Get ‘Em Hooked Young

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a great big, geeky nerd with a nerd’s hobbies. Getting to share those hobbies and interests with my children has been something I’ve looked forward to for… well, for a lot longer than I’ve had kids. Now that I do have a few offspring it can sometimes be hard to wait for them to be old enough to engage in (or be engaged with) my geeky pursuits.

One of those pursuits is role-playing games, the kind where you have to use a pencil and paper and roll lots of oddly-shaped dice. Actually, my favorite RPG just uses regular six-siders, but I do have the minimum amount of polyhedrals needed to play good, ol’ fashioned D&D. A few days ago, I dug those dice out when RU kept wanting to do more school after I’d exhausted the couple of lessons I’d prepared.

We started with the pyramidal four-sided dice, letting her count the sides and roll them a few times. One by one, she examined them in ascending order: the familiar cube-shaped d6’s, the d8’s, the ten-sided dice that are confusingly numbered 0 through 9, the d12’s, and all the way up to the big round twenty-siders. RU was very interested in them, seemed excited to turn them over in her hands and count the sides.

Following that, we each grabbed a die of the same size and spent some time seeing who could roll higher. We went through all the dice that way, though RU insisted on pairing up the d4’s and d6’s, rolling both and adding their values together.


(Clatter, clatter) “Woo hoo!”

Finally, we got down to adding a narrative element. I brought in her LEGO elf and a LEGO soldier from the Castles line.

“Let’s do some pretending,” I said. “Which one do you want to be?”

RU picked the elf. No surprise there.

“What’s her name?”

“Ummm. Can I give her a name that’s somebody’s real name?”

“You can name her whatever you like.”

“Okay. Her name is Lizzy.”

One of the hardest parts of character creation was now out of the way! Time to figure out some stats for her. I wasn’t using any particular system, just making up some very basic stuff as I went along. ”Okay. So, what’s Lizzy like? What does she do?”
“She likes to play soccer,” RU suggested.
“How about this: is Lizzie strong, or quick, or smart?”
RU answered right away, “Lizzie is smart. She’s smarter than me.”


Meet Lizzie. She’s an Elf. She is smart, likes soccer, and drinks coffee.


“Well! She must be a very smart elf indeed, then! Does she have any magic? Or any powers?” RU and her little sister MeToo have gone from pretending to be Elsa and Ana with magic and ice powers to just pretending to have magic and ice powers in other identities and have recently branched out to pretending to have other kinds of powers as well. Between that and the way I already stereotype elves thanks to Tolkien and D&D, I had no doubt that Lizzie would be sorcerously-inclined.

But RU did the unexpected: “No. She doesn’t have magic. There are no bad guys where she lives so she doesn’t need magic.”

“So what would Lizzie do if one day a bad guy,” I picked up the LEGO spearman, “did come to the forest where she lives?”

“She would trick him,” RU replied. She didn’t even have to think about it; it was actually a little unnerving.

“Oh ho! She would trick him! Because that would be the smart thing to do, right? I like it. So, what would she do to trick him? How would she do that?”

“She would dress up like a bad guy.”

“I think that would do it. Very clever of her. I like how you came up with a solution that also avoided conflict.” That remark was over RU’s head, I’m sure, but I was quite impressed with her.

Okay, now I wanted to put that action in something like a typical fantasy RPG adventure scenario. One of those pencil finger grip things was lying nearby. I held it up.

“Let’s pretend this is some kind of magical treasure.” I sat it down on the table and placed the spearman next to it. My idea was that Lizzie would need to trick her way past him to reach the treasure. “This soldier is a bad guy who has come into the forest to find it.”


Behold: the MacGuffin Stone!


The role of “Bad Guy” will be played by this LEGO minifig

“But,” RU interrupted, “Lizzie knows where the treasure is. She put it in a box with a lock and she’s the only one who has the key.”

Ah. So it’s to be sort of a reverse dungeon crawl.

“Did she hide it somewhere?”

“Yes. She’s the only one who can find it. She has magic that can help her find it. She, ah, she has a magic shovel that she uses to find it.”

“So Lizzie doesn’t have magic powers herself, but she has magical things. Okay. Where did she hide the box with the treasure? In a cave or in the forest?”

RU established that the thing was in a cave in the forest, protected by magic so no one could find it. The soldier, I point out, has come into the forest in search of the treasure and he seems to have some way to locate it. He hasn’t found it yet, but he will if Lizzie doesn’t intervene. How, I ask RU, is he able to know where the treasure is?

“He, he has a magic spear that tells him where it is. Not right where it is, but if he’s going the right way.”

Now, at this point, I thought to myself that I probably should have tried to bring her into role-playing games through this kind of back-and-forth story telling. Introduce dice later on. However, I’ve built this up as a thing we will use the dice for. She’s enjoyed playing with the dice, and the tactile pleasure of rolling them is part of the fun of this hobby. Plus, maybe it’s best for her to learn early that the dice don’t always go your way.

So I said, “Pick out two dice of the same size. I’ll take one and you take one.”

RU chose the twenty-sided ones.

“Now, how does Lizzie find the bad guy?”

“She sneaks up on him and watches him.”

“Okay, let’s see if she can sneak up on him. Roll your die for Lizzie and I’ll roll mine for the bad guy.”

The dice clattered on the table. She rolled higher, so Lizzie approached him unseen.

“If you want to, you can now roll to see if Lizzie can convince him she’s a bad guy, too, when she approaches him. And, um, because Lizzie is Smart I think I’ll give you a bonus to your roll.” Not that I had any idea what would be appropriate; mostly, I wanted to make sure she’d succeed at her shrewd plan.

“What’s a bonus?”

“It’s a number you’ll get to add to your roll. Because Lizzie is Smart, whenever she does something clever you can get a bonus added to your die roll.” That seemed like sound game mechanics. But d20’s are so swingy! I still hadn’t decided what a good value for the bonus would be.

RU came up with her own solution. She picked up a d10 and said, “I want to roll this as my bonus.”

“That sounds like a great idea! Whenever Lizzy is doing something Smart, you can roll that one, too, and add your numbers together.”

She rolled her d20 and the bonus d10, beating the result of my lone d20.

“Good job! The Bad Guy thinks Lizzy is on his side. Now that she’s done that, how can she keep him from finding the treasure?”

“She’ll cast a spell! She’s got magic now.”

“Okay, that’s fine. What does her spell do?”

“It takes the Bad Guy home. It makes him think that he’s following his spear to the treasure, but he goes all the way back home instead. And he won’t know it until he’s back at his house.”

I chuckle. “Let’s roll to see if she can make that happen. Just your twenty-sided die against mine when she uses her magic.”

RU rolled a 20. “Yay!”

“You got a twenty! Critical success! That means you rolled as high as you can roll on that die. The spell works perfectly and the Bad Guy wanders out of the forest. He walks all the way back home without realizing it. He just finds himself in his bedroom and says, ‘What? How in the world did I get here?’ Nice work.”

RU laughed. Then she wanted to play some more.

And so did I.


Take a bow, everybody

 (In case anyone cares about her further adventures, RU enlisted the LEGO spearman figure as a good guy named Roland. Roland and Lizzie got married (after having to overcome some obstacles on the way to the ceremony, which had to be performed that one day of the year — RU’s idea, I swear) and took in a pet spider. Something went wrong with the treasure and it began “leaking magic” which made scary illusions in the forest.

By the time MeToo woke up from her nap and came downstairs, the “leaking magic” had gotten the attention of a wizard who brought his bodyguard along into the woods. We wanted MeToo to join us and she picked out a princess (I’d broken out a few cardboard miniatures).

“Is she Strong, or Quick, or Smart,” I asked MeToo.

“She Strong like Sooperman.”

“What’s her name?”

“Ummm. I dunno.”

“Yeah, sometimes that’s the hardest part for me, too.”

This was the first actual combat we’d had. Lizzie and the Wizard faced off but he proved to be better at magic — getting to roll a bonus die when casting spells. Then it was MeToo’s turn.

“What does she do?” I pointed to MeToo’s princess figure.

MeToo picked up her princess and knocked the wizard’s bodyguard off the table with it. “She’s gonna smash the dragon!”

Yeah. I think my kids are born gamers. This is gonna be so much fun!)

