- What’s the appropriate duration of a timeout?
- Does six hours sound excessive?
- Why are they fussing? They have no job, bills, mortgage, laundry, projects, weeding, cleaning, defrosting, refinancing, painting, mending, refinishing, planning, polishing, emptying, loading, folding, fixing, buying, selling, trading, deciding, shining, formulating, planting, plumbing, hanging, or rearranging to do. Right now, their biggest decision is what game to play and what snack will satisfy them. With the possible exception of the Royal Family (and they must deal with that unpleasant ear problem and the miniseries fallout) no one has it better than they do.
- Why is there no NWL (National Wiffleball League)?
- Why isn’t kindergarten spelled like garden?
- How many woodchucks would a woodchuck chuck?
- Why did Richard Scarry decide to write children’s books?
- I was so tired this morning I popped a prenatal vitamin. Do my breasts look bigger to you?
- Why is the dog the only one who understands me?
- How come we spend most of babydom trying to get them to burp and the rest of their lives trying to get them to stop.
- How do you get to Sesame Street?
- Why isn’t Barney extinct?
- Am I the only one who is scared of Teletubbies?
- Are you sure there are only 150 Pokemon?
- Why does Spider-man always forge right ahead when his spider senses are tingling?
- What is the Boy Wonder wondering about?
- How come I’m the only one who gets sleepy when reading bedtime stories?
- What is the maximum length of a minute, as in, “I’ll be there in a minute”?
- If there is three of them (kids) and two of you, (parents) do they win?
- If there is two of them and two of you, do they win?
- If there is one of them…oh never mind.
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
- You can ask them to empty the dishwasher, but you will probably lose two plates and your favorite mug from college.
- The living room, family room, kitchen, hallway, garage and bathrooms are all their domain. Consider yourself lucky to have any room at all.
- Your standards and their standards are very different.
- You can enlist their help in putting up the Christmas lights; just make sure your homeowners’ policy is up-to-date.
- 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.
- 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!”
- The teen always has the right-of-way in the hallways of your house. Always!
- Curfew is a concept. Time is all relative.
- 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.
- 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.
SAY GOODBYE, IT’S INDEPENDENCE DIAPER
Editors note: The photo on the right is not reality. Potty training is not a happy time for the parent or child! This is a Madison Avenue ruse.
With potty training comes freedom from the confines of the cloth and disposable shackles they must bear around their midsection. Freedom from grownups yanking at the back of their pants and taking a whiff. Freedom from being put on public display for anyone who happens to be talking to their parents at the time of the diaper change. Freedom from the constant parade of men washing their hands in public restrooms as you balance a bag, a dirty diaper, shopping bags, a clean diaper, and your child on the tiny little shelf they refer to as a changing table. What table? I’ve seen bigger hors d’oeuvre trays.
This theory of freedom is what I surmise, because, about the time your child becomes potty trained, their entire attitude changes. They develop this incredible independent streak. It is not an entirely bad thing, not entirely! For instance, when and where they “go” now becomes their decision.
I know with my boys they have a tendency to hold their pee until about five minutes past the two-minute warning. Mind you they have been holding themselves in a “Roseanne singing the National Anthem” kind of way for the past fifteen minutes. And you have been asking them every five minutes if they need to go. So let me just say, once they do say they need to go, I know I have seventeen seconds to find an unoccupied bathroom or I will be using that two sizes too small spare change of clothes that has been riding around in the minivan since the Clinton Administration.
Don’t think for a minute that once the diapers are shelved next to the Teletubby videos and the Talking Barney Doll that your days of cleaning up bodily fluids are over. Especially if you have boys.
THE ART OF ARCING
The art of arcing just right to have pee hit “nothing but water” is a skill that does not apparently come in the early years. We’re hoping by high school! It has gotten so I have to carry around a spray bottle of Lysol and roll of paper towels at all times. I looked a little out of place at Christmas dinner last year, but I did manage to clean that upended wine glass in record time.
For every Tiger Woods, there are thousands of frustrated golfers on the links whose Dad put a putter in their hands at the tender age of three. For every Madison Bumgarner there are hundreds of struggling journeymen in the minors who wish they weren’t forced to pitch in the backyard with their fathers until their blisters bled.
Struggling musicians, frustrated artists, inaccurate quarterbacks, no-talent actors, depressed accountants, inedible chefs, fired up firefighters, all living out the dreams of their fathers. If you have dreams you did not pursue during your youth, for whatever reason, don’t force them on your kids. This is their life. Don’t try to fashion your dreams to fit around their lives.
