Monday, July 30, 2007

The Daddy Wears Prada

I picked up my new glasses today. It took the Italian elves two weeks to put them together, which is almost as long as the initial eye exam lasted. They’re Prada frames. There, I said it. I have a designer on my face because I’m just that much of a fashion maven. I just today read in Vogue that nothing goes with cargo shorts and a 5k T-shirt better than Prada specs. I think it was in Vogue, but it may have been in the liner notes to the newest Amy Winehouse album. Nevertheless, I feel like I need to live up to the frames, that the Prada People expect more of me, for me to be chic for the first time in my life. Or like I’m French kissing an architect. Regardless, I need to put my face out there with confidence, yet I feel I’m trapped somewhere between being a strutting, nearsighted peacock and that sixth-grade RJA sliding down in his desk chair when his mother appears at the classroom door with the uncoolest coat ever that he’d “forgotten” at home. This all seems somewhat confusing to me, and even more vain, but I know that what will win out in the end is the price tag. They cost me and Blue Cross/Blue Shield way too much money to not be worn proudly. So look out world because I’m strutting out there and I can finally see where the hell I’m going.

Children Of The Sand

The week at the beach went off without a hitch, mostly. The wild card in this whole trip was the kids, all eight of them. That's eight little wild cards and they're all Jokers. But they did pretty well, considering. They got along well, for the most part. There was some arguing, naturally, but considering the amount of time they all spent together the percentage of time spent defending the territory of the couch, the damn blue chair, The Admiral's lap, a hermit crab, the color orange, a towel, a television station and a juice box, was pretty small. Their skirmishes and their playfulness weren't all that unexpected since these kids spend so much time together in Memphis. In fact, what surprised me the most, I think, was the way all of us adults handled the children and what a wide berth we allowed them. Upon arrival speeches and threats were made that no child was to wander down to the beach and the water without an adult, and that if an adult was already down there then that child was to make his or her presence known to the adult on duty. That lasted about 12 hours. After that, when the kids asked if they could go to the beach then the answer was, "Yes" and then, as an after thought, "Don't get in the water!" And they didn't. They scurried around in the sand collecting shell parts (there were hardly any full shells on our beach), digging holes and tormenting crabs, but they never broached the surf and we didn't lose any of them ... that I know of.

The adults were as relaxed as I've ever seen us. And, while there was plenty of imbibing, it never got out of hand, the youngest people were never in danger. However, there was the epiphany on one of the last nights that if we were to get out of hand, if we were to pass around the Benadryl for one night of peace (this never happened) then the worst the Department of Human Services would do is take the kids from us. Take the kids from us? As punishment? Hang on, let me just pack a few things for them. Now remember, they require 12 hours of exercise a day, 18 hours of sleep and they feed mostly on cold cuts and hermit crabs.

If any of The Octet are able to take any memories from this trip - C will, but the others may be too young and are possibly already confused why there is sand in their crevices - then I hope those memories are full of salt and sand, juice and chocolate, fire and late nights, sun and smiles.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Happy Birthday, Uncle Johnny

I need to squeeze this in under the wire here because I just looked at the calendar and realized it's my Uncle Johnny's birthday, so I wanted to say Happy Birthday to him. And how apropos that it would come just after a post about having fun, because who better to learn to have fun from than Johnny? He has taught me how to hit golf balls, drive on ice, build things, watch movies, bet on horses and play craps, cook shrimp, be a terrific father and, I hope, a good man. Over the years he's taken me to Chicago, St. Louis, Florida, on a bike ride across the city, to many casinos, an OTB and hunting. He first piqued my interest in sailing. He was there for me at my Confirmation and at my wedding. He did a lot of this when he was a much younger man and I was a much younger boy. A teen, in fact, and who wants to spend their time with an obnoxious teenager? He did. He is the big brother I never had and for that I'm grateful and I hope he's having a wonderful birthday.

One Funky Bunch

Being home sucks. We returned home from our trip to the beach an hour and a half ago and the Post-Vacation Funk has set in in a big way. It is now 9:30 p.m. and at 9:30 p.m on the beach for the past seven days I’ve been sitting down to dinner with friends. That’s right, dinner at 9:30, with drinks, yelling at kids to control themselves so we could eat, and some delicious food. After that? We burned stuff on the beach. After that? It probably won’t be blogged about. The point is, it’s 9:30 in Memphis and I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m having a beer. I guess I could go out on my deck and drink it, but there’s no sound of the surf, just a dog a couple houses down and the train. It’s getting to be FedEx plane landing time, so I guess I could pretend that’s the sound of the surf. There are no friends here, though, no sand, no cool Gulf breeze. And I’m wearing way too many clothes. The Funk didn’t begin for us as we pulled into the driveway, though, as we walked into our stale-smelling, one-week-vacant house. No, it started as we pulled away from Beach Walk West and drove down that long highway to reality. That’s when I looked over and saw the tears running from behind Kristy’s ever-present sunglasses. You see, it’s more than just Post-Vacation Funk for Team Urf!, it’s Post-Beach Funk, and that’s a whole different level of depression. It’s the very feeling in our bones that led us to move to Florida only six weeks after a vacation there just after we were married. That’s all I’m going to say about that, it’s the very. same. feeling.

