Monday, September 8, 2014

6 Tips to Help Parents Enjoy Soccer Again

It's the time of year when parents spend many weekend mornings searching the house for that missing shin guard, scouring local sports stores for another pair of soccer socks and loading up lawn chairs for a season on the sidelines watching our young ones chase soccer balls around.

Let's admit it: Soccer can be time-consuming, anxiety-inducing and even costly -- for kids, parents and coaches alike. With the right attitude, it can also be lots of fun. As a father of four, a long-time soccer fan and a youth soccer coach, here are a few tips that can improve your enjoyment of the so-called beautiful game.

1. This Isn't the Soccer of Our Youth

When I played youth soccer decades ago, our practices went something like this: The coach would tell us how to kick the ball, then we'd line up and one by one, with all the other kids watching, run up to a stationary ball and try to kick it. No matter how we fared, we'd then go to the end of the line and anxiously await another chance at glory. We'd be lucky to touch the ball three times during one of those "skill drills."

For games, the coaches would put 11 of us on the field per side -- even in second grade -- and then holler from the sidelines as a 20-child mass of flailing legs would bunch around the ball, moving slowly across the field, occasionally crossing a goal line to "score." It looked more like a rugby scrum than soccer.

Nowadays, most youth coaches are encouraged to avoid the line-them-up-and-take-turns type of drills in favor of what's called small-sided games. They'll give each kid a ball and make them run around a square; or break the team up into smaller groups to focus on a given skill or two; or have them play three-on-three games. This allows each player to make more soccer moves and decisions during practice, giving them more "touches" and actually practicing the skills needed to improve.

For any bystander who remembers the orderly practices of their youth, it can look like a total mess. But it works.

When it comes to games, soccer leagues that follow the age-appropriate curriculum suggested by U.S. Youth Soccer will put smaller teams on the field, again to maximize touches and to keep the pile of kids around the ball at a manageable level. For instance, those aged 6 and under should only have three or four players per team on the field for games. Teams shouldn't get to 11 per side until age thirteen.

2. Recreational Soccer has Recreation in the Name for a Reason.

Up until about third grade, almost all kids play in recreational leagues, where teams are made up of members of the same community or youth soccer organization and play each other. After that age, most clubs are divided into recreational and so-called "travel" teams.

If you and your child like the competitive side of the sport and entertain visions of soccer stardom, travel may be for you. If they make the team and play, they'll get all the competition they need to improve their skills. And you'll get to spend lots of time and money traveling around to games.

But if what they really need is playing time, a recreational league may be a better choice.

Rec soccer leagues and intramural leagues focus on individual skill development, no matter the skill level of the player. Most of these leagues encourage coaches to give kids equal playing time and the opportunity to play different positions, which is critically important, because we don't know at that age who's going to blossom into the perfect striker.

If your kid plays recreational soccer, parents and coaches should treat it as such. Understand going in that your little superstars will be sitting the bench just as often as the kid who has never played the game before. In rec leagues, that's how it should be. Remember, it's supposed to be fun. Thus, the name.

3. Yelling is Futile and Even Embarrassing

I know how frustrating it can be to have some 16-year-old referee blow an offside call, costing your team the coveted victory. I've dealt with the crying kid who happened to be in goal when that fateful shot slipped into the net, in a clear violation of all soccer goodness. It should have been disallowed. But please remember that most referees, coaches and assistant coaches are just volunteers. And they are volunteering so that your kid can play this game.

It's rarely a good idea to yell at a referee. And, it's certainly never a good idea to yell at one of the kids on the other team -- even if they pushed down little Johnnie, without any regard for the rules. Let the coaches and refs handle it.

I remember one overzealous mom who thought it would be funny to yell the wrong instructions to a 9-year-old on the other team -- this, after the kid's coach had tried to give her the right instructions.

"Clear the ball, Suzie, like we practiced," the coach encouraged. The mom from the opposing team retorted, "Kick it toward the goal, Suzie." She thought it was a hoot. We were all embarrassed for her.

If parents must yell things, keep it positive and simple. "Go, INSERT NAME!" will cover most situations.

