Papa Tips

June 9, 2009

Maybe it’s just the age we are, or the age of our generation, but it seems like everywhere I look, people I know are having babies.  There are four babies due in 2009 just at work, and another handful scattered among my social network.  Since most of these parents are first timers, I thought I’d put together some tips to help see them through the next few years of their lives.  And although many will work for both parents, I’ll mostly be writing with the new fathers in mind.

Pea-wrapped Grilled Shrimp

May 29, 2009

Pea-wrapped Grilled Shrimp

If you’re staring longingly at your half-grown peas, wishing you could be enjoying that fresh spring taste right now, then I’ve got a great recipe for you!

You might not know it, but the entire pea plant — shoots, leaves, flowers and pods — is edible, and all of it taste like peas.  I often grab a random pea leaf to munch on when I’m strolling in the garden.  They also stand up to grilling, and the flavor is a great match with freshly grilled shrimp.  Here’s how you do it:

  • Turn the grill on high.
  • Peel and clean your shrimp, then sprinkle with salt, lemon, and any other seasonings you might have (I didn’t use dill, but it would probably be fantastic).
  • Remove the seeds from a sweet pepper and chop it into skewerable squares.
  • Head over to your pea plants and pick a leaf or two off each plant.  The bigger and older, the better.  You’ll need one leaf for each shrimp.
  • Grab one shrimp, wrap it in a leaf, skewer it, then stick on a piece of sweet pepper.  Repeat until done.
  • Add a bit of oil to protect while cooking.  I gave the skewers a quick spritz of cooking spray; alternately you could toss or brush with oil.
  • Throw ’em on the grill!  With  high heat, they need just a few minutes on each side.
  • Enjoy!

Pea-wrapped Shrimp

The pea leaves help to protect the shrimp from drying out in the high heat of the grill, and they provide a nice, subtle hint of pea flavor that goes well with the light sweetness of the shrimp.  We enjoyed ours with some other springtime favorites: grilled asparagus and sweet Walla Walla onions.  Add some simply dressed lemon-parsley noodles and a glass of wine and you’ve got a great spring meal!

The Transparent Parent

May 22, 2009

A few weeks ago, I was walking to lunch with a coworker who has a son about Ruby’s age. He mentioned that he and his wife have been trying to avoid using spelling or oblique references in their son’s presence. For example, if there’s a debate about whether to have ice cream for dessert, they won’t start spelling I-C-E C-R-E-A-M while they hash out the details.  Instead, they try to involve him in their conversations even if the subject might be one they’d rather avoid or where their decisions might not mesh with their child’s easily predictable desires.

The notion of transparent parenting stuck with me as an interesting ideal, and it’s something I’ve thought about a lot since then.  Part of it is giving Ruby an honest presentation of how the world works; before decisions are made there is a conversation that is a critical part of the process.  Exposing her to the complete process teaches her about compromise and empowers her by bringing her into the process.  Decisions don’t spring fully-formed from Papa’s forehead; instead there is back and forth where we talk about feelings, desires, how close it is to bedtime, and whether we should save the treat for a more special occasion.

But transparent parenting isn’t an absolute ideal.

Kate, Ruby and I were driving back from a camping trip and about an hour down the road we stopped in a little town to stretch our legs and explore.  As we were getting back in the car, with a three-hour stretch of driving ahead of us, Kate suddenly realized that we’d left Ruby’s water bottle back at the campsite — and stated as much.  Ruby’s favorite water bottle, the only water bottle she’d ever known her entire life, with the cute picture of the backpacking dog and handy protective cap, was now gone.

Ruby cried for an hour.   She’d compose herself, grow quiet, and then think about her lost water bottle and start wailing again.  If you’ve ever been cooped up with a crying toddler in a small car you’ll know what kind of a drive that was.  So yes, there are times when you want to withhold information from your young charges.

It’s certainly easier to be a less-than-transparent parent.  Involving a toddler in decisions can be frustrating, exhausting, or just plain cruel.  Three-year-olds in particular are just beginning to learn about their own independence, and their psyches can be frail as a result.  I know that mentioning the words “ice cream” or “playground” will immediately fix those conclusions in her head, even if they are just remote possibilties in mine.  There is a tricky line one needs to negotiate.  But as parents, I think we can lean towards the convenience of opacity a little too often.

