Excerpt for Single Family Asylum by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


SINGLE FAMILY ASYLUM



There’s a fine line between patriarch

and lunatic.





JON ZIEGLER

Copyright © 2016 Jon Ziegler

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 1523248548

ISBN-13: 978-1523248544






DEDICATION



For my wife, Cynthia, and daughters, Hannah and Natalie, who inspire all that I do, and for my small but loyal group of readers. Thank you all.






CONTENTS



1. Hair by Dad 11

2. Cinnamon Raisin Mango Ice Cream 16

3. The Easter Egg Hunt 19

4. The Happy Light 23

5. I Can’t Do This 25

6. Intention Is Not Completion 29

7. Second-Child Syndrome 32

8. Teaching Our Pets to Be More Self-Sufficient 35

9. Buckle Up for Insanity 39

10. The Audience 44

11. Video Can Be a Horrible Reminder 47

12. The Ever-Forthcoming Garage Sale 50

13. The Playground of Death 54

14. Suffering through the Flu 58

15. I’ve Earned the Right 60

16. Dinner 63

17. Four Non-morning People Getting Ready For Work and School 68

18. The Parent-Teacher Conference 74

19. Decorating with a Husband’s Touch 79

20. Waves of Parenting 82

21. The Smudge 86

22. Let Me Take a Selfie 89

23. The Normal Family Show 94

24. I Am Not a Morning Person 97

25. The Huge Book of Horrifying Diseases 100

26. Driving with Children 106

27. The Parenting Group 110

28. Turning over a New Leaf 113

29. The Never-Ending Battle 117

30. The Vomit Accelerator 121

31. In Your Facebook 124

32. The Violence of Passive-Aggressiveness 128

33. The Inevitable Erosion of Your Values 131

34. How Does That Make You Feel? 133

35. Children’s Art 136





36. The Robber 139

37 Could This Be the End? 142

38. Were We Tougher Back Then? 144

39. How Did We Get Here? 147

40. The Monster under the Bed 150

41. The Dentist 154

42. As It Should Be 158

43. Our Family Justice System 161

44. Creative Discipline 163

45. Horse Freak 168

46. That’s Not Funny 171

47. Hot and Ready 173

48. The Icy Road Brake Test 178

49. ’Twas the Night before Christmas 184

50. The Path of Least Resistance 186

51. Shopping with Children 188

52. Cool Dad 195

53. The Joy I Found in My Daughter’s Heartbreak 198























We can’t all be perfect parents and spouses, so we might as well laugh about it.








1. Hair by Dad


I was always a very hands-on type of dad when it came to performing all the duties necessary to raise our two daughters. I felt strongly that mother and father were both equally responsible for their care. I changed the worst of diapers, dressed board-stiff stubborn toddlers, bathed, potty trained, and fed . . . even force-fed my girls. I endured tea parties where I was instructed to speak in a high falsetto princess voice, read the same bedtime stories over and over for years on end, and argued with them about not wearing their favorite pair of socks (the ones with the kitties on them) for a week straight.

Despite my willingness to be a full parenting partner, I must admit that I never really gave my daughters’ hair very much thought. My wife just always took care of that department. So when my wife announced that she was going to spend a week with her mother, who had fallen ill in Ohio, it didn’t occur to me that doing a little girl’s hair was going to end up being one of my childcare tasks while she was away.

During her preparation for the trip, my wife repeatedly asked if I thought I could handle the care of our four- and six-year-old girls while she was gone. The suggestion that I might not be capable felt a bit condescending. In fact, her tone and upturned right eyebrow salted her concern with an air of “will the three of you still be alive when I get home?”. This annoyed me to no end. It’s not as if I was some dad who was never around or never helped out. Did she think I was a complete idiot?

“I’ll be fine!” I insisted hoping that my annoyance was conveyed properly.

Her only response was a sigh followed by the silence of doubt.


After several more reassurances that I was more than fit for the job, she finally finished her packing and departed for Ohio on Saturday afternoon.

The remainder of the weekend went smoothly, considering my wife’s absence. An incident involving a child, the dog, hairspray, curling iron, and smoke caused a brief panic, and a few additional moments of strife occurred over my dinner offerings (which I quickly solved by appeasing the two picky eaters by substituting the meatloaf and green beans that my wife had suggested with a dinner of Fruity Pebbles and popcorn). I began to think that parenting solo was even easier than I had imagined it was going to be…


On Monday morning, I awoke early and began preparing a breakfast of Fruity Pebbles and leftover popcorn. As I was setting out the spoons and bowls on the dining room table, my older daughter, Hannah, appeared in the doorway of the dining room looking very much like a girl who had just stumbled out of bed.

It wasn’t until that very moment that I actually realized that getting my six-year-old ready for kindergarten would involve doing something with her hair. Once I realized that I had to do something with her hair, I then realized I had absolutely no idea HOW to do something with my daughter’s hair. It was, perhaps, the only childcare duty that I had never actually taken part in.

Quickly, I grabbed the rather lengthy childcare manifesto that my wife had authored and stuck with a magnet to the refrigerator. It contained detailed instructions on meal plans, day-by-day outfits for both girls, and a list of fifty-seven dos and don’ts…but no instructions on hair. For a few seconds, I felt the horrible grip of panic begin to sweep over my frantic mind.

“I can do this!” I said aloud, as if it were necessary to convince myself. After all, if I could figure out how to resuscitate a gravely ill lawn mower or fix the dishwasher with parts from an obsolete pool pump, I could surely figure out how to do a six-year-old’s hair! So after breakfast, I marched my little ragamuffin into the bathroom, and I sat her up on the vanity.

Her hair, other than being clean from a shower the night before, looked much like a hurricane survivor’s hair. It had a sort of wild frizz on the top and back, and the left side was sticking straight out from her head. The right side was matted flat from being slept on and refused to “re-inflate” with my attempts at fluffing it.

“How does Momma do your hair?” I asked, hoping to at least gain some direction.

“With these,” my daughter answered, holding up a handful of hair restraint objects.

“AHA!” I exclaimed, grabbing the bands, clips, and barrettes from her little hand.

Armed with my new arsenal of hair restraint weapons, I set to work turning the hurricane survivor into a princess.

After a few minutes of strategizing, I decided that the easiest and most effective method of attacking her hair would be a simple ponytail. So I grabbed the largest handful of her crazy hair I could manage and wrangled it into one of the elastic ponytail holders that I had gotten from my daughter.

“OOWWWW, DAD!” yelled the little person, turning to face me.

Her eyes had been drawn open as wide as two eyes could possibly be opened from the tightness of the ponytail holder, which gave her a surreal, ghoulish appearance.

“Oh, sorry, baby girl,” I said, loosening the holder a bit, which returned her eyes back to normal, but also allowed several of the wild clumps of hair to escape.

With the use of a tape measure, I confirmed that the ponytail was fairly centered on the back of her head, and then I set my sights on dealing with the clumps of hair that had found freedom when I loosened the holder. To accomplish this, I was forced to utilize every type of hair device I had at my disposal.

I was able to subdue several areas that seemed determined not to be tamed by using a few bobby pins and a can of hairspray. I developed a method of spraying and smoothing first, and then adding a bobby pin if I felt the particular group of hairs might rebel later on in the day.

I took care of another group of wild hairs with the installation of a rather large barrette, which I affixed to the base of her bangs.

“I think we’re getting somewhere,” I exclaimed hopefully.

Hannah looked at me with a distinct expression of skepticism.

For the final two stubborn “trouble areas,” I resorted to a few pieces of transparent Scotch tape, which were quite effective and only noticeable upon close inspection.

“Done,” I proclaimed triumphantly, and held up a mirror for the child to inspect my work.

Hannah looked at her hairstyle for long minute, turning her head from side to side.

“There,” she said, pointing to one particularly unruly spot of crazy hair that refused to lie down peacefully.

Searching through one of the drawers in the vanity, I found a pair of scissors and snipped the offending hairs off tight to her head. With a few more seconds of looking in the mirror, she seemed satisfied and hopped down from the sink top.

I was quite proud of my accomplishment, especially in light of never having dealt with one of my daughters’ hair-doing before that morning. It didn’t even look that bad from a distance. I figured as long as she didn’t walk under an extremely strong electric magnet, causing the couple of dozen bobby pins and barrettes to be removed, I might have just pulled it off. Better yet, my wife was not here to point out any of the minor imperfections.

I couldn’t help but feel a sense of victorious jubilation as I loaded Hannah and her sister into the car and headed off to school.

Upon arriving at school, the three of us walked to Hannah’s classroom, where Mrs. Stanford, her teacher, met us at the door.

“Well good morni…Oh my!” her teacher said, causing me to doubt my hairstyling a bit. “Is Mom out of town, by any chance?”

“As a matter of fact, she is,” I answered, as I realized that the bright lights of the classroom made the many layers of hairspray and pieces of tape considerably more noticeable. “But I figure she doesn’t really need to be concerned with all the details of how things went without her,” I added with a hopeful wink.

“Oh, I’ve been around. You are not the first dad to deal with a daughter’s hair in Mom’s absence,” she said reassuringly. Then she added in a cautious voice, “You do know that…uhhh…”

“Know what?” I asked impatiently.

“You do know that it’s picture day, right?”



2. Cinnamon Raisin Mango Ice Cream


Last night, as our family gathered in the living room to await the season premiere of our favorite family TV show, my wife announced that she was taking orders for an ice-cream store run.

“Caramel English toffee,” I said without needing to give it a second thought, because for me, there was no other ice cream on earth. I even have dreams about eating it.

My daughters also put in their requests, and off she went to the store.

After what seemed like an eternity, my wife returned home with the grocery bag that contained my lactose drug of choice…or so I thought.

She sat the bag on the table and began to rummage through it, pulling out chips, soda, and the girls’ choice of ice cream…the anticipation was killing me. I was like a hungry dog that was being teased with a piece of bacon held over its head. I could hardly stand the wait. Then finally, she pulled out the last item from the bag and handed it to me. My hands trembled as I grasped the cold, heavenly pint of…cinnamon raisin mango ice cream?

My brain froze. The little hourglass started spinning in the middle of my brain screen, like a computer that was about to crash.

Was this a joke?

I studied her face for any signs that the ice cream I was holding in my hand was not the ice cream I was expected to eat, but there were no signs given.

Cautiously, and with a trembling voice, I stammered, “Ummm…Uh, this isn’t—”

“I know. I saw this and thought you might like it better,” she said, without even letting me finish my sentence.

Now, I’m not crazy about cinnamon, and I’m neutral on mango, at best, but I HATE raisins. I REALLY hate raisins. In fact, if I ever found myself hopelessly surrounded by zombies in a postapocalyptic wasteland, and an army truck full of life-size, gun-wielding raisins came roaring up to save me, I would probably tell them that I was doing all right on my own and take my chances that a truck full of gun-wielding chocolate chips would eventually happen by.

“Well, uhh, I don’t really like raisins.”

“Yes, you do,” she said matter-of-factly.

I pondered a moment on her answer, and it slowly began to occur to me that I might be entering into an argument about what I like and don’t like, which seemed odd to me.

