(Still) Grieving with (Hardly A) Toddler

After my dad died I wrote about grieving with a toddler. On the one hand it feels like just yesterday that I saw my dad with same crescent moon shape under his eyes that my boys have when they smile, the crumbs of nabs still hanging around on his way out of a ski lodge to get back on the slopes, and the dedication and loyalty to all local Norfolk sports. On the other it feels like that day, the first one of 2018, was a lifetimes ago. His absence is felt daily in huge, gaping proportions.  I am here to say that I have no further advice on how to make this easier. No words of wisdom. No profound thoughts. But I do know this. It will come up again, and again, and often at times when I haven't braced for it.

While explaining to my sweet boy why he wouldn't get to go back to school and see his friends I tried to put the focus on keeping everyone safe. I didn't want him to be scared. I told him that we wanted to keep people from getting sick, not thinking about the repercussions. Over a week later I looked at him, deep in thought, and he asked me why papa got sick, why he wasn't here, and where he was. These are deep thoughts and deep questions for a three year old. Since then, almost every day he asks me if papa will die again, if once this is over he will come back, and why his brother doesn't know papa. His concerns for his brother are my concerns given a voice, said aloud.

I listen to this song again, and again, and again. The words could have been written by my dad himself. I think about how to explain who my dad was to my boys. As hard as it is to hear questions that catch me off guard, it brings relief that he does remember my dad. Words are powerful. "Sick" is what reminded him of my dad. Not smart, wise, talented, or funny. Not that he skied or played rugby or was a horrible dancer. It's a reminder to me that I need to talk about my dad more, as painful as it is, using all of the adjectives that he was.

I'm building a fire to keep you warm long after I retire

'Cause this body is bound to expire tonight
The embers will grow and remind you what you already know

That the night is only a temporary absence of light
In the morning you'll wake with the ashes of a memory

And the sun on your face and I will not seem so far away
Arise, you're alive

Egg Carton At Home

We are getting extra creative with what we've got at home. I stole and adapted (with her permission!) this idea from an occupational therapist whom I found on Facebook. We took an empty egg carton and first painted each section a different color.

Then the next day we searched around the house to find different small toys to match each color . The extension of this for another day is to hide buttons of each color around the house and make him find them. From there we do the same button activity but sit in one room while he closes his eyes and he has to find them with his eyes without getting up.

This little egg carton has become several activities beyond an art project and cost us nothing. We used trash and leftover paint from the dollar tree. That's a win!

Play Date with Greg Attonito

I love punk music. I think that kids should grow up on it too. So when punk artists like Greg from The Bouncing Souls announced that his family's band Play Date would be doing Youtube videos and going live, I was stoked. I love that like me, he and his wife are punk patch, band button rocking parents. I was able to connect with Greg to have him answer some questions (during his son's nap time of course!) 

What made you go punk front man to kiddie rock?
Well.. all of it was kind of round about. Its a music project for kids and their families but it also started as a creative collaboration for my wife Shanti and me.  The first thing we did together for kids was a book called “I Went For A Walk.”  Shanti had written the story and suggested I do the illustrations during my many hours of downtime on tour. (Which I would often complain about)  I took my time with it and after 5 years it was done. Just as we put out many of our own records, we decided- we may as well put out a book too. This was back in 07 before digital platforms were so popular so we published our own book.  Once we had the books in our hands, we arranged a tour of book readings at schools, libraries and bookstores.  A lot of the bookings we got were through MYSPACE (the main social media platform at the time - funny to think about now).. Lots of teachers, librarians and Souls fans were stoked to have us.  Since we were musicians first, we brought along a guitar to the readings and sang some songs in addition to reading the book.  Thats when we realized how fun it was to play with the kids. Shanti had written a song called “Imagination” and “The Number Song”  which ended up on our first record. We would play those songs and sometimes try to write/create a song with the kids on the spot.  We had a lot of fun.  That was the spark.  Soon, our good friend Mike Park (Asian Man Records) got wind of what we were up to.  He was starting a kids' music offshoot of his label and said he would release our record if we recorded it.  That was the motivation we needed to write a few more songs, record them and start playing live.  We wanted to make music that we enjoyed listening to, that had a fun, loving, creative spirit to it, with the hopes that families could enjoy it together.  The first record, Imagination, came out in 2012.  

Who write the songs mostly?
They are usually a 50/50 collaboration between Shanti and me.  It varies a bit from song to song though.

Which video was your favorite to film?
I really love the Numbers Song video where I’m running around like a maniac on the beach.  It was done in two takes and, man, you can see how red my face is at the end of it..haha! I was going hard.  I love how spontaneous it was. We just showed up at the beach at sunset and no one was there.. The spontaneity and fun comes through in the video.

