Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Over Texted

My wife and I took our kids out to dinner last night to celebrate Son Number Three’s fourth birthday. On the way home, we stopped at Target because Son Number One wanted to buy a batting glove before his next baseball game. He and I went in to look for the glove while my wife stayed in the car with the other two boys, because when you don’t have to bring all three into the store, you don’t. You just don’t.

Number One and I found a suitable batting glove that fit a seven-year-old’s budget, checked out, and headed back to the car. When we got home, I pulled my phone out of my pocket and noticed that I had a missed call. From my wife. From 20 minutes ago. I was with her 20 minutes ago…?

“Honey, did you call me 20 minutes ago?”
“Yeah, when you were walking across the parking lot heading into Target. I was calling to tell you that you were going in the wrong door. You were going to the grocery side.”

Now, come on! That’s what we’re using our phones for now? I think that’s a little much. It’s not like if we went in the wrong door we were going to fall into a hidden tiger pit. Or be attacked by a swarm of angry bees. Those would be legitimate reasons why I would want you to call me and tell me not to go in that door. But calling me to warn me that we’re going to have to walk an extra 50 feet? That is getting a little out of hand with the cell phones, don’t you think?

When we got in the door at Target, I had no idea where the batting gloves would be. Did I stop and get my phone out to call or text someone and ask them where I should walk? Of course not. I’m a 39-year-old man. I looked around, pointed myself in a likely direction, started walking and read the signs. I was born in a time when the only phones we had were permanently attached to the wall.

Unfortunately, I fear we are raising a generation of teenagers who would actually stand inside the door of Target and text someone for assistance. Why? Because it’s easy, I guess. And the phone was already in their hand, where it resides all day.

 “at trgt.. omg so lost.. wer is sports stuf?”


If you are my age or older, try to imagine this scenario: When you were a teenager, you walked into Target, went over to the pay phone on the wall, put in a dime, called home, and asked your mom where the sporting goods aisle was. I’m not sure you would have been allowed to come home.

The fact that my wife has apparently started to use her phone more like a teenager than a 40-year-old had me worried, so I got online and looked up the last bill, curious about our respective texting habits.

Last month, I sent 138 texts. I was shocked. I considered that to be a lot. My wife, on the other hand, sent 592. That’s 20 per day. I can’t name one other activity, besides breathing, that I do 20 times per day.

The only people that were on the phone 20 times per day when I was a kid were stock traders and the 911 operator in the big city. Everyone else used the phone three times a day. Four max.

Because I was shocked at my wife’s text numbers, and because I knew that she was still probably way low compared to today’s youth, I looked up the national averages.


The average teenager these days sends 3,339 texts per month. The average teen girl sends 4,050 per month. That’s 135 per day. I don’t think I even breathe in and out that many times per day. They must have thumbs like ninjas.

The usage drops off astronomically, as you would expect, as the user group gets older. The 55-64-year-old crowd hardly texts at all, and the 65+ crowd apparently does not even know what a text is. Astonishingly, my wife is actually average for the 35-45 crowd. I am the slacker of my age group with only 138 texts per month. That worries me.

I am honestly concerned about this. I grew up without a cell phone, and I consider it to have been a tremendously successful upbringing. Today’s kids are growing up not only with a cell phone, but a cell phone constantly in their hands, constantly using it. When they are not sending one of their 135 texts for the day, they are checking to see if they have any texts from other people, checking to see what Shakira and Justin Bieber are up to, playing Angry Birds, updating their Facebook status to, “OMG did you just see what Justin Bieber just tweeted?”, and then sending another nine OMG texts. Seriously, watch a teenager for two minutes. If they do not look at their phone in that two minutes, they are either asleep or dead.

There is the exact same number of minutes in the day today as there was when I was growing up, and I assume teenagers still have to do homework, so what activity that was prevalent in my youth is losing out to all this screen time today? I don’t know for sure, but my guess is it’s the one that was instrumental in the development of social skills, concentration, patience, problem solving skills, and common sense. All traits that I see on the decline with today’s youth.

We have to ask ourselves this very important question: As a society, do we really want to be raising kids who can’t make toast, multiply fractions, or find their own shoes if the battery dies on their phone? Think about it, people. OMG!

