November 21, 2008

Here We Go Again ...

"A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on."—Carl Sandburg

Time is a tricky beast. At work it moves too slow. On weekends it moves too fast. It crawls to a stop when you can't sleep at night, but magically speeds up when you hit snooze in the morning. Before you blink, your baby's most interesting skill is burping. After you blink, she's running around the kitchen, taking off her clothes and outsmarting your child-proofed cabinets (money well spent, indeed).

In a short, yet somehow long period of time, I've learned that being a father is my favorite thing in the world. It beats out video games. It beats out bacon. It even beats out softball (I can see 70% of you are shaking heads in disbelief). But it's true; I can't imagine my life any other way.

Why do I love being a father so much? I'm surprisingly good at it—and not "good at it" like I'm good at pretending to listen to my wife when I'm actually trying to remember the lyrics to the "Silver Spoons" theme song, but actually good at it. I've grown to be more understanding. I've developed patience. And I don't mean to brag here, but if they handed out awards for Ring Around the Rosy, I'd place top 5 in the city. Maybe top 2 if I'd perfect my falling down.

The point is, of course, that Ella is ridiculously lucky that I'm so awesome. (That's right, I'm not afraid to say it.) She also recognizes how awesome I am without me having to tell her over and over and over again—like I do with my wife. In fact, not long ago Ella said to me, "Ba boo, da bibbity boo," which my Gibberish-to-English dictionary translates to, "Dad, it'd be unfair for me to hog all your awesomeness to myself. You should have another baby."

Holy Bon Jovi, she was right! When you're given a gift, you don't ignore it—you capitalize on it. So I turned to Brittany and said, "I think it's time to have another baby." She responded like any caring, loving wife and mother of a toddler would:

"Leave me alone, I'm watching TV."

But I was determined. There was no giving-up in my fight. After further discussion, complete with pie charts, bar graphs and PowerPoint slides showcasing my awesomeness in full detail, she changed her tune to a confident:

"I'm going to pee. When I return, either you better be quieter or the TV better be louder."

Then, three glasses of wine later … Ella became a big sister.

Some folks will argue that having kids a mere 21 months apart is insane and it doesn't allow you enough time to adjust between babies. In fact, I'm one of those people. Or, at least, I used to be. Though as I get older with each passing day, and as time moves faster with each passing snooze, I don't want to put off experiences that will enhance the awesomeness that is my life. I'm already surrounded by a great group of family and friends (and Life of Dad blog readers), so why not add to it as soon as possible? I'm ready. No doubt there. Hell, I have the PowerPoint presentation to prove it.

So come April, BK4 will join our family. I can only hope that he or she will feel as loved and as lucky as I do. The same goes for Ella. I hope we can cherish the time we get together no matter how fast it flies by, developing that special bond all fathers share with their children—even the one where we all pretend to listen to Brittany but, in actuality, we're all really thinking:

"Here we are, face to face, a couple of Silver Spoons … "

The Life of Dad is updated every other Friday (barring the call of family duties). 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 12, 2008

29 Things I've Learned as a Parent …

A wise man once said, "Another year older, another year wiser." That man obviously had a baby. In honor of my 29th birthday (if you haven't sent that birthday card, you better get on it because it was back in May), I'd like to present you with a list of the 29 things I've learned in my first year-plus of parenthood. Some may be obvious, some a little less. But, most important, all of these lessons come from experience.

1. There is no snooze button on a baby.
2. "Stinky" and "Booger" are terms of endearment.
3. A dirty diaper smells bad. Baby formula smells worse.
4. The remote control is just an overly expensive teething ring.
5. Babies don't stay little. Neither does their poop.
6. Dangly Earrings + Holding Baby Close To Dangly Earrings = Very Bad Idea
7. Obscenities are limited to "darn," "shucks" and "great ooglie googily."
8. Crawling is a baby's first step to independence. It's also the end of yours.
9. "Don't touch that" loosely translates in to "Touch it right now—and more often."
10. Everything is a phone. Phones are phones. Shoes are phones. Potatoes are … you get the idea.
11. Drool can be annoying. It can also be used to seal envelopes.
12. No DVR? Don't even bother turning on the TV.
13. Gyms don't build muscle; 20lb babies in 25lb car seats do.
14. Embarrassing moments make for great memories—and even better photos.
15. You can never take too many photos.
16. It takes a great deal of restraint not to body slam people who pluralize non-pluralizable words. (e.g., "Did you go pees?," "Is it time for sleepies?" "Are you dumbs?")
17. Ear infections come and go, then doctor bills come and money goes.
18. Standing isn't a skill, it's just a way to knock things off the coffee table.
19. "America's Funniest Home Videos" is dead wrong—getting kicked in the crotch by a child is not funny.
20. Vegetables are eaten for dinner. Baby feet are eaten for dessert.
21. If you kiss a baby on the lips one of two things will happen: 1. She'll smile or 2. She'll sneeze in your mouth.
22. Don't let a baby sneeze in your mouth.
23. Seriously, it sucks.
24. Scrabble and Boggle are put aside for much more entertaining games like "Peek-a-Boo," "Chase Me Around the Table" and, my personal favorite, "Who Farted?"
25. Clothes for a baby should always be laid out the night before—by Mom.
26. There is nothing to fear but fear itself … and sharp objects.
27. A little poop on your hand never hurt anybody.
28. The universe doesn't revolve around you; It revolves around Dora the Explorer and Bob the Builder. (Note: If the two had a love child, would she be a Rita the Realtor?)

And finally, the most important lesson I've learned as a parent:
29. Baby laughter cures everything.

Is there wisdom I missed? If you have any to add please do so in the comments section below so everyone can enjoy them or shoot me an e-mail at I love hearing from others about their own experiences.

The Life of Dad is updated every other Friday (barring the call of family duties). 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

July 25, 2008

You're On Notice, Mr. Gall Bladder …

There are three extremely important characteristics that all dads must have: strength, health and the ability to slide around a tag at home plate. Without these attributes, you may as well trade in your DadCard (and complementary stained white t-shirt) for a bucket of Jim Belushi DVDs (and yes, I meant Jim). Luckily, I've been fortunate enough to be blessed with all three gifts. But then came Monday.

I hate Mondays.

It was four days prior to Ella's official birthday. My wife and I were planning a big birthday of fun—a trip to the zoo, a trip to the pool, then back home for a candle-lit cupcake celebration and harmonized version of Happy Birthday, which we'd been practicing for weeks. From the minute I set foot into my work cube, it was all I could think about—until Chuck, a coworker, friend and rock star, called about lunch.

"Dude. Mall. Now. I'm starving."

"It's 9:45 a.m."

"You're a buzz kill."

When I hung up the phone, I noticed an unusual pain in my side. I'd felt it twice before but had written it off to cramps, gas or residual effects from Brittany's middle-of-the-night elbow jabs. But this time was different. The pain was constant and more severe. I'd never felt a pain like it before, unless you count listening to this. The mall was out. The hospital was in.

After eight hours of waiting rooms, x-rays, ultrasounds, poking and prodding, morphine and an unusually friendly nurse who told me to take off my clothes but didn't give me a hospital gown, the doctor finally came in.

"Well, we can't find anything conclusive, but we have a strong feeling it's your gall bladder. Nothing really to worry about. We'll run a few more tests in the morning and then probably take it out."

"Take it out? Are you sure? I guess you're the doctor, doctor. That sounds funny. On a side note, that nurse in the hallway forgot to bring me a gown."

"That person doesn't work here."

(Long pause)

"Please up my morphine."

While this was a simple and common procedure, it did worry me some. I'd never had major surgery before. In fact, the closest I'd come was having a cyst removed from my wrist. And trust me, that doesn't impress the ladies nearly as much as you'd think it would. I also worried that I wouldn't be out in time to celebrate Ella's birthday. But the sooner they fixed the problem, the sooner I could go home. After careful consideration, I sent my gall bladder a pink slip. The letter went something like this:
Dear Gall Bladder,

First of all, I'd like to thank you for the 29 years of service you've provided me and the rest of the team. As you are aware, we are all suffering from the current economic downturn and, unfortunately, the hard times have hit KlemsCo. Our resources are limited and budgets are tight. It is with a heavy heart that we have to let you go. I wish I could say it wasn't performance based, but after checking past reviews it's come to my attention that no one in the company knows exactly what you do. In fact, several members of the team thought you'd retired several years ago while others just thought you were lazy. And it wasn't until recently when you began causing a stir that we realized you were still on the payroll.

Anyway, we wish you the best in all future endeavors.

Brian A. Klems
CEO and President, KlemsCo.

The next morning, I rolled in and out of exam rooms. I spoke with physicians. I spoke with surgeons. I watched an episode of "Saved by the Bell" where Zach needed surgery to repair his knee and, like me, he was scared of going under the knife. (Thankfully he got over his fear and survived to go onto "Saved by the Bell: The College Years.") When the final test results came back, my prognosis changed.

"All the tests came back negative so it doesn't look like there's anything wrong with you. We aren't going to take your gall bladder. We'll just monitor you for another night and, if all goes well, send you home in the morning."

I believe that was just a polite way of calling me a faker.

I could have stayed and pushed the issue (after all, I was still in pain), but I was ready to go—not to mention that my gall bladder was threatening a wrongful termination suit. So I left the hospital—body intact—and made it home. My side may still hurt, but it's much less painful than the idea of missing my CinderElla's first birthday.

… but seriously, Brittany, quit elbow-jabbing me in the middle of the night. It hurts.

The Life of Dad is updated every other Friday (barring the call of family duties). 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

July 11, 2008

Grading Dad (Has it Been a Year Already?) …

Planning your child's first birthday party is exhausting. So much goes into the big day—invitations, cleaning, food making, present buying, decorating, etc. Then there's the 45 minutes of yelling that your wife aims at you for not helping with the invitations, cleaning, food making, present buying, decorating, etc. In fact, she's peeved because the one job she gave you—cut the grass—is still hanging around on your To-Do list, falling somewhere after "Test freshness of month-old bag of Doritos" and "Blow nose."

Honeydew, honeydon't, honey-sleep-on-couch.

