Saturday, December 27, 2008


I took the girls roller skating today. Steffi usually roller skates, while Jessica plays games. Stef is a very good skater, and I love watching her weave in between the bad skaters flopping around and the fast skaters using everyone else as an obstacle course. For the first time, I got skates for Jess and myself, images of the three of us gliding around the rink dancing (skating?) in my head.

I'm not sure why I thought roller skating was like riding a bicycle. After two minutes of wobbling like a poorly constructed Sean Hannity argument, I decided I'd be better off helping Jessica if I could stay upright. Jess was using the one foot rule for skating novices, meaning she fell at least once for every 12 inches she tried to move forward. She ditched the skates for skeeball. It took her about 8 minutes to spend $10, winning a few tickets that were quickly exchanged for a paper Chinese fan that broke when she opened it.

It dawned on me that maybe roller skating was a bad idea. I just spent $40 in 15 minutes, Jesse was bored, waving a broken Chinese fan and begging for more money, and I was frustrated that merely standing up on skates caused back spasms.

I decided to ask one of those questions that you know from parental experience has very little chance of succeeding. "Jess," I started, "why don't you put your skates on? Steffi really wants to skate with you." She replied, "Okay." You could have knocked me over with a feather, except I was no longer wearing the roller skates.

I was impressed with Jessica's determination. She grabbed the walls. She grabbed Steffi. She fell. Repeatedly. But she continued to make her way around the rink, each time a little bit better. When I asked if she wanted to leave she said no way. When it was announced that the roller rink was closing, she was the last skater on the floor, still using the walls to help her but moving a little faster. I was equally impressed with Steffi, who could have been angry that her little sister often slowed her down, constantly pulled her down, and generally kept her from skating like she normally does. But Steffi was a great help, and never once complained.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It's Better to Give Than Receive (at Least to Your Sister)

Sometimes the girls can be...a handful. Like when Jessica cried during an entire 45 minute car ride home yesterday, or when she screamed and cried for 20 minutes about wanting to go on the computer this morning, when I simply wanted her to wash her hands after going to the bathroom. But thankfully these moments are increasingly rare, or happen while I'm at work (I didn't really mean that last part, sort of).

Anyway, I'm much more likely to see the girls being nice to each other or to other people. Like helping a little boy in Funtime Junction find his father, or Steffi helping Jessica put her seat belt on, or getting out of the car to re-close Jessica's car door to make sure it's shut.

The latest thing they've been doing is wrapping presents that they've gotten each other for Christmas. They are both can't wait for the other one to open up the presents. Of course they're excited about getting gifts, but I've heard more about their upcoming gift exchange than anything else. It's very sweet, and has probably bought them an extra tantrum or two.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Food for Thought

A few times I've tried to explain to the girls that there are people in this country that don't have enough food to get through the day. I don't think the girls really understand it, but I'm a lot older than them and I don't understand it either. Anyway, there's this great new program put together by The Community Food Bank of New Jersey (CFBNJ) called, "We Can't Let This Bank Fail." Because of the current economy, the CFBNJ is in a bind - there's more people in need of food and services from the food bank, but there are less and less donations coming in.

This organization makes every dollar stretch, and the woman who runs it - Kathleen DiChiara - is an amazing person. Check out their Web site and donate a few dollars. It will make a huge difference.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Teach Your Children. Well?

Recently I read in the NY Times that the median family income rose 147% from 1982 to 2007. Wow, nice job everyone. Way to give 100% (or, more accurately, get 147%).

Unfortunately, the statistic that immediately preceded it said that the average cost of college tuition and fees increased 439% over that same time period. That's not a typo. Four Hundred and Thirty Nine Percent. I'm thinking maybe I can trade in our 529 for a 529,000 plan.

The study by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education also found that compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. has slipped in terms of college preparation and graduation. My dad, who didn't go to college, always said that a parent should aim to make the lives of their children a little better than their own lives. To do that, I'm going to give it my best 500% effort.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Yule Light Up My Life

The Christmas season officially began in our household, as it always seems to, when I hung the lights outside the house over Thanksgiving weekend. I love getting into the spirit, as they say, but usually the light hanging leaves me as frustrated as the Simpson's episode when Homer tried repeatedly, and futilely, to build a dog house (if I remember correctly, he collected so much money from putting change in the swear jar that Marge bought him a dog house). Not so similarly yet equally understanding , my wife prescribed preventive medicine by offering to hold the ladder for me and finding the appropriate hooks and other instruments associated with the holiday light show. Frustration averted.

With lights lit and ladder loaded back in the garage, the Xmas festivities turned to when to get the tree and when to visit Santa. We plan to get the tree this Saturday. As for the Santa visit, to quote Steffi, "No thanks." I felt like I'd been punched in the gut by Burl Ives. No Santa visit?

