Friday, July 27, 2012

A Father Story

This was my first attempt at a "short" story about my dad that was to be submitted to for his awesome series of #RealFatherhoodStories. I kept it because I really like this story and obviously it means a lot to me, so while I was happy with the end result, I cut out so much from the version to dwindle it down to around 500 words. A major edit. So here's the original. Enjoy!

The most recent time I hugged my father was very awkward. I only did it because my wife gave him a hug and I didn't want to be outdone; and perhaps I expected him to make a note that my hugs are like being tucked in between the wings of angels. Prior to that specific incident, I really can't say when we hugged last. My family is not one for showing emotions physically or verbally. Regardless, I never questioned if we loved each other. The saying goes "actions speak louder than words" and I can get behind that, but in retrospect we probably should have been slightly to extremely slightly more outwardly caring with one another.

If I trace back my relationship with my dad, I would say that the moment that solidified my knowledge that he loved me and would do anything for me was the day after my 21st birthday. My brother, who really wanted to bond with me through alcohol, had taken me out drinking. Despite the fact that I am not a drinker, I agreed because that's just what you do when you turn 21. After a long night and a total of two drinks, I drifted off to my happy dreams.

Pain. That's what woke me up after a short four hours of sleep. The kind of pain that numbs your mind to anything but how much pain you're in, and it would not stop. I had this moment of thought that it might be normal. Maybe this is what happens when you drink? Why the hell do people do this to themselves?! As the minutes crept by slow enough to make me question if my clock was working, I decided that what I was experiencing could not possibly be a hangover as 1) I just plain didn't have that much alcohol and 2) I wasn't having the massive light-sensitive headache issues I always heard about. I had pain that wrapped around my mid-section, relentlessly stabbing my senses. Something was really wrong and I needed help.

As I lived alone at the time and had grown accustomed to being able to walk, I had only one phone and it was located in the kitchen. So it was rather surprising when going to stand up that I was quickly met by the floor. I just could not stand up with the level of pain I was having. As I army crawled inch by inch across a floor in desperate need of vacuuming, I had a little giggle in my head thinking that I just wouldn't make it to the phone. I don't know why I found it funny. I just had this notion that this could be what death felt like and hopefully the authorities would figure out the cause so that whoever rented the apartment next would understand how important it is to put a phone closer to the bedroom.

After certainly a long time and with a constant feeling that I was going to black out (maybe I did), I made it to the phone and frantically called my dad. I was really unsure of what state I would be in when he arrived, and my mind kept drifting back to the thought that two alcoholic beverages (both were very girly, one even had the word calypso in the title) would be the death of me. My dad probably bent a few speeding laws getting to my apartment because I don't think it was very long till there was a knock on my door. I was given a strong shoulder to lean on and I hobbled slowly outside to figure out the least painful way to climb into his SUV. I've always been short, but never had I felt so small as those few moments dragging myself into the passenger seat. Then, we set off for our adventure.

Something you need to know about my dad is that he is not cheap and he was very aware that I needed to be seen by a doctor, but he is also very much the type of person who looked at my situation and said, "let's get this done quickly." So while not exactly convenient to the guy squirming in the front seat hoping for any moment of relief, it was perhaps not surprising either that we stopped at two locations in the longest detour ever before finally arriving at the hospital. One was a private doctor's office that was clearly not open at 5 in the morning, a fact which actually infuriated my dad, and the other was one of those limited care places who wanted nothing to do with me after discovering enough blood in my urine to attract a sparkly vampire. So at their insistence, we finally went to the hospital.
In the end it was a fairly nasty kidney stone, but while my situation has garnered some sympathy and/or laughter over the years, it took years to realize the level of dedication my dad possessed that day. My adventures in kidney stones really sums up my dad as a parent. He will always try. He will always be doing everything he can think of to keep his kids happy and healthy, even now that we're all very much adults. He will always believe that he can protect us from everything.
The people in the emergency room initially sent me home with no pain medication and said to sit tight for a few days and see if the pain subsided. I was really excited that they didn't give any pain meds to a person in extreme pain, but they were too busy to actually look for the kidney stone. That's right. The initial diagnosis was, "Meh. *shrug*" After a full day at my dad's house I wanted to go sleep in my own bed, and he begrudgingly agreed. The next morning I was in serious agony yet again, and called my dad to say it was time to head back to the hospital. He actually said to me (yelled at me) that if I had not left his house, I would have been fine. To his very soul, he thinks he has the power to protect all of his children from everything in the world. He will always try to do anything we need of him, and even if his methods include a very pain-filled one hour detour, he does it because he loves us. He tries with every fiber of his being, and I love that about him.

So I don't always get the teary hugs or hear the words "I love you" from my family, and it's always been that way. We do what works for us....

...actions speak louder.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hat Baby

As a guy, when you announce that you're going to be having a baby, the first thing that happens is that you are furiously pushed out of the way so people can find the mom-to-be. Then, once you navigate through all the initial shock questions like, "Oh my god, were you trying to get pregnant?" and, "Who else knows?! AM I THE FIRST?!" you tend to wind up here....

"Do you want a boy or a girl?"

Most people will answer that question the same way. Something about how it doesn't matter, you just pray for a happy, healthy baby. For me that wasn't enough, I needed a happy, healthy baby girl. Not to fulfill some idea of having "daddy's girl" and it wasn't because I think my wife is stunningly beautiful (scoring points right this second) and I know we'd have a gorgeous little girl together. Tobey McGuire tells us that any story worth telling is about a girl, which seems a bit sexist and is coming from a guy who sported a mullet when he was young. Regardless, this story is about a girl. The adorable little girl who holds the honor of being the one who warmed my icy heart to the idea of having kids.

