The other day we were sitting around the dinner table and my ten year old son announced he had never seen his father cry.

“What do you mean?”  I asked.  “I cry at movies all the time.”

“That’s not the crying I mean.  Your eyes water, but I’ve never seen you like, really cry, like loud crying,” he said.

I never imagined myself as one of those stoic and unfeeling dads and I didn’t want my kids to think that crying was a bad thing for a man to do.  In fact, I always thought it was OK to cry even if I hadn’t done it in a while.  My parents used to play a record called Free to Be You and Me, and on it was a song sung by 1970’s NFL star and tough guy, Rosey Grier, entitled “It’s all right to cry”.  There was a line about how ‘crying can get the sad out of you’ and I took this to heart so much I used to cultivate my tears and hope that my sad feeling would go away faster.  As I grew up it became less and less appropriate for me to cry in public, and I was no longer eager to show off my sadness to the world when things got tough.  I realized that my son was right, he probably had never seen me really cry. 

Now I was determined for my kids to see me cry.  After all these years of witnessing their teary tantrums it seemed only fair that I show my weepy side too.  Luckily, there was an easy way bring me to tears.   

“There is one way to get me crying,”  I told them and thought about how we could access this weakness of mine after dinner so I could show them I cried.

“What?”  all my kids asked at once.  They were getting excited.

“There is a song – Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle,”  I said.  “Just let me listen to that song and I’ll start crying.”

My wife laughed because it was funny and corny and because she knew it was true as I had admitted this weakness of mine to her years before and she had witnessed it herself.

“Why?”  My daughter asked.  My kids thought it was hilarious.

“Yeah, why?”

“What makes you cry?”

“It’s just the words, the story of the song, it’s right up my emotional alley, I guess, it gets to me everytime, ever since I was like sixteen, I remember the first time it made me cry when I was away for a summer working in Maine.”

“So we just have to play that song?”

“What is it about?”  my son asked.

“How does it go?” my daughter wanted to know.

“The cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man on the moon…” I sang.

“What?!  Why does that make you cry?”

“It’s about a father and a son,”  I said.  And here I was with my two sons and my daughter looking at me around the dinner table.  “And it’s really about fatherhood… and growing up…”

“That’s it?!”

“Well, what does it say?”

“It’s about a father and he has a kid,”  I looked at my kids gathered there looking at me and I couldn’t go on.  The next thing I wanted to say was that the song was about a son who wants to hang out with his father more but his dad never has time.  Just that day I had spent the afternoon cooking dinner and shooing my kids out of the kitchen when I could have been spending time with them instead.  And that’s when I felt the tears coming but I continued,

“It’s about a father who does not really have time to hang out with his kid, and then…” I had to stop.  Now the tears came and I started to cry right there at the dinner table.

“Are you crying?”  my ten year old son asked.  My five year old son was watching with a look of concerned curiosity.

“See,” I said, trying to take deep breaths, “I told you, Cat’s in the Cradle,” I said. 

“Is that it?  What else happens?”

“The son grows up and he has a kid and he doesn’t have time to hang out with his old dad,”  I stammered, hardly able to get it out.  My wife scooted over and put her arm around me as she was tearing up now as well.

“Must be getting worse as I get older,”  I said, still crying, “I just have to think about the song now,”  Now I was half laughing and half crying.  While my older son and daughter looked bemused, my five year old was looking increasingly disoriented by my emotional state and I decided I better get it together.  But seeing him there made it all the worse because I thought of how he always wanted to spend time with me and it hurt me to think of all the times I was not able to play with him for whatever reason.  And then there were my older kids who had already started to distance themselves from me as they got into their own things and they were hanging out more with friends.  That is what kept the tears going a while longer.  These childhood years with my kids were some of the most precious moments and they were disappearing right before my eyes.  So many parents of older children gave me the same advice to cherish these years with little children, but even as a stay at home dad, and someone who tries to spend as much time as they can with their kids, I still take these times for granted too often.  I miss out on so much when I do.  It takes Harry Chapin to remind me. 

I did not explain all these reasons for how the song made me cry.  My kids weren’t ready for all that, and I was having a hard time getting a word out anyway.  Although our food grew cold and dinner went on a little late that evening I did hope that my kids learned an important lesson that day from their dad.  He thought it was perfectly all right to cry.

