Friday, January 29, 2010

Sad Songs

In the tune, “Sad Songs” by Elton John, there is a line that says “When all hope is gone, sad songs say it so much.”

I bring it up as there are a lot of sad songs I hear on the radio each day. But, for me, one of the saddest songs ever is “Cat’s In The Cradle,” sung by the late Harry Chapin. The song has four verses. The first one is about when his child is born. The father is so busy that he misses his son learning to walk and also misses a lot of the talking. It ends with a toddler telling his Dad he’s going to be just like him when he grows up. In the second verse, the child is now ten years old., He receives a new ball and invites his Dad to play, but Dad was still too busy. The child said it was okay and still talked about growing up “just like his Dad.”

In the third verse, the son comes home from college. His Dad invites him to sit and chat. Instead, the son borrows the car and goes out.

In the final verse, the Dad is retired and the son has his own family. The Dad calls his son and asks about getting together. However, a new job and sick children prevent the son from having time to meet his father. The last line of the verse is “And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me. He’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.”

I was reminded of this song recently by my eight year old son. My eight-year-old likes me to tuck him in each night. It’s a little thing, but it’s very important to him. Most of the time I can, but sometimes I’m busy. I always tell him I’ll be a few minutes, but sometimes it gets late and he falls asleep waiting for me. A couple of nights ago was an instance where I was too late. When I went back to his room the next morning to check on him before going to work, I moved the blankets, which were twisted all around him. Then, I picked up his bear off the floor and put it back in bed with him. He woke up, looked at me, and said “Good night, Daddy.” He didn’t realize it was morning.

Life does call and I know there are things I need to do. However, whatever I’m doing, I always need to ensure that I‘m never too busy to tuck my son in.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sweatin' With The Youngies

It was over dinner Sunday night (and I’m thankful that we always eat dinner a family, even if my younger son always ends up saying grace with his mouth full), that my wife asked me if I wanted to join a gym.

“I think the place may be running a special. Ten dollars a month isn’t bad.”

“I know,” I said. “I just wonder if I'll have the time?”

“Well, you should do something. You could stand to drop a few pounds. The doctor said so.”

I looked down at my slight paunch and knew she was right. I’m not fat, but I don’t want to keep growing in the stomach.”

“Dad,” my younger son piped in, “if you go to the gym, I want to go, too.”

“You already have a gym,” my wife said. “It’s called recess.”

“It’s been too cold, Mommy.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she responded. “You still get exercise.”

“I know,” he answered. “Daddy, you can use that movie you have with the exercise girl, the one that I used to do with you.”

Exercise girl? My wife mouthed, wondering what video I was showing the kids when she wasn’t home.

“Pilates,” I said,

My wife nodded and then her head perked up. “I know. You can do exercise TV on cable.”

“We can do what?”

“Exercises. There are free videos on TV.”

With dinner over and the table cleared, we began searching our cable company’s “On Demand” feature. Normally, we only use this for movies, as it was good for both free ones as well as ones where we know even buying it on DVD is still too high a price. But I’d had no idea there was exercise videos as well.

We looked first for a short video to get into the spirit. There were all sorts of categories. Basic toning. Cardio. Carmen Electra (I know what that one is. Could never watch it with my kids), as well as walking videos. We scrolled through the toning videos, choosing one for basic abs and thighs, as I was silently thankful that my kids didn’t ask me to explain some of the more interesting titles. We spent 15 minutes, getting some kinks out of our muscles while my wife and I moved the couch to give us room. It had definitely been awhile.

“Kick in, not out.”

“Arms up.”

“Crunch.”

“Stay in rhythm.”

“Mommy stop laughing.”

I looked over at my wife. “Honey, you’re welcome to join us.,”

“No, I’m already good shape,” she joked. Granted, I’ve been telling her that for years. It takes something like this for her to believe me.

Ab work done. We started a walking video, doing what amounted to 1+ miles in about 20 minutes. Finally, we called it a day.

“What? You’re quitting?” my wife asked.

“Honey, the workout’s over. The boys need to study.”

