Thursday, August 30, 2007

Born Free

Alright, listen up, people. Our fugitive has been on the run for nine hours. Average foot speed over toys, spilled milk and soiled clothes barring injuries is 1200 sq ft-per-hour. That gives us a radius of six rooms. What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen feet. Your fugitive's name is Harpo. Go get him.

That's right, the hamster is on the loose. We're not sure how, but his cage door was open this morning and before the search even commenced C was looking to blame somebody. But that seemed counterproductive so he just ate a waffle and watched Curious George instead. The hunt, I assume, will begin in earnest tonight and I'm sure Harpo will be found, whether by sight or by smell, eventually. The Quartet, if they truly care for this thing, better hope I don't find it first.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Overheard In The Living Room

S: Daddy has two big, round circles on his chest.
JP: They're called nipples.
S: You mean like a cow?!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Lust For Glory And A Tape Machine

At 15 months, GK, just as her siblings before her, has found that her favorite rung on that double helix is the one where vocalizing is kept. Her vocabulary has grown exponentially of late and her favorite thing is to point at your face and say "Mao! Mao!" or "No!" or "Aye!" She has her facial anatomy down. She's very smart, and very cute.

Monday, August 20, 2007

For My Sisters

I don't do the grocery shopping. Or rather, I don't do the bulk of it. The grocery shopping I do is the after-grocery-shopping grocery shopping - stopping on the way home from work to get milk or bread or Ovaltine. I can't be trusted even with this because a cool third of everything I pick up will be the wrong something, the wrong brand, the wrong size, just the wrong thing. If I'm sent for six items then two will be wrong, nine then three are wrong. You get the idea.

Tonight I was sent for three items and, you guessed it, one was wrong. Instead of the usual Kraft Parmesan Cheese which, I suspect, has no cheese in it whatsoever, I picked up actual grated Parmesan. The kids who eat spaghetti in this house eat it with only butter and Parmesan (or, spaghetti cheese as it's called [I know, I know, no red gravy? I'm not really sure these kids are mine.]) So as the pasta with its inferior superior cheese was being refused by little people who don't even contribute to the bottom line around here, I was catching the blame. In my defense I raised my voice with "As long as all these kids are going to eat on spaghetti is butter and cheese is it too much to ask that they eat butter and cheese in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?!" That's right, I channeled George Bailey, which I suppose is better than channeling Jack Torrance.

I do this a lot, actually, channeling this wonderful, indelible movie character. Unfortunately, however, it's not usually the good-natured, optimistic dreamer who longs to help his friends and clients and be the best family man he can. It's usually the George Bailey who trashes his scale model suspension bridge and doesn't understand why they have to have all these kids in the first place. But I'm trying. I hope to be the responsible George Bailey someday, the George Bailey with all the character, and especially the George Bailey who gets all that cash dumped on his table and a peck on the cheek from Violet. Va-voom!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Who Do I Think I Am?

I was suddenly struck by the pretentiousness of my bedside table and thought I might share it with you. It is the duty of The Quartet to keep me grounded, humble, broken, if you will. According to the landscape of this small territory of mine, they are failing, miserably.



The photo above is one of the piece of furniture next to the piece of furniture where all the magic happens. That's right ladies, my bedside table is also next to my desk, where I write most of this witty blog. On the table you can see a copy of Woody Allen's Mere Anarchy, Jazz Modernism From Ellington and Armstrong to Matisse and Joyce by Alfred Appel Jr., a NetFlix DVD envelope swaddling The Dick Cavett Show: Comic Legends: Disc 2, a copy of The New Yorker and the CD Elvis Costello and Bill Frisell Deep Dead Blue Live 25 June 95. I have very intelligent furniture.

Incidentally, the entire rest of the house is full of Pop Tarts, dinosaurs, Legos and lead-based toys from China.

I Made This

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about creativity, about writing mostly, but mixed in there is photography, sculpting and some sketching. But mostly writing. I’ve been reading The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby, one of my favorite writers. This book is a collection of the column he does on reading for Believer magazine, so he’s one of my favorite readers as well. He puts me in the mind to read and he reveres reading as it should be. It’s good to know that there are others out there who get the same rush from a good book, from just the idea of starting a new book, that I get. Recently, too, I’ve spoken with a few people close to me who have encouraged me to write. Not just to write, though, but to write and publish. This is a very nice sentiment and I’m truly touched by their confidence in me. However, it resonates as well as if they were encouraging me to jump off the Sterick Building and fly. Would I love to fly? Of course I would, who wouldn’t? But the jumping is the simple part, anyone can jump. The flying? Well, that’s a whole different matter. Not many have pulled that off.

With my thoughts of creativity, I naturally have thought of my kids, because they always seem to creep up into my thoughts, even when all I want to do is think about myself for just a minute. It’s like when I was growing up and in Catholic school and we were taught that God thinks of us constantly and that if He ever stopped thinking of us then we would cease to exist. That’s a lot to think about and a lot of pressure. What’s to keep God, and all that’s on His plate with making the weather and creating fish and seeing to it that all those R&B singers win Grammys, thinking of a scrawny 10-year-old boy? So I taught myself to juggle and painted pictures and I did a little soft shoe to keep him entertained, to keep me in his mind so I wouldn’t disappear. I became creative. Much like this, my kids do things to stay in my mind. They leave half-eaten food laying around for me to find - I always think of them when I see this. They smear toothpaste around various surfaces of the bathroom, they leave lights on, they yell. They yell a lot. So I never stop thinking of them, and I don’t possess enough faith to think that they would go away even if I did.

I want for my kids to be creative. I don’t necessarily need for them to make a living with their creativity, as far as being an artist or musician, though I do know that there is plenty of call for creativity in business, especially entrepreneurship. I would simply like for them to have the outlet of creating something, something they can take pride in and that will make them happy. A feeling that no one can take away from them.

I can only imagine what each of The Quartet’s talent would be, where their creativity would lie. C enjoys both drawing and writing, but is far too literal for a fine art gig. I see him maybe working for Lucasfilm or Pixar, some place where he’ll be called upon to make a character come to life through the magic of counting pixels and equalizing bandwidth, or however they do that stuff. JP will sing, act and dance. He’ll be on the stage, on the screen and, if it’s at all possible in the future, he will wow Tom Snyder on late night television. JP is our entertainer. S, if she ends up in the entertainment world, will be a studio chief or an agent. I suppose that’s creative. Perhaps her talent will be recognizing others’ talents and then exploiting them for financial gain. I’m cool with that. GK I’m not so sure about, she’s still awfully young and really short. I’d say maybe a model, but the idea of that makes my palms sweat, so we won’t even consider that just yet.

In re-reading what I’ve just written I see that I’ve blatantly paired the kids’ talents with possible careers when I said that all I wanted was for them to be happy doing whatever it is they’re good at. I suppose, deep down, I’m hoping that what makes them happy is making a lot of money with what their good at to spend on me. They’re more than welcome to spend it creatively, too. Shoes, a boat, Caribbean homes, stocks, another boat, trips to New York, whatever it takes to make them happy making me happy.

I come from an inspired family, whether it was drawing, painting, engineering or writing, and I feel that there is something in me waiting to be let out. And while writing this blog is a nice outlet, a release of steam like the valve on a pressure cooker, it’s not the full-on geyser of a novel, short story, the ol’ soft shoe or a painting. I suppose it will come to me one day. One day I’ll have the time to sit down and explore, perhaps I’ll discover it as my kids are realizing their own artistic expressions. It may be right here at this tiny desk, in front of this iBook G4 or, hopefully, on that 46-foot sloop S will buy for me with the sweat from some hungry, struggling actor.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

At Thirty-Seven

Things that happened to me yesterday:

