children

When did charity get so expensive?

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Clarks
I remember when I was growing up, that my parents had a “Christmas Club Account,” which they referenced around this time each year; usually in the context of being thankful they had it to help offset the costs of all the gift-getting.

I’ve always been pretty money-conscious, so I have my own Christmas account and though it always seems to burn up pretty quickly once I start shopping in earnest, there’s always a bit left that I try and use to help someone out during the holiday season.

You may be familiar with Clark Howard–the nationally known radio and television personality known for his frugality. He’s based here in Atlanta and each year he goes from Walmart to Walmart broadcasting on-air, to promote his “Clark’s Kids” holiday charity drive. It’s promoted as your typical “come choose a child to help this Christmas” toy drive.

I’ve tried to get over to the Walmart he’s broadcasting at for a couple of years now, but this year was the first time I’ve really been able to get there. So yesterday, I got the boys out of school early and we headed over to Walmart in hopes of teaching them a bit about “giving” and maybe help a couple of children have a better Christmas.

We arrived at Walmart and sure enough, there’s the local radio broadcast truck outside so at least I knew that we were at the right place at the right time. We headed in and just generally aimed for the balloons near the ceiling cuz, it’s Walmart and it’s pretty big. Arriving at the charity drive, we’re directed a long table filled with sheets of paper, each containing the details of a particular child: name, age, race, and then a list of three items he or she had selected for Christmas.

I encouraged my boys to each look through and select a sheet of someone they wanted to “help” and while they did that, I began to just peruse the sheets. As I did, I noticed a couple of things:

  • The lists were very similar. For instance a “VTech” game thing was a common theme. I asked if the kids were given a list of items to choose from and was told “Yes.”
  • There were some pricey items on the list. I saw a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, bicycles, and other large-ticket items

My own boys came back to me with their lists and on them I saw:

For the 4 year old my youngest son selected:

  • a double-sided whiteboard easel
  • a balance bicycle
  • a little-tykes basketball thing

For the 9 year old my oldest son selected:

  • a Simon game
  • electric scooter (and if you bought a scooter, you were supposed to also buy a helmet)
  • a basketball hoop you mount to your door inside

Let me say here that my expectation was to spend about $50 on each child,  so I asked one of the volunteers how “this” worked; did I just buy a couple of things on the list? She replied that the idea is for you to buy everything on the child’s list, but if you didn’t, it would go back in the pile in hopes someone else would finish it up. No guilt there right?

Now, I won’t bore you with the next 45 minutes we spent walking around, unsuccessfully trying to find the exact items on the list, many of which I was told Walmart didn’t even carry, or me looking at the price of an electric scooter and saying, “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. My own kids don’t have an electric scooter.” But we did end up getting (similar gifts since we could find an exact match for most things) all but the most expensive item on each child’s list (they didn’t have the balance bike) and it still came out to $145 total.

I’m happy to have been able to help of course, but the onsite expectation didn’t match the promoted expectation. And who thought this through? If a kid did get a smartphone from someone, who is going to pay for the cell phone plan? Is a balance bicycle really the best use of $60 when they’re likely going to outgrow it in a matter of months? I don’t know…it just felt a bit “thrown together” and I didn’t feel like I was really “helping” someone.

Being a charity run by the Clark Howard foundation, I’m more than a little surprised. For someone so bent on saving money and making every dollar count, this toy drive certainly didn’t live up to what I’ve come to expect from Clark.

Next year I’ll find someone, or an organization, a bit more “need” driven and a lot less “wish” driven.

 

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Magic Elves – Season 5 Day 2

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Somewhere between Thanksgiving, and the next day, something magical happens each year in our home. Our “Magic Elves” appear. Santa sends them along on a magical slipstream of wind and snowflakes, to join our family for another season of merriment and mischief.

This is the fifth year.

The fifth.

That means we’ve had to come up with more than 100 clever and unique “things” for the elves to do each night. This is challenging, made moreso by the fact that, unlike the “Elf on the Shelf” our elves are completely soft, so they don’t stay in a pose. You can’t bend their arms and have them stay there. They can’t stand on their own. They literally are, like a sock.

But despite these challenges, we persevere. I’ll try and post some of this year’s exploits here for your enjoyment.

Here’s last night’s. As you can see, the elves created cutouts of minions and stuck their faces and appendages in them. Overall, it was cute, but I’m not sure the kids quite got what was going on here. All they saw was the minion toys and everyone drinking syrup. But hey, cross another one off the list. Only 23 more ideas to come up with.

IMAG0972

Thanks for the memories

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A bit more than eight years ago, CareerMom and I bought this crib. We went to Toys-R-Us, Babies-R-Us and every other R-Us derivative you can imagine. I think we ended up about 15 miles north of our house in some suburb of the suburbs, in a no-name strip mall containing a high-end baby store.

And thus the Bonavita “Carla” crib came into our home.

Two weeks ago, I dismantled it. Eight years and three kids later it’s finally done. And other than some dried, crusty milk between the vertical slats, it’s in pristine condition. None of my kids “teethed” on the rails. It’s bittersweet letting it go, but it was time Baby-Girl got her own big-girl bed.

Government safety laws prohibit the donation of cribs manufactured prior to 2010 due to some issue with drop-sides on pre-2010 cribs and even though ours doesn’t have a drop-side, we still can’t donate it. Which is a shame. You spend $1200 on a crib, you want to see it not end up in a dumpster somewhere. But I think we have a taker for it (for free). Hope it goes to another good home.

Daddies vs. Predators

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It started out as this noise back in the back of his throat–not unlike the sound made by the “Predator” (just like this guy does it). He would do it usually while concentrating on something else, so I’m not even sure he realized he was doing it. Background noise tends to really get on my nerves, so after a while, I’d start saying, “Aiden, please stop making that throat noise.” Career-Mom who is normally quite stoic around such things, even succumbed after a while.

It has progressed.

Today, it’s not uncommon to hear any number of things coming from him, pretty much anytime he’s awake:

  • The Predator sound
  • Throat clearing
  • A combination of humming and gargling
  • Humming

This happens even when he’s eating. Imagine, if you will, a child with cereal in his mouth and humming at the same time.

Yesterday, I think I said, “Aiden, mouth noises!” at least 15 times and that was after ignoring it as long as I possibly could. I’m told that several of CareerMom’s nieces and nephews do the humming while eating thing, so I blame her naturally.
And at any rate, I only had facial ticks when I was a kid (like licking your lips so much that it created a half moon raw spot above and/or below your lips) rather than audible ticks.

Whatever the cause, clearly my fussing at him isn’t working. Here’s to hoping he outgrows it.

Raised On Demand

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There is a part of me that is both horrified, and gratified, by the knowledge that television is a big part of my kids’ lives. I honestly don’t know what my kids would do at the end of a long day without it…or what I would do without it. Image

There are days, that one or more of my children will come home from school or daycare, and pretty much watch TV from the moment we come in, through dinner, and until we put them to bed. Now granted, often that’s really only like, two hours, but still…right?

And as much as it makes me want to gag admitting this, there are many a day when I’m more than happy to relegate my parental obligations to our 46” family friend. He’s a good friend.

But I don’t know…Lord, I watched a lot of TV when I was a kid and I’m pretty OK. I get as much exercise as my schedule will allow. I don’t eschew my job, family or other responsibilities in favor of watching “my show.” So I don’t know…I guess as long as your kids aren’t lard-arses and when you do pull them away from the tube to interact with other people, they aren’t complete Asbergers, then it’s OK?

Blame it on tha rain’…(it was fallin’ fallin’…)

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My oldest son has developed a seemingly irrational fear of thunderstorms. True, we’ve had our share recently. Already, it’s been an unusually active season, and summer just started. But still, we’re not even talking dark clouds and high winds–no, from the moment he gets up in the morning, he’s peering at the sky and if there’s a hint of even puffy white clouds up there, he heads for weatherchannel.com.

In my infinite parental wisdom, I’ve decided that I have no blame here. No, I blame school. I blame those snotty little five year olds who come on the P.A. system every morning and tell the rest of the student body what the weather is going to be. And then I blame the school system for too many dad-blamed storm drills. A couple of times this past school year, by the time he got off the bus in the afternoon, storms or no, he was already wild-eyed and near tears over the fact that there was a ‘chance’ of evening thunderstorms.

