Thursday, September 3, 2009

Family News in Brief -- August ’09

On Sun., Aug. 2 at the local Target store, I allegedly purchased generic glue sticks and generic scissors for my 6-year-old son instead of the name brands his school insisted my wife and I buy for him by the time first grade started on Aug. 12. The list of school supplies that officials sent home clearly advised against generic brands. “I didn’t buy anything generic,” I said on the first day of school when I was brought into the principal’s office to explain the generic products found in my boy’s backpack. “I do request that someone come forward to give me legal assistance.” School officials eventually found the name brand supplies buried in my boy’s bag. Investigators suspect my son put his generic home supplies in his backpack in addition to the name brand supplies my wife and I bought and packed for him. I was released shortly after my detainment.

There will be plenty of thrills in my 6-year-old son’s first grade class this year, with bulletin boards unlike those in kindergarten, a newly designed alphabet on the wall, a supply holder for each kid’s desk and even a new teacher. My son, who helped his mom (a teacher) set up her classroom during summer break, understands the work that goes into building a successful learning area, and he decided to say something to his teacher about her class. “The classroom looked really nice and I didn’t want to hold in the words and just think about it, so I told my teacher,” he said. “And then she said, ‘Thank you, kind sir.’” My son then learned that his first grade classroom was located next to the “big kids” playground, where he found out he’d get to play this year. He asked his teacher if learning could take place out there with the fresh air instead of inside her stuffy classroom.

Every soccer team’s priority in preseason is to finish with the understanding that you can’t kick the ball into the wrong goal. Earlier this month, my 6-year-old son and his fellow teammates hit the soccer field running in various directions. “A cat ran onto the field, and we all chased it and tried to pet it,” my son said following his first day of practice. According to my boy’s coach, putting your hands on any animal that meanders onto the field is worse than putting your hands on the soccer ball during play. Once the cat left the field, team members were asked to come up with team names. Suggestions flew at the coach from all directions until my son blurted out the name The Soccers, which led to a moment of confusion and silence, followed by blatant disregard and a storm of good ideas. When practice ended, my son showed his mom how sweaty he’d become, wiping his head all over her arm.

Yesterday, my 6-year-old son risked his social standing at school when he committed an act of good choice making in the name of Kelso’s Choices, a group of actions to choose from when faced with small problems on the playground. Bystanders said that Kelso, a fictitious do-gooder frog, would’ve been proud. “An older kid called the Picarella kid an idiot, and Picarella just ignored the older kid,” said second-grader Billy. “That’s the first choice on the Kelso’s Choices chart. Then, when the older kid kept picking on him, the Picarella kid tried talking it out, which is another Kelso’s Choice. That’s when Picarella tattled.” My son has yet to comment on the matter, but later in the day, his classmates said he upheld his “cool” social standing when he chased a frog, not unlike Kelso, threatening to turn it into a science project in the name of good fun.

-August 2009

Boy Talks All the Time

PICARELLA HOUSEHOLD -- My son started talking when he was about 2 years old, and now, at age 6, he continues to talk and talk and talk -- even in his sleep -- because, he said, God made him that way.

Sources suggest the trait comes from the parents.

“He gets it from me,” my wife said in a statement yesterday. “I talked a lot as a kid.”

According to my mom, however, any kind of parent can have any kind of kid. She knows, she said, because I was a quiet kid and my younger brother never shut up.

“I’m not worried about where he gets it so much as I’m worried it’s gonna hurt him in the future,” I told bystanders moments after a lengthy game of Shhhhh with my son on his first day of school last week. “Is my son gonna be the kid that other kids constantly pick on? Will he be unable to focus on his studies when he gets to college? Will he have a hard time getting a job later on in life because the interviewer never gets a chance to ask the first question because my son is too busy talking about how he’s doing, what he did earlier that day, how long it took him to get to the interview, what happened in the parking lot, the details of the elevator ride up to the interview and what it was like waiting in the reception area for the interview?”

Past classmates reported that my son’s talking never bothered them before. According to many of them, my kid is actually entertaining.

“He talks a lot, but at least he doesn’t have bad breath,” said former kindergartener Joey, who spent considerable time with my boy on the school playground last year. “He used to talk a lot about eating vegetables so he could grow faster and be able to ride ‘The Mummy’ at Universal Studios. He also talked a lot about polishing his toy car and making it really shiny like a mirror. And then he talked a lot about planet Mars and how you have to wear a helmet there -- but not a bike helmet.”

That was kindergarten, though. My boy’s now a first-grader, and according to reports, kids must learn not to speak for the sole sake of making noise by the first grade or they run the risk of falling behind in school.

My wife’s friend said her younger brother read about an incident online where a woman brought her daughter to the doctor for a chronic cough and found out, through a random conversation, that talkative children -- not hers -- struggle in school because they’re talking and not listening, and thus not learning.

“When hearing this,” said my wife’s friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, “my brother told his little boy that talking -- at home and in the classroom -- would be off limits during the really important school years.”

After careful deliberation, my wife and I decided to seek out other advice.

“Should we discourage his need to talk all the time?” my wife asked area parents on the first day of school last week. “Should we just politely ask others to ignore his noise? Or should we talk our kid’s ear off and see how he likes it?”

Nobody had an answer. But my wife and I noticed our boy’s silence as we discussed the matter.

“We actually caught him not talking for a change,” my wife said. “We think it was because he was nervous on the first day of school, and that he was just afraid to talk. So my husband and I took him aside and asked him how he felt about being quiet. He said he liked it. We asked him to keep it up.”

Sources announced yesterday that, for the past two weeks, in the face of multiple opportunities for our kid to talk, he’s remained practically speechless.

It’s now believed that the kid is stonewalling everyone, his parents included.

According to reports, however, kids must learn to speak up by the first grade or they run the risk of falling behind in school.

-August 2009

Smugglin' Ain't Easy

My 6-year-old son and I are in the car out in front of the house. I open a bag of chocolate chip cookies -- one of our favorite treats, second only to M&Ms. I let the sweet aroma fill the car.

ME: You want some of these delicious cookies?

MY SON: Yeah!

ME: Then you gotta help me sneak ‘em into the house without Mommy catching us. You help me do that, and you can have three whole cookies. How’s that sound?

MY SON: You gotta be kidding, right, Daddy? Whaddaya think I am -- a baggage handler? What’d I do for you on Halloween, when I handed over those Milky Way bars? What was that -- a game of Candyland or somethin’?

ME: No kid of mine is gonna talk to me like that. I don’t have to give you any cookies at all. I could’ve had Grandpa call Mommy on the phone to distract her while I snuck these cookies inside.

MY SON: So why didn’t you? And who are you calling a kid? I’m 6 years old. I’ll be 6-and-a-half in a few months.

ME: Oh, so you’re a big shot now, huh? You think you can make it in the big world all by yourself?

MY SON: You kidding, right?

ME: Okay, big shot. You’re so big. There’s a bag of M&Ms I’ve got stashed in my desk. Pure milk chocolate. I want you to sneak these cookies into the house all by yourself, and if you’re as big of a big shot as you say you are, get these cookies into my bottom desk drawer without Mommy catching you. You do that, and that bag of M&Ms in my desk is yours. Do you know how to handle Mommy?

MY SON: Sure. But it’s gonna cost you more than a bag of M&Ms and three cookies. Sneaking sweets into the house is no duck walk anymore. Mommy’s like the Navy. She’s got EC 2s with satellite tracking. She sees everything. And that’s ‘cause she’s serious about eating healthy. So I want the M&Ms and I also want half the cookies in that bag -- not just three.

ME: You’ve got guts making demands like that.

MY SON: In this world, Daddy, you gotta have guts. When you got guts, you get the power. And when you got the power, you get the sweets. Me? I just want what’s coming to me.

ME: And what’s coming to you, son?

MY SON: The world, Daddy, and all the cookies and candy in it.

I close the bag of cookies and drop it into my son’s lap. I step out of the car.

ME: Meet me in your room in 10 minutes. That’s when you’ll get your M&Ms and your cookies. But if Mommy catches you, you won’t see another treat ‘til high school.

MY SON: I’m scared.

I leave the kid in the car and wander into the house. He isn’t far behind with the cookies.

MY WIFE: Where’s our son?

ME: I dunno.

The kid enters, cookies in his hands.

MY WIFE: Where’d you get those cookies?

I wonder what the kid is up to, cookies out in the open. His idea of smuggling is different than mine.

MY SON: Daddy gave me the cookies.

I can’t figure the kid’s strategy, but he’s got me fooled for sure.

MY SON: Daddy wanted me to sneak these into the house. He also has a big bag of M&Ms in his desk.

