How Many Kids Can You Have Before Adultitis Takes Over?

Does having more kids increase your chances of Adultitis?

If so, how many kids can you have before it takes over your life completely?

This sums up a question I recently received through our website. Here it is in its entirety:

“Hi guys, if it’s not too personal of a topic, I was wondering if you had plans to try for more kids at some point. My husband and I go back and forth on whether our daughter (now one) should be an only child. On the one hand, the families I see with lots of kids seem to be extremely caught up in Adultitis, stress, and the daily grind. It seems like having more kids often creates an intense division of Us vs. Them between the parents and kids. I sometimes think we’d have more fun with just our daughter since right now we play all day and travel and do all kinds of things we all want to do.

On the other hand, we adore our daughter and think she’s a blast so maybe more would be a blast too. Do you have any thoughts on the number of kids in regards to Adultitis and having a fun life? Thanks!”

I’m sure a ton of people can relate to this. I know I can.

The answer, fortunately, is very simple.

1.75

That’s exactly how many kids you can have and still expect a relatively Adultitis-free life.

I’m kidding, of course. The reality is that you can find Adultitis-ridden people who have 12 kids, 3 kids, 1 kid, or no kids at all. It reminds me of the people who warned us before welcoming our first child into the world that kids are actually the cause of Adultitis. That worried me until other people started to assure me that kids are in fact the cure to Adultitis. That’s when I realized it had nothing to do with kids (or even the number of kids) at all.

Yes, more kids equals more mouths to feed, more bodies to clothe, more schedules to juggle and more cell phones to buy. But it also offers more variety, more liveliness, more laughter, and more hands to help with the household chores. When it comes to Adultitis, there is no panacea — it’s coming hard after every one of us, whether we are young, old, married or single, childless, or that old lady who lived in a shoe.

The grass always looks greener on the other side, but it still needs to be cut.

Kim and I kept a journal during our first year of parenthood, and we learned something very valuable through the process. Our Adultitis levels had more to do with our attitudes and the choices we made than with the fact that we had a new little being under our care. Being parents has presented us with trials that were harder than we’d ever faced before. But we’ve also experienced joys we could have only dreamed of before we had kids. Adultitis tends to dissipate when you spend the bulk of your time focusing on (and appreciating) the joys more than the trials.

All that being said, there are some keys that I think are worth remembering:

  • You don’t have to say yes to everything. Your schedule doesn’t have to match the Jones’. They’re nuts, after all.
  • Set aside one day a week reserved for family — no exceptions. It’s so much easier to navigate the craziness of a busy week when you know there is a light at the end of the tunnel in which you can all just “be.”
  • Your kids don’t have to be involved in every extra curricular activity under the sun. Try sticking to one at a time. (Don’t worry, they’ll still get into college.)
  • You can do a lot of things with kids that most people claim you can’t. Travel is just one of them.
  • Make it a priority to have dinner together every night. It has been proven to help kids get better grades and minimizes their risk of getting involved in drugs and premarital sex.
  • Model playfulness and an attitude of not taking yourself too seriously, at least as much as you try to foster honesty, discipline, and a good work ethic.
  • No one ever said on their deathbed that they wish they’d spent more time at the office.
  • Kids don’t need a lot of STUFF. What they need most is TIME.
  • Parenting is a hard gig. No one passes with flying colors. Let this reality sink in, let the pressure to be perfect disappear, and have fun!

In the end, when it comes to Adultitis, the number of kids you have is irrelevant.

What really matters are the choices you make and the attitude you adopt.

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Escape Adulthood — stop by www.KimandJason.com and check out their new book, Just You Wait: Adventures in Fighting Adultitis as First-Time Parents.

How to Make Sure Your Kid Grows Up to Be Awesome

One of the goals of any good parent, I think, is to have your kids grow up to be awesome.

And by awesome, I don’t necessarily mean popular. Or rich. Or having a job with a fancy title.

When my daughter Lucy grows up, I hope she turns out awesome. I do hope she has lots of friends, but I really hope she has a handful of great ones. I don’t really care what kind of job she has or how much money she makes, as long as she loves it, can support herself, and makes the world a better place. I hope she takes the status quo with a grain of salt and is brave enough to go her own way when necessary. I hope she stands out in a sea of average, and stands up for what’s right, even when others are too afraid. I hope she does things that inspire other people to be more awesome.

I hope her story is filled with love and fun and magic and meaning.

In a word, awesome.

I’m not exactly sure how one goes about making sure his or her kids turn out awesome, but I suspect that the parents who allowed their Dark Knight to attend this Princess Party are on the right track:

If the goal is awesomeness, teaching your kids that they don’t have to do the same thing everyone else is doing is important.

And learning the lesson ourselves, perhaps even more so.

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Escape Adulthood — stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

Blowing Bubbles In Her Milk

My wife Kim and I had a big parenting test the other night.

At dinner, my daughter Lucy got to drink out of a “big girl cup” with a straw. And for the first time ever, she discovered how to blow bubbles in her milk.

In our household, this is on par with first words, first steps, and learning how to dunk cookies in milk.

It’s kind of a big deal.

The coolest part is that she figured it out on her own; we didn’t have to teach her. It was awesome witnessing the moment of discovery, when surprise transformed into delight. However, when her cup had become entirely consumed by bubbles, she actually grew concerned and seemed disappointed when she asked, “Where did milk go?”

“Don’t worry, it’ll come back,” I assured her.

And it did! (One of the perks of parenting is presenting the illusion of being all-knowing.)

Naturally, blowing bubbles in her milk became much more interesting to Lucy than actually eating dinner. And Adultitis strongly encouraged both Kim and I to tell her to cut it out. The inner debate about how to proceed was more crucial than one might expect. For you see, we give out little cards to every person who attends one of our speaking programs, and it features this comic strip:

We’ve handed out thousands and thousands and thousands of these cards. Would we now become the parents who admonish our child for blowing bubbles in her milk? Kim and I exchanged a look that indicated we didn’t want to be.

I stopped the inner conversation in my head and quickly analyzed the situation: What’s the big deal? What are my main concerns? For one, I wanted to make sure she actually ate her dinner. And secondly, I was not especially keen on cleaning up after any milk bubble overflows.

So we made it clear that she needed to keep the straw (and the bubbles) in the glass. And after a few more minutes of bubble blowing fun, we pulled the glass away and told her she could resume after she ate a few more bites of her dinner. I was amazed at the responsiveness we got! Inadvertently, we had turned blowing bubbles in milk into a powerful incentive more powerful than M&Ms!

It’s easy to jump into automatic mode in our roles as parents, teachers or leaders and respond to situations in the same way we’ve seen other parents, teachers, and leaders do it, without ever stopping for just a second to question if there might be another way. That stopping is the hard part, because quite often, the other (better) way is not that hard to find.

And so I think we passed the test by honoring one of the special joys of childhood while avoiding a mess and steering clear of turing into total pushovers. (It’s nice to have some confidence going into potty training…)

Meanwhile, my little personal wish for Lucy is that she never stops blowing bubbles in her milk.

