Thursday, December 30, 2010

We're a movin' on up, to the sky, to that deluxe apartment in the sky (imagine singing here)!

This month, we moved. Why would you possibly move in the middle of the holiday season, you ask? Well, we looked at the calendar and said, “Hmmm, the second week of December, situated right between Thanksgiving and Christmas seems a bit slow, how about we add a little drama?” Seriously though, all I can tell you is that we found our dream home and we simply couldn’t pass up this opportunity. Unfortunately, this created a challenging dilemma for me, the man of the house.

You see, I, like most men, subscribe to a unique style of social etiquette. In fact, “unique” is the perfect way to describe it. Ann Landers would have nothing to offer me in this area as it has nothing to do with the placement of silverware or the philosophy or timing of an RSVP. Rather, it has more to do with what we (and by “we” I mean those of the male persuasion) call the “Guy Code”.

The “Guy Code” is a set of rules that most men apply to the way they operate in their daily lives. A classic example is the “one seat” rule at the movies. I recently took my father-in-law and brother-in-law to see the remake of “True Grit”, a legendary guy movie. I sat down in one seat and my brother-in-law sat next to me . . . with one seat between us, thus, the “one seat” rule.

Another recent example of a test of my commitment to the “Guy Code” is when I asked a bunch of my friends to assist me in moving. Now, any man will tell you that this will test of any guy friendship for a couple of reasons; First, I broke the number one rule of the “Guy Code” – Never ask for help. Unfortunately, my family has a lot of stuff, including large appliances that I simply could not move myself, so I was pushed into a position where I had no choice. Second, I put myself in debt to a bunch of my guy friends, all of whom will need a favor at some point in the near future. This all but guarantees that in 2011 I will be assisting in moves, loaning my vehicle out, and dog sitting. What is worse is that because I am indebted to my friends, I can’t make up an excuse as to why I can’t help.

The stress of a move; putting everything you own into boxes, renting a truck, breaking the “Guy Code” and becoming indebted to your friends, loading and unloading, and then taking everything you own back out of boxes in a short period of time, experiencing buyer’s remorse about leaving a home you’ve put 6 years of hard work and sweat into, and doing it all during the holiday season, can take its toll. So, I go back to the original question, “Why move to a new home during this time of the year?” To answer that, I’ll explain by telling a story. Shortly after moving into our new home, we took our children out to feed the horses in the neighbors pasture and put out corn for the deer and my son simply looked at us with eyes wide and a huge smile on his face and asked, “Am I dreaming?” I guess that sums it all up. Welcome home Ryerson family, welcome home.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Christmas list of a child

Once again, it is that special time of year. It is particularly exciting in the Ryerson household because our children are now both of the age of understanding the spirit of Christmas. When I say they understand, they know what Christmas truly means – the birth of Jesus and the spirit of giving. But like most kids, they also know it means gifts from Santa. In fact, for the first time, my son has prepared a “list” for Santa. He values that list as much as anything he owns and he is constantly revising it (when I say “revising”, I mean adding to it).

Just before Thanksgiving (a little premature to me, no thanks to Wal-Mart’s Christmas displays), he asked for a piece of paper and pen and started the list in detail. What is most entertaining about this effort is that he does not yet know how to write, so the “list” was a well organized, bulleted list of scribbles. Eventually, my wife simply suggested he circle the items he most wanted in the sales catalogs that were coming in the mail daily (thanks to you too, Target, Sears, and Toys-R-Us). You probably already know where this is going . . . yes, he circled everything in the catalog (including wrapping paper, which was a bit strange, but I guess he wanted his gifts to look nice too).

Because he values his list so highly, he ultimately assumes everyone else does as well. An example of this belief is when he recently got in trouble at preschool. When asked about the incident by my wife on the way home in the car, he compounded the situation by lying about it (a fatal flaw we all made as kids until we realized, mommy’s know EVERYTHING). My wife confronted him on the lie and he immediately apologized. Knowing that he needed to do more to make it up to his mommy, he said, “Mommy, what do you want for Christmas?”

“I don’t know,” she responded.

“Well, mommy, I’m going to get you something from your list.” Problem solved, right? Just get something off of mommy’s list and the world is right. I must admit, I’ve tried that as a solution to some of my own trouble in the past. He’ll soon learn that doesn’t fix everything, but in his case, he does have the cute factor over me.

“I’m going to make you a birdhouse . . . I’m going to make you four birdhouses!” If one is good, four must be great, right? My wife responded by laughing and saying she would love that as a gift and smiled the rest of the drive home. That cute factor is very effective.

Tonight, after driving around the community and looking at Christmas lights, or “Mismer wights” as my daughter calls them (talking about cute factor, we actually don’t correct her from saying it incorrectly because it is so adorable), we got home and prepared for bed. My son crawled on the bed next to me and whispered, “Daddy, don’t forget, we need to build mommy a birdhouse for Christmas.” When did this become “we”? I didn’t lie about getting in trouble at pre-school!

Nonetheless, hearing him whisper in my ear his desire to “give” rather than to “receive” (even if it was originally inspired by making up for a lie), let me know we are doing something right. This week, we’ll be going to the hardware store to buy supplies to build mommy a birdhouse or maybe four. . . and we know she’ll love it, even if it wasn’t on her “list”.

It's a Wonderful Life

Recently, we made our annual pilgrimage to visit Santa. Now, I don’t want to brag, but Santa is a personal friend of mine and he always gives my children a little extra time. Unfortunately, in the past, the visit to my friend Santa was an interesting mix of joy and terror. One of my two children has always been at the point of amazement and wonder that all children feel at Santa, but they were always at that stage of fear of getting to close to the man and the legend, the actual Santa Claus.

We have many family photos from previous years where one or both of the children are in an early stage of terror only seconds after sitting down in Santa’s lap. I’ve often wondered about this phenomenon, the screaming child on Santa’s lap. The best I can figure, it is like meeting the most mythical figure in your life, in person, for the first time. As an adult, we’d probably feel intimidated and stand in awe. As a child, we screamed and cried, this why most all of us have an annual Christmas photo of our screaming children in Santa’s lap.

This year, my son and daughter were both excited about seeing Santa in person with the ability to give the full accounting of their entire list (for more about the infamous “list”, see last week’s column). I had to explain to my son that he was not going to be able to tell Santa everything on his list; he needed to prioritize and tell Santa the most important thing on his list. Santa knows everything on the list anyways, right?

So, the moment arrived when the kids had their opportunity to tell Santa exactly what they wanted. My son did not delay and he quickly found his position; I could tell he knew the weight of this moment. He understood that this moment would impact that glorious morning of tearing wrapping paper off of gifts. After some polite conversation, the question finally arrived, “Young man, what would you like for Christmas?”

Without hesitation, my son looked Santa dead in the eye and with a focused and determined voice, he responded, “I want a hot tub with jets.”

In unison, my wife, Santa and I asked, “What?!?!” I wasn’t even sure where he would get an idea when my wife burst into laughter. She had recently given him and my daughter a bath in our tub, which is equipped with underwater jets. They poured bubble bath in the tub and the jets expanded the bubbles literally over the top of the tub, with both children giggling uncontrollably. He remembered that moment and decided that he wanted that tub in our new house (we recently moved to a new home . . . one without a tub with underwater jets), not because it was a toy, but because it created a joyous memory.

On a recent drive, after a long period of quiet, my son simply said, “Charlie Brown is a blockhead, isn’t he? But he sure picked out a nice Christmas tree.” That is when it hit me; our lives aren’t about the perfect gift, they are about the perfect moments of uncontrollable laughter. Those are the moments we need to cherish and live for. This is wishing you all many “moments” of laughter this Christmas season.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

"i" before "e" except after "c", is not a principle I abide.

I am a miserable speller. I simply cannot spell (over the course of reading this column, you could probably make a strong argument for my poor grammar as well, but that is NOT the focus of this article so please reserve your judgment). My fourth grade teacher, Mr. Ford, would be very disappointed to read this revelation, but I would also guess, he would not be surprised. You see, I was never a good speller. As far as my writing is concerned, one of the greatest inventions of all time is spell check. In fact, spell check has been made spelling so friendly that on my computer it not only highlights words that are misspelled, it also auto-corrects commonly misspelled words (a great example is that I just misspelled, misspelled and without deleting a letter, the computer fixed it for me – ignore the irony).

However, I just realized the lesson Mr. Ford attempted to teach me in fourth grade (it only took me 30 years, so what?), which is – sooner or later you need to know how to spell to avoid looking like a fool. To give you a tangible example from my life, I was recently writing a check for a bill and the amount was $14.71. Now I put that in numeric form in an effort to make a point (or at least give myself a weak excuse for my poor spelling ability), when writing that out on the check do you spell that fourteen or forteen? I know the answer because my spell check is underlining forteen, but if that is not correct, how do you spell 40? You probably know that you spell 40 as forty, but can you now understand my confusion; fourteen, but forty? Where did the “u” go?

To drive the point even further, I recently started a practice in my life that I call “Encouragement Efforts”. It was inspired by a good friend, but all this means is that I write a daily letter to someone I read or hear about that did something that deserves celebration or a challenge that needs encouragement. To make these letters more sincere, I typically hand write them. You see where I am going, don’t you? To my dismay, there is no spell check when you hand write a letter. I realized the “’i’ before ‘e’, except after ‘c’” is a rule I have trouble applying. So much so that I actually started avoiding the use of words like “receive” and “field” because I could not spell them correctly. How ridiculous is that?

What makes it worse is that the auto-correct feature on my computer I described earlier actually trains me to spell words incorrectly. What do I mean by that you ask? Well, out of habit, I spell “receive” as “recieve” as it doesn’t matter how I spell it on my computer because my software will simply auto-correct (in fact, I had to actually turn my auto-correct “off” for the sake of misspelling this word in this column). Therefore, I have trained my mind that spelling it, “recieve,” is actually correct. Can I blame technology? Can I simply say that technology, while is certainly has contributed to great advances in our society, has also served to make me dumber? I would like to abdicate responsibility and say, “Yes it does!”

