Why Fathers Hate Family Vacations–Part Two

A bit of insight into the world of little kids--there is nothing on this earth funnier than a fart.

A bit of insight into the world of little kids–there is nothing on this earth funnier than a fart.

If you haven’t already, I would invite you to read part one of Why Father’s Dread Family Vacations. Really, I could make this into a whole series. But I won’t. Probably. Not sure I have the strength to delve too deep into the many reasons why vacations suck like a Dyson vacuum.

We left off with the car finally being packed, the kids buckled into their seats and the Partington family about to set off on a family vacation.

Huzzah.

With our large SUV packed to the brim, resembling an overstuffed burrito with pillows and blankets poking out of the cracked windows, we departed while singing along to the CD that was blasting out our ear drums—No, not a good ol’ rock n’ roll song, but a yippy-yappy version of Do Your Ears Hang Low, featuring lots of tuba-playing and sound effects one might hear on a carnival ride.

One thing non-parents should know and parents of older children should be reminded of is that young children learn by repetition. And so when the next song began, the boys voiced their objections and demanded that we play Do Your Ears Hang Low a second time. Hint to parents of young children—DO NOT ALLOW THIS! They will want to hear the song approximately 763 times before one of two things happens: you begin a gradual plummet into some dark abyss within your subconscious mind that you never knew existed, or the song will permanently embed into the deepest pockets of your brain and never ever leave, much like a homemade wedding gift that wasn’t included in your registry.

My wife and I are fortunate in that we purchased a vehicle with built-in TV screens and DVD players for the backseats. When we bought the car, we never thought we’d use them but felt differently after the first long trip with the kids.

Before you judge us, know that I understand how too much television watching can be a bad thing. But it’s funny how the rotting of a child’s mind suddenly doesn’t seem so awful when placed against losing one’s mind and committing murder.

Think I’m being over dramatic? Witness a typical conversation between the five-and-three-year-old in the middle of one such trip.

Five-year-old: “Stop looking at me.”

Three-year-old: “I’m NOT.”

Five-year-old: “STOP LOOKING AT ME!”

Five-year-old: “STOP IT! MOMMMMMMMM! He’s LOOKING at me!”

My wife: “He must think you’re handsome. Just ignore him.”

Five-year-old: “But he won’t stop looking at me and I don’t like it! Kyle, I don’t like it. STOP LOOKING AT ME!”

Three-year-old: “I WON’T!”

Me: (only half-paying attention) “Kyle, stop looking at your brother.”

My wife, shooting me dagger eyes: “Really? That’s what ya go? My hero.”

Five-year-old: “HE’S SMILING AT ME NOW!!! KYLE STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT!!!”

Such is our life. Being crammed in an SUV with the kids for so long kind of makes you feel like one of those snakes-in-a-prank-cans that shoot out when someone opens it. Incidentally, this is also how I feel at the end of these road trips, like everything just kind of shoots out of the car in a massive explosion–bags, clothes, toys, noose…

As bad as having three kids in the car can be, it’s made that much worse if ever an outsider comes along for the ride. On one such car ride, an extended family member sat shot gun (that’s “sat shot gun,” not to be confused with “sat with a shot gun,” which might have been a wiser move). When she first asked for a ride, my wife and I looked at each other as if a police officer had just asked us, “What’s that sound coming from the trunk?” Reluctantly, we agreed and so began our plummet into the abyss.

I drove and my wife sat behind us in the middle row next to the youngest. We had the GPS system on to help us find what was beginning to feel like the Lost City of Atlantis, what with all the turns and random roads that didn’t appear on any map not coated in vinegar.

Now, you should know that as good as my five-year-old’s vocabulary is, he still struggles with certain words, as many five-year-old kids do. For example, he always says “re-nect” instead of “connect” and “ree” as “three.” At a point, just after the GPS woman’s voice prompted me to make a left turn in approximately 200 feet, my five-year-old blurted out from the back of the car, “DADDY, IS SHE GIVING YOU ERECTIONS?”

While the next words were probably spoken only a few seconds after he said this, the pause seemed to last forever.

