Shimmer me timber!

“What is it going to take to get them to pick up their shit?” I grumbled through my teeth after my foot tripped across another damp towel left on the bathroom floor. I had rolled out of bed to begin the routine of schooldays revelry for the boys, but first I’d take a moment to gather my thoughts. The startlingly cool toilet seat and the fresh Fall air drifting in through the bathroom window could be invigorating at 5:15 in the morning.  Posed there, a less than statuesque nude on my porcelain pedestal in the dim morning light with my chin balanced on my wrist , I began to drift back toward sleep when my head slipped from its perch and bobbed me back to life. 

blue

“O.K.” I challenged myself, “time to get moving.”  After a quick hop in the shower, I threw on whatever I was wearing last night and headed down the hall to wake the boys . With a few passes by each of their rooms, I turned on lights and serenaded them with a gently crescendoing chorus of “gooooood mooooorniiiiing, time to wake uuu-uuuup… Good Morning, Time to Wake Up… Good MORNing, Time to Wake U-up…” until I was convinced they were reasonably alert and could be left to dress themselves while I adjourned to the kitchen.  

The rest of the morning proceeds like some sort of grade school band practice for which I am the conductor.  When they were younger none of them could play their own part without supervision and prodding to keep the tempo of the morning.  They could not find their own clothes or remember to brush their teeth.  They slammed vanity drawers and closet doors.  Breakfast dishes clattered amid the morning scuffle and the siblings rivaled to find matching mittens and clamored over the favored window seat for the ride to school. But the day after the oldest discovered a newfound need for privacy, both his younger brothers declared their independence as well and the cacophony of adolescence that struggled against the clock suddenly found its own rhythm. Some mornings they march with a refreshing cadence.  Other days they trudge along as if to a funeral dirge. Now I, their former maestro of the morning, sit in the living room marking time until we depart for school. Yes, I may still be called on for food, money, and occasional searches for clean underwear, but the trio seems to know their parts without me now.  This one carefully tunes his perfect hair in the mirror, that one taps out his tooth brush on the edge of the sink, and my three-man band ready themselves to march off to school on their own.  

With the breaking dawn and a now empty house, I begin my morning solo with a series of errands around town. The guy behind the counter at the convenient store belts out a “My friend!  How are you?” as I walk through the door.  I’m certain not to be unique among the tide of patrons that show up hunting for caffein and scratch tickets every morning, but I’ll confess his friendly greeting seems genuine and I welcome it.  On days when the store is empty we may even trade some banter at the register over the weather forecast, how the kids are doing, or the questionable nutritional value of my morning snack choice. 

On days like this, regular errands around town have become my water-cooler moments. Where I use to chat with fellow employees at lunch in the cafeteria or bump into friends between very important meetings, the camaraderie of stay-home parenting has to be outsourced. I often muse that being a stay-home-parent can be a solitary existence and there are many days spent working around the house when the only conversations I’ll have are with myself. That seemed to be less the case when the kids were little and the days were peppered with doctor appointments and teacher conferences, sick days and play dates.  Lately however, their schedules demand mainly that I bus them between games and practices with a sack-lunch for dinner on the go.  Family dinners at the table are increasingly rare and I may spend the better part of five hours in an afternoon during football season racking up hundreds of miles shuttling back and forth between the house and playing fields on opposite sides of town. The driver’s seat is my desk and the car my cubicle.  My ‘friend’ behind the counter is just one of the people I work with.  I’m on a first name basis with two of the guys at the hardware store and a short Asian woman who inquires about my kids as she rings up the bill for their mother’s dry cleaning.  I crack jokes via txt messages with the handyman that helps me maintain my corporate headquarters, and the provocative DJ  on the radio reminds me that I can still appreciate a bit of locker room humor in the privacy of my mind and still make thoughtful, respectable contributions to society in public. Why just the other day, for example, I made a new friend of an older gentleman at a local shop as he helped me frame an old picture that I had tucked away in a box for the last 20 years.  He did a nice job. I liked his personality.  He doesn’t know it yet, but we’re best friends now.  After a few more stops, I pulled back into the driveway and prepared myself for today’s big project: mowing the lawn.