So how does a guy who cannot spell get a column in the local newspaper? One word; spellcheck . . . or is that supposed to be two words . . . I don’t know. Mr. Ford, I apologize for not paying closer attention, now I understand.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here!

My wife’s family has an entertaining tradition every year on the Thanksgiving weekend. No, shopping at 4:00 a.m. is not the tradition I am speaking of (although I must admit, I did participate in the madness in an effort to collect stories for this column and was overwhelmed with good material, but I digress). The family has a tradition of holding a Christmas gag gift party on the Friday evening following Thanksgiving. This party has all the makings of a wonderful “kick-off” to the Christmas season including the decoration of the Christmas tree, Christmas music, games, and the exchanging of gifts (the twist to the gift exchange is that is cannot be store bought, rather, it must be a “regift”, which often leads to great hilarity).

However, the true highlight of the evening is the fellowship with friends and family that we only get to see a few times a year. The air is filled with laughter and games and kids run through the house playing tag in a crowded living room. This particular night started off with a “bang” as the boys playing ball in the hallway knocked a picture off the wall breaking the glass in the frame. The crash brought a momentary silence to the room as only the sound of something breaking can do. My son, in classic “good boy” fashion, broke the silence with a loud yell, “I didn’t do it!” The room broke out into loud laughter. We didn’t realize he was only warming up the crowd for a later performance.

As the evening progressed through game playing and gift exchange (the most sought after gift ultimately was a mailbox . . . explains the humor of this holiday tradition), the children played heartily until they wore themselves out. Finally, my son was ready for bed. Unfortunately for him, although everyone was slowly getting ready to leave, the house was still full of family. Even though he was having fun with cousins, aunts, and uncles, his drowsiness was getting the better of him. Eventually, my four year old son had reached the end of his patience and he approached multiple family members and simply said, “It’s time for you to go. Its dark outside and its bedtime. The party is over.” Laughter once again erupted.

As we were all sharing the story and laughing about my son’s desire to clear the family out, we prompted him to apologize for being a little rude; funny, yes, but rude. So, he says, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know your car was blocked.” (Cue laughter.) Shortly after, I noticed he was putting on his jacket. I followed him outside only to watch him directing traffic in the driveway and motivating people to head home. “Move your car, it’s time to go home!” he yelled. Once I got him back in the house and everyone was gone or leaving, he asked to turn on the television. That is when it hit his grandfather (or ‘papa’ as he lovingly refers to him) why there was an urgency in our son clearing out the party. Earlier in the evening he had asked ‘Papa’ if he could watch television and his papa said, “Not until everyone is gone.” To close the fun evening, we all burst into laughter one last time. The morale of the story, even fun visitors can stay too long, especially if you are four years old.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The flower girl and the ring "bear", Part II

My column last week highlighted a family wedding we had over the weekend and the frightening invitation for our children to participate in this special event. You may be wondering, why would I use the term “frightening” in relation to my children being asked to be a part of this special day? Well, my children are 4 and 2 years old . . . enough said? My son was serving as the ring bearer (or ring “bear” as he preferred it) and my daughter was the flower girl (as we travelled to the wedding, she had only been willing to try the dress on one time; all other efforts resulted in a crying fit . . . not a good sign).

The day of the wedding started well; in fact, my son loved the suit he would wear (which he kept referring to as his “costume”) during the wedding. However, on the drive to the church, my daughter started yawning. Now let me pause here to explain something that many of you parents already know. A yawn to a 2 year old should be considered in the same manner as a meteorologist views dark black clouds on the horizon, particularly on a day where a special event is planned. But, the wedding was too close and it was too late for a nap, so we pressed forward.

When the moment arrived, the wedding party was dressed and lined up (including both the kids) at the end of the aisle. I had positioned myself as the “receiver” toward the front of the church to collect the kids once they completed the walk. That is when I noticed my wife (who was a bridesmaid) walking down the aisle, carrying our daughter (the dark clouds were starting to thunder). While this was not the plan, it seemed like it still might work.

My son, despite being distracted for a moment by me taking pictures, was in perfect form. They both successfully completed their walks and just before the bride started her procession down the aisle and as I collected the children from the front of the church is when the dark clouds finally erupted with thunder, lightening, and torrential rain in the form of a 2 year old letting loose a blood curling scream. Now if you’ve never heard that type of scream in a church, it really has an incredible carrying capacity as the high ceilings and tile floors are very conducive to carrying sound. Too bad that is NOT what we were looking for.

I immediately ushered the children out a side door in an effort to avoid stealing attention from the beautiful bride. Once outside, I thought my daughter would calm down, however, she turned it up a notch, reaching an octave that I thought only dogs could hear, but that was alright, because our duties were finished and for the most part (minus one, age appropriate scream), were successfully completed.

At the end of the night, as I was putting the kids to bed, my son turned to me and said, “I was the best ring ‘bear’, wasn’t I daddy?” And with joy in my heart and a smile on my face, I confirmed that he was, both the kids were incredible. The night was a success for the entire family, bride and groom, as well as, flower girl and ring “bear”.

What’s the next formal family adventure you ask? Well, my other brother-in-law is getting married in June and the kids will be in the same familiar roles - ring “bear” and flower girl, so stay tuned (do I hear thunder on the horizon?)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The girl in the flowers and the boy in the bear suit.

A momentous family celebration is fast approaching our tribe. We have a wedding in the family. As an additional honor, my wife and children have all been asked to serve in the wedding ceremony in some capacity. This is a wonderful time and we were thrilled to play any small part of this couple’s special day. However, the excitement for me quickly wore off. You see, we’ve been down this road before and it most closely resembled a three stooges comedy.

Allow me to rewind the tape a few years, when my son was only 18 months old. He was asked to serve in one of our closest friends wedding as the ring bearer. That time too, we were excited and honored that our son was asked to be a part of the special day, but we quickly learned that giving instructions to a one year old is a little like giving instructions to a cat. They may listen closely and do exactly as you ask. Then again, they may not (in fact, the latter is probably more likely).

The truth is, you don’t ask an 18 month old to serve in your wedding because of their reliability; you ask because they are cute and potentially entertaining. Well, our son was both. He started down the aisle and immediately got distracted by someone he knew in the audience and ambled in that direction. At some point, he realized that a huge crowd of people were staring at him from all sides – he was surrounded! He immediately looked for an escape route and found Daddy in the back and ran back to me. Mission aborted.

Well, now he has an opportunity to redeem himself. We didn’t get off to a good start when he recently saw what he was going to wear. Now the suit was beautiful, so when my wife asked him what was wrong, he said, “It doesn’t look like a bear.” Clearly we had not enunciated our words clearly and he had misunderstood the term ring bear-er for ‘ring bear’. Apparently, he thought he was going to be delivering the ring to the alter in a bear costume. Which, now that I consider it, would have been pretty cute AND entertaining, but may not have tied into the wedding theme very well.

My daughter, who is serving as the flower girl, unfortunately had an even worse response to her dress. When she first saw her dress, she had a serious grimace on her face and yelled, “I no want it!” If you’ve ever tried to make a 2 year old wear something they don’t want to wear, you understand our concern. We assume, like my son, she thought she would be able to wear or play in flowers (playing in the flowers is still a strong possibility). After several introductions to the dress, she finally gave it a hug one night before going to bed. We aren’t totally sure what that means, but we are hoping it’s a good sign.

What should make this event even more interesting is that my wife is also in the wedding. Why is this interesting? Well, that means Daddy has to direct, coordinate, adjust, motivate, and guide two young children. And if I have any parenting weaknesses, they are; directing, coordinating, adjusting, motivating, and guiding. So, this should be really interesting. If nothing else, it should be good for at least another blog, right?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Whose says you can't go home again?

Recently, I took my wife and children to visit my family in Ohio. This is always quite the family adventure as you can imagine spending nearly eight hours in a vehicle with a two year old and a four year old continuously asking, “Are we there yet?” Fortunately, times have changed since my childhood. I remember sitting in the back seat of a van with no air conditioning with my brother and nothing to do other than counting license plates from different states and play with our Star Wars figures. Too often, during a long trip, my brother would fall asleep, lean over and accidentally touch me in some manner, leaving me with only one alternative . . . to punch him in the arm as hard as I possibly could manage. This often led to yelling from the front seat with the clear threat, “Don’t make me pull this car over!” Today, my children have toys like hand-held DVD players and video games, interactive toys, and hard top coloring boards.

During our visit, we experienced the ordinary adventures any sleepover with family would include; boys sleeping in the basement, watching movies and staying up late, going to Bounce World which is filled with bouncy inflatable’s for the children (and maybe the adults) to play in, and the always entertaining trip to my home town.

To return to your home town after many years usually raises a number of emotions. Memories come flooding back as you see familiar places and people and you are always surprised at how different things look and simultaneously, how they haven’t changed at all.

Seeing your family after an extended absence is always an exciting event, but this visit was even more exciting. You see, my brother and I were helping my mother winterize her home and in the process, cleaning out some items that needed to be taken to dump. In the midst of the process, we found some ancient, buried treasures in the attic. A couple of old football helmets we used when we played tackle football in the yard (I can’t believe we didn’t suffer any permanent brain damage . . . although my wife may feel that this would explain a lot) were buried in an old bucket, along with dozens of hard-hat baseball helmets you could win at the local amusement park speed pitch. But the real treasure laid a little deeper in the bucket – a Darth Vader carry case filled with the old Star Wars action figures we played with in that van on the long road trips decades ago. They were in almost the same condition as when we originally put them in that case more than 25 years ago; it was like a time capsule. Only the laser guns and light sabers were missing (which I immediately, as if suddenly returning to my childhood, blamed on my brother).

