Top 10 Discoveries About My Book

This is how I imagine the book cover. Only with the shadow of a man in a coat and hat looking all detectivie

Are you surprised how your book turned out?

Now, spoiler alert, this is a longer post than normal. Get into your comfy underwear, pour yourself a glass of whiskey, put your feet up on the dog and continue.

Yager’s War has come so far since it’s inception back in 2016, but my first historical novel has finally been sent off to my first readers – Two professional writers, and one person who lived through that time.

Oh, but that seems so long, ago, now. A lifetime. And in that lifetime, I learned a lot about my story, which kinda surprised me since I thought I pretty much knew everything about it when I sat down to write it.

So, what did I discover?

1) I discovered that I can’t eat well and write. Now, this doesn’t have anything to do with the novel, per se, but if anyone is looking to write a character in a novel who writes for a living, it’s a good trait. Not a healthy one, but something odd. Quirky. Stupid. Peanut M&Ms. Pop. Pizza. Oddly, I didn’t drink. Sorry Hemmingway.

2) I discovered that I sat down to write this because I love history and World War II history in particular. But it’s not a love based on battles, but stories. It’s something that’s not being taught a lot in schools. It’s all about facts, maps, (wait, I love maps, too), and dates. Even without a specific person, there is a narrative that thrills me. The massively outnumbered Jews who fought the Germans in the Warsaw Ghetto. The 500 Spartans at Thermopylae. The Alamo. Then it hit me. I love the underdog. The few who stood up when it mattered BUT died in the end. All knew they would die, yet still fought the fight. That leaked into my novel in a big way (and will certainly be a major part of the second and third novels.)


Iron Lungs. Therapy for polio. But it looks like something out of a horror movie.

I discovered a lot about things we understand now, understand back then. Polio. PTSD. Asperger’s. They’ve all existed since the beginning of time. Like the Queen of England. But we’re only now understanding them fully and I was surprised at the complexity of each one of those subjects.


4) I discovered ‘what to keep in and what to take out’ was tougher than I ever thought. Yanking out a whole subplot ain’t easy, my friends. It’s like trying to yank off a skin tag, it’s quite painful and wants to snap right back. I can still use a lot of what I wrote or imagined in my next book,

5) I discovered I could fall in love with one of

Amelia Anderson. (AKA- Bryce Dallas Howard)

my characters. It’s amazing how much a story can change even from the 2nd draft, to the third. I yanked out some decent writing about my character’s interaction with a family to explore a love interest and I fell in love with that love interest. Amelia “Amy” Anderson, a brilliant red-head with Sherlock Holmesian Asperger’s. Socially awkward. Kind. Driven. Beautiful (of course, cuz, you know, I’m a guy.) I dream about her now. Don’t tell my wife.

6) I discovered it’s tough to choose what research to use and what not to use. I had to cut research out. Oh, that fine line between having authentic historical details and way, way, way too much information… it’s so easy to cross because information is so fun! (You know what I’m talking about, Paula!)

7) I discovered that I could make myself cry while writing. Not, oh god, this is terrible, but I moved myself at some of the tragic scenes. Maybe no one else will shed a tear, but it’s odd that I could actually get in touch with emotion. Without whiskey. Thanks to Don Maass for making me live in the pain for a while.

8) I discovered, much to my horror, that it was not as much fun, sometimes, to do research. Now, this really shocked me. I love learning new facts. Like did you know that the Kaiser, the Imperial Emperor of Germany, fled to Holland? And had the nickname of the Woodchopper? But trying to get all my facts right, like what soap the Dutch used for dishes or what goods were sold in the Waterlooplein market, well, that took a bit of work and I often got distracted tracking down other details.

9) I discovered this is not, at its heart, a who-killed-Roger-Rabbit story. This is a Jewish

Lest we forget

story. Again, a bit of a shock. Not that I didn’t have Jewish elements in it, but on the last rewrite, it really hit home how much I needed to tell the Jewish story here.

10) I discovered it’s a feminist novel. This came as the biggest shock. BIGGEST. Like finding a spider in your underwear.  Both of my main female characters are strong, independent women in a time where such things were not the norm. Maybe it was all the women in my life who influenced that. My mom who went to university and graduated as the only woman in her class. My wives, Margot and Corinne. My inherited great Baba, who designed and built a frigging church.

But all those discoveries aside, the novel will get one last polish from my first readers, then it’s off to the agent.

It is the best thing I have written, but something not achieved without great pain and anguish. Ask my wife who’d find me wandering around the house muttering, “No, that won’t work, won’t work, my precious, he has to die, yes, die but how, dammit, how?”

It’s been an interesting journey, combining my deep emotional connection to the Netherlands (based on my visits there and my reading of the holocaust), my love of a good thriller, and my love of books that touch a poignant chord within us all.  But, as any writer should, if someone has a way to make it EVEN BETTER, (my first readers, my agent, my editor, Bob the grocery bagger,) then I’ll kick it up yet another notch.

Because I not only want it to be the best story I’ve ever written, but one of the best others will ever read.

The Joys of Copy Editing

Who knows more about great suffering, I ask you?

June 5th, Yager’s War was finally sent to an agent who’d requested it. Like most things worth doing, this was not achieved without great suffering. Or at least great silliness. Especially when it comes to the copy-editing,

The writing of the novel was fun. The rewrite a lot of work.  A LOT. Then I did up the first final draft and sent it off to my trusted readers. They came back with suggestions, ideas and concerns. I dealt with them all.

Then came the dreaded copy edit. Now, some people have minds fo copy-editing. Smart people. People who can do the NY Times Crosswords in pen. The people who beat Jeopardy winners to the questions. People who can quote Shakespeare instead of Snoop Dog.

Not me. I am like that dog in Up. I get distracted very easily. My mind’s always thinking of something. Like where did I put my Def Leppard tape from the 80’s? Or why did Ares try to convert Wonder Woman when clearly, she wasn’t all about the whole ‘let’s kill mankind’ thing.

But I got some help from my friends and did the best I could. I went slowly. I used Gammarly. I blew up the font to be so huge, it could be read from space (so I wouldn’t start actually reading the story and get all lost in it.)

And then, after a freaking month, 459 pages, I finished.

But for laughs, here’s what I found.

I had to look up the crazy stuff like is adam’s apple capitalized? Well, it turns out, yes, yes it is. Adam’s apple. (I’ll take stupid things the English language does for 200.

Or you can ask Bill Maher. Wait, too soon?


I found that I had written gate instead of gait. Oh, I knew the difference, but somewhere in my brain, gate came out. I did the same thing with hanger and hangar that my critique group still giggle about.

I actually wrote, “bowels of soup” instead of “bowls.”

Looked up if herring should be capitalized (grammarly said yes, but google says no, so, I, ah, guess it’s kinda dealer’s choice.) I went without.

I wrote, “at the there.”  Yup. Dunno how, but that came out.

Later, I wrote, “on the table above the table.” I had to wonder if I’d been drinking that night. Or just up too late.

But seriously, WTF!?!?

Then I found that I’d written, “whipped the anger from his face.” which made me giggle.

