Traveling Man

December 19, 2015

Elliot has miles to go before he sleeps. He and his giraffe binky have ridden in a black minivan for nearly three hours. They have sat in traffic together along with his family, immobile for nearly an hour as helicopters circled overhead. Apparently, someone has been shot while driving on this highway that Elliot is now traveling on. Because of this, the highway has turned into a parking lot. But Elliot does not know about the near brush with danger, and at this point, neither do his parents. They will read about it on the Internet later that night. In the moment, Elliot is much more concerned about his poopy pants.

Elliot is taken out of his car seat at the airport. But only after his father unloads all six bags onto the luggage cart. His mother remembers to top off the baggage with Elliot’s car seat, and pushes the wheeled pack mule along. Elliot walks with his sister, Alice, reluctantly holding her hand. His dad drives away, off to park the car and sprint back to the ticket counter. Elliot is unaware of the challenges that his parents face. He is sad, because it is cold and he wants to run around independently through the darkness, strangers, and impatient drivers. His blue Converse All-Stars are saying let’s go, but his folks are saying no.

At the ticket counter, Elliot is playing on the cart. He sports a red and blue checked flannel. He is sad when his parents eventually separate his patriotic-colored arms from the object of his affection.

Elliot is quiet through security. Even when the TSA-agent makes him put his binky through the scanner, his brown eyes shed no tears.

Elliot arrives at his gate. His mother goes to change his pants, minus the wipes that were checked at the ticket counter. After his son’s less-fragrant return, Elliot’s father goes to hunt down a moca for his wife and trap a pretzel with cheese dip for himself.  Seeing they have a power play situation, Elliot and Alice decide to get wild, writhing on the floor and dancing with flailing limbs, respectively.

After a few wild minutes, Elliot is ready to board the plane. He repeatedly says thank you to the ticket agent as Alice hands over the tickets. He runs down the walkway, ready to navigate a sea of foreign legs, until his parents both yell at him to stop. To their surprise, Elliot complies.

On the plane, Elliot’s eyes dart around randomly. He asks a few questions. He requests a Fruit Leather. He slams his small body into the back of his seat, startling the passenger behind him. However, he is mostly quiet. He doesn’t cry during takeoff.

About 30 minutes in, Elliot grows uncomfortable in his seat. He requests his momma’s arms. She lovingly obliges.

It is over two hours past Elliot’s bedtime. He has not napped today. His father braces for a meltdown with fear and trembling.

Elliot remains calm. His eyes grow heavy. His mother turns him in towards her chest and he snuggles in. Soon his breathing is heavy. His jaw is slack. The eyelids drop down.

Elliot’s father looks carefully at his son. He looks at Elliot’s curled-in fingers. His pinkened cheeks. His dark sweaty curls. He remembers the nights and mornings when his boy fell asleep in his arms. He smiles as these memories seep back in.

Elliot slumbers deeply. He sleeps to the end of the flight and a little beyond. He has performed well. He has traveled many miles. He has traveled through time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Diary

June 13, 2015

Today, I did what only the bravest of parents dare to do. I cleaned the minivan. As a result, I will most likely have nightmares. Perhaps I will drown in a tub of Cheerios and Goldfish. Maybe the mysterious stain I worked so hard to scrub out will come to life and rub me out of existence, elbows first. Or peradventure I will be lost in an endless forest of my daughter’s sweaters and kindergarten artwork.

I had put this task off for a long time, which made it all the more harrowing. Part of my procrastination had to do with the fact that even the most thorough cleaning could only provide a temporary respite. Order would eventually yield to entropy.

But nevertheless, on a hot June day, I found myself with a Shop-Vac ready to do battle with cracker crumbs, sticky wrappers, crayon fragments, and who knows what else.  I threw open all the doors, emptied the trunk, disengaged car seats, and committed like Daniel Day-Lewis.

For a few seconds I became the last milkshake-drinking president of a left-footed gang from New York. Until I heard footsteps.

It was Alice. She had come to help.

Normally, I really do like spending time with my daughter. But I was on a mission and a five-year-old kid does not correlate with an increase in efficiency. Stickers, yes. Efficiency, no.

But since she was so eager, I relented. Well, sort of. First I tested her enthusiasm. She really wanted to vacuum, so I gave her some pre-vacuuming tasks. Carry in your 18 sweaters. Take in your tupperware containers of currently-evolving ranch dressing. Scrub down the seats with some of your brother’s wipes. No, the unused ones.

