Sunday, June 30, 2013

Road Trips and Sushi ... What Are Two Things That Do Not Go Well Together?

It may go without saying, but I’m saying it anyway:   If you ever embark on a 16-hour all-night car ride with children, and as you leave town you stop by the grocery store to get some snacks for the trip and one last non-fast-food meal, and the person running into the store to buy the food asks, “Do you want sushi, or something else?”   The answer is: something else.  Anything else.

We learned this lesson within the first half-an-hour of our annual overnight pilgrimage to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.   At this point there may be questions.  Let me answer a few.

Yes, we go to Hilton Head almost every year.  My wife’s parents have a timeshare there, which we started visiting when our first-born was little.  It has become something of a summer tradition.

And yes, we drive straight through to get there.  It makes the trip affordable.  And we’ve learned that piling on the miles while the kids are sleeping is the only way to make it manageable.  By leaving at night, and filling their little gullets with food on the way out the door, we’re able to get a solid ten hours on the road before one of them wakes up, usually somewhere in North Carolina, complaining about the sleeping arrangements and asking how much further.    

Sure, it’s a long drive.  But it adds to the mystique for the kids -- at least the younger ones.   On recent trips, Maisie has said, after an hour on the road, “If we flew, we’d be there already.”  My retort, “And if we took the private yacht it would take weeks to get there.”  

Back to the questions:  Yes, our local grocery store sells sushi, as many attempt to these days.   And our local store is a Wegmans.  So it usually passes the smell test.  Literally.

So, as we pulled up to Wegman’s at 7:30 pm on Friday evening, 5 minutes into our summer vacation, and as my wife prepared to run in get some snacks and more substantive food, like chicken fingers, I suggested, “Maybe get me some sushi.  Spicy, crunchy tuna, please.” 

Maisie then shouted that she’d take a California roll.  And Sadie screamed: “Dumplings.”

These little guys are never going with us to Hilton Head, again.
As my wife departed for the store, she asked one more time:  “Who wants sushi, and who wants chicken fingers?”  It was almost unanimous.  Only Drew, who abstained from voting, got chicken fingers – and that was by default.

After she returned to the car, with some bags of snacks and a few trays of Wegman’s sushi, we were ready for our all-night, bleary-eyed, we’re-not-stopping-till-the-sun-comes-up drive south.   And off we went.

Not three minutes later, before we even got past the McDonalds in Lafeyette, we were sitting with our individual sushi trays open on our laps when all hell broke loose.  Okay, that may be an overstatement.   But from the back of the car, Chloe asked for help with something.  Her mother, reacting with the quick reflexes of a supermom, closed her own sushi tray, flipping the lid back on.  Unfortunately, she had already used the lid as a soy sauce dipping vessel.   Soy sauce went everywhere, including her lap, her seat and the pillow that was next to her seat ready for the long night’s drive.  Soy sauce splatter patterns were scattered throughout the front of the car.

She immediately called for the paper towels, as she danced on her seat trying to avoid the pool of soy sauce that had collected under her.  Of course, the paper towels were conveniently tucked in the back of the van behind the seat holding our two eldest children. They scrambled to get the paper towels, and in the process, Chloe’s ginger-infused dipping sauce for her dumplings fell to the floor.  Reports from the back of the van could not confirm whether the container’s lid was still on the ginger-infused dipping sauce when it fell.  And, now, the ginger-infused dipping sauce container itself was missing.  At least, neither properly-seat-belted child could get a visual fix on the sauce container.   I had visions of ginger-infused dipping sauce slowly soaking into our van’s carpet.

So, there we are, screaming down the highway – and I mean screaming, not driving fast – trapped in a van that was smelling increasingly like grocery-store-bought Asian food. 

Luckily, there was a truck inspection pull-off just ahead of us.  That’s where I pulled over and calmly (it's my blog, so my description) … calmly took care of the spill and the missing dipping sauce.  I also collected the remaining sushi containers and pronounced then and there that we would never buy sushi on a car trip ever, ever again. 

Not ten minutes into our annual vacation and we had already learned an important lesson.  When, embarking on a car trip, and asked if you want sushi, or something else, the Answer is ... all together now, "Something else."

Over the next 16 hours, the lingering smell of soy sauce reminded us of this lesson.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Would you like some Cheese with that Whine?

Case of Whiners
I could’ve written some cheesy Father’s Day essay chronicling the many deep thoughts and profound reflections that occurred to me during a family weekend devoted to dadhood.  But instead, I decided to show one of the gifts I got from the wife and kids.   It was a Father's Day gift to be savored. Literally.

This gift, which they called “A Case of Whiners,” shows in a pictorial the many reasons why I feel the desire -- no, the need -- to end so many days with a glass of wine (or even a bottle) in hand.  
 
The wife and kids were kind enough to attach each reason to a nice bottle of red, giving me enough wine to make it at least through the first few weeks of so-called "summer break."  Okay, maybe not quite.  But certainly through the next weekend.



Reason #1:  The first child's obsession with her siblings' earlier bedtime.

Reason #2:  The second child's inability to make the bus without stress  ... ever.

Reason #3:  The third child's hysterical screams whenever I pour cereal in
 the wrong bowl, pick out the wrong socks, or generally do anything for her.


Reason #4:  Has anyone seen reason #4? I mean child #4?
I swear, he was just here a minute ago.

Reason #5:  I JUST NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE FOR A MINUTE.
Maybe the dentist has an afternoon opening? Let me call.  

Next Father's Day, maybe they'll surprise me with an intervention.  We'll see. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

And So It Was Written, Friday Night Is Fun Night.

[My children requested this post.  Yes, they actually read the blog. ]

Back before we had kids, before we were married, back when life as we now know it was but a distant “dream,” Friday nights were dedicated to fun. Nothing crazy, mind you. No raves, or hallucinogens, or anything weird. Just regular, run-of-the-mill fun, with the occasional hijinks mixed-in.  

It would usually start with happy hour at the Blarney Stone, and end with a late-night breakfast at the Quick-Cup after the bars told us we had to leave. In between, well, my kids read this blog. So, just regular fun stuff. More than once, though, I crawled through the Leprechaun door at Coleman’s Irish Pub. Ah, Good times. Good times.

Just about every Friday for a couple of years, I had the same fun-filled goal and a similar result.
Yes.  I did.  There
were witnesses.

When my then-girlfriend, now-wife would suggest that we break from tradition and go to a movie on a Friday night, I’d be like, “No way. That’s what our parents do on Friday nights.”

Fast forward 15-plus years, and going to a movie on a Friday night doesn’t sound lame at all. In fact, just renting a movie sounds nice. Even fun. Sure, I’ll probably be asleep before it’s over, and there won’t be any late night diner trips involved (the cholesterol alone, rules that out). But it still has the makings of a fun night. Recently, it has even become something of a tradition.

That is, until a new tradition was born.

A few weeks back, my wife was working late – trapped in her home office as Friday evening arrived. I served dinner and cleaned the dishes, while the girls and their little brother bounced off the walls with nothing to do. There weren’t any good movies to rent that night, for the kids or the adults. 

Instead, we decided to kick-off the first night of the weekend with a “dance party.” Which means I spun some Katy Perry and Bruno Mars tunes on my laptop while the kids danced around like pop-stars who’d had too much sugar and lost their choreography. In our house, dance parties are commonplace, as are plays and improvised musical performances. Sometime, I feel like I’m living in the Cosby Show.

Usually, I just watch the dancing. Kind of like the first dance I went to in 8th grade. And 9th grade. And 10th grade. My seven-year-old calls this a pattern. This dance party, though, my kids coaxed me onto the impromptu dance floor in our living room. Before we knew it, they're taking turns being swung around by a dad who's watched one-too-many episodes of Dancing With The Stars. (For the record, one episode is too many, which means I’m way over the limit).

Where are the kids?
The kids' favorite dance was the exaggerated tango, where I’d strut cheek to cheek with one of them with our arms straight out, humming, “Vrump, vrump, vrump, vrump. Da, da, da, da, da.” Then we'd turn, dramatically pointing our arms up and emphatically in another direction, practically giving the kid whiplash. They’d laugh, as those watching would yell, “My turn! My turn!” Even little Drew wanted in on the dance. I obliged, whipping him a little less vigorously then the girls. 

When I ran out of moves and breath, I started acting like I had no idea how to dance at all -- it wasn’t that hard. They called it “Dancing With The Dummy.” Each took a turn or two. 

Stacked like cord wood.
The Dancing ended when we couldn’t agree whose turn it was next, causing two of them to jump on me at the same time, knocking my spent body to the floor. That led the others to yell, “Pile on Daddy!” Before I blinked, I had four kids, totally hepped up on goof balls, jumping all over me.

Luckily, they were my kids, and I knew how to neutralize them.

“Tickle Torture!”

Sure, it sounds like an oxymoron. But vigorous tickling can make someone beg for waterboarding. Especially, when they’re too young to know what waterboarding is.

After my successful escape from the Daddy Pile-On, we moved on to Hide-and-Seek in the living room. We learned quickly that there aren’t too many places to hide in our living room. A few long curtains, and some fluffy couch cushions, that's all. Somehow, it kept us happy for a solid half-an-hour.   
No.  They couldn't possibly...

