Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Typical Evening at Home

I had a pretty annoying day at work today, so I wasn’t in the greatest mood I’ve ever been in my whole life when I got home tonight. My wife had a “mom’s night out” scheduled with a couple of her girlfriends, so it was just me and the three boys, ages six, five and three, home for dinner. I cooked breakfast for dinner (bacon, eggs and bagels), we split a cupcake for dessert, had a bath, played Legos and went to sleep. I walked in the door from work at 5:15pm and put the boys in bed at 7:45pm. Here is what I heard in between those two times:

Hi Daddy. Did you know that I’m using a sword to fight bad guys? Can we have dinner now? How about now? How about now? I’m really hungry. What are we having for dinner? Can we have over easy eggs? Boo hoo. I don’t want scrambled. My Lego guy has no pants. Can I help crack the eggs? Can I stir them? No, I get to stir them. What makes eggs runny instead of a bird? Why do the eggs cook? How come the flame is blue and not yellow? Wow it’s really raining. I hope our acorn plant grows. My Lego guy has no head. Can I butter my bagel? Wesley has a Chihuahua. Can we go surfing? Can you unlock my light saber? It’s green. That means I’m a good guy. Why can’t I sit there? I don’t want to wash my hands. He just had an accident. He peed on the chair. I don’t want to sit on the pee chair. These eggs are yummy, Daddy! All eggs have a tiny bird in them, you just can’t see it. Do the eggs have cheese in them? These eggs taste like a burrito. Why do I have to sit in the pee chair? What happens when you get bit by a rattlesnake? Hang on, I’m going to eat this pig first. Pig is yummy! Did you know a hawk’s egg is this big? Dinosaur eggs are huge. How big is a brachiosaurus egg? Look, I made a pig and egg pizza. Can you make more bacon? At the movie today, the zucchini and the carrot had invisible hands. He pushed the button on the guy with one eye and down popped a rowboat. Why do mommies sometimes go to dinner with just mommies? When they’re there, there aren’t any kids or daddies. I’ll bet they order bacon. May I please have more burrito eggs? Why don’t daddies take baths? Can we watch TV? This cupcake is so good, it’s my favorite kind. When I have a birthday, I’m going to get this kind of cupcake. Or, just next time we go to the cupcake store. This frosting is delicious! When is my birthday? I’m first for bath. Booty-butt. Booty-butt. How come I have hair like a duck? Don’t wash my owie. What happens when you see a shark? Look how big my feet are. I know who the first president was. He had fake hair. Why do I have to get out? Booty-butt. Booty-butt. My Lego guy needs hands. Have you seen my propeller? I need that piece!! Boo hoo. Yellow is not the same as blue. If you ate Legos, your poop would be funny colors. Legos wouldn’t be as good as pig and burrito eggs. I have to go poop. Good night.

Now, please keep in mind, this was just what came out of my six-year-old’s mouth. Multiply what you just read by three, and you’ve got my evening.

Hmm… I wonder why mommies sometimes go to dinner with just other mommies?

The good news is, I totally forgot all about how annoying work was, and with this fresh perspective on life, I’m in a much better mood.

Pig is yummy!

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Mama Bear

We went camping with friends this past weekend at Sugar Pine Point State Park at Lake Tahoe. We were expecting a fun weekend of campfires, hiking, and swimming, but we ended up getting much more than we bargained for. By the time the weekend was through, our kids had some great bear stories and I had a brand new wife.

We arrived Friday afternoon and listened to a ten-minute bear advisory lecture from the park ranger, complete with an affidavit we were required to sign, stating that we understood the bear rules and would gladly be subject to a $1000 fine if we did not keep our food and toiletries locked in the big, green, steel bear lockers provided at the campsites.

OK, OK, we get it. There are bears here. We’ll put the food away. Can we go to our campsites now?

We set up camp in two adjoining campsites and had a fun evening of men setting up tents and making fires, women laughing at the men’s lack of skill in the tent and fire-making departments, and little boys playing in the woods and peeing on trees. Dinner and s’mores and off to bed without a bear in sight. Good times.

I had a book signing back in our home town the next day, so I got up early and drove the two hours back to our house to take a shower. I went off to the bookstore and occasionally received a text message from my wife about something or other to bring back with me that afternoon. When my phone rang around two o’clock, I was expecting to hear about another camping-related item that we’d left behind. Not so.

What I heard my wife say was, “We’ve had some bears. They’re stalking our campsite.”

Hmmm. That’s different than what I thought you were going to say, honey. As the ever-concerned father figure, my first question was, “Is everyone OK?”

After she assured me that everyone was safe and in good spirits I switched to ever-financially-vigilant breadwinner mode. “Is the State Parks Service going to fine us $1000?”

Luckily, the answer to the first question was yes and the second question was no. She then had to hang up because the park rangers had just arrived at our campsite for the second time that afternoon to get the latest bear report. I drove really fast back to the lake.

When I arrived back at the campsite, the rangers were still there. “Have they been here the whole time?” I asked.

“No, we just had a third bear about ten minutes ago,” my wife answered casually, as if close bear encounters were a common occurrence in her life. “I tracked him through the woods until they got here.”

Excuse me? You did what? I have been away for nine and a half hours and when I get back you are tracking bears? What in the hell happened while I was gone?

Here’s the condensed version my wife and our friends, Jeff and Carrie, told me:

They woke up shortly after I had left, had a leisurely breakfast, went on a long hike, and came back to camp and made lunch. They were all assembled together eating at the picnic table in Jeff and Carrie’s campsite, but my wife had left one of our plastic storage bins out of the bear locker and on top of the table in our campsite. No one thought anything of it, since they were close by, until Jeff saw the bear coming through the woods. They watched in awe as the 300-pound black bear walked into our campsite, a mere 25 yards away, and knocked the bin off the table. He (or she) grabbed our big bag of marshmallows and sat down for a delicious and delightfully fluffy snack.

By this time, three adults and five boys had been shoehorned into Jeff and Carrie’s midsize SUV, and were driving away from the bear and toward the ranger station. While they were busy alerting the ranger to their predicament, the bear devoured our entire box of graham crackers.

The rangers came back to the campsite with them and shooed the bear away by yelling at it and banging pots and pans together. When the bear had retreated, the rangers explained the “no food left out farther away than arm’s reach” rule which we had missed during bear orientation the day before. It was at this point that my wife asked the ranger, while crying, if the bear would come back. They reassuringly said, “No.”

Apparently the rangers don’t speak for the bears. They obviously did not take into account the fact that the bear had unfinished business, because he came back about a half-hour later looking for the crucial third and final ingredient to his lunch of s’mores. To the bruin’s dismay, the chocolate bars were locked up tight, and he was out of luck.

Over the initial shock of their close proximity to long-clawed wildlife, Jeff and my wife shooed him away on their own this time while Carrie took the five boys for a nice ride back to the ranger station. Knowing my wife, I think at this point she had gone from being scared to being aggravated that this thing was threatening the safety of her children, not to mention putting a severe damper on the night’s dessert.

When the rangers arrived back at our campsite, they questioned my wife on which way the bear had gone after she and Jeff had shooed it away. Unbeknownst to the rangers, by involving my wife in the hunt for the bear, they had apparently deputized her as an assistant park ranger in her own mind. This became shockingly obvious to everyone a few hours later when a new bear showed up near our campsite. Upon spotting the interloping omnivore, my wife casually asked Jeff and Carrie if they would keep an eye on the boys while she went off and made sure this pesky varmint didn’t cause any trouble around these here parts.

Into the woods she went, armed with the formidable defensive weapons of choice, the universally-feared pot and pan combo. She quietly stalked the bear through the underbrush, making sure she could relay the beast’s exact coordinates to her new comrades-in-arms when they arrived. I guess her plan was to fall back on her extensive deputy park ranger training by banging the pot and pan together if the bear showed any signs of annoyance at being followed.

Thankfully, the actual rangers with actual guns showed up and took over before she was forced to make a move with her deadly cookware. What a difference a few bear sightings can make! My wife went from suburban housewife to Grizzly Adams in the span of two hours. I am convinced that if a fourth bear had showed up before I had arrived, she surely would have slipped off her shoes, clamped a kitchen knife between her teeth, and tried to sneak up on it from behind to teach it a lesson about messing with her kids and her meal plans.

The really funny part is, if I had been there and even hinted at wanting to shoo the bear off, either by myself, or with Jeff by my side, she would have asked in an exasperated and slightly panicked voice, “Are you crazy? Do you want your boys to grow up without a father?”

It just goes to show you, there’s no telling what a mama bear is going to do.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Low-Tech Babies

As I sit down to write this, I am also intermittently texting back and forth on my phone with my good friend whose wife is actually giving birth right now. We have their two kids sleeping over at our house tonight, and I’m getting text updates on the progress of their third child’s entrance into the world. I’m currently receiving a blow-by-blow of the dilation. Fourteen minutes ago she was at 8 centimeters and feeling like she needed to push. Eight minutes ago she was already at 10cm, and I think we all know, 10cm is go time!

I’m not sure why I know the significance of 10cm dilation, because all three of my kids were C-section babies. As I sit here instant-messaging with a man in a hospital delivery room, and marveling at the miracle of my own children’s unconventional births, I can’t help but laugh at some of the disparities in our technological progress or lack thereof. On the one hand, as evidenced by how much instantaneous information about dilation progress I’m able to receive on my Blackberry, we have come a long, long way from the days of Caesar’s birth. On the other hand, in the midst of all these amazing gadgets and technology, whether it be a C-section or a natural birth, the endeavor of having a baby has stayed pretty much how it always has been. Low tech and messy.

By the way, they just had the baby. She showed up eight minutes after the last text message. A happy, healthy, 8-pound, 9-ounce beautiful little girl. I just got the first pictures of her and mom via Facebook. Hello, little Colette, welcome to the high-tech online party!

Colette’s parents “knew” they were having a girl, because, like most expecting couples in this high-tech world of ours, they had one or more ultrasounds during the pregnancy. The reason I say “knew” is that the modern ultrasound is one of the blends of high and low technology that I find so amusing. The proclamation of, “You’re having a girl” seems iffy.

We had ultrasounds during each of my wife’s three pregnancies. With each kid, we wanted to find out ahead of time if we were having a boy or a girl. I laughed out loud during the first ultrasound when I learned the method for identifying the sex of the baby. In the midst of all of the wonderful technology allowing the ultrasound technician to measure the baby’s size, organ development, heart rate, head size and general developmental progress, the only way they had to tell if it was a boy or a girl was to look for a penis on the little TV screen.

Really? You have this $200,000 machine at your disposal that can apparently measure my unborn child’s spleen density, and the only way you have to tell me if we should be buying pink or blue blankies is by scooting the gel-covered “whoosh-whoosh-whoosh” wand around on my wife’s stomach and squinting at the monitor?

It just really seems to me that there would be an easier, more high-tech method of boy/girl identification by now than a nice lady in surgical scrubs with her face really close to a tiny video screen saying, “That looks like a penis right there. I’m pretty sure it’s a boy… yep, he just rolled over. There it is!”

We had three boys, so ours were pretty definite answers from the ultrasounds. At least I think they were definite. They went three for three, but I’m not convinced they weren’t guessing. I mean, they’re obviously very well trained, but every picture we ever received as proof we were having a boy looked to me like a grainy black and white satellite photo of two potatoes in a dust storm.

“Hey, Bob, we’re having a boy! Look at the picture they gave us from the ultrasound.”
“What am I looking at, here?”
“That’s the head, and there’s a leg, and there’s the evidence… no, wait. I have it upside down. I think this is the head, and that is the… hmm. I forget what she told us.”

Now, keep in mind, I’m not speaking from experience here, but it just seems a little more wishy-washy to me for the ultrasound technician to say, “It’s a girl.” The old adage of “You can’t prove a negative” seems to come into play.

“I didn’t see a penis, so you’re having a girl.”
“You didn’t see one, or there isn’t one?”

I have witnessed a much more accurate system. Back when my middle sister was pregnant with her daughter, they had not found out if they were having a boy or a girl yet. While we were all together on vacation, a family friend offered to run a time-tested experiment that would yield the results. She put her wedding ring on a necklace and held it like a pendulum over the baby. The ring began to spin clockwise, so it was obvious that my sister was having a girl. Lo and behold, a few months later, out pops a girl. One hundred percent accuracy rate for the low-tech ring test!

Jewelry harbingers aside, there seems to be a glaring void of technology just screaming to be filled in the baby identification arena. What we need is to deploy the full force of the tech world and come up with an app. There is an app for everything else, so why not an app to figure out what you’re having? Get on that, will you guys? We can already find every coffee shop within 100 square miles in 0.23 seconds. Design something really useful for a change. I don’t even like coffee.

Anyway, welcome to the world, Colette. By the time you’re old enough to have a phone of your own, it will probably have a self-ultrasound app. But I’d better not hear about you needing to use it until after you’re married!!

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, June 8, 2011

Gradual Decline

I have only graduated twice. Back when I was growing up, I had a lot of last days of school, but only two graduations. Once from high school, and once from college.
(There was some question about the validity of one of them, but I can assure you, it was cleared up. Really! There is no need to check any records. Let’s all just let it go.)

Nowadays, it seems as if kids graduate from everything. For instance, this past Saturday night, I attended Son Number Two’s preschool graduation ceremony. Yes, preschool. By the age of five, my two oldest boys have already graduated half as much as I have my entire life.

I know some of you parents out there are asking, “What’s wrong with that?”
I know this, because I have seen pictures of your children on Facebook graduating from preschool in full cap-and-gown. Thankfully, my boy’s preschool did not take the “graduation” that far, but I still thought having a ceremony was a little much.

Seeing those pictures got me thinking. First of all, where on earth do you get miniature preschool-sized mortar boards and robes? Graduates-R-Us? Does the Baby Gap have a Baby Grad section?

Secondly, why are we making such a big deal out of events that used to be non-events? Is making it all the way through preschool nowadays such an achievement that it requires public recognition of each student by name? And does it require said public recognition to take place on a precious weekend evening? As near as I can tell, my boys’ greatest accomplishment during their years at preschool was learning to keep over 50% of the paint on the paper. And being in charge of the laundry, my wife is pretty sure it never got much better than a 60/40 split.

Now, maybe you cap-and-gown preschools have students matriculating that are reading Dostoevsky, interpreting the constitution and reciting the quadratic equation, but I doubt it. Let’s be serious, here. These are five-year-olds. My guess is the main reason we feel the need for any kind of ceremony is merely the photo op. It is obviously an event that is only for the parents, since the kids that are doing the graduating could really care less. They don’t know what graduating means, they don’t know why they have to stand in line, they don’t know what to do when their name is called, and all they really want to do is make fart noises and eat cupcakes. (Come to think of it, that actually sounds a lot like my high school graduation. Hmm…)

Anyway, our need for graduation photo ops has obviously gotten out of hand. I was grateful that my oldest son’s kindergarten didn’t have a graduation, but the sixth grade classes at his school had a large ceremony at the end of the year, with parents in suits and dresses, cheering and snapping photo after photo as their children graduated from elementary school.

At least a sixth-grader can understand the concept of graduation, but that fact, in and of itself, is one of the problems. We’re celebrating and recognizing an “achievement” that didn’t used to be quite such a big deal. That sends the same message as the ever-popular “participant” ribbon. Those kids have already graduated from preschool, possibly also kindergarten and the third grade, and will now go on to graduate again in a few years from junior high school, with another ceremony honoring their wonderful awesomeness, making sure that they are fully recognized by name for their amazing ability to show up.

My wife is pretty sure that all this preemptive graduating is one of the reasons that high school drop-out rates have risen in our lifetime. By the time they get to the ninth grade, many kids have already “graduated” five times. A lot of them probably figure, “What’s the point of one more? Been there, done that.”

Anyway, the more I thought about the oddity of a preschool graduation ceremony, the more I got to thinking about how the school system has changed over the years. Not only are we celebrating smaller non-achievements, but we have the opportunity to do it more often now.

We didn’t even used to have preschool. Or kindergarten for that matter. Those things are a relatively new phenomenon in our country’s history. Kids used to play outside until they were six, then start school in the first grade. That’s why it’s called the first grade.

At this point, with an average of two years of preschool and a year of kindergarten, we should really re-number the grades. First grade should be changed to fourth grade and so on.

I started out wondering why we had preschool graduation, but now I’m wondering why we have preschool at all? Is it just for the graduation photo op at the end of the year? If so, that is a pretty expensive picture! If that’s all it is, I’m just going to Photoshop Boy Number Three into one of the other two’s graduation photos and save some money.

We’ll just keep him home and throw paint on him in the backyard, and send him directly to kindergarten (third grade) when he’s five. We’ll take pictures of him in a cap and gown when he successfully completes the fifteenth grade and graduates from high school.

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, June 1, 2011

Better Living Through Mediocrity

This was my second year as an assistant T-ball coach, and this year we had two of our three boys playing. Thankfully, they were on the same team. Our regular season activities ended last Saturday, and would have ended a full week earlier had we not been making up some early-season rain-outs. It was a pretty busy year for us, sports-wise, but I’m almost positive that every year from now on will be busier. Next year, all three boys will play, and they will all be on different teams. The parental logistics of that will be interesting, to say the least.

This year, we had four players on our T-ball team that stood out head and shoulders above the rest in terms of skill. Thankfully, I was not related to any of them. My boys were mediocre, and that’s just how we like them. Allow me to explain.

The four best players from our team were recruited toward the end of the season to play on championship teams. (Keep in mind that these are five and six-year-olds. We take our baseball pretty seriously in Rocklin, California.) Those four kids were going to extra practices during the tail end of our season, and they all played in a Memorial Day weekend tournament.

Now, you may hear “Memorial Day weekend tournament,” and think, “Sounds like fun.” We went to watch a few of the games, and while there were many fun and exciting moments, the tournament was also very time-consuming. Not for my family, mind you, but for the families of the all-stars.

My family and I were free to do whatever we wanted over the long weekend. We ended up at the ballpark to watch a few games, but we also slept late in the mornings, made two trips to friends’ houses for dinners, and generally set our own schedule. The families of the all-stars were not so lucky. The tournament ruled their schedules. When asked what they had planned for the weekend, they were forced to answer, “I don’t know. It depends on how we do in the tournament.”

These scheduling woes didn’t apply to just the baseball families, either. On Sunday afternoon, we stopped by a local college to meet one of my wife’s good friends. Her daughter was playing in a youth soccer tournament, and her whole family had been there, and hour’s drive from their home, for two full days. I asked her how her daughter was doing in the tournament, and in an antithetically dejected voice she replied, “They keep winning. We were supposed to be at a friend’s house for dinner, but we have to stay for the championship game. The other two kids are bummed out because they wanted to see their friends, but instead, we all need to stay here.”

Long weekends aside, kids’ sports can also affect vacation plans. About a week ago, our good friends from college had to send us regrets and cancel their plans to come up from Southern California to go to Lake Tahoe for a week. We were planning on meeting up with them there at the end of June, but their oldest son ended up being one of 12 eight-year-olds picked out of 130 to be in an all-star baseball tournament.

Witnessing this all-star ball-and-chain effect that so many of our friends are going through got me thinking. Kids’ hopes and dreams are one thing, but what about mine? I have hopes and dreams, too. One of them is to be able to sit down every once in a while, and not have every Saturday for the rest of my life already booked with one of my kid’s sporting events. I am the father of what appear to be three rather promising-looking boys in the sports and athletics department. So far, they are a little too young to be shining, but I fear that it is only a matter of time.

Back when they were born and I was a proud and naïve papa, I was no doubt looking forward to them holding the trophy high above their heads one day. Now, the more I see, the more I think mediocrity might be the ticket.

“Maybe we don’t need to practice so much in the backyard, Son. Why don’t you go burn leaves and ants with a magnifying glass instead?”

Don’t get me wrong. I still want them to play sports, just not in an outstanding manner that may cause the seasons to be extended in any way. My new plan is to shoot for third place. That way, I might actually get to go fishing every once in a while.

“What are you doing this summer, Bob?”
“We’re committed through August with Junior’s baseball Champions Bracket. How about you, Smidge?”
“Not us! Did you see my kid drop that grounder at shortstop during the last game? No way he was going to make the post-season. We’re going to Cabo!”

“Hey, Smidge. Did you hear about the baseball clinic that the Sierra College baseball coach is putting on for the kids? Only $130 for three days!”
“Not interested, Phil. My boys aren’t big league material. No sense fighting facts.”

“Hey Smidge, want to enroll your kids in Taekwondo?”
“What are they going to be, the next Jackie Chan? No, thanks. I’d like to keep at least some of my money, and maybe a few of my evenings and weekends free.”

“Want to enroll your kids in our two-week soccer camp?”
“No, thanks. The regular soccer season is painful enough. And let’s face it, soccer as a professional sport is never going to catch on in America, so I don’t really see the point in the first place.”

I think I am going to extend my third place approach into their academics as well. Based on the size of their heads, their mom’s DNA, and their incredible Lego skills, my kids will probably end up being pretty smart. That being said, I plan to encourage and nurture their education only to the point that it does not interfere with my life.

They will be required to maintain good grades, but will be expressly forbidden from joining any sort of academic club that has extra-curricular activities. The last thing I want is to have successfully thwarted post-season athletics and accidentally end up stuck at a chess tournament or a debate club’s weekend rebuttal-o-rama.

The problem is, holding them back might end up being more difficult than I think. We may be able to keep them at bay with enough TV, but it’s going to be touch-and-go. Boy Number One is proving to be a pretty good piano player, Number Two is quite a little over-achiever, both academically and physically, and Number Three is already a wicked switch hitter at three years old. It’s not looking good.

If you’ll excuse me now, I have to go hide the bats and balls and turn on the TV. Forget your homework, boys, let’s watch some Disney channel!

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!