Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sick day redux. Or, an Active Dad concedes the day.

It seems like just days ago that one of the boys was home sick, which had triggered a minor episode of Proustian remembrance on my part. Except that for me, sick days past were mostly about getting to eat as many bologna sandwiches and goldfish crackers as I wanted. Yeah, I know.

Anyway, the reason it seemed just like mere days ago that I was tied to the house with my very own little Typhoid Mary is because it really was, as it turns out, just days ago. And now the other boy is home sick. But that’s ok, because part of being an Active, Awesome Dad bla bla bla… is that I’m ready for any contingency. When the boy finally dragged himself out of bed we stuffed a pancake or two in his face and then the fun, such as it was, began.

We started off slowly with some streaming Netflix and an episode of American Pickers. And anyone who’s seen Mike and Frank poking through a box of oil cans will tell you that any given episode is stultifying enough to make the folks down at Auction Kings seem positively bacchanalian by comparison. (What? Is that a Charles Lindberg scrapbook? Stop it!) Anyway, once we had our fill of rural barns overflowing with moldering crap we moved on to the Xbox.

Here we rely heavily on Gamefly. Although not nearly as cheap as the low-end Netflix membership, belonging to Gamefly is still a far less expensive way for your kids to amuse themselves than getting tangled up with a seemingly never-ending stream of positively smelly game titles at full price. For $20 a month (which the boy pays for himself by doing extra chores around the house) the nice people at Gamefly send us two video game titles to keep around as long as we’d like before sending them back in their little pre-paid envelopes. Then, as if by magic, new titles arrive, and before you can say Master Chief we’re shooting aliens. Or jacking cars. Whichever.

So, are these responsible ways to spend a sick day? Would the day be better spent doing extra credit for homework? Or maybe getting a head start on that copy of Great Expectations that’s looming this Spring? Well sure, but sometimes being an Active, Awesome Dad means conceding that it can be good for the soul to do absolutely nothing productive. Which is also better than eating faceload of bologna sandwiches.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Batting cages or little league? Cages every time.

Having been around a little, I can tell you that kids are unique and as different from one another as can be. That said, they do all share some common traits, one of which is an almost supernatural ability to produce common emotional responses in parents and caregivers alike. These responses are of course enormously complex and fall on a wide spectrum… but that’s still not going to stop me from indulging in my fondness for oversimplifying everything.

To wit, at one end of the emotional spectrum is baffled disappointment: “Why did my boy just lick the kitchen floor from the back door all the way to the fridge?” At the other end is justifiable pride when he scores against that big goon of a goalie who’s either a 20 year old ringer or a fifth-grader with a glandular problem. “Run boy, run!”

Somewhere in the middle, however, is that sweet spot of maudlin sentimentality evoked by kids when they do nothing more than grow up. A maudlin sentimentality for which I’ve found that I have no patience. The sort of maudlin sentimentality that I don’t feel for my boy’s little league days. I’m probably just a bad father.

It’s been a couple of years since the older boy has played, and since April 1st is right around the corner I was just thinking that I miss almost nothing about little league. I don’t miss the early start of the little league season. I like baseball well enough, but when Coach called up every December, that’s DECEMBER, to let us know that he was starting indoor practice in January it was all I could do to be polite. Mostly.

Nor do I miss all that time spent freezing my butt on the aluminum bleachers in April, or all that time spent baking in the sun on those same aluminum bleachers in June. I don’t miss all the shrieking little league parents who are blissfully unaware that they are walking, talking clichés. I don’t miss watching other people’s kids whiff the ball repeatedly. My kid does that plenty, thank you very much.

But here’s the thing; I do miss getting out to the batting cages with the boy. (Just enter your zip code and the website will find one for you.) In late winter and early spring it was always a great way to get out of the house and do something fun, active and productive. He loved the challenge, and I loved the opportunity to show off just a little. Right now it’s still too early in the season to be outside much, so it’s the perfect time to take the kids for a little no-pressure batting practice. Just make sure you don’t run into Coach.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Steve, deathcore, and Weird Al. Go.

Be courteous, kind and forgiving,
Be gentle and peaceful each day,
Be warm and human and grateful,
And have a good thing to say.

Be thoughtful and trustful and childlike,
Be witty and happy and wise,
Be honest and love all your neighbors,
Be obsequious, purple, and clairvoyant.

Be pompous, obese, and eat cactus,
Be dull, and boring, and omnipresent,
Criticize things you don't know about,
Be oblong and have your knees removed.

Be tasteless, rude, and offensive,
Live in a swamp and be three dimensional,
Put a live chicken in your underwear,
Get all excited and go to a yawning festival.

O.K… everybody!

Steve Martin, Grandmother’s Song.