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I’m going the practical route this time to write about some nuts and bolts of baby rearing, or in this case, nuts and butts.

Quickie on that one – when wiping the butts of boys, do not wipe toward the nuts – it’ a real pain to get the doodie out of those little folds, OK?  And for a girl, don’t wipe up into the place where she pees or you’re asking for infection.  Sorry to break it down like that, but a midwife told me that ten years ago in preparation for my first child and it was some of the best parenting advice I’ve ever gotten.

The reality is as a parent that you’re going to be wiping up a lot of shit the next couple years so you may as well get used to it.  As for me I was ecstatic when our youngest child grew out of the need for diapers and our diaper days were officially over.  Despite my desire to keep having babies and perpetuate my stay at home dad status, insuring the disappearance of diapers from our domestic sphere was enough for me to surrender myself to surgical impotency.  If nothing else I would never have to change a baby diaper again. I still leave open the possibility of having to change my wife’s adult diapers if it comes to that, but diapers are one aspect of my kids’ childhood that I doubt I will ever miss.  As I intend to forget everything about the dirty business of diapers as soon as possible, I thought I should preserve what knowledge I have of the subject for the sake of other parents who may be wondering what kind of diaper tact to take.  With three kids we got to try a lot of different diapering techniques and I wanted to share what I’ve learned.

I would encourage all fathers to jump right into the business of diapering as the rewards far outweigh the risks and it is just plain fair.  I say this only because I had a friend that got away with never changing his kids diapers.  He used the excuse that he had a girl and he wasn’t sure how to best maintain her cleanliness.  He also thought it was bordering on inappropriate for a man to be looking and touching around his daughter’s private parts.  He even resisted bathing his daughter for this reason!  Most of all, I was astounded his wife let him get away with this. I’m sorry, but if you have a baby, you need to be able to change their diaper.  And unless you are a pedophile it is ridiculous to think it is inappropriate for you to touch or look at your daughter’s body.  Fatherhood encompasses all these things, whether we are comfortable with them or not, and it is not fair to hang the burden of diaper changing onto one parent.  Diapering is not actually that difficult and once mastered it becomes a parlor trick for a man that can bring great rewards.  I’m not sure why in this day and age, but people are always impressed with a man that can efficiently change a diaper and they assume he must be the greatest dad in the history of the world.  Diapering is a pretty basic thing for a parent to do but why not milk it for all its worth and improve your standing amongst your partner’s girlfriends and female relatives by doing this simple task?

We have run the gamut of diapers in our house.  Many parents wonder about the cloth diaper route.  For our first two children we used disposable diapers and for our third child we used cloth diapers so I’ve had a chance to examine this issue from all sides, and especially from the bottom.

Using cloth diapers seemed like the right choice for the environment but after my experience I am not so sure.  I guess it depends on what part of the environment you are trying to save.  If you are interested in saving space at the landfill then cloth diapers will certainly help that cause.  But if you are interested in saving clean water than disposable diapers may be the choice for you.

Most of all, cloth diapering requires more time than disposable diapers because you have to clean them yourselves and this is where cloth diapers can be problematic.

The main hassle I experienced with using cloth diapers is what to do with them in the time that they are soiled until the time that you can clean them properly.  A baby’s day does not stop to give you time to clean them immediately and therefore you need somewhere to put them. After attempting many things I ended up storing them in a bucket in the hamper.  Luckily, baby poop doesn’t stink much so that wasn’t much of an issue.  I did discover that these soiled diapers cannot be stored for more than two or three days before being cleaned or else you are asking for trouble.  One of the most haunting images of my fatherhood was discovering what happened to soiled diapers that were stored for over a week.  Let’s put it this way… they were alive!

Another issue with cloth diapers is that they can be washed easily in the washing machine but I was always resistant to the idea of throwing them directly into my washing machine without rinsing as much shit off as I could beforehand.  Even though they weren’t in the same load, I still had to wash everyone’s clothes in that same machine and I wanted to minimize the long term effects of shitty rinse water.  I suppose if you had two washing machines this wouldn’t be as great of a concern, but who has two washing machines?  Of course a diaper service for those who have that option and the money to do it would be another easy solution.

