Alpha(bet) Male

The world is full of obsessions: Pokémon, buying shoes, Game of Thrones.

My 2-year-old son is obsessed with the alphabet.

He used to be obsessed with cars — or as he would say, “cars, trucks, minivans, and jeeps!” He wouldn’t go anywhere, including to bed, without one or two vehicles clutched lovingly in his hands. Then suddenly, and to our car-weary relief, that fixation was replaced with an equally fervent fixation on animals. He set up little dioramas around the house — charming jungle/farm/ocean hybrids — and he intently paged through any animal book he could get his hands on.

While Greyson’s love of all God’s creatures has lingered (and hopefully will never be supplanted), in the last month the preeminent object of his affection has become the 26 letters of the English alphabet. He spends several hours every day interacting with these letters — his small plastic letters, his large foam letters, his animal train puzzle letters, his electronic alphabet caterpillar that plays a different song for each letter.


Sometimes it’s just a matter of putting all the letters in order, with his brightly colored alphabet stretching across our hardwood floor (or the carpet in his room), and then happily singing the ABC song to commemorate the occasion. Other times, he identifies an animal to correspond with each letter. This skill is greatly enhanced by the fact that for months we’ve been helping him alliteratively name animals — Ricky the raccoon, Wally the walrus, Maximus the Moose, Naomi the narwhal. We use the same kind of alliteration to reinforce behavior we want him to model. For instance, “Should you be a fussy fox or a patient penguin?” As a result, Greyson seems to have built a large, cross-referenced database of letters, words, and animals in his thriving brain.

Several times recently we’ve found him in his room reciting (from memory!) the words of a book called K Is For Kitten in a sing-song voice while picking up each respective letter. The book has a full stanza for each letter, so it amazes us that he can somehow remember, and rhythmically recite, these rhyming refrains. He is a word sponge, and he thankfully has inherited his mama’s steel trap of a memory.

I love the way Greyson savors each and every letter. It struck me a while back that the ABC song gives short shrift to “L-M-N-O-P,” rushing through that section of the alphabet like a realtor hurrying you past that weird room with the dingy orange ‘70s shag carpet. As a result, I always made sure to carefully emphasize each of those 5 letters when singing the song. And it paid off! Greyson doesn’t blur them into “elemenuhpee” like most of us did growing up. He slows down a little and honors every letter distinctly, wrapping his cutely lisping tongue around each one.

In the last week, Greyson has also evinced an eager curiosity about how words are spelled. We’ve helped him phonetically sound out the names of many animals, which he carefully spells on the floor with his foam letters. He will then often say “Great job!” because he’s so used to hearing our positive reinforcement (and he instinctively mimics everything we say).

Danielle even found the word “horse” spelled out on the kitchen floor the other day, which neither of us had helped him to spell. Needless to say, she sent a picture to me at work and we basked, from a distance, in a moment of parental pride.


I’m deeply grateful that Greyson has developed such a sweet, simple, and intellectually rewarding hobby. Heck, I wish I had any hobby that I embraced with the natural discipline and pure vigor that Greyson has for the alphabet. And I know it sounds backward since he’s 2 and I’m 39, but I also admire (and envy) his attention span. In this digital age where we adults stare distractedly at our phone screens and our TV screens when we’re not staring at our work computer screens, how often do I ever focus on one non-screen-related task for a full hour at a time anymore? But my toddler son does that almost every day. I could learn a lot from him.

I have always relished words and wordplay. And it is with giddy pride that I observe Greyson heading in that same direction. As he grows up, I can imagine him taking after his blog-writing papa, his book-reading mama, his pun-creating uncles, and his book-and-poem-crafting grandma. A wee Wingert wordsmith in the works! Only time will tell. But what I know for now is this.

If letters are the building blocks of language, then Greyson is a budding architect.

And it brings me so much joy to watch him build.


*If you resonated with this on any level, please like or comment (or even share) directly on my Facebook post. That platform is primarily where I disseminate my writing at this point, so all support is appreciated. Thank you for your interest!

The Screen Resistance Will Not Be Televised

I am beamingly proud to report that Greyson, who turns 3 in July, lives a predominantly screen-free life. Danielle and I have made it a top priority to shield him from glowing screens, be they of the iPhone or iPad or TV variety.

But we’ve also just had the sheer good fortune of being given a son who is thus far impervious to the deadening lure of TV. As a result of both our great luck and our good efforts, Greyson bursts with buoyant energy and wild creativity. To our utter delight, he would rather read a book or put a puzzle together or color a picture than stare at a TV show. (Unless there are animals on the screen, in which case all bets are off.)