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Escape Adulthood — stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

The Best Christmas Present Is…

A while back, I ran across this dad who draws on paper bags for his kids during his lunch break. Pretty neat stuff.

But he’s also used his creativity (and a box cutter) to elevate the humble cardboard box into an even more awesome structure of play.

Even neater.

Which leads me to think about Christmas morning, and how after all of the presents are opened, and the living room looks like the Death Star’s trash compactor, the thing you’re most likely to see your kid playing with is a cardboard box.

Indeed, it seems as though one of the best Christmas presents of all time is the box that originally housed what was intended to be the best Christmas present of all time.

But why? Why are kids so smitten with it that in 2006, it was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame?

Because it leaves a little to the imagination.

It seems like more and more of the toys aimed at little kids is cheap plastic crap made in Asia somewhere. Multi-colored. Battery-operated. With blinking lights and annoying sounds that make you want to remove your ears with a chainsaw. Unitaskers all, these toys pretty much dictate how they are to be played with. Push a few buttons, yank some levers, and the fun is done.

And my little Lucy, who just turned two, is very interested in that stuff.

For about three minutes.

The stuff that really captivates her are the the things that leave a little to the imagination.

Like blocks. Rubber balls. And cardboard boxes.

Easier to come by than a Tickle-Me-Elmo or a Cabbage Patch Kid back in the day, the best part about a box is that it costs about… a box.

Keep this stuff in mind as you plan for what has the chance to be the best Christmas ever.

My point is not to suggest that Santa just wraps up a bunch of empty boxes for our kids, but that we remember that the best toys are the ones that lead our kids to the open door of possibility and let their imaginations take it from there.

And that’s neat-o-riffic.

Darth Vader’s Dos and Don’ts for Dads

art by jason kotecki

With the 1977 release of Star Wars, audiences were introduced to Darth Vader, the baddest bad guy in the entire galaxy. As the story unfolded and the prequels arrived on the scene, many people were surprised to learn that Darth Vader was not always such a bad dude. It may be equally surprising to learn that Mr. Skywalker actually did a few things right in his role as dad. (But mostly wrong.) Here are a few things every father can take away from Luke and Leia’s dear old dad…

Do: Involve your kids in your work and invite them to become involved.
If you work outside the home, “Bring Your Kids to Work Day” is a great initiative. It allows your young padawans a look into your world, learn exactly where it is you go every day, and understand what you do to support your family.

Don’t: Get all bent out of shape and threaten to kill them if they choose not to team up with you to take over the galaxy.
If your kids decide to follow in your footsteps, great. But they might not want to, for a variety of different reasons (none of them personal.) They may be gifted with skills and interests better suited to a different career. Even if they respect your success, they may want to carve out their own path. It’s ok. Everybody has a different destiny. They’re more likely to become successful if they receive your support in following their own dreams than if they are forced into something not meant for them.

* * * * *

Do: Stick up for your kids when they are under attack.
Darth Vader redeemed himself when he took The Emperor down to protect his son. As the leader of your family, it’s your responsibility to look out for your brood. And I’m not just talking about obvious threats like kidnappers, pedophiles, and bounty hunters. What about the hidden influences in their lives? Who do they hang out with? What sorts of music do they listen to? What movies and television shows are they exposed to? What are they really doing online? These sorts of things are affecting your children more than you might like to believe, and it’s your job to monitor these sorts of things.

Don’t: Align yourself with bad people who are likely to attack your kids with Force lightning.
Kids don’t listen to what we say as much as what we do. Who are YOU hanging out with? Are they good role models for your kids? (Note: Stay away from old politicians who promise you the galaxy.) What kind of language do they see you using? What kind of movies do they see you watching? For better or worse, the people and things that influence you will most certainly end up influencing your children.

* * * * *

Do: Discipline your kids in order to teach them right from wrong.
You are not here to be your kids’ friend. A friendship may well emerge from your relationship as your child matures, but it’s not your main job. Your job is to teach them right from wrong, to give them boundaries, and to tap into the wisdom and life experience they are lacking to look out for their best interests. It’s not easy, but for the good of your kids, sometimes you have to be the bad guy. And they probably won’t like it now, but they’ll appreciate it later.

Don’t: Strangle them by using the Force when they disobey.
Kids are kids. They’re gonna mess up. While I personally am not against a swat on the bottom when they’re really naughty, all discipline must be done in love. It’s a fine line to walk, but when it comes to parenting, grace is more important than justice. Save your best Jedi tricks for the young man who brings your daughter home after curfew.

* * * * *

Do: Love your kids’ Mom.
There is no doubt that Anakin was in love with Padme. They had a good thing going. One of the greatest gifts a father can give his children is to love their mother. If you are currently in relationship with her, make an extra effort to do something nice for her in front of them. If the two of you are no longer together, try your best to respect her and be kind to her, if nothing else than for the good of your children.

Don’t: Strangle her.
Kind of goes without saying, I hope. (R.I.P., Padme.)

* * * * *

Do: Allow your kids to see your true feelings.
Traditionally, men are supposed to be tough guys who lack tear ducts and hate all things cute and fuzzy. While I don’t think it serves anyone to abandon your masculinity and devolve into a namby pamby wimp, neither should you bottle up all your emotions and become an Adultitis-ridden stone-faced Sith lord. Your kids benefit from seeing your passion and enthusiasm. It’s not a bad thing for them to see you tear up at the end of Field of Dreams.

Don’t: Wait ’till it’s too late to tell them how you really feel about them.
Our tough guy persona often gets the best of us here. We feel icky delving into the world of “love” and “feelings.” We are creatures of action, and we think our actions speak loud and clear about how we feel about the people we love. They certainly are important. But sometimes our kids need to hear us actually say that we are proud of them and that we love them. Darth Vader almost missed out on the chance to tell his son how he really felt. He wasn’t so fortunate with his daughter. Don’t be afraid to remove your mask once in awhile to tell your kids how you really feel about them.

* * * * *

Do: Set an example of excellence for your kids to live up to.
Whatever you do, be really, really good at it. Work hard, pursue excellence, and do your best. Whether it’s lightsaber skills or salesmanship, your kids will observe your commitment and be inspired by your example, making them much more likely to become successful themselves.

Don’t: Get so wrapped up in ruling the galaxy that you lose perspective of what’s really important.
No matter what you do for a living, or how successful you become, or how close you are to getting that promotion, or how many people are depending on you at work, remember this: family first. Nobody ever says on their deathbed, “I wish I would have spent more time at the office.” We always wish we’d spent more time with the people we love. Don’t let finishing the Death Star, taking over the galaxy, crushing rebellions (or other urgent things that keep you busy), distract you from the most important things.

Sometimes it feels like you need to be a full-fledged Jedi knight to effectively navigate the challenge that is Fatherhood. Hopefully these tips will help you fulfill your destiny as the World’s Greatest Dad.

The Force is strong in you, I sense it.

