How to Not Deal Appropriately with a Slow Eater

Violet loves to eat slowly. Scratch that, she loves to talk, jump around on her chair, change her shoes, give hugs to her sisters, sing Adele’s “Hello,” twirl, walk our dog Batman on a leash around the house, talk, jump on the furniture, lose her tiny glasses, go to the bathroom, talk, draw on our chalk table, tell me all about Jesus, talk, ask for drinks of water, talk, and talk–all between bites.

You’ve never seen a tiny bowl of Apples and Cinnamon oatmeal* endure so long on a table with a spoon in it. Quite often, it ceases to be breakfast and turns into an fossilized artifact of some long, lost civilization where people went hungry because Jake and the Neverland Pirates was on TV.

*Which, in her defense, is kind of gross.

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The remains of this morning’s breakfast. She simply ran out of time.

I, of course, handle this terribly. I often remind Violet of external pressures that might lead her to feel a bit more inspired to get a move on–like time. I say things like, “We have to leave in five minutes or we’ll be late for school.” Since five-year-olds have no concept of time whatsoever, she pretends to take this very seriously and then proceeds to chase our dogs around the living room with a lightsaber.

Another tactic I sometimes use is to tell her how truly great that oatmeal is. It’s SO delicious. If she doesn’t get to it quick, I’m going to eat it. This has literally never worked.

Other times–less prouder moments–I try to intimidate Violet. I tell her how upset I am. I sigh loudly. I even hit the table for emphasis on the word “GOT.” As in, “You’ve GOT to eat. Please, please, PLEASE, eat!!” This also never works. What usually happens–because I’m a 5’10” man and she’s a sub 4′ little girl–is that she starts doing that frozen, shaking thing. Her big eyes look into mine and she doesn’t know what to do. My heightened frustration is intimidating to her, and it incapacitates her.

Technically, Violet does chew at an appropriate speed. I’ve seen food go into her mouth and within what seems like a suitable amount of time it does appear to go down her throat. (I swear it happens, but don’t ask me for proof. Violet eating is like Sasquatch running through a forest–we all know it happens, but the camera lens refuses it.)

What finally seems to work is to tell Violet how many bites she has left and then let her count them out. There’s something about that limit–that boundary she can operate within–that gives her enough calm and comfort to proceed to eat like a human girl and not a caffeinated monkey bouncing all over the house. She likes knowing when it will end instead of being overwhelmed by what to her is a mountain of food. It doesn’t even matter how many bites I tell her she has to eat–I could say three bites or five or ten and I could even even say they have to be big bites–she’ll eat every last one of them with a speed on the human side of the Human-Sloth Scale, and then she’s done. And we get to school on time.

I don’t know why I’m so slow to remember this tactic each and every time Violet sits down for a meal. It probably has something to do with the fact that I want Violet to eat appropriately in the first place, and not through trickery. But trickery is Parenting 101. I should know this–I should remember this. Violet is hardly my first slow eater. Watching my oldest inhale food now like she’s been learning at the feet of our vacuum should give me a bit more patience and faith.

I’m working on it. Violet is working on it. We’ll get there. In the meantime, I’m gonna buy better tasting oatmeal.

Stop Talking About My Daughter’s Butt

To all the Boys of the World:

Stop talking about my daughter’s butt.

Back of a zebra

Look, a good blog has photos, but I’m not showing you butt pictures. Not human ones, anyway. This is a zebra butt.

When my 13-year-old gets in the car after school and I ask her how her day went, there are certain things I expect to hear. A brief sample:

“Fine.”

“Good.”

“The test was hard.”

“I got my report card back and I’m not ashamed to show it to you.”

“I have sooooo much homework. Can we get Slurpees?”

What I don’t expect to hear–what I don’t want to hear is that she got made fun of in first period for her clothing choices and that in second period she got “catcalled.”

“What do you mean ‘catcalled?'” I asked her just today. “What did they say to you?”

“They cussed at me,” she said. “Something about my butt.”

“Your butt?”

“Yeah.”

“Was it positive or negative?” (This doesn’t matter. I asked in the futile hope for a silver lining.)

“I… I don’t even know. For some reason, people like to talk about my body.”

This is a ladybug butt. Cute, right?

This is a ladybug butt.

Make no mistake here, “people” is (mostly*) “boys.” This isn’t the first time something like this has happened as these reports are growing all too familiar. My daughter has heard assorted, sordid opinions on the relative attractiveness of everything from her hair to her knees (yes, knees). And who knows what else. It’s not like talking to her dad about this stuff is the most fun thing in the world. I usually have to drag it out of her.

