Monday, December 27, 2010

Not far from the Tree

My wife and I were discussing a sick tree in our yard.  We had just met with the arborist, whose crusty demeanor inspired confidence.  He said he could save the tree, but that the tree behind it looked problematic.  I mentioned to my wife that I had read that trees are really mean to each other.  They attack one another’s root system and even deploy chemical warfare.

“Maybe that’s why the tree across the street fell on the fence,” GoofGirl observed (remembering a dramatic summer storm),  “The tree knew the fence was made of wood and was mad about it.”

I laughed and said, “Where did you come up with that? I have to put that on Father Goof!”

“If you must,” she sighed.

A bit later I had to use the restroom, I told my daughter and wife, “I have to go poopy in the potty, but I can do it by myself!”  I think this is hilarious.  Unsurprisingly all the other Goofs are tired of it and just ignore me.

This time, GoofGirl responded slyly, “Maybe I should put that on Daughter Goof.”

Then we went outside to play.  GoofGirl invented this great little game in which she sat on the backyard swing, I stood in front of her and she kicked me in the toches (Yiddish for butt) and I flew forward.  This was a bit hard on me and I told her so.  I let her do this about four times, which is four times more often then I would have allowed anyone else in the world.

She got off the swing and said, “This will help.”  Then she built a wall out of our backyard trashcans.

“How will this help me?”

“You’ll see,” she said enigmatically.

“I think your plan is to kick me into the trashcans and see how they go flying.”

She grinned.

“I have a better idea,” and I went inside and grabbed a basketball.  I stood in front of the swing so that she could kick it.    Every time she connected she got a point.  She decided we were playing the invisible children in the yard next door, who were very good, so I had to move fast so that she could wrack up higher and higher scores.

This game was also hard on me, but less so.  We played for about 80 minutes, which is about 77 minutes longer then I would have played this game with anyone else in the world.

Then, tired of torturing me, she turned her energies on her absent brother.  She constructed a series of “traps” (just piles of grass covering imaginary holes) in the backyard.

“How do you know your brother will fall for your traps,” I asked.

“He will,” then she collected his footballs (American and international), and the aforementioned basketball and placed them by her trap.

We then learned that her brother wouldn’t be returning until later.  GoofGirl was disappointed that her traps might not be used.  I said that was too bad but that we had to pickup the backyard before it was dark.  Then as I went to collect her brother’s sports equipment I hurled myself to the ground, throwing the balls into the air and cried, “I’m trapped! I’m trapped!  Who put a hole a there?” as footballs (American and international) and a basketball rained painfully down on me.

GoofGirl came and freed me from her trap and promised me there wasn’t another one.

We played this game for each trap, all six of them.  Which is exactly six more times then I would have played it with anyone else in the world.

Friday, December 24, 2010

GoofGirl and Grandma's Breakfast Banter

Yesterday morning GoofGirl called her abuela to tell her about her day.

"It was pajama day at school and we had a special breakfast at school," she explained to her grandmother, "First I drew with the syrup. Then I ate a banana, pancakes, juice, and a muffin."

"You ate a lot, are you going to blow up?" abuela asked.

"No, I just go to the bathroom a lot," GoofGirl explained.

Abuela laughed, reinforcing the bond across generations.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, December 06, 2010

Goofy Math

I am constantly urging the little Goofs to work hard in math. “Be like mommy, and be good at math. You’ll be able to get good jobs. Don’t be like daddy, the world already has enough writers.”

Believe it or not, I think they listen. I guess don't be like daddy is pretty good inspiration. Unfortunately beyond inspiration, I'm not much help.


One morning when I went into GoofGirl’s room to wake her up for school. She was lying under the covers talking. I bent close to hear. She was quietly saying, “703, 704…”

I asked her what she was doing and she explained, “I want to see how high I can count.”

“OK, but get up and get dressed soon.”

A few minutes later I was in my room getting dressed. She came in and asked, “Daddy what is after 808?”


“What's after 809?”


“What's after 810?”

“811. Are you starting to get the idea?”

“No, this makes no sense. I quit!” she answered.


My son and I were discussing negative numbers. I explained how multiplying two negatives makes a positive but adding two negatives is still negative.

“If you multiply and negative and a positive you get what?” he asked.

“You get a negative.”

“OK, so if you add a negative and a positive you get a negative?” he asked hopefully.

“Well that depends on the specific numbers…”

I tried to have him visualize hot air balloons changing their altitude by adding and dumping sandbags (it helped me get it when I was his age.) But it didn’t help him. I tried to help him imagine adding a negative is really a subtraction so subtracting a negative is really an addition. This failed to clarify matters.

“Dad, you are making it worse. This doesn’t make sense. I’m going to have a freak out!”

“Buddy, it’s ok, negative numbers are the bizarro world of math. Up is down, right is wrong, and they eat Brussels sprouts for dessert.”

“Yeah, that helps alot. Is mommy home yet?”


My son has started doing word problems for his math homework. My daughter wasn’t getting any homework in kindergarten. She was jealous, so she has started making up her own word problems.

“Daddy, pretend you have seven coupons,” she said.

“Coupons for what?”

“It doesn’t matter, it’s a math problem.”

“It matters to me,” I said, “What if they are for something I don’t want?”

“OK, they are for coffee, you like coffee,” she said, exasperated.

I do like coffee. Oh boy, seven coffees! Yea! YEA!” I yelled and started jumping around the room.

“They are decaf. Sit down,” she said firmly.

I sat down.

“So we have seven coupons and we take away two…”

“Why are you taking away my coupons?” I cried, “I sat down when you told me to.”

“Daddy. It is a math problem. We are just pretending to have coupons.”

“There are no coupons. How do you take them away if they aren’t there?” I asked, my voice quavering.