We took this case to our sons (who are both 4 years old) and opened the treasure as if it was a chest of gold coins. To my surprise, the boys tore into them like they were winning lottery tickets; they loved the playing with Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker almost as much as we did when we first brought them home from the department store.

This trip home was tremendously successful. I got to see my childhood home, visit with family, and take a stroll down memory lane. Even better, I had the experience of watching my son’s face as he excitedly played with my childhood toys and gave them a second life . . . who said you can’t go home again?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Who says customer service is dead?

Many who know me have commented on my impeccable sense of style, particularly my fashionable haircuts (insert sarcastic tone here). Now I know you are asking yourself, where does someone like that go to get his beautiful locks cut? Well, believe it or not, I typically go to whatever local discount chop shop that has the shortest line. For my basic needs, which includes getting out the clippers and going to town, I don’t need a beauty shop or a stylist, a simple barber will do.

So, on a recent trip to visit family in Mississippi (you didn't think I'd criticize a local business did you?), I went to visit just such a haircut establishment. I went to the desk, gave my name and was assigned to Betty's chair for my haircut. Betty was a middle aged woman who immediately explained to me why she was late to work that day. She took full responsibility by explaining that she had locked herself out of her house and had to climb in a window. I'm still unclear why that made her late for work, but when someone has scissors near your scalp, you don't ask a lot of questions.

She immediately began formulating a number of explanations (lies) she would give her supervisor that night to avoid getting in trouble. After coming up with a number of scenarios (one of which included running down an elderly woman in the Wal-Mart parking lot), she settled on a story where she hit a deer on a back road near her home (how she would explain the lack of damage to her vehicle was a detail she clearly had not considered). Once she had settled on that . . . fabrication, she asked me my opinion.

Now normally my advice to anyone in a similar situation would be to take responsibility as truth is the best policy, however, at this point she was trimming my sideburns and the fear of having a mohawk overruled my interest in giving good advice and I confirmed that the dead deer scenario really seemed like a great plan (I assume she is no longer employed there).

Now I've got to tell you, cutting my hair is easy, normally it takes between 4 and 10 minutes. Unfortunately, on this occasion, my haircut along with the development of a cover story for being late, took significantly longer. In fact, at the 30 minute mark, we were only about half way through.

However, I remained optimistic, we had settled on a story and she seemed to feel confident she would be excused, so I thought we'd zip through the last few minutes. Unfortunately, that was simply not the case. My haircut experience was quickly sliding into what any law enforcement professional would classify as a hostage situation. I mean seriously, I was in a chair with a tarp tightly wrapped around my neck and sharp blades circling my head and neck, I was ready to call SWAT.

Fortunately, after another 20 minutes in the chair (my legs had gone numb at this point), we had mutually agreed that she should not marry her boyfriend as he was clearly not putting her needs before his own, and she released me. After refusing an offer to wash my hair (how long would that have taken?), I quickly walked to the counter and paid for my . . . experience. I left my customary tip and she thanked me and closed by saying, "Hey, next time you need a haircut, call first to make sure I'm here. This was very helpful." How was I supposed to respond, “Glad I could help?” Despite all of that and as much as I hate to say it, it was a great haircut. So, who says customer service is dead?

When I returned home, my wife asked what had happened to me and why I was gone so long.  I simply said, "I hit a deer on a back road . . . or was it an elderly woman . . . I can't remember."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Who is the owner and who is the pet?

My dog is a sorry excuse for a dog. If there were a licensing agency for dogs to call themselves dogs, his would be revoked. However, the truth is, we are sorry excuses for owners. We baby and coddle our dog to the point that we have effectively convinced him he is not a dog. So ultimately, we are to blame. We have trained our dog to not be a dog.

To give you some background I bought this dog shortly after my wife and I got engaged. We didn’t want to jump into naming him until we got to know his personality, how he looked and how he acted so that we could find a name that best suited him. Ultimately, we landed on the name “Tucker”.

Since we did not have children at that point in our relationship, Tucker was that child. We took him everywhere, we talked to him, and he slept in the bed with us. Then one day, our son arrived. This meant that Tucker was going to be removed as our only child. In fact, not only did he lose the status of “only child”, but it quickly became apparent to us that in fact, he was not a child at all, but a family pet. We quickly adjusted our lives to treat our son like a child and Tucker like the family dog. Unfortunately, Tucker did not receive that memo. Looking back on the situation, I remember having that conversation with Tucker, but I noticed a far-away gaze in his eyes, almost as if he was ignoring me. Now, four years later, I recognize that he wasn’t ignoring me, he heard me loud and clear, he was simply saying, without words, “Thanks, but no.”

The good news is that Tucker didn’t decide to punish our children for this sudden slide down the family hierarchy. He had a more effective and well-thought out strategy, he became more needy. It wasn’t long after this that Tucker developed allergies. “A dog with allergies?” you may be asking yourself. Well, I too was suspicious, so I asked our vet if it was possible. Yes, says our vet, it’s actually more common than you might think. In the old days, they’d laugh at such silly nonsense. But what do we do? I give Tucker allergy medicine twice a day. I’d say he is pathetic, but I think I am the pathetic one. I don’t give my children medicine twice a day.

Tucker has employed other, more devious and distracting methods of getting our attention. Like recently, he started getting cold at night. “A dog getting cold at night?” you might be asking yourself. Well, I asked myself the same thing, but the vet once again assured me that this too is not that uncommon (is it possible that the vets are in on this little conspiracy?) So, we went out and bought him a pajama top. Yes, I own this humiliating act. But wait, it gets worse. Recently, he became so cold he could not stop shivering until we got him underneath the comforter with us. I awoke the next morning, lying nose to nose with our family dog. He was laying there, head on the pillow, comforter tucked snugly around his torso, eyes looking drowsily into mine. Pathetic.

Well, I am on to these animals. My belief is that these canines are actually intentionally playing on our sympathy and therefore getting our attention by acting needy. So next time you are tempted to read them a bedtime story, or leave the television on while you are out for the day, don’t be fooled, the conspiracy is upon us. I’d tell you more, but Tucker needs his teeth brushed.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bend it like Beckham . . . or not.

Some friends and I were enjoying our weekly breakfast at one of our local “home cooking” establishments when a small boy, about two years old ran past our table. A young father cut him off before he could make a lap around the entire restaurant. Most of us sitting at the table, young fathers’ ourselves, could understand his challenge and in an effort to comfort the father, one of our group said, “At least he’s fast!”

The father responded, “I just want him to be good at something.”

We all laughed, but at the same time, we all understood. As a father, you simply want your children to be really good at something. Unfortunately, the law of averages suggests that most people are simply . . . well . . . average at most things. But that doesn’t stop us from searching. While we all might be average at most things, ultimately, we are all good at something. So we help our children search to find that thing they are good at.

Our family search recently landed on soccer. We signed my four year old up to play in a local soccer league. He was excited about the opportunity to run and kick, but a little unclear about the fundamentals of the game. The following events sum up his soccer experience.

After scoring his first goal of the game (in the right goal), the coach had placed our son in a defensive position, directly between the other team and the goal. He was excited about this opportunity; however, as the other team brought the ball down the field, our son was distracted by something on his hand. A girl who had an early growth spurt, was quickly approaching, controlling the ball like a seasoned professional, the only thing that could prevent her from scoring was our son. Unfortunately, despite the rising cheers from the parents in the stands, my son stayed focused on his hand and whatever sticky/dirty/gooey/bug had found itself there.

Initially, I thought this was the opportunity for my son to become the breakout soccer star I believed he could be. This was his opportunity to be “good” at something. However, as this girl with the soccer ball down bore down on his position on the field, I began to fear for his safety as the impact with a child twice his side would have been devastating (especially when he never saw it coming). Nonetheless, my son never glanced up and never moved. At the last moment, the girl shifted slightly and blew right by my son, within inches of running him over and scored a goal. Whatever was on my son’s hand must have been really cool, because as she sliced past him, he never flinched. It wasn’t till the cheers of the crowd erupted that he knew something was up and in response; he raised his hands as if he just scored the winning goal. I couldn’t help but laugh and celebrate with him.

When he got to the sideline, I asked him, “What’s on your hand?”

He simply said, “There is nothing on my hand, Daddy!”

Of course there wasn’t, why would I think there was anything on his hand?

So, he won’t bend it like Beckham just yet. But as a father, I need not fear, ALL children are good at something and my son, and the child in the restaurant, will find their something . . . even if it is running laps in a restaurant or finding cool dirt on your hands.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Waiting for Superman . . . still waiting . . . waiting . . .

I always fancied myself as a modern day Superman. I believed I could be a hero. Unfortunately, I have learned I am more closely related to a modern day Clark Kent. I wear glasses, I’m somewhat awkward, a little nerdy, and not the picture of a modern day hero. Fortunately for my dream, there is always a phone booth around the corner. (Writers note; “a phone booth around the corner” is a phrase used to make a connection between my heroic opportunities and the original Superman, who changed into his outfit in a phone booth when heroic opportunities presented themselves. However, since the increased usage of cellular phones, there are actually very few phone booths available anywhere. In fact, the last one I saw was in Washington D.C. and I wouldn’t want to get into that thing to make a call, much less, strip off my clothes and get into tights and a cape, but I digress.)

Recently, I turned the corner and found my phone booth. My wife was driving home from a meeting and gave me a call. The tire on her car had blown and was flat and she was stuck on the side of the road and needed help . . . a hero’s help. This was my moment, where was my cape?!?!

What was my heroic response? I said, in a most loving tone, “I don’t have time for this!”

What did you expect? I told you I was more like Clark Kent. In my effort to be a hero, when a heroic opportunity knocked at my door, I stumbled all over myself trying to find a phone booth. “Stumbled all over myself,” probably isn’t the right term. I yelled, “I’m not home!” when opportunity knocked at my door. Superman never left a damsel in distress, I left my wife waiting on the side of the road for her Superman. Pretty sad, eh? Well, the good news is, I redeemed myself (or at least I tried), when shortly after my less-than supportive comments on the phone, I rushed out the door and changed the tire in record time.

