What Would/Did You Do?

We had just pulled into the parking spot of our family vacation destination, and had begun unloading our luggage into the room where we would stay for the next four days. It had taken us four hours of driving to get here.

My wife began removing clothes from the suitcases and laundry baskets (poor people luggage) and putting them into the dresser drawers provided in the resort room. We had already gotten past out usual argument about whether my clothes should be left in the suitcase or put into drawers like everyone else’s. A thought flashed through the back of my mind, not even a complete thought, more like the formations of what could turn into a thought. It involved not being able to recall seeing Natalie’s “Blanky” in the time since we had departed home.
Like nearly every parent knows, Blanky was a beat up, tattered child’s blanket that Natalie had held tight since she was an infant. Her grandma had sewed its remnants onto another piece of cloth to act as a backing. This due to the fact that the original Blanky had worn to a state where it was more “hole” than material. It reminded me of some precious historical relic, The Shroud of Turin or some flag that had endured many hard fought battles. 
“Where’s Blanky?” I whispered quietly to my wife.
She scanned around the room then paused for a moment thinking, and then looking back at me with shear terror in her eyes.
“We don’t have Blanky!!!” she answered in a slightly elevated whisper voice.
Just then, Natalie paused in the doorway of the room and looked at the two of us like she suspected something was going on. My wife and I froze . . . as if any movement or or sound would alert the child to the absence of Blanky.
Finally, Natalie went back to bouncing around like she had been.
The next minute or two involved an argument between my wife and myself using our whisper voices, and even whisper shouting. Statements were made such as “I thought you were going to …”, and “no, I was busy packing all the . . . ”
Once the whisper shoutings and blame assignments had concluded, it was on to the real problem . . . What to do about the absence of Blanky. 
What would you do? Or in some cases, what did you do? 
Opt for inconvenience and peace by driving home to get it? 
Endure the wailing and gnashing of teeth that would surely accompany a vacation without Blanky? 
Chance it with a substitute?

Second Child Syndrome.

“Dad, how come there aren’t any pictures of me?” my younger daughter asked as she sat on the living room floor looking through the family pictures.

“Of course we have pictures of you,” I replied and grabbed a box of pictures to prove my point.

As I began flipping through the photos, I was alarmed to find that there really were no photos of Natalie. I mean we had the normal burst of photos taken within the month or two after she was born, and a few school pictures, but then the Natalie photos seemed to just taper off to nothing. Frantically I searched three more boxes, but all I came up with was one photo of her tonsils that we took to compare with a picture of normal tonsils in a medical book, and a shot of the back of her head taken when she had apparently wandered into a picture I was taking of my lawn mower.

As for our firstborn, Hannah, there were pictures of nearly every event in her early years. There were pictures of her birth, her first week, her first month, and all the months following. There were pictures of her first solid food, her first steps, her first bloody nose, Christmas programs, and playing in the snow, rain, and sun. There was even a picture of her first poop on the potty…and not just one of her on the potty…I’m talking about a picture of the actual poop.

Embarrassed and not knowing what else to tell Natalie, I simply said I was sure there must be a whole box full of her pictures that had been misplaced somewhere. And although it seemed to satisfy her for the moment, I still felt terrible at our failure to photo document our second child’s existence.

It bothered me so much that I even spent a few late-night hours attempting to cut out Natalie’s face from some of her duplicate school pictures, and gluing them onto some of the abundant photos of Hannah that filled the boxes. But try as I might, I couldn’t get the perspective between the cutouts of Natalie’s head and photo bodies of Hannah to match up quite right. The resulting pictures looked like mutant alien children with freakishly large or too-small heads, so I was forced to abandon my efforts.

My wife and I didn’t intentionally decide not to take pictures of our second child, nor do we love her any less than the first. I think that we are just more relaxed as parents, having survived our first one. Maybe a little too relaxed.

As I thought about it, I realized that it applied to more than just picture taking. One time, Hannah got some dog food out of the dog’s dish and ate it. My wife and I panicked. We rushed her to the emergency room, convinced she would succumb to dog germs at any second. But after a few eye rolls, the doctor on duty assured us that she would pull through, and indeed she did.

