Friday, January 23, 2009

This Explains A Lot

Sam: Mommy, can I watch a movie?

Kristie: Sure.  Would you like to watch the one from last night?

Sam: Yeah!  It was so funny!

Me: What did they watch last night?

Kristie: Escape To Witch Mountain.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Truth

We've got a runoff election here in Georgia today, and for the past week computers across America have been calling us, urging us to vote for the candidate of their choice.  The situation has really gotten out of hand, and I've stopped answering the phone at home during the day.  

This hasn't been much of a problem, since I'm usually home alone, but yesterday Kristie subbed at the boys' school, and so I had Jonah at home alone for a few hours.  After the first few robo-calls, I told him not to answer the phone.  It's a big boy thing, to answer the phone, and the big three all wait anxiously when the phone rings, hoping against hope that they'll be called on to answer it.  Remember looking forward to answering the phone?  To driving? To getting the mail?  Sam loves to get the mail.  But, then again, he doesn't have to pay any of the bills.

As the day progressed, more calls came in and things were fine.  Then, after one call, I heard Jonah crying.  He knocked on my office door, very upset.  I walked down and hugged him, and waited for him to calm down.

I asked, "What happened?"

He cried, "There's a scary message."

My initial reaction, of course, was anger.  I could hear in my mind the low-pitched, scary-movie-trailer-voice-guy railing against the wickedness of one candidate or the other.  The message was on the machine, so I asked Jonah to leave the room while I listened to it.

It was Michael Reagan, Ronnie's boy.

Chipper as can be, Mike was touting the virtues of Saxby Chambliss, who was running for Senate.  Reagan talked a little about what Obama would do with a 60-seat Senate.

Surely this couldn't be what upset Jonah.  But it was the only message on the machine.  I called Jonah back in and played it again.  "Is this what scared you?"

He nodded.

"What did it say that was scary?"

"He said Obama's gonna do bad things to us."

"Like what?"

"Raise taxes."

To my great credit, I kept a straight face. Then I asked, "Do you know what taxes are?"

He nodded.

"Tell me what taxes are."

"It's when the government takes your money."

I hugged him again, and told him Obama wouldn't take all our money.  He calmed down, then went off to his room, presumably to begin hiding his Webkinz.  My little Republican.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sorry I Missed You . . .

Hello, this is 4 Boy Dad.  I can't blog right now, because I'm in law school.  Expected graduation is 2012.  Your prayers are appreciated, and we'll see you back here then.

Beeeeeeeep.

Monday, August 11, 2008

FDOC

That's what it says on my calendar, in three different places: "FDOC", First Day Of Classes.  Timothy, Stephen, and Jonah all start school today, I start in a week (kinda, it's complicated), and Sam starts Kindergarten in a couple of weeks.

Summer went out with a bang and a whimper last night.  I was in our shower taking note of the fact that the leak remains, rendering our shower inoperable for yet another few weeks at least. (There's a great story there, in the showers.  Maybe I'll write it one day.) I was standing there trying to figure out how large a bead of water would have to be on copper pipe threads before it moved from the category of  "possible condensation" to "inanimate retribution."

Then Jonah yelled: "DAD!"  His voice had a painful, mournful tone, so I got to moving instead of just yelling back.  While I was en route, he began crying in fierce sobs.

I found him in the hall bathroom upstairs.  He was naked, of course (because he has a little George Constanza in him; don't we all?) and standing beside the toilet.  His hand clutched a LEGO contraption, but his eyes were locked inside the bowl.

I stopped just outside the door, "What happened?"

He began crying again, "I dropped a LEGO in there!"  His free hand pointed to the toilet.

Now, a good dad would seek to comfort his child and reassure him that things were not as bad as they seemed, etc.

I yelled.  "No more LEGO's in the bathroom!  Do you hear me?  All of you boys, come here right now.  No more LEGO's in the bathroom from this day forward!"  Timothy smirked, Stephen looked stricken (since his favorite post-bedtime pastime had just been taken away), Sam kept trying to look into the bathroom to figure out what happened. 

Jonah continued to cry.  "Can you get it out? It's one of my favorite pieces."

"Yes, I can get it out.  But no more LEGO's in the bathroom.  Ok?"

"Okay.  Can you get it out now?"

I looked in the toilet for the first time.  Suffice it to say, the bowl was full.  I actually had to ask, "Where's the LEGO?"  Jonah pointed it out from a safe distance and apologized.  "It's fine," I said, calmer now.  "Don't flush."

While Jonah stood guard over the toilet, I headed back to my bathroom and got my tweezers.  Then I stopped and put them back.  Ew.

I went downstairs and got a long, wooden skewer, snapped it in half, and figured that would be a) long enough, and b) disposable.

There are some similarities between using chopsticks to remove food from a plate and using a broken skewer to remove a LEGO from a full toilet.  But there aren't enough similarities to make what I was doing pleasant.  After a minute, I had the LEGO suspended on a skewer and outside the bowl.  I wrapped it in toilet paper to keep it from dripping while I decided on the next step in the plan.  

At this point, I flushed the toilet.  Jonah screamed and came running back into the bathroom, still naked.  I told him that I had the piece and showed him the toilet paper ball on the end of the pair of skewers.  "Ew," he said.  I gave him a look that said, "Ew indeed."

Holding the toilet soaked, paper wrapped, skewered LEGO, I went downstairs to call my friend, who works in water-borne diseases at the CDC.  I asked him if it would be okay to put a LEGO that had fallen into the toilet into the dishwasher.  My main concerns were a) would the dishwasher clean the LEGO and remove the germs, and b) would the presence of said soaked LEGO contaminate the other items in the dishwasher.  He said yes to a) and no to b).  Good enough for me.

But we're out of dishwashing detergent, so the LEGO is still in the dishwasher, along with all the spoons.  Which means that I had to steal my wife's spoon this morning to make chocolate milk for the boys' first day of class.

The boys are pros at this by now, and we all slid into the normal routine: up at 7:00, herded upstairs at 7:20 to get dressed, etc.  Because of the relative newness, everyone finished a little early (except Timothy, who got up very early and was done before of the other boys was awake).  Then we went outside to take pictures, which will be posted at the appointed time.

Tomorrow will be a little easier and a little harder, just like this school year will be a little easier and a little harder, until one day I won't be needed to pour milk into Yellow Cereal or to remind Stephen to take off his shirt before brushing his teeth.  And then one day they'll be gone.

But that's a bit heavy.  It's just the first day of class.  Fifth, third, and second grades.  Kindergarten for Sam.  Law School for me.  

More on all of this later.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

On The Mountain

This past Saturday (not today, in other words), Timothy and I began what hopefully will become a long-standing tradition: Saturday with Dad. It sounds a little ridiculous, but unfortunately it's necessary. To wit: on Saturday morning, around 8-ish, one of the boys and I will go do something. Just him and me. We'll rotate through a 6-week cycle: Timothy, Stephen, Jonah, Sam, Kris, rest.

Of course there are rules:
  1. We can't spend more than $20, including lunch but excluding gas for the car.
  2. We are not going shopping, i.e., we won't just go to the mall and spend the $20 budget.
  3. We have to be back at the house by Noon.
We've been talking about this for a while with the boys, and the current lineup of activities seems pretty much to be Stone Mountain and Fernbank. I'm sure other things will come up after the upteenth time up and down Stone Mountain. But the choice of what to do belongs to the boy. I'm just along for the ride.

Why are we doing this? Well, starting August 18th, I'll be back in school. In case you haven't heard, I'm beginning law school at Georgia State. I'll be going at night, three nights a week. This will essentially remove me from family life for about 3-4 days a week for the next four years.

On Sundays we have church, Scouts, and community group. Monday through Wednesday I have work, then classes from 6-9, then in the library until it closes at 11. This leaves Thursday night, Friday night and all day Saturday to make up the projected twelve remaining hours of reading.

I love my boys. I want to see them. So we've carved out Saturday mornings as a time to spend one-on-one with them. We'll see how it goes.

This past week was the first one, and Timothy and I went and walked up Stone Mountain. Because of an earlier event, we actually did this after lunch ("earlier events" are not allowed during school, btw). He was excited, but nervous.

(The last time we walked up Stone Mountain alone, two years ago, he and I had The Talk. I don't think that was too traumatic an event, but he looked at me funny for a few weeks after that, and turned down other hikes for a few months. He's fine now.)

In the car on the way out, he put forward his wonderful Timothy Conversation Starter Question: "So Dad, what do you want to talk about?" Me being a nerd and he being my essential clone, we talked about soil formation on the mountain.

Yes we did.

And as we hiked up, we took turns pointing out to each other interesting examples of how and where plant life had found a way to live on a massive granite rock. We even saw a couple of lizards (or salamanders, or newts, who can tell?).

It was a relaxed walk. On previous solo trips this summer (I've been walking up the mountain in the mornings when Kris and the boys were at the beach), there have been similar father-son teams walking up, and several of the boys have appeared to be in a race. None of this with Timothy. We would walk, stop and look at something interesting. Then we'd sit down and drink our water and chat about what we'd seen.

Another point of interest was the carvings. Over the years (but not recently) people have carved their names into the granite of the mountain. Older carvings are much more elaborate, almost like calligraphy, with different widths within a letter and serifs on the type. Newer carvings are just block letters that might as well be done in Arial. There was also a portion where people had written their MySpace page addresses with Sharpie markers. Hm.

When we finally got to the top, we went inside the "new" building, sat in the AC and refilled our bottles with cool water. They have some interesting boards in the building showing the geology and biology of the mountain. On one of them Timothy read about tiny shrimp that live in the seasonal pools of water on the mountain. He was transfixed. "Shrimp? Here?"

For the next 30 minutes, we looked into every pool on top of the mountain. Most of them had nothing, and at first we thought they must just be too small to see. But then one puddle had dozens of them. We sat and watched them for a good ten minutes before moving on to the next puddle. I had to promise to bring a film canister so that we could catch some and bring them home.

All the way down the mountain we talked about shrimp. We talked about the kind that were there now (Clam Shrimp). We talked about the kind that used to be there but were considered extinct (Stone Mountain Fairy Shrimp). We looked into other pools on the way down (no shrimp). We talked about the Clam Shrimp lifecycle (one week) and about how their eggs exist as cysts and can last for years until the puddles fill up again.

On the way back down, we stopped at the "halfway" pavilion to drink our water. Now, there is only one water fountain on Stone Mountain: at the top. They trick you, though, with a pavilion about halfway up. Actually, it's halfway up vertically; it's about 2/3rds of the way up horizontally.

Anyway, the pavilion itself is straight out of any state park or church grounds. And in any other state park or church there would be a water fountain just next to the pavilion. Not so here. It's a mean trick, and most of the people sitting down on the benches don't seem too happy about it.

Being veteran mountain walker-uppers, Timothy and I had brought water bottles and had refilled them at the top. At the pavillion on the way down we drank some and then used the rest to re-wet our bandannas.

As soon as we finished drinking and using all the water, a massive family reunion group arrived at the pavilion. Every one of them asked where the water fountain was and cried out when told that it was at the top. I didn't have even a drop left in my bottle. I hope they made it.

Walking back down, we stopped to look at some out-of-the-way parts of the mountain (not on the steep side, just off the main trail). I pointed out to Timothy how different it looked compared with the path where we walked. Over on these parts, there was lichen everywhere and little clumps of secondary growth were starting even on the flat and exposed parts of granite. Timothy could have spent hours there.

On the way home, we had a meta-talk about the day and about beginning a new tradition. I told him that I hoped we could continue to do this even after I got out of law school. He said that was fine, but that he'd have his own kids someday and so he couldn't promise to be available every Saturday morning.

I said that was okay by me.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Hard To Buy For

Sam's 5th birthday is coming  up next week.  As usual, the actual birthday itself will see the family splintered.  I'll be at home; Kristie and the boys will be at the beach with our Memphisian friends.  So we obviously can't have the party then.

What to do . . .?

Well, we had begun to plan out a party when most of the invitation list showed up yesterday.  My mom came, along with my sister and her two children.  Some of Sam's other friends and their families showed up, and at 4:30 a raucous birthday party erupted below my office.  Yay!

Sam's birthdays are an issue.  My wife's birthday is in January, Sam's is in June.  There are no birthdays in our house between those two, so we get out of the habit.  As for presents, the other three boys have no problem letting us know what they want.  Sam is different.

"Sam, what do you want for your birthday?"

"A Lil'Kinz Tiger."

"Okay, we know that. You've said that a thousand times.  What else?"

At this point, Sam would just stare at me like I was crazy.  

"I want a Lil'Kinz Tiger."

"Do you want anything else?" I'm pleading at this point.

The Look again.  "No. Nothing else."

Even Jonah, who is has his finger on the pulse of all materialism in the house, could not offer any help.  "I dunno." Timothy suggested a particular Bionicle, so he got drafted to go with me to Target to get the Bionicle.

One thing Sam does like is His Own Stuff.  He's always asking, "Is this mine?"  As in, "Is this mine instead of brother's?"  So I got Sam his own frisbee.  He loves playing frisbee out in the street with us in the evenings, so I figured having his own frisbee would be a chocolate-peanut butter moment.  

On a lark, I also got him a box of sidewalk chalk and a copy of Schoolhouse Rock on DVD. I got the chalk because we were walking through that aisle to get to the toys.  I got the DVD because I didn't think yet another Backyardigans DVD would have any impact.  Plus, I like Schoolhouse Rock, and one of my sister's old boyfriends walked off with my Grammar Rock VHS.

We didn't give all of the presents to Sam yesterday.  Some are held in reserve for next week at the beach.  It turns out that the impromptu party also included gifts.  It fell to my Mom to get the Lil'Kinz Tiger.  She was as perplexed as we were at Sam's lack of avarice, and so she also got him a Lil'Kinz Lion.

However, having received the only thing he had asked for, Sam immediately gave the Lion to Stephen.  How crazy is that?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Diary: Friday, June 20, 2008

Tonight was our last night without Timothy and Stephen.  They come home from camp tomorrow.  We've been looking at pictures of them on their camp's website, and they look to have had a good time.  Tubing down a river, a ropes course, a mud pit, and a home-made, industrial Slip & Slide were all featured in the photos.  

Last year we were surprised to find that the camp took and posted these pictures, but we were more surprised to find that the outdoor, photographed activities were not what Timothy liked most.  He really enjoyed the "church services" they had each day, and he and Stephen talked about these services the most before going.

Who knows what blend of righteousness and rebelliousness we'll see in each boy when he comes home.  I'm curious to see what effect this week has had on Stephen.  Timothy is steadfast and trustworthy.  Stephen is a barometer, and a highly accurate one.  They're both good boys.

Because my wife had plans out tonight with friends, Jonah, Sam and I went to Enzos Pizza in Tucker for dinner.  I like Enzos, although I think Fellini's has a good case if they decide to sue for infringement of "look & feel".  The pizza is at Enzo's is better, with a better selection (I like the Goombah: the meat-covered pizza).  They also still have glasses for drinks, which Fellini's abandoned long ago.  I loved those Fellini's glasses.  Our home glasses, which we signed up for in our Crate & Barrel wedding registry, were directly inspired by the ones at Fellini's.  

Enzo's pizza is not as good as Shorty's, which is also in Tucker.  When we moved here 10 years ago, there was no pizza place around, except for the Three Deliverers: Domino's, Papa John's, and Pizza Hut.  Now the Domino's is gone (that's right; you can't get Domino's pizza in Tucker), but we have three new independent-y pizza joints in town: Enzo's, Shorty's, and some new place next to my barber on main street that we've never been to.

