Dear Holly: Your “Ashes, Ashes”, Peppa the Pig Christmas

1 year, 8 months.

Dear Holly,

It is my job to remind you what Christmas 2017 was like, since you likely won’t remember. For one, you were quite proud of the Peppa the Pig sneakers Nonna got for you.

Since Christmas, you have insisted on wearing them inside our home; even for your naps in your crib. As I wrap you up in your blanket before I lay you down, I have to wrap the blanket around your shoes. But this is what you want.

You also took a liking to the nursery rhyme, Ring Around the Rosie. Much of your fascination for the song and dance is that now you are beginning to repeat certain words, you like to say, “ashes, ashes” while holding hands with anyone who will sing with you; as you know that is the key phrase that allows you to immediately stumble to the ground and laugh.

Therefore, you have a habit of inserting “ashes, ashes” pretty much right after the opening line, “Ring around the rosie…”

Since coming back from Nonna and Papa’s during those 5 days for Christmas break, I have helping you play with all your new toys.

It’s not uncommon for you to suddenly smile at me, stand up, reach out for my hands, and then wait for me, as if to say, “Daddy, aren’t you going to start singing the song?”

The moment I do, you’re ready for your favorite part… ashes, ashes.

I should point out that you’re not simply just falling down in a carefully calculated, casual way.

No, instead, you act like you just slipped on a sheet of ice and then tumble and roll on your side, and lay still for a moment; as if you’re waiting for someone to say, “Oh no, Holly fell down! Holly, are you okay?”

But there you are, smiling up at your audience, so far not realizing that no one else ever takes the fall in Ring Around the Rosie as seriously as you do.

Love,

Daddy

Love,

Daddy

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Dear Jack: You Were Completely Fascinated by Visiting Santa

7 years, 1 month.

Dear Jack,

I must say that after celebrating 7 Christmases with you, this has so far been the most exciting for me to see you anticipate. Yes, that’s right… I get excited to so you so excited!

The best way I could word it, is that this year, you took your visit with Santa so seriously, that you nearly treated it as a business transaction.

You knew you must depend on him seeing your wish list and that your presentation may have an affect you actually getting what you asked for. On your list, you specifically wrote on your paper:

Hatchimal

Halo sets

Pokemon

You were truly on your best behavior. I’d even go as far as to say you were the most polite, well-behaved child in that room.

And as your sister became frightened by Santa, as she doesn’t understand who he is, the way you do, you were there to help calm her down.

However, I’m sure Santa must have been a little confused as to how he’s supposed to bring you more Pokemon cards, when you already seem to have them all! Oh well, we will just have to let him sort that one out.

As we were leaving, I discreetly asked you, “Jack, was that the real Santa?”

You immediately replied, “Yes. You could tell because his beard was attached to his face and he had long hair.”

To you, there was no question about it. Not only was that the real Santa, but you definitely believe in him. Similarly, you still have just as much imagination and faith to hope that Pokemon characters are real, too.

So I know this is going to be one of your favorite Christmases. It’s so much fun when you have so much to believe in… and so many Pokemon cards to expect underneath the tree!

Love,

Daddy

 

Dear Holly: You Were a Bit Skeptical about Visiting Santa

1 year, 7 months.

Dear Holly,

Last Saturday afternoon our family went to go visit Santa. You were so excited as we got ready to leave the house. You didn’t get understand what was happening, you just knew it was going to be exciting.

When we first arrived, you and your brother wrote down your wish list to give to Santa. Mommy helped you out, as she and both know you really love dolls, owls, and books.

When Santa showed up, I may have suggested it was Papa, so that you weren’t afraid of such a colorful and boisterous stranger walking through the door.

However, when it was time for you sit in Santa’s lap and talk about what was on your wish list, you become aware that this indeed was not Papa!

You tried to escape, but I had to snap a few pictures first, so we could always remember this visit. When you brother walked up, you calmed down, but only from terrified to highly skeptical.

I must say, this all went much better than I anticipated for you. I completely understand your reluctance to just suddenly be cool with some larger-than-life character who isn’t part of your immediate family.

In fact, it’s a good thing you were so skeptical.

