Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Visit from the Diaper Fairy

Something in the house smelled funny.

“Don’t you smell that?” my wife said. She puts everything in the form of a question, a method of communication I still haven’t mastered. ‘Don’t you smell that’ could mean anything from ‘there’s a dead opossum under the sofa’ to ‘You haven’t had a bath in three days.’ Our conversations involving topics more complex than Larry the Cable Guy movies get a little confusing.

And, yes, I smelled it. Unless a commercial pig farm moved in next door, the two-year-old messed his pants … again.

“Is that why he’s hiding?” I asked.

Our son is on the upper end of two. He’s mastered all the things kids his age are supposed to master, like colors, stacking, and screaming “no, my toys” whenever he remembers his little sister exists.

The one thing he won’t do is sit on the potty. And, unless there’s some unknown condition that causes two-year-olds to mistake toilets for slathering-mouthed tigers, he’s just being stubborn.

There are pivotal points in a person’s life. Graduation, landing that first real job, getting married. Not being potty trained might really set those back.

Date No. 1: I had a really great time tonight. We should … hey, why are my shoes wet?

The Boy: Uh, yeah, that was me.

I won’t even mention what might happen if the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes people knock on his door.

In this new, kinder age of parenting where toddlers call the Division of Family Services if they don’t get a pudding cup with lunch, it’s a lot harder to get your child to do something than when I was a kid. Back in those dim, dark years, I’m sure Mom’s potty training method included an iron maiden.

You know, she says I potty trained early.

My wife’s sister-in-law bribed her kids; a couple of M&Ms usually carry a lot of weight with a two-year-old. We tried that. Telling him Superman wears underwear? We tried that, too. He just doesn’t care

“Did you know that tomorrow you’re going to be three,” my wife said to him one afternoon. “So tonight the Diaper Fairy is going to come and take all your diapers away.”

The Diaper Fairy?

“And she’s going to leave brand new big boy underpants.”

Whoa, the Diaper Fairy was a new one on me. But, for some reason, the Boy was listening.

Unlike dads who yell in one-word sentences, moms have an eerie ability to calmly get children to do what they want. Maybe a little supernatural intervention was all he needed.

The next morning he woke to find underwear sitting where we used to keep his diapers. He seemed impressed. Maybe, just maybe, this Diaper Fairy ruse would work.

Day Four: nope. I just hope the Boy’s future wife is patient.

Copyright 2007 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me State’s Most Spirited Spots,” is available now. Order it from, or Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

This show is about what?

The TV screen was blue. Really blue. The kind of television blue that only comes from computer graphics or a complete breakdown of satellite communication.

A biplane zipped across the screen. Cool. Either everything’s fine with the world, or I’ve gone back in time.

“What is this?” I asked, sitting on the couch, leaning toward my wife and whispering like a man giving evidence to the CIA … evidence that may get him shot.

“(Jerry, Jeffery, Jasmine, whatever) the Jet Plane,” she said softly. This covert intelligence exchange was vital to Happy Home Security – if the toddler ever discovered Mom and Dad didn’t like ‘Whatever the Jet Plane,’ he might want to watch it more often.

“Does it matter?” she asked.

No, it really didn’t. But something about the show bothered me. Was it the dialogue? The obvious socialism that would have sent Sen. Joseph McCarthy screaming through the halls of Congress? The unicorns?

“The planes have faces,” I said, but that couldn’t be it. In my son’s movies trains, busses and construction equipment all have human faces. I’ve learned to deal with that. No, it was something else.

As I watched, the airplanes, and one sad little helicopter were all gathered in the hanger taking orders from a young woman.

Wait. That’s it. That’s what bothered me … well, that and the kid-movie music that wedges itself so far into my skull it only surfaces when I’m at work and really have to concentrate.

“Why is it acceptable for kids to watch obviously sentient beings in a subservient role, eagerly bending to the whims of their cruel human masters?” I asked. Yeah, Thomas the Tank Engine, Bob the Builder, Speed Buggy – they’re all guilty of promoting the serfdom of medieval France.

My wife shrugged.

What? Had the Kids TV Programming Medieval French monarchy gotten to her?

“This is how ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’ started,” I said, standing only to be pulled back down and shushed. “It didn’t end well for us. If the revolution begins tomorrow, for the record I’ve always been nice to Chryslers and monkeys.”