Coaches, too, should think about what they yell or even say really loudly, as we often must to be heard half-a-field away. Try following the simple rule of bookending. When you want to give an instructional critique that can't wait till halftime or the next practice, surround it with encouragement. "Good effort, Johnnie. Next time, try to get it closer to the sideline. But great hustle."

4. They'll Never Pass Like Barcelona

Nothing is better in soccer than watching a good pass -- that perfect ball from Xavi to Lionel Messi that lands on his foot and ends in a goal. I know we all want our kindergartener's team to spread out and pass the ball, like Barcelona does. Or, even like we did back in high school -- if memory serves us correctly.

The reality is that kindergarteners simply are not going to do that. There's a reason. Younger kids lack the developmental tools needed to "spread out" and see the field. Heck, some adults lack these skills. Kids this age are focused on their own feet -- or on the dandelions growing in the next field. They are playing to learn how to kick the ball, to follow rules and to have fun. Passing comes later.

I always cringe when some well-meaning grandparent yells at a 6-year-old who's streaking down the field with the ball for the first time in his life, "Pass It!"

Again, "Go" will likely suffice.

Think about it. If we all yell "Pass" every time the ball gets near any kid's foot, as many parents are apt to do, we create a bunch of soccer players who treat the soccer ball like a hot potato -- getting rid of it the second it comes their way. That won't serve them well if they decide to stick with the game.

5. Winning at this Level Shouldn't Matter, Because It Really Doesn't

When a team loses, the parents are often heartbroken. The kids? Not so much. Sure, they want to win. But most bounce back pretty quickly from even a lopsided loss.

I was an assistant coach with a team a few years back that went undefeated. It was a rec-level league for third grade girls -- U8, as U.S. Soccer calls it. Our wins were the result of luck of the draw as much as anything, though the head coach was a great teacher, too.

We knew the first day of practice our team was stacked with good players. Winning all those games, the coaches and parents loved it. The kids enjoyed it, too. But, how many of the kids truly improved their skills that year? Some did. But no more than on the team I coached the next year, when we lost most of our games. In fact, I saw more personal skill improvement on the losing team than on the winning team. Losing can do that to you.

And of all the victories over those two seasons, the most memorable win wasn't the final one clinching the undefeated season, but that first win in the losing season after we'd opened with an 0-4 record. It was special, not because we ended up with more goals than the other team (technically, this league didn't keep score), but because we overcame adversity, worked hard, pulled together and improved.

The focus of youth soccer should be on teaching them about fair play and sportsmanship; about hard work and teamwork; and about being healthy and active. Along the way, they may learn how to deal with adversity. If they lose, hopefully the learn how to lose with dignity; if they win, how to do so with humility.

With proper coaching and practice, they will each improve their own soccer skills, becoming better players and more confident kids. That can happen on a team that wins, as much as a team that loses -- as tough as it is for many parents to take.

6. Let Them Play

Finally, all of us involved in soccer -- as parents, grandparents and coaches -- should remember this simple youth soccer saying: "Let Them Play."

There will be time for instruction, for skill development and for learning the finer points of the game that all us adults can more clearly understand (from the sidelines). The best way for kids to learn is to play: to kick the ball, to trap it, to pass and to shoot, to score goals, to make mistakes, to win and to lose.

The reality is that most children who play youth soccer are never going to turn pro. I'm not trying to burst bubbles, but according to U.S. Youth Soccer, some three million children will register to play the sport this year. There are only 11 starting spots on each of the U.S. national teams.

Being great at soccer is a laudable goal, and we shouldn't take that dream away from any kid. But, there are many more lessons to be learned. As adults, we just have to get out of the way and let them play.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Please Don't Shank Your Sister

One of the best toys ever, say my kids.
(Ruddy Bits and its subsidiaries have not
been compensated for this opinion).
“It’s a jail!”

“No! It’s juvie!”

“No. It’s a jail!”

“It’s juvie!”

Of all the arguments I’ve witnessed as a parent, this had to be the strangest, most surreal one yet. Our 6-year-old daughter had just used Magna Tiles™ to build herself a little structure, and decided to put a few small dolls inside. She called it a jail.

Along came our 4-year-old son, who never lets anyone play with these magnetic building blocks alone. (For the record, this is not a sponsored post. But if the fine folks at Magna Tiles want to send over a few, we'll gladly accept them.) 