“Use your imagination! Forget it, I’ll ask mommy. She can do word problems without so much crying.”

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A Goofy Hanukah

“Dad, you know why most of the kids in my class like Hanukah?”


“They just like the presents. But not me, I’m in it for the latkes!” my son said proudly.

“You know why I like Hanukah?” I replied.

“I know, I know, the Maccabees used asymmetric warfare…” my son groaned.

“How do you know about that?”

“You kept talking about it last year. Asymmetric warfare, using classic insurgent tactics and the terrain to defeat a conventionally stronger enemy. Blah, blah… The year before that you kept talking about olive oil and the rise of Mediterranean societies.”

“No, this year I am into Hanukah for something even bigger, better, and more exciting!”

“You got the rapid-fire Nerf gun?” he asked hopefully.

“No, and anyway it is for me, not you! Anyway, Hanukah is about the fundamental conflict between Greek civilization and Jewish civilization. It is a tension that underpins Western civilization. Think about this, in synagogue inscribed on the Ark are the words ‘Know before whom you stand.” While the inscription at the oracle of Delphi instructed people to ‘Know thyself.””

“Dad, do you have to make everything so boring?”

“Think of Moses vs. Aristotle!”

“So Moses hits Aristotle with his staff, then Aristotle rears up on his hind legs ...”

“For the last time, Aristotle wasn’t a centaur. He was a philosopher who gave long lectures while pacing around the Lyceum in Athen.”

“He walked and talked a lot, no wonder you like him so much.”

“Anyway, they didn’t live at the same time. It is about their ideas…”

“Dad, you are making it boring again.”

“Be quiet and light the candles. I am going to open up my new Nerf Gun and find out if you were really listening when I was talking about asymmetric warfare!”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Football Dreams

GoofBoy is on a football team with a bunch of other kids from his Jewish day school. Football is the wrong sport for a Jewish kid – too many head injuries. He may have illusions of athletic grandeur, but I expect my son will make his living with his brains. A few tackles too many and he might end up being an accountant. But it’s flag football, so I’m not too worried.

In the practice before the game the parents are the opposition team. Naturally parents guard their own kids. For reasons I can’t explain I get motivated (I probably put more into this scrimmage then to a decade of gym class). When one of the other kids catches a pass and gets by his dad, I chase him down and dive into the dirt to pull his flag.

“Good hustle, parents…” the coach yells, haltingly.

My son mocks, “Hey dad, what’s like to really play?”

A few plays later when the pass goes to GoofBoy I run hard to knock it down before he can catch it. A bad thing happens in my ankle. Instead of yelling, “Booyah!” I exclaim, “Ouch!”

I hobble back to my place on the line. Another parent says, “You know, this isn’t worth hurting yourself over.”

“I know,” I called back, “But I hate these kids!”

All week as I limped around, and explained my injury, other parents laughed knowingly.

Winning Strategy
The game itself revealed the strengths and weaknesses of our team. A team of Jewish kids is unlikely to be faster or stronger then the opposing team – although they executed plays pretty well.

However, we were excellent at arguing calls. The parent-coaches were all attorneys – and litigation, that's a sport for Jews! (All verbal calisthenics, it exercises our strongest muscles.)

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Medieval Playdate

There are playdates and there are playdates.

GoofGirl generally has little girls over and they do girl things, like play family. She goes upstairs with her friend and closes the door so I am not privy to how the game goes. With some friends GoofGirl is mom, with others she is the sister. With her arch-rival, the devious 3C she is usually forced into the daughter role. The hierarchies are complicated and with the door closed I lack the data to map them.

But she still plays with boys (and her brother). Sometimes it is just general horsing around. But she also has a special buddy for particular forms of wackiness. In the car, on the way to his house she mutters to herself in strange deep voice.

"Nina, que haces?" (That's Spanish for, what are you doing - I speak Spanish at the level of a two year old.)

"I'm getting ready to play," she responds with a Cheshire grin.

When they get together, they discuss Guillotines a great deal.

At their last playdate GoofGirl and her buddy were carrying a pair of plastic chairs up to her room. One is red, the other is blue. GoofGirl asked, "Which one do you want to carry. The one colored like blood inside your body or the one colored like blood outside your body?"

I don't remember which one her friend choose, but he added as they headed upstairs, "Don't forget the sword!"

And they made a Lego Guillotine...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mysteries of Little Feet

If you asked me what surprises me the most about parenthood it would have to be how often I order my children, "Get your feet out of your mouth!"

And I really wish I meant this metaphorically.

Feet have always been a huge curiousity to children. Corresponding recently with an old friend who blogs at A Year in the Life of an Army Family she observed that her daughter insisted on on being able to see her feet while she ate.

I told her I made my mom buy me footie pajamas when I was little, then I made her cut the feet off because I thought they made my feet disappear.

Kids are like that.

Feet are our body’s hinterland, far removed from the capital and liable to get into trouble. Good to keep an eye on them. (That’s the political scientist in me; if I were a Marxist I might note that they support the rest of the body for very little gain.)

They are also a source of fascination – is this thing really part of me? If I poke it, will I feel it? What can it do?

I get all of this. What I don’t get is my own kids attitudes toward their feet.

I'll come downstairs on a Sunday morning (when they are allowed to get up early and watch TV) to find both of them sitting like bookends in the exact same position (the Goofs are twins separated by three years) with their feet in their mouth just chowing down. There is of course a kitchen full of snacks (healthy and junk) in the next room.

For GoofGirl this has become a bit of an art form. She shoves both big toes in her mouth and calls it the chipmunk. Both little toes and she calls baby chipmunk. One whole foot, for reasons I don't understand is "Octopus." She had several other "moves" but I had hit my limit.

What I wonder is what nutrient are they missing that can only be obtained by chewing on their toenails (and really, wouldn’t they be better off without it?)

Monday, July 26, 2010

and Spooky Evenings

Speaking of games…

So I had a big birthday this summer, one that ends in 0. I needed some new toys as a salve to the onset of middle age. What does a middle-aged grad student need? A new weight bench!

My son was at a sleepover, but my daughter was extraordinarily interested in the big box sitting on our porch. She kept asking when I was going to open it and offering to help. And she really was helpful. First, she helped me haul all of the little pieces from our front porch into the basement. Then, I had asked her to remind me to take the box cutter back inside and she did. Then she insisted on cleaning up all the packaging materials herself – sending me inside.

The motivation for her diligence became apparent when she asked, “Daddy, what are you going to do with the box?”

It was a pretty big box, I could see her point so I gave it to her to play with.

The boxes were about six feet long and maybe a foot and half wide so she tried to make bunk beds – but I vetoed that plan since they were only cardboard. She pretended they were canoes and built the inevitable fort.

When her brother came home the next night, things got really interesting.

Their camp includes a magic unit, so my son is constantly trying out card tricks on us. The immigration cycle in America is a tremendous thing taking us within a few generations from working class to professional to charlatan. It isn’t exactly full circle, more like a death spiral.

Besides card tricks he is learning Houdini style escapes. So, he would lie in the closed box (with his hands “tied” up) while his sister would pile objects on top of the box. He would free himself, burst out, and we would time his escape. Then it was GoofGirl’s turn to make great escapes.

Then it got weird…

They played cemetery. One would lie in the box, eyes closed. The box was almost closed, with only the head exposed. The unboxed sibling sat beside it and wailed. They even found another flat piece of cardboard to prop up and use as a tombstone.

Are we becoming the Adams Family?

Saturday Afternoons on Mars

My son long played these terrific games within games. But GoofGirl didn’t. I wasn’t worried. She is a super-smart, funny, clever girl who draws elaborate pictures and tells funny stories. She may in fact be playing very creative games – but saving it for her friends.

Still, I was pleasantly surprised on a recent Saturday afternoon when GoofGirl told me to pretend I was Barack Obama. We try to keep the Jewish Sabbath which restricts possible activities tremendously – no TV, computers, or driving anywhere – so summer Saturdays get looooong and Mama Goof was taking a well-deserved and much needed nap, so anything to kill some time and buy her some peace.

She wanted me to pretend to be the President, visit her room and bring my family (not my real family, but Sasha and Malia).

My son got into the act as my Secret Service agent. He loaded up his Nerf pistols and put on his Nerf vest, like a bulletproof vest.

(Quick digression, I remember some pretty weak Nerf weapons as a kid that broke, jammed and had no range – his are really cool, have real punch and are tons of fun. We’ve spent hours chasing each other around the house with them. I confess, that just as I enjoyed throwing Nerf balls at his head when he was two, I really like plugging him with Nerf darts execution style.)

We went up to my daughter’s room, he knocked on the door and she told us to come in. My son did a quick sweep looking for assassins and announced in his deep serious voice: “Ladies and gentleman: the President of the United States.”

My daughter and son stood and I entered the room. I tried to channel SNL’s Fred Armison imitating Barack Obama as I introduced the first family and told my daughter what a lovely home she had. My daughter played with the imaginary first daughters while my son looked around nervously and tapped his pretend earpiece.

Then my daughter dismissed the first family and told me to stay (I didn’t want to be all pedantic and tell her that one did not tell presidents what to do.) She ran downstairs grabbed some newspaper, pointed to an article and told me I had to read it. (She can’t read yet.)

“I am very busy being the President – can you tell me what it says,” I asked.

“Yes, the person who wrote this article is a robber. He steals things, but he is also a writer and he writes that you are the robber and people believe him. You need to stop him,” she explained earnestly – she seems to think rather highly of the capabilities of writers.

“Well, what do you suggest we do about this?” I asked, still trying to sound presidential.

“We need to stop him because he is making people think you are a robber.”

“How should we do this, can we take pictures of him stealing things?” I proposed.

“I could shoot him!” my son/bodyguard interjected.

“We can’t take pictures of him – he’s too sneaky,” my daughter said.

“Well, what if we tell him there is something extra valuable at the museum. We know he’ll try to steal it and then we can catch him.”

The little Goofs liked this plan. So I sent my son/bodyguard to inform my staff to issue a press release.

The little Goofs escorted me to the museum (downstairs in our living room) and prepared to catch the robbers.

Then it gets weird
At this point, since I was still the President, I couldn’t help fight the robbers because Presidents can’t get hurt (my kids know that vice presidents are not to be trusted). So I sat in the corner and may have fallen asleep while my kids karate-chopped imaginary thieves.

I awoke with a start.

“The truth is, I’m an alien,” I heard my daughter explain.

“Me too, we are both aliens,” GoofBoy added.

“Are we still in the same game, am I still President?” I asked.

“Yes Mr. President, and you need to come with us to Mars,” GoofGirl ordered.

“OK. What do you eat on Mars?”

“Cookies, pizza, whatever you like – just like on earth, but better.”

“What do you do for fun on Mars?”

“Well,” Martian GoofGirl began, “We have swimming pools, and playgrounds, and Hello Kitty.”

“Allright, let’s go!”

My son piloted the spaceship and my daughter held my hand so I wouldn’t get scared on the long spaceship ride. We got to Mars, which looked a great deal like our kitchen. Sure enough, we found cookies.

“Congratulations, you are the first earthperson to visit Mars,” GoofGirl announced.

“Wow, but you said you had Hello Kitty and that’s from earth?” I queried.

