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REGCollegePhotoWhen I went to college in the mid ‘70s, I made fun of people who sat in the front row of the class. I thought their eagerness to get good grades was a “kiss ass” thing and that real “free thinkers” didn’t have to conform to the rigorous judgments of academia. This attitude was reinforced by a set of shifting societal values reflected in films about anti-heroes like “Easy Rider,” “Midnight Cowboy,” and “Taxi Driver.” It was a time of upheaval with Vietnam and Watergate.

After college, many of my friends went to professional schools – law, medicine, business, dentistry, and they benefited from their earlier academic focus in very positive ways. Others of us dove directly into the workforce, where we worked hard, got ahead, and maintained a residual belief in the value of achievement.

Our childhoods had been simple. The government was good, the doctor knew what was best, and by working hard and respecting the system, someday we could earn our place at the top. There were three television networks, and the press extended simple courtesies to the private lives of public figures. In those days, making a porn tape (or film) was not considered beneficial to your career.

Things have changed, and it’s certainly not making parenting any easier.  But before we get to how we’re raising our children, here’s a little more backstory:

vectorstock_3612155Once, I had to go to traffic school.  I chose a “comedy” traffic school because six mandatory hours of humor seemed more attractive than any of the alternatives. One of the first questions asked was “How many of you are in here for speeding?” I raised my hand. “Why were you in such a hurry?” he asked the class. A number of people suggested possible answers, and then I got to offer this brilliant piece of logic: “When I speed, I only have to worry about half the cars.” The instructor looked at me quizzically. “Well,” I explained, “when I’m driving faster than the other people I only have to worry about the cars in front of me because all the others are behind me.”

The teacher gave me that “so you’re the wise guy look” and then an oafish guy in the back of the room bellowed “Yea!! That’s why I speed too! I don’t want to have to think about the people behind me!” Suddenly, I had empowered the least responsible repeat offender in the room, a guy who was happy to have a meaningful rationalization for his otherwise stupid behavior.

When we returned from lunch, the instructor showed us “Red Asphalt,” and made it clear that we were watching this extremely gory movie in retaliation for our (meaning my) flip attitude toward speeding laws.

By disregarding those highly focused do-gooders in the front row, I was really just trying to justify my unwillingness to compete. I was essentially saying that “I have a high bar, I don’t need others to define or measure it.” But what I didn’t recognize was that lots of people, many of whom didn’t have as high a bar as I did, would embrace my defensive discounting or my wise-guy interpretations in order to justify their own poor performance.

Multiple lessons learned: Don’t speed, and never empower the moron.

vectorstock_2874420Today, we’re living with these mistakes. Many Americans believe our government does not have our best interests in mind. Many people believe that they know more than their doctors, or their children’s teachers. The police are no longer perceived (or portrayed) as protectors (when, ironically, the vast majority of them are).

So what does this have to do with parenting?

Hold the bar high!

Sadly, we’ve seen those rebellious years reflected in a growing generation of children who do not respect authority, who believe rules don’t apply to them, and whose parents have avoided teaching them about adversity.  What’s worse is a friend recently told me his daughter didn’t turn in her homework because she didn’t want to seem “too smart”!

Although, it’s probable that our neighbors will help our children, we’re so bombarded with negative media, that it’s hard to believe that’s the case. Even though teachers have chosen a low-paying profession because they care about our children, parents regularly undermine their authority and empower toddlers to ignore them. Although children are quite resilient, some parents believe they don’t have the authority to impose an expectation of high standards on their kids.

It’s time we examine our priorities.  Praise real achievement.  Encourage our children to understand their surroundings, and give them a sense of community and purpose.  It’s not all about them.. it’s about US.

vectorstock_745873I wrote “Raising Children That Other People Like to Be Around” to give parents a sense of their authority, and to encourage the understanding that what our society fails to give our children is now completely our responsibility. It occurs to me that the more negative we are in our homes, the more negatively our children will perceive the world. My choice is to encourage comfort, satisfaction, and optimism. They’ll learn about all the other stuff later.

I’ve written this so you won’t have to spend any more time wondering how the world could have gotten so screwy. My suggestion is to ignore the world, make your home and family a happy place, and just blame me when things don’t go right.

It’s OK. I can take it.

I never thought I’d use a new-age term for happy chickens to address a parenting-related issue, but I suppose over-cautious parents are as oppressive to children as cages are to chickens.

The organization known as Free Range Kids is “fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.”

I’m right there with them.

