Technology is killing our kids

Let me ask a question – when was the last time you were driving through a neighborhood and you saw a kid in a tree? Maybe it’s different where you live, but where I live, in a suburb southeast of Houston, I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw a kid in a tree.

I’m sure it’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s something that I’ve really been struggling with lately – getting our kids out from behind screens and getting them into activities.

If you followed my blog before my 3-year blogging hiatus, you saw that I was trying to let Rena (8) try a variety of different activities to see if she’d gain any interest in them. As far as organized activities go, she’s done soccer for 3 years and has been doing cheerleading for about a year and a half. Our oldest, Alexis (12), is in cheerleading as well. At the house we have a variety of different activities available for them: bikes, skateboards, a pogo stick, sidewalk chalk, all kinds of sports balls, frisbees, dogs, board games, a slackline and much more. I’ve recently started learning how to play guitar with my dad because he was teaching Rena and he even got her her very own Squier Mini Strat Electric Guitar (in pink). Yet, she will only practice if I’m doing it with her. I’m very interested in learning how to play, so I’m practicing a lot, but I virtually have to bargain with her to get her to practice for 15 minutes, but if you ask her, she wants to play guitar, and she wants to play well.

So what gives?

My argument is that electronics are keeping our kids from being kids. If you ask our girls what their hobbies are, they’re going to tell you something along the lines of guitar, cheerleading and soccer. However, they rarely play any of them at home without being asked. Their real interests are Xbox and YouTube, and it’s not even close. If I didn’t make them get off of those things, they never would. They don’t appear to have any real interests outside of that.

When I was a kid, I was so into sports that I would throw the baseball in the air to myself when I had nobody to play with. Now, my daughter has her very own, awesome electric guitar (and amp) and I can’t get her to play it. I’ve offered on multiple times to teach Alexis, but every time she has an excuse for why she can’t. I don’t care what it is that they’re into (within reason), I just want to see them with a legitimate hobby.

Now let me interrupt to say that they’re great kids. They  behave, are very well-mannered and rarely get into things they shouldn’t – the problem is that they’re not getting into anything.

I know that times are changing, and like I said in my last post, I know I’m coming awfully close to becoming ‘get off my lawn’ guy, but kids being kids is one thing that I think should never change. Getting out and playing is how they experience things, and the life lessons go way beyond the skills they’ll gain throwing a ball.

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Let me also say that I grew up loving video games myself; I still do. On the weekends, once the wife and kids have gone to sleep, I’m known to go on a couple hour FIFA binge. But during the week, it’s VERY rare to see me behind my PS4 anymore.

I try to lead by example as best I can. My wife and I are definitely the most active, outdoorsy people we know. We’re actually going to Big Bend National Park this weekend for my birthday. We’ve gone on a bunch of different adventures and have taken the kids on a few, but as soon as we get home, it’s back to the screens.

I brought this up with Mandy recently, and she defended them saying that they’ll ‘play’ when we invite them to. Which is true, but how often did you play with your parents? Sure, I played a lot of sports with my dad, but I played a lot more without him because I was genuinely interested in playing.

To me, it would be one thing if we were sedentary parents, but we’re not. Mandy works her ass off and doesn’t get home until after 7 every day, and I’m constantly cleaning, working out, walking the slackline, kicking a soccer ball, doing something. We’re trying to set the example, but it appears that the electronics have their hooks in so deep, that all our efforts are for not.

Like I said, I know it’s not a new phenomenon, and every generation has their issues that the previous generation resents, but this is bigger than that, I think. I know that our kids aren’t the only ones who are like this, I think it’s a generational thing.

The question I have is: how do we stop it? We’ve tried implementing a time limit, and they just worry about when they can get back to screens. Our go to punishment is grounding them from electronics, but then they’ll just go to sleep early.

This constant access to the internet has crushed any sense of wonder that they have. The other day Rena asked Alexis a question about something, and her immediate response was to Google it. Not that that in itself is necessarily a bad thing, but I think there’s something to be said for a child to just use their imagination, and always knowing the answer seems to prevent that on so many fronts.

It’s just very frustrating. I want to raise kids who are curious, who explore, who aren’t sedentary, who go out and live life.

What have you done to instill these qualities in your kids and get them out from behind the screens?

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Teach me how to Daddy

You always hear about dads being “get off my lawn” guy, but you never hear about moms being “get off my lawn” gal; why is that? It’s my opinion that it’s because dad’s have a particular role to play, and we fulfill it instinctively. My dad didn’t tell me that that’s what men are supposed to do, but he did get into it with the neighbors for mowing a foot into our yard and for parking in front of our house. I learned from watching.

He used to always tell me “Do as I say, not as I do.” While that’s a nice saying, I feel that kids learn more from what you do, than what you say. That being said, my mom used to “lecture” me, as I called it, whenever I got in trouble.

I was a single dad for a few years until I met my wife, Mandy, and I inherited two more daughters. I was still in college when we met, but more importantly, I was still learning how to become a man. I still have no idea what I’m doing, but as I’m approaching 30, I’m becoming more comfortable in my identity as a man, but more importantly, as a dad.

My wife has had an amazing job since I met her. She’s only moved up, and has about 10 years experience in her field. As a student, and now as someone just starting their career, that was something I struggled with. Not so much that she made more money than me, but that she was a working woman and I wasn’t, so what’s my role?

Men are traditionally the bread-winners; my dad was, so that’s where my example of how to dad came from. However, as time has passed, my wife has continued to move up and with that, comes longer work hours and an extended drive time – a very extended drive time. I work much closer to home, so I’m generally home by 5, whereas Mandy usually doesn’t get home until 7:30. Kids gotta eat, right? So I’ve been forced to grow up and become a man. What’s that look like?

There’s the old cliche that women are “sandwich makers” and belong in the kitchen. I was joking with Mandy about that the other day – I make better sandwiches than her, my daughter lovingly refers to them as “man sandwiches.” This was my big identity crisis – I’m an Iraq war veteran, college graduate, and I am the sandwich maker in this relationship. Since I’m home earlier, I do the majority of the housework, cooking and just general day-to-day upkeep around the house. I don’t mean that to say that my wife doesn’t do anything around the house, she does PLENTY, it’s just that now, I’ve had to learn how to carry my half of the load more efficiently, so that I can help her with hers.

I’ve never enjoyed cooking, cleaning or really, kid stuff for that matter. I don’t enjoy Barbies, tea parties, or princesses. So that makes me a bad dad to 3 little girls, right? That’s what I’ve thought up until about the past year when I’ve realized what my role is as the man of the house.

That door doesn’t close correctly? Dad’ll fix it. Oh wait, I’m Dad! Crap.

That, in a nutshell, is what being a dad means to me. Always being there and giving maximum effort. Nobody else is going to fix, so I have to step up. When my wife took her new job and started getting home nearly 3 hours after me, nobody was left to cook and clean – time to step up and be the example. I may not make a great friend to the girls, but I can show them the way that a man is supposed to act. Men don’t have to play with barbies, we don’t have to make our kids play the sports we did, we don’t have to be their friend, but we do have to be there for them. We owe it to them to show them how a man is supposed to treat a lady, to show them how to fix their bike, to fix their door when it won’t close, and to be there for them when they need it. Don’t tell them what they should do, SHOW them.

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Let’s get caught up

It would appear that a little catching-up is in order.

First things first – I got married. Yeah, that’s right – I married my best friend on March 7, 2015 (in Nikes, no less).

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We had the most beautiful, coolest wedding I’ve ever seen. The wedding party all wore Nike Dunks, we had a food truck cater, and the decor was perfect. I know it’s cliche, but it was all a blur. From setting up, to getting ready, to walking down the aisle, all of it, but it was undoubtedly the best day of my life. My main thought was to not mess up or cry when saying ‘I do,’ but of course, I did. I cried a bunch and jumped the gun and said ‘I do’ before it was my turn. Nobody seemed to notice, but I still laugh about it. Everything went perfectly at the wedding. We were having so much fun that we forgot to do the garter toss and we nearly forgot to cut and eat the cake!

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The following day we immediately took off on our honeymoon – 3 days/nights in Paris and 3 days/nights in London. I’ll probably go over this more in-depth in a later post, but the TL;DR version would be: our flight from Houston to Miami (we were scheduled to leave from Houston to Miami, and from Miami to Paris) ended up getting cancelled. We ended up flying to Dallas to catch a connecting flight to Philadelphia, where we would then head to Paris from, but our flight to Philly ended up cancelled and we stayed in Dallas for the first night of our honeymoon. We finally made it to Paris, but our luggage couldn’t be found. It ended up causing some stress, and we had to buy some clothes (shopping in Paris? I know right?), but it definitely made for a fun twist to our story. The rest of the honeymoon, especially the 3 days we spent in London, was absolutely amazing.

