Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Cookie


It all began with a plastic replica of a chocolate chip cookie. I believe it came into our home via a Melissa & Doug play-food set. My 11 month-old son has become fond of crawling around the house while toting it in his hand. He was doing just that one particular evening as he made his way into the guest bathroom.

It just so happened that my 3 year-old was completing her business around the time he wandered in. Finding her little brother’s presence disconcerting, she called for our assistance in removing him. Just as my wife grabbed him, he managed to toss the cookie into the bowl mid-flush. In defiance of each and every one of God’s natural laws, the cookie disappeared down the rabbit-hole.

Its journey was short-lived, as the bowl immediately began filling with excessive amounts of water. Thankfully, it stopped just before overrunning the rim. I gave everyone stern instructions not to use the toilet in my absence (I had to run and pick up a grocery order within the next 15 minutes) and I would address it when I returned.

I tucked my firstborn son and daughter into bed while my wife disappeared into the nursery to put our youngest to bed. Quickly grabbing my keys, I ran out the door to get the groceries. On my way home, I received a text from my wife indicating that my daughter had come back to the nursery concerned that there was “lots of water in the toilet.”

Surmising that our daughter was utilizing this unnecessary observation as an excuse to get out of bed, my wife sent her back to her room with a stern warning. I informed my wife that I was on my way home and would make sure that she was still in bed when I arrived.

Three minutes later, my phone rang. When I answered it, I was greeted by my wife shouting “There’s water everywhere! How do I turn this off?” Her questions were in danger of being drowned out by multiple weeping children and someone lamenting, “The cookie! The cookie!”

It appeared that my daughter had been experiencing some intestinal discomfort while I was at the grocery, and had used the toilet again. She then apparently held the flush lever down until she was in danger of being swept into the den by the current.

At the time of my arrival, the hall carpet was soaked and there must have been a half-inch of standing water on the bathroom floor. Quickly grabbing a shop-vac and an adjustable wrench, I waded into the fray. After getting up as much of the standing water as possible, I set about disconnecting the toilet.

If you have never done so, I can assure you that there is no graceful way to solo-lift an installed toilet in a confined space. I closed the door so that my family wouldn’t have to witness me attempt to dead-lift the equivalent of a porcelain birthing-ball.

Once the commode was clear of the bolts and flange, I quickly glanced down the sewer pipe to confirm that the cookie was not lodged. In this brief moment, several of my neighbors must have tandem-flushed the remnants of an ill-advised meal because I felt the air move just before the dry-heaves kicked in. I instantly though of the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where the guy’s face melts off. It smelled like weaponized shame launched from a diaper-genie. 

Convinced that the cookie’s journey had ended prior to the pipe, I stuffed some plastic bags into the sewer connection and continued my investigation. I tipped the toilet forward before probing the trap for contraband. Meeting some resistance early on, I continued in this way until the cookie emerged. My victory was to be short lived.

Within a few moments, a reverse suctioning noise emanated from the S-bend as a rather sizable bowel-movement was liberated from its perch and found its way onto my shoes. It was here that I paused, turds still precariously balanced on my feet, and contemplated the interesting places that life takes us. Parenting is a perpetual series of humbling events, and there are few things as humbling as contemplating whether to shake poo off your shoes or abandon them and submit yourselves to a back-flow foot-bath.

Around this time, my daughter emerged and asked if I “saved” the cookie. In exasperation, I told her that the cookie had “seen things” and had to be put down. She would emerge requesting progress reports every quarter hour for the remainder of the process.

I mopped up all of the water left in the bathroom and then proceeded to tackle the carpet with a Hoover Steamvac. It is a wonderful machine to have, but sounds like a jet engine when powered on. I thought about waiting until the next day to tackle the carpet (since everyone in the house appeared to be asleep) but I really wished to avoid subjecting our flooring to an overnight fecal marinade.

So I fired up the carpet cleaner, and after a few moments, my daughter tapped on my shoulder and motioned for me to turn it off. Nearing the end of my patience, I turned off the carpet cleaner and gave her my full attention.

“Daddy?”

“What?”

“I just wanted to tell you that the carpet cleaner is loud.”

I advised her that, in the interest of self-preservation, she should refrain from further commentary and stay in her room.

Melissa and Doug better hope I never gain access to their corporate restroom facilities….

Friday, August 17, 2018

Talking About Mortality With Kids


On a recent gloomy morning, my son and I were sitting in my car waiting to turn left onto a main thoroughfare. Across from us was a large cemetery and, as we waited to turn, we witnessed an elderly couple placing a floral arrangement on a headstone.

We pass this particular cemetery every day, but none of our children had ever asked about its function and we were understandably reluctant to be drawn in to a conversation about the internment of human corpses. However, the couple caught my five-year old son’s attention and, for the first time in his life, he asked “What is that place?’

Taking a deep breath, I replied that it was a cemetery and foolishly hoped that this would be the end of this line of inquiry. It was not. Then came the inevitable follow up question, “What’s a cemetery?” I delicately tried to explain that when people die, they would be buried in a cemetery. He then wanted to know how they died, so I responded that sometimes people get sick and do not get better.

He then wanted to know if the couple we had seen was about to bury someone who was sick. Doing my best to abstain from any references to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I explained that they were probably visiting the grave of someone who had already died. It might have been a relative or friend of theirs and this was how they remembered them.

He then asked about the purpose of the concrete markers coming out of the ground. I explained that these were called headstones and usually contained information about the person who was buried there. At this point, I began to speed up in the hope that we would arrive at his school before our conversation progressed to embalming techniques.

Then, as if processing the weight of this information and the implications of his own mortality, he furrowed his brow and looked out of the window before asking, “Are there kids there?”

I was certainly not prepared for this line of inquiry, but I also did not want to mislead him if he was asking an honest question. So, I hesitantly admitted that it was certainly possible that there were kids there because sometimes (although it is rare) kids get sick and cannot get better. This was met with silence as he looked out the window. Concerned that I had upset him, I tried to gently steer the subject away from kids. I told him that there was even a section for dogs.

Upon hearing this, he turned away from the window and asked, “Why would they have sick kids and dogs at a daycare?”

Confused, I responded that I was not talking about a daycare but rather the graveyard we had passed. He then - visibly taken aback - exclaimed “There are kids in the cemetery!?”

It was at this point, I realized that he had wordlessly changed the subject mid-conversation and I was a varsity-level moron. Furthermore, when I had seen him looking out the window (and assumed that he was pondering the breadth of human frailty) he was looking at a daycare along the same road and simply wanted to know if they were open.

About this time, we pulled up to the school and he jumped out of the car. I immediately called my wife and tried to explain what had transpired (in case he came home from the library with a copy of Pet Cemetery). She listened in silence before responding in her flawless “you had one job to do” voice:

So let me get this straight. While driving our nervous son to school on his second day of Kindergarten, you managed to get into a conversation about dead children buried near our house. Is that correct?

It was a rather damning (though not inaccurate) summation and I feebly replied that it was never my intention to discuss the burial of deceased children; that is just where the conversation went.

Well, when the school sends home a note wondering why our son keeps telling people, “My daddy says that when children do not get better, they bury them by our house” I am going to let you handle that.

You can imagine my trepidation as I went to retrieve my son after school and half-expected Haley Joel Osment to wander out mumbling about “the things none one else could see.”

Fortunately, he seemed no worse for the wear and made no mention of cadavers or graveyards. I am sure this, like many of our conversations, will make valuable therapy fodder later in life.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Toilet-Seat Justice


Several weeks ago, I sat down in our bathroom to conduct some intestinal business. Upon settling in, I felt a rather sharp pain in my dominant buttock and quickly dismounted the toilet. What I found was that the wooden toilet seat had been cracked completely in half. The fissure was almost consistent enough to have been the result of a power tool.

I immediately set about solving this mystery and I knew just where to begin. I went to my five-year-old son and casually asked if he recalled witnessing any structural trauma related to the toilet seat. He got a strange look on his face and categorically denied all responsibility. This, in and of itself, was not unusual; what did surprise me is that he did not immediately suggest his sister as a suspect. He once blamed her for making him fall out of his chair when she was in a different room, so it was odd that he did not wish to speculate upon her culpability.

Undeterred, I found my three-year-old daughter playing in her room and breezily wondered aloud if she knew anything about the broken toilet seat. Assuming the same look of forced nonchalance displayed by my son, she denied any knowledge but also declined to incriminate her brother.

While I found my children hurling around baseless accusations to be annoying, I found their silent collaboration terrifying. Over the next few days, I went back and forth trying to get one of them to cave with no success. I suggested plausible scenarios, “Maybe you guys were trying to get something from the cabinet and it fell….” and even stopped to offering bribes, “there might be some Sour Patch Kids in it for whoever can help daddy solve the mystery….”

After a week I had nothing. Out of sheer stubbornness, I left the seat in place as a reminder that daddy would have his justice. I assumed that it would keep pinching them just as it did me and eventually someone would turn state’s evidence. This was a terrible miscalculation on my part since their tiny little bodies did not separate the halves of the seat enough to cause discomfort. They barely noticed.

Dejected and unwilling to subject myself to further discomfort, I went to Lowes one evening to procure a replacement toilet seat. I was unprepared for how many different colors there were. When I indicated that it was more of a “tan” color I was given options like “biscuit” “bone” sandbar” and “dune”. Kohler even has a color called “Thunder Grey” which might be apropos in some situations we have had in our restroom.

Even narrowing it down to quiet-close hinge models - which are worth the extra price if you have ever been jolted from slumber by a preschooler dropping the entire lid apparatus at 3AM – I was left with too many options. I agonized in the isle for a half-hour trying to take into account environmental variables like the color temperature of the store’s fluorescent lighting system before deciding to go with “biscuit.”

By the time I had paid for my purchase, it was pouring rain and I had forgotten where my car was. After several minutes of running through the parking lot while brandishing a toilet seat, I located my car and stuffed my drenched frame into the front seat.

Soaked and already regretting my decision to choose “biscuit”, I walked into the front bathroom and began the process of swapping out the toilet seat. Midway through this endeavor my daughter wanders in, glances at the broken toilet seat now resting on the floor and – without a hint of irony – asks what happened to the old toilet seat.

If I am fortunate enough to get to Heaven and find myself at the throne of the Almighty, the toilet seat mystery has now surpassed the JFK assassination as my most pressing supplication.

I Believe



I believe immigration laws and enforcement to be necessary, but the cruel or inhumane application of them is beneath us.

I believe that people should not be refused service simply because of who they are or what their political affiliation may be.

I believe that the terms pro-life or pro-choice dramatically oversimplify an issue important enough to merit nuanced consideration.

I believe that the reflexive canonization of every police officer or the suspects they interact with does both groups a disservice and undermines objective justice.

I believe that we should completely exhaust diplomacy before we ever consider sacrificing the lives of those who serve.

I believe we can honor the second amendment while simultaneously refusing to succumb to a self-imposed paralysis when it comes to mitigating acts of senseless violence.

I believe that not everything that is immoral is illegal and not everything that is illegal is immoral.

I believe that the term “pro-family” is one of the most insultingly vague and asinine declarations to ever emerge from a political marketing conglomerate.

I believe that those who insist the Earth and all creatures contained therein were crafted by God should be leading the way to conserve His handiwork.

I believe that legislation rooted in fear tends to be the antithesis of good governance.

I believe that two consenting adults have every right to have their relationship legally recognized by a secular government.

I believe that incarceration without meaningful rehabilitation often becomes hopelessly cyclical.

I believe that God has no political affiliation or nationality.

I believe that depth of character and wisdom are the result of being willing to build relationships with people whose experiences you cannot duplicate.