I can sleep anywhere, but I usually don’t

Buckle up folks, I’m starting off with another stupid band story!

When I was 17, I joined an all ages marching band (DCA group for you band nerds) that ran out of Florida. It was semi-professional and tons of fun, but this is all irrelevant to the point of the story which is that during the summer we took a trip to Allentown, Pennsylvania for the finals of that year’s competition. It was there that I shared a hotel room with two great friends. Yep, they really were two amazing guys, which is why it was such a great moment to open the door of the hotel room and see the single, queen sized bed. Now I don’t really recall how it was determined who would sleep where, but I very much remember that due to the extremely high occupancy that the hotel had run out of extra pillows and blankets.

And that’s the story of how for 3 nights during the summer when I was 17, I slept on the floor of a hotel with the comforter off the bed, and a phone book for a pillow. I don’t always sleep, but when I do, I sleep hardcore.

Over the years, my sleeping quarters have become much less painful, but none the less a place where I feel like I’m the odd man out.

I guess it really started my freshman year of college. I moved into an apartment with my good friend from high school. Much like any college apartment, we had some furniture, but most of it was scrounged up second hand from other people or simply the stuff we’d had forever. For me, that meant my bedroom stuff. My old twin bed, which was actually part of a bunk bed set that my brother and I shared on and off as kids, and is now William’s bed. One night stand, which I think was my Grandma’s, and the newest thing I owned was my computer desk. We were very excited to be out on our own, and all was well till I got a phone call from my Dad that would change my life forever.

“Your brother is getting a new bed, do you want his?”

My brother had a full size bed. You could tell he was more adult than me because he had two night stands instead of one. This was a pretty cool moment for a college freshman out in the world. I got that bed moved in, and that’s where it all started to go down hill. You see, every night I spent in that bed for the next 2 years was magical. As I’ve hinted at (and more to the point, since as far as I can figure, 99% of my current readers know me – tell your friends to stop on by!) I’m a short man, and for me, being in a full sized bed alone felt like I had my own little island. So much space! I could have every book from every class I was taking on the bed and opened with all my notebooks and still have plenty of room to sleep! Amazing! No one told me when I was growing up, to enjoy the feeling of stretching out in bed.

A year after the bed became mine, I bought a pug. A tiny little puppy pug, and she and I shared my little island for a year. I had lots of fun with her. She used to love to snuggle up under my chin, so sometimes I’d be a bit mean and turn around so she’d walk all the way around me to get back into her spot…at which point I’d turn around again.

About a year later is when Melissa entered the picture. Now for quite some time, my pug did not approve of the new lady hanging around. To be certain we were aware of this at night, she would sleep between us horizontally. So the bed looked like an “H”. It was slightly less comfortable than I was used to, but there was a woman in the bed so I opted to not complain.

Shortly after, pug 2 entered the picture, which also added the 4th body in the bed at night. My first pug was totally okay with Melissa by this point, having decided that Melissa was not going anywhere and that Melissa would give her treats sometimes, but for whatever reason the sleeping arrangements were getting worse. By 2005, about 6 years after getting my amazing island paradise, I was sleeping (truthfully) with about 2 inches of my ass off the bed. Enough to know that it’s off the bed, but not enough to feel like you’re about to fall. Folks, if you’re gonna sleep with your ass hanging off the bed, 2 inches is pretty damn perfect.

When we moved to Idaho, my Dad made us a deal. Give him the full size bed, and he’d buy us whatever new one (reasonable priced) we wanted. Perfect. King size it is! AND! For about 3 years I enjoyed the kind of sleep that you can only get from a bed that has enough space to accommodate your entire body. Then Melissa got pregnant…and a new pal joined us in bed.

Pregnancy does a lot to a woman’s body. I empathize, I really do. So when Melissa said she needed a body pillow, we got one, and I know it helped her quite a great deal. Especially in the later months. I, however, couldn’t help but notice that my awesome happy funtime king bed was suddenly sectioned off in a way that every part of my body was at the very edge of the bed. It wasn’t so bad, until I’d wake up and my face was just right at the edge of nothing as if all the oxygen on top of the bed was used up so I was struggling to get air from the side.

Then after the second pregnancy, when the body pillow was no more, the night time crying adventures began. Sometimes William, sometimes Carter. We’d get them in bed with us, they’d calm down and often fall asleep, which is when I realized, “Hey! Cool! I have no room at all! The fact that I’m still on the bed at all is simply the bi-product of clinging on to the shirt of my child and hoping that I don’t take us both down…lest we start this all over again!” So now, I hate the bed a little bit. I never know when I’m going to be able to use it as a bed. I no longer think of it as the place for sleep. That honor has moved to a different piece of furniture.

I guess the point of all this, and what my advice would be to anyone in the same position as me…

You can get some amazing beds if you’re willing to spend over $1000 on it. Lots of support, I hear that memory foam stuff can be amazing…but for me? I’m investing in the couch.

