Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fools' Errands: Week 1 Family Football Picks

If "Write What You Know" is the first rule of writing, then it's easy to see why I've never posted anything on how to put a diaper on a standing toddler. (Editor's note: I'll write about that the next time my husband goes weeks with posting anything and just disappears.) It also explains why it's quite possible that all the rest of the posts from now until Judgment Day might be vaguely about football and vaguely about kids but really probably about neither. Still, it might be better than nothing.

Now in its fifth year, the Delaware Sports Lottery allows gambling on NFL games thanks to a loophole in an arcane law from the 1970s. However, legislators have stubbornly held on to an equally arcane loophole limiting wagering to the "parlay" system, which means you must bet on -- and win-- at least three games to cash in. To which most degenerates like myself say, "Pffft. I can pick three games in my sleep. I'm an NFL maven." And so, like the previous 4 years, my stated goal is to totally bankrupt the state I live and work in through a series of immaterial, high-risk, low-reward wagers. Sound financial acumen.

Because gambling on football combines my two favorite things, I have unabashedly introduced my kids to it. In their lifetime, we've had barely two drops of alcohol in the house and zero smokable items, but the kids can smell a half-point parlay card from down the hall. To date, I've only let them draw rainbows on them and fill all the holes with teal- or copper-colored sharpies, but I think this year I'm going to let them make picks too. Because I want them to be fully invested in the NFL with me this year. I want them to feel the highs of winning and the lows of losing. And since they have no clue what's actually going on, I'll probably just tell them they lost every week, so that they grow up thinking gambling is stupid. Which it is. Obviously, I won't be using their money (until my bankroll is shot) because if we open our son's piggy bank and touch his paper money, he launches into us like a mother lion defending her young.

Before we get to the picks, the hot football question in the household this season is, "What's the Sunday Night Football theme song going to be like now that Carrie Underwood is replacing Faith Hill?" (My unsolicited answer: Who cares. My kids' unsolicited response: We do! The NFL Marketing Department's unsolicited pile-on: See that, you old, grouchy football fan? We're gearing all of this to your kids. Screw the guy who has been watching football for 35 years. In order to grow our fan base, we have to play rock songs based on Joan Jett songs from 1987 and continue to outlaw defense. The score of every game this year will be At Least 49 to Nothing Less Than 27.)

The week's 3-team parlay picks:

1. Cleveland over Miami by -1.5 -- The slimmest line on the board. Neither Cleveland nor Miami has been relevant in years, but there's a slightly better chance that Cleveland will be slightly better than Miami this year...maybe. That's the in-depth football analysis that $10 bets in Delaware gets you.

But 1.5 is also the number of inches between the my son's legs and the lawnmower blades when he plays chicken with the Husqvarna. (Husqvarna then must be Swedish for "Get the s%$t out of the way, you have the WHOLE YARD.") We nearly had to file this correspondence from the emergency room three different times, but I guess there is something about running alongside a lawnmower spitting grass out of the side of its mouth onto your feet that only a four-year-old boy can appreciate. Therefore, I think Cleveland can beat Miami by more than the distance between my kid's legs remaining intact and being severed into a thousand pieces.

Grumpy Old Confused Man Alert: 1.5 was also the over/under on number of haircuts I got on Saturday, and if you bet the under you lost. I actually got my hair cut twice on Saturday. Once at one place, then once immediately after at another place to finish the job. At the second place, they asked me, "Do you want me to use the scissors?" At that point, I felt like Jim Valvano after the championship game, but instead of looking for someone to hug, I was looking for someone to beat with a sledgehammer. Though I would have settled for finding someone to answer the question, "WHY IS EVERYONE SUDDENLY ASKING ME IF I WANT THEM TO USE 'THE SCISSORS' TO CUT MY HAIR?" I've never been asked that question in my life. It was a valid question, though, since the first place didn't use scissors at all, and I came out looking like an Oompa Loompa. I was more going for anything between Telly Savalas and an average 15-year-old boy. I ended up telling the lady I wanted the little boy haircut she gave my son two weeks ago. WITH scissors. I'm still totally confused about the sudden aversion to scissors the last month. I've aged tremendously in the last month, and apparently not well. Scissors are still ok, right?

2. Seattle/Carolina - under 45.5 - The experts believe these two teams will combine to score, on average, 45.5 points. Even though the league wants every final score to be at least 49-27, there is a decent chance these two teams combine for less than 46 points (and then are booted out of the league and all their offensive players redistributed to the other teams, while all their defensive players are given desk jobs in the office that decides the charities that receive the weekly late-hit fines.) My belief is Carolina might not score at all, and if they do find a groove offensively, it will take them forever to get the ball down the field. And their quarterback is a flake.