When I was a kid, free-range parenting was called… parenting. My folks came to about half of my little league games. I rode my bike to the park a couple of miles from home, and I rode it back as the sun was setting. My mom didn’t drive in front of me to light the way. My dad didn’t pick me up from practice on his way home from work. The whole event was a solo effort, and I was happy to be able to accomplish it on a regular basis.  I was nine years old.

When my wife, JoAnn, and I were raising our toddlers, my mother told JoAnn that it had been hard for her to let me, as a second-grader, walk the two blocks to school.  She explained, in that loving Mother-in-Law kind of way, that she made a conscious decision to overcome her own feelings because she knew that the lesson of independence was a valuable one – for both of us!

People say “but the world has changed.” That’s true. Here are some facts:

  • “Crime is back to the level it was when gas was 29 cents a gallon” – Christian Science Monitor.
  • “Crime is back to the level it was before color television.” – The Week Magazine.
  • “2014 violent crime rate down another 4.4%” – USA Today.

So why do we seem so focused on the negative these days? We are soaked in so much bad news that some of us believe it’s unsafe to allow our children to venture out into the world without immediate and constant supervision. What a drag…for everybody!

As parents, it’s our long-term mission to teach our children how to navigate the world without us. In the short term we need to allow them various learning experiences that can both teach them problem-solving methods and build their confidence. This can’t happen when we’re always paving their way. Life involves interacting with the world, and, in most cases, the world isn’t in our backyards, or under our ever-watchful eyes. So, what are the basic skills your child should have in order to be granted their independence?

From a common sense point of view I think all children should know the following:

  • Their name, address, and phone number.
  • YOUR cell phone number
  • Rules regarding communication with strangers
  • To call the police or ask a kind stranger for help if they feel lost or afraid.

I would prefer to teach my child that world is not a terrible place. At the same time, I’d like my child to be aware of his/her surroundings and believe in his or her ability to navigate safely. I can do this by observing things when I’m with my children. I can say things like “I wonder what that guy is doing over there.” Statements like that encourage children to be aware of the people around them, even they’re watching someone feed a parking meter or paint a sign.

It is sometimes difficult for parents to let go, but it is inevitable that our children will grow up, so the sooner we can teach them how to handle responsibility the better it will be for all of us. I like to avoid complicating my life. I have learned that the more I can trust my children, the easier it makes my days. By allowing our children to roam the neighborhood, learn about their surroundings, and achieve a sense of independence, we are teaching them a bigger lesson about themselves.

In my book I wrote, “It’s easier to lighten up than to tighten up.” This applies to giving our children responsibility. Start firm. Allow them to play in the yard. As they get older, allow them to go to a friend’s house, on foot perhaps. When they ride their bikes, give them a perimeter I was allowed to go three blocks in any direction. When they want to go farther, you can allow it based on their behavior.

No one says that Free Range Parenting means dropping your child at the park and making them fight their way home. Like all everything in parenting, it’s a process that begins with baby steps and ends with your child walking a path that he or she will blaze for him or herself.

If the free-range lifestyle makes better chickens… imagine what it can do for our children!

YeKanye2015-grammys-seatingp, we almost saw it again, Kanye West deciding that his musical opinion trumps all others – and that he is the true arbiter of all musical “art.”  Part of the good news is that we didn’t see it – at least we didn’t see the rude part where he almost pre-empted Beck’s acceptance speech with a rant of his own.

The good news is why he chose not to interrupt.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Kanye said “the reason he decided not to crash the stage was out of consideration for his daughter, North, and his wife, as well as his clothing line.”

There you have it – a father deciding to behave properly in order to set an example for his daughter (perhaps Kim is a good influence, and I don’t really care about the clothing line part).

As I’ve pointed out, and as I advocate in my book, “Raising Children Other People Like to Be Around,” the most important thing that we parents can do is set an example for our children – and I’m glad to be seeing that sense of responsibility seeping into Kanye’s Konsciousness.

KanyeBeckPhotoIronically, the on-the-record comments made by Kanye reveal an interesting sort of artistic intolerance – paralleling the issue that has maddened him so. One of the key elements in art is the ability to allow oneself to be moved by the art of another – regardless of that artists race, religion, or other influences. Art is deeply personal, and, for me, is defined by the way it affects each of us individually.

