Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It's Elementary, My Dear

I have officially been an author for just over a year now. While I have been a writer for a long time, being an “author” requires having a published book. My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh came out in April of 2010, and it has been a wild ride ever since.

The most fun I have had with the book so far has been visiting elementary schools. Last September, my wonderfully brilliant wife was brainstorming with a friend and came up with the idea to use the book as a fundraiser for our oldest son’s elementary school. The plan was for me to read the book to the kindergarten and first grade classes, then sell the book to the parents of said children, and make the school millions of dollars. We pitched the idea to the school, and their response was, “We’d LOVE to have you come read your book to the kids. And I guess it would be OK with us if you want to sell it, too.”

I didn’t think they were really grasping what a financial boon this would be to their school, but we were nonetheless very happy that they said yes. Well, we went and did the fundraiser, and I can report with absolute certainty that they knew EXACTLY what kind of financial boon I would be for their school. We raised $38.

They had a jog-a-thon the week before that raised $10,000.

You’re welcome!

Wild financial successes aside, I had a very eye-opening experience when I read to the first class. I discovered that there is nothing I like better than reading to 6-year-olds, and teaching them things. Prior to the fundraiser, we figured I’d better have something up my sleeve besides just the book, because reading it only takes about five minutes. I sat down and came up with some fun facts about each one of the ten African animals in the book. The “reading” consisted of five minutes with the book and twenty-five minutes of crazy antics and funny noises as the kids learned how strong monkeys are, how hippos floss their teeth and what porcupine quills are made of.

It was such a success in terms of the children’s and teacher’s reactions to the presentation that the head of the school district’s libraries asked me to visit the rest of the elementary schools in our town. Over the last year, I have read my book to 14 local elementary schools.

I have visited 71 kindergarten and first-grade classes and read to about 1420 kids. I bring a little stuffed animal giraffe that I toss to the kid who gets to pick the next animal we talk about. Since there are ten animals in the book, just over 700 different kids have handled that little stuffed giraffe. I should probably burn it now.

Before we go any farther, we need to be clear about something. When I said that there is nothing I like better than reading to 6-year-olds, and teaching them things, please don’t mistake that for a desire to become a kindergarten teacher. That is not going to happen. I am not tough enough, mentally or physically. I have a better shot at becoming a Navy SEAL.

All I can say after this past year, is God bless every single elementary school teacher in this world. I have no idea how they do it! They have to spend all day with them! I was wiped out after the first class I read to. By the end of the first morning of reading to five classes, I was so mentally exhausted, I could barely remember how to drive when I finally found my car in the parking lot.

And I now know for a fact that women are 100% mentally tougher than men, because of the 71 classes I visited, 70 of them had female teachers. Every one of those ladies was in complete control, and the one male teacher I met looked as frazzled as I was. We owe elementary school teachers a huge debt of gratitude, because without them, hoards of 6 and 7-year-olds would be unleashed upon the world to constantly ask us, “Why?” during the middle of the day. They are our first, last, and only line of defense.

Actually, one thing that I immediately liked about my time in the classrooms was the random comments from the children. Here are some of the highlights:

From a first-grader in the front row during the hippo facts – “You have lots of fillings in your teeth.” – Yes I do, son. Remember to floss, kids.

From a boy in a kindergarten class during the jackal facts – “I rode a jackal once.”
Same kid, when I was discussing deer during the antelope facts – “I shot a deer once. With a bb gun... No one was around, though. It was at night.” – OK, well, if no one was around, I guess I won’t try to verify your story.

While waiting for some other kids to arrive, I was asking a kindergarten class what they were going to do over the long weekend. One little girl answered, "I'm going to the snow this weekend, because our dog is getting spayed." – Well, sure. That makes sense.

When discussing why elephants flap their ears, I would say, "An elephant's ears are full of..." - Two boys sitting next to each other in one class blurted out, "Vitamins!" "Ear wax!" - (The correct answer is, of course, blood vessels.) - Other popular answers have been air, dirt, hair, bugs, water and noise.

When discussing porcupines, I ask the class if any of them can shoot the hair out of their heads at me. (Leading up to debunking the common myth that porcupines can shoot their quills.) One girl said to me, "You don't have any hair on your head, because you're bald." - Her teacher turned beet red, and I just about fell out of my chair laughing.

I ended the lion facts by adding the little aside, “Did you know that daddy lions are really lazy? They just lay around in the shade all day and the mommy lions do all the work.” – One boy piped up and said, “Yeah. My dad’s lazy, too. He just lies on the couch all day.” – Well, son, not everyone is cut out to be the president.

My favorite random comment of the year was from a first-grader. I was always pressed for time, since my presentation took the full half-hour, and I was usually running between classrooms, so I didn’t have much time to field unscheduled questions. Almost immediately when I entered one of the first-grade classes at Valley View Elementary, one of the student’s hands shot up in the air. He kept his hand up, straining into the air for the entire half-hour, despite his teacher’s protests. When I finished up, I finally said, "OK, what is your question?" – He said, "I have a pet goldfish."

We ended up raising just under $500 for the elementary schools here in town, and over the course of the last year I was able to donate 220 of my books to classrooms, libraries, day cares, preschools, doctor’s offices, dental offices, hospitals, and any kid I could find that just looked like they needed a good book.

Visiting that many schools while holding down a regular job presented a few challenges, but in the end, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything, and I hope I get to keep doing it. I have received quite a few thank-you notes and some amazing 6 and 7-year-old artistic renderings of favorite pages from the book. Every one of them made my day, but in the end, it was one little girl that stole my heart.

I was having a great time all year, and every school I visited was a wonderful experience, but it wasn’t until the second-to-last school of the year that I really figured out why I was there. We had just finished the reading and the fun facts in Mrs. Hungerford’s kindergarten class at Breen Elementary, and after saying our goodbyes, I was gathering my things and preparing to sprint to the next classroom. All the children were still sitting in their places on the floor at the front of the room, and I was almost out the door when one little girl got up off the carpet and ran over to me. She never said a word. She just hugged my leg and then ran back to her seat.

That was payment in full for my efforts all year long.

Thanks, sweetheart, and thanks again to all the Rocklin elementary schools for letting me pursue my dream!

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

No Respect

I’m starting to feel like my wife. At least, how I think she must feel, when she’s dealing with our kids. She gets no respect.

Now, let’s be clear. She does get the kind of respect that is required of children by their parents. For the most part they come when called and do what they are asked. Some days they are on the ball, and some days they give her just enough respect in the right areas to avoid physical harm, but on the whole, they behave themselves for her. It’s in the area of knowledge and opinion that she gets the short end of the stick. They will not take her word for anything, but they will believe anything I tell them.

Neither of us knows why that is, but it has been the case for as long as we can remember. At least it had until a few days ago. Apparently, God is finally feeling sorry for my wife, and has sent our third child, Boy Number Three, to set things straight.

The turning point occurred the other day when my three-year-old son sat down on the floor to put his flip-flops on. He gets one on his foot, looks up at me, and asks, “Is this the right foot?” I tell him no… and he argues with me.

Excuse me? I am your father. I know which foot is which, and which shoe goes on which foot, thank you very much!

“No, Son, that is not the right foot.”

“Yes it is.”

(Not only was it the wrong flip-flop for the chosen foot, but it was also his left foot, so there was no way I was misinterpreting his question. He was just flat-out wrong.)

“No it isn’t. That one goes on the other foot.”


“You don’t need to ask Mommy. I know which is which.”

“No you don’t. Mommy!”

“I assure you, I know all about shoes and feet. We don’t need to consult Mommy.”


I was dumbfounded. Not only was my three-year-old ignoring my shoe advice, but he was blatantly telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about. We were in brand-new territory for me, here. Up until this point, my knowledge and opinion on any subject had stood without question. Not with my wife, mind you, (or any other adult for that matter), but with my kids.

With the first two, I could tell them anything and they would believe me. I told them Jell-O was made out of cow bones, and they just said, “Cool." If their mom told them that the sky was blue, they would run and check with me. (Both of those things are true, but which one would you question?)

When Mommy showed up to help out with the shoe debate, I was forced to stand there and listen while my wife explained to our third child that Daddy knows how shoes work, just like she does, and it’s OK to listen to me about which foot is which. Then she stood up, and with a wry smile, gave me a consoling kiss on the cheek, and a not-so-consoling giggle.

Later that day, my wife was going to be gone for a few hours at dinner time. She cooked us a pizza before she left, kissed the boys, and headed out the door. Five minutes later, I told the boys it was time for dinner. Boy Number One and Two headed for the table, but Number Three argued with me.

"No! Mommy said it wasn’t dinner time yet. Mommy said we have to wait. Mommy said her chart sayed below for drain." (Sometimes he’s pretty hard to understand, especially when he’s worked up.) I actually had to pick him up to keep him from trying to drag me out of the kitchen, calm him down, and show him the cooked pizza before he would believe me.

Now, I guess it wouldn't be so bad if I thought that Son Number Three just didn't trust my opinion on certain subjects. It would be weird, but it would at least be semi-tolerable. The problem is, I'm getting the feeling he doesn't think I have any authority in any matters. I have received some pretty clear evidence that this is the case in the last few days.

We have a rule in our house. No answer shopping. If you don’t like daddy’s answer to your question of, “May I go play with this real sword I just found,” you are not allowed to go ask your mother the same question in hopes of a better answer. (That’s actually a bad example, because I would have probably said, “Yes.”) Anyway, the rule is, you take the answer you get and don't go looking for a better one somewhere else.

Boy Number Three is apparently so off the rails with his lack of trust in my ability to parent him that he has actually started reverse answer shopping. Here is an actual conversation I had with him the other day:

“Daddy, can I have a cookie?”


“Mommy! Can I have a cookie?”

I mean, seriously! What kind of logic is that? Is he honestly thinking, "Well, OK. This man here just gave me the answer I was looking for, but I'm not confident that he has my best interests at heart. I'm not sure that I trust his judgment, and as such, even though I really want that delicious cookie, I think I will consult an adult that I know loves and cares for me."

This newfound situation has me thrown for a loop. My wife thinks it is endlessly humorous, but I am at a loss. Why doesn't my third child trust me? What have I done to bring this on?

Maybe... Just maybe, like his mom, he doesn't think that kids should play with real swords?

Naw! That can't be it.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Potty Training Out Loud

My wife and I have three boys. Boy Number Three just turned three years old and is the last one in diapers. We started potty training him last week. I don’t know if you have ever potty trained anyone or anything, but let me tell you, it can get exciting for a whole bunch of different reasons.

For starters, my wife and I are excited at the prospect of being done with diapers for good. We’ve been knee-deep in them for six and a half years now, and we can finally see the light at the end of the dark and stinky tunnel. It’s such a wonderful thought that we almost dare not speak it, for fear of jinxing it.

No more expensive diapers! No more expensive wipes. No more disgusting diapers! No more used wipes. No more storing used diapers and their nefarious contents in my garage. No more storing eight-foot-square Costco-sized cases of diapers in my garage. No more packages of diapers and wipes falling out at me from every closet in the house.

No more questioning Boy Number Three about the current situation in his pants. No more needing to check the validity of said boy's answer. (He has never been very reliable.) Never again will we need to bend down and go sniffing around his butt like an ill-mannered hound dog. No more stomach-over-the-forearm, pull-up-the-back-of-the-shorts visual poop checks. We are mere days away from becoming a civilized family that fully utilizes their indoor plumbing. It’s all very exciting!

Then there is the other kind of excitement. Part of the deal with potty training involves gambling. This is when you put the child in “big boy underwear” and let them roam freely around the house, while you chew your nails and inquire with them every 10-12 seconds if they need to go sit on the potty. About every half-hour or so, your nerves are so frayed that you just go set them on the potty as a preemptive measure.

At our house, if you pee on the potty, you get five M&Ms. For our kids who don’t get candy on a regular basis, that tends to be a big deal. If you poop on the potty, you get a whole bunch of M&Ms. The amount varies depending on how excited the parent is that they just dodged a bullet. I give him the whole bag.

Most of the time, however, you end up cleaning up a mess instead of handing out congratulatory candy-coated chocolate. With Boy Number Three, this has been quite an ordeal. Not due to the messes so much as the raw emotion involved. You see, Number Three is either not very smart, or a super-genius. I haven’t decided which yet. He either can’t seem to get his terminology right, or he is so brilliant that at age three, he has already mastered reverse psychology and corporate level negotiating techniques. Allow me to explain.

He keeps mixing up the terms “poop” and “pee.” He will be in big boy underwear upstairs and yell down in a sad voice that he is poopy. You run upstairs in a panic, expecting the worst, only to find that he has peed, but not pooped.

Because you were mentally prepared for the worst, after you realize the real situation at hand, you are actually happy to only be cleaning up pee. You are so happy not to be scrubbing something far worse out of the upholstery that you almost thank him for peeing in his pants and on the couch. Go figure.

Like I said, he may be the smartest kid on the planet, or he may just be really bad with terminology. I’m leaning toward the latter, because I can’t really see any upside to peeing all over yourself and missing out on free candy, and a genius would have probably figured that out by now, three years old or not.

Anyway, we’re in the midst of it all, and we’re excited that we’re so close to being diaperless. My wife is so excited about the prospect of a carefree life without poopy pants that she temporarily lost her mind the other day, and inadvertently gave me the opportunity to discover just how excited I really am about living a diaper-free life.

I was at the office and my cell phone rang. It was my wife, who in an excited voice announced that Number Three had just pooped on the potty, and then immediately put Number Three on the phone. She didn't ask me where I was or if I could talk, she just put him on the phone. Then, my three-year-old tells me he just pooped on the potty, FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME IN HIS WHOLE LIFE.

I am standing in the middle of my office. My co-workers are all around, and my son is breathlessly awaiting my response. I need to make a very quick decision. On the one hand, I obviously need to be very excited and congratulatory. This is a huge deal and needs to be treated that way. We need to joyously convey the message to him that we are very happy and he has done a great thing.

On the other hand, I am at the office, and would like to maintain a certain level of decorum. I am standing next to the boss’s office. There are people on the phone with customers. On the whole, I would like to keep things with my colleagues on a professional level, and joyous congratulations about pooping aren’t exactly professional.

I learned something about myself that day. I realized, almost instantly, that my distain for dirty diapers greatly outweighs my desire to remain professional.

"GREAT JOB POOPING ON THE POTTY, BUDDY!" I yelled into the phone.

Work is a little weird now, but I don’t care. I really want to be done with diapers!

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mother's Day Done Better

If you have been following my weekly ramblings for any length of time, you might recall the tale of my impeccable handling of last Mother’s Day.

I had skillfully purchased tickets to a demolition derby that happened to be scheduled on the same day that America was holding Mother’s Day. The derby promoters refused my requests to move the event up a day, so I was forced to explain to my wife why it would be a good thing for me to take the boys away to a car smashing event on her special day. To add a slight level of difficulty, I had to explain my reasoning while dodging cookware being thrown at my head.

I broke the news of my inadvertent double-booking a week or so before Mother’s Day. By “broke the news,” I of course mean that she told me what I had done. Then she threw a saucepan at me. Anyway, she was able to calm down in a day or three, and finally saw the error in her initial reaction, or so I thought. She acquiesced and agreed that the gift of relative solitude (I was leaving her with Boy Number Three while the other two went to the derby with me) that I had so thoughtfully provided her was indeed a fine Mother’s Day gift from a loving husband. A few days later she even helped me figure out what the boys could get her for Mother’s Day, since their dad obviously had no clue.

