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Here’s an excerpt from the introduction of my book, “Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around.”

The ultrasound!  We had been waiting three months for this day. We took our three sons with us, as this was going to be big news.  JoAnn and I had already been blessed with the three boys, Aaron (15), Benjamin (12), and Coby (7), but this time we were hoping for a girl.  Aaron had been born when we were twenty-six.  I wouldn’t ever say that he was an accident, but we weren’t originally planning on having a child just two years into our marriage.  Once started, we thought it made sense to bring along our second child, Benjamin, around the three-year mark, and then, as part of our desire to regroup, and to give Benjamin a chance to establish a decent foothold on his life, we waited another five years before welcoming Coby Michael.  That was it.  We were done.  No girl.

Done.

As the next few years passed and our boys continued to grow, I watched JoAnn jump at the chance to buy gifts for our nieces and the daughters of our friends.  After all, JoAnn is the “girliest” girl I know – always well put together, never harsh or rude, patient and loving at all times.   I felt that the three sons were largely mine to train, but I knew she needed someone into whom she could pour her years of wisdom and womanhood.  So one day I said to her, “I think we should go for the girl.”  She said, “You’re crazy, after three boys, the odds are really against us.”  I said, “Let’s cheat a little,”, and that began a seven-month journey to and from the office of a fertility specialist who was trying to help us “get the girl”.  At first it was really exciting, but after seven separate months of high hopes and regular disappointment I said to her, “I think happy eggs are fertile eggs, so let’s blow off the medical hoo-ha and just see what happens.”

Of course, we stacked the deck again.  JoAnn bought the Ovu Quick Kit and tracked all the necessary happenings.  One day, while I was in a meeting with our biggest client, I got a message from my wife saying, “COME HOME NOW!!”  The meeting had started at 11 a.m. and it had taken months to set up – I couldn’t leave just then – this was MY presentation.  When the meeting finished, at one o’clock, I sped home ready to make a baby.  Afterward, I carried great apprehension about those two hours. If we had another boy, would I get the blame because of the two hour delay?

EmSonogramSo, here we were at the obstetrician’s office, sonogram underway.  JoAnn was forty-two, so she’d had an amnio four weeks earlier – but this was the follow up, and this was going to be our moment of destiny.  We all crowded into the room as the doctor placed gel on JoAnn’s belly, and I explained the different machines to our boys, who had never seen an ultrasound.  The doctor said, “Well, this baby has fine shoulders, and the brain appears to be developing quite nicely.”  To which I responded, “You know doctor, we’re here to determine the sex of the baby.”  Her reply was quick and direct.  “Yes, but this is my job, and I have to do it in a specific order.  I will let you know when we get to the pertinent parts.”  “Okay,” I said sheepishly, and we boys went back to joking (mostly making fun of me for being pushy with the doctor.)  After a few minutes, the doctor said, “Would you look at that?”  We all turned to look at the screen, on which “It’s a Girl” had been typed.  We erupted in tears and relief, except JoAnn, who skeptically demanded to see the genetic outcome of the amnio in order to confirm what the doctor had told us.  Sure enough, it WAS a girl.

Minutes later, we walked down the hall in a happy cluster surrounding JoAnn when suddenly she stopped short, made a face, looked at us all and said, “Did you guys hear that?”  None of us had heard anything.  “You didn’t hear a loud boom?”  “No,” we all replied.  “Oh,” she said, appearing to think deeply.  “I’m surprised you didn’t hear it.” “It was all of you dropping a notch in status.”  That was the prologue to the arrival of our fourth and final child, our wonderful daughter, Emily.

happiness_boy-300x214Ever since my time in the closet ended my terror of the dark, I’ve used the same method to address other fears.  I’m what psychologists call a “counter-phobe.” When I was afraid of needles, I gave blood.  When I worried about not knowing anyone at a party, I forced myself to go. It worked!

I’ve encouraged my children to confront their anxieties in the same way.  Problem-solving builds self-esteem, and real growth often occurs during our least comfortable periods.

