Category Archives: Blog

You can make me shave my legs on Father’s Day

shaving-legs
This could be me on Father’s Day.

I’m keeping it simple this year…If I raise, for my PMC ride, by Father’s Day

  • $3,500, I will shave my beard
  • $4,000, I will shave my head
  • $4,500, I will shave my legs

Donate today to make cancer history.
100 percent of your donation goes directly to cancer researchers, caregivers and patients.

Why would I do this?

  • Because cancer killed my father, and I have an overdeveloped sense of vengeance.
  • Because cancer killed my uncle.
  • I could go on, but I’m sure you have your own list…

And because it doesn’t have to be like this. Every year, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute develops new treatments and cures for a variety of cancers. It can’t do it without your donations.

Donations from the PMC provide over $40 million annually in unrestricted funds, allowing researchers to pursue treatments that government, insurance and pharmaceutical companies won’t. These treatments save lives.

Your donations save lives. Your donations cure cancer, like four-year-old Charlie’s leukemia.

 

Learning to float

Progress in parenting is a slow leak, not a flash flood. It seeps in, until it soaks the ceiling, then runs down inside the walls and eventually stretches out across the floor, buckling the floorboards. It doesn’t sweep through the front door, smashing windows, floating the coffee table up the stairwell in a swirling clutter of magazines, candles and remote controls.

This is what I’m learning. Slowly.

Mama and I took two parenting classes and I took the Orange Rhino’s no-yelling challenge (really, that’s what it’s called…google it…) and I was ready to be calm, cool and collected. And I was…for awhile. I would get past my instinct to raise my voice. I would find clever solutions. I would use techniques. I would congratulate myself. I would encourage Mama. But then…

A trait the kids get from my side of their DNA is being easily distracted. And, hey, I’ve got work, the yard, baseball practices, a daily commute, Facebook–plenty of touts and louts shouting at me from the sidelines as I try to just walk down this path in the woods. Hey, speaking of woods, did you hear that bird call?

See?

As I got more distracted, I stopped focusing on solutions and techniques and I started needing results. I need you to get in the car now. I need you to get in the bath. I need you to put down the iPad. While I wasn’t quite the Old Yeller that I had been, but the volume was definitely going up. But then a curious thing happened that I didn’t see coming and almost didn’t see when it happened.

3B has sat on more curbs than a stray dog, having been put out of the car for name calling, hitting and general obsreperousness. This has been the result of other methods, techniques and blinding frustration in the past. It’s always worked to stop the behavior–even if he kept calling names, at least it wasn’t in the car–but it never worked to control it. That’s because the only person who could control it is 3B himself, and we weren’t teaching him how to do that. Rather, we weren’t giving him the chance to figure it out himself.

But, in this last few weeks, I have sat along more roadsides than I can recall. Oh, I wasn’t on the curb–I was in the car, along with 3B and Jewel, who is now old enough to be just as mutinous as 3B, in her own way. While they were going at it hammer and tongs, I was flipping through Facebook on my phone, or scanning the news, or just listening to the radio, up loud. What I wasn’t doing was paying any more attention to the kids than I needed to determine that they were done squabbling.

They’re both smart. They figured it out. And nobody needed to unbuckle a seatbelt or navigate a car seat exit and re-entry.

It seems a small step, but it was huge to me because I wasn’t engaging them; I was letting them figure out the solution on their own. I was providing the nudge of motivation–the car won’t move until you’ve figured something out–but I wasn’t providing the fear, shame, anger that direct intervention, yelling and confrontation delivered previously. And then, yesterday, I found 3B lacing up his Wheelies while in his pajamas. I firmly told him that he had to be dressed before he went outside, and he argued with me–it’s just our neighborhood, it’s no big deal, etc. I repeated, firmly, but not yelling, that he had to be dressed before he went outside and then realized that his protests were just an angry reaction to being told what to do.

Hm. Not that I know what that’s like at all…

So, I turned around, went into the kitchen and washed dishes or read the paper or sipped some coffee. It was up to him to choose going outside in his pajamas or doing as I required. Either way, I was going to leave him to himself to work through his reaction to my demand. After all, I understand how he was feeling. He did come by that red hair honestly.

Half a minute later, he walked calmly upstairs and changed into his clothes–a process which took about an hour, involved some reading and some art and who knows what else–and then returned downstairs. He never did go out on his Wheelies, which shows me that the important part of the dispute wasn’t what he could or couldn’t do or what he did or didn’t have to wear–it was the dispute itself.

Once I removed that, we could both get on with our decisions and our daily lives.

