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?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Nine Days in Summer - Day 4 - Mud Soup in a Monsoon

This is the fourth 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:
Here is Bob Costas in a booster chair.

Day 4:
A very alarming sound awoke us this morning. No, not the alarm clock. It was an urgent, panicky, repeated beeping sound (no, still not the alarm clock) that I thought I recognized but not really. I jumped out of bed to see my wife had the same puzzled look. The beeping could mean only one thing:

"Dear God the septic tank exploded again."

Nine years ago, approximately one day and 19 hours after we moved our last box into our first and only home, the septic tank completely broke (or whatever the correct term for a malfunctioning septic tanks is.) This just a few weeks after the entire sewage system was given an all-clear by the guy who examined our sewage and our bug situation.

Hint: Never trust the guy who offers sewage inspection AND insect inspection simultaneously. The things you do when you're young and stupid.

"It's not the septic tank," my wife reassured in her Stay Calm and Shut the Hell Up voice. "I think it's my phone."

Sure enough, the National Weather Center had issued a Tornado Warning for our area for right now. She gets that stuff sent to her phone. I get real-time ESPN ScoreCenter updates. Priorities.

"We need to get downstairs," she said. Her turn to panic. Her fear is dying in a tornado. Mine is stepping in shit water. Then we did the unthinkable...

We woke the kids. All three of them up and downstairs where we have enough non-perishable goods to feed the 5,000, three square meals. But we woke the kids. You never wake the kids unless someone has sighted a real tornado in your neighborhood.

(By the way, shame on me for having no idea this storm was coming. Granted, the storm brewed overnight, but surely someone on the 11 o'clock news had an idea of all this. And that someone would have been the curvaceous, well-endowed weather girl they brought in for a ratings boost to replace the old, bow-tie wearing, past-his-prime Chief Meteorologist who goes by "Hurricane." I should have been watching her. She would not have led us astray. And contrary to my wife's constant assertions, she is NOT a bimbo.)

As fast as the storm approached, it left and spared us. But now we had three kids awake too early and a day of errands in front of us.

"Let's go make mud soup!"

Perfect idea. Mud soup, for the uninitiated, is exactly what it sounds like. Take some dirty, still water over by where the driveway meets the grass, then mix in a few stones from the driveway. Stir with a plastic shovel or rake. Admire.

They could have made mud soup, mud sandwiches, and an entire buffet of mud desserts after yesterday. Yesterday we made them stay inside, and they nearly drove us to lead the 4:30 newscast. Today, I was determined to let them stay out as long as they could possibly stand it. The more time they spend outside, the less time they have available to rip our house's innards apart. Not that they didn't try the minute I mentioned that we need to get some lunch.

It also occurred to me today that I had never taken my kids hydroplaning before. As we ran our errands, we drove through some deep water on the side of the roads, spraying water all around us. The kids loved it and wanted to do it again. I thought we were good after about three instances. (Editor's note: Don't tell me these things. Those are my babies!)

Tomorrow is the trip to Sesame Place, where we can take our mammoth to-do list and rip it to shreds set it aside for a few days. We're ready to make friends with major and minor characters alike. (Is Prairie Dawn still around?) The weather tomorrow calls for perfect skies and temps in the high 70s. But I'm watching the news tonight just to make sure.

Nine Days of Summer - Day 3 - Kids in the Attic?

This is the third 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:

Day 1 is here.
Day 2 can be found here.
And the entire 1979 Major League Baseball All Star game can be found here.

One day when I was 26 years old, I overheard a conversation at work between two thirty-somethings who between them had about 6-7 kids. The man told the woman that he and his wife were finishing some major home project and that they would be dropping the kids off at Day Care to complete the task.

How cold and heartless, I thought, to ship the kids off to Day Care so you could finish some menial house errand. Don't you want to spend every last minute you can with your little cherubs? The moments are fleeting, the memories are fond, and Harry Chapin is out back warming up his pipes, preparing to serenade you outside your window tonight as you throw away a chance to spend another day at home with your precious little ones...I will never send my kids to some strange place when they have all the comforts I can provide. We'll laugh, we'll bond, we'll share lemonade.

Well how quaint.

Forget Day Care, today we would have hired gypsies to babysit.

It's our fault, really, but we had quite a bit of inside work to do on what turned out to be a beautiful day when the kids by all rights should have been playing outside. Someday soon they will reach the ages where we'll force them out of the house and command them not to return before dark unless they are missing a limb or multiple fingers. But at ages 6, 4 and 1, today was not the day.

The dangers are still too great. We live in a decent enough neighborhood, so we don't think anyone would come after them. Plus, our kids have been so programmed to detect Stranger Danger that they initially shy away from many of their older relatives. But you never know. And lately there is an idiot 10-year-old out riding his bike flipping people off as he goes past. I don't want him showing my kids that gesture; I want them to learn that from me someday -- when the time is right. Besides, even if no stranger accosts our kids, I can't trust any of them to run once up the driveway and back without tripping and splitting their lip open. So no.

We held them inside against their will and then asked, and then demanded, that they not play anything that would create a mess as we tried to quite literally get our house in order. We even asked, and then demanded, that they help us. We tried in vain to use the Golden Child technique. We offered blatant favoritism not to the child who helped our cause, but to any that didn't hurt it.

Nothing worked. As soon as one room got clean, a school of Pepperidge Farm goldfish swam out of the bag onto the floor. When those got picked up, an entire easel full of art supplies cam crashing down. All 108 Uno cards made an appearance on the floor today. Welch's Fruit Snacks were tramped into carpeting.

Per usual, the only help offered was when we had to load two 750-pound tubs full of old kids' clothes into the attic.