I realize this isn’t the post you’ve all been looking for. I’ve been away for a week and the descending stair-steps of my stat counter tells me you’ve stopped expecting new posts. Perhaps you were expecting daily posting on the activity of a houseful of bloggers and their kids on the beach. Well, Alabama has the beach, the sun, the surf, copious wood to burn, alcohol, kids, but apparently no internet. And you know what? I didn’t miss it one bit. I don’t think any of us did. We even turned the clock on the microwave off because who cares what time it was? We were as far from reality as we could get.

There’s plenty more to be said here about the week, it was a blast. But right now there’s a pall on our homecoming because, well, we’re home, in the real world, and I’m not at all sandy, way too sober and overdressed. Now, if you need me, I’ll be in the backyard hunting for crabs alone with just my key chain (inside joke!).

Friday, July 20, 2007

One Night Of Peace

Strange evening. Tomorrow we head out for the Gulf Coast, where six adults will desperately try to keep eight kids’ cracks mostly sand free. Tonight, however, seems to be the calm before that storm. Kristy took the kids to the nerdfest for Harry Potter, which means I’m home alone. Just me, Billie Holiday and a glass of wine. This is the quietest time I will have for the next eight days. It is bliss. Not that I’m not looking forward to our trip, mind you, but the quiet, it’s so … quiet. So peaceful. Except for earlier when I took care of a mouse. A rodent came into my home, where my children sleep, but this evening it met with the business end of a Louisville Slugger so our house is vermin free. Completely free of pests – no mice, no kids. Just quiet. Listen … here that? Me either.

I’m going to go now and enjoy the nothingness that I’m ensconced in. The next sound you hear will be the sound of a car engine turning over, followed almost immediately with the first of many, “Are we almost there?” Stay tuned …

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Wait, Am I The Diva?

Lindsey, over at theogeo, is also a guest blogger on iDiva. She references Urf! in her latest column as a way to introduce her own memory of a lovely childhood trip. She remembers a lot more than I do of mine, but hers happened in 1987 when she was six, which means she wasn't even born when I took the trip I wrote about. But I'm okay with that. I'm comfortable with the fact that I'd just started dating my future wife while she was waiting on line at Space Mountain, a pair of mouse ears perched haphazardly on her head. I read theogeo daily and so should you. If you like blogs that update regularly then this is the one for you, she updates it several times a day, either with cool photos or a glimpse into her day and life. I worked in editorial at The Commercial Appeal about nine years ago, though she didn't work there then. She was barely even born at the time. We've never met but I thank her for the mention, and I know she'll appreciate that I'm drinking a nice pinot noir and toasting her now.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Good Foot

As many of you know, I'm being trained in the sweet science by Uncle Toby (you can read more about that here). As we get more into it, and now that the crunches, the hip-ups and the barrel rolls are, or close to, second nature, we've progressed into more actual punch-throwing and footwork. What I've found is that boxing is very much like dancing in its movement. And I don't dance (you can read more about that here). It's not that I can dance, but choose not to, it's that I can't dance. I simply can't make my legs and arms move in any sort of combined fashion that is not completely embarrassing to me and my family, and this is a hindrance when on the heavy bag or, like tonight, in the ring. I'd like to dance. I'd like to be able to move as gracefully as Ginger Rogers across a ballroom floor or a canvas-covered platform. How many times have I wished to take my bride by the hand and move with her to the sultry sounds of Mel Torme? But my legs, hips and torso just don't want to work with me, which is why Uncle Toby, just like Kristy, has his work cut out for him. I may not ever vie for middle-weight champion, or whatever weight class I am, or King of the Tango, or whatever title the dance world offers. I might actually never be a contender. And while I may not be able to glide like Ginger Rogers, with the ab work and strength training, along with what punches and footwork I have been able to pick up, I'm fairly certain I could whip her ass within three rounds. Or, maybe four.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

You Either Surf Or You Fight

In 1975 or 6, I went to Florida with my parents, my sister and a bunch of aunts and uncles. I would have been 5- or 6-years-old so my memory of it isn’t clear but I, instead, have a sense of the trip. I remember riding a long way in a hot car, I remember a pink stucco house with scrub and sand in its front yard, and I remember we had to walk to get to the beach. I learned how to shuffle cards on that trip. I may have tasted a beer. My memory is a patchwork of photographs, stories everyone has told about the trip over the years and paintings my sister has done from photos. It’s a good and familiar memory, if that is what it is.

