Tag Archives: family

Please Be Nice to That Girl – She is Me

My twins are taking a summer class through the local school district designed to help ease their transition from kindergarten to first grade. Kids from various elementary schools around the district are participating in it. On their first day, I recognized one girl in their class as someone who attends the same elementary school as my kids, but was in a different kinder class last year.

See, I taught an empathy through art class at their school last year and this little girl – we’ll call her Jennifer – was a big fan of it. After I lead her class in the program, she would always say hi to me in the hall and even stopped me on the playground one time and asked me to push her on the swings. I complied happily; I like kids in general and I dig this kid in particular for a few reasons. First, she is kind, friendly, and greets everyone with a bright smile. Second, she has the coolest hearing aids I’ve ever seen.

My guess is that Jennifer was born hard-of-hearing and the hearing aids do what hearing aids do. She and her parents must figure that if she has to wear hearing aids then she might as well wear them with style. One is bright pink and the other is florescent green. On Jennifer, I would dare to say that they are downright cute.

On the first day of their summer class, Jennifer didn’t notice me. Yesterday, she did.

I was standing off to the side of the cafeteria, waiting for my kids to pick up their sack lunches when Jennifer suddenly bounded up to me and said, “Hi!” and flashed her usual cheerful smile. I said hi back, chatted with her for a moment and then noticed her dad holding her spot in the lunch line. I asked Jennifer if I could go over and meet him. She was delighted. I introduced myself and filled him in on how his daughter knows me.

About that time my kids came back with their food. I introduced them to Jennifer’s dad and asked if they knew Jennifer. I got the sense that my kids knew Jennifer was in their class, but hadn’t really interacted with her much before that moment. Based upon how Jennifer interacted with my kids I suddenly recognized a familiarity in Jennifer. She was very much like the child I had been. My kids and I said our goodbyes to the two of them and went on our way. I realized that my kids have a special opportunity this summer.

Last night at dinner, I shared a story with my kids. It went something like this…

Hey guys, I want to talk to you a little bit about that girl Jennifer from your class. You see, there’s something I’ve never told you about myself that I want to share with you now, and it might help you understand Jennifer a little bit better.

You see, I was born with a concave chest cavity. The middle of my chest – it was kind of pushed in, and doctors and my parents were worried that if something wasn’t done to correct it I wouldn’t grow right. So, when I was your age and starting out in school, I had to wear a big brace that went from my shoulders down to my waist. It made me stand up straight, pulled my shoulders back, and forced my chest out. Everyone noticed it and some people treated me differently because of it. People always asked me about it when they first met me. It made me really self-conscious. Do you know what self-conscious means? (Happily for them, they didn’t. My wife and I explained it.)

Anyway, another way to say it was to say that I was shy. I had a much easier time talking to adults than I did to kids. Kids sometimes seemed like they didn’t know how to treat me, or they seemed like they didn’t really want to be my friend because I was different. Now, I don’t know Jennifer all that well, but from what I’ve seen she reminds me a lot of me at that age. I noticed that she seems to have an easy time talking to me, but seems to have a little bit of a hard time talking to you.

I just want you to know that it would mean a lot to me, and it would probably mean a lot to her too, if you would try extra hard to be friendly with Jennifer. She seems a little shy, but she also seems nice and pretty much just like any other kid. See, I was just like any other kid except for my brace, and she’ just like any other kid except for her hearing aids. I had to wear my brace to help my chest and she wears her hearing aids to help her hear. With my brace on I stood just like anyone else and with her hearing aids on Jennifer probably hears a lot like you and me.

So, guys, what I’m trying to say to you is this… I hope you will make an effort to be friends with Jennifer, because I was like her and it meant a lot to me when kids made an effort to be friends with me. I’m still friends with a lot of the kids who befriended me when I was shy. So, when you see Jennifer, think of me, and try to be her friend.

I don’t know if my story has a happy ending. I can’t tell you if my twins will go on to be great friends with this young person who reminds me of me. But I can tell you this: Whether you’re five or fifty-five, being kind to someone who is different from you is always worthwhile. It might take little extra effort at first, but will pay you back in the form of a loyal friend.

Ticket Alert for JPL Open House 2016!

