December 7, 2011


My wife and I had an argument last night. Okay, not an argument per se, more of a very lively and engaged discussion. There were a number of things we hadn't been able to address for a while due to being short on time and long on fatigue, so we finally went ahead and hashed 'em out. When my beautiful wife reads this, she might not be terribly fond of the idea of me airing our dirty laundry, but I'm doing it for a good reason, so I hope she'll forgive me. Okay honey? Thanks. I love you.

Did I mention that she's very, VERY beautiful? And smart? Yep, that's my wife.

And who doesn't have a little dirty laundry? I've never put much stock in the idea that I should put up a facade of perfection. The perfect marriage, family, and friendship do not, in fact, exist. I think that anyone who pretends they have it all figured out is in for a nasty surprise at some point. Why not just be honest? Ain't none of us perfect, so why pretend? It's exhausting.

So we're not perfect, and we had a heated discussion to air some frustrations. It wasn't entirely pleasant, but it was necessary in order to clear some things up and join forces to start coming up with solutions. I also decided that I would really not mind if there were about four more hours in the day; that extra time would have likely allowed us to talk about these things much sooner than we did. I would also be able to blog more often, and spend more time eating Cheetos. As you know, we have three little munchkins that consume most of our non-work time, and that's just the way things work. We love them with all our hearts, and wouldn't trade a moment of it, but it really cuts down on quality time as a couple if you're not careful. Then, frustrations can fester because you're not talking about them, and resentment can set in, and resentment can be deadly.

I'm a guy. I need cave time, as all guys do. At the end of a fifteen-hour day of work and kids, my brain is about to go caveman, and I'm close to the point at which I start grunting unintelligibly. I need some time alone to process the day, and I'm not always good at leaving my cave to connect with my wife. Our conversation last night really got me thinking about priorities, and I decided mine might not be entirely in order. I went to the ever-reliable internet for answers, and it turns out I've got a mild case of something called "priorititis". WebMD says that symptoms may include sleeplessness, irritability, shortness of breath, spontaneous rash, and unintelligible grunting. I think WebMD is mostly full of it, but at least they got the last one right.

Before we had kids, spending time together came easy. We didn't have to spend our attention and energy on nearly as many things and people. I admit that I've had a hard time getting used to the way things are now, but that's no excuse. An extra four hours in the day would likely help a lot, but since the physics involved in moving our planet the correct extra distance from the sun in order to accomplish that would result in roughly seven billion people-shaped icicles and I don't have that kind of power anyway, I guess I'll make do with the time I have.

And I guess that's part of marriage. You adapt to changes in your life and continue to make each other your top relational priority, or you don't. If you don't, you start to resent. You stop talking about anything meaningful. Over time, you turn cold toward each other. I'm willing to do anything to prevent those things from happening, so it's us that will need to change, not our circumstances. Or the earth's orbit.

Over our years together, when out for dinner, we've occasionally seen an elderly couple sitting at a table nearby who, throughout their entire meal, say barely a word to each other. They don't make much eye contact. They don't smile at each other. We always say we don't want to become "that couple", and really, what couple does? But so many couples don't understand in their early years what it takes to avoid it, the sheer amount of effort, work, and time that are necessary. "Happily ever after" falls apart if you don't work at it together after the credits roll on the love story.

Don't get me wrong. "Ever after" can be happy. But it's a long road, and you have to arrive together and still liking each other most of the time for that to happen. You can't grunt your way through it, letting your "priorititis" get increasingly worse. Thankfully, I think I'm on the road to recovery.

October 27, 2011

In Which I Forget My Own Birthday

In true sleep-deprived parent fashion, it appears I've forgotten my own birthday. Not my personal birthday, although that gets more tempting every year, but that of the Used Diaper Salesman. The Salesman turned one year old a couple of weeks ago, and to celebrate I picked up a cake that I thought would fit the occasion nicely.

Image copyright

One year old feels more like thirty-three to me, and thirty-three sometimes feels like seventy-three. Hence the Depends. You can never be too careful with incontinence.

It's been a fun year. My kids have grown, learned new words, and gone through fun phases. Some of those phases have been fun in the masochistic sense of the word. I've enjoyed every bit of it, however, because they're my kids and I love them, human nature, growing pains, and all. My goal as a parent is to build a lasting relationship with my kids that is based on trust and kindness, to teach them the values and good habits that will help them succeed in life. What you see here represents my best, albeit sometimes weak, attempts at that. Also, it's possible that my kids will someday choose my senior living arrangements, and I really want them to put me in a place that has cable and decent food. Got that, kids?

I don't have a whole lot else to say about what I hope is the first of many such milestones for our intrepid hero, the Used Diaper Salesman, so I thought I'd recap the year with a countdown of five of my favorite posts. Here they are; I hope you enjoy them. Again.

5. Don't forget to celebrate "Stick a Pen Up Your Nose" Day!

4. The origins of Ellie's swearing habit.

3. A celebration of all that is marriage and Frankie Sinatra.

1. How the ***** Stole Christmas, part one and part two. I know it's cheating to put two in one, but you can't have one without the other. The video in part two is an all-time classic.

I could easily add a lot more. It's fun to live out my family's events, milestones, and hilarity in writing with the knowledge that I have an indelible record of life I can show my kids when they're twenty and forty and sixty, assuming the world doesn't come to a screeching halt before then. I can show my grandkids all the sweet and embarrassing things their parents did when they were kids, assuming my nursing home has internet access. Still listening, kids?

It's strangely therapeutic to laugh and cry for all to see. And by "all", I mean you awesome people who take the time to join the brave and daring Salesman on his adventures.

Thanks for being there, friends. I appreciate you. Stay tuned!

October 20, 2011

Brady and the Excellent, Awesome, Super Great, Very Cool Day

Brady is the kind of kid who really thrives on one-on-one attention. Almost anytime we're hanging out at home, he'll usually ask, "Daddy do you want to play with me?" The answer, of course, is "Yes!", but with two other kids and various other responsibilities, "can" and "want to" don't always coincide, so he just has to entertain himself a good deal of the time. As my old buddy Frankie Sinatra used to say, that's life.

So it was with great anticipation that Brady woke up yesterday morning, an epic day of father-son fun ahead of him. My wife is a teacher and had to be at work all day, and the younger kids were at day care, but Brady didn't have school, so I took a day off  to spend with him. In the days leading up to it, he asked me at least a dozen times what we were going to do on our "special day". I kept some of it a secret, but gave him just enough for him to get really pumped. And boy, was he pumped.

We started the day by hitting McDonald's for some breakfast burritos, which are in Brady's top five list of things that are truly awesome. He told me he would have three but that I could only have one. I told him I would get pretty hungry with only one of those little things, but he said I could have a banana if I was still hungry. I'm glad to see our attempts at getting him to eat healthier food are rubbing off.

Fortified with bananas and burritos, we set sail for Fleet Farm, which I affectionately call the Man Mall. I got my hunting license and some other things we needed for the house, and we picked up a new winter jacket for Brady since he grows like a weed and the one we had seems to have shrunk three sizes since last winter. Fleet Farm has an awesome toy department during the holiday season which is conveniently located in the exact center of the store, so you can't go shopping without walking through it or taking a three mile detour to go around it. It's huge, sparkly, and has a siren song that calls to any kid who walks through the doors. Brady heard that song loud and clear, and I didn't mind because I love cool toys as much as the next guy. Finally, I tore, Brady away from the toy guns by telling him that Christmas is coming soon and that he could add the things he wants to his Christmas list. He got a smug look on his face, probably thinking about Santa huffing and puffing from trying to lug around such a full sack of toys. Life is so simple when you're five.

