Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Church Containment Wall

When The Wife and I first got married, I really liked going to church with her.

We would sit next to each other, close. Usually we would be holding hands, or one of us would have an arm around the other. Sometimes one of us would use a finger to "write" a message on the other one's back, and the person being written upon would guess what the writer had written. Usually it would be some shappy* message like "I love you," or "You are so wonderful." [*NOTE: "Shappy" is a combination of the words "happy" and "sappy," which we definitely were.]

It was so nice sitting next to The Wife at church. She would even gently nudge me if I started to fall asleep, and if that's not true love, I don't know what is. (Or maybe she just didn't want to be embarrassed by my loud snoring.)

Those were happy, wonderful days. But, over time, things have changed.

We now have four children; we never sit together at church anymore. I sit at one end of the pew, and The Wife sits at the other end, with the kids in between us. We do this for containment reasons. With an adult on each end, we can (hopefully) contain the children in the middle.

Of course, that's assuming we actually get to church on time in order to get a pew to sit in. More often than not, we are late getting to church, and end up sitting in the folding chairs in the overflow area. Why are we usually late for church? Well, each additional child brings his or her own supply of reasons to be late, from, "Mom, can you help me do my hair?" to "Wait, the baby just pooped through his diaper, down his pants leg, and into his socks." So, we are rarely on time for church.

When we get there, we set up our containment walls, me on the one end and The Wife on the other. Of course, just because there is a wall, it doesn't mean it can't be breached. Thing 3 (our 18 month-old daughter) regularly escapes over, under, and around our walls. And, she is at an age where reasoning with her doesn't always work, and threats have no sway over her. (Reasoning and threats are two of the "go to" tricks for most parents, but they are generally ineffective on young toddlers.)

So, with her, we often resort to another tried and tested parental method: bribery. I used to look down with condescending disdain at those parents who brought treats to church for their kids. Couldn't they just teach their children to behave without resorting to plying them Cheerios and fruit snacks? Well, no more. Now I am that Cheerio plyer.

Thing 3's bribery snacks, featuring: Cheerios, Goldfish, Life cereal, and a Frozen graham snack. (Because it's never too soon to get your kids indoctrinated into the Cult of Elsa and Anna.)

When Thing 3 gets past my personal containment wall, I am left with two choices: A) waving snacks at her in attempt to bribe her back to me; or 2) getting up out of my chair and physically retrieving her. Because objects at rest tend to stay at rest, getting up out of my chair is not the preferred option. So, snack bribery it is.

There is a light at the end of the containment wall tunnel. My two oldest children can usually often occasionally behave in such a way that they don't need constant adult supervision. I can see a time in the not-so-distant future when The Wife and I might actually be able to sit next to each other at church again!

We'll sit next to each other, I'll put my arm around her, and with my finger I'll write a secret message on her back. It will be, "Did you bring any snacks?"

Friday, June 24, 2016

I'm the Dad, Not the Grandpa

One of my favorite things about Facebook is that it gives me a chance to keep up with some of the people I knew in high school. It’s good to see how their lives are going and what they are doing. From Facebook I’ll learn some of their political leanings, read some funny stories and jokes, and see a lot of pictures of what they find important.

And, for a large number of my high school classmates, the photos they hold so dear are of one thing: grandkids!

Most of the people I went to high school with are now grandparents. Kids who were freshmen or sophomores when I graduated already have multiple grandchildren. One classmate/best friend already has five grandkids! And, it’s great seeing the pictures of these cute little kiddos with their proud and happy grandparents.

And then, there’s me. They call me “Slow Joe” for a reason. While many of my schoolmates were getting married and having kids when they were in their late teens and early twenties, I didn’t get married until I was 40. Last month, while most of my friends were posting grandkid pictures, my wife and I were having our fourth child! I have an eight year-old girl (Thing 1,) a six year-old boy (Thing 2,) an 18 month-old baby girl (Thing 3,) and a one month-old baby boy (Thing 4.)

It’s going to be a while before I become a grandpa.

