Tag 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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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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3 + 1 = Fun?

Nearly twenty months ago, Jen and I welcomed a new member into our family. And as the unimaginable joy of that day led to  many, many late nights of pacing while swaddling a screaming baby, I was left with one question:  Why the hell would anyone do this twice?

Little did I know that just around the time that Matthew turns 2 this May, I will be finding out the answer to my own question.  That’s right, Jen and I will be saying goodbye to what I am sure will seem like the relative peace and quiet of tag teaming the care of one child and hello to what I can only imagine will be a two-on-two Steel Cage Match.

It's a good thing Jen got pregnant before Halloween, because the tights I am wearing with this costume may have made it impossible for me to father more children.

It’s a good thing Jen got pregnant before Halloween, because the tights I am wearing with this costume may have made it impossible for me to father more children.

As a man, I have the benefit of forgetting from time to time that there is another baby on the way because, unlike Jen, I don’t have a constant reminder sitting on my bladder.  But when the memories of the first few months with Matthew come flooding back, and I add a toddler to that equation, things look a little daunting.

Matthew is, for the most part, an incredibly sweet and loving little boy but, at times, taking care of a toddler can be like being in a bad relationship from a Lifetime TV movie.  You will go from laughing and playing to being yelled at in the grocery store parking lot.   Singing and dancing to having the dinner you just prepared being slapped out of your hand.  But you don’t know the real him.  It’s my fault.  Sometimes I just don’t cut the blueberries fast enough.

The prospect of taking care of a toddler and a newborn at the same time is scary enough without the constant “You think you have it rough now” comments from people who already have two kids under the age of two.  With the first baby,  parents would rattle off a series of complaints but always follow it up with the statement “But it’s great and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”  But the advice we get from the parents of two don’t even try to soften the blow.  The only solace they can give is “at least you don’t have three,” as the parents of three or more kids seem to have entered some sort of lawless “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”-situation.

Mel Gibson has eight kids, and he seems like he turned out okay. Right?

Mel Gibson has eight kids, and he seems like he turned out okay. Right?

Once again, we have decided to not find out the sex of the baby before they are born.  Which still seems to elicit an almost visceral reaction from people who will almost certainly never see me or the baby ever again.  I have taken to letting people know that not only are we not going to find out the sex of the baby before they are born, but that I am never going to find out the sex of the baby.  Things could get messy, but I’m sticking to my guns on this one.

As Jen found out when we named Matthew, I have virtually no ideas for baby names, and it drives her crazy.  When it comes to baby names, I only know what I don’t like, and I am pretty much no help beyond that.  My main criteria is that you should be able to find the name on the rotating rack of personalized bicycle license plates at a Six Flags gift shop.  Jen put me on the spot to come up with some girl name options, which ended up with me glancing at the TV and rattling off character names from “Friends.”  I still say that Chandler is a beautiful name for a little girl.

We have a baby name book at the house that is thicker than most dictionaries and would be a great resource for anyone looking for alternate spellings to traditional Icelandic names.  I wouldn’t want my hypothetical daughter to be one of three Bjork’s in her class.  Sadly, any baby name book I would produce would be more like a pamphlet, and like my college papers it would play fast and loose with margins and type size.  Additionally, I would probably use the cheap trick of inserting meaningless photos to pad things out.

Tim Reid as WKRP's Venus Flytrap

Tim Reid as WKRP’s Venus Flytrap

But despite the fear of the unknown with how a second baby will affect our lives, Jen and I still consider ourselves very lucky.  We both have siblings whom we love very much and as much as they may have driven you nuts when you were a kid, it is always good to know that there is someone else out there who has your back and shares so many memories with you.

Besides, we have at least some idea of how to be parents now, so how bad could it be?

(I will most likely regret asking this question (semi-humorously) in a future blog)

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The McMueller’s: Year Three

Three years ago today, on a cool and somewhat drizzly evening, I watched nervously as the most beautiful woman I had ever seen walked down the aisle and said “Yes” when asked if she would share her life with me.