With a last wistful look at the tool set I want, we hit the checkout line and our day began in earnest. On the way to the museum of natural history in Minneapolis, we talked about convertibles and socks. We saw a convertible which, like all convertibles, looked a little funny with its top up, and once Brady learned what it was, he pretended that we were in a convertible and kept telling me how cold he was with the top down. Regarding the socks, he recently learned that he wears a size M for medium. He told me that I wear size E for enormous and that when he grows up, he will wear size H for huge. Hard to argue with that. He's a big boy.

Naturally, the museum turned out to be paradise for taxidermists and curious five-year-olds. Imagine being three and a half feet tall and looking up at a bull moose that weighed over half a ton back when he was still grazing on real grass and has a shoulder height about as tall as your daddy. Brady was in awe. He did a little bird-watching, and the birds sat perfectly still.

Hi favorite part of the museum, of course, was the touch and see room, where you can play with antlers, snakes, and dinosaur bones. He thought this was pretty funny:

Then he stuck his head into a cool little biosphere. When he got out, I told that he'd probably have corn growing out of his ears pretty soon, which got me a "You're crazy, dad." look.

Then, after listening to the ocean in some seashells for a while, he decided he was now an expert on everything he'd seen and that he was ready to go. On the way out, he took a brief ride on the back of a wolf that was stalking a moose. He told me I should get up on the moose's back, but that looked painful from where I was standing, so we headed for the car.

He was pretty quiet on the ride back. I commented that it was kind of a gray day, and he said, "Yeah, it's a down in the blues kind of day." Then Maroon 5 came on the radio with "Moves Like Jagger" and he sang right along, only in his version, the chorus goes "...I got to mooove my jacket, I got to mooove my jacket, I got to moo-oo-oo-oo-oove my jacket." I like a good mondegreen (Google it), and his was the best one I'd heard in a while. He laughed at the song's funny lyrics. No down in the blues for that guy.

We also talked about dreams. His dreams right now are to go deer hunting with a Tommy gun (I didn't have the heart to tell him that isn't exactly legal) and to work where I work when he grows up. "Right next to you, daddy.", he said. I love that kid.

With our bananas and burritos wearing off, we decided to demolish the lunch buffet at a pizza place. And demolish it we did. When I returned from a trip to the buffet for a pizza refill, a glass of Sprite had appeared on our table. "I ordered it for you!", he said, before drinking half of it himself. We were headed for a movie next, so I told him that if he drank too much, he would have to go potty right in the middle of the movie. He just waved me off.

Finally, we went to see The Lion King in 3D, which was super cool. But before the movie, we played Mario Kart in the arcade. This game is not about winning the race, it's about knocking your opponent silly with turtle shells.

Brady has a habit of using his outside voice to ask questions about movies. It's loud in those theaters, so naturally, he has to make himself heard. We got a crusty look from a mom who was there with her three perfectly-behaved kids, and I smiled back, secure in the knowledge that my kid was WAY more fun than her three put together. And sure enough, just as the sun was rising over the Savannah and the chorus of voices began to swell to start the opening sequence of The Lion King, Brady had to go potty. We missed Simba being born, which prompted more questions later.

What a day. We ate junk food, shopped for manly things and toys, checked out a bunch of dead animals, ate more junk food, played video games, and got to wear really cool glasses to a movie. For a day, we were in a constant state of hakuna matata.

And we talked. We were just together, and when the day was over, he was tired but very pleased with our adventures. I told him that I love to hang out with him and he just gave me a big hug. Time spent is what makes Brady's heart thrive, and I could tell he was flying high. I remember the times when my dad spent a morning's worth of father-son time with just me when I was Brady's age, and how important I felt, how cool it was to eat doughnuts for breakfast, to listen to him give me advice and teach me things about the world, or just talk about nothing in particular. I want to carry on the tradition with my kids, to show them how precious they are to me.

This is the junk food version of the Circle of Life. And it is good.

October 4, 2011

You Know You're a Parent of a Toddler...

...if you've ever polished off an entire pot of coffee and felt no less tired.

...if you can recite any children's book beginning to end without looking at the book.

...if your beer money has now become your diaper money.

...if you've ever had to sheepishly notify grocery store staff that they have a cleanup in aisles five, seven, and ten during a single trip to the store.

...if you prefer the smell of baby hair to almost any other smell on earth.

...if, as a result of that last statement, you sometimes use Johnson's baby shampoo in your own hair. Just admit it. It's okay.

...if you buy Cheerios and Goldfish crackers by the metric ton.

...if you consider waking up at 7:30 AM to be sleeping in.

...if you own stock in any major diaper manufacturer. May as well get some of that money back, eh?

...if you consider having poop on your hands to be no big deal.

...if you would calmly offer your cupped hands as a perfectly acceptable place for someone to vomit when the toilet is too far away.

...if you know the names of ALL the Disney princesses.

...if you have no problem whatsoever with eating leftovers from someone else's plate.

...if you eat peanut butter and jelly AND macaroni and cheese in the same week on a regular basis.

...if your must-have criteria for buying a new car include a DVD player, spill-proof vinyl upholstery, and doors that make it easy for kids to get in and out. This car has a name, and it is MINI-VAN.

...if packing for a trip requires three days and a list as long as your arm.

...if you've ever found an entire roll of unwound toilet paper piled in the toilet.

...if you've ever found smooshed green beans or peas hidden in a pair of socks.

...if you get annoyed by any loud music after 8:00 PM.

...if you can unfold and lock a stroller one-handed.

...if you've ever had any song by The Wiggles stuck in your head.

...if you enjoy complete silence more than the average person.

...if you break up more fights than a boxing referee.

...if you gave a sardonic nod of agreement at least ten times while reading this list.

I thought this little exercise would be fun, and I was right. This list could go on and on, because kids are the gift that keeps on giving, just like that Wiggles song stuck in your head.

And speaking of going on and on (no really, I'm almost done), please feel free to add your own contributions to the list. I've barely scratched the surface here.

Have a great day!

September 27, 2011

Courageous Parenting

We here at the Used Diaper Salesman have a slogan that pretty much sums up the miraculous conundrum that is parenting: It ain't for the faint of heart.

Most of us are in for a rude awakening once our children discover that they have a will of their own. The idyllic Hollywood family is mostly a flat-out fake, but most of us don't truly begin to understand that until our kids start teething, talking, and tantruming, the last of which is not actually a word, only a term that I made up because my powers of alliteration are a little slow this morning and I couldn't think of anything better. The fact that I'm explaining this to you at all should tell you that I'm short on sleep and very well-caffeinated this morning, and really not at the top of my game. So because you're obviously in for some stream-of-consciousness and I don't want things to get out of hand, I'll try to keep this a bit shorter than usual. Also, I really need to go get another cup of coffee.

So, random tangents aside, we've agreed that parenting is not usually what we thought it was going to be, right? If you said "no", you're a big fat liar. If you gave the correct answer, you're among the vast majority who have by now realized three great truths, which are as follows. 1. My kids aren't perfect, 2. Neither am I, and 3. We never will be.

The reason? We're all selfish creatures by nature. Children are the perfect showcase for this fact, because they act on impulse and instinct, and those impulses rarely include sharing with or helping someone else. I'm sorry to break it to you, but we humans are not basically good, as it turns out. We've simply developed civilizations that make it unnecessary to kill each other over food and club our desired mate over the head and drag her (or him) off to our cave. We civilized adults have mostly learned to control those impulses, but it's ultimately a choice, and this applies nowhere more than within our families. A parent who goes against their nature and serves their family selflessly will have a better chance of success, and as horrible as I am at doing that much of the time, it's still my goal.

Think about it. It takes courage to set your own needs aside in favor of those of your spouse and kids. And with that said, I'd like to encourage you dads out there to take the time to go see a new movie that's coming out this weekend. It's called (surprise!) "Courageous", and it looks to be a great drama about four cops, regular guys who overcome a variety of challenges and obstacles in the interest of becoming better dads and husbands. You can check out the trailer and get more information here. Moms, you can go too. Here's the poster:

Okay, gotta go. The coffee machine is calling my name.

September 14, 2011

Explaining the Unexplainable

Some things defy explanation.

Take Pringles potato crisps, for example. Does anyone know why it is indeed the case that once you pop, you truly can't stop? Is their ad slogan really just that effective? Do we have an ingrained need for partially hydrogenated plant oils? The world may never know.

Or how about green olives. Everyone I know has a mostly-empty jar of them in the back of their refrigerator that has been there since approximately 1974, and sometimes it came with their fridge when they moved into their house. Why in the world is it so hard to get rid of those things? The jar that resides at the back of the second shelf in my fridge has an olive near the bottom whom I've named Pete, because for some reason, it reminds me of a bald guy I know. Pete stares at me balefully with his pimento eye every time I open the fridge for a late night snack, seeming to say, "Please...please, eat me. I've been looking at the back of a pickle jar for years and I just can't stand it anymore!" But I never do. I'm not a big fan of green olives. Who knows why those briny little jars sit back there for decades? Pete might; he's older than I am, and therefore probably wiser.

Stonehenge. Teletubbies. The Bermuda Triangle. The number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. There are many unexplained mysteries out there. The one that has me thinking today is one of the oldest in existence (cue dramatic music): the evil that resides in the hearts of men. dun-dun-dun-DUUUUUN!

No, seriously.

Last night as he settled into bed, Brady initiated one of his patented late night conversations that usually catch me when my brain is at its most fried. These chats inspire a strange mix of feelings that is equal parts love (because of how sweet they are), fierce pride (that is one sharp kid!), and exasperation (since I'm trying to get little brother Riley to sleep in the same room and he can't do so when there's stimulating conversation to be had). Here's how it went down, straight out of the blue.

Brady: Daddy, does Bin Laden make bombs?

Me, flat-footed: Uhh...well, he did, honey. He blew up some big buildings and it was very sad because a lot of people got hurt. But our army caught him, so he won't make any more. Who was telling you about Bin Laden?

B: Tanner (a big-mouthed kid from his Kindergarten class) told me. Did the buildings fall in the Gulf of Mexico?

Me: No, it was in New York City.

B: Oh. Daddy, what if Bin Laden makes more bombs?

Me: Oh, he won't, bud. He's dead now.

B (long pause to think): But what if there are more Bin Ladens to keep making bombs?

An awfully terrible insight for a five-year-old, don't you think? Because there are, and Brady is worried about them. Thanks a lot, Tanner.

I went on to tell him that we live in the greatest, strongest country in the world, that we have an awesome army and navy and super-secret spies all over the place making sure that we're safe from bad people. Because that's what he was really asking: am I safe, dad?

I assured him that he is, and that set him at ease, but can a parent really guarantee that? No, we can't. The world is a wonderful place, filled with thousands of awe-inspiring things like pyramids and dinosaur bones and Silly Putty, and those are what a kid in his second week of Kindergarten should be thinking about, not death and destruction. But the fact is, the world is also a dangerous place in some respects, and as it get smaller and its inhabitants get closer together, the hatred of the evil ones becomes more palpable to us all. Even kids. Especially kids, because they usually process information with pure emotion. Am I safe, dad? I can't guarantee anything, kiddo, but it's my life's mission to keep you that way.

I'm not interested in sheltering my kids, and I don't think that the information supplied by big-mouth Tanner is going to ruin Brady's life. It just made me think. I'm approaching the phase of parenthood in which we have to start having difficult conversations about strangers and internet safety, war and (gulp) the birds and bees. I'll soon have to tell him what really happened on September 11, 2001. It's a weird feeling, as I'm sure many of you know.

And speaking of wars, I'm thinking about taking this war of information right back to Tanner. I wonder if I can get Brady to convince Tanner that the boogey-man lives in his closet. What do you think? I think two can play at this game.

August 31, 2011

American Idle

If you're like me, you can recite (or sing, if you're brave) the theme songs to shows like Spongebob Squarepants, The Wonder Pets, and Bubble Guppies on command. You can do it in your sleep, and sometimes do.

If you're like me, you know that Kidz Bop 20 is currently available for the low, low price of $19.95 plus shipping and handling charges (please allow four to six weeks for delivery), and your kids know the words to the featured songs simply from watching the commercials. For the uninitiated, Kidz Bop is a series of CDs featuring kids singing the latest annoying pop songs. If you're like me, the fact that the latest pop songs are annoying makes you feel just a little bit old.

If you're like me, you know that Lucky Charms are still magically delicious, because just like when you were a kid watching The Smurfs on Saturday mornings, your TV tells you so. Your kids also know this, and will never let you pass Lucky the Leprechaun in the grocery store without a desperate plea to buy his elusive Charms. If you ask them why you should, they'll say, "Duh...because they're magically delicious!" You should have known. And then you buy them, because secretly, you agree. 

Unless you're a parent with superhuman levels of energy, resolve, and aversion to toddler-targeted commercial marketing, you're probably a lot like me. This means that at some point during most days, sometimes more than once, the TV is on at your house. And the computer. And the video game console. And it's not just our kids who have a hard time putting down the remote or the mouse and picking up a book or going outside and enjoying the weather. You wouldn't have found this post on Facebook if that were the case, right? Right. It's very much a plugged-in society in which we live, a very much on-demand iTunes Netflix Xbox Live instant download existence we lead. This is not a bad thing in and of itself; some of those things make our lives a great deal easier, but they pose a problem when we're overexposed to them. And that's the problem: they're everywhere.

This is no lecture, just an observation. I'm a bit of a gadget/electronics junkie myself. I'm into a few shows that I won't miss. I do my reading on an e-reader, for gosh sake (it rocks), and I obviously spend some time in front of a computer; if I didn't, there would be no Used Diaper Salesman floating merrily along out here in the blogosphere, and where would we be then? Wait, don't answer that.

When we were kids (said the old man), we didn't have as much of that stuff to distract us, and I know our parents said the same thing to our generation with a touch of horror when the Atari and MTV were born. Despite those things, we stayed in great shape with all our running around, playing our pick-up games of tag and hide-and-go-seek, although we were never as fit as our parents because, when they were kids, they had the advantage of walking uphill both ways whenever they went somewhere. It's true. Just ask them.

We had awesome imaginations and far less mass media. I want the same for my kids, but it seems I'll have to contend for their imaginations with Nickelodeon, Bill Gates, and Kraft Foods. Spongebob is EVERYWHERE, and he wants my children. I say we bring back stick sword fights with no eye protection, treasure hunts with maximum mud-immersion, and whatever it is you girls do for imaginative play.

I'm curious to know what's worked well for you. In what ways have you been successful at showing your kids how to spend more time being less plugged in? And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go check Facebook.

August 15, 2011

The "P" Word

That's "P" for "patience", by the way, and I put that right up front in order to nip any vulgar speculation in the bud. For those of you who were looking for something salacious, I'll say it again: this is a family show, people.

Patience is a dangerous thing to pray for as a parent, because even though you know you need more of it in order to be capable of dealing with childish shenanigans and remain sane, you just might get what you ask for: situations that demand plenty of it.

You may recall from my last post that Brady is going through a stage in which he has crowned himself king, emperor, and grand poobah of the known universe and usually sees no reason to willingly bend the knee to us lowly subjects, his parents. Discipline has to be carefully coordinated between my wife and I so that we know we're being consistent. Each teachable moment has to be judiciously handled so that Brady knows what he did wrong, why it was wrong, and how he can make it right. Brady is an incredibly sweet kid and has a brilliant head on his shoulders, but it's a hard head for all that and he hasn't learned to control the impulses that flow from it. Explaining the same right versus wrong concept for the 1,053rd time can be trying for us, and patience is really hard to maintain. It makes us feel like we're doing something wrong. I'll bet the majority of you parents are nodding your heads right now. You know exactly what I'm talking about.

This morning, Brady provided us with a perfect case in point. His Majesty was spending some involuntary R & R time in his royal chambers (read: a timeout in his room) and apparently decided to see if he could escape. He started by banging on the window and yelling to the neighbor whose backyard can be seen from the back of our house. Then he pried open the window and popped out the screen.

Imagine for a moment that you're the neighbor. You're minding your own business, doing a little peaceful work in your garden, keeping the weeds away from the tomatoes, when you hear pounding and yelling coming from the house behind yours. You look up to see a five-year-old little boy yelling and banging frantically on his bedroom window, and as you're watching, the little boy throws the window open and pops out the screen. Your first instinct, of course, is to assume that something is wrong. Is someone hurt? Is there a fire? Is someone being abused?  So you do what any good neighbor would do and go to check out the situation.

My saintly wife assured the neighbor that everything was fine, but was greatly embarrassed, of course. And here's where it gets tricky. Brady was probably just saying "hi" and thought he could better greet the neighbor through an open window than a closed one. He had no way to know what the neighbor would think. He probably was not trying to cause more trouble, but that's sure as heck what it felt like to us, and that on top of the original infraction that brought about the time out in the first place. This type of thing leaves us feeling extremely frustrated, ineffective, and downright mad, but how do we get our point across without punishing in anger? Turns out patience does not come naturally. It's very much a learned skill, and we're still learning.

And speaking of learning, Brady may just have to learn the hard way that he is not, in fact, the king of all existence. It might be a little sweating in the principal's office. Or paying for a broken window out of his own piggy bank. He'll get it eventually, and meanwhile, his mom and I will continue to do what we have to in order to make sure he does. We'll do our job and wait.


July 27, 2011


The dusty street was silent and still. Even the tumbleweeds stayed away.

How the Sam Hill did it come to this? A little smile played across his face, remembering how his pa always used to tell him jokingly, "Ol' Sam wouldn't appreciate you using his name in vain, son." His hand hovered inches above the worn grips of his six-shooter, steady as ever. All I wanted was some dinner. And something cool to wash the dust from my throat. But that could come later, if there was a later. The town had been terrorized long enough, and it was past time for that to end.

"Whaddya smiling at, sheriff?", said The Kid. "Make your move." He said it casually, as if they were playing a friendly game of chess, bringing the sheriff back from his thoughts of cold beer to the reality of hot lead. The leering grin was all the sheriff could see under the brim of the outlaw's black hat, and it said what the Kid didn't. You don't have the guts, friend. You're nothing but a hollow badge.

Was he? He hadn't fired his gun at anything deadlier than a coyote since he had left the U.S. Marshall service five years ago, but he had the feeling that was about to change. The thought made him tired, and he was tired enough after such a long day. The sheriff stole a glance at the town hall clock tower. 5:23. At least it's not high noon.

He had walked into the Dancing Dragon after a dry day spent rounding up Old Murphy's cattle. Some troublemaker had flattened several sections of fence, letting the cows roam free over half the county. He had a hunch as to who that troublemaker might be. There had been no rain in almost a month, and his bandanna was caked with prairie dust. His thoughts were on that cold beer when he pushed through the the Dragon's batwing doors, but the only sound he heard as he walked into the saloon was his own bootheels clocking on the pinewood floorboards, and he knew there would be trouble before he even removed his hat.

The three outlaws had been sitting at the bar when he walked in, sipping sasparilla, having apparently just finished beating up Rex, the town drunk. The poor fellow was just now trying to pick himself up off the floor. The sheriff's lovely wife, Blondie, tended bar at the Dragon, and she stood behind the bar absently polishing a beer mug, a harried look in her blue eyes, as silent as the rest of the saloon's patrons.

The Kid didn't look up when the sheriff walked in, but continued to spin a gold coin back and forth across the tops of his fingers. He was the fastest gun in three counties, if one believed the rumors, and he and his gang had been making mischief in town for months. Curly Sue, the gang's only gal, sat next to him, a sweet smile on her face. She was a beauty, all bouncy blond curls and big blue eyes, but the sheriff knew better than to trust that pretty face; she was deadly with a knife. Shorty McGee was the youngest of the gang and a known card shark, but no one called him a cheat to his face. The bold few who had done so now spent their time in the cemetery behind the town's little church, and Shorty had a hard time finding a poker game these days. He leaned lazily against the bartop, low-slung gunbelts crossed on his hips and an insolent look on his face. All three were no more than babyfaced kids, but coldblooded nonetheless. The sheriff sighed, and silently said goodbye to that cold beer.

"Whatcha doing here, Kid? I thought I told you to leave town." The sheriff caught Blondie's eye, and her glance told him all he needed to know. These three had been up to their old tricks. Rex, fearful and battered, gaped at him hopefully.

The Kid didn't turn, and never missed a beat with his spinning coin. "You did, sheriff, but me and the gang like it here. It's such a fine little town, and the fine folk here love to have us besides. Isn't that right, Blondie?"

"Bull." someone mumbled, but it was very loud in the silence. The coin disappeared suddenly with a flash of gold as The Kid turned slowly, cool eyes surveying the room. "Who said that?" There was no reply, of course. His regard finally fell on the sheriff, and they locked eyes.

Weary as he was, he stared at the outlaw unblinking. I've let this go on long enough. "Might be it was me, Kid. You and your gang have given us enough trouble, and I mean for it to stop."

The Kid smiled. "Well, that's a fine bark for such an old and toothless dog as you, sheriff. Why, if I didn't know you better, I'd think that was a threat." From the corner of his eye, the sheriff saw Shorty's hand creeping slowly toward the shooter on his right hip. He couldn't see Curly's hands, but he knew they weren't far from the razor-sharp throwing blade she kept tucked in her garter.

He couldn't let this happen here. "Then I guess you know me pretty well after all. Why don't we take this outside?"

The Kid eyed him for another moment, and the sheriff saw a flicker of doubt cross his smooth face. Good. The Kid was obviously not used to having his bluff called. The young gunslinger gave a silent signal to Shorty, who was visibly itching to draw, and the latter's hand fell away from his gunbelt. Recovering his cool, the Kid said, "Sure, old man. I guess that's as good a place as any. You've had this coming since the day we rode in." Then he strode from the saloon with a little smile on his face, spurs jingling, his mates close at his heels. Shorty spat on the sheriff's boot on his way by.

