January 31, 2011

Why is Scaring Dad So Funny to Kids?

There are only four things in this world that scare me: snakes, my wife, people named Larry and a common household toy known as a Jack-In-The-Box. For the most part, I do a good job avoiding these things—except for my wife, who seems to be hanging around my house all the time. The main reason I'm afraid of her is because she's always next to me when I sleep—and shouldn't we constantly be a little bit afraid of someone who can poke us in the eyes when we sleep?

Recently, though, my house became a little less safe. For Christmas, my in-laws (who clearly have a secret plot in the works to murder me) gave my daughters some books, some clothes and one giant, scary Jack-In-The-Box. Seriously, he's enormous and frightening. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the scariest, he's a hundred billion. Plus two.

I did my best to hide him. One morning before work, I marched him to the basement, put him in a Rubbermaid container and stacked several other extremely heavy Rubbermaid containers on top of it. When I got home from work, there he was, sitting on our living room coffee table as if our trip to the basement had never happened.

I almost pooped myself.

After realizing he couldn't be contained, I opted for Plan B: I could just avoid him. We could lead our separate lives. I could eat breakfast, go to work, come home, play with the kids and then go to bed. He, in turn, could spend all day scaring the other toys in the toy chest and, at night, take a yoga class. A perfect harmony of co-existence. Problem solved.

"Mom, what's this?" asked my 3-year-old daughter as she pulled him out of the toy chest.

"That's a Jack-In-The-Box. Did you know your Dad is scared of them?"

And so it began. From that moment forward, my life was never the same. Everywhere I turned, there were my daughters with that Jack-In-The-Box. They could focus on nothing else. They chased me around the house with the kind of tiny kid laughter that's also commonly known in most parenting circles as "Trouble Making." No matter where I was, they'd find me. In the kitchen? They'd spring out of the pantry and wave him in my face. In the car? They'd pull it out of the diaper bag and yell BOO! In the bathroom? I couldn't even read Entertainment Weekly in peace without hearing that high-anxiety, dastardly tune creep up on me. Do-da-do-da-do-dee-da-do. Da-do-da-do-da-doooo-do. Da-do-da-do-da-do-dee-da-do. POP! goes the weasel. The door swings open. Jack comes jumping in. Tiny little laughter ensues.

It was on to Plan C: Distraction. Hey kids, want to watch a little Dora the Explorer? Look, I have a big bag of lollipops with your names on them? I know Mom says not to draw on the walls with crayons, but I don't see why we couldn't give it a try today. 

It was working! Slowly, they began to lose focus, as their voices trailed off in a not-so-uniform rendition of "I'm the Map, I'm the Map, I'm the Map, I'm the Map, I'm the MAP!" This lasted until I tucked them in at bedtime, rescuing me from hours of torture.

I headed in to my bedroom, relieved and proud all at the same time—relieved because I wouldn't have to deal with that Jack-In-The-Box again until tomorrow (at the earliest) and proud because my girls finally showed signs of becoming a team. Until that Jack-In-The-Box showed up, Ella (3) and Anna (nearly 2) played, but not really together. Ella wants to do puzzles and board games; Anna wants to stack things and knock them over. Thanks to one frightening clown, the pendulum had shifted and the two found a common interest: scaring Dad. As the memory of their tiny, united laughter trailed off in my ready-for-bed head, I was happy to know that my girls we no longer just sisters—they were becoming friends. It's a friendship that I hope grows as they grow. And if it means they need to scare me to get there, so be it.


It was the Jack-In-The-Box, hanging out under the covers on my side of the bed. My wife walked into our bedroom, howling with not-so-tiny laughter.

"Gottcha! I see you found our little friend. Oh, by the way, did I tell you that the other day I found that Jack-In-The-Box in a Rubbermaid container downstairs while I was looking for my maternity clothes? Scared me so much I almost pooped myself."

You and me both.

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January 21, 2011

Snow Days: How to Guarantee Fun in 12 Simple Steps

I almost never play hooky from work. I learned early on that it's important to set a good example for my children, so I only fake being sick when it's absolutely necessary that I stay home: sick kid, sick wife, March Madness, Opening Day, Jersey Shore marathon, stuck on level 7-4 of Angry Birds, left shoes upstairs and am just not in the mood to get them.

The No. 1 reason to play hooky from work, though, is to enjoy a Snow Day. They don't happen often, so it's important to make the most of it when they do. Here is a 12-Step Program designed to make sure you have a great Snow Day with your kids. 

Step 1: Do Snow Dance Rituals
You can't have a Snow Day without enough snow to convince the school superintendent that she needs a day off to go skiing with her friends. In order to get it, you and the kids must complete as many Bring-Us-Some-Snow Rituals as you can, which include: shaking all snow globes in the house after dinner, flushing ice cubes down the toilet; putting white crayons in the freezer, wearing your pajamas inside out, sleeping upside down in your bed and feeding Dad copious amounts of bacon for dinner. (The last one is most pivotal). 

