High Anxiety: the Price of Parental Expectations in Youth Sports?

Parental Expectations and Sports

Our older son expresses his high anxiety during a recent youth league baseball game. Clearly, he’s wilting under the weight of parental expectations.

An Ithaca College study published this month in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology confirms again that we, as parents, have absolutely no idea what we’re doing.

This is especially true, according to the study, for parents of kids aged 6-18 who participate in competitive swimming, tennis, gymnastics, bowling, wrestling, cross country and indoor track. Probably baseball, soccer, football, basketball and hockey, too, but they haven’t gotten around to observing team sports, so they don’t yet have a gauge on how stupid we are when our kids play those.

What egregious parenting gaff has been revealed now? How are we damaging our kids who play individual (and probably team) sports?

We place expectations upon our children. And that, apparently, is bad.

To be clear: I agree to an extent, but reject the notion that expectations are to be avoided in youth sports. I’ll explain why in a minute.

According to the study, parental expectations in youth sports are bad because the more ambitious the expectations, the greater the level of anxiety (pregame jitters) exhibited by the kid athletes. Similarly, the more parents wanted their kids to out-perform the other kids – in other words, the more the parents cared about who won – the less a kid was able to concentrate during the competition.

The reverse was true, too. The study found that the more ambitious the kids’ goals were, the higher the levels of anxiety experienced by the parents.

Hey, that’s fair. If we’re going to mess with our kids’ minds, they have every right to mess with ours right back.

Look, I’m all for managing expectations. I’m all for maintaining an even keel, especially when it comes to my kids and sports.

We enrolled our kids in YMCA soccer for years. Every player got a trophy. There were no standings. The score was kept informally, and no one knew (or cared) who the champion was at the end of the season.

There are parents and academics who believe that kind of athletic competition is a waste of time, that it defeats what they consider the purpose of kids participating in competitive sports. Their idea of meaningful participation in youth sports is that learning how to win a game at a young age can prepare their children to “win at life” as adults.

I wrote about my objection to that way of thinking about youth competitions in 2013 – After School Activities: Just Let Kids Be Kids. The bottom line for me was that the skills required to win a youth athletic competition only very loosely translate to the skills necessary to succeed in any profession except professional athlete and maybe coach.

Perhaps a kid can learn social skills as part of a team, but excelling on a field of play at age 8 is not a predictor of a corner office with a Fortune 500 company.

Still, now that our older son is well into his first season of competitive baseball, you’re darn right I have expectations. These expectations are fundamental. They are not negotiable.

  • I expect him to learn how to catch, throw, run, slide and swing a bat well enough that he won’t get hurt during the course of a game.
  • I expect him to pay attention to his coaches during practice, and that he’ll listen to me when we’re playing catch in the back yard.
  • I expect him to treat his teammates and his opponents with respect.
  • I expect him to learn the rules of the game, and I expect him to remember what he is supposed to be doing at all times on the baseball field – and if he doesn’t remember, I expect him to ask his coaches or more-experienced teammates.
  • I expect him to finish his homework before week-day practices and week-night games.
  • I expect him to have fun.

Now, I understand what the Ithaca report meant to condemn. There are parents who take sports too seriously, who live and die with every moment on the court, in the pool, on the mat or on the field. If pushed too far, that can be tough or even impossible for a kid to handle emotionally, and it’s not a good way to teach. It’s certainly no fun for anyone.

What I’m not wild about with this study is that it attempts to caution parents that any expectation has the potential to heighten the level of anxiety for a kid athlete. Furthermore, this is automatically assumed to be a bad thing.

I submit that parents should set reasonable expectations regarding a child’s participation in youth sports. Those expectations should be explained clearly and parents should be sure that their kid understands exactly how to live up to the expectations.

My expectations are reasonable, but I also acknowledge that trying to live up to all of those – including the part about having fun – might present a challenge for my sons. So be it. Growth happens when we confront our anxieties. We either overcome them or succumb to them. Either way, we learn.

Give a kid goals and watch him or her excel.

