December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas (& A Happy New Year)

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December 21, 2012

Letter of Recommendation to Santa 2012

Santa Claus

North Pole


Dear Santa,

What’s up, dude? How’s life at the Pole? Did you get that email forward I sent with the 25 Funniest Autocorrects of the Year? I know, right! I, too, laugh every time I read the word “boobsicle.”

Anyway, I know we’re pretty close to Christmas and I’m a bit behind, but I’ve been holding off making my Naughty or Nice List recommendations for the kids until they finished their Christmas shopping and I was positive that they didn’t buy me a terrible gift, like necktie or framed photo of John Stamos. And, according to my wife, they didn’t: mostly because their “Gift For Dad” budget was $3.75. Also, I know our Elf on the Shelf, Snowflake, hasn’t made any trips back up North to report in on the Klems kids, but it’s for good reason—he’s kind of creepy. We’ll try again next year, I promise. 

So I’d like to take a minute and tell you about their achievements this year in my annual Christmas Letter of Recommendation. Here it goes. 

My oldest, Ella, has had a pretty good year. She graduated from preschool. She started kindergarten. She learned to read. She figured out how to tell time, thus pointing out each and every instance in which I was trying to sneak the girls to bed early so I could get back to playing on Facebook reading classic novels. She’s had her not-so-nice moments, where she takes 45 minutes to get ready for school in the morning (keep in mind she’s 5) and only finally puts on her uniform after I say, “For the ELEVENTH TIME, get ready for school!” I get frustrated but my wife says to calm down. After all, she says I’ll look back on this time fondly during her teenage years and say, “I remember when it took Ella only 45 minutes to get ready. Those were the days.”

My middle daughter, Anna, has probably had the most amazing year of all. She’s quietly adjusted to having an older sister who’s pretty loud and a younger sister who’s even louder. She started preschool. She learned how to write her own name, help me make pancakes, say the evening dinner prayer and sing every word to the Theme from Growing Pains. Mike Seaver would be proud. She’s also become my grocery store buddy. Every time we need something, she always offers to come along and we simply have the best time. Sometimes I think I intentionally forget the milk just so we can run out again. 

My youngest daughter, Mia, has covered a lot of ground in the past 12 months. I’ll run through the list. Walking? Check! Talking? Check! Starting to use the potty? Check! Being able to get most of her dinner in her mouth instead of on the floor? Kind-of-check! She’s also learned to give some of the kindest hugs and sweetest kisses, even if they are with her mouth wide open and slobber dripping out the side. 

And finally, no need to get my wife anything. She hasn’t used her gift from last year. It’s still sitting under a giant pile of sweatshirts and thermal wear, trapped inside the pristine Victoria’s Secret box it came in. In fact, if you want, you can take the giant pile of sweatshirts and thermal wear and distribute among the elves. Consider it my Christmas present to you.

As for me, 2012 was a pretty amazing year. I ran a half marathon. I lost some weight. I changed my haircut for the first time in years, shaving it really short, trying to mask my baldness with additional baldness. I cut back on the number of times in a day that I use the word “amazeballs.” And I made giant strides in reaching some of my dreams; so while 2012 was amazing, I expect 2013 to blow it out of the water. 

In the words of my good friends BTO: Trust me, Santa—you ain’t seen nothin yet. 

I recommend that everyone in my family be treated with love and kindness this holiday season. You don’t have to reward them with lots of gifts, just take a minute to help them appreciate how lucky they are to be surrounded by folks who love them and look out for them 365 days a year. That’s the best gift anyone can ever receive—running slightly ahead of getting a pet elephant named Bruno, which would be amazeballs.

(Sorry Santa … some habits are hard to kick.)

Thank you and Merry Christmas,

Brian A. Klems

Founder, CEO and Potty Training Coach of Team Klems

P.S. - Say "hi" to Mrs. Claus for me. Also remind her that it’s her turn in Words With Friends. I’ve been waiting patiently. 

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November 28, 2012

The Elf on The Shelf

When I was growing up, we didn't have a lot of things that kids have today. We didn't have iPads or iPods or TVs the size of Texas. We didn't have text messaging. We didn't have Twitter. We didn't have Stefon. We didn't even have the 100-plus flavors of Doritos that kids have today—we only had three: Nacho Cheese, Cool Ranch and Found Under the Couch.

We also didn't have The Elf on the Shelf.

If you haven't heard of The Elf on the Shelf, you are not alone: There are at least three other people in America who haven't and one of them is probably this guy. The Elf is supposed to help encourage your kids to be good during the Christmas season. Let me briefly explain how it works: Elf sits on shelf. After kids are in bed, Elf flies to the North Pole (presumably on Delta) and delivers behavioral reports to Santa. Elf flies back and sits in a different spot, unequivocally proving to your kids he left your house and visited Santa. 

