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30 July 2010

On Target

We have all been asked a million times that age old question -- if we could bring one thing with us to a desert island, what would it be.
For me, I’d bring a Super Target.
They have everything I would ever need.
For those of you living in area with just “Target” and not “Super Target”, you must be wondering what in the world I am talking about.
Well, I would’ve thought the same thing until we moved to this area about five years ago.
If you enter into our Super Target through the doors to the far right, you probably won’t notice anything different.
In front of you are the clothes, the music section, the discontinued electronics, the clearance area.
But if you enter through the doors on the far left, as Green Day once said, “Welcome to Paradise.”
Now when I speak of the far right and the far left, I am not making any type of political statement.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy politics.
I think it can be very entertaining and election years can make for some great TV, but I’ve got a wooden nickle for the next person who can tell me what channel C-Span is on.
So getting back to paradise -- the far left at Super Target.
That’s where you will see a fully loaded tricked out supermarket, with a full-service bakery, deli, produce area...
All that plus a Starbucks and Pharmacy, two completely different ways to get your drugs.
A few days ago, I took my two older kids with me to Super Target to pick up some meat for a family bbq.
By the time we got there it was the late afternoon and there were some t-bones calling our name.
Not only were they big and beautiful, but they were on sale AND they had been marked down again due to the upcoming expiration date.
As I reached for the prize, my daughter got a little nervous.
She’s the worrier in the family.
She’s the one who becomes physically ill when the light indicator comes on that you are running low on gas.
She’s the one who makes sure that you are aware when your car is somehow traveling more than 10 mph above the speed limit.
And she is definitely the one who hates the concept of buying meat that has a nearby expiration date.
My son on the other hand is all me.
Put it on the plate, let’s eat.
Well to help put her mind at ease, I brought the meat over to the high school student working in the meat department and asked if this meat would be ok for us to barbeque today.
“Sure,” he said.
I think he said “sure.”   
Actually I’m not sure what he said, but I think it was his nod of conviction that made my daughter feel comfortable.
So with her blessing and the blessing of the guy who still doesn't shave, we bought the meat and headed home.
On the way, I thought this would be a great opportunity for another fatherly life lesson.
Ozzie Nelson, I am not.
Nor Mike Brady or Cliff Huxtable or even Frank Costanza.
I’d say I’m more of a Peter Griffin, Al Bundy type. 
But I’ll surprise you from time-to-time.
And this time, I was ready to teach the kids a little bit about trust.
So in the car, I turned down Lady Gaga and asked...
...“who do you think cares more about you, me or the guy working at the Super Target meat market?”
Right away the kids smelled something funny.
My daughter probably thought it was the old meat, but my son jumped right in.
“You,” he silently mumbled, not sure where this was headed.
“Do you think I would ever hurt you, on purpose?”, I asked.
Now they were getting scared and I wasn’t even running low on gas.
To complete the natural hat trick of perplexing queries, I said “who would you trust more, me or him?”
Fortunately, I won that one too.
So I went on to explain...
...there was nothing I would ever do to hurt them... and there was no way I’d ever buy any food that would make them sick... and just because the teenager with the white robe said the meat was good didn’t mean that the meat was good. 
I explained that with every decision in life, trust yourself and trust the people who care the most about you.
In this case, me.
If I ever thought the meat was bad or that it would harm them, I would never buy it, I don’t care what Butcher Bobby says.
I’m glad I'm still here to report that the steaks were fantastic and no one got sick.
I’m also glad to report that I think the kids got my message, even if I did take the long way home to get there.
My wife and I have told them MANY times that we will always be there for them.
But at some point they will be making decisions for themselves and that’s the time to trust yourself and your gut and use your best judgment.
I just hope they always remember that trip to Super Target.

