Category Archives: Parenting

Tagged and Bragged

A school in Washington State recently attempted to correct a long neglected problem by banning the illicit activity known throughout the school yards as “Tag” (full article here). This so called “game” involves the incredibly dangerous practice of running down fellow classmates in an attempt to strike them with a taunting declaration of “you’re it”. This “tagged” individual is then compelled to further spread their “it-ness” to other victims like an infectious disease. The need for action was obvious; no good can come from propagating this horrific tradition.

Luckily this is not the first school to take such a decisive stance against the dangers of play. A district in San Diego was legally motivated to prohibit another playground plague known as “Red Rover”, where a child is repeatedly taunted until they throw themselves into their tormentors. Barbaric. Many districts throughout our great country have finally begun to recognize the threat that these activities pose to our precious youth along with the other more obvious blood sports such as dodge ball, and snowball fights. There is no question that this trend needs to continue; there are still many dangers lurking outside our double-insulated, suburban front doors. For example, with no regard for child safety, parks and playgrounds continue to install climbing bars that are much too high and slides that are much too steep, inviting ample opportunity for broken bones and skinned knees. Clearly these threats need to be removed. Even the benign looking sandbox offers the ever-present threat of blindness and accidental exposure to cat poop.

We need to teach our kids that youth is not to be wasted on silly, dangerous games that invite self-discovery and social interaction. We are trying to rescue them from the tragic fate that awaits all who engage in these physical experimentations; bike riding, fast walking and aggressive standing have all been linked to a shortened life expectancy in laboratory rats who really have no business being on bikes in the first place. We need to be proactive about safety not just for the survival of our children but for the survival of our very race. But this is not to say that we should prevent kids from having fun, on the contrary there are plenty of perfectly safe alternatives for our kids to engage in, such as sitting quietly under a tree,… as long as they are sitting upon a properly laundered drop cloth, dosed in triple digit SPF sunblock and maintaining enough distance from the tree to avoid splinters and squirrel cooties.

Please help spread the word so that we can avoid the mistakes of our parents who lost an entire generation of children to “The Great Tag” and who foolishly allowed frolicking to go unchecked until it became the devastating plague that historians now refer to as “childhood”.

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Baking Made Less Easy

Its starts with a simple thought; “let’s make cookies”. Unlike the vacuum of space where no one can hear your scream, the mere mention of cookies reverberates from every surface in the household until it sparks a small stampede of toddler toes. Sometimes I think they’re just part of the required baking equipment like a spatula or measuring cups; I need only to set down the Kitchen Aid mixer on the counter and turn around to find two new attachments hopping excitedly on either side.

Accepting that this will not be the efficient task I originally imagined we line up at the sink to remove a temporary layer of dirt from my volunteer assistants. I acknowledge that any attempts at full sanitation with be short lived, so we go through the motions mostly to encourage the concept of proper hygiene. We also have a rule regarding no touching and no coughing in or around the mixing bowl. Like Vegas, “What happens in your nose stays in your nose.”

The girls march back to their assigned step-stools with hands raised in the air like surgeons ready for operation. This is an appropriate state of mind because in the spirit of fairness every task must be precisely divided between them to avoid malpractice claims and disruptive hissy fits. One holds the whisk, while the other scoops the flour. Trade off, and the other whisks the flour while the first takes a scoop. One unwraps a stick of butter, the other unwraps a stick of butter. Crack one egg, crack one egg. I have specifically selected recipes with ingredients easily divisible by two. If your “Coco-loco Chocolate Chippo Cookie” calls for 1/3 cup of flour, it ain’t gonna happen in this kitchen, bucko!   And so it goes with tag team pouring and measuring right down to an even division of labor where one will lower and lock the mixer and the other will turn it on. As the plumes of flour settle about the kitchen so too do we settle into a predictable rhythm of sharing; taking turns fishing out egg shells and wiping off the sugar-coated counter surfaces to create the sugar-coated floor surface. Let it not be argued who was able to brush away more sugar onto the floor.

As we near the end of the process the real motivation behind my eager assistants becomes clear with our two important cooking concepts; “quality control” and “taster finger”. Quality control requires that key ingredients like chocolate chips and marshmallows be carefully scrutinized for taste and freshness. This requires a random sampling of say 3 to 30 pieces to ensure proper consistency. The “taster finger” is a related quality check on our resulting batter to prevent fingers (which are predictably dirty at this point) from plunging outright into the bowl. No sooner is the paddle attachment removed from the mixer than eager fingers descend upon it like a swarm of hungry piranha cleaning the carcass down to the bone.

As lips and fingers are licked clean (or dirty) and I prepare to start scooping out the cookies we proudly admire our shared creation. The grease smeared grins that spread across their faces more than makes up for the added hassle of managing these little cookie monsters; It was all worth it in the end. And just as I’m filled we a sense of fulfillment there comes the abrupt inevitable sneeze directly into the batter. Time to start again.

“Who wants to be the first flour scooper?”

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One in the Can

To all those who have ever experienced the undeniable, bowel wrenching need to sacrifice both your attachment to cleanliness and a small piece of your sanity in order to face the wretched conditions of a public restroom and heed the call for gastrointestinal relief you can appreciate the contrasting experience of heeding that same call in the comfort of your very own bathroom. No need to step over that hobo in the doorway. No need to question the random drips sprinkled about the stall. No need to gather a heaping handful of individually dispensed tissue squares to wipe away the sense of ick.   At home, in your private sanctuary, you have the clean seat, the tidy bowl, the stack of outdated yet unread magazines and the perfect combination of wipes and extra quilted paper for your delicate behind. It is the nirvana of potty breaks.

That is, of course, unless you live in a house filled with a motley assortment of teens, tweens and toddlers, in which case the home front is likely filled with bathrooms that are only one small step above the public facilities,… and that one small step is probably the hobo in the doorway which, thankfully, we rarely need to worry about. We do however still have the random sprinkling of drips and, more often than not, a clogged toilet. Could it be the carb heavy, fiber free diet of the average American youth or perhaps the California drought friendly low flow toilets that contribute to the maddeningly frequent clogs? I have no idea the cause but I’m quite familiar with the frequency. Approaching any toilet in the house is a paramount to visiting that old aunt that nobody likes and wondering if this is the visit that will find her face down in the kitchen with her four cats nibbling away at her recently deceased body. You approach cautiously, taking a tentative sniff at the air, deciding if it’s worth a peek to confirm your worst fears or if it would be better to just assume the worst and call in the cleanup crew now without further confirmation. I mean really, who needs to see that. Bad kitty!

To prepare for this inevitability every bathroom in the house comes equipped with a fully functional plunger. Each child knows what a plunger looks like and has at least a passing knowledge of how the thing works. And yet, none of them will make the effort to use one unless forced to at the end of a disapproving parental finger wagging in the direction of the offending clog.  More than that, not only will they not take action to clear said mess but they will all religiously swear that they were nowhere near the crime scene at the time of the incident. A unanimous chorus of “it wasn’t me” can be heard ringing through the halls. Alibis having nothing to do with anything start to percolate; “I haven’t been upstairs all day because I twisted my ankle during presidential testing in PE.” Accusations redirect blame to other random suspects; “I suspect Colonel Mustard, in the bathroom with the lead brick”.   This is a crime scene that no one wants to investigate. There will be no CBS series called “CSI: Downstairs Bathroom”. In the end, nobody cares. The residing adults play a quick game of rock, paper, plunger and whoever loses two out of three deals with the problem while somewhere in the house an unknown child giggles knowingly to themselves.

I just don’t want to think about it. I lose enough sanity dealing with everyone else’s mess, I don’t need to face that in my moment of need too. This is why no child is allowed in the master bathroom. I don’t care if every other bathroom is occupied (or clogged) and you just chugged a 32 oz. Gatorade on a dare. You can wait,… or discover the joys of operating a plunger. Whatever the supposed emergency at least one room in the house needs to be reserved for our little parental nirvana. Our blessed little brood may not care about trivial things like aiming or flushing, but those indiscretions will not be tolerated when I’ve intentionally avoided the public stalls in Costco only to race home with legs crossed and I need to know that a safe haven awaits me minus any potential clogs or hobos.

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Mean Cuisine

I would like to propose a new show for the Food Network; “Kitchen Swap – Iron Chef Edition” where top professional chefs and their picturesque TV kitchens trade places with random normal folks and their overused overpopulated suburban kitchens; Watch as Bobby Flay spends 25 minutes trying to find which drawer someone has hidden the good spatula in. Watch as he struggles to navigate the kitchen tripping over dogs and dodging Nerf bullets. Meanwhile watch as I casually prepare a full weekend brunch sipping a cocktail in the fully stocked kitchen with not a single interruption or distraction to be had. Ok perhaps more of a personal fantasy then a show pitch but it might help me to appreciate cooking again.

It had actually crossed my mind (albeit a quick sprint across the mostly vacant frontal cortex) to make this a cooking blog instead of a,… whatever this is. I could have been the next Pioneer Woman, minus the ranch, cattle and womanhood. I could have posted pretty pictures of culinary creations if I were actually capable of taking pictures half as good as the Pioneer Woman and if said creations weren’t just modified versions of stuff the Pioneer Woman has already posted.   “Ranch House Chili” lacks a certain credibility when coming from a computer programmer living in the suburbs. In all honestly I actually love to cook and have made a few recipes my own over the years or at least have waited out the fame of the original chefs enough to make my claims uncontested. The real problem comes in the form of 6 painfully picky eaters. I mean to the extent that 90% of their diet can be defined as ‘carbs and cheese’ with the remaining 10% being pure sugar. I can spend 3 hours preparing a delicious Coq au Vin only to have the kids push it aside in disgust and ask for seconds of the butter noodles I made as the side,… and then proceed to inform me, butter dripping from their chins, that the noodles would go great with frozen chicken nuggets, which in turn gets a boisterous roar of approval from the others, the very same boisterous roar of approval that my deluded mind somehow thought I’d hear for making the savory homemade chicken with a sauce reduction. “They’re both chicken for god’s sake!! Quit your bitchin and eat!” screams my inside voice, while my outside voice says with just a dash of bitterness “Fine! Eat your butter noodles, but don’t expect the Ranch House Chili tomorrow!” To which they respond with another boisterous roar of approval.

