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Dad vs. the dog lobby

Vincent O'Keefe(Vincent O’Keefe’s piece first appeared in The Huffington Post. Reposted by permission of the author.)

Can we be honest? I know many people adore dogs, but I have mixed feelings. In fact, in 10th grade, I had to present a five-minute speech on a pet peeve for my Public Speaking class. I explained four reasons why I did not care for canines back then:

1. They bark. Near my childhood home, there lived an intimidating German Shepherd named Hook. Whenever anyone walked by his house, he would bark fiercely and barrel out of the garage, only to be snapped back at the last moment by a thick rope. Neighborhood lore included a morning when the rope failed, and the newspaper delivery boy had to climb a rose trellis to escape attack. Some accounts added a “Hook-bite,” but that was never verified.

2. They bite. See Hook story above.

3. They shed. Another neighbor’s dog, Bilbo, was a lovable but shaggy gray blob who left hairs wherever he went, including across my clothes when I would visit.

4. They smell. Sorry Bilbo, but you stunk.

As you might imagine, my audience did not love my speech, especially those students who owned dogs. At the time, my family had an indoor-outdoor cat, but he was as low-maintenance as a fish. So, I was neither a dog-person nor a cat-person, but the slight edge went to cats. Looking back, however, I see that my “public” speech at age 16 was based too much on my private experience.

Fast-forward to stay-at-home fatherhood, and I’m faced with two daughters lobbying hard for a dog. My first mistake was taking them to the local pet store “just to learn about different pets.” Unless you plan on getting a pet, don’t do this. My search was for a low-needs, non-allergenic pet, and we came close to settling on a guinea pig, which I argued was very dog-like. But when I realized they frequently trudge through their own urine and feces, I cancelled that search party.

Then, I researched small dogs, and we inspected a few. During one trip to a pet store, my daughters, my father-in-law, and I squeezed into the little observational cubicle to test the personality of a pug puppy. That adorable pooch behind glass, however, became a pint-sized terror in person! As he nipped at our ankles, my daughters (and possibly me) started screaming and standing on the seats like proverbial 1950s housewives afraid of a mouse. My father-in-law, who had just recovered from heart surgery, tried to calm the puppy, but the dog scratched his forearm and drew blood. From her perch above the scene, my medically savvy 11-year-old surprised me when she started crying “He’s on a blood thinner!”

After a store employee rescued us from the pugnacious pug, we did more research and finally settled on a Yorkie due to its non-allergenic, indoor-trainable and “cat-like” nature.dog

Now that I’ve spent some time with our semi-beloved Benny, please allow me to revise my 10th grade speech and present four reasons why I sort of like dogs now:

1. They bring out the animal in you. I admit, I love to live vicariously through Benny’s simple, instinctive pleasures: reveling in horseplay, feasting like a pig and sleeping like, well, a dog.

2. They bring out the kid in you. Each time someone enters the house, Benny politely jumps straight up and down alongside them until they agree to get on the floor and play with him.

3. They bring out the parent in you. My wife adores Benny, and my kids now know their mother’s “baby voice,” which she once used with them but now reserves for the dog. She enjoys the chance to be maternal to a “baby” without all the incessant mothering (and fathering) an actual baby demands. On a disturbing note, she has started to claim publicly that her canine “son” looks like Brad Pitt. While Benny does have long hair parted in the middle and a seeming soul patch on his chin, my concern is growing.

4. They put pet peeves in perspective. One of my other pet peeves has always been “morning people” (who I secretly envy). But I admit that due to Benny’s energetic morning greetings, one of my pet peeves has neutralized another. On a larger note, the vision of my daughters proudly carrying their dog around the house redeems all the peevish Hooks and Bilbos of the world. I even allowed them to put an “I Love My Yorkie” sticker on our car, which makes it even harder to be a stay-at-home tough guy.

I don’t remember what grade I got on my presentation back in Public Speaking, but I think about my old pet peeve on certain days with Benny. For example, the uncanny canine got his revenge for that speech the day we leased a new car and shortly thereafter, peed and pooped on the back seats (of absorbent cloth, not easy-to-wipe leather). Then he climbed all over me with wet fecal matter in his Brad Pitt hair.

