On Your Father's Side  

Soothing the wild child

Our middle baby “Betty” was the first to ride her two-wheeler.

She’s often the first to make her bed, and regularly clears her plate from the table as well as those of her sisters.
Betty is also the first to transform into a screaming banshee.

She’s only five, so we can’t be too hard on her.

Have any of you had similar experiences?  (With your kids, not your ex-boyfriends. That’s a different column.) 

We need your advice on how to deal with a preschooler with a hair-trigger temper who can go from sweetness and light to the dark side in the blink of an eye.

Here’s how it works: The girls wake at 6:45 a.m.

Emmy tiptoes into her big sisters’ room and begins poking someone in the eye or soft underbelly with an icy finger.

“Are you awake?” she says in the world’s loudest whisper.

Her sisters begin to rouse themselves begrudgingly.

That sets off a mad dash for our bedroom. They have to be the first to climb into our bed and stake out choice real estate next to mommy.

Betty, because she often volunteers to sleep in the top bunk, needs time to adjust and get down the ladder.

That puts her at a tremendous disadvantage, like if she was running the 100-metre dash, she’d start 15 seconds after the gun.

Trigger the wailing.

“Noooo! Emmy, it’s all your fault!”

We call to her. We sooth her. We assure her there’s room for her to cuddle with mommy before getting dressed for the day ahead.

It does little to temper her tantrum.

Now, it’s not an every-day experience.

Sometimes, she wakes up and bounds into our room with woodland creatures escorting her, a bluebird on her shoulder and bunnies at her feet as she sings “Zippity-do-da.”

Other days, if we don’t feed her dinner by 4 p.m. she’s wearing a rabbit-fur coat dragging on a long cigarette holder ordering henchmen to “find those puppies!”

We’ve tried hugging her. We’ve sent her to her room. We’ve coddled her and cajoled her.

But once the switch flips, we’re all in trouble.

Always the reasonable one, my wife has struck upon a new strategy: we’ll each spend one-on-one time with our girls.

It seems jealousy and competition — just as much as exercise, sleep and a good diet — have a role in the moods of our three girls.

My wife will carve out time, alone, with each of them as individuals, and I’ll do the same.

First up for me is Betty, whom I’ll take to “Dads and Braids” this Sunday.

The fundraising event is being hosted by Loyal Hair at the Prestige Hotel’s Beach House in Kelowna. 

It begins at 10 a.m., plenty of time for an early breakfast in bed.

For $55, you get 90 minutes of hair-care training with your daughter, a styling kit, and the confidence to get your girl ready each morning should your wife’s hands suddenly fall off her arms.

Money goes to JoeAnna’s House.

The Kelowna General Hospital Foundation is attempting to raise $8 million to build and maintain JoeAnna’s House, a home-away-from-home for families undergoing advanced medical treatment in hospital.

“We wanted to stay close to what JoeAnna’s House is all about, and that’s keeping families together,” said Loyal Wooldridge, owner of Loyal Hair.

“This event is such a great way for Dads and their little girls to spend some quality time together one-on-one, have a good laugh, and hopefully it’s not too painful for either party.”

I took our oldest daughter to the Dads and Braids three years ago; it’s training I rely on to this day.

Now, when La-La sees me holding the hairbrush she doesn’t run, screaming, from the room.

Let’s just hope that after Sunday, her little sister is so overwhelmed by love, joy and gratitude, that she’ll do a whole lot less shouting, too.

To learn more about Dads and Braids, visit Eventbrite.


Artists drawn together

Maybe it was some higher power that drew Cale Atkinson and Jessika von Innerebner together.

The Kelowna-based husband-and-wife artists are celebrating the release of two new children’s books this week.

Off & Away is Cale’s third picture book with Disney-Hyperion, and his sixth book since 2015 (he’s also illustrated four others in that time).
Jessika has also illustrated a book for the Disney empire, a Marvel superhero adventure called Grow Up, Ant-Man.

Both were released on Tuesday.

“I think it has to be pretty rare,” Atkinson said of the timing.

They’ll be together at Mosaic Books on Saturday, from 2-4 p.m., celebrating their “super double book launch.”

Their relationship was built on good timing.

They met at a Vancouver Island animation studio.

Jessika admits she was almost ready to quit when Cale was hired.

A week or two in one direction or another, and their lives could have been vastly different than they are today.

“She was my reason for the island,” Cale said.

From there they were recruited to work at Club Penguin in Kelowna.

Eventually, there was enough freelance work that allowed them to branch off on their own.

Jessika is the artist behind two juvenile fiction series, Ellie Ultra and the Escapades of Clint McCool. She has also illustrated a new adventure series called Miranda and Maude: The Princess and the Absolutely Not a Princess due later this year.

Not only has she worked for Disney, her artwork has appeared with DreamWorks, Nickelodeon, Penguin Random House and many others.

As a writer -- and a parent whose children love their books -- I jumped at the chance to speak with Cale and Jessika about their latest projects.

