Whose Kids Are These Anyway? by Ken Swarner -- Book Review

Book Classification : Parenting Humor - Families - Parents & Children

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Whose Kids Are These Anyway? : True Confessions of a Family Man , by Ken Swarner

Book Review

BUY THE BOOK Whose Kids Are These Anyway ? : True Confessions of a Family Man by Ken Swarner ( Family Humor Book / Parenting Humor Books )

Eons ago, when I was a kid, MAD Magazine had a feature called "You Really Know You're a Parent When ..." (The panels continued, "You find yourself drinking your coffee out of a Yogi Bear mug ... The road maps in your glove compartment are permanently fused together with Tootsie Rolls ...")

In the intervening years I have searched the world for a writer who could encapsulate the qualitative essence of parenting in that literary mode. Until recently, I didn't now about Ken Swarner, who has nothing to do with MAD Magazine , but he has the writing skill that I've been seeking!

Although many newspapers in the U.S. and Canada carry Ken's syndicated column Family Man (established 1997), our local Poughkeepsie Journal isn't one of them. So all of time stood still and the cosmos stopped for me until -- well, that's a lie -- let me start over .... I was simply unable to find such an author until just a few weeks ago, when I received an email from Ken. He introduced himself and said that, if I didn't already have a review copy of his new book, he would ask Penguin-Putnam to sling one my way.

If the traditional lyrics to the Twelve Days of Christmas leave you envious because you receive such handmade gifts as handprints and noodle collages [see "The Twelve Days of Crafts", pages 216-218] ... or if you harbor a concern that your co-workers might vote you "most likely to smell like baby wipes" [97] -- you're probably a parent, and therefore know exactly what I'm talking about.

I'm a dad. Ken's a dad. I can relate to the universal idea that a kid would be discovered standing there, still holding the scissors, and yet deny being the one who gave the dog a haircut. [198] But I can't claim to have thought of Ken's approach to classifying kids' lies into several distinct types. [198-200] It's one of those areas where someone else has to point it out, so then the rest of us can recognize it as well. I think scientists refer to that as the Oh Yeah phenomenon.

Hey, as parents, did you ever find that the two of you keep missing each other, so you leave a sequence of notes on the kitchen counter, or under the refrigerator magnet, or at some other central location? A nebulous range of topics from " the kid needs money" to "call the plumber" might ring that bell. "Notes left by two working parents" [225] makes a fine start for Chapter 13. But this is the technology age, so see also the collection of voice mail messages in Chapter 6.

I asked our talented author if it would be all right to quote some lines from his book. He told me to "quote away" -- and that's a quote. So, dads, moms too, I'm copying a few of the passages that may impart some giggly Been There responses.

I must say, Allison Swarner must be a saint if she didn't clobber her husband with a frying pan for telling the whole world about certain embarrassing moments. But, apparently, that hurdle was already hopped over, so go ahead and read the book.

And the next time your child embarrasses you in a restaurant by pretending to barf, or does the wrong thing out in the front yard while 76-year-old Mrs. McCurdy across the street is watching, pause to consider how lucky you are, and enjoy those Little Things in your life.

Book review by Mike Lepore for crimsonbird.com

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Whose Kids Are These Anyway? : True Confessions of a Family Man , by Ken Swarner

Excerpts from
Whose Kids Are These Anyway? : True Confessions of a Family Man , by Ken Swarner
reprinted with the permission of the author

Copyright © 2003 Ken Swarner

Six hours into the first day, my wife called me at work.

"Ken, I can't bear it anymore."

"Your job?" I asked.

"No, this breast pump," she complained. "I feel like a cow in the big city."

"In the city?"

"Well, actually in the toilet stall, where I just sat milking away my entire lunch break while listening to the young secretaries gossip over the noise of the hand blowers."

"You sit on the toilet?"

"Well, where do you think I would do it," she asked. "In the copier room? What would I say? 'Come on in guys -- don't mind me, I'm just sucking nourishment from my breast. Oh, and by the way, the legal-size paper is over there on the table, under my blouse.'"

-- from pages 1-2, Whose Kids Are These Anyway? by Ken Swarner

"What are you doing?" I asked, as my wife was turning off the water spigot.

"Are you crazy letting them play with the water?!" she exclaimed, panting out of breath.

"What's wrong?" I asked, removing the flecks of grass clippings that dotted her face.

She looked incredulously at me. "One drop of spray hits the power lines and your kids can forget about having normal offspring of their own!"

Every few weeks it seems like I'm having a safety conversation with my wife, better known as Allison the Angst. Talk about paranoid: In the spring, she wanted all of us to wear matching solid red T-shirts at the county fair so no one would get lost.

"That's a great idea, I said. Think how much that will ease our minds -- until they announce over the loudspeaker: 'Would Tweedledee and Tweedledum please pick up your kids at Lost and Found."

I'm not sure why she is always worried that some disastrous accident will befall her family."

-- from pages 4-5, Whose Kids Are These Anyway? by Ken Swarner

Take, for example, birthday parties.

When I was a kid, the moms in the neighborhood had the same birthday game plan: eight friends, pin the tail on the donkey, and a lopsided Duncan Hines cake. No one worried about spills, because the décor of those days matched the Kool-Aid colors.

Simple is no longer in fashion.

These days, it's not a child's birthday party without a clown that spits fire, or treat bags holding seventeen bags of candy. As each birthday passes, the bar gets raised. I recently went to one of our friend's parties where they hired a singing princess for their daughter. It just so happened that Cinderella also read grown-ups' palms while the birthday girl opened her gifts.

When my daughter's birthday party was on the horizon, I decided to put my food down and tell my wife that we weren't going overboard. The only way I could have topped the palm-reader was to hire a masseuse who also created balloon animals. I wasn't about to spend that kind of money.

-- from pages 149-150, Whose Kids Are These Anyway? by Ken Swarner

It's just that I can never understand why I get so eager about a hike. All week long, I'll talk excitedly about the big day. Even at the trailhead, I'm happily running over the last-minute details. But then, somewhere around the first bend, right before one of my kids loses a sock in the river or jabs a walking stick into my ankle, I suddenly find myself on the Baatan Death March.

-- from page 167, Whose Kids Are These Anyway? by Ken Swarner

My son was dying to tell on his sister recently, but seeing that I didn't smell smoke or see S.W.A.T. teams fast-roping down my porch, I tried to ignore him.

Of course, this didn't satisfy the little Benedict Arnold, so he started to sing.

"I know a secret ... I know a secret."

There is a good reason why I didn't want to know the secret. If i knew, I'd have to do something about it. And I learned a long time ago that it's far better for the mom to know -- she has to do something about it.

At this point, however, my son was frothing at the mouth and talking to himself like a mental patient. "I hope Claire doesn't flood the house -- but, of course, it's not my problem," he said out loud. "Not like anyone cares what I think."

-- from page 191, Whose Kids Are These Anyway? by Ken Swarner

"Ken, we've been invited to the Pierce's barbecue."

"Great!" I exclaimed. "But why the sullen face?"

"I don't know exactly how to say this," she said cautiously.

"Then just say it."

"At parties, you talk to much about the kids -- people can't relate."

I did a double take. "Me? Look who's talking, miss 'I think I'll mention how many diapers I changed this year in the Christmas letter.'"

"People like statistics," she retorted.

-- from page 228, Whose Kids Are These Anyway? by Ken Swarner

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Whose Kids Are These Anyway? : True Confessions of a Family Man , by Ken Swarner