Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Play Well

The end of my Month of Memories is here...and thankfully, 'cause I've run out of steam. It hasn't helped that the End-of-School-Year Madness has flared up or that I also caught a case of the Here-Comes-Summer-Vacation-All-I-Want-To-Do-Is-Do-Nothings. Both afflictions can be highly contagious so you may want to stand back a little. Don't worry, though, I've been washing my hands regularly and sneezing into my elbow.

When I started planning this month-long blogstravaganza, I had three major posts in mind: soccer/little league sports, Star Wars, and LEGOs. I figured the rest would fall into place and it certainly has, nearly forcing me to forget about the LEGO post.

My parents moved from Texas to Missouri over a year ago, finally finding their retirement cottage on a wooded lot with enough space to house a variety of fruit trees and a quaint, but prosperous, garden. In the move, they hauled several boxes containing remnants of my childhood and handed them over to me as they began unpacking (a process that may never be complete). There were boxes of old trophies, Boy Scout awards, archaic video game systems, sheet music from my days as a clarinetist, my high school letter man's jacket (awarded for academic, not athletic, prowess), my 90s-era key chain collection, and plenty more. The holy grails of the move, though, came in the form of my old toys, the ones not lost to garage sales past.

My parents bought me a blue, pleather, personalized luggage set, probably in the mid 80s. The duffel bag became my action figure carrier, holding the remaining G.I. Joe, Star Wars, and other assorted toys I loved. When I found it amidst my parent's boxes, my heart skipped a beat. When I opened it a caught that familiar whiff of pleather, my heart skipped two. When I ran my hands through the flotsam and jetsam of past toy glories, I passed out. Well, not really, but it was awesome reconnecting with my toys.

The same thing happened when I found the giant Rubbermaid container of LEGO bricks. Almost. When I ran my hands through the bin they came out sticky and dirty compliments of years of storage in the Texas heat, a rogue piece of root beer barrel candy, and remnants of my sister's school diorama projects. Several bathtubs full of LEGOs later, Mini-Me and I were happily building--him following his imagination and me rebuilding the half assembled remains of past spaceships and trucks. 

As I sifted through the bin of bricks, my mind swirled with visions of past cityscapes: police stations, fire houses, mechanic's shops, castles, original structures. My childhood bed was high enough off the floor that, as long as I set architectural limitations within the city ordinances, I could slide my entire city under it for quick clean-up. Have you ever seen an entire city pulled from beneath a bed? It's a sight to behold!

Mini-Me's LEGO interests lie within the Star Wars universe, so the only buildings I've helped him make, so far, are small bases for Mandalorians or Clone Troopers. We mainly have a collection of star fighters that have taken over available shelf and table space. Unfortunately, the beds in the boys' room are too low to the ground to be able to slide the Lego creations under.

The LEGO Group's web page has the following passage in their Company Profile:
The child of the future will have plenty of things to play with. Consumer electronics is a tough competitor to traditional toys. But the LEGO Group is in no doubt that the LEGO brick will continue in the future to be relevant to children of all ages. A world of imagination and total absorption. Putting two LEGO bricks together is intuitive and delivers the spontaneous joy of creation which can be supplemented – but never replaced – by virtual experiences.
Mini-Me, and now The Wubster who's taken an interest recently, picked up the multi-colored bricks and intuitively knew what to do. I'm amazed by their designs, especially Mini-Me (who's two years additional patience is helpful in the building process). These days, I tend to prefer following instructions when building and ultimately completing a model, there's joy in that for me. But Mini-Me and The Wubster build freely, imaginatively.  They use the bricks to create what's in their mind without my adult concern for logic, aerodynamics, or function over form. Mini-Me's creations test the boundaries of physics at times, but they're all wonderful. They've inspired me to create from scratch, a process that is wholly relaxing after a tough day at work. In fact, Rachel has commented on a number of occasions when I've spent hours building after the boys are already in bed.

It's just that the sound of pushing bricks aside to hunt for that one, perfect piece...it's addictive.

Monday, May 30, 2011

¿Habla Usted En Sus Sueños?

When I was in high school, my mom told me one morning that she'd heard me talking in my sleep the previous evening.

Did I say anything interesting?
"I don't know...it was all in Spanish."

I wonder if my teacher would have given me extra credit for that had I told her?

Last night, Rach scooped Mini-Me out of our bed (the boys don't do well going to bed in the same room) to carry him to his. When she did, he began speaking in his Darth Vader voice.

I gave him extra credit for awesomeness.

It's fun to catch the kids talking in their sleep, but deciphering what they're saying is rarely successful. Of course, we might not want to know what they're saying.

Who knows what I said about my mom in Spanish...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Into the Woods

Silly Putty and Skip-Bo.

That's what I remember about camping with Mimi and Papa, my grandparents, in their motor home.

And the awesome 8-track player in the cab.

The boys and I headed out to spend part of the weekend with my parents in their RV.

Mini-Me and The Wubster love to pretend the screen door is a drive through window through which they sell assorted snacks. I asked for lobster tail.

"We don't have that, daddy, we're a Mexican restaurant."

We also didn't have any Silly Putty. Or play Skip-Bo. There was no 8-track player.

We still had a great time.

I really hope they have Silly Putty next time, though.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

This Place is a Zoo!

A collection of pictures taken at the zoo over the past five years.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Aren't You a Little Short for a Clone Trooper?

My first light saber was an inflatable 'blade' attached to a flashlight.

Mini-Me's and The Wubster's are fully retractable with nifty belt clips (but they don't light up...I win!).

When I wanted to play Star Wars and pretend to be Luke Skywalker, I tucked my pants into my knee-high socks.

When Mini-Me wants to play Star Wars and pretend to be "Jedi Clone Commander", he tucks his shirt into his chest-high pants and puts on his helmet and gloves.

The force is strong with us.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

This Creek Only Goes to the Caspian Sea

In college, preparing to be a high school English teacher, I took a class called Literature for Young Adults. The professor, Chett Breed (one of my favorites), assigned a final paper (one of my favorites) in which we had to write an autobiography using a process he called "copy change" wherein we modeled our writing on the different styles of the YA novels we'd read throughout the semester.

When Mini-Me, The Wubster, and I traipsed through the common ground, following the creek that flows through it, to see the downed tree on Monday, I thought of the childhood friends and events that became Chapter 3 of my autobiography for Dr. Breed's class.

This section, a creatively remembered depiction of actual events, is stylistically modeled after Cynthia Voigt's, Homecoming.
Doug awoke early that morning. His cat, Racky, was curled up at the foot of his bed. She was still sleeping, so he just laid there even though he was anxious to call Johnny and Jay. Johnny and Jay lived down the street. They had lived on Field Avenue since they were born. Johnny was a year older, but Jay was much smarter. Jay also had darker hair than Johnny, and he was a little pudgy. Now that Doug thought about it, they didn't even seem like they were related.

