Friday, July 31, 2015

Dear Daughter, It’s OK to Be Wrong


Earlier this year you were bounding through the living room, doing your usual jump and land, jump and land routine when the “land” portion put your right foot directly on top of a very pointy plastic dragon named Toothless. I didn’t see it happen, but I heard the howl.

You cut your foot pretty badly. There was lots of blood and tears and sobbing. Your mom and I sat with you and put pressure on the wound until the bleeding stopped. We all took deep breaths together and told you it was ok to cry as loud as you wanted. Eventually the throbbing of your foot subsided with the stutters of your breath and the three of us put a Doc McStuffin Band-Aid on it. Then you hopped up and continued your bounding… with a little bit of a limp.

Ever since that day, any time that little plastic dragon has been left out you have been the first person to run and put it away. “We need to put this away or someone will break themselves... like I did.”

I love this story. I don't love the pain you went through, and the sound of your sobbing will always be with me. But I love that you learned from your pain. Not only did you learn. It made you stronger. And it gave you empathy for others. 

You're going to hurt a lot in your life. Some of it is going to by physical. You are a jump-and-land girl. Sometimes those landings are going to be harder than others, and often they are going to hurt. But you are going to learn to land better. 

Sometimes the hurt is going to be inside. Sometimes people are going to hurt your feelings, which, in large part, is outside of your control. Sometimes you're going to make a bad decision and it is going to hurt you or others. Sometimes you are going to be wrong. 

Being wrong is ok as long as you are willing to see it. With physical pain it is easy to see where you went wrong. "I shouldn't jump on top of plastic dragons because it makes my foot bleed." Easy peasy. 

With the other kind of wrong it is harder to see. You need to look both inward and outward. You need to look at how your actions make you feel inside, and how they make others feel. And then comes the most important part. You have to ask yourself, "Could I be wrong?"

Sometimes you will be. And not only is that ok; that is awesome. Not that you are wrong, but that you are able to see it. 

I have learned far more from admitting I was wrong than I ever have from insisting I was right.

There is no shame in admitting that you are wrong, because that moment is a moment of growth, and there is nothing shameful about growth. Sometimes we are oblivious to the dragons we are stepping on until they stab us in the foot. 

So be more wrong. Move quick. Break things. Take in the world around you, snap it in two, and put it back together again. There's no script to life. 

You have to find your way through, and than means messing up. 

I promise you this. You will always have me. Not only my forgiveness, but my praise and my pride. When you are wrong, I will acknowledge it and celebrate you for seeing it. And when you are really, really wrong. When the pain is too much. I'll sit with you and we will take deep breaths and it will be ok to cry as loud as you want.

Sometimes growing hurts. A lot. 

I love you, and I am proud of you,

Dad

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Thank you so much to the sponsor of this post, Plum Organics. They are more than a sponsor. They are a patron. Too often, brands that want to work with bloggers insist on controlling the message. Campaigns end up being a group of bloggers all essentially writing the same post. Plum's Parenting Unfiltered campaign has been different. Instead of asking me to pitch their product, they merely said that they wanted to sponsor my writing and however I could apply it to their #ParentingUnfiltered campaign. It has been a joy working with them, and I am honored to be associated with their brand. 

And, for what it is worth, we have been eating Plum Organic products in our house for the last three months, and the kids are nuts about them. You can check out their whole line of products on ther website, plumorganics.com.




Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Fine. I Will Write about the Marcy’s Diner Owner Who Screamed at the 2-Year-Old

Source: themindofifer
OK. Fine. You win. I will write about the lady who yelled at the two-year-old who was throwing a fit because of pancakes. (You can catch up on the hoopla here.)

I'm not writing about this because I think it is an important discussion the internet should be having right now. As always, there is a lot of other stuff going on that would be more worth your time. But, because you asked me to... and because I am grateful for something… anything not Donald Trump related in my news feed... I am going to write about it. Also, it was only a week ago that Stevie and I were in a crowded breakfast cafe with Duchess and screaming/crying Captain waiting on… yes… pancakes. So it's relatable!

Luckily, no on screamed at me, Stevie, or my two-year-old. Instead, do you know what the waitress did? She came up and said “Ahh, poor guy. Is there anything I can do?”

And I said, “Actually if you could snag us some crayons and a paper it would get him to calm down
really quick.”