— Vincent O’Keefe

Vincent O’Keefe is a writer and stay-at-home father with a Ph.D. in American literature. His writing has appeared in The New York Times ”Motherlode” blog, The Huffington PostThe Shriver ReportBrain, ChildThe Good Men Project and Role/Reboot, among other venues. He is seeking an agent for a humorous memoir about a decade of at-home parenting. A chapter on colic is currently titled “Take This Onesie and Shove It.” Watch/read/listen to more of his work at www.vincentokeefe.com or follow him on Twitter @VincentAOKeefe.

Just a cup of coffee

Lenna C. WyattOn my way to get my first cup of coffee one morning I spotted my silver fruit bowl that had long been in need of a good polishing. Grabbing my favorite coffee cup, I stood on my kitchen stool to search for the silver polish in an upper cupboard next to the refrigerator. I sometimes forget things so decided to get the polish out now to remind myself to polish the bowl after coffee.

At the front of the cupboard were the cleaning items I use most everyday, or at least weekly. In the back of the cupboard I noticed a variety of old and nearly empty containers of various cleaning products, some worn out sponges and a partially full bottle of houseplant food, all of which were not visible to me (being only five foot two), until I stood on the stool.

I set my cup down on top of the refrigerator and because I tend to forget things, while I was on the stool I thought I might as well get rid of the items no longer usable. Suddenly I spotted a motionless furry looking thing in the midst of it all. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it was a partially hairless scrub brush before I flew off the stool. On the stool again, having regained my composure, I moved the keepable items over to the top of the refrigerator and wrapped the disintegrating shelf paper around the fuzzy thing and the containers too large for the kitchen trash and headed to the garbage bin on the side of the yard.

On my way there I noticed a few weeds sprouting up and knowing how I forget things, I decided to pull them before they had a chance to multiply. I set the bundle of items from the cupboard down on the patio table and began to yank at the weeds. The phone rang, and I hurried into the house to answer it while still holding the weeds. It was my best friend, and as we were talking I unconsciously began to twist the plant life in my free hand shredding them onto the carpet. We ended our chat and, when I saw what I had done, I got the vacuum cleaner out and cleaned up the green fuzzy pieces. I might as well do the whole room, I decided, since I had the vacuum cleaner in hand.

As I put it back in the broom closet, I noticed the knob on the door was coming loose, so I went to the garage to get a screwdriver out of my toolbox. In my search for the tool I noticed that my car was in need of washing. I was going to a meeting later that morning and didn’t want to be seen in a dirty car.

I got the car keys from the drawer of the umbrella bench in the hall, set the screwdriver down on it and went to back the car into the driveway. I turned the water on, only to find that the hose had several holes in it. Water was squirting in every direction. Turning off the faucet, I unscrewed the hose, and because I sometimes forget things, rolled it up and put it on the workbench to repair at another time. I would go to a carwash before the meeting.

After the meeting I passed a grocery store and remembered that I needed several items for a family potluck on the coming Saturday. As I put the items in the refrigerator I spotted the silver bowl that I was going to polish. The bowl that led me to clean out the cupboard and then to the patio table where I left the trash items to answer the phone while dropping weeds on the carpet, causing me to get out the vacuum cleaner, leading me to search for a screwdriver to tighten the loose knob after vacuuming, and on to discover the holey hose.

I needed to sit down with a cup of coffee, contemplate my day and try to remember some projects I think I started this morning. Now, if I could just remember where I put my favorite coffee cup…

— Lenna C. Wyatt

Lenna C. Wyatt, of Scottsdale, Ariz., has written dozens of short stories, many with O. Henry-style endings. She’s nearly finished with a mystery and continues to work on an archaeological novel about the first 2,000 years of human history.

A winter break for the brave

Mary Farr and NoahNow that Madam and I are home from our 10-day caper on a dairy farm, it seemed like a perfect time to debrief about the trip. It was, after all, an uncommon winter adventure — an agrarian version of Will Steger’s dogsled journey to Antarctica. Rather than slip away for a week in Key Largo, we hoofed it across the Wisconsin border to care for eight broodmares and assorted pets…in a sustained blizzard.

“So tell me,” I asked Madam. “How does it feel to be home?”

“Easy,” she replied without hesitation.

