April 19, 2012

Why One-On-One Time Matters: A Father-Daughter Date

My favorite children’s book of all-time is Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. I’d always ask my dad if it were possible to get a Truffula seed and plant one of those colorful trees in our backyard, to which my dad would reply, “Brian, it’s 4 in the morning, go back to sleep.” And I would, but I’d dream of those beautiful Truffula tufts. I’d also dream of Rice Krispie treats because I really, really loved Rice Krispie treats.

Ah, The Lorax. I've read the book to my kids a total of 200 bajillion times. They love it. Or, to be more precise, they love all the pages they can sit through before being distracted by the mounds of toys that are helping our living room furniture play an epic game of hide-and-go seek. To be fair, Dr. Seuss books are long and kid attention spans are not.

So when an ad for a full-length theatrical version of The Lorax raced across Steven, my HDTV, I excitedly told my wife, “I know you really want to make out, but I have to tell you of this idea I have first. I wanted to take our daughters to the movie with me." My wife pointed out that our 10-month-old was probably too young for a movie and that our oldest was seeing the movie with her BFF.

That meant only one thing: A Father-Daughter Date with my middle daughter, Anna. I was so excited. It's not often that Anna and I get to do things just the two of us. When you have several kids you find they usually come as a package deal. You can't just take one to the park. They ALL want to go to the park. You can't just take one to get ice cream. They ALL want to get ice cream. You can't just take one to the potty. They ALL have to go to the potty … at the same time … in the smallest of grossest public restrooms where, after awkwardly holding each one so no part of them actually touches the awful toilet seat, you realize that it probably would have been more sanitary to just let them pee in the car.

This rare one-on-one occasion had me pumped. I shaved. I traded my typical attire of cargo pants and a Cincinnati Reds t-shirt jersey for some slacks and a collared shirt. I cleaned out all the Cheerios and softball equipment from the car, and sprayed it with Febreze. I even put her favorite CD in the CD player. I wanted everything to be nicer than usual—after all, this was a date!

We exited our house and made it to the theater. The lines were long, but that didn't bother us much. That just meant more time for her to weave in and out of the movie-line ropes and more time for me to complain about ticket prices. With passes in hand, we ordered some food from the concessions. I wanted Anna's first movie-going experience to be authentic, and, as I'm sure you know, all movie-going experiences should include popcorn, lemonade and choosing the line that moves the slowest, causing you to miss the word jumble1 and previews2. Check, check and check.

As we entered our theater, the giant movie screen and stadium seating overtook Anna. She was in awe. I can't even imagine how overpowering it must have seemed to her. After testing out about 14 different seats, she settled on a pair about six rows from the back. We got comfortable, balancing our snacks on our laps, and watched as the movie started. Anna couldn't keep her eyes off the movie. I couldn't keep my eyes off of her. As desperately as I wanted to watch the adaptation of my favorite children's book, I just couldn't. There I was, with my middle daughter, my baby, all grown up in the blink of an eye, laughing at jokes that only kids 3-and-up would laugh at. Sure, she still had her short-attention-span moments where she'd get up and play with the arm rests. And she'd ask me to "pause" the movie so she could share her popcorn with me and I could share mine with her (which I happily did, because the "small" bag of popcorn I ordered was roughly the size of a couch).

I can't tell you too many details about the actual movie (thankfully I know the book by heart). But I can tell you that Anna and I snuggled in the seats for much of the movie. And I can tell you than Anna moved her drink back and forth between cup-holders about 75 times, amazed that both armrests had them. And I can tell you that we put our fingers under our noses and pretended they were Lorax mustaches. And I can tell you by the end of the movie, I knew this was the best date I'd ever been on.3

As we gathered up our belongings and headed out, Anna looked up at me. The smile on her face stretched from ear to ear. She didn't say "thank you," but she didn't have to. I knew she had a great time. How couldn't she? I pumped her so full of popcorn that if I pushed her belly button she'd be liable to dispense some. 

