Category Archives: Jewel

Fatherhood: push it

Jewel had her birthday party this weekend, with a teddy bear theme. We held it at our house and, thanks to Mama’s diligent planning well in advance, it was a great success. We had a few activities for the kids and they spent the rest of their time roaming the backyard, bouncing on the trampoline, swinging on the swings and picking tomatoes in the garden.

This was after a morning of mini-meltdowns from Jewel–nobody will like those activities, nobody will have fun, 3B will ruin my party. 3B joined in with salty cursing and general grumpiness followed by breakfast and screen time. By the time the party started, what with all of the preparations Mama and I had to make, we were wrung out. Nothing we did was rocket science–hence no rocket–but there were lots of little things to keep track of and complete.

So, after the party–at which Mama and I had a splendid time as well, visiting with friends and watching the kids play–we all took a little bit of down time and then took the dog for a walk. Snowy had been crated during the party, for everyone’s sanity and her safety–what looks like a tasty bowl of grapes to you looks the same to her, but is actually a bowl of toxic death to her.

Even though we’d let her run around the backyard and played with her after everyone left, Snowy needed a walk. And, despite playing all day with their friends, 3B and Jewel could use one too.

3B led most of the way on his bike while Jewel followed closer behind than ever on his old bike, which I just put training wheels on. Previously she was on a bike that was too small and didn’t run as well, so she had a hard time keeping up with even a scooter. Now, however, you better let her take a turn in the paceline.

But, she still did tire out on the long hill back home, and so I pushed her. As I did, I pulled out my iPhone and played Push It, which actually gave her a lift and got her to pedal harder for a little ways.

As Mama and Snowy caught up to us, Mama said, “Nice music.” But Jewel liked it enough that I played it again when we got home. Or maybe I was just reliving my college days for a moment.

Either way, I’d forgotten that 3B learns a song the first time he hears it and never forgets it–hence his picking out Ode to Joy and Yankee Doodle Dandy on the piano earlier this week. So, for the rest of the night, we were all serenaded by an eight-year-old whistling Push It as he curled up in an armchair reading about Star Wars.

Yo, pick up on this, indeed.

It’s too late to save me

Carefully aiming the electric knife around my eye, the dermatologist slowly sliced away another growth from my face.

“Most people wouldn’t tolerate that like you did. Redheads have a higher pain threshold than most other people,” he said, when he was finally done with the knife and the can full of liquid nitrogen that he’d used to freeze off the other growths he’d found.

Jewel had accompanied me to this appointment, and the doctor turned to her. “So your daughter here and your son will have that too.”

Skin full of cells that are more likely to become cancerous, even in the total absence of exposure to sun, is their other inheritance from me. That trait was exposed recently by research into the causes of skin cancer, and knowing it could save their lives.

It could save my kids from the knife around their eye, at least.

My skin is already beyond its lifetime limit for exposure to sun, according to the dermatologist, so I go in every six months so he can lay into my face, arms, legs and any other place where my skin has turned on me and is now attacking me rather than protecting me. To be fair, I failed to protect my skin for about 40 years, allowing the sun to beat on it every day–but I didn’t know that would kill it.

Maybe my skin doesn’t know that what it’s doing will kill me.

But I do. And I know that 3B’s and Jewel’s skin, even if they lived out their days in a lightless cave, is likely to turn on them too. It’s too late for me, but maybe by the time this happens to them, there will be a treatment, a vaccine, a cure.

That’s why I ride–to save my kids.

Even with my higher tolerance for pain, I couldn’t bear to see them under the knife or worse. I’ll do whatever it takes to save them, as any parent would. Part of that is simply insisting on sunscreen, hats and protective clothing when they’re out in the sun, just as I wear a hat on every sunny day when I remember–I am an old dog, after all.

I’ll also continue to work for more research for prevention methods, treatments and a cure and I’d love your support. Please donate today.

And if you don’t think cancer can be cured, you haven’t met Charlie.

Hands free parenting

When you absolutely, positively have to get to the hospital…
(Not our car. We walked past this one on the way to the doctor’s office.)