There are only two other important notes to The Elf on the Shelf: 1. Your family is in charge of naming the Elf and 2. Kids are not, under any circumstances, allowed to touch the Elf. If they do, his "magic might go and he won't be able to fly to the North Pole, and thus Santa won't hear all he's seen or what he knows."

In other words, if you're a bad kid, you better touch that Elf. Several times. (Of course, if you're a bad kid, you probably touched it anyway.)

This is our first year to have The Elf on the Shelf. My wife's lovely Aunt Lisa bought our girls one assuming it would get her out of buying me a Nintendo Wii U.1 After discussing the story of The Elf on the Shelf with our kids, we let him out of his box.

"What should we name him?" my wife asked the girls.

An assortment of names were offered up. Buddy. Skippy. Bob. Simon James Alexander Ragsdale the 4th. Little Tony. Fart (Thank you Ella). Twizzler. Jeff.

But throughout the naming process, my daughter Anna—who's generally a very opinionated 3-year-old—remained surprisingly silent. Her eyebrows were arched high above her overly opened eyes. She gripped tightly onto the arm of my wife. 

"Anna, what's wrong?" I asked.

"Does he really come to life at night?" She tripped over her words and shook with fear. The excitement of the Elf on the Shelf was gone and had been replaced by anxiety. It's as if we had opened something super scary, like a box labeled "Monster in the Closet" or a box labeled "Two and a Half Men, Season 7." 

Attempting to change the mood, I spoke up.

"Anna, what do you think we should name him?" I asked.

"Uh … um … Snowflake." 

"I like the name Snowflake." I had hoped this personal connection would help calm her worries. So I tried again. "What if we try Snowflake out for a night?" 

There was a pause. Then she shook her head "no" so hard that I wasn't convinced I'd ever be able to get her to stop. 

Ever the compassionate sister, my 5-year-old turned to Anna and said, "Don't worry, Anna. It's not really real. He's just plastic. See?" Then she poked him with her finger. "I bet he doesn't go to the North Pole and parents just move him around at night."2

"Don't touch it!" screamed Anna and she burst into tears.

My wife and I were suddenly caught between a rock and a stinky diaper. We could argue with our eldest daughter that the Elf was, in fact, real, but at a price: Anna would be scared further. Or we could admit that the Elf is just a toy, thus calming her fears, but completely defeating the purpose of the Elf and taking away all the fun. (This thought was super depressing because I had big plans for that Elf. BIG. PLANS. Like this.) 

My wife tried her best to calm Anna and I attempted to crack Ella's skepticism, but neither worked. All we did was upset both of them even more. So, as Dad of the house, I made an executive decision that would alter the course of the evening.

"Who wants marshmallows?" 

"MARSHMALLOWS!" cheered the girls. And with that, they all rushed into the kitchen, including my 18-month-old Mia who had no idea what a marshmallow was but, based on her response, definitely wanted a piece of that action. 

So, with a heavy heart, I packed Snowflake back in his box. I gave him the, "It's not you, it's me" speech but he would have none of it. He just gave me the silent treatment. He also gave me the finger for naming him Snowflake.  

Christmas is intended to be a fun, happy holiday, and it didn't make sense to me to introduce this controversial character into our home when one daughter is scared of him, one doesn't believe in him and one would only care about him if she could eat him. He may have a future at Klems Manor, but not this year. This year he's headed back to the basement to live with our other unused Christmas decorations, dirty laundry and 1,500 rolls of toilet paper I've stockpiled from Sam's Club.3

It's back to simpler times at Klems Manor, where the colorful lights and a decorated tree are all we need to celebrate this fine Christmas season. Well, that and a Nintendo Wii U. (I'm looking at you Aunt Lisa).
1 It doesn't.
2 My 5-year-old Ella is cut from the same skeptical mold as her father. I bet in her free time she also disproves e-mail forwards.
3 I'm prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse. Are you?

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

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November 5, 2012

Happy Halloween 2012!

Just in case you were wondering, my girls kept with their long tradition of going out for Halloween as the least scariest kids in the country. My oldest daughter stuck with her Disney-princess theme and went as Rapunzel. My youngest daughter dressed as a Love Bug (which is one step shy of dressing like a rainbow). My middle daughter at least made an attempt when she chose to be Cookie Monster. But, as I told my wife, I don't quite remember Cookie Monster wearing a dress.

