Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Parental Guidance Suggested

My wife and I are experiencing some parenting challenges lately. Not the standard kind of challenges involving the kids being unruly, but the really annoying kind where we are finding out we just suck at parenting. We try to be good parents, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

Our recent problems have all involved movies and their ratings, however, so I think Hollywood might really be to blame.

It started a few months ago when we had a family movie night, and my wife found a copy of Gremlins buried deep in the stack of movies we had forgotten we owned. The case said it was rated PG, and it had been a really long time since either of us had seen it. Our recollections of the plot were the same; the gremlins are cute until you get them wet or feed them after midnight, then they multiply and/or turn naughty and cause harmless mischief.

I guess my wife and I had both blocked out the traumatic experiences of our youth when our parents accidentally let us watch Gremlins, too. We had forgotten that the “naughty” gremlins were a little more than naughty. They actually killed people. We had also forgotten that the mom killed four of them using a fireplace, a knife, a microwave, and a juicer.

We shut it off right after the juicer, but the damage was done. Two of the boys hid all their stuffed animals in the garage and had bad dreams for a week, and the third one spent that week begging us to let him watch the rest of the movie. One of our boys is a little off.
Fast forward a few months, and it appears we have not totally learned our lesson. I just finished reading The Hobbit to the boys, and Son Number Two just finished reading the first book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Cool, we thought. We can get them The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies for Christmas. That was the extent of the planning. Three minutes later they were on order with Amazon Prime. They arrived two days later and were promptly hidden away until it was time to wrap them.

“Time to wrap these movies. Were these going to be from us or from Santa?”
“Let’s make them from Santa, since we need more stuff from him.”

This is where we suck at parenting.

Did we read the box where it said PG-13?
Are any of our boys thirteen?
No. One of them isn’t even half of thirteen yet.

They tore the movies open on Christmas day and were thrilled by Santa’s generosity and gift-giving skills.

“Can we watch them tonight?”
Hmm, we thought, finally reading the posted ratings on the movie cases and reliving the Gremlins catastrophe one more time in our heads.
“Mommy and Daddy will watch them first to make sure they’re OK.”

We started with the first Hobbit movie. Uh, this movie has orcs. There were no orcs in the book. Not only were there no orcs in the book, but there was certainly no giant white orc with a steel hook for a hand. Gollum was creepy enough on his own without adding scary-ass hobbit-eating creatures that weren’t even in the original story. The kids won’t sleep for a month if they see this.

We tried the first LOTR movie next. More orcs, more Gollum. Forget it.

“Well, boys, we watched the movies and they are a little too scary for you right now. We’ll have to wait a little while to watch them.”

Then the question we were dreading:
“Why would Santa bring us movies that you won’t let us watch?”

What I said:
“Well, I’m not quite sure, Son. I guess he just forgot to check with us.”

What I meant:
Well, Son, sometimes Santa is drunk with Amazon Prime free two-day shipping power and just isn’t thinking straight. Sometimes, after reading a book, Santa foolishly assumes that Hollywood will stick to the actual story instead of adding a bunch of stuff to make it much, much scarier. The bottom line is that sometimes Santa just doesn’t do his homework. I blame Mrs. Claus.

In a classic case of too little, too late, a few days after Christmas I stumbled on an internet article titled “PG Movies that Probably Shouldn’t be PG.” The list included classics like Jaws, Poltergeist, and Indiana Jones, and topping the list was Gremlins.

Well that’s just great. Where were you guys a few months ago?

Like I said, I blame Hollywood.

So this year, our New Year’s resolution is to not suck so much in the parental guidance department. We don’t expect any help from Hollywood, so we’re on our own. As with all of our previous resolutions, however, we’re not going to put any measurability into it, so we expect great success.

Happy New Year, everybody. See you at the movies.


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Second Noel

My son was playing The First Noel last night on the piano. As we sat around drinking eggnog by the yule log, we did what we always do at Christmastime when our children play carols: We begged him to slow down, because my boys play everything two or three times faster than they should, like monkeys on crack.

When we finally got him to slow down to a bearable speed, we sang along.
The first Noel, the angels did something, then something and something and something else.

We don’t really know the words.

As I sat there by the warm glow of the fire, wishing we knew more of the words, I got to thinking about the one line we did know: The First Noel. And I thought, you know, we hear a lot about the first Noel, since it’s the story of Christmas. But what about the second Noel? What was Jesus like in his first year?

I didn’t have to ponder this too long, because as luck would have it, when I flipped on the TV late last night there was a breaking news story about a huge archaeological find. Biblical historians had been brought in to authenticate a small booklet, and it was just confirmed last night to be Mary’s diary from the early years. They were a little embarrassed, because it had actually been found with the Dead Sea Scrolls way back in the 1950s, but the team of (male) archaeologists thought it was a user’s manual for the scrolls, so no one bothered to read it.

Entry #1
New diary – Old one lost on road trip somewhere in the last sandstorm.
I’m nine months pregnant and wouldn’t you know it, we have to go on an umpteen million mile donkey ride to go sign our names in some city I’ve never even been to. This government is getting out of hand.

Entry #2
Oh, boy. Here we go. We’re in some little truck stop of a town called Bethlehem and my water just broke. Just what I always wanted; to have my baby at a hotel!

Entry #3
Just great. No room at the hotel. Looks like I’m going to have my baby in a barn. I am surrounded by cattle and sheep. Not optimum would be an understatement. This can't be the best place for this.

Entry #4
OK. That went well. Baby is here, and he’s awesome. I don’t just mean regular awesome, I mean the actual definition of awesome. He’s glowing. My baby rocks! We’re naming him Jesus.

Entry #5
We are still in the barn. This just can’t be the best place for a newborn. I’ve got him wrapped up in some swaddling clothes, and he’s sleeping in the manger on the cleanest hay I could find, which isn’t saying too much. He seems to like it, though, so I guess it’s cool. Strange night. We have a crazy-bright star right above the barn. It’s like a spotlight.

Entry #6
Some shepherds just stopped by. They looked a little freaked out. They wanted to meet the baby and kept saying they “heard about him from an angel.” I’m not sure what’s in the water around here, but those guys were a little off.

Entry #7
WHOA! Holy cow! And I mean Holy Cow. Seriously, I think the cows in here might be Holy now. THE ANGEL JUST SHOWED UP! No wonder those shepherd guys looked freaked. WOW. He was seriously bright. I had to ask him to tone the light down a little because I was afraid baby Jesus was going to get a sunburn. Totally crazy deal – Jesus and the angel looked at each other like they already knew each other. Freaky! I think we have a special boy on our hands here.

Entry #8
The angel left a while ago and apparently the shepherd guys did a pretty good job of getting the word out, because there’s a decent crowd outside the barn. Lots of people bringing gifts. This is pretty crazy.

Entry #9
Some little kid with a drum just showed up. Normally, I’d be like, “Uh, hey kid, if you wake up my new baby with that drum I’m going to make you eat those sticks,” but baby Jesus was loving him. He rocked a pretty good Par Rum Pa Pum Pum. I think he’s got a career in music ahead of him.

Entry #10
OK, the angel was awesome, and the drummer boy was cool, but now some kings have showed up. Kings! Three of them. I guess they came from a long way away, just to meet Jesus. This kid is famous already. I wonder if we need an agent? Anyway, the kings brought camels. Camels! What's up with that? If one of those camels spits on my kid, it's on. I don’t care if they’re kings or not. Who brings a camel to visit a newborn?

Entry #11
OK, the kings brought gifts. They were very nice men, and the camels behaved themselves. It was nice of them to bring gifts, but can I just say something? One of them brought gold. Always a great gift! But the other two brought frankincense and myrrh. Are you guys serious? Mmm, thanks for the fragrant tree resin, fellas. Do I look like I have the time to be boiling down tree sap to make my own perfume? I have a newborn in a barn here. I appreciate the thought, I really do, but some people just don’t know how to give gifts. How about a 52-count box of Huggies and some formula? Would it have killed you to drive the camels past a Target on your way in? Can’t really clean his little butt up with Myrrh now, can I fellas?

Entry #12
OK, I just re-read entry #11. I haven’t had much sleep in the last week. I think I’m getting a little cranky.

Entry #13
OK, I’m looking back over my diary here, and it looks like it has been an entire year since I wrote anything. Wow, that was a crazy week in the barn! I guess I have been a little too busy raising this boy to write anything. Sure, we now know he’s the Son of God, and that is truly awesome, but be that as it may, he is not without his challenges.

A little recap of our crazy first year:

People have seriously been visiting every day for the entire year. We had to build a turnstile and hire a security guy.

Our formula budget has been through the roof. He keeps turning his formula into wine, so we keep having to take it away from him. On the upside, we have a lot of really good quality wine!

Don’t even get me started on bath time. This is the dirtiest kid in the whole village. Have you ever tried to get the Son of God underwater if he doesn’t want to be? Let me just tell you… not easy!

Our playdates are cool, though. Anytime one of the other kids gets a bonk or an owie. Boom. Healed. We have regular playdates with a big group of boys. There are twelve of them!

Here’s the craziest thing – his poop does not stink. Seriously, never. When the other moms think I’m bragging, I make them smell it. It smells like frankincense and myrrh. Crazy!

Anyway, we just got finished up with his first birthday party. We tried to do the smash cake thing where you give them their own personal cake to eat with their hands. Instead of smashing his face into it like all the other neighborhood kids did on their first birthdays, he turned it into three thousand little individual cakes for all the people that just randomly showed up. What’s the point of sending out invitations with this kid? He certainly draws a crowd. You should see the pile of gifts!

I’ll try to write a little more regularly this year, but no guarantees. This kid is keeping us on our toes!

Merry Christmas!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The 2014 Do-it-Yourself Christmas Letter

You’ve been thinking it for weeks now. Maybe even more than a month. That nagging thought in the back of your head. That sticky note on your refrigerator… No. Not the one that says, “Buy more gin and olives.” The other one. “Write the Christmas letter.”

Well, I have bad news for you. It’s too late. You’re out of time. You’ll never get it written and delivered before Christmas now. You could hang your head in despair and blame yourself for being a shiftless, lazy, procrastinating loser who can’t even make a martini, or you can pour yourself a stiff whiskey egg nog and raise a glass to Christmas miracles.

Once again, I’ve got you covered. I have created another handy do-it-yourself template to help you whip out your 2014 Christmas letter in no time flat. As with previous years’ templates, just fill in your last name(s) in the blank and circle the appropriate choices, and you're in business. Christmas miracles really do happen!

Christmas 2014

Merry Christmas from the _________________ house. We’ve had quite a year around here!

Dad had a banner year with his (fundraising/complaining) at the (Shriners/Sizzler). He has a real love for (children’s charities/all-you-can-eat menus), and his (enthusiasm/frustration) really shines through when the (annual pledge drive /salad bar) runs (in the spring/out of baby corn). He loves (networking with/bitching to) the managers at all the local businesses. He has really been (thriving/annoying) since his retirement.

Mom couldn’t be more (involved/out of touch) with (her church/reality) if she tried. She spends countless hours on the (phone/couch), making sure that the (elderly/reality shows) do not go (unloved/unwatched). She makes personal visits to the (old folk’s home/Old Grand-Dad) in the (city/cupboard) every (week/hour), and always comes back to the (house/couch) a lot happier. We remain in awe of her (faith/flatulence) and the (smiles/smells) she brings to any room.

Sister and her (new husband/loser boyfriend) had some (good/bad) news this year with his (promotion/incarceration). We (secretly/openly) have our fingers crossed that this means they will (start a family/break up) soon, but for now they are just adjusting to the new schedule of (his commute/conjugal visits). We are (happy for/disappointed in) them, and always (thrilled/amazed) to see how happy she is with their (new marriage/bad decisions).

Brother has been on fire this year (at work/twice). He continues to (beat his numbers/cook meth) and is poised to win the (salesman/idiot) of the year award (at his company/if that existed). He has a natural talent for (sales/stupidity), and combined with his (high drive/low IQ), he has been really making (rain/poor decisions) in the (advertising/lifestyle) department. We only wish he would put some of his efforts into finding a (nice girl/fireproof suit), so he isn’t constantly at the (office/ER). He’s (content/too stupid to breathe), however, so we don’t (hassle/waste our time with) him too much. (J,L)

As for me, I’m just about (the same/as fed up) as last year. Things couldn’t be going (better/worse). Our family is (thriving/falling apart) and we’re (excited/apprehensive) about the coming year. We travelled (down south/to the clinic) a few times this year because of (varsity track/urinary tracts).  The boys started out relatively (slow/healthy), but then their (season/pee) turned (around/green) after some (extensive/questionable) (training/eating) after school. Their (coach/doctor) couldn’t be more (pleased/clueless) about their (progress/diagnosis). Things here at the house are getting (festive/tense) as we gear up for the annual winter (holiday celebrations/rat infestation).

Well, that’s about all the news we (wanted/care) to share with you. We hope this letter finds you (well/wherever the hell you are) this holiday season. We are planning some (travel/new business opportunities) for the upcoming year, and we hope to (see/invest with) as many of you as possible. We’ll be in touch. Until then…

Merry Christmas!

You’re welcome! Now just sign, copy and send. You’re all set.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Auditory Torture

There has been a lot of talk in the news recently about torture. I, of course, mean the actual news, and not what the Kardashians are up to. That type of “news” is torture of another kind.

What is and isn’t actual torture has been discussed laboriously on the political round table talk shows. Experts, pundits, and news talking heads have beaten this subject to death - or at least into submission. They all seem to fail to see the irony; listening to them talk about torture that much is actually torture. It can almost make you care what the Kardashians might be up to.

The media seems very concerned about the physical side of “enhanced interrogations.” Perhaps someone was made to stand and stay awake for a really long time. Maybe someone didn’t get too much to eat. Someone was naked in front of other people? It all sounds a lot like college to me, but what do I know? No one has invited me to sit down at the round table and discuss any of this yet, but if they do, I will tell them everything they want to know about torture and national security.

I have very real, very recent first-hand experience with torture. Not physical torture, mind you, although I am over forty, so activities like going up stairs and getting out of bed are getting mighty close to feeling like “enhanced techniques.” No, I have experience with mental torture – specifically, auditory torture.

I have been to hundreds of classrooms to read my books, but yesterday I did my first all-school author assembly in the multi-purpose room. I have not spent any significant amount of time in a multi-purpose room since I graduated from the sixth grade, but yesterday I found myself needing to hang around inside one for about an hour or so before I started the assembly.

I didn’t last long.

The kids were all in class, so my time in the multi-purpose room started out with peace and quiet, but eventually shuffling of feet and voices could be heard behind a closed curtain up on the stage. Then, all of a sudden, the formerly tranquil cafeteria/basketball court was filled with the sounds of wounded and dying animals. Zebras brayed and seals barked. Hyenas huffed and cackled. Tiny elephants gave their last, dying, gurgling trumpet.

Or was that an actual trumpet? Oh my Lord, it was! It’s band practice!

The unseen, murderous musicians warmed up behind the big curtain for what seemed like five hours, but my watch, my cell phone, and the wall clock all conspired to lie and tell me it only lasted two minutes. Then I heard a teacher’s voice.

Oh my God, there is an adult stuck back there with them!? She’s so close to the noise! She will obviously die soon.

She mentioned something about Jingle Bells, and then the awful sounds began again. At times, it almost sounded like the students were all trying to play the same song, but no CSI team of forensic scientists in the world would have been able to piece together Jingle Bells out of the musical wreckage that ensued. It sounded as if someone had lined up a whole truckload of tubas, clarinets, trombones, and trumpets and then ran them all over with the truck.

I could not hear myself think. I could not feel myself breathe. I did not want to live any longer in that room. I blacked out momentarily and when I came to I was outside in the fresh air and sunlight. Apparently my brain’s fight-or-flight response had kicked in and my legs had carried my unconscious body to safety. I stayed away until it was almost time to start the assembly, and when I went back in, the killing of music had ceased, but I could still hear the same teacher talking to the students. Holy cow, she has been up there, stuck behind the curtain, enduring this for almost an hour! She must be bulletproof.

That thought reminded me of another time in my life when I was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. I was walking in the park one day last summer, and the ice cream truck was paralleling me on the neighborhood streets near the greenbelt. I was mercilessly pelted with The Entertainer for a solid ten minutes. I was off in the weeds looking for two sharp sticks that I could jam into my ears when, thankfully, he moved on and the horrendous noise pecking at my brain finally stopped. How the man who drives that infernal music box on wheels can function well enough to even fit the key into the ignition is beyond my comprehension.