But, that’s not going to stop people from thinking I am one. It’s already happened a few times. Several weeks ago I was at the car dealership with Thing 3, getting work done on the mini-van. As we waited and I tried to keep her entertained, and elderly man approached me and said, “So, you’re out with your granddaughter today?” I shook my head and spoke the words I have a feeling I’ll be saying often over the next several years:

“No, I’m the dad, not the grandpa.”

As I write this, I’m less than two weeks away from being 50 years old. Thing 1 just finished second grade. In ten years, when she graduates from high school, I’ll be just weeks away from 60. And, even more frightening, when Thing 4 finishes high school, I’ll be 67 years old! (Unless he’s a Doogie Howser-ish genius, but even then I’ll still likely be the oldest dad in school.)

But, it's not like I'm the oldest dad ever. David Letterman was 56 when his son Harry was born. Billy Joel was 66 when he had his second child. It's not like I'm actor Tony Randall, who got remarried at age 75 and had two kids. Compared to these guys, I'm a young whippersnapper!

Dad or Grandpa?

There are a few things I worry about, though. Will I still be able to go hiking with the kids when they’re teenagers? Will I be able to play flag football with them? Will I be able to teach them how to shoot a basketball? (Of course, some of the guys I play basketball with might say it would probably be better if someone who actually knows how to shoot be the one to teach them.)

It's funny, but being an older dad is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, dealing with these cute little hooligans keeps me young. I feel like any other young father fumbling around to try to raise his kids. But, on the other hand, chasing after these cute little hooligans wears me out and makes me feel old and out of my league. I sometimes feel like I should be the grandpa.

But, I'm the dad, not the grandpa.

Whenever I talk to my contemporaries about my kids, my old friends often get a far off twinkle in their eye, and they'll say something like, "Joe, enjoy this time. Enjoy what you have now with your kids. It goes by so quickly." And I can tell they mean it.

They also tell me that being a grandparent is absolutely wonderful. It's fantastic. And I can tell they mean that, too. I look forward to the day when I can be Grandpa.

But for now, I'm the dad, and I'm fine with that. I'm going to embrace and enjoy every moment of it. I love my kids, and I don't really care what the old guy at the car dealership or the nosy lady at the grocery store say to me.

I'm the dad, not the grandpa. And I love every minute of it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Small Town vs. SMALL TOWN

There are small towns, and then there are SMALL TOWNS.

In a small town, if you order a pizza to be delivered from the local pizza restaurant, chances are you know the delivery driver, or at least know someone from his family.

In a SMALL TOWN, you can't order a pizza from the local pizza restaurant, because there is no local pizza restaurant. If you want restaurant pizza, you have to go to another town and order and eat your pizza there, or you go to another town, order your pizza, then bring it back to your SMALL TOWN and eat it cold.

In a small town, if you get sick you go to the local clinic (or hospital) and check in with the doctor who sees most of the people in town.

In a SMALL TOWN there is no clinic or hospital, so if you get sick you call the gal down the road who works as a nurse in the city and hope it's her day off, or you load up in your car and drive to the nearest town that does have a clinic or hospital.

Now, this is a sign you'll only find in a SMALL TOWN!

In a small town, if you need a tool for that project you're working on, you go over to the local True Value store, chat with the manager (who you went to school with) and buy the tool.

In a SMALL TOWN if you need a tool you try to figure which of your neighbors is most likely to have the tool, go to his house (or shed), ask him if he has it and if you can borrow it, and spend a couple of hours chatting before taking his tool and getting back to your project.

In a small town, several of your neighbors have a cow or two in their backyard pasture.

In a SMALL TOWN, there are at least three times as many cows as people living within city limits. 

In a small town, if you are making a recipe and find that you are missing one key ingredient, you make a quick run to the grocery store to buy that ingredient.

In a SMALL TOWN if you are missing an ingredient for a recipe you will be forced to improvise and try to figure out what you have around the house that might effectively take the place of the missing ingredient.

In a small town, you know all the kids the same age as you because you all go to the same high school.

In a SMALL TOWN you know all the kids from your town and from several other nearby SMALL TOWNS, because they bus the kids from several towns together in order to have enough kids to populate a high school.

In a small town you know which houses have mean dogs and which houses have nice dogs.

In a SMALL TOWN you know the name, disposition, and breeding history of all the dogs in town. (And you know the name, disposition, and breeding history of all the people, too!)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Friday Fiction: A Fairy Tale (by The Girl)

Since Father's Day is this weekend, I'm going to take the day off. Instead, here's some Friday Fiction written by The Girl (my eight year-old daughter.) I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (I did correct some spelling and punctuation here and there.)

by The Girl

Words and pictures by The Girl

Once upon a time, in a dark kingdom, there lived a cute preschooler. Her name was Ruby and she was very chubby and cute. One day, Ruby found diamonds. She realized that these were not ordinary diamonds. They were magic! 

Because Ruby was so kind and good she decided to use the magic diamonds to make a wish. She wished for a happy day for everyone so they could play. But, before Ruby could make the wish, an evil zombie named Zombigardilla sneaked into Ruby's room and stole the magic diamonds!

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

More zombies came and they would not stop going to Ruby's room at all! Ruby knew she had to get the magic diamonds back so she could make the wish! She needed to do that! 

First, she ate healthy food and packed an apple, some crackers, pizza, cake, a shovel, and other stuff. Next, she ate magic corn and flew into Zombigardilla's evil palace. She drank 5 gallons of light so she could fly longer.

Page 4

Page 5

A zombie ran at her! Last, she got Zombigardilla to bump into a shrinker and stole all the royal stuff back and took it to the palace. 

Finally, Ruby could make the wish. She held the diamonds in her hands and said, "Everyone needs a good day." And her wish came true!

As for the zombie family, they all had a good day together.

Page 6

Back cover

I think The Girl writes a pretty good story. I'm glad to be her dad! And, I think we would all do well to remember Ruby's wish, because sometimes "everyone needs a good day!"

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Every Day Is Father's Day

Every June we celebrate Father's Day, often with cards, gifts, or treats. (Hint: Donuts! Dad's really like donuts!)

But, the truth is any father worth his weight in salt (whatever that means) knows that the third Sunday in June isn't any more important than any other day. That's because every single day is worthy of celebrating when you're a dad. Every day is Father's Day.

Father's Day is that first day in the hospital, when the nurse wraps up your newborn baby and asks, "Do you want to hold the baby?" And you don't want to hold her, because she's so tiny and you're afraid you might drop her or hold her the wrong way. But you hold her anyway, because you're a dad now and you're going to have to be the strong one and learn to do things that might scare you.

Father's Day is getting down on your hands and knees at the side of the bathtub and scrubbing all of the chocolate off of your son's face, including the spot behind his right ear and that smudge in his hair. And you marvel at how one chocolate chip cookie with only three chocolate chips in it could create such a mess.

Father's Day is changing a dirty diaper through your daughter's tears and screams, and then holding her up in front of the mirror while doing the Daddy-Daughter Diaper Dance until she stops crying and starts to laugh.

Father's Day is when she looks at you with the same awe and wonder that you have when you look at her.

Father's Day is never getting to go to the theater to see the movies that you want to see, but instead sitting through every children's movie Hollywood releases. All the good ones, and all the many, many bad ones. (Thank heavens for Pixar!)

Father's Day is being the one your kids run to when they see a scary spider. And, even though spiders still freak you out, you act all tough and take care of that spider.

Father's Day is figuring out the one thing that will make each child stop crying and start smiling. It's different for each kid, and it might not work every time, but if you can turn tears to giggles at least two out of three times, it's worth it.

Father's Day is shutting off the Billy Joel you were listening to so the kids can hear the Frozen soundtrack for the 1,219th time. (Sometimes you have to know when to let it go.)

Father's Day is realizing all your one year-old daughter really wants is for you to stop looking at your stupid smart phone for a minute and get down on the floor to play trains with her.

Father's Day is every day.

This post first appeared in the June edition of the ServeDaily newspaper. Go here for more of my columns from ServeDaily.

Friday, June 10, 2016

It's Summer!!! (...Or Is It?)

Summer is here!

The sun is up! The temperatures are rising! The kids are finished with school! The splash-pads are getting crowded! People are walking around without shirts! (Although, some of those people really should be wearing shirts.)

It's time for barbecues and picnics and trips to the beach! It's time for baseball games and running through the sprinklers and fireworks!

It's summertime!!!

Head for the beach! It's summer! (Maybe.)

But, wait. What's that? You say it's not actually summer yet? You say it won't really be summer for another ten days? You say your calendar says the first official day of summer isn't until June 20th?

Well, you're wrong. I may not be the "official" decider of when summer starts, but, to paraphrase some old Supreme Court justice, I know it when I see it. Summer starts on either Memorial Day weekend or the last day of school. That's a fact. You know it, I know it, and we all know it, no matter what the tilting of the earth's axis might say.

Tilting of the earth's axis? What does that have to do with anything? Well, according to Wikipedia, the summer solstice or first day of summer occurs when the tilt of the planet's semi-axis is most inclined towards the star that it orbits. It is the point of the earth's maximum axial tilt towards the sun. And, for centuries, it has marked the first day of summer. (Ah, gotta love Wikipedia! Wikipedia's motto: Providing Semi-Accurate Information for Student Reports for More Than a Decade! [citation needed])

So, yes, the summer solstice has been marking the beginning of summer for thousands of years. So what? Do you know what I say? I say, "Solstice, schmolstice!!!" This is America! We don't have to stand for this kind of thing!

Can we change the official beginning of summer? Well, no. But what we can do is ignore it. We can not pay attention to the facts of the situation and just believe what we feel like believing. It's how we convince ourselves that it's okay if we super-size our Extra Value Meal as long as we have a Diet Coke instead of a regular Coke.

So, you can pay attention to the Solstice People or the Calendar People if you feel like it. But, as for me, I'm going to say that summer begins on Memorial Day weekend.

The first day of summer is when you believe it is.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Why Does Bedtime Always Take the Kids by Surprise?

Every night the kids go to bed. Every. Single. Night.

And yet, almost every night it seems to come as a surprise. "What??? Bed time??? You've got to be kidding me, right? Are you trying to tell me you actually expect me to go to bed? This is unheard of! I won't stand for this!"

Bed time for the kids at our house is 8:00 PM. The two older kids know this. If you were to ask them, "When is your bed time?" they would easily and quickly answer, "Eight o'clock." And yet, when bed times rolls around it is met with shock, surprise, and disdain, as if it were the Spanish Inquisition. (No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!)

The first step in going to bed for the kids is putting on their pajamas. Once they get over the initial shock of bedtime, it's not much of a fight to get them to put on pajamas. (Why no fight? My theory is that everyone likes to put on comfy clothes, and what's more comfy than pajamas?)

Everything else, though, is back to being an utter shock and surprise.

Me: "Did you brush your teeth?"
Them: "What??? Brush my teeth? What are you talking about? I've never heard of this 'brush your teeth' that you speak of."
Me: "Every night. Every single night I tell you to brush your teeth. It really shouldn't be a surprise."
Them: "Well, okay, I'll brush my teeth. But it's really not fair when you give these last minute orders like this."

And then, after playing the surprise card, they dig in with the delay tactics:

"Wait. Can I have a drink?" 
"But, I have to go potty first." 
"Not yet. I have to find my stuffed bear." 
"Seriously. I really have to go to the bathroom."
"Can I read in bed for a while?"
"I have to go to the bathroom." (Me: "Didn't you just go?") "Yes, but I have to go, again!"

 They'll try just about anything to prolong the non-bed part of the evening just a little bit longer, up to and including going to the bathroom four times between 7:50 PM and 8:20 PM.

You might as well be sending them to jail.

But, eventually they do go to bed.

Of course "going to bed" does not necessarily mean the same thing as "going to sleep." But, that's okay. Usually the jabbering between the two after they've been sent to bed is of a happy, playful nature. And I don't mind that at all, as long as they stay in bed!

Finally, the chattering stops and they actually drop off to sleep. And the world rejoices.

And then, morning comes. And it starts all over again. "What??? Morning??? You've got to be kidding me, right? Are you trying to tell me you expect me to get out of bed? This is unheard of! I won't stand for this!"

Friday, June 3, 2016

Graduating from Babysitting to Parenting

               "I miss the earth so much, I miss my wife.
                It's lonely out in space."
                                                     --from Elton John's "Rocket Man"

I did me some parenting today.

I was in charge of my three oldest kids (ages 8 years, 6 years, and 18 months) on a road trip, train trip, and several hours at a large arena. By myself. Without The Wife. It was a bit daunting.

Two or three years ago, I don't think I could have done it. I would have been overwhelmed. But, time and experience have matured me a bit. A lot of one-on-one time with that 18 month-old force of nature has toughened me up. And so, I was able to face a daunting situation and become a little less daunted.

I'm a dad. I've never done "babysitting," I do "parenting." But, I don't do it as well as The Wife, and that's why I was just a bit nervous about today.

We had a high school graduation to attend. My lovely niece (Congrats, Ally-bug!!!) was graduating from high school, and we all wanted to attend. But, my wife, who gave birth just two weeks ago, couldn't sit through the whole graduation ceremony and the post-graduation celebratory dinner, so she had to choose one or the other. She chose the dinner. (Wise choice!) So, that left me taking the three oldest to the graduation by myself.

This involved an hour drive in the mini-van, a transfer to the commuter train, and several hours in a large basketball arena, wrangling three bored kids. The drive wasn't a problem at all. (I drive with the kids all the time, so I can do a big, long drive in my sleep.) (Figuratively speaking, of course.) The switch to the train wasn't a problem, either. We don't do a lot of train travel, so this was pretty exciting for the kids. (I just had to keep reminding them to stay behind the yellow line.)

No, it was the time in the arena that I was dreading. The train took us into downtown Salt Lake City, and dropped us off right at the doorstep of the Utah Jazz Arena. (The arena started out with the name Delta Center. Then, it was changed to EnergySolutions Arena. And then nine months ago they changed it again, officially, to Vivint Smart Home Arena. But, once they changed to a third name, I gave up. To me it'll be the "Utah Jazz Arena" from now on.)

Before arriving at the arena, two things gave me hope that I could make it through the graduation. A) I had a backpack full of toys, books, snacks, diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes that The Wife helped me pack. (The change of clothes was for the 18 month-old, not me.) And, 2) I knew that once we got to the arena, I could meet up with more family, including my brother and mother, and they could help me with the kids.

Well, by the time we got to the arena it was getting quite full. My brother was unable to save enough seats for the kids and I. So, I was left off on my own, just me, the three kids, and a loaded backpack.

Have you been to a high school graduation lately? After some opening ceremonies, they start by having some of the students give talks. And then, some more students give talks. And then, some more students give talks. And then, some more students give talks. And then, some more students give talks. And then, some more students give talks. And then, well, I think you get the idea. (Do you know what I think most graduation ceremonies need? More talks!)

Are all these students graduating, or just waiting to give their speeches?

After the students finish speaking, it's time for the administration. The principal has to give a speech, and then at least two or three members of the school board feel the need to drone on for several minutes (or hours) each. (Does anyone remember anything ever said by a school board member at a graduation ceremony? I don't think so.)

And then, of course, all of the graduating students have to walk across the stage, get their diploma, and pose for a picture. With a graduating class of well over 800 students, all those poses pose a lengthy endeavor.

Luckily for me, I have some good kids. (The Wife has done an amazing job raising them.) The books, toys, and snacks were able to keep them entertained just enough that they didn't go stark-raving bonkers. And, I was even able to get through the nerve-wracking process of getting the kids into and out of the restroom without incident. (Honestly, I don't worry at all about transgenders in the bathroom. What I do worry about are pedophiles in the bathroom.)

After the ceremony, a family friend left my brother's entourage to come help me with mine, and we made the train-ride back to the mini-van. We met up with The Wife and the new baby at the celebratory dinner, and immediately the mantle of sole responsibility was lifted.

I made it through the day with not a whiff of a problem, but that doesn't mean it wasn't nerve-wracking. Wrangling three kids out in public is not an easy thing. I don't know how single parents do it. I'm very glad I have the support of a wonderful wife and fantastic family. They all make parenting so much easier than babysitting.