Convinced that the morning dew had dried enough from the grass that it wouldn’t chronically clog the chute to the bagger, I decided that the warming air warranted another quick wardrobe change before gassing up the mower.  A tattered paint-stained pair of cut-off jeans shorts, a tired old t-shirt and Chuck Taylors, size 11, make for an impeccable business casual ensemble on days like this.  “One should always attempt to look their best.  You never know who you’ll run into” I jest with myself when a flicker of light off the bathroom mirror caught my attention.  As if a far off voice were calling to wake this sleep-walking rube, the haze of the morning’s routine abruptly lifted as I was halted in the doorway by the unsettling sense that something was askew. 

Now, mind you, I had no idea what specifically had captured my curiosity.  I only sensed something ‘different’ which compelled my inquisitive nature to investigate, if only to find a lazy fly lost in self admiration on the glass.  Perhaps t’was just a reflection of a glittery earring left lazily on the counter, or maybe my sleepwalking eye had glimpsed a tiny rainbow cast by a prismatic droplet of water as it trickled down the mirror. It could have been any of those things. Oh that it were… but it wasn’t.

As I moved into the sunlight, my focus was drawn away from whatever might have been ON the mirror to the reflection staring back at me IN the mirror. “Wha…What is that?” My face appeared to be blue. Not painted blue like the those aliens in Avatar or Cookie Monster blue.  Not the pale oxygen deprived blue of a corpse or the depressing “I’m so blue without you” blue. The creature looking back at me had more of an etherial sort of sparkly pearlescent blue.  You’d expect that sort of complexion on an elf from Middle Earth,  but not on this 46 year old suburban house-husband. It seemed to be on my face and neck…. It was in my hair… and on the back of my hands. “What the hell…?” I wondered when my eye caught the first clue toward diagnosing my condition.  

Remember that towel?  The damp one I mentioned at the beginning of this tale?  The one that one of my boys left on the floor by the tub… the tub he used the night before to treat himself to a now rare, yet indulgent, bubble bath.  “So what?” you might ask.  “What does that have to do with it?”  Well, if you’re a woman, you might already see where this is going. If you’re an unwitting man like myself, you may need a little more help so let me elaborate. Apparently, after a rigorous football practice Junior decide to treat himself to a therapeutic epsom salt soak in mommy’s  cast-iron clawfoot tub by way of what is described on its packaging as a “BATH BOMB.”  Yup. Among other things, this fizzing little baseball contains sodium bicarbonate, Cocoa Butter, Shea Butter, Epsom Salt, an Essential Oil ‘Blend’ and, here’s where it gets interesting fellas, “May Contain Clays or Oxides for Coloring.”  BOOM.  Let me now remove any uncertainty about that last part, for as I stood there all a-glitter my eyes came to rest on a pale blue slurry of ferry dust soap scum dried on the  bottom of his tubby and for a moment the humor of the situation made me laugh. But then…. 

“Wait a minute.”  My mind began to race. “If I have it on my hands and in my hair…. well then…where else do I have it?”  The curious novelty of my condition was quicky fading. Now I could see it on my arms and ears.  It was on my chest.  I hiked one foot up on the edge of the tub to confirm my suspicion that the hair on my legs indeed twinkled like a thousand glimmering stars.  The bath bomb had exploded all over me when I unwitting dried myself with one of the discarded towels Junior must have used the night before.  The fallout from his spa treatment had spread from ground zero. I peeled off my contaminated t-shirt.  My body did not sparkle like diamonds bathed in sunlight. I stood there feeling like a drag queen the day after a big performance.  I looked like the sarcastic il-conceived lovechild born after Denis Leary screwed Smurfette on a drunken bender.  I dropped my shorts to the floor to complete my inspection… Shimmer me timber! The transformation was complete from bow to stern.  Even the main mast was blue. I present to you…..Snarky Smurf.

Now, being unwittingly covered in a layer of pixie dust doesn’t really bother me.  I mean, it isn’t ordinarily my style and only slightly inconvenient to have to take another shower before going back out to the store. The problem is that I already went to the store.  I went to the bus stop and the dry cleaner.  I saw my friend at the convenient store and the guy that runs the gas station.  I stood in a line of 15 people waiting to get a breakfast sandwich for at least 10 minutes surrounded by other familiar faces. The teller at the bank cracked a nice big smile when I approached the window to deposit a check, and the girl at the grocery store register seemed unusually bubbly when she said “Good morning to you!  Do we have anything special going on today?” which struck me as a little odd at the time. But, not one single person had the decency to tell me something was askew.  My buddy at Town Hall said nothing.  The guys I work with at the hardware store probably had a good laugh.  My own family probably didn’t even notice as I pranced around in the twilight.       

