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?

 

Dear Over-Achieving Parents

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An open letter to the mom who brings a story book to read her kids at the playground,

Suck it.

Why are you reading to your children in public? You’re trying too hard. Everyone knows that books are to be read as quickly as possible and half-assed during the last 15 minutes before tucking your little monsters in bed for the night.

Parks are supposed to be a book-free sanctuary, a place where parents can go to wear their children out with minimal parental effort and parent/child interaction.

The mom checking Facebook while her kid eats cigarette butts knows this unwritten rule. The circle of moms bragging about their hybrids understand this. You don’t bring books and interactive activities to the park. What’s next? A craft project with glitter glue?

I really don’t even think you should spend too much time pushing your kids on the swing. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. The sooner they learn how to pump their legs.

If you want to be a good parent, you do it in the privacy of your own home.

5 Reasons Why Daddy Drinks Went MIA

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You’ve probably noticed a slight gap in my posting schedule for this blog. Like, a two month gap. There are several reasons why a person who blogs about the shenanigans that ensue when a man-child is put in charge of real children on a daily basis. Here are the Top 5 Reasons Why Daddy Drinks Went MIA.

1)   Coma: After an innocent pillow fight turned tragic, I fell into a coma for the last two months. Don’t feel sorry for me—I spent the time dreaming that I was the seventh cast member of Friends. It was lovely.

2)   Sugar Crash: During the holidays, the kids lived entirely on candy and hot chocolate. Since January 1st, I’ve spent 18 hours a day mitigating the massive withdrawal symptoms that occur when you force two five-year-olds to quit sugar cold turkey. It hasn’t been pretty.

3)   Lego Bender: The kids got so many Lego sets for Christmas, I’ve been hold up in the basement for the last two months putting together multi-colored block cafes, fire trucks, and helicopters. I didn’t even break for the Olympics. I drank protein shakes and wore a catheter. As soon as I’d finish a model, my son would begin deconstructing it. It was like some weird, tragic performance art.

4)   Work: I took a job as the Drink editor for Paste Magazine and liquor and beer started showing up on my doorstep at an alarming rate. At the same time, I put up a zip line in the backyard for the kids. Booze and zip lining don’t mix. See reason 1) Coma, above.

5)   It was ski season.

6)   Bonus Reason: Shit hit the fan after I bought my wife a vacuum for Christmas. At first, she was all like, “oh, honey, I love it!” But then she casually started telling me about all the great gifts her other friends got from their husbands for Christmas (“did you Tim gave Julie a necklace? Isn’t that wild?”) then started vacuuming up various personal items of mine. I just now pulled all my computer keys from the vacuum bag.

You choose the reason for my absence. Believe what you want. The important thing is, Daddy Drinks is back—“Daddier” and “Drinkier” than ever. I’ll catch you up on what’s happened in the last two months in the next post. Hint: there is a zip line involved, and the tooth fairy, and booze.

Get the Hell Off My Shelf, Elf

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Our Elf on the Shelf finally showed up for the Christmas season. Late, as usual. Something about work obligations and a general lack of sleep.

I guess I’m excited to see the little guy. My kids sure like him. The Elf made some appearances last year before Christmas, but the kids were a little too young to truly understand the magnitude of the Elf’s presence. At 3, the Elf was just another cute Christmas decoration with a vague connection to the fat man that brings presents.

But the creepy little dude in pajamas is back. Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about it. In principle, I’m fine with any sort of mythology that reinforces good behavior with my kids. I’ve been known to tell them that the Easter Bunny cries himself to sleep if they don’t eat all of the green beans on their plate…and clean up their room.

But my kids don’t get that the Elf on the Shelf is supposed to be Santa’s little Narc. Ask them why Chippie the Elf has showed up, and they’ll say, “to bring us chocolate!”

Which is total bullshit. Daddy gives them chocolate. The Elf is supposed to be the heavy, the bad cop. I don’t need another person in my life to swoop in and hand out sugar and presents. I need someone to make the kids scrub their fingernails and go to sleep at night. I thought Chippie was my guy, but apparently, he’s just another sap.

And don’t get me started on the overzealous Elf on the Shelf parents. To you mother-fuckers who have gulped down the Elf on the Shelf Kool-Aid, I say stop it. Stop finding really cute ways to hide your Elf. More importantly, stop sharing pictures of your Elf hiding in really creative, mind-blowing ways on Facebook. If I see one more picture of an Elf sitting at the center of a Last Supper recreated flawlessly with action figures and Barbie dolls, I’m going to lose my shit.

Who the hell has the time and energy to bake the Elf into the center of a soufflé so that the kids discover Santa’s little Narc is watching them as they eat breakfast? Who does that?!