And that’s part of the job as parents, to present challenges for our kids to overcome. Overcoming those challenges might not put them on the path to a career as a high-powered executive, but it will help them learn how rewarding it can be to live up to – and sometimes exceed – expectations.





Broken Places

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”A Farewell to Arms

We are broken in unseen places.

We are broken by divorce. We are broken when we lose a dream career because of a poor economy. We are broken by a heart attack. We are broken when we live the nightmare of fearing for the life of one of our children. We are broken slowly, callously, by impersonal office jobs. We are broken by cancer.

Even as we break, the sinews and ligaments of love and leisure hold the center.

I am broken, but I am intact because of my wife, my kids, my parents, my extended family, my friends, occasional professional success. I have been broken but not defeated, because even as the bits and pieces of me dangled precariously and threatened to fall away along the path, I found reasons to smile.

I found I could still experience happiness.

Happy is not a condition. It is a moment of forgetfulness or a flash of remembrance.

I was able to forget, or to remember, during my wedding with Beth, on our honeymoon to Las Vegas, on our 10th anniversary trip to New York City, when our sons were born, when I was chosen to read an entry from my online journal at Dad 2.0 Summit, during all the many days of enjoyment and abandon at Walt Disney World and other places where reality was paved over and I could remember or forget. These countless moments and experiences lifted my spirit and, for a time, seemed to mend the broken places.

Seemed to.

Once broken, we stay broken. Wrapped in a thick blanket of inertia, scarred and scared, yet awake and aware, I was unable to stop but unwilling to move. The broken places are not stronger. They are merely broken.

This only ends one way. Remember the rest of Hemingway’s quote from Farewell: “But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these things it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

I am in no special hurry and must therefore find a way to function. I live with the knowledge of the broken places. They mount and swirl together as a swift current in a strong, cold river that gashes a drear desert. If I give in, I can drift along on that current and let it take me where it will, no will of my own. But I choose to choose my response. I can remember to forget, or forget to remember. I know I can do that, because I still can smile.

We can’t fix the broken places. So we need to know: How much can one person endure? That’s the question. Do we possess an infinite capacity to endure break after break after break, winding on endlessly into that desert? I am afraid I do not, but the evidence is incomplete.

Where are the unseen places? What do they look like?

I see a bridge, a stone passage through and over time, a safe thoroughfare imperiled on all sides by vagaries comedic and tragic. The bridge has crumbled and fallen in on itself in places. Where the stones are collapsed, the bridge veers in new directions. Crossing, thwarted by each new chasm, I leap along on wings of forgetfulness and remembrance, catching the current of love and leisure, pursuer and pursued. I land and peer along the narrow path ahead. I see only a straight road, but it is an illusion and I know that now. Inevitably, my gaze is drawn backward, where I look upon a labyrinth of my own unconscious design, a life in parts, a bridge broken but on the whole, not bad. I move on.

Where will I break again? Will I be ready and able to leap across the next chasm? Will the current slacken as I lament the broken places and fall, fall, finally and forever?

Yes. The world breaks everyone. Afterward, there are broken places but we move on. We meet new, better friends and lifelong companions. We find more fulfilling careers. We improve our diet, take our meds and promise to exercise. We relish every moment we have with our dear children and never – never – take their laughter and strength for granted. We vow to find our place in this world. We meet illness with treatment and optimism and if we are healed we cherish our good fortune and move on.

We make the leap across the unseen chasm. We turn into the current. We remember or we forget. We smile. We move on.

How to Adopt a Kitten

One sunny day in January 1996, we decided to adopt a kitten. We drove to the Humane Society of Pinellas County to pick one out.

We found a litter of six tabby kittens just out of foster care, a furry, mewling mass squirming around their recumbent mother in a covered, elevated outdoor pen. The kittens were 10 weeks old. Our eyes and hearts picked out a brown and white longhaired female with pretty yellow eyes and a calm disposition.

Before we could adopt our kitten, we needed cat supplies. So, we left the kittens and drove to the nearest pet store to buy a litter box, food, a water dish and cat toys. We were gone for 45 minutes.