But I’m also aware that not all fears can be addressed like this.  Some things can’t be confronted head-on.  Those are the things that parents sometimes tend to stress about that aren’t really within our immediate control, which is a tendency we should try to resist.  Bovine growth hormone, the chemical content of fabric softener – yes, perhaps these are genuine long-term concerns, but they’re not worth ruining “today” for our children.  Kids already have many worries that don’t even hit our radar: “Is Johnny going to be mean to me?” Will I be picked for a dance solo?” “Does my teacher like me?” Adding to their anxiety by being anxious ourselves is a big mistake.

In the late 1940s, Dr. Theodore Woodward, a professor at the University of Maryland Medical School, told his students “When you hear hoof beats, think of horses, not zebras.”  Since horses are common in Maryland and zebras are rare, one should expect that hoof beats are probably made by a horse.  This expression was accepted in medical circles to mean that the most simple explanation is probably the most likely – and one shouldn’t necessarily look (or think) beyond the obvious problem for some bigger problem.  The same goes for things we choose to worry about.  Or not worry about.  Keep your worrying simple – the anxiety spread by being overly concerned about the radiation from a cell phone is probably worse than the effects of the radiation itself.

lightning3Parents have a lot to worry about, yet our children expect us to be calm, confident leaders.  Our task is this: without ignoring our concerns, we need to create a safe harbor for the people who depend on us.

When I was about six years old my mom summoned my sister and me to a serious discussion. The topic was fire safety! If we ever smelled smoke, or if we thought our house was on fire, we were NOT to come to our parents’ room.  We were to close our bedroom door, climb out our windows, and meet in the front of the house.  After a tear-filled discussion about the unlikeliness of a fire, we were sent to rehearse the fire plan.  Now we knew what to do in an emergency, and we knew that our parents knew what to do. They had prepared us.

I was afraid of the dark as a young child.  My mom was sensitive to my fear and asked if I wanted to overcome it.  I said, “Sure.”  Opening the door of a closet, she directed me to get inside and sit down on the floor. “Are you comfortable? Are you scared in any way?” she asked. When I replied that I was fine, she said.  “Okay, I’m going to close the door a bit,” and she closed it, but with a couple of inches of light still streaming in.  “Are you okay?” she asked.  “Yep,” said I.  Then we talked for a while about various things until she said, “Do you think you’re ready for me to close the door the rest of the way?”  I answered, “I guess so. “Very good,” she said, “and I’ll be right here outside the door if you get scared.  I just want you to see that the dark doesn’t make the closet any different. You just have to get used to it.”

So she closed the door the rest of the way.  Man, was it dark!  But minute by minute it got a little lighter. I could see light at the bottom of the door. Soon I could even see the outline of my hand.  “Hey, this isn’t so bad.” I thought.  “How are you doing?” asked Mom from outside. “Just come out whenever you’re ready.” After a few minutes I calmly exited the closet, never to be afraid of the dark again.

Hey Everyone !!!  Thanks for visiting CommonSenseDad!  If you’ve found your way here from Facebook, you can also find these blog posts on my Common Sense Dad page there.  Simply click on this link https://www.facebook.com/CommonsenseDad  and “like” the page so that you’ll be “following” our activity.   ALSO – My actual book won’t be available for a few more weeks – but I’ll be posting excerpts here (and on FB) before it rolls out.  Thank you all for your interest and understanding.

June has been an excellent month.

emorylogoFirst, our daughter Emily was admitted to Emory University, her first choice.  She got the news not by email or snail, but by phone from an actual human. Southern hospitality!

RaisingChildrenFinalFrontCvrWebNext, I’ve approved the publication draft of my book Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around:  Five Common-Sense Musts From a Father’s Point of View.  Now the cover art can be completed and I’ll have physical copies of the book very soon.  I’ve posted the just-completed cover here to showcase the talent of my wonderful artist, Cynthia Jacquette.

In the meantime I’ll be using this site to share insights from the book and to address the pleasures and pains of parenting.  So please stay tuned and for candid thoughts and updates please follow me as commonsensedad on Twitter.