November 30, 2010

Dofi Doesn't Live Here Anymore

That's pronounced DOUGH-fee, by the way. He's Brady's imaginary friend, and until recently, he lived in our basement.

Dofi has two brothers, Diffy and Daffy, and Brady has had many adventures with his friends over the last couple of years. Dofi has been the convenient scapegoat for many a mess or pushed-down sister. After all, he can hardly defend himself, given that no one else can see or hear him. "No, Dofi did it, daddy!" Of course he did, buddy. Now I'd like you and Dofi to disarm and dismantle that nuclear weapon, please.

Last year, Dofi's escapades were a regular topic of conversation at our house, whether he was taking the blame for a mysterious crime or flying copilot with Brady on a trip to the moon, but the other day, I realized I hadn't heard about our subterranean friend in a while. I asked Brady what Dofi was up to these days. Without any real emotion or taking a break from his burrito, Brady said, "Dofi doesn't live here anymore." As in, "No big deal, dad. Imaginary friends are SO last year." Ho hum.

Now I'm not an overly sentimental person (most of the time), but I don't love how fast these stages of growth go by, how fast kids grow out of them. They learn the correct pronunciation of words and stop using cute interpretations like "garbage exposal" and the like. Brady's only four, so it's not like he's going off to college tomorrow, but sheesh, kid, slow down a bit. Let dad enjoy this for a while. Before you know it, he'll be in school and then beyond. Some people look forward to their kids growing up and leaving the house so they can enjoy their freedom again, but I love this stuff. Why would anyone wish it away?

From what I can remember, I never had an imaginary friend as a kid, so having Dofi and his alliteratively named brothers around was really fun. He's probably sitting in a beach chair at some all-inclusive tropical resort for imaginary friends, sipping a fruity drink, rehashing good times he and his brothers enjoyed with Brady. I foiled his fun more than once, so I don't expect a postcard, but the truth is, I kind of miss him.

Take care, Dofi. You're welcome back any time.

November 24, 2010

Stats and Numbers

I'm a sports nut. I get as excited about crunching obscure baseball stats like WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) and VORP (value over replacement player) as some people get about actually being at the game. I play fantasy sports. I'm a pretty normal dude, but when it comes to sports, I'll be the first to admit I'm a major geek. I'd like to share what I think are some pretty cool sports stats and numbers. Here you go:

~5714: the number of career strikeouts for Nolan Ryan, the most in the history of baseball.
~123,000: the number of calories burned by the average rider in the Tour de France.
~$18 million: average annual salary of Tom Brady, the highest paid player in the NFL.
~$25 million: 2009 earnings of Brady's wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen. Now there's a healthy household income.
~150,000: seating capacity of Rungrado May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea, the largest stadium capacity in the world.

Now let me give you a few of my personal stats, the ones that would be on the back of my baseball card if they made baseball cards for guys like me. These are a few of the ones that really matter to me, the ones that I'll be thinking about when we go around the table before we start our Thanksgiving feast tomorrow. They're the ones I'm thankful for.

~10: the number of fingers and toes each of my kids have.
~2: the number of active duty tours in Afghanistan my brother served while in the Army; also the number from which he returned home alive and whole.
~38: the number of years my parents have been married (I think).
~1: best buddy and love of my life, my wife.
~5: the number of pounds I'll likely gain eating my in-laws' awesome Thanksgiving feast. Yum.

What are your Thanksgiving stats? Everyone's got 'em, so whatever you're doing tomorrow, ponder them and spend a little time being thankful. Joyful or painful, they make you recall what really matters.

And finally, remember the "5 F's" of the Thanksgiving holiday: Family, Friends, Football, Food...and later, Flatulence. Sorry folks. It's unavoidable.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 23, 2010

The Epic Nightly Battle

7:06 PM. An eerie stillness lies over the rubble-strewn battlefield. Tension builds, an uneasy anticipation gripping the foes. Each side casts furtive glances at its opponent as they prepare for the inevitable, calculating the perfect moment for action.

The rugged commander glances gravely at his watch, dreading the moment in which this storm will break. He knows he must make the first move, yet he hesitates. Perhaps this time it will be different, he thinks, a faint hope in his heart. Perhaps this time, the enemy will surrender without a fight. Yet he knows this will never happen. This foe will fight bitterly to the end, as always. The hollow circles under his eyes betray the fatigue of battles past. He sighs, resigning himself to the impending struggle, mere moments away.

Another glance. The commander gathers his resolve. The time to act has come. He rises slowly, facing the enemy.

Then, with fire in his eyes and authority in his voice, he issues the dreadful command:

"Okay, time to get ready for bed!"

And so begins the nightly titanic clash of wills that we call bedtime.

