Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Littlest Actor

Every family has a story that keeps on giving, one that will be retold for the rest of their days. This is ours. And while I have run it on previous Christmases, I hope you won't mind if I run it again. It occurred a few years ago, when we lived in Oregon. May you Christmas worship time be memorable to you.

Every Christmas Eve, my wife and I take our sons to the children’s service at our church. The service includes a kids’ pageant and our boys seem to pay closer attention than they do during the typical church service. Also, we feel that attending Mass on Christmas Eve provides a wonderful way to begin the holiday. After the service is over, we go out to dinner to the one place open on Christmas Eve, a Chinese restaurant.

While my wife and I believe every family Christmas is special, we cannot conceive that any will be more memorable than this one. It was to be a big night as our older son, Andrew, was finally old enough to participate in the Christmas pageant. He enjoyed two rehearsals and getting into costume, admirably playing the role of a shepherd.

Because church seating at Christmas is limited and we wanted to take pictures, we arrived almost an hour early to get a seat up front.We knew it would be difficult to keep our pre-school age son, Christopher, seated for the long service and the time before it. Therefore, my wife saved our seats while I played with Christopher and kept him entertained. When it was close to time, I corralled him and took him to our seats; he sat on my wife’s lap and anxiously looked for his older brother and the start of the show.

Just before the beginning of the pageant, the stuffy air in the crowded church became a little more unbearable than usual. As there were several babies in the immediate vicinity, my wife and I both thought one of them must have needed changing. Catching the odor, Christopher said aloud, “What’s that smell?” He turned around, looked at his Mom, and said, “That’s disgusting! Mommy, you stink! Mommy, go to the bathroom!”

We did our best to quiet him down, while the people around us were suppressing their laughter. He continued on, repeating the words, “That’s disgusting! Mommy, you stink! Mommy, go to the bathroom!” Eventually, Christopher quieted down and the pageant began.

After Mass ended, we walked to the car, buckled the kids in, and drove away. On the way to the Chinese restaurant, my wife and I discussed the incident. She realized that the words Christopher used in church were the same ones she had used with him during his potty training. Also, we were convinced one of the babies close to us during the service must have had a poopy diaper or probably just passed gas. We chuckled about it.

However, our little guy provided the last laugh. Overhearing the discussion, Christopher, with the smile that only a young child can produce, piped up with one more comment, “Oh, in church? That was me.”

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

One More Christmas to Believe

Two years ago, my wife and I were convinced it would be the last Christmas for our younger son to believe in Santa Claus. (Our older son had known for years. However, under penalty of lack of presents, he hadn’t spilled anything to his younger brother.)

We had an established pattern of activities for the big day. My younger son and I would begin Christmas Eve by following Santa on the NoradSanta website, tracking Santa through Asia. We played games, went to early church services, dinner (Chinese, since they’re open), and then I would read The Night Before Christmas to him. Then we would check the Norad Santa tracker again as proof of why he should go to bed. After he went to bed, my wife and I would wait about an hour, and then set out the presents.

The trickiest part was that we’d always set one present next to his bed. In his excitement, my younger son has always been a particularly light sleeper on Christmas Eve. Getting in and out of his room was always a challenge.

Then there was the Christmas Eve from two years ago. We kept up pretenses as best we could that Christmas, dodging questions as they arose. We got him off to bed and then waited an hour. I brought the gift upstairs.

Then he woke up and caught me.

He immediately headed back into his bedroom crying. I followed him in and asked him what was wrong. He said he’d seen me and knew that Santa Claus didn’t exist. Like any parent, I couldn’t give up yet and tried to lie my way out of it. “I was just moving the gift,” I told him. “Santa was in a hurry and left it at the bottom of the stairs and I was helping Santa out,” I added.

He didn’t believe me.

I told him I’d prove it to him. I knew my computer was still up, though I hadn’t looked at the Norad Tracker since my son had gone to bed an hour prior. I flipped to the website.

Per the Norad website, Santa was in “Atlanta, Georgia.”

I couldn’t believe it. The website updates around every five minutes or so with a new city, and I’d opened it up when it said Santa was in Atlanta. My son cheered up, convinced that Santa had just been there. He went back to bed, content as could be. After the next Christmas, his questions arose again and he eventually figured it out. But that was one more year of believing. One more year of dreaming.

One more year of childhood.

Did you have any close calls with your kids and what did you do?

Clip art from free-clip-art-images.net

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Gift Not Given

My wife, along with my two sisters, braved the stores on Thanksgiving night, fighting with other shoppers for bargain supremacy. My two brothers-in-law and I volunteered to watch the kids while they were gone (Actually, we watched football, but the kids were there with us.)

When my wife had returned and our kids had gone to bed, my wife pulled out her loot. It had been a fight to get what she'd obtained, sometimes just grabbing at available video games and DVDs, hoping to obtain what was on the boys' lists and then putting back what didn't match. One game, however, had a rating of "M" for Mature and also had an "R' on the side. We'd heard of the game, The game had been heavily advertised and commercials promised the best adventure yet. However, the ratings gave us pause.

We looked up the game on the internet, saw that it was action-filled, exciting, and worth the money for those into gaming. However, then we saw the reason for the warnings. One section of the game required the gamer to torture someone. If the gamer couldn't do it, then one of the characters in the game would. Still, it required torture to progress. Other sections talked about the game’s treatment of women, saying they were seen as sluts and prostitutes and treated with disdain.

There was no question for my wife and me. We took the game back to the store.

I know my 11-yr old will be a little disappointed when he doesn’t get the game on Christmas day. At some point we’ll tell him why. He’s a good kid, but he’s a bit young for a game like this. Too young to separate fantasy and reality. Too young to see such actions.

Too young to play the game.

Have you ever purchased something your kids wanted, then taken it back after realizing it was inappropriate for your child?

Clip are from kamogatanishi-e.ed.jp

Saturday, November 30, 2013

College Football and the Cliffs of Insanity

A friend of mine who recently moved to the United States sent me a note the other day that she and her husband were looking forward to understanding college football. She sought my advice as to what they should pay attention to.

I have to admit that it was an open ended question.

The closest experience I have in this area is when I tried to explain college football to my wife. She understood little of the game itself, despite her high school marching band years. In addition, she attended a university that didn’t have a football team. When we lived in Oregon, she would come with me to Auburn alumni get-togethers to watch at a sports bar. The only thing she learned was that I ignored her when games were on. The first college football game she ever attended was Auburn vs. Alabama, admittedly not my brightest idea. If you’re going to show a newbie The Princess Bride, you don’t start the movie at the Cliffs of Insanity.

So how do you explain college football to someone with no frame of reference? How do you explain the beauty pageant that is the BCS and the bowl system? Power conferences? Mid-majors? How do you explain that a conference called the Big Ten has 12 teams and a conference called the Big XII has ten teams?

And to do it during rivalry week?

Talk about the Cliffs of Insanity.

So, I explained that groups called conferences exist and then mentioned the most familiar names. Then I sent a schedule of important games with rankings, briefly pointing out which games might have some national appeal. From there, I decided to let my friend and her husband decide for themselves what they want to watch, hoping not to inundate them with information.

If only I’d thought of this when I first tried to explain it to my wife.

So, if you had to explain college football to someone with no frame of reference, how would you do it?

Clip art from www.hscripts.com

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy thanksgiving, everyone. I plan to spend my day with family, eat a lot, and watch football.

What will you be doing?

Clip art from www.lotas.com.br

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fantasy and Reality

This is my first year of playing fantasy football.

I turned it down a couple of times at the office, thinking I had no time and knowing my wife would go “you’re doing what?” and also having to learn about pro football beyond the teams I follow. But then two of my friends issued a challenge I couldn’t ignore: me and my two sons vs. each of them and their two sons. Winners would be decided by total family points amassed. Two losing families would treat winning family to dinner at a wing joint.

Even my wife said, “Bring it on.”

So, while downing burgers and chips one evening, we held our draft and picked our teams, each round proving that I let my 11-y.o. watch way too much Sportscenter. The season then began with high anticipation.

It soon developed into despair. While my 16-y.o. did his version of the Denver Broncos and my 11-y.o. looked like the Carolina Panthers (appropriate since my older son had Peyton Manning and my younger one had Cam Newton). However, my players consistently underperformed and I lost game-after-game. My first win came against my 11-y.o. However, my victories have been few. In our two division league, my sons occupy first place in both while I run dead last in my younger son’s division.

But then come the points.

On a wins total, we were first, despite my 11-y.o.’s comments of, “Dad, you’re bringing us down.” However, on the points total, we’re a distant third with the winner already pretty much determined.

Despite all this, I’ve noticed one thing. Fantasy football gave us one reality. It gave my sons and me another reason to bond. It’s not that we didn’t talk before, but for fantasy football, we thought as a team, checking on each other to ensure that we substituted for players who had a bye week and that our projected totals had a shot, even though those projections never seemed to match. It’s been fun. When it’s over, we’ll go out for dinner and enjoy the company of good friends.

