(l-r) Awesome, Cool, Hilarious Daddy; Daddy

My Two Daddies… The Awesome, Cool, Hilarious Daddy, and the Other One

(l-r) Awesome, Cool, Hilarious Daddy; Daddy

(l-r) Awesome, Cool, Hilarious Daddy; Daddy

There was nothing I wanted to inherit from my father more than the name “Dad.” I loved my dad, and in my mind, he was indelibly tied to that particular sobriquet. “Dad” was a term of love and respect for me, a part of all my memories of childhood and a crucial element of how I defined my family. The problem, when I actually became a dad, was that my partner Drew wanted to be called “Dad,” too — or, in the early years, “Daddy.”

“You can’t both be Dad,” a million people warned us. “That’ll be so confusing for your kids.”

They suggested we go by “Daddy” and “Papa,” which seem to be the go-to designations for gay dads these days. No matter how much we considered it, though, “Papa” felt like the consolation prize, and neither of us would agree to settle for it. We both grew up with dads whom we loved very much, so that’s what we wanted to be. Finally, we found someone who gave us the answer we were looking for.

“We’ve never had a problem,” a business associate of Drew’s told us one day. He and his partner had an eight-year-old son who called them both “Dad.”

“Is it ever confusing?”

He shrugged. “When it is, he finds ways to differentiate.”

So we went for it. Before they could even understand speech, our twins heard the word “Daddy” thousands of times. To them, “Daddy” came to mean two different men and one common function. They called for Daddy to kiss their boo-boos and to break up their disputes, not knowing for sure whether the tall guy or the short guy would walk through the door. When they didn’t get the Daddy they were hoping for, they made their displeasure known.

My kids will turn 4 this summer, and already, they’re pros at differentiating between their two dads. Their favorite way is to use modifiers like “Silly Daddy” or “Funny Daddy”, and in those cases, we all know instantly who they mean — not me. When they take the extra effort to throw in a compliment like that, they’re always talking about Drew. I’m just plain old “Daddy.” Some days, Papa doesn’t sound so bad to me anymore.

I want to plead my case: “Remember when I sang Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’, but I changed every word to ‘poop’? Didn’t we have a lot of laughs then?” But I don’t want to end up as “Desperate Daddy,” so I keep my hurt feelings to myself.

I’m the stay-home parent, so while the kids and I do have fun together, I’m also the guy who enforces naptime and who makes them take off their dress-up clothes while they eat their healthy dinners. At night, when Silly Daddy is at his most uproarious, I’m groaning and trying to rush them to bed, because I’m exhausted from all the unfunny things I do all day.

… which brings me to the one distinction that hurts more than Silly Daddy vs. Just Daddy. At some point, my kids started calling my partner “The Daddy Who Goes To Work” and I became “The Daddy Who Stays Home”. Was that how they saw things? Drew was defined by his job, but I was defined by my location, by the fact that you could usually find me within 20 feet of the bed where I slept last night?

These kids didn’t know me before I was Daddy. I used to have a career, too, one that I enjoyed, and that allowed me to live a lot more comfortably than I do now. I took vacations. I saved for my retirement. I saw movies in the theater.

I thought I was trading that in for something better, a more interesting and adventurous life path. I was going to be a dad — a professional dad — and a gay dad at that. Take that, status quo!

Instead, I’ve ended up like most stay-home parents, the clichéd unappreciated house-spouse. I’ll find myself cracking privately to friends, “You know what they should be calling me? The Daddy Who Gave Up His Life for Us!”

It turns out that deciding who I would be to my kids wasn’t as simple as choosing what they would call me. I still love being referred to as “Daddy,” but I’ve come to accept that that term doesn’t mean the same to them as it did to me when I was growing up. For my kids, “Daddy” is an ever-evolving designation, one that requires adjustment at times, complete overhaul at others.

Recently, they decided that “The Daddy Who Stays Home” wasn’t quite working for them anymore. Without notice, they gave it a subtle twist, one that probably seemed minor to them but which brought me instantly out of my funk. It materialized as my daughter drew pictures of two men’s faces, which looked very similar except that one had spiky purple hair and one had a red crew cut. “This is the Daddy Who Goes to Work,” she said, pointing to the first one.

