Sunday, April 30, 2006

Wanted

I have a confession to make: I have no idea what my kids' first words were. But I'm going to assume that each of them, when the time was right and they felt they had full control of their tongue and uvula, began with the words "I want." This is a safe assumption since they're so good at saying it now. It rolls off the tongue so easily and without much provocation whatsoever. And it's all the time, I'm not just talking about yesterday at the birthday party when they wanted a popsicle and they wanted something to drink and they wanted a popsicle and they wanted to go over there or over here or they wanted a popsicle. I mean they want like they're professional Wanters. You know what I want? I want them to stop wanting. I'm their father, their provider, and as such I want them to want for nothing. I expect them to just stop one day, look around, and say, "You know something, Father? We have everything we need. We're good. You go take some time for yourself now. You go sailing." But that day won't come. If I won the lottery tomorrow (please let me win the lottery tomorrow!!) and it was worth $50 million, the kids would say, "I want $11 million." (The discrepency in amounts there is because if I won $50M, I would only tell them about 10 of it, but you get the idea.) The kids aren't spoiled, though some people, the People Without Kids, would say they are. We actually don't have enough to spoil them, which is probably why they want. They want to watch a movie, they want to go outside, they want to go back inside, they want to play with the lighter. Where will the wanting end? I'll tell you where it better end, it better end with them wanting to buy a sailboat for their father. But then they'll probably want to go sailing with me, and then they'll want me to let them back in the boat when they get tired of swimming alongside...

The wanting, it never ends.

I'm Thirsty

JP just informed me, out of nowhere as is his style, that if you go three weeks without water then you'll die. This seems like a morbid thought for a four-year-old, and I realize three weeks is a bit long, but my main reason for bringing this up is in case he's out there spouting these nuggets of wisdom to any of you. I just want everyone to be aware that he and his siblings are getting plenty of liquids here at home.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Ice Age

One of C’s hobbies is to put various objects in a tub of water and place that tub in the freezer to see the object inside a block of ice. Currently in our freezer, among the fishsticks, Tanqueray and ice cream, is a little doomed man on a plastic motorcycle. I'm not sure what he wishes to learn from this, if anything. I suppose I'm hoping he's learning something from it - the various properties of water and ice or the time it takes to turn one into the other - and not simply taking up room that could best be used for yet another pint of ice cream. I'm also hoping he sticks with small toys and that I don't open the door one day to find the face of a neighborhood cat staring back at me. In the past I've found frozen dinosaurs, Scooby-Doo, rocks, a superball and a Lego. It's not always in the freezer, however, where I first come upon these things. Often times they're half thawed on the counter, condensation pooling around the tub and dripping to the floor where I step in the puddle with sock feet. And more than once I've come across him sucking on the block of ice, freed from its mold, which seems gross to me but I guess it's the only way to get to the chewy action figure center.

Ice chewing is an event around our house lately as Kristy is pregnant with number four and, for some reason, craves ice. She may as well crave dragging her nails down a chalkboard or sliding a fork across a dinner plate as far as I’m concerned. The chewing, it never ceases. And then one or all of the three kids gets in on the act and it makes me feel like my head will explode. But my wife is carrying our child and soon that child will come out, and it’s that “coming out” that keeps us, as fathers, as by-standers, from complaining too loudly about what pains us. There are men out there, single men, men with no responsibilities save a pet and a cable bill, who still think that women are the weaker sex. These men have never witnessed childbirth. I have witnessed childbirth. I witnessed it three times from a stool situated at the head of the bed because that was as far away from the pain as I was allowed to be. I offered her ice chips then and it frightens me now to think of her response. I’m not even sure those were real curse words.

Ice. It keeps our perishables from perishing. We play on it at the same time we fear it. It keeps 8-year-old boys entertained and they say it eases the pain, and if chewing on ice helps Kristy get through this pregnancy then so be it. And if the din of chewing isn’t enough to drive me insane, then there is always the vision of the tiny plastic man, on his useless little motorcycle, whose pleas go unheard beneath all the crunching in the house.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Bittersweet

Something happened this evening that has never happened before. At least not that I can remember. At least not since I started writing Urf! I was sitting on the deck, sipping a cocktail and talking with Kristy while the kids played nearby on the swingset (I know, you’re thinking of Norman Rockwell). And then something happened, a brother hit S with a ball or shoved her or she fell off a swing or something. I’m not real sure as I was trying to get that last ice cube that always hangs on to the bottom of the glass to come out (that Rockwell image still there?) and she started crying and came to us on the deck. But she didn’t ask for her mother as usual. She wanted me. She called out for her Daddy. The mother and child bond is the strongest and I attribute that to breastfeeding, but the whole father breastfeeding experiment went horribly wrong a long time ago. So S climbed up on my lap and all I wanted to do was hold her there, stroke her hair and turn to Kristy to say, “HA HA! She wants me! I win this time!” But I didn’t say that, I just comforted.