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The trip was obviously amazing. We were both overwhelmed with emotions by the whole experience. I never thought I would get to visit either city, much less both in one trip! We were more rushed than we would’ve liked, but we got to see pretty much all of the main, touristy places that we wanted to, and we even watched my favorite soccer team, Arsenal, play at a local pub!

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The biggest takeaway from the trip was our appetite for adventure together. This was our first real trip that we had taken and it put us in a foreign country with a foreign language (we remembered the basics of French) without luggage, but we survived and thrived. Tackling the unknown with my wife is probably my favorite thing in the world. This trip sparked a new lifestyle of exploration and adventuring for us and our family.

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Since that life-changing trip, we’ve gone on a cruise to Mexico, hiked Enchanted Rock, hiked/camped at a few Texas State Parks, spent a week in Colorado, a weekend in Austin and explored Dallas in a 24-hour scavenger hunt. Each of them a different experience than the last and we’ve enjoyed them thoroughly, but most importantly, together.

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Married life has been much better than I expected. Of course it’s been challenging, but it’s been so much more rewarding. We’ve been through the ‘honeymoon phase’, the falling out of it, and the return to it. We’ve learned more intimately how each other tick and how we can best compliment each other, and it’s been absolutely fantastic. One year down, forever to go.

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My apologies

A lot has happened since my last post that has led me to not writing.  No excuses, and I’m getting back on the horse.  This post will be pretty picture heavy to get caught up on things that have happened since.

Our Easter was uneventful, but nice.  My mom got Rena a really cute dress, but we ended up not going anywhere and had the egg hunt in our backyard.

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The only thing that detracted from our Easter was that her mom promised her a giant rabbit and failed to deliver.  Rena didn’t understand that the basket of goodies was from the Easter Bunny and instead thought it was from her mom.  /:

We also went to the Shell Houston Open with my buddy, Ryan, whom Rena aptly deemed “Ryan Lion.”  I’ve taken Rena to a couple of baseball games before with mixed results; the first time she was very well behaved, but the second time, not so much.  So I went into this experience pretty worried.  I bought us hats when we got there, so that got her into it initially, but she actually surprised me with how well she behaved.

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She obviously got tired and pretty bored, but on the bus over they showed Phil Mickelson on the TVs and when we saw him on the course, I’d just remind her that it’s “the guy from TV” which she thought was pretty awesome.  We almost got a high-five from him a couple times when he was leaving the greens.  In all, she behaved really well with a friend of mine that she hadn’t met before in a very “boring” atmosphere.

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I’ve been worried about posting about her soccer matches/practices so much, but they are an area of extreme frustration for me, so I have to have one in here.

I think I’ve figured her “problem” out.  She generally starts out on the defensive line in the back and isn’t involved immediately.  This causes her to become disinterested and she struggles to pay attention when she’s back there.  Lots of spinning and holding her hands behind her back.  However, whenever she gets put into midfield and gets the opportunity to be in the middle of everything, she does pretty good.  She runs, tries and even gets a few kicks in there.  The coach told me “it’s OK” at the last game; I guess I was encouraging her a little aggressively.

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I have pretty much decided that unless she starts showing more “competitive fire” before next season, she likely won’t be playing soccer next year.  My family and I have decided that she just isn’t as competitive as I was, and is more like my sister.  My sister did excel at swimming though, so that’s something we will consider soon.

Oh, another big thing happened – I graduated from the University of Houston!!!  This was the second biggest day of my life, the first obviously being when Rena was born, and I cried accordingly.  I did however, manage to hold back the tears (and not trip) while walking across stage; I’m proud!

My sister’s going to UH for photography and she’s the one that took all of these pictures.

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I start my new internship at an awesome public relations agency, IntegratePR, within the next two weeks as the Social Media Intern, and if things go right, I will start training this weekend at the Houston Chronicle as an Agate Clerk, so things are falling into place post-graduation, which is a huge relief.