Finding a place in the house to rinse out dirty diapers was a tricky issue because you are dealing with human feces and you don’t want to rinse them out in the bathroom sink where you brush your teeth, right?  After much trial and error and some sploshed doo-dee water, I found rinsing the diapers in a bucket inside the bathtub was the best solution.  I tried as best as I could to keep all the soiled water in the bucket and then I could dump that water directly into the toilet.  Then I would put the diapers in the washing machine and they would come out fresh and clean and ready to be soiled again.  While one will use more water than usual in cleaning the diapers, water is still a relatively cheap resource in this great country of ours.  For better or worse, we are not charged much for water so this doesn’t make much of a dent in the family budget.

Money is the one thing I am sure we did save on with cloth diapers.  Diapers are expensive!  Have the diaper companies colluded and set the price for diapers amongst themselves because they know parents have to fork over their cash no matter what the price is?  Or are the materials in disposable diapers really that expensive?  I’m not sure, but diapers have got to be the biggest expense of infancy when the baby is living off of free breast milk.  Just to mitigate this expense and stick it to the disposable diaper companies may be reason enough to choose cloth diapers for your next baby.  Luckily for me, I don’t have to make this choice as my diaper days are over.  Good riddance!

Grandparents are not expected to change diapers, are they?  I am already dreading it and my kids haven’t even hit puberty…

A lot of people have asked me whose idea it was to cut my son’s hair.  Did he want to cut his hair?  Did I make him do it?  There is no definitive answer to this question, but if you ask him he will tell you that it was his idea, and that is the important thing.  If he did not think it was his idea to cut his own hair then he would have never cut it.

I do need to take some credit though as I had been bothering him about it for a few months.  Slowly my encouragement percolated to the surface of his own brain and it became his idea instead of mine… behold the magical machinations of parenting!

Did I want him to get his haircut?  Yes.  Why?  Because it looked horrible and unkempt and he got vicious whenever I approached him with a brush in my hand.

“It hurts!” he squealed as I attempted to put a comb through the morass.

“Because you never brush it!”  I retorted.

“Because it hurts!”

The more he didn’t comb it, the harder it was to comb, and the harder it was to comb, the more he didn’t want to comb it – it was a closed loop cycle that fed on itself, and the nest of hair on his head kept growing and growing.

For months I encouraged my son to cut his hair, promising him stress free mornings (for the both of us) and easygoing showers where he didn’t have to soak his head in half a bottle of conditioner just to keep it manageable.  For months these entreaties fell on deaf ears as he looked at my own long hair and rendered all my points invalid.

The final straw came with him playing for an AAU basketball team this summer and participating in a national basketball tournament.  Basketball has always been a place where Aurelio’s gender has come into question as the two teams warm up and the opposing team wonders whether this thin tall kid is actually a girl.  Often they would whisper among themselves and point and sometimes even ask his teammates if that was a girl on their team or not.  Early on in his basketball development Aurelio’s long hair was a boon to his game.  Other players thought he was a girl and would take it easy on him and allow him to score a few baskets before they realized they better play some defense.  After the game was finished moms from the other team would make a special point to come up to him and congratulate him on such a good game.  He only averaged about five points game so I was a bit mystified as to why they felt compelled to come congratulate him until I realized they thought he was a girl.  They wanted to see this girl up close who could handle the ball so well, they wanted to hold him up as an example to their daughters.  Aurelio took it all in stride, he was always polite and said thank you even after he knew it was because they thought he was a girl.

But as he grew this became more annoying for Aurelio and he grew more and more frustrated.  About a week before a big AAU tournament where Aurelio was going to have half a dozen games within a week he decided he would go ahead a cut his hair.  Was it truly because of the tournament and his increasing agitation at being mislabeled as a girl?  I didn’t much care at the moment, I went upstairs to get the clippers before he could change his mind.

His mother put the brakes on the operation.  She did not like the idea of him cutting his hair because of society’s expectations.  She wanted him to cut his hair for his own reasons, not someone else’s.  She also just didn’t want to cut the hair off her ‘little’ boy.  She tried to explain this to our son and he seemed to understand.

She got out the video camera and asked him to make a statement for posterity’s sake about why he was choosing to cut his hair.

“I’m… uhh… moving to a new… uhh… stage… in life and a haircut, is like, showing that I’m moving on?”  he half queried and half stated.  That is what mommy wanted to hear.