When getting things together for Ella's birthday (July 17), I started to reminisce about my first year as a dad. Life changed pretty dramatically. I no longer snooze until noon. I no longer hang out until 2 a.m. I no longer yell at the TV when the Reds are losing (though I do use some well-targeted hand gestures). And when something stinks in the house, I can no longer assume that it's me.

But this is all small-picture stuff. This is how dadhood affected me, and it's not me I'm worried about. It's the big-picture—the Ella-picture—that concerns me. After all, I've just spent the past year grooming her to be a little Klems. So I began asking myself the age-old question that all dads ask themselves when staring into their daughter's beautiful baby eyes: Do I buy a shotgun now or just lock her in her room until she's 30?

Then I realized that that's a silly question. I'm going to do both.

Moments later, I asked myself a more important question: Am I doing a good job? Yes? No? Maybe so? Catch a tiger by its toe?

"If you asked me to grade you, I'd probably give you a 'B'," says my wife. "Put on some pants and I'll bump you up to a 'B+'."

A "B" doesn't sound so bad. It's a grade that doesn't require too much extra effort but will still get you into a good school, preferably one with a mean-sounding mascot like Bobcats or Bearcats or Banana Slugs (thank you UC Santa Cruz). But it doesn't sound great. And I want greatness for my daughter. I want an "A". I'll do anything to get an "A". What will get me an "A"?

"Cutting the grass."

Well, anything but that.

Of course, it doesn't really matter what my wife thinks because she's biased—plus, she doesn't grade on the curve. What does matter is what Ella thinks, which got my brain a'clickin: If Ella could fill out a report card, how would she grade me?

First, we have to set the subjects. The modern six-key skill-set judged by schools include English, Math, Science, History, Geography and Gym. On the Dad Report, we'll call this category Knowledge. Second, dads always need to be available for their kids, so we'll call this category Accessibility. Dads have to be strong to protect their kids; therefore we add Strength to the mix. The fourth category will be Love, because without it there'd be no point in this exercise. And finally, the last grade will be for Fun.

Without further ado, I will make my case for each before Ella fills out my report card.

Why I Deserve an "A" in Knowledge: (English) I'm an editor. (Math) I can work the calculator in my cell phone. (Science) I used to watch "Mr. Wizard's World" on Nickelodeon. (History) I know the years the Cincinnati Reds have won their 5 World Championships. (Geography) I can name each and every capital for all 47 states. (Gym) One word: Softball.

Why I Deserve an "A" in Accessibility: I was there to drive you home from the hospital.

Why I Deserve an "A" in Strength: I often pick you up and swing you around the room, like an Olympic figure skater twirling in the air. And I've only dropped you twice.

Why I Deserve an "A" in Love: If you took every hug I'd ever dished out in the 28 years before you were born, it'd add up to about one-third of the hugs I've already given you. And this number will likely double by the end of the month.

Why I Deserve an "A" in Fun: I laugh at your farts.

After weighing all the evidence, Ella happily gave me an "A"—or, at least, I assume she did (she hasn't mastered writing, yet). How could she not? Since July 17, 2007, every day has been a new, fun and fascinating adventure, and I've loved being a part of it. So when she blows that first candle out next week, I can celebrate not only her first year of life but also the gratification in knowing that I haven't actually screwed her up (yet). In fact, I get to take a little credit for her being so wonderful—whether I cut the grass or not.

If you'd like to send her birthday wishes, feel free to e-mail her at She'll respond as soon as she can.


Brittany's Top 10 Ella Moments
From Year One (Letterman-style)

10. Mom & dad collectively getting poo'ed on when we were changing her on the pack & play table. (approx 2mo)

9. Hiccups on the porch swing when it looked like her lil head was going to pop off.

8. The first time she danced while standing at her music table.

7. When Mel put Ella's Christmas dress bottoms on Ella's head & they looked like a beret.

6. The first time tasting green beans when she just opened her mouth and let the ball of food fall on her bib.

5. Kissing herself in the mirror.

4. Her "running" around the house and squealing just like ET.

3. Jumping like a crazy woman in the jumper once she really got into it.

2. Any time we can get her to laugh really hard by just making a silly face.

1. When I let her go fully naked for one minute and she stood at her music table and peed on the floor.

The Life of Dad is updated every other Friday (barring the call of family duties). 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

May 2, 2008

The Irony of Parenting

It's normal to occasionally question your parenting skills—like when you realize that in the brief 4 seconds you glanced at the TV for the sports scores, your little darling has disappeared into the bathroom and is splashing toilet water everywhere. Or when you're leaving for work and, as you pull out onto the street, you see your babe comfortably sitting in her car seat … waving to you from the porch.

I'm usually confident that I'm good dad, but lately I've been doubting myself. It was easy to raise an infant. There were books that told you exactly how much they should sleep, how much they should eat and how much money you should prepare to spend on sleepwear, formula and books guiding you on how much they should sleep and eat. But once that baby hits nine months, everything changes. The books are less specific and more general. Three naps turn into 1-to-2 naps—or five naps. Gates are needed to block the stairs. You can introduce solid foods into her diet, like bananas, cottage cheese and Chipotle, but not eggs. It's a whole new ballgame.
So I asked the doctor, "How much regular food should we give her?"