My wife laughed. “And what’s your excuse.”

“I have to help them.”

I’m certain it won’t be our last night of family exercise, though I don’t know how long we’ll stay at it. If it goes at least a month, it will exceed most of our resolutions. Still, with family dinners and a family workout, it was a nice evening at home. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Going It All Alone

“Mom. Dad. Guess what I got on my math test.”

My 12-year old son’s attempt to hold back a smile gave away the answer, but we still asked the question. “What’d you get?”

“One hundred percent.”

“Great,” my wife and I both said.

We were proud of him. However, my pride also contained relief. This test had been a little different from other ones in that my son hadn’t asked my help in studying for it. My son has always been an “A” student in math. It’s his best subject. However, as he has progressed in grades, his homework has gotten harder, requiring him to study more hours. My wife often helps with projects and preparing study sheets. I handle Math, Science, and History tutoring.

But what made this math test different? When we asked him last week about what tests he had this week, he mentioned the math test. He has 2-3 tests/quizzes per week and we both work with him. However, when we asked if he needed to study (and study help), he surprised us. “No, I’m ready for it.”

“Are you sure? The test is in two days.”

“No, I’m good.”

We repeated the same queries the night before the test. He said he didn’t need it. He was ready.

And so we did something which is at times, very hard for us. We took him at his word that he was ready.

It wasn’t the first time he’s claimed to be ready for an exam on his own. Sometimes, he does well. Other times, he makes silly mistakes. But why is this hard for us? For those of you that may not know, my older son has speech and language difficulties. It’s hard for him to express himself, to follow a conversation, and to follow social cues. (The last trait my wife attributes to me.) This ability to process information is one of the reasons we study with him hours every day. It takes him that much extra time to learn. He may pick up only a little in class. We teach him the rest at home.

For him to say he was ready without us was his confidence that through class, and by studying on his own, he was ready. And this is a big step. It gives my wife and I pause, but we want to believe he can do it on his own. And when he brings home a 100%, my wife and I celebrate with him. And my son had confidence, knowing he had progressed in learning to do things on his own.

Yesterday, he had a science test. I don’t remember studying groundwater and saturation zones as a kid and I doubt I’ll remember it much after this week is over. But we did spend three nights on it, getting my son ready for the test. And I’m sure I’ll do it again soon. But maybe soon, he’ll learn to be okay on this subject as well.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Legoland

For those of you that have small children and have spent some time in southern California, you might be familiar with a place called Legoland. This theme park, north of San Diego, offers unbelievable fun to Lego-crazed kids everywhere. My boys have been several times, as my in-laws live in L.A. Given a choice, at least for now, they would choose Legoland over Disneyland. And with a Lego-themed scheduled or Atlanta sometimes in the future, I know we’ll become members and visit regularly.

This post has nothing to do with that.

Instead, today’s musing deal with another adventurous Legoland, the one in our house. We’ve bought untold numbers of Lego toys over the years, going back to the day when my older son discovered Bionicles. We’ve put the toys together, taken them apart, and then built bigger ones like taking two double stuff Oreos and making one really big cookie. When we moved from Oregon several years ago, my wife, in packing the house, actually managed to disassemble all the Lego toys, put them back in the original boxes she’d saved, and ship them to Georgia. This is one of the most amazing feats of reverse engineering in mankind’s history.

But as my kids grew, we expanded our Lego investment, branched out on Legos, buying bigger and better ones (re: more complex). And why a 1,000 piece Lego model is suitable for kids 5 & up I’ll never know, but we accepted without question the age recommendations on the boxes, confident that it would be a learning experience.

We got that right. We learned.

We learned that once a boy builds a Lego he is likely to destroy a Lego. And my younger son, whom we should have named Calvin (after Calvin & Hobbes) is a master of his craft. Pieces go all over the place. Toys gets mixed together. Things fall in (get launched into) the heating vent. And if it’s hard enough to find a 1-mm piece amidst a thousand pieces. Imagine what happens when you’ve got 5,000 pieces in a pile and you keep adding to it every time you’re moving around in the dark or don’t watch your step.

