Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kids Say the Darndest Things

One of the great joys of parenthood is, of course, making stuff up when your kids ask you a question that you can’t answer. It really is the part of parenting that I enjoy the most. The thing I enjoy the second best is hearing the random thoughts, jokes and words of wisdom that come out of their mouths. Here are some of my three sons’ highlights:

I was eating lunch the other day with Son Number Three, who at three years old is a notoriously slow eater. He actually ate his lunch at a reasonable pace and finished before me, and wanting to praise that behavior, I said, “You finished before I did. Good job buddy!”
He replied, “Yeah, I beat you up."
"No, you beat me."

Driving with Son Number Three, he pipes up from the back seat and says, “Daddy, if you need to use the phone with two hands, the car will drive itself.”
“I don’t think so, dude.”
“Mommy does it.”
I guess Daddy needs to have a little chat with Mommy.

One of Number One’s best buddies was over at our house, and all the boys were playing Star Wars. The six-year-old guest runs up to me wearing a Darth Vader cape and brandishing a red light saber and says to me in a very serious voice, “You cannot estimate our powers!”
I think you mean, “Don’t underestimate the power of the Dark Side,” buddy.

Son Number One, while eating lunch, sets his sandwich down, sighs heavily, and says, “Wow. It has been such a long day already, I feel like it’s tomorrow.”
Been there, man.

Son Number Two, while on a bike ride around our neighborhood says to me, “Dad, I’m thirsty.”
“OK. You can get some water when we get back to the house.”
“Yeah. I’m going to have a bagel and some water.”

While riding in the car with the whole family, we had a very rare few moments of silence. Prior to the calm, we had not been discussing anything remotely associated with food, so it caught my wife and me slightly off guard when Son Number Three comes out of the blue with, “Mommy, if you give me four cookies, then I could have a cupcake.”
While I appreciate your optimism, I’m not following your logic.

Our boys have always picked strange things to be jealous of their brothers over. Son Number One has allergies, and Number Three was apparently feeling left out when it came time for medicine.
“Mommy, I have allergies.”
“No you don’t.”
“Yes I do. I have two allergies in my eyes.”
We don’t have medicine for that.

Upon entering a public bathroom, Son Number Two says to me, pointing to the opposite wall, “Look dad, confetti.”
“You mean graffiti.”
“Oh, yeah.”

Son Number One and Number Two were attempting to play Frisbee. They were too far apart from each other, and having no luck getting the Frisbee to fly straight, so I offered some advice.
“Get closer to each other like when you play baseball catch so you can control it better.”
“Dad, we don't control Frisbees. Frisbees control themselves.”
I can’t argue with that. That has always been my experience, too.

We had finished dinner and were in the middle of a dessert of fresh fruit. Son Number One had apparently had his fill, and asked to be excused. When I told him that he needed to stay at the table and visit while everyone else finished, he asked for some more strawberries and watermelon. When he had finished his second helping, I asked if he wanted more. He said, “No thanks,” and then asked to be excused again. When I said no again, he asked for more fruit. At that point his mom asked him why he kept eating after he had asked to be excused. He replied, “Well, I don’t want to waste my time just sitting here.”
When it comes to food, growing boys are all business.

Son Number Two, eager to show off his new math skills, exclaimed, “Dad, listen, I can count all the way to one hundred!”
“Let me hear it.”
“One, two, three, four, five, six, I can’t really do it. I can count all the way to ten, though.”
He hasn’t quite mastered the art of under-promise and over-deliver yet.

Our three boys share a room, with the oldest being in his own bed, and the younger two in bunk beds. As I was turning out the light one night, Son Number One made the observation about Son Number Three, “We’re next-door neighbors when we sleep.”
Number Two calls down from the top bunk, “And I’m their up-door neighbor.”
Can’t argue with the logic.

One morning, at four years old, Son Number Two ran excitedly into our room and yelled, “Daddy, my chin weighs six pounds!”
(After lying prone on the floor with only his chin resting on the digital bathroom scale.)

Son Number Two had croup when he was four. After a bout of coughing, he thought for a second and said, “Maybe I’ll cough up this bug and we can see what kind it is.”
I wonder if he got croup from lying on the bathroom floor with his chin on the scale?

I made a special outing with all three boys to get In-N-Out Burger milkshakes. We had ordered and were waiting in the drive-thru line. There was a diesel pick-up truck in front of us, and when I rolled down the window to pay, Son Number One asked, “Why is it so noisy?” I told him it was the truck in front of us, to which he responded, “Oh. I thought it was the blenders.”
How big do you think these milkshakes are going to be?

Speaking of fast food restaurants, I was eating at a Wendy’s with Number One and Two, and we were having a very father-and-sons kind of time, so I thought I would take the opportunity to tell them about the wonderful story of Dave Thomas, Wendy’s founder. I explained to them that he was adopted as a child, and how he always appreciated that fact, so with his financial resources from his business he created the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. The boys listened attentively to my story, thought for a while, and then Number Two looked up at me and said, “Dad?”
“Yes, Son?”
“I have a motorcycle on my shirt.”
Swing and a miss.

And my personal favorite…
I had just come home from a long day at work, and I trudged upstairs to find my boys playing in the game room. When he saw me, the first words out of Son Number One’s mouth were, “I’m the town constable of Uranus.”
It doesn’t really matter what kind of day you’ve had after hearing that. That’s funny right there!

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, September 21, 2011

The Tough Mudder

Twenty-five seconds into the course my thighs were on fire. My first thought was, “Oh, no. That can’t be good. I’m going to be running out here for three hours, and I’m already tired! ”

I was wrong. I would be out there for five hours, and I would not be running. Not very much, anyway. About thirty-five seconds into the course I had to stop running and start trudging. Everyone did. We were going straight uphill, and not just any hill. We were at 6200 feet in elevation going straight up a ski slope at Squaw Valley, CA.

Half a minute earlier, on that clear, sunny day, I had been full of energy, jumping around, yelling, chanting, high-fiving, and raring to go. Now I had my head down, watching my feet, power-walking and breathing fast and hard. How quickly things change at 6300 feet.

There were 600 people in my starting group. There were 2400 people already on the course, and another 4800 people that would come behind us, one group every 20 minutes. We all had the same information going in. It would be a 12-mile course with 20 different military-style obstacles. What we didn’t realize was what a truly sadistic course designer has to work with when putting together a 12-mile trail at Squaw Valley. We were in for a few surprises.

At mile marker one, we were face down in the water, belly-crawling across granite under barbed wire that was hanging so low, you had to put your face under water to get underneath it. It was at mile marker one that I realized that hearing or reading “military-style obstacle” is very different than actually tackling a military-style obstacle. They kinda hurt.

Out from under the barbed wire, up on your feet, and headed straight uphill again. Only soaking wet now. Two miles and 1000 vertical feet later and we were at another water obstacle. Jump into the chest-deep cold water, duck under the plywood divider, and climb out the other side. Keep running. A mile later and another 500 vertical feet, we arrived at the High Camp Bath and Tennis Club. It sits at 8200 feet above sea level and is apparently very nice. We didn’t get to look around much. On the tennis courts sat water obstacle number three. Same as number two, but with ice water. You literally had to fight your way through the floating ice cubes to get out.

We went into the water five more times over the course, spaced out so as to keep you wet and cold for the whole run. In between the swims, we got to climb steep walls, hang from monkey bars, shimmy up ropes, crawl through pipes, traverse over and under log walls, and even crawl under a cargo net on some of Squaw’s year-round snow at 8700 feet. The obstacles ended up being a fun diversion from the really nasty part. They were not content to march us straight up to the top and back down again. We went up, then came down, then went up higher, then came down lower, then went up even higher than before, then back down… You get the idea. We made five different “death marches” during the course.

At the half-way point, after carrying a log around a ¼-mile steep rocky loop and depositing it back on the pile for the next victim, we made it to the very top of the mountain on death march number four. Mile marker six was on Squaw Peak at 9000 feet. We had made it to the top of the world. That made the fifth death march a little surprising. Somehow they found a way to go up again after we came down off the top. Go figure.

Two hours later, when I got hit with the 10,000 volt electrical wire, 20 feet from the finish line, I was done being surprised. This was the Tough Mudder, and they don’t mess around.  

With the high-voltage current still bouncing around my synapses, I made it across the finish line to collect my trophy orange head band, my t-shirt, and my celebratory beer. Dos Equis amber and bananas are not known for their complimentary flavors, but at 2:30 on Sunday afternoon, nothing ever tasted so good!

There were three kinds of people on the course that day: The GI Joes, the average Joes, and the gym rats. As for the military personnel, there were a lot of them, and they were right at home. More than a few of their groups felt the need to make the course a little tougher by carrying something. I saw one guy carrying a 2-foot diameter wooden wire spool over his head, a Marine sergeant wearing a 20-pound weight vest, and even a team of Special Forces guys that carried an inflatable raft through the whole course. The US military simply puts out the best of the best. Super tough.

The gym rats on the other hand, are not tough. They are just young and pretty. They have shaved torsos, low body fat percentages, shiny muscles, and they can run really fast when they are warm. They are not cut out for the Tough Mudder. They don’t react well to being wet and cold. They were cramping up all over the place. Us average Joes have been training for this. We’re the ones who constantly have to be in the pool/lake/ocean watching the kids while the gym rats sun themselves on the deck/shore/beach. At home, us folks with young ones are constantly giving a squirmy kid a bath, getting peed on or being thrown up on. We’re wet and cold all the time. That kind of on-the-job training, plus our superior body fat percentages acquired through old age and Little Caesar’s five dollar pizza, gives us an edge.

Water events aside, being a suburban parent has a lot more inadvertent Tough Mudder training components than I had realized. Going over fences after lost Wiffle balls, walking barefoot across Lego minefields, slithering under the dining room table to play in the “fort,” putting fitted sheets on a bunk bed, crawling around on the floor of the SUV looking for the lost sippy cup; it all helps. My dad-ly training even came into play during the log carrying obstacle. The gym rats were foolishly trying to carry their logs on their shoulders. I just cradled that sucker in one arm and rested it on my hip. I’ve been carrying 35-pound kids like that for years.

All in all, it was a great experience. While I might not ever need to experience it again, I am very glad I did it. I was expecting to be completely immobile on Monday, but my legs were in surprisingly good shape. I am pretty well bruised and banged up everywhere else, though. I sneezed midday Monday and almost cried. I have taken more Advil in the last four days than in my whole life prior to now.

I seem to be healing up at an average Joe pace, so I can’t complain. I’m not allowed to anyway. It’s part of the Tough Mudder credo. No whiners.

The really good news is the involuntary flinching from the 10,000 volt shocks has fjgfyfncxvhbcu pretty much stopped.

The crazy Tough Mudder events ( and the crazy people who enter them have raised over $2 million for The Wounded Warrior Project (, which is a fabulous organization that helps injured service members through their challenges back at home. The NorCal event at Squaw Valley raised more money than any other Tough Mudder event to date. Thanks a million to all who donated to the WWP on my behalf. The Marines from the course send you a big “OORAH!”

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, September 14, 2011

Soap, Part II

Our boys have started to take showers on their own. Up until now, we had been giving them baths. The decision to move to the shower was spurred mostly by the fact that all three of them don’t fit in the bathtub together anymore, and giving three individual baths really cuts into my TV time.

I still have to give Boy Number Three baths, but it was about time the older two started pulling their own weight in the personal hygiene department. Plus, we really wanted to see if the shower in their bathroom actually worked. We have lived in our current house for almost three years now, and up until this week, no one had ever used it. When I finally got the handle to turn, after the loud clanging noise subsided, water actually came out of the showerhead, so we were good to go.

After the Body Wash Incident of Early 2011 (See “Soap,” posted February 2, 2011) my wife has been sure to keep me stocked with plenty of good old-fashioned bar soap. Since my wife has inexplicably stuck with the body wash, and the kid’s baths get done with baby shampoo, up until now, our bar soap had been used only by me. So, this week was Boy Number One and Two’s first experience trying to wash themselves with a big bar of soap. Witnessing that slippery learning curve instantly flooded me with childhood memories of soap. I had a strange upbringing, soap-wise.

My dad was a pilot for Delta Airlines. In the early days of his career, with a wife at home raising three small kids, he would always bring the little bars of unopened hotel soap and the small bottles of shampoo home from his trips to help with the household budget. His flight schedule usually had him gone multiple days at a time, so he collected a lot of soap. So much so, that we never ran out. As the years went by, the Hilton/Marriott/Ramada soap harvesting never stopped. I showered with a tiny, fits-in-the-palm-of-your-hand bar of soap from my very first shower until I was 18 years old. (Actually, I showered with a different one every other day. They don’t last very long.) As a result, I never had any early childhood regular-sized soap training.

I vividly remember the first time I used a real bar of soap. I was at least 6 or 7 years old, and we were staying with my grandparents while my parents went on a week’s vacation. I stepped into the unfamiliar shower and was immediately transfixed by the GIGANTIC bar of BRIGHT GREEN soap. (The hotel soap was white, tan, or the occasional exciting off-pink.) This was Irish Spring, and it smelled AMAZING. (The hotel soap smelled like almonds, talc, or nothing.) This giant, magical, colorful, brick-sized bar of cleanliness filled the entire shower with some heavenly, yet previously unknown fragrance. Apparently – based on the TV commercials of the 1970s -- it was supposed to remind me of the wonderful smell of a lush green Irish glade near a waterfall where I was walking hand-in-hand with a bonny lass in a turtleneck sweater, but since I had never done that, I didn’t recognize the smell. To me it just smelled strong and wonderfully different.

Then I tried to pick it up and use it. Now, big bars of soap are hard to handle for any six-year-old, but to a lad that had previously only worked with soap the size of a bite-size candy bar, this slimy behemoth was almost totally unmanageable. I must have dropped it, picked it up, and dropped it again a hundred times. The racket coming from the shower got so loud, my grandma came in to check on me, but I was so embarrassed about not being able to work the soap, I told her that everything was just fine, and that I obviously didn’t need any help. She left unconvinced.

After a half-hour of soap hockey, I finally ended up attempting to soap myself up while holding onto the massive slippery green bar with two hands at once. That is a pretty difficult maneuver, and I'm not sure how clean I actually got myself that day. Marginal hygienic success aside, it was one of the most memorable days of my childhood, so taken was I by the giant, fragrant green soap.

If asked to come up with the defining TV characters of their childhood, most guys my age would probably list the likes of Superman, The Fonz, Mean Joe Green, Bo and Luke Duke, etc.

I’m guessing very few would list an actor from a soap commercial. To my list, however, I must include the guy in the snappy turtleneck and sport coat, standing in the field, cutting the bar of Irish Spring open with his pocket knife. When I saw that commercial as a kid, I thought to myself, “Yeah, I was that guy for a day. Fresh and (insert wolf-whistle here), clean as a whistle!”

But alas, that one shower was the extent of my Irish Spring glory as a child. My parents came back from vacation, and it was small soap business as usual again.

There was, however, one major up-side to growing up with miniature soap. As kids, we never had our mouths “washed out with soap,” a la Ralphie in A Christmas Story, sitting with the bar of Lifebuoy in his mouth. My mom was probably afraid we’d accidentally swallow the hotel soap.

My boys won’t be so lucky. I’ve got plenty of full-size bars of Irish Spring. I love that stuff!

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, September 7, 2011

This Will Be the Day That I Die

I am pretty sure that I will die on September 18th, 2011, either during the day, or in my sleep that night. That’s a little disheartening, since it’s only about a week and a half from now. How do I know the exact day I will die? Because my toe hurts. Allow me to explain.

