Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Bless this Mess and Other Clichés

For years I lamented the fact that I was living in a home meant for three people, but with six people's stuff in it. That was seven years ago when I had two fewer kids and lived 3,000 miles from where I am now. My mother had only been gone for two years and I had become the steward of all her possessions. Hers, and my brother's things she'd been storing and saving along with things my step father had left when he left. I hated the clutter and the expense, I still do.

It wasn't always this way. I used to be a young man, and as is the case with many young men, the state of my home didn't matter much to me. I don't know when that changed. Maybe it was when I found myself living in my mother's house, which had become my house, and losing an entire room and a storage unit to other people's things. These were things I couldn't get rid of. Not because I had any particular attachment to all of them, but because I was legally bound to keep them until they could be gone over and disseminated according to the terms of my mother's will. Nothing changed when I left that house and moved into my own. The things, the things that were not mine but that I held out of a sense of duty, moved with me.

When I left my home town for new opportunities much of the stuff came with me. The rest was left in storage, that I pay for. I'm paying almost $200 a month for things that I'm keeping for posterity. Things that aren't really mine, but might be important to someone some day. Sometimes I think that the biggest curse was finding my mom's old report cards and journals while cleaning out my grandmother's basement. They were a treasure trove, a window into my adolescent mother's mind and heart. The result for me is that I've kept every print copy of everything she wrote. On top of that I kept her files, and notes, and interview tapes. I've also kept as much of my old school work, and my brother's as she deemed worthy of keeping.

It wasn't until a couple Christmases ago that I gave the last box of my brother's things to him to store. It was his old school work and arts and crafts. Things that should be kept by a parent, but were left to me until he graduated college. I could have relinquished them earlier, but I felt duty bound to hold them until he was "more stable." The result is that he's burdened with them in his apartment instead of having them in storage back home.

That was all before we had a third child and moved to a house that had at least two fewer rooms than the one we left. This one is ours though, in as much as a house with 29.5 years left on the mortgage can be anyone's. Now I again find myself lamenting the clutter. We bought the smallest, oldest house on our block. Our neighbors are wonderful people. Our kids all play together, and a few of them have hosted us on multiple occasions. We've never had any of them over. At first it was because we were still moving in. Now, though it's hard to admit, it's because I'm nervous about the fact that my dining room table is always covered in mail and my living room is nearly impassable with crap that my family has dumped on their way from the car to their rooms.

The things is, we're not materialistic. We're just the wrong combination of sentimental and lazy. We've been blessed with a world of hand me downs. We can't get rid of too small clothes because we still have small people. I never used to care about washer/dryer combos and could never understand why the commercials for them were so effusive. Now I feel like I'm running the damn things 24/7 and I would kill for a dish washer to go with them. I felt like a slacker until I realized how many of my neighbors have paid help for cleaning and yard work.I'm not worried about having a perfect home, I just don't want look like an episode of hoarders.

But here's the thing, even though I sometimes feel like I'm at my wits end with clutter and dishes and laundry and gutters and raking a yard even though I have no trees, even though I sometimes want to scream or cry or throw all the crap in the living room in the trash, it's all worth it.

It's. All. Worth it.

Because every so often I look at the ballet shoes in the middle of the living room, or the pots and pans in the sink, or the toys strewn about, and I realize who it is making this mess with me. I have a wife who loves me and supports us. I have three beautiful, maddening, brilliant children who deserve better than I give them. I have the son I always wanted, and who I hope turns out less damaged than myself. I have a little girl who seems impervious and fragile all at once. I have a baby who surprises me with how much she can do each day. Each one of them is infuriating and precious depending on the moment. I couldn't imagine my life without them.

As I fight against the tide of clutter and my own bitterness at feeling like I'm the only one who cares about a tidy home, I remember that the house itself is only as important as the people who inhabit it. I remember to let go of my desire to be able to walk from one end to the other without tripping or having a frozen pea stick to my foot. I remember why I cook each meal, and wash each new set of dishes. It's because I'm exactly where I want be, with exactly who I want to be with.

I love our cluttered little house. I love my little bundles of frustrating joy. I love my wife. I love my life.

I don't claim to have a lot of wisdom to impart to you dear IDL readers. I don't have the answers. At best I hope you take something useful away from the thoughts I share here. But I'll say this, though you've no doubt heard it before: Take time every so often to look at your life and marvel at how far you've come. If you're reading this I'm confident that you've been on a journey from who you were to who you are, and you probably haven't given yourself enough credit for making it this far. So revel in what you've done. Embrace your mess. Love your family. Ignore the flaws and the rough edges of the people around you for just a moment and remember why you still have them near you. Love them all (or at least like them), and remember how lucky we all are to be here.

Happy New Year all.



Thursday, December 10, 2015

Free Range Parent Update

Not a crime


Hi Everyone,

First, I'd like to thank everyone who read the post about the police being called when I let my daughter play in the front yard for a few minutes. Thanks to you and the folks at Life of Dad it's become my most read post ever.

I was surprised that with as many reads as it's had I've received very little negative feedback. In the back of my mind I wondered if someone would think I was overreacting in terms of my fears about how it could turn out. I wondered about it myself. Maybe I was being over the top.

Today I saw this article from Free-Range Kids. They report that the Every Student Succeeds Act, which will be signed into Federal law today, will include the following

“…nothing in this Act shall…prohibit a child from traveling to and from school on foot or by car, bus, or bike when the parents of the child have given permission; or  expose parents to civil or criminal charges for allowing their child to responsibly and safely travel to and from school by a means the parents believe is age appropriate.”
This is a good addition to the law, though it also includes a caveat that this provision will not supersede state or local laws regarding kids traveling alone.

The most interesting part of the article for me though was a link to a previous story about a family who were charged with criminal neglect and had their children removed from the home by CPS because their 11-year-old was left to play in the back yard alone for 90 minutes. In contrast to my situation, the parents weren't home. Still, the kid was 11 and playing basketball in his own yard. This was in Florida where there is no state law regarding when kids can be home alone. This kind of story is what sticks the minds of parents when the police show up.

A little more digging through the links uncovered this story from June, which details a new ruling from Maryland CPS. The new ruling states that children walking or playing outside is not enough of a reason to involve CPS. Knowing that is a relief, but only a little. We know that police officers aren't always aware of the law, and typically are granted a lot of leeway when faced what they perceive as a criminal situation. So I don't think my fears were unwarranted.

As exciting as today's signing and the ruling from Maryland CPS are, there's still risk involved for parents when the police are called. Please, if you see a child who you think is in danger, approach the child and talk to them. Knock on the door and check in. Be a neighbor. Be a friend. It will strengthen your community.

Thanks.



Sunday, December 6, 2015

Brush Your Teeth! (The Anthem)


It's interesting to think about where household anthems come from. Sometimes they come from expected places, like my kids loving this rap song about George Mead's horse Baldy from this kindie album. Other times they come from songs parents like and kids adopt, like when I find my a daughter playing alone and singing "wake me up when September ends."

Our most recent household anthem contender came from a much less likely source. If you watch sports online like I often do you may have come across a commercial for the Samsung Galaxy Wireless Charger. It features a song that seemed like something my twenty five-year-old brother might like. Or he might hate that his friends love it. It's hard to say.  Anyway, it's not a terrible song. It's catchy, which is probably why it's in a commercial. The thing is, as anyone who has watched a lot of programming online might know, the selection of commercials run during an online program are sparse so you see the same ones over and over. The Samsung commercial has been running on the online broadcast of Sunday Night Football and it's been driving my wife and I up a wall. It's become a running joke for us as a stand in for anything that seems annoying, anything we don't understand, or anything that makes us feel old.

