Bad Advice for Good Parents

 Night of the Living Christmas Tree

If you celebrate Christmas, or if you merely want to scare children regardless of your belief system, may I suggest the following:

Take your children to the Christmas tree buying place.

Explain that the rootless trees are dead, but that the trees with their roots girded in canvas are ‘live trees’.

Buy a live tree. Put it in the trunk.

Talk about the scary movie “Night of the Living Christmas Trees”, in which live trees maul people.  You’ll have to make this up, but if you’ve made it this far in the process, I whole heartily trust your imagination and discretion.

Halfway home start saying things such as, “Did you hear that?” “Did that noise come from the trunk?”

Put the tree in your living room.

Discuss carnivorous plants such as the Venus Fly Trap, Cobra Lilly, and Bladderworts- although you may want to save Bladderworts for an entirely different conversation.

Warn the children to be careful around the tree.

‘Find’ rat, cat and bird skeletons in the tree.

Tie fishing line to various branches and animate the tree as the children are decorating it.

Enjoy the holidays!

copyright Bil Lepp 2014


Upistay, Umday, Ainbray, Hombre

I’m telling you, as modestly as possible, that this is the greatest Kids/Parents song ever. Please go to Youtube and watch it.  I’m at 158 hits, I’d like to boost that up to at least 160!


 Daddy Dog Killer

I know that children tend to ask a lot of questions, but there are times when I think my kids have been secretly attending Congressional panels to hone their interrogation techniques.  My kids are young, eleven and eight years old, so you’d think I’d notice if they slipped off to Washington for week or so.  I’m not that inattentive a parent.   I don’t know– maybe they’re upstairs watching C-Span right now.

Driving along in the minivan, when I’m pretty sure the kids are asleep in the backseat, I’ll risk saying something innocent to my wife such as, “Did you see that dog crossing the road back there?”

And then from the backseat I hear a noise that sounds suspiciously like a gavel falling, and my daughter says something like, “The Chairwoman recognizes the boy from the left side of the car.”

My son clears his throat and intones, “Did you say a dog was on the road?”

And before I can answer, my daughter asks, “What color was the dog?”

There is an intensity to the questions.  For the next few minutes all that matters is that dog.

“Was the dog crossing the street from left to right?  Or right to left.”

“Was it a big dog?  Or a small dog?”

“Do you think the dog was rabid?”

“Was it a wild dog?”

“Was it a dingo?”

“Could it have been kangaroo?”

I start to sweat under the scrutiny.  I still haven’t had a chance to answer even one of these questions.  I’m looking for an opening.  I reach out and grip my wife’s hand.  Why don’t they ask her these questions?  She saw the dog, too.  “Brown.  Brown!” I confess.  “The dog was brown!”

“I see,” comes the voice of my daughter.  “Brown.  Light brown or dark brown?”

Now my son jumps in, trying to confuse me.  “What’s the difference between a shade and a hue?”  That’s why you should never home school.  Who taught my kid about hues?  Not me.  He probably learned it from one of those other home school kids during his astrophysics lab.  Vocabulary thugs.

They’re trying to break me down.  But I’m sticking with my story.  “Uh, light brown.”  I look at my wife for confirmation.  She shrugs as if to say, “I never said I saw the dog.”  She drops my hand.  She’s distancing herself from me.

One of the kids spills their apple juice in the backseat.  This is their variation of waterboarding.

“Was the dog all brown, or was he spotted?”

Why does any of this matter?  I didn’t really get a good look at the dog.   I wish I’d never seen that dog!  @#%&ing dog!  “Mostly light brown, with some dark brown around the edges.”

“Was the dog going left to right?  Or right to left?”

Now we’re back to this.  “Right to left,”  I state confidently.

“Why was the dog crossing the road?” my daughter asks.

“To get to the other side,” I try.  Yeah.  She didn’t laugh either.

“Did you hit the dog?”

“No,”  I nearly cry.

“So the brown dog was crossing the road right to left, but you didn’t hit it?”

“That’s correct.”