No Post Today, Too Tired

Yesterday started with MeToo trying to eat a piece of raw bacon* and ended with her coming into our bedroom at 9pm while I was trying to get baby Z to sleep. She’d left the light on in the girls’ bedroom, so while I was trying to get her back to sleep in ours, RU woke up distraught that she’d been left alone. RU, MeToo, and Z eventually all ended up in our room and took turns being awake and needing to be comforted back to sleep until 4 o’clock in the morning.

MeToo woke up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, at 6:51 am. 

So, while I do have something cool (well, I thought it was real cool) to write about, and even have the post started, right now words are hard to make. Thinking thoughts isn’t real easy, either. This right here took me about two hours and I can’t tell if it even makes sense.

See you next week!

*Okay, yesterday clearly must have started with the kids waking up and pulling me downstairs to make breakfast. This is just what was happening when I finally booted up. 

My, How the Worm Turns



RU, at this time 18-months old, sits on a pristine stroller, licking an ice cream cone.  Her pink t-shirt and denim shorts are blobbed with ketchup from the previously consumed corn dog.  The ice cream, a luscious soft serve of vanilla, begins to lean.  As all licks are coming from just one angle, the opposing side is running in rivulets down the cone, her hand, her arm. THE WIFE is leaning over her while THE DAD looks on, napkins in hand.


Okay, let’s turn it to the other side.

(Attempts to turn the cone in RU’s hand)


No!  I do it myself!

(Begins crying)


What are you doing?  Let her eat her ice cream.


We need to teach her how to do this. Just like we will teach her to use her fork in both the American and Continental styles, how to chop, dice, slice, and to shake, never stir, a martini!


She can figure this out on her own!  Stop torturing her! Who cares if she makes a mess? Let her enjoy it how she wants!


I don’t want her to lose her ice cream!  This isn’t a deal!



We laugh about it now, but one of the most contentious parenting arguments the Wife and I ever had was over how RU should eat her first ice cream cone.

We pretty much see eye-to-eye when it comes to parenting. Any differences in our points of view are minor, a matter of degrees. That day, however, I felt that she was being anal retentive and causing RU far too much stress over something that’s supposed to be fun. It’s not as if RU would end up going to college still licking her ice cream on one side until it redecorates her shoes. The Wife, on the other hand, was justifiably concerned about how sad RU would be when her Leaning Tower of Vanilla (or maybe it was Vanilla and Chocolate Swirl) met its inevitable end. I guess when you get down to it, it was a dispute over which would make our toddler more miserable: instructing her to rotate the cone and enjoy her ice cream evenly all the way around or letting her have the freedom to discover for herself how gravity hates kids.

Well, we had a big laugh about it again when the Wife reminded me about that incident over this past 4th of July weekend.



ME TOO sits on top of the air conditioning unit, licking an ice cream cone. Her red, white, and blue dress already has some smudges on it, but nothing requiring full-on stain treatment yet. The ice cream, being devoured from just one angle, is leaning perilously over the edge of the cone.


Now, MeToo, eat it from the other side. Turn it around. No, you don’t turn around. You stand still and turn the ice cream cone around. Stop touching everything with your sticky hands! Eat it from the other side!


Interviews in Babysitting

The time has come (again) for us to find a regular babysitter. Once we’ve found a few good candidates, the Wife and I will have to find the time to schedule interviews with them. Scheduling face-to-face interviews is actually pretty difficult and time-consuming for us; we pretty much need to hire a babysitter so we have time to interview potential babysitters (though I did my first such interview over Skype a couple of weeks ago and it was better than I expected).

Way back when we were first looking for someone to babysit a then-infant RU we had no idea how to go about it. Our idea of a babysitter was a high school girl looking to earn some spending money who is already known to the family, either directly or at one remove. Indeed, once upon a time, the Wife was just such a teenaged babysitter. But we don’t know any such people. We’re thirty-somethings who have no teenagers anywhere near our social circles. Where does one turn for childcare when bereft of high school-age girls? Having found someone willing to watch your children for cash, what happens next? We were clueless about what information to ask candidates about or what to tell them.

