Meltdown in three, two, one, …

“Speak louder! The man can’t hear you when you mumble.” the mother barked at her little boy without looking up from her iPhone. Her young sons cringed and looked timidly at the vitrine full of meats and cheeses, each adorned with a calligraphic label the boys couldn’t so much as read, let alone pronounce or request. The younger boy, probably not yet 4, said something and pointed at some salami.

“What? Do you think he heard you?” the mother asked, turning now from her iPhone to lean over and reprimand the boy while windmilling her right arm in the general direction of the worker behind the counter. The boys huddled together, perhaps in solidarity. The mother quickly returned to her iPhone, jabbing at it with her index finger.

I understand. It’s late. You’re frustrated and tired at the end of a rough day. You need to get food for dinner and perhaps lunches tomorrow. You need to get home, feed the progeny, get them ready for and into bed. They’re tired and hungry. But you are not helping the situation by barking at your kids and poking at your iPhone. Please stop for a minute. Take a deep breath. Put the phone away. It’s in everybody’s best interest—yours, your kids’, mine, the employees’ here, everybody’s.

Too late. Moments later, the younger son lost it. Complete meltdown in the cereal aisle spills over into the chips aisle and lingers through the checkout line.

#2 turned to me and said: “He’s sad.” You’re right, I thought, he is sad.

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Turn Nightmares into Sunrises

“Daddy! Save me!” #2 cried out at 6:06 AM.

When I got to her, #2 was sitting bolt upright in bed. Nightmare zombies (or other classic nightmare monsters) had haunted her sleep. I collected her up in my arms and tried to comfort her. It was dark. She had no intention of going back to sleep and confronting the zombies.

“Do you want to come watch the sunrise with me?” I asked.

“Yes.”

The predawn sky grows slowly lighter.

The predawn sky grows slowly lighter.

I carried #2 down to our dining room and made her a glass of warm chocolate milk. #2 sat in my lap enveloped in my arms, her head leaning back against my chest. For the next hour or so we chatted quietly in the dark as the glowing eastern sky slowly vanquished the night’s vestigial shadows, and the monsters lurking in them.

Name Cards and Security Theater

#2’s school has recently implemented a new system for picking up children from school in the afternoon: the Name Card.

Now, anybody retrieving a child must show the hot pink Name Card bearing the child’s name and the school’s name and logo. We are assured that this system is intended to help ensure our children’s safety.

Among the many practical questions that spring to mind, I wonder if this hot pink Name Card will be as effective as the school thinks. Perhaps. But I want to propose a couple more effective systems.[1]

What if the school adopted the hot pink Name Poster. Think about it. A single sheet of 8.5 x 11” hot pink paper is easily reproduced on any laser printer. Child’s name clearly printed in 48pt Helvetica Bold and you’ve got a new Name Card. Ditch the forged Name Card in a binder, a notebook, a purse, and nobody walking down the street would ever know your nefarious plans. By contrast, a hot pink Name Poster, say 24 x 36” with the child’s name in 144pt Helvetica Bold would be much hard to copy and even harder to hide. Only parents and 5-year-old kids would suffer the indignity of being seen in public with a hot pink Name Poster (the 5-year-olds might revel in having to walk down the street holding a hot pink Name Poster). As promising as this solution is, I think there’s yet a better one.

Hot Pink Name Jumpsuits coming to your school soon.

Hot Pink Name Jumpsuits coming to your school soon (adapted from here).

The hot pink Name Jumpsuit. Blazoned across the front of the hot pink Name Jumpsuit would be the child’s name in 144pt Helvetica Bold. The school’s official patch could be sew onto the shoulder. Across the back in equally large type could be the school’s name along with the parent’s and a school-assigned number.

Only adults wearing these hot pink Name Jumpsuits would be allowed to retrieve a child from school. Not only would it allow for quick identification but criminals apparently don’t like wearing hot pink, thereby deterring would-be criminals from even considering any fiendish acts. The hot pink Name Jumpsuit brings two further benefits: First, parents foolish enough to help with in-class projects could wear the hot pink Name Jumpsuit to protect their good clothing. Second, it would allow parents to address each other quickly and easily with the Universal Parent Identifier (UPID), “So-and-so’s Parent,” thereby avoiding those awkward post-introduction questions: “Whose parent are you?”


  1. I hope the sarcasm in this post is not lost on readers. I appreciate any school’s efforts to protect students, particularly if I think those efforts will make any child’s life safer. Poorly or hastily implemented systems, however, seem more a hassle and risk becoming just security theater, which thereby distracts us from possibly real measures that we could take.  ↩

He said he was going to be Wendy…

As we pulled up to the halloween party, #1 blurted out: “Oh there’s Tobias. He said he was going to be Wendy.” Wendy who? I wondered. Should I recognize this Wendy? When I hazarded to ask, #1 schooled me on the finer points of Tobias’s costume. Clearly I had missed the visual clues—bright red wig, braids sticking out to the sides tied with baby-blue ribbons, freckles on the cheeks, baby-blue-and-white striped dress, red stockings, etc.—that made it obvious who Wendy is: “Ya know. Wendy from Wendy’s.” Oh, the burger chain. Got it.

