Friday, September 28, 2007

I'm Back

As both of you know, I had back surgery in May of last year. After that, I had a good recovery, and eventually was back to my old, mildly-achy self. I slowly started running again and was up to six miles on a good day and had run several 5ks this year, which I was proud of because, honestly, I never thought I'd be running again after the excruciating pain of a ruptured disc.

But then, two mornings ago, that all stopped. Or rather, started, again. I was carrying GK around the house and going through what I go through each morning to get The Quartet up, fed, dressed and out the door for school, and I bent over to get something out a drawer for S and went to my knees in pain. The girls' bed was right there, luckily, so I was able to set GK down when I caught myself. Once I regained my composure, and because I'm stubborn, I stood up and picked GK up and went about the business of getting the kids where they needed to be.

That day was spent at work, taking small steps and with no lifting. That night the family went to The Fair and I went home to lie on the floor with a dinner of a peanut butter and banana sandwich, one gin & tonic and two Darvocet; the Elvis Presley Special. It's still stiff, but I think I may come out of this one okay. I think it may work itself out, loosen itself up. It had better, because I need to start running again before I begin looking like Elvis, or a regular Fair-goer.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My War

I've been endeavoring to watch Ken Burns's The War on PBS this week. I admire Mr. Burns and the history that he manages to bring alive from black and white photos and personal letters, and I sincerely want to know more about that day that lives in infamy, Guadalcanal and the invasion of France. However, what I'm learning is that my kids are louder than World War II. I'm catching about one-eighth of everything Keith David says. So what we have so far, as I understand it, is that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, General MacArthur left ... somewhere but then went back, women in America went to work, Winston Churchill wanted to visit Africa and then we all went to France. Did I leave anything out? Did somebody, at some point, grind a piece of cheese pizza into the newly washed sofa cushions? Did Tojo do that or was that JP? Because if it's JP, then Big Mama is going to declare a whole different kind of war on the home front.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Because I Said So

I've told you all the truth here. I've shrunk away from nothing. You've read at Urf! that sometimes your very own children can drive you away, that it's perfectly okay to want to leave your kids from time to time. You've seen here that sometimes parents pick a favorite from their four (or, you know, whatever number you have) kids, even if it is for just an afternoon, or one season. And we've all learned that sometimes one child will be chosen to be a mole, a rat, a turncoat with his siblings. These are all ugly truths that parents know deep down, but don't often speak of out loud for fear of reproach from other parents that they don't know so well who may be listening in at the food court. But those parents know it, too. And here's another: all first-time parents think that they will do a better job raising kids than their own parents did. [DISCLAIMER: Mom, I'm speaking in generalities here. This isn't necessarily something I've ever thought, and when Katherine first mentioned it to me I thought she was, quite frankly, insane. You just can't tell with post-partum.]

This isn't to say that we think our children will end up more well-adjusted than we did, or have a more well-rounded childhood, but there are some very specific things that new parents plan on. I'm not giving my child any sugary cereals, I'm not letting my child watch television all night, I'm always going to use a car seat. One way we all think we'll be different - better, if you will - is in how we talk to our children; refusing to talk down to them, to treat them like, well, children. With the words still ringing in our ears from our own childhood, we swear on a stack of Dr. Spock books that we will never use Because I said so as reasoning for anything, that we will explain our decisions in a way that is not threatening and that even a toddler can understand and make sense from.

I've been a father now for nine and a half-ish years to four or so kids, and one thing I've learned is that Because I said so may be the finest reason for just about anything. I am the parent. I am the pater familial. I am the king ... okay, the co-ruler, of this fiefdom. Why do you have to pick that pizza up off the floor? Because I said so. Why do you have to get in the bathtub? Because I said so. Why do you have to take your hands from your brother's neck? Because. I. Said. So. Why do I say so? I usually don't know, maybe because whatever they're doing is loud or gross or potentially dangerous. I just kind of make it up as I go along. What didn't I make up? The mortgage payment I just mailed off so these kids will have a roof over their heads, the gargantuan grocery bill I just paid, the fact that I have to wake up at 6 a.m. so everything can get done that needs getting done to get them to school on time. All of these things give me carte blanche to say so.

