttal in response has proven to be a win / win on several levels.

As you’ve probably noticed if you read this blog on a regular basis, I would never divulge details about anything my kids share with me. But the content of our tea time discussions isn’t what’s important here. It’s the simple concept of shutting out the world for 30 minutes so that it’s just two or three minds connected and sharing thoughts, concerns, fears, dreams and opinions about music, clothes, pets, or whatever comes to mind. What you hear may not even make sense to you all the time. But I’m sure we don’t make sense to them all the time either. The point is maintaining a connection, letting them know they’re loved and appreciated and teaching them the power of sharing and listening. If you’re lucky, you’ll learn that and then some yourself.

Peace!

 

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