Playground from the Past

Yesterday Marathon Girl and I decided to take the kids to park to eat dinner. We drove around for a bit and stumbled upon a park that was like something I remember from childhood. There was a merry-go-round, teeter-totter and big tires. In addition there was fine gravel on the ground. I haven't seen any of this in playgrounds in at least 20 years and was kind of surprised that this park still had them. Best of all, my kids enjoyed playing on these "new" toys. Kind of glad we found the park and the kids had a chance to play on them. Probably just a matter of time before someone gets hurt and the city is forced to get rid of them.  Photos below.

How I Know It’s Spring

In our neighborhood spring doesn't start when the lawns turn green or the birds build nests in the trees. Rather, spring starts once all the neighborhood kids start playing outside with each other.

During the cold Utah winters, kids tend to hole up inside. Sure, they still play with each other but it’s not in the same large groups that you see when the weather is warm. They play in groups of two or three, building Lego spaceships, playing with dolls, or honing their video game skills. But when the weather warms up, something changes. They flood outside eager to retake the neighborhood from the snow and cold.

The groups grow from two or three in size to five or more. There’s the notorious Gang of Curls—an assortment of 5- and 6-year old girls—who roam the neighborhood wearing princess dresses. The go from home to home, playing with dolls and other toys. Once the fun is done they move on to another home, leaving toys and teddy bears strewn all over the floor in their wake.

Then there’s the Spy Gang. At least I think that’s what they’re called. All know is that the large group of 7- to 9-year-old boys who take their toy spy equipment from their rooms, meet outside in the middle of the neighborhood, and disappear. Sometimes they spy on the Gang of Curls. Other times I catch a glimpse of them—or at least I think I do-- peaking at me as I sit on the porch and write. Other times they try to blend into the neighborhood scenery by playing basketball in the neighbor’s driveway. They’re a sneaky bunch.

Finally, there’s a collection of kids 4 and under who come out only under the supervision of at least one parent. They don’t tend to socialize in groups for very long. Usually they’re on their own learning to ride bikes or playing with toys on the sidewalk. You need to keep a close eye on these ones because they don’t have a problem wandering off on their own.

All these groups have been pretty much dormant since the first snow blanketed the ground at near the end of November. But all of that changed last night.

I pulled into the neighborhood and saw around 15 kids playing in the various homes on our end of the street. The Spy Gang was kicking a soccer ball, while the Gang of Curls rode bikes around the cul-de-sac. The younger kids wandered around playing with toys but mostly just enjoying the sun. Parents congregated in small groups, catching up with each other after spending the last four months indoors.

Instead of going inside like usual, it was nice to get out and socialize and watch the kids play. It was nice to feel the sun on my face and not feel like I had to wear a coat. It was nice to talk with neighbors and watch the kids run around.

Yeah, spring has finally arrived.

Two Inches of Snow

Apparently I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. This realization smacked me full in the face two weeks ago when the kids woke up and found two inches of fresh, white snow covering everything.

Normally two inches of snow isn’t something to get excited about—at least not in northern Utah. Yes, we have the greatest snow on earth but it’s usually we more that I want to deal with. But this winter snow storms have been few and far between and these two inches of snow was the biggest storm to date.

Being an adult, no snow is good news. No, wait, it’s great news. I don’t have to worry about whether or not I’ll die in some horrific accident caused by snow packed roads on the way to or from work. And it makes running outside in the winter more enjoyable and inviting. I have no complaints about the mild winter.

But for kids, no snow is one of the worst things that can happen. Without snow there are no snowball fights to be had, snowmen to create, or sledding to be done. In short, winter becomes cold, dark, and pointless.

Thankfully my kids haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. They saw those two inches of snow and went crazy. They practically had their hats and coats on as they ran into our bedroom.

Kids: It snowed! Can we go sledding?

Me: [Getting out of bed and looking out the window] Looks like only two inches on the ground. Probably not enough for sledding

Kids: We can sled on two inches of snow!

Me: [Looking out the window again] But I can see spots of grass on hill.

Kids: But we haven’t gone sledding all year!

Me: That’s because there hasn’t been any snow this year.

Kids: Please!

Marathon Girl: Dad will take you all outside as soon as he gets his coat on. He needs to shovel the walk, anyway.

Me: [gives Marathon Girl the “Whose Side Are You On?” look]

Marathon Girl: [gives me the “What Are You Complaining About? This is the First Real Snowfall of the Year. Go Outside and Shovel.” look]

Me: Okay. Okay. Let me get read and you can start sledding.

Kids: Yay!!!!!