As you get older, you’ll find Santa to be a more intriguing and magical kind of guy. I’m sure in just a few years, you will be very eager to visit Santa and tell him all about what’s on your list.

If nothing else, you were there alongside your brother as he truly was fascinated by Santa. It was almost more like our family participating in this event for him, and the rest of us were just along for the adventure.

One day though, I’m sure you’ll be as excited as he was about visiting Santa.

Love,

Daddy

Stay-at-Home Dad 101: Why “Mr. Mom” and Even “Stay-at-Home Dad” are Not Be the Best Titles for What I Actually Do

A few years back, it started becoming more common knowledge that anyone who still used the phrase “Mr. Mom” to refer to a “stay-at-home dad” was revealing they themselves were out of touch with modern times.

I feel that I am the epitome of the modern American dad: I have always been extremely involved in not only my kids’ lives, but extremely active in domestic life. There is no irony in a dad doing the dishes, cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming the floors, getting the kids ready for school, and taking them to the park on the weekend while his wife is out buying groceries.

In fact, I would argue that a dad who is not that heavily involved in domestic duties would be a dad who doesn’t have a healthy marriage. Yes. That’s how important it is these days.

I have been saying for years now, that in our modern American culture, a man can not be a good husband unless he is a also good father. And by good husband, I mean he is extremely involved as a domestic helpmate, in addition to being faithful and loving to his wife. Good husband and good father in inseparable terms.

But in addition to “Mr. Mom” being an outdated and irrelevant term, I feel the same is happening with “stay-at-home dad” as well. Here’s why:

I am actually working to make money (with my side hustles) alongside also working to save money (by staying home with the kids).

All of my free time is spent generating income for my family.

I don’t binge-watch Netflix. I don’t take naps. I don’t scroll Facebook on my phone.

Instead, whenever I am not responsible for catering to the physical or emotional needs of another member of my family, I am either working as a freelance writer or producing YouTube videos.

(At this point in time, most people still don’t realize how much money YouTubers can make if they do it right… but I have figured out the formula, after years of practice.)

So in addition to it not being ironic to share the domestic duties, I am also spending any free time working from home. And this includes after everyone else has gone to sleep (including my wife) and in the middle of the night when I have to wake up to get our daughter back to sleep.

Does this make me special? I would think not.

I would have to imagine it is quite normal for the modern dad who stays at home with his kids to also have some kind of side hustle going on.

It’s all about having a hobby that makes my family money, not one that costs us money. I submit this is normal.

Since I make supplemental income from this blog and my YouTube channels, it’s this simple:

If I’m not working, I’m not making money.

It technically costs me money to not be working, as every new blog post and every new video I publish increases my SEO and subscribership, and therefore, my income.

Undeniably, it’s important to my identity that I’m providing income for my family in some way, in addition to taking care of the kids; while my wife, who has a master’s degree, is out making the big bucks.

So yeah, “stay-at-home dad” doesn’t quite cut it. Maybe it’s more like “stay-at-home dad who works from home”.

Stay-at-Home Dad 101: Time to Break Out the Black Chuck Taylors by Taking the Family to See Santa and Enjoy Dinner at Viking Pizza Co.

It’s crazy to think it’s been a whole year since I got my black Chuck Taylors for Christmas. Despite them only costing 40 bucks, I refrained from wearing them in 2017. I didn’t want to break them in and get them scuffed up, as if there were some epic event coming up in which I would need them in spotless condition; like my national TV debut or something…

Especially now that I’ve been at stay-at-home dad, for exactly 2 months as of today, it’s not like I really even get out of the house much anymore in situations where anyone would be need to be impressed by the sight of me.

But this past weekend, I decided to finally wear my unnecessarily sanctified Chuck Taylors that I got from my wife last year for Christmas.

It just so happens that Santa happened to be visiting this part of Tennessee, at a health store in Columbia, of all places. Sounds about right for a vegetarian/vegan family like mine to see Santa there, right?