And we’ll do it as a family. 

First clipart from  www.fotosearch.com. Second clipart from www.footballfunnypicture.me.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Amazing Ms. Gail

My wife is a substitute teacher. She started out by volunteering in the school library at our kids’ school when the boys were both of elementary school age. Eventually, she decided she liked going every day.

She works only elementary schools and meets many interesting people. One of them is a parent who I’ll refer to as Ms. Gail. Every time my wife subbed at one particular school in the area, Ms. Gail always seemed to be there. My wife didn’t know if she was a volunteer or a preferred sub attached to one school. Her best guess was PTA President. She knew Ms. Gail actually had kids at this particular school and her passion for the kids was evident.

Last year, on the last day before Christmas holidays, my wife found herself subbing again at Ms. Gail’s school. There had been a Christmas party that morning and one of the children in my wife’s class had wanted to go home with his grandmother (since some kids were going home early). However, the kid learned he would need to stay for the rest of the day.

After the party, the kids went out to the playground. The kid, likely thinking his grandmother was still around, bolted for the parking lot. My wife was caught between watching the 24 other kids under her charge or chasing after the child.

Ms. Gail noticed. She nodded to my wife as to say I got this. Ms. Gail then took off, covering 30-40 yards before the kid ran another five. She reached the child, picking him up in her arms, and brought him back to my wife.

My wife thanked her deeply, and then proceeded to retell the story through the Christmas holidays. In reference to Ms. Gail, my wife said she’d never seen anyone run so fast in her life.

I don’t remember when it happened, but someone she was telling the story to realized something: my wife had no idea who Ms. Gail really was.

Three-time Olympic gold medalist in hurdles: Gail Devers.


The next time wife saw her, she again thanked Ms. Devers for her actions. Ms. Devers was gracious, and then asked my wife where she bought her cool boots.

The amazing Ms. Gail:

Three-time Olympic gold medalist

School volunteer

Devoted mom.

Picture from celeb.pictu.com. Clip art from clker.com

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dedication Meets Drive

There are times when my wife thinks I rave too much about our kids. However, even she will agree this isn’t one of those times.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I attended an Academic Awards ceremony for our sophomore age son. He’d earned a letter for maintaining an “A” average for his freshman year. He did it, while taking accelerated courses in math and science, and participating in marching band, Boy Scouts, and rec league baseball. When he walked that aisle, my wife and I glowed like all of the parents at the ceremony.

However, we may have glowed for different reasons.

My teenager has a learning disability: a severe speech delay. It’s a challenge he’s struggled with all his life. Speaking and writing have always come difficult for him. Since pre-K, he has taken speech and language lessons. At home, my wife and I also worked with him to improve his speech.  

We also struggled with him on his homework. Language Arts is his nemesis. My wife once commented that English is our son’s second language and we have no idea what his first one is. Familiarity was achieved slowly through drills, but perfection remains elusive. Despite the language challenge, he showed an aptitude for Math and Science, through hours of studying each day.

When he hit middle school, the subjects got harder. However, something also got easier. He had learned to study. When his math class proved too easy, he asked if we could move him to the higher level math class. All he needed to do was pass a test. We told him no. We wanted him to have one easy subject, we explained to him. The following week he came home with a note, saying that he passed the math test and could be elevated to the higher class. Math was the one class where his disability didn’t affect him. He took pride in it. We acquiesced. Because he could do the math, he got moved to the upper level science course. We allowed it.

By the time he started high school, language arts still haunted his efforts, but the idea of taking harder courses in other subjects was no longer debated. The first year saw many hours hitting his studies. Seeing what he’s gone through to get there, my wife and I stood amazed with the results.

                                                    My son and his high school principal

For students who maintain their “A” average, the school my son attends awards bars to go with the letter. After the event, my son noted that the groups in the higher grades were smaller. His studies continue to be hard. He knows he may not make it back next year.

But he has his letter. He’ll always have his letter.

And come this Christmas, he’ll have a school letterman jacket to put it on.

What has made you the most proud of your kids?

Free clip art from www.aperfectworld.org

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

When Friends Get Published

One of the nice things about being a hopeful writer and getting to know other hopeful writers is that some days you get to see good friends get published. Being not yet published, I'll admit there's a twinge of jealousy. However, there's a much stronger emotion in play. Your friend got published. There's hope for you as well.

So I greeted with great joy last year my friend, Melissa Jagear's, announcement that she had sold her book A Bride for Keeps.