They all love these particular toys, and
have had years of building fun creations with them. Even more so than their Legos. As a parent, the worst part about the tiles is that the kids always have them out. They like the darned things that much.

Whenever anyone is building with the Magna Tiles, the boy always either joins in the creative fun, or pretends he’s Godzilla and promptly destroys the structure with wanton malice.  

On this occasion, he decided to join the fun. He too went and got a few of his action figures and dolls, and decided they also deserved time in the plastic prison. 

I tried not to worry much about why my kids were building prisons in their free time. It’s not like we focus on incarceration as a family. We don’t watch “Orange is the New Black,” and if we did, we certainly would not let our kids watch it. And we're not from Texas, where I hear prison building is an acceptable past-time -- that and obsessing over high school football.

On the contrary, I find our country's incarceration rates quite troubling, if not downright embarrassing. But that's another blog.

So, while I did find it a bit odd, I thought that if the kids want to hone their building skills by constructing high-security facilities to which they can sentence their naughtiest dolls – and the ones that just caught a bad break – so be it.

It didn’t really bother me that much.

Yet, when they started fighting over whether to call it “Jail” or “Juvie,” I got a bit concerned.

"Jail!" screamed the 6-year-old girl again.

"Juvie!" shouted the boy through increasingly clenched teeth.

My concern was this: How does a 4-year-old raised in my house know that juvenile detention centers are called “juvie” in the first place? Heck, how does he know about juvenile detention centers at all?

It’s not like the misses and I are always leveraging threats of “juvie” on them so they’ll obey our many, and often ignored, commands.

The words “Clean your room, or you’re going to juvie!” have not once been uttered in our house.

My kids have yet to discover the Simpsons.
So Bart isn't to blame for this one.  
Yet here was my 4-year-old son standing over a small box building, which was housing four small stuffed animals and two action figures (prison overcrowding apparently is an issue here), vehemently stating that it was “juvie!” and not just a jail.

This particular argument came to an abrupt end when the boy tried to shank his sister with a triangular Magna Tile.

At that point I figured my “parent of the year” qualifications were under threat, so I intervened. First I disarmed the boy without incident. Then I put him in solitary.

After the situation was under control, I thought it might be prudent to find out how these kids know about juvie in the first place. So I asked his 6-year-old sister what “juvie” means – for clarification, and to begin my Jedi-like parenting discussion.

“It’s kid jail, dad. Duh,” she replied.

“Oh. And who told you about it?”

I figured it must've been some Disney show that slipped passed the radar.  

She looked around, to make sure no one was about to hear her sing to the resident authorities. Then she whispered, “Chloe told us.” 

That’s their 8-year-old sister.

Of course. That makes sense. Because, by eight, all kids know about kid jail. … I think.

I wish there was some deep lesson or moral to this tale. But there isn’t. Other than that little kids with older siblings learn stuff a lot earlier than we want them to.

Oh, and that Magna Tiles can be used to make a fairly secure detention facility, for dolls and action figures of all ages.

Isn't learning fun?

Now clean up the Magna Tiles or you're all going to juvie.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Driftwood: The Lucky Ones

We wandered through the sand along the shore picking through and marveling at the pieces of sculpted wood, scattered and half-buried at the foot of the dunes like weary travelers that finally found their beach.  Some were whole trees, others just pieces, all brought there by waves, shaped by water and time, each representing an unknowable story. Someplace, at sometime before, these stood as living trees, or parts of one.

How far they’d come and how long it took, we’ll never know. Even what they were was often beyond our ability to know. An old oak, or a young maple? A root, or a limb? We marveled and imagined, nonetheless.

I’d never thought terribly much about driftwood before, until a recent trip to the white sand beach that marks the eastern edge of the Great Lakes and serves as a repository of journeys untold and final resting place for an entire watershed of wood. Our family has a camp not far from the beach, and we take walks up its shore a few times a summer.

Sure, I’ve picked up many interesting pieces to examine on past walks, or found nature’s attempt at a perfect walking and used it for the duration of one journey.  But I’d never thought about the story of each one before.
This time, I did. It may be because I empathize at times with the drifting part of the tale. But I took time with each piece of sculpted wood we held to consider its whole story.
It struck me that only a few of the many trees and branches are preserved and reborn as driftwood. Most simply go back to the earth, or become fuel for fire -- which these may yet be. But only the lucky ones get to become driftwood, if only for a spell.

