Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Where No One Needs to Know Your Name

My daughter met a boy at the McDonald's PlayPlace and announced to us that she was going to marry him. She is four years old. Meanwhile, I didn't announce that I was going to marry anyone until I was 40 years old. Just a bit of a difference.

I don't think she's actually going to marry him--she doesn't know his name, and my understanding is it's fairly important to know the name of your spouse before you get married. (Vegas wedding chapels excluded, of course.)

Making best friends.

Kids have this ability to make friends any time and anywhere. Whenever we go to a park, the kids end up becoming best buds with whoever else happens to be at the playground with them. They'll say, "Dad! Dad! I made a new best friend!"

I'll say, "Great! What is your best friend's name?"

"Umm...I don't know." Apparently, names aren't important for friendships.

A very frightening sign.

A while back I took the kids with me to get an oil change in the mini-van at the car dealership. Usually when I go there I plop the kids in front of the television and get some writing done, but on this occasion the television in the kids' waiting area wasn't working. Without the television, the kids quickly teamed up with another couple of kids and they played tag and danced and ran around the dealership to entertain themselves. When the mother of those others told her kids that it was time to leave, I thought all four kids were going to break down into tears. It was quite a scene, complete with hugs and sad waves goodbye.

Meanwhile, I don't make new friends very often. The vast majority of my friends are people I've known for most of my life--or at least for several years. In recent years I've made several acquaintances. These are people I could become good friends with, if I spend enough time with them. But, I usually end up spending my time with my family or the friends I already have.

The older we get, the more time it takes to actually become friends with someone. But we are less likely to take the time it takes to make those friendships. Things would be easier if we were like kids--able to lose ourselves immediately in friendships with people we've just met. (Who knows? You might even meet someone at the PlayPlace that you'll want to marry.)




Friday, August 16, 2019

Back To School: Day 1 (A Running Diary)

Ah, the first day of school! It's one of the most anticipated and dreaded days of the year. And, it's just around the corner. To commemorate the day, I thought I'd take a look at how things went when I wrote a running diary of the first day of school two years ago. Things haven't changed much.

But first, the players, as they were two years ago:
     Thing 1:  9 year-old daughter (entering 4th grade)
     Thing 2:  7 year-old son (entering 2nd grade)
     Thing 3:  Two and a half year-old daughter
     Thing 4:  One year-old son
     The Wife:  Junior High math teacher crazy enough to marry me
     Me:  Stay-at-home dad and writer

Here we go:

5:30 AM--The Wife's alarm goes off. She hits the snooze button. I think about getting up to exercise.
5:40 AM--The Wife's alarm goes off again. She hits the snooze button again. I don't think about getting up to exercise.
5:50 AM--The Wife's alarm goes off again. I actually get out of bed and go to the bathroom.
5:55 AM--The Wife takes a shower.
6:00 AM--I feel guilty for not exercising. Grab the laptop and attempt to write. (Surf Facebook instead.)
6:13 AM--The Wife gets out of the shower. She sees me and says, "Oh, I thought you were exercising." I feel even more guilty.
6:15 AM--I take a shower.
6:33 AM--Attempt to write. (Stare off into space.)
6:45 AM--Wake up Thing 1 and Thing 2. I have the following exchange with Thing 1:
     Thing 1: "I was having a hilarious dream, but I'm glad you woke me up!"
     Me: "A hilarious dream?"
     Thing 1: "The octopus was eating pizza! But I'm glad you woke me up because it's the first day of school!"
6:46 AM--Thing 2 wakes up and has a bloody nose.
6:48 AM--Thing 1 informs me that in her hilarious dream there was calamari on the pizza the octopus was eating.
6:50 AM--Thing 1 and Thing 2 get dressed in their brand new* school clothes. [*NOTE: Last night The Wife picked out all of their clothes for the first week of school. Prior to that she made sure they had new clothes for school. Because she cares. (Had it been left to me they might have worn "gasp!" clothes from last year.)]
6:56 AM--Thing 1 doesn't want breakfast if it might be messy.
7:01 AM--Notice that Thing 2 has all brand new clothes except for ill-fitting socks he has worn for at least three years because he really wants to wear Captain America socks.
7:12 AM--The bus arrives...for the high school and junior high kids. Thing 2 worries that he missed his bus. I explain to him that this was not his bus. (I'll have this same conversation with him 46 more times over the course of the school year.)
7:15 AM--Auntie K arrives to do "First Day of School" hair. (She's slightly better at doing hair than Daddy.)
7:34 AM--Hair is done.
7:35 AM--Time for the "First Day of School" photo shoot.
7:39 AM--Realize it is very difficult to get two children to pose together without one of them fake-smiling so hard that they look like a psycho.
7:46 AM--Her work finished, Auntie K goes home. (She's incredible! She's like Mary Poppins without the flying umbrella.)
7:48 AM--Load their lunches* into their backpacks. [*NOTE: Last night The Wife packed their lunches. Because she is amazing.]
7:51 AM--Thing 2 asks if he can go to the bus stop. (No. It's too early.)
8:00 AM--I let them leave for the bus stop. (Even though it's still too early.)

