Saturday, December 29, 2007

Beach Conversations

Me: JP, what's your favorite thing about the beach?
JP: Cable.

Beach Views


Getting there


Taking the beach!



Kids in the surf


Beach mommies


Kids everywhere


Kids with 'staches


Ravioli!

Friday, December 28, 2007

White, Sandy Christmas Vacation

I just now got back from the beach.

Did I mention we'd be going to Florida after Christmas? We traveled to the panhandle to visit with family in a palatial rented beach house for a few days. Sure, the house is a short walk from the sand, but it's a serene walk through nature on wide and sturdy boardwalks. And, sure, I wore jeans and a long sleeve T because it's not exactly balmy, but there I was at the beach, in December. The Quartet is having a big time digging holes in the sand and searching for shells, visiting their cousin, running along the boardwalk and watching cartoons on the house's gigantic television. The adults are having fun relaxing, eating, drinking wine (15 bottles to start with, Steph) and watching cartoons.

This vacation, however, almost didn't happen. We stopped at the Walgreen's just a few blocks from our house when we first started on our nine-hour drive and C chose that time to put a movie in the Mazda's DVD player. And that DVD player did not work. I almost turned the van around then and drove back home, because I've never done a road trip with these kids without the distraction of the blessed DVD player. I know that in the old days people used to travel without television and I can only assume that they played games or read or (shudder) conversed, but I didn't think I was up for it, I didn't think I had the right stuff for such an endeavor. But I have to say that the kids behaved famously. They took the lack of optical stimulation in stride and took the opportunity to nap, eat junk food and to stare out the windows.

Of course, we still have to drive the 500 miles to get home in a few days, so I better go now and nap.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Beautiful Music

One day just before the Christmas break I picked JP up from piano practice. As we walked together down the hallways of his school I asked if he could play like Oscar Peterson yet. Without missing a beat he answered, "Not yet."

Rest in peace, Oscar Peterson.

Pretty As A Princess

S received a princess make-up kit from Santa this year. It's a little pink package of daddy heartbreak. She spent all yesterday applying and reapplying fingernail polish and eye shadow. I know it's only a toy, but she was so excited about it and so eager to show me how she looks with make-up on and all I could think was Not yet, please not so soon. I keep pushing the idea of her and GK as young women out of my mind and the painted face doesn't make that any easier. The Christmas holidays strengthen the magic of being a child and I want these kids to hang on to that magic for as long as they can before becoming adults, or even looking like adults, because there will be plenty of time for that later.

Oh, and the princess make-up kit, and S's affinity for nail polish, also explains why the nails on my left hand are pink. I don't know how to get this stuff off, but I can tell you that Zippo lighter fluid doesn't work.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Ho Ho Ho

Santa Claus was at our house until almost 1 a.m. last night waiting for children to fall asleep, setting up toys in imaginative positions, listening to music and talking. Big Mama and I are Santa, and what an awesome responsibility that is. Like all of parenthood, there is no handbook for being Santa, you just become him. One day you aren't, and then just like that, some December 24th, late night, you are. Nine years ago, I found myself suddenly awake later than normal, snapping plastic pieces together, eating complimentary cookies and completely wrapped up in the Christmas spirit from a perspective I'd never had before.

Being a parent is the most important job I'll ever have, and acting as Santa once a year is an extension of that. It's not just the giving of life to a child, but giving childhood to a child. Keeping the magic of being a kid alive from year to year. There are no official lessons for this, there aren't even instructions handed down from generation to generation, it's just something that is done. The tradition of being Kris Kringle is a baptism under fire as we sneak around filling stockings, pulling toys from their myriad hiding places, putting together Big Wheels and plastic kitchens and Lincoln Log houses before wiping the Chinese lead from our hands to eat cookies and drink milk. And wine. This most wonderful time of the year is for the children, but this time of the night, on Christmas Eve, is for the parents to be alone and wallow in their very own traditions. Have fun with it, talk about your kids and know that it will all be a secret from them until they are parents themselves one day and by then they'll have their very own midnight tradition.

The Quartet was thrilled this morning, of course, they got new things left under the otherwise useless tree that has taken up space in their house for the past three weeks. They played with their toys and ripped into the wrapped packages and then they just fell into the middle of all of this holiday detritus with the swollen and contented look of a sated hog on their elf-like faces. And this, really, is what it's all about. It's the moment we as parents talk about. They don't need to know what frivolity and giggling went on just six hours earlier without them. Let them figure it out on their own one day, one day when the childhood magic has gone, let them find their own magic on the other side of that red suit.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas ... Everyone

Merry Christmas Kristy, C, JP, S, GK, Mom, Steve, John, David, Elizabeth, Toby, Katherine, Keith, Harper, Mimi & Pop, Carol, Mary, Johnny, Angela, Christina, Lauren, Ken, Eric, Ben, Mark, Cathy, Maria, Heather, Bobby, Jessica, Martin, Elissa, Gaylen, Tanya, Aldo, Patricia, Gina, Cara, Jay, Amy, Little Aldo, Andria, Jeff, Miss M, Mr. Baby, Stacey, Warren, Satchel, Jiro, Stephanie, Chip, Connor, Chloe, Melissa, Caleb, Harlowe, Shannon, Brian, M, Heather, Rodney, Clara, Robin, Jeannie, Mike, Judy, Jeremy, Jennifer, Kitty, Brian, Terry, Pam, Bill, Megan, Joe, Jo Ann, Lynn, Mike B., Ann, Dana, Peggy, Matthew K., Cousin Pat, Bob, Jack, Joe Jr., Bryan, Melissa, Charlie, Patricia, Charles, Kim, Mark, Tracy, Matthew, Niel, T.J., Catherine, Larry, Sharon, Tracy J., Tiffany, Steph's Mom, Bettina, Beverly, Dwayne, Georgia, Hamlett, Julie, Bobby Spillman, Mel, TheoGeo, Brooklyn Dan, James, Jim, Amy, Ben, Stella, Rose, Gretchen, Rob, Julia, Olivia, Katie, Rob, Sarah Kate, Theresa, Rodrigo, Pete, Hugh, Melissa, Miss Adrienne, Cherry, Kimberly, Jeremy, Zack, Luke, Owen, Jeff A., Sonny and anyone else who may have been unintentionally left out.

Please have a safe and happy holiday from my family to yours.

Pipes

JP today, in the throes of curiosity and with seemingly limitless wisdom, put an empty toilet paper roll in the toilet and flushed. Where do these pipes go? I could hear rattling around in his snot-infused skull. Luckily, Uncle Ken is a plumber and I need his help. He happens to live just outside Chicago, but that's not a problem, because the help I need is for him to take this kid from me for a while. Far away. About 500 miles away. And while he's got him, perhaps he could take him on some jobs, show him the ropes, or the pipes, as the case may be. Show him where they go and what will and won't fit down there. And perhaps Uncle Ken could show JP one of his invoices, let him see just how much it costs to get a plumber out to unplug the only toilet in the house on Christmas Eve.

[Just so you all know, it flushed. No need to call a plumber out. But it could have been worse! Sometimes my instruction is based completely on what-ifs.]

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Day For Daddy And Daughter

Kristy takes on the burden of Christmas shopping in our house, I'll own up to that. I just don't have the patience or imagination anymore for full-scale shopping. However, every holiday season I need just a taste of the craziness, a glimpse of the crush of shoppers to see if it's the madness or the cheer that prevails. Today seemed the perfect day for just that, so I gathered up S and we ran a few errands before heading to the bookstore for coffee and hot chocolate, browsing and people watching.

S, at home, is loud and rambunctious and can be trouble. Today, though, I couldn't draw her out for anything. We got our drinks and sat in the cafe, the perfect daddy/daughter date, and I asked her about Christmas and what she thought Santa would bring her, whether her brothers should be on the naughty or nice list, and whether she is excited about our upcoming trip to the beach, but I couldn't get much of an answer on anything. A lot of shrugging and mono-syllabic answers but, so far, none of the eye rolling or whatevers that I know adolescence will bring, if I can even get her to sit with me in public in eight years.

From time to time I like to do something with each kid one on one, hang out, talk with them to find out what they're thinking, about their hopes and dreams and plans, find out which parent they like better. With C it's no problem, he'll talk until you implore him not to anymore and then he'll just question you about anything and everything. S and JP really don't have much to say, and if I take them out they'll simply request this or that be bought for them and then ignore me while they ignore whatever treat I just bought them. GK, if you sit with her for more than two minutes, will just bury her nose in a New York Times crossword, occasionally sipping from her Americano.