Mama was in the office, so I was on daddy duty yesterday, shepherding the kids to doctor’s appointments and caring for Jewel, who survived the tornado of a 48-hour virus only to come down with a cold. 3B has it too, but Jewel seems to have gotten the worst of it, though she’s been cheerful through it and even taught herself to use the belly of her shirt to wipe her nose when there are no tissues.

I’m so proud.

What made me truly proud yesterday was how 3B, when Jewel had been shattered by shots in each arm at the doctor’s office, did everything in his power to comfort her. Ignoring her screaming, crying and anger, any of which usually upset him, he waded right into it, trying to distract her, offering her toys and comforts. And he stuck with it. She didn’t melt like butter, but lit up like lava, burning everything she came into contact everywhere she went, from the exam room to the car. 3B, however, was undaunted, cheerful and persistent.

I was so impressed with his efforts.

He showed that he not only cares deeply about his sister, but also is always watching her–otherwise, how would he know immediately what to offer her to calm her? How to talk to her to soothe her and not set her off? How would he know that he has to stick with her through it?

As for her, if I were sick and someone slid two slivers of steel under my skin to pump in a stinging solution, I’d scream at them too. I’d need to be held back too. And I probably wouldn’t be bought off with a princess sticker on the way out the door, so kudos to her for her quick recovery, even if the screaming didn’t really end with that sticker.

What ended it was a trip to Starbucks. Yeah, you heard me. Did I stutter? Starbucks, because I am the baddest motherdaddy in this here town. Actually, I don’t even know how we got there. Someone suggested that we get a black-and-white cookie (to protect the innocent, I won’t even use 3B’s initials here…oh, wait…) and Irish coffee sounded good, and we were going to get 3B back to school right in the middle of lunch and, oh hell, why am I explaining to you?

I told Jewel that we couldn’t go into Starbucks if she was going to disrupt the other people there. She was done with the real crying long before we got there, anyway, so I don’t feel like I was repressing her–though her therapist will be the final judge of that, I suppose. And we did disrupt everyone there anyway. I don’t know if it was a dad being left alone with two kids or just kids in the middle of the school day–shut up, stick that pinkie finger out and sip your goddamned poopacino–but everyone turned their head about 12 times while we were in there to stare at us.

And then it was over, 3B was back in school, Jewel and I did what we needed to and could in the short time left before school ended. As soon as it did, we had to meet the fridge repairman at home–the icemaker works again, so bring your vermouth and olives over anytime–race on our scooters to meet 3B, race back home, race to the playground, and then relax through a playdate until things got…testy.

Before we all got a little tired, hungry and done, the playdate reminded me that sometimes the best response is to just laugh.


Mostly that reminder came from 3B’s friend, who seems to be forever cheerful. I bet I could get it from my kids, if I just shut up and listened once in awhile.


There was more, and there will be pictures somewhere (I’m guessing over here), but those are the highlights of what was my hardest workday all week. It was the hardest and easiest. It was the longest and the shortest. It was a time of trials, transgressions and redemption.

It might have been that way because it was largely a hands-free day, meaning that I didn’t have one hand on my phone all day–except when I was texting with Mama to remind her that in offices, people don’t wipe their noses on their shirts. That relaxed me and allowed me to focus on where I was, what was next and who I was with. And to use both hands to get my shirt up to my nose to wipe it.

My kids were so proud.


Escaping ennui

I made it through Back to School night without being sent to the principal’s office. Not that I was ever sent when I was in school…like Johnny Cash, I walked the line, but managed to never trip over it. Other than my daydreaming, my teachers’ only complaint was that I talked in class. A lot.

In third grade, our desks were in a U-shaped layout and my teacher told Mom that I was constantly talking to my friend. I was Mom’s sixth rodeo, so she said, “Well, why don’t you move him?” The teacher pointed at one corner of the classroom, where the tip of the U was. “I did. He sits there,” she said. Then she pointed at the opposite corner, where the bottom of the U was, “And his friend sits there. They just talk across the classroom.”

I recall that when that didn’t work, we would hang signs off our desks to communicate. If we could have gotten our hands on carrier pigeons, we would have each converted our desks into roosts.

So I wasn’t terribly surprised to find that 3B’s desk had been moved to the front and center of the class. Or that it was moved again the next day. I wish his teacher hadn’t told him that she was moving it because he didn’t get his work done, or that she understood that he almost has to talk to get his work done. As he astutely observed, “I was talking and working.”