At the end of this week, Team Urf! is taking part in something that is part family vacation, part reality TV show and part social experiment. We are traveling to the Gulf Coast with two other families, all of whom you’ve read about here, to live in a house on the beach for one week. There will be six adults and eight kids, the youngest will be four-weeks-old, the oldest is 9 1/2. At the end of the week we will all either be closer and more of a family or we will not be speaking to each other. There’s just no way to tell.

There will be plenty to keep the kids entertained: building sand castles, surfing, burying each other in the sand, swimming, screaming, crying, jumping, laughing, sleeping?, watching a different TV, drinking juice boxes, asking questions, complaining, searching for the last kid they buried in the sand, playing games, watching Le Tour, counting stars, gambling. As for the parents, well, it will be a week of sitting. Sitting and staring at the water. At least that’s Team Urf!’s way. Kristy and I have spent a lot of time at the beach and we’ve spent most of that time sitting and relaxing. Perhaps reading. Maybe having a drink or two. Is the whole idea insane? Of course it is, but this is our first real vacation in several years and we are giddy with an excitement that is clouding our judgment, which is how we ended up with four kids in the first place.

This trip reminds me of the trip I took with family over 30 years ago. And maybe I don’t have all the facts right. Maybe as many people as I think didn’t go. Maybe we were closer to the beach or that house wasn’t pink. But what I take with me is the memory of spending that much time with family, and I remember the laughter, and that’s what this week will be. It will be great fun and great memory for The Quartet and the other kids, as well as their parents.

Oh, and the house we’re staying in is a duplex, so whoever is on the other side, I’m really sorry, in advance, for … everything.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Water, Water Everywhere

My kids have survival instincts only when it comes to certain things. They monitor the television for hours on end for any breaking news involving world catastrophes, terrorism or The Simpsons movie previews, the boys can and will pee outside, sliding down a slide head first is still taken very cautiously and only after hours of slide observation, wind sheer vectoring and the employment of an actual slide rule. And then there’s water. At home, The Quartet wants milk, chocolate milk, tea, Coke and the occasional juice, if it’s in a box. But get them out of the house and they want water, lots of it. When we go to the park they need a water bottle, yet rather than run around, swing and calculate slope and speed first, they want to drink that bottle of water until it’s dry. Why? Because it’s there. It’s there at home, too, but so are too many other choices, I suppose. Yesterday, we were leaving to go sailing with friends and before the Mazda MPV pulled away from the curb here at the Castilo they were asking, nee demanding, a bottle of water. You know, just in case we became shipwrecked on the way to the ship. Their world – Midtown and Downtown Memphis – must still be a strange landscape to these young people and the fear of being stuck somewhere without hydration is still too great. So if you come across these four out in public and they look a little parched, would you mind terribly if they drink all of your water?

And because I can’t laugh at them without laughing at myself, as The Admiral and I were bringing down the rigging, tying and untying lines and stowing away sails yesterday after the outing, my survival instincts, or lack of, led me to step on someone’s (no names mentioned) lit cigar, thus bringing my running career to a grinding halt … for now. Ironically, there wasn’t any water left for me to pour on the burn.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Dixon Dinner

We just now returned from a dinner at the home of Click, M, and The Brain, with Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Toby, and I can't thank them enough. As much as I'd like our house to be the house of gatherings, I'm afraid The Dixons have beat me to it. Tonight, around a hand-painted table full of some sort of wonderful sausage, rice and watermelon/blueberry concoction, we discussed children, childhood, parenting, mustaches, art, frozen bananas, travel, McCoy Tyner, soccer, food, careers and many, many other topics. Click and I damn near polished off a bottle of Tanqueray and I dare say we'll achieve this next go round. And I hope there is a next time. I hope they'll have Team Urf! over again, if not for dinner, then to move in. The futon in the office looks quite comfy, there's plenty of Super Chewies in the backyard and the doorframes account for hours and hours of fun. We'll bring the milk next time.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Steady As She Goes