“Could you elaborate?” I asked, recalling that our wintery jaunt did not in any way resemble an Odyssey luxury tour.

“Yup,” she said. “I’m finding it easy to remove snow from my sidewalk with a shovel instead of a Bobcat Skidsteer Loader. And it’s easy to sleep with one Jack Russell terrier instead of two. It’s also easy to thaw my frozen garage door with a hair dryer instead of burning out the motor on someone else’s,” she added.

True. I recalled one frozen garage door episode at the farm. It resulted in a power outage and a visit from the local LiftMaster mechanic. But, then Madam is resourceful, though not mechanically savvy. Even the TV croaked the minute she picked up the remote.

“Well, how about the weather?” I probed, recalling sub-zero mornings. “Might you have enjoyed a cozy afternoon of Mahjong with friends instead of battling a stiff wind and a pitchfork?”Noah

“The calves were good company,” she offered. “They bucked and galloped their appreciation every time I drove past in the John Deere gator. The broodmares chatted me up each time I came over the hill,” she added. “And they enjoyed cluttering up their beds the minute I cleaned them.”

Hmm ….Perhaps I should have been helping her with the pitchfork instead of flirting with a filly named Nicca Cat. And my Canasta tournament didn’t fly with the mares either. I made a mental note to call the University Extension about gender-sensitive training for geldings.

“And the sub-zero weather?” I probed. Frankly I expected Madam to say that next year we would be heading to Key Largo instead of dairy country.

“The Carhartt coveralls and earflap hat ensured 10 blissful days sans hair styling,” she chirped. “No make up. No TV nightly nightmare news. No Save the Squirrels phone solicitations. No Facebook flaps or analyzing Google Analytics. Gee, a person could pay a lot for that kind of peace and quiet.

She did make a good point. So, I’ve decided to call Odyssey Travel and suggest they add winter dairy farm touring to their offerings.

— Noah Vail

Noah Vail and Mary Farr have collaborated on a book, Never Say Neigh: An Adventure in Fun, Funny and the Power of You. Noah, author, philosopher, humorist, gin rummy ace and all-around “good news sort of guy” blogs here. Never Say Neigh won an honorable mention in the 2013 Paris Book Festival.

Ode to estrogen

Jennifer HicksI love being a woman.

The cramps, backaches, headaches, pimples, bloating. The if-you-even-come-near-my-boobs-I-will-knock-you-the-eff-out-because-they’re-killing-me days. Sorry, kids, no hugs from Mommy today. The gas. Then again, with all this gas, maybe you don’t really want a hug. The forgetfulness. The cravings and newly sprouted chin hairs. Oh, look! That’s a really long one! Crying my eyes out because of a sad story or video. Those poor puppies!! Then realizing the tissue box is empty and no one got out a new one or wrote it on the grocery list and now I’m super pissed because Seriously! How hard is it to write it down when you use the last one? and How am I the only one who can ever do that?! and Do you WANT me to go on strike because I will?!! I totally will! You do not want me to go on strike. And it’s back to crying because now I feel bad because I just remembered that the Girl is sick and probably used up all the tissues with her poor, red, little faucet of a nose and she didn’t have the energy to get up and write it on the list … and I’m a terrible mother that I forgot about that and I didn’t even make her soup … and I was yelling at her in my head when she was so sick and I’m an awful person … and I’ll just write it on the list myself and maybe I’ll get her favorite cereal to make it up to her. So, yeah, the run-on mood swings. And, of course, the week-long blood-letting.

Where was I? Oh, yes. I love being a woman.

We also have the annual  humiliation and discomfort visit with the gyne. You know how it goes. Conversation and examination. Talk and poke. Chit chat and hit that.

Gyne: “So, how are the kids? Everybody doing well? Can you scooch down the table some more?”

Me: (scooching ‘til I feel like my entire nether region is dangling off the table) “They’re fine. He’ll be in high school next year, so that’s –”

Gyne (interrupting): “Sorry, I need you to move down more. So, high school, huh? That’s a big adjustment.”

Me: (more scooching. seriously??) “Yep. Hard to believe it’s already here. I remember kindergarten so clearly.”

Gyne: “Yes. I know what you mean. Mine are in college. You’re going to feel a little pressure. Deep breath in and blow it out.” Craaaaaannnnnnkk. “Perfect.”

