We Were On “The Today Show”

I never planned to put my kids on camera.  I mean, my cameras, sure.  I have about 10 bajillion hours of video of them doing completely mundane things like drooling or singing that new Taylor Swift song, which in my son’s interpretation, goes like this:

“We are never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, NEVER EVER EVER, NEVER EVER EVER… WE ARE NEVER EVER EVER…”

That’s it, over and over.  It never ends.  Never ever ever.

You can see why I keep these things to myself.

On the other hand, I feel a kind of parental duty to educate people about my family, to make the world a better, more understanding place for my kids, and of course, other kids in nontraditional families.

So when my friend Robin Sindler, who’s smart and talented and amazing and just happens to be a producer for The Today Show, came to me and asked if she could shoot a segment on our family, I thought about it for a bit and then said yes.

Then Drew said no.

Then, Robin said she would fly Susie down for an interview, meaning we’d get to spend a few days with her and her daughter, Grace.

We talked about it a lot, and eventually Drew agreed that if we were ever going to do something like this, we’d want to do it with someone we trust, on a show we respect, so our lives don’t get Jerry Springer-ized or used as a jumping-off point for some loudmouthed debate.

The Susie visit was a bonus, and of course, no story about my family would be complete unless it adequately praised Susie for her gift to us.

A few days later, Robin arrived with a small (and terrific) crew, and Drew and I slogged through what was probably our worst day of parenting ever.  We said things like, “Careful with Daddy’s mic pack!”  “Stay on the swing and keep smiling!”  And, “If you can just make it through one more bit of b-roll, we’ll have McDonald’s for lunch.”  We made the kids sit in the basement watching Beauty & The Beast while we shot our interview.  When Grace started crying, we asked Susie to take her for a walk so it wouldn’t ruin our audio.

We filmed at our swim class.  Usually, Drew’s at work for swim class, and I’m forced to sit with the other parents in a galley area so I don’t distract the kids.  For the camera crew, they let us sit at the edge of the pool, with our feet in the water.  The kids got to swim up to us and show us their moves, while a camera pushed in on their dripping wet faces.  They felt like movie stars.

It reminded me of all the reasons I never wanted our kids to be child actors.  “This is just for one day,” I kept reminding Drew.

I knew it had made an impression a couple of weeks later when we were reading one of my kids’ books.  (I think it was a Curious George book, but I can’t seem to find it now.)  There was a picture of a camera crew, including a woman who was standing in the back, taking notes on a small pad.  Sutton pointed at her and said, “That’s the producer!”

We had no idea how the piece would turn out or how many months would elapse before it would air.  It turned out it was only about three weeks.

I was terrified to watch it.  I didn’t want the kids to see it.  Drew had it on in his office, and he promised to call me afterward with his assessment.

“Go turn it on now,” he demanded.  “Sit and watch it with the kids.  It’s beautiful.”

So we did.  I backed up my Tivo and sat with the kids on the couch.

They were most excited to see their cousin Grace.  “Oh, she’s so cute!” they squealed.  I think they’re so used to seeing videos of themselves that they didn’t see this as anything special.  When it was over, Sutton asked, “Now can we watch another show about us?”

I’ve heard from lots of people since this piece aired — friends who loved hearing the story for what was probably the millionth time, strangers who enjoyed hearing it for the first time.  Now that we’ve seen it, we have no regrets.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy it, too.  It may be the last time you see us on TV for a while.

Until I can figure out how to embed, you can click here to watch the segment.

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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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.