Both of these seem small from the outside–So what? In both cases you did…nothing. Yes. And that’s a big change for me, but not one that came a’gullywasher. No, it came one drop at a time, slowly filling and flooding me, floating me away, grateful for the rising tide.

Adult swim: walking and falling

This weekend was a beautiful one to be at the pool, which was a good thing because 3B’s ears and eyes (infection and pink eye) were cleared to swim and he had his final dive meet. Mama also had her final volunteer stint during the meet, so Jewel and I went along…willingly, mind you.

After riding 27 miles on Saturday and nearly 50 on Sunday, I was ready for some cool exercise. Having both kids while Mama was at the judges’ table throughout the meet also meant that I’d have to exercise my mental cool as well. As always, however, I just dove into looking after both of them without any forethought.

Generally, it’s easy to keep my head above water while parenting at the pool. Jewel still needs all our attention when she’s in the water, even though her floatie is a PFD, but 3B is a strong swimmer, there are lifeguards everywhere, and so we keep him in sight, but aren’t constantly engaged with him. That reduces everyone’s stress levels. 3B likes to find friends and play with them around the pool, to the point that one day when I offered him a trip to the snack bar, he dissed me because he was talking to a friend.

Talk to the hand, dad.

On Sunday, though, I found him vigorously and what seemed to be angrily splashing two kids who weren’t having fun. I reacted immediately, bringing Jewel over with me, stepping in between 3B and them and telling him to stop. He turned on me, face full of anger, and started splashing me and the kids, which meant he was splashing Jewel, and I again reacted immediately. I told him to stop, that his behavior wasn’t acceptable and that if it continued, he would have to get out of the pool.

We stood there, face-to-face in the shallow end, for a long moment while he simmered and then started splashing at the kids and me again, trying to get around me. That was it.

I told him he had to get out of the pool, and then when he was out, I told him to go over to our towels and sit out the rest of kids’ swim, which was only about three minutes anyway. But then I realized a few things: his portion of the dive meet was starting in about three minutes, he was raging mad, and my “solution” wasn’t all that respectful.

I hadn’t asked why he was splashing them, what was going on, asked him what a solution could be, or showed him that I loved him, even if I don’t approve of what he was doing. I had also handed off to his dive coaches a grenade with the pin pulled. He would never explode on them, but he might just not be himself and not have fun, and long-term, he might stop diving.

So, I got Jewel out of the pool against her wishes, and went over, waved 3B off the team bench, gave him a hug, told him I loved him, had Jewel give him a high-five and sent him back into the lineup. Jewel and I returned to swimming, but even from across the pool, I could see that he was now more relaxed, more himself. He and the boy next to him got in a towel tug-of-war, wrestled, laughed, and generally did what you do when you’re on the bench, waiting to go up.

We waved to him as he was diving, but he was so wrapped up in the moment that he didn’t even see us, though he did blow a few kisses to Mama. So sweet.

At least we were waving, not drowning.

The rest of our time there was pretty uneventful, partly because I generally let the village raise 3B at the pool. If he goes far enough astray, someone splashes him back, or they simply leave and he learns the consequences of what he was doing. He also learns the consequences of being the nice kid I know him to be–when he’s playing nicely, he’s irresistibly charming–and kids like hanging out with him.

On the way out, however, there was something we disagreed on–I don’t even recall what it was, but he stopped and wouldn’t keep walking to the car. I reacted immediately…and then I remembered kicking him out of the pool and realizing that when he’s acting like that, what he needs most is to know that I still love him, even if I don’t approve of what he’s doing. Sending him away, or walking away from him to the car in this case, is the worst reaction. So, I took a deep breath, got down close to 3B, so we could talk quietly to each other, rubbed his chest–I learned everything I need to know about parenting from my dog–and calmly talked through it with him.

I heard what he had to say, made sure I understood it by repeating it back to him and reminded him that we needed to get to the car.

It took gritting my teeth and several deep breaths to not respond that second time as I did the first time, but that was more about me and my reaction than about what he was doing…and the results were so much better. We were happy and moved on. And I wasn’t lying–I do love him and we did need to move on–I just had to control my emotional reaction.

Turns out I should have paid more attention in parenting class, because this is what they said would happen.

Onward. Walking and falling…

A gift Dad will hate and love, with your help

I want the same thing every year: A voice on the other end of the phone line. A house to send a card to rather than a cemetery to send flowers to. An ugly tie or some ticky tacky electronics from Brookstone.

I want my Dad back.

Then again, I’ve got an overdeveloped sense of vengeance.

I’ve gotten through almost 30 Fathers’ Days without him, so I’ve gotten used to it, but I will always miss him. Dad would have been 86 this year, so there’s no guarantee that even if a brain tumor didn’t kill him when he was 57 he would still be alive, but I wish I could know rather than having to guess.

Some things I do know about him. He had brown eyes, like my brother and my son. He was left-handed, like me. He was bald. He didn’t like many vegetables, like brussel sprouts, so Mom never made them…for which I can’t thank him enough, really.

He also loved to be clean shaven. A story Mom told about him was that when she went into labor with her first baby, my oldest brother, she and Dad went to the hospital immediately. And waited. And waited. And waited.

By the time my brother arrived and my Dad could go back home–this was back when moms spent a week in the hospital after giving birth–it had been over a day and my Dad was disturbed–Mom’s word, not mine–that he had a day’s growth of beard. Disturbed enough that when Mom’s water broke for their second child, my oldest sister, the first thing Dad did was go into the bathroom, fill the sink with hot water and start shaving.

This is how I know that Dad would love seeing that you made me shave my beard. He’d laugh to know that I’m $5 from having to shave my head, so I’ll match him.

But he would probably hate to see me shave my legs. As Mom told me as I went through the androgynous 80s, sometimes sporting eyeliner and mascara to match my earrings–both ears, of course. Why do things in half measures? As Mom said, Dad really disliked femininity in men. From what I could gather, he didn’t hate the men, just wished they wouldn’t take on feminine characteristics.

On the other hand, Dad loved all of his kids, so I’m pretty sure he would have loved to meet and play with 3B and Jewel. Throw a ball. Ride a bike. Take them for a sail in his boat.

It makes me cry just to write that.

And so, if shaving my legs means that cancer will be cured sooner, means that a Dad could meet his grandkids, means that a baby could see his brown eyes reflected in his grandfather’s own brown eyes, Dad would be all for it.

After all, wherever he is, he’d love to get a phone call from me too, even if only to talk to his grandkids. He’d much rather get a card scrawled all over with markers than flowers on his grave. While it’s too late for him, we can stop this same fate befalling other dads and their kids by fighting cancer in any way we can.

That would be a gift my dad would love to get almost as an ugly tie, and you can give it to him.

Support my ride to make cancer history and you’ll make more Fathers’ Days possible.

Donate today.

Happiness is a cool head

I’ve got enough triggers, I could be a gun show.

Clutter? Bang.

Spills? Bang.

Anything lost…keys, phone, lovey, sippy cup? Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.

As part of the 30-day no yelling pledge that I’m working my way through, we’re identifying triggers that set off yelling. We do that by watching ourselves to see what causes that sudden rise in blood pressure, clenched jaw, tense neck and the urge to yell–which is hopefully averted for the next 30 days, at least.

I learned that kids living with me must feel like they’re walking through the FBI firing range because, seriously, what kid doesn’t leave clutter around?

What kid doesn’t spill…everything?

And how does anybody keep track of anything, especially small, important things like keys and phones with two curious cats with thumbs whirling through the house?

For as many times as I told myself that I just had to raise my voice because, ohmygawdclutter! or ohmygawdspill! or ohmygawd…everything! this look at myself shows me clearly that my raised voice not only isn’t instinct, it’s a choice, but also it isn’t going to change anything. The only thing I can change is my volume, and when I do that, sometimes I can even hear a solution rather than a storm brewing.

Yesterday my bus was late and so Mama and the kids were driving by my stop, headed to dive practice, as I stepped off. I got in the car because nothing’s more pleasant than an afternoon at the pool in a suit and tie…hello, Mr. Nixon, we have your beach right over here…but really because I love going to the pool with the family and seeing everyone from the neighborhood there. 3B’s friend Hermione was headed to her first day of dive team, having just decided to join, and seeing me walking, her mom pulled over so they could say hello and offer me a ride to the pool.

(No, I haven’t dropped my privacy policy here and used her real name. 3B describes her this way, “She wears glasses. Her hair is the same color as mine, and it’s round, like Hermione’s, but more round that Hermione’s.” Round=bushy. We’re half convinced that he likes her because she looks like Hermione, but there’s also her pink NASA t-shirt and room decorated by and for a future space traveler, so it’s not like they have nothing in common. Anyway, she’s lots of fun, as are her parents, so it’s nice that she joined the dive team.)