My wife and I are doing our darndest to raise a daughter with a positive body image. We kind of have to, and we all know why. From magazine covers to Kim Kardashian Instagram photos to pornography (and I realize I may have just written ‘pornography’ three times), it’s almost impossible to not have an unrealistic view of what women should look like. It’s a lot of work combatting all that garbage–and it’s important we do. We’d rather our daughter not have, say, eating issues or think badly of herself for entirely superficial reasons that don’t have one single, solitary, stupid thing to do with who she is as a person. Boys of the World, would you please stop trying to screw up our efforts?

This is a butt hinge.

This is a butt hinge.

When you say my daughter’s knees look like “baby faces” (they don’t–and what does that even mean? I guess if you’re an 8th Grade boy it’s a bad thing) or that her butt is too whatever (it isn’t), you’re not only being disrespectful to her (which I know you don’t care about), but you’re messing with her mind. You’re shaping what she thinks of herself–digging at the most obvious, surface level part of herself that she has, for the most part, no control over–and you’re telling her what a woman should REALLY look like. I guarantee that whatever image you’ve conjured up in your still-developing brain is pretty dang unrealistic. Unattainable, even. And that’s dangerous.

Do you know what a woman should look like? It’s so simple, I’ll tell you in three words: However. She. Looks.

You, Boys of the World, are not entitled to an opinion on the subject. Not one you can voice, certainly. You don’t get to contaminate my daughter’s mind with your girl-of-the-month ideas. As stupid as those ideas are, they stick around. They infect. Luckily, my daughter is one of the most self-assured people I’ve ever met. When I asked her if any of these garbage opinions bother her she said, “No, not really.” She’s strong like that. But I wonder… as she gets older and starts dating and going to dances and living more in the world… I wonder if these comments won’t come back to haunt her. And I wonder about girls who aren’t like her who are dealing with insecurities or struggling with their weight or who don’t have parents working as hard to build them up when others seem to only want to tear them down.

This is a cigarette butt.

This is a cigarette butt.

This is such a uniquely feminine problem. Exactly two comments were made to me about my appearance in high school and I’ve never forgotten them. My daughter gets more than that in one day.

Look, I get it. I was in Junior High and High School once, too. I was obsessed with girls and their bodies. It’s what happens. But I remember also having a healthy fear of girls and a sense that I had to be, y’know, decent towards them. All my friends did. Did something change, or did I run with a gentler crowd?

Either way, who cares? You’re commenting on girls’ bodies and it’s not okay. Any specific comment–good or bad–my advice is to just stay away from all of that. You’re not equipped, Boys of the World. You’ve got no idea how to do it appropriately. You want to know the first time you can actually comment on a girl’s appearance, safely? I’ll tell you. It’s when you pick her up for a date, and here’s what you say:

“You look nice.”

That’s it. That’s your how-to manual for not being a misogynistic jerkface.

This is a butte.

This is a butte.

And, just in case you think you’re getting away with it, I’d like you to know I know who you are. You’re the unthinking punk and the meathead jock, sure, but you’re also the boy in my daughter’s Sunday School class who runs with the wrong crowd, and the kid at school who has a crush on her and doesn’t know to express it. You’re the class clown who makes everything into a joke and goes too far. You’re the nice boy who just doesn’t know better.

I invite you to know better. I invite you to value the feelings and long term self worth of one of God’s daughters over the laughter of your friends. There’s no reason you have to continue on like this, Boys of the World. I’ll grant you’re still learning. That’s cool. Consider this a small lesson from me to you:

Stop talking about my daughter’s butt.

Thanks,

Some Girl’s Dad

*Shout-out to the Girls of the World: stop talking about my daughter’s thighs. (That’s a whole ‘nother blog.)

The Crucifixion Gets All the Attention, But the Resurrection Gets the Holiday.

My latest blog over on Empty Tomb Designs, where I share my more overtly religious thoughts (though it’s not like I shy away from them in any significant way over here!).

Empty Tomb Designs

The crucifixion is climactic, tragic, ugly, and the culmination of Christ’s Earthly mission. It deserves a prominent place in our thoughts and is rightfully and masterfully recreated in various types of media over and over again. When I was kid, it was Max Von Sydow in The Greatest Story Ever Told. Today, it’s the excellent (if somewhat overly violent) miniseries The Bible. I don’t think my oldest daughter really connected with the story of Christ until she watched The Bible. It was a transformative experience for her.

You don’t get the crucifixion without the resurrection, but, at least as depicted in popular media, it tends to be the less memorable event. Images of the crucifixion–the spear piercing, the crowning with thorns, the nails driven into the hands and feet–easily come to mind. The resurrection with its empty tomb, rolled away stone, and confused guards and apostles (really…

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The Mansion

I’ve had this image of rolling around in my head for awhile now. It’s an image that attempts to explain a frustration. Were I a painter, I would paint it. But I think it makes a better story. 

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THE MANSION

A group of people seeking knowledge came upon a mansion bigger and grander than all other mansions. They made attempts to venture inside, but after multiple tries they found that every door was locked.  Still determined, the group tried to peek inside instead. They could not. Every single window on the mansion was blacked out.

After some time, the frustrated group noticed a small keyhole on the front door through which they could spy the inside of the mansion. At last peering in, they saw a great many wonders: a wide, ornate staircase leading up to the second story; a mantle over which hung a stunning landscape painting; shiny wood flooring; red velvet furnishings; and much more.

The curious group made an extended study of the mansion. Observing only what could be spied through the keyhole, they drew all sorts of conclusions as to its purpose and construction. They could not help but note both the mansion’s beauty and that it seemed to be entirely without occupants. Conjectures were made as to what additional wonders might lay within. Complex theories were crafted to explain the mansion’s very existence.

While this was happening, another group came upon the large mansion. As they approached those gathered at the front door, one man in this new group heard a small, quiet voice coming from one of the nearby, blacked out windows.

He listened closely. The voice was friendly and told him all about the mansion, including much about what could not be seen from the keyhole. For hours, the man sat enraptured as the voice told him about indoor swimming pools, cavernous ballrooms, luxurious baths, a library full of every kind of book, and dining halls with the most savory and delicious food.

The man expressed his desire to enter the mansion and meet the person behind the voice. The voice responded that the man would be welcome to come in along with his friends, and gave the man instructions on how to do so.

Excited, the man told those that were with him of the voice behind the blacked out window and all about what he had learned about the mansion. His friends, for the most part, shared in his excitement, but some were skeptical. They wanted to know what the group looking through the keyhole made of all this.

The man went over to the group looking through the keyhole and told them all about the voice and everything it had told him about the mansion. They laughed at him.

“A voice,” they scoffed. “A voice in your head, perhaps!”

“Not just a voice,” the man said. “There is a person inside the mansion. He wants us to come in.”

“There is no one in the mansion,” they said. “If there were, we’d have seen him.”

Frustrated, the man told the group at the keyhole about the indoor swimming pool and the library and the ballroom. He would have told them more, but they cut him off.

“And what of the staircase?” they said.

“The voice didn’t mention a staircase,” the man admitted.

“No? What about the painting over the mantle? The furnishings?”

“I know nothing of those things.”

“You don’t seem to know very much at all.”

Embarrassed at the man’s ignorance, his skeptical friends departed from him to join the group at the keyhole, doubting fully his stories and ashamed that they’d entertained them in the first place.

The man stood fast with those who still believed his words. “I know what the voice told me. I trust it. Listen, and I will tell you how to enter the mansion.”

The group at the keyhole refused to listen and laughed at the man all the more.

“We have done a thorough examination of the mansion,” they said. “The spaces you describe do not exist and there is no way in. To enter is a fantasy.”

“Let us try to enter the mansion together and see,” the man offered.

“We will not waste our time on something so absurd,” they said.

“I believe what the voice told me.”

“Then you are a fool.”

The man and those who believed on his words went away saddened as the large group at the keyhole continued to laugh and mock. When they were far off, they followed the voice’s instructions, passed through a narrow gate the group at the keyhole missed even for all their searching, and entered the mansion together.

Inside, the man behind the voice greeted the believing group with open arms. To their great pleasure and astonishment, all the wonders the voice described were there, and more besides.

* * *

The world will always mock those who refuse to be limited by what can be seen through the keyhole and choose instead to listen to the small, quiet voice coming from inside the mansion.

I Am The 7%

Ever since losing my job back in August, 2014, I’ve been looking for a new job/identity*. At first, I looked for Art Director jobs. That’s was my old job, why not just do that again? The universe responded “Because” while I applied to dozens and dozens of places for months until I finally got it through my head I needed to move on. So, I poured myself into other things. I finished the book I was working on and submitted it to my literary agent. I doubled down on freelance graphic design and my online comic to generate a bit of cash. I designed a new religious symbol and started a business. I got a new, demanding calling at church. And, of course, I joined up with Tremendum Pictures to make movies. Just recently, I wrote and directed my first short film.

*Because, let’s face it, what’s the first thing you ask someone when you meet them? You ask about their job. Our occupations are inextricably linked to our identities as human beings. How do you talk to an unemployed or homeless person? The answer should be “Like everyone else,” but when you remove occupation from the equation you’re already handicapping the conversation right from the start.

But here’s the thing about all of that: none of what I do is a 9-to-5 job and none of it pays a whole heckuva lot right now. What I actually do with a big chunk of each and every day is completely unrelated to all my other pursuits. And it is the most important thing I do, period.