“Whh..what?” my wife asked.

“Erections,” he said again. “She gave Daddy erections, Mommy.”

In my peripheries, I could see my extended family member shifting in her seat, calculating her chances of survival if she were to leap out of the moving vehicle and onto the freeway.

That’s when the middle child farted—a loud ripper, like the ramping up of a chainsaw.

Another bit of insight into the world of little kids—there is nothing on this earth funnier than a fart. Laughter ensued—high-pitched, squealing laughter from my two oldest boys…

…and all this is what prompted my wife to put on Frozen for the remainder of the trip. Another hint to parents of young children: sometimes digitally manufactured peace is the way to go.

 

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Happy Father’s Day – The Art of Breakfast in Bed

Father's Day is all about family--and breakfast in bed...for some reason.

Father’s Day is all about family–and breakfast in bed…for some reason.

Did you know that Father’s Day is a direct result of a daughter loving her dad enough to visit local churches, shopkeepers, government officials, etc. in order to establish a day in his honor? Sonora Smart Dodd was her name, and this all happened in Spokane, Washington—my home state (you can read the full story at history.com).

Of course, I have all boys—no daughters—and the grandest display of respect and admiration I get from them is when they pull a half-eaten cucumber from their mouths, toss it onto my dinner plate and offer it as a present because, “It’s yucky, Daddy” and “do YOU want it?”

So thoughtful are my boys.

Father’s Day is not one of the major holidays on my sons’ radars, and that really isn’t all their faults either. My wife and I unintentionally arranged it so that our birthdays line up in a neat row: one in March, one in April, two in May and one in June. That leaves only a couple weeks before Father’s Day and then a mere six months before Christmas. The malls have barely taken down all the Easter and Mother’s Day paraphernalia before tossing a few Dad’s Day cards on the shelf, which are quickly knocked to the floor by thirty-foot blow up reindeer and singing Santa Clauses.

Thankfully, my wife never forgets. Last year, she lovingly asked me what I wanted for Father’s Day, to which I responded that I wanted nothing more than for her to take the boys out for the day so I could watch poorly made action movies by myself wearing just my underwear, while eating stale pizza and drinking beer…and I wanted to do all this without any judgments applied.

She laughed, and it occurred to me that this is the real secret to why our marriage works so well: she thinks I’m funny and, for the sake of a peaceful household, I don’t tell her that I was in no way joking.

And so, on the actual day of honoring fathers, I awoke with a sigh, got dressed and put on my best OMG…This-musical/blinking-Goofy-tie-is-JUST-what-I-wanted face and head downstairs into the madness. I only just make it outside my room when I’m met by a stampede of little children.

“No, no!” they cried out. “We made you breakfast in bed! Go back to bed, Daddy!”

The thing about Father’s Day—for some odd reason—is that it’s all about the breakfast in bed. My sons’ little gremlin hands—covered in some gooey slime that didn’t resemble anything I’d ever recognized in a breakfast ensemble—were now shoving me back as best they could, painting my jeans to the colors of purple, brown and yellow. My wife was grinning wide—payback, I suppose, for the half-hearted macaroni art I had them gift her on Mother’s Day.

I slid back onto the bed atop the covers. Of course, they insisted I get back under the covers and so, like a slug in a drain pipe, I slithered in as the sticky entrails left on my jeans by my boys’ grubby fingers smeared the underside of the sheets. I didn’t fret, however. The sheets would need to be washed anyway—perhaps even fumigated—as the boys would insist on joining me.

One by one—which, in the world of young children, translates as all at once and in violent fashion—my boys hopped into the bed, smacking each other for claiming the hand-grip the other had intended to reach for, yelling and squabbling over who got to sit on the middlemost side of the bed, and more than twice dropping the plate of burnt toast, cereal, juice and a side order of salt-pile amidst the calamity.

“Do you like it, Daddy?”

“Even more than last year,” I said, which wasn’t a lie, because this version didn’t have anything too unnatural floating at the surface of the orange juice.

It’s the simple things that make this day special.

