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NWI Parent
NWI Parent

Rick Kaempfer's business card says author/writer/blogger, but his real job is "stay-at-home-dad."

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Lady of the Flies

August 12th, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

During the recent heat wave our dog Ivy got a little lazy. Instead of going to the back of our yard to do her business, she began to do it just outside our backdoor. I’m usually pretty good about picking up after her right away, but I missed one the other day.

You know what happens to unattended piles. They bring unwelcome guests; lots and lots of flies.

Unfortunately, this particular pile was right by our door, so when somebody opened the back door, the flies quickly found a new home inside our house.

If you’ve never been in a “house of flies” before, it’s not just disgusting and annoying–it’s like a horror movie. Those little buggers buzz in and out, with speed and deception. Now you see ‘em, now you don’t. It’s like they are begging for you to attack, and each kill is a challenge.

But here’s something I didn’t know about my dainty wife Bridget, and I suspect the flies didn’t know it either: Bridget has a white-hot, temple-throbbing hatred of flies.

When they started buzzing around us, Bridget transformed into a cold blooded killing machine.

She grabbed that fly swatter and immediately went to work. First she turned off all the lights inside the house except for one, luring the flies to their eventual graves. Then she calmly waited for each of them to land in her kill zone. When they landed, THWAP!

“Who’s buzzing now?” she screamed over that first carcass.

She was screaming and thwapping, laughing and taunting, hunting and killing with a blood lust that frankly scared me a little bit.

“Oh the ol’ fly away when I approach technique, eh?” she said to an unfortunate victim that looked like he was about escape. “I DON’T THINK SO!” (Thwap)

Right before my eyes, my petite flower was turning into Rambo. When she thought they were all dead, inevitably another one would emerge, and Bridget would pounce. “Take THAT!” (Thwap)

Then another. “Shoo fly, don’t BOTHER ME!” (Thwap)

She was grunting like Monica Seles serving an ace with each overhand thwap.

Finally, we were down to one elusive fly. The boys and I were watching television in the basement, and Bridget appeared to be watching too, but her eyes were not on the tube. They were on the lookout for the “Last of the Flyhicans”.

This fly was elusive and crafty. It buzzed in our vicinity, and Bridget pounced. THWACK. Missed him. The fly flew up the stairs, but Bridget would not be denied. She stormed after him with flyswatter in hand. “Don’t you run away from me, you coward!”

I didn’t see what happened next, but I heard a loud crash followed by an evil laugh.

“Rick, come up here, you have to see this.”

She was standing in the kitchen, weapon in hand, cackling at the site in front of her. The fly was dangling from the side of the light, clinging to his last moments of life. She had incapacitated him, but hadn’t yet finished him off. She waited until I witnessed her dangling prey, before completing her mission with one last THWACK.

Wow.

I used to joke that nobody would dare mess with us because we have a pit bull and she doesn’t take too kindly to uninvited guests. During Bridget’s fly rampage, that pit bull was hiding in her crate.

Even a pit bull knows better than to mess with the Lady of the Flies.

Filed under: parent.

Warning!

July 29th, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

I feel like I should put that sign in our car window.

Oh, most people in a similar circumstance put a “Attention: Student Driver” sign in their car windows, but my son Tommy isn’t most people. And he’s starting Driver’s Ed on Tuesday.

Tommy will be driving.

I’ve never written that sentence before, at least not without two extra words at the end (”me crazy”), but it’s absolutely true. My absent minded professor-ish son is going to be given permission by the state to get behind the wheel of an automobile, turn the ignition key, and drive. Not only is he being given permission, our school district has a rule that he has to pass driver’s ed, or he cannot graduate.

Tommy will be driving.

My son, who has to be reminded to put on his pants before he leaves the house, is going to be driving an automobile. My son, who I didn’t even allow to mow the lawn until last year because I feared he would mow his feet off, will be inside a motor vehicle, and steering it on America’s roads and bridges.

And not only do I have to allow it, I have to be inside the car with him…for 50 hours! Including ten hours at night.

