My daughter’s first phone – and first contract

After being a parent for over ten years, a moment I had feared had finally arrived: the day my oldest daughter got her first phone. I was hoping to have held off until middle school – but with all of the activities Clara has on her plate: being at the dance studio for 4 classes over 2 nights (with homework breaks between her classes), volleyball practice at different locations, juggling two different homes – the need for accessible communication has become too much.

I picked up her new phone today, and now Clara is going to party like it’s 2004:

Based on what I’ve read and heard, I was hoping to avoid giving my kids a cellular-service smartphone for as long as possible. Both of my daughters have iPads on Wifi, along with hand-me-down smartphones that rarely leave the house. By getting her a flip phone, I’m hoping to enable enough of our communication needs and delay having a smart phone for a few more years.

Nonetheless, the potential consequences of having a call phone isn’t lost on me, so I worked with Clara’s mom to come up with contract that sets our expectations with tween cell phone use. I wanted to offer it here for my other fellow parents that may have a similar predicament, and would love to hear about your experience in this matter.

Balderrama Cell Phone Contract

Having a cell phone is a major responsibility. The reason you have it is so that you can contact your parents and family when you need to check in, arrange rides, change plans, feel unsafe, or need help. You can also use this phone to keep in touch with friends in a responsible way.
By using this cell phone you agree to the following terms:

  1. Understanding this phone is a tool and not a toy. When the phone is used as a toy, it could result in additional charges on the bill, damage to the phone, or accidentally calling police, firefighters, and paramedics.

? Phone as a tool:

  • Making phone calls to family and friends
  • Texting family and friends
  • Calling 911 if you need help

? Phone as a toy:

  • Bringing it on rough activities (jumping on the trampoline)
  • Randomly pressing buttons
  • Opening and closing it unnecessarily
  • Using it in “pretend” play
  1. The phone will remain off and in your backpack during school hours unless and until a teacher gives you permission to turn it on to contact your family. To prevent theft, we recommend not bringing your phone to school.
  2. The phone will be charged outside of your bedroom during bedtime hours.
  3. While your parents respect your privacy, they reserve the right to immediately inspect your phone, call logs, and text messages upon request.
  4. Scammers will often text you pretending that they know you or are texting the wrong number. You will not call or text people you do not know, and inform your parents if you receive any text messages from phone numbers you do not recognize and delete the message. Do not click any links in text messages.
  5. The camera should only be used to take appropriate pictures. Please keep in mind that once a picture leaves your phone, you have no control over where it goes or how people may use it. You shall not take pictures of anyone without their permission.
  6. Your sister is permitted to borrow the phone, but only to call family and immediately return it upon completion. If you lend the phone to any friends, keep in mind that you are still responsible for what they do with your phone.

Failure to follow these terms will result in phone usage being restricted or the phone being taken away. Signed:

We’ll see how this goes. We gave her the phone tonight and while there was some initial excitement, I think my daughter realizes its limitations (being a feature, not a bug).

Father’s Day Reflections

Happy Father’s Day, to all of my fellow dads! Today I’m reflecting on my 10th time being honored on this day and my second as a single dad after an unexpected divorce.

In the last 18 months of being a single dad, I’ve had to grapple with the fact that I’m now prevented from keeping my original promise when they were born: I would always be there for them. I’ve had to adjust that promise from always being physically present to being emotionally and spiritually present in their lives. Often I feel guilty about the situation they’re in, and the ways they’ve been asked to adjust, in some ways, grow up more quickly than I would have hoped. I never asked to be a co-parent, and they never asked to split time between homes, yet here we all are.

Shannon and I were talking about Father’s Day and how ironic that many celebrate Mother’s and Father’s Days by the spouse giving the honoree the day off, away from parental duties. However, now being a single father, the parental duties are what made it an incredible Father’s Day. While it was still jarring to wake up without my daughters, with no Father’s Day snuggles, having them over in the morning and cooking breakfast together was a blessing. It touched my heart to get handwritten cards from them with beautiful messages. I loved playing Just Dance with them and having them make fun of my dancing abilities. I loved helping Clara make the Banana Ice Cream she had been wanting to make for weeks, then making them lunch. In the morning that we spent together, I had no downtime – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As a single parent, I’ve really come to appreciate the love conveyed through the mundane tasks of each day, and how everyday activities become opportunities for learning and expressing love. I’ve learned that my love language is doing nice things for others, and I relish every opportunity to express it for my daughters.