Remember the Wife’s review of Gavin De Becker’s book Protecting the Gift? Well, it also talks about babysitters and childcare, and it was that section that has probably been the biggest help to us as parents (so far). Reading it opened our eyes to the fact that in looking for a babysitter, we were essentially hiring an employee. What’s more, it would be an employee who would be looking after the most important thing in our lives (and would be in our home with access to lots of the things that also rank pretty high on our list of important stuff). It gave us permission to actually ask probing or difficult questions and to turn people away if we didn’t think they were a good fit for us. 

The book helpfully provides a list of good questions to ask a potential sitter or nanny, and the bulk of the interview I just conducted was mostly drawn from them. Many of the questions have answers that should be obvious, such as, “What’s your opinion of drugs and alcohol?” Clearly, there’s a wrong way to answer that and you might therefore think the question has little value. We like to ask that one right away so we can save our time in case anyone is dumb enough to answer, “Oh, I think drugs and alcohol are great! I’m high right now!” Some folks will even miss the slow pitches and you sure don’t want them watching your kids. Also, people can reveal a lot about themselves even when they’re not being truthful (aside from whether or not they’re good liars). 

Open ended questions can help gain more information about a candidate’s background than what’s on the resume or reveal their thought processes. We ask about their best friend and if they go to church (potentially gaining contact information for extra references by doing so). We have them talk about a time when they needed help or how they handled an emergency. What they consider to be an “emergency” usually reveals a lot about their life experiences — we’ve talked to a lot college-age candidates who really struggled to find a meaningful answer. We ask them to discuss their philosophy about discipline. Some people grew up with spanking as an acceptable form of punishment for children, for example, while others feel that all problem behaviors are the result of children not having some specific emotional need met. The Wife and I have eliminated a lot of potential sitters who looked good on paper but clearly didn’t mesh well with how our household does things.

We save the potentially difficult or awkward questions for the end, when the candidate has gotten warmed up and talking more freely. At first, the Wife and I struggled with these. We’d look at each other, trying to figure out which one of us was willing to sheepishly, even apologetically, broach the topic. Really, though, “Have you ever suspected a child under your care was being abused by someone,” is exactly thing kind of information you want to know about the person who will be alone with your offspring. A lot of candidates who have worked in schools, daycares, or summer camps will have been trained on such a situation or even have first- or second-hand experience with it. (On the other hand, we had one interviewee reply, “Wow! Gosh! I don’t know… Hire a private detective to find out, I guess.” How she expected to do that given what we were offering to pay her, I have no idea.) Experience with this process has made the Wife and I much more comfortable delving into taboo topics or asking probing personal questions. 

The list of questions in Protecting the Gift is a great starting point, but your interview also needs to include topics relevant to your specific situation and parenting style. Because having the kids watch television isn’t an option at our house, we ask candidates if they’ve ever nannied or babysat for a family that is tv-free. We’ve encountered more than one who simply didn’t know how they would keep children occupied if they couldn’t be sat down in front of the tube for a while. (We actually lead with, “How much television do you watch? What are your favorite shows?”) These questions can be a springboard for telling the candidate about how your family does things, giving them an idea of what’s expected of them.

The Wife and I have built up a nice back-and-forth for these interviews. She’s the “Faceman” of our A-Team, able to chat comfortably with just about anyone and get them to open up more. (With her penchant for planning, she’s also our family’s Hannibal.) I guess my interjections of wacky humor make me Murdock. (I often also emulate B. A. Baracus — at least, the way he is just after he’s had the drugged cheeseburger.) Well, regardless of which ‘80s action show our method resembles, we’ve grown adept at drawing the interviewee out and interrogating them under the guise of friendly conversation.

(RU herself actually proved to be a valuable asset in the interview process when she was very young. She’d sit her in high chair at the Panera and play “I’ll drop the pacifier so you can pick it up.” The best sitter we’ve ever had was hired because she was able to not only answer our questions but was automatically retrieving RU’s binky and keeping her content while doing so. The other candidate never even noticed what the baby was doing. I guess that makes RU — who? That reporter from the first couple of seasons?)

Today, however, I had to fly solo. That’s not good for “Howling Mad” Murdock to be doing (or Baracus, for that matter) but I think it went well even if it got a little dicey when I had to lift the candidate’s fingerprint off her glass unnoticed.

Bovine Fail

Today, at a certain fast-food chain (around our house it is known as “Shickie-lay” or sometimes “Cow On The Bag”), you can get free food by coming in dressed as a cow.

Since we almost never get a chance to make our kids wear the cow costume, we decided to go there for lunch. (Yes, of course we have a toddler-sized cow costume. Don’t you? No, we’ve never used it for Halloween. I mean, who dresses their kids up as a cow for Halloween? We keep it next to the Dumbo costume the girls get to wear when we go to Disney.)

The Wife has done this at least once in the past. Her tactic was to take them early in the morning. (Apparently, RU thinks having chicken for breakfast is hilarious.) Given that on a normal day at lunch hour Cow On The Bag is packed full of people and the drive-thru line coils around the building like the Midgard Serpent, going for breakfast probably would have been wise.

Upon seeing that it was standing room only, with families all dressed in white with black spots pressed up against the glass waiting for enough room to squeeze inside, we went to Pollo Tropico across the street instead.

But MeToo insisted on still wearing the costume.

It was so hot she melted!

The Dad Cooks: Cowboy Beans

[Cue Mission Impossible theme.]

Your mission, whether you want it or not, is to make lunch for the kids (and feel free to have some of it yourself). This task sounds simple, but there are complicating factors that require a highly specialized set of skills to navigate.

First, you are not at your headquarters. Rather, you will be en route there at 1200 hours; expect to arrive by 1215.

Second, everyone involved in this operation, yourself included, will be, to one degree or another,  hot, tired, and hungry.

Third, time is critical. Other ops that must occur this afternoon are dependent upon the timely completion of this one. You must keep in mind not only the time required to make lunch, but also to consume it, and then to get the kids their nap.

Oh, and there’s one more wrinkle: there is a mobile car detailing service scheduled to clean the van today. I think they’re coming at 1300 hours. You must have all the crap and all the carseats out of the van so they can turn the vehicle into something a little less like a rolling garbage scow.

That’s it! Good luck and Godspeed. Your baby’s diaper will self-destruct in ten seconds.

[End theme music.]

That was the situation I faced when I pulled in to the driveway yesterday at lunchtime. Although it wasn’t what I wanted — and, Lord knows, it wasn’t the healthiest choice — cowboy beans offered an alternative to the sandwiches we’d had for the past couple of days. Best of all, it was something I could step away from while it cooked, which I knew would prove necessary.

Cowboy Beans

Once you get the kids in from the car, dig around for a big skillet while you judge which child needs attention first, based on who’s crying loudest. The baby wins! He’s hungry. Before you can make a bottle, though, he’ll need to be changed out of that poopy diaper.

You’ll need one hand for wiping him which only leaves your other hand left to control all four of his limbs. His feet will have to be pulled up to wipe his bottom but that leaves his hands free to — yep, he’s got his fingers in it. No, don’t put your hand in your mouth! Just hold still while I get your fingers clean. Which, of course, gives you a chance to get your feet into the mess. Leggo the wipe. No, don’t try to roll over! Stop twisting your hips! Just — here, hold the clean diaper. Alright. Let’s get you cleaned up. Man, you got this all over you (please, God, let there be enough wipes left). Okay, let’s get a new diaper on ya. Why is it wet? Oh, you were chewing on it. That’s no problem. There we are, good as new.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, gotta get lunch started and clean out the van.

Go to the fridge and get out the ground beef that was supposed to be made into burgers two nights ago. Mash it up some in the skillet and turn the heat to medium. Actually, since you don’t know exactly how long it will be before you’re back to it, turn it down a little bit.


If you take this moment to head towards the van so you can begin cleaning it out, you’ll be just in time to watch your middle child slip and fall, striking the the bottom of her chin hard on the table. She’ll be okay but needs to be held for a few minutes. It looks like her foot slipped on a doll’s outfit that was left out. As she calms down, deliver a homily on how keeping the toys picked up will prevent such accidents. Then watch your step as you go to clean out the van.

All the toys, games, cookware, and swimsuits still in the back from Memorial Day at the grandparents’ house must come in first. Just put them down in the front room. Now you can get the stroller out and load it up with all the shoes and clothes and baby wearing devices. Push it inside and then go mash around on the ground beef while you check on the kids.

Your oldest child is not downstairs. This is fine for now because it means she’s upstairs where there’s little for her to mess with and she’s not bothering, or being bothered by, her siblings. Your tired middle child has collapsed on the couch but isn’t quite out. Great. The baby, though, is still crying. You didn’t feed him!

Make him a bottle from the breast milk your wife left you. Turn the stove even lower and go feed the baby. While that’s happening, your middle child will recover enough to get up off the couch. She will then retreat into the bathroom where the noises she makes will highlight just how poor a choice it is to serve cowboy beans for lunch. But you’re committed now.

Place the fed baby in the Pack ’n Play (or whatever baby jail you use to keep him safe from his sisters’ affection) and head back to either the kitchen or the van. It doesn’t matter which because you will discover that your middle child is no longer in the bathroom. She is now sitting by the front door in the middle of a mess she is making from the stuff you’ve unloaded from the van.

I turn my back for two minutes and you start up a drug lab?!
I turn my back for two minutes and you start up a drug lab?!

She needs something to do. Put her at the table and give her the closest object that will write and the first piece of paper you see. Turn the stove back up until it’s just shy of medium and stir the ground beef up again.

Go check on your eldest child. She is upstairs, carefully stacking up the empty hangers from her closet. She tells you she is hanging up her laundry. Weird… but not a problem. Assure her she can put away all the laundry she wants, then go back downstairs to the kitchen.

The ground beef is done. Next come the beans. After you open up a can of baked beans and pour it into the skillet, go to the van and remove all the carseats.


Back inside, the beans need just a little bit of mustard and a big glob of ketchup. You know that fancy ketchup that’s so good on the homemade fries your wife makes? Don’t use that stuff. The cheap-o grocery store generic brand is what you want here.

Oh, that may be too much...
Oh, that may be too much…


While you’re mixing that in, both girls will be pestering you and/or the baby. They’ll need something besides cowboy beans to eat, anyway, so offer them some food to keep them occupied while you’re finishing up. Do they want some applesauce or cottage cheese? When they each give you different answers just give them the rest of the sliced watermelon that’s in the fridge. With the girls occupied you can move the now-fussing baby back out of the Pack ‘n Play and let him roam free.

The cowboy beans are nearly done and now require closer attention. Add brown sugar, a scoop at a time, until you have “enough.” Determine “enough” by stirring each scoop in and giving it a minute to cook, then taste the result. You want it to be pretty sweet but not like candy. Somebody’s spilled their drink; snap at the wrong kid and give them some paper towels to clean the mess up with (try to ignore it when they wring the wet paper towel out onto the floor, you’ve got other things to worry about right now).


Cowboy beans also need some heat, at least a little bit to add another note to the flavor. If you have a jar of jalapeño slices, chopping up just three or four slices and adding a splash of juice is all you need to give it that extra dimension. Stir it in while you’re adding the brown sugar; you want to find that balance between heat and sweet while in the tasting stage. If you keep the jalapeño pieces pretty big, you can pick them out for anyone who doesn’t want a hot bite. Obviously, you can add more if you want to turn up the heat.

Unfortunately, if I so much as breathe the word “jalapeño” softly over the skillet my girls will claim the beans are “too spicy.” Oh well, the jar was all the way in the back of the fridge anyway.

Let that cook for just a bit more while you make one last check of the van to remove any soiled clothes or fast food kids’ meal toys that are worth saving. Then serve the cowboy beans to your kids who are now full of watermelon.

Lunch is served... finally!
Lunch is served… finally!

Scrape together a bowl with the jalapeño bites you removed from the children’s servings. You can use it to help revive the car detailing guy after he’s seen the inside of your vehicle. (“Leave the papers that are up behind the sun visors; that’s where we file our bills. Everything else can go. Unless you find a little white shoe. Oh, and don’t forget this stain on the ceiling. I don’t know how they got so much ice cream up there…”)


3 tired, hungry children

1 pound of ground beef that’s probably still good

1 bottle of organic, locally-sourced breast milk

1 big can of baked beans

1 messy minivan

A “tiny” squirt of mustard

1 Pack ‘n Play

About a tablespoon of ketchup, or more

3 carseats

Several scoops of brown sugar — oh, no that was one too many!

Sliced watermelon

3 or 4 jalapeño slices, chopped (not really optional)

Cooking time: about four times longer than it should have been.