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Thanks Tigger!

The guys over at 8 Bit Dad said on twitter recently that, “If we don’t post everyday, it means we’ve been putting family first.” Man I love that. You wouldn’t believe how far I had to scroll back on their twitter feed to find that quote. I am awful at twitter. There’s too many hashtags floating around, and I’m never sure if I have to virtual hug the person who talks to me or just move right to the cuddling. So confusing. Sometimes I have to step back a little and remember that blogging is something I’ve been making an attempt to do for only three months. I’ve been a parent for more than three years now! Just how parenting came before the words in real life, parenting must continue to be the primary focus over the blog. I put a lot of pressure on myself as a “new guy” in the world of dad bloggers to get a little attention without being in anyone’s face about it all. The biggest part of that is posting, and there are moments where I feel bad that I didn’t get a chance to finish something on a particular day. I’ve asked a few people for advice and then quickly left those people alone so they don’t feel I’m like the annoying kid brother who just wants to follow them everywhere. I know that guy, I’ve been that guy, and people want that guy to go away. I even know a few people who do quite well with their own personal blogs, and I refuse to ask for pointless plugs that are apropos of nothing they would ever talk about normally. I’d love a larger audience. I’d love to power through post after post, but in the end I am a dad first and I have a long way to go in this process. Feeling a need to apologize for my parenting getting in the way of a post is a bit stupid.

This week really let me take that idea to heart. I’m gearing up for my new babysitting adventures, which will start on Monday – wish me luck! I’m also making some changes to my diet and exercise program, namely, having a diet and exercise program. I’m tired, I’m busy, and in the middle of all this are my boys. William has finally, finally, found a way to get out of his shell more. He’s talking more to us, instead of just near us. He’s turning into a boy who wants to do things! It’s so exciting, and when he wants to live out his imagination, I’m ready to join him. I really love it.

I made a comment on my facebook page the other day explaining why I might not be getting a new post up, and people seemed to love it. My assumption is that everyone thought it was sweet, and not that people were glad to have a break from me. So I thought I’d expand on our very important search the other day.

Several months ago, it was announced that Disney Junior was going to turn into a full-time channel. Melissa and I were overjoyed with that news. Why? CLEARING THE DVR! So many Mickey, Jake, Manny, and Little Einstein episodes clogging our system. So a full channel devoted to those shows and more, made us a happy pair. Of course, it took a while to be offered in Idaho, but we have it now! Along with all the normal shows that the boys were familiar with, came a few new titles as well as some Disney movies.


One of the movies, which I had never heard of, was “The Tigger Movie.” It was released in 2000 and as best as I could find, is the only movies involving the “Winnie the Pooh” characters where Tigger is the main focus. I’m not going to go into the details of the movie, though I will say if your child likes that silly old bear, they will enjoy this story. All you need to know for this is that at a point in the movie, Tigger and Roo are bouncing through the woods looking for Tigger’s family by yelling, “Hello? Tigger’s family?! Come out, come out, where ever you are!”

For several days, William had been saying something that typed out probably looks like this, “Comeonah iya are!!” Having my minor in toddler linguistics, I really felt like I should be able to figure out what that meant. I had no idea. Till one day we were watching the movie, again, and William joined in at that scene with Tigger and Roo using his gibberish version. That is William’s idea of, “Come out, come out where ever you are!” So now it was no longer confusing, just adorable.

With my role as William’s playmate becoming more and more involving, it generally means he wants more time playing with puzzles or drawing in coloring books…or any books. This week though, thanks to the folks at Disney, he had something else in mind.

I had just put Carter down for his nap, and William was running around in a mild panic downstairs having finished watching The Tigger Movie…again. While to me it was downstairs, to William it had become the world of his friends from the hundred-acre woods. I’m almost surprised that I was not scolded for tramping on flowers or splashing in puddles as I took that final step off the stairs. Honestly, I was hoping for a moment of rest or a chance to check over the latest post so I could publish it before we dove into play time. Not that day. William reached up for my hand, and I was not going to tell him to wait. For a few moments I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to be doing, then William called out, “Hello? Tigger’s Fam-wee? Comeonah iya are!” Ah! We’re looking for Tigger’s family, and since William was leading me, I assumed he was Tigger which made me Roo. Stick the short guy with the little character. Funny, son.

So we searched. And we searched. I mean, our house is not exactly big so there was a few laps made. We hopped a little and we checked in some of the drawers, but just like in the movie we never did find Tigger’s family. All in all, our adventure probably lasted less than 10 minutes, but it was the first time William has ever pulled me into his world. In those moments, time really wasn’t the important thing, and running spell check on some goofy write-up wasn’t something I was going to worry about when we were working so hard to find a family of Tiggers. I made sure to reiterate a point made in the movie, that Tigger didn’t need to go searching for his family, they were right beside him all along. It’s true that I will always be here for my kids, but still, I’ll go looking for that elusive family tree whenever William is ready to bring me along again. I hope he does.

So yes, if you’ve found your way to my exit on the internet turnpike, I do hope you’ll stay a while. I hope you enjoy what you see, and I even hope you’ll recommend me to a friend. Perhaps even lots of friends?

But.

Know that there are days where I’m in search of a huge, striped tree filled with bouncing Tiggers of every color. There are days when I’m sharing a blanket with a special little man to watch Sheetrock Hills put on their brand new play, “Snow White and the Seven Tools.” Some days I’ve just got too much dad life going on, and that has to happen before any of this.

To the next adventure!

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What Can I Say?

If you are reading this right now, it’s important to know that I appreciate you. I’m thrilled that you have given some of your time to read my stories. My last post seemed very well received and was passed around by a few people, and I appreciate that too. The problem, for me, is after you post something that is a rather sweet, heart-felt moment between a father and son, it’s hard to know how to follow that. When I started writing this blog, I went in with every intention of keeping things real and honest, so there’s no way I’m going to make post after post about adorable little antics as if it’s a day to day thing. Likewise, my post for Metro Music Therapy in Atlanta, completely destroyed what I consider to be my “normal” amount of page views on an average day. Still, the long term answer can’t be selflessly giving out information (however much I believe in it) on the great things my friends have gone on to do with their lives. I only have so many friends, and sometimes I’m sure I have even less than that.

So the question remains – how do I follow up a post that found a great reception? How can I live up to the hype?

I probably can’t, but what a great chance to let out a little crazy for the sake of not worrying about a “great follow up post.” I was hesitant to talk about it, but Melissa insists that there are other people like me in the world. I don’t mean stay-at-home dads, I mean parents who’ve seen far too many episodes of their kid’s cartoon programs and have started to put too much thought into it. There is no rational way to ease into this topic, so I’m just gonna go for it.

Ev’s Crazy – Episode 1 – Handy Mannyhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handy_Manny

  • Manny’s name is Manuel Estevez Garcia III, named after his father and grandfather (“Abuelito”), but while we see Abuelito all the time, there is only a small mention of Manny’s father. Equally his mother is only referenced once in the show and still we have no clue what happened to either of them. Better yet, there was an episode where Manny went to his family reunion and there was STILL no discussion of his parents. What the heck?
  • While we’re talking about family there is a specific episode where Manny’s sister Lola tells him ,”You’re my favorite brother!” to which Manny responds, “Lola! I’m your only brother!” Much later the character of MANNY’S BROTHER, Ruben, is introduced. How does that work? What the heck?
  • Parents who watch the show have long speculated on the relationship between Manny and Kelly, the owner of the hardware store. Questioning if they were ever going to get together. The makers of the show have insisted that making such a leap would not work with the show dynamic. They said things needed to remain open-ended with all the characters to ensure that the story for the characters wouldn’t really need to evolve. It’s a common issue for cartoon shows. It’s how “The Simpsons” has been on for over 1000 years and yet there is still a baby on the show. In a recent episode, Abuelito and Mrs. Portillo suddenly got married. These two characters have never really had any major interaction on the show, let alone something that would hint to the audience of any romantic connection. Even within the episode they hint at Kelly and Manny having feelings for each other. What the heck?
  • Kelly’s hardware store is basically two doors down from Manny’s workshop. In an episode, Manny and the tools need to get some glue, and bring it back to his shop. To do this, he puts on his work gloves, tool belt, trademark pencil in his ear (that he never seems to use), and loads the tools up in the tool box. To get a little bottle of glue. Two doors down. What the heck?
  • Why does Kelly carry absolutely everything on the planet? Why can Manny buy car parts at a hardware store? I’m willing to get on board that she somehow has everything they need to fix various home projects, but would you really look to the local hardware store to carry baskets to go on a scooter? A crank specifically for a BINGO wheel? All these odds and ends, and yet she had to order Manny safety goggles, which took a month to arrive. They have a store that sells ONLY gloves (Handy Hut) and yet the hardware store is where you go for a popcorn kettle? What the heck?
  • I worked for a construction company for a while. When you’re in that line of work, you start to mass a collection of various things that you know you’ll use later. Manny has jars of nuts and bolts around his workshop all the time, yet somehow he never has nails. He has the perfect amount of lumber for a job in his truck somehow, and yet needs to stop by to see Kelly if he needs goggles or a hardhat or glue. What the heck?
  • How was Manny able to restore a race car with a saw, two screwdrivers, a monkey wrench, a pair of pliers, a tape measure, a hammer, and a flashlight? What the heck?
  • The majority of characters appear single. There’s a disturbingly small number of couples. There’s something sort of creepy about Sheetrock Hills. There’s a sort of sinister quality to children appearing who seem to have no parents and a level of acceptance regarding potentially fatal situations. What the heck?
  • What is the deal with Mr. Lopart? He is the source of many issues throughout town. He’s in a constant state of failure and refuses to allow people to help him. Wouldn’t there be a point where you would stop asking if he’d like some assistance getting his foot unstuck from a bike rack or getting down from a tree? What the heck?
  • The Sheetrock Hills economic system. No one pays for anything. Ever. There was one episode where Manny was supposed to be preoccupied and was leaving the hardware store when Kelly reminds him that he hadn’t paid yet. I could hear every parent in the world screaming, “How is that different from every day ever!” Seriously, what the heck?
  • There’s an episode where Manny is drooling over a pair of gloves in the hardware store. The tools decide to try and get enough money from random places in Manny’s shop to pay for them as a surprise. Obsessed with getting enough money, Squeeze sees a coin in a sewer and while trying to get it, falls in forcing a very suspenseful rescue. At the end of the episode, the mayor ends up giving Manny a pair of the much coveted gloves. Manny quickly tries them on, much to the delight of everyone. Those gloves have never been seen again. One of his talking tools falls into a sewer for him trying to raise the money to get him these gloves, and when he gets them he doesn’t even have the common courtesy to wear them once in a while? What the heck?

I have plenty more, but not the desire to make this point that long. PLEASE, leave comments below if you’d like to keep the good times rolling, but keep it to Handy Manny. There will be other days where I need to vent some crazy, and so we’ll get to the other shows later. Seriously though, help remind me that while I may be going crazy, some others are going through the same kind of crazy. Furthermore, don’t let this scare you off, I’ll be back to more “normal” topics soon.

Thanks again for all the patience with posting lately! Adding Bonus Baby to the mix has given me some amazing perspective of parenting, but sucked the life out of me at the end of the day. I have a new level of respect for parents with lots of kids at lots of ages. If that means you, I think you’re amazing.

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Some days, you gotta dance

Some of my favorite blogs are written in a way that allows a ton of information to come across with very little effort into the words. It might be more work than I understand, but either way, I tend to be a bit wordy. However! This is a short one, I hope you folks enjoy the break from my normal novel style of posting.

Sugar – Flo Rida
Nuttin but Love – Heavy D and the Boyz
Heroes of Our Time – Dragonforce
I Would Do Anything for You – Foster the People
Life’s a Happy Song – Muppet Soundtrack

To the best of my knowledge, this is the list of songs that William has loved at some point in time. It’s an odd mix, yes, but I like music and tend to be all over the place with things I listen to. Every so often William just latches on to something.

After lunch today I decided to get a little head start on some cleaning, so while William and Carter were watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, I got youtube up and going. My system for selecting songs on youtube is a very poor one. I start with something that I specifically type in and then I almost always click on the links to the right and just see where things take me.

Today it took me to “Love on Top” by Beyoncè. By the end of the song, William was on the stairs watching the video and was attempting to (I think) dance along. When it ended, I was greeted with the familiar “Play song!” from William which means…I want that again or I will scream all the screams.

 

 

So now that’s on the list…..

(I’m secretly okay with that)

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Are We Still Searching for a Better Father?

There’s was an obvious level of terror when Melissa and I packed our entire lives into box to move to Idaho. I had been out for a short visit, and all she had to go on was a few pictures and my very detailed description of, “It’s pretty!”

Recently I discovered that another gentleman (that seems way too pompous, but I’m gonna allow it), somewhere in Idaho, has been blogging about his experiences here in the “Gem State.” While he doesn’t seem to be a dad, he often talks about things that speak to me in different ways. Like me, he moved from a much larger city to the slow paced life somewhere in what I assume is the Boise area. Also like me, he seems to be struggling to adapt to certain aspects of being in an area that can feel out of touch with the rest of the world.

Truthfully, some of what he talks about on his website is just untrue. Sadly though, it’s easy to convince people that life in Idaho is some form of black and white cartoon centered around a potato. People in Idaho know what the internet is, and I even saw our Governor take what I’m certain was an iPhone out of his straw hat, check the time, and put it in his overalls. Life here is not all that different from them big fancy cities.

One thing does tend to irritate me about many of the people here – sometimes I feel unwelcome. While I find the idea that Idaho needs to “catch up” with the rest of the world to be a little short-sighted, the very concept of a stay-at-home dad is still perplexing to some people in this state. I think much of it comes from religious points of view. The idea that the woman’s role is in the household, but there has to be more to it than that.

It doesn’t really bother me that people around here find it a little odd that I’m the one at home with the kids. What bothers me is their need to bring attention to it. As a man in an area that does not seem to understand that fathers are also parents, it’s hard to find the balance between being offended by people who seem to look down on fatherhood, and not caring at all what they think. It’s not okay that people ask Melissa why she is not the one at home. It’s not okay that people ask me if I’m having a “day off with the kids” and then give me the most confused look when I explain that I’m a stay-at-home dad. I wish that confusion was limited to this state.

I don’t feel a big connection to many of the dad bloggers I’ve come across, but that has a lot to do with me not trying that hard to make the connections. Still, I’ve come across some great sites and done a lot of reading and one thing I’ve seen discussed a lot is that  dads are too often forgotten in the parenting world. There are still people who want to perpetuate the idea that fathers can’t be every bit as involved in the lives of their children as mothers. There are still people out there who feel like something must be wrong with Melissa and I because our “roles” are not reversed. There seems to be a nation-wide level of complacency to commercials, clothing, greeting cards, movies, TV shows, and more, all portraying dads as not only less important than mothers to kids, but fundamentally stupid when it comes to our children. We are supposed to be good with a hammer, not a hug. Good with a lawn mower, but not a frying pan. This has sadly become a common ideal in the minds of many people, and I really have to thank the amazing group of dad bloggers who have pushed issues of unbalanced views of fatherhood into the light. People are way too passive about underselling the role of a father.

See, there’s not much poking fun at moms going around. That’s a good thing, but I do think it’s time for people to stop pretending that dads are some sort of mute sidekick when it comes to parenting. Great fathers are everywhere, and I think most people are aware of that. So I’m confused at the companies who make efforts to pretend otherwise. What more can fathers do to stop the negative image for the people come up with this crap? How is it that with many great figures of fatherhood around, people are still searching for a better father?

Fun little exercise, open up your eyes a little wider when shopping, watching TV, or even reading parenting materials. It becomes surprising how many commercials paint a picture of the lost dad who needs mom to save the day. You’ll hear things like, “dad-proof” or “mother approved.” You’ll read that “even dad can get involved with this!” or “you’ll be surprised to know that there are things we can learn from dad!” or “it’s okay to let dad push the stroller even though he doesn’t understand how to dress your child.” Let’s not forget the amazing “parenting” books that have a “special chapter just for dad.” It’s quite sad, as a father, to need to defend your commitment to your children to faceless corporations and strangers who have turned fatherhood into a joke. A big thank you to the dads and  parenting blogs out there, fighting for our real place in the lives of our children.

Not every dad is perfect, but that applies to moms as well. Sorry world, but there’s a lot of great dads around. Our bad.

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The enemy of my enemy is I hate the ocean.

If the only thing we have to fear is, fear itself, it stands to reason that the majority of the things the average person is afraid of…is irrational.

I recently watched a show that went into the statistical analysis of how likely you are to die in a plane crash as opposed to a car crash. Despite overwhelming evidence that plane travel is immensely more safe, people who are quite happy to hop in their car every day are afraid of flying. I am one of those people.

There are people who lose it at the sight of a snake or a spider, any bug at all, a mouse or rat. Statistics say the family dog is more likely to kill you than a snake.

The dark is a very big fear for lots of people. As we all know, everything scary happens in the dark.

If something exists, someone else is probably afraid of it. I was gonna say there’s someone out there probably afraid of me, but it dawns on me that they probably aren’t afraid of me so much as being afraid of the fact that I’m left handed….SIDE NOTE TIME!

For centuries religious and cultural practices have deemed left hand users inferior. The word itself is derived from the word lyft, an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “weak.” During the times of corporal punishment in schools, teachers would often beat students caught using their left hand. In many third world countries where toilet paper is an issue, the left hand is considered the “unclean hand” since it’s the taught method to use your left hand to clean…yourself….after a nice trip to brown town. It’s said that those who fall out of favor with god stand to his left, which led to a variety of religious based nicknames for various groups…all which included the word “left.” Even today, the concept of forced conversion to becoming right hand dominate, is very common. Which has proven widely unsuccessful and often leads to several developmental issues. People are really stupid.

…anyhow…people are probably also afraid of my red hair, which of course means I have no soul.

Outside of flying, I do have one other fear. The ocean. The ocean and I have had a long term hate-hate relationship. Growing up in Florida, a short drive from several beaches, I certainly had a fair number of visits to the ocean. So over the years, as you might expect, I had some bad moments. When I was very young, I got knocked over by a big (big for a tiny little fella) wave. I didn’t like that very much. On a visit with my Church’s Youth Group, a bunch of us went out pretty far and had the pleasure of meeting a shark. I’ve never swam so fast to shore. I feel Olympic swimmers should compete in a pool that has sharks, to get the best possible times. One time I had my hand cut open by…something…in the water. I don’t even have a clue what it was, and I got probably a 4 inch long slice across my right palm. How’s that for unclean, right handers?

My biggest fear concerning the ocean would certainly be sharks. Maybe it traces back to the time I first saw the Sarlacc in Star Wars, but the idea of being eaten alive just never sat well with me, and experts have found that sharks investigate new things with a bite. Just because the shark may eat me on accident, doesn’t mean I have to be okay with it. It’s difficult, because like anything, I don’t want my hang ups to transfer to William and Carter for no other reason but, “Daddy doesn’t like that.” I don’t want to be the reason they don’t eat veggie burgers, I want them to find out how gross they are all on their own. It’s not very fair to cast judgement on sharks when they really haven’t ever done anything to me at all.

To be honest, I stopped watching at about the 47 second mark. Right when the guy said “Sharks don’t like people. Sharks don’t like to eat people.”

Now I know what he said is true, because he was on a news report, standing by the water. This makes him credible as an expert. Also he forgot to button his left shirt pocket. So obviously he’s got a knack for details.

Well, I am shocked. They don’t like us?! I can be down right delightful. That’s really not cool. We send all these nice people out into their home to place tracking tags on them…We give them things to play with and eat like license plates and hubcaps…We even immortalize them by making movie after movie where they (well CGI versions I guess) are always in a major role. I don’t understand what else people have to do to get on their good side. I’m just gonna say it, sharks are ass holes.

On the other hand, they have to be good parents. I mean, they don’t like to eat people, and yet they do. William never eats his green beans for me. I wonder what kind of reward or punishment system they are using.

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The Most Amazing Six Year Old I Know

Now 32 years old, I’ve become a little jaded to my birthday. I haven’t really “celebrated” my birthday in a long time. I’ve had people come over or go out for dinner, but I avoid much of a fuss. As you’d expect, it was a different story when I was little. I demanded wanted a big show. I wanted lots of people because that meant lots of gifts. I wanted a celebration of me! It’s an important thing to celebrate.

If you have never heard Patton Oswalt’s musings on when you should recognize a person’s birthday, go find clips. In short, he has joked that through your life, there is really a short list of birthdays you should be allowed to celebrate. I really like it, partly because it falls into my own mindset of, “I turned 32…so?”

Very much on the list are the young birthdays. Ages 1-10 where you are a little kid growing up. These are ages where you expect to see a kid begging for a party with loads of friends. You expect trips to Chuck E. Cheese, bowling alleys, parks, or even backyards. You might cringe at the idea of what you need to put into the favor bags so that when the kids all see each other at school next, your child hasn’t lost any favor in the eyes of the other kids based on the wrong flavor of lollipop. So certainly for a 6 year old girl, the pressure is on the parents to provide the pony for kids to ride or a slew of princess dresses for a group of little girls to wear for an evening and feel like they are in a Disney movie. For parents Cherie and Shawn Flowers, something very different was requested.

Shawn and Cherie have two kids. Daughter, Mackenzie and son, Brady. Cherie is an amazing photographer and, like any proud mom, loves to take pictures of her kids. These photos tend to make their way across my facebook feed. Which I hate. Let me preface this with, I love my boys and I think they are as adorable as six puppies hugging seven kittens. Additionally I think their little boy is a handsome little fellow, but pictures of Mackenzie are painfully cute. I do not like it, and I do not trust it. As if being cute is not enough for her, Mackenzie decided to also be an astoundingly good person. Not just for a 6 year old, but for anyone.

Imagine what would go through your head if you asked your child what they wanted for their 6th birthday, and they responded with pet food, pet toys, and gift cards to pet stores. I can’t help but think I’d go searching for a mystery pet that our kids had been hiding from us. Incredibly, when Mackenzie asked for these things, she was just being a sweet and giving little girl.

Yes, she had her friends over for a party, and yes, she wore a tiara like any little girl might. What set her apart was that she asked that no one bring her a present. What she wanted was for people to bring items that she could donate to the Humane Society. My favorite part about this story is how people began praising Shawn and Cherie for coming up with a great idea. As if they made the decision to withhold presents from their daughter and put her face on some poster campaign to give donations to an organization. In truth, this was all Mackenzie. Why? She loves the heck out of animals.

I’m happy to praise good parenting all day long, and I know that Shawn and Cherie are great parents.  Still, I think this act of generosity surprised them as much as anyone else. Parents spend an amazing amount of time trying to guide the minds of their children in what they hope is the right direction. I think though, this is a great example of where exceptional parenting meets an exceptional heart. I can’t imagine how proud they must be of their little girl.

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BroboCop

So right off the bat I want to say that I’m not 100% okay with the title of this post. I wanted to make a funny play on word with the movie RoboCop involving some sort of dad to dad tie that will make much more sense after you read the actual story. The best thing I could come up with was “RoboPop” which feels more like a nod to the idea of a robot father. I have nothing against robots or robot fathers and just in case a robot overlord reads this in the future, I want to add that I LOVE ROBOTS, but this story involves dads and cops, so that title didn’t really seem to work either. After some thought, the officer involved in the following story was being a bit of a bro, so the title stands. Enjoy.