The shopping frenzy S and I witnessed this afternoon wasn't bad at all. Of course, I wasn't panicking for gifts, simply browsing leisurely. People were friendly, they were mostly smiling and saying hello to S, and there was Christmas music playing everywhere. It was just what I needed. I needed to mainline some holiday cheer and I got just that, even if I didn't have anyone to talk with about it.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Rise And Shine

The alarm clock goes off every morning at 5:30, I wake up automatically every morning at 5:28. The most trying time of my mornings is waking S up and getting her dressed for the school day. She is most assuredly not a morning person and is usually still half asleep while I dress her and implore her to get her lunch and pack up her backpack. This morning, however, being the first day of Christmas break, a day when there is no hurry, there is no backpack, she woke up on her own a full 45 minutes earlier than usual. There are no lengths these kids won't go to to get under my skin.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Like A Bad Penny

I'm back!

I'm back from The Week That Was Broken with some good news and, naturally, some bad. The hard drive on the Apple iBook G4 has been replaced and all data recovered thanks to Uncle Toby and some little elves in California. Much, much thanks to T, in fact. We procured a dryer and I immediately took it apart to put a new belt on it and it works. It works! Really! So all of our clothes are clean and dry.

The bad news is that my baby girl is now broken. "Broken" meaning coughing a lot and running a fever. I took her to the doctor a couple of days ago and learned she has an upper respiratory infection and she's now on the pink stuff. Amoxicillin should come in big jugs like milk so we could keep it in the fridge and administer it as needed to The Quartet. At least, until the fridge breaks.

And now, because I know you all missed the funny, I leave you with this little nugget from C, handwritten on the back of a discarded Christmas card envelope, sure to find him on the naughty list and with an extra hour of studying spelling:


JPA stinks, smells, and looks like a terd [sic].

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Grinch Who Broke Christmas

You know, I can't remember the last time I was in a laundromat. Oh, wait, yes I can. It was only three hours ago. It's where I go to read. It's where I go to read when our dryer at home is broken. Night before last I spent taking the thing apart and putting it back together again to get to the squeal emanating from within and lube it up. I did that three times that night. Last night I only did it once, but now the motor is just seizing up after about seven minutes of run time. So it's useless. I suppose I should also mention the light fixture in our one bathroom that went out last night. Why should the dryer have all the fun? I did manage to take it down this morning and rewire it into the wall and, as of 8:00 this morning, it was still working. The best news, really, is that the heat in our home that wasn't working this morning, began working once I reset it at the circuit breaker. That's good, because it's going to get very, very cold this weekend. On second thought, you should probably stay tuned for details on that heater because, again, it's going to get very, very cold this weekend. I suppose I should back up, really, to Tuesday when my laptop's hard drive finally gave out. That's why I've been away, I have no computer. Uncle Toby is helping, though, to recover all the business documents I had stored in that box, as well as everything I've ever written. Ever.

This bad luck always comes at me in threes, but I'm confused now. Was the bathroom light the third thing? Or was the gas leak/new meter/no heat for a night last week the first thing? Does the heat not working this morning even count or is it merely a harbinger for an all-new rotation of bad luck? I'll have to sit down with an Excel spreadsheet and figure it all out. Oh, wait, I can't do that, can I?

Regardless of where we stand in the Bad Luck Cycle, I hope The Quartet enjoys their Christmas gift, their shiny new clothes dryer. Maybe they'll have some fun with the box it comes in, pretending it's a space ship or a submarine or the Grinch's cave.

[Thanks to Tracy for letting me borrow her computer to say hello to y'all.]

Sunday, December 09, 2007

It's Not Personal

Two weeks ago, GK began going to a new school. It's a Montessori school in Midtown that many of our friends' kids attend. JP and S attended this same school before signing up for the public school they're enrolled in now. I took the opportunity of that first week of school for GK, this giant step forward, to write a post here. For various reasons, I'm going to do something I don't do very often; I'm going to apologize. (Just ask Big Mama, this hardly ever happens.) I'm sorry if what I wrote belittled what you teachers and caretakers do every day. Be sure that if Kristy and I weren't comfortable, weren't completely happy with where our children stayed for seven hours a day, five days a week when out of our sight, then we would not leave them there. We wouldn't even consider it. GK has done great these past two weeks in Montessori and we have every confidence that she will continue to do so under the care of the women I leave her with in the morning.

Ah, but it's not that easy, is it? Because I'm also going to explain myself. I'm going to explain, as I do every so often, that the main purpose of Urf! is to amuse myself. And one other thing, I'm a smartass. It's genetic. You have to take everything you read at this URL with such a large grain of salt that you may want to have a tall glass of water on hand. Or a deep, deep margarita. I see the changes my children go through as funny and I try to make others see it that way as well. But I'm also extremely protective of The Quartet, and were I really unhappy with GK's school situation then you would know it, make no mistake about that. If I weren't also watching The Godfather as I write this, I'd go back and look through the archives to link to posts I've written here wherein I've had serious problems with the City School System and there isn't much humor at all to be found there. Sure, there was some humor, because I just can't help being funny, hilarious at times even. And if you look back, I guarantee you'll find many, many more posts where I good-naturedly poke fun at the public school, my kids' friends, their teachers and assignments as well as some of the rules they're made to follow. An overly-structured school environment for six-year-olds is funny to me. But so is a non-structured environment. Why? Because kids are silly, and putting them into different little ecosystems and watching how they behave is funny to me, and this is where I write about it.

I really am sorry if what I wrote previously was construed in any way as being malicious; it most certainly was not meant to be and I was surprised to find that it was taken this way. Almost as surprised as I was to find out that instead of six readers, it appears I have seven. Who knew? But I hope the fine teachers at this particular school will continue reading and that they will laugh along with me. And I hope that if they don't, they won't take it out on GK, because she's going to need those cloth diapers attended to regularly.

Friday, December 07, 2007

I Was Like ... @#$%&#

You may need to read this previous post about kids repeating themselves for this to make sense and to be hilarious to you. Or you may just need to have your own 6-year-old living in your house.

I walked into the living room just in time this morning to hear JP saying to C, "I was like, What the hell?"

JP, if you're going to say it, then say it. And if you get away with it then good for you. But don't repeat yourself at the risk of getting caught.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Light My Fire

We arrived home from work and school earlier to find a message on the front door from the local utility company, MLGW, that a leaking gas meter had to be replaced. It also informed me that I needed to call to have someone come out and turn the gas back on. Okay, fine, you repaired a gas leak I didn't even know existed and possibly saved the lives of my entire family. Wonderful. But that was over four hours ago and the brain trust at MLGW still hasn't sent anyone out to turn the gas and, subsequently, the heat back on. And it's currently 36 degrees outside and going down.

Me being me, though, being the upbeat, look on the bright side, glass is always half full, kind of guy that I am, I decided we would make a game out of it. We would live like the pioneers of old for a night! Or until MLGW shows up! Or until we go to a hotel! So here we sit, indoors, with only the light of the lamps and the overhead fixtures to guide our way, and only the most basic of cable television and, of course, high-speed internet. The stove and oven are gas, so the only food we can prepare has to be done so in the microwave or in the electric toaster oven, or eaten cold right out of the refrigerator. The water heater is gas, so there's no bathing and the kids do stink.

But all I really want, much like the pioneers, is a cup of hot tea. And not microwave hot, but boiling hot. Stove top hot. It's frustrating when, in a house normally so full of gas, none of it is usable.

MLGW just now stopped by our lean-to, by the way. The leak, it turns out, was not fixed, though the meter was replaced. The MLGW representative is sending someone out tonight to fix it. Again. I can only assume that by "tonight," he means "before sunup." So we're left here, under a mountain of blankets, half-starved and bored with whatever tattoo or midget show is on our very basic cable television, to wonder why the geniuses MLGW sent to replace the meter didn't then check to make sure the leak was taken care of. That, and to wonder who the cause of all the worthless gas is and how it will affect the burning of this Christmas tree for heat and tea.

You Can Say That Again

Out of all of The Quartet's irritating little habits, their most irritating is relatively new. They seem to have the need lately to repeat themselves. After saying something they find particularly funny, they immediately say, "I was like ... " and then repeat whatever it is they just said. And odds are it wasn't that damn funny to begin with. It's like a shrill echo heard through the muffled chewing of Pop-Tart. I'm sure these kids will find numerous ways over the years to grate on an adult's nerves, as children it's their job and they've gone above and beyond so far, but right at this moment it's hearing them all say the same thing again and again as though there isn't already enough talking in this house. I told them they're like a broken phonograph, which still makes no sense to them.

I was like ... Out of all of The Quartet's irritating little habits, their most irritating is relatively new. They seem to have the need lately to repeat themselves. After saying something they find particularly funny, they immediately say, "I was like ... " and then repeat whatever it is they just said. And odds are it wasn't that damn funny to begin with. It's like a shrill echo heard through the muffled chewing of Pop-Tart. I'm sure these kids will find numerous ways over the years to grate on an adult's nerves, as children it's their job and they've gone above and beyond so far, but right at this moment it's hearing them all say the same thing again and again as though there isn't already enough talking in this house. I told them they're like a broken phonograph, which still makes no sense to them.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Well Done, Tesla

Kristy and I are one month shy from having been parents for 10 years, and just this weekend one of our children did something which hasn't been done in all that time. One of these tiny little geniuses stuck a metal Christmas tree ornament hook into an electrical outlet with a flash of flame and a resounding pop. The Quartet's ages are 18 months, 5 years, 6 years and 10 years. Who do you think did this? I actually wish I could say it was GK, the youngest and least mentally developed. You're probably thinking JP, if you've ever met JP. No, it was C. My oldest child never learned not to stick metal into an outlet, thus singeing a few fingertips and a bit of pride.

