The Good-Bad Dad, on his family's adventures. With 5 kids under 11 years old, there is never a dull moment - or a well rested dad! I am the ultimate GBD, and I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you on the mission to raise top-notch kids. I’ll be here for you in the tireless and thankless journey that we call fatherhood.
I’ve watched the death of the parent-volunteer as each sport season passes.
In fact, my own attentive-dad-volunteering vigor has begun to wither so early in this tee ball season.
But, it’s not only me – and not only with baseball.
Parents just aren’t volunteering anymore – and, because I’ve been suckered into picking up the slack, I’m finding out why.
First things first – I love to coach my kids. My dad coached me and I cherish those memories.
Nothing can substitute for watching my son or daughter score their first goal or running to give me a hug after throwing the winning touchdown pass.
I’m telling you, absolutely nothing makes me happier than sharing in these experiences.
Being a volunteer coach is dampening that nostalgia.
Volunteering is different now. I’m not simply showing up on time and keeping 5 year-olds focused on watching the baseballs and not the butterflies for forty-five minutes.
There is much more to it, like:
Loading games into an online tool
Sending daily emails as practice reminders
Making a snack list while keeping tabs on player allergies
My hypothesis is simple: it’s US! Parents are cannibalizing each other and ruining the joy of volunteering.
Example #1: Practice and Game Notices
My team’s first practice took place on a Thursday. My email to remind the team of the gathering was sent on Tuesday night – once my children were sleeping.
I received two responses to the initial note to the team:
(1) a concerned note about missing the first practice and
(2) an email saying that “given the short notice” her son would not be attending.
Although context is lost in email, I could detect the slight annoyance in each message as both went on to push for earlier notices for future practices and games.
I get it – everyone is busy, including our children. But, please excuse me for taking an evening to coordinate a team practice that might not work for your little one’s calendar.
And, just in case they can’t make it, understand that missing tee ball is not a big deal. These little ones are not under contract and will not be benched.
Example #2: The snack sheet
A quick parent meeting followed our first practice. The agenda was simple – I wanted to introduce myself, my philosophy and field any questions that parents had.
Concluding my short monologue, I asked the group, “Any questions?”
A cordial mother’s hand shot to the sky, “Coach, I assume we’re doing snacks after the game? I’ll take the first week.”
I wish I had the courage to say what I thought – something like, “Our team won’t be doing snack. Kids eat too many snacks. In fact, the game is two innings and about forty minutes long. Our kids probably won’t even sweat so we don’t need the Oreo’s and juice boxes afterward.”
Instead, though, I gave in. I didn’t have the energy to fight it. All parents nodded in agreement and my excel snack and allergy tracker was sent that very night.
I’ll begrudgingly bring orange slices and water during week #3.
Example #3: That’s not my bat (or helmet or ball)
Three of my five players carry legit baseball bags, own their own bat and have personalized helmets.
I won’t hate on anyone that buys their child professional gear. I will, though, scuff at parents condoning “that’s mine” behavior by their little ones when a teammate tries to use their swanky gear.
The behavior is pervasive and too frequent. It’s the tears shed because Timmy is wearing Tracy’s helmet at first. It’s Quincy refusing to swing Oscar’s bat.
I can accept a non-sharing 5 year-old, I have a harder time with the parents who make me feel like a jerk when I say, “Guys, we are a team and sharing everything is what we do.”
I do, though, love to coach.
No matter the anguish, no matter the thanklessness, no matter the forfeiting free Saturday mornings, I’ll show up to volunteer coach my team.
I’ll look forward to the high fives and hugs that my smiling little ballers will flash toward the bench.
Yes, I love it – but I adore it less with each volunteering night or weekend day.
The parent-volunteer can’t and shouldn’t be left to die. The postgame snack list, however, can.
To say the temperature was 0 degrees was, at best, an understatement and, at worst, an injustice.
The Chicago wind was howling, the holiday lights were rustling from the trees overhead. The light, pretty snowflakes fell unnoticed as I hurried my kids toward American Girl’s flagship store on Michigan Avenue.
We were freezing – and, shamefully, all ready to trade-in our impending American Girl “Personal Shopping” experience for the warmth of a hotel room and a cup of hot chocolate.
But, there was no cancelling this pilgrimage – my 8 year-old daughter, Viviana, had looked forward to visiting the Chicago A.G. store for some time. Vivi had even asked Santa for gift cards to spend while she visited (which, later, I realized that we forgot to bring with us to the store). Her enthusiasm, indeed, sliced through the cold, lakefront winds.
Tracy, our Personal Shopper (far right) and our children at AG’s Chicago flagship store.
Yes, visiting American Girl was her special “thing” on this trip to the city. And, although Vivi’s anticipation boiled over, the collective morale of the rest of my clan waned after the near mile walk from our hotel to the store’s spectacular entrance in Water Tower Place.