In spite of all this, I appreciate the effort and especially the love behind it. I really do. I also appreciate the unrelenting smirk on my wife’s face as she video records all this from the foot of the bed. She likes to video document everything, as if some future version of humanity will one day depend on our life experiences to learn how to survive in a more hostile world.

Come to think of it…that might not be too far off track.

Here’s to all the Dad’s out there, to whom I pose the question, Why in God’s name aren’t there any football games being played on Father’s Day?

And to my own Dad: I get it now…I’m sorry, you poor, poor man.

 

 

Why Fathers Dread Family Vacations – Part One

Family vacations present new adventures and wonder...at least for the kids.

Family vacations present new adventures and wonder…at least for the kids.

Growing up, it was hard to understand why my father never got as excited as the rest of us over family vacations. Whether it was getting on a plane and spending a week in Disneyland or simply camping at a nearby state park, when a family trip was approaching, my sister and I would sometimes have our bags packed as early as a week in advance (perhaps the only time we were ever ahead of schedule in those days), as we dreamt about what the adventure might hold for us. My father never seemed to want to breach the subject. At the time, a part of me thought he was a curmudgeon for it—these days, I know better.

Any trip that requires packing luggage also requires the father to load the car and then fetch the small toy at the bottom of whatever suitcase has already been buried under other luggage in the back of said car to stop the one-year-old from screaming like a hurricane warning siren. More than that, with small children come larger and more oddly shaped items to pack, making for one crazy game of real-life Tetris.

Now, don’t feel bad for me—at least not entirely. My wife has it way worse when it comes to family packing and getting the kids ready. Typically when I’m outside packing the car, she’s inside chasing the two-year-old with a pair of two-year-old pants, yelling at him to put them on as he screams back, “NOPANTSNOPANTSNOPANT!” Meanwhile, the four-year-old is following my wife with his own pants on his head, because “look, Mom, I’m funny…I’m funny, Mommy!” (and I know just what my wife is thinking at this point: at least HE has his pants ON!) and, through all this, the one-year-old empties the bathroom wastebasket of its contents…and wears it as a hat to mimic the four-year-old.

I hear all of this from outside the house, fighting the urge to prolong the process of packing up the car because–once I do–I know I’ll have to tag in to this madness.

But this time I’m lucky. This time my wife exits the house with the children dressed and ready—one child wearing mismatched shoes and a shirt meant for a child two years younger, another with marker blemishes across his face, and another with his diaper on the outside of his pants.

We are now ready to depart…or so I foolishly think.

I look at the back end of our SUV with a broad smile and a long sigh of relief, thrilled with how tightly and efficiently I was able to pack that car. I really am a prodigy at these sorts of things. Then I look to my right, where my wife is carrying a baby basinet that seems more appropriately sized for a small horse, one that bears a shape that is not conducive to packing into an already-overstuffed SUV.

“Do you have room for this?”

Remarkably, she is able to repress her frustration from her earlier dealings with the children. Sure, she’s glaring at me like I just put one of her scrapbooking scissors into a bin that was clearly meant for scrapbooking ink stamps, and sure her left eye is twitching like a twerking Miley Cyrus…but all three kids and myself had yet to be maimed. Knowing what it’s like to get the kids ready for anything, I call that a win.

And so I look at the massive baby bed next to her, and then back at the car, noticing how the body of it droops heavily toward the back wheels. I know this item won’t fit. Of course it won’t fit, but I have to be delicate, have to use that charm of mine that once won over her affection enough to agree to spend the rest of her life with me.

But knocking her up won’t help in this situation, Phil.

Kidding, kidding! Sheesh, that’s how rumors get started.

But I do have a fleeting thought that how I respond here could dictate how long of a life I get to enjoy–and so with careful deliberation, I come upon the exact right words:

“Yes, hun.”

Her eyes soften and her grimace twists into a smile. She mouths the words, “Thank you,” and proceeds in buckling the boys into their car seats. I had made it…I had survived.

And that’s when I did the dumbest thing ever.

