The Gift My Daughter Gave to Me on Her 2nd Birthday

It's a Very Blues Clues Birthday!

It’s a Very Blues Clues Birthday!

On the morning of Mabel’s second birthday, she and I ran into our neighbors while taping a giant paw print made out of a blue bed sheet to our garage door. The sweet and thoughtful people that they are, they had bought a backpack for her. It was Mabel’s first second birthday gift, and an incredibly kind and unnecessary gesture. And then came the verbal tug of war this is trying to get a toddler to show appreciation.

“Mabel, that’s so great! What do you say?”

“Iss a backpack.”

“Yes, Bunnyhead, I know. And Kalimoir got it for you. What do you say to her?”

“…Iss a pink backpack.”

“Yes honey. Good job. It is pink. But can you say thank you to Kalimoir for getting you the pink backpack?”

“My like Dowa.”

“Yes honey, Dora wears a backpack too. And now you can look just like her thanks to Kalimoir. Now please say thank you.”


“Maaaabellll, what do you say?”

“My want to watch Dowaaaaa.”

Talking to a toddler is like arguing with quicksand. The more you struggle, the more stuck you get. Kalimoir, a mother of four children herself, fortunately understood that and doesn’t seem like the type of person who only gets gifts to receive acknowledgement of her generosity. Especially from a two-year-old. Still, it would be nice for Mabel to get used to saying thank you on occasion – whether she knows what it means or not – to make the other 15 conversations we would have later that day move along more quickly.


Shovel and Pail

Shovel and Pail

For Mabel’s second birthday, we decided to throw her a Blue’s Clues-themed party. As much as I rely on television as a crutch on my at-home-dad sick days, Mabel still hasn’t gotten bitten by the princess bug. Probably because we haven’t really exposed her to any of it. For this reason, she also doesn’t crave beef jerky, beer, or bungee jumping. As far as she knows, the word television is synonymous with a peppy blue animated dog, talking condiments, and an adult man who can not only talk to all of them, but also to Mabel. And football of course. And very recently, Dora, which is my wife’s fault.

Planning a Blues Clues party nowadays is a difficult endeavor. When typing Blues Clues party favors, Google suggested I reset my browser to 1998. I’m sure 15 years ago, light green and dark green horizontal striped rugby shirts were available in every corner drug store, but in 2014, they’re a little hard to come by. Fortunately, Mabel has internet-savvy babysitters who enjoy spending their work time on impossible chores for the purpose of throwing a theme party. We managed to find chocolate party favors in the shape of the show’s characters, miniature Handy Dandy Notebooks for all the kids, and the piece de resistance, a reasonable facsimile of Steve’s green and green striped shirt.

I have been blessed with the distinction of looking way too much like Steve from Blue’s Clues. This garnered me some popularity during my day camp counselor years, but I had no real use for this gift. Until now. With that shirt, the 86 DVR-ed episodes of the show played on repeat, and my ability to make an idiot out of myself, I was to become Steve. And we were going to play an epic live version of Blue’s Clues at Mabel’s birthday party for all the toddler s who have absolutely no idea what Blue’s Clues is. Sure, there was that huge gaping hole in this concept, but I unfortunately look nothing like Dora.




The party had been going on for about an hour. Blue cookies and cupcakes were largely avoided by adults because they looked disgusting and tasted like Jolly Ranchers, but the older kids managed to take them off the counter and sneak them to Mabel when we weren’t looking. Oh well. Happy birthday, Mabel. Despite the fact that everyone was already having fun without my assistance, it was time. Time for me to interrupt that fun for the sake of my daughter’s happiness. And maybe a little bit for my own ego. But this Blue’s Clues party game had been planned for weeks – it was largely the reason we didn’t give up on the theme – and I’ll be darned if I’m going to let 15 miniature Handy Dandy Notebooks go to waste.

I – nay, Steve – jumped around like a goofball, led 15 increasingly excited kids from room to room, writing down clues and singing the incorrect words to dumbed-down songs, until the moment when we would find out what Blue was trying to tell us. What was she trying to tell us? What was the special gift that she wanted to get for Mabel? Oh my! It’s her own special Blue doll! What a surprise!

Honestly – as you can see clearly on the video – Mabel wasn’t necessarily that impressed with her doll. She really just wanted to go back outside and talk to Mailbox again. You’d be surprised how many household items can come to life with a bag full of googly eyes. But it wasn’t the toy that I really poured my passion into anyway. It was the excitement of the event that was fun for me, and hopefully for the rest of her friends, and mostly for Mabel. And so I – nay, Steve – retreated back upstairs and was thusly transformed back into Daddy, who tragically missed the whole show.


