Thursday, May 26, 2011

One Year Down...

I have completed my first year of being a Stay at Home Parent, or SAHP as we in the "biz" like to call it (that statement could only be cooler if I said it out loud and put air quotes around "biz"--for anyone out there who has trouble detecting sarcasm, like my wife for example, that was sarcasm). I don't want to toot my own horn or anything, but I feel like I am getting a handle on this thing. I mean, just the other day, I had everything under control. The girls woke up needy and whining, but after I enacted the no smiling policy (an SAHP classic), they happily picked out their own clothes (they actually did, I'm not just making an excuse for mismatched outfits), and we headed downstairs for breakfast. The girls had a nice breakfast of cereal and milk and after that we headed back upstairs for the brushing of teeth and hair, and washing of faces. They played in their room while I got myself ready and before long, and without drama, we were in the van and headed to the gym.

The girls sang along to the radio all the way, and held my hand willingly in the parking lot. Our gym provides two hours of childcare, which provides me with an extra incentive to go. ML had picked out her new jellies to wear and they were loud on the tile floor. For those who don't know what jellies are, they are clear plastic shoes that are usually tinted pink or purple. ML charmed me into buying them for her on an unrelated trip to Old Navy. If she wears them without socks, they give her blisters, and her feet sweat in them so badly that the sweat actually condenses on the inside of the shoe and they smelled after the first day. I find it disturbing that, at two years old, she is already willing to sacrifice the health of her feet for the sake of fashion. She has to wear socks to the childcare center in the gym anyway, so her feet were protected that day. At this point, I was feeling pretty confident, basking in the glow of my cute little girls running down the halls to happily submit themselves to the care of someone besides me. I was also basking in reflected happiness that ML was experiencing. She was running down the hallway, slapping her plastic shoes on the tile floor and loving the fact that everyone she passed was looking down at her and smiling at her cuteness. I was about ten feet behind her and feeling proud and happy that the morning went so well, listening to the slap slap of her little feet and watching her run in the cute bouncy way that only toddlers can right before they aren't toddlers anymore. I was jarred from my reverie by a man reaching for ML. By the time I realized what was happening, ML ran full speed into a water fountain.

She fell flat on her back and already had a welt growing at her hairline when I got to her. I will never forget how loud the bang was when she collided with the metal of the water fountain, nor will I forget the shame of not paying close enough attention. ML didn't cry, in fact, she seemed to enjoy the extra attention from the ladies in the childcare center. She even managed to put on a contented frown as they put the ice pack to her forehead.

Later that day, our neighbor invited us to Monkey Joe's for his son's birthday. It wasn't the official birthday party, which will also be at Monkey Joe's, but it was the actual day of his birtday, so it was just the birthday boy, his younger sister, and my two girls. Monkey Joe's is a kid's dream--a massive room full of massive inflatable bounce castles, slides, and pirate ships. The kids run around like they have completely lost their minds and jump and slide and knock their heads together and cry and jump some more until they are completely worn out, which makes it a parent's dream as well. My neighbor and I sat down while the kids played, and once again I was feeling proud of myself. I was letting the girls play and I wasn't following them around and making sure everyone was okay. ML was doing great and following her sister around and being a big girl.

"Do you have any extra clothes in the car?" My neighbor asked.
"No, why, did something happen?" I asked, looking around for my girls.
"No, but I should have told you to put pants or shorts on ML." He pointed to ML lifting up her dress to dig her underwear out of her butt. And, once again, the gazillion year old universe was reminding me that a year doesn't make anyone an expert at anything, especially parenting. Every time ML would slide down one of the massive inflatable slides she would run to the next with her hand tugging at the wedgie that inevitably occured. So please indulge me while I release some frustration from that day.

To the Mom obsessively cleaning her kids' hands with Purell at Monkey Joe's:
"I see you looking at me--and yes, that is my daughter with her hand in her butt crack. I'm sorry, I have never been here before, and my princess of a daughter refuses to wear anything but pretty and dancily dresses. I see you looking at me while you force your boys to stop having fun and submit to their third round of disinfection. Why not stare at the mom of the kid who keeps sticking his finger up his nose? What about the little girl who looks like there is something radioactive travelling from her nostrils to her eager tongue? Why not make their moms uncomfortable? Did you see the kid who keeps keeps sticking his hand in his pants and scratching himself? Did you know that jock itch is a fungus? I got the message, you can stop looking at me and shaking your head. We aren't going anywhere. I paid my fifteen bucks and we are going to stay until I get the fifteen bucks worth of exhaustion that I paid for."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Swimming with Guy

Almost eighteen years ago, Guy Vitale challenged me to an open water swimming race. It was July--the week that he turned forty-seven, and I turned sixteen. We were in Ontario, Canada on a fishing trip with a group of fathers and sons that were connected by familial relations and friendship. Our cabin was located on a lake that was littered with pine tree covered islands and random rocks above and just below the surface of the fifty-seven degree water. It was a few days into the trip when Guy suggested that we race to an island and back. He always was an avid swimmer, and I was a high school distance swimmer at the time, so the challenge seemed appropriate if not for the frigid water.

