Confessions of a Bad Dad: My Kids are Junkies

popface2-1If there’s one thing that always makes me feel like a failure as a parent, it’s when someone asks me what my kids’ first words were.

Seriously, I’m supposed to know that?

It’s not that I don’t care. It’s not that I wasn’t listening for their first words every day of their babyhood. It’s just that those first two years were full of so many loony squeaks and noises, some totally random and some parroting grown-up speech. Mixed in there occasionally were various sounds which I gradually came to understand were communicating something specific. But even those weren’t always words. It’s not like one day something crystal clear arose from my kids’ babble, like this:

Goo gaa foo daa daduh baba iPhone fee fum poopoo Ke$ha

The closest thing I can identify to a first word is “pop”, and really that’s just because it was their most commonly used word as far back as I can remember. More than “Daddy”, more than “Why? Why? Why?”, even slightly more than “Ke$ha”. Have I mentioned my kids love Ke$ha?

So what’s a pop?

A pop is my arch nemesis. My Moriarty. The Tom to my Jerry. It’s a vile plastic narcotic that’s been my childrens’ master since they first wrapped their tiny, toothless gums around one. You know, one of these:

Pop, Pacifier, Nuk, Binky (Shudder.)

Sure, at first pops were cute. I mean, look at this. This is cute:

babypopface-1

You know what’s not as cute? This:popface

OK, it’s a little cute, so maybe you can understand my dilemma.

It all started so sweetly. One day, baby Sutton pointed at a pacifier that was just out of reach and pluckily chirped, “Pop!” Drew and I let out our biggest-ever “Awwwww…” and knew immediately that “pop” was our new term for pacifier, forever.

I never expected “forever” would last three and a half years.

I used to cringe when I would see anyone over the age of zero walking around with a pacifier in his or her mouth. Pacifiers are for babies, Childless Me insisted. Why didn’t that kid’s parents take it away? Were they A) not ready to accept that their kids were growing up, or B) completely incapable of standing up to the little tyrants?

The answer, I now know, is B.

Totally B.

Back when my kids were zero years old, we would scatter a dozen pacifiers around their cribs at night, because if they woke up and couldn’t find one, there would be hell to pay. I developed a unique superpower, the ability to locate a pacifier in the dark at 2 a.m. amid a tangle of bedsheets and Muppet dolls with only the light of my iPhone to guide me.

The only reason we stopped giving them so many pops is that they developed favorites, and they could tell the difference even in complete darkness. My kids had become pop connoisseurs.

So they got to be one year old, and they still used their pops. Big deal. Pops calmed them down, and keeping them calm was my #1 daily challenge. What was the harm?

Pacifiers Are Not Forever, PopagandaThen, they got to be two years old…

Two and a half…

People started telling me to poke holes in the pops so they wouldn’t be as fulfilling to suck on. My mom told me how she finally got me to give up my pacifier when I was too old for it. She simply held it up in one hand, picked up a pair of scissors in the other, then la la la repressed memory la la la childhood trauma la la la.

I couldn’t do that to my kids. They were in love. How would I handle this if they were dating someone I didn’t like? I would never just forbid them from seeing each other. Likewise, a scissor attack seemed a bit drastic.

I would have to orchestrate this breakup gently.

Drew and I quietly began to roll back the availability of the pops. First, we restricted pops to inside the home or the car. No more sucking in restaurants or at playgrounds. That way, at least no one else had to know about our secret shame. A few months after that, we ruled that pops could only be used in the car or at bedtime, the places where we most wanted the kids to be quiet.

We started reading them books about how awesome it is to give up pacifiers. Pop-aganda. No less an authority than Elmo told them it was time.

Elmo, Bye-Bye Pacifier, Bye Bye Binky“Are you guys ready to give up your pops?” we’d ask.

“Yeah!!!”

“Today?”

“No!!!”

Pops quietly took over our lives. I learned to drive on the freeway with one hand on the steering wheel and one permanently arched over the center console, fishing around in the back seat for one kid or the other’s dropped pop. It was safer than the alternative — listening to them scream for the whole ride because they’d lost it.

Ellen Burstyn, Requiem For a DreamFinally, I faced the harsh truth about these ringed plastic menaces. Pops weren’t keeping my kids calm. It was more like the absence of pops was driving my kids crazy. This was an addiction. While I’d quietly enabled them, my toddlers had degenerated into Ellen Burstyn in Requiem For a Dream.

I put my foot down.

No pops. Anymore. Ever.

In the car.

I mean, I still let them use pops at bedtime. I’m not crazy. Do you have any idea what kind of fight that would’ve been?

At first, the new rule went over smoothly. They didn’t even protest. It took a day or two before they started playing dumb. “Where’s my pop?” they’d ask as I pulled out of the driveway.

“We don’t use pops in the car anymore. Remember?”

“But where’s my pop?”

“We don’t use –“

“I want my POPPPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!”

nomorepacifiersWithdrawal was agony for all of us, but we made it. Within a week, they stopped asking for pops in the car.

Bedtime became the new battleground. Every night, I awoke at least once to one kid or the other screaming over the baby monitor, “Daddy! I can’t find my pop!!!”

Slowly, I planted the seeds for the final phase.

“You know who could really use these pops? Your cousin, Grace.”

“Yeah, she’s a baby! Babies love pops!”

“So, the next time we see her, we’re going to leave the pops with her. And then, as a reward, we’ll go to Toys R Us, and you guys can pick out any toy you want!”

“Yay!”

Yes, I bribed them — not because bribing is good parenting, but because bribing works, and sometimes that’s more important.

For months, it went on like this. We talked about giving up the pops, and they loved the idea, because when we discussed it, it always occurred in the future. I could almost hear them assuring me, “I can quit anytime I want to, Daddy.”

Then, finally, this past weekend, we made the trip to my in-laws’ house, where the kids would see their baby cousin.

“Are you guys going to give Grace your pops when we see her?”

“Yes! And then we’ll go to Toys R Us!”

I didn’t even have to remind the kids when we got there. They were eager to do it, as soon as they saw Grace. Still, I knew the real test would come at night. They had never slept popless before.

Once again, though, they surprised me. They were actually excited. “Sleeping without pops is fun!” Sutton announced. They went to bed without pacifiers, and without a fight. They slept, ironically, like babies.

For three days.

We cheered like lunatics for them. “You did it! You slept without pops! You’re big kids now!”

“Can we go to Toys R Us?”

“Yes! The day after we get home, we’ll go!”

“Yay!!!”

Zelda Rubenstein, Poltergeist, This House is CleanStill, something didn’t seem right. It was like the scene in Poltergeist after Zelda Rubenstein proclaims, “This house is clean!” and you just know the worst shit yet is about to go down.

The climactic showdown happened as soon as we returned home.

If Drew and I had thought ahead, we would’ve swept our house of pops before we left, but we didn’t, and ten seconds after we walked in the door, Bennett found an old one behind his bed and shoved it in his mouth.

“Bennett, we’re done with pops, remember?”

Bennett shoved his face in his pillow to hide from us.

“Bennett, give me the pop!”

“WAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!”

It was worse than ever, and while we fought with him, Sutton demanded her pop, too. All that progress, erased in an instant.

Drew and I gathered all the pops and put them out of the kids’ reach. We promised ourselves we wouldn’t give in, no matter how bad things got. And they got pretty bad.

We fought with the kids all night long. They wouldn’t stay in bed. They wouldn’t stop crying. They played on our emotions. “Daddy,” Bennett wailed. “I miss my pop SOOOOO MUCH!!!”

“You can do it!” we told them. “The first night will be hard, but then it’ll get easier. I promise!”

“POPPPPPPPPPPP!!!”

“Stay strong!”

This was rock bottom, but we didn’t cave. We made those kids face their demons. They stared into the abyss, tore their minds apart then built themselves anew.

It was one of the longest nights of our lives, but we made it, all of us. Dawn arrived, and nary a pop had touched anyone’s lips. Success.

I can’t say it was easy for any of us. I can’t say we’ll ever be the same again. But after our agonizing trek to the thundering gullet of Hell and back, we all agreed on one thing.

It had been worth it.

toysrus

Past Posts Revisited: 10 Reasons We (No Longer) Love McDonald’s

A few months ago, I wrote a post wherein I asked my kids what makes them mad.  Sutton’s response was quick and brutal: my singing.  Well, I’d like to state that her opinion has evolved.  Now when the topic comes up, she says, “I don’t like your voice!”

This is why it’s good to update old posts now and then.  Things change.  Sometimes, my kids grow firmer in their convictions, and sometimes, I ease up on mine.

I have to admit I no longer stand fully behind my post on why I love taking my kids to McDonald’s.  At the time I wrote that, we were only one month into our cross-country move.  I had discovered that the local McDonald’s had a family night every Thursday, featuring a nice magician guy.  He made balloon animals for the kids, while I got to enjoy the snotty teenagers heckling him from nearby.  It was a nice routine, at  time when we really needed one.

The free ice cream on Family Night is the world’s tiniest cone. Who says McDonald’s isn’t concerned about childhood obesity?

That was eight months ago, and I’ve discovered more things to do around our new home.  I’ve also gotten thoroughly sick of McFood.  I don’t think I’ll ever become one of those fast food fascists who never lets their kid step foot inside the golden arches because it’s POISON — POISON!!!, but going there once a week is no longer something I proudly recommend.  Here’s my point-by-point rebuttal of my prior post:

1. My kids are always the best behaved children there.

Still true… but also a source of concern.  You know those balloon animals the magician makes?  My kids ask for giraffes and flowers.  The other kids get swords and guns.  Then they battle each other to the “death” (if only).

Worse are the McDonald’s-es with play places.  Now that my kids know those exist, it’s hard to get them to go to a location without one.  Sure, that labyrinthine plastic apparatus lets them work off the ocean of calories they just consumed, but when you put all those kids together in a confined space, just out of grown-ups’ reach, it’s bound to turn into a miniature, neon-colored Thunderdome.

Adults have no jurisdiction inside those twisty, netted structures, because they simply can’t fit inside or even see what’s going on up there.  There are always some little monsters quick to take advantage of the lack of supervision and go all Lord of the Flies on each other.  It’s a Hobbesian state of nature, every pipsqueak for himself.

My kids mostly stay above the fray in this pop warner Hunger Games… but I wonder how long that will last if we keep going there.  The day I see them with pig blood smeared under their eyes, we’re outta there.

This piece of crap kept my kid busy for 20 minutes.

2. The meal comes with its own entertainment.

My kids still love Happy Meal toys… unless they’re given two different toys and one of them gets a better one than the other… or they’re given the exact same toy but one of them still thinks the other’s is better… or they both get crap toys.  I cringe when I first peek in the bags to see what the toys will be, hoping they will meet my kids’ approval.

3. It kills time.

It’s great getting out of the house for a while… but McDonald’s is not really a fun place for a grownup to be.  If only the McAcoustics didn’t so greatly amplify the shrieking and stomping, maybe I could zone out a bit and forget that the chicken sandwich I’m eating is hastening my demise.

4. The zit-faced 16-year-old slaving over the grill for minimum wage is a better cook than me.

Hey, kid, ease up on the salt… or at least throw some beta-blockers in the Happy Meal box.  Sheesh.

5. It’s an excuse for me to eat McDonald’s.

Nothing on the McDonald’s menu appeals to me anymore.  When I wanted to be sorta healthy, I ordered a salad… which is basically just a chicken sandwich (you can even get it breaded and fried!) on a bed of iceberg lettuce instead of a bun.  Eventually I realized that I could get a halfway decent salad by taking the kids to Panera Bread instead, and they could eat grilled cheese sandwiches instead of French fries.  If one of us is going to settle for food they’re less-than-thrilled about, I’d prefer it be them and not me.

6. It’s cheap(ish).

Panera Bread is about the same.

7. It’s low maintenance food.

So is Panera Bread.

8. They eat a full meal there.

Not anymore.  The food doesn’t have nearly the appeal it used to. My son can eat a peanut butter sandwich every meal, every day and never complain.  But even for him, one serving of McNuggets a week is sufficient.

Half the time, I have to beg them to eat a second McNugget just to make sure they won’t McStarve.  Honestly, they eat more at Panera Bread.

9. The food’s not much worse than what I serve at home.

The food at Panera is better.

10. McDonald’s teaches my kids the value of moderation.

You know what teaches them the value of moderation even better?  That three out of four times we eat out, we go to Panera Bread, instead of McDonald’s.

McDonald’s has become more of a once-a-month destination, and personally, that’s made my meals a lot happier.

When I think back on that original post, I still understand what I felt at the time, I’ve just grown since then.  (Mostly, I’ve grown sick of the food.)  If you’re still in more of a once-a-week mode yourself, more power to you.  I would never judge anyone for taking their kids to McDonald’s that much.  Hey, I’ve been there.

A word of advice, though: if they open a Panera near you, check it out.  And if you have any other family-friendly dining suggestions, please let me know.  I’m gonna be SOOOOOO sick of that place in a few months.

******

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Our Little Hit Man

Sometimes, there’s no mistaking the fact that my children are being raised by two gay men, like when we go to Barnes & Noble and the first thing they want to do is jump up on the kiddie stage and belt out the new Madonna song.  “L-U-V!  Madonna!”

It’s happened more than once.

It’s not like we encourage it.  Maybe they were born that way.

Still, we weren’t too surprised when we took them to the park and they made a raised platform into a stage for their latest singing and dancing extravaganza.

“Y-O-U!  You wanna!”

What did surprise us was how we ended up in the emergency room twenty minutes later.

It all happened very fast.  Sutton stepped in front of Bennett, Bennett got annoyed and, like Nomi Malone in Showgirls (a reference they will surely come to appreciate someday), he gave Sutton a very deliberate and fateful shove.

Drew and I both saw her fall, but she was just out of our diving distance.  We dove anyway, and then we heard it…

THUNK.

More than the horrifying image of Sutton tumbling head-first off the “stage”, what I’ll remember most is the sound.  My daughter’s skull against the hard brick walkway below it.

THUNK.

Then, a scream.  The scream started instantly, which I knew was a good sign from when we were afraid Bennett had a concussion.  There was no debating, though.  This merited a trip to the ER.

I raced back to our minivan with our hysterical daughter in my arms.  I tried to feel her legs.  Were they moving?  Did she react when I touched them?  Geez, was I crazy for having such horrific thoughts?  The fall had uprooted significant chunks of her hair, which were coming out in my hands, covered in tears and snot.

Thankfully, though, no blood.  Everyone says head injuries bleed an unfathomable amount.  How was it that she was not bleeding at all?

It had been a huge fall.  Drew and I both guessed it was about two and a half feet, roughly the entire length of her fragile little body.  It was bad.

I sat on the floor of the van, holding Sutton’s hand, as Drew sped down the Bronx River Parkway.  We knew just how to get to the hospital because it had only been two weeks since Bennett was there.  Our second trip in less than a month for a possible concussion.  We fully expected a social worker to interrogate us in a dimly lit room.

After about ten minutes, Sutton calmed down.  I wiped her nose and dried her tears.  I tucked the loose strands of hair into the seatback pocket so she wouldn’t see them and panic.  She was moving all her limbs, and she said her head didn’t hurt now.

“Bennett pushed me off the stage,” she said, over and over.  She didn’t seem angry.  She was just recounting the story, the way she might say, “I saw four gooses” or “My donut was chocolate” after a happier trip out of the house.

I reassured her anyway.  “It was an accident.  Right, Bennett?”

Right?

The truth was, I couldn’t be sure.  Bennett had been going through a hitting phase.  Mostly, he hit the wall or his highchair tray when he was angry about something.  Sometimes, he hit his sister or me.

How did this happen to my kids?  They loved each other.  They were best friends.  They spontaneously held hands all the time.  How could one purposely do something that would land the other in the hospital?

Now Bennett was complaining.  He didn’t like being stuck in the ER.  He didn’t like the TV shows that were playing.  He was hungry.  I took him for a walk, but he didn’t like the big fish tank in the children’s hospital lobby.  He wanted to leave.