Me: (Groan) “Wow. College. I can’t even wrap my mind around that idea yet.”

And so it goes for what feels like a little bit of forever when in reality, it’s about 10 minutes. It just seems to last so much longer with all the stretching of the cervix and groping of the bewbies.  So. Much. Longer. Glad it’s only once a year.

I love being a woman.

If you’re an extra lucky lady, you also get to have a yearly round with the old Smashinator. The Squish-o-rama. The Pancake Maker. The Boobie Press. Good times for the girls!

I love being a woman.

Fun.

Yay.

Wahoo.

Pew. Pew.

(Those were my confetti cannons celebrating all my lady parts and the joys of womanhood.)

And now let’s finish out this party time with Kool and the Gang because it’s time to ceeeeellllebraaaaaate good times. You know what?! NO! There will be no singing. Not today. Absofrickinlutely no. Just give me the damn quart of Ben and Jerry’s, a spoon, some Ibuprofen, the remote, some tissues and leave me alone to watch the Hallmark channel.

I’ll be back to my usual self again in a few days. And then we get to start the process all over again.

I love being a woman.

— Jennifer Hicks

Jennifer Hicks is a mom, wife, dork and fluent speaker of sarcasm. She has spent some of her adult years as a stay-at-home-mom and others as a high school teacher. She writes about the good, the bad, the ugly and sometimes the very funny as the mother of two teenagers at her blog, Real Life Parenting. She was the Blogger Idol 2013 runner-up, has been featured on Parents Space and Bonbon Break, and is a contributing author in the book The HerStories Project: Women Share the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship.

Why I’d never home school.
The password is…frustration.

Alisa SchindlerReading with my 5 year-old is kind of like playing password.

The sentence is… “Mac can tag Mag.”

“Okay,” I encourage. “Let’s sound it out. What’s the first letter?”

“M” He shouts with confidence.

“That’s right, and how does M sound?”

“Mmmmmm” He says, making a funny face.

“Great! Now what’s the next letter?”

“Mmmmm” he continues, totally amused with himself and the sound.

“Yes, yes.” I say semi-patiently. “But what’s the next letter?”

“A!”

“Right again!” My boy grins like he just bought a vowel and got four. But that’s a different game.

“And the last letter?”

“C. Cacacacacaca” He automatically sounds out.

“So we have Mmmm, aaa and cacacaca.”

He listens to me intently and repeats, “Mmmmmmm aaaaa ccccc.”

“That’s right!!” I say, bouncing a little in my seat with excitement. “Now put it together.”

“Mmmmaaaaccccc. Cat!” He says triumphantly.book

“Cat?” I ask, incredulous. “Cat? Where the…” But I have to stop myself and regain my mommy composure. “Uh, no. What does cat start with?”

“C!” He says.

“Right! And what’s the first letter here?”

“M.”

“Right. And how does M go?”

“Mmmm” He says and starts with the silly face.

“Right again.” I say, ignoring the fact that he’s still mmmm-ing. “So let’s sound it out again. Mmmmmm aaaaaa ccccccc.. Say it with me.”

Together we say, “mmmm aaaaa ccccc”  pulling it closer and closer together until we get…

“MAT!” He cries with happiness.

My face twists up in agony. “So close!” I say, gritting my teeth, “But the last letter is a C, remember? Not T. So it’s Maaaaaaaa…”  I feed him the sounds and stare at him bug-eyed, nodding freakishly. He looks at me and then looks at the word, and then to me and back to the word.

Finally, with uncertainly he says, “Mac?”

“Yes!” I jump up and kiss his face. He smiles warily. I think he’s afraid of me.

I lean back in my chair and puff out in relief like we’ve just finished Homer’s Odyssey. Wow. We worked our way through it and got it!

Oh wait. I come down off my reader’s high, look at the book and sigh. There are still three more words on the page.

Gathering my strength, I return my attention to completing the sentence.

Mac can tag Mag.

“Okay. So we’ve got the first word.” I look at my son expectantly and point to it. He looks at me expectantly, eyes wide.

Please don’t say it. Please don’t say it. My brain whispers.

“Cat!”

“Oh my God. Pass!”

