Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Part in Frozen No One is Talking About

Let's get this out of the way. I love "Frozen." It is probably my favorite Disney movie since "The Lion King." It holds a special place in my heart as the first movie my daughter (3) has ever sat through. It holds an even more special place as the first movie my daughter has sat through 3 times. So let's talk about what I love about it first. Spoilers ahead for those who haven't seen the film.

For too long in movies, true love has been something that a princess must obtain.  And not just obtain from anywhere, obtain from a man. It is a gift he gives her. In early Disney Princess mythology it was as literal as a kiss. The prince wakes Sleeping Beauty with a kiss. The prince saves Snow White with a kiss.  Ariel has to earn her legs by getting Prince Eric to kiss her. So when in "Frozen", after accidentally getting iced in the heart by her Ice Queen sister, Princess Anna must race back to her "True Love" (whom she had just met a day or so earlier and has had 0 quality time with) to get his magic, lifesaving "kiss", I rolled my eyes. Here we go again. The music was amazing. The story of Anna trying to connect with her sister was captivating. And now it had all been reduced to another "dude saves the princess with a kiss story." But then the writers threw in the first big twist.

Anna's "true love" turns out to be an opportunistic douchebag who just wanted to marry her because she was a princess.  He was never in love with her, and his kiss would have been lame anyway. But now Anna is going to die unless she finds an act of true love! Luckily another gentlemen, the kind and attentive Kristoph is galloping down the mountain and across the frozen fjords to lay a big smooch on Anna's lips before she turns to ice! Oh well, at least Anna spent more than a half an hour with Kristoph before he became her only hope for salvation. I had still hoped for more… and then more happened. 

Opportunistic Douchebag goes after Anna's older sister, Queen Elsa, with a sword intent on killing her and usurping the throne. Anna sees this about to happen and turns from a quickly approaching Kristoph to go and save her. Suddenly we all realize what has been happening the whole time. This isn't a love story between Anna and Douche Canoe. It isn't even a love story between Anna and Kristoph. This is a love story between Anna and her sister! In her final moment Anna sacrifices her life to save her Elsa. True love is her gift to give. And through it, she is saved. 

Bravo! Genius! Empowering! I was honestly moved to tears. Here is a movie I can show my daughter over and over again. It has depth and thought behind it. It is beautiful. But wait, the movie isn't over. 

After Anna is resurrected by the giving of love, not the receiving, and after the fjords melt and the endless winter is ended, everyone is standing around on a boat having a nice time. Suddenly, Douchenozzle Liar Prince is found on the deck. After being properly restrained, I am sure he will be punished according to the law of the magical cartoon kingdom. Anna and Elsa have reconnected and all is well in the world. Aaaaand then Anna punches Prince Doucherton of Douchetonia violently in the face sending him flying into the water. Everyone smiles in the movie. Everyone laughs in the theater. My daughter laughs. I sit silent. 

Stick with me here. Aside from being a princess, there is nothing inherently female about the character of Anna. She is human. She wants love. She wants to connect with her sister. She wants companionship. All of those character details are non-gender-specific. If Disney had wanted to, Princess Anna could have easily been Prince Adam. Aside from changing the key of a few of the songs, they wouldn't have even had to change the script. Well, except for violently punching a member of the opposite sex in the face. They probably would have to change that. What if, at the end of the movie, the opportunistic Mrs. Douchette had been found on the deck of the boat, defeated and readily available to provide contextual closure to her part of the plot line, and the beautifully written, rendered, and character developed Prince Adam had proceeded to punch her directly in the face? I doubt there would have been as much laughter in the theater. 

Look. I know I'm being a bit nitpicky. And really, it is just another part of the movie that will inspire conversation between my daughter and I. And I realize there are hundreds of other examples of female on male comedic violence in movies that I have probably enjoyed and not critiqued in the past. It's just… it's just that "Frozen" is so good, and so smart, and so wonderful, that the one, completely unneeded punch in the face took me out the world that Disney had worked so hard for the previous two hours creating. It wasn't necessary, and it sent the wrong message that violence against men is a joke - which it isn't. 

I still love the movie. I still think Disney is working hard to move the idea of "princess" from one of entitlement to one of empowerment. That is wonderful, and I support it. Maybe just do it without needless, non-self-defensive punching of men in the face - even if they are horrible, lying douchebags.

