Archive for December, 2008

We have survived another Christmas, but sadly most of the kid’s gifts did not. Every year I am amazed at how quickly my kids can put their new toys and gizmos out of commission, and this year was no different. Twenty four hours after the unwrapping frenzy I am left with (6) detached action figure limbs, (1) broken antenna for a remote controlled ATV, a torn power cord for the Wii “Rock Band” drum set, and a Tupperware bowl full of miscellaneous parts to games, puzzles and who-knows-what else. My kids rampaged their presents like a troop of angry vikings pillaging a European hamlet.

 

But, I really can’t be mad at them- after all they’re little boys and little boys play rough. I can, however, harbor some animosity toward the toy manufacturers who swindled me out of a butt-load of cash this season. If you’re going to put a toy on the market for kids ages 5-9, it should be designed to withstand some hard play. If the manufacturer’s intent was for the toy to remain in the protective packaging then they should be required to place a bright red warning label on the box that reads “For visual amusement only, playing with object will result in breakage followed by floods of tears and hours of haphazard repair work undertaken by owner’s father”. As an aside, if these jokers paid as much attention to how these things were built as they do to how they are held in place in the package the damn things would be indestructible. I had three pair of wire snips and a cutting torch all going at once trying to liberate G.I. Joe from his carton this Christmas- it was such a pain in the ass that I almost abandoned him.

 

Surprisingly, one of the few gifts that has survived unscathed is the toy that I was almost certain wouldn’t make it five minutes. Both of the guys got Air Hogg helicopters from Connie’s mom and dad. If you’ve never seen these things, they’re made from some type of space age Styrofoam. They are tiny and have several extremely fragile moving parts. They remind me of an antique Hummel clown figurine only not as robust looking.

 

But Mack and Cayden love them. They charge them up, open the throttle full bore (because that’s how my kids roll) and send them climbing to the ceiling at warp speed. When they reach the ceiling- which takes all of a milli-second- they hit hard enough to shock the motor sending them crashing to the floor. Amazingly, these things take the abuse quite well- which is good because the guys keep this drill up for 20 minutes at a pop. I am patiently waiting for the call of “Dad Up” when these things finally become inoperable. They’re so tiny that there is absolutely no way that my kielbasa fingers will be able to repair them. Then what will I do?

 

The other big hit this season was all of the Wii accessories and games that Santa, with the aid of the grandparents, produced this year.  Even I was coaxed into playing several rounds of Guitar Hero which is highly unusual because the last game I played was “Pong” on an original Atari circa 1978. 

 

If you don’t own a Wii yet, or had the luxury of playing with one, you should- the thing is unbelievable. My kids can play every sport ever invented from the comfort of our basement. They can also fish, hunt, throw darts, box, balance our checkbook and solve world hunger- accomplishing them all while still wearing their jammies. It’s only a matter of time before the folks at the Wii factory run out of fun activities, however, and have to resort to making games out of the mundane. Could you imagine Wii “House Work” or Wii “Dental Hygiene”? I don’t think it’s too far out of the realm of possibilities. Remember you heard it here first- if they end up coming to market I want my cut. Someone also gave us a Wii “Fit” to help shed the inevitable weight gain that accompanies playing sports with nothing more than your thumb and forefinger, but I’m sad to report that one hasn’t been opened yet.

 

The Wii is a good piece of gear and I will miss it when my kids finally end up destroying it. If this sounds pessimistic that was my intent. I believe I’ve all ready determined how they are going to kill it. Cayden is the assassin and his method of execution is simple yet effective. He will lick each of the game discs while consuming large quantities of “Crunch and Munch” and then feed said game disc into the console. The Wii, unable to decode the foreign substances (corn syrup/popcorn/caramel), will then plummet into sensory overload and crash. I think he got his methodology from watching Mission Impossible III.

 

So, as I wait for the smell of a smoldering motherboard to come wafting up from our basement, I’ll jot down a few gift ideas for the boys for next Christmas. 

 

Block of wood- check

Bag of gravel- check

Comb (they say unbreakable right on the spine)- check

 

If you have any suggestions please let me know, the list of things that my boys can’t destroy is a bit meager… 

 

 

 

Fluidity…

December 29, 2008

I wrote this several years ago with the intent of one day writing a parenting book for Marine Corps dads so some of the vernacular is a bit militant, but put that aside. If you’re a parent, you’ll recognize what I am talking about and hopefully you’ll be able to smile at what I am describing.

 

Fluidity:

In the Marine Corps, fluidity means seamless transition, smooth flow of ideas, concepts and execution; it means something entirely different to parents. The human body is supposedly made up of 75% water or something crazy like that. If that figure is correct then I would venture to say that my children are 99% bodily fluids and 1% miscellaneous other stuff. My guys are made of saliva, snot, urine, poop, ear wax, and a couple of substances for which I haven’t gotten results back from the lab yet. I’m thinking that around the time puberty hits they’ll solidify and become solid matter, but for now they’re more ameba-like than human. This is one of those strange parenting tidbits that no one warns you about during pregnancy. Baby books don’t do the topic justice either. I did a lot of reading prior to Mack’s arrival and I didn’t find a single accurate portrayal of the amount of time I would spend elbows deep in baby goo. Most literature makes this aspect of parenting sound quaint- a fun little jaunt through baby’s world of bodily fluids, “When baby teethes there may be a slight increase in saliva- lovingly dab with a soft, clean cloth”.  Bull shit, after baby’s first day at home there won’t be a soft, clean cloth in the house, to include the clothes on your back and the cushions on your couch. You want to see a new parent’s eyes light up? Show them a cloth diaper fresh from the dryer- they’ll be willing to fight you for it. Back to fluidity.

 

The largest organ in an infant’s body is the saliva gland. I can’t prove it, but from my experiences I can make this statement with a degree of confidence. For this reason I spent my first 5 years as a father sporting a cloth diaper over my shoulder. Cloth diapers are extremely versatile and necessary pieces of baby raising gear. In the old days, before the advent of disposable brands, these things were the gold standard. People actually used them on their children’s butts- unbelievable. When they were dirty, they flushed the lumpy stuff down the toilet and threw the diaper into the washing machine. Even today some parents prefer them as they are more environmentally sound, i.e. they don’t tax our landfills. I think this is a noble gesture and I completely support protecting the earth, but like many parents, sleep deprivation got the best of me and I chose the more convenient option. I just didn’t have the energy to dedicate to the process of reusing diapers. I am a horrible person, but then again so are the 6 billion other people currently killing our planet with disposables, so at least I’m not going to burn in hell alone. What was I talking about? That’s right, spit.