Talking helps him work faster, actually. And he’s never been the fastest school worker, so his teacher might want to employ every advantage she can. And maybe that’s what she’s doing–putting him with kids who also talk and who don’t consider it a distraction. But from the sound of how she introduced it–and the lesson he learned from it–that’s not what she’s doing.

Perhaps I’m oversimplifying, but it seems to me that this is an example–like the lack of adequate recess–of the school being designed against boys rather than for them.

Whatever. As long as he keeps learning about non-linear causality in the space-time continuum through graphic novels, I’m not too worried.

We’ll see if my opinion on school design changes when Jewel gets to school. Right now she’s happy in preschool, though she’ll never admit that to us. We’re not sure how much she’s absorbing since she recently told us that a synagogue is and animal and Yom Kippur is a person, but being happy is a good start.

And, for Jewel, definitions and words are much like cause and effect in space-time: non-linear, flexible and not handcuffed to each other. Why not? Language is a virus from outer space, after all.

What’s most important to me is that in the last week, she’s decided that I’m worth spending time with again, after relegating me to a purgatory of preschooler ennui–good enough to open car doors and fasten seatbelts, but not acceptable for skilled labor, such as meal preparation, story reading or the dressing of Polly Pockets.

Holy crap. It just dawned on me…I had become Jewel’s valet, with a hard “t”. That’s it–no more Downton Abbey for her. Off with her PBS!

Just yesterday she called and left the sweetest voicemail for me when she awoke and found me gone–as I am every morning. Somehow, now she needed to tell me she missed me. Maybe it’s the turning of the seasons, maybe she’s buttering me up for a bigger allowance or maybe her 78th viewing of the Little Mermaid convinced her that fathers do have some function beyond imposing autocracy that might be of some value.

Who cares? Not this guy.

I love chatting with Jewel. Her mind is full of the most amazing thoughts and visions and words, all of which she’ll share in a fashion that makes me believe she reads On the Road under the covers after we tuck her in. An endless scroll of words spools out from her as narrates, dictates and bloviates her way through her day. Hearing her reminds me of the days when I had to move my seat every week and had daydreams.

Nice smock, Papa


As soon as we flew back from Grammy’s, we jumped into the school year, with both kids having new teachers and classes. Jewel said she hated it, didn’t want to go, didn’t like her teachers and didn’t know the names of any other kids in class. All of that would be sad and worrying if her school didn’t, like every preschool these days, share a weekly review of pictures, which lets us see that she’s happy there.


3B has a half-dozen kids from last year in this year’s class, and three or four of them are on his baseball team, all of which has helped his transition this year. In addition, his new best friend from third grade is also on his team. They met at the pool this summer and have become inseparable. School for 3B seems more of the same too–less homework than we had at our old condo school, with an emphasis on reading every night. His assignment in week one was to read 15 minutes every night. His reaction was, “15 minutes? I could read for three hours!”

Of course, he could also play Minecrack for three hours too.

And, of course, Mama and I have gone back to school as well, and now that summer is really over, I’m back to going to work in the final hours of the night. That allows me to come home while it’s still light, but means I’m ready for bed not long after the kids–finally–go to sleep. That’s fine when there’s nothing to do but make a fire, read a book and drift off, but I’ve been trying to re-establish parts of the front lawn that were eroded down to bare clay when we moved in. This means digging up the clay, working in topsoil, seeding and daily watering. Mama takes care of most of the mowing, which is a huge help, though we’ve both also been working to close out our summer garden.

This means getting the last of the tomatoes and peppers, harvesting a bushel of catnip, digging out what flowers the bird who nested in our window boxes didn’t ruin and replacing them with mums, planting bulbs and lumberjacking down the trees that our sunflowers became. I love it all, but it seems that there’s never enough time for it all.

Ah well, I didn’t always finish my school homework either.

Though Mama and I do have to stay focused on our classroom assignments, since she has an all-day meeting in the office that she’s prepping for all this week and next. While I’m attending a seminar this week as a mere participant, come November I’ll be a presenter, so I really have to get my ducks in a group…or is that poop in a line? At least I’d better stop mixing my metaphors like concrete salad by then.