And this is the nightmare I have, just before I decide not to buy cookies at the store. I pick up a gallon of milk and a book of stamps -- the only items I’m supposed to get -- and I head home.

-August 2009

Love Hurts

Life was good.

And then my wife wanted to rearrange the living room furniture.

“We can’t rearrange anything in this place,” I told my wife. “It’s too small in here to do anything.”

You see, we have one of those step-saver homes -- the ones newlyweds were gobbling up a few years ago when the housing market was booming. (A step-saver home, for those not familiar, is a home that allows you to save steps due to its extreme compactness -- an advantage, according to our real estate agent.) So, due to the size of our house and the size of our furniture, there was really only one way to arrange everything.

My wife wasn’t happy with my response. She wanted to see other layouts, even though I was certain nothing else would work. The bigger problem: I’d be the one doing the rearranging. I’d be the one wasting my time. I’d be the one depleting my energy. I’d be the one injuring myself throughout the project.

It was a done deal. I wasn’t going to rearrange anything. My wife was sad, but I wouldn’t have to suffer royally. Life went on.

And then my 6-year-old son said, “If you wanna make a girl happy, Daddy, you have to move furniture.” Apparently, in the third “Ice Age” movie, which my boy recently saw during summer school, an animated squirrel moves a bunch of rocks (the squirrel’s furniture) to impress a female squirrel. Now, thanks to my son and “Ice Age 3,” I never make my wife happy because “I never move furniture for her.”

If my wife thought I was that much of a sucker to fall for a line like that, she was fairly accurate in her assessment of me.

“OK, where do you want everything?”

She pointed at a piece of furniture, and I moved that piece to where she pointed next. Right away I discovered how out of shape I was, huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf with emphysema, even though I was only moving a table lamp.

When I got to the small sofa, the real pain came. I pulled something major in my back. Making matters worse, I was right -- the new furniture layout didn’t work at all. I didn’t need this.

“It’s too crowded in the corner,” I said. My wife was bummed, but she agreed. I smiled, pleased that I was right. Then my wife pointed again, and in an instant, as if I were a remote-controlled car that my wife operated, I was moving the desired piece of furniture to the desired new place in the room.

During the process, I smashed my finger flat between the couch and a wall, giving new meaning to the phrase, “Nothing lasts forever,” only to discover that the latest arrangement was worse than the previous arrangement. I would have to move the furniture again. I really didn’t need this.

While making the next move, injuring myself again, I decided that I’d have to like the furniture layout no matter what it looked like -- I didn’t want to move everything again.

As I predicted, the new arrangement was dreadful, unlivable. Our living room made coach class on today’s airlines look inviting and spacious.

“Wow, it looks great, very roomy,” I said. Then I collapsed onto the sofa for a breather.

My wife wasn’t happy with the room. I knew right away she wanted me to move the furniture again. I just didn’t need this.

“You were right,” my wife said. “We can’t rearrange anything in this place. It’s too small in here to do anything.”

So I moved everything back to the way I originally had it. When I was finished, I felt like I had altitude sickness from all the movement I’m not used to. I most definitely didn’t need this.

While on the floor catching my breath, I noticed my wife staring at me. It took me a few minutes to see she was smiling. She was happy.

And the moral: If you wanna make a girl happy, move furniture for her.

-August 2009

Ill Behavior

My 5-year-old son woke up feeling a bit warm. Mommy checked his temperature. It was 104. So to the doctor we went.

“Yup,” the doctor said, “he’s sick.” I knew this. My wife knew this. “No playing, get some rest, stay home.”

My wife added, “That means you have to stay in bed.”

The kid looked at Mommy, looked at the doctor. “I don’t need rest,” he said. “I’m not sick. In fact, I feel great. Look, I’m not sniffling. Look at me play.” He jumped up and down in the doctor’s office, took a few laps around the exam chair, all the while dragging himself as if pulling dead weight three times his own.

At home, we gave our boy some medicine and then sent him to his room to rest.

“It’s not fair,” he said as he plopped onto his bed and threw the covers over his body, still wearing his shoes. “Why do I have to rest? The doctor is wrong. He’s to blame for this. I want a second opinion.”

After a 10-minute nap, our son got up to use the bathroom. We asked how he was feeling. He said he felt better than perfect. We checked his temperature and it was at least back to normal.

“Well,” my wife said, “you still need rest.”

“But, Mom,” the boy insisted, “I feel fine. What good is rest gonna do me? If you’ll just let me show you, you’ll see I’m not sick. How about we go to the store? Don’t we need groceries? I know we need asparagus. I’ll push the cart.”

My wife told him to stop negotiating and return to his bed.

“This is ship,” the kid said. Only my wife and I believe he said the curse word that sounds very similar to “ship.”

“Did you just say a swear word?” we asked him.

The kid went into a panic. He knew he’d be in big trouble if he used a swear word. He got two days hard time for saying the “F” word -- fart.

“I don’t swear,” he said, trying to be as smooth as possible, “I swow.” Yup, he said swow, which is, I guess, his made-up verb for “wow.”

“Did you get a new hairdo, Mommy?” the boy asked. “It’s really beautiful. And I love your shirt, Daddy. You look tough.”

I thanked him for the compliment and patted him on the head.

My wife wasn’t buying the boy’s charm, and the kid knew it.

“OK,” he said with his head in his lap. “I did wrong. I know that now, and I’m a new man. But I’ll go take a timeout anyway. I’ll think about what I did.” He plodded back to his room, shut the door behind him and took a timeout.

When my wife and I peeked in on him, he was slumped on the bed, quiet, thinking. He caught us looking in.

“Why bother checking on me?” he groaned. “What’s the point? Why should I even go on living?”

By this time, the kid was looking really ill again. His fever came back. He was coughing nonstop. Sniffling. His eyes sagged to match his sagging mouth, sagging posture. My wife and I had planned a big birthday bowling party for the following day, but with our son sick, we’d have to cancel it.

“We’re gonna have to cancel your party,” we said.

The boy tried to refute this, but found he couldn’t fight it any longer.

“I knew it’d come to this,” he finally said. “And I know there’s nothing I can do about it, even though I’m not really sick. But it’s OK, Mom and Dad. I’ve lived a good life. Now I’m ready for the end, even if I’m not really sick. Go ahead, finish me off.”

He fell asleep and woke up the next morning feeling better -- for real. We didn’t have to cancel his party after all. And we all had a great time.

When we got home, the kid crashed, exhausted.

“What’s wrong?” we asked. “Didn’t you like your party? Didn’t you like your gifts? Don’t you wanna play with all the stuff you got today?”

He looked at my wife, looked at me. Then he went to his room, plopped onto his bed and threw the covers over his body, still wearing his shoes. “I can’t play anything,” he said. “I need rest. I’m really sick.” And then he passed out.

-August 2009

Family News in Brief -- July ’09

A picnic with my family on the Fourth of July turned into a feast for a family of ants. My 5-year-old son said he was badly injured. “Those ants ate my feet and my legs and my belly and my hair,” he said. “And my ears and my back and pretty much everything else.” The kid was rushed to the bathroom where Mommy opened up the medicine cabinet and administered operation: Band-Aid resuscitation. “There were no physical injuries,” Mommy said, “other than he just felt hurt without the Band-Aids.” Meanwhile, the ants crawled over nearly every inch of the picnic and were moving in on the Boston cream pie. I hosed the army of ants off the plastic-ware and safely moved our stuff back into the house, where the 5-year-old was threatening never to leave his ant-free room again. “The only time ants are dangerous,” I told my son in my here-I-come-to-save-the-day way, “is when they’re exposed to radioactive rays and they grow to the size of a building and eat people for lunch.” Apparently, I made matters worse.

My wife, who’s grappled with severe anxiety for many years, heard that acupuncture is a good stress reliever, and so she decided earlier this month, while on vacation, to give the Chinese medicine a shot. She said she learned a great deal about her body during her one-hour visit. “My stress, evidently, is related to liver issues and digestion issues,” she reported when she got back home. “Wow,” I said, “the doctor found that out awfully quick?” My wife had seen several doctors in the past and underwent rigorous examination, including blood tests, heart tests and extensive therapy. No doctor or specialist could find a problem or a solution to her ailment. “So what did this acupuncturist do to figure this out?” I asked. “He looked at my tongue,” she said.