Step 2: Spend 45 Minutes Putting on Snow Suits and Boots
It will inevitably take you and the kids just under an hour to dress yourselves in snow attire that 1) Mom deems acceptable and 2) allows you just enough leg and arm range to barely move. If it takes you fewer than 15 minutes to get back up after falling down in the snow, you aren't wearing enough layers.

Step 3: Spend 45 Minutes Getting off Snow Suits and Boots Because We Forgot to Pee First and Now Someone Has to Go
Always, always, always remember to use the restroom before getting your snow clothes on. And no, you can't just let your kids pee in their pants. Trust me, there's a good reason for it, and that reason is called Mom's Rage.

Step 4: Repeat Step 2

Step 5: Get Snowman Kit.
Unless you smoke out of a corncob pipe and Mom has two lumps of coal (no, that is not a euphemism for her chest, you pervert), then you'll need a Snowman Kit. A good Snowman Kit will come equipped with two eyes, a nose, a mouth, three or more buttons, a scarf and a very swanky hat. A great Snowman Kit will come with Vermouth.

Step 6: Start a Snowball Fight
Mom's rules: You are only allowed to throw snowballs at those bigger than you, and at no time is it acceptable to throw a snowball at Mom. Dad's rules: Every man, woman, child and snowman for himself.

Step 7: Build a Fort
Of course, as Dad you were smart enough to build your fort before the snowball fight. Chalk this up as a valuable life lesson you are teaching your kids, like "Don't Eat Yellow Snow" and "Avoid Grown Men Wearing Fanny Packs."

Step 8: Make Snow Angels
This is not only an aesthetically pleasing way to decorate your yard, it's also an excellent cover up for when you fall and can't get up (due to the layering issue mentioned in Step 2).

Step 9: Convince Dad it's Time to Go In
Good luck with that.

Step 10: Spend 45 Minutes Getting Snow Suits and Boots Off
It's preferable to undress by the door to avoid tracking snow throughout the house. It is not preferable to stand there naked, waiting for your wife to dress all of you. Also not preferable: Bringing snowballs into the house; wiping your thawing, snotty nose on the couch; making a butt-print in the steamy glass of the storm door; rooting for the Yankees.

Step 11: Drink Hot Chocolate
This is the most critical step of the 12-Step Program. No Snow Day is complete without cuddling up on the couch (or a comfortable spot on the floor), throwing a blanket over everyone's frostbitten legs and sipping some marshmallow-filled cups of hot chocolate. It's the perfect end cap to the day. But you're not quite finished yet ...

Step 12: Flush Ice Cubes Down the Toilet
You can never have too many snow days.

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

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January 14, 2011

What Kids Teach Parents About Discipline

Our Founding Fathers granted parents certain inalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the right to discipline our children. This is why, of course, they were called the Founding Fathers and not the Founding Single Dudes. Had it been the Founding Single Dudes, inalienable rights would likely have consisted of partying, porn and Dutch Ovens (also commonly known as "fart chambers.")

Early in the parenting process, I found out why our Founding Fathers granted us the right to discipline our kids. It's because kids touch everything. And by "everything" I mean "things they shouldn't." And by "things they shouldn't" I mean "everything that's ÜBER EXPENSIVE and HIGHLY BREAKABLE … and the toilet."

Not long after Ella began to walk, she decided it was well within her right to put her hands everywhere. She touched the television, the DVR, the computer, the shelf of DVDs (and every individual DVD she could get out of its case), the button that turns on and off the dishwasher, and, I'm not sure how she did it, but once she touched the remote in a way that left us without TV volume for three days.

They were the longest three days of my life.

For months my wife and I followed her around the house, stopping her grubby little hands from poking at our stuff, waving our fingers and telling her over and over again, "No, no, we don't touch that" and "No, no, you can't pick that up." The term "no, no" became so commonplace in our house, that for a short period of time Ella thought it was her name. How was your day, Nono? Did you enjoy Dora, Nono?

Then, one day out of the blue, I saw her standing there, facing the television, waving her finger saying, "No, no." "No, no." A breakthrough! It was as adorable as it was promising. She finally understood that she wasn't supposed to touch the TV. Then she sneezed all over it. Then she touched it.

This memory popped back in my head the other night, when Ella (now 3 years old) and I (now older than I'd like to admit) were putting together a giant floor puzzle. She'd suddenly grown up so fast. Her long hair was a departure from the hairless head that used to sneeze on our TV. Her meticulous placement of puzzle pieces on the floor instead of in her mouth reminded me that she's not the little girl with whom I waved my finger. She's mature. She's adult-like. She's a Timeout girl now. I was proud and a little sad all at once.

As we nearly finished the puzzle, one spot sat empty—and yet there were no more pieces in the box. "Where did it go?" I asked Ella. She shrugged and recommended we form a search party. We raided the house like a swat team raiding a drug bust, finding nothing unusual but dust and a few rogue Cheerios that had found refuge under our couch. After exhausting all options, I noticed a round edge sticking out from under the left leg of Sylvia, Ella's Cabbage Patch Kid.

