Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Perilous First Days

Mommy Blogger extraordinaire (and real life friend) Not Ever Still invited me to do a guest post about first days, in honor of her daughter E's starting kindergarten. She was hoping for some fatherly wisdom since I've been through it twice and I did my best. She posted it this morning, now I am re-posting below. If you already read my first day post, skip down to the bottom and I can tell you how my morning went.

Life is full of first days, you have to get used to it.

I thought of this as I dropped by E’s kindergarten class to see her and my friend and lunch partner and her husband. I was visiting with my two, who despite being old hands at this school with extensive familiarity with the social and physical layout had their own anxieties. GoofBoy was worried about his math teacher, especially since she is a Steelers fan while he roots for the Ravens. Sometimes with boys, the depths of the shallows are unfathomable. (She set GoofBoy at ease quickly, explaining that she gives Ravens fans a break because she felt so sorry for them – me thinks she’s faced this challenge before.)

GoofGirl was concerned because there is a girl in her class she doesn’t like (GoofGirl claims this girl is “mean to her for no reason.”) I told her, bluntly, “There isn’t anything I can do about it.”

Of course, I could call the school and complain, but I don’t want to be THAT parent, and if I were the school I would tell me to buzz off. If it were a class of bullies or some other intolerable situation, I would go to the mat for GoofGirl. But this is one kid. She can try to get along with her, and if that doesn’t work stay away. If she wants to let one kid ruin her time, then she frankly deserves her fate. That is a central lesson in life; there are terrible situation and great situations. Most, almost all, fall somewhere in the middle and they are what one makes of them.

I am lucky enough to know E, both in person and via her online persona. She is a neat little girl, who once ambushed me and made me to tell her the story of Pegasus and Bellerophon (my classical education serves me well). The little Goofs love playing older sibling to her. So I thought I’d swing by and check-in, plus I knew other kids in the class. When I saw her standing in the middle of the room with her fingers stuck in her ears, I sympathized. It was loud and crazy – no surprise with a dozen five year olds running around.

I chatted with E’s Dad a bit, we agreed that whatever her anxieties, E was going to have to go and make the best of it. I mused on this for a while. Kindergarten is a big deal, because suddenly the game changes. It isn’t just about you and your child. There is another player – the state, society itself. Pre-school is optional (at least in theory). So is summer camp. But kindergarten is not, you have to go.

I am not advocating conformity, but part of growing up is learning how to “deal,” that is handle what life throws at you. For some this comes easier then others, but regardless, children need to be prepared for the wider world. This is why the Talmud instructs parents to teach their children to swim, not just as a skill but as a metaphor for getting by in the world.

“Moms may tear themselves up inside over letting their little ones go, but Dads get this,” I thought to myself confidently.

Or Do They?
GoofGirl has an ongoing problem with fire drills. Once, in pre-school the fire alarm went off and there was some problem getting to stop blaring even after the fire drill was done. GoofGirl (who apparently inherited my super hearing) couldn’t stand it. For months, she spent the mornings wheedling and negotiating to keep me from taking her to pre-school. Since I work at home, this was actually pretty easy – lots of visits to the coffee shop or park and very late arrivals at pre-school. Finally, a wise parent took a piece of paper and taped it over the offending fire alarm. That was that, sort of. But she still gets anxious about fire drills (“Will my camp have fire drills” was an early question) and I write it on her school forms and let the teachers know.

We are all dog paddling in the ocean, and sometimes we all need a set of water wings.

And now the rest of the story
Father Goof readers will see that we are just back from LA. I haven't written that we apparently brought some sort of plague back with us - like the Black Death, but worse. I spent the weekend out, and now Mama Goof is down for the count. I'm back up, sort of, but not 100%. Preparations for the first day of school went unevenly. The house is short of food, school supplies were not purchased, and sleep took priority over everything (well, except blogging of course.)

I should add, that I am not good at logistical matters, where Mama Goof excels. I wouldn't hate it if we had a traditional home where I worked and she minded the house. Unfortunately, this is not a viable plan, MamaGoof has an advanced degree in "hard math stuff" and is far more valuable to society than yours truly. I often wonder what I bring to the table. But I can get the kids out the door in the morning, still, I wasn't too focused on speed - it's just the first day, how much will they miss?

GoofGirl had a crisis of hating her shoes, her hair, and her outfit. I am poorly equipped to deal with this particular problem, first of all because I think GoofGirl is adorable, and secondly because I don't know much about shoes, hair, or clothes. GoofBoy was chipper, telling me non-stop about baseball scores while I fumbled around for school supplies. GoofGirl's marble composition book is actually the book I used to translate Catullus over a decade ago (I only got a few pages in.)

A few words from Mama Goof and GoofGirl settled down, but suddenly GoofBoy was antsy. "We are going to be late, I'm going to get into trouble!" He kept repeating.

"Buddy, it's the first day, don't worry about it. It is on me, I'll talk to your teachers."

But GoofBoy's mood had soured.

When I dropped them off, late, the front desk person explained, his teacher lets the kids who get there early pick on the first day pick their desk for the year.

If only I had known. Of course, Mama Goof knew, he had mentioned it - once! He has no problem bugging me constantly about other things (like his allowance), but something like this he mentions once and is upset that I forget it. Of course I have nothing else to concentrate on, like GoofGirl's hair, getting their lunches together - despite the school's endless food restrictions, my job (I do work), and of course writing a blog entry about all of this.

I feel bad about starting GoofBoy off on the wrong foot, but not that badly. This is a lesson he has to learn, the fine art of reminding without nagging. First day of school and he is already learning something.

LA Vignette: Cat Called

For me, one of the treats of visiting my in-laws is their cat, Winky. I like cats. In my dissolute youth, I went through a period of lengthy (voluntary) unemployment. During that time, my roommate got a kitten and I fell in love (I’d never had a serious pet before). We used to play when he got his crazies in the wee small hours. I’d throw tinfoil balls and we’d chase them around the apartment. The roommate, who remained employed, soon regretted the adoption.

As much as I liked cats, I liked MamaGoof more and she had allergies, so no more pets.

But before the kids were born, we’d stay with my in-laws and I could heed the call of the wild yet again and join the hunt (for foil balls and strings.) Usually after our week of visiting the cat would curl up and sleep for several days.

Unsurprisingly, running around in the dead of night, I tripped and fell with a huge crash. I shook the house. In LA, this isn’t funny. Everyone woke up and went into earthquake mode. (In fairness, my in-laws tend to worry. When adverse weather hits anywhere on the east coast, they call. During Irene we pre-empted them providing hourly updates: “We have power, we aren’t flooded, do not drive here to rescue us.”)

I calmed them down and promised to stop riling the cat and go to bed. The next day, I met one of my closest friends for lunch. I could barely keep my eyes open.

“Why are you so tired,” he asked.

“I was up late playing with Winky!”

“Dude, I know we’ve driven cross country together twice, but that is way too much information.”

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Heart of Disney

Having visited Los Angeles over a dozen times with the Little Goofs, the Disney corporation issued us an ultimatum: Take your children to Disneylandor face the consequences.

The ultimatum was unspoken, but it was clear and powerful nonetheless – like a prophetic vision of being subject to a Disney rendition, hooded for days and then forced to don a Tweedledee costume and suffer blows from an acrimonious Tweedledum for the amusement of children.

So, I visited the very useful Disneyland Vacation Tips site and took the Little Goofs (and their aunts Tias C & T) to Disney. Pictures from the day show me grimacing at the entrance. Theme parks aren't my thing and I was not looking forward to the heat or the crowds or the prices. I was hoping to get some blog-fodder out of it though.

On the way, we listened to the classic young adult novel Anne of Green Gables. Set on Prince Edward Island in the late 19th century, Anne is an orphan girl who very much wants to own a pretty dress with puffy sleeves. Although GoofGirl is a bit of a fashionista, she does not grasp why Anne so desires puffy sleeves. Still heading off future demands, I declare, “No daughter of mine shall have a dress with puffy sleeves!”

GoofBoy perked up, “You didn’t say anything about sons!”