And they're off!
8:03 AM--They arrive at the bus stop, sit on the curb, and look bored.
8:11 AM--The first next kid arrives at the bus stop.
8:19 AM--The bus arrives!
8:20 AM--The bus leaves.
8:21 AM--With complete quiet and solitude, I attempt to write. (Actually open a file on the computer.)
8:23 AM--I hear that Thing 4 is awake. As I go to get him, I really hope Thing 3 is still asleep.
8:24 AM--She's not.
8:25 AM--Change Thing 4's diaper.
8:26 AM--Get Thing 4 a banana.
8:27 AM--Change Thing 3's diaper.
8:28 AM--Get Thing 3 a banana.
8:29 AM--Make toast.
8:30 AM--Get more banana for Thing 4.
8:35 AM--Attempt to write. (Distracted by Facebook again.)
9:10 AM--Smell something bad. Change Thing 4's poopy diaper.
9:12 AM--Attempt to write. (Stare blankly into space.)
9:54 AM--Smell something bad. (Again.) Change Thing 4's poopy diaper.
9:56 AM--Attempt to write. (Go over old e-mails.)
10:34 AM--Actually getting some writing done! The kids are playing quietly. All is well.
10:36 AM--Thing 3 walks up to me, hits me in the leg, and repeatedly shouts, "I'm Velma! I'm Velma!" while holding an action figure of Daphne. She throws the Daphne action figure in anger. I stop writing to look for Velma action figure.
10:37 AM--Find two Shaggy action figures, two Scooby-Doo action figures, and one Fred action figure. No Velma.
10:39 AM--Find Velma! (And the world rejoices!) Sit down to write again.
10:40 AM--Sniff. Sniff. Smell something bad. Change Thing 4's poopy diaper. (His third in an hour and a half.)
10:42 AM--Put Thing 4 down for a nap. (All that pooping has got to make him tired, right?)
10:46 AM--Attempt to write. (Review what I've already written.)
10:48 AM--Thing 3 interrupts by asking me to read her a book.
11:01 AM--Finish reading to Thing 3. (Amazingly, I was able to get away with reading the book only three straight times.)
11:02 AM--Attempt to write. (Distracted by looking at "First Day of School" photo shoot.)
12:05 PM--Post "First Day of School" pictures of Thing 1 and Thing 2 on Facebook.
12:40 PM--Get Thing 4 up from his nap. Shockingly, no poop in his diaper.
12:43 PM--Feed kids leftover spaghetti for lunch.
12:44 PM--Realize I should not be feeding Thing 4 spaghetti on a day that isn't his normal bath day.
1:03 PM--Use a washy-wash (washcloth) to clean spaghetti sauce out of Thing 4's face, ears, eyebrows, hair, nostrils, chin, in between his fingers, eyelashes, and anywhere else I can find it, knowing full well that despite my best efforts I won't get it all.
1:09 PM--Attempt to write. (Doze off a little.)
3:13 PM--Change Thing 4's diaper. There is no poop, but there are several spaghetti noodles. And some sauce.
3:37 PM--The school bus arrives!
3:40 PM--Thing 1 and Thing 2 arrive home from school.
3:41 PM--Talking at the same time, Thing 1 and Thing 2 give a quick, incoherent report of everything that happened at school on the first day.
3:49 PM--The Wife arrives home from school.
3:50 PM--The exact same report is given of everything that happened at school on the first day. It is still incoherent.
3:51 PM--The Wife, exhausted from a full day of work at school, collapses in her chair. We look at each other and realize we only have to do this 179 more times before school lets out next summer.