Later that same week, I came down with a stomach virus and laid in bed for two days. Superman had kryptonite. I had a microscopic virus. During this same time, my wife was fighting what seemed to be the same virus. The difference, you ask? I laid in bed, my wife cleaned the house, cared for the kids, and took care of her Superman (who moaned and groaned about how awful he felt).

In review, it was not my most heroic week. In fact, in comparison to my wife, it was downright pathetic. However, there was a lesson in the events of this week. Everyone can be a hero, some of us do it by taking care of a family, some of us change tires, and some of us run to a phone booth and change into tights and a cape (a legal note; it is probably not wise to change clothes in a public place, particularly if you are wearing tights and a cape).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Closest I came to American Idol

I have engaged in an on-going debate with our family’s digital camera. Apparently, this mischievous piece of technological equipment enjoys antagonizing me by taking a picture of me and replacing my picture with an unattractive, fat guy in my spot. Every time I see my picture, I am shocked and insulted by what I see.

“I don’t look like that!” I yell at this expensive paper weight only to be met by with an antagonistic silence which sounds like a shrill, evil laugh in my mind (don’t question my sanity, my wife is a licensed professional counselor and she only has mild concerns about my mental health).

I had a similar experience in high school. My senior year, I had the opportunity to take a few elective courses and because the choices were limited, one of those classes was our school choir. The choir director was excited to have me as she did not have many boys in the choir. I was excited because I fancied myself as a budding rock-n-roll star and thought that this might be the experience that launched my career into stardom.

As I excitedly participated in the first couple days of class, I realized that there was much more to joining a choir than belting out my favorite songs. I had to read and understand music and deliver lyrics in tune. After the third day of class, the teacher asked me to stay over. I was excited as I thought she must have recognized my talent and might be prepared to offer me the lead in the upcoming musical or at least a solo in the next choir event.

“Matt, I have been listening closely and evaluating your singing techniques and skill and . . .”

“You want to give me the lead?!?!” I interrupted.

“Well, no,” she responded, “actually, I was wondering if you could not sing.”

I was confused, “Not sing the solo?”

She was sheepish and clearly a little embarrassed about making her request, “Well, no, I mean . . . just not sing at all.”

I was devastated. “Not sing at all? What do you want me to do?”

“Can you just mouth the words, but not actually sing?” she asked.

“But this is choir, I am supposed to sing.” I argued.

“That is what makes this conversation so hard, please don’t sing.” She repeated. “If I can’t sing, can’t you teach me, you’re the ‘teacher’?” I begged.

“I am sorry Matt, you are beyond help.”

As you might expect, that was my last day in choir.

I have a good friend here in town who explains this as the ‘American Idol Syndrome’. If you’ve ever watched the first few weeks of this reality show, you will see a number of contestants who come on the show to try out for a chance to go to Hollywood, only to be met with brutal honesty that they are simply terrible singers and should not do it in public. The significance of understanding this “syndrome” is to help us realize that most of us have an inconsistent understanding of how the world sees us (not just in singing ability, but in general), or better stated, a lack of self-awareness. Knowing that our perception of ourselves may be inconsistent with that of the world makes us more self-aware . . . or I can just stomp out the evil laughter coming from our current digital camera and buy a better one.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Greatest Story Ever Told . . . although that might be an exaggeration.

My wife says I have a tendency to exaggerate, my response was, “What?!?! I have never exaggerated in my entire life!” I guess I proved her point. She actually created a word for what I do; to catastrophize – verb – creating a dramatic situation in a story where it did not originally exist. Although, I am not sure I fully agree with her assessment. I believe I simply highlight and emphasize the important issues of any story. I may occasionally play a little loose with my adjectives and adverbs, but that is done in an effort to bring attention to details that might otherwise be ignored. I can see that these subtle differences need an illustration to make clear. For demonstration purposes, I will give you a story and in this story, I will use an asterisk (*) beside any point in the story where I have allegedly exaggerated.

My wife is very involved in local ministry and having two small children requires one of us to be at home as the caretaker. Since during my incredibly long working hours* where I spend every available minute diligently focused on completing my work* and my wife is working at home raising the children, every* opportunity I get, I happily* embrace the role of active father that allows her to get out of the house and serve our community. Recently, in a selfless act* after an extraordinary long day at work*, I told my wife to head out and visit with her friends. This left me the incredible challenge* of preparing our children for bed that evening. As I diligently prepared dinner* my daughter managed to make a mess that put milk and cookies over every square inch of her body*. The house looked similar to a landfill* and after I wrestled the kids into bed*, it took me hours of my valuable time* to clean it up*.

Now we’ll look at the same situation from my wife’s point of view. On an evening where my wife had a regularly scheduled meeting that I knew about months in advance, she asked me to simply put the children to bed (after bathing them, preparing their dinner, and getting them into their pajama and ready for bed before I returned home). Against my wife’s advice, I gave the children a bedtime snack (in an effort to buy their love). My daughter managed to get a little bit of the snack on her face and on the floor which took me a few extra moments to get her cleaned and into bed (and could have been completely avoided had I followed her instructions) and cut into my time watching the opening kick-off of Monday Night Football. When my wife arrived home later that evening and found me comfortably positioned in the recliner and the snack mess still remaining on the floor, she asked what happened. This led me into to the story that begins in this column in paragraph #2.

In the end, I guess it is all a matter of how you look at it. I believe that the allegation that I embellish the facts of any story is completely overstated and possibly one of the greatest statements of misinformation in the history of mankind . . . although this entire column might be an exaggeration, you be the judge.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Extreme camping in the backyard

As you may have read in my previous columns, I used to (as in past tense) be an active outdoorsman — camping, backpacking and fishing.
However, in the past few years I have found a number of excellent excuses to avoid such an exercise in physical discomfort — such as, too tired, too busy, too hot, too cold, my kids are too young, I'm too old, etc. In an effort to regain my sense of adventure and share the experience of the outdoors with my 4-year-old son, I decided to take him camping.
For any of you who have made a foray into the wild outdoors, you know the amount of preparation that goes into the trip. Now, add a 4-year-old into your planning and things get interesting. Considering this was his first experience sleeping outside, it seemed wise to take our first trip into the wild outdoors to the backyard. It's not exactly Yellowstone, but there is this gang of squirrels that has a real nasty attitude that creates a unique sense of adventure and it is closer to home in case he gets “homesick.”
As I dusted off and started to set up our “new” tent from the garage (see previous column for that reference), I sent my son to his room to grab some “supplies” to take on our adventure. As you wilderness-savvy individuals know, the first rule in pitching a tent is to find a flat piece of land. This does not exist in my yard (our tent location would make a better slide than sleeping quarters). I knew this was going to make for an additional level of discomfort, but still no reason to kill a child's spirit of adventure (my back may argue this point, but my brain won the argument).
As I finished setting up our tent and started working on our campfire (for the traditional camping delicacy of S'mores) my son came out with his backpack full of his “supplies” from his room. His pack weighed nearly as much as he did.
When we opened his pack to see what “supplies” he was bringing to the campsite, I was immediately impressed by the fact that he grabbed a flashlight for both of us. As we dug deeper into the pack, he poured out approximately 20 Hot Wheels. When I asked him why he brought the Hot Wheels, he simply said, “We need something to play with Daddy.” Of course.
After a full evening of playing and talking, the young boy fell sound asleep, visions of our next adventure floating through his pleasant dreams. I, on the other hand, struggled to get comfortable. One rock, no matter where I moved, seemed on a mission to break my spine (making it difficult to stand up straight the next day). By morning, we had lost the battle against gravity. The hillside tent placement, all of our “supplies” and the two people inside the tent were crammed against the bottom of the tent.
Despite the sliding, the jabbing pain in my spine and the lack of sleep, once we were settled into our tent next to our fire with bellies full of marshmallows under a cloudless sky, my son turned to me and said, “Isn't this great Daddy? We're camping!” Yes it is buddy, yes it is.
Ultimately, camping with my son was one of the highlights of my summer and while camping in the backyard is not “extreme” adventure, it is a small step toward greater adventures.
As far as my son is concerned, when my wife asked him if he had fun, he said, “I want to go camping for nap time. I love camping so much I want to go every day.” Oh boy, my back is already hurting again.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Jack Bauer would say, "A time for peace and a time for war"!

In 1962, Pete Seeger recorded the song, “Turn, Turn, Turn” (which was adapted entirely from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible). The Bible (and much later, the song) posits that there is a time and place for everything; laughter and sorrow, healing and killing, and even war and peace. What I have always pulled away from those words is that life is constantly changing and in transition.

For our family, today is no different. Our son started preschool this year. Granted, this is not school and he is only going three days a week, but it’s another step and another stage in the development of our oldest child. As much as we want to keep him at this cute and sweet age, we know he is growing and maturing. We are excited to watch him grow and learn, but so sad to see him become independent (as a parent, it’s always nice to be needed, right?) A time to rejoice and a time to weep.

Our family also just lost a good friend and a terrific music minister to a job in a different city. While I am not the most musically inclined individual (I once was asked to ‘not sing’ in a choir, that’s a story for another column), he is a gifted leader and inspiring musician (or at least I am told by my much more musically inclined wife). We are happy for him and his family to be blessed with such a great opportunity, but disappointed to see them move away. A time to dance and a time to mourn.

Our neighborhood is suffering a loss as our immediate next door neighbors are moving to a new home. You know that old rule about fences making good neighbors? Well, our neighbors have been the exception to that rule. We’ve known them in one way or another since my wife’s freshmen year in college, we’ve shared yard equipment and cups of sugar, and our kids love each other. A time to keep and a time to lose.