Her name...get Maya. Isn't that sweet? Doesn't that already make you want to vomit out a glazed sugar cube? A beautiful little girl with very curly hair and the type of attitude that pushes you away while forcing you to be drawn right back in. When she was young was being watched during the day by her aunt, an awesome friend of mine who was a stay-at-home mom for a number of years and did an amazing favor for her brother by watching Maya. Even though it couldn't have been a very big deal. She's so cute I assume she was just placed into a flower basket and carted around while she made little giggles and smiled all the time.

So, because I'm an astonishingly good friend, I would stop by on my way home from work to visit with my friend and give her some company that could actually talk back. Visit after visit, Maya started to warm up to me. Till one day, when I was sitting on the floor, Maya carefully walked over to me and place a number of blankets on my lap. I sat in awe while she created a little nest out of them, tucking and folding to make a comfortable spot in the middle. When she was satisfied, and without a word, she stood up and turned her back to me and...PLOP! She went completely boneless and all her weight snuggled right in to her new home on my lap where she resumed watching TV. I can't say everyone would have been so struck by this moment as I was, but I remember just staring at my friend for several seconds thinking, "a little kid likes me!" It was an amazing feeling! I wanted to race home and put a baby in my wife's belly so my own little girl would sit on my lap.

As my visits continued, my bond with this little girl also grew, and I was reminded of a pretty interesting moment with her during lunch yesterday. Maya loved getting read to, and I was more than happy to go through books with her. She really enjoyed the standard cardboard ones with simple pictures and a word. My favorite picture/word combo was "HAT" that was illustrated with one of those really bad hats that you might see at the Kentucky Derby. No offense if that's your style ladies, I just can't pull them off. Chalk it up to jealousy. When I would say "hat" to her, I would say the "a" sound for way too long, and end with a very sharp "t" at the end. She seemed to find it funny, and before too long she was repeating it back to me. I was on top of the world! I taught a child something!

The word "hat" became a greeting of sorts between us, and she identified me with the word because I always wore a hat to work. I was told at one point that "hat" might have been her first word, which was extra cool for my ego as I walked around thinking I had reshaped the planets by teaching a cute little girl one word. Then this happened...

*phone ring*


"Ev! I have a funny story for you!" <----Maya's Aunt/Awesome Lady

"What's up?"

"Maya was eating dinner and said 'hat' for her parents finally!"

*laughing* "That's awesome! Someday children across the world will know this word because of my actions!"

"Yeah, but that's not the best part..."


"Well, she was eating cereal and to show what a hat was, she took the full bowl, milk and all, and just flipped it upside down while yelling, 'HAAAAT!"

"...well crap."

Maya's parents were not too upset, but they were less than thrilled with the mess involved. For the record, I did not teach her to do that.

Years later when William was finally born, I knew right away that if he was going to succeed in life, he was gonna need to know how to say "hat." I started his training right away and eventually he learned it quite well. Knowledge he shared at lunch today. As I sat with him at the table, while he ate/smeared peanut butter all over his plate, I waited for my queue to bring out the pretzels. Generally when he's done with his sandwich I get a very insistent, "Pretzels please!"

 Not today.

Today all I heard was, "Hat!" I looked over to see bits of sandwich and a plate covered in peanut butter, all placed nicely over William's head. He had an amazing smile on his face, so proud of his knowledge, and he waited very happily for me to praise his genius level brain. I thought back to Maya's story and did my best to explain to a toddler that even though he is both awesome and correct, I really didn't want him to ever do that again...ever. I cleaned him up and sent him off to play. I felt pretty content about it. I never got my girl (sorry more for us) but it's really okay! The boys give me all the love that made me want to have kids in the first place.

And clearly, boy or girl...there's gonna be food on their head.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Luck Photography

I'm so new to blogging that as I go through other sites, I'm amazed by things they have probably forgotten all about. The format for most blogs is mostly identical, but the look of my page is something I give a lot of thought. I want to come up with a more professional header which features a logo of some kind. An identifying mark that I can feel proud to have people associate me with. I guess you could say I'm trying to work out how to "brand" myself.

With all these changes on my mind, I found a nice string of compliments over the header picture of the boys. I actually picked it for a reason and even with the blur and simple lettering over it, I love this picture. So for all those with the question, "How did you manage to capture them in that almost perfect sort of way?" You'll be happy to know that the answer is dumb luck.

If you're reading this post, there's a pretty big chance you've never read this one which is the first post I ever made of this incarnation of my blog. Don't feel bad about it, this is not a guilt trip. I know a few people (in real life!) who've had personal and even professional success via blogging, and while I don't think I've ever pressured myself to instantly rise to their level, I continue to push out of my comfort zone and share my life with people. The first big step for me was telling people that I was writing, and that's what that first post was for me. Pressure to keep going. The first four times I started this process I never told a soul and that includes Melissa. Deleting everything became like pressing the reset button on my old Nintendo system, no save points allowed. So if sharing the existence of the blog with people was my "step one" then "step two" was the set up of my facebook page, and to me that was all about the profile and cover picture.

The profile picture idea came right away. Knowing that I had no idea for a logo or brand mark, I wanted it to be a picture of me. After all, regardless of the chance that someday I'll have a manufactured logo for people to identify me with, the identity is still me. So it's just me screaming in that "how long till naptime?" frustrated kind of way, and it's something I hoped parents would get a laugh from but also just "get."

The idea for the cover photo took some real thought. What I decided on was a nice, sweet picture of the boys. I liked the idea that they'd look so sweet and innocent and then there would be the mad man flipping out for seemingly no reason at all. That seems to be how most people get to see the boys. This small glance into our world in which two perfect angels are being watched over by the odd, kind of grimy looking guy who is talking to himself a bit too much.

