Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Alex Smith, don’t quit on Royals, stop firing coaches & parenting

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith threw for 368 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in a 42-27 win over the Patriots.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith threw for 368 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in a 42-27 win over the Patriots.

From the very beginning I have had three general thoughts about David Beaty as the Kansas football coach:

First, none of us had anything more than a guess about whether he’d be good enough to make it work.

Second, he is exactly the kind of hire KU should make. He’s energetic, stubbornly positive, carries a good recruiting reputation, and is steeped in an offensive system that’s worked before at previously losing programs in part because it doesn’t require top linemen, which is the hardest position for bad programs to recruit.

Third, it is entirely possible that he’s a very good coach but still won’t be able to make it work because of the specifics of what he took over, the infrastructure in and around the program, and the timing in the larger world of major college football.

Kansas suffered its worst loss in years on Saturday, and I don’t say that lightly. The program has been blown out before, of course, but until now Beaty has always operated with a certain benefit of the doubt. We know he took over a clunker. We know it will take time.

But three years and one FBS win in, everyone seemed in agreement that he was approaching the deadline for showing real progress on the field. Nobody expects a bowl game, or even anything other than a last-place finish in the Big 12. But Central Michigan was picked fifth in its division in the Mid-American Conference, and beat Rhode Island — an awful FCS program — by only three points in the opener.

Kansas wasn’t just beat. It was crushed, dominated, a few bright moments in the third quarter doing nothing to overcome a bigger failure in execution, game planning, and at times fundamentals.

Beaty’s job is on the line this year. The program’s most prominent booster has said “there has to be significant progress” this season, and Beaty has acknowledged this is fair.

This is the part where we take a bit of an unexpected turn, however, because barring an overwhelming failure — something off the field, players visibly quitting on the program, a 1-11 season with 11 blowouts — it’s hard to see how firing Beaty would be helpful.

He’s working on a new contract extension, and even if there were some political motivations behind it — athletic director Sheahon Zenger has to know he probably won’t be able to fire and hire more football coaches — it’s an investment the department has made for the future.

Beaty, and this is just being honest and perhaps generous, was barely qualified for the job. He was a position coach at Texas A&M, and had only been a coordinator one year, for Rice, when the school finished 4-8. Asking him to turn the worst program in Power Five football into a winner is a bit like a cruel episode of Pros vs. Joes.

But if a third consecutive KU football coach is fired before his fourth season, the replacement will almost certainly have to come even further down the candidate food chain.

Recruiting has improved. There are more real athletes on the depth chart. Now, some are turning down offers from bigger and better programs to give Beaty and Kansas a chance.

I understand the need for tangible progress. I understand that college football is a business, and that at some point a program can kill interest and revenue to the point that eating a coach’s remaining contract is a sound investment.

But Kansas has been through that cycle too many times. Beaty is growing into the job, and appears completely committed to making it work. If nothing else, that’s more than could be said for the last two coaches.

Look, I still don’t know if Beaty can make it work at Kansas. You don’t either. Same with Zenger, and everyone else.

Kansas coach David Beaty discusses his team's 45-27 loss to Central Michigan on Sept. 9, 2017.

That one loss — granted, it was a wretched, awful, discouraging loss — has started the conversation about Beaty’s job security is understandable in the context of major college football.

But at some point, KU has to break these muscle memory firings, and instead of continuing to hire less qualified candidates to do an increasingly difficult job, invest and believe and support the guy who’s already in the building trying to make it work.

Give the guy a chance. Or, at least, as much of a chance as coaching KU football allows.

This week’s reading recommendation is Cody Stavenhagen on Bob Stoops riding away, and the eating recommendation is the Pabellon Arepa at El Porton.

Please give me a follow on Twitter and, if you haven’t already, let me ask for a follow on Facebook. I’m trying to build that page a bit with more conversation, and perhaps a weekly Q&A, or Ask Me Anything, something like that. We’ll figure it out together, on the fly, I hope.

As always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading.

