Monday, June 24, 2013

Scholarship Money is Available

We will, from time to time, place items on top of the refrigerator and use them as rewards or incentives for good behavior. Of course, as the kids get older, they have to do something more than just not act like jackasses. They actually have to do something, like make a significant contribution to the cleanliness of the house or save their little brother from drowning on one of those magic wands with the mysterious liquid/glitter combination. There has been a box of unearned Legos up there for over a week now, which certainly disappoints my wife and me.

Today I am upping the ante. While I won't divulge the final figures, I will offer to pay a "handsome amount" toward my daughter's college education on one primary condition. (Sources with knowledge of the situation estimate the amount to be in the $500,000 - $750,000 range, or roughly one semester of 2025 tuition at a state school, according to projections.) To qualify, my daughter does not have to clean the gutters, cut the grass, be left-handed, do well in school, participate in a bunch of extra-curricular activities, or kiss the butts of her trigonometry teachers for recommendations.

She simply has to stop talking like a baby.

That's right, I'll contribute upwards of $750,000 to my 6-year-old daughter's college fund, if she'll JUST STOP talking like a baby.

(Understand that our girl has just recently started talking like a baby every so often just to be cute. We as parents, and especially my wife as a kindergarten teacher, realize that kids develop speech patterns at vastly different rates. We're obviously not frustrated at the speech itself, just the attempt at attention. The only impediment here is her understanding that she's not as cute as she thinks she is.)

Of course, there is some fine print. She must not talk like a baby continuously from now until the day she is accepted to an accredited university, if she chooses to go to college. If she decides not to enroll in a university or trade school, I'll still pay her. Whatever. I'll start the clock and prorate $750,000 over each second between now and 2025. Every time she uses a word from the below list of forbidden baby words, the clock "resets" and the maximum amount she can collect diminishes.

This includes when she speaks to her baby brother. He's nearly 18 months old now, so we can stop treating him like the helpless blob in a baby carriage that he might have been last summer. Besides, when he's busy choking himself with a slinky, the phrase, "Did that widdle swinky-dinky get cot awound youw necky-wecky?" doesn't seem to lend appropriate gravity to the situation.

Herewith are words that she is forbidden to use in order to earn the $750,000. In typical job responsibilities fashion, the list includes but is not limited to:

Awwowed, bwoke, bwoken, cwimb, Dewaware, famiwy, ice queem, pissgetti, pway, pwease, pwobbwy, queen (acceptable in terms of a king's wife but not in the absence of dirt), sweep (i.e. sleep) swide, wast, way (as in way down to sweep), weawwy, weg, wittle, wight, wike, wowwipop, wunning, (and all forms of the verb "wun") wuv, yewwow.

In addition, we must have absolutely no more conversations like this recent one - decisions of the judges will be final:

Me (concerned, to my wife): He seemed to be running a little temperature.
Daughter: He ran a temper? Whaaaat? You said he ran a tem...
Me: Temperature.
Daughter: What's a temper chore?
Me: Tem-per-a-ture
Daughter (mocking): Tem-per-a-chore?

Also, on a related note, it is written into the contract that if she ever attempts to amuse or entertain anyone, including friends, relatives, or business associates with an impersonation of Baby Bear from Sesame Street, Dad has the right to void the contract immediately, without warning and without refund.

The fourth and final condition is that no backtalk is allowed. Assuming at some point she decides to forego the baby talk and the reminding me at every instance when I call her by her brother's name, the backtalk line in the deal virtually assures me a minimal payout, since teens just can't keep their mouths shut. As dads who have come before me might have said, "You gotta get the backtalk clause in there. It's your golden parachute."

So no backtalk awwowed (ah, now she has me doing it) from now until college; like that will happen. I think my $750,000 is safe, at least until we need to start pricing minivans again.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

People in Houses Shouldn't Throw Golf Balls

The other day I heard a golf ball bouncing on the hardwood floor, followed by the perhaps mistakable sound of the one-year-old blurting out "Ball?!", followed by the very unmistakable sound of my wife declaring, not asking, "What was that," in her "That better not have been something that will break my living room" voice.

The whole sequence was surprising to me. I didn't know my youngest could say "ball." (So proud.) I didn't know someone in this family could innocently toss something without breaking something important. (Who knew?) Most of all I didn't realize we had a real golf ball in the house. (I hate golf.)

Hate, as they say, is such a strong word, and I don't use it lightly. But I really, really hate golf. Not "hate" in the racial sense that makes everyone cringe, not even "hate" in the sense that a guy talks about his on-again, off-again lover as "I hate her," even though he really loves her and enjoys that sort of conquest.

More in the sense that kids hate asparagus. I took one look at golf, saw that you had to wear khakis to play it, and decided I didn't like it. Since then, as I've matured and mellowed and grew to understand new things, I hate it even more. No matter how Big the Bertha I was using, I'd hit nothing but groundballs to short and foul pop files down the right field line. I got more contradicting advice than a Price Is Right contestant, standing there with my body so contorted as I sliced another tee shot onto a different hole's green. And seriously, khakis to do all this?

Watching golf is even worse. The sport's two main characters are a joyless, pompous docuhe-stick (another word I don't use lightly) who screws women and whose only discernible skill after golf is treating the fawning media and fans with scorn and sarcasm, plus an out-of-shape, country-club flake who wears accounting visors and whines that he has to pay taxes. (Though I'd love to find my elementary school gym teacher and remind her that she taught us from an early age that "There's no such thing as a left-handed golfer.") Plus there are guys who have withdrawn from tournaments for toothaches and who have fired their entourage because the golfer himself showed up late for a tournament and was disqualified. Golfers need entourages? Blah.