The rubble-strewn battlefield, of course, is our living room, where by this time of the night, toys cover every square inch of the floor to a depth of two feet. The kids are playing quietly, trying to draw as little attention as possible in the hope that they can somehow avoid clean-up and bedtime.

When the announcement is made (usually after several warnings and the kitchen timer being set), the kids still manage to act shocked and outraged, and when they realize they'll need a bulldozer, backhoe, and dump truck to clean up the mess, they conveniently realize they really have to go potty. After all, if they can leave the room without having to clean up, they just might get out of it, right? My wife and I have tried bribery. We've tried choosing a "magic toy" (they have to put away ALL the toys to find out which toy it was; the kid who puts it away gets M&Ms), and that works sometimes. But these little guys are smart. They change tactics. One night you do something that works, the next, they change up the game plan, dragging their feet again. Granted, M&Ms would only motivate me so far, but we're doing everything we can here. And all of this is just clean-up. We haven't even gotten to the tough stuff yet.

After we're cleaned up and potty and jammie time is announced, we get to have a foot race. The little speedsters think it's funny to run away from mom and dad. I know they think it's funny because they laugh at us while they run. If we're lucky and they're still wearing their socks, the pursuit is pretty short due to slippage on the hardwood floors. But barefoot? Look out, Usain Bolt.

Next, we dig in for the repetitive directions portion of the night. "Go potty, please."...take away toy...repeat four times. "Okay, brush your teeth."...footrace, capture...repeat twice. "Put your jammies on, Brady."...pick child up off the floor where he says he's been frozen by the evil emperor Zurg and can't move (classic stalling tactic; everyone knows Zurg has a death-ray cannon, not a freeze-ray.)...repeat instructions a final time before just dressing him myself since we're on a schedule and I don't have time to haggle anymore. He grins smugly the whole time. I'm unashamed to admit that sometimes they win this little part of the skirmish. Whew.

Finally, we start story time, a deceptively innocuous little term for what is actually a complex multi-step ritual that must be observed to the letter. I usually put Brady to bed, and his routine goes like this: First, I tell him a fantastic story that's usually based on his current favorite Disney movie in which he plays the hero, but it usually involves multiple interjections such as, "No, tell it where Peter Pan flies in through the window and the kids are surprised again.", so it's really him that tells his own story. Then we read Bible stories because, as Brady often reminds us, it's important to read the Bible. Next, he has to be told "clues", in which we describe loosely related things and he has to guess what they are. Exactly five clues; no less, no more. Finally, it's prayer time and off to bed, but then he has to go potty again. Then he needs another kiss. Anything to drag out the process another moment. It's simultaneously aggravating and endearing, but mostly endearing. In the parlance of parents: you pick your battles.

8:47 PM. The battlefield is silent again, the storm has passed. Another battle, another victory.

We look in on our peacefully sleeping little combatants and kiss their sleepy little heads, breathing in that divine smell which is the sole province of little kid hair. All the fuss seems like a dream. The bedtime rites have been observed and we know the process will be repeated tomorrow night, of course, but we don't care. Just look at those rosy cheeks and that tousled hair. This nightly struggle is a privilege to live out.

After all, we always win.

November 18, 2010

Birthday Spankings

OK, I lied - this post has absolutely nothing to do with spankings, but it is actually my birthday. To those of you who were excited to hear about the spankings: we need to have a serious talk. This is a family show, people.

I'm 33 today, but in many ways I feel simultaneously older and younger than that. You probably know what I mean. Honestly, when does someone ever really feel their age?

I feel older than 33 because, like most parents of young kids, I actually live a full two hours more per day than the average person. Seriously. Not by design, of course; normal people are sleeping during those two extra hours, but not me. I'm spending that time comforting, wiping, and rocking kids, and as much as I moan about being tired, I wouldn't trade it for anything. That's bonding time...I can sleep later.

I feel younger than 33 because it seems like just a couple of years ago that I was playing Nintendo and listening to MC Hammer with my brothers and friends. It was just recently that I was graduating from high school and having no stinkin' idea of what the heck to do with my life. It seems like I just got married, and I can't believe I've been a parent for over four years. Wow.

The years really do fly by, but if you think back to specific events, they seem to be in the very distant past. Time is funny like that. Older people will tell you that time only goes faster the older you get, and I'm starting to grasp the truth of this. Gone are the endless summer vacations of childhood; in their place, we have responsibilities that almost never take a three-month break.

To date, however, I guess getting older hasn't really bothered me. Older people will say, "Oh yeah, youngster? Let's see if you feel the same way at 40", and they could very well be right. But honestly, I don't think I'll ever be bummed to reach a certain age, even though 40 will be here in no time and I'll find out for sure. I guess I'd rather look forward to what's next than wish I had or hadn't done something in the past. I only have one regret that haunts me, and it's this: I really wish I'd gotten more leaves raked before the snow fell. That's gonna be messy.