Have I mentioned that I’m a terrible driver myself? People that don’t know me well think Bridget is being incredibly condescending to me when she screams things like “STOP SIGN” while I’m driving, but I don’t get offended because she has learned the hard way that it’s often necessary.

I know America has lived through things like this before (most recently in 1981 when I was somehow given permission to operate a motor vehicle), but can this country really live through both Tommy and I on the roads? With Tommy driving and me supervising him?

Talk about La Dee Dah leading La Dee Dee.

Please pray for us.

Or at least don’t honk if you see someone driving way too slow in the right lane. We’re not just doing it to stay alive. We’re doing it for America.

Filed under: parent.

Switching Rooms

July 22nd, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

Our house only has three bedrooms, and because we have three boys, two of them have to share a room every year. To make it as fair as possible, we rotate every summer.

This past year Johnny and Sean were roommates, and it didn’t go well. They were constantly arguing, snipping, and sniping at each other. So, this summer when it was time to rotate, there were Hallelujahs all around. Tommy (16) and Johnny (14) are now roommates and Sean (9) has his own room.

I just walked past Sean’s bedroom door, and he had already covered it with signs. Each of them are written in big block letters.

GO AWAY JOHNNY

FOR DIE-HARD BASEBALL FANS ONLY (Johnny is not a baseball fan)

KNOCK BEFORE ENTERING (with an arrow next to it saying: LOOK AT THIS SIGN)

YOU NEED AN ID TO GET IN

NO JOHNNY AT ALL

GET OUT JOHNNY

DO NOT ENTER JOHNNY

DAD, MOM, TOMMY & FRIENDS ONLY ARE ALLOWED IN

NO JOHNNY!

I’m not sure what he’s trying to say, but if you read between the lines you might get the impression that Sean doesn’t want Johnny to come into his room.

Filed under: parent.

Going the extra mile

July 16th, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

When my two oldest boys were younger and playing soccer, I volunteered to be one of the coaches. I enjoyed it, my boys liked having me coach, and it went pretty well. But by the time my middle son Johnny decided he had had enough of soccer, I was relieved to hang up my spikes. I wasn’t getting any younger, and it was taking a lot out of me.

Then came Sean.

At an early age Sean exhibited some skills in the sport, so I had him try out for a travel soccer team. When he made the team, I was relieved. I figured that he would be playing at a more competitive level, and that my coaching services would no longer be needed. But Sean felt like he had been cheated. He often mentioned that it wasn’t fair that his brothers got me as a coach, but he didn’t.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

When his travel coach stepped down after two years of coaching, and the team was looking for someone else to step up, I patiently waited for a few months, hoping that somebody else would magically emerge to take over the team. When no-one did, I made the leap.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

It turns out that the rules have changed a little bit over the past ten years. In order to be a coach for travel soccer now, you need to get an E-license. In order to get an E-license, you need to take a 20-hour course. I took that course this past weekend, and there’s a good chance I’ll never walk again. You see, I’m no longer in my late 30s, I’m now in my late 40s. And this course was not a classroom course, it was a “let’s go out on the field and do drills and play soccer” course.

In the 95 degree heat.

There were about forty potential coaches in the group, ranging in age from early 20s to late 40s. It’s one thing to do drills against other coaches…it’s another thing to do them against coaches that are twenty five years younger than you are. In the first drill, we played a little 3 v 3 game, and I slipped and fell–tearing up the skin on my knee. In the second drill, I played against some 20-somethings, and realized something about myself.

Apparently my brain is no longer connected to my legs.

The ball would come to me, and my instincts would know what to do. “OK, I’ll trap it, and turn this way to get around the defender.” But my legs looked up at me and said something completely different. They said, “Hey, we’re comfy right here.” These young pups were running circles around me.

It was humbling. We spent a total of about fifteen hours outside doing drills and playing soccer in that unbearable heat. I was slow, I was sore, and I was really feeling my age. I seriously considered not showing up for the second day, because I was worried I might die.

