ImageWe’ve all heard those stories about a family that moved, and “accidentally left behind” the family cat. Days, weeks or months later, there is a scratching at the family’s door and, lo and behold, there stands the cat — its paws worn to a nub, having traveled (blank blank) miles out of pure devotion and unexplained animal instinct.

Well, that story has now gone Inanimate Plastic.

Yesterday, the girls were out exploring a stream at the edge of our neighborhood, and doing really cool kid things like building tiny rafts with sticks and lashing them together with bendable reeds and having raft floating contests. Right at the end of the road, the stream turns into a series of mini-waterfalls and pools, and in one of those pools was one of those el cheapo Chinese-made (I wonder what “El Cheapo” is in Mandarin) plastic/rubber balls.

“Hey!!!,” shouts Rosebud, “that’s just like the ball I got for my birthday in Norfolk. Just like it. That could be my ball.”

She sets off across slippery rock and muddy “island” and tries to get the ball. She can’t reach it and finally takes my suggestion to knock it loose with a stick. She picks up the mildew-ridden ball (see spots all over it on the photo) and hauls it out.

“This is definitely the ball I got on my birthday.”

Geography update: Norfolk to Roanoke? About 240 miles, and mostly uphill after it leaves the Coastal Plain region, crosses the Piedmont round about Charlottesville and then the Blue Ridge before heading south in the Shenandoah Valley.

Who says the Chinese don’t make quality crap?

So Rosebud and I head back to the house, where our efforts to wash up the mildewed lost pink birthday ball in the kitchen sink (hey, wife gets one of those big trendy “farm sinks,” and we don’t even farm, so…) are thwarted by Wife/Mommy, and we head down to the basement to the utility sink.

Mildew still won’t come up, but it is now CLEAN mildew.

Rosebud and I head outside to the driveway and conduct a great game of “roll and bounce the pink ball back and forth”, until Rosebud sees the neighbor and shouts her amazing luck to the neighbor.

“I found my pink ball from Norfolk.”

Well, how lucky, that’s your favorite color, too, neighbor shouts back.

“I’m going to keep it safe, in case it’s somebody else’s — and they call and want it back.”

I’m thinking about making some posters for local telephone poles: “Found. Mildewed Pink Ball.”

Rosebud was home from Kindergarten this afternoon, following a visit to the school nurse’s office and what appeared to be a successful but largely overly hyped complaint about a case of the sniffles.

Not to admit to being parents who cave, but after a short but tedious chunk of time at home in which the overly hyped complaints continued, we found ourselves looking for the iPad so that Daddy could work (I thought about immediately reporting to the Yahoo offices, whose CEO has just banned telecommuting, just to get away from the complaining, but then came face to face with the stark disappointment that I don’t work for Yahoo).

At some point, amid the frustration of not being able to find the iPad — to discover later that Elizabeth had “forgotten” that she had had it — I apparently uttered something like, “…Because I have freaking work to do!”

Rosebud looked up and said: “Why do you always say ‘freaking’ when you’re mad?”

Well, I thought, because I can’t use the words that I really want to use, but what I said was, “Because it makes me feel less mad.”

She looked at me like that was really stupid.

“I usually just let all the mads out,” she said.

Well, how do you do that?

“By telling what I feel like and yelling it,” she said, “because that helps my temper go down….down…down….down.”

Easy as pie. No need for lifelong sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy at $125 an hour (So, tell me, how did that make you feel? So, tell me, how did feeling like that make you feel? Is that working for you, or do you think you should take another approach?)

Nope. Just tell what you feel like and yell it.


Let the freaking mads out.Image

Now, I’m Dad Enough

Sometimes, the modern Dad can be tempted to wonder if he is “Dad Enough.” Is he, or hey, am *I*, as much of a Dad as my Dad was or my wife’s Dad was or even, dare of all dares, their Dads were?

You know, you do tend to wonder these things as as you are sipping a Peppermint Mocha Latte that you just paid $5 for or as you are sitting in the car place asking them for their Wifi password while some other dude changes your oil.

And just then, along comes The Test. For me, that was Christmas Eve day when, at 10 a.m., I lugged a giant box into the walk-in closet that I share with Wife and pried it open. It was a dollhouse, ordered from a place called Kidcraft, made specifically to accommodate Barbies.

I have done this often enough to know that the scope of a job can be quickly calculated by the size of the screw pack that comes with the item. This one was a biggie. There was one size of screw that contained 28 pieces. The letters went from A through R. ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQR is a lot of different sizes of screw.

I pulled each piece of this monster out of the box and propped them around the room. I could tell then, that this was going to take a while. I hoped two hours would do it. I also decided something: “If I get this thing put together, if anybody asks, I am ALLOWED to say: Yes, that is the dollhouse that I BUILT for Rosebud.”

The directions sheet went EIGHT pages. Did you know that they don’t really write directions, in words, anymore? They just draw pictures and you have to figure out what the pictures mean and where the dotted lines indicate that the screws are supposed to go? Check out the first two pages in that photo. This is the SAT problem of all SAT problems.

By 1 p.m., three hours in, I decided to have a beer.

I called Wife in twice to make sure I had the proper interpretation — as she went to architecture school.

The dollhouse grew and grew until it was about as tall as my chest.

Finally, four hours and one Pale Ale later, it was done. “There it is,” I thought, “that’s the dollhouse I built for Rosebud.”

And I had two other thoughts:

Yeah, I’m Dad Enough.

And, this sucker is from Wife and I. If Santa wanted his name on this beast, he could’ve sent down a couple of elves.

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?

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