At any rate, for some reason, my older boy likes it. When he watches the golf highlights, and he sees a beautiful 200-foot approach shot to within 5 feet of the pin, he shouts at the TV, "He missed it!" I had to correct him and let him know that if a golfer gets it so close, you're supposed to clap your hands like you're holding an injured baby bird and shout platitudes such as "You're the man!" and "GET in the HOLE!" Yes, GET in the HOLE! is a platitude. Later, after seeing a poor schlep flub a 6-footer for par, I asked my son rhetorically how the guy could miss that one and he told me, "Yeah but he got it so close!" You're the man, son. Keep practicing your golf clap.

While the presence of a golf ball on the premises was as confounding and unwelcome as that of a Watermelon Oreo, the fact that my younger son can say "ball" is encouraging. Also, he somehow managed, unprovoked, to say "ball" when presented with a Pittsburgh Steeler logo, even though he's lived through just one football boot camp season which ended five months ago. I have no idea how that happened. Everyone tells me that, despite all my parental efforts to the contrary, my three-year-old is "just like" me, including the unhealthy addiction to sports. I worry that I'll forever subconsciously favor him over the other boy, especially if the latter doesn't soon shake this habit of using my toothbrush to clean the toilet. "Ball" is evidence that the younger will force my subconscious to take note.

How awesome would it be to have not one, but two boys who love sports? Even if they play the normal roles that I see in two-boy households. Although it's strictly empirical evidence, I see in most cases where the older boy takes the games so seriously, identifies favorite teams, memorizes all the players' stats and trades the team makes, and then lives and dies with that team each season, while the younger boy understands the game but can't remember any players, knows none of the stats, and maybe openly roots for a rival team just so he can taunt the older brother. I'd take that. Of course with an older sister around who dances and plays the violin, they'll not dodge some of the finer things in life. Both of them have taken an early interest in music, so we won't raise two complete sports-nuts. I don't think.

So go ahead, boys, watch as much golf as you want, but please stop throwing the golf balls in the house, for your mother's sake.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

How to Get Fingernail Polish Out of Carpet...

...was the headline of the article left open on the laptop this evening, if anyone wonders what it's like to stay at home all day with three kids.

That's one of the benefits of having a job, besides income. You can miss some of that stuff while your poor spouse has to answer some of life's more essential questions. (But don't feel too sorry for mine though, she gets to go to work, too, when school's back in, and the foreign substances and the carpeting issues belong to the Day Care.)

The story is the standard-issue "nail polish where it doesn't belong" story. Six-year-old girl goes to swimming pool, sees other little girls with color on their fingers and toes, wonders aloud, receives polish, entire house wreaks of polish within 5 minutes, girl carelessly leaves polish unattended on the kitchen floor, one-year-old picks up polish, entire household admonishes one-year-old to "give it to me," one-year-old does but not without fight and tears, 3 minutes elapse, girl again leaves polish unattended-- this time on coffee table, one-year-old picks up polish, dumps polish in hair, says "uh oh", shows mother, hell breaks loose, girl suffers double indignity of losing all nail polish into brother's hair AND getting business from mother, 1-year-old labeled "dickens" even though he did exactly what older sister would have done if she had careless older siblings leaving stuff out all over place, mom researches polish removal from carpet via Internet, three-year-old never looks up from Leap Pad.

Everyone has one of those stories.

In case you are wondering, there is a simple, nine-step process you can use to get the nail polish out of the carpet according to the Web site in question, which is here. Prepare to be underwhelmed. There are no great household cleanliness secrets divulged. In fact, it's the same nine techniques we've used to successfully remove vomit, blood, and more disgusting stains like green bean casserole from the carpet at various points in history. Instead, my wife skipped straight to Step #10, something called a Magic Eraser, which I think I cleaned an entire bathroom with, walls and ceiling included, in about 2 hours.

The girl was so shamed by her indifference toward her stuff that she preemptively resorted to cleaning her room to get back into anyone's good graces. And with the one-year-old making his parenting debut by jamming the toy baby stroller repeatedly into the refrigerator and hurling his baby down the staircase, ("uh oh") and the three-year-old unable to peel himself off the chair, there was only one thing that could save the day from further disaster.

More swimming. My wife decided to take everyone back swimming again. How you take three kids swimming, none of whom can swim, by yourself and don't end up leading the evening newscast is beyond me. But somehow it got done, with the help of various floatation devices and a lot of time in the shallow end. Still, the only way I'd have made it is if I put each kid in one of those leashes. Not sure if those things work in water.

But this is just a day in the life during the summer. You go swimming, you get the nail polish out of your hair, you stay in the shallow end, and when Dad gets home, you tell him all about it. And if Dad is buying the concept that you're going to bed earlier because you had a busy day kicking your legs in the water, you show him by stay up just as late anyway, because it's summer.

The only way to tell it's the weekend sometimes in the summer is when Dad's home. So now that it's Saturday, and you guys just spent two days at the pool, what are we doing this weekend? You gotta be tired, right, maybe take it easy?

"Let's show Daddy the pool!"

Looks like we're going back swimming, this time with me there to help out or at least to not do any harm. Three straight days at the pool, in hockey that might be called a natural hat trick, in bowling they call it a turkey. Whatever you call it, it beats trying to get beauty products out of the carpet.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Point/Counterpoint: Chocolate Milk and Sleep Sacks

My wife, who never has a bad word to say about anything or anybody, has seemingly saved most of her venom for the most sacred of beverage institutions. First, we delve into the pros and cons, the strengths and weaknesses, the yin and the yang of chocolate milk. Then, we debate the merits of the dreaded sleep sack.

Her: Chocolate milk makes me angry. I would be a lot happier if the world were rid of chocolate milk.  Most of the time it's gross. Especially the really thick kind. And once my kids get a hold of it, they are more likely to clean their room than eat any supper.

I especially want to know exactly who showed my kids that it was ok to make chocolate milk out of plain white milk and Hershey's syrup. This person's limbs should be fed through a wood chipper. (Editor's Note: I didn't actually say that. That person was probably my husband anyway.) For lunch, I will gladly make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut up blocks of cheese into fancy shapes, and clean and slice fruit.  For dinner, I will plan the meals, cook the dinner, set the table, and single-handedly cordon off the area around the stove while the kids clumsily hop around the kitchen in dual laundry hampers. But by the time I pour three glasses of water and launch the impossible mission to find two sippy cups that actually have lids, I hear, from the three-year-old, "Mommy, can you make me some chocolate milk?" I realize it's just one more step, but I've had it up to here by that point. (Holds her hand sideways by her forehead.) And then when the one-year-old sees the chocolate syrup, he recognizes it, and then he wants some in his drink, which unfortunately is apple juice. Though he'd drink live scorpions if he had to, just to get some of that chocolate syrup.  

Then there's the issue of what happens when you find the two-week-old cup of old chocolate milk stashed between the entertainment stand and the wall. Yes, it's probably no smellier than white milk stashed between the entertainment stand and the wall, but there seems to be something especially irritating and gross about finding old chocolate milk somewhere. Yuk.

And God forbid that somewhere is the car. Kids are never allowed to carry open containers of chocolate milk in our car because the stank never comes out of the seats in case when there's spillage.
Put simply, chocolate milk is just a disaster waiting to happen.

Me: Yes but it's awesome. Especially the really thick kind...did you just use "stank" as a noun?

I'm sorry, but we're out of time, we'll have to give that one to the wife. We must move to our next subject, the sleep sack.

Me: Yeah, do we have to put that thing on him every night? What does it even do?

Her: It keeps him warm without using blankets that present a risk of suffocation.

Me: Although I have not checked the long-range forecast, you are aware that at some point this summer when the air conditioning busts, the nighttime temperature in our house will be 88 degrees Fahrenheit, don't you?

Her: We may able to just throw him in bed with his jammies that night.

Me: I understand why the thing zips from the top down... it would be annoying to sleep with a zipper piercing your chin all night. But can you explain why every time I zip it, it splits in the middle?

Her:'re not doing it right.

Me: It's usually a race for me to get that thing on him before he's completely finished his bottle and sobbing and thrashing uncontrollably. Are we sure he couldn't use blankets once, down towards the end, by his feet?

Her: Move. Let me do it. It also helps if you turn the light on.

Me: And he looks like Maggie Simpson!

Her: It's also a deterrent to climbing out of bed. Do you want this daredevil thinking he can climb out of his bed?

Looks like we have a clean sweep in our first installment of Point/Counterpoint, as this point also goes to the wife. I'm afraid that just because you can't properly zip the sack, or get baby's arms in without nearly breaking them in half (even though you're on your third child) that doesn't mean that you can sacrifice safety, Dad. Please re-read the books people got you when your first child was born, and then join us next time for another point/counterpoint.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Rules for a Fairy Garden

I've been hearing about the concept of a fairy garden for some time now, and I'm afraid I'm not totally on board yet.

I guess the original fairy gardens are miniature, decorative pieces that can sit unobtrusively anywhere in your house. But we're not doing just any old fairy garden here. No, we're doing a "real-life" fairy garden in our backyard. Seems like a great idea, especially for a youngster who wants to spend some time on an outdoor activity like gardening that requires no electronic stimulus. (And yet the finished product will still be coming soon to a Pinterest board near you.)

This also sounds like a really great deal for the fairies if I understand it properly, which I don't. At all. According to my wife, the fairy garden is one which you create (and finance) all by yourself, with flowers, plants, colorful rocks, and waterfalls, and then the fairies come and live in it, exactly?

Well, you hope the fairies come and help the garden grow.

And, if you're so lucky as to be visited by a fairy or fairies, they will help you tend to it?

Well, sort of. Depends.

Depends on...?

Depends on which fairies live in your garden. Tinkerbell, for example, and all Tinker fairies help fix things.

Like my lawnmower that requires 42 pulls to start?

Maybe. But their primary job is to fix and invent things like pots and pans for the other fairies.

What the hell good does that do us? Do they keep the deer out? The rabbits? The boll weevils? The Japanese beetles?

Do they weed it?

No, that's pretty much our job.

I envision having to get up at 2AM and wearing a hat with a light on the front, weeding the fairy garden three times a week, watering it, and re-mulching it so that our six-year-old daughter can write about it during her first week of first grade and tell her grandparents about all its magical capabilities. (If the fairy garden can convince the one-year-old to stop drinking bubble soap, I'll start to believe the magic.)  I can handle the tooth fairy, where you get up and just put some money under the pillow a few times a year, but I don't think I can handle being the fairy garden fairy. I'd pay 2,000 times the going tooth fairy rate to not have to do the fairy garden fairy thing.

No, we don't have to do any of that.
The more I think I understand, the more complicated it gets. According to the ancient texts, fairies are born when a baby giggles for the first time. Then they move to Fairyland until such time as they are enticed into your home, probably because you left the canister of brown sugar open all night. If you're a more skillful gardener/housekeeper, you will instead lure the fairy into your garden by putting up those beautiful stones or having certain plants that fairies enjoy, like dwarf conifers or bonsai trees. (We don't have any of those, just daisies and marigolds, so we could be in serious trouble.)

How do you know there is a fairy in your garden? What is the tangible evidence, the money under the pillow or presents under the tree, so to speak, that lets you know you have a fairy somewhere in your midst? Is it just the fact that stuff grows? What if a raccoon invades and wrecks your fairy garden the first night after you planted it? Are there mean fairies that we can blame when we're consoling our inconsolable daughters? Who are the anti-fairies, the bizarro fairies, and how do we stop them? Can we stop them? Do we want to stop them?

Plus, there's the issue of stratification of fairies. How do you entice, say, a Tinkerbell or Sugar Plum Fairy into your garden versus some no-account, garden-variety middling fairy who does sloppy work and constantly messes up the billing? Can you even consider Tinkerbell if you don't live in the Hamptons or New Rochelle, New York, or know the CEO of a company? Does Tinkerbell even do gardens? Who are some famous garden fairies? I mean, besides the Cottingley Fairies of course? (Of course.)

There's so much I don't understand still about fairy gardens. You know you don't understand something when you don't even know what questions to ask a six-year-old. But as the kids were standing at our neighborhood Lowe's, fighting over who gets to pull the cart carrying the dozen 20-pound bags of brown mulch, two things became obvious:

1. None of my questions matter, all that matters is that if your daughter has an imagination, she will be the happiest kid in the world when she plants her fairy garden, and more importantly,

2. I don't really have to do anything else from here. So we're good.

Update: Both mornings after we implemented the fairy garden, my daughter awoke and nagged my wife to go downstairs to see if any fairies came to her garden, just like Santa Claus. When she saw they hadn't, she looked confused and disappointed. I guarantee by the end of the week, I'll be out there after dark with a rototiller and two buckets of glitter.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Onerous Ones

In our last official correspondence with day care for the school year, we had to explain to the 1-year-old's teachers that our kid is not a budding pervert as he points to the front of his diaper and says, "Hot Dog?" Hot Dog is his name for Mickey Mouse, because they sing that song at the end of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episodes. That sounds like a really weak, lame excuse. But it's the truth.

In our second-to-last correspondence with day care, we had to answer to the one-year-old's handling of another kid's face. He basically gashed his fellow classmate's cheeks with his fingernails as he boxed the kid on the head, earning himself a timeout. Hearing this, the angel dad appeared over my right shoulder and said, "Awww, he was just excited and got a little carried away, and we surely need to trim those nails!" Meanwhile, the devil dad appeared over the other shoulder and said basically the same thing, but blamed the other kid for being in the way and denied having to trim the nails, in fact suggesting they be sharpened. Either way, my two dads weren't worrying much about the extra time in the penalty box, even though he seems to have spells lately where he hits anything that moves. (The Penguins could have used him in the playoffs.)

Still, between these events and the day last winter when he hit one of the babies, making her cry, we made two trips to the timeout chair plus one parental explanation this year. That's one more timeout and one more explanation than we needed with the other two combined. We hope the day care staff appreciates the lunch we bought them as much as we appreciate them putting up with our kids' stuff.

On the home front, the newly minted 17-month-old is enjoying his first summer vacation by screaming "Mine!" every time he spots someone carrying something, whether it's his brother with the Thomas Christmas train or his mother rescuing a bulldozer full of mushy brown banana slices from under the bathroom sink last week.

Since everyone insists on aging their kids in months until they're two years old, I stopped to take a look at what exactly I should expect out of this 17-month-old that I wasn't getting out of my former 16-month-old. Interestingly, the 4th suggestion in a Google search starting with 17-month-old is "17-month-old constant whining." That it's such a popular search makes me wonder what's the bigger epidemic, the kids' whining or the parents' whining about the kids' whining.

According to the first web site I found, after Month 17 my child "demands that you let her walk up stairs, rather than be carried, though she probably needs you to hold her hand." We've climbed up the stairs with no hands, so take that, average 17-month-old! Although I usually walk behind in case the unthinkable happens and he decides to go a-flopping backwards down the stairs.

"She also wants to try climbing up onto chairs — and other pieces of furniture that are about chest height — and, once she gets up, is able to turn herself around and sit facing forward, a complex feat." No joke. I sit here on a shell of a couch with the cushions stretched from here to the shed while our subject wobbles back and forth on an oversized chair. So, yeah.

Finally, "It's also common for a 17-month-old to put physical skills to use by trying to climb out of the crib." Not here. He's a really good sleeper. Or he just hasn't figured it out yet. Or we lowered the mattress. Or we spike his bottle every night. Any of these could contribute.

The article fails to cover why our child "meticulously empties her entire box of Cheez-Its one by one into the fish tank," but maybe that was covered by the 16-month-old article. Or maybe mine is advanced and we don't unlock that mystery that until next month. (Is it Cheez-Its or Chee-Zits?)

We've already established that he's the main reason we can't have pets. We also marveled in general at the enigmatic ways of the one-year-old. He continues to amaze and confound. We have barely scratched the surface to understanding this being, but before we hit the Terrible Twos, let's try and figure out these Onerous Ones before it's too late.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Score of the Dance Recital

Sunday was my daughter's third career dance recital, the one where I bemoaned the fact that she, while representing the decade of the 1990s, was forced to dance to "Fly" by Sugar Ray instead of something eminently better, like anything by the Beastie Boys or just Ugly Kid Joe. I was able--barely-- to stop myself from going on the big rant about how much I hated Sugar Ray, but really, even had I gone through with it, added a few choice swear words, and then slaughtered a cow in the driveway, she wouldn't have noticed anyway. Nothing was keeping her off of Cloud 9 all day.

She got up at 7AM, later than she did Christmas morning and definitely later than Easter morning, to get her makeup done for the 3PM show. So we had to cool her heels a little. She wanted to practice her routine, but unfortunately, we didn't have a copy of "Fly" around anywhere, (unfortunately), and YouTube was mysteriously broken all day. We would have to just imagine the song for the next 7 hours until it was time to get ready. She did. Very effective use of the kindergarten imagination.

For the first time in over 17 years of knowing each other, my wife and I actually got everybody somewhere early. The one-year-old did us the favor of sleeping during the waiting part and then waking up just before the show started.

About three minutes before it started, I finally learned the show's official title/theme, "Dancing Down the Road of Rock and Roll" which I think meant I no longer had to wonder what sort of music would come before Bill Haley and the Comets' "Rock Around the Clock," because by definition, it's nothing. Here, then, is the entire playlist for the dance recital:

"Rock Around the Clock" - At many of my daughter's dance practices, I could hear the older kids rehearsing to this song in the other room. After one of the practices, one of the dads informed his tweeny daughter that he had that song on his iPod. "Yeah, well, I think it's a stupid song," the daughter answered, and that probably set the tone for the afternoon, kids dancing to songs that their parents loved but that they couldn't stomach. Except in my case.

"Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On"

"(Let Me Be your) Teddy Bear" - Performed by the 2 and under group, each holding a teddy bear. Awwww!

"Jailhouse Rock" - Two generations ago kids people were trying to censor this and Elvis in general. I'm happy to live when I do.
Anyone born after the end of WWII and before the start of the Vietnam War will tell you that the best music in the history of civilization came from the 1960s. So why only two songs today? I admit I didn't shed any tears when I saw this. 

"I'm a Believer"

"Satisfaction" - called "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" in the program.

Meanwhile, nobody ever claims the best music in the world came from the '70s, unless they're trying to sell you a Time Life Collection. Yet there are six songs from the decade. To each his own.

"Sweet Emotion" - I guess my daughter was bound to hear the line "Standin' in front just shakin' your ass" eventually. (Hey, aren't you the one complaining about censorship just two short decades ago up above?)

"Imagine" - WKRP in Cincinnati flashback.

"Go Your Own Way"

"You Should Be Dancing" - About here I got an urge to check in on the Pirates, but I fought it off.

"Rock and Roll All Night" -  called "I Want to Rock and Roll All Night" in the program. Mildly disappointed nobody came onstage in white makeup.

"Taking Care of Business" Any time you can work BTO into a dance recital, you have to do it.


This was a poorly timed intermission because we had to trade kids. I gave up the three-year-old, who was perfectly behaved thus far and clapped heartily after each piece. One time he was even the dreaded "first clapper", the person who rapidly starts clapping a half-second before everyone else. That award usually goes to an old lady. In return I received the one-year-old, who engaged his mother in some sort of freestyle, borderline-Olympic-sport sort of wrestling throughout much of the first half.

"It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" - Three dance recitals, three different Billy Joel songs. ("Pressure" and "Just the Way You Are" were the others...meaning we narrowly averted a repeat of this.

"You Be Illin'" - Elementary school talent show flashback.

"Your Mama Don't Dance" - Really, 1980s? I thought I had made it all the way through with no Kenny Loggins, too.

"Living on a Prayer" - At the risk of expatriation, I always thought this song was overrated. Shocked that this number did not feature a boy in dockworker's clothes and a girl dressed as a waitress.

"Jump" - Van Halen version, not Pointer Sisters version.

Getting ready for the highlight of the show, the 1990s, and both boys' patience was shot. The three-year-old was rubbing his eyes, starting to face the wrong direction, and asking where Dorothy was. (Last year's theme was the Wizard of Oz.) The one-year-old was building the Gateway Arch on my body, head in my neck, feet on my knee, could fit an elephant under his back. Luckily, we still had a secret weapon, the bottle, which I nearly dumped all over myself earlier in the program.

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" - Now we're getting somewhere. Of course, they cut this song short.

"November Rain" - Oh no. We've got two kids ready to explode at any point, we're one song away from what we came for, and standing in our way is a song that lasts longer than the Nuremberg trials. Somebody, quick, get the bottle. Now, if they just cut the last song short, they HAVE to cut this one short. Meanwhile, Las Vegas has set the over/under on number of times the crowd will prematurely clap, thinking the song is over, at 1.5. It comes in "over" at twice (yours truly cashes), once right after the chick in the video dies, and once during the funeral. Yes, they let it go all the way to the funeral...technically they cut it short, but the one-year-old finished his entire bottle during the song and is back to flipping upside down on my lap. This needs to end, and now.

"Fly" - Never been so happy in my life to hear this song. And the girl kills it! She is placed at #3 out of the seven girls, so just left of center, which I understand is good. She's the only one of the seven who smiles, and she smiles enough for all seven. She absolutely gleams. She actually does her best when she's not watching the adult helpers located at either end of the formation, slowing down a little as if thinking too muc when she does watch them. Afterward, she would admit "I still don't know my left from my right." Huh? She also was promoted to Beginner Level I (that also profoundly confused me, but I think it's a good thing.) The three-year-old again clapped proudly and robustly, which may have been taken as just sucking up to his boss.

I shuttered at what we might get here.

"Fix You" - They keep saying Coldplay is the next U2 (is it because U2 used a piano in, like, three songs in 1981?) I keep throwing them back like an undersized fish and hanging on to the original U2.

"Numb" - (Linkin Park) My mother-in-law confesses here she "doesn't get this rap generation." It could have been a LOT worse.

"With Arms Wide Open"  - This was originally meant to be a solo, but the outgoing senior was injured, so she came out and sat onstage, nearly in tears, while other girls danced by, holding signs made of her old dance pictures as she progressively got older. It was sweet.

Grand Finale:
"R.O.C.K. in the USA" - Can't have a rock-and-roll themed anything without this song.

Ice Cream:
at Friendly's - Monster Mash for the girl. They could have played that song!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Dads at Dance Recitals: What's the Score?

There's always been this image of an attention-short dad attending his daughter's dance recital, devising clever ways to surreptitiously get "the score of the game," which was almost always football, while his wife looked on in equal parts horror, shock, and extreme annoyance. (Like she just met her husband yesterday.) In the old days, you'd see a dad try to sneak in a walkman and listen to the game on headphones or try to sneak in an entire 13" TV in his back pocket then pretend to go to the bathroom every 5 minutes and sneak a look at the game.  Whether it was in commercials or funny TV shows --back when TV was funny or, stated another way, when I was 10-- the man was portrayed as a buffoon who couldn't sit still long enough to get through the recital without needing a football fix (and in a few circumstances, leapt up and cheered for the football team in the middle of the auditorium at precisely the appropriate point in the recital. God Bless the sense of timing those funny TV shows had.)  And the recital itself was portrayed as some slow-footed, backward, tedious affair, where all the participants are 4 years old and holding themselves and crying.

