Thursday, September 28, 2006

You're Fired

JP and his classmates are all given jobs at the beginning of each week, an effort to get these 5-year-olds ready for the real world. His friend Ivan was given the job this week of Line Leader, no doubt an important one. But JP told me yesterday that Ivan was fired from his job. Why was Ivan fired from his job? I inquired. Ivan was fired because he was supposed to lead the line of kids to the bathroom across the hall but, instead, in a fleeting moment of disorientation, took them across the school to P.E. So long, Ivan.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Crunch Time

S told me tonight that one of her teachers took her class on a walk today. They went outside to the playground to do jumping jacks, push-ups and crunches. I told her those were good exercises and she squinted at me and said snidely, "You don't even know what crunches are." I'm not quite sure what she meant by that.

Easy Riders

On the way to school this morning, with the windows down and the cool autumn air blowing our hair around, the talk turned to motorcycles. Specifically, whether The Quartet thought I should get one or not (my wife is shaking her head as she reads, my mother has already dialed my area code). C, ever the cautious one gave a firm vote of No. JP & S both thought I should. GK abstained from voting until we actually went to a dealership and she was allowed to sit on a few models, kick some tires and discuss financing. JP even went so far as to suggest I get one with two seats so he could also ride. That's my boy. I could see the two of us on a Sunday ride through the country, or wherever it is motorcyclists ride around here, in search of that perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He said, too, that I should get a motorcycle with tattoos on it. A helmet with tattoos as well. At least he's safety conscious.

But that's as far as the talk went. I know I won't get one, not because I don't want one or can't afford one - both factors - but because I have to haul these kids around all the time. I've come to terms with the family vehicle, but that doesn't mean all our dreams have to end. So if you see us cruising through Midtown in a Volvo wagon, all wearing tattooed helmets, be sure and hoot at us.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Last Saturday Night

When I got home from work last Saturday night Kristy announced that her mom was on the way over to pick up the kids (S, C & JP) to take them back to her place to play for the evening. What? Did I hear that right? A free evening with just the two of us (GK doesn't completely count yet because she can't demand chocolate milk or work the remote)? But we didn't have time to plan. There were no plans and our spontaneity muscles have atrophied over the years. We could go to dinner, but it wasn't in the budget. Movie? We tried that once with one of the other babies and found we couldn't penetrate the first line of cinema defense - the pimply-faced ticket seller who refused us admittance. Go have a drink somewhere? Kristy insisted on joining me, so, no. We ended up cooking frozen pizza and sitting around watching TV. Boring, you say? Not if you have kids. If you have a circus of your own at home then you know just where we're coming from - there were no kids arguing, no parade of toys into the living room, no call for food which would remain uneaten. There was just Kristy and me and GK, who was nice enough to go to sleep early. It was just like old times and it was a nice surprise.

And then Grandma brought them back...

[Happy Birthday, Uncle Toby!]

Friday, September 22, 2006

Memphis Rock 'n' Romp

Read all about it.

I can't make it, but The Quartet will be there. Ask them for their autographs when you see them!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Chicago Way

Earlier, when I got home from work, one of the first things I saw was S punch C. Nothing new, it happens all the time. And every time it happens we tell her not to, we get angry, we send her to her room, we raise our voices, we talk to her, we implore her. So tonight, it seems, he’d had enough and he hit her back. Right there in front of me, and I let it happen. It wasn’t overly mean or physical, but it was a wake-up call for S. I know how C felt, he’s been pummeled by his little sister and has never retaliated, until tonight. I was as angry as he. S was shocked and upset and she looked to me. She looked to me to get C in trouble. She pointed at him, letting me know he’d hit her. I told her I knew. I’d seen the whole thing and that if she hadn’t hit him then he wouldn’t have hit her back. Then she turned on the works and it only made me angrier. So what did I do? I got down in her face and, with my finger pointed and my upper lip curled under, just like my Mom taught me, I said through clenched jaw, “That’s the Chicago way!” The Chicago way? What the hell does that mean? She had no idea and neither did I. I don't even know where it came from. But it sounded right. We live in Memphis, not Chicago. I have aunts in Naperville, just outside Chicago, but the Naperville way doesn’t have the same impact. I’ve been to Chicago many times, but no one ever hit me. I’ve seen The Untouchables and have heard the speech Sean Connery delivers to Kevin Costner, but if I took that to heart then C would have had to stab S with that shank he carries in his back pocket.