Resigned to the fact that I’d made my debut in front of pretty much everybody, the only thing left was to get started on the lawn. A little fresh air and yard work might even take my mind off of it and let me regain a little sense of rugged masculinity.  It certainly couldn’t hurt.  So rather than take a shower only to get dirty again I pulled myself together and rolled the tractor out of the garage. “At least I won’t have to face anyone else….”  I had no sooner opened my mouth and the garage door when my old pal from UPS trotted down the driveway to hand me a package.

“My Friend!’ He waved. “Great day, eh!?”

Yah….perfect.  
..
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/’mō•ment/

noun – 1. a brief period of time  2. importance

 
“Hey, hi big guy.”

“Hi, Dad” he warily replied as I playfully stepped in front of him.

“Wha-haa-hhaat?” he bleated.

“Let me see you!”

A reluctant “uuuhhh” rolled into “ooookaayyy” as he surrendered.

“You’re getting so big.”

“Can I go now?”

“Ok, bud. Do you need anything?”

“Naw. I’m good”

“Alright. Let me know if I can help you.”

“-k.”

– Alrighty then. Sometimes, that’s all I get. It wasn’t even an ‘O-K’, just ‘-k’ and barely audible at that. A random encounter in the hallway lets me know they’re still alive and let’s them know they can’t get away with cookies and soda for breakfast again. If they didn’t need food or money or a ride to anywhere that I am not, I might never find them outside of their room. That’s ok though, because I tell myself that raising them to be good, thoughtful, independent people that will inevitably leave me is the goal here after all, isn’t it? So I settle for little victories. Somewhere between digging out from under the relentless piles of laundry and surviving another showdown over the uneaten vegetables in another healthy meal I just friggin cooked for those little fuuuhhh…errr… PEOPLE.. I find satisfaction. Once in a while though, I stumble onto something magical that makes me wonder if they aren’t the ones raising me.

It happened again tonight. As I deftly negotiated the hallway between dinner and laundry my mind wandered in the details of our hallway encounter…

“Hey, hi big guy.”

“Hi, Dad” he warily replied, turning into the hallway at the top of the stairs. He sensed his predicament before I noticed my opportunity. There was no pretense to the brief encounter, but his shy grin caught my eye and stalled an otherwise quiet attempt to slip past me, undetected. It was like watching a mouse trying to sneak past an alley cat… and enormous mouse with poor judgement and slow reflexes. His evasive maneuver had unwittingly drawn my attention and I seize the moment. He steps left. I step with him – Check. He steps right and I playfully step in front of him – Check Mate. He sighed and a submissive “Wha-haa-hhaat?” wobbled out leaning on a nervous laugh that pleaded for whatever was happening to please be over quickly as I took hold of him by the shoulders.

“Let me see you”…

His uncertain “uuuhhh” rolled reluctantly into “ooookay” as he surrendered.

“You’re getting so big” Only twelve and my boy already stands as tall as me. He’s sure to surpass his older brother and I within the year. I gripped him firmly and gave a bristling shake as if to lend some strength to his slouching posture. He flinched after an intolerable few seconds of my silent smiling attention.

“Can I go now”? he pleaded.

“Ok, bud.” I relented and relaxed my grip. “Do you need anything?”

“Naw. I’m good”

“Alright”, my hands fell away from their hold. “Let me know if I can help you.”

“-k.” He slipped around the corner and out of sight before I might catch him again.

Just now I am struck by the difference between the two versions of the story. He has no idea that the detail of my perspective exists. What’s more, *I* hadn’t noticed it until just now – See? Magic! But wait! It gets better – Thirty years ago I was that boy and it was my grandfather that would catch me unawares…

“David! Let me look at you.” His voice unsteady but direct. Well worn vocal cords had lost their supple youthful tenor and crackled against each word as he summoned you near for inspection.

“Hi Grampa” I’d yield.