If she were competing in a Little Miss Minivan competition she would have survived the “Transportation of Wares” portion without much distinction. However, she rocked the “Wiping Down Surfaces” section, getting bonus points for her enthusiasm over the luster of the freshly-scrubbed interior door handles. Her comment actually inspired me to take a crack at the layer of dust that had blanketed the dashboard.

When she finally got to the “Vacuuming” portion, she was a house of fire. She maneuvered skillfully from front seat to back. She switched from the “scraper” to the “tube” with ease. Cheerios hiding in their bunkers were sucked up in bunches.There were a few work stoppages. She ran in the house to get us a drink of cold water. I showed her the buttons on the driver’s seat, and she delighted in moving it back and forth, forth and back. She chided me for throwing away her prized painting—two purple flowers on a white background.

Eventually, she finished the mission by hopping in the trunk and vacuuming up pine needles from Christmas. To clarify, the rest of the car had been vacuumed since then, just not the trunk.

I was stunned by the fact that she may have actually helped with efficiency. I probably wouldn’t have taken a break to play with the driver’s seat, but while she was vacuuming the trunk, I was wrestling with the car seats. While she wiped bench seats, I vacuumed out the toughest of crevices.

When we were all done, we were both beaming. I told her how much I appreciated her help. Then something came over me. Maybe it was the ranch dressing fumes.

“I think I’ll remember this moment,” I told her.  “Someday when you get older, you may not always want to do chores with your dad.” Not sure why I needed to be such a downer. I sometimes suffer from early onset nostalgia.

We talked about the possibility that she might be different than the average teenager. She seemed optimistic, but wasn’t making guarantees either.

“Maybe you should write this down in your diary,” she said, “so you won’t forget.”

Somewhere in our much more pristine Toyota Sienna, a few snacks are still hiding out. A raisin here. A piece of kettlecorn there. Stuck. Immovable. Like a moment lodged in a daddy’s blog.

Smell You Later

May 23, 2015

When I go back to Hawaii, I take in the smells just as much as the sights. The plumeria and pikake surfing the tradewinds. Shoyu and mac salad vapors rising from plate lunches. Sunscreen mixing with saltwater, triggering palpitations at the thought of a boogie board ride.

However, there is one smell that trumps them all. It’s the olfactory assault that I encounter at Kailua Beach. When I was growing up, our friends the Kims lived right on this stretch of pristine sand. They were good to us. We took swimming lessons in their pool, followed by typing lessons in their house. Other days, we would jump waves and go boogie boarding on their beach, which we dubbed Kims’ beach. Afterwards, we would come back to feed their koi and enjoy fresh coconut. Good enough to make a five-year-old build a mind palace.

Of course I can’t even really describe the smell of this place. Not all of it is entirely pleasant. There was always a certain damp mustiness to it, and maybe the koi and fish food had something to do with it. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that I could easily recognize this smell, even if someone were to bottle it and place it in the well-manicured hands of one of those highly-intimidating perfume spritzers who works at Macy’s. One squirt on the wrist and those memories are all coming back to me like a Celine Dion song.

Presently, my nostrils are delighting in another pleasant-unpleasant scent combination. When Elliot wakes up from a nap, he is a hot mess. When it comes to sweating, this kid leads with the head. Or maybe his stench just gets tangled in his curls. At any rate, to the neutral nose, my son’s post-sleep smell must be vile at worst and wretched at best.

And yet, by heaven, I think his stink as fair, as any other child belied with highly-shampooed hair.

Today, he woke up cranky from a nap. He wanted up from his crib, then down from my arms. Of course he cried when I put him down, so I picked him up. He was sobbing for his mommy. He wanted to read. Then he didn’t. His irrationality led me to believe that he didn’t get enough sleep. He is my kid after all.

So I snuggled him. Against his will at first, but then he relaxed. He pulled his knees in to my chest. He tried to bury his hands somewhere on my body. Against my stomach. Around my sides. In my armpits. He was desperate, I guess. He turned his sweaty head and laid it against my neck. Rather than think about all the neck acne he was probably sending my way, I chose to take in the bouquet that had been fermenting in his crib for a number of hours.

Along with the edges of his brown curls against my lips and his little whisper breaths, his scent was so comforting. I wish I could bottle it, because I know how the feelings of overwhelming love would rush in with each whiff. I know that I would remember the feeling of safety that came from the embrace of his miniature arms. I know that I could hear his “love yous” filling me like a beach ball.