— Alisa Schindler

Alisa Schindler is freelance writer who chronicles the sweet and bittersweet of life in the suburbs on her highly entertaining blog www.icescreammama.com. Her essays have been featured on Mamapedia.com and Bonbonbreak.com as well as in the book, Life Well Blogged. She is a member of “Yeah Write,” an online community for writers, where she has won the Jury Prize multiple times in the group’s weekly essay writing contest.  She has just completed her first novel that she feels comfortable showing to someone other than her mother.

Landed at the wrong airport?
Imagining a PR response

Dan Zevin(Dan Zevin’s piece appeared in The New York Times on Jan. 30, 2014. Reposted by permission of the author.)

A Southwest Airlines jet touched down at the wrong Missouri airport this month, a mix-up that comes two months after a cargo jet landed at the wrong airport in Kansas. How will the industry bounce back from the embarrassing publicity? Herewith, some suggestions for an emergency P.R. campaign.

1. Your Fitness Comes First.

Our award-winning pilots know what sitting on a plane can do to your spinal column, and that’s why we unveiled our heart-healthy Fly n’ Walk© program that not only gets you where you want to go, but also gets you in shape! Here’s how: On select flights, we’ll “go that extra mile” for you by landing the aircraft at an airport several miles away from the one on your boarding pass. After some gentle calisthenics, lace up your sneakers and follow our flight attendants on a brisk fitness walk to your original destination. Not only will you burn calories and work those tough-to-tone glutes, you’ll also receive bonus frequent flier points.

2. Safety. Our Promise to You.

Like fire drills or tests of the emergency broadcasting system, our Passenger Protection Preparation Procedures (PPPPs) include occasional unannounced — but 100 percent planned — landings at neighboring airports, or “safe havens.” Whether you’re flying to southwest Afghanistan, southwest Syria or southwest Missouri, these landings are completely 100 percent planned. It’s just that we make them look unplanned in order to simulate the unlikely event of an actual emergency landing. So relax! Your safety. Our planes. All planned.

3. Pay Less, See More.

How do we keep our fares so low? It’s simple. We have a vast network of partner airports that grant us last-minute deals on rock-bottom runway prices. And the more last-minute, the more savings we pass on to you. It’s all part of our “Pay Less, See More” initiative. More exciting destinations. More sizzling attractions. More surprising airports. After all, isn’t that what travel is truly about?

4. No Hidden Fees or Vendettas. Ever.

We pride ourselves on never engaging in New Jersey “Bridgegate”-style shenanigans. For example, if one of our co-pilots flying to, say, Branson, Mo., had a vendetta against his captain because his captain selected a pilot 10 years his junior for the plum flight to St. Croix that day, you can bet that this co-pilot would never, under any circumstances, have sent the following email to his buddy Mort in air-traffic control: “Time to land the plane at the wrong airport in Missouri!”

— Dan Zevin

Dan Zevin is the 2013 winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor.  His latest book, Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad, along with his previous one, The Day I Turned Uncool, have been optioned by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions. He has followed his readers through each phase of life, from post-college coping (Entry-Level Life) to tying the knot (The Nearly-wed Handbook) to developing a disturbing new interest in lawn care and wine tastings (Uncool). And that was all before he had kids.

Beware the binge-watching house

Greg Schwem(This piece by Greg Schwem first appeared in The Huffington Post on Jan. 8, 2014. Reposted by permission of the author.) 

I’d heard rumors about the small, dilapidated single-family structure at the end of my street. During the housing bust it sat vacant, weeds and trash littering the porch and surrounding lot. But almost overnight, the abode sprang to life. Faint, bluish glows flickered in various windows; cars came and went at all hours; strange delivery trucks idled in the driveway. Occasionally a police car pulled up. Two officers would enter the premises and emerge with an occupant, radioing, “We found him,” to headquarters.

“Level with me,” I said to my cop friend Marv over beers one evening. What’s in there? Heroin? Meth? It’s a crack house, right?”

His eyes scanned the room and he lowered his voice. “It’s far worse.”

“What could be worse than having a shooting gallery in your neighborhood?”

“Take a ride with me,” Marv said. “But I could lose my job for this.”