Each tree could have just fallen on land and rotted and become the soil for the next generation. But something brought them to the water – either proximity, or a storm, or a flood, or a river.  There they floated and tumbled for an unknown duration, became hardened and smooth, and found their way to a deserted beach, preserved by happenstance to live beyond their life, to be reborn as nature's own version of artwork.
As we walked, we made a game of it, and looked for ones that could be transformed again, this time in our minds, to other living things, like birds and beasts and the fish they surely knew along their journey. 

Here’s what we found: 

Parasaurolophus. It's a dinosaur.

The Loon

Snapping Turtle/Snake/Basilisk

Snarling Bear
And here, to my mind, the luckiest of all:

One piece of wood that transforms as you turn it in your hand,
into a bear, a porpoise, an anteater, a wolf, and a cardinal.
This magical piece of driftwood also could be a
shark's tooth or a sailboat.
I kept this one.  

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Letter to The Parents of the Golf Cart Kids

It’s the time of year when families young and old try to get away together to that special summer place. It could be a collection of cottages around a reservoir in Alabama, a favorite R.V. park in the Midwest, or mountain campground in the Adirondacks. For my family, it was always a small community of camps (which is what we call cottages in Upstate New York) along the shores of Lake Ontario.

I spent every summer that mattered there growing up, and learned all I cared to know on those shores. Now, my wife and I take our young kids there.

But something has changed about our little community.

As a kid, my brothers and I made the best friends we ever had there: Kids from Florida, the Carolinas, New Jersey, and Central New York, all spread out among camps of the community. We swam, skipped rocks, made bonfires. Between all those activities, we walked. We walked to the beach. We walked to other friends' camps. We walked to the impromptu rec hall that was Mrs. Woesner’s, where we played cards, and croquet, and spent many rainy summer days.

When I go there now with my young kids, I see a new generation of adolescents, all about the same age we were when we had the best summers of our lives.

And here’s the difference. Rather than walking barefoot along the dirt roads to get from friend to friend, and then on to the beach, all these kids zoom around on golf carts. Most aren’t even old enough to drive, but that doesn’t stop their parents from giving them the keys to the E-Z-GO.

While I know there are many communities that have a tradition of golf carts as the main means of transportation, ours was never one of them. When I was their age (ah-hem) 25 years ago, only one family in the community owned a golf cart. That family had a disabled child, and that’s why they had a cart. Now, it seems all the camps with teenaged kids have carts. As do many others.

So, here it is: An open letter to the Parents of Golf Cart Kids. By the way, I’m fully aware that there are likely so few of these people, I could have just written a closed letter and handed it to all of them. But, “open letters” are as fashionable as golf carts these days. So, bear with me:

Dear Parents of the Golf Cart Kids,

I’ve seen your kids zooming around, going the places they think they need to get, as quickly and easily as stepping on that electric cart’s go peddle. I’m not writing to say they’re going too fast, which they probably are. Or that the incessant buzzing of carts is ruining our family’s quiet vacation, which it likely is. I’m writing on behalf of your kids.

You may think your helping these kids by giving them the keys to the golf cart, thus allowing them to zoom around the R.V. park, or the beach-front community, or the campground. But you’re not.

Some of the best times had at places like these are on those long walks between all the things we just need to do. Trust me, I walked those paths.

More importantly, there’s a lesson on those walks. It’s not only the one about slowing down, and taking it all in – your surroundings and life. It’s also about the value of earning something. When you walk to the beach, you appreciate it more. The sand is that much softer, and the water that much cooler.

When your kids just pile onto your new golf cart and speed off to their destination, they may get there a bit quicker. But they certainly miss the accomplishment, and may just miss why these summer places are so special.

So do your kids a favor; Make them walk.

Peace out.