Love, Dad (John)

Yadda yadda yadda... find me on Facebook!

PS: I probably don't need to say this again, but I really do love the movie. I think it is spectacular. I just think the punch warrants further discussion. Please feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comments. I don't have a monopoly on being right :)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

It is Time to Cure Cancer Again

Utah Chapter, Team in Training

OK. We didn't actually cure it last time. But we helped! Last year we raised $1,200 dollars to help research and cure blood cancers. Leukemia. Oh yeah, I also ran a half marathon.

One of the neatest things about raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society was getting to be a part of the training and education. Each week, before our run, we would learn something new about what the organization does, and where the money we were raising was going. Some weeks we would get letters from survivors or people currently undergoing treatment. Sometimes they would come and visit us to cheer us on as we huffed and puffed our way around the Salt Lake valley. Multiple times I started my run with tears in my eyes. 

It was such a transformative and moving experience that I knew there was no way I could not do it again this year. So I've re-registered, and this time I'm running the FULL marathon. Well, running may not be the right word. There may be walking, and possibly rolling involved. And since I've doubled my distance, I've also increased my goal. This year we're going to raise $2,000. 

That's where you come in. Instead of constantly bombarding you with fundraiser posts, I'm going to attempt to do a few big events over the next few months to chop a few legs off the monster goal I've set. I will be posting more info about those as they come along. In the meantime, let's start off right. With some hope. Check out this awesome video that was shared with us last year before our race. Research like this is just one of the many things your donations will help fund. After watching, please click the image below and donate. 

Fundraiser Pager

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What Happened When I Put My Phone Down

Mom here! 

The other day I told John that I find it exhausting to play "pretend" with our three-year-old. Duchess can go on for hours making up new scenarios for us to act out. "Now you say ____. Now I say ____. OK, now pretend you’re a ____.  Now I be a ____." There is no end to the random combination of things she wants us to be or say. Recently I've found myself able to stick with her for maybe 10 minutes before my brain is just too tired to pretend anymore. This never used to be a problem. I could have tea parties that lasted an hour or more. So why is it now that I’m having such a hard time using my imagination?

Then, completely unrelated to my imagination fatigue, I made the decision to unplug from social media for a while. In the last year, the amount of time I have spent on my phone has increased dramatically. I don’t play on my phone when I am playing with the kids, but I play on it immediately before and immediately after. So when I made the decision to put my phone down, I didn't even think about the fact that the two were related.  And yet, when I made that decision, an amazing thing happened. I found my imagination. When I wasn't worried about Facebook, I was Robin Williams in "Hook." I was seeing the food fight. When I wasn't picking an Instagram filter, I was Ariel in "The Little Mermaid." I could hear the invisible baby that Duchess and I were looking after crying for the strawberries we were in the process of picking from next to the couch. I was playing pretend again. I believed.

I've realized that my lack of imagination and my dependence on my phone are completely and unequivocally related. Before, when I would play with Duchess, in the back of my mind I was thinking about my phone. I was thinking about how I wanted to sit on the couch after my long day at work and catch up on the goings-on of my friends. I wanted to see all the ‘likes’ I had gotten on the filtered picture of me interacting with my child, instead of just interacting with my child. My ability to imagine anything was stunted by the ability to readily access the “reality” that was my Facebook news feed. No wonder I was exhausted after 10 minutes of role-playing. That part of my brain never got any exercise. It didn't need to. I never had to pretend anything because I could feed it with all the "real" updates and news stories it could handle.

And for what? What was the point of looking at my phone so often? It was just habit. It was a terrible habit. Like biting my fingernails or smoking, only instead of inhaling smoke, I was inhaling quippy statuses and cute pictures of babies, hashtags, and “Keep Calm and Do Things” macros. It was constant. Without even thinking about it, I was picking up my phone. Stopped at a stoplight? Check Facebook. On the shuttle? Read ALL.THE.BLOGS. Trying to fall asleep? Better check Instagram again. Forget talking to my husband; did you see that Chris Christy story on Huffington Post! There was never a moment that I was disconnected from the lives of everyone around me. And in doing so, I disconnected myself from the lives I should be MOST connected to. My family.