I entered his unmarked vehicle and we parked in an alley behind the dwelling. We approached the front door cautiously.

“Should I be armed?” I asked. “Or at least wearing a vest?”

“Nah, you’ll be fine. Just don’t talk. Even a whisper is likely to get you hurt.”

The front door was unlocked. Marv opened it slowly.

“Oh my God,” were the only words I could muster.

From my vantage point, I counted at least seven flat screen televisions in various locations. Three were mounted to a single wall, giving the area the feel of a Vegas sports book. I recognized the characters from Breaking Bad on the 80-inch model. Below and to the left, a smaller plasma was tuned to Scandal. Bleary-eyed occupants desperately in need of food, sleep and hot showers were sprawled in anything that passed for seating. A dilapidated couch that screamed fraternity yard sale contained two middle-aged men and a twenty-something woman, eyes glazed yet affixed to the exploits of Walter White.

“I’ve seen this one,” I said. “A fly gets into the meth lab and…”

“SHUT UP DUDE!” came the reply from the woman.

“We haven’t seen it,” her companion added. “Make another sound and we will seriously mess you up.”

I glanced at Marv, who shrugged and arched his eyebrows, giving me his best, “I-warned-you” look. He gestured for me to meet him in the kitchen.

“What IS this place?” I said.

“It’s a binge watching house,’ he said. “These poor people man, they enter, they get a taste of Sons of Anarchy and they’re hooked.

“Why can’t they just watch these shows at home?” I asked.

“You don’t know anything about addiction, do you?” Marv said. “These people can’t just watch their show once a week. Oh sure, maybe they THINK they can, but it never works. They always want more. They’re on their third Homeland episode when their kids start whining about wanting to watch Dance Moms. So they come up with some lame excuse like ‘I’m just going to run to Target for a few things,’ and they end up here.

“Pardon me, old chap, but would you be so kind as to lower your volume? The other lads and I are having a most difficult time hearing the telly.”

“It’s the Downton Abbey addicts,” Marv said. “Much more polite than the Breaking Bad crew.”

“Who started this?” I said. “I mean, do you have any leads?”

“All of our sources point to the evil Netflix cartel,” Marv said. “They control about 80 percent of the country’s binge-watching activity. Oh sure, there are other players…Hulu Plus, CinemaNow, VUDU…but Netflix is ruthless. Sooner or later they crush everybody.”

A knock at the door interrupted our conversation. A gravelly voice exclaimed “Best Buy.”

“Jackson, we got another delivery,” said a 60-ish grandfather type, sprawled on a beach chair watching Mad Men.

A college-aged surfer dude, who I assumed was Jackson, rose from a beanbag chair. “Everybody hit ‘pause,’” he commanded.

The action on all the screens froze in unison. Jackson approached the delivery man.

“What do you got today?”

“A 50-inch Sony plasma, a TV stand and a Roku box. Sign here.”

“Put it in the basement,” Jackson commanded. “We’ve got a House of Cards gang coming in this afternoon and we’ll need the space.”

“Are we done? We’re done, right? We can press ‘play.’ Tell me we can press ‘play,’” came a hysterical plea near a TV where the characters from The Walking Dead were motionless.

“Yeah, everything’s cool again,” Jackson replied. “You know the drill. Let’s see some green.”

Carrying a Tupperware container, Jackson walked the room, stopping near each resident. Tens and twenties soon filled the container to overflow.
.
“Five bucks?” Jackson asked one bearded binge watcher. “Dude, you’ve been here since Arrested Development was available for live streaming.”

“Jackson, you know I’m good for it. Just let me finish Season 4.”

“You got ’til Friday,” Jackson replied and moved on.

“Who’s this Jackson guy?” I asked Marv.

“Don’t know much about him other than he used to be a Starbucks barista. But he rented this place, added the TVs and now these people pay him each time he signs up for another Netflix subscription. Sure it’s $7.99 a month, but we hear he’s charging $20 and pocketing the rest.”

“And they pay that?”

“You’d pay it, too, if you wanted to watch Orange is the New Black uninterrupted.”

“Can’t you arrest him?”

“For what?” Marv replied. “It ain’t illegal to watch TV.”

“But he’s ruining lives. “You said most of these people have families.”

Just then the door opened. “Donald are you here?”