  • Was given a cake at lunch.
  • Received three books and two CDs.
  • Had lunch with my sister.
  • Friends came to my house to toast me, but there was no toast. They just drank my alcohol and left.
  • Received an E-mail from someone who could change the course my life is currently on.
  • Ate pizza.
  • Talked on the phone to my mother, an aunt, an uncle, my father and my sister.
  • Watched The Quartet run around the house playing with Monistat applicators (I was told by one of my editors to explain here that the Monistat was purchased for GK's diaper rash or something, which is why the applicators were unused).
  • Decreed that the kids should greet me every day with "Buon giorno, Papa!"

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sunday, August 12, 2007

S Is For Spirit

I’ve written here many times, and have entertained friends and family for hours on end, about the toughness of S. She’s mean, she’s stubborn, she can be ruthless. At only 4-years-old she has her brothers, her friends and, at times, her parents walking on egg shells, giving her a wide berth and skirting the jagged edges of her impulsive rage. But here’s something I know: S is not so tough. My wiry little blonde who can’t seem to break 40 lbs. is mostly bark, largely smoke and no fire. Sure, I’ve seen her rain terror down on her siblings, I’ve borne witness to her striking down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy her, and I’ve heard her argue toe to toe with someone 30 years her senior. But I’ve also seen this little girl hide when someone addresses her, been there when her shyness – my shyness – takes hold. I’ve comforted her when her feelings were hurt and she’s curled up in my lap just to be close to her daddy.

S can take care of herself if need be, of that I have no doubt. But tomorrow I send her off to her first day of kindergarten, her first day of real, day in and day out, school. And though I’ve had this first day twice now with C and JP, this is my little girl and I know this will be the most difficult yet. And even as I write this I’m not sure if I’m talking about a problem for her or for me. I’m so familiar with her trigger-like defenses, her prickly veneer and willingness to argue a point until accession, but I also know how she shrinks from attention and of her confusion by authority. Likewise, I have experience in leaving the kids – leaving them somewhere in the mornings has been my dire task for nine years, so I’ve created this persona of myself as a parent who doesn’t really mind leaving his kids someplace, and an image of his daughter as a little girl who, among all of his other children, is a child confident in her own survival skills. But we’re neither all the time. Truth be told, we’re both a little scared. For her because tomorrow is the unknown, it’s School, school with a capital S, with all its homework, schedules and order. As I sit here in the early morning, writing, thinking, sipping my coffee and smoking my cigar while she sleeps somewhere nearby, I realize that my greatest worry isn’t that S is scared of her first day or uncertain about just what is going on, but that tomorrow is the first day for something that will last for at least the next 12 years. And my greatest concern for my little girl is that they will break her spirit with their order and their desks and their conduct grades. That the beast that is the City School System will do what they strive to do best, create a tepid child.

The little girl S is now, with her faults, with her concoction of sweetness and callousness, is the woman I want her to become so that I don’t have to worry about her wherever she may end up, though I know I always will.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Don't Make Me Come Over There

This morning was the first morning back to taking the kids to The Island for the sitter. Today she has all four, God bless her, but next week the older kids will be in school. The morning went fairly smoothly before leaving the house with only minimal crying from GK at her mother not being on hand when she awoke. Rousing the other kids from their late night summer reverie went as well as could be expected with C and S finally waking up just before time to walk out the door. We loaded the car with all the snacks and accoutrement it takes to move these kids from one place to the other and lit out for The Island which, as I've stated before, is nowhere near downtown, though it purports to be.

At the sitter's GK went into full meltdown mode when she realized just what was going on - that Daddy was once again abandoning her. The other kids settled right in on the couch and chairs and, I imagine, are asleep again by now. I like to impart a few words for each new day to The Quartet, something to open their eyes and get their mornings off on the right note. It's what I do. I'm motivational, I'm positive, I'm the kind of person who sees each sunrise as cause for celebration and adventure, but you probably get that from everything you've read here. So this morning I made it a point to get the kids' attention before letting them know "You kids better behave, I'm close by and can be here in two minutes to jerk a knot in you if need be." I think I read that on a poster with a kitten hiding in a basket of yarn or else it was in a book on how to be an exceptional parent. Either way, they went almost immediately back to ignoring me for whatever was on the big screen TV.

