Wednesday, December 7, 2016

It finally happened. I lost my kid.

I used to joke about losing my son, but on Saturday, getting in some father and son time at the kids’ museum, the joke was on me. 

We go all the time. My son knows the layout. He probably knows all four floors as well as he does our own house. But it was busy that day. With big kids and chaos. 

My kid likes the slides and nets and the tunnels that connect the floors. Usually, I crawl through with him because, well, I’m a responsible adult—not just some man/boy looking to have a good time.

But on Saturday, the place was jumping with birthday parties, big groups of big kids. Ten-year-old’s by the platoons. And there’s my guy, not quite four, ready to go.

I climbed up the first ladder with him, absorbing kicks to the head because some ten-year-old’s don’t know how to wait for old people. Anyway, I peeked in the tunnel. It was a mess. It was hot. The smell of feet ruled the day. I could hear the echoes of kids in the bowels of the museum. It would have been a good time to look at my little guy and tell him we’d sit this one out. Maybe go sit on the horsey or play at the barn. I miss the barn. The slow crawl of the little kids. The plodding toddlers who couldn't vanish just when you.. hey wait.

He was off. My kid was having none of that barn talk because he was going in. And maybe I was trying to prove to myself that I was a big kid’s father. So I took a breath and watched. I've never been a watcher. I've been a hoverer, a follower. A participant. But on that day I merely watched, as he scooted to the first tunnel. I winced, as arms and legs flew all over the place. In the heat of the moment, I shrugged. Okay, I’ll meet you at the slide. Right here.

And then my little Nemo was gone.

I stood there, well, more like hopped from one foot to the other. He was okay. He was okay. He was okay. But when he didn't emerge from the slide I figured he was just in the part where it ramps up some into a net. Nope. I checked the slid again. Nope.

What have I done? He's just a little boy! He's not even four yet!

Two minutes later I was climbing up and going in. He was really gone. I pictured him, curled up and scared in the darkness of the tunnels. Gripped with panic, I fought my way through the feet and knees coming my way.

I called for my kid. Nothing. I ran down to the next level. He wasn’t there either. My heart pounded, thoughts of those heathen kids trampling him. I ran back up the tower and plunged into the tunnels, calling out frantically. I may or may not have jerked a few kids out of the way. I scooted and wiggled, boot camp style through the tunnels. Still no kid.

Back down to the next level, by then I noticed a huddle of mom’s deciding whether or not to laugh at me. But I had no time for them, searching through the sea of kids, I still couldn’t find him. 

And that was when my wife showed up at my elbow. Smiling.

Smiling. How could she smile at a time like this? And who is she waving to? Oh, up there. My kid. Right there.

I’m coming, little buddy! I dashed up and hugged him. He smiled. "You didn't know where I was?"

He was unscathed and unfazed by it all. And I was proud of him, the way he handled himself. I hear a lot about kids with older brothers having to keep up, and maybe he was just keeping up with the older kids. But for a few minutes, I was terrified. 


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Why My Mom Couldn't Have Nice Things

When I was maybe five, my mom bought a brand new Toyota Corolla. It was her first new car, a tiny four-door gas sipper with shiny brown paint and four matching tires. This was definitely a step up for her, a young nurse, and a few days after she got it she came out twirling the keys and told us to put on our bathing suits, we were going to the lake.

For once we had a car that would make the trip. My older sister took her place up front. I stretched out in the back, admiring seats without stains or rips. There was no oil smell on the floorboards and no drooping tapestry above our heads. This, I thought, rubbing my grimy little hands over the seats, was something I could get used to.

My mom worked swing shifts, weekends, and I still remember those dark, predawn shuffles out to the car in the winter, teeth chattering as she coaxed her various crapshoot vehicles to crank to life in the cold. But all of that was behind us, now. It was summer, and I couldn’t tell you if the new car had AC, because Mom rolled down the windows, fiddling with the stereo and letting the wind blow in her hair.

Her dream car at the time was a Datsun 280ZX. But with that breeze and her good spirits we were all happy to settle. The music just right, and our zippy little Toyota was churning up the expressway. Life was good.

The lake was the lake. We spent a great summer day at the lake. That afternoon, packing up the Toyota, Mom even let us grab something from the snack bar for the way home. With my hair still wet and my toes still sandy, I was ready for sugar.

Big League Chew bubble gum caught my attention. With the bulging, cartoonish baseball batter on the re-sealable pouch, cocked back, ready knock a homer. resalable pouch, just like chewing tobacco. Even the gum inside was shredded, like chew. In the car I started packing it in my mouth. One pinch wasn’t enough. A blast of juicy sugar, I kept plugging away. My sister had her chips. Mom had her car. We were burned and spent and ready to get home.

I went on a binge, physically unable to stop packing the gum away. My jaw worked the mass. I pulled air through my nose, my throat plugged by the wad. As the miles piled up I continued on, pinching shreds of gum until there were only a few shreds left, not worth saving. And as tired as my jaw was, I wasn’t going to give up. I was a big leaguer. A few more labored chews and I got the last shred of gum in my mouth.