Three years ago this morning, I was at Sam’s Club purchasing 30 bags of apples, because I loved that same beautiful woman who wanted to decorate our wedding reception to look like a fall festival.

I’m not sure what I am whispering to Jen in this picture, but I’m sure it was hilarious.

Things have changed quite a bit over these past three years, but my desire to make my wife happy has not changed.  And as I have learned, the apples were just the tip of the iceberg.  But in an attempt to be a good husband, I have worked to keep my facetious comments about my large fruit purchase to under 10 a year.  However, it gives me some comfort to know that someone at a homeless shelter three days after our reception said, “Again with the apples?” (That’s number 7 for the year.)

What I couldn’t have known on my wedding day was that being a husband is only one of the many jobs I would be taking on over the next three years.  I am a landlord, a landscaper, a painter, an exterminator, a picture frame hanger, a plumber and so many other jobs that I can’t even list them all.  Now, granted, I am not particularly good at any of these jobs, but I sure try to be a good at being a husband and my newest job of being a father.

I already knew that I was unbelievably lucky to marry my best friend, but my luck definitely held out when I saw how great Jen is at being a Mom. 

How lucky am I? I not only have a beautiful family, but I also got through this day without having to buy any fruit. (Comment number 8 for the year)

We now live in the same house in which I lived in a single man.  And with Jen and Matthew in my life, what was once a mostly empty home is now filled with a lot of love …. and a lot of picture frames.

I think the success of our relationship is partly due to the fact that, in the past three years, there hasn’t been a single day in which I haven’t shared a laugh with Jen.  She has a great laugh.

My mother-in-law will say that there are two types of comedy:  slapstick and sarcasm.  And I definitely fall on the side with fewer seltzer bottles.  But as long as Jen and I can laugh with each other more than we laugh at each other, I think we will be okay.  But I’m not sure which side my laughter at her truly original Sammy Davis Jr. impression falls on that scale.

Jen knows me better than anyone else, and I think she can say the same about me.  After all of these years, I still learn new and wonderful things about her all of the time and I think I am starting to figure out the unique way she thinks.  I doubt that anyone else could have guessed what song she was talking about when she just kept repeating the mis-heard lyric “Shhhhh.  I’m the baby.”  (It was “Return to Innocence” by Enigma, by the way.)

I am very proud of Jen in everything she does.  In her work, as a friend, a sister and especially a mother, she is always striving to do the best.  And she is always there to encourage me in everything I do as well.

I love Jen even more than the day she walked down the aisle at our wedding, and the words I spoke to her as we knelt before the altar are as true today as they were then, “You still owe me $10 from when I picked up your prescription yesterday?”

Happy Anniversary Jen.  I love you more and more every day.

But, seriously, you still owe me ten dollars.

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Father’s Day 2: Electric Bugaloo

This time last year, I was on the verge of celebrating my first Father’s Day with a baby boy who was not yet  a month old.  I think that I have learned a lot in this last year, but all I really know is that I have no idea how much is still to come.

I would like to say that I remember every moment of my first Father’s Day, but at this point, all I can say with some certainty is that I probably had slept about 3 hours the night before and that I hadn’t had time to shower.  My Father’s Day gift was to leave the house and go to the movies for a couple of hours.  I didn’t get to go.  Instead, I got to go to the grocery store for about twenty minutes in flip-flops and a t-shirt which most likely had spit up on the shoulder.  If you have ever had a newborn, that twenty minutes out of the house was still pretty sweet.

The Dad abides.

Now, almost a year later, here are some of the things I have learned:

  • If you have time to think to yourself  “I will only have the diaper off for second, what could happen?,” he has time to pee all over you, him, the wall and the fresh diaper you are holding in your hand.
  • Try not to think about how much money you have spent on full bottles of formula which were not drunk or diapers which were soiled 10 seconds after you put them on.  It’s like dropping your Slurpee after taking two steps outside of 7-11.  It is best to just let it go.
  • When you take your baby out for the first time on your own and the car ride seems to soothe him, don’t get cocky and stop at a drive thru for a soda.  Hauling a toddler is like the movie “Speed,” if you slow down below 35 miles per hour he will explode.

