Saturday, November 7, 2009


It didn’t take much, just a quick finger sweep to clear away some mud, a slight wiggle to loosen the ground’s grip, a gentle tug to release the prisoners from their five-month incarceration.

“A carrot! Daddy! A carrot! It came up!”

“I know, buddy, just like we said it would! Do you want to eat it?”


The dirt-encrusted beta-carotene stick was instantaneously in Mini-Me’s mouth.

“Whoa! Wait until we wash off the dirt, okay?”


When Mini-Me turned two, he received a copy of The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss. I’d never read the book as a child, but it soon became a bedtime favorite for all of us. In the story, a little boy plants carrot seeds and patiently waits for them to sprout while everyone else tells him, “They won’t come up!” The boy waits, and hopes, and waits, and waters, and waits, and pulls weeds, and waits, and ignores his big brother, and waits, and waits, and waits, and, finally, is rewarded with a carrot three times his size, which is quite fortunate because the kid’s got to be famished after never taking a break to eat.

We have video of Mini-Me ‘reading’ the book all by himself in that adorable way kids do when they’ve memorized a story their parents have read every night for months. It’s not nearly as adorable as the way my sister ‘read’ Green Eggs and Ham until my aunt and I sought relief by hiding it from her. She responded with a screaming, tearful recitation of the story throughout my grandparents’ house until our laughter evaporated, our souls cracked, and the book reappeared. Not that adorable, but close.

When I decided we’d plant a garden this past spring I knew I’d have to plant carrots. Of course, I decided to start a garden well after the recommended planting season and did about as much preparation as my seniors do for one of my end-of-the-school-year assignments. Nevertheless, we gave it a go.

As I toiled in the dirt, it became clear that Mini-Me’s love of The Carrot Seed didn’t translate to his love of actual carrot seeds. In fact, he became so focused on excavating earthworms that he dug up my carrot seeds. Twice. I persisted, though, and grabbed Mini-Me’s attention long enough to have him water the garden. All that was left for us to do was wait.

When Mini-Me was born I held him in my arms, tears welling, and his life flashed before my eyes. The Wubster brought about a similar experience on his birthday. It didn’t take long after each of their births for us to hear words of encouragement and advice:

“…enjoy ‘em at this age…they grow up so fast!”

“…you’ll wonder where the time goes!”

“…I remember when mine were this small…seems like just yesterday…”

“…don’t take anything for granted…love them deeply every single day…”

“…time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana…”

“…before you know it, they’ll be __________ (walking, talking, driving, leaving for college, living in your basement, married, arrested, putting you in a retirement home, etc)”

And wait…

Of course, waiting isn’t one of Mini-Me’s or The Wubster’s fortes. They like to grab life by whatever their brother has that they don’t. Luckily, I’d also planted tomatoes and jalapenos to keep us entertained (and me salsafied) until the carrots were ready. Every so often I’d get the boys out back to help water, pick tomatoes, or just look for worms in our little plot of land. That usually held their attention for eleven seconds (unless we actually found worms). It was during those fleeting eleven seconds, frustrated that the carrots didn’t seem to be growing, that I was reminded of just how quickly the boys were growing… just as everyone said they would.

The Wubster’s a pro at walking now even if he stumbles drunkenly after too much milk and still occasionally holds one arm in the air grasping a phantom hand for support. He’s even become pretty good at crawling, which he’d initially skipped, and he’s got quite the arm. He spends a lot of his time playing fetch with himself.

Mini-Me’s learning Spanish and Sign Language. His favorite word is ‘amarillo’…that’s yellow. He can read almost every capital letter, his name, and, as of this weekend, the word ‘Zoo’. He puts away his dishes after dinner, carried a jug of milk up from the basement by himself, flew a helicopter on Halloween, knows the ins and outs of his preschool’s fire alarm system, and can seriously rock out on his drums.

And wait…

When Mini-Me and I came inside I rinsed the mud from a couple carrots and we all sat down in the kitchen for a snack. As they devoured our harvest, each one looking so grown up, I couldn’t help but wonder how we’d already made it to this point. Where had the time gone? How had the infants who cuddled up and slept on our chests already become these handsome young boys?

It didn’t take much, just a constant supply of milk and quick finger foods to sweep up off the kitchen floor later, a silly giggle to loosen the tension after a tantrum, a gentle tug on our heartstrings to read just one more story, sing just one more song, spin in just one more circle, slide just one more time.

“We’re growing up! Daddy! We’re growing up! We’re getting bigger!”

“I know, buddies, just like everyone said you would!”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Searching for Super Man

Look, up in the sky there was a bird, but he settled on a low branch of the tree across the street; warbling his disgust at being disturbed by the commotion. There was a plane, too. Several, in fact, soaring majestically overhead; off to the bliss of faraway places; unaware of the pain and suffering below. There was, however, no Superman. No tights, no cape, no fancy emblem, no truth, no justice, no American way. Just pain and anger; blood and tears.

“Help me! Please! Help!”

Time slowed as the lines of reality merged on that rectangle of cement until nothing concrete remained. Metal and rubber and flesh became one; each entity lost in the embrace of the other.

“It hurts! Please help me…I can’t get up!”

The boy’s voice was delicate compared to the speeding locomotive rumbling along the rails, shrieking its warning in the distance, and, yet, his cries struck faster than a speeding bullet. Help arrived, not by leaping over tall buildings, but with feet firmly planted on the ground.

The boy squinted through the tears and sunlight at the looming shadow. Hands of average strength reached down to disentangle metal, rubber, and flesh. Arms of exceptional normality scooped the boy off the sidewalk. Eyes, gifted only with the ability to see through fear, examined the bloodied, dirt-encrusted knees. Lungs, powerful enough to blow out candles, exhaled five quick, calm words: “Don’t worry. I’ve got you.” Back muscles, powerful enough to support the weight of fatherhood, carried the mangled bike and bruised ego of a young boy six blocks home.

“I fell, daddy…it hurts.”

“I know, buddy…you’ll be okay.”

The bird, having quickly forgotten the recent upheaval, resumed its cheerful chirping. The planes, never faltering in their flight, disappeared into the clouds ahead of their pitiless roar. Time regained its traction as the boy relaxed in the arms of his super man.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My Lyrical Mythology

It’s that time again.

The first day has dipped below the horizon in the rear view mirror of this school year, I can connect most of my students’ names with their faces, and the first essay is striking procrastination into the hearts of nearly one-hundred seniors. In years past I’ve pondered writing this first assignment—an informal essay examining personal mythology—along with my students, but I always seemed to find something else to do instead. I’m not proud of that fact, but regrets won’t get it written this year either.

Like most of my students, I’ve spent the past few days contemplating what shapes my understanding of my place in the universe. We started the year discussing Joseph Campbell and the idea that a mythology is the set of beliefs true to the people they’re about. So what’s true to me? What beliefs do I hold that help me understand life, the universe, and everything?
I’m not an overly spiritual person so, while I do believe in the existence of a power far beyond human comprehension, most of my beliefs aren’t deeply rooted in one particular organized religion. I believe that the universe is full of mysteries and that, while we think we’re hot stuff, humans are pretty insignificant in whatever grand scheme is in place. I believe in morality, the Golden Rule, and the absolute perfection that is the peanut M&M. I believe that you’re only as old as you feel and I feel pretty darn young (despite Rice Krispie knees and my students’ blank faces when I reference The A-Team or The Facts of Life).

I believe that attempting to ignore Dr. Phil on the guest lounge television of the Honda dealership while waiting on an oil change and tire rotation is not conducive to brainstorming. Despite the distractive bickering of whiny husbands and controlling wives seeking approval from the good doctor, there is one belief I can’t shake—a belief that would have been the first scribble in my notebook if I hadn’t told myself to stop and find something more significant. Instead, I turned my back while this belief miserably moped from the corner like a dismissed diva, furtively followed my thoughts from behind the Honda merchandise cases like a painfully shy child, nervously nagged from the showroom Civic like a backseat driver, boldly burrowed into my flesh and refused to let go like a hook-fueled pop-40 hit, and brazenly burned holes in my soul so big guilt finally gushed out and the only choice left was to accept that down to my very core I believe “life is grand, love is real, and beauty is everywhere.”

