Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Purge

Christmas morning went off without a hitch. Unbeknownst to the participants, however, it almost didn’t happen at all. Santa woke up in a panic at 2am, head pounding from Christmas Eve wine, and stumbled outside in the freezing cold to his Mazda brand sleigh to gather his goodies.

For a few days afterwards, it looked like a Christmas themed grenade exploded in our living room. Slowly but surely it dawned on us that we would need to clean our house or turn it into a wrapping paper cardboard museum.

I took one for the team and attended an animated singing animal movie with the boys while Diana tackled the house. Oh, I pretended I got the raw end of the deal. Boo hoo, my popcorn is too salty. It’s so crowded with all the other dads escaping housework.

Then I learned the full details of the deal.

“I need you to purge all the toys the boys don’t play with anymore to make room for the new toys.”

Well played, Diana. Well played.

I set the tone for our purge with a speech. “Boys. Somewhere, not too far from here. There are kids who got nothing for Christmas. Not a single Lego or Star Wars guy. Because they are not as lucky as we are. Don’t you think it would be nice for us to give them some of the toys you no longer play with?”

The boys launched into a barrage of questions. Where are these kids? What are their names? How will we get them the toys? Can we go see them?

In answer, I shoved them into their rooms with instructions to make three piles: Keep. Donate. Pitch.

Elijah’s strategy was to read Calvin and Hobbs until I entered his room to yell at him. He would then rapidly (and randomly) toss things into the three piles until I left, at which point he would go back to Calvin and Hobbs.

Luca too his task very seriously. He studied every single item thoughtfully. Did he need this tiny, chewed up blob of plastic that was once part of a toy that no longer exists? Maybe. Maybe not. While he did this, I would hurl hundreds of toys into the donation box behind his back.

By the way, if you are missing a single Lego stud, we have it. Along with a billion other single Lego studs.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Sled Thief

After the first big snowfall of the season, the boys and I decided to visit Mount Trashmore for some good old fashioned sledding. Imagine my surprise when one billion other Evanston families had the exact same idea. This didn’t bother me because it enhanced my favorite snow pastime: watching little kids get t-boned by sleds.

A Twentysomething girl brought her dog to the hill and attempted to get it to ride a sled. Steve and I started an all-hill chant of “Sled dog!” We also wrote and performed an 80’s teen movie called “Sled Dog.” The only way to save the ski resort from bankruptcy was to beat the rich kids in the big race and Sled Dog was just the animal to do it. The Twentysomething girl left because we embarrassed her.

Around the time we wrote our follow up to “Sled Dog” called “Sled Old Lady,” Eli noticed our extra blue sled was missing. I had chucked it into a bush since no one was using it, but now it was gone. There were hundreds of identical sleds on the hill, so I said, “It’s gone forever.”

But Eli and Luca did some detective work and determined a tiny little cute girl had stolen it. She did look shifty in her pink hat and gloves and joyous face. The rotten blue sled suddenly became Luca’s favorite possession and he begged me to confront her father.

This did not seem like a very Rick thing to do. Because I am a wimp. But I also didn’t want to look like a wimp in front of my sons, so I told Elijah he should go ask them if they were borrowing our sled. Eli balked. He was the son of a wimp, after all. I explained that he had a far less chance of getting punched since he was a kid and nice and cute. I gave him the script “Hi I’m Eli. We are missing a blue sled just like this. Have you seen it?” I even have him the extra motivation of shoving his sled towards the family.

Amazingly, Eli talked to the dad who admitted to borrowing (stealing) the sled. The dad gave the sled back and even gave Eli $2 as a rental fee. I was proud of him and even let him keep the $2.

When we got home I realized we had forgotten to put the sleds in the car.

Actually, I found the sleds later but I want to keep this ending as is. It’s far more HamannEggs to lose the sleds. It’s now Family Cannon.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

White Christmas

One of the great things I've been able to do over the last couple months is contribute to the A.V. Club "Field Guide To Parenting." They basically allow me to write a blog post and then share it with their millions of fans. Four or five of whom actually read what I wrote. This is technically cheating, but I wanted to put the latest here:

Last weekend, I reminded my sons of that most wonderful of holiday traditions: getting dragged to things you don’t want to do. 