Ah, the unfinished attic. Known for its two distinct climates, sub-Arctic or super-Saharan, the never-started attic acts an unglorified dumpster. Everything that we should throw or give away goes up there, in the hopes that it will just melt away into the Owens Corning. (Everything except the Christmas ornaments. There's an angel made from a dollar bill as well as a Mario Lemieux Starting Lineup-ish looking ornament that I'd like to rescue.) Because the temperature is never conducive to anything but swearing, there is no time or desire to organize. As a result, the entire back 85% has gone unused, because who wants to bend over to avoid the roof's eaves while carrying a bowling ball and an Apple IIc monitor in 172-degree heat.
According to, this is an example of a poorly planned attic. Compared to ours it still looks like Valhalla.

But the attic is the New World to the kids. They seek approval and funding from the King and Queen of their respective countries to explore it. (If they don't get their acts together and help us, we may make them colonize it, too.) Maybe because the rungs of the ladder are exactly the width of the one-year-old's foot do they feel empowered to climb all 8 steps to see a bunch of unmarked boxes. My mom always told me the boogie man lives in our attic, and I'm convinced he still lives in mine today.

I turned down the offered help, then, on the two tubs of clothes and within five minutes needed a shower. My kids thought we had a sprinkler system installed when I came down. I told them nobody ever should have to go up there again as long as we live here. Then they knocked a cup full of milk to the floor.

Lesson learned: Parents, if you want anything done efficiently, ship the kids to day Care. Secondary lesson that probably nobody learned: Things go quicker when we all work together as a team.

There is a trip to Sesame Place in our near future, though. All will be well then, when we slap hands with Elmo and forget that some days were never meant to go the way you planned them.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Nine Days of Summer - Day 2 - Hit it to Me!

"These guys aren't very good hitters. They aren't hitting it to me."
This is the second 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:

Clean laundry room
Clean garage
Clean bedroom
Supervise kids cleaning their bedrooms (so just do it for them)
Ensure no other rooms in house get messed up
Re-finance house
Take kids to Ball Game (Wilmington Blue Rocks - Class A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals!)
Get cars looked at
Clean behind refrigerator
Schedule meeting with financial planner so he can remind us how rich he is
Power-wash house
Go grocery shopping
Complete and analyze 42 Fantasy Football mock drafts
Re-seal driveway
Get back-to-school haircuts
Take kids back-to-school shoe shopping COMPLETED
Go to Sesame Place - with kids

Day 1 is here.

Day 2:
Determined to make something out of this morning rather than let it rot away in bed like the previous morning, I tried to wake up before at least one of my kids, and succeeded in beating two of them up (not literally) by mere minutes.

Then we picked up where we left off yesterday and took turns cramming kids, one at a time, into a 12" by 18" wagon and pushing them down the hall into a box pile. In the year 3535, when people no longer have feet but their brains will download pleasure-nourishment pills that will last up to 53 weeks at a time, kids will still need to push a makeshift form of transportation rapidly down the hall into sharp-cornered walls. Some things you just won't be able to program unto a pill. Later, in the shower, I heard a noticeable thud that was probably followed by screams of terror, the wagon sacked by either a band of miniature bandits or some uneven carpet. I'll never know because I was off duty. Incidentally, the average shower in our house lasts 48 minutes.

The list above contains some difficult items, but the sneaky-tough one on that list is "Ensure no other rooms in house get messed up." If we get out of the next 8 days with only that having been accomplished, the whole week will have been a success, even if one or more kids falls down a well in the interim. Pillows, cups, shoes, more cups, straws, everywhere. All the time.

To counteract some of this rampant careless behavior, my wife has enacted the Golden Child award. The award is given instantaneously to any child who actually does what we say the first time without backtalk or grief. Used in a sentence: "Looks like <so-and-so> is the Golden Child." Because there is no tangible benefit such as a ridiculously expensive doll, or ridiculously expensive doll clothes, or even a quarter we found under the train table, our six-year-old has abdicated her Golden Child throne and is living the care-free lifestyle of someone who can turn any declarative statement into an argument as well as someone who notices and questions every facial expression you make. ("Why did you just laugh?" "What's funny?" "Why did you laugh that time last week?" "Did you just roll your eyes?")

On the other hand, the four-year-old has taken the Golden Child title to heart. He still needs to hear an official Golden Child Alert before he'll do anything helpful, but at least then he'll spring into action, ready to do whatever you ask of him and absolutely nothing you don't. With the little one too little to understand any of it, right now the middle child is the Golden Child, and literally so on the nights he goes to bed without having peed since 1:30 in the afternoon.

Due to some real-life job obligations and the difficulty we had ensuring the rest of the house wasn't being torn apart, we once again were reduced to crossing just one item off our list. The baseball game. My kids are blessed with attention spans that quite frankly outlast mine, so we can confidently go to any baseball game knowing we will watch all nine innings without having to worry about what the kids will do when they get bored. As long as we bring $4,000 for food. But there is an inflatable bounce house (an inflatable bounce house, I say) down the third-base line and none of my kids cared. I give them full marks for that.

A Wilmington Blue Rocks game is quintessential Minor League Baseball. A jumbotron that you need binoculars to see, vendors outnumbering fans hawking crap or chances to win crap, and multiple mascots that include a celery stalk that dances behind home plate every time the home team scores a run, even if that run scores on a rally-killing double play with the home team down five.

My son found his baseball glove (he actually calls it a mitt for some reason) and then found one for his sister because "we're going to catch something today. Either a ball or a hot dog." Love the enthusiasm, but alas, the Blue Rocks don't shoot processed meat out of an air gun into the upper deck, or any deck, you have to go to the big leagues for that. They did shoot three lousy t-shirts and missed us by a mile every time.

After going the entire game without a ball or a hot dog or a t-shirt, the kids got to run the bases after the game. The girl, free-spirited, like at recess. The boy, determined, like the seventh game of the World Series. "I was the fastest runner out there...did I make smoke [dust] when I ran?"

Yes you did. But we're going to have to make smoke to make a dent in our to-do list. we're going to need the help of several Golden Children.

