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About Chris Illuminati

Here are my most recent posts

Why Our First Family Road Trip Didn’t Go According To Plan

Reason I'm speeding noteThe trip would take over two hours, according to MapQuest, deep into an area of a Pennsylvania I never planned to visit unless forced by gunpoint or on some reality adventure show like The Amazing Race. I wasn’t sure what would be so amazing about the middle of the Keystone state as far as a reality show is concerned. Frankly, I’d be a little pissed if I made it through the audition stage and the producers explained that the show would be shot on location near Amish country. “We are going where? I’m out. Can I be on Wife Swap instead?”

“He’ll be OK in the car for that long right?” the Permanent Roommate half asked/half told me the day before the trip. “If we plan it around his naps and pull off into a rest stop. He likes riding in the car.”

There was no choice in the matter. We were going to Pennsylvania for a baby shower on a promise to our friends. We promised the kid would make the trip too. The mother-to-be and her husband are close friends who traveled all the way from Texas to Pennsylvania by car. The least we could do is lug a kid and a gift a state over to celebrate their pending arrival. Plus, they only really wanted to see the kid. Sure, we’re fun to hang out with, but everyone only wants to see the kid. Every parent comes in second to their kid.

Twenty minutes into the drive and I wondered if the military is aware of the potential torture possibilites of the Pennsylvania turnpike. It’s got to rank right up there with waterboarding as the most painful human experience. Miles and miles of trees broken up by miles and miles of smaller and bigger trees. The kid passed out so the Roommate and I were unable to teach the little guy all about the changing seasons and make up reasons why the leaves change. Damned if I know or care.

“Rest stop coming up” I announced and pointed a sign that was partially covered by, you guessed it, many different sized trees.

“Isn’t it too soon?” the Permanent Roommate asked, a rookie to the roads that run through the middle of nowhere.

“Rest stops are far and few,” I explained. “If we skip this one, the next one isn’t for over twenty miles. “He might not last that long.”

The turnpike and I became mutual acquaintances in the late 90’s. The first two years of my college life were spent at a small school not far from Hershey, PA. Depending on the wind, a person could walk outside to be greeting with the incredibly rich smell of chocolate or the ridiculously pungent aroma of miles of shit emanating from the miles of farms surrounding the school. In my first year, I traveled the turnpike back and forth from school to my home in New Jersey every other weekend. For the first few months it was to visit a girlfriend and for the last few it was just to escape school. I knew the turnpike all too well. It was a trip that, after I left in my Sophomore year, I’d swore I’d never travel again. Yet here I am. This was my first time cruising along it in close to thirteen years and it all still looked exactly the same.

“Sbarro’s? Ugh. Of all the rest stops we end up at the one with a Sbarro’s.”

“There is a Roy Rogers too,” I added “You like Roy Rogers.”

“I thought they all closed down.”

“They did. All except this location. It got all the leftover chicken. It hasn’t cooked a new batch in seven years. Ask for extra fungus. It’s delicious and makes all the turnpike trees look like dinosaurs.”

After seeing the actual Roy Rogers, and the food being prepared, my joke looked more like a reality.

“Maybe we should stick with Sbarro’s,” she said.

“I’ll take ‘things I never thought I’d agree with for $400’ Alex.”

We stuck with Sbarro’s and it stuck with me until the next day like a kettle bell in the pit of my gut. It’s amazing the acceptions that will made in diet and taste when traveling great distances. I wouldn’t eat a slice of Sbarro’s pizza for all the free diapers in the world but put me in the middle of nowhere with seven year old chicken and a place called “Cafe El Fresh-O” and I’ll swallow down a slice of crappy pizza.

The kid stayed awake the rest of the ride, marveling at each passing tractor trailer and f*cking tree. The rest of the day, like the passing trees, is a blur. The couple greeting family and friends, opened gifts and looked like they had a great time. At least it looked that way from my spot two rooms away, trying to get the little guy to nap, or at least stop making a run for the back door. Outside the historical home that hosted to party was a backyard the size of eleven football fields. This might comes as a shock to many readers but little children like to run around with no purpose, reason or care. That means a parent has to stick close behind. The Roommate and I took turns.

The trip home at dusk had me nodding off behind the wheel. I thought my lunch of seventeen pink cupcakes would provide enough of a sugar rush to at least get me to the New Jersey state line.

“Why do you keep punching your leg??”

“I’m trying to keep myself awake.”

The rest stops and farmhouses along the turnpike clued me in to our approximate location. This would be, hopefully, the last time I’d see any of this portion of the turnpike.

“Thank God we’re almost home. I think I’ve been punching my leg too hard. It’s starting to spasm.”

“Does a spasming leg also play a song?”

It was my cell phone vibrating in my pants pocket. There was a waiting voicemail from the male side of the couple of honor.

I hung up the phone and punched myself in the leg as hard as I could. This time it was punishment for leaving our only stroller behind.

Chris Illuminati is an author and father and average at both jobs. He’s the creator of the popular parenting website A Message With A Bottle.