“Let me see ya”, he’d say again as he squared up to look you over. He was not a big man. I have a handful of old Army photos from the 1940’s when he stood confidently amongst the taller enlisted men his age. But what he may have lacked in stature, he seemed to make up for in character. My uncle would reverently say he was one tough son-of-a-bitch which likely took on different meaning for a kid growing up under his roof. Even in his later years he’d muckle right onto you with a solid grip and hold you at arms length to peer through old lenses at how well your were shaping up.

“Boy… look atcha!”, he’d beam with a grin that revealed the toll the years had taken on what was left of his teeth. “You’re getting big.”

“Yah… ” I’d say looking down to him. An awkward ‘aww shucks’ would have been more deservedly eloquent, but three decades ago I didn’t appreciate what was happening either.

Now, so many years later with sons of my own, I am suddenly aware. He beamed with pride and hope, optimism and uncertainty. Like a humble farmer at a county fair, he gazed upon you as if you were his magnificent prize-winning pumpkin. You weren’t just some barnyard curiosity. No blue ribbon pony or ’terrific’ pig ever garnered such proud attention. His eyes twinkled in excited anticipation that the whole world would see what had been cultivated. That uncommon gourd he prized held the promise of so much more.

Amazed by astute insightful self-discovery and wistfully nostalgic for the depth of that small moment I missed as a boy, I quit my chores to find junior brushing his teeth. Healthy and tall for a boy his age, I’ve tended to him and watched him grow. He’s been fed and held, comforted and cheered. I’ve talked to him when he obviously wasn’t listening and worried about him when he couldn’t imagine why. I gripped his arms to sense their strength. I held him firmly as if to lend him mine. Hell, I’d thump his chest like a ripening mellon at the market if I thought I could divine his readiness for the world and proudly wheel him out for display and boastful discussion among the other proud farmers. “Yep, this one will do well”, I think as he shuffles past me down the hall toward bedtime.

“G’night, buddy.”

“-k.”

stop-watch

Staring at the Son

“Do you think I could be good at Soccer?” he asked me from the back seat. My ears perked up. Soccer? That was a surprise. He hadn’t played for three or four years since the last time a cage-rattling ball to the face ended his budding career. His own teammate, a big oaf with an undiscriminating lead foot, managed to drive a clearing shot up into his bespectacled nose. It knocked a lens out of his mangled frames and drew blood and tears from an otherwise civilized season-opening match. And that was it. He was done. He sat out the rest of the game nursing a fat lip and avoided aggressive competition from the safety of the sideline like a draft dodger crossing the border into Canada. Try as I may with words of encouragement, distraction, playful challenges, or sordid bribery, our little Mahatma’s protest against confrontation on the playing field was unwavering. We’d continue to encourage his ‘participation’ and ‘team spirit’ for the remainder of the season, while he simply stood there in non-violent protest watching the balls roll past.

“Soccer?” Now it was time for me to put on my game face… “Sure you’d be good at it.”

“Cause I was just thinking about Fall sports and maybe I could do that one”, he said seeking assurance.

“Sure. Well, you haven’t played for a few years, but you’re fast and you can kick a ball. That’s all you need to start.” The trick here was not to oversell it. You see, one of the things I’ve come to learn about myself as a parent (and a spouse) is that I like to talk way to much. I’m inclined to explain things and offer support and encouragement when the opportunities arise. It should be endearing, and yet my captive audience is not afraid to remind me when they’ve had enough. Either their eyes glaze over with disinterest, or they wander about the room searching for asylum. Sometimes Mom attempts to rescue them from my droning, herself a survivor of my knack for exposition. I used to joke that when she wanted to ‘rest her eyes’ on a long car ride, all I had to do was offer up a fascinating soliloquy on the way anything worked. I don’t do that anymore. They have their electronics while I listen to my music. It’s as though they’ve formed their own little support group for coping with the mechanically inclined. Someday they’ll appreciate the gift of my insightful observations, but for now I waive off the urge to describe a variety of conditioning exercises he might want to try to get in shape and reacquaint himself with his old nemesis, that infernal soccer ball. Instead, I change tactics and redirect the conversation… “Have you thought about any other sports you’ll try this year?”

“I’ll probably do Freshman basketball this winter.”

“Any Spring sport? You gonna play baseball again?”

“Mmmm, I’m not sure. I mean, I liked it last year, but….” he stalls, “ehhhh… I’m not sure.”