Our purpose in Canada was fishing, but kids can only sit in twelve foot fishing boats with metal bench seats for so long. On this particular day, it was decided by the adults in the group that the pre-adolescent and adolescent boys were in need of some washing. Three or four days without a bar of soap for a boy of that age is bad enough, but near constant contact with fish and warm July nights in sleeping bags zipped up tight against the whining menace of the Canadian mosquito creates the necessary conditions to prompt a man to force his son to bathe in fifty-seven degree water. In case you are wondering just how bad we smelled, it only takes an hour of exposure to fifty-seven degree water to induce hypothermia in an average sized adult.

While we were treading water and our teeth chattered against the cold, bald eagles and enormous turkey vultures circled and landed on a nearby island where we dumped the carcasses of the northern pike and walleye that we caught that morning. Luckily, the bar of soap floated, and we passed it around quickly after doing our best to wash before losing all control of our numb fingers. I was about to climb out when Guy spoke up. “Hey Mike, I’ll race you to that island.” He said and pointed to an island that didn’t seem very far away. I thought he was crazy, and as one of the necessities of the trip was alcohol, I figured he was a little drunk.

But he was serious, and so was everybody else. I was allowed the chance to restore circulation to my extremities while my dad and uncle stripped one of the aluminum fishing boats of fishing gear and threw in extra life jackets. It seemed appropriate and ridiculous at the same time that there would be a chase boat for swim that couldn’t have been more than a half mile. While I sat next to the camp fire, and Guy was in the Cabin getting his swimming suit on, I still had a glimmer of hope that he would back out. I didn’t know him as well at that time as I had the pleasure of getting to know him. If I had known what I know now about Guy Vitale, I would have known that my fate was sealed as soon as the thought formulated itself in Guy’s brain.

We raced that day. We jumped in the freezing cold water, treaded for a moment while the air returned to our lungs and set off in the direction of the island. I won the race, but I was a high school distance swimmer at the time. I am confident that if we repeated that race at any time after my competitive swimming days that Guy would have beaten me handily. On August 21st, 2010, I competed in my first triathlon in Three Rivers, Michigan. It just happened to be my first open water swimming race since my race with Guy seventeen years earlier. Three days later, my dad called to let me know that Guy had died from an extended battle with cancer. I had known he was sick, very sick in fact, and in my rational mind I knew that the prognosis was not good, but in my heart I could not believe that Guy would succumb. He was an acquaintance when we raced, a friend of my parents’, but in the following years I was lucky enough to get to know him better. I would like to say that we were friends, and in many ways he felt like an uncle to me, and I’m sure that I am not the only one to feel that way. Guy was a benefactor. It seems weird to say that, but I can’t think of a better word. He was always eager to help if he could and I can say from my own experiences with him that he was a positive force in the lives of countless people. I can’t imagine a better definition of a successful life.

Guy and his wife Andrea, through their tremendous example, raised three children who, not surprisingly, follow in their brave and confident footsteps. In what seems like the Universe or God or Fate stepping in, their son Adam returned to take over the family business about a year before Guy’s cancer was diagnosed. Their daughter, Alexis, gave birth to their first grandchild, Pierce, who had his first swim with his Grandfather in the pool that Guy swam in almost every summer day for I don’t know how long. Their youngest daughter, Kathy, works as a television news producer in Colorado, not far from the family’s vacation home.

Here we finally get to the purpose of this posting. Alexis Vitale, a thyroid cancer survivor, courageously created a charity called Hopes Song. The mission of Hopes Song is to provide services to people diagnosed with cancer. Those services include financial assistance in the form of grants as well as educational materials and a website to create an online community for people battling cancer and their families. We have all heard of Livestrong and all the walks to cure cancer, but Hopes Song is a smaller organization that fulfills a very important element in the battle against cancer. These larger organizations provide billions of dollars for research in the pursuit of a cure, but those cures may be a long way off, and for families being attacked by cancer right now, there are more immediate concerns. Some patients need constant care, which costs money, and some family members take on that care, but that takes them away from their jobs. It seems crazy that a family battling cancer should have to worry about paying the mortgage, but they do, so Hopes Song is there to help. If you haven’t been there yet, I encourage you to visit the website

Up to this point, Alexis has engaged in many fundraising activities, the main course consisting of a line of clothing that she has designed herself. I have wanted to help, but anyone who has seen me dress my daughters knows that my knowledge of fashion is rudimentary at best, so I recently approached Alexis with an idea that has been fermenting in my mind since the week of Guy’s death. I am going to compete in my second triathlon in Three Rivers, Michigan and I want to do it in Guy’s honor and raise money for Hopes Song.

If I am going to do something in honor of Guy Vitale, I have to commit completely and I thought that it should also be fun. So it you want to help, here is the idea: I have about the same chances to win this triathlon as the Cubs have to win the World Series this year, but in Guy’s spirit of hard work I am committed to the effort of winning this triathlon, and I want you to bet against me. If you want to give, please send me an email to me at, and make your bets using the following scale:
If Mike…
Finishes I will give ______
Finishes in the top fifty I will give_______
Finishes in the top twenty I will give _______
Finishes in the top ten I will give _______
Finishes in the top five I will give ______
Wins the triathlon, I will give ________
I know this isn't the most convenient or efficient way to collect pledges, so if anyone out there has the internet savvy and would like to help me create a better system, just let me know.