So having been through a few incidents like that with Hannah, we were a little less uptight when Natalie came along. So less uptight that when Hannah came in the front door and informed us that Natalie was picking dead bugs out of the car radiator and eating them, my wife’s only reaction was to tell Hannah to make sure that Natalie brushed her teeth when she was finished so that she wouldn’t have dead-bug breath.

Likewise with the pictures, after trying so hard not to miss photographing a single moment with Hannah, we realized that you just end up with mounds of pictures that make you wonder why you took so many of them. So we were not as camera crazy when Natalie came along.

We love both of our daughters very much, but I guess we went from fretting too much with the first one, to being a little too relaxed with the second. I think if we would have had a third child, we might have actually been able to get it right.

 

Who’s training Who?

When you have children, one of two things is always happening. Either you are training them on how to act like mature, responsible adults, or they are training you to act more and more like a child.

This revelation came to me just the other day when my two daughters and I had just finished watching the highly ridiculous cartoon that my youngest, Natalie, had chosen. Before that, we had watched an even more ridiculous children’s sitcom that my other daughter, Hannah, had picked.

I now figured that it was my turn to pick the show, but this was not agreeable to my darling children. An argument quickly broke out and soon escalated into violence. Fists were flying, teeth were gnashing and hair was being ripped from the roots.

After two minutes of this mayhem, I’d had it, so I announced in a loud voice of authority, “I’ve had it!”

And with that being said, I left to go tell mom . . . . . . I mean my wife, that they wouldn’t let me watch my show, and that Hannah had kicked me, and that if Natalie came and told that I had bit her on the arm, that she had pulled my hair first .

That’s when I realized, “Hey! I’m the adult here!”

So back to the living room I marched and said, “I am your father and you have to do what I say and I don’t need to go tell Mom . . . . I mean my wife . . . . I mean your mother!!!”

I then gave Natalie the most sincere, tongue-sticking-out “Nyaaahhh-Nyaaahhh” I could muster, stomped on Hannah’s foot, and sent them both to their rooms to think about resolving conflict in a responsible, adult-like manner.

I was then able to sit down and watch Bugs Bunny in peace, like a mature grown up.

How to Make a Dad Mad.

*Turn off the shower when you have finished, but don’t turn the knob with the arrow on it that switches the water from coming out of the shower head, to flowing out the spout. So when dad goes to turn on the water, (which requires that he bends over, placing his head directly in the crosshairs of the shower head) he is blasted full force in the face with freezing cold water for the ten seconds it takes to swear and find the knob with the arrow on it that switches the water from the shower to the spout.

*Repeatedly tell him how outdated his fashion choices are. Then, when he actually has heard it enough times to motivate him to buy some more current looking attire, tell him he looks like an old guy trying to look young.

*In the middle of a heated lecture on not taking care of your messes in the living room and kitchen, point out that his bowl that he used for his fruity pebbles is still sitting on the coffee table from that morning. . . . But be cautious . . . . He will turn red and sputter for a few seconds, after which, you should probably be out of arms reach.

*Let him discover that the source of a seemingly endless supply of fruit flies in the house, are coming from a bowl of some unidentifiable organic matter under your bed.

*Drag him around on a six hour shopping trip that covers thirteen different stores, and then a return visit to eight of them, in an attempt to find a pair of shoes like Emily has, only to return to the very first store we looked in and decide to purchase the very first pair of shoes you tried on. And then, for the bonus dose of fury, tell him the following day that you don’t like them and refuse to wear them.

*Don’t answer the phone when he calls and then tell him your ringer was off, even though he could see you through the glass doors of the school entrance when you pulled the phone out of your pocket and looked at it when it rang.

*In the middle of a heated argument about why your grades are so low, say something like, “maybe I’m just not the kind of person who gets good grades. Why can’t you just accept me for who I am?’’ Even though your teachers and placement tests indicate you are capable of performing at an above average level.

*Leave the screen door standing wide open while you talk to someone outside during the middle of mosquito season instead of talking through the screen provided.

