Friday, May 31, 2019

"Dinner for Two" vs. "Dinner with Kids"

My wife and I went out to dinner the other night. Just the two of us. With no kids. (It was very strange.)

It didn't take long to see that going out to dinner as two adults is much, much different than going out to dinner as two adults with four kids. Here are some of those differences:

1. Get seated quicker--We entered the restaurant in the middle of prime dinner time. Usually when asked, "How many in your party?" we'll say we need a table for six (or something similar.) Often we'll be with my wife's sister and her family, so we have to ask for a table for ten. My mother-in-law and father-in-law frequently join us, too, making us request a table for 12. And then, if my wife's other sister is also there, it becomes a table for 17. (Not many restaurants have a table for 17.)

When we tell them how many of us there are, they almost always say, "It'll be a 40 minute wait." Sometimes the wait is longer, but it's hardly ever shorter.

We're so used to having to wait to be seated that as we approached the hostess, my wife asked, "How long of a wait is it for a table for two?" The hostess quickly replied, "We can seat you right now." We were flabbergasted and stunned. No waiting! You've got to be kidding me!!!

A man, a woman, and a waiter. (That is all.)

2. No high chairs--When we sat down we didn't have to worry about where to put the high chair(s). We didn't have to track down where they were and wonder if someone from the restaurant would get them for us. We didn't have to check to see if the buckles worked, or if we needed to wipe them down.

3. No crayons at the table--We didn't have to look at a kid menu to figure out if they call them chicken nuggets, chicken tenders, chicken fingers, or chicken chunkaroos. We didn't have to decide whether or not to let our kid beat us at tic-tac-toe. And we didn't have to take an extra 45 seconds to find that one hard-to-find word that they hide in the word search puzzle diagonally backwards.

4. No potty breaks--We didn't have to worry about leaving the table in order to take a kid to the restroom. We didn't care (as much) if the bathroom had a diaper changing table or not.

5. We could eat whatever we wanted--We didn't have to worry about the kid with the nut allergy. We didn't have to worry about sharing any of our dessert.

6. No guilt about the mess--We didn't feel the need to leave a bigger tip because we felt guilty for all of the stuff on the floor beneath the high chair.

7. Adult conversation--There was absolutely no talk of diapers, Pokemon, boogers, or Moana.

Yes, we had a wonderful dinner, just the two of us! But, next time we'll probably bring the kids with us (because sometimes I just feel the need to draw on the menu with a crayon.)

Edited from a post originally published on 6/2/2017.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

7 Ways Preschool Graduation Is Better than High School Graduation

If you've ever been to a high school graduation, you know it can be a long, tedious, and boring production. That's why I prefer going to preschool graduations. Here are some of the ways a preschool graduation is better than a high school graduation:

1. Fewer than 50 graduates. It's great that your kid is graduating, but other than maybe a couple of their friends, you don't care one tiny little bit about any of the other graduates. The fewer the graduates, the less time you have to worry about not caring!

Only two rows of chairs!
2. No speech is more than two minutes long. A typical high school graduation involves several people giving speeches, including at least one long-winded blowhard from the School Board who thinks everyone came there to hear them blab on for twenty minutes. At a preschool graduation most of the "speeches" are limited to nursery rhymes.

3. No valedictorian. In high school, there is a big competition to see who will be named valedictorian, and one lucky set of parents can celebrate their child's achievement. At the preschool graduation every single set of parents (and grandparents) can believe that their child is the smartest kid in the room.

4. Parking is not a problem. The fewer kids involved means fewer cars needing parking spaces to attend the graduation. Fewer cars means better traffic flow.

5. No worries about pre- and post-graduation partying. At a high school graduation, you might worry about your graduate or one of your graduate's friends partying too hard, getting drunk, and doing something they might regret. At a preschool graduation you might worry about your preschooler spilling punch on their gown.

6. The whole thing takes less than an hour. By the time you get through all of the speeches, musical numbers, and handing out of diplomas, a high school graduation can last longer than an intercontinental flight next to a screaming baby. Preschool graduations are much shorter.

7. Everyone gets cookies! At a preschool graduation, everyone (including the graduates, the parents, the grandparents, and the siblings) gets a cookie! (Maybe even more than one!) There are no treats handed out at high school graduation.

So, if you've got a kid getting ready to graduate high school, you might consider holding them back and re-entering them in preschool. The graduation ceremony is so much better!

Friday, May 24, 2019

I'm Nerdier Than My Wife

I'm a nerd.

I've known I've been a nerd for a long, long time. Oh, sure, there was that time in sixth grade when I thought I might win the "best dressed" award because I had a Star Wars shirt for every day of the week. I didn't know then. (I didn't win, either.)

I think it was in junior high when I realized I was a nerd. And I was ashamed of it. That's when I quit collecting comic books (the first time.) I was afraid that one of the "cool" kids might see me sifting through the comic book racks at the drug stores and grocery stores of Pocatello, and think that I was some kind of loser. (At the time, I thought comic books were perceived to be for littler kids, not "hip" and "with-it" junior high schoolers.)

I started back in to collecting comic books when I was a junior or senior in high school. By then I knew I was a nerd, and so did pretty much everyone else.

So, twenty-something years later when I started dating the woman who would become The Wife, I was unquestionably, no doubt about it, abso-freaking-tively a nerd. And I was fine with that.

The Wife fancied herself a nerd, too. And so, we had to ask the question: Which one of us was the bigger nerd?

She had some pretty good credentials. For one thing, she had her ham radio license. (Pretty nerdy!) To be fair, it wasn't something she had sought out. Getting her ham radio license was something that was strongly encouraged by her dad. (He has definite nerdish tendencies.) (Sorry, PopPop, but it's true.) But, even though it wasn't her idea, a ham radio license is still a ham radio license.

The Wife's other best nerd qualification is that she is a junior high school math teacher. That is very nerdish! In fact, since we've been married there have been a few times when I have caught her doing math that was not for one of the classes she is teaching or for one of the classes she is taking.

Soak that in for a second. In other words: Sometimes she does math just for the fun of it!!! (Nerd alert!!!)

She makes a strong case. But, it flounders when compared to mine.

My basic nerd credentials can be pointed out in three easy ways:

1: I wear a calculator watch!

My "nerd watch" will even do tricks. Turn it upside down and it says "hellooo!"
Many, many years ago, my sister got me a Casio calculator watch for my birthday or Christmas (I forget which.) I'm guessing this is because she loves me, and she thinks I'm a nerd. (Look at it. This is definitely something you would only give to someone you thought of as a nerd.)

I immediately liked it. It has time, calculator, alarm, and stop-watch functions! I liked it so much that when it came time to get a new watch (because the watchband broke; the watches themselves are nearly indestructible), I bought another one just like it. And, I've been doing so for the past 20 years! (Every time I have to get a new watch I'm a little surprised to find they still make the exact same model. I'm glad they do. I'd be lost without it.)

2: I have a large comic book collection. Several thousand comic books.
Captain America enjoying the view in the comic book closet.

Oh, don't worry, it's not a particularly valuable comic book collection. That's because they aren't in pristine condition. You see, I would actually read the comic books when I bought them! I didn't just bag them and board them and keep them hermetically sealed (on Funk and Wagnall's porch) so they would stay in mint (or near mint) condition. (Oops.)

C: I've been to more than one Star Trek convention. 

You can go to one Star Trek convention and say you are just going to make fun of the nerds, but if you go to more than one, you are not fooling anyone: you are a nerd.

When I was living in Idaho, my friends and I drove down to Salt Lake City to see George "Oh my!" Takei (Mr. Sulu) at a Star Trek convention. We had a good time, but I figured that it would be a "once," and that I was done with Star Trek conventions.

But then, a few years later, it was announced that William Shatner was coming to Pocatello, Idaho! If William Shatner comes to Pocatello, you have to go see him, don't you? (At least, that's what I thought. Most other people disagreed, because there weren't many people there to see The Shat. It was not a well attended Star Trek convention. On the plus side, I can say I saw William Shatner at his only ever appearance in Pocatello, 'cause I'm sure he ain't ever going back.)

That pushed me up to two Star Trek conventions, and sealed my nerd qualifications.

So, despite her best efforts, The Wife couldn't come close to stacking up against my nerd credentials. (And that's without even bringing out my trump card: I was a 40 year-old virgin.)

Of course, these days being a nerd isn't such a bad thing. It's different now for nerds. Nerds are accepted and even celebrated. Nerds are everywhere! I'm a nerd. My wife is a nerd. Our kids are nerds. And it doesn't really matter who's nerdier. (Although I'm still not so sure about doing math just for the fun of it. Seems a little nerdy to me.)

Edited from a post originally published on 9/6/2013.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Last Week of School

It's the last week of school! It's a happy and wonderful time!

