You can almost smell the love

It’s not quite time for the children to get up for school yet. They still reside in the happy world of dreams, peaceful angels in their slumber.  In the sleepy darkness before dawn, they have no inkling of the battle raging in the house around them.

Daddy is ready to leave for work. Showered and shaved, he has even applied the coating of lotion to his hands and face that Mommy insisted he start doing because she doesn’t want him to dry out like the old prune he is.

He steps into the bathroom where Mommy is drying her hair. He gives her a kiss and a “Love you,” then turns to leave, thinking he has escaped it this morning.

“Did you spray?” Her question freezes him in his tracks.

“No,” he sheepishly admits.

And then the chase is on.

It all started . . .

in the after-Christmas, clearance section of Target. Mommy found two half-priced gift boxes of scented items – one for Him and one for Her. Having both a Him and a Her in their marriage, Mommy deemed the pair of boxes a good bargain. They were lotions and perfumes (I guess men’s perfume is called cologne, but I don’t know much about it), the kind of gift that says “You were at the bottom of my list and I was long past being thoughtful by then. Also, you smell bad.”

perfume for manly men

Smelly enough for a woman, but made for a man. Say it with your deepest voice: “Cologne. “

Mommy was within her rights to pay half-price to smell the way she wished, but Daddy protested buying perfume to cover up his traditional Head & Shoulders scent (he still needs to shampoo the sides of his head). Daddy’s protests were in vain.

It actually all started . . .

decades ago on a dairy farm. Coming out of the barn, the boy Daddy learned the way to coexist with polite society was to divest himself of stink, not to purposely apply stink to himself. Nobody ever ran away from a farm kid they couldn’t smell. If he had nothing else going for him, at least they couldn’t blame him for smelling like air.

It also started . . .

in an upper-middle-class, suburban school, where the young Mommy’s friends wore designer clothes and had leisure to discover their own signature scents. They all smelled like something different, but none of them smelled like air or Head & Shoulders. None of the good ones did, anyway.

It ends this way.

Daddy runs. Mommy grabs the spray bottle of worldly man scent and chases him. After a moment, Daddy gives up his foolish hope of escape. All his flight will do is wake the children. He allows Mommy to shoot him a few times.

Mommy breathes deep. “Oh, you smell so good!” she says, dreamy in the eyes. But it’s nearly time for the children to wake, so she sends Daddy off to work to delight the nostrils of other people.

Daddy drives off to work, wondering if there isn’t a better time of day for the war to end.

I’ll ask Santa if he’ll come back next year

Despite my many warnings to the boys about the borderline quality of their behavior leading up to Christmas, Santa came anyway. Nobody can be counted on to give 102nd chances like Santa.

We had a typical Christmas for us. It began with a mega-dose of childish excitement and glee. Then it slowly spiraled into the danger zone known as Too Much Christmas, when three boys, overstimulated and full of adrenalin, can’t process all the new things to play with and turn into Tasmanian Devils.

When Christmas is still fresh and new - before the abundance of toys overloads any synapses.

When Christmas is still fresh and new – before the abundance of toys overloads any synapses.

Just think how fun it will be out of the box!

Just think how fun it will be out of the box!

A small cooling off period sets things right again, or as near as they can be on this day of frenzy. Then it’s the battle to make them sit down long enough to eat some dinner. Fortunately, Big Brother has inherited his father’s unconditional love of the ham. He’d eat it in a box with a fox, or even during the excitement of Christmas Day. It’s only the little ones who can’t see the majesty of the glazed shank beyond the shine of new toys.

About mid-afternoon begins the parental strategizing about how to wear them down so they’ll go to bed at a decent hour, in spite of all the fun stuff calling them to wakefulness from the living room.

The day ends with a drink of Daddy’s new scotch, conveniently delivered by the UPS man on Christmas Eve. If there is a Santa, I’m now convinced his suit is brown rather than red.

And what a scotch it was. This new one is potent. It tried to put hair on my chest. It didn’t realize that my chest is a difficult place put hair. The most difficult place is my head, which retired from hair farming some years ago. At my age, that scotch would have been far more successful seeking fertile ground on my back, but liquor attempts only what it’s trained to do.

In the days following Christmas, things have settled down some. Some. We still have fights between Buster and Big Brother over the best use of certain toys. Big Man keeps everybody on their toes with his penchant for disassembling LEGO creations whenever one is left unattended and within his reach.  This causes much gnashing of teeth, yet never causes anyone to learn to keep their LEGOs up high.

There used to be a lazer turret here. But after Big Man tore that off, Jar Jar makes a good substitute.

There used to be a laser turret here. But after Big Man tore that off, Jar Jar makes a good substitute.

Pieces are broken or lost. This is the natural order of things. Instinctively, they are making room for the next Christmas.

On the third night after Christmas, Buster considered his built, then unbuilt, then half-built again LEGO toy. “Daddy, “ he said.


“I want more Christmas.”

There’s a little Buster in me that always wants more Christmas too. But when the Daddy in me reflected upon the dizzying roller coaster that is Christmas with three boys, even my inner child shook his head. There’s not enough scotch in the world for that.

“Maybe we’ll have another one next year. I’ll ask Santa how he feels about it.”

All the daddies do it

It’s that time of year again. It’s the height of the season when parents use Santa Claus leverage to pry good behavior from their children. But I would never hijack a beloved icon to extort good behavior from my kids.

Like hell I wouldn’t. I clobber them over the heads with Santa.

“Santa won’t want to come here if these toys aren’t picked up.”

“Santa looks unfavorably upon little boys who won’t be quiet when Daddy’s watching the game.”

“Santa this; Santa that.” It’s all Santa, all the time. Sometimes it even works. Sort of.

the empty chimney of sub-par behavior

A watched pot never boils, especially when the watcher made noise all through Monday Night Football.

Santa’s pulled a lot of weight around our house when it comes to keeping kids in line, even without the help of that creepy Elf on the Shelf, who has yet to prove he’s officially sanctioned by Santa.

Eventually, Santa will abandon us, and then I don’t know where we’ll be. I can only hope he will have done well enough raising our children that we can take over without a large drop off in behavior or, more importantly, convenience.

But Santa is not the only force of manipulation in our house. Lately, Buster has discovered a new force he’s sure should persuade me to do what he asks.

If I tell him I won’t give him a bowl of gummy bears for breakfast, he looks up at me with big, sincere eyes and tells me. “All the daddies do it.”

I say, “No. Daddies don’t give their children gummy bears for breakfast.”

He gives me a what-rock-have-you-been-living-under? look and insists, “Yes they do. All the daddies.”

The motion is passed. The Council of Daddies decrees that, henceforth, all daddies will do it.

The motion is passed. The Council of Daddies decrees that, henceforth, all the daddies will do it.

I’m not sure where he learned about peer pressure, or how he found out what all the daddies are doing these days, but it worked out for him that they are all doing just the sorts of things he would appreciate. Sadly, the only daddy who is out of step with the times is his own. What a rotten luck of the draw.

Lest you think parental peer pressure is reserved for daddies, I have overheard him play the all-the-mommies card as well. Apparently, all the mommies have joined all the daddies in opening up a world of limitless sugar and playing ball in the house to little boys.

It frustrates him that his parents have not joined, or even been invited to, the revolution. But we are older than most parents of three-year-olds, and not very hip. We’re stuck in the old ways. We think he should get his morning dose of sugar from someone we trust, like Cap’n Crunch, not from a fly-by-night mob of nameless bears.

This doesn’t stop him from using the new thinking of all the daddies and mommies to try to influence our parenting. Likewise, a reminder that Santa is watching only keeps him on the straight and narrow for about a minute, but that doesn’t stop me from going to the Santa well at every opportunity.

In either case, you’ve got to do the best you can with the tools you have.

A Christmas Tree named Chaos

Some people enjoy decorating Christmas trees. I hit the peak fun of putting up the tree at about age 7. Then the ‘been there, done that’ vibe took over. I enjoy having a tree, but I’m not so keen on decorating it, especially with the tedious chore of un-decorating it looming short weeks away.

My wife could do without a tree altogether. It seems she carries some childhood hang-up about bringing ‘nature’ indoors. Even bound tight with strands of electric lights, a tree brings her too close to the horrifying concept of camping. Five years ago she convinced me to buy an artificial tree ‘for emergencies.’ We’ve had a tree emergency every year since.

perfect spot

One to put it on the tree and one to stand back and see how it looks.

That’s not all her fault. I don’t miss the days of lashing shrubbery to top of the car and digging pine needles out of my socks. Until the boys complain about our lazy Christmas spirit, we’ll continue falling back on the emergency tree. Which brings us to another Christmas tree emergency:

The boys.

Putting up a tree with boys of 7, 3, and 1 is a special brand of adventure. Forgive me in advance; I can’t do it justice.

Christmas tree lights are mostly made in China nowadays, which explains their sturdy construction. A strand of raw eggs would be more durable. As I unwind the strands, Big Man drags them, without regard for their precarious filaments, to the most convenient outlet, because plugging cords in and turning lights on are his greatest pleasures. No matter that he killed half the bulbs winding them around table legs on his journey.

piling up the Bling

“Can we get a little more Bling in this area?”

Buster tries to help, grabbing the opposite end of the strand and attempting to yank it away from his careless little brother. The strands work better for tug-of-wars than for lighting trees.

Big Brother helps me swap out bulbs to make complete, working strands. I tell him what color I want and he hands me a bulb. We make another complete strand and are about ready to start putting them up when I realize he hasn’t salvaged the remaining good lights from the half-dead strand. He cannibalized a complete strand I just made to provide me bulbs.

Meanwhile, Big Man and Buster want to tangle all the strands into a web.

I begin yelling, but a Christmas Angel stops me. The Spirit persuades me it would be more in keeping with the Season to pour myself a scotch. I always listen to Holy advice.

load-bearing branch

“Just a few more of these on this branch should do it.”

Somehow, we get the lights up. The boys attack the ornaments with a will, each eager to throw as many up as he can before they run out. Shiny things are hung two and three to a branch in the fervor. I let them run wild. I’ll spread the ornaments out later.

No, I won’t. Maybe it’s the bright light of Christmas in their eyes or maybe it’s the warm glaze of scotch in mine, but I realize this is their tree now. I’ll leave it just as they made it.