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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014

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They really are kinda cute.
They really are kinda cute.

Praying for a hamster?!

Parenthood makes us say and do things we never thought we would, and last night was no exception.

Without going into too much detail, my son’s new hamster, Lavender, was clearly dehydrating. My son absolutely adores this twitchy-nosed fuzzball, so despite terrible after-work traffic, I rushed the rodent back to the pet store.

"Come on, Lavender," I said in my head. "Scamper away from the light, little buddy."

So I’m talking to a hamster now? Hell, yes. I would pray to the Patron Saint of Rodents, if I knew of one. After all, my kid is weeping.

The ironic part is that I’ve never been much of a critter person myself. I might have had a gerbil or two as a kid, but I’m not one to fill my space with furry things. I prefer plants and people.

But this, like most aspects of parenting, has little to do with me.

It turns out, the hamster has "wet tail diarrhea," a condition I’m told is serious but potentially treatable. Unfortunately, Lavender has to undergo two weeks of antibiotics, and there’s no guarantee she’ll pull through.

It just might be little Lav's time to visit the sprawling Habitrail in the sky. But I really hope not.

While I’m quietly and proactively researching ways to talk about death with little kids, my son is X-ing off the days on our family calendar until Lavender comes home. The sight of this is quite possibly the most heartbreaking part of it all.

The dragon head bobbed up and down when kids bounced.
The dragon head bobbed up and down when kids bounced.
Understatement: The bouncy house was a hit.
Understatement: The bouncy house was a hit.

Bouncy houses put spring in the birthday kid's step

My sons have been to a couple of birthday parties in the past with "bouncy houses," and to this day, those parties remain in their mental Birthday Party Hall of Fame. I decided to rent one for my son's 5th birthday last weekend, and the bottom line is: if you can stomach the price (about $225 for the day), having a bouncy house at your kid’s birthday party is never a bad idea, as long as you enforce basic safety rules.

My son is the kindergarten version of Napoleon Dynamite, so naturally he wanted to have a "mythic creatures" birthday party. I started brainstorming ideas for the party about a month in advance, scouring the Internet for inspiration and ideas.

I came across a dragon bouncy house, offered by a family-owned Oak Creek company called Fun Services, Inc. I knew immediately that I had to rent this thing. (On a side note, Fun Services was a superb company to deal with. They have outstanding customer service reps and their drivers were friendly and timely.)

Aside from the dragon bouncer, I came up with a variety of games to play at the party: pin-the-horn-on-the-unicorn, a dragon egg hunt in our large garden, a gargoyle piñata and jousting with swords twisted from long, skinny balloons.

But none of it really mattered because, for the most part, my son and his seven little guests just wanted to bounce. And bounce and bounce and bounce and bounce.

Bouncing, mind you, is hard work. I spent about 10 minutes in the bouncy house and found it a massive cardiovascular challenge. My kids spent hours in there without issue. This leads me to the hidden bonus of the bouncy house: you’ll end up with kids who, by nightfall, are exhausted and sleep like a sedated Pegasus.

I was slightly concerned about bounce-related injuries, but luckily, other then one bit lip, we didn’t have any. The key is to let the kids bounce in small groups and to make sure the groups consist of kids that are generally the same size. Obviously, you wouldn’t put a…

For one night in 1982, our 1981 Ford Escort was a celebratory party machine.
For one night in 1982, our 1981 Ford Escort was a celebratory party machine.

More memories of '82

On Monday, Publisher Andy Tarnoff posted a blog asking, "Where were you in ‘82?" The simple question brought back a vivid childhood memory.

I clearly remember watching the game with my mom -- who wasn’t usually a baseball fan -- and my sister, in our cozy Shorewood bungalow. My dad was at the game with a friend.

When Robin Yount made the final out, my mom jumped up and said, "Let’s go!" I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I liked her enthusiasm, and before I knew it, the three of us piled into our Ford Escort.

My mother zipped down Oakland Avenue -- driving well over the speed limit -- and honked the horn until it was a continuous drone. My sister and I cheered and giggled in the back seat. We wouldn’t act this reckless in a vehicle again for another seven or eight years.

My mom drove Downtown, only to lodge our Escort in a major traffic jam with scads of other honking and screaming fans. After a few minutes of Wisconsin Avenue mayhem, the horn went from an obnoxiously loud blaring sound to a sick goat bleat to absolute silence.

It took a good six months for my dad to have the horn fixed. Normally, my dad is the type of person who would have been right on it, but like a lot of baseball fans, he has a nostalgic side. My theory is that he left the broken horn just so he could relive the glory every time someone cut him off.

I still remember the weird smell of these lunch trays.
I still remember the weird smell of these lunch trays.

School lunches: Not as bad as I expected

Most days, I pack my sons’ lunches because it’s cheaper and healthier. I must admit, however, I finally started reading the MPS lunch menu, and it doesn’t sound like the starchy-sugary nightmare I had assumed it to be.

I remember eating a lot of hot dogs, hamburgers and tater tots -- as well as the occasional "mock chicken leg"  -- during my hot lunch days, but it appears as if the meals are more balanced and there’s much more variety.

I was particularly pleased to see that they rarely serve a dessert. I’m all for treats now and again, but not when focus is the key to success.

I wonder about suburban districts and if their lunches are even more nutritious than MPS’. But I must say, I was surprisingly impressed after my first glance. Granted, in a perfect world I would like to see more organic and fresh foods, but considering budget limitations, I think the MPS lunch program deserves a B minus.