While it may not be true that Aurelio felt himself passing thorough a developmental stage it was true that being looked at as a girl bothered him now where it didn’t really bother him before.  For better or worse, he was becoming more aware of how he appeared to others.  It’s not just his hair, he is now of the age where he wants to picks out his outfits and wear his baseball hat cocked at a certain angle.  It’s true, my son is growing up and one day soon will blossom into a full fledged teenager – Yikes!

I have a feeling this is only the first of many struggles over the way my kids want to look and even dress.  If helping my 7 year old daughter pick out an outfit for school is any indication, we’re in for a long tough ride through adolescence, I better get used to it.Image

For most of my life I have had long hair and my two young sons did as well. My sons’ long hair owed partly to the fact that my mother-in-law said that in Ecuador no one cuts their kids’ hair before three years old so my wife insisted that we do the same out of deference to her heritage but also because she didn’t want anyone to cut her baby’s hair. My sons grew into little toddler hippies and everything was grand. Their mother loved it, of course, and other mothers were also very fond of running their fingers through my boys’ hair when given the opportunity to ‘ooh and aah’ their adoration. The other people who loved their long hair were liberal hippy types who identified in the hairstyle an avocation of bohemian ideals. Several times people came up to me and told me how cool they thought it was that my kids had long hair as if that epitomized my political philosophy. Not that I don’t believe in bohemian ways, but I’m not the type to wear things on my sleeve and it did make me a little uncomfortable to think people believe I’m forcing an ideology on my kids. Not that I won’t do this anyway on account of being their dad, but I just don’t believe in parents indoctrinating their kids into something they are not developmentally ready for like a hairstyle that is part of some political message. This was my own hang up, but as for everyone else, long hair never posed much of a problem until my boys got to grade school.

As they got older the biggest problem the boys faced was the constant question amongst children whether they were a boy or a girl. It seemed slightly crazy to my wife and I how many people thought they were girls just because of their hair but when I though about it objectively I could see why people made that mistake. The truth of the matter is that in addition to the long hair my boys are pretty with their sweet dimples and easy smiles. While they were younger this gender confusion bothered my wife and I more than it bothered my kids but as they got older it started to bother them more and more.

Once my oldest son was on the ball field riding his bike and a few older kids rode up around him and started asking him if he was a boy or a girl. When he said he was a boy they said they didn’t believe him and they asked why he had long hair and he told them it was just how he liked it. I was proud of him for keeping his cool and talking to them rationally while at the same time my anger was growing and I was ready to get them away from my son who was six at the time. One of the boys kept needling him and telling him he looked like a girl and that he would have to prove it to them if he really wanted them to believe he was not a girl. Considering the only way to do that and the increasing tenor of fright that was overtaking my son’s face I couldn’t hold back any longer and I walked up with a lot of bluster and told those kids to stay away from my kid and stop acting stupid and thinking anyone with long hair had to be a girl – I pointed to my own long hair as testament to that fact and waited for anyone of the nine year olds to challenge my manhood. Even after this incident and many lesser gender confusions, Aurelio still wanted to keep his long hair. He has always had a contrarian streak in him and I have to admit I am proud of that trait.

Another problem that got worse over time as my boys got bigger and their hair grew thicker and longer was the fact that they did not take good care of it. Like most boys, they do not get great satisfaction out of brushing their hair to a lustrous sheen. Aurelio, my oldest, liked the way his hair looked best when it was knotty and tangled and puffy and nearly impossible to get a comb through. Aurelio petitioned us to allow him to grow dreads more than once but my wife was steadfastly against that idea and I was also not willing to let things go to that extreme. I kept thinking of what smells might emanate from that head of his if he swore off washing his hair. The times when we did need to get a comb through his scalp became a half an hour ordeal full of tears. My youngest son had hair as fine as silk but somehow a nasty knot would develop overnight on the back of his head and he dreaded me having to comb it out in the morning so that it didn’t appear as if a nest was being built there. Despite all the pain of putting a comb through their head my boys still did not want to cut their hair but I was starting to think that would be the best thing for everyone involved as I was tired of getting grief for trying to take care of them.

Over the last year I really started encouraging Aurelio to cut his hair and make his life easier but he refused, often emotionally. His most common answer to my asking him was that he would cut his hair when I cut mine. Who could argue with that? I really had no standing to tell him to cut his hair when I had long hair myself. I tried to explain to him that I was old and I was afraid my hair was going to turn gray or just fall out any day now and that I was going to wait for that to happen before I cut my hair. I do not plan on going two-tone with brown hair and gray roots. He pointed out that I already have gray hairs and our conversations usually ended with him promising to take care of his hair better and me telling him I’ll try to lay off telling him to cut his hair.

