Category Archives: McClatchy-Tribune

Help a Grown Man Beat His 9-Year-Old at Blokus

Bring it on, Short Man, I ain’t scared o’ you.

Island Packet — Are you supposed to let your kids win at board games? Let me rephrase that: Are you supposed to let your kids win at board games if you can beat them at board games? Because frankly I lost a shocking amount of Candy Land to my son when he was 4, but in my defense, there is zero strategy to Candy Land, and that dude had no idea what he was doing. It’s not like I lost because of some series of tactical errors, right? The little mop-top just pulled the colored cards in the right order and avoided Gloppy when he needed to, right? Everyone just smile and nod, please, thanks.

On the whole, we’ve yet to establish a consistent routine about this winning-and-losing situation. Sometimes when we play games I’ll take a dive in Battleship, make a ridiculous accusation in Clue or make a lousy chess move or two to let the Little Man stay a competitive step ahead. Sometimes I’ll spot-decide that I should use this game of Ticket to Ride to teach that life is an unending thread of disappointments that he must begin enduring as soon as possible. Sometimes my 9-year-old straight up beats me at chess, which naturally makes me want to immediately crush him at Ticket to Ride.

But there’s no rhyme or reason to these games, and there probably should be, at least while I maintain the ability to keep an upper hand at some of them. Because there is one game at which he regularly throttles me, one game that I lose, regularly, badly, to a person who routinely puts his shirts on backward and ends 85 percent of all dinners by falling out of his chair.

The game is called Blokus.

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My 9-Year-Old’s ‘Star Trek’ Obsession Obviously Must Be Crushed Immediately

My interest in “Star Trek” directly corresponds to the amount of times Spock reads the brain of a whale

Island Packet — My dad and 9-year-old are downstairs right now watching the first of the new “Star Trek” movies, the one that came out in 2009 and is cleverly titled “Star Trek.” I’m making that point because it’s going to get hairy with the titles here in a minute.

We watched the second of the new “Star Trek” movies, “Into Darkness,” last night. That’s the one that was released this spring and contains Evil and Pale British Khan, and at the end they eradicate 85 percent of San Francisco and — you’d think a bigger deal would be made of this — stumble upon a way to CURE HUMAN DEATH, yet neither development really causes any of the characters to look up from their phones much.

But there’s a separate issue developing. My son becomes obsessed with detail, the sort of detail that eludes the casual viewer, and by “eludes” I mean “bores the pants off of.” He’s been known to spend the better part of a road trip expounding on the stylistic differences of various years of Honda Odyssey minivans, because I have the only budding car kid in town who is less into speed and danger than he is fiscal sensibility and good Consumer Reports ratings.

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That Time My 2-Year-Old Found Out We Didn’t Throw Him a Birthday Party

GRbIS.AuSt.9

Island Packet — The little giant turned 2 last month, and we celebrated the occasion by doing quite a lot of nothing.

It wasn’t technically nothing. We made cupcakes and sang, had a tiny party in the house with my oldest friend Alex, who sings “Happy Birthday” like a pro and made the rest of us look bad. We went on a sunset dolphin cruise, because there are few activities more enjoyable than chasing a 2-year-old around a moving sea vessel in the dark. We opened a bunch of presents from out-of-town relatives, then made a note to send them all thank-you cards — HAHAHAHA, just kidding, never happened, but thanks guys, for real.

(The boy, for his part, marked the morning by spraying his blanket, crib sheets, crib bumpers, wall and floor with a festive spray of throw-up, which, now that I think of it, may have been a result of the cupcakes. He felt fine for the rest of his day, but it’s hard to be enthusiastic about someone’s birthday when they smell so terrible.)

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Toddler iPad Addiction Is Real, And The Evidence Is Currently Screaming In My Lap

toddler-ipad

Pictured: Not my toddler, but this game is all I hear in the house anymore.

Island Packet — The Internet is chock plumb full of awful parenting advice, blank scare tactics and a bunch of stuff that people just make up (like there’s really a guy named “Benedict Cumberbatch”), but now and again it hits on something: It was on the Internet that I first read of “iPad addiction,” a new addition to the ever-turning Carousel of Things to Fear Regarding Your Toddler. (Since I live in the Lowcountry, I’m still keeping my No. 1 as “snakes and spiders,” and yes I realize those are two things but I’m convinced they are in cahoots.)

The cause of iPad addiction is simple: Parents in need of a few sweet moments of work or dishes or not-playing-robots time grant the child a brief electronic distraction. But the effect is simpler: Before long the child gets really super crazypants attached to the device, and when you try to eventually take it away for something imprudent like “a bath” or “eating,” the child contorts his face into a demonic visage of rage and shrieks murderously, for like a half an hour, in your face, even during a bath.

Or at least that’s what my son does.

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Why I’m Not Powering Down My Toddler’s Approved Electronic Device

This man is all that stands between my 2-year-old and a deeply unpleasant 20-minute landing process.

This man is all that stands between my 2-year-old and a deeply unpleasant 20-minute landing process.

Island Packet — You’ve no doubt been in awkward situations before; you may have had to endure uncomfortable meetings or entrances or appearances. But there’s nothing that tops the stabbing looks you get when you stroll onto a plane carrying a squirming, lip-quivering and visibly mucus-covered 2-year-old.

Due to my wife’s lively work schedule, and the fact that she’s far too smart to actually board a plane with a tempestuous toddler, I recently flew to Chicago with the baby and, for one leg, his 9-year-old brother. I did this both to hit up a family reunion and because of my love of extreme inconvenience. I did this because when I booked the flight the younger one was still of “lap-baby” proportions. When I booked the flight he was an infant; when I boarded the plane, he was a giant moody red-haired potato.