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Escape Adulthood — stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

Happy Father’s Day, God

VOUTSINAS FAMILY PHOTO

Have you heard the story about the married couple photographed together at Disney World 15 years before they met? (I found out about it from a link Chris Brogan shared via Twitter.)

The couple didn’t know each other, and they didn’t even live in the same country at the time the photograph was taken:

That fateful realization came just one week before their wedding eight years ago. Alex and Donna had been going through old family snapshots. There, in the blurry background of a picture of 5-year-old Donna was 3-year-old Alex being pushed down Main Street at the same moment in 1980 by his father. The senior Voutsinas’s distinctive jet-black hair with its white tuft caught his eye.

“My mother pulled out albums from the same trip. My dad is wearing exactly the same outfit.”

Other pictures from that trip showed Alex on his dad’s shoulders. The boy in the background of Donna’s picture and the boy in those pictures were the same.

Weird, huh?

I can’t even begin to imagine the odds of such a thing happening. A bajillion-to-one would be my highly uneducated guess. But although many people probably chalk it up to a remarkable coincidence, I have another theory.

I believe it’s an example of God having fun.

He often gets a bad rap. Popular thinking often paints him as curmudgeoney old guy with a long white beard sitting up on a cloud somewhere, spending his days smoting people from a distance. He sits on a thrown like a Roman emperor, judging the fate of people with a simple but emphatic thumbs up or thumbs down. If he lived in America, there’s a pretty good chance that he’d run the IRS. He’s often painted as a pretty serious dude with a serious case of Adultitis.

It’s too bad, really, because I believe there’s another side that people don’t often think about.

His goofy side.

If God really was as serious as some people imagine him to be, we’d never have the duck-billed platypus, giraffes, or Elton John.

I subscribe to the idea that coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous. SQuire Rushnell has written a series of bestselling books along the same lines. He calls such coincidences godwinks. Rushnell says:

What do godwinks mean? Think about when you were a kid and someone you loved gave you a little wink across the dining room table…Mom or Dad or Grandma. You didn’t say “What do you mean by that?” You knew. It meant: “Hey kid, I’m thinking about you right now.” That’s what a godwink is too: a message of reassurance from above, directly to you, out of six billion people on the planet, saying “Hey kid…I’m thinking of you! Keep the faith! You’re never alone.”

I’ve experienced some notable godwinks in my own life, and in my experience, if you’re open to them, you’ll likely notice even more.

The couple in the picture above being photographed together is really an inconsequential event. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. Nothing about the lives of the couple in question would’ve been different had the photo been snapped a few seconds earlier or later. But I can only imagine God smiling to himself when the photo was taken, because he knew. I can only imagine his anticipation when the couple was sorting through the photos on that fateful day of discovery. And I can only imagine the chills that ran down the spines of Alex and Donna once the connection was made.

Call it random if you want, but I like to think of it as an example of God having fun.

Now while there is much debate over God’s gender, I have come to believe that God is God and not really a man or a woman, but posesses a combination of what we think of as motherly and fatherly traits. In thinking of him as a father, he may be a bit stern, serious, and demanding at times. But if I could send a Twitter message to God for Father’s Day, I’d say this:

“We’re not always the best kids. Thx for sticking with us and sharing your creative & fun side in the form of coincidences. And platypuses.”

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

Life will be easier when…

Ever find yourself saying, “Life will be easier when…”?

If you’re a parent, you can fill in the blank mighty easily. Life will be easier when…

…he can sleep through the night.

…she can feed herself.

…he can tell us where it hurts.

…she goes to school.

…he makes it to the NBA and buys me a ginormous house in Hawaii.

This is a diabolical game that Adultitis likes us to play, because it gets us wishing away time, distracts us from the present, and keeps us focused on the negative.

Of course, this pastime is not exclusive to parenthood. We can do it our whole life if we’re not careful. As in, “Life will be easier when I graduate, when I get that promotion, when I move to that new apartment, when the kids move out, when I finally retire…” and on and on. Then one day you wake up, wondering where the time went and yearn for the “good old days.”

Notice how nobody ever acknowledges the good old days when they’re living in them?

No doubt about it, certain aspects of life DO get easier as we move from stage to stage. What’s easy to forget is that a whole new crop of challenges and problems come with it. The reality is this: no matter what stage of parenting — or life, for that matter — you find yourself in, there are pleasant things and not so pleasant things about it. No exceptions.

The only people without challenges are taking up residence in the extended stay resorts called cemeteries.

My Dad told me that he and Mom used to look forward to the day when us kids were out on our own. “I assumed that we wouldn’t have to worry so much about you guys,” he said. “But then you all got married, and our family — and people to worry about — doubled. Now we have grandkids to worry about, too!”

Even though my brothers and I are self-sufficient and successful, we’ve all encountered various storms that come with life. Things that make diaper changing and carpooling seem like a walk in the park. Or as my Mom puts it: “When you have little people you have little problems. Big people have bigger problems.”

You know the answer. Instead of focusing on the negatives and waiting for things to get easier, the trick is to focus on the positive and appreciate the good things about your current situation. The stuff you’ll miss. There’s always something.

For instance, it IS easier now that my daughter can entertain herself for more than 7 seconds, but I already miss sleeping on the couch holding my little bundle of joy. She’s much too independent (and wiggly) for that now. Likewise, before buying a home last year, there weren’t a lot of things I liked about my old apartment. But living in Wisconsin, I always made a point to appreciate that I didn’t have to shovel snow.

If you find Adultitis urging you to pine for a time when things will get easier, use it as an opportunity to instead focus on something good about your current season of life.

Give yourself permission to relish the fact that you’re living in the good old days.

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

Life’s Little Traffic Jams

We bought our daughter one of those little primary-colored push car toys for her first birthday. It gets great gas mileage and holds up amazingly well in crashes, of which there have been many so far.

The other day, she got herself caught in a traffic jam. The legs of our counter-height kitchen table and its accompanying chairs gridlocked her into a standstill. With all the might a one-year-old can muster, she pushed and prodded that car in an attempt to break free to the open road.

To no avail.

My initial instinct was to jump to her rescue and free her from her dilemma. But I could tell she was close to doing it on her own, so I decided to stay put. Her frustration level mounted, but I kept my distance. It was hard. Finally, with one last exasperated twist, the car untangled from the last chair leg and she was free.

And let me tell you, the beaming glow of pride on her face melted my heart like a Snickers bar in Scottsdale.

This foray into Fatherhood has taught me a lot of new stuff about God. This particular scenario gave me some insight about how he operates.

We all have rough patches in our lives, moments when we get stuck in the weeds. Things aren’t going according to plan and we’re stuck. Adultitis gets the better of us. We work our butts off to make the situation better, but nothing seems to help. After exhausting all of our resources, our frustrations mount. Perhaps we cry out to God to save us. He certainly can, and sometimes he does. A check shows up in the mail. The idea to solve a perplexing problem presents itself, seemingly out of thin air. We find the thing we had given up hope of ever finding.