Fifteen minutes later I’m outside shoveling and the kids are running up the hill across the street, dragging their sleds behind them. I stopped shoveling long enough to watch them make the first few runs. Much to my surprise the two inches of snow seems to be just enough for sledding. The kids are screaming with delight each time they race down the hill.

I finish shoveling and head to the park to watch. Soon my kids are joined by other kids on our street and there’s a steady stream of sleds going up and down the hill. By the time they finish two hours later, there’s not a shred of snow left on the hill.

I take them inside to warm them up, dry them off, and give them some hot chocolate. Their clothes are soaked and they’re shivering with cold but have the biggest smiles on their faces I’ve ever seen. As they sip their hot chocolate they share sledding stories and how much fun the morning was.

Hopefully next time it snows, I won’t forget what it’s like to be a kid.

Boys and Basketball

My two oldest boys are on the same little league basketball team. Last Saturday was their first game. They both seemed to have a good time running around in what can only be described as organized chaos by all participants: lots of double dribbling, traveling, and getting confused on which basket they should be shooting at. It’s kind of like watching a Sacramento Kings game. This was my first little league anything I’ve attended as a parent and was curious as to how the other adults would behave. I’ve heard stories from neighbors about a crazy parent or two who yelled at their kid or do something else stupid or embarrassing at little league games. My few memories of participating in little league baseball as a kid is also full of parents (not mine, thankfully) and coaches who acted like three year olds.

Thankfully all the adults behaved like, well, adults. No one complained about any calls, how much playing time their kids got, or anything else that happened on the court. Everyone, even the kids, were good sports and the kids went home happy that they had a chance to play “real basketball” and get a treat from their coach after the game.

Hopefully the well behaved adult behavior will continue as the season goes on.

Kids 1984 vs. Kids 2011

1984 During the winter months the first thing I’d do after waking up is head straight to the living room where I’d send next a heater vent. There I’d sit there until the furnace clicks off and my legs and toes were toasty warm. Once the heater clicked off I’d hurry off to my bedroom where I’d get dressed and get ready for the day.

2011

When it turns cold, the first thing my kids do after they wake up is tiptoe downstairs and lie on the heater vent near the foot of Mom and Dad’s bed. They share the vent until the furnace clicks off and which point they race to the table for breakfast then, after eating, hurry off and get ready for the day.

Pause: A Generation Gap

A while back I was playing Monster with my kids (read: chasing them around the house) when one of my boys turned around and held his hand straight up, palms facing each other and yelled “Pause!”

“Pause?” I said. I’d never had any of my kids pause a game of Monster before.

“You know, like the Wii games,” my kid said. “You pause them when you need a break.” Then he held up his hands again and I realized he was making the pause symbol with them.

I nodded and went off chasing the other kids all the while wondering when Pause became a phrase kids used to stop real world games. Back when I was kid—one who grew up with video games—you called Time Out. Since then I’ve noticed that all kids (at least the ones who play with my kids) all of them use the word “Pause” instead of “Time Out” or some other phrase when playing real world games.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not complaining. I just find it fascinating how games my kids and other play in the virtual world influence the way they play games in the physical one. So far I haven’t seen them use the world “play” when they start up again after taking a break, but have noticed that they sometimes they turn their Wii games into games they mimic in the real world. That's Something I never did either. Back in my day video games on the Atari 2600 or other consoles weren't as interesting, in-depth, or fun as they are today. In the meantime I’m keeping my eyes open for more signs that the virtual world is bleeding over to the real one.

Random Thoughts November 2010

(With apologies in advance to Thomas Sowell.) San Francisco recently banned toys in kids meals with high fat content in an attempt to help put the brakes on childhood obesity. This makes me seriously wonder if any members of the board of supervisors have kids of their own. Most kids don’t want to go to McDonalds because they can get a toy. Most kids (including my own) want to go because so they can play in the big play area and they like the food. They’ve never, ever asked to go to McDonalds or any other fast food restraint so they could get a toy. And, no, my kids aren’t an anomaly, research backs this up.

Losing weight is as simple as eating fewer calories. You don’t need fancy diets. You don’t need to exercise. Just use some self-control and eat less. Don’t believe me? Ask Mark Haub who lost 27 pounds in two months eating protein shakes, green beans, and twinkies.