How the Sam Hill did it come to this? It didn't matter anymore, he knew. He hadn't taken a strong enough stance with the outlaws when they sauntered into town for the first time, and now someone would pay. He thought of Blondie, and hoped for her sake that it wouldn't be him. He caught sight of her standing silent and grim among the people that lined the street, said a little prayer, and focused again on the lean gunman who faced him.

Then a child cried out somewhere in the crowd, and the thunder of guns filled the street. When he thought back on it later, everything seemed to happen at once. But in that moment, for the sheriff, time slowed to a crawl.

He turned his head slightly at the child's cry, and the Kid drew, lightning fast. Knowing his mistake, the sheriff fell to the side while drawing his own weapon, and as he fired, the Kid's bullet grazed his shoulder. The Kid flinched, knowing he'd missed and expecting to be shot, but the sheriff hadn't been aiming at him, and even with the distraction, he was faster than the Kid. The sheriff's bullet found its mark in the lock that held up the back gate of the huge wagon right behind Curly Sue just as she was about to throw her blade. The heavy gate crashed down, knocking her cold.

Rolling in the dust, he looked for the spot he had last seen Shorty, fearing he'd be too late, but the outlaw was lying on the ground, dazed. Blondie stood over him with a big cast iron frying pan in her hands and a look of deep satisfaction on her face.

The Kid had turned when he heard Shorty's cry of pain, and that was his undoing. When he turned back, it was to the sight of the black tunnel of the sheriff's gun barrel pointed at his head. Beaten, the Kid threw his weapon aside.

"Mercy, sheriff, please! Don't shoot!" His hat had fallen off, and stripped of his gun and his cocky grin, the Kid looked like...well, a kid. The sheriff felt pity for him.

"We'll leave town, we'll never come back, you have my word, sheriff." The Kid was pleading as the townspeople looked on darkly. The sheriff knew better, however. As much as he wanted to show mercy and just show the Kid the way out of town, he couldn't let the gunslinger go with a warning this time. He had to make this count, to show this gang what happened to troublemakers who strolled into his town. If he didn't, he knew he'd be in this situation again, and the next time, he might not get the drop on them. The time for lenience was gone. He'd have no rest if he didn't deal with this now.

"Sorry, Kid, but I can't let you off that easy this time." Then, to the onlookers, "Tie their hands and stand them up. Take those two to the jail. I've got other plans for the Kid." The town blacksmith dragged Curly Sue away as she screamed very un-ladylike curses, and Shorty had to be carried by two men; Blondie had put everything she had into that frying pan. The sheriff smiled at her briefly, and then hoisted the Kid to his feet.

"This way, fella. I'm sorry to have to do this, but you've left me no choice." He marched the now weeping Kid in the opposite direction, and then down a dark alley near the edge of town. He holstered his gun, rolled up his sleeves.....

......and gave the Kid the worst spanking of his life.


This was last week, and since then I've had to dish it out a second time. Brady has been going through a period of defiance that has caused my wife and I wring our hands and wonder what we did wrong. We've learned firsthand that the results of effective discipline, or a lack thereof, are self-perpetuating. I have at least thirty newly grayed hairs, thanks to this phase.

What did we do wrong? I think that for a long time we didn't enforce boundaries well enough, what with two other little outlaws to worry about. It's easier to just let kids push the limits than to enforce them when you're tired and stressed, but they'll take the ground you gave and push for more. Now we're taking back that ground as gently and respectfully as possible, aside from a strategically placed spanking or two. Thankfully, it seems to be working, and although we need to continually reinforce the new rules, I think that once they see we can't be moved, we'll have some reformed and repentant gang members on our hands. I hope. 

I hope you enjoyed my little story, and that you'll forgive me for getting long-winded. Parents, I wish you compliant kids, but if you find yourself in a situation in which a message needs to be sent, just draw a line in dust and tell 'em this: Kids, there's a new sheriff in town.

July 19, 2011

The Way You Look Tonight

Ol' Blue Eyes. The Chairman of the Board. The Voice. Frank Sinatra was known by all these names and more. He was arguably the greatest crooner ever, with a career that spanned parts of seven decades. He did it all: starred in movies, won awards, hung out with presidents and mobsters. Although he wasn't loved by all, and his personal life and relationships were sometimes shady, Sinatra could sing those bobby soxers right out of their bobby sox. He was the embodiment of "cool" for generations.

For me, Sinatra's greatest contribution to the world was a single song that he didn't even write. "The Way You Look Tonight" was originally performed by Fred Astaire as "Lucky" Garnett in the film Swing Time in 1936, singing to Ginger Rogers' character, Penny Carroll. At a moment in which she's not feeling very beautiful, Lucky is telling Penny through the song that to him, she's always beautiful, that he'll always love her just the way she is.

This poignant scene and song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, but it's Sinatra's version that is the best known, his voice that made it a timeless love song. It's also the song that played as I danced with my beautiful bride for the first time as husband and wife at our wedding reception, eight years ago today. For me, the song has meshed with the memory to create one of those rare moments of perfect harmony. You probably have a few memories like that. Priceless, aren't they?

Earlier that day, we had the honor of having my father, a pastor and accomplished Used Diaper Salesman in his own right, marry us, and in his message, he made a critical distinction. He painted the picture of marriage as a covenant, not just a contract. Contracts can be broken or modified. Each party to a contract will agree to put on their half of a set of handcuffs but put a key in their back pockets just in case the arrangement ceases to suit them one day. A covenant, however, is unbreakable. When you make a covenant with someone, you're agreeing to cuff yourself to that person and throw every copy of that key in the ocean. It can't be taken lightly, because come what may, you're stuck with that person. You may now insert your lewd handcuff joke here.

My beautiful wife and I made a covenant that day. "For better or for worse" and the rest of the usual wedding day prose can become cliche, but there's really no better way to put it because, frankly, it's not always better. Sometimes, it's worse. Sometimes, you just don't like each other. Sometimes, you hurt each other on purpose. Sometimes, you screw up royally and have to beg for forgiveness on your knees. Sometimes, you're gassy, and God help you then.

Equally cliche is the ever-popular bible passage from 1 Corinthians 13 which is read at so many weddings, the one that goes "Love is patient, love is kind..." Ever tried to actually live that out? It's not for the faint of heart. Like raising kids or any other worthwhile endeavor, marriage takes a boatload of work, but consider this: once you've weathered storms and gone through valleys with someone who didn't leave when the reality didn't meet the ideal, and then held hands and looked back at those times and at each other, you will inevitably say "Wow, it was worth it." Because inevitably, it is.

And now here we are, eight years, three kids, 7,403 gray hairs (give or take) and about as many used diapers later, still imperfect but still perfect for each other, and still no handcuff keys in sight. Right about now, you may be choking on all the cheese I'm serving up, and that's okay. The truth is that I'm a pretty sub-par husband sometimes, so I have to make a conscious effort to keep up with all this stuff. And further, I don't really care if you think I'm weird for taking my marriage seriously. I actually do love my wife that much. Why should that be odd?

So when my wife asks me if a dress looks good on her (one of the top five most loaded questions of all time),  I answer, "It's YOU that make the dress look good, babe." For this response, I score between fifty and one hundred points. Yes!

But that's not why I say it. I say it because it's true. I still see the glowing girl in the flowing white dress, while Ol' Blue Eyes sings.

July 12, 2011

The Budding Sports Star?

Last night we went to Brady's soccer game, and I have to say that, in my opinion, there's nothing quite as fun as watching a bunch of five-year-old boys and girls run around and kick each other in the shins. That's entertainment.