How to Adopt a Kitten

Murphy the cat, circa 1997. He was a loving, devoted companion for nearly two decades. Soon, we’ll find a new kitten. But not quite yet.

When we came back, our longhaired kitten was gone – adopted out from under us. The only kitten left in the pen was a shorthaired, silver-and-black tiger-striped male with bright green eyes, a lively demeanor and white tips on his front paws. The humane society volunteer who had fostered him and his littermates said it looked as if he had dipped his paws in milk.

The attendant opened the pen. The kitten climbed my arm and perched on my shoulder, where he sat and observed while I filled out the paperwork.

We put him in the carrier. He meowed the whole way home. We named him Murphy and marveled as he grew from sprightly kitten to warm, loving, devoted friend.

Nineteen years later, on Feb. 12 of this year, I wrote this update on Facebook:

“He joined our family in 1996, a shelter kitten who climbed onto my shoulder for comfort the first time I met him. He has been my companion through 19 years of seismic life change. I named him Murphy, after my favorite baseball player. He is weak now, legs gone, head and tail limp. He made it through the night, so we’ll take him to the vet today to see if anything can be done. Beth and the boys are sad, and so am I. But what a cat – a true friend. He’s had a long, happy life. Two decades of pure love.”

By 9:10 a.m. that morning, he was gone. It was time. We cried and mourned as a family, just as we had when we lost Luna at Christmastime in 2012. The boys had only ever known a world with Murphy in it. Jay wants to be a veterinarian, a career goal attributable, in part, to the love he felt – still feels – for that dear cat.

Murphy’s absence is not quite real yet to me. I’m still a bit confused in the middle of the night when I shuffle into our bathroom in the dark and I don’t have to worry about stepping in the litter box. I still am careful not to roll over too abruptly in bed, because I don’t want to unsettle the devoted old cat who purred the night away in the crook of my arm.

But listen: This is not a sad post. Murphy lived a long life and was loved every second of it. He is loved still. He was sweet and dumb and devoted and oh, so lovable. We rejoice in his memory.

And soon … we’re going to adopt another kitten.

We just have to make sure we find the right one.

Our Next Kitten: Candidates

How does one go about that these days? How do you adopt a kitten?

It starts with an impulse.

Before Murphy came to the end, we already were talking about what would come next. Beth is allergic to cats, but she began to campaign for a kitten months before we became a no-pet household.

We Should Adopt a Kitten

It starts with an impulse.

Let me be clear: My wife is allergic to cats, but she wants another one.

She endured 11-plus years of cats under her roof, in her bed, under her feet. Murphy and Luna destroyed our floors with their claws and by other means. Before we replaced the carpet, we waged battle for years against the stubborn redolence of concentrated uric acid (also known as residual dried cat piss).

Beth’s sneeze attacks are sudden and wall-shaking – the sneezes come in rapid-fire bunches and persist until Benadryl works its way into her bloodstream.

Despite this, she wants another cat, and soon. If not for the fact that I insisted we spend a respectful amount of time mourning the absence of my dear feline companion, we already would have a new cat in the family. She and the boys were that eager, but they understood I needed time.

Why does my wife want a cat?

“I like having something alive when I come into the house,” she said. “And I think it’ll bring joy, which is really the only reason that matters.”

OK, then.

We’ll adopt a kitten.

It will happen in the next few weeks, after Chris’s cast comes off his broken left arm. We’re looking at late April.

Potential parenting fail alert: I might have promised Chris on the day he broke his arm that he can name our family’s new kitten. His choices so far – Mr. Fuzzy Whiskers or Murphy Junior.

Yeah … we might not be sticking to the letter of the law with that particular promise. I think it’ll be a family decision, with Chris leading the discussion. That’s a fair interpretation.

(I am not spending the next two decades with a Mr. Fuzzy Whiskers.)

We have some ideas already about the kind of cat we want to join our family. The candidates:

How to Adopt a Kitten

Candidate No. 1.

How to Adopt a Kitten

Candidate No. 2.

How to Adopt a Kitten

Candidate No. 3.

