Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Red Solo Cup

Initially when I agreed to take on the role of Mr. Mom, I may have been lied to about how much work it is to take care of three young boys and one big house. Either that or I was just nodding my head while thinking about baseball. Tough to say.

The bottom line is, after a few weeks at the helm, the ship is taking on water and starting to drift off course.
“Why are you walking there? I just cleaned that!”
“Why are you eating again? I just fed you, and I just cleaned that.”
“Why are you wearing clothes again? I just washed clothes.”
“You want me to bathe them how often?”
“You want me to make them lunch every day? They just come home expecting more food!”

As I adjust to this wiping/rinsing/preparing/feeding/washing/wiping/rinsing endless circle of crumbs and stains, I am looking for places to trim the fat and lean out the engine, if you will. One area I noticed that was an easy place to gain some efficiency was cups. My wife has a kitchen cupboard filled with nothing but plastic children’s drink cups. Foolishly, it’s a low one, so the kids can get their own cups anytime they want. She probably thought this was saving her time by not having to help them get a drink. Boy was she wrong!

The first thing I noticed about my dishwasher loads was the entire top rack was nothing but plastic cups. I did some quick math and realized that each boy was probably using anywhere from 4 to 2000 cups per day, depending on how hot it was outside. To make matters even worse, plastic cups have that annoying habit of never fully drying in the dishwasher, storing little pools of water on their inverted bottoms, and raining it down all over the perfectly dry dishes below if you so much as look at the top rack wrong when you open the door. Why am I having to hand-dry all the dishes after they went through the automatic dry cycle? This is madness. This must end.

Easy solution. Each kid gets one cup with their name on it, and if they want a drink, they need to use their own personal cup. That should put an end to the former practice of filling a new cup with water, taking a sip, then throwing the cup over their shoulder and running away. At least, I assume that’s what they were doing based on the cup usage statistics and the water all over the floor near the refrigerator.

My wife and mother-in-law recently bought me a hard-plastic, insulated “red Solo cup” as a gag gift. It looks just like the famous white-on-the-inside, beer-from-the-tap-at-a-keg-party, 16-ounce red Solo cup, but it is super-sturdy and infinitely reusable. They found it at a big beverage store and thought it was funny, but I loved it. It’s a great cup. It’s insulated so it doesn’t sweat as much as a glass, and when I drink out of it, I feel like I’m at a party, so it puts me in a good mood. I instantly adopted it as my regular daily ice water cup.

When I made the decision to go to a one-cup-only system with the boys, the sturdy red Solo cup was a no-brainer. I immediately bought three more of them, and wrote their names in black Sharpie marker on the sides. I even wrote “Daddy” on mine to avoid ending up with warm milk in it and half-dissolved granola bar chunks stuck to the rim.

The boys adopted the new plan with ease, and even sing Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” song occasionally. When they talk about them, they say, “redsolocup” as one word. Kids are cute. I could see nothing wrong with my new plan… until the other morning.

Grandpa and Grandma were visiting, and Grandpa’s evening drink is bourbon. When I came downstairs in the morning, sitting on the counter next to the refrigerator were four red Solo cups with names written on them in Sharpie, the remains of a 1.75-liter bottle of Jim Beam, a teddy bear, and an empty bag of tortilla chips.


As I was pondering the scene, in stumbles a sleepy-eyed seven-year-old kid in boxer shorts, munching on a tortilla chip, scratching himself, and singing, “Red Solo cup, I fill you up, let’s have a party, let’s have a party…”

I have what appears to be the aftermath of an elementary school frat party in my kitchen. That can’t be good.

As long as we can keep the Child Protective Services Department out of here, we should be OK. One thing is for sure, though; with Mr. Mom at the helm, my boys are going to have no trouble adjusting to life at college.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Back to School

When I was a kid, we didn’t go back to school until after Labor Day. Nowadays here in California, our kids return in August. My boys went back yesterday. I was always opposed to starting school before Labor Day, but only on the grounds of it being different than my childhood. I am just now beginning to understand the thinking behind moving it up.

I have been holding down my post here as the new Mr. Mom since mid-July, and as such, I have been forced to be within a few feet of all three of our boys for every single minute of every waking hour of every single week and weekend day for a whole lot of days in a row. I have to tell you, I might not be cut out for this.

I used to get to leave. Sure, when I did I had to go to an office and work, but still, I got to leave. I never realized how much they fight with each other. It’s not the fighting that I mind so much, it’s the whining about it that annoys me.

(Son in whiny, sniffle-ly voice) “He punched me in the stomach!”
(Other son in whiny defensive voice) “He wouldn’t get off my face!”
(Me in annoyed voice) “You were wrestling with each other for five minutes. What did you think would happen?!? Go read a book. You hardly ever get punched when you’re doing that.”
(Two ultra-whiny voices in stereo) “I don’t want to read!”
(Me in even more annoyed voice) “Then why don’t you move to North Korea.”
grumble, grumble
“Can we watch TV instead?”
“No. I want you to be sharper, not duller.”