We were sitting around the breakfast table this morning and Kate was telling us about her previous evening, when she’s spent some time with friends at a bar.  Apparently some of her friends had gotten pretty “drunk“.  That was just how Kate said it: whispered, under her breath, so Ruby wouldn’t hear.  But really, saying the word “drunk” around Ruby isn’t a bad thing — it’s exactly the kind of information about how the world works that we want her to have.

Transparent parenting isn’t a hard-and-fast philosophy, or even a general rule of thumb.  It’s just something to consider as your child matures and becomes more appreciate of the world of adults around her.  It adds a new challenging layer to parenting, for sure, so it is best applied judiciously.  But keep the idea in the back of your head; soon you’ll find yourself spelling less and dealing directly with your child more often.  After all, isn’t that what parenting is all about?

Ping Pong Soup

April 28, 2009

Here’s a great recipe that is perfect for those days when I come home from work with no ideas for dinner, some random ingredients in the fridge, and a Ruby who wants to spend time with Papa.

The recipe is simple: just put a carton off chicken broth in a pot, turn on the heat, and then take turns adding ingredients. Anything goes. Yes, anything.

The last time we played it turned out something like this:

Me: leftover chicken meat and bones.

Ruby: Blueberries!

Me: A handful of cooked rice

Ruby: Apple juice!

Me: Some chopped up onions

Ruby: Carrots!

Me: Chinese five-spice powder

Ruby: Cheerios!

You’ll notice that all of Ruby’s ingredients end in an exclamation mark, because she’s having tons of fun.  As a parent, it’s a good exercise of your ability to deal with the randomness of toddlerhood.  It’s actually hard to think of any ingredients I would veto — especially since, as the person who is dealing with the bubbling pot, I get to control the amount of each ingredient and when it is added.  So (for example) in our previous round, the Cheerios were sprinkled on top, as a garnish, after the soup had been served.

This recipe is also a good challenge to aspiring chefs to learn to roll with what’s available, and find common flavor threads to unite the random bits bubbling in the pot.

My advice if you try this (and I hope you do!):

  • Put healthy basics in at the beginning — stock, meat, rice, barley, potatoes, that kind of thing.
  • Save the spices for the end, when you know what kinds of flavors you’re dealing with.
  • Keep an open mind!

Princess Party Redux

April 27, 2009

The Princess Party has come and gone and Ruby is none the worse for wear.  Despite the omnipresent generic princess decor, Ruby has yet to ask to be saved from any dragons (although she does need rescuing from the occasional uncooperative button).

Pretty Passive Posing Princess Pastry<br>(yes, that's a cake)

Pretty Passive Posing Princess Pink Pastry (yes, that's a cake)

Ruby chose to dress in her bee costume (her other option was ladybug) and she was the only non-princess among the half-dozen girls.  But crinoline and satin bodices notwithstanding, it was about what you’d expect from a gather of three- and four-year-olds: chasing, screaming, stickers, face painting, and juice boxes.  Ruby made the most of being a bee among the lilies of the kingdom and spent her time chasing everyone around.  She didn’t seem to mind that she was the only non-princess among the girls.  The fact is, I really wasn’t worried so much what she would think — it was the parents I was worried about, and what they’d think of the dork who brought his kid in a bee costume to the princess party.

Which brings us to the best part of the whole experience: spending time with Ruby’s classmates and their parents.  I only get to make a very brief appearance at Ruby’s school once per week before rushing off to catch a bus, and so I don’t get much opportunity to chat with the parents or get to know them or their kids.  But Ruby is going to be spending lots of time around these people for the next few years, and she’ll be invited to more birthdays, playdates, and the like.  It was good for me to have some pleasant conversations with several of the parents and get to know them a bit better.

