Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Yearbook

Last night I was going through my old yearbooks, looking for pictures of myself. No, this is not because I'm incredibly narcissistic and love to look at myself during my most awkward years - that's just downright painful. It's because I've been asked to perform with some of the national Mortified crew (and some real-live celebrities like Retta from Parks and Recreation!) on Friday night at the San Francisco Sketchfest, and I needed some pictures for my performance.

(Please allow me to take a moment to let that sink in: I have been invited to perform at a Comedy Festival in San Francisco. That is all)

While I didn't find any workable pictures, I did come across something I'd never noticed before. Or perhaps I'd just ignored it and moved on, then forgot about it, which is what I tend to do if someone writes something about me that I don't like. Anyhoo! Back in 1990, a girl - we'll call her 'Helen' - went all cray cray in my yearbook. Here's what she wrote:

Amanda, Hey chic how are you? So I see you and Kelli have become really good friends! (page 3)...

So you can just have her I feel so used. I mean I was there when she needed someone to show her around school and everything (page 10)... (I thought it was nice of her to direct me to her next rant)

...and now she has you so what use am I to her? She don't need me anymore! Amanda I'm so jelous of you! You stole my Best friend from me and there's nothing I can do! please don't take her from me. I need her! I mean now she spends all her time with you instead of me! well I better go before I start crying! - Helen

But continues, spilling over from page 10 to page 11:

Amanda this is not a joke this is serious I need Kelli back you have lots of friends why do you have to take Kelli? I need her for a Best Friend again! and even when we are together all she talks about is you!


Sure, I know exactly who this girl was/is, and I know exactly what she was talking about. But I didn't steal anybody, jeez! Kelli lived down the street from me and, when you live in the country, this pretty much makes someone your friend by default because it takes less than an hour to walk to their house. And Helen's claim that I had 'lots of friends' was completely false. I had about two and a half friends, and that's only because Frank hadn't dropped out yet. But it was nice looking back and realizing that someone thought I was popular!

Since I was still scouring the yearbook for pictures, I discovered that Helen had taken the liberty to write things like "Doug your sexy, Helen wrote that" and "so cute!" "very cute and handsome!" "very sweet!" all followed with "Helen wrote that!" and accompanied by an arrow pointing toward various boys throughout the pages.

Homegirl defaced my 7th grade yearbook! Dude, that is not cool. Ima find her old yearbook and write all sorts of crazy shit in it, all over the pages! See how she likes it!

Okay. That actually sounds really boring.

I guess I'll just move on.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Why You're Always Failing as a Father

I write this blog, you see, and in it I like to offer up my experiences as a parent.  I do this partly to keep my family and friends up-to-date on what's going on in our lives, but mainly I do it for therapeutic reasons. Why would I need therapy you ask?  As I sit here typing I can smell poo.  I know it's in the vicinity but I checked the places you'd expect to find it to no avail.  So I gave up looking.  That's why.

Naturally I like to read about the experiences of others in similar situations.  I recently read an article in the New York Times called "I Hate Being Called a Good Dad" by Matt Villano.  He points out that calling someone a "good dad" is like calling a black person "eloquent".  Why would you presume we're not?!  It's a hilarious account and a good point but I have to admit I'll take the "good dad" compliment and run with it.  

Why am I not put off by someone seeing me hold my son's hand while I walk down the street who feels compelled to pull over to openly admire my skills as a father? (Yes, that happened)  Probably because the only reason I'm out in public with him is to get just that kind of attention.  

What kind of dad would need a stranger's affirmation like that?  The kind of dad who polishes off and entire bottle of Syrah so his kids' books will be less painful to read, that's who!  Nice to meet you.

Just a few weeks ago I read another article in the Huffington Post called "Why You're Never Failing as a Mother" by Amy Morrison.  It's a great article, but note the gender specific title.  There's a reason for that.