Just call me Pollyanna; after all, my wise and beautiful wife does, in a good-natured way. To be clear, this means that I'm an optimist, not that I enjoy wearing pretty gingham dresses. And once you've moved on from that disturbingly humorous mental image, consider this: it's inescapable that the past will color the present and future, but worldview and perspective are a choice. As long as you know who you are, who you aren't, and who's important, you'll be just fine, and getting older isn't such a big deal.

My name is Pollyanna, and I approve this message.

November 12, 2010

Bambi Beware

I'm going deer hunting for the first time this weekend. My brother-in-law is an avid hunter and owns enough rifles to equip the Peruvian army, so he is graciously allowing me to borrow one. I've enjoyed getting outfitted for the trip, picking up the blaze-orange parka, snow pants, hoodie, hat, and gloves, as well as the long underwear and heavy socks. Come Saturday morning, I will be the definition of haute couture, ready to stylishly enjoy nature and look for that 16-point buck. Should be a blast.

Of course, telling my kids about the hunting trip is not as fun. Brady and I were talking about dinosaurs last night and he said he wanted to go to the museum and see some. He likes to watch a show called Dino Dan in which 8-year-old Dan has computer-generated dinosaur friends to play with, so Brady thought that the dinos we see at the museum would lick his hand like a dog. He was crestfallen to learn that dinosaurs have been extinct for a little while now, and when I told him that the dinosaurs we see at the museum will be fossilized bones, he got a little teary-eyed and asked, "Are they all dead?"

It's a matter of course to us grown-ups, but how do you break this stuff gently to kids? As parents, we have to walk the fine line between sheltering our kids and overexposing them to life. They have such big tender hearts, which is just one of the many things that make them so dear. I know it's part of the deal, but I surely don't love taking any of the wonder out of their world.

So needless to say, I probably won't be telling Brady the purpose of the hunting trip, at least for a few more years. For now, I'd rather he see Bambi as a cute cartoon than white-wrapped packages in the freezer.

November 9, 2010

A History Lesson

In the summer of 1895, an entomologist in New Zealand had an idea that would one day affect the lives of parents everywhere. The man was George Vernon Hudson. The idea was Daylight Saving Time. And the world has never been the same.

Hudson submitted his idea to authorities with the reasoning that having extra daylight hours would allow for more time to study insects. When no one was especially thrilled by the prospect of having more time to look at bugs, he changed tactics. He touted the benefits of energy savings, increased productivity, and suntanning, and people started to pay attention. Scientists in other countries picked up on the idea, and by the latter half of the 20th century, it had caught on in many areas around the world. Today, based on numerous independent studies, we know that in general, the benefits of Daylight Saving Time far outweigh its disadvantages. For parents, however, there is still much to debate.

Each year, on the first Sunday of November, we set our clocks back an hour. In theory, this should allow for an extra hour of sleep. Great, right? But we parents of young children know better. You see, kids have finely tuned internal clocks that tell them when they're tired and when it's time to get up in the morning. God installs these clocks before birth and sets them to the time zone in which the baby will be born, but for some unknown reason, he decided not to include a Daylight Saving button. This is all on page 597 of the Child Maintenance Manual you received when your child was born, by the way. Oh, you didn't get your copy? Yeah, me either.

So, for each of the last three days, each of my three kids has started their day somewhere between 5 and 5:30 AM. Brady, who's 4, simply gets out of bed, goes potty, and then climbs into bed with us. This would be fine if he were to go back to sleep, but he's a wriggler, and one can only be kicked in the stomach so many times before one is up for the day. Ellie, age 2, is still in her crib, and being so imprisoned, she sings for a while before yelling at the top of her lungs, "DAAAAAAAAAADYYY, COME IN!" until I drag myself into her room. Once I'm there, she sweetly says, "Hi daddy. My nuggle you?" Can't say no to snuggles, of course. Surprisingly, baby Riley's been the easy one. He just hangs out in his crib listening to his siblings cavort until he realizes that he's not in on the action, at which time he joins the chorus with gusto.

Now, I know my kids and yours will get used the new time eventually, but in the meantime, I thought you should know who to thank for your early morning wake-up call: Mr. George Vernon Hudson. If he were still alive, I'd shake his hand. Hard.

So here's to you, Mr. Early-Rising Bug-Lover Guy. I hope you enjoyed studying your chorus cicada and giant weta, because now the rest of us get to pay for it.

November 4, 2010

The Garbage Exposal

We were cleaning up after dinner tonight and while I was clearing the table, I noticed Brady was spending an unusual amount of time rooting around in the kitchen sink. When I asked him what was up, he replied, "My cup is in there. It almost fell in the garbage exposal." No doubt he thinks that anything that falls into that sinister black hole will immediately be ground to shreds, but I could tell he was relieved that his cup had lived to continue holding his milk, so I left it alone.