About a year ago, after a particularly egregious experience, we enacted a Lego ban. The ban lasted until this past weekend when my wife relented and allowed our 8-year old to purchase a small Lego (actually Mega blocks) toy with his own birthday money. He promised to be good. He promised to take care of it. We also agreed let him put together a Lego toy he got for his birthday a week ago, another 1,000+ piece contraption.

The small toy didn’t last a day. We got a little peeved, tried again to re-establish some rules (or at least something that our kids would obey regarding Legos), and went forward. The rules are:

1) A broken Lego goes immediately to a table or desk with all parts.
2) Broken Legos shall ONLY be assembled at tables or desk.
3) Broken Legos are not put back in boxes, unless disassembled on purpose and confirmed that all pieces are there.
4) Assembly by dividing things into piles by both color and size (large or small) is best.
5) This is their last chance.

Until the next time.

Eventually, one day, after our kids are grown, we will likely put together the toys to confirm that we do have all the pieces. We’re going to re-box them and put them away. And then, when our sons least expect it, we’ll get our revenge.

Presents to grandkids anyone?

What rules do you have in your house for Legos or similar type objects?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Where Have You Gone, Darth Vader

My wife called me at the office. “Honey, where’d you put Darth Vader?”

I thought back to my 8-year old son’s birthday party over the previous weekend. My wife had borrower the Darth Vader game piece from his Star Wars Monopoly game, inserting it into a cupcake. At the party, she planned to distribute cupcakes to all of the kids. The one who got the Darth Vader would win a prize.

The game went off well, even though several kids decided to forgo eating and just squashed the cupcake in their hands. When the little piece was discovered, it was still covered in cake, so I retrieved it, washed it off, and showed it to the partygoers.

“It’s on the counter, right behind the basket with the chips.”

“No, it’s not. I checked there.”

“How about behind the sink?”

“Not there.”

“On the desk next to the fridge.”

“Nope.”

I paused. This was a mini-emergency. My eight-year old is a Star Wars fanatic and Darth Vader is his favorite character. We can’t lose this piece. “Honey, I’ll look for it when I get home.”

“You’ll never find it. I’m sure of it. It’s gone.”

When I got home that evening, I gave my kids hugs and immediately began a search. I first examined the places I’d already mentioned. No luck.

“Did you find it?” my wife asked.

“Not yet.”

“You didn’t put it away, did you. You could have taken an extra minute and put it away instead of leaving it out. No, you had to show it to the other kids.”

“You’re not suggesting one of his friends took it, are you?”

My wife shook her head. “No, I’m just saying one of them picked it up and then left it somewhere else. It’s gone.”

“Honey, don’t worry. We’ll find it.”

“YOU’LL find it.” Her elevated tone left no room for discussion.

We had dinner and I went back to my search. Upstairs. Downstairs. Finally, I had an idea. Think like a kid. If I’d picked up, where would I put it? I immediately started looking on the floor. I found it after turning over my second piece of furniture.

“Got it.”

“Great. Where was it?”

I thought about telling her what I’d gone through, but figured it would be better to skip it. “It was on the floor.”

“Can you put it away this time, please?”

And I did.

On the desk next to the fridge.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Game*

* Not to confused with Paul Levesque, a professional wrestler known by his ring monikers, Triple H and The Game.

“But Dad, you suck at it.”

My younger son, age 8, actually meant well with his words. He just wanted to spare his Dad any embarrassment.

“Ok, then let’s go. You. Me. Mario Kart. Mano y mano.

“Mano what?

“Against each other.”

“Oh.”

We plugged in the controls and began. The first match was no contest. He kicked my butt. My older son couldn’t resist. “Who here has a driver’s license?”

I glanced at my 12-year old, then turned to younger son. “Rematch?”

My son smiled and we restarted. A few minutes later. He sat in shock. The old man had won.

It would not be the first time I surprised my kids. For Christmas, my 12-year old son received “Punch-Out,” a Wii boxing game. I asked if I could try it.

