July 22, 2011

The 7 Essentials of a Backyard Swim Club

Every summer our backyard transforms from "place we park our cars" into "Club Klems," an exclusive membership-only water park where dreams magically come true and cell phones unintentionally get waterlogged. The hours are very sporadic. Sometimes it's only open for 45 minutes. Sometimes the staff prepares it for an all-day weekend affair (excluding a short, 2-hour window in the afternoon where the Club shuts down for maintenance—and naptime). Club Klems gets rave reviews:

"It's almost as fun as going to the real pool," says Ella, Club member since 2007. 
"I love playing with the water toys at Klems Club. Is that what you wanted me to say Daddy?" says Anna, Club member since 2009.
"Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz … " says Mia, Club member since May.

Like most backyard swim clubs, Club Klems opens up on those hot, humid days just after you realize you cannot handle another episode of The Backyardigans and just before your wife suggests something silly like doing yard work. It's filled with all the essentials to make sure all have a great time. Here I'd like to share with you the 7 Important Elements of Making a Perfect Backyard Swim Club. Populate your yard with these items and the only thing bigger than the smiles on your kids' faces will be your water bill. 

1. Wading Pool
This is your first purchase. No swim club is complete without a pool for the kids to continually empty with buckets. You fill it up, it empties. You fill it up, it empties. You fill it up, sternly warn the members about your No-Dumping-Out-The-Water policy, and it empties. You'd leave the hose on, but no one adheres to the Don't-Take-The-Hose-Out-Of-The-Pool-And-Spray-Dad policy either.

2. Buckets
What else would the kids use to empty the pool?

3. Spray bottles/Watering Cans
Help them fill up any toy that sprays and they'll water your feet, your pants, your cell phone. They'll water anything in plain sight.  They'll even water your lunch. If you're lucky, they'll water the bird crap off your car.

4. Lifeguards
This position is unpaid, unappreciated and unprotected from getting sprayed in the face. It requires that you calmly resolve disputes, such as "She's had the Dora bucket for almost 7 seconds. SEVEN SECONDS! And she won't give it to me!" It also requires that you keep members from peeing in the pool.

5. Chairs
Whether you have a small butt (like our members) or a big butt (like unnamed people who tried to get me to do yard work), you must provide comfortable seats for everyone. This allows members to kick their feet up and relax. It also allows the lifeguard to put uncooperative members in timeout.

6. Water Table
This addition came to Club Klems in 2010 (thanks to a donation from aunt Jennie). I was skeptical at first, but it's become a fan favorite. Members splash, fill up cups, play with floating toy animals and more. It's a perfect place for those who prefer to play in the water without getting completely soaked. Plus, some members choose to occasionally drink out of it. I won't name names. Let's just say they've been members since 2007 and 2009.

7. Imagination
The truth is, you don't really need all of this stuff to have a good time. All you really need is a sprinkler, energy and street filled with kind neighbors who don't mind if you run shirtless across your yard in order to impress your daughters. (Note: I'll spare the Internet that photo).

It's memories like this that keep members renewing their membership year after year. It's also why Club Klems is my favorite part of the summer. I know one day the kids will trade in their swimmies and Dora buckets for water slides and wakeboards. But until that happens, I'll be appreciative of every hot, humid, soaked-lunch moment. We all will.

So thank you, Club Klems, for the memories. And thank you for getting me out of yard work.

Oh Boy, You're Having a Girl
(A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters)

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July 13, 2011

When Your Baby is No Longer a Baby

This weekend my eldest daughter turns 4. Capital F.O.U.R. This means she's been a part of my life just as long as I was in high school. Just as long as I was in college. Just as long as Joey Votto has worn a Reds hat (which may explain why he's her favorite player). Just as long as—according to my wife—it takes me to clean the bathroom.

Four years is a long time.

When I first met Ella, all she did was eat, sleep, cry and poop—in softball terms this is known as a 4-Tool Player. Her bald little head and bowling ball-sized cheeks made everyone say, "Wow, she looks just like her Dad. Or the Mailman. Do you guys have a bald, big-cheeked Mailman?" And trust me, that joke never gets old.1

For months she remained a 4-tool player. She'd just lie there, looking at the sky. Occasionally she'd flash a muscle-twitch-induced smile that didn't signify her happiness, but it did ours. Her favorite activity was to sit in a bouncy seat and fall asleep. Though if they made a Dad-sized bouncy seat, it'd be my favorite activity too.

But those months are gone. She's no longer a bald little baby—she's a kid. A big kid. A big kid who writes her own name and takes swim lessons and goes to the beauty shop with her Mom to get her hair "styled." She understands complex things like addition and subtraction, our remote control, and how to change the wallpaper on my smart phone (which effectively makes her smarter than me).  Her summersaults are now over the top instead of sideways. She has two beautiful sisters. She even has a boyfriend named Sammy (don't get me started).

The other day I was sitting with Ella and her 2-year-old sister, Anna, at the breakfast table. They had oatmeal; I had cereal. We were discussing the hot button issues that plagued today's world, like "Whose turn is it to use the newer princess placemat and who gets stuck with the older one, even though the older one looks identical to the newer one?" This discussion always lasts much longer than it should, and the only thing they can agree on is that it's never Dad's turn. The twist came when I got up and grabbed the bag of white-powered donuts and brought them back to the table.

"What are you doing?" asked Ella.
"I'm going to have a donut."
"You can't have a donut," she said.
"Why can't I have a donut?"
"You have to finish your breakfast before you are allowed to have a donut. Those are the rules."

I couldn't believe she was old enough to drop rules on me. My little baby, no longer a baby. As I closed the donut bag I wasn't sure whether to be proud of her for showing how grown up she's become or depressed because I really wanted that donut. So I did the mature thing that all Dads would do in this type of situation. I smiled at Ella and declared:

"Anna gets the new princess placemat today. End of story."2

Four years is a long time. But really, it's not.

In high school four years seems like an eternity; in parenthood it seems like an extended eye-blink. I guess that's why some of us have more kids, so we can relive the magical moments over again—even if only for a short time. And that's why our parents so desperately want grandkids, so they can relive those moments too—only this time they do it with cupboards full of sugary treats.

So while my eldest daughter can't read this yet, it won't be long before she can. When that day comes I hope she realizes how much I love her. I hope she knows that when I write about her and her sisters, I do it because it's the only way I can express how much I care about them. I hope that as she continues to grow and "Sammys" come and go, on each birthday she'll take a moment to remember that once upon a time I was her number 1 guy.

Unless Joey Votto is still a Cincinnati Red. Then I'll settle for number 2.

1 This is a lie. That joke is so old, it has mold on it.
2 I really, really wanted that donut.

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