When I’m 100

By Gregory Keer

My first grader came home recently with a completed assignment called, “When I Am 100 Years Old.” For it, he had drawn a picture of himself at the century mark, looking pretty much the way he does now, but with a long gray beard. Apparently, this is all it takes to distinguish a seven year old from a centenarian.

Under the picture was his life-topping accomplishment, “I will be a riter.”

In five words, my youngest son managed to reveal a treasure trove of insight. He told me his lifelong plans. He revealed that these schemes have to do with his connection to me, the guy he sees scribbling stories. And he showed he can’t spell worth diddlysquat.

This month marks my birthday. Because I am a “riter,” I’m spending time reflecting on how I’m doing goal-wise on my marchtoward (God willing) 100 years. There are areas I’m on target with, including keeping my marriage healthy, doing meaningful work, and making efforts on behalf of social causes. Among the aims I still want to achieve are learning to cook really well, playing at least one musical instrument, speaking Spanish, living in another city (if only for a season), and improving my free-throw shooting.

Above all, the category in which I’d like to improve most is fatherhood. It’s one reason I write these self-indulgent columns that chronicle the tinkering I do as a dad. While some of this labor is just me being nitpicky, a lot of it has to do with being better at following the biggest lesson I’ve learned about parenting – my children’s lives cannot be scripted. I cannot mold them in my image or in the image of someone I’d like them to be. I can give them plenty of good materials, but they have to craft themselves.

Having Ari say he wants to be a writer is nice now, but it’s likely he’ll do something different for a living. Ari loves to build stuff and take things apart to see what makes them tick. I have zero mechanical ability, so it’s hard for me to relate or even play alongside him when he reconfigures a door handle or surrounds his bed with various pulleys and other contraptions. My job is to let him horde boxes, tools, and various bits (which drives me nuts in that he keeps his room like a junk yard), so he can develop into who he wants to be. I’m fairly certain he will be some sort of engineer, though I’m trying to keep this kind of guessing to myself.

My middle son is most like me in his passions for writing stories, remembering lots of entertainment trivia, and having his feelings easily hurt. At the same time, his penchant for taking charge of situations and doing all his homework well ahead of schedule are far from my personal tendencies. Jacob currently thinks he’ll be an artist (architect, painter, or performer), while I imagine him becoming a creative businessman. Yet, he’s so full of interests and willingness to soak up information, he may be the kind of person who tries out a lot of things out. This could be difficult for making a consistent life, but it could also mean he’ll never be bored.

My 13 year old is the most open book of my three. He loves imaginative books, but prefers computers and science over discussing human nature. He doesn’t mind sports, though he veers away from competition. And he’s efficient at getting assignments done — when he feels it’s worth his time. As my eldest, he’s borne the brunt of my clumsiest parenting as I’ve pushed him the hardest on everything from studying more to maintaining better posture. Yet, this kid is more at ease than I ever was with a variety of friends and has a better sense of enjoying the world’s simple things. I worry he may lead a fairly modest life, but I’m confident he’ll rise to the level of happiness he wants for himself.

Too much of my early fatherhood years have been anchored in feeling I only have value if I show my sons the right way to do things. It’s often made me too intense in getting them to follow instructions and too judgmental of mistakes when I’ve warned them of pitfalls. All of this has been about making me more important to them than necessary.

For a dad – or any parent – that is a tough insight to internalize. I don’t know all the right answers, and even when I think I do, there is wisdom in keeping most of them to myself. Although I am bound by the parenting code that compels me to keep my kids safe and armed with good resources, I hope to mark the road to 100 with much more observing and cheerleading as my sons grow their own gray hairs.

Posted in Child Development, Columns by Family Man, Humor, Perspective | 6 Comments

Baby, You Can’t Drive My Car

By Gregory Keer

After three transmissions, enough mileage to circle the globe seven times, and more nicks and cuts than an undercard boxer, it was time to get my wife a new car. We scoured the review sites and spent many an afternoon test driving with our three human cyclones before Wendy settled on something that made her eyes twinkle.