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It can’t be overstated. When you are an at-home parent, getting out of the house is a must. You need to find adult connections, and have adult conversations. If that means meeting for coffee with a friend once a week, that’s better than nothing. Most of the time though, I’d recommend something a bit more lengthy. The first full year of being home after William was born, I found I had done all the normal things to keep my mind occupied. I had made detailed lists of smudges on the wall from dirty kid hands. I had found all the places in the carpeting that was trampled down to make a recognizable shape. I began the process of diving far too deep into the world of the cartoons that William liked and created back stories which lent themselves to the interactions of the characters on screen.

What I wasn’t doing was keeping up relationships with real people over the age of one year old. It’s something I still struggle with doing. I even feel a little self-conscious talking to adults lately because I’m not sure I remember how exactly to interact. After that initial year, I was concerned that while I may not be losing my intelligence (for whatever that’s worth), I was losing the ability to communicate adult thought with adult words.

Eventually, Melissa was very aware that I needed a break. So we came up with a plan for me to take an extended period of time to get out into the country and relax. The idea was for me to take a few days to get out and go camping. I was going to be joined by one other friend, and after two days of camping and exploring Idaho, we’d meet up with our wives and kids at another friend’s cabin in the beautiful city of McCall. After another night away from real life, we were going to head back as a happy, relaxed group. A great plan. This would be where I say something like, “What could go wrong?”

After a whirlwind, two day tour of the mid-area of Idaho, we made our way to McCall, anxious to see our friends and family. I tried my best to shut out the world while we were out exploring, but after a year of nothing but William, I already missed him. Our reunion was bitter-sweet in a way. I was excited to be with my family, but I was instantly back in my role of dad. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that, in a way, you give up the right to be truly selfish when you begin your life as a parent, but I had not quite cleared my head after two days. C’est la vie.

Bedtime for William came quickly that night. A sudden realization for me that before I knew it, we’d all be back in reality. I had no clue how true that was. William was situated in our room in the upstairs of a little cabin. We had brought along his “Pack N’ Play” for him to sleep in, which he had done several times without any issues. We put him down, said our good nights, and listened as the cries and fussing turned to quiet. We spent a few more hours with everyone before making our own way up to the room. There, quite happy, was William. Wide awake and playing games that babies play when they’re alone. As we entered the room as quiet as we could, he saw us instantly and began to make a lot of noise.

The next few hours were painful. He grew louder in protest to the fact that we had not engaged him and joined in his baby games. So, we tried to rock him back to sleep, nothing. We put him in bed with us, which made him all the more riled up. William, it seemed, was far to excited about his new surroundings to simply go to sleep. I’m sure if he had been able to talk at the time there would have been a great deal of, “Dad! Did you see this lamp?! This isn’t our lamp! I like it! Knock it over Dad! Dad! Mom! Did you see how this room isn’t one of our rooms in our house?! Where are we?! I like this room! Let’s scream at the walls and see if they make different noises than our walls! YAY!”

As the hours passed, and people had definitely gone to their rooms to try and sleep through the noisy little boy upstairs, we began to feel very self-conscious. No one had said anything and no one came to check on us, but we couldn’t help feeling like this situation was going to keep everyone up through the night. At 3am we decided to pull the plug. I packed everything up and loaded the car, while Melissa dressed William and put him in his car seat where he instantly proceeded to cry. We said very brief good-byes and began the two hour trip back home.

McCall is a very small town. Small enough that the speed limit on the main street is, I think, 25 miles per hour. At three in the morning, with a screaming child in the backseat, and exhaustion setting in from the past three days, I just wasn’t paying attention. In the sea of darkness, very suddenly we were illuminated by color. Red and blue. I look behind me to see a police car in tow, and check my speed, only to realize I was doing almost 40. This was gonna hurt.

I’m sure he heard William before he was able to see much of anything in the car. He surveyed the car’s interior with his flashlight before asking politely for my licence and registration. Without much of a glance he asked what was going on. I explained that we had made an attempt to stay with friends at their cabin in the area, but our little boy was just a little too overwhelmed with the exciting new surroundings of McCall to go to sleep, and that mom and dad were too tired to keep the party going.

Keeping in mind that all he had done with my licence and registration was hold them, he turned back at William and smiled a little. I wish I knew exactly what he said at that point, and I wish I had grabbed a photo with him because it was one of those moments you think should happen all the time. He looked at me and told me that he knew exactly what we were going through. He was a father of two kids and had to make the early am trip a few times over the years. He reminded us that we have especially precious cargo now, so to remember the need to be extra cautious since we would be heading along a dark road that runs by a nasty river. He made sure that I was with it enough to last for the two hour drive home and sent us on our way without so much as the typical, “Watch your speed, now.”

