My Silly West Wing Dreams

‘I’ll have a shark sandwich. You like shark? Never had it! You’re in for a treat.’ I thought.

I wasn’t so much paraphrasing Jeff Bridges in the contender as I was riffing on my memory of him. I mean, shark sandwich. Come. On.

Not that I have a taste for killer beasts of the sea. Not much for seafood, actually. But what a cold and cool way to announce your power as President. Invite your opponent to come to the east wing and order someone near you to get you some shark. Damn.

No one ever imagines life in the governors mansion. Not from here. Not sitting in council chambers suggesting yourself as next town council rep. Why would you place such limitations on yourself. Nope, I could already imagine it. Life in the White House. Hell yeah.

I had written a statement to read that had gotten a very positive response from the organizer of our event. She was enthusiastic beyond words. Her email calmed me down before stoking my Walter Mitty like daydreams of shark sandwiches and front yard Easter egg hunts.

You have to understand. A writers work has an emotional ebb and flow. Allow me to illustrate using art. ‘Talledaga Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby’.

At the beginning of the movie Ricky is running hot. Winning everything, on a roll, full of confidence and unable to imagine it ever stopping. In an interview he makes a statement that is EXACTLY what it feels like when you are writing and it’s flowing. He said…

‘Look. Here’s the deal, I’m the best there is, plain and simple, I mean

I wake up in the morning and I piss excellence.’

Okay, it’s crass. But you know what, I don’t care. That is how it feels when it’s working.

There’s another scene in the same movie. This is later on. Our main character, the beloved Ricky Bobby is in the middle of his comeuppance. He has failed and failed and failed and he finds himself imagining a himself being engulfed by a fire ball and he has stripped naked and is running wildly on the abandoned track in tighty whitey’s and a helmet screaming in a panic…

‘Help! Fire! Oh god help me. Help me Oprah Winfrey, help me Tom Cruise!’

This quote (paraphrased from memory) typifies exactly what it feels like as you push ‘publish’ on the writing you were so recently so confident of while producing it. It’s a pretty extreme variation between unflinching confidence and bed wetting fear, to be sure. Especially considering these emotional states exist without any transitional states between them. Typically, at least.

So when the organizer replied to my email, sent with all the confidence of a church farther hoping to god it be both silent and odorless, with the opening of WOW! Well, I was right back to my writerly confidence. She wrote a bunch more, but to be fair ‘you had me at wow’ is a statement I feel fairly confident making for all writers.

I arrived to the council chambers with humility in my heart, not that you’d see it on a topographical map as it was a tiny sparrow sitting behind a mountain of confidence. Warmly greeted upon introducing myself I was so very excited to be around similarly minded resisters. A moment of sincerity here, it was truly heartening to see all these folks, neighbors and friends I’d yet to meet who felt the same as me. We have a town council that by what I can gather has been 100% republican for decades, without so much as opponents to run against them.

So newly friendly with my neighbors who’d come out of the shadows I took my seat and the evening began. We pledged allegiance. Off we go. I had no idea there would be so many folks here. This was a real meeting, not just a town gathering. County officials from the party there, candidates for state office. It was a real thing happening. The pros got up. The first stood behind the table at the front of the room. Party guy told her to come around front, but I knew what she was doing. There was no podium. It had caused me a moments panic, but I had my WOW in my back pocket, already committed to paper, why should I worry.

I’ll tell you why. Because when she came around front of the table it snuck into my mind, around the mountain of confidence. The tiny sparrow was on my side of the mountain now. I’ve only once read my own work to a crowd from a stage. I barely got through without sobbing. To be fair that one was about my son, it was a tender piece about the fears of a father. This wasn’t that. It was a political speech. Still, I learned through the many times I’ve spoken to groups at work that holding my paper was a bad idea. The hands would start to shake.This would trigger the completely illogical loss of breath control. Then, yep, the water works. But this was a friendly crowd. Why should I worry.

Her reason for running was profound, heartbreaking, personal and touching. I was definitely in the right place, with the right people. Okay, I can do this.

Next candidate got up and announced that she was working on her speech. She would be reading from cards. CARDS! Why the hell didn’t I think of this. It would give me a natural way of looking up and realizing I’m not naked, these people are with me. And when the hell did this sparrow get so goddam big! WHERE THE HELL IS MY MOUNTAIN OF CONFIDENCE! And I was totally wrong about the sparrow being humility. The sparrow was humiliation!

At least I was still confident in the support of the audience. It would appear my rabble rousing, ‘conscience of the liberal left’ speech would meet the tenor of the room. We were all here to organize resistance. What the hell am I so afraid of. Get out of here, negative self talk. I don’t need you!

‘Okay, I know it’s been a long night, but we have some people that have offered to run for Town Council and they will all address you this evening.’

HOLY CRAP. HOLY CRAP. DEAR GOD, I KNOW I’M ATHEIST BUT PLEASE BECOME REAL AND TRANSPORT ME YODA LIKE TO SOMEWHERE, ANYWHERE ELSE… Maybe I won’t be fir…

‘First I’d like to bring up Joe Medler.’

Shit. That’s not a sparrow. Is that an eagle? Why does he seem so angry and threatening. Shit. That’s a vulture, dude. Oh no, when I start calling myself dude in my brain something is way off. Crap. Don’t trip. Wait, why would I think that. I’m a grown man in fine health, I won’t trip. But god it would be the worst time to trip. I’M NOT GOING TO TRIP.

Breathe. This is easy.

‘Hello everyone.’ I said.

This isn’t so bad.

‘I’m not a politician. I filled out a survey, literally last night, and said yes, I’d be willing to be a candidate for town council. Then Tracey, wrote to say I should prepare a statement on why I was running. So I did. Thank you for being here and here goes.’

That was fine. What was I so worried about. All I gotta do now is read.

I pick up my paper, chin nailed to my chest, head down and we’re off.. that’s a strange tremble in my hand. Maybe two hands will be better. Wait. That’s supposed to stabilize not double the shaking. Where was I. Oh my god, why did I write suvch a personal piece. I really am kind of naked up here. Where are you mountain, don’t disappear.

NONONONONONONONO! It was just a simple crack of the voice nothing to worr.. shit, again. Is that water in my eyes. Fuck. I’m doing it again. Hands up, Im done.

‘And I think that’s a good place to stop.’ I said, and started to make my way back to my seat to see if I can fit under it. Forget the shark sandwiches, forget the glory of being a vessel for equality and democracy, forget the more humble aspirations of serving the town and being a politician.

‘Okay, Joe, do you mind if I read the rest. It’s really powerful and think it’s worth everyone hearing.’ said, Tracey.

‘My goodness, I can’t thank you enough. My god, yes, please, save me and this moment from the disaster it feels like!’ I thought. It came out more like a barely audible, ‘Yes. Thanks.’

She proceded to complete my story. I have to say whether they were just taking pity or genuinely appreciative of the writing, I don’t really care. Everyone was so generous with their kindness. Handshakes and thank yous and people sought me out to tell me they enjoyed it. I was in the right place after all.

But perhaps it is time to go back to the drawing board in terms of figuring out how exactly I can best serve the goals of our group. After all, there is very little need for a crying call to arms. Might play into the worst stereotypes of liberals, actually. I’ll stay a bleeding heart, but perhaps i should retire the crying eyes;)

Me and My BIG MOUTH!

imageI have a booming voice. As a child my parents and grandparents called it a ‘stage voice’. I believe this was something that made me prideful. ‘Stage voice’ sounded so complimentary. Like I might someday find my calling in the theater. And that ‘theater’ in my mind was a 3-syllable word.

Well, in hindsight, I think it was a nice way of saying I was loud. Very loud. I’ve come to appreciate its usefulness as I’ve learned to modulate its resonance. I speak at a normal volume in meetings or on the phone or in conversation. I save the boom-voice for such times as it’s functional. Like the years I spent as a summer camp director and had to often address large crowds while outside. Then, a booming voice is like magic. It  cuts through the cacophony and retains it’s shape even in the open air. Now it is mostly spent getting the attention of two amazingly awesome little boys who occasionally need help coming to attention.

In the course of raising these boys it’s become evident that they are going to need to attend school. If for no other reason than we need them occupied so we can work in order to keep them sheltered, fed and amply supplied. Were it not for these things I’d be one of those hippie dippie’s that w0uld prefer them to spend their days in the woods foraging and exploring and learning by reading. I’d never follow through on these things as I’m temperamentally a conformist, mostly for the sake of ease. Still, the heart wants what the heart wants.

Dig a little deeper and there’s more to it. I had a terrible experience in school. I dropped out of kindergarten and dropped out of a master’s degree program, book ending my tortured schooling with decisive, empowered rejection. So last night as I was wandering through the halls of my kids school I was prone to flashbacks to crappy times in a place I didn’t want to be. I remember the physical discomfort that resulted from my constant self judgment. It was fun!

As the night went on, however, I came around. It is really a great school. We were all there as families engaging in some fun activities put on by the school. There were media projects and fun scavenger hunts and various games and activities. The scavenger hunt looked super intense. We opted for story time in the library. Charlie was used to it so he sat on the floor where his reading teacher was going to sit. His little brother was not so into that. He took off.

‘I’ll chase.’ I said to Karen.

So we were off. Thankfully there were screens computers made available across the room. It was GREAT! They had stories he could listen to on headphones while the pages of the book and the beautiful accompanying art was on the screen. He was excited to learn how to use the mouse. It never occurred to me the mouse would be foreign to him, but of course it is. He lives in a world of touch screens.

After a bit Char and Karen joined us and as they sat there something awesome happened. The very nice mom who I met at last weeks weekend of birthday parties was standing across from me and Karen. Karen was already friendly with her before we met. We got to chatting. About school, where we were from, what brought us to here, the challenge of neighbors. It was fantastic. We were speaking to adults. Adults who might become our allies for the next 12 years. Who knows, potentially even friends!

Then it happened.

‘Excuse me. Um, could you just be a little quieter? My sons trying to read me a story and I can’t hear him.’ said the mom sitting next to the computer next to the one Teddy was on. Right in front of me.

I of course said, ‘Sure, sorry about that.’ even though what I meant for that to convey was, ‘are you kidding me, this room, this whole building is crawling with kids and parents, making endless noise and running everywhere!’

So we finished up our conversation, wrapped up what might have been the start of a friendship with my tail between my legs and our ‘friend’ chastened and chased away.

Whatever. I actually feel sorry for her. She clearly didn’t appreciate that she was in the presence of one of the worlds great stage voices. Her loss… Back to viscerally hating being in school for me.

Spies and Rocket Ships

Last night after dinner, before bed we were engaged in the ‘wind down.’ This is what we’ve come to call that time of night that was ‘the witching hour’, when they were younger. Now it’s ‘wind down time.’ I prefer to think that this is not an entirely misleading name for this time, but rather an aspirational one. As is the custom during this time, the boys were running wildly between floors, screaming and laughing and we were in the kitchen, ignoring them as much as we could.

Ignoring a couple of hyped up little boys is impossible, so we ignore them merely as best we can. This is quite the change over a relatively short period of time and frankly, there’s some serious growth that is to be admired in it. After all it wasn’t 4 years ago where we were so scared of anything happening to them that we lived as volunteer shut-ins. I know. It’s hard hearted to invoke the word ‘shut-in’ for the purposes of humor. Fine. We were new parent nut bags so engrossed in over parenting our little ones that we never slept, pulled the alarms for every cough and acted as spotters for the first 10-22 months that they were walking. And I mean every minute of them walking.

