The Dumb Dad’s Guide to Holiday Travel

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Yep, it’s ‘The Holiday’s’ once again…

This season will be our fourth traveling with small children. This year we’d classify them as a toddler and a pre-schooler. but the parameters are fuzzy. In any case there are a few mistakes we consistently make as evidenced by our recent holiday travels. Be smart and don’t do the doo-doo that we do so well!

  1. Start Early – Get those motors running early. We like to start talking about Christmas and all it’s excitement as we are eating Halloween candy. That way they can perseverate on it’s arrival for nearly 2 full months. It is a sure fire way to induce at least one if not several moments of disappointment a day for nearly 60 days! Talk about efficiency!
  2. Make Promises – Especially if they depend on several things working out a particular way. Like cousins who are also toddlers being receptive to playing with them and sharing their toys. Or hotels being ready for you to swim in pools. Promise these things even before checking if they have a pool or if it will be open Christmas eve. I mean, I’m sure everything, including health, will break in your favor.
  3. Pack a Weeks Worth for Every Day of Travel-This will ensure that you can’t find anything you need when you need it. But it’ll be there. Somewhere. Unless you forgot.
  4. Separate but Equal – Sure, it hasn’t worked historically, but you know, I’m sure your tired, overstimulated, constantly competing for attention toddlers will understand that you’re doing your best. If you have one of anything make sure you give it to one child in view of the others. A bag of M&M’s, one bag of Pirate Booty, any toy that beeps and flashes lights.
  5. Be a Sweetie – That is to say replace all calories with candy and treats. This is the most effective tool for compliance known to man for exactly one usage. Once spent, usually getting them into the car to leave your home, you are now contractually obligated yourself to provide junk for any and all compliance. Pack sweets generously.
  6. Get The Most Out of Every Minute – For us this means be sure to arrive at the end of your long journey right at the times when your children who nap might naturally go to sleep. This will ensure that they do so upon arrival. Or it will ensure that they don’t nap and are sure to have epic, sugar-crash-fueled melt downs in front of the entire family.
  7. Cat Naps are Just as Good – Catch some Z’s on that trip to the store to grab some milk (and more M&M’s, who’s kidding who) to make sure they are overtired come bedtime. Surely this 20 minutes rest will allow their bodies to calm naturally for an early bedtime. That or they will miraculously turn this 20 minutes of rest into 4-6 hours of fuel that will kick in right at the moment you begin the treacherous march to sleep in a new place.

I hope these hints are helpful and that you and yours have a truly wonderful trip!

 

The Misplaced Confidence of the Formerly Beautiful

Have you ever had a secret that was just too painful to share? I just know there’s someone out there who could understand me if I could just get over myself. Just stop stopping every time I start to address it directly. Fear is cruel that way. It gets in and feigns ultimate power and you believe it. But its all a charade. Any power fear has is usurped and misappropriated from its host. That power you feel being exerted on you, to apply the old horror movie trope, is coming from inside the house. Your house. You. The power is all yours and you have to claim it. As soon as you do fear will flee like the coward it is.

Here is my proclamation.

I am afflicted with the misplaced confidence of the formerly beautiful.

High SchoolIt may not be recognized in the DSM and their is likely not a ton of literature about this dreadful disorder, but for those few of us suffering from it none of that makes it any less real. It doesn’t make it any less painful.

It’s a pitiable reality I live day to day. One I don’t wish on my most attractive enemies. Every night I’m tortured by my reflection, reminding me that those looks I’ve gotten, those looks I’ve come to rely on for my sense of self, from attractive young women, those looks are no longer intended the way I still, sadly, receive them in the moment. All day I’ve stolen glances of others checking me out. Now, when I see what greets there eye in the world of funhouse mirrors I now live in I am left little room for doubt that one of two things has happened. One, they are looking on me as an oddity here in these places of the young and beautiful I somehow still think I’m rightly placed in. Or, two, horrifyingly, they are not in fact looking at me, but rather ‘keeping an eye on me’ the old, thick, greying gentlemen who clearly doesn’t belong.

Well I have news for you. Many of you will be me someday. Laugh. Go ahead, young beauties, but mark my words, beauty fades. Even on us, the most beautiful. You can only outrun it for a decade or two. Your number will come up some day. And when it does I hope you remember the way you look at me and judge me. I’m you, my friends. I’m you.

I too was able to claim a total and truthful lack of ‘game’ when it came to meeting the people I was attracted to. I was afforded all the free space on the high road. My best move was letting slip to a friend that I thought someone was cute. This actually led to nearly every relationship I initiated in my dating days. The other 90% were someone telling me that some other, similarly afflicted gorgeous person was interested in me. I never questioned. Of course they were. Then I’d decide if I was. If I was we’d date. For as long as I was into it. I assumed it was like this for everyone.

I was raised by humble and handsome people who didn’t burden me with the knowledge of the appeal of my strong jaw line, piercing blue eyes, broad shoulders, alabaster skin and buttery smooth baritone. I was 6’2″ and athletic on top of it. Lacking arrogance, I emerged in the world upon reaching majority a fully formed, devilishly handsome man free from the awareness of my native advantages over the average person. I assumed all people had yet to feel the bitter sting of rejection. Thinking it not at all unusual that someone might greet anyone with a sharp intake of breath followed by spitting out a phrase like, ‘Wow. You’re really good looking!’ Didn’t matter where I was. Interviews and church and other formal settings. I just assumed this was a common courtesy between strangers raised with manners and good hearts. I assumed everyone would have to hold their bosses at arms length. Out of respect for their dignity. I mean how silly would they have looked being rejected by subordinates. I always assumed my promotions were the same promotions anyone else would have received having dutifully arrived to work on time, answered most messages and was always available to smile and make small talk. These are the essential duties of handsome/good looking people after all.

imageBut now, now I’m a fool. I still assume the never ending upward trajectory to continue despite having long ago settled into the middle. Thank god I met my gorgeous wife before my looks were so diminished. I managed to convince her, a fellow and currently gorgeous human, to marry me and quick. Before the fall of Rome as it were.

After a lifetime of the world and its inhabitants falling at my feet to help me over any and all challenges I didn’t even realize that I am completely lacking the skills needed for someone in my current, hideous form. Thank god I managed to attend and graduate college while I still was on the path of least resistance, which is every path for the beautiful among us. At least I have a degree to fall back on.

But today, today is my day to take back my life, to swallow my humiliation and face the world. I’m thicker then I was and my profile in particular is to be avoided. My once prominent jawline is doughy. My broad shoulders have slumped and my skin is, well, problematic. But that is not going to stop me from being proud of myself. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I’m going to eat better and care for myself more attentively. I’m going to run and use the elliptical and I’m going to do all the things everyone else has had to do forever just to keep up with me.

I may never be beautiful again. Lord knows I’ll never be as stunning as I once was. But who knows. I’m to understand that men like myself can still get quite a bit from life if we can make it to ‘distinguished’, so there’s still hope.

Hell Found Me at the County Fair

County FairSaturday we found ourselves, all of us, lost amidst the deep weeds of toddlerhood.

We were leaving the county fair. It was hot, crowded, noisy and uncomfortable. This was the setting as I did my own performance piece re-enacting every episode of cops ever. The big one was melting while the little one was overdone and riding his big brother’s coat tails. All the mistakes that can be made were. We were unprepared for the crowds, the food, the animals and the heat. Naps were skipped and bad behavior was mollified with treats. In hindsight any parent of any ability could have predicted the outcome. We could have predicted it. But we chose instead to barrel through because that is what you do with toddlers. If you waited for optimal conditions you’d be frozen in place, TV blaring, hiding from your kids. Forever.

Instead we took them to the fair where hell found us. It’s not the fault of the fair. Its not the fault of the heat and it’s not the fault of the various vendors and tricksters hanging their sweet booty, in the form of plush Spiderman dolls or blow up Spongebob’s to attract the hearts and minds of the worlds most brutal and successful class of negotiators, toddlers. Actually it’s totally the vendors fault. And of course the toddler’s fault. Everything is their fault. It isn’t their responsibility to do anything other then what they do, but lets not kid ourselves, we’re all grown ups here, it’s ALWAYS the toddlers fault. That’s okay, they can hardly be blamed for it.

