Category Archives: Humor(?)

Home for Christmas

The windows were filled with the morning’s frost, and the red and green lights twinkled among the 20 year’s worth of handmade, grade school Christmas ornaments which filled our tree.  Not a creature was stirring……except my 28 year-old brother.

Well beyond the years when people begin to be jaded, Sean was still filled with Christmas Spirit, and I could always expect to be jostled awake at 5 a.m. to let me know that it was time to see the bounty which awaited us.  Or, time to wait until a somewhat reasonable hour to wake our parents.

With everyone moderately conscious, we would begin our Christmas tradition of taking turns opening gifts, my Mom telling us the story of how she got bought each one of those gifts (“I had to push a woman at Venture to get that He-Man figure.”), and my Dad cluelessly saying “You’re welcome” when we thanked him for gifts which he was obviously unaware that my mother had purchased.

Unlike my brother, I was always more than willing to sleep in late, since I had begun the process of finding hidden Christmas presents in Mid-August.  A cat and mouse between my mother and I.  She, always searching for new and unique ways to hide gifts, and me, always finding new and unique ways to locate them.  I went so far as lowering my little sister Megan into the narrow opening of a locked cabinet to retrieve gifts.  Things finally reached a tipping point when Mom hid a Nintendo NES in the home of our elderly neighbor, who then died shortly before the holidays.  My parents had to convince her next of kin that Ann was not, in fact, a big fan of Duck Hunt.

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Posing in front of the tree, and the world’s most uncomfortable orange love seat.

 

Sean had led me down the path to become North County’s most prolific Christmas gift spoiler when he fulfilled every big brother’s duty of ruining the mystery of Santa Claus.  I can still remember he and Jeff Lewis matter-of-factly letting me know that it was all a big lie as we strolled past the Electronics Department at Target.

With my world shattered, Sean and I began scouring the house for gifts.  But he never had the stomach for it.  When a previously discovered race car set was a no-show on Christmas morning, Sean caved almost immediately when our Mom simply said, “Looking for something?”  He would have never been cut out for a life of crime.

Our Mom always made Christmas special for us, and my Dad always let my Mom make Christmas special for us.  She took such joy in making us happy at Christmas, even when we didn’t make it too easy.

Like when my Dad had to hold my Mom back after I almost kicked the tree over because “Stupid Santa” brought me the Bat-Cycle instead of the Bat-Mobile, or when Sean launched a plastic Godzilla hand through a hand-painted Christmas ornament purchased on a trip to Frankenmuth,MI.

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Godzilla may have defeated Rodan, but he was no match for Eileen McMullin.

 

After, the wrapping paper had stopped flying, Sean would don whatever Generra sweatshirt or Swatch that my Mom had gotten for him and we would head to St. Martin’s for mass.  Our favorite Christmas homily remains Fr. Marty’s “Christmas is about the three F’s.  Food, family and fun.” sermon.  We really thought one of those F’s was bound to stand for Faith, but he really threw us a curveball.

Then, after a few more hours of enjoying our gifts or possibly napping, we would head to our Uncle Tom and Aunt Mary Lou’s house.  Even though I now realize that they lived maybe 30 minutes away, it seemed like it was the other side of the planet.  We would play, compare Christmas gift notes with our cousins and sit down for a fancy dinner.  Or at least my idea of fancy.  All of the plates, glasses and silverware matched!

Even though, at 43, I still don’t think I would have graduated from the kid’s table, I miss those days.  Falling asleep in the back seat on the way home as my Dad drove, and knowing that everything was right with the world.

This will be our first Christmas without Sean.  When I type those words, it still doesn’t feel real.

We all have our own families now, and we have created our own traditions, but the Original Five coming together has always been a part of that.

I take solace in the fact that the Christmas Spirit, which was so alive in Sean, lives in on in his children and all of his nieces and nephews.

I love you Sean.  You will always be home for Christmas in my heart.

jjj

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10 Miles to Lebanon or How Al Bundy Scared the Hell Out of Me

 

They often say that the most exciting part of a trip is the journey and not the destination.  I’m not sure who “they” are, but they probably never broke down in the middle of nowhere late at night.

In the Fall of 1992, my brother Sean and I were both attending Southwest Missouri State in Springfield, MO.  I was a Sophomore, and Sean was taking a “bonus” semester before he graduated.

Sean and I had plans to take the three-hour trek back home to St. Louis for the weekend to do laundry, eat something other than Cashew Chicken and visit our family.

Sean was working as a shuttle bus driver around campus and wasn’t set to get off of work until around 9 pm, so our plan was for me to wait for him in the disgusting basement room he shared with two of his fraternity brothers and head home late that evening.

But fate, and the clutch in a 1982 Datsun B210 with 150,000 miles on the Odometer, was against us.  Driving through the Ozark Mountains outside of Springfield, it became apparent that we would not be making it home that night.

The exit at Phillipsburg, MO now boasts The World’s Largest Gift Shop (I’m not sure how official those ranking are), but in 1992 it was home to a single gas station which closed at 7:00.

While the Datsun could still drive in reverse, our plan to drive backwards on the highway to the next town was deemed “unfeasible.”  So the decision was made to walk the 10 miles to Lebanon.  A town which looks like Chicago next to Phillipsburg, by flaunting both a Long John Silver’s and the Walnut Bowl Outlet.

Using the payphone at the gas station, we placed a collect call from “It’s Sean and Scott, don’t hang up!” to our parents.  The one casualty of the cell phone that I truly miss is the late night collect phone call.  What better way to scare the hell out of your parents while also costing them a fortune.

So we were on our way.  Armed with the tire iron from the Datsun for defense and a Hostess Fruit Pie from a vending machine for sustenance.  Just like the early settlers.

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How long could it possibly take to walk ten miles in a pair of Bass loafers?

 

With ten miles ahead of us, we started things off right, with me slipping on a beer bottle in the grass and immediately injuring myself.  But luck was still on our side as I didn’t smash the Fruit Pie in the spill.

While the prospect of a motorist slowing down to pick up a guy wearing a trench coat and another wielding a tire iron seemed slim, Sean made it clear that he would not accept a ride from anyone even if they did stop.  “How do we know that some guy that pulls over to help us isn’t Al Bundy?,” he said.

al-bundy

Fictional shoe salesman Al Bundy.

 

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Prolific 1970’s serial killer Ted Bundy.

 

 

 

Despite Sean’s reluctance to get into a stranger’s car, that did not stop him from cursing out the occupants of cars which sped past us for their lack of human decency and compassion.

That anger led to some minor vandalism, as I’m sure many of the mile markers along the route still retain dents from the Datsun’s tiny tire iron all of these years later.

We spent the next several hours walking and talking about all of the things that life had in store for us.  All the while being cruelly mocked by billboards which advertised the Walnut Bowls outlet only eight miles ahead.  Seven miles.  Six miles….

When we finally got to a hotel well after one in the morning, Sean waffled on whether or not to spring for two beds, since the credit card he had came with strict instructions from our parents to only use in case of an emergency.  I let him know that despite the lack of locusts, this would definitely count as an emergency.

We were exhausted, we were sore and we had only a handful of hours before our Dad would arrive to tow us home.  Despite all of that, as was mine and my brother’s way, we turned on the TV to find that “The Outsiders” had just begun.  So instead of going to bed like sensible people, we spent the next hour and a half watching Dallas and Soda Pop.

In the morning, my Dad arrived in exactly the way we would have expected.  With a plan to tow the Datsun home hundreds of miles with an old rope he found at a junkyard tied to the back of our Malibu.

I immediately volunteered Sean to take the wheel of the powerless Datsun, which he was happy to do as long as he could still listen to the radio.

I can still see him drumming on the steering wheel and singing at the top of his lungs as the Datsun got smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror.  The first of only three times that the junkyard rope broke before we made it home.  Who would have guessed?

I don’t get to Springfield very much anymore, but any time I am on that stretch of road, I always remember our long walk.  Just walking and talking without a care in the world (aside from passing serial killers).