“Oh! I’m sorry. We usually give those to kids when they come in!”

“Not a problem at all. If it doesn’t work, I’ll take him outside and cheer him up.”

About 30 seconds of crying later the waitress returned.

“I’m so sorry. It looks like we’re out of crayons, but I got these crackers for him to snack on while we finish up the pancakes. We’re pretty busy, but I think your food will be up soon.”

“That is perfect, thank you. You are so awesome.” I said, really meaning it and adding money to her tip in my mind.

“No problem at all.” It wasn’t her job to sooth my crying kid. It was mine and Stevie’s job. But our efforts weren’t working and we had 4 plates of breakfast food on the way. That’s what good service is, going above and beyond the expectations of your customers, especially in difficult situations.

Captain ate his crackers. Then Captain ate his pancakes and the rest of us ate our breakfasts. Everyone was happy. I tipped her well and we will definitely be going back.

Unfortunate picture of angry lady.
It was a wonderful experience that could have been really shitty if we were treated the way the lady in Maine treated her customer. By the way, it was Penny Ann’s Cafe in Draper, Utah where this happened. If you want to spread some internet love to counter all the internet anger out there, their Yelp Page would be a great place to start. And if you’re in Draper, Utah you should stop in. Try the pancakes.

Here’s the thing. I don’t think it was cool of the owner of the cafe in Maine to get in that kid’s face, but you’re free to disagree with me. I believe that she escalated an already difficult and awkward situation, and made it worse for the customers with the screaming kid AND the other customers in the diner.

As a business owner, with a vested interest in the satisfaction of her customers there are better and more effective approaches to customer service than “rage spiral." Just look at the example I gave above.

But hey, it’s her restaurant, and it’s her right to handle the situation how she sees fit. It sounds like she has plenty of support from angry people on the Internet. For me, the bottom line is that if I had seen her screaming at a child in her restaurant, or it had been my child, I wouldn’t be returning with my family to that restaurant. Not because I don’t think she has the right to do it, but because I don’t like watching people be complete assholes to each other while I eat scrambled eggs. I’ll just go to Penny Ann’s Cafe in Draper Utah instead. It's a shorter drive and they are nicer.

This is not a sponsored post. Penny Ann's Cafe has no idea I am writing this. Also, be sure to follow Ask Your Dad on Facebook... we have all-you-can-eat pancakes. EDIT: Sorry, we just ran out of pancakes. You can cry about it if you want. I won't yell at you. 

BTW, the mom of the crying kid has now told her side of the story. You can find it here. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Not Another Political Post About the SCOTUS Decision on Marriage Equality

There isn’t much I can write about the SCOTUS Decision on marriage equality that hasn’t already been written better by someone else. In the last few weeks I’ve had some pretty intense Facebook discussions about everything from the bible to state rights to slippery slopes to the fall of our democracy. All of the hand wringing and blargle shouting and doomsday calling has honestly been a real downer surrounding what, for my family, is a pretty awesome thing. So I am not going to write about it again. I know where I stand. You know me, you know where I stand. Instead, I am going to write about my friend Ken, and about a conversation with my daughter. 

Ken is my oldest friend. We met in preschool when my parents first brought me to Utah in 1985. My first memory of him is eating cereal with him at our preschool. We all sat at tiny tables at our daycare, and before we were allowed to start in on our Sugar Pops (that was an actual cereal that existed when we were kids) we would be required to say a prayer. It went like this:

“God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food. Amen.”

If I close my eyes, I can still hear a room full of toddlers saying those words in tiny voiced unison. The day I met Kenny (he was called Kenny back then, and I was called Johnny) instead of saying “Amen” Kenny said “A Frog” and I laughed so hard it hurt my face. After that, every morning before Sugar Pops we would try to outdo each other by picking a new noun to say at the end of the prayer. “Let us thank him for our food. A chair! A dog! A turtle!” And we’d laugh and laugh and laugh. One day after breakfast he wrote his phone number down in blue crayon on a piece of paper so we could tell our parents to let us have a sleep over. It was ***-***-0082. I still remember it because he had the same number until we graduated high school 16 years later. 


Ken and I grew up best friends. We built countless club houses in the gully by my house. We stayed up all night beating the original Zelda. We stayed up all night beating Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. We stayed up all night beating Zelda – A Link to the Past. We played a lot of Zelda. 

