Award–Winning Author of The Full English, Death by Children, and The Beat Cop's Guide.
enjoy these excerpts from death by children
Absolutely Super Sarah
Shark Diving with the Insane
Squirt Bottle Politics
hen my little girl was a little girl, she wanted the same, simple, uncluttered and achievable future every little girl desires: to be a ninja rock star princess spy. While most of that fell along the wayside as she blew through her days, she did accomplish one of her goals. Briefly, for a day, for an afternoon, my daughter was the greatest superhero the world has ever known.
Being a young lady of the post-information-age-age, my daughter, Sarah, knew she had to have some accessories if she was to be a proper super hero. First on the list was a cape. Next was a logo. Third was a catchy name.
Being an old man of the pre-information-post-information-transition-age, I knew this was kind of awesome. At three and a half, she already knew the importance of marketing. But first, a cape.
A pillowcase was quickly dispatched. I tied it around her neck and she launched herself into the stratosphere, flying around the living room and kitchen in a low orbit, making shushing noises as she skimmed clouds and looked down on creation with a knowing, wise, battle hardened gaze.
Next was the logo. It had to go right in the middle of the cape, which she assumed was valuable and approached me tacitly with an idea that she might keep the cape, to which I agreed. She grabbed some markers, dropped down in front of the TV and went to work.
Her cousin had already begun her superhero career as Bingo the Saver Dog. That she is non-canine was never an issue. Never even occurred to me. Of course she’s Bingo the saver dog. She drew a dog wearing a cape—on her cape. Voila, a superhero is born.
But Sarah was more pragmatic and decided since she was the superhero, she should use her own name. But SARAH is not terribly catchy. It needed punch. It needed pizazz. Obviously, SUPER SARAH. She tried it out. Flew dejectedly around the foyer. It didn’t work. It didn’t have the—there were any number of Sarahs that could be super. She wasn’t unique.
She lands in the living room, leaps onto the couch, cops a stance and cries out her new name: ABSOLUTELY SUPER SARAH.
Now this was it! This was a name with legs. There could be only one! She was absolute! So she drops down into a hunker before the TV and knocks out her logo, a wonderfully minimal ligature graphic of the initials of her superheoric moniker: A-bsolutely S-uper S-arah, in five inch Sharpie caps, flipped her cape around her shoulders and rocketed out the front door, down the sidewalk, past all our frail, elderly retired schoolteacher neighbors who couldn’t manage poor gerund usage, much less the acronym my absolutely super daughter was sporting on her rippling cape.
For a day, for an afternoon, my girl was a superhero who flew around our hood with A.S.S. written on her back.
am not a brave man. I don’t have a problem with spiders or snakes; I am unsqueamed by the copiously sluiced fluids my children have ejected onto me. I can, and will, gut a fish while drinking a Bloody Mary and snacking on jerky. I will swim with sharks. I have swum with sharks. I almost lost both my children to sharks—not in a shark week way, but in a “we’re-all-going-to-drown-here-in the-gulf-of-Mexico-because-I-am-stupid” way.
Being idiots, [My Attorney] and I determined a Caribbean cruise would be the perfect way to introduce our children to the ways and whiles of indigenous cultures other than Bears fans. We hauled them onto a ship that hauled us all into the white hot oven called the Gulf of Mexico in August, which is known by its people as the Gulf of Don’t Go Here in August.
It was so hot deck chairs and passengers from Wisconsin regularly burst into flames. [My Attorney] would not cool off in the salt water pool as the nearby towel steward could not adequately convince her there was a functioning jellyfish filter. We watched TV in our cabin for most of the first day.
We’d booked carefully vetted onshore adventures specifically designed to educate our children in the thousand ways the world outside America can kill you with an open water dive with sharks we were assured were perfectly harmless. As we sped out on a little harbor slip toward the middle of zilch, the captain offered us shots of homemade rum which I felt bode poorly for us all as he took one for himself each time he gave one to someone else. By the time we stopped, he was drunk, some of the others were drunk, we couldn’t see land, and he was throwing us all off the end of the boat. My kids couldn’t swim. My wife was scared of waves. Still, we’d paid and everything, so we confidently threw our children into the Caribbean.
A few things were immediately clear:
We were insane.
There is no such thing as a perfectly harmless shark to a 6-year-old boy.
The calm sea only seems calm until you’re fighting for your life and the life of your children as they climb backwards over your head screaming THOSE A REAL SHARKS, DAD!
[My Attorney] looked up to see the boat drifting away from us. We’d been given clear instructions to wave our arms over our head if we got into trouble, a difficult maneuver if your arms are pinioned to your skull by a child still screaming IT’S NOT LIKE SEA WORLD, DAD! WE’RE GONNA DIE!
I managed to peel an arm out from under the kid and wave, then I remembered, the skipper is drunk, then I remembered ‘Left Behind’, then I started screaming too.
In hindsight, and in agreement with a court order from the skipper’s lawyer, I admit, yes, 14 feet is not that far away and Nurse sharks are perfectly harmless. In my defense, I was being attacked by kids. I mean sharks. I mean rum
squirt bottle is my new best friend. I ought to elaborate here. Last year we tried to train our dogs to stop licking everything on earth by hiring a trainer. They licked her face the entire visit, which she refused to acknowledge. She said that if she acknowledged the licking, the dogs would keep licking her. I thought perhaps I could employ dog whisperer techniques I'd learned from watching reality TV:
"But he's still licking you," I whispered.
"Eventually he'll stop," she whispered back.
"But I want him to stop now," I rasped.
"You just have to ignore him," she said as my dog curled his tongue up her left nostril and out her ear.
She went on to deliver poorly rehearsed instructions on how to use a squirt bottle and held out her hand for the 800 bucks we owed her. I just stood there. My wife told me to write her a check.
"Just ignore her and she'll stop," I whispered.
She left us with our dogs licking the TV as we stared at our $800 squirt bottle.
The instructions for the squirt bottle are complicated and involve dog trainer jargon that I will try to summarize for you, gentle reader:
Point. Squirt. Repeat.
Kind of like shampoo, but instead of wild hibiscus, your living room ends up smelling like wet border collie.
And it doesn't work—on dogs. It works miraculously on children.
Observe my lovely, beautiful, peaceful sleeping daughter at 7:38 a.m.:
"Hey, wake up and go to school!"
"Mrrrhm hrep big fat blrrrgh dorg-"
"-^%$#@! DAD I SWEAR IF YOU SQUIRT ME AGAIN I WILL CALL 91-"
"-I AM PICKING UP THE PH-"
"ARRRRGGGH!" Feet on the floor, fully awake and (I need to be diplomatic here) highly energized.
It is the wand of wonders. King Solomon's Squeal. Daddy's Little Helper.
The dogs let me squirt them for precisely one afternoon, until I turned my back for 10 seconds, whereupon they chewed up the water bottle. It took the kids three days before they caught on and hid it.
In. The. Freezer.
This worked against them, as they left a good 3 inches of space, which I filled with a January-cold carafe of Lake Michigan and squirted them both into a corner.
Precision is important so I recommend a high-end squirt bottle from K-mart with an adjustable nozzle delivering plenty of power behind a stream that's accurate up to 14 feet. This is the most important part, since safety dictates you stand in the hallway to squirt your more adroit offspring.
I can hide partially behind an open bedroom door and fill up my daughter's ear like I'm at one of those water races at the midway and her head is a balloon, yet I easily dodge the sharp pencils and X-Acto knives she uses for retaliation..