Tonight I told her I was going to find the whole song and play it for her whenever she did something annoying. "It's not a real song," she retorted, "it's just a commercial." Yeah, bet. Hip tech commercials don't use jingles anymore. Apple crushed that with the iPod commercials. It's all real songs from hip artists these days, which why I don't know any of them. It turns out it's really easy to find things like this. But here's the surprise, it's a fun song, and the chorus is likely one that will be repeated around here for a while.

The song is Queen's Speech Ep. 4 by Lady Leshurr. Her style is interesting and her lyrics are fun and when they're not kid friendly they're at least obscure. One my favorite lines is, "I got a dark-skinned friend who looks like Rachel Dolezal/And I got a light-skinned friend who looks like Rachel Dolezal/Which one's which? Not sure." But the part that made it a new family favorite is the chorus, which involves repeating the phrase "Brush your teeth" ten times. Brush your teeth! Brush your teeth! Brush your teeth! How many times do we say that each week eh fellow parents? Having a song about it might help.

So I've come around on Lady Leshurr and her annoying Samsung ad. The ad isn't her fault and her lyrics are clever. Link to the song is below, enjoy it with or without your kids. Just remember to brush your teeth.



(I should have figured out how to get Samsung or Apple to pay me for this. Dang.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

I Guess I'm a Free Range Parent



An odd thing happened here at IDL HQ yesterday, the police brought my daughter home. It was particularly strange because she is four-years-old and was already home. It was roughly 2:00pm and we were getting ready to go to the store. It had been raining lightly for a couple days and Lou asked if she could muck about in some puddles in the front yard while I gathered the baby's things and loaded the car. "Sure honey, you can play in the puddles." My permission brought forth an unbidden promise from her that she would stay within our family boundaries for kids playing in the front of the house. "I won't go past Mr. Andy's, I won't go past the Sullivan's, and I won't go in the street." Good girl. She knows our expectations, and she's always stayed where she's supposed to be.

I was in the back yard letting the dogs pee before we left when I saw a police car drive slowly by. I figured he had seen Lou outside and was slowing down to check on her. I also figured he saw me at the side of the house at the end of the driveway because he kept going. I came into the house a couple minutes later and heard a loud knocking on the door. When I opened it there were two officers there with Lou. She looked, not scared, but shrinking, timid, like she was worried that she was in trouble. I was pretty worried, but I tried not to let it show. From experience I know that interactions with police can go any number of ways and have often gone poorly for me personally, though I've never been charged with a crime.

My first thought was to corral my dogs. The last thing I need is to end up in one of those Raw Story articles about a cop trying to shoot a harmless pup and shooting a kid instead. My dogs truly are harmless, both are chihuahua mixes with the biggest one being barely ten pounds. I stepped outside and instinctively closed the door behind me, something that had become a habit growing up when the police would show up to disperse my mother's birthday parties.

"Hi, is everything OK?" I asked.

"We got a call from one of your neighbors. They were worried that she was out here alone. Maybe she was locked out or something."

I explained that everything was fine. We were going to the store and she was playing while I got everything loaded up. They seemed unconvinced. They didn't say anything else, but they didn't leave either. We all stood there on the porch for what seemed like a long and awkward period of time. I don't know if they were waiting for me to volunteer something else, or if they felt they might have more to say. I'm guessing there was some kind of noncommittal goodbye, but I don't remember what it might have been. The officers turned around and left.

As they were getting into their cars I asked Lou where she was when they approached her. She was defensive at first and I had to reassure her that she wasn't in trouble. She kept telling me, "Daddy, all I was doing was drawing in the mud with a stick." It took a while to convince her that I understood that and that what she was doing wasn't the point, I wanted to know where she was. You might think the level of concern that caused the officers to march her up to the porch arose from finding her a couple houses down the block. In fact, she was squatting on the edge of the sidewalk playing with a mud puddle in our front lawn. She was in our yard. She hadn't wandered off. She wasn't a half mile away like the kids in Maryland who caused a stir earlier this year. No, someone had called the police because my daughter was in our yard for ten minutes.

I have mixed feelings about this. One thought is that I'm happy the neighbors are looking out for our kids. I am happy to know that if one day one of the kids really is locked out, that someone will notice and try to help. I'm not happy about the way they helped. We're neighbors, they know us. Why didn't they come over and talk? There are ten occupied houses on our block and we know and have good relationships with the people in nine of those houses. We thought the last one was unoccupied until it ended up being decorated for Halloween. I've still never seen anyone go in or out of it. Of those nine neighbors five have kids who have played with our children. We're not strangers. Every one of our neighbors has knocked on our door for some friendly reason in the past. So why not on this day? It bothers me because while it shows some concern it also shows some judgement or lack of trust. Why involve the police? Does this person not understand the potential consequences of that call?

Here's what I know from a combination of personal experience, working for Child Protective Services as a contractor, and reading a lot: this could have ended badly.

While I hope no cop in my town is stupid or cowardly enough to see my dogs as a threat, I do think it's possible for one to decide that my daughter playing in the yard constitutes neglect or child endangerment or some other overblown label. I could see CPS being called, and one or both of us being taken away. I don't envision this because it would be justified. I don't say it because I can see that as a valid take on the situation. It's not. I could see it happening because the Silver Spring kids live just one county over. I could see it happening because I have a Spanish last name and a tan complexion. I can see it happening because the kid they brought to my door wasn't my fair haired blue eyed son, but my mestiza looking daughter. Worse, as we know, and even if the chances are slim, I could have ended up beaten or dead. Depending on how they decide to see me, how they decide to interpret my words or actions, I could end up a name on a list of "Not one more."

Not all cops are bad. Not all cops are racist. I have friends who are police officers and they are great people. I do understand the odds. But as the saying goes, it only takes one. All it takes is for me to encounter the wrong officer at the wrong time, regardless my standing as a law abiding citizen. The rhetoric works both ways. The officers I know and the thin blue line crowd on social media are fond of pointing out that any traffic stop could be an officer's last. In a way I understand that sentiment, even though it's never been safer to be a cop in America than it is right now. The reality is, I know I am never ever a threat to a police officer, but there's always the potential that the officer is a threat to me. That's the reality that many of us live every day, and it's stressful. I wonder if my neighbor considered all this before calling the police instead of coming by the house.

Or was the whole neighbor story just a story? Maybe it was just a standard police statement, "Well we got a call from someone..." Could be. Though I don't know why the officer wouldn't just say, "I was driving by and I was concerned." That would be a legitimate action for a police officer to take. I'd really rather it be a patrolling officer showing concern than a neighbor.

I don't think I'm a free range parent. My kids don't wander the neighborhood. They have earned a little more freedom than the other neighborhood kids. They also have boundaries that I can see from my porch or my bedroom window. If they see the neighbor kids in the front yard they ask me if they can go over and say hello. They know 90% of our neighbors, and are known by them. They have a much smaller area of operations than I had at the same age. By the time I was six-years-old I was a latch key kid with a bike and the ability to be anywhere within a mile of the house. I don't want that for my kids. That would scare me. It was normal then, but not now. And I guess I'm learning that even having your kids play in the front yard is considered suspect, though I don't agree.

I don't know what I'm going to do in the future. My wife says we should fence the back and make the kids stay there. It could work, but it would be a fight. And why have that fight? It wouldn't be because I don't think the kids should be out front. It would be because I don't want to have people calling the cops on us. It would be because I was afraid, not for the kids, but for myself. I won't live in fear that way.