 

Whenever I picked up one of the boys, I would do a quick wipe down so that they wouldn’t slide out of my arms and scurry under the couch. This may sound like an embellishment but my kids could produce a gallon of spit in less than 5 minutes. This was unnerving to me. I had never come in contact with any living organism that had this capability. I guess if you examine the animal kingdom you can find some similarities- porcupines have quills, skunks have odor, blow fish swell, my kids salivate. Most creatures are weak and vulnerable at birth so it makes sense that God provided a defensive mechanism- look at the poison dart frog, one lick and you’re a goner. Granted saliva is not nearly as sexy as razor sharp quills or deadly poison, but it can be fairly effective against an unsuspecting first time parent.

 

For those of you who have yet to experience the pleasure of a child in the throws of teething, let me develop a couple of scenarios that illustrate what I’m talking about.

Scenario #1-  While interfacing with the child, the parent raises him/her into the air and babbles incoherently in the infant’s native tongue. I can’t think of a single parent who hasn’t done this- it’s a customary parental ritual. We raise our kids above eye level and then move them back and forth so we can lock eyes and allow them to focus on our features. I’ve learned through experience that as I do this my kids weren’t focusing on my features so that they would be able to recognize me in a crowd of people. What I believe they saw each time I brought them closer to my face was an internal targeting signal that flashed a bright red X on my mouth each time it got within range of their saliva glands. 

 

When the moment is right, the child will release a volley of clear, lava-like fluid from their firing portal (mouth) inevitably scoring a precise hit. My children had the accuracy of a fighter ace normally achieving direct impact in my mouth causing me to momentarily lose composure and the ability to respond accordingly. This momentary loss of composure is problematic because you will be required to do multiple things simultaneously. One, ensure the safety of your child- do not drop, spike or in anyway endanger the infant- it is to your benefit to keep them safe for future intelligence value and observation. Next, move the child out of the effective range of his/her fires. Normally arms length is sufficient in reducing the effectiveness of their saliva launcher. Finally, search for a means to remove the fluid from your mouth/face (hello cloth diaper hanging on your shoulder). This is a harassing technique used to steal your ability to function for short periods of time. It has no lasting effect other than the emotional scars incurred from unexpectedly finding another human being’s saliva dripping off your chin.

 

Scenario #2-  There are multiple ways that your baby can employ his/her saliva glands. In the first scenario, I discussed direct fire techniques. Another way your child can punish you is through the use of strategically placed “slobber mines”. Your child will position saliva at key locations throughout your home- nothing is sacred. The best way to determine where the “baby boogers” are located is to think like your baby. This is called the “Infant’s Most Probable Course of Action (IMPCOA)”. Where you rest your hands, where you lay your head, anywhere your bare skin touches another object is where the baby will lay the slobber globule.  In my years of experience, I have encountered my kid’s saliva in a myriad of places. In my comb, on my pillow, on the rim of my coffee cup and my toilet- my kids had no sense of decency nor remorse when emplacing these disgusting little gifts of love. Slobber is only one of many bodily fluids that a child can employ on command. My boys are completely capable of firing multiple volleys from both ends simultaneously. This will most often happen during diaper changing or prepping for bath time. The critical time is when they are completely nude and all firing mechanisms are exposed to the elements.  But that is a story for another day… 

 

 

Every year Connie asks me to write a letter to accompany our Christmas card. This was my submission for Christmas 2008. I will post the card in a couple of days. I think it will be good for a laugh.

 

Cayden (aka Larry Thunder-Shields)- Cayden is no longer a little peanut. He’s grown several inches in the past year. Strangely, his weight has remained constant, completely disproving the theory that children’s snack foods lead to obesity. He is doing extremely well in school and is adored by everyone except his bully. Yes, Cayden has a bully, but don’t be alarmed- Cayden thinks of him more like a science project than an adversary. The kid has developed quite a sense of humor and keeps all of us in stitches around the dinner table. Mack received a Wii from Mum-Mum for his Birthday last year and Cayden has taken to it like a fish to water. He routinely whoops up on Connie when they play Mario Cart. Notice that Cayden beats his mother at a driving game; what does that tell us about Connie’s road skills? Cayden is a self-proclaimed indoor guy. He will go outside on occasion but he is happiest snuggled in HIS easy chair with his Nintendo DS, his mother’s laptop, or a Wii controller. Mack calls him a computer geek, but let’s wait a few years and see who has a healthier income. For Christmas, Cayden would like a magic wand, an ATV, and a massage chair.

 

Big Mack- If you haven’t seen him lately you would be amazed. He’s tipping the scales at 70lbs and is solid as a tree trunk. His hair is long and curly and most mornings it leans precariously to one side, menacingly threatening to crush all who would dare to oppose it. He is active in school- in fact he’s so active that his teacher mentioned it several times on his report card. Mack is also on the go at home. This year he’s been busy refining his artistic skills by dabbling in several different disciplines. Creating masterpieces with my cherished tools mostly quenches his artistic thirst. He then attempts to satisfy his “green” side by feeding my tools back to Mother Earth. Mack has yet to learn that a 16oz claw hammer is not biodegradable. He is also a lover of music. We started him on guitar lessons a few months ago and he is progressing nicely. His musical influences include: Billy Joel Storm Front, 80’s Hip Hop Dance Hits, and High School Musical II- fairly eclectic. A burgeoning percussionist, Mack rehearses daily by beating vigorously on his brother like a snare drum. Mack still passes some time watching Sponge Bob, but has widened his taste in film by including regular viewings of TBS Action Movie Saturday. I know 8 year olds shouldn’t be able to recite lines verbatim from “Die Hard” but he sounds so cute that it brings a tear to my eye. The big item on Mack’s wish list this Christmas is an authentic casting net, if nothing else shows up, he’ll be content. If the net is outside your budget then make a selection from Mack’s list of honorable mentions: a shocking hand-buzzer, X-ray glasses and a carton of fake cigarettes.