THEIR OWN PATH
My parents taught me that whatever career path you choose in life, make sure it is something you will enjoy. Even when they were probably panicking inside at my seemingly ill-advised choices, they let me live my own life, make my own mistakes and wander in my own direction (what cliff?). This left me with the satisfaction of knowing it is my own path, and they were always there with loving support and encouragement.
In my experience, I have witnessed many a miserable kid suffering through a Little League practice, and no it wasn’t because I was the coach. As my boys got older, I encountered college students struggling with their accounting classes because they really wanted to pursue architecture.
As they get older, even if your chosen path proves fruitful, there will always be the “what if” factor. What if I had; pursued that zoology major; taken a year off to work in Nome, Alaska; joined the Peace Corps; decided to become a professional cliff diver…
What are your what ifs? Did someone force you to go left rather than right? How does it make you feel, even now when you have a family of your own? Let’s allow our children to select their own path, who knows, they might surprise us!
Unrelated story: Did you ever hear the old joke about the mother who was having some of her friends over for lunch when her little five-your-old comes running in and says “Mommy, mommy I hafta go pee pee.” The mother, obviously embarrassed, talks to her son after her guests have left. She decided they should come up with a code word for pee pee and suggests the word whisper.
Fast forward two weeks, Uncle Billy is visiting from Vermont and sharing a room with the young five-year-old. In the middle of the night the boy wakes Uncle Billy and states, “Uncle Billy, I need ta whisper.” Billy groggily replies, “Wait until morning.” Two more times the boy tells Uncle Billy he has to whisper. Finally, Uncle Billy relents and says, “All right, but do it quietly in my ear.”
Whenever my youngest son, now four, wants to whisper (and I mean actually whisper) something to me, I lean down and rotate my head so my ear is pointing towards him. The unfortunate thing is he does the same thing and our ears meet. This not only tickles like crazy but closes up my hearing canal (medical term) so that his whisper is a barely audible breeze.
I have tried to explain to him the art of whispering a hundred times, but the entire concept escapes him. It is one of the multitude of things I take for granted, but it appears to allude the kids. There are others:
- Being in a hurry: “Come on get your shoes on we have to get going…tell me in the car. No we don’t have time to play a game. Where’s your jacket? You hid it, but we are already late…”
- Hunger: You’re driving away from a restaurant when your son informs you he is hungry. “But we just had dinner and you only ate half your pasta. What do you mean you weren’t hungry then it was five minutes ago?”
- Potty: Driving away from your house, “Daddy, I hafta go potty.” “I asked you three times before we left if you had to go, I stood you in front of the toilet twice, you cried outside the bathroom door while I was going and you insisted you didn’t have to go.” “Daddy, I hafta go now!”
- Silence: “Quiet in church now…shhhh…whisper…do you know how to whisper?” Child shouting “I think so, wanna hear me?”
- Sunflower seeds: Do not try to explain this art form indoors! “All right son, put it in your mouth, bite it in half and spit out the shell. Not bad, let me go change my shirt and we’ll try it again.”
- Getting to the point: The other day my three-year-old was desperately searching for his Superman figurine’s red cape. “It’s over there” I said nonchalantly pointing to the coffee table, barely looking up from the ball game, bottom of the ninth, tie score, two out, two on, Posey up with a 3-2 count. It wasn’t until the top of the twelfth I realized he was still searching, now frantically, and near tears. “Son, it’s over there” but as I watched his eyes, he took no notice of where I was pointing or nodding my head. It was as if “over there” was a specific place in the family room and if he went there, Superman’s cherry red cape would be waiting. “No, look where I am pointing and nodding,” I told him. In frustration, I took his hand and walked him over to get the precious cape just as the announcer was saying, “…Holy cow, it’s not often you see an unassisted triple play, and that will conclude our coverage for today…”
SING A SONG
One trick I have found for surviving some of the more mundane or unpleasant tasks of Dadlands, is to modify songs. I pick a song I am fond of and adjust the lyrics to suit the situation, they become a very modified version of a kid’s song. This will do nothing for the children, especially if your singing voice is as torturous as mine, but it will make the task at hand more bearable.