Now that things have settled down for me, it should be easier for me to keep up with this – I won’t leave you again!

Inflation – Affecting the Tooth Fairy, too

Rena lost her second tooth yesterday at pre-school.  It’s been loose for a while, so I saw it coming.

Let me backtrack a little bit.

She lost her first tooth a while back, and I gave her $5, which was a lot to me, but I was seeing other kids receiving up to $20 because “that’s the going rate for a front tooth.”

Really?  Shouldn’t we, as parents, determine the going rate for our own kids?

Allow me to backtrack even further.  When I was a kid, I remember getting a dollar or two, and sometimes, even in quarters.  I’m only 26.

After the first tooth, she wanted to take her new-found fortune and get donuts.  Turns out, $5 won’t even feed a 5-year-old at the donut shop.  So I ended up buying her donuts and let her use hers on something else.

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So last night, all I had on me was a $10 and I was too lazy to go break it, so I went ahead and gave it to her, which allowed her to get her donuts this morning, and now she has a couple bucks left over to go play games with, or get candy with.

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Obviously, she doesn’t care.  It’s all “dollars” to her anyway, but that’s just crazy to me.  Am I alone on that?

Funny story about the first tooth she lost.

The tooth was in a little baggy, and I kept it in a box where I keep all of the pictures she colors at school and things like that.  Well, the box wasn’t hidden, but I assumed that she wouldn’t go through my stuff.  I should’ve known better.  She did, found the tooth, and then began questioning the existence of our beloved tooth fairy.  I recovered pretty nicely and let her know that the tooth fairy let me keep it, because it was special since it was her first tooth she lost.

Needless to say, this tooth is way out of reach.

Hopefully she can cook

Remember how I was wondering what my reaction would be to if Rena lacked the competitive fire that I had as a kid?  I think I found out.

For some ridiculous reason, her coach thinks as a warm-up, the kids should throw the soccer ball in the air and try to catch it.  I’ve never played soccer, but I have never warmed up by throwing any type of ball in the air and trying to clap before catching it.  Never.

Dad rant out of the way.

Throughout the practice, whenever the coach would be calling a huddle or calling the kids in, Rena would be one of the last ones to run in.  She would be horsing around tossing the ball up, clapping her hands and then chasing it everywhere.

Additionally, she waves to me every five minutes or so.  I tried hiding behind the stands, and she stops running, searches for me and then waves.

I know, I shouldn’t be upset about that.  She’s a little kid, and she’s just being a sweet, little girl, and I’m sure at some point down the line I would trade anything for her to wave at me every five minutes.  But the competitor in me wants to see her dominate!  She even wanted to go for a run to get in better shape the night before her practice!  We kicked the ball throughout the run and she did great.

But like I said before, maybe she doesn’t have that fire.  And that’s OK, it really is; I just haven’t figured out how to deal with it in my head yet.  I refuse to be the parent on the sideline screaming at their kid, but at the same time, I don’t believe with society’s notion that “we’re all winners.”

However, I do believe we have all been put here to win at something.  Maybe Rena wasn’t put here to play soccer.

So we went home and made brownies.  And they were delicious.

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Soccer Dad

I’m not buying a minivan.  Ever.

Rena had her first day of soccer practice this past Tuesday, and it was HILARIOUS.

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She was very excited to go, and I was very excited to take her.  I thought it’d be fun for her and good for her, mentally and physically.  Obviously, being active is good for kids, but her friends have basically always been picked out for her, either by my last girlfriend or myself, our friends that have kids automatically became her friends.  That’s not really fair, or healthy in my opinion, to Rena.  Plus, this is the first thing I’ve involved her in that is actually competitive.

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I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a kids soccer game/practice, but it is quite possibly the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.  Little girl wearing goggles rolling around on the ground, kids running the wrong way – all of the cliches you’ve heard of, they’re real.

I won’t go too into the details of the practice, but Rena started off strong, then faded towards the end (I’m going to experiment a little with her pre-training nutrition.)  She thoroughly enjoyed it, so much so, that she thought it was every day and told Mimi that, when practices are only on Tuesdays and games on Saturdays, with the first game coming up this Saturday.

