The Great Christmas Vacuum, Charlie Brown

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Okay, I’m going to ask your advice, Daddy Drinks readers, and I’m hoping you can steer me down the right path like the North Star steered the Three Wise Men so long ago.

I’m on the verge of buying my wife a new vacuum cleaner for Christmas. My question is, will this purchase secure my place on the long list of clueless husbands who got their wives terrible, thoughtless Christmas presents, or will I be celebrated across the land for choosing such a practical gift that puts a premium on household cleanliness?

I can remember my own father’s foray into really thoughtless gifts. Tires for the car. Speakers for the Hi-Fi. I think he gave my mom a chainsaw once. Am I doomed to repeat this terrible gift cycle?

Sidenote: The kids have spent the last week “practicing” for Christmas. They go around the house wrapping random shit up and giving it to each other. Remote controls, forks, pillows. It’s cute as hell. 

Now wait, before you answer, you should know that I do all of the vacuuming, so technically, the vacuum would be for me. So, I guess the real present for my wife here would be well-vacuumed floors, but that’s hard to wrap, so I’ll give her the vacuum and tell her that her that the vacuum represents well-vacuumed floors. No, an entire year of well-vacuumed floors. How about that? Maybe I’ll even write a cute card that puts the notion of clean floors into a sonnet. What rhymes with vacuum?

Does that information make the vacuum a better present for my wife, or a worse present?

I know, it’s a tough call. There’s no easy answer here. Let’s do a quick pro/con list to get to the bottom of this predicament.

Con: The Vacuum is a Bad Present For My Wife and I am an Idiot

1)   It looks nothing like the black boots or jewelry that my wife has asked for.

2)   Let’s be honest, even with a state of the art vacuum, the house will still be a wreck when my wife gets home from work because I have two 4-year-olds who behave like chimpanzees and literally throw banana peels on the floor.

Pro: The Vacuum is a Great Present and I am a Great Husband

1)   It’s a really sexy looking vacuum. It’s really more of a race car than a vacuum. I think it even has Bluetooth. (Scary thought: is this what stay at home dads buy when they suffer from a mid life crisis? Expensive, European vacuums that they don’t need?)

2)   Christmas is suffering from all the commercialism that surrounds it and what we need to give each other is genuine experiences and good will. Giving my wife a floor free of dog hair and banana peels is the closest my we’ll ever come to finding world peace. How can I deny her world peace?

Shit. It’s a tie. Help me Daddy Drinks readers. Help me.

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.

 

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.

I See Dead People: Really Hard Questions From My Kids

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My kids are at the inquisitive stage when they want to know absolutely everything. This is a problem for me because I know almost nothing. If you have a question about ‘80s sitcoms about kooky butlers, I’m your guy. Want to talk about the mid-90s Atlanta Braves team that climbed from worst to first, I can go on and on. You got a question about nature, birds, cars, trees, electronics, prosthetic legs, tax codes, the sleeping habits of monkeys, or anything else my kids seem to give a shit about, and I’m stumped.

For whatever reason, it’s been an inquisitive week. I guess it’s an encouraging sign of development, but let’s be honest–it just makes my life more difficult. Because do my kids care about Mr. Belvedere or Otis Nixon? No. They don’t. They seem hell bent on only asking me questions that I don’t have an answer to, which only underscores my suspicions that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing as a parent.

So here are the top three questions that stumped me this week.

 

1)   “What’s dirt made out of?”

“Umm…smaller pieces of dirt?”

I don’t fucking know. I don’t have a phd in, um, dirt. Are dad’s really supposed to know everything? Everything!

 

2)   “Daddy, what’s a girlfriend?”

This one I just ignored. The key to avoiding awkward conversations with a four-year-old is shock and awe. They’re persistent little bastards, so you can’t just change the subject. They’ll keep pestering you with the same question over and over unless you present them with something so fantastic, it gives them short-term amnesia. I recommend setting something on fire, or showing them a nice piece of road kill. Be careful though. Using road kill as a distraction to avoid a talk about sexual relations could lead to the following question:

 

3)   “Daddy, what happens when you die?”