Of course. I was 23 years old, without a job that required me to be at an office, so it should not surprise you that I was in bed. My mom called, and I did what anyone in my situation would’ve done. I kicked it to voicemail. Then she called again, so I knew something happened, and I’ve only heard her use this voice a few times.

“Something terrible happened,” she said. “A plane hit the World Trade Center. I can’t get a hold of Amanda.”

My sister worked in New York at the time. In Manhattan. Far enough from the towers that my mom knew she was probably OK, but close enough to worry, even if my mom didn’t worry about everything anyway.

It was an hour or two before we heard from my sister. She was fine, but scared. I think she worked about six blocks from the towers, so she could see and hear the worst. She walked home to Brooklyn that day, I remember talking to her, and I told her it sounded so quiet. She was in a crowd of hundreds making the same walk, but everyone was silent, except the muffled conversations telling loved ones they were OK but terrified.

I remember immediately going to fill up my car, which was dumb. I also remember feeling like I should get in my car and drive to New York to see my sister, to help in the recovery, to do something tangible with everything I felt. I was some combination of too scared, too shy, too something else to do it.

I also remember feeling an enormous sense of pride in the days and weeks that followed. I’ve never been so proud to be American. The response everywhere was love, defiance, togetherness, pride. Both sides of this will be impossible to explain to my kids, but I’ll try.

That all seemed to have worn off faster than should be acceptable. I hate that so quickly after something so catastrophic our country is this divided politically.

This time of year, I always hope we can get some of that back. And we always do, for a few days.

Now, I will awkwardly segue into sports.

Many people disagree with me about this, including Terez, who knows more about the Chiefs than anyone not employed by the Chiefs (and many who are employed by the Chiefs).

But I don’t think this is a critical factor.

Some of that is because it implies that Alex hasn’t been trying his best before, or that he wasn’t motivated by playoff losses or doubts or perhaps the greatest professional motivation imaginable — he was leading the league in passer rating, then lost his job because of a concussion, then watched his team lose a Super Bowl he believes in his gut he would’ve won.

I’m supposed to believe that none of that mattered, that what it really took for Alex to change or push or whatever was the drafting of Mahomes?

I just can’t get there, and we haven’t talked yet about how unlikely it is for a quarterback in his 13th season to make fundamental changes to how he plays.

I believe bigger factors include continued work within the same system, building from last year’s disappointment, and most importantly — Tyreek Hill.

Kansas City Star staff photographer David Eulitt has covered the Chiefs since 2007 and in this video, he explains how a photo was made of Tyreek Hill giving the peace sign on his 75-yard touchdown catch in the Chiefs' 42-27 upset victory over the

Smith has been consistently criticized for his lack of downfield passing over the years. Most of it is justified, some hyperbolic, but I hope we can also recognize that until Hill proved to be much more than the Chiefs thought when they drafted him, Smith’s best downfield threat with the Chiefs was, um, who exactly?

Donnie Avery? Travis Kelce? Dwayne Bowe on a full stomach after the contract?

Hill fundamentally changes what the Chiefs are capable of, and fundamentally changes how they are capable of it. He is a constant mismatch, in the sense that you need to play off him (which makes the underneath stuff available), park a safety over the top (which clears the intermediate stuff for Kelce and others), or risk getting torched (like this).

I don’t expect Smith to be good for 368 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions every week like he was last Thursday. But he could have the best season of his career, and a season good enough for the Chiefs to be in the Super Bowl, without being that good again.

I also think we should pause for a second to recognize that this is — BY FAR — the best offensive line he’s had in Kansas City. That is an ascending group, better in pass protection than run blocking, and they did everything that could’ve been realistically asked at New England.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was particularly good the other night, but they all won. Smith didn’t have to scramble much, didn’t have to change his plan after the snap very often. That’s particularly critical for Smith now, because it seems as if he’s been skittish at times after his head bounced off the green concrete in Indianapolis last year.

When he’s calm, prepared, and has a freakishly fast man stretching the defense downfield for him, he can be pretty damn good.