There. Now I’m officially an old fart.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Finally, A Ninja To Inspire My Little Girls

As a parent, there are millions of little joys in the everyday, as you watch your kids discover the world around with all its profound beauty and untold mysteries. But once in a while, you can get crushed by it too, when you see them realize a harsh reality of life and the world they’re inheriting from us.
One of those little parental-soul-sucking moments happened to me recently, and it started with a simple drawing.
Our six-year-old daughter loves to draw. She tells us she likes drawing more than going outside. She even knows what she wants to be when she grows up – an author illustrator. She’s the best natural drawer in the family. I remember a drawing of herself she drew at age three. It was the kind of thing a cartoonist would conjure up. Of course, I am a bit biased.
Our little artist's first self portrait, from
quite a few years ago. She was 3 then.
She also happens to love the Ninja Turtles. It’s a family affliction I’ve written about before. In recent months, our two older daughters have grown out of their TMNT obsession. But not our third. She still loves them, talks about them, plays with their dolls and asks to watch the show – which has been reincarnated on Nickelodeon, after a 20-year hiatus, for another generation of kids.

One night a few weeks ago, our little drawing fiend took her art kit to the kid table in the corner and began a new masterpiece. When she was done, she didn’t want to show me.

“It’s just pretend,” she said. “It will never happen,” she added.

“What is it?”

Reluctantly, she showed me.

“I drew a girl Ninja Turtle,” she said, with resignation in her voice. “But I know Ninja Turtles are all boys.”

I smiled at the drawing as my heart sank.

I’m no dummy. I know there are many ways this world is unfair and cruel, to little girls and to everybody else. But for some reason, her belief that all Ninja Turtles have to be boys hit me in the gut.

She’s my third daughter. I’ve watched her older sisters grow up, and I’ve worried before about what it’s like for a little kid to suddenly realize the world is not entirely theirs for the taking, despite us telling them that, if they work hard enough and dream big enough, it is.

It reminded me of a few years ago when I was watching the Tour de France with my eldest, and she asked a simple question. “Why can’t girls win this race?”

Something I never thought about growing up as a boy surrounded by brothers is something that’s now painfully clear as a dad of daughters: there are countless examples of things little girls simply aren't allowed to dream to do. It’s especially true in sports.

Throwing the winning touchdown at the Superbowl? Hitting the winning run in the World Series? Only little boys can have these dreams, even if it’s not terribly realistic for most of us. And it's a profound moment for a parent when you watch that unfair reality dawn on your daughter.

Sure, there’s a girls version of baseball, but it’s not the World Series. There’s a women’s NCAA tournament, though I’ve never watched it. Occasionally, there’s a female race car driver these days or a female jockey in the Kentucky Derby. And my daughters always root for them. But when I sit with my kids and watch sports, which I do a lot, with the exception of the women’s World Cup it’s almost always men playing other men. They see that.

And there are many examples outside of sports, too.

We’re catholic. Every Sunday (okay, most Sundays … how about some Sundays) we attend church and watch a man lead the mass and perform the rituals of our faith. The question has been asked, why can’t women be priests? I don’t have a good answer, other than they just can’t. One less calling for my girls to pursue, I guess.

Priests, pro football players, baseball stars, Tour de France winners, and now Ninja Turtles: The heroes my daughters cannot aspire to become add up quick if you look around.

As a parent, all we can do is be more cognizant of these messages, and teach them about the need for the serenity, the strength and the wisdom, as the saying goes. Lord knows, there's room -- and need -- for change, on these issues and others.

After the female Ninja Turtle drawing incident, I did a little research to see if the concept of a girl turtle had been broached. I discovered that in the long lifespan and many reinventions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise, there actually was a female turtle character introduced. Her name was Venus de Milo. Though Venus has yet to make an appearance in the latest Nickelodeon version of the series, which is all my daughter cares about. But there is hope.

And then, this week, another female ninja of sorts burst onto the scene. She’s not a cartoon, or a turtle. But, she’s certainly a ninja. Her name is Kacy Catanzaro. And you can be sure my daughters gathered around the computer to cheer her on.

The world has many flaws, even more than I realized before I became a dad of daughters. But there’s also a million things that are great, and awesome, and inspiring about it. This is one:

By the way, the inaugural women's Tour de France kicks off July 27th. It's called La Course, and you can be sure we will be watching. 
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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cute and Pink to the Left, Cool and Blue to the Right

“Don’t be mad, but I got a couple of shirts from the boys’ section," my daughter proclaimed as she found me and her little brother sitting on the bench outside the Gap Kids at the local mall. Her mom was still inside paying with our other daughters. 

I wasn’t mad, not even close. But I asked why, purely out of parental curiosity.

“All the girls stuff is too cutesy, and the boys stuff is just cooler.”

My daughter is a pretty typical pre-teen – except in the many ways that she’s exceptional, of course. She likes to ride her bike. Plays soccer. Has read the Harry Potter series, the Percy Jackson series, and all the Hunger Games. She used to like princesses and Disney movies, and has recently discovered boy bands. She’s not what society would call a “gender non-conformist.” And that’s not what this is about.

But, it is very much about gender and conformity. And fashion, I think.  

I went back into the Gap, daughter and her younger brother in tow, to see what she meant.  
Why do boys get the cool shirts
and girls get hearts and butterflies?
Like all clothing stores starting with infancy, this Gap Kids is divided neatly into the girls’ side and the boys’ side. Just like the toy aisle at the department store, pinks predominate one and blues the other. Those are the colors assigned to us in the hospital, after all.

Looking beyond the color, I read the various sayings and slogans on the graphic Tees for each sex.

“Smile” proclaimed the first one from the little girls’ section. “Good as Gold” another. “Have Your Cake” a third, with eating it too being implied, I assume.

On the boys’ side, things were different.

“The Beach Life is the Only Life,” said the first; “All Work, No Play … Property of the Lazy Days Department, ” another;  And “Upstate Soccer, Lake George Strikers.” Somebody should tell the Gap the best soccer player in Upstate New York goes by the name of Abby.

Of course, it was the end of the summer buying season, which happens in early July -- don’t ask me to explain, it’s also when I start going through shirts like Andre Agassi at the U.S. Open. We were there because of the summer clearance sale and the “Take Additional 40% Off” signs. The racks weren’t exactly bursting, so maybe it was just that our Gap Kids was picked over, leaving behind only the nauseatingly cute Tees for girls and obsessively cool ones for boys.

I went online when we got home to discern whether this sample was representative of the larger population of graphic Tees. And it was. The girls Tees had animals and butterflies, cute sayings and lots of smiles. There were no "sporty" ones, and only two of 22 fell into the "cool" category. The boys, on the other hand, were all athletic and beachy, and exuded an abundantly laidback vibe.
There was also a boys Tee online that read, “I’ve Got the Skills to Pay the Bills.” I wanted to order it for my wife, but I don’t know what size she wears in boys’ shirts. Besides, that’s a different article. (Or maybe the same article, if it were longer and more introspective).  

It’s not just the Gap. On a separate trip to a local Carters, which sells clothes for babies and toddlers, I was surprised at the messages emblazoned across the gender specific cloths. I expected the pink and blue divide, but not the accompanying words.

The baby girls' onesies  included “Super Cute” and “Queen for A Day.” Not so bad. Until you compare it to the boys, which had “Mr. Macho,” “Ladies Man,” and “Chicks Dig Me,” among others.

There are few things cuter than baby
clothes that say: "I hope my boy grows
up to be a womanizing, macho adult."  
There’s no doubt about it, our daughters and sons are getting very different messages, beyond just pink and blue. And it starts when they are babies.

Of course, babies don’t have credit cards. So it’s us parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles buying these things. After all, companies wouldn’t make these shirts if we didn’t buy the product. Maybe it is super cute to see a baby boy with a “Mr. Macho” shirt. And maybe most young girls prefer butterflies to soccer balls and surfboards. But what exactly are we saying here?

When you step out of the kids fashion world for a minute, you notice a culture in the midst of a change. People everywhere, and parents in particular, are bucking age-old gender-based stereotypes associated with work and home life. Women who happen to be mothers are launching startups and leading top companies. Dads are shelving careers to stay home with kids, or working from home to be more involved. There’s a generation of parents working together to raise families, doing whatever they have to do to survive, and trying their best to make sure their kids don’t enter the world with preconceived notions about what it means to be a pink or a blue.

There’s a reason. We need more women in fields like science and math, for starters. And I want my girls to pursue those fields, if that’s where their interest lies, not become obsessed with a need to be cute. The push to make girls conform to just cuteness limits all the things they could become. 

And young men need to know there’s more to being a man than being macho. In fact, much of what we think of as being macho is directly counter to what it means to be a man today. Wear that “Mr. Macho” shirt when you're 30, and see if “Chicks” still dig you.