This was supposed to be so easy.

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What A Weekend Without The Kids Is Really Like

Well for starters, here's something I didn't once think about.

Well for starters, here’s something I didn’t once think about.

Island Packet — Since this is a parenting column, I thought I’d write about something unusual that happened last week regarding my children:

They left for four days.

Everybody left, my wife too. They all flew to visit family in upstate New York, a trip I skipped because of work and because, at some point, I was presented with an option to avoid a round-trip one-connection flight with a 2-year-old. I love that little shriek machine to death, but come on. I’ll spare you the details of trying to change a loaded diaper in the sprawling comfort of an airline lavatory, but let me put it this way: Have you ever had to put on a full suit of chain mail in a phone booth? Because that’s a three-month summer vacation to Tahiti compared with changing a diaper in an airline lavatory.

The balance of this column may put off anyone with an aversion to being apart from their kids for more than short spells at a time; it may also burn feverish jealousy in those who don’t. So let’s get out of the way that, of course, I missed them and of course I was happy to have them home. But that interim period, those four days of not-Temple Run and not-daily dishes and not-cleaning up flying globs of peanut butter … well, it wasn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.

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“Mr. Vrabel? First Of All, Your Son Is Fine…” #ridiculousinjuries #boars

rubber-duck

This story will eventually involve a rubber ducky.

Island Packet — The phone buzzed, and it was the school’s number. “Mr. Vrabel?” said the slightly too-calm voice on the other end. “First of all, your son is fine …”

Now, there are multiple thoughts that fireball through your brain whenever someone in a position of authority says “Your son is fine,” and the first one is almost always “AAAAAAAUGH HE’S OBVIOUSLY BEEN CARRIED OFF INTO THE WOODS BY A MANIC WILD BOAR,” which is odd, because I actually don’t think wild boars do that, or even get manic.

But whenever the phone rings and those are the first words you hear, it almost always means that someone is bleeding and that person is probably related to you. It’s gratifying, of course, to hear that everyone’s OK, but though the “logic hemisphere” tells you that the outcome is decided and the danger has passed, the “illogical storytelling chaos hemisphere” likes to sprint through the many colorful scenarios that could end in that sentence — most of which, if you’re me, involve dinosaur attacks.

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Josh Ritter Has Recorded American Music’s Most Upbeat Divorce Record

Josh Ritter

Island Packet — Some artists spend their whole careers deflecting explanations about what they’ve written, preferring to leave such details up to the adaptable whims of the listener or the perpetual appeal of mystery. In announcing his new record — the sterling, stop-reading-this-and-go-buy-it-already “The Beast In Its Tracks” — Josh Ritter dragged the explanation on stage and threw a spotlight on it.

“I wrote and recorded this record in the 18 months after my marriage had fallen apart,” he said in the album announcement/message to fans. “All heartbreak is awful — my broken heart wasn’t unique. But writing these songs was helping me get through the night, and I didn’t have the strength to care or question.” And thus was born what the media/Internet christened Josh Ritter’s Divorce Record.

But if you’ve been following Ritter’s career — if you haven’t, you should immediately seek out his 2002 debut “The Golden Age of Radio” and listen onward through 2007’s “The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter” — you know that the Idaho-born singer is not one for self-immolation, or even allowing himself too much time on the dark side of town.

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School Picture Day: Forever Capturing Your Smile, Or Whatever The Hell That Is You’re Doing

Sixth grade.

Sixth grade.

Island Packet — Generally speaking, we don’t order or display school pictures very often, for one simple reason: I have seen mine.

My mom has hanging in her house the complete and unabridged collection of Godawful Jeff School Photos, everything from a mint 1980 Floppy-Haired Kindergartener to a 1986 Inconceivable Geek With Monstrous Plastic Brown Glasses to the 1991 Moody Teen Who Is Scowling Because His Parents Made Him Get Braces in the 11th Grade. The pictures are arranged in chronological order in an oval, ostensibly to simulate a clock and the passage of time. It’s a treasured and invaluable part of my mom’s home decor, and I want to smash it with a hammer and light it on fire, then smash the smashed pieces with a hammer and feed them to a moose, or any kind of animal that eats hopelessly nerdlinger school photos, I’ll have to look it up.

I bring this up because we got our school pictures from my younger son’s day care last week. Read more.

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Right, Like You Haven’t Fed Your Kid This Type Of Bacon Before

Bacon-Stack-300x183

Stop looking at me like that, Paltrow

Island Packet — I casually mentioned to a friend last week that I’d made my son waffles and bacon for breakfast that morning. I also casually mentioned that I’d done it a few days before, and a few days before that, and probably a few times the previous week as well. My older son does not have an adventuresome palate, so when his dad finds something the boy will eat that doesn’t originate from exhaust-belching factory machinery with the words “VAT OF NUGGETS” on it, he sticks relentlessly with what works. So, sure, I said, waffles and bacon. Get some OJ, throw some fruit out there, breakfast of champions. Let’s get this kid to third grade.

But my news seemed to come as a solid surprise, like, wait, you make him waffles and bacon? Every day? Sure, I replied, feeling really pretty jaunty about myself and my breakfast-related fathering, given all this sudden affirmation and everything.

Well, obviously, this was a bit of a communication breakdown. It took me a few minutes to realize she was talking about actual waffles and actual bacon, while I was talking about something different — namely waffles that can be waffled in a toaster and come from Sam’s Club in a box of 35,000, and precooked bacon that can be re-cooked in a microwave and come from Sam’s Club in a box of 47,000.

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