Tag Archives: children

My Children Teach Me How to Live

14 Jul

Feeding Birds

Earlier this month my daughter, pictured above, wanted to catch a rabbit with her bare hands. I mean, she really wanted to catch a rabbit and completely believed it could happen. I saw the disappointment (and maybe a tear or two) when we left her uncle’s sprawling, rabbit-filled property.

Lately she’s been standing in the driveway with bird seed in her outstretched hand waiting for a feathered friend to land on her arm. Last night I came outside and found her on her back. There was no wry smile on her face saying “I’m just being silly, daddy.” She wasn’t trying to entertain us. She believed. This makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. The innocence, the creativity, the thought of my daughters growing up, the cuteness, the weirdness, the reach for the wild, natural world.

I’m having intense emotions over all of it this morning. I can’t stop looking at these photos. I just want to hug her and say anything’s possible. I want to hold her and tell her to never stop trying to catch the rabbit.

Feeding Birds - Full Body

Because amazing children grow up to be jaded adults who stop running after rabbits and waiting for birds to land in our hands.

Today I will grasp seed and lie beside my daughter. I will pretend to expect something amazing to happen. She’ll look over at my face and will see nothing but genuine excitement and enthusiasm. Yes, I pride myself on my natural ability to appear ignorant and innocent around them. I let them figure things out and I’m always happy to thank them for helping me understand how the world works.

Can you imagine a father saying “Get up you little weirdo; a bird will never land in your hand” or “Give up, you’ll never catch a rabbit with your hands; you have to shoot them.”

Last night we were walking the dogs when Chloe yelled “Skunk!” And there, on our left, fifteen feet away, were four skunks, a mother and three babies. Then, chaos. The dogs went wild. The girls were in a state of agitated wonder. The sight of those identical fuzzy tails, all up and on alert, bundled with the reaction of the girls, was amazing. I love those moments.

But just think of all the experiences we give up because we’re unavailable. The moments that are not because we’re on Facebook or mindlessly poking around online. Or we’re watching “reality” TV. Just as likely, we’re working to pay for that big house with all that stuff in it. Like that’s more important.

The other night I made the girls go on a walk with me. They groaned. I said “Come on, it’ll be an adventure!” We ended up at Chloe’s old school, Ainsley’s new. We found a beat up hockey puck and took turns rolling it down the hilly playground asphalt. We ran. We jumped. We swung. We laughed. What if I had stayed on the computer that night instead of urging them out into the neighborhood? What if I was at work, doing some mindless, meaningless task for some stupid corporation?

I’ll try not to think about the experiences I’ve cheated us from in the past. What’s done is done.

I’ll never have this fatherhood thing figured out. One lifetime isn’t enough. But on some days I think I have a solid plan on how to move forward.

Today, I think we’ll go on another walk and see what wild, unexpected adventures we get into.

Life this Week and 8 More Possessions

14 Feb

Here are some of the “goings on” this week.

Last night Sammie somehow squeezed into a small cardboard box full of clean socks and two of my jackets (looks like a pair of underwear too). She’s famous for occasionally finding hilarious spots to nap.

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We have a Blendtec “Total” Blender, a superhero kitchen appliance with a price that will make you sick to your stomach, which is kind of happening to me right now. I don’t remember paying $500 for ours. I think it was more like $400. Anyway, we use it almost daily. The digital screen keeps track of how many times it’s been used. We’re over 1,500. This month I added a Twister Jar, and I produced the almond and peanut butter pictured below. I added cocoa powder to the peanut butter on the right.

I went from a cup of almonds to creamy almond butter in 40 seconds thanks to the twister lid. While blending you twist the lid and it keeps your ingredients scraped from the sides of the blender.

Seriously, if you want to change your nutritional life, buy a Blendtec or a Vita-Mix.
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On Tuesday I turned on the wrong burner, so instead of heating pasta sauce I melted a container of chickpeas and filled the house with toxic fumes. The beans you see below are stewing in a puddle of melted plastic. Luckily, when it cooled, it peeled off cleanly.

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The next photo I added to show “the world” how amazing we are that we have a fridge full of healthy fruits and vegetables. Are you impressed? I would love to see what’s in your refrigerator. Ten years ago a photo of my fridge would have been much different, containing very little except cow milk, soda, ketchup, pickles and maybe leftover SpaghettiOs (Ick!). The only thing I see that isn’t healthy is a package of cheese tortellini that the kids demand once every couple of weeks and two small pizza crusts under the head of cabbage.

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After taking pics of Sammie in the box, Ainsley took some self-portraits.

