Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

What Science Has to Say About Raising Sons

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This week, an article went up on The Stir called, “Our Baby Boys May Need a Totally Different Kind of Parenting.” In it, the author discussed a study that was published in the Infant Mental Health Journal which suggested that because boys brains mature at a slower rate, they may actually be more sensitive and slower at developing emotion than girls. She notes how this goes against what society has been telling us for years—boys can “tough it out” but girls need to be emotionally supported as children. (more…)

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Tales of a Dog Breeder: What Being A Dog-Dad Taught Me About Fatherhood

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My son John with dog, Henry.

My son John with dog, Henry.

I know there are a lot of people who claim to be dog lovers . . . but man, I’ve had a bunch of dogs! Thirteen of them since the time I could vote. Eleven Saint Bernards, with two boxers as bookends—and that’s not counting the twenty-three Saint Bernard puppies I bred and shipped out!

The time I spent as a breeder was one of the more memorable adventures of my life. My runt, Fwiddie, birthed twenty-five puppies in only two tries. I kept one who I couldn’t stand to part with (not that parting with the other twenty-four was an easy task, let me tell you), and one died after only a day in a tragic accident.

It was some job. There weren’t enough teats to begin with (only eight good ones) and I had to mark each pup with a ribbon to see that it got its share. Three feedings per day, and another at 3:00 A.M. meant that I felt as sleep-deprived as a new father! Luckily, unlike with a baby, the puppies’ feeding schedule only went on for five or six weeks—but during that time, I could never leave the house for more than a few hours. There was also the matter of shots and dew claws—I would carry twelve Saint Bernards to the vet’s office in a small box.

And then, to top it all off, I had trouble selling them. Saint Bernard puppies grow about a pound for every two pounds of food they consume, and they consume boatloads of that . . . especially when you’ve got twelve of them at once! I finally sold them off after considerable expense—I may have cleared $1000 taking care of those guys.

You’d think that might have done it for me, but there is nothing on the planet cuter than a Saint Bernard puppy. So a year or two later, my little mama produced thirteen more. It took me six months to place all of them, and by then the last ones weighed ninety pounds! As cute as they were, after that run I quit the business of breeding. But it was great in so many ways, and I’m glad I did it. You only need to lie down in the yard amongst a herd of Saint puppies to understand why!

I kept the parents for another seven years. Then came Molly (eleven-and-a-half years old), then littermates Maggie and Dudley, and now Reuben, the boxer bookend. Dudley died two years ago, so Reuben took on the role of being Maggie’s new playmate. It’s been a ride for me!

John & Henry2

Now let me give any new dog owners some fine advice: When you are training your young dog and you tell him to do something, anything—Sit! Come here! Quit that! No!See the business through! Even if you have a broken foot, get yourself up, hobble over, and make the dog do it. Never let him get off disobeying you. If you do, he will surely try it again and prolong the training. It may be inconvenient for you just then, but see the lesson through and it will pay off triple in the long run. You can go upside his head with a rolled-up newspaper, but do this very rarely. Do go over to him, grab him, and show him how to do what you’ve commanded. And most important, never miss a time. Whenever you do miss, it will set the training back. If you can’t back the order up right now, don’t issue it.

Housebreaking can be done several ways, so I’m told. Whatever method you use, try your best to catch him in the act. This is not at all easy to do, but just one time will impress the dog much more than marching him back and scolding him at accident scenes he’s probably already forgotten. Potty training kids is clearly different. With kids it’s all verbal, and there must be a hundred theories about it. I have a beloved anecdote about the time I was potty training my son: I was finishing a Number Two one day, and cleaning matters up, when my two-year-old John marched in, stopped and stared, and announced, “That’s good! That’s how you do it! I’m so proud of you!”

For dogs, it takes two years for them to get it all together, move past the primary school stage, and on through the baccalaureate. After that, their training should be complete, and they can get more human in subtle ways, depending on how much you interact with them. Some (certainly not all) pick up actual wisdom.

