The Luigi Complex: A Younger Sibling’s Struggle

Listening to my daughters play pretend, there is an obvious trend – the older one dictates the action. She decides what will be played, who says what, and how they will say it. When roles are handed out, she’s always the lead. Playing school – she’s the teacher. Playing family – she’s the Mom. Which is fine. But I overheard something that was a crystal clear signal that the age-old dynamics between older and younger siblings is alive and well in my kids.

“I’ll be Esmeralda,” my 4 year-old said. “You be Quasimodo,” she told her younger sister.

Classic older sibling. I’ll be the beautiful lady who sings songs and dances. You be the malformed side-show freak. I guess at least she didn’t make herself Frollo, but it still struck a chord that forever rings true in the lives of second-born. They are forever destined to be second-fiddle, or Luigi if you will.

Player Two: Luigi’s Destiny

My oldest was looking over my shoulder as I found this image. “That’s Carter’s favorite!” she said. “Luigi?” I asked. “No, wait. Mario.” she said, perfectly illustrating my point.

While sibling interactions date back to the early pages of the Bible, for people of my generation who grew up in the area of original Nintendo there is no great representation of the struggle of the second born than Luigi. Older siblings were always Player One, which means they were always Mario. Younger siblings, such as myself were Player Two, and by default, Luigi. In the first Super Mario Brothers, this didn’t actually make much of a difference other than the colors of the characters, but as the games evolved and characters were given different attributes Mario was always the best. Older siblings may have tried to make the case that Luigi wasn’t worse, he just had different skills. But we knew what was up. Mario was always the best all-around character. Luigi having slightly better speed was no condolence. Mario was on the cover. It was his game, and we were just playing in it.

The path of Player Two can go two directions – one of rebellion, or one of mastery.

When The Younger Sibling Gets a Bad Name

“If I had my second child first, I wouldn’t have wanted a second.” I bet you’ve heard that. A line of propaganda perpetuated by the Marios of the world.

The second-borns of the world often get a bad rap for being more rebellious, more wild, and generally not as well behaved as the first-borns. This is not some in-born trait of the second-borns, but a natural reaction to being pigeonholed into the role of Luigi.

“You get to be Mario again? How about I just unplug the game?”

“Oh you you want to be the blue guy in Candy Land? How about I flip over the board?”

The little siblings of the world who go the route of rebellion don’t know how to get out of the no-win position of being Player Two. Do they stay Player Two forever? Do they subject themselves to begging to be Player One in hopes the older sibling graces them with the good fortune of allowing it? Nobody wants to be a patronized Mario. So they either lash out – and get blamed for not playing nice. Or they cry, and are reinforce that they are the younger one, cementing even further their Player Two destiny. A rebellious younger sibling is not a bad kid. They just don’t want to be freaking Luigi.

Take Your Mario And Shove It

The other route a younger sibling can go is take Luigi all the way to Princess. If they are going to get a worse character, they must become a better player. They must not only embrace the second-billing they are given, but use their role to entirely steal the show. This is result of the Luigi Complex is what I call the Ribisi Effect. Nobody uses his supporting roles to the steal the scene like Giovanni Ribisi. Don’t know who that is? Exactly. He’s not the star, but he shows them up. Every. Single. Time. You paid to come see Tom Hanks, but you’ll leave remembering Ribisi.

The Ribisi Effect is what drives younger siblings to greatness. Michael Jordan has two older brothers and an older sister. Peyton Manning grew up trying to be better than Cooper. Bill Gates has an older sister. I bet even today, if they played a video game on a system he is responsible for, she wouldn’t let him be Player One.

The Luigi Complex doesn’t end with the second-born. It is also responsible for much of how the baby of the family is treated. After seeing what happened with their second child, parents become more determined not to have their other children by type cast as Player Twos, so the babies of the family grow up being able to be Yoshi, or Toad, or m’lady Peach, or whoever the hell want. Then of course older ones turn around and say “Oh you let the baby do anything,” and another sibling is put in a no-win situation all because Luigi sucks.

We have a Little Tikes basketball hoop that the girls are kind of learning to shoot at. My oldest tries to shoot from all over the room, throws the ball too hard, and usually misses. Her younger sister stands closer, uses both hands, and lofts in a soft, perfect shot. Atta girl, Luigi. Atta girl.