But 45.5 is also the diameter in inches of the cobweb I stepped through while cutting the grass Saturday, so I'll be picking silk out of my teeth and newly cut hair for a week. It will add that Touch of Grey that I've already supplied enough of on my own. Forget baseball players, we should be testing north-central Delaware spiders for the steroids.

45.5 is also the distance in feet that the inside of the baseball I ran over with the lawnmower traveled. (He really tore the cover off that ball.) This makes two baseballs I've run over with the lawnmower in a month, and I'm not sure anyone cares except me. Do I need to invoke the "Santa won't come if you don't take better care of your toys" deal in early September?

3. Houston over San Diego by 4.5 -- From everything I've heard, San Diego really stinks this year. Good enough for me.

4.5 is also the average number of boxes of Honey Smacks I have to buy at the store to ensure I at least get to eat one bowl of Honey Smacks before they're gone. Honey Smacks are, and by a large margin, the most underrated breakfast cereal. Do they even advertise Honey Smacks? If the frog came on and said, "Theyy-y-y-y-y're Gr-r-r-r-r-r-ibbit!" Honey Smacks would be a shoo-in for the Cereal Hall of Fame. Not that they can't get there on their own merits, it just may take longer, which is sad.

Guest picking this week: My daughter. Her picks are as follows:

1. Buffalo +10.5 over New England -- Because it corresponds to bubble #6 on the sheet, which is her age.

2. New England/Buffalo - over 51.5 -- Because it corresponds to bubble #7 on the sheet, which is her age as of her next birthday, since her parents didn't properly make a huge deal out of her recent half-birthday.

3. New England/Buffalo - under 51.5 -- Because it corresponds to bubble #8 on the sheet, which is her age as of her birthday after that.

Normally in these scenarios, the neophyte, be it a wife, daughter, or administrative assistant, ends up beating the veteran through an improbable run of good luck, and the lesson of course is that sports prognostication is all luck anyway and nobody should bet on it. Not here, though, as my daughter has managed to make two totally contradictory picks, and she needs to win all three to cash. (Thanks again, parlay system!) I suppose if anyone can make this all happen for her, it's the dreamy Tom Brady. Better luck next time, sport, make sure you pay me your $10.

No, seriously, did Congress or somebody ban scissors in barber shops? Were they deemed too dangerous? Too precise? Are we heading to an all-clipper system within 10 years? Are scissors an extra add-on like heated seats in cars? What is going on?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nine Days in Summer - Day 9 - Summer is Over

This is the finale in a nine-part series, one part for each consecutive day I'll be home on a vacation from work. "Vacation" in a corporate American-ish sense means I'll still be checking in, checking e-mails, and doing all sorts of work-related things, except without having to put pants on, but with small people draped on me. This is what we do for the week plus before school starts back up again, my wife goes back to teaching kindergarten, and all Hell breaks loose: the entire house blows up in its own clutter: (sorry, Elmore.)

Almost as long and just as tedious as Shogun and the Thorn Birds combined, now the unforgivable conclusion to Nine Days in Summer.

Day 9:
With summer drawing to a close, it's time to get back to the school routine. There are many parents out there who can't WAIT to get back to the school year for the routine, the structure, and the getting rid of the kids for half the day.

But I'm not really looking forward to it.  It's routines that cause the years to run by so fast and leave you trailing the field, wondering what just happened the last fifteen years. Everything in life gets taken for granted when it's part of a routine. There's no room for variety in a routine. You can't decide you're staying in your pajamas all day as part of a routine. You can't decide to watch anything but the morning news when you've developed a morning routine. Every time you hit the snooze button you put the routine at risk. You can't spell "routine" without R-U-T.

The routine, however, is a necessary evil. It focuses us so that we can drop the kids off at daycare seconds before they quit serving the kids breakfast, so we can show up to work only a half hour late instead of our customary 3 hours. Kids need a routine in life to establish consistency, reduce unknowns, and get on a schedule. Especially if that schedule involves going to bed before Monday Night Football.

And it could be so much worse. The spouse of a teacher is not at all a bad gig, because most of the things that people complain about teachers work to your advantage. And you don't have to deal with other people's kids like the teachers themselves do. They get out of work early enough to pick up the kids and see them through the daily transition from "best behavior" to "hungry, wild jackals." By the time you come home, and if you listen to the entire block of Led Zeppelin in the driveway, the kids will be fed and bathed and all you have to do is go find a neighbor to talk to for five minutes before they hit the bed. Then you get to swoop in and kiss them good night. (I kid.)