I explained that Mama was waiting just up the block and that we’d see her soon and off we all went to the pool, only to discover that Jewel didn’t have her floatie, without which she doesn’t like to swim. It might have been in the trunk of the car still, or maybe at home…who knows? It was lost.

And, you know what? Jewel was a little disappointed, but she wasn’t surprised or mad because this is her normal. Kids lose shit all the time. They probably don’t even consider things lost–they’re just here or not-here. Usually things that are not-here eventually become here again or not, at which point they become never-were and the world keeps turning because, look! A new stick covered in mud!

So we looked in the car, and when we didn’t find her floatie there, we decided to go home and get it. Jewel pointed out immediately that this meant I could put on my swimsuit and “go in the whole pool,” which means get all the way in the pool to play with her. She also took the opportunity to grab a yogurt drink while we were home, which reminded me that hunger is another trigger for me, so I grabbed a banana, and we both returned happy and ready to go…only to have the lifeguard blow the whistle for adult swim while we were still on the steps going into the big pool.

We were out of time, all because her floatie was lost. If only someone had kept track of it, then this wouldn’t have…hey, look, let’s go over to the kiddie pool! That’s exactly what we did, and if we weren’t keeping our cool before, the liquid nitrogen that they apparently fill the kiddie pool with sure chilled us out fast.

It wasn’t just because of the water temperature that I left the pool feeling cool. Too chilled to pull the trigger and shoot off my mouth. It’s not that the afternoon hadn’t been chaotic and unexpected and messy…it’s that I had successfully dodged those bullets…er, triggers…and I found myself feeling calm, ready for the next storm that was sure to break.

Wait–someone broke something?!

What the–?!

Remains of the weekend

Photo blog I’m going to start: Shit my cats fucked up. Highlights will include shredded wall-to-wall carpet. A glass vase spilled on the laminate floor, causing it to warp and buckle. My ties.

====

Mama had to work the entire weekend, which means that I was on full-time solo parenting duty, so she and I were both fish out of water all weekend. It also means that my no yelling pledge was put to the test, but I enlisted help–the kids themselves–and it worked. There were two perilous moments…wait, three. One came when we hadn’t even backed out of the driveway and 3B had already started with the “stupid” and “idiot” and so forth. The other was after a long day driving around running errands in the car ride home when we were all pretty tired. And the third was really an extension of that, after we got home.

The upshot is that I got out of the car, stopped the car on the side of the road and read news on my iPhone while they realized and settled down, and retreated upstairs for a long moment while Mama mercifully took a break from her work and took on the kids, who were beyond done by then.

And I did not yell.

====

3B had his first dive meet, which was at another pool, and found a way through his fear and nervousness, which expressed themselves as rage, so…good times, there…to perform all three of his dives. For those scoring at home, that’s front jump, back jump and front dive. I thought that we were surely headed out the moment he was done with that, but it turns out that I had to tie the kids to the bumper of the car to drag them out of there.

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Jewel would have spent the night in their lovely shallow end, if I’d let her, despite the water being about three-tenths of a degree above freezing. Fortunately for me, who had to play ring-around-the-rosie-pockets-going-to-be-full-of-Papa’s-barf-if-we-don’t-stop-spinning for about 73 straight hours, it was a muggy day, so the water was refreshing. That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking with it. No telling what my story would have been if the water had gone over the bottom of my swim suit.

3B spent the rest of his day playing Jailbreak on the volleyball court and hanging out on the monkey bars. I’m sure that all went well, based on his reaction, but I had to stay with the Jewel of the pool, so I can only take 3B’s word for it.

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We did get out of there in time to make it back to our pool, which the kids were also happy to play at. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that they would have stayed at the other pool all day, once they got settled in. I’d also be lying if I didn’t say that candy might have lured them to the car. And because all good lies come in threes, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was hoping we made it to our pool before the free beer–only on Sundays–ran out.

By the time we got there, not only was Mama done with work, but also she’d put together our patio furniture, so we got to eat dinner al fresco after we got home from the pool…er…pools.

====

After spending the day teleworking yesterday so I could go to 3B’s end-of-the-year class picnic, which we had in his room, since, you know, thunderstorms, flash floods, tornadoes, I may never work from home again.

It’s demoralizing to see that the cats spend a combined 53 hours every day sleeping, the kids get to play before going to school for 45 minutes, then come home to play some more before going to the pool to play even more.

And to not be able to partake in any of that.

Far better for my sanity to go to work and believe that everyone else is also in a windowless stone cell two stories underground.

====

Another blog I might start is shit I fucked up, though the pictures wouldn’t be as good as on the cat’s version, and I can’t decide if it would be redundant with this blog.

