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Better Off Dad

I am a stay at home dad. That’s pretty much all I am. I used to be other things before I started staying home with my kids. But now I’m just a stay at home dad, or SAHD for short. I know that’s what I am because that’s how people introduce me. “This is Marcus, he stays home with the kids (can you believe it?)” Or if they’re over the age of 55, I usually get the “He’s a Mr. Mom.” It’s said in a positive way, sort of like the way people say “between jobs” when they mean “fired for being an incompetent loser.” Better Off Dad is now located at blog.familiesonly.com.

August 2009 - Posts

  • It’s the End of the World As We Know It, and I’m Kind of Miffed

     
    I was driving to Virginia a couple of days ago and saw a guy walking up the side of the road wearing a sandwich board that said:

    “The End of the World is Coming!  May 20, 2011!”

    Wouldn’t you know it? 

    That’s my birthday!

    It’s just like the stupid old world to end on my birthday! 

    Granted, it’s not a big birthday like 35 or 40 or anything, just one of the little in between birthdays.  But still, I was kind of hoping that I might get to go to the movies or out to dinner or something. 

    Now, apparently, I’m going to be dodging meteors or fighting off beasts with seven heads and what not.

    That birthday is really going to suck.

    If I had not been in such a hurry, had not had my family with me and was a little more dedicated to my profession of blogging (profession?), then I would have pulled a U-Turn and gone to talk to the guy.

    I did not.

    Mainly because we were in the midst of a long trip, but partly because crazy people scare me.  Well, actually, I don’t really mind crazy crazy people.  It’s the sane crazy people that scare me.  You know, the kind that walk around predicting the end of the world, or yell a lot at town hall meetings.

    So, unfortunately, I did not stop and talk to who, I can only assume, is an extremely colorful character.  Instead, I drove on my way, but I have been thinking about this guy a great deal.  I mean, if the end of the world is really coming in a couple of years, there’s kind of a lot I need to do.

    For instance, I should probably plan whatever kind of party we’re going to have a little early that year, maybe the weekend before.  And I should also probably make some specific gift requests.  For instance, there’d be no point in my mom renewing my Newsweek subscription and I might tell people to steer away from gift cards or concert tickets.

    People should probably just stick to consumables and canned goods.

    Of course, that brings up another issue.  I really don’t have any idea what kind of end of the world this was going to be.  Is it an alien invasion?  A meteor strike?  An attack of mutated penguins from a nuclear sub that exploded under the ice caps?

    I mean, it’s important to know.  You really have to prepare for these kinds of things differently.  And I would like to avoid that apocalyptic, last minute, mad rush to the Home Depot where all of the axes, generators and mutant repellant sprays (Formula 409?) have all been cleared off the shelf.

    Now, there’s a good chance that this sandwich board guy is a regular marcher up and down the strip malls of Waldorf, MD where I saw him, so I could probably go back and get the whole scoop, but, honestly, I’m pretty busy.  I’ve got three kids.  I was sort of just hoping just to get on his mailing list or follow him on twitter or something.

    (no twitter, but there are a dozen or so facebook groups called “end of the world” – mainly ironic looking teens or people who look very, very angry)

    Anyway, barring a decent mailing list, I did the next best thing and googled “end of the world,” but that had 233 million hits and I only have another half hour or so before the kids get up and then, end of the world or not, it’s at least the end of my time to get this blog finished, so I googled “end of the world May 20, 2011”

    Only 1.7 million hits, much more manageable.

    Well, the first thing I learned is that there is a lot of disagreement about this whole world thing and when it’s ending, although there does seem to be a lot of agreement that it will almost certainly be in 2011 or 2012.  (why is Sarah Palin even bothering to mount a campaign for the republican nomination then?)

    So, let’s run through some of the main candidates.

    Much to my relief it appears that the world will probably not end on my birthday, May 20.

    It’s going to end on May 21.

    As this website shows:

    http://may-21-2011.com/

    I think we should trust this, because even though the creators of the website cannot spell, put together a grammatically correct sentence or figure out how to copy and paste in color, they do have a live phone call you can dial into every day. (1-800-322-5385)

    Also, when I did my search there was a google side bar ad that also referenced May 21, 2011 and linked to a website for survival gear:

     http://www.survival-warehouse.com/

    From the best I can tell, this website attests that the world will be destroyed by hurricanes, fire and backpackers.  Personally, I would have thought that the hurricanes could have put out the fires, but I’m not a scientist.

    The backpackers worry me though.

    Also, it seems that, to survive in the new world order, we will need lots of freeze dried food, a portable toilet, and what appears to be bear repellant.

    So I guess I was wrong about the penguins earlier.

    I then did some more searching and found this very helpful website that listed over 220 different times that the world was supposed to end, which either means that people are really getting this stuff wrong, or that the world ended a long time ago.  Which, honestly, would explain a lot.

    http://www.bible.ca/pre-date-setters.htm

    But, what chaffs my biscuit is that nowhere is May 20, 2011 listed.  Oh, sure, there’s a whole section on May 21, but nothing about May 20.

    I’m starting to think that the sandwich board guy got this whole thing wrong. 

    Very disappointing. 

    Well, I’m not taking any chances.  In 2011, I’m going to have my party on Saturday, May 14 and I’m going to include in the invitation “No Savings Bonds!”

    I figure that will give me at least a week or so to enjoy my presents, especially if I register at survival warehouse.

    You can never have enough bear repellant.

  • In Health Care, It’s All About the Buts

     
    The Health care debate has been very interesting to me. 

    Somehow it has turned into a debate about death panels and euthanasia and abortion and long lines and Canada and a whole host of other things. 

    What seems odd about this is that, now, all of the arguments seem to be over very obscure, often factually inaccurate, details about this health care bill which congress hasn’t even finished writing and amending yet.

    What I don’t seem to hear any kind of a dialogue about is this:

    Do we, as the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world want to provide health care to all of our citizens?

    We’ve kind of skipped over the whole main debate and jumped right into the minutiae. 

    It’s a bit odd, don’t you think?

    I’ll just lay my cards on the table upfront here.  I think it is absolutely appalling that we do not have some form of universal healthcare.  There is no question that a nation as wealthy as we are (were?) could afford it.  It’s just a matter of whether or not we care enough about our fellow citizens to make the sacrifices necessary to do so.

    To me, as a father, as a Christian, as a, heck, living breathing human with compassion for others, it seems like a no-brainer.  Of course we should make sure every person has access to health care.  What kind of a jerk would you have to be to not want sick people to get well?

    And yet….

    What is interesting to me is that no one really says, out loud, that they don’t want everyone to have health care, they just don’t do anything to make it happen.

    What I hear most of the time from people who oppose the currently evolving health care bill is this:

    “Of course, I want everyone to have good health care, …… But…...”

    Ah yes, the “But.”  It’s a quick and easy way of suggesting that, gosh o’willikers I sure would like to see this happen.  I mean, it would be great!  Really, it’s just that, well, I think it would be good…… BUT…..

    And this endless litany of “buts” contain things like:

    But I don’t want to wait in lines

    But I don’t want to have my health care rationed or delayed

    But I don’t want to have my taxes raised.

    But I don’t want the government making decisions about my health.  That should be between me and my doctor.

    But I don’t want it to change my life in any way at all, not even a little bit, you can pry my private health insurance form my cold dead hands….

    Ok.

    Well, here’s the thing.  We’re talking about a massive overhaul of our wildly ineffective health care system.  It’s going to require some adjustments and some sacrifices.  It will require more money, it will require the way we do things to change…. Not necessarily for the worse, but to change nonetheless. 

    So what’s odd is this:  These people who claim  “Of course, I want everyone to have good health care, but….” Aren’t actually doing anything to see that everyone has good health care.  They just sort of want it to happen in the same way, they want a million dollars to drop out of the sky and land in their front yard.

    “Wouldn’t that be just great?”

    The people against health care reform are not proposing alternative methods of covering everyone, they are just arguing against this plan. 

    I find it disingenuous.

    The honest argument against health care is this:

    I don’t want health care to happen if it’s going to in any way negatively affect me.

    You know what?  Then you don’t want health care to happen, because chances are, it will negatively affect you, even if that means a small raise in taxes or more paper work to fill out. 

    I believe that the negative impact will be minimal, but even if it wasn’t, I would still say it would be worth it.  I would suggest that making sure that every person in this country is able to receive medical attention is well worth a little sacrifice on my part.  I would even say it is worth a lot of sacrifice. 

    The other thing that is so odd about the litany of “buts” is the extraordinary irony surrounding all of them.  Let’s take them one at a time.

    “But I don’t want to wait in lines.”

    Really?  Been to the doctor’s office lately?  It’s not like we’re in a system now where we walk in for our 3:00 appointment and are sitting across from the doctor at 3:02. 

    I was in a car accident once and was rushed to the nearest hospital emergency room.  I waited over an hour and a half to see a doctor, but the nurse told me that the average wait was between 4-7 hours. 

    Want to know why?  Because the emergency room was filled with people who did not have health care.  They were in the emergency room because they had diabetes or the flu or some other manageable illness, but had no doctor to see.  So, they waited around until things had progressed to the point where they had no alternative except to take off a day of work and sit in the emergency room waiting to get some general care. 

    And you know who pays for that?  You.  Via your insurance company, through higher premiums that they charge to cover the charges that the hospital charges to cover these patients without health care.

    Oh, yeah, and it causes long lines too.
     

    “But I don’t want to have my health care rationed or delayed”

    The easy answer to this is that 30% of our country already has their health care rationed by not actually having any, but that aside….

    I have a friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer.  It took him two weeks to get an appointment for testing.  I have another friend who had a serious infection in the mouth  that required surgery, but had to wait a month to have the surgery scheduled.  I have another friend whose toddler is showing significant developmental delays.  It took them 6 months to get an appointment with a specialist.  I don’t think anyone who has ever had a serious medical problem would say that these kinds of situations are unusual.

    And these are the people who HAVE health insurance already!

    Rationing is already taking place.  We’ve just learned to accept it as normal.

     

    “But I don’t want to have my taxes raised.”

    Yeah, well who does?

    But you know what?  We spend almost twice as much on healthcare as any other developed nation already and we’re not even close to having the longest life expectancy or the lowest infant mortality rate.

    (You know who does have a longer life expectancy than us?  All those damn commie countries in Europe with their socialized medicine – The US is actually 35th)

    We already pay through the nose for health insurance, it just comes in the form of a smaller paycheck, because the costs are deducted up front, kind of like a … what’s that word again?  Oh yeah, tax.

    When my wife went to add our family on to her law firm’s health insurance plan, it was an additional $700 a month.

    Holy Crap!  And we’re all healthy!

     

    “But I don’t want the government making decisions about my health.  That should be between me and my doctor!”

    OK, fine.  Everybody hates the government.  They only give us roads and clean water and stuff.  They’re evil, evil, evil. I get it.

    And they’re right.  Nobody wants some faceless government bureaucrat making decisions about who can and can’t get an MRI, but let me ask you this?

    Who makes that decision now?

    Is it up to you and your doctor?  Not really.

    Right now, it’s some faceless corporate insurance bureaucrat whose whole job is to keep costs low and make a profit for the for-profit health insurance company. 

    The truth is, someone is already making decisions about what you can and can’t do.  That’s why you have to contact your insurance company to see if they’ll cover a procedure before you go and get the procedure done. 

    That’s why you have to go to your primary care physician before you go to the specialist you know you have to go see anyway. 

    That’s why when you go into the gas station there’s a mayonnaise jar sitting there asking you to donate a couple of bucks for some poor kid’s leukemia operation.  Because some corporate bureaucrat already made the decision about what was and wasn’t covered.

    This is a debatable point, but I sincerely doubt that the government is likely to be more restrictive in making these decisions than a for-profit insurance company who hires people to write their contracts in such a way so as to make sure they only have to pay for as little as humanly possible.

     

    But we’re off topic now.  I’m sitting here arguing about details and I don’t want to argue about details, I want to argue about the big picture.

    I think the quintessential question is this:

    “Do you care about other people?”

    “Do you think that as a wealthy nation we have an obligation to take care of the sick and the poor?”

    I believe with every fiber in my body that the answer to both of those questions is an absolute yes.

    And let me tell you how I reached that conclusion.  (This is where, if you have any hackles lying around, they’re about to get raised.)

    We all have a moral center that is derived from something.  For some of my friends it is the torah, for others it is the great turtle in the sky and for others it comes from an inherent belief in justice that has nothing to do with religion, because they’re Godless heathens (very nice ones though)

    For me, however, it comes from my belief in Christianity.

    When I read the Bible and look at how Jesus spent his time on this planet, it is unbelievable how much of his short life was spent healing the sick.  Look up the word “heal” in your Bible concordance.  It’s astounding how many times that word pops up - and almost all of them in relation to Jesus.

    Jesus cared very deeply for the sick and so much of what we know how about him is in relation to him healing someone or visiting someone who was ill. It is hard for me to envision any reading of the Bible that would not lead someone to believe that providing healthcare to everyone is a “Christian” thing to do.  I would even go so far as to say that it is our “Christian Duty” to help make sure that it happens.

    Now, how that healthcare is provided is a separate and legitimate issue.  There is an argument that it is not the job of the government to make sure that everyone has access to health care. 

    Fine.

    But, here’s the reality:  Private health insurance, the American people, the church and whomever else have had decades to do something to provide healthcare for the least of these and we have accomplished little to nothing in that time.

    The reality is that, for good or bad, the federal government is the only body capable of ensuring that everyone in this country has access to health care.

    Now, will the federal government screw some of this up?  Almost certainly.  Although, I dare say, no worse than private insurance companies have.

    Is it possible that those of us with existing health care coverage will have to make some kind of a sacrifice in the process of ensuring that everyone has health care?  Probably. 

    But I would argue that if you believe that all people are created equal and that we are all children of God, then you should be happy to do whatever it takes to ensure that your fellow man receives what Iconsider to be one of the most basic aspects of our life: the ability to go see a doctor when we, or one of our children are ill.

    It’s fine to be worried about the details of this issue.  There should be a healthy and vigorous debate about what, precisely, this health care bill will cover and how in the world we are going to pay for it.

    But I hope we can agree first and above all, that we do need some kind of universal health care.

    In my mind, it is the right thing to do.

    It is the Christian thing to do.

    It is the Jewish and Muslim and Heathen thing to do.

    And by golly, it is the American thing to do.

    No, buts about it.

  • First Day of First Grade

     
    Yesterday was Audra’s first day of first grade.

    In case I might have forgotten this fact, I was reminded when she ran into our bedroom at exactly 7:00am wearing her brand new school outfit and carrying her backpack, all ready to go.

    Only an hour and 45 minutes till the bus comes. 

    Just so you know, she came in at 7:00 because we had absolutely forbidden her to come in any earlier. 

    Last year, it was so emotional watching her get on the bus for kindergarten.  Sarah and I were nervous, Audra was excited (and maybe a little nervous).  Would she like it?  Would her teacher be nice?  Would the other kids on the bus shove over and let her have a seat?  Would she be able to cut the school lunch mystery meat herself using a plastic fork?

    This year, however, whatever concerns there might have been, resided in me alone.

    For Audra, this was old hat.  She was going off to school a big first grader.

    In fact, I think the hardest part for me was watching how much it wasn’t a big deal.  Sure, the first day of school was exciting, but for Audra it was nothing.  Just a few weeks of vacation and now she was back in the saddle. She already knew all the tricks, all the rules, all the ways of the school. 

    She was an old pro at this by now.

    No, I think I was probably a lot more nervous and worried than Audra was.  Although, none of us seems to have taken her heading off to school nearly as badly as poor Asher.

    I think little Asher had gotten used to having his big sister home all the time.  He’s four now and somehow the differences between a 4 year old and an almost seven year old aren’t as big as those between 3 and 6 year olds. 

    The kids played all summer and for the most part they played really well together.  It was usually some kind of bizarre combination of Batman and the Princess Pony off to rescue the Magical Stone of Happiness from Dr. Octopus or some such mish mash, but still, they did it together.

    Yesterday morning, Asher was lying on the floor crying because Audra was going back to school. 

    It was heartbreaking.

    To be fair, later that afternoon, he was lying on the floor crying because we were out of Honey Nut Cheerios.

    I don’t know what’s up with that kid.

    But somehow we all made it through the day, and seven and a half hours later, Audra hopped off the bus, all full of stories from her day. 

    Her teacher was nice and pretty and she was a big kid now because they got to sit in the same desks that the fifth graders used and not tables anymore and they had two books - a hard book and a soft book and Maddie and Mia were in her class and there were lots of important papers I had to look at right now and she needs something to eat right now, because lunch was a long time ago and…..

    So we came inside and sat and ate homemade cookies that I had just taken from the oven and….

    Ok, that’s not true.

    That’s what I wish had happened, but in actuality is only a fantasy.

    In reality, I was sitting on the floor surrounded by every single article of clothing that we owned as I attempted to fold it all.  So instead of sharing fresh baked cookies over the immaculately clean table, I pushed a tub of hummus and pita chips over to Audra and kept folding.

    It’s not particularly Norman Rockwell, but neither is our life.

    After the laundry, I started looking through the packet of papers from the school which included forms to be filled out, registration packets for the PTA a list of suggested donation amounts we could make to the PTA, an emergency contact form, a 10 page list of jobs we could volunteer to do at the school, a letter about the swine flu, health insurance forms, school lunch forms, a newsletter from the cafeteria about healthy eating and a second copy of the school materials list which included the information that we needed to send in a check for $3.50 for notebooks and that in the coming weeks we would be told to send in more money for “agenda books, math journals, quick word books, and scholastic news.”  This last bit was accompanied by a clip art of a happy face with dollar signs for eyes.  (I swear I’m not making that up)

    (Honest to Pete, does this school have any supplies at all?  Would they like me to send in a bag of mulch and a colander as well?)

    And so, there it was, the first day of school was over.  And it hardly even seemed like a big deal.  My little girl was back in her groove – catching the bus in the morning, seeing her friends, learning, playing, reading, riding home and walking into the house all by herself.

    In some ways, this is all easy, because Audra is just made for school.  She’s confident, independent, smart, has a healthy ego and is desperate to please – all qualities that make her a great student.  I have no concerns about her going to school and succeeding.  Every aspect of her personality is designed for being a perfect student.

    That night at dinner she was telling us all about her class. 

    Yes, her teacher is nice. 

    Yes, she has lots of friends in her class.

    No, her best friend isn’t in her class, but that’s ok.

    She thinks that she and Maddie are probably the cutest kids in the in the class.

    Everyone says that she’s the smallest kid in the class, even though some of the kids are only 5 and there’s this one kid who she’s pretty sure is smaller than her but everyone just says that she’s the smallest anyway.

    She says this all with an air of resignation.  It’s hard being the smallest.  Her other classmates like to pick her up.  I suppose there is some consolation in being the cutest, though.

    And after dinner, it’s up to bed.  Tomorrow’s another busy day with more to learn and more to do.  The days can’t come fast enough for Audra.  She’s always eager for the next level, for the next challenge.  She can’t wait for homework and spelling tests and to do some real math.  She’s tired of this counting piles of plastic bears crap.  Bring on the flash cards.

    No, Audra can’t wait to grow up.  If she had her way, I think she would skip right to high school so she could take IB classes, be on the prom decorating community and start dating Zac Efron.

    But for now, she’s still in first grade - the tiny, cute kid who loves school and can’t wait to go each morning.

    I know she wants to grow up and do more and bigger things, but right now, I’m still adjusting to her no longer being a kindergartener… and there are even moments when I feel like joining Asher on the floor and crying. 

    But instead, I’ll just squeeze back any tears so I can do what I need to do - get hair brushed, cereal on the table and the boys up and dressed. 

    It’s another day and we have to go catch that bus.

  • Stride Wrong

     
    Last Thursday, I bought my two year old a new pair of shoes.

    That is the last time I have seen them.

    What is it about children and their shoes?  Why is a small leathery thing so darn difficult to keep track of?

    Part of the fault is clearly mine.  Somewhere I read that it is important to buy your young children high quality shoes because they “conform to their feet” and allow them to “develop strong muscles and defined arches” and because if you buy them cheap shoes, your kids’ feet will end up looking like “two mushy hamburger patties” and your child will be crippled. 

    Forever.

    So I have been buying my children nice, high quality, expensive shoes at places like Stride Rite where you have to go through a credit check before you’re even allowed in the store.

    Now, why I decided to take this little bit of parenting advice to heart when I ignore most of the other stuff I read is unclear.  I didn’t buy my kids any of those stupid sleep wedges to keep them from rolling over as babies.  I didn’t insist on only purchasing organic, natural combed cotton fibers to dress them in so as to not irritate their sensitive skin.  I didn’t grow my own hydroponically raised green beans to harvest and puree into homemade nutrient rich baby food.

    So why did I fork over big bucks for high quality shoes?

    The short answer is, I don’t know.

    The long answer is that the one time Audra talked me into forgoing the “high quality” shoes and getting some trendy tennis shoes with names like “LA Streetwalkers!” (or something)  they fell apart in a few weeks and I became embittered.

    So, I just kept buying the good stuff.

    Because I was a sucker and was buying my kids these expensive shoes, my kids only had one pair.  We certainly couldn’t afford more than that.  But that was ok.  Why should a three year old need more than one pair of shoes anyway?  It’s not like he has to find something to match his new handbag.

    The problem is that if you only have one pair of shoes, then you always have to know where that pair of shoes is, because you have nothing else to wear if you can’t find them.  But with three young children, there was always somebody who couldn’t find their shoes.

    I told the kids to go put their shoes in their room when we got home, but I might as well have told them to construct a replica of the Eiffel tower using only matchsticks and spit. 

    The shoes ended up anywhere and everywhere.  I would trip over them in the hallway and yell at someone to “put these away!”  I would find a single shoe underneath a cushion on the couch and the other one nowhere to be found.  It was ridiculous.  There was a several month period where we were late for everything we did because I would have to spend 15 minutes looking for whatever shoe was missing.  With three kids and 6 shoes it was a good bet that one of them would be somewhere strange.

    And I do mean somewhere strange.

    After time I learned that “good places to check” included the clothes hamper, the toy box, the trunk of the plastic ride-on car, the dryer, the roof of the playhouse, the drawer on the train table and underneath the pillows.  These were all places I found shoes multiple times. 

    It was ridiculous.

    Every morning I was spending half an hour running around searching every nook and cranny of the house for Asher’s left shoe.

    Finally, I got smart.

    Kind of.

    I went to Ikea and got a shoe holder.

    I told the kids that this is where their shoes were supposed to go and that as soon as they came in the house and took them off (as they were want to do) they should put them in the shoe holder.

    This didn’t so much solve anything as create a unified place that I could yell at the children to take their shoes after I tripped over them in the hallway.  So now, when I found a shoe, my new mantra was “where do the shoes belong?!?”

    Whiny kids voices:  “IN THE SHOOOOE HOLDER.”

    This did have some minor success except for the fact that my middle child was too young and irresponsible to remember to put his shoes away on a regular basis, my oldest daughter changed clothes too many times a day to remember where her shoes were last and my youngest was just too darn little to even know what I was talking about.

    It did help though.

    Some.

    But more importantly, I became wise with the passing of time.  I began to learn where the shoes were likely to be.  Audra’s were usually in the front hall.  Asher’s were almost always in the playroom.  And Micah’s were usually in the floor of the van where he took them off the second he was buckled up.

    Ok.

    That’s all well and good, but the kids have stumped me this time.  Micah’s brand new shoes remain missing after a week.  I have searched everywhere shoes have always been and come up with nothing.

    Using all of my detective skills garnered from a childhood of reading Encyclopedia Brown books, I have deduced the following.

    • On Thursday, at approximately 1:27 pm a pair of ludicrously expensive shoes were purchased using a buy one get one half off coupon.  The shoes were worn out of the store.

    • At 1:39pm, the shoes were taken off and thrown on the floor of the van.

    • At 8:14pm the new shoes were shown to my wife for approval.

    That is the last time the shoes were seen alive. 

    We are confident that the shoes made it into the house and that Micah did not get back into the van to go anywhere with the new shoes.  We are confident that they are on the property somewhere.

    We have searched inside and out, in every nook and cranny I can think to search.  Every once in a while I’ll be lying in bed and think “Oh!  I never checked that one box of recycling out in the garage.  Maybe they’re in there!”  I’ll then go outside, and check, but it never reveals anything.

    The shoes seem to have vanished into thin air.

    I suspect robbery.

    I know a few years ago (20?) kids were getting beat up and stabbed for their Air Jordans.  Is it possible that a new pair of Stride Rite “Lance” shoes in “Sandstone” have created such a level of envy among the toddler set that children are now breaking into homes to steal the hip shoes so that they can be as cool as a “stride rite kid?”  Is this possible?

    I say yes.

    With every passing day, I know that it is less and less likely that I will find the shoes. 

    The police have told me that if a pair of shoes is not found within the first 48 hours of going missing, usually they don’t make it. 

    I’ve gone on TV pleading for my shoes, trying to personalize them so that the thief will not feel comfortable wearing them.

    “Please return my LANCE shoes to me.  My son cries every night that he doesn’t have his LANCE shoes.”

    I don’t have much hope anymore.

    But still I pick through baskets of laundry, I poke around the play set, I search through boxes of puzzle pieces, sure that the next place I check, I will find those adorable form fitting, arch supporting, velcro babies smiling up at me. 

    But until I find them, I just have to keep hope alive. 

    Encyclopedia Brown is on the case and I expect he’ll track down Bugs Meany and figure out what he did with my shoes any minute now.

    Either that or he’ll just find them shoved in an air duct or at the bottom of a backpack.  Or maybe even in the bottom of the shoe holder. 

    Hmmm, maybe I should go check that.

  • Oh, Facebook – Dispenser of Joy and Annoyance

     
    I was at dinner with a couple of friends last week and one of them lamented the fact that the two of us were just about the last people that she knew who weren’t on facebook.

    I felt kind of bad when I had to admit that, actually, I was already “on the facebook.”

    Yep, I joined a few months ago after some prolonged harassment from a few friends.  And overall, my experience has been pretty good.  I have not been tracked down by those handful of people I have been actively avoiding from high school and I have discovered a few long lost pals along the way

    So I thought that, in the interest of helping the uninitiated better understand the pros and cons of a life of facebooking, I would lay out the things that I like best and least about being on the book of faces.

    I LOVE:

    The snark.

    So, facebook is set up so that people can post a comment like “Jenny Smith went to the beach today.”  And then underneath that, people can post comments about that comment (because it’s not really fair for one person to be self involved without the rest of us being involved in their self involvement).

    The thing I like about this is that it allows me to quickly run up and down the list of postings and make smart aleck comment where appropriate  (and honestly…. Where is it not appropriate?). 

    Normally, this could take me days of contact with people, but it can be done in a few seconds on the computer.  Plus, think of all of the people who would be missing out on my brilliant witticisms if they just shared their inner thoughts with their spouse instead of broadcasting them to the whole world.  It truly is a win / win for everyone, don’t you think?

     

    I HATE:

    “Bob is a fan of Dippin Dots.”

    There is this thing on Facebook where people can, presumably, click on something and it will announce that they are a “fan” of whatever that thing is.

    I don’t get it.

    I’ve also never even seen a place to click and register yourself as a fan of something but that’s probably just because I’m slow.

    The thing is, I don’t understand why anyone is telling me about what they’re a fan of in the first place.

    You see, if it was something useful to me, I might find it interesting.  For instance, if it was something like “Bob is a fan of the album ‘Tina Turner Sings Country” then I might go to itunes and listen to the album and possibly purchase it - my life having been enriched by discovering a new album.

    (I didn’t make that up.  The album really exists.  I own it.  It’s worth listening to “stand by your man” solely for the overwhelming sense of irony.  http://www.amazon.com/Tina-Sings-Country-Turner/dp/B00000JYFD )

    But it’s never something like that.  It’s always stuff like:

    Bob is a fan of Oreos.

    Bob is a fan of the Committee on Wilmington’s Downtown Redevelopment

    Bob is a fan of boring the crap out of his friends.

    I mean, I just don’t care. 

    I don’t care that you like twizzlers, or the new $10 lunch menu at Ruby Tuesdays, or the Nightly News with Charlie Gibson.

    I.  Just.  Don’t.  Care.

    I would just like to take this moment to caution everyone to pause before hitting that post button and ask themselves this simple question:

    “Does anyone care?” 

    I don’t want to limit people.  It’s certainly easy enough to mentally blink on by some asinine “thing” that someone has posted (for instance: bejeweled scores – it would be literally difficult for me to put into words how little I care about whether or not you have received a golden diamond for your bejeweled score) and heaven knows that I’ve probably posted some boring stuff before, but come on people.  If it doesn’t sound like something that your mother would even care about, just keep it to yourself.

    Try this mental test. 

    Imagine walking up to your mom and saying.  “Mom, I’m a fan of Oreos.” 

    If you think she would just look at you with a blank stare, slowly reply, “uh…. ok” and then wonder if you’re using illegal narcotics, then maybe don’t post that bit of information on your facebook page.

     

    I LOVE:

    That I have rediscovered some long lost friends, and reconnected with a few medium lost friends. 

    I got a note last week that read like this:

    “When I was in Kindergarten I had a best friend who lived across the street from me and who I played with every day.  Are you him?”

    This was someone who I had literally not thought about in years, but the moment that that mental connection was made, a whole host of pictures came flooding back into my mind.

    I had reconnected with my very first friend.  And I don’t doubt for one second that this never ever ever never would have happened were it not through the magic of facebook.

    Now, I imagine the two of us have changed a bit in the ensuing 30 years, and it’s entirely possible that if we met as adults now, that we wouldn’t really like each other at all, but there is something magical about rekindling a relationship that has been left dormant for so long. 

    If you ask me, that is reason enough to suck it up and join the FB.  (that’s what we call ourselves, because we’re just that cool.


    I HATE:

    Passive aggressive postings.

    So, the beauty of facebook is that everyone you know is on it, and if you announce that you just ran a marathon, then all of your friends know you just ran a marathon and can celebrate with you. 

    (Although, honestly: big deal.  I drive 2 or 3 marathons every day and no one gives me a t-shirt for that!)

    The bad part about facebook is that everyone you know is on facebook.  So, when you really want your post to be:

    “Oh my gosh, my Aunt Agnes is driving me nuts asking me about why I’m not married!”

    You can’t, because your Aunt Agnes is one of your facebook friends.

    I can sympathize, I’ve certainly (believe it or not) censored myself because the issue I wanted to post about involved someone who was on facebook.

    But that’s ok.  Part of being an adult is knowing when to shut your yap.

    What I’ve noticed, however, is that some people are so torn between wanting to say something and not being able to say it, that they come out with these bizarre, obtuse rants, that go something like:

    “Danny Rice is trying to stay calm, but sometimes it is very difficult when some people keep asking me to do things that I simply can’t do.  I just wish people could understand that I am just one person doing the best I can and that I’m not trying to upset people, I’m only trying to live the best life I can and that we all have flaws and…..”

    Woah!

    What’s that about?

    I think facebook is a wonderful tool, but it’s not really a space for every emotion you’ve got.  There are some things that are still best done by calling up a friend and griping to them over the phone about your other friend who just ticked you off.

    I don’t need to be pulled in to the periphery of your own friend and family drama.  Call up your BFF and gripe about whoever is stressing you out, don’t clutter up my life with your vague passive aggressive postings about someone who has done something and how that is making you somewhat, well, you know….

    I don’t need it.


    I LOVE:

    The virtual closeness.


    The thing I love most about facebook is that there are a handful of people in my life who live on the other side of the country and that I rarely see, but who are fascinating, wonderful people.  They’re not people who I would likely ever call or talk to on a regular basis, but that I love reading posts from.  These are friends who are leading interesting lives and even though I am far away from them, it creates a connection (no matter how virtual).

    These are people who if I saw daily, I would love to chat with, or hear that their kid is starting kindergarten, or that they have just read a great book, or even that they are having a rough morning because they can’t find their kids’ stupid shoes, and what is that about?

    The ability to see what’s going on in their lives and to have some vague sense of the ups and downs of their day to day existence is wonderful.  It helps to maintain a friendship that might otherwise go dormant for months or years at a time.

    Sure, I wouldn’t mind having a little more input about which of my facebook friends posts once a month and which posts once an hour, but all in all, it’s a small price to pay to stay connected.


    I HATE:

    The virtual closeness.

    Boy, part of the downside of being friends is that every once in a while you get drawn into their own little pocket of crazy.

    We all have friends that are wonderful people but who have faults such as the occasional need to over share every single emotion, the tendency to guilt trip, or the inability to not sound judgmental when discussing your life choices.

    These are annoying traits when you are with these people in person.

    They are equally annoying online.

    This can be exacerbated by occasionally being pulled into a giant circle of crazy.  If you comment on someone’s post, you then are notified every time someone else comments on that post.  So, one innocent smart aleck remark later and you’ve been sucked into a family feud about whether Uncle Albert needs to be institutionalized or not.

    Drama is drama, even when it’s pixilated.


    But all in all, these minor complaints don’t outweigh the odd, sometimes banal joys of seeing what my friends are up to, even when the posts are “Susie is watching TV.”

    Hey, Susie may be boring as all get out, but she’s still my facebook friend, and she just opened herself up for a smart alecky comment about her poor taste in reality television, so… who’s to complain.

    And if she does, heck, I can always unfriend her.

  • Holy Cow! The Crazies Were Right!

     
    So, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Obama wants to kill your grandparents.

    I know!

    It’s crazy isn’t it?  I mean, I was a big Obama supporter and followed the election very carefully and I don’t remember him saying anything about wanting to kill my grandparents.

    I must have not been paying attention.

    I first heard about this whole grandma-cide thing a couple of weeks ago.  I was looking through the facebook and saw that a friend of mine had posted that Obama was going to force everyone over 65 to attend mandatory end of life counseling.  The writer went on to suggest that Obama was going to do this to try to talk old people into signing Do Not Resuscitate forms so that old people would commit suicide and the government wouldn’t have to pay for their health care and the government would save money.

    That’s absurd!

    I mean, come on!  When have the Democrats ever wanted to save money?

    Well, luckily, the facebooker referenced pg. 426 in the health care bill where all of this forced Pop-Pop-icide was supposedly detailed.

    Well, being an intelligent and responsible citizen (not one prone to believing whatever some idiot on the radio tells me) I decided to go read it for myself.  You can do it too if you like:

    http://waysandmeans.house.gov/media/pdf/111/AAHCA09001xml.pdf

    I’ll admit, it was not easy to understand, but I slogged through.  And basically, what the bill said was that every 5 years the government would pay for a consultation with a doctor to help you plan a living will.

    It would not be mandatory, and it would not try to talk people into doing anything.  It would simply be providing individuals with the opportunity to make medical decisions for themselves and to put these decisions in writing so that, in the case of them becoming incapacitated, these decisions would not have to be made by their relatives.

    It’s pretty standard stuff.  All hospitals recommend that you have a living will and this is simply giving people the opportunity to educate themselves about the options.

    And as far as all the suicide stuff, let me just say this.  Both of my grandparents ended up being in hospice care.  They reached a point where it was clear to them that the illnesses they had were not going to be cured by medical intervention.  They understood that they were dying.  And, in consultation with their doctor, they decided to begin receiving end of life care from Hospice.  They decided that they would rather die in their own home, with their family around them, than in a hospital.  It was a brave, seriously considered, and, for them, deeply spiritual decision. 

    I was there during the last two weeks of my grandmother’s long illness and I saw how Hospice worked to make her comfortable as she slowly drifted from us.  It was unbelievably hard to watch, but it was also, somehow, beautiful.  I got to see my grandfather waiting on my grandmother in her final days.  I got to help her ease into a gentle, natural passing.  And I was allowed to marvel at the remarkable people who have chosen this career in Hospice and to stand in awe at what they do.

    And I have to tell you.  Suggesting that providing people the opportunity to make their own decisions about end of life care is somehow tantamount to “suicide” or “government control of one’s life” is perhaps one of the more ignorant and horrifyingly offensive instances of bald face lying I have seen transpire in some time.

    But, I’ll be damned if it didn’t keep transpiring.

    I had just written off this one facebook incident as the result of a genuine misunderstanding of the law when another facebook friend posted a similar comment, although this one took the tone of a warning:

    Watch out! The government is trying to control you and force you to choose something you don’t want.

    (Ironic, since, in fact, the government is trying to help people understand that they have multiple options, not limit their options)

    Then I watched some nutcase in congress say that the healthcare bill would kill grandma.

    Then, I got some email about how the government was going to force old people to be euthanized.

    Then Sarah Palin said that if healthcare passed, her grandparents and infant son with down’s syndrome would have to go before “death panels” and would be judged by their “level of productivity to society” as to whether they would receive health care.

    Wow.

    Who are these people?  How is it even possible to be this misinformed about an issue? 

    Whenever I hear something as crazy as “the government wants to kill your grandparents to save money” my first reaction is to assume that this is not true and to try to uncover where the hell such a batsh*t crazy statement came from.
    It scares me to no end, to think that people are so distrustful of their government that they would actually believe something like this could be true – that the government is literally trying to kill senior citizens.

    It’s crazy.

    Perhaps the craziest thing I have ever seen in print.

    Except….

    Wait a minute….

    Maybe it’s not so crazy after all.

    I mean consider how the Lincoln town car fits into all of….

    Ok, I have a theory.  It’s a little wacky, but that shouldn’t keep you from forwarding it to all your friends.

    Alright.

    As you know, I have two teenagers from Mississippi living with me.  One of them has a full time job and has been saving up to buy a car.

    Ok, that’s very normal.

    But here’s the kicker.  He likes big, comfortable cars like a Lincoln Town Car, or a Chevy Caprice, or a Mercury Marquis.  In fact, just on Saturday, he went to a car lot and bought a 1999 Buick Park Avenue.

    Bizarre!

    It would never have occurred to me that these very cool, very image obsessed teenagers would want to drive a car that I view as very, very uncool.

    And apparently, he is not an anomaly.  Much to my surprise, all of his friends also covet these rolling behemoths.  It turns out that within a section of the black youth culture, these big cars are the cat’s pajamas.  (It must be true, I even saw it on ‘The Wire’!)

    Ok, so that’s pretty weird, but what does this have to do with Obama wanting to kill old people?

    Well…..

    Do you know who else likes Lincoln Town Cars, Mercury Marquis, and Buick Park Avenues?

    That’s right!

    Old people!

    See where I’m going with this?

    Ok. 

    So, big, old, comfortable, fuel-inefficient cars are probably the only thing in the world that geriatric pensioners in Boca have in common with rap loving, basketball playing, black youths.

    It’s a bizarre intersection between two disparate cultures and one that not too many people know exists (I mean, did you know?)

    But guess who does know? 

    That’s right!  Obama!  Because he’s…. (come on, you can say it, it’s ok…)  black!

    Come on now, in a culture war between black youth and old people, it’s pretty clear who Obama would side with, right?

    Ok, so what do we know so far? 

    We have the following facts:

    • Obama is black
    • Obama wants to kill old people
    • Old people drive big cars
    • Young black people like big cars

    So, by the transitive property:  Obama is an old car.

    No.  Wait, that’s not right. 

    Anyway, I feel, like I’m close to something but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

    Ok, so let’s just assume, for the sake of argument, that Obama wants to kill all the old people so he can take their cars and give them to his peeps.

    I mean, I think that’s a pretty fair assumption, but how does he get the cars to them? 

    Is he going to try to repeal the inheritance laws so that the government can take the cars?  No, that would never work.

    Maybe he could…. 

    Wait a minute!

    I’ve got it!  Oh my gosh!  Holy Betty White in a Buick, I’ve Got it! 

    It’s deviously brilliant!  So simple, and yet no one would ever suspect that….. 

    Oh my heavens.  It’s happening already.

    I have three words for you that are about to remove the veil from your eyes so that you can see this entire conspiracy for what it is.

    Brace yourselves.

    The three words are:

    Cash.  For.  Clunkers.

    Don’t you see?  It’s so simple.

    First Obama kills all the old people.  Then their hip children all inherit these ancient monstrosities masquerading as cars.  They don’t want those.  They want to drive SUVs or, if their pinko commie liberals – priuses.

    Either way, these giant, fuel inefficient cars all qualify for cash for clunkers.  So, as soon as grandma has been euthanized by one of Obama’s death panels, that town car is taken straight down to the dealership and traded in for a new car.

    And this is where the brilliant part comes in.

    They tell us that these “clunkers” are also being euthanized, but I think we’ve already established that Obama is only interested in killing people, not machines (shades of Terminator 2 here, huh?)  So, they fake the “killing” of the cars by pouring something into the engine block (just like they faked the moon landings) but instead of destroying the vehicle, all this chemical does is put the car into a deep sleep until it can be woken again by the gangs of street kids who will soon be prowling our streets in their old people cars, creating a private army of … of…..

    Ok, I haven’t figured that part out yet, but it’s probably something really bad, since Obama is, you know, really bad since he, like, wants to kill all our grandparents and steal their cars and stuff.

    Whew,  I’m practically out of breath.

    This conspiracy stuff is really tiring.

    Well, I’ve got to say, I’m convinced.  I was pretty skeptical initially, but now it’s hard NOT to see how Obama is secretly trying to destroy the fabric of our nation by making sure people can go to the doctor.

    So, like I said, pass this long.  Alert the media.  Warn the AARP.  Tell your local GM dealer to be on the lookout.  And for crying out loud tell Grandma to be careful!

    Constant Vigilance!

    And remember, if it comes down to an assumption between whether the government is trying to help you or hurt you (especially on an issue like trying to provide health care to everyone) I think it’s pretty obvious what the government’s intentions really are.

    Excuse me, I think I need to go update my facebook status.

  • My Boys

     My son, Asher, turned four last week.

    Normally, I would have posted a blog on his birthday all about little old Asher T, but as it turned out we were driving up to NY state to attend his great-grandfather's funeral.  I also didn't get a chance to celebrate my other son, Micah's, two-year-old birthday, because on his birthday we were flying across the ocean, back home from our vacation in Ireland. 

    Don't worry, both boys received perfectly adequate birthday celebrations even though they weren't on their actual days of birth.  Micah was blessed to have his grandparents around to celebrate his day, and celebrated with a Gaelic Football cake.  Besides, how many other people do you know who were able to turn two on two continents?

    Asher's birthday was moved up a day in an emergency effort to squeeze it in before we left for NY, but somehow we still managed to decorate a Spiderman cake, arrange for a trip to the movies and allow a handful of kids to splatter each other with water balloons for a couple of hours.

    In some ways it is appropriate that my two sons both had their special day (and even more importantly, their ever special birthday blog!) overlooked, because it means that they end up getting squeezed together into one catch up column here.

    Now, this sounds terrible doesn't it?  The two younger ones getting overlooked like always, right? 

    Yeah, a little bit, but it also means that they are here together in print, like they are in life.  Their older sister was in Kindergarten last year and so, for 8 hours a day, my boys were together.  And so, at least for a portion of the day, I would just call out, "come on boys," whenever it was time to move form one place to another.  Yep, for a good chunk of the day, it's just me and my boys.

    My boys.

    It has a nice ring to it.

    It's funny because I never thought I would have boys.  My wife was the youngest of three girls and when we had Audra, I sort of got it into my head that we would end up with a family of girls.  I don't know why, it just seemed like how things would work out.  I remember, during our second pregnancy, having to listen to little old lady after little old lady asking me whether we were hoping for a boy so we could have one of each (like we were collecting burger King Star Wars glasses or something) and I remember replying that I didn't really care.  And unlike most people who seem to be lying through their teeth when they say that, I actually meant it.  I was going to be perfectly happy with my family of girls.

    My girls.

    We would all go to the opera together and I would be the superdad who always brought the Sunny D to their soccer games and we would sit around at night watching the Princess Bride on TV and hoping that each of my Princess buttercups would find their Dread Pirate Roberts.

    But it didn't work out that way.  I remember going in for the ultrasound and being completely surprised to discover that we were having a boy.  And maybe even a little concerned.

    You see, I was never much of a guy's guy.  I didn't play football (or hell, even ping pong). As a kid, I hated being in the boy scouts.  Now, I don't like repairing the engines on 1987 Camaros and I have no desire to sit around in my undershirt and drink Miller Light while ogling women who walk past the construction site.  (That is what guy's guys do, isn't it? I believe I learned about all of this in some movie with Charlie Sheen.) 

    To be honest, I was secretly a little worried that we would somehow give birth to a son who would get big and threaten to beat me up if I didn't hand over my lunch money.

    Needless to say, genetics apparently has more to do with a child's development than one's paranoia.  And we have been blessed with two wonderful, sweet, rumble tumble, sit and snuggle little boys who have never once tried to threaten me out of my lunch money.

    Ok, last week Asher did tell me to give him a cookies “right now” or he would “shoot me with lasers.” 

    Somehow, I held strong.

    I literally can not describe to you how much I love my boys.

    They are simultaneously kids who will come up to me and climb into my lap because they need that kind of physical closeness and the kind of kids who will run around the playset turning into dirty sweatballs while they hang upside down and jump off the steps one rung higher than is truly safe.

    How did I get so lucky?

    Asher is one of those kids who is just endearingly funny without having any idea why.  He just says stuff with a matter of fact tone that are anything but matterly factual.'

    In the days leading up to his birthday, I asked him what kind of party he wanted to have.  He said he wanted to have a Spiderman party.

    I thought this was odd because, to my knowledge, he had no idea who Spiderman was.  Sure, he had seen the toys in the store, but he had never seen the movies, had never seen the cartoons on TV and I don't even think we had any books with Spiderman in them.  Yet, still he knew who Spiderman was and that he was totally cool.  I think it was his little boy sense tingling.  He just knew.

    Kind of.

    When I asked him why he liked Spiderman, he said, "because he's cool and because he can shoot noodles out of his arms."

    I say again:

    “He can shoot noodles out of his arms.” 

    How could you not love a super hero who could do that? You could call him Carb Man and have him fight the evil Dr. Atkins.

    So, of course, when it came time to buy birthday presents for Asher, I went and found this massive contraption that you strap to your fore arm and that shoots silly string.

    Hey, it's not a web, but it's at least as close as noodles.

    Needless to say, Asher loved it and spent hours running around the yard, jumping, posing, and firing strings of chemically engineered blue foamy string after string of chemically engineered blue foamy string into the Rhodendron until our whole yard looked as if it had been host to some kind of smurf tickertape parade.

    I assumed that whatever this Dow Industrial compound web goo was, that it would biodegrade after a few days.

    This does not appear to be the case. 

    It will apparently still be lying in our yard when the only thing left on this planet is cockroaches, old pampers and twinkies – an eternal reminder of a birthday well enjoyed


    Micah has long been our special little boy.  He has some developmental delays that mean that, even at age 2, he is much more like an 18month old, well, at least as speech goes.  He can climb a play structure like a 10 year old and has managed to escape his crib about 6 months earlier than either of his other siblings were ever able to.

    That would have been a delay I could have lobbied for. 

    But, in many ways he is younger than his age and while there are times when this can be frustrating (such as trying to figure out exactly what in the world his whining cries are asking for) there are times when it seems like a blessing.

    If my wife gets her way, Micah will be our last child.  And seeing as how Sarah, ahem, “controls the means of production” it seems likely that he will be.  So, in this way, I am not so sad to have a few extra months of babyhood with a little boy who still likes to cuddle in my lap when he wakes up and who screams my name repetitively “Da-da, Da-da, Da-da, Da-da, Da-da, Da-da, Da-da, Da-da, Da-da, Da-da, Da-da, Da-da!” on those rare occasions when I return after we are separated.

    When I look at my two wonderfully independent older kids, it’s hard not to get a little weepy about the moments that are quickly passing of having children who truly need their parents for more than simply our ability to arrange playdates and fund their chik-fil-a habit.

    So I treasure Micah’s babyness.  I love watching him toddle around sucking his thumb and dragging his blanket, linus-like, through the yard. 

    I have to suppress my desire to laugh when he runs up to me with all of the seriousness of a securities banker and says, “bah du goo sa bah, duh LAH wa, ga wuh, su da du WAY!” and then runs off in the other direction.

    He is funny and stubborn and daring and endearing.  It’s hard to know what he’ll be like when he’s older, but I love what he’s like now.

    Both my boys are wonderful.  And it is a blessing that much of the time, my boys play well together.

    Now, don’t get me wrong.  There are lots of squabbles and lots of moments when one of them is crying because the other one hit them or pulled their hair (almost always, Asher suffering at the tyrannical hands of his little brother) but there are far more moments of pushing trains around the table or rolling around the carpet - wrestling, hugging, chasing and laughing.

    I love my daughter, and I have thoroughly enjoyed these past few summer months of having all three of my kids together, but I have to admit, I also enjoy those times with just a couple of them.

    It seems that each permutation of my children brings new joys and experiences.  I love the stolen moments with my two older kids – the ease with which you can do things with two children that speak, follow directions, and know how to make their father laugh.  I also cherish the rare moments of getting to spend time alone with my kids.  And there is something wonderful about watching Audra “mother” her baby brother.

    But I do love the times I have with my boys.

    Audra is going back to school in another week (where DID the summer go?)

    And it will once again be just the guys of the house hanging out together.  And with Asher starting preschool a couple of mornings a week, there will even be moments when I am a Dad to just one.

    My life is changing.  My kids are growing.  And I am increasingly aware that the family I have today is likely to be very different from the family I have a year from now.

    I try to ignore the frustrations of the present, knowing that most of them will solve themselves with age and maturity, and focus on the unique passing joys that this summer, this month – this singular moment in this singular day present, knowing that it may never happen quite like this again.

    And so, for as long as I am able to say it, I am going to try to treasure pulling into the parking lot at the grocery store, opening up the van door and saying:

     “Come on boys, let’s go.”

  • Time for School Supplies! Better Take out That Second Mortgage

     

    Ah, it’s that time of year again.

    The birds are sweating, the tourists are starting to migrate West and the newspaper is clogged with ads for spiral bound notebooks.  School is coming and so is the need for school supplies.

    At the end of school last year, my daughter Audra came home with a list of school supplies for the following year.  I immediately put it on the refrigerator, knowing full well that the chance of us being able to locate the list two months later was practically zero, but somehow the Office Max Gods prevailed and the list was still magnetically attached to our fridge yesterday when I decided to go to Target and get everything my precious little daughter needed to be successful in the first grade.

    So, I snagged the list, loaded everyone in the car and headed off to the big bullseye.  It wasn’t until I had loaded my kids into the cart and was wheeling my way past ladies unmentionables that I actually took the time to look at the list before me.

    It was long.

    Really long.

    There were 17 separate requests on the list, and some of those required multiple purchases, such as “8 large glue sticks.”  All in all, I bought 29 different items.

    29!

    And would you like to know how much this list of supplies cost me?  How much this list of “supplies [my] child will need for first grade” cost me?

    $69.87

    Ok, let’s talk about this. 

    Now, I have no problem purchasing school supplies for my beautiful daughter, and I certainly appreciate teachers sending home a list, so I’m not buying a bunch of stuff that nobody really needs.  And I don’t even have a problem picking up a box of communal Kleenex for the classroom.  That’s fine.  But somewhere along the way, this got a little out of hand.

    For instance, I kind of resent that teachers are asking that students bring in “a 24 pack of twistable crayons.”

    Twistable crayons?

    Really?

    Well, la te dah! I guess kids around here are a little too good for plain old regular crayons.  They have to have fancy Twistable crayons.  Never mind that they cost about 400% more than a regular box of crayons.  And I’m not even talking about trying to cheap out and buy some of those crappy Prang crayons.  I’m talking 400% higher than crayola.

    For those of you who have not had to sell your grandmother’s silver to purchase school supplies this year, twistables are plastic pens with a sliver of crayon inside that you “twist” up.  The advantage of these crayons is that they… what?  Are expensive?  Have less crayon in them? 

    I also was sort of annoyed by the exacting nature of the list. 

    For instance I’m supposed to provide my daughter with “1 plastic school box.”

    Ok, no problem.  I saw one for 79 cents, scooped it up and threw it in the cart.  Then I realized that the school box that they were requesting was supposed to be “ 5 inches by 13inches.”

    Are you kidding me?

    The box I had found was 5” by 8” so I threw it back for being too small.  I scoured the whole store and finally found a box that was sort of the requested dimensions in the Tupperware section.  (5” x 12”  do you think they’ll notice?  I imagine a teacher standing at the door with a ruler and making all of the kids with inaccurate boxes stand off to the side)  I went home and spent some time on line and couldn’t find a single school box out there that seemed to be 5x13.  What the heck?  Has one of the teacher created a line of specially made school boxes?

    Why, you might ask, would a child need a box of such exacting proportions anyway? 

    Well, no doubt to keep the dozens of pencils she is supposed to bring to class.

    Number 5 on my list of supploes was “6 pkg. of 12 #2 wooden pencils (please sharpen one pack)”

    6 packages of 12 pencils?

    Really?

    My child will need 72 pencils for first grade?

    That’s one pencil every 2.5 days!  What the hell are they doing with that many pencils?  Building a scale model of the Eiffel tower?  Copying Ulysses out by hand? 

    It’s crazy!

    I sometimes think that the teachers are just screwing with us.  Number 9 on the list was a request for “1 yellow two-pocket plastic folder (bottom pockets, no prongs)”

    I searched Target for about an hour looking for “1 yellow two-pocket plastic folder (bottom pockets, no prongs)” and was convinced it was an all an elaborate joke and the first grade teachers were all sitting around at a Ruby Tuesday drinking Appletinis and laughing at us parents as we tried desperately to find an item that didn’t exist.

    I found an entire aisle of folders in Target’s back to school section and they didn’t have anything that came close.   I searched through box after box of folders.  They had lots of paper folders and they had lots of plastic folders.  They had folders with prongs and folders without prongs.  They had folders with two pockets and folders without any  pockets.  They had yellow folders and blue folders and folders with Jonas Brothers on them, but they DID NOT have a “yellow two-pocket plastic folder (bottom pockets, no prongs)”

    And don’t tell me that I should have shopped somewhere else.  There was a sign in Target that said very clearly that this was my “One Stop Back to School Headquarters!”

    So there.

    Anyway, eventually I found the requisite folder in the separate office supply section hidden behind the gardening supplies.  It was like a secret bonus school supply area that only the extra diligent parents knew about.  It was like finding the special room of gold mushrooms on Super Mario 4 after you reach level…. ok, I never had a nintendo as a child, so I never actually found a hidden room of gold mushrooms, but I imagine that was what it felt like.

    I also lucked out with the hunt for purel.

    I was commanded to get “1 hand sanitizer – pump style.”

    Well, believe it or not, with two weeks to go before school, every hand sanitizer in Target had already been purchased.  It was like there was a run on cleanliness.  I guess hand sanitizer is the new “must have” item for today’s hip teacher.

    Anyway, I found a secret stock of them in an abandoned cart over in the automotive section.  It was like discovering Atlantis in South Jersey.

    The whole experience was kind of like the amazing race.  Except a lot, lot less fun.

    There were also times when I felt like the teachers were just trying to be condescending.  Item # 6 was “1 pink beveled eraser.

    A beveled eraser? 

    What the heck is that?

    I had to literally google it in the middle of Target to figure out what they were talking about.  Thank goodness I have an iphone otherwise my child would never be prepared for first grade.

    (Beveled eraser my fanny)

    Somewhere around the point where I was being asked to send in “1 box Ziploc freezer bags (gallon)” and “1 box Ziploc freezer bags (quart)”  I began to wonder what in the world kind of public school I was sending my kid to.  I mean, did this place even have a supply closet?  Do they want me to send in chalk and staples as well?

    When I got down to #14 “1 container Lysol/Clorox wipes,” I was feeling down right agitated.  Did they not even have cleaning supplies?  What about a gallon of pine sol?  Want me to send in a mop too?

    And how is my 34 pound daughter supposed to get these two giant bags of stuff to the school in the first place?  I’m going to have to send her with a wheelbarrow and one of those little back support belts.

    You see, here’s the thing.  I am not unsympathetic to the difficulties of being a public school teacher.  I taught 3rd and 4th grade and in schools that were nowhere near as nice as the lovely suburban school that my daughter attends.  I taught in downtown Detroit and in rural Mississippi.  I know that in those situations we truly didn’t have supplies.  At the beginning of the year I was given a box of chalk, an eraser, and a single box of pencils and told “good luck.”

    I know that I spent hundreds of dollars on my classroom that year, both in trying to make it look not so dreary and in trying to provide the basic needs to my students.

    We sent home a list to parents there as well.  As I recall it included a request for a notebook, a pack of lined paper and 2 pencils.  Even with this minimal request, only about five or six of my kids were able to come up with even a portion of it.  So I went out to buy an endless stream of folders and pencils and paper just to be able to teach.

    The area we live in now is pretty well off.  Honestly, that was one of my main concerns about moving here.  We chose the house because it sat on a couple of acres and backed on to the woods, but I was concerned about the fact that we were putting ourselves and our kids into an area made up almost exclusively of well-off white people.

    I know that most of the parents in our school can afford $70 in school supplies without blinking, even for those who have multiple kids in school, but that doesn’t mean that everyone can.

    While our school district contains many oversized mansions and stately homes, there are also a number of smaller, older homes that were here long before this area became known for it’s beautiful farms and excellent schools. 

    Unlike any school I have ever worked in, this one is well funded and well supported by an active PTA which raises tens of thousands every year with charity golf tournaments and elaborate auctions that some families can not even afford to attend because the entrance fee is so high.

    Let me say again, this is the public school.

    Because the school is well funded and the parents are well off, the teachers can ask for pretty much anything - 72 pencils, fancy crayons, Clorox wipes - and expect to get them.  While teachers in poorer schools start off with nothing and can ask for very little.

    I know that I’m taking a lot of this personally, knowing that in the classroom I taught in Mississippi, the school system and parents combined quite literally spent about half as much on classroom supplies as I just spent for my daughter yesterday.

    It bugs me.

    And it bugs me that I know there are kids in Audra’s classroom (perhaps not many, but some) who will show up on the first day of school with a small percentage of the supplies that “your child will need for grade 1” because their parents can literally not afford to spend $70 on hand sanitizer, Ziploc bags, cleaning products, special folders and the like.  I’m sure these children will benefit from the largesse of their fellow students.  Surely, the intent of asking for 72 pencils is that they will be shared among all the students.

    And I, for one, have no problem with a little communism among school supplies.  But isn’t this what we pay taxes for?  Am I truly to believe that glue and crayons and soap are not things that, perhaps, our school should be providing for our students regardless of whether a parent can afford to bring them in?

    I guess what concerns me is the assumption that: because many are well off, that all are well off.  It is a school that sometimes forgets that a twistable crayon is not necessarily worth the pride of a parent who can’t afford it.

    I don’t mind the money.  I am fortunate that I don’t have to worry too much about spending $70 on school supplies.  But I worry about what this amount of money says about our school, our teachers and our students. 

    I believe that all children deserve access to a high-quality, free, public education.

    I have no qualms with fundraisers, bake sales, or school supply lists to supplement that.  But sometimes the desire for more stuff causes us to forget what that stuff costs.

    And the costs are more than simply dollars.

  • Here’s a Tip: Do something Useful

     
    I went to see Tracy Chapman last night.

    Well, not for coffee at her apartment or anything, just at her concert. 

    I have wanted to see Tracy Chapman for a long time, but she doesn’t really tour much – at least not in the states.  Every once in a while I’ll check out her website and she’ll have about 30 dates listed in Europe, traveling everywhere from London to Lisbon, and then only two dates in the U.S, in places like Burlington and Columbus.

    What’s a guy to do?

    I personally think she’s mad at America for, perhaps, not being the kindest country.  I could be wrong.  It’s just something I have gleaned from songs like “America” which has lyrics like “Your hands are on my throat, My back’s against the wall.  And you’re still conquering America.”

    It’s just a guess though.

    (FYI:  Totally Rockin’ song.  It’s one of my favorite horribly depressing songs about greed and genocide to dance to.)

    Anyway, as I said, I’ve wanted to see Tracy Chapman for a long time, but when I saw that she was playing in Baltimore I decided not to go.  The tickets were kind of expensive and we had already gotten tickets to a concert the night before, but then the concert venue ran a “buy one get one free” sale.  And apparently the economic price point where I will buy a Tracy Chapman ticket is at 50% of $40.

    One of the reasons I had been reluctant to buy tickets, even though who knew when Tracy might deign to drag her bitter little rumpus back to the U.S., was that the concert was at Rams Head Live which is one of these venues for the young kiddies to thrash and dance around in giant mosh pits, screaming and pumping their fists with wild abandon to punk bands with names like: “End of Eternity” and “Severed Heads.”

    It is basically a warehouse with a stage and then several levels of balconies around the stage for people to hang over and accidentally drop their beer on the people below.

    There are no seats.

    I know!  I know!

    What was Tracy Chapman thinking?  Didn’t she know that everybody who wanted to come see her is old?

    I mean she released “Fast Car” in 1988.  Anyone listening to that when it came out is probably a candidate for knee replacement surgery now!  We can’t be standing up in a mosh pit for two hours!

    Besides, have you ever tried to mosh to a Tracy Chapman song?  It’s not that easy.

    (not to say I didn’t try).

    Anyway, none of this is what I’m writing about.  What I want to talk about today is the bathrooms.

    That’s right, the bathrooms.

    You see, at this big stand around until your aged legs are achy concert venue there was one of those little guys in the bathroom who squirts soap in your hand and gives you a towel.

    You know, just like at some fancy $100 a person steak restaurant, but, instead, at a place that, next week, will host a metal hair band called “Steel Panther.”

    I can’t tell you how much I hate the bathroom helper guy and let me tell you why.

    First of all, I hate it because this is an area that I really don’t need any help with.  As far as skill sets that I have mastered go, “washing my hands” is pretty high on the list. 

    It’s vaguely convenient to have someone squirt soap in my hand and then hand me a towel, but these weren’t really areas that I was struggling with previously. 

    Now, if Chick-fil-a wants to hire someone to hang out in the bathroom and I can tip him a dollar to change Micah’s diaper next time he drops a load, well, that’s a service I would happily pay for.

    But handing me a paper towel?  I’m not sure that’s really “tip worthy.”

    Besides, how do I calculate 15% on a soap squirt?

    The other thing that I hate about it is that I end up feeling guilty.

    I mean, this guy’s job is to hang out in a bathroom, help people with things that they don’t need help with and beg for tips, all the while trying to keep an eye out for anyone pulling a Larry Craig.

    Is there a worse job?

    Admittedly, it’s not a particularly hard job, but still.

    So, I feel bad for whoever this grandfather guy is sitting in the bathroom forcing cheap handsoap on people.  So, then I feel obligated to leave the guy a buck.  I mean what kind of jerk doesn’t give a buck to some poor guy whose job is to hang out in the bathroom all night? 

    Although to be fair, I partly tip out of fear. 

    A friend of mine was telling me that she was in Paris once and didn’t tip the lady in the bathroom of the Burger King (That’s right, I said Burger King!) and the lady chased her out of the bathroom yelling at her, causing her to drop her “Fromage Royale.”

    Holy Crap!

    (we wonder where the French get this reputation for rudeness)

    I mean I don’t want to get chased out of the bathroom by some little old man at a folk concert.  My legs are already weak from all the standing, he could probably catch me.

    Besides, what would Tracy do?

    (WWTD is a copyrighted acronym of Better off Dad Incorporated)

    So I gave him a buck.

    Of course, then I feel taken advantage of and annoyed and stupid. 

    I don’t mind paying for services that are actually helpful.  For instance, at a restaurant, I am happy to tip a waitress 20% for bringing us our food, keeping my Diet Dr. Pepper full to the brim and cleaning up the three inch high mound of cracker crumbs that will inevitably collect under Micah’s high chair.

    But I don’t like tipping the guy at the parking garage for bringing my car to me when I really would have been perfectly happy parking it myself in the first place.  And I don’t like tipping the doorman at the hotel who opens the door to the cab for you and then having to turn around and tip the cabbie.

    (maybe I just don’t like help with transportation – I never tip the monorail driver at Disney either)

    And besides, can’t you think of other services that you would gladly tip somebody for?  I don’t really need someone to help me to the car with my groceries, but I’d tip pretty heavily if someone wanted to come to the house and put them all away for me.

    Or how about at the gas station?  I don’t really need someone to pump my gas.  Only losers in Jersey need someone to pump their gas.  But I’d give a handsome tip if somebody ran out to my car and started vacuuming all of the Cheerios and French fries out from underneath the car seats.

    Those are real services.

    Handing someone a paper towel is not.

    Although heck, maybe that’s what I need to be doing.  Maybe I need to be inventing new non-services that I can do and force people to tip me for. 

    Maybe I could hang out at the Starbucks and offer to hand people “sugar or splenda?” and make them give me their pocket change.

    Or maybe I could stand at the front of Target, ask people if they need help finding something, and then walk them to it and stand there with my hand out.

    (how French!)

    Or maybe, I’ll just take a lawn chair to the “KC and the Sunshine Band” concert at the Rams’ Head Live next week and offer people $1.00 a minute to sit in it.

    Now, that’s a service.  Those decrepit old people would pay big money for a place to rest their aged haunches

    That’s right!  Finally the tables are starting to turn.

    We’re talking about a revolution, baby.

  • My Life! Would Suck! Withooooooooooooout Her!

     
    Ok. Let’s just go ahead and get this out of the way, straight up.

    I went to the Kelly Clarkson concert Saturday night.

    I know, I know.  May the eye rolling and condescending comments begin. 

    Yes, yes, I am aware that Kelly Clarkson is not as “cool” or “hip” as whatever alt-country, indie, emo band you are currently telling everyone you listen to.

    Yes, yes, you are so awesome with your unread copies of the New Yorker on the coffee table and your authentic aboriginal dream vase you tell everyone you bought from a witch doctor but that you actually got at the airport gift shop.

    Yes, yes, mock away.

    But here’s the thing, all you hipsters.  You go around saying that you are “above labels” and you “like all kinds of music” and “just listen to what sounds good, man.”  Unless, of course, it’s a big label thing and then it’s all “terrible” and just “opium for the masses” and, like, whatever.

    Here’s the thing.  I think that the people who truly do “Listen to all kinds of music” actually listen “to all kinds of music.”  These people can recognize a good song, regardless of whether the singer is the winner of some cheeseball TV talent contest, or some sullen guy dressed all in black with long greasy hair and a tattoo of Ghengis Khan kissing Jay Leno on their bicep and who plays the electric didgeridoo while singing about Kafka.

    And the truth is Kelly Clarkson has some good songs, and man, oh man are they fun.  I mean, I like some of that depressing alt-folk stuff that reads like musical versions of Camus novels, but boy, it sure is hard to dance around the kitchen while cooking dinner while someone wails about the “inky darkness of their besotted soul.”

    And the thing is, I like to dance around the kitchen while cooking dinner.

    And that’s what Kelly Clarkson is for.

    I have no illusions that she is the next Sinatra.  I don’t think that her songs will be here in 100 years and I don’t expect to be going to an arena in 2054 to see her greatest hits tour.

    But she is undeniably fun. 

    She is roll down the windows of your car, bounce up and down, and horrify your children by singing at the top of your voice fun.

    And there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of fun.

    And while I own two Kelly Clarkson CDs (the two good ones) I probably wouldn’t have gone, except that her opening act was one of my favorite singers, Eric Hutchinson.

    (Check him out:   http://www.erichutchinson.com/  )

    My wife, Sarah, also likes Eric Hutchinson and I was even able to talk her into coming along although she said she had to look up Kelly Clarkson and listen to some of the music to decide whether or not she could stand to sit through the concert.

    The verdict? : Just barely.

    Hey, “barely” is good enough for me.

    So, to top things off, the concert was at the Delaware State fair.  I mean, what could be more fun?  A road trip, funnels cakes, the tilt a whirl and a bunch of white people sitting in cheap plastic chairs out on a race track listening to pop music. 

    I have to say, despite my wife’s misgivings about the actual event we were headed to, it was an awesome date. 

    We called a babysitter, climbed into the Mini Cooper, opened the sunroof and took off across the Bay Bridge.

    And by “took off across the Bay Bridge,” I mean sat on Rt. 50 for an hour wondering why so many people had chosen 4:00 on a Saturday as the time to drive to the beach. 

    But it was a perfect day to drive to the fair:  blue skies, 75 degree weather… if we had passed a Sonic and been able to purchase a Rt. 44 limeade, I would have been in heaven.

    Stupid Sonic.

    Well, we arrived at the fair without a ton of extra time, but we road the tractor from the parking lot (we parked in “brown pig 4”) and headed off to the concert.  Since Sarah wasn’t really into the main act, we were darn sure not going to miss the opening act.

    Unfortunately, the opening act also had an opening act… and she sucked.

    Not “sucked without you,” just sucked.

    She was some white girl from New York who wanted to be a hip hop singer.  She wanted to be the kind of hip hop singer who would sing a song and have T-pain or Snoop Dog rap in the middle of it, but since she’s just an opening act, she had to do the rapping herself.  So she would sing some lame chorus and then start her white girl rapping.

    Really, really sucked.

    But, luckily, having an extra opening act gave us time to wander around between sets and get horribly life threatening treats like deep fried reese cups and to do some people watching.  And boy, was there some watching of people to be done.

    We walked past a particularly large display of offensive t-shirts and Sarah, said, “oh my gosh, look at the one with the confederate flag!”

    “You mean, the one with a Confederate bikini top over a huge rack that says ‘BOOBS’?”

    “No, the other one”

    The one with the paddle with the confederate flag on it that says ‘Redneck Home Schoolin’?”

    “No, the other one.”

    “The one that has a huge arrow with the confederate flag on it that is pointing downward and says ‘Redneck Petting Zoo’?”

    “Yeah, that one.”

    “Holy Crap.”

    “Yeah.”

    We also saw some really goofy looking teenagers who seemed to think that wearing an Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt was all it takes to look cool. 

    Turns out it’s not enough.

    We also saw a marching band that seemed to come straight out of the Salvation Army scene from Guys and Dolls.

    And I’m pretty sure I saw a baby drag queen.

    But she might have just been from Jersey.

    Anyway, after some thoroughly fascinating people watching, a quick visit to the sheep barn, and an artery collapsing elephant ear, we headed back into the concert.  We took our seats and the teenage girls beside us asked if we knew anything about this Eric Hutchinson guy.  We assured them that he was great and that they would love him. 

    Eric put on a great show and the teenage girls beside us assured us that they did, in fact, now love him. 

    Much to my wife’s credit she did not insist that we leave as soon as Eric was done.

    It was a perfect night for an outdoor concert and I think we could have both sat and watched just about anyone pretty happily.

    And then, Kelly Clarkson took the stage.

    Sarah, being a good sport, stood up for a while and even danced a little.

    It was a blast.  I loved dancing to the music as much as I did scoping out the crowds and mocking the couple of really crappy songs that Kelly sung.

    The concert had a huge boom camera that kept capturing audience reactions and I thoroughly enjoyed picking out all of the disgruntled parents who had brought their seven year old daughters along and were either trying to appear cool and clap along to the music, or had completely given up and sat sullenly glaring at the stage wondering why their daughter didn’t like “cool music” like REO Speedwagon.

    My favorite was a grandmother who appeared to be yelling at all of the kids around her to “sit down.”  I mean why were they standing up and screaming for Pete’s sake!  It’s a concert!  We never behaved like this for Perry Como!

    This is just a side note, but it was wonderful to see a true, popular teen star who was not a size 2. 

    Hell, she wasn’t even a size 8. 

    She was a beautiful, full-figured girl with a rockin’ badonk a donk and she was up there dancing and singing her heart out. 

    She looked like someone I might have gone to high school with and as I told Sarah, we will be lucky if our daughter begs us to go to a concert to see someone like her when she’s older.

    Sarah has already decided that I will be the one to take her, which is fine with me, because two of my great joys in life are listening to live music and embarrassing my daughter.

    Needless to say, the concert was great fun.  She sang all of her hits, a couple of clunkers, one really random Rod Stewart cover and a beautiful bluesy version of “Walking After Midnight” that I would dare any Edith Piaf loving, suede patches on the elbow of his jacket wearing,  stuck up musicologist professor to suggest wasn’t pretty damn awesome.

    At the end of the concert, I stood and punched the air, hopping up and down along with all of the other middle aged men…..ok, it was just me and a bunch of teenagers and their parents, and maybe a couple of gay guys…. while Sarah sat and checked her watch thinking "my husband is such a dork."

    When the concert ended, we started to leave and stopped as a huge fireworks display erupted just on the other side of the track.

    We stood, holding hands, watching the displau and wondering whether the fireworks seemed a little too close as a multitude of colors exploded directly above us.

    It was the perfect ending to a pretty awesome date.  We wandered back through the still swinging fair and got in our car for the moonlight filled ride home.

    It was silly, and goofy and the concert equivalent of eating a big wad of cotton candy, but man, it was fun.

    And for those of you who have now written me off and don’t believe my whole “I like all kinds of music” claim, let me tell you about the rest of my week.

    On Saturday we have tickets to go see an awesome old school R&B performer (Ryan Shaw – amazingly fun – check him out http://www.thisisryanshaw.com )

    And then on Wednesday I am going to try to talk my wife into seeing the Metropolitan Opera’s simulcast of the Julie Taymor directed Die Zauberflote at the movies. 

    I don’t know what it says about my wife, but Sarah is significantly less willing to go see Opera than she is to see Kelly Clarkson.

    And I’ve got to say, I am equally excited about both of these upcoming events as I was to see Kelly.  And if it was socially acceptable to stand up and punch the air while bouncing up and down to the Queen of the Night’s 2nd act aria “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (Hell's vengeance boileth in mine heart) I totally would, because that aria totally rocks.  I mean, it is just plain fun.

    And there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of fun.

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