I can barely remember to move my damned Elf night after night. This morning, I had to stuff the Elf down my pants to get him out of the room before my kids noticed that Chippie was too damned lazy to land in a different spot after his commute from the North Pole.

And what’s with those naughty Elves that have cereal fights in the middle of the night? Parents, why would you create another mess for yourself to clean up? Do your kids not drop enough Cheerios on the floor every goddamned morning? Or maybe your Elves are so full of Christmas magic that they clean up after themselves.

Now that’s an Elf on the Shelf I could totally get behind; An Elf that cleans the house when you’re not looking. Maybe even whips up a couple of PBJ’s every once in a while. Maybe my Elf is broken. He just sits there, smiling, judging, not lifting a Goddamned finger to help out.

Thanks Elf. Now stop giving my kids chocolate.

Do You Know the Street Value of this Candy?

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In order to combat the multi-billion dollar slave-labor juggernaut that is the Halloween Candy Industry tonight, for Halloween, when trick-or-treaters come to our door, I’ll be handing out little plastic baggies of homemade kale chips. They’re delicious and nutritious and the only slave labor used in production was my own children, so you can feel good about eating them.

I’m kidding. But we live in an uber hippy town, so there’s a good chance my kids will come across a bag of kale chips during their one-night assault on dental hygiene. Maybe from the bus of gypsies that’s always parked around the corner. I hope it’s really a baggie of kale and not something else.

Our dentist is doing a candy buy back program. Bring in your piles of candy and they’ll give you…what exactly, I don’t know. Floss? It’s cute in a futile sort of way. I imagine this being about as successful as the government gun buy back programs. I might take in the shitty candy that nobody wants—I’m looking at you candy corn—but there’s no way I’m giving up my peanut butter cups. You’ll have to pry those from my dead, diabetic hands.

Fuck I love Halloween. I love wearing really inappropriately sexy costumes (I was a stunning Dorothy one year). I love trying to convince my wife that it would be in her best interest, nay, the best interest of mankind, if she wore a stripper Wonder Woman costume (or any saucy costume that has quick rip-away Velcro). I love that the kids get to wear their costumes to the grocery store or Home Depot for an entire week before Halloween without anyone thinking they’re weird. I love that for one night, I get to walk around my neighborhood toting a cooler full of beer and cops just smile at me. I love telling my kids bleak stories about the Halloween Scares of the ‘80s, when all apples hid razor blades and we trick-or-treated in the mall because our neighbors were psychopaths. But mostly, this Halloween, I love watching my son get dressed up as a ghost in a costume he made with his mother’s help, and try to walk through walls.  It’s funny because he can’t walk through walls, even if he has a sheet over his head. But you gotta let kids learn these things for themselves.

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The Foot Lickers

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When you bring your baby home from the hospital after he’s born, your mind is reeling with the possibilities of parenthood. Mostly, you see rainbows, imagining afternoons at the park playing baseball and making macaroni necklaces for Christmas presents. What you can’t imagine is that at some point during your tenure as a parent, you’re going to have to say the phrase, “son, don’t lick your sister’s feet.”

You’re not an idiot. You know there will be ups and downs. There will be tantrums in the Fun Depot. Smoothies spilled in the car. Maybe some light biting. But having to tell one child not to lick the other child’s feet never even crosses your mind.

But it’s going to happen. The first foot-licking incident will be accidental. They’ll be wrestling barefoot and an errant foot will cross in front of someone’s face and that kid will seize the opportunity and stick his/her tongue out and take a lick. It’s an act of curiosity mainly. The other child will giggle and then it’ll be an all out foot lick fest, at which time you’ll have to say, “son, don’t lick your sister’s feet.”

It’s such a weird thing to say, you’ll actually pause and think, “I can’t believe I just had to say that.”

Soon you’ll be saying it so often, you’ll have to write it on the dry erase “rule board” next to other gems like, “don’t put mom’s pearls on the kitty,” and “don’t tell strangers their hair looks funny,” or “glow sticks are not food” or any number of bizarre societal norms that most of us take for granted.

But the foot-licking thing will be the weirdest. At least for a while. Then the kids will come up with something even weirder that makes you long for the simplicity of the foot-licking days. I don’t know what that thing will be yet. I’m just warning you, it’s going to get weird. Then it’s going to get weirder.

 

F#@king Pickles

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This one’s for the new parents out there: At some point during your parenthood, you’ll decide it’s a good idea to try to make your own pickles with your children. Maybe you and the kids planted a little starter garden and you got a bumper crop of cucumbers that you don’t know what to do with. Most likely, you’ll see an article in a glossy parenting magazine that declares making pickles is the easier than making toast and including your children in the process will guarantee hours of quality family time that will spark long-lasting love and admiration from your children. This article will subtly imply that when you’re too old to take care of yourself, your children will recall the day you helped them make their own pickles and be so overwhelmed with joy and love that they’ll build you an in-law suite complete with a Jacuzzi and on-call masseuse.

In this article, there will be a big two-page photo spread photo of a beautifully multi-cultural family laughing and looking gorgeous while making pickles in their brightly lit kitchen. You will hate that family in that picture because their countertops aren’t covered in stacks of art projects (which are actually, accidentally glued to your countertops so why bother trying to sort them?) and three weeks worth of mail that you haven’t gotten a chance to look through yet. But still, you think, “hey, that looks like fun. We should make pickles.”

But listen, it’s a trap. See how that family in the magazine is smiling? There won’t be any smiling when you do your pickle project. One kid will throw a shit fit because you cut the pickles in the wrong shape (“I said trapezoid!”) and the other will refuse to wash her hands and decide she has to lick every cucumber before it goes into the jar.

And then there’s the recipe. The one in the magazine calls for ingredients like dill, or garlic, or saffron. You don’t have dill or saffron because when you go to the grocery store, you can barely make it out of there with milk and eggs before your kids pee on the floor or lick all of the free cheese samples. Saffron is for people who shop without kids. Forget about saffron.

It doesn’t matter anyway, because your kids have their own idea about what sort of ingredients should go in the god damned pickle jar. Shit like sticks and action figures. I’m not kidding. This will happen. One of your kids will try to slip an action figure into the pickle jar. You’ll be so fatigued by the end of the pickle project that you won’t care. You’ll just close the lid on the jar and set the cucumbers and tiny construction man action figure in your fridge to age.

Oh, and your house will smell like fucking pickles for the next six hours.

Consider yourself warned.

 

Are these marshmallows local?

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I phoned it in on dinner tonight. An uninspired mash-up of hot dogs, mac and cheese, and steamed broccoli. It’s a meal that screams, “I’m too tired to give any thought into the nutritional value of food, but too broke to order pizza.” My kids immediately called me on my apathy, refusing to eat a bite. I explained to them that hot dogs and mac and cheese were in fact their favorite foods. That they’d asked for this very meal on a number of occasions, but they were too quick for my logic. My son had the best excuse: “Well, it’s Fall. And when it’s Fall, I change the food I eat. I don’t eat hot dogs in the Fall. Or mac and cheese. Just chocolate. And juice boxes.”

That’s a preschooler’s notion of “eating seasonal.”

And he says this while wearing his sister’s oversized pink sunglasses…and no pants…

How the hell do you respond to that?

I’m stunned, and frankly pleased with his creativity, so I just switch from beer to bourbon and decide to have a fire in the backyard fire pit. Fun fact: if you eat four marshmallows, you’ll ingest one gram of protein. So it’s not a total loss.

Reason Why Hanging with Preschoolers is Awesome #6

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Sometimes, if you push your kids past the brink of exhaustion and keep them up really late, like 9pm, they start to mumble really cute things like, “You know who I love? I love everybody,” and then out of nowhere, they’ll be like, “Daddy, daddy, check this out.” And then they show me how they play piano on their toes.

It’s like hanging out with a couple of stoners. And it’s awesome.

Peeing in the Afterlife

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So the tough questions keep coming from my kids. Again, it always seems to happen when they’re in the jogging stroller, so I’m thinking about giving up running altogether. Yesterday, my boy shot this gem at me:

“Daddy, do ghosts have penises?”

Now, typically, if there’s a hard question that’s science-based like this, I’ll look it up on the internet and discuss the answer with my kids. I don’t really know what dads did before Google. Did they just make the answers to obscure questions up? Probably. But I’m a “modern dad” so I look this shit up. Big mistake here.

When you Google “ghost penis” you get an Urban Dictionary definition (“a clumpy fold in your pants that looks like an erected penis”), a news post about a ghost hunter who catches ghosts with his penis, and a story about a man who tried to convince a woman her vagina was haunted. You can’t make this shit up, people.

Now, what my kid really wanted to know was how ghosts went to the bathroom. If they’re just floating cloud-like figures without much shape and, presumably no penises, are they destined to spend the afterlife holding in a wicked pee?

Alas, this is yet another question that I don’t have a good answer to. I tried the whole make-believe angle:

Me: “Buddy, ghosts are just pretend. Like in movies.”

Him: “Yeah, but in movies, do they have penises?”

I tried the Socratic method:

Me: “What do you think?”

Him: “I don’t know. That’s why I asked you.”

And eventually just got practical and told him that no, ghosts don’t have penises, but they don’t eat or drink anything either, so they don’t really need to go to the bathroom.

Problem solved…until tomorrow, when he asks me another penis related question that I have neither the desire nor know-how to answer.

Parenting is hard.