OUR HOUSE

 

Raising four sons and reflecting on my youth, offers a stark contrast between our shared experiences. In some ways it is remarkably similar; two parent home, go to school, dinners as a family, juggling the demands of a multi-person household.

 

GENERATIONAL DIVIDES

 

In other ways the generational divide is a chasm greater than Prince Harry’s with the Royal Family. After much contemplation (and iced tea) what follows are my top ten generational divides.

 

  1. When we had friends over, we would put a favorite album on the turntable and then everyone vied for who could pick the next vinyl. Today, they put on an episode of The Office or Arrested Development and laugh like they’ve never seen it before.
  2. In grammar school we learned how to write cursive, compose formal letters, and address an envelope. Today, these well-honed skills are going the way of the VCR, wine coolers, and public tolerance.
  3. If a movie were airing on TV, we knew it would probably be another two to three years before we would have the opportunity to watch it again. Today, well, virtually everything is available for viewing at any time of the day or night. Even stuff you don’t want to see, like Adam Sandler films!
  4. Typing was a class we took in high school. Granted, it was taught by the JV football coach who utilized the two-finger-hunt-and-peck method himself, but it was a required class. Today a three-year-old is master of the TV remote and tablet before they are even potty-trained.
  5. Our superheroes flew off the comic book page or were relegated to Saturday morning cartoons. Today, thanks to special effects wizardry, their prodigious skills are illuminated on the big screen with remarkable frequency.
  6. Quisp, Quake, Apple Jacks, Fruity Pebbles, Boo-Berry, Crunchy Nuggets, Corn Snaps, Honey Snaps, Kaboom… this was breakfast! Today, your ten-year-old wants to become a vegan after viewing a documentary about the beef industry in school.
  7. Dinners were overshadowed by Walter Cronkite reporting, with his usual gravitas, the daily count of fallen military in Viet Nam. Today, dinner is just a brief interlude between League of Legends games.
  8. If you were going to be late getting home and there were no payphones close by, there was going to be hell to pay when you walked in the door. Today, they can just ignore your texts and phone calls and allege there was no service in the area. “But you were downtown?”
  9. Commercials were a part of our everyday life. It was the price we paid for music on the radio and our favorite television programs. Today, bootlegging allows you to listen and watch unencumbered by those annoying interruptions.
  10. When we were getting married, our parents encouraged us to select a fine china pattern and silver to go with it. If you bring this up today, they have difficulty even grasping the concept of why you would need such frivolous utensils. “The sporks that come with the takeout work just fine for us.”

WHAT GOES UP…

 

As I sit here today, my head is spinning. Our abode has been a revolving door of sons rotating in and out of the house. I’m tempted to put a Wendy’s sign out front. Except when you go to Wendy’s you typically pay some money!

 

With that in mind, I started ruminating on the meaning of it all. At times joyous, stressful, sorrowful, laughable, and chaotic. Occasionally all at once. I determined the only answer can be, God has a sense of humor. To that end, here is irrefutable evidence God has a sense of humor.

 

  • Kids move out, kids move back in, move out, move back in, out in. When does it end?
  • Dishes are in the sink, on the counter, on the table, in their room, and on top of the six-foot bookcase. What are they doing up there? How did they get up there?
  • There are three drops of milk in the carton in the refrigerator. Three drops! But there is plenty of Oat Milk. Seriously, Oat Milk?
  • For 18 years your life revolves around your children then they head off to college. Now what are you supposed to do?
  • Unrelated: Why would anybody wanna go on up to Greasy Lake?
  • Your kids pick up some of your wife’s good traits and ALL of your bad ones!
  • You are at a restaurant with your disheveled son. His hair hasn’t seen a comb since the Obama administration, he has seven days of beard growth and his t-shirt has more holes than swiss cheese, but you love him and are enjoying the meal. You introduce your son to a friend at an adjoining table and they remark, “He looks just like you!”
  • Our dog barks like there is a home invasion when a four-year-old neighbor rides her tricycle by our house. But when the Amazon delivery guy opens our front gate, drops the package on the porch, and announces “Amazon” she barely stirs.
  • Videogames!
  • I can be carrying in 17 grocery bags from the car and no one pays any attention, but if I casually mention I’m thinking of ordering pizza for dinner, everyone begins to list their favorite toppings.

 

WHAT WAS THAT?