Finally, this summer, things came to a ‘head.’ I had to get the old clippers out and gave both my boys a buzz. Now I’m the only long haired freak left in the family!

My kids look totally conventional now, did I really ask for this? Well, they can always grow it back.

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Some family stories become famous over the years by being told and retold and they become part of a family’s collective memory.  Over the years the truth of these stories becomes less important than an exciting re-telling.  My kids love hearing these types of stories to the point that when people visit or if we are just hanging out with friends my 7 year old might pull on my sleeve and asks me to make sure and tell the other grown-ups about that time when…

One of the more (in)famous of these stories in our family is the Hot Sauce incident.  This story has become so well liked that the children have started telling it themselves.  In a recent retelling to a houseguest, 5 year old Adrían insisted that he was the child involved so I figured I better set the record straight now before the story departs entirely from reality.

Like many family events, the Hot Sauce Incident took place around the dinner table.  As we were finishing dinner, three year old Adelina was proudly licking her plate clean with her giant toddler tongue.  Yes, licking, there was ketchup involved and she was one of those kids who would mainline ketchup if they could.  When we asked her to refrain from such animal behavior she only grunted in response,

“Sauce, I love sauce.”

“Not Hot Sauce!”  piped up her 5 year old brother, proudly asserting his mature ability to enjoy sprinkled hot sauce over food.

“Sauce!”  Adelina declared, between licks.

“Well, you don’t like hot sauce.” Aurelio kept up.

“Sauce!”

“It’s hot!  You don’t like it!”

“I love sauce!  All sauce!”  She was getting loud.

“It is possible that she does like it,” I said.  “You’re not the only kid in the world who can deal with hot sauce.”

My son gave me the ‘are you the biggest moron in the world look?’

“Dad – she has never tried it.”

“I have tried it!”  my daughter insisted.  “I love it!  Sauce!”

My son gave a disgusted harrumph.

“Maybe she does like it,” I said.  “If she has never tried it then we don’t really know if she likes it or not.”  My son gave me that look again.

“More sauce!” Adelina pronounced as she put down her shiny clean plate licked clean of any and all streaks of ketchup.  “Sauce!”  She put her hand out toward the bottle of Tabasco still left on the table.  “I love sauce!”

“You want to try it?”

“Sauce!”

“Has she ever tried hot sauce?”  I asked my wife.  She wasn’t sure.  I wasn’t sure either.  No one was sure except for Adelina who was still insisting that she loved all sauces.

“Well, she may as well try it,” I said.

She held out her plate for hot sauce.

“No way, Adelina, this is not ketchup, you can’t have a lot.”

“Sauce!”

“It’s spicy, Adelina, really spicy,” I informed her.

“It’s hot Adelina, you’re NOT going to like it,” her older brother insisted.

“I love sauce!”  she said.  I knew she did not like spicy food so I knew now that she was just being silly and slightly out of control and not really listening to what we were telling her.  She was also trying to prove her brother wrong.  I figured, let her try the hot sauce, if nothing else, it’ll teach her a lesson about listening to people tell her something and not being stubborn.

“Should I let her have some hot sauce?”  I asked my wife.  She gave me the more mature version of my son’s look in response as if to say, “Are you really asking me that?”  But there was also a hint of a smile that was enough to allow things to continue.

“OK, Adelina, I’ll give you a tiny bit,” I told her.  I picked up the bottle and shook it and unscrewed the top.  “Why don’t you just stick out your tongue and I’ll put a drop on it?” I said.

“OK,” she agreed.  I turned the bottle sideways and maneuvered it just above her mouth.  I hesitated for effect as now everyone waited to see what was going to happen.  I imagined the shot of flavor that was going to be delivered to Adelina’s brain the instant the drop landed on her tongue.  Patricia stopped rinsing the dishes.  Aurelio stared with his mouth open as wide as Adelina’s.  Even baby Adrian was showing an unusually keen interest.

It was one of those bottles with a very small opening that you have to bang on the back of the bottle with the heel of your hand to get a drop out so that’s what I did.  Only when I banged the back of the bottle things went horribly wrong… A drop of hot sauce flew out off-target and landed right in my girl’s eye.

The instant before Adelina even realized what had happened was an eternity for me.  I wanted to take that drop back so bad but it was too late, I was too late, the deed had been done, and I could only imagine the searing pain that was about to come from contact between hot chili sauce and my daughter’s gelatinous eyeball.  I shouted, Aurelio gasped, Patricia shrieked, and baby Adrian started crying.  For that moment I really thought my daughter might go blind and I dreaded checking her into the emergency room with my feeble account of what had happened.

As bad as things were I feel like it should have been worse.  Although I often leave this part out, I think Adelina must have closed her eye at the last second and repelled most, if not all, of the hot chili sauce that was flung her way.  Adelina never screamed and cried as much as her mother or I did when we saw that drop of chili sauce fly.  After twenty minutes or so of washing with water she was actually totally OK, which still seems pretty amazing.  Like I said, this makes for a less exciting re-telling of the story, but gives me some personal solace that I did not cause any lasting harm to my daughter’s left eye.  Plus, I’m pretty sure this story would not be as entertaining if it ended with my daughter going blind.

As school gets back in session my seven year old daughter is very aware and involved in the selection of outfits she wears everyday.  The other day, for the first time, I found myself objecting to the short length of the skirt she was wearing to school.  I thought it was too short and I did not want to let her out of the house.  I was kind of surprised at my reaction that consisted of a gut feeling more than anything else and I stopped to wonder what was really bothering me about that skirt.  Did I think that she was putting herself out there for the little boys?  No, that did not much threaten me as I doubted most of the prepubescent boys had any opinion whatsoever on the legs of my daughter.  No, what I actually worried about was an older man getting lascivious ideas about my daughter in her short skirt.  Thinking about that made me feel totally icky and my temptation to cover her grew out of that feeling of wanting to protect her from anyone’s lustful thoughts.  Naturally, it really freaks me out just to think about it.   If she asked me why I thought her skirt was too short I would not want to tell her this.  Should I even mention it and introduce the whole notion of sexuality to my seven year old?  Maybe I should just stay quiet and let her wear the skirt.

My daughter has always been into clothes and making herself up to look pretty.  She loves to play ‘salon’ with her friends and she has even been known to give a mani-pedi to her brothers from time to time as is evidenced by their secretly purple toenails.  She and her friends often disappear into her bedroom for an hour trying on different dresses and outfits to parade in front of each other or anyone else who may be interested.  She has gone through all my wife’s dresses and shoes as well, she makes sure to put it all back when she is done so that mommy won’t mind too much.  My sons seem equally fixed by their own reflection in the mirror as my daughter but she takes it to another level by applying makeup the best way she knows how and combing her hair just so.  Some may say that society has placed undue expectations on her appearance and she is already trying to live up to those expectations, but at the same time I can see she is doing something that she enjoys and she has been doing it since she was barely more than a baby.  As crazy as it may seem to me, she enjoys clothes, she enjoys doing her hair, she enjoys dolling herself up.  Who am I to put a crimp in her style?

In this case though, I must stop her.  I can’t help it.  I just can’t let my daughter go to school like that.  I realize that I am also worried what other fathers might think about our family if they see my daughter in a short skirt.  It’s like I have to defend the honor of the family in some medieval way by preventing her from wearing that skirt.

“Adelina, it looks like that skirt is too small, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to wear that to school,” I tell her.

“It’s size 7!”

“It doesn’t matter what size it is, it looks small.”

“But it doesn’t feel small,” she says.

“Well, it looks tight, and really, the main thing is that it is too short – are you wearing shorts?”

“Yes!” she yells, sensing that she is going to have to go upstairs and start over from square one picking out an outfit.  She shows me the biker shorts underneath the skirt which makes me feel a little better.  But then I realize it’s not so much whether she is wearing shorts underneath the skirt or not, it is just the appearance of not wearing them that makes the skirt look entirely too short.  I tell her again that she has to take it off.

“Daddy!”  She is full on crying now.

“Look, Adelina, your skirts need to come up to just above your knee, that’s the rule we are going to go by, especially when you are going to school.”

I guess she saw in my eyes that I was not going to change my mind because she went upstairs to take off the skirt without further protest.  When she came back down she did not seem too excited about the outfit she was wearing and she gave me a cold look.  She walked over to her mother to give her a good morning hug and tell her how her mean old dad made her change her outfit at the last minute when she stopped short, looked her mom up and down, and told her she better go upstairs and take that short skirt off, daddy is not going to like it!