“And this,” she said, holding up the other picture proudly, “is the Daddy Who Takes Care of Us.”

"The Daddy Who Takes Care of Us"

“The Daddy Who Takes Care of Us”

*****

OK, you saw the asterisks. You know what that means. This is the part of the post where I shamelessly ask you to share this post (or my blog in general) on your social networks. Facebook me, tweet me, surprise me. If you like something I wrote here, help me out by spreading the word. If you hate it, then you can still share it, because hey, traffic is traffic, and your friends might have better taste than you. Also, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and wherever else you can find me. I’m not the type of guy who plays hard to find.

My Little Mean Girl

sutton1

“If a baby came to my house, I would hit it so that it would leave my house.”

That’s a direct quote from my 3-year-old daughter, Sutton, whom I’ve previously declared to be the sweetest little girl in the world. I don’t say that as much anymore, and when I do say it, she’s quick to correct me.

“No,” she’ll insist. “I’m a mean girl!”

snow white, evil witch, apple

(l., what most little girls want to be; r., my daughter)

She’ll say it with the wicked delight of a Disney villainess. Speaking of those, she’s endlessly fascinated by them. “Just take onnnnnnne biiiiiiiiite,” she cackles constantly, in a creepily uncanny impersonation of the evil queen tempting Snow White with her poison apple. She went as Ariel from the Little Mermaid last Halloween, but only after we struggled in vain to find her an Ursula costume. One of her favorite YouTube clips of late is an edit someone did of Sleeping Beauty with only Maleficent’s dialogue included. Why waste time with anything else, right?

I think she’s doing research.

How did this happen to my delightful little angel? Well, the baby thing can be explained with some backstory. She said it right after a baby took a toy away from her, and everyone defended the baby. “She doesn’t know any better!” grown-ups (like me) assured her. Sutton just glared at this tiny, adorable little creature everybody loved who did something selfish and got away with it. That’s the origin story of an evil queen if I’ve ever heard one.

It wasn’t her resentment of the baby that bothered me. It was the ferocity with which she clung to it. “I don’t like babies!” she swore. “Babies should all go away!” Replace “baby” with any racial epithet and it might’ve been a Strom Thurmond speech from the 1950s. One baby wronged her, one time, and she became a raging baby racist.

sutton2By all appearances, Sutton is more of a Cinderella than a Wicked Stepsister. She’s a beautiful little girl with a sense of style far beyond anything she inherited from her dads. She knows how to pick out just the right shoes to complement each of her favorite dresses. She’s self-assured and funny, even if her favorite joke at this age is just to reply “Poopy!” to everything. She’s also ridiculously smart. A few weeks ago, we read in a book that a character’s feelings were “fragile”. She asked what that meant, and I said, “Fragile means something breaks easily.” The next day, her brother was playing with a snow globe, and I warned him to be careful with it. “It’s fragile!” Sutton shouted.

Her teacher described her as the Mayor of her preschool class, because she’s a born leader who bounces from one group to another to see how everyone’s doing. She’s incredibly chatty, and when she wants to start a conversation, she’ll just sit across from me, cock her head thoughtfully to one side and ask, “So… what’s your interesting?” (It’s become her catch phrase.) She has every quality you could ask for in a daughter. She’s smart, charming, self-confident and totally fearless.

I’ve seen “Mean Girls”. This is a recipe for disaster.

Already, she’s built up an unheard-of immunity to discipline. I might tell her to pick up her toys or she’ll lose dessert. Rather than pick up her toys, she’ll scream her head off and accuse me of being unfair. I’ll tell her if she doesn’t stop screaming, then I’ll take away one of her YouTube videos at bedtime (part of our nightly routine). She’ll scream louder, and I’ll say, “OK, you lost one video. You want to lose another one?” Scream. “OK, that’s two videos you’ve lost. Want to go for all three?”

john-benderIt’s like John Bender racking up Saturday detentions in the Breakfast Club. I can’t win. The only punishment that has any impact is the first one, but then I’m burdened with enforcing an endless string of post-punishment punishments because she was too stubborn to back down. I admit it. I can’t compete on her level. And now she’s made me identify with Mr. Vernon. Curses!

I’ve been telling the kids a lot about Harry Potter lately, and guess who’s piqued Sutton’s interest? That’s right. He Who Shall Not Be Named, Whose Name My Daughter Won’t Stop Saying. She pleaded with me to show her a picture of him, even though I warned her he was very scary looking. Bennett covered his eyes while I did the Google Image search, but Sutton was riveted.I told her about the four houses at Hogwarts that the Sorting Hat can send you to, and guess where she begged to go?

“Slytherin! The one with the mean guys!”

LordvoldemortLook, I love my daughter no matter what. Just because I’m worried she might end up as Cruella de Vil, it doesn’t mean I won’t teach her how to count to 101. I’ll probably even tip her off where she can score some Dalmatians. (Psst, firehouses!) I just want for my kids what every parent wants, for them to be cooler than I was at their age. (Granted, this sets the bar pretty low.) In Sutton’s case, I have no worries whatsoever. Who’s cooler than the villain?

Sutton’s preschool teacher also called her “The nicest thief in the world” because she likes to take toys from other kids, and then when the kid complains, she’ll drip false sincerity and reply, “Oh, I’m so sorry! Here you go!”

That’s another thing she does really well — apologies. (It helps when you’ve had as much practice as she’s had.) On some level, my daughter is still the sweetest girl in the world. She loves to dance, play and laugh, she loves to give hugs and kisses, and she tells me all the time, totally unprompted, how much she loves me. I’ve never actually seen her hit a baby — or anyone, in fact. She’s a darling little girl, honestly, a total angel.

I’m keeping an eye on her, though. Consider yourself warned.

2012Yearbook-148

“So… what’s your interesting?”

Video

So… I Guess I May Actually Kinda Be On TV Sorta Soon

Newhart, Weenie, Vermont TodayI want to tell you a story about my favorite episode of Newhart, Bob Newhart’s second sitcom. In this series, Bob was a humble Vermont inkeeper named Dick Louden, who, as the show’s producers searched for sharks to jump, became a host of a local cable TV talk show. (They never jumped that shark, by the way. The best episodes came after Dick started his TV gig.)

Dick kept his show low-key and respectable, as PBS as possible, against the wishes of his cheesy, more FOX-like producer, Michael (my hero, Peter Scolari). Dick’s idol was newsman Edwin Newman, and in the episode I’m going to tell you about, he actually books Newman as a guest. But Newman cancels at the last minute, and the fill-in guest is a phony spoon-bending psychic from the mall. Grumpy about losing his A-list guest for this clown, Dick calls the psychic a “weenie” on air. In typical Bob Newhart style, this is the extent of him blowing his cool, and afterward, he’s mortified at his momentary breach of journalistic decorum.

To his surprise, though, ratings go through the roof, and before long, his producer is intentionally booking lunatic guests who will bait Dick into calling them “weenies”. They even add a peanut gallery of overhyped audience members chanting, “WEE-NIE! WEE-NIE! WEE-NIE!”

Dick gets caught up in the spectacle and basically morphs into Jerry Springer, though I should add that this was four years before Jerry Springer’s talk show debuted. This was satire at its finest, people.

Have I mentioned that I love this show?

Well, I always thought that I’d make terrible television because I’m not a weenie shouter. I’m more like Dick at the beginning of the episode — quiet, reserved and just a tad sarcastic. Somehow, though, a few weeks ago, I was approached to do weekly roundtable segments for a new show that’ll be airing on HLN (the former Headline News, CNN’s sister network) called Raising America with Kyra Phillips. The premise of the show is to report the news through a parent’s eye and with correspondents who are parents like me. Hey, I’m a parent like me! No wonder they picked me!

