Thursday, May 31, 2007

Summer Vacation?

Don't we do things for people heading into trying ordeals or the unknown? We have parades for soldiers going off to war, throw confetti and wave handkerchiefs at ships sailing the seas, shave surgical patients, afford last meals to condemned men, and probably something exciting for astronauts. What about mothers preparing to spend a whole summer break at home with four kids? Shouldn't something be done for them? Big Mama is looking down into the blackness of that crevasse and I feel something should be prepared for her because I certainly don't have the stones to do what she's about to do.

I suppose whatever is to be done for her is up to me, though - dinner out, some sort of gala ball, a parade? I bought her a book as diversion, but she'll be finished with that by tomorrow and tomorrow is only the beginning. The beginning of the arguments, the whining, the uninvited touching and the perceived boredom. She will have to mediate, punish, implore, feed and entertain these miscreants for two and a half months because there's just no budget for Miscreant Camp this summer. The whole idea of it makes my palms sweat and blood pressure climb. So, if you need me, I'll be at work dealing with the tax man and his uninvited touching, and thankful for every peaceful minute of it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

J Predictable

As the school year comes to a close, The Quartet's fascination turns to all the magic that summer holds in store for them. Namely, staying up late. I had this exchange with JP yesterday morning:

Me: Today is the last day of school.
JP: Yes! We get to stay up late!
Me: But you still have to get up early tomorrow morning and go to school with Mommy.
JP: But I'm not going to get teached.

Perhaps he should.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Births Of The Cool

I suppose it’s only natural for the enthusiasm for our kids to diminish upon each birth. I’m supposing waning enthusiasm is natural because if it’s not then I’m a very, very bad parent and have just shown my hand to all of you. When I say this thing about my lack of enthusiasm, I don’t mean to imply that I love the fourth any less than the first, because that is not the case whatsoever. What I’m talking about is the smaller (if at all) baby photo book of the second, third, fourth. I’m talking about the hand-me-downs, whether stained or not, the devil-may-care attitude when it comes to food scavenged from the floor or even baby-proofing the house for that last arrival. When the first was born, everything was new. Though we knew there were babies being born all across the city, even down the hall from us at the same time, it was as though C was the only birth happening in the world. When we brought him home it was to a world of safety and 24/7 observation. There were copious photos taken, we took a picture of him in the arms of everyone who walked through our front door. And they walked through our front door in droves to see this, our first child. By the time GK came along, we found ourselves weighing the size of the possible choking hazard she’d just picked up against the possibility of missing what Tony Soprano was about to impress upon Pauly Walnuts. Does this mean we love her any less than C, or JP or S? Certainly not. Do we care if she chokes? Of course we do. But we know what we’re doing now, more than we did then, anyway. There are parts of parenting that you can never get used to, no matter how many children you have, but there are things that become second nature and routine.

I say all this to say that today is GK’s birthday. She had her first birthday party yesterday with Kristy’s family and I wasn’t here for it. I woke up sick with a stomach bug that is on its second lap around our house and felt it was more prudent for me to go downtown to my shop and lie on the couch there for the afternoon. No way I was going to share one bathroom at home with 13 other people. So I missed her first birthday party. But today we spent the day at the Chockleyblogs for Memorial Day and it turned into a small birthday party with cupcakes and mojitos. So this is how we celebrate our children’s birthdays now, whenever we get the chance. There was no theme, there was no moon bounce, there were no ponies. Yesterday, there wasn’t even me. We spent today with our friends and their kids, our extended family. It’s something we do all the time, something our children are all used to and our friends were good to include GK’s celebration in with our usual revelry. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

Four years ago we were done. Finished. S had been born, we had our three kids and
there weren’t to be any more. And then I heard it again, that phrase that has changed our lives in a similar manner, though in different ways each time, “I’m pregnant.” Once we got that out of the way, we really didn’t talk about it much again for a while. We’d done this all before, we had a lot on our plate already and were supposed to be through with that part of our life. We were finished with diapers and sleepless nights and the car seat carrier thing. All of our kids could walk, and talk, and there was a light at the end of the long dark tunnel. At the end of that tunnel, I was told, there were nights out, just Kristy and me, maybe even a long weekend away together. And then GK showed up and she was beautiful and she is a good baby and it only took the first few minutes of her life before I couldn’t imagine our family without her.

