Spring’s Heating Up So Cool Down With Zing Toys’ Wet Head!

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Not too long ago I had the pleasure of being invited to TTPM’s (Toys, Tots, Pets & More) 2016 Spring Showcase at which dozens of brands exhibited their favorite toys coming out this spring and summer. A bonus was that Sienna was allowed to come with me, so she was able to play with all of these cool toys while I watched her in action. I have to admit there were a lot of products I loved, but at the top of the list was a simple game called Wet Head. As I watched people try the game out, I wondered why it took so long for someone to produce it because it’s quite simply ingenious fun that landed on TTPM’s “Most Wanted Outdoor Toys” list. Here’s how it works:

You plug red plastic rods into the holes on a blue container that sits atop a yellow helmet. You then fill the container with water, strap the helmet to your head, hit a spinner and follow its rules. Now, why is this ingenious? Because after each turn you need to pass the helmet to another player and one of those rods you pull out will release the water getting you nice and wet! It’s Russian roulette with water!

So I watched people, both adults and children try the game at TTPM and you could see their faces scrunch up from the suspense – is this the rod? Oh no, the spinner says I have to pull out two rods! And I figured I’d like to test this out with Sienna and my family so I asked Zing if they could send me the game so I could try it out the next time Sienna and her cousins met up, and they were happy to do so.

We went outside and I explained the rules to the kids ranging in age from 4 to 12. Fill the container, flick the spinner, do what it says and pray and they positively LOVED it! Each time one of them would spin, the helmet wearer would close his/her eyes and bunch his/her face. As more rods disappeared, the tension would increase as would the giggling and cheers from those lucky ones not wearing the helmet.

Here’s a quick video. Just listen to the laughter and excitement!

Once the game ended, Sienna and her cousins couldn’t wait to refill and play again! They ran into the house, filled up the container and immediately started betting on who’d get wet!

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You can play with the spinner, ask each other trivia questions, or design your own wet head challenge game! You can even use different liquids (shh…kids…I didn’t say that…no! not the fruit punch!). The game’s designed for 2 or more players so it’s perfect for a family, group of friends or a party. There’s even a #wetheadchallenge where you can post videos and play against others online so long as you’re each wearing a helmet.

Sienna’s cousins loved it so much that I gave them the game since the 4 of them live close by while we live an hour and a half away, so I’ll to pick up another one just for us.
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And though I wish I could, I can’t finish this review without showing you a video of me picking the wrong rod:

Wet Head – brilliant in its simplicity and fun for the whole family! Run out and pick up yours today!

(Disclaimer – Thanks to Zing which sent me a free game to review for this post. My views and opinions are my own.)

Can Your Toddler Understand The Complexities Of Laughter?

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Last night Sienna and I watched an episode of “Team Umizoomi” before night-night. The episode dealt with how kids can receive an allowance for doing chores and save up money to buy something they want (though it went off the rails when the 3 Umi superheroes decided to go out, get jobs and make enough money to help this kid, David, buy a bike he desperately wants. I mean, isn’t that going against the episode’s initial lesson? David just sits back and collects his money while others do the work for him. But I digress).

Orange bills represented “Umi dollars” and Bot, a tiny robot hero, would collect the bills in his “robo money counter” which vacuumed up the currency and stacked it in a glass pitcher. By the time they were halfway through in their quest to collect 52 Umi bucks for lazy David, the pitcher looked like it held some orange liquid. This led to me pausing the TV as Sienna ran around the room all excited, spouting what’s going to happen once they fill the pitcher.

“Daddy! They have to keep doing the jobs because after they get all the money they can make money soup!!”

The girl was literally bouncing with this idea, eyes wide, hands flailing. It was as if she’d discovered how to turn lead into gold.

“Soup?” I said, “And then what are they going to do?”

She put on a killer smile, balled up her fists and jumped.

“They’ll add chocolate coins!!!”