Despite all the hard work, sleepless weeks, and the pain of losing a few beloved canine friends along the way, owning and raising my dogs has been, and always will be, a passion of mine. If anybody wonders whether owning a dog is worth their time and money, all I have to say is that I wouldn’t choose to live life without the love and devotion they’ve shown me!

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Fathers, You Don’t Play a Role in Your Child’s Life: You Play Many

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For much of our history, the roles of a father and mother were clearly defined. The father earns income, provides stability, is the protector of the home and people in it. The mother is the caretaker, the loving parent with a home to run. But those roles have been changing for quite a few years now, and we are now at a pivotal point where both fathers and mothers can choose the kind of roles they feel best suits them as parents, and fathers can be much more involved in the raising of their children than they were expected to be in years passed.

In fact, studies have revealed they should be much more involved with their children. A review of multiple studies found that kids who grew up spending time with their fathers were less likely to have behavioral and psychological problems. They were also more likely to be independent, intelligent and have improved social awareness.

So fathers, being in your child’s life as more than a provider and protector, but also as a loving parent can actually improve their life all around! An LA Times article also concluded that “researchers found that the chances of teen pregnancy and other early sexual experiences were lower for daughters who spent more quality time with their dads.” Dads, I think we can all agree that is good news.

This is all good news, actually, considering the fact that more than 200,000 homes in the US have stay-at-home dads, and there are 1.9 million single fathers in the country. Often, it is a concern that a father won’t be able to fulfill a mother’s role, but these studies show that there really is no such thing as a “role” that either parent plays, and children will benefit from having the role filled, regardless of whether a mother or father is filling it.

So what can we do as parents? We can figure out our strengths. We can spend time playing and loving our children as they grow up. We can fill every role there is, and we can fill them whether or not our partner already is filling them. Both partners can be providers. Both can be caretakers.

Be open-minded toward your approach to parenting, and your child will reap the benefits.

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What Traveling With My Son Taught Me About Being a Parent

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[This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project]

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As a children’s author, I’ve been asked many times, by friends, colleagues, and readers, what is the best piece of of advice I have for parents raising their children today. To tell you the truth, I don’t always know if I have an answer for them. What we pass down to our children—morals, values, passions—is a monumental thing. So here is what I say instead:

I don’t know if this is the best piece of parenting advice out there, but if you don’t travel with your children, you’re missing out on what made up the best memories I have of my son’s childhood.

My son John is a traveler. It all took place from the time he was three, ’til he was six and his mother moved to Cleveland, ’til he went to Germany for his junior year in high school, ’til he left for the University of Edinburgh and never really came back. Has since lived in London, Germany, Russia, Spain, Belgium, and Vietnam, and has traveled to many, many other places.

What we did together as father and son was collect waterfalls. I’m sure we saw every worthwhile one in North Carolina where we lived and saw most of the warhorses in the contiguous U.S. I took him to the Canadian Rockies and the bottom half of Alaska, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. We drove about 500,000 miles, rode planes and buses, and wore out three cars. Our red Mazda RX-7 Turbo was a real hot rod for its day and was central to our peregrinations.

Looking back, I think we missed Hawaii, Florida, Delaware, and Rhode Island. That was it. We carried baseball gloves to play catch with at the ends of days. We went through a huge number of books on tape in the cars.

This isn’t to say that our travels were all idyllic.

Once we blew a tire in Kansas in the middle of nowhere; blew it all to pieces. We put on the donut spare and limped into the nearest town right after the tire store closed, and we had to spend the night. I can tell you that Kansas is a very dull prospect (Dorothy was right.)

Another time I picked 6-year-old John up from his mother’s Cleveland house for a three-day adventure to Canada to see Niagara Falls—but it didn’t occur to me to take passports, other ID for John, or court orders. We got stopped at the border, taken into an interrogation room, and I was immediately under suspicion of being a non-custodial father trying to kidnap his son by crossing the border. The fact that I talked my way out of that one, and we still got to see the falls, is a miracle I can’t understand.