Nine Days of Summer - Day 1

This is the first 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:

Clean laundry room
Clean garage
Clean bedroom
Supervise kids cleaning their bedrooms (so just do it for them)
Ensure no other rooms in house get messed up
Re-finance house
Take kids to Ball Game (Wilmington Blue Rocks - Class A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals!)
Get cars looked at
Clean behind refrigerator
Schedule meeting with financial planner so he can remind us how rich he is
Power-wash house
Go grocery shopping
Complete and analyze 42 Fantasy Football mock drafts
Re-seal driveway
Get back-to-school haircuts
Take kids back-to-school shoe shopping
Go to Sesame Place - with kids

In two good weeks, with focus and determination, I could get 30% of that list done, without kids. So with the extra challenges, we'll be happy with just cutting the grass and getting some of the dishes done.

Day 1:
With that daunting task list in front of me, I slept until 10 AM. That hasn't happened since college, in the days when I could still sleep on my stomach without it taking the Coast Guard and 100 civilian volunteers 3 hours and 45 minutes to move me a quarter inch. I've witnessed the miracle of birth three times but have never once witnessed a Saturday morning when any of them let me sleep that late, much less witnessed the miracle of having no telemarketers from Nebraska, Florida, or Utah call before 9AM. But I did wake up to giggles with a couch cushion on my head. (Honest to God.) So I was knocked out cold.

Refreshed from the best night of sleep I've had since the day after an all-nighter, I contracted some sort of allergy. They say that people are more susceptible to allergies as they get older, and for some reason I have in my late thirties become allergic to the month of August. Something grows in August that doesn't agree with my lungs...maybe it's the No Holiday Tree, the Humidity Weed, or the Pre-Season Football Death Vine, but if there's an allergist in the house, please see me.

I responded to the allergy not by taking medicine to deal with the symptoms but by sneezing so forcefully and consecutively that I thought I crushed a rib. This is why nothing ever gets done in the house...I'm called on for a few simple tasks--and a few complex ones-- and I sneeze my way onto the DL on the first day. So we decided to try things that don't require me to stand all the way upright...we ordered the tickets for Sesame Place, threatened our kids that we'd go by ourselves if they didn't clean their rooms (which is total bullshit because two adults going there by themselves is creepy) and decided to go do the shoe shopping.

(The ball game will wait until Sunday, and this is the first sign that I might have the best kids in the world...we originally told them we'd go Friday when there are fireworks, then backed out because of a 60% chance of rain - it didn't rain - then promised them Saturday, then in the interest of time and health, pushed it back to Sunday, when we now promise them they can go on the field before the game and run the bases after it. If we renege on this promise, we'll have to get tickets to the game where all fans 14 and under get to play an inning of right field. But other than a few mild protests, they've been ok with it. So far. Love these kids.)

The problem with shoe shopping is that it requires all kids present. This runs counter to my attempts to divide and conquer our errands by splitting up the kids and getting double the work done in the same amount of time. But today there was a buy-one-get-one-half-off sale (a BOGOHOS, as I understand it), so we trudged into the shoe store and by some grace of God, all the kids found shoes they liked. Of course, one pair was not available in the correct size, so my wife immediately stepped in and said we'll order those online. If only she had been there for me two weeks earlier when I picked out a pair of dress shoes and, at the tender age of 38, still managed to get taken by the "Well, we don't have THAT exact shoe that's on sale in your size, but we have this one just like it," that happens to be marked up 300% and is not on sale. I'm THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS OLD and still fall for that crap. I hate business, I hate people, and I hate businesspeople.

The middle child was the one whose shoes didn't fit, so we got him a smoothie to take his mind off the fact that everyone got shoes except him. Then we got the other kids smoothies because we got one kid a smoothie. We will run completely out of money before the youngest turns 3. The benefit to this, though, is that he now gets a package in the mail, and he has been known recently to openly weep when he gets nothing in the mail, even though all the rest of us get is a Coupon Clipper, some credit card applications, and a Victoria's Secret catalog addressed to the former residents. (It's been eight years, Vicky, time to update your database.)

So by my early count, we got one thing done today. This puts on a pace to have the list wiped out by late September, when a new list will have blossomed out of the cracks in the plumbing. I did chug a little Robitussin and downed some Allegra tonight, however, so maybe we can hit the ground running Sunday, and maybe even a little before 10 AM.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A One and a Two

One of the better strokes of luck I've had as a parent came on a night a couple years ago when things were looking a little desperate. The kids started using the couch as a stage. And as a pulpit. And somehow as a tightrope. And as a napkin. And as a diving board into the coffee table.

At wit's end, I was determined to punish them for disobeying my repeated commands to not abuse the furniture while also trying to smoothly transition them to a calming activity that wouldn't result in blood and the emergency room. (Ain't got no time for that.) But mostly I wanted to punish them. They were acting like jackasses, and I had no patience left to try to get them to sit and play Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders or to watch another episode of any of their idiotic cartoons. I needed something new, something fresh, something they had never seen before, so I could blow their minds and channel all that energy into something other than swordfighting with empty paper towel rolls on a cushionless loveseat.

So I made them watch the Lawrence Welk Show. PUNISHMENT.

It was sheer desperation, but it worked. They had seen entertainment shows before, all of them involving singing and dancing, and x's and buzzers, and judges and infighting and black stages and Cielo. Blah. This was a brand new orange-ish stage mandated from the 1970s, the large band playing all sorts of musical instruments in the background, and of course the Geritol sign. (Question #1)

It was mostly the instruments that got their attention. The brass section, the woodwinds, the was probably the first time the now 4-year-old had seen some of these instruments, so he asked "What's that?" for all of them (Questions #2-6). Our daughter got into the singing duets and the dancing, and both of them were duly amazed by Arthur Duncan's feet.