It’s always upsetting when your child gets hurt, or scared or whatever it was that happened, but it felt so nice to be needed by my daughter. And though I never want to see her upset, I am considering pushing her off the couch next week when she’s not expecting it, just to see if I can win again.

MRI = NAP

I had the MRI at 9 a.m. this morning and let me just say, it was a pleasure. For those of you who have never had one, are understandably scared to death of getting one, you needn’t be. Okay, I take that back, you should still be afraid, always be afraid of someone stuffing you into a round casket while you're still breathing. But if you go about it right, then it is no problem whatsoever. The way I chose to go about it was Xanax. I procured a Xanax morsel and, as I understand it, this is always more effective when taken with about four fingers of scotch (disclaimer: I am not a doctor, consult with yours before attempting this because he probably knows of some really good 18-year-old scotch he could recommend). Now, I usually have only two fingers with breakfast but as I was about to be stuffed into a small, metal tube I thought an extra two fingers seemed reasonable. After this I dropped the kids off at their schools – or near a school anyway – and made it in plenty of time for my appointment.

The MRI procedure was a breeze, from changing into the daring hospital gown (“Keep your underwear and shoes on,” the technician directed, as though he were about to challenge me to some sort of semi-nude, diagnostic foot race), to the ear plugs for the noise, to actually being delivered into the tube. The tube. It was like a peaceful little cocoon all to myself that lasted about 20 minutes, just enough time for a mini-snooze. When I was brought out I asked if I could go back in for 10 minutes or so. The technician said no, I suspect it was his naptime.

No word yet on what the MRI revealed, it needs to be looked over by people with a bunch of degrees. All I know is that I’m starting to save up and search Ebay for my very own MRI machine to put in my dining room in place of the dining table we have there now. Coming home from work would be much more appealing knowing I had some ear plugs, four fingers of scotch, and a quiet tube all to myself for a half hour or so. I feel that with enough rest I would be able to beat that technician next time in the 40-yard dash.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Beware the S!

Part of the challenge lately of raising a daughter is trying to guess, and then head off, what S might be upset about next. It’s almost like a sport now, in the way that armchair quarterbacking is a sport. I stare into her eyes to find that look that says, “I’m about to lose it!” I judge the environment – what’s on TV, what toy she’s holding, what toys her brothers are holding, barometric pressure. There is a complicated equation involving her total time slept, amount of food eaten the previous evening and, again, barometric pressure. I have charts and diagrams and reports of previous whinings (although past performance does not necessarily indicate future tears). And yet it’s still all a crapshoot. The crapshoot that is S, that is parenting.

Things that have upset the daughter to the point of tears in the past few days, in no particular order:

1) She had two cubes of ice in a cup and these cubes were her turtles – one boy, one girl. She named the turtles but forgot the boy turtle's/ice cube's name.
2) The seam of her sock didn’t hit the front of her toes just right.
3) She insisted on dressing herself for school even though I assured her that what she had on didn’t match. She was looking for an argument she didn’t get since I was okay with her going to school like that. She lost it as we left the house because she wanted the other clothes on. I called her bluff on that one. (The footnote for this item is that I found out later from Kristy that the outfit she wanted actually did match. Who knew?)
4) She put a sweater on in the morning and buttoned it all the way up, then decided as we walked out the door that she didn’t want to wear that sweater.
5) Shoes.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Shoveling Excrement

Yesterday evening The Trio was playing in the backyard on the swingset, precariously close to a huge pile of dog crap. I suggested to C that he get a shovel from the garage and move the pile across the yard from where they were playing. He did and then this morning I noticed the shovel laying in the middle of the yard. I reminded him of the shovel and told him to put it back in the garage. He responded, "Who would want to steal a shovel with dog poop on it?"

Again, difficult to argue with the logic.

Idea Men

There is nothing new regarding my sciatica and possible back surgery as we’re waiting on the MRI scheduled for the day after tomorrow to tell us more about what’s going on back there. However, the subject of back pain has spawned the longest E-mail I think I’ve ever received. And it’s from my grandfather, Pop, of all people. It is a healthy 1,082 words long, I checked. The gist of it is that he’s been going through some back pain of his own and, while he visited an orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist, and was prescribed everything from Motrin to steroids, it was a chiropractor that brought him the most relief. Good news, indeed.

But it was near the end of this massive E-mail, about 912 words into it, that he really impressed me as he always has. He’s designed a back brace for people with his – and my – type of back pain. And of course he has. Even through his pain he sees the possibility of a new device, and I get to see why I’m like I am. All through my formative years I heard him, my uncles, even my father, coming up with ideas for new items, home additions or new businesses. Very little ever happened with these. In fact, other than Harvester, none of them happened. It was as if the founders of Microsoft all got together in Bill Gates’s garage, or wherever they came up with their plan for world domination, and put together the blueprint for their future company, but then somebody pulled a cooler full of beer from under a workbench and a poker game broke out and everybody forgot about computers.

I believe I inherited this gene, or whatever it is. I’m an idea man, something else I have in common with my 76-year-old grandfather other than chronic back pain. I’ve carried through on an idea or two and usually feel that I’m making a mess of it, but generally feel good about the fact that I’ve taken the road. I wonder which, if not all, of my kids will inherit the trait. I think it’s too strong to just go away. I’ve seen traces of it here and there – C likes to draw and has drawn up plans for contraptions a la Wile E. Coyote, and there have been numerous robots and whatnot fashioned from Play-Doh, some of the remnants are still with us, stuck to couch cushions and under tabletops. Pipe cleaners and paper clips, as well, have been bent and twisted to reflect what they see as better mousetraps.

I hope that The Trio embraces their creativity, but also their capacity for logic, should any of them be granted with such a thing. I’ve led with my heart in the endeavors I’ve undertaken, but there is the mind to consider as well. Perhaps logic and reason is why the brainstorming I overheard as a kid never left the idea stage. All I know is that my next big idea is to raise children to the fullest of their ability and watch as they embrace their creativity and their ideas and, after their plans flourish and the riches roll in, then I’ll settle them down in my garage to drink beer, teach them poker and take that money away from them.

(By the way, my reply E-mail to Pop came in at a scrawny 244 words. I can't even keep up with him in word usage.)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Fifteen Minutes?

I have a friend who has her very own children, daughters, and who reads Urf! and enjoys it (she says). She has a friend whom she told about Urf! and he read it. He has a friend who works for NPR and, presumably, has never even heard of Urf!. The friend of my friend suggested to my friend that I record some of these witty little posts about children and their silliness and their eating habits and boogers (sorry for the redundancy there) for NPR, to be played in the days leading up to Father's Day. My friend told me and I thought it a fantastic idea. So the friend of my friend sent me an E-mail suggesting all of this and gave me the address of HIS friend, the one with NPR. And I just sent her an E-mail, so now we wait.

And while we wait I was thinking how cool it would be to be on NPR and what a hero I would be with The Trio. You can imagine what big fans they are of All Things Considered and Fresh Air, especially when Terry Gross is talking to a foreign Prime Minister or cellist. But what if they heard Daddy's voice coming from that little box with the knobs (well, there aren't knobs, but buttons and green digital numbers)? What if it was my voice coming over the airwaves at night to lull them to sleep - especially if it lulled them to sleep at six in the evening, giving Kristy and me a single dinner in peace, and then maybe we could watch Lost and really concentrate on those numbers in that hatch until we could possibly figure out the mystery behind them. Then we could go to bed early and maybe read our books undisturbed until it was time to turn out the light. And then with my luck we'd have yet ANOTHER kid being born nine months later. Thanks a lot NPR! Thank you Noah Adams, Corey Flintoff, and Car Talk guys for this extra mouth to feed. Does NPR have the budget for more childcare and chocolate things to eat? I hope so, because this one is yours and when he or she poops his or her pants you can rest assured we'll be thinking of you!

Yet I can't get that image of The Trio hearing Daddy on the radio and of the smiles creeping onto their faces as they sit up, whispering to each other excitedly, then lean in and reach for the remote as they're looking for the power button on this radio contraption, because my NPR segment also happens to come on at the same time as The Simpsons.

Housecleaning

I know I've done several short posts in a row here lately even though it's the longer ones that I enjoy writing. My brevity is due to my inability to string complete thoughts together lately, and is certainly not for lack of material. There are always funny things happening with the kids, take this morning for instance when S burst into tears because the seam of her sock didn't hit her toes just right. Or the night before last when C kicked S and knocked her to the floor. Yesterday morning I searched all over for JP's shoes and finally found them on the back deck and by then it had been raining for eight hours straight - I'm sure his feet are still wet. You know, funny things kids do that make us all so proud to be parents.

Anyway, I've been reading some blogs lately and, not to disparage anyone's work because I've found some that are very good and much funnier than mine (though I won't tell you where to find those), but I did want to make a list here - more for me than for you so I remember in the future - of words and phrases that I vow not to use in the writings of Urf!

Words and phrases:

journal (as a verb)
talking points
blogosphere
emoticon

Letters strung together instead of using words:

KWIM
LOL
BTW
IMHO
OMG

Emoticons(that's the last time):
All

I'm sure these lists will grow in the future. Thanks for accomodating me, but I just need something in place should I ever need to refer back to it, KWIM?(Damn!)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Friday, April 21, 2006

Friday night, plain as black and white.