I’m not sure how much longer this current edition of Eau de Elliot will be around for. Maybe it will come back with a vengeance during puberty, which would be perfect, since our relationship will probably need a little more awkwardness at that time. What could be better for one’s social life than having your dad sniff you?

But I suppose I shouldn’t worry about what won’t be. For now, I’ll just take in everything I can. And one day, after I’ve built my mind palace, I’ll be thankful that I actually did inhale.

Theme-ster

May 14, 2015

In writing my last blog, I feel like I just scratched the surface of my passion for television theme songs. And though I’m certain that no other person had this thought while reading the last blog post, much like Angela Lansbury, I have words that need to be typed.

When I was a kid, I watched a lot of television. Hundreds of shows. Thousands of hours. I actually credit television for my development as a writer, since I read virtually no books independently. Many of these shows were terrible, but for a lazy kid, they were an easy way to alleviate boredom. The shows ranged from typical kidfare like Heathcliff to more dramatic shows like Murder, She Wrote. Even though one was about a cartoon cat who loved fish and petty misdemeanors and the other was about an elderly lady who loved solving crimes and typing, they were unified by their musical beginnings. The theme song was a strong sensory cue for a young brain. I could be in the kitchen gulping down a Slice orange soda and know immediately that I needed to hit the couch.I remember being very disappointed when certain shows would forgo the theme song and advance straight to the credits, even if that meant more show.

My love for the theme song resulted in hundreds of musical hooks being lodged in my brain’s crevices. If someone were to give me a form with a section for “Special Skills”, I would happily scribble “Knowledge of television theme songs” in indelible ink. I’ve often wondered why I have retained this information over other information, such as the steps needed to turn on my weed whacker. The clear reason is that my knowledge will one day save me (and possibly the planet) when the alien overlords decide to spare anyone who can help them remember the opening lyrics from Who’s the Boss?

But while we wait for the aliens, how about a list of television theme song awards:

Most Spot-On to the Show’s Message: Cheers

Most Spot-Off to the Show’s Tone: Family Ties

Most Insanely Catchy: Blossom

Most Charming: Life Goes On

Most Likely to Momentarily Inspire a Couch Potato: The West Wing

Most Effective Summary of a Show’s Backstory: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Most Artistic Visuals Paired with Worst Vocals: The Wonder Years

Most Authoritative Rapping: In Living Color

Most Epic Use of Goats: Perfect Strangers

Most Forgettable Show with a Stirring Song: Sister Kate

Most Amazing Use of Auto-Tune: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Most Glaring Waste of a Great Song on a Disappointing Show: Chipn ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers

Most Perfect 80s Cheesiness: The Greatest American Hero

Typing out this list, I realize I’m leaving out some of my favorites, including Different Strokes,  The Office, Scooby-Doo, The Golden Girls, Airwolf, Saved by the Bell, and Jem

Oh boy. Now I think those aliens will probably just leave me alone out of pity. You’re welcome.

Growing Pains

May 9, 2015

I remember really liking the show Growing Pains. Looking back, I’m not really sure why. There was the intense episode where Mike Seaver is offered drugs at a party and Kirk Cameron and company made a special announcement after the show. One of those one-actor-talks-then-we-cut-to-another-actor-who-continues-the-thought-then-we-keep-on-alternating-between-cast-members-until-we-return-to-a-final-wide-shot-with-all-of-the-cast-members-and-end-with-the-original-actor-wrapping-it-up type of announcements. But I had graduated D.A.R.E. by then (with honors), so I didn’t really need their gravity. In my humble opinion, they would have been better off using those 22 minutes to tell the origin story of Boner Stabone.

I’m guessing the real reason I liked the show was its amazing theme song, “As Long As We Got Each Other”. It easily knocked off the theme from Silver Spoons as my number one TV jam.

Show me that smile again, don’t waste another minute on your crying…

It was electric, but that meant everything after that theme song became anticlimax. Who wants to hear what Alan Thicke has to say about psychiatry’s blurred lines when you’re hyped up on “the best is ready to begin…”?

So four months after my rather somber blog post regarding Elliot’s growing pains, we had another appointment this week. We went in feeling pretty good. Over the past few months, Elliot has made slow yet steady growth. I know this because I chase him around the house with a tape measure on a regular basis. Additionally, he can dunk with more nuance on his basketball hoop. He’s adding a little more Blake Griffin to his repertoire that was once confined to the stylings of Chris Paul. Aside from his vertical growth, Mr. E. has also popped out 6-7 teeth in the last few months. He’s quite proud of them.

Elliot didn’t have any more blood tests or urine samples during this time, so there was no new lab information to freak out about. No more bright green bandages around his arm. No more weird plastic bags to attach using space-age technology.

But nevertheless, once more unto San Francisco.

We were only in the waiting room for a few minutes when they called him in. He stepped on a scale and actually hit the 20-pound mark, albeit with clothes and shoes. They measured his height while standing with a contraption that descended upon his dark curls. He was so patient, considering it looked like something The Borg would use to cyberize somebody. When they let us know this measurement, I was disappointed. He was at 30.12 inches, significantly less than the 31 I had ballparked him at. The results also showed steady growth in weight but a flattening in height. However, the last test was done lying down instead of standing up. Our endocrinologist asked if Elliot could be measured again, so we could compare apples to apples. The nurse who measured him was the same one who did our previous test. He came in right around 31 inches according to this assessment. With the new measurement, Elliot was right back on a normal growth curve.

The doctors and residents seemed cautiously optimistic about Elliot’s growth. They didn’t feel that any new tests needed to be ordered, but wanted to check back on him in 4-6 months. If he started to level off and not show any growth, we could get more tests as needed. It all seemed very sensible.

Throughout this whole ordeal, Elliot was a total trooper. He sat calmly as they checked his blood pressure. He showed no shame as a resident did the obligatory penis peek. It’s really nice to do this when he is so clueless. If he’s worried about anything, he certainly didn’t show it.

On our way home we got stuck in horrible Bay Area traffic. So I had three-and-a-half hours to think about what this appointment meant. It kind of seems like he may just be a short kid who doesn’t require any special interventions. That’s good news of course, but the lack of drama made me feel a little silly for all the worrying evident in my blog post four months ago.

Perhaps, like a Growing Pains episode, everything going forward is anticlimax. Elliot even has curls to rival Kirk Cameron. Both of those are good things, I suppose.

I keep on trying to check my optimism regarding E. What if that earlier standing-height measurement was the valid one? What about his low levels of IGF that showed up in his blood work? What if we’re missing something because we’re not doing more tests? It’s allmost like a part of me wants to justify my worrying. Terrible, I know.

However, I mostly feel good. Whatever happens, I’ve made peace. Elliot is going to turn out great no matter what size he ends up being. It’s my new life philosophy inspired by that great television theme song:

Baby, rain or shine, all the time, we got each other, sharing the laughter and love

The High of Five

May 2, 2015

I’m sure there are some great things about having a 10-year-old or 20-year-old kid. There may even be glimpses of joy during the teenage years, if one is keen enough to discern them in between eye rolls.  However, I’m not sure things get much better than playing parent to a five-year-old daughter.

She doesn’t need her folks nearly as much. She sleeps through the night. She no longer requires diapers (even at night). She can eat food without constant clean up. She dresses herself, even though her outfits often make her look like she was simultaneously dressed by Titus Andromedon and Kimmy Schmidt.

Yet in spite of this self-sufficiency, she finds joy in the company of her parents. She chooses us daily, repeatedly. In her misguided worldview, we are the best parents to ever exist, worth twenty hundred million whole wide worlds of love.

In the first few years of my life, I remember being a little disappointed by our goodbyes. When I would leave for work or a long trip, she would sometimes hug me, but if there was a doll to dress or a cat to terrorize, she would give me a no-eye-contact goodbye.

And then, everything changed.

Now, I can’t leave the house without a giant whole-body hug. Often, she will run to the window, stand on the sofa, blow kisses, and pantomime hugs. It sure beats a V8 as a way to start one’s day.

Nighttime tends to be a mirror image. There’s always a request/demand for a snuggle. She loves the stories I make up, no matter how contrived or formulaic. She loves playing little improv games, like “Fake Laugh to Real Laugh”, “Are You My Daddy?/Are You My Daughter?”, and “Remember When Elliot…?” (our personal favorite). I can’t leave her room without an extra hug or reminder of her five-year-old love.

It’s strange to think that a five-year-old could significantly affect the self-confidence of her father, but I do feel like Alice has changed me for the better. For example, I basically bombed an art lesson today with my students. It was a lesson on origami, and it unfolded poorly. Kids were working at all different steps, the stragglers got frustrated, my students needed lots of reminders about behavior. In addition to this, two college student observers were watching. Perhaps I instructed through negative example. Don’t do what I just did.