 

And then it happens, I am in the delivery room with a profound feeling of love and admiration for my wife, the likes of which I could never have imagined. I cannot even fathom the pain she has just endured and the magical glow that surrounds her now as she holds our child.

 

Our child! I gaze at this tiny being who shivers under the rough feel of the blankets, crying and scared. This gift from God gives me pause to reflect on the miracle of life. No baby has ever looked so beautiful I surmise, and then it happens, “Sir, would you like to cut the umbilical cord?”

 

I am not out for long, only a few minutes. Luckily, since we are in a hospital, they had smelling salts handy.

 

THE X-FILES

 

“What was that hiding under the blankets?” I exclaim. “Shouldn’t we get a team of doctors in here to look at it? Do Mulder and Scully know about this?”

 

One of the nurses takes me aside and explains the purpose of the umbilical cord and the cutting process after birth. Between that and the placenta I have learned enough medical jargon to last a good three years. Someone else does the Umbilical Honors and I go back to marveling at this incredible creation.

 

The first night is a bit of a blur. They wheel in our son in a glass bassinet while my wife and I try to get settled. I turnout the lights and our newborn son instantly starts wailing. Lights on, silence. Lights off, screaming intended to wake the entire floor.

 

We sleep with the lights on, setting a bad precedent, but the hospital administration insisted. I try to find a comfortable sleep-position on the foldout chair only to realize it was used in WWII to help break POWs. I have a fitful night of sleep realizing this is the first day of the rest of my life as a Dad.

 

THE SON ALSO RISES

 

The next morning, they take our son back to the maternity ward. After an hour or so, I leave my wife in the hospital room to go peek at our newborn. As I approach the nursery fear grips me when I see a team of doctors surrounding my son’s bassinet.

 

Expecting the worst (I’m Italian-Irish-Catholic in case you haven’t figured it out yet) I rush into the nursery only to hear the doctor say, “So as you can see students, this is the perfect specimen of a newborn baby…ah, nurse, more smelling salts please.”

LONG DAYS JOURNEY

 

“You’re still here?” your coworkers chide as you arrive at work yet one more day after you said the baby would be born. You realize seven months too late; I should have added two weeks onto the due date when I told them we were expecting.

 

The phone rings and you grab it while putting on your jacket; you run to get some water and leave your coworker three pages of instructions on how to handle the call if it is your wife; you see you have a new voicemail from your wife and you drive home before even listening to it!

 

You race to get home sure she is waiting in the car for you to drive her to the hospital only to walk in the house and find her stenciling the baby’s door with some Winnie the Pooh patterns (see The Nesting Season). Turns out the voicemail said pick up more paint on your way home!

 

GET IN THE CAR!

 

When you and your wife are expecting a child, and it is after the due date (which you will learn is an educated guess at best) the days are about thirty-eight hours long, loaded with false alarms. Every time my wife goes to the bathroom for longer than five minutes, I warm up the car.

 

“What are you doing?” she shouts over the roar of the motor.

 

“Get in we’ll take route number four on our options list and with traffic be there in 12.7 minutes.”

 

“I was only blow drying my hair!” your wife shouts.

 

THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART

 

As the days drag on everyone becomes more edgy; you, your wife; relatives; grandparents-to-be; coworkers; neighbors; the mailman. It seems like the baby will never be born and then a new fear hits you, what if my wife has just been putting on weight all these months?

 

False alarm, you tell your colleagues, we weren’t pregnant after all, it was just water weight gain!

 

In the end, the baby arrives when they are good and ready. As you will soon learn, babies do everything on their time schedule, not yours!

Here’s the daily calendar of a man without.

 

Here’s the daily calendar of a man with.

 

Here’s a man without’s prize possession.

 

Here’s a man with’s prize possession.

 

 

 

A FAVOR!

 

Tonight, my wife broke one of the cardinal rules of marriage. This is something I would not even tell my best friend and yet I find myself putting digits to keyboard to try and expel the disillusionment I feel. It began when she borrowed a bassinet from a friend for our new baby-to-be and it ended with my fragile ego shattered and lying on the asphalt.

 

The hand-me-down-bassinet arrived disassembled with no instruction manual enclosed. Honestly, no man committed this act of treachery. A guy would not loan something without instructions for fear of what might occur. It obviously came from a woman who found it tucked away in the basement and thought she was doing us a favor. Some favor! 

