Friday, July 28, 2006

Through The Woods And Over The Hill

Estimated time of departure: 7 a.m. Actual time of departure: 7:10 a.m. This is almost unheard of in this family, especially when the morning began with this exchange:

JP (from his room): I can’t find my other shoe!
Me: Which shoe are you looking for?
JP: The other one!

To leave within 10 minutes of when I want to leave doesn’t happen for a weekly trip to CafĂ© Francisco for breakfast, much less for a six day road trip. But it did, because I rule with an iron fist, and because Kristy said, “Okay, I’m ready to go.” And she meant it.

Here are the highlights of the first leg of the journey, our trip to Greensboro, GA:

Mile 99 – C says, “Are we almost there?”

Mile 189 – C says, “Are we almost there?”

Mile 244 – Until now, the three older kids have sat quietly with headphones on watching DVDs and GK has slept. That’s right, GK has slept the first three hours, allowing me to make great time, which is what a family road trip is really all about. We make our first stop of the day and all hell breaks loose as we pull into the parking lot of the McDonald’s just outside Birmingham, AL. Once parked I look back to see that S had spilled her chocolate milk all over the front of herself. But S didn’t have any chocolate milk, not recently, anyway. She has vomited an earlier chocolate milk. Believe it or not, this is our first experience ever with carsickness and it happens 30 seconds before the door is open and she would have been standing in a McDonald’s parking lot. We get S some clean clothes out of the back and Kristy throws the soiled ones away. GK wakes up.

Mile 254 – GK wakes up again and she’s not happy about it, not at all.

Mile 301 – S and C fall asleep, just two more and my prayers are answered.

Mile 322 – GK wakes up again. Everybody is awake and we pull over for our second stop of the day.

Mile 341 – JP is asleep.

Mile 353 – GK is crying. Make our third stop of the day. JP is awake.

Mile 375 – GK is crying.

Mile 386 – GK is crying but Kristy gets her to stop without the van, and forward movement, having to stop.

Mile 470 – Arrive at Mimi & Pop’s community, blow past the guard shack at 40 mph without stopping and only GK’s right hand visible from the window, tiny middle finger fully extended.

Once we got to my grandparents’ house, the kids made themselves busy testing all doors that lead to the outside. The sliding glass door from the eating area to the deck went through a lifetime of sliding in 10 minutes and you couldn’t see through the handprint smudges at the three-foot mark. When they were inside, they were touching walls, every square inch of pristine cream color and the bright white moulding was manhandled. I wish now that we had made them wear their formal white gloves.

When their cousins, Alec and Terryn, arrived a short time later it began a full night of going in and out, exploring, frog handling, asking when we were going to do something else, complaining about the food and whining because we said, “No, we’re not going to the pool tonight.” Pop did cook some excellent food (quail, mashed potato casserole, green beans and mushrooms) and it was promising to find out that C likes the taste of quail, though this is probably the only place he’ll ever get it.

Today we travel on to Statesboro, GA, for more cousins and aunts and uncles. We’re looking forward to it, though not for the three hour drive ahead. I hope GK needs the rest.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Homeland Security

We begin our road trip in two days. The first leg of the journey will take us to my grandparents’ house just outside scenic Greensboro, GA. I've written about Mimi & Pop before, they’re lovely people who now live in a gated community with presumably heavy security. I think they live inside this fence with its guards not because of the crazies we see on the news each night, not due to the post-9/11 environment we live in or the evildoers it’s unveiled, but because these rested, wise folks have seven grown children, and their fear is that one or all of these people may come back and never leave. A valid concern, and security has been briefed on who they are. Apparently, however, security has also been made aware of who we are. I received an E-mail from Pop today with directions to his new house and it states, ever so matter-of-factly, “…turn left, go to gate and try to convince them you are our guest.” Frankly, this sounds like some sort of dare to me. Well let me say this, after spending eight hours on the road with these four kids, they better let us in. If they don’t wave us through, we’re moving into that little guard shack for the night, so they should go ahead and stock up with a frozen cheese pizza, chocolate milk and Pop Tarts, and install some sort of television set with cartoons. Otherwise they’ll have four road-weary, hungry and cramped children on their hands.

