Thursday, December 06, 2012

Who Knew Barf Could Be So Fun?

The call was disguised panic.

“Jason,” the voice said. It was my wife’s friend Chris who lives in Omaha. She and her husband were watching our children so my wife and I could have a couple’s night out in, yes, Omaha (city motto, “we’re not just corn anymore”).

We’d left the children with them at noon the day before, and everything seemed normal. Well, as normal as a situation can be that involves a boy who lives in the “Star Wars” universe and girl who thinks she’s a cat.

“You’re coming over at 11, right?” Chris asked.

Something was obviously wrong. Since Chris could still speak, this meant one of two things: 1) the kids hadn’t bound and gagged her. Seriously, I was concerned about this, or 2) they held her at gunpoint and were issuing demands.

That was still a possibility.

My wife looked at the hotel room’s clock. “It’s 10:30 a.m.,” she said.

“Sure,” I told Chris. I could almost feel her sigh.

“Good,” she said. “The Boy threw up.”

It’s a helpless feeling to be away from a sick child. As soon as we have children a parent’s main purpose on this planet is to protect them. Our secondary purpose is to embarrass them in middle school, but the Boy and the Girl weren’t old enough for that yet, so let’s go with care. My wife and I packed and checked out of the hotel in about 38 seconds.

Although I drove a little faster than I was supposed to, we both knew deep down the Boy was OK. This has to do with every child’s three superpowers.

1) The ability to surprise us, whether by being polite, or with sweet ninja moves.

2) The ability to know when their parents are about to fool around, then do everything they can to make us stop trying.

3) The ability to throw up for no apparent reason, which they generally follow with running around the house scarfing Cheetos.

Exhibit A: Legoland.

During the summer, after a lunch consisting of one part chicken-like things, one part French fries, one part Coca-Cola, and five parts grease, the Girl threw up in the “build and race your own Lego cars” section. Well, actually she threw up in my wife’s cupped hands. Nice catch, Honey.

A few minutes later the Girl ran around the slide and ball pit area like she hadn’t filled Mom’s hands with her stomach.

Exhibit B: the Store.

Walking down the aisles at the store last week, the Girl let it fly for no reason other than she hadn’t thrown up in awhile. She played a lot on the swing set when she got home.

Although to the childless a kid throwing up this much must make you want to call child protective services. PUT THE PHONE DOWN NOW. For parents, kids throwing up more often than they put their plates in the sink is normal.

As was the Boy, although we kept a bucket next to him for the next six hours. Maybe we should do that all the time, you know, just to protect the carpets.

Jason Offutt’s column has been in continuous publication since 1998 appearing in newspapers and magazines across the United States. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonOffutt.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I learned everything from television

The Boy sat at the kitchen table and pouted. When it comes to after-school activities, homework isn’t his favorite.

Second grade staples like spelling, math and reading all rank below saving the universe with Legos spaceships, playing army, and throwing rocks at his sister.

“The next word is ground,” his mother read from his spelling worksheet. Ground? I think when I was in second grade we were still drawing Thanksgiving turkeys by tracing our hand. I’m not sure I could spell “ground.”

“I hate this stupid spelling,” the Boy said, not even blinking at his use of the S-word.

I get spelling. I understand its importance, I appreciate the nuances of its rules that make no sense, and I enjoy correcting someone’s spelling when doughnut becomes “donut,” gray becomes “grey” and theater becomes “theatre.”

Yeah, I’m that guy. But don’t ask me about math; my head doesn’t work that way. I’m afraid the Boy and the Girl are on their own as soon as they advance to fractions.

“Spelling is important,” I said to him, and followed that up with something more boring. “Grown ups have to spell every day.”

The Boy sat silently for a moment, then said something so clear, so insightful, so simple it dragged me back to elementary school.

“I wish I could learn from TV,” he said.


When I was a kid, I came home from school, ate a snack of white bread spread with actual butter and sprinkled with granulated sugar (it’s crack), then sat in front of the TV to do my homework.