Since the day was going so well and we were already having such great quality family time together, we decided to go out for dinner, at the same place we tried for the first time just the week before:

Viking Pizza Co. in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

We originally found the place when my son wanted to go on a “hike” on the giant hill next to the place. On our way back down the hill, he noticed a giant inflatable dragon through one of the windows. Being the biggest Pokemon fan I know, it’s the kind of thing that captured his attention.

When we got home, he immediately asked, “Mommy, can we go to the Viking pizza place with the big dragon?

That’s successful marketing right there: Place giant dragon on the restaurant floor. Have 7 year-old boy notice it. Have the boy’s whole family show up.

But once we arrived, my wife and I realized this was no gimmick. This was real pizza, cooked right there in the middle of the restaurant in a really expensive wood-fired oven.

And of course, because the folks at Viking Pizza Co. are paying attention to the fact that 6% of Americans are now vegan, I was easily able to order Daiya cheese on my veggie pizza. (They also have gluten-free crust, for those who prefer it.)

They were even courteous and proactive enough to bring over raw dough for my kids (and wife) to play with, which was a lifesaver, as it easily occupied my hungry son’s attention while our pizzas were carefully crafted; unlike a fast-food chain pizza joint.

The owners, Brandon and Kelly Jones, are so cool, down-to-earth, and proud that they have been able to bring a delicious, high quality, family friendly, restaurant experience in a town that is riddled with predictable and insulting-to-the-intelligence chain restaurants.

There’s a certain rewarding feeling you get when you take your family to a place like this. You know you are voting with your dollars what you want in your town. Just a few weeks ago, much of Spring Hill was emotionally affected by the iconic silo been torn down, so that a fried chicken chain-restaurant could go up.

So it’s yet another reason to want to support Viking Pizza Co. It’s like rebelling against the mainstream. There’s something quite viking about the concept…

Similarly, my wife and I are also huge fans of Legacy Coffee Company, which up until a few weeks ago, was a pick-up truck pulling a trailer. Now, they’ve set up shop inside of Viking Pizza Co.

We love supporting local! And it helps when local is awesome, like with Viking and Legacy.

So at last, I’ve broke in my black Chuck Taylors. I feel good about it. I just had to wait for the right deserving event.

Dear Jack: Carving the Halloween Jack-o’-lantern for the Thanksgiving/Hike at DeSoto Falls with Uncle Joe and Aunt Rebecca

7 years.

Dear Jack,

After having ventured to Gentry’s Farm to get our family’s pumpkin to carve for Halloween, we just didn’t get around to actually carving it in time. So we took it to Nonna and Papa’s nearly a month after Halloween… for the wrong holiday.

Papa then built a bonfire in the backyard to extend the feeling of pumpkin carving season.

Since your Uncle Joe and Aunt Rebecca were visiting from Pensacola, we also spent part of Thanksgiving break to introduce them to DeSoto Falls; not that far from where I grew up.

I’m fortunate to be from such a cool outdoorsy town (Fort Payne, Alabama), as it is not the average hometown to spend the holidays in. I was very proud to be able to entertain your aunt and uncle by showing them the giant waterfall up on the mountain.

It’s especially neat because we were able to get pretty close to the water, but kept from certain danger thanks to some guard rails.

While we were enjoying the views, we looked up and saw a few drones flying above us. I imagine it must be an awesome place to fly one around; as long as it doesn’t get caught in the rapids.

I have to assume in a just a few years, you’ll be asking for a drone for your birthday or Christmas, as compared to just Pokemon cards like you are currently obsessed with.

Turns out, your Uncle Joe and Aunt Rebecca enjoyed their Thanksgiving visit so much, they decided to drive back up from Florida again for Christmas- and this time they are bringing their teenage daughter who you enjoyed spending time with at Uncle Jake’s wedding in San Diego last year.

Whatever we all end up doing during our 5 days in Alabama for Christmas, I know we’re all going to have a great time!

Love,

Daddy

3 Non-Romantic Reasons I Love My Wife

On the surface, it’s easy to see why I chose to spend the rest of my life with the woman I married over 9 years ago. She’s universally beautiful, she’s unselfishly kind, and she’s humble yet confident in herself.

I am a lucky man. I have the ability of knowing in all confidence, I made the right decision.