From the Huff Post. They know their women’s bits.

I spent an hour, I kid you not, trying to find good words for lady bits. Then another hour reading about the time-line of genital slang. Then briefly thought about using stiff deityinstead of erection. But, my cop, being from Chicago and all, would probably not have used that term. Makes me want to write a novel using that as a title. (See how I can get distracted.)

I made lots of comma errors, plenty of ‘he’ instead of ‘the’ mistakes, buggered up the paragraphing somehow from one document to another, and even accidentally copy-and-pasted a deleted chapter back into the final draft.

Oh, fun times.

This is how I imagine the book cover. Only with the shadow of a man in a coat and hat looking all detectivie

But it’s all done. Yager’s War, 109,000 words is out there. A story set in Amsterdam in 1940 about a Chicago Detective who races against the clock to find his missing sister before the Germans invade.

It’s the best writing I’ve done.

Wish me luck.

(Copy edited by the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world).

July 1st Canada Day

Getting up early, are you mad?

You wouldn’t think there’s much joy in getting up early, especially with kids. They’re like little alarm clocks…

Oh, who are we kidding?

Trucks. Jet engines. Kids waking up. Decibal level of noise in that order.

They’re like garbage trucks right outside your window emptying a bin full of glass, chunks of construction metal and concrete.

Now, it’s not something the kids do out of cruelty, no more than a meteor smashes into a planet does it out or cruelty – They are simply natural disasters with limited awareness of the effect they have on the world around them

Hey, it’s 7am, I think I’ll slam every door in the house closed, then play the drums at a concert hall level, then make a sound like I’m falling down the stairs so you can’t, you know, ignore that.

So why get up early when, for the first time in a long time, you could actually sleep in?

Plus, in a hotel room, it’s 10X harder! First of all, it’s hard to sneak around without anyone waking up. You must have the dexterity of a Cirque du Soleil acrobat and the patience of a bomb disposer.

But I wanted to get the blog done and the only time I could do that is in the early AM.

So, I eased out of bed without making squeaks cuz the Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World has mommy senses (which can detect her child sneezing from a mile away), unplucked the iphone from the charger, had a quick pee without it sounding like Niagara Falls, slipped into my clothes, found my shoes without asking my wife, “hey, where are my shoes?”

Then, I found my wallet without asking my wife, “hey, where’d I put my wallet?” extracted my hotel key from underneath a pile of coins, avoided tripping over the boys’ shoes that I asked them three hundred times to put under their bed, padded towards the door without sneezing as my allergies kicked in and my nose ran like a stream after a rainstorm, then unlocked the lock, pried the door open and shut it without a huge click as loud as a cannon going off.

All so I can write.

But there’s also another reason I got up so early.

The world is a different place at 6am. Crisp. Fresh. And largely free of people.

Is the word a better place without a lot of people? Well, yes, for sure, but more importantly, it’s a lot more peaceful.

A beautiful hanging basket from

In Victoria, on Canada Day, on this day, it was especially peaceful. The sky was a bright, desert-sky blue. No crowds filled the sidewalks. No cars roared by or honked.

Gulls cried overhead. The odd boat puttered out of the Inner Harbor. The air smelled of the sea, not exhaust fumes and sweaty people who forgotten to put on deodorant. The coffee was freshly made, the baked goods newly delivered and smelling of cinnamon and warm chocolate. I didn’t have to fight anyone to get a seat or wait behind anyone who stared up at the food board and took a freaking year to decide to have a black coffee…

So why wouldn’t you want to experience that?

Why wouldn’t you go for a walk along deserted streets, passing by the hanging flower-baskets dripping after just being watered, stop at a café, sit down and look out at the glistening ocean waves while listening to Bach play on the café speakers and think, my goodness, isn’t the world wonderful, my goodness, wouldn’t the world be better without, you know, morons, anger-filled nutjobs, stressed out parents, activists, honkers, clueless idiots who stop their shopping carts in the middle of the aisle and block the entire aisle…

Without,  you know, people?

Cuz that is what the world is like at 6am. At least in Victoria. Today.

A perfect time to write. Because later, who knows what will happen?


A few sites to check out if you’re going to Victoria  A good site for all things touristy.

Trip Advisor – Personally, my go-to site for tourist stuff.

Visit a City – You can plan days (so if you only have 2 days, they have suggestions)

Free Touristy Things – So you don’t have to spend billions.

Top 10 List – that leads to other top 10 lists.



Canada Day – What if Everything Goes Right?

In my mind, they’re avoiding either Godzilla or a toll bridge

I’ve said it before, but the best stories don’t come from happiness or things going right.

They come from falling asleep while waiting in the ferry line and being woken up by honking and a ferry worker banging on your window and telling you to get the car in f…ing gear, in dealing with the Greek police after a car accident, in sorting out where you would have left your wallet in a place where people speak English about as well as you speak Mongolian, in pitching a tent in the pouring rain while lightning snaps overhead and thunder shakes the ground.

Now, I won’t say I look forward to those things, but they do make for good stories.

Our destination, this year, however, could prove to be problematic, vis-à-vis problems.

We had chosen to go to Victoria.

Few things are as beautiful as the trip from Vancouver to Victoria.

I booked the ferry in advance because it’s a long weekend and on those occasions, people like to travel to the Island and plug up all the roads. Now, the ferries have an odd rule. You have to arrive ½ hr before departure, but not an hour before. In other words, they give you about a ½ hour window. 5:00 – 5:30 to catch that 6 ferry.

It’s a hard window to hit in Vancouver traffic. Invariably, there’s someone who’s determined to set their truck on fire, crash into someone else or drive at the speed of a tortoise on pain meds.

Then there’s the whole getting the kids ready, packed, yanking them off electronics, stuffing them into the car and panicking as we realize we have to make a 50 min drive in 20 min now.

It can be quite the ordeal.

But not this time.

Dynamite works well, too

This time, we were totally ready to go hours before we had to leave. HOURS! And when we actually had to leave, it wasn’t like surgically separating them from their electronics.

Hell, we even left before we had to leave. BEFORE!

When we arrived within that 30-minute ferry window. No cards were declined. No one threw up in the backseat. No one forgot to bring the paperwork.

It all went fine.

Everyone who hadn’t made a reservation had a 2 sailing wait.

Sailing to Victoria, the weather was magnificent, the ocean calm, and the captain even yelled at a skateboarder over the PA system (stop it, we have cameras and can see you, you totally f…ing moron.) The Youngest read. READ! The Oldest didn’t once punch his brother while thinking we weren’t looking. And we listened to the Oldest’s newest composition (something honestly amazing).

It was horrific.

Like Heaven might be.

Then, we blazed through ferry traffic, found a parking space right in front of our hotel and got an upgraded room so huge that the Youngest said, boy, this room is huge.

Tegan and Sara in concert. Free! On the parliament lawns!

Something odd was happening here.

But it didn’t stop there. On the parliament lawn, right beside us, there was a concert playing – A duo that the Prettiest-girl-in-the-World LOVES. Tegan and Sara.

