Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Helpless Near Seattle

My family and I are currently up in Portland, Oregon for our annual family reunion. My dad’s side comes from the Pacific Northwest, and we make the pilgrimage back every year after Christmas to re-unite and catch up on the past year. We used to fly up, but a recent phenomenon in our lives known as “children” has negatively impacted another phenomenon known as “airfare,” so for the past few years we have made the nine-plus hour drive from California. This year, along the way up Interstate-5, we ran into a troubling phenomenon: Helpless Americans.

Now, I don’t mean to trash on Oregonians, because I have a lot of good friends and family from this fine state, but the two examples of helplessness happened to be directly attributable to Oregon life. So, do with this what you will, my friendly neighbors to the North.

The first incident took place yesterday in California. We were headed North, and a nice couple from Oregon was headed South. We met by chance, opposite each other at Chevron Station Pump # 5 in Willows, California. I pulled up to my side of the pump and got out, noticing the man, approximately 60 years of age, laughing nervously on the other side of the pump island. I began to insert my credit card into the pump as I heard him say, half to his wife, and half indirectly to me, “Boy, I just can’t seem to get this thing to work!” As I looked up across the top of the pump at him, he met my gaze and said to me, “It asked me to enter my ZIP code.” Then he qualified his bewilderment by adding, “We’re from Oregon. It’s been a while since I’ve done this.”

Now for those of you who have never had the pleasure of driving through the lovely state of Oregon, they have a long-standing state law that prohibits everyday, average citizens from pumping their own gas. The entire state is full-serve. You are only allowed to put gas in a car if your name is sewed on your shirt next to a gas station logo. I think it had something to do with preserving the gas station attendant’s way of life, but for whatever reason, you can’t fill up your own car, and it’s been that way for a long, long time.

I used to live in Oregon, and I’m very familiar with the no-pumping-your-own-gas rule, so I understood his dilemma almost instantly. I politely explained that the pump was asking for his ZIP code only to verify that it was not a stolen credit card. He said, “Well, OK. I already entered my ZIP code, but now it’s telling me to press the button. I assume that means I’m supposed to squeeze the handle trigger, but I can’t get any gas to come out.”

At that point, I ducked my head around the pump and showed him the three bright yellow buttons on the front of the pump that all say “push here,” to select what flavor of gasoline you would like to purchase. He was only mildly embarrassed as he selected 87 Octane and began to fill his Honda’s tank. He laughingly explained his dilemma by saying, “Boy, I guess I don’t get out of Oregon much.”

The second incident happened later that afternoon. We had made it all the way over the mountain range that separates our two states, and the rest of the way up the state with no problems. We were a mere 17 miles from our destination when an unexpected snow storm hit. The forecast for Portland had been rain, but a mass of cold air had slammed down the Columbia River Gorge at the last minute, and the result was five hours of big, fat, wet snowflakes the size of golf balls. Most of the afternoon travelers in and around the Portland area were caught off-guard, and the result was ugly.

We had traveled for nine hours without a hitch, and the last 15 miles ended up taking us another two and a half. We were in our four-wheel-drive Ford Expedition, so keeping the car straight was not an issue for us. The problem was all the two-wheel-drive sedans without chains that were pirouetting in front of us. As we made our way through the otherwise beautiful storm, we had no less than five quarter-mile-long waits as cars and small pick-up trucks were pushed and slid by their drivers and other helpful motorists out of their precarious road-blocking positions. Able-bodied folks near the distressed cars banded together to help out, as Americans will do, to help clear the way for those who could make headway.

The next morning, however, the news showed me a different kind of American. He was being interviewed the night before, in the middle of the snowstorm on the side of the road. As the giant snowflakes fell on his head, he complained to the reporter, “My car is just stuck over there on the side of this road. I can’t get up this hill.” Mystified by this unfair situation, and angry that he hadn’t seen a snowplow arrive at his location yet, he exclaimed, “What are they waitin’ for? We’ve got the tax money. Let’s go!”

These two stories; “bewildered gas pump guy” and “indignant snow plow guy,” are small, yet very poignant examples of what happens to people when we allow too much government involvement in our lives.

After years and years of living with a really weird gas pump control law, the State of Oregon has produced at least one fully grown adult male who can operate a motor vehicle, but has no idea how to actually fill it with gas himself.

