When the Handles Fall Off (Revisited)

Cold Faucet

I was looking again at some of the first posts on MB3 from late 2009 and came across this one. It’s nice to remember sometimes that there were crazier days in the past that we somehow made it through and likely will again in the future. Enjoy.


I knew something was wrong when I reached the top of the stairs and saw the bathtub faucet handle lying on the floor. Two na%ed boys were screaming excitedly from one side of the bathroom and Mommy was yelling at them not to slip and fall while she held the infant at her waist. It was one of those precious family moments when things briefly slow down in your mind and you just survey the scene unfolding around you with eyes and jaw wide open.

Things then quickly sped back up to real time and I realized that I’d waited too long to slip out the back door and retreat into the night. I peered into the steamy bathtub to see a scalding water jet spraying  out of the area where the faucet handle once lived. “Is the house going to flood?” my son screeched from amidst the chaos, the look on his face showing that he was certain that this was surely his final hour and that I might as well just save myself while I still could.

I’ll spare you every detail, but I’m happy to report that I successfully turned the water off. The bathroom perimeter has for the time being been secured until I can make a Home Depot run tomorrow and sort things out.

I’m finding that there seem to be a lot of days, like this one, when the craziness just keeps on coming. Thankfully, in the big picture, these are relatively mild issues, but stressful none the less! The house starts breaking. Kids start talking. And talking. (Honestly, sometimes they just won’t shut up.) But of course it all happens when you’re already wiped and the baby’s hungry and crying. Not when you are just sitting around with nothing to do. (When was that exactly? – oh right, before kids…) Most days, parenting our family of five feels a lot like a heavyweight fight. Keep moving with the punches and stay on your feet waiting for that bell to ring so you can rest a few moments until the next round.

The hardest part, by a mile, of raising these three little guys is the exhaustion. I don’t think that we were prepared for that in the beginning. (Now we’re prepared but just not handling it well.) Everyone tells us that it gets better as they get older, and I guess I do believe them. But there are so many of those moments when you close your eyes, standing in the middle of the storm, and you wonder what in the world you have gotten yourself into.

Thankfully, the bell does eventually ring, those moments end, the kids finally all fall asleep – and as you bend over and gently kiss them as you pull the covers up, it always (ok – usually) strikes me that I just can’t imagine anything more awesome than being their dad. (Unless, like tonight, you realize they wet the bed – that’s just annoying.)

Balls of Fire

Ball of Fire

I woke up this morning and my left arm was killing me. It still hurts. I suppose it’s a result of my getting old, or having three boys, or both. Last night before bedtime, I was down in the basement with all three of them, which I’ve found usually leaves me sore somewhere. Often in multiple places.

We were playing a game we like to call Balls of Fire. It basically consists of us whipping little sponge balls at each other across the room. You know the kind, little soccer ball looking baby toys with stuffing inside them. Weighty enough that you can really throw them fast, but soft enough not to hurt too bad if they nail you in the face. The only two rules in the game are:

1) Don’t hit your baby brother

2) Don’t hit the flat screen

Everything else is fair game. (I guess #3 would be don’t hit Mommy, but she’s smart enough not to venture down during our game!) Last year I tried playing the game with a couple of those old bean bag chairs but eventually Mommy got wind of it and we decided that it was getting out of hand. Instead of just getting hit with them like a ball, the things would engulf the boys from head to toe and bring them down…they loved it, but that’s for another post.

Most of our Balls of Fire game has me camped out on the far side of the room with the boys running back and forth across the other side, ducking and weaving from my missile throws (hence the sore arm). It used to be me just taking target practice on them, but as they’ve grown, so has their aim and bravery, and they’re starting to make me work for it. The boys added a fun twist that every time they got hit, they had to become a different Star Wars character. But you could only be ones with a gun, not a lightsaber…which started running thin so we moved to superhero characters.

Not to be left out, baby brother, nearly two,  joined in the fun and started rattling off all the superhero names he knows (which is surprisingly many, but tends to always come back to “Hulk! Boom! Boom!”) He then runs around picking up the used ammunition balls and bringing them back to Daddy, yelling, “Baaa, Baaa.” (which is not his sheep imitation but rather his best attempt at saying “ball”)

The older two, realizing that I’m reloading, giddily shout to each other:

“Daddy has no balls! Daddy has no balls!”

Which makes me laugh because they’re young enough that they have no idea why I think what they’re saying is so funny. Good times.

The Best

Standing on the ladder and kissing my son goodnight in his top bunk and he whispers I love you before he drifts off to sleep

Squeezing my son’s hand at the end of the driveway as the school bus approaches and he gives me a little wave from the window as it pulls away

Dangling my squealing son up in the air over my head and then burying my chin in his neck with tickles and he screams out Dadaaaaa at the top of his smiling lungs

Holding my wife in a long embrace in the kitchen in the quiet of the middle of the day with no kids around, with her head resting just beneath my chin and smelling her hair.

Those are the moments that I love

Those are the glimpses of eternity that I come back to

The times when all seems right

When I’m with my family

The ones I love the best

Flushing College Down the Drain (Revisited)

I had a sump pump installed in my basement the other week, which had me thinking about plumbers and one of the early posts on MB3 from September 2009 that you might want to check out if you missed it the first time around…


$1.2 Million. That’s my rough estimate of how much it will cost my three boys to get through four years of college. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. According to a recent New York Times article, some of today’s private colleges now cost in excess of $50,000 per year for tuition, room and board (we’re not talking just Harvard either – Gettysburg, Colgate, Lafayette, Georgetown). That’s a lot of clams. According to the Times article, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities reported that this year’s average price increase was a ‘mere’ 4.3 percent (the lowest in 37 years). Using that math and compounding today’s $50,000 cost, that means that in 13 years when our oldest starts college (wait a minute – what?), one year will cost $86,430, totaling a whopping $368,000 over four years. In a frightening comparison, that figure is a relative bargain considering that his two younger brothers’ higher education will cost $384,000 and $455,000 when all is said and done. All of which adds up to $1.2M. All you parents of young children reading this may now collectively pick yourselves off the floor.

No wonder there is a growing national discussion about reevaluating the traditional path of a four-year college education as the “preferred” way to start one’s adult life and launch a respectable career. In the past few months I’ve had several conversations with friends and business associates over lunch on the topic of considering alternative routes. The unflattering portrayal in the new NBC show Community notwithstanding (the pilot was hilarious – check it out), trade schools and community colleges are on the rise as more people begin to consider whether all that money is really worth it. Even if you do decide that a Bachelor’s degree is right for your kid, the logic of studying for two years at a community school and then transferring out to a four-year school increasingly makes a lot of sense.

Taking all of these nauseating facts into account, I’ve decided that my sons and I are going to open our own plumbing business. That’s right, my three boys and their old man will become plumbers (hold all negative connotations please). The baby has already shown a keen interest in water so I think that he may be particularly suited for the trade. Hear me out – I’ve thought this through and it makes sense. According to the website for the United Association of Journeyman and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry (UA), one needs to complete a five-year apprenticeship to become a Journeyman plumber. During this time, a young man can earn a skill and a solid wage. Some sources suggest that plumbers can earn $25/hr to start. Contrast that with the $100k/year one of my sons (a.k.a. me) would be shelling out for a degree, and the numbers start to add up. After four years, instead of being $400k+ in the hole, they’ll be well on their way to being a Journeyman. And who wouldn’t want to have the title of Journeyman – that’s a man’s man title. According to a 2008 TIME article, How Much Do Plumbers Really Make, Journeymen in major cities can make upwards of $250,000 per year, while a master plumber (5-7 years experience) in Cincinnati seems to be bringing home $100,000.

So here’s the plan. In 8 years, I’m going to quit my job and learn the plumbing trade. My five-year apprenticeship period will be finished when our oldest graduates high school. I’ll have that prestigious Journeyman title, and we’ll be ready to hit the market with our very own Smith Brothers family plumbing business. If the boys go to the Vo-Tech high school, maybe even sooner. Right around the time baby brother graduates, we’ll be a year away from having three Journeymen and the dollars should be pouring in.

On the other hand, maybe I shouldn’t be so fast to flush those college dreams down the drain. One of the boys could get a free ride throwing a fastball 90 mph or become a quantum physicist – you never know. But in the meantime, I’m going to dig that pipe-wrench out of the toolbox and keep it handy just in case. After all, even Albert Einstein said, “I should have been a plumber!”

Why Can’t Wii Get Along?

Yesterday, as I tried to take a short nap on the living room couch during the football game, my two oldest boys were in the basement playing Wii. I was awoken by the younger’s voice pleading to his older brother to play the particular level on Indiana Jones Lego Wii that he desperately desired to play:

Please, I’m begging you, can we play level five?!

I’ll give you anything.

I’ll give you five dollars from my wallet!

OK, three dollars?

One dollar?

OK, I’ll give you my whole wallet!

Clearly, the boy needs a talk about negotiating skills…