We have every confidence in our sitter. We know The Quartet will be safe and reasonably happy and that they're in good hands. And the day will go much smoother for her with the kids knowing that my hands are only minutes away from them.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

13 Things

13 things I have yet to get used to as a parent:
  1. Sharing a bed with more than one person.
  2. Entire meals in the garbage can.
  3. Toothpaste. Everywhere.
  4. Relentless television viewing.
  5. The question "What's for dinner?"
  6. The stench of microwave popcorn.
  7. The pitter-patter of little feet, followed by heavier footfalls, followed by the sound of a body hitting the floor, followed by crying, followed by apologizing.
  8. The demanding of ice cream (but that's from the Mommy).
  9. The door opening and closing ad nauseam.
  10. Plastic cups with traces of milk left in the refrigerator.
  11. The question "Where's Mommy?"
  12. Random stickiness.
  13. My youngest crying when I leave her in the mornings.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Anything Could Have Happened

Do you remember that feeling that anything could happen? And I’m not talking about just on Wednesdays, either, but for a full weekend, in the middle of the night to early morning, summer vacation, daydreams. For me, that feeling stopped coming around maybe three or so years ago, and I miss it. I miss it all the more because I’m reminded of its absence almost daily when I see its presence in my own kids. As children, we have that natural wonder, that inborn optimism and we think of what is possible in terms of cities in space, mansion-esque tree houses, flying cars, rescuing people like the Lone Ranger and X-ray vision among the other daydreams of seven-year-old boys. Once becoming a young adult there are promises of a career path to greatness, wealth, writing that novel or that screenplay, or even meeting your true love and having the perfect family. There are days when you wake up and you actually believe that today anything might happen that will set the next stage of your life into motion. I used to have that feeling, maybe it was called optimism, but it’s mostly gone now, eroded over years of responsibility, the headaches of business ownership and trying to get a grasp on a very realistic picture of the future.

Yesterday, though, I witnessed the amazing feeling of possibility first-hand. One of The Quartet had acquired a helium-filled balloon and the other three convinced the owner to release the balloon with a note attached explaining who had let it go. The note began: We are in America. They had such high hopes, literally, for this balloon that they felt compelled to let the eventual recipient know from what country it originated. This sad little, red balloon that was already losing its loftiness is probably in a tree one block over, but as far as The Quartet is concerned it’s in China or Bolivia or the Polynesian Islands, in the hands of some other child who is trying to decipher that note in wonder. And as jaded and pessimistic as I may be now, I’m not inclined to change their minds. I wouldn’t dare. Because I miss the days of imagining that I’m Tarzan or that I might fly with a jet pack one day or that a balloon, released in Midtown Memphis could journey halfway around the world.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Do Not Try This At Home

As readership here at Urf! continues to climb, our attorneys at the law firm of Hungadunga, Hungadunga, Hungadunga and McCormack require that we periodically remind all of you that Urf! is in no way an expert at child raising. If you choose to have and raise children of your own then you should consult an expert such as J.K. Rowling, The Oprah, episodes of Eight is Enough or any member of Congress. We are simply making it up as we go along and the following photo is Exhibit A in testimony to that fact:


In the above photo you will notice that the junior most member of The Quartet sits unattended three feet up on the counter and within arm's reach of the rum, the gin, the wine and the Angostura bitters. The small orange can you see there is a flea bomb and if you look in the foreground you can just make out the edge of the silver blade of the largest kitchen knife we own. We were using that knife to cut garlic, which we did not feed to the baby. Luckily, in this little playground of hers, GK chose to play with that glass bottle of tonic over everything else. And we'd just used the last of the matches.

