Thursday, November 27, 2014

Goofy Gratitude

Turkey has been eaten, football has been watched, and drinks have been spilled. Thanksgiving is winding down and I thought I'd take a minute to think about the things for which I'm grateful.

Obviously there are the big things - my freedom from want, my safety and health, my two great kids, and being married to MamaGoof. These are all big things, I should be grateful for them every day (although sometimes I forget.)

But sometimes it is the little things that turn a bad day into a good one, or a good day into a great day. So here are a few little things for which I'm grateful.

Good Guidance Counselors
The little Goofs are sensitive kids who are good at discussing their feelings and troubles. On the whole, this serves them well. If you can discuss it, you can process it, and not let it consume you. (Not that the little Goofs are particularly troubled, but they get upset and anxious - just like any normal person.)

But sometimes it is a bit much for me (and I'm not always helpful).

I try to listen, express concern, and be helpful. But I have my limits. I don't want to discourage this positive (really wonderful) tendency, but sometimes I'm out of gas and just can't give them the attention they deserve.

Fortunately, their school has terrific guidance counselors. Knowing that the burden of listening and absorbing their troubles is not completely on my shoulders is a huge relief. I always want them to tell me what's up, but I almost always also recommend that they talk to the guidance counselors.

No Football
GoofBoy really, really likes football. A LOT! If his school had a football team, he would play on it. Unfortunately, football is an excellent way to acquire concussions. As much as GoofBoy loves to play pretty much every game that exists, genetics ensures that he will not be terribly good (better than I ever was, but not scholarship material.) He is going to make his living off of his brains, and i would just as soon they not be rattled.

Fortunately, I don't have to order no football. His school doesn't have a team, so there is no issue.

Built in Baby-Sitting
GoofBoy is 13. Under Jewish law he is now a man, more importantly under state law he is old enough to stay home and mind his sister. (At 10 she really doesn't need his minding, and in fact she looks after him.) MamaGoof and I are free to go out on weekend nights - or really anytime we want. We have taken advantage of this some, and we will do so even MORE! We can go out to eat, to the movies, whatever we want. We frankly have no idea what to do with our freedom - but we'll learn.

When we leave them, they carefully plan attack strategies should there be an intruder. They array traps and weapons around the house. We live in boring suburbs, but it amuses them.

Sibling Affection
And that brings me to the final little things for which I am grateful. My kids get along. I don't have to worry that if we go out the kids will fight all night. More importantly, it means for a quieter house, the two of them aren't yelling at each other all the time.

To me this is remarkable because based on the relationship my brother and I had, I did not know this was possible. That being said, I wouldn't settle their squabbles. I'd probably just let them fight it out. But, I do appreciate the quiet and that they help each other out.

So those are my small blessings. Think about yours.

Friday, November 21, 2014

GoofGirl on the Gridiron

GoofBoy is obsessed with sports. He runs track and plays baseball. But I am constantly amazed at the depth of his sports knowledge. I know he lives and breathes NFL (he is in approximately 200 fantasy leagues). He also likes baseball. But somehow he is also up on hockey and even University of Maryland sports. I work there and have no idea what the teams are up to.

But GoofGirl, while a big strong girl, has not had quite the affinity for sports. Although in fairness, I think I haven't been as pro-active in finding her team sport activities. (With her brother it was easy, since all of his friends were on teams, most of her friends were not.) But she goes back and forth. She says she'd like to play, but at camp when she was on a team she opted to be a cheerleader instead. (I don't care if she plays sports or not, but I could do without her being a cheerleader.)

But then I hear about PE (the teachers get upset when we call it gym.) She had a dispute with the teacher because she wasn't with her preferred group. She explained, they were playing football. The class divided into a competitive group and a more casual group. The former was all boys and the latter was mostly girls (although I think I would have been in the latter if only that option had existed when I was 10.)

My daughter wanted to play with the boys and the PE teacher wanted her with the casual group. GoofGirl made her case and the PE teacher relented. Not a surprise to me - or anyone that has ever argued with her.

Turns out, she was a real asset. She is still taller than all the boys and thus excelled at defense, knocking down passes. But best of all, she scored a touchdown. The other team didn't guard her, since she was a girl. So they planned play where they passed to her and - TOUCHDOWN!

(GoofBoy gets partial credit, somehow his obsession has leaked into her by osmosis.)

I am very pleased with GoofGirl's academics, and that is what is really important. But somehow, against my better judgment, I am absurdly proud of everything about her football exploits.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pelicula Attack or Why I don't speak Spanish


The other day, GoofBoy was visiting the Carpool Clan and he kept saying, “I’m so hungry, I wish there was a big plate of fried molcajete to eat.”

Carpool Dad finally told GoofBoy, “You know molcajete is a stone bowl used for grinding stuff.”

“I know,” GoofBoy answered cheerfully, “But my dad loves the way the word sounds so he keeps saying things like that to make my mom crazy.”

Every adult present laughed because – well – they know me.

MamaGoof is a fluent Spanish speaker and yet somehow, despite over 20 years together, I haven’t managed to learn Spanish. It is possible that I am a few scoops short of a sundae. There is plenty of evidence for this theory, but I think MamaGoof has incentives to prevent me from becoming bilingual.

I fall in love with the sound of words, like película. That is the Spanish word for movie. But MamaGoof at the instant she taught me the word, realized to her endless regret, that as soon as I heard it I envisioned a huge pelican with fangs.

(The attached pictures that capture what I see in my head when I hear the word pelicula come from a neat Washington Post article about ancient flying vertebrates and a neat sight called called Kids Dig Dinos - visit them if you actually want to learn something rather than reading my drivel.)

“Aiii! It is el película!” I would scream in terror or, “You know what would be a great película? El Película vs. El Chupácabra!”

The salt in this linguistic wound is of course that película is feminine, so I should, properly, be yelling “¡la película!” in terror (which might be appropriate when we sit down to watch the next Sharknado.)

When I actually try to speak Spanish, the results aren’t much better. Since my Spanish is at the level of a two year old, my conversation is similar to that of a two year old.

¡Yo quiero un oso blanco! (I want a polar bear.)

¿Dónde está el burro? (Where is the donkey?)

¡Yo quiero comer el molcajete! (I want to eat the molcajete!)

As it happens I do speak a bit of Spanish – enough to communicate with children and surprise people. Once when GoofGirl was an infant, we were shopping and MamaGoof headed down an aisle to find something. I stayed along the side with GoofGirl and the cart. A wizened Latino saw my little girl and came up to her and grinned – just looking (a sentiment I certainly understood).

¡La muñeca!” he whispered.

“That’s right, she’s my little doll,” I answered.

His eyes grew huge and he jumped back, exclaiming, “¡El blanco!”

I also issue basic commands to my children in Spanish. One afternoon, while the little Goofs were over at Carpool Clan manor (notice how many of these stories start this way), Carpool Gal asked if I really knew any Spanish.

“Watch this,” I told her.

“¿Que haces niño?”

GoofBoy dutifully looked up, “Nothing dad, just playing. CarpoolGal was unimpressed, “That’s it?” she asked.

¡Ven aquí niño!”

Summoned, GoofBoy ran up to me, “What’s up dad?”

“Nothing buddy, go play.”

CarpoolGal nodded approvingly.

¡Niño, no hagas eso!” I yelled.

GoofBoy, at the other end of the yard looked up, shocked, “Dad, I’m not doing anything! Really!”

“See,” I told Carpool Gal, “I know some Spanish.”

But not too much, and that’s just the way MamaGoof wants to keep it.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Betrayed: Rotten Rice

At the viewing, before my mother-in-law's funeral, I was puttering around on Facebook. (Don't judge - I was a good son-in-law and husband, taking the kids, being supportive - everything I could be. But at a Catholic funeral there can be hours of sitting around. Stepping outside for a stretch to clear my head was well within bounds.)

I saw a post. Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was offering a signed picture of himself to anyone who made a donation of a certain amount to his anti-bullying charity.

I MADE that donation. I put it in my mother-in-law's name for my son. I told no one.

A few weeks later, GoofBoy came home from a bad day at school to an unexpected package. When he opened it, to find a signed photo of his hero, he was ecstatic. When MamaGoof saw that it was "from" abuelito to her beloved grandson, she cried a little. It was one last gift from a generous, generous woman.

The two Rays were the big heroes on the Ravens, Ray Lewis and Ray Rice. Lewis had his own checkered past and, we encouraged GoofBoy to adore (as only a little boy can) the squeaky clean, hyper-decent Ray Rice. Both little Goofs had "Hey Diddle Diddle Ray Rice up the middle" t-shirts that they wore with pride.

Now I think of that signed photo, and in my mind's eye, it is a steaming pile of crap.

I hope Ray Rice can overcome whatever demons drove him to brutally beat his wife. I hope he turns his life around and becomes the leading advocate against domestic abuse (I know the odds here aren't great).

BUT he beat a woman, that just isn't done. And we loved him because we were sure he would never do something like that.

A steaming pile of crap.

I know of one organization that does important work against domestic abuse. If you are so inclined, a donation can be made here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

FatherGoof on Carpools in the Baltimore Jewish Times

In my real life, I am in the media fairly often. But, for the first time MSM has decided to turn to me as an expert of parenting. This article in the Baltimore Jewish Times quotes me:

“The combination of phone, email and text keeps my carpooling schedule in check,” says father of two Aaron Mannes. “My carpool involves several children in several locations. There needs to be a lot of technological communication going on to make it all work. Some of my biggest questions of the day include, ‘Do I take the minivan?’ and ‘Which child has a doctor’s appointment today?’”

“....Often, I’ll get an afternoon email from working parents asking if I can pick their child up,” he says. “I have run carpools where my kids are not even involved.”
Mannes shares his carpooling adventures in a parenting blog, “For Fathers Only.” Under the pen-name Father Goof, Mannes reveals the comical ins and outs of the everyday dad.
“I’m not going to lie; talking about carpooling is good material for a blog,” says Mannes. “I try to make it both funny and sweet. It is a great way to cap off my day.”
...As great as the new technological wonders are, fathers like Mannes joke about wanting more.
“Through technology, my children always know where I am,” says Mannes. “I am always getting texts asking how close I am, and I can tell them instantly when I am stuck in traffic. I am still waiting for the day when Google makes those self-driving cars. That would make my carpooling life so much easier.”
Read the whole article here.

Being cited in the Baltimore Jewish Times allowed me to conduct a little social media experiment: how long before the GrandGoofs (who live in Baltimore) would hear about this. Turns out, not long. A friend of my mom called within hours, "I saw your son was written up in the Jewish Times, wow! He's pretty famous!"

(Baltimore is kind of a small town.)

The truth is, I do carpool because I am the least gainfully employed and since I work alone, and find driving boring, I need to remain amused. Since I can't listen to my audiobooks in the car with the kids (they just don't care for Anthony Trollope or Makepeace Thackery) and I don't really listen to music, I amuse myself by badgering the children.

Here are a few popular tales from our carpool adventures:

Since our carpool partners are part-Canadian I try to use drive time to educate them about their heritage.

No story is complete without an archenemy, and my carpool foe is a particularly evil little boy I also have my Carpool favorites.

Here is one of my very first stories about carpool.

In the Name of Science
The truth is, that I view carpool as a long-term science experiment. I want to see how much craziness I can introduce to our carpool partners before they decide that carpooling with me is simply not worth it.

So far, it appears the threshold for my antics is very, very high - because if you've got kids, reliable carpool is worth its weight in gold.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Monkwatch! Our Summer Camp Game

Over the summer, when the little Goofs aren't at sleep-away camp, on a family vacation, or lounging around the house binge-watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch (thanks Amazon Prime!), they go to a regular summer day camp.

Day camp is the worst part of their summer, but these things are relative of course - their summer camp is awesome with a combination of low-key sports, creative activities, and just general horsing around. The little Goofs go to Jewish Day School and attend a Jewish sleep-away camp so there is a fair amount of overlap in the kids going. At their day camp they have a whole different set of friends who - shockers - aren't Jewish.

Once I asked GoofBoy about staying in touch with his camp buddies during the year. He was philosophical. "Dad, when I have a friend over we hang for about five hours. But at camp, I hang with these guys for eight solid hours. This isn't like school where we have stuff to do and only hang at lunch. This is camp, we just play and goof off the whole time! So that's like 160 hours, a year of hang-time. Except for maybe Carpool Buddy, I don't see any of my year round friends that much!"

I've said it before, I'll say it again, the kid isn't just smart, he's wise!

Many of their friends go to all kinds of specialty camps for basketball, robotics, you name it. Part of me worries that my kids are falling behind not getting these intensive courses. But on the other hand, they would want separate courses which means extra driving for me. Fortunately, they've rendered the point moot. They want to keep going to their regular summer camp. Why mess with a good thing?

Regular camp has regular overnights. Part of me should be upset that after four weeks away from home, the little Goofs cannot wait to go on the overnights. Is it because home life is so terrible they can't wait to escape it? I don't worry too much about it. After spending a big chunk of the summer completely on my own, I was not thrilled to suddenly have all these people in my house again.

The regular summer camp has an interesting feature, it is next to a Buddhist Center and as we drive in we occasionally see monks in flowing orange robes. They are exotic and inspiring figures, so I instituted Monkwatch - where we try to spot monks. The kids also play when MamaGoof drives, but she doesn't care - it's kind of a daddy thing, I get pretty bored driving carpool.)

Many days there are no monks to be seen. But some days we see one meditating outside. Often there is a monk clearing out the back parking lot with a leaf-blower. Did he do something bad in a past life to warrant leaf-blowing duty? It doesn't seem like a very contemplative role, but that's the point of being a monk I guess, finding serenity and meaning where others cannot.

We've had a number of false alarms. One morning we thought we saw a monk, but it was just a guy in an orange polo shirt. Another afternoon, we thought we saw a monk, bent over working in the garden but as we drove by it turned out to be a traffic cone.

It turns out, the Buddhist center also has special summer programs. Buddhism has dietary restrictions that nicely dovetail with the laws of kashrut, and it would be a great chance to make non-Jewish friends. But no overnights, so the little Goofs weren't interested. Too bad, they'd be adorable in little orange robes.