Wednesday, December 28, 2011

An Explosive Christmas

I love Christmas. I always have. I love it even more now that I have children of my own. Earlier this month, as I eagerly anticipated Christmas Day and envisioned all the wonderful activities and experiences I would share with my kids, one thing, above all else, never entered my mind. Bomb disposal. But, that’s exactly what I ended up doing on Christmas morning this year. Go figure.

My boys love flashlights. They love to pretend to be deep-sea divers and cave explores and police officers, and anything else you might do with a flashlight. Thank goodness they don’t know what a proctologist is! Anyway, as with any other toy or object found in our house, when they decide to stop playing with a flashlight, they simply abandon it wherever they happen to be. There is never a thought of returning it to its designated storage spot and certainly never a thought about turning it off. That’s why they never get to play with my flashlights. I like to know where mine are, and I like them to work when I pick them up.

Since I am the cold-hearted father figure, I am content with simply telling them, “No, you may not play with my flashlight.” Their grandma, however, is a softy, and wants them to be cave explorers or deep-sea divers or doctors with a strange specialty someday, so she buys them flashlights. As a result, we have approximately twenty to thirty small, cheap, plastic or aluminum flashlights hidden throughout the house, all with dead batteries. She buys them on sale at clothing stores, or at the dollar stores, so they are never a brand that can be found at any reputable hardware store or home improvement warehouse. What I’m trying to say is that they’re cheap. Inexpensive, and also cheaply made. That used to seem like a good idea, given the boys’ propensity for mistreating them. Not anymore.

This Christmas morning, lo and behold amidst the ripping and shredding of wrapping paper and boxes, all three boys received new cheap plastic flashlights from Grandma. We like to keep approximately half of our family’s total net worth in the form of batteries stored in our laundry room, so we had those babies powered up in no time. Son Number One, being the oldest of the three, got the biggest flashlight. His was the jumbo model that took two D-size batteries. (Insert your own proctology joke here). All three flashlights were the new blindingly bright LED models, and our house was suddenly lit up like an auto mall on Memorial Day weekend. Three minutes later, we were knee-deep in Legos, and all three flashlights were abandoned under couches or behind desks, all still turned on, draining the batteries. I miss having spending money.

After all the gifts had been unwrapped, the boys set about to playing with all their newfound treasures. Son Number One retrieved his new flashlight from under the couch and ended up playing with it for quite some time. He brought it to me after a while, complaining that it was coming apart. It was a twist on/off model, and he had been twisting the lens end enough that he had accidentally screwed it all the way off. I gathered up all the parts and screwed it all back together. Since it took me longer than two and a half seconds to fix, he had lost interest during the repair process and had moved on to something else by the time I had it back in one piece. Not bothering to call him back into the room, I just set the flashlight on the kitchen counter and got back to my duties as official Christmas cookie tester.

I was still in the kitchen five minutes later when Number One came back in to get his flashlight. He reached up to grab it, and immediately dropped it back onto the counter. “Ouch!” he said, “my flashlight is really hot!”
I set my plate of cookies down and picked up the flashlight. I, too, had to drop it back onto the counter. He wasn’t kidding. The plastic case was too hot to hold onto. Hmmm. That can’t be good.

I very calmly screamed for everyone to hit the floor and roll or crawl out of the kitchen, or as I am told I referred to it at the time, “the blast radius.” I dove across the counter and retrieved the barbeque tongs from one of the drawers, and gingerly picking up the incendiary device, made my way as smoothly and quickly as possible to the “bomb containment bunker,” or as we normally refer to it, the garage.

So there I am: Christmas morning, in my pajama pants and slippers, wearing my brand new Cal Poly sweatshirt I just received from Santa, stylishly accessorizing it with wrap-around safety glasses and boar hide gauntlet-style welding gloves, standing at my garage workbench diffusing a bomb made out of cheap foreign circuit boards and two large Duracell® batteries going supernova. You just never know what life’s going to throw at you.

I was able to get the impromptu pipe bomb apart and shake the D-cells out in time, but it was close. They were so hot they had started to expand, and they almost didn’t slide out of the plastic tube. Thankfully, getting the batteries out diffused the short-circuited flashlight and avoided a really ugly, smelly, and strange Christmas Day incident.

With a regular flashlight that has a standard bulb, there isn’t too much that can go wrong. Apparently, however, with the new LED flashlights, since they require internal circuit boards to work, if those circuit boards and assembly techniques get cheap enough, and just the right circuit board parts fail, they can create a situation where the flashlight becomes a space heater instead. A really inconvenient, unpredictable, flaming space heater.

This time of year, many people tend to get wrapped up in looking for the true meaning of Christmas, getting mired down with the inequities of life around the country or around the world, feeling guilty for their own good fortune or envious of others.

I say, don’t overthink it. Keep it simple, and always be thankful for what you have. Sometimes, the Christmas miracle is simply that the cheap LED flashlight didn’t burn your house to the ground.

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, December 21, 2011

A Tale of Two Santas

Every parent has the propensity to exaggerate their own kid’s intelligence. Ask any parent and they’ll tell you, their kid is the smartest one in the class. He’s reading at a 5th grade level at six years old… She’s on the pre-school’s honor roll… He potty trained himself at 8 months, etc.

Believe me, I have been guilty of that myself in the past, but only because my kids really are smart. Or so I thought. I was fully convinced my kids had above average IQs until a few days ago. Now I’m not even sure they have IQs above room temperature. What made me change my mind so drastically? Not a what. A who. Santa.

Two Santas, actually. The two Santas upon whose laps they have sat this year. Now, I will give my three-year-old a pass, but the fact that Son Number One and Two came down off of Santa Number Two’s lap without a thousand and one questions leads me to believe that they may not even be smart enough to come in out of the rain. Come to think of it, they usually try to go out and play in the rain. I should have seen this coming, I guess… Anyway, back to the two Santas.

The first Santa we visited this year was the Santa at Son Number Three’s preschool Christmas party. He is the Santa by which all others shall be judged. He is in his early sixties, and has a real purplish-red crushed velvet suit and hat, with white fur trim that looks like it might have actually come from an arctic hare or an albino mink. He has a real white beard and real flowing white hair. He has real black boots that probably have actual fireplace soot on them. He has a deep, booming voice, a cold, red nose, and an honest-to-goodness twinkle in his eye. He is so realistic, I want to sit on his lap and tell him what I want for Christmas, just in case.

They all jumped down off of Santa Number One’s lap wide-eyed and filled with joy, utterly convinced that they had just put in a sure-fire lock of an order for some new Legos.

Then came Santa Number Two, the Santa at my wife's yearly family reunion Christmas party. Every year, one of the cousins gets to be Santa for the little kids. This year it was Greg's turn. Greg is about a foot taller than the unfortunate cousin who had to be Santa last year, but the family Santa suit remains the same. You know the suit I'm talking about. The suit and fur is the same thin, fire engine red felt and feathery, unnaturally bright white fluff that the cheap Walmart Christmas stockings are made of. The front of the suit Velcros closed over the fake belly, and the “boots” are really shiny black vinyl shin covers with elastic on the calf, meant to keep them in place over your regular street shoes. The white, curly wig and beard are made out of the same itchy acrylic that you find inside of stuffed animals and couch throw pillows.

Greg, the man who was barely inside the suit, is a 6’-3” tall, mid-twenties firefighter made entirely out of twisted steel and good breeding. He has no belly. He has no actual body fat of any kind. When he sat down in the Santa chair, the fake belly strapped to his midsection bobbed all the way up to just under his chin, and the cuffs of the bright red Santa pants came up over his knees. He kept having to hike up his faux vinyl boots to try and hide the tops of his shins. He could not have looked any more different than Santa Number One if he had been dressed as the Easter Bunny instead.

All Santa suit differences aside, the real kicker was his voice. When Greg dug down deep for what he later described as his, “best old man voice,” it came out as not so much old, but foreign. I finally settled on “vaguely British” as the best overall description, but it varied at times anywhere from “Scottish golf commentator” to “German foreign exchange student.”

We, as Greg’s loving and caring family members, were almost hysterical with laughter as we tried to pin down his dialect and watched as he fought with his uncooperative foam-rubber belly and desperately tried to hide his knees. My kids, however, were sitting patiently, staring at him with the same wide-eyed reverence and awe afforded to Santa Number One, just a few days earlier.

They jumped up and sat on his lap. They asked him politely for Ninja and Star Wars Legos. They thanked him, and promised they’d be good.