*Tell everyone that you caught him tearing up at the end of Bambi the last time the both of you watched the DVD.

*Spend the change from buying a movie ticket with the fifty dollar bill he gave you because he didn’t actually say he wanted the change.

*Scream down the stairs that you are done cleaning your room. He will then come upstairs and inspect your work. When he tells you that your room is no where near clean, wait until he is back downstairs. Pick up one of the fifty items still on your bedroom floor and then scream down the stairs that you are done cleaning your room. He will then come upstairs and inspect your work. When he tells you that your room is no where near clean, wait until he is back downstairs. Pick up one of the forty-nine items still on your bedroom floor and then scream down the stairs that you are done cleaning your room. Repeat as necessary.

Single Family Asylum Paperback World Premiere!

Thousands of anxious readers lined up outside book stores all across the globe in order to be one of the first to get their hands on the long awaited book release of Single Family Asylum. Police in several cities tried desperately to calm the frenzied book buyers by spraying them down with fire hoses and passing out Starbucks gift cards, but the crowds were relentless in their fervor for the new best-seller. . .

Well, maybe it didn’t happen quite like . . . . Ok, that didn’t happen at all. But don’t let that dissuade you from checking out this collection of ridiculous, funny, family-oriented stories for yourself. You are even free to start rioting in front of a book store if you are so inclined. If you would simply like to check out my new paper back online, here is the magical Amazon book link.

Single Family Asylum

Single Family Asylum is a collection of short, humorous stories about the imperfections of family members and family life that have appeared right here on this blog.

Buy the book! Buy 10 books! Tell your friends! Tell them you won’t ever talk to them again unless they buy the book.

Our ordinary Sunday morning requires an extraordinary wife.

Clack, clack, clack, clack . . .

The sound of my daughter’s plastic, sparkly pretty princess heels echoed throughout the sanctuary as she proudly walked down the aisle of the church to our usual seats.

“Heh-heh,” my neighbor Robert, who also attended our church, chuckled as Hannah clack-clacked past. It was almost certain that he had also heard the morning battle over wearing the clack-clack shoes and a bright green Frog Princess dress instead of the flower print dress that my wife had chosen for my obstinate child. Our houses were fairly close together and our windows were open to let in the warm summer air . . . . and our loud arguments out.

“SHUT UP ROBERT!” I sneered in a whisper-shout, “I remember your kid coming to church with a guinea pig in his coat pocket.”

Robert rolled his eyes but remained silent (probably embarrassed as he was remembering the uproar caused by the stowaway rodent escaping and nibbling on the elderly organ player’s open toed shoes).

We were late as usual. Back when God was formulating the intricate workings of the Universe, he had decreed that our family would never, ever, under any circumstance be on time for his own worship service. . . . . well, with the exception of the one Sunday a year when Daylight Savings gives us an extra hour . . . . and even then, we barely make it on time.

On most Sundays, my wife prompts us to hide with our two daughters in the back reception area and wait for the congregation to stand and sing a hymn so we can slip into our pew with less attention being drawn to our lateness. But on this particular Sunday, the fight over my daughter’s costume/fashion choice left us even later than usual. There were no hymns left to provide cover for our sneaking in. With a few condemning stares and smiles being shot at us, we found our usual seats and sat down.

My wife began digging items out of her Sunday morning purse, which was a normal purse by all purse standards, but was filled with carefully selected child silencing items. There were crayons, mints, paper to draw on, miniature animal and doll figures, and for emergency measures, a small hand-held video game unit with the speaker ripped out.

Sitting next to us this particular morning was Sister Edna, and elderly widowed church member who would often punctuate the pastor’s sermon points by interjecting “In the NAME of JESUS!”

The girls settled into their coloring and playing with their small toys as Pastor Phil began delivering his Sermon. Right on cue, Sister Edna began letting out “In the Name of JESUS” whenever Pastor Phil made a point that seemed to warrant it.

I listened to the sermon as best I could between whisper shouting at my girls for fighting over toys. Natalie had also picked up echoing Sister Edna’s “In the name of Jesus” utterings.

“I have to go poopy.” Hannah said in a voice that was audible to everyone around.