The Scariest Thing for Children Is The Truth

“Daddy, scare me!” My daughter said and she laid face down on the kitchen floor, already balled up in anticipation of the terror to come. She had just “snuck” up on a fully suspecting me and shouted “ROAR” directly in my ear, so now it was my turn to return the favor. But in that moment it struck me how lame this game was.

She says “scare me”, I grab her make some kind of scary grunt, she screams, she giggles, lather, rinse, repeat. Not scary. But what else can I do? Then it occurred to me – tell her everyone she loves will be dead someday.

Too far? Perhaps. Terrifying? Absolutely. And, as far as I know, a completely uncharted parental course. Brutal honesty as a means of frightening your children for fun. Like many great ideas it really toes the line between brilliance and insanity. And maybe in this case child abuse.

Maybe the next time she doesn’t want me to read her a bedtime story but wants one out of my head, I really dig deep and pull out of the recesses. Perhaps a retelling of “The Hills Have Eyes”, “Jaws,” or the electoral college. Absolute nightmare fuel.

Want daddy to sing a song? Let me tell ya about Mack the Knife. I know that song is catchy and always sung by a smoother crooner, but have you ever actually listened to the lyrics? My kids usually ask for “The Rainbow Connection” at bed, but maybe I should switch it up. “Good night sweetie, try not to dream about getting murdered in alley!”

When we are watching movies and somebody dies I always say “oh, they got a boo-boo. I think they might go to heaven.” Maybe I should stop glossing over it. “Yep, Tarzan’s parents were killed and eaten by a wild animal. Same one that ate the gorilla baby don’t ya know. Hey, who wants to go to the zoo?!”

Want to watch a video on daddy’s phone? Hold on while I try to spell Zapruder. Now pay attention kids, it’s back and to the left. Back. And to the left. One shooter? C’mon.

Of course I didn’t do any of those things. I walked up to her all curled up on the floor, paused a moment to build suspense, and tickled her sides and said “ROAR!” She lurched up and then back down, smacked her forehead on the kitchen floor, and started to cry. Next time I’ll just tell her about how they never caught the Zodiac or something.

Bluey’s Dad Is The Best Dad On TV

I try to exercise some level of control over what my kids watch. I’m not so much worried about them watching something wildly inappropriate as I am something wildly crappy. After sitting through a few episodes of The Wiggles, I was determined to never let something like that infiltrate my house again. I first heard of Bluey when my wife mentioned it. She had watched an episode with the kids, and said it was kind of like Peppa Pig – which is poorly animated trash with a British accent, and not even the charming Hugh Grantian kind of British accent. A feeling of dread immediately hit me. Of course my kids would love it and it would be there new favorite, and I’d be forced to sit though hours upon hours of it. When my kids first asked to watch it with me, I braced myself for the worst and took solace in seeing that an episode was only 8 minutes long. As I watched, my mind was blown. It was actually good, nay, great.

One character in particular jumped off the screen, Bluey’s dad. Since the creation of TV, the dad character has always been a dope. He forgets birthdays, he puts too much soap in the dishwasher, his zany scheme backfires, and he ends up with (often literal) pie on his face. Sure, the Danny Tanners or Carl Winslows of the world would have their moments. The violins would start in the background and they’d sit somebody down and teach a heartfelt lesson. It would end with a “thanks Dad” from the kid and an “awwwww” from the studio audience. However, at the core of even these now iconic TV dads was a dope. Their parental abilities existed only when they needed to teach a lesson at the end of a kid-centered story line. Leave it to an animated blue Australian dog to finally come around and provide the televised role model dads have needed for years.

Bluey’s Dad Actually Plays

The majority the interaction we see with Bluey and her dad is when they are playing some kind of pretend. Make no mistake, he ishere to play. He’s not watching her play, he’s as into it as she is. He doesn’t have one eye on the TV and one on the pretend doctor’s office. He is a fully active participant. If that isn’t model behavior for a dad then I don’t know what is. When my kids want me to play with them, I recognize myself saying something like “In a minute, I need to [insert some task that isn’t as important as playing with with my kids] first.” And I’ll feel guilty about that, because that’s not what Bluey’s dad would do. He would immediately stop loading the dishwasher and go work the counter at a pretend fish and chips stand. Dishes can wait, collecting dollar bucks for chippies can’t.

The times when he has mentioned wanting to take a nap or watch cricket instead of doing whatever Bluey wants to do are always quickly dismissed. He’s not there to watch cricket, he’s there to be a good dad. I’m sure he watches cricket on his own time, but never on Bluey’s. A parent’s time is not their own, and Bluey’s dad gets it.