I only know Melissa on-line, having met her at a wonderful blog for readers and writers of Christian fiction, Seekerville. However, since her announcement, I've done what any writer friend would do...follow the details. Rejoicing at a friend's contract is only the beginning. It's watching the process unfold on-line and taking mental notes on editing and publishing that interest the writer in me. Then, you see the pictures on FB of when the books arrive at your friend's house and your excitement for your friend grows exponentially.

But there's one part of the process that tops everything else. It's the day of publishing, when I stop being a writer and be what drove me to writing in the first place. I become a reader. Reading a good book is one of the greatest joys in life. It's a joy I hope I never lose.

My review of Melissa's book is below. I hope you enjoy it. 

Everett Cline has a complex. If you endured what he did, you’d have one as well.

A Midwestern farmer with a small, growing farm, Everett needs assistance (i.e. a wife) So, like many men in his time, he seeks a mail-order bride. It’s just that every bride ends up leaving him for someone else. One left him for someone moving back east. One died on the train. One met another man on the train and decided to marry him instead of Everett. One saw Everett’s farm and decided to leave him for a man with a bigger farm. It’s gotten so bad that the town can’t stop making jokes about it. An unknown female disembarking at the train station is likely to be asked if she’s in town to marry Everett Cline.

So when Julie Lockwood appears in town set to marry him, he doesn’t know what to think. Another mail-order bride hadn’t even been his idea, but the idea of a friend who thought he should give it one more try. So when the friend’s efforts actually lead to the altar, one would think Everett’s troubles are over. However, it’s one thing to have a wife in name only, like so many arranged marriages in that time. It’s another thing to make that person your partner for life.

Author Melissa Jagears does a wonderful job of showing the difference between making a marriage and making a marriage work. Her hero and heroine are stubborn. They are determined to do things their own way. However, in a marriage, you do things for the benefit of each other. Watching this change occur makes the book an enjoyable read, and one I would recommend.

Disclosure: Writer did receive a copy of the book free.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

For Want of a Jacket…

                                        Picture of the bus that passes our house ever morning.

“That’s your bus.”

My teenager walked toward me where I sat on the couch. “No, Dad. That’s just a car. They pass all the time. Have you seen my band sweater?”

I told him I hadn’t but suggested he hurry. I hadn’t been looking outside when the bass diesel engine roar had passed several minutes earlier than expected. Still, I was convinced I was right. If so, my son had five minutes to get outside and up the street to his stop before the bus would hit the back of our subdivision, turn around, and reach the cross streets where he boarded each morning . My son demurred and continued his search.

“Forget your band sweater,” I said. “We’ll find it later. It’s time to go.”

He pushed the argument (he is a teenager) but gave in. Sighing, he headed upstairs as if he had an hour and returned wearing a light jacket, protesting as if it was a neon puke-green jumpsuit. He slung his backpack over his shoulder…then watched stupefied through the window as the bus passed the house.

I was a little miffed but not mad. My usually conscientious son has only once missed a bus since he started high school. Not a big deal, until he started looking for band jacket.

“Forget the band sweater,” I said. “You’re missing the point here.”

“What is the point?”

“You were so focused on finding your band sweater you ignored the fact that you possibly out of time. Had it been a car, you’d have been fine. But with the possibility that it was the bus, you needed to get moving.”

He said he understood. I know he did.

And, as I drove him to school that morning, I did enjoy the few minutes we had to chat…and where I reminded myself that he’s no different from me.

What kind of things do you see in your kids that remind you that they inherited their annoying traits from you?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Not So Itsy-Bitsy Spider

About a year ago, my wife found four yellow spiders around the hedges in our front yard. Hating spiders, she killed all of them. Later she looked them up on-line, finding that they were garden spiders. She discovered that the spiders were helpful to have in the garden and has regretted her actions since then, hoping the spiders would return.

Admittedly, I don’t like spiders myself. I occasionally find them in the basement and get rid of them when I do. However, I’ve been looking for them in our hedges, hoping to brighten her day. (OK. Only a husband would think of spiders as something one’s wife would like, but it is what it is.) So far, no luck.

In my search for spiders, though, I’ve become fascinated with some really intricate webs I’ve seen. My 11-y.o. and I were pitching in the driveway about two weeks ago when we noticed a huge spider web stretched between a tree in our yard and a tree in our neighbor’s yard. It was high enough so you could drive our SUV under it without taking it out. My son debated throwing his glove up to knock it out, but I told him not do it. The web wasn’t hurting us and it was probably keeping away bugs we didn’t want. The web survived three days before weather took it out.