Yeah. This one came out of nowhere while I was running. The kids were in the jogging stroller, talking, getting all existential apparently, and my son lobs that grenade at me.

“What do you mean, buddy?” I ask.

“Like, if you get eaten by a giant snake. And die. What happens?”

“Well, uh, your body gets buried into the ground.”

Simple, to the point. Case closed, right? Wrong.

“And then what?” the persistent little bastard asks.

“Then your soul goes to heaven.”

“What’s a soul?” This is my daughter now. Because the conversation isn’t deep enough as it is.

“Well, uh…”

I’m not sure exactly how I explained it. I was running, and tired, and scared I was going to completely fuck up my kids’ perspective on life and death. You get one shot as a parent to have the first life/death discussion. I expected more time to prepare. I expected to have notes. Maybe some scientific or religious tomes to reference. Actually, I expected my wife to handle it. Alas, my wife doesn’t run. So I’m there alone.

Here’s what I did. I made up an analogy on the fly that equated the soul to the Apple TV box and the body to the TV. It sounds ridiculous, and I’m not proud of using television to explain the great mystery of the soul, but you gotta work with what you have. I stand by my decision.

Then they wanted to know more about what happens to the body. Specifically, “Why do we bury dead bodies?” I went into some deep Lion King circle of life shit that I think kind of made sense to my kids. They definitely sunk their teeth into the notion that burying a dead body feeds the earth and makes flowers grow. For the remainder of the run, my daughter kept pointing to flowers and saying, “look daddy, there’s a dead body.”

Someone out there help me out. Tell me I’m not the only one that’s botched the big death question. Better yet, tell me about the questions your kids stumped you with.

 

Insane in the Membrane

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Ever since I became a dad, I’ve spent countless hours wondering what the fuck is going on inside my children’s heads. Okay, maybe not hours. Minutes. Lots of minutes. Because kids are weird. They do weird shit. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think my kids are any weirder than your kids. They talk to squirrels and pretend to be watermelons and will only eat food that’s orange—but from what I understand, that’s standard operating procedure for an American four year old. I’m proud to say my kids are normal weird.

Still, I want to know what they’re thinking. Call it simple curiosity, call it an attempt to better understand my offspring.

Now that the kids are starting to learn how to draw, I’m finally getting a window into their complex minds. So far, it’s fucking scary in there.

Take my daughter. Cute as hell. Likes to wear dresses and put pink ribbons in her hair. If you asked her what her favorite activity is, she’d probably say petting the kitty. Typical girl shit. She’s made of sugar and spice and everything nice, right?

Apparently not. Now that she has the motor skills to draw, does she draw rainbows? Stick figures holding hands in a meadow? No. She keeps drawing these really disturbing monsters with exaggerated fangs. The picture above, on the chalkboard, is a family of potato monsters. She also draws pumpkin monsters. Kitty monsters. Flower monsters. They all have the same happy but crazed look to them. The kind of monsters that are singing a song about butterflies one minute, then trying to give the neighbor’s dog a juice box enema (which pretty much describes my daughter, too).

The kids do a lot of art projects at school, so I know it’s only a matter of time before the teacher pulls me aside with one of my little Picasso’s creations and asks why on earth, would she draw a picture of a potato monster drinking moonshine and puking butterflies?

For the record, I don’t even serve potatoes in my house.

Meanwhile, all my son will draw is rainbows, which makes sense, because I’m pretty sure it’s just a bunch of bright colors bouncing around the inside of his brain. Just like his dad.

The Basement Tapes

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After several weeks of traveling the family is home and trying to get back into a routine. For the kids, that means “playing” with the cat by setting elaborate traps using catnip, a ball of yarn and a basket. There’s also mandatory band practice. The travel sabbatical was inspirational and I believe Toots and the McGoots is entering a prolific period of creativity. My sister-in-law gave the kids kazoos, which adds another dimension to the “sound wall” that Toots is known for (some of our recent basement sessions are reminiscent of The Beach Boys Pet Sounds era). And Addie is stepping into the role of lead vocals and really owning it. Last night, we worked on one of her original songs called “No Squirrels Allowed,” which is about a tiny squirrel overcoming his fear of ziplining. On the surface, it’s a cute song about a squirrel, but dig deeper and you’ll find it’s really about rampant age discrimination at amusement parks.