I had to know what their secret to success is, given the rave reviews that follow Cale’s books and the long list of blue-chip clients on Jessika’s resume.

Funny, though, it’s not a secret. They key that opened the lock for them was hard work.

Cale said even while they worked for Club Penguin, they accepted almost all the freelance work that came their way.

They’ve illustrated for educational books, magazines and newspapers. They’ve helped develop characters for big studios and provided art for apps.

Even now, with the weight of Disney behind them, Cale said they can’t stop to rest on their laurels. Their pens and brushes never stop. 

Take Off & Away, for example. While searching for new book ideas, Cale just started drawing. He struck upon a girl and a sailboat. He tried introducing mermaids and other mythical creatures, but eventually settled upon a message in a bottle.

“It was just really fun to draw these adventures,” said Cale, a 34-year-old Vancouver native. “It was just a nice release for me, artistically.”

The pictures eventually formed the basis for Off & Away.

Those messages in bottles prove to be the test for a little girl named Jo as she faces her fears. As a husband who works at home, with a wife who also works at home, I was intrigued to know how they manage their relationship.

At least my wife and I have different floors to work on; she's in the basement office and I'm at the desk in the playroom (next to the stuffies and Play Doh).

Jessika and Cale work back-to-back in a bedroom converted into an office.

The secret there? Podcasts.

They listen to hear another voice and give them something to talk about, but they also maintain their own interests and hobbies.

“Even though we work together, we are still our own individuals,” said Jessika, 39 and born in Yellowknife.

Professionally, Jessika said their careers changed when they had enough of a portfolio to attract an agent.

Not that it’s so easy.

Cale admits 99 per cent of the agents he approached, if they said anything at all, said “no thank you.”

It was persistence that paid off for them both.

Jessika said she’s on her third agent, and suggests it’s vital to find someone you connect with.

“Having an agent,” she said, “it’s a game changer. … Finding an agent is like dating. You’ve got to get a lot of ‘no’s.’ You’ve got to do the work.”

It still amazes me they can be so creative, prolific and connected.

Cale said they hit it off from the beginning: “I think it’s been a perfect kind of fit that way.”

To learn more, see cale.ca and Jessvoni.com.

Get ready in Kindergarten

It's called a Kindergarten Readiness Checklist, and every parent should totally have one.

You can find the best ones on, like, Pinterest, so you know they’re completely legit.

We’ve made all our girls fill them out, and it’s made the hugest difference.

If your kids are headed into Kindergarten this fall without one … uh, well, it probably doesn’t matter. 

Your kids are probably, totally fine. 


But if you have three or four year olds in the house, just download one on your phone and watch your kids while you read the list.

Wait, maybe you have to read your phone while you watch your kids. 

Yeah, I think that’s how it goes.

I know for my girls, we checked off, like, half of the items without even preparing the first time.

Now, with our oldest in Grade 1, we routinely practise our checklist.

La-La is nailing everything now; Grade 2 is going to be a total breeze for her next year.

It’s go-time for Betty — our “middlest” daughter, nicknamed after her great grandmother. She’s heading into Kindergarten this fall.

Thankfully, she seems OK with two-a-day practices.

She’s a little logy by mid-afternoon, but that should go away by August.

Little Emmy is watching with piqued curiosity. She has two years until making the grade, and I have high hopes for her.

Plus, she’s the youngest and has that innate drive to destroy everything her older sisters have created before her.

Here’s how we attack our checklist:

Verbal Skills

  • Speaks clearly: Totally. Our kids have the best role model. Me, right! Totally.
  • Speaks in sentences: Yeah. Like, above.
  • Can express feelings: Just yesterday, Betty walked right up to me and said, “Daddy, can we stop now? I’m feeling frustrated by your penchant for living vicariously through your progeny.” Kids say the darnedest things!

Listening Skills

  • Listens to simple one- and two-step directions: We do way better. I told Emmy, if she wanted to ace Kindergarten, she’d have to seek out the classroom leader, befriend her, and then study her habits to learn her strengths and weaknesses. And that’s three steps. Emmy’s response? “Sir, yes, sir!” 

Reading Readiness

  • Listens well to stories: We’ve blasted through How to Win Friends and Influence People and we’re half-way through The Four-Hour Work Week.
  • Uses Imagination: Betty loves to tell stories. Last week, she said she imagined playing at the waterpark and going for ice cream. But she knows there’s time for that after grad school. She knows.


  • Uses Pictures to Communicate: Betty is always drawing pictures of sunsets. I asked her if that’s the view from the corner office of the penthouse suite. Because, if it’s not, she needs a better vision board.

Gross Motor Skills

  • Runs (with good stamina): Is nine laps of the Apple Bowl track in 12 minutes good stamina? Huh? No, of course not. We’re working on that.
  • Skips: My kids never skip out on anything. Ever.
  • Somersaults: They’re for wimps. We Parkour Roll.
  • Catches a ball with arms and body: La-La only uses her body to catch a ball when she’s blocking home plate because the left-fielder has come up short (again).