So, to be at a place where we can pay only minimal attention to them, to be able to hear patterns of speech without engaging other than to recognize where our required, ‘Sure, buddy.’, or ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’, were needed, well, that’s like Will Hunting fleeing all he knew to pursue his dream and his dream girl at the end of the movie, without so much as a note for Chucky and the rest of the gang knowing damn well they were family and would not only understand but be damn proud of him level of growth we’re talking about.

Well, like all good things this one too had to end, so we jumped back in at some point when we knew we really couldn’t hope to ignore them any longer. Notably, this usually occurs when one punches the other or the other grabs something they want from the other and they bite them instead of relinquishing something of such a precious nature as a tiny, long forgotten instruction booklet from a tiny Lego set we may or may not have ever had, or a found rubber band or some other precious booty they salvage from the flotsam and jetsam of our lives here on this pioneer outpost. But not tonight. Tonight it went the way it should. We ignored, they entertained each other, we re-engaged and voila, this is how you start the bedtime process a mere 2-3 hours later than you always swear you will tomorrow.

‘Did you sign up? Wait, are you signing up tomorrow?’ Charlie asks as I settle in to the couch and start to brush his teeth ten feet from a sink where he could do it himself, but instead we act as servants to these boys who pay only in affection and dependence. Granted, we make out on the deal, still, we may coddle a bit too much.

‘Oh, I’m signing up tomorrow.’ I say and tense up ever so slightly.

‘Okay’ he says.

Phew. I haven’t felt this good about faking my way through since telling my doctor, ‘yeah, I don’t know. I guess I have 2-3 drinks a week.’ Felt pretty good.

‘Remind me again what I’m signing up for?’ You can absolutely be this transparent. THEY DON’T KNOW ANY OF THE TRICKS YET!

‘Spies.’

‘Okay, spies. Sounds like fun. What is it?’ Seriously, you can be this blunt in your blatant disavowing of knowledge you ‘yeah buddy’d’ not 5 minutes earlier.

‘It’s a game.’ Charlie says.

‘Yeah, we are spies and we run around the house.’, said Teddy. He’s even less sure and more confident than me. I’ll have to keep an eye on this one.

‘That sounds fun.’ I say

‘Yeah and tomorrow we’re going to build a real rocket ship.’

‘What!’ I exclaim. This is really taking a turn.

‘Do spies fly rocket ships?’ I ask.

‘Yeah. We’re going to build a real one. A real rocket ship.’, says Charlie. He’s pretty insistent. This is a new and serious tone. They recently saw the Wallace and Gromit short where they build a rocket in the basement and spend the day on the moon, so I’m pretty sure this is real.

‘I believe you.’, I say. ‘What else do spies do.’

‘They fly to space and do experiments and build rocket ships.’ The ‘duh’ was implied.

‘Okay. When are sign ups?’ I ask.

‘Tomorrow. We’re signing up and so are you and mommy.’

Done.

Turns out Spies is a pretty great game. If you ever have the chance I highly recommend signing up.

The 7 Parents You Meet at Kids Birthday Parties!

The boom of the ‘Birthday-Industrial Complex’ is among the most under reported developments in child rearing in the decades since I was reared. The strip malls that seemed to pop up out of fields and abandoned lots when we were coming into our own can no longer sustain the retail markets that augured their construction. So, there it was. Open spaces, high ceilings, a dying market driving down rental costs. A vacuum waiting for something to emerge to productively use this formerly valuable space. Some genius came up with the idea of inflatables, kids parties and Ice Cream cake.

Well, this little history of the rise of the bounce house economy is all a little precursor to say damn, ain’t it crazy how many damn birthday parties you end up navigating on so many Saturday and Sunday mornings, afternoons and evenings now. It’s worth a double damn. I was at our local house of bouncy fun for dinner on Saturday and lunch on Sunday this past weekend.

It’s a strange ecosystem, the class birthday party. Clearly these are many of the kids your kids will be growing up with. More pressing however is the parents. The kids occupy themselves at these events quite naturally. Its us parents who have the true dilemma of figuring out how to be around others.

Maybe it’s not everyone. Maybe it’s just me who finds this so exceedingly forced and awkward. I’m pretty sure my own discomfort is projecting outward and making others uncomfortable. I mean, I have to look pretty sketchy, avoiding all eye contact, standing away from everyone, thinking I should be social for my kids sake then hovering around conversations I’m not meant to be a part of. It’s so awkward.

Here are some of the parents you will see at your kids friends birthday parties.

THE GHOSTER – You may never see this dad or mom. They would prefer to simply slow the car down and have their child tuck and roll onto the sidewalk and into the fun of the bounce house. Most at a minimum stay long enough to sign papers ensuring they won’t sue if there is an accidental dismemberment. Next time you see them is when the lights come on after the birthday boy or girl has blown out the candles. Or shortly thereafter. Or shortly after that. NOTE: Given any inkling that it is acceptable to disappear for the duration I am this dad.

THE HIGH STYLE PARENT – It is Saturday, late morning. Either you haven’t slept and look remarkably put together considering you’re wearing the same clothes you wore for date night last night, and it was like anniversary date night, a round number no less, or you have put a lot of effort in to looking good at the strip mall bounce house hut. Also I’m suddenly made hyper self conscious by my laughably dated, though equally imperfectly fitting cargo’s and maybe I should have skipped the Crocs. Yep. I’m that dad. I apologize for many things, but not comfort. It’s my prerogative as a middle aged dad.

THE LURKER– Standing at the outskirts, watching his kid nonstop, avoiding any and all contact with the other parents. This is always a dad in my experience, but I’m sure there are some moms as well. Just drifting to zero population centers in the grown up sections. I am this man though I’m getting better.

PTA PARENT – You know the type. The one who has followed through on all those things we say we’ll do when our kids get into school. This parent is pretty typically very nice and I’m thankful when they approach with a topic to discuss. I am not this parent. I may judge this parent silently as a defense mechanism as they are doing it right, which highlights my shortcomings.

OVERLY ENTHUSIASTIC DAD – This guy. You know this guy. ‘He’s just a big kid!’ is something someone who was likely annoyed with him said once and he has since taken it on as his identity. He is way too much. Sucks that my kid can’t stop talking about him and how awesome he is. I’m not jealous..  You’re jealous!

THE HOVERER – This parent is on the opposite end of the spectrum from The Ghoster. They are in a constant state of risk assessment and periodically intervening to avoid certain calamities that never happen. I know some of these folks and there hearts are definitely in the right place. Their anxiety, however, can run interference.

SCREEN DEMON – Finally. My tribe. We are determined to avoid interaction with any adults. We are Facebooking, Tweeting, Snapchatting and Gramming all while determinedly maintaining a scowl that tries hard to say, ‘this is very important work I’m doing. Important and private. I’m sorry I can’t talk, but me and my phone are saving the world.

Pick your strategy wisely folks! You may just have to maintain this personality for the duration of your child’s schooling!

Let’s Talk About Sex (The ‘You Have Kids!’ Edition)

We’ve been DTF  since jump. It’s one of those things I guess. Pretty happy to find that it’s hardly diminished in quality despite the rapid aging and overall physical toll raising kids has had on me. No, quality is not the issue. Our problem is quantity.

img_3372That’s right. This is a married, middle aged sex post. There’s nothing graphic to scare you away, though the topic is the topic. Grab a glass of wine or a cold one and see if any of what I’m saying strikes a chord. If you know me and have no wish to think of me as a sexual being and it’s already to late as I referenced my sexual life already and you have inadvertently and regretfully already constructed a horrifying picture in your mind I’d advise you go find the old bottle with the handle in the liquor cubby. The one in the back you bought for a super bowl party 15 years back, and just guzzle. After slamming your computer shut or throwing your phone away and smashing it like those guys with the fax machine in Office Space, erase all record of me. Wake up, check that you retained enough senses to unfollow, unfriend and unremember me before blacking out and move on with your life. Nothing to see here.

I don’t want to hear any morality nonsense. Firstly we’re married so discussing the beautiful coming together (Not literally. Too high risk. We are committed turn takers, a stance I’ll defend to the death.) of a portly man who retains mere glimmers of his former beauty and his ageless, perfect wife (Seriously. Think Peter and  Lois of the Griffin family. This image will reflect the vast disparity between her physical appeal and mine. It’s great to be in it, for me at least. Can’t speak for the wife, but I don’t need any photos either so I get where you might be coming from. Pics of her, yes, yes, a thousand times yes, but yeah, as for me, nah.. That’s a hard pass (Boom)) is decidedly in bounds. As far as your pearl clutching at the idea of middle aged folks doing the deed, I just don’t care anymore. Don’t let anyone tell you there are NO advantages to becoming an old man and losing your fastball. I may be a junkballer now (boom) but at least I no longer care about your opinions regarding my life. It’s remarkably freeing getting old.

So, anyway…

img_2150Here’s my complaint. We would love to have more ‘alone time’ then we get. Let’s not beat around the bush (boom), it’s all their fault. These little, well, let’s just say ‘rhymes with dockblockers’ are unwitting masters of their chosen form. It ain’t just the simple stuff either. There’s plenty of that garden variety salt in their game, sure. There’s more though. They’re playing the long game as well. Let me show you what I mean.

Sex is a generous and warm way for us to give and receive love. It’s great for that. Do you know when those feelings of love are often stirred? When you are being that version of your family that you hoped you’d be as you strolled out of that hospital, baby in hand wondering, ‘Holy crap. Is no one going to stop me? Am I just allowed to take this person home? What the hell. I don’t think I’m tall enough for this type of responsibility.’ Say after grabbing pumpkins and cider at the farm market. Everyone was cute in their autumnal sweaters and cords. Maybe I threw on those jeans that make me feel sexy. A flirty scarf might have even been thrown on last minute. Why not. We’re worth it. For a sunny, crisp afternoon it was easy to think we were the couple we impersonate in our professionally staged family photos. It felt great!

So great that we lost our heads. We started making out in the kitchen while lunch was being defrosted in the toaster oven and the kids were distracted by the Curious George Halloween special on Netflix. These were heady times. We should have proceeded with caution. But we didn’t. That’s kinda the point of heady times.

‘Wanna have some sexy time..’ one of you says.

‘Hell yeah! I’m a man ain’t I?’ one of us replies. Okay. It was me. ‘I mean seriously. I am right? I can still do this right?’ My lady is my support in many ways and confidence is a fleeting thing in your forties. At least in so far as physical prowess goes. At least for me it is. Stop judging me. Move on.

‘After the kids go to bed.’

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod… That’s it. That’s the time we can do it (boom)! She’s serious.

‘Yes. Oh my god, yes!’ I reply.

‘I don’t know, they’re looking pretty beat at the moment.’ It’s a joke, but you know, whatevs. She’s digging me.

This is a good day. There’s a ton left to do and seemingly endless hours until we reach the promised land. But it shines in my minds like a beacon on a hill as I climb. Through meals, laundry, cleaning, laundry, playing, cleaning, laundry and folding laundry and bath time all the way until we put them to bed. Through it all we stole kisses and wayward grabs, having fun and laughing. Smiling and flirting, knowing we knew what was coming (boom) and we were excited for it. Fueled by lust and love and coffee we finally arrived at nightfall. Kids fed, cleaned, watered and pottied there was only one hurdle left to clear.

This is where our ‘bad’ parenting comes in. Please note, we are wonderful parents. They are nearly as lucky to have us as we are to have them. But the component skills of parenthood, the things one must master to be able to sustain without losing your mind daily, well, we haven’t been great about those things. This is never more evident then at bedtime.