So I took him to the minivan, strapped him in his seat and closed the doors.  He thought I was taking him home, but the truth was I brought him here so I could yell at him at the volume I felt the situation demanded.

“YOU HURT YOUR SISTER!  DON’T YOU REALIZE THAT’S WHY WE’RE AT THE HOSPITAL?  WE’RE LUCKY SHE ISN’T HURT MUCH WORSE!  NONE OF US WANT TO BE HERE, BUT YOU’D BETTER STOP COMPLAINING BECAUSE IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!”

This failed to calm him down.

Four hours later, the doctor sent us home.  Sutton was fine.  No concussion, barely even a bump at the point of impact.

Drew and I have driven past the park since then, and we’ve revised our estimates downward.  The fall was closer to a foot and a half, if that.  Maybe we overreacted due to the circumstances.  Maybe the horror of the moment was bigger than just the fall.  We needed a doctor to calm us.  We needed to hear that our little girl wasn’t so badly hurt, but we also wanted to believe that our little boy wasn’t really so bad.

It wasn’t long ago that both kids were completely baffled by violence.  Now, however it happened, it’s part of our lives.

The kids have learned from the experience, but so far, not the lessons we might’ve hoped.  Mostly, they’ve learned that if you get hurt, your dads freak out and take you to the hospital, where they let you eat chocolate chip cookies from the cafeteria.  Bennett will trip and fall in the living room, then announce, “I’m hurt.  I need to go to the hospital.”

He still hits.  We’re working on it.  We’ve tried time outs.  We’ve tried rewarding him with YouTube videos if he can go all day without hitting.  We read him kiddie propaganda books like “Hands are Not For Hitting” to get the message across.

It wasn’t such a severe hit at the park that day.  They never are.  He doesn’t have the strength.  His hands are tiny and soft like cotton swabs.  He swats with them, and half the time when he takes a swing at you, he misses altogether.  When he does it, you want to laugh.

We don’t laugh, though.  Those tiny, meek little swipes he takes can have quite an impact.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out Drew’s response in the comment section.  Also, Drew pointed out to me that the kids weren’t singing the Madonna song that day.  They were actually singing “I Want to Rock” from Yo Gabba Gabba, another favorite of theirs.

Confessions of a Bad Dad: My Sick Kid

Of all the roles being a dad has forced me into, the one I’ve been least prepared for is “doctor”.

It took three nights of Bennett throwing up before I took him to see a medical professional.  She checked him out, diagnosed it as the flu and sent us home.

It was half an hour later when I remembered that big head injury the boy had suffered the day the vomiting started.  I called the doctor back.  Hmm… could that be a factor?

She told me to rush him to the ER.

The ER doctor wasn’t as concerned about the head injury as she was about how dehydrated my kid was.  She could tell just by looking at him that he was dangerously low on fluids, and sure enough, the blood tests backed her up.  She put him on an IV and told us we’d be staying there overnight.  She couldn’t believe the first doctor hadn’t recognized the symptoms as easily as she did.

I couldn’t believe I let my kid get so dehydrated that he had to spend the night in a hospital.

On the bright side, being in the hospital meant he got unlimited use of two things we usually minimize his exposure to – his pacifier and the iPad.  That kept him happy for an hour or so.

The doctor said Bennett could eat whatever he wanted, and he shouted out, “Peanut butter sandwich!”  I may not have given my kid enough to drink over the last couple of days, but I was going to make sure he got that peanut butter sandwich, pronto.

We were lucky to be in a very well-equipped children’s ward.  They had a big playroom full of toys and books, a life-size firetruck kids could climb in, and outside, there was a full train car sitting on the lawn.  We spent about two minutes in the firetruck before Bennett was put on “contact restrictions”.  That meant he couldn’t leave his room, and everyone who came in had to wear a rubber gown and gloves so they didn’t catch whatever he had.  It was kind of like the third act of E.T., where they terrifyingly tent and sterilize the house, only without a magical alien to calm the crying kid.

I hate hospitals.

Just to rule out a serious head injury, Bennett had a CT scan, which thankfully scared me more than it did him.  That came back negative.  Whew.  Next was an EEG.  By then, he was insisting, “I feel better!”  In other words, “Get me out of this place!”

