Daddies Matter Too

Cover of Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too

Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too by Anna Dewdney

At La Casa de Kraft, Anna Dewdney has a big following. We learned of her children’s books through Llama Llama Red Pajama, the story about a little llama who is struggling with their mom, unwilling to go to sleep.

The series has a handful of books now: Llama Llama and the Bully Goat, Llama Llama Time to Share, Llama Llama Holiday Drama, Llama Llama Home with Mama, Llama Llama Mad at Mama, and Llama Llama Misses Mama.

Notice something? That’s a lot of Mama.

These are great books that are fun to read but all lack an adult male figure. As a father of three, who stayed at home full-time for a couple of years having some of my favorite books to read to the girls at night lacking a father figure, or even any slight hint of one, this series has felt incomplete.

Families are very different and kids have various different types of family structures growing up. I understand that single mother or other non-traditional family structures should be represented too. It was notable to me, though, that of all of the Llama Llama books, only the most recent, Llama Llama and the Bully Goat, mention a father figure and that’s the illustration of the Bully Goat’s dad picking him up at the end of the school day.

Being an active father involved with your kids is still seen as a novelty too often. While staying at home with the girls for a couple years, I can’t count the times well-meaning people commented how great it was that I “took the kids for a day” or similar comments implying and assuming that it was actually a novelty for me to have them out at all during the day, much less be the primary at-home caretaker.

For better or worse, a spin-off of sorts, Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too is now on the scene. For the Llammies out there, you’ll remember Nelly Gnu as the “new girl” from Llama Llama Time To Share who spends a day with her dad in Anna Dewdney’s latest book.

Quickly becoming MC’s favorite book, in the week we’ve had it, we’ve read it a dozen times together. The dad seems like a good guy, helping Nelly build a play house, including taking her to the hardware store and buying paint. He cooks dinner and reads to her at night. He’s a modern father involved with his daughter in multiple ways throughout the day.

I’m not sure how to read that the inclusion of fatherhood was put into a spin-off, but in either case, I’m happy to see this popular franchise pay some attention to the dads.

The Little Things

O is four years old and starting to take care of herself in the bathroom. For her, this is a big step toward independence. It’s easy for me to overlook the importance of each aspect of this is to her.

One point of the bathroom experience she has taken to heart is toilet paper. Both the exact number of squares that V suggested as the right amount and the necessity of the toilet paper being perfectly separated off the roll.

One day, while in a rush (as is the case in all stories like this), I didn’t want to wait for her to count out the exact number of squares and spend an incredible amount of time ensuring that the paper was separate without as much as a slight tear off of the perforation. I grab a bit of paper and just ripped it off.

She lost it.

It was the end of her world.

She started bawling. While sitting on the toilet.

As she said, I had messed up. I had the wrong amount of toilet paper. She pointed to the frayed ends.

One thing I’ve forgotten more times than I can remember about fatherhood is to recall that even though these little people are often very rational and can point out flaws in my arguments, their worldview is still relatively small. These seemingly minor things are still extremely important to them and we can’t forget that.

Fine Print and The Difference of Medical Insurance

“Your insurance doesn’t include maternity coverage.”

About four years ago, V heard those words at her OB/GYN when checking out of the appointment where we confirmed we were going to have a second child (MC). The job I had at the time had horrible benefits and purchasing insurance through the company would come north of $900/mo for me, V, and O. When I got the job, everyone I had talked to suggested that we get coverage on our own for a significant discount, which we did (~$450/mo for everyone).

Stupidly, I didn’t read the 75 pages of fine print that made up the insurance contract and missed the half a paragraph that excluded pregnancies and maternity coverage nor did I know it was impossible to find an individually-purchased plan in Texas that did include maternity (no longer the case, thanks to Obamacare).

We had paid about $2,000 out-of-pocket when O was born and while we didn’t have that set specifically set aside when we found out we were pregnant again, it wouldn’t be an issue to have our ducks in a row within the next nine months.