My only gripe: there's always that kid on the other team whose parents have apparently lied about his age to get him on the team. He's the one who's a head taller than everyone else and may or may not have a little bit of peach fuzz already growing on his upper lip. More often than not, he's the coach's kid. He bowls everyone over on his way to scoring nine goals while his mom cheers smugly from the sidelines. If they can prove to me he's only five or six, I'll eat a soccer ball.

At that age, these little athletes can be easily classified into two categories. I call them the players and the pickers. The pickers are the kids who are content to watch the action while picking grass or their noses, or sometimes both at once, and there are three of them for every one little player who's right in there, focused on  moving the ball down the field. Your team's winning percentage is directly linked to its ratio of pickers to players; it's simple math.

Brady is a little bit of both. He'll run up and clear the ball out of his team's end of the field and then go back to picking grass while the kid with the mustache gets the ball back and blows right by him. He'll block a kick while playing goalie, cheer for himself, and then turn his interest to the big booger his teammate has just produced while fuzz-face blasts the rebound into the corner of the goal. Brady hasn't shown a very wide competitive streak yet, but I don't care. Sports at that age are more about teamwork and making sure everyone gets a turn than real competition, and I could take or leave soccer. He's getting fresh air and exercise, and that's all that really matters, right? Right.

But baseball...ah, the beautiful game of summer. Baseball is my first love when it comes to sports, and that's where I get competitive. I played ball until I was a junior in high school, and in retrospect, I wish I'd stuck with it. Ever since I was old enough to think about such things, I've secretly hoped I would one day have a son who would be a major league baseball player, to hear the roar of the crowd when his name is announced, and I know I'm not the only dad who has a secret wish like that. Brady is in his second year of tee ball, and my heart swells every time I see him smack a burner up the middle. He bats left-handed like his favorite player, Joe Mauer, and he has the size and good arm to play catcher like Joe. Kids aren't very coordinated at that age, so his fielding needs work, but the kid can hit. All our backyard work has paid off. I'm so proud.

And here's where I get into trouble. Part of me is itching to live vicariously through my son. I find myself wanting to teach this five-year-old boy how to set the correct stance in the batter's box, to keep his weight on his back foot and shift it to his front foot when he swings while using his hips to generate power and his wrists for bat speed, when all he wants to do is crush the ball and run around the bases.

I have to continually sit myself down and say, "Look, man, relax; the kid's only five. Take it easy and let him have fun." To this I reply, "Yeah, I know, but I REALLY want him to be ready when it's time to start baseball camps a couple of years from now." At this point, Brady gives me a funny look and says, "Daddy, who are you talking to?", and we go back our game. The moral of the story is this: I've really got to stop talking to myself.

Exaggerations aside, like all parents, I have a deep desire to see my kids succeed, and a fear that they won't. I don't actually talk to myself (usually) or get that worked up about my son playing for the Minnesota Twins, but I do worry that I won't do a good enough job of teaching my kids healthy habits, good values, and all the other stuff they need to know in order to make it in the world. It's a matter of locating that fine line between being too lax with your kids and pushing them too hard, and I'll probably spend my whole career as a parent trying to find that line because it doesn't stay in one place; it moves as your kids grow and change. I have to face the fact that I'll almost certainly screw up a few things, and that my kids may sell insurance instead of selling the bunt. I'm okay with that.

Even so, we'll keep working on ground balls and corner kicks while the grizzled behemoth on the opposing soccer team is spending that time learning to shave. When next we see him, we'll be ready. Just wait 'til next year, big guy.

June 20, 2011

Back In The Saddle

Yeah, I know, it's been a while. Please excuse my absence. I took some time recently to attend the International Conference of Used Diaper Salespeople (very politically correct; we're not all salesMEN nowadays) in Stockholm, Sweden, and it was an enlightening adventure. The used diaper business is becoming ever more "green", more socially and environmentally conscious all the time, and I figured I needed to stay with the times, rub shoulders with the giants of the industry and get all the latest. And what kind of Used Diaper Salesman would I be if I didn't share with you what I learned?

First, the basics. There was a set of flashcards for new parents that I found to be educational and endearing, some simple how-to's that are a must for anyone who has brought home their first child from the hospital and proceeded to sit down on the floor and rock back and forth in panic while weeping and muttering. Still no word on that Child Maintenance Manual I was promised five years ago (STILL on backorder), so these are a worthy substitute. There are quite a few, but they're worth your time.

 Then, my favorite from the "Baby No-No's" booth:

As "green" as this idea is, diaper rash, fruit-induced or otherwise, is a bad thing. Please don't do this to your child.

And finally, my favorite entries in the "Innovations and Advancements" section:

What's more environmentally responsible than edible diapers? Very little goes to waste. And not just cheddar...TANGY cheddar, with new flavors on the way. I'm told Huggies is trying to keep pace by coming out with a diaper that has a little indicator on it which shows when it's full, kind of like the Coors Light bottle whose label turns blue when it's cold, but there was no prototype available at the convention. A bummer...I was kind of hoping to see that one. But scratch-n-sniff? Come on. The target market for that product might do better to simply buy some kleenex and blow their noses, make sure their sense of smell is in working order. Or, if you prefer not to sniff, a simple scratch will do the trick. Everyone knows that even the lightest pressure on a full diaper will cause it to ooze. How's that for an indicator?

So after a very educational and restful business trip, I'm back in the saddle and ready to rock. In light of what we've learned here, I'd love to hear from you. Have you ever mishandled any of the "dos and "don'ts" in those flash cards with your own kids? Have you ever used produce as a diaper substitute? How messy did that get? Would YOU buy edible diapers? If so, what flavor would you like to see? Your feedback is invaluable. Thanks!

May 31, 2011

An Interview with a One-Year-Old

Most of you have seen the transcripts of my recent interviews with Brady and Ellie; if you haven't seen them yet, you can check them out here and here. They're refreshingly sweet and funny, and definitely worth your time.

I didn't think I would have the opportunity to interview Riley for a few years, given that we thought he only knew four words and that it would be rather dull for you, but he had an opening in his schedule due to a cancelled engagement and was gracious enough to sit down with me for a surprisingly candid and hard-hitting exclusive interview that you'll only find here at The Used Diaper Salesman. As it turns out, not only does he have a very extensive vocabulary we knew nothing about, he has very well-formed opinions on a wide range of topics and really ups the ante on his brother and sister. He also has an IQ just north of 200. I was fascinated, and I think you will be, too.


Me: Well, thank you for taking the time to join me for a little chat, son.

Riley: Certainly! I'm glad I was able to make it.

Me: I understand you had another commitment fall through in order to make this possible. What was that?

R: Mensa. They're a little stodgy and tiresome anyway, so I wasn't terribly disappointed. I was to be the keynote speaker at their yearly conference, but I ran out of diapers and didn't have the means to get to the store for more, so I had to cancel. You may want to take care of that little oversight so that you don't end up with a mess on your hands, by the way.

Me: Duly noted, thank you. So who did they get to replace you?

R: A Korean physicist and civil engineer named Kim Ung-Yong. His IQ is registered at 210, so I guess he qualifies.

Me: Only 210, huh?

R: His work is groundbreaking, but I won't bore you with details.

Me: I'll take your word for it. So clear something up for me, if you would. I was under the mistaken impression that the most complex word you knew was "Dada". Why the charade and intrigue? Why not just come out with it and communicate? I have to tell you, it would have made everything easier for all of us around here.

R: (sighs) Well, truthfully, I didn't feel I needed the attention. I learned from our friend Kim Ung-Yong that a child prodigy is scrutinized, paraded for the world to see, showcased on Oprah (laughs). I felt that I would have more time to devote to my studies if I could maintain an image of normalcy. Sorry to have put you out.

Me: That makes sense, I guess. But did you really have to scream so loudly for your oatmeal at breakfast?

R: (smiles) Oh, I did. I thought it played very well. I've always enjoyed classic theater, and I confess I enjoyed acting the part. I guess it was a little over the top, huh?

Me: See these gray hairs? Here, and here?

R: Yes.

Me: That's what over the top does to me and your mom.

R: Sorry, dad. It really was fun, though.

Me: I'm so glad you were entertained. So, back on task. You mentioned your studies. What is it you've been studying?

R: Well, I've been doing some side work for NASA, helping improve their propulsion systems, but my passion is linguistics. Aside from the obvious English, I'm fluent in Spanish, French, German, Mandarin Chinese, and Cantonese. I'm currently working on Ancient Greek with an emphasis on the Mycenean dialect. It's fascinating, and a lot of fun.

Me: Cantonese, huh? I always had a hunch that wasn't just baby babble.

R: Well, I was only about seven months old at the time, so SOME of it really was babble.

Me: So with nap times and all, where do you find time to work on this stuff?

R: I can tell you, it hasn't been easy. You may have noticed that I'm only two feel tall and can only walk about three steps in a row, so getting up into your computer chair to work has been my biggest challenge. I had to bribe Brady with two bags of M&Ms per week to get him to lift me up into the chair. And I have to confess, dad...I wasn't really sleeping during all those naptimes. I have a laptop hidden under my crib mattress. Those child-protecting outlet covers really are a joke.

Me: Wow. Um, well, far be it from me to keep you from your work. Hey, tell me something. Has anyone ever told you that you remind them of Baby Stewie Griffin from the show "Family Guy"?

R: No, who's he?

Me: Never mind. So, since you seem to have a good grasp on astrophysics and linguistics, I'm sure you can handle politics. What are your thoughts on the way the 2012 elections are shaping up?

R: Well, President Obama has done some interesting things, but I'm not all that impressed. He hasn't lived up to so many of his campaign promises and his handling of those issues he has addressed has been questionable. I just don't know if the GOP has anyone who can do a better job or is polished enough to be electable. I was sad to see Mike Huckabee drop out of the race, but hardly sorry to see Donald Trump go. He's a joker.

Me: A good take. I think I've taken up just about enough of your time, but let me ask you one more question. With all the work you've done incognito in the last fifteen months, I can't imagine simple baby toys hold your interest much. You build with blocks but hardly touch most of the other toys. What do you do for fun?

R: I love the blocks because they help me with my spelling skills. You may not have noticed, but I build towers that spell words when read from bottom to top. Do you suppose you could get some of those with Cantonese characters for me?

Me: We'll see, buddy. Anything else?

R: Chess. It exercises the mind, keeps me sharp. I've been invited to play in the Junior World Championship in Chennai, India, but I'm not old enough to buy a plane ticket.

Me: Wow, I'm blown away. Now, about that Oprah appearance...

R: Not a chance, dad.


Who knew? Fifteen months old and a certified genius. It's pretty cool to have a potential future Nobel prize winner in the house, but I don't care. I'd be proud of him if he decided to be a garbage truck driver. He's my son, and that's all that needs to be said about that.

Nevertheless, I'll continue to work on him, try to get him to agree to go on Oprah. There's money in this somewhere.....

May 19, 2011

Diaper Rash, Volume 1: Shameful Shaming

A good friend of mine suggested to me that if I ever have a gripe about something and choose to share it here, I should call it "Diaper Rash". I thought this was a brilliant idea, so I'm gonna go with it. Thanks, Guy!

Not long ago, I wrote about about an incident in which I yelled at Brady and had to check myself in a big way so that I didn't do any lasting damage, and this inaugural edition of Diaper Rash has a similar theme: how not to crush your child's spirit.

Before I rant, please know that I fully understand how difficult young kids can be. I have three, and the slowly graying temples to prove it. As entertaining and endearing as my kids are, they can be exasperating in the extreme. Kids scream and yell when they don't get what they want. They often have very selective hearing, forcing us into broken record mode. They don't understand many of the verbal and body language cues intended to tell them that a conversation is over, that the answer is "no", no matter how many times we tell them so. They throw tantrums, and they often choose extremely inopportune moments to do so. There is a huge difference, however, between willful belligerence and simple childishness, and that's what many parents, myself included, have trouble with. We just want to change the behavior, not the attitude behind it, because it involves a heck of a lot less work. This is not a criticism, just a simple statement of fact. We're all guilty of it at one time or another.

But there are those who take it a step further, forgoing laziness for an outright verbal whipping that scars their kids' hearts. That is what has me on boil today.

My mom has told me about a particularly memorable nightmare trip to the grocery store she took with us kids when we were all pretty small. I don't recall all the details, but I do remember that we were the culprits in several "Clean-up in aisle nine!" incidents, and that was just the beginning. It sounds like it was Murphy's Law and The Twilight Zone all rolled into one, and I'm just grateful she allowed us to live.

The mom I saw in the store the other day with her son and daughter may have been experiencing a shopping trip similar to the one my mom endured all those years ago, or maybe she had something else on her mind, but whatever the case, it was her kids who were paying the price.

As I walked by, looking for the pretzel stix my kids love, I overheard her laying into her son, who was maybe three or four and wearing an Elmo shirt. "You are SUCH a brat," she spat, "I don't know why I even take you anywhere." The little guy, who had obviously been crying, looked pretty well cowed, but not shocked, which led me to believe this wasn't an unusual occurrence. "If you're going to be such a brat, I'm just going to leave you at home." she said, shaming him in front of anyone who happend to walk by. The more she said, the more his face and body drooped. I couldn't watch, and practically ran out the aisle while I threw the pretzel stix in my cart and ground my teeth.

I would've been okay with something as borderline as "You are acting like such a brat."; still not great, but there's an enormous difference there. This mom was telling her child she didn't approve of who he was, not how he was behaving, and this was what really steamed me, even though it was none of my business. As horrible as it sounds, I would have almost preferred that she spank him right there in aisle nine; a bruised spirit takes far longer to heal than a bruised bottom. If you tell someone what a horrible person they are enough times, they will eventually start to believe it, without fail. The boy in the Elmo shirt believed every word.

The opposite is also true. If you tell your kids how precious they are to you on a regular basis, then your occasional outbursts and lapses are the exception, not the rule, and as they grow up to learn that you're not the infallible superhuman they saw in you when they were small, this distinction makes all the difference, both for their confidence and their relationship with you. As I said in my earlier post about yelling at Brady, we are the architects of our kids' self-image, and the care and quality with which we build it when they're young is the basis for their identity for the rest of their lives. Building well is not optional, it's our duty.

As the source of my Diaper Rash, I had the irrational urge to smear Butt Paste on this woman's face and see how she liked being publicly humiliated, if only to give her son something to laugh about, but I didn't have any in my back pocket and thought I would get in slightly less trouble if I used her behavior as a cautionary tale instead of an actual object lesson. Please, I wanted to say. Don't you see what you're doing to your son? Do you even CARE? I wanted to educate her harshly on the difference between belligerence and childishness, between scolding him for who she says he is and for how he acts, but sermons and supermarkets don't mix well, and who am I, an awfully imperfect parent myself, to preach to anyone? And yet here I am. Here endeth the lesson.

So, parents, know the difference. Someday, your kids won't care a bit what you think. For now, you are their whole world.