"I think Sylvia has been hiding it from us!" I said.

Immediately Ella got a serious look on her face. She stormed over to her doll and picked her up. "We don't hide puzzle pieces from others, Sylvia," she said. "You're going in Timeout." With a firm grip, she marched Sylvia through Klems Manor to the southeast corner of our dining room—the one Ella has grown familiar with from her own Timeout experiences. She stood her up and pointed her face into the corner. Mimicking my "serious voice," she repeated to Sylvia over and over that's it's not OK to hide things when others are looking for them, just like I'd done to her on other occasions. After several minutes, she finally let Sylvia out and, with a softer voice, she said:
"Come here Sylvia. I hope you've learned that you don't hide things when others need them. You shouldn't have taken the puzzle piece from us. Do you promise never to do it again? (Long pause.) OK, good. Now give me a kiss and tell me you're sorry."
I was dumbfounded. Her punishment and lecture were spot-on the ones I'd handed her for jumping on the couch and knocking over her sister and putting our icepack in the toilet (Note: If you're at our house, don't use our icepack). It really hit home when she brought Sylvia out to the living room and made her apologize to me too. Then Ella set her back on the floor and completed the puzzle.

That day I learned that our kids not only pay close attention to our words, but also our actions. Every time Ella's down and I smile at her, I know she passes that smile along to someone else who may need it more. Every time I give her a hug, she shares that hug with others and brightens their day. And every time I discipline her, she shares that discipline with an unsuspecting Cabbage Patch Kid whose only fault was sitting too close the puzzle when we opened the box.

I'm not sure what discipline methods our Founding Fathers had in mind, but I know they would probably approve of the judicial system at Klems Manor. And as I watched Sylvia sit there, quietly minding her own business, I saw Anna (now 21 months old) march up to her, wave a finger in her face and carry her back into Timeout corner.

"No, no, Sylvia. No, no."

Apparently there's a new Nono in town.

Poor Sylvia.

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January 7, 2011

The Essentials of a Good New Year's Eve Party (Dad Edition)

When planning a New Year's Eve party with your kids, I've learned it's important to keep two things in mind: 1) You're old and 2) All drinks must have the word "virgin" in front of them. Both are a far cry from your younger days, when you'd let your party animal out of his cage. He usually has a cool name, like Thor or Bruce or Crazy Tony. And everyone knew Crazy Tony was the life of the party. He kicked your butt in Bond on Nintendo 64. He kicked your liver with Jägermeister. He made you get up off the couch at 2 a.m. and walk a half-mile with him just to get a slice of college pizza—you know, the kind that was so cheap you paid in quarters (and so cheap it tasted like quarters).

Now, many years later, the only reason Crazy Tony is awake at 2 a.m. is because he has to pee.

The past couple of years we stayed in for New Year's, putting the kids to bed at regular time and falling asleep well before the ball dropped in NYC.  This year, though, with both girls being a little older, we wanted to do something special. So we put together a checklist of party essentials and made sure we had them before the big day:

Party hats? CHECK!
Fancy drinks? CHECK!
Snacks? CHECK!
Streamers? CHECK!
Weird cardboard blow horns? CHECK!

We gathered the girls in the living room and put on our party hats. The girls had pretty princess crowns. I, on the other hand, needed something more manly so my wife got me an upside-down funnel-shaped gold hat that made me look like a unicorn. This led to a 20-minute game of musical hats, which included trading, swapping and, eventually, me wearing all of the crowns and funnel hats at the same time. And color me crazy, but I really think I was the prettiest princess unicorn in all the land.

Soon after, my wife broke out the martini glasses and filled them with frozen (virgin) daiquiris. The girls couldn't have been more excited, sipping their drinks like adult women and toasting to everything. "A toast to Ella!" "A toast to Anna!" "A toast to Dora!" We only had one spill, which, in layman's terms, is called "a miracle."

Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for finally came. The clock was ticking.

Me: "OK, kids, it's time to countdown from 10 to 1 and then shout HAPPY NEW YEAR, got it?"
Kids: "Yes dad!"
Me: "Here we go!"

And while I helped start the chant, I quieted down to let their tiny voices take over.


Me: "Wait wait wait, you forgot seven."
Kids: "Oh, right."
Me: "Let's try this again."


Me: "No no, it's Happy NEW YEAR, not Happy Birthday. Let's try it one more time from the top."
Kids: "OK!"


With that we all hugged and kissed and smiled and blew our weird cardboard blow horns. We popped our streamers. We jumped up and down. We celebrated—and loudly at that. I've taken part in many fun and wonderful New Year's countdowns in the past, but none held the moment quite like this one. I couldn't quite put my finger on what made it stand out so much: The kids? My wife? The unicorn hat? The (virgin) daiquiris? The fact that it was only 9:37 p.m.? Or perhaps it was just the perfect blend of all those ingredients for a proper New Year's Eve party.

Either way, all I know is that it's a memory that I (and Crazy Tony) will cherish forever.

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