Until that response from the billing clerk at the doctor’s office.

We had MC in the same hospital (actually, in the same room even), delivered by the same doctor as O. Instead of paying $2,000, we were able to get a “discounted” price, through haggling with the hospital and the doctor, and prepaying both, of about $12,000.

$12,000 out-of-pocket for a healthy, vaginal, non-medicated, no-complications delivery.

Fast-forward three years. The same little girl, MC, needs to have a relatively minor operation. As the pre-op calls come in from the billing departments wanting me to prepay my out-of-pocket portion, I did the math. The total cost, billed to insurance, is expected to be about $11,500. With the insurance we have now, our out-of-pocket cost will be around $1,000.

The difference this time is I’m working for Automattic which offers us great health insurance benefits (among many others and we’re hiring).

The employer-associated health insurance is flawed, though I don’t know the solution.

Lesson learned: Read the fine print.

photocredit: flickr”

Project Directors

It was a frantic morning. We were driving to Houston for a wedding and needed to be on the road 10 minutes ago. “Why are you rushing so much?” There were miscommunications. “Wait? We are supposed to be in town by 11:30?”

We threw the kids in the car, stuffed the bags in the back and were off.

About 45 minutes down the road, we realized it. We forgot one of the kids.

Ha, kidding, No, no. We had all of the kids. We didn’t have the camera. We had three girls with great dresses and no camera.


At a recent Marriage Preparation Workshop that V and I facilitate, we heard a couple speak of their way of making things work—Project Directors. Everything in the house has a “project director”. One of them would take lead on any given project and the other could only ask three questions. After that, they’re offered the lead, in a serious way. If you’re asking more questions than that, then maybe you care enough to take the lead.

Our Houston trip needed a Project Director. I assumed V was doing things she expected me to do. We didn’t talk through it, so mostly, this wasn’t realized until the morning we were to leave. While it is great to think that both of us will have the bandwidth to both be a part of all aspects of all things in our marriage and household, it is increasingly not true.

Between current schooling, applying to schools for O for Kindergarten, getting T into pre-school, the girls’ therapy and medical, my work trips, maintaining the house, planning summer trips, finances, volunteer work, you have to divide, communicate, and conquer.

The trip, in the end, went well, but, as the first trip with three kids involving a hotel, without other family around, it did reveal plenty of growth potential and future blog material.

photocredit: flickr

What The [bleep] Is In My Coffee?!

I love coffee. I named my freelance operation Coffea after the biological genus of all coffee plants. I enjoy drinking it slowly, at first burning my mouth, but continuing to even after it is cold.

I took a nice long sip… What… What is that? Ugh, what the hell? Ew, um. Oh.

A Cheerio. A mushy single morsel of our beloved Cheerios.

A bit of backstory now: I was a stay-at-home dad for a couple of years, starting with MC was six months old and O turning 2. Those are such great ages. They’re playful, not yet (that) defiant. But, it can be mindnumbing at times.

I didn’t go to the playgroup of the Austin SAHDs group as often as I needed to have adult interaction and had to invent ways to keep myself, and the kids, entertained. On one particular day, nothing was going right. Lunch turned out pretty crummy and neither one of the girls would eat it. They were upset, yelling. I was at my wit’s end.

I had a pile of grapes. Out of pure desperation, I threw one up into the air and tried to catch it in my mouth. Total fail.

My arms, head, and body were wildly moving through the living room, trying and failing to catch grape after grape. The girls loved it. They couldn’t stop laughing. I figured out how to turn the tide of raw, toddler and baby emotion from anger, wailing, and gnashing of teeth into laughter and joy.

Being a stay-at-home parent is hard. It’s really hard. If you do it wrong (like I did), you’re isolated without adult interaction for most of the day. You can easily forget that things can be better and you fall into a trap of simply surviving every day.

Every so often, I would try again when I hit a wall and needed something to get past the wall. With plenty of practice, I’m actually pretty good at it now. I don’t do it anymore when I’m at my wit’s end, but more just to have the girls count to see how many items I can catch in my mouth in a row.