We were also very lonely kids. For a long time Ken and our friend Chuck were my only friends. We were three non-Mormon kids growing up in a very Mormon town and we felt very isolated. For me, I converted that angsty isolation into anger. I remember being very angry for a lot of my early teens, and every time I found myself feeling consumed by that anger, I would call Ken. 



When my parents divorced, I called Ken. When my girlfriend broke up with me, I called Ken. Ken was always there, no matter what. One time, shortly after my parents’ divorce, my dad was in an apartment that didn’t allow dogs and my mom could no longer take care of Beau, our lab that I had raised from a puppy. The thought of losing him in the wake of everything that had just happened was too much for me to handle. I took all the anger I had bottled up from the separation and the divorce, all the sadness I'd felt every night as the hope my parents getting back together got further and further out of reach, and rage vomited it over everyone who would listen. My poor mom bore the brunt of my wrath with grace. And when I was done screaming and punching walls and saying every curse word I knew how to say, I called Ken. Ken called his mom, and they took my dog in until my dad could get a place that allowed dogs. 

Ken saved my dog. 

Why am I telling you all this? What does this have to do with the SCOTUS decision? Maybe you've already figured it out, but in case you haven’t, Ken is gay. Ken came out to me during our freshman year of college, and it was the most natural thing in the world. There was no big reveal. There was no disappointment. I never looked back on our life and tried to see things in a different light. He was still Kenny. He was the person, besides my parents, that I had known the longest in this world. That was it. End of story.





Another decade went by. Our lives took us in different directions. Sometimes, when things got great or things got rough, we would still call each other. I met Stevie and he met Jason. They became the people we called. They became our family.

Ken and Jason
Ken and Jeff at my wedding

Of course, there was a difference. Stevie was legally my family. When Stevie and I got married I included her on my health insurance. When Stevie had an issue with her heart and was in the emergency room, I was waived in because I was her husband. Kenny and Jason have been together for nearly a decade now, and they, unfortunately, had not been afforded the same rights. 

But this isn’t a political post. This is a post about my friend Ken, and a conversation with my daughter. 

On the Sunday after the SCOTUS decision I woke up, put on a pair of slacks and a maroon collared shirt, and, like I do most mornings, went down stairs to find my daughter watching the cartoon Justice League.

“Yo dude.” Sometimes I call her dude. It makes me a cool dad. (Just let me have this.)

“Yo.” She says yo back, because we’re cool like that. (Seriously, just let me have this.)

“Go grab your purple dress. We’re going to a wedding party.” She calls them wedding parties, so I 
call them wedding parties. 

“OOOH Who’s wedding party is it Daddy?”

“My friends Ken and Jason are getting married.”

“Oh! Are Kenny and Jason boys?”

“Yes. You have met them before. They came to my birthday.”

“They are boys and they are getting married?” This was framed as a normal 4-year-old question, not the way I would have asked it when I was her age. There was no ewww in her voice. I smiled. 

“Yep. Sometimes boys marry boys. And sometimes girls marry girls.” And sometimes you realize in the middle of saying something that it is the first time you are able to say it. And sometimes you realize that moment is different than all the moments before it. Something big has changed and you got to see it, and this is the first time the change has worked its way into your life in a real way. And it is beautiful.

“So they are a family now?” We’ve always told her that mommy and daddy got married to make a family. 

“Yep! They are a family!”

“OK. Can I wear my pink dress?”

“Absolutely.”

And that was it. She bounced off into her room to put on her pink dress. Stevie woke up the boy and got him dressed in his tiny pants, tiny button up, and tiny clip on tie, and the four of us went to a wedding. Not a gay wedding. A wedding.

There were no politics. There was no arguing about state’s rights. God did not smite us, and our country did not collapse beneath our feet. I watched as my life-long friend married his best friend, the person he loves. Stevie and I sat together, our kids in our lap, and watched the creation of another family. In that quiet moment I found clarity. I knew that long after all the internet fights and blargling have subsided, this is what will remain. Families. Partners. A team. A way to face the world together.



I always cry at weddings. Always.

Love you all! 

John

P.S. Thanks, Ken and Jason, for letting us be a part of your day, and thanks for letting me write about it. Congratulations on your family. You deserve it. 