Cereal box contests reportedly pay off, and last month my family began a steady diet of cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, playing all the contests on the boxes so that maybe we could win our summer vacation. My wife and I were skeptical about the contests at first. “One day,” I told sources, “while eating a bowl of Wheaties, staring at the contest on the box, I asked my wife, ‘Does anyone really win these contests?’ My wife said she didn’t know anyone who’d ever won anything from a cereal box contest. I didn’t know anyone either. So, throughout the month of July, we decided to find out for sure.” My wife and I surveyed family and friends to see if they or anyone they knew had ever won anything from a cereal box contest. We also surveyed strangers, took out ads in various newspapers calling for past winners, and we even contacted some cereal companies. “Aside from some specifics about past winners that the cereal companies provided us,” I said, “we really had no solid proof. We needed a more credible source.” So I checked the Internet. After reviewing various Twitter posts, Facebook pages and random blogs, I can now say for certain, cereal box contests are for real.

About eight months ago, my 5-year-old son took up healthy eating. My wife and I had told him that if he ate healthy, he’d grow up big and strong. “He ate broccoli, peas, green beans no problem,” my wife said in a recent statement. “And he rarely drank soda or ate too many sweets -- he was determined to grow up big and strong.” Yesterday, my wife and I were introduced to a friend’s newborn baby, and we couldn’t help but reminisce. “Remember when ours was that small?” my wife asked me. “Yeah,” I responded. “I wish he wouldn’t grow.” So our son announced, “If you don’t want me to grow anymore, then just give me sweets.” And that was the end of his healthy eating.

-July 2009

I Must Set the Record Straight

For the record: My wife gets to watch much more TV than I do. And I’m fine with that because there’s not much on TV I really need to see. I like to go to the movies. I’m a movie-going kind of guy.

I saw three movies in the theater last year. I guess I’m too busy giving my wife and 5-year-old son the care they deserve.

My family subscribes to Netflix, where you can rent DVDs online and have them mailed to your house the next day. We rent two DVDs at a time -- one for me/my son, and one for my wife.

For the record: When I receive a movie in the mail, I watch it that night when everyone in the house is asleep, or, if it’s a movie for my son, I watch it with him when Mommy is out with friends. I mail the disk back the next day.

My wife’s DVDs sit on top of our TV for months at a time before she watches them. I just can’t see the harm in renting two movies for myself when I have the chance. My wife thinks I’m unfair.

She, unlike me, watches her shows during the prime times of the day. And what does she watch? Oprah. Reality TV. Entertainment news. I’m sorry, but I’d rather take a fastball to the groin. And I think my son feels the same way.

Thursday night, I asked my wife to get off the phone with her best friend so she and I could finish the conversation we’d started several hours previous. We couldn’t agree on which TV programs to delete off our DVR so we could have the space to record a cartoon our boy really wanted to see. We had six hours before dawn, when his program was to begin, so we needed to make a decision before going to bed.

I suggested my wife watch a few of her shows that night -- like I unselfishly do -- so she could then delete them and have space for our kid’s program.

“I don’t think so,” she said without any thought. “Let’s just delete your movies and be done with it.”

“But I’d really like to keep my movies because, unfortunately, I can’t tape them -- our VCR doesn’t record anymore. Not only that, but none of the movies I have on the DVR are available for purchase on video, nor will they ever be on TV again.”

For the record: My wife leads me 10 to 1 in magazine subscriptions. I think it’s clear who makes the compromises in the family.

“Sweetie,” I asked my wife lovingly when she abandoned the conversation to phone a friend, “can you please come back and finish arguing with me?”

She ignored me.

“He doesn’t even let me watch my shows when I’m watching them,” she said as if I weren’t there. “He talks the entire time.”

“I’m usually trying to quiet down our son so he doesn’t disturb you,” I said. “I apologize.”

“He’s just a TV snob,” she said to her friend. “He just wants to watch his stupid film noir.”

For the record: The quotes above were taken directly from Thursday night’s transcripts of our debate. Notice the name-calling on my wife’s part and her hostility toward the terrific, ground-moving film noir movies I like to watch? I, on the other hand, would never give my wife an unfavorable name. And, before this article, I never once criticized the shows she watches.

My wife eventually went to bed that Thursday night. And my son eventually woke up the next morning to watch the cartoon that had aired earlier. I’d recorded it on the DVR.

For the record: I had nothing to do with the mysterious loss of shows my wife had previously saved, allowing space to record our son’s cartoon.

Even if I was responsible, I wouldn’t feel at all guilty because of all the unfairness I’m usually dealt -- as described in detail above.

Note to reader: Please disregard any retractions from my wife. She’ll likely say my facts in this story are incorrect. And that’s a lie.

-July 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

No Playing, You Might Get Hurt

Parents, be advised: playgrounds are dangerous.

I’m the father of a 5-year-old boy who loves playing at the playground. But my wife and I had to look for alternative ways to have fun because a local kid allegedly fell off the monkey bars at a nearby park and broke his arm. Now the playground is under public scrutiny and, we’re told, off limits.

“Can we go to a different park?” my son begged.

“I don’t think so,” I said, wanting to follow the rules. “Since all playground equipment is pretty much the same, I have to assume that all parks with playgrounds are dangerous.”

The said park is said to have been around for nearly 20 years. In that time, according to neighbors, nobody has been seriously injured. But now we know -- the place is really a death trap.

“We don’t need a playground to have fun,” I told my kid. “We’ll make our own fun.” We played bocce ball, rode bikes, tossed a baseball back and forth . . . my boy was having fun, and then he asked how much longer until we could have some real fun.

“Sorry, son,” I said, “but we just can’t play at the park until people say it’s safe.”

I asked some super parents what they were doing while authorities looked into the playground situation. They said they hadn’t bothered bringing their kids to the park in years.

“We stick the kids in front of the TV or have them play video games,” one parent told me. “It’s more educational.”

So my wife and I looked into it. We got one of those Leap Frog learning game units. Our boy became an instant fan. And the games were, indeed, educational.

“Look,” I said to my wife. “He’s having fun. And learning at the same time!” We gave each other a high-five.

Then we noticed something strange in our home. My wife and I found it difficult to walk down the halls without incurring an injury, and we couldn’t hear each other speaking unless we screamed. This was because our kid was more hyper than ever, with more bounce in his step than a Titleist golf ball when bounced off the garage floor at 70 miles an hour, and with a noise level that compared to the demolition of a Las Vegas casino.

“I bet it’s the game unit!” my wife yelled to me one afternoon in the kitchen.

We looked online to see if that was the case. Sure enough, we learned that, according to experts, video games are major sources behind juvenile violence. Luckily, our kid hadn’t joined any vicious gangs or killed anyone -- yet.

“What’re we gonna do now?” my son asked. “We can’t play at the park or on anything that’s taller than a park bench. And now I can’t play video games.”

We set up the model train set, drove toy cars, played board games. It was a lot of fun.

“Now I know why they call them ‘bored’ games,” my son said. Evidently, my wife and I were the only ones having the fun. Our kid was antsy.

A neighbor told us that maybe our son had ADHD. My wife and I couldn’t believe he could get ADHD overnight. We didn’t believe it for one second.

It took us less than five minutes to get to the pediatrician’s office. And then it happened. While crossing the parking lot to the doctor’s office, I stepped over a curb the wrong way and twisted my ankle.

“Yeow!” I yelled. “Stupid curb! That’s dangerous.”

“The curb’s not dangerous,” my wife said. “You weren’t looking where you were going.”

She was right. Then it occurred to me that maybe the park wasn’t dangerous either. It also occurred to me that my son only became hyper after the playgrounds became off-limits.

“I bet he’s hyper because we’re keeping him cooped up,” I said to my wife as I nursed my ankle in the parking lot. “He just wants to run around and play. That’s what kids do.”

We had a serious dilemma. We had a kid who wanted to let loose on some playground equipment, and we had authorities telling us that playgrounds were too dangerous.

So my wife and I made a decision. We told our kid, “Life’s dangerous, be careful.” And we enjoyed playtime at the park -- right after the doctor wrapped my ankle.

-July 2009

It’s Swim-dependence Day!

If the sun’s shining, my 5-year-old boy wants to swim.

“Why can’t we go to the pool?” he sulks when his mom and I tell him it’s too cold for swimming. The wind picks up and 50 degrees suddenly feels like 10 degrees. But the sun is shining. “Look,” the kid pleads, “the sun’s out. See how burning and hot that thing looks?”

Yup, our kid loves to swim.

It’s the Fourth of July, and the boy asks to spend the entire day at our community pool. My wife and I think it’s a fun, convenient, affordable idea.

“We’ll avoid all that holiday traffic,” I say to my wife.

“We won’t have to pay high gas prices to drive anywhere,” she adds.

“So can we go?” asks the kid.

“Maybe we can even eat lunch at the pool,” I offer. “I can barbecue hamburgers on the grill they have there.”

“Maybe we can even eat dinner there,” suggests my wife. “Steak or chicken maybe.”

“Yeah,” the kid says, jumping up and down in excitement. “So can we go?”

“I bet we can even get a view of the fireworks from the pool,” I say.

“That’ll save us on entry fees anywhere else,” my wife says.

“So we can go,” the kid says, still jumping up and down.

“Can we do breakfast there?” asks my wife.

“I don’t think you can barbecue eggs or pancakes,” I say. “But right after we eat breakfast at home, we can head over.”

“Yay!” yells the kid. “We’re going to the pool all . . . day . . . long!”

“Then again,” my wife says, “if he’s in the water too long, he’ll shrivel up like a prune.”

“And,” I add, “if he’s in the water too late, his lips will turn blue like a ghost.”

“Ahhh, man,” the kid says with a frown. “So does that mean we can’t go?”

“I really don’t wanna be in the sun too long,” my wife says to me. “I’ll burn. Even with sunscreen.”

“And I really don’t wanna be in the water too long,” I say, “I’ll get sea sick. Even with Dramamine.”

“But I wanna go,” the kid says. “Can we please go?”

“If he’s in the water too long,” my wife says, “his eyes will turn red.”

“Well,” I say, “if I’m fetching his sinkable toys at the bottom of the pool too long, my eyes will turn red.”

“So we’re not going to the pool,” the kid says. “Just admit it.”

“I bet the pool’s gonna be really crowded anyway,” my wife says. “It’s the Fourth of July.”

“How about we go to the beach?” I suggest.

“Yeah, the beach,” says the kid, jumping up and down again. “I can swim at the beach.”

“I bet the beach will be really crowded, too,” my wife says. “It’s the 4th of July.”

“Yeah, and the beach is messy,” I say. “Sand in the car, sand in the house, sand in the bath . . . ”

“And there’s the whole getting burnt, getting sea sick, getting red eyes, shriveling up and lips turning blue,” says my wife.

“ . . . sand in the bed, sand in the ears, sand in the clothes, in the washer, in the dryer.”

“But why can’t we just go to the pool, Mommy and Daddy?” the kid asks, the frown back on his face. “Look at my skin,” he pleads. “See how burning and hot it looks?”

My wife and I finally realize we’ve done a horrible thing to our son. We built up his hopes and dreams of swimming, and we were about to let him down by telling him we couldn’t go.

“OK,” I say. “We’ll go to the pool.”

“Yay!” the kid yells.

We get to the pool, and, of all days, it’s closed for maintenance.

Our son isn’t nuts about swimming in the bathtub all day long.

-July 2009

Family News in Brief -- June ’09

Earlier this month, my 5-year-old son was racing a friend down the slide at a local playground when he stumbled over the ledge and took a head dive down the sloping chute, injuring his two front teeth and his upper lip. My boy took the necessary precautions the following day at school. “I told all my friends not to squeeze my teeth because they hurt,” he said. Apparently our schools are filled with renegade kids who are squeezing each other’s teeth. Local law enforcers weren’t available to comment on the teeth-squeezing epidemic in the area.

Two weeks ago, I decided to speak my mind about some major problems we citizens are exposed to every day. I first pointed my rampage at various restaurant chain managers. “There are a few hamburger joints that expect you to dip your French fries into tiny ketchup cups the size of soda caps,” I said in a statement yesterday. “There are also a few taco joints that give you a similar cup to fill with salsa for chip dipping. You can’t even fit enough fry or chip into these cups to get a taste of the dip. Nobody’s saving resources by using tiny cups. It just forces customers to use more cups and make more mess.” Also on my problem hit list were those water-saver flushers. “If I blew my nose and dropped more than one tissue into the bowl with these water-saver flushers, I’d end up plugging up the toilet,” I told a local plumber offering me one of the units. “Before you know it, I have to flush the toilet again and again to get the paper down, and I end up using more water than if I had a flusher with the power to suck up two oak trees at the same time.” Among many other problems I brought up this month, I surveyed several people about problematic elevator behavior. “Why is it that when you’re in an elevator, you must stop talking?” I asked various elevator riders. “On many occasions, I’ve been in mid-conversation before getting into an elevator, and I’ve had to stop talking because of this unspoken elevator code. It’s very inconvenient.” Here’s an unrelated but similar problem: Why is it OK to stare a stranger’s baby in the face and say, “How cute,” but it’s not OK to do the same to the stranger without getting slapped with a lawsuit or an open hand? These and other grievances are not being addressed at all. According to numerous reports, people are sick and tired of complainers.

Late afternoon on Sat., June 13 in the Sacramento home belonging to my parents, my 5-year-old son announced that he didn’t need a bath, even though he’d spent the better part of the day playing in the sand box at a nearby park. Sweltering weather conditions gave my wife reason to believe our kid got dirtier and sweatier than usual while playing, and that he was more in need of a bath than ever. “You’re all sweaty,” my wife said to the boy when he put up a fight. “No,” he snapped, “I sweated when we were at the park. I’m not sweaty now.” My wife replied, “You deserved a reward for good behavior when we were at the park. You don’t deserve anything but a timeout now.” And while the water in the tub turned dirty brown and sandy when our child got in, he didn’t really need a bath.

Father’s Day is a great day to sit in your favorite chair wearing your favorite pajamas and reflect. I did plenty of reflecting this year with a close friend who plans to get married and start a family very soon. “Some of the years go by really fast,” I warned my friend. He nodded his head as if he’d heard this before, and as if he believed it. “But some of the afternoons last an eternity.” My friend nodded his head and decided not to talk to me about marriage and kids anymore.

-June 2009

Our 5-Year-Old Son Is Bald

“Your kid has no hair.”

“Looks like someone got his ears raised.”

“That’s a great haircut. It really is. It’s a great haircut for the Army. When are you signing him up?”

“Do you like your hair like that, sweetheart?”

“Why did you do that to the kid’s hair? You should’ve kept it long like he had it last year.”

“I hated his hair when it was long.”

“Look how big he is. He’s not a baby anymore. He’s so grown up. What the heck did you do to his hair?”

“At least it’s not blocking his eyes anymore.”

“Our son really wants to cut his hair like that. But we just don’t like it that short. That kind of cut is not for us. But it’s cool for you guys.”

“Why’d you do that to the kid’s head? What’s the matter with you?”

“We cut our son’s hair like that last year. He loved it. Did your son have lice, too?”

“Someone got into a fight with the lawnmower.”

“Did you try to cut your own hair, little guy?”

“Did your parents try to cut your hair or something?”

“I hope you didn’t pay for that haircut.”

“That cut looks cute on him.”

“You’re more gutsy than I am.”

“What do his friends think of his new haircut?”

“Oh my God! Where’s your hair? Holy mackerel!”

“Hair went bye-bye. All gone. Hee hee.”

“It looks great. It really does. It’s short. But it looks great. I liked his hair before. But I like his hair now, too. It’s pretty short though. But it looks great. It really does. I wouldn’t lie to you. It looks great.”

“That haircut is terrible. Why’d you do that? Why didn’t you leave it the way you had it? That looks terrible on him. It really does. I wouldn’t lie to you. It looks terrible.”

“Look, it’s Mr. Clean.”

“Well, at least it’s a low-maintenance haircut.”

“How much maintenance was the boy’s hair before?”

“You like that hair, kid? You think it looks cool? Your friends like it? How ‘bout Mom and Dad? Get used to it. You’re gonna have it for a long time.”

“I bet that head’s gonna get real cold when it’s cold outside.”

“That’s the perfect haircut for the hot weather coming this summer.”

Previously, my wife and I took our son to the barbershop to get him a haircut. The barber asked what blade to use on the kid’s head. The barber couldn’t remember. My wife couldn’t remember.

I remembered what blade we usually use. I have an excellent memory. So I said, “He gets the No. 2 blade.”

Both the barber and my wife said they felt the No. 2 blade would cut his hair too short.

“No,” I said, “I’m 100 percent certain that we used a No. 2 blade last time.”

So off went the hair. My wife gasped.

“Oh my God,” she said, “it’s too short. What are we gonna do?”

“It’s only hair,” I said. “It’ll grow back. Go ahead,” I said to the barber, “continue. Nobody’ll even notice the difference.”

-June 2009

Losers Are Winners

My 5-year-old son recently asked if he could be a loser.

Let me back up a bit.

About a month ago, my wife decided to walk in a community run. She was very excited to participate -- as long as she could drag me along.