We’ve been practicing in the backyard since then, and she doesn’t seem to understand that the other team is going to be trying to keep her from scoring, however it is that 5-year-olds do that.  My parents have a weenie dog that just loves to play defense, and Rena’s methods for getting the ball back are worthy of at least a yellow card in a game.  She yells at the dog and spanks him.  I hope she doesn’t try that on Saturday.

This brings me to my realization though – what if she’s not any good at sports?  Sports were a HUGE part of my life, still are.  I was also pretty good at them growing up (though I never played soccer) and was very competitive.  She’s a girl, and she may not have that competitive fire that I did.  Somehow, I have to figure out how to be ok with that.  Until I know for sure though, be on the look out for the next Mia Hamm.

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Getting back on the horse

Rena and I finally got to have our weekend on the water!  It wasn’t on a huge lake with my cousins and everybody, but it ended up being more private (see: better.)  I had a busy weekend going to Dallas for a school/career event Friday morning, then to Austin for SXSW that evening and finally winding up in Zorn Saturday morning where we stayed with my dad’s best friend.  Who happens to live on a PRIVATE ski lake.

Rena’s been on a boat with my before, and I’ve even gotten her to ride a tube (at a safe speed) by herself.  I would love to get her into water sports down the line, but that’ll be up to her; and after this weekend, it may be unlikely.

Everything was fine on Saturday.  I finally got to ride my new wakeboard and she rode around in the boat with my dad and Bobby, his friend.  She enjoyed it, but she won’t scream.  She’ll be goofy and scream the entire time we are inside, but once we get on the boat, where it’s perfectly acceptable, even encouraged, to scream, she refuses!  Regardless, we both had a great Saturday and my parents took us out to eat to Mozie’s, their favorite restaurant in Gruene, where they have the best garlic fries in the universe.

Rena woke up early and got to see Bobby do his morning ski passes that he does every day.  She even told me later that he is “really cool.”  I woke up later and her, my mom and myself all went to the San Marcos Outlet Mall and all we heard about was that he had to get back so I could wakeboard.  We finished shopping for my sister’s birthday and immediately got ready to get on the boat when we got back.

I road my wakeboard until I could barely hold on to the rope anymore, when Rena asks if she can get on the tube.  Awesome!  I really wanted her to, but didn’t want to push it on her if she was scared.  So Bobby and myself go and air up the tube.  We come back and Rena’s hanging out in the boat with Mimi; she’s more than ready at this point, airing up the tube took way too long!

We get on the tube, her on the right side, me on the left and Bobby takes off in the boat, pulling us behind.  He doesn’t go too crazy because of Rena, but she was really enjoying it.  After we did a few passes back and forth across the lake I let go to let her get used to doing it on her own.  She’s done it before, she’ll be fine right?  Wrong, Dad.  She made it back and forth a couple times then, out of nowhere, the front of her tube goes under and she flies off into the water.  She had her life-jacket on, so she floated back up immediately and grabbed on to the handles on the tube.  I ran down the shore to help her, but my mom was on the boat and was able to get her out of the water before I got there.  We tried to assure her that she was OK (because she was) and let her know that she did very good by popping up and getting ahold of the handles as quickly as she did.  She calmed down enough to get back on the tube with me if I promised to not let go again.  And this is where it hit the fan.

I figured the best thing to do was to get her back on the horse, or the tube in this case, so that she could conquer her fear.  That’s how I was raised and it worked out fine for me.  Well, we get back on and Bobby’s driving the boat even slower this time, I’m holding on to the tube with my left hand and have my right arm around Rena to where she’s pressed tightly against the tube.  Apparently, that wasn’t enough.  She started FREAKING OUT as soon as we took off.  At the turn around point, Bobby slowed down to a stop since she was freaking out.  I convinced Rena to let me hop off so that I could grab her and get her off the tube.  I hop off and Bobby just started to go, which took her freaking out to an entirely new level.

I felt terrible because I promised her that I wasn’t going to do that, and in theory, I didn’t, I was trying to rescue her.  It just didn’t work out that way and she said she was never getting on a boat again.  I guess the lesson learned is that she is a little girl and the same things that worked for me as a young fella won’t necessarily work for her as a little lady.

She ended up getting over it and we had a nice and safe trip back home.  She hasn’t mentioned it, but I’m sure I haven’t heard the last of it yet.  Live and learn.  And let her get back on the horse when she’s good and ready.mimiandamonkey