Andy Reid is an indestructible piece of human machinery who will coach until the end of time. No matter what the doctors have to do to that leg, no matter how many cheeseburgers, Andy Reid will wear the same displeased expression behind the same mustache talking about “that’s how we roll” in press conferences longer than your grandchildren’s grandchildren will be alive.

“Listen,” he’ll say in 2472, “we look forward to the challenge of playing the Pluto Panthers. We know they’re a well-algorithmed football team, with good football robots.”

The only way this doesn’t happen is if the Chiefs go 19-0 this year, but it won’t be because Reid will retire, it will be because our beloved planet flew straight into the sun.

If that’s how this ends for all of us, please know now that I love each and every one of you.

Well, this is a good question. Completely irrelevant, with no wrong or correct answer, unprovable in anything resembling reality. But, still. A good question.

Which makes it perfect here!

A year ago, the Chiefs clearly would not have won at Atlanta without Berry. They probably would not have won at Carolina without him. Maybe there is another game or two you could find, but we’d also need to agree to be adults and recognize the Chiefs would not have won those games without at least a few others — most notably, perhaps, Marcus Peters at Carolina.

This is one of those things I say a lot, and that I say a lot because it’s true, but we all tend to overstate the importance or effect of any singular injury or play.

If there’s one play that changed a game, there are almost certainly others that would have, too. If there’s one major injury a team must overcome, there are others on the roster with opportunity. Last year, the Patriots won the Super Bowl without their second best player.

The key in answering your question, to me, is whether a win in New England is what ends up deciding home field advantage in the playoffs.

Because if it does, despite what we saw on Thursday, I don’t think you want to go back to Foxborough in January. If that one win doesn’t determine home field, then you’d take your chances with a terrifically versatile and smart talent who doubles as the locker room’s most respected man.

So at the moment, I would not give the win back.

Every team has to deal with injuries. Two years ago, we all thought the Chiefs were dust after Jamaal Charles’ knee tore in a home loss that dropped them to 1-4. They ended up winning 11 in a row, including the first playoff win since most people started using email, and yes it still counts if it’s against Brian Hoyer.

I think everyone, in some way, feels bad for Berry. I would imagine that even if you hate the Chiefs, you at least respect Berry. Not just him beating cancer, but his talent, brains, accountability, everything.

But nobody will feel bad for the Chiefs. They have three extra days to figure out how to defend without Berry, and virtually an entire season to tweak it for the postseason (assuming it gets that far). They still have good players all over the roster, and haven’t lost a division game in nearly two full years.

Berry is irreplaceable, at least in the like-for-like sense. But football seasons are largely defined by which teams are able to deal with challenges.

Terez has made the smart point that Berry had been on the injury report with a heel, and there were other subtle signs that, at least when viewed with hindsight, present the possibility that this did not catch Berry or the coaches totally off guard. That’s still true even after trainer Rick Burkholder confirmed Terez’s reporting that the heel that bothered Berry in the preseason isn’t the one with the torn Achilles.

I’m trusting you guys to take this the way it’s intended, because I believe Berry has a chance to be in the Hall of Fame, but if your season is wrecked by an injury to a safety in week one then your season wasn’t as promising as you thought.

Why, thank you. That one was fun. Even if it meant walking out of the stadium a little past 3:30 in the morning. It’s the latest I’ve worked, I think, other than the night the Royals won the World Series.

I am so happy you feel that way, because it’s true, and I’m glad it comes across.

I’d love my job anyway. I am a big believer that you need perspective, and you need to be grateful for the good things in your life, and no matter who I work with I am able to support my family by watching, getting to know, writing about, traveling to, and analyzing sports in Kansas City.

That doesn’t suck.

But I’m also very aware of how lucky I am to work with these guys. There’s no way to say any of this without risking it sounding corny, but I hope you guys know me well enough to know I’m always honest here.

Terez, Blair, and Vahe are co-workers but also dear friends. I love spending time with them. We laugh at ourselves, make fun of each other, all the things friends do. They are smart, engaged, thoughtful, all the things I like in friends.