The night went on and the games continued, each leading into another impromptu romp, while mom typed away at the computer. She'd finished work by then, and decided to do some online window-shopping, rather than join the ruckus in the living room. And, oh, what a ruckus it was. By bedtime, all four kids were exhausted and ready to pass out. As was I.

I’d thought it a fun, but forgettable Friday night – no movie, no major hijinks, and certainly no Coleman’s.
 

Geez, maybe we could down-size.
As the kids woke the next morning, they all began asking when we could have another “Daddy Game Night,” as they had named it. I told them we’d do it again, someday. No promises.   


When I finished mowing the lawn after lunch that day, I came in the house to find out the kids were all hiding in the living room – really hiding. While I mowed, they had hatched a plan, clearing games from the cabinets to create real hiding places.  I knew then that our random night of silly games was something more than that in the minds of my children.

And when the next Friday night came, we did it again. We added a few new silly, made-up games to keep it fresh – like “Stand Up Dad,” where the kids try to make me stand up as I pretend to be half-asleep – and they again had a blast.

Years from now, they won’t remember half the crap I tell them each day -- all the random facts and life lessons that spill from my mouth in their general direction. Yet I have a feeling they’ll remember “Daddy Game Night.” And while it’s been a decade since I’ve even been to the Blarney Stone, and I no longer fit through the Leprechaun door at Coleman's, I promise you that Friday nights have never been more fun.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The %#$! Shirt ...

This morning, my 2 year old boy walked up to me after finishing his cereal, held his arms straight up in the air, tight to his ears -- the international toddler sign for help-me-take-my-shirt-off -- and said, “My shirt is Stupid.”
 
I think he meant “wet,” but I understood. He'd spilled milk down his front and needed a new one.

“Don’t call things stupid, Drew,” I corrected, as always.

“But it is stupid,” he replied.

My wife and I try not to say words we hate like “stupid” around the kids. We don’t say “hate” much either, in addition to many other really bad words.

But still, the kids learn to say words like this, from older siblings, from the school bus (always blame those “other kids” on the school bus), and from the occasional times when my wife or I forget the presence of our children and utter things that can only be translated here in Q-bert-ese.  For those who don’t know, that’s an ancient curse-word only language muttered by dads when doing projects around the house.

He must be working on a house project.
Let’s face it, when it comes to words they should not say, kids are like F-ing little sponges.  Which reminds me of a little debate my wife and I have had recently.  Is the letter "F" a curse word now? Because apparently the word “Freaking” is. When I say “Freaking” around the kids, I get corrected. It’s freakin’ bull-crap.

Anyway, Drew took to calling things stupid a few months back.  Now, it might just be his favorite word. When his shirt gets wet, it’s stupid. When we’re out of milk, the jug is stupid. When his seatbelt won’t buckle, his seat is stupid. When his sisters won’t let him watch his show, they are stupid.  Okay, so sometimes he uses it correctly.  But we still don't want him saying it.

It reminds me of a few years back, when Chloe, who was 4-years-old then, started saying “boobs” all the freakin’ time. She’d just blurt it out, for no real reason, other than to get a laugh from her siblings. It was cute at first. Then she started doing it in public.

I recall a time at Target when I had her and her sister Sadie with me. An older woman came up to us, bent over the girls and said, “Aren’t you just the most precious little things.”

Chloe looked her right in the eyes and yelled, “Boobs!”

The woman was aghast. She gave me an awkward smile, shook her head a bit and departed. “Chloe!” I corrected, “We’ve talked about not saying that.” I said it loud enough so that all the people within the boob hearing range would know I am not the awful parent I appear to be. 

Eventually, all our kids stopped laughing when Chloe said “Boobs,” and so she stopped saying it. With Drew, it’s been a little tougher. No body laughs when he calls things stupid – though we all did at first. Each one of us has been conditioned to say, “Don’t say that.” Or to just ignore him. Neither approach is working. 

The boy just loves to call things stupid, and we are at a loss for how to fix it. Stupefied, you could say – if you were into saying things that aren’t that clever or funny.

As with everything in parenting, we know this too shall pass. We’ll look back and remember it as Drew’s stupid phase. And we’ll freakin' laugh about it. 
In the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions, we're listening.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Know the Signs of a Distressed Swimmer

Today I read an article that made me think about the coming summer, and begin to worry.  I’ll link to the article below.  But first, some context:
 
Twice in the past five years I’ve been in close proximity to a child who would have drowned if someone hadn’t intervened.  One was a stranger. One was my own.

