Dad Files: The Best and Worst TV Dads

The few times Eli and Jack have caught sight of a moving image on a TV screen, they went full zombie: emotionless expressions, lax muscle tone, eyes gone rheumy too soon. My wife demanded we adopt a strict policy: No TV around the children.

I agreed. Research suggests it is best for our boys, nine-and-a-half month old fraternal twins, to avoid the brain zapping properties of the TV till they are about three. Still, I look forward to the more easeful times the four of us will spend together, snuggled on the couch or floor, watching children’s shows that will allow my wife and I to stare at our children, for long minutes at a time, undetected.

Recently, however, I decided to bring a little TV to them. I’ve long hoped to be a Cosby-like dad, always ready with a story or a joke and some wisdom. But the television father is a sit-com staple and examples of dads we might aspire to be range from the buffoonish “King of Queens” to the saintly “Father Knows Best So,” over the last few weeks, I’ve done my best to imitate various television dads for the boys, figuring the exercise might at least keep us all engaged during another round of drop that rattle and snag dad’s eyeglasses right off his face.

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Dad Files: Why All Parents Should Sleep Train Their Kids

My wife and I were childless at the time, still trying to start a family of our own. I was still as much afraid of being a dad as I was excited. And I was deeply skeptical that dinner with friends, who had recently become parents, would be any fun at all. My impression of parenthood, built over many years’ observation, was that the first few years of the parent-child relationship consisted of tearful, nightly negotiations over when and even if said child would sleep.

As a result, I expected our dinner with friends we’ll call Claire and Joe to consist of frequent interruptions and forced smiles. But they had other ideas. Joe offered me a beer and opened an accompanying bottle of wine. Claire professed to be well rested and as happy as ever. Gallows humor, I thought. A stiff upper lip before the war. It was nearing 6 p.m, when Claire said she would put her little one to bed. Clearly, they were girding themselves for the sobbing sure to follow. But Claire was boastful.

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The Checkup: Go Ahead and Talk Your Baby’s Ear Off (It’s Good for Her!)

• The New York Times has a fascinating read on its opinion blog this week, all about how important talking to your baby is. It sounds simple enough, but as the piece points out, a lot of parents don’t do it nearly enough, and some experts think how much a parent talks to his child—and therefore, how many words the child is exposed to during her early years—directly impacts the kid’s intellect and success down the road. What’s more, differences in the number of words kids are exposed to at young ages could explain why kids of poor parents fall so far behind at school and hardly ever catch up to their wealthier peers. Check out these study results:

Children whose families were on welfare heard about 600 words per hour. Working-class children heard 1,200 words per hour, and children from professional families heard 2,100 words. By age 3, a poor child would have heard 30 million fewer words in his home environment than a child from a professional family. And the disparity mattered: the greater the number of words children heard from their parents or caregivers before they were 3, the higher their IQ and the better they did in school. TV talk not only didn’t help, it was detrimental.

Interesting, right? Read more here.

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Dad Files: Why Are Parents So Negative About Parenting?

From the time we first established a sleep schedule for our sons, my wife and I ritualized the process. We get the boys, Jack and Eli, fed. Then we let them roll around on the carpet for a bit, playing with their toys. We tuck them into sleep sacks about 10 minutes before bedtime, give them each a pacifier, sit them on our laps and read to them.

“Oh the things you can think up,” I read aloud, from Dr. Seuss, “if only you try.”

Our boys, fraternal twins, are just eight months old, so their vocabulary right now seems to consist of “ba” and “gah!” But when we read they often appear transfixed, as if we are imparting great wisdom. With the last Seussian syllables still sounding in our ears, we trundle them upstairs, turn out the lights, sing them a song and tuck them into their cribs. And that’s that. But it isn’t only that. What I mean to say is that the sum of these parts adds up to what is, often, the most emotionally satisfying part of my day. And with each passing week the boys themselves seem to render this ritual ever more powerful. Most nights, in fact, as my wife and I sing “What a Wonderful World” we alternate between staring at our boys and staring at each other. And the four of us wind up tethered into a semi-circle: Me holding Jack, who grasps one of Lisa’s fingers, who cradles Eli, who reaches across and holds on to my thumb. “I see friends, shaking hands, saying ‘How do you do?’” my wife and I sing, smiling at each other in the dark. “They’re really saying, ‘I love you.’”

Lately, I’ve marveled at how much deeper, richer and more meaningful my life seems now than it felt nine months ago, before the boys came kicking and squalling into this world. And I emerge with a question: Namely, why haven’t more parents shared stories with me like this one?

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These ‘Don’t Feed Me’ T-Shirts for Kids with Allergies Are Brilliant

Sometimes the most obvious solutions are also the most ingenious. Take these “Don’t Feed Me” t-shirts meant for kids with food allergies, for example. Sure, they’re not the most attractive pieces of clothing, but for parents who have kids with allergies to milk, peanuts, gluten, eggs and more, these shirts could mean some serious peace of mind.

The brainchild of comedian Kym Whitley, star of the soon-to-premiere OWN network reality show, Raising Whitley, the shirts are meant to be filled out with a pen or Sharpie indicating the child’s name and specific allergies. They come with options for peanuts, gluten, corn, strawberry, eggs, dairy, soy, wheat and shellfish, and have four blank lines to fill in other allergens if necessary. Whitley first made the shirt for her two-year-old son, Joshua, to wear to daycare. He’s apparently allergic to a laundry list of things; his most severe allergies are to peanuts, chicken, corn, shellfish and peaches.

