My Two Superdads

I don’t know if the timing is a coincidence or not, but the new Superman movie, Man of Steel, comes out in June, on Father’s Day weekend. This is really appropriate because, judging by the trailer that dropped this week, the relationship Superman has with both his biological father on Krypton and his adoptive father in Kansas will play a major role. They cast former Robin Hood actors to play them both!

As frequent readers will remember, I’m known to get a little… emotionally invested in movies since I had my kids. Apparently that applies to even trailers now, because I couldn’t make it through this one until my fourth viewing without getting choked up. That line from Jonathan Kent (played by Kevin Costner) just gets me.

The comic book writers that really “get” Superman explore his humanity, and view the character through a sympathetic lens that we can relate to. Take a look at the superb miniseries Superman for All Seasons, for example. I actually had a page of that book framed and gave it to my parents when I went away to college.


A new Superman movie that explores Kal-El/Clark Kent’s struggling to fit in, and Jonathan Kent’s challenge with raising Jor-El’s son as his own, could be the perfect Father’s Day movie for our time. I’ve met a lot of great stepdads, surrogate dads, and adopted dads through the NYC Dads Group. As our definition of family keeps changing, more kids (and their parents) will be able to find something to relate to in Superman’s story. The character originally appeared 75 years ago today, and this story has been told, built upon, adapted and re-booted in every conceivable medium. Can’t wait to see what this new movie adds to the tapestry.

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On Boston, humanity, and explaining this to our kids

By now, a whole lot has been written about the tragedy in Boston. In the wake of every national tragedy, we’re faced with the question, “how do I explain this to my kids?” Luckily, mine are too young at the moment to really be swept up in this news cycle, but it’s something I find myself thinking about a lot lately.

Let’s be honest — it’s been a scary, disruptive decade, and I don’t think it’s good parenting to just bury our heads in the sand and stop consuming the news altogether. One day, there will be an event that really gets to the girls, and LW and I will have to explain what happened, and why sometimes people do these things to other people.

I’m reminded of something my friend, author Tim Madigan said in an award acceptance speech:

We have a duty to let our outrage show through when we come across injustice. We need to let our compassion show through for other people’s suffering. And we need to let our awe show through at the glory of life… We have as much responsibility to celebrate life and the goodness of it as we do to root out evil.

Surprisingly enough, comedian Patton Oswalt said something along the same vein earlier this week.

So I think the parent’s responsibility when we all too often encounter tragedy, is to go ahead and let your kids see that it makes you sad. Or mad. But we also need to highlight the good we see at work every day, and especially during a crisis.

If Red and Blue Steel were old enough to really be aware of the bombing, I would want them to understand how sad and bad of a thing this is, but also to recognize the great lengths investigators are going to catch the people that did this. To keep us safe.

And I would point to the stories of runners who crossed the finish line and then kept running so they could donate blood. I would invite them to talk to my friend Gretchen, whose veteran’s advocacy group, Team Red White & Blue, had a runner (and soldier) who applied his training to help those injured at the scene.

But I would also explain the everyday generosity we see from the marathon spectators. People that come out on a cold morning to stand by the side of the road and cheer and shout the names of complete strangers, to encourage them to accomplish their goals. That’s a great example of the goodness of humanity, that far outnumbers the bad.

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The Universal Language

I’m probably late to the party on this one, but go check out Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti’s photo project, Toy Stories, if you haven’t seen it yet. Anyone with a child, or who just KNOWS a child, will see something familiar in this series. Galimberti traveled the world for 18 months, photographing children posed with their favorite toys. I ran across it after Galimberti had already received significant fanfare for the work, and made an instant connection when I saw Red’s smile on a little girl from Botswana proudly showing off her favorite (and only) toy, a stuffed monkey.

I found this collection refreshing, because it really brought to life the similarities among children from different countries, rather than harping on the differences. Most cultural comparison documentaries I’ve seen really hit you over the head with how decadent we are, as if the artist is screaming, “Look how poor they are! Don’t you feel terrible for bitching about uncomfortable iPhone earbuds while these people have to walk for miles to get fresh water?!?!” 

