Call Me…Maybe Not

ImageKids have a highly sensitive detector for adult bullshit. An ability to see through the stuff that we have either consciously decided to tolerate, to go along to get along, or have just been desensitized to.

Case in point: Elizabeth decorated cookies and took them across the street to for our neighbor and our neighbor’s mom, who is visiting. Neighbor wasn’t home, but called as soon as she got there to thank Elizabeth.

Elizabeth, by then, was in the middle of a movie. Wife offered to pause the movie, but Elizabeth didn’t feel like talking on the phone.

“I HATE talking on the phone. Besides, she’s just across the street!”

Oh, sweet girl, sweet, innocent girl. The day will come, way too soon, when:

You will be upstairs in the house and your sister will be downstairs and you will both have phones and you will be texting each other. (This may be more suitable than the current practice of just yelling).

The working world, with all its “efficiencies,” is filthy with the overuse of communications technology. Picking up the phone to call someone three offices away. Emailing someone who is sitting across the room.

Or, and I think this is my favorite: People on a conference call, dialing into a toll-free number, sitting in offices next door to each other.

So you know what, Elizabeth, you WALK ACROSS that street, girl, and accept that “thank you” in person.

I shouldn’t do this, but what the….I just won’t spell it out. Let your sullied, grown-up minds fill in the gaps. Here goes:
Wife and I need some grown up time every night, during which we usually sit around, watch something on TV and have a drink.
Fontaine, being nine now and wanting to be 29, likes to come back downstairs and join in. I think she realizes that the better the topic of conversation she comes up with, the longer she gets to stay.
One night she came down with this: “I know FOUR bad words now.”
First thing I think is, “I thought George Carlin said there were seven,” and then I start seeing how many of them I can name: “Sh.., p…, mother….” (Yep, got ‘em all. Actually, I got two extras).
Second thing I think is, “Damn, who decided three of Carlin’s words don’t count anymore.”
Wife takes a completely different tact.
“Oh yeah,” Wife says, “which ones?”
Fontaine leads off with, “Crap.”
Ah, that’s not really a bad one, Wife says, we don’t want you saying it, but it’s not that bad. What else do you have?
Fontaine comes in with “ass.”
Yeah, that’s pretty bad. Then Wife does a tutorial in how one can combine normal words with bad words to make the bad words sound worse, such as calling someone an “AssHAT.”
I go linguistic and explain that there’s something about the short “a” in ass and the short “a” in hat that complement each other.
“I know b—h,” she says.
Yes, that’s one, we shrug. It’s pretty common.
Daughter then says something like “stupid” or “dummy,” at which point Wife says something along the lines of, “That’s all you have?!”
Daughter seems to be getting increasingly frustrated and embarrassed. Wasn’t really looking for our —-ing feedback, I guess.
Wife’s taunt parallels an NBA-ism, I think, like when someone tries to bring the ball down the lane in a tentative manner. I believe the saying is, “Don’t bring that weak sh-t in here.”
We are all laughing at this point, except Fontaine who is aghast, and begins walking back up the steps.
Fontaine then says: “You know, if I had NORMAL parents, I’d be in a lot of trouble right now.”
I imagine that, under her breath, she is mumbling all the really bad words that a fourth-grader has heard and doesn’t want to tell her parents about.

Bet you don’t think I can connect those three, in 400 words or less.
Driving to a birthday party yesterday morning with the three girls.
Fontaine mentions hearing her favorite song, “Sweet Home Alabama,” coming out of someone’s car.
Before I had chance to think, “Man, we have to move north of the Mason-Dixon line AND SOON,” Rosebud hit us with:
“I wish I lived in Sweet Home Alabama.”
(And, hey, who doesn’t want to live in a place where the skies are so blue, tell me true.)
Fontaine says, “Sweet Home Alabama” isn’t a place. Alabama is a state, do you know what a state is?
“No,” Rosebud says, what is a state?
OK, Fontaine continues, how about the United States, it’s a country, do you know what a country is?
OK, how about a continent, like North America, the United States is part of North America…do you know what that is?
This is now reminding me of a reporter I used to work with at the newspaper who maintained that an interview could be conducted merely by repeatedly asking the question, “Why is that?,” and a second reporter who said that while that might be true, the first reporter would eventually get his ass kicked. (I’m only at 208 words, so a little aside won’t hurt.)
OKaaaaaaay, Fontaine plods on, North America is a continent, and continents are big, giant chunks of land, and there are seven of them on the world. The world is where we live. Do you know — here it comes, Alabama — what the UNIVERSE is?
I don’t know how far into outer space this explanation can go, so I blurt out: “How about God, do you know what GOD is?”
“YES!” Rosebud calls out with delight at finally knowing something. I know a song about God, and she starts singing.
Luckily, it wasn’t “Sweet Home Alabama.”
(313 words: God, The Universe, Lynard Skynard)

There are times that having young kids gives you a chance to be young again. You can legitimately be 40-way-plus years old and walk along the edge of a street and play the walk-a-tightrope game along a curb, you can imitate silly voices and laugh at bodily sounds.
And my favorite thing: You have the perfect excuse to watch cartoons or stupid TV, and if I could just find reruns of old Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, the Coyote and Roadrunner I would be oh so delighted. Because, that’s no longer considered watching stupid TV: It’s BONDING WITH THE CHILDREN.
Then there are other times when your age thrown in your face. Like: Saturday morning, taking the girls to an old diner for breakfast – and if they ate something, a donut afterwards – and driving up to the ATM first. We’re in the VW van. A young woman on the corner, walking her dog, all the windows up, but all three girls at the same time make the sound that girls make when they think something is really cute: “Awwwwwwww-wah-awwwwww.”
I look over and see the woman and her dog and give her a big smile, because the “Awwwwwwwww” is so loud that I am sure she heard it. Then, I realize, well, the rear windows of the van are tinted and the young woman probably had no idea that I had anybody else in the car with me let alone three girls who saw her dog and went, “Awwwwwwww.”
I say to myself, but out loud, “Oh man, now that young woman probably thinks I was flirting with her.”
There is a slight pause in the car, and then Fontaine tries to make me feel better.
“Don’t worry, Dad, you’re way too old for that girl to think you were flirting with her.”
Again, Kelso, “That ‘70s Show,” BURNNNNN!
Oh, great, fantastic, so the young woman thinks I’m a creepy old, unshowered, unshaven, baseball-cap-wearing perv.
Cool. How soon do the predator reports appear online?

Virginia: A Painful Divide

Now, there’s a whole philosophical debate to be had over how much privacy a child should have. How much a parent is entitled to know, to learn, through snooping. E-mail accounts, Facebook friends, all that stuff.
But as with all matters of serious parenting, I’m not going to get into that here.
My Dad always enforced his rules with the old, “As long as you’re living under my roof” trump card. And here, the guideline for creative content seems to be the same: Anything composed in this house, that’s fair game.
All of which is a long-winded way to say: Fontaine left a letter to a friend sitting around and Wife read it.
And there was something in it that made my job of household blogger oh so easy. The P.S.
Now, remember, Fontaine’s nine years old and apparently thinking about many things. Her friend is 10 or 11.
“P.S. Did you know that when a woman has a baby, her Virginia splits open?”
Holy Shenandoah Valley!, I thought. Where does this division take place?
Certainly explains the formation of “The Blue Ridge Parkway.”
Not to mention, “The Cumberland Gap.”
Fontaine continued: “That sounds painful, and gross, and that’s why I am not having babies.”
I don’t know what to do: Is this time for some in-home sex ed…or maybe just spelling lessons?
Image above from tnhistoryforkids.com. I’ve been there, to the real Cumberland Gap, an amazing place.

