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Rain Racer Revived?

After a two-year hiatus, the Rain Racer may return.  Stay tuned…

My oldest son’s first concert technically was 13 years ago before he was born.  My wife was about eight months pregnant when we went to a Green Day show in Washington, D.C.  The waves of fast-paced punk music reverberated off my wife’s belly, creating a mosh pit effect in the womb.  For thirteen years I have waited for the opportunity to re-introduce my son to the mosh pit, a place I have loved since I began my lifelong obsession with underground music.

I have an ulterior motive in pro-actively shaping my children’s taste in music; I did not want to be condemned to listen to kid’s music in the car on the way to/from soccer practice, etc.  I started several years ago by introducing them to funny songs they could relate to, such as the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for your Right to Party” which is about not wanting to go to school and not wanting to get a haircut.  I also got them into the Dead Milkmen, who sing about big lizards in their backyard.  Most recently, we stumbled on a genre called “Laptop rap” which features songs about Star Wars, video games, and ninjas.  So when I noticed that two such rappers — MC Chris and MC Lars — were coming to a club about an hour and a half away from our house, I jumped online and bought three tickets.   It was an all-ages show. I was in luck.

My children had already forged a connection to Chris and Lars.  Chris’s song Hoodie Ninja was played over the speaker system at my nine-year-old son’s swim meets last summer after one of the coaches overheard my son nicknamed his relay team “The Hoodie Ninjas.”  Lars has a super-catchy rap version of Edgar Allan Poe’s 150-year-old poem The Raven that my kids now know all the words to.  My plan to get them listening to my kind of music, and later taking them to my kind of concert, was working brilliantly.

The club we went to was located in a slightly sketchy neighborhood of Baltimore. We entered through the back door, a plain entrance with no markings of any kind.  The ticket taker checked my ID and wrote large “X”s on my kids’ hands as a signal the bartender that they were too young to drink.  I joked that if they ran to the bathroom to wash their hands, they could get the X off before the permanent ink dried and get a drink.

My 12-year-old and 9-year-old were the only kids at the show.  Several other people looked at them and smiled at me.  One guy even came up and told me, “You must be a cool dad.”  “Either that or a really bad one,” I told him.  My 12-year-old felt self-conscious and stood with his arms crossed.  My youngest, however, sang along and participated in the call-and-response initiated by one of the rappers who encouraged the crowd to “meow” while he sang about kitties.

Lars closed his set with The Raven, and the entire place erupted.  I have always loved the feeling of listening to a song over and over your iPod and then seeing it performed live in a small venue where you can almost reach out and touch the musician.  I also wanted my kids to understand the appeal of underground music that I had long appreciated: that is you develop a private, personal connection to songs that none of your friends know and then share the concert experience with a room full of people who have also stumbled into the same obscure corner of the music universe as you.

After Lars left the stage, I noticed his green A’s hat emerge from behind the backstage curtain and make its way to the merchandise table.  I asked the kids if they wanted to meet him up close.  My oldest took a pass, but my youngest jumped at it.  We went up to Lars’ together. I shook his hand first and then stepped aside so that he could see my little wing man.  He came out from behind the merchandise table and knelt down on one knee to talk face-to-face with son.  As I lined up the camera,  Lars told my son to make the handsign for heavy metal.

This picture of MC Lars and my son now hangs in his bedroom.

MC Chris opened his show with a funny monologue about xbox games that my sons love to play.  Most of his songs are about Star Wars and pizza, and my kids hung on his every word.  My self-conscious 12-year-old started to loosen up.   When Chris introduced the next song by saying, “This song is about ninja’s” my kids were completely hooked.

After the show, Chris and Lars both hung out in the club talking to fans, taking pictures and signing autographs.  This is something that fans of Taylor Swift or the Black Eyed Peas will never get a taste of–a direct personal connection.   As the people in front of us snapped their pictures with Chris and moved on, we stepped up.  Chris seemed really excited to meet his littlest fans.  He even pulled out his iPhone and took a picture of my kid wearing his sweatshirt.  He spent time talking to them about what they thought of the show and which songs they like and whatnot.  As I lined up my camera, my oldest son put on a ninja mask attached to his sweatshirt, Chris followed suit by flipping up his hoodie and the two of them stood shoulder-to-shoulder, arms folded, looking like tough guys.

My oldest son and MC Chris doing the ninja thing

In the car on the way back, the kids both raved about what a great show it had been. I felt a certain satisfaction that I had nudged them down the same road that I have been traveling on for the past 25 years–just as I had planned it since that Green Day show way back when.

The Revamped Strategy

Not so long ago my fifth-grade child turned in a sloppy book report and brought home a poor grade.  I started in with a lecture on taking pride in your work and soon enough I had worked into a lather about taking your time, checking your work and that sloppy work was unacceptable.  As I built to a crescendo, I realized that my child hadn’t gotten a word in edgewise in about 10 minutes.  Nor had she looked up at me.  Eighty percent of what I said had not registered.  She had probably disengaged from my 100 mph lecture and was simply awaiting the pronouncement of a punishment or for me to stop talking.

I vowed to revamp my strategy for the next time.

When I do all the talking, I come away with no real sense of the nature of the problem and how to best fix it.  My child reverts to silence and the occasional ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  This denies me the two things that I — and all parents — need most:  more information as to what exactly is going wrong and secondly for the child to learn the lesson and remember it long enough to put in an improved performance at the next opportunity.

A few weeks later, I found a school test with a bad grade written in red in my child’s schoolbag.  This was my chance.

