In the summer of 2013, Apartment Therapy reached out to conduct this interview with me about my site, indie kid’s music and parenting.
Out With The Kids has become a go-to source for the latest and best in kids’ music and so much more. We love Jeff’s fresh and thoughtful take on parenthood, childhood, and play. Happy Father’s Day, dear Jeff, and welcome to our Big Blog Family.
Tell us a little about your blog and your favorites topics. My favorite topic to reflect upon and to write about is childhood. I try to extend it for my girls, to permit them to remain goofy innocent kids. At 9 and 6, that is what they should be, not mini-adults singing about boyfriends/girlfriends, wearing short shorts with ‘sweet’ written on the back, or role playing high school through TV shows or toys. Children get only one shot at childhood; it is my job to preserve it for them while also never shielding them from the world around them. And yes, that’s an incredibly difficult maneuver requiring much conversation. I am not sure I’m doing it correctly all the time, but I try really damn hard and that counts for a lot.
When did you start blogging and why? I began blogging in 2006 when my oldest daughter was two, to share with the world how my wife and I “parent differently.” That sounds even more pompous now, hah, but the ethos of what I meant back then remains. We do intentionally skirt the edge of mainstream life, in the music we listen to, (small) businesses we support, and discussions we have with our kids. My main goal of parenting, and much of the narrative thread that runs through my writing, has evolved into a simple idea: to allow my kids to be kids for as long as possible. This would seem to run counter to the way of the world at large, unfortunately.
Tell us about your involvement with HuffPo and the Good Men Project. I’m particularly interested in your writings on failure and perfection. I’ve long been a fan of the idea behind The Good Men Project as an avenue for male writers to share their stories, be vulnerable, and have honest discussion about what it means to be a man/father/husband/son in the 21st century. They asked to start republishing some of my parenting-centric articles that had appeared on OWTK over the years and I was honored to share intimate pieces of myself with their growing audience. HuffPo entered the picture almost immediately after GMP ran my Don’t Save For College article in February. They ran it too and it attracted a fair share of eyeballs and comments. I was then made a HuffPost blogger officially. Since, I have been cherry picking some of my writing on topics like failure and perfection to share with their massive readership. I am a big believer in striving for perfection while knowing it is an impossible quest and also for looking at stumbles in a constructive way after the bruises are tended to and tears wiped away. This is true for me as an adult as well as for how I parent my two daughters. I make it a point to allow them opportunities to fall flat on their face in the ways young people can, innocently and with good intentions. Then we talk about what happened and how to try again differently to increase the chances of success. One of the worst things we can do as parents is to never let our kids fall down, literally and figuratively. We learn most from struggle and without that, there can be no meaningful progress (to further paraphrase my favorite quote, from Frederick Douglass.)
Let’s do a parent’s take on the desert island disc: if you were trapped in a car with your children and only one CD for a cross-country road trip, what would it be? The Okee Dokee Brothers Can You Canoe? That album stands as the finest ever made for families (it won the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Children Album.) We four have such a deep, personal connection with the songs and sentiments on that CD that it still isn’t old after year+ and hundreds of spins. I’m pretty sure it could carry us across America!
Is there a song that you’ll be really bummed if your kids don’t end up loving? Wow, just one? The Band’s “It Makes No Difference” is my fave tune ever, I think, and a song that my kids have not developed a personal connection with, understandably.
Clearly you are an avid music listener. Are you also a musician? What about the rest of your family? Can’t play a single instrument! I’ve tried but don’t have the knack for it, as my 5th-grade trumpet instructor can verify, as can the listeners of Siruius XM Kids Place live where I was asked by the kindie band Recess Monkey to play triangle and sing on a couple of songs during their live on-air concert from the D.C. XM studio last summer. I felt like a boss on the triangle but sang like Kermit! Music changed the trajectory of my life as a 17-year old and I owe a great debt to it, in general. As such, I’ve had several pots on the musical stove, if you will, during my life. From running a small record label to booking concerts to now writing about music, it is something that will continue to play a major role in my life and I will always look to find new ways to be involved as a non-musician.
What was your favorite childhood toy? I was a big baseball card collector as a child, and a fan of He-Man. I had Castle Grayskull and all the figures. I think the toy that I remember the most though is a huge r/c Voltron figure that had to be 4 ft tall but seemed 100 ft high to me back in the early 80s.
Is there a product that you recommend to other dads? I once tried to write about a collection of new parent essentials but it never went anywhere. I think I most frequently recommend the CD by Bill Harley called The Town Around The Bend. I love good storytelling and for families, there isn’t anyone better than Harley (a 2-time Grammy winner.) The album is full of wondrously bizarre and funny tales meant to calm at the end of the day. My oldest has been listening to it every single night at bedtime for over 5 years now…and my youngest has a copy in her room too. As a dad, I appreciate a good snuggle and there have been countless times over the past 9 years where we’ve fallen asleep together listening to Town Around The Bend.
What websites or blogs do you visit regularly? For someone online ALL DAY, I frequent very few blogs. I obsess over my fantasy baseball team on Yahoo, and check out what parenting hot topics my pals at 8Bit Dad are discussing or what albums my buddy Stefan at Zooglobble is digging. But generally, I launch to blogs and articles from the Dad Blogger group on Facebook. I almost always start there; those 300+ dudes are source of knowledge and inspiration, and often jokes that aren’t suitable…for anyone really.
What’s your favorite way to spend time with your kids? I’m a snuggle monster. I would take snuggling up on the couch under a blanket early on a fall weekend morning and watching some European football match together, or at naptime with a pile of books. Nothing beats those moments. Part of why I left my corporate job 5 years ago was to collect more of those scenes in my memory.