My favorite television show recently came to an end. Did I just compare major phases and stages of my family’s growth and development to the cancellation of a TV show? Yes, I did, and I don’t apologize, I am man enough to admit, I love Jack Bauer.

This season of change has made me ask, what would Jack Bauer do in this situation? I think he’d probably say, “There is a time for peace and a time for war.” But that just doesn’t seem to fit this column. So I am going to go with what I believe these many transitions offer our family (sorry Jack, I am going solo on this one). I believe that these transitions offer us an opportunity to grow. They offer us an opportunity to learn and become wiser. And while we will miss our friends and neighbors, our lazy days with no school (and our favorite television shows), the truth is we’ll be stronger because of this season of our lives. A time to cast away stones and gather new stones.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A penny saved is about what I've earned.

My family wasn’t “poor” growing up, but we didn’t splurge on certain amenities. For example, we didn’t have a furnace in our house. Well, my mother, who occasionally reads this column, would correct me by saying we did not have a “working” furnace in our house. We used a wood burning stove to heat our home. Which made my room a sub-50 degree ice box by morning after the stove went cold. We also did not have air conditioning. Actually, I’ll make a point here; we did have air conditioning in one room. Yes mom, I’m going to tell on you. It is true; we only had a window unit air conditioner in my parent’s room (so selfish).

My first car was what I believe was a ’81 Chrysler LeBaron sedan. The LeBaron was Chrysler’s lowest priced model. Yes, my first car was a rebadged Dodge Diplomat (another low selling car). After only a couple months, the felt lining in the ceiling of the cab started sagging down. It wasn’t long before I had to use staples to keep the lining out of my line of vision. Yes, you read that correctly, I did not take the car to the dealership, I simply got a stapler to solve the problem.

This continued on into college where these skills became valuable. My freshman year, living in the dorm, I made great usage out of my hotpot. I lived off of Raman Noodles and macaroni and cheese without milk (to my wife’s dismay, I still prefer it that way). The milk was a luxury my budget couldn’t afford and I could get macaroni and cheese for $.33 a box. Not a bad price for a one course meal.

I still have some of that, what I will call frugalness, in my blood. That could drive a spouse insane, but I think my wife finds it a valuable asset to our family. She was introduced to my thriftiness when we were dating and I pulled out my wallet. Now this wasn’t any wallet, it was my favorite wallet. It was also covered in Duct tape. Yes, Duct tape, the poor man’s fix everything tool and it fixed my wallet nicely.

Today, I drive my wife’s college car, a 1998 Chevy Cavalier with nearly 200,000 miles on it. About 2 years ago, we lost the air conditioning in that lovely land ship. I took it to get an estimate on fixing this chariot, but it came out to be an approximate $1000 fix. A $1000 fix for a car that Kelly’s Bluebook valued at about $600. Yes, you guessed it, I did not ante up the cost for the air conditioning. Instead, for the past two years, I’ve been driving around quite comfortably . . . in the winter. In the summer, I simply try not to sweat through my clothes.

Why do I do this, why do I drive around in a college girl’s car with no air conditioning? It’s really not a character flaw, or mindless penny pinching, really it goes back to my family. My mom and dad worked very hard to give me what I needed to succeed in life. I am the man I am today, because of their sacrifices. It seems only reasonable that I follow their lead, make sacrifices of my own to give my children the same gift. However, I think maybe I’ve sacrificed enough; it may be time for a new car. Then again, it will be winter soon, maybe I can make it another year.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Balancing on the Throne at 20,000 feet

I fly coach. Those three words say a lot about my financial means and/or my willingness to spend those means. However, if a hierarchy of economic power is visible anywhere, it is on a commercial airline. There is first class (or “royalty”) and there is everybody else. Everybody else is technically called “business class,” which is a humorous effort to give those of us crammed into the small seats at the back of the plane a nod of respect. Nonetheless, the thin blue curtain that is pulled to divide the first class passengers and the “business class” sends a clear message – “we are better than you.”

Over the years, I have learned to accept this position in life. I will always be the guy folded into the medium size seat with the XL frame. However, sometimes, miracles happen. Sometimes a commoner marries a prince and sometimes a factory worker wins the lottery. I recently experienced just such divine intervention.

As I was checking in at my gate for my first flight of the day, I learned that our plane had experienced some mechanical issues (always a concerning statement to give to someone who is soon to be a passenger on said plane at 20,000+ feet) and we were going to be delayed an hour. When you are trying to make connections, this is the type of thing that can throw off your entire schedule, as was the case for me on this occasion. I was trying to make a meeting in Washington D.C. and was already on a tight schedule. This delay made certain I would miss it. I shared my disappointment with the man working my gate as he was arranging for me to catch the next available flight. He seemed to understand my plight, but offered no solutions to my dilemma.

When I asked him if I could at least get an aisle seat, he told me it was a full flight and he only had a window seat. I accepted his offer for the last remaining seat as it was the next fastest way to my destination. I thanked him and began the wait for my delayed, mechanically challenged aircraft.

It wasn’t until I was boarding my connector flight that I realized he had given me seat 1A. Now for those of you who fly, you know what that meant. Yes, I was on the other side of the curtain, I was in first class! This unnamed man at the gate had bumped me up to rub elbows with “royalty”. For the first time, as I took my seat, I wished my flight was longer as I wanted more time to bask in the glory of first class.

I learned you can get as much as you want to drink of anything you’d like for free. I don’t indulge, however, my seat mate, drank enough for the both of us. I simply enjoyed my Diet Coke out of a real glass. At one point, I felt the urge to visit the men’s room. As I moved to the front of the cabin, I was stopped by one of the flight attendants. She said, “I’m sorry sir, you’ll have to use the one on the other side of the curtain.” Her co-worker, recognizing that I was royalty, interrupted her and said, “It’s okay, he’s up front,” (code for royalty). This flight attendant, immediately apologized for her misstep, apparently she had mistaken me for one of “them”. I accepted her apology overlooking this enormous insult as I excitedly stepped into the men’s room. I knew this would be a true “throne” as only “royalty” were allowed to use this space. To my great disappointment, this room looked just like the one I had visited so many times previously on the other side of the curtain. It was at that moment that I realized, no matter where you sit, the “throne” has a way of balancing out the world.

Don't Insult your Dog, Make the "Dog Days of Summer" Count - Go Vote!

The end of summer is growing near, the temperatures are rising, Election Day is upon us, and the beginning of the school year is fast approaching – it is officially the “Dog Days of Summer”. That term, the “Dog Days of Summer”, got me thinking about two seemingly unrelated topics: 1.) My dog, Tucker; and 2.) Election Day. Before I use my intellectual depth and literary talents (please stifle your laughter) to “WOW” you by skillfully tying these topics together, let me take this opportunity to give you some totally useless trivia information - the term, “Dog Days of Summer” actually comes from the ancient belief that Sirius, also called the Dog Star, was somehow responsible for the hot weather typically present in the time period between July and September. Impressed? Well, buckle up and get ready, because we are about to take a random trip into the deranged and disconnected mind of this author.

Growing up, I always believed the term; “Dog Days of Summer” was really alluding to the fact that it was so hot that dogs, who wear a natural coat of fur, must be incredibly uncomfortable in these long days of unbearable heat and high humidity. Tucker, our family dog, has never been much of an outside dog. He prefers the luxury of down comforters, plush pillows, and air-conditioning over the oppressive humidity and pollen-filled air that causes him to pant and itch with allergies. Yes, my dog is a sorry excuse for a dog and would probably lose his membership in the local canine union if they knew about his human-like tendencies and behaviors, but I digress.

Because of this heat and humidity that seems to cause what can only be described as an allergic reaction in my dog, he doesn’t get out much. However, one recent morning I took him to run some errands and while I was out, I drove by one of our early voting precincts. I considered running in to participate in the great American privilege of voting when I remembered I had Tucker with me and he is probably not a welcome visitor to our local courthouse. I continued on to vote another day.

While I drove home past the infinite number of campaign signs, I considered the great American tradition of voting and how unfair it seems that our pets are so harshly discriminated against in not being able to participate. It may be the fact they are subject to our dictatorial-style of ownership, but more likely it is because of their small brains having the inability to make thoughtful decisions at such a high level. I mean, really, how many times can I fake throw the tennis ball before my dog figures out that it is still in my hand, right? To take it a step further down Discriminatory Road, at one time, all across this great land, the position of Dog Catcher was on the local ballots. I started thinking about how that decision was made and imagined the conversation, “Mr. Mayor, we’ve got a stray dog problem, how can you solve it?”

“I think we need someone to catch some of these dogs.”

“Who do you think could do that Mr. Mayor?”

“I think this is too big of a position for any one person to decide, I say we leave this important decision to the people. Put it on the ballot!”

Really? At some point in time we thought this decision was too political to be appointed and we therefore made it an elected position? Can you imagine the heated debates this caused in a community? I can see the campaign slogans now, “Vote Smith for Dog Catcher. He’ll make Strays Squat and Pee in Fear!”

The fact is the dog catcher is no longer on the ballot. Therefore, Tucker supports your participation in the electoral during the “Dog Days of Summer.” He reminds you to not insult your pet by not participating in this wonderful privilege that they can’t share in. However, he quickly points out that even if he can’t vote, he does get to sleep in a plush bed with air conditioning all day long. Pulled it all together neatly didn’t I, how do you like them apples?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence

Why does it always seem as if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence? I can tell you that this summer, grass anywhere is greener than the grass (or better stated, the weeds and clover) in my yard. However, I don’t believe that the old saying necessarily only applies to my lawn (or lack thereof). It seems to apply to everything in our lives.

As a young boy, I quickly learned the skill of coveting. I wasted a lot of time wishing for things I didn’t have. You can imagine how disappointed I was when I finally became a Christian as an adult and found out it was a sin! Wow, all that work at perfecting my coveting skills, only to find out that it’s actually a behavior that is frowned upon.