So, over the last week, I decided to change. I deleted my social media apps. I deleted my news apps. The only games on there are the ones that Duchess likes to play on occasion. Unless I want to play Letter Lab on my iPhone, there’s no reason to even pick it up. I worried about how I would do. And I’ll admit, it was really hard that first day. I didn't look at Facebook the entire day. No Facebook. No Instagram. When John went to put the kids to bed, I finally logged on to get caught up. You know how long it took? About 5 minutes. Within 5 minutes I had read my entire news feed, divvied out my ‘Likes’ and moved on. Hours out of my day spent thinking about what was on my news feed, all to be condensed into 5 minutes of time by myself.

I don’t really do “resolutions”. But here I am, resolving to be a better parent. To be my daughter’s dance partner. To get out from behind the phone and into the pretend picnic Duchess has set up for me. Sorry Facebook, you’ll have to wait, my tea is getting cold.

Love, Mom (Stevie)

P.S. John here. I am on board with all of this. I too have deleted all social media apps from my smart phone. If that doesn't work, I'm going to sell it and find a circa 2005 flip phone. So keep an eye out for me and my bad-a## Motorola Razor. 

Don't worry, the Ask Your Dad Facebook Page isn't going anywhere, I'll just be operating it from desktop during non-ninja turtle tea party hours. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Waiting in Traffic to Punish my Kid

There is construction on the road I take home from my office at 5 o' clock. I keep forgetting that there is construction on the road that I take home from my office at 5 o' clock. Once you are on the road that has construction, getting off it will only delay you more. I mention this because, during the winter, my kids go to bed at 7:30. That means, if my commute takes an extra 25 minutes on the way home, because I forgot that there is construction on the road I take home from work at 5 o' clock, then I have about 45 minutes with my kids before it is time to start their bed time routine. Yesterday, as I sat with the other poor saps who forgot about the construction, I decided to call Stevie and have her put Duchess on the phone. At least then I could have a little more time, even if it was as a disembodied voice on the other side of her Angry Birds machine. When Stevie picked up the phone I heard this:

"Duchess is in trouble. You're going to have to take away her clock."

I'll explain the clock. Remember Duchess's bed time routine with the sticker board? Every night she was good and didn't wake up Captain, she got to put a sticker on her board. When she filled the board she got to pick a toy at the store. Duchess didn't want a toy. Duchess wanted a clock. She's been kind of obsessed with time lately. She was always asking us what time it was. So when she picked out a cool little digital clock for her reward, I was not surprised at all. It quickly became her prized possession. We'd be playing in the living room, and she'd stop me and say "Daddy, can I go look at my clock?" Then she'd run to her room and run back out to tell us all what time it was.

Well, another thing that has been happening lately is that Duchess has been getting in scuffles at Daycare. I'm sure there are multiple factors to this including: a little, and newly mobile, brother getting in her stuff all the time, a sleep schedule that is not as consistent as we would like it, and Duchess is just tough and doesn't take crap from anyone. But hitting is bad, and we've told her this. Nothing worked until I finally told her that if the daycare told me she hit again I would take away her clock. We told her teacher about the threat, and it has been part of the messaging at daycare ever since. That put a stop to the hitting - until yesterday. So… back to me in traffic. Sigh…

"Tell her I am mad at her for hitting. Explain I am coming home to have a talk with her, and that I will be taking away her clock."

"OK. I'm sorry honey."

"Don't be sorry. It was my threat. It's my job to follow through. I'm going to be awhile."

"Did you forget about the construction on 7th again?"


Well shit. I can see the tears spilling out of her abnormally large eyes as her mom sends her to her room. I can hear the tiny little air gasps that are far worse than the tantrum that will precede them. I can predict the loss of breath as the air is sucked from the room while I unplug her clock, her favorite clock, the clock she takes pride in, the clock that makes her happy. I slam my fists on the steering wheel and accidentally honk my horn. The guy in front of me looks back and lifts his hands in the air as if to say "You should have known this construction was here. It is always here." I wave back. "I know. I know."

I remember being a kid, waiting in my room for my dad to come home and punish me a few times. Strangely, I don't remember any of the reasons. I just remember the dread. I remember formulating my story. What would I say? How would I explain what happened in a way that would assuage his anger? How could I make things right?

Now I am on the other side of it, and nothing much had changed. All I can think is, "What am I going to say? How will I explain what was happening? Do I pretend to be angry, or do I let her see how sad I am? How can I make things right?" The car in front of me moves six feet. I follow suit.