And I belly-laughed because her idea was utterly brilliant and imaginative. I belly-laughed because my 4-year-old daughter made this shrewd, complex, whimsical connection between “money soup” and “chocolate coins.” I belly-laughed because it was so adorable, my 4-year-old girl wearing a pony tail and pink hair clips shaped like bows, big brown eyes as animated as I’d ever seen them, body taut as if it was a kernel ready to pop all over this idea only a toddler would form. And the next thing I knew Sienna had buried her head in a pillow on the couch, her body now slack.

“Sienna? Sienna? What’s wrong?”

She looked up from the pillow, a face drooping with devastation, her once glittering eyes now on the verge of tears.

“Sienna,” I said softly, “I wasn’t laughing at you. You said something so smart and perfect that it made me laugh. Come here.”

She crawled into my lap and I held her repeatedly trying to explain the difference between laughing at someone and laughing with someone, but it wasn’t working so I called to Elaine for help.

Elaine picked her up and Sienna pushed her head into the crux between her mommy’s neck and shoulder. As Mommy tried to explain that the chocolate coin connection was something so intelligent it was beyond her 4 years and led to my laughter – good laughter, fun laughter – Sienna would peek at me, her face drained of toddler joy.

My mind raced a bit. Anxiety. Sienna’s displaying anxiety. Is she getting it from me?

Despite each of us taking turns trying to explain the nuances of laughter, Sienna remained sad and eventually sat in Elaine’s lap on the couch. We put the TV back on and since it was near night-night, Elaine removed the pink bows from Sienna’s hair.

“Can I wear them tomorrow,” Sienna asked?

“Of course,” Elaine said.

“Will Miss Ilene laugh at me?”

This took both Elaine and I by surprise. Our eyes locked. We reassured her that of course Miss Ilene wouldn’t laugh at her; quite the opposite. I even imitated Miss Ilene, arms outstretched, greeting Sienna with an exuberant, “You look so BEAUTIFUL!!” Finally a smile and a giggle. Finally some pride.

Again my mind raced: Is someone bullying her at Pre-K? Laughing at her? Making fun of her?

I’d asked Miss Ilene about this during parent-teacher conference and she said that they’re extremely strict about such things, that there are consequences for such actions and that they teach that it’s not nice to laugh at anyone or make fun of others or hit or bully or do any such thing. My childhood eventually led to anxiety and depression.

I was an overly sensitive child (and I still am as an adult). I was bullied by my dad (he’s no longer like that) and my classmates. But I can’t remember saying something that made my parents laugh which led to devastation on my part.

Elaine too was an overly sensitive child and does recall experiences exactly like Sienna’s where she’d say something smart, the adults would laugh and she’d be crushed thinking that they were laughing at her. She says she learned the subtleties of laughter over time. Elaine also battles anxiety and depression, though she had much harsher life than me and bullying actually made her stronger.

My mind continued to race: The diseases of anxiety and depression run in families. Sienna is overly sensitive. Is she exhibiting early signs? Or is she just a sensitive kid unable to distinguish between different types of laughter?

All I can do is monitor her behavior, ask what’s going on at school; what’s going through her mind; how does she feel. Is she happy? I she sad? Angry? All I can do is watch and be ready to explain that laughter comes in many forms – some good, some bad – and reinforce that as her daddy, I would NEVER laugh at my one and only Sienna. Laugh with her, sure, but laugh at her, never. And hope that she’ll eventually understand before any damage occurs.

How do your children react to laughter? Are they able to distinguish different kinds? Do they get confused and sensitive? How do you teach your children about laughter and its complexities? I’d love to know because it might help me in my journey as a dad.

 

6 Ways This Dad Is Like A Toddler

I’m honored to help Life Of Dad’s new design launch by contributing my post detailing 6 ways I pretty much act like a toddler. I’m not proud of my behavior, and I have to admit that some of it is linked to depression, but I’m glad my wife pointed it out to me so I can work on acting like more of an adult when these situations arise. To read the post (and hopefully give you a few a laughs along the way), you can check it out in full here and while doing so, please check out Life of Dad‘s brand new design. It’s terrific!