“Bewildered gas pump guy” is a rather humorous anecdote, but “indignant snow plow guy” is actually a little scary. Mother Nature showed what she’s made of, catching this man off-guard and temporarily stranding him on the side of the road. Instead of revising his plans and making his way home by other means, he stood out in the snow and impatiently waited for the government to show up and fix his problem for him.

Ladies and gentlemen, the day that this country ever becomes 51% “indignant snow plow guy,” it’s all over. We might as well just re-name the place “West France,” and pull up a chair.

Do your part to stop this trend, won’t you, please? If you ever meet “indignant snow plow guy,” remind him why God gave him two legs and a brain.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2009 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!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Santa Overload

Halloween was a month-long event this year. Between school parties, play dates, moms club parties and the actual night, I think my kids dressed up in their costumes every other day for the entire month of October. I thought that was a little excessive.

Then it was a quick transition to hand-print turkeys and construction paper pilgrim hats, we scarfed down some stuffing, and we were on to Christmas. If you had gone to the mall in early November, however, you would have thought that Thanksgiving was long over. There was Santa, the day after Halloween.

That’s nothing compared to our home improvement warehouses, though. I kid you not, they had the Christmas stuff out at our Home Depot in September. September, people! Now, that’s excessive.

It’s not so much the commercialization of Christmas that I’m worried about. I actually kind of like the fact that businesses try to drag out Christmas as long as possible. It ultimately serves to give more exposure to my favorite Christian holiday, hopefully giving more people a chance to remember that it’s really all about the birth of our Lord.

And since the Lord blessed me with a complete lack of sympathy toward whining children, I can easily dodge the “your parents will buy you this toy for Christmas if they love you” advertising onslaught by simply telling them, “No, you can’t have one of those. We’re not the Rockefellers.”
“What’s a Rocker-Fella, Dad?”
“Zip it, kid. Get in the car.”

What I am worried about is the amazing over-abundance of Santa sightings these days. I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, we saw Santa maybe once before Christmas if we were lucky. And that was only if we could convince our folks to take us to the mall, which was the only place you could find him.

I did a count this year, and my kids saw Santa no less than thirteen times this year, and actually sat on his lap at least five times. Five times! I don’t think I sat on Santa’s lap five times total in my entire childhood. Most years we had to write him a letter, because we could never find him to talk to him in person.

Now, the mind of a five-year-old is not as perceptive as an adult’s, perhaps, but they do pick up on more than you think they will. This can be an issue, because as with any commodity, when you start flooding the system with Santas, you’re going to get wide swings in the quality department.

At our number two son’s preschool Christmas party, we had the Santa by which all others shall be judged. His beard and hair were real, he was the spitting image of old Saint Nick, his voice was perfect, he had real black boots, and his outfit was real hand-made satin and fur that puts anything else I’ve seen to shame. Pair him against the 18-year-old Santa that came to our house in the red felt and white acrylic “fur” suit. The entire suit, hat, fake beard and hair appeared as if they were made from the same materials as one of those ultra-thin, bright red Christmas stockings that come in a six-pack from the dollar store. He had the black vinyl “booties” with the elastic strap that covered only the top half of his tennis shoes, and he was apparently too young to attempt to muster a Santa voice, so he just went with his own 18-year-old voice, complete with phrases like “little dude,” “oh, man,” and “super cool.” As it turned out, however, Number Three, who is one and a half, was OK with surfer-dude Santa, but scared to death of the real deal. Go figure.

The wide variety of realism with the Santas in our encounters have left me fielding more than a few questions, like, “How come Santa’s beard doesn’t look the same as yesterday?” and, “Why does Santa smell like Grandpa’s adult drink?”

Other questions arose this year when we ran into a proximity and time puzzle. When I took the boys to the mall to shop for Mommy, we spent a few minutes on level two peering over the railing at Santa, below in his chair, in Westfield’s version of Santa wonderland, diligently taking orders from all the little boys and girls who have parents willing to wait in the Santa line at the mall. Then, off we went toward the Sears tool department, where we shop for Mommy. Along the way, not thirty seconds after we left Santa in his chair, there he was again at the portrait studio on level two. Come on, fellas! Work with me, here. At least spread out a little!

“Daddy, why is Santa right there?”
Hmmm. “So that boys and girls can get their pictures taken with him.”
Crunch, crunch (sound of five-year-old’s brain working overtime)
“But, he was just down there.”
“How come?”
Hmmm. “Well, he’s magic, of course. He can be in two places at once. How do you think he delivers presents to every boy and girl in the world on one night? Oh look boys, a 10-inch compound miter chop saw with a laser cut line! I’ll bet Mommy would love that!”