My wife gasped.

“IN the NAME of JESUS,” Natalie added to Hannah’s poop declaration.

Several heads turned in our direction; some of the heads had faces adorned with frowns.

Sister Edna looked at Natalie and smiled.

My wife quickly opened the roll of breath mints that was in her Sunday morning purse and gave each girl two of them. This seemed to keep the girls quiet.

Pastor Phil continued with his sermon on the plagues that were inflicted upon Egypt by God for refusing to let Moses and his people go. There was the plague of lice and one of sores on the people. There were frogs . . . . . I saw a frog in the ditch in front of our house yesterday while I was mowing. In fact, I almost hit the poor thing with my mower. I think it was a momma frog by the way—–

Realizing that my mind had wandered off a bit, I snapped back to listening to Pastor Phil and his sermon.

The sermon continued. Moses was apparently persistent, and Pastor Phil talked about the continuance of plagues. Fiery hailstones, water turning to blood, locusts . . . . billions of locust . . . .swarming everywhere. . . . . like the billions of hornets that came out of a hole in the ground near my shed. The hornets were like a plague. . . . a buzzing, stinging plague. In fact, one of them even stung my first born, Hannah. . . . . kind of like a double plague. But Robert and I had filled a squirt bottle with gas and constructed a makeshift flame thrower of sorts. We covered ourselves in snowmobile suites and motorcycle helmets to act as beekeepers outfits. Then with a shovel, we scooped out a crater where the hole once was and began administering the flames of Hell up on the locust. . . . I mean hornets. Suddenly I felt the intense burning pain of a hornet stinging my back. One of the little devils had apparently breeched my snowmobile suit.

“AHHH, He’s Got Me!” I screamed,”WHACK THE BASTARD WITH THE SHOVEL, ROBERT!!!!!!”

. . . . . I suddenly became aware of my surroundings.

I was standing in the aisle of our church sanctuary, swatting at imaginary hornets. I had just finished screaming, “whack the bastard with a shovel, Robert”. All eyes in the now silent church were on me. Apparently my mind had wandered off again. . . . I might have even been dreaming a bit.

My wife was horrified.

Natalie let out a “In the NAME of JESUS!”

This is where a normal family would have been shamed into quitting the church and never showing their faces there again for the rest of eternity. But my wife was seasoned at covering for our family’s, well, eccentricities. I knew that she would have an explanation for my ridiculous behavior, something like lack of sleep or perhaps the improper dosage of cold medicine. And I also knew that she would expertly plant her slightly exaggerated explanation in several conversation circles that were formed by the wives and mothers of the congregation when the service had concluded.

She had become so good at it, that I would probably end up getting words of sympathy and encouragement from church members instead of condemnations for my unruly outburst.

We are fortunate. My wife knows that despite the outcome, the girls and I have good intentions, and she has our backs no matter how absurd our behavior becomes.

 

Shopping with Children

Even before our children were born, my wife and I had decided that she wouldn’t work until both girls were at least in school. We felt that those first five or six years were very important in a child’s development and didn’t want those years to be spent in a daycare.

During those few years, I often worked long hours to make up for the loss of one income, and as a result, I wasn’t always aware of all the day-to-day details of raising two active young girls.

My chance to experience many of these daily triumphs and tribulations came one fall day when my wife ended up coming down with a particularly bad virus that left her incapacitated for nearly a week. During her recovery, I decided to take a few days off from work to fill in as the child minder.

In the middle of that week it became necessary to do some grocery shopping, so without a second thought I made up a list and informed my wife that the girls and I would be going shopping.

“You’re taking the girls?” my wife asked in a concerned tone.

“Yeah, that way you can relax without having to worry about them.”

“Are you sure you know what you are signing up for?” she said with an even more worrisome tone.

I began to get a little annoyed at her lack of confidence in my child management skills. I realized that taking a three and five year old pair of girls to the grocery store would require vigilance, but come on, how hard could it be?

“You just relax, I’ve got this,” I said as the girls and I walked out the door.

The short drive to the grocery store was uneventful and further confirmed in my mind that this shopping trip was a cinch.

