Friday, January 19, 2018

On the Taxonomy and Vernacular of Human Genitalia (insert scientific-y 'Harumph Harumph' here)

Until just recently, we’ve always referred to genitalia as ‘junk’ when talking with the kids.  it’s not that we don’t think you should talk about genitalia, in fact, through no design of our own, it’s quite the opposite at our house, conversations about junk come up fairly frequently.  It’s just the word junk had a better ring to it.  We’ve also committed the other sex-ed sin of calling vaginas ‘innies’, and penises ‘outies’.  While I’ve heard this can be an issue, for us at any rate, it wasn’t.

When you live with three kids in a variety of 1200, (on average), square foot houses, everyone sees everyone else naked, a lot.  Between grad school, and then moving to San Francisco, our real estate budget has never really allowed for the privacy that might come from spreading out through several rooms, (or sweet merciful heaven), more than one bathroom.

But, even the singular bathroom has been a blessing.  Each kid as soon as they’ve been able to walk has asked to ‘use the potty’ with me.  I have few if any boundary issues, and so was happy for the company.  I like to think that this led to the gang using the toilet earlier, and perhaps better.  We’re not stringent potty trainers, so it’s hard to tell.  

There were a few actual unexpected advantages though.  First, unbeknownst to me, apparently some kids have issues with peeing outside, as well as peeing in front of others.  I was surprised as spit one day to find out that one or kids’ friend’s mom was delighted that on a hike, 1 had simply ducked around a bush to pee instead of dancing and squirming till she found a bathroom.  Said mom had had a hard time convincing her daughter that it was OK to pee outside, and felt that 1 was an excellent role model in this respect!  Who knew!?  

Yet another advantage, 1, our oldest daughter, can pee standing up!  I was as surprised as anyone when I found out during a camping trip.  Early in the morning, then five year old, 1 hopped out of her sleeping bag, unzipped the tent, and headed out.  Since we camp frequently, and 1 can handle herself outdoors, I thought nothing of it.  I figured she was bored.  Nope!  She had to potty.  A minute or two later, I unzipped the tent to go on my own potty run only to find 1 about five yards from the tent, pants around her knees, standing, and peeing on the ground like she’d been doing it all her life!  She looked up when she saw me, said “Hi Dad!” and finished her business as if nothing had happened.

In any event, I’ve digressed.  What about the innie/outie phraseology you might ask?  How did we wind up there in the first place?  Well, what with all the nakedness, at some point each kid makes observations about the different kinds of junk.  Not wanting the kids to grow up gendered, we were careful only to point out one thing, junk is junk.  Some junk points in and some junk points out, but the pee and poop is all the same.  And so it went, some of us had innies, other outies, but it didn’t really matter which.  It all gets the job done.

The innie/outie phraseology even served us during our first little foray into sex ed.  When 2 was on the way, 1 had questions.  How had 2 got into mom's tummy anyway?  How would he get out?   We explained how he was going to exit mom-person’s tummy, and then explained that I'd put him there.  Just to avoid any debacles, we also explained that it was generally unhealthy to put anything inside your junk until your fully grown.  This seemed to ameliorate the situation completely.  

And that was the extent of our discussions until recently when 1 began to ask more and more detailed questions about how exactly 3 had come out of mom-person’s innie, and how she’d come to be inside mom’s womb in the first place.  Yes, I’d put her there, but how?

Seeing that we were about to discuss the entire gamut of the reproductive process, we finally decided it was time to redefine innies and outies as vaginas and penises.  The redefinition came off without a hitch.  Once we’d translated our terms into the accepted terms of biology, polite society, whatever, we moved forward with our conversations about sperm, eggs, labor, and what have you.

Mom-person and I did have one infinitesimal ideological difference.  Mom-person felt it was important for No. 1 to have a book on sex-ed so she could read up as she liked.  I thought a book was OK, (frankly, I thought we could just answer her questions as they came for the next few years), but having seen sex treated as ‘special’, ‘extraordinary’, ‘a gift from God’, and other monikers, I wanted to take our time to find just the right book on sex:  one that treated it in a no-nonsense manner; one that didn’t make it seem strange, of God, or taboo.  We started to look at books, but it turned out we need not have wasted our time.

As Jeff Goldblum’s character, Dr. Ian Malcolm, admonished in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.”  Mom-person is a professor a our local university.  Consequently, the gang occasionally gets to hang out with her there.  They tend to browse the 4th floor that includes the kids and young adults section that hasn’t been updated since sometime in the late ‘90s.  On one of these visits, a mere week or so after we’d begun our search for the perfect sex book, I received a text, “No. 1 just wondered back with a ummmmm”

“With what?”

“With a sex book.”

Well, that just solved the whole issue didn’t it?  I knew, but hadn’t even considered that the 4th floor of the library in addition to outdated children’s books contains a collection of books for adolescents from the same time period.

As it turned out, 1’s tastes mirrored ours.  She’d chosen a book from the late ‘80s, "It's Perfectly Normal", that while a bit alarmist about HIV by modern standards, and a bit childish, (a bird and a bee narrate some small portions of the book), actually did quite a great job.  It held pretty well to explaining that sex was an activity that was fun between consenting couples, or by one’s self; as well as being a practice that, sometimes, when practiced with a partner could result in babies.  It then went into quite some detail about how conception and labor work.  

The only regrettable omission was that the authors chose to describe a menstrual period as the unused eggs dissolving.  That’s it.  Honest, that’s all they had to say about it.  The overall picture I was left with, (yes I know better), was that once a month, perhaps, a small bit of water containing old eggs would seep away.  So, we’ll have to cover that topic again one day.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Missile Park!

On our recent explore of Southern New Mexico, we took the gang 6 y.o No.1, 5 y.o. No. 2, and 2 y.o. No. 3 here. The park is exactly what it's title infers, a variety of missiles situated in a park like setting. The climate in New Mexico is rather dry most of the year, so the landscaping around the missiles consists of crushed rock rather than grass. Winding sidewalks connect all the different missile exhibits.

If you're not familiar with White Sands Missile Range, it's where much of America's rocket development took place in the years following World War II. Wernher von Braun worked at this site as well as the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama. The plane that carried him between the two sites is on display in the park.

The missile range where the park is situated is fenced off, and can only be entered by approaching a guard station situated about 5 miles down NM-213 off of US 70 just east of Las Cruces, NM. We new the park was there since we used to live in Las Cruces, and so drove out to the guard station. Once there, we were asked for our IDs and told to park in the nearby offsite parking lot while a background check was performed. The guard instructed us to get out of the car, and walk back towards the entrance for a briefing.

Having watched Teen Titans, and other superhero cartoons, the gang was super-excited about being 'briefed'. The briefing from the very friendly guard just informed us of how to walk to the park from the gate, and which direction we could take photographs in, (away from the missile range, and towards the Organ Mountains). As an extra bonus, a black Suburban drove by right after our briefing :)

The exhibits might be jarring to depending on your point of view. For example, one of the smaller, cuter missiles, was actually intended to carry a nuclear weapon into a fleet of enemy bomber planes. However, if you'd just like to see rockets, a self-guided walk around the park might be just the thing.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Bus Camping without Reservation

We had a blast camping across the Golden Gate Bridge at Pantoll Campground this weekend!  It’s one of the few campgrounds in the Bay Area where reservations aren’t required, and even better yet, you don’t have to drive to get there!

We set out on Friday afternoon from San Francisco State University on the 28 and rode to the Golden​ Gate Transit (GGT) Center stop.  From there we walked upstairs, hopped on the GGT 4, and took it across the bridge to Equator Coffee in Mill Valley.  The coffee shop is great for kids, and has enough outdoor seating for our gang of 5, (3 kids and 2 parents).  If you forgot to bring water, (we did), the liquor store situated next to the coffee shop is also handy.  We waited at the coffee shop for a pleasant 20 minutes or so for the Marin Transit 61.  The 61 winds up through the mountains passing Muir Woods on the way, and stops directly across the street from Pantoll campground.

The forecast for Friday night at Pantoll called for an 83% chance of rain.  I’m guessing this contributed our getting the pick of the campsites.  The kids put up the tent, and we went for a hike through the foggy woods full of furry trees.  An hour or so later, the sun went down, we climbed into our tent, and went to sleep.

We were expecting more of the typical Bay Area mist-as-rain storm, but for once, it full-on rained!  We slept all night bundled into our bags with torrents of rain bouncing off the rain-fly just a few feet above our heads.  It was incredible!  Thing cleared off around 5 AM, and then we would up getting up around 6 because the full  moon was so bright, it was lighting up the tent.

By 7:30 or so, we were on our way into Stinson Beach via the 3-mile long, all downhill Steep Ravine Trail.  Six-year-old No. 1 and five-year-old No. 2 bounded ahead of us, occasionally coming back to make sure everyone was still coming.  Mom-person took time with them later in the hike to point out that if they came to a fork in the trail, they were to stop and wait for us.  (There are only two forks somewhat late in the trail closer to Stinson Beach.)  Two-year-old No. 3 also walked the entire hike minus perhaps 100 yards, but hung with us most of the time.

There are only a few technically difficult parts of the hike denpending on how tall you are.  There are some fairly steep, fairly tall steps where 3 asked us to hold her hand on her way down.  There’s also a ladder-cum-staircase that bridges a seven-foot cliff in the middle of the trail.  1 and 2 made it down the inclined ladder rungs on their own.  I carried 3 with me.  The last time we were up here, she and I made our way down the ladder with her in the Moby wrap.

Once we arrived in Stinson Beach, we made our way immediately to the ParkSide Restaurant.  Having now done this twice, I’ll go instead to the ParkSide snack bar located in the same building two entrances down next time.  The restaurant is kid-friendly, and decent enough, but it’s more of a place to be seen than to hangout.  Save yourself a lot of money and time, and hit the snack bar with similar sorts of food, (they appear to both be owned by the same outfit), for far less money.

Having made our three mile hike down the hill, we elected not to hike back up, and instead caught the 61 at the corner of Shoreline Highway, and Calle del Mar back to the campground.  Before the bus came, we picked up some slightly over-priced groceries at Shoreline Market right across from the downtown Stinson Beach bus stop, and had a mini-picnic in the tent that evening under the rainfly to block the wind, and stay warm while we told ghost stories.

Only one warning: be sure to lock your campsite food-box thoroughly.  We lost most of our groceries to racoons in the middle of the night.  We were returning home the next day, so it was no great loss.

I stressed a little over finding bus routes home Saturday night before the phone battery died.  It turns out I need not have worried.  The return trip is even easier than the trip out, as long as your return on a weekend.  On weekends, instead of terminating in Marin City, the 61 ends its route at the Sausalito Ferry port.  If you have a Clipper Card with cash funds on it just get in line.  You can take the ferry back to San Francisco for $4.75.  If you don’t you can purchase a Clipper Card from the vending machine at the port.  Mom-person and I treated ourselves to pretty decent Bloody Marys on the way across the bay, (yet another reason we love public transit here).  The kdis sat inside fascinated alternately with watching both the ball-game, (we watch next to no television at the house), and all the people moving to-and-fro on the ferry.  We sat outside and were treated to an escort of pelicans, and a sea lion headed the opposite direction across the bay.

From the ferry terminal it was an easy two block walk to Embarcadero BART station where we made our way home.

Monday, October 30, 2017


Two-year-old No. 3 and my stumbling crash a few weeks back has become shared legend between she and I.  I got to hang out with the gang all day today, and when we arrived at soccer practice, three weeks, and one-and-a-half blocks East of our tumble on the sidewalk, she pointed down the road and said "That's where we tumbled, and went crrsshhccc."

I said, "Yeah, and where'd you land?"

"On my backpack."  Then unexpectedly, she said, "You landed on your cheek."  I had completely forgotten that she'd been looking right at me as she landed!  Her attention to detail during our crash is astounding!  I had landed on my cheek.

Later in the afternoon, No. 3 and I headed back out to pick up chicken at our local market.  As we rounded the corner to our bus stop, a woman said "Hi Diana!"

The kids have lots of friends in the neighborhood I don't know thanks to their daily roamings.  I introduced myself and we started to talk.  It turns out that she knew Diana from when she used to go, frequently tucked inside a wrap, to the Chinese story time at our local library.  I love our neighborhood!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Fun of Unschooling from a Dad's Point of View

The dad-person over at 'Happiness is Here' recently wrote an article to other dads who might be making the decision to homeschool.  As a dad who already has kids who decided to homeschool, I thought I'd chime in with why it's so much fun.

As a fellow dad of unschooled kids, I confess that people will on occasion give you meaningful glances--over an apparently harmless statement or question about your kids' education.  Glances that obviously are meant to imply that you should be very, very concerned about this non-standard thing your kids are doing, (unschooling).  I'm happy to report however, that this has only happened a very few times for us.

The more common thing, at least for me, are entertaining questions from non-homeschoolers, but those are just fun.  Things like looking with great consternation at the pack consisting of then 1 year-old No. 3, 3 year-old No. 2, and 4 year-old No. 1 wandering around beside us and asking, "Are those your kids?"  Followed immediately by "Should they be in school?"  Apparently the only safe-kid, (I was unclear, but I'm pretty sure the safety the gentleman was concerned about was his own, not the kids'), is a well corralled kid.

Then there was the time a concerned citizen called in a possible bomb threat.  "There's a bearded man with a large package concealed under his hoodie."  The package was 8 month old No. 1 snugged into her Moby for a walk.  The policeman went from terrified to baffled as the situation unfurled on the grounds of a national laboratory.

You get a whole lot of "those kids are too cold," "too warm," or "their shoes are on the 'wrong' feet."  The simple and proud answer, "They dressed themselves!" never seems to suffice.  The perhaps more true answer of "Well, we got out of the house 15 minutes earlier because I did me while they did them." rarely works, and eventually you might just end up at, "Oh, hunh, thanks for pointing that out."

Once we received a standing ovation, as we were sung to.  A group of 20 or Chinese tourists who had amassed on the sidewalk in front of us parted like the Red Sea to let us get through as they cheered and sang.  I have yet to figure out what that was all about.

I've found advantages that I wouldn't have initially expected from homeschooling as well.  For one, we're more closely integrated with our community than we otherwise would have been.  A few years ago when I asked then 4 year-old 1 who she wanted to invite to Thanksgiving, I expected an answer that involved perhaps a grandparent, or an uncle.  Instead she responded that she wanted to invite two of her friends, the brothers who own our nearby convenience store.

Our kids have friends of all ages in almost every section of town.  I think it's due in large part to them actually being out and about in town as opposed to being sequestered behind four walls.  In fact, I meet new friends all the time because of the kids.  People frequently introduce themselves to me when I'm not with the kids, remarking that they ride the bus with my kids.

Our kids are even learning how to bandy about frivolities at bars a few years earlier than they otherwise might!  A few months ago when we trekked to a nearby state to watch the solar eclipse, six year-old No. 1 ventured from our table in the cafe to the bar on the other side of the building, bellied up, and asked for a glass of water.  When one of the patrons asked if she'd be buying the next round she replied that she couldn't as she had no money because she'd worn tights that day with no pockets.  We had no idea what had transpired until a few minutes later the establishment's proprietor appeared to enquire if it would be OK if the man at the bar bought 1 and her sibs a round of ice cream.  That's when 1 told us about her conversation.  The kids enjoyed the ice cream she had finagled for them, we bought a round of drinks for the bar, and a great time was had by all!