I'll close with this open letter to my community, and maybe yours as well:

Dear neighbors,

I am writing this to remind you of why we chose to move here. When we were looking for a new home we found this beautiful block in this quiet neighborhood. We fell in love with the tree lined street and the flat sidewalks that, unlike our previous neighborhood, were totally devoid of broken glass and dead cats. We saw the toys in your front yards and play structures in your back yards and hoped that our kids would find playmates. We thought about knowing all of you and hanging out at BBQs and peewee soccer. We thought we'd found a house that could provide not just a shelter, but a community.

We were right! All summer we got to know you little by little. Our kids played together. We shared beers and stories and resources. You became our emergency contacts and our in-person Yelp. We played touch football on the weekends and shared the gossip of our small town. As summer turned to fall our kids rode the school bus together and we all waited out on the corner with our coffee and stories of the weekend. You've seen our kids playing on the block. You know where they go, and where they don't go. You know us. We know you. We trust you.

So please, if you're concerned that one of our kids are alone or locked out of the house, come over and check. Ask the kid if they're OK. Knock on our door. You know us. We're not strangers. You have our phone numbers. Give us a call or a text. Just please, unless you really feel that someone is in imminent danger, please don't send the police. I know that you all likely don't have the same experiences that I do with the police. You've probably never been on the terror watch list, or been held for an hour in cuffs on the curb while they made totally sure you weren't an escaped convict. I know for sure that you don't face the same danger from them that we do. Please consider that when you call the police instead of talking to us you not only break down the good will of the neighborhood, you put my family in a position of facing real danger.

We know you. We like you. Come over.

Warmly,
-Roberto

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Thrift Store Holy Grail

The Holy Grail of the thrift store. (Banana for scale)
 Thrift stores are great. They always have been. Long before some of them split off and became vintage clothing stores, long long before Macklemore started wearing your grandpa's clothes, thrift stores were a staple for my family. Where else can you get 3 pairs of gently used size 7T jeans for $12? Or five awesome dress up costumes for $20? How about a New Zealand All Blacks jersey for $6? (OK, maybe a lot of places, but stay with me.) Our family is (by choice) living on one income, and the random money I pull in living the Interdisciplinary Life, so we need to save where we can. One area where we save money is in not always buying new clothes that the kids are going to either destroy or grow out of in six months. (BTW, you ever notice the two or three year cycle of kids looking like 1990s hip hop artists in super baggy clothes that they'll grow into, and then later looking like extras on The Big Bang Theory as they grow out of those same clothes?) So whether it's Goodwill or Value Village I'm all about the thrift stores.

Which brings me to today's tale. The Boy had somehow found himself in a world where he had outgrown his 5T pants and had only 8T pants in reserve, which weren't working. He may actually have been the inspiration for the rebirth of Jnco jeans. So off I went to our local thrift store in search of 7T jeans (he'll grow into them). I brought along Lou an Yo since leaving them at home is apparently some sort of crime.

As soon as we got out of the car Lou was begging me for toys. For some reason she only does this at thrift stores. If I take her to a toy store to shop for gifts for other people she doesn't make a peep. For some reason the allure of second hand Guitar Hero controllers and sandwich bags full of Happy Meal toys is too much to bear. This time it was a full on sob fest complete with a long explanation of how she doesn't really have any toys of her own that she likes because all the toys she has are shared with The Boy. She kind of had a point, but I was not giving in to the tantrum. We whiled away a miserable half hour picking out a few pairs of pants and shoes for The Boy and headed to the check out aisle. The only open register was the one they kept the fancy stuff behind, and that's where I saw it.

If you've ever been to the toy aisles of a typical thrift shop you know that they are a wasteland of plastic crap and two generation old gaming systems. They're terrible. The only redeeming thing you might find is a prefabricated play kitchen that still has most of the decals intact. Despite knowing this I occasionally (every time the kids aren't with me) stroll down the lane hoping for some overlooked treasure. I especially keep an eye out for Legos even though I know it's a fool's errand. No one gives away Legos.

I love Legos. I always have. I had a big Lego suitcase full Legos that I cherished as a kid. One of my fondest memories was a Lego firehouse I got for Christmas one year. I couldn't have been older than five, but I was able to put it together myself. My kids love Legos. Legos have only gotten better over the last 35 years and now that I have kids I have an excuse to play with Legos. The thing is, Legos are expensive. Like, I suffered sticker shock when I started looking for sets for the kids a couple years ago. So our Lego collection is modest and I'm always on the lookout for deals.

All this is to say that what I found behind that counter made my heart leap. There behind the counter was the biggest tub of Legos I've ever seen outside of a toy store. It was one of those clear plastic storage bins people use to store picnic supplies or winter coats, and it was full to the brim with Legos.

It was the holy grail of the thrift store.

I had to have it.

But I couldn't be seen buying toys by my grumpy four-year-old.

So I devised a plan wherein I paid for the bin, brought the kids and clothes to the car, drove around to the front of the store and loaded the bin in the back with no child being the wiser. A man who seemed to be knowledgeable about such things asked me how much I had paid for my bounty. It wasn't much considering the haul. He asked a series of questions that led me to conclude that he was one of those folks who get good deals at thrift shops and then re-sell the items to vintage shops or on eBay for a profit. "Oh no," I told him, "I'm not a collector, I'm just going to throw these in the play room and let the kids have at it."

I'm not actually going to that, though I'd love to see the looks on their faces if they walked in and saw this ark of Lego wonders. The reality is we don't have the space for that right now so I'll have to dole them out in bits while T and I come up with a viable storage plan.

I stayed up late into the night trying to catalog my new treasure. It proved an impossible undertaking for one night. What I was thrilled to find was that whoever donated the bin had been thoughtful enough to include many of the instruction manuals for the sets that I now presume are in the box. It's a fun mix of old and new sets. Sometimes you can hold a Lego in your hand, feel the difference in the plastic and you know for sure it's a brick from your childhood. Overall the box is about 85% Legos, 10% Kreo, and 5% K'nex, including a very old looking Space Shuttle Columbia set. There's a couple of Lego City sets, a couple Star Wars sets, more than a few Bionicles, and even some Lego Friends and a Kreo Barbie set for Lou. Yes, I also kind of hate the idea of Lego Friends, but Lou loves them. in fact, it's the lack of Friends types of toys in our home that had her in a funk to begin with. So I was stoked to find the willowy figures.

Though the sets are impossibly jumbled a quick search of the internet indicates there's likely $800 or more worth of blocks in the box. Thanks to that same internet it may be possible to find the instruction manuals for some sets I can identify but don't have books for. If not, I'm actually more excited at the idea of just having thousands of free play bricks for the kids to run wild with. I'm still debating if I'll try to salvage and build the Republic Frigate myself.

I've been trawling thrift stores for 25 years on my own, and long before that with my mom. I've come up with normal items of clothing. I've scored great deals on a variety of jerseys. I even worked at a vintage store during college. I can say with great certainty that this giant bin of Legos is the greatest thrift store find I've ever made. It's very likely that I'll spend the rest of my life in a downward spiral starting with weekly thrift store trips and ending in blowing the kids' college funds bidding on storage lockers in a vain attempt to recapture this feeling.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Great Green Globs of Teachable Moments


The other day my son wandered into the kitchen singing an old classic for the elementary school set, Great Green Gobs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts (or GGGoGGGG as it's known online by the kids these days). My mom taught it to me when I was around 5 and I guess I taught it to my son a couple years ago. I don't remember teaching it to him, I assumed he'd learned it at school, but he swears it was me. For whatever reason it's become quite popular at our house the last week.