I’ve learned a lot since that day. I’ve learned monkeys won’t take over America until at least 2035. And I’ve learned that children’s TV programming is so bizarrely annoying my wife and I have turned each show into a soap opera just to keep our brains from crawling out our ears and beating us unconscious with sticks.

Did you know Thomas and Friends’ Sir Topham Hatt is really a mob boss. Hired goons escort him everywhere, so don’t look at him funny … I’m serious.

Or that Curious George has a serious cracker habit (rumor has it, it’s graham)?

Or the fact that Bob the Builder … no, that story’s just too tragic.

Turning our kid’s shows into soap operas may be sad, but it makes watching them just a little bit easier.

Copyright 2007 by Jason Offutt

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Please toss that can, my kids need shoes

The autumn sun, just beginning to sink politely behind the trees, reflected off something metal in the grass.

My wife and I were on our afternoon walk with the kids. I pushed the Toddler and the Baby in the stroller SUV – a stroller so big other walkers laugh at its crappy gas mileage – as my wife scanned the terrain for aluminum cans.

“Stop,” she said, putting out her arm. Had she seen a snake? Rabid squirrel? Rebel flag in someone’s window? “There’s one over there.”

She snatched a plastic grocery bag from our Stroller Utility Vehicle, left me and the kids on the sidewalk, ran across the street, stuffed an empty can into the bag and walked back toward us. And yes, she was grinning.

My wife is a bag lady. When we go for a walk, she brings a bag for the aluminum cans she picks up along the way. “It’s environmentally-conscious and it helps make our city more beautiful,” she said on our first can-hunting expedition. I made fun of her for a few days. Then she took a load of crushed cans to the recycler and brought back $7.50; now I help.

Earning money from aluminum cans is a college dream come true. My roommate and I once decided – I imagine after a lot of drinking – that if we saved our aluminum beer cans, we could cash them in and use that money to buy more beer, then when those cans were empty ... Well, it was a brilliant cycle that would keep us swimming in beer until graduation. So we started tossing our empties into a closet.

We just didn’t anticipate the smell; the sweet, stale smell of Natural Light gone bad; nor did we consider the invasion of gnats so great our dorm room hummed like a weed eater.

Thinking back, maybe we should have rinsed out the cans.

My wife stuffed the bag of beer cans back into the stroller basket intended for diapers, snacks, toys, or in the case of some kids, shock collars. We were ready to go again … the hunt was on.

Our route, once park- and occasionally Baskin Robbins-friendly, now usually takes us by apartment complexes and rental houses – we live in a college town, after all.

“More cans there, please,” the Toddler said, pointing from his seat. Oh, great, my wife’s turning our kids into bag people. Environmentally-conscious? Makes our city more beautiful? Yeah, those reasons sound good, but what American, other than old hippies and brainwashed environmentalists, really cares?

Oh, yeah, my wife. But I think she’s honestly in it for the money. Maybe if I drink more beer, we can afford to send the kids to college. It’s worth mentioning.

She walked to where the Toddler was pointing and came back with a handful of aluminum.

“I don’t ever want to hear anyone talk badly about college students,” she said, dropping the Keystone Light cans into the sack.

Hey, I won’t. Just wait until homecoming – we might be able to buy a new car.

Copyright 2007 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me State’s Most Spirited Spots,” is available now. Order it from, or Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Live long, prosper and avoid the bees

Nature is a dangerous thing. Much like sausage gravy, chainsaw jugglers and Lindsay Lohan behind the wheel of a car, it's best to just stay away.

Indoors is fine. Inside a geodesic dome sealed in a plastic bubble is better.

Point 1) A giant web sprawls across more than 200 yards of trees in a park near Wills Point, Texas - a web so big it has covered a pond. The web, once white, is now black with mosquitoes from that pond, a feast for the spiders who built the web.

And by spiders I mean lots of spiders from 12 species that usually don't play well with others.

"Normally they are cannibalistic and their webs are separated," Allen Dean, a Texas A&M University entomologist told the Associated Press. "They live in harmony because there's so much food available."

Oh, yeah. I've seen the movie, "Kingdom of the Spiders." Things didn't end well for William Shatner. Let's learn from Shatner's mistakes: 1) don't fight 50,000 spiders with a fire extinguisher, and 2) run ... now.

Entomologist Hank Guarisco from Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kan., camped at the park to observe the spiders and was eaten alive.

No, wait. That was the movie again. I told you Shatner didn't fare well.