Upon arrival, I grabbed a shopping cart and put three year old Natalie in the little flip down seat, and let Hannah take a spot riding on the front of the cart. I dug out my shopping list to have in hand as we headed down the first aisle.

Half way down the first aisle, I turned to place an item in the cart, only to find Natalie was holding a bag of navy beans that I hadn’t placed in the cart.

“Where did you get that, baby girl?” I chuckled as I took the bag from her.

Natalie answered with a blood curling scream that actually made me jump a little.

“DAD! She WANTS the beans!” Hannah advocated from the front of the cart.

“Well, we are not buying beans today,” I said in my firm dad voice and put the beans back on the shelf.

As I made the turn from the first aisle to the second, I mentally noted that I should keep the cart centered between the two rows of shelves to prevent my little grocery thief from being able to grab items off of them.

When I got down to the pasta section, I noticed that the brand of lasagna noodles that my wife normally purchased seemed to cost significantly more than a few of the other brands. But it was hard to know exactly how much because the packages contained different amounts of noodles. So I got out my phone and used the calculator on it to try figure out what the exact cost per pound would be of each brand of noodle. After a bit of difficulty remembering just how to set up such a calculation, I finally determined the costs of each.

“HAH!” I exclaimed triumphantly, “This brand is seventeen cents cheaper per pound.”

I grabbed the new bargain brand of lasagna noodles from the shelf and turned back towards the shopping cart. Hannah was now sitting inside the cart digging into a freshly opened box of cereal that I had selected from the first isle. But it didn’t appear that she was actually eating any of the cereal the she was removing from the opened box fistful by fistful . . . I assumed she was attempting to get at the prize in the bottom of the box. Large amounts of cereal were being thrown out of the box and onto the floor through the holes in the bottom of the cart.

“HANNAH! What on earth are . . . WHERE’S NATALIE?” I said in a panic as I realized that my youngest daughter was no longer a passenger on the shopping cart.

“She went to get lunch,” Hannah replied as if it was not a big deal.

“Does mom let her go get lunch when she takes you guys shopping?”

Hannah looked up from her cereal box digging for a moment and replied, “No, mom doesn’t let us out of the cart.”

“Oh crap!” I thought aloud sprinting down the aisle.

When I reached the end, I was able to determine that my daughter had gone to the left by following the trail of navy beans left like breadcrumbs. Up ahead I could see her standing in front of a lady handing out samples of some sort of food she was promoting. The lady had given Natalie what looked like a chicken nugget and Natalie was busy dowsing the nugget with ranch dressing from a bottle that I had no idea how she came to possess.

“NATALIE! I didn’t know where you were!” I said scooping her up, nugget, ranch dressing and all. Natalie screamed once again and stiffened her body in protest of my picking her up.

“She seems quite hungry,” the teen-aged sample girl said with a smile, “she’s eaten five of my samples.”

But I didn’t have time for niceties, I had to get myself and Natalie back to the cart before Hannah disappeared as well. So once again, I began to run back towards the aisle where I had left the cart and my treasure hunting daughter. But my progress was hampered by a child who was not happy about being torn away from her free lunch. I had never realized until that moment, how difficult carrying an unwilling child was compared to carrying one who was a willing participant. It was very awkward, much like running with a large, screaming piece of plywood in my arms.

When I reached Hannah and my cart, I stuffed the still screaming Natalie back in her seat and pushed on at a faster pace, ignoring the fact that Hannah was still sitting inside the cart. I hoped that picking up the pace was the key to a successful shopping trip with the children by not giving them as much time to get into mischief. However, this didn’t end up helping much at all.

By the time I had finished the second aisle and had gotten only half way down the third, Natalie had escaped another two times from her seat in the cart, helping herself to a box of animal crackers and knocking a jar of pickles off a shelf causing it to shatter across the floor. Hannah had successfully found the prize in the cereal box, which was a whistle, and blew it loudly from her place inside the cart.

And all I had to show for all the chaos was a half-eaten, half spilled box of cereal, a loaf of bread and a bottle of liquid cold and flu medicine. I was beginning to feel light headed from the anxiety . . . but I had to press on. I could do this.

I grabbed Natalie once again and plowed my way down the rest of the third aisle and into the fourth, picking up a store employee with a mop, bucket, and broom who had been assigned to follow us around by the manager.

Progress was slow, and with each stopping of the cart brought a new disaster. I chased girls, put smuggled items back on the shelves and apologized to other customers who had become victims of items thrown or splashed on them. As I turned and looked back down aisle four, it looked like a road map of where my cart had traveled. The path had been clearly marked by a peanut butter wheel track and each stop punctuated by a spill.

I was quickly losing my grip on sanity as we made our way down aisle five. To keep Hannah occupied, I had given into her demand to push the cart. I had restrained Natalie in her seat with the seat belt that I had discovered. The employee with the broom and mop had been joined by a manager who followed along keeping a running tab of items broken. Natalie was like a demon possessed wild cat, screaming and clawing at people who passed by us.

As I walked back to return a customer’s purse that had been swiped from a cart we had parked next to in the canned vegetable section, I was startled to hear the scream of someone other than my two daughters . . . the scream of a lady.

Hannah had pushed the cart full force into the heels of an elderly lady, who now sat on the floor crying. The manager was dividing his time between seeing if she was ok and lecturing me on controlling my children. The employee with the broom was sweeping furiously, trying in vain to keep up with the handfuls of sugar that Natalie was throwing on the floor . . .  that’s when things get fuzzy.

I can remember a period of time with people yelling at me, children screaming and food being thrown, but it was all a blur. My mind had checked out. . . .

 

After an undetermined amount of time in this confusing dream-like state, the spinning of the room began to slow a bit. I gathered my wits about me.

Looking around, I found myself standing inside the shopping cart with the bottle of cold and flu medicine in my hand. The bottle was open, and apparently I had chugged half of its contents while singing “Amazing Grace” in a high falsetto voice. Around me stood the store manager, the still furiously sweeping employee, and the elderly lady who was still crying. Natalie was a short distance away sharing a box of cookies with another customer. Hannah was standing on the front of the cart holding a half-eaten carrot between her fingers like a cigar and moving her eyebrows up and down Groucho Marx style.

“You’re funny Dad,” Hannah giggled.

After quickly writing a check to cover all food items that had been spilled, damaged, and eaten, I grabbed both girls by the hand and exited the store, leaving the cart sitting in the exact same spot where I had just used it as my stage.

Arriving at home, I unloaded the girls from their car seats, and with the Chinese take-out I had picked up, went into the house.

“Where’s the groceries?” my wife asked, “Was there a problem?”

“Nope! Theeee . . . ahhh grocery store was closed, “I managed to fabricate.

“Why didn’t you just go across town to Leonard’s Grocery Store?”

“Uh, well that was closed too. I think it was some sort of grocery store holiday.”

To stop the obnoxious line of questioning, I brought my wife a heaping plate of sweet and sour chicken, and then sat down with my own plate, still reeling from the effects of the cold and flu medicine.

After a few minutes of silent eating, my wife said, “By the way, the manager of the grocery store that was closed called.”

I stopped my eating with the fork of food hovering just outside my opened mouth.

“Oh?” I said sheepishly.

“It seems he failed to charge you for the live lobsters that were apparently killed by somebody dumping some sort of blue liquid into the tank.”

I was busted. “Well . . . that explains where the fabric softener went.”

Somewhere.

Somewhere in this house is the place where I put things so that I don’t lose them. I don’t know where that place is. Wherever this place is, it must be full of things.

 Somewhere in another dimension, next to a pile of unmatched socks that I have lost, there is a huge pile of delicious food that I never got to eat because I left it sitting on a restaurant table in a styrofoam leftover container.

 Next to the pile of food is a single socket. It’s the one that is missing from my socket set.

 Somewhere in my brain is a box where I put important things that I want to remember. The lid to that box is locked to keep the memories safe.

 Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten what I put in the box of important things that I want to remember. And the chances of me getting to open the box to remember what I put in there are slim because the key to the lock is in a place where I put things so I don’t lose them . . . . and I don’t know where that place is.