JPL Ticket
©JPL

UPDATE: 4/25/16 10AM – Many people are having trouble reserving tickets from the JPL Special Events page. Here’s a direct link to reserve tickets through JPL’s Eventbrite page for the event. People seem to be having better luck going there, directly. Good luck!

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Attention fellow space enthusiasts! The 2016 JPL Open House is still a month and a half away, but if you want to attend this year’s event then you need to take action this Monday, April 25th! This year, in an effort to calm the calamity in and around JPL on the day of the Open House, they are requiring attendees to have a ticket. If you don’t have a ticket you won’t get in.

With this change in mind JPL has rebranded the event – now calling it “A Ticket to Explore JPL.” Note how they’ve punched-up the fact that you need a ticket. Very smart considering this massive change to the Open House’s structure. I guess that’s why they’re rocket scientists.

Tickets will become available this coming Monday, April 25th, at 9am Pacific Time on JPL’s Special Events page. Tickets are free, but limited – so my bet is they are going to go fast. I plan to be sitting at my computer with my finger hovering over the “Reserve Tickets” button at 8:59:59.

Oh, and there are a few catches. Each requestor is limited to five tickets AND you will be required to enter the name of each person for whom you are requesting a ticket. You will be required to choose both an attendance date (either June 4th or 5th) and an entry time. Each requestor is required to provide an email address. So, I’m guessing that the true limit will be five per email address and they’ll just hold you to your honor that you’re not requesting with multiple email addresses.

To help hold you to your honor, each person 18 or older will be required to show photo ID at the gate along with their ticket for admission. It seems like they are trying really hard to make this as fair as possible for everyone.

Well, that pretty much sums it up. Get your tickets early and prepare to enjoy another exciting – and hopefully less stressful – JPL Open House!

The Getty Center: Artful Fun for the Whole Family

My wife and I first visited the Getty Center shortly after its grand opening in 1997, when we were dating.  Back then, you needed a timed ticket just to get in.  The Getty Center is still in demand, but happily you don’t need to get tickets in advance anymore.  Still, if you are going on the weekend you will want to anticipate large crowds and busy parking areas when you visit what has become a Los Angeles icon.

We took our four-year-old twins to the popular destination for the first time since they were babies in a stroller, this past Sunday.  Until now, I had not realized what a wonderful spot the museum complex is for families.  Check out the center’s website and you will see that they have some exciting ways for children to engage with the art.  More on that in a bit, but first, let’s get you there.

Parking for The Getty is located on Sepulveda Blvd, just off the 405 freeway.  The center is on the west side of the freeway.  So, the instinct is to want to enter the main parking lot by crossing under the freeway.  You can save yourself having to sit in a long line of cars if you ignore that instinct and instead park in the lot opposite the main entrance, on the east side of Sepulveda.  There was plenty of parking, no line to get into the lot, and you can still use the automated pay station in the main parking lot to pay the $15 parking fee (the price is the same for either lot).

You can either take a short tram ride up the hill or a 15 to 20 minute walk along a foot path.  Our kids were so excited about riding the tram that they didn’t seem to mind the 20 minute wait in line.  Once aboard, I recommend trying to grab seats on the west side of the tram so you and your kids can take in the majestic view of the Sepulveda pass as the tram winds its way along the hillside.

I suggest reading the Getty’s “Tips for Families” section of their website prior to your visit.  It’s packed with ideas about how the whole family can get the most enjoyment out of your time there and how your kids can get the most out of the art.  One thing they recommend and that worked well for us is to mix up activities and be flexible.  We switched back and forth between indoor art exhibits and outdoor activities like taking an invigorating walk through the gardens.

One not-to-be-missed attraction with kids is The Family Room.  Located by the East Pavilion in the museum courtyard, The Family Room brings the art to life for children in a tactile, exciting, and accessible way that is sure to engage active minds.  You might even consider making this your first stop, because it brings the art to life in a way that might help younger children gain a greater interest in the rest of the day’s agenda.

When you are at The Family Room I highly encourage you to pick up an Art Detective Card or two.  Our kids absolutely thrilled at solving the mysteries on the card.  It got them studying the details of each of the works while looking for the clues, and got them talking about the art and asking questions.  If you are sensitive to this kind of thing you might like to know that one of the clues references a nude painting.  So, there’s that.