I don’t know when they start school in the far northern and far southern regions of California, where the weather is mild in the summer, and frankly I don’t care. Here in the Sacramento region it gets hotter than the hinges of hell in July and August. I would gladly take them outside for an enjoyable activity where we could bond and grow stronger and happier as father and sons, but it’s like the surface of the sun out there. It was 106 degrees a few days ago. That’s just stupid.

The other day, when I simply couldn’t stand being inside the same building as my three sons for another moment, I broke down and took them on a bike ride. Since it was 104 degrees, the plan was to ride to the water park, run around in the refreshing spray for a while, then ride back in our wet clothes, feeling nice and cool. No such luck. We arrived, sweaty and partially cooked, to a dry water park. A little red girl in a swimsuit with heat waves coming off her shoulders informed us that the plumbing was broken.

They should send out a warning signal or something. Son Number Three nearly exploded from the heat on the way back. He’s much blonder than the other two. Son Number One and Two used up all the available swarthy DNA my wife and I had to offer, and all that was left for Number Three was the blond-haired, blue-eyed, translucent-skinned Nordic genes. We usually just hold him upside down by his ankles and dip him into a 55-gallon drum of sunscreen before we leave the house.

Number One’s tire went flat halfway home. I briefly considered leaving him and saving the other two. My wife would understand that there was nothing I could do, right? After reconsidering, we stuck together and walked our bikes back, just making it to our door as our shoes began to melt. Son Number Three had stopped sweating, which is a bad sign, so we all took emergency cold baths and showers while drinking ice water. Close call.

So, what did the boys want to do after we had all cooled off and returned to the proper color? They wanted to set up a lemonade stand. Are you kidding me? We just narrowly escaped that furnace, and you want to go back? Look out at our street, son. Look through those heat waves coming off the asphalt and tell me what you see. You know what you see? Nothing. Nobody. Nada. Everyone is indoors. If I let you sit out there trying to sell lemonade, you will die long before the first customer happens by in their air-conditioned vehicle. And if by chance someone is dumb enough to be outside right now, do you know what they don’t want? They don’t want to buy a shot glass-sized Dixie cup of hot lemonade from a red, flaming kid with heat stroke. Go find a book.

Not only is summer too hot, it is also too long. I’m fine with school getting out at the beginning of June, but we don’t need ten weeks to “rest.” Now that I am Mr. Mom, I fully support an early start, and suggest that next year we have a nice four-week break and send them back right after the Fourth of July.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I took my boys fishing this weekend. It wasn’t the first time, but it might be the last. It finally occurred to me why it’s traditionally the grandfather who takes the kids fishing.

I'm their dad. I'm the one that had to pry them out of bed with a crowbar before the sun came up. I'm the one who had to hear them complain about their pants being the wrong ones, and how disappointing it was that we didn’t have the right kind of breakfast cereal. I'm the one who had to hear them griping in the car and fighting with each other. I was already sick of hearing from them before we even got to the lake. Now we're going to commence with a sport that can frustrate even the most patient of men? And we're asking single digit-aged boys to do it? None of my kids have even a measurable ounce of patience, and two out of the three have the attention spans of a gnat on crack. The other one – the one that can really concentrate – has the attention span of a clean and sober gnat.

I’m really not even sure why we take kids fishing in the first place. It is completely unnatural. Here, kid, hold this long, flexible, whippy pole with this amazing spinning contraption that has the inviting crank handle attached to it. Now just sit there keeping the rod perfectly still and don’t turn the handle. You might as well give them bottle rockets stuck in an ice cream sundae, hand them spoons and a book of matches, and expect absolutely nothing to happen.

I would cast it out, hand them the pole, and say, “Just leave it out there,” then turn around to help one of their brothers with his pole. Before I got two steps away I would hear, “Dad, it’s back. I need more bait and I need you to cast it.”

I finally just gave up because I couldn’t think of any other ways of saying, “Stop reeling it in. Leave it alone.” I even tried Spanish in case they were bilingual and didn’t tell us.

Worse than the constant re-baiting and re-casting is dealing with the headstrong boy who is determined to cast the rod himself. I think hell might be a place where you are constantly baiting and casting rods for two small boys who can’t physically stop themselves from reeling, even under threat of death, in between unsnarling a rat’s nest of fishing line from a reel being operated by a boy who does not yet possess the motor skills, coordination, or willingness to even tie his own shoes. As all three boys complain that fishing is no fun. In the hot sun. With bugs.