Not only did I choose the right person to marry, but I made the right decision that fateful night of October 5, 2006, when I spotted her in a crowded room full of hundreds of people and decided to take a chance: I walked up to her and attempted to woo her with my interesting stories, my charming, yet off-beat personality, and my average looks.

It worked.

Now here we are in our mid-30s, having been married nearly a decade, and having produced two blue-eyed, Dutch-looking children despite our DNA.

So while I could easily write 841 words on the romantic aspects of how much I love my wife, I’m instead going to take a different direction. What about the non-romantic reasons I love her?

What about the reasons that would be symbolized not by a heart emoji, but instead, by a house or a stack of money, or by a clock or even a skull?

If for no other reason than to challenge myself as a writer, I now present to you 3 non-romantic reasons I love my wife.

  1. We make a good business team.

I feel like this isn’t emphasized when a couple becomes engaged, but marriage is a business, and it needs to be ran that way. The longer we are married, the better we become at running our family’s business.

During our first year of marriage, before kids, we were able to pay for my wife to go get her Master’s Degree, without going into further debt. That investment paid off, as my wife has since then, consistently made considerably more money than I have all these years. My wife also handles our family’s weekly budget.

On my end, I have been faithfully building my experience as a writer (thanks to this blog) since 2009, and as a YouTuber for the past 3 years. Now at present day, we are seeing the possibility that my “side hustles” (as a blogger, ghostwriter, SEO expert, social media influencer, and YouTuber) are starting to pay off. I actually speculate that by January 2019, our monthly mortgage payment will be covered from my YouTube earnings alone.

My wife is the detailed accountant and investor. I am the creative entrepreneur. Together, we run a family business.

            2. We make a good parenting team.

In the same way we are counterparts as co-business owners, we function the same way as parents. My wife is the nurturer, the schedule keeper, the travel planner, the head chef, and the laundry engineer.

Meanwhile, I am the disciplinarian, the head of communication, the chauffeur, the before-and-after school program director, and the “wake up at any hour of the night to get our daughter back to sleep” technician.

We are not great at doing each other’s roles. Instead, we embrace our individual parenting strengths as part of our own identities. We’ve got a good system. And we’ve got good kids.

Whereas I see marriage as a business, I see parenting as a talent management agency. We have two young recruits who we are responsible for molding into respectable and independent adults, preparing them for the real world.

        3. I want to be around her even during the predictable, seemingly uneventful, non-                          Facebook-status-worthy moments of life.

For me, it all comes back to the famous line in our wedding vows: for better or for worse.

Yeah, I’m totally cool with slowly aging alongside my wife for the next 40 years as we live happily ever after, until ultimately one of us finally dies first, leaving the other person with the insurance money- and unimaginable sadness.

But what about the in-between of better or worse? Not everyday can be a Michael Bublé song. Many days are more like Huey Lewis, when he sang, “Yes, it’s true, I’m so happy to be stuck with you.”

I love my wife for the moments in our life together that are just normal and forgettable; the B-roll footage that no one would care about watching if our lives were a reality TV show on TLC, called Our Crazy Vegetarian Life. Being grateful for your spouse through all the filler moments, which honestly, make up most of our time on this planet, is what real love is all about.

So maybe I’ve failed to hold true to the title of this article. Maybe there really is something romantic about building a life together, running it like a business, creating and raising mini-me’s, and choosing to love a person until the day you die, even if most of those days don’t have fireworks and champagne.

Maybe there’s something undeniably romantic about the unromantic parts of loving the person you married.

If so, consider me a hopeless romantic.

Photo credit: Mohamad Alaw.

About the Author:

I am an accidental stay-at-home vegan daddy blogger based in Spring Hill, Tennessee. I have no spare time, but by default, my hobbies include playing guitar, singing, songwriting, mountain biking, skateboarding, running, and going on road trips across America with my family in vehicles that Toyota and Lexus provide for free because it’s smart advertising for them.

Additionally, I enjoy making videos for both of my YouTube channels: Nick Shell, which is a mentorship program for younger men who are psychologically dealing with going bald, and Family Friendly Daddy Blog, which celebrates and explores ethnic diversity based on DNA test results.