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


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.


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.