If you’re looking for affordable family fun, look no further than Philadelphia. Our family got to spend four days with our up-the-coast neighbor; however, the first two were just me and my 6-year-old — a challenge I wasn’t sure I was prepared for. Under normal circumstances, my adventurously independent son is a handful. Now we were sans one dad, adding a train ride, a hotel stay, and a bunch of activities in a city I knew next to nothing about. Papa and I had spent an anniversary weekend years ago, focusing mainly on art museums and antiques. I knew my kiddo was having none of that, so we were in uncharted territory.
It’s also important to note that Jon was not as over the previous week’s stomach bug as I thought.
Known as the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia has plenty of affection for families and kids, too. We made it through the trip with lots of flying colors, great memories, and even learned a few things. And yes, there were lots and lots of trips to the bathroom.
Here are our five Philadelphia favorites — along with a score for the restrooms at each location, based on their ability to accommodate weary, middle-aged dads and a kindergartner whose bowels were constantly at DEFCON #2.
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5. THE FRANKLIN INSTITUTE
The initial draw of The Franklin Institute was the Art of the Brick exhibit — which did not disappoint. Yet on further exploration, the entire museum was amaze-balls, as the kids say. From the giant interactive heart, to the train factory, a planetarium, and pretty much any invention or sciencey thing you can think up — it had it all.
S’mores are just about the most perfect snack. First, there’s the simplicity of them: chocolate + marshmallows + graham crackers; heat, eat, repeat.
They’re also super easy to customize, personalize, and accessorize. Maybe you like yours with peanut butter, or Nutella instead of chocolate; or maybe once in college you experimented with s’mores made from Pop Tarts and have always fantasized about trying that again.
And finally, s’mores are always in season: they taste just as gooey and delicious whether you’re huddled around a campfire telling ghost stories or huddled on the couch binge-watching The Walking Dead.
Speaking of zombies…
A while back I made some spooky monster s’mores for my son’s class Halloween party. They were such fun to make (and a big hit with the kids), that I thought I’d revisit this snack-craft and see what other monstrosity I could come up with. Then it hit me — ZOMBIE S’MORES. What could be more fitting than a gooey, melty, drippy snack made to look like a gooey, melty, drippy reanimated corpse?!
Movie: Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG, 95 minutes)
Moviegoers: Daddy (46), Papa (48), Jon (6)
Individual Reviews: Daddy ★★★★, Papa ★★★1/2, Jon ★★★★★
Family Favorites: Star Wars (episodes IV-VII), Big Hero 6, Ghostbusters
Daddy & Papa’s Favorites: The Matrix, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Plot Snapshot: Po is living large as the hero of his village, content to “fight monsters and get high-fives from bunnies.” Two challenges soon arise to rock Po’s world: the supernatural villain Kai, who is stealing the chi of China’s kung fu masters; and the appearance of Li Shan, his long-lost biological father.
Po and Li Shan travel to a hidden village where Po meets scores of other pandas, reconnecting with his inner dumpling-eating, hill-rolling, oversleeping self. But Kai is on the hunt for our hero, so Po must train his new panda posse into fierce warriors in order to battle the otherworldly foe.
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[The remainder of this review contains plot spoilers.]
As an adoptive parent, I’ve always been interested in how movies like the Kung Fu Panda series handle the topic of adoption. I was particularly curious about Kung Fu Panda 3, as it introduces Po’s birthfather into the story. This is something more and more adoptive families can relate to, as open adoption is increasingly the norm.
I went into the film with some concerns about how they would treat the dynamic between Mr. Ping (the goose who raised Po) and his biological father. I was half-expecting a bait-and-switch, perhaps revealing Li Shan was not in fact Po’s father; or maybe Po having to choose between one family or the other.
Yet the moviemakers did a good job of resolving the family-related conflicts — which were almost entirely between the two parents, not Po.
Adoptive dad Mr. Ping seemed to struggle more with this new family dynamic — his protectiveness, mistrust, and competitiveness on full display. While I appreciated the honesty with which they portrayed these understandable (and familiar) emotions, I was glad they didn’t roost there, which might have caused some adopted kids or their parents to feel uncomfortable. However, I thought that within the confines of a 90-minute kids’ movie, they evolved the characters quite nicely.