So I took our camera out (yes, the one William has basically ruined) and put it on a tripod hoping to cut some of the built-in blur that has happened ever since William got a hold of it. Then I moved to the "easy" task of getting the boys to sit next to each other on the stairs for just long enough to take the picture. Over and over I failed. Carter would run after me as I would move back to the camera, and then cry when I put him back next to his brother. William was content to sit on the stairs but wanted space from Carter, so he would move down a row...and up...down...whatever it took to get away. I, of course, was being extremely helpful by saying things like, "William! Get back in frame!" or, "Carter, you really need to keep your chin a little higher!"

I'm a pretty legit photographer.

After a couple of minutes, we had all had enough. We dispersed and I popped over to the computer to get a quick look at everything. Honestly, at that point I just wanted something that even remotely resembled a photo of two cute kids. There were lots of Carter in mid-cry, tops of William's head, just the stairs, and the ever present blur from ill-repaired camera. At first glance, I wasn't very happy with any of the resulting photos. It was my urge to get the facebook page set up quickly that kept me in a "pick anything" mentality. So I took a deep breath and looked again, and there it was.

There's just something truthful about this, ya know? William had his face covered because at the time I was making silly noises in an effort to get them to smile a little. In fact, if you look past the golden blur of Carter, you'll see a little bit of a smirk on his face as he looks to his brother for confirmation that it's okay to laugh at daddy. To me, it has just enough insight that they were laughing at me and not with me. They probably knew I was being a bit stupid and rushed about everything, and that's probably not the best attitude to go in with when trying to get two little boys to pose nicely. It speaks to me about parenting, too. There's a great element of joy, but at the same time it's all out of focus. It may not be perfect, but it's real, and that's a pretty cool concept to me. Real and honest, it's how I want this blog to be and two big qualities I want as a parent. So I may be keeping this photo for a while.

Seriously though, I need to do something about replacing the lettering.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Reverse Poopology

Once of my all-time favorite comedy specials was by Dana Carvey entitled "Critics' Choice." In this particular special, he covered a vast array of topics, but I always laughed a lot when he was talking about his kids and "naked time." I know many parents go through that phase with their kids, so I've been patiently waiting for it to happen with the boys. So far the biggest issue we've had with this is that Carter loves to take off his shirts which sounds better than getting an eyeful of bing-bong all day. So far William hasn't shown any signs of wanting to be naked, but that doesn't mean we haven't had other issues with his clothes.

William has refused to nap lately. With all this extra time he has started to figure out the process of getting undressed. It's quite helpful in the right situation, but clearly the right situation is not while he's alone in his room. Unsupervised.Without going into too much detail, I've had a few horrifying moments of opening the door and almost gagging at the sight and smell inside. Finger painting is fun, isn't it folks? Children are beautiful, but they sure can create a lot of ugly.

We spent a long time talking about it and decided that while it was a lot of fun, we just didn't want to clean up the floor, walls, bed, floor, dresser, floor, door, child, and floor anymore. So we ventured into the googlewebs to see what other folks had thought up to prevent this type of nap time activity.

What we found initially was not very surprising. Things like trying to wait for him to go potty before we put him down for his nap or trying zippers versus snaps or vice-versa. Nothing. Then we moved on to duct tape, an option we first thought was a bit mean really. Duct taping the diaper seems to be a little bit of a hot-button topic with certain people. It's seems to fall into that category with those backpacks that have the leash attachment on the back, allowing your child to have a bit of freedom while maintaining control on their general location. Before kids, I would look at those people "walking their kids around like some kind of dog" and scoff at how mean that seemed. While I never did buy one of those contraptions, after we had the boys I can understand the frustration that leads to it, or perhaps the convenience of it. Let me be clear, we never used the duct tape to adhere the diaper to his skin in any way, it was just a strip over the diaper flaps so it would take some real effort to get the diaper off. It was an effort that William was willing to give, so with that failure we went to a full strip of duct tape over the flaps which overlapped in the back. Surely he wouldn't be able to undo that kind of adhesion. Yep, he sure could! Kids are pretty strong willed little buggers.

After further research into ideas, we found a gem of an idea. I really wish I could credit the source, but I don't know where it started. What I do know is that this was not my brilliant idea and the more it is shared, the more parents have a chance to save on carpet cleaning supplies.

So it's simple we take a set of pajamas that look like this:

And turn it into something that looks like this (note the lack of feet):

You take pajamas that have feet (some companies have non-feet versions but they seem pretty hard to find) and trim the foot area fabric off near the ankles. There's generally a seem right in that area to follow. At this point you load you child up into the pajamas backwards so that the zipper (or snaps, though we've not seen snap up pj's in William's size) runs up their back. It's perfect because it really doesn't add any sort of discomfort and there just isn't a way for the child to undo the zipper like that. We have had zero issues since doing it this way, and as William's potty training progresses, so will this idea. From time to time we have put him in normal pajamas and have not had a problem, but it's nice to have what, for us, has been a fail-safe method. Cutting off some fabric has been far less time consuming than cleaning a room that has been "repainted brown."

It's strange what little inventive things you have to do just to make it through the day with your kids without the threat of getting elbow deep into a poop covered floor.

Makes you wonder....

did MacGyver have kids?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Jurassic Children

Like most couples, Melissa and I went through that initial phase where we were just disgusting to watch. Everything was coated in lollipops and unicorns because we were so in love. We often said the same things out loud when responding to questions or we'd tell tandem stories because we knew every inch of the situation as a couple. It's the kind of adorable that settles down over the years, which is not to say we are no longer adorable as a couple, it's just that we shop for matching outfits less.