If you need extra information in formulating your bets, I finished 82nd out of 147 finishers last year. My time was 1:22:28 and the winner finished in 1:01:24. I have worked harder this year in preparation for the this triathlon and will continue to train almost every day until race day, which is August 20th. I also welcome any questions you might have to help you formulate your bets—just put them in the comment box, and I will write a weekly blog posting in relation to the triathlon and answer all questions as well as relate stories about Guy and the works of Hopes Song.
On a final note, as a personal commitment to Guy and his friendship to me, I plan to win the swimming portion of the triathlon. That may sound like a bold declaration, but triathletes are notoriously bad swimmers.

Friday, May 20, 2011

More Questions, Part Two of Nine Thousand

The only thing better than a five-year-old asking endless questions, is a two-year-old joining in. Here are just a few of my philosophical conversations with my daughters.

"Daddy, why is Kool-Aid purple?" IR asked me over a lunch of macaroni and cheese.
"Well, grape Kool-Aid is purple, not all of it is. But it is purple because they make it purple with dye, just like you did with snow at school that one time."
"Who makes it purple?"
"The people who make it, honey."
"Why do they make it purple?"
"That is a good question. I guess because some grapes are purple so they want it to look like that."
"What is my color?" ML asked, sticking out her tongue.
"What do you mean?" I returned.
"What is my color?!"
"I don't know what you are talking about." I snapped. She opened her mouth again and I realized the meaning of the question. "Your tongue is purple sweetie."

New parent warning: If your child happens to have bright green poop, don't panic, it is a result of drinking grape Kool-Aid. Berry Blue Kool-Aid results in electric blue poop. Yes, I am the father of the year for continuing to give Kool-Aid to my kids in light of this discovery.

On other days I get questions like this:
"What is that?" asks IR.
"That is a rhinoceros."
"Why is it a rhinoceros?" She persists.
"Um, because that's what it is honey."
"Because isn't an answer Daddy."
"Yes, I know. It is a rhinoceros because that is what the people who name things decided it was going to be called."
"Why is it gray?"
"Because it lives around gray stuff and it makes it harder for it to be seen."
"What was that joke you were telling me yesterday?"
"Why did the chicken cross the kitchen?"
"So he could poop on a plate." Then they both giggle.
"Why did the chichen cross the kicken?" ML blurts.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Princess and the Boss

We are once again on to a new phase in the developing personalities of our little girls. These traits have always been there, but recently have taken primary positions in the hierarchy of their personas.

ML is a princess--no qualifications necessary. Her clothing consists anything that can be described as "dancily" and must look pretty when twirling. Anything that is sparkly or pink or both is a bonus. She loves dancing and singing being complimented on her pretty dresses. She is enamored with pictures of her beautiful mommy in her wedding dress and, much to my dismay, claims that she is married when wearing an especially pretty and dancily dress.

IR is the boss, but much like a good manager, answers dutifully to the management structure in the house. Mommy is, of course, President and CEO, as we adhere to the matriarchal structure inherited through the maternal familial lines passed down through generations of my wife's ancestry. Daddy qualifies as Vice President and COO, which gives me enough authority to run the show when Mommy is at work. My position does not, however, exempt me from the rules that we have imposed upon our lovely little girls, which gives IR the authority to remind us when we happen to forget the rules.

Just the other day we were eating lunch, macaroni and cheese as usual.
"Daddy, I spilled. Daddy, I spilled. Daddy, I spilled." ML whined. She didn't spill, every now and then she will take a drink, fruit punch Kool-Aid this time, and inexplicably let it trickle out of her mouth onto whatever she is wearing. I don't know why she does it and it is one of those things that would induce me to spanking if I did that sort of thing--an irrational response of course, but in these moments, rationality is difficult.

"Why? Why did you spit out your drink?" I snapped. "I hate when you do that!" I wetted a paper towel and dabbed her pink dancily dress even though I knew she would soon take this one off and go to her closet in search of a clean dancily dress.
"Daddy, we don't say hate." Ir whispered to me when I was done. I took a breath.
"You're right sweetie. I'm sorry. Now eat your food girls." I replied and sat down to eat a sandwich. I took at bite.
"Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy." Ir kept saying while I was trying to finish chewing.
"You shouldn't talk with your mouth full."
"Then why did you..." I started impatiently, "You're right sweetie, I'm sorry. What did you want?"
"What do you mean?"
"What did you want when you were saying my name?"
"Can I please have some more water?"
"Yes, just a second." I got up and put the cup under the ice dispenser. It turned and made grinding noises but nothing came out.
"What's wrong Daddy?" Ir asked as I opened the freezer door to see what was wrong.
"The stupid ice maker isn't working."
"Daddy, we don't say stupid."
"You're right sweetie, I'm sorry."