Sure, we have our creative differences, but what band doesn’t? I often wonder if The Stones also had epic battles over who would get to play the xylophone. Did Mick Jagger also stomp away from band practice, crying and screaming he didn’t want to play with Keith Richards anymore? Did he also get lured back to band practice with M&M’s?

Groms in L.A.

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So California has swings on the beach, which combines my daughter’s two favorite things: Making me push her on the swings and getting filthy dirty. Like “stumbling around Burning Man” dirty. We’ve only been in Los Angeles for three days and she’s already turned into the stereotypical beach hobo—seaweed in her hair, a strange collection of “treasure” (shells, empty cans, and the occasional discarded CD case) in a bag, and the uncontrollable need to yell at the seagulls.

The beach time has been epic. I’ve concentrated on building elaborate sand castles with real working draw bridges and my kids have concentrated on crushing those castles like a pissed off Godzilla. For my effort, I get to carry them both across the hot sand at the end of the day. Every day is Father’s Day.

But, the kids got called “groms” by real life So-Cal dudes and I got to pay $4 for an ice cream sandwich, so I feel like we got to see “the real L.A.”

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We also rode bikes to Santa Monica to check out the pier, where the kids rode their first roller coaster—my daughter said it tickled her tummy. My son said it tickled his penis. Not sure what to make of that.

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To continue an uncomfortable streak going, he also decided to poop in the most inconvenient place—the Santa Monica Pier free public restrooms, which my wife described as such: “They’re like, kind of nice prison bathrooms.” Imagine chain-link fence walls.

The 11-mile bike ride back from the pier to our borrowed apartment took 7.5 hours because the kids had to stop every 32 seconds to go to the potty. I guess that’s what we get for shoving Gatorade down their throats to keep them hydrated. But we got to stop in Venice Beach and see the guy that roller skates and plays electric guitar—classic Fletch! And Liz bought everyone “I Love LA” t-shirts. They only had a women’s tank in my size, but I wear it with pride.

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Also, a quick note to Californians.

Dear Californians,

I don’t think you should have a vanity plate if you drive a ’90s model convertible Sebring. Your car already says everything you could possibly need it to say. The vanity plate is overkill. That is all.

Sincerely,

Daddy-Drinks

Going Pro

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The first leg of our trip was in Boulder, where everyone commutes by longboard and adults lay in the grass and read books by the river on a Tuesday. The highlights play out like this: we saw a vegetarian stuff himself into a box, took a couple of runs through the campus of my alma mater (go Buffs!), ate at the same crappy Chinese place that I used to eat at daily while I was in graduate school (a big shout out to Tra Ling’s, where the food comes by the scoop, and the scoops are only a dollar), scrambled to the top of Red Rocks using a climbing technique I call, “shit, I hope this works.”

From there, we were lucky enough to hit Vail just in time to catch a piece of the Go Pro Mountain Games. If you’re not familiar with this festival, just imagine every Abercrombie and Fitch model descending upon one of the most expensive towns in America to compete in professional mountain sports like kayaking, slack lining, and mountain biking. It’s intense. Lots of people with tattoos who are “spiritual, but not religious.” Our minivan was the only vehicle that didn’t have a kayak on top.

We got to watch a bit of the kayaking action and a little bit of the slacklining. We ate PBJ’s while watching a couple hundred people do a massive yoga class in the middle of the village. They were all very bendy.

After stuffing our backpacks with free samples of beef jerky and organic energy drinks, the kids were psyched to try ziplining for the first time, climb the fake rock wall, and ride the gondola to the top of the mountain where we had a mid-June snowball fight. After pushing our kids beyond the point of exhaustion, we averted a massive tantrum at 10,000 feet above sea level by plying them with M&M’s. It’s comforting to know that even in strange locals, where social status depends largely on body mass index, old tricks still work. My kids will do anything if there’s the promise of hard chocolate on the other end of the deal.

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Bat-Woman

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I had a nice moment with the kids the other day. They were telling me about the squirrel that comes to the feeder outside their window at school. They’ve named her Gary-etta. Addie said Gary-etta comes to the feeder to get food for her kids at home. I asked why the dad squirrel, Gary, didn’t come to the feeder. Coop said, “Gary stays home and plays with the baby squirrels.”

Awesome. We’ve completely upturned generations worth of gender stereotypes. Mission accomplished.

When you ask Addie what she wants to be when she grows up, she says, “A mommy. And a doctor. A doctor mommy. I want to do them both.”

Cool.

Ask Cooper and he says he wants to be a daddy with no career attached. Then he goes on to tell me all the things he’ll do better than me when he’s a daddy. Like this: “When I’m a daddy, I’ll know how to make ginger bread houses.”

Touche Cooper. Touche.

I made the mistake of asking my kids what they thought daddy does for a job. Coop said, “Daddy, your job is to clean up after Murray (the cat) vomits.”

I like to think there’s more to what I do on a day to day basis, but the boy did a pretty good job of summing it up concisely.

Of course, there are some gender-specific characteristics that seem to be ingrained in our children no matter how hard we try to subvert the paradigm. The boy loves to pee on the tree in the front yard…preferably with as many neighbors walking by as possible.

And the girl, well: “Wait daddy. I changed my mind. I want to be a Princess when I grow up. A Princess Doctor Mommy.”

I always thought raising a girl would be exponentially harder than raising a boy, but I didn’t think the difficulties would start until High School. Sadly, the trouble is already brewing. The other day, Addie came into the living room wearing a cape and a mask. I said, “What’s up Bat-Girl?”

She said, “No daddy. I’m Bat-Woman.”

She’s four. Imagine what our conversations will be like when she’s fourteen.

Six Signs You’ve Been Spending Too Much Time With Your Kids

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As parents, we consistently struggle to spend quality time with our offspring, but is there such a thing as too much quality time with your kids? With all due respect to the attachment parenting aficionados out there, hell yes. If you’re a stay at home mom or dad, you’re often spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week with your kid. I like my kids, but I also like riding bikes and having sex, and I wouldn’t want to do either of those things every single day all the damned time. My God, think of the chafing.

And that’s really what we’re talking about here, “parental chafing”. When you spend hour after hour with your kids, your patience gets thinner, your temper gets shorter, and your outbursts grow more frequent. You’re emotionally and psychologically “chafed,” so every little thing (fixing dinner, giving tubbies, mediating a property dispute between the kids) becomes as annoying as a marathoner’s sore nipples.

The trick, is to catch yourself before you go over the deep end become that mom from Mommy Dearest, or any Dad from the ‘50s. So, here are five signs you’ve been spending too much time with your kids. If you recognize any two of these signs, fly to Vegas without your children immediately.

1)   You have a temporary tattoo on your arm that says “I Heart Ballet,” even though you do not heart ballet. It will last for the next seven days.

2)   Your diet consists solely of tube yogurt and string cheese. Actually, anything shaped like a penis. Mini carrots. Hot dogs. Is anyone else suddenly concerned by the phallic nature of kid-friendly foods?

3)   When you’re in bed with your significant other, and things get heated, you accidentally recite the theme song to Doc McStuffins: “It’s OK if you giggle, this will only tickle a little.”

4)   Taking the trash to the curb while drinking a beer feels like a night out.

5)   You’re covered in glitter, but you have absolutely no recollection of how it got there. Like you’ve been roofied by fairies.

6) You’ve started prescribing “Time Outs” left and right, mostly for incidental infractions like “using too many conjunctions in a single sentence,” because the only peace and quiet you get is when your child is being punished in his/her room.