When it was all said and done, my wife and I left feeling like we had just scratched the surface of all there is to do and see, and our kids left wanting more.  That seemed like the right way to leave things though, because I’m sure it’s someplace we will be returning to again and again.

Mind Trip Part II: Getting Inside Her Head

They say you are what you eat.  Some who have combatted weight problems and won would be more likely to tell you that you are what you think.

At the beginning of March, I shared Rebecca Berger’s story with you – how she had spent much of her life overweight and struggling to take it off; how she eventually made a mental shift that allowed her to lose weight, restore her health, and remain trim and fit.  This week, we delve deeper into what goes on in Rebecca’s head that helps her be the person she spent so many years longing to be.

First, Rebecca has completely reframed the way she thinks about eating and exercise.  She used to think of healthy eating as dieting.  She used to think of exercise as a chore.  Now, she thinks of the entire eat/exercise package as a journey.  Each time she eats or works out it’s a footstep along that journey.  In Rebecca’s words, “Inches add up to feet.  Feet add up to miles.  Every good thing you do is an inch in the right direction.  Don’t let one bad thing derail you.  So, you made a mistake and ate something you shouldn’t.  So what?  Get over it and move on.”

Part of Rebecca’s mental process is about staying focused, motivated, and positive.  She says that she loves the quotes of Muhammad Ali for this.  She has posters of him in her office.  Some of her favorites are:

  • “The only limitations one has are the ones they place on themselves.”
  • “I’m going to show you how great I am.”
  • “Champions aren’t made in gyms.  Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision.”
  • “Don’t quit.  Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
  • “It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself.”

To get more into her head I asked Rebecca the following questions…

  1. What is the first thing you think of when you get out of bed in the morning?

First, I give thanks.  When each foot hits the floor I say, “Thank you God… for this day.  Please help me to do your will.”  As I pack my lunch I think of the choices I will make for the day and think about improving over the day before.

  1. How do you picture yourself, mentally?  Like you are now? Slimmer?  Heavier?

I see myself as I am or slimmer – usually at my goal weight.

  1. What do you think when you see yourself in the mirror?

I am much less critical of myself now than I use to be, when I look in the mirror.  I look for improvements in weight loss and muscle definition.  I must admit I think I look older now.

  1. How is your thinking different now than it was two or three years ago?

I think about things in a much more positive way.  I would get down on myself for every poor choice.  Now, I realize that it’s a lifelong journey and if I want something I plan and I account for it.  Plus, all things in moderation.

  1. What is/are your major motivator(s)?

I have sayings and signs everywhere.  But if you’re asking – what is my WHY – it’s my kids and family.  I want to be the parent they deserve.  My mom had knee problems that limited her from many activities as we were growing up, I don’t want my health and fitness to do the same.  Plus, the thought that if I continued to gain weight and not manage my health I would have risked being here for them – and that brings me to tears.

  1. Are you a happier person than you used to be?

ABSOLUTELY YES!  I have a much more positive outlook on life.  I have energy and I have confidence that I did not have before.  I often thought of things in life as a HAVE to, instead now it’s a GET to.  When you lack the energy to make it through the day so many things seem like have to do instead of getting to do.

  1. What frustrates you?  How do you work through it?

I occasionally get frustrated because I have slowed down on the weight loss, but then I think even if I never lost another pound I would still be a happy person.  I also still work with my [Herbalife] coach.

  1. What do you want more than anything else in life?

I really think I have found a passion with for fitness and exercise.  I would love to open my own nutrition club.  But again I think it is my kids and what I said in 5.

Is it possible that what goes on in our heads is what truly shapes the bodies we walk around in?  Rebecca Berger has reframed how she thinks about eating and exercise to transform her physical being.  Maybe, when it’s all said and done, when we are fighting the battle of the bulge, the real battle we are fighting is a mental one.  Maybe, before we change what we eat and how we work out, what we really need to do is change the way we think about all of it.  What do you think?

Tips for Taking Road Trips with Young Children

My wife and I enjoy taking road trips with our twin preschoolers.  They are four-and-a-half now, and these techniques have evolved over the past couple of years to keep them contented and enjoying the ride when we travel by car.  Whether you are taking a day trip or driving vacation, I hope these tips will help guarantee you happy trails.

©Matt Vasko, 2015
©Matt Vasko, 2015

Prep them for the trip.