When groups of people are brought together to “judge” art, it’s always a slippery slope – starting with the criteria for judgment, and the qualifications of the empaneled people. Kanye’s beef is clearly not with Beck, a talented and proven artist, it’s with the Recording Academy. I’m not sure of the demographics of that voting body, but we’re all aware that there are always an incredibly diverse and talented set of nominees in all categories and that singling out the “best” is not easy. Randall Roberts of the LA Times wrote a really good piece about it.

KanyeandNorthCouchAt this point, Kanye’s real job is to teach his daughter, North, how to protest injustices without being a whiny brat. Problem solving 101 – don’t piss people off or they stop listening. Progress is made when both sides listen. Tantrums are not a successful way of demonstrating displeasure.  Our primary roll as parents is to teach our children how to deal with and overcome adversity – not just how to complain about it.

I write this with hope that parents can understand that there are often legitimate reasons for their children to have tantrums, but that it’s our job to teach them how to complain more effectively – which usually means teaching them that tantrums will get them nowhere and quiet communication will work far more effectively.

Kanye has shown a flash of understanding – let’s hope that he can channel his energies toward a positive solution to his problem, and, in doing so, demonstrate for his daughter that true power shows its strength through tolerance

EmBasketballCULiteWe’ve got three sons and a daughter. They arrived in that order. By the time our daughter Emily was born, I had coached and/or refereed multiple seasons of Little League, Muni Basketball, and AYSO.   When our daughter arrived she showed great promise as a tenacious, though tiny, basketball player. Then things changed.

Suddenly, she was more interested in ballet than ball. She liked the outfit (always important), her friends were doing it (also important), and, generally, it didn’t involve boys (very important at age seven). Although I wanted to take her to her classes, they happened mid week after school – so I was out. Ballet became a ritual for mother and daughter and, as usual, I became the videographer.

EmBalletStillAltOur local coffee shop is in the same mall as a small dance studio. Last Saturday morning after I went to the gym, I swung by the mall to pick up a coffee for my wife. Walking out, I was amazed to be facing three middle linebackers, each carrying a small, pink backpack, and holding the hand of a tutu-clad mini-ballerina. The group was apparently headed to some kick-ass Saturday morning dance class. The daughters were skipping with their burly dads in tow. It was probably the cutest thing I saw all day.

I imagined the waiting area conversation during class. “My daughter’s tour jeté kicks your daughter’s tour jeté’s ass!” “Yea… well my daughter’s Arabesque puts your daughter’s to shame. She may have her mother’s looks, but she’s got my legs!” and so on. I’m clearly kidding about this, because I’ve been in these situations and generally speaking men don’t talk about dance.

Despite rumors to the contrary, men are actually capable of talking about things that matter – once they get sports and hot moms out of the way. There is, to some extent, an immediate bond between men who take their daughters to ballet. They are men who will venture with pride into the world of women, as beginning ballet continues to be, men who have learned to confront a tight hair bun or a blistered foot with confidence and love.

Men who know what it means to sign your dancer in, and out.

IMG_2706Saturday I envied the Ballet Dads with their little pink partners headed toward a room ruled by strict manners, classical music, and constant counting. I knew that despite everyone’s best efforts some edges would fray as personalities rose up, and the leaping got out of hand, and the relevés left the rails. I wondered how these dads would talk to their daughters about the “mean girl,” or the really strict teacher, or whatever would come pouring forth as they got in the car. I knew that those dads would be prepared, because mean girls, bullies, and tough coaches exist in everyone’s world – boy or girl, mom or dad.

This is the stuff that parenting is made of. Showing up. Being there. It’s about being a Ballet Dad and putting your whole heart into it. Teaching your child how to cope with hurt feelings, how to redirect frustration, and how to avoid being diminished by the behavior of others.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the Dad or the Mom, on a dance floor or on a ball field, the things children need to be taught are all the same: kindness, respect, generosity, and fair play.

This weekend we get to watch the Super Bowl. Let’s raise a glass to the all those Dads whose daughters will fall asleep in their laps during the game.

Dadnaaronsleep_81liteMany parents lament the fact that their children are growing up. We all yearn for those cuter times when our children could be held in our arms. For JoAnn and me, those delicious hugs from our children are now marked by facial hair and fashionable feminism. Watching our children grow has always been the physical embodiment of the passage of time, but at this point it would sure be nice to slow things down.

Any of us who has ever attended a high school or college reunion knows what it’s like to confront the passage of time and yearn for younger days. The expression “you can’t go home again” has probably entered our thoughts.

But you can go home again – if you’re willing to accept that things change and that change is as capable of being good as it is of being bad.