Going through our pictures, it is hard to believe that our one-year-old is the same little guy whom we paced around the kitchen with for hours at a time just praying that he would fall asleep.  He lost the baby peach fuzz sideburns which connected to his eyebrows and now looks like a little man who can frequently be found moving every kitchen chair in the house to the living room.  He’s very big into feng shui apparently.

Matthew vs. 1st Birthday Cake? Matthew won in a decision.

The most exciting part of watching Matthew get bigger, is seeing the ways in which he communicates develop.  Although, like most parents, Jen and I were convinced months ago that any burp or grunt was actually a complicated three syllable word.  “Did you hear that?  I think he just said satellite!”

And I could watch for hours as he sits on the front window sill and “reads” his books.  Looking me straight in the eye and dropping mini ravioli on the floor to express his displeasure with dinner?  That I could do without.  But the book thing is very cute.

No matter how many times it happens, having your child call you Dad just melts your heart.  Unless they continue to chant it at three in the morning on a Wednesday.  Then it is half heart-melting and half frustrating.  Maybe 70/30.

Our lives have changed quite a bit in the last year, but all in all I would rather spend my nights watching Matthew take first steps which look like the ramp up to a drunken stage dive than anything I would be out doing when I was still single.

Jen and I weren’t exactly spending our Friday nights attending gallery openings and regattas before Matthew came along, but most Friday’s we can now be found struggling to stay up until 10 to watch the end of  “48 Hours Mystery.”  Which has taught me that if you have a numbers of options for the detective’s question, “Would anyone want to see you dead?,” and you aren’t Batman, then some of the suspicion should probably be focused on you.

As a Dad, I know that I am barely out of the permit driver phase .  And I know that I still have a lot to learn.  But the one piece of unsolicited advice which I would give to a new dad is to learn to be unselfish.  It is no longer all about you.

I have had a wonderful example of what to do from my own Dad, and I think the biggest compliment I could ever receive is if someday Matthew can say the same about me.

Happy Father’s Day.

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Smile for your Grandpa

The year was 1987,  and a tearful nation said goodbye to Clara “Where’s the Beef?” Peller, a young George Michael freaked out parents with his rampant heterosexuality, and the McMullin clan was marvelling at Disney’s vision of the future at Epcot Center.

It was there that Disney’s least memorable character, who appeared to be a burly homeless man who had shopped at Willy Wonka’s yard sale, posed for a picture being taken by my father and said, “Smile for your Grandpa.”  My family had a good laugh about it, but now that I have realized that my Dad was maybe a year or two older than me at the time, I am guessing that he found it less humorous than the rest of us.

White shorts and a Swatch? I had it going on.

If there is one thing that I have learned in the five and a half months in which I have been a father, it is that it would have been much easier to be a dad at 28 than it is at 38.  If I have learned a second thing, it is never where a nice shirt when you burp a baby.  I no longer own any shirts that don’t have a stain on the right shoulder which resembles the Galapagos Islands.

 Even as recently as a few years ago, when I was single and all three of my daily meals sometimes took the form of some variety of burrito, I pretty much felt mentally and physically the same as I had since my mid-twenties.  All of that came to screeching halt just in time to have a baby. Babies, as it turns out, require a lot of bending over.  Who knew?
 
The first cracks in the veneer started to show when my wife and I decided to put wood floors down in three rooms before moving into our house.   While the box promised “Installation over a weekend,” the good folks at Armstrong failed to take into account the work of my father and I.  Two people whose names have never been associated with the phrase “Old world craftsmanship.”  So a few months and several thousand squats to the ground later, I ended up straining my hamstrings.  Apparently that one time I stretched in high school gym class did not get me properly limbered up.
 