There is memory after memory; the times we got sick of each other and the times we clung closer together. Traveling with your children certainly helps them to discover the world, but it also helps you as a parent to see the world again from their perspective—exciting, big, beautiful, and just downright cool.

So what’s my advice to any of you fathers out there? Hop in the car. Don’t forget maps and a GPS. Let your son or daughter hop into the passenger seat next to you.

Go! Go somewhere, anywhere, and make the kind of memories you’ll fall asleep dreaming about when you’re a much older man.

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My Journey from Single Father to Author

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I’m so excited to share with you this week an article I wrote for the Good Men Project! This was my first time writing for them, and I hope to have many more articles to share in the future. Let me know what you think of this one either in the comments, or over on the Good Men Project comments.

Looking forward to hearing from some of you guys. Enjoy!

Post originally appeared on goodmenproject.com here

When my son John was born, I didn’t expect to become a stay-at-home father. I didn’t know any other dads who stayed at home to take care of their kids most of the time. I didn’t grow up with a stay-at-home father, and the concept of being a man who changed his job description from a solid 9-5 to being a single homemaker was not something I ever envisioned.

But then John came around, my wife and I soon divorced, and there I was with full-custody of a young boy who needed someone to stay home and look after him. I didn’t know it yet, but I had just entered the greatest time of my life.

As a stay-at-home father, I felt like two different people. Half of the time I spent with John I felt like a kid again. John and I did everything together, went everywhere together, and were about as inseparable as any two friends can be. During the summers we drove through forty-eight states and five Canadian provinces.  We participated in all kinds of father-son activities: little league football, basketball, and baseball, as well as boxing, golf, boating, camping . . . the sky was the limit, and I loved seeing the smile on that boy’s face when he got lost in doing something he loved.

John got his first puppy, a St. Bernard he named Henry, and we loved him so much that I began breeding St. Bernards. Most of the memories I have of John’s youth are of our adventures, his laughter, and the feeling that I was getting to experience life through a child’s eyes for a second time. But the reality of being a stay-at-home father and raising a child by myself wasn’t always idyllic.

There was the time I arrived to pick him up at the movies when he was ten, and the theatre he had gone in was dark and deserted. He was nowhere to be found. When I finally got hold of security, we turned the lights on and found him sunk down in one of the seats, asleep and quite unaware of the panic he had caused.

There was the time when his kindergarten French teacher told me John probably had a learning disability because he was having trouble in her class. Now he speaks ten languages and has an M.A. from Edinburgh University with honors in Russian and German—and wouldn’t I love to tell all this to that teacher!

There were the six years of piano lessons that were like ripping out my fingernails just to get him to practice, until we finally threw in the towel.

There was trying to be both mother and father, parent and friend, teacher and student. I had no examples to follow, no comrade to turn to on the hard days, no office to escape to when watching Sesame Street for the hundredth time made me think I might actually be going crazy.

But those hard days are nothing compared to the good stuff.

Sitting side-by-side on cross-country trips, lots of sports honors, tons of academic awards, a year in Germany and learning German, but best of all, reading stories at night before John went to sleep. In fact, being a stay-at-home father led me to my current occupation as a children’s book author.

Night-Buddies-Go-Sky-HighIt was essential to me that John be exposed to literature and the pleasure of reading from Day One, so I stocked up on children’s stories, from Grimm, Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, and Roald Dahl, eventually to the likes of Dickens and Victor Hugo. But one night when he was about seven, I suggested that he ought to create his own bedtime companion to keep him company while he slept—from there, the main character of my children’s series, Night Buddies, was created.

Many nights John and I made up stories involving him and this bedtime companion, a red crocodile named Crosley, until Crosley became another member of our little family. John always held onto his love for reading, and when he grew up and started traveling the world, creating new adventures for himself, I turned my memories of the little guy I once looked after, and his goofy buddy Crosley, into a book series that I would be able to hold in my hands. Because in all honesty, being a stay-at-home father was the best job I’ve ever had—I don’t want to forget a thing about it. And given the chance, I would do it all over again.