It was an experience and a story that I only really shared with one person, and now maybe I can help it to live on here.

I miss you Sean.  Stay gold, Pony Boy.

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Little Endings

“How do cars go?”

“Could I sit on a cloud?”

“What happens to my poop when I flush it down the toilet?’

For the last three years, I have driven either one or both of my kids to and from daycare five days a week.  Roughly seven and a half hours each week shuttling between our house in the suburbs to downtown.  In that time I have answered (or attempted to answer) 976,324 random questions, mediated countless arguments and listened to “Mashed Potato” by The Wiggles more times than should be legally allowed under the Geneva Convention.

Today, however, marked Kate and Matthew’s last day at daycare.  Jen will be staying home with the kids as Matthew gets ready to start Kindergarten, so I will be making the trek to work by myself for the first time in years.

And it makes me….sad.

 

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My rearview for the last three years.

 

 

Will I miss the floor of our car looking like a bad day at the Nabisco factory or me reaching blindly under the backseat to retrieve a dropped stuffed animal while I drive on the interstate?  No.  Although that is closest thing I probably get to exercise these days.

But for forty minutes in the morning and forty minutes in the afternoon I get to hear about their day, answer a bunch of silly questions, listen to Kate sing, and force them to listen to (and enjoy) music that will be sure to keep them out of touch with their peers for years to come.

Sure, every once in a while you need to get off the highway to take them to pee in a truck stop bathroom only to have them tell you that they no longer need to go.  But where else can you have your son call out a grizzled truck driver for not washing his hands, and have a Hell’s Angels reject tell your kids that “most people are basically disgusting.”  Thank you Mr. Biker Man.  A solid life lesson.

I’m sure that, in time, I will learn to love the quiet time again, but for now I will feel a little twinge of loneliness when I see the billboard featuring the picture of a balding, 60-year-old insurance salesman who my kids swear looks just like me.

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Me: “I think you mean it looks like Grandpa?”  Matthew:  “No, it looks like you.”

Most of all, this last ride reminds me of all of the little endings that are such a big part of being a parent.  It is so easy to focus on the last time your kids will need you to change their diaper, or ride on your shoulders or want you to tuck them in that it can be easy to overlook the little beginnings.

Matthew, Kate, Jen and I are all beginning a new part of our lives, and it is important to stop and enjoy that and not just fixate on the end of something else.

Does anybody want a Wiggles CD?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Time Won’t Let Me

When I started this blog about four and a half years ago, I thought that it would be a great way to do something creative and hopefully entertaining on a semi-regular basis. I was not very successful on either front.

When I had kids, I thought that I would write something at least once a month to document these years which are going by so fast and to hopefully be entertaining. I was even less successful.

As it turns out, having kids is kind of time-consuming. Who knew? And my blog has went the way of many of my other endeavors, figuratively (and sometimes literally) shoved in the back of a closet with my CB Radio, my half-finished “Seinfeld” script and a Karate Gi with an Arby’s Sauce stain on it.

This is where I would ordinarily put a picture of a Karate Gi with an Arby's Sauce stain on it, but the internet has failed me again.

This is where I would ordinarily put a picture of a Karate Gi with an Arby’s Sauce stain on it, but the internet has failed me again.

Being an involved Dad is a full-time job, and nothing at all like Ward on “Leave it to Beaver,” who came home and smoked a pipe in the living room by himself until dinner was ready. I don’t even have a pipe. Or a kid named Beaver.

But in all honesty, the bar for being considered a “good” Dad is set way lower than the bar for being considered a “good” Mom. Mom’s have such an unrealistic standard set for them that even great Moms can’t live up to it. To be considered a “good” Dad, you pretty much just have to live somewhere near your kids, have changed a diaper once (even incorrectly) and not be currently throwing loose change at your kids.

But still, I feel like I don’t have any time, even though my kids don’t even really do anything yet. I’m not driving any carpools, or taking kids to dance class or baseball practice. I’m not sure how I’m going to fit that in.

