Too Old For That!

Early Arrivals is a childcare program that the YMCA runs in tons of schools in the Raleigh area.  It starts at the crack of dawn and ends when the school bell rings for the kids to head to class.  Working parents enroll their children for games, time with positive role models and safe care while they muscle their way through traffic to downtown Raleigh or Research Triangle Park.

Like many organizations the YMCA has had a few gaps with staffing.  We are finding great folks to work in all areas of programs, but the first few weeks of school our youth team was slightly short staffed.  Corporate office staff to the rescue!!

Now, I love kids.  I built my career running camps and helping develop quality program standards for our Y’s massive service to youth.  That being said, a 56 year-old should not be working at an early arrivals program.

Although I like Jenka, a game where you strategically stack blocks until the tower collapses, I don’t understand the thrill a kindergartener gets by crashing my painstakingly crafted tower.  Rude!

One teeny girl with hair as big as Dolly Parton and a backpack covered with unicorns was not having any part of my planned group activity.  Don’t let the rainbow colors on her hair bow fool you.  She sassed the mess out of me.

Me:  “Everyone come to the center circle of the gym!  We’re going to play a game!”

I was bringing out the best of my old camp days.

Her:  No movement toward the circle.

Me:  “Come on over!  We’re playing a game.  It’s going to be fun!”

Her:  “NO!!”

Me:  “Please come over.  We want everyone to play!”

As her head spun around she yelled:  “NO!!  NO! NO! NO!  I’M NOT COMING!!”

The look in her eye told me that she fully meant what she said.  This was going to take a different approach.  I walked over to her with my serious face. 

Me:  “I SAID come to the circle.”

She then ran to the corner of the room, threw herself on the ground in a very dramatic way, and started sobbing. I felt like doing the same.  7:45 AM is much too early for a tantrum.

In my younger days, I could have commanded the audience.  But now, I think the kids can sense my weakness.  He’s old.  He’s tired.  We don’t know him.  Boomer…

Another kid refused to sit out when he got hit in dodgeball.  That is cheating I rationally explained (at the Y honesty is one of the key character traits that we teach).  He was uninterested in honesty and very interested in staying in the game.  Understandably, this was very disturbing to the star player on the other team.

The tears still continued in the corner.

Although I had some challenges over my three substitute sessions at Early Arrivals, I also met the cutest kid ever making a card for his sick grandfather, saw an older child with great care help his younger brother prepare his water bottle for class and saw strong connections between the Y youth counselors and the kids in the program. 

Children need to be in school right now.  Children need to play and cut up and express themselves, even if it’s dissatisfaction.  They get that at the Y.

Each year our YMCA raises funds in our Annual We Build People Campaign to support children who need Y programs but who cannot afford to participate.  For the next two days, we are working to raise $500,000 in our 48 Giving Challenge.  If you’re able, consider a gift, click on this link.

Thank you!


It’s My Fault

It’s all my fault.  Yep.  According to my kids, it’s all my fault. 

DJ got into the car today.  Her hands were full: book bag, books and a satchel with her workout clothes.  I’d been waiting in front of school for 10 or 12 minutes and was reading through my daily mail.  When the door opened, I didn’t respond appropriately.

Apparently I should have immediately tossed down my mail and run to the opposite side of the car to help her get in.  What was I thinking?  Just inconsiderate.

The demon possessed person that I am has the audacity to require the two kids in the house who take piano lessons to practice.  How in the world can that be more important than the Disney Channel?  After four years of lessons and $6,000 I should just settle for Chop Sticks and Heart and Soul.  I am so very thoughtless.

Out of milk?  “Daaaaaad!”

Irrelevant that Jesse dropped by and drank two glasses at 10 pm.  Why didn’t I run to the 24 hour grocery store?  Clearly it was open…

I should be investigated by Social Services.

Wear a baseball cap to their school on a morning I don’t have to work?  Emmmbarrrasssing!  I’m such a dork.

“Are you about to go to bed?” I innocently inquire.

Picture the tone – “No!!!  I HAVE MORE HOMEWORK.”

My fault too.  Because apparently I am in cahoots with the History, Math and AP Biology teachers – paying them under the table for more difficult assignments for my child.

Oh, and by the way, all three girls say I favor the others.  “She gets everything!” 

“It’s because I love her more.”

I’m a bad, bad man.

