September 24, 2010

When Bedtime Rituals Go Into Extra Innings

I'm a firm believer in bedtime rituals. I have been for a long time, just ask my wife. For years I've abided by a 7-step process that goes something like this: 

Step 1: Change into old Ohio University shorts from college (you know, the one with holes in them).
Step 2: Hop into bed.
Step 3: Wink at wife.
Step 4: Watch as wife ignores wink.
Step 5: Kiss wife on cheek to let her know I'm serious.
Step 6: Watch as wife puts second pair of sweatpants on over the top of the pair she's already wearing to let me know she's serious.
Step 7: Turn on SportsCenter and drift off to sleep the moment they say something about Brett Favre.

With kids, bedtime rituals are important too. My oldest daughter, Ella, used to strongly abide by one when we moved her into a big-girl bed: brush teeth, give hugs, ask if there were any witches in her room (which I assured her, there were not), turn on nightlight, fall asleep. It was simple and sweet—the perfect nightcap to my day.

But not anymore.

Now, getting my oldest daughter to go to bed is like an intense game of baseball. Every night is the bottom of the 9th. There are two outs and I have a one-run lead. I'm doing my best to close this game out, while she stands at the plate, doing her best to send it to extras. I stand at the edge of her bed and throw pitch after pitch of "goodnights" and "see you in the mornings" which she fouls off with swings of "Just one more story, please" and "I need to pee again." These grueling at-bats last for several minutes until finally, after the stadium (night)light comes on, I drop the hammer.

"That's it! It's late. No more talking. Go to sleep. Good. Night." Close door. Game over. Pump fist. Point to the sky. Get congratulated by wife with a sportsmanlike "good game" pat-on-the-butt.

But it's not over. In fact, it's only beginning. Just as I start to head down the stairs I hear a soft voice come from her bedroom:

"Dad, we forgot to say prayers."


I can deny my 3-year-old a lot of things—ice cream for breakfast, getting her ears pieced, a Twitter account, those awful socks with the toes sewn into them—but I can't deny her prayers. Heck, I remember being a young kid, sitting with my mom on the edge of my bed, praying for my family, my friends and my Cincinnati Reds to win the pennant. It was part of my ritual then, so why couldn't it be part of our ritual now?

I'll tell you why. Because my sweet, adorable, loving daughter prays for everything under the sun—and everything above the sun, behind the sun, inside the sun, related to the sun, not related to the sun, divorced from the sun and birthed by the sun. And that's before we move on to the moon. If she's met a person, she prays for him. She also prays for that person's parents, whether she's met them or not. And, occasionally, she tries to sneak in a quick prayer for her Cabbage Patch doll, Sylvia, who, in all honesty, needs it considering the way she gets hurled around our house.

By the time she moves on to inanimate objects, it's an hour past her bedtime. It's an hour past my bedtime. My wife finally comes in like a pitching coach who has seen enough and relieves me of my duties. "Not your day today, is it Ace?" she'll say. And with a pitiful "nice try" pat-of-the-butt, she sends me to the showers.

As I head to bed, I think about rituals and prayers. I think about how the bedtime ritual I set for my daughter has caused her to pray more often (which is a good thing, as it teaches her compassion for others). I also think about how she's inspired me to pray more often (which is a good thing too). Sure, sometimes I pray for her to cut down on her prayers. And sometimes I still pray for the Reds to win the pennant. But I always pray for my kids to be happy and healthy kids, even if it means staying up a little past my bedtime to do so.

Oh, and I definitely pray for God to set fire to that second pair of sweatpants. If he really loved me, he'd take care of the first pair, too.

The Life of Dad is updated every week. Thanks for stopping by and following my attempts to be a good dad, husband and co-ed softball player. I hope you visit again. -- Brian

September 8, 2010

Searching For SpongeBob

My youngest daughter, Anna, is a 17-month-old explorer. If there's a closet left open, she'll peek in it. If there's a stack of books piled neatly in the corner, she'll toss them to the side, one by one, to see if there's anything at the bottom. If there's a toilet seat left open, she'll find her parents racing toward her in a panic trying to immediately stop that expedition.

Sometimes being an explorer teaches everyone a valuable lesson.

Recently I noticed Anna on the ground, butt in the air, looking under her dresser. I had just finished folding laundry (and by "folding laundry" I mean "shoving my unfolded clothes under the bed to avoid an unpleasant confrontation with my wife") when I spotted her little butt waving in the air. It's not unusual for her to look under things, but it is unusual for her to continue looking under things for longer than 30 seconds—and, by my watch, she had been there a solid 4 minutes.

I made my way into her room and stood within her peripheral. She didn't budge. Normally she'd pop up, hold her arms in the air, grin and say "Mommy!" (A cruel joke she likes to play on me, likely getting even for all the times I accidentally call her by her sister's name). Not this time, though. She was focused.

"Hey Anna," I said, in a pretending-to-not-be-concerned concerned voice. "What're looking at?"

Without lifting her head from the carpet, she pointed under the dresser. I thought to myself, What could possibly be under there that had her attention? A toy? A spider? A pair of my underwear from the last time I "folded laundry"? I leaned down on the ground—butt in the air, top of my head touching the top of Anna's head—and peeked under with her. I didn't see anything.

"Anna, I don't see anything."