So, no, we're no experts. However, I do think I have a certain flair when it comes to parenting, and while I normally don't like to talk about my flair, I do think it's time I begin taking questions from the audience. So, good readers, if you have any questions for me, The Quartet or Big Mama regarding child rearing, schooling, patience or the lack there-of, or any recipe involving garlic and rum, then please address them to urfblog at gmail dot com and I will answer them, if I feel like it, right here on the interweb.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

In Triplicate

I made my annual trip to the Shelby County Health Department this morning for copies of my kids' birth certificates because God forbid we should put them in a place where we can actually find them from year to year. Some of you will recall my adventure there at this time last year, and many of you will understand that I only just now finished scrubbing my hands from that visit. The kids need these certificates so they can enroll in the very same school they went to last year. The School System needs proof, again, that they were born. Well, I proved it this morning in just under an hour and a half. The School System is a hungry beast that needs its paper, its forms, to look at and smell, rub all over its body and, I imagine, while no one is looking it sits in its gray-toned cubicle to gnaw on the corners of these forms. The proof is also there by the way, in black and white (at least legally), that I am indeed the father of these miscreants. Dammit.

Now that we're past that stage of the registration process, I've moved on to the school supply lists which can be found online, surprisingly. It seems that my family will be responsible for taking 13 glue sticks to school. Thirteen glue sticks? Seriously? It seems that as much as the School System loves its forms, the school itself relishes its glue. What do they plan to do with all of these sticks of glue, wallpaper their cinderblock building with forms and birth certificates? Use them to keep the kids in their seats? Make school cafeteria pizza?

The insanity begins in earnest next week when Big Mama starts back to work but the kids have another week of vacation. And I'm in charge. I plan to keep the order by having them fill out their own forms for school and, if need be, gluing them all to each other to better control them. Now, if you wouldn't mind picking up 13 14 glue sticks for me, I'll be in the back washing my hands. Again.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Welcome, Vermin

As a kid growing up we had a couple of dogs. We had goldfish when I was really young, two of them - Ernie and Bert - and I wanted to see if fish could sneeze so I put pepper in their bowl, they ate it and died. I had a turtle that ran away. We had a cat for a weekend once, I think. And at some point I acquired a mouse. A little white mouse with red eyes that I managed to keep secret from my mother until one weekend when my sisters and I were at our father's house and she called to let me know this mouse that she hadn't even been aware of had escaped and was running wild in the house. That was the end of that. When I moved out on my own I racked up a menagerie of snakes and lizards, a Great Dane and Weimaraner for a while.

I like animals, I just don't have a lot of time for them now what with all the people that require tending to in this house. But tonight I walked into the house after work and was greeted by JP who was bouncing off the walls because of the newest resident here at Castilo Urf! Harpo is a Teddy Bear Hamster and he lives in the boys' room, in a cage, for now. I'm certain that this is the first in a long line of small animals on our Ark, both furry and scaly. A long line of buried shoeboxes and flushed memorials. But no need to dwell on that now. Tonight The Quartet is having a great time with Harpo and it seems to be doing well. I know it's doing well because the kids are coming in to us every four minutes with updates on what it's doing. They've set stools up in front of the cage so they can sit and watch it as though the hamster and its antics are the afternoon matinee. Poor little guy, scurrying around his shavings, pooping alongside kin one minute, stared at by three giant child heads the next, wondering how hungry they are but not yet realizing that these kids subsist on cheese pizza and Pop Tarts, nothing even approaching hamster meat.

Welcome to our home, Harpo. We'll see to it our kids take care of you as best we can, though we can't really be responsible for their friends so watch out for them. And try to remember that around here it's first come/first served in the bathroom, the volume is always up, the littlest kid may not necessarily be the safest and should someone try to feed you pepper, just pretend to sneeze and then run away.