I didn’t announce my big news on this blog, because I was roughly 100+% convinced that, as soon as they saw me do some sort of rehearsal, they’d realize they made a terrible mistake and they’d find someone else to be their token “Dad blogger from a nontraditional family in the Northeast”.

Today was the rehearsal. A few minutes before I was scheduled to Skype in for my segment, a producer sent me a list of topics we might discuss, including this one, Snoop Lion to Educate Children on Smoking Weed. Here’s all you really need to read from that article:

The rapper said he would be happy to provide guidance to the eight and nine-year-olds he coaches at the Orange County Junior All America Football League on how to avoid irresponsible drug use.

‘It’s not that I would ever push weed on our kids,’ Snoop explained.

‘But if they wanted to, I would love to show them how. The right way, so that way they won’t get nothing put in their s*** or overdose or trying some s*** that ain’t clean.’

A great topic for discussion, but I could only imagine how a panel of parents would react. We’d all just be trying to out-shout each other with our condemnation of Mr. Lion. I figured my only way to stand out was to go a different route and play up the snarky cynicism. “I’m pretty sure if you read the rest of that quote, Kyra, it ends ‘and please be sure to mention my new album while condemning these views.’” I practiced my zinger a few times to get it just right, then dialed in for the session.

Because of how they setup their Skype connection, I couldn’t see who I was talking to, but there was a man and a woman on the panel with me. When Kyra raised the topic, the woman jumped right in with something like, “Well, pot is legal in Colorado now, so maybe Snoop has the right idea.”

Wait… what? She agrees with him?! I could hear a voice chanting softly in the back of my head… “Wee-nie! Wee-nie! Wee-nie!

The chant partially drowned out whatever the man said, but he didn’t challenge her premise. If I remember, he seemed to think kids smoking pot was inevitable, so why fight it?

Kyra could clearly tell I was bursting to say something. “Jerry, do you want to comment?”

“Yes, well, pot may be legal in some places,” I began, calmly, “but IT’S NOT LEGAL FOR 8 AND 9-YEAR-OLDS!!!!!!”

So I took the bait. I lost my cool. Here I was, against every instinct I had, arguing with people about current events on TV. (Granted, it was just a rehearsal, so I can’t show you the footage. The best I can give you is this.) “Anyway,” I went on. “I doubt even Snoop believes it. I’m pretty sure if you read the rest of his quote it said, ‘And by the way, my new album drops this fall!’”

It got a laugh. Zing! He shoots, he scores!

Cindy Brady, stage frightSuddenly, I’m starting to believe this may actually happen. I mean, I may still go all Cindy Brady when my big debut actually comes, but I think I’ve managed to trick the producers into thinking I can be interesting television for now.

So here it is, my official announcement and my plug for Raising America with Kyra Phillips, weekdays from 12PM-2PM on HLN, premiering Monday, February 4th.

My first segment is scheduled for Friday, February 8th, but I’ll be promoting it more as the date approaches.

Watch out, weenies! Here I come!

How to Win an Argument With My Daughter

coat, winter coat, pink coat“Let’s go, guys. Time to put coats on!”

“I’m not wearing a coat today!”

“Yes you are.”

“No!”

“Honey, it’s zero degrees outside. Do you know how many degrees that is? None. That’s cold.”

“I’m wearing a sweater.”

“And you should be. But you need a coat, too.”

“I DON’T WANNA WEAR A COOOOOOOOOOAT!”

“I DON’T CAAAAAAAAAARE! Put it on!”

“I won’t be cold! I promise!”

“I’m not arguing about this. There’s your coat. Put it on.”

“What if I wear… a jacket?”

“You’ll actually wear a jacket?”

“Yes.”

“Fine. There’s your jacket.”

(I point to her coat. She puts it on.)

“Great. Now let’s talk about gloves.”

2012, Our Moving Year

Just over a year ago, my family was homeless. Okay, so it wasn’t in the sleeping-outdoors, panhandling-for-change sense of the word, but technically, we were without a place to live. We’d packed up our West Hollywood condo, and everything we owned was traveling through parts of the country we ourselves had mostly never seen.