Then there are the three months off in the summer. Which is a myth. With schools here getting out mid-June and starting mid-August, it's down to two months. (Boo-hoo.) Teachers go back earlier than ever before, and nobody really knows what goes on when teachers are there but kids aren't. Though I think it has something to do with administrators pushing teachers to get all of their kids in the top 50% of their own class.

The downside of course is that because America still treats its teachers like third-class citizens, the dream of ever being a stay-at-home dad is nil. But even that cloud has a silver lining: I've never dreamt of being a stay-at-home dad anyway. I'd never find enough for them to do. We'd eat marshmallow crème and chocolate fudge sandwiches for lunch every day. We'd play board games and video games and never get anything productive accomplished. Basically, every day would be a Saturday morning. At least until all the kids are in school, and after that the marshmallow crème would be all mine. So I guess there is a considerable downside.

Summer is over, and it's only the adults who are sad. The kids will put up a mild fuss about having to go to day care, but in the end, because we've gotten them back into a routine, they'll be fine. We parents are the ones who will miss not changing out of our pajamas all day.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Nine Days in Summer - Day 8 - Screw the To-Do List

This is the eighth in a nine-part series, one part for each consecutive day I'll be home on a vacation from work. "Vacation" in a corporate American-ish sense means I'll still be checking in, checking e-mails, and doing all sorts of work-related things, except without having to put pants on, but with small people draped on me. This is what we do for the week plus before school starts back up again, my wife goes back to teaching kindergarten, and all Hell breaks loose:

Earlier in the week, there was a major effort afoot to get everything done around the house that needed done. In these last nine days of summer vacation, we would get our house in order, preparing the household for the upcoming school year when we're lucky to get everyone's teeth brushed quasi-daily, let alone make the house presentable.

But as the common social media laughing phrase goes, "Bhahahaha." (Apparently you are laughing more robustly if you throw a "b" in front of "haha.") Instead, we said Screw the To-Do List. We only have two days left before the routine and the grind of the school year kicks in and kicks our butts, so we're making it fun and throwing the list in the trash. Or maybe just the recycling bin.

We decided to go to a second baseball game in a week, figuring that the extra baseball game somehow cancels out cleaning the garage with the Parenting Gods. Back to the ages-old "happy kids or clean house" debate, where we try to err on the side of happy kids. (If that's considered erring.) We learned several things during the game, because what is a time out with kids if you're not learning something?

While it's never a good business decision to take hungry kids to the ballyard, it doesn't pay to try to feed them beforehand, either. Whether you force your kids to scavenge for their own food in the backyard or take them to an all-you-can-eat Hot Dogs and Macaroni and Cheese buffet before the game, the only thing on the kids' minds is Dippin Dots. (Still the Ice Cream of the Future?) We tried a meal out before the game, and the kids saved room for the Dots by turning their noses up at everything and demanding Dippin Dots before the first pitch was thrown.

19 months is officially the age where a third child needs to have everything his siblings have. We gave the older two baseball mitts even though if a foul ball came anywhere near our section, it would look like a bomb drill from an early '60s elementary school. Child #3 threw a paint-peeling fit because he didn't have one, even though nobody truly knew what to do with theirs. But that's the stage we're at...whether it's baseball gloves, cotton candy or pillowcases full of steak knives.

The main difference between a 2 hour, 8 minute baseball game and a 2 hour, 58 minute baseball game is 723 seating changes.

Everyone has a job to do at a minor league baseball game. In a sixth inning filled with two pitching changes, a coach/umpire argument, a slew of walks, rinsing off the salt from the pretzels with some blue PowerAde, and a bathroom break, we were asked if we wanted to post the K on the panel sponsored by some local business after one of the pitchers snuck in a strikeout. Try explaining that to anybody. So we took a few pictures of kids smiling and holding a K, and it looked like a PSA for bananas. (For those interested, the K comes from the last letter of "struck," as in "he struck him out," used first by the guy who invented the box score. He didn't use S because that was already taken to account for sacrifices. It is a thrilling story.)

Fireworks make everything easier. Kids will pay attention to fireworks. When we're trying to get kids to put down the electronics and come to the kitchen for dinner, we're going to set Roman candles off.