More than that, getting the shining automobile felt as if we both were hitting a reset button amidst the ragged frenzy our lives have become as parents with multiple jobs, three kids, and too little open space.

When we got the “baby” home, we had the talk with the kids.

“No more smashed goldfish crackers,” Wendy warned. “Or misplaced apple cores, melted crayons, or sandy beach souvenirs.”

“We promise, Mommy,” they harmonized like those charming chipmunks you know are about to wreak havoc.

Later, Wendy gently brought me into her circle of caution.

“I know it takes you a while to get used to driving new cars, with the different dimensions and everything,” she said. “So, it’ll just be me taking it out for a while.”

I was absolutely fine with that. I had a habit of cracking side-view mirrors, backing into brick walls, and (yes) trying to duck a moving forklift within the honeymoon period of our last couple of new autos.

For the first three weeks of this one, all was fine. The kids treated the fresh wheels like white carpet at the grandparents’ house.

Then, one night, after an exhausting day, following a frenetic week, on the heels of a month of never-ending demands, I had to drive my son to an evening basketball game. Sadly, as much as I wanted to enjoy the thought of seeing my son on a court, I had little joy left in me. Seeing this, Wendy told me to take the new car.

“That’s OK,” I muttered in my best Eeyore tone. “I don’t want to be the one to put the first ding on the car.”

“Nonsense,” she said. “You’re ready.”

So, my thirteen year old and I went outside. I opened the door, caught the scent of new upholstery, and — clunk – knocked the freakin’ thing into the neighbor’s ridiculously massive cinder-block pillar.

My stomach dropped. It was a cruel twist of self-fulfilling prophecy.

I paced back and forth, stopping furtively to assess the damage. There were scuff marks on the rubber molding at the edge of the door. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t much. In the moment, it looked like I took a sledgehammer to the car.

I slumped into the driver’s seat, greeted by Benjamin, who didn’t even try to contain his laughter.

“You were so worried you were going to do that,” he spit out through guffaws.

“Be quiet,” I snapped back.

“I’m sorry,” he replied. “It’s – too –

“It’s not funny,” I groused.

Already late for the pre-game warm-ups, I pulled out of the driveway, wracked with guilt. Benjamin kept cracking up.

“Are you going to tell Mom?” he asked.

“Of course I will,” I said, holding on to whatever teaching moment I could in the situation.

I spent the game watching my son’s team win an exciting contest while I did enough hand-wringing to rival Macbeth.

At home, I performed the one defensive act I knew to do. I exaggerated beyond belief to make the reality seem like nothing.

“I feel like I totaled your car,” I blurted.

Wendy smiled. “Well, did you?”

“I scratched the side of the door and I’m sorry and I knew I was going to screw it up and I apologize for damaging the one new thing you have.”

“Is it really that bad?” Wendy said, wincing a little.

“To me it is,” I replied.

Wendy took my hand. “I was going to get a scratch sooner or later. I’m glad it was you.”

I exhaled and hugged her. She wasn’t giving more guilt than I was heaping on myself.

A day later, our seven year old ran his scooter into the bumper, gashing the paint.

His guilt lasted exactly two minutes.

To my sons, who laugh and move on from errors of small consequence, scratches and dents come with the territory of living life at full tilt. It will take me a while, but part of my own growing up involves adopting this philosophy — though it’ll be another couple of weeks before my wife lets me touch the car again.

Posted in Cars, Columns by Family Man, Humor, Marriage | 1 Comment

What Dads Need to Know: Growing Up with a Biter

By Stefanie Wilder-Taylor

Little Sadie is a biter. Yes, it’s true. Adorable Sadie of the itty bitty butt and teeny tiny thighs still manages to assert herself by doling out quick and quite painful bites when you least expect it. Her main victim is Matilda who now has bruises up and down her arms that are simply begging someone to call CPS on me. This had been going on for months and months already but Jon and I kept making excuses for her: she’s frustrated from her lack of ability to communicate, she was bitten by Matilda when she was really little, she hates sharing, Mattie’s arm is delicious…and on and on. But last week things came to a head: Mattie was minding her own business (post tantrum) lying on the floor sucking on a taggy blanket when Sadie hopped up from across the room, sauntered over to Mattie, bent down as if to kiss her and chomped down on her arm — hard. I ran over to comfort Matilda but had a dilemma on my hands: do I punish Sadie first or comfort Mattie first?

I’d already escalated my discipline techniques from “No discipline whatsoever because, hey, she’s just a baby” to a sharp “No!” to a sharper “Stop!” and finally to a time out which involves scooping Sadie up and dumping her unceremoniously in her crib. The problem is, Sadie has no concept that she’s being punished. She doesn’t see her crib as being the crate of torture that Mattie does and is perfectly content to hang out, smoke a candy cigarette and read a little Pet the Baby Animals until I give up on waiting for her to cry and go get her.

Up until that last biting incident, most of the attacks had seemed somewhat provoked. A toy taken away, string cheese pilfered, Mattie just being in the wrong place at the wrong time etc. but this one was different. This was premeditated biting! What kind of a sociopath crosses the room, chomps their sister like she’s a leg of El Pollo Loco and then skips off whistling Twinkle Twinkle Little Star? Sadie, that’s who.

I decided to call in the big guns; my early intervention team. If there’s any bonus to having a delayed child it’s access to services you normal wouldn’t have. Yesterday, a child development specialist came over with Sadie’s case manager to work on Sadie’s play skillz. Cause Sadie’s got mad skillz y’all. This double therapist session was after a long day of PT (physical therapy), speech and OT (occupational therapy)so I wrongly assumed that Sadie would be in frustrated, tired, lashing out form. But nooooooo. Just like a pint-sized Ted Bundy, Sadie charmed the shit out of all our guests by saying hello to everyone in sight, pretending to roll calls with her Diego cell phone, giggling maniacally and repeatedly clapping her hands over her head yelling “hooray!”

Luckily, nobody can keep that up for an entire hour and eventually even Sadie broke down and pinched a few folks. It was decided that although biting, pushing and pinching are typical twin behaviors, Sadie does have the added frustration of lagging language, competition with not only her twin but an older sibling and the added cross to bear of an overly attractive and quite young looking mother. Who wouldn’t want to bite a few people? Still, we were told to continue giving time outs very consistently and to start signing with Sadie. Plus, we are going to be getting regular play therapy which thankfully will include Matilda. Poor Matilda, if we don’t correct this problem soon I fear her childhood will eventually become a Lifetime movie. Scarred for Life: One Twin’s True Tale of Growing Up with a Biter. Of course, if that happens I hope it’s sort of soon because I don’t want Tori Spelling to be aged out of playing the part of Sadie. Lifetime, you know where to find me.

Stefanie Wilder-Taylor is the author of Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay, Naptime Is the New Happy Hour, It’s Not Me, It’s You, and her more recent book, I’m Kind of a Big Deal.  She lives in Los Angeles with a husband and three young daughters. Anything else you need to know will probably be on her blog at stefaniewildertaylor.com.

Posted in Featured Moms & Dads, Humor, Parenting Stress, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

Family Man Recommends: ‘The Future According to Me’

Rob Kutner is a very funny fellow. He also happens to be a terrific dad and husband (though his wife Sheryl is more qualified to judge). On the funny side, this Emmy-nominated writer for Conan and Emmy winner for his years on The Daily Show weighs in on predicting what the upcoming years have in store with his new Kindle book, The Future According to Me. He covers such topics as the future of Earth, man, woman, race, politics, chocolate, hipster aliens, and Black Holes filled with deadbeat dads, among things worth reading about while you’re in the bathroom library. Honestly, 99 cents is all it takes to get you into the mind of the Nostradamus of Funny — not sure if that makes sense, but if you want the real laughs, check out Rob’s book, which can be read on just about any electronic device.

Here’s a snippet of what Rob has written about fatherhood: “Having a child means that, by definition, I’m constantly thinking about the future — the worst and best scenarios, usually at the same time. In some ways, writing this book was just a cheap form of therapy. Unfortunately, I’ll never be able to read it unless I can figure out how to wrestle the iPad back from my toddler.”

Posted in Blog, Books, Family Man Recommends, Humor | Leave a comment

Tripped Up

By Gregory Keer

I am geographically challenged. As a child, my navigational deficiencies surfaced when I got lost in shopping malls and grocery stores. I regularly made the milk-carton waiting list for missing persons.

As a teenager, my directional disorder extended to my driving. I often criss-crossed the city, missing freeway off-ramps, making panicked calls from payphones, and being late to dates because I couldn’t find my way to a coffee shop without a Bat Signal or police escort.

Even after two decades with a wife who rivals the Thomas Brothers for route-making mastery, and despite the benefits of online map programs, I still can’t drive far without wondering if I’ll need a search-and-rescue team to find me hours later.

All of this explains why leading a road trip with my children gives me a palsy shake.

Spurred by my desire to overcome my failings in the name of giving my kids memorable experiences, I prepare for a three-day trip to San Diego with my youngest sons (my wife is working out of town and my oldest has plans with his grandparents). I print directions from Yahoo! Maps for each proposed stop and pre-load Google directions onto my phone. I even have the benefit of having made the journey before, albeit with my wife navigating, so I have some sense of how to get there. How could anything go wrong?

After 20 minutes on the freeway, my heart palpitates. I call my wife long distance.

“I’m lost,” I say edgily.

“Are you on the 405?” my wife whispers from a meeting across the country.

“Yahoo says to take the 5 and there’s no 5,” I stammer.

“Turn around and get on the 405,” she says. “It’s easier for you.”

“What do you mean, ‘easier for me’? I reply defensively.

At this point, my precocious nine year old looks up from his video game.

“Daddy, take the 405,” Jacob instructs.

“I can handle this on my own,” I say with forced confidence.

Of course, I double back for the 405. Two hours, countless map checks, and several surface-street U-turns later, we reach our destination. 

“We’re here,” I announce proudly.

“Are you sure we’re in the right place?” Jacob remarks.

“The parking lot has animal signs!” Ari (6) confirms.

The San Diego Zoo is well worth the stress of traveling there and I maneuver around the park fairly well as we observe all manner of beasts, including the lions Ari favors and the performing seals Jacob loves. When we ride the aerial tram, I look over the surrounding area, thinking that everything seems easy to get to from a bird’s eye view.

Following a night in which I take 30 minutes to find the seafood restaurant that is three minutes from our hotel, we arrive at our next day’s location, Legoland. This is an amusement park meant for me — small enough that it’s simple to re-orient myself when I end up in Pirate Shores despite the plan to find The Dragon roller coaster. All day, Jacob tries to take charge as our guide, but I successfully lead us for seven fun-filled hours.

On our trip’s last morning, I feel grand. I’ve entertained, nourished, and rested my sons without mistakenly stumbling across the national border. We rejoice with the reward of a room service breakfast (how does a bowl of oatmeal end up costing $15?) for cooperating with Daddy, even during his most anxious moments.

A visit to the Fleet Science Center at Balboa Park rounds out our itinerary in apt fashion since we’re supposed to get lost in the interactive exhibits. Still trying to prove he can navigate better than me, Jacob finds a whole wing of the museum few visitors know about.

It’s 8pm by the time we head home. My hope is that the kids will fall asleep quicker than it takes for me to suffer my inevitable panic attack about changing freeways.

“Daddy, do you know how to get back?” Jacob says groggily.

“I sure do,” I promise.

“Thanks for taking us all over the place,” he yawns.

I smile into the rearview mirror as he drifts off to slumber.

An hour later, I frantically negotiate through surprising traffic to get to a gas station before we run out of fuel. Then, I have a heckuva time finding an onramp and almost miss the freeway switch — twice.

But we do get home. And nobody needs to know how we got there, right?

Posted in Activities With Kids, Columns by Family Man, Humor, Traveling With Kids | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: The Labors of Dad

By Laura Diamond

So the Family Man asked me to offer the world of fathers some words of wisdom – what should dads know? I consider the question — I confess I come up blank. It is hard enough to know what I should know. But Family Man was asking, and I needed an answer.

I decided to go to the source. I asked my husband. I began by buttering him up. “I can’t think of anything useful, because you’re so perfect.” He saw right through me, scoffed, snorted and rolled his eyes. But then, proving my point, he gave me the perfect prompt: “Tell them Dads should know what labor pains feel like.”

No doubt. Let’s back up a week. Last Sunday, 2 a.m., I awoke to find my husband not in bed. We’d already been up many nights that week with our six-year-old son Emmett suffering from a stomach virus. Now Emmett was sleeping through the night again – but where was Christopher? I got out of bed, stepped lightly downstairs, and whispered his name. “In here,” he groaned. I found him on the living room floor, prone and writhing. “I think I need to go to the hospital.” He may have had the same old virus as Emmett, but he had a new appreciation for the kid’s mettle.

I drove him to UCLA/Santa Monica E.R. They hooked him up to an I.V. and gave him drugs. Not strong enough. “Give him morphine!” I begged, channeling Shirley Maclaine in Terms of Endearment.

I watched him reeling with the pain, unable to be still, leaning over the hospital bed, body swaying, unable to focus on anything but the pain, and an unbelievable thought occurred to me: he looks like he’s in labor.

He said something to that effect to the nurse, a young woman who probably hadn’t yet experienced the joy of childbirth. But holding the torch for the sorority of womanhood, she verbally knocked him down without a thought: “No. Nothing compares to labor.” My husband dutifully apologized for the breach. It’s like denying the Holocaust, or uttering certain unmentionable words: It’s just not done.

I wanted to come to his defense. I wanted to tell her, “You know what? I’ve had two babies, and I’d give this man an epidural if I could.” But she was the woman in charge of his I.V. I didn’t want to piss her off.

We came home, morphine in his veins and vicodin prescription in hand. He had a new appreciation for what I’d experienced 10 and 7 years ago with the birth of our sons (without the benefit – or responsibility – of a baby at the end of the experience, of course.)

And me? I have a new appreciation for what he gives us every day. He is usually the life of our party. But thanks to this punk virus, his bright light is dimmed. He’s tired. He’s uncomfortable. He’s not himself. We all feel it. The kids ask him to play baseball, go on bike rides, and he has to decline. The energy in the house is gone. We miss him. We’re waiting for him to come back.

So what should dads know? They should know they matter in every family moment. They should know the zing they add to a morning, making breakfast and riffing on the Sports page. They should know that no matter how mommy-centric their kids might be when it comes to sharing hugs or secrets, when he’s down for the count, the joyfulness fades palpably. Dads should know that they deserve some down time to get rested and revived. Dads should know that their families are rooting for them to get their groove back. Dads should know how much they mean to us.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to know about the labor pain. Just don’t tell a woman you hurt that much. It’ll get you nowhere. 

Laura Diamond is the mother of two (frequently healthy) boys. She is the editor of the best-selling anthology  Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood, and is now at work on her first novel. Read more of Laura’s essays at Laura Diamond Writes On…

Posted in Featured Moms & Dads, Humor, Marriage, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment


By Gregory Keer

As a child of the late ‘60s through the early ‘80s, I had a lot of mommies. Sure, I grew up with a caring biological mom and, later, had the additional benefit of my step-mom. But I also had the smiles and advice of Laura, Marion, Carol, Clair, and Elyse — my TV moms.

While there were a number of mother characters on network television in the 1960s, the one who stood out for me was Laura Petrie of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Played with bright energy by Mary Tyler Moore, Laura was an evolution from the apron-clad moms of the ‘50s. This mommy had a slightly neurotic sense of humor and a jazz-dance grace. I wanted to have a playdate with Ritchie just so I could have lunch with Laura.

The 1970s ushered in two of my favorite screen moms. Carol Brady (Florence Henderson) of The Brady Bunch never felt quite real, but that didn’t matter much. She could smooth out any bad situation with her blended family, which was comforting to experience vicariously on a weekly basis. Marion Ross was pitch perfect as she revealed the eccentric edges around the ‘50s mom stereotype. I’m told that a famous outtake of Happy Days exists in which she passionately smooches the Fonz (Henry Winkler). Now that’s a cutting-edge mama.

In adolescence, I often took the world too seriously. My ‘80s TV maternal heroes also took an earnest approach to life, but could inflect it with knowing humor. Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad) of The Cosby Show made a formidably effective mom while balancing her career as an attorney. She always had time to teach her brood of five about doing the right thing. Meredith Baxter’s Elyse Keaton of Family Ties juggled motherhood and a profession (architecture), too. As a former hippie, Elyse was a model of acceptance as she allowed her children to be individuals even when she privately didn’t agree with all their decisions.

For my work-centric adulthood years of the ‘90s, I didn’t pay much attention to maternal characters, though I occasionally checked in with the barrier-busting mothers found in Roseanne and Everybody Loves Raymond. However, after living my own sitcom as a father for a while, I have been happily drawn back to TV moms because of the boom of must-see comedies.

Patricia Heaton goes from the level-headed Debra Barone of Raymond to the more put-upon Frankie Heck in The Middle. Frankie is a relatable mother caught literally in the middle of financial stresses, a sandwich of demanding children and parents, and a career she never planned on. If she actually lived in my neighborhood, she’d be someone to rely on to watch my kids in a pinch — and the first friend I’d send on a spa day for all her reliability.

On the farther side of eccentric, Virginia Chance, the X-generation mom and grandmother of Raising Hope, is fun to watch from the safety of the digital divide. Martha Plimpton plays the character with shades of good intentions and dignity, but she is the last person you want anywhere near your own children.

Then there’s the deliciously daffy Modern Family, which showcases Claire Dunphy (Julia Bowen) as the high-strung maternal type who just can’t keep her opinions to herself and still ends up being a loving caregiver. My only concern is that, if she were to exist in reality, she might end up in a straight-jacket at least temporarily if she didn’t get to be totally in charge of that next middle-school dance. In the same program, Gloria Pritchett (Sofia Vergara) is a lioness in protecting her son Manny. She’s also so ridiculously hot that Manny will likely grow up resenting the fact that his friends only want to come over to drool over her. Still, Modern Family’s mixture of comedic errors and dramatic poignancy are well embodied by moms who put family first yet also have personalities that go beyond simply being nurturers.

I’m not sure what else TV has in store for motherhood, though it’d be great to see mothers with more varied cultural and philosophical backgrounds if only to witness more contrasts in the way people parent. Yet, if one theme has held true since the ‘60s, it’s that no matter how harried sitcom moms get, they always manage to bounce back with a laugh and a wise perspective. Pretty much like a lot of the moms I know today.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Humor, Mother's Day | 1 Comment

Book Preview: ‘Go the F*** to Sleep’

There’s a new picture book that has parents around the world buzzing. It’s so hot that, in advance of it going on the market in October of this year, it has already cracked Amazon’s top 300 list because of presales. No, it’s not a previously undiscovered Dr. Seuss. It’s a story that’s actually meant for grown ups called Go the F*** to Sleep.

My friend Geoff Silverman brought this little tome to my attention and I got a sneak peek into something that should hit the funny bone of many parents because of its crass but true sentiments. Written by acclaimed novelist Adam Mansbach (recently of Angry Black White Boy) with illustrations by Ricardo Cortes, the book imitates Goodnight Moon (the classic bedtime story from Margaret Wise Brown and illustrator Clement Hurd) as it uses calming poetry full of nature-oriented symbolism before it whacks you over the head with what the parent reciting the poetry realizes: his child will not go to sleep! With each page, the narrator tries to regroup to help his child slumber, but the kid won’t go down. As such, the parent curses up a blue streak in ever-deepening frustration. Frankly, it says what many of us feel bubbling beneath the surface when a son or daughter continues to eat away at our precious down time.

This is very obviously not meant to be read to kids, and the back cover has a warning stating this. However, if you can handle a bit of off-color humor, this is a book parents will laugh heartily over. See the Amazon page at http://www.amazon.com/Go-F-Sleep-Adam-Mansbach/dp/1617750255.

Posted in Blog, Books, Family Man Recommends, Humor, Parenting Stress | 2 Comments

Kids on Love

By Gregory Keer

I can spend a lot of my days calibrating my parenting machinery in the belief that I can become a more effective father, yet it all comes down to the fact that I feel love for my kids and they know that I love them (yes, I made them swear under oath that this is true). While I appreciate the complexity of life and the pursuit of good child care in particular, parenting can be summed up in lessons of love that we teach by modeling it with our partners and other fellow humans and explaining its nuances to our children.

Still, kids don’t just learn love from us. They get schooled about it by the world around them, from their friends to the media. As they grow, they view matters of the heart differently as they become more or less open, imaginative, and guarded (usually a combination of these things).

For this Valentine month, I interviewed a small sample of boys and girls, ranging from two years old to 12, and including my own emotionally philosophizing kids. While we talked, it became apparent that they were most interested in talking about romance, which is of course the foundation for all the love that follows in a family. As such, the three questions that made the cut here are ones that ask the kids to describe what love is and what a person does with it.

What is love?

Anika (3): Family.

Eve (5): Love means when you love somebody. That means you care about somebody and share.

Arielle (5): When you love somebody and you feel they love you, and your heart loves somebody.

Ari (6): Love is being together.

Ashton (7): Love is when you’re kind.

Hannah (8): Love is caring. Not being mad at everything. Love is kissing and hugging and doing nice things.

Jacob (9): Your heart gets taken by the person you are in love with. My friends and family. A force from the universe that creates people’s hearts to be taken by someone else.

Zander (9): Friendship, family, and a few other things.

Benjamin (12): I don’t want to answer this.

Jasmine (12): Love is when you’re with the one special person, you can’t see anyone else in the room. Love is the warm feeling you get in your heart.

Sarah Rose (12): It’s when you really care about someone.

What happens to you when you fall in love?

Eve (5): You feel like someone is falling in love with you. That feels like somebody is hugging.  And somebody is caring and caring. They put their hearts together to be nice to each other.

Arielle (5): They kiss and get married. They love each other. They can’t stop kissing.

Ashton (7): You marry.

Hannah (8): I don’t know, I’ve never fallen in love.

Zander (9): Some people get married. 

Jacob (9): Some people smooch.

Benjamin (12): This is a really odd question.

Jasmine (12): You want to spend every waking moment with the love of your life.

Sarah Rose (12): You get happier and you treat people nicer.

What do people in love do?

Anika (3): When you love someone, you want little kids and little girls.

Eve (5): They hug and they kiss. They marry when they’re boyfriend and girlfriend.

Arielle (5): They kiss.

Ari (6): They do everything together. Ask me more stuff about love!

Ashton (7): Kiss.

Hannah (8): They kiss and hug and give gifts. They go on dates.

Jacob (9): They play with each other. They are passionate with each other. They don’t show it because they’re too embarrassed to show it because they don’t think the other person will love them back.

Zander (9): They go around with each other. Friends that play together.

Benjamin (12): It’s a really stupid question.

Jasmine (12): Wanting to hold their partner close and love them more than anyone else does.

Sarah Rose (12): They hug and kiss, go see movies and eat popcorn together. And they bake cakes together.