Visiting stinky relatives, attending church for the one and only time of the year, trips to Anthropology to get something for their mom to return, these are the glory of the season. With the avalanche of toys headed their way, I think a little dash of nuts on their fudge keeps them honest.

I thought “White Christmas” would make a lovely addition.

Don’t get me wrong. I love “White Christmas.” From the moment Bing Crosby croons  Irving Berlin’s titular song to a crowd of homesick WWII troops, you can dip me in sap for the next two hours. Released in 1954 and starring Crosby, Danny (fucking) Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen, it portrays a world where you could aspire to be a song and dance act as a viable career. It’s also the quintessential example of “Let’s put on a show” as a solution to bankruptcy. The movie features some amazing romantic hijinks, the perfect Mary Wickes and wonderful (and uncredited) Bob Fosse choreography.

One look at the VistaVision Paramount logo and my sons squawked as if they were being forced to Midnight Mass in Latin. I told them Gwen Ihnat would be super mad if we didn’t watch it (untrue) and I’d probably get fired (also untrue).  Son #2 watched while standing on his head as a form of protest.

Son #1 complained Bing Crosby’s VistaVision blue eyes made him look like an alien and we had a robust debate on the merits of the dancing versus “Dancing With The Stars.” He was not a fan of “Old Timey tapping.”

Son #2 simply muttered, “Too much songs.”

Around the time they started counting down the minutes left in the movie (“Yay! Only 24 until we’re free!”) I let them off the hook. On his way racing out of the room, Boy #1 shouted over his shoulder, “If you’ve already seen this, how could you ever think we’d like it?”

I looked online for churches holding Midnight Mass.

Thursday, December 8, 2016


Last night, I taught the boys how to be passive aggressive when a waiter accidentally spills wine on your shirt. “Oh no, don’t worry about it. I didn’t want that wine anyway. Plus, this shirt is dark so I’m sure no one will notice the stains.” Here endeth the lesson.

Luca suddenly remembered something very important. “Dad! DAD! I got all A’s on my report card!”

Oh man, what am I supposed to do here? I want the boys to do well and be successful and achieve things. But I also just want them to be happy. And I think the pursuit of perfection kind of ruins stuff. Do I praise him? Tell him good job? But if I do that, what will happen when he doesn’t get straight As’? Will he be forever chasing this ambition high, only to go from advertising job to advertising job to working at The Onion, but is never satisfied? But what happens if I don’t praise him? Will he decide trying isn’t that big a deal and he stops getting good grades and then ends up living in our basement?

I blinked out of my trance and said a very complicated, “Neat!”

Luca had already moved on, detailing how he intended to spend the gift card Diana got him for his good grades. Diana works off a much less complicated inner monologue.

There was a little controversy because Eli didn’t get straight A’s and had received a slightly smaller gift card amount. To be clear, these aren’t A’s or B’s. This being Evanston, they report grades with a series of incomprehensible hieroglyphics. Eli had received a few hieroglyphics that indicated a less than top mark.

I launched into a speech I tried to remember from my father. “Look pal. I don’t care if you get good grades or bad grades. I just want you to get grades. I mean..I want you to try your…um…best. And be nice. And try. That sounds good.” That replacement wine could not arrive fast enough.

When we got home, Luca sat me down and asked me to read his whole report card. It painted him as a sweet, helpful kid who tries really hard. Despite his anxiety early this year, he reads and writes and maths right where he should be. Trying to right my earlier wrong, I told him I loved him and I was very proud of him.

I read Eli’s as well. It painted him as a smart kid who sometimes takes the easy way out and has a hard time concentrating. But at the end of his note, Eli’s teacher said Eli was one of the kindest students he’d ever had and had an amazing ability to collaborate with anyone in class, no matter who they were.

When I pointed this out to Diana, she upped his gift card too. But then told the boys they should use them to buy presents for each other.

Which earned her an F minus from the boys.