Now this goes hand in hand with another fear that seems to have come out of nowhere…and that being, that we’re going to leave him alone. I can’t tell you how many times in the past six months I’ve had to answer, “Where’s mommy?” or “Where are you going?”  And heaven forbid, when you drop him off at the kids’ play area at the gym while you work out, that you’re even a minute later than you told him you’d be–NIAGARA FALLS!

OK, maybe  I share a little of the blame here–but indirectly. As a child I was also a bit of a worry-er. But the things I worried about were just a tad more serious that this stuff. And by serious, I mean like, “Oh crap, what now?” kind of stuff.

But I didn’t worry about the weather.

In retrospect, I suppose if he’s going to be worried about something, it could be worse. But we’ve tried reassurance; we tried fussing at him; nothing seems to work. And while I know that mostly he’ll grow out of it, I know I still carry some of my childhood worries with me today. Even now, when I hear footsteps above me in the house coming towards me, for just a second, my gut clenches up and my heart jumps ahead. I wish I knew how to take these fears away from him.

Hmm, I’m sure I’m the first parent to have ever said THAT.

Why it takes a village

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To say that mental problems run in my family, is like saying the Obama administration is moderately disliked by Republicans. That is, we have a bevy of problems, ranging from the debilitating, to generally just being an annoyance for everyone around us. There are probably a couple dozen people in this world outside of my immediate family who are familiar with my story in-total from having been adopted at an early age, to living through two divorces; an abusive mother; and any number of a dozen other things that alone, might explain some of the problems I have.

If I had ten thousand dollars for every time I’d heard someone say to me, “It’s a miracle you turned out as well-adjusted as you did,” I’d have at least…I dunno…a hundred thousand dollars! Though perhaps after blogging all this, I’ll hear it more often. If I’m being honest though, my problems pale in comparison to others. My problems don’t require medication. They don’t cause me to completely withdraw from the people I love for long periods of time. And they don’t make me want to act out on the society at-large, so generally speaking, I’m doing alright.

But there are times. Oh yes, there are times.

For instance, parenting. Parenting has been a challenge as I’ve discussed on numerous occasions and it continues to cause personal problems for me. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, parenting is not for everyone. There is a line that each person much recognize within his or her tolerance and they must adhere to that line, for when you do not, THAT’s when you make the morning news.

My personal “line” was crossed the moment I found out we were having a third child (and yes, I’m probably going to hell just for saying that out loud). But I’m not going to spoil the literary moment here by telling you how much I love my children and how I wouldn’t trade a moment of it for the world, because frankly, that’s a bunch of crap.

In fact, there are about 30 moments, each day for the past year, that I’d gladly trade for say…more Hydrocodone.

After 11 years of marriage, my wife has learned the tell-tale signs of my having reached a point, which manifests itself in one of two ways:

– either via a sudden, violent outburst at one of the children in the form of a “STOP IT!” or a “SHUT UP!”

– or more often, the tightening of my jaw, the narrowing of my eyes, and an obstinate will to keep perfectly quiet. Don’t try and draw me out of it. Don’t ask me what’s wrong. Just leave me…the hell…alone for a while.

I think one of the failures of the human race is our desire to compare ourselves to others. I do it; I’m sure you do it to. We each hold ourselves to this impossibly high standard that’s based solely on the public persona shown to us by others who are privately just as screwed up as we are. I’m sure, to that divorced lady who lives up the street and who only sees me when I’m outside playing with the kids, that I embody everything a good father should (perhaps with the exception of Ryan Reynolds-like abs). Because all we see of people is what they want us to see.

But I do wonder how I compare. Oh, I know that I could search Google right now for, “Fed up Dads” or “My kids make me want to just walk away” and I could find thousands of people who have expressed similar feelings. But, we’re still in the minority when you consider how many parents are out there.

I look at people like “Father of Five” and that dude just makes me feel A) ashamed and B) proud all at the same time. Ashamed because he has way more kids than I do, plus works crappy hours (on second thought, maybe that’s WHY he’s such a patient dad…) and Proud because it’s nice to know we’re not all as screwed up as me.

So, my hat off to you FoF and all you other Fathers and Mothers out there who make having families bearable for the rest of us.