I sat back, my head against new interior of the car, chewing like livestock, watching the passing landscape. My sister turned around, offering up her Doritos. I loved Doritos. But the gum, it was still bursting with flavor.

But man, I really wanted those Doritos. So I peeked in the bag, wishing I didn’t have a pound of gum in my mouth. Being five, my decision making proceedure wasn't exactly complex. I liked sugar. I liked cheese. So I took a chip and thought, Why not?

Not bad. Another chip. Then three or four, until the crunchy Doritos began to mingle with the gob of bubble gum. Nope. Not good. Not good at all. I winced. Swallowed. The bubble gum flavor overpowered the cheese flavor. Gum wasn’t supposed to be crunchy. It tasted like I’d dropped it in the dirt and then picked it up and stuffed it back in my mouth. A few more chews and I knew I had to get rid of it.

I rolled my window down, stuck my head out, reared back and flung the wad from my mouth and into the wind. Much better. I sat back and enjoyed all the open space in my mouth. My jaw muscles ached from the workout.

By the time I polished off the rest of the chips, we were pulling down our street. A great day in the books. Everyone washed out from sun and sand. My sister was picking up her things from the floorboard. Mom told me to gather my trash and we headed for the house.

At the steps, Mom looked back at the car. Maybe she wanted to see it one last time that afternoon. Just see it out there on the street, shining in front of the house. But the way her brow slammed down. The way she tilted her head and said, “What is that?”

A hitch of panic in her voice. I followed her gaze to the Toyota. Her brand new car that she’d had less than a week. I couldn't remember seeing that basketball size splotch on the back fender.

What in the world is it? She asked again, this time dropping her things and marching for the car. I looked at my sister, who then followed Mom. My stomach sank. Or it could have been the toxic gum/Dorito mixture breaking down my stomach lining.

“Pete.”

She leaned closer, studying the splotch like a space meteor, which, it did sort of resemble, the shards of tortilla in the pinkish substance. 

“What did you do?”

She hadn't used that tone since the time I tore out the screen from the window so that I could use the frame to make a sword. I mumbled, “Gum. Chips."

"Why does it have—" she shook her head. It's a headshake I now know. One of absolute futility. One that means You know what? It doesn't matter. I'll never comprehend it anyway. 

And it was incomprehensible. Somehow my wad of Dorito bubble gum had clung to the car like Gorilla Glue, the chips working to give it just the right kind of grip. A smear of disgusting is what it was.

Mom did some muttering. About why she couldn’t have nice things. My sister gave me her best secret smirk, which she vanished into complete angelic solace when Mom whirled around, still confounded as to the how or whys. Why was I eating Doritos with bubble gum? I still don’t know. How did it stick to the car?

I didn’t have an answer to either one. But the sun and the wind had worked to spread the gum on the paint like peanut butter. Extra crunchy. It was going to stick.

I spent the rest of the evening picking Doritos out of gum. Gum off the car. I can't really say what happened next, but I'm pretty sure Mom imposed a strict, no gum policy for the backseat passengers. That was over thirty five years ago, but it was a lesson that uh, stuck. 

How to make a great paint remover.



Friday, September 30, 2016

Bedtime Stories

Like most households, we read books before bed. But lately the books aren't holding my son's full attention, so we’ve started making up our own stories. It all comes to life in the dark, and with his input, we've come up with some rather epic adventures all on our own.

We have Tooter Reuter, Tommy Two-Milks, Sally Simpson and Phillip Fatterwackle. And who can forget, the lovable lush, Johnny Junkfood.

Whatever the names, this is the cast of our ongoing saga. And what could be a better way to expand and explore what's in his little head? 

To say he's into it is an understatement. When the lights go out, my son snuggles up, his eyes wide and unblinking, staring at the ceiling. "Tell that one again!" He often pats me on the arm when he likes what he hears, saying, “More. Tell me more.”

He remembers every story we've made up, correcting me if I flub a line. He knows every detail. How Tommy Two-Milks got caught sneaking a milk up his shirt in class. How Tooter Reuter ate nothing but pizza for a month. How they went fishing and hooked a legendary fish called Pearly Purple, who snapped the line and made a narrow escape. Imagination, a good thing, right?

Well, about that. I must have glossed over the rules, the part about these stories being tales, not to be tried in real life. And the tales weren't just bedtime stories anymore. I was telling them at breakfast, while getting dressed, at dinnertime. And somewhere, along the way, I got sloppy. 

It started when with the tree climbing. He wanted to go up, way up high. "Like Tooter Reuter, Daddy." Then on the way to school, I fumbled through a hurried tale of how Tooter Reuter and Johnny Junkfood played a gag, putting rocks into Tommy’s book bag. Are you rolling your eyes? My wife is, because that was the day my son put rocks in a classmates boot.

Oops.