“We’re here!” Vivi triumphantly announced to us as we shed our gloves and stocking hats.
Everett, my 4 year-old son, didn’t hide his not-so-impressed first impression, “We walked in the freezing cold to see dolls? Seriously?”
I didn’t respond, I was on a simple mission – to decode American Girl for dads.
I needed to understand a fundamental question that I’ve asked myself each time I bought one of these $100+ plastic objects of school-girl adoration: What’s the big deal with American Girl dolls?
About the Dolls for Dads
To help us, we enlisted the help of Tracy, our own Personal Shopper and American Girl expert. She set me straight right away.
“Now, as we get started, I want you to know one thing – American Girl is founded, and is committed to, EDUCATION. These are not dolls, they are stories about time, history and, even if you don’t have a doll, you should know them.”
Over the next two hours, that thought bounced around in my mind as we toured the store’s 60,000 square feet.
American Girl is not just a bunch of nameless, easy-to-duplicate dolls lined up for our daughters to covet. The dolls are categorized and developed as a piece of a bigger, educational story.
All dads should take note of the following categories of American Girls:
Girl of the Year dolls
In most years, American Girl releases a new doll to much fanfare and notoriety.
2018 will be Luciana Vega’s year – a doll whose story encompasses the Space Race of the early 1960’s.
This category of doll is meant to look like the child buying them. Truly Me dolls are dressed and accessorized to look like your son or daughter.
Kids are able to pick a doll with the same hair color, eye color and pick an outfit in the doll’s and their own size to wear. Looking around the store, I got the feeling that most of the girls were selecting this option for a new doll – striding around with a doll in their arms that looked like their “mini me.”
Emersyn, our 2 year-old, feeding her loaner doll in the American Girl Cafe.
BeForever dolls tell a story of a time period and will be available endlessly in stores.
There was one BeForever doll’s story that grabbed my attention – the story of Kaya.
Tracy, our Personal Shopper, explained Kaya’s unique features best, “You see, each of these dolls represents a time period where something important happened that you need to know about. Everything about these dolls is precise, accurate and educational. For instance, Kaya is not showing her teeth – all of our other dolls do. Why? Native American woman did not show their teeth as part of their heritage.”
When we talked with Tracy about the BeForever collection, I noticed that my family (even my boys) became interested in the stories – the look of the dolls was secondary. My family found so many of the facts we learned to be captivating – cool tidbits that our trip to American Girl forever has left with us.
As we continued to walk the store, I began to realize everything the store had to offer – other than buying another doll for our kids.
Around the Store and the American Girl Cafe
To get through American Girl Chicago, I’d plan for a few hours. The store has a library with all of the published doll books and videos, a salon for hair re-setting, an ear piercing studio and restaurant (the American Girl Cafe).
The American Girl Cafe is a must-visit if you have the chance. And, if you do, here is a few quick tips:
(1) If your kid doesn’t have their doll – no problem. The cafe has loaner dolls and high chairs for all. I was surprised that all but my 12 year-old used the loaner service at our table.
(2) I’d suggest that you make a reservation to dine about half way through your expected time at the store. We found our way to the cafe an hour into our visit – just as the first “I’m tired/thirsty/hungry” complaints were beginning to sound from my littles.
I even caught my 12 year-old playing with his brother’s loaner doll as we waited for dinner.
(3) Pricing is a set fee per child eating. About $20 per kid provided a drink, entrée (typical Kid’s Menu selections), a doll hair tie and a keepsake American Girl doll-sized cup and saucer. The adult dinner menu was reasonably priced (between $10 and $25 per entrée) and diverse. My wife ordered the salmon and I elected a safe, Caesar salad – both delicious. For a family of 4, I would budget somewhere between $75 to $100 for dinner.
After wrapping up in the cafe and spending Vivi’s Christmas money, we were set to go – returning to the bitterly cold Chicago streets.
As we did so, I thought more about the question I set out to answer, “What is the big deal about American Girl dolls?”
I could finally answer.
For my family, American Girl is about fun – with a side of education and history.
For me, American Girl is about my daughter lighting up when she sees the new Girl of the Year. More importantly, American Girl to me is the pride I feel when Vivi was compelled to understand why a doll would be interested in space travel and engineering.
American Girl dolls are, indeed, a big deal to my daughter.
Until now, that idea gave me a lukewarm feeling.
Now, as my family froze on Michigan Avenue in early January, seeing Viviana carrying her doll kept me warm – certainly better than my dollar store-bought stretchy gloves did.
My Ragnar Team before starting our 24+ hour adventure. (December 2018)
The vibration from my watch alarm told me it was time to get up but the sound of the drenching rain on the roof of our tent had me burrow further into my warm sleeping bag.