It wasn’t easy when 12:30 rolled around and I realized that my allotted “Father’s Day” time was over, and now they return to the normal co-parenting schedule: my weekend without them. These long stretches, when I’m without my kids, try my soul. I’ve managed to fill the void with a lot of healthy outlets, relationships, and activities, but it still feels like a big part of my heart is missing until my girls are back home.

It goes without saying that I realize I’ll always be their Father, and my girls know that I’m only a video call away – but there is no replacing the joy I experience when I get to share the same space with them. I’m grateful that I got to spend Father’s Day parenting my daughters and relish every chance I get.

Donald Trump beside man in black suit

Explaining Donald Trump To My Kids

We’re in the waning hours of the Trump Presidency, closing a tumultuous chapter of our country’s history. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that there’s no shortage of my opinions of Donald Trump. His (lack of) leadership and virtue has driven me out of the Republican party, rendering the conservative movement into a caricature of moral hypocrisy.

During the Trump era, I refrained from blogging much about him – partly because my blogging output isn’t what it used to be – but also in large part that I used Twitter as a release value for my political frustrations. I also felt that national politics weren’t as pertinent to our everyday lives, and would much rather debate local issues and policies that affect my community.

Donald Trump beside man in black suit
Photo by History in HD on Unsplash

In our immediate family, we largely avoided political conversations. My daughters were 3 & 1 when Trump’s term began and throughout his Presidency we were careful to shield them from political discourse. We didn’t see any need to expose our kids to that level of tribalism and negativity. Rather than have to explain Trump’s immoral, incompetent, and unethical behavior, we just didn’t discuss him with our kids. It worked pretty well over the years, up until last fall.

Windsor is a largely conservative town, and with the election in full swing last fall, Clara started to notice all of the Trump flags and yard signs on our way to school. Combined with the second-grade social studies curriculum, she became aware that the election was coming and started to ask questions on the way to school.

“Dad, are you going to vote for Donald Trump?”

Oh crap. “No, I won’t be sweetie.”

“It seems like a lot of people are going to be voting for Donald Trump.”

“Yes, it looks like it.”

“Why won’t you vote for him?”

“Well, sweetie, Donald Trump is a bully. He does do a lot of things that people like, but he also likes to say mean things about people he doesn’t like, and treats those that don’t agree with him very poorly.”

“Do you like Joe Biden?”

“Yes. I might not agree with everything Joe Biden thinks, but I don’t think that he thinks people who don’t agree with him are bad. Sometimes people just have different ideas about what’s the best way to do things, and it’s okay to disagree.”

Since the election we’ve seen Trump’s darkest tendencies play out, perpetuating the lie that the election was stolen from him, culminating in the tragic events at the US Capitol. This has led to more conversations with my kids about the importance of accepting the truth and being gracious in the loss. I’m counting my blessings that I was able to still filter this conversation for my kids, and hope that they didn’t pick up on my own fear about this dangerous rhetoric.

I’m not naive enough to expect our politicians to be saints. I realize that every President says things that enrage and galvanize their political opponents, but the toxicity that has seeped into our political system is not sustainable. Trump’s unique superpower is his lack of shame. The ambition of most people is kept in check by their fear of being shamed for their behavior, but this never impacted Trump. Whether that makes him a unique figure or a harbinger of darker times in our nation, remains to be seen. For the sake of my children, I hope that it’s not the latter.

brown wooden table and chairs

(Not Quite) Back To School

Here we are at the end of the summer. Along with other parents, I’ve been holding my breath as to whether we’re doing in-person schooling in the fall in the midst of COVID-19. After reflecting on last school year, it’s become more apparent that the distance learning didn’t work at all in our house – not for lack of effort by the school, our great teachers, or by the parents – we all gave it our best, but it just didn’t work for our first grader.

Now we’re T-minus 10 days from an already-delayed start of the school year. While our district has maintained that they will be doing in-person learning for elementary students, they’ve already walked secondary schools back to a hybrid model (rotating cohorts of 2 days per week). This week we’ve seen neighboring districts announce the suspension of in-person learning until October, with the announcements leaving a lot of ambiguity about the date.

During that time I’ve seen a lot of people take to social media (especially Facebook) to publicly express their concerns and fears about whether to return to schools, on both sides. While I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject, discussing it with my wife (who has been in logistical discussions all summer about how to safely open and operate a high school during COVID), I’ve purposefully avoided discussing this on social media. Facebook more and more just seems more toxic.

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Kids Building Forts

Parenting in COVID-19

As we’ve finished the fourth week of the “Stay At Home” order, with schools and businesses closed, I wanted to reflect on the experience in parenting under COVID-19. I’m putting this here not because what we’re doing particularly stands out from anyone else’s experience, but that I can capture some of the fresh memories before they start to fade.