I’ve always loved lyrics and the way songs speak to the significant moments in life. A song that bounces around your brain as a catchy, breezy summer sing-a-long for years suddenly morphs into the perfect description of how you feel about the boy/girl that’s got your heart palpitating. A power-ballad that you loved to scream at the top of your lungs while driving down the highway with your windows down suddenly morphs into a tear-inducing reminder of the boy/girl that’s left your heart shredded and disfigured. A song you liked as a teenager annoys the hell out of you in your twenties, but returns sweetly during mid-life musings. Sometimes the simple maturation that comes with the passing years is all it takes to awaken new appreciation for the way words fit together in a song.

The first time I heard those ten simple words, “Life is grand, love is real, and beauty is everywhere,” so exquisitely arranged, I was watching Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers perform at Pop’s in Sauget, IL. I started my relationship with Roger’s lyrics back in the early 90s and the days of the Refreshments, but we separated when he sought independence from the constraints of mainstream radio and record companies. Despite not being together, the memories we made through those early songs still held a special place in my heart and the lyrics guided me through the fog of youth. I connect more to Roger’s songs than those of any other artist despite the fact that he often sings about the arid Mexican borderlands while I’m stuck in the humid Midwestern Ozarklands. So ten years later, when I discovered Roger was coming to the St. Louis area, I knew I had to see him, had to rekindle the flame.

I stood in the smoky darkness of Pop’s seediness while riff-propelled words eased their way into my ears and settled in my soul. Songs both familiar and new drifted from the stage. That night Roger reminded me of the power of music with ten simple words in the song ‘Better Beautiful than Perfect’. Ten simple words that fanned the passionate embers once again into a steady blaze and burned deep into my mythology: “Life is grand, love is real, and beauty is everywhere.”

Life is indeed grand—absolutely grand. While I believe humans are insignificant in the ultimate scheme of the universe, I passionately believe that life is worth living. Sure I grumble when the alarm rings at 5:05 a.m. and I’d rather ‘snooze’ then stumble out from the comforting warmth of my bed, wipe away the eye boogers (great social equalizer that they are), and hope for the grogginess to fade quickly, but I would never pass up the opportunity to experience the complex reality of being human. I’m fascinated by what it means to be alive: literally and figuratively. I’m amazed by the way the human body works and the way the human brain allows us to process interactions with internal and external stimuli. I’m astounded to think that the experience of being human connects me to every other human who has graced this planet and even those who’ve walked on the moon. I’m thunderstruck when I ponder how I go through the same motions (which is why my dance moves are a bit dated), breathe the same air (with a few more additives), communicate the same way (well, with some minor additions like Twitter and texting), eat the same food (pizza’s been around forever, right?!?), and struggle through the inevitable ups and downs of life as my ancestors. And therein lies the true grandness of life: it’s a struggle, it’s a challenge, it’s complex, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure, it’s strict rules to follow, it’s a clear lake with a muddy bottom, and it’s certainly never quite what you expect. But that’s exactly what makes it amazing and so worth the effort.

Love is real—but not just fairy tale archetypal happily-ever-after love. Love is real because it is bound to the same complexities of life: it isn’t perfect, it has flaws, it’s fickle, and it takes work to get it right. It’s easy to see that the concept of love exists within the human experience. Hollywood, romance novels, and Disney-groomed singers tell us that every day. But while I know that love exists, I know that it is real because it isn’t simple. It forces us into the midst of universal battles between passion and anger, desire and hatred, yearnings and revulsions. Love that we have for friends, family, and significant others is filled with these battles. For instance, I absolutely love Mini-Me and ‘The Wubster’. I would do anything for them, give anything to them, and sacrifice everything because of them. I’ve loved them from the moment I first laid eyes on each of their disgusting little faces (What? They were covered in afterbirth…once they’d been cleaned up they were adorable). Those boys are my pride and joy and I can’t believe how something as small as a one-minute-old child can evoke such strong emotions. Of course, as much as I love them, at times they drive me crazy and remind me how much I enjoyed my former freedom. There are moments (see some of my earlier blogs) when I really, really miss sleeping in, lazing away weekend mornings, eating a meal without someone having to poop as soon as the food arrives, looking at the front door and not seeing the time-out corner, or relaxing the moment I walk in said door after work. Love is real because it forgives my selfishness, impatience, and frustration in those moments. Love is real because actually returning to a life of those moments would be vapid and meaningless.

Beauty is everywhere. I’ve always been fascinated by the marvels of Earth (opposable thumbs, thunderstorms, chocolate, snowflakes, volcanoes, roses, aurora borealis, the duck-billed platypus) and those beyond (shooting stars, Saturn’s rings, comets, Pluto [I still believe in you!], nebulae, black holes, galaxies far, far away). I wake up every day ready to experience the beauty of the world around me, whether it’s something I see every day (the smiles on my wife and kids’ faces) or something I’ve never experienced before (if I could give you an example it wouldn’t be something I’ve never experienced, natch) because I know that beauty can be found in all aspects of the universe. Actually, not all aspects. Truth be told, I see nothing beautiful about those burrowing, hideous, eyeless critters that terrorize the poor, defenseless grubs seeking sanctuary in my yard and the blades of grass that just want to keep their roots in the dirt and keep reaching for the stars. One of my students read this and proclaimed, “Moles are so cute with their little snouts and feet!” What was I to do? Crush her idealistic view of one of nature’s cruel jokes? Nah. Instead I’ll simply follow her example and search out the beauty of nature, the beauty of mole…traps. Of course, I guess I understand. I think Mini-Me and ‘The Wubster’ are absolutely adorable, but, while my wife and I may think they’re lovely, the boys are not always viewed as such in public. When we go out to eat at restaurants there are times when people around us smile and wave and enjoy watching the boys play, and talk, and make a mess. There are other times when the boys’ behavior makes the people around us want to puke. Beauty’s certainly in the eye of the beholder, but at least that eye doesn’t have to look far to find rewards.

So, yes, life is grand, love is real, and beauty is everywhere. The world around me is beautiful, complex, imperfect, amazing and unique and, as part of it, so am I. Roger and the boys are coming back to town in October. If you want to find me I’ll be there in the Duck Room, standing towards the back, singing along to those ten simple words.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy Birthday, ‘Wubster’…a tad late!

But, you see, here's the problem: this post isn't late simply because I'm un-loving, lazy or overwhelmed with the start of school. That's not it at all!

Your mom and I actually put a lot of thought into your birthday. We've just been faced with a conundrum (yes, conundrum): What do we get the kid whose big brother already has everything?

We thought about planes, trains, and automobiles (rest in peace, Mr. Hughes), but Mini-Me has enough of those to share when he wants.

We thought about musical instruments, but Mini-Me already has the First Act 'Orchestra and Rap Metal' set (it was a Toys R Us exclusive) complete with bonus tuba, maracas, and key-tar. There are plenty of instruments and toddler-angst hooks to go around at our house.

We thought about plaid sweaters, tube socks, and footy pajamas, but that's what crazy third aunts twice removed are for.

We even thought about just wrapping up toys we already had around the house since you have more fun with the gift wrap anyway. Even if you did complain, we figured you can only say 'kitty' and 'mama' so your argument would be lost on us. Luckily for you we have consciences.

Eventually we settled on a last minute Target purchase: the Fisher Price Little People Farm.

It's awesome!

It comes with a farmer and the stereotypical farm animals (no llamas or emu here), it makes different animal noises when you open doors and push buttons, and it doubles as a headache inducer when someone crams all the pieces inside the silo--including the tractor--and immediately wants them all back out--including the tractor, which apparently expanded. There's even a way you can make animals slide down the roof…at least that's what Mini-Me does when he plays with it. In fact, he loves it! He plays with it more than you! He plays with all your birthday gifts more than you!

So what did we get the kid whose brother already has everything for his birthday? More toys for his big brother. Now that's a sweet gig!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rachel of Troy: The Face That Launched 1000 Tantrums

I totally understand. Her face was etched in my mind the moment I first saw her fourteen years ago. Well, technically, it was the fuchsia dress she was wearing, but that's a different story altogether.

Turns out she's still driving the boys crazy.

But I'm not jealous. No sir. Not one bit. I'm too exhausted to be jealous.

Mini-Me and 'The Wubster', though? They've got the greenest blue eyes I've ever seen.

The other night was supposed to be a fun, treat-filled, quality-family-bonding kind of evening. Mini-Me read (was read) forty books, completing the local library's summer reading program, and we wanted to celebrate. Plus, he didn't cry when I dropped him off at the sitter's. It was a good day!