Here’s The Typical Day At An Indoor Mall Playground

“Welcome to organized chaos,” said an older gentleman who probably served in at least one major war.

He was definitely a veteran of this type of exercise. In his years he’d probably seen much worse. The look on my face must have reminded him of a soldier in his own platoon, knee deep in battle for the first time, shell shocked, overwhelmed and ready to go AWOL as soon as the General turned his back.

“Is it always this bad?” I hoped this was the worst it would get.

“This is nothing. Wait until you see the food court.”

The mall on a rainy Sunday. Events too graphic even for the History channel.

He grabbed his grandson by his arm and yelled him for jumping onto his brother’s back for the fourth time.

While the other kids sprinted, climbed, skipped, punched and screamed, my son sat by himself just a few feet away from the Permanent Roommate. He seemed just as shell shocked at the scene as his father. After getting his bearings he happily crawled into the middle of the battle field. I know I wanted to grab him and throw him back in the stroller before he was run over by grade school tanks or belly crawled onto a land mine disguised as a toddler that hadn’t napped. I could imagine what was going through the Roommate’s head considering she is way more protective. Instead we both let him wander around the indoor play area in front of the JC Penny.

This is good for him. Interacting with other kids. Learning how to assert himself into social situations and HOLY CRAP THAT KID ALMOST KICKED HIM IN THE FACE.

Breathe. Breathe. He’ll be fine. A kick to the face never hurt anyone. Unless you count Johnny Lawrence from The Karate Kid and…THAT KID JUST PUSHED HIM RIGHT OFF THE FAKE PIG! Which one of you people hatched this little miscreant? I’m going to shove a stroller down your ear canal for raising such a mongrel. Just got to watch to see who the little snot runs over to and…mmkkk…that guy is the size of a Escalade. No harm done, there is enough room on the faux pig for everyone to get a turn.

The little guy crawled back to safety in front of the Roommate. Nothing can happen with her so close.

Those two kids are running right towards one another. Don’t they see one other? Pull out Maverick! Pull out! Maverick! Goose can you hear….

[Mid-air collision]

The Permanent Roommate lifted the kid from the ground, away from the limp bodies of the fallen (and now hysterically crying) pilots.

“Let’s go get some food,” she said, buckling him into the stroller.

Playgrounds, like war, are hell. The chicken nuggets afterward, however, are delicious.

Chris Illuminati is a humor writer and the author of several books including The New Dad Dictionary: Everything He Really Needs To Know From A To Z. Check out his parenting blog here.

Vacation Is All I’ve Never Wanted

My mother and father constantly disagreed on the perfect time to end family vacations.

My mother attempted to squeeze every last ray of ultraviolet out of the most powerful tanning bed, begging to hit the road late on Sunday. My father, ever impatient, wanted tires to road after breakfast to at least get half a day back at the homestead to prepare for the coming Monday of work. The pair usually split the difference. Our Cadillac cruising into the driveway a couple minutes south of 3pm.

I’d often side with my mom, wanting to prolong beach stays as long as possible, an attempt to put off the coming week spent sweating in my grandmother’s house for as long as possible. I specifically remember one cruel summer vacation landing the week before school started so Sunday was spent on a beach and Monday in a Catholic school uniform, scanning the room for familiar faces during a refresher lecture on the Stations of the Cross. What would Jesus do? Not play such a cruel joke on a kid!

My wife and I never disagree on the end of our vacations. It’s right when our sets of eyes lock and Morse code with blinks and winks “alright, enough of this crap, let’s go home.” Our only disagreement comes from her habit of dubbed four days at the beach with two toddlers “vacation” while I like to refer to the time as “mandated chaperoning.” The word vacation alludes to long bouts of relaxation and stress-reduction and (long) sips of blender-created alcoholic beverages cleverly named Miami Vice and Murder She Wrote. A Miami Vice the combination of a pina colada and a strawberry margarita and a Murder She Wrote is a drink of my own concoction involving ice, a blender and a mix of twenty rums and liquors that get me so hammered I’m stumbling around in women’s clothes trying to solve mysteries. Usually “the case of my missing underwear.”

I’ll fake excitement about the trip for weeks, secretly dreading ever pending second. I’m not the only person suffering from vacation dread. There’s a country of us regretting the moment the hotel deposit disappears from the checking account.

 

My reasons for vacation dread are many, mainly, there’s absolutely no time to relax with two young kids. There are breakfasts to make, sun tan lotions to lather, chairs and sand buckets to carry, castles to build, shovels to fight over, naps to coordinate, lunches to overpay for, aloe to apply, showers and baths to take, dinners to wait for, dinners to wait longer for, loaves of bread to eat while dinner’s being waited for, dinners to over pay for, bedtimes, and finally, maybe, if the kids pass out from overexposure to the sun and a fun overload, you and the spouse can sneak out to the balcony, chug a beer, rip a couple off a one-hitter if either of you remembered to pack it and realize you’re too exhausted to stay awake another second. Tomorrow comes early and there are breakfasts to make, and buckets to…

I’ve been told, by parents with kids older than mine, that eventually it gets better (that’s what they say about everything) and that one day you’ll land for vacation and not see your kids again until boarding the plane for home. “You’ll miss the early vacations” they’ll explain and I’ll laugh and reply “no I won’t! This blows!” but it could be the Murder She Wrotes talking.

I’ll miss their excitement over the simplest of boardwalk rides and their jubilation over sleeping in the same bed together. I’ll miss the (excitement) of the first half hour of the car rides (but not the last few hours when “are we there yet?” questions are more frequent than highway mile markers. I’ll miss hilariously tiny bathing suits and my son laughing his ass off when a wave no higher than my kneecap knocks him into the next school year. I’ll miss my daughter asleep under a beach umbrella, visions of sugar cones and machine claw games dancing in her head. I’ll even miss huddling on the balcony, beers pounded in seconds, recounting the good and bad of the day with the woman I’ll love forever. Those are the moments I’ll pine for while preparing to board the plane home and panicking “WHERE THE HELL ARE THOSE KIDS?!?!”All the rest, the stuff I hate, will get buried deep in the sand. I’ll dig a massive hole half way to China, dump it all in, and cover it up. Probably get it all done on Saturday night when the kids are asleep because I’ll want to be on the road no later than noon that Sunday. Gotta get this damn chaperoning trip over with.

 

Chris Illuminati is the father of two kids and the creator of A Message With A Bottle.

 

How Do I Explain Our Home Security System To My 5-Year-Old?

Alarm system panelThe morning routine is a solo process. Flip on the coffee pot, jack up the blind, feed the cat who’s been nudging at my face since dawn. The regimented process occasionally gets a 32-pound cog thrown into the well-oiled machine in the form of a 5-year-old boy. If the routine generates too much noise – and in my 100-year-old home a mouse farting can shake the foundation – a 24-pound cog in the form of a 2-year-old girl brings the routine to halt.

On this morning, only the older cog heard the coffee dripping, shades zipping and mice farting. He shadowed each stop on the routine, the typical question of “why” following my trail.

“Daddy needs coffee because he doesn’t sleep well.”
“I like the shades up because it’s too dark in here.”
“Yes, I always take this long in the bathroom, that why I bring a magazine.”

All simple answers to uncomplicated questions. The questions that followed disarming the home security system weren’t so elementary to answer.

“It’s an alarm to keep all of us inside safe..
“Safe from people who’d want to get in…
“They’d want to get in to…”

Now how to explain breaking and entering to a toddler? A kid that frightens at the mere mention of pending thunder and lightening but also harbors a deep fascination for the super villains in the pages of comic books and insisted on a zombie-themed birthday party. One wrong word and the kid would either never want to leave the house out of fear or imagine crime as a potential vocation.

The line between what a child should know, to keep him safe, and what a child shouldn’t know because it will scar his psyche for life is fine. Perhaps the line is more than fine. Maybe minuscule?

There are still secrets learned in my life – both as a child and adult– that affect the way I live my life. One afternoon, over a lunch of cold cuts and iced tea, my father and mother recounted the time a burglar broke one of the basement windows in a robbery attempt, only to be thwarted by the dead bolt on the basement door. I didn’t enter the basement alone for months after, every night checking the locks on the door before bed.

A few months after moving into this hundred-year-old money pit, a neighbor retold the evening he arrived home late from work and noticed two men carrying furniture out of a neighbor’s home. Thinking it odd, he called the neighbor – she was fast asleep – and in that moment they both realized she was being robbed. Before he finished the story my wife was on the line getting estimates to not only alarm the house but dig a moat around the house and inquire about the cost per month of personal secret service officers. From that moment on, my Louisville Slugger by the nightstand was retired to just baseball purposes.

But back to that fine line – there are things kids should know for their own safety (stranger danger and venturing out alone in public places) but exactly when and how to explain to a kid that the world isn’t all Disney princesses and good Samaritans like in their books? You want to prepare kids for the worst before the worst finds out they don’t always lock their back door or keep a spare key in a fake rock in the garden.

You’re damned to evenings of nightmares if you do and, god forbid, something even worse if you don’t warn them that sometimes people do bad things to one another.

“You mean bad guys like Venom?” he asked, hours later and out of nowhere, “would try to get in the house?”

Venom, an occasional nemesis of Spider-Man and the kid’s favorite villain, is the type of antihero who would break into a home to take an expensive desktop computer while we slept but he wouldn’t have to jimmy the door because the kid would open it right up for him.

“Not Venom,” my mind raced to remember a villain he’s actually cower from, “but maybe the Green Goblin.”

He pondered, bit into his Sunday pancakes, and explained how Green Goblin wouldn’t need to use the door, he’d just fly on his hover board and come through the windows.

Thankfully his mother wasn’t within earshot or window alarm sensor installation would suddenly be on the “to do” list.

Chris Illuminati is the creator of  Message With A Bottle, the author of The New Dad Dictionary, and most importantly the father of two kids.