It's still very common for us to agree on everything from the little things like movies, restaurants, and which body wash we're gonna buy (that's right, we buy the epic sized body wash and share it to save money - adorable and smart) all the way to serious things like politics and religion. It was a very interesting night though, when we discovered we were very much like-minded on the thought that our children share a great deal with our extinct (allegedly) friends, the velociraptor.

Now everything I know about velociraptor, I learned from the movie "Jurassic Park." I have done no further research to see if what they said is factual, and even more so, I have not watched it again to see if I am even remembering things correctly.

That being said, here's what I mean.

1. They hunt in a group: I've said before that William and Carter are finally moving into a phase where they play together. While it really does warm my heart to watch them run around laughing with each other, it also means that destruction to the house is now, also, a group activity. They seek a common goal and use a scary level of teamwork to accomplish their goal. They've become shockingly efficient at it, too. Our family room, which contains most of their toys and is therefore where they spend the most time, can go from clean to disaster in the blink of and eye. If picking up was an equally easy process, I'd admire their level of cooperation. As it is...I do not.

2. It's not the one you see, it's the one you don't see: Because William is the older and more mischievous one, it's easy to get wrapped up in watching to make sure he doesn't get into something he shouldn't. Unfortunately for us, Carter seems to have learned this tendency and uses those moments of parental distraction to set up small but deadly foot traps for us. Anyone who has been a parent long enough to enter the "toys all over the floor" phase of their child's life has probably come face to face with the global epidemic - stepping on Lego pieces. I don't want the Lego company to go out of business, but something must be done about how much pain they inflict to the foot when accidentally stepping on one. Anyway, Carter has learned that it's easy to slip quietly around the room while William is running around like a madman, keeping our attention. So a wood block right in front of the chair, a pointy matchbox car by the stairs, a string of Legos by the doorway, or simply the entire contents of our junk drawer by the sink, are all things that mysteriously seem to happen while we're distracted with William. Clever girl, err boy.

3. Give them their "egg" and they'll let you live: I can't remember which sequel it was, but there was a situation where the group of scientists stole a raptor egg which of course sent the pack into a murderous rage. When they were finally cornered with no hope of escape, they simply gave back the egg and were left alone and unharmed. Just that easy. This applies to the boys throughout the day. Sometimes you need to let them bring a really big chewed-up book to the store or let them take a wooden mixing spoon to bed in order to get anything done. Sometimes to win, you must let your

4. Beware the sharp claws: Evidently, the fingernails and toenails of children grow at a rapid rate. For a long time with William, I would trim or file them almost every day because of some little sharp spot that would only make it's presence known by drawing blood on Melissa or I. Granted, that is much better than a raptor claw to the stomach, but still painful.

5.  Even when logic tells you otherwise, they'll be able to open doors: We've "child-proofed" the majority of the house, but for certain doors or drawers we haven't found it necessary enough to spend the extra money on more supplies. This includes the bathroom doors. So sometimes if I am not sure to lock the door, I get a little audience while I "send a fax to the waste management department." Thankfully I've started to use these moments as encouragement for William to get on the potty train. "If dad can poo, so can you!"

Keep an eye on your kids folks, you never know what they might be up to!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Back to Reality.

Someone recently told me that I don't "look like the camping type" and I'm not sure if that was a fat joke or if it was just a nod to my designer socks from Hanes. I actually love camping, but it was a different story when I was little because being in the woods in the pitch black is also fairly terrifying. I've progressed beyond that, mostly. I was also told a story when I was young about the son of my dad's co-worker who went camping and slept under a tree. That night a storm passed through and lightening struck the tree. The electrical current traveled through the roots and ended up passing right through the guy as he was sleeping, he later died. I recall at least one very specific camping trip afterwards where it began to rain and I demanded to sleep in our minivan. I also pleaded with my mom for her to sleep in there as well. I know she was quite fed up with me because it was the middle of the night and she was trying to sleep, but I was trying to keep her alive and I feel that's a good reason to wake someone up. Sorry mom!

Since moving to Idaho we, or more specifically I, have made time to camp a few times every year. We have some camping gear that is for the whole family. We have a larger tent and ways to cook and be comfortable outside. I also have some solo gear for those times when I'm alone. I have a dual sport motorcycle and wanted a way to camp off of the bike. Everything is small and light, but far less comfortable. With either set up I always have fun and besides, camping isn't really about comfort.

Then last weekend happened...

Every so often my friends and I will do a guys only camping trip. It's not one of those things where we are trying to rough it more than usual (which doesn't happen) or finally be in a place where it's acceptable to fart whenever you want (which does). As cheesy as it sounds, it's about connecting with the guys. It's about staying up late talking about everything without restrictions. Good old male bonding.

What made this most recent trip so different was for the first time ever, I slept in a camping trailer. It. Was. Amazing! It was a pop-up trailer with two queen sized beds, a stove, oven, sink, shower, and dining area. To eat at a table instead of trying to balance everything on my knees was amazing. To wake up in the morning without that familiar back pain from sleeping on the hard ground, because I spent my night on a soft mattress was unbelievable.

The ritual for most everyone on Sunday morning (leaving day) is to wake up early and begin the painful task of packing everything up for the drive home. There's normally a chill in the air and everyone is moving a little slow from lack of sleep or too much alcohol the night before. Everyone struggles to get things to fit in just the right way to be loaded up and more than one person is sure to have an item go missing. On the other side of camp, the pop-up trailer was clear, broken down and ready for travel before most people had finished their first cup of coffee. It was just that easy. I started to get this overwhelming feeling of sadness. Why? I knew the next time I would go camping, it would be back to my normal routine. Back to reality. On the next trip I'll spend my night tossing and turning, wondering what's outside my flimsy bit of cloth. I'll fight for space to put my bag or shoes or just myself, and from this day forward I'll remember that one beautiful night in the trailer where there was so much room on the bed it was almost lonely.