A Box Full of Imagination

Posted by Danny

When I was a kid, some of my happiest with my friends occurred in a dirt hole in the back of our yard.  We’d play with our little green army men; we had a million.  My tanks would sneak up the back side of the hole with my brother and his troops on the front.  I’m not sure how someone won – it seems like we had more fun setting things up than actually fighting.

In the summer, we’d spend time spitting across the fence at our school principal’s son who lived directly behind us.  Why we would spit on the principal’s kid?  I just don’t know.  No wonder my brother spent so much time in his office when September hit.

We’d wrestle in the hole and make roads for our Matchbox cars.  I even remember having a contest with Adam Fair to see who could hold their tongue on the dirt the longest – Jennifer, Tracy, Chad, Jim, Mike and Jimmy all cheering us on.  I’m pretty sure I won.  I’d scrape the residue off with my teeth as I slowly drug my sandy taster back into my mouth.

I bet the idea for exfoliating soap started in some kid’s backyard.  To this day, when my swim suit fills with sand at the beach, the chaffing on my rump brings back fond memories of summers on Berskshire Road.

My kids, on the other hand, would no more play outside in a hole than they would shave their heads and jog to school.  For them it’s the Wii, or Netflix or the i-whatever they can get their hands on.  They don’t know how to make fun out of nothing.

“Dad, I’m bored.  There’s nothing to do.”

“Go play in a bush like I did as  a kid.  Use some imagination.” 

Whatever would we do in a bush?  There isn’t a television there.

But this week, I’ve had a glimmer of hope.  I’ve been cleaning up around the house today and tackling odd jobs and for hours, literally hours, Michelle and Stephanie have been in a box. Well, actually three boxes, side by side.

Christmas Morning

For Christmas, collectively they received one Wii game, four craft kits, an easel and paints, a deck of cards, clothes for their American girl dolls, iTunes gift cards, a game, tons of clothes, a stop watch and more. But, the two gifts they’ve enjoyed the most, a week after Christmas, were three boxes and duct tape. Gifts they had requested.

In fact, at one point, the boxes no longer acted as a pretend house. Instead, they became The Duct Tape Company.

Stephanie has created a purse, wallet, bracelet and hair bows from the colored stickum.  One friend actually wants a Stephanie Duct Taped pocketbook for her birthday.  She said she’d actually use it! 

Duct Tape Company online catalogue


As I was cooking dinner, I heard laughter and singing and I spotted art, and two amazing imaginations at work. At one point, they were prisoners – captured by the bad guys. There have been animals in the boxes, mothers, aunts, bankers, chefs and babies.  There’s no dirt in there, but they seem to be faring well without it.

But I can’t get too excited.  Michelle took a small dry erase board she found in her room, drew a TV screen on it, wrote Disney Channel across the front and hung it on the wall in the box.  I guess that made it feel just like home.

A tour of our box:

The guest bedroom for American Girl Dolls

The office and duct tape factory

The den, complete with flat screen TV


Sunday Post 51: Building Them Up

Posted by Danny

Sometimes I see my kids get torn down – right to their core.  Occasionally it comes from me…

“Just get your homework done!”

“You’re wearing that?”

“I can’t right now – maybe later.”

Each phrase I carelessly toss out, I later regret.  It’s often not what I say, but how I say it. 

“You’re wearing that?”  Stupid!  I don’t actually say it, but the implication is certainly there.

I hear my girls rip each other down day after day.  I’m sure it’s natural – but I hate it nonetheless.  “Lord knows we’ve learned that the world is a tough place. I tell them.  “Within the walls of this house, we should all be safe.”  Safe to be who we really are without the pressure of living up to another’s opinion.  We should encourage and show each other grace, not cut down or use terse tones.

My argument works – for about an hour.  And then, it starts right over again.

And the hardest for me is when other people tear my kids down.  It usually occurs with a girlfriend – a snide comment about clothes or leaving one out in the lunchroom.  I’m sure my kids do it too.

With all that’s coming at them, I’m not sure how to ensure that my kids grow up feeling good about themselves. 

Periodically, I play a little game with my kids at bedtime.  We list ten things that we love about that kid.  I throw in ideas and they agree or toss in suggestions of their own.  We try to avoid vanilla things like “Stephanie is nice.”  And if we do, we try to break it down to define what nice really means.  And the list is easy – I can think of hundreds of things I love about my girls.