Instead, Toy Stories shows that most kids love having something soft snuggle with at night. Little girls like to brush their dolls’ hair, whether they live in a high-rise apartment building in NYC or plywood refugee camp in Port au Prince. And all kids love to play with other kids, and their toys frame that fun.

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Courage wears pigtails

My grandparents were all gone by the time I was 10, and forget about great grandparents. I never even met either of my grandfathers. So I’m happy to see my girls form warm, unique relationships with both of my parents and my wife’s folks. And it’s really neat that they have the opportunity to be a part of four generations in the same room whenever we visit either of LW’s grandmothers.

A few weeks ago, LW’s family had to move her grandmother (my girls’ great grandmother) from the assisted living facility she’s been at for the last few years in Boston, to a nursing home back here in NYC. It’s been tough on everyone involved. The weekend she moved in, we went along with my in-laws for a visit, thinking it might cheer her up.


Red and my nephew checking out the big fish tank while visiting their great grandmother. When I get old, I’m getting the biggest, most exotic fish tank ever.

When we got there, LW and her father went upstairs to get grandma. Blue Steel was her usual, jovial self, chewing on a toy and generally being happy in the stroller. But Red got quiet. She climbed onto the couch and pressed her head into my shoulder. I gave her a hug and asked what was wrong. “I’m scared,” she whispered. I took a look around the nursing home living room. Elderly residents moved along slowly with walkers. Most were in wheelchairs. A stroke victim nearby made involuntary, guttural noises. I could see where Red was coming from. She hadn’t dealt with anything like this before.

LW’s grandmother is wheelchair-bound too. And her speech slowly started going in waves a few years ago. At first, it manifested itself as long pauses in between sentences. Now she can’t really get any words out. That might be off-putting for a three-year-old, but Red really took to her when we visited a few months prior in Boston. I knew they’d be happy to see each other if we could just get Red past this initial trepidation.

“I’m too scared, and I want to go home,” she continued. I felt Red’s little arm wrap tighter around the back of my neck, and a single hot tear rolled from her cheek onto mine. “It’s ok to be scared,” I said.”Everyone gets scared sometimes.”

“This is important to Mommy and Grandpa. And Great Grandma loves you very much,” I explained.  “I know she’ll be happy to see you. She just moved here and I think she’s a little bit sad.” She snorted in a deep breath, and I could feel her starting to calm down.

“Ok,” said Red, as she loosened her grip. “I’ll be brave.” By the time her great grandma came down, the thousand-megawatt smile was back. Great Grandma brought her iPad, so Red immediately wanted to show her all the games she plays on ours. We spent the afternoon looking at the facility’s huge fish tank, and bird habitat. Red and Blue Steel took turns running around the main hallway and waving at the people in the library.

When Red was just a baby, we called her our “ambassador of smiles.” I think that’s a great way to describe both girls during the visit. I felt really proud to be their father.

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Putting the Arrrrrgh in ‘Princess’

Last weekend, the girls and I got together with some of the other NYC Dads and their children at our friendly neighborhood ice cream shop, Malu, for the unveiling of their Pirate and Princess ice cream flavors.While any shop could put out some pink and blue ice cream with edible glitter and call it a day, Malu really went the extra mile with the type of launch party you might expect for a new Harry Potter book. It was a full-on costume party with local kids performing musical numbers, story readings, and plenty of ice cream.malu

Most of the kids in attendance were dressed as either a pirate or princess. Red is very much a girly girl, so this type of thing is right up her alley and the question was never “will she go as a princess?” but, “which princess dress will she wear?” Plenty of little girls were dressed as pirates as well, and the kids seemed to really get a kick out of the pirate-themed stories being read. So perhaps Izzy from Jake and the Neverland Pirates will one day be recognized as a symbol of progress for women everywhere.

All in all, the event was a great showcase of the neighborhood, and reminded me how much fun the more kid-friendly pockets of the city can be. Can’t wait to see what Malu comes up with next month!