I hope everyone had a safe, happy Halloween this year and all parents remember that it's their God-given right to institute the Candy Tax on this year's intake.

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October 25, 2012

Are Your Swim Lessons This "Fun"?

A little known fact about me: I come from a long line of floaters.

My dad was a floater. My grandma was a floater. At the 1896 Olympics, my great-great-great-grandfather, Cornelius Klems, won a gold medal in competitive floating. (He also won gold in other long-forgotten sports, such as chariot racing and thumb wrestling, but neither carried the prestige that the competitive floating gold medal did.)

So when my wife suggested that we sign the girls up for swim lessons I thought, What a great idea! It's time to start them on their path to floating stardom!

What I didn't realize was that a typical night of swim lessons would go like this:
  • Rush home from work to eat dinner before lessons start.
  • Tell kids to eat dinner quickly so we can get to swim lessons on time.
  • Watch as kids eat slower than they've ever eaten before in their lives.
  • Try to change kids into their swimsuits while they are still eating their dinner.
  • Get yelled at by wife for putting wrong swimsuits on kids—and for putting them on inside out.
  • Say "We need to go!" for the 12th time.
  • Ask wife if she wants to get in the pool with the girls.
  • Wife laughs hysterically and tells you there's no way she's putting on a swimsuit. Says something about looking like "manatee."
  • Nod in agreement. (BIG MISTAKE!)
  • Wife throws swimsuit at you and says "Get ready."
  • Put on swimsuit, look in mirror and confirm what you always suspected: You are a dead ringer for David Beckham.
  • Say "We need to go!" for the 97th time.
  • Get out to the car and race to swim lessons.
  • Arrive at swim lessons and race to the pool.
  • Ask kid if she needs to pee before getting in the pool. She says "No."
  • Get in pool with kid. First thing she says to you upon entering the pool, "I need to pee."
  • Get out of pool and take kid to the potty.
  • Get back in pool and think to self, Woohoo! We finally made it. This should be fun!
  • Spend the next 30 minutes getting splashed in the face and kicked in the sternum.
  • (Know that somewhere, up in the stands, your wife is taking pleasure in this.)
  • Help the swim teacher (who is awesome, by the way) sing London Bridge is Falling Down. Do an excellent job on the first verse. Fail miserably at singing the next 11.
  • Pay close attention to the clock on the wall and countdown the minutes until class is over. Swear you will never come to swim lessons again!
  • Then notice that your kid, the one that has beaten you up for the last 30 minutes, has laid her head on your shoulder ... and started to float!
  • All is right in the world.
  • Class ends. Hand kid to wife. Smile, like any proud dad would, and take in the moment as your wife wraps kid tightly in a towel. Know that all the chaos and kicks to the sternum were worth it.
  • Wife tosses next kid onto you in the pool. Kid immediately says, "Dad, I have to pee."
  • Repeat process ... brace sternum.
Sometimes the things we do for our kids are stressful, frustrating and (somewhat) destructive to our health. But the best parents do them anyway. Why? Some say it's because we are crazy. Others say it's because we are super crazy. But the truth is, we do it because we love our kids. We love teaching them important skills like how to swim and how to float and how to avoid accidentally calling their mother a manatee. Deep down, we love swim lessons. We love anything that not only teaches our kids something valuable but also makes them smile. That makes us smile, which allows us to feel like all our hard work is worth it. At least, that's how I feel.

And if any of my three girls ever wins an Olympic gold medal, I can brag to everyone that it all started years ago at swim lessons. And I'm almost certain everyone's response will be:

"Oh my, has anyone ever told you that you look exactly like David Beckham!"

Don't I know it.

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October 17, 2012

Parent Pop Quiz: How To Survive Kiddie Quizzers

Some days I feel like my kids talk only in questions. It’s as if they’ve turned parenthood into one long high school English exam that I’m almost certain to fail. Of course I can answer the easy ones like “What day is it?” and “When do Pitchers and Catchers report to camp?” I can even handle a couple of toughies, like “Where do babies come from?” (The correct answer is: Fake a heart attack). But what I am never prepared for and eats me alive—and probably eats most other parents alive too—are the daily Kiddie Quizzers that my daughters throw my way.

A Kiddie Quizzer is when one or more of your kids approaches you somewhere where you are trapped, like in your car or when you are secretly reading your wife’s Entertainment Weekly in the bathroom, and starts asking questions at a rapid pace. The questions can last anywhere from 5 minutes to the length of an entire car ride to your in-laws’ house. These questions can be about anything and can be completely unrelated. There are no right or wrong answers; there are only answers that lead to more questions. For example:

Daughter: Are we going anywhere today?
Me: No.
Daughter: Why not?
Me: We need to clean the house.
Daughter: Why do we clean the house?
Me: Because it gets dirty. Can you give me a minute? I’m using the bathroom.
Daughter: Why does it get dirty?
Me: I don’t know. Your mom says it gets dirty and we need to clean it, so we do.
Daughter: Why does mom say that?
Me: Good question.
Daughter: Why is that a good question?
And so on.

As you can see, no matter how you answer, your child will counter with another question. This can be maddening, particularly on the drive home from work when you are already trying to pull off the Commuter-Multitasking Trifecta: Pay attention to the road, control the temperature of the car so everyone is “comfortable” and calculate the mathematical scenarios of yardage plus TDs that will lead your fantasy football team to victory. There just isn’t room for you to focus on a fourth thing. If there were, it wouldn’t be called the Commuter-Multitasking Trifecta. It’d be called the Commuter-Multitasking Trifecta Plus Another Thing.

I’ve tried many methods to defuse these Kiddie Quizzers, but none of them work. I attempt to ignore the question, but that only leads to my daughter repeating the question over and over again.

Daughter: Can I have a pony?
Me: (silence)
Daughter: Can I have a pony?
Me: (silence)
Daughter: Can I have a pony?
Daughter: Can I have a pony?
Daughter: Can I have a pony? (And put this on repeat until you answer her!)

I’ve also tried to respond to her question with my own question, but that doesn’t work either:

Daughter: Can I have a pony?
Me: Do you deserve a pony?
Daughter: Yes. Does that mean I can have a pony?
Me: Where do you think I can get a pony?
Daughter: At the pony store. Does that mean I can have a pony?

I asked other parents how they deal with Kiddie Quizzers and their answers ranged from “I hide in the closet” to “I send them to grandma’s.” But even those tactics have major flaws (closets often smell like feet and grandma’s house often smells like old-people feet).

The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that through all the madness it’s hard for me to get too upset. Kids are just curious by nature. Hell, I’m curious by nature, just ask my wife. I’m sure she’d point out that 90% of our conversations go something like this:

Me: Can we be romantic tonight?
Wife: No.
Me: Why not?
Wife: You smell like Nacho Cheese Doritos.
Me: Don’t you like Nacho Cheese Doritos?
Wife: Yes, with sandwiches.
Me: Can we be romantic if I make you a sandwich?
Wife: No.
Me: Why Not?
Wife: Because I’m not hungry … and you still smell like Nacho Cheese Doritos.
Me: Would you prefer Cool Ranch?
And so on.

So when you are faced with the onslaught of a Kiddie Quizzer, know that it’s not the end of the world. It’s also probably, in part, your fault for being so darn knowledgeable about everything (as all Dads are). Your goal here is survival, and the only way I’ve learned to survive Kiddie Quizzers is to just keep answering them (no matter how crazy they make you) and pray that, eventually, through your thoughtful answers and brilliant retorts, you’ll bore your kid to sleep.

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September 26, 2012

Why Celebrating "The Clinch" Wasn't Easy

There are important moments in your life that are unforgettable, like the time your child takes her first step or when your wife utters those three words that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside: “You were right.”1

It’s also an unforgettable moment when your favorite sports team—the one you’ve been rooting for since before you took your first step—has the opportunity to win something big. You want to savor that moment because, unless you are a fan of the New York Yankees (27 Championships) or Green Bay Packers (13 Championships) or Union Institute & University Men’s E-Level Softball Team (3-0 start to the fall session!), these moments are few and far between.

On Saturday evening, my Cincinnati Reds had the opportunity to clinch baseball’s National League Central title. The game was sold out, so I planned to watch it at home with my family, like many households who have three kids under the age of 6 do. I had been talking up “The Clinch” for a weeks, as the magic number kept shrinking. I set up a card table in the living room so the whole family could watch The Clinch as we ate dinner. We never eat dinner in the living room like this, so it was a unique opportunity for my kids to drop food and spill drinks on the carpet. They took full advantage.

As the game drew to a close and the team was on the verge of winning, I became more glued to Stephen, my HDTV, than ever before. I had been imagining this moment for weeks: the final out is made, I cheer, my wife cheers, my daughters cheer, we all high-five and rock-bump and dance in celebration. We toast our drinks and promise to name all future pets “Mr. Redleg.” Then we watch the postgame celebration all night until the kids fall asleep on the couch. And, after putting them to bed, my wife would give me the “you are one fine piece of eye candy” look and we’d continue the celebration privately.

That moment sounded beautiful and unforgettable, just as I wanted. Then I woke up.

For the final three innings of the game, my youngest daughter, who is currently cutting teeth, screamed. And I mean SCREAMED. And no matter how much we cradled her or how many teething biscuits we gave her or how in-depth I explained the importance of The Clinch to her, she could not be soothed. I offered up one final solution, though my wife was not interested in “seeing how loud the volume on the TV could go.”

My middle daughter, whose favorite part of watching baseball on television is the airing of restaurant commercials that feature Rosie Red, sat to my right, impatiently awaiting The Clinch.

“Will we see The Clinch tonight?”
“I think so!”
“I can’t wait to see The Clinch. Do you think The Clinch will wear a Reds hat like Rosie?”
“I bet The Clinch will be furry.”
“Sweetie, I don’t think …”
“I bet The Clinch’s favorite player is Joey Votto, just like me!”
“The Clinch isn’t a mascot, it’s …”
“It’s not like Rosie Red?
Eruption of tears and waterworks.

I would have continued this conversation if it weren’t for my eldest daughter, who glared at me from across the table.

“Dad, you said if I ate all of my dinner I could have TWO Twizzlers.”
“That’s right.”
“Well, I finished all of my dinner.”
“No you didn’t. There’s still half the meal on your plate.”
“I finished most of it.”
“Hun, can you wait just 30 seconds. The Reds are about to record the final out and …”
“But you SAID I could have two Twizzlers!”
“Please, can you just wait …”
“But you said …”
“If you say ‘Twizzlers’ one more time, you can’t have ANY Twizzlers!”
Eruption of tears and waterworks.
“Mommy … (sniffle sniffle, heaving breathing) … Dad … said … I … Can’t … Have … ANY … Twizzlerrrrrrs … ”

At that exact moment, my brain exploded. My plans to celebrate The Clinch, much like all plans made by parents, imploded right before my eyes. The final out wasn’t welcomed with cheers and high fives. It was overshadowed by screams and throbbing headaches. I watched as the players on the field built their victory mountain, piling on each other one by one. I looked back at my three upset children, each one with very reasonable concerns, but terrible timing. I couldn’t help but feel like this celebratory moment had lost its shine. I felt cheated.

Then it happened.

“Hey, the Reds clinched! Woohoo!” said my wife, and she extended her arm and waved to me in a high-five fashion.2 I lifted my hand. We smacked them together. My wife was genuinely excited for The Clinch, but I think she also could tell that, after the drubbing I was taking, I needed a lift. And that’s what amazing wives do: They high five you when you need it most.

The Clinch will forever be unforgettable to me—not for the teething screams or the Twizzler complaints or the crushing realization that The Clinch isn’t huggable—but for how my wife saved the day with one simple high five. It’s a testament to how important she is to me and to our family. She is amazing.

I am one lucky piece of eye candy. (Go Reds!)

1 If this happens more than once, write a letter to Guinness. You may be the world record holder.
2 This is noteworthy because my wife never high fives, not even on the rare occasion that they accidentally allow her to double up on Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons. 

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September 7, 2012

The (First) First Day of School

The first day of school is a time of change, of new beginnings, of new morning routines that cause family members to rush out the door forgetting something quasi-important, like a bookbag or pants. This causes both you and your wife to place blame:

Wife: “I would have helped our child remember her bookbag if you would have helped make her breakfast or pack her lunch!”

You: “I would have remembered my pants if my legs weren’t so darn sexy!”

And so on.

As you get in the car and start to drive, you finally pause for a moment and take in the fact that it’s your child’s first day of school. And for the lucky few of us who have young children, it’s our child’s first first day of school. It’s the first time you get to hold her hand as you walk to the classroom. It’s the first time that bookbag--which is three times the size of her body--bounces up and down as she excitedly leaves you behind at the door. It’s the first time you let her go. It’s also the first time in your life that you ever shed a tear, because as men we’ve never, ever cried before in our lives. (Unless you are a Cubs fan, then you probably cry all the time.)

This wasn’t the first time I’d been through a first first day of school with a child, but it was the first time I’d been through a first first day of school with my middle daughter, Anna (though she did look adorable when she tried on her sister's bookbag two years ago). Like most three year olds on the morning of, she glowed with a healthy mix of excitement, joy and nervousness. She slid on her outfit--the one she had hand-picked--ate her breakfast and was ready to go faster than any woman has ever gotten ready to go in the history of time. (I kid. Kind of.) Her enthusiasm was admirable and something I shared. I had dreamed about her learning new songs, reading new books, spelling words and understanding sign language, all things my eldest daughter had learned in her time there. I asked Anna what she had dreamed about. She replied “Snack time.”

We pulled up to the school and her eyes lit up, as if we were staring at a big building made of cotton candy. Her best friend, who was also about to experience her first first day of school, came running up to us and laid a big hug on my daughter. Their excitement was overwhelming.

“We’re going to school!” she yelled.
“I know!” my daughter yelled.
“Do you like my bookbag?” she yelled.
“Do you like my bookbag? my daughter yelled.
“Did anyone notice that I got my haircut?” I yelled.

Apparently the excitement is reserved strictly for those under 3. Which is a shame, because it really was an awesome haircut.

The teacher finally opened the door and waved us all in. My wife, who had shown up moments before, took Anna’s hand and said “Are you ready?” Anna shook her head yes. I shook my head no.

You see, sending your child off to school will happen a lot over your lifetime, but sending him or her off for the first time is a one-time thing. It’s a moment you’ll never get back, so you have to soak it up as much as you can. You need to remember how amazed she was to see her name on her preschool locker. You can’t forget how she wandered around the classroom in amazement, playing with all the toy phones and dry erase boards she could get her hands on. You need to smile when she excitedly points out that there’s a tiny toilet and sink in the bathroom that are “just her size.” These things matter. Take it all in, because this is the moment you begin to set her free. And once that process starts, there’s no stopping it--no matter how you try. (And trust me, I try all the time.)

I know I can’t keep Anna small forever (or any of my daughters, for that matter), but I can keep these memories and hold them close to my heart forever. And when she’s grown and heading off to college, I can recall her first day and tell her about it, walking her through each moment step by step. I’ll start to tear up. Maybe she will too. I’ll look her deep in her eyes and say, “Anna, I love you so much and am so proud of you.”

She will look deep in my eyes and say, “Dad, if you ever try to drop me off at school without wearing pants I will disown you.”

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August 13, 2012

Why All Kids Need Musical Instruments

As many of you know, I’ve always been musically inclined. I learned to play a select list of Christmas songs on the piano when I was in grade school. I took to the guitar in high school, writing teenage angst songs that caused my mother to say to me, “I didn’t realize you knew so many big words! That high school English class is really paying off.” And now, in the twilight years of my rock-and-roll career, I’m a professional shower singer, belting out tunes that impress my wife—well, would impress my wife if my wife were impressed by the savory theme songs of classic 80s sitcoms (especially this one).

The musical genes are ingrained in my DNA, which means they are also ingrained in the DNA of my daughters, which is unfortunate for my wife. You see what I hear as beautiful music my wife mistakenly interprets as “super loud, obnoxious noise.” She claims it gives her things like “headaches” and “a reason to drink.” But to me, it’s an extension of what is right in the world.

You see, my kids are growing up way too fast. My oldest daughter is about to start kindergarten any day now. My middle daughter starts preschool in the fall. My youngest daughter is communicating using sign language, able to sign the words “more” and “please” and “I’m hiding my finger in a hole on my face and you have to guess which one.” (Hint: It’s her nose.)

Musical instruments bring music into the home and bridge the language barrier from kid to adult. They are something we can all play, even if not very well, so long as we’re willing to try and have some fun. That’s why I encourage it to great lengths. That’s also why I bring to you the very first video from the band Bring Back Balki Bartokomous (aka “4B”) called “We’re Making Noise.”

(Obviously they get their lyric-writing skills from me.)


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July 20, 2012

The Playground Olympics: What Every Dad Needs to Know to Survive

Every time I take my kids to the playground I feel like I’ve been entered into an odd sort of Olympics, where I’m competing with all the other dads in the park to see which one of us can get hurt first. There is little training involved and the closest thing you get to a gold metal is a Band-Aid.

From the moment you arrive at the park you eyeball every square inch, hoping to steer your kids toward the area closest to a bench. Your kids will have none of that, though, because they know playground designers always put the most death-defying (and most popular) park amenities as far away from the benches as possible. The only people who ever get to actually sit on park benches are grandparents and dogs, both of whom abide by the motto “Wake me up when it’s time to go home.”

For the first 20 minutes at the park, you are nothing but a human safety net. You hustle around the park from tower to tower, covering as much ground as you can, following your kids as if they were high-flying trapeze artists attempting aerodynamic acrobatics that would make even Evel Knievel nervous. Sometimes you have to wiggle between park structures, ducking under platforms and squeezing between poles, just to be there when your kid decides that the other side of the playground looks much more fun.

But once that 20 minutes is exhausted, the kids home in on a few pieces of dangerous playground equipment that not only represent the four basic Playground Olympics events (The Monkey Bars, Slides, Swings and The Water Fountain) but also will cause you to max out your health insurance deductible in one night.

Let’s examine each one of the events so you know where you’ll be competing and where to place the ice pack.

The Monkey Bars
This beacon of athletic prowess is something you’ve done hundreds of times before--when you were 10. Now, in an attempt to impress your kid and to show all the other dads in the park you’ve “still got it,” you grab a hold of the first bar and make your way across. Well, you make it two bars in before you hear a loud pop in your shoulder and think to yourself, That can’t be good. You drop to the ground in agonizing pain and immediately notice the intense muscle strains in your arms and ripped skin on your hands (from holding the bars super tight). Worse yet, you can’t allow anyone else to know you are dying, so you high-five everyone--except for grandpa, of course, whose shoulder is still intact and is sleeping comfortably on the bench.

The Slides
Much like dads, slides come in all shapes and sizes. There are short slides, steep slides, tube slides, twisty slides, side-by-side slides and Wasn’t-Meant-To-Be-A-Slide-But-Kids-Are-Sliding-Down-It-Anyway slides. There are three ways to injure yourself on any one of these types of slides.
Injury #1: Standing at the bottom of the slide, waiting to catch your little angel as she comes down. Just before she reaches the bottom your wife will almost certainly call your name, to which you will take your eyes off the slide just long enough for your angel to barrel into your shins like an angry soccer ball with teeth. If you look around the park, you’ll notice several dads wearing shin guards. Now you know why.  
Injury #2: In an effort to prove your manliness, you decide to climb up the slide. Of course, you’ve already forgotten that you pulled your arm muscles on the Monkey Bars which keeps you from holding on. You fall, face first, into the the rim of the slide. This isn’t as painful as it’s sounds. It’s more painful than it sounds.  
Injury #3: At some point your child will ask you to go down the slide. This is the moment you realize that slides, which come in all shapes and sizes, don’t come in “dad-size.” When it happens, I recommend pretending that you meant to get stuck. And, once you wiggle out and make your way on down, find a nice, quiet place to inconspicuously dig out the underwear that’s wedged so high up your keister it makes thongs look prudish.

The Swings
Swings seem so safe and so simple, but all it takes is a little pressure from your kid (“Swing me higher!”) and few Herculean pushes for a swing to come back and hit you right in the face. And as you grab your nose to see if it’s broken, BAM!--the swing hits you in a place that makes getting hit in the face seem like a blessing.

The Water Fountain
Once a Water Fountain is spotted it becomes the focal point of any kid who is old enough to know what it is and young enough to still need your help to reach it. Your child will not take into account that you are sore, bloodied and exhausted from the rest of the Playground Olympics. No sir. She’ll come to you, every 4.6 seconds asking you to lift her up so she can take a drink, spray you in the face with water, kick you in the stomach and put her mouth directly on the faucet, which will cause your wife to yell at you for precisely 11 days. Worse yet, when another kid (who isn’t yours) notices that you are helping at the Water Fountain, he’ll walk right up to you as if you work there and your sole responsibility is to lift kids so they can quench their thirsts. You’d be furious with his dad for allowing this to happen, but he’s currently scouting the woods for safe wedge removal locations.

The Playground Olympics take dedication and perseverance. They’ll also leave you with great stories to tell your other dad friends: 

See that scar on my knee? Summer games of 2010. I was only 3 rungs shy of completing the Monkey Bars before my shoulder dislocated and I landed on a shattered beer bottle. Should have seen the standing-O I got from the crowd when I walked off the playground on my own accord. It was legendary.

Legendary indeed.

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July 13, 2012

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

My eldest daughter turns 5 next week and she requested a Cinderella cake. To get a quick outline for it, my wife Googled "Cinderella images." While they all were good, one stood out from the rest. (Click the image for optimal viewing.)

Unfortunately I don't think there's a cake big enough to rock that hair.

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June 26, 2012

Diary of a Half-Marathon Dad

I started running for the same reason everyone starts running: I wanted to be able to wear super short shorts in public. Once that dream was realized, I had to set loftier goals. That’s why, as part of my Year of Amazing resolutions, I set out to conquer a half marathon. 

I know what you’re thinking: Is a “half marathon” the name of a new bacon-covered Burger King burger? It’s not—though, if it were, I surely wouldn’t need any training to conquer that. The half marathon I trained for was a 13.1 run that spanned the beautiful city streets of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. It’s called The Flying Pig marathon, named after the official bird of Cincinnati. (Ironically, it’s named after the official pig of Cincinnati too).

The route included the street behind the sports stadiums, two bridges, the monstrous hill through Eden Park and a volcano. Well, maybe not a volcano. That may have been me hallucinating around Mile 7. But I had been training for months, running mile after mile, uphill both ways, in the snow and with permanent blisters the size of Nevada.

I had never been a runner before, nor had I ever even thought about running as a sport I could invest myself in. In the past I cracked jokes about people who ran for fun. But with my body starting to take the shape of a flying pig, I figured it was time for me to take my health a little more seriously. Or, at the very least, burn enough calories to eat large quantities of Doritos Locos Tacos.

During the half-marathon I kept an inner journal of the race that I’d like to share with you here. I must warn you, though, there are no more references to Doritos Locos Tacos. (I know, I’m bummed too). Here it goes. 

The Starting Line: My nerves were shaking as I stood there at the starting line, next to one of my closest friends who not only supported me so much throughout my training, but was also running that day. We waited for our moment. The gun sounded. We crossed the start line and wished each other luck. Then he took off like Doc Brown’s Delorean, blazing off at an unprecedented speed and disappearing into what I can only assume was the future. I, on the other hand, trotted along at a pace envied only by Snuffleupagus. 

Mile #1: Only a few steps in I see crowds of people clapping and waving signs, saying things like “Good luck runners!” and “You can do it!” and “Worst Parade Ever!” Feeling very motivated. Ready to conquer the world. 

Mile #2: Still feeling good, but the motivation is starting to dip. Bridge is ahead. That should create for a fun run and beautiful view of the city. 

Mile #3: Bridge was a BIG mistake. Completely uphill. Did not realize Northern Kentucky was built on a mountain. Make promise to self to only vote for political candidates who are pro downhill bridges. 

Mile #4: OMG, I’m only on mile 4!?! Feels like I’ve been running for a week. Sweat has already soaked through my shirt. And my shorts. And my brain. And it’s not even 7 a.m. yet. 

Mile #5: OK, settle down Brian. Five is your lucky number. It’s the number that carried you to stardom in little league and a championship in the inaugural Bar Game Olympics of 2004. It’s also the number of blisters you can feel forming on the inside of your feet. 

Mile #6: Grabbed a water from a water stand and feel refreshed. Not sure what to do with cup. Everyone is throwing them on the ground, but that’s littering. I don’t litter. Briefly consider eating it. 

Mile #7: I see a volcano. Everyone is running toward it and jumping in the hole at the top. They are being applauded by unicorns. I think I have lost it. My will to finish isn’t strong enough. I can’t go on. This magical moment of my life is over. I’m crushed and so mad at myself. Loser. Loser. Loser. 

Mile #8: Then, as I rounded the corner into Mile 8, I saw this:

And this:
And this:
And this and this and this:

These weren’t just any fans, they were my fans. My super fans. My daughters. My wife. My sister and nephew. My close friends. They were there to support me. I couldn’t let them down. What kind of example would I be setting if I gave up? I need to finish. I will finish. And for each remaining mile, I’ll keep them in mind. So I reminded myself that ... 

Mile #9: I’m doing this mile for Ella. She starts kindergarten soon and needs to know that any challenge is conquerable if you put your heart and soul into it. There will be times you feel like it’s too hard, but it’s the hard that makes the accomplishment great. 

Mile #10: I’m doing this mile for Anna. She starts preschool in the fall and needs to know that you can’t fear trying new things, even when your big sister isn’t there to guide you. It’s the act of trying that will make your life experiences even better--and you’ll be happier for it. Trust me. 

Mile #11: I’m doing this mile for Mia. She can’t really talk much yet but when she does, I want her first full sentence to be “I’m going to be awesome like my dad.” (I’ll also accept “My dad is my hero” and “I’m voting for Dad for President of the House.”) Being awesome means ignoring the moments of self-doubt that inevitably creep their way into any amazing journey. Stay positive and reach your dreams. 

Mile #12: I’m doing this mile for my wife, family and friends who have supported me throughout this quest of mine to become a runner. Without your support, I wouldn’t be super awesome. I’d probably be only kind-of awesome. 

Mile #13: I’m doing this last one for me. This past year has been hard. Really hard. There isn’t a day that goes by that my heart doesn’t ache a little. It’s been a long road with unexpected challenges, new experiences and moments of self-doubt. But I’ve worked tirelessly to make it through. More tirelessly than most will ever know. And it feels good to know that I’ve survived, just like I’ve survived these past 13 miles.

I looked directly up at the Finish Line banner as I passed under it. For the first time in a long time I allowed myself to stop and take in the moment. I teared up. It was nice.  

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