This summer my kids and I went camping twice in the mountains of Virginia.  My wife strategically extricated herself from these adventures and I was a man alone in the woods with three young children.  Sounds like a nightmare, right?  But I found a way to get through it and even find myself wanting to go again.  Am I crazy?  Probably.

Don’t get me wrong, we did not hike out into the wilderness to pitch a tent.  I’m not that crazy.  We are strictly car campers in that we pitch a tent next to our car in a campground.  As long as I am the only one big enough to carry anything more than a sleeping bag, this family will not be venturing farther than our car can take us.

One thing I realize about camping trips is that there will never be a dull moment for me.  Setting up camp, maintaining camp, and cooking take up all the time of the day.  It’s better for me to realize this going in so that I will not expect any quiet time for musing on my relationship to Nature.

On the other hand, my kids are deathly afraid of encountering boredom amidst the trees and beyond the reaches of electricity.  (This despite my constant reminder that, ‘Boredom is the beginning of Nirvana.’)  To combat boredom they each brought a backpack overstuffed with things to amuse them such as toys, books and drawing pads.  They lugged these playpacks in and out of the car like overworked mountain porters.  Of course, once we got there they never played with any of it.  It was still important to have it there when I needed to point out that they had ‘plenty of things to keep them busy’ if need be.

Turns out my kids didn’t have that tough of a time figuring out what to do.  The campground offers a unique space where they have free rein to walk around outside the watchful eyes of daddy and this is apparently entertainment enough. I suspend my rather irrational fear of a woodsy pedophile snatching all three of them up into a tent and they have a grand old time just walking around the campground loop.  Another thing that keeps them busy is looking for firewood or that perfect stick for roasting marshmallows.  I don’t need to ask twice for help in firewood collection.  They all have a deeply vested interest in the fire later that night because it offers the opportunity for s’mores.

I probably should not have told them about the presence of black bears in the campground.  My oldest son, 10 years old, seemed to be the only one to believe me when I explained that back bears weren’t actually that big.  No doubt my younger children noted that black bears may not be that big, but they are still bigger than them.  I assured them black bears were afraid of people and that they would try to avoid humanity at all costs.  I read them the sign that said a black bear had never attacked a human in Virginia.  It seemed impossible that we would even see a bear, much less tussle with it, and I wondered whether I should even go over what the signs said to do in the event of an aggressive bear and present that as a possibiity to the kids, but I couldn’t resist.  Besides, what if a bear did attack?  Hadn’t I read about that somewhere?  I told them the park service signs said we should never run away from a bear.  We should make a lot of noise with pots and pans or even clapping as loud as we can to scare it off.  Lastly, the park service recommended, “If attacked, fight back!”  Spurred by this advice I assured my children that I would kick a bear in the face with my giant hiking boots if it dared to attack any of us.  Miraculously, they seemed to find some kind of solace in that.

Aside from eating and firebuilding the other activity that kept us busy on this trip was hiking.  I prefer to call it ‘taking a walk’ as my daughter seems to have an irrational fear of the word ‘hike’, but no matter what I call it there is no shortage of complaints whenever we set out on our way.  To combat this negativity I have always employed one primary method that is centered around the concept of food.  I bring lots of it.  I hold out the idea of a tasty snack in front of them whenever they may have trouble putting one foot in front of the other.  I have never seen this inducement fail to work.  The only trick is to bring enough snacks to last the entire trip.  This year I noticed a new way to help my kids get through a hike.  As soon as we started out all three of my kids wanted to be in front.  Apparently forgetting about the perils of wild animals big and small, all of them wanted to run out in front of everyone else on the trail and be the leader.  They argued and ran ahead trying to get in front of each other.  This would have been the moment for me to step in and remind them about taking turns, but before I got a chance to catch up with them I thought to myself that this is the first time I am walking in back of everyone instead of in the front.  My kids were practically running the trail and we were making good time.  Competition had provided a great motivating force for getting up the trail and I was not going to do anything that might slow them down.  As they ran ahead and the sound of their bickering retreated further into the forest I found myself alone with the grand silence of Nature.  I had found peaceful quietude after all.

This camping stuff wasn’t so bad, we may just have to come back next year – just don’t tell the kids yet!