If you're not familiar with the song, it is sung to the tune of The Old Grey Mare*, and goes like this.
Great green globs of greasy grimy gopher guts,
mutilated monkey meat,
little dirty birdie feet!

All mixed up in all-purpose porpoise pus.
Gee I forgot my spoon!

(After a few rounds it ends with "But I've got my straw!" followed by gross slurping noises.)
*If you're not familiar with The Old Grey Mare you really need to brush up on your 1850s civic political operatives.

Beyond the nostalgia factor I ended up being really happy the song came up at this point in the kids' lives. Right now they're really into asking questions about things they don't know. They're not embarrassed by not knowing something, which I'm trying to encourage. It turns out they didn't know what most of the things in the song were.


"Dad, what's a gopher?"
"Dad, what are guts?"
"Dad, what's mutilated?"
"Dad, what's a porpoise?"
"Dad, what's pus?"

I love when my kids ask these questions because it shows me the gaps in their knowledge and the things I have not yet found time to teach them. I also love living in an age where I can go online and show them exactly what we're talking about. It's become such a staple of our time together that in a stunning reversal of the common trope my kids are often telling "just look it up" if I don't know the answer to something.


By the end of breakfast the kids knew four things they hadn't known when they woke up. Not bad for the 90 minutes before the school bus. The best part though wasn't the incidental educational opportunity, it was watching them squirm and giggle as they sang the song while brushing teeth and hair and on the way to the bus stop. Knowing what all those things are made the song all the more disgusting and fun to belt out.

And isn't that really the point of learning?




Friday, October 16, 2015

We Still Have Work to Do




My in-laws are visiting, which is great for the kids. They are good people and adoring grandparents. They bring out the best in the kids. Like many grandparents they come bearing gifts. Usually things from the posh Goodwills of the Phoenix suburbs. Both kids, but especially The Boy, have been into little green army men and toys like that. They have sets from the Civil War, both World Wars, and even the Star Wars. This time grandma brought what she described to me as "cowboys and Indians." I'll be honest, I had mixed feelings about that, which were rapidly leaning towards uneasiness. We've been talking to the kids about the problems with the Washington football team's name and I wasn't sure how that message would jibe with plastic cowboys fighting plastic Indians.

Maybe he's an Arsenio Hall fan
Lucky for me, as often happens, the kid bailed me out. He looked at the plastic tube of figures and said, "Oh, it looks like Native Americans." I understand there's still some discussion among native people about what they want to be called but for now "Native Americans" seems like the safest way to go so I was relieved. Looking at them, and the sleeve of "cowboys" it struck me that it was really a set of "Pioneers and Native Americans" and not the traditional cowboys and Indians I had grown up with. I'm sure some of my native friends might tell me that's not really any different, and I understand that perspective. As a toy though the primary difference is that they were all in nonviolent poses. Some of the figures had bows or rifles, but they weren't pointing them at anything, so it was easy to label them as hunters. The one that looked the most war-like was easily dismissed by another observation from The Boy, "Hey, he looks like he's celebrating something." Indeed, maybe a touchdown? (No? Not funny? Sorry.)

I've written before about social consciousness being a moving target with kids. It seems like for every victory they soon show you where the gaps in their knowledge remain. Sure enough, The Boy's next comment caught me a bit off guard. He turned to his sister and said, "This is how we imagine them looking from a long time ago." Um...hmmm. Now of course these particular figures are to some extent the product of someone's imagination. They are labeled as "Powhatan Indians" but I have no idea how accurate the representation is, but I hope they're somewhat accurate. At least it's a real tribe. But that's not what The Boy was saying. He was repeating a line he'd heard from me when we saw depictions of cave men at the natural history museum. We'd identified a gap in his understanding of America's complicated and horrifying history with native people. "Well no bud, we actually know what they look like because they are still around. Also, there were photographs back then. Native Americans aren't gone buddy, they're still here today." He replied without looking up from his play, "Oh, OK dad. Cool."

Cool indeed. We didn't get into the plight or politics surrounding modern native people. We'll get into it another time I'm sure. For now it was enough to have him understand that Native Americans are not relegated to history. It's enough for him to realize that there is more to know and more to explore. For now I'm happy to see him playing with the pioneers and Native Americans as peaceful contemporaries in his make believe world. Even if he's playing out a peace that never really happened, at least he's able to imagine it thanks to a re-imaging of a toy that, when I was a kid, was one-hundred percent based on conflict. It's a step in the right direction in terms of seeing people as people and not as adversaries or worse, as fictional or extinct. It's enough that once again the kids were able to show me where I had yet to teach them about our world. We still have work to do.

Peaceful pioneers and Native Americans. And a Samurai for some reason.



Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What's the Harm in Those Facebook Privacy Disclaimers?

I admit it, I do it every couple years.

I scold people for posting those stupid Facebook privacy disclaimers. I post replies with links to Snopes. I mock their lame "Better safe than sorry" prefaces. Nope. No. Not better safe than sorry, you're just posting that because you're too wishy-washy to admit that you're falling for it. I HATE when people post this dumb crap. I hate that it keeps resurfacing long after I'm sure that not only should everyone I know already understand that it's total BS, but so should everyone who has even heard of Facebook. I hate it.

But why? Why does it bother us so much. I'm certainly not alone in this. Just look at the hundreds of articles that are written and shared about it. Look at all the mocking posts that are written in response. People love to HAAAAAAAATE these stupid notices.

But WHY? Why do the articles have headlines like, "Watch out for these Facebook privacy hoaxes," and "Don't fall for the Facebook privacy notice hoax?" Why not fall for it? These headlines make it seem way more ominous than it is. It's even listed on a site called Scam Detector. It's not a malicious thing this hoax. It's certainly not a "scam." A scam implies that falling for it will do you some sort of harm, typically financial harm. But this bout of silliness doesn't actually harm anyone. So why do we care?

I couldn't really figure out the answer. I thought about it, even as I typed up witty yet gentle put downs on my friend's posts. Why did I care? Then I saw this and it explained everything:
I would totally credit this, but I can't find the source. If you know please tell me.
Bingo. I'm a smart guy. (Really.) I pretty much believe that I associate with smart savvy people. How could I not? I'm writing a dissertation on cognition and I may not even be the smartest person in my house. I am friends with a ton of really really smart people. And yet.

And yet I still get this crap popping up in my feed, and it kills me. It kills me, and I think the reason it inspires such ire in many of us is because it shows that all these people we respect can be kinda dumb. Not just, "I turned on the wrong burner and super heated a non-stick pan" dumb, but really really dumb. Like, "I just sent my personal info, and yours, to a Nigerian Prince" dumb. It's even worse when it's our parents or mentors, people we look to for guidance and wisdom. Like, am I really supposed to take your advice on parenting or investing, or whatever when you're re-posting this nonsense? And your stupid "Better safe than sorry" only makes it worse because you're just screaming that even though you know you should know you're doing it anyway. How can I ever look at you and trust your judgement or your instincts ever again? HOW???

OK, yes I'm being hyperbolic. But I do think that the reason this otherwise harmless hoax vexes us so deeply is because it causes us to see the clay feet of people we respect. It's akin to that moment when you realize your parents don't actually know everything. There's a feeling of loss, of finding out about something we'd just rather not know. In short (too late), it's a bummer.

