Category Archives: parenting

Bowling Night

When I was a kid, there was an unwritten law about Thursday, and violators faced dire consequences.

The law? Silence must be maintained on Thursday, because Thursday was my father’s bowling night.

He liked to come home and take a nap for a few hours before going out, and since he was a light sleeper, we maintained an almost monastic silence, quietly moving around the house and only speaking in quiet whispers.

But kids are kids, and sometimes we accidentally woke him.

That’s when he would come storming out of his room loaded for bear. It didn’t matter who was making noise, he’d just grab the first one of us he found and mete out justice. It was terrifying at the time, but I laugh about it now.

Most days, my father was off to work before any of us were out of bed, so catching a little shut-eye was a welcome thing. Understandable. I now know how annoying it is to be woken from a nap, and have on occasion jumped up in a very foul mood. Barking dogs, phones, leaf blowers — a million things conspire to ruin sleep.

So, look: if someone you know is lucky enough to enjoy the luxury of a brief nap, do what you can to make things quiet. It’s a good thing to do, even if there is no chance they’ll storm out of their room and chase you through the house.

The Clock

There comes a time when things have to go.

Years ago, we had a garage sale when my mother was selling her house. My father died several years earlier, and spread out on the lawn and driveway were a lot of his things. Tools, clothing and the bric-a-brac that builds up after of decades in the same place. I didn’t end up with much of it.

My mom went from place to place, each time shedding more possessions — and now we’re facing a move that will not allow furniture to go along.

And that brings us to the grandfather clock.

My father built the clock 40 years ago from a kit and it stood for years in our dining room — and now no one in my family wanted it. I’m at a point in my life where I’m trying to get rid of things, not acquire more — but the idea of the clock going on Craigslist and ending up with some strangers really bothered me.

So, I drove to Poughkeepsie and loaded it in my car.

I may regret it one day, but how can I just let the clock go? So much of the tangible evidence of his life is gone, scattered here and there — it just seems like something he made should stay with me.

No, we’re not defined by stuff, but objects have the power to transport you through time. What could be better for that than a clock?

Cover Your Ears

“That kid’s a terrible dancer!”

When I said that to my wife I was just kidding, but only a bit. Many of the little kids wildly dancing around in circles at this month’s Irish 2000 Festival, really were terrible dancers.

But could it be that some of them couldn’t hear the music?

A number of parents had outfitted their little squirts with earmuff style hearing protection to guard their wee ears from the Screaming Orphans up on stage.

I’ve seen this before, but never have I seen so many kids with the colorful protective devices. And they were side-by-side with just as many (or more) young kids without them.

Now, this is not the place for my observations about the parents. It would be wrong to make snap judgements based on their appearance, and I would never suggest that the ear muff crowd looked like insufferably annoying people. That would be wrong, wouldn’t it?

Anyway, I trust that the ear muff children will grow up enjoying the benefits that come with having better hearing: they will be more attentive in school, get better grades, go to more prestigious universities, earn more money and subsequently be better citizens.

In the end, the ear muff parents will have the last laugh against those fools that allowed their kids to enjoy themselves bare-eared without the encumbrance of those ridiculous looking but extremely practical accessories. The rewards in life will not go to the best dancers, but to the ones with the clearest hearing.

Day of the Dad

Father’s Day. It’s a second-rate holiday compared to Mother’s Day, which is a much grander celebration all around. Shortchange mom on Mother’s Day and you’re in trouble. Dads don’t really care.

So, I was asked the other day what I want for Father’s Day. As usual, I answered, “Nothing.”

And anyway, I’ve already gotten the best gift a father could have: two great sons.

They’re both fine, smart people — and even at their young age, they’ve accomplished important things, especially in the commitment they’ve shown to a purpose bigger than themselves.

My older son took a year off from law school when he was deployed with his infantry company to Afghanistan. There they patrolled a landscape he likens to Tatooine in Star Wars — right down to the troublemakers roaming the desert like Tusken Raiders.

My younger son just graduated from Marine recruit training at Parris Island. We all have a mental image of what that’s like from the movies, but what they were subjected to every day sounds like it was much, much more challenging.


I’ll be honest, I tried to talk him out of it, attempting to convince him on going to college first. How about ROTC, I said, or the National Guard? You can serve and go to school at the same time. Nope. And while may of the newly minted Marines he graduated with will now go off to learn skills like repairing helicopters, he’s pursuing a much more traditional skill: that of the infantryman. That’s the job he chose.

When I was that age, what sort of big decisions did I make? Whether to study for an exam or go to dollar pitcher night at Goober’s in Plattsburgh. Yes, I chose Goobers.

So, on Father’s Day I celebrate the boys who made me a father, and who as men, make me proud as hell.


We had a conversation last night about Easter morning. The question? Do we hide eggs.

Hiding the easter eggs is something I’ve done that goes all the way back to when my older son was little. We’re talking decades. Today, one son is in his mid-twenties and the other not even living at home — but the egg thing. It worries me.

Will he be disappointed when he comes over on Easter if there are no eggs to look for?


Traditions can be important in ways you don’t always realize. The best example of this was Christmas a few years ago when I had the great idea to put the gifts out on Christmas Eve instead of early Christmas morning. It seemed like an insignificant thing to me, but it caused quite an uproar with the kids. What’s going on? Why are the presents out? Presents aren’t supposed to appear UNTIL MORNING!