I remember one of the first items I really wanted. It was a BMX bike called the “Predator”. I tore an advertisement page out of a magazine that had a picture of this particular bike and stared at it every night before I went to bed. I not only wished for this bike, I also asked, pleaded, and begged for my parents to buy me the bike. Eventually, my parents bent to my wishes and they bought it. Unfortunately, as much as I loved that bike, it never quite lived up to the image I had created in my head. In fact, to my parents’ great disappointment, I often went back to riding my fire engine red, Schwinn Stingray with the banana seat.

As an adult, I thought I grew out of coveting. I have taken great pride in how long I hold onto things as most can be described as “gently used” (although that might be generous). I tend to wear my clothes until they have holes in them (to my wife’s’ dismay) and am slow to invest in even something as small as a new wallet. When it comes to cars, we always buy used and I get great pleasure in bragging about the fact I still drive my wife’s college car (1998 Chevrolet Cavalier) with almost 200,000 miles on it. I take such pride in it that when the air conditioning died I didn’t even have a thought of getting rid of it. After I found out that to repair it would cost me over $1000 (I couldn’t pay that kind of money to fix a car with a blue book value on the entire car of $800), I just kept driving it. Now I’ll admit, I show up to many meetings in the summer covered in sweat, but I just can’t give up on the old girl.

So, I must have dropped my “professional” status and moved beyond the days of coveting, right? Wrong. Just recently, one of my friends described a new shotgun he had purchased at an auction and I immediately wanted one. I went online and started pricing shotguns and found a 12-gauge that I absolutely had to have. It wasn’t until I woke up the next morning and realized that it had been over 10 years since the last time I went hunting and I didn’t really “need” a shotgun that I decided not to make the purchase. So the moral of this story is we all need to guard ourselves against coveting, but I sure would like my grass to come in like my neighbors.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Son Still Needs Me to Catch Him.

Do you remember how television and movies represent the signature, father-son moments? Can you picture the grainy video of the father running down the street next to his son on his bike? The son is wobbling, unsure of himself, but peddling furiously. The dad is smiling, cheering his son forward. I recently experienced that moment.

As I was doing some work in the garage, my son brought me his bike with a flat tire. Excited to show off my mechanical abilities (How can you screw up a child’s bike with training wheels?) to my four year old son, I leapt at the opportunity to fix his tire. Unfortunately, as is customary in any mechanical project I take on; it was more difficult than it initially appeared. By the time I figured that out, I had bike parts spread out across most of our driveway. My ego would never allow me to take this little bike to my local shop in pieces, so I had two options: 1. continue on and hope that the stars would align in a manner that would allow me, by some miracle, to fix this flat tire; or 2. buy him a new bike. After careful consideration standing over the dismantled bike, I decided buying him a new bike because he had a flat was simply ridiculous, so I decided to press on (although I quickly checked the balance in the savings account in case I simply could not complete the task).

Ultimately, I did not have to make a trip to the bike shop for repairs (or to buy a replacement bike) as I was able to fix the flat. However, before I put the training wheels back on the bike, I paused. My son has become quite skilled in handling the bike with training wheels (as evidenced by the multiple skid marks on the driveway) so I thought, could he be ready for his proverbial step toward manhood – the removal of the training wheels? So, I decided to take him out on the driveway to give it a try (because if I successfully put those training wheels back on the bike, there was no way I was taking them off for awhile).

It’s funny how the most memorable moments in life are often a surprise with no planning or preparation. One moment I am bumbling my way through a minor project and the next thing I know I am standing at the end of the driveway, holding my son’s bike seat as he is about to try riding a bike for the first time. These moments come and go so fast, you wish you could rewind and do it all over again and again.

As you might guess, the next thing I knew, I was running down the driveway yelling, “Pedal! Pedal!” There was a big smile on my son’s face as he realized he was doing it when I pulled my hand off the seat and he began riding alone, all by himself, no help from daddy. At that moment, so many things flashed through my mind. His childhood is going so fast. Soon he’ll be going to school, going to middle school, getting a drivers license, going to college, and having a family.

But before all of that, he begins to wobble and I catch him before he falls off the bike. He turns to me with a big smile on his face and says, “Daddy, can we put the training wheels back on?” I smile, putting the visions of graduation parties and wedding receptions on hold, because my son still needs me to catch him.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sharing the road with a fat cyclist

One of my favorite forms of exercise is to get out on the open road on my bike. However, riding my bike on the road does have its risks as my 20 pound bike is no match for the 1000 pound vehicles moving past me at 3 times my speed. Because of that risk, I take several safety precautions. I always wear my helmet, I follow the laws of the road, and I ride as far on the shoulder as I can safely get. I try to make eye contact with drivers when possible and wave to anyone who gives me a glance in an effort to build cycling goodwill.

Recently, I was on one of my weekly training rides and I experienced a lack of cycling goodwill. As I rode on one of our local country roads, doing my best impression of Lance Armstrong, a late model pickup truck pulled alongside of me. Initially I was excited, as I envisioned this truck serving as a support vehicle, handing me a fresh, ice cold water bottles and yelling me encouragement, “keep pushing, you are looking great!” Unfortunately, my imaginary world did not measure up to the reality of the situation. A very angry man began yelling what would best be described as “not encouraging and not supportive.” Let me clarify, if his statements had been on television, it would have resembled a Jerry Springer Show and been one long censuring beep, HBO producers would have blushed.

As this southern gentleman sped away with squealing tires and a plume of black exhaust smoke, I was left wondering, why was he so angry? Well, since I had plenty of time to think in the saddle of my trusty steed, I decided to try and identify the cause of this mad man’s angst. My first thought was that he was simply a concerned citizen who had my safety in mind. However, after careful consideration, and interpreting his parting statement of, “I hope you are run down in traffic!” I doubt that my safety was at the core of his anger.

My second thought was that he was upset by the sight of me in proper cycling attire. While these garments are highly functional for cycling, they unfortunately are not very flattering (unless you are Lance or one of his teammates). To be honest, “not flattering”, is probably a minimization of the horror of seeing a grown man, my size, wearing tights. If this issue was at the core of his fury, I actually wouldn’t blame him. In fact, the sight of me in that suit for most people is probably something akin to drinking sour milk. Although, as I rode along with only my thoughts to keep me company, I decided a normal response would more closely resemble disgust than anger.

That only left me with one possible conclusion for this level of rage - he felt inconvenienced by my presence with him on the road. Now I guess I can understand that at some level as people who drive 5 mph under the speed limit drive me nuts, but I don’t pull up next to the 80 year old woman and curse at her. Ultimately, the anger was simply uncalled for. The reality is, cycling is a wonderful sport and is good for the community. It doesn’t take much to slow down a bit and give the cyclist a little space, especially when the alternative can be life-threatening. So next time you see a fat cyclist plodding along on the side of the road, please slow down and give me a wave, just don’t make it the middle finger.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Will You Marry Me?

Four words, that when put together, can change a couple’s life (hopefully for the better) forever . . . “Will you marry me?” My wife and I have been married six years, but it all started with those four words. My brother-in-law, Joseph, recently asked his long-time girlfriend, Alyssa, this very question. He had been building up to the event for quite some time. He had saved up to purchase a beautiful engagement ring, consulted with friends and family on how best to pop the question in the most romantic way, and diligently worked on trying to make it a surprise.

On the day of the big question, Joseph was clearly nervous, calling and texting his sister (my wife) on a number of occasions. Finally, after watching a local fireworks display with a group of friends, he pulled Alyssa aside. In sarcasm, Alyssa said, “What? Are you going to propose to me?” As she turned around, she found Joseph down on one knee, the traditional proposal stance. However, in a surprising turn of events, she yelled, “That’s not funny!” she lunged at him and pushed him, nearly knocking him down a hill.

“No really, I’ve got a ring in my hand!” yells Prince Charming. Finally realizing what was really happening; she accepted reality and accepted the proposal (disastrous tumble down a hill averted).

It took me on a trip down memory lane as I recalled the day I asked my wife to marry me. I was so nervous I couldn’t eat (which for any of you who knows my eating habits, should have been a clue to her that something was up). We were on a double date with our friends Beth and Jesse (who also went on to get engaged and married and are now neighbors, living three doors down the street). I handed the camera to Beth, asked her to take a picture of us and then surprised everyone by dropping to one knee and pulling the ring out of my pocket (it made for a terrific picture that we cherish to this day – the shocked on her face is priceless). She was so surprised, she didn’t say anything . . . not even “Yes!” The excitement in her face and the hug I received led me to ask, “Is that a ‘yes’?”

Engagements and weddings are always exciting because your family grows, but it is extra special when that person already feels like a member of your family. We have known Alyssa for nearly three years. Our children love her as she has often been willing to undergo the torture of babysitting for them (and survived). Our son affectionately calls her “Wyssa,” we now affectionately call her “family”.

So, what wedding day advice would my wife and I give the bride-to-be? My wife would say, don’t take anything too seriously, have fun, at the end of the day, you’ll still be married (after six years of living with me, I was pleased to learn she didn’t say, “Don’t do it!”). I would say to remember that while the wedding day is wonderful, it isn’t about the day, it’s about your marriage. Most importantly, we both would like to say, “Congratulations Joseph and Alyssa, enjoy your blessed lives together!” This is an exciting event, besides, it now gives me a whole new series of events to write about in this column.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Only Fools Rush In

As incoming President of the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland, I recently had the distinct pleasure of serving as a delegate at the Kiwanis International Conference. After holding the conference in previous years in places like Toronto, Tokyo, and now next year in Geneva, Switzerland, this year I learn, they hold it in Las Vegas (they must have known I was coming). As we walked through the convention center during the conference, a woman walked up to us and said, “Do you want to get married . . . by Elvis?”