Back to our story…

As I sit on the vacuum packed, stifling, Twinkie-shaped, sardine can of a school bus with with all manner of humanity, waiting on the edge of my seat to see if one of us will crack, scream and dive out the window as the bus tries to weave it’s way through the throngs of fair goers oblivious to those of us on the bus and our plight, toward the traffic that it will have to navigate before getting us to our abandoned vehicles in a vast empty field 3 miles away, I felt relief that at least we were nearly done with this trial. I believe that life tests you and it looked like we were going to make it out of this one having passed this test and learned a lesson.

The bus eventually picked up speed as we traveled away from the fairgrounds. A breeze moved the still hot air and we all let our shoulders down a bit. Even the enjoyable parts of such a day, for parents, are challenging. An example? The Butterfly’s. Going into the netted area, filled with flowers and butterfly’s was something like magic. Until you try to control a 4 year old and a 2 year old that don’t really get it. We were given small, foam style paint brushes upon entering and were told they were dipped in nectar to attract the butterflies, which the 4 year old could eventually do. I turned for a second to look and marvel at how he had managed to procure a butterfly for his very own enjoyment. Being four and having the attention span of a gnat and needing the validation of constant achievement at video-game speed he was bored nearly immediately, which was fine, I still had to look after the 2 year old. Where the hell did he go! Ah. There he.. wait. Teddy, no! He had started brandishing his brush like a weapon and was trying to in fact ‘squish’ the butterflies. Thankfully he is not as coordinated as he thinks he is and no butterflies were harmed in the making of this disaster. In the future, even later that day, this was the memory we isolated and highlighted as the ‘magic’ part of our trip to the fair.

As I slowly drove the air conditioned car I had a few moments of serenity on my way back to the fairground to pick up my wife and kids. A thought snick into my mind. I could probably get away with sneaking off for a bit. Have a beer, catch an inning or two of the Mets game. Why not. What would they care if they got to stay at the fair for a few more minutes? Kids love fairs!

Having arranged with Karen to have the boys across the street from the gate through which we entered the fair I knew it was not to be. They were waiting and I had what they needed. A car, some screens (I don’t care what you think about this, keep it to yourself, talk behind my back, just don’t think I care about your data and research) and a ride back to the grandparents house.

I’m afraid that my abilities as a writer will fail me as I try to describe what it was I returned to. The fairgrounds are in a rural area and the lawns of the residents of the modest homes in surrounding the grounds are  filled to bursting with cars that paid a bit extra for the convenience. These folks who paid $10 to be able to leave immediately, when free parking was right down the street, people I called suckers not 3 hours ago, are the smartest people. Ever. As we crowded our car onto the edge of one such lawn, across from the parked police car, lights aglow for apparently no reason other then to be prepared, my family came into sight. The full blast of a Volvo AC unit with the windows up can completely cancel out the sounds of what was perhaps the busiest moment of the busiest day of the county fair, megaphones ablaze, kids screaming from death defying rides and all manner of annoying, ice cream truck style circus music blasting from the concourse that is perhaps as much as 25 feet to my left. What it can’t obscure is the wailing and screaming of my four year old son, retreating to the maze of automobiles behind him, blood curdling screams that would cause me, you and any other decent person to stop and watch to be sure that he is not in mortal danger.

He is not, but it’s not so evident. You see, I’m angry now. Again, it’s unfair, not his responsibility and still entirely his fault that I’m now on a warpath. He’s a big four year old and his brother is squirmy. Being outnumbered and overburdened by the necessary and unnecessary items that accompany a mom of toddlers from a fair, my wife was not able to fully gather him in his state and it was a full blown disaster unfolding. I kid you not, everyone stopped, as if this were a real episode of cops, and watched as I stormed, cheeks ablaze in frustration and fed-uppedness as I marched directly at the boy and restrained him physically. This was a situation in which diplomatic methods could not be employed, not yet at least. We were in the midst of a full blown rebellion. What was needed was a police state, removal by force and I was the brute squad.

Here I was, a stranger in a strange land, looking to all the world like the type of father I was, but not the type I reported to be. I prefer to be the benevolent dictator, allowing my boys to think they have choices. ‘do you want to brush first or read a story first?’ that kind of thing. But when the moment is upon us, when hell is staring me down at the county fair all artifice is lost. This is a regime that must occasionally use the full force of it’s bestowed powers and put down all threats. Today that threat came from within and I’m terrified to think what the surrounding masses thought of our little performance. Surely they saw my anger, his frustration, our failures and must have come to the same conclusions I’ve often come to when seeing others in this or other, similar situations.

Within five minutes, a seemingly short time until you’ve spent it confined in a station wagon with two screaming, not shouting, SCREAMING toddlers, we were able to diffuse the situation using the wisdom of our elders who always have spoils ready for their grandkids visits.

‘Okay, Charlie. I guess I should call Grandma and tell her to put away the cupcakes and ice cream. Cancel the pancake dinner. Charlie doesn’t want it.’ I said in my best toddler-whistle falsetto.

Deep breaths. Wiped tears.

‘No. I want cupcakes.’

‘You do?’ I asked.

‘Yeah’

‘Okay, I’ll tell Grandma, as long as your a good boy and say you’re sorry to mommy.’ Still falsetto.

‘I’m sorry, mommy. Yeah!’ he shouted, and got the attention of the other.

‘Cupcakes!’ They yelled in unison.

5 Common Courtesies to Ditch with Toddlers

Ever notice how animalistic we become as parents. Right from the start. In fact we tend to mirror the journey of our children from completely helpless disasters through all the necessary stages of socialization and refinement. Well, in the process we must teach our children the expectations of society, the rules of the road and how to be a decent and kind person. All of those things it turns out are the finishing touches. Now, for us, with two toddlers, many of the rules we’ve always lived by are less then useless.

See my post on the topic at Sammiches & Psych Meds, where I’m now officially part of the team. Tanks so much, everyone!

5 Lessons Learned While Hiding in the Other Room

Home Day Fun..
Home Day Fun..

Have you ever taken a step back and tried to understand your toddlers understanding of the world? If not take a minute sometime to just observe. You might be surprised by what you find.

From time to time I am home alone with the boys for an hour or two on the weekends. It’s not often, but it happens and when it does I do my best to hide from them observe them from afar to see what I can learn about what they know. Here are a few of my conclusions.

  1. You don’t at all have to teach a child to hate – To the contrary. They come to it quite organically. That said, they have nary a care to your race, creed, sexual orientation or income bracket. Their sole determining factor between love and hate is whether or not you are giving them what they want when they want it. Furthermore, as toddlers, this may still result in them hating you. Granted, they have only the most vague sense of ‘hate’ and likely mean something more like, ‘I’m mad at you’, but still they are perhaps the demographic least afraid to hate. Granted, it’s usually balanced with cuddles but still.
  2. They are intuitively aware that posession is 9/10ths of the law – At least when they posess a thing.  When someone else is in possession of something, and really it can be anything, that to falls under the category of things that are rightfully theres because at one point they were holding it. Our four year old likes to say it was his ‘from when I was a baby.’
  3. Sharing is not a virtue, it’s a liability – This is mostly in regard to toys. My son told me yesterday that he wanted to play a game in which the only rules he could articulate were that ‘..all the toys in the world are mine.’ I’m not paraphrasing. He was so proud of himself for inventing this game. He thought he’d cracked a code or something.
  4. They have a sense of natural law – You use what you got. In our case we have two boys, 4 and 2. The big one is huge and he uses his hugeness to approprate property of the younger one, be it land or durable goods. The little one, he’s crazy. It’s like he’s in prison and he knows he has to act insane from time to time to keep the bigger one a little off balance and afraid to come after him. Its an intricate dance, but one that’s mostly entertaining and remarkably effective.
  5. They are aware of how adorable they are – Seriously, they know. They know that eventually we’ll break, whether its a laugh or a cuddle or all out crying, they on some level know that we are powerless over them in the end. Thankfully they tend to go about their days happy and grant us the illusion that we are in charge. I think they pity us.

Their is a good deal more to learn, but for now, I’m just going to hide in watch from the other room and hope they don’t hear me. Besides if they see me gorging on these Skittles I’ll have to share.

12 Honest and Unflattering Headlines About Me As A Dad

  1. Local ‘Dad Blogger’ Who Writes Often Of Committment and Love Will Do Any Chore To Be In Different Room Then ‘Beloved Toddlers’
  2. Remarkably, 41 Year Old Man Honestly Believed Bathrooms Only Needed Cleaning Annually
  3. Kids Cry Inconsolably When Its Dads Turn To Put Them To Bed
  4. Depsite Assertion That Its Not A Problem, Local Dad Can’t Unclench Teeth So He Drinks 8th Coffee of the Day Through Straw
  5. Dad Repeatedly Responds ‘No’ To 4 Year Old’s Requests For Him To ‘Play with me?’
  6. Despite Near Constant Grumpiness Family Still Harbors Tender Feelings For Patriarch
  7. He May Say He Is a Man, But Fathers Skill Set Does Not Support Such a Claim
  8. Lacking Any Self Awareness, Dad Claims He Could Still Run with Guys In NBA
  9. Impressively, Dad Maintains Vanity Despite Having Developed Classic ‘Sitter’s Body’
  10. ‘Man of a Thousand Jokes’ Discovered to be Man of Merely 4 Jokes Told and Retold Thousands of Times. Two of Them are Puns.
  11. One Man’s Journey To Truly Alarming Personal Hygeine Habits
  12. Watching Television Constantly is One Family Tradition This Dad Intends to Pass On

7 Ways Having a Dog Totally Prepares You for Parenthood

You skeptics. Seriously. You think that nobody without kids can understand how hard it is. That’s just crazy. Sure, having kids, caring for them and raising them is a challenge. We all empathize. But you don’t have to get so superior about it. I’ve even heard some people dismiss the attestations of pet-owners, dogs cared for since puppy-hood even, as not fully preparing one for the experience of having kids. Well, I say phooey to you. As skeptics I know what you need is evidence. Allow me to enumerate my argument.

  1. Love – Until you’ve had a puppy, a precious baby dog, look up at you with those beautiful eyes expressing trust in you to care for her in ways that melt you, you can’t know love. Plain and simple. The full weight of love is only felt with a puppy and can’t be replicated by anything else. And as anyone who has seen a Nicholas Sparks movie adaptation knows, love is painful, guys. Seriously.
  2. Sleep – I totally think this sleep thing that so many parents talk about is SO OVERDONE. It’s a naked and frankly embarrassing cry for attention. As a friend I try to be sure not to indulge it. It doesn’t take a lot of looking to find out that science has shown that babies sleep like 15-18 hours a day. You want to talk about sleepless nights? Yeah. Has your kid ever chased down a porcupine and had quills stuck in it’s gums? No? Well, there we have it. You don’t know sleeplessness my friend.
  3. Worry – You parents act like the world isn’t totally designed to help you. You wring your hands over your child in daycare all day. You know what you can do? You can call. You can ask a qualified professional how your child is doing. How your child who’s been playing with friends and snacking on healthy food and being tended to at every turn, how they are as they nap peacefully. Not me. All I can do, ALL I CAN DO is worry.
  4. Cost – Okay. I’ll grant you college. But the likelihood of that out of control scam known as higher education being fixed by the time it’s an issue for you is pretty good, so let’s not overstate it here. Meanwhile, I have an animal that can need everything from mental health therapies (don’t laugh, you have no idea how big a deal this is) and complex surgeries to prevent any number of ailments that are likely to compile and none of that is covered by any ‘family’ insurance plan. I mean seriously, if this dog isn’t family than I don’t know what family is.
  5. Strain on Your Relationship – Do you have any idea how hard a dog is to incorporate into your life. I mean really. It’s like the hardest thing you can do. A baby, that’s a strengthening of your bond, born of your shared DNA it can’t help but bring you closer. Dogs are so  SO needy. It’s like you hardly even have time to spend with your significant other. In those early days, and we’re talking easily 6 months here, I don’t think we had our ‘alone’ time as a couple more than 4 or 5 times a week. What the hell is that? Baby’s don’t do that, puppies do. Am I right!
  6. Potty Training – I’m to understand this is unpleasant for you. Now imagine your baby naked and unable to wipe. At least unable to wipe without doing so with your carpet. I rest my case on this one.
  7. Guilt – One word. Kennel.

I think I’ve made my point here. Don’t be so sure I’m not ready to be responsible for a human life. To raise it and care for it. To love it and set it up for success and fend off the wolves at the gate. I’ve had a puppy, so I ain’t scared!