Archive for July, 2008

Introducing Larry…

July 21, 2008

This is an important development in the Groah household so I wanted to get it out as quickly as possible. My youngest son will no longer be known as Cayden; he has chosen to relinquish his given name in favor of something much more exotic. Tonight at dinner, Connie and I were delivered the news: The boy formerly known as Cayden will now forever be known as “Larry”. Yes, folks, you heard me, Cayden has changed his name to Larry-  we had a formal ceremony and everything. We chanted, we danced around the table, we repeated some ancient incantations and before our very eyes Cayden transformed into Larry. Mack jumped in with potential name changes as well, but I quickly told him that parents could only conduct the official name changing ritual once very 24-hours. Tomorrow at dinner, Mack will unveil his new handle- can’t wait for that one.  I’ll bet my paycheck that Mack’s new name has the word “butt” nestled comfortably inside it.

Back to Larry…

I’m not sure of the significance of the name, but Larry seems extremely happy with himself. When we asked him what his last name was he told us Shields, so to complete the picture, my youngest son is now Larry Shields. Connie thinks his new name sounds like a 70’s era porn star. I think he sounds like a bar of deodorant soap (not sure why?). For the most part, Larry still looks, talks and acts like Cayden, but he does walk with a bit of a swagger and his voice is a lot lower.

We’ve been calling him Larry ever since dinner hoping that he would ask for his name back, but the kid is not backing down. I have a very real fear developing that my son, formerly known as Cayden, will be henceforth called Larry right into adulthood. I have seen this phenomenon before. In fact, my Dad’s real name is Wilton, but everyone calls him Joe, and my Mom, Mikki, was given the name Laura at birth. The Groah name curse continued with yours truly.  I was named after my Dad (Wilton) so my first name is Joseph, but they call me Shane. All these years, I thought my parents did this to me. Hell, I bet one night at dinner, I stood up, said my name is Shane, and they played along with it.

Connie and I need to sit him down first thing tomorrow before Larry draws a symbol with a crayon and starts making us refer to him as the boy formally known as Larry. How do you call a kid to dinner if their name is a crayon scribble?

This is a list of items that you should do with your kids today. I stress the need to do these things now because in the not so distant future your kids will most likely not want to talk to you,  let alone do any of the following activities.It’s not an all-inclusive list. I am sure many of you have activities that are specific to your families, but some of these are pretty common across the board. Here it is:

1. Let the kids stay up late to catch lightning bugs. If you want the deluxe version of lightning bug catching, have them go at it with bare feet and pajama bottoms. A thin coat of bug spray is recommended. To keep them mentally/ physically sharp, feed them roasted marshmallows intermittently throughout the evening.

2. Come home from work and regardless of how horrible your day was immediately ask your kids if they want to toss a baseball around. The key is to initiate contact. If they ask you first, then it’s too late. The impact will not be as profound. This is really just parental slight of hand- a way of subliminally suggesting that you have been impatiently waiting to rush home and join them in one of their favorite activities because you think it’s way cool. This simple act will resonate with them for years to come.

3. Sit your boys down and spend a spring morning organizing your tackle box and untangling your fishing reels from the previous summer. To do this effectively, fail to recall who tangled the reels in the first place.

4. Let your boys crack the eggs for the morning omelets. Remove the shell fragments when they’re not looking. Put a handful of chocolate chips in their pancakes to sweeten the deal.

5. Take them out for ice cream after dinner even if they didn’t finish the main course.

6. Lose your honey-do list, make some popcorn and snuggle with your kids on the couch and spend the morning watching something they enjoy.

7. Let them pick out the cereal next time you go to the grocery store, even if it is Lucky Charms and the only reason they want it is for the cheap toy at the bottom of the box.

8. Take them to the toy store “just to look”.

9. Fill up the inflatable pool in the backyard and engage in squirt gun warfare for an afternoon. Grass will grow again, but your kids only do so once.

10. Hold your child’s hand even if you’re not in a parking lot or crossing the street. Eventually they will become too old/self-conscious to do so willingly.

11. Put a band-aid on every Boo Boo even if it’s just hurt feelings. Band-aids are cheap but when you’re five years old, a band-aid validates what you’re feeling (sometimes life is painful). Besides, band-aids fix everything.

12. Prove to your kids that you’re the strongest human being on the planet by wrestling all of them at the same time using only one arm to defend yourself.

13. Let your kids dress themselves when you’re about to go out in public and don’t make them modify what they put on. For example, Mack wore his red suede cowboy hat with purple ostrich plume (pimp hat) and camouflage Crocs when we went shopping at the Post Exchange. Cayden normally dresses like Jack Sparrow for our shopping excursions.

14. Ask your kids what there favorite toy is and then attempt to build it with home improvement leftovers you have laying around the garage. My kids and I have built robots, toy guns, and an unusually awkward-looking skateboard ramp. It’s not the product, but the process that gets the most enjoyment.