VVSPostcard60scropI serve on the Board of Trustees for my former high school, Verde Valley School, a very small and unique educational institution nestled within the world-famous red rocks of Sedona, Arizona.

This rural school was founded in 1948 when Sedona was known mostly for its natural beauty. It was rumored in those days that we were in the “spiritual center of the northern hemisphere,” but for a hundred and twenty-six teenage students, hormones and natural beauty trumped spirituality on a regular basis.

What was unique about the school was its focus on anthropology and human relations. As part of the curriculum, each school year students were sent to be immersed in another culture for a month. As a thirteen-year-old freshman, I was embedded in the home of a Hopi family on the Second Mesa of the Hopi Reservation. The house had no heated or running water and the bathroom was an outhouse on the edge of the mesa. That was educational.

VVS_0024fix2Those of us who’d attended in the fifties, sixties and seventies would talk of the unique closeness of community, our memorable experiences, and the various “characters” we’d all met while there. And, because today’s school wasn’t what we’d experienced, we’d also mourn the loss of what we believed to be the school’s essence. We felt that we couldn’t go home again. That all was lost.

Returning last week for a meeting of the Board I had a chance to dive back into the ethos of the school – that elusive, magical quality that we had thought had been lost in the “modernity” of our once-rustic environment. Sure, the kids couldn’t ride in the back of pickup trucks anymore, and the school no longer needed its own student-manned fire department. But the energy to learn, the curiosity that oozes from high school students was all still there. Whether I was watching activity on the soccer field, basketball court, or riding ring (yes, the school has always had a barn – but now it’s called an “Equestrian Program”), everyone was engaged, respectful and grateful for this rare educational opportunity.

VVSChapel15cropSmallIn the students and faculty I saw similarities between the nineteen seventies and now. I realized that the surface changes, like coats of paint, did not affect the nature and mission of the school at its core.

I’ve concluded that we can go home again – if we’re willing to accept that life is change, and that evolution doesn’t happen at the expense of the past…it builds on it.

We’ve seen it in our children. The circumstances of their lives are different. They no longer live at home, they consider our advice optional, and their life landscapes are dotted by smart phones, video games, and all sorts of new and different elements affecting quality of life. At their core, however, they are the people we raised them to be. Despite our deepest fears, our children bring their own optimism and curiosity to their pursuit of happy lives.

I’ve actually said things to my children like “In my day, we used to have to go to a library and look this up – we didn’t have the luxury of Googling on the internet.” My dad spent a lot more time on horses than I did. His father was born before the automobile.

Change is inevitable. Teaching our kids (and ourselves) to embrace, rather than fear change is one of the best gifts we can give them.

GreenFamHawaii2014Like Verde Valley School, our children will not lose sight of their core. Things around them may be different. They may have to repaint or rebuild some buildings. They may be broke for a bit, or sad for a bit, but their ingrained values, curiosity, and willingness to be flexible will always serve them, as I have learned mine serves me.

Change isn’t easy. It requires faith and flexibility – but in the long run the humanity we give our children, and each other, will serve us no matter what is happening in the world around us.

vectorstock_634418These are difficult times in which to raise children. We’ve become a culture that mistrusts authority, that believes individuals are often more important than the society, and that everyone deserves special treatment. As a result, it is up to us, as parents, to raise children who will respect authority, tell the truth, and be kind to others. Here are some simple tools to help accomplish those goals:

  1. Accept that nobody’s perfect – neither you nor your child.

Murphy must have been a parent, because having kids certainly teaches us that if it can go wrong, it probably will go wrong.

Give yourself a break. I’ve made my share of mistakes. I’ve been emotionally weak and “lost it” more than a few times. I’ve gotten our kids’ names confused. I’ve ignored complaints in an attempt to toughen my kid up, only to find that the sprain was actually a fracture. It’s all part of the “live and learn” process – and it’s pretty clear to me that there are very few fatal errors that a loving parent can make.

Quilt2In the “History of the Eagles,” Joe Walsh points out that events sometimes seem terrible (breaking a bone), or ill-timed (getting fired), or tragic (losing a loved one) – but as we look back on those events, we realize that they are all part of the perfectly woven quilt that is our life. Chances are, you’re doing a better job than you think you are and someday you’ll look back on your process and see just how well it worked.