Truffula seeds are all around us. If you nurture them and love them, they will grow into beautiful Truffula trees who share their love with you too. The Lorax taught me that.

The Lorax also taught me and my daughter that finger mustaches are funny. 

Trust me, the answer is always Sandra Bullock.
Where seven of the 10 of them involve Sandra Bullock.
I wanted to make a joke here about a time when my wife and I saw a Sandra Bullock movie, but I would never admit to seeing a Sandra Bullock movie. Except for Speed. Speed was awesome. You should rent it.

April 5, 2012

What Joey Votto Means to Dads Who Love Baseball

Joey Votto and I have a lot in common. He plays baseball. I play baseball (er, softball). He’s tall, dark and handsome. I’m tall, dark and handsome. He made $5.5 million dollars last year. I fear my daughters’ weddings will cost $5.5 million dollars.

We are practically the same person.

Joey Votto is my girls’ favorite player. Has been ever since their great aunt Dale (who may just be #19’s biggest fan) bought them all Votto jerseys. When the Reds are on TV, Ella, Anna and (now) Mia generally ignore most of the game, and instead play with hair bands and build forts out of our couch cushions. But when Joey Votto steps to the plate, they all stop. They turn toward the TV and start to cheer, just as if they were at the game and the PA system sounded the horn.

Da da da dun da daaaaaaa!


They all shout. They all scream. They all ask why I’m frantically pacing in the background behind them, making it clear that they are not nearly as concerned about other unimportant things like “the score.” They clap and clap and clap until the end of every Votto at bat. No matter what the outcome, they still cheer as if he’d just won game seven of the World Series. Then they return to their regularly scheduled fort-building mission.

For the past two years I’ve been dreading one day. The day Joey Votto would leave. Growing up a Cincinnati Reds fan, I was spoiled. My childhood hero, Barry Larkin, was a Red for life. He played his entire career here. I watched him from day one to retirement, donning that Wishbone C above the rim of his cap. I played shortstop for my little league team because I was determined to be like him. If my mom had let me, I’d probably have worn my #11 jersey in the shower.

But players today, especially superstar players like Joey Votto, rarely stay with the same teams their entire career. And they never stay with small market teams like the Cincinnati Reds. So my baseball fandom had been clouded by a storm, ready to strike the day Joey Votto left, when I’d have to explain to my girls why. They wouldn’t be old enough to understand. They’d barely be old enough to drink from cups without sippy lids. But they’d definitely be old enough to be heartbroken.

That all changed this week. When the news broke that Joey Votto had signed a contract extension with the Reds worth nearly as much as it cost to build the Reds’ stadium, I nearly passed out. I didn’t think about the implications that contract may have on the future of the team or their chances of winning. I didn’t even think about bacon (and I ALWAYS think about bacon). All I could think about were my girls, and how they’d be able to watch their childhood hero play for their hometown team for the rest of his career. They’d be able to wear their #19 jerseys (which their great aunt Dale will continue to buy them) well into their grade school years. And we’d all be able to cheer him on together.

As a Dad, I want my kids to have heroes. Teachers, doctors, scientists, military members, firefighters, their mom, etc. In fact, I hope I even make that list one day. But there’s something special about growing up with a sports hero, someone who lets fathers and daughters and sons (and mothers) connect with each other--and with an entire city. They allow you to bring back fun memories of moments shared, which I did with my dad (and my mom, too).

And while no player will ever replace the spot in my heart that I have for Barry Larkin, it looks like Joey Votto will be carving out a brand new one that I can share with my daughters. It’s one that I will value forever and will last me a lifetime.

It will also make it easier to explain to my girls why I spent all their wedding funds on Reds tickets.

I kid … maybe.

Go Reds!

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Why Opening Day in Cincinnati is the Best Day of the Year

If you live in Cincinnati, Opening Day is special. It's the one day of every year that dads, moms, kids, firefighters, politicians, grocery story clerks, insurance salesmen and every other fine person in the Queen City come together and simultaneously play hooky. Everyone is excited. Everyone is doused in red. Cincinnati Red.

As a lifelong fan and a father who believes that it's never too early to brainwash your children into loving baseball, I've been preparing my two young daughters for months. We practice all the cheers. We do the wave around the dinner table. We recite batting statistics over pretend tea parties. We go through our Spring Training routine. Ask my girls to name their favorite player and they'll both yell "JOEY VOTTO!" Ask them who their second favorite player is and they'll yell "DADDY!" To be fair, I did finish 4th in my softball team's MVP voting—though that had less to do with on-the-field performance and more to do with paying my league fees on time.

I've made such a big deal about it that the girls can't sleep. They lie awake at night chatting, chanting: Opening Day! Opening day! We can hear it through the monitor.

"Do you think we'll get pretzels?" one asks.

"Do you think we'll get ice cream?" the other asks.

"Do you think those kids will ever fall asleep?" my wife asks. I'd respond, but I'm too busy reading the latest Reds insider update from John Fay on my smart phone—in bed. I like to keep myself informed so I can be the first one to second-guess Dusty Baker's line-up. Of course, my closest friend beats me to the punch and drops me a text.

I have missed baseball so badly.

The big day finally arrives. Doesn't matter if outside it's cold or overcast or still dark out because excitement overtakes you and you wake up at 5 a.m. (a solid two hours before your alarm is set to blast "Centerfield" by John Fogerty); what matters is that inside it's warm and sunny and rounding-third-and-heading-for-home weather. It's like this in every Cincinnati home. Except maybe Mike Brown's.

The kids wake up and put on their baseball garb.
Jerseys? Check!
Red wristbands? Check!
Reds hats? Check!

"Not on your life," says your wife.

With an extra skip in their step, the kids come downstairs and devour a bowl of red-only Fruit Loops (that hour spent sorting out colors the night before was totally worth it). They drink cups of red milk, thanks to a little food coloring. They eat better and faster than usual. The glow from their smiles carries all the way to the car. And, just like that, our family is ready to go.

An entire winter has come and gone and we are Play-Doh'ed out. That's why the car ride to Great American Ballpark takes an eternity. We sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" over and over until the parking attendant takes our money. Within minutes, we're in the stadium listening to the "Star-Spangled Banner" and introduction of the ballplayers. My wife and I recall how the announcer used to roll his Rs when he'd say, "Jose Rijo." Finally the first pitch is thrown and my kids high-five everyone me, my wife, and everyone else whom they can reach with their tiny little arms. It's finally arrived.

Why do we get so excited about Opening Day in Cincinnati? It reminds us of tradition. It reminds us of when we were kids. It gives us a wealth of memories that we can share with each other and others around the city (say Jose Rijo's name and half the people in the room will roll the R in his name). But, most important, we love Opening Day because it gives us hope. Hope that this year will be better than the last—not just in sports, but in life. Hope that we'll get a chance to see something magical—on the field, off the field, on the Jumbotron. And hope that for just one day we can put everything else behind us and just enjoy life. We need it.

Welcome back, baseball. My family and I (and the entire city) have missed you.

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April 3, 2012

My Little 3 Year Old

Happy Birthday Ms. Anna Banana. It was three years ago today when your mother refused to admit she was in labor because she "had some loose ends to tie up at work," and I paced around frantically, not able to think about anything but your impending arrival. When you were born, you were this tiny little thing. But today, three years later, you woke up and greeted me with this conversation:

Anna: "Am I three now?"
Me: "Yes, yes you are. Happy birthday!"
Anna: "Does that mean I start preschool today?"
Me: "Not yet. But soon."
Anna: "OK."
Me: "Why don't you go potty."
I start to put the Sesame Street potty seat up on the toilet, but Anna throws up a hand and waves me off.
Anna: "Dad, I'm three. I don't need that anymore."

They all have to grow up sometime. You just wish it didn't happen so fast.

 To Anna: You are sweet, kind, adorable and smart—just like your dad. Stay that way. Always.