To be fair the look we have by now, sun having gone down (we never really adhered to that early to bed approach so many successful put-to-bedders have ascribed) baths and meals prepared and given, our energy is waning. But that’s okay. Our enthusiasm for the endeavor remains. We give one another a wink as we head to seperate bedrooms and begin the long days journey into slumber. Falling asleep is not a default reaction to being tired. So the nightly wrestling match begins. I can’t speak for her but in our room, it’s almost impossible to survive the process with anything approaching an iota of energy left.

Thus begins the ‘dockblocking’ of which I noted.

img_1811Board books. Curse thee. Sure, some are better than others. I get that.. I can get down with the Little Blue Truck. I have a love hate relationship with Goodnight Moon. I can certainly appreciate the cleverness of the assorted Seussian delights that dot the bookshelf (piles next to the bed) of my kids bedroom. The problem is that they are a very VERY powerful narcotic once you’ve read them, in the right order, 200 times or so. By now, 1800+ readings in it’s positively deadening. The ability to read an entire book with my eyes closed, turning the page at the right times is a cool trick, sure. But its accompanied so often by my kid, bright eyed and bushy tailed turning to wake me up and force more of this on me. Any more of this little blue truck and a little blue pill wouldn’t even be able to get me to the ‘finish line’ of our earlier promise.

Next, lights out and in bed. More bad at parenting here. We have never had the will to let them shed a tear in pursuit of sleep. We’ve tried but our inevitable, lilly livered buckling has left these boys unable to close there eyes without us laying next to them. For, at times, hours. This is the death of me. More often than not when my forty something constitution collides with their toddler level energy for a whole day I am unaware, perhaps, but the game is over. Long over by this point. Lets say, by some miracle I don’t fall asleep with my kids. Just for arguments sake. This series of events, this hustle (I’m convinced they are doing this on purpose to keep me away from mommy) has already worked.

As I exit the room I am weary. My ears are hot with exhaustion and I’m long overdue for bed. Having taken the hours I was expected to take my wife, having succumbed as well, in her own way to the other one in the other room has decided that I’m not coming out. On goes the jammys and the robe. These are not anything other than comfortable and delightful. I too am in my formless, baggy, old and tattered ‘sleep shorts’. We are not ideally clothed for this endeavor, but it could happen. We are kid free. At least we should be for the next 3-5 hours when kid 2 makes his way to our bed. We let him sleep there. It’s in line with our other poor decisions, it really shouldn’t surprise you. By the time we are on the couch, either said or not, that’s it. Ballgame (sad boom) over.

I should note, there is germ warfare at play as well. In general we all have varying degrees of chest and head colds at all times. This wasn’t true before they showed up. I’m not accusing them of purposeful espionage, per se. I’m not ruling it out though. For whatever the reasons might be symptoms get real persistent at these times. I doubt this is intentional, but again, I don’t rule it out.

That’s it. More often than not this is how sexy time plays (itself) out in our house. Stoked by feelings of warm connectedness. Given oxygen with stolen kisses and hidden grabs. Promised and anticipated. Doused. Dissipated.

 

 

Funny Boys

Charlie: I like this one.

Teddy: I like pick pun

Charlie: What’s a ‘pick pun’?

Teddy: Um.. It’s a kind of pun?

Charlie: What’s a ‘pun’?

Teddy: It’s a type of berry.

************

These conversations happen all the time now. So often I don’t even hear them. They are part of the white noise of parenthood, the ever present hum that fills the background of our lives and colors the corners of the spaces we share. They are amazing and we hardly ever notice them. But we were in the car and I happened to note the entire exchange. Once it hit me I couldn’t stop laughing. Like, fully exhaled, tears coming, hysterical laughter. This was brilliantly funny.

First is the simple mock of ‘I like pick pun.’ This is a four year old’s greatest tool when confronting an irresistible force such as an older brother with whom he is endlessly enamored with and to whom he feels the yoke of tyranny. The force is strong in Teddy and he will be free the yoke sooner than I might even imagine, but for now the older brother is living up to his first born obligations as an authoritarian leader. He can’t and won’t be dissuaded. Though we do check his power whenever we see him abusing it. We’re even preemptive if we think any situation, from which order to eat his dinner to how long he is entitled to play with his own toys before ‘sharing’ them (like a feudal tax) to his (tor)mentor, the older brother.

Charlie, for his part, ever the straight man in this entire exchange, took his younger brother at face value. He was genuinely curious as to what a ‘pick pun’ was. The air of my second child changed. What was a playful, mocking tone immediately became something far more worthy of genuine consideration. His idol and hero noticed him. He asked him a question. He was interested in what was being said to him! I could practically hear his inner monologue as he pondered what to say now that he’d found himself here. ‘OMG, this is really happening. He want’s to know something that I can tell him… Don’t blow it… What is a pick pun, what is a pick pun.. ‘It’s a kind of pun.?.’ ‘

A good deal of the humor was in this shift from total silliness to serious.

‘What’s a pun’ said Charlie.

It worked! Teddy tested the waters with nonsensical logic and he bought it. He was on the line. This was more than a bite.. Now, how to reel him in..

‘It’s a type of berry.’

Talk about nailing the dismount…Brilliant! My boy is a creative genius!

Some might say that this simple exchange is not worthy of this level of line by line analysis. To them I say leave the assessment of my child’s genius to me. For now I will proceed knowing that regardless of whether or not these boys decide to develop this act, regardless of whether they choose the fame and riches of comedy genius, it doesn’t matter. Perhaps they will find more fulfillment in some other line of endeavor. But I’ll know, I’ll always know that they will always have this talent to fall back on. Not only as a career, but as a tool to navigate everything from meeting people to handling rejection. These boys are legit and the ‘yes and’ crowd should keep an eye on this up and coming improvisational duo.

What’s a pick pun.