Being somewhat of a football junkie from a young age, I often wondered how I would act when confronted with the same situation. I was pretty certain I'd marry someone who would act horrified and scold me for trying anything. But I also thought at that time I could just tape the game if I had to...until remembering how our VCR never, ever worked, and anything viewed on it was accompanied by two broad, distinct bands of static on the screen at any point in time.

Luckily, my daughter's dance school has taken all the worry out of it by scheduling their recital for June, one of the worst sports months on the calendar. This means I'd miss part of an NBA playoff game (meh), part of an NHL playoff game (which I could TiVo if I wanted and deal with the related inconveniences), or miss a baseball game. Missing baseball games is like forgetting to brush your teeth at night, you can get away with it for a night or two, and if you keep forgetting and it becomes problematic, someone will be there to fill in the holes later.

Which isn't to say I haven't been presented with challenges. My daughter's first violin recital occurred during Week 9 of the 2012 football season. That doesn't sound like much, but when you get addicted to Fantasy Football like I have been, you really want to know what's happening to every single player every single week. So I had scoring updates sent directly to my phone, which I stuck between my legs and leaned forward slightly to view when I felt, uhhh... something. My wife wasn't thrilled, but it was discreet. So discreet that my own mother, seated immediately to my left, either didn't notice or wasn't bothered by it.

Eventually, after my girl perfromed her 52-second rendition of Hot Cross Buns, and the recital stretched into its third hour, and some parents and kids had already left, I felt I had earned a little more slack by sticking it out this far. I started checking the individual games for some additional stats by leaning a little further forward and pretending to drop items that only our forefathers actually carried on them, like handkerchiefs and pocket knives.

All in all, it worked. It was still buffoonery, but it was tasteful buffoonery.

Which brings us to our daughter's third career dance recital today. Free from needing to check on sports updates, I felt I could just sit back and enjoy the show -- until I learned that my daughter would be dancing to "Fly" by Sugar Ray. Last year, when the theme was the Wizard of Oz, and my daughter was one of several dancing (perhaps a murder of?) scarecrows, I could easily fake my way into her heart by gushing, "Oh, the scarecrow was ALWAYS my FAV-OR-ITE character! And you were the best scarecrow up there! Even better than Ray Bolger!" and she'd be happy, then confused, and then we'd go get ice cream.

I'm having a rougher time drumming up phony enthusiasm this year. Every time I think I'm ready, I find myself facing her, putting my hands on her shoulders, blinking for an entire second, swallowing hard, looking off to my right, shaking my head, and muttering in a low voice, "Look, I f___ing hated Sugar Ray. They had one good, honest, kick-ass song, whose name I can't remember and which I only heard once on the radio, and then, when it became more profitable in the late '90s, they turned their back on making good music and joined the Hootie-led "laid-back" revolution and made a bunch of songs suitable only for listening drunk in a canoe and floating in circles for 14 hours straight. Every time I saw Mark McGrath on TV, I wanted to flip him off. One of the 10 greatest days in my life was when, as if all at once, evey chick on the planet suddenly decided they'd had enough of those no-talent jerkwads and stopped listening to them. Break a leg!"

That probably wouldn't go over well with anyone here, so I've just pretended to have never heard of Sugar Ray (which is for the better anyway) by claiming to have been too old to be familiar with them in the first place. That's always a safe play.

The theme this year, by the way, is something to the effect of Popular Music Throught the Years, which starts with whatever came before Bill Haley and the Comets (Glenn Miller? Big Band music? I don't know, I'm asking...) up through goodness-knows-who representing today, with dollar signs replacing all the S's in their names.

And to think they've sullied the time devoted to the 1990s with Sugar Ray, when they easily could have played Sabotage by the Beastie Boys. Surely my girl could have danced to that?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

No More Pets Until We Find the Remote

We have four fish, all named Sarah, so feeding time is painless. Just call "Saaaarahhhh," once in the morning and once in the evening, as you stand over the tank, and they'll rise to the surface and eat. Nothing else is expected, no going outside to do business, no face-licking, no trips to the vet for any sort of impaction... dental, fecal, etc, no having to explain that you married your best friend, you didn't just neuter him. If we need to spend more time and money caring for complicated, expensive, high maintenance things, we'll have more kids or buy more lawn equipment.

But disposable pets are a good thing. They teach kids some of the most basic, valuable life lessons, like responsibility, respect for animals, and basic subtraction skills. Unlike their more "fixed" counterparts, we don't have to go through extensive emotional strife when we lose one. In fact, the three-year-old has already prepared for the day we say goodbye to one of the Sarahs by informing me "if they die, we'll have to go buy more." Textbook definition of disposable pets by someone who assumes unlimited disposable income. So we're in a good place now with our animal situation, and let me make this abundantly clear: As anyone in this house will tell you, we will not be pursuing additional pets at this time or in the foreseeable future.

"Mommy said when I'm 8, we can get a guinea pig," says the oldest this morning, remembering a conversation from 143 days ago while half-heartedly searching for her shoes that are "probably here somewhere" as we run habitually late for the all-important last day of school. We actually owned three guinea pigs in the days leading up to child-rearing, because feeding animals that sleep 20 hours a day three times a day so prepares you for colic. I guess having a guinea pig around the house would symbolically complete our little Circle of Cleaning Up Poop. (Help me out, Elton John.)

But no. Right now we have a much larger problem on our hands. We're not getting any more pets until someone can find the remote control. The remote is our pet. Like a housecat, it wanders off for days without any real notice. Like a housecat, it turns up eventually. Unlike a housecat, it doesn't need to be fed, so its sense of urgency is reduced. Like a housecat, it acts like it doesn't really give a damn whether you notice it or not. Unlike a housecat, it sits on my lap all evening as I pet it and treat it like it's royalty. Like a housecat, 0-year-olds tend to really enjoy it and play with it. Like a housecat, I usually find it in a sock drawer or trapped in luggage.

Between finding the remote and drilling the essentials behind which light switch turns off the lights and which one resets the entire damned satellite dish for 35 minutes in the middle of a playoff hockey game, we have plenty to keep us busy. I repeat: Plenty to keep us busy, and so we do not need any more pets. Not even the cute ones. We're simply not ready for the responsibility, am I right, family?

"How about a turtle?"

"Not even a little, tiny kitty?"

Stop. Let's find this remote first. Who had it last and where?

Probably the three-year-old, watching Sprout, eating a Nutty Buddy in his parents' bed.

OK, so we'll need to change the sheets and pick tiny little nuts out of our ass tomorrow morning. Does the three-year-old know how to use the remote?

Only to turn the volume up to 65, he's not fast enough to type the channel numbers in.

Ok, so it's possible the wife had it last? To turn the TV on?


OK. At least that would mean the remote is where it "belongs"? Where does the remote "belong?"

No idea.

I see. Have you checked under the sheets, under the bed, on the nightstand, on the dressers, and under those gargantuan, decorative pillows that get thrown on the floor before bed every night?

All of those places per current protocol.

I see. Was the one-year-old in the room?

He strolled in and was spotted carrying his mother's feminine products out of the bathroom into the playroom.

We'll need to investigate the one-year-old. He was last seen...

...Screaming a fit after his mom re-claimed the products from him.

And so, in a fit of rage, he went back into his parents' room, took the remote, and jammed it down the diaper genie. It all makes sense now. I believe this case is solved! See, you just take the clues, put them together, use a little parental intuition, and you can find important things.

Now, let's all go get a Great Dane.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Corporal Acts of Parenthood - Volume 1

1. Feed the hungry.
2. Give water to the thirsty.
3. Give Mott's for Tots to the thirsty.
4. Give Gogurt to both the hungry and the thirsty.
5. Re-feed the hungry who said they weren't hungry the first time.
6. Burp the gassy.
7. Clothe the naked.
8. Bathe the stinky.
9. Change the poopy.
10. Powder the naked.
11. Apply Aquaphor to the naked.
12. Chase the naked down the hall.
13. Chase the naked up the hall.
14. Then clothe the naked.
15. Shelter the homeless.
16. But banish the co-sleeping.
17. Bury the dead.
18. Flush the dead.
19. Replace the dead.
20. Eulogize the dead in the backyard.
21. Visit the sick.
22. Identify the faking.
23. Gingerly handle the puke-stricken.
24. Visit the imprisoned.
25. Lift the imprisoned out of the playpen.
26. Reward the well behaved.
27. Discipline the ornery.
28. Bribe the ornery.
29. Comfort the afflicted.
30. Band-Aid the afflicted.
31. Kiss the afflicted on the affliction.
32. Forgive offenses willingly.
33. Except when it involves lipstick or grape juice.
34. Bear wrongs patiently.
35. Except when it involves finger paint or toothpaste.

Perform at least half of these acts in your lifetime and you are eligible for sainthood. Perform them all and punch your ticket to the Parenting Hall of Fame.

Monday, June 3, 2013

How Soon Till Caillou?

Parental hatred of Caillou has already been well documented, so there's no need to pile on here. Instead, let's welcome The Smiths, who stopped by to record the theme song. Any time you can drag the Caillou theme song out nearly 7 minutes, it's a win for the parent.

I am just
A kid who's four
Each day I tend to grow just a little more
And I like to explore
Around nothing in particular

I'm Caaaaaiiiiiillloooouuuuuu

Just shut your mouth
You whiny punk
Before your dad gets totally drunk
And your mommy wants you to shut uuuupppp...
Just like everybody else does

I am a son
Who has no hair
But a gray cat with a ridiculous blue eyepatch
What's up with that?
Oh, nothing in particular

I'm Caaaaaiillllooouuuu


There are so many things to do
You could meet somebody who actually likes you
So we go and we turn on Sprout,
And we leave Dad out,
And he comes home and he cries
And he wants to die.

I'm Caaaaaaaiiiiiiiillllllloooouuuuuuu

When you say growing up is not tough
(Except when I've had enough)
What exactly do you mean?
See you're all of 4 f'ing years old
It's you I'd like to scold

I'm Caaaaiiiillllllooouuuuuuu



Sunday, June 2, 2013

Oops! Did I Just Contribute to the Wussification of America?

Maybe I contributed to the further wussification of America yesterday -- more than my usual shrieking like a schoolgirl every time I get poop on my finger -- when I failed to intervene when my kids received their soccer trophies.

Everyone gets a trophy.

Pretty benign sentence, but it's used derisively as the rallying cry for competitive people who love to take non-competitive things like kiddie soccer and turn them into the dividing line between good and evil, deserving and undeserving, winning and losing, between my superior kids and your loser kids. Winners get trophies, it rubs the wrong way when losers do, too.

"These kids obviously suck, but everyone gets a trophy. I'm so sick of everyone getting a trophy," the rant usually goes somewhere in the literary cesspool of comments below an internet story about a youth baseball team that lost 77-0. "We reward failure by giving every kid a trophy, even the kids on teams that didn't win a game. They don't deserve trophies, in fact they deserve our unrelenting scorn. If we continue to pamper our children like this, they will grow up thinking they are special when they're not, and they'll demand attention when it's not warranted.  We're too worried about everyone's feelings when we should be more worried about crushing people and teaching the kids the benefits of a good, ole-fashoned, 'Merican ass-whooping.  That is what builds character. Giving everyone a trophy leads to kids shooting up schools. This wussification of America will not stop until we only give trophies to the winners, and maybe not even then, unless the champs embarrass their opponents and win by at least 20. My seven-year-old girl got one of those stupid trophies last year, and even she realized how pointless it was..."