Storytelling gone wrong. Who knew? My wife knew, she explained, but I must have not heard the warnings over the clank of sword fighting and all the laughter. But she was right, it had gone too far. So I explained to our son that these stories are fiction and not to be acted out. That when Tooter climbs the tallest tree to the top, then uses his blanket as a parachute to float back down, it's make believe. I edited all the fun offending chapters. Now, I run each word through a mental filter, taking pains to find some kind of moral to each tale that enters my head. 

But I can't help feeling censored. My wife over there coughing when I skirt around her code of standards. I explain how any good story needs conflict. Oh, I found me some conflict.

So finally, amidst the criticism, like any prima donna Hollywood actress, I walked. I relinquished storytelling duty to my wife. Yawn. I’ll summarize.

Sally Simpson is perfect. She uses her manners and the teacher loves her. She gets to do all the fun chores in class because she’s nice and polite. All the boys need to follow suit.

There was probably more but my son and I dozed off. But hey, at least it puts him to sleep...





Thursday, September 8, 2016

All Boy...All the Time...

My son is really into being a boy. He likes spears, daggers, swords, dinosaurs. My wife still likes to paint his toenails and the result is a glam-rock spear hunter traipsing down the hallway. 

What else. Well, he loves his bike, pirates, chainsaws and diggers. But he really likes his penis.

Oh yes, he's all too aware of what's down there these days.  He knows that he has it and he’s not afraid to “let it breathe”. 

We’ve set some ground rules for this type of "breathing". Explaining that it's only acceptable to drop trou at home, and for the love of God not at the dinner table. Sometimes he finds it funny. Other times he gets frustrated with it. Recently, we switched to boxer briefs and that seems to have helped some.

I’m sure hope it’s normal. I mean, he’s found it. It’s not going anywhere. Welcome to the club, dude.

My wife is a little more uncomfortable with his tugging than I am. He’s only three, so he’s got plenty of time to adapt. My main concern is school. But so far we haven’t had any letting it breathe complaints. So at least he's keeping his business to himself, right?  I’m sure they’d let us know...

Friday, August 19, 2016

On Your Mark...Get Set...Slow...

It’s recently come to my attention that 95% of my interaction with my son is physical. Whether it be chase, swashbuckling, walks, tractor rides, or more chasing, our days are filled with cross fit-like activities. 

But when I jammed up my big toe something awful, (something to do with kicking an empty paper box that was not so empty), I realized that other than reading books before bed and eating together, well, we’re on the run.

So I’ve got to stay healthy. Because being a peg legged pirate isn’t as fun as it looks.

I would post pictures of my foot, but there’s no need to gross anyone out. I’m rebounding quickly, and Simon has been helping with my ice packs and making sure my boo boo looks okay. Then, two minutes later he's all like, Daddy, come on.

So it’s killing me not to do our thing. But I’m on the mend, and the dogs are still expecting their walks. I guess I’m kind of needed around here. One thing is for sure, I won’t take my health for granted again. Or kick boxes. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Teach me how to keep an ax in my bed.


That, my friends, is a direct quote. My son has taken a keen interest in weaponry as of late. That's right, it's not that we don't still play with the tractors and farm animals....just that the pirates have commandeered the tractors and now a siege is underway.

As far as the ax thing, it's not as bad as it sounds. The kid's not Norman Bates...I was the one using the hatchet. He’s into Robin Hood and Ice Age. And I'm not exactly putting my foot down (nonviolently of course, not kicking or stomping). But once you start to notice it, anything, from cartoons to books, has some level of violence. Whatever, that's for another day. 

This new stage isn't all doom and gloom, either. I sort of knew it was coming. I can’t tell you how much fun it was plucking a branch from a tree and fashioning a bow out of a stick and some string, just like I did when I was a kid. After I got the bow working, we searched the yard for arrows. Then we hunted a Sabre-toothed tiger. (I’m okay with hunting tigers that have been extinct for 11,000 years). Watching my kid out there, beneath a tree, bare foot and crouching with this homemade bow, I was swept away with his imagination. 

The bow took some finesse however, and after a while elected to use his trusty spear (stick). When that failed he turned to his trusty foam sword—a gift from Papa. Let me tell you, my wife loves that thing. 

From what I’ve gathered all of this is normal. I'm sure anyone reading this with boys (or some girls), will tell me that it's to be expected. Besides, I played with toys guns, swords, knives, a machete, Japanese throwing stars, nun-chucks, bow &arrows, fireworks, stink bombs, BB guns, and can distinctly remember putting at least one nail through a bat for maximum carnage (I saw it in a movie). And look at me, I turned out just fine.

But no, I don’t think we need to build such an arsenal for my son. I’m fine with the foam swords for now.

The main thing is teaching him right from wrong. Because there are going to be weapons. All sorts of weapons. It's a dangerous world, so we need to be sure that out son knows he’s loved. Because love is the—*we interrupt this post to bring you a special report. The current sentence is loaded with cheesiness. Please be advised of heavy use of cliches, sappy sentiment, and eye rolling dribble*—best weapon of all.

Anyway, sure, we sleep with a sword under our pillows. We hunt prehistoric animals. We ask when we might be able to get our mitts on the staple gun. But overall, I think we’re going to be okay.




