Monday, June 30, 2008

Warm Waters

When my sisters and I were kids, it seems like our mother made us take swim lessons about five different times. Perhaps we were slow learners.

Mom, if you had us take lessons so often because you were concerned for our safety around bodies of water, both large and small, then I thank you for your concern over our well-being.

If, on the other hand, you used it as a means to get some time away from us for a few hours a day, a few weeks per summer, then I applaud your resourcefulness as a parent. Well played, Elaine.

My three older kids began two weeks of swim lessons today at the Y. I feel like swimming is something I should be teaching them to do; to be cautious and to respect the water, but also to have fun. I just don't have the time.

So, instead, I'll be in charge of teaching them to shower every day, immediately after swimming in the big, urine-filled public pool.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

I've Got the Blues

From day one, it seems, we look forward to "the move out." The day when our kids take that last leap into the great unknown, known to us as "not living in my house anymore."

Okay, I wouldn't say from day one, because that first day they're cute and sleep a lot. Sometime around day two, however, they cry and start passing that meconium by the bucketload. It's from this day which I speak.

Before our kids move out, though, there's that other blessed moving day; the day when their friends move out. It's an event that you don't even realize at the time. In fact, it's several days later when you register that you haven't heard Steve's condescending tone, or that irritating yodel his dog makes. You have said goodbye to Blue's Clues and not even noticed.

The quiet is calming.

For us, that day of goodbyes has come and gone three times. It's not so hard; you forget about them. Eventually it's like they were never around at all. Out of sight, out of mind.

But then, they come back. You didn't even know you still had their DVDs tucked away, and yet, there's your youngest, sitting there, transfixed by what she sees on the screen. You sit down next to her and she looks up, hoping you see what she does. She wants to share this wonder with you. And then she's amazed when you are able to mimic Blue's call, that you can sing along with the mailbox. Truth be told, you're a little surprised at yourself for remembering the song verbatim.

It's wonderful to see your child so happy, to see her discovering new things. The world opens up daily to our kids and we're lucky to be on hand to witness.

But those moments pass and, once again, you find yourself in the kitchen, beating your forehead against the refrigerator door, trying to force Pepper's voice out of your skull.

Soon enough they'll all skidoo out of here again, I'm sure. Steve, Blue, Slippery - they'll all be gone. To them I say, "Good riddance."

And I say it in the silly accent of a table spice.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Elizabeth gave me the game of Aggravation tonight as a very, very early birthday gift. It's a game we played as kids, but that I haven't been able to find for sale here locally. We found this on E-bay and laughed about it, and then she surprised me with it. The box lid is taped together, and the dice are yellowed, and this might be the exact game we once played.

As kids we also played backgammon, Battleship, Mastermind, checkers, chess, Stratego and a plethora of card games.

Lately I've been playing some of these games with The Quartet. It's been a way for me to reminisce, and a chance for me to set them up for the board game beating of their lives.

Or so I thought.

Read more about how this all went down in the latest installment of my column "Because I Said So" in The Commercial Appeal.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


In January of 2003, my wife created Mothersville, a retail shop and safehaven for expecting women.

In February 2005, her friend Andria graciously and ably took that store over so she could go back to teaching.

Mothersville will close this Saturday.

For just over five years, the shop, and the women who have run it, have seen many soon-to-be, and brand new moms, and have assisted them through the ups and downs of motherhood. They’ve helped them, and the community, tremendously and I couldn’t be more proud of them and what they’ve accomplished.

Running a small business doesn’t stop at five o’clock. You take the worry home with you, you sleep on it and you wake up with the stress. At the time Kristy opened Mothersville, we had three children and I had a business, and I would joke that we had five kids when you took those businesses into account.

Kristy came up with the concept and got it rolling (with a newborn in her sling); Andria has carried through with it, expanding on it and growing it as much as was possible (with a newborn in her sling). She kept it alive against amazing odds for as long as the market would bear. And maybe just a bit beyond that.

We owe these women our admiration, our thanks and, possibly for many of you, your very sanity.

In the face of closing, Andria is running a sale all week. Many of you may be thinking you’d like to take advantage of that sale, yet are worried you’ll appear as a vulture picking at the carcass for doing so. I’m telling you to forget that line of thought. The best thing you could do to support her right now is to go in there and buy up as much stuff as you can carry.

