Thursday, December 30, 2010

We Don't Want More Money

My aunt and uncle told my wife and me that they were putting us in their will. In the unfortunate case of their deaths, we’d get their entire estate.

“You guys will be set for life,” my uncle said.

We’d inherit three paid-off vehicles, enough savings to retire and a house that could fit three of our houses in the living room. Yes, we’d be set. But then again, we’d be miserable.

If my wife and I received such a fortune, we’d put it all into savings and invest. We’re responsible people, not materialistic. But at a certain point, we’d go mad for not having any fun with the money. You can’t take it with you.

So maybe we’d get a boat. It’d just be one boat, though. And a matching truck, too. It’s not that we’d want the matching truck. We’re not materialistic. But we’d need the truck to tow the boat. Matching it wouldn’t be an extra cost.

Then we’d get the three-car garage. Not that we’d want the three-car garage. We’re not materialistic. But we’d need the three-car garage to store the boat and the truck because the homeowners association wouldn’t allow the boat to sit in the street. We’d also need life jackets, boat wear, water skis . . . maybe one of those Evel Knievel ski jumps. And another truck and trailer to tow the ski jump.

One day we’d discover our savings is gone and our debts have doubled, and my wife and I would need second jobs. We’d be working more than breathing, our 6-year-old son would think the faculty at his school and at day care are his parents, and our boat would have two years of spider webs on the wheels. We’d be miserably in debt.

Today I’m already miserably in debt without all that capital my aunt and uncle are offering. So why do we need it? We don’t want it. So we’ll just have to give it away when the time comes, we thought.

Following a tragic accident I can’t bare to recall, my aunt and uncle’s estate became ours. And, despite our previous philosophy to give it away, my wife and I collected with the condition that we wouldn’t give in to any materialistic whims, even though we’re not materialistic -- we’re responsible people.

So we sold my aunt and uncle’s vehicles and house, and with the earnings and their savings we paid off our bills, our student loans and all the debts we owed. Life became comfortable. And then it got even better.

No longer did I spend entire weekends ruining things around the house in the name of “repair.” I could afford handymen to do the jobs correctly.

After long days of work, my family got to do what every other family across the country gets to do -- we went out for dinner.

My wife and I introduced our son to culture. We traveled, and not just on camping trips to the backyard.

Then, what I feared would happen, happened: Life became great thanks to money! My wife and I never argued about money anymore. We had time to spend together as a family. We could enroll our kid in different activities and sports.

None of this was materialistic. It was so we could raise a well-rounded child. Even the science lab we added on to our home was so our son could become more cultivated.

I recently took a day off work to open up the backyard so a crew could dig out a pool (our son was getting serious about swimming), and I caught the water company trying to shut off our water. It seems my wife and I forgot to pay the bill. Evidently, we also forgot to read our mail -- we’d received repeated notices that our water would be shut off as well as our phone, our gas and our Internet if we didn’t pay up.

“But we have automatic withdrawal,” my wife told me.

“Oh,” I said. “Then it must be a computer error.” And it was. The bank’s computer kept saying we had no money in our account.

And just like that, we were miserably in debt.

Luckily, I woke up. It was all a miserable nightmare. And to our good fortune, my aunt and uncle were alive and healthy. We still had water running through our pipes. The telephone had a dial tone. The gas was turned on. Our Internet was still connected. And we still had money in the bank -- all $10.27 of it.

-April 2010

Dog Gone

“Daddy, something real bad happened,” my 6-year-old said when I picked him up from school last Thursday.

Like any other dad, I responded with, “What’d you do wrong?” I was fuming even though I hadn’t heard the news yet.

“It’s not me, Daddy,” he said. “It’s Jessica -- her dog ran away. And I’m so sorry for her.” You’d think my son had a dog that ran away. He was so emotional, very sad for Jessica.

“Oh, OK,” I said. “I hope she finds it.” And I went on with business as usual. Maybe I wasn’t sympathetic, but I must admit, I was just relieved my kid didn’t get into any trouble.

My son wanted compassion and he was going to get it. So he went to Mommy.

“Mommy, something real bad happened,” he said when my wife got home.

Like any other mom, she responded with, “Oh my God, what happened? Where does it hurt?” She was hysterical even though she could see our son was perfectly fine.

“No, Mommy,” he said. “It’s Jessica -- her dog ran away. And I’m so sorry for her.” You’d think my wife had a Coach purse that ran away. She was more emotional than our son, very sad for Jessica.

A few days later, our son announced better news -- Jessica’s dog evidently came home. My wife and kid were relieved. A high heel to my shin reminded me that I was relieved, too.

So the dog situation was over. And then came yesterday. My wife and I bumped into Jessica’s parents and my wife asked how their dog was doing back home.

“Dog?” they said. “We don’t have a dog.”

“But our son said Jessica told him her dog ran away.”

“She told us the same thing,” said Jessica’s mom. “She has an imaginary dog.”

My wife actually asked if they were sure they didn’t have a dog.

Jessica’s mom said she was sure. She continued: “Jessica came up with the whole dog thing to prove she’d make a great dog owner. She made ‘Missing’ signs when her dog went missing and we had to post them up all over town. We were afraid someone would actually bring us a stray dog.”

My wife and I didn’t have the hearts to tell our son that Jessica’s “missing” dog wasn’t real -- our boy was so attached to that dog.

“I saw you talking to Jessica’s parents,” our son said to us. “Did you ask about Jessica’s dog?”

“We did,” my wife said.

“Jessica is sure a great dog owner, don’t you think?” he asked us.

“Yes, she is,” my wife said.

“She was so worried about her dog, just like I was so worried . . . I could be a great dog owner, too, don’t you think? But I know you won’t let me have a dog, even though I’d love to have one.”

That’s when my wife and I discovered the plot these two 6-year-olds masterminded together. We don’t know if Jessica’s parents caved and bought their child a dog, but we sure weren’t going to give in to our child -- at least I wouldn’t without a fight.

“Dogs are a lot of work,” I said. “Are you willing to walk a dog every morning and every night?”

“Yeah,” the boy said.

“Are you willing to feed him all his meals?”


“Are you willing to clean up after him?”


All I needed was one no. “Are you willing to quiet him down in the middle of the night when he’s barking? Can you guarantee I won’t find one dog hair on my clothes or on the furniture? Are you gonna pay for all the medical bills associated with his health?”

“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.”

“OK,” my wife said to him. “You can have a dog.”

“What?” my son said, pleasantly surprised.

“What?” I said surprised in a different way.

Since then, our son has been walking his brand-new imaginary dog around the house nonstop.

-March 2010

No More Theme Days

I dropped my 6-year-old son off at school. Every other kid on the playground was dressed in Disney attire.

We saw two adorable little Disney princesses walk by us. Over on the jungle gym, several kids were wearing Mickey Mouse ears. Another kid had one of those silly Goofy hats on his head. There were even kids dressed like the old Mickey Mouse Club Mousketeers -- how nostalgic. How cute. My son was wearing a bloodied “Jaws” shirt.

“Oh no, Daddy, we forgot today’s Disney Day,” my son said, disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to participate.

“Sorry,” I said, “I didn’t get the note.” Though it’s very possible I missed the note since we get paper from the kid’s school in Costco-like quantities.

“Now I’m the only one without something Disney,” my son said. And he wasn’t exaggerating -- he was the only one. I felt bad. I didn’t want him to lose out because his Mommy and I didn’t know it was another theme day at school.

“You didn’t remember it was Disney Day?” my wife asked me when I called to tell her.

“I didn’t know.”

“I told you.”

“No you didn’t.”

I asked my son if he wanted to run home to change.

“No, it’s OK, Daddy.” He looked so sad.

I took him home and he got into his “Wall-E” shirt.

After I dropped him back off at school, the fury inside me grew. Every day -- well, at least almost every couple months -- there’s another theme day. And if there isn’t a theme day at school, there’s a theme day at the day care center after school.

These theme days range from Disney Day to 50s Day, Spirit Day to Crazy Tie Day. Coming soon to the day care center near me is Twins Day. My first thought: Why not Dodgers Day? We don’t live in Minnesota.

“No, not Minnesota Twins Day,” my wife said. Twins Day. Read the whole note.” The note said that we had to coordinate our kid’s wardrobe with another kid’s wardrobe -- as if they were twins.

“We have to find a kid in his class who just so happens to have the same clothes as his so the two of them could be twins?” I asked my wife. “How long is that gonna take?”

“No,” my wife said. “We have to go out and buy the same stuff.”

“What? How much disposable money do they think we have?”

“They’re just trying to get the kids to have spirit,” my wife said. “It’s for fun, so the kids can feel like they belong.”

“Shouldn’t they know they belong when their names are called during roll call?”

“You told me you were excited about Twins Day,” my wife said.

“No I didn’t. I didn’t even know about Twins Day.”

My wife continued to tell me why theme days were great. It all sounded really good, made sense.

I wasn’t having it.

“It’s OK, Mommy,” our son said. “I’m not sad. It’s not the most important thing in the world.” And he was serious. He really didn’t care to participate in theme days anymore.

“Are you sure?” my wife asked him. “Don’t just say that because Daddy says it.”

“I’m not just saying it,” he said. “Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean I wanna do it. But can I please get Valentine’s cards? All my friends are getting them.”

I forgot about regular holidays.

“What do you think, Daddy?” my wife asked me. “Can he?”

“Of course he can,” I said. “Valentine’s Day is a regular holiday. It’s on the calendar. I know when it’s coming. It’s not something that just sneaks up on us.”

Now my wife puts all of our son’s theme days on my calendar so I know when they’re coming. They won’t just sneak up on me.

-February 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Daddy Man vs. 6-Year-Old

In 6-Year-Old’s bedroom.
DADDY MAN (DM): If you move, I’ll know. If you make a peep, I’ll know. If you blink . . . I’ll know.

6-YEAR-OLD (6-Y-O): How’ll you know if I blink if you can’t see me?

DM: Because I’m Daddy Man. Daddy Man doesn’t rest. Ever. Daddy Man knows. Watch, I’ll step out and step back in when you blink.

Daddy Man steps out.
Daddy Man steps back in.
DM: You blinked.

6-Y-O: Whoa, how’d you know?

DM: I told you, I’m Daddy Man. Daddy Man always knows. So no playing; no getting off the bed; no fooling around. You sit there. I’ll get you when your timeout is over.

6-Y-O: OK . . . Wait. Daddy? If I’m good in my timeout, can I get out early?

DM: No. But you can be good.

6-Y-O: OK . . . Wait. Daddy? Can I lay down on my bed and think about my bad behavior?

DM: No. You’re in timeout -- no lying down, no playing, no more talking, You sit there. I’ll get you when your timeout is over.

Daddy Man steps out.
Daddy Man steps back in.
DM: What was that noise?

6-Y-O: What noise?

DM: What do you mean, “What noise?” I just heard a noise. What was it?

6-Y-O: So you can’t see me?

DM: I told you, I’m Daddy Man, and Daddy Man doesn’t rest. Of course I can see you. I just wanna see if you’re gonna lie to me. Now what was that noise?

6-Y-O: I went into my toy box.

DM: Is that you’re final answer? Daddy Man always knows. If you’re lying, you better say now.

6-Y-O: That’s all I did, Daddy Man, I swear.

DM: No more going into your toy box. And no noise.

6-Y-O: What if I cough?

DM: It better be a real cough.

6-Y-O: How’ll you know if it’s not a real cough?

DM: You’ll know because you’ll be in another real timeout. Now quiet. I’ll get you when your timeout is over.

Daddy Man steps out.
6-Y-O: Daddy?

Daddy Man steps back in.
6-Y-O: I have to go potty.

DM: Hurry.

The 6-Year-Old steps out.
DM: What’s that noise?

The 6-Year-Old steps back in.
DM: What were you doing in there?

6-Y-O: I was cleaning the bathroom for you.

DM: I don’t want you to clean the bathroom for me. This is why you’re in trouble -- you don’t listen. Now listen: sit down, don’t move, don’t talk, don’t make noise. I’ll get you when your timeout is over.

Mommy steps in.
MOMMY: I thought you were working on your column.

DM: I’m trying to work on my column.

MOMMY: Well, I’m doing all the bills.

DM: Well, I’m not playing.

MOMMY: But I’m doing all the bills and you still have to work on your column. That means I have to do all the bills.

DM: I can’t even work on my column. I can’t even have peace and quiet. Ever. Daddy Man doesn’t rest.

6-Y-O: You can’t lie, Daddy. She’s Mommy Woman. She always knows, too.

DM: Fine. Daddy Man will take a timeout. Daddy Man will rest. Nobody get me until my timeout is over.

Daddy Man goes to his room.

-January 2010

I Forgot What I Was Worrying About

I was worrying about something really important, but I forgot what it was.

Sometimes I worry about Item A as if it’s the end of the world, until Item B comes up. Then I forget about Item A, and Item B becomes the new end of the world -- as if Item A wasn’t anything to worry about in the first place. Then, once I resolve Item B, I go back to worrying about Item A, and Item A becomes the end of the world again.

But that’s not the case here. The case here is: I simply forgot what I was worrying about. And now I’m worrying about what I forgot because what if it was important?

I’m retracing my steps, hoping a little déjà vu will help me remember what I was worrying about. I bump into my 6-year-old son. I ask if I forgot to do anything for him. He says I’m supposed to make dinner.

“I can’t do that right now,” I reply. “I’m busy worrying about trying to remember what I was worrying about.”

My wife returns from a late night meeting and I feel relieved -- she usually helps me remember what I forget. I ask her, “Did you ask me to do something? I can’t remember.”

She’s crying. She says something about “worst day of her professional life.”

“No, that’s not it,” I tell her. Before I can get back to retracing my steps, my wife attacks me.

“I just told you I had a terrible day,” she says, “and all you care about is what you forgot? How about you forgot to think about your wife?”

My wife and I have an understanding that if we get into a tiff, we have to resolve the issue right then and right there -- we can’t walk away and let it boil.

So I drop everything. And I tell her we’ll argue soon.

Now back to retracing my steps.

“You broke our rule,” my wife says, following me around the house.

The problem: When I can’t remember something, I go mad and I do things that are out of character. I go even madder if I’m digging deep for something and I can’t pull anything up.

But somehow I’m sane enough to realize I’m being insensitive. I apologize to my wife and kid and tell my wife I’m ready to hear what happened at work.

I’m not catching a single word of her story. The more she talks, the more it bugs me that I can’t remember what I was worrying about.

Maybe I was worrying about writing thank-you letters for Christmas gifts I received. No, I have another six months before that’s a problem.

Maybe I was worrying about calling someone or meeting someone or paying someone. I go through my address book, looking for names, hoping that’ll refresh my memory. Who the heck is Benji Biffer? Why’s his contact information in my address book? Geez, my grandparents are still in my book? They passed away over five years ago.

“Dad, I’m so hungry,” my kid says.
“Mike, you’re ignoring us,” my wife says.

I try to tune out my family and think: I got home, put my bag here, was gonna turn on my computer, went to the bathroom instead, was thinking about the thing I was worrying about when I went to the bathroom. What if I flush the toilet? Maybe the sound will trigger the thoughts I had when I previously flushed.



I had no engagements, no late bills, nothing to do for work. Did I miss a doctor’s appointment?

My kid: “Dad, we need dinner.”

My wife: “Daddy’s not making dinner.”

My thoughts: Maybe I was supposed to make dinner.



“Ahhhh!” I scream. “Will you people leave me alone?” My wife and kid freeze out of fear.

I finally remember what I forgot! I wanted to get the mail.

I noticed my wife brought it in.

-January 2010