“And you have no reason to believe it was sick?  You don’t think it was rabid?”


“Was it foaming at the mouth?”


“If it had been rabid, would you have hit it?”

“I, I, I…”

“Have you ever hit a dog?”

“Do you know anyone who has hit a dog?”

“Why do they call it the ‘dog days of summer’?”

“Who invented the hotdog?”

“What does ‘dog tired’ mean to you?”

“When can we get another dog?”

“What’s a bounty hunter?”

“Would you have swerved into the other lane to hit the rabid dog?”

“I, I, I…”

My daughter asks, “What if there was a baby lying on the side of the road and the rabid dog was crossing the road to bite the baby?  Then the baby would get rabies.  Would you hit the dog then?”

“Yeah dad.  Would you have swerved into the other lane to hit the rabid dog, even if there was a truck coming at you, to save a baby?”

My daughter sighs, “That poor rabies baby.”

“Yes,” I stammer, “I would hit the dog to save the baby.”

My wife asks:  “You’d risk all of our lives to swerve into the other lane in front of an oncoming truck?  What if the baby was just a doll?”


I hate that dog.  I know it is not nice, but I’d swerve across three lanes of traffic to hit that dog right now, rabid or not!

“Yeah dad.  What if the baby was just a doll and the dog wasn’t rabid, and the babydoll was the dog’s toy, and he was crossing the road because he dropped his toy.  You’d kill a dog for that?”

“Wait…” I protest.  “I never said…”

“Was the dog mostly light brown with just a little bit of dark brown?”

“Yes, yes.  Just like that.”

My daughter giggles.  “Just like a Reese’s cup.”

“Yes,” I agree, “sort of like a Reese.”

“Can we stop and get a Reese cup?” the kids ask in unison.

What can the dog killer do?  I pull into a Go-Mart and we adjourn for a Reese break.  It may be my only chance to rid myself of the dog.

copyright Bil Lepp 2014

This piece appeared long ago in Funny Times.


Adults Are Stupid and Kids Know It…or…Teach Your Kids to Lose

We play a game at our pool called Bulldog.  Here’s how you play:

First, somebody yells, “Who wants to play Bulldog?”  Children assemble at the deep end; a fight breaks out to see who will be It first.

A new fight breaks out over whether we will allow various rule modifications such as “Add-ons,” “Drains,” and “Chains.”

The It swims to the middle of the deep end.  All of the Non-Its line up along the edge of the deep end.  The It shouts, “Bulldog.”

The Non-Its dive in and try to swim to the other side of the pool without being tagged.  The It is merciless and tries to tag as many Non-Its as possible, thus making them Its.

Several fights break out as to whether the It actually tagged particular Non-Its.

During the second round, all of the people whom the It tagged are now also It.  Several Its now dog-paddle in the middle of the deep end.  “Bulldog,” is called.  The Non-Its dive in, and the Its try to tag all the Non-Its, thus making them Its.

Eventually only one Non-It has managed to stay a Non-It.  One kid always manages to not get tagged for the duration of the game despite having to swim back and forth across the pool against ever increasing odds.  That person is declared “The Winner.”

A fight breaks out as to whether “The Winner” or the “First Person Tagged” is It first for the next game.  The conclusion is that The Winner will be the It.

Bulldog is a fast paced, grueling game.  I believe it was one of those games that stupid adults invented to teach kids teamwork.  I also think that some kale-eating, socialist peacenik (wait, I eat kale) devised Bulldog to hip children to the notion that if you work diligently trying to sway a callous populace determined to avoid you, you can eventually turn the tide until All People work with you.  And once you have converted the masses, you have not Won, you have simply shared your inner peace with a needy and wanting world… and the one person who was never tagged did not Win but was simply too full of hate and anger and malice and greed to ever want to bathe in the unity of a community struggling to overcome.

Cough.  Gag.  Splutter.

Only stupid adults think there can be a world where people neither create winners nor strive to be Winners.  We want Winners.  We like Winners.

Looked at it from the Darkside: Bulldog teaches that if you are It you must hunt all the prey to Win.  It teaches you that the easiest way to hunt the prey is to subjugate others, to make them part of your pack, so that you can more effectively continue the hunt.

If you are not It, Bulldog teaches you that the whole world is against you and even those people you consider your friends will turn on you and try to subvert and pervert your desire for freedom and independence.

Either way, the world is a hard and ugly place.

However, there is some middle ground here.

Stupid adults don’t want one kid to win because then all the other kids will feel bad.  Some stupid adults would rather their child revel in mediocrity, sure and certain that they need not strive because no one is any better or any worse then they are.

Other stupid adults believe that the only victory is winning.  They believe that if their child does not win, then they have lost.  That is a lot of pressure.

I never get tired of saying that getting a Silver medal in the Olympics probably sucks…for about three days.  And then it dawns on you, “Hey, I am the second best person in the whole world at spinning ribbons.”

Somebody always wins Bulldog, but nobody wins Bulldog twice in a row because the Winner has to be the It in the next go-round.  You know who invented that rule?  Not stupid adults.  Kids invented that rule because kids want a Winner, but kids also have an innate sense of fairness.  Not all kids are willing to admit that innate sense of fairness, but it is there.  It is often displayed as an innate sense of unfairness.  You hear a lot of kids say, “Hey, that’s no fair.”

All kinds of kids play Bulldog at our pool.  Skinny kids, fat kids, older kids, younger kids, good swimmers and poor swimmers.  Stupid adults assume that the slow kids and the poor swimmers are at a disadvantage because the It will naturally single those children out to tag first.

Attack the weak and the slow.

Not so.  Okay, certainly some of that happens, but it is not always the case that the weakest kids fall first.

Every It has her or his own strategy.  Some Its deliberately go after the fastest Non-Its first, thus increasing the overall power of the collective It.

The poorest swimmers, and this is where it gets interesting, the poorest swimmers want to what?

I can’t hear you.

Say it louder.


The poorest swimmers, knowing that they cannot rely on their physical ability, look at the playing field and engage their smart, smart kid brains.  They learn to dive in when all the Its are engaged chasing others.  They learn to hold their breath long enough to outlast all the Its.  They learn to swim in the wake of others.  They determine to become better swimmers so they can win.  The will to win makes them better people.  They don’t always win, but they always strive to win.

Mediocrity is getting tagged It like everyone else.  No kid wants that.

My favorite part of Bulldog is watching the kids build each other up.  Kids know that it sucks to lose every time.  Kids know that there are degrees of ability.  Big kids, strong kids, kind kids, will sacrifice themselves by swimming into the Its, or drawing the Its to the far side, so that less able kids can make it across the pool.  Kids who constantly cheat, who forever deny that they were tagged, or who brag too much, get ignored.  Kids who constantly try to better themselves get noticed by the group and encouraged by the group.  Right there in the swimming pool, because there are Winners and Losers, kids teach each other humility, sympathy, mercy, community and empathy.

“I Win!” shouts the last Non-It standing.  “Hooray,” answers the crowd, “Now you are It.”

I’m a loser.  Great God Above I have lost so many sporting events and so many board games and so many foot races.  I played T-Ball for two years and I never got a hit.  That is not a joke.  I could not hit a baseball sitting still in front of me.  I did not get a ribbon or a trophy for “Best Effort” or “Most Misses.”  No, I got a look of pity that said, “You are the worst person ever to play T-Ball.  Perhaps your talents lie in other areas.”  And you know what?  It turns out my talents do lie in areas other than the athletic arts, but if I had not lost in sports I would not have sought out activities in which I might excel.

I had smart adults.  I had adults who said to me, “You are not very good at baseball.  Or tennis.  Or swimming.  Or sprinting.  Or Chess.  Or Math.  But keep looking and you will discover that at which you are good.”  And I did.

Smart adults equip children to face a world that is filled with activities at which they will probably not exceed.   Smart adults also equip children to continue exploring until they find an activity at which they do exceed. Very few people are good at everything.  And nobody really likes those people, anyway.

