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 that 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 quiet ready to let go.

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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.

Pet Shop Boys

January 23, 2018

On my honeymoon, I made a miscalculation. I decided that it would be a good idea to snorkel 7 of Kauai’s beaches in one day. It wasn’t the number that I miscalculated, or the mileage that we traveled, or even the time that it would take. My error was in thinking that my new bride would enjoy doing this with me. She wasn’t so excited about the first beach. It might have had something to do with the fact that the early-morning water was cold and there was virtually nothing to see there. Later, she warmed up with the water as we snorkeled around cool rock formations and above sea turtles. But by the end of the day, I was snorkeling the last beach by myself. During this solo snorkel, I watched the sun sink below the horizon, much like my chances of romance for the evening.

While I’ve learned that adventures in repetition are not the way to my wife’s heart, I hold out hope that my kids might one day be as weird as their dad. So when Elliot and I had the chance for a father-son date this weekend, I offered a suggestion.

It actually didn’t start in such a calculated way. I wanted to go somewhere new, but there was nothing that seemed new, exciting, and relatively close by. Animals were also a must, since Elliot is a creature enthusiast. There was a park with a train and a petting zoo, but Elliot isn’t the greatest with long trips and the park was over 90 minutes away. So I threw out an idea.

“Would you like to go to a park with me, Elliot? We can even stop at a Petco along the way.”

One mention of the word Petco and my son was in like cheese in a quesadilla. Upon noticing this reaction, my Spidey senses started to tingle. I pulled up Google Maps. There wasn’t only one Petco between our home and the park. Not two. Not three. But FOUR.

When I announced this idea to my son, he turned into a completely different kid and willingly sat on the potty. Maybe he was scared into urination by the wild look in my eyes.

I packed up snacks, wipes, and coats, and we headed out. Our first stop would be a familiar stop: Petco Napa. But before we got there, I was determined to have a conversation with my son.

When Alice was growing up, I remember her asking relentless questions. She would ask about the weather, body parts, signs that she saw. For some strange reason, she also really liked hearing me ramble about more serious topics like psychology, religion, and philosophy, which she dubbed “grown-up stuff.”

Elliot is more of a quiet traveler. He sits back and observes. Usually when I ask him about his thoughts, he gives brief answers or states “nothing” so his dad will stop talking to him.

So this time, I put out an open invitation. “Elliot, you can ask me about anything that you’ve been wondering, and I’ll try to do my best to answer you.”

He didn’t say anything right away, but then he started opening up. He asked me why cars had keys. He wanted to know if they could start without them. He also inquired about rain and fog. Then he asked something about the Schuyler Sisters from Hamilton. What can I say, the kid has got a mind at work.

Petco 1: Napa

This is a very familiar location for our family. It’s where we got our second cat, Dasher, and we frequently go here when we make a Target run. I hate to give away spoilers, but though the layout of this Petco seems fairly illogical to me, it actually has the most comprehensive collection of animals. It has cats, birds, reptiles, rodents, and fish in abundance. The caretakers of the cats seem to be a group of sisters who really take joy in their job. They know personalities, choose names thoughtfully, and get their kids involved in the whole operation as well. They were very friendly and encouraged us to take a look. We met a cat named Mulligan who seemed to take a shine to Elliot. E also liked the ball pythons, which he named Slidy and Slicky. His only disappointment was that the chameleon habitat was empty.

Petco 2: Vallejo

The nice thing about doing this Petco pub crawl is that it really broke up the trip. This Petco was in a fairly nice location, with lots of restaurants and stores around. It had the strongest fish game, with a full wall of fish tanks. However, Elliot did note that a quarter of the aquariums were just aquatic plants. Unfortunately, there were just a couple of cats here, and a cat overseer who was not into making eye contact. It had a decent number of reptiles, and Elliot had fun watching some bearded dragons chowing down on lettuce. The chameleon cage indicated that a critter would be coming soon.

Petco 3: Martinez

A fortunate bit of serendipity occurred with the timing of our trip. We happened to go on a day where Petco brought in more kittens for adoption. We didn’t necessarily see evidence of this in the first two Petcos, as Napa usually has quite a few cats and Vallejo was relatively barren. Although the Martinez Petco has no reptiles, very few birds, and a less impressive assortment of fish, it does have a fat chinchilla. It also has the most impressive collection of cats, with cage on cage on cage of felines, probably near 20 in total. Elliot chatted with Midnight, fell in love with Kink, and felt sorry for Rocket, who slept away while his sister Tinsel was getting adopted. “I’m kind of sad for him,” he said. “Because he’s going to be all by himself.” I think a tear may have formed in his eye. I tried to assure him that Rocket would probably get a home as well, though I was silently relieved that Elliot didn’t see our home as an option. If he did, we may have ended up with cat #3.

Petco 4: Concord

Upon entry, this seemed very impressive. It looked newer, and the wall of fish even had a speaker overhead that emitted watery sound effects. Elliot was not impressed and tried to tell Siri to turn the speaker off. There were no cats here. And though they advertised a chameleon, one was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, Elliot was sure that it was just using camouflage. There was another fat chinchilla here as well, but overall it was a bit of a downer to end our epic pet crawl.

By this point, we were about three hours into our adventure, so I asked Elliot if he wanted to go home or go to the park. “Go to the park,” he said, “because that means we get to have more fun together!” So to the park we went.