What was the audience reaction of lollapalooza? 
It was good.  I remember a big bunch of older kids really rocking out to our song “Colors” 

With the generation that listens to Bouncing Souls getting older, I’m sure that you’ve seen a wave of kids at your shows? 
I’ve seen GENERATIONS of kids at Souls shows now. Some of the early Souls fans have full grown kids in their twenties who are probably having kids now! It was so much fun seeing Souls fans come to our early Play Date shows. Parents with toddlers who hadn’t really been out much since their child was born were so stoked!  They would find me after the show and say things like: "Oh man, this was so amazing.. I can share my favorite punk band with my kid!!” Or, "I’m your demographic!!"  I think someone actually said that to me when we played Austin City Limits Festival.  This happens a lot at Play Date shows.
As far as parenting, how do you two find the balance of working and being a parent?
As far as my work.. I feel very fortunate as a parent to have a lot of time available for my family.  I think I've been able to spend more time in my son's early years than the average Dad might.  The Souls used to tour 9 plus months a year for about ten years. I’m so glad we didn’t end up having a child back then. I would have been so stressed!  I’m really happy Shanti and I were able to navigate those years and come out the way we have.  Who knows how it would have went with a child in that situation? I don’t know how some of my musician friends with kids have made it through those waters.  The Souls do around 40 shows a year now, which leaves me a lot of time to spend with Ever and Shanti at home where I can also work on my visual art and we can record in our studio.  

We have lots of full time working parents who are readers who find that to be a challenge. I’d imagine that the tour life isn’t easy on either side. 
I would happily give advice to a parent who works a five day/full time type job but I really have no idea how that works. I work in short bursts where I’m away from home but then when I’m home I’m around 24/7 which I really love. The touring life does present challenges but as I said we don’t tour as much as we used to and we keep a rule of no tours longer than two weeks.  We also try to keep those trips far apart too. I do feel really fortunate.  I will say one thing as a parent of a 2.5 year old:  I’m already seeing how the attention we have been able to give him is paying off..SO.. however you do it.. Spend as much time with your child in the first three years as you can. Figure it out because it pays off!

Any chance of a collaboration with Matt Prior and the terrible twos project or the Sparrows Sleeps Makes A Band collaborations coming up? 
We don’t know those guys but we are always game to team up and so do fun stuff!

I love when my two worlds collide and I get to share my world with my kid. Here's the first rough live from the living room video, proving that toddlers don't care if you're an international rock star, when they want something... they get it! Check out their youtube with their previous videos, and subscribe for their new ones during this social distance! 

Toddler Tuesday Tech Edition: Storyline Online

In a time where we are searching for online things for our kids to do, I'm loving this technology series even more. Check out, Storyline Online, which has famous people reading children's books. Celeberties include Betty White, Kristen Bell, Rashida Jones, and even Oprah. There are some classic favorites like Stellaluna, Rainbow Fish, and Harry the Dirty Dog along with new books. I love the little bits of animation that take the illustrations from the book to another level.

Each story includes a supplemental lesson plan for teachers too. This nonprofit survives on donations, gifts, and grants. While you're homeschooling, check this out something educational for your kids, and a few moments to yourself.

5 Hunts You Can Go On Today

We have spent time this week going on lots of different hunts in our neighborhood. It's always calming to get outside and a walk before a nap helps tire everyone out. Try out some of these this week:
Scavenger Hunt
Make this one as hard or as easy as you'd like. We used our own but this one works really well too.  I added things that were specific to our street, like a yellow hose, an eagle statue, and a mermaid. If you add more items you can do different ones every day to spread this activity out.

Alphabet Hunt
Either have your kids write out their ABCs or you write them. Walk down your street looking for things that either start with each letter or have them look at the signs, license plates, flags, and yard signs for the letters themselves.  Check them off as you go.

Animal Hunt
Think about the different animals you'd likely see in your neighborhood. Squirrels, different types of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, spiders, mosquitoes (ugh!), lightning bugs, worms. Grab the magnifying glasses and inspect the trees and dirt for what you can find.
Scientist Hunt
Save that magnifying glass and use it in this hunt too. Tell kids that they are going to hunt for all of the living and nonliving things in a small space. Use a hula hoop or  something else to define a small space. Have kids draw all of the living and nonliving things they see. You can have them imagine what life is like as the ant they see or as the worm poking his head out of the ground.

Shape Hunt:
Time to get a little math involved by searching for shapes. Beyond the typical square, rectangle, circle, and square, challenge them to look for an oval, a trapezoid, a parallelogram, and an octagon. Bring paper and draw them as you go. This is a great time to count the number of sides or to talk about the rules of each shape. Most kids (or adults!) don't know that a square is just a special kind of rectangle or that there is no such shape as a diamond! Google it if you don't believe me! You can even challenge them to look for both 2-d and 3-d shapes. Talk about the difference. If they are really advanced look for the edges, vertices, and sides. Talk about how your rollings 3d shapes don't have faces since they don't have edges. You could do this in your pantry too!

Ice Block Chip

Since we are all looking for things to do at home, here is the easiest activity ever to do. You set it up the night before and forget about it. You can do it with what you've got at home too. 

Ice Block Smash
  1. Gather 5-6 small toys that can get wet and a container that can go in the freezer.
  2. Fill the container about a third of the way with water and add a few toys. Freeze.
  3. Once that is frozen, repeat with another layer of toys and water.
  4. Repeat and freeze again. This way you have the toys spread throughout the block
  5. Get outside with a hammer and chip, chip, chip away! You will get wet! 
A hint: if you are having trouble getting it out of your container, give it one quick hit to get it out. Enjoy!

Skinny Dip

Of the million fond memories that I have of my father, one of the fondest was a surprise ice cream treat for me. Ice cream is serious in my family. My grandfather ate vanilla ice cream every.single.night. When my grandma was diagnosed with diabetes, (a sign your pancreas is breaking down) she literally could not understand that she had to live her life without ice cream. She didn't want sherbet, she wanted ice cream. More than once as a child my dad and I ate ice cream for breakfast. And so... one Sunday afternoon while my dad complained of a headache, there was only one solution- a surprise ice cream stop for me.
Now Skinny Dip isn't exactly ice cream, it's frozen yogurt, which I love because it's a little healthier- pretoppings. They have multiple flavors and options from vegan, to sugar free, dairy free, to low fat. Pair that with a huge selection of toppings- cereal, gummy worms, fruit, nuts, candy bar pieces, and even pie crust. 
The way it works; pick your base, load your toppings, and pay by the weight. But what we really love about Skinny Dip is that it has options for everyone. The bases include so many dietary restrictions, but even more than that they have doggie dips for pups and welcome this to sit on their patio. They also have small tables for kids and high chairs for babies. In their bathrooms they have little urinals, a changing table, and stools for the sink. They are a local chain (mostly- one Florida location) and they have fundraisers and birthday parties. 
Skinny Dip is one of the places that we ask for giftcards to in place of toys during holidays because we love going and spending the time together. Poor baby Ronnie wants to know where his is!

Indoor Things to Do With Your Toddler

Well, it's here. I avoided it forever, but I guess we have to face it- we will be stuck with our kids inside until who knows when. So here's a list of things to do inside!
  • Bake with them! Let them stir and crack things and layer things. 
  • Have them put on a fashion show. By the time they pick their outfits, practice their walk, and pick the music this could take a full afternoon. 
  • Organize those toys you've been putting off forever 
  • Create tape art. Put tape down, paint, peel it up.
  • Board Games
  • Decorate a card and send to a family member 
  • Ice chip (freeze a toy in an ice block and let them chip away to get it out)
  • Thread string through pasta noodles to improve fine motor skills
  • Encourage them to put on a play 
  • Draw letters, shapes, numbers, in shaving cream 
  • Card Games
  • Make fruit popsicles
  • Play grocery store with items from your pantry 
  • Play in a sticker book 
  • Turn off the lights and play with glow sticks
  • Create a scavenger hunt around your house, giving clues to find items. 
  • Play follow the leader adding in jumps, skips, hops... whatever!
  • Put them inside a box with crayons, let them go crazy 
  • Fold the hundred toilet paper rolls we are going to go through into shapes and turn them into stamps. 
  • Balloon volleyball 
  • Doddle on a doodle mat
  • Make towers with paper/plastic cups 
  • Play I Spy 
  • Look through their baby book
  • Hide and Seek 
  • Label sight words around your house such as clock, refrigerator, sink, shower 
  • Homemade pizza 
  • Build a fort 
  • Throw a dance party 
  • Bubble party! No one is really too cool for bubbles. This one is on sale!
  • Glow party These are 53% off! 
Technology Resources:

Toddler Tuesday Tech Edition: ABCYa

ABCYA is a free (on the computer, some games free on a tablet) educational interactive website that caters from preschool age all the way to 6th grade.  Their Pre-k section is divided into letters, numbers, holiday, strategies, and skills. Some of my favorites in the ABC section are the Connect the Dots in ABC order, Trace the Letter, and Alphabet Sliders. They are perfect for RT's level as a 3 (almost four!) year old.
Under Math, the Fuzz Bugs Patterns, and Fuzz Bugs Sorting are great for him and I'm hoping to explore more of the 100 snowballs. For kids a little younger the Counting Fish, Number Match, and Birthday Candle Counting are great.

The Holiday section is mostly for fun, while the Strategy games can really work their brains. In Skills I love the Shape Patterns and Shapes Geometry ones. This site is great for any of those ages, so when you need something to do that is both fun, educational, and keep them quiet, check this out!

Need more to do?
Check out these old Toddler Tech Tuesdays: here, here, here, and here.

Toddler Tuesday Tech Edition: Quivervision

Wow, wow, wow. You'll never go back to the old school coloring book. Quivervision is a mashup of your grandma's coloring and your future grandkid's technology. In your store, find the free app Quiver and let it download while you read this. By printing out one of their many coloring sheets, kids can turn their artwork into interactive 3d creations. Airplanes fly, dragons breathe fire, players kick soccer goals, and ballerinas dance. No special pens are needed, any pencil, marker, crayon, or paint works. The app works on both Android and iphones. There is a Crayola section with little kid appropriate options. The fire truck drives, you can move the ladder, and even shoot water across your dining room table.
Quiver Masks is their newest app which takes Quiver's augmented reality coloring pages and adds the technology of face tracking so that users can design their own masks. Both apps are free. Check it out!