So this is what my parenting technique has come down to - quoting the odd line from movies. What’s next? Am I going to make the kids an offer they can’t refuse to clean their rooms? Am I going to ask them over and over again if they’re talking to me when they ask for chocolate milk? Will I wake them in the morning by screaming at the top of my lungs, “I love the smell of baby poop in the morning!”? Will I expound on our failure to communicate? One thing I should probably do is sit C down and explain to him that it’s not okay to hit his sister, or his brother, or anyone else just because he’s frustrated. I need to tell him to walk away from that situation, to tell me or his mother if one of his siblings has resorted to violence. Maybe I’ll tell him later, over a plate of ribs from Central BBQ, because that’s the Memphis way.

More Monkey Convergence 2

Monkey Convergence 2: Electric Boogaloo, Part Two, in which Pooh drinks even more beer and eats french fries, is up over at Dining With Monkeys. And stay tuned for Part 3, coming in just a few days.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Today started as one of those days when everything is just a little off. It was raining, which makes loading up the car with kids, backpacks, briefcase and all of the supplies I'd bought for work over the weekend just a little more of a hassle. It was one of those days when my troubles were in the forefront of my mind instead of in the back where I usually try with all my being to push them - all of the difficulties of the work/school week, the whole mess with having to escort S into school, and spending the first couple of hours at work fielding (or dodging) phone calls from vendors and creditors wanting to know when they could expect their money. Kristy and I have built our house on risk and it's as wobbly as if it were a house of cards. We've made some decisions that may seem less than sound to others, but we made them together and knew what we were getting into. But this doesn't keep me from lying awake at night worrying, or waking in the morning afraid somebody is going to come and start taking our things away from us.

This is what plagues me during my daily routine - finances, work, kids and their schoolwork and social skills and general development. There was some of all of that swimming around my rain-soaked head this morning, and then a nice man came into the store with a question about a pipe someone sent him. A friend of his sent him this gift to help him relax while he's here with his son who's at St. Jude Children's Hospital here in Memphis. And suddenly I didn't really have any problems. This man and his situation made my burdens seem insignificant. I know that if things should take a turn for the worse - if my worse fears (unfounded, sure, but fears nontheless) should come true and this whole gamble doesn't work out and we end up living with my sister and her husband (look out, Elizabeth!) that it would be uncomfortable for a while. But we wouldn't be living at Target House or the Ronald McDonald House while our kids went through a hell we couldn't understand. We'd be together and our kids would be able to run and laugh and I wish that for this man and his family. I wished it all day as the rain progressed and the business slowed. I wished that his son - and I have no clue what is wrong with him - would get better because, for a little while anyway, it was all I had to think about.

Monkey Convergence 2

What could be more fun than a barrel full of monkeys? A Bosco's full of monkeys! Join all 16 of us for Monkey Convergence 2: Electric Boogaloo over at the best blog in Memphis, Dining With Monkeys.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Cooper & Young

There seems to be a trend of S and me having Saturday breakfast together, if trend can be defined as two in a row. I had a couple of spare hours before work so I took her to the Cooper-Young Festival, the first I'd attended in almost seven years. We walked hand-in-hand looking at glass art, junk art, T-shirt art and yard art, and then we went in search of something to eat. It was about 10 a.m., so we were having our second breakfast alone in a week.