Modern parenting seems to have struck a Faustian deal with portable screens. Parents who give their small children access to their phone or iPad gain the decided short-term benefit of a virtual babysitter (albeit one that is breakable and must be recharged daily). But at what long-term cost? It’s only a matter of time before we learn the fallout of raising a generation of children with Candy Crush instead of board games, iPads instead of books, and TV instead of playing outside in the fresh air.

I stopped by the library after work the other day. Turns out it was Lego Night, and the children’s section was packed with kids from 3 to 11. While I hunted for a pile of books that Greyson would devour, I found it hard to focus because there was a group of 3 older boys (9 to 11 years old, I’m guessing) playing with Legos nearby and talking very, very loudly. Almost everything these boys were saying was either irritating or vaguely unsettling. It would be hard to reconstruct any of the mind-numbing dialogue, but one line does stand out very clearly. Oddly enough, the boys were inanely discussing classic rock and one of them, who was roughly 10, cited a band called Kill the Body (which I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist). Then he said, with an unmistakable note of pride in his voice:

“That’s what men do — we kill bodies!”

Listen, I’m no adolescent behavioral psychologist. And I do know that I said more than my share of dumb things when I was an awkward 10-year-old.

But I strongly suspect that any boy that age who sees “killing bodies” as a defining characteristic of manhood has almost certainly spent way the heck too much time vegetating in front of a screen. That kind of alarming and antisocial sentiment isn’t innate in kids, and it isn’t hard-wired into every child with XY chromosomes, no matter what the “boys will be boys” crowd says. It’s the feverish symptom of an American culture that’s infatuated with weapons and machismo and violence. A culture that apparently doesn’t even have the decency to shield its children from that infatuation.

Hearing these disturbing words come out of the mouth of a child re-galvanized my belief that in my own family, our core mission as parents is to deliberately set Greyson (and Violet) on a vastly different path.

And one of the central ways we will do this is by minimizing screen time and maximizing reading time, outdoors time, and family time in general. We will not leave our children alone in front of TV screens and computer screens and iPad screens, where they can easily stumble upon toxicity of every possible variety.

We will spend most of our time interacting as a family. And when we do watch a TV show or watch some YouTube videos, we will navigate them together. Our children will not join the zombie horde of glassy-eyed adolescents who are hypnotized and sedated by every available screen.

One more nugget of anecdotal evidence: I’ve had two different acquaintances in the last week tell me that their kids lost access to screens, each for very different reasons. And both of these fathers reported that their children were devastated by the loss. One, a pre-teen, became bored to the point of agitation and couldn’t even bring himself to read some books he had just bought from a book fair. The other, a teenager, became listless and depressed.

To my mind, this has all the makings of a nationwide crisis. We might as well be talking about opioid addiction given how much withdrawal — mental, physical, and even emotional — is brought about when our kids detox from the screens on which they’ve grown dangerously dependent.

I earnestly hope that through our best efforts, Danielle and I can help Greyson and Violet to be screen-resistant in this screen-saturated era. The hardest part is assuredly yet to come, as Greyson at some point gets old enough to hear about the TV shows and video games he’s “missing out on.” But we’re laying the groundwork, book by book, nature walk by nature walk, and the results are promising so far.

As modern parents, let’s not accidentally bequeath one of the worst habits of the modern age to our children. They deserve better from us.

Vive la (screen) résistance!


I Had Never Met Anyone Like Herbivore

10 years ago I thought to myself, “What if I just stopped eating meat?” There was no elaborate framework for this thought. I just wanted a new resolution to aspire toward, and I had a feeling I could probably pull this one off. It occurred to me that I didn’t have a great attachment to any particular meat, beyond maybe seafood and bacon, and that in fact there were meats I didn’t even derive any particular enjoyment from eating — turkey, pork, beef. I realized that I was primarily a meat-eater because my parents had raised me to be one and, more to the point, I had never considered any other alternative.

So one day in early May 2009 I quit meat, cold turkey. Along with cold ham, cold beef, and cold… cold cuts. As a bachelor with no cooking skills, what this primarily meant was that my options in the TV dinner aisle dwindled precipitously. So in the preliminary stages of my life as a herbivore, I wasn’t assembling lush green salads loaded with succulent vegetables, or making delicately seasoned rice and beans in a slow cooker. No, I was wolfing down Easy Mac and 99-cent frozen veggie pizzas and Hot Pockets oozing with gelatinous processed cheese. I was also known to come home at midnight after my Domino’s delivery shift and eat cheesy bread and molten lava cakes until I passed out from carb shock.

Clearly my journey toward healthy food didn’t start with an overarching principle of health. (Or even food, for that matter.) So it wasn’t a dramatic Damascus Road conversion experience. More of an experiment, borne out of restlessness, for which I made myself the guinea pig. A guinea pig who was curious how it would feel to stop eating pigs, guinea or otherwise.