The Bee Gets A Bee

The Bee Gets A Bee

p.s. The decor (princess decals strewn about the house) and a Princess Pageant Castle Cake did confirm my earlier conception of the Princess meme (or at least the way it is marketed).  These ladies do nothing but stand around — can’t one of the them hop on a horse, pull out a book, or even, you know, walk somewhere?  Even a model’s strut would be a step up from the static subvervient pose these princesses present.

Pretty Pretty Papa Princess

April 22, 2009

It was bound to happy sooner or later. Try as we might to shield Ruby from the infectious outside world, we knew that eventually she’d be exposed.  Sending her to preschool only increased the odds, and now, finally, it has happened:  she’s been invited to a Disney Princess Birthday Party.

original by flickr user PinkMoose

original by flickr user PinkMoose

Kate and I both anti-princessification, for reasons I’ve mentioned before. Looking at the cheap invitation (printed at home, not Officially Licensed Merchandise) a whole new objection sprang to mind: they’re posers.  Literally — all they do is pose.  They’ve been stripped of their original, entertaining and worthwhile myths and stand inactive and vacant. Instead of watching their actions, you should just watch them…  as they do nothing.  Added to our original objections over the cultural appropriation, incessant marketing, pressure to conform, and rigid gender roles and segregation, and you can guess how we want to RSVP.

But ultimately, we decided she should go. These are friends she sees at school every day and it’s good for her to also see them outside of school.  And she’ll be exposed to the princess culture whether we like it or not, so at least one of us can go along and frame her experience in ways that we think are important.

Still, we’re not going down without a fight.  And so, gender roles and pretty princesses be damned, it is I who will be escorting Ruby to the Disney Princess Birthday Party. I won’t be surprised if I’m the only non-related adult male in attendance.

Actually, I’m kind of looking forward to it. Ruby is just starting to learn how to play with (instead of alongside) her peers and it’s a pleasure to watch her social skills develop. I don’t get many opportunities to watch her play with her schoolmates — complete strangers (to me) she’s developed complex personal relationships with. It’s fascinating to see her trying to flex her leadership muscles, or be polite and kind, or be totally socially oblivious.

I’m sure Ruby will have fun, and I’ll do my best around the grown-ups, and this little foray into the world of princesses will soon be forgotten amidst our summer of swimming and building and jumping and thinking.

Oh, and the invitation encourages children to wear costumes. Do you think Princess Ladybug will work?

Gotcha Politics

September 20, 2008

This blog post (which made it onto boingboing today) was the last straw for me.  It takes Microsoft to task for using a Macintosh to create their latest “I’m a PC” ad campaign.  There’s no discussion of the content of the ads.  Just a quick mention of a meaningless point of embarrassment.  Gotcha!

There’s too much of this going on in the wider world of the media today.  Instead of discussing content, background, and nuance, everyone is on the hunt for the latest misstep.  It’s not just that these gotchas are meaningless distractions.  The media’s focus on the embarrassment instead of the content means the target will be quick to cover their tracks, wave a hand around the subject, and move on.  Any opportunities for further debate are lost.

Here’s an example: last week, while major financial institutions were going belly up, McCain stated that the “fundamentals of our economy are very strong”.  His opponents immediately picked up on the contrast. McCain was forced to offer up some pablum about how the American worker is the foundation of the American economy.

And that was that.

McCain looks a little silly for a while, but we’re really no closer to understanding how he really feels about economics, market regulation, and other important topics that are pushing to the forefront in this election.  What about consumer culture?  The burden of debt and trade deficits?  The ongoing shift away from a manufacturing economy?  How are these affecting the long-term stability of the American and global economies, and what kinds of activities should government be taking in each of these areas?  An opportunity for real debate and understanding was lost because everyone was too eager to yell “Gotcha!”

There are plenty of examples of these kinds of empty mistakes, and they’ve had varying impacts.  Howard Dean’s over-exuberance in the 2004 campaign appeared to destroy his campaign because he was… too enthusiastic?  During a recent interview, Obama spoke about his “Muslim faith” (quickly corrected to “Christian”), and I’m sure the right-wing media enjoyed chewing up that little sound bite.
I don’t expect the media at large to be able to step away from their pursuit of the latest misstep, no matter who makes it.  We are living in a sound-bite culture, and major media conglomerates need to do what they can to feed into their audience’s attention span.  It’s only going to get worse as the news cycle continues to accelerate and audiences continue to fragment, and I don’t have any grand solutions to offer here.