In the past, I would have really beaten myself up for this. I would have questioned my credibility, compared myself to others, and vowed to fold no more forever. Today, I did this for a few minutes. Then I accepted it, thought of a few tweaks I could make, and let it go.  After all, I had a loving family to go home to. A poorly-taught lesson would not change the amount of joy in the hug I would receive. Not one bit. I felt pleasantly unbreakable.

Of course I haven’t morphed into Pollyanna. I am still a pessimist at heart, so I wonder if the love I receive from my daughter will just be a temporary shot of self-confidence that will quickly fade as she gets older. I wonder if I will feel a painful void when her uber-love goes away. I wonder if I can store up enough of it in my emergency reserves to keep up with the demands of the self-centered teenager.

So the bad news is that I’m supremely needy emotionally. I didn’t realize the extent of this until I had a five-year-old. However, the good news is that there’s enough love emanating from her to power a city and a half. And partly due to her example, her brother is already powering up as well. His “yove yous” come frequently and he’s started to smile through the window, his froggy visage beaming.

It’s good to be a parent now.

No Regrets

April 29, 2015

I was in paradise, I was home, and I felt like I shouldn’t have come. When Sara and I planned our Hawaii trip, we felt it made so much sense to come to Oahu after our week in Kauai. We had the time off, so what reasons did we have for not spending another week in the motherland, sitting on beaches and seeing family?

Well, it turned out there were several.

Homesickness: Due to six weeks of summer school, I spent about five days at home for the entire summer. Sara and the kids had a similarly hectic travel schedule, going down to SoCal, up to Washington, and barely catching the plane to Kauai. We did not realize we would miss our beds so much.

The Bed Situation: It is ungrateful and impolite to complain about our free accommodations, but our sleeping situations were not ideal. For about five days, we stayed with a family friend. She was most gracious, but had less room than we thought. As a result, the four Ks shared a room along with our hefty suitcases. Elliot was crammed in the corner, sleeping in a travel crib while Alice, Sara, and I tried to sleep comfortably on two twin beds put together. For the next few days, we stayed with my auntie. While she is probably the most awesome woman I know, she’s closing in on 100, and her attention to detail isn’t the best. As a result, our bed smelled a lot like cat pee. A LOT. Aside from when I first got to Yap, it’s the closest I felt to living life in a different socioeconomic status. Except this time, I had a wife and two kids. It made me feel edgy, easily frustrated, more worried. It also made me more empathetic toward people who have a rougher lot than me. I was frayed, despite knowing that I was going home in a few days.

Elliot’s Eating: I feel like this trip may have really set Elliot back and was probably one of the factors in our fear about his growth. He ate very little this trip. Looking at photos, from a few months before, he went from plump with folds to thin and ribby. This was tough, and definitely turned out to be the biggest rub of the trip.

Iselle and Julio: These were the two hurricanes that were headed to Oahu while we were there. The media was going crazy. Costco was selling all their water. We feared evacuation to a shelter. Alice and Elliot got comfort toys (big rubber ball and Hot Wheels). I called our airline, clamoring for updates, wondering if we could leave the island as scheduled. In the end, it was much ado about nothing. Minor wind and a few showers. It made me very cynical about the media’s coverage of meteorological events.

But in spite of all these harrowing factors, I am happy we went to Oahu. We found refuge on beaches, with Elliot scooting in the sand and Alice practicing her newfound swimming skills. We drove up to the Pali Lookout and watched the wind deliver joy to the kids with gusto. We went to church with familiar faces, and enjoyed the world’s best church potluck. We saw old friends with their new families.

However, the thing that made the trip was getting to see my 90-year-old aunties, Alice and Ellen. When we came over, amidst hurricane warnings, they were waiting for us on the porch. They were so worried. They held my Alice and Elliot and fawned over them. They played ball with them, showing off an unexpected limberness as they reached down to grab the ball. They laughed, and hugged, and kissed, and loved. Like they always have. Sara fell in love with them the first time she met them. They are like an extra set of great grandmothers, family treasures that I want my kids to experience as much as possible.

In their video clips, I’ve deliberately left in their audio. They don’t match the delicate voice of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole at all, but when I think of this trip, their voices are the ones that soothe my restless soul.

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