Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dudes Can Be Fairies Too, Right?

Here's an older blog entry I found. I wrote it when my oldest daughter lost her first tooth.

I’m sure I had conversations with my parents about the Tooth Fairy, but I don’t remember what was said. As a matter of fact, I don't remember anything before the Who Shot J.R.? episode of “Dallas.” I must have killed those particular brain cells with beer.
As a result, I was quite unprepared for the intricacies contained in being the father of a child losing her first tooth, and the doors to adulthood that it would open.

As soon as we became aware of our daughter Taylor‘s first loose tooth, my wife and I began offering support and advice.
"Just keep wiggling it," we'd say. “It will fall out and you can put it under your pillow. The Tooth Fairy will come during the night. She'll take your tooth and leave money. It's totally a win-win situation for you."

Taylor seemed pretty intrigued about the idea, but she had made it abundantly clear that she would not try to force the tooth out. She wanted to wait until it fell away on its own. I was somewhat dejected upon hearing this, as it had been my plan to tie her tooth to a gasoline-powered rocket made from my lawn mower engine and “see what happened.” Eventually, I relented and let nature take its course.

Things went on rather uneventfully until Taylor’s tooth finally did come out one night as she was brushing. It bounced across the porcelain of the sink, nearly sliding into the drain. I snatched it up just before it tumbled into oblivion.

Once the tooth was securely in our possession, I made big deal out of the occasion, congratulating Taylor and making sure not to mention that she now bore a striking resemblance to Mike Tyson. After all, losing your first tooth is one of those iconic childhood moments that a person never forgets. I didn't want her to be working this out in therapy at age forty:

"Well, doctor, my life started to go downhill when I lost my first tooth. Daddy didn't seem to care too much. Then I tried heroin."

That evening at bedtime, I took Taylor through the usual routine. I tucked her tooth beneath an extra pillow (making sure to put it close to the edge of the mattress, as to facilitate an easier retrieval) and everything was set.

I was coasting through the bedtime process, thinking that this whole “fatherhood” thing was pretty easy to master. Then Taylor started asking a lot of questions that I wasn't quite prepared for:

"Daddy, How big is the Tooth Fairy?"
"Oh, she's about this big,” I said as I held my hands six inches apart.
"How does the Tooth Fairy get into my room?"
"Umm...she flies in through the window."
"But how does she get through the window if it’s closed?"

It was then that I realized she had inherited my imagination as well as my penchant for rational thinking. We are all doomed. Especially me.

"I don't know, honey. She just twinkles her nose and junk. She's magic."
"We need to open up the window so she can get in!"

Of course, by saying “We need to open the window,” she meant “You need to open the window,” resulting in twenty minutes spent fumbling through the blinds and coaxing the locks open.

Once that was done, I turned around and gave her forehead a goodnight kiss, trying desperately not to think of the money wasted trying to heat the house all night with an open window.

My wife had given me a five-dollar bill to place underneath Taylor’s pillow for her “Tooth Fairy money” (I think I only got a quarter or a Home Depot coupon or something for each one of my teeth, but I'm sure the current price of oil is also affecting the tooth market), and since I was “The Man," it was pretty much a given that I'd be sneaking the money in there once I confirmed that she was asleep.

Around ten o' clock, I got up to go to the bathroom and peeked into her room. She was out cold.
Showtime.
Clutching the fiver in my hand, I tiptoed inside.

There I stood in the threshold of the doorway, facing a slumbering five-year-old and a very curious cat who had been watching my every move since entering the room. I was immediately reminded of the opening twenty minutes of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Everybody knows the scene: Indiana Jones emerges into the main hall of a forbidden temple. He places cautious steps around all the booby traps and other assorted deadly stuff on the floor. His eyes grow wide beholding the treasure before him: a small idol made of pure gold, no doubt worth millions. Maybe even billionty-millions.

Indiana tiptoes his way up to the idol and strokes his sweet five o' clock shadow as he decides how to make the exchange. He pulls a bag of sand out of his pocket (because everyone carries a bag of sand in their pockets) and, measuring with his eye, gauges the weight of the idol so that he can quickly switch them out.

After a heavy breath, he swaps the bag of sand for the idol. He exhales in relief as he realizes his calculations are correct. Then he runs the hell out of the room, chased by stones and poison-tipped arrows.

I had to go through the exact same thing.

Instead of booby traps, I had to silently make my way around the sea of Barbies and My Little Ponies that littered the floor. Once I arrived at Taylor's bed, I did a very smooth exchange of tooth for money. It was freaking ninja-like. I was beaming with self-worth until the cat started meowing, which was my signal to run.

I turned and hop-scotched my way out, checking over my shoulder for any poison-tipped arrows that may have been following. There was none, and I collapsed in the hallway, breathless and wondering just what I could get on Ebay for a “slightly used” tooth.

Taylor never woke up.

All in all, things went pretty smoothly. I was quite proud of myself until I realized that I will have to do this another four hundred times for all of her and my two other daughters’ teeth.
From now on, maybe I'll wear a pink dress and some cardboard wings just in case.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Field Guide To Children's TV Shows

One of the most overlooked aspects of being a parent is deciding which TV shows to allow your young children to watch. This is a very dangerous area to ignore, not only because the shows will influence your child’s development, but also because once your child decides that he or she likes a particular show, you will constantly be subjected to it for years to come.

You will learn every episode by heart. You will know all of the characters. You will memorize the dialogue. You may even find yourself watching the show when your child isn’t even in the room. You won’t realize that anything is wrong before it’s too late, and you’re curled up on the couch dabbing a tissue beneath your eye because Hannah Montana’s TV boyfriend just broke up with her. Take heed, my friends.

As a public service to all parents who have young children, I’ve decided to list some of the more popular kids’ shows on television and critique each one. You can use this list to monitor what your child watches so that the show won’t ultimately drive you insane.

SHOWS FOR REALLY YOUNG KIDS:

Imagination Movers — Watching this show is equivalent to receiving a full frontal lobotomy without the aid of anesthesia. The program consists of several grown men who work for some sort of moving company. The thing is, they never do any actual “moving,” nor any other type of work.

So how do they spend their time? By singing songs and prancing around like douchebags for half an hour. I don’t even think I’ve ever seen them leave the building.
I’m all for teaching kids the value of music and junk like that, but these guys are just tools. Unfortunately, though, little kids love tools—especially the prancing douchebaggy variety—so they go nuts for this show. You’ve been warned.

Dora the Explorer — This show isn’t too bad, and it’s easy to make fun of, which makes it less difficult to watch. The focus of every show is Dora and her friends’ harrowing journey to find something or other. It doesn’t really matter what they’re attempting to find; it’s the same storyline every day so the objective is interchangeable. I went into more detail with this one in a previous blog, so check that out if you want more info.

Go, Diego, Go! — Basically a spin-off of “Dora the Explorer.” Diego spends his days rescuing animals that have sprained ankles and crap. To date, Diego hasn’t been savagely mauled by any of these animals, which is kind of a let-down.

SHOWS FOR TODDLERS:

The Fairly Odd Parents — This is a show about a kid who has a pair of fairy godparents who give him anything he wishes for. It’s reasonably entertaining, but it would be a lot better if it were more realistic. For instance, I’ve never seen an episode where the kid wishes for a box full of grenades. Hell, that would be the first thing I’d ask for.

That being said, the annoyance factor on this show is pretty low, and some of the jokes are actually funny, so it may be a good choice.

Spongebob Squarepants — Everybody knows this one. It’s been around for the last ten years or so, and with good reason. It’s by far the best animated show out there. You don’t even have to be drunk or high to enjoy it (though it doesn’t hurt). If your kid gets hooked on this one, consider yourself lucky.