For me it was a little bit of heaven. Not so much the entertainment but the quiet, although I always enjoyed when they played the song from the United Airlines commercial that was a part of most football telecasts in the 1980s. But all the noise and clatter from before had dissipated. There were no commercials that I'd be called on to fast forward through. And if there was a rating softer than "G", this show was that, save for everyone referring to Anacani as "our little Mexican girl." But that lack of subtlety proved too subtle for our young ears to pick up.

In a perfect story, my kids, after watching the Lawrence Welk Show and wondering out loud why everyone in the crowd looks like somebody's great-grandmother (Question #7), turned from unruly hellions into docile creatures that picked flowers, danced with unicorns and developed an appreciation for the fine arts. But in reality we have only watched "the singing and dancing show" a few times in the years since, even though I have two episodes still saved to the DVR, the last 2% that isn't taken up by Chuggington, Let's Play Sesame, Super Why, Tom and Jerry, Caillou, and of course classic NFL games from the 1980s.

Still, between that show and my wife taking my daughter to an education fair where she fell in love with a violin, and me mixing in one Mirror in the Bathroom Youtube video among the 12,000 straight views of the Muppets' Manamana that turned my son on to the saxophone, maybe we have accidentally created at least a respect for music in our kids. And who knows, maybe there's a talent there we can uncover that will best my musical peak, which is lip-synching to old U2 songs on the drive home. My daughter wound up playing the violin, and my son keeps pestering us to allow him to play instruments that are taller than he is. So there's hope.

The point is, although I have no definitive data to back me up, I think kids still like music. And if the kids are driving you nuts and you can't find any music around that they like, and you can't find any around that you like, introduce them to something you don't like. (You're a big boy/girl, you can handle it for an hour.) It may at least calm everyone down a little, and somebody may actually like it!

Questions Index:
1. What does that sign say? GERITOL. What's that? Don't worry about it.
2. What's that? A trumpet.
3. What's that? A saxophone.
4. What's that? A violin.
5. What's that? An accordion. Do you want to play the accordion some day? No.
6. What's that? A bubble machine. I want one. No.
7. Why does everyone look like great-grandma? Because everyone looked 25 years older than people the same age do today. Why? I don't know. Maybe it's their glasses. Why?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Mac and Cheese Debate

Sounds like a no-brainer really, when you have a choice between a pan of hot, fresh, homemade macaroni and cheese and any number of oddly shaped store-bought mac and cheese brands cooked in boiling water. But in this episode of Point/Counterpoint, our six-year-old daughter makes a very compelling case for "the leading brand" over the homemade variety.

Actually that's false. I totally destroy her, then pile on by offering a bonus recipe for a stuffed pepper casserole that is out of this world.

Her: Kids have different taste buds than adults. They may not be quite as advanced as an adult's taste buds, and our palates may not be as discriminating, but the fact remains that Mom's macaroni and cheese, with the thick, sharp cheddar cheese, is the worst thing I've ever tasted, after her stuffed pepper casserole. In fact, I'm not allowing her to look at Pinterest again until she makes me a year's worth of hot dogs and ketchup and potato chip sandwiches.

Me: It's macaroni. And it's cheese. It's macaroni and cheese. Mom may put a little flour in it and change around some of the cheeses, but it's still just macaroni and cheese. Look, I was like you at one point in  my life-- picky eater, afraid of anything that had a vegetable in it until I was 25 years old. To this day I still don't eat asparagus, artichokes, cauliflower, cabbage, beets, eggplants, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes unless they're diced, endive, kale, escarole, cucumbers, chick peas, snow peas, regular peas, and anything with the word "bean" in it. My great-aunt used to make jello salad stuffed with parsnips, turnips, fruit, nuts, bolts, and car parts that nobody ever ate except her fellow old people. I'd pick out every last piece of pepper and onion from my Manwich as a kid. So I know where you're coming from. Food is full of gross stuff. But not macaroni and cheese for goodness sake! There's nothing else in it! Look not even any onions "for texture."

Her: It's yucky.

Me: Can you please elaborate?

Her: The "good kind" of macaroni is the kind mom makes in the pot. They're shaped like shells or wheels or crescent moons, and the cheese either comes in a squeeze pouch that splerches all over the side of the pot, or as a powder that collects on the side of the bowl when you don't mix it thoroughly. That's the good stuff. Mom's is the "yucky" kind. Plus she just gets the recipe off of a box of pasta anyway...

Me: Shhh!!!! Look, I don't disagree with you. Any time you can ingest cheese-dust, you take the opportunity. And in my day, I ate entire boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese. It was, and always will be, the Cheesiest. But, I'm telling you, once you give Mom's kind another chance, you'll never go back.

Her: Disgusting. Gwoss.

Me: We've warned you about your baby talk before. Did you know some of your favorite aunts also make their own macaroni and cheese?

Her: Yeah, and it's still yucky.

Me: Fine. Eat what you want. That's more for me, even though this pan could feed our entire family for a week or more. Do I need to get you a peanut butter sandwich?

Her: With brown sugar?

Me: Sure. Next week, we're having that stuffed pepper casserole, your other favorite.

Her: That's not my favorite...make sure you put enough brown sugar on my sandwich, but not too much. That's too much! Scrape some off. Oh, you scraped too much off! Start over...

You don't have to be George Stephanopoulos to see how clearly and decisively I win this debate. Even if it's true my wife just stole the mac and cheese recipe from a box. You can, however, find the recipe for the stuffed pepper casserole here. (Be sure to have plenty of peanut butter and brown sugar on hand because it's disgusting.) God Bless you Pinterest...I may not totally get you, but you've provided some wonderful meals this summer.

Monday, July 29, 2013

How to Handle Hotels - A Kids' Guide

Editor's Note: Guest-writing this piece are our children, who are the industry leaders in how to make themselves at home in hotel rooms. If they had a Web site, it would probably be called But they don't.