“No, Hello Kitty is from Mars, we send it to earth,” my daughter explained patiently.

That seems plausible.

My wife came downstairs, yawning and stretching.

“Did you sleep well,” I asked.

“Okay,” Mama Goof replied.

“Well, I’m wiped. While you were out, I had to fight robbers and go to Mars.”

In our house, this is not unusual.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

High Flying Pies

So I can't cook, no question about that. I can make sandwiches (grilled cheese, PBJ, turkey with extra mayo), I can make a good omelette, and I can apply heat to frozen food. But I can't actually cook. But when I was in high school I worked at a pizza shop and I learned to toss a pizza. I wasn’t good at tossing pizzas. I worked with guys that were like the Meadowlark Lemons of flour, juggling multiple pies with a single finger. I was a serviceable pizza-maker, a gentleman’s C. My pizzas came out okay. The one time when I tried to do something flashy I ended up losing the pie in the ceiling fan. (I regularly earned the honor of cleaning the grease trap for my failings – but for this one I got to clean the employee bathroom.)

As a consolation, my son thinks is absolutely hilarious.

This semi-skill comes in handy every once in a while. At a make your own pizza party, while the other parents tugged and yanked on the dough I methodically kneaded it, worked out the bubbles and gave it a few quick tosses. The other parents ended up with oblong pies, shaped more like driftwood or lava. My pie was roughly a circle with even thickness throughout. The other parents looked on – impressed.

GoofBoy looked on with pride, “My dad’s really good at tossing pizzas. One time when he worked at a pizza place, he tossed it so high, it went into the ceiling fan!”

He didn’t know about the part where I had to clean the bathroom.

Monday, July 05, 2010


I have a terrible sense of direction. I cannot remember a sequence of more than two turns – inadequate for navigating a typical suburban maze. When people tell me about their favorite restaurants, cigar shops, or bail bondsmen I nod politely unable to process their description of the location. Shortcuts that are in the public domain are mysteries to me. I can’t risk alternate routes because one wrong turn and I will be lost and forced to start a new life on the first cul-de-sac that has parking.

I have compensated with Google Maps, resulting in piles of paper in the passenger seat. But for my birthday I was given a GPS. The gift coincided with our recent trip to LA. While some basic geographic awareness of where I live has penetrated my brain, I remain hopeless in the endless sprawl of LA.

LA natives are of little help with my problem because they can rarely agree on which Freeway to take. I’ve seen friendships fractured in debates on the virtues and failings of the 101 vs. the 5 at different times of the day. In LA, Freeways are like the stock market. Everyone thinks they have an angle that will put them ahead - and everyone is wrong.

I set up the GPS, typed in the destination coordinates, and a no-nonsense women, (perhaps my elementary school librarian), began giving me instructions. It was divine. I didn’t worry (beyond the usual vicissitudes of driving in LA). Usually I clutch the wheel in one hand and my directions in the other, frantically checking signs to make sure I hadn’t misread something and missed my turn. With GPS, I just drove and turned when the librarian told me to. Nothing could have been easier.

But then I felt strange, oddly lightheaded. I had read that reliance on GPS could lead parts of the brain responsible for directional sense to atrophy. Mindlessly driving I could feel my hippocampus shrinking.

I took a deep breath – based on my native navigational talents I didn’t have much of a hippocampus to begin with. What I felt was the lack of stress, something so profound that it became a source of stress in its own right.

GPS grew on me. Besides reducing stress it looked like the navigational computer in the X-Wing fighters in Star Wars. As I drove I kept whispering to myself, “Stay on target, stay on target…”

In fairness, I do this all the time. Except when I’m whispering to myself, “Almost there, almost there.”

Of course Luke Skywalker only destroyed the Death Star after turning off his navigational computer and I bet he had a monster hippocampus.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Off-Brand Car Rentals

We are on one of our regular trips to LA to see los abuelos. My beloved wife has an obsession with off-brand car rentals. In her quest for a good deal, she bypasses the standards – Avis and Hertz – in favor of places like Crazy Khalil’s All Vehicles Rented (we were offered the choice of a crop duster or a PT Cruiser.)

This trip we tried someplace new. LAX is a big place, with vast regions not known the to casual travelers. The courtesy shuttle was to meet us in a “private section” of the airport that – for an area where planes land – was surprisingly poorly lit.

Although the planes were private, they were not swanky corporate jets. They had peeling paint and graffiti – they were the aeronautical equivalent to Chevy Novas. Tattooed Ukranians were striding around carrying large cardboard boxes with multiple grease stains.

As my wife and I kept looking around nervously for the courtesy shuttle, one of these boxes burst unleashing a cascade of cigarette cartons. My daughter, well educated by the values of our time called out, “You shouldn’t smoke.”

It wasn’t in Ukrainian, so it had no impact. She pulled mom’s sleeve, “Mommy, in Spanish, do I say, ‘No se debe fumar?’”

She’s never shown this much interest in her Latino heritage before. We were saved from the consequences of this query when the courtesy shuttle arrived. It was a converted meat truck.

The rental center was apparently also a junkyard (complete with snarling dog). The driver was also the clerk. For a guarantee, he insisted on our library cards and my Pier One membership discount card. After we signed some papers and handed over some cash, the proprietor waved a veiny arm and said, “Pick a car. Any car.”

I saw a convertible and began heading towards it.

“Not that one,” he barked.

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked, with visions of the Pacific Coast Highway with the top down buzzing through my head.

“It’s a little hot.”

“I’ll just put the top down…”

Mama Goof gave me a look and pulled me away. The junkyard dog was straining a heavy gauge chain and frothing at the mouth.