“That’s ok. You don’t have to do it again.” Now you’ll have to admit I did pretty well to avert my natural inclination to elaborate. It could have been fun to bequeath my four years of high school soccer experience unto him, but I’m convinced I showed considerable restraint…. until I had another brilliant idea: “You know what you’d be good at?” I asked, cleverly leading my audience into the trap. “How about Track?” Do you see how I did that? I brought the conversation right back around to my own agenda of insightfulness. I wouldn’t belabor the point other than to jokingly assure him that Track was certainly not a contact sport and that the odds of getting smashed in the face with another soccer ball were low. I just thought he would be fast.

He’d been playing basketball for a few years and what he lacked in confidence taking it to the net under defensive pressure, he made up for with darting speed and gangly arms that challenge an offense. His full court dash is noticeably quick and I take great pride when other parents notice that he runs on his toes and wonder aloud “Who is that?” I was understandably optimistic this Spring when he was grouped with the sprinters. In fact, the next day we made a special trip to find a pair of spiked sprint shoes and I was anything but offended later that night when he apologetically asked if I’d mind exchanging the pair we just bought for a different style. He’s never been one to want too much attention and it was nice to see him stepping out of his comfort zone, even if his ruby slippers were to be fluorescent pink with steel spikes.

When I finally managed to catch the tail end of a Home meet with his younger brothers in tow, I made special effort to respect his anonymity. I spotted him when the officials called for the 4×100 relay. He must have been a last-minute substitution. He’d never run a relay before, so I was reasonably uncertain how this would pan out. The handoffs can be tricky and he’d be running with and against upperclassmen. Even though he’s tall at 15, he’s still lanky. Some of the older kids were already built like men. The guy in lane 3 needed a shave.

My boy would be running the anchor leg along the straightaway in front of the home field bleachers so I ushered his brothers toward the finish line. “Guys, let’s move down to the end for a better view.” There were only two schools competing and the stands were virtually empty save a few other parents. “Now listen, you know how your brother doesn’t like to draw attention, right? We’re just gonna sit up in the back so he doesn’t notice us. I don’t want him to get distracted, okay? We don’t need to make a lot of noise.” I think I made myself pretty clear. Just then came the crack of the starter pistol. “Ok, look guys! The race started. Let’s watch…” I astutely narrated for the boys as the action unfolded. By the end of the first three legs, the teams seemed fairly even and despite a clumsy handoff and nearly stepping out of his lane, he was off! From 75 yards out all I could see was that they were close. The tap-tap-tap of spiked plastic soles pounding against the hardtop grew in the few seconds it took them to reach us.

He looked pretty good on approach. His posture was upright, broad shoulders even and square with arms pumping and driving through each coordinated stride. “Here he comes guys!” I pointed like I’d just spotted a whale off the starboard bow, and then suddenly – “OH SHIT!” I jumped up at the sight. The veins in his neck bulged as he strained against the ground. His eyes widely searching as if to glimpse a bear chasing him.

“Look at your brother, guys!” But this bear was racing next to him, a strapping young lad with arms as big as mine and the waistline of an seventeen year old. Shoulder to shoulder they charged past as my pride surged. In my excitement, I forgot the thoughtful restraint I had just asked the boys to maintain and boomed “GO JACOB! GO, GO!!!!” Like Zeus ushering Apollo across the sky in a golden chariot… Like King Leonidas commanding Sparta’s son to victory, a primal reflex blurted “RUN! RUUUUNNNN!!!” I’d lost all reserve and filled the air with a hollering racket to spur him on “GO JACOB! RUN!!!”…

… Now, I will admit that other accounts of the scene I made may not be as flattering. My ‘roar’ may have been more scream-ish. I cannot testify as to the level of the competition that particular afternoon and his team only came in a close second, but in that moment my fleet footed son was glorious!

As I sat down and regained my composure my little 6th grade protégé, an eager student of my infinite wisdom, caught my attention with a clever smirk and said rhetorically “Hey Dad, I thought we weren’t supposed to draw attention with all that cheering?”

“Wha-?” Oh sure, he picks this moment to show me he’s been listening. As the hypocracy of my unabashed enthusiastic outburst sank in, an I-gotcha grin spread across his face. “Yah, but did you see him?! That was my boy right there!” I boasted. “He use to be this big,” I would say cradling my hands together against my chest the way I used to hold all 3 pounds of him the first time he shot out of the gate… Come to think of it, that too was faster than expected.

sunrise

Growing Pain

“Okay. Soooo you can have a seat and the nurse will call you shortly”, she said politely.

We’d just finished at the registration desk and resigned to take our place among the other apathetic faces lining the walls of the waiting room. My freshman’s exam required a little lab work, but I had obviously failed to pick a quiet time at the walk-in clinic. As we sat there, I began to diagnose the other patients, profiling each one to assess their individual HIPAA-protected motivations for making us wait in line. The elderly came for blood work. Crying children likely had ear infections and were in need of antibiotics, their new mother’s welcoming the excuse to get the fuck out of the house. Older kids were probably due for immunizations, and a select few on crutches or favoring some injured limb were headed for x-rays. Damn. It should have been dead in there at 2:30 on a Thursday. I offered junior one of the tired old magazines from the news rack, but he waved it off. He was already plugged in with headphones blaring and content listening to god-knows-what poor excuse for whatever kids call music these days when a shrill scream pierced the wall beside us.

“That doesn’t sound good”, he deadpanned.

“What?”

“The kid in there.”

“Ahhh… … Well, you know what that is?” I seized the opportunity to engage him in a little conversation. “That is the sound of a blood test.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I brought you and your brothers here for the same thing.”

He paused for a moment. “Did I scream like that?”

“Yup. You ALL scream like that. You don’t remember?”

“No”, he said with a shy little smile.

“Well, you see they’ve got a special seat in there that’s kinda like a barber’s chair. I’d carry you in and hold you on my lap like nothing traumatic was about to happen. The nurse would come in with a neat little tray of disinfectant packets, vials, and a fake smile while we played with a toy or read a bit of a story to distract you. She’d do some stuff to prep your arm which you’d think was curious but tolerable. Then, just when I’d get your attention back to the story or divert your eyes to a funny looking picture on the office wall, she’d stick you and you would lose your freakin’ mind. That’s what that screaming was.”

“Oh.”

A toddler and his mother emerged from the last blood-letting ceremony. Gingerly holding his arm out like a little bird’s wounded wing, he held a fist full of stickers in one hand and a soothing lollipop in the other. Mom ushered him through the room affecting her best sympathetic baby-talk to comfort the little guy. “Oooooo, I know sweety” she said in a cute little voice. “Yo wittle awm got a pinch, didn’t it…. Come here. I kiss it. Make it allllll better,” she cooed while expeditiously gathering her phone and keys and zipping him into his jacket.

“…Now if you were lucky”, I continued, “the nurse would only have to poke you once. (Another child is crying now.) Sometimes, though, they have trouble finding the vein in your chubby little arms so they’d have to go fishing around for it. They’re only allowed a few tries before they have to give up on that arm and go for the other one.”

Just then the door swung open and a nurse called his name. I hopped up, needling at him in jest. “Ready?!”

“This shouldn’t take long, dad”, said the nurse. “You can have a seat.”

“Oh. Okay.” He took a couple uncertain steps as I sat down. I’ve been with them for virtually every pediatrician and dentist appointment since birth. “Hey uh”, I called after him, “gimme your coat. You’re gonna have to take it off anyway. I’ll hold it for you.” Then off he went, without me.

Wait. I started to wonder at the significance of what just happened. Nobody warned me that particular moment was coming. ‘Independence’ – Isn’t that what we’re working toward? He’s a big boy now so iNurseRatchedt’s good that he can do this stuff by himself. My thoughts wandered. I suppose Nurse Ratched was trying to treat him like a man… or was she expecting me to behave like one?….. Whatever… No big deal. You know, like when you’re plodding along the same path you’ve walked a hundred times and suddenly you trip over nothing. That was nothing. Right? As I scanned the room to see who noticed my faltering, I found myself holding his coat, or maybe… Was I hugging it? Preposterous! … and yet there I was hugging it like a giant security blanket, my estrogen surging. “Whatever your do, don’t cry”, I joked with myself. “No. Dude. Seriously.”

0n a scale of 1-10 for discomfort, this was a two, but as with those screaming kids, this prick had become excruciating. The tiny pinch grew on one of my heart strings like a red dot on a child’s knee after a fall. Arguably, it doesn’t warrant a bandaid, but you have to give it attention regardless. All that blubbering isn’t really necessary, but my growing pain was getting worse by the second. “Owwww… Can’t you see it? There..right THERE!” I desperately searched the blank faces for a little sympathy, but my mommy wasn’t there and that kid just left with his. “It hurts….don’t touch it!!!!” I gurgled and sputtered between sobs, but there’s no bandaid for this boo-boo. “I need some stickers, STAT! Nurse!? NUUURRSSSEE!!! Somebody get the crash-cart….CLEAR!!!

“Dad?… DAD.”

“Hey bud.”

“Can we go?”

“Yah. How’d it go?”

“Good.”

“Good.”

“Ya, so can we go now?”

“Of course. Lead they way…”

One Last Ride

Image

When do you take the time to just look at someone? Have you watched how they move or the manner in their still moments? Sitting on the plane with nothing to do for three hours I notice. It’s like another ride at Disney, rows packed 3×3 on this aerial roller coaster.

I start when I turn to my right and see Mommy sitting across the aisle. Her profile eclipses the sunlight from the window, her features hidden in shadow. With a gentle breath rising and falling in her chest she seems relaxed despite frenzied fingers clicking away at the keyboard and intent eyes flitting around some spreadsheet and then off to another email like chickadees twittering between feeders in the springtime. Then, another gentle breath.

The woman on my right sits neatly. With with one delicate hand draped over her elbow and resting under the weight of a precious little engagement ring and it’s enormous diamond, she picks at half a sandwich and a bottle of spring water. Her sharply dressed mother poses fashionably in the seat next to her, with the slightly gaudier and brassier jewelry I think I see more often on older women, well manicured finger tips folded comfortably in her lap and a seemingly decapitated head cocked back in the corner between the window and the headrest, mouth agape in a most unflattering way as she sleeps. They have matching handbags. That’s cute. They won’t be able to identify me in the crowd as we exit the gate on arrival.

As the co-pilot makes another unintelligible announcement from the flight deck I see my boys are blissfully unaware of anything outside the pixelated worlds of their iPads. Rambunctious elbows jostle for precious real estate in their cramped seats. Crowned with headphones, the tops of their heads bob to the rhythm their fingers tap out on the screen.

Another burst of excitement at the keyboard draws my attention back to their mother.  Her fingertips now ablaze with who knows what, I don’t.

The senior couple sharing the window seat next to her brought nice thick paperbacks to entertain themselves in flight. His leathery hand reaches over to press it’s weight on her knee. Her left rests on his while she pets his hairy forearm with the other. That’s her nervous tell – She confesses to be a little anxious about flying. As the plane gently banks a gentle turn to starboard, the setting sun’s light floods through their window once more casting all three of them in brilliantly trimmed silhouette.

“Oh!” Suddenly alert now, the mother-daughter duo have come to life as they try to contain rivulets of ice water the bride-to-be just knocked across her tray table and onto our seats. “I’m so sorry”, she bleats as I brush what I can off my jeans and hand her some crumpled napkins from the seat-back pocket. “I’m really sorry….” She repeats as I offer my plastic sandwich bag to stash the damp trash. Maybe they’ll remember me now? As she bumps me with her hip turning to help her mother, I doubt it….

My Festivus Pageant

I got dressed up for this and the fancy pants I chose are causing my shorts to ride up just enough to be distracting, but with the full house that turned out for this show and my coat loaded with camcorder and keys, cell phone and camera now wedged into the modest theater seating I can’t quite get comfortable.  I should have just worn my work clothes: jeans and a t-shirt.  It’s not like I’m trying to impress any of these people.  I barely recognize anyone in the dim lighting of the auditorium.  I figured I could suck it up for one night out and dress like an adult.  Just glad I don’t have to wear this stuff to work every day, which is a nice perk to the stay-home-dad career path.  My mind starts to wander as I shift in my seat… 

… I flip the power switch on the video camera, but nothing happens.  Did I do that right?  Flip it off and on a couple times, but nuthin’.  Just fuckin’ great.  I thought it was charged… 

…Mommy is quietly waiting for the next act and thumbing through the program… 

…Ok, how about the camera?  Yah that’s got power, but the memory card is full so I’ll have to try deleting a bunch of pictures to make room to record some video.  “This is a great little camera,” I congratulate myself on its purchase as I zoom in on the risers.   I can get a High-Definition picture of their nose hair from back here.  Just wish this thing had a viewfinder.  I kick myself for not thinking of that in the store.  In bright sunlight the display is hard to see clearly, but in a concert setting like this, everybody for 10 rows back gets to see exactly who and what I’m zoomed in on which limits the photographic opportunities when I’m trying to act like a responsible adult…

…What are they singing now? I don’t recognize any of these lyrics… 

…If I point out the horrendously festive sweater on the woman two rows up, I know discretion won’t allow the Mrs. to entertain my whispered humor, lest I be discovered for the ill-mannered scoundrel that I am. Is my wife really that much more mature than me? …

… I swear to St. Nick, when we get home I’m throwing these pants in the trash!  Would it be wrong if I undo them to give the ‘fellas’ a little ‘breathing’ room? I’m not sure I can get the zipper down without alarming the stranger who just sat next to me…

…As the next song begins, I scan the risers looking for something remarkable in the sea of black and white… Hey, now she’s pretty – And so it begins. Yes, I admit it.  When I get bored at these wonderful little concerts, I inevitably find myself conducting my own private little beauty pageant from the 5th row of the elementary school auditorium. Now, before you think me a monster, hear me out.  When I attend a school concert, I want to be entertained.  I want to see the kids dressed up and I’d like to hear a couple of familiar Christmas carols.  Unfortunately, as I sit here in the audience for yet another Christmas Winter concert, it is all too clear that I’ll have to entertain myself. For some reason there’s an asinine dress code for concert attire.  As described in the Parent Handbook, concert dress consists of a white shirt, black pants or dress, and black shoes with a special note: “Concert attire must adhere to dress code standards and students should refrain from festive accessories.  Light, reflective material is not permitted”  Seriously?  No festive accessories for children in K-8th grade… performing for their parents… the week before Christmas? Yah, I said it – CHRISTMAS. Perhaps this’d make sense if they were performing with an orchestral accompaniment at Carnegie Hall.  Otherwise, I think this formality just makes for a neutered performance, a weak representation of  the “rich learning experience” they’re supposed to be getting at this school.  Where’s the fun?  Where are the pretty little dresses?  Where’s self-expression.  If they’re going to strip away all the individuality and creative expression by dressing them up like mimes, then I am not gonna be bashful about trying to find America’s next top models or Hollywood’s future power couple (a-la Branjelina or Brennifer) among my son’s classmates while they sing some unintelligible rendition of a classic European folk song in French coordinated with a complete set of obscure hand gestures. I don’t understand any of this pretentiously intellectual music selection.  And if they’re gonna demonstrate cultural diversity with foreign languages, sing Feliz Navidad or something familiar I can hum along with.  

Quite frankly, the girls manage to push the dress code limits a little better than the boys and generally seem to get into the performance with broader smiles and more animation.  There’s often one or two that really stand out and I wonder how pretty they might be in a few years when they grow into those pretty, yet gawky features.  I got mommy to agree that there are a couple remarkably pretty girls among them, but now she’s trying to ignore my search for starlet genetics.  Then of course there are a few girls on the other end of the spectrum. We can’t all be 10’s right?  Personality goes a long way when you’re hovering around a 5+, so let’s just be optimistic that all of these youngsters have got a lot of growing up to do before the final verdict is in, if you know what I mean.  Better luck next year sweetie.


Now don’t think I’m just some chauvinistic monster, here.  I’ve got three boys up there at one time or another throughout the evening so I’ll surely end up comparing them to their classmates as I search for the next Brad Pit to escort little Angelina and Jennifer to the prom in a few years.  There’s not a lot of self-expression in little boy’s haircuts so it comes down to seeming charisma and how well they wear the uniform.  Is little 007 on the end of the second riser wearing black sneakers instead of dress shoes?  You’ll lose points for that, Mister!  An over-sized shirt that hang loosely on their little shoulders is a major faux pax, and nobody seems to know the proper length for a 1st grader’s neck tie.  If their shirt looks clumsily tucked or the pants are hoisted uncomfortably high enough that they remind me of my own discomfort as I continue to fidget in my seat, “fahgettaboudit, kid. NEXT!”  …

…How many song we got left???…

…  What are they singing now? Awww, crap – What is that,  Latin?!…