Now Trackable on AT&T: Our First Driver

Somewhere around 12:00pm CDT this afternoon, August 8, 2011, our son, our eldest, took the car out by himself for the very first time.  I am happy to say he made it to school and back safely, with a stop, of course, at the drive-thru at McDonald’s.  Driving makes one hungry, I guess.

I know he made it to school, because I am now able to track him via his mobile phone, for the low, low, low cost of $9.95 per month with AT&T.  (Thank goodness your parents couldn’t do that, right?)

As I consider our eldest getting his license and driving away, I’m not going to write about how he was born seemingly yesterday.  I’m not going to lament the cost of insurance ($83 per month, if you are interested).

I’m not going to write about how Mrs. Spidey and I now worry minute-by-minute when he’s out, and I’m not going to celebrate that he can now shuttle our 13-year-old around instead of us.

Wait.  Yes.  I will celebrate/am celebrating that he can now shuttle our 13-year-old around instead of us.  I shouldn’t forget that.

Now that I’ve celebrated, I’ll tell you what I’m thinking.

I’m thinking this is a rite of passage that we’ve all been through as 16-year-old kids.

I’m thinking about how my brave, brave mother took me for my license on my birthday and then let me take the car to school that day.

I’m thinking that I survived learning how to drive while making some mistakes.

I’m thinking my mother and father survived four kids getting driver’s licenses and making mistakes.

I’m thinking this is an exciting time for our son and for Mrs. Spidey and me.  In many ways, we both get freedom.

The primary difference is that his freedom is trackable on my iPhone via AT&T.

The Cheerleading Competition

Last weekend I drove with my wife and daughter to a cheerleading competition in Duluth, Georgia. My daughter’s team is the “Burn” from Spirit Elite in St. Peter’s, Missouri.  We were able to watch the Burn compete, but also able to visit with two of my sisters and their kids, all of whom live in the Atlanta area.

This is cheerleading as in ESPN2 late night or as in the movie Bring It On and its four direct-to-video sequels. (Who knew there were four sequels to Bring It On?)

It’s loud music, dance, and tumbling. There are also lifts and the tossing of “flyers” high in the air. The teams perform and compete after weeks of practice.

When I watch my daughter, I’m very engaged. The atmosphere at a competition, however, is nearer to  “Toddlers and Tiaras” than a football game.  There are hundreds of girls (and some boys) dressed in similar uniforms, with similar lipstick, glitter, and bows.

But don’t kid yourself about the niceness of competition.  It’s hard-core.  Each team finds out their score within minutes after they perform, and the score is announced in front of the entire room.  They are told at that time whether they are in 1st, 2nd or 3rd or worse.  If they are in first, they are allowed to sprint across the stage and sit in the “Leaders’ Lounge.”  There is nothing better than sprinting to the lounge to displace the squad that was in 1st up to the moment your score was announced.

Just as you might see at football or hockey games, parents are dressed in team colors and team paraphernalia. Some dads wear shirts with their daughter’s name on the back. I make fun of those dads a lot, but I understand the pride with which they wear it.  These girls work hard and deserve the rewards.

The Burn finished second in their age and level group.  They were less than a tenth of a point from first.  They were disappointed, but they made their parents proud.

The Main Stage and Award Area at Right

Ready to Go

Individual Lifts

Full Extension!

Finding Out the Results

Watching the Next Team from the Leaders' Lounge

Engage with Grace – Things to Be Grateful For This Thanksgiving

For three years running now, many of us bloggers have participated in what we’ve called a “blog rally” to promote Engage With Grace [www.engagewithgrace.org] – a movement aimed at making sure all of us understand, communicate, and have honored our end-of-life wishes.

The rally is timed to coincide with a weekend when most of us are with the very people with whom we should be having these unbelievably important conversations – our closest friends and family.

The One Slide

At the heart of Engage With Grace are five questions designed to get the conversation about end-of-life started. We’ve included them at the end of this post.  They’re not easy questions, but they are important – and believe it or not, most people find they actually enjoy discussing their answers with loved ones.  The key is having the conversation before it’s too late.

This past year has done so much to support our mission to get more and more people talking about their end-of-life wishes. We’ve heard stories with happy endings … and stories with endings that could’ve (and should’ve) been better. We’ve stared down political opposition.  We’ve supported each other’s efforts.  And we’ve helped make this a topic of national importance.

So in the spirit of the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend, we’d like to highlight some things for which we’re grateful.

Thank you to Atul Gawande for writing such a fiercely intelligent and compelling piece on “letting go” [http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/08/02/100802fa_fact_gawande]– it is a work of art, and a must read.

Thank you to whomever perpetuated the myth of “death panels” for putting a fine point on all the things we don’t stand for, and in the process,  shining a light on the right we all have to live our lives with intent – right through to the end.

Thank you to TEDMED [http://www.thehealthcareblog.com/the_health_care_blog/2010/10/engage-with-grace.html] for letting us share our story and our vision.

And of course, thank you to everyone who has taken this topic so seriously, and to all who have  done so much to spread the word, including sharing The One Slide.

The Dog

Since I started this blog back in December, I haven’t written much about our dog.  Seems to me like a very glaring omission, no?  I mean, he is a member of our family.  Really.  Keep reading.

Our dog is named Lucky.  Actually, his name is Lucky Ace, because apparently dogs have to have two names when they are registered.

Our Dog Lucky

He’s a cockapoo, which means his mom is a cocker spaniel and his dad is a poodle.  He’s the color of a cocker spaniel, but three feet long and about a foot off the ground.  He had his tail removed as a puppy (common with cockapoos), so his butt shakes when he is happy.

When we decided to get a dog five years ago, I was the last holdout.  I really wasn’t sure that I wanted a smelly, drooly “thing” running around our house, chewing up things and creating havoc.  Now I can’t imagine being without him.  In fact, a lot is going on that I wouldn’t have imagined and some that may make you say “ewwwwww:”

  • We refer to ourselves as Lucky’s mom, dad, brother and sister.
  • Every year, Lucky is on our holiday cards.
  • Every year, each of us receives a birthday card from Lucky.  (Well, they aren’t really from Lucky.  Oh.  You figured that out.)
  • Every year, we celebrate Lucky’s birthday, sometimes with neighborhood dogs as guests.
  • Lucky is a licker.  He loves to lick our faces incessantly and will lick sweat as well after we work out.  (Yes – he licks that too.  Get your mind out of the gutter.)
  • Lucky sleeps at the end of our bed every night without fail.  No crate.

Lucky is awfully lazy.  He barks at the door, even when he knows who is there.  Lucky is sometimes too licky, not knowing when to stop, and sometimes he limits my space on the bed, by plopping himself down in the right/wrong spot.

Lucky is a mama’s boy, and follows Mrs. Spidey around when she’s home.  In fact, often he pays no attention to anyone until Mrs. Spidey comes home.

Lucky stands by my son’s chair at most meals, knowing that is the place from which food is most likely to fall.  He loves fish, eggs, and popcorn.

So now you know about the fifth member of the Spidey family.  I never thought I would admit that I have a dog as a  “son,” but here I am.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Taking Stock of Life on My Birthday

A few years back, I called my Dad (who will be 69 in December) on his birthday.  I asked him if he was having a good day.  He responded, more philosophically than normal, “Any day that your feet hit the floor is a good day.”

Even though no one, no matter how old, ever wants to admit that their parents are right about anything, I’ll grant my Dad this one.  His thought helps to put the difficulties of everyday life into perspective.  Since then, I have responded with his answer when people ask me how my day is going.

As I turn 44 today, as I do on each birthday, I’m taking stock of my life as it stands today.  I passed my Dad’s hurdle at 4:45am this morning when I got out of bed to hit the treadmill.  That makes today a good day.

So – let’s start with positives:   Loving wife.  Two great kids.  Everyone is healthy.  Best dog ever.  A good job.  Money in the bank.  Saving for college (a ways to go!).  Saving for retirement (more than a ways to go!).  Awesome vacations and global travel.  A home theater to watch my Capitals, Yankees and Redskins (love that DirecTV!).

On the downside:  Way too much stress at work that has, from time to time, bled into our home.  Can’t stop biting my nails.  Need to lose 10 to 20 pounds.  Spend too much money than I would like, but can’t seem to stop.  House is 8 years old, and things are beginning to go.  Wish I could see my sisters and parents and nieces and nephews more often.  Wish I was more involved in some community activities.  Wish I could help my wife out more at home.  Wish I could cook like the men and women on Top Chef.

That was easy and leads to an easy conclusion:  I think I’ll take my life.  Doing this puts everything into clear perspective.  The little picture may be dire from time to time, but the big picture is fantastic.

I can only hope the next 56 years are just as good.  And by the way, 56 more years is just a minimum, not a maximum.

A Parent’s Review of Halo: Reach

One week ago, Microsoft released its sixth game in the Halo series, Halo: Reach.  This game is a prequel to the previous five Halo games.  The gist of Halo: Reach, according to my 15-year-old son, is that humans 500 years in the future battle a band of various alien species on Reach for control of “relics,” which are really weapons.  If you want to learn more about the plot, Wikipedia appears to have a good summary.

I Give It 9 out of 10 on the Gaming Family Impact Scale

From a parent’s perspective, I give Halo: Reach a strong 9 out of 10 on our Family Impact Scale, with 10 being the highest impact.

I base my rating not on graphics or story or game play.  You can get ratings based on those factors from GameSpot, from IGN, from PlanetXBox360 and many, many other locations.

I base my rating on a number of other factors:

  • Number of empty soda cans and water bottles left in our basement after game play and number of repeat requests to throw them away = 7 out of 10.
  • Pairs of socks left stranded in the basement after game play and number of repeat requests to remove them = 10 out of 10.
  • Level of protest game play is limited for child’s homework, piano practice, drum practice, etc. = 9 out of 10.
  • Ability of child to lie about homework or about finishing homework in order to play = 9 out of 10.
  • Impact of parents threatening a punishment that includes no game play = 9 out of 10.
  • Ability of child to play in the middle of the annual Yom Kippur fast = 10 out of 10.
  • Length of time multiple teenage boys stand over parent wondering when parent will give up the television so they can play = 7 out of 10.
  • Comfort level that when child says he’s “playing” the game, he really is = 10 out of 10.

In each of these instances, Halo: Reach has achieved levels at or higher than nearly all previous games.  The Call of Duty series games have come close, but didn’t have the same impact.

Mrs. Spidey and I thought taking away the iPhone was the best possible punishment until last Tuesday, when Halo: Reach came into our lives.  For that, I thank Microsoft and stand by my 9 out of 10 rating on the Family Impact Scale.

Kids – I think you should go buy it.

Parents – I think you should be prepared.

No Electronics for You!

As a parent of a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old, I can attest to the validity of an article in The Washington Post yesterday about new punishment techniques.

Donna St. George’s article is headlined “A new-age twist on the age-old parenting technique of grounding.”  She talks about a range of punishments from no cell phone, to no Facebook, to no Xbox.  She cites a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project that says 62% of parents have taken away their child’s cell phone as punishment.  Mrs. Spidey and I are part of the 62%.

In our household, we have an escalating scale of punishments related to electronics.  Typically, these are doled out due to lack of focus on schoolwork.  Sometimes, however, as St. George reveals in one anecdote in the article, we punish for “lapse in good judgment.”  The scale is roughly as follows:

The Ultimate Punishment

  • No computer for the rest of the day
  • No computer or television for the rest of the day
  • No electronics for the rest of the day
  • No electronics for an extended period
  • Changing the password log-in on the computer
  • Removal and hiding of the power cords to the computer, Xbox, television
  • Taking away the iPod and/or phone

Note the progression.  When banning isn’t enough, parents have to prevent children from accessing electronics, whether by changing passwords or taking the power cords.

The worst, however, is taking away a child’s music and telephone.  This means no texting, no walking around with headphones in, and no mobile Facebook.  In sum, this means social isolation, which is really the intent of grounding.

Unfortunately, taking away a child’s phone is also a punishment to the parents.  When children don’t have a phone, they can’t call to be picked up, and they generally can’t be found.

As the article describes, old-fashioned grounding just doesn’t work any more.  To make children feel the impact of their educational failures or “lapses in good judgment,” parents have to hit children where it hurts – smack in the middle of their electronics.