Because the kids were having so much fun on their own, we opted not to interrupt that with a gift-opening session destined to fail. Besides, we could prolong the birthday by up to a week this way. The party lasted over two hours, which is pretty long considering the attention span of the average two-year-old. Dinner time rolled around and I was beat. Between the show and the other intricacies of the party, I barely said hi to most of the party guests, including my baby girl. I finally got to eat the food everyone else had been eating for the last couple hours. The crowd subsided with the exception of my sister and her two kids, who were staying the night. We all stayed up to watch Wallace and Grommit (the one with the penguin), and we finally got our sugar-laced two-year-old to sleep almost two hours after her normal bed time.

On a normal night, I’ll read her up to five books, tuck her in, and sing to her while lying down with her in her bed. But she was not going to need those five books tonight. As soon as we changed her into her pajamas and turned the light down, a switch went off in her and she fell limp to the bed. Her eyes struggled to stay open just a little bit longer, to take in the day that she just had. I just laid there looking at my exhausted little angel, wishing every day could be exactly like this one. I leaned down and kissed her on her forehead. “Happy birthday, Bunnyhead. I hope you had a fun time today. Now you have a good baby night and we’ll have a fun baby day tomorrow.” She managed a hug with her eyes closed.

“Thank you, Daddy.”

I don’t know if she knew what she was saying, and if she did, what exactly she was thanking me for. Perhaps she was just thanking me for the kiss on her forehead. Or maybe she wanted to show me she could say the words I’d been begging her to say all day. Or maybe she knew exactly what she was saying. But I just wanted to melt those words down, build a house out of them, and live in that moment forever. You’re welcome, Bunny.

Happy Birthday, Bunnyhead

Happy Birthday, Bunnyhead

The NFL Story You Need to Hear

Leah Strong

Leah Strong

There is a great story in the NFL that has gone largely underreported, possibly due to the media’s focus on the negative stories in the sports world. And just when I started to curse the media for neglecting to integrate this story more prominently into the sports world, I remembered that I am part of that problem, and therefore, just as much at fault as the rest of them (us). That stops now.

I’m a pretty emotional guy. I’ve been known to shed a few tears at the end of Big Fish, most episodes of Monk, and the occasional Subaru commercial. Rarely does that happen during a sporting event unless I jam my pinky finger really hard. Well, it happened Sunday night in the third quarter of the Bengals/Patriots game.

Devon Still is a defensive lineman for the Cincinnati Bengals. His 4-year-old daughter Leah was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare type of childhood cancer, and given a 50/50 chance of survival. Devon says the doctor’s lip was shaking when he told Devon the reason for the pain in Leah’s leg – that there was a grapefruit-sized tumor in his daughter.

This diagnosis was back in June. When I first heard of this story, it was because the Bengals had cut Stills from their team during the preseason, but allowed him to stay on the 8-man practice squad so that he and Leah would still be covered under the NFL health insurance plan. It was a real classy thing to do, for a team whose job it is to win football games – with a CEO whose job it is to make money, to help a guy out like that, when they really didn’t need to. Still would later be signed to the active 53-man roster.

Later, in yet another classy move, I heard that the Bengals were donating ALL the proceeds from his jersey sales to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, even absorbing a $500,000 printing cost for the first 10,000 jerseys. Still’s jersey sold 4,000 units in one week, a record by a large margin. To date, they have raised over $1 million.

I assumed that there would be a few people in the football world who might help out, either to legitimately help or at least to look good. The Ravens missed this layup. Sean Payton, head coach of the Saints, did not. He bought 100 of these jerseys at $100 apiece, to help support Devon Still and his family. He donated the jerseys to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and a few other youth clubs in southwest Ohio. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly sent a surprise gift basket to Leah in the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where she is staying. And fans came with “Get Well Leah” signs the day he was activated to the 53-man roster.

Author’s Note: I am the father of a two-year-old girl and a soon-to-be zero-year-old boy. When researching for this piece, I had to stop writing to record a 19-minute “If I get hit with a bus tomorrow” video to my one and a half kids.

What is most touching about this story is that when Still talks, he sounds like a regular guy. He gets choked up. He talks about his daughter’s excitement over being on television. He says his focus wasn’t 100% on football. He sounds like a dad. A dad concerned for his child first and foremost, and football is his way of helping his family as best as he can. He doesn’t sound entitled. He doesn’t talk through lawyers or publicists. This isn’t a ploy to help his career. He says having a daughter at such a young age allowed him to become a man faster. He says he can’t remember what life was like before having a child.

Patriots Cheerleaders wearing Devon Still jerseys

Patriots Cheerleaders wearing Devon Still jerseys

Last Sunday night, in the Bengals/Patriots game, midway through the third quarter, the camera panned passed the Patriots cheerleaders coming out of a commercial break, as it often does. But instead of the usual tight, skimpy half-skirt things cheerleaders are known for, they were all wearing Devon Still jerseys. The PATRIOT cheerleaders were wearing BENGALS jerseys as a way of showing the team’s support for Devon and Leah Still. My tear glands were suddenly activated from the practice squad. I was glad that my wife doesn’t like to stay up to watch three football games in one day. She already thinks I’m a wus whenever a Subaru commercial comes on. The Patriots also played “Truly Brave,” a cancer awareness video starring Leah Still and other patients from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, on their Jumbotron during that commercial break. Robert Kraft, Patriots owner, also donated $25,000 in Leah’s name to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

In a sport where most people believe in gaining advantage wherever and however you can, where I once heard Hines Ward say “If you ain’t cheatin, you ain’t tryin,” and in a world where I was once heckled at the Washington area Susan G. Komen Race For a Cure for wearing an Eagles hat, the Patriots transcended that to show their support for a brother on national television, where it needed to be.

Leah has undergone her surgery successfully, but is not out of the woods yet. She has a long road of chemotherapy and radiation ahead of her to try to get to the cancer in her bone marrow before anyone can celebrate. So this story lacks a heartwarming ending. But it is being told now. And seeing such a positive reaction to a person in need transcend the lines of competition in such a violent sport is a pretty good start.

If you’d like to show your support by ordering a Devon Still jersey (or donating to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital), you may do so here. Jerseys will only be available through October 20th.

This story was originally published on So Much Sports as part of Dustin’s weekly NFL column, Quick Inside Slant.

A Letter to My Father on his 66th Birthday

My Dad, circa whenever sepia was popluar

My Dad, circa whenever sepia was popluar

Hey dad. I recently remembered that standup routine I did back in 1995 at that coffee shop where Char worked in Blue Bell. I got my ten-minute set together, practiced it three times in the mirror (not too much so as to dull my delivery) and went out there nervous as hell. You had asked me if I wanted you to come and I told you no, because I had included some racy material that would have paralyzed the 20-year-old version of me with nerves had I known my father was in the audience. I couldn’t score if the girl had a home plate in her living room. Good thing I spared you from that and the similar atrociously dirty jokes that followed.

I have since gotten back up on stage, though it took me another 12 years to work up the guts. It turns out I have a knack for it. I won several contests and awards in the years that followed and soon found my way to performance storytelling, which I much prefer to standup. You can take your time to set up a story arc and integrate some real meaning into the piece. It beats telling the same five minutes of dick jokes over and over. Anyway, that has since led me to a collegiate creative writing program, following right in the footsteps of my writer father. I have been trying to get some of my work published recently and it reminded me of seeing mom putting together all those cover letters, typed out individually on a typewriter, and sending them out to agents and publishers in manila envelopes. The publishing world is a lot different now, though the success rate doesn’t seem to have changed.

In fact, the best piece I’ve written is called The Heartbreak of Breathing. If you remember this title, it’s because you wrote it. Toward the end of your days, I remember you writing a poem with that title, but I couldn’t find it. When I asked mom and Char to look for it a year later, they couldn’t find it either and didn’t remember it at all. I don’t see how they could forget four words so powerful, but there’s also no way I made it up. It’s possible it was just the subject heading of an email or four words scribbled on a napkin at a diner. But I turned my search for the source of those four words into a pretty moving story that I hope to try to get published one day as a tribute to you, because the words are just as much yours as they are mine.

I have a daughter. You’d absolutely love her because I know how much you loved your Goddaughter, Paige, and how alive you were around her. That and because everybody loves Mabel. Being with her is the most joy I’ve had in my life. I can’t wait until she’s old enough to go to movies and play chess, but I also don’t ever want her to get any older than she is right now. She laughs a lot and dances a disproportionately large amount of time. She adores me and loves her mother, who is someone else I’m sorry you never got the opportunity to meet. You’d love her too. She treats me well and doesn’t take any crap from your brothers. We’re fortunate enough so that I can stay home with Mabel while Jenn works. This has been the single greatest and most stressful two years of my life.

I now understand what it means to be a parent. It means you had a kid. And that’s it. There are no papers to sign or tests to pass. Anybody could become a parent. As a child, I pictured you and mom as something much more, something that you have to aspire to. I now realize you were just two people who had a kid. Jenn and I planned to have a child and were happily married for five months before we got pregnant. But that’s not to say that we realized the full implications of this decision and how it would put our individual aspirations on the back burner for the next X years. Knowing where we are now and how Mabel will see us as being her world, I wonder now what it was Char and I were to you. I know without a doubt that you loved us and did the best you could with what you had, but were you on your way somewhere else when we came along? What dreams did you put on hold for the two of us? Did you get to revisit them? This isn’t something I imagine you talk about with your kids. I hope whatever it was, that you got back to them later or at least found peace with the new direction your life turned. I hope the same for myself.

I have stolen your sense of humor. It has become a defining characteristic of mine and something that has opened a lot of doors in my life. When prompted to answer a question about my hero or my influence, I say My Dad and Paul Reiser. But I only really throw Paul Reiser in there to give the statement some credibility. Thank you for that.

I forgot your birthday last year. It was the first time in the eight years since you’ve passed and certainly my 30 years before that this has happened. I have developed a routine for commemorating your life over the last eight years in which I will write a story about you every day in the week leading up to Father’s Day and post it on a blog that no one will read – and then watch Big Fish on Father’s Day. In fact, a story that I told on stage based on these short stories of you called The Encyclopedia of my Father won me a spot in a “Best of 2011-2012” storytelling show last year. Now that I have a daughter, Father’s Day looks a little different. So beginning this year, I am moving that tradition to your birth-month. Because you deserve it and because I enjoy remembering you.

Well dad, I just wanted to let you know that I think about you. I think about you a lot, especially now that I am a father of my own. You were my baseball coach, my football coach and are still the funniest guy I ever knew. You were the father I hope to be one day. And when my daughter tells me that she’s doing a standup routine and wouldn’t be comfortable with me in the audience, I hope I have the tact and savvy to look her and the eye and wish her good luck and then sneak in the back door and hide behind the vending machine too. Thanks a ton. I’m glad you got to see me on stage at least once. Hopefully you’re catching some of this from the shadows too. I love you, dad. Happy birthday.

Me and Dad, April 2005

Me and Dad, April 2005

8 Reasons I Don’t Write

Tremors 3

Tremors 3: No Budget for Graphic Designers

I’m stuck and I need your help.

I have not been a very good dad blogger lately. I have put up a few posts in the past few months, but they were gratuitous and laborious. I seem to be having a motivation problem. I don’t make money from this blog, I don’t have a schedule I have to keep, and there are a finite number of hours in the week. Who says updating a blog is more important than watching Modern Family with my wife? Or another mock fantasy football draft? Or sleep?

Not always, but occasionally, I do.

For the last few months, I’ve been making excuses about why I haven’t been writing. Some are legitimate and some are bullshitimate. I’ll label each as such, but what I need from you are reasons to keep writing and/or techniques that may have worked for you in the past to get over the hump. Or, if you’re so inclined, the go-ahead to stop writing and spend my nights doing mock fantasy drafts and sleeping.

Why I don’t Write

  1. I just published a book and I’m burnt out from writing. This may have been true a couple months ago, but now my late-night crappy-movie-watching has become habit. When I first published Daddy Issues, I felt a huge sense of freedom from deadlines. Now, when I see a Tremors marathon on AMC, I don’t feel this sense of guilt that I should be doing something else instead. Which is unfortunate, because they apparently made four of those time-sucking pieces of crap.* This sense of freedom eventually turned into habit and now, that itch I used to get when I knew I had a manuscript to edit has been replaced by this itch to get my DVR below 80%. However, as it turns out, I can delete shows without watching them and it still creates that same sense of satisfaction in my puny little brain. Is it really possible I’m that easy to manipulate? Verdict: Bullshit
  2. I’d rather concentrate on being a good dad than writing about being one. Again, there is some truth to this. There has been a time or two when I needed to finish something, so I would sit Mabel down and let Steve and Blue babysit her while I tried desperately to pretend she wasn’t there so I could write about how great of a dad I am. That felt dirty, even if it was for a deadline. At least now when I do that, it’s for the betterment of my fantasy team. So yes, there’s a kernel of truth in there, but it was very rare for me to take time away from my daughter to write about her. That time came from other places. This is just the BS I can’t even convince myself of anymore. Verdict: Bullshit
  3. I need to concentrate more on sleeping. This one actually has some legs. I have always had insomnia issues and it’s gotten worse in the past few years. I used to write during these periods of time when I would be awake against my consent. I felt like it was more productive to write than to lie there awake. In fact, I’m doing it now. And while that is true, sleep is better than writing. And very rarely do I fall asleep writing. HOWEVER, I do, on occasion, fall asleep while lying down in a bed. So yes, though I’d rather be productive than lying there trying to sleep, I’d rather be sleeping than not. And I never know when lying down is going to turn into sleep. It’s another risk/reward thing. Sleeping > Writing > Lying down awake. And the book on insomnia that I read, which ironically, did not bore me to sleep, suggested I continue to lie there and eventually, my body will recognize that I sleep during the night. Like, later. Months or years down the line. And tonight, I just don’t have the kind of faith that will pay off. Verdict: Reason
  4. I feel the need to make all of my essays more meaningful. One unfortunate byproduct of workshopping a book comprised of 22 essays is that I now feel the need to perfect all of my writing. Mabel turned two back in June and I have this piece that I really want to write about that day, but I can’t because I want it to be awesome. And that will take time I don’t have. And I don’t want to write anything else before I write that one, because people need to know she turned two. Life was a lot easier when I didn’t have expectations of myself. Verdict: Reason, but not a good one
  5. It’s football season. Football season eats up a lot of my “free” time, especially now that they have Thursday games every week. And though it is not football season yet, it is looming. Along with The Big Bang Theory, Survivor, Manhattan Love Story, and all the other network shows lined up to assault the backlog of crappy movies and Dora the Explorer episodes on the DVR. So no, it’s not taking up a lot of my time just yet, which is actually why I feel motivated to figure out a way to make a writing habit now, before I’m in too deep to find the hole in the ice. Verdict: Reason FOR writing
  6. I am behind on my reading. The word “behind” would indicate that there was a schedule I am keeping, and there is not. Not even one I’ve given myself. Though I do feel like I should read more and actually have started a very passive reading program for myself. And there have been times when I got tired of watching TV somehow and stared at both my computer and a book and chosen the book. So there’s some truth in that, but I also feel like reading might just be a way for me to put off my writing. Like how I only ever cleaned my room when I knew I was supposed to be mowing the lawn. Damn my brain. Verdict: Though barely, still bullshit
  7. I’m concentrating on my stage performance. Complete bullshit. Verdict: Complete bullshit
  8. I don’t have any material. Please. Verdict: Even bullshittier

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are the main things I tell myself about why I haven’t written in so long. Science dictates that there are 168 hours in each week, so there’s never just one reason for not doing something. It’s a matter of finding an extra hour or two during those 168 to take away from somewhere else and put into writing. Somehow, I no longer have classes and though there should be a huge chunk of free time in my schedule, there is not. I would total up the time I spend on fantasy football mock drafts, but I’m afraid it would tell me something about myself I’d rather not know.

OK team, so what techniques do you use to try to get out of a rut and start writing again? You may also feel free to compliment me to trick me into writing more regularly again.

* – I really only feel like the last three movies were crap. The first is classic cinema on every level.

Daddy Takes to the Airwaves

Radio Dude

Radio Dude

I have been afforded the most excellent opportunity to be a guest on “blogtalkradio,” a made-up word comprised of three different types of extinct media. The radio program is called “A Kind Voice” and I will be the guest on their “Books” program Wednesday 8/13 from 7-8pm, talking about my Daddy Issues, which is still for sale on Paperback, eBook and Audio Book.

A radio program? What station will you be on? No, it’s not that kind of radio. It’s on the internet. Oh. Weird. Isn’t that what they call a podcast now? No it’s not. I asked. I think because you can’t download them. Oh. What if I’m busy fixing my toilet tomorrow from 7-8pm? Good question! You can still stream previously aired episodes of the program for a period of time I have not figured out yet, starting as early as later tonight. Maybe. Oh, that’s awesome. Good for you! I’m not sure I completely get it, but good for you! Yeah, I don’t know that I get it either, but I don’t really know how my toaster works, so it’s equally possible that it’s just me.

Anyway, I’m super excited to have this opportunity. A Kind Voice is a daily radio program dedicated to “sharing stories of people making our world a kinder, more connected place, one act at a time.” Through some karmic weave of good things I’ve done some time in my life, my name and phone number fell into the hands of the people that run this vessel. I went through a screening process and everything. This is a pretty real venture, and I’d be happy if any of you could check it out. The website navigation is a little complicated, so here are some links I think will help, for those who want to know if I really sound like James Earl Jones or if I was just making that up.

Thanks to everyone who plan on listening, or already listened, or tried to listen and got frustrated with all the buffering. And props for reading this far into the message. I figured you’d have trailed off by now. Take care and I’ll get back to some regularly scheduled Mabel updates in the near future.

Top 6 Ways Year Two Was So Much Better Than Year One

Top 6 Ways Year Two Was So Much Better Than Year One

A Girl and Her Croissant Meet the Flamingoes

A Girl and Her Croissant Meet the Flamingoes

Two years and Mabel is still alive! It was a little touch and go there for Year One, but if I’m being honest, she did a lot of the heavy lifting herself in Year Two. This is how being a dad is supposed to be. None of that panicky, Year One what-the-hell-did-you-just-put-in-your-mouth nonsense. Year Two has helped me regain my sanity and may motivate me to get through the already-peeking-from-behind-the-curtain Terribles. Here are the top 6 ways Year Two was better than Year One:

