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Tag: parenting

The Indestructible Dining Room Table

Living with this old dining room table has taught me how to be a better parent. Here’s the story.

When I was growing up, my father constantly hounded me not to jump on the living room couch and to stop spilling my milk on the dining room table.

No, my parents didn’t cover everything with plastic, but our New York City apartment wasn’t really designed to accommodate the usual physical energies of a growing boy. Still, I made it through without causing too much damage.

Now, I’ve got my own son. He’s almost eleven, and I find myself on opposite side of the same equation. Like father, like son?

A Fateful Meeting
Many years ago when I lived in Arlington, Massachusetts, I picked up an old and somewhat beat-up dining room table from the curb. It was abandoned there, the table top and legs, just up the street from where I lived, near the Capitol Theatre.

I carried it home, put it together and then took a closer look at what I had dragged in. It wasn’t really in that bad shape, and the craftmanship was solid. It must have been built in the 1940s and lived in someone’s home across a generation or more.

Then, circumstances clearly changed, and it was cast out, waiting for the garbage truck.

But I saved this table and integrated it into my own life. And it’s stayed with me across my journey and into parenthood.

Reflections of Family Life
It’s lasted far beyond my expectations. I figured it would eventually get replaced with a nicer table, but then a funny thing happened to it during our early parenting years.

To borrow a phrase… it took a licking and kept on ticking.

No matter what kind of abuse it took, it had this seemingly magical quality to bounce right back.

  • Pen and crayon marks? No problem.
  • Fork gouge. Not that noticeable.
  • Water spill? The stain somehow evaporated.

Actually, there were so many little marks, the scars simply began to blend together into a dull, well-worn, distressed look. I’m sure the table sported a uniform shine in the previous century, but now, it simply absorbs the daily life of our growing boy with its own muted elegance.

Learning from your Mistakes
I woke up on Saturday morning and began setting the dining room table for breakfast. Sitting in the middle of the table was a science experiment and magic trick of sorts from the previous evening. Our son had created the illusion of dry bits of paper floating inside a Ziploc bag of water. It was a clever design that, of course, used two Ziploc bags.

My wife and I enjoyed our son’s after-dinner illusion, but unfortunately, we all forgot to make sure it was cleaned up and put away.

Sometime overnight, the bag with the water sprung a leak.

So when I walked over to the table in the morning, there was a huge water stain that spanned the entire length of the dining room table.

In many situations, this would be a game-over moment for a piece of wooden furniture. And for me, it should have prompted a response of significant stress.

But it didn’t.

After observing the pool of water, I walked over to the kitchen to retrieve some paper towels, and then I mopped up the mess. I took another look at the massive wet stain, which I knew would mostly disappear when it dried. I shrugged and went about my breakfast prep.

That’s it.

Yes, I later pointed out the water illusion’s structural failure to my son, and I did suggest that he shouldn’t leave aqua experiments lying about.

But compared to other corrective conversations, it was very Zen.

The Real Value of a Dining Room Table
Parenting is a messy business. Growing up is a messy business. Good messy.

I’ve realized it’s just fine for your dining room table to reflect that.

  • A table for science experiments
  • A table for art projects
  • A table for family Zoom chats
  • And yes, sometimes a table to eat on

I expect that some folks might be horrified with my position on dining room table protection, but I’m so happy letting this table be the surface for so many of our family’s home adventures.

And now, it’s clearly become my own little experiment.

I think one day… a few years down the line, we’ll get the table refinished. It’s certainly earned it!

Life Lessons
Yes, my indestructible dining room table has been an invaluable tool across these years. It’s ongoing presence has also taught me not to worry so much about the little nicks and dings… and water stains.

That’s life.

This lesson has helped me to avoid some of the parenting styles I grew up with. And I’m really thankful for that.

I don’t know who left this magic table for me all those years ago. But whoever you are, thank you!

One Father’s Journey to Introduce “Star Wars” to his Son

If you’re a parent trying to figure out when’s the right time to expose your kids to the Dark Side of the Force, here’s my story as a parent and a “Star Wars” fan…

I’ve been waiting for this moment since the day my son was born. And please grant me this nerdy pleasure… My boy and I watched “Star Wars” together this past weekend in our family room.