My fault, you say? I didn't teach him not to touch metal to electricity, you say? Probably not. But this weekend, in one fell swoop, all four of my kids learned this invaluable lesson. One more item ticked off my To Do list.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Lack Of Focus

I need to focus. I need to focus before all of this slips out from under me.

On the way to school this morning, C told me how his schedule at school has changed and how much more confusing it is now switching from this class to that at this time or that on this day or that. This should be a post about that schedule and what my fourth-grader has to deal with every day. But the truth is I didn't really pay attention. Okay, the real truth is that a song I like came on the radio and I tuned him out. The sad part is I can't even remember what that song was now. Oh, and then somewhere near the end of his explanation I saw a Volkswagon Beetle so I punched him on the arm.

These kids are growing fast and things are changing at lightning speed, I really should start paying attention to them. Right now, though, I'm just thankful that C is able to concentrate enough to drive us all downtown.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

الجمهورِيّة اليَمَنيّة

On the walk today from school to my store, C told me a story about recess. He said he and his friends were playing Four Square on the playground but kids kept running through their squares, so they took their ball out to the field to play but "some kids, I think they're from Yemen, took our ball away from us." And then those same kids, who already had a football, started throwing their football at C and his friends. Yemenese! I never saw this coming. Raising kids in Memphis, TN, trouble with the Yemenians isn't the racial discourse you imagine being a problem.

I wasn't quite sure how to handle this situation so I began by making sure I understood him correctly. "These were Yemenites, I asked?" He assured me they were. "That surprises me," I continued, "because Yemen, officially the Republic of Yemen, is a Middle Eastern country located on the Arabian Peninsula in Southwest Asia. And with a population of about 20 million people, Yemen is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the North, the Red Sea to the West, the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden to the South, and Oman to the east. Furthermore, Yemen's territory includes over 200 islands, the largest of which is Socotra." Okay, I didn't say any of that because I only just now went to Wikipedia to study up on Yemen. Okay, I didn't actually study, but I did skim, and one thing that didn't stand out was anything on the Yemenials' great love, or hatred, of Four Square, so I feel this was a random act of playground frivolity between two cultures that no one could have guessed would come together in downtown Memphis, much like Bono and Sam Phillips, who I've heard loves Four Square.

C went on to tell me that such-and-such teacher talked to so-and-so in the fifth grade and what's-his-name in the fourth to get the facts objectively, and that there were two options, though C quickly saw that there were three: 1) No more playing outside, 2) Play outside, but everyone has to get along, and the elusive, inferred 3) Play outside but with no equipment. In what grade does the whole Mock U.N. stuff begin? Because this has the stink of the United Nations written all over it, and if I find out Angelina Jolie was at that school and no one told me then there's going to be hell to pay!

Tomorrow is a new day. It's a Thursday in Memphis, I have no idea what day it will be in Yemen, but I'm sure that these kids will all work it out on their own as kids on playgrounds all over the world do. It isn't until adulthood that they actually take up arms over something so silly. The young Yemenheads probably just didn't quite understand the concept of Four Square, though I'm sure they'll catch on quickly. Either that or they're just very excited and overzealous about Evacuation Day, which Wikipedia tells me is an actual holiday in Yemen on November 30.

[I copy and pasted that title up there over from Wikipedia. I think it means "Yemen." I hope it does. If, instead, it means something derogatory then forget what I said, we're not really located in downtown Memphis.]

Monday, November 26, 2007

First Day. Again.

Yesterday my baby girl went to her first day at school. Sure, it's a Montessori school, but it's the closest she's come yet to any type of formal education or, as we call it, daycare. The fee to get into this institution is steep, steeper than what we were paying her sitter on The Island, but it isn't just the money that's on my mind, it's the gear she has to pack in to her new wilderness. It's the confusing amount of ... stuff she needs to attend this school. She had to take crib sheets, blankets, a jacket that stays there, a hairbrush, a toothbrush, four changes of clothes and three pairs of shoes, among so much else. That doesn't even include the cloth diapers we don't have yet. Cloth diapers, I don't even know where to begin. Apparently, though, sometime in the 1950s with a giant safety pin and clothesline would be a good beginning point.

She did well yesterday, walking around and playing while I was still there before getting upset as I went to leave. The teachers told Big Mama when she picked her up that she did great the rest of the day, though, which I knew she would. This morning she was excited and happy up until we walked into her room and then she lost it, again, as I knew she would. The first thing to be done was to change from her sneakers, or "outside shoes," to her softer "indoor shoes." She has three pairs of shoes at the school, which is one more pair than I own. I just hope they all match the four outfits she has. I'm not sure if she's going to daycare or if she's involved in a Cher concert. The teacher spoke to a crying GK in soothing Montessori-ese while I sat there holding her and thinking "Take this child from me and calm her so I can leave!" A mom who was in there assured me that "it will get easier" to which I thought-replied "This is my fourth child, lady, and you know what? It doesn't get easier." I've dropped these kids off at every daycare, sitter and school they've ever attended every morning of their lives and they cry almost all the time and it's never easier. I know they're fine as soon as I walk out of the door, but that doesn't make it easier. I'm leaving my offspring with strangers and they're not happy about it. And I'm not either. JP, just last week, in his sixth year of life and third month of first grade started crying in the mornings out of nowhere. What the hell is so easy about that?

I know GK will get used to the new morning routine. I know that she'll make some little friends and get to know her caretakers and that the Montessori Kool-Aid will go down nice and smoothly, but that doesn't really get me through the day when the first thing in the morning I'm leaving a tear-streaked, seemingly inconsolable child behind. Again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

McTheory vs. McReality

Kristy and I decided late Sunday night to make the drive to Georgia on Wednesday to visit my grandparents for Thanksgiving. It was as spontaneous as a family of six can be. I'm glad we did. Despite the three hours of constant downpour that began the trek, arriving to a house full of family and good food was well worth it.

Long drives (this one was about nine hours) give one pause for introspection. It's a good time, a long time, to think about life and what it is we strive for, what is important and what we'd like to eventually accomplish. This trip, in particular, showed me that my hopes and dreams, or the visions of my life as I perceive it now and in the future, may not, in fact, be as they truly are.

For instance, my dream is for my family to one day live on a 40+' sailboat exploring the Caribbean seas and South American coastline, yet in reality I have two kids who become ill riding in a Mazda minivan. The dream also stipulates that these four kids will be my crew on that sailboat, however, S, my navigator, asked as we drove through Alabama, on the way to Georgia from Tennessee, if we were in California yet. The Quartet wanted McDonald's for lunch and, despite their complete lack of skills with the sextant, managed to locate one with an immense indoor playland. I was starving, but it seems that hunger is relative, because when we walked in and I saw the advertisement for something called a McSkillet Burrito, I was suddenly much less hungry.

We'll be returning home on Saturday and I can't imagine what dreams and theories that I harbor might be shattered. Or supported, as I've only just now decided to allow S to show me the way home, and to feed her nothing but McSkillet after McSkillet on that journey because I have a theory that they just may settle her seafaring stomach.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hey, That's Not Funny

Ask any parent anywhere what their favorite sound is and they'll tell you: the sound of my child(ren)'s laughter. Well, first they'll tell you the sound of silence is their favorite, but then, pressed for an actual sound, they'll say the laughter of kids. And isn't that the truth? Is there nothing better than knowing your children are happy by the sounds of squealing and giggling and all-out guffawing?

Yes and no. For all you new parents out there, you should understand that there is good laughter and bad laughter. In case your kid is so new that you need help discerning the two, here are some suggestions.

Good laughter is laughing at:
  • Funny faces made by parents
  • Knock-knock jokes
  • The Marx Brothers
  • Tickling
  • Urf!
  • Farts

Bad laughter is laughing at:
  • A sibling getting hurt
  • Hurting a sibling
  • Mommy's tantrums
  • The Holocaust
  • Daddy's bank statement
  • Two and a Half Men

So encourage your offspring to laugh, because it truly is the best medicine (sick kids, not funny), but be aware of what they're laughing at. And remember what Alan Alda said, "If it bends it's funny, if it breaks, it's not funny."

Monday, November 19, 2007

2007 Vintage

Kristy returned from the grocery the other day with, among other things, some new “hot chocolate” flavored Pop-Tarts, and JP treated them as though she’d delivered a cask of this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau. He uncorked the box with a certain amount of tenderness, broached the outer foil layer and removed his treasure. He held the pastry up to the light, peering at its brownness, he sniffed at it. He, eventually, licked a corner. And then he bit into that Tart and let the hot chocolatey goodness melt in his mouth. He pronounced it, “Good.”