Turns out the boys had other plans. They were blood thirsty. They were ready to divide and conquer. They were hell-bent on waging warfare on hallowed grounds.

"This is exciting! Mommy hasn't been to the library with us, yet. You can show her where all the books are."

[Ten years in the area and we just got library cards this summer. This relationship was long overdue.]


"Well, she just hasn't. She has to work during the day when we've been going."


"Mommy's not a teacher. She doesn't get as long of a summer vacation as I do."


Hindsight has proven this interrogative style to actually be a code system more complex and difficult to break than that used by the Wind talkers of WWII. Mini-Me was positioning himself for battle while distracting us with redundancy.

Inside the serene lobby of the library the subterfuge continued.

"Mommy, this is where we return our books. I can do it!"

"Mommy, this way…this is where they keep my books."

"Mommy, here are the Thomas books."

Rach and I looked at each other and shared a "Wow! What an independent, responsible boy he's becoming. This is fun!" moment. It was a fleeting moment.

Hearing the code words "Tank Engine," 'The Wubster', a tank engine himself, toddled his mommy towards the non-fiction books and out of Mini-Me's sight. This could be post-traumatic stress talking, but I'm pretty sure he was laughing deeply and maniacally at the time.

"Where's mommy? Mommy! Mommy! I want mommy!"

"Shhh, buddy. She's with 'The Wubster'. She'll be right back. Shhh. We're in the library; we have to be quiet."


[That font's called 'Matisse'. I was looking for 'EarPiercingScreamWhenIReallyHaveNoReasonToScreamInAPublicPlaceExceptToMortifyMyParents'. It must not have transferred over from my old computer. ]


"Buddy, please! Shhh. Let's go get your reading prizes."

'The Wubster' toddled Rach back into sight wearing an 'I've-got-mommy-and-you-don't' smile. Mini-Me, content that mommy was nearby, focused his attention on his reading prizes, especially the day-glo green book bag that was too large and therefore sure to eventually cause issues on top of the jealousy. It did.

For the time being, though, I perused new picture books, Rach sifted through board books with 'The Wubster', and Mini-Me quietly loaded up his new bag with Bob the Builder books. It was another fleeting moment.

"Whoa, buddy! You've gotta lotta books there! Why don't you just pick two of those so other kids have some to choose?"


"Because ten Bob the Builder books are too many."

"Why? I want all of them! WAAAAAAAHHH!"

'The Wubster' looked up from the board book he was chewing on, realized Mini-Me was stealing the show, and sought his own glory.

"Unngh unnngh unnnngh ennhh Ennnhhh EnnnnHHHH!"



"Mommy I want up! WAAAAAAAHHH!"

"Hey! Why don't you go with the sacrificial lamb mommy and pick out two DVDs. I'll take care of the books."

They did. But it wasn't easy. Nor was it quiet. The book bag became an issue.

Finally with tears wiped and books and DVDs in hand, we headed for the front desk. 'The Wubster' sensed time was running out to make his presence known, so he made his presence known. Rach escorted him out of the building before Marian could offer a single shush. Turns out Mini-Me's incredibly attentive.

"Where's mommy? Mommy! Mommy! I want mommy! I WANT MOMMY! WAAAAAAAHHH!"

"Buddy! It's the library. You can't cry in the library. They have signs about it."

*sniff* "Where?"

"Up there." I pointed to the arched entry over the children's area where the word 'Kids' is written in at least ten different languages. It was worth a shot.

Mini-Me paused briefly as he looked up.


Rach heard the tantrum from outside, came back in and, from 100 feet away, gave him a look that grabbed him by the ear and dragged him out of the library. Kicking and screaming, of course. I was left alone in line, wearing my cloak of mortification and drowning in the now awkward silence.

    "Why's that boy crying, mommy?"

    "He must be tired. He's had a long day."

If only they knew the Trojan War brewing in front of their eyes.

If only we were smart enough to go straight home.

"Let's run to IGA real quick."

"I want to go in!"

"Only if you promise not to cry."

"I promise…"

[Twenty feet into the store later]

"Unngh unnngh unnnngh enhh Enhhh EnHHHH!"



"Mommy I want mommy! WAAAAAAAHHH!"




Thursday, July 23, 2009

Save Ferris!

I'm pretty sure I got Buellered today.

Mini-Me woke up complaining of a "yucky tummy" and both he and 'The Wubster' did feel hot to the touch, so I called the sitter and ditched 'Advanced' computer training to take care of my boys.

I don't think I gave Mini-Me enough time alone to hold the thermometer up to a light bulb, but if I did, he certainly deserves an Oscar for acting like holding it under his tongue was going to strip away his soul and three toenails.

The kid has me thinking he knows more than he's telling.

So what if he wouldn't eat, took a three hour nap, still had a fever in the evening, and actually fell asleep when we tucked him in. Once he found out he was staying home this morning his demeanor changed, he shifted into eighth gear, and he lost focus just long enough for me to catch sight of a twinkle in his eyes.

He's only three and he's wise beyond his high school years.

Pray for us!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Top Ten Nuggets of Knowledge I Learned on My Summer Vacation

10 – Flying with children is a great way to practice hands-on explorations of new math!

For instance, I learned that ((2 children + 0.23 naps) / 6 adults) x (10 hours of flying / 7 time zone changes) = (FUN!) x (Sarcasm / Joy of stepping foot in Hawaii)

However, ((2 children + 3 interrupted naps) / 6 adults) x ((10 hours of flying x (1 missing plane + 1 broken fuel pump + 1 unexpected deplaning + 1 LONG line of frustrated passengers + 300 frantic phone calls + 1 time out ) / 3 hours delayed) / (- 7 time zone changes)) = (MISERABLE EXHAUSTION – Sarcasm) / Home Sweet Home

Really, it's not hard to compute as long as you keep your integers separate from your binomials and always remember to carry the aspirin.

9 – If you need something carried, I'm your Sherpa!

We tried to pack light. We really did, but packing light while travelling with two kids too young to haul their own luggage—one of whom can't walk by himself yet—usually meant whoever wasn't carrying 'The Wubster' was loaded down with the bulk of the bags and our big-hearted family members picked up any leftovers. Since 'The Wubster' is a momma's boy I carried a lot of stuff. To top it off, our room at the resort is one of the furthest from parking. That's cool because it's right on the cliffs along the ocean, but uncool when hauling bags to and from the car, and especially uncool when they turn on the sprinklers along the section with the 75° incline and zamboni-smooth concrete. Tenzing Norgay never complained, though, and neither did I.

8 – 'The Wubster' is a natural Karate Kid.

When Mini-Me first encountered sand on our trip two years ago he knelt down and squeezed it as hard as he could. 'The Wubster' broke out 'The Crane Pose'. I sorted through the pictures last night and there's not a single one of him in the sand with both feet down. Watch out Johnny Lawrence

7 – You can ruin a hot dog…and fries.

"No, Mini-Me. You will eat what we bought you. That's dinner. There's nothing else and especially no dessert! It doesn't taste bad…it's a hot dog."

We were on our way to see the lava entry at night on the Big Island and made a quick stop at an L&L Drive In to pick up the traditional plate lunch fare which we had enjoyed at another L&L the first night on the island. While Karen, Mah-Geh!, and I ordered Hawaiian-style, Rach and Mini-Me went for traditional Americana with a cheeseburger, hotdog, and fries.

It's not unusual for Rach to not enjoy food. A hint of onion here, a whiff of most other vegetables there and the food is ruined. Mini-Me takes after her…sort of. For him, though, it's a lack of turkey here or a lack of refried black beans there and he'll turn up his nose. Typically, though, hot dogs fly low on his radar and will do if they must. I wasn't surprised when Rach said her burger was bad. I chalked it up to an overzealous chef who was a bit free with his onions. Mini-Me's complaints, though, were attributed to his over-tired condition. When he continued to refuse to eat both the dog AND fries, I finally stepped in and took a bite of both.

"Stop whining…just let me see it." [CHOMP] "Mmm…sthee…ith naht bad. Ith justh a hawt dawg" [GULP…COUGH]. "What about the fries? Just eat those."

"No, daddy."

"C'mon…here, lemme have one."