But I sucked it up and limped out to the field for day two, and something amazing happened. I suddenly started doing much better. My legs were still a little defiant about helping out (oh boy, were my soccer-damaged knees barking), but the rest of me figured out ways to contribute.

At one point, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, but at one point I realized that I was even enjoying myself. I remembered why I loved the game. I also learned a ton about coaching techniques that I never knew before. And I probably lost ten pounds in the heat.

Now, I’m really looking forward to the season, and I’m looking forward to standing on the sidelines during the games.

If I can ever walk again.

Filed under: parent.

Hey Now, You’re an All-Star

July 8th, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

I must admit it–I was never a particularly good athlete.

I did make the basketball all-star team once in sixth grade, but only because every team had to have a representative, and our team was the worst team in the league.

I did make the varsity soccer team in high school, but only because nobody played soccer in those days, and the coach knew I grew up in Germany–so I didn’t even have to try out for the team.

So, needless to say, I wasn’t expecting any of my kids to be good athletes. My first son Tommy had less than zero interest in sports. He still does. He’ll go to a Cubs game with me once a year, but it’s really only because he enjoys the spectacle of it. My second son Johnny did play soccer for five or six years, but his heart was never really in it. When he hit middle school, he was done.

I wasn’t expecting much out of my youngest son Sean either, but it became clear at a very young age that he was a little different. He not only had natural athletic ability, he had a work ethic, and an eye-popping dedication and love for the game. And that game was baseball.

His coaches absolutely love him because he wants every ball hit to him. He gets his uniform dirty in practice drills. He roots for his teammates, and supports them in good times and bad. He’s above average in hitting, pitching, and fielding–and he does it all with a big smile on his face.

For that, he was rewarded this season with his first all-star game appearance. The game was played in hundred degree heat this week, and his team lost the game 7-6, but I can’t remember enjoying a baseball game as much as I enjoyed that one.

Sean went 1-2. The hit was a little doink infield hit. He only reached base because he hustles on every play. The out was a line drive smash that went right to the right fielder. In the field, he made two incredible plays at third base.

And his dad, the kid that was often picked last for the baseball team on the school playground (because he stunk at baseball), couldn’t have been prouder.

Way to go, kid!

Filed under: parent.

Blowout!

July 1st, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

I had driven the first nine hours our cross-country family trip to the East Coast, and had just turned over the driving to Bridget in the mountains of Pennsylvania so that I could take a little nap, when I heard a horrific thumping sound.

“Is that a helicopter hovering over the car?” Bridget asked.

I had heard that sound before. “No, that’s definitely a flat tire. You need to pull over.”

“There’s nowhere to pull over.”

I looked at the side of the road and saw what she meant. The traffic was going by at 70 MPH and there was only the slightest shoulder on the side of the road. Another car passed us and was pointing frantically at our tire.

“We have to pull over,” I said.

So, Bridget maneuvered the minivan into a small space that passed for a shoulder. The car that had been pointing to the tire, pulled over in front of us. Needless to say, the trip was not exactly off to a great start.

“I’ve never changed a tire in the minivan,” I told her. “Do you have any idea where the spare tire is even kept?”

“No,” she said.

I had pulled the operations manual out of the glove compartment when I saw the guy in the car in front of us, gingerly exiting his vehicle. This was an extremely dangerous location. We were just around a corner, the cars were coming at 70 miles an hour, and there was no way anyone could see us until they were right on top of us. He looked a little scared. I hopped out of the passenger side to greet him. It felt a little safer there.

“You OK?” he asked. “I saw that tire blow out. I mean it just exploded back there when you were changing lanes.”

Of course, the tire was on the driver’s side. The incredibly dangerous side.

“I don’t think I’m going to risk changing it here,” I said. “I’m calling AAA.”

“You sure?” he said. “It could take them a couple of hours to get here. You’re in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town is about ten miles away.”

As he was saying that, a state trooper pulled up behind us with his lights flashing. I hadn’t seen a police car in hours, and here, suddenly out of the blue, one arrived. He also made his way over to our little accident site.