I was never trained to do video. It can be awkward, doing something you’re not totally comfortable doing in front of strangers who consider it part of what you’re being paid to do professionally.

But I never feel awkward doing video with these guys, because it never feels any different than what we’ve just been talking about the last four hours or so. There isn’t a day I spend working with any of them that I’m not consciously grateful for it.

I’m so happy that comes across. I’m terrible at fake laughing.

Well, I disagree with the premise. I do not believe he is the most irreplaceable Chief.

I wrote a little about this the other day, but I believe Justin Houston is more important. When fully healthy, he is one of the best defenders in the league, and the Chiefs’ best all-around football player. The last time he played a full season he had 22 sacks, and he is one of the team’s best run defenders. Watch the game in Denver last year. He wrecked everything the Broncos wanted to do on his side of the field.

I believe Marcus Peters is more important. With the possible exception of Travis Kelce, there is not a spot on the depth chart with a bigger gap between the No. 1 and No. 2. Tom Brady threw Peters’ way once, I believe, and that is neither a coincidence or poor plan against the Chiefs.

Speaking of Kelce, I believe he’s more important than Berry. The Chiefs’ system is built in largely part on scheming mismatches, and demands versatility, and exploiting mismatches with versatility are among Kelce’s greatest strengths. His talents are a terrific complement to what Smith needs. Kelce requires attention that otherwise would go toward the run and downfield, so his presence makes everyone more productive.

I also believe Hill is more important, mostly for the reasons listed in the previous answer. There are also arguments that could be made for Derrick Johnson and Alex Smith.

But, all of this, and I haven’t answered your question. So here goes:

Royals: I still believe Lorenzo Cain is their best all-around player, but Eric Hosmer (more on him in a bit) is having the best year, and after they’re both gone through free agency the clear answer will be Sal Perez.

Sporting KC: A team built on balance and system, which means the clear answer is Tim Melia, who is very, very, very good at his job.

K-State football: Bill Snyder. Is that cheating?

KU football: Charlie Weis. With a better hire five years ago, KU would be closer to bad than abominable.

Mizzou football: Drew Lock. There are a lot of smart-ass ways I could take this question, but let’s just go straightforward. He’s got a chance to be a big part of an NFL team’s future.

You guys, I think he’s really, really good. I thought he was good from his college tape, and I thought he was good through the preseason, and obviously he was spectacular in his debut*.

*Programming note: I’ll have something much deeper, and hopefully interesting, about Hunt later this week. I have no idea what it will look like, but I’m spending most of the week making sure it’s good, so I hope you’ll look out for it.

Baseball scouts like to talk in terms of tools. That doesn’t seem to exist as much in the NFL, but for Hunt it should, because he has all the tools except the ones that show up at the combine. He was available in the third round because he went to a smaller school, doesn’t jump out in a lab — 5-foot-10, 216 pounds, 4.62 seconds in the 40.

But whatever he runs in shorts and track shoes, he looks much faster, and quicker, in cleats and pads. He has good vision, terrific balance, and never seems to go down on first contact. He can catch it out of the backfield, blocks enough, and seems to have all the aptitude and focus you’d want.

Hunt is also in a terrific place to shine. The horizontal stuff is great for him. He’s not the only person you can say this about, but the Chiefs’ system really should bring out his best. This is why Andy Reid is paid more than any NFL coach who has not won a Super Bowl.

But I digress. It’s also impressive that he was able to do all that after fumbling the first snap of his NFL career, on national TV, against the Super Bowl champions. I believe in stuff like this, and the combination of Reid giving him the next snap and Hunt showing enough guts to transform a nightmare start to the best day of his football life is as positive as you could imagine.

I believe the Chiefs might have a star. I’d also like to wait more than one game to say something definitive.

Nobody should tell anyone how to feel about their team, and I get the frustration with this specific Royals team, particularly after nights like that, but I also believe there’s no upside to quitting on them right now.

They’re still only three back, and I get that time is running out, and the schedule going forward is difficult, but let’s say you’re right. Let’s say the Royals aren’t making the playoffs. Let’s say everything we might think at this moment is true:

They never could replace Yordano Ventura either in function or emotion, the starting pitching wasn’t consistent enough, the bullpen was not up to the job, the lineup had too many holes, the slump in April was too deep, the Indians were too good, on and on.

What’s the point in quitting now?

What’s the point in giving up with three weeks to go, and your team only three back of a playoff spot?

Royals fans know this better than anyone. Over and over and over again the Royals have been in positions discouraging enough for fans to quit, and many did, so they either missed or had to do the walk of shame back to see the late-season push into the 2014 playoffs, the comeback in the Wild Card game against the A’s, the end of Game 4 in Houston, the end of Game 6 against Toronto, heck, even the comeback in Game 5 against the Mets.

This is not a pump talk. This is not a prediction that the Royals will make the playoffs. They probably won’t. But there’s no logical reason to quit on them now.

If you’re right, and they’re done, the worst case scenario is there’s no baseball in three weeks anyway.

We should be talking more about this, you guys.

Hosmer is second in the league in batting, third in on-base percentage, and sixth in OPS. His batting average and on-base percentage are the Royals’ highest since Mike Sweeney in 2002, and his OPS is the highest since Carlos Beltran in 2003.

I still don’t know what was going on in April, but if you start him on May 1, he’s hitting .348/.414/.560. Each of those would be in the league’s top three, and the .975 OPS would rank third behind Aaron Judge and Jose Altuve.

This is a gifted player whose hard work, ambition, and consistent approach are producing the year of his professional life*.

*And the good news, if you’re Hosmer, his agent, or listed as a dependent on his tax return, all of this is coming just in time for free agency!

Hosmer is a beloved star in Kansas City, but also one of the more bizarrely criticized players I can think of. By the looks of him, he should hit for more power, but that’s not his swing path or approach, and as it is he’s one of the American League’s better hitters. We do this sometimes with highly drafted players and top-shelf talent — focusing too much on what they aren’t, and taking for granted what the are.

Hosmer will probably be somewhere else next season, and whoever the Royals have playing first base won’t be nearly as good. Charities around town will have lost a friend, and the Royals will have lost a dependable leader who once bought a round of drinks for the city.

In my view, he’s having the Royals’ best offensive season since Carlos Beltran in 2003 — .307/.389/.522 with 26 homers, 102 runs, 100 RBIs, 10 triples, and 41 steals (caught just four times!).

Mike Moustakas has taken more of the attention, and that’s understandable, because of that hilarious franchise home-run record. Moose has been terrific, also having the year of his career in front of free agency.

But Hosmer has been the better player.

Pardon the nitpicking, but if they’re still contending for a wild card, they are by definition not done.

But, moving on.

We’ll get into this more after the season, obviously, but this whole eat-cake-while-losing-weight strategy will be even more difficult to pull off in the future than it was for this season.

They have just over $100 million committed to nine players for next year, including just over $60 million to five who I’m guessing you’re not too optimistic about: Alex Gordon, Ian Kennedy, Joakim Soria, Jason Hammel and Brandon Moss.

If they are able to re-sign one of the free agents, that would be an additional $15 million to $25 million for one player. Maybe more. Their payroll figures to end up around $150 million this year, and it’s hard to imagine that increasing much for 2018.

If they decide to keep trying to win, and not focus on a rebuild, they will need improvements from so many internally: Gordon, Kennedy, Kelvin Herrera and more. Danny Duffy and Sal Perez — again, assuming Hosmer, Moose, and Cain are all gone — will need to be stars. Whit Merrifield, too. Raul Mondesi will be expected to take a very successful Omaha season into the big leagues.

Jorge Soler will need to do something positive. Jorge Bonifacio, Cheslor Cuthbert and others will be expected to grow up fast. Most importantly, they’ll need to improve the farm system without the enormous benefit of selecting high.

It’s not ideal, but it never is in professional sports. They can’t all be Mike Trout.

Honestly, if offensive coordinators and quarterbacks are smart, no more than three.

And that might be high.