I try not to spit food out because I abhor Mini-Me's habit of doing that, but the hot dog and fries tasted like Guy Fieri'd just dished out his infamous 9 volt, sautéed metal, and year-old fryer oil casserole. My taste buds have been mutilated.

The closest experience I could use to describe how it felt is our honeymoon. (Rach, wait! Don't stop reading!)

At the resort's sushi restaurant I made Rach eat a piece of ginger after telling her it was a piece of fish that tasted like smoked ham. I truly believed it was the same thing I had just eaten…oops. Her face contorted in ways even Plastic-Man couldn't mimic.

Needless to say, before making it to the lava entry we made an unanticipated stop at a grocery store to buy Mini-Me dinner attempt #2: yogurt and Cinnamon Life. Who could ruin that?

6 – Mini-Me loves the ladies!

Poor Maggie and Auntie Karen! When they signed up for this trip to Hawaii I doubt they realized they'd spend the entire time hunted by a stalker more dangerous than a rabid rhino and more annoying than the TMZ paparazzi.


"Her name is Maggie, buddy…she'll probably answer if you say it right."

"Okay. Maggie, look out your window…Maggie, why…Maggie, come…Maggie, Maggie, Maggie…"

Sorry, Maggie, for teaching him to say your name right.

Of course, on odd days of the week it went more like this:

"Auntie Karen, what's…Auntie Karen, hold…Auntie Karen, why… Auntie Karen, Auntie Karen, Auntie Karen…"

The kid couldn't keep his hands off the girls and when they weren't around, he wouldn't stop asking where they were. Rach still clung to some status as 'Mommy', but I quickly became a speck of dirt swept under an old doormat Mini-Me wouldn't bother using to wipe his shoes clean.

5 – A $2.48 purchase at Wal-Mart can buy back your son's love…at least a little bit.

Mini-Me fell in love with building sandcastles. Swimming in the ocean was cool for about ten minutes until he walked out of the water and squeezed sand between his fingers. In that moment he also looked at the kids down the beach and developed an extreme case of p-n-s envy…that's pail-and-shovel envy…he's three for goodness sake. Geez!

On our next trip to Wal-Mart, Mini-Me actually wanted to hold my hand, wanted to talk to me, wanted to spend time in my presence. All because of four magic words:

"I'll buy you one."

"A blue one?"

"I don't know what they have, buddy, but we'll see."

"I want a blue one."

"I know"

"Daddy, can I get this fire truck?"

"No, we're here to get a pail and shovel." (No tears…amazing!)

"I want a blue one."

"I know."

"Daddy, can I get this train?"

"No" (Still no tears? Yes!)


"No. (Cacti could grow in these arid conditions!) But here's a pail…it's green."

"Can I get it?" (Seriously? No tears about it not being blue?!? This is miraculous!)

"Yep…let's go find mommy."

There was no price tag and I didn't care. We were getting that pail and shovel. Blue, green, pink…didn't matter to him…didn't matter to me. It was the only one in the whole beach aisle and it was ours. I'd fight off an army of begging orphans if necessary to secure possession of these sand tools.

Of course, on the way out we found an end cap with a thousand pails and shovels, including plenty of blue ones. All was right with the universe, no tears were shed, and Mini-Me loved me again…for a little while, at least.

4 – Wanna attract ladies at the beach…tell 'em you've got crabs.

The Kailua-Kona area of the Big Island isn't really known for spectacular beaches, so with limited options near our condo, Mini-Me, Auntie K, Mah-geh!, and I walked a half mile or so to one of the only beaches on the main strip. It's a good thing we hadn't planned on snorkeling since this beach connected directly to a harbor full of outrigger canoes, paddle boards, and cruise ship shuttles. Instead, Mini-Me and I used his pail and shovel to build a sand hotel. He worked on the main building while I built a sea wall and then began work on a system of tunnels and bridges.

While digging out the third bridge my hand slipped into a cavern beneath the sand. I thought I saw movement so I called Mini-Me, Karen, and Mah-geh! over anticipating a small crab. As is usual, once they were watching nothing appeared. I went about my business and as I scooped out another handful of sand

"Oh! There he is! He's huge! We're gonna be condemned!"

I jumped back as a crab the size of my fist scurried beneath bridge #2. Mini-Me, Karen, Mah-geh!, a woman whose kids were building a castle nearby, and a woman whose daughter was demolishing one of our earlier creations all came over to witness the spectacle. They were duly impressed as I taunted it with our shovel until it lashed out with its pincer. In fact I know there were many other women on the beach who were just too shy to wade through the commotion and examine the extent of my crab infestation.

3 – Mini-Me deviously enjoys waiting until the server delivers our food to tell me he has to poop.

"Look buddy, our food's here."

[Indifferent semi-disgust at the lack of turkey, cheese, and refried black beans followed by a minute or so for me to savor the victuals on my plate]

"My tummy hurts, daddy. I need to poop."

Every time we went out to eat. No exaggeration. Every

I started to get the feeling that the underlying issue wasn't the Cracklin' Oat Bran diet we've put him on, but rather a public toilet fetish.

I went to college with a guy who wouldn't touch a public toilet no matter the circumstances. Mini-Me's the opposite. It was all I could do to keep him from resting his forehead on some of the nastiest toilets in all Hawaii when he was pulling his pants up or down. I know he's a three-year-old boy, but, buddy, you need to learn that when it comes to public toilets, if it looks gross and smells gross it is gross. No why's about it!

The only fear the kid has in public restrooms centers around loud flushing toilets or those awesome new Xlerator hand dryers that pump out an F-15s worth of propulsion to dry your hands. I love flushing/drying with those when Mini-Me's in the bathroom. Consider it payback, young man, for all the luke-warm meals I ate this trip.

2 – Nothing says 'Aloha!' like warm urine on your leg.

I've already mentioned Mini-Me's Hawaiian toilet fetish. So, what better way to wrap up the vacation than by taking him to the bathroom at Kona Airport.

"Alright buddy, let's try to potty."

"I don't have to, daddy."

"I know, but you should at least try."

"I don't have to." [There are those tears.]

"Please try."


"Watch what you're doing. Don't touch the toilet. Pay attention, buddy. Hey! Pay attention! You're peeing on me!"

Turns out he DID have to pee. A lot.

"Sorry, daddy."

Umm-hmm…I'm adding that to my list of ways you love me.

1 – Finding a corner of the world with no cell service truly sucks when you decide to lose your family there.

Yeah, that's right. I lost my family.

This wasn't the standard we-got-separated-at-Payless lost family, though. I'm talking about losing them in the movie-of-the-week style of adrenaline-overload-oh-my-god-my-family's-at-the-bottom-of-3500-foot-deep-Waimea-Canyon-life-flashing-before-my-eyes-will-Valerie-Bertinelli-be-available-to-star lost family.

All because I wanted to find a piece of Tupperware hidden in the forest.

It's fairly well known that I enjoy geocaching (using the Global Positioning Satellites to hunt for 'treasures' hidden at specific sets of coordinates). My wife's put up with it for two years now, but, for the most part, my extended family has escaped the torture. Unfortunately, it's probably their newest peeve and the fodder for night terrors after our hike to Berry Flat Trail.

Since this was my fourth trip to Kauai, I got the brilliant idea to use geocaches as research for new trails and sights we'd never found before. It was working out perfectly: cool stuff to look at plus a cache for me to find. Typically when hunting a cache I'll follow the GPS receiver routing until I get within 1/10th of a mile and then I switch to off-road mode for the final hunt. What sometimes happens, then, is that the GPS receiver thinks that a particular road is perfect for the approach when in fact it's quite the opposite. That's what happened in trying to find this particular trail/cache.

We turned off the main drag onto a dirt road that took us up, and up, and up, but didn't seem to be taking us where we wanted, eventually went back and parked at an initial fork in the road, hiked down an incredibly rough road-not-taken, discovered that the .5 miles to the trailhead was actually 1.1 miles (oops), and hiked that entire distance along a road as opposed to a lovely, scenic trail as I'd promised the family.

Turns out, after I bolted ahead with 'The Wubster' on my back and found the cache, I reread in my notes that one of the previous cachers had posted "Do NOT follow GPS routing to this cache" and instead recommended taking the YMCA camp road. I hoped to save the rest of the group (Rach, Mini-Me, ma-in-law, pa-in-law, Auntie K, and Mah-Geh!) the uphill portion of the trek, but when I got back to them they were only about 1/10th of a mile from the trailhead. We decided they would continue on to the trail while Auntie K, Mah-Geh!, and I hiked back for the cars.