When our 7 year old was about 2, we were up at my grandmother’s house at Montario Point on Lake Ontario.  We often go to the beach there in the summer, to play in the shallow water and swim in the waves.  Around the corner from the beach is an inlet channel that leads to a pond and large marshland.  Taking a break from the waves, my brother Pat and I, and our kids, went to the channel to cast Pat’s rod a few times. 
 
On one back cast, Pat’s line got caught in a tree.  I turned my back for a second to help release the line just as 2-year-old Chloe stepped into the murky waters of the channel.  She thought it was shallow like the beach, but instead was immediately under water without a sound.   Maisie, 5 at the time, screamed her name: “Chloe!”  I turned to see her completely submerged.  Pat, who was within feet of her, reached under water and plucked her out.  She gasped, coughed and cried, but was okay.  Thoughts of what would have happened if Maisie hadn’t screamed for her sister keep me up some nights.

The stranger incident was a bit more recent.   At Hilton Head last year, my wife, our two oldest, and I were playing in about 4 feet of water.  The beach there gets deep a bit quicker than Montario, making the waves even more fun.  Our kids were swimming safely, or were on the beach with their grandparents.
 
Just a few feet out from us, was a young girl about 8 years old next to a boogie board.  There were people all around, but no parent in sight.  The girl looked like she was trying to get onto the board, but couldn’t.  The water was over her head.  She was trying to take breaths each time she bobbed up, reaching for the board each time without success.  She wasn’t saying help or flailing her arms, but she was in trouble -- her head was tilted back to try to get air with each bob, and she was not in control.
 
From a few feet away, my wife asked if she was okay.  The girl turned her eyes to us and gave us a look of desperation, slipping back under for a second, but not saying a word.   My wife reached out and helped her onto the board.  Then we directed her to shallower water.
 
Below, I’m posting the link to the article that made me remember these events, because it’s that important.  As we begin another swimming season, everyone should know the signs of someone struggling in water.  Unlike on Baywatch, they almost never scream for help. 

Here are a few things from the article to know:

1.        “Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled before speech occurs.

2.       Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.

3.       Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.

4.       Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.

5.       From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.”

This doesn’t mean that a person that is yelling for help and thrashing isn’t in real trouble—they are experiencing aquatic distress. Not always present before the Instinctive Drowning Response, aquatic distress doesn’t last long—but unlike true drowning, these victims can still assist in their own rescue. They can grab lifelines, throw rings, etc.

Look for these other signs of drowning when persons are in the water:

·         Head low in the water, mouth at water level
·         Head tilted back with mouth open
·         Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
·         Eyes closed
·         Hair over forehead or eyes
·         Not using legs—vertical
·         Hyperventilating or gasping
·         Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
·         Trying to roll over on the back
·         Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder

Please read the whole article by clicking here: Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The odds are 50-50 -- but only a 10% chance of that.

Based on a limited knowledge of odds-making, you’d think a kid learning to put on his or her own shoes would have about a 50-50 chance of getting it right. For some reason, my two younger kids get it wrong way more than they get it right. Saying they have 10 percent chance of getting the correct foot into the matching shoe would be generous.

No.  Wrong feet, Buddy
I could literally tape-record my answer to the question, “Is this the right foot, dad?” The recording would say, “No.” 
 
Of course, I could also add an instructional part too, which goes: “Just match the curvy part of your foot up with the curvy part of the shoe,” or “Your short toes go into the shorter side of the shoe,” or “The flower always goes on the outside,” or “You tell me if that flip-flop hanging off your foot half-cocked and sideways, with the divider forced between your pinky toes, looks right to you? Does it? Does it?!” 

At this point, you're likely asking, do people still use tape recorders? That's not important right now.

I figured I'd do some online investigating to see what other people had to say about the right-foot, wrong-shoe issue. There's actually been quite a bit of scientific research into this. I found lots of articles online, with blogs and whole books dedicated to the subject. I decided not to read any of it.
 
I know my younger two will figure out the foot-shoe thing eventually. Both of my older kids wear their shoes on their right feet every day of the week. They stopped asking our help figuring it out years ago. I know, they are so gifted.   

Sorry, Dear. Try again.
It'd be nice if someone would invent toddler shoes that go on either foot. Ones with Velcro, of course. That way the kids could "tie" the shoes all by themselves, too. That would make parenting a bit easier. But then, they would probably never figure out the right feet from the wrong. And that could be embarrassing for years to come.

For now, I guess the two younger ones will just keep asking and keep getting it wrong most of the time, and we'll keep showing them the right way.

You can be sure, though, we won’t be rushing off to to Vegas with them any time soon.

"Daddy, are these the right feet?"

Now which one is the play button.