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Parental Major / Parental Minor

During the initial stages of divorce you are forced to break down parenting duties into very impersonal numbers; “child 1 and child 2 are henceforth declared to be in the custody of parent 1 65% of the time and parent 2 35% of the time”. When you’re married you are simply a parent. There is no real break down in time or responsibility. Even if I have to work from 9 to 5 to pay the bills with only evenings and weekends to hit the park scene or build a Lego death star, I’m still considered an equal parent to the stay at home mom that suffers through multiple mealtimes and pickup patrol throughout the day.  I am the dad, with the sacred privileges and duties that come along with that. No matter if I’m bread winner or caregiver, my parental role is unique.

Once those impersonal legal numbers of are defined though everything starts to change. The distinction now is painfully evident to my kids. I can no longer emerge from my office to scoop them up for an adventure in the backyard or crash a tea party already in progress. Now, just as they are getting settled into whatever is keeping them entertained at mom’s house they are told to stop suddenly, pack up a few precious possessions and prepare for the trip to dad’s house. Their attitude for this transition I’m sure is mixed; sometimes they may really look forward to the change and sometimes not so much (I gauge this only from my experience on the other side). For my older son he can vocalize either reaction, but also we had enough experience together under the same roof that out relationship is pretty well established. My younger daughter though probably does not remember much before the divorce, so daddy is someone who lives outside her home. In her mind mommy is the main parent. Not only does she spend the majority of her time with mommy but there’s also the obvious bit about younger ones just needing that mommy-bond. Ok fine, mommies are always number one at that age right?! But again it’s different when the distinction is made so evident. When you’re under the same roof, the little ones may be thinking, “Who is this other person who gets me stuff and lets me drool all over him. He’s not my mommy but mommy seems to like him, and we’re ok with anything mommy’s like”.

Things start to get even more interesting once we introduce more parents into the mix; step parents. A title already made prickly by so much bad press, becomes more pokey when viewed from both sides of the split. In our household, we try to embrace the title for each others’ kids. We want to give them some label to attach to our new partners without stepping (pun intended) on any toes. I don’t want them simply calling me by my first name, but I also want to keep sacred the name and title of “daddy” for their biological dad. That all seems perfectly rational when I’m the one making the distinction but any mention from my kids of their “step-dad” makes me break out in hives,… and by hives I mean an irrational juvenile anger that spawns competing desires to either kick him in the balls or deeply embarrass him with a well-timed pantsing.

They say a child benefits from every additional person that loves them. That’s all well and good, and I guess on the surface I really have no problem with that part. For me it’s more about my ever diminishing role as dad for my own kids. How is my youngest supposed to understand the distinction now? It’s one thing for me to be their only dad, and just living outside their home, but accepting that the role of dad, in any degree, is now being played by someone else when they are not with me just grates on my happiness.

Really though it’s not his fault; No matter how appealing the groin shot or the public humiliation I need to consider that he’s doing nothing wrong. As far as I know he’s not actively trying to diminish my role or steal my title. I need to keep this in mind and be empathetic on both sides, understanding how hard it must be for the father of Nicole’s kids being away from his kids and understanding that the step-dad to my kids is doing the best he can. It’s my own damaged ego that’s really at play here anyway. I am mad that my ex, through her actions, has forever altered the relationship that I will have with my kids.   It’s different now and I just need to accept that.

Back here on the home front I am the minor parent with my kids but share the major parent role with the other kids and so I’m the minor parent to the major parent (or in Office terms my title is not “assistant major parent” but rather “assistant TO the major parent”). My authority and jurisdiction are bestowed on a case by case basis. Often times I’m no better than the 7 year old “informant” who just tattles on the other kids and suggests, in a passive-aggressive way, that they get severely busted. Granted I never envision myself as the “Father Knows Best” head of the family type who sits behind his desk in the study and dispenses justice to his wobbly kneed offspring who have been sent in after repeated threats of “just wait until your father gets home!” I don’t want to be the “bad cop” in this scenario. I’m fine with “passive-aggressive, tattling cop”.  And I guess underneath all the ego/anger issues I’m really ok with all of the parental roles I’ve been given. I just need to focus less on the numbers that label me a lesser parent and instead focus on how much I can give to all the kids in my life with whatever time I share with them.

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