And then, on your way out, be sure to give her a hug and thank her for everything she's done.

800 So. Cooper

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Back in January I wrote that my boyhood home was for sale and that, if the trends in that neighborhood were any indication, it would probably be torn down.

It was.

My sister drove by the other day and took this photo. That's where I lived as a boy, except there was a house there.

My own kids have lived all of their lives in one house, but hopefully they won't live their entire life in this house. When we do, eventually, move, I hope to have lots of photos and memories of our time in this little box.

And now you can join us in these visual memories by visiting Urftography , where I hope to put up a picture a day a la Click(Daily), or clicking on that little Flickr link over there to your right. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

It's Hot, Hot, Hot

Big Mama and I are going 'round and 'round. It isn't about the kids or finances or anything like that.

It's the air conditioner.

She will run that thing 24 hours a day trying to get the temperature inside the house down to 72, even when it's 97 degrees outside. We live in a 1,200 square foot box that's been wrapped in metal since sometime in the 1950s when aluminum siding seemed like a good idea. We have no trees. It's like spending a night in the box, except it's all. summer. long.

There are things that make cooling the house even more difficult, like using the oven and the fact that we're poorly insulated and the windows are for crap. But mainly, it's the kids. Isn't it always the kids?

They use the front and back doors like ... well, doors. But not doors to the inside of our house or the backyard. They use them like they're doors to a time machine or Candy Land or Narnia or someplace much more exciting.

They go out, they come right back in.

And, sometimes, they just stand there with it open as though it's the refrigerator door. And they may very well be that confused.

I threaten them with locking the door, whether they're on the outside or the inside. This generally evokes laughter or rolling eyes or the occasional obscene gesture. But I'll do it! I'll lock these kids out of my house in a heartbeat. Sure, it's hot here. It's very hot. But there's a hose out there and they know how to use it. There are shady areas in the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, I'll be in the cool house where it's 77 degrees at best, but trying so hard to get down to 72, when Kristy will then ask the AC to go down to a reasonable 68.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Storybook Finish?

I'm at work watching the playoff of the U.S. Open. I hope The Quartet is at home watching, too, because when it's two names like Tiger vs. Rocco, it's like playing golf in the Hundred Acre Wood.

A Day in Review

Yesterday, Father's Day, was just as it should be. Breakfast was prepared by Kristy and consisted of Cafe Francisco's Francisco bagel and Brother Juniper's scrambled eggs with salmon. I think she made them both better than the respective restaurants.

I ate breakfast in bed while watching CBS Sunday Morning and was given homemade cards. First, S came in and kind of tossed her card in my direction. Then the boys followed; C's had little flaps for me to open and read some nice messages inside and JP's had a little cartoon of one guy punching another guy's lights out and the caption "Nerd Buster's!" written underneath. I don't know if he sees us as a nerd-busting duo, or if this was some sort of veiled threat, but it was a handsome card, nonetheless.

From breakfast, it was all an even keel. I spent the morning lounging around reading the newspaper and doing The New York Times crossword puzzle. The Quartet taught me how to play a game called Mancala, and then proceeded to soundly beat me at that game again and again throughout the day. I watched the U.S. Open and we all took a trip to the park.

Back at home, I watched the kids play in the backyard while I grilled steak and enjoyed a cigar. These kids may be able to beat me at African games of skill and chance, but I'm still the only one allowed to make a fire in the backyard. Dinner was delicious and the perfect way to wrap up a day with my kids.

I'm already looking forward to next June. Thank you, Kristy, C, JP, S & GK.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day 2008

I have run two 5ks in the last week. That's 10k.

That is not 10,000 miles.

I've traveled 10,000 miles over the past 10 years, all in the space of a front porch, the length of a family sofa, the distance from home to school. My traveling companions: a wife, four children who look like me, others who don't. Friends. Good Friends. Very good friends. Family.

There have been good times and bad. I've alternately felt like a wise old sage and a failure, a leader or a child myself. I am the most fortunate man alive.

There are days when I sing for my kids, when I put on funny hats to make them laugh, and times when I need some time away from their voices. I tell myself this is normal and hope I'm not mistaken.

It's a difficult thing, to not focus on mistakes made, both real and perceived, to not hone in on the tension. To wonder if you're doing more harm than good with the disciplining, the food, the television and teaching. There is too much good in all of this, though. These are good kids, a great family.

I am the luckiest of fathers today.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Water Horse

There are hugs and birthdays, ice cream covered smiles and big eyes. All of these make having children worthwhile. Each of them reminds us daily of how our kids fulfill us.

Then there's the simple fact of being the supreme commander, the boss, le grand fromage. Even if it is over a bunch of people less than half your size, it is still good to be king and helps keep things in perspective. That perspective being: I am the king. They call me Big Daddy.

I was able to relish this the other night when I decided, because I am a benevolent dictator, to get The Quartet a treat on the way home from work. A customer had told me that day that his grandson enjoyed The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep picture, which I'd seen a preview for and thought my kids might like. So I stopped and got it, but told them when I got home only that I might have a treat for them if they could behave for the evening.

They spent the evening mostly being good and a lot of time asking what the treat was and when they could have it. I spent most of the night saying things like, "Well, I'm not sure you're being so good tonight" and "Are you being good? Really? You think so, huh?" They squirmed and they pleaded and they showed a modicum of restraint when it came to whining and hitting each other. And it was good. I was firmly in charge.

I bestowed The Water Horse on them when it was a good time for them to settle in and watch a movie. They were delighted; I thought JP's head was going to explode when he realized he was holding a brand new DVD in his filthy paws.

The irony is that The King hasn't had control of his television since. I have yet to watch the film, though there have been 343 viewings of it on the family TV. The thank yous have run out, but the movie plays on.

The kids are happy, Daddy's a hero, and that's all that's really important.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Up Your Nose

C and I have taken a couple of four- and five-mile bike rides lately. Not all that far for me, but it must seem like quite a trek for him. After the first one, I thought to myself, He should probably be wearing a helmet. And then I said out loud to him, "Your mom is going to say you should have a helmet on."

Then we went on our second ride and he didn't wear a helmet. I felt guilty. My feelings of guilt were mostly prompted by his new haircut. I don't know what Sam was thinking, but this is anything but Fantastic. He should have had a helmet on if only to protect the rest of us from witnessing his "style."

I never wore a helmet as a kid. And that certainly wasn't neglect or poor parenting, we just didn't wear helmets back then. All I was doing was riding a bicycle, nothing dangerous.

At some point, though, it became important for children to be safer and I'm wondering about the statistics of death and serious injury back then versus now. I'm sure they're out there on the Google somewhere. Maybe I'll look later.

Things couldn't be that much more dangerous now. I'm not that old, I was born in 1970. Could it have been so bad in the '70s?

You know what was bad in the '70s? Welcome Back, Kotter was bad. Last week, WGN, one of the channels on our 4-channel package from Comcast, was showing several Kotters back to back, including the pilot. In my mind, this show was hilarious, and I can remember watching it as a kid with my mom when we lived on Central Avenue. I watched it again the other night thinking that if it was as funny, and wholesome, as I remember, then I'd NetFlix the DVDs for The Quartet.

Good thing I previewed that show. It's fairly tame compared to prime-time today, but boy is it bad. Had I been aware of the lame jokes and canned laughter as a child, I'm sure I would've gone out, jumped on my bike and ridden out into Central. With no helmet, of course.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


For our honeymoon, Kristy and I were given two trips as gifts. We took the train to New Orleans, where we spent a few days and nights, and then flew out of there to South Beach in Miami, where we spent the better part of a week.

Because we were young and knew squat about saving money, we blew most of the wedding cash we received in New Orleans. That's easy to do there.

So we found ourselves in South Beach with very little money, and we found quickly that it's not the place to be with very little money. What we also found was a diner called Wolfie's, which had been around, seemingly unchanged, since the late 1940s. It was a place we could eat relatively cheaply while filling up on rolls and such, so we ate there at least once a day, sometimes twice, for the entire time we were there.

We were by far the youngest patrons. By about 60 years we were the youngest. While we were there eating lunch, I think, most of the diners were having their dinner.

Kristy and I were married 14 years ago today and we still know squat about saving money. We still scrimp and forage to feed ourselves and The Quartet; it's something we learned in 1994 at a quaint diner called Wolfie's in one of the most expensive cities in the country.

Google just told me that Wolfie's closed in 2002, yet Kristy and I are still going strong, and I look forward to every day with her and our future together, when we'll be having dinner together at three in the afternoon.

Happy anniversary, Kristy. I love you.