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.
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.

 

 

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!

 

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.

 

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.

 

RUN!

 

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.

 

MY LIFE

 

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!

 

WHISPER

 

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.

 

OVER THERE

 

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.