Horse Freak.

To say that my daughter loves horses is an understatement similar to saying that I merely like bacon. She is a certified horse freak. Every Christmas and birthday list she has ever made had a horse listed as the number one item.

I hate having to decline her request to own a horse since she loves them so much, but our yard isn’t big enough for the horse, me, and large piles of manure. Not to mention, my wallet is not big enough for a horse and all its food and accessories. And on top of all that, I just know that it would be me that kept the beast from starving, or freezing to death, or getting the mange (or whatever it is that horses get).

Like I said though, I really hate that she can’t have a horse because she loves them so much. But I also really hate just telling her “no, you can’t have one.” You might even say I’m cowardly. So instead, I try to “creatively” discourage her desire for horse ownership . . . and I must say that I have failed miserably up to this point.

My first attempt was when she was quite young and had just discovered horses. Having only seen them on TV, books, or in parades, I figured I could end her relentless begging for one by telling her that many horses have been known to eat small children whole. . . . snatching them up in their dragon-like jaws, leaving only socks and shoes where a child once stood.

I thought that her wide-eyed look of horror was an indication that I had successfully ended the endless pleadings for a horse, but I was mistaken. I had obviously underestimated her determination and her level of gullibility. After a few discussions with less “creative” thinking adults over the following few weeks, confirmed to her that I may have been exaggerating a tiny bit with my cautionary tale of carnivorous horses.

During our next “I want a horse” argument, I tried to knock her off balance by telling her she could have one, but it would have to live in her room with her (a room that was barely large enough to house my daughter and her bed and dresser). She then looked up at me with no expression on her face and silently walked away.

I once again thought I had ended the horse debate by outsmarting her . . . until I went upstairs later that same night. She had not only cleaned her room, but had also managed to get a large pile of freshly picked grass and a large pan of water in preparation for the arrival of the horse. I was both annoyed and amazed at her resolve.

Feeling cornered by my own genius, I then had to resort to “researching” the local building codes, where I found that all houses that had livestock living on the second floor were required to have 48 inch wide stairs. Since our stairs were only 32 inches wide, we would have to wait until we could afford to widen the stairs. This seemed to be an acceptable, although disappointing answer to her.

The problem with most kids is they get smarter as they get older. And then they start rehashing in their little brains, everything you’ve ever told them. This was especially true with Natalie when it came to anything concerning the purchase of a horse due to my past track record.

We happened to be vacationing at Niagara Falls when she realized that the whole ‘horse in her room’ was just a diversion tactic and that I may have once again been exaggerating a bit about the building code requirements. This realization led to an impromptu horse argument as we all stood overlooking the falls.

Wanting to end the loud argument quickly, but also fearing that I would spend my afterlife being slowly roasted and pitchforked for using deception as a way end the horse debate, I decided to switch tactics. I told her that she could have a horse if she swam over the falls, and survived. Once again, she looked up at me with no expression and quietly walked away. I assumed her silence was due to her anger towards me, but at least there was silence.

Less than half an hour later, I was hailed by an angry park ranger who soundly chastised me for suggesting that my daughter should swim over the falls as payment for a horse. Apparently she had cornered him to inquire what type of accommodations the park provided for getting someone back up to the top of the observation area after swimming over the falls.

So now, after failing to dissuade my daughter’s horse ownership obsession by way of fear, exaggeration, deception, and ridiculous deal making, I am reduced to being that mean dad who just says “no” whenever the horse argument comes up (which is about every other week).

However, as atonement for my misguided and less than ethical attempts to discourage her horse freakness, we do now pay for her to take riding lessons which seems to be an acceptable compromise . . . . . for the time being.

Parents and Technology.

My daughter is stuck at home tonight with two parents who are not only technically challenged, but who also just switched from Androids to iPhones. She has had an iPhone for a year now. The conversation sounds a bit like this:

“Why is there no back button? My Android had a back button.”

“How do I sync my email?”

“Just a minute, I’m helping mom make the screen letters bigger.”

“You’ve been helping her for a half hour, it’s my turn. Where the heck is the internet?”