It’s a kind of pun.

Gold, Jerry!

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The Lodge Part IV: Greatest Job Ever

As I walked away I could already taste the regret. I was making a mistake. I wasn’t sure how big a mistake. I didn’t really care either. It took all of a split second to determine that I was now going to go down on this ship, this manufacturing of a moment, perhaps a moment that would go down in lore as ‘Oh my god! Do you remember Joe? Remember when he was here, he stood right there. Oh my god.’ Really, what regret could I have that would ever make me feel like this was a mistake. So I had to change, put on some fresh clothes and act like it never happened.

As I walked around the corner I knew that everyone would be watching for me to emerge above the fence in the distance as I headed toward the dance/honeymoon suite building. My stride, for whatever reason, became easier. Less encumbered by the stress of the moment and even liberated by the squishing and dripping that oozed and fell from my clothing. I was getting comfortable with what I’d done.

Perhaps not as comfortable as my friend Evan.

Evan was a guest at the Lodge. Evan was about 50, fairly jovial and capable of being incredibly witty and acerbic. It wasn’t all an act, not by any stretch, but there was a peformative nature to Evan. He was in it for the attention, but he wasn’t over eager. He waited for his audience. He lived in my cabin the first year, when I was a counselor turned Lodge Leader. He was there in the second half of the summer when we were down to the skeleton crew/dream team of Me, Mike and Tony. A suburban white kid (me), streetwise city kid (I wouldn’t call Mike a kid back in those days, though in hindsight we all were) and a gangly Russian with an Italian-Americanized name (Tony. I’ve come to know home on Facebook years later by the name of Anton, a far more fitting name considering his surname. He taught me a thing or two about the world I didn’t know, a rapidly changing one in the 1990’s in Russia). I remember going to each of my cabin mates and seeing if they saw things I didn’t. I went to Mike to confirm that Evan was who he was after the following exchange. Before I tell you I should note that it was my first session in charge. It sounds cute, but it was running a cabin of 16 adult guests with various intellectual and developmental disabilities, including people with needs for physical supports, with 3 guys, all hovering around 20 years old, all with six weeks experience, who worked round the clock, 24 hours a day. No punch outs. No back up staff. It was stressful.

Anyway, about a week in to Evan’s stay I see him outside the cabin, at the other end of the fence we all hung out at outside (lodge) 12. I catch an eye, I look for his name on my ever present clipboard (I needed the prop to signify my authority) for head, no name counts…

Me: Evan, right?

Evan: Yeah, Joe.

Me: When was the last time you showered?

Evan (Shaking his head like Al DelVechio at Arnold’s saying ‘yup, yup, yup’): Five fucking years ago. Five long, happy, Jewish years.

Me: (5 seconds of silence) Bwahahahaha!

As you might imagine I grew quite fond of Evan. Not only for the effortless way he used cursing as a tool in his comedy, but for who I found him to be. Who we all did. When I checked with Mike after this he said, ‘yeah, he’s on my side, he’s pretty funny all the time. Unless he’s talking about Helen.’ Who’s Helen? I ticked through the staff, the support staff, the nurses, his fellow guests (who would be campers elsewhere, but we were all adults here, our guys had agency, they were not to be treated as children. Guests, please.) ‘It’s his mom. Mike said. I think he still lives with her. Actually, he can be funny with her too. But you can tell it’s different.’

Evan became a guy. We loved all the guys, but he turned out to have a little Rock Star to him. He was hysterical.

He was also foul mouthed. Not in groups, and not with anyone that didn’t appreciate it. But for me and Mike and Tony, he’d be there, every morning one or the other of us would run up to the dining hall to grab coffees for the crew as we got to the incredibly challenging job of getting everybody up and out on time. Whenever we saw him he’d not do anything. But if we said hello or good morning it was always met with a huge smile and a ‘Hello shithead, how are ya?’ He always said it with a little bit of Squiggy in his voice. He emphasized the how are ya and the smile and it was just so damn funny. There’s no way to recreate it here, but anyone that was close enough to him would tell you the same, it was amongst the funniest and most adored greetings I’ve ever received in my life. Honestly, if I’d never had kids it would be the number one greeting of all time. Hello Shithead, how are ya? With a giant smile and a genuine twinkle in the eye.

What had been regret was turning. As I strode away, aloof and sopping wet, regret was changing. Not to it’s opposite, per se. Rather, I was just starting to own it. To feel no way about my decision. It was just something I’d done. I liked this feeling. I could hear the tittering masses left behind, still giggling, some even guffawing and I liked it. I liked the attention. I liked the silliness of it. I even liked the carpe diem of it all.

Later that summer I’d be charged with taking Evan to the dentist. It wasn’t something that we did at camp without an emergency, so he must have had one, but for the life of me I don’t know what it was. Perhaps they had to pull a tooth or something. Whatever it was it needed to be addressed immediately. It could not wait for him to go home and it wasn’t enough for us to insist he go home.

I took my job quite seriously and at 23 it meant having the conversations, gently, that I knew I had to have.

Me: Now, Evan, it’s not like camp. We’re going to be out in public and there will be others around.

Evan: Oh yeah. I know dat shit.

He burst a second of laughter and then looked sidelong at me to see that it landed. It did. Just saying ‘shit’ was enough to make it funny. I know. It’s immature. I also know that he was not immature, was in on the joke and actually understood why it was funny. Judge if you like, but we were and are good at this and it was merely a grown man getting a laugh with crude language. It was normalizing and accompanied by a very real sense of humor that lived along side his performance art of cussing for laughs.

Me: That. You can’t do that while we’re at the office. I know you know that, but I have to say it.

Evan: I know that. I tell Helen all the time, oh yeah, boy, I know that.

This was our Evan. I didn’t have to bring it up again. We just chatted for the half hour or so that it took to get down the mountain and to the dentist. I gave him one more respectful reminder and we went in.