"Whatever you feel comfortable with."

Whatever I feel comfortable with? What does that mean? I feel comfortable with a well-educated doctor telling me precisely what to do. But after 8 years of medical school and $100,000-plus in student loans, the doctor would prefer to leave it up to me, the guy who took one half-semester of health class in high school. Sure I got an "A," and if you need statistics on what percentage of high schoolers used steroids between 1988 and 1993, I'm your guy. But we certainly didn't cover topics like What To Feed Your Baby At Nine Months.

I know what you're thinking: You must have turned to your parents and in-laws for advice, right? My answer to you, of course, is ARE YOU CRAZY? Parents of new parents are knowledgeable about a lot of things, like how long you should bake a potato or how to get projectile vomit stains out of your carpet. They are also helpful in the early stages by bringing you food and watching the baby while you get a few minutes of sleep. They are also … well … if we followed their ways, we would be feeding Ella gallons of apple juice and letting her roll around in the back of our station wagon with nothing strapping her in. And before you shake your head, remember that your parents probably did both too—and likely much worse.

The irony in all this is: While I'm constantly questioning my skills as a parent, the newly anointed grandparents (like all newly anointed grandparents) are 100% confident in theirs. They seem to "know" what to do at all corners. They can "advise" on anything. They don't "appreciate" your use of quote marks. Why? Because they raised wonderful children. And when the facts are laid down like that, it's hard to argue.

But the real fact is that times have changed. There's more information available today than there was a decade ago. Kids need car seats. Sugary apple juice is not good for them. Kids' growth could be stunted by secondhand smoke, alcohol and the song "It's Raining Men."
When it comes down to it, we love our parents for raising us to the best of their abilities—and are thankful we survived. You can't fault them for the now-outrageous parental guidelines they abided by years ago; they used the best information available at the time to do the best that they could. Now my wife and I are doing the same. Ultimately, we're all parents-in-training and that's OK. It's how we're supposed to be.

I guess it's that thought that has rekindled my self-confidence as a parent. What's good for our kids is always evolving. Several decades from now, when Ella has children of her own, I'm sure she's going to look at how we raised her and say things like:

I can't believe they fed me cottage cheese that early! (and)
Car Seats? How did we survive without Fully-Padded Car Bubbles? (and)
They let me splash around in toilet water!—you think I want THEIR "advice"?

I just hope that when she has her kids, she'll be able to forgive us like we've forgiven our folks. And when she does something that differs from what I did to her, I hope I can remember these five key words: Whatever you feel comfortable with. I guess those 8 years of medical school were valuable after all.

Oh, and the answer is three. Three percent of high schoolers have tried steroids.

The Life of Dad is updated every other Friday (barring the call of family duties). 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

April 18, 2008

If You Want To View Paradise ...

Once upon a time there was a living room filled with nothing but a comfortable couch, a coffee table, a few pieces of artwork and a large TV. These days, though, that couch is covered in toys. And that coffee table is covered in toys. And those pieces of artwork are covered in toys. And that TV is covered in—well, you get the picture (but I don't because it's covered in toys).

At 9 months old, Ella has effectively collected nearly 7 billion plastic playthings. Some of them were gifts. Some of them were hand-me-downs. Some of them, my wife says, "Must have appeared out of thin air"—though a drawer full of Toys R Us receipts begs to differ. I'm pretty sure that if we liquidated Ella's Fischer Price collection we could retire, move somewhere on the Pacific Coast and still have enough cash leftover to support an unhealthy gambling problem.


The chief issue here isn't even that our baby has too many toys (though she does); it's that she doesn't care about them. She ignores them. Slinky? Pass. Building blocks? No thanks. Spinning Wheel that Makes Animal Noises? Ba-humbug. It's as if she'd already outgrown them all.
So what does she want? I'll tell you, but you better sit down and brace yourself for this shocking revelation:

She wants to be picked up and placed inside a $5.99 blue Rubbermaid tub. And no, I am not making this up.

When my folks first told me about the phenomenon, I laughed. It had to be a joke. They'd watched her for a couple of hours one night and placed her in the tub for "funnzies," and, according to one independent observer (my mom), she took to it like my wife took to Rico the Snoogle. But my parents, like any set of parents who have been promoted to grandparents, can be goofy sometimes, so I chalked up Ella's initial enjoyment to just playing with grandma and grandpa. Yet two mornings later I found my wife on the floor and Ella back in the tub.

"What can I say, she wanted in," Brittany said. "She's been squatting and slowly raising her head, playing peek-a-boo with me all morning. It may be the cutest thing I've ever seen." (And that says a lot, as my wife sees about 17 cute things a day.)

Over the next two weeks we spent a majority of our time at home playing in the Rubbermaid tub, exiting only for feedings, diaper changes, baths and drool mop-ups. Ella'd disappear for minutes at a time, then suddenly peek two eyes over the rim. We'd occasionally throw toys in the tub for her, but she'd lean down, pick them up and remove them like a taxi driver cleaning out his cab.

I didn't know what all the hubbub was about, so I figured there was only one way to find out: I got in the bin. It was a tight squeeze, sure, but after 20 minutes of bending, folding and dislocating parts of my body, I made it. I also learned a valuable lesson: Always pee before entering a Rubbermaid tub.

So I got out, peed, and got back in again. As I sat there surrounded in a sea of blue walls, I tried to envision why Ella enjoyed this so much. Maybe she loves the tub because it feels like her own little kingdom. Maybe it allows her privacy that's tough to come by when you're 9 months old. Maybe she's preparing for life in a cubicle. Who knows? Or maybe, just maybe, it gives her imagination a chance to run wild—and each time she enters there's a new adventure to be had.

Whatever the reason, this experiment made me realize something that Ella has already learned in her young life: You don't need fancy toys to have a good time. You don't need to spend ungodly amounts of money. You don't even need to leave the house. All you need is a little imagination.

And maybe a $5.99 blue Rubbermaid tub.

The Life of Dad is updated every other Friday (barring the call of family duties). 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

March 28, 2008

How to Ready Your Kids for Opening Day: The 7 Spring Training Drills They Need to Learn

How we trained Ella to understand and successfully participate in Opening Day.

With Opening Day around the corner, I decided it was time to prepare my daughter for her first baseball game. Sure, she'd seen about 60 on television last year, but this is the first time she'd get the full, live experience: the fresh smell of grass filling the stadium, the wind blowing against her skin, the sound of the drunk behind her shouting at the opponent's right fielder because his name rhymes with "smelly."

So Ella, Brittany and I indulged in our very own Klems Spring Training. If the players need two months to get in shape, certainly it's not unreasonable for fans to dedicate one week of preparation for the season ahead. We owe it to the team. With that, we practiced the seven drills that all Reds fans should work on before attending their first game (especially if it's a Cincinnati Reds Opening Day).

Drill #1
Dress Like a Fan
The most important rule of going to a Reds game is to wear something that's red or says "Reds" on it. If you're dressed in the other team's colors you'll likely get booed, and if you're wearing a Bengals' hat you're obviously drunk.

Ella and I scoured her closet and found exactly 6.4% of her outfits are acceptable (a low percentage, by my estimates). This number skyrockets to 100% if she wears her Reds hat—which, to me, should be worn at all times anyway. We tried on each outfit and stretched them out so they will be loose and ready to go.
Check it off the list.

Drill #2
How to Properly Eat Peanuts
Eating a peanut at a baseball game is an art form. Some people crack them open with their fingers, some with their teeth. Others soak them in their beer until the shell practically falls off. My preference is to eat off the salt and then crack the shell using the left back-row of my teeth.

This was Ella's favorite drill, of course, as she practiced with everything she could find: spoon, shoe, remote, notepad, photo album, baby monitor, squeaky toy that had been missing under the couch for weeks. By the end of practice, she was a pro. I consider this her greatest asset as a fan.
Check it off the list.

Drill #3
Chant "Let's Go, Reds, Let's Go (clap, clap)"
There are numerous cheers at the Reds games ("Clap Your Hands, Stomp Your Feet," "Walks will Haunt" and my personal favorite, "(dun dun) GO!"), but to master any cheer you must start with the basics: "Let's Go, Reds, Let's Go (clap, clap)."

Ella can say a few words like "mumuma" and "daaaaa" and "pbbbbt," but her grasp of the language is limited. We decided that squealing was an acceptable alternative. My wife worked with her on clapping, doing it in rhythm each time I did the cheer. This became increasingly difficult because my wife is the worst practicer of all-time, losing her concentration and replacing "clapping" with "tickling in the belly." Years from now, when Ella is at a Reds game with friends and they start this chant ... well, let's just say she'll learn a valuable lesson: Listen to dad, not mom.
Check it off the list.

Drill #4
Picking the Winner in the Great Reds Race
For those of you unfamiliar with this, the Reds have a video race on the scoreboard called "The Great Reds Race." It features three challengers: Mr. Red (the baseball head), Rosie Red (the girl baseball head) and Mr. Red Leg (the baseball head with a curly mustache). They race around the diamond and the winner stands high on an Olympic-looking podium to celebrate.

Choosing a Red is like choosing a tattoo: Once you pick one, you're stuck with that Red for life. I grew up in an era of young Mr. Red, so he's mine. My wife always pulls for women, so she's a Rosie supporter. Ella currently has a clean slate, so I gave her the background information on all the Reds mascots so she could form her own opinion and make her choice without bias:

"Ella, here's all you have to know:
Mr. Red Leg is old, crusty and has dirty bugs crawling out of his 'stache.
Rosie Red, well, she kicks puppies.
Mr. Red, on the other hand, is a kind, loving soul who works at homeless shelters and helps feed the poor."
We'll see whom she picks on Opening Day.
Check it off the list.

Drill #5
How to Sneak Down to a Better Seat
No matter what part of the park you're located in, there are always better seats. Always. And around the 5th inning, many of those seats become available.

In our living room, I placed an empty chair that sat closer to the TV and lower than our couch. We sat on the couch watching "Wire-to-Wire: The Story of the 1990 Cincinnati Reds Championship Season." About an hour into the game (video), I made Ella practice making a mad dash to the open chair. (How she ended up in her mother's shoes, I have no idea.) After several days, she'd race to the chair without me prompting her.
Check it off the list.

Drill #6
Do the Wave
A vital element to any baseball game is the wave. With six long off-season months, it's understandable that you may fall out of practice—your legs are stiff, arms glued to your keyboard, can't remember how long you should stand in waving position (3.1 seconds). I find that practicing at work is helpful. In fact, start doing it once every five minutes and see if everyone else slowly joins in. If so, you can add "Started Wave" to your resume.

Ella can't actually stand from a sitting position yet, but she can wave at herself in the mirror. We spent one full Saturday in front of the dining room mirror waving. It may not be perfect (and may look less like a crowd-wave and more like a hello-wave), but for an 8-month-old who still thinks it's OK to poop through an outfit, it'll do.
Check it off the list.

And Finally …
Drill #7
Falling Asleep on Dad's Shoulder As You Exit the Game
It's a dad's most important role on game day. I've spent all off-season lifting heavy toys, walking with bags of salt on my shoulder and bumping into coffee-table corners without falling over in preparation. I've even had a few test runs at family parties and the results are promising.

Ella has held up her end of the bargain, and has even practiced falling asleep on my shoulder with her Reds hat on, in order to find the most comfortable position—for her, of course, not dad.
Check it off the list.

While I know all of this sounds silly, it's important to me—less as a baseball fan and more as a dad. I know that one day she'll look back at pictures and say, "I don't remember that." And that's OK, because I will. Baseball has always been an important part of my life, falling somewhere just after family but above, well ... everything else. I grew up watching Opening Days at home with my Mom and Dad, and they were all special moments for me. Now, years later, I get to share that special moment with my family. And I'm looking forward to every inning of it.

Play ball.The Life of Dad is updated every other Friday (barring the call of family duties). 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

February 29, 2008

Indiana Klems and the Holy Remote

It was a brisk eve in Klems Manor. The wind rattled against the shutters, whistling like a person who doesn't know how to whistle. An off-white lampshade dimmed the glow of the 60-watt light, slowing the pace of our shadows but brightening the screen of the television. Our eyes fixated on one program and one program alone. After moments of silence, the sound of my wife's voice drummed through the air and sparked some heated, though thought-bending debate:

"No doubt in my mind, the guy getting hit in the do-dads by his daughter deserves to win."

"Are you crazy?" I said. "The woman bouncing off the trampoline and onto the picnic table was way funnier. But yours will win. The lame one always wins."

Ella (inner monologue): "I don't know what they're talking about or why they're watching 'America's Funniest Home Videos,' but they left that remote completely unguarded. If only I could find a way to get over there without their help. What if …"

And then it happened.

The remote control has been Ella's Holy Grail since birth. She'll drop any toy, doll or bottle if it's within reach. We're not really sure why. I like to think it's because of its brightly colored buttons and ergonomic shape, but Brittany has a completely different (and much more likely) theory: "The minute we walk through the door, the first thing she sees her father reach for is the remote, so in her mind it must be magical."

And it is magical. (Am I right fellas?)

Now I've worked hard to keep the remote out of Ella's reach, but she's crafty. One time I left it unguarded on my lap and she grabbed it, gnawed on it like a teething ring and then successfully found a mystery button that made our TV volume-less for 3 days (Thank you, Will, for fixing that). This time the remote was across the room, well out of her reach. Or so we thought.

First a right knee, then a left knee. Then both arms moved forward. Suddenly the pale look of doubt vanished as a confident smile washed over her face. She knew this was a special moment. She accomplished what she'd never accomplished before. And in just a few more steps she'd have the prize, the Grail.

Obstacles were no match for this crawler. She climbed over her rings. She used her butt to knock Freddie the Firefly out of the way. She stumbled but once, falling head first into the carpet—though only for a moment, as she waved off discouragement and trudged forward.

Finally, she was there. It was within reach. Lunge, lunge, lunge. An arm stretched like an 8-month-old in a 7-month-old's body, landing not one, not two, but three full fingers on the prize. Her grasp firmed and she gave it one swift tug. The remote glided under her body. It was hers. The Grail was hers.





Ella (inner monologue): "Mother#)%*@"

With that, the Grail was moved to the other side of the room offering a new set of obstacles to overcome. Ella may never fully remember her first quest for the Grail, or the whistling wind that breezed past the brick of our house, or that her mom was right—guy getting hit in the do-dads always wins "America's Funniest Home Videos." But she will remember the confidence she gained by finding her independence.

And that's more magical than a remote.

The Life of Dad is updated every other Friday (barring the call of family duties). 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

February 15, 2008

Home Remedies ...

Some days you wake up walking on sunshine, while other days you wake up fit to be tied. And some days you wake up with your child's snot crusted to your face.

A number of weeks ago, Ella came down with a cold—the first cold of her life. It was endearing in so many ways. She had a cute little cough, teeny tiny eye boogers and a small drip running from her nose. Her sneezes were as soft as her cheeks, and when you tried to wipe the remnants away she'd wiggle like a bobblehead. And, throughout it all, she never once stopped smiling.

Then early one morning, after letting her sleep on my chest, I woke up and noticed her entire face was covered in snot. Worse yet, so was mine. And like any logical, well-educated dad would do, I handed her off to her mother and tried to keep the calm by uttering this combination of words:

"Oh my God, what's wrong with her? Infection? Pneumonia? It's West Nile, isn't it!?!"

"Calm down," said my wife. "It's just the congestion escaping from her… What are you doing?"

"Seven, Six, two … Wait, what's our doctor's number again?"

Brittany gracefully took the phone out of my hands and shoved the receiver where receivers shouldn't be shoved. And it hurt. She then calmly explained why the doctor wouldn't appreciate a call at 5:30 in the morning over the sniffles. If it got worse, she said, we'd call and schedule an appointment during business hours. Until then, we'll try all the home remedies that we know.

I hate it when she makes sense.

So we tried each home remedy to help our suffering babe feel better. We sat her in the bathroom with the hot shower running. We laid her in an upright position when she napped. We even put on back-to-back-to-back reruns of "Saved by the Bell" (always made me feel better when I was sick). Unfortunately none of those seemed to work, so we scheduled an appointment with the doc.

Turned out she not only had a cold, but was also suffering from a double ear infection, which I'm told is about as painful as an angry wife on Valentine's Day. To get Ella back on the healthy horse, the doctor prescribed medicine, rest and more "Saved by the Bell" (who knew?). He also told us that it's very common for children under the age of one to get colds and earaches throughout the winter, and we should be thankful our kid takes it in stride with a grin. And we are thankful.

Meeting with the doctor helped calm my nerves a bit. I still plan to overreact to all future sicknesses, but I plan to overreact in smaller doses. It's just what parents do. I've forgiven my folks. You've probably forgiven yours. Hopefully Ella will be able to forgive me as she grows up. If she's like her father, she certainly will.

But if she's like her mother, I'm going to have to remove all phones from the house.

The Life of Dad is updated every other Friday (barring the call of family duties). 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

February 1, 2008

A Video is Worth 1,000 Pictures ...

Memories are much simpler to remember when captured on camera. It's true. Think about how many embarrassing moments you've had in your life, and how you would've easily forgotten those moments if it hadn't been for Kodak. In fact, your parents probably have albums full of pictures called things like "My First Bath" and "Photos of Brian on the Potty." Yikes!

I think we're all thankful that when we were teenagers, e-mail forwarding didn't exist.

Today, photos are easier to take than ever. Instead of having only 20 pictures per roll on your old Polaroid, you now have memory cards that can store up to 17-hundred-billion photos—which is about half the number you took last Christmas. You can store them on your computer at zero cost, browse through them and delete all the ones where you're giving the wonky eye.

Technology is a wonderful thing.

Some cameras, like ours, even have the option of recording short videos. This, of course, leads me to last night. As my wife was off doing unimportant things like cleaning dishes, washing laundry, feeding us and putting together our new two-ton fireplace cover, I spent my precious time doing something 100-times more valuable: learning how to use iMovie on my MAC. This program allows you to create edited videos with unbelievable simplicity and gives you the opportunity to immortalize your daughter while completely ignoring her as she eats your shoe. Had George Lucas known about this program, he probably could have made Star Wars: Episode 1 for about $20.

Anyway, after about five hours of playing with options, fooling around with effects and yelling at the computer, I finally came up with three and a half minutes of video that are sure to make my wife and daughter proud. So without further ado, please join in watching my directorial debut. Eat your heart out, Spielberg.

(Note: There's music involved. Plus, you may have to pause it at first to give it a minute or two to load. And be sure to watch until it's completely over. It's worth it.)

January 18, 2008

The Natural Order ...

Men, by nature, are highly competitive. We don't like to lose anything, and we especially don't like to lose to our friends or family. If a friend eats 26 blazin' hot buffalo wings, we'll eat 27. If he burps the alphabet, we'll burp it faster. If he grows goatee, we'll grow a beard—and back hair. And so on.

You'd like to think that fatherhood would bring a certain level of maturity to men around the world and that we could put our Darwinian instincts to rest. But the truth is that we can't. Worse yet, fatherhood just amplifies the competitiveness. Sure, you no longer care if you can beat your buddy in a farting contest, but you do care if your baby beat his baby in a farting contest.

Which leads me to last weekend.

My nephew Christopher is three months old, which is three months younger than his cousin (my daughter), Ella. Up to this point, Ella has done everything first—smiled, rolled over, slept through the night, peed on Grandpa—and that makes sense. She's supposed to. She's older. It fits with the natural order of things. In fact, I like to think that she leads Christopher by example, and because of this he reaches goals at a slightly younger age than she did.

Then something disrupted the natural order. Christopher showed up at my dad's birthday party, took off his coat and gave his trademark grin. Although something was different. When he gave us that smile, something popped out. It was a tooth! One beautiful tooth. I couldn't believe it! Three months old and he is the proud owner of a gorgeous chomper. I turned to Ella and looked in her gummy mouth and found nothing but waterfall of drool.

Now don't get me wrong, I was incredibly excited for Christopher. But this wasn't how it was supposed to go. Ella was supposed to get teeth first. She was supposed to show them off. She was supposed to be the one to give Christopher a tooth-brushing demonstration. This wasn't the natural order.