Now, since I began writing this column, I have been asked some strange questions, but this one was definitely unique. Anywhere else, this question would have seemed out of place, but considering the fact we were in Las Vegas, it seemed just about right. So of course, my wife and l almost immediately and simultaneously said, “Yes!” It was actually quite a coincidence she asked, because when we were engaged, we often joked about slipping off to Las Vegas and getting married by Elvis. Now we were faced with the real life opportunity.

Following our positive response, the woman quickly warned us, “Now this is for real, it will be official, Elvis is an ordained minister.” We took pause. A few thoughts ran through my head. First, I thought wouldn’t it be funny if the real Elvis really was an ordained minister and had done weddings when he was performing in Vegas? Second, I figured it would be legal to get married since I had already been married for over six years (assuming I was marrying the same woman, which after a quick inspection, I was). Lastly, I wondered if my wife would actually agree to marry me again, considering she has spent six years getting to know me (for all of you who were wondering, she did).

Despite the warning, we agreed to go ahead with the ceremony. We introduced ourselves to Elvis (he was slightly shorter than I had imagined) and he quickly reminded us again that he was an ordained minister and that this was a real ceremony. I wondered for a moment why they were so persistent on making this point clear and then I had a picture of some unsuspecting couple out on their first date, thinking this would be cute, going through a “mock” wedding ceremony, only to find out after the fact that they had actually been married by an ordained minister impersonating Elvis (it might make a great reality TV show). After the reminder that I was indeed going through an official marriage ceremony with my wife, he informed us that he had left his guitar in the trunk of his car. This was almost a deal breaker. What kind of self-respecting Elvis would leave his guitar in the trunk of his car when he planned on doing wedding ceremonies? I bet the real Elvis would have never allowed that to happen. Nonetheless, I had become overwhelmed with wedding fever and agreed to go through with the ceremony, despite the absence of the guitar.

We jumped into the ceremony and with a number of Kiwanians observing, my wife agreed to, “Love Me Tender” and never leave me at “Heartbreak Hotel”. I, in turn, agreed to not be a “Hound Dog” and be her, “Big Hunk O’Love,” while having a “Burning Love” for her for all of my days.

Just like that, we went from attending a International Kiwanis Conference to being on our second honeymoon, Viva Las Vegas! I guess after six years of marriage, renewing our vows made the old Elvis ballad, “I Can’t Help Falling In Love with You” true once again.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Now Boarding - All passengers big and small

My job requires me to travel. In fact, there have been times when I have felt like the George Clooney character (I had hoped that I may also resemble the megastar, but my wife laughed at that idea) in the movie, Up in the Air, spending more than my fair share of time in airports and hotels. While I have developed a system that has made travel as painless as possible, loading onto an airplane still poses challenges.

The first and most obvious challenge is that these trips create time and space away from my family. Now I could joke around and tell you that the traveling is a welcome reprieve from the challenges of family life, but the truth is I need a bumper sticker that says, “I’d rather be at home.” Every time I pack my luggage for another trip, it creates sadness in my heart. Although we have bought webcams and downloaded Skype (software that allows you to speak to a person over your computer, much like a telephone call, but with video) and I can see my family every day while I am traveling, it simply cannot replace the touch of a hug or a kiss on the cheek. I always miss my family when I am gone.

However, a less obvious challenge is simply dealing with my travel comfort. Let’s ignore the delays, the flight changes, the cancellations, and the hustling through terminals to reach my gate in time and let’s start with me. For those of you whom I have never met and may not be aware, I am not a small man. I am over 6 feet tall, I am over 200 pounds, and I have fairly broad shoulders. Now I have no idea who designed the seats in most airplanes, but I can tell you this, they did not have me in mind when they did. Finding my seat is always an exercise full of anxiety as I hope for the 98 lb. Olsen twin wannabe that will allow me some space and the ability to stretch my cramped legs. Unfortunately, in what I believe is a conspiracy by the airlines against those of us in the “plus size” category; I typically find a mirror image of me in the seat immediately adjacent to mine (big, bulky, and uncomfortably jammed into a seat too small for his XL frame). That moment when we lock eyes and we realize we are seat mates and we will be invading each other’s personal space for the next couple hours, you can literally feel the disappointment. To add salt to the wound, that 98 lb. Olsen twin wannabe I had hoped would be assigned to the seat next to me, will almost always sit in the seat directly in front of me, teasing me with what could have been.

Ultimately, we wiggle, squeeze and jam ourselves into the seats designed for someone half our size and use every means of technology and print media (magazines, newspapers, iPods, and even Sky-Mall Magazine) to help distract us from the fact that our elbows have declared war in an effort to gain control of the coveted, high-value real estate called the armrest. Despite my discomfort (and the ongoing elbow battle), the flight eventually takes off and my thoughts wander forward to my return home and time passes more quickly. When my flight lands on the return trip, nearly all of the challenges of travel disappear as I will soon be reconnected with my family. All I need now is for my luggage to arrive with me.

Marriage 101 - Class is now in session

My wife and I recently celebrated a benchmark in our marriage as another anniversary has passed. We have traditionally participated in activities that would celebrate this event, but this year we did more than that this year as we took a walk down memory lane and the lessons learned from those experiences.

So, I am sure you are asking yourselves, what have I learned? Well, the first thing I learned was that I eat cereal loudly. You may be wondering how, exactly, can a person eat cereal loudly? I don’t know, but apparently I do and it also seemed to annoy my wife to no end. I have made a concerted effort to improve the volume of my cereal consumption, but to no avail. Now I simply schedule my morning eating habits at times where my wife is in another room.

What else? I learned I would not have this column (or at least I’d have a lot less material). I believe it would be much more difficult to sell the idea of a bachelor having a weekly column journaling the ups and downs of family life. I also know that I would be missing so many moments that fill my heart with joy. The feeling that grows within you when someone says, “I do” on your wedding day is indescribable. As your family grows, the feeling of hearing your children say, “Daddy, I love you.” goes even further as you realize you have created a family, a family based on love and support.

But that is not all I have learned, my wife is an outstanding teacher from whom I have learned much; I learned that a duct tape wallet is not nearly as cool as I thought it was. I learned that some people like milk in their macaroni and cheese. I learned that some people get dizzy and headaches from watching the way I flip channels with the remote control. I learned my feet are not pretty (I think the term she uses is hideous, but I think that might be just a tad harsh). I learned that my daily time in the bathroom is excessively long. I learned that not everyone loves survival television shows. I learned that some people think it is strange to set the alarm clock on odd numbers only. I learned that blowing your nose in the shower is disgusting. I learned that I actually do snore (although I have seen no actual physical evidence of this alleged fact). And I have been ACCUSSED of not being a good listener, but my list of lessons learned above would suggest otherwise.

In summary, what have I learned from this relationship, this marriage? In spite of the aforementioned annoyances, I know my wife loves me “warts and all.” And all kidding aside, the most important thing I have learned, not only in my marriage, but in my life, is that when we have the right people surrounding us, whether they are friends, co-workers, family, or a spouse, we can become better people, inspired to reach new heights, challenged to think differently and from new perspectives, and to love something beyond ourselves. I learned that marriage can be a wonderful gift, as well as an incredible learning experience.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Wishing to be a journalist

I wish I was a journalist.  In particular, I wish I was a political journalist, covering today's most important events.  OR, I wish I was a sports journalist, they probably get great tickets to all the biggest events.  OR, even better, I wish I was a Tour de France journalist, this is the event I would most want to cover. 

Unfortunately, I cannot write.  I do not have good grammer and I cannot spell worth a darn (thank you Spell Check), but if you've read this blog this far, you've probably figured this out already.  My problem is this - I have a lot to say.  I have so much to say in fact, that I can't get it out at home.  I decided I should teach a law class as an adjunct instructor so that I had more talk time.  Apparently that wasn't enough, so I found 3 more classes to teach over the course of year.  Now I've got my normal "at home" talk time, as well as 4 college level course I am teaching (if you are interested in registering for any of these courses simple go to . . . who am I kidding, nobody wants that).  I guess I needed more talk time, so I took on several public speaking engagements a year, speaking on topics ranging from school safety to bullying.  To add to my talk time I recently was interviewed on a local talk radio show for a couple of hours.  Again, that wasn't enough, so I sought out our local newspaper (The Cleveland Daily Banner) and started a weekly column (this week is my 164th week - wow, that seems like a lot).  THAT wasn't enough so I started this blog (I started this primarily for my out of town fans, who can't read the Banner and want access to my weekly column - so I post my weekly column on here along with other thoughts).

Now you may have caught the fact that I used the term "fans", which is simply ridiculous and actually makes me laugh out loud (not the "lol" you see the kids texting, but a real belly busting, pee my pants, laugh out loud).  So, before some of my friends call or text making fun of my new found ego growth, I don't believe I have fans, but I do believe what I write, sometimes hits a chord (hear is an example of my spelling problems - "chord" or "cord", spell check doesn't help here!) with some of the people who read this column/blog.  Therefore, I will keep writing, teaching, public speaking, and blogging until you ask me to stop (or at least until MANY of you tell me the stop becuase I have emails begging to stop weekly, I just figure they are in the minority).  However, since writing has become my access point to the largest audience, boy do I wish I was a journalist, if only I didn't have that darn grammer problem.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Perfect Card for the Perfect Mother

Mothers’ Day recently passed and like any good husband I waited till the Saturday before to get her a card (in my defense, I also took her out to dinner, got her breakfast in bed, and made a concerted effort to commit my entire weekend to the family, but I digress). So, I walk into the living room to draft my son into assisting me in selecting a card at our local drug store. He is sitting on the couch with my wife so I of course smoothly slide into speaking into father/son code, "Son, I need some help running errands and moving stuff, wanna help?"

"No thanks daddy."

I obviously have not properly trained him in the father/son code, so I try again. "Seriously, son, I need your help."

"Thank you, but I'll stay here with mommy." Still not getting it.