Fine Motor Skills

  • Uses tweezers: How’s any kid going to survive without simple tweezer skills? You can’t field dress a knife wound without them.
  • Completes a pattern: My girls can run the buttonhook, post, slant, and go patterns. They can also play quarterback.
  • Makes a pancake, snake, and ball from Plasticine: Well, duh. Wiring the electronic detonator, however, has proven tricky. But it’s a valuable survival skill, so we soldier on.


  • Counts objects with meaning to 10: A great way for this is taking stock of our bug-out shelter’s freeze-dried beef, pasta and bean containers every month and sorting them by expiry date.

Creative Arts

  • Draws lines and shapes: We love to draw lines in the sand. You won’t be pack leader without them.

Creative Drama

  • Takes on pretend roles: They love playing dress-up! I suggest they dress up like sons, but often they suggest princesses. Whatever. Kids.

I hope this helps. 

It’s only 17 items, and our Kindergarten Readiness Checklist actually has 67 items.

But if you think I’m going to divulge our strategies, you’re never going to win Kindergarten.


Mom as Superwoman

Watching my mom garden is a little like watching Hercules work through his 12 labours.

But instead of wearing a lion’s skin, she slays overgrown rose bushes and parades around the house like she just won the Kentucky Derby.

Did I just call my mom a horse?

Workhorse, yes. This woman’s energy level is enough to power entire neighbourhoods.

She just spent a week with us, helping me with our three daughters as my wife travelled for work.

It was a rare treat to have her for Mother’s Day, since my parents and brothers live in Ottawa.

I don’t remember her having this much energy when I was a kid, but I don’t remember much about my childhood that didn’t specifically focus on me.

I mean, really, I was pretty important to myself.

She might have been doing all sorts of cool things during my teenage years, but unless it involved video games or basketball hoops, I likely wouldn’t have noticed.

“Gramma K” landed last weekend and we immediately set to work — planting tomatoes, peppers, something called a cucamelon, and various other vegetables our first day together.

You’ll have to Google that, but I promise a cucamelon isn’t grown in a lab.

But that little bit of light planting was small potatoes for her (pardon the pun, but we didn’t actually plant potatoes).

We had a great time, and were sad to see her off, mostly because she remained on Eastern time.

By the time I dragged myself from bed, she’d already watered the garden, fed my kids, and done some light carpentry.

I normally write while my girls are in preschool, and mom was happy to “putter” in the garden during that 2 ¼ hours last Tuesday.

When it came time to collect the girls, I peeked into the backyard to find her mopping her brow.

The one thing she’s not accustomed to is 25 C at 10 a.m. in mid-May.

It made me feel slightly guilty that she’d pulled back all the landscape fabric in our back garden, shovelled the landscape rock and re-staked the garden edging.

Wait, is Son Guilt even possible?

She’d identified the mysterious white-and-yellow flowers, figured out how much to prune them and cut the barberry bush enough so it was off the ground instead of spilling this way and that.

Yes, all of that was in a single, two-hour timeslot.

She never wanted to be compared to my grandmother, but it’s getting harder to ignore the similarities.

Gramma Betty was born between the world wars, raised during the Great Depression, and mothered six kids in a three-room farmhouse.

She obviously passed along her survival genes to my mother, but I’m not sure they landed in my DNA.

Perhaps it follows a maternal line.

Needless to say, we miss her. I can only imagine this is what hiring a nanny must feel like, except my mom also paid for everything while she was here, plus did her share of cooking.

Goodness, I’m a loafer.

My friends suggest our parents do this because they don’t have the burden of kids day-to-day.

Of course that’s true, but she was doing all that and raising my kids.

She enjoyed every second of it, likely spurred on by Mom Guilt for not being around us more.

Son Guilt really isn’t a thing, is it?

We were a little nervous about her trip, since she’s recovering from a troubling health scare a few months ago.

I’m glad she’s back on her feet, doing yoga at the gym most mornings, and generally keeping a positive attitude.

I’d suggest the one thing that worries me most outside of my immediate circle of wife/daughters is her health.

We will see here again in August at my cousin’s wedding. She’s volunteered to bake the wedding cake.

Yes, she does cakes.

About the only thing she doesn’t do is photos.

I’ve toyed with the idea of uploading one from when we were younger, but she’d likely fly back here and kick my ass.

She could totally do it, too.

I don’t want to tick her off, but at the same time our driveway really needs to be resealed.

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About the Author

David Trifunov is a proud father, humble author and recovering journalist.

Trifunov and his wife, Erin, are raising three little girls in Kelowna and enjoying every second of the trials, triumphs and tribulations.

As a humble author, he has written three middle-grade books for publisher Formac-Lorimer.

To pay the bills so he can raise those kids and write those books, Trifunov is a journalist with 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor.

His parenting column will appear regularly. davidtrifunov.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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