 

DANGER AHEAD

 

I spent one evening grudgingly trying to assemble the product, knowing full well it was futile without the step-by step directions. I grumbled and cussed my way through the project finally realizing that purchasing a new one was the only viable option. And why shouldn’t our baby sleep in a bassinet hot off the show room floor?

 

The next night my wife was poking around the disassembled pieces for maybe seven minutes tops. “Honey, I think I figured it out.” “Huh?” I shouted from the safety of our sofa, remote clutched in my hands, fragile ego fully intact.

 

WHO ORDERED THE EGGS?

 

“Come here, I think I figured out the bassinet,” she uttered again, not realizing the landmines ahead. As I approach what was once a tangle of metal, screws and piping, I can now visualize a complete unit begging to be assembled.

 

My wife had solved the Rubik’s cube and, in the process, disassembled a little of my pride. I tried to temper my elation at being totally humiliated and out-guyed by my own wife, by pouting for the next hour and a half while I constructed the damn bassinet. Never liked it anyway!

 

As I have tried to explain to my wife before, a man’s fragile ego is like an egg. Not a Faberge egg you can purchase at Neiman Marcus, but a simple egg right out of the carton. It cracks and breaks very easily and must be handled with care. In this instance it would have been better to return the godforsaken bassinet and purchase a new one. But alas, now we have one fully assembled loaner bassinet and one cracked egg.

ALMOST THERE…

By the fall of this year my wife and I will be empty nesters, see image for a virtual representation. You see, this year our two youngest sons will be heading off to college… or Katmandu, doesn’t matter. The important thing is there will only be two of us in this small three-bedroom two-bath that was clearly intended for a husband and wife and possibly a dog. Yes, definitely a dog!

 

After raising four sons to various heights and weights the next phase of our marriage is just beginning. Time to pull out the old tennis racket, start swinging those clubs again (9-irons, not disco. Do they still have disco clubs?), organize a weekly poker night, and travel… travel… travel.

 

TIME WILL BE ON MY SIDE

But before all that can begin, I need to dust off the to-do list that I began writing all those years ago when I thought this day would never come. Those “someday I’m going to…” chores that won’t really feel like chores anymore because they will not be crammed in between basketball practice and a parent-teacher meeting. Here it is for your reading pleasure, at least I hope it’s a pleasure. The top ten things I will do when the nest is empty:

 

  1. Find the floor in my son’s room. Hey, there are my golf clubs!
  2. Air out my son’s room… fumigate the room… oh, heck, let’s try a controlled burn!
  3. Leave the remote where I know I can find it.
  4. Find all my socks, belts, headphones, chargers, razors…
  5. Cook a meal for two, rather than seven because teens eat so much.
  6. Dry out the boy’s bathroom. Paint the boy’s bathroom. Let’s see contractors, bathroom remodel.
  7. Reclaim the family room TV.
  8. Learn to speak at a normal volume because not everyone wears headphones 24:7.
  9. Stop singlehandedly supporting the cereal industry.
  10. Try not to miss them. I’m not crying, it’s the pollen!

 

When it comes to other people’s children or even with your own spouse, you will find that you are a fount of sage advice and valuable experience. Spouting off words of wisdom that will help them as a parent and throughout their everyday lives, you can see the appreciation in their eyes.

 

A consoling word here, an insightful platitude there. Nothing quite compares to a parent offering parental advice to another. Your heart swells with self-satisfaction. You are The Fount Dad (dramatic music swells).

 

UNTIL

 

But when YOU are caught up in heat of the moment with your own kids, it is all you can do to keep from screaming! I guess it falls under the theory “Those that can’t do, teach (or write a blog!)” because keeping your composure during a heated kids encounter can be very challenging.

 

Usually these types of situations come out of left field (or maybe center, I can never remember). Everything is going along fine. You are playing some type of kid’s board game and then BAM, it happens.

 

One child starts crying because he lost, the other one is hitting him because he is crying. Your words go totally unheeded as a mini-brawl breaks out in the family room.

 

WHERE’S YOUR MOM???

 

I have watched my wife intercede in these situations with her typical aplomb, pacifying everyone involved. She even invites neighborhood kids in to help settle their disputes. She calmly talks to each side and comes up with a workable solution. Eat your heart out Solomon!