So, this morning, everything was great. I had hit 10 or so Cheerios in a row when 18-mo old T decided to join the fun.

Yes, she threw a whole handful of Cheerios up into the air. None landed in her mouth. And yes, unknown to me until about 20 minutes later, one ended up in my coffee cup.

photocredit: flickr

Put Down The Phone

I thought I was being slick. I didn’t think I was checking my phone that often. I’d only pull it out when other stuff was happening—when the girls were doing something else. I wasn’t ignoring them. I wasn’t replying to a note when I should have been doing something with the girls, at least I told myself.

It didn’t matter.

Daddy, you love your phone too much.

I’d ignored my wife’s pestering about reducing phone time since, well, she is a bit of a Luddite, but when O, with all of her four-year-old logic and sense (and love for the iPad), comes to the same conclusion, I can’t afford to ignore it.

The problem with constantly having your face glued to a screen—even when you’re not supposed to be doing something else—is that you’re attaching a big “screw you” sign on your forehead. Your kids will see that you’re too busy replying to some pointless tweet whenever they want to tell you something about their day.

You weren’t ignoring them when you picked up your phone, but by using it, you’re telling them that you are ignoring them.

For O, I wanted to give her a tangible way to see that something is different. When heading upstairs after dinner, at the beginning of our bedtime routine. Her first job is to take my phone and place it on the nightstand in the master bedroom. She knows that she (and her sisters) are the important ones during that time and that, no matter what, I’m not going to get sucked into the phone. And for me, it is impossible to check a phone that is a hallway away without purpose.

Not only that, but phones aren’t foreign to kids. They play with phones (not mine, mind you, but Grandma and Grandpa’s) all the time. They use the phone to look at pictures of themselves, watch Sesame Street clips, and play games. They use it for entertainment.

It doesn’t matter if you’re saving the world, responding to your biggest client, launching countermeasures to an incoming nuclear attack, or anything else. You’re doing it on the same thing they see as a playful toy, which means they could easily make the association that playing a stupid game is more important than spending time with them.

They might understand, on some level, that Mommy and Daddy do adult things on the phone, or they might not. In either case, unless it was truly and actually important, why possibly introduce that?

All that said, I’m breaking the phone addiction for the girls.

photocredit: flickr

Thomas Merton Was Wrong

I’m not a great dad. I get frustrated too easily. I get angry with the girls too often. I don’t cherish the time I spent with them now enough, which they’ll be able to pick up on more as the years go by, which will only make the relationship harder when they get older.

Thomas Merton once said regarding our relationship with God, our heavenly father: I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. The notion that, we hope, the simply wanting to be better before the eyes of God is a good thing in and of itself.

In terms of spirituality and theology, there’s something powerful there. Even within fatherhood, my kids wanting to impress and please me, does, in fact, make me smile. I’d still be proud of them even if they didn’t want to make me proud, but them wanting to is icing on the cake. The other way, though, it is simply wrong. The kids, at the end of the day, don’t want a dad who isn’t great and only desires to be better. They want a better dad, even if they don’t realize that a dad could be better for another twenty or so years.

As this is an experiment of something new, I’m going to start chronicling the things I’m doing to actually be a better dad. While partly to serve as a personal log of what I’ve tried, what I’ve seen different, and ideas for the future, I hope that it will be useful to other dads out there that know they need to be a better dad to their kids and are looking for both ideas themselves and a community of support—if nothing else with me, and perhaps, with other dads.

All that said, welcome. Leave comments. God knows I have no idea what I’m doing even though I already have three kids.

The common characters:

  • V: My wife of 5+ years
  • O: My oldest who is 4 going on 14
  • MC: Our middle daughter who is an absolute joy of complete stubbornish
  • T: Our youngest at 18 months who is growing up way too damn fast
  • Me: A guy who does web geekiness by day and is a geek by night

photocredit: flickr