He’s nine years old, and I know that many younger kids have watched all of the movies already, including the newer ones. And it’s not like I haven’t tried a couple of times before. In fact, I did technically screen some of “A New Hope” with him two years back. But he didn’t really like it.

Thank you, Harry Potter
He simply wasn’t ready. I think it’s because of the plot’s suspense and the Dolby-infused mayhem of blasters and light sabers. But mostly, it was the suspense. At the time, he was still enjoying Lego movies and “Ice Age” flicks.

But then, he caught the Harry Potter reading bug, and he tore through all of the books. And when he found out there were movies, of course he wanted to watch them. To date, we’ve gotten through the first five. And as much as there was plenty of intensity and suspense in those flicks, he already knew the stories. So, I think it was a wonderful way to comfortably ease him into consuming more serious storytelling. And I hoped it would be a bridge…

If at First You Don’t Succeed…
We sometimes have ‘family movie night’ at home, and I’ve recently begun suggesting “Star Wars” again, but he still wasn’t interested.

Then, last Saturday, it was my turn to choose a movie. (We rotate between the three of us.) Without any big set up, my son and I sat down on the couch. Usually, he wants to know what we’re going to watch, but not this time…

I powered up our Apple TV and scrolled down to the “Star Wars” thumbnail grouping.
(I’ve previously purchase the first six movies.)

He saw what I was doing, and he didn’t object. I kept going…

I hovered over “The Empire Strikes Back,” since we technically had already seen “A New Hope.” But my boy helpfully suggested that we play “A New Hope” since he barely remembered it.
(Whoa! Was this actually happening?)

What’s the Right Order?
Before I could tap ‘play,’ he noticed “A New Hope” wasn’t listed first, and then we got into the discussion of order…

I explained the whole two/one/three trilogy thing, and I could tell he was trying to understand why anyone would make a series of movies out of order. After thinking about it a bit more, he asked if we could simply start at the beginning with Episode 1.

I looked at him, and knew I that needed to make the call. I explained that I wanted him to watch the movies in the order that I had watched them as I was growing up. He took another beat and happily said, “Okay.”

We were on!
Cue the John Williams soundtrack…

The Question of Luke’s Father
What can I say… It was glorious. The two of us were finally watching and enjoying “Star Wars” together.
(My wife took a rain check on this particular screening.)

He really liked “A New Hope.” When it was over, he proclaimed that R2-D2 was his favorite character, because he was such a “cool robot.” (He had laughed at all of the little droid’s antics.) Then he quickly chose Obi-Wan Kenobi as his second favorite character. (It’s hard to ignore the amazing Alec Guinness.)

Then my boy said, “I bet Luke’s father is in the first three movies.”
He waited for my response.

Wow. I and many others had a lukewarm response to Episodes 1-3. But this pop-up focus group of one fourth grader immediately identified the strong desire to know the back story.

I smiled at my son.
“Is Luke’s father in the first three movies?
Yes, I think it’s a good bet that he is…”
(Cue the famous breathing sound effect.)

Parenting 101
It’s a long journey to “The Rise of Skywalker,” and as much as I’d like to take my boy to watch it on the big screen, he likely won’t be through the other movies yet. Plus, there’s a reason why this new trilogy is rated PG-13. The films are intense.

My wife has sometimes had to remind me that as a parent, I should observe the cues from our son to better understand when he’s ready to experience something new.

What’s the right age to start watching “Star Wars?”
Of course there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. As a parent, you’re supposed to make that call.

Should I have been pushing “Star Wars” for the past two years? Probably not. As a father, I’m admittedly sometimes still just a Padawan.
(At some level, aren’t we all students in the art of parenting?)

But now that he’s ready for a galaxy far, far away… I can’t hide my own
child-like glee.

The Force is with him.