The rest of selection looked like the Matchbox car collection of a child who hated all forms of wheeled transportation. An El Camino (one of the most hideous cars ever made), a partially repainted Fedex van, and an Alabama state police cruiser were among the highlights. The proprietor let us know the meat truck was an option (an old school bus with the roof ripped off could apparently substitute on airport runs.)

We ended up leaving with a conventional, albeit aged sedan – which broke down a few days later. When we called, the customer service representative instructed us to walk away from the vehicle and “forget about it.”

We did, happily. But I fear I have lost my Pier One discount card forever.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Very Welcome Mommy Blog

Does the world need another mommy blog - I long felt my friend at Not Ever Still had the genre covered adequately.

But, Alice, an old college friend, just started a blog about being a mom and this one is extra-special:
A Year in the Life of an Army Family
Her husband, also a college friend, is a Major in the U.S. Army and recently started a deployment in sunny Afghanistan.

Sidenote - I went to a funky art school - black ensconced film majors, over expressive drama majors, and manic depressive creative writers. Not a lot of future Army Majors! But he was a great guy and we respected the hell out of him even then.

Alice's blog is cute, a reminder of the sacrifice our servicemen are making on our behalf - but most importantly it has great pictures. Alice studied photography (when we spent a semester in Europe I learned so much just watching her!)

Check it out.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Night of the Lepus

Living in verdant suburbia we have a healthy deer population. Completely unafraid of human beings, they wander into our yards, devour our gardens, and cut in line at the post office.

Sometimes, in the early morning I’ll look out the kitchen window and see the majestic Prince of the Forest looking quite regal as he uses our backyard as an outhouse.

We also have bunnies - lots of brawling bunnies. One, for reasons I cannot imagine, stands guard right next to our driveway. Whenever I go out to the car, or pull into the driveway in my car, this rabbit is there, starring out onto the street. Maybe the rabbit is waiting for a UPS package (presumably a delivery of carrots or explosives – most of what I know about rabbits comes from watching Bugs Bunny.)

In the backyard we have a bunny clan at war with the clan in the yard behind ours. The buck (or is it stallion) guards against any incursion. We’ve watched him shimmy under the fence to take on the other clan's buck. He will also take on crows and squirrels. We try to stay out of the yard when he is about. We don’t know if he is related to the Rabbit of Cearbannog (from Monty Python and the Holy Grail - I'll save the you click) and we don’t want to find out.

This evening, a deer was noshing on our neighbor’s shrubbery. A pair of rabbit does, sitting in our yard, looked on with awe. But “buck bunny” would not tolerate the incursion. He raced up the hill in our backyard, shimmied under the fence and attacked. He gave it everything he had, but the deer was unfazed. Buck bunny summoned his does and they retreated into their fortress beneath the deck.

While we watched this, my son noticed the little lights blinking on and off.

“Dad, can we go outside and catch lightning bugs?”

“Sure, buddy – let’s go. But, umm, the front yard is better.”

We went out the door. He had a jar and I took my camera. As I took a position near our driveway to get the best pictures of him a rabbit scampered by. He took up a new sentry position just a few feet away and continued his vigil.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Stinky Explanations

When I picked up the kids from school my son said,

“Dad, you never sing along with the radio you must be in a good mood!”

He’s right – I don’t sing or listen to music. In college I was known as “the guy who hates music.”

I was in a good mood. That afternoon I had treated myself - sitting in the backyard drinking coffee, smoking a cigar and reading about bureaucratic politics. (To each their own – I don’t like music but I do like to read Morton Halperin.)

When my daughter went to wrestle me (that’s how the Goof clan celebrates), she yelled, “Daddy you smell like the La Brea Tar Pits.”

Then she came back for another whiff and declared, “You smell like the inside of a shofar.”

“I smoked a cigar this afternoon,” I explained.

GoofGirl’s eyes got huge (GoofBoy was uninterested, we’d had this discussion before). The hours of anti-smoking propaganda she has absorbed went to work, “Daddy, you are going to die. Only bad people who don’t love their children smoke.”

“Sweetheart,” I explained, “I smoke a cigar every few months. That won’t make me sick. If I did it every day, then there might be a problem – don’t worry.”

“But why Daddy, it stinks.”

“But it is kind of nice when you are smoking them.”

“Like scotch?”

“Well, not exactly – but they go well together.”

Suddenly, the conversation took a very different turn - I saw a flash in her eyes, as the anti-smoking propaganda dissolved like cotton candy in a downpour.

“Daddy, where do you keep your cigars?”

“Nowhere, I smoked the only one I had.”

“But where did you keep it? In your office? In your nightstand?”

“Why are you so interested? Cigars aren’t for children.”

“I just am. You better tell me, or I’ll tell mommy you smoked and she’ll find them and throw them out.”

Friday, February 26, 2010

Ghoulish Goofs

We sent GoofGirl to school with some leftover veggie Chinese food. Due to Jewish dietary laws, you cannot bring any meat to school. So I sent the teacher an email explaining that it isn’t real chicken or duck, it is all tofu.

After lunch, the teacher replied, thanking me for the explanation but adding, that as she ate my daughter kept hissing, “Feast on the flesh…”

"Please don't call social services," I begged - not for the first time.

At a playdate Goofboy is invited to stay for dinner. When chicken tenders are served he insists on only the little Valentines – no stars or moons for him.

When the host asks why, he explains, “If you eat the hearts of your enemies you will get their power!”

Personally, if he is taking on any attribute of a chicken, I hope he gets their flavor.


At another playdate, GoofGirl is offered oranges. She looked at them and said, “These look funny.”

The hostess explained, “But they are good. They are special oranges that are in season now, called blood oranges.”

My daughter takes a bite and announces, “They are good, and you can really taste the blood.”

The playdate burst into tears and GoofGirl got seconds.

Things began to wind down, and the host child just kept looking nervously at the fruit on the counter. It was clearly time for us to go and the hostess made us take the oranges.

"Please, this was so nice of you to have us over," I began, "We'll return the favor and we don't need to take your food..."

"Oh, I insist," she said, forcing a bag of blood oranges on me as her daughter cowered.

In the car on the way home, Goofgirl grinned, "I like blood oranges."

There is a method to her madness - a spooky and evil method.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Olympic Goofs

Like all little girls my daughter thinks she will be a figure skater, but she is also interested in hockey - she takes after me - she wants to hit people with sticks.


It is nice how, when figure skaters fall, the crowd cheers when they get back up to finish their routine. I was explaining to my son how this exemplifies the Olympic spirit of health competition and sportsmanship. He asked if the Winter Olympics were ever held in Philadelphia. I had told him about the great baseball player/character Jay Johnstone who said they boo everything in Philly, when the team wasn't playing Phillies fans would go to the airport and boo landings. We agreed a Philly Olympics would be fun, they'd boo falls, luge wipeouts, and ski-jumps. But they'd cheer for blood on the ice.


While watching ski-racing my son was clutching his Nintendo controller.

"Buddy," I asked him, "What are you doing?"

He just grinned.

"Do you think you are controlling the race?"

His grin turned sheepish, "I'm the one in front."

"Of course you are."

It was late, I sent him to bed without his gold.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hollow Victory in Vancouver

I guess I’m glad the US hockey team won, but somehow beating Canada leaves me feeling hollow inside. I remember the 1980 miracle, that was awesome, this was America coming back from a dismal decade. But beating Canada just isn't the same. This is their national sport, it’s all they’ve got – and they are the hosts of the Olympic Games. It isn’t as though Canadians are arrogant and in your face about their prowess on the ice (not like those insufferable Swiss.)

My son hates it when I get like this, he tells me I am missing the point (I tell him he is eight and should stuff it.). He got really mad at me when I started moping and feeling bad for the Detroit Lions when his beloved Ravens were destroying them. I mean, the Lions were trying and Lord knows Detroit can use a win at something.

Anyway, to get into the spirit I went to TP the home of some Canadians I know. But my heart wasn’t in it. I ended up just leaving a couple of rolls on their porch. With four kids, Carpool Clan can always use more TP.

I do have to say, I haven’t watched hockey in years and it was pretty exciting. Like soccer, but interesting.

I could see becoming a fan (my son would be super psyched and I do need a sport, everyone should follow something.)

I remember playing floor hockey in gym a lot in school. I got lots of high-sticking penalties – because I was trying to hit other kids with the hockey stick. I considered this a win-win. Either I got to hit a kid with a hockey stick or I got a penalty and didn’t have to play hockey anymore.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Nose Knows

Today, GoofGirl accidentally took 3C's jacket. This is completely understandable since the two of them (along with a third friend) all have the same kind of jacket pink jacket - like the pink ladies in Grease (hopefully sans Rizzo, none of us want to be dads to Rizzo).

When I told GoofGirl she had 3C’s jacket, she smelled it and told me I was right.

I asked her what it smelled like and GoofGirl told me, it smells like Carpool Clan.

“Is that bad?” I asked.

“No, it's okay,” she replied, “It's just different from our house. Less pizza, more Mac’n cheese.”

NOTE & UPDATE: This illustrative picture is courtesy of the intriguing website Clothes on Film. I saw Grease about 100 times - for some reason every birthday party that year went to see Grease, I was about seven at the time. I have no idea why this was considered appropriate - my kids will see it when they are 40 (because I am not up to being the dad to a Pink Lady.) Clothes on Film reminds me how much I saw and how little I understood.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Ten Commandments of Sledding

OK – I understand that you are getting crazy being cooped up inside all day. I will take you both and some friends over to the huge hill at the middle school and we can go sledding. But we need to establish some rules. Some of these rules have corollaries – so pay attention. These are my rules. I don’t have to explain them.

Violation of any of these rules will lead to us going home.

If you sled down hill you carry the sled back up the hill. That’s how it works. I know it makes you tired. That’s the point.

Someone has to hold my coffee mug while I push you down the slope.

If I put it on the ground, it will get knocked over – and it will get cold.

When you are holding my coffee, don’t spill it.

When you are holding my coffee don’t drink it.

If you drink my coffee and you think it tastes “funny” do not ask what is in my hip flask.

If you think you hurt yourself – walk it off or put ice on it (there’s plenty.) I only care if there is blood, and even then only if there is a lot.

I don’t care if you go headfirst down the hill.

If you go headfirst try not to hit anything, and if you want to go sledding again don’t mention any of this to mommy.

Do not throw snowballs at me; it might make me spill my coffee.

If you start a snowball fight with me and I hit you in the ear with a snowball, don’t complain, walk it off.

Keep track of your own turns. I’m not settling arguments about this. I’ll just watch you fight and make snide comments to other parents while I sip my “coffee.”

I can take a turn whenever I want. I don’t wait. Don’t say that’s not fair – it is perfectly fair. It is my sled and you wouldn’t be here if I didn’t bring you.

If you get snow down your shirt, don’t whine about it. It comes with sledding and there is nothing I can do about it.

If you have to go to the bathroom, but you don’t want to stop sledding, don’t tell me – just hold it.

We are done sledding when I have to pee.

Snow: A Manly Response

This time, the Snowpocalypse was a little scary. The power went out. Our furnace, and most of the furnaces in our area, requires electricity to run. I called our furnace guy about starting it manually and he only said, “Please don’t!”

The resulting inferno might have helped clear the street though…

Without heat houses can get very cold. And without passable streets we couldn’t go anywhere. Thankfully our house held its heat pretty well, staying above 50 (which isn’t too bad, all things considered.)