In nearly every other argument I can think of, fact takes precedence over personal opinion. But in the argument over what I like and don’t like, personal opinion would carry more weight…especially MY opinion.

“I’m pretty sure I don’t like raisins,” I said cautiously.

“Yes, you do.” she answered again, only this time with a confidence that led me to believe that I might actually lose the argument over what I like and don’t like.

After a few more pathetic attempts at convincing my wife that I don’t like raisins, I confirmed that the argument was indeed unwinnable. I was apparently wrong about not liking raisins. Besides, she was kind and thoughtful enough to make the ice-cream run. So, with a broken heart, I sat down and started eating the ice cream with all the determination of someone enduring a colonoscopy.

By now, the TV show had started, and the family’s full attention was focused on the screen. The distraction provided me with the opportunity to sneak the majority of the raisins to our dog, Pippy, to gulp down with much enthusiasm.

I determined it was crucial that she didn’t catch me feeding the raisins to the dog, because neither the dog nor I had asked her if the dog actually likes raisins. For all we knew, the dog might also be mistaken about whether it liked raisins or not.



3. The Easter Egg Hunt



“You’ve never let your daughter’s go on an Easter Egg Hunt?!”

If the question alone wasn’t enough to make me feel like a complete fatherly failure, the shock and disbelief conveyed by the question asker was more than adequate to finish the job. I decided immediately that I was going to create the Easter egg hunt of all Easter egg hunts for my three- and five-year-old daughters this very year. I would make up for my neglect of Easters past.

On the Saturday before Easter Sunday, I spent nearly the entire day purchasing and stuffing plastic eggs with candy, money, and small trinkets. With the aid of a crudely drawn map of our two-acre yard, I meticulously plotted and hid each little treasure. I could hardly wait to see the girls’ excitement as they searched for their Easter eggs. They would surely talk about this day for the rest of their lives.

The next morning, my wife and I led the girls out into the yard and gave each one a huge empty basket. I explained to my wide-eyed daughters that the Easter bunny had hidden Easter eggs all over the yard for them to find.

“What’s an Eeeter egg?” my younger daughter asked.

“You know, like an egg that a bird lays…only the Easter bunny brings it!” I answered, amazed that she didn’t know what an Easter egg was. “You’ll know when you find one.”

So, with a mixture joy and excitement, sprinkled with a touch of confusion, off they both went in search of their Easter treasures.

After about ten minutes, my wife and I walked over to check on the girls’ progress. As I approached my younger daughter, Natalie, I asked, “How many Easter eggs have you found, baby girl?”

“A whooooole bunch,” she said, holding up her Easter basket.

Looking inside the basket, I was surprised to see that there was not a single egg in her basket. Instead, there were several round rocks, a bottle cap, and what looked like the pelvis and legs of an apparently long-dead rodent of some kind.

“Oh, no, baby girl, those aren’t…”

Just then, a blood-curdling scream came from the other side of the yard. My other daughter, Hannah, came wailing and running full speed from behind the shed, still clutching her Easter basket, which contained what looked like a football-size, egg-shaped hornet nest. My wife, who had gone to check on her, was fleeing in the opposite direction, swatting at the air frantically.

Like a flash, I took off on a dead run toward Hannah, who was screaming in horror and from the pain of being stung. Snatching the hornet basket from her hand, I veered away from her and threw it like a grenade over the hedge that framed our property.

But there was no time to stop and check on poor Hannah. Instead, my next concern was my wife, who was very allergic to bees.

It took a few seconds of sprinting to catch up to her in the front yard. She was screaming and swatting with all her might at a single bee that had followed her from the back yard and was currently swirling around her head. Not knowing what else to do, I began following behind her, swatting as well and smacking her on the head every time the hornet made an attempt to land.

In her flailing panic, she fell to the ground and began to flounder like a fish stranded on the shore. I feared that her being a stationary target would make her more vulnerable to the attacking insect, so I began to drag her by her shirt collar, which ripped.

“Wait, Wait, I think it’s gone,” she managed to say between panting and sobbing, but I didn’t have time to even think about her words when a police car came sliding into the driveway, and two officers jumped out with guns drawn. I could only assume my neighbor across the street had noticed the commotion and called them…the very neighbor that had been less than friendly to me ever since my “trees are easier to burn standing, than after you cut them down” incident.

So there I was, red-faced and panting, standing over my sobbing wife, who had collapsed on the ground with a ripped shirt, and my hand raised high in the air ready to smack her on the head if the devilish hornet returned. Hannah, the one who had found the Easter hornet nest, was standing not far away, crying loudly. Her lip and the area around her left eye were swollen surprisingly large from what I could only assume were hornet stings. I had no idea where Natalie had gone to.

“Get away from her, you sick bastard!” one of the officers yelled with a great amount of contempt in his voice.

“No, no, Officer! It’s not what it looks like!” I said, realizing how bad the situation must appear.

“Did you do that, too?” the other officer asked, nodding toward Hannah, whose eye was almost swollen shut and her lip nearly as big.

“NO, I was just trying—”

“Hey!” the second officer interrupted. “Aren’t you the idiot who decided to burn his trees down last summer?”

But before I could even begin to explain the logic in the tree burning, Natalie trotted out from around the corner of the house and over to the two gun-holding officers. Smiling, she looked up and said, “My daddy says we can find Eeeter eggs,” and with that, she pulled a piece of hardened dog poop out of her basket and held it up as if to offer it to the officer. His gaze of contempt grew even more intense.

“It’s not what it looks like!” I pleaded, not even sure where to start. “We’re going to an Easter church service!” (I’m not even sure why I thought that would help, but I was desperate.)

