No Regrets Parenting Blog

What Are Your Kids Really Thinking?

Before they utter their first words, infants and toddlers are storing up lots to say. Our youngest surprised us with what he was really thinking on those long car rides…

My post this month for Parents Magazine

Parents mag.thinking

Spring Break at the Dump Site

March is spring break month, so I thought it timely to share my kids’ favorite spring break activity: watching Daddy empty the RV septic tank. First, a brief history. I did not grow up in a camping family. My Eastern European father and first generation American mother were grateful they put a roof over our heads; why would anyone intentionally sleep outside? In contrast, my wife Sara’s family went tent camping throughout her childhood. They still regale us with the story of the night it rained so hard that Sara’s dad had to run to the car naked because that’s how he slept and the tent had collapsed in the deluge. And other stories that have a similarly emasculating effect on me.

Marriage is all about compromise. How do a backwoods mom from America and a backwards dad from the shtetl compromise on outdoor adventure with their kids? Easy. RV camping has something for everyone. Hiking, campfires, s’mores, indoor plumbing, a galley kitchen, and beds (of sorts).

Our kids were 6, 4, and 2 on our first RV trip. At our sixth or seventh stop for gas on day two (an RV gets about 4 miles/gallon on the open highway) we pulled into a Sinclair station that had a life size (really!) green Plaster of Paris Brontosaurus in the parking lot. This would be a momentous stop even aside from the dinosaur – it would also be our first family “dump.” RVs have septic tanks that sit under the belly of the cabin, an indicator gauge in the cabin providing real time updates as the tanks fill with waste, and outlet valves protruding from beneath the camper. The RV rental company provides ample instruction on emptying the tanks, which some novices apparently think is particularly challenging. Ha!

What can be a little tricky is finding a dump station when the gauge says you need one, so stumbling on a spot with a Jurassic photo op and a dump station was pretty cool camping karma. Our younger kids got out of the RV to stand on the feet of the dinosaur with Sara, but I held our 6 year-old back with me to teach him about dumping the septic tanks. Parents should take every opportunity for a teaching moment. I put on double gloves and removed the waste hose from the storage bin. Making sure the valves to the tanks were shut tight, I opened the caps on the tank outlets. Wow, that was a rich smell! I attached the hose to the first tank outlet, the one for “non-sink” waste. The idea is you attach one end of the hose to the tank outlet, and put the other end into a dump hole that leads to a deep underground cavern, or some such thing. The dump hole was covered by an iron lid with a foot pedal. “Son, why don’t you step on the pedal and hold the lid open while Dad puts the hose in the hole and opens the valves,” I said in my best lumberjack voice. My young assistant, now gasping for air with his face buried in his shirt, stomped on the pedal which immediately snapped from the lid and clanged to the ground, the lid still closed. My son shrieked, terror in his eyes. “I broke it, I broke it,” he sobbed and ran for the RV, convinced the next step was a Wyoming jail.

“This was not your fault, sweetie. The lid was rusted and would have broken no matter who stepped on it. You just happened to be at the wrong dump hole at the wrong time.” With which he took no comfort whatsoever. “Let’s go, let’s just go, drive away, pleaaaassse!” Now, what kind of lesson would it teach our kids if we just drove away? No, we’re not going to drive away. We’re going to go inside the gas station and tell the nice man what happened, and that it couldn’t have been our fault because how could a 6 year-old possibly break an iron lid if it wasn’t already rusted through? “No, no, pleaaaassse, Dad, don’t make me go inside! You go tell him, pleaaaassse!”

Sometimes a parent has to be the bad guy when there are lessons to be learned. So, my mortified son and I picked up the rusty pedal, with double gloves, confessed our crime and explained the circumstances. The nice man couldn’t have been nicer. Don’t worry about it, kid, we’ll just get a new lid. Shoulda done it months ago when it started to crack. Go ahead and use the dump hole since you’re all hooked up already.

“You see, son, that’s how you handle an accident or mistake. Confront it honestly and things will work out,” I said wisely. We put all the kids back in the RV, and I went to finish the job. Our son, greatly relieved that he wasn’t going to be arrested, stood with our other two at the window to watch the official first family dump, with Sara filming for posterity. I confidently propped up the lid with my foot, slipped the end of the hose into the hole, and opened the valve to empty the waste tank.

In retrospect, I think I must not have tightened the hose onto the outlet valve. It was, after all, my first dump. The giant sucking sound we and everyone in the next county then heard was the hose being viciously yanked from the open valve outlet and inhaled whole by the dump hole. That huge underground pit exerted quite a vacuum effect! As the hose disappeared into the dump hole, the open valve began spewing two days worth of “non-sink” waste. With the kids laughing uncontrollably from the window of the RV, Sara ran out to help me, still filming. I intercepted her and nudged her back into the RV, nervously glancing over my shoulder to see if the nice man was watching. I slammed the cabin door shut, jumped into the driver’s seat and tore out of the gas station like Vin Diesel in Fast Five. The RV dropped untold gallons of solid waste and toilet paper, all bright blue from the disinfectant pumped into the tank with each flush, across the entire Sinclair parking lot, at the feet of the Brontosaurus, all along the highway access road, and ultimately onto I-25 North.

I don’t know how many miles we drove before the tank was finally empty and the blue goo stopped leaking. I do know that our kids didn’t stop laughing for 3 days. My son was too kind to say anything about confronting our accidents and mistakes honestly.