Come on, fellas. You have got to be kidding me! No questions? No comments? How short is your memory? It’s not like we’re showing you mug shots, here. You’re sitting on his lap, for crying out loud. Not only are you not asking me why you had to tell him what you wanted for Christmas again, but you’re not asking me any questions about why he looks and sounds so different than he did three days ago! Are you deaf? Did you even look at his beard?

Since my wife and I still love the fact that our kids believe in Santa, we are not willing to break the spell, so we can’t question them about the obvious inconsistencies they are being exposed to. As a result, we have no idea if they really don’t see any differences at all, or if they simply have such an unquestioning loyalty to the big guy, since he is in complete control over gift distribution, that they are not willing to step out of line and voice any concerns about noticeable variations, for fear of a demotion to the naughty list.

This is kind of an uncomfortable position for me as a dad. While my heart is mostly filled with joy by their apparent belief in Saint Nick, I also don’t want to be raising a bunch of suckers or suck-ups. The way I see it, we’ve got three possibilities here:

1) They are still young enough that the Santa experience is so overwhelmingly exciting that it blinds them to casual observations.
2) They are a bunch of toy-greedy sycophants, sucking up to anyone in a reddish suit in the hopes of scoring some free gear.
3) I’ve got a bunch of dim-bulb, mouth-breathers on my hands.

Man, I hope it’s scenario number one! I’m going to let it slide this year, but if Son Number One, at least, doesn’t have some serious questions next year when he’s eight years old, I’m going to start getting really worried!

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, December 14, 2011

The 2011 Do-it-Yourself Christmas Letter

Once again this year, you have procrastinated in writing the dreaded Christmas letter, and once again this year, ol’ Smidgey Claus is stepping in to save your bacon. I have created another handy do-it-yourself template to create your 2011 Christmas letter in no time flat. As with last year’s template, just fill in your last name(s) in the blank and circle the appropriate choices, and you're in business. 

Christmas 2011

Merry Christmas from the _____­­­_________ house. We have had another (fruitful/wildly disappointing) year.

The (highlight/major disappointment) this year was dad's (hole-in-one/arrest). He had been shooting (par/rifles) all year at (the country club/out of season deer) and had been dangerously close to (the pin/being caught) quite a few times. In early October he hit a (nine iron/nine point buck) on a (par three/county road) from the (blue tees/cab of his truck) and down it went. (Luckily/Unfortunately) the (Marshall/Warden) was nearby and the event was officially verified. Dad was (celebrating/incarcerated) for nearly a month. He's finally (sober/been released) and is home recuperating.

Mom was (blessed/cursed) again this year with (good health/rotten luck). She spent most of her time at the (library/casino) volunteering her (time/money) to the (children/Kaweehaw Band of Indians). She was a fixture at the (learning time reading corner/Wheel of Fortune dollar slots) and could never quite (get enough/catch a break) when it came to those (smiling little faces/damned uncooperative machines).

Sister had another (blessed/trying) year. Her work as a (marriage counselor/drug mule) continues to provide her with boundless (satisfaction/stress and frequent flyer miles). She recently took up the hobby of (cross stitch/pickpocketing) and has made several (throw pillows/hundred dollars) so far. She still keeps in close contact with her (college friends/old cellmates), not letting the obstacle of (long distance/obvious parole violations) stand in the way of planning the next (reunion getaway/bank heist and getaway).

Little Brother continues to work hard at (XYZ Global/collecting unemployment checks) while maintaining his position as an (elder/off-the-books bartender) at the (Presbyterian church/off-track betting lounge). He loves his (family/horses) more than anything, and pours all of his (extra time and energy/available funds) into (his home/trifectas). He always says, "Life is a great (gift/big pain in the neck), so make the (most of it/easy money) whenever you can.

As for me, I am staying (busy/home) with my (hamburger franchises/court-mandated ankle bracelet). I am absolutely (swamped/bored out of my mind), and there never seems to be enough (hours/liquor) in the (day/cabinet). I am planning to hire a team of (managers/illegals) to help me with my (day-to-day duties/new credit card scam), so that I will have some more (free time/spending money). If all goes well, I plan to completely (retire/re-stock the liquor cabinet) by the end of next year. Fingers crossed for lots of (success/suckers)!

That’s all we can (fit in this letter/stand to tell you). We hope this finds you (as happy and blessed as/in better shape than) we are.        

Merry Christmas!

You’re welcome! Now just sign, copy and send. You’re all set.

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, December 7, 2011

The Spica Cast, Part IV

Son Number Three was freed from his personal fiberglass prison on the day before Thanksgiving. It was a very liberating day for all of us. He was cut loose from his huge Spica body cast, and after an entire box of baby wipes and two baths, we were finally free of his tremendously powerful ammonia smell.  

While we are thrilled to finally be free of the stench, we have been left with another rather unpleasant side effect: Diapers. It’s our own fault really. We all got lazy.

At the time he broke his leg, our three-year-old was potty trained, but semi-unreliable. He was wearing big boy underwear during the days, and he always alerted us to when he needed to visit the potty, but his bodily function recognition system was still being debugged. He would announce that he needed to go pee, and then proceed to poop. He would say that he needed to poop, then get to the toilet, pee, and tell us “there is no poop in my butt.” To complicate things, he also got it right half the time, so you couldn’t just go with the opposite and be confident. Needless to say, after a few mix-ups while standing in front of the potty, he was a permanent sitter.

When he came home from the hospital in the crazy immobilizing uni-cast, he was no longer able to sit on the potty. To compensate for that, the hospital sent him home with a plastic wide-mouth bottle for peeing, and a plastic bed pan for pooping. Neither one was universal, and it was very difficult to get him positioned to try and use both the bottle and the bed pan at once. Given his lack of reliability on identifying what might be leaving his body at any given moment, you can see our dilemma. It was like a very high stakes game of whack-a-mole. You’d best be quick.

Once the cast went on, he was in diapers anyway, because the last thing you want with a Spica cast is an accident that you can’t get rid of for 6-1/2 weeks. We tried our best to use the bed pan and pee bottle for the first few days, but then we got lazy and tired of trying our best. And tired of cleaning pee out of the carpet. And out of our shirts.

By the end of Son Number Three’s first week in the cast, we were having this conversation:
“I have to pee.”
“OK. Go for it.”
“Are you coming?”
“No, buddy. Just pee in your diaper. I’ll change you right after you’re done so you won’t have a wet diaper.”

By the end of the second week, he was getting lazy and no longer giving us advanced notice, and we were all getting more comfortable with wet diapers:
“I peed in my diaper.”
“OK, buddy.”
“Are you coming?”
“Not right now. I’ll change you after your show is over.”

By the end of the third week, a total family laziness had set in and we were getting no notices at all:
 “Hey, buddy, it’s dinner time. Do you have a wet diaper?”
“Let’s check anyway… Holy cow, dude. This diaper is full.”
“Oh, yeah. I peed.”
“When did you pee?”
“At lunch.”

So now, here we are, two weeks after he was liberated from Spica cast confinement, and he is still in diapers and still not giving us any notice. We seem to be back at square one, potty training-wise, and it looks like we’re going to have to go through the whole ordeal again. We haven’t started yet, though.

Why, you ask? Well, there’s another problem. He hasn’t started to walk yet, either.

I contend it has to do with an overall laziness that has taken over every aspect of his life, but my wife keeps telling me it’s all part of the healing process. She also keeps pointing out how readily and vigorously he scoots himself around the house on his butt. She has a point. He does scoot an awful lot in situations where walking would be easier. I still think he’s milking it a little, but in any case, the point is, he hasn’t started back to walking yet.

What does that have to do with re-potty training, you ask? Let me give you a visual to help answer that question.

Imagine a three-year-old boy, who can’t walk because of a bad leg, who wants to sit in a chair. How does he do it? Well, first, he scoots on his butt over to the chair, straddling the chair with his legs. Then he hugs the leg of the chair, putting his face on the top part of the chair leg to gain some amount of leverage. He then proceeds to use his arms and face to grapple and shimmy his way up the leg of the chair, using his good leg to push and slide head-first onto the seat, until his belly is square in the middle of the chair. He then performs a complicated flip-scoot-twist-and-sit maneuver to get into an upright sitting position on the chair.

Now imagine that with a toilet.

We’re going to go ahead and just roll with the diapers a little longer until he starts to walk again.

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!