As a terribly unathletic kid, I once hid under my bed when it came time for baseball practice so that I could see how things turned out on the episode of “Wonder Woman” I was watching. My Mom looked all around the house for me, but now I think that she may have known that I was under the bed and just thought “I didn’t really feel like driving him to practice anyway.”

As of right now, my days and nights are filled with preparing food, cleaning that same food off of the floor, giving baths, doing laundry, answering questions about clouds and a million other things.

And I wouldn’t change it for the world. This time is going by so fast, but I am so lucky to get to spend it with Jen, Matthew and Kate.

birthday

Maybe my life isn’t too exciting, but when you have kids, every day is an adventure, you just might not realize it on the day.

I vow to be better about writing, and I hope to get something out there on a more frequesnt basis. If not, I hope you will enjoy the pictures I post of Matthew’s high school graduation.

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I’m hip. I’m with it. Right?

Not long before my 40th birthday, I went to get a haircut, and when the time came to hold up a mirror and show me the back of my head, I told the 20-year-old girl cutting my hair that I really didn’t need to see my bald spot. She said, “Don’t worry, it’s still there.”

Sometime after my forced laughter stopped and the crying began, I realized that the reminders of my advancing years are coming at me faster than ever these days. And as the father of a two-year-old and a 3-month-old, I have resigned myself to the fact it is only going to get worse.

This past weekend, I had a twenty-minute conversation with my 13-year-old niece which covered the topics of One Direction, the One Direction movie and who the members of One Direction are dating. All of this was peppered with various “hash tags” and was frequently interrupted by her texting what I can only assume were eight separate people.

When my kids are her age, One Direction will seem like a quaint reminder of a simpler time in music when I didn’t immediately shut off the trash that my kids are listening to on the radio. Or whatever passes for a radio at that point.

When my brother and sister and I laughed at my Mom for finally figuring out what the “doobie” in Doobie Brothers” meant around 2003, she responded that she was busy raising kids back then and didn’t have time to know about that sort of thing. That now makes perfect sense.

I am already out of the loop, and I am barely two years in to being a parent. I don’t know what this Twerking thing is, but I know that by the time I do know, it will be eight “things” past being relevant to anyone under the age of 21. I don’t want to become one of those “things were simpler in my day” people, but all I know is that no one ever sent a picture of their butt to someone on an avocado green rotary dial phone.

You had to really want to be the hundredth caller and win REO Speedwagon tickets on one of these babies.

You had to really want to be the hundredth caller and win REO Speedwagon tickets on one of these babies.

I guess it can’t come as too big of a surprise that my coolness level is at an all-time low when the mini van I drove to work today is actually a step up from my previous model of car, for which the majority of owners were either Truant Officers or Retired Priests.

Now that I think about it, I have never really been cool. There was that one moment in 6th grade when a teenager at the pool said “Thanks dude” when I let him borrow my towel, but I’m not sure if that counts.

Until recently, I felt like I was pretty much the same as I was when I was 27, and the realization that I could now be cast as one of those brain-dead dad’s in a cereal commercial is a little disheartening. I am a father and a husband (sorry Jen, you can’t get rid of me now) so I am not looking for any attention, but finding out what the perception of a 40-year-old Dad is can be a real kick in the relaxed-fit khaki pants.

Girls in their twenties weren’t interested in me when I was in my twenties, but somewhere along the way, for that demographic, I transitioned from “young guy I’m not interested in” to “asexual being whom I am vaguely aware exists.” Like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

Like the Dough Boy, my mid-section also appears to be filled with raw crescent roll dough.

Like the Dough Boy, my mid-section also appears to be filled with raw crescent roll dough.

Maybe these changes are inevitable, so perhaps I should just enjoy things now before my kids figure out that I’m lame.

Or maybe I can drag them down with me. My daughter could be the only girl graduating in 2030 who has a favorite Steely Dan song.

Steely who?

Steely who?

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Who’s that girl?