At one point, my son handed me a pole that had a knotted ball of fishing line the size of a bath sponge hanging under the reel. He had actually managed to lodge some of the line back up inside the reel, but from the bottom, so it was disappearing up into the microscopic circular gap between the stationary part and the spinning part. I don’t even know how that is possible. When I asked him, “Why didn’t you stop long before it looked like this?” he answered, “I was trying to fix it.”

Added to all that, we had casting over each other’s lines, leaving the cap off the salmon eggs and spilling half the jar into the dirt and grass, walking in front of each other and snarling one boy’s fishing line around the other boy’s pole and neck, and my personal favorite, having a boy trip over the pole that I happen to be baiting, and yanking the small, barbed hook deep into my index finger. A pair of pliers and a few curse words later, and I had about had it.

The grandpas tend to handle that kind of stuff better. They didn’t start out annoyed, so they can take more of it in stride. They are older and more patient, and invariably wiser.

For instance, they bring the right kind of bait.

I was fed up with the whining, and all the mechanics of baiting, casting, and unsnarling, but mostly I was fed up with not catching anything. Needing a little break, I made a short trip down to the general store and bought a Styrofoam cup of worms. We made the switch from salmon eggs to worms, and almost could not keep the fish off the hooks after that. I made the first cast out, and had a fish on before I could even hand the pole to my son. The day improved drastically from there.

Sure, I still had to do a lot of baiting, casting, and unsnarling, but it turns out it’s not as bad when the kids aren’t complaining while you’re doing it. Apparently, it’s the catching fish part that is fun for the kids. Who knew? I always thought it was the sitting in a lawn chair drinking beer part that made fishing fun, but now that I think about it, kids don’t get to do that, so actually catching fish really improves their mood.

Grandpas already know all that, because they went through all this already. Grandpas are smart, and they have more free time. They do recon ahead of time, when they get to sit in the lawn chair and drink beer, and figure out which bait works. Then they take the kids and actually catch fish.


See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Mamarazzi

You have heard of the paparazzi; the annoying in-your-face camera jockeys who follow celebrities around hoping to get a picture of them they can sell to People magazine. I recently watched the documentary, $ellebrity, with the Jennifers (both Aniston and Lopez), and every A-list star interviewed in the movie had some pretty crazy stories about the lengths these Hollywood parasites will go to snap a photo. I have mixed feelings about the complaints from the stars, though. On the one hand, if you wanted to be famous, you have to deal with the whole package, good and bad. On the other hand, the stories about invasion of privacy were pretty wild.

One group that hasn’t been given a voice in all this camera controversy is the children. I’m not talking about the children of celebrities, mind you, I’m talking about my own kids. They are mercilessly stalked by a different, but equally insidious group, the mamarazzi. The mamarazzi is well-armed with expensive cameras, detailed insider knowledge on when and where their targets will be, and a cold, ruthless willingness to stop any activity dead in its tracks at the first sign of fun to take a picture. Our children have never played for a period of longer than five minutes without having their picture taken.

We are, however, enjoying a brief respite from the constant stopping and posing, because my wife’s incredibly expensive Nikon digital camera stopped working the other day. I am of the opinion that if you spend a mortgage payment on a camera, it should be simple to use, but the people at Nikon disagree. One day it just started taking black-screen pictures, as if the lens cap was on, and none of the 32,000 menu settings seem to fix it. (Yes, we did check to see that the lens cap was not on, and yes, we are currently accepting any technical advice you have to offer.)

When the incredibly expensive Nikon camera was working as advertised, my wife was almost out of control. It may have just worn out from overuse, actually. We haven’t left the house since it stopped working, because in her words, “What’s the point?” This confirmed my earlier suspicion that she was taking the kids on outings merely for the photo ops. I got suspicious when she kept saying, “We’re going on location,” instead of, “We’re going to the lake.”

“Mom, can we go to the park?”
“Why? The camera’s still broken.”
“Never mind. See if your dad will take you.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like that fact that our kids’ childhoods are being documented. We already have more pictures of Son Number Three than my parents and all their friends combined ever took of us kids growing up. Between the limitations of film cameras and the fact that I was the third child, my parents have exactly eight pictures of me. The problem now is, with the large memory cards and the fast shutter speeds, we have too many pictures. My wife will get home from a family get-together and upload the memory card to Shutterfly, then send the family an e-mail saying that the 457 pictures of our picnic are available for viewing. Even on fast-mode slideshow, looking at the pictures actually takes longer than the picnic did. I think that defies the laws of space and time, but I’m here to tell you it’s true.

If we could somehow print out all the pictures my wife ever took, and turn them into a giant flip book, you could actually watch our kids grow up in real time.

The good news in all this is the mamarazzi might actually be breeding a more thick-skinned future celebrity when it comes to tolerance for cameras. I know, as far as my boys go, God forbid, if one of them ever becomes a celebrity, he will wonder why the paparazzi aren’t taking very many pictures.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!