C, S and the first appearance of the author.


JP & S

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Correction

I need to correct an earlier post regarding my possible back surgery. The surgery I may or may not be having is a laminectomy and not a lapinectomy as first reported. My lapin is safe for now.

I am also afraid there was some confusion as to whether or not The Trio's filthy little hands were ever, at any time, in the dog's orifices. They were not. They strictly stick to their own orifices (what kind of a household do you think we're running?).

I regret any discombobulation this may have caused.

From The Backseat

This morning...

JP (apropos of nothing): I know we're not in a cartoon.
C: So? Nobody said we're in a cartoon.
JP: I know. I said we're not in a cartoon.

You can't argue with logic like that.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

I hereby give notice that all moneys, both paper and coin, but especially paper, found in the dryer forevermore belongs to me to be spent as I see fit, but most probably on Pop Tarts and milk. Thank you for your attention.

Milestone

C lost another tooth today. That makes five. How odd it is that we measure milestones by things falling off our children's bodies.

Just Like Disneyland

You can spend all the money you'd like on backyard playground equipment. Get the big one with the bumpy slide and rock climbing wall, three swings, monkey bars and a trapeze. You can buy bicycles and scooters or spend a whole paycheck on balls and bats and Frisbees. However, nothing compares for my boys, when the summerlike weather finally breaks, for the enthusiasm of being able to urinate freely in your own backyard.

Surgery?

I found out yesterday that I may need back surgery. A lapinectomy, it's called. It's possible my lapin will be removed very soon. About six weeks ago I was waylaid by sciatica, which is a sharp, unbearable pain in the lower back that shoots down a leg. In this case it was my right leg and as a result my right calf and foot have been numb. The neurologist scheduled an MRI, which I'll have next week, and then we'll discuss surgery with a neurosurgeon. So it's not a done deal, the surgery. They have to see what the MRI says. However, in my usual fasion, I'm already banking on the worst-case scenario. Why wait?

The surgery worries me, not so much because it involves someone slicing into my back skin and then scraping around my spine. Permanent paralysis doesn't really worry me...yet. It's the recovery time that bothers me, the neurologist says it could be 7-10 days. I'm self-employed and this time away from work could have a negative effect on business, but even this isn't my greatest concern. No, what I'm worried about is that while I'm laid up in bed convalescing, that the kids will be touching my stuff. The Trio, in the style of most children, are filthy little creatures. I've seen their hands in dirt, on the dog and in various bodily orifices and I don't want them on certain items I hold dear. I also happen to be, mmm, how should we say it...'particular' (neurotic?) about things like my toothbrush. In fact, I have a special place in the bathroom for my toothbrush, out of reach of tiny little hands. I've seen how they treat their own toothbrushes and it makes me throw up a little. It's better all the way around if I know they can't get hold of what's going in my mouth. DVDs, too. I have certain DVDs that I want to remain watchable which means The Trio may not touch them. I've seen how they handle their own. They're carefull about taking them out of the player with only their little fingers in the center hole, but then they set them down, shiny side down, and either use them for a coaster after that or tap dance on them, it's hard to tell in the condition they're in.

So my worry is that if I'm bedridden with a healing back, then they will be allowed to run free and they will find my toothbrush and they will fling my DVDs with the care and abandon of a Frisbee, or before Kristy is able to bring me my meals to me in bed (this is the way I envision my convalescence) then they will be free to cough or sneeze or just get near my food before I can protect it.

This may seem selfish to some, keeping things away from my own children. But they are my things. It is my toothbrush and it's going into my mouth. Perhaps I'll make them a deal - they stay away from my toothbrush and my DVDs and my food and I'll let them play with my lapin, should I have it removed.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Heartbeats

My grandmother is okay. She’s better than okay, in fact. She had a pacemaker put in over the weekend so she’s bionic now. Apparently the new pacemakers are safe around microwaves, which is good, the doctor just told her not to arc weld or hunt, so I don’t know what she’ll do with her Saturdays now.

I just got off the phone with my grandparents, Bionic Mimi and Pop, and found out that they’re both readers of this blog, which is why you’re reading this now. Not so that I can score any points, I don’t need to do that, I’m their first-born grandchild so I’m already Number One. You’re reading this now because the post I had for this space was a funny little piece on conceiving children. Then I found out my grandparents are in the audience, so that’s the end of that. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed that I typed ‘fart’ a few posts ago, but I live in a 1200 sq. ft. house with four other people so that’s just part of the fun. I’m glad they’re reading, though, because this blog is about parenting and they, along with a few others, are role models for just that. They raised seven children, which lets Kristy and I know we can easily handle our own four and that, if we can’t, we can feel comfortable sending a couple to them because they did so well with their seven.