And Ken, thanks for being such an amazing friend… and thanks for saving my dog. OK, I’m crying again. 


NOW CAKE!








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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Our Family Table

A little after Stevie and I first got together we went to a dinner party at our friends’ house. They had just moved into a posh apartment in a really nice are of downtown Salt Lake City. At the time, Stevie and I were living at her mom’s house. The first thing I noticed when we walked into their new apartment was the massive kitchen table they had. It was beautiful stained black wood, bar height, and had enough seating for 8 people around it. I’m not sure why, but that table imprinted on my psyche a level of accomplishment I had not yet achieved in my life. I was never bummed about not having a fancy car or nice clothes. I never felt like I needed a giant house to keep up with the Jones’s. But for some reason, I WANTED that table.

Three years later, when Stevie and I bought our home for our kid that was on her way, we also bought a big beautiful bar-height wooden table for me. OK, we didn’t actually buy it. Stevie’s mom gave it to us. But it was mine, and even though we didn’t technically earn or pay for it, it felt good having it in our kitchen. It was the table I had always pictured myself having.

This is our old table without the leaf. It looked cooler with the leaf. 

There was one problem. Stevie hated that table. HATED it. She had her reasons. One, my wife is vertically challenged. She comes in at about 5.2, and climbing up into the wrought-iron leather-backed chairs was one of her least favorite parts of her day. The other reason she hated it? Our kids happen to be even more vertically challenged than Stevie, and unlike Stevie, climbing Mount Heavy Danger Chair was one of their FAVORITE things to do. We never had any actual accidents or injuries from bar-height falls, but as any parent can attest to, it isn’t the actual owies that cause the majority of the heart-hurt, it is the constant anticipation of them. With our big table, Stevie was in constant watch mode.

But it was MY table. It represented being a grown-up – strangely more than owning a house and having a kid did. I fought tooth and nail against getting rid of it. And by “tooth and nail” I mean that every time Stevie brought up getting a new table, I changed the subject or put my fingers in my ears and yelled “NANANANANANANA” really loud. Because I am an adult.

And that worked, until she was right. Until she said, “John, I know you have an irrational love for this table, but here is the thing. It is your table. I want a family table. I want this table.” 

Except for the puffy chairs. I didn't want puffy chairs. 




















With one picture, she had won. The thing was, just like when I first saw the big, tall table I was able to picture myself being an adult while sitting at it, when I saw the picture of this table I was able to picture my family sitting at it.


I gave in.

Stevie posted our big table on Craigslist and we sold it to a guy who was super excited to have a great big table. Then we took the money and ordered our new, family table.

Our friends (and by friends, I mean actual friends, like people we know and trust) at Utah Rustic Tables (website here for all you Utah locals) made it easy. Stevie logged onto their website, customized her order and it was delivered to our door. (We actually tried to pick it up, but it was raining really bad, so they were super cool and delivered it for us.)

I have to say, it has become the center of our home. Not only do our family dinners happen there, but the kids do their art projects on it. Where our old table was a giant, cold monolith, the family table draws people in. Lack of coasters left bubbles. It had some dings and scratches that bothered us immensely every time we noticed them. A ding in our "perfect" adult lives. Now we have a family table. It's rustic and beautiful down to every inch of its solid wood build. Water wicks off. And every ding will become a story. Sometimes, after the kids have gone to bed, Stevie and I find ourselves just chatting at it, asking each other about our days, joking around and listening… actually listening.


We're going to paint the chairs white... someday....
I think that is what a good family table does. It doesn’t dominate the room, it pulls the room together. It pulls people together, face to face. It helps us see each other.



Like I mentioned before, our friends of build these tables to order. You get to pick out the stain, the leg type and the accent color. They come in different sizes which allow you to customize them to your liking. They also have coffee table and all sorts of other table themed items. You should check them out here: Utah Rustic Tables

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dear Crappy Parent

Image source: nalejandro (Flikr)

I see you.  

I see you sitting on park a bench with your iPhone out. Your kid is calling for your attention and it takes three or four times before you recognize that the “Dad” being shouted from the playground is the “Dad” that means you. You look up for a minute from whatever is happening on your screen, wave, and then go back the digital oracle in your lap.