Yes, you read that correctly: 1) my mom was trying to poison me, and 2) I watched “Gilligan’s Island” as I studied the American Revolution. And you know what? My grades were just fine; I accredit that to the lessons I learned from TV.

• In life there are pretty people, rich people, stupid people, wholesome people, friendly people, and smart people. And, if they’re shipwrecked together the stupid person will ruin everyone’s life. Solution: Kill him and eat him.

• The villain is always the first person you see in an episode of Scooby Doo. Solution: Be polite to the wandering stranger carrying a circa-1822 candle lamp along the lonely dirt road, then call 9-1-1.

• Untested and insane theories in physics always work when the Enterprise is plummeting toward a planet and the captain just had sex with a green woman. Solution: Green women are awesome.

• I don’t care if you’re a witch, or your father looks like the guy who used to hock Jell-O pudding, you’re the only sane person in the neighborhood. All your neighbors are whacky. Solution: Lock your doors and never go outside.

• Sometimes rabbits dress in drag. Maybe not in your garden or on Animal Planet, but it happens. Solution: Shotguns do not work on these rabbits. Neither do Tasmanian Devils, or explosives. Just ignore him and maybe he’ll go away.

My kids don’t watch much TV. I hope they’ll be OK in life.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Weekly Offutt Wii Competitive Sibling Super Mario Brothers Death Match

The man in the red hat ran and jumped, hurtling a bloodthirsty Venus flytrap in some far-off jungle filled with pits, giant mushrooms, and deadly turtles. A man with a green hat ran far behind him.

“Wait,” a voice called. “Wait for me.”


“I’m serious,” the voice called again. “Wait.”

The man in red leapt over a pipe and grabbed a flagpole, and the man in green fell off the side of the world.

“Aaarrrrggg,” the voice screamed, then the Boy knocked the Girl off the couch and the two children rolled on the carpet until one of them cried. It didn’t really matter which one. They take turns.

Welcome to the Weekly Offutt Wii Competitive Sibling Super Mario Brothers Death Match. Whoever came up with the idea that video games would be more fun if multiple players had to work together to win must have been an only child. Brothers and sisters operate under a series of peace treaties more breakable than soap bubbles; forcing them to cooperate isn’t natural.

My wife and I discovered this when we upgraded our one-player-at-a-time Super NES video game system (circa 1992) to a multi-player Wii to make sure our children had an adequate platform from which to launch peer-bonding conversations about pop culture.

OK, that’s a lie. We just wanted them to leave us alone for five minutes.

We quickly found children will never leave their parents alone for five minutes. I should have seen this coming; I was once a kid with a video game.

My first video game system was an Atari 2600. Space Invaders, Pac Man, Demon Attack, ExciteBike, Dig Dug; I had all the most popular 8-bit games that, looking back, weren’t nearly as fun as walking down to the creek and throwing rocks at frogs.

But my Atari 2600 taught my young mind something important – video games are serious business.

“Woe to the one who steps in front of the television,” The Book of Zelda, 4:27.

“Dad,” the Boy yelled from the basement family room my wife and I had hoped was far enough away from the rest of the house we wouldn’t get dragged into this very thing. We were wrong. “She’s not playing right again.”

To guys video games are training programs for real life. Somewhere in our heads float the understanding that one day we will have jump on the head of an intelligent, evil turtleman to save the life of a princess. We will catch the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. And we will have to mow down the living dead with machine guns that are, for some reason, lying around an abandoned amusement park.

So when your sister doesn’t take this responsibility with the same level of seriousness, it’s a problem.

“Well,” the Girl yelled back. “Mario is just stupid.”

The Boy reset the game, and the dance began again.

What did kids do before video games? Well, household firearms and zombies were a lot more common back then. I told you they were training programs.

Jason Offutt’s column has been in continuous publication since 1998 appearing in newspapers and magazines across the United States. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonOffutt.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dining With Feral Children

The clock on the minivan radio read 4:59 p.m. as we pulled into the restaurant parking lot. One minute to five?

“Wait a second,” I said to my wife as she opened the door.