5 Reasons This Depressive Has Never Attempted Suicide

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Depression is a lonely and often literal killer especially if you’re a man. According to the CDC suicide ranks as the 7th leading cause of death in men and men are more 4 times more likely than women to take their lives. As a 42-year-old man who’s lived with depression for most of my life, I can tell you that suicidal ideation is real and it’s terrifying. It’s like a voice calling to you from the darkness, telling you that all of the pain and turmoil tearing your head apart could poof, be gone within moments be it through pills, bullets, razor blades or any number of means. It’s called to so many depressives. Robin Williams answered the call as did Kurt Cobain, David Foster Wallace, Ernest Hemingway, Junior Seau and so many men who live outside the limelight. It calls to me frequently. It was strongest after my nervous breakdown in 2010, but to be honest, I hear it almost nightly like a wisp of wind, a soft breath of urging in my ear. I often lie in bed imagining a slow-motion bullet through my brain or a quick slice of the blade, but despite the calls, despite my disease, I’ve never attempted to kill myself. I’ve never come close. Here are 5 reasons why.

1) I’m terrified of death. The majority of people on this shared planet fear death and that includes people with mental illnesses such as depression. It’s only when the torment becomes unbearable that the depressive seeks what he/she thinks is the solace of death. But death is finality. Death is blackness beyond the darkest moments of my life. It’s unfamiliar. It’s the ultimate unknown and the unknown petrifies me like nothing else because I have this desperate need to understand. There’s no understanding death outside of a clinical or religious focus. I don’t believe in an afterlife. I’m about as agnostic as you can get without being an atheist, so I’m not afraid of going to Hell and getting tortured by literal demons for all eternity for how dare I commit the sin of suicide. But even when that irrational part of my brain is at its worst and the whisper’s become a scream, I can’t do it because I don’t understand the existential consequences. It’s too frightening.

2) I’m mortified by judgment. Considering I live every second of my life feeling judged by others (imagined or otherwise…ok, mostly imagined), fearing what people will think of me should I commit suicide sounds patently ridiculous. But it’s true. What would people think of me? Would they dismiss me as weak and pathetic? Would they come to my funeral? And WHO would come to my funeral? I go through my list of family and friends and consider who’d be there. Even at my imaginary funeral I focused on the negative – not who’d come to show their respects, but who wouldn’t. But it’s not just judgment regarding suicide that worries my brain. It’s people scrutinizing my accomplishments or lack thereof. Between 11 and 29, it was people seeing my gynecomastia (male breast enlargement) in the flesh. It was childhood bullies laughing. In high school it was gossip about the stack of Playboys under my bed (“The boy liked to look at naked women?? The boy was interested in sex?? How disgusting!” It was and is everything and anything, pure judgment despite logically knowing I wouldn’t even be there to hear such imagined barbs.

3) Guilt. Guilt is so powerful it should be labeled as a weapon of mass destruction. I feel guilty about everything – taking the last cookie; wanting time away from Sienna; having depression. I could never kill myself because the guilt feels all-consuming (and yes, again it’s nonsensical for if I offed myself my feelings would go to the grave with me). I’d feel guilty about letting everyone down. My parents. My grandparents. My sister and aunt and uncle and cousins. My best friends. My therapist. My psychiatrist. Fellow dad bloggers. Acquaintances that probably wouldn’t even notice I’d disappeared. My cats. I already consider myself a failure. I already feel like I’m letting people down because I’m not rich; I’m not powerful; I don’t own a huge, pristine house with a giant backyard and pool and indoor bowling alley. Committing suicide would only cement that.

4) A promise I made to ElaineI can’t remember when I made this actual vow or how I did it, but at one point…it might have been during the recovery time following my nervous breakdown…I promised the love of my life I’d never reach for the pills, bullets or blades and I fully intend to keep that promise. I could never hurt this exceptional woman, this beautiful person who loves me, warts, depression, anxiety and all. I would never let her discover my body floating in bloody water or on the receiving end of a horrible life-altering phone call. And when Sienna came along, I doubled down. I made the promise to my babbling baby daughter. Daddy will never leave you no matter how hard it gets. Often I hear the sweet breaths of sleep next to me and over the baby monitor as night turns to dawn as I lie in shaking in bed, dark thoughts whipping their way through my mind, imagining that slow-motion bullet through the head, but I never get up and grab the pill bottle. I can’t. I made a promise to never hurt my wife and daughter by taking my life and I will not break it.

5). A glimmer of hope. I don’t know why, but even during the harshest, blackest times there’s remained a scintilla of hope somewhere in my head or stomach or right big toe – hope that I’ll get better; that I’ll learn to live with my disease and find not necessarily happiness, but contentment; hope that I’ll stop comparing myself to others. It’s a different sort of hope than when you’re at raffle and they’re randomly choosing the winner of a 50″ flatscreen tv. I know that feeling. It’s a burning sensation in the pit of my belly, a combination of hope, negativity and jealousy. I’ve never felt this ghostlike glimmer of hope. I wish I could. I wish I could project this speck so that I can see it spread across the sky, so that it wraps me in its glow and my outlook turns from pessimism to optimism. But I can’t. So how do I know it’s there? I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that. Even when I felt my most “hopeless,” I knew, somewhere deep inside, that that smidgen of possibility existed. I know it’s there, but I’m not yet able to focus on it or use it as a tool, a building block. At the moment positivity eludes me. Each second brings me a new barrage of self-loathing and distrust through which I need to fight. It’s exhausting. And yet that glimmer helps keep me fighting through the seconds, minutes, hours, days. That speck helps keep me alive.

These reasons for not attempting suicide are mine and mine alone. Some are wonderful, some are ridiculous, but all have kept me on this earth. It’s also helped that I’ve spoken with other depressives, especially men, because I know I’m not alone. And I have a sense of awe for people who have tried to kill themselves only to find awaken in hospital beds, sutures on their wrists, bellies pumped. There’s no judgment because I know how hard it is. I know how strong you have to be to take that last step. Most people without mental illness consider it cowardice. I don’t. I know its reaching a limit of pain. I know the voices have turned to banshees. I would never commend or recommend suicide for anyone, but I understand because it calls to me too. Until you hear that sickening voice, you’ll judge. You’ll focus on the selfishness of it rather than the help that person needed, the turmoil in his/her head.

We lose too many men to suicide. It’s become an epidemic because truthfully there’s a stigma within a stigma. Men have to be stronger. Men can’t be vulnerable. Men must never cry, must never hug other men, must never show weakness. So men clam up when they need help the most and their minds beat them to death. We need to make it a priority to help men suffering from depression and other mental illnesses. We need to vigorously redefine masculinity so that men feel safe to open up. It’s part of my mission as a mental health advocate. It’s part of the reason I write this blog – to show other men, fathers or not, that they’re not alone. We’re not alone.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

88th Annual Oscars Fails To Go Beyond Black And White

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#OscarsArentJustBlackAndWhite

I know I’m a little late to the party as the Oscars were televised from La-La Land 4 days ago, but that’s because I’ve been digesting the show and how I’m going to go about writing this little op-ed of a blog. I’ve decided not to focus or really mention Chris Rock’s performance as host nor the jokes and bits that either soared or flopped. Instead I want to talk about what could have been and how the Academy body, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Oscar producers David Hill and Reginald Hudlin missed the mark.