 

THE FOUNT DAD HAS LEFT THE BUILDING

 

Me, I have trouble keeping a calm head when tears and limbs are flying. Usually any advice I had ever been given in my life goes out the door, along with any visitors that may have been over, and I start laying down the law.

 

Timeouts are prescribed, toys are taken away, and boarding schools are sought on the internet. This is the most difficult time to keep your cool. It takes real practice (luckily you will have plenty). A calming disposition would help too. I strongly recommend the peaceful approach, but then my boys are asleep right now, so it is easy for me to say.

 

A TWOFER

 

This Fall, my wife and I are preparing for the rare parental double-double. Well, I’m preparing while my spouse is sad about the upcoming prospect. As far as I’m concerned, this is the highly coveted and rarely achieved parental twofer! My guess is this is how the parents of twins feel.

 

You see our last two sons are preparing to head off to college in the fall. One son spent two years studying at a junior college while the youngest is graduating from high school. By September of this year our house will include myself, my wife and our dog. I think that bears repeating; by September of this year our house will include myself, my wife and our dog. This is the culmination of our twenty-six year journey that began in our modest three bedroom home when our first of four sons was born. 

 

PREPARATIONS ARE UNDERWAY!

 

In their younger days

Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to miss them in an inexplicable, confounding way. For all their inherent teen-ness, there will be a void in the house. But at least there will be two less rooms in the house I will need to avoid!

 

As I prepare for their impending departure, I have begun to compile a list of all that I will miss when they are off studying in some far distant county or state. To that end, here are the 10 reasons why I’m going to miss my teens:

 

  1. No one to blame for the gassy smell. Oh wait, I still have the dog. Scratch this one.
  2. Looking for the remote. Why is it in the kitchen cabinet?
  3. Always having the bathroom occupied when I need it.
  4. Cleaning up dishes scattered throughout the house. See #2.
  5. Taking a cold shower after the teens have showered for 20 minutes each. 
  6. Doors slamming and feet stomping at 2am.
  7. Hearing those heartening words, “Dad may I borrow your _______?” Fill in the blank: belt, car keys, socks, sweatshirt, credit card, raincoat, laptop, 401K…
  8. The overall teen odor. Seriously, what is that smell?
  9. That heartwarming response to the simple query, how was your day? “Fine.”
  10. The non-response to the text “Where are you?”
  11. I know I said ten, but this is not for me. Costco and Safeway will miss the teens not being at home anymore. Profits will plummet!

 

FIEVEL RULES!

 

I am in the process of raising four sons, and let’s get this out of the way right up front, I am not complaining! While there are definitely some challenges that come with rearing four sons, there are innumerable rewards as well. None come to mind at the moment but give me a minute. Nope, still nothing.

 

Anyway, as entertaining as it can be at times, there are certain realities that come with the territory. As unique as each of my sons is, these realities can be attributed to all of them. It might be tied to the prefrontal cortex of the brain, or it could be a part of the teen credo that exists somewhere out there beneath the pale moonlight. An American Tail. Anyone? Anyone? So, without further preamble, here are my 10 realities of living with your teen.

 

TEN OF TEN

 

  1. You can ask them to empty the dishwasher, but you will probably lose two plates and your favorite mug from college.
  2. The living room, family room, kitchen, hallway, garage and bathrooms are all their domain. Consider yourself lucky to have any room at all.
  3. Your standards and their standards are very different.
  4. You can enlist their help in putting up the Christmas lights; just make sure your homeowners’ policy is up-to-date.
  5. Asking for their assistance in a household project will probably require some touchup on your part. Touchup can be defined as completely redoing their portion of the household project.
  6. Planning to watch the Warriors game after a long day at work? Better ensure you have reserved the TV, or you’ll be watching the same episode of The Office for the seventeenth time. “Wait, this is the part where Jim plays that prank on Dwight!”
  7. The teen always has the right-of-way in the hallways of your house. Always!
  8. Curfew is a concept. Time is all relative.
  9. The notion of chores alludes them. I often look in their bedroom and wonder how exactly they manage to get dressed in the morning amid all that chaos.
  10. Quiet is not a theory they have grasped yet. Closing a door, marching on the hardwood floors, grabbing a plate out of the cupboard, burping, talking, chewing, burping again. It is simply not in their vocabulary yet, along with listen and patience.