Hotels are AWE-SOME! They are mini-houses that you can stay in when you are on vacation, and they always smell good, and somebody else cleans them. You should go to one sometime, because usually they have refrigerators and even swimming pools! And you can sometimes get breakfast there, if Dad can figure out how to cook waffles in the waffle iron (use that spray stuff first.) If not, Mom can always do it. So here is our list of ways we make hotel rooms awesome:
We didn't stay here, but if we did, the bed wouldn't be big enough.

1. Sign in. Immediately upon your arrival, take the notepad and pen sitting on the dresser and write your names and room number on all the pages. This lets housekeeping know you've arrived. If nothing else.

2. Turn on the TV and immediately ask to watch the Sprout channel. Hotels never have Sprout, but we ask our parents for it anyway, then we whine and cry so loud that they'll turn on anything even remotely age appropriate to keep us quiet...God, maybe even Cartoon Network. We may have seen an episode of Assy McGee for all I know. (Side note: All hotel TVs are programmed to start at Channel 1, which is either an infomercial for the place you're staying or a channel previewing a movie where a woman is murdered in her hotel room. When it's the latter, your parents will literally fly across the room and rip the remote out of your hands as if you're carrying an open canister of flesh-eating acid. Then they'll turn on Assy McGee. Trust us.)

3. Locate the $4 bottles of water and $8 bag of peanuts and ask if you can have some while trying to open them. Again your parents, who have just set down the beach bag full of 99-cent boxes of dry cereal and Capri Suns, will leap across the room to keep it out of your hands. Then, locate the vending machines and ask for something out of those. Be persistent. Never take "We'll see" for an answer.

4. Hotels always want you to feel as if you're home, so feel free to kick off your shoes and immediately lose them. It might sound hard in a smaller space, but the balcony is a good place to start, or under the beds, or in the microwave..

5. Also on the "at home" theme, it's perfectly fine to run up and down the halls yelling and screaming. Those are some big halls, and why wouldn't everyone want to know "I have a belly button" and "My brother just pooped his pants?"

6. Force your parents to let you unlock the front door. Hotel doors are cool because they don't use keys, but rather "credit cards." Wait until both parents are loaded down like pack mules, then, in your highest voice, screech out your desire to open the door. If your parents are nice, they'll patiently yet wearily watch you fail to open the door three or four times before, once again, ripping it out of your hands and grumbling, "Here. I'll do it." But hotel room doors are awesome.

7. Use the secret code on the radiator to irreversibly turn on the heat. Make sure to set it for some ungodly temperature that starts with an 8, then pretend not to notice as your parents get more irritable looking for your shoes while wiping sweat off their brow. We could have put the tooth fairy out of business if we had trademarked the phrase, "Why is it so God-damned hot in this room?" Also, petition the Grand Hotel Authority of the Universe to remain steadfast in their refusal to put such knobs out of the reach of 18-month-olds.

8. Maintain an irrational fear of the bathtub. Yes, it's just a bathtub, and, yes, Mr. Rogers' time-honored maxim of You Can Never Go Down the Drain holds as true as ever, but, by God, we just saw a lady get murdered in her hotel, and we're reasonably sure it happened in the bathtub. Trust no bathtub, even those in the Taj Mahal or your grandparents' house, because they are just not your bathtub. Also, scream at the top of your lungs when your parents rinse out your hair.

9. Point out how weird the hangers are. Ask your parents why hotels always have weird hangers. We have 22,000 hangers at home, so I don't know why they'd think we'd steal theirs.

10. Screw around with the bedding arrangements. Our parents, such stodgy traditionalists, usually try to sleep sister and brother in one bed and mother and father in the other, with little brother in the cage pack -n- play. By 1:15 AM, we have ourselves in perfect sister-mother-brother-father formation in one bed, with Dad sleeping between in the crack between the bed and the wall, even though the bed is at least 50% larger than any bed we have ever owned. The other bed then goes unused.

These should get you started. If you have any others, please relay to us through our parents because we don't have e-mail addresses or Web sites. Remember, staying in hotels is F-U-N fun fun fun!!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Birthdays and Bedpans, Part 2

It's Caillou playing hockey for the Penguins. Any comparisons to Sidney Crosby will be summarily rejected.
Warning: The following can get a bit graphic. If you get queasy at the sight of synonyms and euphemisms for "puke," divert your eyes. Also, Part One is here.

We had gone 36 hours without anyone else in the family succumbing to the bug or whatever it was that knocked me down for about 48 hours earlier this week, though to be fair, the word "bug" wouldn't seem to do it justice. "Stomach-eating viral infestation from Hell" sounds more accurate. It lasted too long and involved too much lingering "general malaise" for it to be just bad food, so we were leaning toward it being the rare virus that comes in and strikes just one lucky person and leaves the rest of the family intact. I don't know what kind of virus you would call that, but I'm sure Dr. Nancy Snyderman knows. Our own medical diagnoses complete, we were able to concentrate less on illnesses then and more on our son's 4th birthday.

6:30 PM
I got home from work later than I wanted, which meant that we needed to jam in a dinner out, opening presents, and cake and ice cream all before bed. I'm thinking most parents have their kids in pajamas by 6:30, but not us. Our kids never go to bed before 9 o'clock anyway, because we're terrible parents.

I changed out of my work clothes but could only find a pair of jeans...not the optimal dress for the current weather, 97 and hazy (in other words, standard USA summer weather) but since we were going to just sit in air-conditioned comfort and were pressed for time, jeans it was.

But because the birthday boy has been waiting since March to open presents and has openly wept on recent occasions when there has been no mail specifically with his name on it, he was hungrier to tear into some wrapping paper than to tear into some food. Which was understandable since he never eats anything anyway. So we waited and watched him stoically open his presents (no 4-year-old in history has ever showed less emotion on his birthday; I wasn't sure if he was opening presents or watching Schindler's List) while our stomachs rumbled.

When it's your birthday in our house, you choose the restaurant where we eat, and nobody is allowed to throw a fit, especially the parents. We were not surprised, then, to hear that on this special night we would be eating at Friendly's for perhaps the fifth or sixth time in the last 30 days, but we were surprised at the reason why:

"They'll sing to me there."

We have a six-year-old daughter who dances on stage in front of hundreds of people, but our son, when he's at his most comfortable, usually stares into his feet when he talks to people. So who volunteers to be serenaded by high-school and college-age servers and hosts in front of an entire room of people? We couldn't believe it. And after pointing out that virtually ALL other places in the area will sing to you, that you don't HAVE to pick Friendly's, he stood his ground. It's his birthday.

We noticed that the parking lot was relatively empty. On the way inside, we threw out several theories why...we were there later than usual, too hot even for ice cream, it wasn't the same since the original Friendly's burned to the ground after a lit cigarette started a fire in the adjacent flower bed. An exiting patron had the answer..."AC ain't workin in there, awful hot." We stopped in the entry way, holding our diaper bag and our booster seat and our toddler, and I flashed my standard "My balls are sweating profusely just thinking about this," look, but all I got back was an "It's his birthday" counter. So we entered the conservatory dining room and of course were seated next to the kitchen.

Fanning ourselves with menus and wet napkins, we let the server know that we had a birthday celebrant among the 14 or so people in the house, and if they didn't mind coming over and doing their thing in this oppressive heat, we'd appreciate it. They did, and our son was overjoyed. I think. He had the same reaction as he did when he opened his gifts, which is the same reaction good players have when they hold a losing poker hand. So we have no idea if he enjoyed it or not. My daughter was mortified. In either case, there was an echo in the restaurant as they were chanting something in military cadence.

Of course, by Federal mandate every Friendly's party must order at least one ice cream treat, and so we sat and tolerated watching the two boys struggle to stay in front of two melting vats of ice cream by eating it with their hands. (If you are lactose intolerant and OCD, it would have been your worst nightmare.) As it got more apparent nobody was going to finish their ice cream before smearing it all over their hands and the table, we abruptly picked up and left, which started an epic temper tantrum with the 1-year-old.

Nobody working at Friendly's that night has kids, we think, because in the middle of our emergency evacuation when we were offered balloons. Never, ever offer balloons to parents who have the "we gotta get outta here" look. For some reason we stopped to accept them, perhaps to quell the temper tantrum, perhaps to avoid two more.

Once we got outside, all three balloons fell off their sticks (why sticks? Is this 1945?) and so we chased those down while we held the diaper bag and the booster seat and the toddler, then get all that stuff into the trunk, except the toddler, maybe. Daddy's starting to get a little impatient, and the sweat is pouring into previously unreached areas.

9:00 PM
We live only 10 minutes from the Friendly's, but that was plenty of time for the 1-year-old to fall asleep, so we joyfully dumped him in his crib when we got home, despite his desperate need for a power-wash, maybe stopping to take his shoes off. We still had cake to get to, so we lit the candles, turned out the lights, sang Happy Birthday, watched him blow out his candles, cheered, realized we forgot to hit Record on the video camera, then did it all over again but with 67% less enthusiasm. It has to be close to midnight by now.

Everyone passed on cake at that point because all anyone wanted to do was go to bed. As you can tell from the photo, this cake could be used to stop flooding. At least six inches high and wide enough to feature Caillou playing hockey for the mid-1990s era Pittsburgh Penguins. Don't ask. It's his birthday.

10:00 PM
It wasn't actually midnight but at this point who even notices. Even the kid who earlier opened all his presents wanted to go to bed instead of playing with them. Except for the batting tee and real aluminum bat; he wanted to use those things in the living room, within reach of some important knick-knacks. But mostly he wanted to go to bed, so he did, along with his sister. One of the more painless bedtimes, but considering all we had been through, the path there was arduous.

At last it was time to reflect on the day that was...chaos at work, chaos at home, chaos in the sweatshop restaurant, more chaos at home. Time to watch the least chaotic sport on, just to settle the nerves.

10:45 PM
Until there was crying. There might not be any crying in baseball (though tell that to Pirates fans the last 20 years) but there was crying in puking, as a certain six-year-old managed to throw up all over her bed and on her bedroom carpet, a messy trail covering a single flip-flop as she gamely tried to get near a toilet.

No problem...we'll just get this cleaned up and strip the bed and put some new sheets on, and you'll be as good as new. We may tend to fly off the handle and lose our tempers as parents at times, but there is always a soft spot when one of your progeny has just vomited all over her things. On top of feeling physically bad, now she feels regret for messing stuff up. And the taste is horrible. I always feel really bad when a little kid throws up.

As we were just finishing patting ourselves on the back for the efficiency and compassion with which we handled that situation, we heard some more footsteps struggling down the hall, and some coughing, and...oh shit, we didn't give her a garbage can, did we?

This time she got closer to her ultimate destination, stopping a stride short of the bowl before re-launching. Really? Just one more step and you had it...but compassion, yes! We still showed close to 97% of the compassion we did the first time. After her second bout with this, though, our daughter did request a sleeping mate. (There's a moment of truth for a parent, who among you will volunteer to sleep next to a spewing machine?) My wife came up with the best solution of both worlds; she would sleep on the couch and let out daughter sleep on the air mattress next to her.

Really there was an ulterior motive here. I think she did this less for our daughter and more because she gets tired of the now 4-year-old twisting her hair and kneeing her in the kidneys all night, so a night on the couch next to a sick kid is preferable.

Somehow unable to sleep after all that, I turn on the NFL Network. As much as I love football, the NFL Network has some pretty terrible programming, and not much of it. Can only watch the Walter Payton thing so many times.