One thing is for sure. If my kids ever text me from Target asking where to find something, I will text them back this message: “removing u from cell phone plan now L

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 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, April 18, 2012

How to be a Parent

Two things occurred to me this morning at 3:15 A.M., while I sat on the floor in my boys’ bedroom, wiping pee off my three-year-old’s legs. The first thing was that parenting, despite some of the odd hours and strange tasks, is still the greatest thing I’ve ever done with my life. The second was that people who don’t have kids yet might not realize that sometimes people with kids are sitting on the floor at 3:15 A.M. cleaning up pee. So I thought I would try to use some of my experiences to help prospective parents prepare for life with children.

If you happen to be someone who has their first child on the way, or someone who is just thinking about starting a family, and you find yourself wondering what it will be like to live with, and be responsible for, small children, I can help. I have developed a series of real-life do-it-yourself examples that will help prepare you for parenthood.

Since we already touched on the subject of odd-hour odd tasks, let’s start there.

You never know what you’ll need to be doing when you’re woken up in the middle of the night by a child, so here’s how to prepare:
Get yourself three new alarm clocks. Have someone you know and trust set each one for a random time between the hours of midnight and 6:00 A.M. Start yourself off easy and only activate one at a time for a while. On the first night, when the alarm goes off, get out of bed and do laundry. On the next night, get out of bed and pour yogurt on your shoulders and the carpet, then do some more laundry and clean the carpet. On night number three, get out of bed and go to the store and buy cough syrup, milk, yogurt, oatmeal, diapers, children’s suppositories, and a humidifier. Then come home and change all the sheets on all the beds in the house. Then pour the yogurt in your lap, pour some of the milk on the couch, do laundry, clean the shower, and go back to bed. You can work up to having all three alarm clocks activated at once.

That should cover you for the standard issues, but it is really only a simulation for having kids ages one through eight. If you really want to prepare for what it’s like when you bring a newborn baby home, just stay up for 19 days in a row.

Once you have kids, you will never sleep in again. That is a hard reality to accept, so here’s how to get ready:
Set your regular old alarm clock for 5:45 A.M. Get up every morning at that time no matter what day it is. Do this forever.

Ages Zero to Four
You carry the young kids a lot. To get ready for this, buy a 30-pound bag of flour or rice. Carry it on your hip everywhere you go. You can only set it down for two minutes at a time, every two hours. If you ever drop it on accident, you have failed.

Random Daytime Shopping Emergencies
Kids are demanding, and their schedule almost never fits yours, so try this. Once or twice a month, leave work at an unexpected time and go to the store and buy cough syrup, milk, yogurt, oatmeal, diapers, children’s suppositories, and a humidifier. Then go back to work.

As the kids get older, they get louder. They are never louder than when you’re on the phone. To simulate what that will be like, go to a garage sale and find an old “boom box” portable stereo. Stock it with new D-cell batteries and have it with you at all times. Keep it tuned to a talk radio station. Whenever your phone rings, before you answer it, turn on your boom box and put it on your left shoulder, on volume level 10. Then answer your phone, put it up to your right ear and carry on your conversation as you would normally, only whenever you hear the words “and” or “the” from the radio, say, “Just a minute, please. Mommy’s on the phone.”

You’re a great driver. You’ve been driving for a long time. Driving with kids in the car won’t be an issue, right? Think again. The best way to simulate driving with children in the car is to get your hands on three cats and a rhesus monkey. Put all three cats in a medium-sized burlap bag, and place the bag in the back seat. Place the rhesus monkey on top of the bag. Drive as you would normally.

Ridiculous Emotions and Fake Problems
Kids have great imaginations and also lots of emotions they cannot fully control. Lots of times, those two forces collide and you are faced with cleaning up the teary-eyed mess. To prepare for this, search out and befriend someone who is notoriously neurotic and irrational. Follow them around and attempt to solve every one of their most inane daily problems. It is critical that you develop the ability to seem very concerned and forlorn about their most trivial issue. When you can say, “I’m really sorry that happened. What can I do to help?” with a serious look of concern on your face when they tell you that their imaginary friend lost her imaginary cat, you’re ready.

The Questions
Parenthood, when really boiled down to its essence, is about answering questions. An average child will ask approximately five bazillion questions by age seven. To get ready, buy all 26 versions of Trivial Pursuit. Carry the cards around with you all day, and every two minutes have someone ask you one of the questions. It is not critical that you actually know the correct answer, but you need to be able to come up with a plausible answer without hesitation. Have the person ask you three follow-up questions about your answer. Again, the actual answer is not critical. The ability to answer is what counts. That being said, it wouldn’t hurt to pay close attention to the Trivial Pursuit Ultimate Disney Edition. That will come in very handy. 

Home Improvement
Remove the existing can lights from your kitchen ceiling and install track lighting. Three days later, remove the track lighting, because it “just doesn’t go as well with everything else as she thought it would,” and put the old can lights back in.
(Sorry, this was accidentally transferred from the list of real-life do-it-yourself examples that will help prepare men for getting married. My mistake.)

As the kids grow up, they start getting interested in hitting things with sticks and bats. Often times, when minding your own business, one of those things is you. You’ll want to toughen up a little for this. Get a plastic Wiffle ball bat. Every day, hit yourself in the shins, knees, calves, and occasionally, the groin.

Toys Everywhere
Kids come with toys, and the toys live on the floor. Normally, that’s not a problem, but with older kids, you will need to be prepared for one major hazard: Nighttime Legos in the carpet. Since you don’t have kids yet, chances are you don’t have a lot of Legos available to you. No problem. Broken glass is a perfectly realistic substitute. Just break a few wine bottles and scatter the shards around your living room carpet. Turn off all the lights and walk across the room barefoot. When you can do it without yelping loud enough to wake the dead, you’re ready.

That should just about do it. Now, please don’t get me wrong. This list won’t fully prepare you for parenthood, but it will give you some very real-world practice so you won’t be caught too off guard when that first bundle of joy arrives. Have fun!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 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, April 11, 2012

April Fools

Since I am a self-employed performing artist who owns an Alternative Fuel Vehicle Refueling Property and also produces Cellulosic Biofuel, and my registered domestic partner is an Indian Coal Producer who also has healthcare expenses related to black lung, and we have both been receiving Ottoman Turkish Empire Settlement Payments, needless to say, our taxes were a little complicated this year.

Filling out my federal Form 2106 for the special handling of my performing artist expenses was easy. The problems arose when I tried to figure out if I could claim a deduction for my registered domestic partner’s health insurance costs. Since he is an Indian Coal Miner, I am unclear on whether California recognizes the fact that I am self-employed and paying his insurance premiums since he is also self-employed. Kind of vague there.

We also got a little confused about what to do with the interest we have received from our Ottoman Turkish Empire Settlement Payments. The federal government lets us deduct them, but California won’t. Does that mean that we have to give the money back? Believe me, I don’t want to give those Ottoman Turks another inch!

Figuring out my Alternative Fuel Vehicle Refueling Property Credit was no picnic, either. I read Form 8911 in its entirety, but I’m still confused. I produce and sell biodiesel mixed with ethanol, natural gas, hydrogen and wheat grass juice specifically formulated for today’s greener vehicles, and today’s less discerning alcoholics. The fact that I own the only vehicle that can actually run on this fuel is a moot point as far as I’m concerned, and the IRS agrees.

The problem is that Form 8911 says that the following are alternative fuels.
-          Any fuel at least 85 percent of the volume of which consists of one or more of the following: ethanol, natural gas, compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, or hydrogen.
-          Any mixture which consists of two or more of the following: biodiesel (as defined in section 40A(d)(1)), diesel fuel (as defined in section 4083(a)(3)), or kerosene,  and at least 20% of the volume of which consists of biodiesel determined without regard to any kerosene in such mixture.
-          Electricity.

Now, my special blend is only 75% ethanol, natural gas and hydrogen, but it contains biodiesel. Just not diesel or kerosene. You can see my obvious dilemma. I tried to read section 40A(d)(1), but I fell asleep. I don’t know if I qualify for the credit. If only the federal government were more specific on the treatment of wheat grass juice with respect to taxation, I would have some clear direction here.

