Paranoia, Plastic And Paint=Possible Helicopter Parent

If Santa can’t pay a visit to my kids this year it’s because I went obsessive and over the top in buying Fia a new lunchbox along with an air-quality test for our house. I’m on a toxic roll. Maybe I’m becoming–or always have been—a helicopter parent. But I think how we define “helicopter parent” might be changing. If it means being reasonably obsessive and paranoid about the world we live in, then I’m okay with that title. Of course “reasonably” is the key here.

Ever since I’ve been grinding on the Mother Jones article about BPA–and how all plastic is basically toxic–Fia’s lunchbox has been haunting me. I pack all of her food in BPA-free plastic containers. But now that I know it’s not only BPA that is the problem, I have been contemplating buying what I think is the most eco-friendly lunch box on the planet: Planet Box.

Then yesterday, serendipity. She was on a playdate at a playground. When I picked her up, she carried her lunchbox to the car. Her friend was beside her. They started giving each other massive hugs, arms wrapped tight around each other. While they did this, I put Emmett back in his carseat. Then Fia came around to the other side and I put her in. We drove home. It was then I realized the cursed-soft plastic lunchbox with poisonous plastic containers was missing. Fia and I figured it out: when she went to compulsively hug, she must have set it on the ground. I was on the other side strapping in Emmett and never saw it sitting on the curb before driving off. Finally my opportunity had arrived to be really neurotic and purchase a $70 lunchbox. Actually it’s only $60, but add in shipping and tax. I don’t care. For me, it’s worth my peace of mind–and maybe a few less presents under the tree.

However, like most things that a person with a compulsive personality will do, my expensive paranoia didn’t end there. I’ve also been grinding on a smell in Emmett’s room. We renovated our house and moved in 6 months ago. In California, all the paints sold are low VOC’s. However, I swear I smell an oil-based stain–perhaps even formaldehyde??–every night in his room. That’s because at night we shut all his windows to keep the boogeyman out, thus trapping the air. I’ve done everything from vanilla on cotton balls, to the Bad Air Sponge to an air purifier that runs 24/7. Yet still, I smell it.

Sometimes I’ll occasionally get a whiff in the afternoon, which causes me to march into Phil’s office and interrupt his workday.

“Phil, go in and smell Emmett’s room!”

But I swear every time he gets in there, the smell is gone. It’s like a formaldehyde-farting ghost is haunting me.

So along with Fia’s gourmet lunchbox, I ordered a do-it-yourself-air-test-kit off Amazon for $160.00. Luckily shipping was free. I hope the price includes the test lab.

I’m becoming the ultimate consumer, the ultimate sucker, both, or just another paranoid–maybe helicopter?–parent. But I don’t care. Like this “helicopter parent,” wrote so eloquently, we are living in a different time. She didn’t focus on plastic and poisons, but I share her perspective in its entirety as to why we “hover.” Joe Deprospero, my guest blogger, had similar thoughts this week from a dad’s perspective, with a hilarious video that follows. Hell, he hovered so much he locked his kid in the car.

I will sleep better for having done something to remedy my neurosis. The added bonus of course, is I no longer have to glare at Fia’s lunchbox or sniff for my farting ghost. The bad part is I have a larger credit card bill to pay.

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That Terrifying Time I Locked My Son in the Car

Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is writing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be found on Facebook or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.

When you live in a fast-paced culture, one where we’re reserving DVDs before we can even watch them and waiting more than five seconds for a website to load on our smartphones is unacceptable, we’re constantly thinking of the next move before we’ve completed the current. In parenting, this tends to happen more frequently. Sometimes, out of necessity. But other times, because our overactive minds are wired in such a manner, we get ahead of ourselves in an unfavorable, even dangerous way.

A few weeks ago, I had taken both my sons to my older boy’s soccer practice while my wife prepared for a family party. As you may have read in my last article, I tend to be on high alert (read: neurotic as hell) when I’m in charge of both my kids by myself. So, while Antonio (older son) plays soccer, I watch Nate (younger son) like a hawk as he frolics all over the surrounding area. Up hills, down hills, into thorn bushes. There’s no terrain this kid will shy away from. And I’m two steps behind him, with two central goals: to make sure he doesn’t get hurt, and the most paramount concern, to make sure he doesn’t get lost or taken.