The quiet voice of the sweet, exhausted team-mate startled me through the sound of the persistent thunderstorm.
“Toby, it’s your turn. Get up.”
It’s 4 a.m.
The temperature is near 50 degrees.
And, a team of 7 friends are relying on me to run for the next hour in the middle of nowhere in south-central Florida.
Yes, it’s my turn to run my next leg of our Ragnar Trail Race – there was no snooze bar to push.
For those of you unfamiliar, a Ragnar is a race where teams of people run approximately 16 miles over the course of 24 to 30 hours while setting up camp in-between. The race’s slogan explains the concept well, “Run. Camp. Sleep. Repeat.”
I agreed to run the Ragnar when a member of my wife’s team was forced to bow-out and my inner #Dadlete spirit felt up to the challenge.
My Russell Fusion Knit Fleece before my 4 am run. (December 2018)
But, that same #Dadlete spirit that propelled me to sign up a few months earlier wasn’t with me in the tent tonight.
My legs ached, my 40 year-old ankles creaked and my blurry eyes were confused at the intentional lack of sleep.
As I tried to garner the strength to rise, I first thought, “What am I doing?”
Next, though, I thought about my family. About my wife that was out on the course running. I pictured telling my kids that I did it the next day when arriving home.
My inner #Dadlete re-emerged.
I pulled on my Russell Fusion Knit Fleece as I quietly moved toward the tent’s zipper-clasp entry way.
In a suddenly upbeat whisper, I responded to my as-tired team-mate, “Thanks, man. I’m up, I’m up. Let’s go.”
After daylight broke the following morning, we finished the course with no regard for our time and less regard for the eight sets of knees, ankles and legs that ached from the near 24 hours of beating they just took.
We were done, we were Ragnarians and I couldn’t wait to tell my kids all about it at home.
In these moments where I feel most like, what Russell Athletic has coined, a #Dadlete.
I’m a husband and father first – which, at times, works in direct opposition to being any sort of athlete. That said, my kids benefit from seeing parents that try hard to stay fit.
Sure, workouts have to give way to a sick 2 year-old or, especially at this time of year, to school celebrations and concerts. But, the sight of kids seeing their parents as athletes – albeit defined very loosely – is powerful.
I saw this firsthand when my wife and I got back home – my kids were fired up about our experience.
My oldest, Yosef, asked, “Was the trail all muddy, Dad?”
My daughter rightfully guessed, “Dad, I bet Mom beat you in the race!”
And, my 4 year-old, Everett, gave me a welcoming hug and said, “Wait, you ran on dirt?”
Yes, my legs still hurt.
Yes, I struggled to lift my 2 year-old daughter up for a kiss.
No, I didn’t feel much like an athlete despite having run 16 miles.
But, to my kids, I was.
That, to me, is being a #Dadlete.
And, I’ll take it.
More About the Russell Fusion Knit Fleece
As a Midwesterner, I pridefully shun the idea of being cold in the Florida “winter.”
I’ll be the first to tell you, though, that when the Florida temperatures reach sub-60 degrees, some type of gear is necessary for a jog or to chase the kids around the backyard. Russell provided me with their new Fusion Knit Fleece and I came away very impressed.
First, the look is great – the hood, the lightweight yet warm fabric and chest zipper pocket didn’t make me feel like I was wearing a frumpy blanket during a jog. The fleece’s fabric was stretchy, light weight and didn’t hang off of my shoulders after working up a good, sweaty lather.
Next, the price was right and selection of colors was plentiful. The Russell Fusion Knit Fleece is available at Wal-Mart and sells for under $20.
The combination of value, quality and style made the Russell Knit Fleece my choice for unleashing my #Dadlete by running 16 miles in the Florida “cold.”
How are you a #Dadlete?
***This post was sponsored by Russell Athletic, the opinions and anecdotes are my own.***
Our pediatric dentist does something that I love after Halloween.
Every year her office provides a candy exit strategy for parents, like me, who are up to our eyeballs in the miniature candy bars our children have collected from our neighborhood.
In turn, the dental office pools and packages the goodies, sending them to those serving overseas. I think this is a brilliant idea – and, surprisingly, my kids have gotten into it as we prepare to drop off all but one Ziploc of candy to the office this afternoon.
Lynden, Everett and Vivi (L-R) sort their collective candy jackpot.
My five kids collected two heaping bowls full of candy and each will keep what amounts to a few handfuls.
I’m sure they’ll be packing their Sour Patch Kids into their lunches or eating them over the next several days – fine by me.
I had no objections from my five little ghouls – until yesterday when my daughter started to pack her candy up.
“Daddy? You know there is a witch that gives presents for your candy?” Vivi mentioned.
“Really? Who said?” I asked.
“My fiends leave their candy at their door and the next day they get stuff – like American Girl clothes. Just smaller stuff, but toys,” Vivi continued.