Our running joke at Disney was that GoofBoy wanted me to buy him a princess outfit (or Tinkerbell). He is all boy, loves sports, comic books and fishing. But he really has no worries about girly stuff. He loves to sing, happily wears pink and when my sister-in-law Tia C hung out with GoofGirl to paint finger and toenails, GoofBoy volunteered his nails too. I am jealous at how comfortable he is in his own skin – as ten year old I shied away from pink and any hint of anything “girlie.” I was poorer for it.
So I was hoping to get and post a picture of him in a princess outfit, but he leveraged the situation well, refusing to try one on unless I actually purchased it.
This led to me, standing in the middle of a Disney store announcing, “Son I am NOT buying you a princess outfit so stop asking!”

Other dads looked at me sympathetically.

Then we got into a fight with the plastic swords.

The Rest of the Park
Visits to Disney inspire sociological analyses of the state of American culture, or is it cultural analyses of the state of American society, or post-modern takes on the spiritual emptiness of modern society.

But my primary interest, as always, is wearing out my children. For a blow-by-blow of our adventures at the Magic Kingdom (including pictures) follow Father Goof on Twitter (with great pictures!)

After a hard day of rides, GoofBoy and my other sister-in-law Tia T relaxed by shooting stuff at the arcade. Tia T is a surprisingly good shot. GoofBoy bought himself some toy guns – now that our semi-official ban is ended (it wasn’t that we opposed guns, but we really hoped he would go to the Jedi Academy while his sister attends Hogwarts.) Later on those toys became a source of stress because GoofBoy had them in his carry-on at the airport. He worried that security would detect them and we’d have a big problem. We were stopped, not because of GoofBoy’s arsenal but because the freezer-pack with our carryon meals had started to defrost and somehow this set off alarms. I would like to think this reflects highly sophisticated scanning technology deployed by TSA.

Anyway Disney was fun (except the Tiki Room where I had a bit of a breakdown – singing robot birds just freak me out – but on the plus side I was not required to go on a “It’s a Small World.”) It is hard not to marvel at how effectively Disney maneuvers crowds and sustains order. This has a dark-side. An old friend from grad school happened to be at Disney with her husband and son. Her son was banned from Splash Mountain for having a splash fight. But it is splash mountain, what do they think would go down there. This reflects the Disney ethos, you will have fun our way and our way only!

There were smaller indicators of Disney’s dark heart. In the restroom, the gent cleaning up engaged me with full eye contact and asked, “Are you having a good time? Can I help with anything?”

I really try to keep my mens room interactions to a bare minimum. I don’t need the experience improved upon, but for Disney’s motto could be, “Ve have vays of making you have fun!”

And in fairness we did and I got my blog post out of it. I also learned that at the neighboring Disney California Adventure Park adults can walk around with beer - I might really enjoy corny Disney humor that way. I guess they do have ways of making me have fun.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

LaLaLand Missives

At an incredibly early hour, the Goof clan got up, drove to the airport, stumbled through security, entered an airplane,watched Thor (not bad for a stupid movie watched on an airplane in the wee small hours), and got off the airplane in Los Angeles, California.

Los abuelos live in LA and we come out here all the time. As soon as my biorhythms sync to West Coast time I'll be blogging and tweeting (follow @fathergoof) about our adventures. But in the meantime, enjoy some missives from our past junkets in the Southland.

Severely directionally challenged I bought a GPS to get around this endless sprawling city, but every solution creates its own problems.

Like a Russian oligarch, MamaGoof loves savings the money, so much so that on one of our trips we used an off-brand car rental, although MamaGoof turned down the opportunity to cruise the freeways in a refrigerated truck.

We often spend Christmas in LA, but being Jewish we go to the movies, but first I made the little Goofs climb Mount Hollywood.

We had to take the little Goofs to LA's La Brea Tarpits, although my jokes about tossing them in took some of the wonder out of the occasion.

When traveling, MamaGoof and I have to split up and share beds with the kids, sleepy little people occupy astounding amounts of space, fortunately we found a solution.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, August 15, 2011

Wordy Dreams

I read and write in my dreams a lot. One of my most memorable dreams occurred when I was in college. In the dream, I asked a young woman to go out with me and she did! (This only happened in my dreams.)

Then, in the dream, the scene changed to how – as in old movies – newspaper headlines spun out.

New York Herald
Girl agrees to date with Goof
BubbeGoof "ecstatic"

Chicago Tribune
Goof Gets Girl
Markets erratic

I grant that's unusual, but the next headline to spin out was in French:

Montreal La Presse
Goof achieves rendezvous
“Cherchez la femme”

I don’t know French.

I mention this because I had another journalistic dream. I was writing my obituary. It wasn’t said or creepy. I talked about how I traveled and wrote several books (again, it was a dream, give me that.) When I came to the end I wrote:
Father Goof is survived by Dr. GoofBoy and Colonel GoofGirl.
I mentioned this dream to several friends and MamaGoof, and the consistent reaction was, “Really, just a Colonel? She’ll have at least a couple stars.”

Friday, August 12, 2011

Book Review: City of Ember is better then Harry Potter

Let me come right out, risking flaming and opprobrium, and say it Jeanne Deprau’s, City of Ember and its sequels are better then Harry Potter and I think my kids learned more from them. They aren’t more exciting (and I’m certainly not saying that Harry Potter isn’t very good), but their themes are deeper and subtler. If Harry Potter is chocolate chocolate chip ice cream, then The City of Ember is French vanilla.

Quick summary, Ember is a city deep underground surrounded by darkness. An aging generator that fails more and more frequently powers the lights and thus sustains life itself. The people of the city have no idea that there is any world beyond their home or that they are underground or why they are there.

I give nothing away when I explain that the city was built as a reserve against the possibility of cataclysmic war and that the inhabitants had instructions on how to leave that were supposed to be revealed years ago. But the instructions were lost and the city is running low on supplies. A pair of teens discover the remains of the instructions and ultimately find their way of out of the city.

In the sequel, The People of Sparks the refugees from Ember, now on the surface encounter a village which wrestles with what to do with these newcomers. In the final book of the series, The Diamond of Darkhold the main characters return to Ember.

What do I like?

First, there is no Dumbledore (not that Dumbledore is not awesome) but in the Ember series the kids figure things out for themselves. There is no wizard to guide them.

Second, there is no Voldemort. This is not about good versus evil. There are good people and bad people. But the bad people are usually bad in their smallness and their greed. This has a quality of realness, rather then the more cartoonish figures of Harry Potter. Children will meet petty adults, they will hopefully not encounter Voldemort.

Third, the action is low-key. There is action, tension, and scary moments. But there is very little deadly violence (although there is modest violence.) It is not Harry Potter exciting, but things happen. Prophet of Yonwood is a “prequel” to the series and its connections to the other books are pretty nominal. BUT, it does a terrific job of depicting a dictatorship emerging in a way that is harrowing, but completely appropriate for children –a nice bit of writing.

Fourth, the writing is clear and gentle. I also like the descriptions of both life in Ember and life in the post-disaster world in which people are struggling to rebuild. There is not discussion of grand politics, but rather a sense of how day-to-day life is lived.

Fifth, is the way the commonplace becomes magical. Anyone could write about a world of spells and fantastic creatures. But in the Ember series (particularly the first and last books) electricity, and the lack of it, are important elements of the plot. Much that is commonplace for us is in fact quite magical – if we open our eyes to it.

Finally, the City of Ember works to introduce children to one of the most profound ideas in history, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

The Movie

City of Ember was made into a movie and I would be remiss to not mention it. The action is “bigger” as befits a movie for the big screen, but it is basically true to the book appropriate to children of kindergarten age and up – and it has Bill Murray who is always fun to watch!

City of Ember was made into a movie and I would be remiss to not mention it. The action is “bigger” as befits a movie for the big screen, but it is basically true to the book appropriate to children of kindergarten age and up – and it has Bill Murray who is always fun to watch!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

GoofBoy's Take on Ocean City

GoofBoy has been begging for a "rebuttal" space on ForFathersOnly, so I have relented. Here is his take on our recent Ocean City trip. I'm not sure if this is a good idea, but it works for Bil Keane (little Billy must be in his sixties by now).

Finally my weak dad gives into giving me some space on his blog.

The sad truth is that my dad is going to show a feat of strength by strangling me and yelling “Am I weak now well AM I!?!?” while I pass out.

The Beach
OK so this week we’re in Ocean City. When we go to the beach or pool kids think, “Yay!!! We’re going to have fun.”

Dad thinks, “I’m going to have a lot of fun nah I’ll relax.”

And mom thinks, “I’m going to relax… AHHHHHHH what is my family doing? Are my kids hurt?”
I’m going to make it worse for parents with a few beach troubles. Here they are:

1. Kid falls in hidden sand pit.

2. Kid gets stuck in his/her own sand pit while digging dad groans and lifts 90 pound 10 year old kid out of pit.

3. Kid trips in inch high water then buries face in sand on purpose.

4. Kid builds sand castle only to watch it be destroyed and so on until it is time to go to the hotel.

5. Kid gets lost parents run around beach only to find kid in own five-foot hole with shovel stuck in the side, dad groans and lifts kid out again.

6. Kid opens eyes and plunges face into salt water takes head out screaming “ IT BURNS!!!!!!!!!”

If you are at the beach you have to go to the boardwalk. Here’s what kids think, “Yay daddy give me money I get tickets then get plastic prize then if I need more money for tickets I beg and cry and daddy give me more money.”

Dads think, “I give my children a fortune to play games then get paper tickets while I starve. Then they get a prize I could get at the dollar store, then it breaks and the kids beg and cry and I give them more money. The worst part is that I waste three months worth of money, and instead of giving them my money I could have been wasting my money on good beers mmmmmmm beer…”

I think my dad is Homer Simpson.

The Pool
The next topic is the pool. I had the worst day there, even with no one drowning, dying, brother kicking brother, or violence - well maybe a little violence. It starts by putting sunscreen on an old person back that you don’t even know. Then someone tricks you into jumping into freezing cold pool water. After mumbling a bit you try to relax but a teenager that looks like he’s 5 foot 10 and 250 pounds jumps into the pool right next to you. Finally you find peace and quiet sunbathing but some kids have a huge water fight and you get drenched and leave.

In Ocean City I went fishing a lot so I made up worst five things that can happen while going fishing.

1. Some knucklehead gets a hook stuck in your finger.

2. Some fish bites off all the bait on your hook without getting caught.

3. You’re in the middle of the ocean with nothing to do for seven hours.

4. Some crazy guy eats all your bait.

5. You eat all your bait on the trip to the middle of the Ocean.

Radio Vignettes

One night, late, GoofGirl and I are driving home from a playdate. I am listening to Prairie Home Companion.

“Mi nina, do you like this show? Do you think it’s funny?” I asked.

“I like it, but I can’t see anything.”

“What do you mean you can’t see anything?

“The people talking, I can’t see them.”

“Sweetheart, this is a radio show – there’s nothing to see.”


“Did you think I had a TV up here?”


“You know, before there was TV, there was radio. They would have stories and news. People would gather around it to listen.”

“Before TV,” GoofGirl was incredulous, “You mean like when Bubbe was little?”


Another time, as we were driving, we were listening to a talk show about parent blogs. One of the guests, responding to a question about whether her kids like this blog about them, answered, “You do all of this for your kids and then they are twelve and hate you.”

“Why would a twelve year old hate their mommy and daddy?” GoofGirl asked, shocked.

“When children are twelve they start going through a lot of complicated changes. They grow up and want to become their own person, and part of that is breaking away from their parents,” I explained carefully, channeling Fred MacMurray at “Father Knows Best.”

“Well, I won’t hate you when I am twelve,” GoofGirl insisted.

“Yes you will sweetheart, don’t worry about it.”


Several years ago I was driving with GoofBoy, listening to a radio talkshow. The guest was going to be bishop someone or other about something that I wasn’t that interested in, so I switched it.

At the time I was teaching GoofBoy to play chess. He perked up, “Hey, that was about bishops. Why don’t you want me to learn about bishops?”

“Buddy, this wasn’t about chess. A bishop is a religious leader, kind of like a rabbi but the boss of a bunch of rabbis. Anyway, it wasn’t going to be interesting.”

“Bishops are like super-rabbis,” GoofBoy muttered, “So they put curses on the other pieces, or make them feel so guilty they won’t move…”

And thus was born, the Bishop’s Gambit. Bobby Fishcher's efforts at psyching out opponents will have nothing on GoofBoy.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Hots for MamaGoof

We talk a lot about super-powers at Goof Manor. GoofBoy can make teams lose by rooting for them, while I can sprout a beard faster then a Chia Pet. GoofGirl is simply awesome.

But sometimes, MamaGoof feels left out, bereft of superpowers.

She shouldn’t. Outside of my little world of make-believe she is the most astoundingly steady and competent human being. She can cook, fix things, and do high-order math. When our power went out during the Snowpocalypse she sealed off portions of the house with makeshift walls made from sheets and blankets and began making soup so we’d have something hot to eat while also heating the house. When we have car troubles, she talks to the mechanics (and gives them pointers on what to look for.)

If something is going down, MamaGoof is the one you want to have your back – not me (unless somehow you think a timely blog entry is key to resolving the crisis.)

She also has a very real super-power – I’ve seen it.

Her dad used to travel with a gallon drum of habanero chilis, which he would put on just about everything he ate – including toast and ice cream. He ate them like Tic-Tacs and his daughter, my wife, would match him bite for bite. He had to take them on trips because if he went too long without he would get cranky and sluggish. Thankfully, he hasn’t had much need to travel in the past decade, because there is no way airport security would let him through with a virtual chemical weapon.
I like spicy food. But dishes that only dimly register for her will make me cry.

Years ago (before we had children), at “First Night” in Annapolis (a New Year’s Eve event where stores and restaurants stay open all night and there is entertainment) we stopped by a specialty hot sauce stall. The proprietor had a few samples out and Annapolis residents were sampling them and bursting into flames.

MamaGoof (then properly GirlFriend Goof I guess) tried a few and was nonplused. The proprietor began digging more deeply into his collection, but without success. A crowd had gathered. It was showdown at the Chili Corral.

Finally, he brought out a heavy black case, opened it, revealing a brittle looking bottle, and poured a few drops onto a metal spoon (which began to blacken and warp.) With a wicked grin on his face, he handed it to MamaGoof.

She slurped it down and made a face. The hot sauce pusher laughed, “I got you! No one can stand that stuff, they use it to make police pepper spray.”

MamaGoof looked up, “It isn’t spicy, but it tastes terrible.”

Then she pulled a habanero out of her purse, bit off the tip, blew away the smoke, and put it back and she walked into the night.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Dinner with the Boys

“Dad, no Jedi would have a chance against Wolverine, he regenerates!” GoofBoy asserted at dinner.

“A Jedi could just cut his head off. You can’t regenerate a head,” I retorted.

“Light sabers can’t cut adamantium and Wolverine has it through his whole body.”

“I don’t know where you get that, but even if it’s true, what if a Jedi used the Force to hold Wolverine upside-down in the air and held the light saber at his throat.”

“But it couldn’t cut adamantium!”

“The Jedi wouldn’t try to cut off Wolverine’s head. He would just poke the light saber into Wolverine’s trachea…”

“Enough,” Mama Goof intervened, “We are eating dinner.”

“Yeah, and anyway a Jedi wouldn’t do that, it is against their code.”

“Fine, a Sith Lord vs. Wolverine. Forget it, Voldemort vs. Wolverine.”

“Wolverine would tear him apart,” GoofBoy answered confidently.

“Voldemort would just do avada kedavra, you can’t regenerate against that! What is with you and Wolverine, anyway?”

“Fine! Incredible Hulk vs. Grawp?” GoofBoy posed.

“Good one,” I admitted. “I don’t know. They are both really big and strong. Both have serious self-control issues. A draw I guess. Hey, what about Neville Longbottom vs. Bart Simpson?”

“Bart Simpson in a second, Neville can’t cast a spell right. Bart would run circles around him on his skateboard. Neville would get dizzy and fall over.”

“Could we please talk about something interesting for girls!” GoofGirl demanded.

“OK,” GoofBoy was game, “There are lots of girl super-heroes. Wonder Woman vs. Mystique?”

My eyes grew wide and I gulped, “Everyone would win!”

“That’s ENOUGH!” Mama Goof exclaimed, rolling her eyes at me, “The women of the house would like to have a normal conversation.”

She gestured and GoofGirl had the floor.

GoofBoy and I turned to look at her and she began, “Ramona Quimby vs. Anne of Green Gables?”

“Fighting?” GoofBoy asked incredulously.

“No, who would out-talk the other?”

“Good one…” her brother nodded.

MamaGoof sadly put her head in her hands.