Tuesday, April 30, 2013

TV Wars Part I: Game 1 of Pens/Isles or a re-air of episode #276 of the Sprout Good Night Show?

Seems like a no-brainer from where I sit, but even the three-year-old hockey junkie needs him some Nina now and again. Star we can all do with less of.

There will be a throwdown of sorts tomorrow at 7:30 PM, one of us will have to go to the basement. We'll have another fantastic day, but then it's time to say, "It's a Hockey Night in Pittsburgh."

The Most Interesting People In the World Are 1-Year-Olds

No disrespect to the old codger in the beer commercial, but the most interesting people in the world are 1-year-olds.

They are all uniquely shrouded in mysterious layers. Nobody knows what they are doing. Nobody knows what they are thinking. Nobody knows what in the world they are say-ing. Contradictions abound. They are often too tired to sleep, too hungry to eat, too busy playing with their ding-a-lings to realize the tub has been drained. Everybody knows when they are angry, but nobody ever knows why.

(Maybe your 22-and-a-half-month-old who studies Muzzy 3 hours a day and knows sign language can effectively communicate why he just spent the last two hours in the back of the airplane screaming and kicking. But he didn't, so I'd ask for a refund. My 15-month-2-week-4-day-old can never tell us what's wrong, even when he lumbers into the kitchen with a bloody lip and a bent fork. They are both 1-year-olds.)

To be fair, infants also are mysterious and helpless, but you can't hand an infant a brand new ice cream cone, ask her to walk 4 steps over to the picnic table, and end up with dirt-and-grass flavored ice cream, so 1-year-olds are slightly more interesting.

What makes these young lads and lassies tick? How do I get through to one? I've had two full years of practice talking to 1-year-olds and still can't talk to this one. Surely there is something more to this kid than in the months after his conception, he often inspired the phrases "zone defense" (way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way too often) and "you need to get that thing snipped."

What is it? I don't know. I do know that if the recently concluded NFL draft ever expanded to include 10 or so rounds where you could only pick 1-year-olds, my kid probably wouldn't get drafted. But he might latch on somewhere as a free agent. There is room in the league for someone who ranks in the 95th percentile in nearly everything, from head circumference to appetite to throwing the keys in the toilet. NFL scouts would applaud his great "motor," especially when they see him in the bathtub and his parents have to wear trench coats. But he can also play nice and, while you're washing someone else's hair, gently drop a soaked washcloth into your crotch.

As a sports fan, it's too early yet to tell where he is headed. He dutifully attends his siblings' soccer games, double-fisting their designated post-game treats as they play and he sits in our wagon-stroller that is half the size of a minivan. When he's finished everyone else's snacks, he gets out of the wagon and, all bundled up to handle the sub-30-degree temps, toddles and stumbles around like the Michelin Man after a tire-sniffing bender.

But he's a sharp cookie, too. At the soccer games he frequently engages us in the riotously entertaining "How close can I get to abduction?"  party game by walking away from the scene, then running away from the scene when he's noticed. Per the rules, he only returns to you when you don't look at him, but he knows deep down, you can't take the chance, as small as it is, that someone won't swipe him away as you're busy shoving hot dogs in your face pretending to ignore him.

More importantly, he also knows his brother and sister are horrible at slow-playing it and scream bloody murder when he crosses the walking path 10 feet away. The chase is on. Hilarity ensues. Cue the Benny Hill music, speed up the video. Back in the wagon, son, you can wrench your back all you want.

So I don't really know what I have yet in this little 1-year-old package... a little bundle of joy, a little spitfire, a little Dickens, a little evil genius, a little of everything. I doubt he's as complicated as his dad makes him out to be. If anyone else has their own 1-year-old figured out, though, congratulations, we're all ears.

No really, it's half the size of a Dodge Grand Caravan.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

You're in God's House Now - Try to Not Act Like Jackasses

If parenthood were a corporate America type of job, my wife and I would never earn a promotion. We do satisfactory work at most levels of the job description, but we constantly come up short in one area which our employer would consistently note as "opportunity for improvement."

We need to take our kids to church more often.

Every Christmas our kids expose this flaw when they stare blankly at a Nativity scene and can't properly identify the main character, the baby in the manger. "Joseph? An angel? Rudolph? Oh yeah, Jesus! Umm...who's Jesus?"

Convenient that Christmas comes right before Resolution Season, which opens Jan 1...after suffering mortifying embarrassment over the absence of Jesus in our lives, we vow that this is the year we get back on track. Until the first cold Sunday in January, and then we're off the wagon again.

This has got to stop and stop right now. Well, not right now, there are no churches open at 11:30PM Sunday. But this week. Resolved: By advent, our kids will know their Lord and Savior, without us having to spot them the J-E-S-U.

There really are no excuses due to the Catholic Church enacting what the corporate world would call "flexible hours." Our church schedules a daily Mass --including the spectacularly under-attended Saturday evening Mass-- plus a full menu of Sunday services...7:30, 9:30, 11:30. So you really can go every day and thrice on Sunday. My wife warns me that "not all of those daily Masses count" toward your weekly obligation, but God is not keeping score, right? It's still good to know Bonus Church is available for those who need it.

Admittedly there is no tougher parenting hour in the week than the hour+ at church. We strip our kids of every electronic item they own, make them wear uncomfortable clothes, and expect them to sit in silence for longer than they can usually go between trips to the bathroom. We also warn about how we should act in "God's House" and enforce the rules more strictly than the TSA, which results in tears often before we even enter the building. Who signs up for that?

But it must be done, and it can be done. We have had success in the past with the CPCPC seating arrangement, where C = Child, P= Parent, and we stick the youngest in the middle, in case he rises and tries to pull a Greg Louganis off the front of the pew. This leaves the two older kids, both sweating, panting, and jittery from digital withdrawal at either end of the formation, where they cannot pull one another's hair, only one of ours.

Other families try the PCCCP arrangement, but that leaves scant coverage in the middle of the formation. Sure, if Dad's arms are long enough, he can still smack the middle C in the back of the head for getting out of line, but usually not before the entire bag of Skittles has cascaded out onto the wooden church floor. At that time the family scraps PCCCP in favor of some sort of hybrid, such as PCCPC or CPCCP, but all control has been lost.

It used to be that such defensive tactics were not necessary, that a family of five could sit in any formation and the dad could just flash some "look" to his kids that said, "One false move and when we get home all your asses will be so magenta you'll have thought you fell asleep face down in the shower." But those days of tough love and tougher discipline seem to be over, since every time I give my kids that "look," they laugh and stick their tongue out at me. So we play defense instead.

Nobody said this would be easy, but in order to raise kids properly, we need to prove ourselves in front of God and everybody. Or at least God. And we really want to earn that promotion, the one that results in no extra pay and more responsibility. We really want that, right?

Friday, April 26, 2013

She’s Going to the Art Show!

The six-year-old girl living with us cannot possibly be related to me. Further proof of that came home from school in her backpack Friday. One of her art pieces has been selected for the district-wide Art Show on Saturday. That’s no small deal.

I have no idea what the piece is, and neither does she. She’s not even sure what the Art Show is, other than it’s something that may preclude her from going to one of her friends’ birthday parties this week, but of course not the party where there will be pony rides. So she’s happy about that.

She’s not happy about potentially missing soccer for the Art Show, but she’ll just have to chalk that one up to, “Yeah my parents were right about that one” when she reaches the age you realize your parents don’t suck.  The only thing bothering me is that of two soccer games, two birthday parties, and an Art Show all happening from 10-3 that day, the lone event we are assured of attending is the one with an on-site live horse.

I used to get “W’s” in art class in grade school. W stood for Weak, according to some weird scale that was used for the minor subjects. (“The artwork is weak.” “You’re weak.”) And my wife is no Rembrandt, either, so we’re not sure where any of this artistic ability is coming from. If any of our immediate or distant family knows, please speak up.

Meanwhile, she comes home from soccer the next day and proceeds to eat broccoli and play outside in the dirt and gather up worms. I’m taking a paternity test next week. This girl is not mine.

Learning the States: 50 New Ways to Describe the Shape of your Poop

 It’s not all sports around here. If, after reading the headline, you’ve decided that this entry may contain more than your recommended daily allowance of information, please proceed to the next entry on our daughter’s art project.

Through the use of a game called Stack the States, our two older kids have learned most of the 50 states, their shapes and their locations. This is probably a good thing for them to have in their back pocket for future reference, but for now it serves mostly just as a bragging point when I call their grandparents.

The other unforeseen advantage was that it expanded the three-year-old’s descriptive repertoire for his bowel movements, which are depicted as regularly as they are deposited, which is every time we sit down for dinner, no matter when dinner is.  Even his regularity is irregular.

(This seems like a good place to remind new parents struggling with potty training that your work does not end when your child starts sitting on the can to do his business. There is the matter of cleanup, and after watching the care my guy took in putting away his train set and seeing sidewalk chalk and toy lawnmower parts strewn all over the yard, I am not comfortable he’s fastidious enough to ensure he won’t smell like a fresh turd for the next 12 hours.  Especially given our current sleeping arrangements. So when he interrupts our dinner with “I’m done! Somebody wipe my BUTT!! Poop looks like Florida!” I answer him every time. But I make him wait until I’m done eating.)

Gone now are the days when everything in the toilet is compared to a carrot, which surprisingly was frequently correct. Sometimes his geographic comparisons are spot on, other times it’s been a reach. When it looked like Delaware, it was cute and geometrically reasonable. When it looked like Florida, it was cute but way off. When it looked like Alaska, we dialed the on-call pediatrician immediately.

We haven’t yet had anything resemble Jesus or a weeping Virgin Mary, and so I’m wondering if that means we aren’t going to church enough. Stay tuned to the last five minutes of your late local news on that.

Early Soccer Notes

Four weeks into our inaugural soccer season, some things we have learned:
  • Thank God our son does not play for the Colombian National team. After he put two into his own net one week, I would have expected him and most of the rest of our family to be murdered in cold blood over ice cream at the local Friendly’s.  But we don’t live in a soccer-crazed South American nation, just Delaware. Grimacing after each own goal, I soon realized that all of our pickup games involving nets in the basement—soccer, hockey, basketball—had only one net, and that all goals are good things. (Maybe for three year-olds they still are.) We’ll work on putting the ball in the correct net going forward. I also realized that nobody really cares about three-year-old soccer except me, judging by the relative indifference of the crowd after those own goals. “I won’t be that dad, I won’t be that dad, I won’t be that dad.”

  • My kids simply aren’t mean enough. Maybe it goes back to that one-net thing, but both my son and daughter act as more of gatekeepers, when not outright facilitators, for the other team. “Need to get by? Sure! Let me just back out of your way here,” my daughter might have said as an alternative to impeding an opponent’s path to the goal. She’s like a maid after all the dinner guests have arrived. It’s all I can do to not scream, ‘Take the ball away!” to a girl who is used to me screaming, “Don’t take that ball away from your brothers!” We’ll teach the need for some well-placed aggression going forward as well. That should be fine, me introducing more contention into a sibling relationship.” I won’t be that dad, I won’t be that dad, I won’t be that dad.”

  • Grown men will never be able to keep their mouths shut when they don’t like the team on your sweatshirt. Two weeks ago, I guess someone’s kid was in our way, and his dad admonished him to get out of our way until he realized, “Oh never mind, he’s a Penguins fan.” By the time I realized he was talking about us, he had started the “polite laugh but I really meant it,” laugh. By the time I started my “Oh I get it, you’re kidding, but if it were just the two of us here I’d probably try to hip-check you into the concession stand” retaliatory laugh, he had stopped laughing and moved on into the crowd. This will continue as long as men roam the Earth.


If the key to raising well-adjusted kids is to involve them in enjoyable activities without forcing anything on them, that second part is getting easier by the day. In fact, I’m not forcing anything on anyone right now as I sit here wiped out on the couch after a day of soccer, rosy-cheeked and rosy-necked even though the temperature today never once eclipsed 29 degrees.   I totally don’t force my kids to commit to an activity every day of my life, and I will continue to not do so tomorrow. Oh so you DON’T want to play lacrosse and take full Saturdays and half Sundays of Mandarin lessons? NO PROBLEM HERE. You’d rather spill the entire box of Trix directly under my feet? BY ALL MEANS. Here, I’ll help you tramp them into the carpet. Just so I can do it sitting down.
The hard part is finding something they actually like. We watch our share of televised sports, so there was exposure at an early age to football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. Of course the first sport they picked was soccer.

Growing up I’ll admit I was never a fan of soccer as a either a spectator sport or a participation sport, which doesn’t leave much today except as an “it’s-either-this-or-Caillou" sport, in which case it’s fine. I get annoyed on nights where there are 45 major college basketball games, 12 NBA games, and 10 NHL games, and 7 of SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays are soccer goals. (Though I understand the school of thought that all soccer goals are life-changing and should be thus celebrated.) I still get annoyed at the ESPN crawler that teases with “Score Alert” only to see that Man U and Tottenham are still knotted at nil-nil in the 200th minute. (Are those even teams? That play each other?)