15. Find a secret Sunday morning place that only you and your kids know about. My boys and I have a favorite coffee shop that we go to when we are out doing man things. Our secret place provides the perfect venue for discussing serious thought-provoking issues such as the state of the economy, football and what species of creature Pokimon really is (for the record I voted for Koala Bear). Connie doesn’t know where we go, so please keep this one a secret.

16. Teach your boys how to shave, the power of deodorant and the exhilarating feel of Aqua-Velva on freshly-scraped skin.

17. Let your kids drive a screw with your prized cordless drill. Don’t openly weep when they accidentally drop it on the garage floor.

18. Get matching tattoos while playing high dollar slots when Mom is out of town. (got you Pammy).For the record I would never let my boys play slots; craps has a higher payoff.

Send me your thoughts on those things that you consider must-do’s before your kids hit the “I hate my parents” teenage years. I am interested in knowing if I missed any good ones.

I came across some stories I wrote several years ago about the boys and I felt they were worth sharing. When I wrote this, Mack was around five and Cayden may have been three. I would have been smart to date these entries, but to be honest, I never thought I would be posting my tales on the internet. This story covers a lot of the parenting landscape. For instance, the importance of routines, imaginary friends and what it‘s like when you punish an unruly child. For those of you who have been parents for a while, I expect a glint of recognition, maybe a smile and a nod of understanding. For those of you with children on the way or those of you who one day intend on having offspring, pay attention; you may benefit from the insight I am about to provide.

Managing to get two boys fed, bathed and asleep at a respectable time is one of our greatest accomplishments. It took a couple of years to develop a routine which would facilitate this miraculous feat, and to this day we must continuously refine and adapt to maintain a satisfactory outcome. Let me begin at the conclusion of dinner time (meals are a completely different discussion).

When the meal is complete, Connie and I announce that it is time for the nightly wash down. This announcement throws Mack into a panicked frenzy because, due to the routine, he knows that we will soon be attempting to coax him into bed.For some reason children despise the idea of going to sleep, they truly believe that magical things occur after Leno signs off for the evening. I think we, as parents, perpetuate this illusion by means of the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus; all of whom come around well after midnight. Why shouldn’t my kids believe that there is a party going on at 2 in the morning? With guests like those, the “Soul Train conga-line” must be running right through the middle of our living room.

The idea of fighting sleep completely confuses parents who cannot recall the last time they slept more than 3 consecutive hours. In the midst of this confusion, they will attempt to rationalize with their two-year old by asking questions like, “Do you know how happy I would be to go to bed right now?” or “Daddy wishes someone would tell him to take a nap?” or “Do you realize there are kids in China who haven’t slept in months?” (somehow kids in China get pulled into a lot of our discussions on why we should be happy with what we have- not sure why- over the past several years I have replaced China with other locales but it just doesn’t seem as poignant to say that there are kids in New Zealand, etc. I hope I didn’t offend any Chinese people with the reference).

Regardless of your country of choice, right about the time you get into the meat of your argument about the virtues of a good nights sleep, your two-year old will poop his or her pants. It’s a very concise way of telling you that “it is impossible to apply logic in these circumstances. I am two, I poop in my pants and I do not want to sleep, ever”.

Back to our routine…

Upon my wife’s announcement of the upcoming wash down, my oldest strips all of his clothes off and begins to run circles around our home. The youngest who still confined to a high chair begins to fidget because he too wishes to be nude and running laps. Rituals are give and take so I rush through the initial chow wipe down and release Cayden to join his older sibling for laps. While the boys run through our home, in all their naked splendor, my wife and I recover the majority of their meal from the floor and walls and prepare for the next event. It is while prepping for the next event that the “Bad Friend” (Mack’s imaginary evil twin) normally makes his first appearance of the evening. Somewhere in the house, Cayden begins to wail at about the same time a three-foot tall blur of flesh-colored lightning shoots past my wife and I and scrambles behind our overstuffed chair. I go to talk to lightning boy and my wife investigates Cayden’s dismay.

The conversation I have with Mack typically goes like this:

Daddy: “Mack, why is Cayden crying?”

Mack: “I don’t know.”

Daddy: “Hey buddy, you need to tell me what happened or you will have go to your room.”

Mack: “My bad friend pushed him.”

Daddy: “Why would your bad friend push Cayden?”

Mack: “I told him not to Daddy. Don’t worry- I sent him to his room.”

Daddy: “Why don’t you join him for a while, buddy?”

The dynamics resulting from Mackinley’s exile are almost always the same. I take his hand to lead him to his room and he goes completely limp as if his skeleton was made of “Gogurt” and proceeds to falls to the floor. I pick him up and he instantly transforms into a completely stiff three-foot long board, making it almost impossible to negotiate the three and a half foot hallway that leads to his room. His octopus gene activates, additional arms shoot out of his torso, and he clambers to grab a handhold on anything within reach of his eight arms. I get him through his bedroom door, with considerable effort mind you, and then spend 5-minutes trying to close the door, which is nearly impossible because he has attached himself to the door frame and is holding on for dear life. Once I get the door closed and locked (note that I have turned the door knobs around so I can lock the door from the outside), Mack changes gears and begins to scream a wretched bellow that no mortal man should ever have to hear.