After a lifetime of rolling my eyes at professional athletes who were put on the disabled listed for an ailment which sounded like the consequence of not keeping Kosher,  straining my hamstrings resulted in the longest recovery of my life.  It probably didn’t help that I spent months telling Jen that I was fine as I fought back tears after standing up from the couch. 
 
Middle age caught up with me just in time for the most physically demanding job of my life.  (And I worked as a roofer for one day.  Long story.)  I risk waking Matthew every night when I walk him to bed among the creaks and pops that come from either my knees or the (practically) professionally installed floors in our house. It is about 50/50 at this point.
 
Lugging around a baby, and the gear they require on a daily basis, is like working with a narcoleptic personal trainer.  He yells at me to get me motivated and then falls asleep in a heap  And the physical demands are nothing compared to entertainment demands.  Every night, I am singing songs, making funny faces and doing some inspired mime work.  Now I know how Don Rickles must feel doing three shows a night in the big room at Caesar’s.
 
 

Either a picture of "Mr. Warmth" Don Rickles, or an artist's rendering of what I will look like at Matthew's high school graduation.

 
While all of these things remind me that I am not getting any younger, my beautiful wife is always there to comfort me. Whether it is by reminding me that I am practically 40, or by asking me where I was when I learned that Richie Valens and The Big Bopper had died.
 
But even if I do feel like I am falling apart and Jen’s gentle reassurance makes me think that I will be nothing but a cryogenically preserved head by the time Matthew gets married, I know that if I had started a family when I was 28 that it wouldn’t be this family.   And that makes all the difference.  So I guess I can deal with the creaks and the strains as long as……oh, God my back!
 

Forget vertical stripes and stove-pipe hats, the best way to take attention away from your double chins is by holding an adorable baby in front of you.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Yes sir, that’s my baby

With the clock counting down to B-Day, like most parents-to-be, my thoughts are often consumed with questions of who this little person coming into our lives will be.

Is it a boy or a girl?  Will they have Jen’s nose?  My eyes minus the poor eyesight?

Will they be the best possible combination of us or the worst possible combination of me?  A short, sarcastic girl with a neck that keeps her from wearing any off-the-rack turtle necks.  These are all valid questions.

Since we are not finding out the sex of the baby, around our house the little one is affectionately known as Baby McMuffin. A cute play on our last name and a potentially lucrative cross-promotional opportunity for any McDonald’s executives who may be reading this.

For corporate naming rights, I am willing to take cash or those little fried pies you have. Your choice.

The one bad thought that continues to echo through my head is that familiar parent’s curse that someday you will have a child who is just like you.  Since as a kid, by most accounts, I was kind of an a-hole.   In addition to kicking rented bowling shoes into light fixtures, I was quick to bite, followed through on my threats to throw up if I was forced to eat vegetables, and was only recently able to step foot back into Sears.  To make matters worse, I followed the Mafia rule of Omerta, by never admitting to anything, even when I was the only suspect.

From what I can tell, Jen was a sweet little girl who grew up to be a little more wild as a teenager, whereas I became the world’s most boring teenager after an early childhood which may have been the inspiration for the movie “The Omen” ……or at least “Problem Child.”

John Ritter's untimely death means that we will never see "Problem Child 4."

Nobody wants their little bundle of joy to grow up to be one of “those kids.”  The sort that kick the back of your seat on a plane, or scream at their parents that they hate them in the middle of the toothpaste aisle at Target.  All while the parents stand there with a defeated, “what can I do?” look on their faces.

The unsolicited advice of recent fathers doesn’t help to assuage my fears either, as they tell me horror stories about sleep deprivation and temper tantrums.  The fact that each story seems to legally have to end with the phrase, “But it’s great, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world” doesn’t really help.

I guess I need to trust in the fact that we will know what to do.  Or, at the very least, that our baby will be so cute that we won’t seem to mind so much. 

I need to focus less on the what-if’s and start worrying about the real stuff.  Like putting together the baby furniture, and baby-proofing the house, and figuring out how we are going to pay for everything.

But it’s great, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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