“It’s called Safari”

“Leave her alone she’s helping me”

“SAFARI? That’s stupid.”

For the first twenty minutes, she seems somewhat pleased that WE, the parents, are so dependent upon her to perform even the most basic of functions on our new smart phones. But as the night wears on, she becomes less amused at our ignorance.

“Where’s my contacts list? Why isn’t it right down here at the bottom like my other phone?”

“DAD, I’ve told you four times how to get to your contacts list! It hasn’t changed since that last time five minutes ago!”

“How do I get my songs on here from iTunes?”

“I want to turn my picture into a zombie like you did the other day. What was that app called?’

“Why does it keep saying that I need an Apple ID? That’s stupid!”

Unfortunately, all across the globe, scenarios like this are being played out in living rooms, night after night.

Like my wife and I, many parents our age did not grow up in a digital, computer dependent world full of smart phones, email addresses, and WIFI. These are all things we have had to learn and to adapt too. At times, our analog, pencil and paper geared minds can get overloaded. A new smart phone can be horrifying as opposed to the excitement my daughters would feel. I just barely learned how to operate all the functions on my old phone, and now you want me to throw it all out and start from scratch?

In our day, if you learned how to use the U.S. Postal Service, you could reasonably expect that the skill would carry you through the rest of your life without needing to alter how you use the Mail system’s OS (operating system, I just learned that one from my daughter). If you learned how to look up a number in the phone book and dial the telephone that hung on the wall, you were pretty much set. But then all this new stuff comes along and ruins everything.

Kids nowadays were born into this cyber world, and their brains are trained to think that way from day one. They adapt to changes in technology and operating systems so much faster than I can.

Gone are the days when a father could proudly teach his son or daughter the simple life skills they needed to be able to interact with the world around them. Most of the technical learning that goes on in our household is daughter teaching parent.

We recently switched from cable TV to satellite TV. This change required that I learn a whole new OS. This change was a creator of much stress for me. I felt like a turtle on my back. I couldn’t make a TV show even appear on the screen, let alone one I wanted to watch.

But I have learned to cope with my technological disabilities, and overcome them. When the new satellite box was fired up for the first time and I had spent the ten minutes required to determine that I had no idea how to operate it, I simply handed the remote to my daughter Hannah and left the room. This is known as step one.

After an hour I returned, and just as I suspected, she had mastered the system. She could perform any and every function available. In fact, she had already set up her own channel favorites list and had set the DVR that came with it to record her shows.

Step two is to have Hannah simply show me how to turn the channel box on and off.

Step three is an on-going step. Step three is to use Hannah like a voice controlled remote for the next month or two as I slowly learn each satellite TV skill one at a time.

“Hannah, make it go to The Discovery Channel.”

“Hannah, make it record Wildest Police Video episodes.”

“Hannah, make Netflix come up on the screen.”

This system has helped to eliminate much of the anxiety and fear that can be the result of trying to learn a new technology or OS. I’d like to think that over time, my ability to adapt to such changes would become easier and easier. But I’m beginning to realize that all the gains I make as far as becoming fluent in the computer-digital-cyber world, are being countered by my memory becoming duller, and perhaps a touch of senility setting in.

They Don’t Understand.

Sometimes I wish that other things could hear and understand my frustration.

I tell the dog to stop shedding and slobbering all over the place. She wags her tail as if I just told her that Star Trek is on . . . . That is to say that she doesn’t understand.

I tell toilet to stop clogging because it grosses me out to plunge a poopy toilet, but it doesn’t listen. It clogs even more.

I tell the toaster to stop burning my toast, but it doesn’t understand.

I tell the ants to stop coming into my house uninvited, but they don’t understand.

I tell my daughters to clean up after themselves, but they don’t understandsta- . . . . Wait a minute. . . . . Yes they do. It just seems like they don’t. Sometimes I forget that they actually understand English.

The Path of Least Resistance.

I remember being so excited when I found out I was going to be a dad. My wife and I could hardly stand waiting the nine months it took for my first daughter to arrive.

But now when I think about it, it’s almost as is if that that after your children are born, you spend the rest of their lives trying to make it seem as if they didn’t exist.

If they cry, you stuff a pacifier in their mouth to silence them. If they are running around screaming and breaking things like idiots, you try to find some quieter, calmer activity that will occupy them. Or even send them to a “time out”, which not only quiets them but makes them disappear as well.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my children to death, but I can’t deny that I tend to react to them in whichever way I determine will make them quietly disappear the fastest. 

As they get a little older, this reaction is often what I call “the path of least resistance”. Sometimes I will try to disguise the path of least resistance by calling it “letting them learn from the consequences of their decisions”. At least then I can assign a methodology to my not wanting to engage in an arguments with my kids.

When a child wants something that might not be the best for them, I have to consider if the bad result of letting them have what they want is so awful that I want to endure the tantrum involved with telling them they can’t have it? Sometimes the answer is no.

I try hard not to give in to complete apathy as a parent. . . . . but I don’t always succeed. 

Six year old Hannah: “Can I have a gallon of gasoline?”

Me: “Wellllll, I guess. But take it to your room and play with it.”

A lot of times it is my wife who alerts me to just how far down the path of least resistance I have travelled.

Annoyed wife: “Why on earth would you give a gallon of gasoline to a six year old?”

Me, second guessing my decision as I answer: “Ugh. . . because she asked for one?”

Even more annoyed wife: “Well if she asked for a basket of hand grenades would you let her have that too?”

Me trying to sound logical: “No. Hand grenades are expensive and much louder than the whining I will get when I tell her no. 

Sometimes I will give them what they want to quiet them, but I will add “but just this once” to make myself feel like caving in isn’t a regular occurrance. 

Six year old Hannah: “can I have a gallon of gasoline?”

Me: “I guess, but just this once.”

Other times I will give in to the path of least resistance, but only with a compromise to their request. This way I feel like I still have some control.

Six year old Hannah: “Can I have a gallon gasoline?”

Me in control: “Hmmmmm, no but  you can have a quart of gasoline. A gallon would be just too dangerous.

That’s not funny.

It seems to me, that when entering the world of having children, we are expected to leave our sense of humor by the door. Joking is permitted in nearly all aspects of our lives, with the exception of infants and children.

Shortly after the birth of my first daughter, Hannah, my mother-in-law arrived at our house and asked where the new baby was. I simply answered, “I put her in the clothes dryer to take a nap.”

She did not find it to be the least bit funny, and in fact, you would have thought that I had just committed a murder right in front of her. At this point, I probably should have simply explained that I was just only joking, but then my razor sharp wit took over and I added, “I tried putting her in the dishwasher but I could still hear her crying.”

This sent her into a rage, “YOU DON’T EVEN JOKE ABOUT SUCH THINGS!”

It would seem to me, that when it comes to joking about sticking infants into appliances, the general consensus is that if I joke about it, then I have to actually do it.

I have an entire list of things that Mom’s and Mother-in-laws don’t find humorous when it comes to children:

Painting their faces to look like Alice Cooper (but if you decide to do this anyway, MAKE SURE it is not a permanent marker you are using for face paint).

Fake snakes in the diaper.

Setting them on the porch with “For Sale” signs pinned to their clothing.

And it’s not just my wife that doesn’t find any humor in my antics. One time when I was left alone with my two daughters and four of their cousins while all the mothers went shopping, a young niece started singing, “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round.”

Before long, all of the other kids had joined in, and after ten minutes of the same phrase being repeatedly sung by six loud children, my sanity began to wear thin. To make the concert more bearable, I decided to compose a second verse to the song, and have them perform it when all the mothers arrived home from shopping.

The second verse went like this, “The cheeks on my butt make lots of sound, lots of sound.”

The six of them performing this new verse in front of their mothers did not go over any better than the daughter in the dryer joke. You would have thought I had taught them all to swear like sailors. In fact, one of my sister-in-laws still won’t let me watch her children alone to this day.