Via ABC News:

Now she’s producing big batches of the T-shirts in different colors … She’s also selling clear bags that have the same “Don’t Feed Me” warning on the sides that can hold Benadryl, Epi-Pens (epinephrine injectors) and other allergy aids.

The shirts are available for $9.99 at Whitley’s website. They come in grey, red, blue and orange in sizes 12 months to 4T.

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Pittsburgh Woman Creates Dolls for Children with Down Syndrome

The Checkup: Autism Rate Now at 1 in 50 School Kids, Health Officials Say

• Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote about an uptick in our country’s autism rate, which increased 23 percent in two years from 1 in 110 kids to 1 in 88. Government officials reported yesterday that the rate has shifted again, standing now at 1 in 50 school kids with autism diagnoses. Experts say the new numbers aren’t necessary indicative of autism occurring more often, “but it does suggest that doctors are diagnosing autism more frequently,” the AP reports, “especially in children with milder problems.” The new estimate comes with its share of controversy, as it’s based on a phone survey of more than 95,000 parents, less than a quarter of whom agreed to answer the survey questions in the first place. And those who did agree may have been more likely to have a child with autism, skewing the results. The method, some say, is far less rigorous—and therefore, less trustworthy—than last year’s estimate, which was the outcome of a study that looked at school and medical records. However—and here’s the kicker—if the new figure stands, it would mean that 1 million kids in the U.S. have autism. The AP has more here.

• Let’s bring parasols back, ladies (and gents, too, if you want in)! A study by dermatologists at Emory University found that umbrellas can block more than three-quarters of UV light on a sunny day—which, of course, means healthier skin in the long run. Read more here.

Does low-fat milk make kids heavier? Yup, according to a new study of pre-school kids. The study of more than 10,000 American children found that those who drink skim or 1 percent milk are more likely to be overweight or obese than those who drink 2 percent or whole milk. More here.

Photo: Shutterstock

Adderall: The Drug That Parents Want Their Kids to Use (Even If They Don’t Medically Need It)

I never wanted my kids to do drugs. Except for one drug: Adderall. I was curious about its purported ability to improve a user’s focus and academic performance. Both my children did fine in high school without the drug. But like a lot of parents, I always wondered: What might they have accomplished if … Maybe they would have been their class valedictorians. Maybe they would have gotten into Harvard. Maybe they wouldn’t have watched so much crappy TV and played so many video games and would have been more like this kid in Ambler who just won $75,000 in a nationwide science contest.

I wasn’t curious enough to haul either my son or my daughter to the doctor and ask for a prescription for Adderall, which the Huffington Post has called “the most abused prescription drug in America.” But the New York Times devoted space last year to an Atlanta pediatrician, Michael Anderson, who advocates giving the drug to kids at low-performing schools, in a sort of cosmic evening-out of the odds against their success. Says Anderson, “We might not know the long-term effects, but we do know the short-term costs of school failure, which are real.” The Times story mentions a 12-year-old girl whose parents agreed to let the doctor prescribe the drug for her because she was, they said, “a little blah.”

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Dad Files: How Kate Gosselin and Octomom Ruined Having Multiples

At first, I must admit, I didn’t quite understand.

I’d tell someone my wife was pregnant with twins, or they’d find out, and, well, most of them raise an eyebrow and ask the same question: “Oh,” they’d say. “Do twins run in your family?”

The first many times, being a bit thick about these things, I wasn’t quite sure why the question sounded so loaded, why some subtle hesitations and feints as they spoke made me feel like I was being investigated. But the question kept coming—from passing acquaintances and even, at times, total strangers who only overheard me telling someone else our happy news.

“Why is that everyone’s first question?” I asked my wife one night. “Why is that so important?”

“Because that’s not what they’re really asking,” she replied. “What they really want to know is if we were receiving some sort of fertility treatments.”

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Dad Files: My Kids Are Way Cuter Than Yours (Sorry)

That's Jack on the left and Eli on the right. Adorable, right?

A few weeks ago, I made a brief trip to our pediatrician’s office. The weather outside was brutal, one of the few really cold days we suffered this winter, and everyone inside looked haggard, except for the babies. They clucked and cooed and wailed. The one nearest me just kept repeating, “Ba! Ba! Ba!”

I was waiting in line to talk to the receptionist and could not help but look at this babbling kid and the thought just sort of came to me that both my babies—my wife and I had fraternal twin boys—are cuter than this baby. And that sort of got me started. The next thing I knew, I was killing time by looking at all the babies and children, coming and going, and stacking them up against my Jack and Eli.

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Dad Files: Losing the Baby Weight Sucks (Even for a Dad)

Now that the twins are seven months old and thriving, my wife and I have some time for ourselves in the evening. So the other night I headed for the gym.

I climbed on the treadmill feeling physically worn out but mentally proud of myself for getting to the gym. Then I ran, lasting for about five minutes before a cramp in my right abdomen started strong and got worse.

Now, I’ve fought off “side stitches” many times in the past. The key: exhale on the foot strike opposite of the pain. But this time, that fail-safe advice didn’t work for me. I kept pushing. But half way into my planned half-hour run, the pain was doubling me over. The guy on the treadmill next to me started looking at me like I was “that guy”—you know, the one shouting too loud while he bench presses or sweating so much a pool is forming under his feet?

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