None of this background is relevant, however, if Jonah and Sam don't like the place.  After tonight, they may never want to go back to Enzo's again.  You see, Enzo's doesn't have lemonade.  This is a great sin.  Jonah will drink only lemonade and water.  That's it.  Tonight he cried when he found out they didn't have any lemonade, and then he drank water.  

Sam likes "mix-ups" (which we used to call "suicides"; I like the new name better).  His usual mix is Sprite, fruit punch, and then lemonade.  If he's standing there watching, you have to do it in that order.  Moe's has these three, as does Fellini's.  But Enzo's didn't have lemonade or fruit punch.  So Sam bravely tried Sprite mixed with grape and orange Fanta.  He didn't like it, and settled for "just Sprite".

True to form, Sam ate half of his slice of pizza.  I ate half of my Goombah.  Jonah ate his whole piece, plus a piece of cheesy bread.

Then he ate a waffle cone of chocolate ice cream at Bruster's.  I don't know where he puts it, and I was amazed to watch him eat the whole thing.  Sam barely downed a "baby cone," which is about two tablespoons of blue Italian ice.  Jonah's cone was easily two full cups of chocolate ice cream, plus the waffle cone itself.

I had a cup of chocolate-peanut-butter something-or-other and then promptly came home and took a Lactaid tablet.  God bless Lactaid.

When we got home, Jonah was too wired to go to bed, so he invoked the summertime Friday Night Family Night of Movies Night, which means the three of us sat down and watched Toy Story, "the first one, with the boy with the skull t-shirt," as Jonah explained to Sam.  Jonah loves skulls on clothing, and Sam loves to know what's going on.

This being a Family event, I was required to sit down and watch it too.  In spite of my Stephenity, I actually was able to sit and watch half of the movie.  I love Pixar.  I'm glad they made movies when they did, so that my kids could be exposed to some good ones, instead of the drek that I watched as a kid.  Nostalgia is the only reason people will watch cartoons from my childhood, and when we're all gone nobody will ever watch He-Man again.  But I think people will watch Toy Story and The Incredibles a hundred years from now, and I think John Lasseter will be held in the same esteem as Walt Disney.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the movie.

Now the boys are in bed, my wife is not home yet, and I'm sitting here at the computer.  Tomorrow is the birthday party for my father-in-law, but Jonah has another party to attend, and Timothy and Stephen will be home sometime.  So I'll stay home and wait, and read some pre- law school books.  I'm okay with that, but I wish that I could go to the party.

Still, it's not a bad life, and I'll get to see my Wandering Sons return home.  And frankly, the anticipation of them coming home is keeping me just as awake as their anticipation the night before they left.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Diary: Monday, June 16, 2008

Oy vey.

Well, we never did find Timothy's GameBoy Advance SP. So he had to ride to camp today with just a couple of books. Stephen was kind and didn't take his gameboy. They took the two "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" books, which Timothy has read but Stephen hasn't. I told Stephen last night that he could finally read them and he smiled his big, genuine smile.

Timothy and Stephen are at Ridgehaven camp for the week. Timothy went last year and really loved it. This is Stephen's first year, and since he's our homebody I was expecting a little more drama than what occurred. But he was fine. His fierce independent streak seems to have overcome his love of home. Not for the last time, I'm sure, but the first cut is the deepest, etc.

Kristie drove them up, a three hour trip each way. Because Sam was sick (and because our usual "hey can you watch Sam for the day" friends are out of town), both he and Jonah stayed home. I "watched" them while I worked. But since it was a horrible and busy day at work (I hate the Internet), I wasn't able to do much watching. Jonah and Sam, on the other hand, watched most of the first Star Wars trilogy.

Thankfully, the boys are fully trained not to do crazy things when left to their own devices, and I have pretty good hearing for crazy things, so nothing happened. The worst was when Sam came and knocked on my door while I was on a call. I've explained to the boys that they should knock on my office door if they need me, and then to wait until I respond. If I don't respond right away, then I'm probably on the phone and they should wait.

But Sam missed that last part, and kept knocking: little triplets from little knuckles on my door, every 5 seconds for about a minute. I finally put the phone on mute while my customer was explaining something and asked Sam to "please wait." He did, for another 30 seconds and then began rapping again. We had a talk when I was done with my call.

They only knock when they want something: cookies, juice, drawing paper from in my office. Nobody knocks to say hello. Sigh.

Throughout the day, Jonah discussed with me the fact that today was his Pajama Day. In first grade, Jonah's class had a Pajama Day, where all the kids wore their pajamas all day. This concept was, to Jonah, what French philosophy is to college freshmen. The idea of Pajama Day has consumed him. Ask Jonah what he learned in first grade, and he will most likely tell you about the day he learned that you could stay in pajamas ALL DAY.

He's internalized this lesson, and has decided that one day per week this summer will be his own Pajama Day. As the summer has progressed, this celebration of Not Wearing Real Clothes has moved earlier and earlier in the week. Today was the first Monday Pajama Day, and I predict that all future observances will be on Mondays as well.

At lunch today, Jonah began to make grand plans about a Pajama Day Chart, on which he could both record glorious Pajama Days past, and also plan out future ones. As he waxed eloquent about individual Pajama Days for the brothers and also about Family Pajama Days, it dawned on me that what he was doing was negotiating for TWO Pajama Days per week. I let him build his case, and then explained again that there would be only one per week. He took this news well, considering that it was Jonah.

Sam's fever eventually calmed down, and I stopped interspersing his Motrin doses with Tylenol. I like to keep them evenly spaced: Motrin, 3 hours, Tylenol, 3 hours, Motrin, etc. But with the length and number of calls today, I got off track and eventually had to drop Tylenol altogether. Fortunately, he didn't throw up again, although he did ask me to sleep with him "all night" just in case he had another 4 AM episode. I told him that a) he wasn't sick any more, and b) since I was able to wake up in time to get him to the bathroom last night, I had proven myself more than capable of doing so again tonight.

He shrugged, as if to say, "It's your floor."

When Kris got home, we went to McDonald's for dinner. Because I miss Timothy so much, I got his favorite, the Southern Style Chicken Sandwich (a.k.a. the Chick-fil-a knock-off). Jonah and Sam played with some friends from CBS (the Bible study, not the TV network), and I went to Rite Aid to get some wart cream for the boys. Three of them have warts, and their cream costs $10. Stephen has molluscum on his face, and his medicine costs $600. No joke. Our insurance covered all but $45 of it, and I experienced my first case of medical sticker shock. That packet of goo costs more than my wife's engagement and wedding rings, even accounting for inflation.

We got home from dinner and put the kids in the bath (the play place at McD's smelled ripe, and Kris worried that the boys might catch fierce playplace diseases). Then they went to bed. It's crazy having two kids here. The younger two are the louder two, but the older boys are more active. Their absence is a felt absence, like missing an arm.

With the boys in bed, Kris and I watched Stranger Than Fiction, with Will Ferrell. It's a great movie, and watching it the second time I picked up some interesting things I had missed before. At one point, when Ana is talking about baking cookies for her study groups at Harvard Law, she says that she realizes she can change the world through baking cookies. And it hit me that this was a great example of the Christian idea of vocation. I told Kristie this, and she said I was a nerd.

Which is true.

Now they're all in bed, and tomorrow I'll go to work, run credit cards, answer phone calls and emails, and try to convince angry customers that we're doing the best we can. And hopefully I'll remember Ana's cookies and her commitment to serving her neighbor through cookies.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Diary: Friday, May 25, 2008

Today was our last Enrichment Day at school this year.  At our school, on most Fridays, parents come in and teach the 1st and 2nd grade classes.  At first I thought it was a cop-out on the school's part (I remember actually asking my wife if we'd be paying 1/5th less tuition at some point), but after doing a few I've grown to like them.  

School ends next week, so this was the last one for the year.  It was in Jonah's 1st grade class, the one with 9 boys in it.  We taught on Fairy Tales, which was bizarre to do in such a testosterone-laden class.  Their teacher is a saint.  In most schools, half of those boys would be denied recess, labeled, and medicated to their eyeballs.  But Mrs. Hayes lets them go just to the edge of their true boyishness, then she reigns them back in.  

Sometimes she lets them go onto the playground and run laps, and each lap has a "theme".  We did this some today after having cupcakes for the teacher's birthday.  There was a Silly Lap, a Hop Like A Bunny Lap, a Swim Like A Shark Lap, and some others.  The boys loved it, and were visibly calmer when they returned.

We came home after school, getting lunch on the way.  Wendy's for the boys and Chipotle for Kristie and me.  I'm still feeling a bit woozy, either from allergies, some bug that's going around, or the after-effects of my second MMR shot.  Here's a lesson: if you switch doctors, have your full medical records forwarded.  That way, if you decide to go to graduate school and your pediatrician is dead, someone will have a record of your immunizations.  Just a hint.

After work we ate some sandwiches and piled in the car to go see some cousins perform.  My wife's sisters' children were in a end of the year show.  Elementary and middle school bands and choirs performed.  It was a very Music Man moment, but I was happy to see Frances play the violin.  She's very good.  I missed seeing Lotte and Asher sing, but hopefully I'll get another chance.

Timothy didn't go with us.  He went to our school's talent night.  It's a kind of variety show, and one of his good friends was performing as Elvis.  Timothy enjoyed himself, and we picked him up on the way home.  It was "only" 9:15, so we had the usual discussion/argument about him staying up late.  He wanted to watch a movie, but we said no.  After much weeping (him) and gnashing of teeth (me), I agreed to let him read until 10.  

Then we argued about what he could read.  He wanted to read Harry Potter 3, and I wanted him to get started on his summer reading list.  We met in the middle, with him getting 2 weeks to finish the HP book before beginning Redwall.  

While Timothy was snuggling into the guest bed to read (honestly, it's the best place in the house to read a book), Jonah and Sam were getting ready for bed.  Sam would not brush his own teeth, so I helped him.  Sam after 9:00 is a totally different creature, unable to get out of the car, walk upstairs, pick out his own pajamas, or brush his teeth.

While I was brushing Sam's teeth, Stephen was sitting on the potty, doing origami.  The floor of our bathroom is littered with books, since both Stephen and Jonah have taken up having "quality time" in there after bedtime.  Stephen's set of books includes his origami manual, and he's been getting better.  I bet if I went and checked in their bathroom now, there would be a paper frog or crane sitting on  the window sill.

I joined Facebook today, and we'll see how it goes.  I never had a MySpace page, and I felt the lack not one little whit.  But Kristie caved to her sister Susan's demands and got herself a Facebook page.  So I got curious and set one up to see what it's like.  If it's anything like my LinkedIn page, it'll languish after 2 day's use.

Tomorrow I'm taking the big two boys to the Turner offices for a tour.  It's the absolute last day to finish up Tiger Cub requirements before Sunday's banquet, and half of my den couldn't make it last week.  Then we'll go to the Varsity.  

After that, we'll come home, finish Jonah's Tiger Badge and see how far in the hole we are for Stephen's and Timothy's badges.  I doubt we'll get them done in time for the banquet, but I've promised both of them that we'll get their Wolf and WEBELO's badges before the end of the summer.  I've got until August 11 before all my free time goes away.  Here's hoping.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

. . . For Me, Not For Thee

Last night, while Timothy and Stephen (10 & 8, respectively) were at Karate, I was home with Jonah and Sam (7 & 4, ditto).

Seven o'clock came, and I began ushering them upstairs to put on their pajamas. As we climbed the stairs, the two little boys noticed a Capri Sun (unopened!) sitting on the stairs.

Sam turned to me and said "Look! A juice box. Can I have it?"

Simultaneously, Jonah and I said, "No."

I looked at Jonah, surprised, and figured that he must be remembering the No Juice Before Bed rule. I had no such luck, because Jonah turned to me and asked, "Can I have it?"

I said no.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What They Said

Note: this post will be much funnier and enjoyable if you can picture Jonah and Stephen and if you can "hear" them in your head.  If you can, this is pretty hilarious stuff.  If you can't this will seem a gratuitous "aren't my kids awesome in school" post (which it's not), and you can just skip it.

Three of our boys are in school: Timothy (10) is in fourth grade, Stephen (8) is in second, and Jonah (7) is in first.  Near the end of the first semester (in December) there is a sort of cumulative "exam" given, so that the teachers can gauge how well the children are learning.

In first and second grade, the student sits at a table with a parent volunteer.  The volunteer asks the question and then writes down everything the student says.  And I mean everything, as you'll see.  (My wife has done these before, and she says they're lots of fun.)

For the first graders, the question is along the lines of, "Tell us what you remember about the human body." They had done a unit on the body earlier in the year, spending weeks and covering most of the major organ systems.

Here's Jonah's answer.

The most greatest part is the skeleton. It keeps your brain safe like a helmet. But you need another part to cover it up. The skull is one of the coolest parts. The teeth are part of the skeleton that you can touch. That's how your skeleton feels. You have gums and they are pretty rubbery.

Now the rib cage. It looks like the wires. I like the spine. It's really cool. It has scale things.

The heart keeps you alive and it is red. It has these four spaces. They are like doors that open and close. Air goes in and air goes out.

The digestive system. My most favorite part is the esophagus. It goes through your chest, after your throat into your stomach. You can feel on your throat when the food is going down. It's like a muscle and pushes the food down.

When you rub your knuckles together, it feels weird.

Feeling, seeing, hearing, tasting, smell. The brain can store memories. Sometimes you can't remember. Your brain makes you do whatever you have to do (like talking). They do that really quick.

Stephen's question was a bit more detailed.  He was asked about the Oceans, and was given a list of topics to cover.  Here's his answer.


There are the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic, the Arctic, isn't there a fourth one? What's the fourth one? I don't really remember the last one.

There are many creatures and plants an we learned about this last month, but I missed part of it on vacation. Some creatures are octopuses, sea horses, crabs, jelly fish. And there are some creatures in the deep water called the monkfish and squid. I have a movie called Planet Earth and it has deep waters and shallow. Let's go for some of the shallow. . . there are whales in the shallow waters and there are sharks that come up and catch anything they can. What other animals are there? There's something like a squid that lives in a shell that lived in the dinosaur times. . . what's it called? It lives in the deep and comes up to feed. Hey! I know pretty much my favorite ocean animal is the stingray. The stingray has a stinger on the back of its tail that it uses to catch prey and sting it. It also has these things on its mouth that help catch plankton and pushes it into its mouth (acting it out with his hands and mouth). Pretend like my fingers are the plankton and my hands are the thing-a-ma-jiggers, whatever they're called. They go inside and eat it up.

I think I should go to the deep now, see what I can remember about the deep. I think that's all I can remember.

A tide pool is where some rocks are in a circle and the water gets in and gets trapped. Some crabs live there and so do some starfish. What are those things called? That live in a shell? Do eels live in the open ocean or the tide pool?

A coral reef is a bunch of little corals. It starts by one coral that dies and then another one grows and dies then another one grows and on and on until it makes a beautiful coral reef. Some animals that live in a coral reef are some fish and maybe a bit of crabs, and well, let's just go with crabs and fish. Some interesting facts I found on the coral reef are it has many colors and it's an animal habitat, sometimes maybe, and it can come in many shapes and sizes and it can live for a very long time. I think that's everything I know.