Nearly an hour later, we’re dodging mud puddles (or at least I am), on our way back to the car, thoughts of the upcoming party, how wet Nate’s diaper is, how hungry they both are, starting to form a long line in my brain. I dutifully strapped Nate into his seat, instinctively tossing my car keys onto the driver’s seat, which I tend to do when rushing. With Antonio kicking rocks outside the car, waiting for me to strap him in next, I closed Nate’s door. Instantly, a sense of worry came over me. Something felt off. And then, I heard Antonio from the other side of the car, attempting to pull the door handle.

“I can’t open the door, daddy,” he said, grunting.

Somehow, I’d locked Nate inside the car.

My keys were laying on the front seat.

It was 82 degrees out.

The first thing I did (besides the internal freak-out), was look for a rock that could break the window. That was my first instinct. Studies have shown that the inside of a car can become quite literally like an oven over the course of mere minutes under a hot sun. Aside from that, Nate suffers from acid reflux. He could choke on the snack he had in his hand and I’d be on the outside desperately trying to get in. The errands and parental duties that had filled my brain minutes earlier were now replaced with panic and fear.

You might think that having another child involved would make matters worse. But luckily, Antonio acted mature beyond his years. Upon learning of the location of the keys and that a long stick could be snaked through the small crack in the driver’s side window, he quickly went to work to find one that would do the job. He also joined me in soothing Nate through the window, assuring him everything would be fine. This was quite a leap for a kid who’d wiped a booger on his younger brother a mere five minutes earlier.

While the search for the perfect stick was on, I had another thought: does anyone in shouting-distance know how to break into a car? There were a handful of parents still left, so I called out to the first person I saw.

“Excuse me, ma’am. Do you know how to pick a lock?”

I’m sure she thought I was the shadiest dude on earth. But that didn’t stop her from trying to help.

“No, but my husband does!” she shouted. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like the only shady dude in the conversation.

The husband turned out to be anything but shady—just an ordinary dad who knew precisely the fears I was feeling. Together, we took turns trying to hook my key ring with a crooked stick, each time coming up empty. I considered calling the police. But I felt it would be quicker to handle it myself, or at least to have a helpful stranger handle it. As it turns out, he wasn’t skilled at picking a lock. But he was pretty good with a crooked stick.

Ultimately, it was the helpful stranger, Craig, who hooked the key ring and diffused the situation. When I got to Nate, he was sweating, but otherwise unbothered, after about 15 minutes in the hot car. Thankfully, the only one of us aware enough of the danger to be stressed out was me.

Certainly, the ending of this story could’ve been much grimmer. Turn on the news and you’ll hear all about those cases. But I’m sharing this as a reminder to be your child’s parent in that moment, not ten minutes after that moment. Looking back, the most likely explanation for how I locked Nate in the car with the keys was that I accidentally hit the lock button on the remote, then closed the door, effectively locking them inside the car together. Today, when I put Nate in his seat, I always make sure my door is open before I close his.

The last thing I would consider myself is preachy. But this experience (as minor as some people might view it) was an eye-opener for me. It reminded me that, while your thoughts are focused on the future, you could be endangering the present. And it reminded me (even though this didn’t happen nor do I have plans to ever do it) to never leave your children in the car unattended, not even for 30 seconds to run into a coffee shop for a latte. Especially with summer upon us, being mindful and diligent about car safety is tremendously important. Sometimes, getting a little scare serves as a needed reminder of the things that fall off our radar due to an overactive mind.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to join the conversation by tweeting me or adding a comment below. And, of course, be safe out there.

To read more about car safety in extreme temperatures, check out this recent Parents article.

How To Install A Car Seat
How To Install A Car Seat
How To Install A Car Seat

* Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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Confession: I Think I’m a Helicopter Dad

Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is writing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be found on Facebook or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.

I am a hardcore Breaking Bad aficionado. As in, I still haven’t gotten into a new show since its finale because it’s ruined me from almost all forms of entertainment. But aside from the dramatic enjoyment I derived from it, I also took away a quote or two. One of them that struck me was uttered by morally conflicted character, Jesse Pinkman. Having gone through rehab (and committing various crimes along the way), Jesse says, as if achieving epiphany, “It’s all about accepting who you really are. I accept who I am. I’m the bad guy.” As a parent, I think it’s important to recognize what type of caregiver we genuinely are as well. Just without all the meth cooking. Sometimes, very often in fact, I find myself playing the part of “bad guy.”

I’m a neurotic, helicopter parent (most of the time). I can’t help it; it’s who I am. And I simply cannot deny the very fabric of my being. But there are times when I’ll sort of view myself from the lens of an outsider. And, I have to say, sometimes I look like a complete a**hole.

This past Memorial Day weekend, my wife had gone food shopping, so I took both our sons out in the backyard to play with their new sprinkler under the glorious sun-filled sky. What I realized very astutely is that the farther my wife is from me when I’m monitoring my children, the more neurotic I become. When my wife’s present, we each seem to take a job, one of us playing the role of “cool parent” while the other runs around picking up crumbs and doling out discipline. When it’s just me and the boys, I become the helicopter parent I always assumed I wouldn’t be.

As my five-year-old, Antonio, gleefully picked up said sprinkler and pointed it directly at me and my younger (and drier) son, my eyes widened. Is there anything here that ice water would negatively impact? Yes! Nate’s Woody doll (since he wouldn’t dry before bedtime), Nate himself (who was in a bad mood) and paper instructions on how to use the sprinkler. And also, me! So, being the neurotic person I am, I instantly turned the hose off and shouted a bunch of incoherent jibberish.

“It’s only water,” I heard a voice whisper inside my head. “What actual damage would it cause, if any? And why the hell are you freaking out about instructions on how to use a f***ing sprinkler?” Whoever’s in my head can get pretty foul-mouthed and chatty, I tell ya. But that didn’t stop me from pulling the plug on the impromptu shower. And then again 30 seconds later when my son turned the hose on once more, against my will. I had to follow through. I simply had to. Antonio needed to understand that listening to me wasn’t just one option, it was the only option. And also, I don’t like getting wet unless it’s on my terms. But mostly, because I made a decision and felt it imperative to stick to it if I expected my kid to listen to me in the future. That’s what I’ve found hardest as a parent- to stick to a decision no matter how silly it feels like it is while you’re making it.

As extreme an example as this is, it’s part of a much larger picture of me as a dad (and many of us, I’d assume). While I certainly goof around with my sons when time permits, I’m a guardian, first and foremost. That means that I’m not only responsible for protecting my children from the dangers of the outside world, but I’m also responsible for guarding the outside world against my children! That starts with getting them to adhere to boundaries. Sometimes I go overboard, I admit. But in the end, I feel that a vigilant mindset will minimize the chance of disaster and maximize the potential of my children to ultimately become safe, mindful adults.

Plenty of you will view me as uptight, excessive, overprotective even. And you may be right. But I find solace in that the qualities that make me go overboard come from the same place that makes me a strong guardian for my kids.

Any of you out there like me? The complete opposite of me? Either way, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

And if you have three minutes to watch me impersonating my sons, while wearing a ladies tee, click below for the latest edition of my web series, Parental Guidance!

 

And, if you enjoyed the video, watch the outtakes!

 

 

*Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

 

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My New Hobby–It’s A Good One–Even Though I Suck

I’ve never liked inefficiency. I don’t usually enjoying failing either. But I’m doing both in my newfound hobby and digging it: Gardening.

What’s weird is the worse I get, the more I like it. Instead of being my usual overachiever self, I’ve embarked on this in a completely haphazard way.  I buy plants that I like, knowing very little about how they are grown. The kids and I go into the garden store and do eeny-meeny-minny-moe. We plant them in places where we think they would look good, not necessarily where they should be. We dig. We find worms. We get dirty. Some thrive. Some wilt. Until now I’ve been packing them in my crappy clay-like soil. I now know that certain plants that aren’t as hearty need better soil with drainage. So now I’m starting over. And I don’t care.

This weekend I dug up an entire trench where I had planted two Butterfly Bushes and three Hydrangeas.  I replaced it with the right kind of soil, sorted out the rocks, and did it the correct way after 2 failed tries.

But it’s still a mess. Hydrangeas don’t like direct sun. Butterfly Bushes do. So I now have makeshift tarps over the flowers so they won’t get so much light. I figure since Butterfly Bushes grow fast, they will soon grow taller than the Hydrangeas and give them some cover. Sounds logical right?

Luckily I haven’t actually lost a plant yet, so while I’m horrendous at this, I’m not a complete failure.  But diving in is making me learn the hard way: from the ground up. For me, that is quite literal. And the experimentation makes me happy.