How to Adopt a Kitten

Candidate No. 4.

What You Need to Know About Adopting a Kitten

Upon reflection, we’ll go with none of the above.

And we won’t go into this on a whim, as I did in 1996 with Murphy. Back then, I lacked the perspective required to envision the day two decades later when I would have to say that tearful goodbye to a companion who had shared nearly half my life.

Now, armed with the knowledge that the kitten we adopt next month could very well be cuddled in his or her feline dotage by our grandchildren, we will prepare accordingly and choose carefully.

I’ve read advice from reputable sources, including the ASPCA and Purina. Before we bring home a new kitten, we will:

  • Budget for monthly expenses: food, litter, litter bags, industrial-strength cleaner
  • Budget for annual (and emergency) veterinary bills
  • Prepare the house to absorb the inevitable damage and to combat the inevitable smells and dander
  • Explain to the boys about the responsibility of pet ownership and the opportunity to save an animal’s life by adopting from a shelter
  • Determine whether we want to declaw our new kitten in order to avoid the kind of destruction wrought by our clawed kitties in the past
  • Stock up on Benadryl for the allergies
  • Research places near us that provide cat adoption services
  • Clear time on the schedule for the next few months to nurture our new kitten and help him/her become acclimated to our home

Most important, we’ll explain to the boys that our new kitten is not a replacement for Murphy and Luna. The love and appreciation we feel for our departed companions will always be with us. If anything, as we get to know our new family member, I imagine our memories of Murphy and Luna will grow vivid – the way Murphy would leap and spin with a mid-air cartwheel as he tried to apprehend a bouncing rubber ball; Luna’s propensity to sit up on her hind legs, like a meerkat, and bat relentlessly at a proffered cat treat.

We so look forward to welcoming our new feline friend. Kids and pets – what’s better?

In the coming weeks, I’ll share the story of our family’s new addition. I hope you enjoy the journey, and I welcome any kitten adoption advice you have to offer.


No Broken Spring

Spring Break

Spring break at home with the boys was a rare, precious chance to focus on the important things.

Something is wrong with our garage door. I push the button and, instead of noisily lifting open, the door noisily does not lift open.

The last time this happened, it was a broken spring. You know, the garage door torsion spring? That huge metal double coil mounted near the ceiling inside the garage door. That spring broke about a year ago, and we had to replace it. It happens.

I don’t think the spring is broken this time, though. It looks like the spring is intact. Maybe it’s a problem with the winding cone or the shaft. Maybe the counterbalance cables are shot. I don’t know. I’m not a garage door expert. I don’t even know if those are actual things.

The technician is scheduled to come tomorrow. I hope it doesn’t cost a fortune.

Meanwhile, spring break ended today.

Spring Break

Yes, we actually did stop and smell the actual roses this week.

It was my first spring break at home with the boys. A week spent at Barnes & Noble, Busch Gardens Tampa, baseball practice, playdates, an impromptu birthday party, the Ringling Museum, grandma and grandpa’s beach condo, and deep inside the make-believe world of Minecraft.

The boys are in third grade and first grade. I like to think they’ll look back fondly on this week, even if they don’t recall the details.

I know I will.

It was a week of slow work, which ordinarily would have been a concern. Instead, the unexpected (and temporary) reduction of day-to-day professional responsibility provided us a fortunate chance to bounce from activity to activity, to ease into each day with no expectations beyond time well spent doing things that mattered to absolutely no one but us.

I hope the third grader will remember the trip to Busch Gardens with his school friend. A 60-mph roller coaster ride, a pair of baby mountain gorillas and a leisurely train trip through a grazing crash of endangered white rhinos all have the potential to be memorable.

I hope the first grader will remember those things, too, along with the three playdates with some of his little buddies – including two in one day.

I hope both of them will remember their first visit to the Ringling, one of the most beautiful spots in the state of Florida.