We start to prep them a couple of days in advance for the fact that they will be in the car for a while.  We get out a map and show them where we will be going and how we will be getting there, pointing out landmarks and towns they should watch for along the way.  Our goal is to get them excited about both the trip and the destination.

Give ‘em leg room.

You might be packed to the gills, but resist the urge to pack items below their feet or in such a way as to restrict their movement.  Little ones swing their legs when they are in the car seat – it’s just what they do.  It helps to keep them from getting restless.  So, be sure to keep the area under and around them clear so they have room to squirm.

Engage them in the experience.

The beginning of the drive is the perfect time to start to engage them in the trip.  Ask them to point out to you when things start to look new and different than the area that they are used to – you might be surprised by how well they know their usual surroundings.  Once you get into new territory for them, point out things you notice that might excite them (“Look, a windmill!”, “Cows!”).  Encourage them to point out the new things they see.

Combat hunger.

On long road trips, hunger is your enemy.  Take a variety of healthy, car-friendly snacks.  Start with low-mess snacks you know your kids love and go from there.  In a cooler, we keep baggies of precut and cleaned carrots, celery, sugar snap peas, broccoli, strawberries, and blueberries.  Our kids still enjoy fruit and veggie pouches, so we are sure to take those because they are super-easy and usually tidy.  A company called Bamboo Lane makes a product called Crunchy Rice Rollers, which leave some crumbs, but are a healthy hit.  We also pack some of their favorite dry cereal and snack cups to serve it in.

Music, music, music!

Be sure to take along their favorite music on a mix CD (if you still use that technology) or whatever medium that will allow you to play it over the car’s sound system.  Some of our favorites are Lori Berkner Band and Veggie Tales tunes.   We take some new-to-them kid friendly music and use the trip as an opportunity to introduce them to it.  Car rides are also a great time to have a good old-fashioned family sing-along.

Plan for napping… but not too much!

We try to plan our stops so that we will be on the road for a several-hour stretch during the time before, during, and after that when they are likely to fall asleep.  This is usually our longest stretch of non-stop driving all day.  Since they are asleep for a chunk of it, it seems short to them.  I recommend letting them sleep for an hour to an hour-and-a-half, but no more.  If they sleep all day then they will be full of energy when you arrive at your destination that night.  They will be wired when you are exhausted and that is a bad combination.

Stick with water.

We just give the kids water in sippy cups in the car.  With water, they drink just enough to quench their thirst, but not so much that it makes them have to go to the bathroom.  Let’s be honest, if you want to make any real time on the road, you don’t want to have to be stopping for someone to go to the bathroom every 30 minutes.  They haven’t learned to limit their fluid intake yet, so if you give them something tasty like milk or juice, they’ll probably drink it all then then need an emergency potty stop.

Make rest stops count!

Each time you stop try to make it someplace where they can run.  It will help them stretch their legs and get their wiggles out.  Exercised kids travel better.  Whenever we stop for a meal we always have the kids use the restroom on our way back out to the car.  We call it a “safety” stop and it is exactly that, because it saves us from having to get right back off the road as soon as we are back on it.

A note about media time:

If your kids have a Leap Pad or handheld game console then take it with you.  Just be sure that you have enough battery life so that they can use it for as long as you want to allow them to do so.  Nothing reduces a child to tears on a road trip faster than dead batteries.  For our part, we save this type of entertainment until the kids are getting near their breaking point, and then bust it out.  We figure that part of raising good travelers is teaching them to love the road as much as we do, and that means engaging them in the trip as much as possible.

Prepare for anything.

Make sure you have something handy to clean up spills and wipe little hands and faces.  No matter how hard you try, there will probably be at least one emergency potty stop.  Know that it’s coming and then it won’t bother you so much when it happens.  Treat the trip like quality family time and you are sure to create some great memories.  Travel safe, have fun and enjoy the ride!

Giving Time

My Wife had grown accustomed to the phone calls.  Those calls I would make between 4:30pm and 4:45pm more and more often.  The ones that started with, “I’m sorry,” followed by my sigh and, “I’m going to have to stay late again.”  Five o’clock was approaching too quickly.  There was too much that needed to be done by the end of the day, which meant that the end of the day was going to stretch on past five until who-knows-when.  Such, I thought, is the life of a salaried employee in corporate America in the 21st century.