People look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them I have four kids. A generation ago, large families were the norm, and large families were actually large – five, six, seven kids. Now four is exceptional. And maybe we are crazy for it, who knows? But I can’t picture not having any of them. Is life difficult? Sure it is. Would we have more free time, more money, more sanity without them? Probably so. Would I give any of them up for more of any of those things? Never.

Another birthday I missed was two days ago. It was my mother’s. I didn’t really miss it, I did call her a couple of times but never got a hold of her. So I want to say Happy Birthday to her and tell her I love her. I found out that day that she shares a birthday with Miles Davis. I never knew that before. Another birthday within the last week was my new niece. I hope she and her parents are doing very well. The end of May has turned into a weeklong celebration of some important people in my life and I hope they all know how much they mean to me.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Why We Have Kids

Last night I returned home from my run to find C out riding his bike, a skill he learned scarcely a week ago. As I walked the last half-block to the house, he came flying down the street, up into the driveway, through the yard and into a Crepe myrtle branch, clothes-lining himself right off the bike and onto the ground. It was the funniest thing I've seen in a long time. Of course he's alright, there's no humor in damaged children. Amusing me is exactly why we've produced this little circus we now have.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Man Called Uncle

My little sister had a little baby today in the swamps of Florida. Welcome to the world, HE, The Quartet and I can't wait to meet you. Weighing in at 9 lbs. and 20.5 inches long, baby, mother, and father are said to be doing great.

Congratulations, Aunt Katherine, and welcome to the club. I love you.

Monday, May 21, 2007

By The Numbers

271: number of posts on this blog (including this one)
20,167: hits since inception
4: children living in my house
1250: square feet in my house
1: bathroom in my house
8.5: years I’ve worked for myself
13: years I’ve been married
6: TV channels we have
19: combined ages of my kids
100: things about me
50: things about my wife
260: dollars it cost today to repair the Volvo I repaired last week
4: what time I’m going sailing tomorrow
3.5: days worth of music on my iTunes
2: miles I ran tonight
4: siblings of mine
58: jazz albums in my house
81: current temperature outside
72: current thermostat setting
3: books read to The Quartet tonight before bed

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Time Is On My Side

I should explain something to you expectant first-time fathers out there. Or even to you young men who may not be planning a family, may not even be married yet (but then why would you be spending time reading this? Get out there and live for the rest of us!). Babies, it turns out, are magnets for the ladies. Saturday night I found myself alone with GK, her siblings at their grandparents’ and her mother out drinking like a sailor on shore leave. I took my best girl for sandwiches at the Kwik-Chek (sorry, Harry), and found myself in a deli full of young Midtown women. They got one look at the bundle in my arms and suddenly I was 1968 Mick Jagger for just a few minutes. They oohed and aahed, stealing glances here and there and just staring full on at other times, whispering among themselves. I could have left with a number of phone numbers that night if I’d had anything to write with other than a crayon, and anything to write on other than a wet wipe. And if I weren’t married, of course. But those numbers could have come in handy, I think they were all babysitter age.

However, guys, things change. Things change quickly. While Saturday night I was swaggering up and down the aisles of a convenience store, browsing the beer and potato chips while waiting for my sandwich to be ready, and feeling the heat of young, nubile eyes upon me, Sunday found me putting a new toilet in our bathroom. The glamour never really stops around here. Those of you who know me, know how this went down and how I acted with me on my hands and knees in the bathroom all afternoon, practically face to face with this porcelain Petri dish, twisting and cursing the rusted bolts. After the debacle last week of the Volvo (still not fixed), I probably had no business taking the one toilet the five of us use out of the house. But I did. And I put a new one in and it works. I’d like to see Mick Jagger do that. I’d like to see him strutting around with Volvo grease underneath his nails (even though it’s been almost a week, and dozens of showers later, after hugging a toilet all afternoon I’m still telling myself this is car grease under my nails).

Brothers, you may see your future child as the end of your way of life, the end of being that hot young stud you’ve spent every day since you were 15 trying to convince yourself you are, but there’s no need to fret. Just gather up your baby one evening, leave the mother at home and stop in a place that the cool, young people frequent. You’ll find you’re suddenly the coolest one in the room. But then the very next morning you should take that baby and its mother to Home Depot because you're old now, with responsibilities, and you have no business being ogled by young college-aged girls. Unless they’re babysitters. Or plumbers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Volvo 2, Big Daddy 0

I talked to my mom on Mother’s Day and I told her I’d spent half that day putting a new water pump on the 1991 Volvo 740 Turbo Wagon. “I didn’t know you knew how to do things like that,” she said in a way that I’m sure was meant to imply that, while she finds me impressively intelligent and resourceful, she just didn’t know I knew how to put that exact part on that exact model Volvo. And I blew it off in a manner that could convey, “Of course I do. I do it all the time.” But I don’t do it all the time, unless you count “all the time” being Sunday and then again on Tuesday, because that’s what I did today, I removed the water pump and then re-installed it. The good news is that while it took me four hours Sunday, it only took me two today, so my pit crewing dream is within reach I feel. The bad news is that the water pump still leaks. Still. Leaks. So I give up, the Swedes have won this one. Idioten.

In recognition of this defeat at the mittened hands of the Swedish, we’re going to have to look into alternate modes of transportation here at Castilo Urf!. To that end, C learned to ride his bike tonight. I realize that he’s too old to just now be learning, but that’s the way we roll here. Ha! I took him to the park to teach him how to ride a while back and what we both learned from that afternoon was that he inherited my patience. Or lack thereof. We left the park that day without speaking to each other. I would like to say that I put him on his bike this evening, explained the principles of balance, the physics of motion, and pushed him gently until he shakily, though confidently, rode away from me and down the block. But that’s not quite how it happened. Sure, I took his bike from storage in the garage and cleaned it, aired up the tires, adjusted the seat and oiled the chain. And then I went down to the neighbor’s house for a beer. While standing out front, talking with neighbors, C came riding down the sidewalk towards us. How about that? He’s self-taught! And with plenty of practice time left before the 2019 Tour de France.

I wish I could say I was a better mechanic and had fixed up the Volvo. I wish I could say I was a better father and that I taught my son how to ride a bike. Fortunately, I can say I’m a pretty good neighbor because I happily drank the can of light beer offered to me. But cheap beer won’t get me to work or these kids to school. Nor will it teach my children skill or independence. But what they may learn from the past couple of days is that if you are ready to tackle a project, if you really put your mind to it, then you can do whatever you want. Unless what you want to do is to stop a water pump from leaking. Or say no to free beer.

Monday, May 14, 2007

If It Ain't Broke, It Will Be

For several reasons, I probably shouldn’t have children. The number one reason I shouldn’t have children is that I break things. And I don’t just randomly break a vase by dropping it or toss a baseball through a window, breaking the pane. No, I break things more that I’m trying to fix. Take yesterday for instance, and today. I spent yesterday, Mother’s Day, putting a water pump on the Volvo 740 wagon. (I know, ladies, I know, but I’m already taken. Who wouldn’t want a husband who spends his wife’s, the mother of his four children’s, special day under the hood of a car? She’s just lucky, I guess.) On the way to school and work this morning I stopped for gas and noticed engine coolant streaming out from underneath the car. This leak was worse than the leak I had purported to repair. I got home from work this evening and immediately got right under the hood. I felt around, checking this and that on the pump and then began tightening up the connections I’d made the day before. Just a little advice to you weekend mechanics out there: do not over-tighten the bolts on the water pump, because one of them might break. One of them broke. So tomorrow, after taking the kids to school and running some errands for work, I’ll be coming back home to take the water pump off, replacing the broken bolt, and putting the pump on … again.

I’m worried that in the course of raising these kids, while trying to make them better people and fixing whatever problems may arise with them, that I might break them. Accidentally, of course. I just can’t seem to help myself. Who knows what could happen? They could lose an arm or a digit just because I’m attempting to teach them to ride a bike or do long division. I’m unsafe. I am a menace to this family.

Another thing that really, really bothers me is not just that I made the problem worse today, but that I couldn’t just fix it yesterday. There are men out there, actual men, who can fix things. Or build things. I am not one of those men. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a man at all, sitting here in my slippers, writing on my blog page while a Volvo sits out front, useless, like a big, boxy, Swedish paperweight. My father-in-law repaired big troop transport helicopters in the Marines and can fix anything now. My grandfather built cotton pickers for International Harvester. I broke a bolt.

I have yet to break a kid, but it’s still early. I don’t even know where the manuals are that they came with. I’m assuming they’re under the couch with a handful of broken remotes. I’d use the flashlight to find them, but I broke it while changing the batteries the other day. I’d drive to the store to get a new flashlight but, well, the Volvo …

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Fire In The Hole

Sometimes Emmalou Neighbor comes over to our house to play with S and I feel guilty. It must appear to this innocent 4-year-old like she’s just stepped off the troop transport and into Baghdad proper what with the The Quartet waging battles, screeching, the parent yelling and threatening, things being thrown and swatted with, and the IEDs (these are very small explosives, don’t get me wrong, we’re still in the middle of a civilized block here). I think this must be running through her head because she is an only child, so in my mind it’s all peace and tranquility at her end of the street. It’s like Switzerland down there with two parents and only one child, and all those bathrooms. She comes down here and just stares wide-eyed at the mayhem, the carnage, the cheese pizza all around her. Poor thing. Sure, Miss M spends a lot of time here and she’s an only child for another month or so, but inviting Miss M into our little war zone is like inviting a lone Shiite guerilla in. She seems harmless enough, but she’s got her own little snotty jihad going on. Not that she overwhelms The Quartet by any stretch of the imagination, these are well-trained arguers and toy-taker-awayers, but she gets into the fray and mixes it up with them, even starting some of her own skirmishes. But Emmalou Neighbor just looks on, amazed, like an embedded journalist who’s not quite sure why she passed on that other offer to host a morning news show in Boise where the most danger she would witness would be a make-over gone bad.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Urf! Blog
Brought To You By Lucky Strike.
It's Toasted!

"I wanna bite the hand that feeds me
I wanna bite that hand so badly.
I wanna make them wish they’d never seen me."

Elvis Costello wrote “Radio, Radio” in 1978 at the tender age of 24. It’s a song in which he laments the control over him and his fellow musicians by the all-powerful Record Making Machine. The Suits, if you will. It’s a song that supposedly got him banned from Saturday Night Live. It’s a song that spoke to the hearts of many, many young people who didn’t want to be told what to do and when to do it. It’s a song that made us want to bite that hand that feeds us. So, imagine my surprise when I opened up the latest New Yorker magazine the other day and, just inside the front cover, I find a large, double-truck ad of Mr. Costello shilling for Visa. And then, to add to my surprise, I see a Lexus commercial on the TV starring the singer-songwriter himself. What’s going on? Are times that tight everywhere or does he just really believe in these products? Well, what I think is going on is that he's now 54-years-old, married to chanteuse Diana Krall, and they've only recently had twin boys. And that runs into money. So I’ve decided, if it’s good enough for Elvis Costello and his two (only two?) babies, then it’s good enough for The Quartet.