  1. Let your children learn from their own mistakes.

As our children got older, we gave them more responsibility and let them earn the right to make their own decisions. The early decisions were basic trust issues — being allowed to stay home alone, or go to parties with friends — but as they got older, the decisions become more serious, like where to go to college or whether to go to Mexico for Spring Break. Generally, by the time they got to their late teens, the groundwork for good decision-making had been laid. But it’s hard for parents to let go.

BeardedMeNMarcieI can clearly remember having my parents try to “guide” me toward “good” decisions when sometimes I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. I remember saying to them, “You’ve taught me how to make decisions, so if I make bad ones, it’s probably your fault.” They weren’t too happy with that one – but I thought it was pretty effective.

It was in those years that we learned to trust each other and taught each other some wonderful lessons – as my children have done with me. When my son Ben told me he wanted to major in History, I explained that I would prefer that he be an English major. Without missing a beat he said “Dad, History is English. It’s just stories that have already been told.” Case closed. Later in his life, that same son quit a job before having another lined up… a major mistake from our point of view. After a few months of unemployment, he was remorseful, but then he got the perfect job. (See the Joe Walsh sentiment above.)

  1. Be proud of your work.

Our water heater died the day after Christmas. I called our appliance source and they sent out Mike The Plumber to install a replacement. Mike didn’t mess around. He knew his job, and explained that he was replacing all my flex connectors with real copper pipe because “that’s how it should be done.”

During a break we had a personal conversation in which Mike revealed that he is a single dad raising an eleven year old son. As he spoke, he mentioned that he was sorry he couldn’t give his son more time, but he also told me of the projects that they had done together, all of which were opportunities to bond while demonstrating dedication and a solid work ethic. Mike is clearly a sensitive dad. Though he confessed to having been too tough at times when he thought it was necessary, I could see in him the same pride in his family that he had in his work. I gave Mike a copy of my book, and I inscribed it as follows: “Proud fathers raise sons who are proud of their fathers” —- because setting an example is the most important thing parents can do.

  1. Express gratitude with your kids every day.

SunsetBeautySometimes things feel as though they can’t get any worse. Sometimes your kid is sick, your car won’t start, your coffee spills, your computer won’t boot. That’s when it’s best to remember the things that are working right – starting with “I don’t think things can get much worse – so we’ve got nowhere to go but up!”

It’s easy to say there are lessons to be learned from failure — and there are — but there are also simple successes to be noted regularly. Things like “we’re lucky to have each other, and a roof over our heads, and the strength to believe that tomorrow will be a better day.” Try appreciating electricity, music, hot water, airplanes, or antibiotics sometime.

  1. Teach responsibility.

Avoid blaming, or searching for people or things to blame. It’s up to us to teach our children to “fess up” and admit when they’ve made a mistake, dented a car, or caused pain to another.

vectorstock_2268588My parents had a brilliant tool for this. They called it the “Armistice.” When I needed to admit that I’d broken something, or when my mother came to me in search of a confession, I could ask for an Armistice. Asking for an Armistice meant that I would not be summarily punished. Instead I would have the opportunity to admit my stupidity and help define my punishment. Inevitably my parents were kinder to me than I was to myself – but the lifelong lesson-learned was that I could step up to tell the truth and face reasonable consequences. Being truthful, and unloading the anxiety, has made my life, and that of my children, much easier.

With these five steps I believe we can bring our families closer, encourage our appreciation for each other and ease the passage of time.

Here’s wishing you a 2015 filled with wonder, love, and amusement.

louis-ckLITELouis C.K. jokes that airline passengers often complain about slow Internet while sitting in a tube hurtling through the sky at 400 miles per hour.

I am often frustrated by bad cell coverage, when 20 years ago I couldn’t call anyone from the car.

Sometimes I feel like I’d be a real dummy without my smart phone. My need for instant information is important.

Yep, I’m living my life “on demand.”

When I want to ask a question — I ask Siri or text a friend. When I want to communicate with my family, I go on our group text. If I want to see a movie, I order tickets. If I want to hear a song, I buy and download it right now. If it’s your birthday — you’ll get some virtual love from me — maybe even some virtual flowers.

This Thanksgiving I think I’m going to slow it all down.

I have the impression that we’re all so busy living our lives that we don’t stop to appreciate the fact that we have lives at all. Sure, many of us take time to have conversations, or practice the calm that can be our religion. But too often, I find myself moving from one event to another with barely time to grab a coffee or a sandwich. I believe this goes for my children as well.

Gratitude is a key element in defining a child that “other people like to be around,” and November is a wonderful month for laying of that gratitude groundwork. In two weeks most of us will get to look around a table and give thanks for the miracle that got us all here.

My wife is an excellent cook. I know this because I’m not getting any thinner. I also know this because we’re usually sold out at Thanksgiving. Yep — everyone comes to our house, and we wouldn’t have it any other way because

Thanksgiving is perhaps my favorite holiday. It has no religious undertones, it reprises our Pilgrim predecessors who, in one of their last acts of magnanimity, invited some natives over to celebrate how lucky they all were to have corn.

So what’s Thanksgiving about today? It would appear to be about thanks (after all it’s in the name), but mostly I think it’s about teeing up Black Friday and maybe a four day weekend. Sure, there are sporting events, and even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but where is the thanks? How do we express our gratitude?

Here are some simple options:

  • TGivingTablePut all cellphones away before, during, and after the meal.
  • Take a moment — ask everyone to be quiet – and to focus on the wondrous things for which we have this chance to be grateful.
  • Ask each member of the group to describe one thing for which they are grateful.
  • Remember those who came before us (our families, not necessarily the Pilgrims) and create a sense of continuity with past Thanksgivings.
  • Thank everyone who contributed to the remarkable meal. (I hate to have to write that, but there are people who “forget” to do this).

Other options for “feeling” the day:

  • Volunteering-is-Great-for-TeensParticipate in a program with your kids and serve Turkey dinner to the homeless. (Many churches run these programs.)
  • Initiate a team project at home – include your kids in dinner prep, or gather toys or clothes to be given to charity.
  • Bathe your animals (just because it’s an act of giving (and not an easy one))
  • Call or visit a relative or close friend with whom you haven’t spoken in a long time.
  • Do something nice for a stranger.

We are surrounded by miracles every day — from pasteurization to pacemakers, from instant messages to innovative ideas. The gifts are all there, it’s just up to us to see them…

… and to say thanks.

emorylogoWe have a daughter at Emory University, home of our country’s most advanced Ebola treatment epicenter. People ask us if we’re worried and frankly, we’re not. We’re not good with panic.

Teaching our children to remain calm, find the facts, and react correctly to changing developments are among a parents’ most important jobs. But we must also remain calm ourselves!

DFW TaxiI’ve mentioned a number of times that, as a father, I compare myself to a taxi driver guiding his children through life. In their early years, they ride in the back of my cab and I show them the best ways to get from place to place. They don’t’ have much input with regard to the route, but they’re certainly welcome to make observations and to discuss things we see along the way.

As the kids get older, they may chime in about traffic, and we can share some route-based decisions. I know that someday they will be driving their own vehicles, so I teach them to navigate while I’m still around as their safety net.

CautionSignEven though there are times when the cab is almost out of gas or the tires may burst, I avoid making them aware of those problems because it’s my job to make them comfortable enough to look out the windows and learn about the world.

As a parent, I always want my child to feel safe even if I’m a little worried (which is just about as much fear as I would show my children). I also know that the world is full of scary or dangerous things, some of which require everyday attention — like swimming pools, electricity, sharp edges, and plastic bags – while others are more conceptual (like disease, war, fire, and death).

Knowing that we’re not always around to offer reassurance, I believe we should give our children the following tools to comfort themselves:

  1. Be skeptical. Teach them not to believe everything that people tell them. Research the facts to avoid repeating dumb things. Ask your kids if they can give you an example of someone telling them something crazy that they knew was untrue. Tell them the story of Chicken Little.
  2. Know your source. Identify the people who like to spread news, especially bad news, and weigh the value of their information. Explain the concept of “drama” because most of what bothers tweens is drama – not substance. Teach them to avoid “bandwagoning” – becoming one of the dramatists.
  3. Pause to educate. Delay your reaction until you can find the facts. There are many places where information about the threat (or non-threat) of Ebola can be found. If your child asks, sit down at the computer with and find the facts.
  4. Remain calm. Teach them the dangers of panic. The world was full of smokers when I was young. One of them was a good friend who, while driving, lit a cigarette and accidentally dropped the match in his lap. His panic to find the ember and put it out was so extreme that he steered his car right off the road and into a tree. It was the panic that got him, not the match.
  5. Offer reassurance.. If something scares your child, use your strength and knowledge to teach away their fear. When I was little, I was afraid of the dark. My mother asked me if I wanted to stay afraid, or learn more about the dark. I wanted to learn more and, with my agreement, she told me to get in my closet and get comfortable. Once in the closet, she said “I’m going to close the door until there’s a sliver of light – will that be OK?” I meekly said “Yes.” And she closed the door to the sliver. She reminded me that I was safe, nothing had changed, and that there was nothing in the closet that could harm me. Then she asked if I thought I could sit in the closet with the door closed. “I guess so.” I said, and she closed the door the rest of the way. Once my eyes grew accustomed to the absolute darkness I could see that nothing had changed. There were no demons, and I was no longer afraid. My mom suggested that I just go to sleep… it would be a good way to kill some time if I was stuck in a dark place. Years later on a tour of Alcatraz, I was put in a solitary confinement cell for twenty minutes. Easy peasy. I took nap.