Why You Need to Open Tech Gifts Before Your Kids Do

If you’re planning on figuring out your kid’s new RC vehicles and drones right after “Thank you, Daddy!” you may be delirious from all of your shopping. Here’s what you should do instead…

Do you know how to use the tech toys you’re giving your children this year? If you think you’re just going to wing it on the big day, I’ve got a report to share from the front lines of parenting…

It doesn’t matter how technically savvy you think you are. I’ve got a third grader, and let me tell you, his tech is already getting complicated for me.

And even if the toys aren’t that complex to operate, misuse could actually get a little dangerous (if you’re to believe the instructions).

Parenting Tech Tip:
So, do yourself a favor and block some personal time to first teach yourself how the toys actually work. Does that mean you’ve got to unbox each item, play with it and then re-box it?

That’s absolutely right.

Let me share a couple of my own experiences…

New RC Vehicle for My 8 Year Old
This year, I bought another radio controlled car for my boy:

I picked it up our local hobby store… Horizon Hobby.
(How quaint, right?)

I unboxed the mini monster and took a peek at its instruction booklet.
(How hard could it be to operate another RC vehicle?)

Well, it may not be difficult to use, but apparently it’s easy to operate incorrectly. Here are some of the warnings that jumped off of the page…

  • Charge for 9 hours
  • Do not charge overnight
  • Do not leave unattended while charging
  • Do not charge battery in the chassis or battery will overheat
  • Do not lick any parts or death may result
  • Do not run the car slowly or else it will overheat.
    (Must operate as speedily as possible?)

Are they serious?
(All of this reminds me of the old Saturday Night Live sketch…
“Happy Fun Ball.”)

I signed off on what seemed like twenty pages of disclaimers and took the Seismic out for a quick spin…
It is fast… much better suited for outdoor operation in our driveway.

And yes, I’ll pay attention to how its battery is charged, although I’m not going to stare at it for nine hours.

More Drone Flying Lessons
This year, it was time to buy another starter drone for my eight year old.

Three years ago, I purchased this starter quadcopter:

The Inductrix is really tiny, and I had hoped it would be simple enough for my boy to learn with. But when I first tried it out myself, I found it difficult to control and couldn’t keep it hovering in one place.
(I should admit I’d never tried flying a drone before.)

As a result, I actually delayed giving the Inductrix to my young Padawan.

When he finally tried it out last year, he immediately demonstrated decent piloting competencies.
(Must be due to all of that flying he does in Minecraft creative mode on our iPad)

Still, the micro drone would inevitably crash into a wall or the ceiling. My boy loved the Inductrix, but it could only take so many impacts in our family room before one of the propellers stopped working…

Yes, I took it in for repair, but when another propeller stalled, I decided to look for a more durable model that was easier to control…

This year, I went with another Horizon Hobby model…

This quadcopter is bigger than the Inductrix, and it also sports an onboard camera. While the photo and video capability is cool, I’m not at all interested in that… yet.
(Remember, I’m just looking to keep the darn thing in the air!)

So, late one night… I quietly unboxed the Vizo and charged up the battery.
(Yes, the instructions contained battery warnings too.)

And guess what…?
This one is much easier to use…

It’s more stable while airborne and also comes with auto take-off and landing modes.

Essentially… you press a button, and the drone takes off and hovers a foot off the ground. You fly it from there. Similarly, when you want to land… you position the drone just above the floor and press the ‘land’ button. The drone descends slowly and the blades stop turning after touch down.
(It’s a real game-changer.)

I’m sure purists would say that this auto feature masks the heavy lifting of really figuring out how a quadcopter operates, but I’m okay with a little ‘help’ at this stage of the learning curve.

My Inner Child
I’m not sure what it says when I’m gifting my son toys that I can’t operate without some training. I’m sure some would say it has nothing to do with me, and that he should simply figure it out for himself.
(It’s the gift of building self-reliance.)

But what fun is that when we’re playing together?
So again, is this really more about him… or me?

That’s a deep question for another time…

Batteries Not Included
Suffice it to say, this daddy needed to secretly take some driving and flying training to ensure that he was ready to help his son enjoy his new tech toys this year.
(I highly recommend the prep.)

Just another way that as a parent… you’ve got to keep up.

And yes, there are, in fact, instruction manuals.

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