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My Journey as a Stay-at-Home Father

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When my son, John, was born, I didn’t embark to be a stay-at-home father. I didn’t know any other dads who stayed at home to take care of their kids full-time, I didn’t grow up with a stay-at-home father, and the concept of being a man who changed his job description from a solid 9-5 to being a full-time homemaker was not something I ever envisioned. But then John came around, my wife and I soon divorced, and there I was with full-custody of a young boy who needed someone to stay home and look after him. I didn’t know it yet, but I had just entered some of the greatest years of my life.

As a stay-at-home father, I felt like two different people. Half of the time I spent with John I felt like a kid again myself. John and I did everything together, went everywhere together, and were about as inseparable as any two friends can be. During the summers we drove through forty-nine states and five Canadian provinces.  We participated in all kinds of father-son activities: football, basketball, baseball, boxing, golf, boating, camping . . . the sky was the limit, and I loved seeing the smile on that boy’s face when he got lost in doing something he loved. John got his first puppy, a St. Bernard he named Henry, and we loved him so much that I began breeding St. Bernard’s. In most of the memories I have of John’s youth, I remember our adventures, his laughter, and the feeling that I was getting to experience life through a child’s eyes for a second time. But the reality of being a stay-at-home father and raising a child by myself wasn’t always so picturesque.

Me and my now grown son, John.

Me and my now grown son, John.

There was the time I forgot to pick him up from the movie theater when he was ten, and when I finally arrived the theater was pitch black and he was nowhere to be found. When I finally got ahold of security, we found him sunk down in one of the seats, asleep and unaware of the panic he struck in me. There was the time when his kindergarten teacher told me John must have a learning disability because he was having trouble with his French lessons, and I almost believed her. Now my son speaks ten languages and holds an M.A. from Edinburgh University—and wouldn’t I love to mail his degree over to that teacher. There were the six years of piano lessons that felt like ripping out fingernails just to get him to practice until we finally threw in the towel. There was trying to be both mother and father, parent and friend, teacher and student. I had no examples to follow, no comrade to turn to on the hard days, no office to escape to when watching Sesame Street for the hundredth time made me think I might actually be going crazy.

But those hard days are incomparable to the victories, both big and small. Getting him to sit at the piano for an hour without complaint, sitting side-by-side on a cross-country road trip, and best of all, reading books and creating stories together every night before John went to bed. In fact, being a stay-at-home father led me to my current occupation as a children’s book author. It was always very important to me that John be exposed to literature and the pleasure of reading from a very young age so I stocked up at the library every week with children’s stories, from Roald Dahl up to Dickens and Victor Hugo. But one night when he was about seven, I suggested to him that he should create his own bedtime companion to keep him company while he slept—from there, the main character of my children’s series, Night Buddies, was created. Every night John and I made up stories about him and his bedtime companion, a red crocodile named Crosley, until that character became another member of our little family. John always held onto his love for reading, and when he grew up and started traveling around the world creating new adventures for himself, I turned my memories of the little boy I once spent every day of my life looking after and our bedtime stories into a book that I would be able to keep forever. Because in all honesty, being a stay-at-home father was the best job I’ve ever held, and given the choice I would always choose to do it all over again.

 

 

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10 Quotes About Parenting That’ll Make You Smile

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1. “When my kids become wild and unruly, I use a nice safe playpen. When they’re finished, I climb out.” –Erma Bombeck

2. “Having one child makes you a parent; having two you are a referee.” –David Frost

3. “I used to believe my father about everything but then I had children myself & now I see how much stuff you make up just to keep yourself from going crazy.” –Unknown

4. “Having a child is liking getting a tattoo…on your face. You better be committed.” —Eat, Pray, Love 

5. “The only thing kids wear out faster than shoes is their parents.” –John J. Plomp

6. “A two-year-old is kind of like having a blender, but you don’t have a top for it.” –Jerry Seinfeld

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7. “Most children threaten to run away from home. This is the only thing that keeps some parents going.” –Phyllis Diller

8. “Like all parents, my husband and I just do the best we can, and hold our breath, and just hope we’ve set aside enough money to pay for our kids’ therapy.” –Michelle Pfeiffer

9. “Kids are like buckets of disease that live in your house.” –Louis C.K.