Sometimes my younger girls will say, “Dad, can we make that list about me?”  Come to think of it, I might ask my boss to do the same for me tomorrow.  Sometimes you just need someone to tell you how great you are!

I worry about them.  I want to pummel anyone who doesn’t build them up.  But I guess I can’t.  It’s just not the way you handle life, and, I’m not a very good fighter.

I want to set a foundation that lets them know their father likes them and not just because I have to.  I want them to be able to point out their assets and unique talents.

And maybe, just maybe, the negative things that come their way will more easily slide off.

I’ll take a sleepover, for 14, please

Posted by Danny

It’s the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and two days ago we decided to have a sleepover.  I’m not sure how we ended up with 14 girls, but we did.  Ages ranged from 8 – 15.  I say knock it out all at once!

Several folks at work asked me today, “Why in the world would you have 14 girls spend the night at your house?  Are you nuts?”

These are my top ten reasons:

Number 10:  Only one night of sleep deprivation.

Number 9:  Seeing this chaos is great birth control for Jesse.

Number 8:  I wanted to support the economy through significant Frito-Lay and Coke purchases.

Number 7:  It’s something to blog about.

Number 6:  I’ll get caught up on all the Justin Bieber gossip.

Number 5:  It’s a manly excuse to watch the Judy Moody movie.

Number 4:  The opportunity to use the mammoth amount of Boy Scout popcorn I bought last year.

Number 3:  It’s good practice for staying up on New Year’s Eve.

Number 2:  Hair, nails and makeup – all free.

And the number 1 reason to have 14 girls sleep over tonight:  I’m racking up major daddy cool points.


Posted by Danny

We are not getting a doggone pig!

I can’t believe I told the girls that my friend got a pet pig for her birthday.  They’ve been hounding me for an animal for years.  I need a pig like I need a gaping head wound.

I did NOT change my i phone background to a photo of a pig as DJ contends.  When I turned it on yesterday (in a business meeting), there it was –  a swine staring me in my face.  I was startled!  I almost snorted.

DJ has it all figured out.  She knows exactly where it will live, what it eats and how much the food will cost.  She even reminded me that female pigs have periods – NOT a selling point!  Can you imagine?  How do you handle that?

She claims they are very smart and can be trained to use a litter box – but the idea of a box of hog poo sitting in the corner of the den is also not a selling point.  Nasty; just nasty.

I will say, however, that if I was going to get an animal, it would be a pig.  How cool would it be to walk one of those around the block?  Lisa started collecting pigs years ago – we have them throughout our house.  We also have fifty or so pig Christmas ornaments.  If she were alive and found out a pig was a viable pet, there is no doubt in my mind we’d have one.

I wonder if we could try one out?  Unlike a dog, if it didn’t work, we could always just serve it up for breakfast.  I probably have a sausage maker in my utensil cabinet but just can’t identify it.

No!  We’re not going there!  I can barely take care of myself – much less three kids and a sow.

(Posted by DJ:  Broke into Dad’s blog account…we ARE getting a pig!)

Hiding Out From Child Protective Services

she looks fine to me

Posted by Jesse

I can’t believe this happened again.

I offer to drive the morning shift all the time (by “offer” I mean I stumble into the kitchen two minutes before departure time, sparsely dressed, one eye open, and grunt “need me to drive? no? cool.”) but Danny handles it almost every day. He says he enjoys the time in the car with the girls and I enjoy the extra sleep enough to believe him.

But once every two weeks or so Danny has an early meeting, and I get the morning shift.

Late in the spring we had one such morning. The girls were eating cereal and I was making lunches, when Michelle begin mixing tears with her milk. It should be noted that encountering her melancholy countenance in the a.m. is NOT a rare occurrence. It can be triggered by a frustrating bout with hair, a missing button on a skirt, or not getting the prize in the cereal box. Or, apparently, an upset stomach.

“I don’t feeeeeel gooooood,” she sobbed.

Uh-oh. Two things come into play here:

1) The Tanner family (Danny’s parents) and the Katsopolis family (my parents) handled sick days very differently. He likes to claim we weren’t allowed to miss school if we revealed a severed appendage dangling loosely off of our bodies. I like to tease that he was basically home-schooled since “sick days” meant any day he had gym. Both are exaggerations. Slight exaggerations.