Then there is Form 6478 – Alcohol and Cellulosic Biofuel Fuels Credit.
I need to determine where my cellulosic biofuel ranks from the following options:
- Alcohol 190 proof or greater and alcohol 190 proof or greater in fuel mixtures
- Alcohol less than 190 proof but at least 150 proof and alcohol less than 190 proof but at least 150 proof in fuel mixtures
- Qualified cellulosic biofuel produced after 2008 that is alcohol (see instructions for election)
- Qualified cellulosic biofuel produced after 2008 that is not alcohol (see instructions for election)

You can see my dilemma here, again. I know my cellulosic biofuel is alcoholic, because when we drink it, we get plumb tore up! But I’m really not sure what proof it is. Every time we think to test it, we end up passing around the Mason jar and forget again.

Also, the IRS has informed me that before claiming a credit on Form 6478, the alcohol fuel mixture credit must be taken against any section 4081 liability on Form 720. Any credit in excess of the section 4081 liability can be taken as a claim for payment on Form 8849 or an income tax credit on Form 4136. Clear as a bell.

Also, figuring out my registered domestic partner’s Form 8835 - Renewable Electricity, Refined Coal, and Indian Coal Production Credit has been no walk in the park. I do know that Indian coal means coal which is produced from coal reserves which on 6/14/05 were owned by an Indian tribe or held in trust by the United States for the benefit of an Indian tribe or its members. I also know that resources means wind, closed-loop biomass,  poultry waste, open-loop biomass, geothermal energy, solar energy, small irrigation power, municipal solid waste, hydropower production, marine and hydrokinetic renewables, refined coal, and Indian coal.

What I can’t figure out is how Form 8835 relates to Form 990-BL - Information and Initial Excise Tax Return for Black Lung Benefit Trusts and Certain Related Persons. We know that my registered domestic partner’s black lung issues are a direct result of both his Indian Coal mining activities and also his excessive intake of my cellulosic biofuel.

Should we try to combine Forms 8835, 990-BL and 6478 to give the IRS a clear picture of the predicament we find ourselves in?

Oh, forget it. Where’s that jug of biofuel?

If you ever get the impression that the tax code has anything to do with revenue collection, you need to think again.

April Fools Day is not April 1st. It’s April 15th!

See you soon,

Copyright © 2012 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, April 4, 2012

Mostly Proud Father

I had a very almost awesome, mostly exciting experience as a father the other night that left me half beaming with pride.

Son Number One, the oldest of the three, is seven years old. He’s on a seven and eight-year-old baseball team this year, and he is most assuredly in over his head. He is on the young side of the roster in the first place, but add to that the fact that he could care less if he is any good at baseball, and you have a kid who should really still be playing with the six-year-olds. He enjoys playing for the most part, but the internal drive and fire to be the best player he can be is completely missing. He strikes out, and runs back to the dugout with a smile on his face, just as happy as can be.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not the kind of dad that needs his kids to be all-stars. In fact, I have a “better living through mediocrity” philosophy when it comes to kids’ sports. I end up with a lot more free time if they stay middle of the road, athletically speaking. When you have an all-star, all of a sudden every single one of your weekends is spoken for with one tournament of champions or another. To that, I say no thanks.

That being said, I would like my eldest boy to be slightly more into the game of baseball than he seems to be. It doesn’t seem to faze him in the slightest that almost every other kid on his team can hit, field, and throw better than he can. He’s still having fun, though, and that’s what counts in my book.

So, anyway, the other night he had the game of his life. His usual M.O. at the plate is to swing at the first three pitches, no matter what they look like. Also, when he swings at them, he makes sure that the ball is already in the catcher’s mitt before starting the bat around. It makes for a pretty entertaining at-bat when the kid pitching bounces it in the dirt twice before it crosses the plate, the catcher loses it between his legs and is scrambling for the ball behind him, and then the batter swings. We’re having him tested for near-sightedness, far-sightedness, and blindness.

His first at-bat went as per usual. Three bad pitches, three late swings, and one happy kid running back to the bench. On his second at-bat, however, it was time for the coach to be pitching, so he got some balls that actually came across the plate. Out of nowhere, the planets aligned, the stars crossed, the bat started moving at the right time, and Son Number One ripped one up the middle past the second baseman for a single that moved his runner from first to third. Standing there on first base, beaming proudly at me, was the first glimmer I had seen all season of an honest-to-goodness baseball player. I was beaming back at him from the stands just as proud as I could possibly be. I was glowing.

It didn’t last long.

In the middle of the next kid’s at-bat, my superstar future Cal Ripken was not poised with one foot on the bag, stretched out and ready to run to second base. He was, instead, standing with both feet in the middle of the bag, facing away from second base, looking alternately at me and his base coach, holding his groin with both hands, hopping up and down, and generally giving us the universal “I’ve gotta pee really bad!” signals. When I suggested from the stands that he might want to hold it, his pained expression was replaced with a look of abject terror that immediately caused his base coach to call a pinch runner out of the dugout. Off went Son Number One like a rocket, straight off the field, through the dugout, and heading for the restrooms, abandoning what might have very well been his one base running opportunity of the year. I hung my head, and climbed out of the stands to follow him to the potty.

He was in the door to one of the restrooms well ahead of me, and when I opened the door to follow him, I was prepared to give a rather stern talking to about holding it next time in the middle of the game to a boy with his pants around his ankles, peeing into a toilet. What I found, however, was a heartbroken little boy, crying next to the potty, still fully clothed. He hadn’t made it in time. My seven-year-old had peed his pants. My heart melted, and I immediately switched to consoling dad mode. He was embarrassed, and terrified that everyone would know.

While I worked on stopping the tears and calming him down, I pieced together what had happened. As it turns out, the required athletic cup can backfire on this age group. While it is meant to be a protective device, it very much limits the wearer’s ability to “squeeze it off” in a pee emergency. Live and learn.

At the beginning of the year when we received my son’s uniform, I took one look at the pants and said to my wife, “You’re kidding, right?” White pants with red pin stripes, combined with red socks, navy blue jerseys, and black hats. They sort of look like the miniature Harlem Globetrotters of baseball. That night, however, I was thrilled with the white pants. After an initial examination of the damp young man, I was very happy to report to him that it was impossible to tell that his pants were wet. He would have to live with the fact that his underwear was squishy, but the general public would never know anything was amiss. The white pants had saved the day. We wiped off the tears, put a smile on our faces, and raced back to the field.

Some kid on the other team had made an unassisted triple play at third base right about the time that we had hit the restroom, so Son Number One’s entire team had already taken the field, and they were yelling for him to hurry up. Due to his late arrival, he was placed at the pitcher’s mound next to the coach instead of his usual spot in left field. Besides the fact that he ran out to the mound with his feet spread wide apart, waddle-running like his pants were wet, you never would have been able to tell his pants were wet. Crisis averted!

I had gone from super-proud and excited to less-than-thrilled and annoyed to empathetic and consoling to relieved and happy in the span of two minutes. As I sat back down in the stands, I was physically tired from all the emotions. I had barely caught my breath when I was back up on my feet, cheering wildly and beaming with pride again. For the second time that night the planets and stars all fell into place. The batter hit a dribbling ground ball back at the mound. Son Number One charged the ball, fielded it effortlessly, and pivoting on his right foot, threw a rifle-shot to first base to get the batter out by half a step. I have never seen him throw a ball that fast or that accurately. I was glowing once again.

The game ended shortly after that, and I bought him a celebratory Icee at the snack bar. We had a serious discussion about remembering to go potty before the game from now on, and more excited talk from his proud father about his hit and his play at the mound. We also decided that since it was a late game and his mom was home with his younger brothers, we would tell her all about his highlights, but keep the part about the pee to ourselves. We figured it was guy stuff, and since no one else knew, she didn’t need to know either. So if you happen to see him, just high-five him for the hit and the out. You don’t know anything about any accident.

True to form for my not-so-sports-oriented seven-year-old, however, if you ask him about that game today, he’ll probably remember only one thing. The Icee.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 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!