  1. Napping: Once Mabel consolidated her naps down to one a day, I had more than two hours to do stuff with her. During Year One, by the time I had gotten her up, changed her diaper, fed her, and got her in the car, I had 45 minutes before I had to get her back to sleep again. There were many times I would go to the park or the Arboretum for seven minutes, only to turn right around and go back home. And it takes me usually at least an hour to get to sleep myself, so I couldn’t even reap the benefits of all these naps. Now, we can go to the zoo or the pool and not have to worry about pediatrician-mandated blocks of sleep. And daddy also gets to sleep a bit.
  2. Walking: OK, this opened up a whole new world of stuff to do. Like everything, as compared to nothing. We can literally go anywhere now. Sure, she’s now often not where I left her, but it’s worth the trade-off.
  3. Talking: Crap! Mabel is crying. What should I do? Feed her? Lay her down? Give her a blanket? Take away a blanket? Where’s Mr. Puffkin? Do you need a passy? Are your shoes on the right feet? Did all your fingers make it out of your sleeve this time? That was Year One. NOW, her cries often come with solutions. What’s wrong honey?  “Cheese.” Cheese is apparently the solution to most of her problems. Communication is the solution to most of mine.
  4. Food: Speaking of cheese, Mabel eats food now. No more mixing ounces of water with powder, worrying about whether it’s been sitting out for an hour yet, pumping breast milk at work (mostly Jenn’s job) and worrying about if we have enough and how to store it. Now, Mabel eats food. Like a person. We go to restaurants and order her the food. And she eats it. Like a person. So much freakin easier.
  5. Sleep: Mabel has always been a good sleeper, but now she does it in her own room for 10 hours straight without parental assistance. Which means I can sleep through the night on those rare occasions when my body decides to allow me that luxury. At least I can’t blame her anymore. Damn you, American Ninja Warrior-induced insomnia.
  6. Baby-proofing: This may not be the norm, because most toddlers are much more of a danger to themselves than infants. But Mabel’s brains seem to trump her mobility. There’s still a chance Mabel would like to find out what happens if you stick one of these shiny metal forks into this socket seemingly designed for them, but those are easy enough to cover up. But because she can get up and down the stairs on her own, we don’t need to worry about disallowing her from doing it. We just need to move everything poisonous, sharp, or heavy above the Mabel line. Sure, there may be a day when she falls off the kitchen table or figures out how to move the bar chairs to the counter, thus moving the Mabel line up another three feet, but those are issues for Year Three daddy to worry about.

Basically, in almost every way, Year Two of parenting has been SO MUCH easier.  Mabel is just now starting to throw her temper tantrums, but that’s a story for another day. And because we expect them, we can pretty much ignore them, which is a nice change of pace from the abject panic we went through any time she cried in Year One.

Higher and Higher

Higher and Higher

A Friend in Need

The Facebook Dad Bloggers

The Facebook Dad Bloggers

Last month, there was a reading for all the graduates of the Creative Writing program at the University of Baltimore. I had about 15 friends and family members there to support me as I read from my book, a memoir about being an at-home dad. Among those supporters was the at-home dad that started and then introduced me to a network of almost 800 other blogging dads around the world, Oren Miller. We had met for a beer one night last summer, when I had questions about how to get my twitter feed to populate into the Dad Bloggers twitter column, along with about 7 other technical questions. On this night, he was there with his wife, Beth, and I was able to introduce my wife to the man who had been so integral in the growing success of my humble little blog, having supported it by including me in his weekly dad blogger roundup and highlighting a video of mine in one of his posts. And now it’s time for me to support him.

Oren was diagnosed with Stage Four lung cancer the following week. As he says on his blog post entitled Cancer, “People in my condition have about a year to live on average, and treatment is now limited to making the next year more bearable. There are other options that may be discussed later, including experimental treatments, and I’m staying optimistic, but frankly, I think I know where I stand.”

Since I found out, I’ve been wondering what I could do to help. I want to show my support, but I also don’t want this to be about me and my need to show my support. I want Oren and his family to know that I will do what I can to support him in his time of need, but I also don’t want to be a burden on them by constantly asking to come over and hang out and maybe share one of his special brownies. I was able to go to his house once a couple weeks ago and his daughter Madeline was an excellent hostess to my daughter Mabel, wearing a Minnie Mouse tutu (which prompted Oren to admit that he had lost control over her wardrobe) and giving Mabel a tour of all the little pink castles and other pink playthings in their play room, while Liam kept running down to give us the Brazil/Croatia score. I was happy to show my support on this day, but again, I didn’t want this to be about my need to show support. Just before I left, Oren casually mentioned that the cancer had spread to his brain.

A day later, Brent Almond of Designer Daddy sent a message to the Dad Blogger community about a fundraiser to help send Oren and his family on one last vacation. I believe the original goal was $5,000. I don’t remember exactly, because that goal was shattered in a matter of hours. Less than two weeks later, the donations have exceeded $27,000. The outpouring of support has been phenomenal, which has made me proud to be a part of this community.

Many times, people are reluctant to help someone in need when others are present. In fact, the call to action is disproportionate to the number of people present. This is called the “bystander effect.” I am happy to see so many people supporting the Miller family and unlike so many causes I’ve justified my way out of in the past, I’m happy to have had whatever it is I needed to have to be a part of Oren’s support network, however little my part may be. In addition to all the support Oren has gotten from his friends and family, Give Forward (the fundraising site) has agreed to contribute $25 for every blog post written on behalf of Oren, which is really excellent of them.

Oren’s prognosis is grim, and he still shakes his fist at the Gods for the unfairness of it all, but he is trying to accept it, and on the occasion when I put myself in his place for long enough to feel the pain that comes with not being able to see my beautiful daughter grow up, I am at least a little happier to know that Oren may be able to feel this support through the pain, and that he can use this fundraiser to give Madeline and Liam a few awesome memories of the great man who gave them everything he could for a tragically short period of time on this earth.

If you want to help this family, even with a donation of $1, I’d consider it a personal favor. This is a guy who believed in me. A guy who supported me by showing up to my book release party. A guy who met me on a weeknight in Baltimore to answer a stupid questions about twitter, which I don’t even use anymore. Because he wanted to help. And now I want to help him. You may contribute here. I also recommend you read his piece on finding out he has cancer. But don’t do it in front of anyone you don’t want to see you cry. Also, go give your kids and your parents and your spouses a big hug. It helps. Thank you.

Dads For Oren

Dads For Oren

Between Father’s Days

Me and Dad, April 2005

Me and Dad, April 2005

For the first 30 years of my life, I celebrated Father’s Day by paying tribute to my father, though not necessarily always well. I celebrated Father’s Day during my college years by taking off work for the weekend, driving up from Baltimore, and playing tennis with Good Joe. But my dad was at least present on my mind. For the next seven years, I honored his memory by creating a routine of watching Big Fish, rereading a story I wrote about him, and writing about him on a blog no one read for what I called “Father’s Week.” Last year, I became a father.

I look forward very much to the days when Mabel is old enough to want to do something special for her daddy. But sadly, I’m not sure a 0-year-old really understands the concept of celebrating something more today than you did yesterday. She doesn’t even really understand the concept of object permanence yet, and likely just assumes that Jenn disappears into the train station for 10 hours a day. If there comes a time when she wants to make daddy some dry, misshapen pancakes hours before I’d rather be awake, I will happily indulge her. But until then, I’m between Father’s Days.

The hat doesn't make me look good. I make me look good.

The hat doesn’t make me look good. I make me look good.

As an at-home dad who spends on average 163 of 168 hours per week with my daughter, the concept of going out with her doesn’t appeal to me any more than it does any other day. That’s not special. That’s my job (which, by the way, is the greatest job there could ever be in the world, and I’m so very grateful to my wife for allowing me this opportunity). So I went to a movie last year. By myself. That was different. That was special. Though it was the crappy new Superman, so maybe hiding in the basement while streaming Arrested Development might have been a day better spent. But still, that’s what I wanted to do.

This year, I’m going golfing for the first time since D-Day almost two years ago (if I can dig my clubs out from a mound of outgrown jumpers, strollers, and 30-gallon containers of poop-stained onesies), because I have the opportunity and it’s what I want to do. Which is great. But it doesn’t feel like Father’s Day. It feels counterintuitive to celebrate being a dad by leaving my child for longer than I’ve been apart from her in her lifetime. But I suppose that’s what I’m relegated to in the position that I’m in for another few years. And I look forward to the days when Mabel hops on a train, comes back from college for the weekend, and plays tennis with her high school friend.

Why Won’t You Slide?

Mabel the Slider

Mabel the Slider

There are two types of toddlers in America today – the swingers and the sliders (and the rockers – but they’re weirdos and we won’t talk about them). When you go to the playground, there are climbing apparatuses of varying sizes and comfort levels, which invariably culminate in a slide or two of some sort – and then there are swings, with just swings. These items, by nature of their function, must be separated by space, making you choose a side: are you a swinger or a slider?

Sure, you can visit both, or walk around the wooden perimeter like a balance beam, or even jolt yourself back and forth on one of those clumsy metal rocking frogs, but there is usually one function that dominates your thoughts, much like being a democrat or republican.

Mabel is a slider. Which is great for me. Sliders require much less interaction. They usually climb up the stairs or the rock wall themselves, dance around the little poles, turn the steering wheel attached to nothing, threaten to jump out of the one uncovered hole that the big kids jump out of, and then eventually find their way to a slide and slide down to the bottom, just to run over and do it all again.

Swingers run over to the boring swing set – which only has swings on it – and turn to you and say “up?” because you have to pick them up, fold their legs into the little bucket holes, and stand there and push them until they get bored and say “out,” when you need to unfold their legs, pick them up, and put them back down, so they can run over to the next bucket and do it all again. They need everything done for them. Like little democrats.