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10. “Bedtime: The perfect time for kids to ask questions, request food, require additional bathroom breaks, and need a new nightlight.” (Or go on adventures with a zany red crocodile!) –Sands Hetherington

What are some of your favorite parenting quotes? Any of these strike a cord? Let me know in the comments below!

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Taking a Time-Out: Why Fathers Need to Value Their Personal Time

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It’s time to admit it to yourself . . . you need a break.

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But why is it so hard for men, fathers in particular, to vocalize their need to step back for a bit and spend some time—whether it be a day, or even an hour—focusing on rejuvenating themselves with some personal time? And I don’t mean time to drop your kid off at daycare to spend working, writing (if your work is writing), or taking care of bills and housework, but actual time to relax and refresh.

Writing a book, being a single parent, and making a living for one’s family is enough to burn out the Energizer bunny, and yet when put in that position some men don’t feel comfortable admitting they need some time off. Stay-at-home fatherhood is still not widely recognized as acceptable in our society, and it’s taken for granted that men should be able to work and parent simultaneously, with no complaint. There are all kinds of studies out there showing how working mothers are affected by the stress of mothering and working full-time, but I’ve found none that accurately do the same for working fathers.

Well, as a single father who also worked full-time, I can tell you that getting burned out is something that happens overwhelmingly and often when you don’t fit personal time into your schedule. It’s time we stand up for ourselves, even if that just means unapologetically taking care of ourselves.

When you feel close to your breaking point, it is a favor to yourself, your child, and your work to get away for a time, go see a movie by yourself, go fishing, zone out to your favorite Netflix show . . . anything that allows you to rest your brain, rest your body, and feel refreshed enough to go back and conquer your very hectic schedule with patience and grace. I found that for me, personally, finding time to read every day, even if it’s only for an hour or so, helps me focus on the other pieces of my schedule more clearly.

My point is, don’t be afraid of calling time-out—you’ll be better off for it.

Do you ever struggle trying to balance all the areas of your life? What’s your favorite “time-out” activity? Let me know in the comments below!

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From Father to Master Storyteller: Tips for Telling the Best Bedtime Stories!

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So you’ve decided you want to tell a story to your child every night before they go to bed, but you’ve read every book in your house over and over, and the only thing you can think of on your own is, “Once upon a time . . .” But as someone who created a series of books out of my simple bedtime stories, I can tell you that becoming a master storyteller isn’t so complicated. Here are my top tips for telling bedtime stories your child will adore!

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Cater to your child’s interests. Think about which books your kid loves to read. Are they about horses, sports, magic, pirates? Draw your subject from there, or even combine some of them! You could tell a story about a magic pirate and his horse companion competing to become World Champions in a horse race. The more creative you get with your child’s interests, the more interesting your story will be to them.

Keep it short. Kids don’t have very long attention spans, and by bedtime they should already be pretty wiped out. Just keep the storyline simple—you have a character, there is a problem, the problem gets bigger, and then the character resolves the problem. You should be able to keep it under ten minutes. If you have more to tell, continue on the next night.

Make your child the star! You’re always telling your child that they can be anything they want to be, right? Well here’s your chance to tell them a story about becoming president, discovering cures for diseases, getting a record deal, or whatever it is their biggest dreams are. Even if you put them in stories that are unrealistic, like how I put my son John in the Night Buddies stories, hearing about themselves as protagonists in the stories you tell will boost their confidence and help them realize that you truly believe in them to do and be anything they want.

Tell the story together. I’ve said before that my son John is the one who came up with our red, talking crocodile friend Crosley, and I think it truly goes to show that the best stories are ones that you and your child come up with together. Ask them to create a character, a storyline, or a setting. Tell the story back and forth to each other a sentence at a time. They will feel proud for having created something fun, and it will bond you two closer together.

What are some bedtime stories you’ve told your child? Any tips for the new storytellers out there? Let me know in the comments below!

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Children's Museum of Alamance County
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