If we go by my limited research, love is about baking cakes, hoping to be loved back, being friends, getting married, and being so happy you’re nicer to everyone else. Frankly, I can’t imagine that a survey of adults would come up with more insightful responses.

Here’s to love and all that we have to teach our children — and all they have to teach us — about it.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Humor, Love and Courtship | Leave a comment

A Winter of Wonder

By Gregory Keer

“Actually, there is no Santa Claus.”

“Wh-what do you mean?”

“It’s really just your parents putting presents under a tree.”

With this simple exchange, all my efforts to preserve a sense of wonder for my children seemed to disappear like a certain red-suited man into the night sky.

No, my son was not the one who had his bubble burst. My son was the self-designated debunker of myths.

“Jacob really didn’t do that, did he?” I said to my wife when she reported the crime against imagination.

“Freddy’s father won’t let him play with Jacob ever again,” Wendy revealed.

We both sat there feeling vaguely sick. We had never even hinted that there might not be a Santa Claus. In fact we had raised all of our sons to believe in everything from the spirit of Elijah coming to our Passover celebration to the Tooth Fairy’s punctual visits with the loss of each baby chomper.

Wendy and I always wanted our sons’ world soaring with flights of fancy that could open their minds. From the time they were born, we sprinkled their dreams with countless fantastical books about dragons that made easy pets and Greek gods who could summon the elements at will. We even made up our own stories which put our boys at the center of magical tales involving red pirates, black robots, and a lonely imaginary friend called “Gigglemonster.”

Not a month after the Santa Claus incident, Jacob the Literalist struck again — at the aforementioned Tooth Fairy.

“Ari, that’s not really fairy dust on the floor,” he explained to our five-year-old about the baby powder we employed to make it look like the real “Captain Incisor” had dropped by.

“Mommy and Daddy left you the money under your pillow,” he continued in his assault on our littlest one’s rightful illusions. “By the way, they should have left you more than two dollars.”

Nice. Not only was our kid stealing years of blissful ignorance from his younger brother, he was nitpicking our generosity. And he was taking away our God-given right to conjure and manipulate figments of imagination. Heck, for years, my dad was able to act like a magician who could say “poof” and the traffic light would turn green (I was about driving age before I figured out how he did it). As a Dad, I wanted to have that power, too.

So what do we do with a child, now nine years old going on 50, who shoots down pretend creatures as if they were a line of rubber ducks in an arcade shooting gallery?

The deeper truth is that Jacob is wrestling with the world, trying to make sense of it, to control it. He wants to be the one with the most information. He worries he will forget to bring his homework on time and frets about his parents coming late to pick him up from soccer practice.

It all stems from Jacob’s hyper-observational tendencies that pick up on the anxiety my wife and I have about meeting deadlines, earning enough money, and making sure everyone has on the right clothes for the day.

We certainly don’t invite our kids into our adult cyclone and our other two carry on with few cares in the world. However, Jacob seems to think he has to act middle aged. This is why he is the first one to do his chores and offer to return his modest allowance to help pay bills.

To alleviate his concerns, we have assured him that we’ve got everything under control. Food, shelter, and clothing are guaranteed, even if exotic vacations and Daddy’s hoped-for 350 Z are not. We want Jacob to be a little kid, to believe in magical creatures and dreams that come true.

So we continue to read to Jacob, tell him stories, show him whimsical paintings, and screen inventive movies. And, thankfully, he loves it all – which doesn’t mean he’ll be converted all the way back into a wide-eyed innocent. It’s OK, though, because it’s our job as his parents to balance the really true with the really amazing.

While magic seems particularly absent in a world of economic fear and mortal danger, this holiday time is more important than ever to boost our children’s sense of wonder, to shower them with all the stories of flying reindeer and miracles of light and whatever your cultural, religious, or family traditions offer. This is not to pull the wool over their eyes. This is to fill them with the power of possibility.

Posted in Child Development, Columns by Family Man, Humor | Leave a comment