Parcheesi and Breakfast

As we often do, #1, #2, and I went to breakfast armed with a game of some sort. Today, we took our retro-Parcheesi (I say “retro” because it’s not very old, but it has been styled to look old). While enjoying our bagels, hot chocolates, and coffee at the local café, we played a handful of no-holds-barred Parcheesi, laughing and chatting about this or that throughout.

Early in another exciting Parcheesi match.

Early in another exciting Parcheesi match.

I miss weekend mornings when it was just me, a cup of coffee, and a newspaper or book (fortunately, #1 and #2 are old enough now that we can, now and then, enjoy just sitting beside each other while we read)[1]. But I know that I will miss these mornings too, when #1 and #2 have moved on and no longer want to spend a couple hours with their dad. So it goes.

  1. If I am being honest, weekend mornings by myself are just one thing I miss about my former existence. I am, however, aware of how much more pleasant those mornings are in hindsight than they were when I was living them. The past is always better when viewed from the distant future.  ↩


iPhones, Forks, and Conversations

At one table a young mothered typed furiously on her iPhone using only her left thumb. Her right arm cantilevered out over the table toward her diaper-wearing daughter. In her right hand she brandished a plastic fork on which she had skewered a piece of egg. Without looking up she urged her daughter to eat. In a brilliant demonstration of reciprocity, the daughter ignored her mother and the forkful of egg, and instead danced happily on the bench. And so it went until the mother collected the breakfast carnage so the little girl could “finish it in the car.”

At another table, an older father was sitting with his late teen daughter. He spoke fondly to her, almost doting her. At one point he asked, “Can you carry the bagel and drink, or do you need help?” They looked at each other as the ate and talked about what her plans for the day. No smartphone or other electronic device intervened between them. He held the door for her as they left.

How do we understand these different parenting styles? Different generations? Different relationships—mother-daughter vs. father-daughter? Different expectations? Different habits? And what effects will these different parenting styles have on the parent-daughter relationships?

Retro Flintstone’s iPad

This morning #2 was having a hard time getting motivated for school, so I suggested we leave early and stop for some hot chocolate on the way. This seemed to ease the pain of going to school. At the local coffee shop we ordered our drinks and then sat down to play with our iPad. This is no ordinary iPad but a special edition retro “Flinstone’s iPad” that only Fred and Barney could appreciate.

Recently a local college was replacing the slate roofing on some dorms. They had a pile of chipped and broken slate that they were throwing away. We grabbed a few to make coasters, serving trays, house numbers and other hipster accessories. A couple days ago #2 remarked that they looked like stone iPads and pretended to use one as an iPad. A little chalk, a sponge, and voilà, we have an environmentally friendly (or at least friendlier) iPad.


Our “Flintstone’s iPad” has unlimited memory, never needs to be charged, and is water proof. Carrying one of these automatically enhances your retro-chic credit. Unfortunately, it is breakable, sort of heavy, and has a rather lo-res screen.

Nonetheless, we spent 30 minutes playing tic-tac-toe, hangman, and just drawing pictures.

Fall Routine, or Wrangling “Three Messed-up Jelly Beans”

The advent of fall has nothing to do with the changing leaves or brisk air or the shorter days or that special fall scent or anything vaguely romantic. No. In our house, the beginning of fall is signaled by the morning’s routine. Suddenly everyone has to be up, clean, dressed, fed, and out the door by 8:00 am. Mornings cease to be peaceful and become frenetic on good days and chaotic on bad ones.

#1 and #2 seem to know, instinctually, that school has begun. In the fall they seem more difficult to wake and seem to move more slowly. The Mother’s monopoly on the bathroom is now disrupted by #1 and #2 traipsing in and out, each vying for part of the mirror or the sink. Back to their rooms, #1 and #2 pick out clothes, get distracted, dress, and look for their book bags. Then downstairs for breakfast, shoes on, and out the door to cart them off to school.

In all this my role is that of wrangler. I try to keep them all on track and moving. To ensure that things run smoothly, I try to keep them from running into each other. If any stray to far, I’m there nudging them back on track. If any lag behind, I’m there urging them forward.

In the words of #2: “Without Daddy, we’re just three messed up jelly beans.”

I am the Jelly Bean Wrangler.

Yes, This is Summer’s Last Breakfast

This morning #1, #2, and I went to breakfast. Holidays are treated like weekends in our house in that Mother sleeps in while the three of us scurry off for breakfast. We were drawing little pictures on napkins when #2 asked:

#2: Is today the last day of summer?
Me: Yes, it is. Tomorrow you go back to school.
#2: So is this the last breakfast of summer?
Me: Yep. Sorry.
#2: That makes me sad.
#1: But you’ll get to see all your friends.
#2: I don’t want to see them. I want to see daddy. Humpf.

Amongst all the quotidian “demands” it’s easy to forget how important time and attention are. Time spent together—not just near each other while playing with an iPad or iPhone but really spent together—is never squandered. Whatever happens to them in the future, wherever life takes them, they will have these memories, as will I. Nobody can take them away from us.

Weekend Morning Rituals

Most weekend mornings I get up early and start the day by writing two letters: one to #1 and one to #2. About the time I finish, I can hear #1 and #2 stirring. We quietly dress, collect some game or toy, and sneak out the door to go find breakfast. We spend the next couple hours at some local cafe or coffee shop playing, drawing, reading, or otherwise squandering the morning together. We often stop by a park or go for a walk before coming home.

#1 and I started sneaking out more than a decade ago as a way to let Mother sleep in on the weekends (or, put another way, to avoid getting in trouble for waking Mother). Six years ago #2 joined us in our weekend morning Ausflüge. What began as a happy coincidence of self-preservation and consideration has become an important ritual that we share.

I understand that some people don’t think they are morning people, or think they should be allowed to start the day with some time alone, or think they need to start the day by reading the latest headline or email or Facebook post, or think they deserve to sleep late on the weekends because they get up early during the week. These too are rituals. Just not the kind I want my progeny to associate with me.

Boredom is a Precious Commodity

#1, #2 and I had breakfast yesterday at a local cafe that has outdoor seating. It was a beautiful morning, perfect for sitting outside, watching the birds and butterflies, and listening to people chat. At one table two women were talking while a little girl sat in a highchair playing with mom’s (?) iPhone. I’ve been there. I’ve wanted to talk to an adult. I’ve played all the finger games I can handle for the day. I’ve colored my last picture. I’ve [fill in the repetitive activity you can’t stand] all I can endure. I’ve given one of my progeny an electronic babysitter and been happy. But I’m not happy for having done it.

My discomfort stems not from some fear of how spending time in front of small electronic devices is bad for little progeny, or some belief that video games are the root of all violence and evil in our society. Instead, I worry that children today are simply not bored frequently enough.

We have convinced ourselves that kids need to be entertained all the time. Industries have rescued us and our children from ever suffering an idle moment. We think little of giving tiny people electronic gadgets, often disguised as learning games or educational videos. We have to have kits filled with activities. We schedule “playdates” for their free time. Perhaps out of envy, we have eliminated boredom from our children’s lives.

Boredom is wonderful. How many adults wouldn’t appreciate some time to be bored? To do nothing? As we age, life’s demands increasingly eradicate boredom. Family, friends, school, job, house all conspire to fill your time with tasks. Boredom, by contrast, is time you get to spend with your own thoughts, not the thoughts someone else forces on you.

Boredom also encourages creativity and observation. Sit for a few minutes on a bench. Soon you will notice people, birds, bugs, and plants. You will sense the breeze as it changes. You’ll hear noises, snatches of conversations, the sounds of people walking, a faint rushing as water flows down a gutter, or the stray cough. You might notice a small dedicatory plaque on the bench or the contractor’s mark embossed in the sidewalk cement.

#1, #2, and I sat silently while we waited for breakfast. Although I was enjoying the quiet time, I wondered briefly, “Are they bored?” When our food arrived, #1 and #2 chatted pleasantly about all the things we had seen—the “purple butterfly that tried to kiss me,” the “mangy bird in the bushes,” the “fast train” heading toward the city, and even “the little girl playing with her mom’s iPhone.” I guess they found something to do.