Stop discriminating against my kids; but I don’t blame you

I can’t even count the number of times we’ve been to a restaurant and felt like our kids weren’t welcome or were something “to be managed” by the staff. It’s really annoying as parents who try very hard to teach our kids how to behave in public, how to speak for themselves, and how to know what to do when the unexpected happens.

But more often than not, public places regard all children as problems that need to be contained or ignored. Restaurants are the primary villains in this case, but I’ve experienced it in shopping areas and museums as well. Restaurants have seated us in terrible spots, not given my kids plates or silverware, servers overlook my children when ordering and speak only to the adults, and managers have even tried to give us the bum’s rush as the restaurant starts to fill up. We eat out enough to know better, and I used to work as a waiter so I’m keen to certain signals restaurants send to patrons of all stripes.

The most recent example comes when I took the two kids out to a local place we eat at regularly. I’ve noticed that we always seem to sit in the same room. We go about once a month, so it can’t be random. This time I was alone with the two kids and we were seated in a different room which already had one child in it and quickly filled with other families with children. (On the way out I peeked into the room where we usually sit and there wasn’t a single child in it.)

I ordered an appetizer at the same time we placed the dinner order, and the kids’ meals came out right on top of the appetizer. Not cool. The food runner offered to bring them back to the kitchen for a while and bring it out with my entree. Nope. I’m not going to have my kids’ meals sitting under a heat lamp. I don’t want that for them any more than for my meal. So, we made it work. I told the kids to skip the fries on their plate, eat the main part of their dinner and enjoy the appetizer as their side.

Enter the manager. He comes over to apologize and made it worse. He explained that they like to rush the kids meals out to “help out” the parents to give the kids “something to do”, and “as a dad” this manager thinks that parents appreciate that sort of thing. Then he offered to comp the appetizer. I refused, and I thanked him for the offer. I told him I would have preferred to be asked if I wanted the kids’ meals rushed. I politely added that I was actually now even more insulted than before. I may be a dad out to dinner alone with my two kids, but what gave this restaurant staff any indication that I needed them to make dining decisions for me? Nothing. My kids sat in their seats, still and with their butts on the chair itself. We talked at a normal volume and I interacted with both of my kids directly. Neither was looking at a screen or rocking a chair or running around or shrieking. They also both ordered their own meals and drinks.

Despite all of this, I don’t blame the restaurant or the manager. First, they tried to make up for the initial mistake. It only made things worse, but they tried. They also have a lot of children come through that place, especially on weekend nights, and for the most part children are not very well behaved in restaurants. I know this first-hand as a server and as a customer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a dining experience interrupted by an unruly child. I don’t have any more patience for it today than before I had kids, and before kids people would tell me to wait until I had some to make judgments. Well now I can, and honestly parents, you suck at teaching your kids to behave in public. Your kids lack manners and they lack basic social skills like making eye contact and speaking loudly enough to be heard, but softly enough so only the people in your party can hear you.

The fact is kids are an afterthought for most parents when they are eating out in a restaurant. It doesn’t matter if it is fast food or fine dining. Well-behaved kids are the exception and not the rule. Same goes for most other public places. My wife and I work on manners and boundaries every single time we are out with our kids. We pre-load them with rules and expectations. For example, we might say, “This people in this restaurant are here to eat a peaceful dinner. If you don’t want to use your manners, we will sit in the car until the rest of the family is done. ” I’ve only had to follow through once with each child. Now when either of us makes that statement, the kids know we mean it.

Of course there will be some exceptions. To me, those are the ones where the parent(s) is/are trying to do their best to contain the kids. The kids deserve a learning curve. I respect those parents and I sympathize with them because I’ve been there. The ones I don’t have patience for are the parents who seem to not know their kids exist at all during their stay. The kids make a huge mess for a server or bus person to clean up. They actually create a dangerous situation for themselves, other diners, and the servers when they run around unchecked. Finding “grown-up” time can be hard for parents, but the restaurant/mall/museum, etc. isn’t your time to check out because the place itself is contained. In this case, it is not the village’s responsibility to look after your kids.

Because of this, why would restaurants want to welcome kids? Kids often create more problems than they’re worth, because they don’t eat anything with a decent margin. They’re too young to drink alcohol, and they aren’t behaved. Parents often don’t tip enough either because the meal is often a function instead of an experience, or they’re too exasperated by the end of the meal to figure out what 20 percent is. I had a parent tell me once that I was a very good waiter, but he only tipped on the adult entrees and beverages. The restaurant I worked at didn’t have a kids menu, so the kids shared a petite adult entree.