As anyone who has ever gone on a diet can attest, there are a dozen roadblocks that can sabotage a well-intentioned but poorly thought out plan to pursue a new habit. But you know what can do the exact opposite and effectively solidify that resolution?

Suddenly meeting someone enchanting (and beautiful) who has been pursuing that very path in a deliberate way for many years.

That’s what.

Let’s rewind a little. A few weeks before I haphazardly embarked on my meatless experiment, I much more deliberately joined eHarmony for the second time in 2 years. My first stint had been a total wash, due to making my “dating radius” so wide that I was talking to women in Albuquerque and Tucson, 900 miles away from where I lived in northwest Colorado. (Rule #1 of online dating: Don’t do that.) As a result, several months of eHarmony conversations yielded a grand total of zero dates.

This time around, I lived in the densely inhabited Boulder/Denver area and thus felt comfortable making my radius a nice, drivable 25 miles. I knew finding true love would be an uphill battle and a best-case scenario regardless of population density. But I thought maybe I could at least meet someone nice who would help stave off my creeping sense, at 29, that lonely bachelordom was becoming my most likely 30-something Facebook relationship status.

When it comes to high-stakes gambits like online poker and online dating, the third time isn’t always the charm… and the first time is almost never the charm. But once in a while, the universe conspires in your favor — in conjunction with your own best but faltering efforts — and you are given a gift. Or at least that’s what happened to me.

A few short weeks after I rejoined eHarmony, I met a woman whose profile and pictures enchanted me. And after a week and a half of guarded but promising conversation, we nervously arranged our first date. But it was not only our first date; it was my first eHarmony date ever, and my first genuine, bona fide, go-out-on-a-date date of any kind in many years. What are the odds that any such first date will be smooth, much less a smashing success that alters the trajectory of your entire life? I’d say roughly the same odds as landing your dream job in your very first job interview.

Well, I’m here to tell you that landing that dream date (and dream life partner) is altogether possible. Danielle and I are that success story. We took a hike that fateful morning in the shadows of Boulder’s towering Flatirons, and the rest is history. A whirlwind romance… an epic and nomadic journey involving 9 separate moving days… an emotionally bruising fertility battle spanning 4 years… an 1,800-mile migration with a sweet and neurotic pup in the backseat… and — against all odds — 2 radiant children we will unhyperbolically describe as miracles for as long as we live.

And it all started because 2 lonely people each had 6-month eHarmony subscriptions that barely overlapped. You simply can’t make this stuff up. It would be too implausible.

But I digress (because I can’t help myself). Back to being a herbivore.

I was 1 week into my meatless experiment when I met Danielle. And while there were a few dozen things that intrigued me about her profile and our subsequent conversations, one that caught me off guard was that she had been a herbivore for the better part of a decade. I had not known all that many vegetarians in my life, so this seemed faintly promising. (To be clear, I might have thought it was faintly problematic just 6 months earlier, envisioning my carnivorousness to be a potential source of tension with a herbivorous girlfriend.)

There are a lot of dealbreaker questions that online dating profiles help you navigate before a you waste an evening with a mismatched first date — for instance, does she chain-smoke, does she chain-vape, does she binge-drink, does she binge-watch The Bachelor, does she loathe pets, does she loathe children, is she a white nationalist, does she belong to a flat-earth cult, etc.

For some people, that list could include dietary inclinations. For the two of us, it did not. I was far too early in my meatless journey to care at all what anyone else ate, while I think Danielle didn’t want to severely limit her dating options and boycott all boys who caught fish (and other meat).

But with a decade of hindsight, it’s hard to overstate how serendipitous it proved to be that I met a remarkable woman, who happened to be happily herbivorous, just one short week after embarking on my first vegetarian venture in 29 years on earth. This overlapping dietary inclination, which grew into a deeply rooted shared value, has made our life as spouses and as parents vastly easier since we are entirely on the same page about not only nutrition but also a love of all living creatures — other than snakes and mosquitoes and house spiders — and a do-no-harm ethos. (Well, almost no harm. Sorry, PETA.)

There are many things I could say about how my experiment turned into a conscious lifestyle choice that is rooted in both dietary and ethical concerns. But I’ll save it for another blog post.

The takeaway for today is this: True love is extraordinary, and its timing is mysterious. How it can possibly be that two perfectly matched people, adrift in the vast ocean of online dating, can somehow manage to bump into each other at the exact right moment — the moment when their compatibility just happens to be at its peak — is far beyond me.

All I know is that it is possible, because it happened to me. Just like in a movie (but better).

And I’m happy to report that no animals were harmed in the making of this particular movie.