I'll admit, that kind of "camping" might upset some purists who feel that going into the wild with a small apartment defeats the purpose. They might be right, but damn, seeing how everyone looked and clearly felt the next morning, I feel okay about it.

On my way home I got to thinking about the camper (and how much I want one now) and realized that it's a good lesson to think about with the boys. I often post, and will continue to post, about the situations that cause me some headache, but really I love my boys and they are fantastic most of the time. In the moment though, it's hard to remember that they've been great all morning when they're both screaming as loud as they can for seemingly no reason after lunch. It's hard to remember the string of amazing days when you're in the middle of a really bad one. So from now on I'm gonna try to remember that night in the camper because no matter if the situation is really good or really bad, you're most likely gonna wake up that next morning and be thrown right back into a big steaming pile of normal, and that's really not such a bad thing.

Monday, July 16, 2012

How to Incorrectly Give Advice.

As a parent, giving advice to other parents is a tricky thing. Some people are extremely passionate about their own particular style of parenting and take strong issue with people who don't wholeheartedly agree with them. Parenting has become a cautious subject, much like politics or religion and while everyone has the right to discuss their point of view on those subjects, everyone else has an equal right to disagree. You really have to be careful when talking about parenting. Even more so now that there are more and more men taking a very visible presence in the upbringing of the children. I'm in no way implying that fathers of previous generations had no tangible role with their kids, what I'm saying is that lately dads are making a stand against the idea that mothers make all the choices for the children. Sadly there are still negative stereotypes flying around insisting that the majority of men have no clue how to change a diaper or simply take a child for a walk.

I guess then, it might be a little surprising that on occasion people will ask for my advice on parenting topics. I really do welcome questions from people looking for my honest answer and not just some form of permission to continue doing whatever they are already doing. See, I'm not one to interject my opinion without question, and yes, I can see the irony in the fact that I have a blog filled with unsolicited opinions. This is different though. Out in public I don't just flash my ID card and announce that I'm from the dad life blog - let me tell you the things I feel you are messing up with your kids. I really am happy to give advice when asked, but I also be sure to include the warning that kids are not a one way street. There's a lot of paths to choose from, and it is gonna stay that way for their whole life. I can only offer people my side of things.

So what really bothers me is when I say something which in turn becomes true for the person and they act surprised. As if, "How could he possibly have been right? He hasn't bought a new shirt in like five years, what the heck could he possibly know?"

Short example - I've told at least four couples that kids often force you to withdraw a little from the outside world, at least at the beginning. This can be as small as an almost pointlessly quick visit to a friend's house just to have that quick connection with another adult. On the other hand, I sometimes feel trapped in the house. I'm not someone who takes my appearance too seriously, but on those rare occasions that Melissa and I try to fancy up a bit, I have a few options in the closet. I went camping this past weekend and knowing that it was gonna be a bit cold at night I needed to get to my jackets. They are in the farthest area away from the closet door which means I walked past my small collection of "nicer" shirts. THEY ARE DUSTY! I haven't needed to upgrade beyond tee shirt in such a long time that my fancy button-up shirts are a worse option due to DUST! So again, telling someone that it gets lonely and I'm obviously around so please come over when you need some company, it'll be good for both of us; only to hear those people say to me, "Wow, I haven't seen anyone in so long. I wish there was someone a bit more on my schedule that I could hang out with during the day. Do you know what I mean guy with dust covered suit?" Well it's a little sad.

Not everything with children is absolute, but there are certainly things that tend to echo for everyone. When our due date for William (our first) was approaching people often said things to us that were completely untrue. I heard many tales that painted a picture of the first few months as living in some dark dungeon that smells of poop and vomit. The newborn will scream, peeling the paint from your walls and causing such vibrations that your hair simply falls from your body like the first snow in winter. This sound will become trapped in your ears, a prisoner for eternity as you struggle against the will of god to sleep. As the days turn into months, your sleepless body will become fat and weak till one morning you finally emerge from your home, squinting as sun flashes against your eyes. As you raise your arm in hopeful victory, a majestic hawk will welcome you back to the world by defecating on your shoe and hat....and you will be a parent. My approach to advice has been more realistic, I hope.

Let me put it this way - In this forum, people need to walk the line between truth and entertainment, and that's not to say that the truth is not entertaining at times. What I mean is when it comes to blogs, there's often necessary fluff to a post. This is not a twitter feed and 140 characters just will not cut it. I can't am not interested in putting up a bunch of posts with one or two sentences that read like, "What's with these kids pooping all the time, am I right people? Meh! #TheDadLife"

I try to do my best to keep things honest when answering a question or concern about parenting, but perhaps the simple and truthful method just takes people off-guard these days. So in your own lives you might try something different to get your ideas across. Internet meme? Rewrite the lyrics to a popular song and sing it to the person? Flash mob your answer somehow? Maybe something elaborate like having an office building spell out your answer one letter at a time using the lights in the windows to create each letter.

In my experience, the direct approach to advice seems to be largely ineffective.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Christmas Magic!

I know what you're thinking...

A Christmas story? In July? Little cliché isn't it, Ev?

Well I've got news for you: 1. Deal with it. 2. It's not what you think.


Melissa loves Christmas. A lot. It's adorable really, but even now with the 100+ degree heat giving me a clear sign that Christmas is nowhere to be seen, I find myself exhausted just thinking about how excited she is going to be starting the day after Thanksgiving. I like Christmas enough, I'm no Scrooge, but I can't keep up with her. Still, I've seen my share of "Christmas miracles" and this is the story of one of my all time favorites.

My dad and I formed a Christmas tradition for several years before we all left Florida. It was a pretty sweet tradition in which I would use my spiderman skills to get up on the roof to hang the Christmas lights and he would untangle the lights and yell at me if I was deviating from the correct light-hanging procedures. Seriously though, it worked out well because he was old enough to admit that he had no business running around on the roof of his house, and I was young enough to admit that running around a roof with a staple gun was pretty much awesome.

Melissa and I had our first Christmas as a couple in 2001, which was also her first time getting to enjoy the father and son light-hanging extravaganza. Things between Melissa and my dad were pretty tense early on, but it felt like there was hope for things to settle down.

Melissa, who made it very clear that she had no interest getting on the roof, set up a chair in the driveway so she could gaze at all my glorious splendor and get all giddy about the Christmas season. As my dad and I started to go through our normal routine of "discussion" on which direction the plugs should face and where the proper place was to "hide" the mountain of extension cord excess, Melissa simply sat sipping soda (thanks high school level alliteration skills).

Before long, I was up on the roof going through the fairly memorized routine and my dad, who had finished getting those last stubborn knots out of the lights, had taken a seat by Melissa to watch me and make sure I didn't mess anything up.

It's important to note that my dad had those icicle lights, the ones that hang down a little from the roof. Well, after a year in storage the lights had a tendency to not hang straight down and they also seemed to have grown into each other like some sort of electrical breed of ivy. So in addition to the hanging, I was also in charge of making sure the strands were clear of each other so that in time, gravity would do it's job and we'd have that great icy look at the top of his house. In Florida. A state known for it's rich history of icicles.

So as I'm inching my way across the roof, I get the familiar, "Hey" from my dad which was always followed by something I needed to fix. I was directed to two "icicles" that were wrapped up and I leaned off the side of the roof to fix it. As I got up to resume my fun-with-staple-guns session, Melissa chimed in with another set that needed straightened out. Then my dad spotted another error. Then Melissa. Till I was the human tennis ball in a match of "yell stuff at the guy on the roof!"

Let me be clear, I'm not upset by what transpired and this isn't one of my stories to get some pity (but if you want to...that's okay). What I saw when I looked down from the roof was, to me, the first real bonding my dad was having with the girl I knew I was going to marry someday. All the tension was giving way to laughter, and it was all because of me. I am some kind of amazing person. I think they have a good relationship now and I hope they feel that way as well, but for me that night was the start of it all. I guess sometimes to really win over a person, you just need to be willing to make fun of their son.

How'd you win over your in-laws?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Dad Life Goes Aquatic

The last big stop on our staycation was the Idaho Aquarium.

Before I get into this, I'd like to reiterate a point I made in my post talking about our trip to Zoo Boise. The Idaho Aquarium has been in the works for quite some time, and financially it's been nothing but an uphill battle. There have been countless fundraisers and pleas for donations to the public, and in all honesty I'm really happy for the people involved that this dream has become a reality. Sadly though, lots of people who insist that Boise is the type of city deserving of high quality, tourist-drawing destinations are the same people who won't do anything to help bring these places into the area. When Melissa and I decided we wanted kids we didn't just complain to the city, we took action. So we're faced with this issue. It's great that we have an aquarium, but you can't do much without proper support and funding. I feel bad to some extent, but my point is that I understand their situation and I did keep that in mind during our trip there.

So just like my Zoo Boise post, this story got interesting right as we entered the parking lot. I'm really going to try throughout this post to not be overly mean, but the aquarium is located right by our local mall, across the street from a Sheriff's office, and shares a strip mall with two bail bond places and a mattress place. Seriously. That was the location that people scouted and haggled over. Architects spent days drawing up detailed plans that had been discussed with the aquarium staff to ensure things were laid out in a specific way. Construction workers spent weeks building the inside, sculpting the fake rocks to make the fish feel comfortable when they were added, and adding giant filtration systems so that fish that don't even exist yet would someday be added and be able to survive in the water they use. I just don't understand what drew them to that spot. Maybe it was close to someone's house.

Next comes the price. I've said several times that for us, we live by the idea that ticket costs for our family only need to be justified by the ability to get our money's worth out of the visit. I hope that makes sense to other people. Fourteen dollars for an hour long trip to the zoo is not too bad. For the aquarium, prices were $9 each for Melissa and I, $6 for William (12 and under pricing) and Carter was free (2 and under pricing). $24, and ya know, that's really not expensive. The problem for me was what we got out of that $24, and it really didn't seem like much.

So, the inside. Right off that bat it was pretty clear that they were fishing (PUN!) for a certain audience. When you walk into this very warehouse style area you are instantly greeted by a large open-top tank filled with all the familiar fish from "Finding Nemo." Okay, ha ha, I see what you did there. It kept both boys in total amazement for what felt like a while, but we found it a challenge to keep up with William. The large tank was made as a feeding area. For an additional three dollars you could get food to feed certain fish, and the tank was very low to the ground to help with that. Low enough, you might say, to entice a very excited toddler to jump in and swim with his favorite fish in the world. So we found ourselves in deep water (PUN!) trying to battle between moving on to the other tanks and William so desperate to stay and jump in with "Nemo."

With such a grand entrance, it was unfortunate that most of the tanks within the aquarium walls are no bigger than anything you'd buy for your own home, and more than a few house the famous clown fish. There was another larger tank filled with small sharks and sting rays, another area that we found difficult to get William to leave. We found that even though it was not exactly crowded within the aquarium, the sharks and rays tank was the most interesting thing and was therefore quickly overwhelming for the boys. There was actually a really neat area for starfish made out of an old boat, but while Melissa and I thought it was interesting, the boys did not.