But I can ask my friends to take a step back.  Take a breath.  The next time you see someone on the other side of the debate make a mistake, don’t pounce.  Don’t base a gleeful blog post on a single misspoken phrase.  Instead, dig.  Ask questions and keep digging.  Look for the actual truth behind the misstep, and you might find even more powerful arguments to make your case.

Swimming Lessons

July 29, 2008

Ruby and I are spending every Tuesday this summer down at the Green Lake pool, taking a half-hour swim class. While Mama is off playing racquetball, we get to bob and bond among the splashing toddlers.

Ruby can’t swim, of course, but she’s getting more comfortable in the water.  She generally hangs onto me as we wander around the pool (Ruby occasionally shouting “Ride the Papa!”).  On the second day, though, something incredible happened: she let go!

She was hanging on to a water noodle at the time, her arms draped over the top for buoyancy. For just a second or two she panicked as she drifted away, kicking madly, but then she realized that she could do it by herself! A light went on and she broke out in a big grin. She was swimming by herself!  She spun around a few times, getting the hang of things, and then, legs thrashing under the water, started making some progress towards her destination.
I was incredibly proud and happy. Not just proud of the physical feat, but happy to have gotten a chance to see that moment of doubt turn into a moment of triumph.

During and after the swim class I told Ruby how proud I was.  It was also gratifying to see that she responded to my statements of pride as well — that she was happy to hear how proud I was.

Since then she’s continued to swim around on the noodle by herself. Every time she climbs on her legs start kicking wildly and she turns away from me to explore the pool on her own. Of course, she doesn’t get very far — she’s not very fast. We have also done a class with a lifejacket and had a similar, but better result: now, Ruby could use her hands as well as her legs to slowly thrash around the pool.

As an added bonus, now that she’s on the noodle I can use it to give her some gentle dunks in the water. I lift her up slightly, just a few inches, and her momentum then carries her down under the water. But she kicks her legs and hangs onto the noodle, and quickly comes bobbing to the surface, a big grin on her face.

Tweetgeist

April 25, 2008

FIRST

Tweetgeist (n) [from “zeitgeist”, german, the intellectual and cultural climate of an era; and “tweet”, to post a message on twitter.com]: The collected and distilled wisdom of one’s circle of advisors, as compiled via the “twitter” internet application.

Example: I’m not sure if that restaurant is any good; let me check the tweetgeist.

As of the time of this post, Google returns 0 hits for tweetgeist. Let’s see what happens…

[update 11:15am]: 1 hour later, there is 1 hit (this page).

[update 11:18am]: Tweetgeist.com was taken back in January. Hmph.

Trust and Failure

April 13, 2008

Earlier this month, the NY Sun published an article by Lenore Skenazy, a woman who let her nine-year-old son ride the bus home from Manhattan, unaccompanied, as an exercise in building confidence and independence. She was subsequently labeled the worst mom in the world.

I’m totally in support of her goal to break us out of the deer-in-headlights state of fear that so many parents fall into: “Children are precious. The world is scary. We must protect them at all costs…”

Except, of course, that we shouldn’t protect them at all costs. That’s a conscious choice I made when Ruby was born: that I would not do everything in my power to make her happy, comfortable, and safe. She will, for the most part, be given a relatively luxurious life (globally and historically speaking) but she’ll also be given the opportunity to fall off the monkey bars, trip on the sidewalk, embarrass herself, fail, and have her heart broken a few times.

I don’t wish these on her, and my heart will be broken every time hers is. But I also understand the importance of letting her choose and take her own risks so that she can truly appreciate the consequences of her failure and her successes. When she wants to, and when we think she’s ready, we’ll let her take the bus home too. And of course we’ll sit anxiously on the porch awaiting her arrival. But that anxiousness is the price we pay for the joy of parenting the best way we can.

[Ms. Skenazy now has a blog devoted to this subject: Free Range Kids]