With summer drawing to a close and the dreaded "school routine" nearly upon us, we're trying to squeeze as much in as we can, all in the name of happy kids. The house? The house will clean itself someday, right?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Nine Days in Summer - Day 7 - More Sesame Stuff

Let this fella be your tour guide.
This is the seventh in a nine-part series, one part for each consecutive day I'll be home on a vacation from work. "Vacation" in a corporate American-ish sense means I'll still be checking in, checking e-mails, and doing all sorts of work-related things, except without having to put pants on, but with small people draped on me. This is what we do for the week plus before school starts back up again, my wife goes back to teaching kindergarten, and all Hell breaks loose:

Somehow, after days of cleaning, cleaning, and then some more cleaning, and then a trip to Sesame Place, the house still needed cleaning on Day 7. So we did that. We realize that maybe the 19-month-old that we keep around here is setting our efforts back a few days. The other kids certainly have no problem blaming him. Sooooo....

More silly fun stuff from Sesame Place, et al, instead:

  • This is not a list of "random" thoughts. It's not as if I took all my thoughts from today, put them in a hat, shuffled, and had my daughter arbitrarily pick six. America, stop overusing the word "random."

  • I'm no marketing genius, but seeing how successful Sesame Place is, and how connected the kids are to the characters and while at the same time enjoying the rides and the general amusement park atmosphere, I wonder if the same thing could work but with Disney characters? Would anybody go?

  • Speaking of Disney, everyone makes a big deal out of Caillou and Dora and the SuperWhy gang as some of the standout annoying cartoon characters in the history of frayed nerves, but lost in that bluster is Goofy. I understand the need for the funny, dense guy in shows but taking Larry the Cable Guy and then dumbing that down? God. I also understand the need to have a dog, I guess, but there's already Pluto, a very well-behaved dog who keeps his mouth shut unless called on and could probably actually pronounce "Mouseketool." I think Goofy gets a pass because he's "classic" Disney, but this guy has to go. Hih-huh, garsh. And to think in my soon-to-be-named, soon-to-be-built, Disney-themed theme park, Goofy probably plays a prominent role, and my kids would want their picture taken with him. Yuk.

  • As some of you already know, I was hoping against hope while standing in line for the teacups that my kids wouldn't figure out that you can make them spin out of control by turning the middle wheel. Well, they got a front-row seat watching two adolescent girls spin themselves into a whiter shade of pale, and my daughter says, "hey Dad, you have to steer it." You don't have to do anything, but if you really want to make Dad sick and end your day at 10:30, go for it. Gone are the days when I could just attribute the spinniness of the teacup to the character on the front. "That Ernie, he's always been a little rambunctious, I bet his spins fast," I'd offer to my kids. "Let's us ride the Bert teacup. Bert would lose his nuts if his teacup spun. Or Telly, let's ride Telly's." Luckily, my kids weren't strong enough to do any damage to my digestive system.

  • Speaking of Telly, who decided that it would be a good idea to introduce a monster that teaches kids that it's ok to worry about things beyond their control until they have stomach ulcers?

  • We nearly got photo-bombed by someone holding an Abby Cadabby Pass. This is the Sesame Place version of the thing that lets you skip all the lines including, apparently, the photo lines. It was our turn, and I turn around to see four kids. If I had thought for a split second longer, I'd have a picture of my kids with Cookie Monster and some other kid...perfect for Christmas cards. No-wait passes for photo lines? Welcome to the era of no attention spans. And of course, jerk parents.

  • If you happen to be the kid whose Dad called him a "motherfucker" in the park Wednesday, you're welcome to show up at our doorstep any time unannounced, no questions asked. You may have to sleep in the garage or the laundry room, but maybe that's ok with you. We almost kidnapped you the other day anyway. Same offer goes for any of you other kids out there.

Nine Days in Summer: Days 5 and 6 - Characters I'd Like to See at Sesame Place

This is the fifth and sixth in a nine-part series, one part for each consecutive day I'll be home on a vacation from work. "Vacation" in a corporate American-ish sense means I'll still be checking in, checking e-mails, and doing all sorts of work-related things, except without having to put pants on, but with small people draped on me. The following is on our list of things to do for the week plus before school starts back up again, my wife goes back to teaching kindergarten, and all Hell breaks loose:

You can find Day 1 here.
Day 2 of course is here.
And Day 3:
And Day 4:

Day 5 got eaten by a bad Internet connection in a hotel where also our toilet seat wasn't attached to the toilet. Which was fine, the only notable thing that happened was my wife overhearing a dad tell his roughly seven-year-old son to "Just leave me alone, motherfucker" at an amusement park. Since I refrained from telling my kids the same, I awarded myself three points and a gold sticker for not being that guy that day.