I never did that again.

Don’t screw around with your traditions, not even the small ones.

Rat on the Shelf

This time last year I called Elf on the Shelf out for what it is: a tool of extortion. This year, Santa’s little informant is getting even more popular — and hence, more annoying. There’s no point in arguing against this creepy little fink to parents, so for the first time ever, I am directing a blog post toward our children:

Hey, kids! Do you have an Elf on the Shelf in your house? What did you name him? Rudy? Bingo? Dave?

He sure is cute, and it’s so much fun to get up in the morning and see where he’s hiding. Every night he flies to the North Pole and tells Santa if you’ve been naughty or nice. Your Elf makes Christmas special!

But how do you know if he’s telling Santa the truth?

Some elves are evil, and they make up nasty stories about children. And when they fly to the North Pole every night, they tell tell Santa lies about you. These terrible stories make Santa think you’ve been bad, and that means he will bring you less toys.

There’s only one thing you can do: make you elf go away.

When everyone is sleeping, grab your elf before he flies to the North Pole and stop him. One thing you can do is go outside and put him in the garbage can. Or throw him down the sewer. Do you have a dog that likes to chew things? Give him the elf.

You can even put him under your mattress. That way he won’t be able to fly to the North Pole and tell Santa lies about you and ruin Christmas.

Remember: the elf is there to stop you from getting more toys. And after he’s gone if someone asks if you’ve seen him, deny, deny, deny.

Four Tips for Young Drivers

It’s always exciting to have a new driver in the house! Honestly, I didn’t expect it to come so soon, but it seems the road test examiner took a shine to our young man. I’m not saying she overlooked his weakness in the area of parallel parking — it’s possible she did not notice he was four feet from the curb — but either way he has his license.

That said, I offered three bits of advice:

1. If you get pulled over, be certain the reggae or Grateful Dead station is not playing on the satellite radio. This alone gives the officer probable cause to take a very close look at you and the car.

2. Do not return home if you damage my car, but if you must, do not claim that it happened while unattended in a parking lot. I was born at night, but not last night.

3. Treat every other car and driver as if they are out to kill you. Don’t trust anyone behind the wheel of another vehicle and just assume they are drunk/high/stupid/crazy/elderly or some combination of those.

4. See number 2.

Are Happy Meals Making Kids Fat?

For the first time in years I bought a McDonald’s Happy Meal — not because I wanted the food, but because I wanted the toy.

I read that New York City Councilman Leroy Comrie thinks that the toys in Happy Meals are partly to blame for childhood obesity. How? The children crave these toys and force their parents to take them to McDonald’s.

This surprised me because I remember the toys being… well, crappy. But who knows — maybe today they’re giving out great stuff, the fast food equivalent of Oprah’s Favorite Things? So, in the name of research, I stopped at McDonald’s and purchased a Happy Meal.

Here’s what I found out: the toys are still crappy.

In my Happy Meal was a plastic figure of the character Pedro from the animated film “Rio.” When you wind him up, his wing flaps and he revolves. Crap.

I don’t remember my kids ever begging me to take them to McDonald’s because of the toy; we were much more likely to go because of the ball pits and climbing gyms inside. I’d bring one of my sons and after eating he’d play while daddy read the paper. The Happy Meal toy, more often than not, was thrown away later the same day.

Did these trips to McDonald’s develop bad eating habits? I don’t think so. Today my kids don’t eat McDonald’s very often — and on a night that I offer to bring something home, they never request Mickey D’s. No, they usually want something more expensive.

There are plenty of things that contribute to kids being out of shape. It’s just plain dumb to link it to the stupid little trinkets that come in Happy Meals. Instead, I’d urge lawmakers to focus on something even more troubling: the cleanliness of those ball pits.

Trial by Fire

Me and my pal, Doug, used to light small fires behind the shed in my backyard.

Sometimes it was just sticks and twigs, but now and then we’d douse a model airplane or car in Testors glue and ignite the whole mess. Then — and a psychiatrist would have a field day with this — we’d extinguish the fires by urinating on them.

So anyway, one day we were on our way to the backyard and made a terrible mistake. Walking along the side of the house, we were lighting matches and tossing them on the ground ahead of us as we made our way to the burn site. We were in exactly the right spot for Doug’s mother to see us from the kitchen window. Uh-oh.

Doug’s mom could have just handled things discreetly, taking us aside to explain that what we were doing was wrong and sit us down and give us a glass of milk and warm cookies.

But no, Doug’s mom was not the TV mom type, instead, she was more of the run out of the house screaming type. She charged across the street and grabbed us by the collars, depositing me with my father before dragging Doug back home to face his reckoning.

My father sprung into action immediately, Pushing me through the house and down into the basement. The basement! Holy, crap! Why are we going to the basement?!

He yanked me into the room where the furnace sat, and threw open the access door. He pulled me to the floor and help my hand close to the hot blue flames.

“You want to fool around with fire? If I ever catch you playing with fire again, you’re gonna get burned.”

I’m not sure that was the approach I would have used, but I’ll tell you this: it certainly worked. We were done lighting stuff on fire. We were not done blowing things up with firecrackers — nobody seemed to have a problem with that — but burning things? Never again.