When I was seven I was afraid of vampires. I’d read a children’s version of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’; I’d picked it up from the library and read it in an afternoon. I thought it was a really cool story; until the lights went out. At night I was terrified. I remember wanting to hang garlic in the window and carry around a bottle of holy water, just in case. In the years since, vampires have become all the rage. Movies/books like Twilight and the series True Blood have put vampires at the top of the cool heap. More than half of the women in the world want to have Edward Cullen’s little vampire babies. So I guess I shouldn’t have been so afraid. If I had been bitten by a vampire, not only would I now be regarded as incredibly cool, I’d also have a good explanation for my complexion.

As an adult my day-to-day fears have shifted from the fantastic (vampires, zombies, aliens, etc) to the mundane (transmission problems, locking myself out of the house, static electricity, etc). So, being so far removed from that world where zombies might rampage into my room and eat my brother’s brain, it’s been a challenge dealing with Ryan’s transition into that very world. For Ryan, lately, it’s been ogres.

Yes, ogres.

Shrek is an ogre.

So is this guy.

Ryan learned about ogres from a rather-scary-for-a-kids’-movie DVD preview and ogres, according to Ryan, are out to get him. They’re going to come into his room, and they’re going to scare him. Where are the Ogres? “Out there” says Ryan. I haven’t figured out where “there” is, but believe me wherever “there” is, out “there”, there be Ogres.

Trying to reason with a four year old is no easy task. The lines between reality and fiction are so blurry in the little four year old brain. You have to be careful with your words. You have to find a way to convince them that not only are there no ogres in the house, but also that there are no ogres. And that’s the tricky part. It’s incredibly easy to slip when debating a four year old.

Me: “There are no Ogres in the house”

Ryan: “But I saw one on TV.”

Me: “I know you saw one on TV but some things that we see on TV aren’t real, and that Ogre was just pretend.”

Ryan: “But I saw him!”

Me: “There’s no such thing as Ogres.”

Ryan: “Ogres are mean and they want to scare me!”

Me: “Well I think that not all Ogres are mean, some Ogres are probably nice, and…look there’s no such thing as ogres!”

And, it’s difficult to be the calm, reassuring parent at 2am when you’re having to explain ogres to a hyperventilating four year old. My first reaction at 2am is to say something along the lines of.

“Ogres only come and scare little boys who don’t go to sleep like they’re supposed to.”

Fortunately I don’t give in to that incredibly strong temptation.

As our kids grow I’m sure we’ll deal with all sorts of fears; some very real, some very hilarious.

What were you scared of as a kid?

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It’s unusually hot for a September day. The temperature will swing nearly 40 degrees today; God, showing off. We are on a mission. I’m flying solo with my daughter.

I’d hoped to park close to the hospital, but my hopes are dashed by the giant red “Lot Full” sign being held by the parking attendant. He’s smiling as we drive past. I’m not smiling. I find a garage a few blocks away and creep slowly through each level behind an old woman in a Cadillac who insists on signaling at each curve. It’s NASCAR with blinkers, sans the whole ‘speed’ thing. We find a spot on the fifth level. We squeeze next to a Hummer with a plate that says “D0GL0VR”. Whether it’s the Hummer or the driver that loves d0gs is unclear, however there are paw-print stickers on the rear window. So the score is Hummer:2 Driver:1. I sit for a moment and then shut the car off. Anna is kicking her legs against the passenger seat.

I grab what I need for our adventure: a diaper bag, some paperwork. I haven’t told her where we are yet, or what we’re going to be doing. Some things are best left in the dark. Partially because I want things to stay as cool as possible until we reach our destination, and partially because withholding some useful information further reinforces our children’s belief in our omniscience.

We’ve got about 5 blocks to cover, which isn’t far when you’re 28, but when you’re 2 you multiply the distance by a factor of about 10 to account for your short, stubby little legs and the ease at which you’re distracted by shiny objects. She takes my hand on the sidewalk and says ‘OK Daddy’, which is, I think, her beautiful girlish equivalent of giving me a fist pound and saying “Let’s do this.”

We start out slowly and she’s fascinated by the fire truck to our left. “What’s that?” she says (Well, it sounds more like “was sat”, but for the sake of clarity I’ll take care of the translations for you in this post. I speak two-year-old at the conversational level, which isn’t saying much, literally). I say “that’s a fire truck”. She responds “that’s a fire truck”. We play this game for the first few blocks: “That’s a hot-dog stand”, “That’s a garbage truck”, “That’s a lady running”, “That’s yucky. That’s what that is”.

Three blocks down and the engine overheats. She stops and raises her arms into the air, gives me the puppy dog face, and asks “….hold you?”. I want to say no. I want to say you’re a big two-year old now and two-year olds walk. But I can’t resist. I love carrying my daughter. This is when we laugh the most, when we bounce along together. And there is something incredibly powerful about holding someone who has such complete trust in you. It gives you a sense of responsibility that is at once humbling and frightening.

So we knock the next two blocks out this way. She rests her head on my shoulder.

The waiting room of the Children’s Hospital is painted in bright colors. There are fish tanks, it seems, everywhere. We shuffle through registration and find a seat in the waiting area. We’re only here for a routine x-ray. Looking around, I can see that other kids are here for things that I am certain are far from routine. They all run around the waiting area. They watch Dora. They talk to the fish. I think about my responsibility as a parent. How I would walk to the ends of the Earth to protect her from anything. I think about the parents in the waiting room who are on that long walk right now. My heart goes out to them. Anna walks over to where I’m sitting and throws her arms around me. “Who’s my girl?” I ask. “Anna” she says. Yes, she is.

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The Accident Chain

Ryan on the lookout for disaster with his "hand binoculars".

An important part of learning how to fly airplanes is learning how not to fly airplanes. We learn a lot from our fellow pilots; some lucky enough to have made bad decisions and still have their number of takeoffs equal the number of landings in their logbook, others not so much. A common thread in aircraft accidents is that the accident is usually preceded by a chain of bad decisions. Very rarely are accidents the result of some catastrophic, completely unavoidable failure or situation. No, it’s usually a series of bad decisions made by the crew. To the outside observer, when reviewing cockpit voice recorder transcripts, weather reports, etc, it usually seems obvious. We say out loud, “what were they thinking?”. To the crew at the time, it’s not so black and white.

The same can be said of parenting.

As a parent, I do dumb stuff all the time, and then crash and burn. And it’s usually because of a series of bad decisions that spiral into a gigantic meltdown, complete with screaming, kicking, tears, and occasionally food in an inconvenient and hard to clean place. My cockpit voice recorder transcripts would be laughable:

“Yeah I know they haven’t napped today, but I’ve just got to run into Target real quick. It won’t be bad.”

“I’ll be right back. Now, remember, just color on the paper”

“No I didn’t water down his juice…Yes I know it’s bedtime…why should I water down his juice?…Oh don’t be ridiculous honey.”

“We won’t need a diaper bag. We won’t be gone that long.”

“You want the cup without the lid?…You’re not going to spill it right?”

The imminent disaster is obvious in these cases. It’s like in a bad horror movie, where the girl is going into the abandoned warehouse in the middle of the night. Everyone knows to stay out of the warehouse except the idiot on the screen. Not much difference here. Two year old wants the big-girl cup without the lid? Sure, no problem, so long as she crosses her heart and promises that she won’t spill a drop. I’m sure nothing bad will happen.

To those of you who don’t have kids, I’m sure you’re thinking: “how stupid is this guy?” The answer is pretty damn stupid. But I’ll say this: kids are like kryptonite. They wear you out. They drain your ability to reason, think clearly, form complete sentences, and sleep. Suddenly what would normally seem like a horrible idea seems like a good idea if it will make them happy (read: shut them up).

I have this sinking feeling that this cycle of dumb decision/bad outcome never really ends.

Am I alone out there? How many other parents routinely set themselves up for disaster?

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Ryan and I went to McDonald’s yesterday. It’s become something of an after-preschool ritual. This was on his happy meal box:

Ryan stared at it for a minute and then we had a chat:

Ryan: “What’s wrong with this kid?”

Me: “Well, his name is Scottie, and it says that he’s sick.”

Ryan: “Oh. Yeah…probably his butt hurt.”

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We thought Anna was napping. She was being so good. So quiet. But she wasn’t napping, no. And the silence was broken by 4 words that have now been added to the “Things I Never Want to Hear Again List”:

“Hey! There’s poopy!….everywhere!”

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Quotes of the Day

Anna: “Mommy, hows about I brusha my teeth? Whaddya say?”

Ryan to a kid in his preschool class that didn’t like his cereal: “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”

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Side Effects

Having children causes, among other things, brain damage.

I know this because I have more than one child.

You see, this brain damage leads to memory loss, and this memory loss leads to us saying crazy things like:

“Let’s have more kids.”

This brain damage is very important, though. Without it, we wouldn’t continue to populate the world with more little people. Little people who will grow to one day become brain damaged themselves so that the cycle may continue. I think it’s called the ‘Circle of Life’. Elton John wrote a song about it.

You can readily see the effects of this damage in grandparents. Watch them play with your kids. Watch them dote on them and laugh at the Crayola masterpiece on the wall (not hanging on the wall, ON the wall). It’s all fun and games to the grandparents. Fun and games because they’re severely brain damaged. Do they not remember? It’s like they actually want to be around these kids!

I’m about to have my third kid, which means I’m basically a lost cause. The sanity train sailed long ago. I talk to myself a lot. There are days where I roam around the house with a diaper and a copy of “Goodnight Moon” and I have no idea what I’m doing. I have this dream where I’m being chased by Barney the dinosaur and I can’t get my legs to move.

Every now and then, though, I have a moment where I realize that all this brain damage isn’t so bad after all. It sometimes comes from the mundane. Sometimes from the unexpected. Yesterday it came during church. My son let loose a tremendous, multi-octave, staccato fart in the middle of Mass. Didn’t see that coming did you? Anyway, it was embarrassingly hilarious. And it was a not-so-gentle reminder that, as long as I’ve got these monkeys running around the house, there will always be laughter.

I love to laugh. I love my kids.

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