2) I am not about to be the sucker Uncle who gets played! And, to be totally honest, I hate having to bother Danny when I’ve got “kid duty” because he won’t ask for help unless he really needs it, meaning he’s either got an important meeting or he’s taking his quarterly night out to socialize. I try to avoid contacting him if at all possible. His over-caring self would literally feel guilty that one of his girls got sick on a morning he wasn’t there.

So I did the thermometer thing. Normal enough. I inspected for unusually pale (or green) skin complexion. Other than her claim of not feeling good, I couldn’t see any obvious sign of illness. I worked at Camp Sea Gull for over a decade, and the nurses have told me repeatedly that a stomach ache with no other symptoms is usually just something else. Michelle probably forgot to do her homework and was dreading facing the teacher.

I cracked a few jokes, got a smile or two out of her, got the other two girls in on the “buck up, kid, you’ll be fine by lunch” routine, and we were off.

She threw up on her desk around 9:30 a.m.

If there were a place you could go to voluntarily be lashed with a whip, I’d have signed up in hopes of relieving my guilt.

Fast forward to last week. I’m on morning duty again, and again we have morning tears. This day Michelle is going on a field trip, so she’s picking out an outfit rather than wearing her usual uniform–a source of much consternation, since she has to choose between shorter-legged jeans (tapered? capri’ed? cuffed? what do you call those things?) that leave her a bit chilly or the longer jeans that will almost certainly get a bit wet. I know where this choice will go–Michelle HATES wet jeans. But she’s not happy being chilly either.

“I don’t feel good,” she let it be known. But–Stephanie can attest–there was no force behind this statement. No insistence. I was sure it was all about the jeans. I didn’t even take her temperature.

Her teachers did. She had a fever of 102. Though, I’d like to point out, that was a reading taken after being outside and doing some creek stomping, so I think when I am on trial my lawyer will be able to make a good case that you cannot prove she was actually sick when I dropped her off.

Regardless….don’t tell Michelle, but next time I’m driving the morning shift? She’s got a four-word “get out of school free” card if she’s smart enough to play it. Blame Danny–he’s the fool who leaves me in charge of these girls.


They’re Back!

DJ and Stephanie at the Camp Awards Banquet

Posted by Danny

The arguing began over the I touch as we drove out of the Camp Seafarer gate.  It was music to my ears!

Today I picked DJ and Stephanie up from Camp.  DJ’s been there for four weeks, Stephanie for two.  Michelle and I have had a lot of one-on-one daddy/daughter time and I think I wasn’t the only one ready for the return of the sibling duo.  She desperately wanted to share what she’d been up to for the past four weeks without them. 

We stopped at Chic-Fil-A for lunch in New Bern. 

Michelle:  “I want a three-piece nugget with fries.”

Stephanie:  “I want the same thing.”

Me:  “Are you sure you guys can eat all of that?  I don’t want to buy it if you aren’t going to eat it.”

In unison:  “Yes dad,” a little annoyed that I asked.

Sixteen minutes later –

Michelle:  “Dad, you can have the rest.”  There were three lone nuggets still in the box.

Stephanie:  “I’m done too.”  Another three staring me in the face.

Usually I’d give them a speech about waste paired with how money doesn’t grow on trees followed by a big I told you so…

Not today!  A fast food tray with half eaten fare could only mean one thing:  THEY’RE BACK!

We have Mt. Kilimanjaro of laundry in the basement.  I’m on load four.  There are many, many more to go.  I may, not sure, finish before it’s time to pack next July.  But you know what?  I’m loving folding each little pair of Target undies and I’m exhilarated by my search for the matching socks!

Last night DJ and I were up until 1 a.m.  I was working diligently to figure out if she’d met “Johnny Sea Gull” at one of the camp dances.  She wouldn’t divulge, but we sure did laugh a lot as I guessed potential names of her imaginary suitors.

Sending all three to resident camp is a big step for me, that was Lisa’s job.  But they grew a ton during their time away – both physically and in maturity. 

Maybe I did too.

The Jungle That Is Stephanie’s Bedroom

Posted by Jesse

Most of the times I’m flying solo with the girls, I pride myself on being fairly entertaining. Not tonight. I was a tad weary from a long day and a late-breaking sports story that had me phone-watching for much of the evening. Working in sports, I hesitate to refer to anything I have to work on as “big” or “important”, but…people do like to talk sports and these people several means to communicate and, well, a lot of people used those means to ask me tonight what the hell happened to Butch Davis. If you have no idea who Butch Davis is, I currently envy you a great deal.

 So when a crisis broke out, I knew I had to spring into action with twice the usual exuberance to make up for my lackluster performance the rest of the night. After going upstairs to change into pajamas right before bedtime, Stephanie returned in tears. This itself was not the crisis, expecially considering earlier in the evening Steph had admitted that fake crying was a skill she traded on. (DJ, who may miss this post because she’s at camp, will be happy to learn this: remember the time you hit Steph with your dance bag and suspected she was embellishing the injury a bit? She was.)

Apparently the source of the tears was an animal on the looose. Not a stuffed animal mind you (though lose track of her stuffed moose and I guarantee you there will be tears, REAL tears, and lots of them), but a real, live animal. The missing creature? You guessed it, one of the vaunted Decapod Crustaceans that came back from Myrtle Beach.

My first move was to assess the tears.

“Are you crying because you’re worried your hermit crab is gone, or are you worried it’s running around your room?”

As suspected, it was most certainly the latter. And in fact, that’s not an unjustified paranoia. As has probably been chronicled on the blog before, Stephanie once had a hamster get out of its cage and bite her on the nose while she slept. Her room is where animals go to party. And bite people. That’s how we ended up with a hamster cage under a blanket behind a couch under lock and key in the unifinished, unvisited part of the basement. Poor Steph.

“I don’t care if my hermit crab is dead I just don’t want it crawling around my room!”

“I don’t see how that thing could have gotten out,” I said, examining the empty shells in the glass cage, doing my best Lenny Brisco impersonation and trying to determine if this nimble crab really could have scaled a glass bowl.

“Oh yeah, they definitely can,” offered Michelle. “My friend Kimmy had one and it got out and they found it a week later crawling on the stairs.” Glad she’s here.

I offered the sleeping downstairs option (no sweat off my back since “downstairs” means “Danny’s room”), but with uncaged animals and little girls, it is most definitely a “once bitten, twice shy” situation. Stephanie was not convinced that the hermit crab would not seek her out for retribution for being taken from his friend in Myrtle Beach. The crab had to be found.

It was about this time Stephanie recalled that she had been playing with her pet with a friend and, perhaps, could have left him outside the bowl. I confirmed this was highly likely, but the point remained: we had to find the monster crab that was threatening to terrorize the night’s sleep. And I needed a night’s sleep.

So I got down on hands and knees and after an extensive, exhausting 11-second search, was able to locate Priscilla swimming in the dust ruffle. Problem solved. Night saved. But just to be safe, everyone’s sleeping downstairs tonight.

Did something just move in the corner?

Minute by Minute

Tonight I sat and watched a movie about owls with Michelle and Stephanie.  I don’t think it will pull in any Academy Awards, but it was entertaining enough for an 8-year-old, and 11-year-old and an old man who was just there for the snuggling.

As I twirled Michelle’s hair and scratched Stephanie’s arm, I thought how fortunate I was – fortunate to be here watching them grow up.  When the movie stared, I hardly watch the screen; I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.  They’re fascinating to me.  So beautiful.  So perfect. 

When Lisa was very sick and knew she would die, we discussed what bothered her most.  It wasn’t the fear of the after life – I think she felt pretty confident that she was going to a pretty good place.  And she said she wasn’t concerned for herself that she would miss our girls’ weddings.  She knew her mom and sister could easily plan their perfect day.  She said she was just sad that they wouldn’t have their mother there.  That made me sad too.  I already had my plan for that day. 

When the minister asked “Who gives this woman to be married?”  I was going to respond, “Her mother.”  Those were my sentiments.  I guess I can’t do that now.

The other huge regret Lisa had was that she couldn’t picture what Michelle would be like when she grew up.  She said she had a glimpse of how DJ would turn out and felt pretty confident that she could envision Stephanie in a few years.  But Michelle was so young, Lisa was grappling to see.

So, I count my blessings that I can watch, day by day, hour by hour, and tonight minute by minute, as they blossom into young women.  I try to watch extra closely so that I can see for both Lisa and me.  She would be so proud of them.

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