This breakfast, however, didn't include grapes, yogurt or juice.
September sixteenth's menu:

Pronto pup
Chocolate chip cookie
Frozen banana dipped in chocolate

In a single morning I gave her a glimpse into the world of street festivals, Midtown art and diabetic comas.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Just Ducky

Kristy called me as I was on the way home from work to say that Andria had called her to say she and Miss M were at the duck pond and would we like to join them? We would indeed. I met Kristy, The Quartet and our friends, and found the kids running around, glad to be free of school, schedules and teachers. It was Friday, and as JP is fond of saying on Fridays, “It’s Friday, we can stay up late.” Amen to that.

The duck pond, in Chickasaw Gardens, is our little oasis in the middle of the city, it’s our miniature Central Park, it’s a place we feel comfortable letting the kids run somewhat wild and unrestrained. Tonight, with the temperature in the low 70s, was a great night for releasing pent up energy and blowing off some steam. As the adults sat and talked about our day, C and JP explored the far east side of the pond, climbing Magnolias and meeting another boy roughly C’s age. S and Miss M, tired of throwing rocks toward ducks, tormented a dachsund that had shown up with another family. The boy C and JP had befriended had a net for catching turtles and the boys were taken with it and the idea of pulling something alive from the water. They followed this boy and his net as they traveled around the perimeter of the pond. And we let them go. The boy with the net was with his father, we assumed, who seemed like a normal enough person, although he was wearing white pants. I don’t trust men who wear white pants. But they explored the pond, staying close to the waterline, until they were finally out of sight, obscured by the oaks and pine. We adults joked about letting our kids tag along with strange men in white pants who was either the father of another boy or a man who was simply collecting children in the park. So Kristy, ever the paranoiac, and GK, who had no choice, went in pursuit of C, JP, the man in white pants and the boy with the net. And she found them on the opposite side of the lake harassing turtles and the occasional duck. Good news, the man was sane and safe.

The evening ended back at our house for burritos, birthday cake, catfights, negotiations, water and, ultimately, forced separation. Perhaps more on that tomorrow…

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Happy Birthday, S

I'm gonna watch you shine, gonna watch you grow
Gonna paint the sign, so you'll always know
As long as one and one is two
There could never be a father who loves his daughter
more than I love you.
--Paul Simon


Just over four years ago I was standing in a tiny room with your mother who was lying on her back, belly all slathered in goop, waiting to find out what you were. We were still coping with the fact that you were even in there, not quite a year after JP was born. Though we were experienced parents by then, we were still trying to catch our breath. The ultrasound technician put the wand down on her belly and moved it around this way and that, taking measurements and letting us know that everything looked good. “Do you want to know what it is?” she asked. More than anything, yes. “You have a girl,” she said. And your mother squeezed my hand, and I think both these experienced parents wanted to cry.

My little girl. You are four-years-old today, but I know if I told you that you were four, you would disagree with me. You would disagree because that is who you are. You learned no at an early age and it didn’t take long before you’d mastered it. You are stubborn, strong-headed and determined, and I love you for it. I’ve spent my life around strong women and I respect and love them dearly, and I want you to keep on that path. Of all my kids, S, you have the ability to make me the maddest, but you can also melt my heart quicker than any of them.

You started pre-kindergarten this year. You’re going to the “big school” with your brothers, uniform just like the others, backpack that covers your entire backside, from shoulders down almost to the backs of your knees. You want so badly to fit in, to look big and act brave. I’m not sure I’m ready. I like to watch you interact with the other kids, and I know that you can take care of yourself, but taking care of you is my job and it’s one of my favorite things to do, so I’m just going to keep on doing it for quite a while. Is that okay with you? No? I didn’t think so, but I’m going to anyway.

I knew even before I had kids that I wouldn’t know what to do with a daughter. The very idea drove me to a cold sweat. But after the boys I thought a lot about a girl, about someone I could call Daddy’s Little Girl, and the idea appealed to me, so much so that I started to count on it. And then there you were, just like that. Coming so soon after C and JP, you were completely unexpected, you caught us off guard as is your nature. Thank you for not making me wait. Happy birthday, S.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Monsieur Cousteau Begs To Differ

On the way to school this morning we were discussing where the various characters on Sponge Bob Squarepants live - pineapple, statue, rock, etc. C said that Mr. Crab lives in an anchor.

Me: You mean he lives on an anchor.
C: No, in an anchor.
Me: You can't live in an anchor.
C: It's a cartoon.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The System

[edited version]

Here's how The System works (granted, it's a new system, open to some change, but there are a couple of key components): The Quartet and I leave the house at about 8 a.m., take the older three to Downtown Elementary where C walks JP & S to their respective rooms. From there I take GK to her sitter on The Island.

The most crucial part of the system is C walking his siblings into school. It allows me to pull up to the school entrance, which will be a plus in cold/rainy weather, and it means GK stays in her carseat. And yet this is the very element that is coming under fire. C came home yesterday and told us he was stopped by the assistant principal that morning and told an adult would have to walk S to class in the mornings. We told him to go ahead and walk her in the next day and we'd take care of it, but C being C, he was worried he'd get in trouble. So this morning I had to find a place to park, park, unfasten GK, check in at the office, walk S to her hallway and then return to the office to find out what the hell is going on from Mrs. W, the principal.

There was some initial confusion because the school has a pre-K program itself and Mrs. W thought S was in that room, where an adult must sign the kids in and out or they could "lose their license." However, there is another pre-K which is administered by the YMCA. I'm not sure why S is in this one and not the school's own version, but once that was cleared up, I was told basically the same thing, that an adult has to sign each child in.

Now, I have a few problems with all of this. First is that I've never signed S in or out. For the first two weeks I walked them all into school and was never asked to sign anything. Second, C doesn't even walk her to class now, he walks her to her hallway where JP's classroom is about 20 feet from hers, and watches her all the way to the door. And if this is some sort of safety measure, and she needs to be escorted to the door, then I'm questioning the security of the school and whether or not I want any of my kids there. But I don't think it is a question of safety, I think it's a question of money. The YMCA's pre-K costs us and I believe they know what to charge based on the signature of a parent, and if that's the case then just tell us. Don't play games and tell me it's about safety or a license, or just shrug and blame it on another institution, tell me it's how you get paid and you need to get paid.

Lastly, I'm going to just go ahead and say it and I'll take the criticism for being a braggart, but my kids are good kids. C is as responsible as they come, it's like having another adult living in the house. Sure, there are times they're hard to handle and they can get way out of line at times, but on the whole, this is a well-behaved, respectable group. There are kids in any school who are not in complete control of their actions, who don't listen to authority. These are not my kids. If we thought for a moment that C wasn't watching S all the way to her room, or that they were going in the front door and out the back to spend the day hitting the bars downtown, or that they were in any way disruptive in the hallway, then The System would be altered dramatically. But I know for a fact that none of that is an issue. With all of the problems - the incalculable problems - of Memphis City Schools, C walking S to class is not one of them.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Elementary Painting/Psychology 101

One of my chores for this Sunday afternoon - my one day of the week off - was to paint a desk we're putting in the boys' room and painting (finally) the toy box/window seat I built in S's room sometime last decade. What's the one home project I loathe the most? Painting - whether it be a room or a piece of furniture, I would rather do anything but that. Alas, it was my day off, so what else would I do? Read? Watch football? Visit the zoo? Not I! Not today! I painted.

Naturally, some of the kids asked to help paint and, naturally, I said "No." Not because I couldn't use the help, but because their helping would involve me stopping, and then nothing would be accomplished. So they stormed back in the house and left me with my coffee, my cigar, my Elvis Costello and my paintbrush. After a bit I felt guilty for turning them away so quickly and, after all, it is my dream to raise a team of workers so that I can, eventually, maybe, relax on my one day a week off. So I summoned the future workers back to the workshop and pointed out the three drawers I had arranged on the floor. The drawers were all standing upright, putting the fronts - the parts to be painted - at the perfect height for this crew of Tom Sawyers. I handed C the 3" roller first and sat back to supervise.

Now, the faces of these drawers are roughly 8" x 8" and are being painted red, bright red. C painted his evenly, full strokes across the drawer until it was covered, then one pass along each beveled edge to make sure the entire piece was even, and then he asked a lot of questions about the rest of the drawer. Once finished, he handed the roller to JP. JP painted on the diagonal and then back to front and then side to side. He eventually got the drawer covered, once we pointed out the spots he'd missed and explained how to paint the edges. He also leaned into the painted surface, thus getting a red smear on the back of his shorts. How did he accomplish this, you ask? Well, his shorts were on backwards. S finished up the project by taking the roller and, using the outer edge of the roller, a technique I wasn't familiar with, made little red lines all over the drawer. They were haphazard, chaotic little lines, to be sure. Luckily for her, she had two big brothers who jumped in to give advice about holding the roller flat, painting evenly and making sure the edges were done. Over time, she finished.

Once the job was complete and I'd reclaimed the roller and shooed them out of my workspace, I touched up what they'd done and thought about how they'd each accomplished the task in their own way.

C worked compulsively and neatly, covering the wood of the drawer with red paint one 3" swath at a time. One stroke on each of the four edges and he was done. Except he wasn't done because, as the older brother, his job is also to supervise, and criticize, the work of his siblings.

JP put his shorts on backwards.

S couldn't quite grasp how the roller worked. She held it and moved it forward and back, but the roller wasn't flat. But that's how S works - in her own style. I didn't need to intervene because her brothers, C especially, stood over her and kept threatening to take over if she couldn't do it. But she could do it, and she's stubborn enough to do it the way she wants it done. And C is really lucky that she didn't make him eat that paint roller for shouting commands in her ear.

I'm already considering their next undertaking. They seem to enjoy painting, and the house does need a new coat. Perhaps I'll assign them each a side and see how it turns out. C will need to get the exact measurements and submit all of his questions in writing beforehand, and then he'll need to dress JP. S better get started soon because it could be years before she finishes her side of the house, what with mastering a paintbrush and intermittently removing it from C's various, bossy orifices.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Before I left for work this morning, S and I enjoyed a lovely breakfast in the kitchen, sitting on the countertop and listening to Jack Johnson's In Between Dreams. Neither S, nor I are much for cooking, but we managed to scrape together a nice meal.

Saturday morning breakfast menu:

String Cheese
Baby Carrots
Orange Juice
Apple Juice

Friday, September 08, 2006

You Gotta' Eat

Why have I been neglecting writing for Urf!? Because Stacey can't juggle three websites, a 'zine, roller derby, a career, a husband and two monkeys, so somebody's got to pick up her slack. Here is me picking up some slack over at Dining With Monkeys, still the most excellent blog in Memphis.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Run, Eat, Run, Eat

The Quartet's Uncle Toby has undertaken two seemingly disparate projects. Dr. Jekyll is in training to run a marathon in San Francisco come October, while Mr. Hyde searches for the perfect barbecue sauce and documents it online. Where will all this get him? Will it get him 100 pounds heavier and then 100 pounds lighter? Will all that pork fuel his heart? Will he share the experiments with The Quartet - and me - and bring them - and me - something back from San Francisco? Only time will tell. Time and a heart rate monitor, and possible angioplasty. Whatever he accomplishes here, The Quartet is proud of his efforts, not so much for the blog, because I could teach GK to set one of those up, but for running 26.2 miles; and for hunting for the perfect sauce in a kitchen in Midtown, which is located in Memphis.

(seriously, go to that marathon training link and help Toby realize his dream of going into a coma in San Francisco)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Saying Goodbye

Kristy and I have made the difficult decision to let some of our babies go. To make matters worse, they're the ones that have been with us the longest. I'm talking about books, of course. Over 12 years of marriage we've amassed quite a library, however, many of the books from our youth, those that were brought into the marriage, are the cheapest and rattiest of mass market paperbacks. I'm not saying there are good books and bad books, but space is becoming an issue. Some years ago I built in bookshelves measuring 8' x 8' and those are full and brimming over, and then there are the smaller, free-standing shelves scattered throughout the house, all packed full.

I don't throw books out. I don't trade books in. I don't borrow books. If there is a book I want, or one I think I may want down the road, I buy it and I buy it to keep. I told myself a long time ago, before there was money for books or much for rent or beer even, that I would never deny myself a book. Reading can only make us better. And before there was a Quartet I knew that I wanted a library for the kids I would have some day. When they come to me bored, I'll pick out a book. When they need references for a school project, I'll help them find what they need from our own stock. And someday, decades from now, when I'm not around anymore, this library will be passed to them or to their children.

But there is still the issue of space and of whether or not it's necessary to keep that copy of The Fountainhead with the cover long gone. And there's the issue of what to let go. Do I throw out the copy of Cat's Cradle? The one I did that great paper on that time I went to college? What about the copy of Farenheit 451 that Kristy read to me out loud while I drove us and our belongings on our move to Florida just after we were married? Certainly not - definitely not - A Moveable Feast, which I must have read a dozen times in my early 20s when all I dreamed of was being a poor, struggling writer. (I lent that copy to my sister when she visited Paris last year. She read it on the plane and then took pictures of the areas described and scattered them throughout the book for me.) There are others that helped me discover the writers you're supposed to discover when you're young - Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Salinger, London, Twain. These are all old friends it's going to be difficult to see go. Sure, we've replaced some of them with hardbacks where we could find them, or even nicer trade paperbacks, but not all of them, not yet. And the bright side is that Kristy is taking these books to her classroom so that, hopefully, the kids she teaches will be turned on to reading the good stuff.

Reading, my passion, was instilled in me by my mother, who would stop at the library on her way home when we were kids, ask the librarian what books were appropriate for our respective ages, and check out stacks of them. When my sisters and I were finished with those, she'd take them back and do it all over again. I got away from reading in high school, of all places, but then returned to it in my late teens through peer pressure. My friends would sit around talking about books they'd read, or they were reading, and I felt left out, embarrassed to say I wasn't familiar with Vonnegut or Cheever or Maugham. So I started reading and I've never stopped and don't plan to. Moreover, I'm trying to pass this bug on to my kids. C has picked it up already. He loves to read and will do so on his own, without being told to and without it being assigned homework. The other three can't read yet, or they say they can't, anyway. But when they can, their library, new and improved, will be waiting for them.

The Writer

When I arrived home from work yesterday, C presented me with an illustrated poem he'd written. The drawings are of planets, rocketships, the Moon and stars. The poem reads:

Out of all the stars I know,
No matter how shiny their glow can glow,
You're the biggest one I know.

How about that?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Dad Gone Mad

This isn't the sort of thing I usually do on Urf!, simply blogging about another's blog, but when I came home this evening my kids were here and S ran up to me and gave me a kiss and a hug. If I choose to tonight, I'll read some books to the kids as I did last night and every night this week. And when I wake up tomorrow morning I'll look in on all of them sleeping, wherever they may have ended up in the night.

No matter how much I might complain about not getting enough time alone or my kids and public restrooms or morning time or S, it is all in jest. The truth - the obvious truth - is that I can't imagine being away from The Quartet or Kristy or our friends and family for any extended period of time. I can't imagine being in constant danger and having my family at home worrying for me night and day. And because of men and women like Mike, I don't have to. Go here and read this post and it will all make sense to you.