I see you at the supermarket queued up with your kids. The older one wants what appears to be a plastic baby bottle full with liquid sugar. When you say no she starts to cry. You grab her by the arm, pull her ear in close to your mouth, and even though I don’t know what you whisper, I know it is bad because of the look on your kid’s face when she puts the candy back.

I see you at the restaurant. Your youngest has chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese for what I can only imagine is the fortieth time recently. His cheesy fingers are holding your iPhone and watching what is probably some brainless cartoon you use to babysit your kids because you are too lazy to pay attention to them.

I see you lose it at the mall. Your kid drops a soda on the floor and your anger is far more than the situation deserves. People stop and stare at you. Your words are loud and hurtful and I wonder to myself how much you are damaging your kid.

Here’s what I don’t see.

I don't see that...

You play with your kid all the time. You spend the evenings after you get home from work reading books and teaching your kid how to read. You take her to the comic book store every Tuesday and let her pick two issues to reward her for her hard work. On weekends you take your kids to a park full of other kids. You want them to be able to play and have fun while you catch up on e-mails on your phone.

I don't see that...

After picking your kids up from daycare you need to swing into the supermarket to grab some chicken and milk before you go home and cook dinner. Last night your kid had a snack when she got home and didn’t eat anything you cooked. Because you two have talked about it, she knows that she doesn’t get a snack, but she asks for the candy anyway. When you pull her in close you remind her of the reason she doesn't get a snack and ask her to put it back. She remembers, looks a little sad, and does.

I don't see that...

You don’t get to go out to eat very often. Money is tight, and taking four people out to a restaurant is expensive. But it is a treat, and you want everyone to have fun. For you a treat is a medium-rare steak and potatoes. A treat for the kids means chicken nuggets and mac-n-cheese. It is a special occasion… which is why, after your toddler tries to wander into the kitchen for the third time, you decide that the judgmental stares of others are worth being able to have a conversation with your spouse for the first time in a week.

And the yelling incident?

I don’t see that you've had trouble sleeping all week. I don't see that you had an argument with your spouse that day and it is still eating away at you. I don't see that you are stressed at work, and that usually little things don't make you mad like this. I don’t see the hundreds of times you didn’t yell at your kid. I don't see you say you're sorry later and explain that sometimes even grown-ups get angry and yell, and that doesn't necessarily make it right, but people make mistakes. I don't see your child forgive you.  

See, that's the thing. I don’t see anything but that one single snap shot out of your life, an iPhone, some chicken nuggets, a spilled soda or an angry face. That's all I see, and for some reason I think I know you. For some reason I think I know what kind of parent you are. You are a "crappy" parent.  

And you know what? Depending on which snap shot you see of my life, so am I. I am a crappy parent sometimes too. And I am an awesome parent sometimes, and so are you!

So let’s make a deal.

Let’s cut each other some slack. Let’s rest easy in the knowledge that there is much we don’t know about each other. Instead of offering eye-rolls or a frustrated gasps, let’s toss each other a smile and a nod that say “I’ve been there too.” When we’re really struggling, let’s offer to listen and hold our advice back until we’re asked. And most of all, let’s acknowledge that we’re all crappy parents sometimes. We all have our highs and our lows. The rest of the time we’re somewhere in the middle, treading water, and doing the best we can.

Knowing that we’re all in this together makes this Sisterhood of Motherhood, Brotherhood of Fatherhood, Fellowship of Parenthood… whatever you want to call it, great. Knowing we’re not alone makes the lows tolerable, the highs feel better, and the middle a lovely place to be. So please, crappy/awesome/and everything in between parents, let's just calm down a little bit, judge less, and enjoy the ride. 

Meet me in the middle, 

John

P.S. All those examples were me. I felt bad being judgy about others so I just used myself as a stand in. So yeah... OOOOHHH BAM!!! TOTALLY UNEXPECTED  M NIGHT SHYAMALAN PLOT TWIST! BRUCE WILLIS WAS DEAD THE WHOLE POST!!!

Anyway, the message is the same. Be cool to each other. We're in this together :) 

--

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This is my final post with Similac and their Sisterhood of Motherhood Program. It has been a lot of fun being a part of this group. As part of this program, I received compensation for my time. Similac believes that consumers and bloggers are free to form their own opinions and share them in their own words. Similac’s policies align with WOMMA Ethics Code, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines and social media engagement recommendations.