Finally, my wife had calmed down enough to begin explaining the situation herself, and a questioning of my daughter Hannah eventually revealed that a hornet had assaulted her. I’m not sure they believed that I had actually hidden Easter eggs, since neither girl had anything in her basket other than rocks, a dead animal, a hornet nest, and dog poop, but I could live with that.


In the years following, Easter baskets were sitting next to the girls’ beds, already filled, when they woke up in the morning. The girls didn’t like talking about the Easter bunny any longer. They had reasoned that he was a bit like Santa, and if you had been naughty in the previous year, you would not find Easter eggs. Instead, you would be attacked by bees, and the police would come and point their guns at you.



4. The Happy Light.



I’m generally a pretty happy guy. But in the midst of a long grey winter, I can get a little down. To be honest, I can get quite depressed at times. My wife claims that I suffer from that seasonal depression disorder. It apparently has something to do with not getting enough sunlight. My sister in-law recommended a special light that supposedly mimics the sun’s light, so my wife acquired one. It is now referred to, by my wife and kids, as “Dad’s happy light.”

I’m not sure if it helps or not, but my wife seems convinced that it does. In fact, she seems to think it will do more than just help with my seasonal depression.

I have noticed that if we have any sort of disagreement, she will at some point after the argument, switch the light on, and point it at me as if it will change my opinion on our disagreement . . . and I think she believes she’s being subtle about it. I have even noticed that as I sit in the glow of the happy light, she will periodically bring up different points of our argument as if to see if the light had softened up my brain and made me see things her way yet, much like a baker checking a cake in the oven. I think she is over-estimating this light’s ability to fix all my perceived faults.

The other night we were the playing a trivia game that required players to have a vast knowledge of current children’s TV shows. My ignorance on the subject was causing my wife and I to get beaten quite soundly by our two girls. So in the middle of one of our turns, my wife got up, and moved the happy light over in front of me and switched it on. I think she actually believed that the happy light would somehow unlock a cache of forgotten Kid TV facts in my brain, or that it might transfer the question’s answers to me through its bright glow. Now I’m skeptical on whether the Happy light will change my opinion during an argument, but I’m certain it will not transfer trivia answers to my brain.

My daughters are quick to pick up on the concept of the light, as well. If I were to come home from work and find them burning our furniture in the middle our living room, all I would have to say is, “umm, I’m not sure this is the best idea, girls . . .” and they both would reply in unison, “JEEZE-O-PEETS, SOMEONE NEEDS TO GO SIT INFRONT OF HIS HAPPY LIGHT!!!” It’s as if my not thinking they should set fire to furniture in our home is unreasonable, and that the happy light would make me somehow more agreeable to it.

I’m starting to think this light isn’t even supposed to help with the disorder . . . if I even have a disorder. I think that maybe it’s just a prop that is used by my family to make me think that depression is the only possible reason that I would ever question their logic and reason.





5. I Can’t Do This


As I slowly inched closer and closer to the drive-through speaker box, where I would place my order, I felt a drip of nervous perspiration roll off my forehead.

“Do you know what you want?” I asked my wife.

“I can’t see the menu,” was the reply.

I could have told you that this was going to be the answer. It is always the answer. And as usual, I began thinking to myself, “How can she not know the McDonald’s menu by now? Every American can recite the McDonald’s menu. Some can even quote prices as well. The McDonald’s menu is as old as time, penned by our forefathers shortly after the completion of the Declaration of Independence.”

But I kept these thoughts to myself, because I had learned that to verbalize them would only create an episode and prolong the decision-making process. I instead turned to my darling children and asked the same question. The answer came at me from two mouths simultaneously, making it impossible to determine who said what, but it sounded like this:

“I want a cheeseburger Happy Meal, I want a chicken nugget Big Kid Meal, and the purple toy, with mustard sauce, no wait, make it a blue toy, and root beer, but I don’t want the same toy as her, I think I want nuggets instead, and ketchup, but I already have that toy, I don’t like onions, can we go to Taco Bell?”

As I tried to comprehend the rat’s nest of words that had just come from the backseat, I pulled the car forward. It was my turn at the speaker. My palms were sweating and I was having trouble breathing, for I knew what was about to happen.

“I’ll have the quarter pounder with cheese meal with a Coke aaaaand…”

I always say “and” in a prolonged and exaggerated way, as an attempt to cue my wife to jump in with her order, but I am met only with silence as she studies the menu. I divert back to the kids, noticing that the little old lady in the car behind me was beginning to look impatient.

“I also need two Happy Meals, one cheeseburger and one chicken nugget, with blue and purple toys.”

“NO, I want a red toy.”

“What to drink with those, sir?”

“Lemonades and make it a red toy.”

“I want a cheeseburger instead”

“I’m sorry, sir, we are all out of red toys.”

“Mustard sauce, Dad, and I don’t like lemonade.”

“Make the nugget a cheeseburger and change the lemonade to a Coke and the red toy to a green toy.”

“I want curly fries, Dad.”

“They don’t have curly fries here, Natalie.”

“I’m Hannah.”

“What was that, sir?”

“I was just telling my kid that you don’t have curly fries here.”

“We don’t have curly fries here, sir.”

“I know that, you idiot!”

“Your total comes to…”

“WAIT! I’m not done,” I said, turning to my wife with a look of desperation.

The little old lady behind me was now honking every ten seconds or so, and my right eye had begun to twitch a bit.

“Well?” I asked my wife, as my voice raised a notch in intensity.

“What did I get last time?” she asked in a tone that would suggest that she was in no hurry.

“I don’t know; does it matter?”

“Can I get the garden salad with chicken on it?”

“Can she get the garden salad with chicken on it?”

“Yes, but we will have to charge you more,” answered the voice on the speaker.

“Ask if I can trade the tomato for the chicken.”