All you new parents, go ahead and repeat that line to yourself and learn to love it. And learn that you are, in fact, no better or smarter than your own parents. Parenting is hard and we have few adequate resources in our arsenal. Because I said so is tried and true, it's the B-52 of reasoning.

Now, I have to prepare for the phone call I'll get when my Mom reads that I thought I could out-think her on how to be a parent, and then I will come back and possibly delete this post. Why? Because she said so.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

On A Clear Day

Tonight, GK and I watched a film called On A Clear Day. It’s a story, on the surface, about a man attempting to swim the English Channel from England to France. When I told Kristy the plot before watching it she asked why I like movies like that. I’d never really thought about it before, but I suppose I do enjoy a story about someone who is attempting something that seems impossible, whether circumnavigating the globe solo, cycling through the Alps, diving to new depths or swimming a large body of water. These are stories of accomplishment, and whether the person attempting actually succeeds or not, he’s taking on a challenge. I’m not sure why this resonates with me. Perhaps because I’ve never committed to anything in that way, not just a supreme physical feat like running an ultra-marathon, but something more within my grasp like refurbishing the Honda Rebel that’s sitting in my garage, building a boat or running 26.2 miles. Something that, though it isn’t necessary for life, really is so for living. I go to work in the mornings but at the end of every workday, of every six-day workweek, everything I’ve spent my time and effort on is, quite literally, up in smoke. I can’t hold something in my hand and say, “Look at this. This is what my skills and my knowledge made today” and that’s something that I think I would like to be able to do. I admire anyone who sets out to accomplish a thing, perseveres, and has something to show for that effort.

On a Clear Day is the story of Frank, a middle-aged man who has lost his job and is unsure of what to do with his life. He sets out, with a group of close friends as trainers and advisers, to swim the English Channel. But there’s more to the story than just training for a grueling swim. It’s the story of a man and his pride, a father and son, grieving, a husband and wife and that woman’s independence, boat building, human worth, accomplishment, failure, and GK was pleased to find that it even has a nice little homage to Jaws. It’s a delightful movie.

When I got the DVD from NetFlix, it was damaged and halfway through became unplayable, so I sent it back. They sent me a new copy immediately and we made it through the 99-minute movie. So there you go, sometimes my tenacity pays off.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Good Morning To You

For those of you who may be considering inviting The Quartet for a sleepover (and really there are only two readers out there who may be, possibly, entertaining this idea), let me go ahead and warn you that S does not appreciate being awakened by dripping icy water on her face. I found that out this morning.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What's He Building In There?

I'm not sure this post is going to work without the aid of pictures, but I need to give it a shot anyway. I tried to get a picture of the thing, but it was being wheeled away by the time I found the camera buried under The Quartet's pile of "art work" that was inexplicably on my desk.

C's friend, Butch Cassidy, lives around the corner and was over on Sunday to ride bikes and tramp through our backyard and house, into the front yard, back to the back and then into the house again. I never know where these kids are headed or what they may be in search of. At one point, though, they headed down to Butch Cassidy's house and when they returned shortly after, C walked in to the living room and said matter-of-factly to JP, "Get your helmet." Naturally, JP didn't question, he just ran into his room to get his bike helmet. And, naturally, I had to know what was going on. I went outside to see this ... vehicle? ... they'd manufactured. What I saw was one of those chairs that is molded from one big foam cushion, a red chair, tied to a skateboard that was jacked up. It was taller than a normal board with some sort of springs or shocks, and Butch Cassidy explained to me that it was the kind of skateboard that somebody named Cody Banks rode in a movie I've never seen. So the red cushion chair is tied to the extra-tall skateboard and then two other regular-sized skateboards were tied to either side like outriggers.

Be sure, I tried to get them to take the maiden voyage on this shuttle down the neighbor's driveway, which has a nice, gentle slope that would allow them to build up enough speed to amuse me. But they seemed to have other plans, and these plans were to take place at Butch Cassidy's house and may have involved being pulled by a bike. Or a car, who knows? All I can picture, though, is JP strapped into that thing with his helmet on, a grin on his face, and having the time of his life. For about 12 seconds.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Five Things About S

  1. Her first name is actually E.
  2. She has her mother's eyes and my family's nose.
  3. She has plans to get a garden tattooed on her arm some day.
  4. Her favorite book is Clarice Bean and I taught her to pronounce "Clarice" like Hannibal Lecter.
  5. Her favorite olive is kalamata.

Happy birthday, S!

Thursday, September 13, 2007


GK and I watched The Great Escape last night. She's a film buff and it's been surprising to discover that her favorite films are also my favorites, and this one is no different. However, I noticed last night that instead of paying rapt attention to cinematography, composition, dialogue and mies-en-scene, as she usually does, this time she sat with a fearful look in her eye, stealing glances at me periodically, and trying in vain to hide that tick she gets when she's nervous where she babbles incoherently through bursts of crying. And, in fact, during the scene where the Germans locate the tunnel known as Tom, she actually crapped her pants. I think The Quartet is planning a break-out. I'm fairly certain they're tunneling, too, as evidenced by all the dirt in their rooms. They haven't quite figured out how to disperse what they dig and instead have opted to just spread it around. All over. The "escape" of Harpo, it's clear now, was planned - that little hamster was running recon, getting the lay of the land, making maps, possibly laying in a store of Pop-Tarts and cheese pizza in a safe house someplace.

What they don't realize is that all of this effort is for naught. That if they want to leave, I'll unlock the door for them, even give them the keys to the Volvo as long as C agrees to be the designated driver. But I'll let them carry on with their plan, figure out who fulfills which roles. I see C as Intelligence, JP is the Cooler King, GK is the Scrounger and S, obviously, is Big X. Big Mama in this scenario is the Gestapo and I want to be that laid-back British officer who wears a tie and sips proper tea throughout the movie.

After the movie, once GK had regained her composure, we talked about who the coolest character is. She put up a good argument for Steve McQueen as Hilts, but I still like that James Garner as Hendley. Who is your favorite character?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The House Was Open

We attended open house at the kids' school tonight as a family because I wasn't quick enough to come up with a way out of it. We have three kids in the same school now so we hit every hallway in that building, some of them twice. C, JP & S's teachers all had very nice things to say about them, but there was a common theme throughout the evening with these quick, five minute meetings with each of their teachers. It turns out our kids talk a lot. Really? It took up an hour and a half of tonight to find out my kids can't shut their mouths?

The eye opener of the night, though, was in C's class when his teacher, who was also his teacher last year, said, "Do you notice anything different about C this year?" Kristy and I looked at each other, just a hint of fear in our eyes as to what might come next. She said, "He's talking." Kristy and I said something literate, such as "Wha?" or "Huh?" Turns out he never really talked much at school in previous years. He was saving it all for home, all for me, because he knows I often sit around here thinking Damn, I wish the people I live with were more vocal.

Also, there were plenty of Memphis Parent magazines being handed out to the attendees at the open house this evening. This month's issue features an interview with me about Urf! by the very talented Stacey Greenberg, so the cat's out of the bag on the blog. I'm pretty sure my kids' teachers will be reading this, which is fine because we really, really like their teachers. They're very smart. Very dedicated. They should be paid more. A lot more.

