If you're not one, there's a good chance you had one or maybe even two at some point. As a child I wasn't as much like so many of my peers – always thinking about growing up and becoming a blushing groom; having babies and keeping myself barefoot and … drunk.
No, my childhood was spent in deep thought about how much mud pie I could eat without throwing up or if those orange coals in the fireplace would produce the delicious flow of juice it seemed they would if I dared to reach in and an squeeze one. (True story. I contemplated that frequently when I was a toddler during that growth era that biologists call, “The Stupid Phase”. It tends to last about 25 years for females and, sadly, the entire lifespan of the male.)
But then I woke up one morning and there was a four year old in my bed between me and an adult woman, digging her feet into my back far enough that I'm pretty sure her toes touched my belly button. And there was a thirteen year old male looming over me, saying, “Dad, I'm hungry.”
I'm Michael Blackston and you're about to get a glimpse into my funny, messy, life.
Dad. How did that word ever come to apply to me? While I try to figure that out, here are some stories that prove ...
Kids Equal Insanity.
I don't know if you've ever tried to speak rationally with a precious two and a half year old girl who has her heart set on something that can't be delivered at the moment, but if you have, you've experienced my horror. This story is called,
When My Daughter Cries (A Tale Of Trauma And Tragedy)
This is an account of the events that transpired on the morning of January 30, 2016
I think it would have been easier to spank her.
Now, regardless of your feelings on the whole spanking thing, you can rest easy in the knowledge that my two year old daughter, the apple of my eye - well, one of them -, did not receive a spanking. I think that in her eyes, the punishment she did receive was far worse. In the real world tick of the clock, the passage of the moment was swift, like the gazelle bounding happily along the savannah or the days between realizing you need to start shopping and Christmas Eve. But relative to the mind of a two and a half year old in pigtails, the hands of the clock stood still and eternity was at hand. My sweet, precious, screaming daughter was put in …
Perhaps we ought to step back into the past and let me recount the details.
It was a bright, sunny morning. Birds were chirping and the wind was singing a merry song through the empty limbs of the winter trees. Somewhere gazelles were bounding in the savannah and I had a slight inkling that it might be time to start developing a Christmas list, it being late January and all. It was the perfect day. That’s why she woke up earlier than we wanted her to. It was our idea that maybe, because she so very much despises waking to the weekly morning routine that takes her to daycare, she'd enjoy a little “sleep in” today. It is, after all, Saturday and people all over the world have been known to enjoy a few extra winks.
Being a phenomenal husband who deserves awesome Father’s Day gifts, kudos, pats on the back, and a Mustang convertible my wife lovingly tells me to “keep dreaming about”, I agreed to be the watcher of our daughter should she decide it was time to get up before my wife did. I would allow my bride to sleep in unencumbered. The usual routine is that we'll wake and do chores on Saturday mornings until the young one decides she'll be needy. At that point, my wife assumes the “HOOOOOOLLLLLDD MMMEEEEEE!” position, which allows me to continue with chores. It’s an efficient agreement and almost always works.
But this morning, upon rising like the sun – the hot, fiery, blazing, angry sun – our darling child desired cheese balls. Not only was she dead set on those crunchy, bite-sized pebbles of deliciousness covered in 100 percent natural processed cheese food powder, but she wanted them on her plush toddler couch, right in front of the TV in our bedroom. As you can see, this would throw a wrench into the whole leave mother alone to sleep in peace thing.
So, like the good father that I am, who deserves mom’s taco pie, a crossbow with laser arrows, and amazing pectoral muscles, I attempted to reason with the child.
“Your mother is trying to sleep in the bedroom. Let’s watch TV in the living room.”
The young one engaged in a sort of debate.
“Mommy’s sleeping. We need to watch TV in the living room.”
“NOOOO HO HO HOOOO! I DON’T WANT TOOOOOO! I WANT MOMMY! I WANT MY CHEESE BAAAAAALLS!”
“I’ll give you the cheese balls, but you need to sit at the table.”
At this point, she employed the Shrill Screech Of Doom offense followed by throwing herself violently onto the floor and slamming her feet up and down repeatedly.
I made the bold decision to simply say, “Fine. No cheese balls; no TV.”
It was now necessary to find something to drown out the sound of the anger-squeals that were emanating from the lungs of my angel. If there were no cotton balls, perhaps something along the lines of rage metal played at the highest volume possible. (Eleven; one higher than ten.) Unfortunately, I don’t own any rage metal, so unless there were cotton balls, I was quite sure I would be shoving pointy sticks into my ears to deafen me permanently. At least that’s what a few of the neighborhood dogs I could see outside my window were attempting to do.
The beast had been told “no” and it was not pleased. I started to understand why I kept seeing a guy on the sidewalk across the street from the daycare wearing a trench coat loaded down with earplugs for a mere 20 dollars a set.
The problem with my sugar-pie-honey-bun-cherub-face is that once she has decided life has treated her unkindly, no amount of accommodation will work to ease her temper. I try not to spoil her, but as any present or former parent of a two year old will agree, they don’t understand logic yet. You can’t bargain and there's only so much you can do to assert your authority in a way that they'll get the picture and learn a lesson. I tried holding her and rocking her and humming the sweet melodies of Barry Manilow in her ear. None of that worked to soothe her. She was angry and desired only to make the local canines intentionally run into traffic. Our poor dog, Nessa, is fenced in our back yard, so she had nowhere to get away from the screams. I could only assume that the howls I heard from her direction were to be interpreted as something close to, “FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, MAKE IT STOOOOOOPPPPPPP!”
I had no other recourse but to deliver the ultimate punishment for a child of two.
It involves a room adjacent to the kitchen, a single chair, denial of the opportunity to move from said chair for a period of time, and lots of ear piercing screams. I think I should've at least recorded it. I imagine a production company would love to have the soundtrack for horror movie projects.
It’s not just hard for the child, though. I hate the feeling I get when she begs and pleads to be relieved from her cell. She calls for daddy and I want to swoosh in like a superhero in a worn out t-shirt and those soft, comfy pajama pants too many people wear into Walmart.
But I can’t do that. I have to show resolve and dedication to her future behavior, no matter how much she cries.
Eventually the sobs turned to sniffles and the sniffles to silence. As I looked into the room at my dainty-sweetness-cutesy-teddy-bear-head, I could tell she still wasn't happy, but had given all she had to the cause and could scream no more. Tears still drizzled down her tiny pink cheeks and her bottom lip poked out and she clutched a decapitated Barbie doll tightly in one hand while the other hand held the severed head by the hair.
She’s so precious.
I asked her if she was ready to be a good girl and anticipated the adorable affirmation in a soft, tender voice that accepted me finally as the Alpha of the house.
That sweet voice simply replied, “No.”
Oh well, at least she’s not attempting a new world’s record for vocally produced decibel levels.
“Are you ready to get up from time out?”
She nodded yes and held up her arms. Barbie’s lifeless body dropped to the floor without a thought.
Yes, I melted and picked her up, hugging her tight and smelling her hair and tears and everything that’s great about a daughter still small enough to hold.
I kissed her cheek and whispered, “I love you.”
She took my face in the softest, most amazing little hands and replied in a likewise whisper, “I want cheese balls on my couch.”
Dear Lord, please help me.
The mind is a strong piece of equipment for some, while serving as little more than something squishy that rattles around inside the skulls of others. Sometimes a person may begin their adulthood as the former, but once children get involved, the squishyness starts to take over.
This is what I call ...
The Toddler Influence
I always knew that having children would change things. I always understood that my perception of reality might become altered because of my children based on the influences they would introduce into my life. But I never expected the degree to which this life alteration would occur and how it could impact my life so fully and insanely.
Any parent of a toddler will tell you that themes from children’s entertainment will invade your mind and will become part of your everyday life – earworms that don't just wiggle, but that burrow and nest in your brain like … well … worms. It’s a non-stop barrage of singing puppets and adults wearing costumes you just know they cast off at the end of the day in exchange for a bottle of something that promises anything but the expectation of counting to 10 with unbridled excitement.
I think, however, that maybe I’m an extreme case.
So as I mention the following moments that cross the line from the safe harbors of adulthood into turbulent waters where lie monsters – fuzzy ones with googly eyes who love cookies and want to be tickled, - ask yourself if you've ever been there too.
If I Had A Hammer…
My house has a junk drawer. Yours does too, you just might not call it that. It’s the drawer that holds everything you could need at a moment’s notice and everything you don’t know where else to place. Mine is a treasure trove that I frequently intend to finally organize but once I get in there, I say things like, “That’s where that went!” and suddenly I'm on a new adventure. It’s a hoarder’s gateway.
Mine happens to also be where I like to keep the hammer because people in the house use the hammer to hammer things that ought to be hammered. And the other day, I needed desperately to hammer a thing, so I went to find the hammer in its natural habitat, but it wasn’t there.
I break in to answer the question you might have in your mind right now, which is, “Why not keep the hammer in the tool cabinet in your utility room?”
I would first reply by shining a light in your eyes and asking what you were doing in my home and where did you hide the cameras. Secondly, I would point and laugh at you for such an absurd suggestion. The hammer all cozied up to the power tools, indeed!
Once I found the hammer to be missing from the junk drawer, I began my investigation in a calm and calculated manner. “WHO TOOK THE STINKIN’ HAMMER AND DIDN’T PUT IT BACK!?”
Unfortunately, no one else was in the house to answer my query, so I started a search using my powers of deduction. I looked all the places my wife might have used a hammer - her closet, her bathroom, the oven. No luck. Then I looked in all the places my son would have been: the Xbox. Not there.
I decided to take your advice and have a look-see in the cabinet where I store hardware and such. Just as I thought, you were wrong. It wasn’t in there.
I had one choice left. There was only one option that I could bring to mind that always seems to work when something needs to be done and you’re baffled. I opened my mouth and yelled …
Nothing. I don’t know what I thought would happen. Certainly a person in his right mind shouldn’t expect a flying ball with mouse ears to swoop in to the rescue and open up to reveal a ball of twine, a balloon with a picture of a monkey on it, my hammer, and the Mystery Mousketool. There were no ears; therefore, I could not say cheers.
I gave up and banged the nail for my picture frame into the wall with the heel of one of my wife’s shoes.
That’s not the way it works, Einstein!
I was in Atlanta traffic one morning on my commute toward work in Alabama and I'd left too late to avoid the rush hour. Anyone who’s ever driven in Atlanta rush hour traffic knows that it can negatively affect your better senses anyway, so it should come as no surprise that having had to watch episode after episode of my 2 year old daughter’s favorite shows would be an issue.
It was the wrong time to have the issue as travelers on interstate 85 South at 7 am do not think you're cute when they want you to go because the traffic is finally moving and instead of pressing the gas, you begin hitting your thighs with the palms of your hands, saying, “Pat Pat Pat Pat Pat Pat Pat” faster and faster. It took a few seconds to realize that the horns blowing around me weren't the notes of a famous concerto and the gestures coming from the conductors in the other cars were not intended to lead the band.
I Math Not So Good
I’ve learned all the best places to stop and get stuff on my commutes, especially in the food area. I know the best places to stop for Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches whether I’m coming into Atlanta from Chattanooga or from Birmingham. I know great ice cream stops all over the southeast. I can tell you where to find the best Fettuccini Alfredo in the world made from scratch by an Italian immigrant; it’s in a small town in North Carolina. And from time to time, I want a doughnut. Or four.
I was just outside of Florence, South Carolina and I was tempted not only by the thought of Boston Crème, but I could also see up ahead that the light was ON! (If you don’t understand that reference, you’re not American and we can’t be friends. Not really, but ask and I’ll tell you and we’ll both be hungry for doughnuts immediately after.)
As I stood at the counter - you know, the one with all the doughnuts arranged with true artistry under thick curved glass (I assume the glass is so thick to keep people from being able to just bite right though and attack the donuts like rabid honey badgers), the attendant asked what I’d like. Because I haven’t been in a classroom for a long time now, because my son’s sixth grade mathematical nonsense is too out there for me to comprehend, and because I use only the artistic side of my brain to the point where the analytical side is rotten and smells like chitlins cooked the wrong way, I resorted to counting down my order like a purple vampire.
“ONE! ONE Boston Crème … AH AH AH!"
"TWO! TWO Raspberry filled … AH AH AH!"
"THREE! THREE REGULAR GLAZED … AH AH AH AH AH!!!!”
The clerk looked at me funny, but I returned her stare as if nothing were out of line.
“That’s only half a dozen,” she said through lips that had silver bars poking out of them. “For a couple dollars more, you can get a whole dozen.”
I didn’t know what to say. What a deal! I looked at the attendant, smiled, and exclaimed in a high-pitched voice ...
“Elmo LOVES a whole dozen!”
I joke to my mother that she chained me to the piano once a day and forced me to sing as she played. I tell her that's how I became an adequate singer. She didn't really do that, though. It was probably only every other day. Still, it built in me an insatiable thirst for an audience. So whatever you think of me after this next story, you have to understand that,
If Breaking Out In Song Is Wrong,
I Don't Wanna Be Right
Disclaimer: The teacher in this narrative was actually very kind and offered chairs that fit our butts perfectly. Also, no kittens or bunnies were harmed in the events that take place in this story.
During the intermission of a recent production I was awesome in, a few members of the cast were chewing the fat just behind the closed curtain. That’s just a figure of speech, of course, but since I live in the U.S. deep south, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to find someone dressed as a birch tree chewing on a big ol’ slab of fatback in the wings. We happened to be only talking though, and someone brought up the subject of humorous things their kids used to do.
Being the kind of courteous listener who can’t wait for you to get finished so I can entertain you with my story, I interrupted some silly tale that probably included a toddler, a puppy, and kittens snuggling with bunnies. You can see that eighty times an hour on Facebook. AmIright or amIright?
For the betterment of the conversation, I turned the attention to an anecdote about meeeeeee … or, at least, about my son. In my defense, it was nearing the end of intermission, so there wasn't much time before the curtain opened. I could tell because the birch tree was licking his branch fingers over in the corner, which is usually the prelude to the Stage Manager saying, “Places, everyone.”
When my son was in first grade, the reality that there were lessons to be had in school set in and he decided he didn’t need no larnin’. At least, that’s the way we figured he saw it. In the eyes of his parents, our son must be slacking when he would come home and tell us he’d gotten in trouble again and had to move his monkey up to red.
“That boy is a no-goodnick!” I would shout in my best New Jersey old guy voice with my fist held high.
My wife was a little easier on him at first, but eventually saw things my way. “Ew does e fink e is, that uuuurchin?” she’d scream in a slum-cockney and shove him in the cellar with no second helping of gruel.
Oh wait … that’s just silly. I seem to have reverted to the script from Oliver. Back to MEEEEEE!
Actually, we pinned his daily reports to our mental corkboards under the He’s Just A Good Ol’ Boy, Never Meanin’ No Harm section.
But one afternoon, my wife received an email from his teacher, a lovely woman who was full of youth and vigor and breathless anticipation of the depth of good she would do for the minds of the children. That was until she met my son. The email requested a meeting between the three of us so we might discuss my son’s classroom interruptions.
Once more, I imagined my boy being somewhat of a scofflaw and I raged at the thought and turned from one side with my long, flowing hair cascading down my back to the other side, throwing my head forward and causing that same hair to tumble all messy around my face, a maniacal flare alight in my eyes.
Oops … Sorry. That’s David Hasselhoff in Jeckyl & Hyde.
Anyway, my wife came to me and told me about the meeting and I groaned like a kid who's just been made to come in for the night and all that’s waiting on his plate is broccoli. But we made the appointment and a couple of days later I found myself attempting to squeeze my butt into a chair the size of a shot glass. I assumed the teacher was making a power play as she sat back in her throne of cushiony comfort behind her desk.
She looked at me and my wife without blinking and asked, “So do you know why I asked you here?”
Now I was nervous and I shifted in my tiny chair. But because my butt was made for an adult sized seat, it popped off and went careening across the room toward a cage that held kittens snuggling with bunnies. I stood as fast as I could and jammed my hands in my pockets as if to say, See what I do to tiny chairs? The teacher was not intimidated, so I went to plan B.
“No. Why are we here?”
“Two things: First, Your son has been disrupting the class a lot lately and no matter what I try to discourage it, he just keeps doing it.”
“He’s been telling us about getting yelled at, but we figured it wasn’t a big deal if you weren’t contacting us.”
“Well now I've contacted you, haven’t I?”
I thought my wife might jump over the desk, I gave her the old clearing my throat sound and pointed two fingers from my eyes to hers, as if to say, I’m watching you.
She looked back at me and mouthed, “Whose side are you on?”
I asked the teacher what exactly he'd been doing.
“Singing,” she told us.
I wasn’t sure I’d heard her right. “Excuse me, singing? Did you say he’s singing?”
“Yes. We’ll be doing our busy work and there is to be no talking during that time. I'll be as quiet as a mouse in here when all of a sudden, he starts belting out a song.”
My wife and I looked at each other, then turned back to the teacher and asked simultaneously, “Is he on pitch?!”
She just stared through us.
“What kind of songs does he sing?”
We smiled. We told her we’d have a talk with him and make sure he understood that he couldn't sing showtunes in class. We also explained that he got it honest and that by growing up with two parents who engage in arguments by acting out The Confrontation from Les Miserables, he’s just gonna break into song from time to time.
Before we left, I cleaned up the mess from the chair that went sailing across the room and my wife took a photo of the snuggling kittens and bunnies to put on her Facebook page.
As we were walking out, I turned back to the teacher.
“What was the second thing?”
“Oh yeah. He smells like fatback.”
“Theatre,” my wife and I sang in perfect harmony and waved goodbye with jazz hands.
As we stood behind the curtain waiting for the beginning of the second act and rolling what I’d just converyed around in our mouths to savor the delicacy of my story telling, no one said a word. I had dropped the microphone on our conversation just in time to hear the stage manager hiss at us, “30 SECONDS!”
I nodded and took my place in the wings at stage right to await my cue. My son was in the audience and I had to show him that it was okay to be someone who can’t hold in the music.
The curtain opened on Act Two and I was – no, we – were awesome.
I remember everything now about how I became a dad. I mean, I know HOW I became a dad, but I'm starting to think that sip of Rock and Rye I took for my cough just before bed may have been a little more than a sip. I'm not a drinker at all, other than medicinally, so it stands to reason that my tolerance for alcohol might be limited and, therefore, the reason that for a moment, I didn't remember anything between now and 1985.
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