To help me gather my thoughts and connect with other presenters and participants, and because I don’t have enough spare time, I started a blog about web content matters, which is what I deal with when I’m not out harrowing our front forty. I’ve had better luck keeping up with the my new web content matters twitter account–I guess I’m more of a twit…or that it’s easier to slide 140 characters into the cracks in my day’s schedule than to cram the writing of a meaningful blog post into the three minute gap before every meeting starts.

If you’re interested in such things as web content, communications, internal communications, intranets and digital workplaces, you might want to check it out. Even if you’re not, you can check in on me there–it’s my weekly review, like Jewel’s, so that when I whine about work, you can point to it and know that I really am happy.

Unlike Jewel’s, however, I can’t promise any pictures of me in a smock.

Over several states and through the woods

On our front lawn, there was a four-point whitetail buck this morning when I went out to turn the sprinkler on. That reminded me that for the whole time we were at Grammy’s, after computer camp, we didn’t see a single deer, moose, bear, snake or other critter.

The first week that computer camp was on, Mama and Jewel got 3B there and home, but on that Friday, they jetted out to Mama’s high school reunion, which was so large that it was held at the gazebo in the local park. I should write that they drove and jetted and drove to her reunion, because even after a one-hour drive to the airport and a two-hour flight, it’s still at least a three-hour drive to Mama’s childhood house, where Grammy lives.

After computer camp was over, 3B and I took the same journey together, although we got to wait on the runway for an additional two hours before takeoff while the pilots decided that they couldn’t boot up the navigation system and would navigate manually. Shouldn’t be that hard…fly north until you hear them speaking French, then land. Oh, you’re still in the U.S.

Barely, but still in.

And then, there we were, waking up with a view of potato fields out our window and woods across the lawn from the front porch. We spent the week relaxing with family. We visited with Grampa, where 3B learned Morse code and got to operate Grampa’s ham radio. We also went to Canada for Chinese food with Grampa, which involved driving maybe 200 yards across a bridge over the river through town. It was a faster trip back, since we only had to drive maybe 200 meters and we didn’t using our metric speedometer, so we were going, like, 85 liters per hour or something.

Most of the rest of the week we spent hanging out at Grammy’s. Uncle A and Cousin S shot off fireworks one night while the kids watched from the playhouse. Cousin S schooled Mama in games of Horse–or so he says–and 3B shot many a hoop with his cousins. We hiked up a road behind the house where 3B and Cousin Z played in a mucky, clogged three-foot tall culvert under the road while Jewel coveted. We were able to mollify her with some fresh raspberries we picked along the roadside.

They were far smaller than the ones in the bowl on our counter this morning, but they were sweet, not sour. They could be eaten under a wide blue sky and didn’t need to be buried under a mountain of whis cream, as Jewel calls it, to be tolerable.

And by the time I’d reflected on all of that, the buck had clattered across the street to stand on our neighbor’s lawn and stare back over his flank at me. We regarded each other for a moment, then each of us went quietly back to the business of our day.

Standing tall, wincing just a bit

Kids and parents are a bad match. Kids are quick and parents have aching knees and backs. Kids leave toys and trash all over the house and parents involuntarily groan anytime they bend over.

And, let’s face it, kids don’t care, while parents can’t worry care enough.

Last week, 3B left two teeth under his pillow on separate nights–bottom eye teeth, for those of you keeping score at home–while I think I lost a part of a tooth at some point. How does that even happen? Parts are falling off my body and I’m too old to even know when or where they go. I’m starting every day now by counting my fingers and toes, just to be sure.

Meanwhile, Jewel has been developing her flying tackle and knocks me ass over teakettle daily. For months, she’s greeted me by running headlong, chortling, into my arms, and over time she’s learned that with little effort she can lay me flat out. To be fair to me, I am squatting to greet her, usually off balance with my work bag slung over one shoulder, slick-soled work shoes under me, and hands full of sunglasses, hat or headphones…or all three. But still, I’ve become her tackling dummy, and now she plants and launches from a foot away, lowering her shoulder, getting under my pads, wrapping me up and driving me into the turf.

I half expect to see her waiting for me in a three-point stance every evening.

When asked for advice by prospective parents, I’ve long said the first thing to do is have your knees and back examined, but now I’m going to give out mouthguards at baby showers.

No wonder I groan when I bend over. Hell, I’m lucky I can stand up straight.

Happy bald birthday

“Daddy doesn’t have any hair. He just has those little things on his head.” -Jewel

And thank goodness, since we spent our weekend–3B and Mama’s birthday weekend–outside, camping at Harper’s Ferry. When we arrived on Friday night it was still as hot as a snake in a skillet…a humid snake in a skillet, but fortunately we were camping next to the river, which kept us a bit cooler, and gave us a place to throw our rocks.


And dance.


The river was also a good place for a ball to float away, causing me to run in after it, sinking up to my thighs in mud, having to dig out my brand new Keens, since they wouldn’t come up out of the muck with my foot.

But, fortunately, that same river cooled things off that night.


Although the temperature didn’t keep us up, we were awake a few times that night since this was a campsite only a mother could love. Specifically, it was a campsite only my mother could love, since it was right next to a train track, which was busier on Friday night than any other night of the week, apparently. I guess even Thomas and his friends need to blow off a little steam.

We did all get enough rest and the next day we drove to another stretch of the river, which was a good place to rent a tube or six and float along for about two hours. But not before a little chocolate milk for breakfast…


…and a quick sketch.


The river also appeared in the lyrics 3B wrote to What a Wonderful World, but I hope to record him singing that, so I won’t spoil the surprise here, except to share this picture, which he had me take to illustrate his words.


The next day we took a short walk under those train tracks…


…and up a small stream.


After that, we headed into town, where there were people in costume, soldiers and, of course, a bookstore.


After we got provisioned at the bookstore, we added one more soldier to the ranks of those in town.


Then we learned how to drill and fire by company, rank and file properly before heading for home.


After all that, we were all pretty tired, but I was still doing my best to firmly and compassionately enforce a zero-tolerance for disrespect. I finally tried to inject some fun and common interest into our situation by allowing everyone to pick their own music for 15 minutes for all of us to listen to. Despite that, the disrespect resulted in us pulling over several times until the situation in the backseat could be resolved with respect. At times, however, it was too dangerous for pulling onto the shoulder, so I did what I could to remove my attention from the situation, switching over from the kids’ music to my music and turning it up.

Unfortunately, the first time I did it, while the song was appropriate–I mean, c’mon, what’s more loving than Sublime’s What I Got?–I did happen to crank it up for the guitar solo intro lyrics, “I can play the guitar like a motherf@#$ing riot.”

So that was awesome.

And so when Jewel says, “Mommy doesn’t have any hair on her head, it all turned white and fell out.” …that was my fault. Nice birthday gift, huh?

But we all survived the ride home and enjoyed baths–boy, did we enjoy those after two days sweating it out between the river and the railroad–dinner, cake and gifts.


We ended the day with a friendly fight–a Harry Potter chess match.


Thanks for raising my kids right

Thanks to everyone who filled my birthday with warm and wonderful feelings by committing to support cancer patients and doctors in honor of 3B’s lemonade and lollipop stand.

Lemonade sign

(click to see full size image)

With great support from Mama–who found herself standing in 7-11 yesterday wrangling our two weasels while holding a half-dozen bags of ice…and then the clerk tried to hand her two free Slurpees–3B and Jewel together collected $31 for my PMC ride. 100 percent of that money will go to cancer patients, doctors and researchers, as will all of the money you pledged to match their proceeds.

They helped buy all the lemonade, dispensers, ice and schlep all of that, plus a table and the signs they made to our community pool. Then, they manned the table for over two hours, recruited all their friends as volunteer help (we’re raising a red-headed Tom Sawyer, to be sure), and went chaise lounge-to-chaise lounge with a coffee can, asking for donations. Such dedication, hard work and courage…and such a reward.

Lemonade stand

(click to see full size image)

The feeling I got watching them light up and bounce around when I told them that their $31 had become $410 with all the matches pledged throughout the day was priceless.

I’m humbled and honored that so many of you responded to their efforts with such generosity. It makes tangible to them the rewards of doing good for others, and of taking courageous action–they know now that others will come to their aid, stand at their side, lend their hands and hearts when they do. They know how good that feels, and so they are more likely to do it again–maybe for this cause, or maybe for a friend who falls down on the playground.

They are better people for the support you gave them, and I cannot thank you enough for that.

And if you still want to match their $31, you can donate today.

It’s not them, it’s me

I gotta admit…my subconscious mind has found about a dozen other topics to write about and is still trying to figure out ways for me to convert this into a blog post about something else, but I’m determined to see this through. Not that I disagree entirely with my subconscious mind…there have been several fun things to write about since we last met here, including a great ride with some of my PMC teammates, a (almost) Fourth of July parade at our pool, a day at the pool, a dive meet…

There, subconscious mind…are you satisfied?

The other thing that happened was that I had a horrible, no good, very bad day as a dad on Saturday morning. Mama was at the pool to earn us the volunteer points we need as swim team parents, and I was by myself with the kids.

Had I thought about this at all, I would have approached it differently. Instead, I instinctively told myself, “I’ve got this. I know exactly what to do.” The reality was, “I’m not doing all that well myself. I’d better be damn careful about what I say and do.” Unfortunately, I only saw the reality after the damage was done.

Everything started off fine, but I wasn’t really being very PEPish. That’s OK once or twice–we can all sort of muscle through those moments. After awhile, however, I became discouraged by what was happening: constant sniping from 3B, berating and picking on Jewel, and Jewel repeatedly breaking down in huge sobbing tantrums over the most minor events (not, btw, the sniping…but not unrelated to it, I’m sure). And me?

Who knows what the hell I was doing, but it wasn’t working. It wasn’t PEPish; I know that. I would send 3B away for his bad behavior. I vacillated between consoling Jewel through her tears and strategically ignoring them so they would go away. By the time Mama got home, the kids were inside on their own while I was outside in a self-imposed Daddy time-out, so I could keep my cool. As soon as Mama arrived, I took a pulaski to all the weeds around our raised bed gardens, hacking a two-foot wide fire break around them, digging up any living thing in the rocky clay that passes for soil in our yard.

After 20 minutes, I’d cleared one side of the garden and calmed down enough that I thought I could keep my cool for awhile longer. I knew the kids also needed to get outside and get their ya-yas out and so, with Mama’s great assistance, I herded our two non-feline cats out to the car and drove us all over to the pool. Mama stayed behind for the excitement of paying bills and sorting mail.

The water worked its wonders on all of us.

We returned home refreshed, tired and happy. It wasn’t a perfect end to a disastrous morning, but it was a huge improvement over where I’d started. Overall the day served as a reminder that being PEPish takes work. It’s still not a reflex for me as a parent to respond PEPishly. My reflex is far more authoritarian, which works about as well as you’d expect for someone who’s raising two intelligent, independent free spirits–and who encourages them to be that way.

It was also a reminder to watch myself and what’s happening with me. I recently read research on willpower that shows we each have a finite supply of willpower in any given day. There are some ways to boost our reserves, but the best way to ensure we have enough is to limit the number of situations in which we need to use it. Willpower wasn’t the issue here, but I believe that I woke up already drained of other finite reserves of interpersonal strengths and skills, and I just didn’t recognize it.

The kids weren’t the ones who drained me, and they would have no way of knowing that I was exhausted in this way, nor should they care. Even though the causes are unrelated to them, there was a direct effect on them, which is a reminder to myself that I am a whole person–what happens on one side of my life directly affects the other side. It also reminded me that for me to be PEPish, for me to encourage them, I need to be feeling encouraged.

3B asked me over the weekend where Atlas stood to hold up the world. Not that I was holding the weight of the world on my shoulders, but I need a solid place to stand if I’m to hold up my end of the bargain to 3B and Jewel to be a solid parent.

Perhaps that’s why I felt so good after my bike ride on Sunday morning–because it was something I could do…something that I’m, in fact, pretty damn good at. Completing a 40-mile bike ride before 10 a.m. and still having enough energy for the rest of the day reminds me that I am capable of doing something difficult, long-term that requires planning and persistence. Knowing that I’m doing it to raise money for those who need it the most among us–those who are fighting for their lives against an enemy defined by its inability to stop and those among them who can’t afford the fight–makes the ride more meaningful.

(There, subconscious mind, I worked in the bike ride. Happy?)

Good lessons are worth learning several times, and I suppose the one I learned again on Saturday was that to encourage, I need to be encouraged.