May 18, 2011

Stuff You Hope Your Kids Don't Say Or Do In Public

We spend a lot of time explaining to our kids that just because we have a word or action in our repertoire, it's not always appropriate to use outside of our house. That's our rule. Potty words and certain anatomical terms are A-ok to use in our house around our family, but not around other people. Some examples:

-Ellie is currently obsessed with breasts. She frequently says, "I like your boobs, mommy." I'm not really sure where she learned the term, but there it is. She'll sometimes follow that up with, "They're not funbags!", which might be appalling if it weren't so dang funny coming from the mouth of a dainty little blonde cutie.  She'll also sometimes tell us, "I like to say 'boobs'." Thanks, honey, I gathered that.

-Bodily functions. You have to admit, they're highly intriguing, and incredibly fun to talk about. Let's be honest - everyone secretly enjoys a good fart joke, but no one more so than kids. They are the highest form of humor at our house. When baby Riley is sitting on the floor and rips a good toot that reverberates on the hardwood, this is usually good for a solid five minutes of laughter from the older two. Riley isn't sure what he's laughing at, but he joins right in. The contents of the toilet after a successful potty trip are scrutinized and discussed in great detail. "Poopy" has become both the prefix and suffix of choice, as in "I have to go poopy-potty." or "I love my Poohie-poopy." These statements don't always exactly make any sense, but when you know a word you really love, I guess that doesn't really matter. You just throw it in.

-Anatomy is a constant topic of conversation around here, as I've told you before. Ellie is particularly intrigued right now, because she has not only discovered the terms (slang and otherwise) for male and female anatomy, she's discovered that mommies and daddies are girls and boys, too. It's a little weird when your daughter asks you if you have a penis, but I get it. She's curious. I'd rather she learn these things from my wife and I than anyone else. The trick is to normalize all of this before she decides to go ask random people about their equipment.

-Modesty is not innate. It's kind of cute when a little girl lifts her dress to check out her belly button, showing off her Disney princesses in the process, but it's another matter when your son sees no problem dropping the whole works to his ankles in the back yard in full view of four houses because he doesn't feel like going all the way inside to pee. We're working on this one.

Whatever. Kids will be kids, and in retrospect, it'll always be funny to think back to the time Ellie grabbed grandma's chest because she was curious about boobs. My job is to make sure she doesn't give someone else's grandma the same treatment. That could be awkward.

May 6, 2011

Chocolate Chip Awesomeness

Mother's Day. The day we celebrate moms everywhere who make the world a better place with nothing more or less than the immense power of chocolate chip cookies.

I'm celebrating two wonder women, my wife and my mom, each of whom have a PhD in baking, so between the two of them, my kids, my love handles, and I reside in a happy world of epic cookie awesomeness. Who could ask for more?

And yet there is more. Moms give more, always, whatever it takes. I'm pretty good at at seeing the big picture but usually not very good at managing little details; it's just how I'm wired, and I know a lot of guys are like me. We do our best to keep the family train on the tracks and moving in the right direction, but the little details of the day to day can sometimes baffle us, and that's where mom comes in. She can simultaneously curl her hair, put on makeup, set up two doctor appointments and feed the kids lunch while baking those chocolate chip cookies and planning what to wear on her night out with her girlfriends. I am awestruck.

So thank you, Super Moms of the world, for all you do and for all you sacrifice. Thank you for giving so much of yourselves to your families. Thank you for caring about your kids' lives, no matter how old we are. And thank you, thank you, thank you for those comforting cookies. Without you, we'd be stuck with Chips Ahoy.

Happy Mother's Day!

May 3, 2011

An Interview with a Two-Year-Old

Ever notice how hard it is to get your kids to stay in one place for any period of time? It's like trying to get a squirrel with ADD to sit still. It's not their fault. They're simply trying to process massive amounts of information while learning how to interact with the world, and the world is a distracting place. Here's a rare photo of Ellie doing one of the few things that keep her occupied long enough to sit still:

I tried to get Ellie to sit down for a little interview similar to the one I did with Brady, but two-year-old little girls can only sit still for so long before their minds go back to pink butterflies and dollies, so I'll give you what I was able to get in between interjections from Brady and breaks to go potty.


Me: Sweetie, I'm going to ask you some questions now, OK?

Ellie: Brady, no! Daddy, Brady hit me!

Me: No, honey, he's just sitting next to you. (Brady smiles knowingly, and I give him a look.)

E: Can you read my Dora book, daddy?

Me: Sure, in just a minute. Is that your favorite book?

E: Yeah, my like Boots and Dora and Tico and Isa, and here's the Big Red Chicken! But Swiper wants to steal the yellow tickets.

Me: Wow, I can't wait to read it. So tell me something - have you ever kissed a boy?

E: No.

Me: Are you sure? Tell the truth!

E: Brady, and just my baby. And aaaaall my brothers. Daddy, are you a boy?

Me: Yes, and you've kissed me. What about Riley?

E: Yep, like this. (Mimes kissing very loudly and giggles)

Me: You're funny. Do you know how old Riley is?

E: He's one. Him a toddler.

Me: I thought you were a toddler.

E: No, dad, my a KID. (looks at me like I'm an idiot)

Me: OK, KID, and how do you feel about not dating 'til you're thirty?

E: (gives me a funny look) Huh?

Me: Never mind. So how many dollies do you have?

E: Two

Me: Just two? (the actual number is more like fifteen, at last count)

E: (holds up four fingers, then holds up both pointer fingers) Yep.

Me: Which one do you like best?

E: My princess one, and my Poohie. My LITTLE Poohie, not the big one. He's Brady's

Brady: Yeah, it's my Poohie-poopy! (they both laugh)

Me: Ha-ha, very funny, bud. (then, to Ellie) But your little Poohie has a rip in his side right now, doesn't he? Who did that?

E: Me. I wanted to see (what was inside). Daddy, my have to go potty.

Me: OK, honey, let's go.

(-five minutes later-)

Me: (Ellie is sucking her thumb) Why do you suck your thumb, honey?

E: (pops her thumb out of her mouth and looks at it) Because my want my Poohie.

Me: Oh, we'll get him fixed for you. So here's another question. Do you know why the sky is blue?

Brady: (laughing) Because it has toot clouds!

Ellie: (laughing along) Because it has toots!

(-they talk and laugh about toots for a few minutes-)

Me: All right, guys, we're almost done. We can talk about tooty-clouds later. (more giggles) So, Ellie, when we move into a new house, how much do you think it will cost?

E: Ummm...two.

Me: Two what?

E: I think just two, daddy.

Me: Wouldn't that be nice? Ok, sweets, last question. Which would you like better: an ice cream cone or a Coach purse?

E: (looks at her little white and pink purse, which she's been holding the whole time, along with her pink blankie) Ice cream! Can I have it now?!?!

Me: Oh no, you've already brushed your teeth, so maybe tomorrow. What's your favorite kind of ice cream?

E: Hmmm...malilla.

Me: Oh, I like vanilla too. Thanks for answering my questions, honey.

E: You're welcome, daddy. Can you read my Dora now?

Me: Sure!


Whew. What you don't see here are the 16 or so breaks in the conversation which were spent trying to wrangle my little squirrels back onto the couch so we could finish this thing, and when we were done, they weren't the only ones who were ready for bed. Oh, and the dating thing. I would never really make Ellie wait until she's thirty to start dating. Even though I only have one precious daughter and she's one in a gazillion, I'm not that kind of dad.

Twenty-eight should be just fine.