You would be challenged to build a defense better suited to avoiding one specific cornerback than the 2017 Chiefs.

The gap between Marcus Peters and Steven Nelson is big enough the Falcons wouldn’t sign it without a weight clause, and the gap between Peters and Terrance Mitchell (who I actually like) is even bigger.

The Patriots figured that out quickly, and put it on tape for everyone else to see. The Chiefs make it so easy for opponents to avoid Peters by keeping him on the same side. At some point this season, their reluctance to have Peters “travel” from side to side could become more of an issue.

It’s more than even that, though. Peters is more than a terrific cover corner. He’s a terrific playmaking corner, so when you throw his way, you’re not just risking second-and-8 turning into third-and-8 because he knocked the ball down.

You’re risking a 17-14 lead turning into a 21-17 deficit because he took it home on you and then punted the ball into the stands.

At that point, the 5-yard penalty for delay of game won’t be much solace.

This question came in many forms, from many people, and at the moment it’s not a good sign for either that they’re linked with the other.

Beaty is in his third year, and after what we talked about in the intro, I don’t know that we need to go through an illustration of the bucket of sewage he inherited.

The game on Saturday against Central Michigan was always going to be defining for where this program is at this moment. KU was favored. If you can’t beat a middling MAC school at home, when you’re favored, I don’t know when you’re going to win.

Baylor’s bad. Maybe that’s a chance. But I bet Baylor is looking at the game in Lawrence as a chance, too.

Odom is two games into his second year, and he’s already had to fire two coaches and watch two others leave. DeMontie Cross was a bad fit from the beginning, and for a defensive coach to whiff on his most important defensive hire, then neuter that coach midway through the first season by taking play-calling duties, then stick with him through the offseason only to fire him two games into the second season, well, there is no defending that.

The special teams were a disaster on Saturday, which is covering up some of the offensive play-calling issues, plus poor execution in basically all parts. There are what football people sometimes call “focus mistakes,” most prominently dropped passes, that need to be cleaned up.

Missouri should not be the kind of school where fans are thinking about basketball season in September.

But the answer to the question is Odom.

Like we talked about at the top, I hope Beaty is back. I think it would be a mistake to fire him, barring something new and overwhelming.

But Odom is only in his second year. Even Charlie Weis got to start his third year.

I don’t know what the money will end up being with him. He’ll be a year or two younger than most first-time free agents, which his agent Scott Boras will hammer hard. He has postseason success, an impeccable reputation in the clubhouse and community, and will be coming off the best season of his life.

I’m guessing he gets something like seven years and $160 million.

That might be low, if anything. Money always goes up, and that’s a lower annual average than Chris Davis, Jason Heyward, Joe Mauer, Yoenis Cespedes, and others.

You’re asking my opinion, and I actually think Hosmer is a good bet to be worth the contract. He’s young for a free agent, stays in great shape, and he’s not a risk to go Pablo Sandoval and quit trying after a payday. He’s a diverse hitter, not the kind of boom-or-bust that can fall off a cliff, and athletic enough to help you defensively for the life of the contract.

So, yes. I think he’s a good bet, relative to other big-money free agents. That’s a bit like saying a kid is a good bet to become a CEO, relative to the others in her preschool class, but still. It’s something.

But I still don’t think I’d do it, if the money got that high or higher. My preference would actually be to sell off what you can, load the system with prospects, draft in the top five for a few years and try to compete wth the White Sox in 2021 or so.

But, if you’re the Royals, and you’re committed to this strategy of competing every year without significantly raising payroll, I think it becomes a hard sell to commit such a big chunk of your money to one guy for the next six to eight years.

I just don’t know that it makes sense for either side, really.

I believe he’s hurt.

His velocity remains strong, and the Royals are obviously letting him pitch, but it’s the most sensible explanation to me.

Every pitcher has some degree of damage in his elbow, and I know the Royals are relieved about the location of his tightness, but anytime a pitcher’s forearm goes out on him he’s an injury risk.

The other explanation is some combination of physical and mental, where he has a mechanical flaw that he’s struggling to fix, but I don’t know why that would be hitting him so hard so suddenly.