“Can we trade the tomato for the chicken?”

“We’ll still have to charge extra.”

“Well then I don’t want the garden salad. Tell him I need another minute.”

The little old lady behind me had now gotten the whole drive-through line honking and had begun throwing what appeared to be Rolaids at the back of my car, as two more minutes of menu studying passed.

“Just get me a McChicken sandwich meal and a diet.”

“Uh, I guess we’ll have the McChicken meal with a diet…and that’s it.”

Silence is coming from the speaker.

More silence is coming from the speaker.

“I’m sorry, sir, but can you repeat your order?”

WHAT? REPEAT MY ORDER? I don’t think that’s possible! My mind was blank. I couldn’t remember a single item that anyone in the car had ordered…including my own order.

“I, I, uhh…I…”

“What is wrong with you?” my wife demanded.

I looked at my family. Their mouths were moving, as they attempted to repeat their orders to me, but I couldn’t hear any words, just the sound of my labored breathing and my heart beating like a drum. The little old lady behind me was getting out of her car and walking toward me. What if she has a gun in her purse?

The speaker box was getting louder and louder, “SIR? DID YOU HEAR ME? COULD YOU REPEAT YOUR ORDER?…SIR?…SIR?”

Sobbing, I looked up to the heavens and pleaded, “Lord! Spare me this shame and take me now!”

I turned to my wife and pitifully stated, “I…I can’t do this.”

“What do you mean? What is wrong with you? Tell them our order again!” she demanded, but I couldn’t comply.

With smoke rolling off the tires, I peeled out of the drive-through line, leaving the little old lady giving me an obscene gesture in my rearview mirror. Both girls flew up out of their seats, as the car bounced over the curb, across the restaurant lawn. Tires squealed loudly, as we slid back onto the street.

I drove recklessly through traffic, shrieking from sheer anxiety. My wife was leaning over shouting directly into my right ear, and both girls were crying and whining about not getting nuggets and purple toys and curly fries.

“THEY DON’T HAVE CURLY FRIES AT MCDONALD’S!!!!” I screamed, as I honked the horn to emphasize each syllable.

Once home, I stormed into the kitchen and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for everyone, despite the wailings, protests, and unrelenting dirty looks from my wife.

A new rule was proclaimed, as we all enjoyed our sandwiches, and that was that NO fast-food trips would be made until ALL car occupants had decided and written down their orders.





6. Intention Is Not Completion


When the subject of building a new house came up, I only said to my wife that I planned to build it myself, and she instantly put her head in her hands and started groaning.

“I want to be able to actually move into it before we die!” she said in a tortured tone.

I hadn’t even mentioned to her that I also planned on buying a sawmill and making all the boards as well.

“You have no faith in me. You act like I never finish anything!” I answered, somewhat offended.

Without a word, she stood up and walked into the kitchen. When she returned, she was holding a list of tasks that I had told her to make one time when I had forgotten to get her a birthday present. Along with the creation of the list, came the promise that I would complete her top ten projects around the house as her gift.

“This was my birthday list you promised to complete six years ago,” she said, holding the sun-faded paper up my face. “And how many have you completed?”

“Ummmm…” I mumbled, trying to find at least one item I had completed. “There…I fixed the picnic table,” I said, pointing to the list.

“No!” she snapped back. “Getting angry and setting the picnic table ablaze with gasoline doesn’t count as fixing it!”

As I looked over the list, I realized that she might be right. Of the ten things on the list, I hadn’t even started seven of them. Two were half-done, and then there was the picnic table, which apparently didn’t count.

“Building our house is different,” I tried to explain.

“Oh really? How many nails do you think you would have to pound to build a whole house?” she responded.

“What does the number of nails have to do with this?”

“How many?” she demanded.

“Well, I guess a couple thousand…but I still don’t see what that has to do with me finishing building a house.”

Crossing her arms and turning to face me, she replied, “I’ve asked you at least once a month for the last four years to hammer the nail that is sticking up in the dining room floor! But instead of going down to the basement and getting the hammer, you covered it with a throw rug, stuck a piece of duct tape on it, or tried to hide it by moving the kitchen table so that it was behind the table leg. Your own daughter getting stitches in her foot from it didn’t even motivate you to pound it down. Instead, you scolded her for not heeding your “CAUTION: RAISED NAIL IN FLOOR” sign that you stuck next to it.”

I was out of arguments to support my house-building plans.

It’s not like I hadn’t done anything. I can be very motivated to start projects and get them mostly done. But then it just always seems like other more important things always come along, like helping my neighbor Robert turn his mother’s coffin into a motorized go-kart (they decided to cremate her at the last minute).

But it seems I can even have trouble completing the replacement tasks as well. The coffin go-kart has been behind Robert’s garage without front wheels or a motor for five years now.

The tree house that I was so excited to build for my kids was mostly complete, except for the ladder to get up to it. Each spring my girls stand under the tree from which the house is perched and talk about the things they will do in the tree house if the ladder is ever completed.

As I thought about the endless lists of projects I had started and never completed, I began to think that maybe she was right. It’s like there is some cosmic force that prevents me from completing my projects. I’ve heard other wives say similar things about their husbands.

I think that the government must put something in our milk that prevents men from completing things. Probably so that if we ever revolt, and try to take over the government, we would get 95 percent to victory and then just all stop shooting and go home and lie on the couch.

But I’ve decided that I’m going to change all that right now. I’m going to get the birthday list and start at the top. I’m going to build the ladder up to the tree house and hammer the hazard nail in the dining room floor. I’m going to build our house, including making all the boards, and I’m going to start right now! Well…I mean as soon as the James Bond movie marathon on TV is over.





7. Second-Child Syndrome


“Dad, how come there aren’t any pictures of me?” my younger daughter asked as she sat on the living room floor looking through the family pictures.

“Of course we have pictures of you,” I replied and grabbed a box of pictures to prove my point.

As I began flipping through the photos, I was alarmed to find that there really were no photos of Natalie. I mean we had the normal burst of photos taken within the month or two after she was born, and a few school pictures, but then the Natalie photos seemed to just taper off to nothing. Frantically I searched three more boxes, but all I came up with was one photo of her tonsils that we took to compare with a picture of normal tonsils in a medical book, and a shot of the back of her head taken when she had apparently wandered into a picture I was taking of my lawn mower.

As for our firstborn, Hannah, there were pictures of nearly every event in her early years. There were pictures of her birth, her first week, her first month, and all the months following. There were pictures of her first solid food, her first steps, her first bloody nose, Christmas programs, and playing in the snow, rain, and sun. There was even a picture of her first poop on the potty…and not just one of her on the potty…I’m talking about a picture of the actual poop.

Embarrassed and not knowing what else to tell Natalie, I simply said I was sure there must be a whole box full of her pictures that had been misplaced somewhere. And although it seemed to satisfy her for the moment, I still felt terrible at our failure to photo document our second child’s existence.

It bothered me so much that I even spent a few late-night hours attempting to cut out Natalie’s face from some of her duplicate school pictures, and gluing them onto some of the abundant photos of Hannah that filled the boxes. But try as I might, I couldn’t get the perspective between the cutouts of Natalie’s head and photo bodies of Hannah to match up quite right. The resulting pictures looked like mutant alien children with freakishly large or too-small heads, so I was forced to abandon my efforts.

My wife and I didn’t intentionally decide not to take pictures of our second child, nor do we love her any less than the first. I think that we are just more relaxed as parents, having survived our first one. Maybe a little too relaxed.

As I thought about it, I realized that it applied to more than just picture taking. One time, Hannah got some dog food out of the dog’s dish and ate it. My wife and I panicked. We rushed her to the emergency room, convinced she would succumb to dog germs at any second. But after a few eye rolls, the doctor on duty assured us that she would pull through, and indeed she did.

So having been through a few incidents like that with Hannah, we were a little less uptight when Natalie came along. So much less uptight that when Hannah came in the front door and informed us that Natalie was picking dead bugs out of the car radiator and eating them, my wife’s only reaction was to tell Hannah to make sure that Natalie brushed her teeth when she was finished so that she wouldn’t have dead-bug breath.

Likewise with the pictures, after trying so hard not to miss photographing a single moment with Hannah, we realized that you just end up with mounds of pictures that make you wonder why you took so many of them. So we were not as camera crazy when Natalie came along.

We love both of our daughters very much, but I guess we went from fretting too much with the first one, to being a little too relaxed with the second. I think if we would have had a third child, we might have actually been able to get it right.





8. Teaching Our Pets to Be More Self-Sufficient


As the man of our household, and an intellectual-type person, I am always on the lookout for ways to further streamline our daily lives. I like to make things around our home as efficient and effortless as possible. This type of thinking has led to many revolutionary ideas, such as showering with clothing on (laundry and personal hygiene with the same water and soap) and my attempt at having the girls discipline each other when needed so that I didn’t have to get involved (admittedly this was not a great idea, as it tended to look more like a fist fight than discipline).

One night when I sat down to watch television, our dog, Chip, immediately solicited me for petting and affection. As I sat petting Chip, I realized that for the entire history of our family owning pets, one could not sit down on the couch without a cat, dog, or some other manner of domesticated beast immediately jumping up on my lap and demanding attention.

I began to wonder if there wasn’t a better system that would eliminate me from the whole animal petting social structure. After all, I didn’t require the affirmation of the animals petting me, so why should I even be in the mix? Was it not enough that I provided them with a home, food, and a new carpet to poop upon?

After carefully considering the situation, I decided that the best and most intellectual solution was to teach the animals (two cats and one dog) to pet one another. This way, pets would be petted by other pets that also wanted to be petted, and I would not even have to be part of the equation.

I was quite proud of my ingenuity, and I spent the rest of the evening smiling to myself and formulating a plan on how best to implement my idea.

The next afternoon, I enlightened my wife to the genius of teaching our pets to pet one another and how doing so would relieve us all of petting duty. But as with any genius who is ahead of his time, I was instantly met with skepticism.

“Remember what happened when you tried to make the kids discipline each other!” she reminded me for the hundredth time. “Do you really want the police here again?”

“This is totally different,” I replied. “Besides, the police were here because one of the rocks that the girls used to discipline each other hit the neighbor’s windshield, not because there was a problem with my idea.”

She answered with a look that said, “Do I really need to respond to that?”

So realizing that I would get no support from my wife, I decided to move forward with my plan without her approval.


I chose our dog, Chip, to be the first of our pets to receive the new animal affection training. I figured that as a dog, he would be easier to train than the cats.

My first attempt was rather straightforward. As I sat down on the couch, and Chip hopped up on my lap, I grabbed the cat that was sitting beside me, and I put them together. Both animals stared at me with what might be described as “confused looks.” Taking the cue, I grabbed Chip’s paw and began petting the cat with it. Lydia (the cat) hissed and tried to escape, which involved brandishing all four sets of claws and digging them into my leg, as she tried to escape. I yelped in pain and my wife smirked, but I wasn’t going to give up that easily. To keep Lydia on my lap with Chip, I grabbed her tail. At that same instant, Chip lunged for Lydia, sinking one of his fangs into the cat’s tail, and the other into my thumb.

Chaos ensued.

After a short but rather intense man-dog-cat fight, the room was once again calm.

“Should I call the police now?” my wife said mockingly.

“If you’re not going to be supportive, can you at least help by vacuuming up the fur and pants threads?” I grumbled as I set off to find a non-ripped pair of jeans and some Band-Aids.

As I said, I am not someone who easily gives up. I was still convinced that my idea had promise, even after this minor setback. In fact, I had already begun planning my next attempt, convinced that the end result would justify the time and effort.

While I applied first aid to the scratches and bite marks on my arms and forehead, I pondered on how better to achieve my goal. Perhaps pets don’t have the dexterity to actually pet one another. Maybe I would be better off teaching them to lick one another, since they seem to have no problem licking themselves. Surely, being licked by another animal must be as good as being petted by a human. Lick petting was my next course of action, I decided.

The next day, I was anxious to begin my second attempt. My wife scooted a chair from the dining room to the entrance of the living room and sat down to watch. I knew her interest was only in my failing, but I would show her.

The plan seemed simple enough to implement. I would start by teaching Chip to lick the cats by smearing a touch of bacon grease onto the backs of both cats, and letting nature take its course. This should surely train the animals to “pet” one another.

Having sufficiently bacon-greased both cats, I set one of them down in front of Chip. With only a second of sniffing, Chip detected the bacon grease and then gazed up at me with a look that instantly enlightened me to the error in my plan…He looked at me as if to say, “You want me to eat the cat?”

Simultaneously, Chip and I lunged for the cat. Chaos once again ensued, but with a noticeably higher degree of intensity than had occurred with the first incident.

After another period of flailing claws and snapping fangs, things eventually calmed down.

As I set off to find another pair of pants, a shirt, and more Band Aids, I began to wonder if maybe the benefits of my plan might not be worth the effort.

“Was that the intended result?” my wife jabbed with her mocking tone.

I ignored her and wiped the blood and bacon grease from my cheek and ear.

I am not a quitter. However, I decided to postpone my efforts until such time that I could find a safer and sounder method of training the animals to pet one another. I welcome the suggestions of any who can see the genius in my vision, especially since I was getting no support from my wife. Any sarcastic remarks about calling the police need not be made. My wife has a more than an ample supply of those.





9. Buckle Up for Insanity


When you really think about it, who rides in backseats?

I’ll tell you who—children who are being driven by their parents and teenagers who have too many other teenagers in the car with them to all fit in the front seat. That’s who rides in backseats. Of course, Grandma rides back there occasionally, but it’s generally small children and teenagers. Knowing this, why wouldn’t car companies design the safety restraints to accommodate small children? Adults never ride back there, teenagers are too cool to care about seat belts, and Grandma…well she’s not gonna be around forever anyhow. But no; it requires several pounds of machinery and a PhD to safely restrain a child in the backseat.

Car seats are like a mechanical puzzle for a young father. They are not in the slightest bit self-explanatory, and usually this is not apparent to the father until the mother has already driven off with several of her girlfriends to see the latest chick flick. The young father is left standing with a child in one arm, and the car seat with its seventeen buckles and straps in the other. This is where the fun begins.


My maiden voyage with the car seat had me scratching my head and swearing for no less than an entire hour.

The first challenge I faced was to actually get the car seat secured in the car. I had no idea which way the stupid thing was supposed to be facing. Should the child be facing the front of the car, or the back? Or maybe the child should be strapped in like an astronaut, looking at the roof of the car.

I tried to imagine different accident scenarios in hopes that I could then figure out the safest position for the seat and child. But there are too many different possibilities: a head-on collision, a car hitting us from the side, a garbage truck hitting us from behind, a car hitting us from one side and a garbage truck hitting us from the other side at the same time, a jetliner crash-landing on top of the car, or even one of those giant worms from the movie Tremors bashing us from underneath.

This line of reasoning was getting me nowhere, and it soon had me wondering if it wouldn’t be easier and safer to just place the child and seat together in the trunk.

To actually be able to get the child in the car, I had to commit to one of the many possible car seat configurations. I finally decided to strap the seat in facing forward (so I could at least see what the child was up to), and moved on to the more challenging next problem: strapping the child in the seat.

For installing the child in the car seat, I had many straps, buckles, clasps, and something that looked like a noose coming from every corner of the seat, and once again, it was not self-explanatory as to how each binding should be attached to the child.

Growing impatient, the thought crossed my mind that it might be easiest to unstrap the seat, set the child down, and then place the seat on top of the child with a bag of groceries on it as weight to keep it in place. At least this way, when the accident happened and the child went hurling toward the windshield, the bag of groceries and the car seat should create a large enough hole in the windshield to let the child pass safely through without being scratched on the jagged broken glass edges. But surely, there would be some nosy “perfect parent” complaining, as I walked up the road to retrieve my safely ejected child, so I decided against that method.

After several minutes of studying and hoping the correct way to bind child to seat would simply unveil itself, I decided the only option was to just jump right into the task headfirst and start binding the child down like a pile of logs on my work truck.

Within a few minutes, I had bound each arm and leg independently by buckling and tying it down with whatever car seat lashing happened to be the nearest to the corresponding appendage. But even after restraining both arms and both legs, there still remained three straps that had no home.

With a few more minutes of “creative engineering,” I was able to use one of the leftover bindings as a chin strap, and then I added a second tie-down to her left leg because my knot on the first strap seemed to looked suspect. With the third and final strap, I did the old once around the whole seat and child for good measure.