I've been gamely trying to keep the Santa theory alive, but I think I might be the only one in the household that still believes. Steffi is definitely not a believer, and I have a suspicion that Jessica just doesn't want me to believe that I believe that she doesn't believe.

There's still a few weeks to try and rekindle Kris Kringle, but if in the process we spend a lot of time together as a family, have fun and share lots of laughs, then we will have received a gift better than any Santa real or imagined could bring.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


A quick list of what I'm most thankful for with the girls (in no particular order):
  • Bike rides with Steffi
  • Watching gymnastics class
  • Telling me what they did in school that day, and being proud when they say it
  • Jesse running to the door to watch me leave in the morning
  • Playing basketball with Steff at the Y
  • That every vacation is the best vacation they've ever had
  • Taking the girls to Bowcraft
  • Riding waves all day with Steffi at LBI
  • Jessica helping rake leaves and asking for a giant leaf pile
  • Both girls asking me "which team do you want to win?" when they see me watching football and then cheering for that team
  • Jessica asking if I can stay home from work so I can play with her
  • Being into music
  • Steffi always looking out for Jess
  • Going to the movies
  • Wiffle ball in the front yard
  • The girls laughing hysterically about hiking a football and yelling "hut...hut...hike"
  • Jesse telling me not to put cheese on her bologna sandwich even though I did that once and it was about 2 years ago
  • Pretending I don't see Jessica playing spy even though I can hear and see her
  • The countless notes and drawings they give to me
  • The goodnight kiss and hug
  • The daddy daughter dance with Stef
  • Taking Stef to the Jonas Brothers at MSG
  • Playing Go Fish
  • Having Jess explain the rules to a board game to me, even if I have a 35 year head start on her
  • Playing ping pong with Steffi
  • Laughing every day
  • Finding myself saying "you know, the kids are alright" pretty regularly

Thursday, November 20, 2008


The other morning I was unsuccessfully trying to clean my jacket to avoid buying a new one when Steffi walked up close to me and inhaled deeply. "Oh, that's not shoe polish," she said disappointedly. She loves the smell of shoe polish, and loves helping me polish my shoes. It reminds me of when I was a kid, because I loved my dad's shoe shine box, and remember wanting to help him. The shoe shine box seemed like a symbol of someone who was important, at least important enough to have to shine their shoes. It represented making a living, because they were the shoes my dad wore to work every day. It was a way to connect with my dad, as well as a way to pretend to be a grownup, if only for the few minutes it took to help him shine his shoes.

Maybe Steffi feels the same way, or maybe she just really likes the smell of shoe polish. Either way we made a date to polish my shoes this Saturday.

Monday, November 17, 2008


When you're in your twenties you love Saturday night, but when you're...older...and have children you can really look forward to Sundays.

This past Sunday meant:
  • Watching Steffi sing in the children's choir at Mass, where she looks very grown up
  • Raking leaves with Jessica (she came flying out the door after first saying she'd rather stay inside)
  • Going to the family swim at the Y, which has become the late fall and winter "must do" activity
  • A dinner at Friday's where we recapped the swimming excitement

In between I watched two football games on DVR, including the Giants game, without hearing the score. I went to the Y sans any Giants hat or sweatshirt so no one would tell me what a great game I just missed. I even got to several sections of the Sunday Times, where I'm pretty sure I read that Henry Paulson's next bailout idea involves handing out George and Mary Bailey's $2,000 honeymoon money.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Post-it Note

Many times I come home to see the remnants of a game or activity the girls have played at some point during the day. It cracks me up to hear the explanations. Sometimes I'll see a mixing bowl of flour, sprinkles, spices, and water mixed together (both Jessica and Steffi have loved this "game" at different times, and the explanation generally comes down to "because it's there."

Yesterday there was red yarn that tied together the couch, recliner, and TV. Explanation? Jessica set up a circus for her stuffed animals. Once in a while I'll check on Jessica sleeping and I'll see 20 Care Bears wearing diapers (that's usually when she has trouble falling asleep; she'll play in her bed until she's ready to pack it in for the night).

But tonight there was a game that needed no explanation. There were Post-it notes all over the floor, each with the word "go" written on it. The notes started in the dining room and continued through the living room, up the stairs, into our bedroom, ending in the closet. Sitting on my shoe polish box (yes, I have one, and yes, I rarely use it) was a note that said, "We love you Daddy. Best Dad Ever!" I opened the note to find a photo of Steffi and Jessica, along with 10 reasons why they love me.

That made my week.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Who's Teaching Who?

