"Boys, I know what we're going to do today."
The thought came to me as I was trying to scale another mountain of promotional materials that had been growing on my desk. CDs from bands I've never heard of, TV episodes from channels I've never seen on my cable lineup, renewal notices from esoteric magazines that couldn't possibly have more than five subscribers.
As features editor, a lot of strange and unique materials come across my desk. I've received everything from an 8-inch gummy rat to a foam human skull to a coat for dogs that protects them from scary thunder. So the "Phineas and Ferb the Movie" DVD almost suffocated beneath it all.
But once I saw it, I knew I had to review it — and not just because I'm television-starved. (My wife cut off the cable for the summer, and I've been sitting around in the basement like Gollum and muttering, "She took the precious.")
My family has really been smitten by "Phineas and Ferb." We love the smart, subtle humor. Any kids' show that can make adults laugh at a good, clean joke that sails right over a child's head is a winner to me. It's pretty empowering.
Dad, why are you laughing?
I'll tell you if you get me some Twizzlers.
The plot may be a little — OK, a lot — formulaic, but what cartoon isn't? And just like Tom & Jerry, it works time after time.
For the uninitiated, Phineas and Ferb are good-natured stepbrothers out to make the most of their 104 days of summer vacation. They are also engineering prodigies who succeed at building everything from an amusement park to a concert arena to a spacecraft.
Each episode, a light bulb goes off in Phineas' head, followed by the phrase, "Ferb, I know what we're going to do today."
And while they're not trying to be coy, secretive or slippery, their outlandish projects always miraculously stay off the radar of their mother, despite the best efforts of their sister to "bust" them. Circumstance is always their friend, and they remain safely — and naively — out of trouble.
My kids are not Phineas and Ferb.
That day, I had decided to enlist the help of my boys, ages 7 and 4, in reviewing the movie. But when I pulled into the driveway, they were moping toward the house like they were in jumpsuits and headed to the courtroom.
Busted. Grounded again.
I was distraught. Why does their bad behavior have to ruin things for me? (Yes, sometimes dads still think like 7-year-olds.)
I didn't ask why they were in trouble. I just knew plans had changed. We wouldn't be watching "Phineas and Ferb."
Before I had kids, I imagined myself as a disciplinarian. Sort of like how I imagined myself as a power forward in the NBA.
I never thought that handing out punishments — or consequences, as my wife says — would be like tossing candy at a parade. I knew it wouldn't be pleasant, but I had no idea how much it affected the parents.
Did you know that it's easier to pay the bills when a child is outside playing as opposed to him being in his room, screaming about how his little brother played with his Hero Factory without asking, and that's why he unleashed the Capri Sun in his face? And all the while, the baby's trying to nap.
But my wife's a champ. She holds the line. She stands firm in the face of the swell that builds when kids are punished.
And it's a good thing, because when I have a cool DVD in my hand, I might just be too tempted to go corrupt major college football coach and look the other way.
"Uh, no, I'm not aware of any rule-breaking going on here."
"Boys, I know what we're going to do today!"
Aaron Shill is editor of Features and Mormon Times at the Deseret News.