The thing I’m most concerned about is not the questions, and it’s not the daunting requirement for spontaneous yet non-conflicting answers. It’s the loss of wonder that I want to avoid. The boys will only be young for a short period of time, and I want them to be mystified by Santa for as long as possible, not bored with him.

This year we have seen Santa five times at the mall, five times at Christmas parties, once on the Polar Express, and once on a fire truck in our neighborhood. Oh, yeah, and once driving a Hyundai. That one was hard for my wife to explain.

Next year we’ll do our best to whittle that number down a little, because I never want to hear, “Oh, look over there. It’s Santa again. Ho-hum. Boring!” At least not until they’re fifteen.

Have a wonderful Christmas, everybody!

See you soon,

Copyright © 2009 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 2, 2009

The Five Feet of Christmas I Despise

Since I’m a Christian, I really enjoy Christmas. We get to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with our family and friends, joyfully thanking God for His greatest gift to us. And besides, I really love sugar cookies! There is, however, one aspect of Christmas that I don’t like. Actually, “don’t like” isn’t strong enough. Loath. Hate. Despise… yes, there is one aspect of Christmas that I despise. It has to do with Christmas lights.

It’s not the lights themselves. I love those. I really like the way they make the house look. My wife likes icicle lights; the kind with the individual light strands of differing lengths that hang down from the eaves to simulate a sparkling frozen wonderland. They give the house a warm glow while at the same time making us feel like we have a winter paradise in our otherwise non-frozen California front yard. It’s really quite magical, and brings joy to my heart every time I pull into the driveway from work.

It’s not putting up the lights, either. I don’t mind that chore. I might even go so far as to say that I enjoy it. It’s usually a nice, crisp fall day. I’m bundled up against the early December breeze, high on a ladder, as the boys frolic in the red and yellow autumn leaves on the lawn below. They “help” by holding the ladder, and climbing up to my feet when I’m down low. It seems like the essence of being a father and a family man is all wrapped up in that one chore, and it makes me feel content with my life.

The problem comes when I plug them in. Night falls, and I make the extension cord connection and then stand back to proudly admire my work. And there it is. The five feet of Christmas I despise: The five-foot section of icicle lights that is out, right in the middle of the string.

Dark. Nada.

We’ve got plug end, five feet of lit string, five feet of dark string, five more feet of lit string, and the prong end. Awesome! Right in the middle of the front of the house. My house could be a magical, sparkling, winter wonderland, but instead, that five-foot section of lights, out of the ninety-five total feet of lights, makes the entire house look stupid. The five-foot outage actually takes the whole effort and turns it upside down. Instead of improving the look of the house for the holidays, I have detracted from it, and made it look like the Christmas equivalent of the neighborhood delinquent’s house where the lawn is never mowed, there’s a car with a 2-inch layer of dirt and four flat tires in the driveway, and the screen door is hanging on one hinge. What a wonderful night!

My wife comes out and asks, “Didn’t you check them before you put them up?”
I grit my teeth.

My smart-ass neighbor yells from across the street, “You missed a spot!”
Yeah, thanks, Ted. Why don’t you go back inside now?

My son asks, “How come you didn’t put any lights right there?”
Time for you to go inside now, too, junior.

I would fix it, but I don’t know how. I don’t understand how it’s possible. Is the electricity jumping from one spot to another in the cord, bypassing some of the lights? How on Earth can both ends of a continuous string of lights be lit, but the middle is dark? It’s like turning the hose on at the house, cutting it in half in the middle, and still getting water out the other end.

I’m almost positive I used that string last year and it worked, otherwise I wouldn’t have kept it for this year, right? So please tell me what happened to it while it was tucked away in a plastic tub in my garage for the past eleven months. Did the copper wires melt during the summer? Did the electrons go on vacation? Does it just hate me?

To make troubleshooting even harder, I can’t recreate the problem on a string that works. I’m fairly sure it isn’t a bad bulb, because I can pull the tiny individual bulbs out of their tiny two-copper-wire-prong sockets in the lit strings, and the rest of the string stays lit. Why? Can someone please tell me why? Please! Why???

Oh, well. At least the Christmas tree lights work. Wait a minute…. The whole left side just went out. Great! Someone find the lawnmower while I fix this screen door hinge.

I need a sugar cookie.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2009 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!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veterans Day, 2009

First, a brief history of Veterans Day, brought to us by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs:

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles in France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.

The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a resolution in 1926, with these words:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

Has anyone else noticed that our Government is not nearly as poetic today as they were in 1926?

Anyway, in 1938, Congress made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day." Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I.

Unfortunately, WWI was not the “war to end all wars,” and after WWII and the Korean War, in 1954, Congress changed the name of the holiday to “Veterans Day,” and November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

There you have it.

I am proud to say I have quite a few veterans in my family tree, and I reflect on their service and sacrifice for this country every year on this day. Of all the old war stories, one in particular always makes me smile.

Brad Dolliver, my mom’s Uncle Brad, was a WWII and Korean War veteran. He was the Captain of a B-24 bomber in WWII named the “What’s Cookin’ Doc?,” complete with Bugs Bunny painted on the nose. He led his outstanding men on 30 missions over Europe, only sustaining one single crew injury, when flak shrapnel hit one of his gunners on their final mission over Germany. That was an amazing feat, since their campaign tour included being shot down on Christmas Day, 1944. That is the story that I love.

They were hit hard by anti-aircraft fire that knocked out three of his four engines, and he knew they couldn’t make it back to their airfield in England. He was losing altitude and heading for the American lines in France when he told the crew to bail out as he tried to land in an open field he had spotted. They unanimously chose to stay with him, and as he recalled, he made the smoothest landing of his entire career that day. He and his crew hitched a ride with a French man in a pick-up truck, and Uncle Brad assumed they were being taken to the American lines. Fortunately, the navigator was paying attention, and informed Captain Dolliver that they were being driven in the wrong direction, toward the Germans. The way Uncle Brad told the next part of the story speaks volumes about his generation and their matter-of-fact style. As he put it, “Somehow my .45 ended up in that Frenchman’s ear, and we got that truck turned around the right way.”

Got to love it.

Uncle Brad and his crew were some of the lucky ones that returned home from the wars they fought. On this special day set aside to remember and thank our veterans, let us not forget those who gave their lives for our liberty, and the liberty of other nations.

As a husband and a father, I can imagine no sacrifice more grave or selfless than the one the soldier makes when he leaves his family behind to fight on foreign soil on our behalf. The physical, mental and emotional toll must be staggering, but we are reminded of the caliber of men that stand at our defense when we hear them say, as Brad Dolliver said, “We were just doing our jobs.”

The humility and grace of our nation’s finest always strikes me and inspires me, and I am always at a loss for words of gratitude when I get a chance to thank them. It’s always just a simple “thank you,” because anything else I would or could try to express would fall well short of the reverence deserved.

For all the thanks and praise our returning heroes rightly receive, sadly it is the men and women that we will never get a chance to thank who deserve our utmost appreciation. They gave their lives for us, and that is a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.

So, from this freedom-loving American to all you VFW’s out there, all I can say is, “Thanks for your service,” because I will never be able to adequately convey what you truly mean to me.

God bless you all.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2009 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!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Howard I Ross, 1911-2009

My grandpa, Howard Isaac Ross who was born in 1911, passed away on August 12th, 2009. He was 97 years old. My advice to any of you out there with parents, grandparents or great-grandparents in their 90’s is this: Get as many of their stories out of them as you can now, before they’re gone. The “greatest generation” was an amazing group of folks who saw more changes over their lifetimes than you and I can imagine, and there are only a handful of them left, so make the most of your time with the ones that are still around.

They possessed a work ethic and a frugality that are largely unheard of and unseen these days. They went about their lives very matter-of-factly, always taking care of themselves and their business, never ever being so impressed with themselves and their accomplishments as we seem to be of ours. Because of their humility and their “it is what it is” view of the world, many times I’m sure it just never occurred to them to tell others about some of the amazing things they may have done along the way.

We got a lot of stories out of my grandpa over the years, but there are so many others that I wish we had asked him about. Here are a few handy tips I picked up from him after some prodding:

If you’re going to be involved in a cock fighting ring, it helps to be friends with the Sheriff….. My grandpa was a veterinarian’s assistant and the “handler” for his boss, a Beverly, Massachusetts veterinarian who raised fighting cocks. The cock fighting circuit was big business back then, but it was illegal. One of Doc’s good buddies was the town Sheriff, and as my grandpa put it “if they were planning raids, he’d let us know and we’d lay low for a while.” Got to love it!

Poor on the 4th of July? You don’t need expensive Chinese gunpowder to have a good time. If you know how to make acetylene, you’re golden!..... All you need is an old empty 20-gallon milk can with a wooden stopper and some calcium carbide from the local hardware store. Can’t find the calcium carbide? Look for it in the miner’s supply aisle. It’s what the coal miners use to light their way by burning it in a little lantern attached to the front of their helmet. Apparently a dime’s worth will last you all day. Drill a hole in the can, about two inches above the bottom. Put an inch or two of water in the bottom of the can, sprinkle in a little calcium carbide, and hammer that lid on tight. Wait a few seconds, and then hold a match to the hole. Ka-Boom! The acetylene gas that filled up the can touches off and blows the wooden stopper fifty feet in the air. Go find the stopper and repeat all day. Happy birthday, America!

If you’re going to dispatch lots and lots of dogs, make sure at least one of them is really famous….. As a vet’s assistant, my grandpa helped put quite a few dogs to sleep. He also served as the temporary Dog Constable for Beverly, Mass. when the regular guy was out with an injury. Apparently New England towns were so overrun with stray dogs in the 50’s that they needed armed constables to handle the influx. The Sheriff outfitted my grandpa with a twenty-year-old .32 revolver to make sure he would have the upper hand on the canine invasion. After his duties were fulfilled, he bought the little gun from the Sheriff for $10. I have the gun now, and after some internet investigation of the previously unheard-of brand, I am happy to report that my grandpa really got ripped off by that Sheriff. It is a seriously cheap Saturday-night-special, made by a defunct company that made guns and bicycles, and sold the revolvers new for much less than $10. The Sheriff probably took it off some delinquent involved in a bar fight somewhere. Anyway, my grandpa used it to shoot a few dogs, but mostly he would take them to the vet’s office to put them down. One day when the vet was out, General Patton’s granddaughter brought Willie in to be put down. William the Conqueror, “Willie” for short, was Patton’s famous English bulldog that rode everywhere with him in his Jeep. When Patton died in Germany after WWII, they shipped Willie home to live out his days at Patton’s horse ranch in neighboring Wenham, Mass. The family couldn’t bear to let Willie go, but he was getting senile and starting to bite the servants and the family, so one day, tears in her eyes, his granddaughter brought him to the vet’s office. My grandpa told her that the doc was out, but she said it had to be now, as they could not go through the goodbyes again. So my grandpa got the secretary to help him, and as she too began to cry, he put General Patton’s dog Willie to sleep.

Never buy a wooden boat in the winter…..My grandpa went with the doc to go look at a boat for sale one winter. It was stored out of the water on a trailer. They launched it into the bay and took it out for a spin and both decided that it was ship-shape. The doc bought it and re-launched it the following spring, ready to go do some fishing in the bay. Not ten feet off the dock he discovered his new boat had about fifty leaks all throughout the hull. Since it had been stored out of the water that winter, the moisture in the wooden hull was allowed to freeze up, plugging and perhaps causing a few of the many leaky spots. They didn’t have it out on the bay during the initial test drive long enough for the hull to thaw out.

And finally, if you’re not happy with your date for the dance, get another one…..The story of my grandpa and grandma’s first encounter is a humorous one. Details are sketchy on whether or not he had a date for the dance, but my grandma was escorted there by another gentleman. She and Grandpa hit it off, and after avoiding her own date for most of the evening, Edith allowed Howard to take her home. They were married until 2005 when he lost her to Alzheimer’s disease. He missed her terribly, right up until the day he died.

He was a horseman in his younger years at a hunting and riding club. He became a father of two, and in his later years he became a grandfather to six and a great-grandfather to six more. He was an Air Raid Warden in Beverly during WWII. He once bought a house and then picked it up and moved it to another lot. He was a carpenter who did everything from building houses to making beautiful fireplace bellows with wood, leather and brass. He also proved time and time again that you could make damn near anything out of plywood, including a pool slide, as long as you had enough varnish. He was an animal lover, a school crossing guard, an office building custodian, a day care provider, a bee keeper, and a maker of countless pieces of elementary school furniture. He had a wonderful sense of humor, predominantly a dry wit, and he was one of the funniest people I knew.

I was lucky enough to grow up with him. He and Grandma lived next door to us or down the street from us my whole childhood. For that, I will be forever grateful.

I’m going to miss you Grandpa. Give Grandma a big kiss for me.