“As The Great Actor Leslie Odom Jr. Sings And Dances In The Game Changing Broadway Musical HAMILTON, ‘I WANNA BE IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS! People, the truth is we ain’t in those rooms and until MINORITIES are, the Oscar nominees will remain lilly white” – Award-winning filmmaker and activist, Spike Lee

Spike Lee is someone who gets the problem. The severe lack of minorities in power roles in the Hollywood system is disgraceful, and I’ll say the same for women. But the key word that Lee used is “minorities” and minorities does not mean just black people. I’m not sure if Lee was using the word in a context that evokes just black people, but I’m going to expand it to include all minorities (including women because in Hollywood, women are a minority). That’s where the problem lies.

Where was the outrage when Benicio del Toro was “snubbed” for his haunting role in Sicario or for Oscar Isaac’s excellet performance in Ex Machina? Do Latin Americans not count if/when they get snubbed by the Academy? Where’s the outrage over the continued stereotypes of Middle Easterners as terrorists? Where’s the outrage over the utter lack of Asians in Hollywood? Of Indians? Of Native Americans? That’s what the Oscars should have recognized. Instead they made the show about the snubbing of black artists like Idris Elba and Michael B. Jordan who both gave Oscar-worthy performances in Beasts of No Nation and Creed, respectively.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs did the right thing in addressing the lack of diversity when it comes to Oscar nominations by inviting more minorities and women to become voting members and sweeping out older white men with little to no current connection to film – the kind of voters that wouldn’t see Straight Outta Compton (which I saw and liked but did not think was Oscar w0rthy – Inside Out, Sicario, Creed, Beasts of No Nation, Ex Machina and more were better films in my opinion ). But she failed to collaborate with the producers and Rock to create the correct narrative during the show, because what DID come out is that this is simply a black/white issue. It’s not.

Outside of a few recipients and presenters, most people at the 88th Academy Awards stuck to the black/white script which ironically was extremely exclusive, just what Al Sharpton and Jada Pinkett Smith were boycotting. Boone Isaacs, Hill, Hudlin and Rock had a chance to create a much more inclusive show, one that satirized Hollywood’s extreme lack of diversity when it comes to all minorities and women – the fact that you have to go back to 2006 to find an Asian nominated for an Academy Award (Rinko Kikuchi for Babel) and 1984 to find an Asian who won (Haing S. Ngor for The Killing Fields); and 2011 since a Latin American was nominated in an acting category (Bérénice Bejo for The Artist) and 2009 for a win (Penélope Cruz for Vicki Cristina Barcelona); and 1999 for a Native American nominee (Graham Greene for Dances With Wolves – a Native American has never won) is quite the story and bigger than the Idris Elba, Michael B. Jordan and Will Smith snubs this year. In fact, there have been more black nominees since 1990 (39) than there have been Asians and Latin and Native American nominees combined (11). That’s the narrative. It’s not just white vs. black; it’s white vs. all minorities.

And that is where the show failed. That is where Boone Isaacs, Hill, Hudlin and Rock failed. While trying to be inclusive, the show wound up being exclusive to all minorities outside of blacks. At one point Rock said, “And the should have been nominated, Michael B. Jordan” upon introducing Jordan. Why no “And the should have been nominated Benicio del Toro”? Why didn’t the show acknowledge the great work of The Revenant‘s Native American actors? When the cameras cut to those Native American performers sitting in the audience once Leo DiCaprio began speaking about climate change, they seemed like symbols instead of actors. Rock’s bits and jokes could have easily included ones about all minorities. During the bit in which black actors appeared in Best Picture nominees, how funny would it have been to see George Takei in The Martian or Sofia Vergara negotiating terms in Bridge of Spies? That’s what I mean by inclusive.

This year’s show left me with a bad taste in my mouth because it was such a missed opportunity. Let’s see what happens when the acting nominations come out for the 89th Academy Awards. Maybe by then we’ll have more talk of equal pay for women and black activists will protest the snubbing of all minorities. Perhaps the studios will hire more minorities and women thereby “getting them in the room” as Spike Lee said. And let’s hope we see more minorities and women in powerful roles because really, couldn’t most lead characters in any movie be filled by actors of any color without it affecting the script?

Now that sounds like a pretty good narrative.