This was one of those "pureed" responses from several taken from the internet. The part about linking excessive trophy-giving to school violence was priceless. Because that's what's wrong with us.

I don't have a seven-year-old girl at home, but I have a six-year-old girl at home, and she earned every ounce of her trophy this year. She may also realize how relatively immaterial it is compared to her other accomplishments, but the fact that she tried something she had never tried before was worth all of it. She was, frankly, not a very good player on probably the worst team in the league. (Hoping she doesn't read this until she's married...) But she improved during the year as she learned, and although she got mostly overpowered out there by boys who have been playing since they could walk, she still had fun.

And that's the beauty of this league. They never kept score, there were no refs, the coaches loosely enforced the rules, nobody kept track of which kids got more playing time. Most importantly, we as parents were warned before the season of the Parent Code of Conduct. Zero tolerance for abusive behavior toward players (including your own team's players) or coaches. Penalty was immediate expulsion from the league with a pro-rated refund.

Some folks' heads would have spinned in this league. I've heard of dads in similar leagues who kept track of their own scores and kids's stats, then e-mailed Standings and League Leaders out to other members of the league. Sounds like a worthwhile pursuit to me, instead of, you know, teaching respect for your opponent or humility in victory. Because you know the dads of the last-place team weren't doing this.

So this weekend when both the six-year-old and the three-year-old (unofficial league leader in kicking the ball into the wrong net) received their trophies, I totally missed both photo ops because I thought they were getting their snacks and not their trophies. "Snacks! You give the kids trophies AND snacks? Should we just raise marshmallows instead of kids?" But their wide smiles said it all; this is their thing. I'm not going to stand in the way of them claiming a little trophy, even if my silence is tacit approval of the further Wussification of America.

Later that night, the girl hinted that one of the reasons she started playing soccer in the first place was, "to get a trophy." So maybe she has already started learning the system. Want a trophy? Go play a sport before it's too late. And maybe the whole "everyone gets a trophy" deal isn't so bad. It seems to have lured one player onto the field who never would have tried otherwise. 

Soon enough, there will be a time when the competition will be tougher, when she feels the frustration that she can't play as well as the other girls, and that a little trophy won't be worth the hassle. Soon enough, there will be no leagues that are just for fun. Plenty of time for that later. For now, she continues to be the happiest little doll in the world, and it's how I'll choose to remember this season.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

What We'll Do on Our Soccer Vacation

This was the last soccer week of the spring season, and I'm the only one left in the family who will miss soccer when it's gone. That's not true, I won't miss it at all, either. But it's just easier to say I'll miss it more than my wife since she lugged three kids there every week while I worked in the climate-controlled office.

Don't worry, she says, there will be plenty of other activities to consume our free time in the near future, and soccer will always be around again in the fall if we ever need to frantically look for oversized socks on Saturday mornings. (Hint: We will.)

Let's take a look at what we will do to pass the time on weekends until soccer starts up again:

1. I'm starting a strict regimen of, one day a week, waking up at 3:30 AM, driving 400 miles to an empty ice rink, getting a cheese pretzel and a hot chocolate, then turning around and driving home. This will prepare me for when the three-year-old starts playing hockey. I'll also start taking massive payroll deductions at work and have that cash deposited into a separate account known as the toilet. That will prepare me financially for hockey.

1a. I'll clean the garage for the first time since 2006, and for no good reason whatsoever, since it will be wrecked again by mid-June.

1b. I'll teach the kids to play euchre and smoke cigarettes, so they don't ask me to play Very Hungry Caterpillar any more. This might be the games version of my introducing them to Tom and Jerry three years ago out of complete dread for yet another Yo Gabba Gabba marathon. And yes, rather than exposing them to Reality TV, I'd rather teach the kids to smoke.

2. The six-year-old will use the extra time to memorize more ALF episodes. I'm disappointed how horrible that show actually was compared to what I remember. There are only so many of those, though, so then she'll move on to...

2a. Memorizing Full House episodes. Not nearly as disappointed, still just as horrible. Also, if she started looking for all her shoes now, she'll have found them by the start of next school year.

3. The three-year-old will use the extra time to complain that he's not getting enough iPad time. And he'll ask me to wipe his butt often.

4. The Mrs. vows to clean the laundry room, which sounds redundant, but it doubles as our paper product storage unit and triples as her teachery-stuff storage unit, then given our lackadaisical attitude toward laundry, it also acts as our clothing storage unit. She's also volunteered me to help her, but to make any real progress there, we will have to rent a real storage unit, toss a Leapster in the middle and lock it after the kids dive in.

5. The one-year-old has signed up for a summer session of Advanced Walking 503, to avoid some of the pitfalls the Beginner and Intermediate walkers struggle with-- hills, driveways, walking with one shoe off and one on, steps, and not stubbing your toe on the damned high chair.  (I could use a remedial class on that one...) He has already busted his lip open more often than his two siblinbgs combined, so he has vowed to improve this important skill. He has already began running before he's mastered walking. I've heard you can't do that.

5a. He also plans to continue to practice for the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, and by the time the decade's out, he, Joey Chestnut and Kobayashi will be indistinguishable. My money's on the youngster.

6. The girl also has a dance recital coming up soon. The recital will last 2 hours of real time, 5 hours of virtual time. Plus the dance school releases a video of the entire recital, which we will of course purchase, and of course memorize over the summer through repeated viewings. I have no idea what the theme of this recital is, and it became even less evident when I learned that my daughter's age group will be dancing to the song "Fly" by Sugar Ray. So apparently it's "Why We Hated the '90s." Wonder which age group will be responsible for the "Color Me Badd Musical Revue."

7. But mostly we all plan to sleep in a few extra hours...HA!