I won't go into how Facebook is really just a big thing that uses your profile to make money, but not from using your photos, or how it's actually this great tool that you get use for free. There's plenty of that out there. I will close with two statuses mocking this whole phenomenon that rang true to me today. First, there's this one from a friend of mine. It sums up nicely why these disclaimers are completely unnecessary:

"As of September 29, 2015, I hereby ban you all from posting stupid bullshit on your Facebook pages. This notice of prohibition of stupid bullshit is legally binding due to Q.E.D 123-456-789, and extends not only to stupid bullshit claims that Facebook is going to begin charging you money for a service that already generates a $5 billion annual operating profit through converting the stupid bullshit you post everyday into demographic information for marketers to further refine their stupid bullshit, but also the stupid bullshit claim that you can create a legal contract between yourself and a company with a valuation of $230 billion by posting some stupid bullshit words on a web site."
 The second comes from the Facebook page for the blog Modern Father Online. It's a rallying cry for us bloggers big and small.

THIS IS NOT A HOAX...As of September 30th, 2015 at AEST 8:00am UTC/GMT +10 hours, I DO give Facebook or any entities associated with Facebook permission to increase my organic reach of my public posts, both past and future. By this statement, I give notice to Facebook that it is strictly encouraged to let all my followers see everything I share, when I share it.
The content of this page is NOT private and confidential information. I WANT people to see what I'm sharing and they want to see it. Now there's no violation that can be punished by law (UCC 1-308- 1 1 308-103 and the Rome Statute), I'm not about to claim that... I just don't want to have to pay heaps of my hard earned in order to share my posts with people who want to see it.
NOTE: Facebook is now a public entity. They need to make money. I get that. But punishing the small time bloggers like me and asking for lots of money otherwise my posts won't reach any more that 2% of my followers is ridiculous. Of course, you as my followers can like, comment and share and help me out now and then so my posts stay in your news feed. That would be sweet.
Posted by Modern Father Online on Tuesday, September 29, 2015
So remember folks, sharing is caring. Facebook is a great tool for all of us to stay in touch and see pics of each other's kids. For us aspiring bloggers it's a good medium to find readers. So if you've enjoyed reading IDL please give our articles a share, or like our Facebook page.

Thanks, and remember, research before you re-post. The respect you save could be your own.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Economic Theory and Bad Parenting

The buckets are not actual buckets.

My kids are a little bit obsessed with money. Not in a terrible way, but it does make me a little bit uncomfortable. (This past month they have been talking about wanting to live "in a big fancy house." It's been kind of a bummer.) Ever since they were little we have tried to introduce the concepts of budgeting and smart shopping with them. This usually related to how they would spend Christmas money that came in from various family members.

We've been doing allowance with Buddy since he turned six a few months back. It's been going pretty well. We've done the three bucket approach where we expect him to put some amount of his money into buckets for spending, saving, and donating. It's been great actually. The spending money has allowed him to buy things that we wouldn't normally buy for him. His first big buy came when we were at Target and he realized he had enough money to buy a LEGO set he'd been pining over in his catalog.  A few weeks later he treated himself and his sister to treats at a baseball game.

The other buckets have come to have their own purposes as well. The saving bucket has mostly been used to replace things he loses or breaks carelessly. For example he was at a friend's house and broke the kid's piggy bank. So he used his savings to help replace it. Kind of like what his parents (us) did with their roof. It's been a good lesson on why saving is important. He has decided to use the donation bucket to give money to our church, and also to donate to causes we read about or discuss.

Buddy always knows how much money he has, and how much he needs for whatever thing it is he's got his eye on. He's also started to identify the types of things he thinks we won't shell out for and often says, "It's OK, I can get that if I save my money." We've even had a discussion of how credit works when he doesn't have his wallet and wants to pay me back for something.

Lou is also becoming more interested in money and often wishes she had as much as her brother does. She sometimes laments that she does not also have three buckets, but just a piggy bank, which is low on clank after she decided that her coins were pretty and repeatedly took them out to play with them, resulting in her losing most of them.

The kids are also aware that we have reached the maximum "stuff" limit in our little home. Since we moved we have one fewer room than we had at the previous house. The result has been a purging of toys and clothes that really should have happened previously. The kids have heard several times over the last year that if we ant any new things we have to figure out what old things we can donate or let go of. This has come into sharper focus recently as the kids have gotten deep into LEGOs and want to expand their collection.

All of these ideas coalesced into one case of bad parenting last weekend. On Saturday our neighbors held a yard sale. They were doing all at once what we had been doing piece by piece, paring down and getting rid of things. The kids loved it. They hadn't known that you could get rid of old items by selling them in front of the house. We had always just donated things or given them away on Freecycle. They bought a few things from the neighbors. I had no idea what was coming.

Sunday was a lazy day for us. We came home after church and fell into our various activities. The kids played, T tended to the baby and likely did something productive, I sat down to enjoy the first week of the NFL. At some point I pulled the classic dad move and fell asleep in front of the TV. As I drifted through a semi-conscious state I remember hearing Buddy declare, "Hey Lou, let's have a yard sale." I thought, "That's cute, they're going to play a game."

I woke up some time later to the sound of a barking dog and Buddy saying, "OK, well we'll be here all day if you want to buy some toys." I wandered out to the living room and peered out the door. Sure enough, there were the kids with toys strewn about the lawn, Buddy doing a half carnival barker, half Fox-from-Pinocchio act gently tossing coins in his hand and enjoying the weight of them.

"Scarcho Man" was once Ryu's very favorite toy. 

It wasn't a game. "Good job dad," I thought, "sleeping on the job. Today it was a yard sale, next time it'll be cooking meth or playing with firearms." I felt a bit conflicted. On the one hand I admired their drive. I was also happy that they had chosen things that they felt they didn't need and could do with out. On the other hand I was sad to see that some old favorites had been out for sale. It seemed to mark a transition from a sentimental age where everything you own is precious, to one where things are just things and are not imbued with any intrinsic value. It was a loss of a certain kind of innocence, the kind that makes us love the story of The Velveteen Rabbit. I also had a nagging feeling that I should have been part of the process. Not to reject any of their decisions, just to be there and be involved. But I wasn't. I was asleep.

"Hey guys," I said as I sauntered out of the house in bare feet, "this is cool, but you can't sell the baby's toys." I scooped up a few things that Yo wasn't finished chewing on yet. I marveled a bit at my little capitalists. I'm still not sure what they sold, or how they determined their pricing. Based on what was left my guess is that their love of Hot Wheels is on the wane. I haven't seen an Lightning McQueens around lately.

As surprising as their little endeavor was I was more surprised by the plan they had for their profits. A short time later they declared the yard sale over and came inside. "Here dad." Buddy said holding out his hand. He plunked 85 cents in assorted coins into my hand. "What's this? I asked. "Well," he replied, "I wanted everyone in the family have some money. We made some good sales, but if you have money you should share it with people around you." So my little salesmen were actually socialists. I don't think I'm a socialist, I don't know what I am, but I was happy to see the kids being generous.

I feel like there's supposed to be some kind of lesson here, I just can't think of what it is. I definitely think I need to be able to shake myself a little better when I overhear the kids planning something. Waking up to the aftermath wasn't a great feeling. Or maybe it's that I got an early glimpse into the fact that even though it sometimes feels like we're just telling kids things, they actually are listening and will eventually find a way to put our words into action.

Yeah. I like that second one.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What We Mean when We Say "Sorry."

This was not actually an attempt to get them to get along, it was just a chilly morning.