ignoranceinactionEbola is scary and it’s being talked about almost everywhere. When there’s danger, realistic precautions need to be taken. But there is a difference between teaching preparation for a tornado or an earthquake perhaps and worrying about a disease in a far off place.

My mother used to quote Goethe when she’d say, “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”

Remember, panic is more contagious than Ebola – and probably more harmful.  Do your kids a favor, teach them to stay calm and check the facts.

RegalDaisyFor a while my days were almost perfect. I could sleep wherever I wanted, wander the house at will and always find food in my bowl. I could daydream for hours while my masters talked or watched that glowing box.  It was peaceful, but there were trade-offs.  I didn’t get a lot of attention.  Sure, I got some nice rubs once in a while, but I was given a bath only once a month, the menu never changed, and I rarely went outside the walls of my perfect prison. For the most part, I lived the classic dog’s life.

Then “it” happened.

I don’t know what they were thinking. Was I too boring? Did they need a challenge? Maybe I ate too loudly. I just don’t get it. I thought I was being the perfect dog – and then they brought “it” home.

For years my human sibling, the Long Haired Boy, had been bugging my masters to “get a puppy.” He said, “It’ll keep Daisy young,” and stuff like that. Well, I’m not feeling particularly old. In fact, I’ve had a pretty good run so far. Hips are in order, eyes are working pretty well, ears have never been that great. So aside from the fact that I poop every four hours, which the vet says is fine, I’m showing very few signs of age.

On the other paw, my two-legged owners have changed quite a bit. The little one who smelled the best moved out over a year ago, and the Hairy Guy has been home quite a bit (but he’s not taking me on any walks or anything.) The Pretty Lady with brown eyes (like mine) still brings me my crack crackers, but she’s not taking me on walks either. Basically, we’ve been pretty lazy around here for the last year or so.

2CuteGirlsinCarOn the whole, hanging with the Lovebirds was fine with me – until they brought home the little idiot they call Delilah.

For the first few days, I wanted nothing to do with the intruder, but my humans were obsessed with her. “Blah blah blah blah Puppy. Blah blah blah blah Delilah.” They were giving me that “extra nice” treatment… but it’s kind of crazy watching them get so excited about the little ball of fur that doesn’t know anything except how to jump up into my face and try to bite my jinglers. Can I just get five minutes?

That puppy doesn’t know anything. She breaks all the rules. She pees in her bed, she chews on the chairs, she grabs paper towels. Worst of all, the minute she sees me she comes flying in my direction and tries to bite my ears.. Lately the little bitch (literally) has been showing me up. My human says “Sit” and she sits. What a tool.

GrowlyLookAfter a few days of total puppy avoidance, my Masters forced us to get together. They held The Energizer still and let me give her a good sniffing. Not too bad. Puppy smell; simple, clean, new, and a little vulnerable. The two-legged ones forced us to get to know each other and then we started playing. A few well-timed bites, a big growl or two, and now little D knows how it’s gonna work around here.

Sure, I let her lay in my bed. I let her bite my leg. I let her try to steal my snacks and my masters are really grateful for that.  The puppy’s so enthusiastic I have to cut her some slack. I’ve got the energy. We’re both taking vitamins now. I’m even getting brushed once in a while.  All in all, I think this might be a gain.

DaisyHoldsHerOwnMore good news! Suddenly everybody is paying attention to us dogs, and even though they’re mostly petting the fluffy younger one, they’re being pretty darned nice to me too. HE actually gave me a bath, which HE hasn’t done in about ten years. I get a ton of treats. I’m sore from the regular walks and that stupid puppy is actually getting me into shape.

I’m also getting a lot more personal attention. It’s like my two-leggeds don’t mind having me around any more. They see that The Energizer will do anything I do, so they’re counting on good ol’ me to set an example of how to behave. This older sibling thing could really score me some points.