At last, Racky stirred and her eyes opened. She looked at Doug, meowed, stretched, and lept off the bed in search of breakfast. Doug was hungry, too, so he decided to have something to eat and then call Johnny and Jay.

On his way to the kitchen, Doug stopped in the bathroom. Before leaving, he looked in the mirror. He peered at his tousled blond hair and smiled at his reflection. "Today's gonna be great!" His voice was anxious.

Johnny, Jay, and Doug had been planning this trek for weeks. They had played in the creek and walked along it for quite some ways, but never beyond the tunnels that pass under Clarkson Road. This time, they were going all the way.

The phone rang and Jay answered before it finished: "Hello? Is that you Doug?"

"Yeah, you guys ready?"

"We just got up. Come on down, and by then, we should be. Okay?"

Doug could hear Johnny in the background. "Hey, Jay! Guess what! I found a map."

"So? We've got tons of maps around here." Jay responded.

"No, I found one that shows the creek on it. I'll bring it and show you. Now we can keep track of where we're at."

It was after nine when they got to the creek. They slid down the steep bank and sat down on some big rocks. There wasn't much water in the creek during the summer, but there was still enough for the minnows and some other fish. They made sure they had everything they needed before heading downstream. Doug had brought his Swiss Army knife, some fishing line and a hook, and sandwiches for lunch. Johnny had the map and some other stuff in a bag he and Jay were sharing. "You carry it first! I don't want it!" Jay screamed.

Johnny turned around and said, "You're carrying it back, then. I'll just leave it behind so you better make sure you bring it back!"

"C'mon!" Doug said excitedly. "Let's get going, I want to see how far we can get."

They passed through the tunnels and began their trip. For the first hour or so, their pace was quick and they only slowed down every so often to splash each other or climb up the bank to see what was around them. Doug glanced at his watch and saw it was after Noon. "Hey, are you guys getting hungry?"

"Definitely!" Jay said. "My stomach's been growling since we passed that rock that looked like a giant turtle."

"Your stomach's always hungry," Johnny said as he jokingly poked Jay in the stomach.

"Let's find a place where we can sit and put our feet in the water while we eat," Doug said. "I brought us all some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We didn't have any chips, though. Alicia always eats them all."

"We have some sandwiches, too, and we brought Pringles!" Jay said.

"I hope you plan on sharing 'cause I've got dessert and I sure would hate to eat it all by myself," Doug jested.

"Enough, already! Let's sit down and eat. Doug, let me have one of those PB&J's!" Johnny said.

"Here you go. Now Jay, toss your chips."

Jay pretended to get sick as Doug and Johnny watched in disgust, laughing just the same. They finished their lunches while talking about how far they thought they had gone. "I think we've gone at least five miles!" Johnny proclaimed.

"There's no way. With the way the creek twists and turns, we're probably no more than two miles from home. Heck, we could probably see the library from here," Jay said as he threw pieces of bread to the fish.

"Why don't we go a little further and see if there's any good places to fish or swim. If not, then we'll head back to my house and play Nintendo," Johnny said.

"You don't want to keep going and see where the creek ends?" Doug asked.

"Naw, I really don't want to see the ocean. I've been there before, you know," Johnny boasted.

"We've never been to the ocean, stupid. And we couldn't get there by following this creek, either. Man, what are you, six?" Jay said.

"I was kidding. I know this creek only goes to the Caspian Sea," Johnny joked.

"I agree, I'm tired of walking, too. Let's find a place to swim. It's too hot to do anything else," Doug said.

They rounded the next bend in the creek bed and found exactly what they were looking for. "Wow! Now THIS is a swimming hole! Last one in's a rotten Jay!" Johnny yelled as he tore off his shirt and jumped into the water.

"I'll take that as a compliment!" Jay proclaimed as he followed Doug into the water.

After their swim, the three boys sat in the sun on the rocks and dried off. They had only known each other for a few months, but they already knew they would always be friends. They began to discuss what they were going to do the next day until Doug looked at his watch. "Oh, man! It's already four! I didn't do my chores. I'm going to be in big trouble. We better head back now!"

"Calm down, Doug. You've never done your chores on time," Jay said.

"Yeah, but last night they told me I HAD to have 'em done before they got home tonight or I'd be grounded," Doug whined.

"Well, let's go. Jay! It's your turn to carry the backpack," Johnny said.

Jay picked up his backpack and they started back towards home. They walked quickly, singing and talking, and soon reached the tunnels under Clarkson. "That didn't seem to take near as long. What time is it?" Jay asked.

"It's after six! My parents are going to kill me!"

"Don't worry, Doug, Johnny'll save you," Jay joked.

The boys crawled through the tunnels and followed the creek to where it ran just in front of Doug's house. "Here we are," Johnny stated, "you want us to go with you?"

"No, but if you don't hear from me tomorrow, check for a shallow grave in the backyard," Doug laughed.

"Hey, I had fun today. We should do it again some time," Jay said.

Doug climbed out of the creek bed and headed towards his house. He wondered what his parents were going to say. Maybe they were too tired to even notice that he hadn't done the dishes. He could only hope. He turned around and yelled back to Johnny and Jay, "See ya later! Call tonight and check on me!"

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

You Spin Me Right Round Baby, Right Round.

"Alright, shhhh! Boys and girls...remember, single file. Okay. Now line up along the wall. Yes, that's it. Just like we practiced. Crouch down on your knees with your head next to the wall and put your hands over your necks. Good. Shhhhh. No, no. Don't worry about those sirens. That's just to tell us we should practice lining up in the hallway. It's just rain, honey. Well, yes, and thunder. Stay crouched. Of course, dear, yes there's lightning, too. But don't worry. You're safe here. Good, good. You guys are doing so good."
In first or second grade, while living in Little Rock, a line of storms moved through the area during the school day. We lined the hallways in our tornado-ready fetal positions for what, to a six- or seven-year-old, seemed like the entire day. Parents started arriving to pick their kids up early and, eventually, I too was thrilled by the sight of my mother. I'm sure I filled her ears with numerous questions on the drive home. Later that evening, (or at some other point in time as my mind might be blending memories) a tornado cut a swath of destruction through the forested area across the street from the school.

Around the same point in time (and, again, maybe the same storm system), I remember asking my parents about the thunderstorms bearing down on our house as the sirens' songs wafted through our neighborhood.
What's a tornado, daddy?
"Well, it's, basically, a super strong storm with super strong winds that can knock down trees and stuff."
How do you know when a tornado's coming?
"Usually the sky will turn green."
Oh. [runs to look out bedroom window] Hey, mommy! Daddy! You mean like that! [points out window at green clouds]
"Oh, my! In the bathtub now!"
Today, the skies were ripe for severe storms, making for a quick departure from work to begin the nerve-racking trip to pick up the kids as storms were popping up all around the area. I made it to the boys' preschool to see them wiping sleep-boogers [the great social equalizer] from their eyes as they rolled off their cots. We gathered their artistic masterpieces and rushed to pick up Mickey (TKNTD). Along the way I had to convince the boys that we should go straight inside and play in the basement, which is especially challenging for The Wubster who's first question for me each day at pick-up is, "You mow today, daddy? You need to mow?"