29 July 2010

A Lesson Learned

As the father of three amazing kids, you might think that I could teach a Parenting 101 class.
Well, think again.
Let there be no doubt, I am still the student.
Rarely does a day go by that I don’t discover a new way of making a mistake.
Like I’ve said many times, there is no handbook to being a parent or at least I have never seen one.
I entered this parenting thing as cold as the Winter Carnaval in Quebec City.
And let me tell you, that’s cold.
The Carnaval is so cold.
How cold is it Gene Rayburn?
The Carnaval is so cold, they keep their ice sculptures outside to make sure they don’t melt.
That’s cold.
True story.  I’ve been there.
Ok, enough with the weather, back to the news.
For those of you longtime parents, stop laughing at me and just nod when I say -- kids become different when they reach the teens.
In the Jewish religion, we call it a Mitzvah, Bar or Bat.
The Catholics call it Confirmation.
Bruce Springsteen just called it Growin’ Up.
As a parent, this is a new world that honestly I was not prepared to enter.
Then again, I wasn’t prepared for any of this.
And neither were my parents.
My mom never met her father.  
My father’s father died when my dad was nine, putting my dad at the head of the table, while he was still sitting on a phone book.
My mom and dad had no siblings.
Family in our house was centered around Kristy McNichol.
So when my wife and I learned thirteen plus years ago that I was going to be a dad, she might as well have told me we were going to adopt a Komodo Dragon.
I knew the same about both subjects.
I have made my mistakes over the years, PLENTY of them, but when you are dealing with young-ins, the simple mistakes fortunately don’t do a whole lot of damage.
So I put the diaper on backwards, I let them eat a little dirt, I left the breast milk out.
Ok, that was a bad one. 
But now that the kids are actual thinking-speaking-reacting type people, the damage can be a lot more.... damaging.
For example, I have not been able to get it through my thick skull that my 13-year old daughter has exited the Kid Highway and is now traveling down Young Lady Lane.
She knows I love her more than anything, but now she’s entering an age where I have to be more creative than just saying it.
In fact, sometimes I get the feeling she doesn’t want me to say anything at all.
She’s got it covered.
A couple of days ago I noticed she was miffed about something.
What, I had no idea.
But instead of sitting on the sideline and watching her work through it on her own, I got involved.
Bad move.
I said... What’s wrong?  What’s bothering you?  What happened?
I probably asked more questions than the SAT exam.
And with each question, whatever was really bothering her became a distant memory.
I was now Public Enemy #1.
Unfortunately the conversation ended with fireworks worthy of the 4th of July.   
I got mad, she got mad.   
I got more mad, she went to her room.
The door closed.  Maybe even slammed.
Not the first time that has happened.
Not even the first time this week that had happened.
But it was so bad that my wife had to step in and give ME a time out.
And I’m glad she did.
I don’t remember every word in the lecture, but I remember the message.
Stay out of her airspace.  For now.
Let her fly on her own.   She will come back. 
Not in those words, but that’s what Google Translate told me. 
Stay close, but not too close.
She wants your ears more than she wants your words.
And be there when she needs you.
And she will need you.
Talk to her about music, a restaurant that you like, something you saw on iCarly.
Talk to her about ... about anything other than her. 
Considering my wife was once a 13-year old girl, I figured I needed to take notes and listen.
And listen I did, loud and clear.
Fortunately for me, I was able to apply my newfound knowledge almost immediately.
Yesterday we spent the day at the community pool with my wife’s family -- 14 in all, including nine kids, all 13 and under.
(That’s another blog -- one I won’t be able to publish.)
At the pool, I played with my six-year old daughter and three-year old niece for quite a while.
All the while keeping an eye on my 13-year old.
From the moment I got to the pool, I could tell she wasn’t really interested in hanging with me.

I think the fireworks show was still fresh in her mind. 
But the more fun the three of us were having, the closer the 13-year old got.
Within about 20 minutes, our gang of three became a quartet. 
The day became about swimming and nothing else.
Things went so well that when we left the pool, my teenager wanted to ride home with me.
We listened to music.  I listened to her.
No more fireworks, just a spark.
When we got home, SHE walked over to ME, gave me a big hug and said, “I love you dad.”
No cue cards or anything.
I think I passed that test.

When is the next one?