Perhaps my brand of humor is a bit much when talking about something as precious as our little children. But I think everybody could lighten up a little bit too . . . because if you don’t, I will come to your house, and glue your children’s feet to the ceiling and wrap them in Christmas tree lights . . .

That is a joke, I would never glue their feet to the ceiling because the blood rushing to their heads would make them pass out. I would only glue children’s feet to the floor.

The Behaviorizer.

What if I told you that there was a device that you could purchase, that when plugged in and turned on, it would emit and energy field that caused children to calm down. Not just calm down, but actually sit silently and trouble free for as long as you want.

Right now, many of you battle-weary parents are thinking, “That would be WONDERFUL!! If only there was such a device!!!”

Well, there is . . . . . . it’s called a television, I call it the BEHAVIORIZER!

Now I know that as parents, we are not supposed to let our children watch too much TV. Some of you may not even let your kids watch it at all.

Before my wife and I had our own children, we would make lofty decrees that our children would not be boob-tube zombies. Our children would entertain themselves playing outdoors, creating art, and doing things together as sisters.

I have since learned that playing outdoors, creating art, and doing things together as sisters involves large amounts of messes, destruction, arguing, fighting, and effort on the part of the parents to exercise some form of order and control.

This is where the Behaviorizer comes into play. It involves none of those things. It’s so effective that it’s hard not to take advantage of its bluish, hypnotic glow.  HOURS! . . .  They will sit for hours, maybe days, and not move a muscle . . . I’m not even sure if they blink. I always keep a spray bottle of water in the living room in case their little eyeballs dry out, and I have to give them a squirt to keep them from squeaking when they move.

I’ve read and heard all the bad things that television can do to children. I’ve even heard it said that TV can destroy parts of their developing brain. But sometimes I think that if it’s destroying the part of their brain that makes them run around like savages destroying everything in their path . . .  maybe that was a part of the brain that needed to be destroyed in the first place. I mean, I’m sure they never would have performed lobotomies on people if they didn’t have a positive outcome. . . . . Right?

There are many other positive sides to television as well. It has made me aware of several products that I need to buy. Some of these products I didn’t even know existed until TV showed them to me, and I realized that I couldn’t live without them.

And you can’t deny the benefit of being able to watch history unfold before your eyes either. In my life, I have been able to see live, in color, many landmark moments in time, such as Evil Knieviel jump over a couple dozen buses, the mysterious transformation of “Bewitched” husband Darren Stevens from one person to a completely different person with no explanation, and David Letterman drive around in a convertible with a back seat full of tacos.

And without TV, children couldn’t spend hours developing hand-eye coordination by playing video games or learn about the cruelty of video war, or alien invasions.

I know as a parent, that I should limit my children’s TV watching and video gaming, but once you’ve experienced the calm and quiet that it can produce as it slowly turns your child’s brain into oatmeal, it’s hard to go back. It’s like I’m Luke being lured over to the Dark Side.

The Dark Side has control.

The Dark Side has POWER!

Children are made in a Convenient Size.

When God was at his drafting table deciding how the universe would work, it was pretty clever of him to make children start out small and grow up to be larger. I can only imagine the challenges to a parent if children were born huge and then grew down to be small.

I mean, can you imagine trying to change an NFL lineman’s diaper if he didn’t want it changed? Or better yet, trying to enforce a “time out” on him? You’d be lucky to escape with all your limbs intact. And I imagine if that same NFL lineman wanted you to play dolls with him? You would not have much choice in the matter. Either play with dolls or have your shoulders dislocated and your ears ripped off.

And if children were big and we were small, it would be us adults who needed to be strapped into a car seat, and have to sit on a stack of telephone books during the family Christmas dinner, not the child.

But fortunately for us, children come in a small, convenient size, which makes them easier to manage. So when you tell a child “come here . . . come here . . . come here . . . come here . . . come here,” you can then provide them with some assistance in “coming here,” when words don’t seem to be working.

Due to their miniature size, a parent can assist children with lots of things like, “come here,” “stay there,” “sit down,” “stand up,” “stop hitting grandma with a wiffle ball bat,” and many other simple tasks that we need them to perform.

You can even assist them in cleaning their entire messy room by employing what I call “the chop stick method.” This method is where (after repeatedly telling them to clean their room, and the child repeatedly refusing) you grasp them by their little arms, and use them like chop sticks to pick up objects and put them away. I’m not sure that this method actually helps the child become any more obedient, but it seems to give the parent some satisfaction.

However, if you choose to use “the chop stick method,” you need to be careful that older siblings don’t see, and end up performing a perversion of it known as “Why are you hitting yourself? Stop hitting yourself.”

I guess if I had any complaints about the whole kids being small thing, it would be that I think they should remain small until they move out. My daughter Hannah is 17 now, and seems to be getting stronger and stronger. The age of 17 is a time in the raising of some children where it would be nice if they were still small . . . . really small . . . . . I’m talking ‘put them in a coffee can with holes poked in the lid’ small.

It’s Mother’s Day again already?

I had just woken up, made my coffee, and turned on the TV. I was only half paying attention to the lady on the morning news when I thought she said, “Happy Mother’s Day.”

Why on Earth would she say “Happy Mother’s Day”?

I turned the channel, and again, the person on the other news channel said, “Happy Mother’s Day”.

It’s Mother’s Day? How can it be Mother’s Day? Wasn’t it Mother’s day a few months ago? Or maybe that was Valentine’s Day or Christmas or something.

Nevertheless, it’s We-do-love-and-appreciate-you-but-as-usual-We-forgot-to-buy-you-something-that-proves-it day.

I quietly wake up the girls and we all go into full scramble alert. They know the routine well, as it comes several times a year on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, my wife’s birthday, and occasionally even on Christmas.

Natalie will rummage through the refrigerator and cupboards to find whatever she can to make up one of her notorious breakfasts in bed for the wife/mom. She had become a master at pulling together a four-star feast from grocery and leftover remnants that happen to be in the refrigerator and cupboards. Past breakfasts in bed have included a bowl of chocolate chips, Flamin’ Hot Doritos, leftover pizza and even old Halloween candy.

With the excuse of needing to run to the store for toilet paper, Hannah and I take the opportunity to make a flying trip to the drug store during said breakfast, to grab some flowers, a card and maybe an item from the crappy cheap gift aisle . . . . . maybe a mug that says “You’re Awesome!” or a shark stuffed animal toy (I will claim to say that I thought sharks were her favorite animal after my wife opens the gift and gives me a strange look).

Quickly we return home to wrap the presents with newspaper or place into a re-gifted gift bag that is adorned with a Hello Kitty design. The added touch of “Mom” and a heart are magic-markered onto the bag or wrapping paper.

Then when all is as ready as we can possibly make it, the three of us will file into our bedroom and present our well planned, spare no expense Mother’s day celebration.

My wife is awesome. Each time the morning panic of a forgotten holiday ravages our house and the banging of cupboards signals that she is about to enjoy one of the most horrible breakfast in bed’s she has ever had, she gracefully pretends to not know what is happening. She will cheerfully eat her Mother’s Day breakfast and act over-whelmed with joy over our gifts . . . . . every time . . . and that is why I love her.

Parenting Life Hack #74.

in this new age of tech, I often find myself parenting via text. This is fine for most parenting communication, but texts seem to lack the ability to convey passion when arguing with my children with this form of communication.

So now I keep this photo that my daughter took of me in the midst of a fatherly butt chewing in my phone’s gallery to send along with texts such as, “I SAID NO!!!!” or “YOU ARE GROUNDED!!” or “GET HOME NOW!!!”.

Touch that Bacon, Lose some Fingers.

Go ahead, present your case. Tell me why that last piece of bacon sitting on the grease soaked paper towel should be yours. Tell me how you managed to get mom and your sister to agree that you could have it. Try to bribe me for it. 

Lust all you want, but I worked for the money that bought it, I cooked it, and I’m bigger than you.

Fairness matters not when bacon is involved.

That last piece is mine.