I’m usually organized. I’m a pro at putting together family vacations and planning it to maximize efficiency and enjoyment. I’m like Joe–my guest blogger’s–wife, who just organized what sounds like a brilliantly planned trip to the center of hell: Disneyland. (If you have any plans to go there, read his post because he gives some great tips).

Phil seems totally confused by my change in personality on this. He sees me hauling bags of mulch and soil and dumping them randomly in the yard. He shakes his head. Then he goes back to his writing– which is probably best.

So why am I finding that acting like the opposite of my usual self is fun? I’m not sure. Maybe because it takes the pressure off not feeling like a job? Maybe that’s what a hobby is? (i.e.: enjoying something for the sake of it, not always for the end result) Though with gardening, you still get an end result. Even if you f-ck it up and your plants die, you still get to enjoy them for a time.  You also get instant gratification and long-term enjoyment. It’s a hobby you can do until you’re practically in a wheelchair and you’ll never run out of things to dig and plant. Plus you get grounded–from the ground.

It’s also something I can do with my kids that doesn’t require task completion. If Fia and I want to water a few plants one day and a few the next, we can. We can plant seeds all at once, or spread it out. Basically, there are no rules. It’s just playing in dirt and hoping for the best.

So far our efforts at planting a vegetable garden have been pretty sad. We created this entire site you see from a mound of dirt. The setting and planters are perfect:

Phil’s dad came in town and built the planters (with Fia’s help, of course).

The kids made their mark in cement.

We excitedly put the plants and seeds in. Then one night something ransacked the whole thing. It was either a raccoon or skunk–we have both in our yard. But rather than getting too bummed out or uptight, we laughed about it and started again. This time with netting around. It doesn’t look pretty and it’s totally jerry-rigged but who cares?

If I even get one pepper out of this thing I’ll feel more accomplished than my 4-times weekly run to the dreaded grocery store. I’d take this hobby any day over that task.

What about you? What’s your favorite hobby? And why? Do you find you’re a different person with your hobbies versus your profession? Just curious.

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My Disney Experience: Surviving the Magic

Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is writing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be found on Facebook or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.

My five-year-old, Antonio as Jake of the Neverland Pirates. You’ll be seeing those eyebrows again later.

My Disney Experience.  That’s the name of the app which allows you to keep your plans organized for your eagerly anticipated (and pricey) trip to the magical Promised Land known as Disney World. Now, the word “experience” is thrown around in the digital space quite a bit. But aside from Jimi Hendrix, can any entity truly leverage the term accurately? Is it really an experience? Well, I’m here to tell you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, yes. But for more than simply sharing personal space with a fictional, jolly giant mouse.

For starters, Disney is the strongest brand on planet earth. At least for my money (and they certainly have a lot of it after my vacation last week). You simply can’t go to any other location on earth and see the type of brand loyalty shown by people who just spent upwards of $100 a pop just to walk through the door. Hats, t-shirts, socks, ponchos. If you can put it on your body, Disney has its name on it. I remain in awe of their marketing prowess.

But aside from the aforementioned genius of their branding strategy, Disney also provides something invaluably educational to those of us with children. Put simply, a Disney vacation is parent boot camp.

If you’re anything like me, you’re used to the utter chaos that your children unapologetically hurl at you on a daily basis. But at least for me, I’m not used to dealing with that chaos without some sort of break in the action, be it my job or letting them watch Frozen for the 176th time. While on vacation, it’s like you’re running a marathon. Or, if it’s a Disney vacation, it’s like running a marathon while wearing a Darth Vader helmet with Mickey ears and eating a Donald Duck ice pop. Quite literally, actually.

The good news is that, at Disney, there is an overall acceptance of any sized stroller and all possible erratic behavior your children might exhibit. We’re all in this together, it seems. And we’re just trying to survive. Both of my sons ran dead smack into a stranger’s legs at some point and I had plenty of kids run into mine. We all responded the same way to the apologetic parent of the running child. “It’s fine. I get it.”

My Disney Experience was as rewarding as it was draining. And I certainly learned a thing or two along the way. So, in case you’re thinking about taking the plunge and emptying your bank account into a Magic Kingdom cash register, here are some things to think about.