“It’s not five o’clock. … OK, now it is.”

Five p.m. is not a normal time to be in a restaurant unless you work there; with these exceptions, 1) you have a senior discount, 2) you have children, and 3) you’re already at the bar.

My wife and I were Number 2, had a coupon so we were nearly Number 1, and if the children behaved like they did during The Dinner of Doom, we’d wish we were Number 3.

A shiver ran through me just thinking of The Dinner of Doom. The Boy was four, the Girl two, and I was one step closer to death. They jumped on every empty bench, they spilled every water glass. Call me paranoid, but I’m pretty sure the hostess dialed 9-1 and kept her index finger over the 1, just waiting for us to leave.

Maybe things would be better this time. I mean, that was three years ago.

“Good evening,” our hostess said, her smile meaning our pictures weren’t tacked up behind the station under a handwritten notice reading, “Do NOT serve these people. Immediately call the National Guard.” That was a good sign.


My wife said yes, and we followed the hostess into the dining room.

People sat a two other tables, one single man and a couple with a senior discount. The hostess seated us dangerously close to the single man, who immediately ordered another Budweiser. I don’t know if that was because of us, but I wouldn’t doubt it. Word gets around.

Well, we were seated. In a restaurant. With the kids.

Children come in two types, polite, and feral. The problem for parents is the types coexist inside the same child and we never know which one is going to be the dominant personality in a given situation. I always brace myself for feral.

“Have we decided?” our waiter asked.

“I would like chicken nuggets, please,” the Boy said.

“Yes, chicken nuggets, please,” the Girl squawked excitedly. “With French fries.”

Two pleases? This dinner outing had already gone better than I’d hoped.

Of course, we all knew the food would eventually come. Back during the era of The Dinner of Doom, my wife and I ate in shifts. One fielding the children while the other ate like we’d been lost in the forest for a week. Now …

The children ate without complaint. I could taste my food. And … OK, so that was just one glass of Sprite spilled onto the floor. Oh, no. The Girl said she was full. And, yes. She shot out of her chair and landed with a plop onto the empty booth opposite ours.

“Can I take this home?” the Boy asked, pointing at the food remaining on his plate.

My wife and I looked at each other. It was time; we were just minutes away from a nice family dinner devolving into something from Animal Planet.

We paid and left.

“The couple is still there,” my wife said as we stepped into the parking lot. “Why can’t we stay in a restaurant longer than 30 minutes?”

“Because,” I said, “they’re a couple, we’re a quadruple.”

Jason Offutt’s column has been in continuous publication since 1998 appearing in newspapers and magazines across the United States. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonOffutt.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Saturday Soccer Gigglefest-O-Rama

Fall soccer is probably pretty exciting. The running, the not scoring, the weather that’s as unpredictable as a squirrel.

But I’ve never seen soccer in its competitive form. I have a kindergartner.

Put together two teams of five- and six-year-old girls and the soccer match becomes less like a sport, and more like a birthday party. If the ball were filled with candy, it would be perfect.

The Girl plays youth soccer on Saturdays and is still a little miffed her team color isn’t pink. Her team name is, however, The Butterflies, so she’ll let that slide. Just this once.

“Is it my soccer day?” the Girl asked one Saturday morning, although she’d asked the same question not a half-hour before.

“Yes,” I told her. “At 2 o’clock.”

“Can I get dressed for soccer right now?”

If I couldn’t feel her level of excitement for the game sizzling in the air, I would have thought all the jumping and squatting meant she had to pee.

“No, it’s only 9 in the morning,” I said. “Let’s work on breakfast first.”

“OK,” she said, still bouncing. “I hope they have treats and juice at the game.”

The thrill of soccer to a little girl; post-game snacks.

There are a few rules for all youth sports. One of which is this: small children are like test animals. To encourage a test animal to exhibit X-behavior, promise X-reward. For rats solving a maze, it’s cheese. For monkeys putting the square peg in the square hole, it’s fruit. For kindergarten girls playing soccer, it’s Goldfish and a juice box.