Mack’s “I’m mad” roar lies somewhere between an air raid siren and two freight trains colliding in the dead of night. My wife and I have become accustomed to this nightmare and have adopted the ability to ignore it at will, but visiting acquaintances would think the Spanish Inquisition has been reinstituted somewhere down the hall from our living room. If these acquaintances are non-parents, we don’t even attempt to explain the source of the ruckus as they would only say something silly like “Did you speak to the child. Can’t you reason with him?” Sure, genius, reason with him- the child has an imaginary proxy and is convinced that hot dog meat produces super-human strength. Come see me when you have a four-year old. We don’t invite those people back.

In summary:

Routines are critically important.

Children will exhibit schizophrenic behaviors in order to get out of trouble.

Don’t invite non-parents to your home until your kids are in college.

I hope all of you were able to glean these nuggets of wisdom from the paragraphs above.

Pay Back Tour…

July 6, 2008

My name is Shane and I’m 38-years old. In the past 38-years, I have held many titles. I’ve been known as son, brother, husband, friend and Marine, but my preferred title is simply Dad. I have been a Dad for over 8-yrs now. My first boy, Mackinley, was born in June of 2000 in Quantico, Virginia while I was attending The Basic Officers Course. My youngest son, Cayden, followed a short 26-months later while we were stationed at Camp Lejuene, North Carolina. I have been having a blast ever since.

My kids are as physically different as they could possibly be. Mackinley (Mack) has brown, curly hair, brown eyes and is tall and muscular. Cayden is a peanut- slight of build with blond hair and big blue eyes. They both have terrific imaginations, senses of humor and are smart as whips. They are also polite, caring and compassionate. At the end of the day, I can honestly say without bias that I have two great guys.

I started writing about my experiences as a father when I returned from Iraq in July of 2003. When I was deployed I thought a lot about my sons and about what kind of father I wanted to be. In fact, I kept a picture of Cayden inside of my helmet the entire time I was deployed. I didn’t allow myself to look at it often, but I did study it thoroughly at least once. The first time my vehicle crossed the border into Iraq, I pulled off my helmet, stared at Cayden’s picture and asked myself one very simple question: “If my boys never see me again, will they be proud of me and what I am about to do?” The answer was as simple as the question. Of course they would; Connie would make sure of that. My part of the equation was easy to define as well, namely to get home and make them proud of me in person.

If you’re wondering why I only had Cayden’s picture in my helmet, I can explain. Cayden was 4-months old when I went to war and we simply did not have the time to develop a relationship like Mack and I had. Keeping his picture in my helmet was my way of honoring him, giving him a special place in lieu of time spent together. I figured Mack would understand.

I came home in July and the Groahs were once again complete. Mack and Cayden adjusted to having Dad home quite well. In fact, Cayden took to me the first night I got home. It was 2 a.m. when I finally made it back to our house and Connie and I decided to have a glass of wine. Both of the boys were asleep, so I grudgingly agreed to wait until morning to see them. Just as we sat down, Cayden started to cry. I immediately jumped up to answer the call when Connie put her hand on my arm and said that maybe she should take care of it, “Cayden doesn’t like men much”. In true Shane fashion, I disregarded her warning and took off to investigate.

Cayden’s toy aquarium affixed to his crib railing threw just enough light for me to see him standing in his crib. Standing. When I left he couldn’t even crawl. He was still crying when I entered the room so I started to speak to him softly. The minute I began to speak he calmed down. I continued to soothe him with my voice as I moved closer to his crib. When I reached the side of his crib, he quit crying all together, looked at me, and then reached out to be held. I wrapped my arms around my youngest son, sat in his rocker and wept. Seven months of anxiety swept away by a simple display of trust. Dad was home.

Since that day I have made every effort to be the best father that I could possibly be. I never want to be in a position again where I have to wonder if my boys know these simple truths: I love them more than life itself, I will always be proud of them and that they are my greatest accomplishments. These concepts are not cheap- they are built over time with acts of love, forgiveness, compassion and trust; the same traits that I believe define fatherhood.

I began writing this as an introduction so that people (Pammy) who read my blog could understand a little about the author. I also felt it was necessary to provide some background so that my sarcasm and odd sense of humor were not mistaken for bitterness. The fact is, I find nothing more fulfilling than being someone’s Dad. Humor is simply the vehicle I use to put the tough and frustrating portions of parenting, which are many, into perspective. And here is my perspective for general consumption- a lifetime’s worth of frustration can be instantly erased by a single unsolicited “I love you, Dad”. If you haven’t experienced this yet, you will, and when it happens, you’ll understand where I am coming from.