It seems there have been a lot of articles floating around the last year or so about whether and how much we should apologize or use the word "sorry." Some say we shouldn't force kids to apologize. Others claim to be able to teach us how to apologize correctly. There has also been renewed focus on how women sometimes use apologetic language in a way that is disempowering.

This got me to thinking about what an apology actually is. Sure, it's an expression of regret. It can be a way to show someone that you acknowledge that you've hurt them in some way. It can be an attempt at an easy out when you're trying to avoid the consequences of your actions. An apology can take many forms and have many shades of meaning to the speaker and the recipient.

But what is an apology really? What is the expectation that comes from an apology? Is there an implied promise inherent in the act of apologizing? I think that there is, and this is what I've been teaching my kids.

An apology is an illocutionary act, an utterance that has some force to it and is usually expected to lead to some sort of physical action. For example, the phrase "It's chilly in here" is often in fact a request or command that carries the expectation that someone will act to change the temperature of the room. Specifically, an apology is a commissive illocutionary act in that it binds the speaker to a course of action. In less flowery terms, it's a promise to change. It's a promise to take steps to avoid repeating whatever action led to the apology.

I wish I had come up with this all my own (and I'm sure there's another article out there somewhere that says proposes the same idea), but it came to me through a conversation with my son. I was frustrated with him, and with my kids as a whole, over what seemed to be increasingly empty apologies. During our discussion I asked him what he thinks he means by an apology. I asked him, if he finds himself apologizing for the same things again and again what is the apology for? Why should I care? He told me, "Dad, when I say sorry, what I mean is that I am going to try to change my behavior." Boom. He nailed it. It was the point I had been dancing around and trying to impart, but I hadn't been able to put it in those words.

Ever since then we've had a framework for what an apology is. We've had a touchstone to go back to when we need to decide whether an apology is warranted. As a result there aren't always apologies when I think there should be, and the ones that come may come slower than before, but I can live with that. The great thing is when I see the kids apologize to each other I know what they're doing. They are strengthening their relationship in small but meaningful ways. And it's working.

It also makes it easier for me to apologize to them, something that was hard for me to do for a long time. Now they know that when I tell them I'm sorry for losing my temper, or sorry for not hearing a request, that I am promising to do better for them in the future. It's helped them to feel better faster when I misstep. It's helped me to feel better about showing my kids that I can be vulnerable or wrong, which in turn has helped them do the same.

Understanding that words are actions opens up a greater understanding of how what we say affects the people around us. Framing an apology as a promise to change can help all of us, parents and kids, better understand what we're really saying when we say "I'm sorry."

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Like Everyone

Buddy playing catch with a member of the opposing team after a match. Sometimes you feel like you're doing it right.

Sometimes I have those moments when I feel like a "good parent;" those moments when I feel like a modern day Ward Cleaver. Before my kids were born I had no idea what I would teach them in terms of being people in the world. I didn't have a "parenting philosophy." Sometimes people would actually ask me what my parenting approach was going to be. I think it's because of the popularity of self help books and parenting guides. I had no idea, and really I had no interest. My mom didn't have a parenting philosophy, she did fine. Now that I'm six years and three kids into this adventure I am finding that I do have certain points I try to emphasize with them.

As I've aged I have found that my disposition towards people has changed. I used to hate everyone unless they gave me a reason not to. Through my 20s and 30s I've done almost a complete 180. Now I generally like everyone unless they give me a reason not to. This became important as I navigated corporate and academic politics. It's been a key to whatever success I've had, but until yesterday I had never made it an explicit part of my parenting philosophy. Sure, I had told the kids to "be nice." Last week, when Lou started pre-k there was a girl who was having a very hard time separating from her parents.  I encouraged Lou to sit with this girl and to be extra friendly towards her for the day. My worry was that Lou and other kids would shun this girl because she was melting down in a way that was kind of off putting, especially for a room of four-year-old strangers who were already nervous and in a new place. I was hoping this girl would see that there's at least one friendly face, and that Lou would learn about "loving everyone."

I grew up in Berkeley, California. I am also a member of a church. In both places I have often heard that you should love everyone. I have always felt that this is a tall order. How can I love everyone? Some people are terrible. As I've gotten older I've come to understand this idea more for what it's supposed to mean in terms of finding a way to reserve judgment of people until you know more about them. It's supposed to get you to empathize with strangers as you would with the people you really do love based on knowing them. But it's a hard concept to impart to a child. Especially when my daughter is so friendly she'll happily wander off the porch and down the block with anyone who stops to say hi. It's hard to say "Love everyone, but don't trust people you don't know." Learning to love new people is often bound up in trusting them. Love feels like too tall an order.

This weekend we took a family trip to the beach. We parked at a park and ride where you could get a shuttle to the shore. There was a typically diverse crowd waiting for the shuttle, people of all races, ages, and sizes. While we were waiting Buddy asked each of us about one thing we needed, and one thing we wanted but didn't need. I assume they're teaching this in school, and I'm very happy about that. Then somehow it got changed to naming one thing we loved, and one thing we liked but didn't love. Buddy said he loved everyone in his family, and liked his friends but didn't love all of them. I said I loved my family and that I liked everyone at the shuttle stop.

Buddy was shocked. "Wait, dad, you like everyone at this shuttle stop? How can you do that?" And that's where I felt like I was having one of those important parenting moments, the ones where you hope you're saying something that's going to stick with them and help shape the core of their being. I explained that I like everyone until they give me a specific reason not to. I told him that unless someone does something that hurts me or others I just assume that I like that person. I imparted that if you go into every new interaction assuming that you like the person in front of you and they like you the world opens up to you. As I said it I prayed that the kids were really listening, the way they do when you slip up and yell at a bone headed customer service rep on the phone. They always remember that.

It works (liking people, not yelling a customer service reps). I'd seen it long before I experienced it. I never realized it until recently, but my dad was really good at treating everyone as if he already liked them. I remember being out with him as a kid and he would talk to people many parents would tell their kids to avoid. He never had any problems with it. If he needed a light, or directions, he'd just ask whoever was at hand, and we used to inhabit some pretty rough areas of SF and the Bronx.

I've also seen it in a friend who did more to meet my neighbors in one walk to the store than I had in two years. I had assumed that my neighbors wouldn't like me. I was the male figure in what looks like a white family in a gentrifying area. I worried that my neighbors saw us as the tip of a young hipster professional spear that was going to take over their town and push them out. So I kept to myself, and so did they. Then my friend came to visit. We went for a walk and he said hello to every person who was sitting out on their porch, and they said hello back in a way that was warm and welcoming. I realized that I'd been missing out. I saw that he assumed that he liked them, and that they liked him, and it was true. After that I followed his example and I got to know my neighbors better and it was great.

I don't know what happened with that little girl in Lou's classroom. I know that as of Thursday she was still melting down at drop off. I hope Lou has continued to be kind and welcoming towards this girl. I don't love everyone, and I don't expect my kids to either. (In fact, I sometimes wish they'd love people a little less. They are very quick to show physical affection towards new people.) I do try to go through my days liking everyone though. It's been a positive force in my life and it's one of the few things I'd put into the box labeled "parenting philosophy." I hope my kids can learn to approach everyone with the assumption that they already like each other, then I'll feel like a "good parent."

Friday, August 7, 2015

Never Junk an Expensive Toy Again




OK, maybe the title is an overstatement, but that's how I felt when I saw a Facebook page for a service I always thought I needed, but didn't know existed. I'd say something like, "Toys these days are complex," but the fact is that toys have been complex since I was a kid. This is especially true of things like Transformers, which have inscrutable and, in my mind, unrepairable tiny parts. For the entirety of my life a broken Transformer stayed broken. Still, I usually found it hard to part with these broken treasures. I thought I was just a hopeless pack rat until I read this post by Tenor Dad who put to words what had been a vague feeling for me:
"...because we moved so much when I was kid (pretty much every year), stuff became my home and my comfort. My room wasn’t a structure or a place, my room was my posters and my toys. If a room had my bed, and my desk, and my Thundercats, then it was my room. And so I began a lifetime of packrat living, unable to get rid of anything, because everything I owned was a living piece of me."
Yup. That was me too, and true to form I've been carting around a broken VF-1 Varitech toy for almost 15 years because even though it had a busted arm I couldn't bear to part with it.

Then today I was invited to like a Facebook page called Jamiko's Action Figure and Collectable Repair. The service is run by Jamiko Hercules, a dad and a jack of all trades who recently went into business repairing Transformers, Robotech/Japanese Robot toys, and basically any complex, non-electronic toy or collectable . I got in touch with Jamiko to ask him about his business and the mission of saving broken toys.


Name: Jamiko Hercules
Business: Jamiko's Action Figure and Collectable Repair
Location: Online
Service Area: National, by Mail
Quote: "If it can be fixed, I can fix it"

An Interdisciplinary Life: This looks like a cool service. How did you get started, and why are you the person filling this need. Basically who the hell are you and why should we entrust our toys to you?

Jamiko Hercules: I’ve been doing this for a little while now, over 6 months, and I just figured out how to invite people to like my Facebook page. When I first made it I was like, “Now I just need to invite people...I don’t know how to do that." So, I'm learning how to program the VCR

IL: Yeah, my friend just posted a story about her 5 year old daughter secretly creating a new Netflix profile so she could get around the parental controls. I'm like, "My kid just learned how to use the space bar to pause and un-pause." It's been a struggle for me to figure out how much technology and at what ages.

JH: That's the game you play as a parent in the 21st century. You want your kids to go out and ruckus, and skin their knees, and at the same time you also don’t want them to be behind the curve. The thing about computers is that the thing that stops people from doing anything with them is fear. They don’t want it to break, but unless you throw them against a wall, you kind of can’t really break them. Just messing around in a program you can’t break it. You can get somewhere and you don’t know how to get back, and then you need to ask for help, but you can’t really break it.

     Someone told me, years ago, "If you don't learn computers now, you'll never learn." But because things change so rapidly you can really jump in at any point. Learning computers is like the universe. There’s no beginning and no end. No matter when you start you're at the center. Anyway, my son can do all this. I’m figuring it out.

IL: That's deep man, but we're way off topic. Who the hell are you? Why should I send my broken Transformers to you?

JH: I started off building model cars and I quickly found that the pieces I wanted, because I didn’t want to build out of the box, I wanted to build what was in my head, weren't available from manufacturers or from third parties. I had to start scratch building them myself. So I started getting parts  and doing that. After about 20 years of that I got good at it.  I also worked in a robotics lab for 2 or 3 years. I worked in a machine shop and that’s one of the places where I built my skills.
 
     Then about seven years ago I got back into collecting Transformers and Japanese robots. I quickly found that I’m poor, and buying Transformers, especially Gen 1, can get expensive. If they’re pristine they can be $300, but broken ones can be $25 or $1. So I started buying broken ones on eBay. For me having the figure is enough. The figure is attached to a character and having the character is what was important to me. I don’t need some pristine in the box collector’s edition. So I started repairing these broken toys. Then I realized I was good at that and I started coming up with some innovative ways to make repairs at home. But I started doing it because I was broke.

     I realized I was getting good at it and I wondered if there were other people out there who had the same problem but didn’t have the same tools, or space, or know how to fix them. I joined some Facebook groups for toy collectors and got my name out there. Half the people were like “Cool!” and the other half  were like, “It’s scam, you’ll never get that toy back again." But people started contacting me.

     Also, I have an eight-year-old and toys break. If they break I can’t afford to buy new ones, and many were gifts. So when something broke, instead of junking them I could repair them and he could get more years of enjoyment out of them. Bottom line, I’m a parent, I want to help my kid.

IL: What kind of toys do you work on?

JH: Transformers, Robotech, Japanese robots, or any action figure that exists. I also do custom work, so if you want a different head to make it a different character, or a gun built, I can do that.

IL: So what's a typical repair like?

 JH: One of the first repairs I did was on a third party Transformer. Third party toys are expensive, they're made by companies that are not Hasbro or Takara (the primary makers of Transformers). They’re not knock offs because they’re not copies of Transformers. But say a particular figure hasn’t been made, because there’s a lot of figures that they don’t make because it wouldn’t be cost effective because it would only appeal to hard core collectors, not droves of kids. But say you want a highly articulated and detailed Overlord, no kid wants that, most people don’t know who that is. So these third party companies step in and they operate in a grey area because they're stealing intellectual property from the companies. They’ll make a cool new updated version of something and then call it something else. So they pretend they’re not stealing intellectual property, but they are. Some third party companies will do add on kits for Transformers. They add something cool to an existing toy, adding height, or guns or a cool new head, or a movie style head.

     For this repair the toy was shipped to a guy and the shoulder ball joint was broken off at the stock. So I had him send me just the figure, not the accessories, just the parts that are broken. It took a couple days and I rebuilt the shoulder ball joint from scratch.

IL: What was involved in that?

JH: I took the ball joint, I cut off the part where it snapped and flattened out the surfaces. This joint is attached to a stock. I rebuilt the stock using concentric pieces of aluminum tubing. Then I drilled a hole the body of the figure and added a new piece of aluminum that went through the stock and all the way through the figure. Then I drilled more holes in the stock and the figure so there were 3 tubes that attached the joint the figure. That protected the rotational force on the stock. Then I glued the stock in place and covered the entire length of the stock with super glue. A 1/37 of an inch cocoon around the whole stock. I sanded it and color matched the paint, reattached the arm and it’s as good as new.

IL: So you do this by mail? What's the turn around time?

JH: Time depends on complexity of the fix, how much I have to build. I just did two for a guy in SF. For one, all I had to do was build a spring, and one was just a shim. If it’s complicated then it can take a couple weeks. But usually it’s within a week.

IL: This seems like a unique service. Are there a lot of people doing this kind of thing?

JH: I’m one of  a few. There are others out there, but most people don’t have the skills to fix transformers or complex toys. The people who do have the skills usually apply them to other things. They become jewelry makers, or watch makers, or work in robotics labs. They don’t think to apply the skills to toys because most adults don’t like toys. I’m not the only one out there, but I’m not one of the many, I’m one of the few.

IL: So the big question is, what does something like this cost?

JH: That’s a good question. All I’ve been doing is saying, the customer pays shipping each way and then I’ve been working on a sliding scale. I try to keep prices fair. I got into this because I was broke so I don’t want to break anyone else’s bank. Most of the reason I do this is that I love toys and I hate to see them broken. I’m not trying to get rich off of this, it’s nice to make some extra money. Obviously I'm providing a service and I need to get paid for it. But when I take a commission I always talk to the person to work out what we both think is a fair price for the work involved.

IL: So how can people find you?

JH: Get in touch using the Facebook page. You can like the page, you can friend me. That’s a great way to get in touch because I’m part of the 21st century now and it all comes to my phone. I just got an iPhone so I can use Facebook on my phone. I used to have to wait until I was at a computer. Now I am constantly available for toy repair.