Musicians played all over. There was a truck that sold mini-donuts. People were dancing and smiling and waving Canadian flags.

So we listened to the concert for a bit, went to get ice cream, strolled along streets shut off to traffic and took pictures of the glorious sunset. The only iffy thing that happened was the Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World mis-hearing the cost of the ice cream (“$40 for 4 cones??????, are you kidding me?” “Not $40. $14.”)

No ice cream got dripped on my shirt. No drunken idiots tried to beat up anyone (unlike my last visit to Victoria). No activists shouted at us, outraged at something. No police sirens wailed. Hell, the Youngest didn’t even wander off to touch something that really shouldn’t be touched.

By the time we got back to the hotel, I was reeling.

Nothing had gone wrong. We’d had a perfect time. Perfect.

And all without a plan.

How was this possible?

And would it last?


For fun, a Tegan and Sara video (ad kept in cuz that’s how T&S make a bit of coin.)



Life is Better With Plans, Right?

My first meme!!!

It’s been a while since I blogged and to my six fans out there, I apologize.


I have a plan.

I’ve spent the last six months working on my novel, Yager’s War, a historical mystery set in 1940s Holland (about a Chicago detective who must find his missing sister before the Germans invade) and that has distracted me somewhat from sitting down and ramble-writing. AKA blogging.

All fair and fine.

But I’m back, baby.

Time to restart blogging, again. But time to kick it up a notch.

So this month, I’m going to look at revamping the website (which means an old dog like me will have to learn some new tricks.)

I’m going to look at changing up the content of the blog.

I’m going to try and make it a billion times better.

And maybe attract one more reader (see, proper goal setting is about making the bar so low that you’ll easily vault over it and not twist a metaphorical ankle.)

So put down that video game, pause season 5 of Homeland on Netflix, put supper back in the oven or move date night to tomorrow.

Cuz I may need your help.

What would you like to see in the blog?

I’m thinking some funny memes. Some advice from people who know what they’re talking about (and not, you know, me). A few guest blogs. Less selfies of me trying to look like Brad Pitt going insane.

Inner Harbour, Victoria, BC.

But first up, our trip to Victoria.

This year, we won’t be able to manage a proper vacation. You know, pack 20 bags, yell at the kids to hurry up, to stay together, to stop picking your nose in public, then spend 2 weeks somewhere that only I want to see (“What’s the deal with this Grand Canyon thing, Joe?” “Hello! It’s grand! And a canyon!”) and engage in Bataan death marches around exotic locals to see things we’ve never seen before (“Wait, Joe, I’ve seen the Eifel Tower on TV, so why do we need to see it in person?”)

Don’t get me wrong, next year, we are totally doing those things, but not this year.

This year, it’s short trips. Hit and run vacations. 2 days here. 2 days there. No planes. No borders. No strip searches (sadly – Apparently, they’re supposed to be done by professionals, not me.)

So this year, we’re going to try to do more things by… ack, I can’t even say it…by… by the seat of our pants.

Without a plan.




Grand Pacific in Victoria, BC.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

We’ve got a bit of a plan.We’ve booked a hotel (the fancy–smancy Grand Pacific) and we have arranged to visit family, but nothing like, 7am, breakfast, 7:35 go to bathroom, 7:50, get into car, 8:30 (have you ever tried to get kids into a car quickly???), head off to see something, 9:00 see something and take lots of pictures of it. 9:10 yell at kids for complaining there’s no wifi. 9:40 head off to see something else that may or may not be cool…. Etc, etc.

Nope. We’re trying to be more flexible (and by ‘we’, I mean, ME.) It’s me growing as a human being while devolving as one at the same time.

Friday night, we’ll take the ferry and sort out what to do when we get there. Saturday, brunch with family, then, THEN, sort out what to do afterward, then the evening, see fireworks, but make no plans where to see them from or what food to eat or ….

Wait, I need a moment.

Ok, hyperventilating over.

Then, Sunday, totally playing it by ear. Maybe see a friend. Maybe look around town. Maybe relax in the pool.

At the very least, it could be interesting.

Likely, I’ll be drinking more than usual.

At least, that’s the plan.

And hey, thanks to all my readers who followed me. I hope you’ll return, make a few comments below or on Facebook, and help me create a better blog. Text me, email me, respond in the comment section. Let me know what you think.

Success @ Surrey Writers' Conference?

real-life-schoolOddly enough, I am more comfortable talking about my failures. I mean, hey, failures make for better stories, while successes, well, who wants to read about a hero who just succeeds? But sometimes we writers forget to celebrate our wins. So, please, indulge me…

With all my pitching done, that left Saturday to actually learn something, maybe even have some fun. And there was one workshop I didn’t want to miss. SiWC Idol.

It’s where authors submit their first page for the amazing Jack Whyte to read, then a panel of agents raise their hand the moment they would reject it. The goal was to have the entire page read, the agents not stopping the reading at all, but eager to find out what happens next.

simon-cowelSure, one year it was bad, with agents going all Simon Cowell on everyone, and even some of the good stuff was getting slaughtered in the name of making people laugh. I suspect a lot of people complained and rightly so. It’s hard to have your stuff read out. It takes courage to submit that one page, and for those agents to savage the writing and writer, well, it was just wrong.

But it never happened again, and so I was pretty excited to submit my 1 page. I thought it was decent enough, perhaps even good, so I thought, hey, roll the dice. One of the agents I had pitched to would be there and if I managed to get read, and she liked it, it might cement that idea that my book has a real chance.

However, if my writing failed, if I’d convinced myself it was better than it really was, then the reverse would be true. She’d leave thinking, my goodness he was handsome and charming and had a good idea for a book, but couldn’t write to save his life (and my book would die an ugly death in the slush pile.)

So, a lot at stake.

And all of it depended on a good bit of luck as well. See, there are about 200 people who show up for this event, and it takes 5-10 min to go through the first page and give feedback, so that’s about 20 or so pages that can be read.

I crossed my fingers.

The first ones that were pulled out and read, were hit and miss. A few good ones, but mostly they needed work. However, the agents were very respectful and even helpful, offering some greats suggestions on how to make it better.

Then Jack Whyte pulled out a submission from my writer’s group. And when he read it, he read the chapter title. It started off with a date and a place, instead of just saying chapter 1.

But the agents hated that, and before we’d gone not far past the chapter title, they’d rejected it!

On the title of a chapter!

Now I went into a panic.

That’s exactly how MY submission started.

If jack Whyte read my chapter titles, then I would be done. All my hopes of making a good impression dashed.

I shut my eyes, and now wished for my submission not to be taken.

More submissions were read. Time began to run out until only 10 minutes remained. Some total asshat submitted 2 and both of them got read. How unfair for the rest of the people. There was only 1 submission allowed. Only 1.

But that left only a few minutes for those last submissions.

And then Jack Whyte began to read mine.

He didn’t read the title.

Thank God.

He read the opening sentence. Then the opening paragraph. Then the rest. With him reading it, with his incredible voice and Shakespearean delivery, he made it sound amazing. Not a single agent stopped him from reading.

