Oh, Christmas Tree! Oh, Christmas Tree! We’ll try not to break you too much

Our six-year-old has been bugging us to put up the Christmas tree since Thanksgiving. There’s nothing wrong with this and I’m not complaining. I’m just stating a fact: he’s been bugging us about it. He’s six. That’s his job.

We’ve never put up our tree before December, though we have sometimes put it up early in December. But those were not years when we owned both a toddler and a baby. This year, the parents delayed as long as possible.

Buster won’t be too bad with the tree. He’ll break a few glass bulbs and yank some garland just to get into the spirit of the season. Then he’ll focus his destructive energy on other household objects as the tree becomes commonplace. Any real damage will be accidental, as he runs sideways into the tree while juking to avoid the football tackle of his big brother.

New Baby is a different story. He will eat the tree, one ornament at a time. It will become his seasonal commitment to consume any part of this giant Christmas cookie that can be reached from the crawling position. If he cannot reach a particularly juicy-looking berry, he will tug at branches with his Kung-Fu-Grip baby hands. He is a big, hungry baby, and his hunger feeds his ambition.

These are Mommy’s reason for delay. Daddy shares them, and adds a reason of his own. Daddy’s reason is that he will be left to assemble the tree with only the quality of help that a six-year-old and a two-year-old, working in unholy alliance, can provide.

Burgermeister Meisterburger

“Anyone who puts up a Christmas tree will be severely scolded in a cartoonish German accent!”

Mommy is the superhero of holiday cheer. She tracks down the most obscure gifts; she braves freezing cold for Christmas parades; she travels far to show her boys Santa, or even one of his less-renowned, black-nosed reindeer. But there is one thing Mommy doesn’t do. Mommy doesn’t put up Christmas trees.

Apparently, in the village where Mommy was a child, the Burgermeister Meisterburger decreed the decorating of Christmas trees a crime worthy of horrible punishments, because, to this day, Mommy flees to her quiet place at the prospect of tree trimming.

This leaves Daddy with his short stack of helpers. The moment they begin attempting to untangle strands of lights and free individual wire hooks from the grand hive of wire hooks, Daddy remembers who tangled the lights and packed the hooks into a wire nest at the end of last Christmas. This may remind him that, when it comes to tangling and untangling, little hands know only one direction.

This great revelation is useless. It will neither help him now, nor comfort him later, when a child asks, “Why won’t any of the lights in the middle of the tree light up?”

“Because that’s the tradition in this house, son. Are you almost done tying knots into the garland?”

We finally got the tree up and the lights on it, but then we had to take a break from all of the helping that was going on. It’s hard for anyone to get into the Christmas spirit once Daddy starts yelling.

We’ll take a breather, then give it another go. We should have it all up just in time to start taking it down.

who needs decorations?

Our progress to date. Maybe we’ll have more time to work on it after Christmas.

They don’t make it easy on Santa

Our six-year-old had to be prodded into starting his Christmas list. Having to write down words and ideas is so far below the dignity of a First Grade scholar. It’s much easier to watch toy commercials and say “I want that!” at the conclusion of each.

Once begun, he threw himself into the spirit of his list. He learned he could be more specific in his desires when they were the fruits of his own mind rather than the mass market spit balls of the Toy Industrial Complex.

xmass list_Page_1 xmass list_Page_2

Those who haven’t been following along may find it odd that four lines on the list call specifically for German items. The rest of us are relieved that it is only four items. This leaves several items that Santa could plausibly supply to a child in the United States.

I’ve contacted Santa. Following is his assessment of the likelihood of supplying each listed item:

A German Subway SetSanta’s Response: “WTF?”

What makes a toy subway German? And what makes a train set into a subway? Are you planning to set this up in a crawl space under the floor? How would the kid even play with that?

A Police Car with Sirens that can light upSanta’s Response: “At least this makes sense.”

But doesn’t this kid already have police cars, some with sirens that light up. And aren’t most of them neglected or broken?

A German Army Truck and HelicopterSanta’s Response: “Kids in Germany don’t even ask for that.”

An army truck and/or helicopter I could probably do, but now I’ve got to have flags painted on them? The elves aren’t good with flags.

An iPadSanta’s Response: “Yeah . . . No.”

$o many reasons; $o little time.

A German Army Suit with a Beret (Side note: I wondered why he asked how to spell beret) – Santa’s Response: “This request has been filed with German Subway Set.”

Such a shame. We have tons of children’s French Army uniforms with berets, but fresh out of German.

A Call of Duty KREO SetSanta’s Response: “Well, KREO are cheaper than LEGOs.”

So if there is such a thing as a Call of Duty KREO set, well, maybe.

A Nintendo 3DSSanta’s Response: “Is that a real thing?”

I lost track when the elves were still making the original DS? We’re up to 3 now? Can it be Japanese, or does that have to be German too?

An MSU Football CostumeSanta’s Response: “Great choice of team, but how about we start out with a sweatshirt or some pajamas?”

He’ll get a full uniform when he makes the team. Go Green!

A Star Wars LEGO SetSanta’s Response: “Didn’t he just get a bunch of those for his birthday?”

Maybe if they have a good sale.

A Boom Co BlasterSanta’s Response: “Isn’t this just a poorer quality Nerf gun?”

And aren’t there already tons of lost Nerf gun darts hiding behind all the furniture in your house?

A World War I German Army HelmetSanta’s Response: “Cool. I’d like one of those, myself.”

But has he checked prices online? Are his parents willing to give up their first-born child in exchange? Does he realize who their first-born child is?


I’m not sure what happened to the last entry. He probably wants something he has no hope of spelling. Maybe I’ll just get him something that starts with B. Or maybe I’ll fill it in with A Big Lump of Coal – German Coal.


It’s Absolute Mayhem! And this time, my children are not the cause

When fellow blogger, Kelly Suellentrop, first asked for help spreading the word about her new children’s book, Absolute Mayhem, I vacillated. I’m playing catch-up on my own writing these days and I didn’t want to commit to something if I lacked the time to follow through.

Then, I remembered how daunting it is to navigate the process of self-publishing your first book. How do you take a stack of paper with words or drawings on the sheets and turn that pile into an actual book that people can buy? (And I’m not talking about a comb-bound course packet from the Kinko’s copy center.) It’s not an easy process the third or fourth time you do it. The first time, it’s a mind-blowing mystery. To borrow from Kelly’s book title, it’s Absolute Mayhem.

It’s a lonely, confusing process, and anyone who makes it through deserves congratulations and support from the independent author community.

I signed up to help.

And then I had that moment. If you interact with writers at all, you know that moment. It goes like this in your head: “Oh my God! What if I don’t like the book? I’ve just agreed to blog about it, but what if I hate it? How will I get out of it? I know. I’ll tell her my blog is busy washing its hair.”

Before I opened the electronic proof file Kelly sent, I crossed my fingers and pleaded, “Please be good. Please be good. Nobody ever buys the hair washing excuse.”

Then, I opened the file and forgot all about making excuses, because Absolute Mayhem is an awesome children’s book. I don’t have to mince words. I don’t have to finesse anything. I get to relax and tell the truth, which is simply that I really like this book.


Absolute Mayhem is the story of Lulu and Milo, siblings who dutifully do their schoolwork and chores all week long in anticipation of the fun they expect to have on the weekend. During the week, they rely upon their imaginations. But on the weekend, it’s Absolute Mayhem as they live their dreams.

I love the artwork in this book – not for any technical reasons, because I have no artistic talent, so I wouldn’t know a technical reason if it bit me in the deep lower back. The art here has an endearing playfulness. It’s the funny, little touches, like the rabbit spraying air freshener around the doggy doo in the back yard, that make the illustrations special.

The story is relatable to both kids and adults, a target that many children’s books miss. As a parent of three, I’ve been exposed to approximately 3.2 metric tons of children’s literature and this one is up there with the best of them.

Absolute Mayhem on Amazon.com

Kelly Suellentrop’s author website

Kelly Suellentrop’s blog: are you finished yet?


A father’s Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a day for Turkey and mashed potatoes, parades and football, family togetherness and the alcohol that an entire day confined with family requires. And if there’s any time left over from all of this, it’s the chance to steal a moment to be thankful for something.

The Canadians have their Thanksgiving in October. I don’t know if this is because they are more eager to be thankful or because they are hungrier for turkey. Probably both, since nothing builds a healthy appetite faster than digging down deep to cough up a little gratitude.

In order to make sure that I have a good appetite for Thanksgiving dinner, I’ve composed a list of things I, as a father of three young boys, am thankful for.

  • I am thankful that our house has lots of wallpaper nobody likes. This makes the crayon drawings on the walls much more aesthetically pleasing.
  • I am thankful that, for going on 10 years now, I have been too lazy and cheap to replace the ugly wallpaper. My plan to customize the existing paper is working out great.
  • I am thankful that babies can get away with mismatched socks as often as every day. New Baby is terrible at organizing his sock basket.
  • I am thankful that we live in an enlightened society where a man can cause a backup in the drive through, estimating the number of McNuggets needed inside his minivan, without being stripped of every shred of masculinity.
  • I am thankful for the following consonants: B, D, M, N, P, T and W. Without them, Buster’s conversation would be completely unintelligible.
  • I am thankful for all the vowels, because no one has to learn how to elevate the back of his tongue to pronounce them.
  • I am thankful for breasts for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because I don’t have to warm them in hot water for 10 minutes while a screaming, hungry baby wails for a little milk over here!
  • I am thankful for any device that helps me shave six seconds off the time it takes to warm a bottle.
  • I am thankful that I have so far been able to avoid any embarrassing outbursts of road rage in the car line at elementary school. It’s so important to set a good example.
  • I am thankful for generous children who are never too hungry to offer Daddy the crust.
  • I am thankful for every day we get through without Caillou.

But most of all I am thankful for:

A baby who is a good eater, a good sleeper, and a good smiler.

A toddler who is always helpful and quick with a joke.

A first grader who adores and protects his little brothers.

And the loving mother who brought them all into this world, and would gladly bring more, if old age, poverty, and slippage toward bedlam didn’t stand in the way.

Happy Thanksgiving!

thankful horse

That’s a pretty thankful horse, right there.