Bluey’s Dad Is Great at Pretend

Bluey’s dad is nothing if not committed. The way he dives into every game of make believe is inspiring. He’s not here to half-ass it. When a magic asparagus turns him into a meerkat, you truly believe he’s a meerkat because he believes he’s a meerkat. Method acting at its finest. Its a shame we’ll never have the opportunity to see him interviewed by James Lipton.

He almost never breaks character. Even as Telemecus is subjected to needle after needle at the pretend doctor, he forces himself to stay in character as much as possible. When he’s baby Didums in the supermarket, he understands the ridiculousness of it, but he doesn’t dismiss the premise. He takes “yes-and” to another level. He accepts the role he is assigned to play, and completely makes it his own. He is the Daniel Day-Lewis of children’s make believe.

Bluey’s Dad Is Actually a Good Parent

Playing with your kids is great, and being good at pretend is fun, but Bluey’s dad actually does quality parenting as well. He’s silly with a purpose. While Daddy Robot seems to be going crazy, he’s actually teaching a valuable lesson – no violin background music needed. His lessons resonate without being heavy handed. Sometimes his pretend is just fun, and sometimes it is teaching, but the approach is the same – he’s relating to his kids in a way they will understand. He’d rather persuade by being Veranda Santa than by saying “because I said so.”

He also doesn’t shy away from the serious teaching moments, including the heaviest of lessons. When Bluey finds a badly injured bird, not only does he not dismiss it with an “ask your mother,” but he takes it to the vet with her and waits with her only to find out that it dies. He is there for Bluey as she process the concept of death without feeling the need to provide the punchline. Something that you definitely don’t get out of other TV dads. I love the character of Phil Dunphy, but even in the episodes where his own parents die, he can’t resist the call to be a doofus. Where others are comic relief first and parents second, Bluey’s dad is a parent at all times.

Despite the fact that he is a cartoon dog, he is completely relatable. If you’d not seen it, I highly recommend the episode “Takeaway.” Take a few minutes to watch it, I’ll wait.

If it is possible to perfectly encapsulate the chaos and joy of parenthood in a few minutes, this accomplishes it. It’s not that he doesn’t get frustrated, but how he handles the frustration that is inspiring. My new guiding philosophy in parenting is “What Would Bluey’s Dad Do?”, and I don’t think it will steer me wrong.

Plus, by all accounts he’s a cool dad. He has the best dance moves in the opening credits. He’s an archeologist. He drives a cool looking SUV. His name is Bandit for God sakes. If I knew nothing else about him, that would be enough to be enough to make him a dad worth paying attention to.

The Three Phases of Shoveling Snow With Kids

No other type of weather produces such mixed emotions as snow. Its beautiful when we watch it fall from the warmth of our homes, but quite terrible to be out in it. I personally feel that outdoor winter sports are for crazy people and Norwegians. If you’re a crazy Norwegian you’re a shoe in to be an Olympic cross country skier. Kids love it when there is enough snow to cancel school, and parents hate it for the very same reason. Shoveling snow is a necessary evil of home ownership, like lawn maintenance or making small talk with your neighbors when you go out to check your mailboxes at the same time.

But where adults see a chore, kids see an opportunity to go out and play in the snow. After you’ve taken a half hour to get a child into their snow clothes, they are ready to come outside and “help”, and will inevitably go through these three phases.

Phase One: This Is Amazing!

Pure excitement. The snow must be ran through, it must be thrown, it must be tasted. Just in case the snow over on the other side of the yard is any different, that snow must be checked out as well. If there’s been enough snow and wind for a drift to form – that must be scaled as if it were Everest. A footprint sighting? Those must be followed, and it certainly doesn’t matter that they are their own.

Watching my kids play around in the snow I am reminded of the pure joy of being a kid. Is it annoying to wait for my daughter while she marvels at the tire tracks in the driveway? Absolutely. But I realized that this is only the second winter she really remembers. It is amazing to her. We’ll see how she feels after thirty or so more, but for now, it is delightful. Except for the fact that she can’t wear flip-flops or jelly shoes. Winter footwear are not really my kid’s style preference. Plus, so much snow to eat.

Phase Two: Actually Helping

You’ll have to pay close attention during this phase, because if you look away for a second you may miss it. Not that I expect a small child to do much of the work of shoveling snow, but it would be nice if they didn’t actually make it harder. Tiny shovel fulls of snow inevitably get flung where I’ve already shoveled or in my face. Occasionally somebody will plop down to play directly in my snow removal path.

Sometimes somebody will want to help get the snow off my truck. Not that I don’t appreciate having the snow cleared off for me, but I’d rather not have my truck bludgeoned by a miniature snow shovel. Just like in the summer when they wanted to wash my truck with the rag they just used to wash away some sidewalk chalk. Thanks so much for the help, but please don’t ever do that.

However, there is a small window of time where at least of few shovels worth of snow will be scooped up and removed. This window closes fast and without warning.

Phase Three: I Want To Go Inside

There is no build up to this final phase. A switch if flipped and they immediately want to go inside. My kids have literally dropped a shovel full of snow right in the middle of the drive way and went back inside. Hey, I get it. If I had the choice between the cold outside with snow and ice and the warm inside with hot chocolate and marshmallows, I would never leave the house. However, a job must be done. Snow must be pushed from here to there in the name of responsible citizenship.

The kids have the luxury of being able to give up and go inside with the excuse of “I’m cold.” My kids aren’t to the age yet where sucking it up is an appropriate strategy for dealing with the elements. That will be a fun developmental milestone for them to reach (for me anyway), but for now the avoidance of discomfort is acceptable. Plus, so much hot chocolate to drink.

But my hot chocolate must wait. The kids can go inside and warm up and I’m left alone outside. Just me and my shovel. The only other sounds the sweep of easy wind and downy flake. The driveway is lovely, steep, and deep, but I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. Miles to go before I sleep.

Ok well maybe not miles, but we do have a corner lot. So much sidewalk.

Daddy Gets the Boogers

One thing nobody tells you about being a parent before you have kids is how much of the job can be categorized as “removal” – either things from your kids or your kids from things. The idea that I had to intentionally go into my kid’s nose and remove a booger seemed odd at first, it is just something you take for granted as a grown person who can expel their own snot. I was fully prepared for butt wiping, but booger removal not on my radar. Though while it was a foreign concept at first, after having three kids, I’d go so far as to say its become a downright hobby.

The first time I had to suck a booger out of a tiny baby nostril was a pretty stressful experience. I didn’t understand how to properly operate the booker sucker, and my kid was extremely bothered by the the fact I kept jabbing something up her already plugged up nose. Tears were shed and expletives were frustratingly held inside. You can decide which by whom. I was never very good at Operation as a kid, and that was now coming back to bite me in the ass. Why couldn’t Hot Wheels have practical parenting applications?

My Excalibur

Perhaps my wife saw these initial struggles and decided she didn’t want any part of it, or perhaps she just enjoyed watching this poor bastard struggle to extricate crusty snot from an infant’s nostril. Either way, removal of things from kids became my job. And I have to say, I’ve come a long way. Surgical precision with the booger sucker. I’ve never served as a field surgeon, but I have removed a pencil eraser from he nose of a screaming toddler, so, same-same. The bulb style of course. I’ve heard rumors of some silly-ass contraption in which you put a straw up a kid’s nose and literally suck the booger out. What are we cave people?

But boogers and noses are just the entry-level jobs. If the baby has lint between their tiny toes from their footie pajamas, you better believe I’m picking that out of there. Safely putting a Q-Tip in the ear of a squirmy little person to remove globs of wax? Challenge accepted. Splinter? Fetch the tweezers! One time my daughter had a tick start to burrow into her scalp. It was my Super Bowl.

Someday my kids will be all be able to blow their own noses and de-wax their own ears, and I wonder what my removal duties will be then? Have booger, poop, and other general crud removal been prepping me for the ultimate test of teenage boy removal? I’m gonna need bigger tweezers.

I Don’t Want to Teach My Kids. I Want to Educate Them

One of the thoughts I’ve consistently had over the last few years has been “at least my kid’s too little to realize what’s going on.” During the pandemic stay at home orders, they knew they weren’t going to school or daycare anymore but didn’t really ask why, or really even care. The reason for the change was “so we don’t get sick”, and they were ok with that. It wasn’t until school was opened back up that our 4 year-old became mildly aware of “the covid” as she calls it. Always with a “the”, very formal, like she’s referring to the pope of sicknesses.