I didn’t get his name, and I’ll never be able to let him know that he did a really great thing that night. It’s not about skipping the ticket. If he had given me a ticket, I certainly couldn’t have argued against it. Parents need to be there for other parents sometimes. Offer a reminder to slow down and collect yourself. Parents need to have each other’s back a little more instead of judgemental comparing of what you think you do better. I hope, really, that someday I can pay it forward. Maybe this blog will allow me to do that for someone. Maybe it will be as simple as offering a hand to the frazzled parent on the playground.

We’ve all been there, and we will all be there again. Tired and stressed. Hopeful for a little slack from people. So when we’re on the outside, we all have to decide if we’re gonna be the people who roll our eyes and say, “Too bad, I got through it with no help” or be the BroboCop who knows that even a few thoughtful words might get that mom and dad back on the right track.

I fricken love robots.

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Family Puzzles

Jigsaw puzzle on a tableWhen the kids got old enough, we pretty quickly realized that doing jigsaw puzzles as a family is a fantastic way to get some quality time together.  Initially, they were the easy puzzles with only a few pieces.  Even so, it was amazing to see how quickly they latched on to the concept of fitting the pieces and creating the final picture.

As the kids got older, we were able to progress to more and more challenging puzzles.  We now do 500 and even 1,000 piece puzzles with some regularity.  The kids have developed their own unique strategies for solving, but everyone loves the initial “find the edges” party of the process.

One tip for other parents is that it’s pretty important to have a good puzzle table.  The chaos of daily life with kids means things get messy, and having a dedicated space to keep the puzzles is pretty important.  Otherwise you end up with partially completely jigsaws that get messed up.  Having a nice table means you have a place to work on the puzzles, and the house doesn’t get littered with random pieces.

We’ve also found that picking the right subject matter is important.  The kids don’t get as excited with landscapes and photography as they do with cartoon characters.  We’ve been on a Nemo and Dory puzzle kick lately, and there’s no end in sight.

If your family doesn’t do jigsaw puzzles together, give it a shot.  It’s a great way to bond and is intellectually stimulating for the little ones (and sometimes the adults 🙂

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What a Croc! Get it?

I’ve been trying very hard to cook more throughout the week. With the addition of Bonus Baby, time has become a major issue for trying to get meals ready after I’m cut loose from all the kids. As a professional fake chef, I never spent much time with crock pots during my cooking endeavours. Several years ago, a friend decided it would be funny to give Capn’ Fakecookin the devil’s cooking pot. After I made the leap to being at home with the kids, I realized that they are in fact quite useful. My apologies to people who I may have insulted over the years based on nothing more than their ownership of this appliance.

Melissa and I are picky eaters, so most recipes need a little adjustment and some just won’t work. Plus, many of the foods we want to eat most often don’t get the best results from hours in a crock pot. Things like…BBQ. I have looked up a great number of recipes over the past year, all promising amazing pulled pork, ribs, BBQ chicken, and basically every cut of everything from nothing more than the Ronco philosophy of set it and forget it. The principles of the recipes have all been the same. A little seasoning, perhaps an onion, and then dump a bottle of BBQ sauce over the meat and leave it on low for however many hours.

Review after review gave top marks to many of these recipes as a way to get all that BBQ flavor without the constant tending needed for smoking or grilling. Personally, I never saw these results from any of the recipes. Some of them were…okay, but I wasn’t looking for just okay. I needed something awesome. One day, with great hope, I found a crock pot rib recipe that had one of those pictures designed to make you hungry. It worked. I added ribs to our meal plan the following week.

The recipe was ultimately the same as most crock pot BBQ recipes, but I had a plan! I was going to use my home-made dry rub on the ribs AND I was going to use a glazing sauce I had made up when I did some real smoked ribs earlier this year. I figured that the taste should be pretty amazing, even if the results were a little underwhelming.

Meticulously I followed the directions which promised that “fall off the bone” tenderness that some people really get excited about. Fake chef cooking tip: If you are unable to take a bite of the rib without all of meat falling off – you shouldn’t be bragging. Likewise if you can’t pick up the rib by the bone without the meat falling off – you am cook it wrongbad.

As usual, the great thing about this was being able to keep up with three kids and know that dinner was working the whole time. The house smelled amazing all day, and I’m happy to take the credit there. After almost ten hours (the recipe recommended twelve) it was close to our slightly sad, early-bird special, dinner time. So I checked the ribs to see how things were progressing. I used a big set of tongs and gently lifted a set of ribs out of the sweet and spicy sauce. It was already far gone – just way too tender. The meat just sort of dissolved as you picked it up, a great idea for pulled pork perhaps, but not ribs. Additionally, the sauce and spices had clearly seeped into the meat, which you would think is great, but there just wasn’t the flavor. It was just color. We had to use extra sauce just to get any form of “BBQ” flavor.

I will not give up, though I will put out the call. If you have a great crock pot recipe – particularly one for BBQ – that you really love, please share it!

Also, when I have perfected my crock pot pizza – I will let everyone know.

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