Or is it?

The last week of school is one of the busiest weeks of the whole year. We have four kids. The three year-old doesn't go to school, so he doesn't have any school obligations. Yet. (Although we still have to drag him to many of his siblings' activities.)

But, between the other three kids we have a few things. This week alone we are dealing with: two concerts, one field trip, a bike rodeo (take your bike to school day), a pet day (take your pet to school day), an assembly to which the parents are invited, a preschool graduation, and a partridge in a pear tree. (To be fair, the partridge has nothing to do with school--although it does like to hang out near the school bus.)

And that's just this week. The previous two weeks have also included: a multi-school concert at the local college basketball stadium, a school-sponsored party (complete with food trucks), a preschool picnic party, a piano recital (not school-related, but similar), and at least two other field trips.

Kids at the stadium. (My daughter is the one in the white.)

My wife came across something on the interwebs that compares the busyness of May with the craziness of December. They call it "Maycember." (You can check out the Holderness Family video here.) The last few weeks of school really have gotten to be about as busy as Christmastime.

And I'm just a Dad. My wife is a teacher. She not only has our four kids, she has hundreds of other kids to deal with! I don't know how she does it. (If you know any teachers, be especially nice to them this time of the year.)

The good thing is, once the last week of school is over, things won't be so busy anymore. Instead, your kids will be home all day, every day. And then you'll have to deal with the "I'm bored-itis."

Friday, May 17, 2019

Getting the Pooh in the Potty

Edited from a post originally published on 5/12/2017.

I'm not a big fan of Winnie the Pooh. I've always thought he was a whiny character with an annoying voice and an irrational fixation on pots full of honey. (Hey, honey is perfectly fine, but it's not really worth obsessing over. If it was bacon, maybe I'd understand the obsession.) I like Tigger and Eeyore, but I just don't have much use for Pooh.

And then, of course, there is the name. Who in their right mind names a character in a children's book after excrement? It just doesn't make any sense.

I've written before about how I have an uncontrollable need to make poo jokes any time I'm around Winnie. (See: Pooh Happens.) But, something happened the other night that is compelling me to bring the subject up again.

I'm not sure where they came from, but my two year-old daughter has a couple of stuffed Winnie the Poohs among the herd of stuffed animals she insists on sleeping with in her bed every night. The two Poohs are different sizes, so to tell them apart she calls the smaller one "Baby Pooh" and the larger one "Daddy Pooh." (Even my wife can't help but make jokes about "Daddy Pooh." It's just too easy. And funny.)

So much Pooh!!!
(But, hey, would it be too much to ask the bear to wear some pants?)

The other night was bath night for the kids. As I got our oldest daughter set up in the tub, her two year-old sister stayed around to watch. I know, I know: bathing should not be a spectator sport. But, at that moment it just wasn't worth the fight to try to get the two year-old out of there. I left the two of them in the bathroom for a moment to go check on the baby.

When I got back to the bathroom, I couldn't believe what I saw: Baby Pooh was in the potty!

There is Pooh in the potty!!!
A few weeks ago, during Spring Break, we made an attempt to potty-train the two year-old. It was a very unsuccessful attempt, but we still had the "toddler potty" on the floor of the bathroom just in case the two year-old miraculously decided she would rather poop in the potty than in her diaper. Instead, she did this. She had heard the term "poop in the potty" enough times that she knew where her Pooh should go.

When I texted this picture to some friends and family, my mother-in-law, knowing my juvenile sense of humor, assumed that I had staged the photo myself. Nope. It was all the two year-old's idea.

Apparently no one in my family is capable of avoiding the potty humor of Pooh jokes.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Traveling to "Sweden"

Travel is expensive. As much as we'd like to go to Europe and see all the sights, it's just not financially feasible at the moment. So, once or twice a year we'll do the next best thing: we'll load the kids in the mini-van and take a trip to IKEA!

When you step into an IKEA store, it's as if you're setting foot on Swedish soil, but you don't need a passport! And, just like any trip to a foreign land, you're going to need two things: 1) Someone to guide you; and B) Some way to get past the language barrier.

Happily, the Swedes know these things, and they're going to take care of you. To help guide you through the store, they have a series of arrows to show which direction you should be heading. (Usually, kids don't like being told where to go, but they'll gladly follow a Swedish arrow on the floor!)

He won't listen to me, but he will follow a Swedish arrow!
But, if the arrows aren't informative enough, you could always consult the Map of IKEA, which looks like the path of bread crumbs left by Hansel and Gretel. (Yes, I know that Hansel and Gretel aren't Swedish, but sometimes those German forests and Swedish forests look alike.)

It's like a real-life game of Candy Land, but with furniture instead of treats.
Once you're sure you can find your way around the place, the next problem is learning the language. It's okay--you really don't need to know what a "FLARDFULL" or a "DAGSTORP" are. In most cases it will be obvious, because those words will be next to an item that you recognize, like a sofa or a scented candle. But, sometimes you'll see the word and the item and still not know what it is. In those instances you may choose to ignore the item, or buy it and try to guess what it is supposed to be.

I have a large supply of FARGTON in my garage, and I'm willing to sell them cheap!
You might wonder, "Well, what do I need to know about the umlauts?" My answer: nothing! This is America, and we don't understand how to use the punctuation marks we've heard of, so we aren't about to pay attention to a couple of weird dots above some random letter! (Heck, most Americans can't even properly wield a semi-colon; I am one of those people.)

$2.99 seems an awful lot for a FULLFOLJA, with or without the umlaut.
Once you can find your way around, and are able to ignore all of the non-English words, exploring Sweden IKEA can be pretty fun. They have full rooms set up to show you how the furniture is supposed to be used, complete with Swedish books on the bookshelves. (My personal goal as a writer is to write a book popular enough that it will be translated into Swedish, then placed on the shelf of a display in an IKEA showroom.)

Coming soon to an IKEA bookshelf near you: "Frusen Gladje" by Slö Jö.
One of the best things about traveling to Sweden IKEA is the superior European technology. They have shopping carts where all four wheels turn! IKEA shopping carts turn with the ease of sliding on the ice of a frozen Swedish fjord! I have never been to an IKEA where I had trouble with the wheels of the shopping cart, whereas approximately 46% of all shopping carts in American stores have at least one wheel that does not do what it is supposed to do.

Wheels that turn!!!
Of course, no foreign travel is complete without sampling the native cuisine. So, prepare to feast yourself on Swedish meatballs and lingonberries! (Just don't eat too many lingonberries at once, because you know that famous Swedish saying: "Candy is dandy, but fruit makes you poop!")

So, I highly recommend traveling to Sweden IKEA when you get the chance. But remember, don't break any laws, and certainly don't shoplift, because Sweden IKEA does have an extradition arrangement with all local American law enforcement agencies.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Kows Kan't Spel

What is wrong with our education system? I'm not sure, but I do know this: we are not doing right by the most gifted cattle in the world.

Have you seen the Chick-Fil-A billboards? These cows exhibit intelligence far beyond that of normal cattle, and yet they are absolutely horrible at spelling. Just take a look at this billboard I passed the other day:
Sorry, cows, but I have never dreamed of chicken for breakfast.
"Chikin 4 brekfast UR dreems kome troo." Seven words, and not a single one is spelled correctly! These are obviously intelligent cattle. They are skilled enough that somehow, even without opposable thumbs, they can climb up  a billboard, work as a team, and paint a message that thousands of passing motorists are able to read. And yet every word is spelled wrong.

Do I blame the cows for this? No, it's not their fault. I have a beef with our public education system! There are so many things wrong that I don't know where to start.

Is it overcrowded classrooms? We herd our students into the classrooms and try to corral them 40 to a room. 20 is plenty; with fewer students the teachers can get them individual attention to steer them in the right direction.

Is it teachers who don't care? While there are some teachers who are just grazing through their jobs and should be put out to pasture, the vast majority of educators are trying as hard as they can to rustle their students into being successful in the rodeo of life.

Is it too much emphasis on testing? We all want Grade A students, but is wrangling them to fill in circles on a multiple choice test the best way to take stock in what they really know?

Is it a failure of school administrators? Sometimes superintendents and school board members try to lasso up a good education without ever visiting the farm and seeing the manure the teachers have to muck through on a daily basis.

Is it our expectations? Sometimes we brand cattle as being worth nothing more than fodder for the feedlot, but if we expect more from them maybe they'll show us what they're truly capable of accomplishing.

Maybe someday they'll even learn how to spell.

Edited from a post originally published on 5/9/2017.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

6 Things NOT to Do While Your Kids Are Playing Nicely

What's that? You say your kids are playing together nicely? They aren't fighting, they aren't tattling, they aren't getting into trouble? They're giggling and laughing and actually behaving themselves?

That's great!!!

This is wonderful and exciting; cherish these moments! But, don't get too comfortable, because it probably won't last. You might think, "Well, while they're playing so nicely, I'll be able to______." No, no you won't. Because if you try to take advantage of the fact that the kids are playing nicely, they will immediately stop what they are doing and demand all of your attention. It's just what kids do.

Here are a few things NOT to do while your kids are playing nicely:

1. Don't check on them. If the kids are playing nicely in another room, let them be. The moment they see you it will throw them off, and the fun they were having will come to a quick end. It's better to let them just keep going on their own--your parental presence will put a damper on their fun.

2. Don't try to watch them play. Most people (even kids) can sense when someone is watching them. Call it natural paranoia. And when they know you're watching, it'll throw them a little off-kilter and the fun will end. (And whatever you do, DON'T try to take a picture of them playing nicely together! Nothing will stop them faster.)

Nothing bad could POSSIBLY happen when two kids are using baseball bats as swords, right?

3. Don't try to go to the bathroom. As soon as you go to the bathroom, the kids will stop playing nicely. Why? Kids are contractually obligated to bother you while you go to the bathroom, even if it means they have to stop having fun to do so.

4. Don't try to talk to another adult on the phone. You should know by now that you can't have a coherent conversation with another adult on the telephone while your children are between the ages of three weeks and 16 years old. Every time you get on the phone either a kid will interrupt you, or you'll have to correct them by yelling out something like, "Get your brother's shirt out of your mouth!" while in the middle of your phone conversation. (This is why you no longer have friends.)

5. Don't try to get anything done. If you try to do anything productive (do the dishes, write a novel, take a nap) while the kids are playing, they will sense this and drop what they are doing so they can prevent you from accomplishing your goal.

6. Don't let them continue unsupervised. Unsupervised kids get into things they're not supposed to. That's just a fact. No matter how much "fun" it sounds like they're having, you must check on them, or they might "quietly" do things they shouldn't, like climb to the top of the dresser and jump off of it, or pour all of the shampoo onto the bathroom floor. Leaving a kid unsupervised is just asking for trouble.

(You may have noticed that item #1 and item #6 completely contradict each other. They tell you exact opposite things to do in order to keep your kids safe and happy. Guess what, you're right. Welcome to parenting!) (And good luck to you. You're going to need it.)

Friday, May 3, 2019

The 8 Worst Jobs (According to Hollywood)

My wife is a junior high math teacher. I often feel bad for her, because when junior high math teachers appear on television shows or in the movies, they are usually portrayed in a negative light. More often than not they are mean, boring, unreasonable, and unlikable. And that's too bad, because she is none of those things. (Usually.)

But, as poorly as school teachers are often portrayed, it could be worse. Sometimes school teachers are actually shown in a positive way, doing whatever they can to help their students. However, there are some professions that have it worse than teachers because they are almost always portrayed in a bad light. Here are a few of those professions:

Plumber--Plumbers are usually seen as dirty, unkempt, loud men who charge way too much for their services. Oh, and yes, you can always see their butt crack.

Corporate Executive--These folk are portrayed as the greediest people on earth. They would do anything for a few dollars, even if it meant poisoning the town well and/or causing the death of several small children and/or cute bunnies. Nothing is more important than money.

Corporate Board Members--Board members are usually not quite as pure evil as the executives, but they are willing and eager to look the other way when a crime is committed if there is a benefit to the company's stock prices.

School Principal--While teachers are sometimes shown in a positive light, principals seldom are. Principals are there to harass, annoy, and carry out personal vendettas against the students, and also stand in the way of the few "good" teachers who are actually trying to help kids learn.

A principal is most happy when he gets to suspend someone.

Tax Collector--According to television and the movies, anyone who works for the IRS is evil and/or soulless.

US Senator--As portrayed in popular media, no one is more susceptible to a bribe than a US Senator. Every important evil plot involves a US Senator on the take.

Armored Car Driver--While most of the others on this list are portrayed as evil, armored car drivers are simply just incompetent. If you see an armored car driver in a television show or movie, there is a 60% chance they will end up dead, and a 98% chance that their armored car will be robbed.

Dog Catcher--Has there ever been a dog catcher portrayed in a good light in a movie or television show? I don't think so. Dog catchers are purely evil people who delight in the deaths of cute, pure, innocent animals.

They make mean junior high math teachers look warm and fuzzy in comparison.

Edited from a post originally published on 5/2/2017.