But my kids are satisfied by the simple logic of germs get you sick, and you don’t want to be sick, so don’t get germs. Yep, so simple even a 2 year-old understands the usefulness of social distancing and a mask. Literal child’s play compared to trying to explain what has been happening socially, politically, and governmentally. My hope is that we will be well on the way to solving our national issues by the time my kids are old enough to know what’s going on, and they will learn about recent events in history books. I can’t imagine having teenagers right now who can find their own information and form their own opinions. Not that I don’t want my kids to seek out knowledge and come to their own opinions independently, but I want that process to be part of their education. Not something they are taught.

I believe there is a difference between being taught something and getting an education. Watching the siege of the Capital, I saw a lot of people who were taught a lot of things. Hate is taught. Fear is taught. Though it may seem like an oxymoron, ignorance is taught. For ignorance is not that absence of information, it is the absence of knowledge. The absence of education.

Years from now when my kids hear about this time in history, I want them educated on what happened. I want them to understand the facts. I want them to understand how government – and by that I mean the actual act of governing, not politics – works in the experiment of democracy that is America. I don’t want them taught to believe, I want them educated to know.

Watching the worst America has to offer storm the Capital, I was struck by the thought that these people actually believe in what they are doing and think they are doing the right thing. I used to get mad at these people. I’d get mad when I saw them rally around their perceived “rights”. I’d get mad when something they spewed would show up on my Facebook feed. I got made that they were making things worse for everybody. Then, as kismet would have it, I read something earlier this week that couldn’t be more appropriate.

If others are doing right, you have no call to feel sore; if wrong, it is not willful, but comes of ignorance.

Marcus Aurelius

The hate, the fear, the gullibility, the misinformed beliefs that have pushed people to the lunatic fringe and caused them to do wrong, is not willful. Nobody hates on purpose. They are taught to. Nobody suddenly wakes up one day and decides crazy conspiracy theories are real. They are taught to believe it. Ignorance has been taught, and handed down from generation to generation without any real effort at all. Teaching your kids stuff is easy – show them a few times and they’ve got it. Or even worse, do nothing and just see what they absorb. Educating your kids takes work. Unfortunately not every parent is up for the job.

Right now my kids are little, and they don’t have an ounce of hate in their bodies (feelings about naps excluded.) They truly don’t know why anybody would be treated differently because they are a man, woman, white, black, gay, straight, or anything else. They watch Pocahontas and don’t understand why people are mean to Native Americans, or even why people are scared of the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. We thought showing them the Sesame Street special on racism would be a good thing to expose them to help educate them, and they could not have been less interested. They didn’t get it. It made no sense to them why they were talking about black people and white people and not just singing about shapes and numbers. The haven’t been taught that anybody is any different. I hope they never do. I will try my best to educate them better than that.

Puffy the Farting Unicorn: A Christmas Miracle

My two year-old daughter is just at the age where she kind of understands the concept of Christmas, is as much as she knows the players involved – Santa, Jesus, Rudolph, Frosty. She also kind of understood that you can ask for something you want, and if you are good you might get it. Naturally, she asked for a unicorn. Very on-brand for a girl who asks to wear her unicorn dress everyday, and is crushed six days out of the week because we tell her she can’t wear it until its out of the laundry. Monday has become unicorn dress day.

I think there is something incredibly honest about what a small child tells you what they want for Christmas. They aren’t yet concerned about what’s cool or what other kids have. They only know what they like, and take advantage of the opportunity to get it. When my oldest was three she asked Santa for cheese – also very on-brand for her. She got a one pound block of cheddar and was thrilled. Christmas shopping will stay that easy when they are teenagers, right? I’ll assume yes.

After asking for “a uni” everyday, my wife and I recognized the opportunity to hit an easy home run. Stuffed unicorn – it will be fluffy, it will be magical, it will be the glittery whimsy that two year-old dreams are made of. My wife found one online, and showed it to me. It has a rainbow mane, big googly eyes, and giant grin on its dopey one-horned face. Perfect. Clicked. Bought. Done. Ah, the convenience of internet shopping. The ability to buy a unicorn in 10 seconds has its advantages, but would also prove to be a contribution to folly.

Like most other good parents who are prepared for Christmas, I waited until the kids fell asleep on Christmas Eve to wrap the presents. My 4 year-old, who has a much more solid understanding of Christmas, was too amped to fall asleep, so I was wrapping presents at 10:30, when they are usually asleep around 8:00. While I was trying my best not to make it look like Santa was drunk and blindfolded when he wrapped the presents, I was dreading the wrapping the unicorn because it came in an odd shaped box. My wrapping skills are about that of a small child, so anything other than a perfect cube presents a challenge, but Santa doesn’t seem like the gift bag type. He’s father Christmas, not your uncle. So I grab the unicorn and examine the box to think about the best way to wrap it, and I notice something on the back of the package. “Puffy lets out cute little unicorn farts.” Sorry, what?