“Uh, you know Kyle’s diaper is outside of his pants.”

…and while I can’t tell you exactly what happened next—I blacked out through most of it—I am fairly certain that whatever happened is the reason I now have a slight limp whenever I attempt a sharp left turn.

Finally, we get in the car and begin our journey…

…but that’s for another day.

The Potty Song

When my son was two, he was a ticking time bomb of poop that not even MacGyver could disarm.

When my son was two, he was a ticking time bomb of poop that not even MacGyver could disarm.

Potty training has been on my mind a lot lately for some odd reason, which reminds me of a story of one of the methods we tried with our oldest. He was two years old at the time, which essentially means that he was a ticking time bomb of poop that not even MacGyver could disarm. His urge to poop typically brought out a “POO-POO, POTTY!” from his toddler lungs which, in turn, prompted both his mother and I to drop whatever we were doing at the time, snatch him up and rush him to the bathroom with the urgency of a man with a piranha in his drawers, knocking over chairs, tables, each other…

Since this all occurs in the matter of about ten seconds, here’s what it looks and sounds like in real-time:

Boy: “POO-POO, POTTY!”

(Lots of crashes and curse words thrown about)

My wife and I: SHITSHITSHITSHITSHITSHITSHITSHITSHITSHIT!!!

We had been doing this dance about seventeen times a day for quite a while because inevitably, when we sat the boy on the child toilet seat, he would look up at us with his big hazel eyes, wriggle his hands (a bit of sign language we had taught him from before he could talk—it means, “All done”) and follow that up with, “All done…play now?”

The irony of all this is that he did not go to the potty—he didn’t even really attempt to go to the potty. My refrain from strangling the boy is nothing short of astounding, and is why I believe my left eye breaks out into random bouts of spasms these days.

To remedy our son’s habit of crying wolf and not giving much of an attempt when he sat on the toilet seat, my wife brilliantly suggested that we make up a “potty song” that lasts about thirty seconds. That way, he might be compelled to sit on the toilet for a long enough time for something to actually happen.

Being a hack musician and a writer of sorts, she asked me to come up with the jingle. Now, I’m not going to say what I came up with was brilliant, but I’m pretty sure The Beatles have nothing on me…or at least Justin Bieber.

This is what popped into my head, sung to the tune of Octopus’ Garden, written by Ringo Starr of The Beatles):

I’d like to pee in the pott-ee
For that one good chance to flush it all away
It will be warm–this big shit storm
Cuz I’ve been eating fiber every day
Give it a try and you will see-ee just how much fun the potty can be!
I’d like to pee in the potty
For that one good chance to flush it all away

You might be shocked when you learn that we ended up going with her jingle (apparently my vote counts for half), though I find myself singing it under my breath now and again when I’m tending to my own business. And I think it helps a little.

Playground Toys these Days Lack Scare Factor

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Figure-1: The Hamburglar climbing toy was like a prison with bee hives.

With the change in season and the warmer days we’ve seen recently, my wife and I have taken the boys outside a little more, which includes the occasional visit to the public parks. Now, it’s only been the last few years or so since I’ve begun to really pay attention to the kid climbing toys at these parks, but what I’ve discovered in that time is nothing short of alarming:

Kid climbing toys suck these days.

I hate to be the one to say it—I used to vomit inside my mouth a little bit whenever I heard someone from my parents’ generation say it—but…(big, long sigh)…here goes:

I wish things were a bit more like the good ol’ days.

As an example, let’s examine the play toys at certain fast food restaurants, most notably McDonalds and such. Sure, they have flash and they have intrigue, but none hold a candle to what my generation came to know and love: the pieced-together, rust-laded metal deathtraps that each had two-page lists of danger warnings headlined by May cause death…or the hope for death. Nowadays, it’s more typical to see climbing toys that are enclosed by netting or other “safety” measures…as if we’re a society of barbarians (am I right?). It’s also more common to see these climbing apparatuses indoors rather than out because, like everything else in our post-2000 world, the rain may or may not cause cancer.

In my day (the late 1980s, when synthesizers and what I call boom-box rap, had taken over plaid everything and whiny guitar leads), every climbing toy at a typical McDonald’s restaurant was essentially a cage for children. Mickey D’s upper executives couldn’t get away with the Hamburglar toy today, which consisted of a tunnel encased by metal bars and a passageway so tiny that it was inevitable for kids to get trapped in there—and somehow the toy always came equipped with a massive bee hive or two.

Additionally, there was almost always a giant, bouncy Grimace toy (which even looked like a cage). Heck, even the spiraling slide (see Figure-2) was a jail of sorts, with its metal canopy that ran down half the length of the slide. The lure for children to climb up the slide part was always too great, which usually made it just a matter of time before the thing resembled an overstuffed sardine can and some kid was stung by a bee.

And truly, while they couldn’t get away with these sorts of designs today, they were in fact brilliant designs. The cage aspect in particular essentially guaranteed that the parents could spend their meal in peace without worrying so much about a child escaping the premises. In those days, applying leeches to the skin was the remedy for a bee sting, so that part really wasn’t so bad either. To be fair, this may be an exaggeration, but I have no idea what the remedy for a bee sting was in the 1980s and that sounds sort of close to what I imagine it being…with fewer sacrificial chickens and a lot less hallucinogens (again, the good ol’ days).

It wasn’t just the 1980 fast-food chains that had it in for kids. Playgrounds were basically a showcase of death contraptions. It wouldn’t have surprised me if some of those old climbing toys have since been repurposed for the U.S. Militia’s torture interrogation academies.

The see-saw was another deathtrap in the 80s and 90s.

Figure-2: The see-saw was another deathtrap in the 80s and 90s.

First, there was the teeter-totter, or see-saw, which I believe is the French term for ball-buster. The function of a teeter-totter was threefold:

  • It served as a kind of catapult for children under the age of six, or older than six but just extra small for their age. I recall seeing this happen a few times—it was like watching a Chihuahua ride a mechanical bull on the highest setting. The child was never simply flung from his or her seat, either. Nope, there was typically a kind of paddleball effect going on first.
  • I believe the original intent of the see-saw was to neuter any young male who was short-sighted enough not to take care in how he straddled the device. In this way, the country made its first attempts at population control.
  • The see-saw also acted like a sort of blunt guillotine for any small child who happened to stick his or her head underneath while it was in use.

4066971942_8e9dc996b7_bAnd without a doubt, children these days will never experience the excitement…the joy…the sheer pee-your-pants terror of those merry-go-round/spinning ramps. These were one of the best toys ever! The ideal way to play with them was to find an older, bigger kid and then get a bunch of younger kids. The younger kids would find a spot on the merry-go-round and anchor themselves to it as best they could. Then the bigger kid would spin it fast enough for the 1980s metal apparatus to travel to the past so that the younger kids could find their respective parents and make sure they went through with their first kiss at some school dance while a gang of goons tried to stop them and mess up the entire future…

…or something like that.

I can remember times when I rode on this merry-go-round toy, clinging to the eroded metal bar with my skinny kid arms and half-expecting to hit my head and awaken to the sight of several oompa loompas leering over me (I swear I even saw the image of an old, cackling woman on a bicycle at one point).

If you did happen to fall from this merry-go-round while it was spinning at 70 Knot and were fortunate enough not to be flung from the toy like a Raggedy Andy doll being spewed out a jet propulsion system, you were likeliest to get caught underneath the platform and either have your limb snatched away or be dragged along with it. I have some recollection of kids frantically encouraging a couple of recently legless smaller children to stop crying so the parents wouldn’t come over and stop the game.

Nope, my kids will never know these joys. Instead, they’re stuck playing with plastic balls with things like pads and netting to help cushion their falls. What has happened to the world?

 

Recommended Video: “Song Written by a 3-year-old”

colleenballingerpicI wish I’d thought of this first, but it’s brilliant. Colleen Ballinger has a vlog and on it she made a music video that consists of lyrics taken directly from answers a three-year-old gave to a set of questions about happiness.

Check it out on YouTube.