Friday, September 28, 2012

The Replacement Parent: Dad

Boy: Dad, I have a riddle for you.

Me: OK (Too tired to solve riddles but valiantly playing along.)

Boy: I’m thinking of two words.

Me: I don’t know.

Boy: The first word is new…

Me: Game?

Boy: Nope! You lose! The second word is “iPod game for Me!” I want the racing game.

As a replacement parent or dad, it’s tough to make a call on the field. The game moves too fast, the players and coaches try to intimidate you, and no matter what you do your kid is gonna throw the red flag and try to get mom to overturn your decision. It’s a tough job, but you have to be confident when making game-changing and unpopular decisions like dual possession for the win.

Wife: Did you get him a new game? I though we talked about too much iPod.

Me: It wasn’t a game for him. It was a game for us to share. I wanted the racing game.

And after further review, the call stands.

Welcome back NFL officials. We are officially ready for some football.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Soccer Wars Episode II: The Julia Strikes Back

In the ongoing saga of the broken arm, I returned to the hospital early Thursday morning with Kermit in tow but I forgot the damn crocs. I was redeemed by the gift shop and a three pack of multi-colored walking socks that every doped up seven year old would adore.

We returned home to an afternoon of movies, pizza, chips, chocolate, and not a leafy green in sight. It was a three hour tour to crap food town, but with my wife as the Captain we returned to the world of fruits and vegetables by nightfall. It was a perfect day and just before we tucked Julia into bed, she whispered…

“I am going to school tomorrow.”

I had no intention of sending her to school on Friday. My wife told me she was adamant about going to school and maybe we should consider a half day. I disagreed and thought for her own good she should rest one more day. Besides what kid doesn’t want to lie around all day Friday, watch cartoons, and ride the wave of salty and sweet goodness.

As I rose from my slumber early Friday morning, I sensed a great disturbance in the Force. I heard screaming coming from my daughter’s room.

“I am going to f***ing school! YOU will not keep me from f***ing school!

I ran to Julia’s room and instantly regretted my decision. She turned her Vader-like gaze toward me and I was frozen by the clutching embrace of the Dark Side. I expected to start choking and fall to the ground, but luckily I was with my wife and much like the former Admiral Ozzel she was in charge and would be the first to go.


Now I was scared. Admiral or no Admiral.

“If you don’t let me go to school, I will call the f***ing cops and you will go to jail!”

Some people have near death experiences and their lives flash before their eyes. I had a near parenting experience and all the times I gave in to my kids flashed before my eyes.

“We can go to the zoo, but you have to tell mom we were at church.”
“Popcorn is a vegetable, but just tell mom you ate vegetables.”
“If you stop crying, I’ll let you drive home if you promise to take side streets.”

Was I going to give in to my daughter’s wild demands to read stories, solve math problems, and visit with her friends? Would I force Tom & Jerry down her throat and make her have her cake and eat it too? Was I going to stick to my guns and worried that I was unarmed if I didn’t make the right decision?

The girl went to school and had a wonderful day. She was right, I was wrong, and I can easily live with that. But did I do the right thing? Was this the failed Ben Kenobi training moment in the instruction of young Anakin Skywalker?

After dinner yesterday and before storytime, my daughter said to my wife and I…

“You and mommy are a lot like Jesus except for the swearing.”

The acorn does not fall far from the tree.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Soccer: The Most Dangerous Sport in the World at 5pm on a Wednesday Afternoon

The whole world stops when you get a text from your wife that reads “911! 911!”

As I frantically dialed and envisioned major head trauma, the phone rang and I was calmly informed by my wife that the ambulance had arrived and my daughter had likely broken her arm in a fall at soccer skills camp. My mother watched the boy and I raced off to the park breaking land speed limits as my heart rate kept pace with the car. I told myself that she would be alright and that her arm would be fine, but my confidence left the building when I saw the ambulance in the parking lot

She was crying but stable in the ambulance with my wife. “Are you OK? It’s going to be fine! I love you!” The EMT told me that her arm was probably just sprained while his partner nodded no behind her. With my eyes, I punched him in the head. “I’m scared mommy! Why do you have to ride up front?! I don’t want the flashing lights!” The doors closed and I followed the ambulance but quickly lost them in traffic. I was helpless and everything was beyond my control. It was like being in the movie Taken, but we were in the suburbs, I have no special set of skills, and I didn’t know how to help my daughter.

At the hospital, we waited for three hours through assessments, pain killer, x-rays, and eventually the world’s worst question to ask parents in a hospital. “Can we step outside to discuss (fill in the blank) your daughter’s arm?” Note to doctors – This is a good idea to keep the patient at ease, but not a good idea when you utter the phrase loudly in front of the patient. Children pick up on things like words, phrases, and clauses.

The break was clear through the bone just above her elbow and required pins to reconnect the bones. My scared 7 year old daughter had to go in to surgery and was going to stay overnight. My wife began to cry. I would no longer be helpless! I was going to do something! I began to get angry. I was angry at the soccer coach, the doctor, and the world to put my daughter through this situation. Becoming angry in situations beyond our control is a wonderful inherited Bargiel trait like parental kryptonite and I needed a self-imposed time-out before I caused permanent damage.

I told my wife that she couldn’t cry around Julia and she quickly composed herself. (She was a rock through the entire ordeal and made Julia’s experience that best it could be under the circumstances.) I offered to pick up Julia’s things and race back to the hospital before surgery which was scheduled for “When We Get to It” o’clock. I raced home, told my parents the latest news, read the fastest chapter of Willy Wonka ever, put the boy to bed, threw together Julia’s things, and raced back to the hospital. I missed the surgeon but saw my daughter being wheeled into surgery. “I want my mommy! I want to go to school tomorrow!” “Don’t you worry, she’ll be fine and she won’t remember any of this.” Teary-eyed, my wife and I went to the family surgical unit waiting room to look for the hearts that had fallen out of our chests and broken on the floor.
Pacing and running to a small windowed door every time someone passes is not an effective use of time, but it will scare the crap out of every cleaning person in the building. The surgeon emerged and she told us that everything would be OK and a bit of sunshine parted the clouds. The break was a type she had seen only five times in twenty years, but Julia would be out of pins in a week and out of a cast in 4 weeks. I thought that was quick and she reminded me that I wasn’t a surgeon. As she left, she asked me if I played football and what did I think about kids playing at eight years old. Her boys were very interested in football.  “As long as you have coaches who stress fun, learning, and safety, you’ll be fine. It’s the evil sport of soccer that takes our children away!” She smiled and backed away slowly until she reached the door and was gone. I needed sleep or an adreline shot.

Julia refused to wake up in recovery but was responsive and 1AM was just a bit past her bedtime. She was wheeled to pediatrics, we met the night nurse, set up the bed for my wife, and began to go over the game plan for the morning when we both heard a shaky voice. “Where am I? When do I go into surgery?!” “You’re in a hospital bed and the surgery is all over, baby. You did great.” My daughter, Julia, looked at her arm which was casted from shoulder to elbow and announced in a steady voice, “That’s right, I was in surgery and I was very brave.” And then she went back to sleep. Yes, you were very brave baby and I’m so proud of you and don’t you ever, ever, ever do that again.

That would be a wonderful ending to the story but she woke up a few minutes later and asked for Kermit, one of her many stuffed animals, and when she found out that I had left him at home it was no longer important that I remain by her bedside. I was shunned because I had broken the golden rule of leaving no frog behind. As I headed home for four hours of sleep, I reflected on my first major crisis as a dad. Julia was OK, I kept my stupidity to a rare minimum, and my wife was still talking to me in a pleasant tone.  It was a sweet victory and hopefully a precursor of future battles, but I knew defeat was just around the corner if I forgot her crocs or that damn frog in the morning.

It’s Not All About You, Mr. President

Boy: Dad, will you play with me?
Excitedly I join the fray and the Joker quickly takes control of the Bat Cave.
Boy: Dad, it’s not all about you?
Dad: Is it all about you?
Boy: That’s what mom says.
I’m a dad. I know it’s not all about me, but it would be nice if it were occasionally about me or even better it could be about US. The boy means well but I did invade his turf and organize a Joker-Batman turf war without realizing that the schizophrenic personalities of Ben 10 were engaged in a long standing feud with Buzz Lightyear, Chewbacca, and Pikachu over playdate rights to Batman’s secret lair.
I think being a dad is a lot like being President of the United States. (I know a great deal of people have strong thoughts on candidates, including myself, but this post is not about policy but the position of office.) In a perfect world, the POTUS is an elected leader who will solve all our problems, right every injustice, and move us forward with his visionary guidance into the a future epoch of grand success.
It sounds wonderful, but eerily similar to “do your homework and then you can play with the iPod”, “don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself”, and of course the familiar “dad knows what he’s doing.” As dads, we give speeches (When I was your age…), propose potential laws (You will take turns!), try to fool Congress (Your mom isn’t here and you can have cake for breakfast just this once, but it’s a secret!), and we are the face of wartime (Just wait until your father hears about this!)
But in reality, we wield little real power and so does the President. All the power lies with Mom who wields the power of the Legislative and Judicial branches. She makes laws and she enforces them on a daily basis. She runs the intelligence community and nothing escapes her roving eye. And each of us an illegal action away from impeachment and believe me she will get the votes.
The kids don’t get to vote for their parents, but they know we’re here to serve their country. We love dad’s liberal picking up the toys’ policies, but when the chips are down we need mom’s strong foreign policy to repel the nighttime invaders of ghosts, vampires, and Scooby Doo who invade our dreams.
Yes boy, it is all about you because that is what mom said. But if you want some cake, I’ll look into vetoing the 730PM bedtime tax.
P.S. Please remember that single parents or benevolent dictators run all 3 branches of government and deserve our  respect and full support.

The Origin of Jazzy Wang: Special 1st Collector’s Issue!

I have collected comic books since I was 5 years old when my father bought me an early Conan the Barbarian. (Fill in the appropriate “Joey, Do you like gladiator movies?” comment here.) My old man liked Conan, but I was a super-hero junkie who dreamed of joining the Avengers or hopefully becoming disillusioned and angst-ridden enough as a teen to garner an invitation from Professor X to the secret school that everyone knew was in upstate New York.
My friends and I never debated who would win the super-hero fight between Superman and Batman because even to a 5 year old a utility belt is a poor substitute for heat vision that can melt your face. Over the years, we tackled the important issues of why Wolverine would be the ultimate running back (a lot of guys are invulnerable but his stiff arm is unquestionably the best), does Iron Man pee in his suit like astronauts? (yes, but that is mainly due to his drinking problem), and could a well-placed Hulk fart sink California? (Yes, be careful Hollywood.) We did not have the internet super readers and we were forced to look into the cosmic cube of our own imaginations to combat the ultimate nullifier of boredom.
This brings me to the boy. We share the same passion for comic super-heroes and at 4 years old he has reached the age of reason knowing that a batarang is a poor substitute for the strength to push the moon out of orbit. He and his sister will play super-heroes which combines dress up with the Marvel inventory of Wolverine’s mask, Hulk Hands, Thor’s hammer, and Captain America’s shield to produce an epic battle between two Skrull warriors in drag.
After bath last week, the boy skipped the usual full moon performance and instead announced, “I am Jazzy Wang!” and proceeded to do a dance more suitable for the uncut Magic Mike DVD. I am not a parent of content, but context. I told him to put some pants on and let’s talk about Jazzy Wang.
ME: Who is Jazzy Wang?
BOY: Dad, you’re not supposed to say wang because it means penis.
ME: You screamed it at the top of your lungs and did a dance. Is that OK?
BOY: It’s OK because he’s a super-hero.
ME: Does he have a costume?
BOY: Nope, just his wang.
ME: Does he have any super-powers?
BOY: He pees on your head.
ME: That’s not a super-power.
BOY: If you can pee on the Hulk’s head it is.
ME: Anything else?
BOY: Probably heat vision. That’s cool.
There is a new super-hero patrolling the streets Gotham, Metropolis, and all points in-between tonight. He has your best interests at heart and a unique ability to stop evil-doers dead in their tracks, but when someone screams “Look! Up in the Sky!” I suggest you take his word for it that he’s doing a good job.

B.Y.O.B: Bring Your Own Blog

I am a firm believer in BYOB (Bring Your Own Beer). It encourages responsibility, teamwork, and the potential for a great story regarding last minute travel plans and a general lack of pants. As the last member to join the blogging party, I will share my thoughts, try to entertain, and promise to leave your digital couch first thing in the morning. And most of the time, I’ll be wearing pants.
I’m 41 years old, married, and the father of two wonderful children. (As a married parent, I am contractually obligated to use the word wonderful, although most of the time it is applicable.) Every morning, my 4 year old son (the human alarm clock) wakes me at 7AM to the same three loving words, “Where’s the iPod?” quickly followed by a rendition of “Don’t bother me, I know what I’m doing,” and “You’re not the boss of me.” My 8 year old daughter usually doesn’t have time to say good morning like the boy, but she does ask for the car keys every Tuesday and Thursday.
Now before you think I have Cat’s in the Cradle on auto play while I weep in the shower for lost family miniature golf outings, I think these are good things. I think sometimes we emphasize pleasing others too much before teaching our kids to be independent and assertive. Life is too short to be upset with the after bath mooning or trying to convince your daughter that you do indeed understand the politics of 2nd grade recess.
As a dad, I accept the Homer Simpson mantle even though I have my occasional Andy Taylor moments and great hair. I want them to respect themselves, respect others, and not be afraid to put on their Hulk Hands and mix it up once in awhile. We can only teach our kids so much and I relish the journey of each battle, victory, and loss along the way. My intention is to document these stories to remember the good times, bad times, and how they all truly unfolded like the time my daughter and I organized a lemonade stand…

“Dad, I don’t want to have a lemonade stand?”
“Why not?”
“I want to have a diamond stand. Who wants lemonade when you can have diamonds?”

Perhaps the girl doesn’t need my advice after all. Cue Cat’s in the Cradle.