And when he was done, they were all so very nice and complementary, especially the agent I’d pitched to who said she knew who the author was and got me to stand up. Then she gave me a thumbs up.

Everyone seemed to love it and it was the best moment that I’d ever had at SiWC. That moment of validation. That feeling that maybe I have a chance at publication. That thumbs up.

But that’s the conference for you.

Ups and downs.

But this time.

On this day.

Totally up.


And here’s Jack Whyte reading from his novel to give you an idea of how well he can speak!





Oh the Horror – A Movie Review and More

Still one of the scariest movies of all time - Exocist
Still one of the scariest movies of all time – Exorcist

At some point in a boy’s life, he becomes… well, let’s say ‘interested’ in horror movies. ‘Obsessed’ might be a better word, but ‘interested’ will do.

The-Oldest has reached that point. He’s read It. He’s watched movies like Nightmare on Elm St and Exorcist, which, FYI, is still one of the best horror movies of all time.

So while the Prettiest-Girl-In-The-World took The-Youngest to his first baseball batting tryout, The-Oldest and I decided to watch a movie. I wanted to make sure I got quality time with him as well. I greatly fear that The-Youngest, being a little more sportsie and challenging, tends to take up nearly all my time.

So I hoped I’d be able to do something fun with The-Oldest.

Hence a movie.

A movie I’d not heard about.

At all.


How did we choose it?

Well, we did what we do. Both The-Oldest and I won’t use a Kleenex until we’ve researched which ones last the longest, which ones are the softest and which ones are the most environmentally friendly.

So we looked into the best horror movies of all time.

There are many lists out there. There are lists of lists. Seems everyone and their demonic dog has a thought on this subject. Most included movies like 6th Sense or Silence of the Lambs which are not, in and of themselves, actual horror movies.

We’d looked at the lists from Rotten Tomatoes. IMDb. Metacritic.

Sadly, we’d seen most of the movies on most of the lists.

Child's Play.
Child’s Play.

Now, currently, The-Oldest’s favourite horror movie of all time is Child’s Play. He admits it isn’t the best movie ever made, nor even a particularly good movie, it’s just that he likes it. At his age, I thought Phantasm was the best movie ever made, so maybe at 13, our minds see things in a totally different way.

So I was a little leery when we found this Babadook movie. It’s Australian for one. It didn’t have any talking dolls or demons brought back from dreams or slashy serial killers. On top of that, it was written and directed by a woman.

Jennifer Kent.

And it had a silly name. Babadook? WTF???

It was, however, the winner of 49 awards!

Here’s the pitch… “A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.”

A scary house. A monster. A sinister presence.

Sounds ok, right? Sounds like something I’ve seen a hundred times before, right?


It was the most terrifying movie I’ve seen in awhile. Quite awhile.

It was the type of movie that stays with you for a long, long time.

Babadook. Holy hell, scary.
Babadook. Holy hell, scary.

The visuals were perfect. I mean, freaking perfect. The acting was so un-Hollywood that you thought you were watching a real family in crisis. The pacing was agonizingly tense. The music so creepy, I had to claw a blanket over me.

But the true genius was in the characters, their struggles and the ambiguous nature of the ‘evil’.

Without giving much away, the child wasn’t a lovable waif who said ‘I wove you momby’. No, he was deeply damaged by what happened in his past and was, to quote The-Oldest, “one tough kid to like.” He screamed a lot. Obsessed a lot.  Needed his mom A LOT.

And his mom, well the best that can said about her is that she was having a complete mental breakdown. Who could blame her? A huge trauma in her life. No sleep. A spooky book that she couldn’t get rid of. And a crazy? son.

I don’t want to reveal everything, but jezzus was this a great movie. I could not guess for a moment where they were going from scene to scene and, even after watching it, I’m still not entirely sure what happened. I mean, what REALLY happened, especially with her being a writer and all (they’re messed up people.)

The-Oldest, however, loved it. Even though he’d never admit it, it scared the pants off him, and there’s nothing a teenager (who hasn’t discovered girls, yet) likes more than having his pants scared off. Nightmares will come. Some of those images are burned into his brain. And that music…


So, yeah, a total success.

I’m super glad I didn’t have to see it alone.







Tournament Trials – Pools and Parties – pt 3

monkeyImagine if you condensed the sound of screaming monkeys in a hothouse jungle and put that in a can, then, when you were sick with a cold, exhausted from a traumatic ferry ride, and pretty much ready for bed, you popped that can open right in your ear….

Well, that’s what the pool party was like.

Thank Christ we forgot the water bottle.

Because we forgot the water bottle, we had to go get one and by getting one, I managed to only have to endure an hour or so of the pool party.

Oddly enough, I remember thinking, hey, cool, the motel has an indoor pool. How awesome is that? It was, like -150 degrees outside and there would have been no way the boys could have played in an outdoor pool

poolHowever, the indoor pool was in a small space that seemed to amplify the noise by about a thousand times. And man, can little boys make some noise. Forget standing by a speaker in a Metallica concert or cheering for Seattle in the Century Link field, those places ain’t got nothin’ on a pool full of 16 nine to ten year-old boys.

But the boys had such fun, even if it looked like a piranha feeding frenzy sometimes. They tried to drown each other. They cannon-balled in the pool.They splashed water out of the pool like they were trying to empty it (in fact, given another hour in it, I think they would have had more water outside of it than in it.)

Such things are fun made of.

With a few other parents, we lifeguarded the pool as best we could, though, if I am truly honest, I mostly looked out for the Youngest since his swimming technique is to flail his arms in the water and slowly sink to the bottom like a submarine.

Luckily the pool wasn’t that deep and, to his credit, he didn’t push his limits too much.

When a huge rubber floatie was thrown in the pool, the boys all tried to do their best impression of refugees on a makeshift raft. I think they managed to get about 12 on the damn thing which was not much larger than a coffee table.

I gotta say, I was impressed. This bodes well if we ever get hit with an epic, biblical flood.

One-by-one, the boys began to disappear, though, taken back to their rooms by their parents to get ready for supper. The Youngest was one of the last to leave. If he could have slept in that room, I think he would have, but we needed to get him showered and ready for the pizza party.

It’s one thing I’ve noticed about Atom level hockey. We do a LOT more things together. And that’s cool. The Youngest has begun to make good friends on the team, and has a blast when doing stuff with them. The pizza party was just another way for the team to bond. The plan, play a little mini-hockey, then chow down, then, I dunno, play more mini-hockey while the parents drank until they could stop their eyes from twitching or their hands shaking.

We ordered a ton of pizza. About 4-5 large slices for every boy. That should be enough, right? Right? While we waited for it to arrive in our official party room in the basement of the motel, the boys played mini-hockey.

mini hockeyHonestly, it’s a game that eludes me. I mean, you play with tiny sticks, on your knees, and try to shoot a ball into a goal the size of a recycling box. Even The Youngest, who may be the smallest on the team, fills the entire net. It’s a goalie’s dream. Just stand there and take shots to the face.

As far as I can tell, the rules are pretty simple. Whack another kid with your stick, push them over then knee-race with the ball to the goal, shoot on the goalie who will – big surprise – save it, then have both teams descend on the goalie and whack at that ball until it goes under a table or between someone’s legs (in which case, you whack harder). No passing. No real skill needed. All that’s required is you be able to be able to run on your knees. And yell at lot.

But the kids love it. I mean, LOVE IT.

When the pizza turned up, we found we’d severely underestimated what they would eat.  They went through those boxes of pizza like they would never eat, again. I’m pretty sure someone even took a bite out of the grease-soaked cardboard protectors. I had one piece of pizza. A few of the parents had none.

These were large pizzas, too. HUGE ones with meat and cheese. As I watched them stuff slice after slice into their mouths, I wondered if we should have kept them out of the pool. And locked in a closet.

And feeding them made them even more hyper. Like hyenas, they roared out of the room and into the motel, wielding mini-hockey sticks and screaming and laughing at the top of their lungs.

I can’t say I wasn’t a little scared.

fathersAfter the whole ferry incident, I was loathe to let them just have the run of the place. So, I had to be the uncool parent and tell The Youngest he has to stay with the adults and practice his math.

Ha, just kidding. I told him he could only play in the hall outside our party room.

A half hour and two beers later, I took a look into the hall. I had heard nothing for 5 minutes so either they had all been killed by a weirdly ricocheting ball, or had gone off to do mischief.

Guess which turned out to be true.

Adventures in Parenting – Home Alone

Being By Yourself

home aloneHey, this is not an easy skill to learn. There are many adults who haven’t mastered it. But The-Oldest is taking this one on. He’s been booted out of daycare for the crime of being too old. Not that he’s upset by the eviction – in fact, it’s the exact opposite. He’s super excited to prove that he can be alone.

I think if it’s terrifying for anyone, it’s for the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world, aka his mom. It means he’s growing up, it means he’s alone with all sorts of knives, boiling pots of water, and strangers at the door, and it’s a harbinger of the very sad day when he gives his mom a hug and goes off to college or the school for professional Pokémon players.

IMG_4811So we prepare him as best we can. We enroll him in a course called, Kids In Control aka Home Alone. I imagine an instructor that teaches them all about how to electrify a doorknob or how to hang paint cans so they can bang villains on the head. These are things I don’t want him learning as I have an aversion to being electrocuted (and being hit in the head with a paint can, for that matter.)

But the course is really about what to do when certain things happen. What to do when someone comes to the door and wants in. What to do when you cut yourself making a wiener and peanut butter sandwich. What to do in case of a fire. Or an earthquake.

zombie guideThere is nothing, however, about what to do in case of the zombie apocalypse or an invasion by spider-like aliens with creepy tentacles.

I guess some things will still be left up to me.

FYI, there is a book. And a movie.

He’s also tasked with taking a baby-sitting course. It’s pretty much the same thing with a bit more CPR, what to do when a child chokes on a McToy and how to talk to the younger kids so they will listen.

Another FYI, there is no right way to do the latter, I personally believe it to be the holy grail of parenting.

The-Youngest is super excited that his older brother is taking the baby-sitting course. In his mind, his older brother could look after him, which means he could play ALL day and ignore anything his older brother says.

We have to tell him there is no way the oldest will be looking after the youngest on a regular basis. It’s not fair to the oldest and despite that the youngest swears on all his lego that he’ll listen to his older brother, he won’t and will likely try to see if he can make a crossbow with poisoned bolts and shoot it at the kid who points at him all the time.

So the oldest marches off to the classes like a POW in a Bridge Over the River Kwai.

IMG_4810There, judging by the notebook he’s given, he doodles a lot. About Terraria terrors and Minecraft monsters. When he brings home his book, some of the questions in it unanswered, the cover looking like a tattoo artist had made it his canvas for fantasy games, the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world and I began to doubt that he was learning anything.

So we remind him of what’s going to happen if he doesn’t pass. It’s the ‘stakes’ in a novel. It’s what happens if he fails. If he fails, he won’t be able to be alone, won’t be able to be the master of his days, we’ll find a daycare that takes older boys and send him there. Without his DS and with a list books he has to copy out word for word. Like Hamlet. Or something by Dickens.

The next week, he’s on task, and the week after that, and, by the answers he gives, he’s actually learning something. Over that time, we even get him to help when anything goes wrong.

“Hey, the youngest has a nosebleed! Come quick!” He tells us not to put the youngest’s head back, but have him lean forward, pinch it shut and get a Kleenex. If it doesn’t get better soon, we’re to call 911.

When I cut my hand while slicing tomatoes (and, I mean, who doesn’t), I call for him and he binds it up like I’m spurting blood from an artery.

He’s so good that I want to manufacture accidents, but the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world won’t let me hit myself with a hammer or set a fire to the neighbours hotrod. However, it’s clear that if I did either of those things, the-Oldest would be able to handle it.

Just in case, though, I give him the SAS handbook on survival. It tells you how to skin a rabbit. This may be important in any number of situations, not the least of which is I forgot to get supper. “Go next door, boy and get me that girl’s pet rabbit.”

IMG_2504Finally the day arrives for him to be alone. To be fair, with all the house showings I’ve had, I had to be over at his place, so he’s not alone, but I hide far away and let him be him. When lunch time comes, I show him how to make the world’s best sandwich. Before his mom and younger brother come home, we make tacos.

He watches TV, plays his games, puts the dishes away as part of our campaign to do good things every day and he looks after the dog when I have to jet back home for a bit.

In short, he kicks ass. He’s clearly capable of being on his own.

We’re  proud of him.

The only challenge is, much to his surprise, boredom.

Being alone means, well, he’s alone. No one to talk to, no one to fight a boss with, no one to tell that he just watched the greatest video on the top 10 Shedonisms.

And perhaps that’s the biggest lesson to learn.

How to be by yourself.


Adventures in Parenting – Swimming Lessons

Pool Party

spong bobA week has passed. It’s time to see if the boys can swim, if they’ve passed their tests. The youngest, as always, is pretty sure he passed, but he’s also pretty sure he should be teaching swimming to the other kids. The oldest is confident, but not cocky. He knows that he wants to get out of the kiddie pool and get out fast.

We sit with the other parents, one reading beside a mountain of towels. In front of us is a pool of cute.  Who knew there was such a thing, but they’ve built the kiddie pool to look a bit like a beach. One end is basically 4” of water that slopes to a terrifying 4’ of water at the far end. Closest to us is an adorable little girl trying to climb on a soft swimming board. It’s like trying to climb onto a wet sandwich and float away on it. I would find it amazingly frustrating, but she’s giggling and having a great time.

Farther away, a huge man with the most intricate tree tattoo on his back I’ve ever seen is holding his tiny daughter like someone holding an apple for all to see. He kneels, dips his little girl in the water, just the toes, then her legs. She doesn’t cry. Maybe it’s like a big bath to her. Then her dad submerges her up to her neck. She giggles and slaps the water. I wonder when we learn to be afraid of water. I had a huge problem when I first tried to swim. Little, wee kidlings unable to walk, don’t seem to have that.

But we’re not here for cute. We’re here to watch the boys.