Finally, she lifted her head with a serious look on her face, pointed under the dresser again and, with authority, let me know exactly what she saw.


As many parents know, "BobBob" is 1-year-old speak for SpongeBob, the lovable (and most tolerable) cartoon character on Nickelodeon. His antics are often ridiculous and make little sense, much like this under-the-dresser situation.

"But Anna, BobBob isn't under there."

"BobBob!" She continued to point.

So I bent down to look again. Still nothing. I was beginning to think that Anna was somehow in cahoots with her sister, executing a master plan of keeping me preoccupied while my oldest stole a box of Yogos out of the pantry. Then I remembered that we were out of Yogos, so the joke would be on them.

"I don't see him, dear." I lifted my head again. She looked so disappointed in me. She let out one last plea.


It was then that I realized who cares if SpongeBob is actually under there or not. If her imagination believes he is, maybe he is. Maybe he lives under the dresser with the clumps of carpet fuzz and my "folded laundry." And maybe it makes her feel safe knowing a friendly face looks after her every night, albeit an imaginary one. All I know is that she's my daughter and I love her, and if she sees "BobBob," well then I see him too. 

"Do you want me to keep looking for him under there with you?"

She nodded enthusiastically, gave me a kiss and dropped back into adventurer position on the ground, butt in the air. I did the same. We spent a good part of the afternoon searching for SpongeBob and, I have to say, it was an adventure I'm glad I didn't miss. Apparently it was a moment Anna's older sister didn't want to miss either.

"What are you guys doing?" Ella asked, as she walked up to us holding a box of Oreos.

"We're searching for … wait, where did you get those Oreos?" I asked.

"No where," she said. The she winked at Anna and exited the room.

Valuable lesson learned.

The Life of Dad is updated every Tuesday. Thanks for stopping by and following my attempts to be a good dad, husband and co-ed softball player. I hope you visit again. -- Brian

September 1, 2010

Living Room Campouts

There are several essentials to a good living room campout. Most important, you need kids who have a healthy imagination. You also need two parents who are unwilling to pack up the car, brave the wilderness and poop in the woods. Klems Manor is filled with these types of kids and parents. So when my two daughters asked me if we could camp out, I agreed under one condition—I got to choose the campsite.

Welcome to Yosemite, er, wait ... I mean YoKlemsite National Living Room Park, where the climate is controlled and the 50-inch HDTV lights up the sky like a cluster of bright stars—so long as that cluster of stars is shaped like Cincinnati Reds baseball players.

Creating an impromptu living room campout isn't too difficult. You will need a few household supplies. As Dad, you are the hunter and gatherer, so it's your job to hunt around the house and gather these supplies. Of course, the first item you will need to find is your wife, who will need to tell you where everything is. (Sure, you're a good hunter and gatherer, but the only three things you can really locate in the house are the fridge, the bathroom and your underwear drawer.)

Now that you're able to find the items (thanks Dear), let’s get started building our campsite.

First and foremost, you must lay down blankets on the floor to disguise the landscape. (Green and brown blankets are preferred, but not required). This not only makes your living room feel more "woodsy," but also is an excellent way to cover up the incriminating trail of Dorito crumbs that leads directly from the kitchen to your spot on the couch. And no matter how much you argue that you intentionally left this trail as a safety precaution (so you can find your way back to the kitchen in case you get lost), your wife will still give you a hard time. Better to cover it up.

Your next task is to build another campout staple: the campfire. Lighting a fire inside the house when it's 95 degrees outside seems like a cruel joke to play on your air-conditioning unit—I mean, seriously, that poor guy has put in countless hours of overtime and hasn't slept all summer. Then again, he peeps on your wife in the bathroom, so it's hard to feel too badly for him.

Instead of lighting up, grab some red and yellow construction paper, a pair of scissors, a roll of tape and two Band-Aids (any time scissors are involved you will always need a minimum of two Band-Aids). Minutes later you will have a handsome fire just outside your tent. 

Next up: Build a tent. Building a tent is an easy, two-step process: Step 1) Take a folding table and set it up; Step 2) Drape another blanket over it. Within 2 minutes, you have a tent. Fortunately for us, we didn't have to deal with the hassle of finding those items because we have a wonderful teepee tent that only took 6 hours to assemble its 134 pieces.

And finally, camping isn't camping without the weather elements. Creating rain indoors seemed like an insurmountable challenge (and a bad idea). Instead, we were able to create a strong windstorm thanks to a small box fan. It had four levels: Light Wind, Heavy Wind, Blow-Teepee-Tent-Over Wind and Off.

While I know this experience isn't quite like the great outdoors, I do know that it's the perfect way to spend a Saturday night. And as I sat on the couch, looking at the flashlights and water bottles and remnants of not-so-scary ghost stories that surrounded our campsite, I noticed my kids drift peacefully off into sleep in the arms of my wife. It was a picture-perfect memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Then, out of the quiet, came the faint voice of my wife.

"Oh Brian, I love this moment, but I'm really, really thirsty. Can you get me a glass of water so I don't have to get up?"

So I lifted myself from the couch, gave her a kiss and said, "I would love to, but I have no idea how to find the kitchen. If only there were a trail of some kind."

The Life of Dad is updated every Tuesday. Thanks for stopping by and following my attempts to be a good dad, husband and co-ed softball player. I hope you visit again. -- Brian