Men make crappy parents.  We really shouldn't be left alone with our kids.  Maybe it's in our nature.  I mean, we're supposed to be out killing, not 'caring', right?  At our best (i.e. after a few beers) we're a blast!  We'll act like idiots, roll in the dirt, build forts, do the voices when we read, and teach the fine art of the well-timed finger pull.  At our worst (i.e. anytime no one is watching) we do just the absolute minimum to keep them alive and not completely miserable.  For example, since I'm obviously really busy right now, and it's my day alone with the boys, I went so far as to put on a video and kick over their toy box.  In an hour I may or may not "make lunch".  

It may not be fair for me to generalize but it's my blog, so I'll do what I want.  Now if you'll excuse me the screaming is starting to sound kind of "hungry".  I've got some cheese to cut.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Eight Minutes Alone

It's day 4 of my 5-days as a solo dad.  I've been trying (I think successfully) to prove to Liam that he is still very much loved despite the fact that his brother is also loved.  Today, just now in fact, Liam and I invented a new and challenging game together that you can play in your very own home!

After another accident and a delicate reminder to Liam that the potty is just down the hall and doesn't he "want to have 'Potty Power' just like a big kid?", I went to grab the bottle of vodka Rugdoctor Spot & Stain Remover.  I made a mental note that it felt like it was just about a quarter full and that if potty training continues to go like this, we're gonna need more.

After peeling off his pants, using them to soak up the majority of the puddle, and sending him in the bathroom to see if there was any left (there wasn't), I finished cleaning up and decided to put Finn down for a nap.  I then went into the other bathroom to be a big kid myself.

When I got back Liam was holding the now empty bottle of Rugdoctor Spot & Stain Remover and a look that said, "So you LOVE me?  We'll see", and I began our new game I call Let's Discover What is Now Sprayed with Soapy Carpet Cleaner.

The answer was the following:  The stereo, the T.V. screen, both couches, the recliner, the coffee table, a stack of books, the recently folded laundry (silver star for that one), the antique cupboard with (apparently) colorfast paint, all the movies from Amelie through Rudy, the sub-woofer, the kitchen table, a stack of bills, and my cup of coffee (gold star for that one).

Fortunately Finn was safe in bed.  The cats are MIA.

Monday, January 21, 2013

On the Occasion of my Daughter's 6th Birthday

On the occasion of my youngest and last child's sixth birthday -

I got up without complaint when she woke up at 7am, wished her a happy birthday with a squeeze and too many kisses, told her how much I loved her, and then made the banana pancakes she'd requested, though her brother wanted blueberry. We were mysteriously out of syrup, so I offered the kids some delicious local honey, and no one was the wiser. Everyone left the table happy.

Jonah and I gave Evie her presents. I knew they would be lost in the bustle if she opened them during her party the day before, and so I'd pulled them aside. This year I'd searched harder than I'd anticipated to find her special requests: tap shoes and a whistle. But, find them I did, and she was delighted.

I realized that, at age 6, she has now entered a new phase. She is on the older side of being a little kid. She and her brother are now both in this category, though he will leave it soon when he turns 10. This overwhelmed me, just a bit. I told her how much I loved her, and that I was so proud and happy to be her Mama.

I chatted with her while she played with two naked barbies and a spoon in the bath tub. While doing so, I pulled six white hairs out of my scalp, hunting them down and meticulously separating them from the brown hairs, then plucking them out, one by one, until finally giving up and moving to my eyebrows.

I blew her hair dry. This is one of my favorite, rare moments, in which she is nestled against me, relaxed and still through the warm hum of the hair dryer. After I was finished, I clipped in the silly green feather extensions she insisted on wearing.

I tied her silk dress - "tighter. TIGHTER!" until it was perfect. I tied her new tap shoes tight enough on the second try. I said, "I love you, you crazy little munchkin. Kiss me!"

We went for a walk, tap tap tapping down the sidewalk, and stopped in to the toy store down the street, where she played for twenty minutes and then came when I said it was time to go, never asking for a single thing. We all held hands on the walk home, and I said to my kids "you guys are the best." And I asked them "how in the heck did I get so lucky with you two?"

When her dad came to pick up her and her brother for the third round of birthday and presents, I squeezed her some more, snuck a few more kisses onto her cheeks, told her I loved her and to have a great rest of her birthday, and then off she went. I closed the door and the silence was deafening, as usual.

I walked around for a few minutes, adjusting, pulling down bits of orange crepe paper. Then I lay on the couch, playing solitaire on my phone, reading, then finally dozing like a cat, inching along with the movement of the sun. I allowed myself just a few minutes of my annual melancholic reflection on babies and childhood and family with all of its revolving definitions. Then I thought about then and now and what is to come and what we will never know.

Finally I got up, stretched, showered, made myself the last possible quesadilla in the house, and went out to play some kickball with friends.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Well, DUH!

Here's a bit about me, not that you asked:

I've never been in a fight.  Not even a proper shoving match.  Ever.

I'm a total pussy cat.  Erin has used similar language to describe me, minus the feline reference.  Most men who hear that I've never been in a fight are genuinely surprised.  "Not even when you were a kid?" they ask.  Nope, not even then.  I attribute this entirely to cowardice.  I remember the few instances in my youth when a fight seemed likely, but was thwarted by my long stride.  Most women who hear this say they admire my aversion to violence.  "Men are such animals!" they say, while secretly concealing the fact that they are completely turned-on by this quality in men, and completely turned-off by guys like me.

I consider myself lucky for two reason.  Nature has helped keep my record clean.  At 6'8" and 230 lbs. most of the a-holes who go out looking for a fight, look elsewhere, and that's just fine with me.  The other lucky gift nature has given me is a long fuse.  I don't really get that mad at anyone.  Even in high school, when life was at it's most infuriating for the gangly-unloved types like me, I had an English teacher who described me as "perpetually insouciant".  He was kind of pompous.  This was before Google so I had to use a dictionary, but when I did I realized he'd nailed it.  I just don't really get angry.

But I do get frustrated, which is different.  For example, if I wake up late because I forgot to set the alarm and I smack my head on an open cupboard while searching for my lost keys, I completely lose my shit.  It's pathetic.  I turn into the Inconsolable Hulk.

I was thinking about this fact after my first day back at preschool.  Liam and I are back on our Monday morning routine of dropping Finn by daycare and spending our mornings eating "ants on a log" with paint covered fingers.  I was excited to get back.  I hadn't been in class with Liam since mid-December and was eager to see how he'd progressed.  I was wary too, because it had been weeks since I'd been on "outside duty" (I always get outside duty) and I hadn't dealt with the difficult kids in awhile.  The difficult kids aren't bad kids, per se.  They're just the screaming, hitting, rock and tantrum throwing types, who revel in doing exactly the opposite of what I say.

Here's the rub.  Liam is the difficult kid now.  The worst in the class.

At least on my first day back he was.  He made the usual difficult kids look cherubic.  I even think one of them gave another difficult kid the "get a load of this guy" side-eye.  Burn.

At one point during circle-time, after Liam had shared with the class the egg-timer he wanted to bring and insisted on setting off every ten seconds (I promised a quieter contribution to next week's sharing time), he was sitting in my lap having a fit that Teacher Julie described as "pure frustration".

Ah yes.  The frustration.  I knew it well.  I'd hoped he would just inherit my curly hair or something, not this.  Teacher Julie asked me if anything had "happened" over the break.  She had never seen this from Liam before and had me racking my brain to think of what could have drawn out this new challenging part of his personality.  Was it the potty training?  Santa?  Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Just after the spell
Later in the day while we were driving around town I happened to glance back at Liam in my rear-view mirror while Finn was in the seat next to him screaming to let me know he was sleepy.  What I saw on Liam's face was a look that I can only describe as pure distilled frustration.  Jaw clenched, hands-shaking, wild-eyed, and desperate for the little nugget in the seat next to him to please find a new family.

Of course! FINN!! Over the break Finn became the brother Liam never wanted.  He started walking, playing with all of Liam's toys, demanding more of our attention, and basically hoarding in on Liam's gig in a way he never had before.

I don't know why I didn't see it before.  Probably because the reason it vexes Liam the way it does is because, as a result of Finn's new needs, I've been neglecting Liam.  Bad bad dad.

Well I'm on it.  I've got this long weekend off with the boys and Liam is getting more than he bargained for.  It's going to be a five-day overcompensation bender! 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

To Market, To Market

Last Sunday I was meandering around the aisles of Oliver's Market, without a care in the world.

I'd stopped by my house after work to assess the food situation before some pre-kid-arrival grocery shopping with Paulie. In my fridge I'd found a half gallon of milk, some shredded mozzarella left over from last week's Make Your Own Pizza night, some flour tortillas left over from Make Your Own Burrito night, and a carton of eggs; as well as random jams, mystery olives and two different half-empty bottles of enchilada sauce. I was pleased as punch because I knew that all of those items would get me through the next couple of days with my kids, giving me more time to save up for a Big Shop at a more affordable store.

While Paulie bustled around collecting everything he needed, I leisurely ate samples, browsed the magazines, smelled soaps, and looked at all the pretty stuff. We reconvened in the cheese department and chose one to snack on later while sampling the wine he's making in his cellar. All was well with the universe.

Fast forward to this morning. As usual, I put on the kettle and prepared my tea, singing "gooood mor-ning!" to wake up the kids. I grabbed the milk out of the fridge, my thumb landing near the sell-by date: December 29th. Oops! I remembered that my neighbor had given me this particular gallon on January 5th, already well past its prime but as yet unopened, so pretty safe. And it was fine, a week ago. Today however, there was a little skim of whiter-than-normal-milk-white on the top, but it didn't smell too bad. Admittedly, my nose is a bit stuffy in the mornings. I poured some very slowly into my mug, assuming that the good stuff would escape out from underneath the questionable stuff. I also put some extra sugar in my cup, just in case.

Then I set to work making breakfast - fried eggs for Evie, egg pancake for Jonah. I opened the egg carton and found exactly two inside, which is half of our normal daily egg intake.

I pictured myself walking past the wall of eggs in Oliver's, and cursed myself. Thanks to the gods of extra toast, the two eggs got us through our morning just fine. Jonah asked for orange juice, which I realized I was out of. He asked for milk instead, so I poured him some but said "just try a little bit first, I'm not sure it's tasting super delicious this morning." He took a sip and I looked at him hopefully, but he grimaced and said "uh, it's pretty sour mom."

Dammit! That means I can't skirt by with cereal for breakfast tomorrow morning.

Once they were eating, I walked over to my fruit basket to grab some apples to wash for their snack, but instead only found two rotting lemons. Jesus, Amanda! I saw myself walking around all the produce only two days before, sampling apples before getting distracted by all the fun-colored juices. Luckily I had some random snacks in my cupboards and was able to create a little banana chip, raisin and tamari almond thing for them. Unfortunately almost every single time I send them with any of my tupperware, it mysteriously disappears, never to be seen again.  The containers I found were about a hundred times bigger than the snacks themselves, and barely fit into their backpacks.

The lesson here is - if you see milk and eggs in the fridge, smell the milk, and open the egg carton. If you glance toward the fruit corner but it's too dark to see, turn on the light to make sure actual fruit is sitting there, not rotting. Because if your life is anything like mine, there probably won't be time between work, picking up kids, homework, then bedtime to go to the store for those essentials. And then you'll be feeding your kids mozzarella and olive quesadillas with enchilada sauce on top for breakfast.

Assuming the cheese isn't moldy, of course.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Demon Child

Liam is heart-meltingly sweet to Finn, usually.  He gives him hugs and kisses, pets his hair, gets him his "paci" when he cries, and even whispers to me "shhhh, baby Finn is sweeping".  But occasionally Liam makes the following face and we get a little nervous...

The beast that emerges when this expression creeps across his face may be pure evil incarnate, but I'm hoping it's just a brother thing.  This is normal, right?