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In the land of the blind…

We had a road trip last weekend, and at 14 months Blue Steel’s pretty obviously outgrown her baby carseat. It was time to upgrade to the toddler car throne, and it had to happen  quickly. Which meant I was going to brave Buy Buy Baby on the weekend.

Indiana Jones had the Ark of the Covenant. I went in search of this bad boy.

Indiana Jones had the Ark of the Covenant. I went in search of this bad boy.

Now that both girls are walking, we’ve had a lot of success with “man to man defense” parenting. So I grabbed Red to join me on my quest while LW hung back with the baby. I figured it would be a much quicker trip with just the two of us, and I already knew exactly what I wanted — this year’s version of Red’s Britax Advocate — and where it was located in the store. I could get through the place with surgical precision, and be in and out in 20 minutes.

As I’ve said before, the ol’ B Cubed is essentially Thunderdome on the weekend, especially the one in Chelsea. When we got there, the first floor was loaded with expecting parents mindlessly zapping registry items, accompanied by a B3 rep in a blue shirt. I was on a mission, but the banter between the blushirts and their doe-eyed marks was inescapable. Did you ever overhear a conversation that was so insipid, weird, or just completely wrong that you can’t not listen to it? And then you worry you’ve just gotten more stupid having heard it? It was like that. Some of the gems:

  • “If you even think you’re gonna breast feed, you should pick up two pumps. You don’t want to lug these back and forth.” This was over by the Medela pumps that retail for $240.
  • “This is great, ’cause it just stores IN the microwave!” a rep said about one of those big racks that you put in the microwave to sterilize bottle parts. Yeah, hope you don’t need to use your microwave to, y’know, heat up food… while you’re figuring out your newborn. And would it have killed the blushirt to ask if these people had a dishwasher? Those usually have ‘sterilize’ settings.
  • “I would just get one of each and see which one works out. You can always bring the rest back.” This was was said in front of a wall of pacifiers that had at least 100 options. Conservatively.

I pressed on, avoided eye contact throughout the entire first level, and got down into the bowels of B3 without incident. This is where the big stuff is, and on the weekends feels like a trade show/bazaar/kumite. I walked past the strollers just as a demo of some Bugaboo models was breaking up. The blueshirt giving the demo said, with a level of seriousness that should be reserved for TSA agents and funeral home directors, “I can’t recommend an UppaBaby. They’re just so heavy. In the city, you’ll really wish you had gone for a Bugaboo.”

One couple that was in the audience hung back from the pack as they moved onto the next demo. Nodding towards Red at my hip, the guy asked me, “you’ve done this before. What do you think about the UppaBaby stroller?” I told him about how much I liked the UppaBaby Vista, and the weight thing didn’t seem to me like a huge deal. After all, you’re not running a marathon with it over your head, right? They seemed relieved. It felt like that part in the Shawshank Redemption, where the Tim Robbins character goes to Morgan Freeman with, “I understand you’re a man who knows how to get things…”

Just a couple guys in Buy Buy Baby. Nice little Saturday.

Just a couple guys in Buy Buy Baby. Nice little Saturday.

Closer to the car seats, I made eye contact with a soon-to-be brother-in-arms, a first time expecting dad. This poor guy was wearing an Ergo Carrier on the back, a Baby Bjorn on the front with a demo doll in it, and a look of utter despair. Most of the clips were mismatched and nothing was adjusted for size. You could’ve easily mistaken him for an overwhelmed news correspondent in some war-torn country. I offered, “I’ve tried all those at one point or another. What do you need it for?” Like most guys, he wanted a carrier that could go front or back. Wearing a kid any heavier than 20 pounds on the front is murder on your back, so I’ve been really happy with the Ergo. Dude’s wife came back just as I was pointing out that you can pretty easily take apart and machine wash an Ergo, to get puke/poop/hardened applesauce out of it. I think things like cleanup factor are easy to overlook for new parents, so was happy to offer that little glimpse into actual parenthood.

Once I got over to car seats, Britax had their own brand rep in-store that was kind enough to grab a cart for me, and I was at the register from there. I didn’t really need any help on my purchase decision, but I’ve found these brand-specific folks extremely helpful before. I wonder why more companies don’t make a regular practice of it. They’re not on commission and have a really thorough understanding of their specific product lines.

The whole thing took about 30 minutes in-store, and it was nice to be able to throw a few new parents some friendly advice. I would urge veteran parents to offer to come along for that first Buy Buy Baby visit with their expecting friends. I know my wife and I could’ve really used it our first time there.

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The “perfect” storm

It’s pretty common for parents to maintain “I want X to be better for my kid than it was for me” as a goal. I think this has less to do with wanting to one-up our own parents, and more of a general sense of progress and success in raising our children. “I want to put them in better schools than I went to,” “I’ll always make a point to encourage exploring their passions through hobbies,” etc.

The flip side of this is nobody wants their children to struggle with the same things we did (or still do). My poison in this case is perfectionism. Yes, I know. The guy that can never even get this blog written in a timely, consistent fashion has a problem with letting things go. Ironic, huh?

The truth is, I spent the better part of 30 years in abject fear of screwing up. We’re talking about sleepless nights AS A FOURTH GRADER because I was sure I would be getting a B on my report card in math, and not an A. This type of thing starts early, runs deep and dies hard. I can still remember feeling somewhat of a catharsis when I failed a 200 level Japanese class in college and the world didn’t end*. The feeling of dread around even simple mistakes dogged me even as a professional, and finally got ironed out with the help of a really good therapist and a LOT of time on the couch.

So it really hit home for me when I had to remind Red to share with Blue Steel recently, and got the saddest delayed reaction ever. Everything was fine for a minute, then she burst into tears and whimpered “I did something wrong” in my ear. It broke my heart. Not long after, Red was looking for a flashlight that she had left at school as part of a project. When I reminded her, she again broke down and said “I’m always doing bad things!” Yeesh. She’s actually a really great kid, and I’m sure a ton of parents would trade places with our behavioral issues.

Not wanting Red to slip into the same groove as Young Me, I’ve made it my mission to now POINT OUT all my mistakes to her, large and small. Which is an exercise in humility for someone that grew up trying to sweep under the rug or hide from every. single. screwup. Spilled something on the floor? Better call Red in to get a better look before I clean it up. Forgot something at home? Make sure to explain to Red that I did something silly and that’s why we need to pop in to Duane Reade and buy more wipes. I think all my blunder-spotting may be catching on, because the other day she flipped over an entire, full cereal box. Before I could even start to clean it up, she explained to me, “sometimes people make mistakes, and it’s ok.”

Ultimately, I want her to understand that everyone makes mistakes. It’s ok. And her mommy and I will always love her, no matter what. At three years old, Red has a curiosity that could serve her well for the rest of her life. I would hate for a creeping fear of failure to ever prevent her from trying new things, or going down the road less traveled. Every night I tuck Red in, and cover her with a Dora the Explorer the blanket. It reads “Explorers Wanted!” I really, really hope she never stops exploring.

*I’m fairly certain that colleges keep courses like this in the catalog for exactly this purpose. Taking a punishing class like this, failing it, and living through it taught me way more than anything else I encountered my sophomore year.

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I watched it for you: Sofia the First

20130127-003151.jpgBeing the father of two girls, I accepted that it was useless to resist the siren song of the Walt Disney company from day one. Red got into the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse early on, and never looked back. Most of the Pixar movies are still a little bit out of reach, but she’s really taken to the Big Pink Machine that is the Disney Princesses.

The “wicked stepmother” aspect has kept us away from most of the movies, but Cinderella was an early fave (passed down from LW), and Red became familiar with the rest of the Princesses through the occasional YouTube clip, Little Golden Books, toys, bedsheets, plastic cutlery, karaoke machines, sippy cups, and… the bimonthly magazine. So, yeah, the Mouse puts out a lot of product around these ladies. Some good, some not-so-great.

I was a little bit skeptical when I first read about the premise for Disney Junior’s new princess-centric TV show, Sofia the First. An ordinary little girl becomes the newest princess, and we follow her journey as she learns the ropes. She even interacts with talking woodland creatures, fairy godmothers, and some of the other, established princesses!* At first, this felt like a little bit of a setback. The network was basking in universal praise for Doc McStuffins and its portrayal of a young black girl with a can-do attitude and passion for science. In fact, Doc outdrew Dora the Explorer in Nielsen ratings the month before Sofia premiered. No small feat.

Unlike Doc McStuffins, most of Disney’s princesses are very much the product of a bygone era where women need saving, and marrying royalty is a way (perhaps the only way) out of poverty or an abusive family. They’re wonderful family movies, but the princesses might not exactly be the greatest role models for modern, capable little girls.

I’m happy to report that Sofia is actually a great character to introduce girls to the Disney universe, an the show itself is really well done. Only three episodes in, we’ve seen the plucky commoner-turned-royalty break the gender barrier for her school’s pegasus racing team, stay true to her “village girl” roots and friends, and just yesterday she helped emancipated some trolls. Seriously.

Sofia’s endearing because she is written very much like a real girl. Most lead characters in kids’ shows are cut from a very Ferris Bueller-esque cloth. They always have an answer and a gadget for everything. When was the last time you saw Diego flustered? That kid never even loses his balance on his snowboard! But Sofia is presented very much as a work in progress. She’s learning. She makes mistakes. She needs and asks for help. These are the kinds of things I want my daughters to see.

Watching Sofia finally persevere in the flying horse race was a thrill. Red and I were both so into it, we were on the edge of our seats. It’s probably the closest thing I’ll have to a die-hard sports fan moment with the girls for at least a few years. Sofia the First is right up there with Team Umizoomi and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood as one of my favorite shows in the kids’ media diet.

It’s still a little weird that Project Runway’s Tim Gunn voices the butler, though.

*I don’t think Disney has made a big enough deal out of the concept that Sofia can interact with the fairy godmothers from Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella in the same episode. Do they all exist in the same narrative universe? If so, that’s kind of mind blowing. Look what a shared universe did for the Marvel movies, leading up to Avengers. Is there a master timeline somewhere in the bowels of Disney Animation that keeps this all straight? I’m a huge nerd, but there must be other people that are into the idea of a shared Disney universe, right?

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Hey, where’ve you been?

It’s been 4 months since I last checked in at the old blogaroo, and I wish I could say I’m back from some globetrotting adventure in parenting. The truth is, it’s easy to forget how much I need to write sometimes. Amidst a lengthy job search, an apartment move, and the rigors of parenting, I just quit pouring my head out on here. However, I took copious notes and quite a bit of what transpired these last few months could be relevant — and maybe even helpful — to other parents.

A pretty traumatic recent news cycle (especially for parents) gives us all a lot to write/talk/think about. And guiding a few sessions of the always awesome NYC Dad Group’s New Dad Bootcamp reminded me just how much I like talking to other dads about dad stuff. More to come!

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Music self-played is happiness self-made

Last weekend, a bunch of the NYC Dads got together for a class with I Make my Music in Central Park. There are obviously a ton of music classes to choose from in the city, and we tried a number of them with RH over the last 2 years. Aside from an early incident where someone umm… kinda got a maraca stuck in her mouth… they’ve all been pretty beneficial.

What sets I Make My Music (IM3 if you’re cool) apart is the “Daddy and Me” class. I’m really surprised we haven’t seen more of this, especially considering the recent rise in stay-at-home dads. It sounds weird, but having a separate class for dads makes a big difference. Often in a mixed class, mommies find the common ground right away and start arranging playdates and exchanging numbers. As the lone dad in the room, you’re just wishing you had shaved and desperately try to not come off like David Wooderson from Dazed and Confused while making small talk. It’s rough out there, man.

Also, this class is offered to a pretty wide age range, from newborn to 5 years old. Great for me, as I could bring both girls to the trial class and see which one got into it more. RH seemed right in the sweet spot at 2 1/2 years, so we’ll probably be back in the park for another morning class soon.

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