 

Connie has also been busy this past year. Barefoot Photography is poised for world domination and is revered as the premiere baby photography business in all of greater Annapolis. Thirty-four of her images were recently published in the Big Book of Babies, more than any other featured photographer. We’re all extremely proud of her. Now if she can just get our own kids to stand still for a damn Christmas picture we’ll be set. She has also been busy filling the gaps that have been created by my new job at the Pentagon. I’ve had to rely on her heavily as I’ve adjusted to making decisions that have global impact and effect the free world as we know it- and she has answered the call remarkably well. She can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan- simply stupendous. For Christmas, Connie would like 10 more hands and 12 more hours of sleep per day. She also asked for a Victoria’s Secret swimsuit body, but don’t worry about this request, she looks great and won’t need it for several more months anyway.

 

Yours truly- last year I told you I was retiring and growing a fu-manchu/mullet combo. Sadly, Uncle Sam failed to get that memo. In lieu of release from active duty, the Marine Corps sent me to the Pentagon. They did however promise to let me retire September 2009. I am holding them to that- if they don’t let me go this time I’m going to do something drastic like stomp my feet and mutter obscenities under my breath. The extra year hasn’t been all bad though so I shouldn’t complain. The commute to the 5-sided puzzle palace is awesome. I get to meet many happy, interesting people thanks to the public mass transit system. In fact, today I sat next to a gentleman who had an invisible friend- how charming. But the hours are great, the work satisfying and the surroundings awe inspiring- that is if you like long hours, confusing, multi-faceted assignments, and giant gray office buildings take your breath away. Don’t worry about me though; I will survive.  For Christmas, I would like a really well paying second career, preferably something that does not require me to pack heat and shave my head- suggestions welcomed.

Hey, that’s not funny…

December 23, 2008

Mack has been getting bullied at school and I really had to search for some good advice to give him. It’s not that I lack experience getting bullied. Growing up, it seemed that there was never a shortage of older kids who felt it necessary to put the screws to me. I’m pretty sure that I had at least one kid, at times a large group of kids, who felt it necessary to push me around every school year. But times were different back then. If all things remained constant, my advice to Mack would be similar to the advice my father gave me.  “If a kid is pushing you around you have a right to defend yourself, to include punching him in the mouth”. This advice was pretty sound and fairly effective thirty years ago.

 

 

These days, I’m not so sure that this advice would be prudent. With all of the violence that takes place in schools these days, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that a stiff jab to the lips will escalate to even greater violence. Even in grade school, serious violence is occurring at an alarmingly increasing rate. I know this all too well. My heightened sense of awareness is a consequence of some of the projects that I’ve worked on throughout my career.

 

The thing that bothers me most is the confusion that Mack feels from being victimized. Mack has always been loved and popular with everyone that he has met so the idea of someone targeting him for abuse is difficult for him to get his arms around. He’s too young to understand that sometimes kids, like life, can be cruel. I’m not so sure that I’m ready for him to learn that lesson anyway- even if it’s true.

 

When we talked the other night, I could hear the pain in his voice and I took it very personally. I don’t want Mack to grow up unwilling to explore the world around him out of fear of running into his tormentors nor do I want him to change who he is in an effort to appease those who don’t recognize what a terrific guy he is. He mentioned both of these as possible courses of action. Mack told me, “Those kids hang out by the wally-ball court; I really like wally-ball, but maybe I shouldn’t play”.  I want my son to play wally-ball whenever he wants to, damn it, he’s 8 years old. I guess I just want him to be happy and enjoy a couple more carefree years before he’s thrust into the stressful life of a teenager.

 

That’s the situation and here is the advice I gave him. Approach your bullies one at a time- most kids aren’t so tough when the odds aren’t in their favor or they don’t have a crowd to perform for. When you get him alone, calmly ask why he’s being mean to you, make him articulate his gripe. Most bullies don’t know why they picked a particular victim, only that it seemed like a good idea at the time. If the bully does have a reason, it’s probably something ridiculously petty. My hope is that when the bully is searching for the “why”, he’ll realize that there really isn’t good reason- the victim was arbitrary. Maybe this epiphany will lead the bully to the conclusion that Mack’s not such a bad guy after all and he’ll decide to leave him alone. This is wishful thinking, isn’t it? However, in theory, it should work.

 

The next option I gave Mack was to tell his teacher that he’s being picked on. This one has pros and cons. Telling a teacher and having an educator follow up with the help of a guidance counselor could really help limit violence in our school systems. For instance, the tormentor may have a host of underlying issues that are the cause of his behavior e.g. mental/physical abuse, broken home, neglect, etcetera. Wouldn’t it be great if our school guidance counselors identified more of these at risk kids and got them the help they needed?

 

The downside of going to an educator is that Mack could be labeled as a snitch- really no big deal to an adult, but a heavy consequence when you’re eight years old. On top of that, I have to wonder if running for help will discourage Mack from developing a sense of self-reliance. Ideally, I want him to have the confidence to face his problems first and then seek help if the issue is too big to tackle without assistance. This is a worthwhile goal. I’ve run into plenty of adults who have never had to solve their own problems and it really hasn’t done them any favors.

 

The third option I provided was reminiscent of my father.  “Dude, if you’re getting beat on, you have to fight back”. I cringed when I said this because of the fears that I voiced earlier, but sometimes little boys get into fistfights, this is just a sad reality. When I was a little older than Mack, I faced similar circumstances. I was picked on by a group of kids the entire school year. It wasn’t until the final day of school, when I had reached my limit that I decided to put an end to it. I fought several kids that day. I won some and I lost some, but more importantly, I showed them that pushing me around came at a cost. The investment was too great and that group of kids never bothered me again. To this day, I am convinced that had I not decided to defend myself, they would have continued to torment me. In this one instance, violence did not beget more violence.

 

If you have boys, this issue will most likely be raised at some point along the way. I can’t speak to girls- I’ve never been one, nor do I have any daughters, but I wouldn’t be surprised if bullying was common for them as well. This is a really complex issue. We love our kids so much that it’s hard to imagine someone not feeling the same way, and when they don’t, we immediately move into hyper-protection mode. I’m not sure this is an optimal or even advisable solution.

 

If you haven’t dealt with this issue yet, my advice is to provide your child with some sound alternatives. Allow them to maintain some degree of control in the process. Being bullied makes you feel helpless so a bit of control may make them feel empowered. I gave Mack three possible paths to follow and allowed him to choose.

 

The next step is to remain accessible to your child. I didn’t push for details, but I made sure to leave the door open for discussion for when he was ready to re-engage the topic. My goal was to not come across so strong that I pushed him into doing something that he wasn’t ready to do.

 

Finally, I kept a close eye on him. I listened to him more intently. I watched his behaviors with greater scrutiny. I even paid more attention to what he was drawing or writing in his notebooks. If Mack felt that he couldn’t talk to me about his problems, they would likely manifest themselves elsewhere and I wanted to make sure that I caught them as early as possible.

 

Of course, I don’t have a child psychology degree, a daytime talk show or years of data to back up my theories. I’m just a dad, concerned about his son and trying to help him the best that I can. I wasn’t even sure I should publish this post. Most of my writing is pretty light so this is a departure from the norm for me. But then I ran into another dad going through the same thing with his son. We spoke for almost an hour on this very topic and it was really helpful to hear someone else’s perspective. It was then that I decided to throw this piece up for public consumption.

 

I’m really looking for input on this post so if you have some advice or just want to share your experiences please drop a comment.

Christmas is right around the corner and, if you’re like me, you’re probably having a difficult time finding the perfect gift for that special someone.  When I’m faced with this dilemma I go straight to my boy’s favorite website for inspiration- www.sportsmansguide.com.  They have a ton of great gift ideas, but they also have a few duds…

Ammo can of chocolaty goodness- How about some edible bullets for that little boy or girl who is close to your heart and hell-bent on pursuing a career in your local militia?  I’m not sure how well this gift would be received in our community.  I can see it now, all of us at the grocery store when I yell  “Put your bullets away guys we’re going to have dinner soon” or better yet “Mack, please eat one bullet at a time, we have plenty”.

 

The Beer Belly- I ran across this handy item and thought what a fantastic gift for that person in your family who has openly admitted that “Yes, I do have a drinking problem, SO WHAT!”  Nothing says you care more than enabling that person to drink undetected at completely inappropriate venues.  The original ad sports a picture of a really happy guy sucking down beers while his wife/girl friend sits nearby completely unaware.  Right on! This is a great gimmick, but how do you explain that tube coming out of your shirt collar and your inability to put together a logical sentence? Hmmm, may need to work the bugs out of this one, but still a great gift for the $54 asking price.

 

 

 

This is a camera disguised as a birdhouse. Conceptually, a bird lands on the perch in the hopes of taking up residence in this sweet-looking little bird condo and SURPRISE- he’s hit by a 6,000 megapixel blast.  Not real sure how the birds will react?  I imagine most of them will fall to the ground stunned by the camera flash and then get eaten by hungry cats, but I could be wrong. I thought maybe Connie would appreciate this, after all, she is a photographer, but then I took it off my list of possibilities. Who wants a bunch of photos of birds with shocked expressions on their faces?

 

 

 

 

They called this treasure the Friendly-Faced-Trophy. Question- if this plush little fella was so friendly then why did they lop his head off and stick it to a wall?  I bet he wouldn’t have been so damn friendly had he known what was coming.  The ad promised that if you order two or more within the next 10 minutes, you’ll receive a complimentary 6 pack of Bud and a fake salt lick to lure all of the other stuffed animals out of hiding.  Elmo will make an excellent addition to our son’s trophy wall.

 

 

 

 

Introducing the “Furry Purse”.  Saying the term Furry Purse makes me feel dirty- it sounds like slang for female genitalia.  I am considering this tasteful little number for Connie only because it comes with a set of free PETA demonstrators that I hope to put to work in the yard when they’re not busy protesting Connie’s “Furry Purse” (so naughty).  It also comes with a certificate of authenticity (authentic what- abominable snowman?) and a hair pick to knock out the tangles at no extra charge-BARGAIN!

 

 

 

This is for the man who has everything, except a moose who shits M&M’s. Don’t expect tons of gratitude for this one, as pretending to eat animal excrement is never in vogue, even if does melt in your mouth and not in your hands.

 

 

 

 

The Tequila Bandoleer- I saved the best for last. This is a high quality number that was assembled from the finest Corinthian leatherette material on the planet. The obvious old world charm and simple elegance are a big draw for holiday consumers. But don’t be fooled; it’s also very functional.  You can stow up to six of your favorite shot glasses in the substantial shoulder strap plus it comes with an ergonomically designed saltshaker pouch to boot.  I ordered three. I promised to order more if the company would willingly design one large enough to hold a 5 gallon jug of Carlo Rossi.

 

 

 

So there you have it- seven high quality items that would look good under any tree.  There is absolutely no excuse for giving Dad a tie this year.  I’m sure he would appreciate any one of these gifts much more, minus the M&M shitting Moose, don’t buy that one- it would be a mistake.  I’ll try to find some more ideas before the big day- until then, happy shopping and Merry Christmas.

When you’re Shane, you can expect at least one traumatic injury per year and sadly my annual injury due date is rapidly approaching. You may think that I’m being dramatic or embellishing the facts, but if you weigh the evidence it averages out to about one solid trip to the hospital per year (stitches don’t count/staples do). Over the last 20+ years, I have had some interesting boo-boos. I’ll provide a couple of examples to illustrate what it’s like to be me on an injury spree.

“I can work this out”…

In undergrad, I went to Gold’s Gym every day. One day I decided to see how much weight I could pick up over my head. I believed this to be an essential piece of information that every man should know. For example, if your spouse asked you to place a box of Triscuits on the top shelf of the pantry, it would be helpful to know if you possessed the physical strength to safely do so. Without knowing your one rep max for overhead presses, you would be unsure and that box of Triscuits could potentially cause great harm. So I loaded the bar with 205lbs, that’s a shitload of Triscuits, know what I mean?

A little lifting advice- when pushing large amounts of weight over your head, it is imperative that your head, neck and spine remain perfectly aligned. If you don’t, and the weight is heavy enough, the pressure can actually compress your spine and snap things that shouldn’t be snapped. You’re probably guessing where I am going with this.