Day 6:
Day 6 of the vacation was Day 2 of our trip to Sesame Place. For the uninitiated, Sesame Place is a Sesame Street-themed amusement park located in Langhorne, PA. Kids love it because they can meet all of their favorite Sesame Street characters throughout the park, ride Street-themed rides, and play in a massive water park. Adults love it because their kids love it. You really do get a kick seeing your kids enjoying something for the first time, trying new things, and flying off the ground in a safe, enclosed vehicle instead of off the fireplace into a pile of trash bags.

When I say all of their favorite characters, I really mean just all the mainstream characters...Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Bert & Ernie, the Count, Zoe, Rosita (pronounced RRRRRO-SEE-TAH, emphasis on all syllables, not the Spanglishized "Ruhzeeda," and rrrrremember to rrrroll that R) Grover, Oscar the Grouch, and of course Abby Cadabby and Elmo. Abby and Elmo are the divas in the group; their following, popularity, and gravitas often precluding them from walking the streets and getting their photos taken with the adoring public. Most of the daily shows feature Abby and Elmo prominently, so they spend their precious downtime back in the trailer filing their nails or belittling the help for not peeling their orange slices to specification.

(Also there's Murray. If you've had no reason to watch Sesame Street recently, Murray is a relatively new character who looks like Elmo's out-of-work older cousin and does a vocabulary-building bit called Word on the Street, among other things. Frankly, I'm not sure how many prototypes Sesame Street went through in the last few years, but Murray underwhelms me as the choice for the new character. But my son loves him, and I'm not quite in the target demographic any more.)

Once you've gotten your fill of seeing those characters, and as you're sitting through Bert's tedious rendering of Huey Lewis and the News' "Hip to Be Square" for the second time, you start thinking of some of the minor characters you would like to see at Sesame Place. You know, for old times' sake.

1. Guy Smiley -- Guy Smiley seemed to have it all set up to be the Dick Clark of Sesame Street.
Game show host extraordinaire, he could have parlayed that early success into gigs emceeing Sesame Street Live, etc. And with all due respect to the college-aged dance students who are currently forced to use phrases like "Catch ya on the flip side," during the Sesame Place dance shows, Smiley could have owned the stage and further engaged the audience. Sure, his enthusiasm may have worn thin on a few, but I'd think there's a place for him at the park. He'd never skip and autograph session, that's for sure. I was never quite sure what happened to Guy Smiley (just hoping he didn't go all Ray Combs on us) but I refuse to Google it, because I just like the mystery, and I'm awaiting the tell-all book.
He had it all going for him. What happened?

 2. The guy who ate lunch in the restaurant where Grover worked -- Grover was never one of my favorite characters, but the skit where he screws with the guy at lunch was always great. Sesame Place offers "Breakfast with Elmo" where you can "eat and greet" with some of the characters, and that's a lot of fun, but lunch with this guy, while Grover is pratfalling all around you? My kids would never stop laughing. Right, kids? <Silence.>

3. The Amazing Mumford -- Magic shows where everything goes wrong = comic gold. Points deducted if Mumford and Sons is involved in any way.

4. Lefty -- Lefty is the shady guy in the hat always trying to broker a deal with Ernie over letters of the alphabet. Place him in the bushes around the lazy river and let him work his magic. "Psst, hey kid...ya wanna buy a letter O?" "A letter O?" "SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!" He shushes so violently his head shakes. ..try that. Then off he goes into the bushes again. He wouldn't get his picture taken with too many I suppose. Maybe not a good idea. Scratch that.

5. Honkers -- Let 'em out and run rampant all over the park. You think that'd be bothersome until you look and see your son using the stretchy straw from his souvenir drink as The World's Most Annoying Sounding Flute, and suddenly it's not so bad.

6. Bob -- Doesn't have to be Bob, could be a rotating cast of all the "human" characters, but Bob's "People in Your Neighborhood" embodies Sesame Street. Bob should be kept on hand to do live shows whenever possible. If not Bob, then Maria, Gordon, Gina, Linda, Chris, any of them will do.

Two characters I'm glad are not featured:

1. and 2. The two-headed monster -- Fifteen minutes to sound out the word "Mop?" You can do better.

That's it. That's the list. Who's on yours? If many of those characters seem concentrated in the early 1980s, well there may be a good reason for that. And that may be a good reason why none of those characters exist anymore, and no evidence of them can be found at Sesame Place. This isn't 1981 any more, but I'll still sit down with my kids and pull up some old YouTube videos and see what they think. And maybe we can have one Turn Back the Clock Day some day at Sesame Place?