Other than our decision to have kids, it was the biggest, scariest choice we’d ever made, but it seemed like the right thing to do for our family.

We spent the holidays with Drew’s parents and siblings in upstate New York, then I came down to meet the movers and start unpacking our stuff. Each item was tagged with a number, so it was easy to see exactly how much junk Drew and I had jointly amassed in our years on the West Coast. The highest number was roughly equal to my score on the SAT verbal section. (Granted, math was my forte.) Three days later, with only about 3 or 4 boxes unpacked, I opened the door to Drew and the kids, all of whom were seeing our new home for the first time.

That was one year ago today, January 1, 2012.

It’s nice to ring in this year with some stability, because the last one started off so full of uncertainty. Would we like it here? Was this the right thing for the kids? Would we ever get unpacked?

I wish I could say I had definitive replies to those questions, but the only one I can answer for sure is the last one — no.

Earlier today, we sat down with the kids and looked through some pictures of our last days in California and our first days in New York. The differences kind of surprised us, as in this image of the moving truck:

movingtruckThey’re crawling! That may not shock you as much as it does me, but in my memory, the last time my kids crawled was a hundred years ago. In actuality, it was just one year, or, according to the Mayan calendar, a mere 355 days followed by a timeless void.

It took me a minute before I could remember the moment. They knew how to walk by then, but the rickety ramp was a little too unsteady for then. Just to be safe, they got down on all fours. As we got ready to leave our past behind, the kids gave us one last glimpse of their infancy.

Confidence in walking ability wasn’t the only thing our family gained in 2012. We made some amazing new friends, reconnected with some old friends and spent wonderful times with our East Coast family (by which I mean our actual families, not the loose network of Bell Biv DeVoe-affiliated artists popular in the early 90s). The kids also made new friends, they learned about 10,000 new words (only 1 or 2 of which we’d prefer they hadn’t), caught a dozen or two kiddie viruses and started school.

Sometimes, I’m overwhelmed at how happy I am in our new home. Other times, I’ve overcome with grief at the lives and the friends we left behind. I’ll ask my kids if they remember someone from our old life, and they’ll just stare back at me blankly. Los Angeles is a blur to them, and soon, it’ll be nothing but a series of pictures their dads show them when they’re in the mood to look back and reflect.

Browsing through at the photos, I admit, I got a bit choked up. As for Drew, he sobbed uncontrollably and had to leave the room. So the big question facing us now, at the start of 2013, is pretty obvious: did we make the right choice?

I’ve asked myself that at least once on each of the last 365 days, and I sat down to write this post determined to address it. Once again, though, I’m not sure it has an answer. There’s no way of knowing what this last year would’ve been like if we hadn’t moved. All I know for sure is that none of these things would’ve happened:

bennetttrain suttonrainbow grandcentral throwingleaves suttongardenWe would’ve made a completely different set of memories, some incredible, some undoubtedly sad. I wouldn’t have any of these pictures to treasure, but there would be a different set, one I probably would’ve loved just as much. And I’ll never know what they might’ve looked like.

That’s because changing the setting may change some things, but it doesn’t completely alter a story. Wherever we put ourselves, we’re headed forward on a similar trajectory through an uncertain future. Here or there, New York or LA, we’re still us. The same people and the same family.

We end one year tentatively crawling, and the next, it seems like we’ve been walking forever.

Ultimate Parenting Smackdown! Why the Anti-Time Out People are Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

Supernanny, Jo Frost

I’ll admit that 90% of my parenting philosophy comes from Supernanny, because watching a reality TV show is easier than reading a book or taking a class, and you get to look at cute kids acting like animals, which is always fun. What I love about the show is that Jo Frost, the Supernanny, only has about 3 techniques, which work 100% of the time and turn even the nastiest little monsters into complete angels with only four commercial breaks in between.

Sign me up!

I’ve since learned that everything the Supernanny advocates is a tried-and-true parenting method, like Ferberizing, but she doesn’t use the real terms so it seems like she came up with them herself. Oh, those clever Brits!