The woman swept into the room, bypassing The FollowingBones and Weeds until she came to the Dexter couch.

“I warned you what would happen if I found you here again,” she said to a man I assumed was her husband.

“I promise you baby, this is the last episode. I got 15 more minutes and then I promise I’ll get clean. Now could you move? You’re blocking the screen.”

She turned on her heel. “My lawyer will be in touch.”

“It’s hideous,” Marv said. “And it’s only gonna get worse.”

“How so?”

Girls resumes this month.”

A chill ran down my spine.

— Greg Schwem

Greg Schwem is a corporate stand-up comedian and author of Text Me If You’re Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad. He writes a weekly nationally syndicated humor column for Tribune Media Services. Many of his columns appear in The Huffington Post.

10 reasons why I think my preschooler is in the CIA

Estelle Sobel ErasmusDear parents of preschoolers,

I’ve been dealing with this for a while, but I think it’s time to share my concern with the rest of you for your own good. So, here it is:

I believe my daughter’s preschool is some sort of top-secret early CIA program that parents are kept in the dark about.

And I don’t believe that I’m the only parent in this situation; I am just the tip of the iceberg.

I also believe that the kids have sworn an oath to secrecy as good citizens protecting our country and they take this responsibility very, very seriously.

Think about it parents: if you have enrolled your children in preschool full-time, they are in there for at least five to six hours a day! But what do you really know about what they are doing, except for seeing their pre-selected weekly pics, a few art projects, and hearing about the occasional party to throw us off track?

They are very clever, but I have figured it out. So, to prove I’m neither crazy nor delusional — and neither are you fellow silent sufferers. Here are my top reasons why I think my preschooler is in some sort of top-secret government CIA program.

1) They Do “Stuff”

I recently asked my 3-year-old daughter about her day at school and here is a synopsis of our conversation:

Me: “So what did you do at preschool today?”

Her: “We did lots of stuff and then we did more stuff.”

Me: Um, OK.

Stuff, stuff and more stuff. It’s just what they do. My daughter’s vocabulary normally includes words like actually, think, happy and love. She is clearly a purist with a preference for using the word ‘stuff’ when it comes to describing her day, coupled with a matter-of-fact expression that further serves to thwart me (her intention I believe).

I even bowed to the assumed wisdom of one (possibly brainwashed) parent with older children, who admonished me that I was not asking specific questions, such as, “Did you paint today?”

Dutifully, I asked my daughter that and got a slightly pitying look from her and a resounding — wait for it — head shake, no.

2) She’s Sworn to a Code of Silence

It’s as if their school’s theme song is the Go-Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed.”

Whatever I say or do, I’m unable to get any specifics from her about her school experiences.

For example, ask me about my day, and I won’t shut up. You’ll get tons of details. Just ask my husband. Her, not so much. Not right away anyway.

3) Photos are Verboten

I receive photos of her from the school each week, but for some reason, known only to them, all the photos show her with her eyes cast down or averted from the camera, as if she is hiding something.

Very suspect. Because. She. Never. Looks. Directly. Into. The. Camera.

4) Circle Time is Code for “Bad Behavior Explored”

I have a theory that circle time is when the kids get instructions to test the moral fibers of their parents, determine our reactions and assess our empathy levels. They do this by exploring scenarios of unacceptable behavior and gauging our responses.

For example, I asked my daughter about circle time yesterday. She paused, in her relentless goal of watching as many episodes of “Dora the Explorer on Demand” as she can before going to bed, furrowed her little face and then proceeded to deflect like the true professional she is.

“Somebody ripped the book, and it was ruined,” she told me, solemnly reporting this reading-related incident. Another friend told me that her daughter reported a stolen Elmo juice box intrigue.

Undaunted, I tried again yesterday.

Me: “What did you do in circle time today?”

Her: “Bob (name changed to protect the maybe not so innocent) cried.”

Me: “During circle time?”  Thinking to myself: I know this boy, and he seems a hardy type.

Her: “Yes.”

Me: “Why did he cry?”

Her: “I think he missed his mommy.”

Repeated plaintively, head cocked, staring me down. “He missed his mommy!”

Very interesting. She threw in deflection and added in a heap of mommy guilt for good measure just to throw me further off the track.