This brought to mind something Brady said on a Sunday afternoon not long ago. We asked him what he'd learned about in Sunday School, and he told us all about Jesus coming to earth. I asked him why it was he thought Jesus had to die, and he said in a very matter-of-fact way, "He came to die for our skins." I'd say that just about covers it.

Even when they're still learning the words they need in order to express themselves, kids usually get the general idea. As parents, we get to guide them along that learning curve. We get to teach them which knowledge to keep, and which to throw in the garbage exposal. That's a big responsibility.

November 3, 2010

Toddler Swearing

For those of you who haven't met her, I'd like to introduce my daughter Ellie.

Ellie has big blue eyes, bouncy blonde curls, and a bubbly belly laugh. If you ask her how old she is, she'll tell you, "My two." She loves each of her 27 dollies, sucks her right thumb, and likes Dum-Dums lollipops more than almost anything in the world. When I get home from work, she runs to me and yells, "DADDY, mup! (up)" and gives me a big snuggle hug. In short, she's the sweetest thing since high-fructose corn syrup, and I'm in love. Here, see for yourself:

But there's another side to this little princess. You see, her big brother Brady could bench-press her with one arm and isn't afraid to throw his weight around a little. He's usually loving, but he sometimes takes great joy in picking on her, and although big brothers do indeed become protective of little sisters at a certain age, four is not that age. Therefore, Ellie has had to develop a non-physical defense system. I call it toddler swearing.

An example from a few days ago: Ellie was playing with her new LeapFrog laptop, a current fave, and Brady walked over and grabbed it out of her hands. Ellie screamed. I informed Brady in no uncertain terms that if he chose to not give it back and wait until she was done, he would win an all-expenses-paid trip to his bedroom for some involuntary R&R. He said, "Huh?", to which I replied, "You'll get a time-out." He understood that just fine.

Brady shot Ellie a dark look, and that's when Ellie broke out this gem, under her breath and with a sneer: "Sucka-bucka-poopy-sucka-pucka..." She said it in the same way someone would say, "Yeah, that's right. Walk away, punk." Toddler swearing. Brady is obviously not too threatened by Ellie, but when she throws down, it works because he thinks it's so stinkin' hilarious that he forgets whatever it was he was bugging her about. Situation defused, and not by me. I sometimes forget the fact that God made these little people pretty darned smart, and that despite all the things I do wrong, they just might turn out all right. 

Now look at that gorgeous little face again. Go ahead. Can you imagine such a sweet little girl telling off someone twice her size? No? Well, you better believe it, Sucka-Pucka.

November 1, 2010

In Which I Apply Sports Analogies to Politics

-November 1, 2010

In November 2008, Washington Democrats fans were feeling all right.

They had just witnessed their team's old-fashioned steamrolling of the crosstown rival Republicans. They had seen the hiring of new head coach Barack Obama, a young and fiery up-and-comer who was regarded as a good recruiter and quite possibly THE guy to really put things together for a serious run at winning it all.

Right away, he landed a couple of blue-chip, can't-miss players: a strong-armed quarterback named Reid and a leather-skinned hard-nosed ballhawk of a linebacker named Pelosi. Both are left-handed, a quality Coach Obama highly values in his recruits. The fan base was rejuvenated, athletic director George Soros was dancing in time to media praise, and the program was poised to begin a long period of unquestioned dominance. A dynasty, some said, and it certainly looked that way.

In short, the pieces were in place, and fans had reason to Hope, for a Change.

Now, however, with just seconds before halftime, things aren't looking as hopeful. The Republicans have been surprisingly plucky and resourceful despite a smaller line and muddled on-field leadership, having unveiled a newly-developed stonewalling play they simply call "NO" with surprising success. The Democrats have had their victories along the way, to be sure, running the Health Care Reform spread and pushing their Stimulus Package offense in a bull rush right over the goal line. Despite the Democrats' early flurry of scoring, however, the momentum has shifted to the Republicans in the second quarter, and they appear to be poised to take the lead going into halftime.

What will the second half bring to this matchup? There's no doubt that Coach Obama will be undaunted by the Republicans' strong push and will use every tactic at his disposal to execute his game plan, but will it be enough to carry the day? Will the Republicans ride the wave of momentum to victory, or will these rivals play to a deadlocked tie with neither accomplishing anything of note, slogging through the mud and exchanging blows? Only time will tell.

At the end of the day, the most important question is this: will the players in this twisty drama remember the reason they're there in the first place? Will they remember the fans, without whom they'd be relegated to the bench and fade into anonymity? Will they toe the line and give the fans a reason to cheer again? One would hope so, because if not, the fans will be the only real losers in this game.

                                     Please vote tomorrow!