The fouled up math test wasn’t complicated or tricky.  Straightforward equations, wrong answers.  I started out with a simple, “Tell me what happened here?” and handed my child the test.  “I rushed through it and didn’t check my work.”  I asked if we had ever discussed this problem in the past.  “Yes.”  So you agree that we have dealt with this problem in the past and it still isn’t fixed.  Is that something that me as a parent should be concerned about?  She said, “Yes.” Tell me why I should be concerned.  “Because if I rush through, then I will get things wrong and a bad grade.”

I felt like a football coach breaking down the game film at halftime and making adjustments in the locker room before the second half.  My child and I proceeded to go through what happened on that test step-by-step with me asking the questions and she providing the answers. It felt like a genuine give-and-take.  If she could successfully present me with a valid reason why poor performance on this test should not raise parental concerns, then I was prepared to let her off scot-free.  But as expected she knew where my questions were heading and preemptively confessed to the problem, explained that she is too distracted by her friends in the classroom, and told me she needs to focus better.  She then came up with a suitable punishment: no Facebook or cellphone until she could demonstrate that the problem was fixed.

I became a convert to the second approach.  I came away with a much clearer understanding of why she makes easy errors on tests that had left me scratching my head.  By explaining herself in her own words, this (I hope) thus lessened the chances of a repeat performance.  I don’t have to worry about the punishment fitting the crime because my child had confessed to the crime, described in detail how the crime was committed and then levied the punishment.  Lastly, if this problem resurfaces, I can say, “Remember when you told me ….” and be confident that indeed she will remember her own words.  And if I have to take even stronger measures, I can simply say, “We did it your way last time and now we are going to do it my way.”

But if my revamped strategy works, hopefully it won’t come to that.

With a spat of news reports about cyber-bullying leading to teenage suicide, I suspect that some parents who allowed their children to join Facebook might feel pangs of regret.

Not me, and here’s why:

Many parents worry that social networking exposes pre-teens to foul and hurtful language, taunting, and general filth.  Those parents are correct.  The minimum age for joining Facebook is 13 years old.  Yet I allowed my 12 year old son and 11 year old daughter to join about six months ago.  As simple safeguards, I ran their accounts through my email and I have each of their passwords.  They also have friended me, and dozens of their friends–perhaps to puff up their friend numbers– have friended me thus allowing me to access their webpages.  My son has more than 100 friends and my daughter has zoomed to more than 250.

Unknown to them, Continue Reading »

My wife and I have high expectations for our three elementary school-aged children, but we have told them repeatedly that we do not expect straight A’s.  That may sound like a contradiction, but it is not.  If we see good effort then we anticipate that good grades will flow naturally.  And if their best isn’t good enough to net them an “A” then so be it. Everyone makes mistakes, and nobody is perfect all the time.

My 11-year-daughter has hit the beginnings of puberty and as her body changes, so has her priorities.  Getting full effort out of her is increasingly difficult.  It frustrates but doesn’t surprise me when she forgets her homework at school on the last day before an assignment is due, but remembers clearly when the local high school football team plays a home game that she can attend with her sixth grade classmates and friends.  She increasingly views anything that stands in the way of her interacting with her friends as a grave injustice.

We are fairly permissive parents.  Continue Reading »

I have spent four years watching 8- and 9-year-olds put on pads and hit each other, sometimes all too gently for the coach’s liking.  I also have met plenty of Dads at the practice field who have big dreams for their children.  I have concluded that many a parent has misunderstood what pee wee football is primarily about.

It is not about winning or athletic achievement.  It is about character.

Every parent wants to see their child run for a game-winning touchdown and taste the glory of such a moment.  Me too.  Yet, I find we parents learn more about our children when they’ve take a hard hit and thrown violently to the ground.

Here is a clip of my 8-year-old child (number 8 in red) getting run over by a bigger kid, hitting his head on the turf and walking back to the huddle like nothing happened. His teammates who witnessed the hit pat him on the shoulder pads for a job well done.

The truth is that what happens next is almost always a revealing and positive moment for all parties involved.  For every parent who thinks their kid is the next superstar, there are many more who are nervous that their 8- or 9-year-old is a bit soft or can’t take a hit.  Many parents have to restrain themselves from running on to the field if it looks like someone might be hurt.  Perhaps they are worrying about concussions and broken bones like the kind they see on Sunday on the NFL field. In order to suffer such injuries, requires your child to take a big hit and the math just doesn’t add up to injury.  Afterall, if ‘force’ equals ‘mass’ times ‘acceleration,’ then youth football players usually don’t have the mass or the acceleration to generate the force necessary to cause a concussion in another player dressed in full pads and wearing a helmet.

My experience bears this out.  In the four years of watching my sons play youth football (the oldest is now 12), I have seen hundreds of kids get knocked hard to the ground.  Ninety-nine percent of them get up uninjured.  Rarely do they cry.  And if they do, they try to hide it from their teammates.  The vast majority of kids brush off the hit, run back to the huddle, and get ready for the next play.

That is character, and what youth football is all about.  And watching your child get up after they’ve been knocked down is sometimes just as rewarding for Mom and Dad as anything else that happens on a football field.

My 8-year-old son gets flattened by a bigger kid.

Witness to a Shoplifting

Two weeks ago while wandering around the shopping mall, my 12-year-old son and I watched a 14-year-old kid get caught stealing.  I think it was a good thing for my son to see. No lecture from Dad about morals, right-and-wrong, and doing the right thing has the impact of witnessing an actual event and its consequences.  Continue Reading »

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