“It’s only three miles,” my wife pleaded. “It’s good exercise, it’s for a good cause, it’s shorter than some of our weekend walks . . . It’s not a pyramid scheme.”

She didn’t need to sell the idea to me. We’re married -- I had no choice but to participate. So I figured, if I’m going to be stuck doing this run, then my son is going to have to do it, too.

I told the kid, “It’s good exercise, it’s for a good cause . . . It’s a good way to learn about hard work, which is something you must know now that you’re becoming a big boy.” I told him that if he walked the entire three miles with Mommy and Daddy, he’d earn a Slurpee at 7-Eleven.

“What’s a Slurpee?” my son asked me.

“What’s a Slurpee?” I repeated after projecting the mouthful of soda I’d planned on swallowing before I heard the kid’s absurd question. “Are you American?”

“Slurpees aren’t healthy,” my wife told the child. “That’s what they are.”

“Yummy,” he replied. “Can I get one?” My son’s only been on Earth five years and he already knows that the best things in life are bad for you.

We showed up at the starting line ready to go.

We were 20 minutes late.

We took to the trails anyway. As we walked, I explained to my son that good things like Slurpees come at a cost.

“You have to work hard for the things you want in life,” I said. “You have to be able to put up with pain. You have to fail. And when you fail, you have to keep trying and trying and trying.”

“What’s ‘fail’ mean?” my son asked.

“It means to lose,” I said.

“But I don’t wanna lose. I wanna win.”

“Well, you have to lose before you can win.”

“Ohhhhh,” my son said. “Then can I be a loser?”

My wife explained that winning or losing wasn’t the point of the run that day. She talked about the benefits of exercise.

“When your muscles hurt,” my wife told our son, “and your legs are sore and you’re really, really tired, then you know you’re getting a good workout. And working out is good for your health, and it helps you become strong like Superman.”

“Ohhhhh,” my son said. “Then I must be really stronger because I’m really, really sleepy right now.”

After walking two miles, my son experienced true exhaustion. And pain. His feet hurt. His legs hurt. His whole body hurt.

“This is the worst day of my entire life,” the boy said.

My wife and I were thrilled to hear that.

“That means you’re getting a good workout,” my wife said.

“That means you’re learning something really important,” I said. “You’re learning that life sucks. And it’s when life sucks that you become strong, and that’s when you earn what you’re fighting for -- in this case the Slurpee you really want.”

Even though my son thought we’d never finish the run, we eventually did. And then my wife and I took him to 7-Eleven to get him that Slurpee we’d promised.

“Can I get candy instead?” he asked when he saw the candy selection. I didn’t hear him -- I was busy getting him that Slurpee we’d promised.

“He wants candy instead,” my wife said when I plopped the Slurpee and a few bucks down on the counter.

“What?” I asked in disbelief. When reality finally sunk in, I pointed fingers.

“This is all your fault,” I said to my boy. “Had you not turned on me with this candy nonsense, I’d be sneaking and enjoying sips of this refreshing Slurpee behind Mommy’s back by now.”

“It’s not his fault,” my wife said.

“You’re right,” I said. “This is all your fault. Had I not made that stupid deal with you to eat healthier, I’d be enjoying this refreshing Slurpee right in front of you by now.”

My son broke the brief silence following my outburst with, “You’re learning that life sucks, Daddy. But you’re earning what you’re fighting for -- to get more healthy like you really want.”

-June 2009

White Men Can't Dance

I’m in the sixth grade. It’s a birthday party. Someone put together a bad “80s music” mix tape that blasts through a HiFi stereo system. She comes to me with the sweetest smile, one that’s loaded down with innocence. She’s wearing that incredible dress she wore for her yearbook picture. Wow.

She begs me to dance -- only she doesn’t say a word. Her innocent smile says it all. She wants me to invite her to the dance floor.

Fat chance. As they say, “white men can’t dance,” and that’s certainly the case for me when it comes dancing to anything but slow songs.

I hate dancing. I don’t get it. Basketball: make the most baskets. Baseball: hit the ball. Boxing: knock the other guy down. Dancing: bounce, jump, wiggle . . . make a fool of yourself to impress a girl.

I come to the dance floor with what good dancers call the “white man’s overbite,” and I have no moves, except for left foot in, left foot out, right foot in, right foot out. It’s far from cool.

A slow song plays. That’s when I ask her to dance. I understand this kind of dancing. It’s intimate. It’s romantic. The two of us can talk without screaming at each other.

“I didn’t come here for the music,” I finally say in her ear. “I came here for you.”

It works. We step out back for some privacy, away from our friends, away from party chaperones. We share a glass of punch and I try to make my move toward steady dating. The wind rises and she shivers. Before I know it, we’re back inside the heated house, and all eyes are on me and my terrible dance moves again.

I have no technique. I have no rhythm. I have no business dancing. I must be a sight. I try to imitate better dancers. I might as well be imitating an Olympic ice skater’s routine -- The closest I’ve been to ice skates is six feet from the TV screen during the “Snoopy On Ice” advertisements.

My shirt soaks up the sweat on my back. The cotton sticks to my skin. Massive amounts of sixth grader cologne and perfume makes my head ache. My feet hurt. I’m tired. I still haven’t asked the girl out. The Beastie Boys sing that I gotta fight for my right to party. I’m fighting for my right not to get kicked out of the party.

All this grief because, two months prior, my sixth-grade teacher treated our class to square dance lessons in the cafeteria. We learned to promenade and step like thunder, do-si-do and swing right under. Square dancing was a lesson in culture, to be educational, healthy and fun. This was a horrible idea.

But had it not been for the square dancing, I never would’ve gotten so close to the girl dancing to my right. Had it not been for our closeness, she never would’ve invited me to the party. Had I not gone to the party, the two of us never would’ve “danced.” And had we not “danced,” I never would’ve asked her to go steady later that night -- I would’ve feared humiliation. I figured, since I already felt humiliated by my dance moves, things couldn’t get any worse. So I took a shot and asked her out. And it paid off.

That girl was my first steady girlfriend. And everything I gained from that relationship helped me make better choices toward a second relationship, and ditto toward the relationship after that, which led me toward the choosing of the woman I now call my wife.

I’m a 32-year-old man. It’s an engagement party for a friend. Someone put together a bad “80s music” playlist on their iPod that blasts through a 5.1 digital surround sound system. My wife comes to me with the sweetest smile, one that’s loaded down with innocence. She’s wearing that incredible dress she wore for her baby shower. Wow.

She begs me to dance -- she comes right out and asks, because married women don’t hold anything back.

I’ve been married almost 10 years. I’ve been a dad for six. My wife and I are officially domesticated.

So how is it that I still have to dance to impress a girl?

-June 2009

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Memorial Daze

I have warm memories of Memorial Day weekends past.

During a recent phone call with my dad, he said he had some memories, too -- none of them warm.

He recalled the days when he and my mom were still married and hosted Memorial Day gatherings at our house. The two of them would rise before the sun did on the Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend and prepare.

My mom spent the morning in the kitchen cooking massive amounts of food that never seemed to fit into our two refrigerators. She spent the afternoon up until the party cleaning what us kids thought was an already immaculate house. It wasn’t just a job, she’d say, but a family adventure.

My dad did the yard work, cleaned the pool and set up the dining arrangements out back. He was also in charge of commanding us kids to keep quiet. “I can’t concentrate on my work,” he’d scream as he mowed the lawn.

According to my dad, our guests never had to do anything but show up, eat and relax.

“But when we went to their houses,” he said, “we were expected to bring a salad or a dessert, a set of bowls of some sort or an ice cream maker or extra dishes or a small table for the kids -- we’d stuff the trunk of the car. I used to wonder why we were going to their houses when I was bringing half of my house and doing half the work.”

My dad said family gatherings became more and more of a nuisance as the years passed.

“I had an aunt who had to cut everything in half,” he said. “She’d cut the cannoli in half, cheeses in half, a piece of salami in half -- she’d even cut halves of sandwiches in half. She’d come over, we’d have everything prepared, and she’d go into the refrigerator, pull out the food and start cutting it in half.”

I don’t remember that. But I do recall games of Marco Polo in the pool with all my cousins, competing in our annual family badminton tournament, and playing pin the tail on my kid brother.

I also remember one particular Memorial Day barbeque at our house when one of my aunts spent the better part of the afternoon throwing coins into the pool for us kids to fetch. By nightfall, we’d filled three empty pickle jars with the money we gathered. My dad recalled that particular incident, but, as before, not as fondly as I did.

What I don’t remember, he said, was just before everyone went home, one of my uncles emptied our pickle jars of coins back into the pool. My dad spent the rest of the evening at my uncle’s throat. My uncle spent the rest of the evening fetching the coins out of the pool.

“You don’t remember how bad it was,” my dad told me. “You were too young.” He remembered the steaks that burned, the pool floatation devices that flattened and the screaming youngsters who didn’t want to go home.

What is past is prologue, unless we choose to remember the things we don’t want to repeat. My father said he “experienced” all those Memorial Day gatherings so that I might avoid them when it came time for me to serve my tour of suburban dad duty. I’ve always tried to make my dad proud.

This Saturday, my wife, 5-year-old son and I are hosting a barbeque for friends. We did everything so that our guests don’t have to do anything but show up, eat and relax. On Sunday, we’re going to a family barbecue at someone else’s house. My wife said we only have to make a salad and bring dessert. And we have to bring some dishes and our big fruit bowl. And toys for the kids. And charcoal for the barbecue. And our barbecue.

While I may have failed to learn from family men like my father, who fell during the Memorial Day gatherings of their time, I will never forget the real heroes who died for this country to protect our right to freely repeat Memorial Day weekend blunders.

-May 2009

They Must Match

My wife and I lost our washing machine last month. It died. We were forced to get a new one promptly.

We bought the really expensive front loader. It’s worth the cost, though, because it saves us money in the long run. At least that’s what my wife and the salesman told me.

As much as I didn’t want to buy the more expensive washing machine, I’ve come to believe it’s actually worth it. This thing washes bigger loads, uses less water, and it’s quiet. Though it may have a problem. It doesn’t vibrate across the garage floor like our previous machine. But as long as it washes the clothes, I’m not going to complain.

“You were right,” I said to my wife. “I’m glad we bought the front loader.”

“Now we need a new dryer,” she said.

“WHAT?” I said. “We can’t even afford to make payments on the first payment toward the washing machine, and you want to buy a dryer?”

“But now we have a washing machine and a dryer that don’t match.”

“What do you mean they don’t match?” I asked.

“They’re different brands.”

“We’ll get over it,” I said.

“I’m not going to argue with you,” my wife replied. And she ended the conversation.

She continued the conversation when she was able to broadside me with the support of her friends.

“You wouldn’t use a Sony TV with a Panasonic DVD player, would you?” asked one of my wife’s friends.

“As a matter of fact, I would,” said I.

“But the picture is better if the machines are compatible,” said another friend. “They must match.”

“No,” I said, “what makes the picture better, and basically possible, is the cable you use between the DVD player and the TV, which allows the two machines to be compatible -- no matter what the brand.” I didn’t budge.

Initially, I was winning the war against worthless spending. However, I was losing the war against sleeping on the couch. So when I got my wife alone, I attempted to make peace with her.

“Look,” I said, “when we can afford to buy a new dryer, then we’ll get one.”

“It’s not about the dryer anymore,” she said. “When you want something, we always get it. When I want something, you tell me we can’t afford it.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But what have I bought that we couldn’t afford? A night out at the movies is a lot different than a dryer. But listen. Let’s not fight. You’re right in saying that I often get what I want, even if it’s something as small and as cheap as a nice night out at the movies with my lovely wife, where we both benefit. The next time you want something, you got it.”

“It’s not like I’m asking to get the dryer now,” my wife said. “I’m just saying we should start saving for it.”

“You’re right again,” I said. “You’re totally right. Let’s start a dryer fund right now. In fact, I was going to ask if we could re-buy ‘The Godfather’ trilogy on Blu-ray. Instead, let’s wait to buy it. Better still, we’ll put the money I was gonna spend on the trilogy toward the dryer.”

“See, why do you need to re-buy ‘The Godfather’ on Blu-ray?” my wife asked. “You already have it on DVD.”

“Because,” I said in my defense. (Did I really need to explain why I needed the Blu-ray version of the greatest trilogy ever made?)

“Because why?” my wife asked. (I guess I really did have to explain.)

“Because it has all new special features, it was retransferred and looks more glorious than ever, and Blu-ray has more resolution and lasts a lot longer than DVD.”

“How much does the set cost?” my wife asked.

“About 60 bucks.”

“Why don’t you buy the movies one at a time?”

“Because it’s basically one film,” I said. “You can’t break up a trilogy like that. It’s like a pair of socks -- they go together.”

Enter my wife’s supportive friends. “See, they must match!”

-May 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

Spanking Doesn’t Work

I had to spank my 5-year-old son last weekend for bad behavior. He asked me, “Is that it?”

I don’t like the idea of hitting my son. But I know it has to be done in certain circumstances, especially when timeouts aren’t working.

I now understand the saying, “This is gonna hurt me more than it’s gonna hurt you.” Without a doubt, it really hurt me to want to hurt my son. But I know he’ll experience more pain if he’s not disciplined.

My plan was to spank the kid just hard enough to sting, but not hard enough to bruise. I gave him a gentle spanking, but with enough force to make him think twice before doing something bad again. When my spanking failed to startle the boy, I took it up a notch, delivering a swat that I knew would sting.

I hit him harder than I intended. I felt horribly guilty. I asked if he was OK. He laughed. I gave him a timeout.

While my son was in his room thinking about his bad behavior, I decided to do some spank tests on myself. I smacked my bottom a few times to see what kind of pain I was delivering. My son was right to laugh. I felt no pain at all. So I applied a little more power. Still nothing.

I hit my hand, thinking that’d be more effective. Again, I felt no pain. I did it harder. I’ve had breath hurt worse. I guess our elders used wooden spoons, rulers and belts for a reason.

So I went to the kitchen, got a wooden spoon, and I practiced a few smacks on my left hand. Still, I felt no pain. I turned up the heat and, finally, I felt a little sting. But it wasn’t enough to scare my kid into being good. I wound up and swung that wooden spoon again, this time like Barry Bonds swung a bat during the steroid years -- WHAP!

My hand lit up like a bright red “Eat at Joe’s” diner sign, and it throbbed like Sylvester the Cat’s hand when it got caught in a mousetrap while trying to snatch Tweety Bird from his cage.

“Yeeeeeeowwwww!” I yelled.

I took a second swing, but with a little less power -- WHOP!

“Yeeeeeeowwwww!” I yelled once more. By this time, I was developing bruises on my hand. So I switched to hitting my right hand. A few swats later, my right hand was bruised up, and I still couldn’t deliver a painful smack that wouldn’t leave marks.

I had to switch targets again. I took the wooden spoon and swung it at my behind.

“What are you doing?” my wife asked when she walked in on the scene. I froze while in mid-swing at my butt.

Our son yelled from his room, “He’s spanking himself to see how hard he has to spank me so it hurts me just a little bit but not a lot.”

“You’re supposed to be thinking about your bad behavior,” I yelled back to the kid, “not talking.”

When I explained to my wife that I had to spank our child, she asked if it was necessary.

“It was necessary,” I said. “The timeouts aren’t working anymore.”

Our boy chimed in from his room again, “Then why am I still in timeout?”

That question lead to an argument between my son and my wife. And that argument resulted in my wife spanking our boy. WHAP! WHOP!

“Is that it?” the kid asked Mommy when she was finished.

My wife said she was afraid to hit our child any harder for fear she’d leave marks and be reported for abuse.

“You’re not gonna be reported for abuse,” I said.

“I just want to be sure that if we hit him any harder, we won’t bruise him,” she said.

So she asked if I could continue banging myself around until I found the perfect spanking intensity for our son.

Now I can’t walk.

-May 2009

Just Call Me Reverend

A few weekends ago, while waiting for a table at Chili’s Grill and Bar, a Hell’s Angel-looking dude practically yelled the Lord’s name in horrible vein over and over again. I asked the dude if he could lower his voice, or not blaspheme in front of my very impressionable 5-year-old son -- who just wanted a Chile’s grilled cheese sandwich. The dude said he earned the right to blaspheme. He was a reverend, he said.

A reverend?

He showed me his reverend card as proof. It was official. He said he got ordained online for $35.

How does a guy like this, with no respect for God, become a “man of the cloth?” I was taken aback. I wanted to know how I could become a reverend online for just $35.

The blasphemer gave me the web address for a church that ordained pretty much anyone interested in becoming a minister. When I got home, I went online and, within about 10 minutes, became Reverend Michael Picarella.

“Reverend who?” my wife asked me. She thought I was abusing the online ordination service.

“No, no, no,” I said. “I’m going to take my ministry seriously.”

And that’s exactly what I did. I started collecting donations immediately for the new Michael Picarella Church.

No longer would people lie to my face. Rather, they’d be obligated to confess everything to me.

No longer would cops give me speeding tickets. I’d make sure to “accidentally” hand over my reverend card when the arresting officer asked to see my driver’s license. (A cop who gives a ticket to a holy man can’t have a conscience.)

And no longer would friends and family have to pay $300 a pop for someone to officiate their weddings and baptisms. I would be more than happy to offer my services free of charge. I’d only ask interested parties to tip me extremely well for my efforts and to be prepared to foot the bill for my room and travel.

I sent a newsletter to family and friends (using my new reverend letterhead) informing people of my ordination. And I solicited my services. I expected a few laughs.

Would you believe it? Only a day after being ordained, I received several hefty donations, over a dozen requests to officiate weddings, and even a request to do a baptism. This was really happening. I was really going to be someone important for the first time in my life. I was going to be seen as respectable. People were going to listen to me.

What did I do?

“I can’t be a reverend!” I cried to my wife.

She was not sympathetic to my needs at all, and she certainly wasn’t going to help me out of the mess I got myself into.

“I told you it wasn’t a good idea,” my wife said.

One of my friends was equally supportive.

“You should’ve listened to your wife,” he said.

“Listen to my wife?” I asked. “Who listens to their wife?”

The hole I was digging for myself kept getting deeper. And there was only one person to blame.

“This is all your fault!” I said to my son. “If you didn’t have to have that Chili’s grilled cheese sandwich, I wouldn’t be in this predicament!”

But pointing the finger at my son did me no good. Eventually, I’d have to take responsibility for my actions. It was the right thing to do. I’d have to officiate those weddings and that baptism. I had donations to put to good use. And I had a new, respectable lifestyle to uphold. Indeed, I had to do what was right.

All I know is this: once I was blind and now I can see. Right or wrong, I withdrew from all my obligations and I sent the donations back. But I’m keeping my reverend card in case the cops ever pull me over and try to give me a ticket.

-May 2009

Family News in Brief -- April ’09

My wife and I attracted a talker at a neighborhood eatery earlier this month, and we couldn’t break away. Individually and as a couple, my wife and I often draw in talkers. “It’s like there’s a sign on my head that says, ‘Talk to me, and don’t let me get a single word in,’” said my wife. The recent talker, who talked and talked and talked and talked, started talking about the lovely weather after my wife and I said, “Good afternoon,” and then he transitioned into various subject matter, such as the University of Florida Gators and how they were the first football team to test Gatorade. My wife and I also learned that the Greek word “gymnasium” means “to exercise naked.” Did you know that the longest movie title in the world is 1991’s “Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Terror?” Eventually, the talker made a crucial mistake. He left a tiny gap in the one-sided conversation, and my wife and I took advantage and told him we had to go.

On Sunday in my backyard, my 5-year-old son started laughing and couldn’t stop. My impression of a tiring bumblebee set the kid off. “It’s not funny anymore, but I can’t stop laughing,” my boy said 20 minutes into his laughing fit. Health officials said that while most laughter typically peaks in the summer months, it’s not uncommon for kids to begin laughing really hard in the spring. The real oddity in the laughter, however, according to sources, is that recent studies show that laughing fits have declined in the last six months due to a downward-spiraling economy. “The boy is lucky to be laughing at all,” said Dr. Luger P. Hart, a Southern California doctor of humor as medicine, “even if it’s inhibiting his breathing.” My boy has since lost all color in his face, and the constant flexing of his abdominal muscles during the laughing fit resulted in an “ab six-pack” that any body builder would be proud to show off.

Jewelry makers still haven’t produced a stable bracelet clasp that’s easy to hook together, and I’ve about had it. According to sources, the toggle bar clasps are “girly” and “come apart easily.” Consumers say the magnetic clasp is a good idea, but it too comes apart easily. The traditional clasps on bracelets, experts suggest, are still the best jewelry clasps -- though some people may disfigure the jewelry before ever coming close to hooking it together. “We can track our friends’ precise locations via Google and cell phone technology, but we can’t invent a bracelet clasp that’s easy to put on and that holds together,” I said in a statement yesterday. “Since I got a medical I.D. bracelet (which indicates my heart condition), I must allow an extra two hours each morning to wrestle with the clasp. I suppose I could tattoo my heart condition on my forehead.”

On Easter Sunday, my family drove down to Orange County to visit my wife’s relatives, and my 5-year-old son forgot to go potty before we left. As we pulled out of the driveway, I asked my wife if she took our boy potty. She said she thought I took him. “Did you go potty recently?” I asked my son. “Yeah,” he said. “Do you know what ‘recently’ means?” I asked. “No,” he said. After learning a new word for the day, my son ensured me that he did, in fact, recently go to the bathroom. About 20 minutes into the trip, stuck in bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic with no exit for another 5 miles (which translates to three hours of traffic in Southern California), my son announced that he had to go to the bathroom really bad. Soon after, I discovered Scotchgard isn’t bulletproof.

-April 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Now We're Cooking

My father-in-law bought my 5-year-old son a chef’s jacket for stirring a pot of soup the other day, and now the kid thinks he’s Wolfgang Puck, cooking “masterpiece meals” made from Tinker Toy pieces.

So when the boy came home from school yesterday with news of a career fair later this month, he was erupting with enthusiasm.

“I’m gonna learn how to be a chef!” he howled.

My wife and I were excited, too. We jumped online to see if there was going to be a company representing the culinary arts at the job fair. Sure enough we found one.

“Can I cook dinner tonight?” the boy asked. “And can I use real food, not just Tinker Toys?”

The thought of my son cooking made me nervous. I’m not one for mess, and mess was inevitable with a 5-year-old in the kitchen.

When I cook, I clean the cutting board, the utensils, the measuring cups and the mixing bowls as I use them. If, by slim chance, I spill an ingredient on the counter, I wipe it up right away. Indeed, I can’t handle mess. But since my son was so excited to be a chef and so excited to cook, I couldn’t let him down.

So I called Grandpa and asked if he wanted to co-cook with his grandson.

Grandpa was busy.

Left with no other choice, I told my wife that she’d have to cook with our little chef. She said she was glad to do it -- provided I balance the checkbook. I considered my options carefully.

I put on my chef’s jacket and wrote up a simple scrambled eggs and toast recipe for my son to follow.

The mess began right away as my son cracked the eggs, leaving most of the egg on the counter. The kid also managed to spread butter all over his chef’s jacket, and worse, he got butter all over my chef’s jacket. Shredded cheese ended up on the floor, salt and pepper fell through the cracks between the stove and the counter, and dirty utensils, measuring cups and mixing bowls piled up in the sink.

But I didn’t notice the mess because my son was having so much fun. He counted out the eggs himself, and cracked the eggs without any assistance at all. He even turned on the stove by himself. The only real help I provided was a verbal queue here and there.

My son was so proud to be so self-sufficient in the kitchen. Though I must admit, I eventually took over with the toast because we would’ve been eating butter patties with bread crumb had I not stepped in.

My wife and I enjoyed the meal. Our son raved about it. And then he announced that he was ready to be a chef, asking Mom and Dad for a restaurant. Since my wife was working on the checkbook, I let her break the news to our boy that we weren’t financially able to take such an entrepreneurial leap.

We could, however, afford to sign our son up for kids’ cooking lessons. We also ordered kids’ cooking utensils -- not play tools, but actual cooking utensils that are small and easy for kids to handle. And we bought a chef’s hat to match the boy’s jacket. The stuff would arrive in time for the cooking classes.

Our son continued to cook at home, and my wife and I continued to encourage the dream. The more we worked toward our boy’s career, the more we became obsessed. We bought a little sign to hang in the kitchen proclaiming the space our son’s domain. We even wrote up a career timeline, which had the kid starring in his own cooking show in early 2022. When we got halfway through the restaurant business plan, our son finally burned out.

“I don’t wanna be a chef anymore,” he said. “Can I do something else?”

And just like that, the hopes and dreams of doing son’s homework for the next 13 years in exchange for him doing all the cooking vanished.

-April 2009

Don't 'Mess' with Me

I’ve always hated mess.

After my 5-year-old son and I decorated for my wife’s birthday, creating a set-up that required tools, heavy machinery and small explosives to take it all down, I found that I hated mess even more, so much so that I never want to decorate again.

At Christmastime, I draw, cut out and paint wooden holiday figures for my lawn, a display that usually takes months to prepare. For Halloween, I bring to life my very own haunted cemetery in the front yard, utilizing 5.1-channel surround sound, an action specialist and a team of stuntmen. I love it. But after decorating, I feel an anxiousness in my gut that doesn’t let me . . . gasp . . . breathe until the holiday is over, when I can take the stuff down and return my home to normal.

My wife says, “Don’t decorate if it’s just gonna torture you.”