In the course of day-to-day life, with the pressures at work and the stress of raising a family of four kids, it’s easy to lose focus and appreciation of the good times that are happening right in front of our faces. Events come along, daily if you’re looking for them, that will make you stop and smile, remembering the very reason you wanted children in the first place. For me it has been a series of moments this week. GK has become more comfortable walking to the point that it is her main mode of transportation. It turns out that laughing at my kids is the reason I’ve had them, and have kept them around, because there is nothing funnier than watching her toddle around the house like a drunken sailor on deck and then fall down. And then get back up and keep going. I know there’s a more emotional point of view to be taken here with our last baby growing up and becoming more independent, and that this is only the beginning of more milestones that will accumulate to make a little person who retains only a slight resemblance to the baby we once held in our arms. But really, right now, it’s just funny. It’s like having a tiny Dean Martin stumbling around, holding her arms up to maintain balance while trying not to drop whatever it is she might be holding – remote, baby doll, toothbrush, highball. If you listen closely you’ll hear me in the background encouraging her, praising her, but mostly laughing, not with her, but at her.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Is This Better Than This?

I went to the eye doctor today for the first time in nine years. Eye doctor offices have changed a lot since the last time I passed the Craftsman tools and plaid shirts to get to the optometrist department at Sears. Walking into the Eclectic Eye in Midtown is like walking into a nightclub in South Beach with its black-clad staff, clean open spaces and thumpy techno music. I half expected for my shorts and T-shirt to get the once over and then be escorted from the premises with all the other tragically unhip. But the good Dr. Weinberg and his team of attractive Igors did a wonderful job taking care of and doing a number on me once they got me into their little room with all its evil devices. There were pupils dilated, my chin and forehead were forced into place and air forced into my eyeballs, and bright lights shined into my irises. And then there were the questions: Is this better than this? Is this clearer? Can you read the top line? Second line? The whole situation, from the iron maiden they had me sit in to administer the exam to the interrogation, was like the Spanish Inquisition, if the Inquisition had taken place in a Miami night club.

All went well, though. No glaucoma, no macular degeneration, no blindness. I currently have the first pair of contact lenses I've ever had on and a pair of stylish new frames on the way. I know I shouldn't wait so long to visit the doctor and I should have regular exams, and I know there are those of you who think that my priority should be more urologist than optometrist, but today was the day I tended to my eyeballs.

Maybe next time I'll take The Quartet for their first exams, if they can get past the velvet rope, and see how they like being questioned repeatedly with a white light shining in their eyes while trying to dance to a funky beat.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Do NOT Wake The Baby

GK and I found ourselves alone last night, which was quite a shock, actually. I came out of the bathroom to find GK sitting on the couch with the remote in one hand and a Tab in the other and no one else around. She informed me that Big Mama had taken the other three kids and Satchel to see a movie, but that she hadn’t felt like going, though she did expect me to entertain her for the evening. Great. So I did one of the only things I know to do with a one-year-old, I took her to the park. Usually there are other moms at the park for me to chat up, but not last night. No, just two other dads and that’s no good. Once we were sufficiently bored by the other dads, their kids, and the swings, we headed out east to the bookstore. GK fell asleep before we were a block from the park.

I’ll admit something here because I’m not ashamed. I am scared of babies. Not sleeping babies, mind you, they’re harmless and funny looking. But when they wake up and I’m in charge of them, they cry. As long as they’re sleeping, though, then everyone is happy, until somebody finally pokes them with a stick or something to wake them, then the good times come to a screeching, sobbing end. So I drove out to the bookstore anyway, thinking that once we got there I’d ease her out of her seat and carry her in and then, if she awoke, at least she’d have colorful toys to taste. But once we got out east I just couldn’t bring myself to possibly wake her and I just kept driving. I drove all around neighborhoods out there and then I meandered back to Midtown where I made the mistake of going through a Burger King drive thru. That’s a mistake on several levels, but I was hungry and was more than willing to spend $30 in gas to keep this kid asleep. However, I looked in the mirror and saw her big, brown eyes looking at me in wonder at what it was I was requesting from that little box, and what she was going to get out of it.

We went home and she cried from eight until just after nine when Kristy got home, with only intermittent dozing when the exhaustion was too much. It’s not the crying, specifically, that gets to me, though it does get irritating. It’s more the fact that I can’t soothe her, that my kids cry because I’m not their mother. I’ve never been able to quiet any of The Quartet. And it’s not just the nursing, though that is certainly a big part of it, they just want to be held by her more than anyone, more than me. You’d think I’d be used to it after four kids and nine years of parenthood, but you never get used to your baby crying uncontrollably and the helpless feeling that comes with it.