2:56 AM
I'm awakened by the bed shaking, and my bedmate shaking, followed by a BLLLLLLLAAAAAAAACCCH cough cough couuuuugh three inches from my head. Victim number two has been identified, and I fly out of there like he's an axe murderer. Where's that garbage can? Where's the toilet? Is he done yet? Where is the backup to the backup set of sheets? My wife is awakened by the chaos and affords our son the same comfort we afforded our daughter (the first time) while I dry heave in the bathroom sink. She does not offer to sleep with him, however.

"I frue up a yil' bit," he declared when asked the mostly rhetorical "What happened?" question. Still very stoic, businesslike, matter-of-fact. No panic, no fear. Everybody pukes. Most impressive is that he turned down a drink of water after his ordeal. But this is no big deal. I fetch him a new pair of pajamas for the rest of the night, and he points out that "they don't match."

"Put them on, anyway." Three sets of pajamas and two sets of bed clothes later, we may be finally ready to...

6:02 AM
Beep, beep, beep, slap.

6:11 AM
Beep, beep, beep, slap.

6:20 AM
Beep, beep, beep, slap.

6:29 AM
Beep, beep, beep, crash landing into the far corner.

The show must go on.

His sister made the 4's herself! Including the backward one. Reversals are ok through second grade, from what I understand.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Birthdays and Bedpans, Part 1

Everything turns upside down in the house when one of the parents is sick. Not sick like the sniffles or a headache. And as I've said before, not sick like awesome, the way you twenty-somethings use it. Dad would never be sick in that case. No, sick like deathbed, can't move, flu kind of sick. This place is always a madhouse, but when one of the tall people is suddenly felled by illness, the wee folk remarkably show some compassion and keep their behaviors in check, their tantrums to a minimum, and their desires for impossibly high items like fly swatters and mail catalogs directed mostly toward the healthy parent. Except for the wee-est one, who still batted me on the ears with a rake and threw baseballs into my crotch as I lay on the couch and moaned.

Maybe we're just lucky then, that two of our three kids are courteous enough to totally ignore us when we are at our worst, instead of ratcheting up the annoyance when they sense weakness, like wild animals. Maybe, as we tell each other all the time, God really does only give you what you can handle, and so we got two really easy ones and one sorta easy one who we might groom to an easy one if we have enough energy left.

I mean nobody came and offered to take my temperature with a plastic thermometer or listen to my heart with a plastic stethoscope, but that's fine. Their respectful distance meant more than their half-hearted attempts at taking blood pressure and my half-hearted attempts at explaining what the imaginary numbers would have meant. Of course when anyone got near me, I told them I'd make them throw up, so that might have played a role, too. Oof! Another rake to the side of the head. I'd put him in his bed as punishment for that, but I couldn't lift a tissue. "You can go to bed if you want to," offered the three-year-old in his expert medical opinion. I took him up on it.

The next morning everyone trod lightly. There was a certain amount of anticipation, though. Not quite Christmas morning but probably more than Easter morning, as the two oldest tried to enter my force field of sick. They looked curious, perhaps to see if the miserable adult they left last night was back to being his more normal morning sort of miserable. Eyes still glazed with sleep, fingers in mouths, they approached, shy, like they would an adult they had never met before. They usually want cereal at this hour, but they aren't shy about that. What do they want?

"Did you throw up last night?"

When I nodded my bedhead yes and smiled a little, they moved in, guards down, sitting up straight in my bed, rapt with attention like I'm a WWII veteran finally opening up about my experiences. They came prepared with an arsenal of follow-up questions, one of which wasn't, "Might you throw up again with us 3 inches from your face?" Apparently they thought throwing up was a one-and-done exercise,

What color was it?
What bathroom did you do it in?
Did you get it all in the toilet?
How come I didn't hear you last night?
Did Mommy throw up too?
Did it hurt?
Did you cry?

At the risk of being too graphic the answers are, in order, horrendously brown, my own, yes this time, because I was tiptoeing the whole way (alternatively: I have no idea how you didn't hear Bert going, "HONK. HONK. AYUUUUUUUUGA, as I tripped three times over your brother's Sesame Street car/dashboard thing that is loud enough to scare away intruders), no, no, and no in fact it was the happiest I'd ever felt while doing it.

As in any family, though, the two next questions after someone gets really sick like that involve (1)  whether it was a virus or did I just "get a hold of some bad meat," even though it's usually the bad meat that gets a hold of you, and (2) who's next in the family, which usually gets as much speculation as the name of the Royal Baby, complete with odds.

Since our three-year-old is preparing to celebrate a birthday in the next day, we figured that with his typical middle-child luck, he would come down with some horrific virus that would make us debate hospitalization. So if Vegas were posting odds, I'd bet the house on his being the "next" one.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Helping Girls Find Their Misplaced Dads

This shirt is making the funny-meme-baby-T-shirt rounds at an Internet near you. If, like me, you're pink/teal color blind, it reads: "It's simple...I'm a princess, mommy is a Queen, and daddy is around here somewhere..." (commas mine, capitalization errors theirs.)

Not much bothers me as a dad, since on the parenthood scale, my needle more often points toward "Buffoon" -- anyone who's watched me try to stick a pair of overalls on a wiggly child would agree. Sometimes I do wonder why all dads in commercials for household items wear the same plain gray t-shirts that make Bill Belichick look like Versace, but then I look at what I'm wearing and shrug. Otherwise, when a dad does something inexcusably stupid on TV or in movies that causes the mom to grimace, I usually just make a mental note -- don't do what that guy just did.

