10 Things You Are Never Too Busy to Do With Your Kid

1. Read them a story. Whether it’s at bedtime or the middle of the day. If they’re 8 months old or 8 years old. If they’ve stopped asking you to do it, offer to do it anyway. Read. To. Your child.

2. Play with Play-Doh, color, or build with Legos. If your child shows an interest in creating art, they’ll be even more inspired if you do it with them. Not to mention that one of the perks of having kids is getting to play with toys again.

3. Talk about their day. It’s amazing, the new information they learn every single day. This is your opportunity to teach them more about the things they’ve seen, done, or heard. And if you yourself have had a shitty day, listening to a child explain with such pure excitement the simplest things that made their day wonderful really helps put things in perspective.

4. Sing songs. Who cares if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket? Sing the traditional kids’ songs. Sing them songs you like. Make stuff up. Introduce them to music as early as you can – they’ll thank you for it later.

5. Cook together. Simple stuff, you know? Measure out an ingredient and let them add it in. Show them how to crack an egg. Let them stir the pot. Have them close their eyes, smell things, and identify them. When it comes to bonding with your little one, there can never be too many cooks in the kitchen.

6. Take a nap. Yes, it’s probably ingrained in most parents that naptime is the best time to clean, to do work, to make phone calls, and do all sorts of grown up stuff. But every once in a while, remind yourself that soon the day will come when this tiny little human won’t want to hold your hand, let alone sleep next to you. Or, if they want to crawl in bed with you at night, don’t turn them away. Get your snuggles while the gettin’s still good.

7. Watch a cartoon. And I mean really watch it. I don’t care if it’s Blues Clues or Spiderman – put down your book or your crossword puzzle or the work you brought home with you. It’s half an hour of your day. Engage them. Pay attention to what they laugh at, take note of what they think is cool. Enjoy being a kid again with your kid.

8. Hug them. If you ever find yourself telling your child you’re too busy to show them affection, you need to re-evaluate yourself as a parent. And possibly as a human being.

9. Enjoy nature. Take a walk. Play in the yard. Pick flowers. Watch the rain fall from your window. If you take the time each day to show them that there is beauty in the world, they will never stop seeing it.

10. Play a game. Tag, pillow fighting, hide and seek, peek-a-boo, a board game or cards – take your pick. Just pick.



Laying to Rest Popular Gun Myths

While I’m not exactly sick of the gun control debate itself (because I do believe we have a serious issue with crime in this country and that something needs to be done about it), I don’t necessarily feel that harsher gun laws are going to solve the problem. But my view on gun control is not the focus of this post.

What I am sick of is hearing overblown nonsense from both camps disguised as facts or statistics to better support their argument. All it succeeds in doing is muddying waters that are already difficult to navigate. So let’s put some of this shit to rest, shall we?

“Switzerland has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe and one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world.” Switzerland is also a neutral country with no standing military. So, while it’s true that a large percentage of the population possesses firearms, those weapons are government issued. All able-bodied men between 20-30 are expected to serve a specific amount of time in a government-run militia and undergo military training, which includes weapons training. Their guns are kept in the home by government order in the event there is an invasion and their services are needed.

As for crime, Switzerland does have a very low rate. They also have a much smaller population compared to America, but even when adjusting the numbers to account for the difference, they’re still a pretty peaceful country as far as domestic crimes go. And that’s when socio-economics come in to play.

As far as household income, employment rate, health, and education, Switzerland exceeds the global averages. Since crime rates tend to be higher in economically disadvantaged areas, it goes without saying that a country whose citizens have financial stability, are in good health, and are well educated is a country that is less vulnerable to both violent and non-violent crime.