We took more than two dozen RV trips after that, until the kids were too big to sleep in the crunched beds anymore. Never again did our waste hose get sucked into the hole. But on every spring break trip, at every dump stop for the next 12 years, the kids were hoping.

- Originally publishedrv dump site RV-Dump


The Cure for All Bedtime Parenting Hassles

It’s finally warming up outside (unless you live in the half of the country where it’s still frigid!) which means it’s once again time for Pajama Walks. Pajama Walks, in case you haven’t memorized “No Regrets Parenting,” are the miracle cure to all bedtime parenting hassles.  Here’s my latest post for Parents Magazine:


The generation gap being as wide as it is, young adults are more likely to turn to their peers than to their parents for comfort during difficult times. It can seem presumptuous and patronizing for a parent to tell his adult kids he knows what they are truly feeling at any particular moment. But I did just that on Super Bowl Sunday, and for once it seemed to help.

The sports gene in our family is very strong. I grew up a rabid Denver Broncos fan. We lived walking distance to Mile High Stadium (at the time called “Bears Stadium” for our minor league Denver Bears baseball team – for which I was also rabid). As kids we went to every Broncos home game and sat on a grassy knoll outside the stadium from which only the southwestern-most corner of the field could be seen with binoculars.

I suffered through the Broncos most humiliating years, 14 of them from the birth of the team until it achieved its first winning season. Understandably, I was beyond euphoric when, in 1977, Denver and its potent Orange Crush Defense advanced through the playoffs to its first Super Bowl.

At the time I was a 3rd year medical student living in New York City, the only Denverite in my Cornell Medical School class. Seeing me so obviously obsessed with the extraordinary season my Broncos had that year, my classmates planned a surprise Super Bowl party for me. When Don and Karen invited me to their apartment to watch the game, I naively accepted because they had a bigger TV than I or any of the rest of my friends. But I wasn’t prepared for the sea of orange that greeted me when I arrived. Orange clothes, wigs, and face paint. Pom-poms, homemade banners, orange cupcakes and cookies, and, of course, six-packs of Orange Crush soda. Suddenly the game was about more than me, my Broncos, and my private angst about the outcome – I was now on display as the face of Denver for all of my friends. The Broncos needed my undivided attention, and I desperately wanted to be alone to focus on the game, undistracted by the outside world who didn’t understand the historical pain of being a Broncos fan. But there would be no alone time.

The headlines leading up to Super Bowl XII were all about Broncos quarterback Craig Morton. He had previously been the star QB for the Dallas Cowboys, but despite a successful career was traded when Dallas management deemed a younger QB to be the future of the franchise. The years that followed for Morton were filled with frustrations and injuries, but in this magical season with the Broncos, Morton earned the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. The Super Bowl was hailed as the biggest game of his career, a chance to establish his legacy as a great QB.

It was clear from early in that 1977 game that Denver was overmatched. They played sloppily, giving up 7 turnovers in the first half. Trailing 13-0 at halftime, they went on to lose Super Bowl XII, 27-10. Morton was ineffective, throwing two interceptions that lead to scores for the opponents in the first quarter.

The humiliation of the Broncos on the field was nothing compared with my personal mortification in Don and Karen’s apartment that evening. I tried to be social, but the last thing I needed was to be surrounded by well-meaning friends in party mode hoping to cheer me up. I (and the Broncos) had come so close to redemption after all those years in the toilet. Now, I just needed a place to hide with no one looking at me, a place to suffer in silence as I had done for so many previous Broncos seasons.

Fast forward 36 years to Super Bowl XLVIII. As impossible as it seems to me, our kids are even bigger Denver sports fanatics than I was as a kid. So when our son and daughter-in-law told us they were hosting a Super Bowl party in their NYC apartment, we declared it a family reunion, traveling from Denver and summoning our other kids to do the same from their current college and graduate school locales.

The headlines were, again, of a comeback QB getting a second chance after being traded to make room for the young star who management said would be the future of the franchise. Staring down hardship and injury, Peyton Manning had a magical season with the Broncos. Now, his legacy on the line, Manning became only the 3rd QB in history to lead two different teams to a Super Bowl. Craig Morton was the first.

As kickoff time approached, a couple dozen of our kids’ friends gathered in a sea of orange, but the anxious looks on our kids’ faces told me they were already having second thoughts about the whole party idea. Surrounded by non-Denverites who couldn’t feel the historical pain of being a Broncos fan, our kids tried to be social, but everyone in the room now became a distraction. Twelve seconds (and one terrible snap) into the game, I again recognized the looks on our kids’ faces. By half time, due to sloppy play and turnovers, the Broncos were down 22-0 and went on to lose 43-8. Manning was ineffective, throwing two interceptions in the first half including one returned for a touchdown.

At the end of the game, despite the 36 years that had passed, I knew well the now ashen looks on our kids’ faces. The last thing they needed was a roomful of friends in party mode offering solace. Our kids just wanted to hide, to find a place where they could suffer in silence. I took them aside and told them I knew precisely how they felt. Precisely. This time I think they believed me, finding comfort in our shared intergenerational agony.

This is NOT Just Another 3-Day Weekend!


Think carefully before you answer. If you’re planning on dropping your kids at friends or with a babysitter so you can squeeze in a round of golf with friends or a day at the mall, read my latest post for Parents Magazine (spoiler alert: there are only about 100 3 day weekends between the time your child is born and when she leaves for college):


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