Erin is more concerned than I am.  She's convinced Liam could be showing the early signs of becoming a homicidal maniac.  I try to assure her he's just "aggressively cuddling" or "hugging him around the neck with his hands", but she still insists on precautions.  We try not to leave them alone together much and we've got Liam on a strict foods-that-require-only-a-spoon-to-eat diet in case he gets any ideas.  Rest assured in a few more months Finn will be able to take his brother down and this will all be moot.  Until then I apologize if my blog posts are short.  I doubt Finn could hold his breath for more than a minute so I don't get a lot of down time.   

Monday, January 7, 2013

Home Sweet Home

Does anyone else consistently have Back to Life by Soul II Soul on repeat in their heads after a vacation ends and school, work and, well, reality begins again?

I recently returned from a trip with friends, which we took to celebrate my dear friend Nayt's 40th birthday. I know what you're thinking: 'wait a minute, aren't you always talking about how you're broke and can't afford basic human comforts like new Converse and a non-stolen internet connection?' Yes, those things are still true, even more so than before, as a matter of fact . But sometimes when a friend you've had for 23 years says "hey, I'm giving you over six-months' notice and I want you to be there," you've just gotta make it happen. Sometimes those old, soul-deep connections are more important than making that last dentist payment on time.

So I did some penny-saving, some beans & rice eating, some creative Craigslisting (no, that is not a euphemism for offers of naughty massages. I just sold some stuff), and put off paying back some loans just a little bit longer. And I got some new Converse as a Christmas present, so that meant the ten bucks I'd been saving over the last year toward buying a pair could buy some pretzels on the plane! It's like the universe was smiling upon me...and wanted me to eat pretzels! Also, you'd be surprised how cheap lodging can be when you cram 12 people into a house meant for 8. We're creative folks, my friends and I. 

The trip itself was pretty incredible, in that 'Oh, wow - I'm here with all (save one, hard as we tried to get her there) of my oldest friends, laughing, playing games, singing songs, taking unfortunate pictures' kind of way. It was really wonderful. This is a pretty great mix of people, so our late-night conversations and antics ranged from discussing whether man is inherently good or evil, to imitating wolves with under bites, collaborating on coming up with the perfect lead up to an existing punch line, to playing guitar and singing old Luna songs. I was in heaven. 

A strange thing happened when I came home, however. Usually when I return from spending time with these friends I get terribly depressed and very 'woe-is-me' because I miss them so goddamm much and my life here seems so shallow and pale in comparison. This time, however - this time I felt...alright. Pretty good, in fact. Instead of feeling the great loss of having left them all behind, I felt filled up and rejuvenated from the time spent with them. I felt really, really happy. 

Another change was how excited I was to get my paws on my kids. I always miss them when they're gone, or I'm gone - even if it's just their time with dad. But if I remember correctly, when I had an opportunity to go on a solo vacation in my old life, coming back was like dragging cement blocks around my ankles and wearing a necklace made of bricks. The thought of all that lay ahead of me versus all that I'd just come from seemed daunting, at best. I guess that didn't have all that much to do with my kids, in hindsight. 

I was so pleased to be in the company of those little snuggle-bugs again! We played games and brainstormed a menu for our week, grocery shopped, came home just in time to beat the rain. After trying a new soup recipe for lunch (yum!), we watched a few episodes of Pepe le Pew (I am ze locksmith of love, no? Ha! Love that guy), then turned off the TV to bake oatmeal raisin cookies. Jonah disappeared into their room to read, Evie quickly left her post as baking apprentice and, after the first batch was in the oven, I found her afternoon-sleeping on the couch. I was overcome with the unexpected sweetness of it all.

It's good to be home. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Das Boot

I'm guilty of a number of annoying parent crimes.  I used to think "When I'm a dad, my kids will never be allowed to do that".  But now we go for coffee and their hands go straight to the glass case full of goodies, they choose whatever they want, then proceed to throw muffin chunks at elderly women, all while I just sit there sipping my coffee, blogging about how awesome they are.

Lately I've been doing that annoying parent thing where, based on their interests in any given week, I'm able to determine the path of their adult career.  Finn's is pretty straightforward.  He'll either be a competitive eater or a soul singer.  The only thing more impressive than the volume of food that goes in him, is the volume of the noise coming out of him.  The boy has pipes.

Liam's is a bit trickier, but I've pretty confidently got it nailed down to one of two careers.  He'll either be a catalog model (his look is way too commercial for high fashion) or he'll be an abstract artist.  The second one is a more recent revelation.  Every morning this week he's been putting together the following piece:

It's a belt in a baby's boot.  Nice composition, don't you think?  It's on ongoing series that is assembled daily with subtle variations (i.e. loop forward, loop backward, boot zipped or unzipped, etc.) and is then placed at different locations throughout the house.  It's a kind of "Elf on the Shelf" of abstract art.  When I asked him what is was he answered "boot" with that slight German effect like there's an umlaut in there somewhere.  I think he's paying homage to his influences such as Oskar Schlemmer, Josef Albers, and other such Bauhaus alumni.  So far it's graced surprising places throughout the house every day this year (the most surprising being inside one of my shoes...brilliant).  I guess it's a kind of New Year's resolution, but we'll see how long it lasts.  You know how fickle artists can be.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Cup O' Kindness

It's day 14 of my no work, no school, no outside daycare baby-bender and I'm feeling like a 24-hour nurse/maid/fry-cook for a couple of really cute assholes.  I can feel all of you stay-at-home parents rolling your eyes right now.  Rightfully so.

I've sedated the boys temporarily with pancakes, so I thought I'd share something of a cautionary tale.  No, it's not a 'NEVER HAVE KIDS!' rant like the kind people loved to share with me before I had kids (what the fuck is with that?)  I've always asserted that kids will make you happier and more fulfilled than you ever thought humanly possible.  True story.  This is just a reminder that even when you've had kids for several years, stay humble, you still don't know what you're doing.

Last Sunday one of my old friends from high school came up from the bay area to visit.  I really only have two friends from high school that I still make an effort to spend time with.  They're both girls and they're both totally hot.  This isn't a coincidence since the reason I tried so hard to get close to them in my teenage years was because that's how nerds scored in John Hughes' films.  The nerd best platonic friend turned love-of-my-life after the jock burned me maneuver.  It never worked out, which is just as well because now we can still hang out and drink.

I still wanted to look good for said friend, of course.  This was tricky since I'd spent the day alone with the boys in a house that had been mildly devastated by a holiday dinner party the night before.  I still managed to clean a bit and even do some very selective laundry featuring my finest shirts and my one pair of jeans with the crotch intact.  All I had to do before Erin got home, and I could dash out to my rendezvous, was take a shower.  If any of you single parents out there didn't already stop reading, you know how challenging that can be.  Some caution has to be thrown to the wind, particularly now that Finn is walking and the Christmas tree is still up.  The key is to be quick.

I managed to get clean and dressed in ten minutes but I still came out into the kitchen to find Liam had filled a large measuring cup with greasy rancid meat-water from the pot I'd left soaking in the sink, and was sprinting through the living room.  "Stop", I shouted smartly.  He stopped, but the water didn't.  It sloshed forward onto the carpet, then back onto him.  He stood stunned for a bit so I dashed into his room, grabbed an alternate set of jammies and a towel, and pounced on him quick.

I took away his cup, stripped him of everything but his diaper, and toweled him off a bit.  The smell was hard to describe.  I guess a bit like warm death and cumin.  Liam was quiet and kind of hanging his head down.  I felt a little bad for yelling and for moving around so frantically to get him cleaned up.  I had been in a hurry but I realized that he was feeling bad now and maybe I'd overreacted.  I hadn't seen this friend in months but I could be another minute late.  Plus, it was likely this was all just his way of trying to keep me from leaving.  In a way it was sweet and he deserved nothing but my love and adoration.  I hugged him and quietly told him, "Liam, I'm so sorry I yelled.  I love you so much".  He answered by spitting a mouthful of greasy rancid meat-water on my finest shirt.

The point is, one of the most rewarding things about being a parent is, even when you've been in constant contact with your kids for 14 days on end, and you think you know all you can about them, that you've "got it dialed in", they can still surprise you.