But my wife and I are not those parents. Our kids are not those kids.  Restaurant workers who notice that get a huge kudos from us, and we tip even better for those servers who make sure our kids feel as welcome as they make us.

Was I Just Visited By A Spirit?

My wife and son went out around lunchtime today to run some errands leaving me at home with our daughter and the two dogs. About halfway through lunch A started in on something cute that got creepy real quick. We were in the kitchen and I was standing at the sink while she was working on her lunch:

A: Daaaaaaaaddyyyy, look beehiiiiiiiinnnnddd yuuuuuuuuuuuuuo!

Me: What should I see?

A: There’s someone standing there.

Me: Where?

A: In the door (points to opening between kitchen and dining room).

Me: (waving at the empty doorway) Hello. (To A:) Is it a man or a woman?

A: Man

Me: Is he friendly or angry?

A: He’s fwendwey, daddy.

Me: (Phew!) Does he look like me or like Papa?

A: He looks like you, daddy!

Me: Does he look happy?

A: Noooooooo. He’s sad.

Me: Why is he sad?

A: He says he wants to wake up.

Me: I bet he does. (Turning to man) I can’t see who you are, but I miss all of my relatives who have died. I loved each and every one of you, and I need your help, still, to be a good man, husband, father, mentor, and teacher. If you can’t tell, I think of you all very often. Please tell any others I love and miss them, too.

I don’t spend a lot of time and thought on the spirit world. I don’t know if it exists. I’d like to think it does so I can stay connected to my relatives after they’ve passed.

Of course I did some googling about toddlers seeing spirits and dead relatives contacting the living, etc. Much of it was what I expected from watching a few ghost and paranormal shows: the spirit could be caught in the earth plane, is confused, or has important news for me. A lot of it seemed like crap.

I don’t know what to believe. So, if you’re a spirit trying to contact me, please leave your message in the comments.

An omnivore remade into an herbivore

It’s been about five months since I changed my diet to one that is “plant-strong”, and I feel like a kid again.

I was probably last person who would’ve done this willingly. I openly mocked the vegetarians I knew, and I had no love for vegans with all their food rules. As a foodie and an amateur cook, I believed that people were intended to be creative and indulgent with food. I was even mocked by my wife because I would eat “anything”.  But eating “anything” wasn’t doing me any good.

Thanks to our new life without cable, I have been watching more documentaries. I’ve always been a fan of anything relating to obesity. I don’t know why, but it all started with shows of people who would undergo some fashion of stomach reduction surgery. I loved the stories of people who got their lives back from crippling morbid obesity. Netflix made it easy to locate different series and documentaries on the topic. Eventually, I moved on to documentaries about the mass-production food system with features like “Food Inc.” and “King Corn”. These were all good to give me some information about the choices I was making about the food I purchased, but I wasn’t ready – or even considering giving up – animal products at all. I started buying food from better sources. I purchased locally raised produce and farm-raised meats and eggs to the best of my ability. I became a regular at the local farmers market, and I stopped buying (to the best of my ability) factory-farmed products.

But when I came across the documentary by Joe Cross titled “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead“, I started to think differently about the food I ate. Cross is an Australian native who tells his story of lifelong food excess in a first-person documentary about the healing effects of juicing fruits and vegetables. He chronicled his 60-day juice fast as he traveled across America to share his message along the way. Cross isn’t some Jack Lalanne wannabe. He’s a middle-aged bloke who had reached a breaking point in his life. He suffered from an autoimmune disease known as urticaria, which was very painful, and the medicines caused him awful side effects. The juice fast served as his “reboot”, and in 60 days he lost a ton of weight and was on his way to a much more fulfilling healthy life. I don’t usually act on such things, but this video caused me to buy a juicer. Admittedly, I don’t use it as much as I first did, but I’m glad I bought it.

After seeing Cross’s story, I searched for more food-wellness documentaries and found “Forks Over Knives“, which – based on the title – I thought was going to be more about sustainable agriculture than food-wellness. I was wrong. Way wrong. This documentary details the research and findings of two doctors: Caldwell Esselstyn, an MD working as a clinician at the Cleveland Clinic, and T. Colin Campbell, a PhD who studied diet-based diseases for decades. Both came to the same conclusion separately: The Western diet (high-calorie, low-nutrient) was causing chronic illness and premature death. Both men grew up on dairy farms and were raised to believe that cow’s milk was the “perfect” food, as we all have been taught to believe.

The movie’s focus on the Western diet does make it the villain, but it’s not an anti-agribusiness propaganda diatribe. It well-researched arguments for how over-indulgence in high-calorie, low-nutrient foods are causing obesity, Type 2 diabetes, inflammatory diseases, several cancers, and the nation’s number-one killer: heart disease. I am a candidate for heart disease. I have a strong family history. I was overweight by 60 pounds. I had high blood pressure. I had super-high cholesterol when it wasn’t managed by a drug cocktail that included statins.

I was gobsmacked at the end of the movie, but I didn’t jump right away. I did more research. I vetted the credentials of both doctors. I read some of their scholarly articles and checked their citations of other scholarly work. This is how I recognized that these two men weren’t just in it for the fad of plant-based eating. Sure, they both pitch their books, and Esselstyn’s son, Rip, even pitches his own book and website, Engine 2 Diet. Rip is a retired firefighter from Austin, TX, not a doctor or scientist, but his wisdom is guided by his father’s clinical experience.

I decided to give it a try. I enjoyed the juices I had, so I thought it would worth going “all-in” to give up eating anything with a mother or face, all oils, and all dairy. I noticed a difference after just a few days, and within a month I had lost weight. Losing weight was a nice side-effect, but my goal was to lower my cholesterol. And I did in a very short time.

At five months in, I’ve lost more weight than I thought I would, which I will take up in another post. I’ve lowered my cholesterol to the lowest it has ever been in my life, also for another post. I feel better than ever, and without any special fads or super-restrictive diet plans. It works for me. Will you try it?

 

 

A year without cable and I’m still alive

We gave up our TimeWarner Cable addiction here over a year ago. We kept the phone for a few months, but eventually dropped that and ported the number to Google Voice. The only product we buy from TWC now is high-speed internet. Without it, we would in the darkness.

Quitting cable wasn’t something we came to quickly, but it something we’re happy we did.

With two young kids and our own screen time habits, we were average consumers. Perhaps we were even less than average because we only have two televisions, and the second one was used only occasionally. Our TimeWarner DVR was filled with shows we watched regularly, and we scheduled time to watch our favorites on cable (or satellite)-only channels.

We had to consider this decision for awhile. My wife and I asked ourselves and each other whether we wanted to live without certain shows. She had her favorites. I had mine. We shared a few, too. We eventually answered the question with a question: Why not try it?

The decision was forced on us a bit. We were happy with the service we were receiving from TimeWarner. It was clear and consistent. But it became too expensive. For three bundled services it was over $170/month. This wasn’t question of value for us, either. It was a question of affordability. On top of all the other monthly utility bills, this was the one we could “live” without. We couldn’t maintain a household without electricity, gas, or water.

Before giving it all up, we also tried a few different options. We priced out the dish, and it wasn’t really any different. Their pricing deals were pretty much the same. Our local phone company had also just started offering its own “cable” service, but it was priced the same. I also called TimeWarner and asked for a reduction in price. I told them I couldn’t afford it anymore and I would have to cancel. That was when I found out I was locked in at that price until the next price increase. Meanwhile, new customers were being enticed to sign up for TWC with great yearlong introductory prices like all three services for just $99/month. That was a difference of over $70 a month, and I couldn’t even get a reduction in price of $20 or $30 a month.

So, we paid the early termination fee of something like $150, bought a Roku and an antenna, and signed up for Netflix and Hulu.

And we haven’t looked back.

It took some getting used to, especially since we gave up the DVR. We had to go back to the “old” days before DVR (I think that was 2004) of watching TV shows when they aired. We quickly found out that many of broadcast shows we watched were available via Hulu Plus or the networks’ own websites for later viewing anyway. Eventually, like everything else, we settled into a new routine. Dialing up Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon to watch a show or movie became the new norm.

The biggest missing piece has been live sports on ESPN or other cable networks. Luckily, MLS, MLB, NBA, and NHL all sell some form of subscription streaming service per season. I think we could even buy British Premier League if we wanted. Some of the college conferences also sell streaming subscriptions. I believe that this will be resolved in the next couple of years. These content providers will have two converging reasons. The first is the contract disputes with the companies that own the bandwidth such as cable and satellite. Negotiating contracts with each company is always a counterproductive process and it only benefits the delivery service, not the creator. The second is the increasing number of people who are turning to streaming video, live or recorded. I might be a pioneer in dumping cable, but I’m not alone.

The biggest hole in the content we stream is from CBS. The broadcast network’s CEO, Les Moonves, has notably avoided the streaming market. There are reports he and the late Steve Jobs talked about a deal, but it never materialized. That’s a shame. NBC puts a decent amount of its broadcast content on Hulu Plus, but limits it to web-based streaming only which means those of us who stream through a Roku, game console, or web-enabled television or DVD/Blu-Ray player are exempt. Fox, by far, has embraced the streaming environment by making most of its shows available on all devices.

Before we quit cable, I had apps on my iPad for major cable networks like ESPN, but those apps went dark as soon as we cancelled our cable television. This was a big disappointment. We pay $42 month for broadband Internet from TimeWarner Cable. I would pay $100/month if it meant I could stream just the channels I want to my television.

Despite that, I don’t lack content. I live in a constant on-demand video state, and I like it. My wife likes it. And my kids like it. In fact, I see more of what interests me now than ever before. For me, at least, I feel like I’m a smarter television watcher.

Differences between men and women

Here’s the difference between men and women in my house.

Wife: I didn’t dust your dresser because your laundry was on top. I didn’t move it because I didn’t know what you wanted to do with it. So please move us and dust your dresser.

Men: Honey, I dusted my dresser! All I had to do was wipe it off with the laundry when I moved it.

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The Lady IS A Tramp

20120218-121156.jpgHaving kids means you’re going to have times when your sides split with laughter over an unintentional turn if phrase.

Last week, my mother-in-law sent us a few Disney DVDs. Among them was “Lady And The Tramp”, and it came in handy when our dog died last Saturday. We all watched it as a family to help with our grief. Simon, our dog, had been a tramp before we adopted him.

Today, G found a picture of Lady in a Disney alphabet book that A was looking through. He couldn’t remember her name, so I started quizzing him to see if he could. The conversation went something like this:

G: Dad! There’s the dog from that movie!

Me: Oh yeah! What’s her name?

G: I don’t know.

Me: What’s the letter on the page say?

G: L

Me: So her name begins with an L sound. Do you remember her name? It’s in the name of the movie.

G: No.

Me: What’s another name for a woman?

G: TRAMP!

Me: Bwahahahahahahahaha! (Pause) the title was “Blank And The Tramp”.

G: LADY!

It’s all about how quickly you recover.

What’s Right For Your Dog’s End-of-Life?

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I don’t want to put our dog, Simon, to sleep. I’m OK with him dying. I will be very sad, but I’ve also seen this coming. I just don’t want to end his life any sooner than he naturally would live unless he really is so close to the end.

I’ve been getting a lot of advice from friends, and many of them suggest we put him to sleep because that is what’s best. My wife even suggests it, though more obliquely. I tell them I will know when, and when I do know, I won’t wait. But it isn’t now.

Simon is a boxer. He’s 11. He has cardiomyopathy, and he really isn’t expected to live much longer. He has slowed a lot in just the past week. He gets winded climbing the stairs and going outside to do his business. He sleeps a lot. I have to carry his 75lb. frame upstairs. Those aren’t reasons to put him to sleep.

For the past few weeks, I’ve tried to think of specific reasons why I struggle with putting him down. The first bit is the euphemisms like putting him “down” or “to sleep.” Doesn’t sound so pleasant? Let’s “put him sleep” like he will just lay down and rest, you know, forever. Or we could put him “down” like any other object we own. How inoffensive. But regardless of what we call it, we are killing our dogs.

So then I thought about the practice of euthanizing a dog, and I listened to the reasons people used. They are all animal lovers, but their reasons ring with a bit of self-preservation and even, dare I say it, convenience. I know in my heart that these well-meaning folks wouldn’t euthanize their pets for convenience, but I can’t shake the idea that someone would. How would I know for sure?

See, I really feel like sometimes we convince ourselves into thinking that it’s the “humane” thing to do; that it somehow eases the dog’s pain. But I really think, in Simon’s case, euthanizing him now would just ease our pain. We have no way to judge his pain. We can only judge ours. Since we humans don’t have control over the end-of-life for our human family, we resort to controlling the end-of-life for our furry family, and assuage our guilt by using euphemisms and platitudes. When in fact we don’t want to bear witness to the deterioration that comes with the end-of-life. We don’t want to see our beloved pet “suffer”. I agree, but this is a decision that isn’t entered into nonchalantly.

I feel there is value in those last few days of life. I have been in the room when three people died. Their last hours, their last gasps for air, we’re truly horrifying for all of us gathered. Honestly, I wouldn’t want everyone sitting in a hospital room staring at me while I was dying, but then again it would be nice to be so loved and cherished that people would want to be with me when I died. Each of those people who died were all enveloped with the love of the people around them. It wasn’t clinical. It wasn’t antiseptic. It was real. It was cathartic.

Simon, who comes from the working dog group, has done his job well. He has provided us with protection, entertainment, and (most importantly) unconditional love and loyalty. I feel I owe him more for his service than to do what’s “best” when it still rings of what’s “convenient.”