Yes, parents play a huge role in teaching their children. But I've found that if you listen closely, you can also learn a lot from your kids. Here's a few recent lessons from the girls:

1) Focus on the positive. I know, it's easy for a five year-old to be positive, right? But if I gave Jessica a nickel every time she answered "great" to a question (in a Tony the Tigerish way), she'd be halfway to paying for her college education by now. She has so much enthusiasm when she says it that it makes me feel, ummm...great as well. Here's a sample of the questions I've asked her in the last couple days that have elicited the "great!" response:

"How did you sleep?"
"How was school?"
"How was lunch?"
"How were the Lucky Charms?"
"How was your playdate?"
"How is the bruise on your knee?"

She loves life, and always finds something to love about it.

2) Help others. I generally carry three dollars or less in my wallet. I actually bought a $2 soup at a deli the other day with my Amex card because I had 70 cents on me. So whenever I ask my wife if she has any money on her if I'm running out somewhere, Steffi will be the first to reach into her money jar (actually a can) and offer to lend me whatever I need. She genuinely wants to share what she has. Recently we were out shopping and she offered to buy me a pair of shoes. When I was her age I'm pretty sure I was more interested in buying the latest KISS album or baseball cards than asking my dad if he needed some extra cash. But the larger point isn't about money, it's about offering help to others, even if they don't take you up on it.

3. Don't take things for granted. Yesterday Steffi's class had a mock Presidential election, and she was so excited to cast her vote. Jessica says she can't wait until she's 18 so she can vote (I told her she'd be 18 soon enough). Many countries envy the freedom we often take for granted. One of the greatest manifestations of this freedom is voting for the candidate of your choice. Don't take it for granted.

Friday, October 31, 2008


It was a great Halloween. I made it home by 4 to trick or treat with the kids. Steffi was the Queen of Spiders (sort of a witch costume with a spider slant to it) while Jessica was Belle. I told Jessica a couple days ago she looked as beautiful as she will on her wedding day. She looked at me with that "C'mon dad" look and said, "Daddy, don't you know brides wear white dresses. They don't wear yellow. They wear white, not yellow Daddy." (she likes to repeat things like this to make sure I get her point).

I dressed as Reaganomics, which I thought was timely since we've reached a crossing point in this economic policy. In the spirit of Halloween, I'd like to explain Reaganomics like this: let's pretend candy represents money. In traditional demand side economics, candy (money in the form of tax cuts) is given to all people, particularly lower wage earners. They are more likely to distribute this candy in the local communities (because they typically spend virtually all the money they make). Actually, 70% of our GDP is based on the candy that all of us, at every income level, redistribute back into the community (think the traditional Halloween scene - kids knocking on the door and getting candy from all the neighbors). At the end of the day, lots of people have lots of candy. Even those that gave away candy have children come home with candy of their own to share with their family. Everybody has a good time.

In Reaganomics (supply side economics), a majority of the candy would go to the top 1/2 of 1 percent of the population. But the other 99 1/2 percent of the population doesn't live in this community, so they aren't knocking on any doors to get candy. And a lot of this very small, hard working population is not interested in distributing the candy; they'd rather invest it to see if they could double, triple, or quadruple the amount of candy they have. This doesn't make them bad, mean, or someone to envy. Everybody loves candy. They were given a lot of it and they'd like to see a lot more of it.

But I guess I'm saying that Halloween is a lot more fun when everybody gets some candy.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Best birthday present: my wife tells the girls that daddy is off today. Their response? YYYAAAAYYYY!!

As I climb up into the 40s, there are 3 things that ring as true today as they did when I was a kid:

1) I will leave my seat whenever the Giants score a touchdown
2) I will stop on any radio station playing a song by the Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who or Pink Floyd
3) Reaganomics is not a sustainable economic policy

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Wally Who?

A lot of times when I drive around with the girls, they want to listen to my iPod. Not to any of my music, of course, but the various songs I've downloaded off iTunes that they like. But today Jessica had a special request for a song. They call it "Who Wally", but it's better known as Who Are You. They crack up at the "who who who who" part.

We've all sung the wrong lyrics to songs we've heard a million times, so I can't blame them for misunderstanding a song they've only heard a few times. It actually makes me feel better, because there's cursing in the song, and since they can't understand the chorus that's sung 50+ times, I feel secure that they can't make out the rest of the lyrics anyway.

The other song that cracks them up is "Pork and Beans" by Weezer because they say the word "underwear." But generally they just want to hear that verse over and over again rather than the whole song.

The only other song they'll listen to that's mine is U2's Original of the Species, because I told them that Bono wrote it for The Edge's daughter (that's true). They call that song, "the one that the guy wrote for the daughter." Sounds like what Dave Matthews would name a song.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Goal

Right now the highlight of my entire week is watching Jessica play soccer on Saturday mornings. The five-year-old version of soccer is three-on-three, no goalies, small field, and little girls crowding around the ball like a rugby scrum. But in just a few weeks the girls have started to show good skills in dribbling, passing, and shooting.

Yesterday Jessica scored 6 goals, most of which consisted of her dribbling the length of the field (using both feet!) and running at a pretty good speed. Of course I was the beaming dad, but what I am most proud of is that she shows the same fun and enthusiasm whether she's playing soccer, going to Bowcraft, heading off to school, or playing with her sister.

The whole point of sports at this age (maybe every age?) is to show her that with a little practice she can do whatever she sets her mind to. She demonstrated that yesterday, which was the biggest goal of all.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Gray Hare

Since she was about 9 months old, Steffi has slept with "bunny." This once yellow and white fluffy bunny is ripped, frayed, faded, flat, and at this point looks just as dirty coming out of the laundry as it did going in. But Steffi cannot go to sleep without it (kind of like me and my iPod).

The other morning Steffi brought bunny down to breakfast. I haven't seen him in a while, and he was looking...old. "Look at bunny," I said to Steff. "He's so...."

"Gray!" said Jessica helpfully in between spoonfuls of Lucky Charms. Before I could add to the dead on description, she said, "Like your hair." I thanked Jess for the great observations, but she must have felt bad, because she continued to qualify her remark. "I mean it's not a lot of gray. It's more on the sides. Both sides. Not on the top. A lot on the sides."

Yes, Jessica is very perceptive.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Kid 2.0

A sign that your children are getting older: they no longer need you to help them navigate "Webkinz world," as they like to call it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Chinese Philosophy

Recently I was playing in the yard with the girls when Steffi asked me, "Dad, why is everything made in China?" I was instantly brought back in time to when I was a kid, when my dad would go on and on about how "nothing in America is actually made in America anymore." Eager to come up with a non-answer, I responded, "Who told you that?" She said no one told her, but if you looked on the back of almost any toy it says "made in China." She picked up lots of toys in the garage to prove her point.

Again I thought back to my childhood, to my dad's frequent laments that nothing in America was made in America anymore, which didn't totally make sense to me at the time because our family wasn't making anything ourselves anyway. I weighed giving Steffi some insight into how the world works versus keeping her mind focused on what an eight-year-old should be focused on, namely playdates, gymnastic classes, the Jonas Brothers, and Webkinz.

I joined her in the garage, looked her in the eye and said, "Who wants to go for a bike ride?"

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Snap, Crackle, Pops

This morning I was eating cereal (as usual) and reading the Sunday paper. Even though the kids are at the age that they sleep a little later, I usually get up early and start the day with coffee, cereal, and some sort of newspaper or magazine while everyone else is asleep. This morning Steffi told my wife and I that she usually hears me downstairs, particularly the cereal pouring into the bowl. She said she enjoys hearing that sound because it lets her know that dad is home. She had a big smile when she told us that. It made me smile because all this time I figured I was having "alone time" when in fact I was sharing a moment with my daughter and didn't even know it.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Medical Advice From a Five-Year-Old

Jess has not been feeling well the last few days; she's got a cold and is not her usual self. I haven't been feeling great either, and I'm sure I got whatever bug she has. She spent Saturday sleeping, watching a little TV, and generally lying around trying to feel better. I started Saturday running a bunch of errands, and had about 6 more things on the to do list when I realized that the lounging on the couch thing didn't look like such a bad idea. So I hit the man room, turned on the Ryder Cup, and didn't feel guilty about not completing the list. Thanks Jess, for reminding me that sometimes the best thing "to do" is nothing at all.

Monday, September 15, 2008


My daughters love to use the word "awesome." I've heard this word in reference to everything from a video iPod to finding the last Popsicle in the freezer. It's used to describe any Jonas Brothers-related item. Finding a lost pencil, sticker, toy or stuffed animal stuck between their bed and the wall always elicits an awesome. Fixing anything for them. Awesome.

Recently I found out our current President is a big fan of this word as well. He is 62 years old. My girls are 5 and 8.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dad, What are you doing?

I get asked this question a lot. This morning it was during Jessica's soccer game. I helped coach Jesse's team today because the assistant coach didn't show up. Since she and her teammates are five, coaching means keeping the ball in bounds and pointing them toward the right goal. After about five minutes, Jessica notices I'm not leaving the field, and in a low voice that was almost a whisper asks, "Dad, what are you doing?" I told her I was helping coach her team. I'm not a coach. I'm Dad. The guy with the silly jokes. The one who will play in the rain and ride bikes and kill the bugs in her room. But to her credit, she accepted me as Coach, came in and out of the game when I asked, and scored a few goals as well. I had a lot of fun. I hope the assistant coach doesn't show up next week.