It was clearly a family practice and they must have been well aware of where we were coming from, and by extension who Evan was, or at least they had an idea that he was different. I have to say, Evan charmed everyone. He is an excellent patient. Why shouldn’t he be. He’s an absolutely lovely person!

That said, he was teasing me a little. Giving me those sideways looks. Answering questions straight when asked by the Dr. then looking at me to let me know that he knew what would be the funniest way to answer. He’d even be smiling as the phrase would go through his head, and mine, but the smirk never turned into uttering a vulgarity. I shouldn’t have been so worried. He’s a good dude. A good friend to all and an excellent companion  for an adventure.

When his work was done and we left to go I gave him a wink of approval/thanks and he chuckled back. We were grown ups, out in the world, away from the camp. All that was left was to pay. I stood at the reception desk, Evan at my side and awaited the forms eagerly so we could sign them and head out for lunch.

Reception Staff: So we’ll just need you to sign this affirming that the work was done.

Me: So would you like me to sign or Evan?

Evan: You can do it.

Reception Staff: That’ll be fine. It was a pleasure meeting you, Evan.

Evan: You too.

He smiled bashfully. Even tilted his head. When he did he fell upon the number, the thousand or so dollars that the procedure was going to cost. That’s when the bubble burst.

Evan: Holy fucking shit. Helen’s gonna fucking kill me!

It boomed. I held back my laughter and you could tell. It was an active denial that was seen by all. He laughed outright, big and jovially, big belly bouncing. The mom’s with kids in the waiting room bristled. One laughed, thank god. The dentist, the assistants, all the staff snickered and smiled, some nervously and some like me, holding back. It was the one instant when we were in the middle of everyone in the whole damn building.

I suppose you had to be there, but it was amongst the funniest moments of my entire life and a good part of that was due to my discomfort next to my man Evan’s seeming indifference. He could have said that in church and his heart rate wouldn’t have budged nor a bead of sweat been anywhere near him. The man just knew himself, had reacted sincerely and was damn funny for it. He knew it.

My regret was fully gone by the time I was rising above the fence line and I was happy, damn happy I’d done what I’d done. My job in this magical place hadn’t really fit me right yet. I was still struggling to wear the ‘uniform’ of big boss man now that I was in my second year and first year on the Admin Team, the four or five of us who were the big bosses. I would be invisible as I strode from activity to activity counting names and looking stern. I was a little overwhelmed by the job at hand and I was trying so hard to look the part that I missed the whole damn point. That being, if you can’t have fun at a job where you are changing the world, making others lives magical and being transformed by that same magic coming at you from all angles, than what the hell are you even doing there.

I think that was why I did what I did that day. Instead of quietly opening the gate to the pool, popping in and eying up the lifeguards and the staff, ensuring everyone was where they were supposed to be, doing what they were supposed to be doing and leaving as quietly and stoically as I’d arrived, I did something different. Of course I still made sure everyone was where they should be. Of course I ensured all was safe. Then, in what amounted to street clothes, I strode right to the middle of the pool and fully clothed proceeded to make a show of the whole damn affair. And it was great. All the guys started laughing, but I stayed in character, never even cracking a smile. Which only made the guys laugh more and even some of the staff, who had to be tiring of my ‘transitional’ phase to leadership. It was a moment. Forget all you normals, we’re the weirdos and we’re proud of it. It was a story they’d tell at lunch. It was something so simple but so special that it had to have turned at least someone who was there’s whole day around. In fact I can guarantee it did.

No matter how much they screamed, or hooted or called my name as I walked up that hill, I wasn’t going to turn around. But as I got to the top of the hill and rounded the corner of the dance building a giant smile broke across my face. From that moment forward until I left years later I had the greatest job on earth.

 

How To Put Your Kids to Bed in Whateverthef*ck Amount of Steps!!

Hello! I’ll be your child sleep guru. Leave your exhaustion and frustrations at the door because I’m here to help!

First a little about me. I’m a once proud man who has given himself over fully to parenthood. I’m a tad too heavy (actually it ranges from a tad to ‘grossly’, but that’s just a medical term) and happier for learning how to cry and doing it 5-7 nights a week. But don’t fret, these are tears of exhaustion and we all know there are different kinds of crying. I have very little sorrow these days and a great deal of joy (and exhaustion. Did I mention exhaustion?)

Like most parents we struggled with getting our children on a sleep schedule. There were tired, sleep deprived days and restless, exhausting nights. We struggled. But eventually we found ourselves in a routine of sorts. I don’t really know how, but there were a few months, I think, a couple winters back, maybe, when we were done and the house was cleaned up (a relative status during these early years) by say, 9 o’clock. These were the glory days. But then we did what any smart parents would do and changed who put who to bed. I mean, I wanted some time with the little one and she was missing the big one, so we switched it up. Shouldn’t be a big deal, but they disagreed. Both of them. So, there we were pulling our hair out. Trying over and over to get them to accept going to bed alone. Together. Apart. Whatever. Nope.

Then we figured it out. Here it is. The fail proof plan for getting your kids to sleep.

  • First things first. Have a healthy late afternoon snack. I find this is a good time to reward positive behavior with sugar. It’s not that I don’t get the dangers, it’s just they love it so much and surely they’ve sat still or played together or at the very least spent a portion of time not hitting anyone or throwing anything. That kind of self control deserves a reward. Besides, bedtime is far enough off for them to really be able to burn off anything you might give them. Salty processed snacks work as well.
  • Ease into dinner with some screen time Nothing big, but mine are 5 and 3. Perhaps they can do it on the deck. Get some fresh air.
  • Get the table ready for a good old fashioned family dinner At least that way they will have a sense that there is another way, not plopped on couches in front of the TV. Occasionally me and the Mrs. even sit at the table al0ne and catch up. It’s nice. Plus nothing goes with nuggets quite like Octonauts and Lego Batman programs.
  • After dinner let’s all go to our separate corners After you’ve devolved into trading m&m’s for bites of string beans there’s a natural tension that needs to be released. We tend to hide in the kitchen gorging on the m&m’s they didn’t earn while they go slightly banana’s in the living room and backyard.
  • Now that we’ve all calmed down let’s bribe them into a bath This works about 50% of the time. Frankly they’ve developed enough methods to get all the rewards they could want and by now they usually are tired of candy.
  • Sure. It’s 8:30. Let’s get one more show in.
  • Okay. I blew that one. I should have been putting on PJ’s and brushing teeth… But on the bright side I’m all caught up on Facebook. One more show. A quiet one.
  • Okay, NOW I’m all caught up on Facebook. Final show, Sarah and Duck, it’s the right thing for bedtime. I will skip over the professional wrestling moves often incorporated in subduing a 3 year old to brush his teeth. He’s stronger than you can imagine.
  • Hit the sheets. And of course by that I mean we bunker down, literally lying in bed with them. Some will say this is not the right way. Many actually. That’s all.
  • Bathroom. Can’t say no and we don’t want them wetting the bed Also, we have one who has made it his strategy to power down as many liquids as possible at about eight. It’s just good policy to let him go when he asks.
  • Lie in bed with them as they wear themselves out with a thousand stuffed animals that they only play with in bed. As I read this I’m starting to wonder why we even keep them. At the very least we shouldn’t keep them in their room. I’m pretty sure I have this thought every night.
  • Snap. Yell. Bark at your three year old that you’ve had enough. GO TO SLEEP. The predictable tears are the worst because it was your own lack of self control that brought them. Now you are both emotional wrecks. Kids recover quicker. This becomes the guilt and shame that weighs your shoulders down and gives you cravings for ice cream
  • Apologize. Make boundaries. One big stuffed dog and one more animal. And that’s it.
  • Buckle under and allow them all the stuffed animals they want.
  • Cry in the dark. As long as you control your own breathing they shouldn’t notice.
  • Fall asleep while they play in the bed. Let’s face it, you’re exhausted anyway.
  • Finally, now that you are unconscious and non responsive, somehow, they fall asleep.
  • Wake up, eyes puffy from crying yourself to sleep.
  • Look over and see your sleeping three year old. My goodness. He’s an angel.
  • Take pride in his development. Technically he fell asleep on his own!
  • Go back downstairs and cry the tearless sobs of a parent starting to clean a disaster area just before midnight. Cleaning, though annoying, will ease just enough tension to allow you to relax into a slouch on the couch in a half cleaned living room with a thing of Ben & Jerry’s or some Pringles.
  • Wash it all down with a giant plastic tumbler of boxed wine.

The best designs are simple. Elegant. Give up. Give in. Eat Ice Cream. Drink wine.

The best we do so much of the time is to keep them alive and get out of the way. I’m good at the first part, still working on getting out of the way..

 

The Golden Age of Pre-Facebook Parenthood on The Good Men Project

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Don’t get me wrong. I love all the connections I’ve maintained via Facebook. Not to mention those that were born there. Still, I can’t help but think that something has been lost…

The Golden Age of Pre-Facebook Parenthood is on The Good Men Project. Please head over and give it a look and let me know what you think!

 

 

7 Things My Three Year Old and The Donald Have In Common

  Three year olds are hard. Ask anyone who’s lived with one. I’ve spent 2 of the last 3 years living with 3 year old’s and I can tell you, it’s a difficult stage. 

You know who else has had a three year old or two or three to challenge him and make him ocassionally, in desparate moments, question the wisdom of the decisions he’d made to put him in such a situation? Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. Don’t know why I thought of that right now, right before comparing the traits of a 3 year old and a specific, orange presidential nominee. Hm. 

Let’s see, how is a threenager and a ‘Donald’ the same..

  1. Neither Reads – In my boys case it’s merely because he has yet to acquire the skill. I assume Le Grande L’Orange can, it’s just clearly something he doesn’t engage in. From what I can tell anything beyond 140 characters in length exhausts him and anything about someone other than himself bores him.
  2. Refusal to Apologize – My 3 year old is getting better at this. To be fair it’s a hard concept to grasp and the fact that he’s learning that he can make mistakes and should apologize for them is great. Monocle Monopoly Man has yet to master this skill. On the bright side, once he comes around he’s going to have so many chances to practice!
  3. Incomprehensible Judgment – Just unbelievable. The both of ’em.
  4. Supreme Confidence – My three year old honestly believes he is a doctor when he uses the Doc McStuffins kit. So does Spray On Don. 
  5. Emotionally Unstable – Incoherent babbling can lead into angry outbursts followed by maniacal laughing right into silly face time. Wait. Which one was I talking about?
  6. Neither Understands Sacrifice – I mean, c’mon. He’s three. Give him a break. 
  7. They Believe Everything They See On TV – My boy wants to grow up to be an Octonaut, believes superheroes are real and thinks there’s nothing strange about a man dressing in the same yellow outfit, complete with hat and tie, every day of his life and living with a monkey. Donald believes he’s Rick James, B****!

 In the end it’s this. They both believe firmly that they are the stars of the only show worth watching called ‘Life’. It is beyond their comprehension that something they say, no matter how devoid of reason, sentience or even it’s own internal logic could ever be considered wrong. In my boy’s case it is an age and stage thing. He in fact is incapable of seeing a perspective in which he isn’t the center of the universe. It’s a thing he must do for this time in his life. It’s healthy and he is wonderful. In the deranged game show hosts mind it’s like he’s happy to have found the Donald Trump portal next to the John Malkovich one and he’s happiest in a world of endlessly repeating Donald Trrump’s. 

Do yourself a favor, write in a three year olds name if you can’t just vote for Hillary. I assure you, they wouldn’t do any worse.