To telework on Monday, I only needed to do one thing: bring my computer home on Friday. So, of course, I forgot to. This meant I had to drag the kids into DC on a muggy weekend day to retrieve it. As I said, they were so psyched for this, that they started fighting before we even left the driveway.

But they really did an amazing job everywhere we went. First we had to stop at MicroCenter, where the service desk generally looks efficient and fast, unless you have two bored kids with you who need to pee or poop or both every time your name gets to the top of the queue.

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I swear there’s a circuit in their electronic customer queuing system that triggers my kids’ bowels when they call my name. Fortunately, the folks there held my place in line and got me in and out as quickly as could be hoped for on a Saturday morning. Unfortunately, they did so after processing only one of our failed hard drives for data recovery, so I have to repeat the process. Let’s hope the third time is the charm.

Then we had a lovely lunch at Panera and a fine drive into DC, despite a tree crashing down onto two cars just in front of us. We didn’t see it happen, but came upon it as everyone was getting out of their cars and confirming they were OK. A moment later the Park Police arrived and all of us who had gotten out to assist got back in our cars and were on our way.

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Although I’d bribed the kids with a visit to the U.S. Botanic Garden, we ended up going to an amazing playground instead–twice.

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Once to get our ya-yas out, which was long enough for them to need to get something else out, for which we went to my office.

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While we were there we got my computer, drew some pictures, got some water, went to the bathroom again, because once is never enough.

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Then it was back to the playground, although most of the kids had, sadly, left. After that, we were all ready to go home to see Mama, which we did, with the aforementioned stop on the side of the road for 3B and Jewel to settle their quarrel in the backseat.

So, there’s something I didn’t fuck up. Of course, I didn’t fix it either–3B and Jewel did that on their own.

Perhaps they’d like to learn how to patch wall-to-wall carpet now…

Everything I need to know about parenting, I learned from my dog

My last two posts probably make it seem like all I do is yell at 3B and Jewel, like that one guy you know on Facebook who can’t seem to turn off all caps and comments on everything you post.

Oh wait, that’s me too.

Damn.

Anyway, it’s not that I spend all day yelling, or even most of the day, or even much of the day. I might yell two or three times a day, but it doesn’t matter how often it happens because even when I’m not yelling, it shapes our conversations and actions. I know, because the kids are scared of it–I can see it in their faces when I yell.

I’m not proud of that. In fact, I’m deeply ashamed of it.

And it makes them angry, and they hate being angry, because now everything is out of control–Dad, them, the world. That’s not a comfortable place to live in, so they avoid it at all costs. So do I, but they’re better at it than I am. And so it shapes what we do and say. We avoid those things that might set me off. We stick to those things we know won’t…except we never know, because I’m not so good at controlling myself, so nothing is wholly safe. That’s not a comfortable place to live in either.

What I really want is for them to stop what’s annoying, and for that to happen, they have to be able to hear me explain why it’s annoying and then what they can do to stop. But as soon as I yell, we all stop listening. And thinking. That’s why I can’t remember many specific instances of yelling–because I shut off my human brain and revert to my lizard brain. If that’s where my head is, what can I possibly learn?

Nothing. And neither can the kids, because they’re back in their lizard brain too, all fight-or-flight.

I do remember some circumstances…you know, every time 3B calls his sister “stupid” or “idiot” or taps her on the top of her head, it’s like he’s hammering a hat pin into my ear. It. Makes. Me. Crazy.

He knows it’s not right. He knows it bugs her. He KNOWS it bugs us. He HAS BEEN TOLD 1,000 TIMES not to do that. I JUST TOLD HIM!

And there we are, in all caps.

That’s how it goes…and then we all go a little crazy for awhile, but he does have my undivided attention. And I hate to compare my kids to dogs, but I learned this lesson from Barky: if he can’t get good attention from me, he’ll take bad attention, just to get some attention. I also learned from Barky that yelling doesn’t work. Brushing him worked. Playing with him worked. Taking him for walks worked.

Partly those work because a tired dog is a happy dog, and partly those work because they mostly require taking him outside, and he was always happier outside. He was a better him outside. So am I, for that matter–no, I’m not a better dog, I’m a better me outside. And the kids are their better selves when they’re outside–and for hours afterward.

That’s just one of the reasons that I love the advice from our parenting class: when they start fighting, tell them they can continue, but that they have to take it outside. (And suddenly we’re running a pub…you wanna come outside and say that, pal?) Good advice for me too. Maybe instead of yelling into the toilet, I should take it out back…might help get rid of that pesky raccoon, though it might drive off some neighbors too.