The other day, my 11 y.o. and I noticed two separate webs strung between one of our trees to the bushes in the front. (Yes, we were pitching again.) I tried to take pictures with my phone but couldn’t get the camera to center on something that small. After the pitching session, we looked spiders up on-line, finding out that the yellow crablike spider was known as the star spider. I told my son not to mess with it, like I had the other web two weeks before.

Then I thought about my lesson. Spiders still gross me out. However, a year ago I would have taken the webs out. Now I leave them be and I’m teaching my kids the benefit of the same.

How about you? Have you changed in the way you treat things that used to disgust you?

Spider pictures obtained from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Feeling Helpless

I told my kids the bad news this morning: that Atlanta led 3-2 in the 8th before the relief pitcher gave up a two-run homer. Given that every batter in the Dodgers line-up seemed to be batting above .400 while only two Braves (Johnson and Gattis) seemed to be making regular contact with the ball, it had seemed like a matter of time. However, I held out hope, until that helpless feeling when Uribe’s ball traveled over the left field wall. However, that was sports. The day moves forward.

Unfortunately, I feel more helplessness staring at the current goings on in Washington, D.C. In D.C., nothing moves forward these days. It hasn’t for a while. Even prior to shutdown, the vitriol being exchanged was disgusting. It was hard to imagine it getting worse.  However, when you compare people you disagree with to terrorists, jihadists, and people with bombs strapped to their chests, you blow any semblance of respect and civility.

This isn’t a column to disparage one side or the other. In my opinion, they’re all at fault for the situation we have. Most members of the current Executive and Legislative branches seem interested in protecting their own self entitlements, rather than doing the business they were elected to do.

Even more helpless, we elected these jerks.

It’s our fault as Americans that we put these idiots in office.

It’s our responsibility as Americans to vote them out.

I can’t pitch or hit my Braves into the World Series, but there’s got to be a way to change the dysfunction and malfunction that is the current political class. We have to vote them out. We have to remind this group of people that thinks they’re above that they’re one of us.

Or we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Does the current situation in D.C. make you feel helpless? 

Thursday, September 26, 2013


I’m tired.

I had a business trip last week that took me out to Anaheim. I flew out on Tuesday afternoon, took the red-eye back Thursday night and got in sometime mid-Friday morning.  

When I go out of town, though, the duties of parenting fall solely on my wife. We try to split things up as best we can when we're both at home. With me gone, my wife has to rise with our teenager to see him off to school on the pre-6:00 a.m. bus. She has to get him to and from various band activities, while shepherding our younger son to football, and baseball activities. The day becomes long, when everything is being handled by one person. This is in addition to her job.

We both looked for the weekend to hopefully catch up on a little sleep, but we had the blessing of family in town. The visits were fun, but there was always a part of me that wanted to find some place to crash. My wife eventually hit a wall on Sunday, sleeping in. I started going to bed early, in hopes of restoring my body clock to normal.

When I travel for work, I do work hard. And the planes flights can leave me dragging. Still, I don’t have the kids with me. I get to relax. I get to recoup. For my wife, it was non-stop activities while I was gone.

I’m impressed she made it to Sunday before crashing.

Clip art obtained from www.clipartguide.com

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tribute to a Veteran

My younger son has a teddy bear.

A gift from his grandmother several years ago, my son has treasured that bear ever since wrapping his arms around that Christmastime. He has given the bear various nicknames over the years: Bear-y, Jaws, a few others. However, he recently gave it a new nickname: Blithe

For those of you unfamiliar with book/movie series Band of Brothers, (Albert) Blithe was a private in Easy Company, the most decorated paratroopers in WWII. He parachuted into Normandy in D-Day. He won numerous awards for his gallantry. 

 Albert Blithe at Toccoa, Georgia (1942). Photo Source: Wikipedia

He was also injured in Carentan, France. In the movie, Blithe is shot in the neck and, though, he survives the war, eventually dies of his injuries in 1948. It is for this wound that the bear was renamed. My son discovered that his beloved bear had a hole in his neck and wrapped him up in bandages. My wife eventually performed surgery on the bear and the bear seems fine. However, my son worries that the bear may have fewer days in front of him.

This week, though, I discovered news that will hearten my son. With regards to Albert Blithe, the movie was wrong. He was shot in the shoulder, not the neck. And, though the wound was severe enough to get him sent home, he became a career serviceman, leaving the army twice and re-enlisting twice. He served in post-war Korea, eventually attained the rank of Master Sergeant, and died while still in the military in late 1967.