27 July 2010

A Happy Meal... Every Time

McDonalds made Ray Kroc a billionaire.
It also made Morgan Spurlock fat.
It also makes my six-year old daughter VERY happy.
And isn’t that all that matters.
Pick a day, pick a time -- ask my daughter where she wants to go eat and the answer is always McDonalds.
(P.S.  I’m not applying for a commercial here, really I’m not, but if you like the concept, contact her agent.)
A couple of days ago my six-year old had some visitors over for a play date.
Her three-year old cousin from my wife’s brother’s family.
And her three-year old cousin from my wife’s sister’s family.
We decided to have a girls day out (+1) at the mall with my wife, the three girls and me.
On our way there, we were getting a little hungry, so we stopped at... well, you know where we stopped.
And when we got there, the order was as predictable as a Hugh Grant movie.
“I’ll have the Happy Meal.  Me too.  Me too.”
Wow, I didn’t see that coming.
The truth is they all ordered the little plastic toy with whatever food it came with.
Meanwhile, my wife got the Grilled Chicken Ranch BLT Sandwich with no Ranch.
And since we had a 2-for-1 coupon, I too had the Grilled Chicken Ranch BLT Sandwich with no Ranch.
Of course, no meal at Mickey D’s is complete without a large order of fries, so we got one of those too.
On the back of the paper that our food came on was a complete listing of the nutrition facts for all of the foods at McDonalds.
I know, we should’ve covered it in ketchup before we could look.
But like a five-car pileup on the freeway, we HAD to look.
So after each girl took one big bite of their Happy Meal and became instantly stuffed, we sent them off to that cesspool of disgust known as PlayLand.
That’s where little kids from around the neighborhood cough and sneeze their way through a series of plastic tubes and sealed in walkways.
But of course, “Please make sure you take off your shoes little Johnny, Ronald would hate for you to get PlayLand dirty.”
I couldn’t find a suggestion box, but if I did....
I would suggest you put a water hose at the bottom of one of those slides, so you can spray the scum off the kids when they are done playing.
Just a thought.
Well, while the girls were sliding around in some other kids’ runny nose (and LOVING it), that gave my wife and I time to check out the nutritional facts for the foods we were trying to digest.
Believe it or not, not everything was totally bad for you.
For example, the brand new “Real Fruit" Smoothies.
I got a couple of coupons in the Sunday paper for a free one, so I got one for the girls and one for me.
They actually made them in a real blender.  I heard it.
I just hope they used real bananas and real strawberries in the real blender for my "Real Strawberry Banana Smoothie". 
The good news is each smoothie had only 210 calories.
The bad news is pretty much everything else on the menu was a diet crusher.
The Angus Deluxe Burger, 750 calories.
The Big Mac, 29 grams of fat.
The Breakfast Burrito with Sausage, 1390 mg of sodium.
The Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken had TEN TIMES more salt than an entire breast of Chicken Saltimbocca at Maggiano’s.
And that dish has “salt” in its name.
As for those fries, we just HAD to have.
Well those fries have more calories (500) than a 6-inch Roast Beef Sub at Subway (460), with DOUBLE MEAT AND DOUBLE CHEESE.
But unlike Mark Antony (or Jennifer Lopez), I’m not here to bury McDonalds, I come to praise them.
Have you tried the Sausage McMuffin with Egg?
Is there any better way to start the day?
Who cares that there are 450 calories and 285 mg of cholesterol and 920 mg of sodium and 27 grams of fat.
Obviously I don’t.
And neither does my daughter.
As long as she gets that pink plastic horse.

25 July 2010

Risky Business

I have this friend who went to a movie last night.
This friend’s wife and three kids were out of town for the weekend, so this friend had some free time for himself.
This friend decided to see the new Leonardo DiCaprio movie, “Inception.”
He liked it a lot although I, I mean he didn’t really understand like 95% of it.
When that movie ended, he decided to pull an Ernie Banks and play two, moving from theatre 22 to theatre 21 to see the new Angelina Jolie movie, “Salt.”
He liked that one too although I, I mean he thought it was as believable as Inception was simple.
Two movies for $7.50 (plus $8.00 for the small popcorn/drink combo).
Now that’s a deal.
For my friend.
I don’t know if sneaking into a second movie is considered a crime, but since it was a friend doing it (and not me), I figured it would make a perfect intro to this blog.
I’m not much of a rule-breaker and I never really have been.
Maybe it’s the Jewish guilt from my dad or the Italian guilt from my mom, but I always figured the humiliation of getting caught wasn’t worth the price of breaking the rule.
I didn’t even use Napster.
But I’m guessing living on the straight and narrow probably puts me in the minority, especially these days.
Some people may be breaking the rules for fun, but with so many out of work now, a lot more people are doing it out of necessity.
It’s even happening in places and ways you would never expect.
For example...
... A couple of days ago at the end of my therapy session, I had one more CRITICAL question that needed to be answered:
  • Should I go to Popeye’s Fried Chicken or the Italian Deli to grab a bite for the ride home?
We decided that while Popeye’s would destroy the inside of me, the Italian Deli would only destroy the outside of my white t-shirt.
Ciao it was.
When I walked into the tiny deli, I was greeted by a man in his 40’s, who introduced himself as the son of the 80+ year old lady who usually works there.
He told me that for the second time in the last week, somebody had just stolen their tip jar.
He was guessing there was about $60 in there.
We talked for a few minutes about how sad it is that people have to resort to such an act to keep them going.
I’m not here to go all Judge Wapner on you, but this is just another sad sign of the times.
The Italian Deli is not in the greatest neighborhood and the man said that his mom regularly gives out free food and even money to anyone who asks for it.
I’m sure the loss of the tip money bothered him, but he seemed even more upset that somebody would do such a thing.
To them.
In case you were wondering, for my ride home I got a little plastic tub of marinara sauce stuffed with a couple of meatballs and a piece of sausage.  
He also sliced some spicy italian salami for me and threw in a half loaf of fresh bread.
But I digress.
The grand total was $3, a figure that he definitely pulled out of the air, well below what he should’ve asked for.
So I gave him the $3 and then started a new tip jar with a nice deposit.