That gets to the biggest lesson that I learned from Barky: he didn’t need training; I did. He was being a perfectly reasonable dog (OK, I still question if the butt licking was reasonable…but other than that…), I was responding to him unreasonably. The same is true for my kids (more so, since they don’t lick their butts…).

They’re perfectly reasonable kids–and you know what? even if they aren’t, what gives me the right to scare the bejeebus out of them? Especially when it doesn’t even get me what I want? But, really, they are reasonable; I just don’t understand their reasons. I need to stop yelling and start asking so we can all start talking.

In lowercase.

i’m gonna be
the kid
whisperer,
the
e.e.
freakin’
cummings
of
parenting.

Defragging my brain

I blame the jets that took us to the other Washington and back for my lag this week. It can’t be that I’m getting older and that riding 125+ miles a week on my bike to train for the PMC is making me tired. That would mean that I’m getting older and that I’ll be, like, 45 this year.

Forty-five? Holy crap. If I’m going to grow up to become a buddhist monk, astronaut, star first baseman, rock star or Tour de France winner, I’d better get started now.

I know, I know, I could have dropped everything from “to become” through “Tour de France winner.”

The jets are also surely to blame for my inability to string two thoughts together on the same thread of mental floss. We’re all a bit tired and disjointed, except the cats, who didn’t go anywhere, except upstairs to shred our brand new wall-to-wall carpet down to the wood subfloor. I might start a new Tumblr entitled Shit my cats fucked up, but given their current pace, I’m not sure I’d have enough time to keep up with all of their felonies.

Speaking of speaking bad words, we had just returned when a neighbor boy asked 3B over to play, which is pretty much 3B’s dream, only this ended as a nightmare.

I was outside, as I had been all day, trying to get the yard presentable after a week away, and made a point to work in the front yard once 3B and Jewel went down the street to play, so I could be in earshot. I gave a wave to the neighbor kid’s dad, so he knew I was there, and went back to watering, weeding and wondering what day it was.

About 20 minutes later, 3B comes tearing up the cul-de-sac on his scooter, clearly distraught, with the neighbor dad hot on his heels, running after him. The dad gets up onto our driveway as I’m gathering a now-sobbing 3B into my arms and hollers to me, “I don’t want him playing with my kids again! He just used the f-word twice, spelled it out, for all those kids down there. I gave him two warnings and he did it again, and I don’t want him playing with my kids again!”

I said, OK, apologized, and said that I’d talk to 3B and went inside to find 3B who had stormed into the house and up to his room by now–not without shouting that the dad was an idiot and so stupid and so forth as he went.

Maybe it was the jet lag that delayed my fight-or-flight reaction, but somehow I managed to stay calm with both the other dad and 3B, although I wasn’t as empathetic as I could have been with 3B. I mean, how freaking terrifying to have someone who’s two feet taller and over 100 pounds heavier than you chasing you up to the door of your house and yell at your father? Does the cause really matter?

And seriously, dude, if this is the way you react every time your kids learn a bad word, you’d better start on the blood pressure medicine now. And, by the way, neither of our kids knew any of these words until we moved to our new neighborhood, which is where this other dad grew up, so I’m not sure who this vocabulary reflects on more.

Looking back on it now, my guess is that what really chapped the dad’s hide is that 3B wasn’t obedient, that he didn’t just do what the dad told him to do. My guess is that 3B told him there are no bad words–which is what I’ve said to 3B, although with the caveat that there are some words we don’t say in public because they upset people. I guess 3B has learned that lesson now.

As 3B calmed himself down and we talked a little bit about what happened, he insisted that he hadn’t said it twice, that he had only spelled it and that the dad taunted him. “Taunted” is the exact word 3B used. I asked 3B what the dad said to taunt him and he said that the dad said, “Go ahead–say it again!”

That’s the damn thing about six-year-olds, especially verbal six-year-olds who don’t forget a thing: they will repeat verbatim what you say. I know, because 3B has done it to me too many times to recount here, and so I had to agree with him that the dad was taunting him. Yeah, because that’s an effective teaching and discipline method. Now, to be fair, I’m sticking up here for my son because that’s my job, but I’ll freely admit that 3B might have learned about taunting from me, so I’m not a perfect parent either, but I damn well try to be the best parent I can be with other parents’ kids.

And perhaps the dad doesn’t let his kids respond the way 3B did, by standing his ground and sticking up for himself when he’s being taunted, and so maybe that’s what he reacted to with his furious chase, but that’s not how we’re raising our kids. We’re going to raise them to be strong, courageous, independent and to think for themselves. And yes, we will keep working on when it’s OK to use dirty words.

And now we’re going to be teaching them about how some adults react to kids who act like adults and how to deal with that. I’m also going to remember to congratulate 3B for getting the hell out of Dodge when an adult was threatening him, verbally or physically. I’ll also be holding this lesson close to my heart every time I struggle to contain my anger with 3B or Jewel: my inability to deal calmly with a situation isn’t their problem, it’s mine, and I need to keep that shit to myself.

If they can act like adults, I need to as well.

Epilogue:
Although I told 3B that I’d have to apologize to the other dad, I still haven’t, and I don’t believe I will. The more I’ve learned, the less I see that there is to apologize for. This might seem an extreme position to take with a neighbor, but they’re moving to another state within weeks.

We will see them again, because they’re actually staying with the dad’s parents while their new house is built, so I’m sure they’ll be around for holidays and family visits. But, they won’t be around every day to confront 3B.

Which is good. I’m not sure I believe either of our kids are safe around that dad…which is another reminder about my own temper. If it’s not safe for them to be around someone else who gets that out-of-control angry, it’s not safe for them to be around me if I do.

As the man said, it’s only a tragedy if we don’t learn something from it.

We only feed calm rabbits

Jewel: Mom, sometimes when you talk, it’s hard for me to hear myself think.

You know, I have that same problem when I talk. And it gets worse when I write. Or take pictures. Or record video.

I remember learning how someone observed that when we observe something, we change that thing just by observing it. I suppose that might mean that, because they observed that phenomena, they changed it, and it might no longer be true…

Hm…

But let’s just proceed as if it were still true…so where was I? Right. See, it happened right there–as I was writing, I couldn’t hear myself thinking over the sound of the words glowing on the screen.

Man, how is this blog post ever going to get started? OK, I’m going to Kerouac it…see you on the other side of the stream of my consciousness…better jump in with me, since you can never enter the same one twice.

As you know, we recently lost and then (maybe) found all of our videos–the kids’ first steps, words, meals, everything that we had committed to the magnetic memory of our computer’s hard drives. In that moment of free fall, where the bottom of my mind fell away from me, down into my gut, where it cut a hole in my belly and slid out, draining me–in that moment, when it seemed that I’d never see those moments again, I felt like I could never know them again either.

I realized that as I’d been banking these videos, I’d been counting them up like coins. I’d been thinking to myself that even if I couldn’t or didn’t remember what those first words were, or what they sounded like, or how far each kid walked in those first steps, I could always go back to the digital bank and count on my magnetic memories. And, because I had such faith in that, sometimes I had paid more attention to getting a good picture or footage than to what I was seeing.

I’ve known about this for some time. When I used to have time to–lord, where did the time ever go since we had kids and got real jobs and bought a house with a yard and a garden? go hiking, I knew that if I took my camera, I would only see the woods and world around me in frames. I couldn’t separate the vast vistas of the Continental Divide or the creosote covered desert plains from the format of the film frame. Yes, film. I am that old. But, even later, the digital frame would divide me from the world I walked in, so I would often leave my camera at home, so that I could better see and be where I was.

When I wanted to take some picture, then I would take my camera for a walk to do just that, and not worry about seeing the forest, having come to focus on the trees.

But, when it came to the kids, I was in a new world and I couldn’t separate the forest and the trees. I couldn’t separate the pictures and the videos I would capture from what I could see. Just as when I first ventured into the wild, I thought, “I’ve got to get this. I’ve got to catch this moment, this look, this light. It’s never going to happen again.”

And it never did happen again.

Depending on which lens I look at that sentence from, it either focuses my resolve to capture more photos, more video–how about a GoPro in the corner of the room, capturing all of our moves all day long?–or it goes black and reflects my eye back into itself and I see that seeing is nothing compared to knowing. Seeing is just one way to apprehend a scene, and when sight is combined with the sounds, the touch of a child who can come close without losing focus, the smell…

Yes, even the smell, even when they were in diapers.

Because it was a brave new world, full of firsts and onlys and because I was greedy–I didn’t want to lose a moment to my faulty memory–I kept trying to take more and more. I took more photos, more video and, yes, I wrote more blog posts. I wrote about bon mots from the mouths of babes, great accomplishments like eating solid food and the heartbreak of leaving those scenes every morning to go to work. But, in writing about them, I cast them in (digital) cement. As they hardened, became concrete, they lost detail. Their fine points became rough. Their singularities became bonded into aggregates as I brought moments together to tell a story.