The return hike and drive took no more than 30 minutes, and as we hiked further and further along the trail we grew more and more confused.

"Doug, they wouldn't have come this far. Did you tell them where the trail was?"

"I thought so. Let me run ahead and take a look."

"Okay, we'll stay here and take amusing pictures looking concerned because right now this is funny" (Not actual dialogue, but it'll help the screenwriters out since that's what happened).

I ran ahead and followed the trail until I reached a point where the trail followed an incline I didn't think they would attempt with 'The Wubster' on Rach's back and Mini-Me in need of a nap.

"No sign of them up ahead."

"Maybe we missed them and they're back at the cars."

I'll spare you the middle part where they weren't back at the cars and we split up to search along the nearby side roads multiple times. I'll also skip the fact that I reran the trail twice, miraculously avoiding exposed roots and inevitable face plants, yelling their names, straining for a response. My run down--and most of the way back up--a steep gravel road that they wouldn't have possibly travelled doesn't merit mentioning either.

Instead I'll fast forward three hours to the point where I sat in the car at the trailhead waiting for Karen and Mah-geh! to return from checking for them back where we parked the cars in the hope that maybe, just maybe, they hitched a ride back there and we missed each other on the trail. As I waited, the panic I'd mostly kept at bay started filling my head with images of falls from cliffs, rabid chicken attacks, abduction by menehune, or some other disastrous fate.

Within a half hour, Karen returned, alone, to tell me she and Mah-Geh! finally found them back where we originally parked the cars. It seems that while hiking the trail, Logan stopped and said, "I am in red dirt stepped so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er." Convinced by the eloquence of a three-year-old, they chose to keep going and assumed we'd eventually just figure it out.

Finally knowing they were safe, I collapsed beside my car, emotionally overwhelmed and physically exhausted. When I finally rejoined them under the trees near the state park's museum, Mini-Me ran towards me with a big smile and I scooped him into my arms, tears in my eyes.

"I thought I lost you, buddy!"

"He's making me sad, mommy! Can I have a cookie now, daddy?"

He wasn't excited to see me, he had no idea anything might be wrong. He was simply excited to see the car because Rach had promised him a cookie and the cookies were in the trunk. Oh to be three again.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mini-Me!

Nothing in this world could be quite as perfect as the smile on your face and twinkle in your eyes while everyone sang 'Happy Birthday' to you at your party this weekend, buddy. Well, having my camera batteries not fail in that moment would have been a tad more perfect, but only a tad...

I had a blast splashing around in the backyard with you and your friends. I'll go ahead and apologize for doing the same thing ten years from now; you might want to start preparing yourself for the impending embarrassment. I also had fun testing my logic skills while expanding the GeoTown track layout for you and making sure there were no dead ends, even if most of the time I spent on it was after you'd already gone to bed. Whose birthday was it?

It's hard to believe that you're officially a 3.0-year-old now! I'm so proud of the little man you've become and I'm looking forward to watching you continue to grow and explore the world around you. I can't even imagine all the things you'll teach me; heck, I'm still reeling from the first three years of lessons.

Prior to hanging out with you, I never would have imagined that spraying sunscreen on a worm would bleach him, cause his skin to peel off and make his insides gush out. I mean your idea that he wouldn't want a sunburn while hanging out on our patio made total sense to me, too.

Without your help, I also never would have realized the true potential of my hand-eye coordination when it came time to catch projectiles, the fun of singing 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame' before bed, the importance of knowing where all the local fire stations are so we can drive by and see if their doors are open any time we're out and about, or the pure joy found in seeing a mailman, 'UPS Man Guy', train, trash truck, balloon, or plane. You're the best teacher I've ever had!

I love you, buddy…Happy 3rd Birthday!!!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

No One Told You Parenting Was Gonna Be This Way

My heart broke recently.

I know parents aren't supposed to be their kids' best friend (I'm a high school English teacher and I've seen plenty of parents acting like their kids' friends to know how that can turn out), but I want to be there for my sons. I want them to like me and want to be around me.

That's why my heart shattered.

On a recent family adventure Mini-Me and I were chatting about friends:

"Who's your best friend?"

"My guitar…and mommy."

"Really! What about me?"

"No. Just my guitar...and mommy…and Abby (friend at the sitter's)…and Dave (Auntie K's boyfriend). But not you."


At least I'm not alone in my pain. On that same family adventure Mini-Me and his Auntie K got into a verbal sparring match over Dave. I'm not sure how it started, but this is how it ended (P.S. Auntie K's in her late twenties):

    "He's with me."

    "No, he's with me."

    "No! He's with me."

    "No, he's with me!"

    "He's my boyfriend and I can tell him to go!"

    "Dave. You're my friend. You can stay with me."

To make life as an Aunt worse for Karen, a few weeks later she and Dave were watching the boys while Rach and I enjoyed a night on the town. I bought Rach Berkeley Breathed's
Mars Needs Moms for Mother's Day. I highly recommend any book by Mr. Breathed, but this one is a favorite of ours. Before putting Mini-Me to bed, the gang was reading the final pages of this particular book and got to the line where the main character's mom looks at him and says, "I'll love you to the ends of the universe." At this point Mini-Me looked up from the colorful pages.

"I love you to the ends of the universe, Dave."

    "What about me?" asked Karen, hopefully.

    "No. Just Dave."

Always one to look for the positive, I'm glad my son knows what he wants. That's better than having the indecisive gene the rest of the family has. I hope that one's not contagious, actually.

Auntie K got a little victory today when Mini-Me didn't want us to drop her off after the trip to Wisconsin: "You can live in our basement!"

As for me, I never imagined it'd be my 2.11-year-old son who'd teach me how much love hurts. Here he is, though, breaking my heart, seemingly vying for the attention of everyone but me. I'd say at least there's The Wubster, but he's a hardcore momma's boy.

On the verge of hopelessness, I'm reminded of the days I take the boys to the sitter and am faced with the joy that comes from the pain of dropping off Mini-Me as he clings tightly to my neck and begs me to stay and play. He knows just how to claw at my heart and tell me that I still rate.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

It's All Rock 'n Roll to Me

I love music.

There's nothing quite like good chord progressions, catchy hooks and memorable lyrics to get my blood pumping, feet tapping and vocal chords wavering.

Over the years I've reveled in the adrenaline of resting a needle on vinyl, popping in a new cassette single, slipping in a new CD, or downloading an mp3. About a year ago I finally entered the world of iPods and now I don't know what I'd do without my Nano 3g…unless of course an iPhone or Touch sauntered along and wanted my affections instead; then I might find it easier to say goodbye.

Listening to music is my perfect way to pass the time while cleaning, grading, or driving, but nothing beats hearing that same music live, especially in an intimate setting. Of course, Rachel completely disagrees: "Why pay to stand up and hear what I can hear sitting down at home whenever I want?" Still, she tolerates my love of a live show most of the time.

I've seen concerts in venues of all sizes by all manner of artists from Weird Al Yankovic along the riverfront in Little Rock, August '92 (Don't judge...I enjoyed every f#cking minute of that concert!) to REM at ConstantlyNewlySponsored Amphitheater in St. Louis, September '95 (I want to be Mike Mills) to U2 at Soldier Field in Chicago, June '97 (we snuck in using tickets snagged from a greasy couple with grabby hands who "Had better things to do" back home.) Before the adrenaline could wear off, that was quickly followed by Rockfest at Texas Motor Speedway, June '97 (my parents had me drive instead of my best friend, Ryan, because he was a "reckless driver"...I wrecked the van about a mile away from the gates...we missed most of the performances by Bush, No Doubt, Counting Crows, Matchbox Twenty, Jewel, Collective Soul, The Wallflowers and others as we sat along the side of the road waiting for my none-too-pleased parents and a tow truck.).

I've also seen some before-they-were-stars shows: The Dixie Chicks at an early 90s Fourth of July celebration in Richardson, TX; N'Sync in the late 90s in front of St. Louis' Union Station, John Mayer opening for Guster at The Pageant a couple months before he returned with Guster as his opening act.

While at Truman a group of us braved what turned into a six-hour trek through an ice storm to see Weezer play at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis.