Edited from a post originally published on 8/25/2017.
(The "running diary" is a format I've borrowed from former ESPN/Grantland/The Ringer writer Bill Simmons. I've used it a couple of times before.)




Tuesday, August 13, 2019

In Defense of Olive Garden

I'm about to say something very controversial. There are people who will disagree and mock me for my opinion. Some will dismiss me as a crackpot; others will get downright angry with me. I don't care. I'm willing to face the consequences. Here it is:

I like to eat at Olive Garden.

There, I said it, and I don't care what the naysayers think.

It's like they took a little piece of Italy and moved it to the suburbs!

I'm being overdramatic, of course. A lot of people like to eat at Olive Garden--that's why they have over 800 restaurants worldwide. But, at the mention Olive Garden at least one person in every crowd will turn up their nose and scoff. "Olive Garden," they'll huff. "Ha! That's not real Italian food!" (They might even say "that's not real Italian cuisine," because these are the type of people who think they know the difference between "cuisine" and "food.")

To these folks I say: How do you know? Are you from Italy? Have you ever been to Italy? Can you even find Italy on a map? What makes you qualified to tell me what is and isn't authentic Italian food?

Having said that, I'm willing to concede the point: Olive Garden is not authentic Italian cuisine. How do I know this? Because the food is mass produced right here in America. It's not like every time they open a new Olive Garden they import a dozen chefs from Italy to come make the food. Olive Garden serves Italian-ish food made by Americans.

So, why do I like to go to Olive Garden?  Because I like the taste of the food! They have soup with sausage in it, and your server will shred as much cheese into it as you want. I like noodles. I like marinara sauce. I like alfredo sauce. I like breadsticks. Olive Garden serves unlimited breadsticks. Do you know what that means? It means there is no limit to the number of breadsticks you can eat! Sure, after your 47th breadstick they might start bringing them out a little more slowly. And yes, after your 73rd breadstick you might have to personally request each new breadstick one at a time. But, as long as it's not closing time, they'll keep bringing you breadsticks. Delicious, buttery breadsticks!

Have you been to Olive Garden? There is usually a line-up of people waiting to be seated. The restaurant is almost always full of patrons. Lots and lots of people go to Olive Garden every day, and most of them would happily return again another day. That's because most people find that Olive Garden serves satisfying food.

And yet, there are still those Olive Garden naysayers. They'll say things like, "My grandmother is Italian, and Olive Garden food is nothing like hers!" That's probably true. And I'm fine with that. It just means there'll be more breadsticks for me.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Star Wars/Car Wash

I was thinking about Star Wars the other day. You know, Star Wars, the first movie, even though they try to call it things like "Episode 4," or "A New Hope." It was Star Wars when it came out, and it will always be Star Wars to me. (Because I'm old and I don't like change.) I'm talking about the movie that ends (forty-something year-old SPOILER ALERT) with Luke Skywalker flying down a space trench and hitting a small target in order to destroy the Death Star.

