Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Fun is a 'Drag'

When I was a kid, I never got tired of playing with my Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. When my mom dragged me to the store, I always had at least two toy vehicles tucked in my pocket for a race down the cashier’s two-lane countertop.

My 5-year-old son is the same way with his Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. And he loves when I play cars with him.

Sure, I still enjoy playing with toy cars, except I need a pit stop after my 300th ride through the toy car wash.

“Don’t you wanna drive anymore?” my son asked me on one occasion after fake driving for several hours, a pain far worse than the pain caused from Chinese water torture -- I’d know, of course.

“How about we play with the Lincoln Logs?” I suggested.

That wasn’t the response my boy anticipated. And his response to my response wasn’t what I was anticipating.

“Do you wanna switch cars?” he asked as he swapped cars with me, and then continued playing cars.

We both knew who was boss. I responded accordingly with, “OK, we can play this game for another two days straight.”

As I entered my 1,922nd fake car wash, my proverbial wheels were spinning, trying to figure a way to add some kind of spark to the game. And then it hit me. I suggested that we gather all the Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, pair them up equally, and race them using my boy’s toy drag race launcher. Race by race, round by round, we’d narrow down the competition until we found a winner.

My son lit up like a set of Goodyears at a green light when he heard the idea. I was actually excited, too.

We set up the drag race launcher near the entryway of our home, and launched the cars down the Pergo floors toward the front door. Our queue of cars in line to race went down the hallway and spilled into the back bedroom. My wife nearly tripped over the cars as she rushed down the hall to answer the phone, sending my boy and I into a panic. She almost ruined 30 minutes of work we put into pairing up the vehicles.

When the dust cleared, I announced each race with my “Monster Truck Voice,” the voice you hear in those commercials for off-road spectaculars. You know, “SUNDAY, SUNDAY SUNDAY! WITNESS 3- 3- 300,000 CUBIC INCHES OF HY- HY- HYDROLIC TORQUE! LIVE AT THE L.A. COLISEUM! WATCH TRUCK- TRUCK- TRUCK-A-SAURUS REX EAT 9 MILLION POUNDS OF SOLID MACHINERY!”

My wife, who was on the phone, was completely annoyed that my volume went into the red. I apologized for being loud. And then I suggested she go into the other room.

My son and I had fun predicting the winners of each race. Any car could win. We’d set the cars on the launching platform, hit the button, and off the cars went. I suppose the heavier cars and the cars with the slickest rolling wheels were most likely to win. But sometimes even the best-equipped vehicles would spin out and crash into the wall.

For a while, my son kept picking the losing contender.

“Dad, you keep winning,” he whined. “Can you let me win?”

I told him the outcome of each race was out of my control.

The boy considered my response. Then he begged me to let him win the next race.

After three rounds of racing and over 300 individual heats, my son actually got tired of playing cars. I succeeded in burning him out. The game was driving him crazy, and he wanted desperately to play something else.

So I took out the boy’s Lincoln Logs, cleared an open play area in the living room, and let the log building begin. I saw that my son was happy again.

And then I jumped right back into two more intense rounds of drag racing until I found a winner. I was bummed my ’55 Chevy wasn’t the grand champion. I attribute the loss to carpet fuzz in the wheels.

-September 2008

Family News in Brief -- August '08

My 5-year-old son posted a big loss in the fiscal third quarter despite an effort to clean up more than two dozen gold coins from his pirate ship play set during a routine vacuum clean-up in the living room earlier this month. The boy claims Mommy rolled right over the coins with the vacuum. Mommy denies the accusation. “I opened up the vacuum bag and didn’t find one toy,” she said. My son sticks to his story, stating that the coins couldn’t be anywhere but inside the vacuum. To assure Mommy and Daddy that this loss wouldn’t become a trend, our boy said he’d protect his assets in the future by putting his toys back where they belong when he’s done playing with them. We stakeholders -- both Mommy and I -- are happy with our son’s new approach to toy management.

During the ride home from dinner the other night, my wife reported that she was cold, the first case of her being cold all summer and a sign that summer is coming to an end. Goose bumps on my wife’s arms confirmed her chills. “I’m freezing,” the lady of my life told me as we got onto the freeway. “Can you turn on the heater?” she asked. Experts advise those like my wife who get cold to wear warmer clothing such as pants, not shorts, and sweaters, not T-shirts. The same sources said they don’t recommend sandals either when exposed to chilly climates.

Our old neighbors and their new baby were spotted at the food court in the Westfield Valencia Town Center mall last week. My wife and I approached the couple and their newborn son, and said hello. The couple said hello back. “Wow, so good to see you,” said the man. His wife was busy shushing their newborn, and simply gestured her surprise to see us. Apparently, the couple goes to the food court frequently because the woman, when pregnant, acquired a taste for hot dogs on a stick. We exchanged phone numbers, turned to leave, and bumped into one of my wife’s old friends from high school. Food courts across the nation have since been reported as being better connectors than online social networks like Facebook and MySpace.

On Tuesday, the mailman failed to deliver mail to my home. According to my wife, both our neighbors received their mail that day. “Obviously, it wasn’t a holiday or some other special day for the post office to take off,” she said. “I started to worry that checks and important documents that I was expecting might’ve went to someone else’s house.” Post office officials had no explanation for the lack of mail in the mailbox. The next day, my wife found a note in our box from the mailman explaining that he couldn’t deliver the mail to our home the day prior due to the fact that the mailbox door wouldn’t open. Inside our mailbox -- the one our homeowners association replaced less than a year ago -- was two days’ worth of junk mail.

-August 2008

Waste a Wish

It all started in 1982 when I was 6 years old.

I got into trouble and had to take a half-hour timeout. I remember thinking that a half-hour meant an hour and a half, assuming that “half” was in addition to the hour. So when I sat down on the couch to do my stretch of time, I knew I was in for a long haul.

The first five minutes of my sentence was torture. After 15 minutes, I was convinced that I’d be old and gray before my time-out expired. Each minute felt like a decade, even though, at 6, I hadn’t yet experienced a decade.

Silently, I wished that time would speed up. I knew it was unlikely that my wish would come true, but I figured wishing couldn’t hurt.

After 20 minutes, time wasn’t moving any faster, and it seemed like the clock was ridiculing me, saying, “You think that long wait for Christmas morning and presents took forever? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, pal.”

So I verbalized my wish loud and clear -- I didn’t care who heard me.

Before I knew it, my half-hour time-out was over. And the wait wasn’t all that bad, especially since I was expecting to be “put away” for an hour and a half. I was convinced that my wish to speed up time had come true.

Years later, when I was 15, I bought a beat up old truck, planning to rebuild it before I got my driver’s license on my 16th birthday.

That 15th year of life was the longest year ever -- I came to that conclusion after only the first month. I was extremely anxious to drive, and the massive undertaking of rebuilding a vehicle from the frame up, which was as much fun as sorting through a massive stack of lawn trimmings and organizing the blades of grass by their height, didn’t help speed up time.

After three months of work on my truck, I decided I wouldn’t live long enough to experience my 16th birthday, and I’d certainly never see my little automobile project completed. So, just as I’d done in that timeout when I was 6, I wished out loud for time to speed up.

Guess what? It worked. In no time, I was 16 years old with my driver’s license in hand, I was finished with my truck, and I was driving it. Life was great.

Unfortunately, it never occurred to me to test my wishing powers on something other than speeding up time. Had I been conscious of my abilities, I might’ve asked for something more worthy like $1 million or a fourth “Godfather” film in the franchise. Instead, at 18 years of age, I wasted another precious wish.

Before I started college, I wished that the four years ahead of me would race by. Believe it or not, my college years did just that.

After graduation, time continued moving at a fast pace. I met a girl, we got married, we bought a house . . . Pretty soon, I got to thinking that time was moving a little too fast. So I made a wish to slow down time.

Nothing happened.

I guess you’re only granted three wishes at birth, and I wasted all three of mine before I was 30.
Time is still fleeting. Just last week, my son started kindergarten. I could swear he was born only yesterday.

-August 2008

Playing Army

Kids these days are always bored, and my 5-year-old boy is no exception. Over the weekend he said he was “tired of the games we usually play” and that he “wanted more action.”

I suggested we play Army.

My younger brother and I used to love playing Army with our friends when we were kids. We’d pick sides, then go down to the creek -- our war ground -- and we’d battle it out to be the last man standing in a full scale war like the ones we frequently watched on TV.

So when my son said he wanted more action, I took him to some nearby fields and we set up to play Army.

Aside from always being bored, kids these days have no patience. My son is no exception. Setting up to play Army is a lengthy process. My son had no patience for that kind of length.

“Come on, Dad,” my son bellyached. “I want action.”

“And action you’ll get if you’re patient,” I said as I dug foxholes into the ground.

“I’m having patience, but I just wanna play,” the boy said.

While my son was impatiently being patient, I finished the foxholes and then moved on to build a holding area where the medic could help wounded soldiers.

In case I forgot, my boy reminded me that he wanted action. I told him to relax -- again. Then I told him we had to have a place for patients.

“But I have patience, Dad,” he said.

“Not patience,” I replied. “Patients -- wounded soldiers.” My son let me know that my five-second definition of “patients” was “borrrrr-ing.”

Since when was “5 years old” the new “13?”

Eventually, we were ready for action. The battlefield was set. The enemy was somewhere beyond the trees. And my son and I were in a foxhole ready for war. All was quiet -- until my boy asked when the action would begin.

The enemy fired the first shot. My son and I returned the fire. Bullets were whizzing back and forth.

A grenade dropped into our foxhole, and we had to evacuate or die. I took the lead, and we jumped into a foxhole to our right. But the enemy was moving in on us -- and fast. My son and I couldn’t sidestep the enemy or sooner than later they’d be on top of us.

I had a plan to sneak around the opposition and attack from behind. The plan involved running through a small stream, which I knew my son would appreciate because what boy doesn’t love running through standing water? Then we’d have to slide into a mound of dirt, which, mixed with the water from the stream, would create that muddy mess that mothers hate but boys adore.

My son enjoyed every second of the plan carried out -- until our sneak attack on the enemy backfired and we tripped over some large tree roots in the ground and fell down the side of a cliff the size of a small skyscraper.

At first, I didn’t think I was hurt, and it didn’t sound like my son was in pain either. But once the dust cleared from our fall, I could see that my boy was a bloody mess.

As I tried to stand up to walk over to my kid, I found that the use of my legs would’ve been helpful. I fell flat on my face and cracked three teeth. My limbs felt like Silly Putty, and I was unable to reach my son who was in serous pain. Worse, there was nobody around to help.

My son was screaming, and he was losing blood as fast as bath water drains from a tub. He wanted action, and he got it.

As my boy stared at the massive gash down the right side of his body, he laughed with joy. That’s when my wife called to tell us dinner was ready.

So my son and I gathered up our toy soldiers, even the two injured ones that fell off the cliff, and we headed home.

After dinner, my soldier and my son’s soldier -- the ones that had fallen off the cliff -- died in their sleep. We put them to rest in tin Altoid breath mint boxes, and we buried them in the backyard. I played “Taps” on my harmonica. It was a moving moment.

-August 2008


My 5-year-old son started kindergarten on Wednesday, and my wife and I were among the 2 million parents there to say goodbye forever to our precious little offspring.

My wife and I felt that dropping our boy off at kindergarten was the same as dropping him off at pre-school. And it was the same as dropping him off at summer school. Why should kindergarten be any different? Why should we wear sad faces and tears? We were excited!

Driving up to the campus on that first day was madness. It felt like the traffic you’d expect at a Rolling Stones concert.

We eventually found parking six blocks away. And since there was no shuttle back to the campus, we had to walk. We took advantage of my son’s lunch for nourishment during such grueling activity.

When we arrived, we found that the school was packed. Parents shot pictures of their kindergartners hundreds at a time, and they shot enough video to make “Schindler’s List” look like a short film.

The scene looked like a red carpet event with the media and paparazzi everywhere. When the kindergartners lined up to go to class, their parents flanked the line, yelling for their children the way super fans try to get the attention of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Some parents were sobbing wrecks, like the ones in airports waving goodbye to their children going away for a summer week’s vacation at grandma’s house. Other parents acted as if they were sending their children to “the chair.”

My wife and I knew we’d see our son in a few hours. Kindergarten would be no different than pre-school or summer school. And why would it be different? Why should my wife and I be so traumatized? We were excited for our son.

I suppose we were somewhat concerned that our boy wouldn’t make friends on the first day, and that he’d hate school as a result. I think my worries stemmed from my own fears of school as a child. I was very shy, and didn’t make friends easily. I hated school, which is why I lied to my son and told him that school would be great fun.

But I didn’t need to convince my boy. He was very happy to be at school. And why not? He makes friends with everyone and anyone, even total strangers we pass on the street -- to the point where he wants to have play dates with them.

While my wife and I were worrying about our son’s social life, it eventually dawned on us that school is really about . . . education. I guess we had forgotten about that.

We recalled the recent awards ceremony at summer school where staff members awarded kids in each class for possessing winning traits like “Responsibility,” “Helpfulness” and “Resourcefulness.” My son was the only kid in the entire program awarded for being “Funny.” My wife and I felt our boy was being called the class clown, and probably rightfully so. We worried that he’d be too busy fooling around and making friends to learn.

But he always learned in the past, we thought. And we had the report cards to prove it. So why should kindergarten be any different? Why should we worry? We were excited.

After we said goodbye to our son, my wife and I hiked back to our car. Starbucks sounded good. We sat in two hours of traffic caused by school parents just to get to the nearest establishment -- only a block away. There, we bumped into other kindergarten parents. It seemed everyone needed a drink.

The chamomile tea didn’t run fast enough and neither did its calming effects. If parents were crying on campus, they were doing a good job holding back. At Starbucks, they let it all out.

My wife and I, on the other hand, weren’t sad at all. Why should we be sad? We were excited.

And then, for no particular reason, it hit us. Our son wasn’t a baby anymore. And we just put him on the fast track to puberty.

Needless to say, my wife and I stood out in front of our boy’s classroom with the rest of the sobbing parents, waiting the remainder of the day for class to let out.

-August 2008

Everyone Wants Our Babies

When you’re single, everyone asks when you’re going to get a steady dating partner. When you’re in a serious relationship, they ask when you’re going to get married. When you marry, “When are you gonna buy a house?” “When are you gonna have a kid?” “When are you gonna have another kid?” Then it’s, “When are you gonna retire?” Sooner or later, everyone wonders why you’re not dead yet.

I’m married, my wife and I are paying to own a house, and we have a 5-year-old boy. Everyone asks when my wife and I are going to have another kid.

“It’s so cruel to leave your son an only child,” people tell us. They make us sound like we starve our child and beat him with a garden hose if he says he’s hungry.

The other day at the grocery store, a stranger told my wife that she better have a second child before our first turns 6 -- or it’d too late. Not waiting for any logical reason why it’d be too late, my wife came to me crying and forced the “Should we have another kid?” talk, a conversation we’ve had many times.

We discussed this matter at great length in the past, and our decision to stop at one child seemed final. Why some random person from the grocery store made my wife think again was beyond me.

Friends, family, co-workers and, yes, strangers, too, have had no problem asking why my wife and I haven’t had another kid. At what point is someone so comfortable that he or she can ask when I’m going to impregnate my wife. That seems like a R-rated conversation to me.

Someone once asked me why my wife and I wouldn’t give our son a brother or a sister. I told this individual that it wasn’t that we were trying to torture our son with such a miserable and lonely life, but that in an attempt to provide a sibling for our son, like the good parents we obviously are not, we lost two babies and jeopardized my wife’s life.

“Third time’s a charm,” this person said.

I found it difficult to respond to that. But eventually I said, “Hey, if my wife can’t make a baby, I’m gonna put her down like a suffering pet and find someone else who can give me offspring.” I don’t think the lady liked that.

Another person tried to change my mind about having more kids, even though I hinted that I wasn’t comfortable with the conversation. When I told the guy my wife and I -- both working parents -- couldn’t afford another kid, he joked, “You write a family column. Why not just have the second kid and write him off as a business expense?”

I told him, “I already write off my house, cars, wife, son and vacations for that very reason, and if I add one more write-off, the IRS will surely audit me.”

The guy left the conversation thinking I actually write off my life since I write about it in my column.

In reality, my wife and I have had trouble having a second child. At one point, we assumed it was fate’s way of saying we shouldn’t have another. That was two years ago, and my wife and I haven’t had a change of mind -- for financial reasons, fate reasons and, most importantly, for health reasons.

And then came the other day when some stranger in the grocery store told my wife that she better have another kid before our 5-year-old turns 6. My wife said she felt “selfish” for not giving our boy a companion. She said our son would be “lonely.” She said our son could become “more responsible” if he had a sibling to take care of. This, of course, all came from the stranger.

Today our son has a companion thanks to his parents’ unselfishness. The boy isn’t lonely and he has responsibilities of his own. We bought him a pet fish.

-August 2008