At Kennedy Park in Hayward, we saw oversized rabbits. Elliot was nearly mauled by goats who tried to get his ice cream cone of seeds. Although he did get a goat to eat out of his hand, he was clearly wary of them the whole time. We rode the train and he snuggled in tight. He held his breath through the tunnel. We disembarked and went to the playground. He slid down slides on his coat like his sister showed him. He climbed up structures and was too scared to climb others.

Afterwards, we went to Five Guys and he devoured fries like a champ. They were playing Michael Jackson songs over the speakers and he recognized “Bad” from Despicable Me 3. We got an ICEE from Target and we were on our way.

A while later as we approached the Carquinez Bridge, I started to get a bit nostalgic about our adventure. “Elliot, I’ll remember this day forever,” I said.

“I’ll remember it forever and ever,” he replied.

Maybe it was this conversation that caused me to bust out “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” at the top of my lungs. I put some feeling into it.

“What’s that song that you’re singing?” he inquired.

I thought that maybe he was moved by my 90s music. Maybe this would be yet another connection we shared. Maybe he could feel the smooth ribbons of soul in my voice.

I explained the song to him. “What do you think of it?” I said eagerly.

“Not very interesting…” he said with a sigh.

Shortly afterward, he fell asleep. He slept all the way home and turned cranky when reinvigorated.

But despite the cranky wake-up, the lack of musical appreciation, and the goat-induced trauma, I know this was worth all the pain. I’ll take with me these memories. This trip was definitely not a miscalculation.

 

 

 

 

 

The Tell-Tale Heart

December 22, 2017

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” Luke 2:18

“We’re having ‘Light the Night’ at the church tonight,” Pastor Mark told my students. “Any of you who want to participate should come early. We have costumes and you can help out.”

“Sounds like a great opportunity,” I said, nodding my head supportively to my sixth graders.

Pastor Mark turned to me and adjusted his Seahawks hat. “Did you get my email?” he inquired.

I hadn’t, but I had an idea of what it would be about.

“I sent you an email about tonight,” he said with a grin. “I think you might be a wise man or something.”

Well-played, Pastor Mark, I thought to myself. Well-played.

I had slightly less than 0% enthusiasm for spending my Friday evening playing dress-up with my students. But I checked Pastor Mark’s email anyway. It sounded urgent.

“We are in need of some folks to dress as shepherds, soldiers, and wise men,” it said. “Wendy and I would really appreciate it,” it said. Since there were only five or six of us that received the email, I figured Pastor Mark needed all hands on deck. He’s been kind and generous to me, so I begrudgingly agreed.

When I showed up, my dentist had been crowned and my daughter’s PE teacher was finding his wisebeard uncoachable. Two wise men had been cast, and the third was the professional camel keeper. This meant I was on shepherd duty along with the rest of the elementary students.

I cursed my dearth of camel-keeping skills. I would rather have been a wise man. Not because of the beard, or the headwear, or the fancy threads. Not because my ethnicity made me properly oriented to play one of the three kings. No, the best thing about the wise men in the story is that their job is to NOT tell.

“Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as yo find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’” Matthew 2:7-8

“And having been warned in a dream not to back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” Matthew 2:9

So the wise men got to use their astronomy honor, take a trip, meet the Messiah, drop off their gifts, and then keep their mouths shut.

Sounds pretty good to me. I’ve always been the quiet kid. The introvert. The guy who has to have an internal debate about telling someone their fly is open.

In other words, I’m no shepherd. The angels told the shepherds and the shepherds, who, after getting over their sore-afraidness, went and told everyone on the mountain that Jesus Christ was born. In other words, they weren’t sheepish about spreading the word.

I’ve never been comfortable with telling strangers about my faith. It’s even hard for me to respond to an altar call, because I feel guilty when I don’t stand and fake when I do. Once, while I was flying home, I had a really good conversation about spirituality with another college student, but he was a Christian as well and did most of the talking.

While I lived in Rochester, New York, I attended a very traditional Adventist church. This meant that they were zealous about evangelism. Since I was the principal of the small K-8 school, I ended up preaching sermons, knocking on doors to promote Bible studies, and serving as part of an evangelism team that gathered at the Holiday Inn Express. All of these experiences helped me grow, and nothing was overly traumatic, but they never felt natural. It was like putting on the costume and playing the part.

I’m thankful for those who are willing to tell the good news with a sincere passion. If not for them, I likely wouldn’t even exist. Both sides of my family became Christians because someone was willing to speak up. My mom’s side through a cooking class on Maui and my dad’s in a sugar cane field on Oahu.

However, I don’t believe we all have to be shepherds who proclaim. While certain shepherds brought tidings over the hills and everywhere, there must have some that waited with the flock. There must have been others who calmed the lambs who were recovering from the sheer terror induced by the heavenly host. There must have been others who gathered the stragglers.

As teachers, we have the privilege of watching the flock. Sometimes they lie down in green pastures and lap up the knowledge we give them. Other times they bleat and wander off and try to walk off cliffs. But rather than stay silent, we tell them that they are more than their behavior. They are children who ride with the Prince of Peace. They are displaced for the moment, but eternity awaits them. They are gifts and givers. They are statues hidden in marble. In other words, every day we have a turn at show and tell.