Tag Archives: Parenting

Eat a Peach: A Day in the Life of a Work-at-Home Dad

Peach Can For a work-at-home dad, the two most frightening words in the English language are: Summer vacation. The boys are out of school now, which means that the “work” part of “work-at-home” pretty much disappears. Here is one day in my life this week:

7:41 a.m. Kiss the wife goodbye as she leaves for her blessedly steady job with salary and benefits.
7:42-8:00 a.m. Race upstairs and take shower. Do morning stretches. Run back down to fix double-bag English tea. Transport tea back up to my office, turn on laptop.
8:01 a.m. Sit down to check my e-mail and possibly do some writing before the boys wake.
8:02 a.m. Boys wake. Both visit me in my office. Start turning things on, pulling things out of drawers, telling me their dreams. To get them to leave, I agree to fix their breakfast.
8:20 a.m. Take Hank to swim practice. Also mail a book order at the post office, which makes me feel good because at least it has something to do with making a living.
9:50 a.m. Return to pool to get Hank. On return trip home, announce to the boys that we are seeing “Up” this afternoon.
10-11:15 a.m. Boys actually play contentedly without fighting or yelling, I suspect because of the movie carrot I have dangled in front of them. This gives me a chance to check the e-mails I didn’t get to earlier.
11:30 a.m. From upstairs I hear the boys ‘ voices getting louder, a clear signal that the peaceful calm of the morning is about to turn ugly. Rush downstairs to put food in their mouths.
11:45 a.m. During lunch I do not notice that Gabe is eating peaches out of a can. But I do notice when he starts drinking the peach juice out of the can. I tell him how disgusting this is, and he stops.
11:59 a.m. I drink the rest of the juice from the can when the boys aren’t looking.
12:07 p.m. Gabe accidentally pulls the toilet roll dispenser off the wall and hands it to me asking me to do something with it.
12:24 p.m. Pack snacks for the movie. Find leftover Gummy Worms to throw into the snack bag with the Pirate’s Booty white cheddar puffs and Capri Sun juice drinks. Offer the boys a box of raisins for a “healthy treat.” Both emphatically turn it down.
12:44 p.m. Grab snacks and 3D glasses and we’re off. Nope, not quite. I ask Hank to make sure the front door is locked. He says it is. I walk back and check the door. It isn’t. I lock it.
1:12 p.m. Stop at Costco before the movie to look at bicycles. While there, we walk past the Books section and I think wistfully of all the authors who are home at this very instant working hard on their writing.
1:45-3:35 p.m. See “Up” in 3D with our 3D glasses (totally recommended, by the way, a terrific movie for kids and adults). Note with pleasure the references in the movie to snipe hunting, showing that Kevin Nelson, Writer is on top of the latest Hollywood trends. (See our recent post on snipe hunting.)
4 p.m. Return home. Gabe leaves to go ride his bike on the court, complaining that the other kids are making fun of him because his bike is too small. Hank asks if he can have some peaches. I say yes.
4:05 p.m. I notice that Hank has poured entire can of peaches into a glass, not a bowl. Gabe walks in the door and copies his brother. Oh well, at least they’re not eating from the can.
4:36 p.m. Count the seconds until 4:45 p.m. when my wife returns from work and I get to take a walk.
4:46 p.m. Oh no, she’s a minute late! Where is she? This isn’t fair. Doesn’t she know I’m home with the kids all day and…Ah, there she is. “Tag you’re it, honey.”



Filed under Adventures in Writing, Parenting, Personal

More Work-at-Home Dad: Why Children Learn to Read. So They Can Work the TV Remote

KN with flipperIn my never-ending quest to prepare my sons for the real world, now re-branded The Daring Quest, I have spent countless hours teaching them how to operate a television remote. Holding the flipper in the palm of your hand and manipulating the controls with your thumb while stretched out on the couch watching “Man vs. Wild” or “The Brady Bunch Movie”-this is a lifelong learning skill I feel confident my sons will use all their days. And my daughter too. Now in college, Annie can handle a remote with the skill of an expert.

This morning, while playing on an old laptop of mine, Hank discovered a 2005 journal entry in which I talked about teaching Gabe, then four years old, how to use a remote. Here is what I said:

The flipper is our name for the TV remote. Gabe wanted to turn on the TV and video and I was trying to teach him how to do it. The top of the remote says “Mute” and “Power” and some other words. I said to him, “Find the P. Where’s the P word?”
“The P word?” he asked.
“There it is: Power,” I said. “That’s why you learn to read. So you can work the flipper.”