Of course I could go on and on about other shows I've loved: Jackopierce at Truman's Dog Days, They Might Be Giants and Cowboy Mouth at Columbia, MO's Blue Note, The BoDeans beneath the Gateway Arch, Third Eye Blind and Coward at Dallas' Trees, and Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers wherever the hell they want to play, but I won't.

For this post, the who is so much less important than the where.

After moving to St. Louis I quickly discovered Blueberry Hill's Duck Room. It's the perfect place to see a show. Dank, dark, intimate, not-too-smoky-or-skeezy, cave-like, but brightened by good acoustics and lovely duck-covered walls. The first artist I saw perform in the Duck Room was Bob Schneider and since that night I've become a concert venue snob. Whether it was more about Bob or the ducks is neither here nor there. The evening was magical and I fell in love.

Sure I'll go to the Pageant, ConstantlyChangingSponsors Amphitheater, or other local venues to see a show if I must, but my druthers now prefer feathers. I've seen Bob three times, Todd Snider twice, Roger Clyne four times, and a smattering of other shows in between all at the Duck Room.

I love that place!

It's no surprise, then, that on a recent, rainy Sunday I found myself hunkered down in front of the Duck Room's stage.

This particular crowd was the smallest I'd ever seen in my little slice of heaven, but its energy more than made up for that fact. I'd convinced Rachel to come along and, as we waited for the show to begin, we glanced around and felt old…really old!

A pair of eccentric twins wearing tutus stood to our left (female twins...they weren't that eccentric). A kid with plaid shorts and a popped collar leaned against a table to our right. A couple of girls behind us (sisters probably) danced with a man who seemed old enough to be their grandfather.

Before we could comment too much, though, the band sauntered onto the stage and immediately tore through one of their lesser known, but highly energetic songs. The ducks on the outer edges of the room absorbed the rhythmic buzz of guitar strings and pounding bass. Initially hesitant, the crowd, small in number, but large in voice, pumped its arms in the air and sang along. By the second song of the set the entire room was a frenzied mass of exuberance. The band felt it, the crowd felt it, the bartenders felt it. Hell, even the people eating upstairs felt it.

After a few more songs, Rachel and I looked at each other, goofy grins across both our faces.
“This rocks!”
“I know!”
And we went back to singing along at the front of the stage.

For the next hour we enjoyed one of the best concerts either of us has ever attended. We sang, we danced, we got our groove on. I even got up on stage to sing and dance with the band. Talk about a dream come true! Me…onstage…standing back-to-back with the lead guitarist…at the Duck Room!

Like I said before: Best. Concert. Ever!

And Mini-Me thought so, too.

He was a bit unsure intially, and spent the first song in Rachel’s arms, but by the second song he was movin’and groovin’, singin’ and swingin’ harder than anyone else. The twins in tutus certainly couldn’t keep up. The kid with the popped collar imitated most of Mini-me’s moves. And the sisters? They ditched their grandpa and danced with my boy the entire second half of the show.

Sure Rach and I were at the front of the stage, but it was while we were hunkered down with our backs to it photographing our boy bouncin’ to the beat.

Sure we sang along to every song, but so did most of the kids and parents in the room. I even knew the guitar chords to a few of the songs.

Sure I got on stage and performed with Ralph and the band, but I was just one of five dad’s who lived vicariously that day. We sang ‘Abby’s Alphabet Soup’. When I was back to back with the lead guitarist it was because we were forming the letter 'Y'.

Before Mini-Me was born I spent months researching kids musicians that weren’t Barney or The Wiggles. I scoured the Internet and found Ralph’s World, a band whose songs I now find myself singing instead of skipping while alone in the car. Ralph Covert was a 90s era indie-rock star in the Chicago area with his band The Bad Examples. Their song ‘Not Dead Yet’ got some major Chi-town radio airplay, was covered by Styx on their 1990 release, and was featured on Six Feet Under. Now he’s making awesome kids music and winning Grammys. What a life!

So the crowd was small in number, height, years, teeth, and ability to divide fractions, but seriously large in voice, excitement, and passion. The kids watching Ralph and his band sang at the top of their lungs, danced their hearts out, and allowed the music to wash away the troubles of the outside world (diaper rash, having to share, getting caught with a hand in the cookie jar), just like many of us grown-ups do. For the hour-and-a-half Ralph played those kids were in their own little slice of heaven.

And Mini-Me? Mini-Me’s now been to three concerts in his 2.9-years: Dan Zanes & Friends, May 09 at Wash U and Ralph’s World twice at The Duck Room. He loved every minute of every show, but seemed especially energetic at this last one. He’s been putting on concerts for us since he could stand up and hold a ukulele and he’s now performed on The Duck Room stage twice. I’m so proud! Watching him dance, sway, clap, stomp, wiggle and sing absolutely made my life. The Duck Room is a magical place; I’m glad I shared that with my son.

I know it’s a bold statement, but I won’t hesitate to say that the best concert I’ve EVER seen was Ralph’s World at The Duck Room, March ’09…and remember, I was there when Weird Al played the banks of the Arkansas River.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Winners Never Cheat and Cheaters Never Win

Unfortunately I'm swamped with grading right now as the school year comes to a close. I want to maintain my goal of posting weekly and the boys are certainly still actively filling my notes with topics to write about, but I haven't been able to make time to sit down and groom those nuggets of truth tapping at my cerebellum. They're begging to escape so, painful as it will be, I'll do my best to contain them for a while longer. To satisfy you, faithful reader, though, I'll share a recent poem:

Today I sat and ate my breakfast;
I didn't stand behind the trough
In the middle of my kitchen
And slurp at the cereal grains and
Fruit I'd poured into a bowl.
I sat.

I sat and sprinkled my breakfast with
The words of a poet.
A poet who speaks in such a way that
I must sit to eat my breakfast.
His words swirl about me in the
Furious flurry of a weekday morning.
They cross my tongue alongside the
Sugary sweetness of cereal and the
Delicate tartness of berries,
Fortifying me before I start the day.

The soft stirrings of my sons
Waft in from the back bedrooms
Like the smell of freshly brewed coffee.
I have precious few moments left
Alone with the poet before I can no longer sit.
I have precious few moments to spend with my boys
Before I must head off to work.

I scoop up a final spoonful of words
Before scooping up my sons for a morning embrace.
I gather my bag and keys and
Stand next to the table where the
Rinds of poems sit alongside
An empty bowl.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Coffee Time Trysts

"Do you want to go get some coffee?"

Those simple words, lovingly spoken on a Saturday morning with no hint of "Why don't you go out and get coffee," are almost as exciting as waking up at 6:30am, which, in my household, is a delightful treat.

Now to be honest, I don't drink coffee regularly. It's not that I don't want to because I've actually developed quite a lustful affair with the hot stuff. It's more that, in the rush of our noisy little morning adventures, I don't often leave the house early enough to stop somewhere and grab a cup and, while I have a wonderful coffee maker that's simple to set on a delay, the apathy towards cleaning it afterwards far outweighs my desire for a cuppajoe on weekday mornings. Thus, when my wife offers to buy me coffee on a Saturday morning she's got me wrapped around her pinkie before I even realize what's happened. She apparently knows that I'll whore myself out for an overpriced coffee made by an overpierced teenager. And that's why, for the second straight Saturday, I spent the morning chauffeuring the family around local neighborhoods looking for Cubic Zirconia in the rough.

Of course, I'm not the only one she manipulated into the car for the big adventure. Rach worked her magic while tucking Mini-Me into bed the night before:

"If you stay in your bed tonight, buddy, we can go to some garage sales tomorrow morning."

[No, buddy, don't do's a trick! You'll regret this one day...most likely during the years after the excitement fades but before you'll whore yourself out for coffee!]

"Oooh! Really, Mommy!"

[You're on your own now, buddy! Oh, who am I kidding...she'll buy me coffee and I'll be there, too.]

"Yes, really!"

"I want a school bus! I want a red school bus, Mommy!"

"We'll see. Goodnight...see you in the morning, sweetie."

The kid's a sucker...just like his dad.

I haven't always loved garage sales the way my current caffeinated self does. It wasn't too terribly long ago that a different phrase lovingly spoken on a Saturday morning sent fear coursing through my veins.

"Lawzy, should see what I found for you this morning!"