The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world and I are super happy to see that the youngest has come so far! He no longer dog-paddles his way to the bottom on the pool and half-drowns himself. He can now paddle like a poodle. Sure there’s a lot of splashing, but he’s staying afloat. Same when he goes onto his back. He forms his mouth like a great funnel and there’s a vague look of panic on his face, but, again, he doesn’t sink.

And he’s proud of himself. You can see that. He’s proud to show us what he can do. Sadly, he also proud to show us how well he splashes the other kids and nearly kicks a little kid in the face while using his legs and holding on the edge. But it’s clear he’s made progress.

The oldest is on a mission. You can see it in his face. He WILL pass and he WILL NOT be stuck in a pool with half a dozen 5-6 year old girls who giggle too much, who cry at odd times and who seem to love to splash more than swim.

He means business.

And it shows. He looks good with his strokes, swimming not quite straight, but with confidence. He’s learned to put his head down, swim a few feet, pop his head to the side to gulp in a breath while continuing swimming.

Likewise, he’s confident on his back. There’s no panic on his face. He glides along like an otter that likes to splash a lot.

The instructor basically ignores him. The oldest’s clearly better than the level that he’s at, but rules are rules and he needs to pass this level to move on. And move on he does. I think he’s proud of what he’s accomplished, too, even if the look he gives us is more, Ha, THERE! DONE DAT!

In the end, they both move on.

The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world and I are proud of them. The youngest goes to celebrate on the slide, and yes, he slides face first, on his stomach, with his arms at his side. Cuz that’s how he rolls. The oldest goes to sit in the hot pool with the other adults and think deep thoughts.

We read the report cards then sign them up for their next lessons.

swim medalThey didn’t win any gold medals in swimming (yet), but they’re learning a vital skill. Everyone needs to learn to swim. It’s part of growing up.

I’m happy to have been a very small part of that.

Adventures in Parenting – Swimming Lessons

Sink or Swim


After the pool experience in San Diego, where the youngest claimed he could swim and basically dog paddled his way to the bottom of the pool, it was clear that proper training would be required. So we booked lessons for both boys at the local pool. The WGRC.

walnut grove poolThe Walnut Grove Recreation Center is a model of recreation centers. It has a pool, a weight room, a sauna, a ping-pong table in the middle of a staircase landing, a full basketball court where sweaty teenagers push each other around, a library (with actual people in it reading actual books) and a huge staff information area where there’s a sign that says, please check in, but where the staff seem to largely ignore you in favour of talking to each other about the latest, omg catz video on youtube.

But the pool is a thing of beauty. Or should I say, ‘pools’. There’s huge hot tub pool where sweaty parents and bored kids hang out. There is a gigantic kiddie’s pool where any struggling 7 year old can stand up, get splashed by water buckets overhead or paddle around in what looks like a nerf canoe. And there’s a gigantic, dare I say, Olympic-sized pool where the more dedicated swimmers swim. A diving platform towers above the large pool, a rope swing hangs about 10 feet from one side of it, and above everything, twisting, winding, swooping ever downward, the most awesome waterslide of all time, (according to the youngest), a full 300 feet of slippery, slidiness.

From the Red Cross Guide
But we’re not here for fun. The boys are here to learn.

Seems the oldest never got past his level 3 swimming course. Not that he can’t swim, but the red cross –  being an institution of order – requires that someone finish lvl 3 before they move on to lvl 4. The oldest is not pleased.

Not pleased at all.

Because… well, let me put it this way…

There will be a time in his life that when he’s given the chance to hang out with a group of younger women, he’ll jump at it. Hell, he’ll pray for it. But at his age, 11, girls are still kinda icky and, worse, he’s been assigned to a group that has 5 younger girls. I’m not talking like 10 year olds. I’m talking 5-7 year olds.

He towers above them, his arms crossed over his chest, glowering as they giggle and splash and flail around. If there was a look that said, one day, I’m gonna get you for this, mommy, he had that look in the pool. Poor guy. But it’s the price of not completing something, of getting distracted and not finishing. So, he learns with the little kids.

However, there’s no goofing around on his part. None. There is no way in hell that he wants to stay in that group. He has to prove to the instructor that he can swim 5 meters, float a bit, go under water without panicking and perform some sort of backstoke I don’t quite recognize.

He’s motivated. He’s driven. He wants to be out of that group. Like Sting out of the Police.

The youngest, too, is on a mission. He has to learn to swim or he won’t be swimming. Saying “I can swim,” is, much to his surprise, not enough.

The bonus is that he’s fearless in water. Like I noted when we went in the hotel pool, that is both a good thing and a bad thing. Like having no fear of hairy, venomous spiders. Less screaming and flailing around when you see one and more, you know, death for trying to play with it.

So the youngest is going to try hard. Like his life depends on it. And, it kinda does. But he’s got some challenges a well. There are other kids in his group that’ll be fun to play with. There’s all kinds of cool things to do in the water rather than swim. And, towering above him, a slide that has to be tried, then tried again, face first, then tried, again, face first on his stomach, then face first, on his stomach, with his hands behind his back…

You can see the look in his eyes as he stares up at it, his instructor beginning to explain something super important.

The course takes a week.

They both have a week to pass.

But I have to wonder…Will their willpower to succeed overcome the obstacles?

And the Band Played Ball of Confusion

And the Band Played Ball of Confusion

Ok, so just because school is out doesn’t mean that there aren’t stories still to be told. This one was from early June. 

bunniesGoing to a school band concert is like drowning in bunnies or being beaten with butterfly wings. It’s super cute and super painful.

At least at the grade 6/7 level.

However, I think there is a correlation between the competence and cuteness factors. The cuter it is, like say watching kindergarten kids perform a play dressed up as trees, faeries and dancing moons, the more likely it is to be a mess.

Maybe that’s part of what makes it so cute. It’s why we go.

I mean who goes to see the Vancouver philharmonic or Guns and Roses because they’re cute?  (though I did see Paul Simon and he was kinda cute.) No, we go cuz they’re professionals and are extremely competent.

Not so much for a school band concert. A French horn could randomly pipe in with no warning. Someone could drop the cymbals, (someone always seems to drop the cymbals).  A violinist could sneeze. A flutist could be staring up at the ceiling, thinking deep thoughts about what they’re going to have for supper and completely forget to play for a whole song.

Yup, I’ve seen all those things.

Oh sure, some of the kids even know when they’ve buggered up something. They roll their eyes at themselves as they squeak out a banshee-like sound on their cello. They look horrified when they blow the wrong note out of their trumpet. Their earnest, little faces strain as they try to follow the conductor while the tuba guy beside them booms out his tune.

But it’s all very cute.

So let me tell you about the last concert of the year.

It all starts at the start, which is, perhaps, where most things start. They shuffle in pretty much all looking like they’d rather be taking a math quiz. The parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts, friends and fellow classmates are all seated, quietly waiting for the concert to begin – ok, sometimes not so quietly, (and I’m not talking about the kindergarten kids making fart noises.)