But sometimes he doesn’t step in to save the day. Sometimes he’s silent.

Even though I often wish he would step in and make things easier for me, I’ve come to see that he has the wisdom to know that sometimes we have to go through difficult situations in life in order to come out stronger, better, and more confident on the other side.

And I believe that nothing makes him smile wider than seeing us accomplish exactly what he knew we could do all along.

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

The First Year of Fatherhood: One Dad’s Review

Well, we did it. My wife and I made it to the one-year mark. (Oh, and so did Lucy.) The first two weeks seemed like a millennium, the last fifty seemed like a millisecond.

So, what have I learned, if anything?

• It sounds so dang cliché to say, “It’s harder than I imagined, but better than I imagined.” It may be cliche, but is it ever true.

• I’m still trying to figure out what a “normal” schedule should be. I’m never quite sure I’m spending time correctly. I feel like I’m still trying to get in a groove. It seems like I should have it figured out by now. I also get the feeling that “normal” is gone forever.

• I can be with Lucy, OR I can work on something else. Either way I’m a pretty patient person. But trying to do both at once drives me insane and obliterates my patience.

• Baby diapers can really STINK. But I don’t mind changing them as much as I thought I would. I think dirty diapers are overhyped.

• Most of the world is out of whack when it comes to life balance. What most would consider standard operating procedure is way over the edge, if you ask me. I think we all need to slow the hell down for two seconds and stop trying to be and do and have everything.

• We avoided colic but got to experience the worst of teething. Pick your poison, I guess.

• My wife rocks. Holy cow is she a good one. Me and Luce sure are lucky.

• Parenting is impossible without communication.

• So is marriage.

• Being present is hard. Being present takes real work. Being present is the best way to experience life.

• At first babies are kind of boring. But they get better.

• I’m SO glad we didn’t have twins. I’d likely be unable to write this post. Cause I’d be dead.

• I don’t know how the Duggers do it. They must be some kind of crazy.

• The first year is all about change. Nothing stays the same for more than two days.

• Your kid being afraid of strangers and wanting you instead is the reward for all the sleepless nights.

• The first laugh, the first hug, and the first kiss…priceless.

• It’s been a year, and I’m just now STARTING to consider doing this all over again.

Finally, I had my suspicions, but this first year of fatherhood has confirmed one thing for me: Just like life, the first year of parenting is what you make it.

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

The REAL Expertise of the Child Development Experts

091806_pregnantI am convinced that all the child development books written by so-called “experts” are designed for the sole purpose of driving you insane.

Even though most of the books tell you there will be variances between children at different stages, and that every kid is different, they still group the chapters in such a way that effectively puts all the kids in one box. Last night I picked up one of the guides my wife has been devouring all year. After a few minutes, I was about ready to dial 911 and ask for an über pediatrician, stat.

There was a sample list of the types of things Lucy should be eating in a given day. 6 servings of this, 4 servings of that, a half-cup here, a quarter-cup there. I mentally added it all up and it seemed more like what Jabba the Hut would eat at Old Country Buffet. Of course the book threw in the ever helpful and obligatory, “Your child might not eat very much for some meals,” and “Your child may go through stages of only wanting to eat certain foods.”

Right. And how exactly am I supposed to get her to eat a bread truck’s amount of grain when all she wants to eat is shredded cheese again?

The extremes drive me crazy, and I question whether these books are of any help at all. Considering Lucy is my first child, I realize I am as far as you can get from an expert on child development, but it seems to me like she’s developing just fine. She’s not too fat and not too skinny. She’s learning new things, seems very curious, and previous doctor visits have indicated a full bill of health.

Since Lucy is starting to stand on her own, I got pretty excited when I read, “At this stage, your child may start pulling herself up on things.” It confirmed my suspicion that my little girl is quite the overachiever.

But the doubts quickly crept in when I read the following sentence, “Your child may also be solving algebraic equations by now.”

Yikes.

After about ten minutes on this literary roller coaster, I closed the book, put it down, and vowed never to open it again. Considering my wife reads this book regularly, I am surprised that she is not a complete basket case. As for me, I’ve decided to ignore the books and go with my gut.

Sometimes I think that’s the best thing we can do.

And right now, my gut is telling me that it’s high time for a trip to Old Country Buffet.

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

Believe It Or Not: A Review of Ripley’s Latest Book

blue_baseball

I was recently given a review copy of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Seeing Is Believing.

The problem is, I’ve never done an official review of anything before.

I guess the first thing to determine is my unit of measurement. That seems to be the thing that really brands you and makes you popular, ensuring that more people will send you free stuff. I’m pretty sure Siskel & Ebert came up with the thumbs up/thumbs down thing. Rotten Tomatoes uses, um, tomatoes. And I don’t know who came up with the star system (I give this 4 out of five stars!), but I’m sure he must be making a lot of bank these days.

While thumbs, tomatoes and stars are all very good units of measurement, since I specialize in things that are childlike, I’ve decided go with marbles. They’re timeless, and everybody knows that marbles are cool and more is better. My top rating will be five marbles. Not four, because that seems too limiting, but not ten because that seems too nuanced and I sometimes have a hard time making decisions.

Now that I’ve got that cleared up, I’ve got to figure out what exactly am I basing this review on. That’s a big factor, after all. Some of the most entertaining movies of all time (I’m looking at you, Dumb & Dumber), would never be given a shred of critical acclaim or Oscar buzz (mainly because the Academy is stifled by Adultitis).

Again, I feel my area of focus requires me to overlook technical merits, production values, and the sorts of things that would make Strunk & White giddy. Quite simply, you get five marbles if your book/movie/product does an exemplary job of decreasing Adultitis and inviting the inner child out to play.

Finally, on to the review. (This is a lot of work!)

ripleys_bookHere’s what I can tell you about Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Seeing Is Believing:

There are pictures. Lots of them. (And in color, too!) For instance, there’s a picture of a dude with a watermelon being blown off the top of his head by his rifle-weilding brother. Pretty cool, huh? Then there’s the three-year-old that weighs 142 pounds, a pesron with eight toes on one foot, and a guy with a thumbnail almost five feet long. And I mustn’t neglect to mention the picture that shows New Zealand shepherds competing in a race in which they must bite into bulls testicles and carry them with their mouths for 65 feet.

Perhaps you’ve been wondering about that blue ball in the photo above. Is it a giant jawbreaker? An asteroid from another planet? A kidney stone from the world’s largest Smurf? Nope. It’s a baseball. Covered with 17,000 coats of paint. Here’s the story from Ripley’s web site which features book extras:

Every day since 1977, house painter Mike Carmichael of Alexandria, Indiana, has applied at least one coat of paint to a regulation baseball. More than 17,000 coats of paint later, the initial 9-in (22cm) circumference has ballooned to more than 104 in (264 cm), and the weight of the ball has increased to 1,100 lb (500 kg) making it the world’s largest ball of paint. Mike lets a guest of honor paint every hundredth coat, and has kept detailed records of the many colors of the ball’s layers. The ball has now grown so big that he has had to build a special room in his house just to store it.