Those words meant Mimi, my grandmother, had either found me 'new' underwear or awesome bell bottoms (it was the mid-80s and neither they nor I were in style). I have to give her props for discovering some occasional gems (Matchbox cars, puzzles, sports equipment, crazy-fun wind-up bath tub toys), but for the most part she gravitated towards hideously ugly clothes. In fact I'm pretty sure there's an Olan Mills photo or two in which I'm wearing one of her finds. Some of my nightmares involve a purple, blue, and white collared, long sleeve velour shirt. That's a memory I'm glad was captured forever.

For my wife, though, the thrill is found in hunting for shoes. She's collected enough shoes in a range of shades, sizes, seasons and styles to last for years. It looks like I may have to build a new closet just to hold them all and that's just from the past two weekends. Before she reads this and never buys me another coffee, though, I should probably clarify that the shoes are not for her, they're for Mini-Me...and they're awesome!

If somebody could hand me my murse (man purse) I'll continue...thanks.

I now know how Mimi felt when she found those fashion treasures. There's nothing like the surging adrenaline that rides the wave of caffeine through my veins while we're standing, whispering in some strangers' driveway and Rach holds up a pair of shoes:

"Look at these!"

"Those look brand new! They're seriously selling 'em for $1?!?"

"I know! Whaddaya think?"

"I love 'em! He's going to look adorable in those!" [dammit, I just said 'adorable' out loud!]

"They're a size 12." [He's currently in a 9...we're taking 'planning for his future' to a new level!]

"Great! We don't have any of those, yet!"

It's sad, but it seems this is what happened to the energy and excitement I used to put towards collecting baseball cards.

Of course I don't want you to think shoes are the only items that gets me up garage saleing on beautiful spring mornings. I absolutely love searching out cool toys, especially now that Mini-Me is getting to action figure age. I have been the proud Andy to many an action figure and the demented Syd to many more. My favorite job in college was working at Toys R Us and my favorite part of every Target trip is the stroll through the toy aisles. It's because of this devotion to toys that most of my childhood psychological scarring stems from a rash decision to sell Star Wars toys at one of our family garage sales just so I could get enough money to buy a New Kids on the Block cassette. It was a sad day when I realized what I'd done...and it's a sad day now that I realize I've shared that tidbit publicly.

I'm hoping Mini-Me can make amends for the horrible toy-related mistakes I made in the past. So far I've been incredibly impressed by his garage sale abilities. In fact, it seems the boy's got super powers.

Two weekends ago before we left the house he said he wanted to find a #2 had a helicopter.

This past weekend he mentioned that red school #3 had two red school buses.

I've been dropping hints to Rach that we should go out again this weekend because I'm teaching Mini-Me to say 'Gibson Les Paul Standard'.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I Promise I Won't Always Discuss Puke...Just When It's Funny

I'd love to say that last night was so much fun we laughed until we puked, but I'd be lying. Only one of us laughed until he puked.


Of course, I laughed, too. Both with him and at him. I'm a great dad, I know, but there's that whole gag reflex thing and if I didn't laugh I probably would have puked. Then there'd be a much bigger mess to pretend to get sick cleaning up and, after my last post, I can't count on my wife taking pity on me anymore.

Did I mention that I'm also a great dad because I was filming the whole thing and I definitely did NOT stop when the real fun began? I mean, really, how many opportunities am I going to get for pure, unadulterated regret-introducing-your-new-girlfriend-to-your-parents blackmail material like that?

It all started when Mini-Me cried his way to the time-out corner and accidentally swallowed the piece of gum he'd been chewing, but it got into full swing at the end of dinner when he ate the last blue Easter Peep for dessert and shifted into Little-Wild-Rainforest-Boy mode. Rach didn't mind Mini-Me chowing down some dessert because she was leaving shortly to get her hair cut. I'm sure she knew what was coming, though, mom's always do. I didn't hesitate handing over that sticky mass of blue hyperactivity because I was tired of his morning response to my question:

"What do you want for breakfast, buddy?"
"I want a blue Peep, daddy!"
"Blue Peeps aren't for breakfast, buddy. Do you want some cereal?"
"No, daddy, a blue Peep would be fine."

I was really looking forward to not having any more fowl marshmallows in the house, so I served it up with glee. Boy did I make the right choice!

After finishing the Peep, Mini-Me jumped into my wife's recently vacated chair to swipe some of her chips. He was laughing the deep, full, belly laughs that turn a video viral or, if dreams and time travel could come true, would earn me a date with Bob Saget. 'The Wubster' (our 9-month-old) initially stared quizzically, but quickly began laughing in response. Sensing the beginnings of a sticky mass of preciousness, I jumped up and grabbed the camera. Boy did I make the right choice!

Mere moments into the moment, Mini-Me began cough-laughing with his mouth full of chips. Debris began to fly. 'The Wubster' looked at me in a way that said, 'I wish I knew what safety goggles were.' Danger lurked.

You see, 2.9 years ago I felt genetically generous and shared a number of traits with my first-born. He is named Mini-Me for a reason, you know. The gag reflex happens to be one of those traits. We've become accustomed, but unfortunately not yet numb, to horrendous, pukeless gagging sounds during meals, swimming lessons, and other previously serene moments. There are noises that startle you when unexpected, but THAT noise kills fainting goats. Thus, the signs of an impending eruption were there and yet the natives stubbornly stayed in their homes thinking, 'Oh, that only happens to other people who live near the base of an active toddler."

Vesuvius, Pelee, Krakatau, Mauna Loa, Mount St. Helens. All impressive in their own rights, but only Mini-Me spewed masticated blue Peep. No villages were destroyed, no humans were buried in ash, no sounds were heard around the world, no sunsets were altered by ash, but still, it was a sight to behold and I couldn't stop laughing. Probably because my wife was still around to clean-up.

"Ugh, there are grapes in there!"
"He had grapes for breakfast..."
"And green beans!"
"This is nasty."
"Did you find the gum?
"Not yet..."

Aftershocks were felt later in the evening when Mini-Me was swinging in the backyard and settled into another laughing fit that had him foaming at the mouth.

"Buddy, don't spit while you're won't like what'll happen."
[Laughter and additional spit bubbles]
"Really, buddy..."
[Laughter, coughing...ralphing]
"Hmm...not what I meant, but I think you get the point!"

As I watched him spew again, I might have given him another push on the swing. It might have been two pushes, actually, since I couldn't stop laughing, or three as I pondered having to clean this new mess up myself. Then I remembered: we're guys, we're outside, no mom's in sight, and it's going to rain tomorrow.

As I scooped a tearful Mini-Me out of the swing and headed into the house to change him into clean PJs and settle (this term is used loosely around Mini-Me) into our nightly routine, I thought about how I should have put the camera down or stopped laughing and slowed the swing immediately...and then I remembered how important it is to document history. Plus, imagine how much fun I can have with that footage. Boy did I make the right choice!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

There's No Gratitude Without 'Atitude'

"Mommy! I missed you SOOOO much!"

There's nothing like being greeted with a warm welcome when you walk through the door after a tough day at work. My wife came home the other day and Mini-Me, our 2.9-year-old son, welcomed her with that booming announcement. She beamed in a way I hadn't seen since the day we walked down the Target and 24-packs of Mountain Dew were under $5. Caffeine is a necessity in keeping up with the boys.

As trying as life can sometimes be with the tantrums of a 2.9-year-old, such moments of loving gratitude far outweigh the beastly attitude. And what about me, you ask? Oh, I get my share of gratitude, too.

"Daddy, thank you for making dinner. Thank you soooooo much!" Actually, he's still working on the fricative 'th' so it's even more adorable when he says it: "NAHK you for making dinner, Daddy!"

My heart just melts getting that amount of appreciation for opening a piece of string cheese and slapping some PB & J on a slice of bread. I slaved in the kitchen for six minutes and for him to acknowledge that at such an early age...tears. What can I say?

My favorite moment of Mini-Me's gratitude, though, came when Papa Boyd (his grandfather...and no relation to Papa Smurf) and I assembled and improved upon a 'new' swing set. You see, my wife has become an expert craigslister. Flipping through a Toys R Us flier, I mentioned wanting to get Mini-Me a cool set-up for the backyard. Within minutes (maybe it was days, but still, it was fast...she's that good) Papa Boyd and I were in West County disassembling and loading a swing set in the dark. A couple weekends later we worked furiously during Mini-Me's nap in the hopes of having it ready when he awoke. Unfortunately, Mini-Me rushed out of the house while the swings and such were still scattered around the yard.