One thing Jo does in every single episode is give Time Outs. She puts an adorably British twist on it, sending kids to “the naughty ____” [chair/step/Barcolounger]. But it’s a time out. The kid does a bad thing, you make them sit still for a bit, then you all move on with your lives.

MonopolyIt makes sense. I mean, that’s the world we live in, right? Commit a crime, do the time. Scare them straight. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

That’s what happens to grown-ups, after all. You do a bad thing and we punish you by making you go away for a while. First-degree murder gets you 20 to life. Raiding the cookie jar gets you one minute for every year old you are. Sounds fair to me.

Or so I thought. It turns out there’s a whole anti-Time Out movement that wants me to feel guilty for being so barbaric and heartless.

Well, fine. I’ll do what I do any time someone criticizes my parenting skills. I’ll listen closely to their arguments, ponder them calmly and rationally, then shoot them down one by one.

It’s time to play Ultimate Parenting Smackdown! Hit me with your best shots, anti-Time Out people. I’m ready for you!

ARGUMENT: The child is only acting out because his needs aren’t being met.

Which need are we talking about here? The need to beat the shit out of his sister? (For the record, my kids rarely hit each other, so I must be doing something right.)

Most of the arguments in my house happen when one kid wants the other kid’s toy. I calmly give them a list of options — ask for a turn, find another toy, come up with a way to play together — and once in a while, one of those methods actually works. More often, they just grab the toy and run. That’s when they get a time out.

I think some people confuse needs with wants. Most kids want everything, all the time. Any rational parent is going to push back. What if I got mugged by a junkie? Would you tell me not to call the police? Or would that fail to address the criminal’s need for crack?

You want to talk about needs? Let’s talk about my need for peace and quiet. When my kid’s need to yank the cat keyboard from her brother’s hands infringes on that, then my need trumps hers.

ARGUMENT: You’re treating the symptom, not the underlying cause.

When I have a cold, I take cough medicine. It doesn’t make the cold go away, but it eases my discomfort for a bit, and that’s all I expect it to do.

Putting a kid in a time out may not teach them never to misbehave again, but it keeps them quiet for a few minutes, and sometimes, that’s good enough.

Kids do bad things — always have, always will. It’s natural, it’s healthy. They’re testing their boundaries — and my patience. You have a method that makes a toddler never want to take a toy away from another kid, ever? Great, I’d love to hear it. Until then, I’ll take the 3 minutes of silence as the next best thing.

ARGUMENT: Kids can’t understand consequences until they’re 4 or 5 years old.

Most kids can’t read until they’re 4 or 5 either, so should I not allow my children access to books? Should I not teach them how to spell their name or that “J” says “juh”? Trust me, if I put them in enough time outs, they’ll start to make the correlation way ahead of whenever a psychologist thinks they’re able. And won’t I be proud!

Nobody ever says of a violin prodigy, “Man, their parents must be so cruel, shoving that instrument into their hands at such a young age and forcing them to practice.” You just enjoy the music and the cuteness, right?

Well, I’m creating discipline prodigies, so sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor, world. You’re welcome.

ARGUMENT: Redirecting is a more effective method of curtailing bad behavior.

Some people say that the best way to handle bad behavior is to remove the child from the activity and get them interested in something else. It’s certainly quicker than forcing everyone through the several-minute ordeal (those of you without kids, trust me: every minute feels like an eternity) of a time out.

Really? Ignoring the problem is your solution? Forget “redirecting”. This is avoidance. And since when is that a psychologically healthy way of dealing with a problem?

What’s wrong with telling a kid he did something bad? What message is he going to get if I redirect him instead? “Hey, I saw you hit your sister. Wanna come over here and play with my iPad?”

chair, time out

Misbehave in our house, and you’ll get… The Chair!!!

ARGUMENT: You’re withholding love from your child in order to teach them a lesson.