The spiders Guarisco observed usually mind their own business and don't interact with other spiders.

"Here they are sharing a lot of foundation strands that are all over the place," he told the Associated Press. "They don't have individual webs anymore."

Yes, the spiders are organized. Go to church, make peace with your Maker, and pray for Raid.

Point 2) Killer Bees. A swarm of highly aggressive Africanized honeybees was recently captured near New Orleans. Like the city doesn't have enough problems.

"Although the exact source can't be identified, we have to assume Africanized honeybees are now established in the area and people should be careful when working outside," Louisiana agriculture commissioner Bob Odom told the Associated Press.

Kids: Why can't we play outside, Momma?

Mom: Because of the stinging clouds of death, dear. Go watch TV.

Killer bees were accidentally released in South America in 1957, and they've been making their way north ever since.

Again, I've seen the movie and, if I were a bee, "The Killer Bees" was the feel-good movie of 1974.

But there is some good news for the human species; the life expectancy for Americans has reached 78 years.

Which brings me to Point 3) An 81-year-old Milwaukee man has sued Helen of Troy Ltd., the company that makes Brut cologne. While camping with his family, the man shaved in the campgrounds bathhouse, slapped a little Brut on his face, chest and neck, walked to the camp grill to cook breakfast and caught fire.

I'm sure he'll win the lawsuit. Although a bottle of Brut lists "alcohol" as an ingredient, it doesn't specifically say anything about sticking your face too close to an open campfire.

So, yeah, a lot of us are now destined to live longer, unless we're eaten by spiders, attacked by roving gangs of angry bees or the apes finally take over. Of course, when we do live past 78, we'll probably just set ourselves on fire.

Excuse me, I'm just going to curl into the fetal position and cry.

Copyright 2007 by Jason Offutt

Jason's new book of ghost stories, "Haunted Missouri," is available at,, and

Friday, August 24, 2007

The library book tells all

My wife had been to the library – I can always tell. It’s the only explanation for all the unfamiliar 20-page, brightly colored books and the occasional BBC “Pride and Prejudice” or “Wuthering Heights” DVD scattered around the living room.

I grabbed a few books off the floor to see what titles were going to send our two-and-a-half-year-old to bed. Hey, the “The Mighty Bulldozer.” Yeah, he’ll love that. “There Goes a Fire Truck,” another winner. “Mary Ann has a Hammer,” questionable, but it fit the theme.

“Be Gentle”?

Hmm. Bulldozers, fire trucks, hammers … there must be some other motive at work here than the one designed to appeal to the boy’s manly side. If these books were part of the puzzle, ‘Pick the one that does not belong,’ I’m going with the book “Be Gentle.”

“Is something going on?” I asked, holding up ‘Be Gentle.’

“Yes,” my wife said. “He’s too rough with his little sister.”

The boy’s sister was eight months old and, much like every other older brother on the planet, he treated her like a sparring partner. With the boy as her big brother, she’s going to be a tough little girl – she has no choice.

“So the book you brought home last week, ‘The Planet Doesn’t Belong to You,’ was because …”

“Because he doesn’t like to share,” she finished.

“Hmm. Interesting,” I said. Appealing to a child’s rational side never occurred to me because I’m a guy. A guy’s initial reaction to a child misbehaving is to say something loud enough to stun the child in his tracks. They’re easier to catch that way. I mean, after all, two-year-olds are just better-dressed monkeys who can say ‘no’ with surprising clarity. Can you actually reason with them?

This, of course, leads to the most mysterious area of child psychology – can a child’s behavior be altered without banning television or bribing them with chocolate?

Maybe. I thought of the other theme books that had made their way briefly into our home. “No, no. Hot, hot,” “Traffic is not a Toy,” and the classic, “I’ll Never Point a Gun at an Elected Official Again!” You know, you can’t let kids out of your sight for a second.

There’s an entire industry of book publishers trying to keep our children from eating soap, exploring the Hidden World of Mystery under the kitchen sink, and jumping off the garage roof with nothing on but a Superman cape. Some of us parents are stupid. I’m glad there are people looking out for us.

“Do you think it will help?” I asked.

“Can’t hurt,” she said.

Yeah, she’s right. “I Shouldn’t Ride the Refrigerator Box Down the Stairs,” “Sticking Skittles up my Nose is Bad” and “I am NOT Buzz Lightyear of Star Command” are always welcome in our home. And, unless my wife checks out, “Johnny Sets Fires,” I guess everything’s OK.

Copyright 2007 by Jason Offutt

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The robot does NOT act like a toddler

The headline was interesting enough; “Robot acts like a toddler.”

Yeah, whatever, I thought. Robots of today build cars, vacuum floors and, much like R2-D2 in “Return of the Jedi,” fix drinks on Jabba the Hutt’s barge. I bet none of these robots throw toys, pull the cushions off the couch, or run through the living room naked. If they do, that’s not listed in the sales brochure.

A group of Japanese scientists from Osaka University built the robot – with the Star Wars-esque moniker CB2 – to better understand child development, as opposed to the old-fashioned way of observing actual children.

CB2 can change its facial expressions and rock back and forth, which comes in really handy when scientists are gauging the effects of Iron Maiden on children under three.

The robot can speak using what the scientists call “an artificial vocal cord.” I’m glad they didn’t use the vocal cord from a real child, although if they did the screams would have been more realistic when somebody tells the robot it can’t have another cookie.

CB2, much like your uncle at a family reunion, wobbles when it walks and bumps into things, but at 4 feet tall and 73 pounds does a lot less damage when it runs into the Precious Moments collection. That could be bad or good, depending on your point of view.

"Our goal is to study human recognition development such as how the child learns a language, recognizes objects and learns to communicate with his father and mother," one scientist said.

Again, why the robot? Wouldn’t flesh and blood children help scientists more than Cabbage Patch Kids made scary? Yes, but I have two theories as to why mechanics were favored over biology.

1) In high school, these scientists sat with wedgies at the Dungeons and Dragons table at lunch dreaming of the day they’d be able to marry an actual girl and have a real baby, but that day never came.

2) They think we were all hatched from eggs.

So, how should scientists study the behavior of our children; empirical observation or animatronics?

My solution – Pinocchio. Sure, he’s carved out of wood. Yes, he drinks beer and smokes cigars. And, I’ll admit he was, at one point, turned into a donkey. But, if you want an accurate gauge of human development, you can’t do better than a wooden boy – look at (insert politician’s name here). And, the best part, there are no legal ramifications if you set him on fire.

But there will be a day human-like robots will walk among us. Once robots really start to act like toddlers, they’ll be more like those robots that take over the planet in blazes of gunfire and Austrian accents.

And, no, I’m not going to spank one of them, they’re just expressing themselves the only way they know how. You’re a big robot … yes you are. And big robots don’t shoot Mommy and Daddy and expect to get anymore TV tonight.

Copyright 2007 by Jason Offutt

Friday, June 15, 2007

Simple rules for women

My wife turned off the radio. Not a big deal, usually, but there was a baseball game on and a man was in scoring position.

"You weren't listening to that, were you?" she asked as I stood there, my face locked into the same position as primitive man when he discovered fire was hot.

Yes, I thought. It's a baseball game.

In the time, "habladoo," stumbled from my mouth, one pitch must have been thrown. The entire dynamic of the game could have changed. Didn't she realize this?

"Goonga-hanna," I said, although I'm still not sure what I meant. I was in Primitive Guy mode, and Primitive Guy liked beer, muscle cars, cheerleaders and not missing baseball. Words weren't that important.

It was finally baseball season. After a disappointing football season, disappointing college basketball season, and disappointing professional ice-fishing season (darn that global warming), I had a fresh new season to be disappointed by - and I'd already missed 25 seconds.

"But you were going out to mow the lawn," she said.

Why yes, yes I was.

I shook off the shock of a 1-0 game snatched from under me like a tablecloth by a magician. I smiled. Primitive Guy - who usually only shows up during backyard barbecues and high school reunions - was gone. I'd been on my way to mow the lawn when the baseball game stepped in my way. The baseball pause happened because I'd made the mistake many married guys make. I'd behaved like a man.

Guys, contrary to what women say, they don't want you to act like a man unless they're awakened by breaking glass at 3:15 a.m. Women want you to act like, uh, well ... a woman. A bigger, hairier woman, who can open jars.

Ladies, our brains don't work like this. Nature has trained us to be killers; we just take it out on the lawn. So, to clear up any misconceptions about your relationship, here are the top five reasons guys do the things we do:

1. Guys only think of things they care about.

2. At a base level, guys care about themselves, winning, guns/cars/the original "Star Wars" trilogy, buffets, free beer, sports, and holding grudges that sometimes date back to high school.

3. Just because a guy doesn't remember something important to you doesn't mean it's not important to him, too - he's just preoccupied with something from No. 2 (see above). Birthdays and anniversaries are a great example.

4. Order of importance also corresponds with what's in front of their face at the moment. Summer vacation, retirement and what's on the calendar for next Wednesday aren't nearly as important as that fly in the room, something that itches, or a baseball game with a guy in scoring position.

5. There's almost nothing as important as a guy in scoring position.

And, if a guy ever does anything that doesn't agree with 1 through 5, he's doing it just to make you happy.

You're welcome.

Copyright 2007 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” is available at, and Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Toddlers are to thank for Star Wars

The Toddler had eaten about half his dinner when he noticed there was something on the table that wasn’t on his plate.

“Tauntaun,” he said through the wall of grape jelly hiding his face. There must be a universal law of physics I’m not familiar with that can account for more jelly getting on a two-year-old’s face than what a parent spreads on a sandwich. “Tauntaun.”

Tauntaun? Didn’t Han Solo kill one of those in “The Empire Strikes Back”?

“What does he want?” I asked my wife. She’d know; she could work in international politics if they ever needed a toddler-to-English translator. But given the state of international politics, toddler-to-English may be a little too advanced.

“He wants one of your croutons,” she said, nodding toward my salad.

Crouton/Tauntaun. Makes sense. The boy’s still trying to figure out this whole talking thing. I picked a crouton from the mound of otherwise healthy stuff and put it on his plate. He giggled and stuffed the crouton into his mouth.

“Tauntaun,” he said through the stale bread and pointed at his plate. I didn’t need my wife to translate that one. He wanted more croutons.

But the word tauntaun bugged me. I was sure Han Solo killed one of those sheep-horned ostrich/llama things in “Empire.” Why would my toddler say tauntaun in relation to anything unless: 1) he’s really from a galaxy far, far away, or 2) geekness is hereditary?

If its No. 2, sorry kids.

As I watched my smiling child crunch tauntaun after tauntaun, I understood something that has eluded science fiction fans for 30 years. Tauntaun, Chewbacca, Dagobah, Sith – George Lucas got all those bizarre names for “Star Wars” from a two-year-old.

“Obi-Wan,” the Toddler said as he motioned toward the refrigerator. I don’t know what he wanted, but I think he just proved my point.

Jason’s Star Wars-to-Toddler Dictionary

Anakin: something you use to wipe your mouth.

AT-AT: where the toddler’s standing … right now.

bantha: a toddler’s favorite fruit. Goes well with peanut butter, ice cream or Nilla Wafers.

Dagobah: Daddy’s going to the bathroom.

Dooku: I’m not sure, but I think it’s poopy.

Endor: where the toddler plays when it’s raining.

Hoth: what the oven is. No, no. Hoth, hoth.

Maul: My wife’s mom.

Naboo: it doesn’t hurt.

Sith: something Daddy said while watching the football game.

Wampa: My wife’s dad.

You see? I’ve broken the code. Science fiction doesn’t require creativity, it just needs catchy names. So listen to your niece or nephew, kids at the playground, or your cousin Danny who eats paint chips. The things they jabber will make you rich.

Yeah. Watching my two-year-old finish his crouton and request a chocolate-chip wookiee, I realized I’m sitting on a science fiction franchise, so I’d better start writing – maybe when I finish this diet Yoda.
Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” is coming in May. FREE SHIPPING when you order online at: Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Don't mess with the tiger

The movie was over. I hit stop as the credits for people like gaffer and best boy crawled across the TV screen. If you’re the mom of a best boy, I’m sorry I didn’t tough it out.

“I liked it,” my wife said, picking an empty bowl off the floor. The bowl once held popcorn; now most of the popcorn was on my shirt. “What’d you think?”

Hmm. We’d wanted to watch this movie for a long time. Her aunt told us to run – not walk – to the theater to see it. We didn’t. It earned an Academy Award, but so did Al Gore. I guess that should have told me what was going on in Hollywood this year. And critics loved the movie mainly because, I assume, they got in free.

Me? I didn’t like it. Oh, sure, I laughed a couple of times, but I laugh when someone gets mauled while petting a tiger. It’s a tiger. That’s what they do, moron.

“I didn’t like it,” I said, not knowing what the next 10 minutes would bring. You know, if someone ever invents time travel, I’ll look a lot smarter. “If we’d seen this at the theater, I may have walked out.”

Yeah, if I’d traveled forward in time, I’d have seen the tiger who looks like my wife and changed my story.

“What?” my wife said in the same tone she used when I brought home a 30-pack of beer and tried to explain to her how economically savvy it is to buy in bulk. “You would not have walked out of the theater. You’re just saying that because you’re too cool to like something someone else likes.”

Hey, I wasn’t ready for that. I also wasn’t quite sure what that meant.

I was expecting to receive the news that I was insensitive, stubborn, and I probably caused the Great Depression. And oh, by the way, buying that 30-pack was probably not a good idea.

What I got was mauled.

Guys, if you haven’t realized this by now I can only assume you’re three years old, so put down this column, you can’t read – girls play dirty; especially when they’re mad.

“You just can’t let yourself like something my family recommended,” she finished.

Yeah, that was it. That was the whole thing. The tigress was simply defending her territory.

I’d seen this behavior in my wife before. Her mom has a spaghetti sauce recipe – a family recipe. Everybody in the family loves it. Well, everybody but me. I told my wife that with the understanding she never tell her mother. So, she told her mother.

What’s the lesson? Don’t mess with the tiger.

So, following that rule, I’m not telling you which movie we watched. Nope, I’m not telling. If there’s one thing I’ve learned out of all this is to keep my mouth shut.

Copyright 2007 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” is coming in May. FREE SHIPPING when you order online at: Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Guys don't give handy advice ... or do we?

There was a large box of Pop-Ice in the freezer of my buddy’s shop fridge.

It wasn’t a big deal. I mean, it was Pop-Ice, not a nice bottle of Chardonnay he was chilling for the figure skating competition later. I was just surprised. The contents of a shop fridge are typically beer, beer, summer sausage, beer, bottles of bovine antibiotics, and maybe if you’re lucky, beer. In the freezer, there’s frost.

Pop-Ice is the kind of thing in the freezer of your kitchen fridge. You bought it as a treat for the kids in July because the day was hot and the kids ate exactly three. Now it’s February and the Pop-Ice is buried in the back of the freezer behind the hamburger, ice cream and a brick of foil that’s been there so long you’ve forgotten what it is.

“What’s with the Pop-Ice?” I asked my buddy after grabbing a beer.

I wasn’t prepared for his answer. A guy who loves the NFL, NASCAR and shooting some of God’s most tasty creatures, gave me a hint. A helpful hint. The kind of hint you get from chick magazines and Heloise.

“They’re for the beer cooler,” he said. “The Pop-Ice keeps the beer cold and you can refreeze the ones your kids don’t eat.”

I looked around to see if we were alone. This is the kind of thing women shared with each other. The only thing guys share are tools, stories about days when we had hair, and knowing nods when a cute girl walks by. We don’t share handy tips.

I just hoped he didn’t tell me how to get grease out of my work shirts.

“That’s a good idea,” I said.

Yeah, it was. So why was I suddenly uncomfortable? Would I feel more comfortable if it was a bad idea? What else, I wondered, were we going to say?

The shop was as quiet as a horror movie when the creepy music stops. Was he expecting a tip from me? Did I need to give a tip? Did I have tip? Why did I suddenly feel like a girl?

“Because,” a voice in my head said, a voice that sounded strangely like my wife’s, “you’re acting like a girl.”

We stood there, but not too close, as awkwardly as two guys who have to sit without a seat between them at the movie theater.

“If you put on ChapStick before you eat Buffalo wings,” I said, “your lips won’t burn.”

My buddy thought about it a second, then nodded.

“I’ll try that,” he said.

Yeah, I’d given another guy a helpful hint, but it was about something manly like Buffalo wings. I think I would have been safe if I would have said something about fixing the wings, too, but I didn’t want to push it.

Then we started talking about cars and cheerleaders and everything was right with the universe.

Copyright 2007 by Jason Offutt

Jason's book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri's Most Spirited Spots,” is coming in May. FREE SHIPPING when you order online at: Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Mommy's Day Out

My wife slipped into her shoes. Normally that’s not a big deal. People put on their shoes for a lot of reasons; cold feet, they’re not at a Japanese restaurant, they know the dog did something in the house but they don’t know where.

It was for none of those reasons … she was going Out.

Our baby was three weeks old, and in that time my wife had been out of the house once. She and I went to the grocery store and she’d called it a date. I was surprised it took her this long to try to escape. I just hoped she’d come back.

“Where are you going?” I said, wondering if I should ask her to bring home beer.

“The library,” she said, her feet in the sprinter’s blocks. “I’ll be gone about an hour. Can you handle the kids?”

What? I thought. Can I handle a two-year-old and a baby? I once took two girls to a high school dance and got away with it. I can handle anything. Wow, I’m glad I didn’t say that out loud.

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll be …”

But she was gone.

Handle the kids? I thought. Pfft.

The baby was sleeping soundlessly in her bassinet and the two-year-old was quietly lining toy trucks into a precise grid on our dining room floor. It looked like a car lot, I realized, wondering if I was looking through a window at careers to come. Yeah, I could handle this.

“So,” I said to my two-year-old. “Do you want to make cookies for Mommy?”

He giggled and shot off the floor, scattering die-cast metal trucks over the room.

“Coook,” he screamed, using the traditional toddler word for ‘Daddy’s an idiot.’

I had about an hour. No problem.

Then the baby cried. OK, I picked her up. The toddler squished his fingers in raw eggs and flour, which we all know means in this modern age of enlightenment (by which I mean our parents didn’t love us) I don’t care about my child’s health. Fine, I’ll wash his hands later – if the baby ever stops crying.

“That’s nice,” I said, grabbing the toddler’s chocolate-chip cookie dough hands as he waved them at the baby. “Yes, she has eyes.”

Did I mention there was a game on?

Can I handle it? I wondered as I calmed the baby (without the NyQuil my folks used), baked a golden-brown batch of chocolate chip cookies, washed salmonella from the toddler’s hands, and didn’t say “&%$#” during the game.

“I don’t know how you did it,” my wife said when she came home, seeing the happy children, the plate of warm cookies, and a lack of emergency vehicles in front of our home.

Yeah, me neither.

Being a parent is tough, but if I can do it, monkeys can do it. Oh, wait. Monkeys have been good parents a lot longer than humans have. Let’s have a few cookies and think about that.

Copyright 2007 by Jason Offutt

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Some things Dad just shouldn't know

I'm not in charge of anything. Well, except the garbage, but that's only once a week. A lot of dads are like this. We go to our job, come home, eat supper, take out the garbage, then catch up on all the neat stuff our wife and kids did while we were at work.
Of course, some things we don't need to know.

"Sam has a play date," my wife said, not realizing how much those words were as foreign to me as if she'd spoken in Klingon.

A play date? I thought, fighting off images of two toddlers singing pidgin selections from "The Music Man." Do the words 'play' and 'date' even go together? Is that what Bush and Putin have when they meet at Camp David? A play date? Does 'Shipoopi' actually translate into 'the bombs drop at dawn?'

"You mean another mom is bringing her toddler to our house to play with our son?" I said, trying to put things in terms that didn't sound silly.

"Yeah," she said. "It's a play date."

People have an instinctual need to rationalize things to fit into their own concept of the universe. With kids, jumping off the roof in a Superman cape has Mom's endorsement if she's not there to say no. With women like my wife, Rainbow Brite is the unquestioned lord and master of the universe. And with guys, comparing everything to sports, auto mechanics and warp drive technology is acceptable and, frankly, expected.

Not all of our rationalizations are correct. And most of them, despite the name, are not rational. Comfortable maybe, but not rational.

"Please don't call it a play date," I said, shuddering. "It sounds like they're going out for dinner and dancing Š then maybe to a show."

If guys were in charge of their kids' play schedules, things would be different. A "play date" would be called a Belching.

"We're going to a Belching," dads would say, assuming our wives would know we were taking our toddler to the playground to play with Terry's 2-year-old. The kids would run around, throw rocks at squirrels and climb the slides backwards, while Terry and I talk about football, cars, diapers, beer and most probably cheerleaders.

At some point, we'd belch hence the name.

"Then what would you call it?" she said in a way that meant "a Belching" was out.

"Well," I said, going down that old fogy route by saying "when I was a kid." "When I was a kid, my mom called it 'going over to Charlie's house.'"

She smiled and patted my arm.

"When you were a kid, eight-tracks were cool," she said. "His play date's tomorrow."

Wow. Maybe that's why I'm only in charge of the garbage.

Copyright 2006 by Jason Offutt