Going so far as to tell me that she had found an “easy and fun” way to have the boys make her gifts, she presented me with the news that I would be going to our local home improvement store on the coming Saturday morning. They were having a kid’s craft event for Mother’s Day, where the kids could make their mothers a flower pot holder. Better yet, it was free!

My initial reaction was, “Oh, OK, great. That should be fun.”
I am a stupid, stupid man. Obviously it was a trap. A trap of retribution.

Off I drove with the boys on Saturday morning, oblivious to my real situation. Fortunately for me, Boy Number Three was deemed too young to come to this event as well, so he stayed home with mom. I am convinced that is the only reason why I made it out of there alive. I barely made it through the ordeal with two boys, but adding the third youngest one would have surely been the coup de grace.

It started off innocently enough. We were greeted by teenage store employees who outfitted the boys with kid-size orange store aprons with their names written on the front in black Sharpie marker, which they thought were really cool. Then they handed us our flower pot holder kits, and invited us to pick any open spot at one of the many workbenches set up for the occasion. That’s where things began to go south.

My first question caught them off guard. “Where are the kid’s workbenches?” I asked.

“Those are the kid’s workbenches, sir.”

“Why are there hammers on the workbenches?”

“To hammer the nails, sir.”


“Yes, sir. They’re included in your kit. You’re supposed to glue the joints and then nail them together.”


“Yes, sir. Is there a problem?”

“Is it real glue and real nails?”

“Of course, sir.”

“Then, yes. We have a problem. You mean to tell me that these things don’t just snap together like Legos? You want my four-year-old to be swinging a hammer?”

“Well, we don’t think they should swing them, so much as just tap the nails into place.”

“Have you ever met a four-year-old boy?”

Oh, well. There was no going home empty handed, so to the workbench we went.

Two minutes later, as I had predicted, I was refereeing a tug-of-war over an erupting bottle of Elmer’s wood glue and desperately dodging the claw ends of two fast moving hammers.

I found myself holding miniature nails upright between my thumb and index finger, praying the first blow would be to the head of the nail, and not to the head of the dad, or to the fingers, hand, arm, or face of the dad.

I spent a considerable amount of time fighting back the onslaught of excess glue with almost an entire roll of paper towels, all the while trying to decipher the steadily more glue-ridden assembly instructions before my boys had nailed or glued something to the wrong spot.

It was a lot like trying to do a crossword puzzle while trapped inside a spinning dryer full of open glue bottles and claw hammers. And nails.

After we had somehow managed to complete two fairly intact and somewhat recognizable flower pot stands, and the employees had found me some extra-large gauze pads and an ice pack, we made our way to the garden section to find some nice Mother’s Day flowers to adorn our new creations.

I foolishly thought that this would be the easy part. How hard could it be to find a couple of small flowers in pots? Ha! You have obviously never shopped for flowers with my boys! Neither had I.

Apparently my children are not very impressed with ordinary, everyday, run-of-the-mill flowers. They seem to only be attracted to the high-dollar exotic breed flowers. No azaleas or daisies for their mommy! No, they just had to buy mom the Madagascar crouching tiger orchid and the greenhouse-raised Turkish gold river lilac, each costing about the same amount as an entire pallet of rose bushes, and both guaranteed to last about 1.7 hours under our family’s expert horticultural care.

Again, I couldn’t go home with two boys telling their already emotionally iffy mother that Daddy wouldn’t let them buy the pretty flowers for her, so out came the credit card. Ka-ching.

The whole experience hurt. Physically, financially, emotionally, you name it, it hurt. All things considered, I think I would have rather gone to the mall, and you know how I feel about the mall.

When we got home, my wife gave me a sly smile and said, “How did the project go, sweety?”

I knew right then and there that this had been payback for my demolition derby scheduling blunder and lack of believable spin on the reason why. As I went to get a fresh ice pack, I vowed not to make that same mistake again. She is way too smart for me.

True to my vow, this year I learned from last year’s mistakes. This year I won’t fall into any of those traps. This year there is absolutely no way for me to get into any trouble!

This year, I have planned absolutely nothing for Mother’s Day.

Smooth sailing ahead!


See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!