“Dad, you wouldn’t have a chance. You can’t beat these characters. You aren’t that good.”

“I’ve never tried it. How will I know if I don’t try?”

“But you don’t know how to play.”

“Well, how about you and me? Mano y mano.”

“Mano what?”

“Against each other.”

My son nodded and set up the game. He showed me to how move the controls. Then we sparred. I KO’d him in the 2nd round.

He finally admitted I might be better than he thought and let me play the game. I got past the first two fighters before I had to call it quits. He got into the next division.

I did face both my sons again, but never matched those early successes. Granted, they’ve practiced more than I have since those match-ups. But they’d also practiced before. It leaves me with one question.

Did they let me win?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Final

I finally placed in a contest. Christian Writers of the West (American Christian Fiction Writers chapter in Phoenix, aka The Phoenix Rattlers) recently notified me to tell me I'd placed in the historical category. Click here to see their website. My site proudly sports the badge on the right.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tale of Two Rooms

I put a note up on Thursday that said I might be late. I don’t like posting late, but today there was a good reason.

I didn’t know the result of what I was going to write about.

When we bought a house here in Atlanta nearly four years ago, one of the things we liked about our new place was the large spaces for the second and third bedrooms. Both these rooms opened into a loft. Our boys had slept in separate rooms before, but the rooms had been small and close. We’d figured the boys would have been happy about it.

Our older one was.

Our younger one wasn’t.

Our little guy was scared of his new digs. Instead of sleeping by himself, he preferred to sleep with us or sleep on the floor in his older brother’s room. A kid who prided himself on his independence was afraid to be alone and afraid of the dark. He pressed on his big brother to let him move in with him. His big brother agreed and we allowed it. We turned the 3rd bedroom into a guest room and it’s been that way ever since.

However, with my older son starting sixth grade this year and often needing to work late on homework, my wife and I decided to split the two of them up. It was necessary, not only because of homework, but also because my younger son fights to stay up late and he was keeping his older brother up on nights where he needed to sleep well for a test.

We didn’t brook any dissent on this decision and spent most of this week getting things ready (Ok, my wife did most of the work, though I did move a few bits of furniture.) Last night became the big night. There were a few complaints. The biggest one was from my younger son. As my older son got the now former guest room, he also got a TV. The little guy complained that he should get one, too. We said we’d get him one as soon as he learned to turn it off when he was told. We figure we’re good on this until he goes to college.

As of this moment, the boys are asleep. Hopefully, they make it through the night that way. It’ll be good practice, especially since it looks like school will be closed tomorrow due to snow.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Guest Blogging

I have a guest post today at author Kelly Stone's blog, Free Your Creative Mind. Kelly is the author of three books and numerous magazine articles. Kelly's latest book, Thinking Write, examines ways to use your subconscious to improve your creativity. I discuss my habit of doing sudoku prior to writing. Please click here to check it out.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Eight Days of Christmas

“If I get this, will you eat some of it?” my wife asked, as she held up a kamaboko, a traditional Japanese New Year food item she’d just pulled from the refrigerated section at the local Asian foods store. I glanced at the item that resembled a white cheese log with a pink coating. I recalled when I first ate it many years ago. It lay in knocked-down domino-like slices on a food tray. I thought it a pastry, given the pink coating and eagerly grabbed one to try it.

And such was my first experience with Japanese fish cake.

“Yes,” I said, to my wife’s astonishment. In 14+ years of marriage, she’d never realized that I actually liked the taste of it.

That decided, we wheeled the grocery cart through the rest of the store as my wife searched for more items for our final holiday celebration of the season. Noodles, mochi, chicken, the list went on. There were other things I know my wife would like to have picked up. However, she didn’t as she knew the boys and I hadn’t developed a taste for it and she didn’t relish eating these foods alone. Still, we would have something to celebrate the New Year on what would be our eighth and final day of festivities.

Yes, I said eight days, for that’s what the holidays were this year. We started on Christmas morning, opening gifts at our own house. From there, we met family for a Christmas Day feast.