Despite this inaccuracy and some others, the Band of Brothers series is still great cinema. I sometimes question the wisdom of letting my son watch certain things. He enjoys history and, when he was younger, used to have me read to him from books such as David McCullough’s John Adams. Now my son gravitates to war pictures and I indulge it for I love history as well and used to watch such movies while I was growing up. The movies are violent for my son’s age.

Still, when I see him pay tribute to heroes, I know that he’s picking up some of the things that he should.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Christian History in Japan

I will be blogging on Wednesday, August 28, at Christian Fiction Historical Society, discussing the history of Christianity in Japan. Click here to be taken to the blog. One commenter will win the origami kissing ball below.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It Was A Good Vacation

In my last post, I talked about vacation. I must now say that vacation is over.

It actually occurred a couple of weeks ago. My rising sophomore older son has been busy with marching band, which has been going 9-9 for the last two weeks. 

My pre-teen, following weeks of Strength & Agility Camp, has now gotten full into football season. He had three days of practice with just helmets, shorts, and shirts, and then went full pads last Thursday

Hard to believe that it’s still July. When I was a kid, vacation supposedly lasted three months. School started in mid- to late- August, after ending in May. There was three months of sleeping late, staying up late, combined with vacation trips to visit my relatives.

Now, though, the entire summer is scheduled. We fit in what trips we can with what time is available.

We did get one last day together. We took a trip to Six Flags as one last chance, taking a day off from the scheduled days to be together as family. My older son missed his scout meeting. My younger son 
missed his football practice. I did my best to put away my cell phone.

Until next summer.

It was fun while it lasted. 

Friday, July 12, 2013


It was billed as a vacation for me by some of my friends.

At the end of June, my wife took our kids to California to visit her parents. They were gone for ten days. I would like to have gone with them, but it was quarter end at work and quarter end is not an opportune time to be away from the office, at least in the role I perform. So, we said our goodbyes at the airport and I headed home.  

Like I said, some friends billed this time as a vacation for me. No matter how much we love our families, there are times most of like to get away for a few days and relax. I had lunch with friends one day. I read a bit, trying to catch up on my TBR pile. I edited some chapters of a manuscript I’ve been working on. I also made sure that the laundry basket full of clothes that my wife washed and folded for me before she left eventually made it upstairs and got put away, as opposed to grabbing stuff from the basket once a day. The vacuum, still in the master bedroom, got put away in the hall closet.

Yet the house was quiet, and I hated it.

My 11-year old, still fearful of the dark, likes to keep at least two lights on in the loft between his room and the bathroom. Sometimes, when I wake up in the middle of the night, I’ll look out the door of the master bedroom, see how bright it is in the loft, and flip off one of the lights to conserve electricity. When I wake up in the morning, I find both lights on again. During my vacation, I would look out my bedroom door into darkness, and the emptiness gnawed at me.

One of the oddest reminders of being along came the evening before garbage day. As I took the garbage can to the curb, I realized I was carting only one partially-filled bag to the curb. A normal week has the can at least half-full, following well-cooked home meals peppered with conversations about what the kids dissected that day in class. There’s no salve for missing family dinners.

Except for the return of the family you love.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Thunder Rolls

Title from the Garth Brooks song of the the same name.

Thunder sounded through the house last night, as it has done a lot this spring. My wife and I knew what was coming. Shy footsteps arrived a couple of minutes later.

“Where’s the iPad?” our 11-y.o. asked.

“The end table,” I said.

My son hit the button to wake up the iPad and immediately went to what is now his favorite app, an app that holds his interest more than any downloaded game, free or bought: The Weather Channel.

His fingers scrolled through various pages. “The storm will last until 4:30 a.m.” He put the iPad away, then went to what he considers his second bed in the house, the love seat in the master bedroom. He spent the rest of the night there, because he hates storms.

A few Saturdays ago, thunder shook the house, waking my son who ran into our room. “Tornado,” he yelled, and started begging us to go the basement. We groggily moved, knowing he was overreacting but still understanding his concern. Another thunderclap sounded a minute later and the lights flickered before going out. “Tornado,” he screamed again, pleading to go downstairs.

We roused our older son and told him we were going to the basement, as we had done during actual tornado warnings in the area earlier this year. We dressed quickly, grabbing blankets and heading to the one spot in the house that we know is the safest. We sat there for nearly two hours, our battery-operated radio providing periodic weather updates. We were glad that the batteries worked in one of the two flashlights we had stored away for emergencies, and we chilled until the weather report said the warnings were over.