# 1 jumped out shouting “Great Costume Tobias.” Another friend, dressed more stereotypically as a monster, patted Tobias on the back and complimented him on the costume. I stood with some other parents and watched the three of them wander up the street to the party.

While the parents were supportive of Tobias’s costume, I was interested to hear how they talked about it amongst themselves: “He was brave to come dressed as a girl.” or “It takes courage to dress as a woman.” or “That’s an unusual costume for a boy.” or “I guess if we don’t mind girls dressed as boys, we shouldn’t mind boys dressed as girls.”

I kept thinking as I listened to them: Don’t worry about it. Don’t impose your fears and limitations on these kids. These kids, maybe not all kids, but at least these kids are making a better world.

I am proud of those three boys and their community of friends and classmates. They didn’t worry about a boy dressing as a girl. Tobias’s costume was just a great costume.

Illegal and Unlawful—Jokes that Refuse to Die

With some trepidation and plenty of worry, parents today fret about how the world has changed since they were kids. Every day the media offer up a full banquet of fears. Handwringing ensues. The halcyon days of yesteryear were kinder, simpler, more wholesome, slower, safer.

Every now and then, however, I’m reminded that children are still just children. Little kids having fun in the most innocent of ways.

Coming home from breakfast this morning #1 turned to me and asked:

Daddy, do you know what the difference is between illegal and unlawful?

Instantly I was transported back four decades to the curb in front of my house. I first heard that joke one summer evening. My best friend from down the street was sitting next to me as we threw stones into the neighbors overgrown ivy. He turned to 7-year-old me and asked: “Hey, what’s the difference between illegal and unlawful.”

He always prefaced his jokes with “Hey” and tried to make them sound like real questions. I fell for it this time. I don’t recall exactly what I said, but I do remember launching into what I thought was a sophisticated 2nd-grade compare-and-contrast discussion of illegal and unlawful no doubt replete with pseudo-etymologies and subtle distinctions in nuance and meaning. A few stones later, he turned and delivered the punchline: “One’s a sick bird, the other’s against the law.”

Hahaha, he laughed as he got up to go get more stones.

This morning I recognized the question. I knew the punchline. I picked up an acorn, tossed it into a pile of leaves, and said:

Nothing really.

Hahaha, #1 giggled,

An ill eagle is a sick bird. Get it?

Everything about this rerun of a joke made me smile. I smiled hearing #1 tell it as if he and his friends were the first kids to tell it. I smiled to see the glee it brought him to have fun with language. I smiled seeing him pick up an acorn and, as he tossed it at the pile of leaves, hearing him giggle, haha.

Maybe childhood today isn’t all that different from forty years ago.

Sleeping by my side

I prop myself up on an elbow so I can look at #2 as she sleeps next to me—tonight she drifted off before I finished reading to her. Every now and then she twitches, perhaps pursuing something in a dream. I treasure these moments and relish the opportunity just to look at her.

Awake, she is confident, robust, kind. She is exuberant and intrepid. She has more stamina and fortitude than any six-year-old should have. Awake, she seems to swell, to become larger than life through sheer force of personality. It’s easy to forget that she is only six.

Asleep, she deflates, seems so much smaller and more fragile. Asleep, she is confined by the limits of her body. I see her now as the little girl she still is. Tomorrow when she wakes she will once again grow larger.

Looking at her, I can’t wait to see her grow up, to see what will she become and how she will surprise me and, frankly, everybody who knows her. #2 knows no limits.

When she does grow up, I will delight in who she has become, but I will always recall my little girl sleeping next to me, twitching now and then chasing some dream.

Watching them go

Today when #1 strode away from me and without looking back stepped over that threshold, he crossed an important boundary, his own personal Rubicon. Although I could no longer see him, I stood at the windows and looked toward where I thought he must be. Odd how parent-child relationships evolve. How many times have he and I rehearsed this scene but played opposite roles? I recall vividly when #1 was only a year old he would prop himself up against our storm door, hands placed firmly apart for stability, and cry whenever I left even for the shortest of errands. Countless times I stopped halfway down the drive and pulled back, plucked him up, pirouetted back to the car, and took him with me.

Today, he’s the one leaving while I stand pressing my fingers lightly on the cool glass. I am not crying though part of me misses the little boy #1 is no longer. Yet a larger part of me swells with a sense of pride as I watch #1 mature and confront new challenges with equanimity and grace. I enjoy watching him develop a sense of independence and freedom. I savor his growing self-confidence.

#1 flies solo.

#1 flies solo.

Today his mannerisms and chattiness betrayed an apprehension he tried to hide. As the day wore on, however, he relaxed. This afternoon I watched a newly confident, imperceptibly larger boy disappear into the jetway. The woman next to me remarked: “He looks brave.” “Ya,” I nodded, “he does.” And then I thought: “iacta alea est.”