Designer Daddy participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for Hasbro. I received product samples to facilitate my review and a promotional item to thank me for my participation.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — one of best parts of being a dad is sharing the things I loved as a kid with my son. And with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens looming on the horizon, we’ve had a blast experiencing anything and everything Star Wars-related.
And as if the awesome toys Hasbro sent us recently weren’t enough, they’ve hooked us up again — this time with a box of booty to have our very own Star Wars Family Game Night!
I loved playing board games with my family growing up. We had pretty much every word/trivia/brain-teaser game there was; and I’m sure this contributed significantly to my love of writing. Not to mention my competitive streak.
Game night was always fraught with fun and emotion, and everyone had their role to play. Mom, The Peacekeeper: making sure older brothers were more lenient with the younger; Dad, The Jokester: somehow managing to work a really bad pun into every answer he gave; Littlest Brother, The Ticking Time Bomb: always trying to keep up, rarely able to keep his cool. And then there was me, The Mastermind — masquerading as the mild-mannered big brother, but constantly plotting how to crush my younger siblings when they least expected it. (Cue maniacal laughter)
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As Jon is just 6, we’re still finding our roles when it comes to game night. But we did have a great time playing LOOPIN’ CHEWIE (his favorite of the bunch) with him and a friend. I’ll just post this photo as a review — you can’t fabricate a smile like this:
It’s the Monday night after our first vacation of any length in years, and the re-entry has been a trying one. My day was spent burrowing diligently and deep into the pile of work, emails, and kindergarten-related prep I put off while we were away. While the air is similarly sweltering, it’s minus the lovely Cape Cod views and sand between my toes. All that remains is a sunburn I keep absentmindedly scratching (and then regretting), remnants of sand in everything except my toes, and lots of memories.
Papa, Jon and I attended our first Family Week, an annual gathering of LGBTQ parents and their families in Provincetown, Massachusetts. It’s impossible to encapsulate everything from our week on the Cape (that’s what Instagram and Facebook are for), so I’ll just share the few images that make me smile, think, or feel the most.
The anxiety I feel over my son’s adventurous spirit is matched only by my admiration of it. Stifled at times within the context of school and home, it stretched its wings and flew, ran, splashed and jumped every chance it got.
As summer winds down, families everywhere are taking one last vacation before the rigors of the school year take back the reins. And nothing epitomizes the family vacation more than a road trip. Parents, kids, and other assorted passengers piled into the family car; crisscrossing the country in search of excitement, enjoying the togetherness, pausing for the random road side oddity. It’s an adventure like no other.
For the nights you’re not on the road (but still hoping to cram in as much family fun as possible), nothing beats family movie night! Whether you’re snuggled up on the sofa or camped out in the backyard, these films capture all the adventure, fun, and occasional misfortune of the family road trip.
So grab the popcorn — and your map, compass, flashlight or fairy dust — and settle in for a rip-roaring, vicarious vacation.
Did everyone use the bathroom? We’ve got a long trip ahead of us…
Let me drop some Jedi Master-level parenting knowledge on you: Just because you grow up an epic Star Wars fan, then became a dad and go into hyperdrive raising your child in the ways of The Force, things might not turn out exactly as you’d imagined. With the passing of time and the expansion of Mr. Lucas’ universe, stark differences have emerged between generations of Star Wars enthusiasts…
- When I was a kid, Darth Vader scared the bejeezus out of me — as was intended. Upon his first viewing of Episode IV, my then 4-year-old son squealed with glee at Vader’s debut.
- When I was a kid, we called it STAR WARS, not A New Hope. Not Episode IV.
- When I was a kid, you could easily find t-shirts with Luke, Han or the droids on them. Nowadays, the majority of Star Wars clothing for kids is adorned by the Dark Side — Vader, Boba Fett, Stormtroopers, etc.
- When I was a kid, we collected action figures. Today? After six films and multiple animated series, there are hordes of figures in every size, not to mention headphones, watches, bike helmets, lingerie, pet costumes, snowboards, wedding rings, toilet seat covers, bathrobes, chopsticks, sleeping bags, and oh yeah, LEGO. SO. MANY. LEGO.
- When I was a kid, there was no Jar Jar Binks.
Despite all these differences, there are two things that bind my son and I together like The Force: We both love a good light saber battle, and we both love to eat popcorn when we’re watching the Star Wars films. So when I signed on to help promote the #PopWars Video Contest for Pop Secret’s Pre-popped Popcorn, I knew my video had to include copious amounts of popcorn AND an epic light saber battle.
As part of what is often labeled a “non-traditional family,” (or NTF*) I strive to fill our son’s life with people, experiences, and stories that reinforce that there’s a place in the world for everyone, regardless of their age, gender, skin color, or how their family is made — including an adopted boy with two gay dads.
While our family may be atypical in it’s makeup, we are extremely typical (boringly so) in that we have the same worries as so many other parents.
“How will our son do well in school?” “Will he ever eat his vegetables?” “Who will his friends be?”
Yet add to that list “Will he be treated differently for having two dads and being adopted?” and we’re back in non-traditional territory. And as any NTF parent can attest, finding books, toys, TV shows, and movies that represent your family can be challenging.
One great resource I’ve found is something we already had — our Netflix subscription. As a long-time Netflixer (?), I consider myself an expert at finding the perfect show to appease or distract my energetic 5-year-old – or even provide some occasional downtime for his two dads.
Below is a list of nine great Netflix titles that provide just the right mix of entertainment, encouragement and empowerment for our little NTF.
Though I don’t dump much of it here, a lot of what I feel and think about my parenting lately tends to be whiny, worrisome and negative. In an effort to counteract that — both in myself and in my attitudes toward my son — I’m making a concerted effort to focus on the positive, particularly what makes me proud.
My inaugural Dad Brag is about Jon’s adventures in Taekwondo. About a year ago we attended a classmate’s birthday party at a local martial arts studio, and it should have come as no surprise that our energetic then 4-year-old took to it like a duck to Kung Fu.
We enrolled him in the Tiny Tigers class a few months later, and have since watched him flourish under the unimaginably patient tutelage of the instructors. You can feel the energy pouring off of him as he runs laps at the start of class, a telltale sparkle in his eye. And nothing warms my heart more than him completing a task successfully, turning back towards me and giving me a thumbs up, awaiting my reciprocation.
I take him on Thursday nights, Papa takes him on Saturday mornings, and at the end of January he graduated to Little Dragons — now sporting a cool cammo-patterned white belt as he learns alongside a group mostly older than him. And yet he already longs to advance further, admiring the older kids’ skills as he waits for his class to begin.
One Saturday morning, the mom of the other “John” in the class asked Papa if our Jon had older brothers. Answering no, Papa asked why. She replied that he looks like he’s having so much fun all the time — that surely he must have a houseful of older brothers where there is never a dull moment. Papa told her that what he did have was two fathers, to which she smiled and responded, “Well that must be why!”
I don’t know that Jon’s oftentimes tired, old dads can take much credit for his boundless enthusiasm, but in the right setting and mixed with some focus and padded floors, it’s a sight to behold.
Feel free to brag about your own kids (or yourself) in the comments!
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I spend a lot of time worrying if I’m a good enough father. My concerns aren’t so much that my son’s being raised by two dads or that he’s adopted — though I know both of those will bring challenges along the way. Something I do worry about lately is that we’re raising an overly-entitled child.
It could be argued that it’s because Jon’s an only child. Or that we started habits of “giving in” early on. Or that he’s a 5-year-old whose only concerns are for himself. Regardless of the reasons, the truth is that very little in society works to counteract such a sense of entitlement. Reality shows, social media, selfies, (ahem) blogs — all reinforce that it’s all about ME, all the time.
So we wanted to start teaching Jon about being charitable — thinking beyond what’s in it for him. When the opportunity to work with Lee Jeans on their #LeeGoodDeed campaign came along, I knew I’d found the perfect opportunity.
AND NOW, A MESSAGE FROM OUR SPONSOR
Yes, this is a paid post for Lee Jeans. I’m sorry if that ruins the vibe of my story, but posts like this are what afford me the ability to keep blogging. And if you’ve followed the blog for any amount of time, some of these partnerships have resulted in some pretty incredible experiences.
TIME TO PLUG THE JEANS
If you’re like me, the last time you’d worn Lee Jeans, you were also wearing a Members Only jacket and Pony sneakers with a Velcro strap. They just weren’t on my fashion radar. Then last year, Lee was a sponsor at a conference I attended, and they fitted everyone with a new pair of jeans. Honest-to-god, they were (are) the most comfortable pair of jeans I’ve owned in many, many years. And for this partnership, they hooked me up with ANOTHER pair, equally as comfy. Tucked in the back pocket was a list of ideas for my #LeeGoodDeed assignment…