The EEG technician wanted to get a reading of Bennett’s brain waves while he was asleep.  “Do you have a way to get him to sleep?” she asked.

It’s one of those completely asinine questions a parent secretly craves getting.  “Um, you might try unhooking him from all these terrifying machines, for starters.”  “Yeah, I know the secret to getting two-year-olds to fall asleep, and did I mention I’m the world’s richest billionaire?”  The possibilities for snark were endless.

He did eventually fall asleep.  It turned out the tech only needed about five minutes of sleep readings, after which she stood over him and announced, “He can wake up now.”

Then, before I knew what was going on, she stuck her hands in Bennett’s face and started clapping loudly to wake him up.  To be honest, I think what woke Bennett up was the sound of me screaming at this lady for being such an idiot.

The next morning, Bennett’s fluids were back in the acceptable range, and the doctors told us we could go home.  Bennett couldn’t wait to see his sister – and, more importantly, the train car outside which he’d been able to stare at through his window but not visit.

Just as we were packing up, the doctor returned.  There was something questionable on the EEG, so she decided to keep us another night and do a 24-hour video EEG on the kid.  Forget waterboarding.  Try telling a two-year-old that the tiny box he’s confined to will be his home one more day, during which time a rotating group of strangers will continue poking painful holes in him.

“Remember that hat you wore with the wires on it?” I explained.  “Well, you’re getting another one.”

“Go home!” he cried, in the saddest little voice a daddy’s ever heard.  “I’m done!  Go home!”

I assumed the second EEG would be much like the first, but when they need the electrodes to stay on for 24 hours, they use glue.  In order to make the glue dry fast, they blast it with pressurized air from a deafening, rumbling machine.  Over and over, for 45 minutes.

(You’ll notice fewer pictures from this point on.  I took some, but I can’t bear to look at them again.)

Until this point, Bennett had been a super sport about the whole experience.  A few seconds of tears with every blood draw, and that’s it.  But this procedure led to 45 minutes of solid screaming – and who can blame him?  To me, it sounded as if he were saying, “Why, Daddy, why?” on an endless loop.  All I could do was shout over the sound of the air machine to tell him how well he was doing.

When the procedure was done, he was tethered to a machine and couldn’t move more than three feet away from his bed at any time.  It was the least free space he’d had since he was in the surrogate’s womb 2 1/2 years ago.

Drew slept in the hospital the second night, and I went home to stay with Sutton.  As difficult as it was being in the hospital with Bennett, it was much harder being away from him.  That’s when I really began to worry.

Sutton had been in bed for two hours when I heard her screaming over the baby monitor.  I ran in and was overcome by the smell of regurgitated mac & cheese.

“What happened?” she cried.

I checked her crib.  It was everywhere.  On her blanket, her dolls, the mattress.  “You threw up,” I told her.

She stopped crying.  “I threw up.  Like Bennett did?”  A smile broke out on her face.  “I threw up like Bennett did!”  I had never seen her prouder of herself.

I smiled a little bit, too, because if she caught Bennett’s illness, that meant it was unlikely he had a concussion.

“How would you like to drink a big glass of water?” I asked.

The next day, I returned to the hospital so I could be there when Bennett got his electrodes removed.  The EEG specialist looked at me and Drew standing over our son, and her eyes widened.  “Are you two dads?”

It was hard not to wonder where she might be headed with this question.  When people make the case for gay marriage, they always mention how crappily gay couples are treated in hospitals.  “Uh… yeah.”

“Oh my God!” she shouted.  “I can’t believe it!  I need to give y’all a hug!”  She tore off her rubber gown and gloves and did just that.

“You’re the first two dads I’ve ever met!  I’ve only seen them on TV!”

Another nurse told her to get over it, but Drew and I made it clear we enjoyed the attention.  We’re shameless, I tell you.

“I hear people saying bad things about two dads, and it makes me so angry.  Just let everybody do their thing, that’s what I say!  I think it’s terrific!”

Bennett was laughing.  We talk a lot about how cool we are for having two dads in our family, and finally, we had a complete stranger to corroborate it.

Thankfully, the electrodes came off much easier than they went on.  A few minutes later, Bennett’s special hat was gone.

We still had no idea when we were going home.  We had to wait for someone to do a reading of 24 hours of squiggly lines and make sure there was no bad news inside.  Drew went home to see Sutton (whose uncles were taking good care of her – another reminder why we moved back East), and Bennett and I decided to take a nap on the pull-out couch.  I curled up with him under a blanket, and we both fell asleep.

An hour or so later, we were awakened by a knock on the door.  “How would you like to go home?”  The doctor said the EEG looked OK, so we were being discharged.

“Like, we can leave right now?”

“Yup!”

I packed up our stuff in record time.  I wasn’t going to sit around and let the doctors change their minds again.

“Bennett, see that train out the window?  What do you say we go check it out?”

Trains are probably Bennett’s second favorite thing in the world.  His favorite is balloons, but the one balloon he had no interest in was his get well balloon.  He decided he didn’t want to bring it home with him, so we left it behind with all our half-eaten cafeteria food.

Soon, we were outside.  Bennett ran up to the train, only to find the gate was locked.  After all that waiting, the train was just for show.  You weren’t actually allowed to go inside it.

Like I said, I hate hospitals.

Confessions of a Bad Dad: 10 Reasons We Love McDonald’s

People say the nicest things in my comments section:

“You’re such a great parent!”

“Your kids are so lucky!”

“Will you have babies with me?”

I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist.  Just pure, sweet, huggy affection.  When I read my blog comments, I’m filled with warmth, joy and hope for the future.

Then I kick back and go, “Hahaha, suckers!”

The truth is, I have you all fooled.  Sure, I sound like an amazing dad in these blog posts.  But guess who writes these blog posts?  Yup, that’s right…

This guy!  

Well, I gave that guy the day off.  Today you’ll get to meet the other me, the one my kids know very well but the rest of the world rarely gets to see…

Jerry the Bad Dad.

(Cue the sleazy 70s funk music.)

Jerry the Bad Dad doesn’t make “wise choices” for his children.

He doesn’t listen to Dr. Spock or the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Hmph!

Jerry the Bad Dad makes his own rules.  He goes rogue.  He makes mistakes… but not apologies.

Jerry the Bad Dad… you so BAAAAAAD!

Just how bad is Jerry the Bad Dad?  Well, get this:

I take my kids to McDonald’s!

Yes, that place!

(Record scratch, screams of horror and disgust.)

That’s right.  My two-year-olds are no strangers to the sweet, salty seduction of McFood.  I can feel you judging me already, but it’s worse than you think.  We’re regulars there.  We go once a week.  They know us there.

McDonald’s is our Cheers.

If you’re not already rolling over in disgust or calling Child Protective Services on me, then allow me to tell you why.

I have some very BAAAAAAAD reasons!

1. My kids are always the best behaved children there.  You want to feel good about your kids?  Take them to McDonald’s.  Have you seen some of the riff-raff toddling around that joint?  Yeesh, instead of booths, they should have cages.  There’s a reason they don’t give out nunchucks in Happy Meals – those little monsters would use them.

Sure, I’d love to take my kids to The Four Seasons, but there, the clientele tends to frown upon customers screeching out “Movin’ Right Along” at the top of their lungs while shoving Dora fruit snacks up their nose.  At McDonald’s, as long as your little ones aren’t running around knifing cashiers, everyone’s coming up to you for parenting tips.

Winning.

2. The meal comes with its own entertainment.  There’s a reason my diaper bag weighs 200 pounds.  It’s because every time we go out, I bring half the contents of our toy chest in hopes of keeping the kids happy for the duration of dinner.  At McDonald’s, I don’t need any of that stuff, because the kids get a brand new toy with their happy meal.  Yes, it’s always some piece of junk tied into a lame kids’ movie and it breaks as soon as we get home, but so what?  It kept them busy while Daddy ate his McSalad, so it served its purpose.