Last night’s frustrations were still on my mind this morning when I got to work and realized that GK’s mood is easily attributed to her giddiness for the start of the Tour de France, which began today in London of all places. After a year of waiting, she just couldn’t control her excitement and anticipation and it manifested itself as deafening screeching and tears. With today’s time trials and the soothing voice of Phil Liggett, I’m sure she’s as calm and silent as only a true cycling fan in the arms of her mother can be.

Photos courtesy of Elizabeth.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Geoffrey Scheldenfeld

I knew this guy once named Geoffrey Scheldenfeld. Geoffrey’s situation was that at certain times, once he was holding an object, he would feel the urge to continue holding that thing for anywhere from two hours to four days. He never felt compelled to pick something up and carry it around, but rather, upon lifting something, whether it be the TV remote, a dirty glass, a briefcase or sack of potatoes, some part of his mind needed him to hold that thing for a while before setting it down. And once he set that thing down, it was squarely in the center of his kitchen table, where it would remain for anywhere from two to five days before he could then pick it back up and put it away in its proper place. He all but stopped buying produce at the grocery store but, if he did, he usually just left it in the bag on the kitchen counter if he was lucky enough to put it down immediately at all.

This made life awkward for Geoffrey, as you can imagine. He had to be very picky about what he lifted. He eventually refused all requests from friends to help move, not wanting to be caught in the awkward situation of holding a lamp or one end of a sofa for three days. When traveling, he usually asked the cab drivers and bellmen to carry his luggage as far as possible. He was never quarterback or receiver in our pick-up games of football and, when he finally, six years ago, got married, he had to wait a day and a half past the night he was planning to propose to hand the ring to his fiancée, and even then she had to get it herself from the center of his kitchen table.

The point is that we never know what we or our kids are going to be inflicted with, whether it’s depression or hives, left-handedness, some mild form of OCD causing your kid to ask what time it is every three minutes or something more severe like poor Geoffrey Scheldenfeld’s case. God forbid there should be blindness, deafness or something dire enough to send a child for a stay at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Kristy and I have been very lucky at our house and we realize this every day. Geoffrey Scheldenfeld is none of my kids, he is not me. What we do have is GK and something called Breath-Holding Spells. These spells hit her during fits of crying when she’s so upset that everything seems to stop for her, both the crying and the breathing. The internet assures us it is not harmful, certainly not fatal. The child will always begin breathing again on her own within a minute and the greatest concern seems to be that she will pass out, though only momentarily, and fall, so we have to watch that. She may also turn blue, though again, no great need for worry.

Breath-Holding Spells is just something else that you don’t prepare for as a parent. Who could? No parent wants to think of his one-year-old being so upset that all animation ceases for a few seconds. It’s a scary thing to watch, but something we just have to be ready for. It will go away, if it keeps up at all, within the next couple of years. Until then it’s just something that we and GK have to carry around with us. Like poor Geoffrey Scheldenfeld. Last time I saw Geoffrey he was getting off a trolley downtown to get some lunch. He was carrying a brand new toaster oven. That seems like a bad decision.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A Week Of Non-Blog

I guess I have things to say. After a week away from Urf! there seem to be people who want to know what we’re all up to. So I ask myself, What are we up to? Well, beginning with Tuesday of last week, we’ve welcomed someone new to our circle of friends, I saw the fourth installment of Die Hard, I jogged through the Evergreen neighborhood with StephChockleyblog, JP turned six, Pops turned … older than six, the country turned 231, I ran my best time ever in the Firecracker 5K, ate homemade mojito ice cream and nearly wiped out my whole family (except JP) with undercooked chicken, took The Quartet to see the Fantastic Four movie, began watching HBO’s Rome series, ate Mexican with friends and Italian with family, witnessed an iPhone, found it necessary to learn about breath-holding spells thanks to GK, began Michael Chabon’s new book, drank some wine, tried to counsel C on the proper way to light fireworks, pictured my own mother cringing as my 9-year-old lit the fuse on those fireworks, smoked a new cigar with Uncle Toby on his deck, made a little love, did a little dance, mistakenly introduced The Quartet to Hong Kong Phooey, had inappropriate conversations in front of in-laws from Michigan, listened to my first podcast, E-mailed Brooklyn Dan, cheered JP as he rode his new bike, read a friend’s newest short story, and planned a trip to Las Vegas next year with The Admiral. And, probably, a little more.

How to best sum up this week? I believe the young lady working the register at Buster's Liquor did so after the Firecracker 5K. I was wearing the T-shirt from the race and she pointed to it and said, "Is that from today?" "Yes it is," I answered, "I just ran it." She lowered her eyelids halfway and said, "That's awesome."

Awesome, indeed.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled program …