The first time I heard that song I nearly embarrassed myself in a way that would have been hard to recover from. (Not unlike ending a sentence with a preposition, I suppose.) Put simply, I was the first bright-eyed kid on our block to get Let’s Get Small when it came out in ’77. When I brought it home, my pals and I crowded around the tired old turntable in the living room and started listening to the tracks, one by one, until we were nearly breathless from laughing harder than we ever had. That is, until the Grandmother’s Song came on and I nearly peed myself right there in the living room, which meant I was just a heartbeat away from a defining adolescent experience that would have embarrassed even Charlie Sheen.

Anyway, all of this is to say that it wasn't long before I convinced my dad to take me and a buddy to see Martin do his thing live at the Westchester Premier Theatre. It was a fun night, not just because Martin was as great as we had hoped, but because it was a chance for my dad and me to get out and do something new together. And since then, I’ve found that taking my own kids to shows has been just as fun.

It was just about two years ago now that I took the oldest boy to see Job For A Cowboy at the Starland Ballroom. It was a hoot, not because of the thoughtful, melodic quality of Cowboy’s music, but because it was something I never would have done if it wasn’t for the boy expanding my horizons a bit.

Since then I’ve taken the boys to a number of other things, most of which have been, quite frankly, rather more tame. There have been Rifftrax shows, Cinematic Titanic shows… and I just got us tickets to see Weird Al in May. (squee!) So embrace the live show. Assuming your progeny are older than the Blue’s Clues set, there are lots of choices that you’ll both connect with. Do it.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

International Women's Day.

So it’s International Women’s Day, which got me thinking about moms. What should you do for your mom? Give her a call, or maybe go visit and fold some laundry for her?

Then you point out that it might be sort of condescending and feel contrived to do such a thing… which might be true. But go give her a call anyway, just because she misses you and would like to hear from you. Go on.


PS- Pretty random? Yeah well, it is random Tuesday:


Monday, March 7, 2011

"Spring thaw!" Or: "So that's where the Christmas tree went."

So, say it’s the mid seventies and I’m eight or nine years old. Where is the one place I’m likely to be? Sitting at a desk doing my homework? Helping little old ladies across the street? Cleaning up a park with the Cub Scouts? Fat chance. No, I would have been safely ensconced at the foot of my parent’s bed watching TV, that’s where. It was, after all, TV that showed me the most amazing things in the world. Wile E. Coyote, for instance, taught me rather a lot about physics, M*A*S*H taught me the difference between being a smartass and a smart smartass, and the Marx Brothers taught me just about everything else I needed to know.**

Still, though, my favorite shows were documentaries about science in general and archeology in particular. There was nothing better in the world than an episode about mummies, lost cities in the Amazon, or best of all: long lost flights that reappear only after having been ejected from the glaciers that had been their final resting place.

So you can imagine my excitement when I surveyed the back yard this morning and found it completely free of ice and snow for the first time since December. Whooo! The Spring thaw is here, and this afternoon was the first chance of the season to press the boys into service. We were out and about and found all kinds detritus that had been locked away in the rare deep freeze that this winter had brought: turns out our Christmas tree was just a few feet from the driveway, there were shovels and rakes past the deck that I have no recollection of owning, and there were a couple of bats and waffle balls still out near the swing since a nice spell of weather in early December had lulled us into a false sense of security.

Unsurprisingly the boys didn’t find the whole enterprise nearly as entertaining as I did, and in fairness to them our little expedition wasn’t nearly as cool as the one that found Mallory, but hey, spring is here and I got them outside and moving around on a nice afternoon.

**Which, upon reflection, probably explains my skill at charming middle-aged dowagers.


(Mallory turns up here too, just in case you're not the link clicking sort.)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Chunky Monkey vs. the Contagion.

It was a cold afternoon outdoors, although that didn’t matter much since we lived in an apartment with radiators that spent much of the day banging, wheezing and spitting out enough heat to make sure that we had to keep the windows open anyway. That particular afternoon, as did so many others, found me laid up in bed with a fever and sore throat, waiting impatiently for my mother to get back from the store with the two prizes that would go a long way to making me feel less put upon by the cosmos: Goldfish crackers and bologna. They were, when I was a little kid, the official Sick Treats.

Since then, of course, Goldfish and bologna have been forever ruined for me as an adult because I can’t help but associate them with a high fever and the urge to pull out my own tonsils with a spoon. Still, those afternoons of Dickensian wretchedness have inspired me to make my own boys’ sick days as much fun as possible. So, when our younger boy turned up with a fever and a guttural cough that sounded for all the world as if Carol Channing had swallowed Phyllis Diller whole, I knew just what to do.