The Peter Paul Rubens masterworks, the Italian Renaissance collection, the bronze statuary in the huge courtyard of the Italian-style palazzo, the modern works in the Re:Purposed exhibit (especially Danny Rozin’s Trash Mirror No. 3) … they all made an impression. The Ringling Circus Museum, the early 20th century Venetian-style waterfront mansion Ca’d’zan, the rose garden, the playground, the many banyan trees … somewhere in their young subconsciousness minds, all of it now has a home.

Memories of specific events, of experiences, are fleeting. Do you remember that time you went to that place with those people when you were 9?

Probably not.

I’m not talking about traumatic events, like the time you snapped the radius and ulna in your left arm when you fell on the concrete sidewalk at school while you raced a buddy back to class from the restroom. I’m pretty sure you’d remember that.

Spring Break

I don’t know if they’ll recall details, but I hope they’ll look back at this spring break and remember I was there.

In fact, I’m pretty sure our first grader will remember that, even if he won’t remember we bought the junior novelization of the movie Big Hero 6 at the bookstore, and that he read it all the way through all by himself — his first “big boy” chapter book.

He might remember that he wore a blue cast on that broken arm throughout the spring break when dad stayed home and when mom took Friday off so we could all hang out together as a family, when we did something different every day but there was no schedule, no rushing around, no stress.

They might or might not remember any of it in detail. It doesn’t really matter if they do. What matters is that they remember that I was there. Really there. I hope they look back one day and recall that one spring break when they woke up every morning and, instead of jumping into the car again to rush to a week-long glorified babysitting service, they did something cool with dad – every day.

After a week like this, after a rare and precious chance to spend an uninterrupted few days with my young sons, not even a broken garage door can get me down. This, at least, is no broken spring.

Oren Miller: He Has Shown Me How to Live

Give Foward

Oren Miller has made me a better person and a better father. He is my brother. I will always tell his story.

We want context at the end. We want order, or some sense of purpose. We want it to matter. We want to tell our stories, and we want them to make sense.

It helps with the pain. It helps with the sadness. It helps to remind us that the reason we cry is because once, we were oh, so glad.

We have been glad to know Oren Miller. We have been proud to call him friend, to call him brother.

We all have stories to tell.

We have stories to tell about Oren Miller.

Today, and for the past few months, these stories have been nourished with tears. We knew it was bad, then worse, and now we are at the end and we want context. We want to add our patch to the quilt of Oren’s life, or his digital life, I suppose.

We were brothers, Oren and I. As his brother, as we come to the end, I am compelled to tell my story. This is right. This is good. Will it make sense? I don’t know. But my pain demands it. My tears require it.

It matters.

My story of Oren is about hope. It’s about the human capacity to shape the world for good.

It matters, all right.

We found out the worst of bad news before Father’s Day – lung cancer had spread to his brain. Nothing could stop it. We set out to help Oren’s family in a small, but meaningful way.

We came together to raise money for a dream trip, a vacation for a lifetime. We figured $5,000 ought to do it. Disney, maybe. Someplace nice before treatment began. Someplace Oren and Beth and their beautiful son and daughter could go and laugh and love and just be, if only for a while.

Our brother Brent Almond posted the online fundraiser on the crowd-funding site, Giveforward.com, at the suggestion of another brother, Jim Higley. These are remarkable human beings. These are my brothers. Oren’s brothers.

Brent posted it late on a Thursday night, the Thursday before Father’s Day, with no fanfare or social media promotion. By mid-morning Friday, the goal had been eclipsed and the total pledged was approaching $10,000.

Eventually, it would surpass $35,000. That was the power of this brotherhood, the power of a group of creative fathers from around the world whose primary connection was a Facebook group started by an unassuming, quiet, Israeli-born Marylander named Oren Miller.

“So crazy, it just might work.”

That is the group’s tagline. It started with about 30 fathers in December 2012. I was among them.

As of this writing, there are 1,047 members from nearly every state in the U.S., nearly every continent on the planet.

There are stay-at-home dads, single dads, old dads, young dads, married dads, divorced dads, gay dads, granddads. There are dads who draw, dads who paint, dads who create video, dads who make crazy lunches, dads who take photos, dads who write and dads who sing.

There are conservative dads, liberal dads, black dads, Asian dads, white dads, and dads of just about every ethnic and religious persuasion you can imagine. We fight and cry, love and learn from one another.

Once a year, we get together at Dad 2.0 Summit. That’s where I met Oren in person for the first time, in Houston. I can’t believe that was only two years ago.

He and I had exchanged excited messages about how we were going to try to expand the Facebook group while we were in Houston. Could we reach 100 members? Who did we want to ask?

Anyone and everyone. That’s who. All were invited.

Are you a dad? Do you have a blog?

You’re in.

One thing, though: “Don’t be a dick.”

It’s Oren’s only real rule for the group. Pretty reasonable, if you ask me.

Now, two years after he wondered if we could reach triple digits in the group, a scholarship fund bearing his name enables some of his brothers to go to Dad 2.0 every year. Six bloggers were awarded the scholarship this time around. It is a powerful, permanent testament to what he means to our community.

And so, the group of brothers who came together out of that initial experiment rose up when Oren needed us and raised tens of thousands of dollars for his family. I wish it could be more. It should be more. Please help make it more by donating here: Give Back to Oren.

One day this past summer, Whit Honea and I were talking on the phone about Oren and the group and how sad it was that Oren had cancer but what an incredible thing it was to see the group come together for that cause with such effect.

If we could do that for one of our own, looking inward, we thought, why couldn’t that energy and spirit be turned outward? Why couldn’t we band together, brothers from around the world, and try to make good things happen everywhere?

And so, thanks to Oren Miller and his loving brothers and all of those who contributed to the fundraiser, Dads 4 Change was born.

All we want to do at Dads 4 Change is make the world a better place, to help our kids develop an appreciation for volunteerism and giving, to model good citizenship for them and hope they carry that message into the future. That’s all.

That’s Oren’s legacy for me. It also is a legacy of community, which is peace. In peace, our best selves emerge. Just don’t be a dick.

Context? Purpose? Order. There is none. What is happening is too sad and pointless, as meaningful as a flower, as full of purpose as a single raindrop, as random as a stalk of wheat in the breeze.

But he has shown me how to live. He has shown us all the meaning of grace and dignity. Outwardly, his humor has remained intact and as sharp as ever. He is Oren. Then, as now, my brother.

There is no context for this. There sure as hell is no purpose. It does matter, though. Oren Miller made me a better person, a better father. That matters. And I will always tell that story. Always.

Oren Miller

Oren Miller (far right) with some of our brothers at Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans, January 2014. Also pictured (L to R): Aaron Gouveia, John Willey, Fred Goodall, Vincent Daly.

I’ll leave you with this: a dancing chihuahua. I saw it first on Oren’s blog, a Blogger and a Father, and it was one of his favorites. I smile every time I see it. So does Oren. I hope you will, too.

happy dance

The Sun’ll Come Out: Annie at the Straz Center


Before curtain at the Straz Center Tuesday night, we gathered and posed for a pre-Annie photo. The boys made it all the way through their first late-night theater experience. I’m pretty sure they’ll remember it always.

At 6:20 a.m. Tuesday, I walked into my older son’s bedroom to wake him up for school. As always, he pulled the blanket over his head after my gentle warning that I was about to turn on the light.


As my eyes adjusted to the dim illumination, I heard his sleepy voice under the covers: “It’s a hard-knock life … for us!”

He woke up with Annie on his mind. This was going to be a good day.


They’ve seen plenty of shows. Big shows, too. The Finding Nemo show at Animal Kingdom, Katonga and Iceploration at Busch Gardens Tampa, Beauty and the Beast (Lite) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Just last week, we took our two sons to a charity magic show at the Ritz in Ybor City, and they were riveted.

Our boys are no strangers to stage productions.

But never had they been to a show at the Straz Center, where Broadway comes to the Tampa Bay area. When we received approval for four review tickets through my affiliation with the Tampa Bay Bloggers group, we knew Annie would be the ideal introduction for Jay and Chris to big-time musical theater.

They loved the 1982 movie version, which we showed them again Sunday night on Netflix. Rarely will our 6-year-old sit (relatively) quietly through a non-animated, full-length movie. He sat through the Annie movie, right up to the closing circus scene with Carol Burnett riding in on an elephant.

At the breakfast table Tuesday, they alternated between humming “the Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow” and “It’s a Hard-knock Life.” While I boxed up their lunches, they also threw in an occasional, “We love you, Miss Hannigan!”

I met the boys after school in the rain at the bus stop Tuesday afternoon. On our quick drive home, I reminded them about our Annie adventure for later that night. They got to talking about what to expect.

“It’s like a big puppet show, only with real people,” Jay told his younger brother. Almost, I told him. The difference is, these puppets have no strings.

“Some of the actors are kids your age,” I told Jay, 9. In fact, the girl who played Annie, Issie Swickle of Davie, Fla., is exactly his age. So is the extremely talented and charismatic girl who played Molly, Lilly Mae Stewart of Sarasota.

That got their attention. Kids their age on the big stage? Cool.

Jay later wondered what role he could play, seeing as how all the kids were girls. He figured he could play one of the boys Annie beats up in an alley the 1982 movie version, but alas — that scene isn’t in the stage production, one of several major differences you’ll notice if you’re familiar with the ’82 movie.

They finished their homework quickly and went to their rooms for a power nap in preparation for the big night out. We met their mom at the Straz Center and socialized with a few friends and fellow bloggers before the curtain rose.

The boys, despite their unfamiliarity with the venue and with theater culture, took to it like just about everything else we do as a family — ready to love it, trusting that we wouldn’t take them someplace boring.

Besides, after two viewings of the 1982 movie, they pretty much knew what to expect: Great song-and-dance numbers, kids their age on stage, and a cute dog named Sandy stealing scenes.

That’s exactly what they got. Despite the 7:30 p.m. start time (a half-hour before their week-day bedtime), they were engaged from start to finish. Jay bopped and sang along to the songs he knew, while Chris sat rapt on the edge of his seat, rarely looking away from the stage.

They didn’t flinch at occasional strong language from Oliver Warbucks’ (Gilgamesh Taggett), and they gyrated in place right along with Miss Hannigan (Lynn Andrews) during the fun and loose “Easy Street” and its second-act reprise.

They both smiled at everything Molly did, and at the (disappointingly few) scenes featuring Sandy the dog.

Their mutual favorite moment? I won’t spoil it, but it was related to Sandy and the Christmas morning scene at the end.

I loved watching my sons begin their relationship with musical theater. Beth and I spent a lot of the evening exchanging smiles while we watched Jay and Chris take it all in. It was one of those family memories that will stay with us always, and we can’t wait until the next show at the Straz!

Annie runs through Sunday at the Straz. Tonight (Wednesday, Feb. 18) is Broadway Family Night at the Straz, with kids 12-under admitted for 50 percent off with the purchase of a full-price adult ticket. Family fun activities are planned for before the show, and there will be a post-show talk-back with company members.

Also, before every performance this week, the Straz and Metropolitan Ministries will accept donations of primary school uniforms and other clothing. The clothes will go to kids in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties.

For more information about Annie, or to purchase tickets, go to www.strazcenter.org.

Through an affiliation with the Tampa Bay Bloggers, DadScribe was provided four tickets to the opening night performance of Annie at the Straz Center for review purposes. Opinions are those of the author.




Nerf Guns and Nonsense

My older son peered through the blinds into our back yard, but made no move to join his friends.

His homework was finished and he was free to play until supper time. Yet, the Monday afternoon soccer game went on without him.

“Aren’t you going outside?” I said.

He turned away from the sliding glass door and shook his head.

“No,” he said. “Not today. I just don’t want to.”

Strange. He loves to play outside. I knew why this time was different.

“Is it because of the Nerf gun thing?” I said.

He nodded.

“A little bit,” he said.

He turned back to the sliding glass door and peered out at his friends playing soccer in our back yard. He wanted to be out there playing, too. Instead, he watched from the cover of the blinds.