I read it again. And again. I turned the box around to see if this was somewhere more obvious. Somewhere in giant, unmissable letters. Somewhere where somebody who isn’t a terrible parent would see it and decide that it would not be something to get a two year-old. For some reason it was not. Seems to me, if I was selling farting unicorn, I might go ahead and put that on the front somewhere, or maybe in the name. “Puffy the Farting Unicorn” would be a much better name than just “Puffy”. Puffy the unicorn is great gift. Puffy the unicorn is just begging to snuggled by a little lady as she drifts off to sleep. Puffy the Farting Unicorn is for kids who have poop emoji toys. Puffy the Farting Unicorn is bought by parents who give toddlers Mountain Dew.

But there it was on a toy for my child, in three languages none the less. Pedos de unicornio. Pets de licorne. Unicorn farts.

In a mix of curiosity and dread I squeezed its foot where a little heart was, which I guess as an appropriate icon as any to indicate where you need to push to make a unicorn rip ass. It laughed, it wiggled, it farted, it repeated.

My first thought was that I can’t give this to my kid. My second thought was, it’s too late now. It was going on 11:00 pm on Christmas Eve, there was no getting something else now, and I can’t got give her the one thing she asked for. In a hours she would wake up and unwrap her farting unicorn. Which, of course would be her favorite thing in world.

“What did you get for Christmas?”, Grandparents would ask.

“A unicorn that toots with its butt!” my daughter would say overflowing with pure, childish glee.

Years of judging teachers at show and tells flashed before my eyes. She’ll insist on bringing on car trips. Mile after mile of laughs, fart, repeat. This was destined to be her most cherished possession, I just knew it. From now to eternity I will always read product descriptions. I don’t care if I’m buying a wood block. I will find out that the block is in fact a block, and made of wood.

Christmas morning the moment came. She unwrapped it and was full of joy that she got her uni. She didn’t immediately notice the heart icon on the foot. I was relieved. Her sister did. I was nervous. They squeezed the foot. It laughed. They laughed. It farted. They kept laughing. They didn’t seem to immediately notice the farts, and I certainly wasn’t going to point it out to them. When the cycle of laughter and flatulence ended, they put it down and moved on to other presents. As the day went on and more presents were opened, Puffy moved further and further to the periphery. They may have come back and squeezed it again two or three times, much to my surprise and delight.

It is now two days after Christmas, as as of this morning Puffy as already been relegated to under-the-bed status. At some point will my daughter suddenly remember it exists? Yes. Will she realize that its farting? Probably. But it didn’t make me feel like a terrible parent, and if that’s not a Christmas miracle then I don’t know what is.

Harry Chapin Makes Me Feel Bad

As I have mentioned before, balancing work life and home life when you work from home poses challenges that didn’t exist when I was working from an office. Last Friday all three of our kids were home – no pre-school and no daycare – and I was home with them for half of the day before my wife got home from work. I knew I wasn’t going to get a lot of work done, but I did need to get some work done. I had a project with a deadline. How cliche of me.

While the baby was napping and the two older were glued to The Little Mermaid I was able to be productive. Fun fact – The Little Mermaid is an hour and twenty-five minutes long. My window of productivity closed much quicker than I hoped, but I wasn’t sure if Dances With Wolves would have held my kids’ attention for all four hours and I didn’t have time to explain the complexities of manifest destiny. Though I suppose there is only one way to find out. Perhaps next time. It was snack time as soon as the movie ended. Shortly after that the baby was up, and the work-life balance shifted all the way to life. But the project deadline still existed.

My girls are old enough where they can entertain eachother if they want to, but can also be incredibly needy. Sometimes they want me for everything, and sometimes they only need me to step in when somebody inevitably starts crying. The baby boy is at an age where he can sit up and play on his own but is not yet crawling. Quite a sweet spot when you need to get things done. You can almost pay no attention to him at all. Just have to hope he doesn’t flop backwards and bonk his head, which he practically almost never does. Solid head on that kid.

I visioned setting up shop in playroom with the girls playing nicely, the boy staying very much upright, and me getting some work done. That lasted about a minute.