It didn't faze him one bit...

"What's dis, daddy?"
"That's your new glider."
"NAHK you, daddy...NAHK you!"
"That's a big boy swing."
"Oh, NAHK you, daddy! NAHK you, NAHK you!"
"This is a telescope (aka 'cheap plastic tube with no magnification value') to look across the common ground."
"Ooooh, NAHK you!"
"And this is a steering wheel so you can pretend to be in a ship."
"NAHK you! NAHK you, daddy!"

The pure joy of the moment seemed even greater than Christmas morning. He was ecstatic with the treasures scattered in the grass and genuinely grateful for each and every one of them. Mini-Me spent the next half-hour carefully examining each piece prior to its assembly.

And me? Atop the new fort attaching the cheap plastic tube with no magnification value, I felt as though I was standing atop Everest. Fists on hips, chest out, chin up, I could do no wrong. I was Superdad!

“Daddy, why are you standing up dere like dat?”

Of course, Mini-me knows how to bring us back down to size.

The day he greeted my wife so warmly after her long day at work he immediately kicked off his shoes and ran to the living room where his toy trains waited.

"I missed you SOOOOOOOOOO much, Geotrax!"

At least we know who the competition is.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Gag Order

"You realize your son is in our bed, right? He scared the sh*t outta me when I went in there."
"Seriously? When did he do that?"

The past few nights around 9pm my son, let's call him Mini-Me, has been getting out of his bed and stealthily heading for mine. Before he does, though, he makes sure to turn the nightlight off in his room.


That's like a convict serving a life sentence crawling through the tunnel he dug through three hundred feet of solid concrete using a plastic spoon only to turn around and go back to his cell when he realizes he forgot to return the copy of Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants that he'd checked out from the prison library. I mean, really, what 2.9-year-old takes the time to turn all the lights off when he leaves a room?

It's moments like that scattered throughout my mere 2.9 years as a parent that make me realize my children will constantly amaze me. The whole process of watching a child grow mentally and physically fascinates me. I am perpetually wowed by what Mini-Me says and does and I know it won't be long before both he and 'The Wubster', our 9-month-old son, are providing endless fodder for my stories.

In fact, I was SO amazed by something Mini-Me did a few days ago that I HAD to send a picture via text message. It was major. It was noteworthy. It was impressive. It was shocking. It was disgusting...absolutely disgusting. And I HAD to take a picture and send it to someone special...someone who'd really appreciate what he had created.

Before I go any further, though, there's something you must understand. I've suffered through life with an absolutely, traumatically, over-exaggeratingly horrible gag reflex. Horrible. Did I mention it's horrible? So horrible that I loathe trips to the dentist. Not because of drills or overzealous flossers, but because I hate when they demand to take x-rays of my teeth and they shove those ridiculous little film contraptions into my mouth and force me to bite down for what seems like an ungodly eternity! My eyes water and I become 'that crying guy' dental hygienists laugh about at their annual conventions. My tongue, disturbed by its new plastic bedfellow, dances, awkwardly trying to get comfortable, trying to spoon, trying to figure out where to put its 'arm'. I wiggle my feet because someone once told me that would help and, while it never has, I continue to try every single time. So there I sit, tears rolling, tongue dancing, toes wiggling...gagging.

I hate gagging.

As a pet owner in the years prior to fatherhood I suffered through further trauma each time one of our lovely fur balls decided to leave us a fetid present on the floor. The first few times I attempted to clean a mess and began gagging, my steely-stomached wife stepped in and rescued me while I stumbled away and attempted to recover. No matter what anyone says, I've never used my gag reflex to get out of cleaning up a mess...never.


Before Mini-Me was born I remember getting an email with a video of dads attempting to change their newborns' diapers using various ingenious, though ultimately flawed, methods. My wife and extended family got some good laughs at my expense as they debated what methods I would try. I couldn't argue with them, though. My brain was working on ways to improve upon those fathers' failures. I knew I was going to have to put myself in gag-prone situations. I knew my wife wouldn't let me off the hook as easily as she did with the pets.

So I became a dad. A dad with a gag reflex who no longer had any excuses. Disgusting scenarios are unavoidable aspects of life these days. Grossness lurks around every corner. Repulsion seeps out of many a diaper. Over the past 2.9 years I've found myself acting against my gag reflex's better judgment WAY too often. Becoming a father has brought me face to face to hand to arm with projectile vomit, snot, half chewed food items that are simply 'yucky', and far too many what-the-heck-is-thats to count. I've caught puke in my hands to protect the carpet. I've rushed to dangle my son over a trash can so he could ralph in the middle of the night. I've wiped snot with my bare hands when it threatened to conquer my son's face. And I've confronted poop fragrant enough to threaten life as we know it in Texas...and you don't mess with Texas. I've even gotten it on my hands once or twice. In all those memorable moments I've done everything...except gag. I'm not saying it's gone completely, but being a father has certainly cured me to an extent.

And that's where I left you earlier...absolutely amazed, but certainly not gagging, while staring at poop.

"My butt hurt when I pooped, mommy."
"Well, you probably need to...oh my! I see why."
"What do you mean? Is he okay?"
"Take a look..."
"I'd rather not, but...Oh my GOD! Buddy! It's bigger than you!"

It was bigger than him. It was glorious. Having written that I realize I disgust myself, but in that moment, beaming with pride at my son's accomplishment, I knew we needed photographic evidence. In fact I was positive that evidence needed to be sent along to an unnamed family member who's long boasted of the world's longest poops. I know it's repulsive, but you have to understand the family I married into: three sister's whose step-father was first introduced to them in the middle of a burping and farting contest. That knowledge rocked my world and shattered every 'that's-what-little-girls-are-made-of' dream I ever had. It put me to shame...really it did. And, so, I knew that there was one person in the world who would truly appreciate what my son had done as much as I did...and she received a picture via text message.


I think she gagged.

Friday, April 10, 2009

There's a Monster at the End of This Post!

What did that say? Did the title say what I think it did? There's a monster at the end of this post? Oh, please, do not read any further. I do not want to see the monster at the end of this blog! I, your friendly neighborhood father, son, brother, in-law, friend, teacher implore you not to read another word...

I've scarred my son. He's not even three and I think I've already set the stage for at least a couple years of expensive psychoanalysis.

Earlier this week while out to lunch with my parents, my son continued to slouch in his chair until he was almost completely under the table. In order to fight my fear of public displays of parental ineptitude, I created a monster who lives under the table and tickles little boys who don't sit up straight. It worked like a charm as my son sat bolt upright for the remainder of lunch. Harmless, right? He mentioned the 'monster' a few times afterwards, but it seemed like a joke.

Tonight, during his grandmother's birthday dinner, my son was getting a bit rowdy. Asking him politely to stop had no effect. I reached my leg under the table and pressed my foot against his leg. He didn't seem to notice. I continued. He still didn't notice. In fact he continued to act like a little wild rainforest boy who licked a frog he shouldn't have...the kid definitely missed his nap today.

Finally his eyes caught mine, I let a surprised, quizzical look cross my face, a look that said, "Oh! What could that be?" He smiled; a look that said "Silly daddy, what are you doing?" I tilted my head slightly and then panic set in. Sheer panic. Pure, childhood, stuff-of-nightmares, panic. My son's face twisted in ways I've never seen before. His body began to shake, his face went pale, he struggled to get out of his seat as quickly as possible for a child in the throes of a waking nightmare, all the while knowing that a monster was waiting for him as soon as he set foot on the floor. I dropped my food and pushed back from the table just as fast, scooped up my son and tried my best to console him; tried my best to take back the 'parenting' I'd done the past few days. He shook in my arms. He warned me that the monster was under the table. He ignored my apologies. He scoffed at my explanations that I had made up the monster and that it was only me touching his leg with my foot.

The rest of the dinner guests struggled to maintain composure behind their napkins. Tears of laughter mocked my tears of shame. I set my son down and showed him that it was only my foot. I tried to bring normality back to the table. I failed.

The monster now lurks beneath every table in every dining room. Its claws hold tight to my son's imagination. It eats dinner with us every night of the week and, while I can't eradicate this beast, the brownies and ice cream certainly keep him at bay...for now.

What was that? I am the monster at the end of this blog? Oh, dear...and you were so scared!