Wife and Wife’s out-of-town friend are meeting up today, kids in tow, at a campground in Maryland.
They have been planning the “menu” for several days, and I suggested a collaborative list be produced on Google Docs. To my surprise, this suggestion was met with a “Good idea!” Not to my surprise, the Google Doc-ument required a 30-minute hash-it-out phone call yesterday morning before the shopping took place.
I eavesdropped on Wife’s end of this phone call with much amusement.
“I got some good hummus, and I’ll bring that. What should we have with it?”
Ah, hummus as the main course of a meal.
“I’ll get some pita chips…Fontaine likes pita chips with it.”
Parallel to this conversation, I am thinking about my just-concluded “baseball weekend” with my old college friends. We’ve been doing it for about 10 years. The pre-planning involves a bunch of emails, most of which are jokes targeting people in the group for behavior from previous years, and no phone calls.
The main thing we line up is: Who is going to bring what kind of beer. The first year we did this, we rolled in at dinnertime from scattered points around the East Coast and we had no food at all lined up for dinner.
We have gotten much better at this, and eating well has become a key element. One guy brings a “meat pie,” an 18-inch in diameter, two-plus-inch thick pizza thing stuffed with ground beef, cheese and onions. The onions inside the meat pie stand as our only “vegetable” for the next 48 hours, other than corn on the cob. We eat hamburgers, steaks, crabs, hamburgers with crab meat on top.
Wife’s conversation goes on…and on…yogurt, yogurt smoothies, cereal…
And, yeah, I’m being completely unfair here, because she’s got to spend most of her time sweating having the right stuff for the girls, but, you know, this is my blog — and thoughtful, fair stories aren’t funny.
Finally, it seems Wife’s phone call is coming to a conclusion.
“Well, I’d better head to Trader Joe’s….Hey, I have a bottle of wine, should I bring it?”
FINALLY, booze!
Two nights, five kids, one bottle of wine?
Must be the new math.
Is Chardonnay good with hummus?

It’s probably not news to Wife, but when I bought a new car about a year and a half ago, sure, gas prices were high and a big reason I chose a small car was great mileage. But another reason was — and here’s the part that wouldn’t surprise Wife — I LIKE having my own ride with my own junk in it.
After years of driving VWs (’68 bug, ’81 Rabbit Diesel, ’89 Jetta, ’98 Jetta), I was tired of having to reassemble them after various parts flew off, so I focused on Hondas. It was either a Civic or an Accord. Aside from the fact that the Accord would get way worse gas mileage, I picked the Civic because it seemed to have a small enough backseat to be uncomfortable enough so that it would never get repurposed for the family car.
I failed to factor in this: Sometimes, only one or two kids need to go somewhere, and when that is the case, the Civic backseat is just fine.
Which brings us to the exploded cache of kid junk that I had to clean out of my car on Friday before going out of town. For any Mom who has to drive the family car, it is not an impressive amount of junk. The impressive thing is that it accumulated during only two round trips.
A cardboard car giveaway from a restaurant, two purple ballet slippers, two sparkly pencils, two drawings created in transit. And my favorite: a four-inch plastic shark.
Sure, it doesn’t compare to the milk container we once found in the SUV after it had turned into cottage cheese. It doesn’t hold a candle to the piece of fruit, probably an orange shriveled to the size of a grape, that we once found under the passenger seat. It does not hold up to finding sticks brought on board as part of Fontaine’s on-going, three-year Smithsonian Anthropological Stick Collection.
But still, a pretty craptastic collection considering the short turnaround time.
Anyone know if those Mercedes/Swatch Smart cars have a back seat?

When I was a kid, my brother and I loved watching the movie “Tora, Tora, Tora,” but of course, at the time, I never thought I would use a lesson from a movie about the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor as a guidepost for raising children.
But so it is: So many daughters; so many war metaphors.
When Fontaine was little — by which I mean, from Day 1 until Year Eight — she awoke hellish early. No matter what time she went to bed, up at 6 a.m. Or earlier. When it was time to turn back the clock, 6 a.m. became 5 a.m. When it was time to turn forward the clocks, 6 a.m. remained 6 a.m.
One time, we were out front with the neighbors, and I was telling the other dad about this early wake-up call, and he asked her why she got up so early.
“I’m afraid I’ll miss out on something fun,” she said.
I swore then that no matter what happened, once she started sleeping in, even if it was when she was a teenager, I was going to get up at 6 a.m. and run the leaf blower outside of her window.
Yeah, I am one of those “revenge is a dish best served cold,” and I don’t mind waiting five, 10, 20 years to serve it up.
Now, something miraculous has happened. Fontaine recently turned nine, and she’s started to sleep in (by which I mean, 8:30). She comes downstairs some mornings grumbling about having been awakened too early by her sisters.
Oh, yeah, it’s time. Anyone got a Diesel-powered 300 horsepower leaf blower with a hole in the muffler?
But, so far, I have chickened out. That child is grumpier than I am without a full night’s sleep, and for some reason, I have held off.
I think it is the lesson “Tora, Tora, Tora.”
Pearl Harbor was in flames, ships sunk, people killed. I don’t have to lay it out for you. You remember the 2001 movie by the same name, the one in which they ripped off “Tora, Tora, Tora” and made a love story out of it.
Anyway, at very end of “Tora, Tora, Tora,” the Japanese Admiral assesses the situation with regret, and a powerful quote lingers on the screen:
“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
And that’s why I haven’t yet fired up the leaf blower outside of my nine-year-old’s bedroom window.