I prepped the bar for my attempt, cleared my head, and went to work. Triumphantly, the weight rose to the heavens. I locked out my elbows to complete the perfectly executed repetition. As the weight hovered above, I turned my head ever so slightly to bask in the admiration of my fellow gym goers. Surely they would be marveling at my tremendous feat of strength. Wait a minute! I did say that you should keep your head, neck and spine aligned, right? Snap! The immediate sensation of someone jabbing a glowing, hot fireplace poker into my neck reminded me of my own advice. I racked the weight and quickly scanned the room to see if anyone else heard the unmistakable sound of a serious neck injury. To me, it was as loud as a rifle shot so I was kind of expecting to get some stares, maybe some “holy shit” action, potentially some calls for medical attention, but there was absolutely no reaction. Strange.

Now, it was highly probable that the noise I heard was the sound of some extensive damage to my spinal column, but there was also a chance, however slim, that it was just my imagination. Maybe what I really needed was a couple of sets to work out the kink in my neck. I chose that option and did a few sets to repair the damage (in what dimension is this logical thought?). It wasn’t until a few hours later as I lay on my living room floor racked with pain that I realized this wasn’t the most prudent choice. I’m happy to report that my neck is back to 100%- no issues- unless of course you count being unable to turn my head without rotating my entire torso an issue. If you consider that problematic, then it’s probably more like 90% better.

Fast forward a couple of years…

“Will you just leave them at home?”

Connie and I decided to vacation at the shore so we rented a beach house for the week. The only issue was that the beach house didn’t have a weight room so I had to provide my own. Connie refused to let me rent a trailer to haul all of my favorite stuff to the beach so I compromised and brought a single set of 40lb dumbbells. She thought I was stupid, “Honestly do you need to take those things with us on vacation?” I remember her saying that as I loaded the car.

How I managed to crush three discs in my lower back with a pair of 40lb dumbbells still remains a mystery, but somehow I did and the ensuing pain was unbelievable. By the time Connie got me to the hospital I could barely walk or stand- the best I could manage was to lean against a stanchion while they processed me into the ER. The rest is a fuzzy drug-induced blur, but I do remember praying- something like “Please, God, don’t make me have to poop”. My lower back was in so much pain I was terrified that if I pushed my ass would fall off. Later that night, as I lay in my hospital bed, I recalled Connie’s words and thought, “She’s really smart. I’m going to listen to her next time.”

Next time…

The following summer I was asked to train midshipmen in Quantico, Virginia. Being familiar with the area and the training schedule, I knew ahead of time that working out would be tough to accomplish. So, before departing our home, I went into my gym and looked at what I could take with me to help me stay in shape. I went straight to my 40lb dumbbells. I picked them up and was preparing to throw them in my truck when I remembered Connie’s words of wisdom. Last time Connie said something about not taking these things with me and I thought she was smart so I should probably leave them at home. I put them down and grabbed the 50 pounders instead- see Honey I do listen.

I made it the entire month without hurting myself. This was a major accomplishment and I couldn’t wait to get home and rub it in. I was planning on demanding that Connie apologize to my gym equipment for her unfounded assumption that my weights had some strange vendetta against me.

My buddy Chris drove me home that day in his giant truck. All of my gear, to include my 50lb dumbbells, was stowed neatly in the back seat. When he pulled into my driveway, I jumped out, opened the back door to retrieve my stuff and POW! For a second I lost my sense of hearing and a brilliant white hot flash of light obscured my vision. I involuntarily yanked my flip-flop clad foot backwards as fast as I could. The pain was in-friggin-credible. I’m betting that many of you have already figured out what happened. For those slow on the uptake, I’ll fill you in.

It seems that during the trip the load in the backseat shifted, to include my dumbbells. I was unaware of this, so when I opened the door, I was not expecting a 50lb dumbbell to plummet to earth and land on my nearly bare foot. All said and done it fell from a height of about three and a half feet, landing directly on all five toes. The fact that I was standing on the driveway didn’t help either as concrete is less than forgiving.

Chris had the benefit of watching the whole thing. In typical Marine fashion he demonstrated an adequate level of concern, “DUDE, HOLY SHIT THAT WAS THE COOLEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN, YOU DIDN’T EVEN SCREAM OR CRY OR NOTHING, HOLY SHIT!!! Hey, you okay?” All I could manage in response was a strange growl-like noise, or it may have been more like a high-pitched whimper, but growl sounds manlier.

I knew what had happened and simple math told me that 50lbs of cast iron dropped from 3.5 feet landing on bare toes , on concrete, meant no more toes. I had no desire to confirm my calculations so I simply kept my head up and waited for the pain to subside. Oh yeah, the pain- I’ve been asked to describe what it feels like to have this happen and the best description that I can come up with is to imagine having Zeus fire a lighting bolt from the heavens impacting squarely on your rectum, yep, I think that describes the pain pretty accurately. Chris offered to take me to the hospital but I told him no. I opted to hop to the bathroom for some alone time instead. As I hopped away, I turned to look at the ground behind me, half expecting to see my toes lying in the driveway. Surprisingly, the ground was void of any appendages. Maybe I was fine.

I mustered the nerve to look at my foot when I was alone and though my toes were all pointing in unnatural directions, at least they were all accounted for. I did some straightening and these days my toes look fairly normal, though I still wear socks at the pool so I don’t give the neighborhood kids night terrors.

That’s it for today. I rambled too long, but believe it or not I am not even close to the end of my list. I didn’t even broach the time one of my Marines accidentally blew my forearm off with a machine gun (yes, I’m serious). I do believe, however, that this lends credence to my fears that I am due for a catastrophic injury in the near future. Connie must believe it too as she has been wrapping every sharp object in the house with bubble wrap and this morning, when I walked down the stairs, I was greeted by a giant pile of Styrofoam packing peanuts. Silly woman, she’s been married to me for 16 years. When is she going to realize that this is the price I pay for being Shane? The pain is inevitable.

Well, gotta run- the gym’s closing in an hour and I want to get a quick lift in before dinner.

I’ve been elfed!

December 11, 2008

Connie has been hard at work creating new and exciting methods for embarrassing her beloved husband.  And I am happy to report that with the help of a little elfin magic she has surpassed her wildest expectations.   Now granted, I know I could have protested. I could have said no, could have put my foot down, but what difference does it really make? I have already provided you with more than enough written evidence of my idiocy, so why not provide a corresponding piece of media?

As an added bonus, from now until Christmas, Connie has promised to produce and post a new “Groah Family Elf Dance Extravaganza” every couple of days.  They promise to be entertaining, rhythmic, cutting-edge and more than slightly embarrassing for yours truly- so you’re not going to want to miss a single one. It’s over there —-> on the right hand side of the page.

We take requests:
If you have a certain dance style that you would like us to perform- even if it’s only because you enjoy seeing me as a less than manly elf with a giant-sized Shane head, please drop a comment. We will do our best to accommodate because our motto here at the Groah household is “Making the world a happier place- one embarrassing moment at a time”

Here comes the snow…

December 10, 2008

I’m sitting in my family room watching the first true snowfall of the season- it’s actually coming down pretty good too. I’m an adult, so I can watch the snow come down without any emotional reaction. If it was a workday and I woke up to heavy snowfall maybe I would react- mutter some curse words, wish that the Government would shut down for a day, etcetera. But today is Sunday, so I can watch void of angry thoughts from the comfort of my easy chair, coffee in hand- nice.

 

My kids, on the other hand, react to the first snowfall like it was the second coming of Christ. When I first heard them around 7am I tried to ignore them, but the pure energy of their excitement was enough to vibrate me from the warmth of my bed. By the time I reached the bottom of the stairs they were in the midst of a deep embrace vowing to never do another mean thing to each other again, as long as they live, so help them God. If only snow could do that for the rest of us.

 

Why is snowfall such a major event when you’re a kid? Is it that every flake brings forth the promise of snowball fights, skyscraper-sized snowmen, snow forts, igloos and so on?  I can almost hear their thoughts- “Soon we’ll have the perfect arctic environment replete with penguins, polar bears maybe even an abominable snow man or two”. Snow is magical stuff when you’re young- every flake a possibility.

 

Sadly, Maryland isn’t the Arctic Circle so we don’t get great amounts of the fluffy cold stuff. Last year we had only one day when snow actually stuck to the ground. My kids made the best of it- they made a dirty-ass snowman complete with leaves, sticks, rocks and one lonely dog turd (I don’t even own a dog?) rolled right into his pathetic, lopsided body. They also managed to go sledding down the meager slope in our backyard. After about 4 trips it turned into an Amazonian mudslide. It took me the remaining three seasons to get grass to return in that spot.

 

They probably would have been able to sled a little longer had they not consumed most of the snow from our lawn.  Funny thing about kids, they think snow is fine dining. When I look at snow all I think of is factory waste, jet fumes, microorganisms, and every other type of pollutant that is currently littering our atmosphere- not exactly something I would willingly ingest. You want to see something gross? Watch Cayden eat a gray icicle off Connie’s minivan exhaust pipe- how tasty is that?

 

I guess how parents view snow is just one more example of why it sucks to grow old. As Connie and I watched the boys play from our back window, I knew we were having very similar thoughts- snow signals the return of the 15 minute phenomenon. The phenomenon defined: 15 minutes to bundle up; 15 minutes of actual outdoor time; 15 minute undress period; followed by 15 minutes of arguing about going back outside for subsequent trips. Mack and Cayden will do this all day long. They also like to open our patio door, lean their heads across the threshold and discuss how friggin’ cold it is outside- of course we’re very aware of how cold it is outside because, thanks to them, our family room is the same exact temperature.

 

Snow also means school cancellations- great when you’re a kid, not so great when you’re trying to hunt down last minute child care or trying to come up with activities to keep them occupied. This is a huge issue in our neck of the woods because they cancel school on the off chance that it may snow in the future. When I was a kid no such joy could be found. In Ohio you went to school no matter what. It was so cold one year that both of my arms froze to my torso- unable to use my hands I couldn’t recover my nose which had frozen clean off and was subsequently carried away by a chipmunk- at least that’s what I tell my boys.

 

At least this year I was prepared. A couple of days prior to it hitting I crawled up into our attic and brought down a huge box of snow attire. We then took the time to survey our inventory. With the kids at 6 and 8 it’s almost impossible to make winter clothes last longer than a single season, so every year we have to purchase new boots, snow pants and parkas. I currently have enough winter footwear to outfit a large tribe of pygmy Eskimos (they don’t really exist so don’t bother to Google them). Hats and gloves are another story. My boys treat them like disposable items. Most times they go into the back yard wearing them only to return 15 minutes later barehanded and hatless. I normally find them in the spring with the lawn mower unless a squirrel finds them first and makes a nest out of them.

 

Other facts you may not know about kids’ winter apparel: it doesn’t wick water, the zippers break after the first use, and if it snags on something it will unravel faster than a spool of thread- oh, and it’s expensive too. What ever happened to the super cool green rubber boots with the yellow tag on the heel? That was my childhood winter apparel. Those things were money- not a stitch of insulation to be found. To make them water proof my Mom would place Wonder Bread bags over my feet and fasten them to my calves with thick rubber bands before slipping on my boots- Underarmour be damned!  I’ll probably get a call from my mother tonight telling me that I’m making her sound like a horrible parent, but that’s not the point of the story. How could she possibly be a horrible parent- after all, she let me eat Wonder Bread? My own children have to suffer with whole grain wheat. Besides, I found it enjoyable when all the forest creatures would come running to eat the crumbs off my socks when I took off my boots.

 

I should probably stop ranting about the snow- I kind of sound like that cranky guy who yells at kids to stay off his grass (Yes, Dad, I’m pointing at you). The boys love it and that should be enough. In the not to distant future, I won’t be able to drag them outside so might as well let them frolic while they still desire to do so. But one more word of advice- if your kids ask you to join them in a snowball fight, pull your punches a bit. No one clued me in and a couple of years ago I let one fly and dropped Mack like a bad habit. He was fine, even recovered most of his short-term memory, but boy-oh-boy was he ever pissed off.

 I do love animals.  This is not to suggest that I don’t eat a disproportionate amount of red meat. I just limit my hunting to critters that are pre-packaged in cellophane and styrofoam and can be found roaming the local grocery. I want to be clear about this up front because this post may cause a stir among hardcore animal lovers.

 

Both of my boys would really like to bring another living creature into our home.  Currently, they would be satisfied with any creature that exhibits even a slight degree of liveliness (turtle, snake, goldfish), but a puppy would be their premiere choice.  I knew when the boys were born that eventually this day would come.  At some point in their lives, every child decides that they not only want a pet, but that they are well prepared for the responsibilities that accompany it. This phenomenon is also shared by newlywed couples who mistakenly believe that pet ownership is akin to child rearing and thus a sound test bed to measure their parenting skill (another discussion altogether).  So, it’s no surprise that the topic of pet ownership has gotten more and more air time around our home.

 

I am very torn. Like I said, I love dogs and cats but I am not convinced that our home, or family for that matter, is ready for an addition. Most of the trepidation I have with pet ownership stems from past experiences and the extreme string of bad luck that followed us through our pet ownership attempts. The following paragraphs will describe in butt numbing detail what I, and my ill fated pets, have had to endure.

 

Snuffy (Chinese Crested Powder Puff)-  Judging by the breed you probably surmised that this pet was not mine. Actually, Snuffy was my sister’s, but he did exist within my sphere of influence so I hold some degree of culpability in how he turned out. Snuffy came to us fresh from the pet store. He was fluffy, small, had a great temperament and was quite possibly the cutest animal ever created. My sister loved him dearly. Snuffy lived in my childhood home for over a decade. I’ve got news for you- Chinese Crested Powder Puffs were not designed to live that long.  

 

Toward the end, Snuffy no longer resembled a cute little ball of fur. In fact, all of his fur fell out and, soon thereafter, so did his teeth. My parents did everything possible to keep him comfortable to include slathering him with coco butter and dressing him in infant-sized footie pajamas to prevent him from scratching himself into oblivion, but sadly their efforts were in vain. The poor guy was miserable. To add insult to injury, he looked ridiculous. In high school, when my friends were over and Snuffy walked into the room, they would immediately stop talking and move their feet to higher ground, terrified that Snuffy would rub against them. I know it sounds mean, but can you blame them?  After all, if I went into a friend’s home and a hairless, scabby dog wearing pajamas and smelling faintly of the islands walked in, I would be slightly uncomfortable too. Eventually, my parents had to concede and have the vet put him down. My sister was so heartbroken that she kept Snuffy’s ashes for a good number of years. Of course, I was unaware that she had done this until the day I mistakenly shoved my hand into Snuffy’s unmarked urn believing that my sister was in possession of an illegal substance- friggin’ gross.

 

Garfield (Domesticated Barn Cat)-  Garfield was my first pet, delivered straight from the heavens. Literally, he fell from the heavens, through the floor of my Grandmother’s pole barn, landing at my feet. The weird thing was that he didn’t land on his feet like cats are supposed to do. He landed on his head. The logical person would have taken this as an omen, but not yours truly- my pity almost immediately turned into love. Garfield was not your typical cat. He didn’t groom himself so his fur looked more like dreadlocks. His crossed eyes destroyed his sense of depth perception; he used to swat at jet liners flying over our home.  And he didn’t catch mice; instead, he brought home live snakes, much to my mother’s chagrin.  

 

One year we thought Garfield had met his end when he ran headlong into a moving police car.  My father was convinced that my little buddy was using the Pearly Gates as a scratching post so he carried him to the backyard for burial. By the time he was finished digging the grave, Garfield had recovered and run away… creepy right? He came back several days later seemingly (?) in the same state of health as prior to the police car incident, but he never really was the same (can you say Pet Cemetery?). Garfield lived for another 7 or 8 years, but the circumstances surrounding his return made everyone a bit skittish so he was never really welcomed back with open arms. All said and done, the cat was approximately 20 human years old (that’s like a million cat years) when he finally gave up the fight.

 

Shelby (Cocker Spaniel)-  Man’s best friend is not necessarily woman’s best friend. Shelby was my first dog as a married man. He was an abandoned pooch that we liberated from the pound. He was a great dog and I loved him as much as he loved me. Problem was, Shelby only had enough love for one other person- and I was it. Connie tried like hell to win the dog over, but he wouldn’t budge. Always the trooper, she hung in there and did her best to avoid interacting with Shelby- kind of that whole out of sight out of mind thing. That worked for a while, both of them were willing to coexist as long as they could pretend that the other didn’t exist at all. When Mack came into the picture, he did not abide by the same principles. Instead, Mack was more of a “let’s be friends so I can ride you like a Shetland pony and use your big floppy infected ears as reins” -kind of guy. You can probably guess that this approach didn’t bode well with Shelby, but to his credit, he never bit my son. I think Shelby knew that biting the little one was a sure ticket out of the comfort of our warm home.  

 

I said infected ears right?  That’s the spaniel curse- they are prone to severe ear infections. Shelby’s ears got so bad that the poor guy was in constant pain, plus the smell was foul enough to make your eyes water and keep our friends and neighbors from entering our home.  We did everything we could to ease his discomfort- to include specially prepared meals of ground lamb and rice as well as nightly injections aimed at boosting his immune system, but nothing could get the damn things under control. Eventually the severe ear problems and a host of other health-related issues forced me to take that long walk to the vet to have him put to sleep. I was heartbroken. I never loved an animal like I loved Shelby.  Sitting in the parking lot of the vet’s office, I vowed to never own another dog again, it was simply too painful to let go, and inevitably it always comes to that.

 

Maggie (Springer Spaniel)-  Connie’s best friend. Maggie came into our lives when Shelby was still in the picture (FYI, Shelby liked Maggie about as much as he liked Connie). Here was a pet that I claim zero responsibility for. Maggie was a pet store purchase. To note, she was a good 3 months older than any other dog in the store and her price tag was slashed in half. Be forewarned, there are no good deals when you buy a dog from a pet store. Any appearance of a good deal is a ploy to sucker you into a regrettable purchase. The reason for Maggie’s reduced price tag was that she was certifiably insane. For example, she would run full speed into the concrete retaining wall in our backyard- almost knocking herself unconscious with every iteration. Every other available moment was spent attacking her shadow. It got to the point that her nose was permanently scabbed from pounding it into the carpet.  

 

Most would argue that this is fairly common puppy behavior, but the fact is, she carried on like this the entire time we owned her. Things got worse when we moved into our tiny house aboard Camp Lejeune. With only 800 square feet of interior living space, it became impossible to escape her incessant fits of idiocy. But that’s not what prompted us to put her up for adoption. We could deal with her antics- especially Connie, who to this day refuses to admit that the dog was anything but “sweet”. What prompted her exodus was growling at the Mack-man when he relentlessly pursued her- can’t have that. So we put her up for adoption through the Springer Foundation. She ended up going to a loving family with lots of land for her to roam. All’s well that ends well.

 

That’s it for the pets.  We haven’t owned another living thing since, unless you count the tadpole that Mack received for his 5th birthday present. I think the kids named it Brent, though I’m not positive because he wasn’t around long enough for us to become acquainted. The day after he arrived, the kids woke up early to play with him- did you know that tadpoles fit inside matchbox cars? Well they do because they are invertebrates and the thing with invertebrates is they can be squished into any item you wish- just apply enough pressure. Not the best for overall well being, but like any man, I’m sure Brent enjoyed being behind the wheel of a muscle car. Let’s just hope it was on his list of things to do before he died.

 

I am not convinced that we need to bring a pet into our family. I hope to make it abundantly clear that my reluctance is not due to my dislike of animals. On the contrary, I like animals so much that I want nothing more than to protect them from the Groah family “Pet Curse”.  But, as stated, I am torn- torn between my desire to protect and my desire to provide Mack and Cayden with the experience of a “boy(s) and his dog”. If anyone knows of a durable breed that can withstand the types of afflictions described above, please let me know. I will consider the options with an open mind.

 

 

Blast from the past…

December 2, 2008

I was arguing with my oldest about his clothing selection for school- honestly, he looked like a homeless person.  I realize that fashion has changed a lot since the 70′s and that, at 8 years old, he is going to start expressing his own sense of style, but come on, does he have to look like a bum?  I’m positive that I’m not alone in this predicament. Most of the kids in his class dress in a similar fashion.  The trouble is that a part of me remains unwilling to let go of the little boy who not so long ago wore Spiderman t-shirts and corduroy pants.

The argument discussion that I had with Mack reminded me of some writing I had done several years ago, so I pulled it out for a trip down memory lane.  I was hoping to be transported to a simpler time- a time when my children worshiped The Wiggles and followed a similar dress code, but that wasn’t necessarily the case.  Yes, way-back-when Connie and I did control what the kids had in their dressers, but that didn’t mean we always had control of what they put on their bodies.

 2004

My oldest son has always been a bit eccentric in his clothing choices. One moment he is your average four year old wearing a Spiderman t-shirt and blue jeans, but turn around and he’s dressed like a $2.00 harlot. It wasn’t so bad at first and truth be told we encouraged his sense of imagination and adventure. As a father, I had no objections to him wearing a Browns football helmet and nothing else- although he could have picked a team with a better win/loss record. It wasn’t until my boy discovered the joys of ladies’ lingerie that I started to become a tad bit uncomfortable.  Nothing can prepare a father for the day when he walks in on his little man wearing nothing but a brassiere, pantyhose, and a pair of soccer cleats.

Some of Mack’s more memorable costumes originated from my wife’s sock and underwear drawer. Mack discovered the treasures that lie within and fell in love with the idea of surprising his old man with outlandish attire on a daily basis. Here’s an example of one of those occasions:

Whenever Mack disappeared for more than 1.5 minutes and we could not hear the distinct sound of something being destroyed, Connie and I would immediately deploy into area damage control mode. We would break off and cover different sectors of the house with emergency response gear at the ready. On one of these occasions, we entered Mack’s room together and found him outfitted in his newest superhero costume.  Mack’s creation consisted of a single article of clothing stretched across his 35 lb, three foot tall frame. I didn’t recognize what it was at first, but with the aid of a Victoria’s Secret catalog, I was able to identify it as a pair of ladies thong underwear. The way in which it was configured resembled some type of obscene wrestling singlet.  The waistband was pulled up over his shoulders performing the function of suspenders and the triangular main body looked like a gladiator breast plate similar to something found in a Cinemax soft porn  movie. The back of the thong (hence forth referred to as butt-floss) went from his tiny buttocks to the back of his neck.  The butt-floss also bisected his man-parts (completely obscene)- I am sure this was unintentional.  Aside from his cowboy boots, the only other thing Mack was wearing was a comical look of surprise- even at four I think he was aware that his ensemble was a bit over the top.

Mack’s critical error was that we had caught him in the act. More than likely he was in the operational planning phase, simply assembling his uniform. His intent was most likely to wear the ensemble under his street clothes and then unleash his outrageousness at a time of his choosing-maybe in the middle of preschool, at a friend’s birthday party, or when the girl scouts come calling for cookie money. His plans had been foiled. His mother and I laughed openly while snapping multiple photos for future use. The photos are secured at an undisclosed location.  (I would post them to prove that I’m not making this shit up but the photos would probably land me in court. Not to mention, there are just some things the human eye should just not have to view.)

In the case I outlined above we were lucky. More times than not, Mack was successful in keeping his plans under wraps until an opportunity to completely embarrass Connie and I presented itself. Clothing has become the centerpiece of many of his most creative operations. How many times has he escaped the house wearing pantyhose under his Osh Kosh overalls?  How many days has he come home from school wearing nothing but pajamas- he walked out the door completely dressed-how the hell he pulled that one off remains a mystery.  I once got home from work to find him doing pirouettes in our living room wearing a pink tutu and a matching leotard. Ahhhhhhh!  Where did he find a ballerina costume?  This was not a Daddy-approved purchase.

If Mack is not putting some type of inappropriate clothing on, then he is stripping off completely appropriate clothing at the most inappropriate time. He is my little nature boy, the kid that can be counted upon to run naked through the streets happy as a clam. Within the first week of moving into our new home in Annapolis, I found myself trying to capture his naked ass in the front yard as our new friends and neighbors observed from a safe distance. “Hi, I’m Shane and the naked kid wearing the Power Rangers mask is my boy Mack. Say ‘hi’, buddy.” Maybe some day he’ll learn humility, but for now he is rejoicing in his boyhood and enjoying the uncomfortable explanations his mother and I must give to completely clothed members of our community.

These are my words from four years ago.  How soon you forget what it was like when your kids were wee-tots.  It is rarely as easy or as calm as you remember.  Over time, parents romanticize events or at least compartmentalize the strangeness so that they don’t dwell on events which caused emotional trauma.  This may be an innate mechanism designed to lull us into believing that parenting is an easy undertaking, thus ensuring the continuation of our species. Otherwise, we would have perished long ago.