This has been one of my biggest challenges as a parent. Hell, this has been one of my biggest challenges as a person. I have this horrible obsession with fixing things, and with being right. When it comes to math, when it comes to facts, when it comes to the Green Bay Packers being the greatest football team in the history of the world, being right is easy. When it comes to being a parent, almost everything lives in this grey area of "maybe."

Should we let Duchess try out the big slide on the playground by herself? Maybe. Give it a shot and see what happens. Oh look, she fell on her face. Is that bad? Maybe. Should we give Captain peanut butter? Maybe. Give it a shot and see what happens. Oh look, no hives. Does that mean he's not allergic? Maybe. Should we spank our kids? Probably not. Oh look, they still don't listen to us. Is that because we don't spank them? Maybe. What if I take away her most prized possession in the world? Will that work better? Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. The problem with traffic is it gives you too much time to think.

I decide to call the daycare to get more of the story. Turns out she didn't just hit one kid. She hit three kids. Well, it was a combination of hitting and pushing.

"Did they hit back? Or did she just clear the room Jacky Chan style?" My joke doesn't get a laugh. She will have to check with the teacher. Now all I can picture is my tiny Duchess bicycle kicking some kid in the face while using various pieces of adorably sized furniture to fling kids around the room like rag dolls.

Or something like this... without the pads.
What am I going to do? What if she gets kicked out of daycare? Maybe I should put her in karate. Maybe she is destined to fight crime. Would that help? Maybe. You can go to hell maybe. You can go straight to hell. I look at the time on my dash board and all I can think about is her little clock. It changes colors every few minutes from red to green to blue to yellow. It transitions gradually and becomes each intermediary color in between. When she watches it with her eyes wide, her face is a smiling rainbow. Shit. Shit. Shit. I hit the steering wheel again. Honk again. Wave sorry again. This guy must think I am crazy.

This is driving me crazy. Not this specific situation. The ifs. The ifs are driving me crazy. The ifs are my life now. Is this how it was for my parents? Were they just as clueless about how to do this as I am? I don't know how to make a good person. Hell, I'm 32 and I just barely learned how to make a proper over easy egg. What if taking her clock away breaks her? What if I just sit her down and explain how society works. Violence is not an acceptable reaction in our society, except in movies, and on television, and even in the Disney movie you just fell in love with. Yes. Frozen. The geniuses at Disney spent an entire beautiful movie flipping the fairy tail princess story on its head, defying gender rolls, making true love an act that is given instead of received, telling the story of two women trying to connect with, and love, each other, and then in the last 3 minutes of the movie have the main protagonist needlessly punch a guy directly in the face. Then everyone laughs, including my daughter. Thanks Disney for making violence against men a joke. Would you mind calling our daycare?

Of course it isn't Disney's fault. It's probably no one's fault. It is probably an amalgam of circumstances, both in and out of our control, that have lead to my daughter becoming an unstoppable ninja. And yet, it falls to my wife and I to fix it. AS SOON AS I GET OUT OF THIS TRAFFIC! JESUS, IS THERE SOMETHING WRONG UP THERE? I poke my head out of the car. Nope. Just construction.

Here's what I decide. No yelling. I will remain calm but stern. I will walk into Duchess's room and discuss what happened. I will be persistent and make her tell me why she is in trouble. I will make her tell me what her punishment is. I will take away her clock. I will understand that she will react to this poorly, and I will allow myself to accept her reaction as who she is in that moment. I will love her AND be mad at her. I will know that this may not be the right thing to do, but it is the best way I know how to do it at that moment. I can't always be right anymore. I'm a parent now. If I worry about being right all the time, I will be perpetually stuck in traffic forever, over-analyzing every decision I need to make, and never making any. I don't need to always be right, I need to strive to be less wrong.

I take a deep breath and let that be it. I feel the tightness in my jaw and my shoulders slowly let go. Tonight is going to be rough. My 45-60 minutes with my kids before bedtime are going to be tearful and loud and I can't fix that. But I can do my best, and that is going to have to be enough.

The car in front of me starts to move slowly, then a little quicker. It's my turn. One more deep breath to calm down. The guy behind me honks. I wave. I know. I know. The gas pedal descends and I head home to do my best - to be less wrong. 

Thanks for sitting in traffic with me, 

Dad (John)

P.S. Oh yeah, don't forget to come hang out on the Ask Your Dad Facebook Page. We have a lot of fun.