The reason for my distaste for soccer of course, is that I’m a total simp. Soccer’s greatest characteristic is that it involves way more strategy than just “kick the ball into that huge goal.” So it’s like chess on a football field…the fun just never stops. 
And any sport where you couldn’t use your hands was not for me. The only player who can use his hands is the goalie, who is charged with covering a net the size of the ground floor of the Smithsonian. Someday someone will satisfactorily explain to me why soccer has goalkeepers.

Soccer, then, is the perfect sport for my kids to play. I know nothing about it, so if anyone screws up, like a night at the symphony, I'll have no idea. except this will probably be far from harmonic.

Living Vicariously Through Your Kids – Catch the Fever

Usually when you hear in the news about some wacko dad who incites a riot by punching his kid’s Little League coach in the mouth or who shoves an opposing player in the handshake line, the prevailing wisdom is the dad is “some loser trying to live vicariously through his kids.” Probably true. This “Dad from Hell” has ruined his kid’s life by forcing him to play a sport that he never was able to as a kid, and the deleterious effects of such parenting often emotionally scar the offspring who try too hard to please the overbearing parents.

I say sign me up. Not for the deleterious effects, the Hell, or the emotional scarring (adolescents and adolescence will take care of all that for us), but for living a little through your kids. Parenting is a TRIP. Watching your kids do something you never had the guts to try inspires when inspiration is in short supply, especially so when the kids come up with the activity on their own. But they can’t come up with everything; their experiences are so limited. Showing them a few things from your childhood just expands the pool.
Tonight, for example, while logging our 2,000th hour of Tom and Jerry, my youngest stepped on the remote and took us back to live TV (he’s Olympic caliber at that), which was airing Wheel of Fortune. After we estimated how much time Pat Sajak spends in make-up –over/under 2.5 hours?—my wife and I looked at the kids to see their reactions. The letters, words, the colorful wheel, this is just the kind of thing our darling little nerd-progeny would get into. We envisioned downloading some WoF app that our middle child would play for five hours straight on road trips and that we’d have to take away when he misbehaved or when the kids fought over it, all to a shower of tears.  We were already starting to regret the decision to introduce this stupid game show to our kids.

“This is Boooring! We wanna watch the end of Tom and Jerry!” (Granted, it was the one where Spike is temporarily tied to his doghouse due to a new leash law, that’s a pretty good episode.) OK, no Wheel of Fortune in this house.
On the contrary, our six-year-old daughter, who a year ago declared her preferred vocations in the entertainment and royalty industry--“I’m going to be a princess and a dancer. Princesses don’t play soccer”—reconsidered and this year is playing soccer for the first time. Unprovoked. She came to us with it.

The kids will ultimately decide. We just provide some options, don’t push too hard, and hang on for the ride.

4 Things This Blog Isn’t

  1. This is not a sports blog. Although there will be many sports references, and a number of posts may center on the kids’ sporting activities, this is not a sports blog. So if in a future post I overstate Derek Jeter’s career batting average by .0001 when unfairly comparing him to my sons, please don’t bother to leave a comment. Do that on a sports blog.
  2. This is not a soccer blog. I don’t know anything about soccer. I’ll learn some things about my kids, myself, and the game of soccer along the way, but when I misspell Ronaldo while describing my daughter launching a corner kick out of bounds, please don’t bite my head off. (Seriously, a corner kick out of bounds? You have a hemisphere in front of you.) Even the great Ronaldo never did that. Is that how you spell his name?
  3. This is not a political blog. If I hear another comment about gun rights or gun control, I’ll shoot myself in the face.
  4. This is not a place where one-word sentences tend to hang out in trios. Will. Not. Happen.

End of Hiatus!

After 38 years, the blog is back! Except now there are three kids, all of which seem to be mine, (not sure about the girl) and therefore it’s my responsibility to ensure that they grow up happy and become productive members of society, keeping the number and duration of prison sentences to a minimum. This space will document my attempts to ensure that I raise three kids who give more than they take, and that none of us bring too much shame to the family in the process.  Fingers crossed.

Blog on Hiatus

Effective April 9, 1975, this blog is going on hiatus due to time and technical constraints. Do check back often for updates and sign up for our newsletter! Also visit us on Ham Radio, whatever that is.