Mimi, pregnant at least every two years for a while, was a genius at herding her children, keeping them reasonably safe when they were within eyesight, making sure they were polite, well-mannered young citizens of their community and yet knowing just when to deny they were hers. She should be sainted for her work by the Pope, though she already has been by her grandchildren. Pop was, as all fathers are for the most part, a spectator at the circus of his own house. Since nothing can breach the bonds between a mother and child, all a father can hope to do is sit back and throw out the occasional “Good job!” or “Get out of the way, I can’t see the TV!” He was Bill Cosby Himself before Bill Cosby was himself. He did what he had to to feed and clothe his family on a high school education and in doing so he made things, you can see some of them here and here.

Some of these observations may be filtered through a generation, through the eyes and memory of a grandchild (the first one!) but that’s what this is all about, my perception. The perception I have is of a house full of fun and love and good things to eat. There are kids everywhere, all related, all wondering what it would be like to have their own room. All I can hope for is that I do half as good a job at raising my kids as my grandparents did, and that my kids grow up to be as good as the adults their kids grew up to be. That, and that the doctors get that arc welding thing sorted out before I get my pacemaker.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A wonderful evening spent at Autozone Park in downtown Memphis. Aunt Elizabeth makes her first photo appearance.










Photos by E.W. Alley

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Memphis Redbirds 10, Omaha Royals 2

We just returned home from a Saturday night out at the Memphis Redbirds baseball game in beautiful downtown Memphis. Here is what we learned:

1) C will turn down a $3.50 hotdog because there is too much free ketchup on it.
2) S gets angry when her pleas for nuts are ignored.
3) JP's wheels turn when he spots a big foam finger, trying to figure out how he's going to get that in his nose.

Childhood Memory

Let's reflect on childhood. MY childhood. When I think of being a kid, in 1977-80 or so, there are always constants. It is ALWAYS a Saturday afternoon and I've just finished watching back-to-back classic Abbot & Costello and Tarzan episodes on Channel 3. I'm ALWAYS outside where it is early fall, not cold enough for a heavy coat, but just cool enough for the red Toughskin jacket to be brought out. The soundtrack is ALWAYS Paul Simon or James Taylor (I may have added this bit later in life). My father is in the house working on a new painting, my mother is tending to her plants and my sisters are there, not too close, but within dirt clod or crab apple range if the wind is just right. I'm off playing alone, probably in a corner of the backyard building a fort out of twigs or looking for insects to inhabit that fort. Something is ALWAYS about to happen - nothing bad, no twister is looming in the distance or anything, but someone is probably about to stop by - an aunt or uncle, who always bring fun along with them. And that's it. That is my childhood memory. There are certain variations, but when I think of being a kid then this is what comes to mind.

I wonder if my kids will have a memory like this. I wonder, too, what they will take away with them from childhood. When they smell cigar smoke as an adult will they think of me, will they always remember their parents as avid readers, will their idea of the perfect house be based on their childhood homes? Will certain movies and music bring their childhood crashing back on them as they do for me?

There are times, too, when I find myself wanting to manipulate that memory. Times when we're at Peabody Park and I look around and The Trio is playing happily so we are allowed a few moments of peace to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine ourselves, that I think, "This is perfect. This is what having a family is all about." And I wonder if I should pull one of the kids aside and say, "You don't understand me now, but this is the day you want to remember. Look at the color of the leaves, look at that Blue Jay over there, watch your brother slide down that slide. This is the day and this is the feeling you will want to take with you." But then I'm afraid that if I disrupt their playing and invite them into my little circle of solitude that that little circle of solitude may be destroyed forever. And right now, on this perfect day, I just want to remember the peace and the quiet because their childhood memories are mine, too. They are something for me to look back on and, hopefully, whisper to myself through the haze of old age, "Yes. I got it right." (that's what I'll be talking about when my kids just shake their head at dad talking to himself again.) If they step into my Circle of Solitude - I'm capitalizing it now because I'm thinking of invoking it permanently in my house, of putting it on the map - then that memory may fade forever with the impossible demands delivered for a sandwich or juice box, neither of which we brought to the park.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Run!

One of the characteristics that separate human beings from other animals is the ability to reason. As humans we should be able to witness a situation, construct a possible outcome and then make a rational decision based upon our deductions. My kids have yet to develop this ability.

My wife is a wonderful mother. She’s a wonderful mother in the way that a volcano is a wonderful geological occurrence. The majestic volcano, in its dormant state, is a mighty mountain with lush vegetation ascending and beautifully capped with snow. Its foot can be the border of a pristine valley and village whose inhabitants look to their mountain as a mother, sitting watch, always there. Their Mother Mountain provides shade from the sun, timber, minerals and a sort of stability, but, by God, when that volcano erupts you better run like hell lest her flaming lava boils the skin right off your bones.

When any one of The Trio is in trouble with their mother then one or both of the others will come running from across the house to see why and to ask far too many questions about the situation – the flaming, molten situation. You don’t run into the fire! Did the Pompeians run up Vesuvius and peer into the hole at the top to see what could possibly be causing all of the rumbling and ash and heat? No. They ran and they cowered like rational human beings. But my kids seem to have missed the gene that carries survival instincts. You don’t swat a hornet’s nest, you don’t hike up the erupting volcano, and you don’t ask Momma why she’s mad.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Life Lesson

JP wanted to wear a belt this morning for some reason. Since all of his pants still have elastic in the waist, and he has never really needed one, C let him wear his. He put it on and proudly pulled up his shirt to show me. I asked him if he was sure he wanted to wear it and he said yes.

And then C had a few words of advice...

C: When you need to go to the bathroom you can just unzip the zipper and pull your pee-pee out of the hole.
JP: Cool...how can I see it?

And then later, in a hushed voice almost to himself...

JP: I can't believe this is the first time I'm wearing a belt.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Superhuman

The three things that can elevate a father to superhero status:

1) Kicking a ball to rooftop levels.
2) Making the stoplight change from red to green with the snap of a finger.
3) Causing a coin to vanish and then reappear from an ear.


The one question that, like kryptonite, will bring him back to mere mortal:

Three-year-old daughter: Can you put a ponytail in my hair?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Perchance to dream...

But enough about them. Let's talk about me. Let's talk about Daddy's hopes and dreams. You'll notice that I left the Profile piece over there to your right mostly blank and that's because, well, I'm shy. However, in the posts to come you'll be given clues into who I am. Little puzzle pieces that, hopefully, will fit together - you may have to force one into place every now and then, though, as I have. When the puzzle is complete, you will be left with a character who is a little bit Christopher Reeve in Superman when Margot Kidder as Lois Lane first confronts him in her rooftop garden, a little bit of Tom Hanks's man-child in Big, and equal portions of J. Pierpont Morgan, Woody Allen and Nikola Tesla (but mainly due to my love of pigeons and my freakishly large thumbs).

Who am I? I'm a singer. Mostly in the style of Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin or Elvis Costello. Oh, I can belt it out with the best of them, and the best time to do this is in the car, in the morning, along with whatever is in the CD player. Lately, thanks to my sister, that CD is the soundtrack to Curious George, over...and over...and over. And, with apologies to Jack Johnson, I think I'm pretty damn good. My children, though, ask me to stop. Beg me to stop. My own flesh and blood don't want me to entertain them the best way I know how. What kind of way is that to encourage my dream of singing at Carnegie Hall some day? Do I laugh in C's face when he brings me one of his lop-sided people drawings? Do I beg S to stop when she mangles the ABCs? No, of course not. I laugh at them and ridicule them behind their backs and share it with the 116 unique visitors to this site since I went public with it yesterday like any responsible parent would.

Our job as parents is to nurture dreams, to identify our children's interests and abilities and to gently, so gently, nudge them in that direction with grace and affirmation. Nowhere does it say anything about covering your ears and screaming, "No! No! No!" from the back seat. Well, It's time for Daddy's dreams to be about more than finishing a television show uninterrupted and stepping onto a dry bathroom floor in my sock feet. It's time for me to sing.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Good Morning!

I’m going to give some of you the cold hard facts of raising kids and, to fully grasp it, you must first understand this: small children are not morning people. Shocked? It’s true. And I don’t know what all the baby raising books say about morning time with your little tow-headed jewel, but I imagine it has something to do with setting schedules and being repetitive and speaking in a soothing voice to reassure little Jimmy that it’s a new day full of rainbows and grand adventures. Something like waking up to golden flapjacks in the Hundred Acre Wood instead of urine-soaked sheets in your very own bed.

Since C was ready for his first day at day care it has been my job to get him – and then his siblings as they came along – dressed, fed and out the door for their day, and I’m going to tell you now how that gets done. If you have a weak stomach then you may want to stop reading now because this isn’t Baby Einstein and I’m not going to recommend leading your spawn out the door with black and white triangles and rhombi. I did it all with fart jokes. And conversations centering around who will stink the most if they’re the last to eat or to get dressed. Humor has been the essence of efficiency when it comes to getting non-morning little people to obey commands – if I can fool them into thinking they want to do something because it’s fun, then it just may get done without my head exploding. Humor and competition. I encourage The Trio to race each other to see who can get dressed first and who can get into the car first like I’m some sort of Roman impresario putting on a gladiator match for the emperor. I have looked the other way as teeth and hair were ignored. They’ve worn socks with holes and possibly underwear that was past its prime. And I have raised my voice, very likely awakening the neighbors.

Lately the humor angle has taken an ugly turn and it’s one I fear could have some longer lasting repercussions. The Trio, for the most part, aren’t a belligerent group. They’re not hateful or playground bullies (Again, for the most part. The jury is still in deliberation regarding S). However, there is considerable fun being made in the a.m. at the expense of a little cartoon 4-year-old named Caillou and his giant, bald head. Kristy and I find this cartoon particularly irritating because the character of Caillou consistently whines to get his way and this behavior tends to be rewarded by his cartoon parents. But then there is still his head, his beachball of a head, that my kids find hilarious. So hilarious, in fact, that S has begun waking up earlier than she ever has to see his gleaming melon. And she laughs at it. And they all laugh at it. Thankfully I haven’t seen any kids at their schools with a head as disproportionately large as Caillou’s, because I’m afraid they might make the connection. We are constantly reinforcing that they should be nice to other children, all other children, no matter how different they are from themselves. But this is just a cartoon, right? A freakish, globe-headed cartoon. My other problem with Caillou is that they put him on in place of Sesame Street, which is a show I grew up on. There are a lot of freaks on Sesame Street, too, but they’re supposed to be monsters and giant birds and hairy elephant creatures, and not 4-year-old little boys with a bowling ball for a head. Besides, Sesame Street had grown-up guest stars like James Gandolfini, Robert Deniro, R.E.M., and one episode with a hoarse-voiced Natalie Portman dancing around in an elephant costume that made me feel a little conflicted.

So I don’t know if any of the child raising books say it or not, but I’ll say it – throw this book out! Nothing is cut and dry. Nothing but that silly, expensive mobile you got at the shower is black and white and there are no wrong answers. If oatmeal and Grover don’t work, then try farts and boogers. Make them laugh. Make them run. Whatever it takes to get them out that door.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Friday, April 07, 2006

Schoolin'

I have often thought, with the current state of Memphis public schools and the ineptitude of the school board that oversees it, that perhaps we should be homeschooling our kids. Tonight's dinner conversation was further proof that my being in charge of their education is a sound idea. I'm currently reading 'The Complete Sherlock Holmes' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and 'Model World and Other Stories' by Michael Chabon, and S has become adept at identifying these two authors so tonight's lesson deftly wove together literature and science. Let's listen in...

Me: Who wrote this book?
S: Michael Chabon.
Me: Who wrote 'Sherlock Holmes'?
S: Arthur Conan Doyle.
JP: Soil.
Me: What is soil?
JP: It's what plants grow in.
Me: And what is Soylent Green?
JP: Um, I don't know.
Me: Soylent Green is people.

Class dismissed.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A List of Five

In the tradition of 5ives, here is a list of five things I hope my kids appreciate when they're in their 20s:

1. Marx Brothers movies
2. Thelonius Monk
3. Kurt Vonnegut novels
4. Mango Lassi
5. Family

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Friendship

I came home from work the other day to find our neighbor down the street and his little girl out taking a walk and pausing in front of our house. We started talking and The Trio came out to see what was going on since sidewalk conversations carry pretty well across our four feet of front yard into the living room. It turns out his daughter is S's age, a fact I never realized even though I've seen this girl grow before my very eyes in vignettes of drivebys and afternoon walks such as the one she was on today. So when I arrived home today, S was waiting and ready to go down and see if her new friend was home and we all ended up in their fenced-off backyard with the kids all running and playing and having a big time.

For those without kids, you can't understand the importance of finding a couple your own age with some of their own. Finding people like this, on your own block no less, is akin to being 12-years-old and having your mother foist you upon the new neighbor kid simply because it's summer break and you live on the same block, as though that is all you need in common for being friends. But then you find out that his house has a pool that you never realized was there and thus your summer, and friendship, is made. This is what finding people, in walking distance, with kids, is like. You can carry on an adult conversation with them without being questioned as to the juice stain on the front of your shirt. You don't have to apologize when your child stops you in mid-conversation to ask a question about butterflies. They simply nod knowingly when you spout the evening's menu choices to your brood: fish sticks, PB&J, macaroni & cheese, or Pop-Tarts.

So we were in Neighbor's backyard, with the kids running wild when he offers me a beer. The Trio is entertained and there's free beer. Now this is like meeting that neighbor kid, finding out he has a pool in his yard, and THEN learning that his 19-year-old sister is home for college for the summer and will spend the days laying out poolside. Where would it end? We've met other couples with kids in the past but it's always difficult to maintain relationships. Depending on where you meet them, they may live across the city (the suburbs?!) or their kids' ages may be just a little off from your own. There may be a difference in socio-economic class or they may be the type who wear their beliefs on their sleeve to the point that you're trying to get your kid to break out of his shyness and introduce himself to theirs and they've spent the first five minutes trying to save your soul. And this new friendship of the past couple of days could fall apart. But they do live just down the block and the only downside so far is that their house is for sale, though it has been for quite a while and they really don't seem all that interested in selling. Perhaps knowing there are good kids in the neighborhood for their daughter to run with will entice them to stay. All I know is as we were leaving his backyard last night, Neighbor suggested we come down for a cookout sometime. Now he's cooking me meat? That's like finding out the neighbor kid has a pool in his backyard, that his 19-year-old sister is home from college to tan in front of your eyes and she's, well, willing to grill meat for you.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Being careful of what you wish for

This morning we ate at our favorite breakfast spot, Cafe Francisco, which went surprisingly well (I'm sure there'll be more about eating out in later posts). Inexplicably, however, Kristy gave the kids a couple of advertising circulars from the newspaper. She gave them a small book of things they would probably want. In short, a list of demands. JP was the only one who picked up on it. He found a few things in the robot category that might be to his liking and began by wishing out loud that he may get this or that. Then he started talking about Christmas. It being April, we told him his birthday was closer, so he wished it was his birthday. He then came to the rationalization that if he had his own money then, holidays and birthdays be damned, he could buy this robot toy today, April 2nd, just because he wanted it. Alas, he has no money. So he wished aloud for C's money.

Well, all this money talk got me to thinking. How could JP get his own robot money? The first thing to come to mind was chores. If I could find some small thing for him to do then I could, in good conscience, hand over my money. And then simple bribery came to mind. JP is known for his diet and I will list his diet here: Pop Tart, toast, chocolate cookie, pizza, chocolate milk, bacon (this is NOT a partial list). So I suggested - no, I dared him - to eat a banana for a dollar. Other offers were quickly thrown out: broccoli, meat loaf, anything. But this idea really didn't take. It seems not even a robot is worth the hassle of ingesting nutrients. I wasn't sure of the morality of all of this anyway. I saw how quickly fruit for money could become drinking soured milk, eating a french fry off another diner's table at a restaurant or kissing the bottom of his shoe for cash or just because I dared him. And who would see the humor in any of that? Only me.

So we ended up back at chores, which was offered to The Trio. And boy were they excited. They could feel that money in their pockets already, burning, aching to be spent. Their finger tips tingled at the suggestion of the silver coins and heavy paper. The work was secondary, merely an afterthought. What would you have us do? They wondered. Dig ditches? Re-sod the yard? Paint our 1200 sq. ft. castle? Whatever it takes to GET US SOME MONEY! And what, indeed, would I have them do? What can a 3-,4-,8-year-old do without constant supervision that would ruin the whole point of kids doing chores - time for Mommy and Daddy to sit with our feet up, sip a cool drink, and marvel at the team of workers we've bred? Labor that is all our own, all ours until someone comes along to teach them those two terrible words...Minimum Wage.

They hounded me, begged me for work - it's what we dream of as parents really. JP wanted to sweep, so sweep he did. And let me just say, he did the worst job of sweeping I have EVER seen. But he was okay with that and after three or four minutes of it he was ready for his money. I explained to him that I was giving him his pay, but I saw room for improvement in his work and that I expected more of him in the future - the immediate future. I don't think he even heard his performance appraisal, dazed as he was by the dollar bill I held in my hand right there at his glossy-eyed level. S...I'm not really sure what she did. There was some laundry taken from her room to the laundry basket, there was talk of her straightening her room up and she did put her clean underwear someplace in her room. And all of this got her a dollar as well. A dollar, by the way, seems more than fair since I got not much more than that for mowing my great-grandparents' large corner lot when I was a mere boy.

C gets his own paragraph because he dusted, helped sweep the living room, put laundry away, straightened the living room and swept the front porch. As impressive as this work ethic is, his attitude was even more impressive. When JP asked, as he sat on the couch watching cartoons and snuggling with his dollar bill, why C was still working and didn't just get his money, C replied that he "didn't just want the money, he also wanted the house to be clean." How about that? Can he keep that up? Will it last until he moves out into his own place when he turns 18 (and no later!)? Who cares? It was very impressive and inspired pride for his parents for a day. And for this C will be pulled aside later and given a tidy sum of money over a dollar...but less than five, we'll just have to see.

This could be the beginning of years of nearly free labor, or this could be the beginning of the negotiations for a living allowance. The Trio hasn't found a labor lawyer yet, in fact they seem pretty content. The last I saw of S, she was looking for the bill she'd already misplaced and JP was sitting, watching TV, and kissing George Washington on the mouth.