Back at the Barnyard — This one’s also pretty decent. It’s about a bunch of barnyard animals (cows, chickens, pigs, etc.) who live on a farm, and the zany misadventures they get into. The writing is good, and the gags are genuinely funny. Good show.

The Mighty B! — Avoid this one at all costs. I’m not even sure what the show is supposed to be about; I always turn it off within five seconds. Why? The main character speaks in a high-pitched whine laced with a heavy lisp. It’s the single most annoying sound that has ever penetrated my ears. If your kid starts watching this show, set the TV on fire and then throw it out the window. You’ll thank me later.

LIVE-ACTION SHOWS FOR OLDER KIDS:

Hannah Montana — The phenomenon that is Hannah Montana is almost too difficult to fully comprehend. This has been the biggest thing for Disney since Donald Duck perfected the temper tantrum. On the show, Miley Cyrus plays a normal teenage girl who leads a double life as a pop star. Nobody knows she’s a pop star, though, and thus hilarity always ensues.

The show itself isn’t terrible. There are worse things your children could be addicted to. I find that my greatest joy in watching “Hannah Montana” is cheering wildly whenever Billy Ray Cyrus comes onscreen. This is usually followed by a rousing chorus of “Achy Breaky Heart,” which then prompts my daughter to throw a shoe at my head. It’s good all-around family bonding.

Drake and Josh — This show was on for a long time, but I don’t think they’re making any new episodes because the main characters reached Nickelodeon’s Magical Age of Disownment. If you can still find reruns, it might be worth looking into.

Drake and Josh are stepbrothers, brought together by a Brady Bunch-style marriage. Drake is the cool one, and Josh is comparatively dorky and awkward. This dichotomy supplies a seemingly endless variety of storylines, most of which have been done about a billion times by about a billion other shows. Still, it’s tolerable if you’ve got nothing better to do than watch it with your kid. The dude who plays Josh is good for a few one-liners and random physical comedy, so it borders on actual “entertainment” at times.

iCarly — This is a show about a couple of tween girls who have a weekly webcast called iCarly. It’s a spin-off of “Drake and Josh,” so if you didn’t like that show, then you’ll probably hate this one. That being said, it’s bearable, albeit slightly juvenile. If your kid prefers to spend every waking moment screwing around online, she might become interested in this show, so watch out.

The Suite Life on Deck — This is a spin-off of “The Suite Life with Zack and Cody,” featuring most of the same central characters. I won’t waste any time in telling you that this show sucks fat monkey testicles.

Remember Uncle Jesse and Rebecca’s twin boys from “Full House”? Those are the kids from this show, and they still haven’t gotten haircuts since then. Each of the boys possesses all the theatrical talent of a limp noodle, which is further proof that they sure in the hell didn‘t spend all the money from those “Full House” residual checks on acting lessons. Ten seconds of this show and you’ll be banging your head against a cinder block.

The Naked Brothers Band — Yet another ignorant-ass show. Fortunately, this one has stopped production, so you will probably never have to watch it.

The show focuses on a bunch of annoying tweener kids who are in a band and spend their time composing horrible, horrible songs. They then perform these songs within the context of the show. Oh yeah, did I mention that the songs were horrible? Well, they are. They sound like they were written by a raccoon on a crack binge. The mute button on your remote will see plenty of action if you find yourself subjected to this garbage.


Big Time Rush — This is a show about a “boy band.” It’s essentially a rip-off of that Jonas brothers show, which in turn is a rip-off of about a million other shows that are rip-offs of “The Monkees.” Everything old is new again; La-De-Freakin’-Da.

The members of the “Big Time Rush” band are pretty much exactly as you’d expect. There’s The “Tough” One; The “Cute” One; The “Funny” One; The “Probably Gay” One and The “Other” One.

The show is rife with tired dialogue and clich├ęd plotlines. Each episode finds the ensemble getting into yet another “wacky” situation through “zany” circumstances. Yawn.

You may be wondering why a network would bother to produce a show centered on a “boy band” fifteen years after that ship sailed (and consequently hit an iceberg), but it’s apparently still a profitable concept. As long as there are screaming, infatuated tweener girls with idle time and allowance money to burn, there will be idiotic shows like this.


Well, there you have it. I hope this helps all of you parents in choosing what kind of shows your kids watch. Remember, it’s never too early to start filtering this stuff. You’ll be sparing your children’s sanity, and your own.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hannah and Dora: An Overview

I’ve got three daughters: Ulcer, Migraine and Stress. Those aren’t their real names, of course, but close enough.

Anyway, my daughters are all fairly young, and like most kids they spend fifteen or sixteen hours in front of the television every day. This means that I get to experience a wide variety of kids’ shows that I normally wouldn’t if I were just watching TV by myself.

Sometimes I’ll wander into the living room and find myself actually watching these shows, if for no other reason than bored curiosity. For instance, I’ve seen just about every episode of “Hannah Montana” and I can honestly say that I’ve never found a schizophrenic with multiple personality disorder to be more engaging. If you’ve never seen the show, allow me to explain:

On “Hannah Montana,” Miley Cyrus plays a normal teenage girl who has a normal teenage life, and in her spare time just happens to be Hannah Montana, America’s biggest pop star.
There’s a catch, though—and this is the basic hook of the show: No one outside of her family knows that she is Hannah Montana. It’s a big secret. They all think that Miley and Hannah are two separate people, even though the only differentiating factor between them is a blonde wig.

Just a freaking wig? That’s it?

Yep. Just a freaking wig. And noooobody can detect the slightest resemblance. I guess it’s like the whole Superman/Clark Kent thing. Fictional people are so distracted by cranial accessories that one can easily live a double life without fear of discovery.

Of course there are also some obvious logistical impossibilities presented by a teenage girl somehow being able to juggle school, friends and extra-curricular functions along with her secret life as a relevant pop star, but hey—it’s Disney. This is the corporation that gave the world an androgynous talking mouse and a verbally incoherent duck who never wears pants. You’ve got to suspend disbelief.*

My middle daughter is only two years old; too young to have developed the discerning palette necessary to become a regular viewer of “Hannah Montana.” She’s still into the animated stuff, and her favorite show is “Dora the Explorer.”

The basic premise of “Dora the Explorer” is fairly simple. A girl named Dora (who doesn’t appear to be any older than eight) spends half an hour walking somewhere. She always has some zany adventures along the way, of course, but the concept of every show is pretty much the same. This leads me to believe that Dora’s parents—whom you almost never see on the show—don’t really like Dora that much, since they allow her to go on these dangerous expeditions all the time. Dora probably has a huge life insurance policy that they want to cash in.

Dora is aided in her daily quest by an unusual cast of characters who are only slightly less boring than she is. Here are short descriptions of a few:

Boots — Boots is a monkey, and also Dora’s best friend. His name is Boots because—wait for it—he wears boots. I’m guessing that Boots considers himself fortunate that he chose not to wear his favorite pair of stiletto heels on the day he met Dora.

Backpack — Backpack is an actual backpack, and another good friend of Dora’s. Every time Dora and Boots find themselves in an unsolvable predicament, Backpack makes some awesome suggestion that fixes everything.
I know that a living, breathing backpack sounds creepy—and it is—but Dora never has any qualms about wearing a sentient being on her shoulder every day. Furthermore, there doesn’t appear to be any limit to the amount of room inside Backpack. I’ve seen Dora pull stuff out of Backpack that has no business being able to fit in there, and I’m talking big stuff, like Chevy Impalas and lumber.

Map — Much like Backpack is an actual backpack, Map is an actual Map. The creativity displayed by the writers on this show astounds me.

Writer 1: “Hey, what should we name the map?”
Writer 2: “How about ‘Map’?”
Writer 1: “Works for me. Let’s go to lunch.”

Swiper — Lastly, we have Swiper, the “antagonist” of the show. Swiper is a weasel who wears a Lone-Ranger-style mask over his eyes, just so there’s absolutely no question that he’s a villain.
Swiper is always trying to ambush Dora and steal stuff from her. When he jumps out, Dora and the gang thwart him by saying, “Swiper, no swiping!” This causes Swiper to immediately give up and walk away. Persistency is not Swiper‘s strong suit.

Normally, Swiper is unsuccessful at taking Dora‘s stuff. Every once in a while, though, he manages to get his hands on something from inside of Backpack. You would think that Swiper would run away and buy heroin at this point, but you’d be wrong. He usually just tosses whatever he stole into the woods.

I’m not sure if there’s a point in stealing something if you’re just going to chuck it into some trees as soon as you get it, but I guess that’s why I’m not a career criminal. After Swiper throws away his ill-gotten bounty, he just stands there while Dora finds it again (which takes all of three seconds).

I fail to see the lesson here, but whatever. I don’t have time to think about it anyway, because “iCarly” is coming on.
Oh, crap. Did I say “iCarly”?
Uh…I meant “CSI.”



* Notice how I made it through that entire section without making a Billy Ray Cyrus/“Achy Breaky Heart” joke. Looks like I’ve finally graduated to “Second-to-Lowest Common Denominator Humor.” Woo-hoo!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Getting Your Child To Sleep

Kids are God’s little narcoleptics. They all possess the ability to fall asleep without warning, most often while sitting on the toilet. They’ve got their own internal clocks when it comes to dozing off.
Your kid will never want to sleep when he is actually supposed to though, especially if you are tired. One method you can use to combat this tendency is to keep a bottle of whiskey by your side at all times, preferably secured in a custom-made holster fastened to your waist. As soon as your child falls asleep, whip out that booze and guzzle it down. Wait thirty seconds, then pass out. This way, both of you will get some rest.

In order to better your child’s sleep habits, it’s necessary to develop a nightly bedtime ritual. This is a routine that you and your child go through each evening before bed to help calm him down and prepare him to go to sleep. A typical bedtime ritual might go like this:

You: “Hey Timmy, let’s go brush your teeth.”
Your child: “No. I don‘t want to.”
You: “Hey Timmy, let’s go read a book.”
Your child: “No. I don‘t want to.”
You: “Hey Timmy, let’s eat a bunch of chocolate and finger-paint the walls.”
Your child: “No. I don‘t—wait, yes. I actually want to do that one.”
You: “Haha! Too late, you lost! Now you have to drink this entire bottle of NyQuil.”

*Note: I’m aware that your child’s name probably isn’t “Timmy.” You undoubtedly picked something far more creative and meaningful with which to christen the fruit of your loins. Maybe something like “Jimmy.”*

Other methods of calming your children before bed can include the following:

Reading a bedtime story — There are tons of children’s books out there that can be used to get a child to fall asleep once he’s in bed. Most of them have cutesy titles like The Briar Patch Bears Consider Purchasing A Microwave or Jenny Jellybean Applies For An Adjustable Rate Mortgage. When selecting a story, the key is to pick something that will hold your child’s attention, yet still be boring enough that he’ll want to fall asleep while you’re reading.
If the book is too boring, you may fall asleep yourself, which is a very dangerous situation. Kids are ingrained with a frat house/slumber party mentality which dictates that anyone who falls asleep before they do is automatically subject to be doodled upon with a Sharpie.

Singing a lullaby — Way back in the olden days before books and morphine were invented, parents had to soothe their offspring to sleep through the power of song. The key to this method is proper song selection. Something by John Mayer would be appropriate. Something by Megadeth would not.
Also, if your singing voice closely resembles the sound of mating tomcats, it’s likely best to forget about this method.

Letting the TV do all the work — Why have a television if you’re not going to use it? And when I say “use it,” I mean “plant your child in front of it, then leave the room for an extended period of time.”
TVs were made for babysitting, and there are plenty of shows that will hold your child’s interest. That Spongebob guy is great with kids; he has excellent references. Feel free to leave your child with him for several hours, even though it’s only a half-hour show. I’m not sure how the math on that works out, but it does.

The time your child spends sleeping is the best (and perhaps only) time to fix all the stuff he messed up while he was awake. You’ll need this time to pick up stray toys, clean the crayon off the walls, and get your cat out of the dryer.

For this reason, once your child falls asleep, your primary focus should be to keep him asleep. This is much more difficult than it sounds. Unlike every other living thing on the planet, children gain a heightened sense of awareness when they are sleeping. The slightest disturbance will rouse them. They can easily be awakened by a leaf hitting the grass three counties away.
Because of this, it’s important to take precautions.

You can try placing industrial-grade earmuffs (the kind construction workers wear) on your child, but chances are the extra weight and girth will render your child incapable of movement. (This is not necessarily a bad thing for you, but your kid will probably get pretty mad about it.)
Soundproofing your child’s room is also a valid idea, but the Laws of Parenthood dictate that if you were to spend thousands of dollars soundproofing your child’s room, he’d never want to sleep in there.

The most realistic solution to keeping a child asleep is to modify your own habits. When your child is sleeping, you must invoke the power of the ninja, creeping stealthily from one room to another. Your footsteps must be light and noiseless. Float if possible.

It takes practice, but with a little hard work and a lot of ingenuity, you can have the house glistening and spotless by the time your child wakes up.
Just in time for him to make a mess of it again.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How To Potty-Train Your Child

When is the right time to begin the process of potty training? Well, every child is different, but it usually ends up being about the time that you realize you’re spending approximately seven thousand dollars per week on diapers.

The first thing you’re going to need is a potty. You can attempt to train on a full-sized toilet, but chances are that your child isn’t yet six feet tall, and therefore can’t reach the lid just now. For the time being, he’s going to need his own.

You’ve got some options when it comes to buying a potty. The manufacturers of children’s potties make them in all sorts of kid-friendly shapes. Most are cute animals, like frogs or bunnies. Through this type of conditioning, every time your child encounters an actual frog or bunny, he’ll try to pee on it. For this reason, it’s important to keep your child indoors at all times while he’s potty training, a process which usually lasts about nine years.

It will take a while for your child to adjust to the idea of peeing on his new potty. At first he’ll be intrigued by it, then scared, then happy, then scared again, then confused, then scared again, and finally just bored. By this time you’ll have given up on training and you’ll be using the potty to store old nails and light bulbs.

When your child actually does pee in the potty—which usually happens by accident the first few hundred times—be sure to make a huge deal of it. You’ll want to heap congratulations on him, and make verbal affirmations so positive that he’ll think his pee cures cancer. You’ll be so elated the first time your child pees on the potty, pointing into the bowl and clapping in euphoric celebration, that you won’t even notice that his pants are still down and he’s now peeing on your shoe.

Here are a few techniques that can be used for potty training:

The Reward Method — Here’s how this one works: Every time your child successfully uses his potty, he receives a reward. The incentive you use for this purpose is entirely up to you, but it’s usually best if it’s something the child actually wants. Cookies make a better reward than broccoli. A small toy works better than a coupon from Office Depot. You get the idea.

The Helicopter Method — This method is so named because it causes the parent to closely resemble a helicopter hovering directly over the child’s shoulder. In order for this to work, you must have absolutely no life (and as a parent, you already have no life, so you’re halfway there). You’ll have to follow your child around all day, every two minutes asking: “Do you have to go potty? How about now? Do you have to go potty now?”
Most of the time, your child will answer, “No” or “I think you need therapy.” Every so often, however, he really will have to go potty, and success is achieved.

The Duct Tape Method — This technique involves duct taping the potty directly to your child’s butt, thereby guaranteeing he won’t suffer through the embarrassment of “accidents.”
There are downsides to this method, though. Your child will have difficulty negotiating corners, at least until he gets used to the extra girth he’s carrying. His social standing will likely suffer as well. All things considered, these are minor inconveniences when compared to never having to purchase another diaper again.