"Son, I don't want to go alone."

Then comes the response of the day, "You won't be alone daddy, Jesus is with you."

Two things ran through my mind at this point. First, an incredible, overwhelming amount of pride in my son and his understanding of our Lord. My wife and I have worked hard to raise our children in a Christian home and this was one of the first indicators that he is applying these Christian principles to his life. However, after that moment of teary-eyed pride, the second point rushed into my mind, shoving the first point to the side . . . my son didn't want to go with me. Now I could do one of two things in this situation; 1) I can pout and run my errand alone, feeling sorry for myself the entire time; or 2) force him to come with me. I chose option #2.

This is where the adventure began. We arrived at the card aisle only for me to feel mildly overwhelmed with the choices (they have cards for EVERYTHING). However, my son knew what he wanted. He immediately went directly to a card with a bulldog's face with Cheetos in the position of its eyebrows and a mustache (two of his most favorite things, dogs and Cheetos). He said, "This is the one I want to get mommy." I opened the card to find it said, "It's your day, you can be as silly as you want - Happy Birthday!" I insisted we keep looking, giving him several choices of funny and meaningful Mothers' Day cards, but as you have probably already guessed, he insisted on buying the bulldog birthday card, so we bought it.

When we brought the card home, I had the children use their beautiful scribbled handwriting to sign it (which included a total lapse in my brain and resulted in me momentarily misspelling both children’s names . . . seriously) in crayon. When they gave it to my wife, her face lit up and she loved it, it didn’t matter that it was actually a birthday card, it was a card the children had picked out specifically for her. It was the perfect card for the perfect mother.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Using the Bike to Deliver the Message

I read an article in my local paper about a young woman, a professional mountain biker, Grace Ragland, who is using the bike in a similar fashion to our American hero Lance Armstrong.  Now granted, Ragland has not reached the same heights that Tour de France Champion Lance has, but she has fought and been victorious in a similar, life-altering fight.  You see, Ragland was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (commonly known as MS) in 1980, 30 years ago.  At the time she was diagnosed, there were no medications to treat the symptoms of MS.  It wasn't until 1998 that she was able to take medication to alleviate the symptoms. 

Unfortunately, the side affects of the medications made it difficult to live the life she wanted, so she stopped the treatments and ultimately suffered one of the worst relapses in her life.  That is when she tried a new drug called COPAXONE.  COPAXONE made her feel better and she has since won several races, all while battling MS.  Once reading the article about this inspiring story, I felt compelled to contact Ragland and received an immediate response.  In fact, despite this incredible testimony and her professional mountain biking success, she is still humble, responding to my request for contact with a laugh (as if she had no idea why anyone would want to celebrate her accomplishments).  While I have yet to meet Ragland in person, I look forward to the opportunity how she has impressed me as a inspiring figure on the bike.  The quote she uses on her Facebook page, "Don't let what you can't do interfere with what you can do", sums up the depth of her character. 

It seems the bike draws these types of inspirational characters; Greg LeMond (after being shot in the legs, wins the Tour de France), Lance Armstrong (after battling cancer, wins the Tour de France 7 consecutive times), Eldon "aka - The Fat Cyclist" Nelson (famously and couragously blogging about his wife's battle with cancer while preparing and riding the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race), and Ragland.  For every story of blood doping you might hear, there are 10 stories of challenges overcome and barriers knocked down.  I am proud to be a part of the fraternity, this community we call cyclists - the best part is that the membership fee is cheap, just jump on a bike and start peddling.

Keep the rubber side down and keep pushing those peddles!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Trains, Planes, and Automobiles

So today, despite the downpour of rain, high winds, and the threat of tornados, we went to see Thomas the Train.  My 4 year old son is a rather large fan of this English immigrant, although I am not sure where Sodor Island is (this relatively obscure reference confuse you?  Take 10 minutes to watch the beginning of any Thomas the Tank Engine episode for clarity.) and not sure what country this little island would claim association.  But we went beyond just seeing Thomas, we bought tickets to RIDE Thomas (this is the "Trains" in the title of this blog).  This is an experience that a train lover like my son could not forget.  We went last year when Thomas came to Chattanooga and we had a similar experience and my son never stopped talking about it.  However, driving to and from this event was not an exercise in entertainment as we traversed the 26.2 miles (according to the precise measurements of of slightly flooded roads and blinding, horizontal rain (this experience represents the "Automobiles" in the title of this blog).  But the best part of it all was the fact that I was there with my family.  Not just my wife and kids (one train addicted boy), but my mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law (the famous rock star for those of you who know my family.  If you don't know the name of his famous band, visit Genesis 4:2 NIV and add the word "Saving" after the word "brother" and you'll see the name of his band - cheap way to get you to open your Bible), sister-in-law, and their child.  It was a spectacular day and unbelievable weekend.  As far as the "Planes" in the title of this blog . . . boy, it would be tough to fly a plane in this weather (sorry, it was the best I could do.)      

Monday, April 19, 2010

The crack of the bat, the smell of the grass, it's opening day!

Spring brings new life, warm weather, and baseball. I remember as a child, sleeping with a baseball and my mit at night. I can remember faithfully praying through the threat of rain in hopes of avoiding a raining-out of my games. I loved baseball. However, I didn’t want to be one of those dad’s who pushes his longing for his own glory days onto his son. But one day recently, my son said, “Daddy, I want to play baseball.” So we signed him up.

Last week was opening day. I was excited, especially since my son ended up being drafted by the Braves, my favorite team. When I say “drafted”, what I mean is he was placed on the team named the Braves, nonetheless, I felt it was fortuitous.

Well, the Braves batted first and my son was placed third in the batting order. The third spot in the order is normally reserved for the best hitter on the team. Considering this was tee-ball, and the attention span of a bunch of 4 year olds was 5 minutes ago, my guess is he was the third closest child to the coach when she made out the order. His turn at bat quickly came about, and even though I was recruited to serve as the third base coach, there was only one thing on my mind, my son’s first at bat. To his credit, he hit the ball on the very first swing and he hit it hard, it actually crept into the outfield. As I watched the ball and cheered with our family and friends, my son was doing the same, watching the ball and still standing at home plate.

As you might guess, in the world of 4 year old baseball, this scene is not uncommon, in fact, it is the norm. Nearly every at bat featured the same scene. The child (after knocking over the tee several times) would hit a slow dribbler onto the field only to send the defensive team into a mad scramble with every child launching at the ball resulting into a pile of 4 year olds nearly 3 feet deep. You have dads spread throughout the infield attempting to coach the children, but more realistically acting as a babysitter. Kids playing in the dirt, picking grass, picking noses, putting mits on their heads, and generally becoming distracted.

About halfway through the first inning we started seeing players peeling off. A little girl refused to swing because she was deep in tears (maybe she felt she would hurt the ball), another boy on our team refused to run, so mom picked him up and rounded the bases with him. Our son actually made it through one full inning (for those of you who are keeping score, one inning took 50 minutes), before I heard, “Daddy, I want to go home.” We convinced him to bat again and although the tee took a beating this time, he had another big hit (2 for 2, batting 1.000 for the season), but that was it. We couldn’t make it another inning. He was tired, hungry and just done with baseball.

Maybe baseball isn’t the best game for a 4 year old with a short attention span, but it is America’s past time (and if he never plays again, his career batting average is perfect).

Who has been feeding the dog?

I love food. In fact, simply saying I love food, is probably an understatement. Just ask my wife, ask anyone who I’ve gone to lunch with, or ask any all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant I have visited in the past (you should see the look on the managers face when I walk in the door – I get my money’s worth). For exercise, I ride my bike a few times a week. But the real reason I exercise is to allow myself the ability to eat whatever I want (which I am well aware is not a good wellness strategy).

However, this love of food did not always exist. When I was young I was actually a very picky eater. I was also very stubborn. This, as many of you parents know, was not a fun combination for my mom and dad once dinner time arrived. Nearly everything my mom put on my plate, I refused to eat. In fact, the battles that were waged at the dinner table are legendary. My mom often regretted the phrase, “You will not leave the dinner table until you cleaned your plate!” This only led her to find me still sitting at the table, not one bite eaten, as bedtime arrived.

There were many foods I would refuse to eat, all the usual suspects – spinach, beets (I would often would sacrifice a few tasty macaroni by building a wall to prevent the beet juice from spreading to the foods I actually liked), broccoli, and most anything any color other than white (why I was so color specific is beyond me). In fact, it became a running joke in my family at Thanksgiving that my plate would be full of almost all white foods (white turkey, white mashed potatoes, and white rolls). But there was one food that I was particularly offended by – roast. Why roast? I think it was the texture more than the flavor, but nonetheless, I would gag every time my mother would force me put a bite of it in my mouth.

As I grew older, I began to understand that I was losing the dinner table battles. Not that I ultimately ate the food (because I didn’t), but I would waste all my play time sitting at the dinner table being stubborn. This led to a different strategy, a more devious strategy. I would start the meal refusing to eat the offending food, sitting stoically as if I was settling in for the night as I had many times in the past. Eventually, the family would clear the table, leaving me alone at the table with my plate of cold roast and beets. We did not have a family dog at the time, so I had to search the room for another opportunity to dispose of the evidence. This is when I realized my mom had decoratively placed a fern next to my seat at the dinner table. Why she didn’t see my next move coming is beyond me, but my guess is that when I called her back to the kitchen 20 minutes later she was simply overjoyed to see a cleaned plate. When the fern died a month later and she found a pile of rotting food in the pot, it was simply too late to punish me. It was shortly after this incident that we got a family dog; I guess she preferred me to feed the dog than kill the plants.

Have any of you ever wished upon your children that they, as parents experience the same difficult challenges you experienced as a parent? Well, I am happy to report to my mom, that my son has inherited that same “picky eater” gene. We’ve moved all the plants away from the dinner table, but come to think of it, the dog has gained a few pounds.