  • Have an agenda

I’m a “go with the flow” kind of guy when I go anywhere for leisure. But when bringing your kids to the Mecca of mirth, that mentality doesn’t jive. If you’re the spontaneous type, this will scorn your soul to hear, but making reservations at the restaurants you want to hit months in advance of your trip will save you headaches (and waiting time) later. My wife is terrific at keeping us in order with things like this. So, to summarize, bring my wife with you on your vacation. But I strictly forbid any sort of “magical time” happening if you do. Got me?

  • Use FastPass+

Waiting on a long, seemingly endless line is hard enough when you don’t have hungry, whiny children either asking you to hold them or refusing to, you know, stay in line. But either by using the My Disney Experience app or by accessing your account on the site, you should be able to select the date, time, and attraction you’re interested in and sign up for a FastPass+ (which is actually free!). FastPass+ is exactly what it sounds like. It allows you to pass, faster. It easily shaved 20 minutes off the wait times of at least five attractions, which ultimately allowed us to see more things. You simply show up to the ride at the time of your reservation (you’ll be given a block of time, if available), flash your Disney Magic Band (which they send you when you book the trip), and you’re directed to a much, much shorter line. While some of the passes were set up weeks in advance, we were able to secure a couple the night before our visit to that particular park. So, all you need to be is the tiniest bit proactive for this to be a viable option for you.

  • Bring a stroller

This might seem like a no-brainer if you have children under the age of four, but consider it even for five or six-year-olds. My older son is five and I don’t doubt that we were able to see as much as we did because of the breaks the stroller gave his legs. Surely, it can be a major pain to cart on and off a shuttle bus, but ultimately, it’s worth the struggle.

  • Keep track of your things…all of them

As if keeping a watchful eye on your children wasn’t challenging enough in a theme park, you’ll also likely have the aforementioned stroller, diaper bag, camera bag, and every imaginable souvenir that you’ve convinced yourself your child deserves. It’s very easy to shove an item into the nearest available compartment with a zipper, only to be searching for it frantically later. I’m certainly guilty of that. So, try to compartmentalize your items, and keep them together. And when you do board that bus to leave, for the love of God remember that you’ve stored things under your stroller BEFORE your collapse it. Learned that the hard way.

  • Be sneaky

We were in Magic Kingdom practically till its closing one night. The “Celebrate the Magic” projection show on the Disney castle (which I strongly recommend) had taken place, and the rest was simply fireworks. The vast majority of the people in the park had eyes focused on the lit sky. Us? We took that opportunity to meet Mickey himself. And we waited a grand total of three minutes.

  • Don’t over-spend

Sounds counter-intuitive since you pretty much did this when you bought a park ticket, but that doesn’t mean you have to crawl even deeper into a financial hole by purchasing anything and everything with a Disney character imprinted on it. While it won’t be easy to say “no” as often as you’ll have to, walking the Disney parks is good practice in doing exactly that. Once you’ve reached the point where you start to wonder if you’re spoiling your kids, that’s likely a good time to lock up your credit card and punch out.

  • For God’s sake, don’t put a child on your shoulders during a live show

This bullet pretty much speaks for itself, but all it takes is one person who thinks they’re being a helpful parent to ruin it for everyone else behind them. If you’re 5’9” and put a child on your shoulders, you’re effectively 6’6” now. If you’re 6’6” already without the child, then duck. It’s only fair.

Antonio out of his Jake costume, but not out of his new eyebrows.

To Disney’s credit, they pack a serious punch of entertainment and convenience for the money. We checked our suitcases at the airport on the way there and didn’t see them again until they were in our hotel room, and it was similar on the way back. Also, at every single restaurant we ate at on Disney property, the chef personally came out to speak with us about our son’s food allergy. Between that, the live shows, the fireworks, the character breakfasts, etc, it makes the pain of depleting your bank account hurt a bit less. Although, I must say, the fact that all employees are referred to as “cast members” and the bell hop at the Animal Kingdom villas kept saying “welcome home” when I walked past him was a bit unsettling and Twilight Zone-like.

Despite the inherit madness involved with a theme park excursion, if you do it right, there are moments when your children are beaming with joy, their fists clenched tight with euphoria, where you know you’ve just created a memory that will last a lifetime. For your children and for you.

Not even the eyebrows could ruin this one.

Thanks for reading, and tell me all about your Disney experience in the comment section below, or by tweeting me with the hashtag #mydisneyexperience. And of course, have a magical day.

 

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