Anyway, if the rebellion had been depending on me to fly my x-wing down that space trench and make the shot to destroy the Death Star, they would have been out of luck.

I have a hard enough time pulling in to a car wash.

Use the force, Luke!
It looks simple enough: just drive forward and put the front driver-side wheel into the little tire-holder. Easy! They even have little yellow markers to help guide you on your way, plus some angled metal to help push the tire into the correct spot if you are off by a few inches.

Follow the yellow brick road.
You'd have to be a completely incompetent driver to not be able to get that front tire where it's supposed to go, right?

Not so fast, my friend! It might not be as easy as it looks. Why? Because as soon as you enter the car wash, your windshield gets sprayed with water, greatly decreasing your ability to see anything in front of you. Plus, as you approach the target you can no longer see it because your own vehicle blocks the view. When driving, you can't actually see where your front tire is, so all those yellow dots quickly become useless. (And it's not like you can stick your head out of the window to look, unless you want your face to get rinsed, soaked, and/or waxed.)

To see or not to see? (That is the question.)

In fact, flying down that space trench to destroy the Death Star might be easier, because you'd have R2-D2 to help guide you. At the car wash there is no R2 unit, just some kids in the back seat yelling, fighting, and/or screaming.

Sure, having Darth Vader and a squadron of tie-fighters trying to shoot you down would be a distraction, but so is that guy in line behind you, honking his horn because you're moving too slow.

So, yes, I'm afraid that if the rebel forces were relying on my piloting skills to bring down the Death Star, they would have been in trouble. There would still be a giant, moon-sized thing flying through that galaxy far, far away, blowing up planets and rebel bases with ease.



And my x-wing would still need a good washing.



Edited from a post originally published on 8/11/2017.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

What Jobs Are On Your Parental Resume?

We were at a toy store the other day when something caught my eye. It was a game called "Poop Checkers."

Yes, it's a game of checkers where the usual round playing pieces have been replaced by ones that are shaped like little piles of poop. That's right, poop--again. (I recently wrote about a food that promoted children getting a tongue tattoo of uni-poop.) (Uni-poop is a pile of poop with a unicorn horn in it.)

This is different. I didn't care so much about the game, (although I did wonder how exactly the poop pieces stack on top of each other when it comes time to get "kinged.") What caught my attention was the name of the game: Poop Checkers. My first thought was, "That could be a description of me. As a parent of a child who is in the process of being potty trained, I am a 'Poop Checker.'"

I check for poop. I am a poop checker.

I've recently been looking for a job and updating my resume, and I thought about the many different skills I've learned as a parent. Unfortunately, I can't put "Poop Checker" on my regular resume. But, if I were to make a separate resume just for my parental skills, it would certainly apply.

Here are a few of the jobs and skills many parents could add to their Parental Resume:

Poop Checker: Oh, sure, anybody can check for poop. But, it takes experience and a special skill set to check for poop without getting any poop on your finger.

Poop checked.
(Photo courtesy of Pixabay)
Tissue Box: Kids sneeze. Adults sneeze. Adults usually have enough warning that they can have a tissue or handkerchief in place before the sneeze occurs, and if not, they quickly grab one to clean up the after-sneeze. Kids, on the other hand, seem to always be caught by surprise by sneezes. And afterwards they seem to be paralyzed--so grossed out by the large amount of snot hanging from their noses that they are unable to move. As a parent, not only do you always have access to a large supply of facial tissues, you also must spring into quick action to clean up the aftermath.

Day Planner: Sometimes kids have things to do. But, kids have no idea when they are supposed to do those things. Dentist appointments? Doctor appointments? Birthday parties? Playdates? They would never get to any of these things without you.

Personal Chef: Yes, you know when they prefer box macaroni and cheese over homemade. Yes, you know which dipping sauces they want for their chicken nuggets. Yes, you know which vegetables they might actually eat.