The eel! An eel looks like a big wiggly string that's kind of wide and long. Eels eat some fish, some even eat sea urchins--spiky balls. I once stepped on one, I hate sea urchins. Good thing eels are here! An eel can get at least 23 feet and its enemies are stingrays, maybe. Really, I don't know much about the eels. It lives in the open ocean."
Timothy's exam was a writing assignment.  They had just done a huge module on Ancient Egypt, including both an oral and written report.  (He did very well on the reports, by the way.)  The end of semester exam had two questions that he could choose from, and one of the questions had four parts.  Unfortunately, due to misreading the instructions, he only answered one part of the one question.  But he did that one part very well and very thoroughly.

And no, I don't have it written out.  Sorry. 

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sam and the Toothpaste

Our boys get toothpaste for Christmas.  It's not their only gift, nor is it their main one (that spot seems to be held ad infinitum for LEGO's).  But neither is it a scorned gift, like socks.  

The big thing about Christmas toothpaste is that each of the boys gets his own tube (not that it comes in tubes anymore, but that name seems stuck in the language, like "books on tape"). Normally, throughout the year, as the boys use up a tube of toothpaste, I'll pick up a new one at the grocery store on the daily run.  If I forget, then we tell them, "Just use water."  And then I remind them, for the upteen-gazillionth time, that "80% of the work is just in brushing.  Quit whining about the 20%."  We like to work our math lessons in with our life lessons.  

One big problem with toothpaste is that Jonah (7) and Sam (4) go through theirs very quickly.  That would be caused by the way they use toothpaste:

Step 1. Put toothbrush on counter, bristles facing up.
Step 2. Put a lot of toothpaste on the bristles, and the handle, and the counter, and possibly the sink.  Do try your best not to get it on the floor.  If you do, wipe it up with whatever is handy, like Mom's bathrobe.
Step 3. Run the toothbrush under a high-powered stream of water from the sink until all the toothpaste has come off the bristles.
Step 4. Brush your teeth with the mildly toothpaste-infused water that remains in the bristles.

Now, it doesn't take an SEI-trained process specialist (*cough*) to see the flaws in this procedure.  It also doesn't take a genius to predict that Jonah and Sam will burn through a new tube of Christmas toothpaste very quickly.  In this case, it was two weeks.

Last week, Sam was out of toothpaste, but his eldest two brothers still had some.  So, when confronted at 7:30 with cries of, "My toothpaste is all used up," I told him to use some of brother's.  He started crying.

But this was not the normal, I'm-not-getting-my-way crying.  This was serious, mournful wailing.  "It's mint!  If I use mint toothpaste I'll die!"  He was serious.  He believed it.

"Who told you this?"  Sam has a wonderful imagination, but he's not death-obsessed, and would not come up with bizarre rules like this.  That's Jonah territory.

"Stephen told me," said Sam.

"I did not!" yelled Stephen (8), from the next room.  I believed him, since he's usually very up-front about these sorts of things (he's a brilliant trickster, and loves to take credit for his clever schemes).

Sam and I went back and forth on this for a few more minutes.  I told him he would not die from using mint toothpaste, and he claimed that "Brother told me I would."

Finally, "Brother" changed to "Timothy" (10), who was standing nearby but, atypically, was not getting involved in the discussion.

I looked directly at Timothy and asked, "Did you tell him this?"

Timothy looked sheepish and horribly guilty and said, "I didn't want him to waste my toothpaste."

I gave Timothy a look that conveyed both mild amusement and profound disappointment (it's a hard look to pull off, but having huge eyebrows helps).

So I said to Sam, "See, mint won't kill you."

Sam, not having heard a verbal counterspell or repeal of the original Law of Mint Toothpaste, yelled even louder, "But Timothy said it would kill me!"

I looked at Timothy again.  "Well?"

My oldest son is quick on the uptake.  "Sam," he said, "I was wrong.  You will not die if you use mint toothpaste."

Sam, looking up into Timothy's face, accepted this statement stoically and said, "Okay."  Then he turned around, went into the bathroom, and brushed his teeth with Timothy's mint toothpaste.  

He left at least a teaspoonful on the counter.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Willy Wonka

First, I'm sorry to begin writing (again) with a screed.  But I just figured this out the other day, and it's been stuck in my head.  Maybe now it will crawl out and leave me alone.

Second, SPOILERS AHEAD.  I'm going to give away important details about a book and a movie.  However, since the book has been out for over 40 years, and since the first movie has been out for 35 years, I find myself well within reasonable limits for posting spoilers.

When I was a kid, I loved Roald Dahl.  I read his books over and over again, particularly loving The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.  For some reason, I never got around to reading any of the Willy Wonka stories before seeing the movie with Gene Wilder. And since several parts of the movie were disturbing (Augustus in the pipe and the chicken-head-lopping-off boat ride, to be specific), and I didn't enjoy it very much.  So I never read the Willy Wonka books.

This past weekend, we took a trip to Memphis (Tennessee, not Egypt) to visit some friends.  They had lived in Atlanta for a few years, leaving two years ago to help plant a church.  They have a great old house in a great old neighborhood near downtown. We had a good time, even though almost their whole family was sick when we got there.  Also, it was cold (below freezing for the entire weekend), so we only spent 5 minutes outside, down at the riverfront.  But they are great folks, and so we didn't mind staying inside all day with them.

The drive to Memphis is long, so my wonderful wife got some books on CD to help pass the time.  We ended up listening to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on the way out and The Tale of Despereaux on the way home.

I liked Despereaux and think it's a great book for kids (our school apparently reads it in Second Grade, so there you go).  But, given my history, it was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that interested me most.

As we listened to it on the way to Memphis, I was listening to how the book handled the scary parts.  Sure enough, Augustus Gloop did indeed get sucked into a pipe full of chocolate, get stuck, and then get pushed through by the pressure.  However, the boat ride in the book was made scary just by the fact that they were going fast through a tunnel.  Apparently that kind of excitement doesn't translate well into a movie, so they added a bizarre montage, including the chicken head removal, to make sure that we got the point.  Stupid movie.

With those issues out of the way, I settled down into the rest of the story.  As we got toward the end I noticed that the book lacked two things that were in the movie and that were very important to the plot.

First, Charlie and Grandpa Joe did not drink the Fizzy Lifting Drinks.  In the movie they do, and almost get cut to pieces by the fan.  In the book, Wonka explains about the drinks and the burping as the characters walk past the door (this explanation made my boys howl with laughter).

Second, while the book does talk about the spying done by other candy makers, the books does not have Slugworth approaching Charlie and trying to get an Everlasting Gobstopper.

Which leads me to my point.  The book and the movie are very different about one very important fact: how Charlie wins.

In the book, Charlie wins the contest by simply not being a spoiled brat.  This is shown in the story by him not breaking any rules.  The other four kids all break important rules, and they all disobey direct instructions from Willy Wonka.  It's made clear that each of the other children in the story are spoiled rotten by their parents and given whatever they want.  This leads to their downfall, sometimes with long-term consequences (Mike TV is 10 feet tall, Violet remains blue).

In the book, Charlie wins by following the rules. You can see why this would not be a popular object lesson in 1971, so the movie adds a twist.  

In the movie, Charlie breaks a rule, just like all the other children.  He and Grandpa Joe do go back and try the Fizzy Lifting Drinks.  So everybody breaks rules, but only those very clever people manage to avoid the consequences of disobedience.  Classic.

But if Charlie disobeys in the movie, how then does he win the contest?  I remember vividly what happens  They're standing in Wonka's office, he's just told them that they broke the rules by drinking the drink and dismissed them.  Charlie has lost.

What does Charlie do?  How does he make himself different from the other contestants?

He gives back the Gobstopper.  You see, all of the kids took a Gobstopper to give to Slugworth, even Charlie.  But he gives his back to Wonka.  Then the celebrations begin.  Charlie wins by not giving in to corporate greed.  He stuck it to The Man.  You can almost see this story line being written by the 1969 graduating class of Wellesley College.

There.  I've said it.  Whew.

There are other interesting differences.  In the book there are two parents per kid.  You can see why they reduce this down to one parent each in the movie, since that would be a lot of people on screen at one time.  But in the book, one parent is actively involved in spoiling each child, while the other parent stands back and lets it happen.

The language in the book is decidedly un-PC.  Augustus is called "fat," with a description of his appearance that made Jonah laugh out loud.  The Bucket family is described vividly as starving to death.  Mike TV's dad only speaks once (in my memory), and then only to tell his son to "Shut up."  Charlie's grandparents speak ill of the other contestants, as do the Oompa Loompas.

Books are better than movies.  We've gotten used to that fact, and we've tried our best to pound it into our boys' heads.  But it's bizarre to see a movie take such a wonderful book, remove the core, and then use the book's surface features to tell the opposite message.  

We'll read the book again, I'm sure.  Although I sound nothing like Eric Idle, and he does such a wonderful job with the voices.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sam's Cousin Aaron

Sam (4) has 3 friends: Anna, Marcus, and Aaron, who is Sam's cousin.

That's how Sam says it, every time: "My friends Anna, Marcus, and Aaron, who is my cousin."  Outside of this little mantra, Aaron is referred to exclusively as "my cousin Aaron."

Sam loves Aaron.  If we even breathe the word "Macon," Sam is right there, wanting to know when we're going, if he's going too, will he get to see Aaron, will he get to spend the night, etc.

And if we do make plans to go to Macon, we cannot change them.  Because Sam never forgets.  Let me stress that.  Sam NEVER forgets.

Aaron is a mania.  Going to see Aaron.  Aaron coming over.  Going to Memaw's house together with Aaron.  We're going to Disney World in a few weeks, and the biggest draw is not The Mouse, not the rides, nothing about the destination itself.  It's that Aaron is going too.

How bad is this problem?  It's difficult to say.  Our friend Erin may be coming over today, and Sam is excited.  We can't seem to convince him that our Erin is not his Aaron.  

And if I say that I'm going to run some errands, Sam is right there, eyes big and pleading, wanting to go too.  His disappointment is plain when we end up at the hardware store.  Even playing with power tools doesn't help.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

By Myself

This morning was a little hectic.

Actually, mornings here are always a little wild. Between 7:00 AM, when the boys wake up, and 8:00 AM, when they leave for school, no two days are the same. On four days of the week, my wife drives morning carpool. On another four days of the week, she has somewhere else to be immediately after carpool. Those days are not a one-to-one match. On some days Sam (4) goes with my wife. On some days he goes to his friend Anna's (3) house.

The only common factor is that on all five days of the week the Big Three boys go to school. But even in this there are subtle and challenging variations. Timothy (9) goes to school all day, and so gets a full lunch. Stephen (8) and Jonah (6) go half-days and only get a snack. Because of this schedule, they also take different carpools home. But that only makes the afternoons crazy.

This morning was worse than normal, though. Timothy had strep throat and was staying home. Sam had woken up in the night and stayed up for a few hours. Because of this he spent the morning either a) asleep in bed, b) crying about wanting to be back in bed, or c) crying about not wanting to go back to bed.

In the midst of Sam's crying and explaining to Stephen and Jonah why Timothy was still in his pajamas, my wife dropped a bomb: "Did you check the boy's homework?"

"No. Didn't you?"

"I took Timothy to the doctor yesterday afternoon, and then took Stephen to karate. I thought you checked it."

"Let me look."

Both of them had worksheets. So while Jonah sipped hot chocolate, he circled words like "the," "and," "to," and "green." While Stephen pouted about not having a chocolate Pop Tart, he raced through a math worksheet. Timothy just sat there and smiled.

While I presided over the homework, my wife took a shower. As she neared the end of hers, she yelled at me to come take mine. We high-fived each other as we passed, and the water never even got turned off.

When I got done, I dressed and came downstairs. My wife was looking through the boys' backpacks. She collected Jonah's worksheet and homework folder from the table and dining room floor, respectively, and then assembled his snack. Putting them all into the backpack, she placed it into the staging area. But Stephen's backpack was already there, zipped up and ready to go.

Suspicious, my wife picked it up and investigated the contents. Inside was his homework folder, with the worksheets in the proper place. She pulled out his signature sheet, which listed the assignments for each day of that week, and which usually required a parent's initials to ensure that each day's work is done. On Monday and Tuesday was a small, neat, set of initials in black pen. Under Wednesday was a slightly larger, but perfectly copied, set of my wife's initials in green magic marker.

She held it up for me to see. "Nice work," I said. "I suppose that's technically illegal. Why don't you go ahead and initial it yourself, and I'll go talk with our little forger."

Before I could make it out of the kitchen, she called out, "He packed his own snack."

I turned around to see her holding two cookies. No bag, not gummies, not a granola bar. Two cookies, shoved into his backpack.

"He's a pretty independent guy," she said.

I agreed, and nodded. "You'd think he'd use those powers for good, and remember to do his own homework."

She laughed. "Maybe someday."

Introverted, With A Blog

Click to view my Personality Profile page

I wouldn't believe it myself, but it tracks with the "real" personality tests I took in high school and pre-marital counseling.

I can't explain it, either.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Selling Popcorn

It was a big dog, and it was barking.

We were going up to our very first house, and this dog was standing at the chain-link fence barking fiercely at us.

Timothy (9) had already reached his goal for the year by walking solo in another neighborhood and via phone. For this street, Stephen (8) and Jonah (6) were going to tag-team the sales. It was Jonah's first time ever selling popcorn door-to-door. Stephen had done this last year. But last year, it had been Timothy as the lead seller as Stephen tagged along. Now Stephen was the lead with Jonah in tow.

Jonah walked past the dog and gave it a little wave. Spittle flew from the dog's mouth as it barked, just a few feet from Jonah's face. Jonah, clipboard in hand, kept walking to the door.

Fearless.

Not seeing Stephen on the walkway with us, I turned to look for him. He was standing far out on the driveway, looking at the big, barking dog.

I yelled across the yard, "It can't get out of the fence. Are you scared of the dog?"

Stephen looked at me with huge eyes and nodded.

"Okay," I said. "You can stay there." The original plan was for the boys to alternate, with one of them ringing doorbells and pitching until he got a sale, and then the other one would have a turn. Stephen was supposed to go first in order to show Jonah how it was done (we had practiced in the car on the drive over). This was supposed to be Stephen's house. Completely, utterly, and totally in a non-judgmentalor pressured way, I called out to Stephen, "Jonah will do this house, and you can have the next one."

By the time we got to the door, Stephen was right there beside us. "Jonah needs me to show him how it's done."

Brave.

Nobody was home. When we walked back past the fence, the dog was gone. I kept waiting for it to jump back out at us, but it never did.

I'm not the kind of person to generalize from a single incident (actually, I am), but I kept seeing this behavior the rest of the two hours we spent walking.

Jonah was oblivious, in a kind of manic state. Someone could have shown up at the door with a bloody chainsaw in hand and Jonah would have said, simply, "Hi, my name is Jonah and this is my brother Stephen. We're selling popcorn to support our Cub Scout Pack. Would you like to help?"

(Actually, whenever Jonah said the spiel, there was a massive pause between the opening of the door and the first sentence, and between each phrase thereafter. And his voice got sillier, higher, and faster as he went along, so that at the end of "help?" he was pretty unintelligible. People were nice, though.)

Stephen, on the other hand, was not enjoying himself (he didn't join us yesterday when we went back out). But when the time came and it was his turn, he smiled, looked the people in the eye and said, "Hello. My name is Stephen and this is my brother Jonah . . ."

People were nicer in this neighborhood. Maybe it was because of the demographics, maybe it was because we had younger and cuter kids with us. But nobody said no to Stephen and Jonah. Over half of the houses had nobody home. But everyone who was home bought something.

It was different with Timothy. On the street he did (on the same days of the week and at the same times of day), we had similar proportions of people not home. But of the ones who were home, over half said "No." Most at least said, "No thank you." But at least a few said, "I don't want to."

Now, I'm not one of those folks who sees anti-male bias everywhere I turn (actually, I am). But this really startled me. I'll try it again next year and switch neighborhoods.

Anyway, Jonah and Timothy have reached their $200 goal and will be able to throw a pie (actually, a paper plate piled with whipped cream) into the face of "a den leader." This will most likely be me, as I'm the Tiger Den Leader this year.

Stephen is still about $60 off this goal, but he and I will be going to our own neighborhood on Thursday. If you have a massive hankering for Cub Scout/Boy Scout popcorn, let me know. But do it quickly, because we turn in the sheets on Sunday.

(P.S. This is not a beg for money. Stephen will make his goal. But if you love CS/BS popcorn and haven't been able to get your fix this year, we will be happy to provide this service for you. Seriously.)

Wrist update:
Still broken.

Seriously, though. I was supposed to go back to the Dr. next Thursday, but he called and moved it back another week. It doesn't hurt, except when I type.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Popcorn (pre-blog)

I still can't type worth a darn in this cast-type thing.  And recent experiences (typing an application and essay, washing the cast after camping) have taught me not to take it off.  So, blogging will be light.  

Not that anyone will notice.

But, I did take Stephen (8) and Jonah (6) out to sell popcorn last night.  Short version: Stephen is brave and Jonah is fearless.  There is a difference.

I'll try to type it up, or I may try to get the 4boymom to type it.  I wonder if there's a way that someone could record my voice, and then play it back while typing?

It turns out there is.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sam In The Morning

This morning Sam (4) was getting dressed to go to a friend's house. I had picked out his clothes, with one pair of underwear, two choices of shorts, and two choices of striped shirts. The shirts must have stripes, preferably horizontal, but vertical will do in an emergency.

He was singing a little song to himself as he walked in and saw his clothes on his bed. Still humming merrily, he picked his shirt by slapping his hand down and then chose his shorts using the same method. He climbed up on his bed, and I held his hand while he kicked off his pull-up and pajama shorts. Then he sat down to take off his shirt (I have no idea why), and I left the room to see to some other issue.

When I walked back in, he was singing again. The tune was the same, but the words had now become, "Underwear first, then shorts. Underwear first, then shorts . . ."

Then he burped.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

I'm back . . . kinda

Well, no sooner do I get my law school application in, than I break my wrist.

Hm? Yes, I said I broke my wrist. Technically, it's a "fracture." But I've never broken a bone before and . . .

Oh that? Yeah. I applied to law school. To be specific, I've applied to Georgia State University College of Law. That's one of the reasons I haven't been writing much here. In March I decided to give it a shot, so from March to June I was studying for the LSAT. From June until yesterday I was writing my 2-page Personal Statement.

Ugh. Personal Statement writing is not blog writing. I can't make fun of myself. I can't write about poop or boogers. Nobody on the GSU Law admissions board smiles knowingly when they read the word "Jonah." It's hard, hard stuff to write.

So for the past 3 months or so I've either been writing my statement (5 format changes, scores of different versions), or else been so sick of the keyboard that I couldn't stand to type another word.

I also had a month-long writer's block.

And I was all set to start blogging again, and with such great stories, what with the boys all in high school now (just kidding). Then I broke my wrist. And my typing speed went from 70+ wpm down to 7. I type with one hand, while the other rests angrily on the desktop.

Hunt . . . peck . . . hunt . . . peck . . . aaaarrrrgggghhhh!

Four to six weeks.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Pennies

. . . from a trailer, actually. And a jar. And not just pennies, but a 2-cent Euro coin. And now it's not just a cute little opening phrase, but an annotated mess. So I'll just tell the dang story.

We brought a piano home on a trailer. (How's that? Three hours of toil and an ulcer all reduced to a single sentence. That's quality writing.) It was my in-laws' piano, and it's my parents' trailer, and they were sitting entwined in my garage.

Sam (4), who had not been able to attend to the loading of the piano, wanted to see inside "Gaga's trailer." So I picked him up and, instead of looking at the piano, his eyes immediately shot to the penny sitting on the ground.

"Ooh! A penny! Can I have it?"

"Sure," said my Dad.

So I picked the penny up and handed it to Sam, who crawled out of my grasp and ran into the house, forgetting the piano and the trailer.

Not less than 5 minutes later, Sam was crying. "I want my special penny!" he wailed as I walked into the house. Jonah (6) was standing there next to him, holding a penny.

And so I asked, "Jonah, where did you get that penny?"

(Sheepishly) "On the ground."

"Sam, did you leave your penny on the ground?"

(Tearfully) "Yes."

"Alright. Jonah, that is Sam's special penny that he just found. Please give it back to him and I'll give you a penny from the Penny Jar."

Jonah hung his head and slumped his shoulders as he handed the penny back to Sam. I took Jonah into the kitchen and pulled down from the shelf a jar, filled with pennies, labeled "Stephen's Savings." Opening the top, I spotted among the normal pennies a 2-cent Euro coin. I explained what it was to Jonah, and gave it to him saying, "There, now you have a special penny too."

Then I looked up and saw Stephen (8), thumb in his mouth, staring at me with the best doe eyes I'd ever seen him do.

I asked, "Do you want a special penny?"

Without taking his thumb from his mouth, he nodded. So I took a regular penny out and handed it to him. He smiled from behind his thumb and walked away.

By now, Jonah was crying. Starting to get a little angry, I asked him what the problem was.

"I wanted to find it on the ground," he cried.

I'd had enough. 70% angry and 30% just wanting to see if it would work, I took the coin out of Jonah's hand and dropped it on the ground.

He looked at me, looked at the coin on floor, looked at me again, and then bent down and picked it up. He stopped crying, said, "Thanks," and walked away.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

It All Starts With Ice

I don't remember much about my early childhood because I'm old (" You're halfway to 72," one of my sons recently reminded me; I can't remember which one).

One thing I do remember is being in some preschool classroom and looking outside at some water we had put in cups on the outer windowsill. It was a cold day, and they had turned to ice, and I thought that was just the coolest thing in the world.

(Just for future reference, this may have been at Olgethorpe, which used to stand where the Publix is now at the intersection of Johnson Ferry and Ashford Dunwoody.)

Ice is cool, because it's water, but it's not. And any kid can make it.

So it was with no surprise that I heard Sam (4) open the freezer door last night during dinner (Sam does not stay at the table; he wanders) and exclaim, "I did it!" Then he came stomping into the dining room roaring a Frankensteinian laugh, "Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!"

Sure enough, he had an old sippy cup, filled solid with ice. It had frozen downward, puckering out the bottom of the cup so that it couldn't sit straight. But it was massive, heavy, and cold. And Sam loved it. "Dad! Look! I made ice!"

I admired it for a minute, remembering my own excitement with Magical Ice. I congratulated Sam and handed back his wonder, which he then showed to his brothers. Jonah (6), who had taught Sam this particular trick, was very happy. Stephen (7) was somewhat less so, since Sam had interrupted his dinnertime reading. But once he realized what was going on he was equally congratulatory.

Sam then returned his ice to the freezer. It was there this morning, along with a half-frozen Moe's cup that Jonah must have put in last night.

This winter, I'll get some clear plastic cups and put them outside the back window, so that we can see if we can make outside ice.

If I can remember.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Toothless Jonah

Jonah lost his first tooth a few weeks ago. True to Jonah form, he named it Mr. Toothy.