The idea that my kids couldn’t breach this line of defense is ridiculous anyway, and if you’ve ever seen The Quartet at home then you’d understand it’s because their favorite toy in the world is the front door. No one can go in and out, in and out, in and out, of a house like these children. They’re world class inners and outers, Lance Armstrong wishes he had their stamina. After eight hours strapped to their seat listening to Dean Martin, and with me allowing for only one bathroom break the whole day, they’ll have the security gate off the hinges within the quarter hour. It won’t be pretty, and I’m going to assume there’s some sort of homeowner’s association that pays for this type of damage. Whether we are allowed to drive through the gates with a welcoming wave and a smile, or whether the kids have to rip down the gates like four little jetlagged King Kongs, I am certain that security will be there bright and early the following morning to escort us out.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Monkey Convergence

Here's the setup: three families - six adults, seven kids - meet at a local restaurant together, eat, and review the evening from different perspectives. Where did we go? Pete & Sam's. How did the evening go? Read all about it over at the best blog in Memphis, Dining With Monkeys. Be sure to scroll down to read Stacey's review of the evening and stay tuned for other reviews.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Can You Hear This?

Summer is winding down. It may not seem so for those of you who still see weeks of scorching, Southern heat ahead, or those of you who still remember when summer ended when August did. But for those of you who, like us, have to figure out where you're going to drop your kids off every morning from mid-August to next June, it's time for panic mode. C will be back at Downtown Elementary and JP will be joining him. We're trying to get S in there, as well, in the Pre-K classes. GK is going to have to get a job to help offset the cost of her living here...somebody has to.

Kristy has explained the Pre-K situation in the Memphis City Schools to me a dozen or so times and I still don't quite understand it, but it seems that your kid has to be really slow or really smart to be admitted. Let's just say S qualifies and leave it at that. The city schools, though, can't make anything as easy as simply registering, so there are some hoops to jump through first, and the the first of these is a hearing and vision test. These tests aren't cause for concern unless the hearing test becomes a listening test. I don't think S could pass a test on listening. For instance, she hears me say, "Close the front door," and she hears me say, "Your shoes are on the wrong feet," and she even hears me say, "Let go of your brother's lip." I know she hears these things because of her grin and the way her pupils glow red like an ember as she shakes her head slowly from side to side. She just doesn't listen to any of it. Even after repeating myself two or three or 18 times.

I may not be sure what Pre-K is all about, whether there is any actual teaching going on or whether it's just another place to color and leave Play-Doh lying around, but apparently it will involve seeing and hearing, so let the testing begin. I'm not clear, either, what the tests will entail, but I assume she'll have to identify shapes or colors that she sees, which shouldn't be a problem for her. And I imagine she'll need to signal when she hears a certain tone - again, not an issue. But whatever these hoops may be that she's expected to jump through, I just hope she lets go of the tester's lip long enough to listen to the instructions.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Too Simple For His Shirt

C's Uncle Toby ordered a couple of shirts for him from Title Boxing. They're muscle shirts (I know what you're thinking, but have no fear, the Fashion Tips For Children post will be coming shortly), so C just came from his room after putting one on and said, "It's confusing because they're all holes."

Friday, July 14, 2006


My family belongs to Netflix. I used to belong to Netflix but then movies like Pooh’s Heffalump Movie started showing up in the mail and I realized that yet another slice of my domain had been compromised. But right now I’m sitting here with the DVD of King Kong. This is the most recent one, directed by Peter Jackson, and I’m wondering if I let The Quartet watch it. I remember being a kid and watching the original King Kong on Channel 3 when they showed late night movies, and what I remember the most is that it scared the hell out of me. But I liked it. I liked talking to my father about it and I liked telling my friends that I’d seen it. I think the fear was outweighed by the coolness of the movie and the experience. I also think that there was something spookier about the black and white movie with its stop animation and scale model Skull Island. Then I remember watching the version from the 70s starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange, and just being horrified at the poor quality. The newest King Kong, from what I’ve seen in the previews, looks cartoonish.

Will the kids be too scared? Kristy suggested a preview screening before letting them see it, which I’d be all for if it wasn’t a three-hour movie. At least at home I’m in control and can turn it off, pause it or forward through scenes. Besides, these kids live in Memphis where the local news is full of homicides, rapes and politicians bought and paid for. We’re talking about a giant monkey and dinosaurs, and what could be more fun than that? It can’t be any scarier than a talking stuffed bear and pink elephants or John Ford.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


JP, lately, when he doesn't get his way, when we deny him the rented moonbounce from his birthday party for the rest of the week, or to take him out and buy him a toy for no reason at all, has begun responding with, "Oh, snap!" I'm not even sure what that means. I think I know where he got it, though. These are prime time kids and they love sit-coms, specifically My Name Is Earl. I'm not here to debate whether this is good or bad because I pretty much decided this was bad the Thursday night they cast the show in our living room. Much the same way I used to pretend to be Steve Austin (up until just a couple of years ago), C claimed to be Earl, JP was the brother, S was Joy and GK was Crabman. I believe the catchprase in question was ascertained from Must See TV. It was one of those nights that makes you proud as a parent. One of those nights that makes you want to rip the cord out of the back of the television set. Oh, snap!

Statesboro Blues

God help me, we’re planning a road trip. My grandmother’s 75th birthday is just around the corner so we’re going to see how many Italians we can cram into a La Quinta Inn in Statesboro, GA. Statesboro, GA, you have been warned. We’ve been on road trips with the three older kids and they do just fine thanks to the Mazda MPV minivan with built-in DVD player and cordless headphones. It’s as if the angels reached down from heaven and put that DVD player in themselves. The first trip we ever took with the angelic DVD player was the quietest eight hours I’d had in seven years at that time. But now we have GK, who will be eight-weeks-old at the time of lift-off, and is not one to be reasoned with when she’s unhappy. And we’ve never found out just how unhappy she can be when strapped to a seat for eight hour stretches at a time. What she needs to realize is that she has it easier than any of us with her ability to urinate in her own pants making pit stops unnecessary.

I called the La Quinta Inn in Statesboro, GA, this morning to reserve a room. To be honest, I thought of reserving two rooms – one for me and one at the other end of the hotel for the kids – but that seemed unfair, and expensive. I told the nice lady who answered the phone that there will be two adults and three kids (GK doesn’t really count and can be fit in an overnight bag to sneak her in and out) staying, and then the lady said something very interesting. She said, “I can’t put three kids in, so I put two.” Now, I don’t know if she means they don’t allow three kids in one room or if there wasn’t an option on the form she was no doubt filling out on her computer for three kids. Nevertheless, I’m faced with an awkward decision – I have to decide which kid to leave at home (as I said, GK doesn’t count yet).

Coming off of more than a month of World Cup soccer and Tour de France viewing, I believe the only fair way to decide who can travel is through qualifying. What will the qualifying entail? Feats of strength, time trials involving bringing me things from other rooms, cleaning, being quiet, and regular bathing, among others. C has the upper hand with his height and age, but that S is a scrappy one, and I fear JP is on the juice. JP and his juice, or chocolate milk or whatever it is, is an interesting factor because I’m not regulated by the IOC or MLB or any other acronyms, so if it takes a little something extra in their Spaghetti-Os to help them qualify for the trip, then so be it. And that includes bribery. There is no integrity in this tournament and I don’t want them hugging on me and looking at me with those big, loving eyes. I can’t be swayed by that. Cash will work, though. Cash in a plain Manila envelope, or in a sack, or in a Play-Doh can for all I care, cash is cash and it will propel any kid to the top of the list for consideration.

So, again, beware, Statesboro, GA, because we’re all coming, and we’re all going to need to eat and drink. Beware and stock up. Well, not all of us are coming, because an 8-, 5-, or 3-year-old will be left behind in Memphis to fend for him or her self for a long weekend. A long weekend of wondering just where their game plan failed, wondering what strategy to employ for the next round of qualifying for future trips, and wondering just how long to let that can of Spaghetti-Os cook in the microwave.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Summer Night

It was the perfect summer evening. Picture it in your mind, won’t you? A father teaching his son to hit a pitch. Turn sideways, feet shoulder-length apart, bat off the shoulder. Keep your eye on the ball. Warm and breezy, the possibility of a storm blowing in from the west, clouds turning orange and purple with the twilight. Fireflies like the lights at Wrigley Field and cicadas cheering the batter, imploring him to hit. Nice swing, now bring the bat through level, don’t chop - his technique more Mickey Mouse than Mickey Mantle. Brother and sister running around, trying to avoid the swinging bat, the ball that just misses. Daddy’s back spasms and sharp pains shoot down his right leg. Sun setting, darkness creeping into the diamond drawn out in the front yard – the car first (untouched), the scooter second, sprinkler third and home a deflated beach ball, or S, depending on what’s available on any given pitch. The neighbors are out front with their dog and applaud for the just-missed pitches. Eye on the ball. JP wants to pitch, wait, now he doesn’t, okay now he does, no?, okay, yes, yes, he’s going to pitch. The wind-up…someone get the ball out of the gutter. Daddy goes inside for a beer because it’s got to be the seventh inning by now. Good pitch. Good swing. Tip foul. Urf! Getting close, C, hands together, choke up. There you go. The street lights are getting brighter now, but still not as plentiful as the fireflies that hover, blinking, calling out pitches. S, bring us back the ball. Now. S! Come here! Don’t you throw it in the street. Don’t do it! S! (dammit) Look both ways, JP. Go ahead. Thank you. Eye on the ball, C, eye on the ball. Everyone is sweat-soaked now with summer heat and humidity and effort. C spits. He’s got that part of the game down. Good spit, C, good loft. Eye! On! The! Ball! There’s the wind-up, the pitch is a soft lob, shoulder high, C swings…contact! Line drive! Daddy goes down, he’s hurt. What’s wrong with him, JP? His wiener? Yes, that’s very funny, everyone laugh, har har. This is why we learn with a soft and cushy “baseball.” Okay, good hit, let’s call it a night. As we gather up our toys, listening to the roar of the cicadas and quietly reveling in the fact that there is no school tomorrow, no pressure tonight, we all realize, but don’t say aloud, that this is what summer is about. C even pauses to thank his old man for working with him, and he works on his gripping, watching the fireflies that are bringing the high heat now, he swings and that’s one less blinking light, one less day of summer.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Friday Night Is Gallery Night

I spent this Friday evening watching TiVo’d Comedy Central with Toby while JP and S ran around, jumped on his couch and tested the boundaries of his unchildproofed house. They ate pizza and fought over who had the larger piece of Silly Putty after I halved it to be fair. S tormented JP for the sheer joy of it. While all of this was going on, C was out at art gallery openings with his aunt Elizabeth. So it’s happened that at least one of my kids is cooler than me. Not that this should surprise anyone, it’s just that he’s eight. I thought this would happen around his teenage years at least. I thought I had another five or so years of being the hip daddy.

He had a blast and I’m glad he had the experience. My great-grandfather was an artist, as was my grandfather, father and Elizabeth herself. C already shows an aptitude for it and a definite interest in it. I once suggested he go to New York for art school when it’s time for college. “Okay, just remind me,” he responded. Tonight when he got home he told me all about the sculpture he’d seen at David Lusk Gallery and some of the people he met. He said they served milk and apple juice. I went to the gallery’s website and he pointed out the pieces of Pinkney Herbert’s and Mary Bennett’s he’d seen and which ones he liked. They went to L Ross Gallery for another opening and he met Bobby, Mel, Dwayne and a man with a red shirt and hair that stuck out. He said Mel gave him five instead of shaking his hand, and he thought her picture was pretty. I went to the website and he pointed out the face he saw in Bobby Spillman’s piece You Said What?!

It sounded like a great evening of viewing, and learning, about art and hobnobbing with local artists, all a positive piece of his education. I asked if Elizabeth explained the art they saw to him. “Yeah, she told me it was abstract and stuff.” I know he’s looking forward to their next outing. I know he’s looking forward to their next outing more than I’m looking forward to another Friday night preparing cheese pizza and chocolate milk, answering the question What can we do now? , and mediating the great Silly Putty Wars, although Toby was a gracious host and his Guinness was cold. To tell you the truth, I’m kind of hoping I’m invited to the next round of gallery openings so I can see and be seen before I become known around town simply as C’s Father.

Old Venice

We went out to eat and I told Dining With Monkeys all about it.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Nanny McPhee

The good people at NetFlix sent us a copy of Nanny McPhee today and The Quartet and Kristy are watching it. I declined because I gleaned that there was no gratuitous violence or nudity in it. There have been many, many questions regarding what is going on in the movie - it's as though Kristy blindfolded the kids before they pushed Play.

This exchange happend about an hour into the film:

S: Why don't the kids go to school?
Kristy: Maybe they stay home and the nanny teaches them their lessons.
S: What nanny?

Monday, July 03, 2006

Let's Do The Time Warp

When I left the house this morning for work S was three-years-old. When I returned home from work she had on lipstick, nail polish and glitter make-up all over her face. Heart palpitations ensued. Sure it was only play make-up she'd gotten at the store earlier in the day, but it was something I wasn't prepared to see. There needs to be some sort of warning phone call placed before I leave work when I'm to return home to a short little 25-year-old. It was made better, though, when she crawled up in my lap and snuggled up to me just like the little girl I'd last seen sleeping in her Dora nightgown before leaving in the morning. But then she got glitter on my shirt so I made her get up.

In other news: I gave GK her first bottle tonight after work. Apparently this is a milestone for mothers. I understand the importance of breastfeeding - the bonding, the nutrients, the antibodies, blah, blah, blah. What's the best part of breastfeeding, though, guys? The fact that I can't do it. Her leap into bottle feeding just heralds an era of something else for me to do. I'm still lobbying for breastfeeding in the middle of the night, though. She didn't even do that good of a job with the bottle, but she may have been distracted by all the glitter I was wiping off my shirt and onto hers.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Happy Birthday, JP

Today is JP’s birthday, and what can you say about JP? He’s five-years-old and he’s one of my favorite children. He was born in 2001 at 5:41 a.m. and it’s the last good thing that happened that year. In fact, it would be one of the worst years ever if it weren’t for him, but instead it was one of the best. I’m not sure if this is something that is usually said about five-year-olds, but JP is full of charisma. He has a smile that lights up a room and a wit that is nearly fully developed even if he is not. I could watch JP all day. Not so much when he’s just sitting on the couch watching Bugs Bunny because then he’s just like a little lump of a boy stuck to the cushion, like Silly Putty. But when he’s on his game, running and skipping and shaking his butt, there is no better entertainment for the money. He cracks me up. He is the quintessential little boy replete with bed head at two in the afternoon, dirty fingernails and bursts of energy like a Tesla coil, book-ended by periods of Zen-like rest. He’s a singer, he’s a dancer, he’s a showman. JP is our very own Sammy Davis Jr., only white, gentile, two good eyes and a hair taller than the original already. He was bald when he was born and his favorite food is bacon. He could drink a sinkfull of chocolate milk, scale a lamppost like a gecko and make up a joke on the spot all while you were still mesmerized by that grin of his. He can reach his nose with his tongue and his favorite Marx brother is Harpo. He still sucks his thumb at times, hates the morning and loves his Momma. He’s musically inclined and has developed a deep, guttural, fake belch. He’s a boy of few words and the typical middle child, sharing his toys with his siblings because he wants everybody to be happy. He is one of the four slices that make up the apple of my eye.

Happy birthday to you, JP!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Someone To Watch Over Me

Fatherhood, in its most base form, is a position of protection. We are here to protect our family, just as the dominant lion is there to watch over his pride or the alpha male gorilla is there to protect his family, and scratch himself. And when we're unable to carry out our basic task, it's a wretched feeling. Such was the case tonight when I came home to find that our air conditioner was out. It was blowing, but it wasn't blowing cold and there was frost on the inside of the unit. The high today was 95, it's supposed to be 97 tomorrow. Now, I'm not a particularly useful man when it comes to electrical maintenance, though I believe myself to be at times. I did what I could, though. I took some of the unit apart and looked at it, stared at it, in fact. I jiggled some wires, cursed it, then put it back together, cleaned it out and turned it back on. Surprisingly, nothing. I'm as impotent as can be when it comes to things mechanical. So Kristy and The Quartet went out to her parents' house, which is way out east, but where the air blows cool, leaving me here to contend with the heat, and the sweet sound of silence. There is nothing to listen to now but the whirling of the ceiling fan above me. No one is here to say they don't want to go to bed, or they don't want to take a bath or they don't want to grant me a moment of peace. It's just me and the stillness and the cicadas.

I still need to deal with the air conditioner, and it should be a blast finding out what that costs on the Fourth of July weekend. But first, I'll need to fix the garbage disposal that stopped working yesterday (are they all connected?), because it seems a father's job is to guard his family and to mash food up so finely that it will flow through the pipes. Well, at least it will be unbearably hot as I crawl around under the kitchen sink with my bad back, making me feel even more like the father of four, I suppose. To top it all off, tomorrow is JP's birthday. He'll be five. I just hope that what he's been wishing for is a Badger 1/3 horsepower garbage disposal and a compressor (or whatever it may be) for a Goodman package unit.