Here are a few examples:
When changing a poopy diaper try this, sung to the tune of “Everybody Plays the Fool” from the Main Ingredient:
- “Everybody goes poop, sometimes, there’s no exception to the rule. It may be flatulence, it’s definitely cruel, but everybody goes poop. Listen Baby…”
When feeding my child some form of inedible gruel, I will hum the Michael Jackson/Weird Al hit:
- “Eat it, just eat it, don’t know what it is, wouldn’t want to try it, just eat it…”
When you are washing hair, try this classic from South Pacific:
- “I’m gonna wash that dirt right out of my hair, I’m gonna wash that dirt right out of my hair and send it down the drain…”
And rounding out the bathtub medley try this one from The Rolling Stones
- “Scrub me up, dododo dododo scrub me up, won’t you scrub me up. Ohhh you can wipe me down, wipe me down like you never wiped. Ahhh you make a dirty kid cleeeaaan, you make a dirty kid cleeeaaan, your hands are filthy, your feet are greasy, I’ll clean your grime like you’ve never, never seen…”
Whenever you notice the warning signs that your child is heading for a complete emotional explosion, you know the signs (lightning, pestilence, flood, volcanic eruption) I choose the Boz Scaggs number:
- “Danger there’s a meltdown dead ahead, and I said maybe you’re in way above your head, I’ve been burned…”
If the diaper wrap you are using gets dirty (details omitted for decency standards) you can sing the Queen tune:
- “Another wrap bites the dust, and another one’s gone and another one’s gone, yeah another wrap bites the dust…”
WHEN YOU’RE DOWN…
And for purely sentimental reasons I love to sing Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend” to my boys. No lyric tampering required; the message conveyed in that song is the way I would like them always to perceive dear ol’ Dad.
Quick related story: As I mentioned I am to singing what Keanu Reeves is to acting, but my wife has a beautiful voice and would often sing to our sons right before bed. One night she was out so after I read the boys a book, completed our prayers and tucked them in bed, I launched into “You’ve Got A Friend.”
With all the heartfelt, tone deaf emotion I could muster (“When you’re down,”) I began the song in a gentle quiet whisper (“some love and care.”) The song seemed to resonate from somewhere within the confines of my soul (“and think of me and soon,”) soaring, filling the room. And for once in my life I wasn’t flat and achingly off key! It was as if the gentle timbres of James Taylor had taken residence in my vocal cords. My confidence built (“you just call out my name”) and I was filled with…“Dad! Dad! You’re hurting our ears!”
Snapped out of my Grammy winning performance I stared in disbelief. “But I was singing you to sleep,” I replied innocently.
“Who can sleep with all that noise!”
“But every night I hear your mommy…”
“Daddy, Mommy doesn’t give us owey ears when she sings.”
Coincidentally, they were both shipped off to boarding preschool the following Monday.
Last week’s blog focused on the top ten joys of being a teen, see link below. The information was based on my years of raising four sons, the youngest having just turned seventeen. Granted it was not a firsthand account from an actual teen, but a well-researched compendium culled from over twenty-six cumulative years of observation. I felt it was a thorough and genuinely sound record.
Well, my second son (the outdoors-man on the right) has apparently taken umbrage at my list because, even though he has always claimed to never read my blogs, he sent me an email yesterday offering a counter-list of his own. My first reaction was, someone read my blog! Then my wife suggested I am obligated to offer equal time to my son.
So, without further ado, here is a teen rebuttal. The 10 Worst Things About Being A Teen according to my twenty-four-year-old son. (Note: #4 I find especially painful.)
- Parents nagging
- No food in the fridge
- The internet is down
- Family outings and gatherings
- You forgot your headphones
- You have to take your brothers with you everywhere
- Your teacher calls on you when you didn’t even raise your hand
- Being asked the same three questions by every adult ever
- More Nagging!
SORRY TO SEEMS TO BE THE HARDEST WORD
The next time your eleven-year-old says they are sorry, treasure that moment because it is the last time you will hear it for nine years. The reason is simple. In their clouded, visually impaired, reality-skewed mind, they are never wrong.
It must be a joyous experience to be seventeen… it has been too long for me to properly recall. But imagine, the entire world is before you, dangling on a string. Unfortunately, your parents are the ones holding that damn string. If it weren’t for them the world, and all who inhabit it, would be so much better off.
THE WISDOM OF SAMUEL CLEMONS
Whenever I suffer from TMTT (too much teen time) I am reminded of my favorite quote of all time attributed to Mark Twain, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in 7 years.”
I believe that is how every teen perceives the world. They view parents exactly the way the Disney Channel portrays us in every teenage sitcom; brain addled, befuddled, incapable of coherent thought and depending entirely on the knowledge and wisdom of our teenage children to survive. So, without any additional preamble, here are the top ten joys of being a teen.
- You are never wrong! You are profoundly confident in every assertion you make and believe wholeheartedly in your unequivocal infallibility.
- Life is perfect when you are with your friends, without any parental interaction.
- Protein Bars – an instant meal!
- School is an unnecessary hindrance on my way to my first million $ before I turn thirty.
- Earbuds – “I can’t hear you, I’ve got the earbuds in.”
- See #1.
- twitch.com – if you don’t know what it is, you are in a worse situation than I am.
- Chores are for parents or people not as busy as I am. Yep, that would be parents.
- Magic – food magically appears in the refrigerator, my clothes are always washed and folded, there is always gas in the car, cable-Netflix-wi-fi are continuously up and running. If I knew who to thank for all this I would.
- You only remember the bad times with your parents (Remember when we ran out of gas on the way to Christmas Eve dinner?), never the good times!
VOWS WERE MADE TO BE BROKEN
Those parental pledges you made before your children were born, forget about them. Except for the one that says, “I will not harm my children,” the rest are just pipe dreams.
You know the ones I am talking about:
- I will not bargain with my child.
- I will not use food as a reward.
- I will not use the television as a babysitter.
- My child will not master the features of the TiVo before I do.
- Cookies are not dinner.
The reality is that children are skillful negotiators. They are born with this innate gift that tells them the correct bargaining technique for achieving their final objective. For example, if they want a snack and they know you want to run an errand. Avoid the middle step of trying to coerce them into the car with logic, pleading and guilt. It’s pointless. Just pull out the Cheetos, let them see the bag and then toss it into their car seat. The rest is easy.
GIVE ‘EM THE GUMMIS!
Secondly, if the children want some candy and you don’t want to give it to them, they are going to find a way to get it. Case in point, they have a diaper that makes a hockey team’s locker room smell like Lemon Pledge. It needs changing. If you wait much longer the paramedics may have to administer oxygen to you. They know it needs changing, you know it needs changing…. Give the child the gummi bears for God’s sake.
The television! It’s four-thirty and your wife is coming home in an hour. You have not had a moment’s peace all day, but you know you must get dinner on the table by six. She manages to do it every night, it is the least you can do. The child knows you need to make dinner and he also knows Toy Story 3 is in the queue. Give it up, they are going to be watching Buzz and Woody in a few minutes no matter how many other techniques you try.
GREEN BEANS OR OREOS?
Its dinnertime and your wife is out at book club. The Niners kickoff on Monday Night Football in twenty minutes and none of the boys are touching the chicken and rice casserole with green beans. Stupid green beans! Everyone can see the bag of Oreos on the counter. At least they won’t go to bed hungry. You’re well into the third quarter when your wife returns and asks why the boys have black teeth.
The sooner you learn to capitulate on the vows the better you’ll all feel. Plus, it will be highly entertaining to listen to new parents explain their many parental pledges regarding children.
A LITTLE TIME FOR DAD
Life in the throes of Dadlands is all about giving. Giving of your time, patience, money, sanity, energy, freedom, extremities, soul. But there are instances when you need to make time for yourself, even if it is to accomplish the most mundane of tasks such as going to the bathroom, washing your hands, getting dressed, finding your contact lense, taking your medication, showering, yoga, meditation…
To that end, here are 4 tactics for surviving fatherhood that will allow you to carve out a little time, even when you’re in charge and the nearest alternate adult is the cat lady up the street.
- Naptime – It’s quite possibly the best 1-2 hours of the day. Not that you don’t love spending time with your little guys, but now you can have a moment to yourself. The tricky part occurs when you are driving home for naptime after an exhilarating park excursion and they start falling asleep in the car. This cannot happen because even five minutes of dozing in their car seat will find them feeling refreshed and energized. But two hours later this non-nap child will be your biggest challenge since that college calculus course. This is when your creative juices need to flow. Start talking to them, rolling down the window, singing along to something on the radio or your best acapella rendition of “Thunder Road.” It is crucial that you keep them awake until you get home.
- Quiet Time – You’re the dad, so one of the fringe benefits is declaring what event is next on the agenda. There are other fringe benefits such as… uh… we’ll come back to that. But at any given time of the day you have the ability to declare, “Now it’s quiet time. Grab your favorite book and read it to yourself quietly for a while.” If your kids are as precocious as mine this will probably buy you four minutes tops because they typically will reach for the same book and bedlam will ensue. But sometimes four minutes is all you need!
- TV Time – (At this point you are probably catching on to the theme here!) Pick their favorite program and start the show. This will probably only produce twenty-two minutes without commercials, but that is five times longer than Quiet Time!
- Stroller Time – While this doesn’t exactly provide you with an opportunity to accomplish anything, it does give you fresh air, exercise and the chance to clear your head. Sometimes that is all you need. Plus, once they are strapped into the stroller you have approximately 7.89 seconds to do something before your children will start calling your name. Plenty of time to brush your teeth or comb your hair, but not both. You will have to choose!