And then he left half of it on the couch for me to sit on, ruining my sweatpants.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Just Saying

This is an actual conversation I had with GK last night:

"Yeah," she said.
"Yeah," I said.
"Yeah," she said.
"Yeah," I said.
"Yeah."
"Yeah."
"Yeah."
"Yeah."
"Yeah."
"Yeah."
"Yeah."
"Yeah."
"Yeah."
"Yeah."
"Yeah."
"Yeah."
"Yeah."
"Yeah."
"Yeah."
"Yeah."
"Yeah."
"Yeah."

I won't bore you with the rest because it went on like that for another 10 minutes or so.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

2-4-5

Every year it begins earlier and earlier. Our society seems content to leave it up to Wal-Mart and Macy's to tell us when the holiday season starts. This year, I think it was somewhere around the end of July. Well, I've decided it's up to me from now on, I'll decide when the holidays begin.

The end-of-the-year holidays to me mean spending time with friends and family and remembering what may have been forgotten throughout the rest of the year, the really important things in life. I have decreed that the holiday season henceforth will begin on the day we make the Zanone Family Ravioli, and that was this weekend. So, actually, the holiday season this year was set in motion on the day when my sister said, "Let's make the ravioli on Saturday, Nov. 10." And we did. And we had our friends over just as we did last year to help and to visit and talk and laugh. And just like last year, they did a great job putting together the pieces that make a meal worthy of such friendship. I thank them and my family thanks them.

My family spends a lot of time with our friends on a weekly, often daily, basis, but there is something about this time of year when the closeness feels concentrated. I don't know if it's the weather or the food, but having a house full of people feels even better than it does the rest of the year.

The temptation, of course, is for me to declare the holidays earlier in the year the way Mattel does and have everyone over in the heat of August to work and sweat into the pasta, but it just wouldn't be the same. I need the crispness in the air, I need the richness of the Chianti and I need these people around me as one year tapers and the unknown looms ahead.

[Thank you, Chip, for the photo. Thank you, Elizabeth, for the wonderful gravy. Thank you, everyone, for the wine!]

Thursday, November 08, 2007

International Space Silliness

I've come to the realization that my kids could never have been in charge of initiating and operating the International Space Station. Here are a few reasons:

1) Well, first of all, I laid their uniforms out for school this morning and then noticed as we were walking out the door that S and JP had accidentally put on each other's pants. This may be more reason why the two of them should not be allowed to leave the house more than fly into space.

2) At some point the International Space Station would need to be resupplied and if The Quartet scheduled the supply shuttle to blast off at, say, 8 a.m. one morning, then they would wait until 7:58 a.m. to even begin looking for the things that needed to fill up that ship.

3) I have the feeling they would spend the budget of billions on one gyroscope for stability and direction and blow the rest on televisions, DVDs and cheese pizza for their stay aboard.

4) Immediately upon arrival at the Space Station, the engineers at mission control back on Earth would have to endure the question "Where are we going next?" for the duration of the stay.

5) These kids are clumsy enough with gravity, zero gravity would be a whole new problem for them.

6) The International Space Station is located way too far from their mama.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

King Rat

I found myself at the Sam's Wholesale Club this evening picking up supplies. While there I also picked up a copy of the new Ratatouille DVD for The Quartet. I am The Most Popular Person In The House now. Oh, sure, Kristy made their dinner for them, bathed them, helped them with their homework. And, yes, she gave birth to them all. But I bought them something. Not just something, though, but something to watch on TV. I am king. I win.

While I have you all here, let me just say this, Pixar blows Dreamworks SKG out of the water. It's The Munsters vs. The Addams Family, the Cubs vs. the Sox, Sean Connery vs. Roger Moore, Minneapolis vs. St. Paul (I ran out of examples). Shrek was amusing, sure, but it's no Toy Story, Shrek II can't hold a candle to Toy Story's sequel, and Shark Tale isn't even in the same league as Finding Nemo. Okay, Cars is crap, I'll give you that (sorry, Connor), but that's the only stinker in the bunch. When it comes to story and animation, I'll pick the Pixar canon 10 out of 10 times.

The kids don't recognize these differences, of course, they're just fans of animation. They'll understand it later tonight when I explain it to them, though. Remember, I'm currently TMPPINTH, and they will believe anything I tell them because they have no choice. So tonight they learn that Apple is better than Dell, gin is better than vodka and that this family will take Buzz Lightyear over Donkey any day of the week.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What's For Dinner?

As children, and then adolescent people, my siblings and I were made to understand that we could ask our mother anything. No question was taboo and she would answer as straightforward and honestly as she was able. Any time, anywhere, any subject. The lines of communication, she wanted us to know, were always to remain open in our family.

There was one question, though, that was never to be spoken. After a long day of ... working with computers? (I'm still not sure what she does) ... when she returned home, she did not want to hear "What's for dinner?" Now, we were always well-fed and never, for a single night, went hungry, but she wasn't running a boarding house, she was a ... computer person? What was for dinner was whatever she was making for dinner and it will be ready when it's ready. So don't ask.

We haven't had to tell The Quartet yet that they can ask us anything. They ask us anything and everything already. Question after question after question. It's like living with The Riddler times four. They ask who's coming over, they ask what's on TV, they ask where their mother is, they ask what we're going to do next. And they ask, every night, "What's for dinner?" I've told them I didn't want to hear that question because it's rude and because it still scares me a little bit.

The really odd part is that these kids don't eat whatever we're having for dinner. I mean, there's what we (Kristy and I) are having for dinner and there's what they're (they're) having for dinner. And those are never the same thing. Oh, sure, S will accept what the adults are having to push around on her plate and whine about and eat a bit of just so she can get to "What's for dessert?" But you're not going to catch JP having spaghetti or C eating a burrito. It's just not what's for (their) dinner.

So don't even ask, because it's rude. And, coming from you four, it's just dumb.

Loop-y

Recently, over a lunch of flavorless tilapia and cold fries, I was berated for not blogging enough lately. I reminded the assembled audience my intention with Urf! was never to write just to see something on the internet and that I wouldn’t post unless I had something to say. And I haven’t had much to say in the vein of what you’re used to reading here. The truth, though, is that I have had something to say, or an idea of what to say, for some time now, but every time I sit in front of the computer I keep going back to this woman’s blog to read this post and then this one. I bet I’ve read each of them dozens of times and each time I read them I think I’m going to write an entire post around them because a comment just won’t do. But then I don’t because I haven’t been confident enough in my writing to attempt to match her own. And this is all very personal between her and me, so you may not be interested, and may choose to stop reading now, as I make a stab at explaining where I’ve been.

Specifically what I’m trying to figure out as I read these posts is how my wife and I, traveling in the same car at the same speed on the same road have arrived in two very different places. Kristy is happy with her life and comfortable in her own skin. She’s at peace with who she is. And I … am not. I worry. I obsess. I am held captive by the stress in my life. Is it all more than most adults have to deal with? Probably not. Do I realize this? Do I understand that what I’m dealing with is anxiety and a form of depression? I do. I’ve dealt with it for years, 12 of those years I’ve known exactly what it is, yet I’m just now reaching the end of my rope. I’ve controlled it mostly through diet and exercise, and though it doesn’t affect me now nearly as badly as it did when I was 25, it’s still something I can’t shake. It’s like a song you can’t get out of your head. During good times, moments when I shouldn’t have a care in the world, when I’m at the pond with the kids feeding ducks on a perfect Fall day or when friends are over and we’re all talking and laughing, it’s still there. The song. Only it isn’t Sinatra or Costello, it’s impending doom. It’s a recorded loop playing in the back of my mind that reminds me what it is I’m supposed to be worrying about instead of playing with my kids or laughing with friends or reading a book.

Understand, too, that Kristy and I have been going through some difficult times recently. Not with our marriage or anything, but other things, and they have been weighing on me heavily, leaving me both uninspired and unamused. Certainly unable to write a blog post that would do anything other than depress all of you as well. And yet, it was during this time that Sassy wrote the two aforementioned posts. The very situation that was dragging me further down is what inspired her to relish her family and friends and relative wealth compared with so many truly unfortunate across the city and around the world. And I know that this is what I should focus on, what my attitude should be. My family is not yet at poverty level, we can afford to eat well and the kids are healthy. We have great friends, a loving extended family, and we’re all happy. They’re happy. I should be happy but there’s that loop in my skull, remember? I should ignore it, I should know it for what it is and not listen to it, but that’s the problem, isn’t it? That’s the hole I’ve found myself in. This is the rub. I am unable to pull myself up out of the misery and smile and know that things will only get better. I admire the hell out of those who can. I envy Kristy and her optimism. I hope with everything I am that our children inherit her disposition. I also hope that when The Quartet is old enough to read this that it’s all news to them, that they don’t remember their dad as a worried, anxious, pissy man. I try to keep it from them and I hope I’ve hidden it well. Other steps need to be taken, I know, and Kristy and I are discussing them because I’m tired of this particular obsession, I’m tired of the loop. I’m just tired. But I haven’t yet grown tired of writing so I’ll be returning here soon if not immediately. I felt, though, that I needed to get this out of the way, not for you, necessarily, but for myself. And now it’s done.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

High Waters

Mornings around the castilo have been running fairly smoothly so far this school year. Sure, C and S are pretty difficult to wake up, but JP springs out of bed and lately GK has been sleeping in a bit, which helps. So the a.m. unfolds leisurely for the most part. But that time is mainly the calm before the storm. The calm lasts from around seven, when I first start waking them, until about 7:45. That's when the storm hits. That is the moment, regular as clockwork, when the dressing starts and the gathering of backpacks and lunches and the telling me that this or that piece of paper needs to be signed - elementary school teachers love signatures - begins. As much of a whirlwind as it is, though, it's manageable and we're normally out the door by eight. Unless, of course, something goes wrong. Not much has to go wrong, but it's like I learned when I scaled Sugarloaf, one bad foothold or misplaced rock can set you back on the journey to your goal. This morning it was JP and his pants.

Today is picture day and the general understanding seemed to be that jeans were allowed to be worn, but JP questioned this. Questioned it for about 10 minutes, in fact, until I finally told him just to wear his khakis, which he was perfectly willing to do but just needed someone else to voice that solution. But where are his pants? Big Mama is already on the comment button to tell me, and all of you, that JP has more pants than anyone in the house, and this is true. The kid is flush with trousers. However, the majority of them are just a tad too large in the waist and slip right off of his emaciated, Iggy Pop-like frame. I told him to go look in the dryer, the defacto chest of drawers for our family, so he went in the kitchen and peeked into the toaster oven or the dishwasher or whichever appliance confused him this morning, and then came back to report he couldn't find any. So I went in, hunched into the opening with GK in my arms, further straining my back, and pulled a pair of khakis out, threw them at him from across the kitchen and implored him to hurry and get dressed because I could feel me and these kids slipping off Sugarloaf's sheer rock face. The winds were whipping our 15-minute storm into a frenzy now and I almost lost S in it all when she left the house without her ballet costume for her class today, the one I'd set out for her and told her to pack up. GK's lunch, sadly, was lost in the typhoon, I never even located her lunch box.

Tomorrow will be better, I'm sure. I'm sure because yesterday was better, but things have to fall apart every once in a while, the system has to break down. I'm only one man, after all, and not FEMA.

Oh, and I realized as the kids disembarked from the Volvo at school and trudged up to the door that there's a very good chance JP is wearing S's pants today. Should you see him, please don't point that out.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Saying It Loud

When I was a kid in school, I recall taking field trips to Chucalissa Indian Village, where the high point of the visit was buying an authentic Indian arrowhead in the gift shop. We also went to the Pink Palace, when it was actually in the house, to see the shrunken heads. And, of course, there was the zoo when all it boasted was a fetid concrete box housing the lions, just a short walk from an island of monkeys.

Today, I chaperoned C's class at the Rock 'n Soul Museum in the FedEx Forum. We walked there, his school being only a few blocks from this venue, and along the way there were impromptu history lessons given by Dr. Max on the Robert Churches, W.C. Handy and the history of Beale St. The museum tour begins with a 15-minute film on the evolution of blues to soul and rock-n-roll and it was great to see the kids' heads, from my vantage point in the back of the theater, bobbing and dancing along with Carl Perkins, Sam and Dave and Elvis. At certain points, too, they broke out and sang along on "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Respect." The tour was self-guided, each child and adult wandering around with headphones and an MP3 player that allowed its user to punch in a three-digit number to hear a narrator discussing a particular display or, most often, to listen to song lists on any number of juke boxes set up throughout the museum. The kids danced and strutted to everyone from Furry Lewis to Al Green and it was great to hear them singing, with no thought as to their volume, along with "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)," "That's All Right (Mama)" and "Walk The Line."

Just as I said about the Stax Museum of American Soul Music last January, music and the history of Memphis music in particular, is a great catalyst for the discussion of civil rights, its history, and the proper way one human should treat another. The Rock 'n Soul Museum is no different as they devote much time in the introductory film to this cause and there is a large display on nothing but the Civil Rights Movement. But as I watched these black and white children, all of whom were born at the turn of this century, dance and sing together while laughing and helping each other with the given assignment, it occurred to me that all of the strife and tension and heartache of the last century is mostly lost on them. And that's a good thing, because it left their hearts and minds wide open to the music in their ears.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Student Becomes Teacher

From the backseat:

Me: JP, do you have piano today?
JP: Yes.
Me: Tell her you want to play like McCoy Tyner.
JP: It's called a pianist.

Monday, October 08, 2007

And Not A Single Missing Toe

There are certain rites of passage for our children, and ourselves, that are always well documented. The first time our babies roll over, first steps, first words, the very first time a Pop-Tart is independently procured and liberated from its foil. And then there were firsts like the one this weekend. Sunday marked the first time C mowed the front yard. He's finally old enough to start earning the cost of his cable television habit.

I sat on the front porch in my seersucker pants, my wide-brimmed Panama hat, sipping lemonade and smoking a cigar while I watched him miss patch after patch of lawn while mowing other strips three or four times. It was hot yesterday, 92 degrees on Oct. 7, which made it all that much better. It made the shade I was in a little more pleasant, the lemonade a bit more refreshing.

I'm not sure what age I was when I began lawn mowing. C is nine-ish now and I want to say I was about seven when I started. I want to say that because it will make him feel worse, and a bit more guilty about what he is and isn't required to do now. I want to say I was seven, so I probably will. I was there, after all, and I write the history book in my house.

The house we lived in when I first cranked up the lawnmower had a driveway of loose gravel, and this gravel would be strewn all over the yard due to our skidding bike tires and handfuls thrown at each other. Mowing across all of those tiny rocks was like mowing a field of shrapnel and I would finish the chore with my thin, pasty shins pitted and red from those angry projectiles. When my mother remarried and Steve moved in, he required the lawn to be mowed twice a week. Twice a week? You can't even imagine my mutterings as I was out there under the blazing Memphis sun for hours twice a week. It made absolutely no sense to me why anyone would need this kind of attention paid to a yard, especially in what is normally a drought-ridden Southern summer. Made no sense, that is, until yesterday. So, Steve, come on by any time to sit a spell on the front porch, the lemonade is on me. Sundays and Thursdays seem like a good schedule.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

On The Seventh Day He Did Laundry

It's already planned out. Has been for a while now. My biography will be written by Michael Chabon (with forward by Richard Russo), the movie version will be filmed by the Coen Brothers with soundtrack by Elvis Costello (starring role is still in negotiations). There will be a documentary of my life directed by Ken Burns with the music of Miles Davis as background. Naturally there will be action figures and various other toys to accompany the opening, these will all be made in China. They make the best toys there.

So, yeah, I've given it all some thought. The consultant on all of these projects will be C, as it turns out. He had an assignment for school this week to produce a time-line of someone's life. Now, he could've chosen anybody in the world, anybody from history. He could've chosen George Washington, Fidel Castro, Mel Blanc, Willie Herenton, Groucho Marx, Bart Simpson or Al Pacino. But he didn't. Who did he choose? Me. He chose to document the life of his old man. Why did he choose me? For the very same reason a kid chooses For Whom The Bell Tolls for a book report, because he can watch the movie instead of reading it. Tracing my life took no studying, hardly any effort. More than an open book, I am a cinematic feature. Or a comedy short.

He did a bang up job on the project, too. He and his mother. I gathered Big Mama was the consultant's consultant when I noticed the gap between kindergarten and meeting her in high school, which becomes very important when you discover what all came after that auspicious day. That's a lot of missing time, though, like the Nixon tapes or adolescent Jesus. Perhaps I'm not as fascinating as I think. Perhaps I should have taken charge and suggest that he begin the story of me with Buddy Bolden stepping out of the chorus with his cornet the way my friend the artist begins his own chronology with Bill Traylor being born in 1854 and Gustav Klimt in 1862.

But I didn't take charge of the project, as I shouldn't have, because here is the time-line of me, according to C (and Kristy) and I wouldn't change a thing:

RJA (he has no clue what my real name is)
a.k.a. My Dad

August 14, 1970 - My dad, RJA, was born to R and E A in Memphis, TN
August, 1975 - RJA entered kindergarten at Idlewild Elementary
August, 1987 - Met KD, his future wife, in drama class at Kirby High School
May, 1988 - RJA graduated from Kirby High School
June 4, 1994 - RJA married KD in Fisher Gardens at Rhodes College
January 5, 1998 - Had his first son, CA
January, 1999 - Bought his business at 152 Madison Avenue
July 1, 2001 - Had his second son, JPA
September 14, 2002 - Had his first daughter, SA
May 28, 2006 - Had his second daughter, GKA

This time-line is made on a poster board with pictures drawn of me reading a book, riding a bike, running and carrying a baby. There are also photographs of me as a baby, a young boy, at my wedding and with each of my kids as babies. Except GK. Apparently we have no physical photo of her so there are, instead, two pictures of me with baby S, but one with the GK label. I'm hoping to add December 2007 - Finally ponies up for a decent camera to the time-line this year.

Friday, September 28, 2007

I'm Back

As both of you know, I had back surgery in May of last year. After that, I had a good recovery, and eventually was back to my old, mildly-achy self. I slowly started running again and was up to six miles on a good day and had run several 5ks this year, which I was proud of because, honestly, I never thought I'd be running again after the excruciating pain of a ruptured disc.

But then, two mornings ago, that all stopped. Or rather, started, again. I was carrying GK around the house and going through what I go through each morning to get The Quartet up, fed, dressed and out the door for school, and I bent over to get something out a drawer for S and went to my knees in pain. The girls' bed was right there, luckily, so I was able to set GK down when I caught myself. Once I regained my composure, and because I'm stubborn, I stood up and picked GK up and went about the business of getting the kids where they needed to be.

That day was spent at work, taking small steps and with no lifting. That night the family went to The Fair and I went home to lie on the floor with a dinner of a peanut butter and banana sandwich, one gin & tonic and two Darvocet; the Elvis Presley Special. It's still stiff, but I think I may come out of this one okay. I think it may work itself out, loosen itself up. It had better, because I need to start running again before I begin looking like Elvis, or a regular Fair-goer.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My War

I've been endeavoring to watch Ken Burns's The War on PBS this week. I admire Mr. Burns and the history that he manages to bring alive from black and white photos and personal letters, and I sincerely want to know more about that day that lives in infamy, Guadalcanal and the invasion of France. However, what I'm learning is that my kids are louder than World War II. I'm catching about one-eighth of everything Keith David says. So what we have so far, as I understand it, is that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, General MacArthur left ... somewhere but then went back, women in America went to work, Winston Churchill wanted to visit Africa and then we all went to France. Did I leave anything out? Did somebody, at some point, grind a piece of cheese pizza into the newly washed sofa cushions? Did Tojo do that or was that JP? Because if it's JP, then Big Mama is going to declare a whole different kind of war on the home front.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Because I Said So

I've told you all the truth here. I've shrunk away from nothing. You've read at Urf! that sometimes your very own children can drive you away, that it's perfectly okay to want to leave your kids from time to time. You've seen here that sometimes parents pick a favorite from their four (or, you know, whatever number you have) kids, even if it is for just an afternoon, or one season. And we've all learned that sometimes one child will be chosen to be a mole, a rat, a turncoat with his siblings. These are all ugly truths that parents know deep down, but don't often speak of out loud for fear of reproach from other parents that they don't know so well who may be listening in at the food court. But those parents know it, too. And here's another: all first-time parents think that they will do a better job raising kids than their own parents did. [DISCLAIMER: Mom, I'm speaking in generalities here. This isn't necessarily something I've ever thought, and when Katherine first mentioned it to me I thought she was, quite frankly, insane. You just can't tell with post-partum.]

This isn't to say that we think our children will end up more well-adjusted than we did, or have a more well-rounded childhood, but there are some very specific things that new parents plan on. I'm not giving my child any sugary cereals, I'm not letting my child watch television all night, I'm always going to use a car seat. One way we all think we'll be different - better, if you will - is in how we talk to our children; refusing to talk down to them, to treat them like, well, children. With the words still ringing in our ears from our own childhood, we swear on a stack of Dr. Spock books that we will never use Because I said so as reasoning for anything, that we will explain our decisions in a way that is not threatening and that even a toddler can understand and make sense from.

I've been a father now for nine and a half-ish years to four or so kids, and one thing I've learned is that Because I said so may be the finest reason for just about anything. I am the parent. I am the pater familial. I am the king ... okay, the co-ruler, of this fiefdom. Why do you have to pick that pizza up off the floor? Because I said so. Why do you have to get in the bathtub? Because I said so. Why do you have to take your hands from your brother's neck? Because. I. Said. So. Why do I say so? I usually don't know, maybe because whatever they're doing is loud or gross or potentially dangerous. I just kind of make it up as I go along. What didn't I make up? The mortgage payment I just mailed off so these kids will have a roof over their heads, the gargantuan grocery bill I just paid, the fact that I have to wake up at 6 a.m. so everything can get done that needs getting done to get them to school on time. All of these things give me carte blanche to say so.

All you new parents, go ahead and repeat that line to yourself and learn to love it. And learn that you are, in fact, no better or smarter than your own parents. Parenting is hard and we have few adequate resources in our arsenal. Because I said so is tried and true, it's the B-52 of reasoning.

Now, I have to prepare for the phone call I'll get when my Mom reads that I thought I could out-think her on how to be a parent, and then I will come back and possibly delete this post. Why? Because she said so.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

On A Clear Day

Tonight, GK and I watched a film called On A Clear Day. It’s a story, on the surface, about a man attempting to swim the English Channel from England to France. When I told Kristy the plot before watching it she asked why I like movies like that. I’d never really thought about it before, but I suppose I do enjoy a story about someone who is attempting something that seems impossible, whether circumnavigating the globe solo, cycling through the Alps, diving to new depths or swimming a large body of water. These are stories of accomplishment, and whether the person attempting actually succeeds or not, he’s taking on a challenge. I’m not sure why this resonates with me. Perhaps because I’ve never committed to anything in that way, not just a supreme physical feat like running an ultra-marathon, but something more within my grasp like refurbishing the Honda Rebel that’s sitting in my garage, building a boat or running 26.2 miles. Something that, though it isn’t necessary for life, really is so for living. I go to work in the mornings but at the end of every workday, of every six-day workweek, everything I’ve spent my time and effort on is, quite literally, up in smoke. I can’t hold something in my hand and say, “Look at this. This is what my skills and my knowledge made today” and that’s something that I think I would like to be able to do. I admire anyone who sets out to accomplish a thing, perseveres, and has something to show for that effort.

On a Clear Day is the story of Frank, a middle-aged man who has lost his job and is unsure of what to do with his life. He sets out, with a group of close friends as trainers and advisers, to swim the English Channel. But there’s more to the story than just training for a grueling swim. It’s the story of a man and his pride, a father and son, grieving, a husband and wife and that woman’s independence, boat building, human worth, accomplishment, failure, and GK was pleased to find that it even has a nice little homage to Jaws. It’s a delightful movie.

When I got the DVD from NetFlix, it was damaged and halfway through became unplayable, so I sent it back. They sent me a new copy immediately and we made it through the 99-minute movie. So there you go, sometimes my tenacity pays off.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Good Morning To You

For those of you who may be considering inviting The Quartet for a sleepover (and really there are only two readers out there who may be, possibly, entertaining this idea), let me go ahead and warn you that S does not appreciate being awakened by dripping icy water on her face. I found that out this morning.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What's He Building In There?

I'm not sure this post is going to work without the aid of pictures, but I need to give it a shot anyway. I tried to get a picture of the thing, but it was being wheeled away by the time I found the camera buried under The Quartet's pile of "art work" that was inexplicably on my desk.

C's friend, Butch Cassidy, lives around the corner and was over on Sunday to ride bikes and tramp through our backyard and house, into the front yard, back to the back and then into the house again. I never know where these kids are headed or what they may be in search of. At one point, though, they headed down to Butch Cassidy's house and when they returned shortly after, C walked in to the living room and said matter-of-factly to JP, "Get your helmet." Naturally, JP didn't question, he just ran into his room to get his bike helmet. And, naturally, I had to know what was going on. I went outside to see this ... vehicle? ... they'd manufactured. What I saw was one of those chairs that is molded from one big foam cushion, a red chair, tied to a skateboard that was jacked up. It was taller than a normal board with some sort of springs or shocks, and Butch Cassidy explained to me that it was the kind of skateboard that somebody named Cody Banks rode in a movie I've never seen. So the red cushion chair is tied to the extra-tall skateboard and then two other regular-sized skateboards were tied to either side like outriggers.

Be sure, I tried to get them to take the maiden voyage on this shuttle down the neighbor's driveway, which has a nice, gentle slope that would allow them to build up enough speed to amuse me. But they seemed to have other plans, and these plans were to take place at Butch Cassidy's house and may have involved being pulled by a bike. Or a car, who knows? All I can picture, though, is JP strapped into that thing with his helmet on, a grin on his face, and having the time of his life. For about 12 seconds.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Five Things About S

  1. Her first name is actually E.
  2. She has her mother's eyes and my family's nose.
  3. She has plans to get a garden tattooed on her arm some day.
  4. Her favorite book is Clarice Bean and I taught her to pronounce "Clarice" like Hannibal Lecter.
  5. Her favorite olive is kalamata.

Happy birthday, S!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Achtung!

GK and I watched The Great Escape last night. She's a film buff and it's been surprising to discover that her favorite films are also my favorites, and this one is no different. However, I noticed last night that instead of paying rapt attention to cinematography, composition, dialogue and mies-en-scene, as she usually does, this time she sat with a fearful look in her eye, stealing glances at me periodically, and trying in vain to hide that tick she gets when she's nervous where she babbles incoherently through bursts of crying. And, in fact, during the scene where the Germans locate the tunnel known as Tom, she actually crapped her pants. I think The Quartet is planning a break-out. I'm fairly certain they're tunneling, too, as evidenced by all the dirt in their rooms. They haven't quite figured out how to disperse what they dig and instead have opted to just spread it around. All over. The "escape" of Harpo, it's clear now, was planned - that little hamster was running recon, getting the lay of the land, making maps, possibly laying in a store of Pop-Tarts and cheese pizza in a safe house someplace.

What they don't realize is that all of this effort is for naught. That if they want to leave, I'll unlock the door for them, even give them the keys to the Volvo as long as C agrees to be the designated driver. But I'll let them carry on with their plan, figure out who fulfills which roles. I see C as Intelligence, JP is the Cooler King, GK is the Scrounger and S, obviously, is Big X. Big Mama in this scenario is the Gestapo and I want to be that laid-back British officer who wears a tie and sips proper tea throughout the movie.

After the movie, once GK had regained her composure, we talked about who the coolest character is. She put up a good argument for Steve McQueen as Hilts, but I still like that James Garner as Hendley. Who is your favorite character?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The House Was Open

We attended open house at the kids' school tonight as a family because I wasn't quick enough to come up with a way out of it. We have three kids in the same school now so we hit every hallway in that building, some of them twice. C, JP & S's teachers all had very nice things to say about them, but there was a common theme throughout the evening with these quick, five minute meetings with each of their teachers. It turns out our kids talk a lot. Really? It took up an hour and a half of tonight to find out my kids can't shut their mouths?

The eye opener of the night, though, was in C's class when his teacher, who was also his teacher last year, said, "Do you notice anything different about C this year?" Kristy and I looked at each other, just a hint of fear in our eyes as to what might come next. She said, "He's talking." Kristy and I said something literate, such as "Wha?" or "Huh?" Turns out he never really talked much at school in previous years. He was saving it all for home, all for me, because he knows I often sit around here thinking Damn, I wish the people I live with were more vocal.

Also, there were plenty of Memphis Parent magazines being handed out to the attendees at the open house this evening. This month's issue features an interview with me about Urf! by the very talented Stacey Greenberg, so the cat's out of the bag on the blog. I'm pretty sure my kids' teachers will be reading this, which is fine because we really, really like their teachers. They're very smart. Very dedicated. They should be paid more. A lot more.

After the open house at the elementary school I came home and washed my hands. Repeatedly.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

No, It's A Tiny Sandwich

The Saucier and Big Mama have a delightful little, irritating discussion going on in the comments section of the previous post. This is the only place you will see me weighing in on that inane discussion between Uber-Mom and Non-Parent. The reason we don't force JP to eat what JP doesn't want to eat is, in part, due to dialogs like the one he and I had this morning:

Me: Does anybody know what a panini is?
JP: Yeah, it's what boys pee out of.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sam-I-Was

Legend has it that when I was just a young boy in short pants I was a huge fan of Dr. Seuss. And who isn't? So one day my mother, who found her own kids amusing even in a time before blogs, made me a big plate of green eggs using food coloring. If the storyteller is to be believed then I took one look at that plate of emerald embryos and ran shrieking in terror from the room.

One of The Quartet's favorite books is Green Eggs and Ham and I read it to them all the time as part of their Three Books At Bedtime routine. I still enjoy the story and I'm thrilled that the kids do as well, but someone really should address the 800-lb. fox in the box in the room. See, my kids, just like the protagonist, could not, would not, try new foods either. And this isn't lost on them. They realize, and comment upon, the fact that this is the point of the story, that this ... whatever he is ... doesn't like green eggs and ham simply because he's never tried them before. But they won't admit to their own culinary trepidations or that meat and eggs are one of the best sources for irony. They just won't admit that they're all chicken. Chicken nuggets only, of course.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Man Solo

Kristy and the kids just spent a weekend away, leaving me alone with the keys to the car. I should tell you what went on around here but I’m too tired to couch it in a witty story or lesson in raising kids, so you’re on your own with that. I’m just going to list what I did, but with the days of the weekend in bold to make it seem exciting and important. Read on …

Friday: I’m starting with Friday, the day before they left town, because that’s the day I learned that Kate Beckinsale will be coming to Memphis in a month to film a movie, thus hastening the end of my marriage. I’m so excited! That night we went to SAM and The Admiral’s for Cocktail Hour which turned out to be the best yet. There were bloggers and business owners, writers and carpenters, midwives and musicians, boat builders, an archeologist and … gasp … an electrician. Oh, and a bunch of kids.

Saturday: I said goodbye to my family and watched them as they cast off, heading for the faraway lands of east Tennessee. And then I went to work. After work I watched The Good Shepherd and ate chicken parmesan and drank wine. Lots of wine. I did not win the lottery. Again.

Sunday: I cleaned the boys’ room. For five hours. Why did it take five hours? Because it takes five hours to clean my kids’ rooms, that’s why. Afterwards I was exhausted and starving, so I ate turkey and dressing alone at Dino’s followed by a trip to Lowe’s and then to purchase Thelonius Monk’s Solo Monk which, for some reason, I didn’t own already. I watched Woody Allen’s Scoop that night with Scarlet Johansson. She was in the movie, I didn’t actually watch it with her, Kristy, she’s never returned one of my phone calls. Then I fell asleep by 10:30 because once I turned the movie off it was just so very quiet in my house and because that’s how crazy I can get while the family is away.

Monday: I ran the AutoZone/Chik-Fil-A 5k in 28:11 which I was pretty happy with considering I’d trained all week with Hendrick’s and cigars. This was Labor Day which means cookouts and beer and friends and memories, except my family was gone and my friends let me down with the cooking out and the friends and the memories. So I went to Celtic Crossing by myself instead and had a corned beef sandwich and a Guinness, did the Sunday crossword and watched soccer. I also ran into an old friend from the paper, Stephanie H., who was with one of my kids’ teachers who I met for the first time. We discussed … phonics?

Sitting at a bar, watching sports on TV and drinking a beer alone is something I haven’t done in a long, long time. Those few hours alone gave me time to think about how things used to be, years ago before kids and so much responsibility. It gave me time to talk to other adults and not have to worry about whether a child needed to go to the bathroom or was choking on his or her chicken finger. But more than anything it gave me time to think about how much I actually missed my family that weekend. Sure, the house gets quiet, pleasantly quiet, but then when I do or think of something really funny, there’s nobody to tell and impress, and what’s a showman without his audience? He’s usually asleep.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Cat Is Away ...

Kristy and The Quartet left town 17 hours ago. How crazy can it get around here? The toilet seat has been left up for two hours now.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Born Free

Alright, listen up, people. Our fugitive has been on the run for nine hours. Average foot speed over toys, spilled milk and soiled clothes barring injuries is 1200 sq ft-per-hour. That gives us a radius of six rooms. What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen feet. Your fugitive's name is Harpo. Go get him.

That's right, the hamster is on the loose. We're not sure how, but his cage door was open this morning and before the search even commenced C was looking to blame somebody. But that seemed counterproductive so he just ate a waffle and watched Curious George instead. The hunt, I assume, will begin in earnest tonight and I'm sure Harpo will be found, whether by sight or by smell, eventually. The Quartet, if they truly care for this thing, better hope I don't find it first.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Overheard In The Living Room

S: Daddy has two big, round circles on his chest.
JP: They're called nipples.
S: You mean like a cow?!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Lust For Glory And A Tape Machine

At 15 months, GK, just as her siblings before her, has found that her favorite rung on that double helix is the one where vocalizing is kept. Her vocabulary has grown exponentially of late and her favorite thing is to point at your face and say "Mao! Mao!" or "No!" or "Aye!" She has her facial anatomy down. She's very smart, and very cute.

Monday, August 20, 2007

For My Sisters

I don't do the grocery shopping. Or rather, I don't do the bulk of it. The grocery shopping I do is the after-grocery-shopping grocery shopping - stopping on the way home from work to get milk or bread or Ovaltine. I can't be trusted even with this because a cool third of everything I pick up will be the wrong something, the wrong brand, the wrong size, just the wrong thing. If I'm sent for six items then two will be wrong, nine then three are wrong. You get the idea.

Tonight I was sent for three items and, you guessed it, one was wrong. Instead of the usual Kraft Parmesan Cheese which, I suspect, has no cheese in it whatsoever, I picked up actual grated Parmesan. The kids who eat spaghetti in this house eat it with only butter and Parmesan (or, spaghetti cheese as it's called [I know, I know, no red gravy? I'm not really sure these kids are mine.]) So as the pasta with its inferior superior cheese was being refused by little people who don't even contribute to the bottom line around here, I was catching the blame. In my defense I raised my voice with "As long as all these kids are going to eat on spaghetti is butter and cheese is it too much to ask that they eat butter and cheese in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?!" That's right, I channeled George Bailey, which I suppose is better than channeling Jack Torrance.

I do this a lot, actually, channeling this wonderful, indelible movie character. Unfortunately, however, it's not usually the good-natured, optimistic dreamer who longs to help his friends and clients and be the best family man he can. It's usually the George Bailey who trashes his scale model suspension bridge and doesn't understand why they have to have all these kids in the first place. But I'm trying. I hope to be the responsible George Bailey someday, the George Bailey with all the character, and especially the George Bailey who gets all that cash dumped on his table and a peck on the cheek from Violet. Va-voom!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Who Do I Think I Am?

I was suddenly struck by the pretentiousness of my bedside table and thought I might share it with you. It is the duty of The Quartet to keep me grounded, humble, broken, if you will. According to the landscape of this small territory of mine, they are failing, miserably.



The photo above is one of the piece of furniture next to the piece of furniture where all the magic happens. That's right ladies, my bedside table is also next to my desk, where I write most of this witty blog. On the table you can see a copy of Woody Allen's Mere Anarchy, Jazz Modernism From Ellington and Armstrong to Matisse and Joyce by Alfred Appel Jr., a NetFlix DVD envelope swaddling The Dick Cavett Show: Comic Legends: Disc 2, a copy of The New Yorker and the CD Elvis Costello and Bill Frisell Deep Dead Blue Live 25 June 95. I have very intelligent furniture.

Incidentally, the entire rest of the house is full of Pop Tarts, dinosaurs, Legos and lead-based toys from China.

I Made This

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about creativity, about writing mostly, but mixed in there is photography, sculpting and some sketching. But mostly writing. I’ve been reading The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby, one of my favorite writers. This book is a collection of the column he does on reading for Believer magazine, so he’s one of my favorite readers as well. He puts me in the mind to read and he reveres reading as it should be. It’s good to know that there are others out there who get the same rush from a good book, from just the idea of starting a new book, that I get. Recently, too, I’ve spoken with a few people close to me who have encouraged me to write. Not just to write, though, but to write and publish. This is a very nice sentiment and I’m truly touched by their confidence in me. However, it resonates as well as if they were encouraging me to jump off the Sterick Building and fly. Would I love to fly? Of course I would, who wouldn’t? But the jumping is the simple part, anyone can jump. The flying? Well, that’s a whole different matter. Not many have pulled that off.

With my thoughts of creativity, I naturally have thought of my kids, because they always seem to creep up into my thoughts, even when all I want to do is think about myself for just a minute. It’s like when I was growing up and in Catholic school and we were taught that God thinks of us constantly and that if He ever stopped thinking of us then we would cease to exist. That’s a lot to think about and a lot of pressure. What’s to keep God, and all that’s on His plate with making the weather and creating fish and seeing to it that all those R&B singers win Grammys, thinking of a scrawny 10-year-old boy? So I taught myself to juggle and painted pictures and I did a little soft shoe to keep him entertained, to keep me in his mind so I wouldn’t disappear. I became creative. Much like this, my kids do things to stay in my mind. They leave half-eaten food laying around for me to find - I always think of them when I see this. They smear toothpaste around various surfaces of the bathroom, they leave lights on, they yell. They yell a lot. So I never stop thinking of them, and I don’t possess enough faith to think that they would go away even if I did.

I want for my kids to be creative. I don’t necessarily need for them to make a living with their creativity, as far as being an artist or musician, though I do know that there is plenty of call for creativity in business, especially entrepreneurship. I would simply like for them to have the outlet of creating something, something they can take pride in and that will make them happy. A feeling that no one can take away from them.

I can only imagine what each of The Quartet’s talent would be, where their creativity would lie. C enjoys both drawing and writing, but is far too literal for a fine art gig. I see him maybe working for Lucasfilm or Pixar, some place where he’ll be called upon to make a character come to life through the magic of counting pixels and equalizing bandwidth, or however they do that stuff. JP will sing, act and dance. He’ll be on the stage, on the screen and, if it’s at all possible in the future, he will wow Tom Snyder on late night television. JP is our entertainer. S, if she ends up in the entertainment world, will be a studio chief or an agent. I suppose that’s creative. Perhaps her talent will be recognizing others’ talents and then exploiting them for financial gain. I’m cool with that. GK I’m not so sure about, she’s still awfully young and really short. I’d say maybe a model, but the idea of that makes my palms sweat, so we won’t even consider that just yet.

In re-reading what I’ve just written I see that I’ve blatantly paired the kids’ talents with possible careers when I said that all I wanted was for them to be happy doing whatever it is they’re good at. I suppose, deep down, I’m hoping that what makes them happy is making a lot of money with what their good at to spend on me. They’re more than welcome to spend it creatively, too. Shoes, a boat, Caribbean homes, stocks, another boat, trips to New York, whatever it takes to make them happy making me happy.

I come from an inspired family, whether it was drawing, painting, engineering or writing, and I feel that there is something in me waiting to be let out. And while writing this blog is a nice outlet, a release of steam like the valve on a pressure cooker, it’s not the full-on geyser of a novel, short story, the ol’ soft shoe or a painting. I suppose it will come to me one day. One day I’ll have the time to sit down and explore, perhaps I’ll discover it as my kids are realizing their own artistic expressions. It may be right here at this tiny desk, in front of this iBook G4 or, hopefully, on that 46-foot sloop S will buy for me with the sweat from some hungry, struggling actor.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

At Thirty-Seven

Things that happened to me yesterday:

  • Was given a cake at lunch.
  • Received three books and two CDs.
  • Had lunch with my sister.
  • Friends came to my house to toast me, but there was no toast. They just drank my alcohol and left.
  • Received an E-mail from someone who could change the course my life is currently on.
  • Ate pizza.
  • Talked on the phone to my mother, an aunt, an uncle, my father and my sister.
  • Watched The Quartet run around the house playing with Monistat applicators (I was told by one of my editors to explain here that the Monistat was purchased for GK's diaper rash or something, which is why the applicators were unused).
  • Decreed that the kids should greet me every day with "Buon giorno, Papa!"

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

814

Nineteen Seventy
At St. Joseph's Hospital
Mimi kissed the doc

Sunday, August 12, 2007

S Is For Spirit

I’ve written here many times, and have entertained friends and family for hours on end, about the toughness of S. She’s mean, she’s stubborn, she can be ruthless. At only 4-years-old she has her brothers, her friends and, at times, her parents walking on egg shells, giving her a wide berth and skirting the jagged edges of her impulsive rage. But here’s something I know: S is not so tough. My wiry little blonde who can’t seem to break 40 lbs. is mostly bark, largely smoke and no fire. Sure, I’ve seen her rain terror down on her siblings, I’ve borne witness to her striking down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy her, and I’ve heard her argue toe to toe with someone 30 years her senior. But I’ve also seen this little girl hide when someone addresses her, been there when her shyness – my shyness – takes hold. I’ve comforted her when her feelings were hurt and she’s curled up in my lap just to be close to her daddy.

S can take care of herself if need be, of that I have no doubt. But tomorrow I send her off to her first day of kindergarten, her first day of real, day in and day out, school. And though I’ve had this first day twice now with C and JP, this is my little girl and I know this will be the most difficult yet. And even as I write this I’m not sure if I’m talking about a problem for her or for me. I’m so familiar with her trigger-like defenses, her prickly veneer and willingness to argue a point until accession, but I also know how she shrinks from attention and of her confusion by authority. Likewise, I have experience in leaving the kids – leaving them somewhere in the mornings has been my dire task for nine years, so I’ve created this persona of myself as a parent who doesn’t really mind leaving his kids someplace, and an image of his daughter as a little girl who, among all of his other children, is a child confident in her own survival skills. But we’re neither all the time. Truth be told, we’re both a little scared. For her because tomorrow is the unknown, it’s School, school with a capital S, with all its homework, schedules and order. As I sit here in the early morning, writing, thinking, sipping my coffee and smoking my cigar while she sleeps somewhere nearby, I realize that my greatest worry isn’t that S is scared of her first day or uncertain about just what is going on, but that tomorrow is the first day for something that will last for at least the next 12 years. And my greatest concern for my little girl is that they will break her spirit with their order and their desks and their conduct grades. That the beast that is the City School System will do what they strive to do best, create a tepid child.

The little girl S is now, with her faults, with her concoction of sweetness and callousness, is the woman I want her to become so that I don’t have to worry about her wherever she may end up, though I know I always will.