But I've never gotten lost in the house. Or anywhere on my own property. So I'm not entirely sure what the shirt means, not sure who finds it funny, not sure if it's meant as a commentary on the emotional vacancy of dads and husbands in some families, or if it's just the Easter Bunny hid him and didn't leave good enough clues. I'm also not sure where to tell these young ladies to start if they are truly interested in finding and reconnecting with their dad. Still, I'll try:

--Where did you see him last? Did you have him yesterday? What did you do with him when you got home? Throw him on the end table? Have you checked your pockets? You didn't wash him, did you? I've told you how many times not to leave him just lying around, your little brothers will carry him off and Lord knows where we'll find him. IF we find him...IF they didn't put him in their mouths, he's a choking hazard, you know...

OK, maybe your dad isn't keys or hot pink nail polish. Then where could he be? As the shirt says, he's around here somewhere, so we'll rule out strip clubs, bars, and racinos. For now. Based strictly on my own experiences, here are some more places to look for your dad:

1. Is he outside swearing at the lawnmower? If he's anything like my daughter's dad, he fully expects all machinery to work right without any upkeep, maintenance, or care on his part. That's why they're called MACHINES. The minute a machine stops working, even if you leave it out in the rain for four straight days, it stops being a machine and starts being "a big stupid pile of shit." Check for loud noises in the backyard and maybe a separated shoulder from overzealously pulling on the cord.

2. Is he in the shed? Unequivocally the answer is no. Don't even look there. You're more likely to find David Attenborough filming about glaciers in your shed than your dad.

3. Is he in the closet? Sometimes my kids' dad hides in the closet when we play the "chase each other all over the house game" and he needs to catch his breath. Oh, you weren't playing that game? Try there anyway, there may be cookies nobody told you about. Hurry, before they're gone.

4. Is he in the laundry room? You may have not thought to look there after he was banned for turning Mom's pants into capris and her capris into bloomers. Both honest mistakes...but don't let your mother fool you into thinking she's never shrunk anything in her life either. Wink, wink.

5. Is he under that big pile of couch cushions and Dora blankets over there? You were playing fort, right? Of course you were, everyone plays fort. Maybe he's still buried under all those big pillows and you forgot about him.

6. Is he at work? Maybe he's not actually "around here somewhere" at the moment, or maybe "around here" means "in the same area code." But maybe he's off earning money for you to go to college someday and to fund your activities. Try giving him a call at his work number. If that doesn't work, try his cell phone. If that doesn't work, try his beeper. If that doesn't work, try his pager. If that doesn't work, try his administrative assistant. If none of those work, try the strip club.

7. No no no, one of those will work! He'll pick one of them up. He always picks up when you call. Your dad is there, just go find him. OK, first take off that stupid shirt, throw it in the old rag basket in the basement, and then go find your dad. You just weren't looking hard enough. You don't even have to call him king.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

18 Months: Time to Get on the Pot?

About a month ago or so, we examined what a 17-month-old should look like, act like, and sound like and determined that I didn't really have one around my house, despite evidence to the contrary like a birth certificate and piles of my toothbrushes facedown in the corner of the playroom gathering hair between the bristles. Actually it turns out I did have a 17-month stumbling around here. It's now almost time for him to become a mature 18-month-old, old enough to vote on things like what he'll eat for dinner and to smash his brother over the head with Emily. So since I do indeed have one, what should I expect from this one-and-a-half-year-old now?

Before we try to answer that, let's make one thing abundantly clear. There will be no half birthday parties. I guess that's, as they say, "a thing" now. Though probably not for one-year-olds who can't understand the logic behind actually opening the juice box before you can drink the juice, much less fractions. But also not for the regular party-goer in our house, Little Miss Six, who would jump at the opportunity to celebrate something, anything, and dress like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz to do it. (I'm going to go get the mail by myself, Mommy, can I wear my red shoes?) Instead we just sort of mark the half birthdays, in a gee-whiz-you're-getting-big sort of way, and let the kids realize their next real birthday is now officially on the radar. Six months is still eons for kids, which means kids will for eons add "and-a-half" to their ages.

The other reason we won't make a big deal about the baby's half-birthday is that we now sit just days away from a fourth birthday for the middle child. Ever since his sister turned six in March, he's been dialed in on his own birthday and all the attention it affords. We'll certainly bowl a few games, we'll eat a Caillou cake (tastes like whine), and we'll open some presents. We've heard about this day for months now, and if we preempt it with anything more than a cursory celebration for his baby brother six days earlier, the middle kid might pick up and leave the house. Though he'd miss tugging on his mother's hair in bed too much, so I'm calling his bluff.

Back to 18 months. People who know about this stuff say that this boy should suddenly be able to put away all his toys, I think. At least he should be clearing out all the cabinets, which he's been doing most of his life, then trying to put the contents back, perhaps in a different order, which he hasn't tried once yet. Mostly he leaves them there for us to trip over. Same with the entire box of Q-Tips, though at least he's not doing this to himself yet.

They also say he will want to know what is behind, under and inside of everything he sees, but I think they left out a few prepositions. Regardless, he fit that description at the beach the other day, when he nearly ended up under the ocean. We know now, after having two other kids we could trust to not get lost between here and anywhere, why parents buy those leashes, and use them.

Every part of his body is his nose, which explains why he's not sure what to do with all those Q-tips. Occasionally he'll point to his ears and his hair, but mostly he just dupes us by calling everything his nose. Or he really thinks he has ten noses on his hands.

But the big event that we should begin to prepare for is, yes, Potty Training! (Don't say it unless you mean it, parenting Web sites offering up monthly milestone updates. You can't just drop that one in there with "can hold a cup" and "starts to act more independently." Potty training is the prize milestone, because we will immediately save the equivalent of a mid-compact car on diapers annually. I'm really excited about this.) I think I'll make a potty chart right now, and I'm going to pick out some sports-related underpants and of course some cartoonish pull-ups and get this thing started. No pressure, of course. But let's do this. I'll buy you a gold toilet if you can get this process started.

One site also mentioned something about "gross motor skills," so everyone step up and take a free shot at your best farting joke. Do it fast, because this kid is going to be potty trained before I'm able to put his used diaper genie on eBay.