Nurse: You are your child's personal health care companion. You apply the band-aids. The healing power of your kiss is phenomenal.

Laundry Service: The laundry is never truly finished.

Garbage Can: It is surprising how often your kids will hand you their garbage.

Detective (Finder of Lost Things): There is always one shoe missing. There is always one shoe missing!

Cheerleader: The skill of being a good cheerleader is knowing when to loudly cheer, when to be quietly supportive, and when to bust out a good cartwheel.

Maid Service: You can try to make them clean up after themselves--as long as you're aware you're going to have to clean up after they clean up.

Hair Stylist: If you let your child out in the wild without doing something with their hair, it doesn't reflect poorly on them as much as it reflects poorly on you.

Chauffeur: Piano lessons. Soccer games. Birthday parties. Until they're tall enough to reach the pedals, it's all on you.

Lifeguard: There is no lifeguard at the splash pad. Well, except for you.

No lifeguard on duty.
(Photo courtesy of Pixabay)
Assembler: Those bunk beds aren't delivered already set up. And that Hot Wheels track needs some work, too.

Politician (Law Maker): Without you, someone might be able to watch television before the kitchen has been swept.

Police (Law Enforcement): If that television is on before the kitchen has been swept, there will be consequences.

Jungle Gym: Kids can't always make it to the park. They need to climb something.

Ringmaster: Someone needs to run this circus. That someone is you.


Friday, August 2, 2019

Smooshing "Raisins" In the Rug

When I was a kid I didn't like raisins.

Really, what kid does like raisins? To most kids, raisins are just a disappointing impersonator of chocolate chips. You have a cookie, see a dark spot in it, and think, "Yay! Chocolate chips!" And then you take a bite and, "Oh, crap, that's a raisin!" So, no, most kids don't really like raisins.

(Having said that, I don't know how true it is, because my kids happen to love raisins. They'll eat raisins by the handful if given the chance. I'm not sure if this is because their mother has trained them to eat healthy, or if my kids are just really weird. It's probably a little of both.)

Anyway, as a kid I developed such a hatred of raisins that I didn't want to be around them. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with them. I would shun them with the shunniest of shunnings.

So, one day my Mom gave me a muffin, and it was chock full of dark spots, and those dark spots were not chocolate chips. "Drat! Raisins! They must be shunned!" (That may or may not have been how I spoke as a kid, which may or may not explain a few things.) So, what did I do? I picked those "raisins" out of my muffin and smooshed them into the rug in the middle of the living room floor. [I'm told by spellcheck that "smooshed" isn't a word. But, those "raisins" weren't "smushed" into the rug, and they weren't "smooched," either. They were smooshed. And the beauty of the English language is that if "smooshed" isn't a word, it can be if it gets used often enough. Just like "interwebs" or "hipster."]

Plump and juicy raisins blueberries.

Well, it turns out those "raisins" weren't raisins after all. They were blueberries. It was the first time I had ever had a blueberry muffin, and I picked all of the blueberries out and smooshed them into the rug. Was it good thing to do? No. Was it a smart thing to do? No. Did I get in serious trouble? Yes. Do my brother and sister still tease me about smooshing blueberries into the rug? Yes. If I had it to do over again, would I? Maybe. (I really didn't like raisins!)

The only place this muffin is getting smooshed is in my face!

Since then, I've matured a bit. (Though it may be hard to tell sometimes.) I'm actually okay with raisins now. I don't seek them out, but I will eat them on occasion, and I won't pick them out of things. (Although they do still get me angry when they deceive me into thinking they are chocolate chips.)

And as far as blueberries go, I have a love/hate relationship with them. I love them in muffins, pancakes, and waffles. However, I don't like eating them plain. A blueberry inside of some kind of bready food is delicious, but I don't want a blueberry by itself.

But, even though I don't like plain blueberries, I've learned my lesson: I won't smoosh them into the rug.


Edited from a post originally published on 7/25/2017.