What I’m offering to the corporate world is exposure, much in the vein of a Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan or Costello himself. But my kids will be out in the real world, they’ll be interacting with, and sneered at in public by, your consumers, people who actually buy the things you’re selling. Provide me with shirts, pants, shoes, caps, (and a check, let's not forget that check) whatever you can put your logo on and I’ll dress them up like NASCAR. The Quartet will trumpet your name and product from the highest of the monkey bars, even if S is still a little skittish about the heights, if the money is right, I’ll see to it that she gets to the top. We’re not like the NBA, the NFL or Major League Baseball, all of whom have looked down their noses at full-body advertising on their uniforms. Those sports, after all, aren’t about money, they’re about little kids with dreams and the purity of sport and teamwork, not money. Money is filthy. Give me your filthy money and I’ll plaster you on a kid or four. Tattoos, you ask? We can talk about that. Not here, mind you, but later, in a quiet and secluded boardroom.

The hand that feeds me seems to be shrinking these days, and with all these mouths, there don’t seem to be enough hands to go around. So I’m taking a page out of Elvis Costello’s book, his bank book. I want a hand like his, the one he used to want to bite. The hand that now, I believe, is not only feeding him, but doing unspeakable things to him on the fine Corinthian leather in the back of a Lexus LS.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Shipbuilding

J.P. Morgan had his Corsair, Noah had his Ark, Thor Heyerdahl had his Kon-Tiki, The Admiral has his LapStitch, and I’ve got nothing. Nothing! Of all the obvious things we want as parents – good schools, happy children, a secure future – at the top of my list is a boat. And I want to build it. The Admiral has worked on his boat (still unnamed) for a year, and last Sunday, while gathering for a cookout, we raised her mainsail for the first time. It’s a thing of beauty.

There are a lot of projects to be completed around Castilo Urf! Okay, there are a lot of projects yet to even be begun. Trust me, though, I know what they all are. What I would like to do is sneak “build a boat” from somewhere down around number 782 up to the top of the list, but Big Mama is watching. She’s also in constant contact with Mrs. The Admiral, who is a shipbuilding widow. Hours upon hours, to hear her tell it, were spent in the shipyard. Kristy doesn’t want me away from the family that much, although my shipyard is only six feet – one fathom! - from the family, in the backyard. Or perhaps it’s because at some point in the course of fastening, sanding, shaping and varnishing, Mrs. The Admiral became pregnant, and Kristy doesn’t want that happening here anymore. It seems natural, though, that once you build your vessel, you’ll need a crew to sail her. The Admiral is working on his crew of two for his 12-footer. I’m thinking that with my 18-footer and crew of four, we can easily overtake them. My little band of pirates and I could sail the world, claiming beaches as our own and searching for treasure. And there will be no end to the laughter every time I mention booty or poop deck.

Building a boat would be much more than just putting wood and varnish together. It would be a project I could do with my kids, something we’d remember forever, something that would bond us, like epoxy. And once she’s built, we’ll learn to sail together. That makes a pretty picture of family time, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it, Kristy? So please can I hoist that one little project up? I don’t even mind if it’s just below painting the house, yet just above the Tesla coil and re-building the Honda Rebel 250.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Friday Night Is Art Night

Come see my sister's artwork tonight. Meet the artist, meet the bloggers, meet The Quartet. Read a good interview with Elizabeth here, and a better one here. See you tonight!



Thursday, May 03, 2007

We Are Family

I have 24 first cousins. I counted. Then Elizabeth & Toby came over for Thursday Night Dinner and the conversation turned to the more complicated web of family relationships and their labels. The debate grew heated between Elizabeth and Kristy until Elizabeth finally pulled out a pad and pencil and sketched out a diagram proving that S and I are, indeed, first cousins once removed. Glad that’s cleared up.

Oh, and here’s a picture of Elizabeth and Katherine, who are definitely my sisters, from just a few days ago, I think:

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

From The Backseat

On the way to school this morning:

C: We call my friend Brandon "Salty Mike."
Me: Why do you call him Salty Mike?
C: Because he says "salt" a lot.