Teach your children to lose.  Teach your children to lose with grace.  Teach your children to play Bulldog and, in the process, teach them to identify ways they can improve themselves and ways they can help others.

Oh, and don’t make kids eat canned peas.   Only stupid adults make kids eat peas.

Check out other useful parenting advice in my book Muddling Through available on,, barnes and noble and so forth.  This little book went #1 in it’s category on Amazon.


Hands off MY Pinewood Derby Car, Dad

Every year, Cub Scouts have a Pinewood Derby. Each Cub gets an officially sanctioned block of pine about 7 inches long, an inch tall and 2 inches wide. The block comes with four plastic wheels and nails for axles. The theory is that each boy will take his block of wood, a pocketknife, a saw, sandpaper and some paint to create a race car to compete against cars made by other boys. Adults are supposed to help, and to be prepared to administer first aid, but the adults are not supposed to actually build the cars.

Yeah. Right.

Each January I received my kit. My eyes glazed over. Ideas raced through my brain. I could make an Indy car. Or a wedge. Or 1950s hot rod. Oh, the plans I made! I contemplated how I was going to saw it, where I was going to place the wheels, and how I was going to paint it. I’d sketch my car with little lines coming off the back to depict great speed as it blazed by the other boys’ cars. Each year I received that hunk of pine and, like Michelangelo, I could see the speedy David locked in the wood.

Then I would go home and give the hunk to my dad. His eyes glazed over. Ideas for cars raced through his brain. Oh, the plans he made! He sketched his car with little lines coming off the back to depict great speed as it blazed by the other dads’ cars …

I had two older brothers, so my dad had already “helped” build six derby cars. He’d never had a winner. I was his last chance. I’d watch as he measured, jigsawed, power-sanded, graphited, smoothed, carved and crafted “my” car. Sometimes he let me sand the car – but only on the back or the bottom.

My mom would call down, “John! He’s supposed to be building it!”

My dad would call up, “He is! He’s sanding it right now!”

I also got to help ensure the car was the proper weight. Each car was supposed to weigh 5 ounces. Dad would drill holes in the bottom of the car and fill the holes with molten lead. We got the molten lead by melting fishing weights with a propane torch. Dad let me hold the torch.

Dad worked hard on those cars. And, year after year, our cars failed to take home the gold.

My final race came when I was 10. This was Dad’s last chance, too. I watched Dad putting the finishing touches on “our” car. It was about 10:30, the night before the race. The phone rang.

Dad said, “What? Oh, hello, Christian.” Christian was a kid in our Cub Scout den. “Well, why didn’t you call last week?”

Dad hung up. “Christian needs a car.”

Dad went to pick up Christian and his hunk of pine. Christian sat beside me while Dad did what he could. He’d spent weeks making my car, he had mere hours to build Christian’s. My dad rounded the edges with his knife, touched the wood with the sander, and let Christian apply a coat of paint. Dad slapped the wheels on without adjusting or balancing them.

Well, you guessed it. Dad had his winner. Christian’s hastily carved, barely sanded, poorly painted car won the whole competition.

My car didn’t even place.

You may think the moral of this story is, “If you leave things to the last minute, you’ll probably win the whole race,” but that is not the moral. In fact, it’s not even moral time because that isn’t the end of the story.

I grew up. I had a son. He joined the Cub Scouts. In January, hunks of pine were handed out. My son stared at that piece of wood, dreaming of how his car would look, how he would cut it. …

And I remembered how much, when I was a kid, I’d wanted to make my own Pinewood Derby car.

I said to my son, “Let me help you with that.” And I cut and I sawed and I sanded and I chiseled and I painted and I balanced and graphited – and you know what? We won second place.

I got home from the race and called my dad. “See? You should have let me build my own cars. You might’a won!”

So, kids, wrestle that block of wood from your dad’s hand and do it yourself. But don’t be selfish. He really wants to help. Maybe let him sand the bottom, or the back.

as seen in the Charleston Gazette (WV) 3/9/14