See you much, much later, I hope,

Copyright © 2009 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!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Handy Parenting Tips

I have been a parent for a little while now, and along the way with my three boys I have picked up a few helpful hints that I would like to pass on to all you new parents out there, so here they are:

Smidge’s Handy Tips and Helpful Advice for New Parents

Don’t take the side of the bed closest to the door in your room. As soon as your children start getting out of bed in the middle of the night, you turn into the go-to parent for any and all late-night activities. If your spouse won’t switch sides with you, simply turn the bed around.

Once the kids start crawling and climbing, get rid of all of your chairs. It will just be easier that way.

Never say anything within 1000 yards of your children that you wouldn’t want repeated in front of your in-laws or your pastor, because it will be.

Even if they have never been exposed to any kind of weapon, boys will naturally pick up a stick and pretend it’s a gun, a sword, or a bludgeon. It’s in their DNA.

Kids love to call other kids names. If your child is calling another kid a “stinky face,” the best response is to immediately call your child a “poopy butt.”

Up until the age of 18, when they can legally object, it is best to just put your kids back in diapers for long road trips. It’s really the only way to make decent time.

Never ever give your children sugar under any circumstances.

If all of your kids are ever invited to the same sleepover, drop them off and immediately turn off your cell phones and go to Las Vegas for three days. They will be fine. They are in good hands, and it’s really the only way you ever get to go to Vegas.

A handy way to tire your kids out before bedtime is to have them drag your spare truck tire up and down the street on a rope until they fall over. When they hit the sidewalk, viola, ready for bed.

Purchase at least four to five times the amount of sippy cups that you think will be sufficient. Once a week, lift up all the furniture in the house and retrieve them. Wash with industrial caustic high-pressure foam or throw away as necessary.

A handy way to combat the garbage can flies that inevitably show up when disposable diapers are abundant is to light your trash can on fire every other day. This keeps the flies manageable and reduces the amount of garbage you are sending to the landfill. Win-win.

When at the zoo, never let your kids get into the monkey cage, no matter how much they beg. Just trust me.

If left unchecked, boys will attempt to pee anywhere on anything. Keep an eye on them at the mall!

It will end up being cheaper in the long run if you simply remove all the ceiling fans in your house and replace them with bullet-proof light fixtures. You can have ceiling fans again when they graduate from college.

Never ever wear the couple’s matching shorts and shirt combos with the loud Hawaiian print. This has nothing to do with kids, it’s just good common sense.

We have 32,000 pictures of our first boy, 46 pictures of our second boy, and no photographic evidence that we even have a third boy. Try to even out the photography if you can.

Ranch dressing, when left on a kid’s face, produces a red rash. If done properly, it can end up looking like clown makeup that only lasts for about a half-hour.

And lastly, always keep a first aid kit handy. I imagine if you have girls, it should include Band-Aids and Neosporin. If you have boys it should also include a tourniquet, arm and leg splints, sutures, large butterfly bandages and gauze pads, local anesthetic, an immobilizing neck brace, saline IV bags, a defibrillator, a stretcher, and a fully-licensed paramedic.

I hope that was helpful for you. Good luck!

See you soon,

Copyright © 2009 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!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Father's Day

As of this Father’s Day I have been a father for almost five years. We have been blessed with three wonderful boys, ages four and a half, three and one, and we are loving every minute of the ride!

The other night after we bathed them, I was lying on the carpet being operated on by my personal team of amateur physicians. Number One and Two were both naked with bath towels on their heads, draping down their backs like superhero capes. One towel had hippopotamus eyes, nose and ears on it, and the other had puppy dog features. Dr. Hippo and Dr. Puppy were using a plastic power drill and a toy airplane propeller to drill a hole in my hand and insert a pin, so that they could then “put a plate in there.” Two thoughts ran through my head as I lay on the operating carpet that night. The first was that I really need to evaluate my medical plan, because my doctors are really weird. The second was that it just doesn’t get any better than this. That is what fatherhood is all about. Strange Fisher-Price medical procedures by highly unqualified, slightly damp superhero animal doctors.

Here are a few other priceless moments from the past 5 years:

An exchange between Number One and me just before bedtime as we surveyed the day’s toy-tornado that had swept the game room:
“Do I have to clean up all my toys?”
“Yes, but you can do it tomorrow.”
“Wow, this looks like a lot of work. Dad, you should clean this up while we’re sleeping.”

I was about to leave Number One and Two alone in the backyard to go into the house and check on Number Three who was napping:
“Where are you going?”
“Inside to check on your brother. I’ll be right back.”
“But Daddy, how will we be entertained!?!”

An exchange between Number One and Mommy as they discussed the upcoming Christmas holiday:
“What are you going to ask Santa for?”
“Oh, Mommy, you know what we don’t have?”
(That’s my boy!)

While doing a jig-saw puzzle with Number Two, he kept taking apart everything I put together. We were making no headway, and finally I said, “OK, you can do it yourself” to which he replied, “No, I’m too young!!!”

We had recently moved into our new house, and one evening after a TV show, it was time to go to sleep. Number One and Two were getting settled in bed when Number One made the astute observation:
“Daddy, if the guy that built our house had put the TV in our room, we could watch Disney Channel when it’s time to be in bed.”

I have told my boys on a number of occasions that they live in America, and that means that they can do anything that they want to do with their lives. One evening when I was not home, my wife served burritos for dinner. Number One, who does not like his food to be messy, accidently took a bite out of the wrong end of his burrito, leaving him with two open ends. He got a very worried look on his face and said, “Oh no!” My wife immediately thought he was concerned about the potential mess until he looked her straight in the eye and said, “Mom, it’s OK. You know why? Because this is America!”
(That’s my boy!)

Number One was shaking his brother’s ceramic piggy bank, trying to get a feel for how much money Number Two had stashed away. He was getting pretty vigorous with his shaking and ended up hitting himself square in the forehead with it. His response was classic:
“That’s one hard pig!”

Number Two was leafing through a blank notebook, pretending it was a menu of cakes that we could order from his bakery. He stopped, pointing to a page and said:
“Oh, how about chocolate and vanilla with sprinkles on top?”
“Wow, that sounds delicious! I’ll take that one.”
“Well, we don’t have that one, so we’ll have to keep looking.”

So here’s to all you dads out there! My hope for you this Father’s Day is that you too have the good fortune to be surrounded by doctors, garbage men, commandos, philosophers, tough bankers, tricky bakers, deep thinkers, big dreamers and future great Americans. There’s absolutely nothing better!

See you soon,

Copyright © 2009 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!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

This Mother’s Day, I thought that I would wax poetic about what it means to be a mother today. How important it is, possibly now more than ever that our children have good mothers at home to protect them from a seemingly escalating level of negative influences these days. And to teach them right from wrong and guide them with a firm yet soft and loving hand through all the trials and tribulations of their young lives.

I could do that, but it seemed like it would be kind of dull. So instead I thought I would write about what it means to be the mother of our three boys, ages four-and-a-half, three, and one.

Being the mother of our three boys means:

Becoming an expert on anything from dinosaurs to black widows to hurricanes, depending solely on what the oldest one is interested in at the time.

Resigning yourself to the fact that your lunch for the next five years will mainly consist of whatever the boys didn’t eat.

Never being afraid to go with chicken nuggets, even if it’s the ninth day in a row, because you know all three will eat them without complaints.

Having to constantly buy and serve sour cream, even though you despise it like the devil himself.

Having to put on a brave smile and trying to keep the horrified look off your face when your son beams at you with pride after rocketing down the driveway on a scooter at mach 3 and pulling off a turn onto the sidewalk that Mario Andretti would be proud of.

Having a standing weekly appointment at the pediatrician’s office, and a semi-monthly appointment at the ER.

Knowing when to say “No, you may not use daddy’s power tools anymore.”

Always being ready to sprint to the accident scene when you have to.

Never leaving Costco without $300 worth of stuff.

Being able to read the same book three times a day for twenty days in a row, and being able to watch the same episode of Backyardigans every night.

Being able to say “Use your big boy words” at least 75 times a day without losing your cool.

Being able to listen to nine straight hours of whining without going insane.

Sometimes having to open up a grade-A can of whoop-ass when Daddy isn’t home.

Never being shocked when one boy tries to clothesline the other because he stole his socks.

Wondering why the boys naturally love to play with guns, and having to say “We don’t shoot people. We only shoot monsters and birds. We arrest the bad guys” at least ten times a day.

Teaching the boys to play “slug bug” in the car as a means to keep them awake, but somehow miraculously training them to only lightly touch the other contestants instead of pummel them.

Rolling on the floor laughing when, out of the blue, the four-year-old says “Next time we go on vacation, I really think it would be best if I drove.”

Constantly being prepared for total rejection at the dinner table.

Always being prepared for anything from kissing a boo-boo to applying steady pressure until the bleeding slows, and everything in between.

Always having a ziplock bag of Cheese-Its. No matter what.

Being able to get three Tasmanian Devils fully dressed, fed, and in the car in less time than it takes a Nascar pit crew to change a tire.

Getting pulled out of bed at 2:30 am to help a boy go pee, even though he can do it all by himself.

Finding out what is inside snails, rattle toys, stuffed animals, spiders, and action figures whether you wanted to know or not.

Getting thrown up on, at a minimum of once a week.

Loving every minute of it, even if some days all you want to do is cry.

You’re doing a great job, baby! Happy Mother’s Day.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2009 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, January 7, 2009

Here's My Passport, Baby

It’s 2009 and you know what that means. Time to crack down on the vexing problem of undocumented infants crossing national borders all willy-nilly. Yes, the new rules are in place. If you are going to Canada with a baby, that baby needs a passport. (If you’re going to Mexico, as always no problem getting in, but if you want to come back to the U.S., you’d better have a passport for that baby of yours.)

Three days old? Still needs a passport.

And I quote from the U.S. Department of State’s travel website: “All children regardless of age, including newborns and infants, must have their own passport

Here’s just one of the questions that brings up for me: How do you go about getting a passport for a newborn? If it takes the government two months to make my passport and send it to me, how exactly do I get one for a two week old?? Do we take a passport photo of mommy’s belly at the 7 month mark and cross our fingers?

Speaking of passport photos, the website’s photo guidelines brought up another series of questions for me regarding newborns:

“Your Photographs Must Be:”
- “Identical “– Better make a copy of the first one, because this kid hasn’t stopped squirming since he was born.
- “In color” – No problem, he’s very pink.
- “2 x 2 inches in size” – Dang near life-sized on a 6 pounder.
- “Taken within the past 6 months, showing current appearance” – Um, Duh! And how do you take a picture of someone that does not show their current appearance?
-“Full face, front view with a plain white or off-white background” – His spit-up is off-white, so no problem there.
- “Taken in normal street attire:” – I hope normal crib attire will suffice, because we don’t let him out on the street just yet.
- “Uniforms should not be worn in photographs except religious attire that is worn daily” – He hasn’t joined the Army yet, but he does wear white onesies religiously. Does that count?
-“Dark glasses or nonprescription glasses with tinted lenses are not acceptable unless you need them for medical reasons (a medical certificate may be required)” – He has super-cool baby shades, but the only medical certificate we have is his birth certificate, so I think the shades are out.
-“If you normally wear prescription glasses, a hearing device, wig or similar articles, they should be worn for your picture” – No glasses or hearing aids yet, but he doesn’t seem to respond appropriately to sights and sounds, so we may look into it.
- “Do not wear a hat or headgear that obscures the hair or hairline” – We have to keep a cute little beanie on him or his head gets cold. However, he doesn’t have any hair to speak of anyway, so I’m not sure which way to go with this one. The beanie is his normal crib attire, so I think we’re in a gray area here….

Another bit of good news on the website is the ease with which the application process will progress. I was happy to learn that the child and both parents need to be present at the post office when we present our photos and form DS-11. If I’m not available, my wife can bring the ever-so-easy-to-obtain notarized letter from me stating that it’s OK for her to get my children their passports that we are required by law to get them. I guess one too many dysfunctional families ruined it for the rest of us. Can’t steal the kids anymore, sweetheart!

What genius (that we no doubt elected at some point) decided that newborns and infants needed passports? What are we trying to accomplish here?

“Immigration Team Bravo – Swarm on terminal 12 at the international gate – We have a Zulu Tango – I repeat, a Zulu Tango. It’s little James Smith. An alert Customs agent recognized his tell-tale soft spot. He’s on the Rocklin Mom’s Club Holy Terror watch list. He goes by several known aliases. “Jimmy-Jimmy-Bo-Bimmy”, “Mr. Poopy Drawers”, and when overseas, “SeƱor Poopy Pantalones”. – We finally caught up to him. Good work team!”

One bright spot is that minor’s passports are good for five years. That ought to work out great. I see no future problems at the immigration counter when my four year old’s passport has a photo of him as a three month old. Good job over there at the Bureau of Consular Affairs. You guys are really on the ball!

See you soon,

Copyright © 2009 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!