Home and Routines

In the last four weeks, we have not all driven to any places. In adhering to the “Stay Home” order, Bethany and I have tried not to venture out more than once per week, and only to go to the store to get groceries, cosmetics, and household goods. After filling up the gas tank a month ago, we’ve not even a quarter-tank into it. The girls have been in the car with me to do food pickups (as the schools are offering snacks and some meals for kids), but aside from that have not left the house.

With spending so much time at home, we’re lucky to be in the midst of spring and that we’re able to spend more time outdoors. The girls are at an age where they can play in the backyards by themselves and take advantage of that. We do venture out to the front yard at least once a day, where they ride bikes and roller-blade in the cul-du-sec. When things calm down at work, Bethany and I take turns being out there with our laptops so that we can try to both supervise and still get some work done.

The first week while home full-time, we tried to establish a more rigorous schedule, but had the luxury of Bethany on spring break and able to be present to the kids each day. As Bethany returned to work the following week, we had to let go over the rigors of the schedule and allow it to flow into a routine. That’s changed again now that Clara has started school again.

Our typical day starts with breakfast, now followed by school/remote learning, then they spend the morning either playing inside, watching a show, or playing outside in the backyard. During lunchtime, we may be able to sneak out front and get some more play, followed by afternoon “quiet time”, which consists of spending 1-2 hours in our rooms with our tablets. At that point, one of us can take a break from work and be a little more active in their play before we start making dinner.

Education and Enrichment

Clara Remote Learning

As for school, we’ve familiarized ourselves and expectations with remote learning. With an elementary-aged child, I would argue that they’ve had the most severe disruption in their education, as they probably benefit the most from in-person instruction and interaction with their peers. Our school district has taken an approach that I most appreciate: we’re going to give you some guidance and structure for each day and week, allow for some check-in and interaction with the teacher and class, but for the most part you’re on your own. Grade-wise, the school work is considered optional, leaving it up to each family to do what they can.

I think there’s a tacet concession that we’re trying to avoid educational regression. We’re lucky that Clara was a little ahead in her subjects, but I really do feel for the kids who needed more intervention, especially as their parents probably may not have the luxury of time to provide that extra support. It does make me wonder whether there’s going to be a lasting impact, or if this too will just a blip in their educational career.

We’ve also become accustomed to virtual extra-curricular activities, such as dance class. Again, we’re at a difficult age because our kids are aware enough to realize the change, but are not old enough to appreciate or understand why we’re in this situation. The result is that getting them to start the activity can be like pulling teeth, but once they start they feel a sense of normalcy and even enjoy the experience.

Explaining the Virus

With our kids being 6 and 4, we’ve been very cognizant about how we explain the situation and the information being exposed to them. Rather than watching the news, we end up reading it through websites and hearing it on podcasts, so I think the girls are insulated from overhearing about it too much. I’m sure that they’ve probably heard the terms “corona-virus” and “COVID-19” without knowing what they mean. That said, they obviously are aware that things have drastically changed, with all of us being home.

Rather than talk about COVID-19, many of our conversations have been couched with the “germs” term: We’re staying home because there are some germs out there that can make people really sick, especially if they’re older or are dealing with something else. They’re asking us to stay home so we don’t spread more germs out there. To the extent, I think especially Clara knows at a high level, why her life has been so disrupted, that things are generally closed and that we’re staying home, but hopefully hasn’t heard about all of the hospitalization and death that has been surrounding this pandemic. That said, we’ve been really intentional about not raising their anxiety level.

Maintaining Sanity

The biggest challenge has definitely been trying to find a balance between our responsibilities as parents, the reality of both of us now working from home full time, coupled with the fact that our kids are also home all day. As a working parent, I have valued being able to segment my time, pouring into work while the kids are at school and daycare, then working to be more present to my kids when they’re home. However having the kids home has blurred these lines, requiring context-switching in a matter of minutes, challenging our ability to be effective at anything. Ultimately it has come down to stringing together good days, and accepting that rough days happen and that tomorrow is an opportunity to start fresh. Our biggest blessing is that the weather has been mostly nice and the girls have been able to be outside, you can definitely feel the tension when the weather is cold and we start to get cabin fever.

In the end, it’s still important to put all of this into context: we’re currently healthy, in a safe home, all together. We’ve learned to live through some of the chaos and understand that a home that has everyone present 24×7 is not going to look immaculate, we try to reset at the end of the day and start over again.