IMG_4439Then the conductor, the teacher, comes to stand in front of them. A hundred iphones and video recorders are turned on and pointed in his direction. He explains what they’re about to play which is awesome because once they start, it can sometimes be hard to tell.

The kids behind him shift nervously in their seats. Only one kid looks confident and I’m pretty sure he’s got gas or something. I’m there to cheer on the oldest boy in my new family who’s playing a trumpet in the back row, sitting beside a girl who, I’m pretty sure, has a crush on him. He has the thousand yard stare of a war-scarred vet about to go into one last battle. Then he sees me and waves.

I wave my iphone back at him.

Then the conductor raises his baton and they begin.

I brace myself for a horrific cacophony of sound. When I went to my first concert at the beginning of the year, it was so painful as to actually be painful. But hey, the kids were just starting out – many trying their instruments for the first time – so painful was kind of expected.

But much to my surprise, this time they mostly hit their notes, and their timing is more or less spot on.

I’m not a music guy so I have no idea how hard this really is, but having heard the first attempts earlier in the year, it’s gotta be dead hard.

IMG_0020 (9)I mean, hey, I sat a few feet from him while he practiced and practiced and practiced.  After a while, I have to confess, I kind of mostly drowned it out. For my sanity. But when I did listen, I could tell he was getting better. Bit by bit.

However, sitting in the gym at the last concert, I am stunned at how far everyone has come in under a year. Really stunned.

They’re not bad at all.

And you can see their confidence build as they progress into the concert. No one has poked anyone in the eye with a violin bow. No one has decided it was more important to tie a shoe than play a note. No one looks on the verge of tears.

They play their hearts out. It’s not perfect. But it’s a perfect balance between cute and competence. At the end, you could see on their faces how proud they were at what they’d done.

applaudsThe audience applauds thunderously. Mozart rolls over in his grave. I give the oldest the thumbs up.

It is the perfect balance of cute and competent.

And a perfect reward to a year of listening to the oldest practice his trumpet three feet from my ears.








Adventures In Parenting – Let’s Get Ready To Rrrrrrrumble!

Let’s Get Ready to Rrrrrrumble!!

The boys’ first lesson in Jujitsu was about to begin.

giWould it be a complete disaster, the type that gets a billion hits on youtube? Or would they find it fun, would they learn something, would they become elite MMA bad-asses?

They looked nervous in their t-shirts and shorts as they stood waiting to go onto the mat. The other boys were dressed in proper gis.  The instructor was dressed in a gi. However, I think they were less concerned with how they were dressed than with the idea that they were about to get their arms ripped off. I had exactly the opposite concern.

[wpvideo 1VmrDj6e] Then it was time to start. I’d hoped this would be good exercise for them. Maybe teach them more discipline, maybe some respect for authority (ok, respect for MY authority) and maybe some life-long skills to survive in a harsh world.

They were 2 of 4 kids. They marched onto the mat then looked back at me like they were unsure that this all wasn’t some big Joe-joke being played on them.

They all began with exercises. First up, what looked like a crab walk, then the instructor changed to something called shrimping, which made me think of how long it’s been since I’d eaten shrimp. Shrimping looks basically how it sounds. They lie on their side and shuffle up, then curl up, then shuffle from the other side, then repeat. The youngest took it as a challenge to beat all the other kids. His technique looked more like… well, you know when you put a glob on water on a hot pan, how it hops around… yup, that was him.

The oldest, however, watched and listened to the instructor’s directions and did his absolute best to repeat the movements. When corrected, he adjusted his body as needed. When the youngest was corrected, he gave the instructor a look, (a look I’d seen on his grandad’s face several times), that basically said why are you bothering me, I’m doing everything perfectly and should, in fact, be teaching this class myself.

Then it was on to other exercises where the instructor both encouraged and pushed the boys. Sure they were new, but they had to finish. Sure they weren’t as fast, but he required they try hard. No harder. Come on, you’re nearly done, finish it up. There you go!

The instructor was fantastic. He just had that fun, outgoing energy that I’m sure gets him laid a lot. He was patient and supportive and always down on the mats with the kids, showing them how it was done. He made them laugh, and he made them sweat.

Much to my surprise, the oldest rocked at the exercises. The youngest, giggling, sprawling around trying to figure out how make his young body move, was less successful. But he didn’t care. To him it was a race and he usually won.

Then, when it came to actually learning the moves, again it was the oldest who seemed to grasp it all very quickly. Oh, he wasn’t perfect, but he was limber enough to do all the holds and because he listened and because he watched with fierce intensity, he was able to duplicate the complicated moves.

There was no way I could have done as well. Not even close. I have a hard time lifting my legs to put on a footrest. The ability to wrap them around another human being and vice-grip that lock is about as far beyond me as trigonometry is for my dog.

[wpvideo hEYoQeS9]But color me stunned. The oldest is the guy who hates sports. Or at least says he does. Me thinks he might just hates group sports where he would let the team down if he dropped the ball or didn’t understand what to do.

For the youngest, it was a good gigglefest. He didn’t like that he had to be serious. He’s 7. Being serious is a long way off for him. Maybe 40 years. But he did enjoy the dodgeball, he loved trying to beat his brother at shrimping and when he learned that the next session, they’d work on choke holds, he was ten tons of excited.

But as I watched the oldest do so well, it occurred to me that maybe no one’s every explained something like soccer to him on a really basic level. In martial arts, they break it down. Move here. Hold this, Twist that. Stop poking your brother in the eye with your elbow. It’s methodical. It’s scripted. A-B-C-D.

More importantly, though, than being good at it, he actually seemed to like doing it!

I can’t tell you how proud I was. Not that he could do things easily, (he remains a far, far, far better singer than I’ll ever be – honestly, a pitch-prefect singer), but that he was having fun by pushing his boundaries. He had to touch other people, grab them, shift them about. He had to listen, to learn, to replicate what he’d seen. And he did it better than I could have ever imagined.

Could it be he’d found his niche?

Only time will tell.

At the end, a little red-faced, he still stood against the wall with his brother and enjoyed a good game of dodgeball, giggling, flailing out of the way of the ball. On the mat, he’d had the intensity of an adult. Dodging the ball, he was a kid, again. What an amazingly awkward time of life. That shift from being a kid to being a teenager/adult.

The next week, we signed them both up for more classes, bought them both Gis, and their first belt, a pristine white one.

Another journey for them had begun, each taking a different route.

But things would get harder and harder for them.

Would this martial art be for them?






Adventures in Parenting – Them’s Fighting Words

Them’s Fighting Words

IMG_0090With no vacations or hockey schools or lumber work- camps available to us, we had to choose something different for the boys to do. Maybe even chose something where they learned a thing or two. After all, playing Terraria every waking hour of their existence might be fun, but did it allow them to expand their experiences?

Ah, no.

But what we could get them to do?

Ballet? Swimming? Sky diving?

In the end, we decided on something less dangerous – we signed the boys up for jiu-jitsu, something I still can’t spell right without a spellchecker. Brazilian jiu-jitsu to be exact.