Today they rode in the Windy Box to the Land of No Leashes. Every once in a while the Masters are kind enough to take Delilah there so that I can get some rest. In those lovely, quiet moments, I can lie anywhere I want and not have to worry about being jumped. It’s kind of funny though. I actually miss that little puppy when she’s gone.

DogTugofWarAt first I thought this growing family thing was going to be a bummer, but I was wrong. It’s good to have a new friend.

Gotta go now, the puppy’s getting in trouble and I like to watch.

NoseyThis puppy thing is a lot of work.  Just as with our children, we console ourselves by saying, “If we put the work in now, we’ll have less to do later.” But that doesn’t diminish the magnitude of the required dedication at all.

Our friend Bruce summed it up when he said, “Puppies just don’t know any of the rules.” So, unlike Daisy, our tried and true eleven-year-old Golden, the puppy thinks everything is her business – the open dishwasher, my tool bag, any open drawer, and my underwear (which can still be found too often on the floor.)

MealtimeTogetherWe think Delilah is brilliant. By watching Daisy, she’s figured out the doggy door. She’s pretty much got the whole potty thing under control, and she has outsmarted our attempts to blockade her passage into other parts of the house. She’s wearing us down, fighting the war of attrition. Little does she know that we are united in our determination to teach her the rules and get our relationship off on the right paw.

As for the fetching….I remain concerned. I find that she loses interest in the ball after about four or five tosses. Up until a little while ago, we thought she was sixteen weeks old. That’s a point when she should be able to concentrate a bit. But today when we took the calendar off the wall, we determined that she’s only fourteen weeks old. That will allow me to cut her some ball-concentration slack for another couple of weeks. The Perfect Fetch will have to wait.

My big concern is that Daisy, a non-fetcher, has somehow propagandized her. “Is that all you want to do with your life…just chase that smelly ball for The Man?” Delilah seems to be thinking it over.

CraftsmanBagThis age miscalculation is a classic. We’ve been treating Delilah as though she should be farther along, and suddenly we find out that we are wrong. We had started some real training, we had eliminated her lunch, and we had serious bladder-holding expectations. On one hand, we’re relieved – she still seemed hungry at lunch time, she was a little “spacey” during the training sessions, and her bladder could have used the break. On the other hand, we just figured, “Man, are we boneheads!”

Having raised four kids, this is not the first time we made a fundamental error, and it probably won’t be the last. The important thing is that we’re not wasting time, energy, or emotion investigating the error and assigning blame. We’re just laughing it off and moving the enterprise forward – kind of similar to the time I accidentally locked our son in the car on a sweltering day.

LookinAtYouJoAnn’s internet adventures have migrated from shopping, “Candy Crush” or “Words with Friends” to “Doggy Discussions.” As a result, much of our discretionary conversation is devoted to things like “boundaries,” “meal time,” “doggy play,” and “socialization.” Some of the suggestions on these sites make sense – in which case we adopt them – and some seem a little overboard for us. We are not willing to enter the psychological arena with our dogs. From my point of view, they live in a binary world. Good is good and bad is bad, with no interpretation of feelings with regard to their behaviour. This keeps it simple for both me and them.

There has been a funny evolution in the friendship between Daisy and Delilah. When they are together, Delilah is often telling Daisy that she wants to play. She does this by jumping on Daisy, biting her ears, pulling her tail, and generally hassling the crap out of her. As a measure of her true brilliance, Daisy has chosen to remain upstairs, sometimes hidden in JoAnn’s closet, until very late in the morning. She’s no fool.

Meanwhile, JoAnn or I head downstairs before 7a.m. to let Delilah out of her crate and take advantage of the “alone time” to do some training. Sometimes, we’ll choose to take Delilah for a walk and she’ll whimper almost the whole time because she’s wondering where her walking mentor might be. The same goes for piling her in the car and going for an adventure (to Starbucks). She just keeps looking for Daisy.

OvertheShoulderWe think Delilah likes Daisy more than Daisy likes Delilah. But we are highly entertained, and even proud (which we find hysterical) when they play together like loving siblings. Every once in a while we achieve the perfect balance. Either the dogs play lovingly with each other or they lie in their respective corners of the kitchen. When these moments hit, we revel in our satisfaction and forget the fact that we are both “dog” tired.

Yes, we have hope for a peaceful, fetch-filled future.

Next up: Daisy weighs in.