3. It kills time.  I’m sure I don’t have to explain this one to other stay-home parents, but sometimes the biggest challenge every day is just finding activities to keep the kids occupied.  I’ll come up with a brilliant idea like hide and seek, and they’ll get bored with it in two minutes.  You ever tried playing hide and seek with kids who refuse to hide or seek?  It gets old fast.

That’s why I love eating out.  Dinner at home might take twenty minutes, but a trip to McDonald’s, including putting coats on, loading them in the car, driving there and back, ordering and actually eating the food, can last a blissful hour and a half.  We don’t even go to a McDonald’s with a play area.  If we did that, they might stay all afternoon.

4. The zit-faced 16-year-old slaving over the grill for minimum wage is a better cook than me.  I don’t know his secret, but his Angus Third Pounders are always fried, flipped and oversalted to perfection.  McDonald’s is a welcome break for our whole family – for me not to have to cook… and for the kids not to have to eat my cooking.  So whoever that is in the hairnet behind the electronic order screen, my compliments to you, young chef!  And the red-haired clown out front, too.

5. It’s an excuse for me to eat McDonald’s.  Seriously, have you tried those Angus Third Pounders?  Damn, that’s the sweet stuff!

6. It’s cheap(ish).  Have you been to one of those chain restaurants lately, like Uno’s or T.G.I. Fridays?  These days, they all advertise on their kids menu that they use Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.  Well, guess what?  I know what Kraft Macaroni & Cheese costs, and it ain’t $6 a serving.  Sure, McDonald’s marks up their prices, too, but at least they don’t shove it in my face and make me feel like a moron.  My whole family of four eats there for under $20, and I don’t end up giving my kids something I could – and do – give them at home for $1.29 a box.

7. It’s low maintenance food.  It’s a tenet of dining out that the price of the food is directly related to how cold it’ll get before the parents get a chance to eat it.  Take your kids to a steakhouse and you’ll spend half an hour carving their filet into pebble-sized portions they’re actually capable of digesting.  Then comes the convincing.  “C’mon, it tastes like a hamburger!”  You know how to solve that problem?  Just get them a damn hamburger in the first place.  Done.

At McDonald’s, the kids recognize everything on the menu, and all of it is bite-sized.  I don’t have to cut, coax or cajole.  All I have to do is open the happy meal box and let them go to town.  I may not get to eat prime rib myself, but at least I’ll enjoy my McChicken before its core temperature registers on the Kelvin scale.

8. They eat a full meal there.  I often wonder why the kids don’t finish the meals I make them at home.  Were they just not hungry?  Or did my turkey meatballs suck?

At McDonald’s, I know they’re eating as much as they want.  They usually finish everything, but if there is food left over, it’s not because they didn’t like it.  Sure, the food is garbage, but honestly…

9. The food’s not much worse than what I serve at home.  I know that what McDonald’s scrapes off the slaughterhouse floor to put in their burgers isn’t exactly Kobe beef, but then again, what’s in those hot dogs I buy at the supermarket?  Are the chicken nuggets we heat in the microwave so much more full of vitamins and minerals than McNuggets?

Fair enough.  When I’m at home, I can at least try to make things nutritious.  Even Jerry the Bad Dad always puts a fruit and a vegetable on the high chair trays, and he does buy organic (well, you know, sometimes maybe he does).  Overall, my kids are better off eating my dinners than a fast food dinner.  But that’s why we don’t eat McDonald’s every day.

Which brings me to my final point…

10. McDonald’s teaches my kids the value of moderation.  It’s not like I tell my kids that McDonald’s is healthy food.  But by limiting the number of times we go there, I’m letting them know it’s a special treat we can’t have too often.  Only by going to McDonald’s can my kids appreciate the value of not going to McDonald’s, which, after all, is what we do most of the time.

They rarely ask for it anymore, and when they do, I just remind them that fast food is OK once in a while, but we can’t eat it every day.  It’s a special treat that we can only have when Daddy says so… just like TV.

Oh yeah, TV.  I know the doctors all say that kids who are exposed to even five minutes of TV before they turn 2 will instantly morph into raging chain-tantruming paste eaters with droopy eyelids, but… well… you see…

Eh, I’ll save that for another post.