Now, if you want information from someone, I guess you can make them stand for a long time, or make them skip some meals, or strip them naked and attempt to humiliate them. It might work, and it will definitely get you on the news. But if you really want good intel – I mean if you want them to beg to hand over every last scrap of useful information they have – there is only one way to go. Just sit them down in a nice comfortable room and pipe in elementary school band practice or the ice cream man’s tinny music box version of The Entertainer on infinite loop.

For fast, effective results, that kind of auditory torture can’t be beat. On the flip side, we should immediately entrust all of our nation’s top secrets to the elementary school band teacher and the ice cream man. They will never crack.

Until then, I guess we’ll have to flip the channel over to the Kardashians or continue to endure the irony of the media beating torture to death. No matter what, we need to avoid the multi-purpose room during band practice.

You know, come to think of it, the real irony here is that “Auditory Torture” would be a good name for a rock band.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ten Birthdays

Son Number One turned ten years old last week. Ten! Now, many of you with older or grownup kids are probably saying, “Been there,” and many of you without any kids are saying, “So what?”

I can assure you, when you have children, and the oldest one turns ten, the first thought through your head is, “Holy crap, I’m old!” Then the second thought is, “Holy crap, he can’t actually be ten. He was just five a few minutes ago, and now he’s in double digits?”

Then you do the math again, and then the thought hits you that if he has really been around the house for ten years already, then it’s only eight more years until you have to pay for college. Which, apparently, in parent years is only like six and a half minutes.

Then you faint.

Then your wife revives you by kicking you in the ribs and saying, “Get up, old man.”

You start to come to, muttering, “need… more… money.”

You wife responds, “Tell me about it!”

You get the feeling she didn’t know you were referring to your son.

She has known he was turning ten for a while. That’s because she is a woman and doesn’t forget things like the birthdays of her children. You, on the other hand, being a man, were reminded of his birthday the same way you have always been; by your dentist’s office. They send a nice Happy Birthday email every year.

I actually had quite a few clues leading up to the date, because my wife had already thrown him ten separate birthday parties. Not parties with cakes and hats and noise makers, mind you, but little events labeled as “doing this for his birthday.”

His birthday falls on the Thanksgiving break every year, so every year my wife uses his birthday as an excuse to do things.  We went to the movies “for his birthday.” Before that we had gone to pizza “for his birthday.” And mini golf. And ice cream. And dinner out.

Oh, and Monterey. That’s a whole separate town. It’s a three-hour drive from here. We were going there anyway for a family baby shower, but my wife mysteriously used his birthday as an excuse to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium the next day. I don’t know why we needed an excuse, but there we were, looking at hammerhead sharks and watching bat rays mate “for his birthday.”

And that was all before Thanksgiving. Then the family arrived for Turkey Day, and the aunts and uncles and grandparents spoiled him all over again. I’m pretty sure he thought the actual Thanksgiving dinner was “for his birthday.”

I have mentioned to my wife on a number of occasions that I think we might be spoiling him a little. She sees no issue. I have even brought up the possibility that the other two boys might eventually notice, and possibly resent, the disparity between their birthday celebration and those of Son Number One.

Yes, I said “celebration.” Singular. Son Number Two and Three are two years apart, but they were both born in April, and their birthdays are four days apart. They get a single party between the two of them, with some leftover Easter candy and maybe a cupcake if they’re lucky.

Now, please don’t misunderstand. It’s not that my wife is playing favorites; it’s just that she is sensitive to a certain specific birthday problem; namely, sharing your birthday with a major holiday. She had a rough childhood, birthday-wise. She was born on Christmas Eve.

Sharing your birthday celebration with The Big Guy can’t be easy for a kid in the first place (and I love her parents dearly, and not to throw them under the bus publicly), but one year when the family was having house guests for Christmas, they forgot her birthday completely.

I guess their dentist’s office didn’t have a reliable email service back then.

So, you can see where she could be a little worried about her son “sharing” his birthday with a big holiday. So I cut her some slack when she overcompensates a little with the whole “doing this for his birthday” thing.

I just pity his future wife. He might throw a fit if she doesn’t cook him a turkey with stuffing on his birthday and take him to the aquarium. I’ll give her my in-laws’ phone number. I blame them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shop for a small combination birthday/Christmas gift for my wife. She loves those.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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

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