AinsleyMonday before school I shoved some poly stuffing into Trouble’s collar. As you can see, Ainsley wasn’t impressed. I, however, found it hilarious.

TroubleTheGrayCat

I’m still counting my stuff. See here and here. This is next to where I sleep. See photo below.

11. Alarm clock that looks like a phone.

12. Charger cord – Fits our four phones, four tablets, and three Kindles.

13. Ikea lamp

14. Marpac Dohm Sound Conditioner – I don’t think I can sleep without it.

15. Bedroom eyeglasses – You can barely see them in the pic.

16. Kindle Paperwhite e-reader – Maybe my favorite possession.

17. Google Nexus 7 tablet – Not far behind.

18. Table.

I’m not counting the cases because they nest. The way I look at it, if I were moving my stuff from one residence to another, it would be one bundled item. Consumables like facial tissues don’t count.

Bedside

Eww, Your Clutter is Touching my Sleeve

17 Jan

Every few years I go on a mad purge of my personal possessions. In 2008 I even counted all my stuff and blogged about what I kept and what I got rid of. I trashed my blog, but I got the idea here: 100 Thing Challenge. Once I whittled my shit down to under one hundred items, I quit keeping track. Then, like a well-behaved U.S. consumer I resumed accumulating stuff at a dizzying pace. Until this winter.

What’s behind this bizarre anti-consumerist attitude?

  1. I don’t like to walk into a room and feel the need to say “What the hell? Look at all this shit in here. I’m not living in a Hoarders house!”
  2. I’m done standing before my closet and seeing shirts I never wear. I once owned over thirty t-shirts. I’m down to three (not counting workout shirts).
  3. I refuse to buy a bunch of shit just because we live in a big house. When we moved in May of 2010 it was horrifying to learn that we “needed” to double our furniture.
  4. mnmlist.com

I’ve donated a shitload of books to the library and hauled a dozen garbage bags stuffed with random clutter to Goodwill. I’ve sold shit on Craigslist and practically worn out Freecycle. It all would’ve made for a helluva yard sale.

And I have more to purge: our second TV and Blu-Ray player, two area rugs, a dresser, crib, two dry erase boards, old  magazines, a broken printer, old paint, a camcorder, a small dog cage, redundant kitchen gadgets, a screwed up lawn mower, and maybe a domestic pet or two.

Of course, with kids, it all falls apart. We’ve allowed them to hoard too many toys and it’s difficult to pry them from their surprisingly strong little hands. Once in awhile I brave the bowels of the “play room” to weed out the scribbled on papers, broken toys, random puzzles pieces, doll parts, and the occasional rock-hard dog turd under the bed.

I hate to say they’re spoiled, but THEY’RE FREAKING SPOILED! Okay, maybe not. I don’t know.

We have the extra space so I’m kinda okay with their stuff because Chloe is twelve and outgrowing most of it. Ainsley’s right behind her. Oh my god it’s making me sad to think of them growing up. When Chloe’s sixteen I’ll grab her hand, give it a tug, and say “Hey Chloe let’s go play with your American Girl dolls, huh? Want to? Want to?” She’ll roll her eyes at me and say into her phone “Is your dad a frickin’ weirdo like mine?”

We Saved Frosty Paws

9 Nov

Wednesday morning Ainsley and I broke up a real live cat fight on the way to school. I was ahead of her, pedaling my ass off, when she saw or heard something to our left in someone’s front yard. She said “Daddy, stop! Turn around!” We circled around and saw two cats making a loud fuss about something. (I think I heard one of them say something about the direction of the country and the other one was asking about “legitimate” rape. Weird.)

I said “Ainsley, you’re a hero! Let’s go break it up before one of them gets hurt.”

“Okay, let’s go!”

As we pedaled over, fur flew from the body of the tan cat. We said “Stop fighting, cats! It’s not worth it! Whatever you’re fighting over–will it matter a two years from now? One year from now? No, of course not! Peace, brothers!”

The cats didn’t even look at us. On a normal day they’d probably run from approaching strangers, but on this day of war they both remained in a low, defensive posture right next to each other making low, growling noises.

A car pulled into a nearby driveway and a woman got out. “Oh my. Come here Frosty Paws!” I asked which cat was Frosty Paws. “The one getting the tar kicked out of him.” Oh, the tan cat. The one who was a little less furry today. The one who looked like he was in the middle of a summer shearing.

I used my front tire to separate the cats. I said “Ah, the poor thing” as she scooped Sparkle Paws up into her loving arms and told the black and white challenger (Romney) to hit the road. “Shoo! Go on, shoo! Get out of here! Go!”

I did the same: “Go on you dirty flea bag! Crawl back into the hole you came from!”

The nice lady thanked us for being such good samaritans and we resumed out trip to LeClaire Elementary. As we left I looked at Ainsley and she smiled real big at what had just happened.

It’s one of the reasons I enjoy riding our bikes to and from school. In a car we’re cut off from what’s happening around us. In a car we would have driven right past this street fight, maybe not even noticing the cats. Even if Ainsley had spotted the fight from the back seat, I doubt I would have even slowed down. But now we have a story to tell.

My In-laws Are Trying to Kill my Future Grand-baby

30 Sep

On September 22, the day we celebrated our daughter’s birthday with a houseful of people, Jennifer’s parents pulled into our driveway with an old wooden high chair. My father-in-law put it in front of our garage. I was hoping this was all part of some temporary display for the party. Sort of like a short run in a museum. But three hours later, they left; the high chair stayed.

I thought this strange because we no longer lock our kids into kitchen chairs to feed them pureed vegetables–they’re eight and twelve. I learned that Jennifer sat in that very chair and threw pasta on the floor and chewed on mashed peas and other soft foods and probably shit her pants in it a time or two. Whatever. She’s now in her mid-thirties. I wondered why the hell the high chair was still around in the first place. Obviously, the old thing has been stored away in some dark, spider-infested corner for a long time. Nobody cared about the high chair.

And now we’re supposed to care about it?

Her dad wanted to trash it, but her mom thought it’d be better to give it to us. Maybe she expects us to store it for 15 to 20 years just in case Chloe wants to strap her first child into it, assuming she’ll want to have kids. Hell, it could be Ainsley in 25 years to bring forth our first grandchild.

I know the drill, the American way. If an item has a chance of being used in the next sixty years, I’m supposed to store it in the basement, attic, or garage. I’ll watch as stuff piles up and we lose track of everything. And we will be convinced we need to stay in an over-sized house to store all of it.

Just because a house doesn’t qualify for Hoarders–just not quite scary enough–doesn’t mean there’s not a problem with this craziness.

I’m not sure what Jennifer thinks about the high chair. Does she want to store it away for a couple decades? I’ll probably ask her today. If she’s ambivalent, the chair will be in the hands of someone looking for such an item right now. Maybe a single mother who would be thrilled to receive a free high chair. Hopefully, by Tuesday, a smiling baby will be sitting in it, squishing wet cookies between her fingers.

I know, I know, most people have a different view. They scream “SENTIMENTAL VALUE!” Keep this. Keep that. When Chloe moves away to college am I supposed to hold a tiny little jumper against my cheek and cry? I can cry and remember just fine without it.

In fact, besides photos and videos that will be stored on some future computer, I own nothing that I wish to still possess twenty years from now.

There will be no auction when I die, I assure you.

If the “We have no room!” argument falls flat, I’ll point out the design flaws inherent in a 70s model high chair. Let me call it what it is–a death trap. No air bags, of course. The legs are too close together which means it will tip.

“Jennifer, do you want are first grand-baby to smack her soft little head on the kitchen floor?”

Also, it seems to be designed especially for smashing tiny fingers when the  eating surface is lowered. What kind of animal would put a child in a high chair that was manufactured by cretins back when Carter sat in the White House munching on peanuts?

Besides the safety concerns, I would be ashamed–no, appalled!–to give this to my daughter and have to say:

“Oh, I’m sorry about the Frisbee-sized eating surface on this antique piece of furniture. Just know that you’ll be spending most of your day cleaning food from the floor. Also–and you may  even remember this–I tried to get rid of this piece of firewood back in 2012. And you might remember the subsequent attempts in 2014, 2018, 2022, and that final valiant effort I gave back in 2028. I realize you can’t walk into a thrift store without tripping over modern, practical, safe high chairs available for five bucks, but you’re Granny, bless her soul, wanted us to store this for a large portion of our lives so you could–in twelve minutes–realize its many faults and hazards. You might have better luck duck-taping this precious baby to the wall. But still, enjoy.”

Note: If you were wondering how I could hand over such a hazardous chair to a stranger, you’re right. The best thing I could do for this world is to burn this high chair immediately. 

This Post Smells Like Salmon!

4 Sep

Note: This post was written LAST week. Saturday morning, actually. I tell you this because today it’s sunny, dry, and hot and the remnants of Isaac have passed. Not that this matters, but that’s just how honest I am. I would never lie about the weather. That’s, you know, like a SIN … or something. 