I knew where this was going – so, I went into defensive dad mode, replying, “I’ll have to ask your mom if she knows of such a witch because I’ve never heard of anything like that.”
As it turns out, I may have been late to the party on this one – the Switch Witch is real, and, I’m finding, prevalent.
The concept, as I see it, is simple: parents convince their kids that if they agree to give up their goodies, the Switch Witch will provide them a reward on November 1st. The outcome is simple – parents keep their kids away from the dreaded sugar and chocolate. The little ones, in turn, don’t complain because they get something in exchange.
Another great idea, right?
The only thing is – I HATE IT!
My daughter’s selected Halloween favorites.
Let me start by admitting that giving kids something in order to take away something else is an easy way out.
I do it all the time – yesterday my son came with me to get a haircut simply because they provide Dum-Dum suckers.
That said, I’m over the excessive gift-giving!
Do parents really need to create another reason to give more worthless trinkets to our kids?
If goal is controlling the candy intake, can’t we simply say “No” or “only 1 per day”?
Aren’t the real, gift-laden holidays right around the corner?
I’m seeing a trend that I’m trying to stave off – parents that are creatively finding ways to avoid simply saying “No”.
This trend perpetuates itself everywhere:
over-scheduled kids with activities every night (guilty)
exhausted parents whizzing through the drive-thru to squeeze in dinner (somewhat guilty)
$20 from the tooth fairy (no way – $2 to $4 from me)
rooms full of toys from Christmas you’d gladly pay someone else to take (YES!)
I’ll stop short of saying that ideas like the Switch Witch create entitlement – but, really, I find it hard to believe these type of exchanges do not contribute in some way to that mentality.
My kids have too many things and too little perspective – that is my fault.
That’s why I’m thankful that our dentist, in some small way, will provide my children with a bigger world view – albeit, for only a few moments and without stealing my Baby Ruth’s, of course.
“Daddy, did Mom tell you?” my 8 year-old daughter, Vivi, beamed – drawing my attention from the phone in my hand.
“No, honey, what’s up?” I was now fully attentive.
“My gymnastics coach said that I get to move up to the next level!”
My daughter’s joy was adorable – but unreturned.
I managed to smile, but stopped short of matching the cartwheels she began turning in the living room.
To call my reaction subdued is an understatement.
I know, I know – I shouldn’t feel this way so please, use the comment boxes below to brand me as a terrible, heartless, self-centered parent.
Before you do, though, let me explain.
First, 95% of my heart is doing a back-handspring in happiness for my daughter’s accomplishment. Of course, I want my kids to do what they love and do it well.
But, there is 5% of me that has been damaged – increasingly becoming immune to such immediate joy. That piece has been blackened by the ghosts of activities past and flattened by the thought that Vivi will likely never be Simone Biles.
I wonder if other parents have that same, 5% feeling?
I don’t think I’m alone, right?
After all, I feel at ease in this 5% if I acknowledge a few truths about our little savants excelling – at any activity from theater to dance to soccer to S.T.E.M.
Excelling is EXPENSIVE – and not only financially
The cost of children participating in “higher level” competition of any kind can be dizzying and, at times, exclusionary.
Sure, teams and schools offer grants and the ability to pay over time – but, let’s be real, activities are expensive no matter how you slice it.
In my case, much of my 5% feeling is driven by the additional financial obligations that are sure to come along with Vivi’s new-found love of the balance beam. In fact, after Vivi left the room, I swiftly looked at my wife and asked, “Did the coach tell you how much that advanced class is?”
Finding the dollars and cents to pay to play is one issue, but the time involved as kids become advanced in sports and activities is another cost – one that impacts everyone in the family.
One such non-financial cost for us recurs each day at around 5:30 pm.
You see, I love eating dinner with my wife and five kids – it’s one of our daily “things” that serve as a remedy for most frantic days. Those dinners, though, are different now – a rush to snarf down some wholesome foods before practice without time for the “how was your day” discussions we all used to have.
In fact, my oldest two have soccer at 6 pm and leave the table as the rest of us finish – they’re off to fill water bottles and find clean, intact socks.
My wife or I then leave the table next, dumping the dishes in the sink for later and grabbing the keys to the minivan. Those left behind finish up, clean up and, collectively, catch their breath.
Monday through Thursday, this is us. And, although, I’m not spending (or not spending) anymore (or less) cash on dinner, the cost of our hurried family meals is real.
Excelling requires that PARENTS excel too
I’ve never felt like I’m meeting all of my kids’ needs. Sure, I have a great family and kids, but it’s tough to do it all each day.
So, when the idea of adding more to our full family plate comes up, my inside’s cringe – causing the pace of that 5% part of my heart to quicken.
I try to fight it off – telling myself that we’ll find a way as we always do.