“We need to get rid of semi-automatic weapons.” Well, then, I guess we’re going back to muskets because the term semi-automatic applies to pretty much all modern firearms. This statement is typically made by people who have little to no knowledge of weapons, otherwise they’d know that what ‘semi-automatic’ really means is that the gun is self-loading, thus eliminating the need to manually fill the chamber with a bullet after each round is fired. It does not mean that when the trigger is pulled a single time, the gun will both reload and continue to fire until the ammo has been exhausted. These are fully-automatic weapons, and while there are semi-automatics capable of firing short bursts of three bullets at a time, they are nowhere near a military-grade AK47.

“If we want to keep our kids safe, we need to start arming our teachers.” Are you fucking crazy? No. There isn’t a chance in hell I’d send my children to a school where the teaching staff is armed. If we’ve got a problem with school shootings, why would putting guns in the school solve the problem?

“The 2nd Amendment specifically says ‘a well-regulated militia’, so clearly we need better gun regulation.” In a legal context, ‘well-regulated’ does not refer to gun control laws but rather to ensuring that those in possession of a firearm are properly trained to use them. This means that in order to be licensed to own a gun, you must prove that you know how to load, reload, aim, and fire, and that you are aware of all the precautions you must take when it comes to safety. While there are exceptions to every rule, every gun owner I’ve met personally is a good shot who properly stores and secures their weapon.

“They’re trying to get rid of 2nd Amendment!” This one would almost make me laugh – if it didn’t also make me so sad that such a large number of people are unaware of how our government works.

Since the Constitution was written, there have been over 11,000 proposed Amendments. Of those, we’ve passed just over 20, 17 of which are contained in what we lovingly refer to as the Bill of Rights. So, while maintaining the belief that doing away with or adding a constitutional amendment is as simple as picking up a pen is helpful to your argument, it doesn’t make your argument correct. It’s a far more complicated than many people realize and, given the stance on gun control that a lot of states and members of Congress have taken, it’s highly unlikely it would ever happen.

“If there’s a gun in the house, the people in that house are at a much higher risk of using it to commit suicide or of being shot.” Yes. And if there’s a cake in the house, that cake has a 100% chance of being eaten. Come on now, people.When someone commits suicide, they’re not doing it because they stumbled across a handgun on a rainy Sunday afternoon. If the gun wasn’t there, they aren’t going to say, “Oh, well, nevermind then!” They’ll just use something else. And do accidents with guns happen? Sure they do. Would it be more practical for people to protect their homestead with a sword or ninja stars? Not really. Would there still be accidents of the sword and ninja star variety? You bet your sweet ass.

This is an asinine statistic that was probably prefaced with the media’s favorite bullshit opening line: “A new study shows…”

“More people were killed by baseball bats than handguns, but we’re not making baseball bats illegal.” Sorry, champ – if you believe that, you’re borderline delusional. There were more people killed by bats than by automatic rifles, yes – but handguns? Please. Use your head.

I’m sure I’ve opened myself up to all sorts of criticism, and that’s ducky. Criticism doesn’t bother me. What DOES bother me are people who are seemingly unable to engage in civil discourse. So, if you care to leave a comment voicing your dissent, by all means – I encourage it! But don’t be a dick about it – to me, or to any other people who choose to comment.


The Original G(eeks)

I’m sure most of you are familiar with this new trend among the younger population, a trend that was just 10 or 15 years ago, grounds for social isolation. I’m sure most of you are also just as confused as I am about it.

It is now cool to be a “geek”.

Of course, the checklist for entry in to the world geekdom is far different from that of the true geek: several of the things that established us as geeks didn’t even make the list, and several items that did shouldn’t have.

The result? Facebook feeds with pictures of hot chicks wearing Buddy Holly frames with controller cables in their mouths captioned “Geek.” Xbox servers overflowing with gamer profiles that read “lol yes I’m a girl and I play COD. I’m a geek lol.” Streets crawling with teens wearing Mario and Yoshi shirts even though they probably couldn’t pick the original NES out of a fucking lineup. And a small percentage of these self-proclaimed “geeks” know what a D20 is, what video card they’re running, and that Zelda was the fucking girl.