We made it to the basement before the rain started and as the kids played and we monitored the numerous warnings throughout the metro area, the only tornado we faced was the tornado of tantrums from overtired tykes.

My thoughts go out to everyone who hasn't been so fortunate this spring.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Toss the Mortarboard!

Two years ago, Mini-Me stood stone-faced and timid in front of the crowd of smiling parents while surrounded by his singing, dancing classmates.

Twenty-some-odd years ago I stood in front of a crowd of smiling parents timidly mouthing the words along with my singing, dancing classmates.

One year ago, Mini-Me stood stone-faced and timid in front of the crowd of smiling parents while singing along with his classmates. Oh, and while rolling his Green Lantern ring in the bottom edge of his shirt and letting it unroll and clink across the stage.

Three years ago I stood on stage in front of a crowd of semi-interested teenagers at our first Writers Week, played guitar and sang an original song.

Tonight, Mini-Me stood smiling and brave in front of a crowd of smiling parents while singing and dancing along with his classmates at his preschool graduation ceremony. He then stepped to the front of the stage and held the American Flag for the Pledge of Allegiance song. (I know!!! I can't believe it either!)

Tonight I stood proudly behind a crowd of smiling parents while tearing up over the fact that Mini-Me has grown up so much. He's progressing beyond his stage fright faster than his dad did.

I'm so proud of you, buddy! You're going to love Kindergarten!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Blowin' in the Wind

It's been a wild and raucous spring weather-wise across the country. Lines of storms brought damage close to home yesterday and today.

My dad called tonight to chat about the Joplin, MO tornado that demolished a huge swath of town. He mentioned that my uncle posted some news to his Facebook page:
Nana's house apparently gone in Joplin tornado. St Johns Hospital was at West 26th and Maiden Lane and the high school was at East 20th and Wisconsin. Both were destroyed by tornado. Nana's house at 2118 Pennsylvania was right between those sites. Another part of our heritage gone.
Nana was their grandmother, my great-grandmother. She wasn't in the house, having passed before I had the chance to know her.

"Daddy, why did the tree fall down?"
The wind was really strong today.
"Was it a tornado?"
No, bud. Not a tornado. Just really strong winds.
"At school today, daddy, I looked outside and I saw the clouds moving and I told everyone it was going to rain, but it wasn't going to be a tornado. Alex and I thought the lights were going off. Did the wind blow trees down at my school, daddy?"
No, bud. Remember, we looked around as we were leaving?
"Yeah. I knew it was going to storm. We got to play outside in the morning, but in the gym this afternoon. Some days are just like that."

My parents were out on the town and I was in charge, my sister being 6.5 years my junior. All was well. I'm sure I made her a gourmet dinner, allowed her to watch her favorite shows, read her a favorite story or two, sang some songs...typical perfect big brother type stuff.

Unfortunately, a strong line of thunderstorms ruined our perfect evening, sending us, armed with every pillow we could find, into the bathtub while, outside, warning sirens tussled with the rumbling thunder in the humid night air. We huddled in the tub, the noises outside ranging from hail to torrential downpour to roaring train. Once the storm subsided, we emerged and ventured a glance outside, finding a landscape littered with the limbs of the neighborhood cottonwood trees. In that pre-everyone's-got-a-cell phone age, my parents rushed to get information about our safety as word got out about the storm damage throughout our little slice of suburban Dallas. Neighbors emerged from their homes and began working to clear debris from the roadways and yards, all of us feeling fortunate to not bear witness to greater damage.

It's the same feeling I had as the boys and I looked at the tangled mass of broken limbs that now litter a section of our common ground.
As the boys and I looked at the downed cottonwood tree I was flooded with memories of being home alone with my sister one spring Texas night.
We've survived the rounds of storms unscathed, but today, watched a gust front tear through and take down a couple cottonwood trees in our common ground, a safe enough distance from any homes. After dinner, the boys and I walked over to take a look at the damage...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bend It Like Mini-Me

Mini-Me's first soccer season is almost over. He's done really well, despite the tantrums when we announce he has to go to practice instead of playing with his Star Wars Legos. Each week he's gotten more involved on the field, despite an inherent politeness that prevents him from stealing the ball from the opposing team. He even came close to scoring a goal this past week, despite his genetic connection to a guy who spent more time on the field avoiding the ball and pretending to trip over clumps of grass so the coach would pull him from the game.

I only remember playing one season of soccer (when I was five-ish) and I'm pretty sure I despised most every minute of it. In fact, that seems to be a common theme in my experience with Little League sports.

In elementary school I played on a couple basketball teams and I might still hold the record in Texas for 'Least Likely to Need to be Defended'. The only basket I scored one season came on a trick play where the coach had me wait under the basket while my teammates in-bounded the ball from the opposite end of the court and passed it to me. I then had at least a couple opportunities before the other team made it down to defend me. Let's pretend I made the shot.

In Texas, we lived within a block of a Little League baseball complex, so the soundtrack of our summer evenings included the ding of ball off aluminum bat. I played on teams for a couple summers, but my heart was never in it. I remember always wanting to leave, always standing in right field waiting and watching for my dad to come back to pick me up.

The one aspect of those baseball games that I got excited about was that we could go to the concession stand and get a free drink afterwards. We'd 'Good Game!' the opposing team, gather our equipment, and rush to the side door of the wooden stand behind home plate at the main field. Our drink of choice? A 'suicide'...a mixture of every fountain drink available. Yeah. It doesn't sound good to me now either. I'd introduce Mini-Me to the concoction at his teams' end-of-season celebration at Dairy Queen in a couple weeks, but he doesn't like 'bubbly' drinks, so he'll just miss out on that childhood gem.

Speaking of missing out, it wasn't until college that I really took an interest in playing organized sports. Looking back now, I wish I'd been more athletically motivated as a kid and I'm trying to stay attuned to Mini-Me's enjoyment on the field. I don't want to force any of my kids into playing sports they don't enjoy (although I really hope they take an interest in my favorite sport: volleyball).

After the 'Intro' sessions Mini-Me moped through last year, I was worried he wouldn't enjoy sports at all, but this soccer season has gone really well. In a couple weeks he'll join a t-ball league (at his request), so time will tell. At least he's not fake tripping over clumps of grass.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear...

Whenever I was sick or scared or simply in need of cuddling and comforting, my mom was there to sing to me. There were probably a number of songs, but Over in the Meadow was the tried and true favorite.
Over in the meadow in the sand and the sun
Lives an old mother toadie and her little toadie one...
Thirty years later I'm singing it to my kids.

In fact, tonight, The Wubster was upset because I told him he couldn't play with my phone charger and the electrical outlet. Shocking, I know. I carried my sobbing monkey to his bed and attempted to calm him with a story to no avail. I started singing:

'Wink,' said the mother, 'Wink,' said the one,
So they winked and they blinked in the sand and the sun.
It didn't work. Neither did our version of 'Twinkle, Twinkle':
Sleepy Wubster rest your head,
Close your eyes and go to bed
If you go to sleep you'll dream
Of all the beautiful things you've seen...
Luckily, though, the cat joined us on The Wubster's bed and I coaxed her to stand on his chest.

That worked.

I wonder what he'll remember more in thirty years. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

*Light Bulb*

Have you ever had a really good idea...an idea that's so good you think to yourself, "Hey, self, there's absolutely no way you'll forget this idea. Don't worry about writing it down right now, you can just do it later once the kids are in bed."?

Yeah, me, too...which is why this post is still floating around in the ether.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

1000 Words

There's a picture floating around in my parents' photo albums of my sister (as a toddler) and I (a big, bad elementary schooler) smiling at each other in a way that says, "I like you...I do!" It's a picture that ignores the tantrums, the bickering over toys, the food fights, and the tears.

Rach took a similar picture of our kids a few days ago...

It's one of my favorites!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

So Take a Look, It's In a Book...

I learned to read in pre-school and, on the day everything clicked in my four-year-old brain, the teachers jumped up and down with joy, paraded me around the school so I could read about the boy, the girl and the helicopter to the kindergartners and other teachers. They made me feel like a reading king for the day.

Nearing the eve of his pre-school graduation ceremony, Mini-Me's on the verge of reading. He's great at recognizing his letters and, if we make him, will look at a word, sound out its letters, and figure out what it is. He recognizes "Star Wars" right away every time now, but when asked other words on the cover of a Star Wars movie or book, will immediately jump to the conclusion that it says "Star Wars" as well. We've got a little work to do about assuming, but he's figuring out context clues pretty well.

The Wubster changed up his bedtime routine a few days ago and now "reads" to us. His favorite book is Down By the Station, an expanded version of the classic children's song, which describes various modes of transportation (a Wubster favorite!) like:
Down by the depot, early in the morning
See the yellow school buses all in a row
See the school bus driver warming up the engine
Vroom vroom beep beep! Off we go!
The Wubster doesn't hit every word, but it's adorable to hear him. Plus it's effective. I calm down within the first few pages and am asleep before he gets to the end. Then all he has to do is tuck me in, kiss me on the forehead, and he's free to go do dishes, mow the lawn, or just unwind with an episode of Special Agent Oso and a bottle of milk.

It's amazed me since Mini-Me started doing the same thing a couple years ago to see what stories they memorize and how quickly it happens. The Wubster is also pretty good with Chugga Chugga Choo Choo and, for Mini-Me it was a Rescue Heroes book.

Years ago, my sister latched onto Green Eggs and Ham. She adored the book and "read" it non-stop. On a visit to my grandparents house, my aunt and I decided we'd grown weary of hearing about Sam and the ham, so we teamed up to confiscate and hide the book.

Our plan backfired.

Instead of sitting quietly and "reading" to us, my sister erupted into a tantrum of tears and ran throughout the house looking under, on, and around every piece of furniture while screaming:
I do not like green eggs and ham! *sniff sniff*
I do not like them Sam-I-am! *SNIFF*
I will not eat them in a box! *sniff*
It didn't take long for her to get the book back.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Monkey See, Monkey Do, Monkey Teach His Kids, Too

The house in Texas where I grew up had a long hallway that ran from the front foyer to the master bedroom. This set-up provided the perfect opportunity for my sister and I to host gymnastic 'competitions' in which we'd run from the living room, leap across the front foyer, sprint down the hallway, hang a quick right, regain speed, and somersault onto our parents' bed. Of course, we only did this when we were home alone. Mom and dad...if you're reading this post and you remember back to times when your bed seemed askew...sorry about that, but it was all in the name of good cardio!

Tonight, The Wubster and I spent a half hour tumbling on my bed. It all started with me helping him with his somersaults as bribery for quickly putting on pajamas, but it ended in a fit of giggles as he apparently thinks me somersaulting across the bed is hilarious. When Mini-Me got home from his soccer game, I showed him what The Wubster and I were doing. He's mastered the somersault and was less than amused by mine, but he demonstrated amazing prowess at leaping over me as I barrel-rolled back and forth across the bed.

Guess I won't be able to get mad in a few years when we come home to discover the monkeys have been jumping on our bed.

Monday, May 16, 2011

There's No Place Like Home...

Vacations are fun, but there's a special joy in pulling into the driveway and knowing you're home.

I don't have specific memories about returning home from a vacation because it's more a feeling that you get as you climb out of the car, stretch your legs, and determine if you'll unload quickly to get it over with or just head inside and crash within the familiar.

When we got home today I could see that feeling in all three kids:
Mini-Me ran straight to his Lego Star Wars toys.
Mickey (TKNTD) went straight to the coffee table and her bin of toys.
The Wubster helped us unload the van.
It's good to be home.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

One fish, two fish...

The most memorable fishing experiences aren't always about the size or quantity of the catch. Sometimes the fishin' hole or the fishin' companions make the moment most special.

I'll always remember sitting in the sparse shade around the lakes at a Texas catfish farm, the mid-summer sun baking the rust-colored banks into a crack-lined crust, my dad baiting my hook with kernels of corn, casting as far as my young muscles would allow, waiting, waiting, waiting for a cat to swoop in and tug at my line, reeling,
reeling, reeling as slowly as my young patience would allow, eventually landing the purring beast, both of us gasping for air.

I'll always remember my dad taking me to fish at a small pond in a local park, casting my line, and watching my bobber go into, and immediately under, the water as if I'd cast directly into a fishes mouth, which, it turns out, I apparently did as I set the hook and reeled in a decent-sized catfish.

I'll also always remember walking the banks and fishing during the annual fishing trip Rachel's dad organizes. He's taken Rach and her sisters on this trip for close to twenty years. I've been joining in on the fun for close to ten years and, now, Mini-Me, The Wubster, and Mickey (TKNTD) are joining in on the fun. Mini-Me has become quite adept at casting, while The Wubster wows us with his desire to carry fish from rod to basket (something his mom won't even do). Some years produce better fishing results then others, but each year is special on its own way: torrential downpours, lake swimming, boating adventures, bluegill frenzies, killer swans, or ginormous bass.

The kids won't remember the fish we caught this weekend without looking at photos and video, but, hopefully, they'll remember the time spent together.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Here fishy fishes!

Papa, my paternal grandfather, loved taking us fishing. We'd go to Pinnacle Mountain State Park outside Little Rock, where they frequently camped with their Good Sams club, and he'd take me and my cousins down to the boat ramp, bait our hooks, and help us cast our kid-sized rods. My cousin Stuart, four years my elder, fished for the big prize, but I was always content to reel in the small sun fish who swam in the shallows and attacked the baited hook as soon as it hit the water.

Today Grandpa Mike, Grandma Barb and I will be baiting hooks for Mini-Me and The Wubster (and Rach) in the hopes that, like last year, the Bluegills will attack the bait as soon as they hit the water. Hopefully we'll catch lots of fish today, but even if we don't, we'll catch plenty of memories.*

*Hopefully they don't involve kids falling in the lake.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Seedfolks (Repost)

When we lived in Little Rock, my parents rented a garden plot in the fertile Arkansas River flood plain one year. They grew tomatoes, squash, and a bunch of other stuff I'm sure. What I remember most was playing in the dirt in the hot, humid Arkansas summer weekends. I remember the look and feel of the dried, parched earthen crust that, when penetrated with a my small shovel, would reveal moist, aromatic mud below. I remember moving dirt and driving through mud puddles with my Tonka trucks as my parents tended to their crops.

Years later, my parents were planting a tree in our front yard in Garland, TX. They asked me to help and I refused, unwilling to dirty my hands. I think I was eleven or twelve. My friend who happened to be over at the time, dove right in and helped while I just watched, wishing we could go back to playing G.I. Joe vs. Transformers.

Mini-Me and The Wubster (especially The Wubster) have been quite helpful with our yardwork and gardening lately. They'll dig holes and rake and water. They especially like to gather worms for us. Our small backyard garden is showing promising signs of future harvests, so, in a month or so, we'll see if the boys' hard work pays off with bountiful tomatoes, snap peas, and peppers.

I'm reposting a piece from two years ago, because, as with yesterday, it's an old favorite of which I was recently reminded.

Seedfolks (Originally posted 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, guys, just like everyone said you would!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

It's All Rock & Roll to Me (Repost)

Wednesday night I made a last minute decision to head down to Blueberry Hill's Duck Room to see one of my favorite musicians, Bob Schneider, perform. After the 2.5 hour set and chatting with Bob after the show, I knew I'd made the right decision.

As I stood singing along to Bob and the band, I kept thinking back to one of my favorite posts, so I decided I wanted to repost it as part of this month's memories series.

It's All Rock & Roll to Me (Originally posted May 21, 2009)

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.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What Time Is It?

Time to get a watch!

I don't wear a watch anymore. The Fossil watch I wore for years now wastes away in a dresser drawer without even a working battery to keep it company. Scattered around the house are also several 'sports' watches that I used to wear while coaching volleyball. The boys found them, pressed all their buttons, and 'hid' them amongst their toys and other treasures.

I took the Fossil watch out of storage a couple months ago, thinking that I'd try wearing it again and it just felt strange and unfamiliar on my wrist. My wrist didn't want to attempt the relationship again, so I conceded and put the watch, out of place in this technological world where telling time involves simply sliding a cell phone out of your pocket, back into the darkness of my dresser drawer.

In 1984, though, it was a different story. My wrist yearned for a watch, especially this watch:

 With its detailed depiction of R2-D2 and C-3PO and glorious 5-function quartz LCD, no watch could be finer.

As far as I remember, this was my first real watch, but, while I remember having it, I don't remember wearing it. I'm sure I did, but the watch I remember wearing more was the pyramid faceted Fossil watch I found years later in the latrine at a camp site:

Not the actual watch, but similar.
I still have this watch in storage in the basement. It was the coolest watch I owned in middle/high school and that includes a Swatch watch!

In college, I went through a pocket watch phase, which I guess is back, except that with my current pocket watch I can listen to podcasts and call my wife to ask what we need from the store.

Mini-Me has owned two watches now. On his fourth birthday he received a Spider-man watch with interchangeable faceplates and more recently, the Easter Bunny left a Lego Darth Vader watch in his basket. He rarely wears either of them. He just doesn't seem to be a fashion accessory type of kid.

Have you seen the Lego watches, though? They're ingenious!

The watch bands consist of interchangeable pieces made of sturdy plastic and they clip together easily, but securely. Plus, they come with a mini-figure, which was a huge hit for "I'm infatuated with 'Dark Vader'" Mini-Me.

The Wubster got a Lego watch from the Easter Bunny, too, but, unlike Mini-Me, has worn it nearly non-stop since Easter. He wears it around the house, at school, at bedtime. He truly loves having it on, which is adorable!

This morning, when I rolled out of bed and turned back to look at The Wubster, (who'd climbed in with us around 3 a.m. to give me a 'foot massage'* ), I saw the Lego watch on his wrist and I smiled, hoping he'll remember his first watch when he's a father.

*A Wubster Foot Massage consists of The Wubster laying with his head pressed against his mother and his feet in a constant kicking/pushing motion against my back (or if I'm unfortunate enough to have rolled the wrong way...my 'sensitive bits'). Occasionally, he'll include a flail in my eye at no additional cost.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Now Somewhere in the Black Mountain Hills of Dakota...

We have two kid hairbrushes hiding around the house. I say hiding because they never seem to end up in the same spot twice. Rach would probably disagree, but that's just because she uses them more often and is more responsible than I am. That's neither hair nor there, though (I don't apologize for that...I embrace my heritage as a 12th generation punster).

There are a couple features of these hairbrushes that, when I find them and actually use them to tame the kids' hair, I love. The first is that they're incredibly soft. Why is it that when I grew up, I traded in a nice, soft-bristled brush and started using the human equivalent of a dog deshedding comb? That might explain my current follicular situation. The second is that the back side of one of our current kid brushes is the face of a lion (not a scary lion, mind you, but a pastel, cute, cuddly lion which, if released into the wild, would be slaughtered by a wildebeast).

One morning, when I was in preschool or, possibly, kindegarten, my mom ushered me out the front door and down the driveway to our car. Before buckling me in, she placed her tupperware lunch container and my soft-bristled, brown and white raccoon hairbrush on top of the car.

I loved that hairbrush, with it's raccoon tail handle and Ranger Rickish raccoon face. It was awesome!

With me buckled in and ready to go, my mom slid into the drivers seat, buckled herself in, started the car, and off we went to work and school.

I don't recall when she realized what had been forgotten. I don't recall when I began to miss my little raccoon friend. I do recall, though, that when we arrived home that evening, a neighbor brought us back our tupperware dish and the remnants of my Raccoon, which he had collected from the street not far from our house.

The tupperware survived the assault of concrete with few scars. The hairbrush did not.

Gone was the raccoon tail handle, gone was an ear, gone was the delicate details of his nose. Despite the obvious trauma of the experience, though, his bristles were still soft and pliable; his heart still full of a sense of duty, which is why, a few months later, he was awarded the Purple Comb for being wounded while serving. In the years that followed, he overcame the limitations of the injuries suffered on that fateful car ride and continued to serve my follicles well...as well as you could serve follicles in a constant state of cowlick.

Monday, May 9, 2011

My Dearest Mickey (TKNTD) on the First of Many Glorious Birthdays,

One year ago today, you surprised us with your early arrival. It wasn't expected, but it also wasn't hectic and rushed. Your mom just wasn't feeling well throughout our Mother's Day celebration with your grandmas and the rest of the family, so, eventually, she made the decision that a hospital trip was in order. We made arrangements for those wacky brothers of yours and embarked on a journey that, hours later, would end with us finally holding you in our arms and gazing at your beautiful face, our family finally complete.

Since that day, you've filled the house with a different blend of joy, laughter, and adorability than your brothers provide. You spent those first few months eating, sleeping, and pooping, like all infants, but as you became mobile, your adventurous spirit grew and grew--partially to keep up with your brothers, I'm sure, but mostly because it's who you are. You're always ready to explore and soak in the wonders of your world.

You're attentive and intrigued by the people and things that pass by, even if your stranger anxiety makes you cling tightly to your mom or me. When we're playing in the front yard you wave at every car that passes. When your brothers are drawing with sidewalk chalk or hunting for roly-polys, you're quick to join in the fun. You show off your silly faces and newly-discovered talents (like smacking your lips or making noises that sound like your choking) and beam with pride as your audience reacts.

Many people told me you'd have me wrapped around your little finger the day you were born and they were right. I'm not the only one, though. Your brothers adore you as well, especially Mini-Me (The Wubster will come around as soon as he realizes you're not trying to steal his toys...you're not trying to steal his toys, are you?). Mini-Me doesn't like it when Mommy or I wake him up to get ready for school, but if we have you crawl in to wake him up, the day is much, much brighter! Mini-Me colors pictures for you almost every day at school and shows them to you as soon as he gets home. He even 'commissions' his classmates to color pictures for you. The Wubster's been watching out for you, too. He's very good at finding your binkys, cups, or toys and returning them to you, "Uh-oh! 'ook what I found. Is Mickey's! I give to her!" You have some very devoted fans at home.

We all enjoyed your birthday bash last weekend, but mom, your brothers, and I look forward to celebrating your official First Birthday tonight. You're my one and only daughter and you're growing up to be such an amazing girl. I'm proud of the year you've had and I look forward to many, many more!



Sunday, May 8, 2011

If the Shoe Fits...

The kids and I took Rach out for a Mother's Day ice cream at our favorite local custard stand, Doozles, today, and afterwards, Rach and I were on such a sugar-confidence high that we decided to take the kids to Target, mainly to pick out new sneakers and sandals for Mini-Me, but subconsciously, to test out our sanity.

The experience was nothing like what I remember from childhood shoe-shopping adventures. Mini-Me and I approximated his appropriate shoe size using a mat on the floor before he sat on the carpeted aisle and Rach helped him try on several pairs of shoes, each connected to its matching mate via elastic string and plastic tie. In this world of convenient superstores, gone are the salesmen who measure your foot with a cold metal Brannock Device, disappear into a back room, return with a stack of boxes, and assist you into each new pair before pressing on your toes and conspiring with your mom to make you walk around the store (and sometimes into the mall) awkwardly as you try to catch a glimpse of the shoes in mirrors in order to judge if coolness outweighs comfort.

Luckily for him, maybe, we didn't make Mini-Me shuffle around in the shoes to test them out, but he also skipped out on my favorite part of childhood shoe shopping: boxing up the old shoes and wearing the new ones home. A new pair of shoes never felt so good!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

If a Tree Falls in the Front Yard...

Across the street from our house in Little Rock stood a tree that has remained the epitome of climbing trees. We only lived in Little Rock until the summer before I started 3rd grade, so I was scampering amongst the branches of that tree with my neighborhood friends around the time I was 6- or 7-years-old. We'd climb to the top of the tree and just sit, watching the world pass by some 40 or 50 feet below us.

When we moved to Garland, TX, I found myself in a neighborhood teeming with trees ripe for climbing. And that's what my new friend, Jeff, and I did. Our favorites, though, were the Black Walnut tree in my backyard and the tree in his front yard. We'd spend hours in those trees as snipers, paratroopers, Guerrilla's, or kids infatuated with G.I. Joe.

Today, Mini-Me helped me as I cut down a Mimosa tree in our front yard. While he was cutting the small branches from the larger limbs I'd already chopped down, I realized that our neighborhood is too young to offer up the wealth of climbing trees I knew as a child. Mini-Me's formative tree-climbing years won't be as fruitful as mine and I feel for him. There are few joys in the world as moving as that mixture of nervous fear, excitement, and pride that fills your chest as you reach the top branches of a tree. There are also few views of a neighborhood that are as lasting as those obtained amongst leaves outstretched to the sun.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Birds of a Feather

"Hey, guys! Look! C'mere!"
What is it, Jay?
"It's a nest. Big Deal."
"C'mon, Johnny! It's not just ANY nest! It's a Blue Jay's nest!"
And there are two babies in it! Jay, did you see the babies?!?
"Johnny! What are you doing!?! Don't touch it!"
Dude! Leave it alone!
Despite our warnings, Johnny reached up, grabbed the branch supporting the nest, pulled it groundward and released, springing the nest and its contents briefly skyward before gravity toppled them to the ground.
Johnny, Jay and I stopped talking, stepped out of the six-foot tall shrubbery that lined their driveway, and tuned our ears to our surroundings. About ten feet above us, in the lower branches of a towering, ancient oak tree, sat a lone Blue Jay, piercing the air with its defensive screams.
Why'd ya do that!?!
"Geez, Johnny! Whadda we gonna do now?"
"How do you know it's a Blue Jay's nest?"
"Don't you hear them?"

Do you think we upset it by looking at the nest?
"Nah. Blue jays always scream like that."
"They do, Johnny?"
"Yeah. They're just...oh, shit!!"
While the screaming jay perched in the oak tree provided an ominous soundtrack, it's mate began a dive-bombing run directed at annihliating our 11-year-old noggins. We dove to the ground, but that only seemed to incense the upset parents who began a dual bombing campaign, forcing us to scramble for safety in Johnny and Jay's house.

After a couple hours of playing G.I. Joe or Nintendo, the three of us braved the possibility of another Blue Jay attack to check on the remnants of the nest. There beneath the shrubs, amongst piles of dead leaves and budding undergrowth, lay the nest and two blue jays, no more than a few days old. The parents appeared to have abandoned them.
"What should we do?"
"Leave 'em."
"Aw, Johnny! We can't do that! This is our fault. We've gotta do somethin'!"
Should we call the zoo?
"You know...we have an empty birdcage in the basement. Johnny, ya think mom'll let us keep 'em?!?"
Can you keep Blue Jays in a cage? Isn't that illegal?
"It's not illegal. They're just birds."
"I don't know, Jay. Mom might not be happy."
"She loves birds, Johnny. She'll let us keep 'em! Let's get a box and take 'em in and show her!"
"I guess, but I'm ready to say 'I told ya so!'"
It turned out that Johnny and Jay's mom was incredibly supportive of saving the two abandoned Blue Jays that we stumbled upon randomly as we walked up the drive. She cleaned out the bird cage and contacted a vet to find out what steps needed to be taken to ensure the birds'survival while we scrounged for an old shoe box and went back to scoop up the baby birds.

Johnny, Jay, and their mom raised 'Heckle' and 'Jeckle' for at least several months before releasing them back into the wild (or to some other fate) and, as it turns out, with their constant screeching and pecking, Blue Jays might just be the WORST pets ever (after skunks and honey badgers, of course).

A month or so ago, I discovered that a pair of Robins had built their nest on the railing of our deck amongst the branches of our climbing rose. When I first looked into the nest, two perfect blue eggs caught my eye and I immediately called for the boys to come and see. The next day we found a third egg in the nest (and I've since learned some fascinating tidbits about Robins here) and the boys seemed excited about the prospect off watching the eggs hatch and baby Robins grow. I was less-than-excited about the prospect of having to ensure our cat, Gretchen, didn't sneak out back and discover such accessible prey.

Tonight we ate dinner outside on the deck to soak up as much of the glorious, dry Spring weather before the heat and humidity of Summer seeps into the region. Before sitting down, I walked past the nest, peeked in and jumped back, startled by the pink, fleshy creature writhing with its beak upstretched.
Oh! Boys! Youv'e gotta see this! Come look!
"What is it, daddy?"
One of the eggs hatched! Come look!
"I see, daddy! I see?"
Just a minute, Wubster. Let Mini-Me look first and then I'll pick you up.
Cool, huh, Mini-Me?!?
"Yeah, I guess."
Here you go, Wubster. Cool, huh?!?
"Is cool, daddy. What is it?"
Maybe I should have made an omelet.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

You Have Died of Dysentary!

When I saw our local library had Just Dance Kids yesterday, I grabbed it and convinced the boys to have a dance party with me. They loved the kid-friendly music, especially Yo Gabba Gabba's 'Get the Sillies Out,' and all three of us had a blast movin' and groovin' before bedtime. If you've never played Just Dance, it's phenomenal in that it can provide a cardio workout, but, even better, is beyond hilarious when Mini-Me and The Wubster are involved. Mini-Me has started singing along to the songs even though he doesn't know many of the words and The Wubster, despite being lean on years, can easily defeat fully-grown, rhythm-challenged adults when he really focuses on shakin' his groove thang (or when he stands still and watches...the game doesn't use exact science).

In the early '80s, my video game experience was a far cry from the techno-wonder that is the Nintendo Wii (and an even farther cry from the 360 or PS3). In our house in Little Rock we had a converted carport family room where my parents kept a moon-sized console television for (as far as I can remember) the sole purpose of Pong:

Image Found Here
After moving to Dallas and, I believe, leaving Pong behind, we upgraded to an Atari 2600 and, eventually, a Commodore 64 with it's wondrous tapes and cartridges:

Original images here and here

There were a number of different video game/computer systems after the C64, including the NES that's currently resting in my garage, waiting for a new power pack so I can teach my kids how to shoot ten blockheaded ducks in less than 30 seconds despite being bullied by a giggling mutt or that it's good to use your head to earn money, especially if there are mushrooms involved.

Somewhere, there's also an original Nintendo Game Boy with the greatest game ever...Boggle. That's right, I consider a word game far better than any Mario, Metroid, or Zelda games. My sister, mom, and I spent hours one family vacation in the late 90s passing Boggle back and forth in the van, around our campsite, while waiting for food in restaurants...much to my dad's frustration. And all these years later, not much has changed, except we're now battling each other at Words With Friends on our iDevices.

While I don't want my kids to play video games at the expense of playing outside amongst the dandelions and clover, I certainly appreciate their educational and entertainment value, especially as part of family fun time.

If you'll excuse me, I need to go practice my dance moves. I wouldn't want to embarrass my kids when I chaperone the elementary school mixer.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May the Fourth Be With You

I remember going with my dad to a Sears store one evening in what was probably late 1983. He had grown-up stuff to get: paint, a mower blade, adjustable wrenches, maybe.


But the great thing about Sears in what was probably late 1983 is that they had Star Wars toys. I remember standing in their toy aisle staring at Ewok action sets, AT-STs, and, glory of glories, a bonafide Speeder Bike and Scout Trooper (sold separately, of course)!!!

Original Image Here

Dad! Dad!!! Daddy!!
"What is it, Doug?"
Can I get this?!? Can I get this speeder bike!?! Please? Please!!!
I don't remember the terms and conditions of the deal, now, but I'll always recall the feel of that box in my hands as I floated out of Sears in what was probably late 1983 with my very own Speeder Bike & Scout Trooper.

In what was definitely 1996, the 20th Anniversary re-release of A New Hope neared and the shelves of my small college-town's Mega Big Box store began to fill with an updated line of action figures. My garage seller's remorse sent me on a collecting spree, devouring as many 3 3/4" hearkenings to my childhood as my college budget allowed. As time passed, though, those toys were taken off display, boxed up, and placed in storage, forgotten amongst the bustling adult world of which I was now a part.

Several months ago, Mini-Me's imagination swirled with images of Batman and his Justice League teammates, but out of the dark night, he asked one day:
"Daddy, Can we play Lego Star Wars?"
Bud, we're almost done with Lego Batman...don't you wanna finish it first?
"No, daddy. Let's play Lego Star Wars."
I was initially disappointed. I've never finished a video game before and, working together with my 4-year-old son, I was 3.1% away from a historic moment and he wanted to leave it all behind!?! But, then again, the force was calling to Mini-Me and who was I to deny the power in that. Plus, I love me some Star Wars.

After playing the game with Mini-Me several times over the course of a couple weeks and answering thousands of questions about characters and planets long, long ago in that galaxy far, far away, I shut down our storage area's tractor beam and freed the box of figures that had been hidden away like Luke from Vader. Mini-Me's eyes grew to Death Starian proportions and his imagination soared like an X-Wing.

As we dug through the box, there, amongst my collection of late 90s figures, was the Scout Trooper I'd received way back in 1983, one of the few original figures I still have.

Last night Mini-Me and I stopped at Home Depot on the way home from his soccer practice. As we walked into the store to pick up paint, a mower blade, or adjustable wrenches, maybe, he asked,
"Daddy. Do they have Star Wars toys here?"
I wish they did, buddy...I wish they did.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tripping the Field Fantastic

I don't recall details of every field trip I ever attended, but bits and pieces came flowing back as I thought about Mini-Me and The Wubster on their field trip to The Butterfly House today (yep, that Butterfly House)...

In sixth grade, we went to a local park for a teacher-planned educational experience and ended up with student-centered learning as the class gathered in the middle of the concrete tunnels of the playground to watch the most popular boy and most popular girl in the class make out. The teachers must have realized pretty quickly that something was up when they looked around and didn't see a single kid on the playground anymore because we had to scatter after only one spit swap. I was at the back of the tunnel, though, so I didn't get to see much more than the butts of the classmates in front of me.

Then there was a much less eventful seventh-grade trip to a local state park where we got to hike through the forest and learn that the guide wasn't allergic to poison ivy as he rubbed his hands all over the stuff (lucky bastard...or stupid? I never saw him again, he may have spent the next few weeks with a horrible case of the "Damn! I thought I wasn't allergic!"s). We also splashed around in a fresh water stream exploring for rocks and minerals, and learned about various wildlife and insects (this is where I developed an appreciation for water striders).

I also remember one of the best bus rides ever on a field trip. Sitting with friends in the last few seats of the bus minding everyone elses business, we hit a bump in the road and were catapulted skyward until the ceiling of the bus abruptly greeted our heads. Despite what could have been minor concussions, we begged the driver to turn around and hit the bump again. It was better than Six Flags...and the line was shorter.

In high school I went on a field trip to an awards ceremony at South Fork. Alas, this will mean nothing to my kids.

There were plenty of other trips--band festivals, planetariums, Shakespearean plays, science centers, caves--but today's field trip might be my favorite...and I didn't even take off work.

It was my favorite because, on the way home, Rach and the boys brought me lunch at school. We sat in my classroom and ate while talking about their adventures with the butterflies and the super-awesome playground nearby, the boys drew pictures on the Promethean Board, we walked around and let the boys fill the hallways with their adorability (it's the only thing that overpowers the stench of teen spirit), and, then, Mini-Me decided to spend the rest of the afternoon with me instead of going home. We colored pictures, walked the hallways a little more, he chatted bravely and answered my coworkers' assorted questions, and watched the buses fill the parking lot.

On the way home (and several times throughout the evening), Mini-Me told me, "Daddy, I had a good day today. I loved going to your school. I've never been during the day before. Can I go again next time after the Butterfly House!?!"

Of course you can, buddy...of course you can.


Monday, May 2, 2011

Hey, Wubster! Do you like SEEfood?

I imagine my parents enjoyed an abundance of blissful mealtimes with me during those first 6 ½ years--all of us sitting poised, yet comfortable, around the dinner table, freshly prepared food eaten appreciatively while still piping hot, civil conversation about the state of affairs at the local playground flowing as we sipped from the never-spilled goblets of perfectly homogenized milk.

Then my sister arrived.

For at least the next ten years, dinners were no longer serene. A tidal wave of giggling, snorting, bickering and food flinging swept over the table, scattering silverware, displacing dishes, and toppling goblets of milk. Quite often, either my sister or I were swept away from the table as well. Dashed against the shores of our bedrooms until we regained our composure. We rarely regained it, though, and thus, with each passing dinner, ate in ever-fluctuating shifts amidst the flotsam and jetsam of what boils down to our inability to look at each other without laughing.

So, boys (and eventually you, Mickey (TKNTD) ), as much as I may act like your wild and wacky behavior during meals is unforgivable, uncalled for, undesirable, and unseen in the prior history of mankind, once you're able to read this blog, you can remind me that I once mastered that game and that, while I sit straight-faced and stoic now, deep down I'm laughing along with you. Deep, deep down.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Month of Memories...all alone in the moonlight...

Way back in March I decided I wanted to challenge myself to another month-long writing extravaganza...and then I apparently nodded off and woke up mid-April with nary a blog post to show for it. This idea came about for a number of reasons, many of which will be discussed over the course of this month, but, mainly, because I wanted to pass along stories of my childhood that are flooding back based on what Mini-Me, The Wubster, and Mickey (TKNTD) are experiencing. Of course, before I nod off again this month, let's just dive right in...

Today we celebrated Mickey's first birthday with family and friends. She seemed to have a blast, despite the stranger anxiety that often has her clinging tightly to her mom and I. She ate her lunch, fought off her brothers as they tried to open all her presents, stared at everyone with grave concern as we sang 'Happy Birthday' (despite a week of practice her brothers provided at dinner time), devoured her cake icing first (that's daddy's girl!...well, actually, Mickey, daddy's girl would save the icing for him), and skipped her nap in favor of rolling happily on the floor in what was probably a sugar-induced haze. I think it was a complete success!

Speaking of a complete success, Mini-Me made out like a birthday cake bandit this weekend. Having celebrated his sister's today, and a classmate's yesterday, he's had his fill of cake, ice cream, and running wild through backyards. I've been fascinated watching Mini-Me become infatuated with birthday parties this school year. He and his classmates have actually been banned from talking about them at school. They spent so much time inviting and uninviting each other that it became a major source of tears and, thus, a major distraction for the class. Nevertheless, there's still plenty of birthday party discussion on the drives home from school.

It's during those discussions or as I'm watching the boys frolic at the ever-popular inflatable playground parties, that I always seem to end up thinking about birthday parties past: the McDonald's birthday party, the Showbiz Pizza birthday party, the birthday sleep-overs...but the one that always seems to stand out is the Kermit-the-Frog party when I turned 5. I'm sure I had fun at all my birthday parties, especially since they always involved my best friends at the time and mostly ended up with me cake-drunk and revelling in new G.I. Joes, Star Wars figures, or other cool pieces of molded plastic, but that fifth birthday always stands out because of the party hats.

Yep, the hats.

I'm apparently infatuated with the Kermit-the-Frog birthday hats. I've scoured the typically-good-for-finding-anything-you-can-remember-Internet, but haven't yet found a photo of those beloved hats. They were your standard cardboard cone-shaped party hats, but these had a 3-D Kermit perched on the front and his little paper legs dangled across your forehead. Man, they were awesome! I'm sure Grammie and Poppie have a picture of them somewhere.

The Kermit cake was awesome, too...if I close my eyes and find my inner birthday zen, I can even taste it...

Alright, kiddos...daddy's turning 35 this year. I think we need a 30th anniversary of my fifth birthday. Start saving your allowance* and searching eBay...believe me, it'll be one to remember!

*um, you'll need to ask your mom about this.


After I submitted the post and began shutting down my computer, tears streaming down my face because the Interweb failed me in my search for the Kermit hat, I remembered that my mom had given me my baby book a while back. Luckily, I'd actually put it in an appropriate location AND even luckier, I remembered that location! There, amongst pages 'glued' together by melted, decaying birthday balloons past, is a pristine prized possession:

Isn't it awesome!?!

And, as it turns out, the hat was from my third birthday party, which fascinates me even more, because, despite being so young, I feel like I remember the party (or elements of it) so vividly.

"Memory is a child walking along a seashore. You never can tell what small pebble it will pick up and store away among its treasured things."
~Pierce Harris, Atlanta Journal