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.

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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.