First, a trip to Shoprite produced a tub of Chunky Monkey ice cream and a bag of mini Butterfingers that went right in the freezer (Winning!). Then a pair of Motrin and a long hot shower got him feeling perky enough to sit up at the computer where we had a few frozen Butterfingers and played some Butterfinger-themed flash games. (Just for thematic coherence, if nothing else.) When that got old we moved on to where we competed against each other in a few spirited rounds of Word Whomp, Mini Golf Madness and Poppit. After that we were off to for some Tartar Treachery with Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy.

By then the boy was starting to wilt a little, so we moved back to the couch where we turned on Netflix and finished off the afternoon by streaming Cave Dwellers courtesy of Joel, Crow and Tom Servo.

So no, not everyday can be an off-the-couch active day, but we do what we can. Jeez, I just hope that when the boy grows up he doesn’t associate Chunky Monkey, frozen Butterfingers and Mst3k with his own bouts of medieval-style contagion. Nah, it’ll probably be fine.


Oh, and help yourself some Cave Dwellers. Mmmm.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Charm, hair and the big work.

As any parent will tell you, children seem to have an innate ability to charm. It starts at birth, really. One moment your lovely bride or significant other is in the throes of childbirth which, you both learn a little too late, is an experience that makes you confront the very nature of existence and the fact that you may have terribly misjudged the direction in which you wanted your life to go.

But of course this existential crisis is short lived, because a moment later the doctors present a tiny little person for your approval, a human being that you made. It’s a momentous event for everyone, but as much as anything else it signals the beginning of a long relationship with a little person that will be based largely on a game of cat and mouse in which you try to get them to stop spreading peanut butter in their hair while they try to charm you into not being annoyed.

Although there are few defenses against a youngster that is determined to use his innate charm to prevent you from keeping him neatly shorn, (the only real solution to the peanut butter quandary) we found one good way that also serves a greater purpose.

The folks at the St. Baldrick’s Foundation have been raising funds to fight childhood cancer since 2000 when they had the novel idea to ask volunteers to shave their heads. The “shavees” are all good sports who participate in one of the local events held every March during which volunteer barbers, shavees, friends and family get together and have a fun time.

So if you’re the sort who likes to walk, run, bake cupcakes or whatever to help with the big work, why not add a little something new to your repertoire? It’s a fun day out, and if nothing else it’ll save you the bother of negotiating yet another haircut with the little charmers in your life.


Oh yeah, and it makes for good entertainment too. Our younger boy as shavee last year:

(And if you insist on being a complete social media nerd, you can find St. Baldrick's on twitter and facebook. Go figure.)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Charlie Sheen: so much distraction, so little time. (For this at-home-dad, at least)

At the risk of beating a dead, clichéd horse, I would mention this one thing: there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Yeah, I know! Just like so many dads out there, my days are filled with trying to be productive work-wise, getting on the elliptical so I don’t end up looking like Tim Curry, chasing the kids around, driving back and forth between Home Depot and Shoprite, keeping the house in a state respectable enough that we don’t risk a visit from Bob Villa and then perhaps spending a little quality time with my Lovely Bride. Jeez, I’m feeling a little dizzy just thinking about it. In short, Time is at such a premium that unwelcome distractions are a constant threat and are to be guarded against with all the tenacity of a toddler fighting bedtime.

That being said, many of the distractions we face daily in our digitally overloaded world are diabolically compelling. To wit: Charlie Sheen. I know, I know… just hear me out: I’m the sort of guy who counts himself among those who are deeply, sincerely un-interested in celebrities, and yet you have to admit that Charlie is bringing the Rant to a whole new level. The manner in which he’s able to articulate what the demons in his head are saying is truly stunning: "Guys, it's right there in the thing, duh! We work for the Pope, we murder people. We're Vatican assassins. How complicated can it be?”

How complicated indeed. The level of commitment and eloquence he brings to the table can only be envied by mere pretenders like Tom Cruise. Charlie favors us with more: “People say, 'Oh, you'd better work through your resentments.' Yeah, no. I'm gonna hang on to them, and they're gonna fuel my attack. And they're going to fuel the battle cry of my deadly and dangerous and secret and silent soldiers. Because they're all around you. Sorry, you thought you were just messing with one dude. Winning.”

The man is an artist. How, I ask, can anyone resist being drawn into the sideshow atmosphere that Charlie creates for himself? Sure, there aren’t enough hours in the day, but I think I’ve finally met my match. "I'm sorry, man, but I've got magic. I've got poetry in my fingertips. Most of the time — and this includes naps --”

Yeah, Charlie, I wish I had time for a nap, but even if I did it probably wouldn’t produce poetry. You the man. The crazy, crazy man.