It was good to see him smile.
This wasn’t the first time this week that someone’s desperation had run across my path.
But the other example was A LOT more personal.
Just a few days earlier I received my new credit card statement for the month.
I thought the balance was much higher than usual, so I took a closer look at the itemized charges.
Sure enough, there were seven charges on the list from a city I have not visited in at least three years.
I immediately called the credit card company to see what this was all about.
I asked if any new charges had come in since I got the new statement and sure enough, there were 12 more charges from that same city.
In all 19 charges for more than $1500.
And these were at major stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Marshalls and J.C. Penney, among others.
I cancelled the card immediately and filed a report.
Supposedly/hopefully, these charges will come off my bill pretty quickly.
When I noticed the problem, I was puzzled at first.
Then I became a little upset, but only briefly.
The strongest emotion I had was sadness.
I definitely understand that this is now a part of the world that we live in and that people are going by any means possible just to survive.
Thankfully I have no idea what a person must be dealing with to do something so desperate.
The threat of being caught means very little compared to the reward of being able to pay your rent.
Or buying your kids food.
Or going to see a double-feature.
This is less about stealing money from someone else and more about just getting by.
It’s not you, it’s me.
Who knows how many other people they are stealing from and who knows if they will ever be caught.
But the fact that stealing has become their career is the saddest part of this story for me.
And my friend.

24 July 2010

Psyched Up

I have never seen the show “In Treatment” on HBO, but I bet I would love it.
HBO does an amazing job with everything they touch.
Except for the show Hung.
But from what I know about In Treatment, it sounds like a very cool concept.
Basically you are a fly on the wall during a series of intense therapy sessions.
When my parents were growing up, the only people who went to therapy were the weirdos.
At least that’s what most people thought.
When I was growing up, the only people who went to therapy were the weirdos and the hyperactive kids.
The only thing I knew about that biz was what Dr. Sidney Freedman from M*A*S*H had taught me.
(I wonder if the writers knew that he has the same initials as Sigmund Freud.  Wow, what a coincidence.)
These days if you want to be part of the in-crowd, you’d better make an appointment with a therapist.
But you better make sure you know what the doctor is ordering.
Do a quick search and you'll see about a million options -- Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Social Workers, Counselors, Group Therapy, Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Psychoanalytic Therapy.
It’s like going to one of those all you can eat salad bars.
Wow those places stress me out.  Too many decisions.
I started going to therapy in the fall of 2008 after 30+ of my colleagues were told thanks for all of your hard work.
I had been before, but never under such circumstances.
Life was quite overwhelming at that moment, but I was fortunate to find a fantastic person who helped guide me through that terrible time.
20 months later, I’m as grounded as I will ever be.
Unemployed, but grounded.
Yesterday I returned to see my therapist after taking two months off.  That damn freelance job got in the way of all of my fun. 
Despite the time away, I jumped right back onto the cozy couch, kicked off my shoes and started up a conversation.
60 minutes later we were done.
I have learned quite a bit by talking to the experts, but perhaps the number one thing I’ve learned is that the experts don’t like to give you the answers.
They prefer to sit there, do a whole lot of listening, sometimes write things down, ask you some questions and then lead you to the water.
Its up to you to do the drinking.
Fortunately for me, I’m always thirsty and I caught on quickly, taking a whole lot away with me.
When I started two years ago, the first goal that I.. we.. me.. we.. (I don’t know) set was for me to try being more present at home.
Working 60+ hours a week can make for a tired human, but deep down, the wife and kids really don’t care how tired I am.
They just want me to be there when I am there, since I really wasn’t there most of the time.
Once I became a stay-at-home dad, that being present thing became a lot easier.
I actually started listening to conversations and if I was feeling really crazy, I might even say something.
Now that’s progress.
Through therapy I have now obtained all the tools to be present when/if I start working full-time again.
I usually walk away from a session with a handful of homework and a bag full of goals.
The reality is that in life, you are not going to succeed most of the time, but if you can keep trying, that’s the victory.
Today we talked about the great unknown or as Billy Joel liked to refer to it -- My Life.
More specifically dealing with what you know instead of what you don’t.
If you try guessing about the future, you might as well start guessing about lottery numbers too.
And we know how that will turn out.
Deal in reality.  Live in the now and take it from there.
When this phase of life is over, then and ONLY THEN, can you go to the next phase.   
Don’t pass go until it is time.  There is no $200.
Even though she won’t take any of the credit, I owe SO much to my therapist.
We watched my career crumble in front of my eyes (and hers) and somehow I’m still standing.  
(And you thought I was going to make a corny Elton John reference, didn't you?)
I would imagine that therapy is not for everyone, but for me, it has made life more clear than a pair of bifocals.
I have no doubt that it would not have happened without some Cognit-Psychiolog-Social-Counselor person.
I’m just glad I found a friend.