“You never want me to do what I wanna do,” I respond.

Yup, I used to go all out when it came to decorating for holidays and special events. That all changed following the episode that took place last month.

My son asked if he and I could decorate the house for Mommy’s birthday. I said we could, not knowing my boy would actually outdo me in the decorating department and cause me even greater stress than usual. We put up the typical decorations -- party lights, banners, the birthday throne. And then my son provided some of his own additions.

He built a massive birthday cake using Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs (not edible). He used loads of bendable Wikki Stix to make sticky, messy wall decorations, streamers and party favors. He managed to go through several reams of printer paper, rolls of Scotch tape and buckets of glue to make a birthday crown, birthday signs and cards, birthday games, wrapping paper and, worst of all, confetti. And then he got to the real decorating using building materials and paint.

I found I had no control of my son, my life flashing before my eyes. When we were finished decorating, I became so anxious to take it all down that I couldn’t catch my . . . gasp . . . breath. My son asked if I was having a good time.

I barely made it to the end of my wife’s birthday. When it came time to clean up, I felt I couldn’t put anything away. The stress finally drove me insane. I piled everything up in the backyard with all of my other holiday decorations, and soaked the pile with lighter fluid. Then I grabbed a box of matches.

“What are you doing, Dad?” my son asked.

“I found a new way to illuminate the backyard,” I said.

He broke into tears when he figured out what was going to happen. He’d come to love decorating. It was great fun, he said. I felt bad for the boy. After all, I’d made him a decorating monster. I tried to comfort him.

“Don’t cry, son, we’ll find something else fun to do,” I said as I lit a match. The flame of the matchstick burned toward my two fingers, and I forgot about that while my son convinced me not to burn the decorations. When the fire on the match reached my fingertips, I instinctively threw it.

The pile of decorations went up like a chase car on impact in a Michael Bay movie.

My son ran to his room to catch his breath. I needed to follow him and cheer him up. I decided instead to stay back and put out the fire before it spread to my house and the surrounding neighborhood.

As I cleaned up the cinders that were once the decorations I’d spent so much money on throughout the years, I realized I’d never have to worry about the mess that goes along with a decorating effort ever again. I was very happy. I celebrated my huge victory.

My son decorated . . . gasp . . . for the occasion.

-April 2009

Donna Vita Corleone: The Godmother of the Park

As far back as I can remember I never wanted to be a gangster.

Last weekend at the park, I watched a group of parents line up to kiss some woman’s hand. Must’ve been out of respect.

This woman. She entered the park from a back entrance I didn’t know existed. She knew everyone. And everyone knew her or wanted to know her. She arrived, and the place went wild.

My 5-year-old son and I arrived, and nobody could care less. That was fine.

But then this woman’s two kids are given immediate access to the play equipment, when everyone else had to wait in line for a turn.

“Excuse me,” I said to this woman. “We were waiting in line to go next.”

Have you ever heard a park full of noisy kids and talkative parents go instantly silent? Let me tell you. All eyes looked at me as if it’d be for the last time.

“We haven’t met,” this woman said to me. “You can ask around about me. If you could just allow me this once to cut in front of you, I know how to return a favor.”

I told this woman to go ahead, said my son and I would play on something else. She hugged me.

“How would your son like to ride that red scooter over there?” she asked, pointing to one of the scooters parked at the bike rack.

“No, thanks,” I said, coming to understand that this woman must’ve been some sort of Mafia Don. I knew not to get involved.

She called over to some woman sitting on a park bench, a woman she called Terri “Ten Kids” who, I’m told, gave birth to 10 kids. This woman said that my son was going to take a spin on Terri “Ten Kids” son’s scooter. Terri “Ten Kids” said it was certainly OK, and, before I could turn down the offer a second time, my son jumped on the scooter and rode off down the sidewalk.

“Don’t go too far,” I yelled to my boy.

“It’s OK,” this woman said. “Nobody’s gonna hurt him here.”

I could feel this woman staring me down, probably trying to figure out if I was a good fella.

“Are you from the neighborhood?” she asked me. “What street do you live on?”

Geez, this woman was pushy. And nobody pushed me around. Nobody. Except for my maybe wife and, of course, people who are connected. So I told this woman that, yes, I was from the neighborhood. And I gave her the name of the street I lived on. I gave her my whole address, my phone number and even my social security number out of fear she’d have me whacked if I seemed out of line.

“I better go after my son,” I said nervously. “He’s gone too far.”

This woman grabbed a hold of me -- stopped me dead in my tracks. She said she’d send a couple kids to get my boy instead.

When her goons returned with my son, she gave him some fruit snacks from her goodie bag and asked if he wanted to take the red scooter home for a couple days. My boy flipped with excitement over the fruit snacks and the scooter offer -- he didn’t know what kind of danger he was involved with. I told the woman that we couldn’t accept either offer.

Before I could give the fruit snacks back, my son had already dug into the bag. I took his hand to leave.

“But what about the scooter?” he asked.

As I led my son away, I said, “Leave the scooter. Take the fruit snacks.”

Everyone at the park fell silent again. I should’ve accepted the scooter offer. But I knew what would’ve happened if I did. I’d be in. And once you’re in, there’s no getting out. You follow me?

Two moms at the perimeter of the park, with their right hands in their coat pockets, stopped me from leaving.

“She’d like you to join her at the picnic tables,” one of the moms said.

I told the ladies I wouldn’t go to the picnic tables. They couldn’t believe my response, as if I’d refused Don Vito Corleone -- in this case, Donna Vita Corleone.

“She’s gonna be disappointed, but we’ll tell Her what you said.”

After the message was delivered, this woman -- the Godmother of the park -- collected her kids and stomped off. Then all the parents at the park turned and headed toward me. I knew how this worked. They’d line up to kiss my hand, a sign that there was a transfer of power, power I didn’t want.

Turns out, everyone came over to tell me I’d been a jerk and that I’d hurt a nice lady’s feelings, someone who just wanted to be friends with me.

I guess I better cut back on the mob movies I watch.

-March 2009

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Family News in Brief -- February ’09

‘THERE'S NO PLACE TO SIT,' SAYS WIFEAt about 4:30 p.m. on Wed., Feb. 4, my wife came home from a long day of work and said she couldn’t go another night in search of a place to sit, that the constant mess in the living room was becoming a nuisance. “Every day,” my wife said, “I come home tired, wanting to sit down, relax and watch TV, but I can’t because my husband and 5-year-old son have built a fort that takes up not some, but all of the living room. Or they’ve rearranged our couches to be a spaceship or a car or some Zapper 3000 machine.” My son wouldn’t comment on the matter. I apologized for any damages caused, and promised that my wife, from that day forward, would always have a seat in the living room. The next day, as promised, my wife had a place to sit on the couch -- right next to the starting point of the toy roller coaster my son and I built. Mommy could be the first person to place a marble on the track and watch it take a run down the sofa, over the coffee table, across the top of the TV and through a series and twists, turns and loops in the center of the room.

SON COMES HOME FROM SCHOOL SMARTER, SICKEREarlier this month, my 5-year-old son brought home a lesson he learned in school about patterns. According to my boy, “Cough, cough, sniff. Cough, cough, sniff.” He followed his cough and sniff attack with an observation: “It’s a pattern,” he said. “Cough, cough, sniff. Cough, cough, sniff.” It seems my son also brought home a cold.

LAST CHANCE FOR LOW, LOW-COST EXTENDED WARRANTY My wife and I were the lucky winners of an offer to buy a low, low-cost extended warranty for one of our vehicles. The guy on the phone said so. “This is a one-time offer that won’t be offered again.” My wife said thanks, but no thanks, and hung up. “Wouldn’t you know it?” my wife said. “The next week my husband and I were, again, the lucky winners of yet another offer to buy a low, low-cost extended warranty for the same vehicle. And this was the company’s final offer, they said. Again I said no.” My wife and I have such good luck. Each week, for the last several months, we are the lucky winners of the same one-time final offer to buy a low, low-cost extended warranty for one of our vehicles.

HOUSE FURNISHED WITH BUTTON PANELSFollowing a recent visit to the hospital to see a sick friend, my 5-year-old son decided to turn our three-bedroom home into a medical center, complete with all the necessary “machine buttons.” The boy installed buttons at the foot of our beds, buttons on the arms of the couches and chairs, buttons on the walls in the hall and buttons below every light switch. “He’s taken pieces of paper from our printer and drawn button panels on each sheet,” my wife said yesterday. “Then he’s taped them on practically every surface in the house.” Asked what the buttons are for, my son said, “They’re for kids not to touch.”

-February 2009