BJJNow BJJ’s basically a martial art that relies on holds, submissions and takedowns. Way, way back in the day (yes, I say that now) jiu-jitsu ruled the MMA world. A wee little guy name Hoyce Gracie took down bigger men, stronger men, meaner men. How? By quietly working their limbs into a position that would make even a seasoned professional wrestler wince. Or by choking them out.

So, we thought, that’s the ticket. Something like wrestling.

But what did the boys think when we told them?

The youngest was super excited until he found out he couldn’t actually punch people in the face. That’s another discipline. He was even more concerned when he found out he couldn’t kick anyone either.

The oldest simply shrugged, but much to our surprise, didn’t offer any real resistance. I think we caught him while he was a bit sleepy.

So the search began for a good gym. It had to be close to us. It had to have a good teacher. And it had to have a spirit of fun and learning. There were some bigger gyms out there, some with good reputations, but in the end, we chose a smaller one. Mostly so the boys wouldn’t be stuck in a class of 20 kids who knew a ton more than they did.

Infinity MMA was our choice.

They offered, as most gyms do, the first few weeks for free. And I love free. So we took the boys there, dressed in shorts and t-shirts. Covering the floor were blue mats were ringed with red mats. The walls had mirrors. In the corner was a dummy the youngest begged to punch. It smelled like most gyms do, that kind of sweaty funk that I swear seeps into the very walls. Both boys looked nervous. Like I was taking them to be shot. Or have shots.

We came early so the boys could also take a look at kickboxing. Now there was a sport the youngest could love. The other kids were kicking and punching each other like crazy, but when the youngest saw that they ended every session with a dodgeball game, he was sold. Apparently they played that after the BJJ, too. He could forgo fisticuffs, if he could play dodgeball at the end. So BJJ was ok.

The oldest, however, watched everything with great intensity. How they moved. What instructions were being given. If anyone was being yelled at.

The instructor was a young man. Oh god, I said young man. Early 20’s. Tall. Lean. Smiled a lot. He radiated youthful enthusiasm. The other kids seemed to respect him and, more importantly perhaps, listen to him.

I liked the guy. I thought he’d be good for the boys.

IMG_4106The kickboxing class ended and it was the boys’ turn.

Now we would find out if they liked it or not.

Another Parent’s View – 10 Tips for Trips

Ten Tips for Travelling with Kids.

Sheila dinnerFrom my friend, Sheila.

Here is what she has to say….it’s awesome…

I learned from a master.  My mom drove my two sisters and I all the way across the country most summers when I was a kid.  Take a minute to process that.  Twelve hours a day, in the hot summer, in a car with three little kids.  A week there.  A week back.  Year after year.

She managed it quite simply by not trying to do much.  And making sure that fun, food, sleep, and physical exercise were delivered in regular doses.  She woke up at 4am, showered, packed and dragged us out to the car with our blankets and pillows.  On the road by 4:30am.  She drove for 5 hours while we all slept peacefully.  We stopped for breakfast at local small town diner around 9:30 every morning.  Then back in the car til around noon.  A picnic lunch in a park with lots of running around and playing.  Then back on the road til three.  Three was quitting time.  We’d find a hotel, explore the town, look for cool things to do; then hit the hotel’s pool (always a hotel with a pool), dinner and then an early bedtime.

I never managed to attempt anything that ambitious with my own kids, but we did manage a few vacations and almost all of them involved road trips of some sort.  So here are my ideas on how to make trips with kids fantastic!

  1. Visit places you – the parent– will enjoy.  Nothing will kill a vacation faster than an adult in a crappy mood.  Sadly, this meant, for my kids, absolutely, positively NO DISNEYLAND.  Sorry.  I know, I know — my kids are poor deprived souls.  Such a bad mom I am.  They have told me so often enough.  But a happy, relaxed parent is absolutely essential for a good vacation.  So go someplace you want to go.
  2. Remember that everything is new to kids.  I grew up on a beach with rocks and barnacles and purple starfish and seaweed that popped beneath our feet.  Going to a beach with smooth, white sand and sand dollars and long, rolling waves and sting rays and jellyfish washed up on the shore was like an alien landscape to me.  So cool.  It doesn’t have to be all about roller coasters and theme parks and toys.  (Are we sensing a theme here?).
  3. Don’t try to do too much.  Have a plan for about half of each day and leave the rest up to chance and mood.  Kids tired and want some quiet time by the tv or with a good book?  Or so full of pent up energy they are having food fights at breakfast and need to run around outdoors for like, an hour?  No problem.  Did the hotel desk clerk happen to mention an out of the way ice cream parlour or neighborhood park where all the local kids hang out?  Excellent.  Kids want to shop in the zoo gift store for way longer than you planned?  Just fine.  Did you stumble upon a strange museum in a hole in the wall that doesn’t show up in the travel guides?  Awesome.  If you save time for doing spontaneous things – you will have more chances to say “yes, we can!” to your kids, instead of, “sorry, we don’t have time.”
  4. Ask the kids what they want to do.  They might surprise you.  Ask them what their idea of a vacation is.  Is it learning something new?  Doing something thrilling?  Relaxing on a beach or some other outdoor location with not much to do?  Is it shopping?  Is it meeting new people?  Is it trying something different?  Ask yourself that too.
  5. Crowds, line-ups and places where grumpy, impatient people and their kids gather are poison.  They turn everybody into grump machines.  If you must be in a crowded place or wait in long lines – do it when everybody is rested, fed and comfortable.  But so far the only “must” I’ve found is airports.
  6. Become a master of distraction.  Have a few little toys or snacks or entertaining discussion topics hanging around in your pocket for whenever things get too boring or too excited.
  7. Don’t be afraid to split the group up.  If you love art and want to visit an art museum and everyone else rolls their eyes and screams, “boring!” – go by yourself.  Let them do something else while you do what you want to do.  It’s okay to have different interests.
  8. Expose, but don’t push.  That art museum?  Ask the kids to give it a try.  Tell them that if they don’t like it, they only have to stay for half an hour.  Then time it and stick to your promise.  If you can’t stand to miss it yourself, see #6.
  9. Don’t just ask for help – ask for ideas.  Talk to the locals.  Ask them where they take their kids for fun things to do.  Ask where the nearest play park is.  Or the best trashy diner for breakfast.
  10. Food, sleep, physical activity, quiet time at regular intervals.  No exceptions.  Your entire day is structured by this basic concept.  Most parents have mastered this at home but for some reason it goes out the window when we go on vacation.  Boredom and overexcitement are the twin evils of anything new you throw at your kids.  But those can be managed with a little effort and some distractions.  Hunger, fatigue, lack of exercise, being physically uncomfortable (sunburnt, cold, sweaty) is just a nasty downward spiral for the whole family.  Just make the commitment not to go there.  And always cater to the person in the family who is least tolerant.  Have a child that simply must eat every three hours or will have an absolute meltdown?  The whole family stops and eats every three hours.  Have a parent who absolutely must get nine hours of sleep every night?  The whole family is in quiet mode for nine hours each night (even if they don’t sleep themselves).

SheilaRemember what a family vacation is for – to spend time together, enjoying each other’s company.  Everything else must serve that purpose.