All of us consumers out there are at least partially to blame. But the Gap Kids of the world should bear responsibility, too. In the design phase, doesn’t someone speak up and ask, “What are we teaching with these Tee shirts?”

Isn’t there a parent in the room to say, “You know, my daughter loves soccer, too.”  

If not, there should be. It can’t just be about selling Tee shirts. There has to be a wider responsibility to the world we all share.

We used to be able to easily point to Disney and Legos as the biggest offenders in this category. Both have been forcing gender stereotypes on our young children for a while, and both have made strides recently (more like small steps) to get away from that. It’s time for the clothing industry to follow, and it starts with big retailers, like Gap Kids.

Our daughter happily wears the few boys' shirts bought that day, even though the sleeves annoy her because they're cut different than the Gap's girls' shirts.

Next summer, she'd really like to see a soccer shirt for girls. And, no, it doesn’t have to be pink. And yes, we would likely buy that for her, too … after the summer clearance begins.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Parenting Skill I'm Good At...

I’ve discovered a critical aspect of parenting I excel at: Embarrassing my kids. 

It’s a good thing, because there are other parts of this job that don’t exactly play to my strengths, like multi-tasking. (More on that in later posts). But when it comes to embarrassing the heck out of my kids, I’m like a duck to water … or is it fish to water. Anyway, I rock at it.

Today, when waiting in the line of family cars to drop off the three girls at the local day camp – so their mom and I could have three whole hours of uninterrupted work-from-home time – the “Cruise” song by Florida Georgia Line came on the minivan’s radio, the one that goes, “You make me wanna roll my windows down and cruise.”

Being cool and all, I decided to slide my seat real low, crank up the bass and roll down the windows. I thought it necessary for all the other camp kids to see at least one hip dad in that dreary procession of minivans. 

Right when I got that radio blasting for maximum hipness, all three of my girls shrieked and made the most horrific faces. The two younger ones assumed the fetal position, and the older one dove for the radio power button. Then she frantically asked me to put the windows back up – which had the child-safety locks on – while she held back tears.

I obliged. I guess I’ll just have to cruise after I drop the kids off.  
Rad Ride, dad. Just imagine how
embarrassed this guy's kids are at pickup. 

I’ve seen embarrassment at work with my kids before, like whenever I wear that awesome yellow fleece vest brought to you by the 90s and the fine folks at Eastern Mountain Sports.  

“Please don’t wear the yellow vest,” my kids say. For the record, they wouldn’t know cool if it moonwalked into the room and started belting out Pearl Jam tunes. I know, because I've done that too.

We all know the ease with which parental embarrassment can paralyze a child with fear. The scope of that fear seems to increase exponentially as the child enters the pre-teen years.

Our oldest, who's pretty well-adjusted on most other fronts, has become obsessed with how we act around her in public, especially when other kids her age are nearby. She doesn't want us to sing or dance or do anything fun. Or hug her, or talk to her. Frankly, she'd just as soon not be seen with us in public at all.

When she is around us, the mere threat of potentially embarrassing actions is enough to get her to follow our subtle commands -- or to make her start bawling. That all depends on how close we get to an actually embarrassing event.
When handled properly, fear of embarrassment can be a powerful teaching tool. Of course, this is the part I'm still learning: how to wield this power to a tactical advantage and not just for the occasional fun. Using embarrassment right is truly a subtle parenting art form.

The whole drop-off episode was my attempt to change her negative attitude about day camp. I think it worked, at least as a temporary diversion.
Some parents clearly don't know how to use embarrassment properly, and underestimate its power. All those stories about parents shaming their kids online, or making them stand on a corner with a sign that says something derogatory about themselves -- that's idiotic. You never want to do anything that will leave permanent emotional scars.

And you certainly don't want your own silliness turned into ammunition for other kids to be mean to your offspring. If my kids came to be known as "that weirdo's kids," that would be embarrassing ... to me.

But, when it comes to making sure the kids have a good attitude, a sense of humor, and much needed perspective on life, nothing works better than a little parent-centric embarrassment. And sometimes, it’s just plain fun.

Now, I'm going to roll my windows down and cruise. It's almost time for pick up. 

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