You see, everything in the house, nay, everything in the universe to which Jonah feels some attachment has a name, and that name is usually "Something-y." Chairy, Lampy, Beddy, the immortal Bikey. Some exceptions exist, such as Dragadote, a little stuffed dragon (stuffed as in plush, not as in taxidermy; wouldn't that be cool?). Another interestingly named item is Clip, Jonah's blanket (or night-night). The blanket has been named Clip for about 3 years now, and we have no idea where the name came from, or what it's supposed to signify.

It's like naming a cat Sparkles. Let this serve as a warning to all you folks who think letting kids name stuff is a good idea. It's not. Whenever I hear of parents letting their older children help name the new baby, I get nervous. "Thank you for seeing me Mr. President. I'd like to talk with you about this new environmental regulation . . . Yes sir. My name is Clip Sparkles McDonald's Jameson. Yes sir, that's my real name. Well, my parents let my older brothers name me. Please sir, if we could get back to the agenda . . . Yes sir, it is a ridiculous name. Is that . . . okay. Have a nice day sir."

Back to Mr. Toothy. The method of his (arrival? departure? independence? release?) removal was unique in 4boydom. There was no crying, no wincing, no running away from well-meaning parents. Neither Timothy nor Stephen would let us near their mouths after the first 2 weeks of a tooth beginning to wiggle. Jonah would walk around and order us, "Feel my tooth! Cool huh?"

Then he pulled it out. He held it up and grinned bloodily, like a barbarian who'd just pulled a trophy bone out of a still-breathing animal.

He ran around the house, making sure that everyone (including himself in a mirror) saw both the tooth and the raw hole in his mouth where Mr. Toothy used to dwell. Pure Jonah.

Also, true to form, when the time came to put it under the pillow for the Tooth Fairy, he couldn't let it go. "I don't want her to take Mr. Toothy. Will you make sure she doesn't take him?"

We agreed that we would pass along the information.

Mr. Toothy stayed with us for a few days, still hanging out with his pal Jonah, like a newly minted sailor, home on leave before shipping out. There were the usual scares of "Where's Mr. Toothy?" We'd ask, "Where did you leave it?" and Jonah would say "Oh," and then run upstairs to the bookshelf where Mr. Toothy slept.

Finally, however Jonah's love for Bionicles overcame his love for human dental detritus. He needed money for the new Toa, and the First Tooth payout of $1 was just too large to resist (it's 50 cents for each tooth after the first one).

Under the pillow it went, and true to 4boydad and 4boymom form, we forgot all about it. "Mr. Toothy's still here! Where's my dollar?" Oops. "Make your bed, Jonah, and see if the Tooth Fairy stops by later today.

She did.

Monday, July 09, 2007

At least all the lemonade is gone

Yesterday we had 34 people over at the house, with adults (defined in the usual way) barely outnumbering children, 18 to 16. That's a lot of kids, especially considering that our son Timothy, at 9, was the oldest kid in the house. As Jonah (6) said at one point, "It's raining babies!"

The event was, ostensibly, Sams' fourth birthday party. But you invite some family, and then some others, and then a friend or two, and before you know it you've got kids everywhere, lovingly disassembling your DVD collection, changing the incoming voice message on your phone, leaving cans of Sprite and lemonade with only one sip taken from them on every horizontal surface . . .

In a word, utter chaos.

And I loved it. Thanks to all who came.

Here's the recipe for the fish rub, for those who asked. It's from this month's Blueprint magazine:

  • 2 lbs fish fillet. - I used tilapia, but any whitefish will do. The original recipe recommended striped bass or red snapper (very tasty!)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano - I didn't have any dried stuff, so I used about 2 Tbsp of fresh stuff from our "herb garden" (actually a galvanized tub on our front porch
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp coarse salt - Shhh. Don't tell, but I used regular salt and nobody died.
  • 4 Tbsp (1/4 cup) extra-virgin olive oil - Um. I used whatever Olive Oil my wife brought home from the store last time. Again, nobody died.
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro - I used less, but I hate too much cilantro
Mix the spices, add the cilantro and olive oil to make a paste, then rub onto both sides of the fish. I didn't rub it in with my hands (fish hands! oh no!) and used a brush instead. If you're grilling the fish, leave the skin on one side. We baked it and used skinless fillets.

Refrigerate for 30 mintues to 2 hours. I didn't time ours yesterday, but we left the fish in the fridge while I put the rub on the chicken, sliced a cabbage, hollered at my kids, started the chimney starter on the grill, drank a Coke, diced 2 or 3 tomatoes, and yelled "Hello!" out the front door as the first guests arrived. Let's call it an hour and a half.

To cook the fish, you can grill it (5 minutes per side) or broil it in the oven. We broiled it, and I have no idea for how long. When I can smell what's in the oven, I check it. I keep checking it until it's done, then I take it out. Sorry, not to be able to help much there.

Let the fish cool, and then flake it off for tacos. I had a good-sized third of a fillet yesterday on its own and it was excellent. Enjoy.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Fear

We were reading Treasure Island last night when the cat meowed.

Sparkles is not a chatty cat.  He doesn't walk into the room like a Vegas entertainer and start greeting everyone, "Hey Rocco!  Good to see ya. Valerie! How's the family?" etc.

Appropriately (for a cat) he usually confines his vocalizations to serious situations.  "Hey! That's my leg!"  Or, "Dog!  There's a dog coming and I'm stuck outside!"  Also, "Other cat!  There's another cat out here and I need to be let in now!"  And let's not forget, "OPEN THIS DOOR RIGHT NOW OR I'M GONNA POOP ON THE CARPET!"

That kind of thing.

Last night, his meowing meant, "Some kid shut me up in the bathroom."  Now, this happens occasionally.  I've accidentally shut the cat in our closet before.  He's gotten stuck in the coat closet a couple of times on accident.  The key word here is accident.  But not last night.

I looked up from the book.  "Is the cat in the bathroom?"  Over on the couch, three of the boys gave blank stares.  But one looked sheepish.

Stephen (7) answered, "Yes."

"Did you shut Sparkles into the bathroom?"

Eyes downcast, "Yes."

"Let him out."

"But he'll scratch me or bite me."  Then he started to cry.

Well, crap.  First, it was bees.  Stephen hasn't been outside in weeks (except for the pool) because he's afraid of bees.  Actually, according to him, it's "bees and wasps and mosquitos."  

And now he's afraid to be inside with the cat.

"The cat won't attack you," I said, trying to calm Stephen down.

Jonah (6) piped in, "Yes he will.  He attacked me yesterday and scratched my leg."  Blue eyes sparkling, he grinned. Thanks Jonah.

I turned my attention back to Stephen. "Would you like it if I shut you in the bathroom?"  He shook his head.  "And neither does Sparkles.  Please go let him out."

As Stephen left, crying, Timothy (9) looked a little guilty.

So I said out loud to no-one in particular, "You know, the only reason the cat attacks you guys is when there's no food in his bowl."  Pause for guilt.  "Timothy, did you feed the cat today?"

"I can't remember."  Great.  A Clinton.

"Timothy.  Go feed the cat so he won't attack your brothers."

As he got up, grumbling, I heard the bathroom door open and then Stephen ran back into the living room and jumped onto the couch with me.  He was still crying, so I held him a little while.  Timothy returned, and we finished the chapter, said prayers, and they went off to bed.

After the boys were asleep, I let the cat out.  In the Summer, he prefers to spend the night outside rather than in my office.

On my way upstairs, I looked into Stephen and Sam's room.  Sam (4) was asleep, but Stephen was looking up at me.  "Where's Sparkles?"

"Outside."

"For all night?"

"Yes.  Good night."

"Good night Dad."

He closed his eyes and was asleep before I could even turn the light on in my room.

Update:
This morning, I waited 5 minutes to water my plants.  You see, there was a bee in the flowery bushy thing between me and the water valve, and turning on the water would have meant leaning over an area of high bee probability.

What's worse: it was a male carpenter bee, and they don't sting.  Still, I waited.  But I didn't cry.  Much.