Mabel the Swinger

Mabel the Swinger

Recently, Mabel has stopped sliding. For the last two months, she has become a swinger. The fact that she likes the big girl swings is a small consolation, but I still can’t send the occasional text message or even sit the freak down for a minute. This has been going on for about two months and there is no single event to point to and say “Oh! She probably doesn’t like sliding because of the time she got her hair caught and dangled 7 feet off the ground for 10 minutes.” Nothing like that. Our friend thought it might be because the slide at the local playground tends to shock its victims at the end. She has a point. After all, it is the same philosophy we use to keep dogs in imaginary fences. If I was administered a shock every time I ate a banana, I doubt I would eat too many bananas anymore. But this shock is so minor, I doubt it would keep even the wussiest of Chihuahuas in the yard. So I still have no idea what caused the sudden change.

When I was in high school, I used to have a Tastykake Coffee Cake every night. Literally, EVERY NIGHT. 23 seconds in the microwave with a half glass of milk. I loved those things. The ones with the rabbit turd-looking pellets of sugary awesomeness on top. They kept me centered. Then one day, completely out of the blue, I just couldn’t eat them anymore. I had reached my quota. The thought of a coffee cake sickened me. It’s 20 years later and I haven’t had one since. I fear this is what Mabel is going through. Maybe she just slid her quota for her lifetime. Which is sad. She’s still got a lot of sliding time left. Thankfully she’s still a climber, but I find myself over by the swings a lot more nowadays. Oh well. At least she’s not a rocker.

I’m not necessarily ready to call in any specialists, but have any of you parents out there experienced this? Is this a phase or might it be deeper than that? Or should I just suck it up and push her on the swings?

Top Ten Mabel Behaviors – Part 1 (10 & 9)

Mabel and her techno infatuatia.

Mabel and her techno infatuatia.

My daughter is the most photogenic person on the planet, nay – the solar system. Also, she has some of the cutest behaviors in the solar system, nay – the galaxy. However, she has a condition I call techno infatuatia. Basically, whenever there is a camera present, she will stop whatever cute thing she is doing and try to grab the camera to see how she can mess with the white balance or some nonsense I’ll never figure out how to reverse. Even if it is on top of the refrigerator. She gets as close as she can and reaches out her little 15-inch arms (Ed note: He has no idea how long her arms are) as far as they will go and grunt and whine. This is not one of her cute behaviors.

Because of this, we are sadly unable to capture most of her fun antics on video. I have started putting a camera stand in the kitchen to get her acclimated to it, Jane Goodall-style, which is a reference I am starting to wear into the ground. It seems to be working, but only if I start the recording before she gets into the room, forcing me to sort through lots of boring and neglectful parenting to get to anything worthwhile. And then, I have no editing equipment, so it will just sit in the digital etherworld until probably forever, because there’s always something on TV.

All this is to say that I’ve decided to start writing down some of my favorite Mabel tricks to preserve them somewhere before I forget them all. I held a three-month-old baby the other day when a fellow parent had to run out to catch her older son and I had completely forgotten they come out that size. I don’t want to accidentally forget all about Mabel standing up on top of her stool and sticking out both of her arms, exclaiming “ta-da” to anyone or no one. So here are my at-least-for-now-and-that-I-can-remember Top Ten Mabel Behaviors, circa 5/15/14.

Mike Conover, getting a lesson in clapping from Mabel

Mike Conover, getting a lesson in clapping from Mabel

10. The Clap: Mabel has gotten an obsession for clapping, probably a result of Ms. Nancy’s storytime at the library. So much so, that she teaches others how to clap. She will grab the hands of really anyone, as evident by her teaching my good friend Mike Conover how to clap a mere three hours after she met him, and say “cyaaaaap… cyaaaaap” as she slowly moves their hands together. And then, she’ll suddenly speed up, saying “cyap cap cap cap cap.” She’s also recently started looking at other people in the room and will chastise you for not cyapping. She was playing a came of cyap the other night with my wife and looked up at me and said “Daddy cyap?!” in such a disappointed tone, I felt as if I had done something wrong.

9. Content-Eating Shoulder Roll:  Mabel has a soundtrack running through her head at all times. She spins and jumps and gallops for no reason at all without any music playing in the outside world. All of this is completely adorable, especially in the Post Office or the aisle of Shoppers. A friend of mine who has been dulled by 20-something years of social expectations had mentioned that she didn’t want to dance because she was afraid someone would see her or something like that. Mabel has no such hang up and I’m not going to be the one to tell her she should. You could easily understand why being strapped down in a high chair might not be the most favorite position for someone compelled to dance. But Mabel won’t let that stop her. When she’s happy, usually when eating but sometimes just sitting on the couch, she will bob her head from side to side for no reason at all. Sometimes this is accompanied by a light hum, which is especially cute while she’s eating. And when she catches you looking at her, she’ll cock her head and shoot you back a casual smile as if to say “What the people need is a way to make ‘em smile. It ain’t so hard to do if you know how.”