I was never dishonest. If I couldn’t remember the exact words said, I wouldn’t write them down. But in picking minutes and moments out of days, I was editing the kids’ lives–and mine–to fit the frame of the page. And doing that meant clipping out all the in between parts–you know, the parts that hold those moments together in the form of a life. I was focusing on the muscles and bones, but ignoring the tendons and ligaments that hold them together, that allow them to flex, work, get up and walk around.

As I sat on our living room carpet, drained of my mind, I saw more clearly than ever that what I needed wasn’t more videos and photos, what I needed was more focus. Rather than cutting up the bodies of our lives into bits and bytes, and frames and scenes I need to embrace them wholly, hold them in my hands, hug them to my heart. Rather than thinking about how great this moment would look, or who would read it or comment on it or like it, I needed to live it.

I needed to stop recording and start remembering. As Jewel said, I needed to stop talking, so I could hear myself think.

 

epilogue:

Jewel and I were watching a rabbit nibble on grass and hop across our back yard when Jewel said, “Rabbits like to eat carrots.”

“Yes, they do,” I replied. And then, because I can’t stop myself from saying what I’m sure she already knows, “But we never feed wild rabbits.” And then I paused, as I was trying to figure out how to explain the difference between wild and domesticated rabbits.

But, of course, Jewel already knew the answer, “No. We only feed calm rabbits.”

I’ve been waiting 8 months for this

I was thinking of you, of how I’m double-dog daring you when it finally happened last night, in the family room. On the TV the Yankees were beating the Orioles. Upstairs, Jewel was asleep and 3B was reading Harry Potter by his nightlight. Outside, the crescent moon shone dimly through the slowly gathering clouds.

I was breaking a sweat, breathing heavy and finally feeling it. When I started off, I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. My rhythm wasn’t just off–it just wasn’t there at all.

But now everything was smooth. I was in the groove, and it felt like I was flying.

Yes, for once a training ride on my bike trainer felt good. It makes some sense that it’s taken so long this year, I suppose. Most years I ride through the winter, commuting to work, but now that we’ve moved out to (almost) horse country, I’m too far away to ride my bike in. And with the buying a new place, moving, selling the old place and settling in, I just haven’t gotten into a steady training routine, which is worrying.

I know that for most of you August seems months away, which is maybe why you don’t take my double-dog dare seriously, but for me, since I have signed up to ride 200 miles on the first weekend of August, it’s really right around the corner. If I’m not on my bike now, my legs will snap off in the PMC. But the problem I’ve been having is that I can’t seem to stand more than about 20 minutes on my trainer, which will put a real crimp in my training, since I plan to do most of it on my trainer.

If I were more attentive or knew more about fitness, I suppose I could figure out why, but since I’m not, I’m left like a nervous batter to rely on my superstition that whatever I did before I came to bat that one time is what caused the home run. And if that means making every weekend like this one, that would be a huge win too.

We spent most of it outside, which is one of the happiest changes from life in our condo. Even before the weekend started, Jewel was out with Mama, exploring our cul-de-sac. Will she…?

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Of course she will…even without a double-dog dare…

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We spent a lot of time moving dirt around. First we had to buy some dirt…

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(and then some more the next day). Then we had to get the dirt from the car to the farthest corner of the backyard, mix it up and drop it into the beds I built for it. If you’re ever wondering what I do for cross training, this is my gym…

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Before we even filled some of our planters, we had grown an amazing crop…

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And everyone pitched in. 3B helped mix and load several batches of dirt. Jewel and he both helped mix the dirt in the beds and level them. Both of them also planted a row of sugar snap peas along the fence. Mama did all of that and weeded, tilled and planted several beds with flowers and other plants.

And we even had time for a high flying birthday party along the way.

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Now we just have to wait and remember to water…and get those veggies planted real soon now.

And while we’re waiting and watering, I’ll be wondering about you. Wondering why you haven’t taken me up on my double-dog dare. It’s out there, just waiting for you. Taunting you.

And if you think that you’ve already done your part, you should know that there’s still a long way to go, so maybe it’s time to tell a friend. Because it’s possible to reach all the goals I laid out…

  • making my mother happy
  • embarrassing me
  • making cancer history

It’s simple and easy to do, but no one of us will do it alone. It takes all of us, together. It takes you, doing it today.

C’mon, take my double-dog dare and donate today.

When else are you going to be able to say, “In three minutes, I made cancer history and made my friend shave his legs”?