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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

 

I hate change! I think the Olympics should still be on ABC (that’s going old school!), Diane should never have left Cheers, Joe Montana should have finished his career with the Niners, M*A*S*H should be starting its 47th season this Fall, there shouldn’t be a designated hitter, two-point conversion option or three-point shot. I rescind that last one, because then Steph wouldn’t be Steph!

 

But parenting is all about change. Just when you learn to accept one phase (okay, I guess my boys are going to play Chutes and Ladders every day for the rest of their lives), they have moved on to something new. Moments after you have acknowledged the fact that your son will only eat bacon and carrots for the rest of his life, he is enjoying your wife’s broccoli casserole. That proud moment when your boys are playing together again with such joyful exuberance is soon shattered when you find them wrestling over who won Battleship.

 

DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT

 

The changes can be abrupt or gradual, but life with kids is like riding a roller coaster that daily changes direction, height and drop rate. My second son had a favorite shirt when he was four that he wore every day for sixty-seven consecutive days. It was different shades of green with dinosaurs emblazoned across the front and back. As fashion statements go, it said “On sale at Target for $3.99”. It had stains, holes and tattered sleeves.

 

We tried hiding it, not washing it (like that mattered!), pointing out its flaws and switch pitching with new clothes. All to no avail. Then, on the sixty-eighth day he came out dressed in the blue Spider-Man tee and the green dino shirt was relegated to the bottom of his drawer. That shirt now resides in his memory box and in forty-seven photos from that period. I thought he would be wearing it to his first day of college.

 

CHUTES AND LADDERS

 

Parenting is all about change because life with little ones can be so unpredictable. You never know where the next fixation will come from or when it will leave. Toys, games, clothes, friends, TV shows, movies, they are all preoccupations, until they are not. It keeps life interesting and always evolving. I think I’ll pull out Chutes and Ladders and see if my wife wants to play a round or two.

 

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.

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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!
  4. 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!

 

PARTY-TIME

 

You are at a work party without the kids, a glass of wine in one hand, peanuts in the other, all the while trying desperately to maintain a conversation with the guy in accounting when it hits you: I don’t know how to talk to adults anymore! I have nothing to say and I don’t even remember the structure of an adult conversation.

 

Sure, you talk to your wife, but those are brief snippets of one cohesive thought. “Today at work I (ten minute break to change a diaper) had a budget meeting (twenty-seven minute interruption to settle an argument, wipe faces, and load the dishwasher) where they reviewed my department (seventeen minute bath time interlude) and realized it wasn’t (bedtime story, prayer, kisses, chat about the existence of dragons, another kiss, more chatting, argument about said dragons, lights out) necessary. They gave me two weeks. How was your day?”

 

KID TALK

 

Fear hits you as you realize to have a meaningful conversation anymore the other participant must be under four feet tall, believe wholeheartedly in the existence of Spider-man and use the word “potty” in their daily vocabulary. Otherwise you have nothing to say to these people.

 

It is a shocking dose of reality as you look around the party and see that no one else seems to be having a problem discussing various adult topics. You spot your wife on the other side of the room happily carrying on a conversation with Dennis in marketing. Dennis! How come they can have a normal conversation? What is normal anyway? I should talk to the boys about normal tomorrow.

 

When you try to interject yourself into a conversation, your contributions appear to fall on deaf ears:

 

  • Movies – “I just saw Benji VI: The Last Canine on Prime. Not much of a plot, but the special effects were impressive.”
  • Politics – “My son is running for Kindergarten Rep. He would have run for Vice President if it wasn’t for that Nicholson kid.”
  • Sports – “We ranked third in the Little League Double A standings and just missed the playoffs because of those darn Riverbats!”

 

DOUBLE TROUBLE

 

There are a lot of advantages to having a second child. For example, when you leave the hospital with the second child  Volkswagen arranges to have a minivan in the parking lot waiting for you. At restaurants, you can now request a table for four rather than dealing with that awkward table for three. And no parent needs to feel left out when going for a walk because each child can hold one parent’s hand.

 

Unfortunately, this too is only a theory as both kids invariably want to hold their mother’s hand. And you’re left with the diaper bag…and the stroller…and the lunch box…and the toys…and the books…and the stuffed animals…

 

HOUSEQUAKE!

 

The immediacy with which the dynamic in the house changes is staggering. One minute the only child is being doted on by both parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, and the next minute everyone is cooing at the new baby. Naturally the older child is left feeling very frustrated and confused. It is not surprising to hear the older child inquire, “When’s baby going home?”

 

It takes a very sensitive person, and you become grateful for their presence, who can size up the situation and give some much-needed attention to the newly appointed older sibling. It does not require much, just acknowledgment, a little positive feedback, an understanding ear, a supportive hug, perhaps a new bike and then attention can return to the baby.

 

This jealousy is a very natural emotion and will probably pass within the next thirty to forty years. Who can really blame them, though? Their initial time on this earth has consisted of constant doting and very little sharing, maybe the occasional co-operative with a cousin or fellow toddler at the park, but that is about it. Now they are expected to be content with joint custody of their toys, books and, most importantly, their parents’ time and affection.

 

Since this is the oldest child’s first exposure to the act of sharing it comes grudgingly and its progress is felt in small increments. It will also be hard on you to witness because, although it is not rejection, the oldest child will perceive it as such and act in kind.

 

It is painful to observe your oldest child playing alone while the adults “ohhh” and “ahhh” over the baby. Your child may bear it with noble stoicism, but you know inside it must be painful for them, and in turn for you.

 

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE LOWDOWN

 

Other advantages to having two children:

  • It is divisible by two when you go on the rides at Disneyland.
  • One parent for every child!
  • Two kids requiring attention, two parents.
  • More bathtub fun.
  • Two kids, two laps, no waiting!

Although it is not all upside:

  • Two kids, one bathroom, lots of waiting.
  • Twice as much crying.
  • Two kids/one tablet.
  • Twice as many diapers.
  • Double trouble!
  • Limited TV time, unlimited choices, two opinions.
  • Double the restaurant bill.
  • More than double the groceries!
  • More bathtub splashing!
  • Double the mess.

 

DEFINITELY NOT PERFUME!

 

The title of this blog may sound like a Chanel perfume advertisement, but it is not. I came home from work the other night to find my three year old son eating pasta at the dinner table wearing a big smile, and nothing else. I told my wife “I cannot eat under these conditions.” As she explained the situation, it had been a very warm day and they had been playing in the sprinklers. So when it came time to eat dinner, he took off his wet clothes and went to eat. Makes perfect sense, if the capital of your country is Mozambique!

 

My three-year-old has also just mastered potty training. This means once he announces to the entire room he has to go potty, his pants and underpants instantly descend to his ankles – long before he approaches the bathroom. Then he proceeds to the toilet displaying his buttocks for all to see.

 

GOODBUFF DADDY!

 

Very often my boys will come and wave goodbye to me from the living room window when I walk to the bus in the morning. At least once a week they come to the window buck naked, simply because my leaving has coincided with the midway point between pajamas and day clothes.

 

They stand at the front window, with the sun streaming into the house, waving wildly as I walk up the street. Totally uninhibited! My elderly neighbor, on the other hand, is quite hibited by this display!

 

One of my sons feels that whenever he goes #2 this is a perfect opportunity for us all to join him in a game of “Guess Which Aminal I Am?” We try to explain that we have better things to do than watch him sit on the toilet, but he can’t seem to imagine what that would be.

 

MAGIC PRESCHOOL STAGE

 

There is something truly magical about this age and the way they are so at ease with their bodies. The purpose of clothes is solely for warmth and protection, and when you think about it, they have a point. The innocence at the preschool stage is so fleeting. I will be sad when it ends.

 

In a sense I miss it already and it has not even left. Soon enough they will learn not to walk around naked, don’t share a meal in the buff (that will not be a total loss), and most importantly, wait until you close the bathroom door before you drop your drawers.

 

I guess these are all valuable lessons, but the purity of heart that comes with a naked child eating pasta, as unappetizing as it may be, is an incredible sight to behold. Excuse me one moment, “Son, close the bathroom door please. Thank you.”