Aside from all the photos, the book is jammed with tons of unbelievable crazy factoids:

• In 2006, 104-year-old Wook Kundor of Kuala Berang, Malaysia, married her 21st husband–a man 71 years younger than herself.

• The body of a 32-year-old man from Mindoro Island in the Philippines was recovered inside a 23-ft python in 1988.

• Dave Nunley from Cambridgeshire, England, has eaten nothing but grated mild Cheddar cheese for over 25 years and goes through 238 lbs of it every year.

This book reminds me of an old copy Guinness Book of World Records I used to own as a boy. I remember marveling at the grainy black-and-white photos of the dude with the world’s longest beard and the fat twins riding motorcycles. This book is like that one, but on steroids. I’m not sure it would make a good coffee table book, but it’s definitely a swell bathroom read.

It’s also a fun one to share with your kids, especially boys who are currently captivated by all things gross. It does a good job arousing curiosity and challenging our assumptions of what’s possible. One caveat: due to the extreme nature of some of the contents, you may want to steer clear the little ones.

Unless you want to get into a discussion about bull testicles with your three-year-old.

All in all, I know my inner child was delighted. In reading the book I was simultaneously amazed, shocked, disgusted, and utterly horrified.

Sounds like a five-marble book to me.
5-marbles

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

A First-Year Father’s 13 Things to Be Thankful For (Podcast)

[podcast]http://www.kimandjason.dreamhosters.com/clubkj_stuff/audio_articles/13_Things_To_Be_Thankful_For.mp3[/podcast]
In a few weeks, my daughter Lucy will celebrate her first birthday. Last Thanksgiving, we had to skip the traditional two-hour drive home because my wife looked like she was hiding the Great Pumpkin under her shirt. At the risk of sounding like every other dad who’s ever lived, I can’t believe how fast the time has gone. (Even though the first few weeks did seem like an eternity.)

112304_thanksgivingWith another Thanksgiving just around the corner, and my first year of fatherhood coming to a close, I sure do have a lot to be thankful for, including sleep, football, and cheese. Here’s the full list:

1 ) Sleep.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been a big fan of sleep. It’s just that I’m much more grateful for it now. Every hour of sleep is pure gold and Sunday afternoon family naps are better than a juicy steak. Never more true than in the first year of parenthood is the old adage that says, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”

2 ) The guy who invented disposable diapers.
You, my friend, are a saint. Now, my hat is off to all of the brave, patient souls who go the route of cloth diapers. I salute you, particularly because you appear to be some brand of superhuman. Although our choice to go disposable may not be as environmentally friendly, I take solace in the idea that I’m doing my part to jumpstart the economy.

3 ) Football.
Oh, football, you bastion of manliness serving as a needed escape from the jungle of fatherhood. For a few hours, you let me revel in grown men smacking the crap out of each other as I watch from the comfort of my couch in my fleece pants. Who knew that Jay Cutler’s 17 interceptions (so far!) could serve such a noble purpose?

4 ) Moms.
First, let me state the obvious. If guys had to go through the whole childbirth thing, there’d be a lot less people on Earth. Like maybe none. Plus, moms are so good at remembering those little things that we dads often forget, like the fact that it might be a good idea to put a coat on your baby when it’s cold outside.

5 ) Colors not named pink.
I grew up in a home with two brothers. The only females were my mom and our dog. There wasn’t a whole lot of pink going on. But now, in just one year’s time, I have already achieved a lifetime’s worth of exposure to the color pink. Apparently that is the only color you’re allowed to dress little girls in. I have a new found appreciation for the colors blue, orange, green, and yes, even brown.

6 ) Hand-me-downs.
Not being the first couple on either side of the family to have kids has its advantages. One of them is all the clothes we’ve gotten from siblings who are done having children. They appreciate the fact that they can now see a corner of their basement, and I am happy that we haven’t had to spend one penny on clothes. (Except for the little Cubs dress I bought Lucy over the summer. It was adorable, baseball related, and most importantly, not pink.) This wallet-saving benefit makes up for the millions of diapers we’ve purchased so far.

7 ) The internet.
Where else can you access such a river of information about the little things that pop up during baby’s first year but via our friend, the Interwebs. Even though some research leads you to believe that your baby might have some combination of scurvy and lupis, there’s enough information out there that allows you to eventually find what you want to hear: this is normal and everything is fine.

8 ) People who considered buying my daughter annoying electronic toys but didn’t.
Thank you. I love you. If you need a kidney, call me. You are right up there with Mother Teresa in the compassion department. Any baby toy that plays music is from the devil. I hate them. I find the fact that they don’t mention ear bleeding as a common side effect on the packaging a gross disdain for truth in advertising. Some of you may think I’m exaggerating about the whole devil thing, but those of you who’ve heard one of these toys go off when the battery is dying knows quite well the unmistakable sounds of demon babble.

9 ) The fact that she’s still in one piece.
I used to think of my home as a peaceful, safe haven. Who knew that my house was one big war zone with all kinds of booby traps designed to inflict harm upon my little one? Pinched fingers, bumped heads, and a bloody lip are just some of the battle scars Lucy has picked up while living in the death trap that is our home. The fact that she’s still alive is something to be grateful for, especially since I am quite certain I had nothing to do with it.

10 ) The cuteness of babies.
Not only do they suddenly make all of your photos look ten times better, but babies and their inherent cuteness is actually a well-designed survival mechanism created by God. Were it not for Lucy’s heart-melting toothy grin and scrunched-up nose when she smiles, I am quite certain I would have shipped her to Siberia with no return address by now. And that could potentially put a damper on my chances of being named Father of the Year.

11 ) The Madison Birth Center.
Our midwives and the people on staff at the Center helped make our first experience with pregnancy and childbirth one the most peace-filled, personal, educational, and exciting chapters of our life. Kim and I still look back to the evening Lucy was born as one of the most calm, magical, and spiritual experiences we’ve ever had. And they helped give us the confidence that we could competently make the transition from a family of two to a family of three (which is a bigger leap than it sounds.)

12 ) Cheese.
I’m not sure Lucy is what would be considered a picky eater. She eats a wide variety of foods, although we’re never quite sure what will suit her fancy on any particular day. She’ll gobble down peaches for breakfast and act like they’re pure cyanide for lunch. But one thing she will always eat is cheese. A small pile of shredded cheddar is gone quicker than Usain Bolt on Jolt. This may or may not have something to do with her being born in Wisconsin.

13 ) The Costco-sized bulk package of joy.
Until you actually have a kid, you don’t quite know what to expect. When it comes to Adultitis, the debate rages on: are kids the cause or the cure? But what makes the sleepless nights, the dirty diapers, and the always “on” state of alertness worthwhile is the insane amount of joy that has been added to my life. Lucy makes me smile, laugh, and very, very happy. Being a Dad is the coolest thing ever, and for the opportunity to become one is something that makes me truly thankful.

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

The Top 5 Worst Halloween Treats Ever

pumpkin_pukeOne of the best perks of being a parent is raiding your kids’ Halloween candy when they are asleep. Of course, my daughter is only eleven months old, so I am still in the unenviable position of actually having to buy candy.

What a drag.

The only thing worse than having to buy your own candy is getting the lame candy that some people enjoy handing out on Halloween. Here’s my top five worst Halloween treats of all time:

3 Musketeers. A Snickers bar without the good stuff. Even Milky Way manages to throw in some caramel. My wife and I have heated disagreements about this one, but I wish 3 Musketeers would keep its nougat to itself. (I’m pretty sure “nougat” is French for “cheap filler.”)

Almond Joy and Mounds. Almond Joy would be a whole lot more joyful without the coconut, thank you very much. Don’t even get me started on Mounds.

Circus Peanuts. Jerry Seinfeld once referred to them as door stops. I think he was being too kind. They’re too small to serve a purpose that useful.

Popcorn Balls. Not a candy, per se. Not even sure if it’s a food, to be honest. Not good, that’s for sure.

Black Licorice. Everybody knows that a bowl with nothing but black jelly beans means that somebody ate all the jelly beans. Black licorice anything is bad news. It was developed by witches and labeled “candy” as a way to poison little children through trickery. It’s true. Look it up.

Now, this is a pretty diverse crowd, and I’m aware that one person’s cause for dry heaving is another’s taste of heaven. So tell me, where have I gone wrong? Where do you stand? What’s YOUR least favorite Halloween candy?

110605_halloween

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

The Scariest Part of Halloween: The Grown-Ups!

110102_tricks_or_treatsHalloween is one of the greatest holidays. Like most holidays, it has its share of commercialism, but it doesn’t come with the obligations, guilt, and travel headaches of Christmas.

Dressing up. Getting candy. Having fun. What more could a kid ask for?

Unfortunately, a small segment of Adultitis-ridden do-gooders continue their assault on Halloween. It’s been said that misery loves company. That must be the reason why grown-ups suffering from full-blown cases of Adultitis are working so hard to ruin Halloween for kids.

This post might make a few people angry, but I’m willing to take the slings and arrows. I’m doing this for the kids. So without further ado, here are three groups of adults who are ruing everything:

The Holy Rollers.
I am a Christian. I went to Catholic School. My faith is very important to me. But I’ve never seen Halloween as a gateway to turn to the dark side.

Some folks associate Halloween with all things evil, treating it as an assault on all things holy. As much as I hate the over-commercialization of Christmas, I believe this is one instance where it has served us well. Sure, Halloween has some nefarious origins (and some pretty benign ones as well), but it really has become an amalgamation (what a fun word!) of many traditions. It is really more of a fantastical fairy tale, starring smiling pumpkins, dancing skeletons, and Frankenstien. A melting pot of a variety of sources and traditions, our modern Halloween has become its own unique and rich experience that offers a fun escape from the day-to-day.

Some of these people encourage kids to dress up like their favorite saint for Halloween. I’m sorry, but I’ve always thought this was lame. And I like saints! (St. Lucy is a particularly good one.)

Don’t get me wrong, if a kid really has a strong affinity for St. Maximilian Kolbe, let him go crazy with it. But let’s stop taking ourselves so seriously and start realizing that God isn’t going to send a kid to Hell for dressing up like a ballerina and ringing a few doorbells.

The Health Nuts.
Another group of people get cold sweats when they think of all the candy kids are consuming. Apparently, thanks to Halloween, kids instantly balloon into marshmallows and millions of teeth rot and fall out. Their solution is to hand out alternatives to candy. Things like sliced apples, toothbrushes, and even acorns — acorns!

Here’s a hint to keep your house from getting egged by all the little “devil worshippers”: If you plan on giving out toothbrushes or acorns this Halloween, do all the kids of the world a favor and just keep your house dark instead.

When I was a little shaver, my dad made us a snack every night. Usually it consisted of some combination of oranges, raisins, bananas, and yes, even sliced apples. But when Halloween rolled around, it was all about the sugar. We would binge on candy for a week and it was wonderful.

It was wonderful because it only happened once a year. Childhood obesity is a big problem these days, but it’s not because of Halloween. It’s because too many parents can’t say no to their kids, are too busy to prepare much else but fast food, and appease their children with chocolate and sugar.

If you can’t consume ten pounds of candy in one sitting with no ill effects when you’re a kid, when can you?

Politically Correct Wimps.
Then there are the folks who are scared of offending anyone and would rest easier if Halloween was cancelled. A couple of years ago, the Madison School District superintendent said that they don’t encourage schools to have costume parties. “Some cultures don’t look at dressing up in costumes the same way as others,” she said.

When my wife was teaching kindergarten, she ran into this every October. There was a very small contingency that wanted to do away with Halloween altogether, for fear that someone, somewhere, would be offended.

I don’t know about you, but every time I see a five-year-old dressed up like Spiderman with a bag full of Milk Duds and Milky Ways, my blood just boils.

Why have we lost our perspective? Why have we become so over-sensitive about everything? These days, political correctness might just be a fancy way for an Adultitis-stricken grown-up to say, “I’m angry, miserable, and afraid, and I hate seeing other people happy.”

My secret dream would be for Freddy Krueger to give them all wedgies in their sleep.

In the eyes of children, Halloween is a national holiday. Dressing up like Princess Leia or Darth Vader and eating some Hershey bars is not going to hurt anyone. Grown-ups, please, get some perspective, get some help for your Adultitis, and quit ruining everything.

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

Shots and Superheroes

111605_superjWe went to the doctor the other day for my daughter Lucy’s nine-month checkup. It included a smorgasbord of shots.

And I got to hold her down.

I was pretty nervous on the ride there, and I wasn’t even the one getting the shots. As we were driving, I told Kim that I would rather receive the shots myself than have to see Lucy get them.

“Spoken like a true Dad,” said my wife.

I’m not sure what suddenly made me a glutton for punishment, but I didn’t say that to come across like some macho dude. I really meant it. Which surprises even me.

You see, I’m not one of those manly men, with hair on his knuckles and steel hands that can pulverize granite. Nor could I be considered a metrosexual because I have the fashion sense of a twelve-year-old. I like to think of myself as a normal guy — whatever that means these days — but I am not a big fan of pain. Manual labor gives me the heebie-jebbies. I sometimes curse like a sailor when I’m in below zero temperatures. And I am likely to faint if I’m in a discussion that spends more than thirty seconds talking about anything internal: spine alignments, organ transplants, brain surgery…woah….I just got a little woozy.

Even though I have a history of going out of my way to avoid just about anything uncomfortable, I’d literally jump in front of a moving train to save Lucy. Without batting an eye.

They say Fatherhood changes a man. I’m not sure if it changes you or reveals a side that you never knew was there.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always dreamed of being like Superman. I admired his courage and bravery and selflessness in protecting the citizens of the world. After having revealed some of my shortcomings, you can see why I’d concede that becoming more like Jimmy Olsen is probably a more realistic goal.

Somehow, having Lucy has caused me to see that maybe I’ve been selling myself short. Somehow, Fatherhood enabled me to find courage I didn’t even know was there. It’s kind of neat to think that Dads get to play the role of Superman, if only to the little citizens that live in their house.

Huh.

I wonder if this Fatherhood thing changes anything about how good I’d look in spandex and a cape.

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

7 Ways Fantasy Football Can Make You a Better Dad

[podcast]http://www.kimandjason.dreamhosters.com/clubkj_stuff/audio_articles/7_Ways_Fantasy_Football.mp3[/podcast]
100605_footballSummer is winding down, the kids are back in school, and the long, bleak, football hiatus is almost over. If you’re a fantasy football nut, you already know that this is one of the most exciting times of the year. You know the thrill of channeling your inner Jerry Jones in order to take your shot at building a team for the ages, proving once and for all that should you be offered the opportunity, you’d have what it takes to be among the NFL’s top brass.

What you may not have known, however, is that fantasy football can make you a better Dad.

Even though the WAFS (Women Against Fantasy Sports) are bound to be up in my grill no matter what I say, I’d like to throw out the disclaimer that like pizza and beer, a good thing like fantasy football has the ability to wreak real havoc if consumed in extremes. Taking out a second mortgage to finance the 73 leagues you’re in, or being so focused on a game that you neglect to notice your kids lighting your sofa on fire, or accidentally calling your wife Suzy are not good, and will do nothing to help your chances at Dad of the Year.

But in moderation, your fantasy football fix can certainly enhance your fathering. Here’s how:

1) Recharge Your Batteries. Fantasy football allows you to escape from the stressful day-to-day grind that is typical of most modern lives. Pastimes and hobbies are important. We all need some “Me” time once in a while, and there’s nothing selfish about it. Taking some time to recharge by doing something fun gives you more energy to be more fully engaged in the other areas of your life, including parenting. The key is to make sure your spouse also gets some time to herself doing things she enjoys, which is most likely stuff as useless and silly to you as she finds fantasy football.

2) Share Your Passion. It’s always a good thing for your kids to see you passionate about something and having fun. It sends the message that life is not all about work, work, work and provides an example that a well-lived life has a sense of balance. Plus, kids are most secure when their parents are happy and Dads can set the tone of the household. I think about days — fortunately, they were rare — when my dad was in a foul mood, and it cast a dark cloud over the whole family. When he was really excited, we were able to share in that excitement and enjoyed the happier tone.

3) Teach A Lesson on Losing. Speaking of foul moods, unless you experience the mother of all seasons, fantasy football almost always gives you the opportunity to model what it means to lose gracefully. Whether it’s when Tom Brady blows out his knee in the first quarter of the first game (yep, that was me last year), or you lose a crucial game by one tenth of a point, hard losses come our way from time to time. How you deal with them is a great lesson to share with your kids. Remember, kids learn more from what you DO than from what you SAY, so practice what you preach.

4) Improve Math Skills. Trying to learn math without context is boring. But teachng your kid to calculate how many points your quarterback gets with two TDs and an interception, figuring out how many yards your team needs to get to hit paydirt, and reading numbers on the players’ jerseys is not math — it’s fun. When my wife taught kindergarten, one of the most advanced students she taught was a NASCAR fan. He was the only one in the class who could easily read two-digit numbers.

5) Anger Redirection. Fantasy football provides an important outlet for the uber-competitive types. Nobody likes the Little League dad who obnoxiously screams from the sidelines at everyone from the coach to the umpires to the concession stand manager. (I know nobody reading this is THAT guy, right?) I think everyone can agree that it’s always better to take your frustration out an obscenely overpriced running back than a twelve-year-old kid.

6) Bonding Time. More than anything, your kids don’t want stuff, they just want to spend time with you. It doesn’t usually matter what the activity is. Kids are eager for some bonding time, and will probably love to be included in your passion, if you let them. If you take the time to teach your kids the finer points, you can all enjoy time watching the games together (and Mom will get some free time to do her thing!) As your kids get older, they can even join you in a league with their own team, which is great fun. My brothers and I still razz our father over dropping Frank Gore in the middle of his 1,700 yard season back in ’06.

7) Self-Esteem Building. Sometimes, when you’re trying to set your weekly lineup, the decision between whether to start McNabb or Manning really is a toss up. The stats are even and the experts are split. But your kid doesn’t have to know that. Turn the decision over to your youngster and watch her self esteem grow when she sees how much you trust her to make such an important decision.

So there you go. Who knew fantasy football could be a surefire cure for Adultitis AND an opportunity to better yourself as a father?

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

Adultitis: Are Kids the Cause or the Cure? (PodCast)

[podcast]http://www.kimandjason.dreamhosters.com/clubkj_stuff/audio_articles/Adultitis_Are_Kids_the_Cause_or_the_Cure.mp3[/podcast]
121806_videoAdultitis is a chronic condition that plunders laughter, burns people out, and turns them into zombie-like doo-doo heads. It causes stress — lots of it. Sometimes it seems like stress and parenthood go hand in hand.

When my wife and I were expecting our first child, I was amazed at how many people came out of the woodwork to give us their advice and impressions on parenthood. Because I travel the country speaking to audiences about life balance and how to cure themselves from Adultitis, I opened myself up to many diverse points of view. More amazing than the sheer amount of opinion we received was the degree to which it varied.

After hearing our program, scores of people informed us that kids were the undisputed cause of Adultitis.

I remember the cab driver who told us that kids are not worth the investment because they grow up to hate you and won’t take care of you when you get old. Considering this little gem came after he admitted he spent most of his time gambling and pretty much drank himself to sleep every night, I took his opinion with a grain of salt.

Other people offered the ever common, “Get as much sleep as you can!” or “Enjoy your last days of freedom!” or the always uplifting, “Your life is over.”

Add to that mix the number of stern warnings about how certain foods or disciplinary techniques or sleeping schedules or brand of diapers can irreparably jack up your kid for life, and Kim and I were terribly concerned that this foray into parenthood was a colossal mistake.

But then I remembered an interview I’d heard with Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam, who said having his little girl made everything he did before her seem like a waste of time.

And after my talks, another type of people couldn’t wait to express their more optimistic take on parenthood. They shared things like, “You’re going to love it!” or “Becoming a parent was the greatest thing that ever happened to me!” The happy gleam in their eye told me they were telling the truth.

These folks actually believed that having kids was the cure to Adultitis.

This strange dichotomy alerted us to the fact that something was up. How could perfectly normal-looking people (cab driver excluded) come up with such differing opinions on this subject? Who was right?

The truth is, they both are. But the phenomenon of encountering such a varied spectrum of opinion led me to believe that Adultitis has nothing to do with the kids. Instead, the sentiments revealed said everything about the person sharing it.

Certainly, parenthood is filled with all sorts of unappealing elements: stinky diapers, a smaller bank account, bigger worries, and yes, less sleep (among other things.) But you know what? Life without kids has its own share of headaches and inconveniences. Everybody deals with challenges, frustrations, and bad days. Every day, stupid stuff happens that’s out of our control. How we react to them is up to us.

I decided before my daughter Lucy was even born that I was going to accept the bad sides of parenting as part of the job, but I wasn’t going to dwell on them. Instead, I’d focus on appreciating the little things, realizing that the whole process would go by in the blink of an eye. I vowed to take advantage of the opportunity to see life though the new eyes of my little girl, and maybe recapture some of the joy and curiosity that I might have lost on my own journey. I decided to remain in the present, enjoying each and every stage of her development, without getting caught up in the trap of thinking, “Life will be better when she can: sleep through the night / sit up on her own / feed herself / go to school / drive her own car to the mall.” That game leads to nothing but regret over missing out on the little moments along the way.

I fully expected that having Lucy would be the beginning of a new and wonderfully exciting adventure. So far, I have been right.

So, are kids the cause of or the cure to Adultitis?

Turns out, the answer is entirely up to you.

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

Five Tips for Phenomenal Photos of Your Kids

Let me begin by saying I am not Ansel Adams. Most of what I know about photography came from an introductory class I took in college. However, that class was part of a bachelor’s degree in the fine arts, which gave me me an extensive knowledge of graphic design. Of course, an in-depth familiarity of all your camera’s bells and whistles can take your photos to a whole new level. But if you understand a little bit about design, you can make great photographs.

You don’t have to be employed by Sports Illustrated in order to get great shots of your kids. I believe that every regular Dad has the ability to create some memorable gems using a regular old point-and-shoot camera. These five simple tips will help your photos go from boring to breathtaking.

1) Kill The Flash
flash_exampleIf you only open your camera’s instruction manual one time, may it be to learn how to turn off the automatic flash. It’s evil. Sure, it’s useful for dark environments, like birthday parties and spelunking adventures, but it will absolutely ruin a Kodak moment of your toddler playing with blocks while the late afternoon sunlight softly cascades down on her.

Flash has no doubt ruined billions of photos by washing out all the pure light and color while creating a fake shadow around the subject. Turn that puppy off and you’ll immediately start to see your photos take on a more natural, appealing look.

One caveat to keep in mind: the less natural light there is, the better chance of your photo turning out blurry due to camera shake. You can improve your odds by bracing your elbow against something in order to keep things steady. You could also buy an inexpensive tripod as well. I like this one.

2) Obey the Rule of Thirds
rule_of_thirdsThis handy design guideline is the ticket to photos that are way more visually interesting and energetic. In the words of all-knowing Wikipedia:

The rule states that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.

Of course, the natural tendency of most human beings with a digital camera is to plop the subject right in the middle of the frame, creating a snoozefest of epic proportions. This is not deer hunting and your camera is not a gun; you’re not trying to capture your subject in the cross-hairs. Use the rule of thirds and start looking like a pro.

3) Get Up Close and Personal
lucy_closeupI’ve seen way too many photos in which the people end up looking like miniature plastic figures in a diorama. Now if the gang is standing in front of the Grand Canyon, I can see the logic. But if the primary subject is the people, let us see the PEOPLE, not random tree branches and an acre of dead grass!

Don’t stand two counties away; physically get closer to your subject. Getting close enough to capture all of your kid’s freckles makes for a more engaging portrait; we don’t always have to see what color socks he’s wearing. Don’t be afraid to crop off the very top of your child’s head or — gasp! — only shoot part of his face. Sometimes these little abstract interpretations end up being the coolest photos.

4) Shoot More
great_shotPhotographing kids is like photographing wildlife. You have to take lots and lots and LOTS of pictures because you never know when the perfect shot will present itself. Even the pros shoot way more photos than they need. They know that the best way to get the perfect shot is to have lots of shots to choose from. That’s the beauty of digital cameras — you don’t have to invest hundreds of dollars in film and processing. Buy the biggest memory card you can afford and shoot like there’s no tomorrow. You can always delete the ones that don’t turn out, but the chances are better that you’ll capture an all-time classic.

5) Forget the Face
feet_closeupWe human beings are naturally attracted to faces; we’ve been that way since we were babies. It’s probably the reason we see way more photos of people’s heads than their knees. I get it. But mix things up once in awhile and get some snaps of something different. A close up of “bed head,” for example. Or your newborn’s tiny little foot. Perhaps your little girl’s dancing shadow on the sidewalk. Or maybe a shot of sticky hands holding a quickly melting popsicle. You get the idea.

Now get out there and start creating your own wall of fame!

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason

The Weird Thing About the Grass on the Other Side

illustration by Jason Kotecki

Sometimes I long for the days B.L.

Before Lucy.

Lucy is my seven-month-old daughter and first child. As an entrepreneur, I mistakenly thought my life resembled a roller coaster before this adventure into fatherhood. I realize now that I was only riding the wimpy kiddie coaster — the one without the big drops, corkscrews, and urges to vomit.

Looking back, I enjoyed a lot more freedom then. I had way more time to myself, and I could come and go as I pleased. My wife Kim and I could watch more than one hour of a movie before slipping into comas. I didn’t have to deal with dirty diapers, some of which I’ve dubbed “Evil Mash.” (You know the ones I’m talking about.) Traveling was a lot easier. Taking naps or going to the bookstore when I felt like it was, too. And I didn’t have to concern myself with trying to figure out (and prevent) all 8,745 ways an infant can hurt herself.

However.

Like my dad says, “The grass may look greener on the other side, but it still has to be cut.”

Kim and I were married for eight years before we got pregnant, and we were actively shooting for a kid during the latter few. I remember wondering if we were destined to be childless, and dreamed for the day when someone would call me Dad. (Weird strangers and well-meaning friends didn’t count.)

If a time machine whisked me back to the days B.L., I’d no doubt yearn for fatherhood, and everything that comes with it. The easy smiles that appear when I walk into the room. The fuzzy, sweet-smelling head. The cute little toes. Afternoons spent on the swings. Bath time. And the feeling that, at least in the eyes of one little person, I am Superman.

No matter what stage of life you’re in, perspective is the key. Childhood was cool, what with the freedom from mortgage payments and the playing all day. But the whole going to school thing and not being able to drive was a real drag, wasn’t it? Everything has its pros and cons, and the choice on which to focus is yours and yours alone. It’s pretty simple, really. A seven-month-old might even understand it: Focusing on the pros makes you happy, while concentrating on the cons makes you sad. Easy to understand, easy to forget.

So, after careful consideration, I’ve come to an important conclusion: B.L. may have been easier, but A.L. is better.

Jason Kotecki is a dad who also moonlights as an artist, author, and professional speaker. Jason and his wife Kim (a former kindergarten teacher) make it their mission in life to fight Adultitis and help people use strategies from childhood to create lives with less stress and more fun. Stop by www.KimandJason.com and follow them on Twitter @kimandjason