Damn right I am. They’re screaming their heads off and driving me nuts. What’s the appropriate amount of love to show them at that moment? Once they’ve calmed down and done their time on the chair, I always tell them that I love them and I think they’re good kids, but that [x] behavior was unacceptable.

Don’t worry. My kids get plenty of love from me, and they’re smart enough to realize (or they will be eventually) that it’s love that makes me sentence them to time outs.

I’m not claiming that time outs are perfect or even perfectly effective, but as a parent, I need to do something to keep my kids off the path to hoodlumhood. So until someone comes up with a cure for childhood misbehavior, I’m sticking with them.

******

I always encourage my kids to share, so don’t think you’re off the hook either. If you liked this post, I hope you’ll use those buttons below to post it to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Digg or whatever other service you use. And if you haven’t yet, please show your support for the blog by liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter or subscribing in the little box on the top of the right column of this page. Then, in the future, you can skip these little post-asterisk messages. Okay, time out’s over. You know I love you, right?

The Equally Important Flip Side of Thankful

“Good morning, Sutton! Happy Thanksgiving!”
“Mmm! Something smells delicious!”
“Those are the chocolate pies I was baking last night when you went to bed.”
“Yum! Can I have some?”
“No, I’m so sorry, honey. I burned them and we had to throw them out.”
“Oh. Well, maybe next Thanksgiving!”

20121122-091825.jpg

More Mommy Man!

It’s official.  I’m a mommy blogger!

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be doing occasional posts for Lifetime Moms, a really great site with a fantastically funny group of contributors — and starting today, me!  I’m the first dad to blog for them.  Take that, glass ceiling!

They’ll be rerunning some of my favorite posts from the past, plus I’ll be contributing some new stuff exclusively for them, so I hope you’ll click over and check it out.

This will still be my primary blog, and I’m planning to keep posting here just as frequently as I always have.  So stick around here, too.

But until my next post goes up on this site, I hope you’ll go over there and read my first post for them.  It’s called 5 Ways My Kid Have Improved My Adult Conversations.  Hope you like it!

Our Spooky Town

Only a few days after we moved into our new home last January, we were driving on the main highway, and we passed by a hideous warehouse-type store that was painted a dull, cheap shade of orange.

“What’s that?” Sutton asked.

“Um… that’s Spookytown.”

That’s what the sign out front said, though instead of o’s in the word “Spooky”, there were two fiery red demon eyes.  If I thought the name might scare my kids, I was dead wrong.

“Oooh, can we go there?” Sutton pleaded.

“No, it’s only open around Halloween.”

She brought up Spookytown constantly — whenever we passed by it, whenever the subject of Halloween came up, and sometimes completely unprompted.  “Next Halloween, we’ll go to Spookytown!” she announced.  “I won’t be scared, because it’s just pretend.”

She was simultaneously horrified and fascinated.  At two years old and change, scary is supposed to be simple.  If something’s scary, you stay away from it.  But here, there was this store that sold nothing but scary stuff, and people went there ON PURPOSE.  My curious little girl was dying to learn more.

As someone who’s never much liked Halloween, it’s taken me some adjustment having a daughter who’s obsessed with it.  She brings it up every single day, all year round — more than Christmas, more than her birthday.  The topics range from what her costume will be to the character traits of different types of monsters like vampires, ghosts and wolfmen to, of course, Spookytown.

We drove past that deserted eyesore for months, and every time, it launched a conversation.  Then one day, it was gone.  Spookytown disappeared, and overnight, a tile store moved in.  They slapped on a fresh coat of paint, installed a new sign and dismantled the demon eyes.

Sutton was crushed — and Halloween was only getting closer.  “We’ll find another Spookytown,” we assured her.

For months, she lived with the uncertainty of not knowing where her October scares would come from.  Drew and I know that Halloween stores are the bad pennies of retail.  You can always count on one showing up again.  Sutton was forced to take our word for it.

Then, in late September, there it was, a quarter of a mile up the road from the old Spookytown.  New Spookytown.  The second we saw it, Drew jerked the steering wheel toward the parking lot and the tires screeched cartoonishly as we skidded up to the entrance.