What was Hurricane Isaac has reached Edwardsville. It’s dark and ominous outside where my bike is locked to a light pole. I’m sitting in Panera Bread with a mug of decaffeinated coffee. I know I’ll be rained on this morning, but I’m semi-prepared; I have an extra set of clothes. Also, I brought the lids to my kitty litter container panniers. So while I might get soaked down to my skivvies, the laptop, phone, iPod, clothes, and backpack will be dry.

I’m drinking “decaf” because earlier this summer I realized I was drinking more coffee than ever. Each day I held my hand up in front of my face and watched it vibrate. My mind raced. I jumped over cars. Not really on that last one, but I felt like I could. Caffeine is a socially accepted drug. It’s mostly harmless, of course, but I realized that I’d probably be better off without it.

So here I am, like a newborn baby: drug and alcohol free. No smoky, no drinky, no caffeiney. And yes that does include a ban on all caffeinated soda. Boring, right?

There’s nothing better, some would say, than a roaring drug habit to fuel my need for writing topics. You know, interesting stuff. Last night I could have been out on the streets of St. Louis selling myself to score some crack, but I was in bed at 8:30 reading Junie B. Jones to Ainsley. I can’t remember the title, but it’s a Halloween story where Junie dresses up like Squirty the Clown.

After I don’t know how many chapters, Ainsley left and came back with a handful of stuffed animals and her blankey/pillow combo. I grabbed a plush dog named “Delgado” by the back of the neck and made it talk and move around for a few minutes before Ainsley told me to stop. She wanted to play by herself. Offended, I said fine. I thought I was hilarious with that dog; Chloe would make me animate her toys for hours. I remember I could do it while napping on the floor. Something like the following was was common when she was around the age of four.

“Daddy! Wake up!”

“Huh? Oh, sorry. (in a high-pitched voice) Why yes Chloe I would love to come over for dinner, but what about Moo Cow, can she come too?”

I get a kick out of asking the girls “Who PLAYS better, mommy or daddy?” With no hesitation: “Daddy!” I got all warm and fuzzy inside and that just made me want to “play” even better. Yes, my talking animals were a hit.

Since they’re 7 and 12, my puppeteering days are pretty much over. This morning that fact is making me sad and teary. Right here in Panera I’m going to cry. There’s nothing better, nothing harder, than having kids to raise. But then they grow up.

Ainsley wants to live at home with us forever. I told her that’s fine and I would love that. I also mentioned that she’d probably change her mind when she’s fifteen. She didn’t believe that for a second. She then asked how old I’d be. I guess she was thinking that since I’m so damn old I’m not going to be around very long for her to live with anyway.

I brought extra clothes because I might bike over to The Y to exercise. Some say exercise is like a drug. I’m one of those people, but the hardest part is the crossover moment between “not exercising” and “exercising.” It’s the getting started part that kills me. Once I leave here, the deciding factor will be the direction I point my bike. If I head towards home, I’m screwed and I won’t make it to the gym. If I point my front wheel towards the gym and start pedaling I’ll reach the safe drug and my self-esteem will tick upwards.

We live two miles from one YMCA and four miles from another, larger, nicer one. On Thursday I biked to the nice one and realized when I rolled up to the bike rack that my back tire was flat. I dug a piece of brown glass from the rubber. I momentarily thought about just forgetting the whole damn plan to exercise. “I should just go home and take a nap; nothing’s going right today!” But I stayed.

Then I walked the bike a mile and a half to Target. I went in and looked around for 20 minutes until the next bus came along. The bus was crowded and the girl next to me smelled like salmon, but I didn’t mind. Not that I like the smell of salmon; I don’t. Even when I used to eat meat, I didn’t like salmon. I guess I was simply in a high mood where salmon people can’t bring me down. I love seeing the bus crowded, but that’s for political reasons I won’t go into today. I heard a guy behind me talking to his little boy. He said “A guy kissing his son is the only time it’s right for two males to kiss. But a guy kissing another guy–I’m not having it.” It’s always interesting on the bus.

Well, the sun is peaking out and ducking in–over and over–so I’m going to unchain my bike, hammer the pedals, and see where I end up.

Being Married to Me Isn’t a Walk in the Park

2 Jul

Unless you’re always writing about it and putting it online.

Individuality (or selfhood) is the state or quality of being an individual; a person separate from other persons and possessing his or her own needs or goals. Being self expressive, independent.

I’m been thinking about how much individuality one is expected to give up in marriage. Last night I read George Orwell’s essay, “Why I Write,” and was struck by this:

The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class.