Growing up, there were a few things I knew a lot about: “Star Wars,” comic books and really bad haircuts. Consequently, there was one thing that I knew next to nothing about: girls.

So, just over a month ago, fate decided to give me a crash course on the subject of girls when my wife Jen and I welcomed our daughter Kate into the world.

I'm starting to suspect that Jen began buying baby headbands quite a while ago.

I’m starting to suspect that Jen began buying baby headbands quite a while ago.

As with our son Matthew, Jen and I decided to be surprised by the sex of the baby, even though Jen spent the length of the pregnancy obsessed with figuring out the mystery. She remains convinced that if we had an ultrasound machine at the house that she could not only determine the sex, but also diagnose the maladies of others. As she reminds me frequently, she is practically a doctor.

While everyone in our families was pulling for a little girl, the odds seemed to be stacked against it as my side of the family has, to this point, produced enough boys to field a hockey team. (I had to look that up, as I know nothing about sports in general and hockey in particular. Please refer to the first paragraph.) But somebody up there really wanted me to paint my old bedroom pink.

While the lead-up to Matthew’s arrival two years earlier was filled with preparations, list-making and general fears of being unprepared, we both took a somewhat more lackadaisical approach the second time around. Like me working on a grade school science project and spending two hours watching “Night Court” re-runs and 10 minutes spray painting some Styrofoam globes, I felt that I could get everything I needed done in the two weeks leading up to the due date.

In our defense, it was a whole lot easier to build cribs and read baby books when a two-year old wasn’t asking you a hundred times a day to open the garage door.

How many 10 minutes conversations about not having the ability to open other people's garage doors can you have in a week?  The answer may surprise you.

How many 10 minutes conversations about not having the ability to open other people’s garage doors can you have in a week? The answer may surprise you.

With no emergency bag packed for the hospital, and no newborn laundry or bottles washed, we arrived at the night before our final ultrasound. After a full night with Matthew, capped off by a particularly excellent reading of “My Nose, My Toes and Me,” Jen informed me that the only thing she wanted for dinner was White Castle. And as a loving husband, and a lover of terrible food, I was more than happy to oblige. What better way to end the evening than by patronizing a restaurant whose customers and employees all look like they are on their way home from a parole hearing?

The next morning, Jen and I went to the hospital for the ultrasound, both thinking that afterwards we would then be free to go about our day. Jen was having some cramping which, like any sane person, we both assumed was due to the White Castle. We were moved to another room to monitor the cramping and as more and more doctors and nurses came through, it became apparent that we would not be free to go about our day.

Jen’s plan to have a scheduled c-section, allowing her to have her hair and make-up done and to generally not smell like little square hamburgers, was quickly dashed as we were informed at 11 a.m. that she would be going in to have the baby at 12. If you are going to have a baby and you can’t quite remember all of the things you need to get ready around the house, a good way to jog your memory is to be told that the baby is coming in an hour.

In one of the few moments Jen and I had to ourselves before being wheeled upstairs, she confided in me that she was terrified because she was passing gas every time she had a contraction. I asked her how far apart the farts were coming, at which point Jen probably had some second thoughts about bringing me along.

With Matthew, Jen had labored for two nights before he was born, and we had even been evacuated from the room due to a tornado, but this was a tornado of a different kind. Amid the frenzy, we called our families and I called work to let them know that not only would I not be making it in that afternoon but that they would not see me again for two weeks.

Jen was wonderful, and hardly missed a beat as she was poked and prodded and even had the epidural knocked out of her back as they moved her onto the operating table. For those first few minutes, the Dad’s job is just to stay out of the way and to not look over the curtain. (Never look over the curtain.) It is almost like being in slow motion while everyone else is moving at double speed, but everything slows down when you first lay eyes on your beautiful baby.

A girl. A beautiful baby girl.

Visions of tea parties, frilly clothes and me punching boys in the face flashed before my eyes. I could almost hear the whispers of the women at Target who would say “Did her Dad even try to comb her hair before he brought her out?”

I’m not sure what to expect on this journey, but I am excited find out. Maybe I will finally figure out something about girls, or at least figure out that I’ll never figure them out.