The Nerf gun thing. In our neighborhood, Nerf foam dart gun battles rage almost daily. There are Nerf assault rifles, Nerf sniper rifles, Nerf blasters, Nerf cross bows, Nerf cannons. The neighborhood lawns are littered with discharged and forgotten Nerf darts.

I don’t like Nerf foam dart guns. I don’t like guns, period. I don’t like watching kids pretend to shoot each other. I worry that they might become inured to violence, and I worry that a blue or orange Nerf dart might strike one of my kids or a neighbor kid in the eye and cause permanent damage.

Naturally, our kids have about a half-dozen Nerf guns.

We allow them to participate in these neighborhood foam dart battles, with the stipulation that they wear the protective goggles that came with one of their Nerf gun sets and that they don’t aim the Nerf guns at other kids’ heads.

The Nerf gun thing that kept my son inside peering through the blinds instead of running around outside on the brown winter grass had its origins in a bicycle race over the weekend. A race my son lost to two other kids, both of whom are older, bigger, stronger and faster than my third grader.

Before that bike race around the block, one of the older kids – a good kid, a kid we know – announced that the race loser would be subjected to an undefended barrage of Nerf darts shot at him point-blank by the other two race participants.

In essence: a Nerf gun firing squad.

Our son told us Sunday night about his scheduled next-day “punishment” for losing the bike race. His mom and I told him there would be no Nerf gun firing squad. He would have to tell the other kids it’s not going to happen.

We left it at that, but we both woke up thinking about it the next morning. My wife called me on her way to work and we talked about it.

Was this a case of bullying behavior? Was it just “kids being kids?” How can parents tell the difference? What should we do about it?

In the moment, shortly after he informed us about the kid-manufactured consequences of losing that bike race, we told our son to stand up to the other boys if they tried to get him to “take his punishment.”

But were we sure he knew how to do that?

My wife and I decided that it wasn’t a case of repetitive bullying behavior, based on what we know about the kids involved and our son’s relationship with them. These kids are a grade or two ahead of our son, but we know them. They’re generally nice kids, not mean-spirited, and our son enjoys their company.

Still, it’s not easy to say no to friends. We wanted to make sure our son was equipped with the words he needed to gracefully minimize a potential conflict and prevent a potential long-term rift with his buddies. She and I talked about it and, together, made a plan of action we could suggest to him if it came up.


Back at the blinds, our son was of two minds as he peered out: He longed to go out outside and play, but did not want to be shot at with Nerf dart guns.

I said, “You can go outside if you want to. Those guys might not even remember the bike race. But if they do, and they say something to you, do you know what to do?”

He nodded and said, “Yeah, come back inside.”

His expression told me he wouldn’t be happy with that outcome, so I was glad his mother and I had come up with a suggestion.

“Well, sure, you could do that,” I said. “Or you could look right at them and say, ‘That’s ridiculous. I’m not going to stand here and let you shoot me with Nerf guns. Let’s just play soccer.’”

Then I said, “Let me know if that doesn’t work.”

He thought about it for a few seconds, then reached for his fleece pullover.

“OK,” he said. “I’m going outside.”

I resisted the temptation to watch him through the blinds. I’m not against keeping a close eye on my kids, but this was one time I felt like he needed some space. I figured if he needed me, he’d come get me.

An hour later, he came in for supper. I asked him as casually as I could if the Nerf gun thing had come up. He said it had.

“Oh?” I said. “And what happened?”

“I told them it was just nonsense and to keep playing soccer,” he said.

I smiled and repeated, “Nonsense?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I forgot the other word you told me, but I like nonsense better, anyway.”

I told him I liked it better, too, and asked how his friends had taken it.

“We just started playing soccer again,” he said.

I told him I was proud of him.

I liked that he was not intimidated by his older friends into going along with a bad idea.

I liked that he found the fortitude to face his apprehension.

I liked that he accepted – and improved upon – the plan of action his mother and I devised to help him.

I loved that our son learned something about his own strength of will. And, even though he lost that bike race, he defeated his own uncertainty and managed a difficult situation with words and with grace.