My aging, active children require me to step up and, often, I’m unsure if I’m capable.
So, you might ask, what do I do?
That day with Vivi and many other similar days with my soccer playing boys, I did the only thing I know how to:
I gave her a high-five, assured her that I’m so proud of her hard work and said that I can’t wait to see her try her best at the activity she loves.
I told Vivi that their mother and I will be in the front row cheering her on – win or lose.
I explained the commitment she is signing up for.
Yes, I’ll give her my all – even if that all is only 95% of me today.
I wasn’t sure how to start, so I gave it to my five kids straight. We were in the van after summer camp pick up when I broke some grim news.
“Guys, something sad happened today. Aunt Beverly died.”
My matter-of-fact, unemotional tone left the air of the minivan empty as they processed what I was telling them. We’d recently visited with Aunt Beverly so I could sense their confusion.
I sat quietly, waiting for someone to pipe up with questions from the back.
First, my kids wanted to understand how I felt.
Vivi, my 8 year-old, chimed in first, “Daddy, did you cry?”
I didn’t expect my kids to ask about my feelings – but each seemed riveted by how I reacted.
For my older children, I assume they wanted to understand “normal” responses to such dire news. I could see Yosef, my oldest at 11 years-old, trying to figure out if I was angry or freaking out or sad or distracted.
For my daughter and her younger siblings (all 8 years-old and younger), the news instantly made her worry about me. Her question attempted to confirm that I was okay and, by extension, we’d carry onward as before.
I told Vivi, “Yes, I cried. But I’m okay now.”
Next, my kids wanted to talk about my aunt.
Children are moment-to-moment, here-and-now creatures of impulse – spending little time in reflection. Parents of young kids (me) are as guilty of such an existence.
So, when Yosef asked, “Dad, did Aunt Beverly live a good life?”, I found it cathartic to share some of my favorite memories.
My kids were entertained by a few of my favorite tidbits:
As a kid, my brothers and I would run into Aunt Beverly’s front living room at the top of the hour to wait for the cuckoo bird to signal the hour. (Yes, she had a legit cuckoo bird clock!)
My Aunt Beverly made the best Kool-Aid – with TONS of real sugar! (She allowed us seconds without permission, too.)
I had to let my kids know that my aunt went to baseball games in 8 decades – including the afternoon we’d spent together at a ballgame just a week or so before her passing. (They asked if she loved soccer, too.)
It felt good to share these stories – not only as a way to tell my kids about my her life, but as a dad authentically sharing without trying to do so in order to make a point.
I explained to Yosef, “Yes, Aunt Beverly lived a great life.”
Third, my kids wanted to talk about heaven.
Everett, my 4 year-old, was the first to bring up heaven, asking, “Beverly went to heaven. Right, Dad?”
I find a kid’s perspective on conceptual topics like heaven to be so entirely pure – free of judgement, bias and any need for a conclusion.
So, I intentionally started our discussion by saying, “I think so. I bet her version of heaven is at a ballpark, watching a game with her husband. What do you think?”
If you want to hear imagination, ask your kids about heaven.
Everett (age 4): “I’d play baseball, too!”
Vivi (age 8): “In heaven, I’ll help people – and, do gymnastics all the time!”
Lynden (age 9): “Play soccer with Messi and Reynaldo – that’s what I’d do!”
Yosef (age 11): “I’m not sure. Wait, are you saying heaven isn’t the same for everyone?”
The three minutes we spent discussing heaven was nourishing, invigorating and, at times, simply hilarious.
I told my son, “Yes, Everett, Aunt Beverly is in her own version of heaven. No doubt!”
I wished the ride home was longer that afternoon. In fact, although the conversation with my kids faded as I shifted the minivan into park, those 10 minutes still ring in my head.
It was as if the passing of my aunt allowed each of us to process together – to talk to each other about a variety of topics with no judgement, without the bounds of facts, with no hidden agendas.
When I picked up my kids that day, I felt down – and dreaded talking to them about such a tough subject.
Reaching the driveway, though, I was energized and even refreshed.
The way I figure it, Aunt Beverly left my family with three gifts that day – a chance to quickly unwind, a quiet opportunity to reconnect and, of course, a compelling reason for a lively whiffle ball game in the front yard when we got home.
Any parent can understand the three biggest kid complaints on a road trip:
(1) “This is taking forever!”
(2) “Dad, he/she keeps touching me!”
(3) “Dad, turn it up – I can’t hear the radio (or movie).”
The first two complaints are stone-cold locks that have no solution – well, except flying to your destination or buying a bigger vehicle so that the complaining is muted.
Emersyn, 20 months, listening to music in her unicorn CozyPhones.
For #3, the simple solution for those of us with the option is to plug in headphones in an attempt to occupy our little ones.
Headphones seem like a win-win for both parent and child. The kids hear Shrek or Justin Bieber for the thousandth time and us parents blissfully enjoy the ability to cut out 30% of the normal car-time, backseat complaining.
For my family and, more specifically, my kids under 4 though, head phones are a conundrum.
Our youngest child, 20-month old Emersyn, simply won’t keep headphones on – EVER. She’s either (1) grabbing them to satisfy her curiosity about the unknown source of the noise she is hearing, or (2) ripping them off in disgust for the non-PJ Masks movie selection her siblings have chosen.
For Everett, our 4 year-old, his headphones slip off constantly. Even worse, he can’t seem to get them back on adequately – leaving us to plead for his older siblings to help frequently in the backseat.
My little ones needed no coaxing to give the CozyPhones a try – the green monster and purple unicorn styles made the beginning of our trip akin to dressing up for trick-or-treating.
Initially, I thought the CozyPhones looked like a winter ear cover and worried about them being too hot for a summer road trip – but my kids never complained. The comfort of the bands was never an issue for either child.
As an additional bonus, the embedded speakers are adjustable. Emersyn seemed to do better with the speakers near the back of her head while Everett preferred to have them nestled directly on top of his ears. Quick access to the speakers through an opening on the back of the CozyPhones made for easy, on-road adjustments.
Will they keep them on?
My 4 year-old had no issues keeping the CozyPhones on – in fact, he fell fast asleep in them.
Emersyn, my almost 2 year-old, did yank her CozyPhones off frequently. Every few minutes we’d re-position my daughter’s unicorn band without fear of breaking or damaging them.
The audio cord that dangles from the back of the CozyPhones was the only noted nuisance by my 4 year-old.
Everett, age 4, sleeping with his green monster CozyPhones.
Given my son’s cord-complaints, I did note the durable construction of the cord – not the typical lightweight, easily-destructible plastic I’m used to.
***Stop #11 on the #MiLBRoundTripper: the Chattanooga (TN) Lookouts***
AT&T Park would have been a perfect landing spot for Star Wars’ Millennium Falcon. The home stadium of the Chattanooga Lookouts is positioned about 50 steps above the nearest downtown street level – a road appropriately called Power Alley.
Fans would gladly climb those stairs tonight – the allure of Star Wars night at the ballpark provided an equitable trade for the unplanned leg workout to get to the ticket window.
The Lookouts’ initial Star Wars themed night was rained out – leading to a packed house on the night we visited.
This was our first Minor League Star Wars encounter and, regrettably, I was ill-prepared.
AT&T Park in Chattanooga, TN. – home of the Lookouts, Double A affiliate of the Twins.
The Minor Leagues celebrates Star Wars in many parks throughout the year and, I wish I would have known a couple of important features to maximize my family’s experience.
Tips for taking the kids to Star Wars night at a ballpark near you:
Fans can (and should) dress up as their favorite character. The Lookouts staff embraced the theme – Princess Leia tended to the kids area while Storm Troopers patrolled the concourse. My kids love to dress up – a make-shift Halloween at the ballpark would have been a lot of fun.
Be prepared to talk about the “new” Star Wars movies with your kids – it is likely the movies we 40-somethings grew up with are artifacts to our little ones. Certain, staple characters are open for discussion – Darth Vader, Chewy and Storm Troopers. Going any further outside the box will only lead them to call you “old” or “lame” or to, simply, ignore your “so yesterday” reference.
There is a charitable thread to these Star Wars nights at the stadium. Often, the home team, sports special jersey’s that are later auctioned off to benefit a local charity. I Chattanooga staffer (dressed as Yoda) shared that the jerseys garner “several thousand” to a local charity. I should have come ready to bid.
Take notice of the team’s mascots raising their game due to the one-night-only, Star Wars competition. On this night, Looie the Lookout took down several Star Wars intruders during a first baseline light-saber match. Looie wasn’t finished, even engaging Storm Troopers in an outfield chase. My 1 year-old has a love of mascots and her obsessive pointing told me that she was impressed with his ability to stand up to the Star Wars invasion.
Storm Trooper secured the concourse.
Despite being caught off guard by Star Wars night, we escaped the Chattanooga Lookouts’ visit uninjured, in a civil argument about the best Star Wars movie and smiling from ear-to-ear at my insistence that Luke is the toughest Skywalker.
Evidently, tonight, the force was with us.
A day with kids in Chattanooga, TN
During our day in Chattanooga, we visited two versions of the same city.
Ruby Falls, 145 feet below Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, TN.
First, our expedition led us to a mountainous retreat – close to the city but desolate enough for a getaway feel. Our retreat to nature took place about 10 minutes from downtown on Lookout Mountain.
Our Lookout Mountain adventure began at Ruby Falls – a majestic waterfall located 145 feet inside of the mountain. The round trip was nearly an hour and a half – the first 45 minutes spent walking through caves and seeing spectacular rock formations. At several points during the hike, the story of Leo Lambert, the local entrepreneur who discovered the falls, blared overhead.
The hike was about half a mile and slippery – but seeing Ruby Falls was worth every step! For 10 minutes, we watched the falls glisten in a show of bright, colored lights. The view was nothing short of spectacular.
My family’s second Lookout Mountain retreat was an Incline Train Ride to the top of the mountain – a 72% grade at the steepest point. I must admit, being pulled up a steep mountain was nerve-racking – I hate heights! The nail-biting ride to the top was rewarded by amazing panoramic views. If we missed any views on the way up, the way back down the mountain allowed us to take it all in again.
The base of the Incline Train that would take us a mile up on Lookout Mountain.
The second version of our trip to Chattanooga was to a thriving, vibrant, metropolitan-feeling downtown anchored by the Tennessee Aquarium.
My family spent the remainder of the afternoon in a five block radius on Broad Street – from Aquarium to 5th. And, trust me, a half day was not enough time to do everything downtown Chattanooga had to offer!
The Tennessee Aquarium is really a community center – a campus of activities at the end of Broad Street.
The outside grounds of the Tennessee Aquarium.
The aquarium is two, massive exhibition halls – one for salt water creatures, the other for fresh water. The grounds surrounding the buildings are as captivating and kid-friendly – equipped with several areas of wading streams for children, a green space fit for a great game of tag and interesting concrete features fit for climbing.
Our next stop in metropolitan Chattanooga was to the Creative Discovery Museum – a great stop for kids of any age. The museum held my kids’ attention for over two hours – a monumental feat for 5 kids from age 1 through 11.
The CDM offers water features, an area to uncover fossils, a work room with hand’s on building activities and, my personal favorite, a special exhibit featuring the work of author Eric Carle (of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” fame).
On the rooftop of the building are several more activities – a pulley system connected to a swing, bubbles and outdoor games like checkers and chess.
My kids operating the pulley swing on the rooftop of Creative Discovery Museum.
The last downtown stop of the day united both sides of this lovely, southern city – a Chattanooga Duck ride through downtown and on the Tennessee River.
The hour-long tour is a slow troll up and down the river with the vessel’s captain pointing out various points of interest along the way. In hindsight, doing the Duck ride earlier in our trip would have provided a better plan for our time spent downtown. When the trip started to drag a bit for the little ones (the Duck travels at 4 miles per hour on the water), they were thrilled with the chance to drive the amphibious vehicle themselves.
Our day in Chattanooga certainly felt like a day spent between two cities – one, a mountainous escape and the other, a bustling city full of family fun. This diversity will ensure that whichever version you prefer, Chattanooga is ONE destination worth a visit.
In fact, the New York Times named Chattanooga one of the “Top 45 Places to go” in the World. And it’s no wonder. Tucked between the mountains of Southeast Tennessee, along the beautiful Tennessee River, Chattanooga is one of America’s most breathtaking cities. There’s a world of outdoor adventure, amazing restaurants, live events, art and world-class attractions waiting for you here. So, go ahead. Plan your Chattanooga vacation today.
***Stop #9 on the #MiLBRoundTripper: the Quad Cities (IA/IL) River Bandits***
I knew when we pulled up that Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, IA was not a stadium for a baseball snob. You know, a baseball snob – the guy keeping book, talking about the lost art of the sacrifice bunt and complaining about the kids begging for balls between innings.
The view from the parking lot – ballgame or carnival?
In fact, if I didn’t know there was a Class-A, Midwest League game being played there tonight, I would have mistaken the ballpark for a carnival.
As we pulled into the parking lot to see the Quad Cities River Bandits play the Cedar Rapids Kernels, my kids’ eyes were as big as softballs.
“Oh my god! Do you see that ferris wheel?” Lynden, my 9 year-old, shouted.
“A roller coaster!” My daughter, Vivi, yelled back.
“Is this the game?” Yosef, my oldest, asked with confusion.
There was no doubt that the experience in Modern Woodmen Park was little about America’s pastime and everything about family fun for all ages.
Fun for the little ones at Modern Woodmen
Down the right field line are amusements for smaller kids – a swinging viking ship, a bouncy house, hover bumper boats and a mini-rocket that shoots kids about 20 feet up and down.
The Giant Wheel – $5 to ride with $2.50 going to charity.
The rides range between 2 and 3 tickets each. The tickets are purchased for $1 each with $.50 donated to a local charity.
In the same area, there is a free baseball-themed climbing playground that all of my kids spent at least an inning climbing on.
Fun for the older ones at Modern Woodmen
Behind the left field wall is the custom, giant wheel ride costing each rider 5 tickets ($1 per ticket with $.50 per ticket donated).
The wheel ride provides a spectacular view of the Mississippi River, the skyline and the ballgame.
In foul territory to the left are the other amusements fit for older kids – a small roller coaster, a twirling scrambler-type of ride and a vintage carousel (which opened this week). Each ride costs around 5 tickets.
Fun for the young at heart at Modern Woodmen
On the way out of the stadium, my kids found a FREE, hidden Modern Woodmen gem – an air-conditioned game room filled with any game system you can think of.
There was even an Atari and an original Nintendo!
My kids darted for the newer game systems while my wife headed for the Nintendo 64 to play NBA Jam. I choose Nintendo’s Galaga after an unsuccessful attempt at firing up the Atari.
As much as I loved the time spent in the free arcade, I will issue one complaint to River Bandit management – where is the RBI Baseball on the Nintendo?
My wife, Aimee, playing NBA Jam in the free arcade.
A day with kids in the Quad Cities
I grew up about 80 miles from the Quad Cities but have never spent any time there.
That is a shame – I never knew there was so much to do.
We stayed in the Radisson Quad Cities Plaza which provided close proximity to the River Bandits’ ballpark and several other local attractions. Within walking distance were Modern Woodmen Field, a casino, the Mississippi River, a bike/running trail, the Freight House Market and many several large green spaces fit for burning off some energy from the car ride in.
My family enjoyed an informal, kid-friendly dinner at the Front Street Brewery on the corner of River and Perry – right next to our hotel. The menu was more than “bar food”, the kids had plenty of choices and there were many gluten-free options for me. The beer list was endless and sampling was welcomed by Front Street’s friendly staff.
Before we left for the ballgame, we drove into Moline, Illinois (about 12 minutes) to see the John Deere Pavilion – a free, interactive exhibition of John Deere heavy machinery.
My kids in a combine at the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, IL.
In a matter of 20 minutes, each of my kids was in and out of a full-sized bulldozer, combine, tractor, timber-clearer (layman’s term) and a riding lawn mower.
The hall showcases innovations from Deere – both in the past with a movie that recounts the company’s beginnings, and in the future as new technology (like an autonomous tractor) are on display.
John Deere Pavilion, Moline, IL.
My family left the Quad Cities impressed with the river front, in awe of John Deere’s technology and, most importantly, able to name all of the Quad Cities – Bettendorf, Davenport, Moline and Rock Island.
About the Quad Cities:
The Quad Cities area consists of Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa, and Moline, East Moline and Rock Island in Illinois.
With a combined population of 400,000, the region brings you all the excitement of a big city with all the hospitality of a small town. Our award-winning museums and cultural centers, internationally-recognized festivals, beautiful riverfront, scrumptious dining and vibrant nightlife will ensure that you always have something to do when you come visit, whether it be with your family, business associates, or group tours.
***The next stop on the #MiLBRoundTripper: the Louisville (KY) Bats***
Disclaimer: The following is a sponsored post in collaboration with Russell Athletic. All opinions expressed are my own.
I know the symptoms of workout regret:
(1) The worry of rushing to pick up the kids from after-school care only to cart them to the local gym to enter another child care facility.
(2) Converting an hour workout into a 35 minute blitz because your internal clock is telling you the kids have to be starving.
(3) The embarrassment of sore muscles from a tough set of bicep curls getting in the way of participating in my 4 year-old’s front yard ballgame.
I’m a good parent, trying to stay fit, making the effort to reinforce a healthy lifestyle to my kids – but, I have workout regret.
The truth is, though, I need the workout time. Despite the below average 10-minute mile pace and my cushy-in-too-many-places mid-section, I consider myself an athlete – or, as Russell Athletic calls me, a #Dadlete.
With Russell’s help, I’m working to cure my workout regret – rediscovering that I need not trade physical fitness for quality dad time. In fact, my “me” time at the gym can act as a springboard for more enriching family time at home.
I’m set to make a couple of changes to embrace my inner #Dadlete:
(1) I’ll continue working out to garner energy – not to exhaust myself. My aim should be centered on leaving the gym with more energy than when I entered. (Note that even then, I’ll have 10% of the energy of my 20 month-old.)
(2) I’ll actually use playing with my children to get an additional calorie burn through games of their choice. We’ll get outside and sweat together – with no screens, no internet, and, absolutely, no phones.
(3) I’ll try to convince my kids that the almost-40-year-old goofball they call Dad is, indeed, an athlete. To reinforce this, maybe I’ll humble my kids during our driveway basketball contest, or take my 11 year-old deep in our next front yard wiffle ball game.
If I want to show my kids that I’m a #Dadlete, my workout gear needs to upgrade, too. I change too many heavy, wet diapers each day to feel that same sensation while changing clothes after an hour at the gym – Russell can help.