But right now, all I know is that Kate is coming in to a family that loves her very much, and is lucky to have a big brother who thinks that “Baby Tate” is the bees knees….at least until she starts touching his stuff.

kate and dad

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What To Expect When She’s Expecting

Walk into any bookstore (if you can find one) and you will find row after row of books devoted to advice for women on their pregnancy. While these books offer tips for dad’s which generally boil down to “try not to be a jerk while your wife is pregnant,” there are very few practical guides for men, outside of Billy Cosby’s 1987 bestseller “Fatherhood.” Which, if memory serves, is mostly just a transcript of that “Cosby Show” episode where Denise makes Theo a really ugly shirt.

So, in the interest of helping expectant Dad’s navigate the minefield that pregnancy can sometimes be, please enjoy these tips, tricks and observations from a man who has went through one pregnancy and is in the midst of a second. This is solely based on my experiences, so your results may vary.

First of all, don’t be a jerk. Your wife will be going through a lot of physical changes, and you are going to see, feel and hear a lot of things. Things that you will want to make “funny” comments about. Don’t. For those nine months, you would be best served by sticking with Omerta, the Mafia’s Code of Silence. You didn’t see anything and you didn’t hear anything. “My wife is as beautiful today as the day we met” is what you will say under oath. And that’s all you will say.

The real challenge comes with the emotional changes she will be going through. During Jen’s first pregnancy, she would cry during insurance commercials, old episodes of “Friends,” and anything featuring dogs and the music of Sarah McLachlan.

This commercial should be outlawed under The Geneva Convention.

This commercial should be outlawed under The Geneva Convention.

During this pregnancy, things took an even stranger emotional turn when Jen passed gas like a long haul trucker, then asked me to leave the room, then started laughing, which led to crying, and then went back around to laughter. When she asked me to come back in the room she went into a half laugh/half cry which I can only imagine would be the reaction to finding out that a beloved clown had passed away.

In these type of situations, you will be expected to react accordingly to the situation. Do you offer reassurances, laugh with them or just offer a hug? I would like to be able to offer you a guide on how to respond accordingly, but the truth is that no matter what you do, you will have made the wrong choice.

The most important piece of advice that I can give to expectant Dad’s or new father’s is to always be doing something. Fold clothes, hang pictures, unload the dishwasher. It doesn’t matter. To be safe, just carry around a tape measure.

While the first pregnancy can be tough, the second can offer a whole new set of challenges as memories from the first time around are still fresh on your wife’s mind.

What I didn’t realize when I became a father was that I would never again be truly tired. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I am very tired. But I can’t say that I am tired without receiving a reply from Jen that begins with the question “You think you’re tired?” Apparently, she has not slept more than two hours straight in the last 15 years. Like Leonardo DaVinci….or a meth addict.

Similarly, after your wife has had a baby, any physical pain you may feel pales in comparison to childbirth. I don’t care if you have stepped onto a bear trap, unless you want to hear the phrase “Now imagine if that bear trap came out of you,” it is best to keep it to yourself, hobble your bloody stump to the kitchen and take out the garbage.

And when you add a toddler to the pregnancy mix, as a Dad you better be ready to take it up a notch. Our son Matthew hasn’t quite figured out that he can’t do a running belly flop onto Jen’s stomach, so I need to take some of the heat off of her and bring his attention to me. Like a rodeo clown.

As a Dad you need to recognize that your pregnant wife needs some time to take it easy, and that means you to take over baths, play with blocks for hours at a time and read your toddler loads and loads of terrible books. I don’t think the author of “The Teletubbies in Who Stole the Tubby Custard?” was even trying. But I may just be bitter because Tubby Custard was my nickname at summer camp.

So basically, whether it is your wife’s first pregnancy or her sixth, the real key is just to be a good guy. Be nice, get involved, and save all of your snarky comments for a little-read blog.

I think that ultimately, my wife will be able to look at this and laugh. Or cry. I really can’t tell at this point.

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