Call to Arms
In the face of this situation I had only one response – shovel. Because in a snowstorm that is what men do. (Actually, real men have snowblowers and tractors, but don't like loud noises and am inept with machinery so Mama Goof would be running the snowblower. Hence, no snowblower, my ego can only take so much of a beating.)

I was thinking catastrophically. If the plow came by we could leave and if the house got too cold we could warm up in our cars. It also gave me something to do and kept me out of a house full of yelling kids. I chatted with my neighbor who was thinking the same, explaining, “It’s like a pack of gibbons in there! Why do you think I am out here poking snow out of the trees with a broom?”

The snow was piled so high that as I cleared snow off the cars I played avalanche allowing huge boulders to fall on me. I couldn’t quite reach the top of the minivan – so it sports a geriatric Mohawk.

I brought the kids out to play, but they kept getting underfoot running along the shoveled walkway. I finally figured out that it was very had for them to get out into waist-depth snow. So I dug a path and a snow-base for them.

Shoveling solves most snow related problems. But it does eat up a lot of energy – certain restoratives are needed.

Winter Storm for a Winter Storm
And then the power came back and the street was plowed. So what did I do?

The plow left a pile of snow blocking our driveway. Time to shovel, followed by a bit more winter warmer.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Preparing for Snowpocalypse 2010

In my little corner of the northeast we are preparing for the coming snowstorm. Schools aren’t closed yet, but they will be – it is nice to see the pre-emption doctrine making its way to local government.

On the way home from picking up the little Goofs from school Mama Goof called and ordered me to hit the supermarket for necessary supplies. (We already have liquor.)

I'm glad I had the little Goofs along because the place was packed with panicked suburbanites stocking up on toilet paper and waffles and all the shopping carts were taken. I pressed the little Goofs into service as porters, little complaining porters that can’t hold things upright.

Seeing the press and panic I had us move in tight formation and issued our snow emergency supermarket instructions:
Walk with confidence and keep moving.

Be ready to fight if anyone tries to take our food. I’ll take the blows. GoofBoy – hit them low. GoofGirl - run away with the food.

In the checkout line you must look at the ground. Do not look at candy and ask me to buy any – I won’t. GoofBoy do not read the headlines on any publications for sale in a checkout counter and under no circumstances can you read them out loud to your sister.
The last bit is standard operating procedure at the supermarket regardless of whether conditions.

The line was long and tempers frayed. One man broke down and started running around the supermarket yelling: “The Snowpocalypse is coming! The Snowpocalypse is coming!”

For once, it wasn’t me. Fortunately, my kids weren’t freaked out – with me as their dad they have certain immunity to adult madness. But they did have a concern. My son looked up at me, “Dad if the snow gets really bad which one of us will you eat?”

“I don’t know,” I answered thinking. “You have more meat, but your sister is really tender. I see how the mood strikes me.”

“Good,” he said, his eyes gleaming. “While you think about, we can take you down.”

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Taste of Snow

Today was a snow day in our part of the world, one of many this year. GoofGirl loves to play in the snow and insists on coming outside whenever she can.

But a central part of her snow-play is to wander around and taste snow from various parts of the yard. She has been doing this for years. In fact, the first time we took her out to play in the snow (pictured below) she tasted it.

One would think that first experience would satisfy her curiosity. But not GoofGirl. I've carefully observed her habits here over the years. She is systematic in her explorations. She has (in her head) divided the yard into sectors and she tastes snow from each sector.

I have no idea why she does this and when I ask her, her reasons are vague. She is also evasive as to whether or not snow from different parts of our yard taste different or if it tastes different in different years or months. She needs to learn to write so she can keep a journal of this essential data.

My only theory here is that it somehow relates to her fondness for the White Witch in Narnia.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Caffeine: Frenemy Mine

Mama Goof remembers well the day she introduced me to high-octane coffee. She had grown up drinking coffee and gone to graduate school in Seattle. Starbucks was only just becoming a national phenomenon so she took me.

My previous forays into coffee drinking had been desultory, I was unimpressed by the bitter beverage and my school’s cafeteria had fountain soda so I indulged my childhood fantasies and drank Coke with breakfast. Also, I can admit this now; I was intimidated by the Starbucks menu.

My future wife carefully and patiently explained the choices to me. She got a little frustrated when I kept refusing a latte because, “I didn’t’ want a lot of coffee.” My inability to grasp the differences between a macchiato and a cappuccino were tiresome (particularly since she knew how fulsome I could be in discussing the differences between porter and stout or IPA and bitter.)

Finally, using the same intuition that has served her so well as a mother, she figured out the real problem. I was afraid of coffee, based on my previous experience with cheap canned gruel that tasted like motor oil. She made me promise to try whatever she ordered, and then introduced me to the caramel latte.

From a taxonomic perspective the caramel latte is not properly classified as a species of coffee, but rather in the “ice cream shake” family. I sucked it down, very fast.

Then, something remarkable happened. My eyes grew large and I ran! We were close to Copley Plaza, an upscale mall in downtown Boston. I ran from store to store, picking up objects and relaying observations about them at the speed of an auctioneer on full throttle:
Shiny! Shiny!



I ran into a Crate & Barrel and couldn’t find my way out. The not yet Mama Goof made no effort to direct me out since it was easier to contain me if I stayed in one store. So I sat on every piece of furniture (including dressers, desks, tables, cabinets, and coat racks.) All the while delivering a monologue about the impact of industrialization on the aesthetic experience of the American bourgeoisie.

I thought I was incredibly amusing. But when Mama Goof heard the store clerks mention calling security, she directed me back out. I raced in and out of other stores. Oddly, the bookstore (usually my favorite) was uninspiring – I could stand still long enough to read titles. I pulled Mama Goof to the movie theater, where I had worked in college. It was a weekday afternoon, and an old friend was working door and let me in. Movies were awesome, but I couldn’t sit still. When the projectionist refused to speed up the film, I raced from theater to theater, watching a dozen movies at once. The staff didn’t mind my peripatetic movie viewing, but they kept asking me what I was “on,” and where they could get some.

Fast Forward to the Future
Fifteen years later, sliding into middle age – nothing has changed.

Serious doses of caffeine still make me crazy. I’ve actually had my children yell at me to calm down when I am in a coffee-fugue.

But I’ve also gotten in the habit. Kids and life make proper sleep hours difficult, so coffee is the fuel of the over-tired. Without it, I am sleepy. With it, I am crazy - a challenge on a par with Scylla and Charybdis.

I’ve tried to switch to decaf, but it has no oomph. I’ve tried tea, but the effects are about the same. I’ve tried decaf-caf mixes. There is no Golden Mean for caffeine.

Every morning I wrestle with this challenge, trying to calculate - 50% caf morning or tea or full-strength. The coffee maker sits on the counter, confident, its percolating almost sounding like Darth Vader saying, “You don't know the power of the dark side!"

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

End of Cute

I haven’t been blogging much about my kids recently. There are many possible explanations (work, exams, and laziness all come to mind.) But a few weekends ago I was hanging out with the mommy-blogger extraordinaire Not-Ever-Still, and her husband and adorable children. Little L was pulling her dad down by his tie and laughing. After a few minutes of this, he took his tie off and gave it to her. She took it and began stuffing part of it in her shirt – so she could wear it like dad.

So cute!

The fact is my kids are not doing anything all that cute or interesting anymore. At eight and five they have grown out of cute. All my son does is talk about football and my daughter only makes sticker art projects and skips around the room like a ballerina-giraffe (she’s crazy tall for a little girl.) As they’ve gotten more sophisticated they have lost that wide-eyed innocence that underpins all the cute kid sayings upon which parental anecdotes are built. The situation is so dire, that I’m trying to get blog entries out of Not-Ever-Still’s leavings.

The truth is, of course, my kids are still funny and cute. But I’ve gotten used to them and maybe I’m not noticing their cuteness as much as I used to. Plus, they are, in a normal and healthy way (and despite my best efforts) developing their own lives and interests. If I don't ask, they won't tell. I need, as I am so often telling them, to pay attention!

(Or maybe I just need better tools for recording their actions – iPhones are on sale…)

But at the same time, it is comforting to blame my creative doldrums on the kids knowing that they will, in time, blame just about everything on me.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Christmas of Miracles and Chipmunks

On Christmas, we were in LA. Since I was left in charge of the kids for the day, I decided to only do a partial traditional Jewish Christmas (movies – no Chinese food). Instead I took the kids on a hike up Mt. Hollywood. I promised them terrific views of the Hollywood sign, and I delivered. Of course after the third sighting, after traversing a series of steep switchbacks, the thrill had worn off. My daughter threw a temper tantrum when she learned we were not actually going to the Hollywood sign.

Children are sprinters, not marathoners. Wearing them out through long endurance-testing activities won’t work. They go about eight steps before the whining starts and passive resistance will follow shortly thereafter. But for short bursts children are unbeatable. If my son and I play a round of basketball, we will both need breaks. The asymmetry is in recovery time. His is about five minutes. I need about a day (or maybe a week).

Past hikes have involved targets, from stream, to rock, to picnic area (and they still start complaining every 8 steps.)

So how did I get them to actually go on a modestly challenging several mile hike?

Incentives – I promised to take them to a movie, any movie their choice: but, only if they didn’t whine. I had to remind them of this condition every 8 steps for the entire hike.

But it worked. They powered up the mountain. They didn’t whine, although they substituted for this by arguing about who should walk in front (thus setting the pace.) My daughter seemed to be faster, which offended my son’s dignity. So he would speed up and then my daughter would screech that she needed to be in front. I tried to bring a “no fighting or no movie” sanction into play, but they rejected my efforts to amend our initial “no whining on the hike or no movie” agreement. (I can’t believe my father is an attorney and none of this rubbed off on me – it must skip a generation.)

But we did make it to the top. I tried to get them to do a “Rocky” with their arms up over their heads, but gravity was too strong. They just stood their, looking beat. The process of whining, warning and arguing began anew as we headed down.

Christmas Miracle
The hike begins at the Griffith Park Observatory, so when it came into view on the way down I pointed it out to encourage my little hikers that we were almost done.

“But daddy, it doesn’t look close at all. It looks far away!” my daughter almost whined.

“No, it only looks far away because we are high up,” I responded.

“You’re right daddy. I think you’re right.”

I’m right! My daughter said I’m right! I should savor this now, since I may never hear her say those words again. It’s a Christmas Miracle!

The Squeaquel
The children kept their end of the bargain, so I kept mine. We got a quick bite and went to the movie theater. The kids picked Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.

The kids loved it and for a movie about talking chipmunks, featuring Wendy Malik, it wasn’t bad. It had some clever moments. But here’s the thing…

Behind us was a trio of adults, discussing the movie. And they weren’t making ironic comments. They were actually talking about, asking each other questions like:
What’s going to happen>

Do you think they are going to get together?

Why did he do that?
It is a movie about talking chipmunks!

There are not a lot of nuances or plot twists. If following this movie requires a discussion seminar, maybe you should acquire some starter media, like Thomas Tank Engine or Bewitched to develop your cognitive abilities. Also, try not to reproduce – because if The Chipmunks are too rich a narrative structure you probably won’t be much use helping your kids understand Goodnight Moon or Peter Rabbit.