IL: There you go, it's just like the universe right? It doesn't matter when you jump in. Any last words?

JH: You don’t have to junk your old Transformers or other figures and collectables. If it can be fixed I can fix it. Some things will be beyond the realm of fixability. (Is that a word?) Some things will be deteriorated beyond where they can be fixed. But an arm, a leg, point of articulation, or almost anything else, I can repair . One of the first things I repaired was a Masterpiece Robotech Alpha Fighter. They’re about $300 on eBay. I got it for $25 because they have fully articulated fingers that are infamous for breaking. This one, all the fingers were broken off, the feet were broken, the arms were off, I rebuilt the head. I color matched the paint and now it looks great.

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So there you have it.  My old Varitech can live again. There's a very Toy Story 4 vibe to this whole thing that gives me the warm fuzzies. Like maybe this is what Spike really grew up to do. Our old broken toys can live again.





Friday, July 31, 2015

Now on Facebook


So I went ahead and did it. In an effort to promote the blog a little more I went ahead and created a Facebook page for it. If you have enjoyed reading the site please click over and like me on Facebook. Get updates on new posts and stay connected with all the various fun of a Stay-at-home-dad Academic.

I'd also like to use the page as a way to interact with readers in a way I can't always do here. I'd like to do some polls and give aways and basically have all that social media fun that I know the kids are into these days.

Thanks for reading and being a part of leading an interdisciplinary life.

-Berto

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Songs About Food: Another Internet Playlist


I recently saw a cool post on "On a Good Day," a music blog for parents. The author put together a playlist of songs about fathers and fatherhood. It got me thinking about playlists that I've put together as a dad. There was about 5 years of my life or so that I really drifted away from listening to music. If I was at home or in the car I usually listened to talk radio and podcasts.

At some point I realized I was doing my kids a disservice by not having music playing in the house on a regular basis. I also wanted something fun to use as a distraction to get my young son through meals times. I started making a playlist of songs about food that I thought would be fun for kids. I modeled it on two aspects of my own childhood. The first was that my mom hated "kid's music" and refused to have it around. The second was a series of mix tapes that her friend made and gave out called "Carlo's Kids Songs for Adults." The tapes were basically regular rock and roll and pop songs that were fun for kids (think "Octopus' Garden" etc.).

My one other criteria was that the songs had to be primarily about food. They couldn't just have a food in the title, or make one reference to food in a lyric.I asked friends on Facebook to contribute to the list and got a pretty good set. Over time I did add some clear kid centered songs like "Don't Drown Your Food," and "Beans and Rice" from old PSAs. The list has also changed as videos are deleted by the people who upload them. Still, it's a great playlist for meal times or meal prep times. Basically any time you're in or near the kitchen. Hopefully your kids will enjoy these songs, and you'll have a good time together.

If you think there's something that should be added to the list please let me know in the comments.


Monday, July 6, 2015

My Free-Range Lesson

Buddy learns to play War, his new favorite pastime
I thought I’d find them wet and miserable sheltering under a tree. Instead I found them tromping down the trail towards me singing, “An adventure is a wonderful thing!”

It had already been a tough week at the end of a tough month. The house we had been renting for that last three years was being sold.  The owners had good reason to sell, it wasn’t just trying to take advantage of a good market. They were willing to work with us as we looked for a place to move. Still, it meant moving again with two kids and an infant.

We finally got to closing and it seemed like the long days of packing and being a sub-par stay at home dad would be behind us. Finally, instead of having to work on securing the new house or packing up the old one, I’d be able to take the kids to the museum or the zoo or the playground or wherever else they’d expected to go this summer. Then it all started falling apart.

The discount mover we’d hired put us off and ended up not showing up. Not only that, but he lied to us long enough that we couldn’t find an alternative for that day. Between lost wages and paying for day care it was already an expensive day for us, now it was massively stressful because we didn’t know how or when we’d be able to move. T was ready to cry over the idea of putting Yo in care for a second day.

We ended up finding a mover at the last minute, someone who could fit us in on the Thursday before the Fourth of July weekend. It was only going to cost three times as much as we’d originally planned.  The movers were good enough that it somehow seemed like it was worth the cost. With that squared away it looked like everything would be fine.

So we headed off on our long planned camping weekend. It seemed like a little bit of a foolhardy thing to do a day after moving, but off we went. The move was behind us and it would be smooth sailing from now on.

We arrived at our rented rustic cabin on the Appalachian Trail. We unloaded the car and T headed to town for supplies. The kids and I set up camp, played music and waited. And waited. An hour after T was due back a truck pulled in to the site. A man got out and asked if I was Robert. “Your wife is broken down up on 81. She’s waiting for AAA” At least she was safe. Everything would fine.

Two hours later as dusk fell an enormous tow truck pulled in to the too tiny dirt path near the cabin. I was shocked, all this for a flat?  Couldn’t they just fix the flat? Nope. Turns out our van didn’t have a spare when we bought it used. The tow truck driver let us know that it would be impossible to get new tire before Monday. It made sense, today was the Federal holiday, Saturday was the fourth, Sunday was Sunday. So we agreed to have the guy come back and tow us to town on Monday morning and resigned ourselves to being stranded.

Did we have enough food? Enough diapers? Enough water? I was a wreck on the inside. “Dad, are we going to roast marshmallows?” It’s all the kids had cared about all night as we waited for mommy. They had expressed concern for her well being, but underneath it was a concern that she wouldn’t be back with the marshmallows. It was late, T had taken the baby to bed, Lou had just peed all over herself because she was afraid of the potty in the woods, I wasn’t doing marshmallows. Instead I was jerk and sent everyone to bed.

The next day I woke up stressed. I slept in a good long time, until 9:45, but I woke up knowing there would be no coffee until Tuesday. Also, it was raining. Being stranded camping can be fine, but being stranded in the rain sucks. I was grumpy. I was exuding grumpiness. I was being a jerk. Lou had another pee accident.

When we camp we try our hand at free-range parenting. We let the kids explore the woods around the cabin and hike up the trail on their own. This morning we let them head up the south side of the trail, but after a while I decided to go look for them. It was dripping lightly, I took the baby with me to try to give T a break. Not one of us had rain gear on. So of course to started to pour. The first little one I found was one of our dogs who had followed the kids up the trail. She had clearly had enough and was headed back.  The baby seemed fine. She made no expression either way, just allowed herself to be carried through the warm rain.

I thought I’d find them wet and miserable sheltering under a tree. Instead I found them tromping down the trail towards me singing, “An adventure is a wonderful thing!” There it was. The weekend had turned around. My mood, my attitude, my jerky grumpiness melted away. The kids didn’t care. They didn’t fully understand the situation, they didn’t sense the peril that I did, and all of that is completely appropriate. It means T and I were doing pretty well as parents in that moment. It was also a reminder that the rain and the stress didn’t have to ruin our trip.

Here were my two soaking wet happy kids filling me in on their adventure, “We found a salamander. It was orange with yellow spots. We met a bunch of hikers and they didn’t ask why we were alone because when we saw them Lou told them that our daddy let us go on an adventure on our own so they never even had a chance to ask us!” They were happy, so I decided right then that I would be happy too.

We spent the rest of the day playing card games and napping and playing in the rain in the creek. The next day the kids (4 and 6) completed a 4.5 mile hike. I’m glad the kids were there to remind me what really makes a great trip. The stress was behind us. Lou had another pee accident. Everything would be fine.