Sunday, July 10, 2016

Make America Great. Begin.


Moderate. Such a nasty, dirty word these days. But I hear it used to be the norm. JFK, Eisenhower, even George H. Bush, those guys crossed the aisle. Today that aisle is a canyon. Everyone has a side, and when you don’t stick to your guns and shut your ears--if you dare think that it might do some good to listen to an opposing or perhaps another point-of-view, well, welcome to no-man’s-land.
The Problem We All Live With

So here we are. Left with two choices very few people admit to liking. But it’s the path we’ve chosen.

Someone once told me this fairy tale. They said that congress used to eat lunch together. Seriously. Republicans and Democrats, chewing the fat and treating each other like human beings. I’m not sure if I buy it, but it makes for a good story. And don’t you just love nostalgia?

You know, those old timey fifties commercials, black and white, all the kids hopping around saying things like gee whiz and awe shucks. Or Norman Rockwell and those cozy pictures of simpler times. No problems, right?

Well, for people who look like me maybe. But for a black guy who couldn’t share a bathroom or water fountain or pool? Yeah, not so much cozy, feel good times. More like church bombing, back of the bus, cross-the-street-because-a-white-lady-is coming kind of times. And acting like it didn't happen obviously isn't doing a whole lot of good. 

So what's this got to do with politics? Everything. And nothing. One person can only do so much, the rest is on us. It’s about hate. It’s about assumptions. It’s about, well, yeah it’s about race. Hate it or love it.

Most of us want to raise our kids to love everyone and everything. Of course we want to teach them right from wrong. I was on vacation with my family and we were driving in the car when I heard the news and learned of Alton Sterling. Then the shootings in Dallas. My son is three, but he's quick. He started asking questions. About guns, or, shooters as he calls them. He heard the worlds kill, police, and white people. Black people. Hell, I don’t know if my son knows he’s white yet, or what in the hell it means. But he knows police. And he's quickly grasping the fact that guns kill. So I shut it off, because it was just too much for me to explain. Because what do you say, you know?

Look, you might not agree with me about politics, opinions. America and greatness. That’s fine. I’m no expert. I’m not on any panels or study groups. I’m just some dude who’s been around people for forty years. This shit is complicated.  

Greatness. Take World War II, when American freed the world from big bad Nazi’s. Great? Absolutely. The greatest generation, yes. We’ve never been so brave, with D-Day and coming together as a country. But again, not great for Japanese Americans. Oh and don’t forget Mr. Black Guy, who served admirably and did all those brave things with your grandpa? Yeah, his welcome home?

The colored entrance is around back.

So, yeah, I can see why some might take issue with the whole Great Again part of Mr. Donald’s slogan.

An Norman Rockwell knew it too. 

I’m not America bashing either. I think the concept of America is a gorgeous thing. Give me your tired and weak and whatnot. I’m proud to be an American because even with all of her faults, her impurities, it’s the idea of this country makes it so special.  Yes, exceptional. The cultures, the sights, and even the struggles that have made us who we are today. Other countries can look at us and point and say that we don’t get it, and maybe we don’t, but damn, when it works, when the good in our communities outshines the bad and it all comes together and people forget that they disagree or said all of those nasty in the comment section and just sit back and watch their kids play and don’t try to interfere and mess everything up with labels, well, that’s my America.

Sure, our county was built on a foundation of shaky hypocrisy and revolutionary zeal, from the first sentence that declared our freedom we were turning a blind eye to the obvious but at the same time paving the way for our futures. We have to open the lines for a discussion. If we don't, then what?

We’re in this together. All of us. Black, brown, and white and tan. Liberals and Conservatives. We can implode, just end it now and make it easy for the terrorists, we could prove all of those other countries right, that we’re nothing but a bunch of fat bigots. Or…

Or we can be great.

Being great means starting small. It means smiling once in a while. It means letting that asshole over in traffic because who cares? It means actually listening to what someone says without assuming the worst in each other. It means not thinking that one person can “fix” everything by getting elected.

And yes, it does mean raising our kids not to hate each other. It means opening up dialogue with police officers. It means all sorts of things that I won’t claim to know. It means there’s no easy fix. It means that if America is going to be great, then we’re going to have to work at it.

Now Begin.



Sunday, June 26, 2016

Aim Low

This post may come out all wrong but it’s something I’ve been turning over in my head for a few days. Months I guess. It goes like this:
For my son, I want to aim low.

That’s right. Low.

There’s so much pressure these days. College talk. Scholarships. Savings plans. Big hopes and dreams for the snowflake.  And that's fine, saving is good, right? Moms and Dads are dreaming big these days. Going to be an awful lot of doctors and lawyers, a surge of professional athletes. 

Obviously a lot of it is said in jest. I hope. You know, kid makes a shot and Dad’s ready for the draft.  But a lot of stuff, it’s there and it's real. It's lurking in the minds and in the hearts of well-meaning parents. And it can be a pressure cooker.

Okay, you say, what are you suggesting? 

Well, I want my kid to succeed…in happiness. 

Hey! Stop rolling your eyes. What I mean is that I want him to do what makes him happy. Sure I want him to dream and fight and try and strive. And right now, at my house, for my kid, happiness consists of taking stuff apart. Popping the hood of my car so that he can study the engine. He likes engines, loves them, and working parts are his thing right now. And if he wants to be an engineer, great, and if he wants to be a mechanic, great too.

Fine by me. He loves to learn about lawn mowers and car engines, even flipping over his toys to see what makes them roll, click, or turn. So yeah, I think for him being a mechanic would be a pretty decent way to make a living.

But when I say it, people think I’m joking.

I’m not.

Trade school sounds like a great plan. College diplomas are becoming increasingly more expensive and well, by the time he’s ready I’m not so sure I want him taking out loans he’ll have to pay for the rest of his life.

And everything is about money. It seems people just go to college to get a job. Okay, I'll say here that yes I’m naive and weird and in the distinct minority because I happen to think that kids should go to college to learn things.

Just to learn things.

I read all the time. Almost anything, because I love it. I’ve read college text books for fun, seriously, and didn’t pay a dime to do it. That said, I know people don’t go to college to learn things. That would be stupid. They go so that they can get a good job.

We need money. But we need time too. We need a healthy balance of time/money/love/ to be happy. To be peaceful. And what’s the point in going into massive debt to go to school to get a good job to get lots of money to pay the debt so that you can work your way into happiness? I think I’m confused.

What if my kid is comfortable? What if he’s a comfortable mechanic who lives a normal, non Earth-shattering life ? What if he does what he loves? 

Also--the kicker here--he could come over and the old man's car when it broke down. Win.

No seriously, this is not about me. What's wrong with comfort? With finding your own groove. Took me half a life to do it and I'm still working to get that groove right. So what do I know? Sure, we can nurture them and provide a stable environment for them to succeed, and if that’s college, great. If not, will figure it out. But in the end, the choice is his to determine.


Thursday, June 2, 2016

Acting Up and Lashing Out

Our son’s been acting up some lately. Nothing horrendous, just picked up on on some bad habits. Habits we’d like to break.

We’ve discussed it with him, and he nods along. He knows, and even tells me, "Daddy, we don’t say bad."

But saying and doing are very different things. And I'm not trying to paint myself as some parenting expert when I say that I’m not even sure where he’s seen some of these nasty new habits.

Like spitting. Or hitting with a fist. I mean, I don’t go around the house, shaking my fist at him and Mom, Honeymooners style. You can blame a lot of bad habits he's picked up from dear old dad, but I can honestly say that punching is not one of them.

And face it, I know that we can’t shield him from everything. I've tried. And failed. All the violence in the world, it' s impossible to keep him from seeing it.  I just wasn’t so prepared for how quickly he’s picked up on it.

Like the other day, when he put a WWF combo on me. First, he scrunched up his nose, then  came some vicious teeth gnashing. Next thing I knew I'd received a right hook, spin move, donkey kick trifecta.

He's also got a backwards head butt in the arsenal.

Seriously. Now what do I do?  Spank him to show him that hitting is wrong? Sounds repetitive to me. Instead we talk. I explain that we don’t hit, we use words. The kid knows lots and lots of words, more than me I think, so it isn’t like he’s ill-suited to talk his way out of a problem. Then we hug it out.

And back to that WWF thing. Again, not my doing, I haven’t watched wrestling since I was ten and Mean Gene Okerlund was interviewing Mr. T and Hulk Hogan.

So where? 

Our television is limited to three or four options:

Curious George-Only the nicest, sweetest monkey you’ve ever seen in your life. Nope, not here.
Cars - Considering that they don’t have fists or feet kind of limits their options,

Bob the Builder - Despite having all the tools at his disposal, is just too nice a guy to go around clubbing people.

Shrek – May be on to something here. As fun as that big burly green fella is, he does do his share of punching and kicking. But seriously, Shrek?

Where else?

School.

Has to be school. School, Shrek, and everywhere else.  Like I said, I can’t keep him in a bubble. My wife won't let me. 

But I think the talks are working. Over the weekend I took him to the park. Another boy was there, up on the tower where there were two little telescopes. Simon climbed up and the boy said he was playing there, made a whole big fuss out of the deal. Simon simply watched him for a moment, then went about his business.

So maybe he’s just saving all the lashing out for Mom and me. Which is fine, we can take it, we can coach him on better ways to handle not getting a cookie after dinner.

He’s testing, exploring the limits. And being an all-out beast in the process. I watch him during calmer moments, wondering what sets him off. He’s taking it all in, so it’s only natural he’s going to let it all out sometimes.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Alone Time

Coming up on three-and-a-half-years old, my son is growing increasingly independent. I've noticed how he talks things out, solves problems on his own. Or maybe it's as simple as lying on his back in his play room after school, taking some time to decompress. 

I think it's a good thing, taking some time to get himself together. But a little time goes a long way, and this past Sunday, I found out the hard way not to let things get too quiet.

Sunday. Our neighbor stopped over with her ten-year-old daughter, as they do most Sundays for dinner and fun. Fun because whenever they enter the house, I become invisible. No big deal, it's just how it is. And this day was no different. 

Things started off with a bang as Simon and his future babysitter scampered off, into the living room to play hotel, which means stripping the beds of all covers and pillows and setting them up in the living room. This girl is great with my son. So much so that I’d gotten a bit lax with the supervision. I joined my wife and neighbor in the kitchen on the way out to fire up the grill.

Back inside, the kids have moved to the table to draw. So I hang in the kitchen and we talk about what conditioner works best with our hair where it occurred to me that I don’t really hang out with many guy friends these days. Oh, and that things were awfully quiet in the other room.

I drifted back and poked my head in.

Oh, finger painting. Cool. I’ve learned to stay away when it comes to activities with friends. That or get shooed away.

So back to chit-chat. The ladies were talking about those cute little pictures our kids painted last year. We all smiled, our hearts aflutter as the room filled with parental joy over our kids' special bond. And it's with this sentiment that I casually peeked back at the two of them again.

Oh My God.

My kid turned to face me. He was completely red. Gulp, that’s paint, right? He was covered. Across his neck, his arms, his hair. A thick film of paint on the table. I could only watch as he inspected the slimy paint on his palms. And started clapping. 

Paint went flying.

“Uh, honey, we need a wipe.” 

We didn't need a wipe. We needed a hose. Quite possibly an exorcist. At that point I didn't even know where to begin but I started by searching the floor for pig carcass. My son stood proudly on his chair, a picture of a Stephen King novel amidst the red paint spatter that was all over the curtains, the wall, the dogs.

I looked to the preordained sitter. A few smudges of red on her shirt. A smear on her arms. She was putting the finishing touches on a rainbow or meadow or it’s not important. My eyes widened.

“What happened?”

“Oh. He wanted a lot of paint.”

Enter my wife. Thankfully she is better than me at taking charge because I’d just been standing in the doorway, mouth hanging open in shock, unsure where to begin. She took charge by removing his shirt off for starters, but then things got difficult. Because he’s three and all.

Simon hopped off the chair and bolted for the living room, waving his dripping hands above his head, southern baptist church choir-style. He was pretty much covered, from hair to toenails in red paint, shedding it on the walls as he swung around the corner and down the hall out to the sun room as he busted free and clear to the carport, chanting what I'm pretty sure was a Mayan death ritual song. 

I gave chase, following the paint trail after my kid who was now streaking across the lawn. Part of me was wondering how I’d explain this to authorities, because it sort of looked like some sort of voodoo massacre had transpired.

I scooped him up. He kicked and squirmed and I was awfully thankful that all I wear are $6 shirts these days when he wiped his face on my chest in his flailing, worked up something good between the warpaint and my reaction.

Back in the kitchen. Screaming. Cleaning. Mopping. Wiping. Forensics. Laundry. 

I wrestled this kid into the tub. No easy task considering he was in full-on Apocalypse Now mode. 

Mom to the rescue. She talked him down.Talked me down. She convinced him that it was time for a shower. To get a rinse. Pink water swirling in the tub.

I stepped out into the hall wet and streaked and like a man who'd gone 15 rounds in a parental grudge match. The neighbors helped with the cleaning. The chicken needed to be flipped on the grill so I staggered out to handle that.

Maybe my kid’s not quite ready for all this alone time.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Storyteller

My wife is a wonderful teacher, a natural nurturer, and a most excellent storyteller. Of course I’ve always known that my son is lucky to have her for a mom but every now and again I see or catch her doing something that brings it all back home.

We were hanging out at the local kid’s museum, blowing off some steam on a rainy Sunday afternoon in the barn house area. Simon was bouncing off the walls, hopping off the tractor and milking the cows and just kind of all over the place when he stumbled upon some books near the window ledge.

He spotted one of his all-time faves, Duck on a Bike and wanted Mom to read it. (Let me say here that I love how my kid stops mid-sprint at the sight of a familiar book, like he’s running into good friend unexpectedly. It's warms my inner-nerd). 

Mom’s especially good at reading Duck because she does all the character’s voices and even remembers what voice to do for each character, something I can never manage, it’s just a mess when I read characters, but anyway…

So they took a seat in the back and settle in. Mom read as a gale force of kids climbed and yelled and ran wild around them. Not far into the book, a little girl took notice. She was maybe a year or two older than Simon, lingering around and inching up closer. She had a book in her hands and was craning her head to listen to my wife’s well-crafted performance of Duck on a Bike. 

After a while, Simon got distracted and hopped off my wife's lap. There were cows to tend to, corn to shuck, and besides, he'd heard this story a million times anyway. But the girl remained, and that first-grade school teacher part of my wife couldn't just stop reading, not with a little girl standing on her tippy toes, looking on like, well, I suppose you may as well go on and finish. 

So the teacher plunged ahead with the rest of the story, in those voices, for this eager little girl trying not to look interested. And while Simon did his thing on the tractor I kept an eye on the two of them, the girl now scooted up beside my wife and taking in the pages and voices of Duck and all his friends in the book. At my wife, in the middle of all this, over there performing, doing her best cow impression and seemingly unaware she was completely making this little wide-eyed girl’s day.

At the end of the story, the girl simply presented the book she was holding, and again my wife obliged. By now the little girl’s grandmother had arrived on the scene, winded and thankful after a quick search for her missing granddaughter.

My wife finished the girl’s book. I'm not even sure what book it was, but it was great. The girl’s grandma thanked her and they both went about their day. But I shook my head, realizing that Simon got those wonderful readings—the kind that makes a little girl stand in line to hear—every single day of his life.

Lucky kid.




Thursday, May 5, 2016

Observations and Allegations


Just the other day one of Simon’s teachers at his daycare was explaining how he was such an observant little guy. Don’t I know it. Because I'd just tried, and failed, to pull one over on him. 

See, he likes to mow. Loves it. So he mows with me sometimes, with the push mower, carefully, patiently...slowwwwly. Mostly in the front yard and side yard, where it’s flat and easy and takes forever. But there’s a hill in the back and that’s what we call around my house, a daddy job.

So the other day I had a few minutes after work before Mom and son got home. So I took to the hill with the push mower. It’s steep, and it was a little wet, but I got the job done just in time to come running up to the front yard as my wife pulled in.

Success.

So I thought.

Getting out of the car he craned his neck for a better look at me. More like a once over, his searchlight eyes took me in top to bottom. From the sweat on my forehead, down to my spotted shirt, past my dirt-speckled legs and coming to a thoughtful rest at my shoes. I looked down, at the grass clippings and dirt. I was so busted.

“Did you mow, Daddy?”

His tone carried the cadence of a seasoned detective. One who’d seen this kind of thing before and knew how it was going to play out long before I started stammering.

“What, well, I, hill.”

A deep breath. Another long, appraising stare. Up and down, up down. Then he was off, in search of more evidence. By then I was tired, having walked the dogs and tackled the hill, and I was kind of hoping he’d want to take part in a less aerobic activity. No luck there, he hit that hill on a mission, stopping at the backyard with me catching up, trying to explain about Daddy jobs and the dangers of gas powered engines and mowing hills at precarious angles.

“Why is the mower out, Daddy?”

I half expected him to touch test the engine to see if it was warm. I looked up to my wife, smiling. Both of us thinking the same thing.... 

How are we ever going to pull one over on this kid?



Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Double Duty


I do my share of household duties. Really, I do. I keep the yard mowed, the dogs walked. I put away the dishes because my wife is short vertically challenged. Things of that sort. Sure, I do laundry too, and clean up toys when they block my path to the bathroom. So there.

But recently my wife had a minor surgery on her back, so my duties expanded. And by expanded I mean E-X-P-A-N-D-E-D.

She’s fine, everything went well. But I wasn’t exactly prepared for what lay ahead. Okay fine, I'll say it, I was not aware of how freaking much stuff she does around here…

Having a three-year-old is already a hands on job. Our guy runs and guns and likes to get dirty. He likes to help me out in the yard.

So surgery was Friday and I left work early to pick her up. I tried to hide the horror that found me when I saw her. Pale and greenish, she looked like she’d been under the knife. Nonetheless, I poured it on thick, telling her she was a sight, glowing really, then I drove her home, told her to take it easy, and got back to work.

Later I picked up our son to go home. We ordered pizza. Easy enough. It was raining but the dogs needed a walk. I was torn, leaving my poor wife because she couldn’t exactly do much. A quick loop around the woods and I was back in ten minutes.

The house was empty. Have I mentioned that my wife is stubborn?

I found her walking down the street, in the rain, chasing after our kid. I yelled after them, told her to get back in the house. She said she was fine. This was maybe three hours after surgery.

Once I had her safely tucked away and cuffed to the sofa, I took my son for a walk in the rain. With the dogs and the kid walked, I headed inside to sit back and eat pizza. Watch a movie. The joke was on me. There was no sitting. I fixed him dinner, I peeled his pear, I bathed him and got him dressed him for bed, I played Sheriff and Sharp Tooth with him (long story), I read books to him. Simply put, I did it all.

Saturday morning brought more of the same. Kid was up at 6:50 like it was his job. My wife was stiff but doing better, or, better as a person who just had surgery only yesterday could be rather.

Time to punch the clock.

I fixed breakfast, and by fixed I mean peeled the lid off of his yogurt. Whatever, it counts. Then I got the kid dressed and spiffy so that I could chase him around the front yard. Then we had to change because it was sopping wet outside. My dad showed up with a truck full of mulch and we mulched the yard in a half hour flat, then my Mom showed up with food for Saturday night’s dinner.

Next stop was the grocery store, a chore typically reserved for Mom—not because of gender but because I don’t do well with people. At some point we had lunch but Mom must have fixed that. Score one for her. After grocery shopping I had to go cut grass. Then I had to repeat lawn duties because my son was up and wanted to help. Then we played in the front yard. Oh yeah, I vacuumed too.

I vacuumed. Dog hair, dirt, tiny pieces to toys I’d never seen. I vacuumed the carport area, the sun room, the kitchen and the hallway. When I was done vacuuming I had to water the plants. I stripped the beds, did laundry--even used one of those dryer sheet things. 

I bathed my son. I helped my wife shower, scratching her back around the incision. I helped her dry her hair. I forewent my own personal comfort, I sacrificed, I amped up the dramatics. 

But seriously, here’s the deal. I'm glad I could pull my weight, but I need her around. Hopefully she needs me around. She does so many behind the scenes, things that go unnoticed and without thanks. I had no idea, some of this stuff. I just know that the house is growing fur. The walls are tagged with yogurt graffiti. The bathroom sink doesn't not have a self-cleaning option. My kid leaves tracks wherever he goes. 

Our house, and our son. It's a two person job.




Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Nothing To Do...

With a three-year-old there’s always stuff to do, plenty to do, not-enough-time-to-do-everything amounts of things to do. So when people say or post that there’s nothing to do, I don’t know what to tell them, other than, just go make something to do.

Kids don’t need big, flashy places to have fun. They don't need expensive toys or gadgets either. In fact, kids are fun. Organic, unmanufactured fun. Take the other day for instance, when our ten-year-old neighbor stopped by because well, I guess there wasn’t anything to do. Suddenly we were outside, and the yard was transformed into a town. My kid and this girl, they don't need a lot to work with when it comes to props. A tree became a jail, the walkway was the road. Any littering on that road and well, thus began a screaming giggling chase, and it wasn’t long before we had a jail break. It was chaos. Pure chaos.

Then came Sunday. And once again there was nothing to do.

My kid sat in my car for an hour, working the windshield wipers. We took a walk in the woods and he touched some moss and declared that it was the “carpet of the forest”. He became a doctor, working with his stuffed animals until they were all free and clear of disease. He found a stick in the yard and it became a wand, then a bat, then a machete and then a shovel. He broke said stick and that was kind of a bummer. He came up with no less than four different games on the swing set then found a lizard in the driveway and named it Emo because saying Nemo can be tricky. He met the new neighborhood puppy. He spent three minutes with his head cocked straight up to the sky and watched a jet fly over our house and disappear into the clouds. He found trash in the yard and admonished the litterbug as being naughty (no jail time though). He rubbed his belly and then gave birth (breech) to a stuffed monkey. He rode the riding mowers at Lowes. He helped me do recycling. He went to the park. A tennis ball became the better part of the evening. Later, he built a fort in the couch but refused to take off his left puddle boot and decided—from what I could make through the belly laughter—that Lefty was going to stay on his foot through his bath and even sleep with him and may never ever come off again. He helped me fix his bed. He read books. He wrapped his arm around my neck and said, “I love you, Daddy”.


And that was just Sunday, a day when there was just nothing to do. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Spring Break. Okay Bye!

Spring Break is great. For my teacher wife and my son, it means a week off. For me, I get to grab a few extra minutes of sleep because I don’t have to do drop off.

So my kid has been all Mr. Happy. No rushing off, no well, getting dressed judging from the pictures. He’s got Mom all week, all to himself. And apparently that is enough.

I found this out yesterday morning, as I was leaving for work and he was getting settled at the table. Sometimes I just stare at him, especially when he's all fuzzy-headed and singing along to whatever tune he's got going under the hood. He looked at me, ready to tear into his breakfast of yogurt. *Oh precious yogurt, without it, I’m not sure my kid would survive. 

I started to help when he shooed me away, which is understandable, as I’ve learned not to question what makes the pendulum swing the way it does, and it was swinging Mom's way this week for sure.

Anyway, I gave him a kiss and said. “Okay, Daddy’s going to work.” Kind of expecting him to put up a fight. The Stay Daddy, stay, like he does sometimes when I leave on basketball nights. Maybe reach out to me as I left, begging, pleading, and tugging at the heartstrings--which might be saying things about my well-being but that's for another blog...

Begging was not what happened here. Nope, instead he just sort of glanced over my way, then back to his yogurt.

“Okay, yeah, bye.”

He kind of gave me a shrug, as though I were holding him up from something. I stood, then paused, giving him a second chance to come to his senses. He called for Mom.

It dawned on me that maybe, perhaps, possibly he wanted me to leave. So I shuffled on, past my wife, who kind of just smirked. I hit the door, wondering if an actual party was going to launch now that I’d left the house. Confetti, songs, dancing. Maybe a clown. So I just left, and went, to work, shoulders slumped and wondering where I’d gone wrong.

By the time I got home, he was happy to see me. And I didn't see signs of a party so maybe I'd imagined the whole thing. We played outside, and I pushed him on the swing-set and asked about his day. He shrugged and nodded that it was good. He had a good day and I was home so my day was good too. It's always good to be wanted...