My wife went back to school this past semester to get her Master’s Degree in Communication. She’s an incredible public speaker, but more importantly she’s extremely talented at helping other adults become great public speakers. Her dream job is teaching them how to to do just that at the community college level, so, Master’s Degree. But here’s the thing about a Master’s Degree: it is a MASSIVE time suck. If Erin isn’t at school–which she always is–then she’s reading, or writing papers, or grading papers as part of being a TA, or meeting with professors, or etc. Most weeks, she makes cameo appearances in our lives, like a welcome guest star in a sitcom that everyone cheers when she walks through the door. Christmas Break was amazing; an extended guest stint where myself and our three girls got to remember what it was like when Mommy’s dressy pants weren’t permanently attached to her legs.

All of this is okay. It’s what we all signed up for and it’s temporary. In college, they tried to convince us that if we couldn’t handle the workload of all our classes then we weren’t ready for “the real world.” This was, of course, a lie. I’ve never been so busy as when I was in college. I was oppressively busy in college, same as Erin is now. This is temporary and, one day soon, Erin will just go to a job like a normal person and the hustle and bustle of College Round 2 will be over. All of this is okay.

This morning, Erin left for a weekend long conference. She won’t be back until Monday. It was at some point between saying goodbye to her after doing dropoffs with the kids and realizing I had better call the school about registering our youngest, Violet, for Kindergarten that I realized that, despite everything else I’ve got going on, I’ve got another identity altogether that I maybe haven’t been acknowledging.

I am a Stay-at-Home Dad. I am part of the 7% of American dads who stay home, with their kids, and parent while the mom goes off to do other things. I am the current, primary caregiver.

Photo on 2-26-16 at 4.05 PM #2 copy

Me and the only child I was able to wrangle for a photo, Violet.

This means I go to the doctor appointments. This means I do the dropoffs and pickups. This means I do the shopping. If the house is a mess, it’s my fault. If the kids don’t eat, it’s my fault. If Erin has to go to a conference for the weekend, I smile and see her on her way, knowing she doesn’t have any choice in the matter.

Being a Stay-at-Home Dad means all of that, but, for some reason, I don’t think I really realized that’s what I am until today. I’ve been pretty much doing all this since last August, but there’s something about realizing there’s a label attached to it that suddenly makes it different.

“Well, good,” I can hear a lot of you Stay-at-Hom Moms out there saying. “Now you know what it’s like for us!”

Well, yeah. But, to be fair to me… and I hate to disappoint you… but whatever else my faults may be (and they are legion), I like to think my batting average for not taking the work my wife has been doing all these years for granted is pretty good. I always, always, always thought her job was harder. And told her so, repeatedly. When I came home and the house was a mess? I said nothing. Why would I? How can anybody be expected to keep up with the house when there’s small gremlins running around it constantly, destroying it, and then demanding fruit snacks as a reward. What I do is a pretty poor imitation of her job, really. Erin and I both know that if the kids are going to eat anything other than fast food any given night then she’s gonna have to prepare something I can put in a crockpot. Tonight: Black Bean Cilantro Soup. Tomorrow: …probably pizza. She’s out of town, you see.

Already I can see some huge benefits to being a Stay-at-Home Dad. Every time I pick up Violet from preschool, she insists we run around a nearby tree together. That’s something we do together, just her and me. Cami, our middle daughter with special needs, greets me with squeals and hugs every afternoon when I pick her up. Elora, our oldest and newly christened teenager, depends on having some time with me every night so we can watch cool shows*. We talk a lot more now, too. I actually do know what’s going on her life, which is awesome.

* Currently: LOST, The Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, Agent Carter, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

So, anyway, I am a writer, a filmmaker, an entrepreneur, an artist, and the 7%. A Stay-at-Home Dad. Weird hats to be wearing all at once, for sure, but I’m going a bit bald now so hats are helpful. Even weird ones.

What It’s Like to Make Your First Short Film

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The biggest, most important scene in the script took place in a diner and I had found the perfect location. It was quirkily retro and dressed with colors you don’t see in modern buildings anymore. This–this diner–popped. In a big way. Every angle was a good one, enough so I knew my DP would be in heaven every minute we shot there.  And the space–oh man, was it spacious! Not a small thing given how many crew and actors and extras would be assembled for the marathon twelve hour shoot.

I approached the management at the diner four weeks out. They were enthusiastic about us taking over the building after hours and the approval came quickly. All smiles. Four days before we started shooting–after weeks of prep and the aligning of schedules and last minute castings and, and, and–the diner pulled out.

We lost our primary location with four days to go… and I didn’t have a backup. I called Tremendum Pictures head honchos Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff in a panic. First thing they said?

“Welcome to Indie filmmaking.”

Read the rest at Tremendum.com…