So, “geeks” and geeks, I’ve compiled my own little list. Let’s see if you make the grade.

If most of the following applies to you, you are NOT a geek.

  1. You can count the number of times you’ve played a video/computer game until the sun has come up on one hand.
  2. You do not own a wireless controller, mouse, keyboard, or all of the above.
  3. You picked up your “gamer speak” from Facebook.
  4. Your favorite games are button mashers.
  5. You have no idea what I mean by “button mashers”.
  6. You don’t know what MMORPG stands for.
  7. You think the movie “Hackers” is an accurate representation of how a computer works.
  8. You have never seen the movie Hackers.
  9. You cannot identify Bruce Campbell.
  10. The only dice you own are the standard 6-sided type.
  11. It takes you longer than five minutes to adapt to the controller of a different console.
  12. You have never talked shit on Xbox Live.
  13. You still think teabagging is hilarious.
  14. You frequently interchange “Star Wars” and “Star Trek”.
  15. You have never stood in line for hours for a movie premier.
  16. You don’t know what all the different mushrooms in Mario Bros. do.
  17. You think that a doll and an action figure are the same thing.
  18. You play games like Halo and COD, but still call games like World of Warcraft, Skyrim, and Diablo III “gay”.
  19. You have never Googled a walkthrough.
  20. You own a pair of glasses that you don’t actually need.
  21. You don’t know what a torrent is.
  22. You still use Internet Explorer.
  23. You believe that computer gaming is for losers, but console gaming is cool.
  24. You don’t know the fundamental differences between iOS and Android operating systems.
  25. When anything goes wrong with your computer, you pay someone to fix it or ask one of your “computer nerd” friends to do it for you rather than figure it out yourself.
  26. You own a top-of-the-line system but only use it for the Internet and schoolwork.
  27. You refer to your entire computer as your hard drive.
  28. You have never dressed up in costume for something other than Halloween, a play, or a costume party.
  29. You don’t know the difference between a race and a class.
  30. You have never had a serious argument over the merits of one type of technology being better than another.
  31. You do not collect anything.
  32. Prior to the movies, you could not name all of the Avengers.
  33. You’ve seen “The Hobbit” and/or “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but have never read the books.
  34. You think “Twilight” qualifies as sci-fi/fantasy.
  35. You have never uttered any of the following phrases: “Heal the tank!”; “I’ve gotta kill this boss.”; “I’m doing a raid.”; “I need to power level.”; “These graphics are bullshit.”

So. If you find that most of the above describe you, please stop calling yourself a geek or a gamer. And take that fucking controller cable out of your mouth.

10 Surefire Ways to Annoy An Atheist

On behalf of all atheists, I would respectfully request that those of you practicing your chosen faith refrain from saying or asking the following:

  1. “Well, have you ever read the [insert holy book of choice]? Maybe you should.”
    The answer, in most cases, is yes. Many atheists were not brought up in faithless households. In fact, many of us attended church in our youth and are well acquainted with whatever religion those who raised us were practicing. In my experience, atheists tend to know a lot more about religion, Christianity in particular, than the followers themselves. But, even if we have not read it, it is presumptuous to assume that someone’s entire belief (or non-belief) system is going to be shaken to its foundation simply by reading a book. We don’t go around suggesting that you read the works of Immanuel Kant or Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking – it’d be nice if you’d return the favor.
  2. “You’re going to hell!”
    We don’t believe in hell. (Neither, for that matter, do the Jews, and they’re supposedly God’s Chosen People – what does that tell you?). If this is meant to be a threat, it’s a weak one. And it makes you sound like an asshole.
  3. “You just haven’t gone to the right church.”
    No church will ever be the right church. It has nothing to do with the church itself, and everything to do with what we believe is the most logical and reasonable explanation for life and the universe as we know it. Would it be fair to say that you just haven’t gone to the right science classes?
  4. “Why do you hate God?”
    We can’t hate something we don’t believe in. Certainly there are plenty of angry atheists out there who insist on being arrogant and aggressive toward people of faith, asserting that they are stupid or ignorant or otherwise inferior because they choose to believe their existence can be credited to a deity rather than physics. But most of us take no issue with religion unless it is used as an excuse to harm others or to discriminate against them.
  5. “Science won’t get you anywhere. Religion will.”
    Really? Science got us to the moon. Checkmate.
  6. “Technically, atheism is a religion, too.”
    The meaning of religion is, by definition: “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods.” So…no. Atheism is the antithesis of religion.
  7. “Well, what’s going to happen when you find out you’re wrong?”
    If your god  is as loving and forgiving as you say he is, I’d like to think he’d cut me a break.
  8. “How can you possibly believe that nothing happens when you die?”
    I don’t believe that at all. The Law of Conservation of Energy is one we’re all familiar with: energy cannot be (naturally) created or destroyed. The human body is full of energy; when we die, it has to go somewhere. It’s my belief that everything we see and everything we are came from stars that exploded billions of years ago and that each atom that makes up my physical being was once part of one of those stars. Therefore, when I die, those atoms that once were me will return to the cosmos and become something else.
  9. “Evolution is just a theory, too.”
    True – but here’s the beauty of science: when a discovery is made or facts are presented to disprove a theory, scientists accept it and start over. You can’t do that with religion because the religious don’t believe the existence of god is a theory – they believe it to be fact, and often refuse to adjust their beliefs to fit the facts.
  10. “I’ll pray for you.”
    Um. Okay. Thanks?

Watch the World Learn

I’ve had this discussion with fellow parents before but have never actually put it in to writing. I was inspired to do so by a comment on my blog by ceruleanstarshine, who it seems has the same views as I do when it comes to children, vocabulary, and education.

To begin, let me just say that I hate baby talk. I have never used it with my girls, I have never used it with other children. Any time someone has used it with my children, or has spoken to them with that sort of dumb-downed language that one might use with a puppy, I have politely requested that they stop it and that they speak to them as they would any adult. Clearly, some topics are off-limits – we don’t discuss sex, or politics, and because I am an atheist, I try to avoid religion entirely. I have no interest in shattering their belief in fairy tales or wrecking their innocence by telling them there’s no Santa Claus. But, in most regards, the verbal exchanges with my 4-year-olds differ little from those I have with a 40-year-old.

It irks me to no end when someone points out that my child “doesn’t know what a word means.” Of course a preschooler doesn’t know the meaning of the word monotonous, or audacity, or pragmatic? Any guesses as to how they’d find out?

That’s right – you tell them. The four-year-old is an inquisitive creature; the strongest word in their arsenal is why, followed closely by what. As in, “What is monotonous?”; “What is audacity?”; “What is pragmatic?”. How difficult is it to give them a simple, articulate definition and then solidify the meaning by using the word in a proper context:

“Asking me if you can have a piece of candy ten times a day gets very monotonous.”

“You have a great deal of audacity, suggesting that I go to the bank and tell them to give me money to buy you candy.”

“It would not be very pragmatic for the bank to give out loans solely so that I can stock up on candy.”

The biggest mistake a parent can make is to speak to their child with the same vocabulary that the child uses. It limits them. Is your kid stupid? Of course not. There is no such thing as a stupid child; every child has the capacity to be a goddamned genius. So why would you talk to them as if they are anything less than brilliant? I’m not claiming to raise tiny little prodigies, but I’ve got a better shot at raising future Harvard grads simply because I do not assume that my girls are not smart enough to understand or curious enough to ask about that which they do not understand.

If your first grader is reading at a first grade reading level that is not, as far as I’m concerned, something to be proud of. You should want them to be ahead of the curve rather than fall in line with it, to exceed expectations instead of just meeting them.

Before my children turned four, they knew what gravity was. They can name the closest star to Earth, and they know that the sun is actually a star. They know the nearest galaxy is Andromeda and that the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy. They know what a black hole does, that there is one in the center of the Milky Way, and that they are formed when a star goes supernova. They know all this because Kyle and I were watching Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” and they happened to walk in the room. They asked us questions. And, rather than assume that physics was too far beyond the scope of their intellect, we answered them in a way that was both easy to comprehend and inspired them to ask us more.

So if you are the type of person who looks at people like me weird when I use polysyllabic words around my children, when I correct their grammar, or when I explain abstract concepts to them, I feel bad for you. But mostly, I feel bad that you don’t have the faith or confidence in your own offspring’s ability to learn. After all, school can only teach them so much – it’s up to you to fill in the gaps.

A Disappearing Act

I found out yesterday that a friend of mine passed away on Sunday. We were very close as teenagers, lost touch after high school, but thanks to the wonders of social networking we reconnected just a few years ago.

Since we first met online and have always lived in separate states, we never actually got the chance to meet face to face. In the back of my mind, I always figured when I flew back to Sacramento to visit, I’d plan for a layover in Salt Lake City and we’d have coffee at the airport until I had to board. In fact, the day before I found out he was gone, I had started making tentative plans to fly home this August and telling him about it was one of the things I looked forward to most.

It’s weird, and it’s unsettling, and it’s sad, and it’s confusing, because while in a superficial sense his death came out of nowhere I suppose, if I really think about it, I kind of knew it was going to happen. Not like the knowing that comes with more advanced stages of cancer, or the knowing you feel when you see the twisted, crumpled metal of a car wreck. This is the kind of knowing that remains a sort of whisper in your subconscious, a shadow cast by the not-quite-concealed certainty that someone dear to you has a problem and if they don’t take the steps to solve it that problem will become something much more permanent.

Addiction, of course. Drugs, specifically. How many people, I wonder, find some excuse to hold their tongues when they know a loved one is struggling with something like that? How many of us buy the lie that they’ve found religion, that rehab has helped them? How many of us, when we hear of the relapse,  smile and nod when they swear it was a moment of weakness, even though we know that moment of weakness is eventually going to stretch into days, weeks, years?

How many of us aren’t strong enough to lend some of that strength to those who need, but are too afraid to admit it?

There wasn’t much that I could do; in all honesty, I had no idea how bad the situation had gotten because I didn’t know any of his friends or family; any knowledge I had was what he provided me with. Clearly, he failed to mention a couple of things. Or maybe I failed to acknowledge the transparency of his words.

And yet, somehow, I’m not surprised. He was always indulgent. He always did too much, whether it was pills or liquor, exercise or working. I suppose I just expected more of a downward spiral, more of a plummet. Instead, he was just there…and then, suddenly, gone. Like his whole life amounted to a magic trick.

If there is someone in your life that you fear for, someone you think may be tottering on the edge, don’t ignore it. Don’t look past it. Don’t pretend, or excuse, or chalk it up to a phase or youthful rebellion. Open your mouth. Shout. Ask questions. Demand. Help. For fucksakes, help. Even if you don’t think you can, and especially if you don’t think they want it.

Because now, you may see them.

Perhaps, tomorrow, you won’t.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Don’t tell my kids this, but sometimes asking repeatedly for something does mean you’ll get it.

Faithful readers – and I am truly flattered there are 200 of you, when I barely expected 20! – you said you wanted me to read and review “50 Shades of Grey”, and who am I to deny the people what they want?

The eBook has been loaded to my phone and as soon as my wee ones are tucked in and dreaming of sugar, spice, and other assorted things I’m told are nice, I will begin my journey in to the land of what I’m assured is poorly written smut.

In the meantime, put on your thinking caps – I’m probably going to need suggestions for shitty book number three in about a week.

Everyone needs a hobby. Thanks to all of you for giving me a new one!