Boy/Girl Stuff

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So my son has never really been interested in drawing. If there’s a ball of any kind involved, or a race, or maybe you’re smashing the shit out of something, he’s your guy. If you’ve got any sort of art project lined up where he has to sit still and not smash shit, he loses interest in about 3.2 seconds. Whatever, no big deal. I like to smash shit too.

All of a sudden though, he’s developed a newfound interest in drawing. He’ll get his markers or colored pencils and sit in a chair and draw for up to seven minutes at a time. That’s seven minutes out of my day when he’s not bringing me some sort of family heirloom and asking if he can smash the shit out of it with his golf club, so I’m pretty psyched about this developmental leap.

Am I worried that all he seems to draw are penises? A little, I guess. I’d probably laugh it off altogether if he realized he was drawing penises over and over and over again, but he doesn’t. He comes up to me with this really bright, proud smile on his face and says, “daddy, check out my…” fill in the blank here. Sometimes it’s a race car, a space ship, a sky scraper, a boat, a coffee table, a Christmas present, a dog…It could be anything, except that every time, the picture he’s drawing is obviously a penis. Doesn’t he see it? It’s like the worst ink blot test ever. Little penis. Little balls. Plain as day.

Meanwhile, my daughter has skipped her adolescence, tween and teen years and gone straight into her hysterical single 30s. The other night, she had a melt down at bed time, which sounds normal, except she was freaking out because she isn’t married yet. “But I’m already 5!” she said. “And that’s really old and I have to find a husband and get married so I can have kids!” She’s crying her eyes out the whole time—legitimately concerned that her best years are past her. She can’t tell time yet, but obviously, her biological clock is ticking.

What the fuck is that about? She’s 5! Is this some sort of side effect from watching too many Disney movies? What I wouldn’t give to be able to show my daughter an animated feature where the hero is a lesbian with a career. Like a crime fighting super lawyer who doesn’t have time for a relationship. Just once!

A boy drawing penises, I can handle, but a girl feeling marital pressure before she goes to kindergarten? I’m not trained for this.

I Love You When You’re Fat or Welcome Home Daddy

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As a kid, I remember waiting for my dad to get home from work every afternoon. This was back when people used to get home from work at 5:30 like clockwork. Actually, shit, this was back when people used to have real jobs instead of just running boutique letterpress studios out of their basement, or quilting, or handing out business cards that say “Project Manager.”

Anyway, I’d sit by the kitchen window and watch for his car to pull up, then run as fast as I could out to the driveway to give him a hug.

It’s not often that I “go to work.” Usually, I just sit at the kitchen table trying to ignore the chaos that erupts from two five year olds with little parental supervision. Sometimes they play cards quietly. Sometimes they try to figure out what will happen if they put action figures in the toaster. Often, they do “parkour” in the living room, performing somersaults over the cat.

In other words, shit gets crazy. When it gets really crazy, I retreat to a coffee shop and leave the kids with my wife or a baby sitter or some random lady that I find walking by the house who’s willing to watch the kids in exchange for free wifi and all the microwavable popcorn she can eat.

Working in coffee shops has a couple of advantages. 1) I live in a weird town and weird people congregate in coffee shops in the middle of the day. So I get to watch old ladies in ornate, peacock-inspired hats look at vampire porn magazines Seriously. I see this lady at the coffee shop all the time. She’s like 80. Loves vampire porn. And peacock hats 2) I get to pretend like I’m a dad from the ‘80s who goes to work and comes home to a loving family. Punching the time clock. Contributing to the gross national product. Working towards my pension. That’s me.

Occasionally my kids will run out to greet me in the front yard, just like I did to my dad as a kid. It’s a big thrill, and it makes all the hours toiling away trying to think of synonyms for “velvety” worth it.

Anyway, one night recently I get home from “work,” and my daughter runs out to me and gives me a big hug, then pulls back, looks me over, and says, “daddy.”

I say, “Yes, honey?”

And she says, “I love you when you’re fat.”

And I say, “What do you mean, honey?”

And she says, “I like it when you’re skinny here (pointing to my shoulders and chest) and fat right here (point to my belly).”

Okay. So much for the loving family. I didn’t take it too hard though, mainly because my daughter is bat shit crazy. Two seconds later, she finished the conversation with this gem: “Also, my body is like a video game. When it goes like this, ‘beep,’ that means I won.”

Then she ran off to play with her brother. Occasionally I’d hear her beep from the playroom. I guess that means she won.

Welcome home, daddy.

Things I Said To My Kids Today

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One of the best aspects of being a stay at home dad, is that there’s plenty of time to have really deep conversations with my children. Having a conversation with an adult is okay, but having a conversation with two five year olds can be mind-blowing. You dig into all kinds of territory—houses made out of fruit, Baby Jesus’ texting habits, the various things you can and can not lick in life.

Here are five things I said to my kids today. Long live conversations with five year olds.

1)   No, buddy, we’re not going to have a birthday party for the iPad. The iPad isn’t a person. It doesn’t have a birthday.

2)   Don’t lick your sister.

3)   I like tiny crackers more than big crackers too. They make me feel like a giant.

4)   I think it would be fun to live in a house made of watermelon for a day, but after that, it would just be really sticky all the time.

5)   That’s really sweet honey, but it might be hard to send Baby Jesus a text message. I don’t think he has an iPhone.

 

Camo Shirts and Tomato Soup

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I like to think I’m a pretty easy-going guy when it comes to how my kids dress. I’ve mentioned before that I have no problem if my son wants to wear a dress, or paint his fingernails or put on a tutu to play soccer. Feel like wearing a skirt today, buddy? Good idea. Me too.

That “open mindedness” was tested today when he woke up before dawn to get himself dressed for picture day and put on a camouflage shirt. He looks like the youngest member of Duck Dynasty.

Crazy princess fairy in a Spiderman mask is fine, but junior NRA member? That’s a bit much. I know, I’m being ridiculous, so I let it go. If he wants to wear camouflage and get his picture taken with a deer carcass, so be it. I’ll send Ted Nugent a wallet sized picture.

But the camo shirt is emblematic of a blossoming trend of independence within my kids that I’m not quite ready for. My son puts on a camo shirt and it hits me: I’m losing my babies.

On the one hand, it’s great that my kids will get themselves dressed (every once in a while, but never when I really need them to). On the other hand, that newfound independence often bites me in the ass. Like the time my son decided to get himself dressed before going to the pediatrician. I didn’t find out he was “free balling” it until we’re sitting in the waiting room and he said, giggling, “daddy, I’m not wearing any underwear.”

And of course, they’re completely incapable of putting their clothes on the correct way. Buttons are askew, zippers are in the back, they only have one sock on…You would think that they would emerge from their room with their shirts right side out or not backwards at least half of the time. Statistically, that seems like a possibility, but apparently statistics are bullshit. I’d say 99% of the time, they have their damned shirts on backwards and apparently, I’m not allowed to say, “hey sweetie, can your turn your shirt around?” because that would kill their independent spirit and squelch their will to live, so we have to walk around all day long like some suburban version of Kris Kross.

It’s like they have the desire to take care of themselves, but not the fine motor skills to pull it off. Don’t get me started on the time they decided to make tomato soup (yesterday) for breakfast on their own. We have to move now because of the mess they made.

I guess my son has always had that independent streak. When he was a toddler, I’d wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of the microwave buttons beeping. I’d sprint out to the kitchen to find him naked, standing on a chair, trying to cook himself breakfast in the microwave.

My daughter had her own drama this morning with Picture Day. She was “too depressed to eat breakfast” because her hair wasn’t quite right. She wanted a bun, but her mom gave her some sort of Mormon-wife up-do (see the girls in Big Love if you’re not sure what I’m talking about here).

Sadly, my wife left for work before my daughter realized her hair was “all wrong.” I was no help because I’m a man and all I can do with my daughter’s hair is put it in a “low pony.”

Do they ever ask me for help with things I know about? Like how to catch a fly ball or strip club etiquette? No. Whenever they need my help, it’s always for fixing fancy hair or baking muffins. I don’t know shit about baking muffins. No wonder they’re ready to start taking care of themselves and seeking comfort in camouflage shirts. Their dad is useless.

And me and Ted Nugent will always have their Pre-School Graduation pictures as a reminder.

 

A World Where Vomit Floats

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The great thing about excessive vomiting is that it gives you the chance to reinforce lessons about gravity. My daughter stayed home sick from preschool recently. We kicked off the day watching The Little Mermaid. She was lying on the couch and asked me to lie down beside her on the floor. I obliged because I’m always looking for an excuse to take a nap, but I told her to let me know if she was going to throw up so I could move.

“I don’t want you throwing up on my face,” I said.

“Okay,” she said. Then she had a light bulb moment. “Hey, throw up doesn’t float because of gravity!”

I was so proud. We went into a five-minute rant about how weird it would be if throw up could float. Like, if the rest of the world was bound by the laws of gravity, but not vomit. You’d have people regurgitating all kinds of things just to make them float. We decided it would be cool. Disgusting, but cool.

Because I’m a dad, I was proud that I had the opportunity to use her sickness as a way to reinforce the basic laws of physics that we’re all bound by. You never want to let a teaching opportunity slip through your fingers. My father knew this better than anyone. At any given moment, he could go all Father Knows Best and break out some sage advice, using our surroundings to teach his kids the importance of never buying cheap batteries, or how the key to frying a proper egg was patience. Those were his two main nuggets of wisdom that he wanted to pass on to his children. Buy good batteries and use low heat when frying an egg. They’re solid pieces of advice, but they didn’t always apply to the situation at hand, like in the dugout during a baseball game, or when I was getting ready for prom.

My daughter also understands the importance of teaching lessons. In the afternoon of her sick day, she started feeling better so she decided we should play school. I’d be the student, she’d be the teacher. She grabbed a ruler, tapped it on the table and said, “every time I do this, you have to listen.”

She tapped the ruler on the table a lot, then dropped nuggets of wisdom like, “if there’s a giant spider crawling over your house, you should tell an adult.” Then we started trading off lessons. She’d say, “When you’re in love, you get married.” And I’d say, “In the United States, you’re not allowed to get married until after you go to college. In some states, you have to go to graduate school first.”

I think we both came out of that sick day a little wiser.

The Twirl Factor (and other things I know nothing about)

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It’s safe to say I had no idea what I was doing as a parent when the kids were born. Changing diapers, burping, feeding them, even holding them was completely foreign to me. I’m happy to say that five years later, I still don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. You would think that after being a stay at home dad for almost three years, I’d have this parenting thing on auto pilot, but my kids still throw me curveballs on a daily basis.

For instance, at this point in my parenting career, I should know that it’s going to take my daughter 45 minutes to get dressed in the morning because she has to test out the “twirl factor” of each dress in her closet before deciding what to wear. Yeah. “Twirl factor.” Apparently, she has a closet full of dresses that are low on the ITS (International Twirl Scale). “Skinny dresses don’t twirl,” she says. “I don’t have any dresses that twirl,” she says.

And you’d think by now, I’d be prepared for unprompted tantrums of all kind. When one of my kids throws a fit because I won’t let him have marshmallow Peeps for breakfast, I’m prepared for the backlash. But when my kid loses his shit because I tell him that, no, he didn’t invent the game of “punch buggy,” that people have been hitting each other whenever they see Volkswagen Bugs since Biblical Times, I’m caught off guard. Why would he scream his head off and throw his shoes against the window because he didn’t invent Punch Buggy? Why, lord, why?

And why does it surprise me when my kids aren’t perfect 24 hours a day? Am I too much of an optimist? Or too naive? Or just an idiot? Maybe it’s a little of all three.

There are good surprises too. The other night at dinner, my daughter said, “I love chicken nuggets,” and then I said, “then why don’t you marry them,” and they both fell out of their chairs laughing, like it was the first time they heard that joke. Because it was the first time they heard that joke. How amazing is that? I had no idea that being a parent would allow me to recycle tired jokes from my childhood, so I guess it all evens out in the end.

 

 

Welcome to Thunderdome

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I know how the zombie apocalypse is going to start. Well, let me rephrase that. I know where the zombie apocalypse is going to start. At the crappy little indoor playground inside my town’s mall. Picture a half-a-dozen foam/plastic structures in the center of the mall’s food court—a playhouse, a slide, a bridge, a raft, rocks—scattered around a small area with a semi-soft foam floor. The whole thing is encircled by soft benches. There’s only one way in and one way out—an entry way marked by an automatic dispenser of hand sanitizer, like some sort of heavy-handed element of foreshadowing in a bad dystopian sci-fi flick.

Inside this “play circle,” roughly 78 children, all under the age of 5 are running mad while their parents sit on the benches updating their Facebook statuses and drink Diet Cokes from oversized Chik-Fil-A cups.

Basically, this playground is a cacophony of communicable diseases and pre-school angst. It’s not my favorite place to take the kids. In my head, every one of those little bastards running around that playground has pink eye. And the violence is astonishing. It’s like Thunderdome.

The last time we were there, this one little kid, maybe three or four years old, was walking around, systematically slapping other kids. He’d slap one kid, wait for their reaction, then walk to the other side of the play zone and slap another kid, wait for the reaction…like he was performing some sort of sociopathic experiment.

And don’t even get me started on the biting. Lord, there was so much biting (which is exactly how the Zombie apocalypse will begin—playground biters with pink eye).

And the parents, as a whole, were just oblivious to the whole bloody mess. One mother was so preoccupied with knitting or twitter or whatever it is that mothers do to mentally escape, that she didn’t realize her baby had actually escaped Thunderdome. I watched a good Samaritan scoop up the baby as it was crawling past the Asian Express, then walk around the food court for five minutes asking everyone, “is this your baby?” “Is this your baby?” Finally, she found the right disinterested mother, who took the baby back so calmly (and without even a thank you) that it made me think this wasn’t her first time losing a child.

Yeah.

So this is where my kids like to go when it’s 38 degrees and raining outside. I’m conflicted every time they see it’s crappy outside and say, “hey dad, let’s go to the mall!” On the one hand, my kids are gonna get pink eye. It’s only a matter of time. On the other hand, it’s kind of cool to see ground zero for the zombie apocalypse. Plus, watching a bunch of moms lose their kids in public makes me feel like a pretty good dad.

I’m not sure why my kids like it, though. The playground equipment is kind of lame (a foam raft? What are they supposed to do, pretend to row a boat?), and, as I’ve said, the other kids are pretty violent. It’s almost guaranteed that one or both of my children will come out there bleeding a little bit. Maybe my kids are exorcising some sort of suburban angst, like Fight Club for little kids. Their lives are so comfortable and numbing, what with Sheriff Callie and juice boxes and soccer practice, that they need a little raw violence just to feel alive.

I get it. Who doesn’t like to get slapped around by a three-year-old sociopath every once in a while?