Well played, daughter. Well played.

5) Are Legos Legit?

Indulge me and ponder the concept of LEGOs for a moment. They are in every preschool. For what purpose? Why/what do children need to build so bad, and who needs them to build it? Is there a secret LEGO building factory that they are a part of?

Ask yourself that question. I do.

6) I Believe She Has a Double

According to her teachers, my daughter is a true gem:  polite, helpful, very sociable and shows lots of empathy for other kids.

Obviously, she has a double acting on her behalf during the day. How else to explain the tantrum I’ve deemed the “I Want More Goldfish Crackers Caper” when she went crazy for an HOUR AND A HALF over her overwhelming need for This. One. Specific. Food. A demand that she repeated over and over in an endless litany that felt as long as my pregnancy was.

She had clearly honed this skill somewhere and was now testing it on me. It was the kid equivalent of Chinese water torture — or water boarding. Behavior that was designed to make me, um, crackers.

7) Unexplainable Stains On Her Clothes 

One day it is an orange stain that confounds me.

“Did you paint with orange today?” I ask her.

“No,” she replies, “I used green.”‘

“Green?” I asked tentatively. “I don’t see anything green. Did one of the kids use orange paint?”

“No. Mommy. No. Orange. Paint,” she yells back.

“Did you get an orange as a snack?”

“No.”

And so it goes. Confusing me and making me question my very sanity.

8) Snack Time Syndrome

There is one bright spot for me in all this. My daughter is great at talking about what she ate at snack time. That’s why I’ve figured out the code for it. The code for snack time is, “you’ve got to give the grownups something or they’ll break.”

One friend says, “If I ask over and over, I can often get a result about snack of the day. But that’s it.”

Hard to believe. Although she is out of the house for hours, the only “nugget” of info (or Intel) she can provide is about snack time. Usually it’s to tell me that she didn’t like what I provided.

“No more yogurt, mommy.”

“But you used to like yogurt, honey.”

“Mommy. Mommy. You need to be a good listener. No. More. Yogurt.”

At least she’s sharing info about something, I tell myself.

But, what I “get” often adds to the mystery.

9) All Thoughts Dora Aside, They Still Can’t Relinquish Their Backpacks

The backpacks must have top-secret information. My daughter won’t let it leave her body not even when she gets in the car. When we get home, she empties it out first (probably checking that no confidential documents have been stashed where I can get access to them), after which she keeps it arm’s length away from her for the rest of the day.

10)  They Carry Nuts or Peanut Items as a Weapon

My daughter goes to a nut-free school. Why then, every morning, do I have to wrestle some peanut-containing granola bar or breakfast bar, or cereal container out of her hands? A fight that does not go easily until I manage to grab the dangerous item. Why then, oh why, do I see her in the back of the car, with a tiny piece of the food “weapon” still in her hand, or sometimes even secreted away in her mouth? Why is she so determined to hang on to the toxic-to-other-kids morsel? For what nefarious reasons does she need to protect herself?

And let me leave you with one last thought. Nap Time?

Does your child EVER nap at home? No, I didn’t think so. I know mine stopped hers more than eight months ago. So why only in school? And what makes them so agreeable to do it?

You mean to tell me that the child, who fights her bedtime routine tooth and nail, simply says ok, and goes right to sleep when told by the teacher? What mind-control sessions are occurring during this so called nap time?

That’s the next conspiracy I plan to uncover. Who’s with me?

— Estelle Sobel Erasmus

Estelle Sobel Erasmus is an award-winning journalist and former magazine editor-in-chief who blogs about her sometimes serious, often humorous but always transformative journey through motherhood, marriage and midlife at Musings on Motherhood and Midlife. She was recently the featured blogger at She Speaks. Her writing was recently featured in the anthology, What Do Mothers Need? Motherhood Activists and Scholars Speak Out on Maternal Empowerment for the 21st Century (Demeter Press, 2013). She is a 2012 BlogHer Voice of the Year, a Circle of Moms Top 25 Winner for Best Family Blog by a Mom and a proud “Listen to Your Mother” NYC alumni.  You can find her writing at Kveller.com, Weightwatchers.com and WorkingMother.com. Estelle also can be found on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

Reflections of Erma