After the open house at the elementary school I came home and washed my hands. Repeatedly.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

No, It's A Tiny Sandwich

The Saucier and Big Mama have a delightful little, irritating discussion going on in the comments section of the previous post. This is the only place you will see me weighing in on that inane discussion between Uber-Mom and Non-Parent. The reason we don't force JP to eat what JP doesn't want to eat is, in part, due to dialogs like the one he and I had this morning:

Me: Does anybody know what a panini is?
JP: Yeah, it's what boys pee out of.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Legend has it that when I was just a young boy in short pants I was a huge fan of Dr. Seuss. And who isn't? So one day my mother, who found her own kids amusing even in a time before blogs, made me a big plate of green eggs using food coloring. If the storyteller is to be believed then I took one look at that plate of emerald embryos and ran shrieking in terror from the room.

One of The Quartet's favorite books is Green Eggs and Ham and I read it to them all the time as part of their Three Books At Bedtime routine. I still enjoy the story and I'm thrilled that the kids do as well, but someone really should address the 800-lb. fox in the box in the room. See, my kids, just like the protagonist, could not, would not, try new foods either. And this isn't lost on them. They realize, and comment upon, the fact that this is the point of the story, that this ... whatever he is ... doesn't like green eggs and ham simply because he's never tried them before. But they won't admit to their own culinary trepidations or that meat and eggs are one of the best sources for irony. They just won't admit that they're all chicken. Chicken nuggets only, of course.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Man Solo

Kristy and the kids just spent a weekend away, leaving me alone with the keys to the car. I should tell you what went on around here but I’m too tired to couch it in a witty story or lesson in raising kids, so you’re on your own with that. I’m just going to list what I did, but with the days of the weekend in bold to make it seem exciting and important. Read on …

Friday: I’m starting with Friday, the day before they left town, because that’s the day I learned that Kate Beckinsale will be coming to Memphis in a month to film a movie, thus hastening the end of my marriage. I’m so excited! That night we went to SAM and The Admiral’s for Cocktail Hour which turned out to be the best yet. There were bloggers and business owners, writers and carpenters, midwives and musicians, boat builders, an archeologist and … gasp … an electrician. Oh, and a bunch of kids.

Saturday: I said goodbye to my family and watched them as they cast off, heading for the faraway lands of east Tennessee. And then I went to work. After work I watched The Good Shepherd and ate chicken parmesan and drank wine. Lots of wine. I did not win the lottery. Again.

Sunday: I cleaned the boys’ room. For five hours. Why did it take five hours? Because it takes five hours to clean my kids’ rooms, that’s why. Afterwards I was exhausted and starving, so I ate turkey and dressing alone at Dino’s followed by a trip to Lowe’s and then to purchase Thelonius Monk’s Solo Monk which, for some reason, I didn’t own already. I watched Woody Allen’s Scoop that night with Scarlet Johansson. She was in the movie, I didn’t actually watch it with her, Kristy, she’s never returned one of my phone calls. Then I fell asleep by 10:30 because once I turned the movie off it was just so very quiet in my house and because that’s how crazy I can get while the family is away.

Monday: I ran the AutoZone/Chik-Fil-A 5k in 28:11 which I was pretty happy with considering I’d trained all week with Hendrick’s and cigars. This was Labor Day which means cookouts and beer and friends and memories, except my family was gone and my friends let me down with the cooking out and the friends and the memories. So I went to Celtic Crossing by myself instead and had a corned beef sandwich and a Guinness, did the Sunday crossword and watched soccer. I also ran into an old friend from the paper, Stephanie H., who was with one of my kids’ teachers who I met for the first time. We discussed … phonics?

Sitting at a bar, watching sports on TV and drinking a beer alone is something I haven’t done in a long, long time. Those few hours alone gave me time to think about how things used to be, years ago before kids and so much responsibility. It gave me time to talk to other adults and not have to worry about whether a child needed to go to the bathroom or was choking on his or her chicken finger. But more than anything it gave me time to think about how much I actually missed my family that weekend. Sure, the house gets quiet, pleasantly quiet, but then when I do or think of something really funny, there’s nobody to tell and impress, and what’s a showman without his audience? He’s usually asleep.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Cat Is Away ...

Kristy and The Quartet left town 17 hours ago. How crazy can it get around here? The toilet seat has been left up for two hours now.