I actually said that: “That’s why you learn to read. So you can work the flipper.” Around this same time, apparently during a sterling period in my career, I also noted this in my journal:

I mopped the floor this morning to feel useful and productive. That’s how bad it’s gotten for me: I’m mopping the floors to feel useful. I have been developing my floor mopping techniques, however. I’ve used powdered cleansers in the past. Put a heap in a bucket, add water, and mop. But I find that they, or at least the one I used, did not leave the floor with much of a shine. Now I use a liquid cleanser. It seems to give the floors a bit more luster. [AND HERE IS THE RELEVANT PART OF ALL THIS…] I mopped the kitchen and three bathroom floors this morning, while Gabe practiced his reading while using the TV remote.

You’re not sticking your children in front of the TV. You’re giving them a chance to practice their reading while they operate the remote, allowing you to do something else in the house. And I sincerely hope that something else is not mopping.

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Filed under Adventures in Writing, Parenting, Personal, Work-at-home dad

Boys Will Be Boys: Snipe Hunting

Travis and his brothers

Here at Kevin Nelson, Writer, we are introducing a new feature: Boys Will Be Boys. It is separate from, but not unrelated to, The Dangerous Quest, my attempt to do every challenge in The Dangerous Book for Boys with my sons in a year. It came about after I put out a call a couple of weeks ago for “inappropriate” childhood activities, and I was deluged with emails from men remembering all the hell-raising they did as boys.

We’ve already discussed 52-Card Pickup and Arm Farts, Pull My Finger, and Competitive Belching. In the weeks to come we will share more of these tender moments of boyhood, such as lighting farts, shooting rubber bands in class, chasing a babysitter with a dead mouse, setting off firecrackers, catapulting water balloons through open windows, and putting a shotgun shell on a fallen log, shooting it with a BB gun, and watching it explode.

Our initial offering is a childhood classic from Travis Roste of Minnesota: snipe hunting. Travis, the father of two daughters who has been mentioned in this space before (see here), grew up in a family of five boys and two girls. Above is a picture of three Roste boys: Travis and twin brother Trevor on the outside, and another brother Chad in the middle. When Travis and Trevor were young, their dad Myron took them into the woods to go snipe hunting. Here is how Travis remembers it:

“I grew up on a hobby farm, out in the country. It was a fantastic place to play and explore. I don’t have a lot of pictures when I was a kid, a couple of dozen, but hardly any of them show my dad. He wasn’t the kind of dad to pose for pictures. You had to kind of get him in a candid shot when he wasn’t looking.  He didn’t want his picture taken if he could help it. He was the old-fashioned type of dad. Didn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. He showed us he loved us by taking us fishing and hunting and things like that. He’s 71 years old now and in great shape; he cuts wood and is active.

“My dad took me and Trevor snipe hunting in the woods not far away from our house. Here’s how you play: Go to a woodsy area when it is getting dark. Tell your boys to hold a burlap sack open to catch the snipe. You turn a flashlight on and put it in the bag, and tell them it will attract the snipe. Then tell them you are going to walk around in a big circle to drive the snipe toward them, but that they have to hold the bag perfectly still. Otherwise the snipe won’t come and they won’t catch any. To make sure they believe you, tell them that you did this as a kid.

“That’s exactly what my dad did told us, and Trevor and I went along with it all the way. We held the sack with the flashlight in it while my dad drove the snipe to us, as he said. We sat there for a long time while it was getting dark. Finally, when we didn’t see our dad anywhere, we went back up to the house, and there he was inside laughing at us. He told us that his dad had taken him snipe hunting too. We didn’t really get the joke too much back then, but of course we do now. It’s a grand tradition in the U.S. and we were glad to be part of it.”

Myron Roste and friend

Myron Roste and a friend.


Filed under Parenting, The Dangerous Quest

The True Story of a Girl Who Shot a Book (1 of 3)

Lillian 1.6.1953 Among the many fascinating things about Lillian Kaiser (pictured here on the year of her graduation from Bryn Mawr), she is the only person I know who has ever shot a book. She did this when she was eleven, in 1942, in the basement of her family home on Summerland Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. The book was The Past Lives Again, by Edna McGuire, and why she chose this book to shoot I do not know. But shoot it she did, one summer day when her brothers were away and her father was sleeping upstairs in the house.

This last fact-her brothers Chuckie and Alfie being gone-is perhaps the most pertinent because they would have never let their younger sister shoot their .22-caliber rifle had they known about it. It was their gun, and many a time Lillian Smith (her maiden name) had sat at the top of the basement stairs watching Chuckie, Alfie and Bruce, her oldest brother, fire away at a metal target. “I would sit at the top of the stairs desperately wanting to take part,” remembers Lillian, but her brothers never let her, although later on Alfie did relent and show her how to break down the gun, clean it and reassemble it. These skills came in handy when her older brothers went off to fight in the second world war and Lillian, shouldering her rifle, walked around the neighborhood with her mother making sure that all the homes had drawn their black-out shades down during air raid warnings. This was serious business for her, her way of helping in the national emergency, and although she did not really need to carry the gun her mother understood and let her do it.

The basement was perfect for target practice because its concrete walls were “like a fortress,” says Lillian. With her father sleeping upstairs, and her mother off visiting Aunt Suzy, and her brothers off somewhere, Lillian stole into the basement, uncovered the gun, and experienced the thrill not only of using a firearm for the first time, but of doing something that was forbidden to her. “The use of the book,” she explains, “was so that the noise of the impact would not wake up my father.” Her father worked nights at Allied Chemical and Dye and slept days, and he would not have liked it, not one bit, if she had woken him up. Nor would her brothers have liked it if they had found out what she was doing with their gun—”surely would have beat the hell out of me,” as she puts it—but she cleaned it afterward and picked all up the casings and none of them was ever the wiser.

The bullet passed through the cover between the words “Lives” and “Again,” and it’s fascinating to flip through the book and mark its progress: small and circular in the front but gradually widening out as if a person took his thumb and pushed down on the paper and indented it and made a hole in the exact same spot throughout the pages. Shot book coverThe bullet eventually slowed and made less and less of an impression as it went along until on page 397, there is no more trace of it. What happened to the bullet fragment? Lillian may have thrown it away when she was hiding the evidence so her brothers would not discover her and punish her for her rebellion.

As interesting as it is to shoot a book, it is not the best part of the story, however. The best part was revealed when we saw Lillian, now in her seventies, at a Mother’s Day celebration when, as part of The Dangerous Quest, she showed her grandsons Hank and Gabe how to wrap a package in brown paper. The package she chose to wrap was none other than The Past Lives Again, and to learn how she did it, please read on.

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Filed under Books, Personal, The Dangerous Quest

How to Wrap A Book: An Expert’s Guide (2 of 3)

While The Dangerous Book for Boys, the bestselling manual for boys that serves as the inspiration and guide for this quest, concedes that “wrapping a package in brown paper and string” (p. 180) is hardly a dangerous activity, it argues that boys will nevertheless derive a hands-on satisfaction from knowing how to do it. Thus I recruited Lillian Kaiser to help me on this challenge, for she used to own a bookshop, Chimney Sweep Books in Santa Cruz, California, still sells books online, and has wrapped many thousands of books for mailing over the years. But after reading the DBFB’s package-wrapping instructions that called for the use of string, she objected strongly, saying string would jam the powerful and fast-moving Postal Service machines that sort and distribute packages. “It would destroy the machines and the Post Office would come and sue you,” she joked.

Having rejected string as being unnecessary and perhaps a tad nostalgic—a trait, it is true, the authors Conn and Hal Iggulden sometimes fall prey to—Lillian set about to show the boys how to wrap a book using only ordinary paper, a brown paper grocery bag, a plastic bag, cardboard, scissors, and two-inch wide mailing tape that can be purchased at any office supply or mailing store. Here are the steps:

1) Fold a regular piece of 81/2×11 computer paper over the cover of the book to protect it. Books are hardy and resilient things but they are also fragile in their way and no one likes to receive a book in the mail that has been damaged. Helping Gabe

2) Place the book with the paper around it inside a plastic bag. Push the book down to the bottom of the bag so there is no extra space, and wrap the plastic around the book tightly.

3) Place a piece of scrap cardboard on each side of the book, front and back-again, for protection. The cardboard should be about the size of the book.

4) Rip the handles off an ordinary brown paper grocery bag. Stick the plastic- and cardboard-wrapped book inside the bag horizontally. As before, all the way down to the bottom of the bag to remove any extra space.

5) Fold the paper bag over according to the size of the book. Then tape it lengthways and sideways with the mailing tape, making sure the package is tight. “Now it can be thrown against a machine at 70 miles per hour and it will not break,” Lillian told the boys. “And no machine can eat it up.” “What about a chain saw?” asked Gabe. “Well,” replied his grandmother, “a chain saw would eat it for sure. But I don’t think the Post Office has any chain saws.”

In Lillian’s practiced hands, the procedure took only a few minutes and her factory worker of a father, if he had been able to see her, would have marveled at her assembly line efficiency. The boys fumbled around a little at first but they picked up the techniques quickly and each wrapped a book. And as I was writing this up a week later, I was puzzling over my notes and unsure about some of Lillian’s instructions. So I called Hank up from downstairs, and he went through the steps and wrapped a book while I watched. He also quickly created a cool bookmark that Lillian showed us how to make, and I will share that in the next post.