As soon as I opended my computer, it became a magnet for tiny fingers. Everything they did needed to be looked at. Everything needed to be helped. Yet work needed to be done. I have always tried not to tell my kids I can’t do something for them, but in this moment I needed to focus, I needed to work. “I can’t right now,” I said, “I have to work.”

I immediatly though of that jerk Harry Chapin.

In December 1974, “Cat’s In The Cradle” topped the Billboard charts and it has been making dads feel sad ever since. It is the sole reason this song exists. I picture Harry sitting there writing songs and thinking “I’d really like to make a song that makes a dad feel like he’s doing a terrible job raising his kids.” He nailed it.

So I picked up my computer and moved it to back to my workspace in the basement. I honeslty don’t remember what my kids were asking for, but I said I would do it after I made a phone call. We’ll get together then. You know we’ll have a good time then.

I try hard not to tell my kids I can’t do something with them. If they ask me come here, or look at this, or pick me up, or tickle me, odds are the answer is yes. My wife thinks I’m spoiling them. I think I’m dadding the crap out of them. Most of my motivation is I love my kids and want to be with them, but I’d be lying if I said the other part isn’t guilt. Pro-active guilt. My kids didn’t learn to walk while I was away and if they’ve asked me to throw I’ve never said not today, but even the consideration gives me guilty feeling in my stomach and Harry freakin Chapin in my head.

I wonder, did dad guilt exist before this song came out? I was neither a dad nor alive in 1974, so I don’t know, but I have a feeling that there weren’t too many songs in Sinatra’s catalog about the struggles of an absentee father. His kid got kidnapped for godsakes and his next album had the classic gutwrencher “Swinging on a Star.” I mean sure, if you had to leave your kid at home while you went on a work trip then moonbeams in a jar would make an excellent souvineer to bring back, but I don’t see dads circa 1964 reexamining their priorities with the Chairman of the Board. But little boy blue and the man in the moon come along and now dads have an anthem devoted to their failure.

I finished my work, the project met its deadline (I’m sure you were very concerned), and the kids went about their day. That night we played, we snuggled, we read books, all the usual stuff. For all I know they won’t remember it or maybe they’ve already forgotten it, but I haven’t. And I’ll try as hard as I can to never tell them “I have to work” as an excuse not to spend time with them. I’ll keep watching this, I’ll keep tickling, and I’ll keep picking up. Because eventually the day will come when I can’t pick them, but the day will also come when they say “I’m gonna be like him. Yeah, you know I’m gonna be like him.”

My Kids Are Better Than Me At Something

Throughout the course of a parent’s life, their children surpass them at various things. I knew this was coming. I know at some point my kids will run faster than I can, or play a game better than I can. I am sure that I, like any parent who is not also a teacher, will reach a point were I am unable to help my kids with their homework. I’d like to think I could keep up with them homework wise until they are mostly through high school, but who knows what they’ll change math to by then?

I know these things are coming, but I figured I would be superior to my children in all things at least until middle school. Until my daughter said, “Look daddy, I can whistle.”

My arsenal of skills and abilities does not include whistling. It never has and it never will. I made peace with that long ago. Sure, I still can’t bring myself to watch Bridge on the River Kwai, but whatever, it’s fine. But now my kid, who still needs help wiping her butt mind you, is showing me up. Because it’s not just that she can whistle and I can’t, it’s that she knows she can whistle and I can’t. While demonstrating her whistle to others, she is always sure to point out that daddy can’t whistle, but she can.

Yeah, well, let me know how those shoes without laces are treating you. I’ll just be over here tying all the knots, you little snot.

It’s a little thing, I know. I’d argue that whistling is one of those things that isn’t a learned ability, but something you just can or can’t do. Like throwing a baseball 90 miles per hour, or having visible abs. But I’m just not ready to have my kids not look up to me for everything. Today it’s whistling, but what’s next? Grilling? Lifting heavy things? Hanging pictures perfectly straight? I’ve got to tell you, that one isn’t an incredibly high bar to clear either.

Perhaps it is a good thing that my kids are already excelling at areas that I haven’t. That’s what makes the next generation better than ours, right? My kids will be great whistlers who can spell words correctly. No crippling reliance an spellcheck for my kids, no sir. And as they get older, maybe it will be a fun competition? I can see it now, me and my kids coming down the home stretch of a 5k, jockeying for the lead, giving it all I have and seriously debating if it would be out of line to trip one of them. If they are going to surpass me at something, they’ve got to know they are in for a fight. If I’m not letting them win at Candy Land as toddlers, I’m sure as shit not letting them win at anything once they’re older.

Whistling spelling bee champions with a burning desire to crush their father at Trivial Pursuit. What more could a parent ask for from his children?

Cowboys and Muppets: Lullabies of Choice

When my oldest daughter was a baby, we tried all the things to see what worked to calm her down and get her to fall asleep. Some of them to our own detriment. Though video clips on YouTube calm them down, they are the toddler equivilent of crack. We seriously had to ween her off of Simple Songs vidoes. And God help us if she wanted to watch….*looks over both shoulders to make sure no kids are watching*…baby shark, or the trash that is Cocomelon. If you think all little kid videos are the same, you are sorely mistaken. Simple Songs is to Cocomelon like Oreo is to Hydrox.

Anyway, we tried a few different things but for now at least we’ve found something for each kid that works. The key is music. Perhaps it is a holdover from her various past routines, or maybe she just has a broader musical taste, but my oldest daugher works a variety of music into her bedtime routine. She has a radio in her room, which she will listen to until she falls alseep, or we’ll play her a preselected mix of songs – mostly from Disney movies, some 80’s and 90’s pop. She really likes Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time” and Selena’s “I Could Fall In Love.” So far her musical taste is pretty good, and I consider it part of my parental duty to keep her unaware of K-Pop until she’s 32.

My younger two however, appear to be much more set in their musical ways.

My Baby Loves 90’s Country Music

Part of the experince of bonding with a new baby is figuring out what they like, and it turns out me and my baby boy are bonding over a shared appreciation of country music made between 1992 and 1997. It started with him being very whiney and needy while teething. He needed be to soothed completely to sleep and my wife wasn’t having any luck. One of her great joys in life is to have a baby fall asleep on her, but this litte guy doesn’t go for that. He needs to move. He has litterly fallen asleep in his jumper. So I picked him up, walked him around the living room, and sung him the first mellow song that came to my head – the Garth Brooks version of “Night Rider’s Lament” Of course.

Little bugger was out like a light.

Let this man soothe your baby to sleep.

It worked then and it has worked over the last month or so, every damn time. He could be beside himself in tears when I pick him up, and sound asleep before I get to the second verse of “Texas Tornado.” Generally I find the more meloncholy the song, the better it works. Sing that little guy a song about a girl that done somebody wrong and he won’t make a peep for the next twelve hours. At first I though if these songs are the right kind of impression I want to give. Should sad bastard drinking songs be absorbed by a spongy little baby brain? Then I sung him “Rockabye Baby” once and realized how terrible that is, and decided that a song about rodeo cowboy whose woman leaves him for another man is way better than a song about a baby plummeting to their death.

I have tried other calm sad music too, but he really does prefer country. Much to my disappointment, Phil Collins only seemed to get him more upset. Under normal circumstances that would be a deal breaker on our friendship, but he’s my son so I guess I’ll let it slide….for now.

“The Rainbow Connection” Is the Ultimate Lullaby

In stark contrast to my oldest daughter, my two year-old daughter has a much more specific musical taste. And not just one genre like the boy, but only one song – “The Rainbow Connection.”

I am in no way exaggerating when I say that she had demanded this song every single night for the last month. Though she hasn’t picked up on the fact that the name of the song is repeated several times, so she calls it “Da-de-da-do.” Apparently the last five seconds of a three minute song are the ones that really resonate. I mean, it works for “Stairway to Heaven” right? Know a couple of words at the begining and couple at the end and you’re all set.

The only thing she has changed, is that she now asks for a back rub while I sing it. If that last sentence doesn’t make it clear, she is something of a princess. She asks for it every night, and it works every night. A few days ago she didn’t specifically ask for it and I thought I’d see what happens if we didn’t do it. About a half hour after I tucked her in, she came out of her room and reminded me that I need to go back in there and sing it to her while I rub her back. I did. She slept.

The song also extends beyond just her. Twice last week my oldest asked me to rock her and sing her a song, which she hasn’t done in at least six months, and do you know what song she asked for? The Rainbow Connection. Though, she couldn’t come up with the name either, but at least she was closer asking for “Songs About Rainbows.” I am tempted to try on the baby boy, but I fear it won’t work as nobody in the songs drinks themself to death. What can I say, he likes what he likes.

I’m not here to give advice, but if you’ve got a kid that has a hard time settling down for bed I suggest you try something by a sad cowboy or a whimsical muppet. I mean, what else do you really need in life anyway?