I’m fairly sure it wasn’t completely what the car seat manufacturer had in mind, but I was confident that I had restrained the child well enough with my own method that she would survive most accident scenarios…except maybe a car fire due to the time that it would take to actually “unbind” the child from the many straps. So to compensate for this oversight, I ran back into the house and filled a plastic gallon jug with water and then sat it next to the child/car seat. This way, if I couldn’t get the child freed from the seat quickly enough, I could at least use the jug of water to fight the fire until the fire department arrived and was able to assist with the child extraction.


Unfortunately, it is not long at all before the child begins to outgrow the car seat, and a new set of challenges arises. The child has gotten too big to fit in the car seat, yet the child is still too small to use the normal adult seat belts that come with the car.

To help with this “interim” phase, parents can buy a “booster seat” to help the little person fit into the seat belts better. The booster seat is basically the equivalent to the stack of phone books and JC Penny catalogs that we all used to sit on during Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma’s house. These booster seats are indeed handy, but they still have their own set of problems, the largest of which is the stupid shoulder strap from the normal seat belt that inevitably ends up across the face of the child.

At first, I would simply make the child keep a shoulder strap in place (I enjoyed the fact that it muffled the child’s high-pitched little voice). Unfortunately, I had to abandon the seatbelt-across-the-face method, despite its child-muffling effect, because the child’s developing brain prevents the child from understanding not to blow bubbles with their gum while the shoulder strap is blocking the area needed for bubble blowing. It can take up to half an hour and a pair of scissors to undo the knots of gum, hair, and seat belt.

Thinking I had the perfect solution, I tried taking the shoulder strap and giving it a good wrap around the child’s neck, leaving it positioned perfectly out of the way of the child’s face, and providing additional child restraining power in the event of an accident. However, my wife informed me with a rolling of her eyes that this idea wasn’t acceptable, so I ended up simply safety pinning the strap to the child’s shirt out of the way, and gum is outlawed while in the car.


Now that my girls have gotten older, they no longer require car seats or booster seats. They have grown into the normal seatbelts. And now that they know what seat belts are and understand what their function is, they have become as annoying as the “ding, ding” of the car’s seat belt alarm. Only they don’t ding; they yell in squeaky, tattletale voices, “DAD ISN’T WEARING HIS SEAT BELT!”

I’ve earned the right to decide whether I want to wear my seat belt, and I should be able to do so without having to hear a chorus from the backseat peanut gallery.

Seatbelts are supposed to save lives, but the stress of having to deal with them during my girls’ growing years has had the opposite effect. I’m sure it has actually shortened my life-span. Sometimes, I can’t help but think that the mangulation one would receive from being in a wreck without wearing seatbelts might be an even trade for not having to deal with the insanity of using them. I suppose not, but it’s a close call.






10. The Audience


When children are introduced into a family system, or a house, they seem to have a way of taking over things. Since having my own two daughters, they have taken over my free time, my kitchen, my television, and sometimes I think they’ve even taken over my sanity. My three- and five-year-old daughters have also taken over our bathroom and shower.

In our shower, there are now “people” that line the edge of our bathtub. There must be at least fifty of them, everything from Fisher Price people, to Pretty Ponies, to Barbies, and even a naked Ken. They’ve been residing there since my girls have been old enough to play with them, and I’ve never really thought about them all that much…Until one day…

On this particular day, I stepped into the shower as I always do after work. The row of people was there, which as I said, was normal. But as I reached for the shampoo, I accidently knocked a bottle of vanilla-flavored shower gel off the overcrowded shampoo/conditioner/body wash shelf. The shower gel fell straight down and knocked several of the “people” from their bathtub perch.

This is the point at which these folks actually got my full attention.

Leaning over, I picked up one of the Pretty Ponies from the floor of the bathtub. As I set it back onto the ledge from which it had fallen, I couldn’t help but notice how smiling and happy the Pony’s face was…almost too happy.

“Weirdo,” I said quietly to the smiling Pony.

I continued picking up the rest of the fallen people, and as I did, I realized that they were ALL smiling, and they all had overly happy and cheerful-looking eyes. It seemed just a tiny bit creepy, but I shrugged it off and set them all back on the edge of the tub.

I continued on with my shower, but now, every time I looked down…there they were, smiling…looking at me and smiling. I tried to avoid seeing their stupid smiling faces by not looking down, but there were also smiling people sitting on one of the eye-level shower-wall shelves.

I decided to focus all my attention on the business at hand by squirting some shampoo onto the top of my head to lather up my hair. I tried my best to convince myself that I was alone in the shower, but every time I looked down or up or over, there they were…smiling.

It was almost as if a large crowd had gathered with the specific purpose of watching me take a shower, and for some reason, they seemed to think it was amusing. Some of the little people were smiling much more intensely than others. In fact, I was almost sure that I could even hear some of them laughing. I suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to cover myself in my own shower.

I tried turning my nakedness away, so that I was facing the other direction, but smiling, laughing people were still facing me from that side of the tub as well. One of the little people was actually winking…and the naked Ken doll had a smirk that was obviously mocking me.

“Knock it off, you JERK!” I said to naked Ken, getting more self-conscious. “You are just as naked as me!”

Standing right next to naked Ken was Barbie, who was not only laughing at me, but her outstretched arm was pointing at me as well. It was as if she and naked Ken were sharing an inside joke about my showering or my nakedness. They were laughing and pointing, and then they laughed some more.

“WHY, YOU LITTLE…WHAT IS SO FUNNY?” I screamed.

“Who are you yelling at?” my wife wondered from outside the bathroom door. “Who else is in the shower with you?”

“THERE’S A WHOLE BUNCH OF PEOPLE LAUGHING AND POINTING AT ME…Oh never mind,” I answered as I wrapped up in a towel.

I’d had enough. I stormed out of the bathroom with shampoo still in my hair and leaving a trail of wet footprints and foam behind me.


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-45 show above.)