The one thing that bugged me about the article about Haub was that they touted that his body mass index (BMI) “went from 28.8, considered overweight, to 24.9, which is normal.” Normal? Never, ever use the BMI as an indication of health or being “normal.” Aside from the fact that everyone has different body types, the BMI measures mass – not health or ideal wieght. When I enter in my height and weight I come out with a BMI of 26.9. (That’s about in the middle of the overweight column.) The reason? I have a lot of muscle mass from daily weight lifting routines. I’d probably have a lot more muscle (and a higher BMI) if I didn’t run 20+ miles a week. Overweight? Not. A. Chance.

Speaking of people with weight problems, here’s one more reason to like New Jersey governor Chris Christie. I wish he was governor of Utah. (Hat tip: Half Sigma)

I’m about half way through NaNoWriMo and have mixed feelings about it. For all my author and wannabe author friends, I’ll post a summary of the experience after it comes to an end.

I managed to take my kids to 4 out of 5 Weber State football games this fall. Of course I missed the one game I really wanted to attend. But all the kids had fun and it was fun family time. They’re already asking when we can buy tickets for next year.

My Broncos are suffering through another ignominious football season. It would be a lot worse, however, if I was a Cowboys fan.

Marathon Girl bought some Christmas music the other day. As a result, it’s all the kids want to listen to. For some reason I just can’t get into any holiday spirit unless it’s after Thanksgiving and there’s snow on the ground. I guess this means I’d be a constant grouch if we ever move to Houston.

I’ve done a bad job of updating my blog roll. I checked it the other day and realized that a lot of the people I listed no longer blog or have changed their blog address. Anyway, I’ve updated it. Check it out when you have a minute. And if you have any blog suggestions, feel free to send them my way. I’m always looking for a good read.

Family Workouts

Family Treadmill Runs

When it comes to my kids’ bad behavior, I often see them mimicking my own shortcomings. I grimace every time my 4-year-old son get frustrated when something doesn’t go as planned because it’s something he learned from watching Dad. It’s a reminder to me that I need to do better (I’m trying!) and how much my actions (instead of my words) influence them.

Thankfully the kids learn from my (and Marathon Girl’s) good behavior too. One thing they’re really into is exercising. For them exercising usually involves running around outside with their friends. But with the cold spring, playing outside hasn’t happened as often as they like. So on days when it’s too cold to play outside, they run on the treadmill—just like Mom and Dad.

They know how to turn it on, select a speed, and run. I get a kick out of watching them run at full speed for a minute or two, slow down to walking speed until they catch their breath, and then start running again. And while one runs, the other kids explore my weights, pick up the lightest dumbbells, and start mimicking curls or strength training exercises they’ve seen me do.

When they started running this winter, I thought it was because the treadmill was new and that they’d tire of it after a week or two. But they’re still at it, almost every day, enjoying running on the treadmill. Today my oldest used it while I worked my triceps and chest. It made my workout extra fun to work out with him. It was a nice bonding experience.

I hope he enjoyed it as much as I did. I’d love to keep working out with him and all of my children now and as they get older.

I look forward to the day that they can run faster or bench press more than their old man.

Story Time

Story Time

Back in January I started reading Harry Potter to the oldest three every night. I wasn’t sure if it was something they’d enjoy. I didn’t know if they were old enough to understand what was going on or if a story about a young wizard would even hold their attention.

It’s worked out better than I expected. The two oldest boys understand the plot in the characters. Sometimes I have to explain words or things in the book they’re unfamiliar with but they usually lie in rapt attention as I read. Our lone girl is a bit too young, but looks forward to story time anyway because she can snuggle next to Mom or Dad. I’ve also learned that 10-12 pages a night is all the kids and my voice can handle and that explaining magical creatures and flying cars garners the most amazing, imaginative thoughts from my kids.

Having never read the Harry Potter books until now, I can see why they were so popular. They’re very imaginative and well written. Two thumbs up to JK Rowling.

I’m glad my kids are enjoying story time because whether I’m telling them something I made up or reading from Harry Potter, it’s one of my favorite times of the day

Real vs. Virtual Talent

Time Management

The best Christmas present I ever received was an Atari 2600. Unwrapping it on Christmas morning is probably my most vivid Christmas memory. Over its life it received thousands of hours of playtime. Even after it became outdated (Nintendo’s were all the rage in high school), friends and I would break it out on occasion and play our favorite games. It and the dozens of games we owned were finally thrown away as the family packed up to move to Wyoming.

By far the best Christmas present our kids received this year was a Wii. And while I’ve enjoyed playing it with them as well as watching them play, it’s been somewhat troubling how addictive they find it. The boys would spend all day doing nothing but playing it if we let them. (We don’t. Its use is highly regulated.)

I bring this up because it amazes me how much time kids and adults spend playing video games. Even a lot of adults I know can’t live without their weekly game nights or spend hours after their kids are in bed playing World of Warcraft. Granted today’s games are better, more complex, and take longer to play than the ones I grew up on, but it really concerns me when I see the boys begging to play the Wii while they’ve got plenty of other toys and friends to play with as well as countless activities they can do outside. And though I wasn’t a video game addict, I did spend lots of time during college and the year or two after I graduated playing video games. Looking back it was time that could have been better spent honing my writing skills or spending time with friends, family, and loved ones.

This month we gave our boys a choice: they could sign up for spring soccer or baseball. (They both chose baseball. And, no, I did nothing to influence their decision.) The issue wasn’t what sport they were going to play but, rather, how they’re spending their time. And even though there are hundreds of clichés on why sports are good for kids, the real reason I want them to play a sport is so they can learn the amount of hard work it takes develop real talents as opposed to virtual ones.

While I don’t expect my kids to become professional baseball or soccer players, I know they all have skills they can develop that will help them later in life. It takes hours of practice to become a good artist, plumber, or computer programmer. Having the self discipline to work hard at something will carry anyone long distances in the real world.

We all have a limited amount time in this life. One of the best things we can learn at any age is what our real talents are and the best way develop and use them. Yes, it takes skill to hit a baseball 450 feet on the Wii (I’m still working n that one), but it takes more talent to hit a home run with a real bat and ball.

I’ll take the real talents over virtual ones any day.

Fidget: A Christmas Story

Fidget: Santa's Smartest and Fastest Elf

Sometime during the fourth year of life, Dad told my brother and me about Fidget.

Fidget was one of Santa’s elves that lived in our house. He watched us all day, every day and carried around a notebook where he’d write down everything we did. As Christmas time approached, he would send all of his notes to Santa for him to determine whether or not we were going to get presents.

Fidget wasn’t a normal elf, Dad told us. He was the fastest and smartest of Santa’s elves. If he was standing right behind you in the middle of the room he knew when you were going to turn around and would run before you could even see him. If you walked into the same room where Fidget was, he could hide before you could see him. He could also squeeze and hide himself into the tiniest places so no matter how hard you looked for him, you could never find it. And to top it off, no matter where Fidget was, he could see what you were doing and would take notes.

As Dad told the story I remember looking around the living room and wondering where Fidget was hiding. Was he hiding behind the leg of the couch just out of site? Maybe he was peering between the heating vents so he could keep warm while he watched us. Perhaps he was peeking from behind a corner only to run away as soon as I looked in that direction. Fidget was fast, after all.

Though Dad told us this story to elicit some better behavior from us during the Christmas season, my brother and I bought the story of Fidget hook, line, and sinker. We spend hours setting up traps hoping to catch him or searching our room hoping he’d never be as quick as Dad said he was. Proof of Fidget’s existence, however, came on Christmas morning. Not only did Santa eat his plate of cookies and milk and leave a thank you note, but Fidget’s ate the food we left for him and left a note of thanks as well.

The story of Fidget went over way better than Dad expected, so he milked the story for all it was worth. No matter what time of year it was, Dad would reference Fidget. If we were fighting or getting under his nerves all he would have to do is say “Fidget’s watching!” and we’d stop fighting. When we moved from Utah to small Colorado town that summer Dad assured us that Fidget knew we were moving and would make the trip with us.

Now, 30 years later, Fidget lives again.

A couple weeks ago, while trying to get Aidan, Steven, and Molly to behave, I blurted out that Fidget was watching them. All three of them stopped and gave me blank looks.

"Who’s Fidget?" Aidan asked.

"You don’t know who Fidget is?" I said quickly feigning surprise.

They all shook their heads.

"Come sit by Dad," I said. "And let me tell you about the fastest and smartest of Santa's elves."

So far, the story of Fidget has worked just like I hoped. Sure, the kids still fight and argue like all kids do, but the mention of Fidget is enough to end the bickering—at least temporarily—and have them look around the room, wondering where he’s hiding.

My only hope is that Fidget is something I can use after this Christmas is over.

Like Dad, I want to milk the story for everything its worth.

The Sports Kids Love

I was contemplating taking the kids to another college football game yesterday but a steady snowfall and temperatures in the 20s make me reconsider. Even though I would have loved to watch a game in the driving snow storm, I doubt the kids would have lasted past the first quarter. And since I want them to enjoy going to football games, it’s probably not a good idea to have them associate them with freezing temperatures and snow—at least until they’re old enough to want to do something like that. Instead we stayed home and played copious amounts of Chutes & Ladders, war, rogue chess, and many other card and board games. A good time was had by all.

Last weekend I took them to their first Utah Jazz game. This means in the last year or so they’ve attended a major league baseball game, college football game, and an NBA game. Aside from making them spoiled rotten, it’s been interesting to see how they act at different events and which ones they enjoy the most. For any parents in the crowd, here’s my take on how young kids (say, 6 and under) enjoy different sporting events.

Best: (college) football. There’s enough stoppage between plays that they can stand up and do whatever they want then focus their attention back on the field. And since most plays take up quite a bit of the field, there’s a lot to focus on. By the end of the game the boys understood the basics of the game and could read the scoreboard. (Read about the experience here.) And after watching a game in person, whenever we throw the football around the yard, they now want to play “real” (read: tackle) football. Final Weber State game is next Saturday. If the weather warms up, I’ll consider taking them.

Okay: baseball. The game is slow enough for them to follow the action while still act like kids and find all sorts of ways to entertain themselves during the breaks in the game. The problem is that when the action does occur, 90% of it takes place between the pitcher’s mound and home plate. It was hard for them to pay attention to that small area or watch the ball get thrown back and forth. They enjoyed it more when the bat and ball made contact. Will probably take them to a handful of minor league games next summer and see how they handle it.

Too soon: basketball. Despite row 7 seats, the Jazz game was too fast for them to follow. They got the concept of putting the ball in the hoop but that was about it. Score changed too fast for them to follow. Parts of the game were too loud for them—something they didn’t enjoy. The best part of the game for them was watching the Jazz Bear. Might wait a few years before trying this one again. Might consider some Utah Flash games if the chance arises. Those games aren’t as noisy and they won’t have to watch Carlos Boozer screw things up.

Q&A About My New Running Shoes

My new running shoes

The “box man” – what my four-year-old son calls the UPS delivery person – dropped off a new pair of running shoes last week. All the kids gathered around in anxious anticipation while I opened it and tried them on. Then the questions came. I swear the White House press corps has nothing on my kids when it comes to asking tough questions.

Q: Are you going to go running right now?

A: No. I just had dinner. I can’t run on a full stomach.

Q: Can I try them on?

A: Sure.

Q: Will these shoes help you run fast?

A: Yes, they’ll help me run fast.

Q: Will you be able to run fast like Mom [Marathon Girl]?

A: Probably not.

Q: Why does Mom run faster than you?

A: Because she’s a gifted athlete.

~blank stares from kids~

A: Let me rephrase. Mom is very a very fast runner. Not everyone can run fast like mom.

Q: Why?

A: Some people are fast runners while other people are good at baseball players. Everyone’s good at different things.

Q: Can I run fast like mom?

A: One day you probably will.

Q: You’re bigger than mom, why can’t you run faster?

A: That’s a good question.

Q: Can I have your old shoes?

A: No. Dad’s going to throw them away.

Q: Why?

A: Because they’re old and smelly.

Q: Why?

A: Because dad runs in them all the time.

Q: Can I throw them away?

A: Yes.

Q: Can I go running with you when you wear them [the new shoes]?

A: Of course.

Q: Can we go outside and run right now? The sun’s still up.

A: Good idea! Let’s go outside and run.

Q: Don’t forget your new shoes.

A: I won’t.

Let it Snow

Last year I took our oldest son sledding and it terrified him. (He was two at the time.) For some reason sledding down the hill -- even with me on the sled with him -- scared him to death. I was a little disappointed because it was an activity I really wanted to do with him. What a difference a year makes.

Last week, when the first snow fell, he was so excited to play in it. After tromping around the yard for a bit I asked him if he wanted to go sledding. He said "YES!"

As we approached the hill, I could see that the concerns and fears that were with him last year were returning. When we reached the top, I sat on the sled and told him to sit on my lap. He took a step back and shaking his head.

"You go first," he said. "I'll watch."

Knowing that watching Dad sled wasn't going to do anything to encourage him to have fun, I grabbed him, sat him on my lap, and down the hill we went with him screaming all the way down.

When we reached the bottom and he must have finally realized that sledding wasn't going to kill him. He stood up, grabbed my hand, and told me we needed to do it again.

The second time he gladly sat on my lap and laughed as we raced down the hill.

We spent an hour sledding and I had to convince him that it was time to go home.

Right now he's napping. There is five inches of fresh snow on the ground. More is falling from the heavens. I know when he wakes up, he's going to look out his window, see the new snow, and watch all the kids sledding down the hill. He's going to run down the stairs and ask if we can go sledding.

I'm going to say "YES!"