“This is a dangerous spot,” he said. “How long you think it will take you to change it?”

I looked at the operations manual in my hand. “Um…”

“I’ll help you,” the first driver said. “I bet we can get it changed in twenty minutes.” He must have sensed my ineptitude and just took over. “I’d really appreciate it officer, if you back up about twenty yards so people can see the flashin’ lights a little sooner,” he added.

That’s when I did my one and only job–I found the tire. Bridget found the jack. And this complete stranger from the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania literally took his life in his hands and began changing our tire on the side of a dangerous mountain highway.

“Can I ask you a favor?” he said, when he was about to jack up the car.

“Sure, anything,” I said.

“Can you get the kids out of the car?”

Oh, them. Right. I did as he said, and as God is my witness, all three boys were playing on their DS machines on the side of the turnpike, without even missing a beat. I don’t think they even realized what was going on, other than they needed to get to the next level.

I was holding my breath the whole time our good Samaritan was changing that tire. Cars were whizzing by us, and his back was on the actual road. They weren’t missing him by much. Every now and then he looked up when a car passed as if to say, “this is crazy. We’re all going to die.”

Within ten minutes that tire was changed. I didn’t know what to say or do to thank him. He wouldn’t accept any money or praise for his work.

“I just did what anyone else would have done,” he said. And with that, he drove away.

The state trooper said: “You know, these spares can’t go more than twenty miles. I’ll give you directions to the nearest tire store. Make sure you drive there with your flashers on. I’ll follow behind you for a few miles to make sure you’re OK.”

And he did. That tire store had exactly one tire that fit our car. One tire. The store was closing in forty five minutes, and we were their last job of the day. If we had arrived an hour later, we would have been out of luck. They had our new tire on in ten minutes.

When we got back into the car, Bridget and I looked at each other with disbelief. After having a tire blowout on a dangerous mountain road in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania, a family with a complete moron dad who had never changed a minivan tire in his life was somehow back on the road with a brand new tire in less than an hour.

I’m not normally a big believer in miracles or guardian angels or even good Samaritans, but I must say, this cynical city boy from Chicago was taught a lesson that day in Pennsylvania. My faith in humanity, which is shaken every time I watch the news, has been completely and officially restored.

I didn’t get the names of those guys who helped us, but my hope is that they will somehow read this, and know how much I appreciate all they’ve done. I’m not exaggerating when I say they may have saved our lives.

I know it’s not enough, but all I can do is say again, what I said to them that day.

Thank you.

Filed under: parent.

Everyday is Father’s Day

June 17th, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

When I was a boy I remember asking my mother why there was a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day, but there wasn’t a Kid’s Day. She said what every mother says when she hears that question: “Everyday is kid’s day.”

I grudgingly accepted that as a child, but now that I’m a father, I’ve begun to question that conventional wisdom. I’m not one of those fathers who says “kids have it so much easier than we had it.” In a lot of ways, kids actually have a much rougher time of it than we did. Most kids don’t have a parent at home with them full time. They are over-scheduled. They are living in a hyper-competitive time, and have so much more pressure on them. After they turn eight or nine, how much time do they really have to just be kids?

I bring this up because today is my seventeenth Father’s Day as a dad. We don’t really celebrate it at my house. My boys have traditionally done little or nothing to commemorate Father’s Day, and it used to bum me out. I selfishly thought: “Can’t they show a little appreciation even one day a year?”

But the truth is, they show it to me every day. They show it when Sean asks me to go in the backyard and play catch with him, or asks me to kick the ball around, or beams with pride when I tell him I’ve volunteered to be his team’s coach. They show it when Johnny goes with me to the Cubs game, or tells me that he loved dinner, or saddles up behind my office computer and points out that I’ve been working too hard. They show it when Tommy listens to music with me, asks my advice, or begs me to tell him stories about my childhood, and our family history.

They give me gifts that are way better than a tie or a sweater. They give me pride. Tommy gave it to me when he was given an award by the Archdiocese for community service. Johnny gave it to me when he was awarded the Presidential Education Award. Sean gave it to me when he was named a little league All-Star.

There are so many rewarding experiences when you’re a dad. I tend to write about the rougher moments because they are usually funnier, but for every rough moment, there are lots of wonderful ones. If you ask me, the pendulum has swung back in the parent’s favor. That’s why I no longer accept the conventional wisdom that everyday is kid’s day.

I won’t speak for every dad, but for this one father pushing 50 and trying to appreciate his limited time left with his kids, everyday is Father’s Day.

Filed under: parent.

Skunked!

June 9th, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

We should have known something was up. It was a warm spring night, the windows were open, and our dog Ivy desperately wanted to get outside. She ran to the front door. Then she sprinted to the back door. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. It was like the house was on fire.

So, being incredibly stupid people, we opened the back door and let her out.

Like a bolt of lightning she darted out the door and started barking. This was not abnormal behavior. Her barking is usually directed at another dog out for a walk, or a little critter of some kind. She’s gone after rabbits, squirrels, possums, and who knows what else. A few rabbits haven’t lived to tell the tale, but usually it’s just a harmless game of chase or “stay out of my hood.”

On this night, the barking was no different than any other night, but when we opened the back door to let her back in the house, we immediately knew something was wrong.

As Lynryrd Skynryd once sang: “Oooh, that smell. Can’t you smell that smell?”

She had an oily substance on her neck and she reeked to high heaven. It was god awful, but it didn’t smell like that skunk smell we’ve smelled before. This was a highly concentrated ammonia-ey (new word) super intense stenchy stench. If rotting garbage and a sweaty hockey locker room had a baby that needed a diaper change, it would smell exactly like this.

“She got skunked,” I said.

“No,” Bridget countered. “That doesn’t smell like a skunk. Do you think she gutted an animal or something out there?”

I agreed it didn’t smell exactly like a skunk, so like a complete moron, I went out in the backyard with a flashlight to see if I could find a wounded animal. I found something else instead.

A very scared skunk.

So, again, like complete morons, we ran into the house and brought Ivy with us so she wouldn’t get skunked again. Ivy ran all around the living room, and then went into the basement, while we looked up what to do with her on the internet.

The first thing all the sites said was: “Don’t let the dog in the house. The smell will go wherever your dog goes, and it’s very difficult to get it out of the house. Sometimes it takes weeks.”

When Bridget read that aloud, Ivy was lying down on the living room rug, rubbing her neck into it. Fantastic.

The second thing the site said: “Wash the dog with hydrogen peroxide and baking soda.”

Of course, we didn’t have nearly enough, so I drove over to Walgreen’s. As I was walking up and down the aisles looking for baking soda, a lady said to me: “Did you get skunked?”

“Can you smell it?” I asked.

She nodded.

Great.

When I got back in the minivan, I smelled it there too. I had now brought the stench into the car with me as well. Terrific.

Bridget and I spent the next 48 hours de-skunkifying the dog, the house, the car, and ourselves. We put bowls of vinegar and baking soda all over the house and the car, and the windows were opened wide to circulate the air. Ivy was washed with that peroxide/baking soda mixture about six or seven times. We even rubbed baking soda on ourselves and showered repeatedly.

It’s been three days now. The skunk is smell is gone from the house. Nobody turns up their noses at us when we walk around in public anymore. Even Ivy only has a faint trace of that smell on her neck now. Let’s just say that the boys have stopped hugging her for awhile.

But to use a technical term, it’s been incredibly yucky.

Remind me again. Why did I think it was such a good idea to get a dog?

Filed under: parent.

The Reason My House Looks Like A Crime Scene

May 20th, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

If a team of forensic scientists ever came to my house with swabs, they would find a thousand blood samples. Right now there’s a pool of dried blood on my front steps that I can’t wash away. We’ve got blood stains on nearly every sheet and pillowcase in the house. Blood stains on shirts and pants. Blood stains on gloves (paging OJ). Blood drops on the floor, the walls, and probably the ceiling.

There are days it looks like Freddy Krueger lives here.

But we’re not a family of killers, cutters, or slashers. We’re just a family that gets a ridiculous number of bloody noses. My two oldest boys don’t just get those slow-leaking bloody noses. There are days they walk in the door covered with blood from the waist up.

It happened just the other day. I was in the basement when Tommy came home. I heard the front door open violently, followed by an urgent thump, thump, thump, and another door slamming. When I went to investigate, I saw the trail of blood. It was all over the living room floor, the hallway floor, on two doors, and every wall in between.

I knocked on the bathroom door. “Everything OK in there?” I asked.

“Yup,” he replied. “No problem. Just a bloody nose.”

We’re very ho-hum about those now. We’ve had so many bloody noses over the last ten years or so, the boys are able to stop the bleeding themselves. Usually the only reason I find out they had one is because I find the trail of blood they neglected to clean up. Sometimes I find the trail while it’s still wet. Other times I don’t see it for a few days. Still other days the gigantic pile of bloody Kleenex in the bathroom garbage can is the only clue.

Even though I clean the house every week, I’m absolutely positive there are stains somewhere in this house that I haven’t found yet. I know how incredibly gross that sounds, but for some reason, it doesn’t really bother me. My little brother used to get bloody noses all the time when he was a kid, and he was very ho-hum about them too. He grew out of it eventually. I’m sure my boys will grow out of it too.

In the meantime, I can’t invite any cops over to the house.

They know a crime scene when they see one.

Filed under: parent.

Mother’s Day Shows End Their Twelve Year Run

May 13th, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

For the past twelve years, the boys and I have have gone all out for Mother’s Day. We usually plan it weeks in advance and create some sort of special production for Bridget.

In the early years we recorded audio postcards with their cute little voices telling her how much they loved her. (She still listens to those CDs). Later, we filmed a few videos of the boys talking about her, put to music. We wrote and recorded a rap song for her one year. (Here’s an audio link to some of those audio highlights over the years, if you’re interested) Another year Tommy created a video game for her on his computer, in which she was the star. Another year we produced a program for a music recital and then the boys performed it for her in the parlor (that’s what we called our living room that day). Last year, it was a poetry recital–each boy wrote a poem for her.

But this year she said: “You know what I want for Mother’s Day? I want to sleep. I don’t want breakfast in bed (which we also gave her every year). I don’t want any special present. I just want complete, uninterrupted, lengthy, deep, deep sleep. And I don’t want to be disturbed before noon.”

She’s the queen today, so her wish has been granted. This year the show has been shuttered. The cast and crew have been given pink slips, and the stage hands have put all of our props into storage. There will be no audio postcards, no videos, no songs, no recitals, no poems; just silence.

I put the boys to bed very late last night so they would sleep in this morning. (They’re still sleeping as I write this at 10am–mission accomplished). I put the fan on in our room so that the chirping birds wouldn’t wake her up. I slept on the couch in the living room, just in case I snored. I took off the dog’s collar so she wouldn’t jingle as she walked around the house, and I woke up early so she wouldn’t bark if she needed to go out and do her business. I set the coffee machine last night so that I wouldn’t make any noise this morning. I’m walking around with the telephone in my pocket just in case it rings.

And so far, it’s working like a charm. The house is completely silent.

When she wakes up, the boys have a practical gift for her and some store bought cards. I’ll try to whip up some enthusiasm in them before they hand the gift to her, and then after she opens her cards and gift, and says “Oh thanks, I really needed that!”, they’ll do their best to behave well for a couple of minutes, before slipping back into their normal selves.

You know, just like Father’s Day.

We’re fulfilling her wish, but I suspect we might be asked to re-assemble the cast and crew next year. I’ve never experienced the kind of Mother’s day love she’s gotten in the past, but I have experienced 16 Father’s Days.

Another name for them is: “Sunday”

Filed under: parent.

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