Craig Shoemaker


Toys And Boys


Connecting with my children ranks high on my priority list. I work hard at my job, but always with the intent of finding quality free time to hang with family.

Any left over money is used for a little bit of spoiling too, including the recent purchase of a Wii and an Xbox, meaning I was the enabler for what is now a house of video-game addicts. When you procure the system, I forget you have to keep buying the drugs to go into the bong.

I think I need Wii-hab.

We have three young sons, 2, 7, & 13. I tend to bond with our boys as individuals, not only due to the varying ages, but because they are all completely different energies and I must be cognizant of what is age appropriate. Unfortunately, the teenager doesn’t get this concept, and forces his interests on to the little ones, and tries to con me into believing it is okay for them too. We have family movie night and Justin says, “let’s watch The Hangover.” I said, “Justin, you have little brothers,” to which he fires back, “it’s got a tiger.” The three of them were singing “I got a passion in my pants and I ain’t afraid to show it…I’m sexy and I know it. Wiggle wiggle wiggle.”

That age spread makes it difficult to figure out common games and activities for us to share at the same time. One boy sees a bosom as a drinking fountain, another is convinced that only cooties lurk beneath a blouse, and the third wants to try one again after a 12-year lapse (and would never call it a “bosom.”)

I’ve noticed (sadly) that our first-born is now the first to want a little less of daddy/son time. I’m also apparently embarrassing to him, which came to a head last week.

My car is in the shop, so as a joke my wife rents a white mini van, which (by the way) doesn’t seem very “mini” when I can park 2 cars in it. I laughed when I became internally aware of my beloved’s fun jab at my manhood. She knows how I feel about being middle-aged; losing hair, self-esteem and money on an hourly basis, so driving this rented parent trap won’t add any luster to my mood.

Then I decided to turn this passive poke at my dignity on to our mid-puberty middle schooler. He came home and saw it in our driveway, causing him to run into the house in a panic. “Dad, what is that thing parked outside? Not even taking a beat I replied, “Well, Justin, that is our new family vehicle.” I told him that mama picked it out, and that I didn’t agree with the color, but it’s very practical. “It will be yours some day, son.”

He went nuts. “What??!! How could you do such a thing? This is the worst day of my life. You can’t pick me up from school in that!! It’s a big, albino manatee on wheels!!!”

I kept the punking going for hours, but my wife caved in. Note to the ladies – men can hold on to a prank for decades, so please don’t blow our cover, and we’ll keep the secret that you find your sister to be controlling.

With one son in raging hormones stage and the youngest still more attached to mommy, I tend to gravitate towards the 2nd grader. It is such a wonderful age, innocence still in tact, and verbal skills aligned with mine. We both laugh at anything that has the words “poop” or “fart” in it. It’s also nice to feel like the smartest one in the room, as I impart all that elementary school knowledge I thought was useless at the time on to him. “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred and ninety two. On the Nina, the Pinta and the…uh…Dan Marino” To him, I am a 200 pound Google.

He is big enough now where I don’t have to worry about bumping his head when we “rough house.” The little one tries to join in, but his skull is similar to a past-ripe cantaloupe, and I’m afraid my thumb might produce a seed when I give him my patented claw move.

It is game-on with Jared though, and I also don’t have to act like he is beating me either. We wrestle, and I go for the pin! A guy has to enjoy some sort of victory, no matter how old we get, especially with so many of our failures being low-lighted and pointed out by our children. If you are in need of a personal trainer to humiliate you into losing fat, please rent these boys for a week.

The other day, we gathered on the trampoline in a circle and played “Daddy Spins You All In A Circle!” with some 7 and 8 year old friends.

I twirled the kids around as I held their wrists. Some of the kids are heavier than others, but you have to give equal opportunity rides and ignore the weight difference. It’s a shame when a child still has the instincts of a small kid, but the body of a pre-pubescent rhino. I needed a hernia belt for a few of the neighbor boys and girls. I was sensitive to the heavier ones and tried not to show a visible difference in effort, even though my face looked like a wanna-be Knight trying to pull a sword out of a rock.

I spun them around and around in a circle, feeling as if (eventually) I would lose grip and toss them as if I were in the Olympic hammer throw. Little Blake went into orbit.

Daddy got dizzy. Daddy got sweaty. Daddy fell down on his bum-bum. Glad I was able to be a comedian for them. I will charge a cover next time.

Then I chose for all of us to play a relaxing game of “I Spy.” This is an activity I could play from in a horizontal prone position, while concentrating on not vomiting from the previous exertion.

Jared ‘s words are always simple and to the point. Whatever is in front of him is what is.

When it comes to sports and activities, I am fascinated and envious of how much fun he has without care about outcome. Winning means nothing to him, as opposed to daddy and his brother Justin, who will draw blood in a thumb wrestle.

When Jared plays “Hide N Seek,” he hides and announces where he is before the seeker is done counting. He will hide behind a phone wire and think he’s covered, but it is no biggie for Jared. I’ll say “ready or not, here I come.” I take two steps and he announces: “I’m right here dad!” It’s said as if he feels sorry for my lack of searching skills and wants to help out. He rats out others too, as soon as he is discovered.

The same thing happens when he plays the I-Spy game. He spots the something, tells us the color and immediately gives the answer before anyone else can answer, and laughs while doing so. We all chuckle at his game rules too.

During his turn on this day he gave us this: “I spy with my little eye…something yellow. (one second pause) Daddy’s teeth!

I’m headed to the mall right now for some one hour whitening….

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania