Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Oh, Brother

GK and I were discussing epic Greek poetry this evening when the talk naturally came around to Homer, The Odyssey and the directing team of the Cohen brothers. I popped O Brother, Where Art Thou? in the DVD player but spent the first 10 minutes of the film explaining to C and JP that George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson aren't supposed to be brothers.

Then, in an unrelated conversation, S asked me if I lost my patience.

Monday, June 26, 2006

A Visit From Katherine

In the wake of a week-long visit from my mother, The Quartet’s Nonna, my sister, Katherine, just made a quick weekend trip up from the swamps of South Florida to meet GK. Let me say this first, my sister’s visit was a lot more expensive (for me) than my mother’s visit. We went to dinner at Central BBQ with Baskin-Robbins for dessert, a Memphis Redbirds baseball game, lunch at CafĂ© Ole and ordered pizza in. That was a Friday to Sunday visit. Let me also say that in lieu of another outing to AutoZone Park for a Redbirds game, I think next time I’ll simply turn a baseball game on the TV for the kids to ignore, pop some popcorn, take it out into the yard and dump it on the grass, then hand each kid a $20 bill and be done with it. But then, of course, I wouldn’t be able to see their smiling, cherubic faces as I hand money over to strangers simply for their enjoyment. But I digress. Katherine, as all good aunts should, came bearing gifts. She brought the older kids each a pair of Florida’s native footwear, flip-flops. She brought them noisy shoes. It’s funny watching them put them on, too. Funny or frustrating, depending on how soon you would like to leave the house. I think I could teach JP how to tie shoes blindfolded faster than it takes him to wedge those flip-flops between his toes.

Katherine’s visit, and our weekly dinners with my other sister and brother-in-law, are important to The Quartet, and they look forward to them no matter the frequency. The time I spent as a young person with my aunts and uncles are some of the best memories I have. I can remember looking forward to their visits from college just as my own kids looked forward to their Aunt Katherine coming from Florida. And I also remember when they’d leave and how I felt that there would never be anything as fun as a visit from them. C was upset last night when Katherine left and it brought it all back for me. My mother has six siblings – three brothers and three sisters – and though I was closer with some than others, they are all people I loved to be around then and people I look up to now.

A couple of these aunts and uncles, though, were instrumental in educating me on important life lessons, like how to be a good father, the importance of family, how not to drink a beer, how to grill a chicken and how to drive on ice (and that driving on that ice can be a lot of fun). A defining point in my adolescence was a road trip I took with Aunt Carol back to her home outside Chicago. She had come to Memphis for a visit and, for reasons still not clear to me, bought a Great Dane puppy while here. She didn’t want to drive back alone with the dog so I, all of 13-years-old at the time, rode back with her. I made her listen to The Big Chill soundtrack the entire way there – first one side of the cassette, then the other, repeat for eight hours – and she did it without complaint. While traveling through Arkansas, she was pulled over for speeding and told me to lie in the back seat and act sick while she explained to the trooper that she must have been paying more attention to her sick nephew than the speed limit. She got the ticket anyway. So I suppose she was also instrumental in teaching me to lie to the authorities, just not very well (in a brilliant display of karma the Great Dane became sick shortly after and threw up in the backseat). She told me stories about the seven of them growing up, including some stories I was probably still too young to hear, and I loved her for that. She treated me like a grown-up and it is one of the first times I recall being treated as such. She regarded me as so mature, in fact, that to get me back to Memphis she put me on an Amtrak train for a 12-hour trip alone, teaching me self-reliance and never to force Motown on anyone ever again.

Another memory is somewhat hazy because I was quite a bit younger, but I remember a Christmas when we were all at my grandparents’ house and Aunt Carol and Uncle Johnny had to run out for something. Naturally I wanted to go with them because where they went, fun was sure to follow. It was brutally cold and the purple Gremlin they all drove at one time or another broke down if you can believe that. We walked in the dark to the Market Basket, where Johnny worked, to use the phone. Johnny carried me and let me put my hands inside his coat to keep warm. When we got to the Market Basket he held me up to one of the giant overhead heaters to help fight the chill. It scared the hell out of me. It was like he was trying to grill me.

I hope my own kids have similar experiences with their aunts and uncles, without the beer, though, or the driving on ice, or the speeding through Arkansas or even being in a Gremlin…but you get the idea. If the week with their Nonnna and this weekend with Aunt Katherine are any indication, I know that they enjoy their time with family and that they anticipate more of it. I hope that they retain the appreciation for their immediate family and all of the things they’ll learn from them, skills and knowledge that might slip through the cracks at home and in school. I do hope they do a better job at grilling chicken, which I’m doing as I write this post, and which I fear is already burnt.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

S is for Scary. Period.

S stands for Stubborn
S stands for Strong
S stands for Scrappy

S has always been a bit mean spirited. She is a menace to her brothers much of the time. To this, people are always quick with the explanation, “Well, she has to keep up with two brothers.” But this couldn’t be further from the truth, C and JP would not hurt a fly. They would never think to torment their sister for sheer pleasure the way she does them. There are many times we have to come to their rescue because their little sister is pummeling them again, or simply because she’s threatening to. With the introduction of GK, her demeanor has become somewhat exaggerated with extra fits and crying and general unpleasantness thrown in for good measure. She doesn’t direct this at her new little sister, but the boys seem to be fair game. We understand that S was the baby, and the only girl for a long time, and that GK is intruding upon that territory. We deal with it by making sure to make time for just her and reminding her how special she is and what a good big sister she is. We’ve also sent the boys into hiding, so you may not be seeing much of them around. They’ll be safe and they’ll come out when the storm has cleared. The boys have gone to the mattresses.

This evening, before we got to the park but after S had thrown a tantrum regarding pooping, Kristy said, “I think S is about to start her period.” A shiver ran up and down my spine that can only be likened to a ruptured disk.
“I don’t want to hear that again for 15 years,” I said.
“She’s 3 1/2 now, it’s not going to be that long.”
“I know, but I don’t want to hear that again for another 15 years.”

I know my daughters will grow up. I know this is coming and I’m scared of it like nothing else. The thought of boys and choices and periods makes me nauseous to think about now when I look into their little chubby faces. I’ve talked to other fathers who have teenage daughters and they all seem to handle the situation with a certain amount of distraction. They know what’s out there – they were all boys once themselves – but they don’t dwell on it. Well, there are times when I dwell on it. And it’s those times that I hold S close, tell her that she is the meanest little thing I’ve ever seen, and that I want her to stay that way for as long as she can.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Tonight's Entertainment

I know I made a big deal in that last post about seeing the kids when I get home from work, but tonight I came home and Kristy and all the kids were gone. That was pretty sweet, too. They were at the library picking up a passel of literature. When they got home I read the kids' books to them. S had selected Positively No Pets Allowed and Happy Birthday, Lulu, JP picked Famous Navy Fighter Planes, and C chose Ben and the Porcupine. I read all of them except JP's because his is pretty long and technical. In fact, we only made it through the first chapter which covered the birth of the Vought VE-7, the Navy's first American-built fighter. It was even fitted with pontoons eventually, making it able to take off and land on the water.

Then we went for a walk where C found a three-legged frog and brought it home to live in our flower garden.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father's Day 2006

On Father’s Day 2006, three confessions.

Confession No. 1: I have no idea what I’m doing as a parent. This isn’t something I’ve just grasped, I’ve known it since January of 1998 when C was born. I don’t know if I knew it before he was born, but the second his furry, misshapen head appeared, I knew I was in a world of trouble. Parenting seems like something that should come second nature once you’ve been doing it for a while, or once that second…and third…and fourth come along, but it hasn’t. Not for me anyway. I have often thought that if at any time during a moment of life lesson instructions or disciplining, if any of the kids turn to me and say, “You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?” then I would have to admit that they’d called my bluff and we would be on equal footing, and chaos would reign.

I’m like Luke Skywalker jousting with that floating orb and the kids keep shooting problems at me while I deflect them as quickly and accurately as I know how. And it feels like I’m dealing with the kids blindfolded, the way Luke was, and not with a light saber (which would make parenting so much easier) but with a spoon of peanut butter and the TV remote. As I take a swing at whatever difficulties they throw my way, all I can hope is that there is no ricochet, which hits them in the forehead, causing irreparable damage. How do we know if we’re helping our kids or harming them? I had a conversation with a friend earlier and he suggested that it would be 20 years before we know if we did a good job as parents. By then our children will be in careers, married and possibly with kids of their own. Or they’ll be serial killers. It feels like these are the two options and they’re based on whether or not I fed the kids enough (or any) vegetables, whether or not they watched too much Sponge Bob and whether or not I told them I love them every day before going to work.

Confession No. 2: I’m 35 and had a fourth child born three weeks ago, and I am only just now admitting to myself that I may never have the opportunity to circumnavigate the globe alone on a 32-foot sloop. You can call it maturity or you can call it a mid-life crisis if you like, though I was planning on living to 120, so the timing seems a little off. I am just starting to realize, too, the fruitlessness of my dream to play bass for The Attractions, backing up Elvis Costello, not so much due to my lack of talent and rhythm, or not knowing Costello personally, but because I don’t have the time to tour or practice what with getting the kids up and off to school, baths, feedings, etc. I may not find the time, either, to write my novel, direct a play, race in the Tour de France or perform stand-up comedy…all dreams of mine. But as quickly as I’m realizing all of this, I am just as quickly thinking that it’s okay, and I’ll give you four reasons: C, JP, S & GK.

My male point of view on childbirth is that mothers have a built-in bonding process what with carrying the child for nine months, pushing it out and then breastfeeding. But the whole situation is very unnatural for fathers. It has to be learned and it has to be learned quickly. The first thing we learn is that nothing is about us anymore – time, food, entertainment, boobs – nothing. It’s up to us to consciously see that the kids fill in the gaps, which takes a certain amount of effort, as gruff as that may sound, but soon enough we want them filling in those gaps. I know fathers who didn’t make time for their kids as they were growing and, subsequently, they lost them once they were grown. I can’t imagine not being in contact with mine every day. The best part of my day still is walking in the house from work and hearing the chorus, “Daddy’s home!”

Confession No. 3: I really like the way the mini-van handles. It’s one of the most comfortable rides I’ve ever had. This “confession” doesn’t really mean anything, but I just thought I’d throw it in there.

All in all, I think I’m doing a pretty damn good job. I have three smart, funny and happy young children, and one healthy newborn. All of this despite Confession No. 1, and the everyday frustrations and puzzles of fatherhood. My partner in crime, Kristy, is the major part of the children’s development, I know. I’m just here as back-up and to do the best I can with what I’m equipped with, mainly a stern look, a sense of humor and the knowledge of where the extra batteries are for the TV remote. But no light saber…not yet, anyway.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Friday Night Lights

Here is what my Friday nights have come to: ordering pizza in, watching kids' DVDs, and trying to convince JP that we almost named him Cheesedoodle instead.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


C went to the dentist for the first time ever today and what did the dentist do? He pulled a tooth. That's right, his first experience with a doctor of dentistry was to have this stranger rip something from his gums. He's doing fine despite that, even with his fat, novacaine lip. He had a cavity and the permanent tooth was right there about to surface so it just made more sense to pull it. Now explain that to an 8-year-old in a dentist chair with a blinding light in his eyes and suction in his mouth.

He got to keep the tooth, of course, as part of the scam to bilk money from parents through the guise of the tooth fairy. But JP lost that tooth in the backyard. Why was the tooth in the backyard? I don't know. Why did JP have possession of the tooth? I don't know that either. The kids weren't in the street and nobody was screaming in agony, so my job was done. I can't be responsible for body parts that aren't actually part of the body anymore.

Kristy suggested that C write a note to the tooth fairy explaining that his little brother lost the tooth, and then put the note under his pillow. JP said, "And maybe she'll bring you a UFO!" I'm as unsure what he meant by that as I am by why he was holding C's disembodied tooth.

C wrote: I got my tooth pulled out at the dentist but my little brother lost it. That's worth at least a dollar.

Dining With Monkeys

Another restaurant review by me can now be found at the best blog in Memphis, Dining With Monkeys. Check it out!


For the past few months, C has had trouble at night with bedtime. He's an anxious kid, anyway, and something about that time of night tends to exacerbate it. He usually needs someone to lie down with him - he used to come into our bed, but since GK showed up and has begun her all night nurse-a-thon in our bed, that's out of the question. So recently I've been lying with him on our enormous sectional sofa until he falls asleep...then I leave him there. Last night we were lying there and C got up to go to the bathroom. When he came back he was whimpering as though he were upset. "What's wrong?" I asked, a bit perturbed now because it was getting ever later. "When I was in the bathroom I thought I saw something walk past the door." Well, this was crazy because everyone else in the house was asleep, so I assured him it was nothing and he calmed down immediately. But now I. Was. Freaked. Out. And now I'm lying there thinking about him seeing "something" walk past the door. While I was lying there, I thought I saw the lamp next to the couch light up. So I stared at it and, sure enough, it lit up again, then went out. I kept watching it and every 15 seconds or so it would light up again and then go right back out. It had the glow of a firefly so I pointed it out to C. We watched it a few times and then I had to get to the bottom of it so I turned on the lamp and we inspected the lamp and shade and, guess what, no firefly.

Now this is all pretty spooky if you're an irrational person, or if it's late and you're a tired person. But here's the thing, the other morning I was somewhere between sleep and waking when I heard some little feet on wood floors running into our room. This is no big deal in our house as you can imagine. I raised up to see which one it was but just heard giggling and the feet scampering away. I got up shortly after that to get ready for work and looked in on all the kids and they were all asleep. Sound asleep. There hadn't been time for them to run back to their beds and fall so soundly asleep, I was sure.

I'm not saying there are ghosts out in the world, much less in our house. And I'm not here to debate the existence of paranormal behavior and beings. But what I'm wondering is why a ghost would choose our house. I've divided the square footage of our home up evenly and I don't intend to do so any more, so this ghost better be content to hover near the ceiling, we're not using all of that space anyway. And if our house is haunted by some sort of spirit, I would respectfully ask that he or she or it fold the clothes in the dryer and load up the dishwasher. Nobody stays for free.

Monday, June 12, 2006

On The Porch

A helicopter pilot once told me that flying a helicopter is a lot like trying to push a bubble with a stick. Well, so is trying to take a walk with four kids, especially when most of that walk is on roadways without sidewalks. It's not as dangerous as it sounds as we live in Chickasaw Gardens (for those of you who live in Memphis, we don't really live in Chickasaw Gardens, but just outside - if Chickasaw Gardens has any structures that are 1200 sq. ft. then there are a couple of cars parked in it) so the sidestreets are fairly untraveled and the cars that are on them move slow enough. But we've been taking walks the past couple of nights and the three that can walk meander in and out of the street while we follow shouting, "Get back to the side! Get back to the side!" It's all very relaxing. GK, of course, was in a stroller, still upset about the U.S.A. loss to the Czech Republic in today's World Cup soccer match and not understanding why she was being rattled back and forth in this contraption. We realized tonight that she looks like an old man. We gave her an old person name, what did we expect?

After we returned home (all were accounted for) we played in the front yard and then, as it got darker, we all retired to the front porch to watch lightning bugs and talk, because somebody around here is always talking. C wanted to play with fire and so started rubbing two sticks he found together. He asked if it was going to make fire and I assured him it would. I even told him a few times that I thought I saw smoke. I told him if he was patient enough and if he blew on them, counted to 20 then blew again, he surely would make fire. For all I know, he may still be out there, rubbing sticks and blowing. JP was notified on the porch that he has a doctor's appointment in the very near future because all kids going into kindergarten had to get some shots, to which he responded, "Not this kid!" GK slept, because she's an old man. S, as philosophical as ever on this cool, summer evening, tried to convince us that we weren't on the porch. She began by suggesting GK wasn't there, that there was no one in the blanket Kristy was holding, then she moved on to the rest of us. But I know we were there. I know we were there because I saw the smoke. I promise.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Doing Stuff

In an effort to bring the kids down from a week of doing stuff with their Nonna, who had been here visiting from the swamps of south Florida, we decided that we would have to do stuff with the kids today. Two of The Quartet spent the night with their grandparents last night, so we took GK and JP to breakfast at Brother Juniper's. GK was born two weeks ago today and this was her first dining out experience. I’m afraid she was terribly bored by it all – she slept through the whole thing.

We went out to pick up C and S and then surprised them by taking them to a movie. I would rather have sat around watching the World Cup matches, but Sunday is my only day off work and The Quartet get it in their heads the other six days that they want to spend a day doing stuff with me. It was supposed to be 105 degrees today, making Peabody Park out of the question, so we went to see Cars. Or, as JP called it as we pulled into the parking lot of the theater, “Disney’s new movie, Cars!”

Pixar, once again, went above and beyond with the animation in the movie. However, I put all of their movies up against Toy Story, which I still think is their best, and which this one didn’t even come close to. I didn’t realize that there were not going to be any people characters in Cars. There were cars in the stands watching the cars race, which was weird. C and JP really seemed to enjoy the movie. S, exhausted from either staying up too late at Grandma’s, or from picking on JP through most of the movie, fell asleep for the last 15 minutes. GK told me later that the film left her feeling hollow, like that last scene in Planet of the Apes. These cars seemed to inhabit a world that was built by humans for humans – there were buildings everywhere, obviously meant to house people, and tractors which, presumably, would have been used to harvest food. “Where were all the people?” she asked. “Did the machinery rise up and destroy the population like an episode of Twilight Zone or a Philip K. Dick novel?” I didn’t have the answers. Damn you, Walt Disney!

So it was a big day for doing stuff and for GK – her first breakfast out and her first movie, which led directly into her first lecture from Daddy on how movies are too expensive when they really needn’t be, and that the snack bar is an unconscionable scam which should be investigated by the federal government. The cost, by the way, for two adults and one child having breakfast at Brother Juniper’s: $26. The cost for two adults taking three of-age kids to the movie with large popcorn, Coke and bottled water: $40. The cost of spending time with my kids on my only day off: $66.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Career Talk

GK and I were laying around the other night watching the second season of Rescue Me on DVD and talking about what she'd like to do for work in the future. She's not quite two weeks old and, therefore, uncertain what she wants to do when she grows up. Uncertain, even, what 'growing up' means, or what I was saying, or who I even am. But watching that show, which is about firefighters, reminded me that JP wants to be a firefighter some day. His two little friends at school want to be Power Rangers, he says, and I'm just thankful he's got a good head on his shoulders and realizes the pay for Power Rangers is steadily declining and the job itself will probably be outsourced to India by the time he's grown. C has said, since the time he could talk and hold a crayon, that he would like to be an artist like his aunt Elizabeth. I'm not sure about S. She hasn't said what it is she might like to do eventually, but I could see her as a prosecuting attorney, CEO or Mongolian warlord.

My Mom is in town this week and as part of her duty as grandmother she brought a bag of goodies which included embarrassing stories about me to tell my kids. It seems that when I was a young boy my goal was to be a gas station attendant. Lofty goal, indeed. I think I remember talking about it and I believe my reasoning was that it was a profession that didn't require schooling. I never did like school. Alas, I never became a gas station attendant because there are no more gas station attendants (The Quartet didn't even know what she was talking about), it's all self-serve now. Instead, I own my own business, which also requires no schooling, but which pays considerably less than a gas station attendant. (Other items in Nonna's bag of goodies, by the way, included airline wing pins she got in the Tampa airport for the older three to wear on their shirts, or to just stick themselves with, and junk food. She has been very popular this week as the kids have put on weight, mocked me and my childhood tales and bled just a little bit.)

Whatever my kids decide to be when they're grown, I hope that it makes them happy and that they excel at it to the best of their ability. I also hope they make enough money to take care of their elderly parents and to pay us off to keep the silly stories about them, including this blog, quiet.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Pest Control

We have bugs and Kristy has had enough. The crumbs and morsels left lying around are too attractive for these vermin and there is way too much of it for us to control them ourselves. This time of year, too, with the warm weather, makes it worse because they seem to multiply exponentially and criss-cross the kitchen two and three at a time. So she called a pest control company to come out this weekend and rid us of the pests. But I told her, "Kristy, they're not pests, they're our children." We named them and fed them and clothed them and we've watched them grow, but now all the scampering when the lights come on and eating whatever food has been lying around is all too much for her. I hope the pest control guy brings big traps so it's all humane and they can eventually be released back into the wild. And I hope there is pizza in whatever wild they're released in because that's really the only food all of them enjoy.

Friday, June 02, 2006

A Life's Work

This may be the greatest accomplishment in my 8 1/2 years as a father: I've got the kids racing each other to take my shoes off. At the end of a long day at work I can come into the house, plop down on the couch, and say, "Who's going to take Daddy's shoes off?" And these kids actually come running.

Now that I think about it, this may be my greatest accomplishment, period, because I've never had anybody racing to take my shoes off for me until now.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

X Marks The Spot

Don't you love it when your kids act like kids? I don't mean the screaming and fighting bedtime and fingers in orifices, I mean when they use their creativity to entertain themselves. When they take that sense of adventure in its most innocent form and create worlds for themselves that can, at times, seem better than the one we live in. We don't realize how they absorb everything they see and hear - music and movies and stories we tell them - to use later, to become what they want to be at that moment, to make them happy and more, well, kid-like.

My kids went on a treasure hunt this evening, scouring and scavenging for whatever riches might be nigh. It reminded me of being young, of playing outside until the cicadas starting calling, digging around in the dirt with a stick sharpened to a point on the concrete. I searched high and low. For what? I didn't even know at the time. Sometimes I'd find an old Coca-Cola bottle buried for what I felt sure must be a century, sometimes an old tool that someone had left behind, every once in a while a coin or two. But it wasn't so much what I'd find as the hunt itself. I was in another world then, I was a pirate, a scavenger, it was the thrill of the hunt that I loved.

So tonight JP and S suspended reality and did a little exploring of their own. They sailed to a world far away, to a distant and unknown land lush with vegetation and sandy beaches - they went under the sofa. They got the one tool they thought they might need - my flashlight - and went hunting. This was my good flashlight, too. You know the one I'm talking about, guys, my Mag-Lite, the one they've been told over and over again is not a toy. They got down on their knees with their scrunched-up faces to the floor and their butts in the air to see what they could find under there. What did they find? What did that strong and sure beam of light (what beam is left with the weakening batteries) reveal? Let's see, they found marbles, they found some Hot Wheels cars, they found a part of a part of an unidentifiable toy, long forgotten, and they found a stuffed animal. Actually, once the dog hair was removed from the sticky substance that was stuck to whatever was underneath, it turned out not to be a stuffed animal at all. I'm not really sure what it was, it was thrust back under the couch - catch and release. They found a little bit of food, which surprised me, I really thought they'd find a lot more foodstuff. They either didn't eat it, or had the good sense not to let me see them eat it. It was all very interesting to them, much more interesting than the perfectly good toys in their rooms. And squatting down on the floor like that wasn't in any way a nuisance to those of us trying to make our way through the living room.

I'm glad that those two are starting to indulge their curiosity, I just wish it was outside, or in a book, and not under the Bermuda triangle of a sofa we sit on. I at least wish that if they really wanted to find out what's under there, that they'd do it with a broom, dustpan and Hefty bag. Even real pirates had to swab the deck and scrape barnacles off the hull every once in a while.

The Quartet

C, JP, S & GK