The two bigger tanks held the attention of the majority of the people, the majority of the time, and why shouldn't they? The alternatives just couldn't compete. There was also an octopus, a few reptiles, and a new puffin area, but none of them could pull people away from the two bigger tanks. There was also, according to their website, supposed to be a loggerhead turtle which was nowhere to be found. They are also trying to raise money for a 130,000 gallon tank to be filled with sharks and rays that people will swim with, as well as a seal at some point. Honestly, I can't imagine where that is going to fit because at a normal walking pace I could go from start to finish in two minutes. Considering the adult price is two dollars more than the zoo, that hardly seems worth it, someday perhaps. They don't seem to be using the right bait (PUN!) to get people in the door.

How about something positive...

A very unexpected, very cool thing happened as we were milling around the exit area trying to decide how many times we should go back to the beginning and start the process over to make the trip worth it. There is a sort of learning area at the end with lots of books and a desk are where kids can color in books that have fish that surprisingly were not clown fish. As I was making a mental note that the last fish tank held lion fish, meaning we start with "Finding Nemo" and end with "Deuce Bigalow" a staff member rounded up kids who might have been there as a group, and read them all one of the books. I really liked that moment.

So will we be going back? Again, like the zoo we don't really have options for this type of entertainment. When the boys are a bit older and understand they can't just jump in with the fish it will be easier, of course it will also be more expensive when we have to pay for Carter. As the aquarium continues to ask for money and have fundraisers it is possible that things make great forward strides. Till then, we watch "Finding Nemo" all the time and we can get our fill of clown fish that way.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Daddy Meck will make ya, Jump! Jump!

When I was young, I was a big fan of places like Chuck E. Cheese's and Showbiz Pizza. Of course it had nothing to do with the pizza served, but there's something amazing about walking into a place like that and trying to take in all the sights, sounds, colors, and smells. Heck, I still get a little twitch of excitement when I see a row of skee ball tracks. I like skee ball.

As I got a bit older, arcades became my biggest draw. Thinking back to those days I remember spending a great deal of time trying to persuade my mom to let me go to the arcades that inhabited every mall around. Were we really at the mall that often? We must have gone enough to make those memories pretty vivid.

By the time I hit middle school there was a whole new level of play place in the world. Huge warehouse sized buildings filled with "safe" playground style equipment that you could pay a small price and play on for the entire day. Great value for parents, but in the end it was just a large version of all the McDonald's or Burger King playgrounds. I went a few times to those places, and they were okay, but there's only so many times I'm willing to jump into a ball pit that smells like pee.

Kids have it easy today.

Almost two years ago, I started to hear a little buzz about a new breed of place for kids to play. A place where the always popular bounce houses were brought inside and combined with room-sized trampolines. I can't speak for every child in the world, but I know I had my share of dreams involving a mansion that had one room where the entire floor was a trampoline. Someday.

Locally, we have Jump Time Idaho, and I could not be more pleased with our visit.

The continuous challenge for us as parents with young children, is finding a place where we can let our guard down a little. This is where Jump Time Idaho delivers, and I mean that in no small way. Sometimes we have trouble taking the boys to places because we're worried about what they might break or if might be remotely child safe. So I ask you, what could be more safe than an place where falling is part of the fun?

We took the boys to the area called Jump Time Junior, a special section for children seven and under. At ages three and one, the grand total for full day (without leaving) access was three dollars. THREE! I can hardly comment on customer service as once inside there was little responsibility for them, however, at one point a large inflatable slide began to lose air and once notified the staff had everything fixed up in minutes. That works for me.

Within the Jump Time Junior section there was a very large trampoline area with room for plenty of kids, a very cool foam pit, several inflatable bounce houses and slides, as well as a few plastic play things which was a great way for the kids to break up the bouncing with something familiar. Pretty brilliant idea on their part.

It's hard to put into words the pure joy for both William and Carter as they ran through the different areas jumping instead of walking and bumping into countless other children, all with a smile. Yeah, yeah, so they still need work with their socialization, but Jump Time Idaho is the type of place where real progress can happen. It was truly amazing for Melissa and I to not need to hover over them, especially Carter. I really can't name another place (that isn't our house) where I've ever felt so comfortable keeping my distance from Carter, it's a pretty special feeling. Well worth three dollars.

I would like to mention one last thing, and you're going to want to lean in close for isn't just for kids. I don't side-step the facts: I'm really out of shape, but seriously, for eight to nine dollars an hour (depends on the day) I would love to spend some time perfecting a sweet backflip. My plan is to wink in mid-air at the ladies like Lightening McQueen.

From their website, "Jump Time promotes a safe and fun environment while providing great exercise for the whole family" and I couldn't say it better. So thank you Jump Time Idaho, for being exactly that.

Look for indoor trampoline parks near you! I even found this place which has locations all across the country. Indoor activities have certainly changed since I was young, but I'll gladly take the foam pit over the foam-flavored pizza.

Monday, July 9, 2012

How Long Can You Look at Something Cute?

I have volunteered my services in the near future to watching the newborn of a pair of friends for around three months. So Melissa came up with the great idea to have a little staycation with the four of us before things got hectic with our schedules. I loved the idea and it has certainly given me a great number of things to write about so you can expect several upcoming posts that are Idaho-specific, but hold some universal ideas. I hope you enjoy!

One of the best things I have ever done in life is nothing. I mean that, I really do. To this day, Melissa and I will talk about the time we took a full week off from our jobs and barely left the house. It was not a sexy thing, I can assure you. We ordered in lots of food, we barely wore anything outside the realm of pajamas, and our activities were almost exclusive to TV and computer games. Part of what I loved about that week was how little effort we put into any of it. It seems like most vacations are so stressful. You worry about getting things in your life to a point where you can leave for however long. Then, you worry about making sure you bring everything you need. Then, you worry about filling your days with new and exciting things that you wouldn't normally experience. Then, you worry about making sure everything you've brought is making the return trip home. Finally, you worry about getting everything back to normal. Vacations can be a real nightmare. That's why I love staycations, and Melissa and I were having those before it was even a word.

So as I mentioned there is probably going to be a write-up for each of the three major activities we took part in during our week, and I should add that a staycation with two little ones is a lot different than the ones with just the two of us. Kids really do change everything, including your definition of "relaxing." This, the first in the series of three stops is for Zoo Boise.

You can check out their website at .

So let's get the little stuff out of the way. A zoo can be a great day trip destination for the family. Zoo Boise is very conveniently located just inside the downtown limits, which is a quick and easy 20 minute drive from our house. The price was fantastic at $7/adult and both the boys (3 and under price range) were free. So at $14 to go in, that seemed more than fair. The animals were as fun to look at as you could expect and the zoo itself was clean and easy to navigate. There's even a food place with very reasonable prices, but I have never tried the food and can't speak to the taste or quality of any of it.

That being said...

Every time I go to our zoo, I leave in a pretty sad state. This most recent trip, like all the others, gave the wink of what was to come from the moment we drove into the parking lot. Zoo Boise is located at the most eastern side of a park. It's one of those very simple, but very beautiful parks that is basically a well maintained lot of grass and shade trees. I love it, and can't wait for the boys to be old enough to sit and have a picnic lunch there without running away every possible moment. What does that have to do with the zoo? Parking! Here's the kicker, I don't even mean that it creates a parking problem, but the city has placed two-hour parking limit signs for almost every spot near the zoo. Really though, that's only an issue if you're going to be at the zoo for more than two hours (more on that in a moment), and to be honest, I'm not sure how strictly that policy is enforced.

For our visit, we wanted to be there when the gates opened. Our plan was to go from open (9am) till about noon at which point we could leave and grab lunch at one of our favorite little spots in the downtown area. We thought it was a pretty solid plan. We were a little late (surprise) and ended up getting inside closer to 9:15. Here's where I started to get a little...cranky. As we entered (a mere 15 minutes after they opened) we noticed a great deal of people inside the various animal exhibits cleaning things up. So strolling down an uncrowded zoo, we found that it was pretty easy to move from sight to sight since there were no actual animals to look at. Lucky for us, moving along so quickly allowed us to catch up to the guy using a blower to get dirt off the walkway. I've mentioned before that I'm from Florida - Land of Theme Parks. I don't understand why basic clean up couldn't be done prior to the opening time. I feel like we interrupted the workers, similar to when I've just mopped and William must run across the floor at that moment. It was a big turn-off, and seriously, why open the park at a time that you've specifically put all the animals out of sight? I can look at empty cages at Petsmart, even online!

We brought our double stroller to avoid the rental prices, which led to yet another issue. Every theme/amusement/aquatic/zoo park I've ever been to was more or less a circle. As I said, it was easy to get around the zoo without the use of the map (possibly due to the small overall size), but I like to think of Zoo Boise as more of an "E" that has been laid down flat. As you enter, you have three choices of direction but for anyone with wheels, they all dead end somewhere. It stopped bothering us at some point and just became laughable. We'd walk a little ways and get cut off by a locked gate or stairs and be forced to turn around. Easy to navigate, but equally as annoying.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment was the zoo itself, and this sadly gets echoed for a number activities locally. Here in Idaho, the grand scale just isn't that grand. I still love when local people complain about "traffic." It's pretty cute. The big announcements just aren't that big, and it's due in no small part to the small number of people really willing to help fund these types of projects. I love the parks systems here, but some are very underwhelming when you compare them to others that are a five minute drive away. Likewise, the zoo has a great selection of animals, but they feel presented in a way that I find myself in a constant state of "ready for the next one." I didn't feel drawn in by the exhibits and many have such a small viewing area that as a family of four with a big double stroller, you are either blocked from any sort of view or boxed in by the mass of people trying to find a way to look around you. Not to mention that since the viewing areas are so small, you pretty much get all the view you ever will, in about 5 seconds. It becomes as interesting as going online to look at photos of the animals. Cute yes, but how long can you look at something cute? Going very slowly through everything, stopping at various exhibits multiple times and an extra special trip back through everything to actually see the animals once the cleaning crews were done, we were still done in around an hour. We used the second hour of our parking time to let William run around in the park.

In summation, we had a good time but it was one of those moments where you must ask yourself, "how long do I need to be here to get my money's worth?" Perhaps the two-hour parking is enough for anyone. I just couldn't help but leave with a little pit in my stomach thinking it could have been better. It's unfair to expect a huge, expensive beast of a zoo in this area but I can't help but wonder if it's out of the question to want a little more. Yes, we had a nice time, but I've been to hockey games where I had a nice time...and my team lost.  Fun and disappointing don't always travel separately.

I'll add: We'll go back. Of course we will, what are the zoo options around here? The price is still good enough to not feel bad about an hour visit. Also, like any zoo, they do great things for conservation and animals in general. I'm happy to support good programs, but it will take some amazing change before I feel real desire to go back.

It doesn't have to be a zoo, but it's always a good idea to send money to the places you really want to do well. Our little staycation has certainly shown me that Boise has a lot to offer, but without help from donations it's never going to be a draw that makes people want to visit this amazing place.