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Pull My Finger, or Why You Can’t Take the Boy out of the Man

Finger. CroppedSo, as I was saying, in the truly genuine desire to find out more about the secret lives of boys, I sent out this blast email to a bunch of men I know:

Okay fellas, I need your help. As part of The Dangerous Quest (what, you’re not hip to that? See it and subscribe at: kevinnelson.wordpress.com), Gabe, Hank and I were playing cards and I taught them 52-Card Pickup, which they had never seen before and loved. So it occurred to me that younger boys today are not hanging out at street corners enough and learning enough inappropriate games and activities from older bad influences. They need to know, in essence, all the activities such as 52-Card Pickup that we played when we were boys and that mostly you tend to learn from other boys. So I need you to come up with “inappropriate” games/activities that you played (no sex or drugs and alcohol, age 12 and under) or know about. These I came up with myself: Arm farts. Ring and Run. Spitballs in class. But I’m looking for more. Help!

I sent this only to men at first (the ladies would get their chance later and their response was much different), and in all my years of writing emails to people, I have never gotten a response to match this one. It was instantaneous and overwhelming, like a damn breaking. In less than a half hour I had gotten twenty-four inappropriate boy activities—and they were all different. There were very few repetitions, and this has held true even as I continue to send the email out to other people not on the original list and hear from them.

I’m not saying to people, “Oh, I’ve got that one. Gimme something else.” People are sending me original, unique activities all their own. There’s a lot of inappropriate creativity being shown out there.

One of the most commonly mentioned pranks is toilet papering somebody’s house-and this is something it seems every young person has done, boy or girl. “TP-ing” appeared on the inappropriate lists of both the guys and the gals-that is, when the gals chose to get back to me. Whereas one man (Gary Grillo) ripped off eight inappropriate things in a single email (tipping outhouses over, pulling out chair when a person is about to sit down, etc.), and another (Bob Newlon) sent a two-page, single-spaced treatise on how to hook junk metal pieces to the bumper of a moving car so that it drags the metal down the street, the women tended to be more muted in their replies. While there were some glorious exceptions to this rule (thank you, Katie Lynn!), they were hesitant about the whole thing.

There are many reasons for this I suppose, but one thing I see already is why so many stupid, crude and inappropriate Hollywood comedies are made by, for and about guys. Generally speaking, we like to do stupid, crude and inappropriate things because we think they’re funny, and often they are. And this doesn’t change much even as we get older and become (it is hoped) responsible adults and fathers. You can’t take the boy out of the boy—and you can’t take the boy out of the man either.

For instance, Pull My Finger was one of the inappropriate activities suggested by Scott Lynn, a Silicon Valley software engineer, father of two, and the husband of Katie Lynn. When I asked him what that was, he said, “I thought for sure you’d know “Pull my finger.” When you know you need to fart, you ask someone to “Pull my finger” and then let it rip. I had a friend ask me this recently.  When I didn’t he said, “Come on.  Give me an assist.” He’s fifty-one!” Although he thought it was a little “weird,” Scott grudgingly agreed to his friend’s request, for after all, what are friends for? More to come, and some of it of a far more inappropriate nature.


Filed under Parenting, The Dangerous Quest

More Inappropriateness, and an “Awww” moment

Lest there be concern that I am abandoning The Dangerous Quest for The Dangerous and Inappropriate Quest, well, I don’t think so. I’m not sure where any of this is leading me, frankly, although I can see how well-intentioned men and women might disagree on what is appropriate, or not, for their children. For instance, Scott Lynn confesses that he has taught his three-year-old son James how to intentionally belch, and that the two of them have engaged in father and son belching contests. As you might suspect, Mom is not entirely pleased with these developments. Unlike with arm farts, Gabe and Hank seemed to have learned how to intentionally belch without my guidance, although—and this is the first time I have ever confessed this in public, and you will find this information nowhere else on the World Wide Web—I am a champion intentional belcher. Although “champion” may be overstating the case a little, since I have never entered any formal burping contests and do not in fact know if any such contests exist. But I feel confident that I could easily handle James in a competitive belch-out, although I am not so sure about his father. In any case I am waiting for the exact right time to reveal this hidden talent to my sons and my guess it will be a moment when my wife is not around.

One of the loveliest things about The Dangerous Quest is that many of our activities take place over time. Like creating a homemade battery (read here) or making crystals, planting sunflowers, and identifying trees in our neighborhood (all things we’re doing or have done, although I haven’t had a chance to write them up yet), Hank, Gabe and I are taking on challenges that can extend over days and weeks, even months. So it is with Gabe and his cloud photography. So far in his quest to take pictures of different cloud formations, the eight-year-old junior Ansel Adams has snapped cumulonimbus clouds (see here) and altocumulus and stratus (and here).  Now here’s a cirrus to add to his list, taken on a recent outing to Clear Lake:

Cirrus by Gabe

See there’s nothing inappropriate here. Everyone say “Awwwww.”

Feeling the need to get current with The Dangerous Quest? Click right here, and you can see all our amazing adventures and challenges, from beginning to now.

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