As I reached for the phone, it rang.  I glanced at the caller ID.  It was my Wife, hopefully not calling to make sure that I was leaving on time.  With luck, she was calling to tell me about something entertaining or wonderful that one of our three-year-old boy/girl twins had just done.  As a stay-at-home mom, she was always good about letting me know when something exciting had happened at home, like a new word spoken or new feat achieved.  Those were the calls that recharged my batteries on these too-long days.

“Hi Sweetie!” I said as I brought the phone to my ear, mechanically inserting some cheer into my voice to start the call on an up note before delivering the bad news.

She said just four words, but they would soon change my life forever.  “I got the job!”

“Congratulations!” I heard myself cheer, my mind zooming off in a million different directions at once and then rushing back to the here and now.

She paused.  “There’s just one catch.  They want me to start next week.”

My heart sank.  I stammered.  I wasn’t sure what to say.  My Wife had been waiting all summer for this call and it was beginning to seem unlikely that it was ever going to come.  We had planned for her to stay home with the twins until they started elementary school, but then her dream job working for her alma mater had opened up and she felt compelled to try for it.  This was not the kind of position that came along every year.  The last person that held it stayed for a decade.  Knowing this could be her only shot at the job for a very long time she had gone for it, not even sure if she would be seriously considered.  Now it was hers!  But what about the kids?  It wasn’t like her parents or mine lived close enough that they could just pop over and watch them for a couple of weeks until we figured out childcare.

Filling the silence on my end of the line she stated, “This could be my career job.  This could be where I stay for 25 or 30 years.”

“I know, but…” I trailed off.  “Can we talk about this when I get home, tonight?  It’s getting late and I still have a lot to do before I can leave.”

“Of course, Sweetie.”  She said understandingly.

Before hanging up I added, “Hey, I love you… and I’m proud of you.  Well done!

That night, after putting the twins to bed, we sat down to try to figure out how we were going to make this work.  We had kicked around some childcare options during the summer, but landing the job had seemed like such a hypothetical that we wanted to be careful not to get overly excited.

My wife got straight to the point.  “I checked on the childcare offered at the university.  It’s an option, but it’s presently full and there’s a waiting list.  That’s okay though, because I think I’ve figured out the solution.”  Then, she said the words that I will never forget, “We could trade places.  You could stay home with the kids.”

Suddenly, I am 12-years-old again sitting on the back porch with my Dad in rural Ohio.  The sun has just set peacefully across the corn fields that stretch on for miles.  The crickets are chirping.  My Dad is explaining to me, my older brother and younger sister that in the months since his father’s death he has come to realize how much he regrets having worked two jobs during our early childhoods.  He says that his Dad – who had died of a massive heart attack on the assembly room floor of the automotive plant he worked at for 40 years, just one week before retirement – had spent his life talking about the things he was going to do after he retired; the things the two of them would do together.  My Dad announces that he feels like he owes it to himself and to us not to repeat what he has come to see as his father’s mistake.  He is done with telling us about the things that we will all do someday when he doesn’t work so much.  “I’d always felt like I needed to get ahead,” he says.  Then, in a voice heavy with remorse he adds, “No amount of money was worth the time that I won’t get back with you guys.”  He concludes definitively, “I’m quitting my evening and weekend job to spend more time at home.  We can get by.  It’s the time with you guys that matters.”

I snapped back to the moment.  Without another thought or second’s hesitation I stated with determination, “Let’s do it.”

 

It has been a year-and-a-half since that night and I’ve never looked back.  We were able to convince my Wife’s alma mater that she was worth waiting a few weeks for, so I could give proper notice to my company – a company that I cared about or would not have struggled through all those long days and sometimes nights and weekends to give it my best work.

My kids are four now and started preschool last fall.  We made the decision to put them into a cooperative preschool so that I would get to participate in this milestone with them.  Even better, I had them at home with me for a whole year, last year.  I will forever cherish that time – and this time – with my children.  I never thought that I would get to have such a close relationship with them as I have grown to, that I could share so much of myself with them as I get to, or that my heart could be filled with such joy by an opportunity that I didn’t even know I wanted until it presented itself to me.

I am grateful to my Wife for the gift she has given me.  Like I was, she is a salaried employee.  She still has some late evenings, but fortunately for our family she took a lesson from all late nights she saw me put in during our children’s first three years and has drawn very clear boundaries for her job.  She is using some of her vacation days to work at the co-op.  She’s making time for the important things.

My Dad and I have spoken many times about my decision to stay home with the kids.  He is wildly happy for me.  He’s pleased that I value the time I gained with him when he started spending more time at home to the extent that it made me make a big change in my own life.

If there is one thing that I’ve learned from this whole experience, it is this:  We only get one shot at being parents and our children only get one childhood.  There are no do-overs, but it’s never too late shift our priorities, change our course and become more like the parent we dream of being.

Parenting: Answering the Tough Questions

My twins just turned four and they are starting to ask tougher questions.  For example, a couple of days ago my daughter inquired about the little boy pictured on the weekly store circular (next to the words, “Have you seen me?”).  A few weeks ago my son asked why there was a man standing on the freeway off ramp (holding a sign that read, “Homeless, please help”).

When my kids first started asking questions about the world I made up my mind that I would always answer honestly.  It is, I thought, better to help your children learn to navigate the realities of the world head on, rather than to lie or over-simplify.  My wife is on the same page.  However, this new line of questioning has me wondering to what extent I should open my children’s minds to the harsher realities of the world.  Do four-year-olds really need to grapple with the concepts of missing children and homelessness?

So far, I have chosen to stick with the plan and answer their questions plainly.  My answers have been succinct, but to the point.  I explained to my daughter that the boy was missing, his parents are looking for him, and they put his picture on the circular in case we might have seen him.  She was concerned and expressed that we should look for him.  I said, “That’s exactly right, they want us to watch for him when we go places, with the hopes that we might see him and let them know.”  I told my son that some people don’t have a home like we do, that some folk aren’t as fortunate as we are, and that we should be grateful for what we have.  My wife and I have taught the kids about gratitude, so circling back to that seemed to help him understand it.

I know that these questions are just the tip of the iceberg.  The questions about death and where babies come from are inevitable.  I am interested in hearing from you.  How do/did you address the tough questions with your children?  Have you tried to protect your children from the harsher realities of the word?  If so, how have you gone about responding to their tougher questions?  If you answer head on, have you had success in framing answers in a certain way that help them comprehend matters?

I’m certainly willing to admit that I don’t have all of the answers when it comes to having all the answers.

JPL Open House is Back!

OK, I admit it, I’m totally geeking out…

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA, is bringing back their Open House this fall!  If you are a fan of the JPL Open House then you might remember that it was cancelled last year due to the sequester.  Fortunately, that’s behind us and this important and exciting public event will be taking place on Saturday, October 11, and Sunday, October 12, 2014, from 9am to 4pm.

Not familiar with it?  Well, let me tell you, if you live anywhere near Pasadena and are even a little bit of a space geek then you will absolutely love the open house (and if you are not a space geek when you arrive, there’s a good chance that you will be one by the time you leave!).  It’s a cross between a science fair and Disneyland.  If that’s not enough to entice you, then it might help to know that admission and parking are FREE.

There is almost too much to do in a single day.  So, you might want to consider coming on Saturday so that you can come back on Sunday to catch the things you miss the first time around.  The past few times they’ve had working models of various rovers cruising over rocks right as you enter the property (the place is huge and hilly, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes).  In the building immediately to the left, there was a scale model of the Curiosity rover and a welcome video showcasing the breadth of dynamic work they do at JPL.  To the right there was an outdoor display about the work of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers.  I remember spending over an hour exploring these areas alone.

That, however, is just the tip of the iceberg!  You’ll want to be sure to visit the Space Flight Operations Facility, which serves as mission control for a variety of current missions, and the Spacecraft Assembly Facility, which features the clean room where everything from the Voyager spacecraft to the Curiosity rover were built.  There is too much to list, but highlights of the event include robotics demonstrations, current and upcoming mission showcases, and hands-on activities for the kids.

Here are a few tips.  Arrive early to ensure parking and shorter lines.  Bring drinking water, sunscreen, and some cash for lunch at one of the many food booths.  Wear comfortable walking shoes (as mentioned above).  Finally, not to lay it on too think, but be sure to bring your scientific curiosity and a sense of adventure!

 

Worthy of note:  If you’re not available the weekend of October 11th and 12th, then you might want to take advantage of one of JPL’s free public tours.

6 Things All In-Laws Need to Know

My In-Laws are awesome!  Now there’s something that you don’t hear every day, right?  It’s true though.  I am one of those lucky people who hit the jackpot, because not only was I fortunate enough to find the perfect partner, but she happens to have fantastic parents with whom I have a great relationship.  There are a lot of awful things about in-laws on the internet (just Google “in-law” and watch what spews forth), but not many positive things.  Maybe it’s because there is a long tradition of poking fun at in-laws, or maybe it’s honestly because more people have bad relationships with their in-laws than good ones.  I sure seem to have a better relationship with my in-laws that most of my friends.  So, this is my attempt to tip the balance and get some positivity about in-laws into the mix.  Here are six big things that my In-Laws do right.  They are things that all people who play the role of in-law might find it helpful to know.

1.  Be Kind to Your Child
Whenever my friends and I get to talking about our In-Laws I often hear the same complaint over and over again.  They say that this item is the biggest problem they have with their In-Laws, and you might be surprised to know that it’s not about their own relationship with their In-Laws.  They say that the number one thing that upsets them about their In-Laws is that they are unkind to their child (my friends’ spouses).  One friend, for example, said that he can barely stand to be in the room when his In-Laws visit, because they are always putting his wife down.  Look at the tough situation my friend is in.  He loves these people’s daughter and gets furious with them, because he doesn’t think that they love her enough – or at least have a terrible way of showing it.  This might be something that in-laws have a blind spot about.  They don’t realize that being less-than-kind toward their child can cause their son- or daughter-in-law to dislike them.

Fortunately for me, my wife’s parents are huge cheerleaders and advocates of her.  They praise her for her successes and support her during the tough times.  I’ve always felt that they are on her side in life and that they are proud of the adult that she has become.  After all, they raised her and she’s excellent, so they deserve to take some pride in the way she has turned out.

2.  Don’t Try to “Parent” Your Son/Daughter-In-Law
I already have parents.  They’re great.  I didn’t get married because I needed more parents.  My In-Laws seem to get that fact and treat me differently than they do their children.  I would say that they are somewhere between my friends and mentors.  One big thing they don’t do is offer me unsolicited advice.  Sure they do it to my wife all the time, and my parents do it to me, but hey – that’s just the natural order of things.  Still, they often have great advice, so I do consult with them on things; that’s when they fill the role of mentor.  Otherwise, they just treat me like I’m a heck of a lot of fun to be around.

3.  Be Good Marriage Roll Models
Lots of folks have crappy marriages.  Some of these people have children that are married.  Here’s some advice – if you have a crappy marriage, don’t flaunt it around your adult children and their spouses.  If my In-Laws have anything other than a terrific marriage then I’d sure never know it.  They seem like each other’s best friend, greatest advocate, and co-conspirator (because they spend half their time planning their next great adventure).  Admittedly, they will sometimes bicker with one another in front of my wife and me, but it’s actually a healthy influence on us because we also see them work things out.  Most importantly, neither of them speaks ill about the other in front of us.  I appreciate them as marriage role models.  Contrast this with my friends who say things like, “I’ve seen how dysfunctional my In-Law’s marriage is, why should I take any marriage advice from them?”

4.  Engage with Your Grandchildren
I’m sure there are exceptions, but I would argue that grandparents as a rule love their grandchildren.  That is as it should be.  But if you really want to wow your son- or daughter-in-law then do what my In-Laws do – get in there and really mix it up with them.  My In-Laws have made grandparenting a contact sport and it impresses the heck out of me.

Recently, my family and I were vacationing with my In-Laws.  I was in the bedroom unpacking when I heard a lot of commotion and giggling coming from the living room.  Concerned that my three-year-old twins were already getting out of control and might annoy their Grandparents, I rushed into the main room to see what was going on.  To my surprise, I found my Father-In-Law chasing my kids throughout the condo.  The kids were – as you might expect – giggling and loving it, and I couldn’t have been happier.  Not only were they not driving their Grandpa crazy, they were making fun memories.