You might think he can’t handle the pressure of closing, but then how would you explain that his strikeouts, baserunners allowed, and ERA are all better in the postseason than regular season?

He’s good for three innings — the seventh, eighth, and ninth, when the Royals went from 2-0 down to tied at 2 — in the World Series clincher but chokes on a random Thursday against the Twins?

No, nerves don’t make sense to me here.

Relief pitchers are volatile. Some of that is that they don’t pitch much, so their numbers can spike with a few bad outings, but a lot of it is the smaller room for error. They don’t throw as many pitches, so each one has to be more precise. A Ferrari is a triumph of engineering, but it goes to the shop a lot.

So I’m assuming he’s pitching through pain, an injury, or some sort of dead arm.


That you’ve come here for advice is, um, an outside-the-box way to prepare to parent, so I will do my best:

The most important thing is just to be there. Being a dad is the best thing in the world*.

*There are moments when it feels like the worst thing in the world, but even when your son is head butting you and punching you and saying he doesn’t love you — UNLESS YOU GUYS ARE SAYING THAT ONLY HAPPENS TO ME??? — you will almost always keep in mind that he doesn’t mean it and will be the sweetest human being in the planet in about six minutes.

But I think the best advice I ever got was to enjoy changing diapers. Seriously. The point is not literally about changing diapers. The point is that a lot goes into parenting, much of it messy, but it moves so fast and after each step is over you’ll miss it.

Kids become a little less dependent on you every day. In the beginning, they cannot do even a single thing by themselves. Don’t know when to sleep, don’t know when they’re hungry, don’t know anything.

Changing diapers can be terrible. The kid is squirmy, crying, and you somehow have to pull off the magic act of keeping your furniture free of human feces. But at some point they learn how to go in a toilet, and they don’t need you to change their diaper anymore, and I know it sounds crazy but you miss part of it.

If you are among the many who hate changing diapers — my wife is with you — then the metaphor applies elsewhere, too. Long nights reading stories before bedtime. A screaming kid with a scrapped knee. Making mac and cheese while also getting them away from the power outlets.

If you can find a way to enjoy even those dirty moments, you can find a way to enjoy everything.

I don’t know your personal situation, but mine is like a lot of people, in that I don’t get as much time around my kids as I’d like. This week, I’ll be out of town through Friday, which means I can’t have breakfast with them, can’t pick up the older one from preschool, can’t play catch with the younger one, can’t walk around the neighborhood with both, can’t put either one down at night.

That sucks. This is not a complaint about my job, because I love my job, know I’m lucky to have it, and know there are many weeks and it allows me to see my kids more than most. But travel is hard. I know the kids will be a little different when I get back.

But those of us who don’t always have as much time as we’d like can absolutely control the quality of the time we have.

That means talking with them, following their lead at times, taking the lead at others, laughing, playing, doing things a thousand times that they’ll crystallize in their memories when they’re old enough to no longer want to play with you or need you to make them lunch or eventually live with you.

There are eleventy gajillion decisions you’ll have to make as a parent, and with all the articles and magazines and websites out there with advice it takes a while to realize that nobody really knows what they’re doing. There is no single right way to parent. You’ll get some of the decisions wrong, you’ll get some of them right. We’ll all guessing, and as long as you’re trying your best, anyone who crushes you for a mistake can go play in traffic.

But the stuff you’ll remember is in the margins. It’ll be the time you spend together, the stuff you do, and whether your relationship is strong enough that you respect each other and they listen to you and at least consider your advice when they’re older.

My only advice is to try to think about that every time you’re with them. If you’re like me, some days you’ll be better than others. But if you want advice, I think the best that anyone could offer is to make the most of whatever amount of time you have with them.

This week, I’m particularly grateful for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I’m averaging about 1.2 per day over the last six months or so: store-brand wheat, crunchy peanut butter, and a rotating cast of jellies starring strawberry. Cheap, easy, quick, not exactly healthy but also not exactly unhealthy. Kids love them, too, now, finally.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger