Friday, March 27, 2009

Morning Serenades

My son has been having some trouble getting up in the morning. So, I did what any father would do. I jumped on his bed, started tickling him and singing at the top of my lungs a song bound to annoy like, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald or The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

But his favorite wake-up call is 500 Miles by The Proclaimers:
But I would walk five hundred miles
And I would walk five hundred more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door
When I'm working
Yes I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man
Who's working hard for you
And when the money
Comes in for the work I'll do
I'll pass every penny
Right along to you
But I would walk five hundred miles
And I would walk five hundred more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door
Da da da da
Da da da da
Da da da dum di dee dum
Di dee dum di dee dum
Da da
Da da da da
Da da da da
Da da da dum di dee dum
Di dee dum di dee dum
Da da
Fortunately, my singing is so off-key he doesn’t realize I’m promising him every penny – not that he doesn’t get most of it already. Despite my inability to carry the tune he insists on every single “Da da da da!”

He may be up, but by then I’m usually exhausted.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Willful Dodger: Curse of an Athletic Son

Tomorrow afternoon my son goes to his afterschool program – dodgeball.

Two things about this astound me. First, dodge as an afterschool program is an oxymoron. Dodge is what kids did because they were free and not subjected to afterschool programs. The key word in afterschool, is school meaning that it is still a learning, adult mandated activity (even if there was, like in Soviet elections, a semblance of choice). Afterschool programs were things like piano and ballet – the activity equivalent of vegetables. Not to mock piano and ballet, which are terrific character building endeavors that probably improve IQ. Dodge on the other hand involves blows to the head, which almost certainly lowers IQ. Most boys, however, are inclined to prefer dodge to music on that basis – happily taking the risk of blows to their head in exchange for the opportunity to deliver such blows to others.

This brings me to my second point – my son likes dodge. I despised my piano lessons, but the choice between dodge and piano was a terrible one. Neither involved Legos and both involved other children – who, in general, I did not like (the feeling was mutual). In dodge, for the many to have a good time, the few had to be pummeled. Blessed with an absurdly large head (thus giving my brain plenty of room to spin around after repeated impacts by rubber balls), poor reflexes, and limited peripheral vision I was a great candidate for the few.

My son, on the other hand, loves dodge – begged for this activity. There is some terrible irony that my son wants to play sports, any sport, all the time. My complaint about school, besides the presence of other people, was (from kindergarten through high school) too much gym. My son complains that there isn’t enough gym. He looks for pickup games to join, whereas I used to hide so that I wouldn’t risk wandering close enough to be enjoined to even out the sides. But I fear genetics will win out. There are real limits to how quick or strong he is going to be. Of course we do send him to a Jewish day school, so the bar for athletic achievement is pretty low.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Birthday Blues in the Fourth Dimension

My little girl’s birthday is coming up. We are having some disputes about it. First, we cannot agree on how old she is. According to most authorities she will be five. However, a vocal minority opinion insists that she will be turning six and possibly seven. This is because last year (when she turned four years old) she had a birthday at home and a birthday at school. Obviously one was for turning four and the second one was for celebrating her turning five. Obviously.

There is a lot at stake here. Her best friend 3C’s birthday is a bit earlier in the year. My daughter can’t quite get her head around this. I understand that at an abstract level time is pretty confusing stuff, but children have a lot of trouble with the basics, like the orderly progression of days, months, and years. (They are also completely flummoxed by shirts partially turned inside out – my son will just randomly turn the shirt over and stare as though the sleeves were operating in some sort of extra-dimensional space.)

My daughter keeps hoping these extra birthdays will put her ahead of 3C. We try to explain that this is not the case, but that it does not really matter. We are wrong. It matters a great deal. Apparently in pre-school, like the U.S. Senate, seniority defines your place in the pecking order and my little girl will not be a backbencher.

Party Planning
Meanwhile, we have to determine what kind of party we are going to throw. Goof Girl wants to have all of her friends over to paint their fingernails. They will wear tiaras and pummel a piƱata. I expect the video of a gaggle of little girls, running around high on nail polish fumes and birthday cake to go viral.

However, at my daughter’s school etiquette calls for inviting everyone. Most of the boys would not find this particular event appealing. Fortunately, Goof Boy has stepped into the vacuum and offered to organize a parallel activity for the boys. They will chase me around the backyard and wrestle me. My son is pretty devoted to this plan. He’s been drawing out different attacks on a sketchpad. (I believe he has some video plans as well.) I fear he will be disappointed, as will my daughter when she learns that she is only five.

Still, it’s her party, she can cry if she wants to.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Counter-Insurgency at Bedtime

Mother Goof is away, ostensibly at a conference – but I have reason to believe she is primarily spending her time imbibing margaritas so big they use depth charges to mix them.

That leaves yours truly on solo patrol. The running joke about being outnumbered by your kids is that you have to switch from man-to-man to playing zone defense. But I’ve been reading about counter-insurgency and how the way to win is by developing and empowering local forces.

My son can read. He wants to be grown up. My daughter is four – she hates me (except when she loves me and/or needs something from me.) So, while mommy is away he gets to read (or tell) her a story and put her to bed. The other night he told her a story in which she and her friends were detectives. (We’ve been listening to a lot of Cam Jansen. I love her. She’s a hard-boiled 9 year-old with a photographic memory and a no-nonsense attitude. It is sort of Raymond Chandler for pre-teens, stripped of sex and violence.)

My son gets to stay up late and feel important. My daughter gets to defy me and assert her independence. Since all I really want is the two of them in bed with minimal hassle, I am the ultimate winner with barely the slightest expenditure of energy.
Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemies will without fighting.
Sun-Tzu, eat your heart out.

Bedtime Truths
After putting my daughter to bed, I keep my son company, lying (physically and verbally) on the floor as he drifts off. Both kids sleep with T-shirts my wife wore and didn’t wash before she left. My son put his on one of his bears and was cuddling it.

“Daddy, remember when I was little and I had to have my blankey and every night when you put me to bed I sent you downstairs to get it?”

His blankey was a cloth diaper.

“Buddy, can I tell you a secret?” I didn’t wait for an answer, recklessly I continued, “I didn’t really go down stairs. I walked out of your room, opened and closed the child gate and walked in place, waited a minute and repeated the process. I just grabbed the first blankey off the pile in the hallway. One time mommy saw me do this and started laughing seeing the whole show I put on.”

There was silence for a moment and then a scream, and hard thud as a seven year old landed on my chest.

“Why didn’t you get me my blankey?!? I needed my blankey!?!”

Clearly, my information operations need work. What does Sun-Tzu say about deception?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Fey Troubles: Must See TV vs. My Marriage

It has been a long time since I’ve needed to hide magazines from the women in my life. But then Vanity Fair put Tina Fey on the cover, but worse - every Thursday night she tests my marriage.

I’ve long been a big fan Tina Fey fan; starting long before the Sarah Palin resemblance propelled her to international prominence. I was enthralled back when she was the SNL news anchor. But what sealed it was when, during an episode of Thirty Rock she was in a video conference, saw herself and said, “My eyes are so far apart, I look like Admiral Akbar.”

A reference to Admiral Akbar, leader from Mon Calamari and commander of the rebel fleet! For a Star Wars obsessed guy -
"You had me at Akbar."
This isn’t just liking Star Wars this is true dorkdom (a reference to General Viers would probably make me foam at the mouth).

But here is the thing. I won’t say my wife gets jealous exactly. But…

I mentioned once that I thought Maura Tierney was “talented.” Not “hot,” which my wife generally ignores. “Hot” is just lucky genetics, not a cause of concern to a wife.

Some time later my wife casually mentioned during a Maura Tierney scene on ER, “You can see that she is really heavily made-up. Look at her hands.”

Now, any joy at seeing Ms. Tierney on screen is overshadowed as I visualize hands that look like they belong to Admiral Akbar.

I don’t know what my wife might have on Tina Fey – I don’t want to think about it.

Worse, I might retaliate by criticizing Sportacus (while my wife seems to take an inordinate interest in watching Lazy Town, at least she isn’t writing Sportacus fan fiction.)

It would escalate from there, as my wife ruined Laurie Berkner for me…

I don’t want to see it go this way, so I’ll just keep my latest issue of Vanity Fair hidden. (Under the mattress is no longer viable – and a little creepy – fortunately, my office is a mess.) But at least in this case, when it is inevitably discovered I can legitimately say I had it for the articles – although that might only make things worse.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Sweet Sevens 2: Signs of Virtue

The other day, during one of our frequent trips to TARGET, my son bought two packs of football cards. He is obsessed with cards of all sorts – Pokeman, Yu-Gi-Oh, or any sport. When I took him to the Lincoln Memorial he bought a pack of National Parks cards. While listening to Harry Potter, he heard about the Wizards cards of famous wizards. This made him want to go to Hogwarts – not to learn transfiguration or how to fly around on a broomstick, but to get wizards cards. (He has shown no magical ability so I fear he is a muggle and Hogwarts is not in his future.)

Anyway, at TARGET the cashier rang him up (he has only just acquired his own money and is still very excited to spend it.) My transaction was complete, so I was busy minding Goof Girl and having the same discussion we have every time we go to store that sells toys. She filibusters for the latest Sickly Sweet Over-Marketed Little Girl Thing with Sparkles and I tell her no.

“Hey, those should be two dollars!” I heard my son say. I turned around. He was disputing the price. He had pulled the packs from the 99-cent bin, but the price for two came to $4.38. The cashier double-checked and he had been mistaken. But still, he’s only seven and he had the sense to watch his money (clearly inherited from his mother) and the courage to speak up to a grown-up.

What a kid!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Star Wars: The Next Generation

This afternoon, home from school because of snow, my son and a buddy watched The Empire Strikes Back, truly the best of the Star Wars movies. I popped in and out to catch my favorite moments. Having seen the movie well over one hundred times, I knew exactly when these moments were.

This is a big deal for him, because I had originally told him that he would see the Star Wars movies at the age I saw them. His birthday present when he turned seven was to see Star Wars (technically A New Hope, but now known as “Number Four”). But I determined that he would have to wait until he was nine to see the sequel. My wife considered this cruel, both because most of his friends have seen the entire series and because I talk about Star Wars constantly.

Apparently, my son was also talking about it a great deal, because his friends started talking about it. For that matter the two-year-old little sisters of my son’s friends began talking about “Darfader” and staging light-saber duels between their dolls. (My son is apparently a natural trendsetter.) So my son’s friends dads let their sons watch the movies so that they wouldn’t feel left out. I don’t think these dads needed much prodding. So my son became the one left out, although we read Star Wars books, re-enacted key scenes, and discussed the historical background of the Star Wars universe ad nauseam.

We did let him watch a video about the making of Star Wars, which inspired him to create one of his terrific games within games. First we would be the production committee, organizing the next scene of the movie. Then we would draw it out with magic markers. Then we would actually re-enact the scene.

When we finally let him watch Star Wars an odd thing happened. He didn’t seem blown away by the adventure (although I couldn’t get a good read because my wife had to keep shushing me when I tried to recite the lines.) But, he already knew a lot of the action. But he burst into laughter at some of the funny parts, like R2-D2 trundling around the desert on Tatooine or some of the moments in the trash compactor. But then I knew another generation was born when, at the very end when the Death Star is destroyed (I hope I’m not ruining it for anyone) he simply said, “Wow!”

Original Star Wars Generation
We were dubbed Generation-X by the Baby Boomers (who frankly could not imagine any generation following them.) But really we were the Skywalker Generation. I believe we have an odd streak of hopefulness because for most of us Star Wars was the biggest, bestest thing we could possibly imagine – and then a few years later Empire Strikes Back came out and was even better. Name another sequel that was better than its predecessor. It made us believe, in something…

For people in my chronological demographic, the original Star Wars is a cultural touchstone. Rather then list the pop culture references to Star Wars allow me to share one small personal anecdote about how Star Wars soaked we are. I live near a Veers Road. Every single time I drive by or pass this road (on average over 20 times a week), I hear Darth Vader’s voice in my head commanding, “General Veers, prepare your men.”

(It was in Empire Strikes Back, and yes I rushed into the den to see the line spoken and recite it this afternoon – much to my son’s annoyance.)

A few years ago, when my brother was visiting, we drove across Veers Road, and my brother turned to me and asked, “Wasn’t Veers the Imperial commander during the battle of Hoth?”

“Yeah,” I replied, “He got to drive an AT-AT, wouldn’t that be cool?”

“Better than a bantha!”

And now, having seen Empire Strikes Back, my son will get that many more of my references:
Son, you can destroy mommy. She has foreseen this. It is your destiny! Join me, and together, we can rule the household as father and son! Come with me. It is the only way.