I woke up this morning, and out of nowhere my big toe on my left foot hurt so bad, I almost couldn’t walk. It was fine when I went to sleep, and I’m quite sure that I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to injure it. So why does it hurt? I have no idea, other than the simple fact that I was born almost 40 years ago and now my body doesn’t work right anymore.

Well, alright, you say, but that still doesn’t explain why you know the day you’re going to die. Just be patient, I’m getting to that. I know the exact day, because I lost some weight a few months ago. Allow me to explain.

In March of this year, I decided that I needed to lighten my load a little, since I seem to be getting on in years, and I was having trouble seeing my toes for the first time in my life. I devised a simple weight loss plan and went to it. I lost about 20 pounds in a little over a month. Apparently, having great success with weight loss either sends one into a euphoric state of stupidity, or I am just naturally an idiot. I’m really not sure which. (That might be a clue right there!)

You see, I didn’t lose weight by exercising. I did it by eating half of what I normally eat, and going from 7000 fluid-ounces of Coke per day down to only 24. It was simple, and it worked great. The problem was, at some point when I was getting close to my weight loss goal, I must have thought to myself, “If I have enough will power to eat only half of that Chipotle burrito, then I should obviously enter an 11-mile obstacle course event billed as the ‘toughest event on the planet.’” I must have thought that, because that’s what I did. I am a fool.

I signed up for a race called the Tough Mudder. The fact that it is an 11-mile run with 20 military-style obstacles designed by a couple of ex-British Special Forces guys isn’t even the worst part. It’s the location. Since I live in Northern California, I stupidly signed up for the Northern California event. Probably sounded like a good idea at the time. They even told me where it would be held. They said “Squaw Valley” very plainly on the website. I know where Squaw Valley is, but the only thing that went through my head was, “Oh, that will be nice scenery!” I am a fool.

For those of you not current on your Northern California geography, or your history of run-down, overpriced ex-Olympic ski resorts, allow me to explain. Squaw Valley is a very large hillside in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Lake Tahoe, with a base elevation of 6200 feet above sea level. I said BASE ELEVATION. It has a summit elevation of 9050 feet. The map of the Tough Mudder obstacle course boasts an elevation gain of 2300 feet. That means that the lowest elevation that the top of the course can possibly be is 8500 feet.

I was vacationing with my family at another breathtaking spot in Northern California this past weekend; this one being on the coast. Most of the coast here in California is at sea level. In preparation for my idiotic event, I went running one morning on an old logging road in the forest. It had some pretty impressive elevation gains, also. I would venture a guess that I saw elevation changes of nearly 100 to 200 feet on my 20-minute run. Unfortunately, I got pretty winded.

Now, if there is one place in the world with a lot of oxygen, it’s a redwood forest at sea level. If there is one place in the world where there isn’t a lot of oxygen, it’s at 8000 feet in the air, anywhere in the world. Which is apparently where I’ll be running on September 18th, 2011. Up hill. I am a fool.

I have no idea why losing a few pounds by not drinking my body weight in Coca-Cola every day translated into me thinking I was a cross between Lance Armstrong, Rambo and Chuck Norris, but apparently it did. Now, as the cold reality sets in, and I feel my nearly 40-year-old body getting winded while jogging in what amounts to nature’s oxygen tent, and I can apparently hurt myself while sleeping, I must face the facts. This race will kill me.

If you will excuse me, I need to get started putting my affairs in order. Honey, please promise me you’ll remarry, for the sake of the boys. They’ll need a strong father figure in their lives. Hopefully one a little smarter than me.

I’m hoping to die on the course, instead of in my own bed later that night. My bed is close to sea level, so if I die on the hill at Squaw Valley, and I do make it into Heaven, it will be a shorter trip.

At least my demise will be for a good cause. The crazy Tough Mudder events ( and the crazy people who enter them have raised almost $2 million for The Wounded Warrior Project (, which is a fabulous organization that helps injured service members through their challenges back at home. I can’t think of a better reason to do this! If you would like to help this most worthy cause with a few dollars instead of dying on a hillside like I’m going to do, you can donate to my race at, or directly at the Wounded Warrior site above. Thanks!

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!