The minute we got home from my folks' house I turned to Brittany and said, "We need to get those teeth to come on through. She's falling behind the curve!" Now my wife, typically the voice of reason, smacked me upside the head and pointed out that teeth come when they are good and ready and that I shouldn't be pressuring my daughter over something where she has no control.

Just like a woman—accepting defeat!

So like any good man I nodded in agreement, promised I'd leave well alone and gave both a kiss and went to bed—and then set my cell phone alarm for 6 in the morning, woke Ella up and brought her down to the living room to work on growing teeth.

"OK, Ella. Today's the day. Let's sprout a tooth!" I figured the most effective way to get teeth was to let her wear down her gums. I let her gnaw on my finger for about 45 minutes. Then I let her gnaw on a teething ring. Then the remote. Then the couch cushion. Then the leg to the coffee table. Then the other leg to the coffee table. Then the rubber ducky bath toy. Then the thingy we use to suck boogers out of her nose. She gnawed and she gnawed until her gnawer was sore, and yet still had no teeth to show for all that hard work.

Unwilling to give up, we switched gears to plan B: Encouragement. I sat Ella down in the middle of the room and started rooting her on. "Come on, you can do it! Grow those teeth! Grow those teeth! Soooooo big!" I admit, I sounded a little less like a dad and a little more like a high school cheerleader. Unfortunately, she only half-understood the concept and instead of pushing out teeth she pushed out something else.

Time to wake up mom.

When my wife made it downstairs, she was none too happy. I'm not sure what angered her the most—that I pressed my daughter to do an impossible task or that everything in our living room was dripping with slobber. She lectured me for the next hour about how we have to let nature take its course teeth will come when they're good and ready. I would have argued with her, but she was waving a dirty diaper in her hand—and you do not argue with a mom waving a dirty diaper in her hand.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized my wife had a point. Growing up isn't a competition, it's a celebration. We're always in a rush to see our kids walk and talk and throw a 90-MPH fastball that we don't take a moment to enjoy what they can do now. In my quest to follow my idea of the natural order, I failed to recognize that my daughter has developed her own.

So I apologized to Brittany and Ella and promised to ditch the competitive attitude and adopt one of lovingness and acceptance. It won't be easy; after all, I'm a guy. But I'm sure if I dig down deep I'll be able to set myself straight.

Minutes later, the phone rang. It was my sister.

"Christopher just sprouted his second tooth!"

"I bet Ella can fart louder than him."

I guess I need to dig a little deeper.

January 4, 2008

A Fresh Start ...

Every year I set nearly the same list of resolutions—write a book, lose weight, learn math—and by the end of the year I've not only failed at them all, I've gained 10 pounds. It's not like my goals are unreasonable, it's just that like most college-educated Americans I find it much easier to make excuses than extra trips to the gym. Thankfully, when the ball drops in NYC, I get a fresh start and a new chance to set goals I won't accomplish.

But when the clock struck midnight and we shook our noisemakers to ring in 2008, I spent less time thinking about my resolutions and more time wondering what kind of resolutions my five-month-old daughter would make. I know her mind doesn't currently work in goal-setting terms, but that doesn't mean she isn't ambitious. Take Christmas, for example. Santa meant very little to her, but her eyes lit up when presents were, well, present. And, without direction, she knew exactly what to do with them: grab present, unwrap present, eat wrapping paper. OK, so she may not have it 100% right, but she did show some cognition. Plus, as an added bonus, her poop came out gift-wrapped.

So the two of us sat down and had a heart to heart about our goals for the new year. I laid out my expectations of her physical and mental growth—including crawling, walking and talking—while she explained to me in no uncertain terms how she planned to pull off her sock and dunk it in my Mt. Dew.

After much posturing and negotiation, we agreed upon a list of 10 resolutions (each). They are as follows:

I promised to introduce healthier foods into my diet.
She promised to introduce solid foods into her diet.

I promised to keep my sense of humor.
She promised to keep her chubby cheeks.

I promised to learn all the lyrics to "The Farmer in the Dell."
She promised to learn all the lyrics to Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire."

I promised to work on my long division skills.
She promised to work on her crawling and walking skills.

I promised to keep my swearing to a minimum.
She promised that her first word would be "Dad."

I promised to watch "SportsCenter" a little less and "Dora the Explorer" a little more.
She promised to stop eating the remote.

I promised to stop poking fun at her huge noggin.
She promised to stop poking fun at my huge noggin.

I promised to give her alone time with her mom.
She promised to give me alone time with her mom.

I promised not to be too overprotective.
She promised not to date until she's 25.

And finally, the 10th resolution was not only the same for both of us, but also the most important: We promised to wake up with a smile each and every day. It's a resolution that should go without saying, but sometimes needs to be said. After all, no matter how difficult yesterday seemed, each morning the ball drops again and you get another chance at a fresh start.

I know that history is working against me, but if I work hard I think I can reach all my goals. I think Ella can too. Maybe this time next year instead of complaining about opportunities missed, we'll be celebrating our success.

Let's just hope I'm 10 pounds lighter when doing it.

The Life of Dad is updated most Fridays (barring the call of family duties). 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