Last week, my In-Laws came over to our house for lunch.  After we finished eating, I was cleaning the dining room and could hear my Mother-In-Law and daughter speaking in the living room.  Mind you, I could hear them, but I couldn’t see them.  My daughter, who loves books and enjoys being read to, asked her Grandma to read her a book.  Grandma obliged and they settled in on the couch.  I heard my Mother-In-Law say, “The name of this book is Emily.” And as she began to read I thought, “We don’t have a book by that name.”  And as she ‘read’ the book I realized what had happened.  My daughter once had me staple several sheets of paper together and she ‘wrote’ her own book using her three-year-old’s scribbles, and then had me write her name on the cover.  Emily had asked her Grandma to read that book to her.  My Mother-In-Law had gone along with it and was simply making up the story as she went along.  I was honestly a little overcome by the sweetness of it all.  Go Grandparents!

5.  Be Respectful
As the old saying goes, “You must give respect to get respect.”  Roughly 15 years ago, when I first met the people who would become my In-Laws and wanted desperately for them to like and approve of me, they did something that left quite an impression on me.  They were respectful toward me.  They took a true interest in getting to know me and seemed to really want to hear what I had to say about whatever the topic of conversation might have been at any given moment.  That sense of respect has remained over the years.  And believe me – there have been times when I have not been completely deserving of it.  However, even when they’ve had to knock me back in line, they’ve done so respectfully.   They are believers in the Golden Rule and treat me the way that they want me to treat them.

6.  Think of Him or Her as Family
When my wife and I got married, my In-Laws took me aside and said that I was part of the family now.  I appreciated the sentiment; it meant a lot to be accepted as family.  Still, over the years I’ve noticed something interesting.  They don’t merely treat me like family, they genuinely seem to think of me as family – and I don’t believe that I’m just splitting hairs when I say that there is a difference between the two.  A person might treat a dinner guest like a member of the family, but that doesn’t mean that they are going to involve that person in deep family discussions and actually listen to what he or she has to say about important matters.  Though a person who genuinely thinks of another as family would, and they do.  I never feel like a dinner guest, I feel like the permanent resident that I am.

In closing, I should add that I get the fact that all relationships are a two-way street.  My relationship with my In-Laws is important to me and I do my best to keep up my end of it.  That said, the six things listed here have made my part a joy instead of a chore.  And for that I am truly grateful.

12 Things You Say to Your Preschooler and What Your Preschooler Hears

Preschoolers have inquisitive minds, joyous spirits and they’re generally one heck of a lot of fun to have around, but what you say and what they hear are never the same thing.  Here are a dozen things you say and the preschooler translations.

1.  You Say:  “This is a new food. Try it.”
Preschooler Hears:  “This is disgusting. Eat it.”

2.  You Say:  “Listen to me.”
Preschooler Hears:  “The next thing to come out of my mouth is going to bore you to death. Hey look, a butterfly!”

3.  You Say:  “Mommy/Daddy has to go to work.  Enjoy your first day of preschool!”
Preschooler Hears:  “Farewell, my friend. I’m leaving and I don’t know when or if I will be back again. We had some good times though, didn’t we?”

4.  You Say:  “I need to make an important phone call, so please be quiet and play by yourself for just a few minutes.”
Preschooler Hears:  “You and I just don’t talk enough anymore. How’ve you been? Say, is there anything I can do for you? Are you hungry? Perhaps I could fix you a light snack.”

5.  You Say:  “Quiet down.”
Preschooler Hears:  “I’m really old and don’t hear so well. Please scream into my good ear.”

6.  You Say:  “Don’t you dare do that.”
Preschooler Hears:  “This might be your last chance to do that. Hurry!”

7.  You Say:  “Why did you do that?”
Preschooler Hears:  “Look innocent and slightly confused, and keep your mouth shut.”

8.  You Say:  “This won’t hurt.”
Preschooler Hears:  “This is going to hurt. A lot.”

9.  You Say:  “This might hurt a little.”
Preschooler Hears:  “You are about to experience pain like you have never known. Run!”

10.  You Say:  “Daddy/Mommy is in the bathroom.”
Preschooler Hears:  “You need to go potty. Right now. Don’t you feel that pressure on your bladder wall? Please ask me to move. If I ask you to wait, just go anywhere.”
(Alternate Translation: See #4, above.)

11.  You Say:  “Bath time!”
Preschooler Hears:  “I want to be soaked from head to toe.”

12.  You Say:  “Bedtime!”
Preschooler Hears:  “Let the games begin!”