We were driving down the street last evening, reveling in the usual melodic sounds of a Van Load of Kids (Hey, she poked me with her marker; Mommeeeeeee, she’s in my personal space; Tell her to stop kicking the back of my seat, etc), when we passed the neighbor’s house and saw the neighbor guy in his side yard.
He had a fresh Yeungling in one hand, a lit cigarette in the other.
His wife has recently told us she is expecting their first child, in December.
I asked Wife: “What’s that guy’s name again?”
And then the fun began. Wife knew where I was going, before I even set out (as she usually does).
“Mike’s DONE. He just doesn’t know it yet,” she said.
Oh yeah, I said, enjoy that beer, Mike. Smoke ’em while you got ’em. Smoke three at a time.
The girls sat bickering in the back seat, as wife and I each climbed up the corner ropes, so as to better come down on Mike’s head with the flying suplex.
Every night, when Mike comes home from work, he grabs a beer and heads to his tiny detached garage and enjoys a smoke.
Done, done and done, Mikey ol’ boy.
Though, start fixing up that garage now, Mike, ’cause it’s going to be the only place “in the house” you can get any peace. While you’re at it, might want to install a lock ON THE INSIDE.
“Yeah,” Wife says, “that could be the BEST Father’s Day, right? When you know you are going to have a kid, but don’t yet.”
Typical disclaimer: No, neither one of us would trade this for anything. It’s just a big change. A completely different, wrenching, cold lead slug to the brain change.
Down the whole 12-pack, Mike. Shotgun a fifth of bourbon. Set the carton of Camels on fire.
Happy Father’s Day.
You are SO toast.
(Fade to sound of evil, knowing laughter.)

“The Bigs,” as Wife and I sometimes call the two older daughters, have a saying: “Flashback.”
(I think that’s the word, something like that.) It means, “Back at you.” It’s a short version of the ultra-childish, old-school “I am rubber and you are glue/whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”
Gosh, I’m old.
So, this morning, at breakfast, Fontaine hit me with a “Flashback!” without even having to use the word. Maybe it wasn’t so much a “Flashback!” as it was a “BUUURN,” a la Kelso on “That ’70s Show.”
(See, even my references are old. Is that show still on? What next, a M*A*S*H reference?)
I was lamenting to Wife that the new college-student renters had woken me up at 3:(freaking)15 a.m. with their excessively loud conversation out on the sidewalk. I was not happy.
“I’m going to be a BIG problem for those people,” I said.
Wife, who is so much nicer and more strategic than I, suggested:
“Well, I hear you, but at least the first time we need to approach them reasonably, explain to them that a lot of people have kids and are sleeping at that time.”
Fontaine: “Dad, I don’t think you can do that, can you? I think you better wake up Mom and have her do it.”
Me, ignoring both of them, and even as I type this, I am starting to realize I might be coming across as a grump: “There’s just SOMETHING about a Southern woman’s voice — they can penetrate lead. And why does someone need a car alarm — BEEP BEEP BEEP — to get into his own car? Isn’t that for when someone else tries to get into your car?”
Fontaine looks over.
“See Dad, I really don’t think you can do this. Really. You’d better wake up Mom.”

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