After returning home, we packed as we were driving up to North Carolina the day after Christmas to spend time with my family. My parents are divorced, so we have to plan two separate events, each complete with a meal. We also meet an aunt in NC, spending time with her as well. My younger sister’s in-laws also live in NC, so the trip has to be coordinated, making sure there’s sufficient time to see everyone. As expected, this took several days to do everything.

This year, with our kids getting older, my parents offered to look after our boys, giving my wife and I a little time to be by ourselves. We welcomed the opportunity and did what most parents would do,

We slept for most of it.

Let’s face it. We were worn out, though we did count the seconds until the ball dropped and then watched some moron on ESPN break a car jumping record before calling it a night.

And so, on New Year’s Day, we found ourselves in the Asian grocery store, looking for items to celebrate the Year, Japanese style. Our kids were still with their grandparents and we wouldn’t be picking them up until the next day. If my wife’s parents had been around, they would have brought everything we needed. Instead, we did the best we could.

And, on the day we brought our kids home, my wife cooked the things we’d bought the day before and she presented them with their otoshidama, a ceremonial envelope containing money, given by my wife’s parents, and sufficient for picking up one last toy. It was the eighth day of Christmas. It would have been nice to see my wife’s parents, for they have a way a making New Year’s special. Maybe next year.

So, how did you spend your New Year’s?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Auburn Opens Year of the Tiger with a Victory

After the game ended, I went shopping with my wife. According to her, she’d suffered for over four hours and wanted to get out of the house. About an hour into the excursion, I called my Dad.

“Did we still win the game?”

“Yes, we still won.”

“Whew. I’m out shopping with (my wife) and was afraid the refs might have discovered some new rule and brought the teams back on the field.”

But that was the way I felt. Auburn didn’t do itself any favors in this game. As the game wore on, I felt like the refs were doing everything they could to give the game to Northwestern. Auburn was flagged for 140 yards in penalties. NWU had two five-yarders and one offensive pass interference that they were livid about. (Yes, NWU. If you throw a CB to the ground, it’s pass interference. Not even this crew could ignore that.)

However, it felt like Auburn won the game at least three and possibly four times, but were stymied by poor calls when they weren’t shooting themselves in the foot. Luckily, Auburn had more lives than the USA Men’s Olympic basketball team in the 1972 Olympics. But let’s look at it.

1) NWU has 4th and long in regulation. – Auburn sacks the QB and is flagged for a 15-yard facemask penalty and an automatic first down. Did the Auburn player touch the facemask? Yes. It was an accident, created by a QB ducking his head and trying to escape. In previous years, this would have been a 5-yard penalty and still 4th down. (Granted, with these refs, it would’ve been 15 yards anyway.) This is a no-call at best.

2) NWU QB fumbles in OT. Recovered by Auburn. - This could have gone either way and was likely correctly called as the NWU QB being down. However, you knew which way it was going.

3) Roughing the kicker – OK. This is the one that irks me. If there was any call more blatantly false, it was this one. The Auburn player goes for the block and is flat on the ground two yards in front of the kicker. His momentum does carry him toward the kicker sliding along the ground, but the kicker is HOPPING FORWARD. He and NWU should not be rewarded for tripping himself over a player. What makes this worse is that earlier in the game, a NWU player runs into Durst, our punter. THE REFEREE IS STARING DIRECTLY AT THE PLAY AND CALLS NOTHING. It was momentum and would have been likely a five-yard penalty. But still, he ran into him AND NOTHING.

4) We knocked them out of bounds on the fake. Finally, we won it.

But like I mentioned earlier. We didn’t do ourselves any favors. We nearly fumbled this game away. We allowed them to rack up 625 yards. And we had a lot of excessive celebration penalties. We didn’t play smart.
The Chicago Tribune made a comment that NWU would win because it’s players on defense were intelligent and could handle Auburn’s offense. They were insulting, but nearly right. Thankfully, Auburn opened the year of the Tiger with a win.

War Eagle!