We then woke our younger son, who had fallen asleep in the chair we have downstairs for these times. “It’s over?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “It’s over. We’re going back to bed.”

Part of me wonders if we shouldn’t have played along. He needs to understand when a storm is just a storm, and learn to deal with it.

Yet, he was dealing with it, saving what mattered to him most. His family.

Maybe we’ll try next spring.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Give Me A Brake

About sixteen years ago, my wife and I gave birth to a kid who is now of the legal age to drive.

Let me rephrase that: my wife gave birth to him, after nine months of extremely hard work, while I was there at the beginning and drove her to the hospital after her water broke.

Now, enough time has passed to where society has said he can legally get behind the wheel of moving pieces of metal. I’m not surprised. I knew he would reach this point eventually. What has surprised me, though, is how the process has changed from when I was learning to drive.

When I was his age, learning to drive meant first taking Driver’s Ed, which included a minimum number of hours of road practice with an instructor who had a brake on his side of the vehicle. After completing the mandatory training, I went to the DMV and took a test for my permit. At that point, I was able to drive parental supervision. I drove my mother home from the permit office. That night, my dad took me for a drive around town so I could practice night driving. Eventually, I got my license.

So, it took me aback when I learned that kids get their permits in advance, before taking Driver’s Ed. I thought this backwards, but my son studied and obtained his permit. We practiced in parking lots and I told him he could drive on the road, once he had been through Driver’s Ed and practiced with an instructor that had a brake on his/her side of the car.

His first day of Driver’s Ed was yesterday. During the class, the instructor asked who had experience on the road. Over half the kids did. There were also a number of students who, like my son, had not driven anywhere other than in empty parking lots. The Driver’s Ed instructor gave out homework. The kids who’d only seen parking lots needed to practice on the road before the road portion of Driver’s Ed.

Easy for the instructor to say. The instructor has his own brake.

So, I steeled up my courage and let him drive me home from his scout meeting. The fact that you’re reading this means I made it home alive. He actually had no problems on the road but really spiked my adrenaline trying to navigate our subdivision.

My favorite comedian, Bill Engvall, once commented that their should be a driver’s lane for teenagers “with nothing but mattresses and tires.” He also said that the big bass pounding from inside his vehicle was his foot slamming the passenger side floorboard, trying to hit the brake he wished were there. I have to say I agree. But I can’t stop the car. He’s getting older and I have to learn to let him take the wheel.

Unfortunately, there’s no brake that stops him from growing up either.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Let Them Be Shōgakusei A Little While Longer

Years ago when I lived in Japan, a friend of mine returned with a sad face after attending an elementary school graduation ceremony. The problem, my friend commented, was that the graduating kids showed up to school wearing the uniforms they would wear in middle school. It was pushing too soon, my friend thought. Her comment was “Let them be shōgakusei (elementary school students) a little while longer.”  

I thought about that last week as I watched the graduation of my younger son from elementary school. My son finished off the year with one of his classes performing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” attending a sock hop, a graduation ceremony followed by a final walk through the halls. The post graduation festivities included a lunch with friends and an evening pool party. Two days later, my younger son wanted to go back to elementary school.

My wife and I had expected such a reaction. As the day had drawn nearer, our son had admitted her wasn’t ready to move on. Only the realization that his friends were leaving too, ready to move on to middle school, kept him going.

I’m not sure my wife and I were ready either, as if watching him leave meant we no longer had a younger kid in the house. It was easier watching our older son move on. He seemed ready to move. Due to our cross-country move from Portland to Atlanta back when our older son was in third grade, our older son lost three months of school. We petitioned the school to have him repeat (something which he has still not forgiven us for). He studies as if he’s trying to catch up. My younger son seems content where he is. My wife and I were also content.

“Let them be shōgakusei a little while longer.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

When Good Pitches Go Bad

In a season where I’ve watched my 11-year old pitch well, and then struggle and pitch good, there had been one thing missing. A meltdown. He’s had them before. He’s 11. It’s expected.

I just didn’t expect to see it a little over a week ago.

In a game where his teammates played great and they had a chance to beat the top team in the league, my son had his worst game of the season. Facing a group of kids that he’d fanned the week before, he couldn’t find the strike zone. The last time I saw him pitch this poorly was on a night several years ago where my wife got so upset with the calls behind the plate that she blessed out an umpire after the game. (I will probably be in the doghouse for bringing that up.)

After the game was over, my son held it in until reaching the car before collapsing into a mound of tears. He refused to leave the car when we got home. I left him alone, returning ten minutes later, and found him on the steps in the garage that lead into the house. I sat down next to him, and he leaned on me and continued to bawl.

I tried to console him, saying that his favorite player, Craig Kimbrel, was now blowing saves. He responded that he doesn’t like Craig Kimbrel anymore because he found out the Kimbrel’s favorite team is Alabama. I told him that the Braves starting rotation, who has pitched well this season, really blew it in Detroit. He didn’t care.

Still, part of me was proud of him. In previous seasons, he would have gotten mad in the dugout. He kept his emotions in check until he was away from his teammates.

My son was able to move on, regaining a bit of his smile. He spent a night with friends, which improved his mood even more. He’s practiced hard at home and ready to pitch again. One thing has changed however.

His new favorite player is Evan Gattis.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My Son Wears 42

My last post was about the movies, so I wasn't expecting to make this one about them as well. However, it couldn't be helped.

I recently went with my dad and my sons to see 42 in the theater. For my dad, it was a look back at his childhood. He’s old enough to remember when Jackie Robinson broke into the league. For my kids, it was a chance to watch a baseball movie. Both of them love baseball and play in rec leagues. My younger son even wears 42 on his jersey and has me read to him from *Branch Rickey’s Little Blue Book.  
I was nervous about taking my kids to see the movie. I knew my teenager could handle the language, but worried it would shock my 11-y.o. A few years ago, I declined to take my kids to another sports movie, Glory Road (the story of Texas Western's NCAA Championship, with a primarily African American team.) One of the harshest scenes in the movie is when the Dodgers play in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia manager lets loose every racial epithet possible, trying to goad Robinson into losing his temper. Robinson holds it, finally letting loose in the player's tunnel underneath the stadium, where no one can see him.
However, I was unprepared for the scene my 11 y.o. eventually questioned me about after we returned home. In the scene where the Dodgers makes their first trip to Cincinnati, there was a kid in the stands that wanted to see Dodger shortstop Pee Wee Reese, a major leaguer that grew up in a town near Cincinnati. When the Dodgers take the field, the kid's father starts hurling racial insults at Robinson, and then the young boy copies them. My son couldn’t fathom why the kid was saying what he did. I explained to my son that racism is learned. The attitude of treating someone differently due to the color of their skin is something you're not born with. The Cincinnati scene in the movie ends with Reese putting his arm around Robinson in front of everyone in the sold out stadium. In real life, this is a scene that no one can confirm but, like Babe's fabled "called shot," lives on in baseball lore.
There will never be another Jackie Robinson.
Hopefully, we've passed the day where one is needed.

* Branch Rickey was the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the person who brought Jackie Robinson to the major leagues.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Connery Conspiracy

My sons recently acquired a copy of the movie, “Skyfall.” I took them to see it when it came out. I’ve always been a fan of James Bond, but had taken to watching them on TV since about the time I got married. When I saw the previews for Skyfall, though, I knew I had to see it on the screen.
The enjoyed the video just as much. After viewing it three times in one weekend, my 11-year old began affecting a British accent and calling his mother “M.” They looked forward to the Oscars, as they knew there would be a James Bond tribute. During the tribute, Shirley Bassey sang “Goldfinger.”

My sons were like, “What’s Goldfinger?”


At that point, I realized I’d neglected an aspect of their cinematic education.


I own copies of all of the Connery Bond films, so I pulled out the tape (yes, that old technology is still around) and showed my kids Goldfinger.

They loved it. They were totally enthralled. I was glad they enjoyed it. I was also glad they didn’t ask me about any of the names of the characters. I followed up a week later with Dr.  No. We’ve also now seen You Only Live Twice and From Russia With Love.

The Bond watching, though, has led to debate. My favorite Bond is Sean Connery, followed by Timothy Dalton. For my 11-year old, the best Bond ever is Pierce Brosnan, followed by Daniel Craig. My teenager is enjoying the Bond girls and has not voiced an opinion on which Bond is best as well as asking why George Lazenby was Bond only once.

They want to see Thunderball and Diamonds are Forever, the remaining two Connery Bonds in my collection. (I don’t have Never Say Never Again.) I’m certain we will soon. I’m happy to enjoy it with them as my wife has no interest in any of these movies. This Christmas, we may need to pick up a few. The movies should be available as this is the 50th anniversary of the franchise.

I look forward to it.

Bond. Father-son bond.