It was, as expected, a shithole.

There were cheap packaged costumes, cheap overpriced decorations, and a display of animatronic ghouls in a decorative graveyard.  Even though the store had just opened, only half of them seemed to moan on cue.

The kids loved it.

The way they ran from the Smurf costumes to the zombie makeup rack, shrieking at full dog-whistle pitch, it was like they were in Disneyland.

Neither of them could make up their minds what costumes they wanted to wear, so we bought them each three different ones over the last month.  I know, we’re suckers, but we’ve gotten plenty of use out of them with all the costume parades we’ve had up and down the hallway of our house.

As we counted down the days to Halloween, reports started coming in of an unprecedented storm headed directly for us.  Drew and I gathered candles and filled the bathtub with water, while the kids played quietly with their toys and talked about candy.

“Why did you take down the pumpkin in the front yard?” Bennett asked.

“Because the Frankenstorm is coming,” I said.

It seemed like a joke, like the kind of twisted boogeyman parents make up to scare kids.  A Frankenstorm.  But this wasn’t something out of Spookytown.  It was real, and Drew and I were genuinely scared.

Somehow, the storm that tore apart most of our geographic area left us untouched.  The lights flickered a few times, but we never lost power.  By Halloween morning, everything seemed normal.  I put the kids in their costumes and herded them to the car.

“Who wants to go to Spookytown?” I asked.  They went nuts.

It seemed like a simple plan.  We’d been to Spookytown half a dozen times over the last few weeks.  Why not now?  I made a right turn off our street and almost immediately had to hit the brakes.  Up ahead, the road was blocked by a giant tree.

It was just sitting there.  No one was even trying to remove it.  I turned down a different street, and I soon realized why that fallen tree wasn’t a priority.  There were downed trees everywhere, practically one every block.  I saw one that had landed on the roof of a house, but mostly they were in the streets.  It was like driving in a maze, constantly having to turn around and find a different path.

The ten minute drive to Spookytown took forty-five minutes, even with almost no traffic on the roads.  When we pulled into the parking lot, it was eerily empty.  A man at the door told us that the store had no power.  It was their biggest day of the year — in fact, the only day that really mattered — and they weren’t sure if they’d even be able to open.

I took the kids instead to the supermarket.  It was open, but barely functional.  The shelves had yet to be restocked from the pre-storm hysteria.  The freezers were cordoned off with police tape, and what remained in the refrigerated cases was marked “Not for sale”.  Employees whose job was to fill up the shelves were instead spending the morning throwing things away.  Clearly, they had lost power at one point, and all the perishables had perished.

So this was our Halloween.  One thing was for sure: it delivered on spookiness.

The only bright side was that my kids didn’t have many past Halloweens to compare this to.  For all they knew, this was a kick-ass All Hallow’s Eve.  We decided that our afternoon would be spent watching Halloween specials on TV and having a pizza party.  You know, typical Halloween stuff.

Then, the doorbell rang.  It was Cinderella.  She had tiny glass slippers and a school jacket draped over her light blue ball gown.  Her tiny arms spread open the mouth of a shopping bag full of fun sized candies.

In my 17 years in Los Angeles, living in apartments and condos with security codes, I’d never had a single trick-or-treater come to my door.  This was the first time I’d given candy to a little kid in a costume since I was a kid myself.

I thought Halloween had been canceled, but when I looked up and down my block, I saw more of them.  Harry Potters and Spider-Men and, for some weird reason, a lot of Crayola crayons.  (Seriously, what the hell?  Is there a factory nearby?)

“Drew!” I shouted.  “Trick-or-treaters!  Tons of them!”

It was like the sappy final reel of a Christmas movie, where the protagonist loses his last bit of holiday spirit only to glance out the window and see snow falling or Scrooge hoisting a roast goose.

A Halloween miracle.

We turned off Dora’s Halloween episode and raced the kids to the door.  “You guys want to go trick-or-treating?” we asked.

“YEAH!!!!”

It was the best Halloween ever.