I’m part of a family of four people and I wouldn’t change that, this isn’t about the line between marriage and divorce, but I agree with Orwell here. I’m fighting to hold onto my individuality; my fingernails are dug in; my legs are wrapped around it, but I’m up against the limits. She has her ideas of what life should be. I have mine. But where do these preferences come from?

We learn how we’re “supposed” to live from the media, the government, our parents, just about everywhere we look we’re being influenced. It’s baffling to me that these things are considered normal nowadays: television as #1 free time killer, retail therapy, eating junk food, lethargy, obesity, and materialism. Lifestyle diseases–AVOIDABLE diseases– like heart disease and diabetes are now accepted as a part of life.

So my preferred mode of living is to question everything. If I ask why THIS has to be done THAT way and you say “That’s just the way it is” or “It’s always been that way” or anything in that vein, I’m going to–I don’t know–scream real loud on the inside. I might rebel.

The big issues are where we choose to live, what we do with our time, what we do with our money, what kind of work we do. I can’t cover the biggies right now, but here’s some small stuff from recent events or conversations. And keep in mind that I’m not saying I have it all figured out and my wife is stuck in “conformity hell.” She would (and I encourage her to) write about her own life philosophy.

Food presentation. We had some family over last night. I pulled roasted asparagus from the toaster oven and grabbed a glass bowl to put it in. I was going to put in on the table. No, not the right way to do it I learned. Leave in on the baking pan in the kitchen. What’s really important about sharing a meal with family or friends? It’s the experience, the togetherness. Sure, the taste of the food fits in there somewhere, but it’s not nearly as important. And everything else? Pshaw! I think it would be neat to sit in a circle, cross-legged to eat a big meal … just for fun. I don’t care what kind of bowl the salad (or asparagus) is in. I don’t care if Uncle Barney likes to rub his food against his bald head before eating it. Husbands, if you’re “helping” in the kitchen and you feel like your wife has her eye on what you’re doing, remember, there are no “real” universal rules. Hold onto your individuality.

No playing ball in the house? She grew up hearing that, and so did I. She tells the kids the same thing maybe just because that’s what she learned growing up. It’s important to question everything you learned as a child because our parents are human and they certainly didn’t have all the answers. I “play ball” in the house with the girls all the time. Kids grow up and leave, so I need to have those moments with them now. I’m not going to squelch a game of “tackle monkey in the middle” over a rigid, inherited rule.  Husbands, are you going along with this rule? Stand up for yourself and put the issue to a democratic vote.

Landscaping. We’ve been talking about this a lot lately. Some people enjoy pulling weeds and planting flowers and digging holes and jumping on every stray leaf. That’s great, it’s good exercise and it’s a million times better than sitting in front of the television. Some see it as a neighborly competition (not good). I wanted to buy a condo where the outside was maintained by someone else. If I’d rather jog or go for a bike ride or read or write or study or learn or think or meditate, what are my obligations towards helping my wife with her idea of acceptable lawn aesthetics? I agree, if she needs help, I should be available. But should her priorities supersede mine? Should she get angry because we care about different things? If I give up my individuality to keep my wife happy, am I being “smothered under drudgery”?

Bed. We sleep in normal, American-style beds. Why? I guess because that’s what we had as children. In Japan they sleep on special futons that they roll up and put away during the day. Since before I knew about what they were doing in Japan, I rebelled against the American bed. What the hell is the box spring for? Why do I have to be up off the floor? I happily slept on the floor for years. If my individuality ends up costing me my married status, I already know that I’ll be rocking Japanese-style sleeping arrangements. During the day I’ll do yoga, push ups, jumping jacks, meditation, basket weaving, playing ball, or any number of activities IN MY BEDROOM. Space saving! (This leads to another issue: how big of a house does a family need? I definitely don’t have time to get into that now.)

Couch. I know I’ve talked about this before, but it brings me much joy. Jennifer bought a set of small couches that she tries to protect with much energy. She bought them knowing we had cats when we moved into our current house. Well, the cats have shredded the couches. If you want to put Jennifer in a bad mood, whisper “shredded couch” into her ear. Not that I do that. My wife has said (loudly) something like “Girls, don’t climb on the couch” over a hundred times in two years. I remember my mom was similarly protective of furniture.

Can you picture your childhood couch? Where is it now? If you climbed over the back of it did you add to its demise? Does anything having to do with that couch MATTER now? To me it doesn’t even matter now. If the kids are getting along and having fun, I’m good. More importantly, I don’t want them stressing over material possessions when they have their own kids. I tell them this: when you have your own kids, encourage them to play on the couch, but now, listen to you mother.

This scene in American Beauty sums it up for me. IT’S JUST A COUCH!