As we made our way down the sidelines with our canvas lawn chairs, a shiver ran through me. What would happen if a parent forgot a snack? What if that parent was me?

Oh, wait. A Wal-Mart bag with boxes inside sat next to a team mom. Whew.

Another rule: parents must practice the sport at home with their children.

I can go on record saying I’ve done that. Not as much as a parent who played sports in high school does, but in-season the kids and I have occasionally played catch, practiced batting, and made use of the basketball goal that came with the house.

Give me a break; I’m good with Legos. Besides, youth girls soccer teams have their practice before the game.

“OK,” the coach said, pointing at the Girl. “Dribble to the goal.”

The Girl looked at the ball which was, of course, pink, bent and picked it up.

“No hands,” the coach yelled. “No hands.”

Not looking at her coach, or apparently hearing him, she started walking as fast as she could bouncing the ball from her hand to the ground, hand to the ground, hand to the ground. I was impressed. You know how hard it is to dribble on grass? She’d never done that well in the driveway.

In my defense, I know nothing about soccer.

I’d make a terrible coach.

Jason Offutt’s column has been in continuous publication since 1998 appearing in newspapers and magazines across the United States. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonOffutt.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Leave finances to those who can count

When I was single, I had a simple budgeting system for monthly expenses. It had to be simple because I don’t have a math/computer science/war strategy brain. I have more of a Where The Hell Are My Car Keys? brain.

But my system worked and it involved peanut butter. Creamy, of course. Crunchy would have thrown off the whole financial dynamic.

I saved the plastic jars, ran them through the dishwasher (at least twice. Peanut butter would probably make a good Spackle if it didn’t attract mice and small children), and labeled them “Laundry,” “Groceries,” “Entertainment,” “Utilities,” “Rent,” “Gas,” and “Beer.” You know, the important stuff.

I put x-number of dollars into each jar and when the money was gone, it was gone. This way I could tuck the rest into savings, and if I held off on laundry and didn’t drive anywhere, I could roll over any leftover cash into the dusty jar marked “Hooters.”

Enter my soon-to-be fiancé people now call Mrs. Offutt. Poking through the kitchen cabinets of my tiny apartment, she found various plastic jars that rattled with loose change.

“What are these?” she asked, and I told her.

“You’ll never follow this,” she said, laughed, shut my cabinet and crushed any desire to be responsible with my money again.

After 10 years of marriage, she sat me down to go over The Plan.

“I want to pay off the mortgage early,” she said flatly, almost accusingly. I too wanted to pay off the mortgage, early would be nice, but I wouldn’t have thought of actually doing it. She did.

“OK,” I said. OK works nicely in most marital situations. It can be interpreted as ‘I agree with you,’ or ‘I recognize and appreciate the fact that you’re talking to me.’ You can use either one to get out of trouble when your spouse realizes you’re not listening.

“I have these envelopes,” she said, holding them up as visual aids. “They’re labeled ‘Grocery,’ ‘Family,’ ‘Gas,’ ‘Entertainment,’ ‘Beer.’” I almost teared up; she’d thought of me. “I put x-number of dollars in each envelope and when the money is gone, it’s gone.”

Unlike déjà vu, I knew where I’d experienced this before.

“Peanut butter jars,” I said.


“Before we were married I had this same system, but I kept the money in peanut butter jars. You said I’d never follow it.”

She shrugged. “You will now.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because,” she said, brandishing her visual aid. “It’s envelopes.”

I will never stand in the way of my wife’s financial plans because, frankly, if I walked out the door with our life savings, I’d come home with magic beans.

Later that day, while getting cash for the envelopes, the bank teller told her a lot of customers used this system found in a popular book, and asked my wife if she had the planner that came along with the book.

“No,” my wife said. “If you really want to save money, why buy the book? Just check it out at the library.”

And that’s why she handles our money. I’d have bought the book.

Jason Offutt’s column has been in continuous publication since 1998 appearing in newspapers and magazines across the United States. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonOffutt.