Save the Date

May 18, 2019

On April 22, Alice and I had a random day off of school. Since Sara was teaching and Elliot was studenting, it seemed like the ideal time for a daddy-daughter date. I hoped we could see some flowers, and poppies in particular. The Internet told me to head to Point Reyes and the Chimney Rock Trail.

We had a great car ride, talking the whole time. We talked about her social life at school, sibling relationships, and sports. We also talked about her commercial idea for a satirical site called celebritybarfbags.com. It just came up. In this commercial, various celebrities from Hollywood, sports, and music would talk about their experiences and how CBBs saved them. Fortunately, all this talk did not cause the oft-carsick Alice to toss her cookies or anything else.

We stopped in Point Reyes Station for a pastry, perused a bookstore, and then headed out to the the CRT. When we arrived, it was windy, so we ate our sack lunches in the car and started our hike. There were a decent number of wildflowers, but it was no super bloom. Nevertheless, we had fun playing in the wind, racing along trails, and spotting Indian paintbrush. We also spotted some seals on a beach below the trail and had fun winding our way down and checking them out. In addition to the elephant seals, we also encountered a school field trip. I explained to Alice the overwhelming joy of seeing a group of students that I am not leading.

We spent a few moments hanging out with the seals, assigning them names and backstories. We returned the way we came, but this time, Alice started feeling a bit carsick, so we stopped at a beach. While Alice searched for shells on the beach, something caught my eye. I walked closer to the water and picked up a nearly-intact sand dollar, the most complete I’d ever seen on a beach. Alice was impressed. We dipped our feet in the water for a bit and headed back.

On the way back, we were a bit quieter, both somewhat tired from our day. So I decided to introduce her to the music of my youth. We listened to Automatic for the People by R.E.M. She found the first few songs “interesting” aka “kind of weird,” but we had a nice talk about depression through “Everybody Hurts” and a fun conversation about rhyme as we listened to “Sweetness Follows”. Her favorite song seemed to be “Nightswimming” (strings!) and she also approved of “Find the River” which made my heart happy. We pulled into our hometown just as the album was ending.

Although we didn’t find all the flowers we were looking for, we saw seals and sand dollars and made some lovely memories. At our respective ages, I think we could go almost anywhere and have a good time. Alice is one of easiest people to hang out with, a positive kiddo with an appreciation for the absurd.   I am hoping for another date in the near future and am glad we won’t be out of time soon.

Not Getting His Wish

January 20, 2019

When I got home today, Sara shared some exciting news. Apparently, one of Elliot’s classmates is getting a new sibling. Sara asked Elliot if he would want a baby brother or baby sister. This was purely hypothetical and strongly prefaced, since our family of four is perfectly squared away. However, his response was crazy melty cool:

“I would want a baby sister, because Alice is so cool and talented. So if you had another girl, she would probably be like Alice. Then she might be in kindergarten and I would be in the first grade, so I would play with her at school.”

So aside from the fact that he doesn’t seem to exactly understand time (or plans on flunking multiple times), I thought this was pretty much the sweetest response ever. Almost enough to try for that baby sister. Almost. Well, not really, but bless his always-will-be-a-little-brother heart.

She’s the Cheesiest

January 16, 2019

Tonight, while Alice was taking her bath, I read her a chapter of the book Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo. The story is DiCamillo at her best: quirky three-dimensional characters, an innocent yet introspective voice, and a darkness not seen in the conventional kid book.

The scene unfolds this way:

Raymie stands with her friend Beverly Tapinski in her father’s insurance office. He has left his family and run off with the dental hygienist. She hasn’t seen him since then, and she has just given up on her plan to win the Little Miss Central Florida Contest—the long-shot way to win fame and summon her daddy back. Heavy stuff. Heavy enough for Raymie to think—Tell me, why does the world exist?

Of course, I was unable to ruminate on Raymie’s existential crisis, because I was immediately interrupted by a slight splash from the tub, an arm raised in the air, and a proclamation from Alice—

“For nachos!”

I will never leave you, kid, I thought.

 

Well Rum Pa Pum Pum

December 23, 2018

Mary nodded, pa rum pa pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pa pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pa pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pa pum pum,
Rum pa pum pum, rum pa pum pum
Then He smiled at me, pa rum pa pum pum
Me and my drum

Up until last week, I had misinterpreted “The Little Drummer Boy” for nearly 40 years. I understood that the drummer boy didn’t have much. Apparently, he had a drum. It’s unclear about whether or not he had sticks. I understood what the song seems to be conveying—give your best no matter what you have. I understood that Mary, the ox, the lamb (or ass, depending on how many giggles you want out of your stage performers), and baby Jesus all dug the drum solo.

However, I made an assumption that I now believe to be incorrect. I believed that the little drummer boy was a previously-unrecognized prodigy who pounded that percussion so perfectly, he made the unmentioned Joseph take out his iPhone and immediately add the performance to his latest Instagram story. I thought the drummer boy’s rhythms were worthy of a fist bump from Questlove.

Then I saw my son’s school program.

During the lead-up to Elliot’s Christmas program, we had absolutely no idea what to expect. He didn’t seem to know any lyrics, he was clueless about a costume, and he generally seemed like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones had zapped him with a pageantry-specific amnesia device.

We showed up Thursday night with precious little knowledge about the performance before letting our son wander off to the back with his teacher. The printed program revealed that Elliot’s class would be performing “The Little Drummer Boy” (aka “The Carol of the Drum”). Soon the canned music started up and we saw Elliot walking down the aisle with a jembe drum in his arms and a smile on his face. He and his classmates then proceeded to hit the drum whenever the singer on the CD would say rum pa pum pum. I’m guessing that the class average for beats on rhythm was around 12% and probably 5-10% of those were just fortunate coincidences. Elliot was especially challenged, since the drum was nearly his size and a bit slippery to boot. He kept on having to grab it, turn it, and pull it back up, all while maintaining friendly eye contact with the audience. He even used his knee to boost the drum up a few times.

But through it all, he never seemed to get frustrated about his sliding drum. He never despaired that his classmates were getting more beats on rhythm. He kept a smile on his face for almost the entire time.

To a professional choir director, his performance may have seemed like chaos. At the very least, it was unpolished. But I could suddenly see clearly. The haphazard drumming in front of me was probably pretty close to what the drummer boy could muster. He’s no confident kid leading up to his solo. He’s insecure. Angsty. Interrogative. That’s not the attitude of the next Sheila E. Those are the inner workings of someone without much of a clue. Someone who missed several key practices.

Here’s further information to consider: When Mary nods, she’s nodding the nod of new mothers. That encouraging nod of things hoped for and not yet seen. The nod through pretend smiles and gritted teeth. One day he’ll figure this thing out. One day the money for these lessons will pay off. Sure the ox and ass (or lamb depending on whether you want to dress your performers in adorable headgear) kept time, but it’s not like these two animals have been known for their epic sense of rhythm. No music teacher has ever said, “You’ll need to get Junior a metronome…or a donkey.” And Jesus does indeed smile. But remember, babies smile about all kinds of less-than-impressive performances. A raspberry sound from your lips. Making your face appear and disappear. Barney. Not exactly the equivalent of a John Bonham solo.

Plus, a far-from-perfect performance meshes so much better with the Christmas story. Now the Nativity isn’t as calamity-packed at The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, but it certainly isn’t clean. And what could be more hope-filled than a mess? For the person who says the wrong thing at the office party, there’s the wisemen who accidentally tip-off the psychopath Herod about the baby. For the parents who use newspaper when the wrapping paper runs out, there’s Mary and Joseph putting Jesus in a hay-filled manger. For the newlywed spouses freaking out about spending time with their in-laws, there’s the shepherds who feel the sore-afraid feelings before any of the other feelings.

So when I see a school Christmas program, I don’t want to behold perfect rows of kids, precise timing, and crisply-delivered lines. I want to see children wandering around for their place on stage. I want to hear squishy Rs in need of speech therapy. I want to watch a struggling boy barely holding onto a drum, occasionally hitting the right beat, and joyfully smiling through all of it. I want a reminder that the Holiest of Holies came down to Earth, not to just clean up the mess, but to love it first.

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Get Your Game on, Go Play

December 19, 2018

The time had come to see if my son was a gamer. His mother and sister were off on a date to see The Nutcracker. Over the last two days, he had developed a seemingly unquenchable obsession for Blokus (or Corners, as he called it), at which he could be legitimately competitive. But the real test lay in a small green box. Was Elliot ready for Catan Junior?

Although the game is a simplified version of Settlers of Catan (aka The Best Game to Ever Touch a Coffee Table), it contains complexity in regards to trading, using resources to build, and waiting when one doesn’t feel like waiting. In other words, not exactly the ideal skillset of a five-year-old. And while Elliot did have a problem trading his goats because, in his words, “The goaties are just so cute!” He navigated the nuance well.

In fact, he won his very first Catan Junior game in convincing fashion. He won through a skillful deployment of the Ghost Captain, an obsessive purchasing of Coco cards, and an impressive willingness to listen to advice. Although he had quite a bit of coaching throughout the process, his father did make him come up with the winning trades and building decisions on his own.

Upon vanquishing his old man, E was quite pleased. He eagerly agreed to a rematch. This time he received much less coaching, and lost in a very close game. However, he handled it very well. “I’m used to losing,” he said, rather matter-of-factly. And in that statement of younger sibling reality, I felt solidarity with my son. So I talked to him about my decade of defeat during my early years, intimating to him how valuable it was for me to lose early and often in life. He listened attentively and then challenged me to a game of Candyland.

We split those games too, and he handled both his triumphs and setbacks like a pro. Over my life, I’ve received so much joy out of game nights, but I’m not sure if there was ever a night that gave me as much happiness as tonight’s Son E Delight. In the very near future, I’m going to have to get used to losing again, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

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There He Goes

August 17, 2018

He kisses our hands. We tell him we love him. We tell him that he will have a good day. Then we step away from him, his mother and I. He comes back asking if we are going to leave. His mother is steady. “Your friend is waiting,” she tells him, and the boy with the Chinese dragon shirt walks back to his seat.

It feels strange as we walk away from our last child’s first day of school. Leading up to this day, we prayed that he would detach easily, but we had no idea it would be this seamless. We expected tears. Pleading. Twiggy arms wrapped around legs like ivy on Corinthian columns.

We half expect to hear footsteps following us to the car. Two-thirds expect to hear a shriek. Three-fourths expect to get a text message from the teacher, telling us that our son is crying in a corner. But instead, we make small talk with a few other parents and drive off.

During the day, I think about him often. I try to imagine what he is doing. Is he coloring carefully, tongue peeking out of his mouth? Is he eating the good stuff in his lunch first? Is he sliding down slides and running around with random abandon?

Seven hours later, we’re heading down the hill to pick up Mr. E. His teacher sees us coming. And just like that, he is in front of us, holding his froggy lunch box and pink gift bag. The dragon on his shirt eyes us coolly, but the boy beams with some pride over a first day finished and with a little relief that his parents have actually shown up.

On the ride back, he is a bit quiet. We pull remnants out about his day. He ended up getting some tears in his eyes during the day. He had to go to the bathroom a lot, but he knows the procedure. Later, over some first-day cookies from his cousin (aka his aunt), he reflects on his day: “I like school. Um…just this first day made me love it…without my parents.”

As the evening goes on, he starts to talk even more. He explains the lunch policy and how he can’t share food with classmates. He tells us about a little boy who seemed to miss his parents a lot. He talks about the classroom procedures. “Do you know what procedures are?” he asks. He tells me with urgency that he needs to remember something for show and tell. We settle on a Pokemon ball and some strange invertebrate character to pack inside.

There are a few near meltdowns, one over getting green paint in his yellow paint. His mother handles this by deftly placing a paper towel over the paint, which sops up the jealous green. The other bit of umbrage is over a worship story where a macaw has the audacity to defend its life against a cat. Apparently, the bird got a little too rough with the homicidal fur ball, so this sends him running off to bed.

Approaching tomorrow, there seems to be no anxiety from our schoolboy, only anticipation. He adores his teacher, and the feeling seems mutual. One day down, 179 to go. But before the next day comes, I’ll place a kiss on his sleeping forehead, tell him I love him, and perchance to dream of twisting ivy and dragons that are not quite ready to let go.

Son-o-grams

June 22, 2018

A few days ago, I noticed that the vast majority of my recent Facebook posts were focused on my daughter. Her violin recitals, ballet recitals, school programs, cheese-related artwork, etcetera etcetera and so forth. Make no mistake, she continues to be great. However, I’d like a certain four-year-old to get a little shine as well. And what better place than here on the QD?

  1. He’s a Nerd: Elliot is really passionate about critters. He is especially intrigued by insects right now. He loves reading about them, watching Bug Wars with his grandpa, and, most of all, seeing them in the wild. Last week, while on a walk with his grandparents, he saw a scorpion. Although no Elliots were harmed via sting, the scorpion almost caused Elliot’s demise, since it nearly made him explode with excitement.
  2. He Likes the Underdog: For the most part, Elliot doesn’t care one iota about sports. He will occasionally watch with me, like he did for the NBA Playoffs, but he’s much more interested in the commercials. When he does watch, he consistently asks me which team is losing so he can root for them. He also tends to like animals that aren’t appreciated as much, hence his love for Jerusalem crickets and cockroaches.
  3. He Lacks Guile: I love the innocence of this age. It seems like kids are unapologetic about owning their awesomeness. While it is rather odious on adults, it is pretty refreshing on a kid. Some of my favorite Elliot quotes that typify this state:
    1. “I did a really good job on this!”
    2. “I’m doing pretty well right now.”
    3. “I learned this new skill really well!”
  4. He Brings the Funny: It’s such a relief that my kids have a good sense of humor. One of our inside jokes revolves around the word lasers. One time Elliot was making shooting noises and poking at me, so I told him that whenever he said lasers I would tickle him. Somehow he agreed to this rule. I try to get him to say it, and he just smiles and laughs and says, “No, because you’re going to tickle me if I do!” Sometimes he’ll say it and run away. Other times he alludes to it just to tempt fate. He also enjoys saying crazy random stuff and enjoys entertaining with his crazy dance moves as well. Lately, he’s taking some joy in making some ridiculous stories that ramble on and on. Fortunately, they clearly amuse him, which in-turn amuses me as well.

Like a sonogram, the picture isn’t perfectly clear about the person Elliot will be. However, I’m extremely excited to see how the picture develops over these years.

 

Today, my daughter gave me one of the best Father’s Day gifts: good blog material.

We were driving to Alice’s ballet recital, which almost always happens to fall on Father’s Day. It also always coincides with a certain college’s graduation, and since my wife is a professor at this college, she is always in for a hectic day.

After changing out of her regalia, getting Alice’s hair pulled back, and getting dressed for the recital, Sara told her parents, her kids, and her husband about this year’s graduation. It was cooler than last year, tortillas were thrown, and the speaker was unspectacular but solid. The question was asked about how this speech compared to speeches from previous graduations. Sara recounted a miserable tale of a broiling day, overly intense yelling, and an exhaustive list of platitudes.

Alice piped up from the back. “What’s that?” she asked.

After the adults did their best to define platitudes, I offered up an example:

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, we’ll land among the stars.”

“But if you land on a star you’ll burn up,” Alice observed, unimpressed by the words of Norman Vincent Peale. That got a few laughs, which encouraged her. “And the moon is closer to Earth than the stars anyway,” she continued, “so you’ll just be in outer space and get sucked up by a black hole and die.”

Pretty morbid for someone about to put on pink slippers and a poofy blue skirt. She asked for more examples, so we continued this new dance.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

“But what if you put your last quarter in the gumball machine?” she shot back immediately. She was feeling it at this point, and sensed that she was owning the room (or minivan), so she begged for more.

Her responses weren’t all hits. In fact, there were probably more misses. There were also some complete failures that left us confused or wondering if she should see a therapist. However, I was impressed that she didn’t give up when the laughter diminished. I certainly would have.

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” Sara offered as we pulled into the theater parking.

“Yeah, if you’re from a family full of Cyclopses!” she responded without hesitation. Sometimes she is so weird. It makes me love her even more.

But my favorite response wasn’t exactly a fact check or a counter cliche.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” I said, letting the ancient Chinese wisdom linger in the conditioned air.

Her response was quiet, but authoritative, perhaps even a bit accusatory. “You stole that from Panda Express,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cat & the Carrier

June 9, 2018

Once Dasher saw the carrier, he decided it was time for a dash. How appropriate. And how inconvenient. At this point his heart and mine were both racing.

A few minutes before this, I had been completely taken aback by an alert on my phone. VET APPOINTMENT. It screamed. I remembered the stories Sara had told me about the previous appointment. The struggles. The scratches. The time it took to trap the cat. The clock said I had 15 minutes to get a freaked-out feline and a four-year-old into a van. The odds were not in my favor.

Dasher fled to his favorite spot, which is actually INSIDE the bottom of our leather couch. Over time, he has managed to rip a hole in the thin fabric underbelly. So when he wants to get away from company or an over-loving child, he crawls in and hangs in this homemade hammock.  It sags low, nearly touching the ground. After failed attempts to entice him with cat treats, I flipped the sofa forward and was able to coax him out of the pocket. Of course, he immediately hopped out and sprinted down the hallway as the clock struck you should have left by now.

At this point, I should discuss the aforementioned four-year-old. With his sister gone on a playdate, Elliot became the default deputy. Turns out his blue sea turtle shirt belied his efficacy. He helped me look for Dasher. When we found the fugitive under the bed, he doled out the cat treats. Unfortunately, in Dasher’s mind these dependable delights suddenly became purrsona non-gato. Nevertheless, Elliot did his best at trying to keep the older cat, Tess, away from the enticements. He also offered helpful commentary during my failed attempts. “He’s sooo fast!” he would exclaim. This was a helpful counter perspective, as my inner narrator was stating, “You are sooo incompetent!”

On the fourth try, I finally found the recipe for success. Move the carrier into the bedroom to limit transport distance and tilt the carrier on end with cage door facing up. I dropped Dasher in and he rewarded me by urinating on my stomach.

After a quick wipe down and change of clothes, Elliot, Dasher, and I were headed out the door. Dasher initially made some weird sounds, like he was possessed by the soul of some ancient Egyptian cat spirit. Fortunately, those quickly abated and he was quiet most of the way.

Sara met us in St. Helena and kindly offered to take Elliot home. I was hauling the carrier in when I heard footsteps behind me. Elliot wanted to see this mission through. He probably thought I needed some supervision after my multiple failures with Dasher and the carrier.

While there, a young couple came in with a cat and carrier of their own. I asked them for tips on corralling a cat. They shrugged and said that they just needed to give themselves about 30 minutes. It was nice to commiserate over our lack of competency.

After an emergency clean up necessitated by a nervous dog, we entered the waiting room. I opened the carrier and Dasher came out. He hid between the carrier and the examination table. Elliot immediately went over and started to pet him. An assistant came in to weigh Dasher. I asked her if she had any remedies for carrier dysfunction. She grabbed Dasher by the scruff of the neck and let all 13.5 pounds of him hang down. It looked like he was going to tear in two, but instead he just hung in passive suspension with this ridiculous expression on his face and his front paws sticking straight out. He kind of looked like a burglar who had just heard the words, “Come out with your hands up!”

Then we met the vet. Elliot often has trouble with strangers, but he seemed to be pretty cool with our vet and his Australian-ish accent, his slightly unbuttoned shirt, his mustache, and his protruding chest hair. The word on Dasher was that he probably needed to eat less. No wonder why Dasher didn’t want to come. He’ll probably be battling body issues for the rest of his life.

When our visit was over, I used the neck scruff technique to get Dasher back in. He immediately went limp and dropped in on the first try. I told Elliot to help me remember the major points from our visit.

We had a short car ride back home, but it was good. I asked Elliot if he would want to be an animal doctor when he grew up. He quickly replied, “No.” When I pressed him, he stated that he would rather study sea creatures or insects. He then started talking about cockroaches and how they are so cute. Apparently, they are now his favorite animal. While I respectfully disagreed with his choice, he was very interested in my stories about cockroaches surviving heavy doses of radiation. “Is that really true?” he inquired. I told him I would Google it when we got home.  Turns out it is.

Elliot was a great deputy. He turned a miserable experience into a memory. The next time we visit the vet, I’ll remember these two main things: 1) how to properly pick up a cat 2) how much my misery loved his company.

 

 

 

 

Three Amigos

June 8, 2018

We had more highlights than a kids’ dentist office today. Alice, Elliot, and I made the two-hour trek to San Mateo to the Curiodyssey science and wildlife center. They made flying creations that flew up a wind tunnel. They watched two bobcats, Frankie and Caro eat hunks of mouse meat. They watched airplanes zoom directly above their heads. They saw an otter pee and poop. At the end of our trek, I asked them what they enjoyed the most. Alice liked the bobcats, a sleepy gray fox, and the non-pooping otter. Elliot liked the beetles, a frog, and a tarantula.

The animals were pretty cool. Curiodyssey is actually an animal rescue center for critters that can’t survive on their own in the wild. But that wasn’t the biggest highlight for me. The science stuff was fun. I would have liked more from their expository signs, but the exhibits were interactive and the kiddos cooperated well. But that wasn’t my favorite part of the trip either. There was a feeling of indescribable peace that came over me as I watched teachers chaperoning their clusters of kids while yelling out old stand-bys like “Slow down!” and “Because this is where we need to be right now.” But even this near transcendence didn’t reign supreme.

I liked the car trips. I like being stuck in an enclosed space with my kids for hours where the smaller distances between us lead to free and easy conversations. We talked about past trips we’d taken. About memories from when they were younger. About our favorite days of the week (Alice: Sunday, Elliot: Tuesday). We played a few improv games, one where we just made up random names and then described their back stories and another one where we made up movie titles and then came up with the characters and storylines. Alice noticed a highway patrol officer who appeared to be dressed in civilian clothes. This confused her, so I came up with a theory that someone had stolen his car. Then one story lead to another and the next thing I knew I was shouting out, “Policemen in their underwear!” from an open window as my daughter was squealing with embarrassment.

“Dad-DY!” she exclaimed.

Later on in the drive, Elliot egged me on to further embarrass his sister, which I obliged.

But perhaps my favorite thing was describing the plots of childhood movies to my kids. On the way over, I described Three Amigos in detail, since it’s the movie I’ve seen the most in my life. On the way back, Elliot was clamoring for another, so I told him about Home Alone. This was somewhat ironic since, these days, Elliot totally freaks out about the prospect of being left alone. But he loved the description, as did Alice, and I can’t wait to watch some of these movies with them.

A friend once shared some wisdom with me. He started taking his daughters skiing and he told me that the thing he enjoyed most wasn’t the skiing. It was the one-on-one time he got to spend with them on the chairlift. I thought this was a brilliant idea, but if you ask me how many times I’ve taken my kids skiing, I’ll tell you that the number rhymes with hero.

Thank goodness for meaningful car rides. I hope to get in as many of them as possible when these kiddos are young. And maybe, just maybe, then amigos forever we’ll be.