Sweet and Then Sour; A Five Year Old Imitates a Popular Gummy Candy Although the Order is Reversed

I habitually call home as I leave work. I do this because I love my family and I can spend a few extra minutes interacting with their minds, even though we aren’t physically together.

A couple of days ago my wife was busy straightening up our board game cabinet. (We are huge board game people. Our Christmas tradition is to buy a game for the family. This year is going to be Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots and I couldn’t be more excited.) She was a little stressed so she handed the phone off to the five year old boy we love so much.  I asked him how his day went and shortly after this conversation petered out he said “You’re my favorite sweet-pea.”

I responded with similarly sappy drivel and said “Thank you, buddy! You’re my favorite sweet-pea too!”

I drove on for a few seconds reveling in the pure love my son had just expressed. My son was silent also and I could hear muted conversations in the background over my son as he breathed right into the phone.

I was nearly startled off the road when he snarled “I’m going to fight you.” It sounded as if a demon had stolen the phone and spoken to me from the depths of the appalling Inferno envisioned by Dante. I was understandably taken aback and remained silent for a moment before uttering a tentative “What?”

“I’m going to fight you!”

“You’re going to bite me?”

He wasn’t speaking clearly and my brain was busy composing a “The power of Christ compels you!” type of speech.

“No. I’m going to fight you!”

“But…wh…wh…wh…wh…why?” I stammered, confused.

And then, in a sweet, nearly sing-song voice he said “Because you’re my favorite sweet-pea!”

“Why would you fight your favorite sweet-pea, buddy?”

“Because,” he said, “you’re my favorite sweet-pea!”

I’m still pondering whether or not to contact some Catholic authority.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…enjoy your family despite their occasional demonic quirks.

A don’t…forget the look up the Pope’s address. You know. Just in case.

P.S. Here’s a demonic quote from my seven year old daughter, just so you understand my concern: “I’m thankful for the dead people because they died.”

Sweet dreams fellow bloggers and blog readers. I hope your family is much less demented than mine apparently is.

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Halloween and Trust; A Holiday We Love Incorporates a Virtue Society Needs

This Halloween I left my house at 6:30 to pick up my kids from their mom. As I drove through my neighborhood, I saw the first few early bird trick-or-treaters flitting quickly from house to house and it brought a tear to my eye. I didn’t understand exactly why until I got home with the kids and we began our own evening of candy hunting. As I watched the kids running from door to door, crossing the street on a whim, laughing and hollering about which house was next, staying just within the boundaries of what I thought to be a safe distance from me, I realized I had teared up earlier because Halloween is such a trusting holiday.

This may sound like a strange idea, but our Halloween actions truly denote a level of trust in our neighbors that I hope we never lose. We put our children in costumes and canvas neighborhoods, sometimes not even our own, in attempts to take candy from strangers in the strangers’ own territories. On any other day of the year, we’ve lost our minds! But that one night a year it is perfectly fine to throw all the rules out the window and trick-or-treat.

I worry a lot. I worry about things that most other people probably wouldn’t even consider.  When I first published my book I got back onto social media, which I had shunned for approximately two years, and I was sick to my stomach with worry that I’d somehow overly complicated my life. My wife is a saint in sinner’s clothing though, and she showed me the ridiculousness of my concerns when she stated, in a whiney sing-song voice, “Oh noooooo….I have a Faaaacebooook!” It really put the situation into perspective. The point I’m making here is that, despite my sometimes crippling worry and anxiety, I felt no concern as we walked in the middle of the street in the dark begging for treats from people we didn’t know. The few cars we saw drove so very slowly as they passed that a kid would’ve had to really try to get hit.

What about the candy?, some might ask. But in all my own trick-or-treating years and the 8 I’ve so far shared with my children, we’ve never suffered any illness other than nausea induced by over-indulgence. We’ve never found a razor blade in a caramel apple or rat poison in a candy bar. In fact, the only behavior approaching inappropriate I’ve witnessed has been on the part of my own children. Last year, the first year we handed out candy after our own trick-or-treating, my four year old son innocently enticed other children to enter our home. He is fast, reached the door before we could, and stood with his arm outstretched into the living room pleading, over and over, “Come in, guys! Come in! We have caaaaaandyyyyy!!!!” This year he and the girls stood at the door, with my wife and I close behind, and at the first hint of the sound of trick-or-treaters they bolted. Most of our visitors this year were met halfway down our driveway and had three children excitedly encouraging them to take candy from three different buckets. Most of the candy they handed out was candy my children themselves had just collected. If an adult were to act in these ways the police would surely soon be summoned. And the treats they offered would’ve lacked candy’s inherent sweetness.

In short, there are some creeps and weirdos out there who ruin Halloween for some, but they are few and far between.  And, despite the mild risk, we still dress up every year and go out with trusting hearts to bring joy to our neighbors and ourselves. I especially enjoy the smiles the elderly candy-givers display as they try to decipher my son’s over-excited babbling. Most times he is complimenting them. A few gems from this year: “I like your rocks!”, “We have that ghost!”, (in reference to an inflatable yard decoration) “You should get three ghosts!”, “Thank you for candy, you have nice pants, I like your dog!”. And a less polite offering from my picky seven year old daughter as she held aloft a bag of granola (that was delicious, by the way), and in a horrifically loud voice in close proximity to the house from which she’d received the granola, “That guy gave me food!!???!!”

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…enjoy Halloween for what it is. A display of neighborly trust that we desperately need in these times of danger and uncertainty.

A don’t…be too hard on your daughter if she’s mildly (very) rude. After all, kids have been trained by the very name of the act of trick-or-treating to expect things they consider treats. But adieu…gently advise them not to look a gift ghost in the black cavity that represents a mouth.

 

 

 

A Gross Halloween Tradition; The Big Things That Make Up Life

Folks’ll say that it’s the little things that make up life. Mostly the old folks say it. But there are also those folks who fancy themselves wise beyond their years and they’ll say it some.

I disagree with all of them.

My wife and I spent a couple of hours after breakfast cleaning house. We cleaned from top to bottom. We dusted, washed, straightened and sorted. We got rid of clutter. We swept, we mopped, we opened all the windows and scrubbed with such vigor that if you’d simply stepped in off the street you’d have sworn it was Spring and we’d just spent a long cold Winter hiding from the snow with all of the junk we’d accumulated by stopping to warm ourselves in dusty old secondhand stores after dreaded but necessary trips to the supermarket.

When there was finally nothing left to clean we went to town and killed an hour or two. Then we came home and instituted a new tradition.

I don’t remember exactly how it started. I’m not even sure it had a definable starting point. It just sort of coalesced like a sudden Summer thunderstorm as we were carving pumpkins. We were every one of us orange and stringy up to our elbows around the kitchen table. We were talking and laughing and, if I remember correctly, my kids began to dump their pumpkin guts into my pumpkin cavity. I then smeared a gooey orange line down my daughter’s cheek.

She looked horribly affronted and wiped her cheek clean just above the smile/sneer-of-disgust she wore on her lips. My son, standing in his chair, dumped another heap of midden into my gourd and I flung a slimy chunk right back at him. It plunked itself perfectly under his eye with a sick sounding splat, sat for a brief moment, then splatted again on the table.

And it was on. Pumpkin goop was flying all over the freshly cleaned and aired out kitchen followed soon by pumpkin chunks and, if I hadn’t put a stop to it I’m sure the pumpkins themselves would’ve been heaved across the table.

That little thing, the kind the old folks and the seemingly wise folks’ll say make up life, made a huge thing.

A slimy, goopy, stringy, huge orange mess.

Later, as I swept and scraped and vigorously scrubbed again, as I picked pumpkin seeds out of  one little head of red hair and two little heads of blonde hair, I remembered the way my son danced and cackled in his kitchen chair as he scraped together bigger and bigger globs to fling. I remembered a little red-head who can barely string a sentence together because her mouth runs faster than her mind giggling and stating loudly “Don’t get me with it! Actualty, I don’t wanna do pumpkin fight.” I remembered my oldest trying to look grown up, pretending she wasn’t enjoying it all but still letting a few smiles slip. I remembered the cold on my scalp as they, at my wife’s encouragement, fashioned me a glorious pumpkin spice toupee and the way it felt when cold, slimy seeds zig-zagged down my back under my shirt.

It wasn’t the little pumpkin fight that made up life today.

It was the huge mess that needed cleaning afterward that imprinted the memories permanently on my mind.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…savor the big things. They can be just as important as the little things.

A don’t…wear a pumpkin toupee if you can avoid it. It really isn’t all that pleasant.

Orion: A Constellation; A Memory Made; A Celestial Wonder With a Message for a Defective Man

When I woke up this morning it was still dark. I got the coffee going and woke up my kids. I stepped out the back door with my son with the dual intentions of feeding the dog and figuring out whether or not today was a short or long pants day (short pants were fine) and noticed that Orion was visible right over my garage.

I called for my daughters and, when they had stepped out and shut the back door (it was nearly dawn and the light from the laundry room was enough to blind us to the stars) I pointed out his belt and the four stars that insinuate his feet and hands. They couldn’t see it in its entirety. My middle child only saw his belt. I think they might have been having trouble connecting such unreachable dots. Either way, though, I was proud. It felt good to share something like that with them. I stood there staring at Orion long after they’d lost interest and I suddenly remembered that the North Star is part of one of the constellations. But which one? I simply cannot remember. Is it the bright star at the bottom of Orion that denotes his left foot? Or is it part of the Big Dipper?

Thinking about this took me back to basic training and all the times during our land navigation courses that I disappointed my Drill Sergeants (not to mention my Battle Buddies who trudged through the woods behind me in the exact wrong direction) to the point of nearly giving up on me. They never actually quit trying to teach me, but they were certainly frustrated that, hundreds of push-ups later, I still couldn’t sufficiently navigate my way out of an MRE bag when given a map, a compass and a block of instruction.

Then I thought about all the times in my civilian life when, trying to back-track some road-trip route, I swore up and down that I needed to go left when I actually should’ve gone right.  I don’t tend to give in to the fact that I’ve taken wrong turns, and, though suspicions are sneaking up on me, I continue making wrong turns until the web of wrong turns is so convoluted that I can’t even reverse the wrong turn route to get back to the first wrong turn I took. I’ve ended up turning around in so many private drives with no trespassing signs posted that I’m surprised my back bumper isn’t riddled with bird shot. I’m also surprised my wife has never actually thrown up all over the car. She gets car sick, especially when a twisty-turny route is combined with the stress of knowing she’s lost with an idiot who won’t admit he’s lost. She’s a real trooper. Thank God she didn’t know me in my Army days when my poor direction finding could’ve landed our necks under the blade of some radical’s machete. (They never gave me the map in a combat zone, by the way. I made it perfectly clear that doing so would mean certain death.)

As I thought about all these things this morning, staring up at the sky with my children chirping at the periphery of my hearing that we needed to go inside and eat breakfast, I realized I’m a defective man. I don’t have whatever it is they say men have that help them find directions. I don’t have a genetic compass, and for a moment I felt cheated. I mentally shook my fist at Orion for bringing on this realization.

We finally went inside to get ready for school and as my daughters ate granola bars and my son dumped peanuts from the jar to a bowl and back again for some reason, I realized, no matter what I may be missing in my own genes, I have my children. I have my wife. We have a house and food, jobs, cars, our vision and hearing and health. We have hope for the future and a contented complacency in the present.

I may be a defective man, I realized, but I’m perfectly OK with that. Thank you, Orion. Thank you for speaking to me simply by sitting in the morning sky. I mentally unshake my fist at you, you big celestial dude, you.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…step outside in the dark now and then and let the stars speak to you. You never know what they might say.

A don’t…forget what you do have when you’re bummed out by what you don’t have. What you do have is probably pretty great. You might just need to take a few quiet minutes to realize it.

School Breakfast: Scientific Miracle, Conspiracy, or Simply One Man’s Overactive Imagination?

I think it is worth noting that as I’m writing this, a cup of coffee (Cain’s; black, no sugar and steaming hot) is sitting next to me. I think this is worth noting because it is the first time I’ve ever written anything with a cup of coffee (as perfect as previously described) next to me and it somehow feels right. With that out of the way, let’s proceed:

I went to school with my kids this morning for breakfast. They invite the dads a few times a year for breakfast and guided conversation with their children. I’ve been to several of these but this morning, for some reason, I suddenly realized that it felt like neglect, if not outright abuse.

That last sentence probably begs some explanation. Here goes: We woke up at our usual time but, instead of fixing some pancakes or spreading Nutella on toast we simply watched cartoons and did a little work on the cardboard haunted houses we’ve been building. The kids kept telling me they were hungry and I kept reminding them that we were going to have breakfast together at school. They brushed their teeth, as usual, commenting on how weird it was to brush before breakfast, and we piled into the car. The trip to school was dark and wet and chilly. This morning was a real Halloweeny type of morning here where we live. I didn’t realize it was a fore-shadowing of what was to come. When we arrived at the school we hurried in before we got too rained on or shivered ourselves to death. Once in the cafeteria we lined up and the kids encouraged me to help myself to chocolate milk. I did. I didn’t regret it. We made our way to the end of the line where the trays sat ready to grab with a steaming breakfast (technically that’s exactly what it was; breakfast.) of a single biscuit, a slightly larger in circumference than a half-dollar yet wafer thin sausage patty and a small tub of apple juice. The biscuit looked like it was made of whole wheat flour, so there’s that, but…I hadn’t even fed them and now the school wasn’t feeding them either. We found a place to sit across from some other dads who didn’t have forlorn looks on their faces. They must’ve fed their kids before breakfast.

Maybe my kids eat more than usual. I sat looking at the barely breakfast before us thinking of how my kids usually eat like ravenous pigs in the morning. Two and sometimes three, pieces of toast or pancakes (whichever we’ve made) heavily laden with Nutella followed occasionally by, as my daughter calls them “Canola bars” (although when I call them canola bars she laughs and says “not canola bars, they’re canola bars”). I harassed them to eat it and eat it all so they wouldn’t get too hungry before the end of breakfast. They nibbled at bits and crumbs. My oldest daughter ate three small bites of her sausage patty and, after I’d harassed her sufficiently, tried enough of the biscuit to realize she didn’t like it. My middle child, canola bar girl, didn’t try any of it and got a tub of fruity cheerios, which I didn’t even know existed. My son ate all of his and I was relieved even though he made some sort of weird sausage-upside-down-biscuit by mashing the patty onto the top of the bread. He sat there chomping away with a disturbing ravenous carnivore sneer on his face, oblivious to anything but the dinosaur fantasy I’m sure he was having. I wolfed my own down and was surprised that the taste wasn’t all that unpleasant. I spent the rest of the breakfast ignoring the goings on the administrator initiated such as a video on respect and an opportunity for dads to stand and brag on their kids. I wasn’t disinterested. I was simply worried that their little tummies would be growling before they got to class.

That’s when the idea first crossed my mind that the school gets away with neglect. I understand that it is a parent’s responsibility to feed their children. I wasn’t worried about my own who, even if hungry this morning, wouldn’t have to worry about that tomorrow. But what about the kids whose families can’t afford to feed them and a free school breakfast and lunch are something they look forward to? I know some people have misgivings about the government being involved in welfare and such, but I don’t think kids should suffer hunger simply because their parents can’t afford enough food. I have no problem at all with my tax dollars going to fund free school meals for kids who truly need something to eat. But for crying out loud, I thought, give them something to eat!

As I sat there having these thoughts rather than paying attention to the goings on, I began to realize that I, a full grown man, felt satisfied in my belly. This was nearly three hours ago and I’m still not hungry! Now I’m thinking new thoughts. It seems school lunches are scientifically engineered to swell to the size of your stomach. Maybe my kids really did eat until they were full. Maybe now I should be worried that my son is going to founder rather than starve because he ate just as much as I did and he only has a flat, tiny five year old tummy. I only hope that this isn’t some make-them-feel-full conspiracy. I hope that the little bit of food provided had some disproportionate nutritional value. I hope it wasn’t that we were essentially filling our bellies with cardboard and, though feeling satisfied, were left lacking essential proteins and vitamins and such.

Or, as the title of this post suggests, perhaps my brain was bored and I’ve severely overthought this.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…spend your time with your children enjoying their company rather than letting your mind race to bizarre and distant places. After all, we spend a large portion of our lives hallucinating in the dark. Why do it in the daylight when you could be enjoying your family?

A don’t…let them eat too many school breakfasts if you can help it. I’m not completely convinced it’s real food. It certainly didn’t behave like real food this morning. But it did taste good.

Skeleton Dinosaurs, Sloths, Holsters and a Dead Doll; Deciphering the Ramblings of Youngsters.

A few months ago my son asserted, quite strongly, that he wished to “pout the skeleton dinosaur”. As one might expect I had no idea what this meant. I asked if he wanted to go to a museum? Perhaps he wanted a model dinosaur to put together or a new toy dinosaur? The answer to each of my queries was an increasingly frustrated “No, pout the skeleton dinosaur!” 

I’ll leave it at that for now. Let me know if you figure it out before I reveal the answer in the final paragraph, but for now I’ll move on to some things my daughters have said.

My oldest is nearly nine and is fairly eloquent in her pronunciations. This was not the case when I asked her about her favorite animal when she was three. Her answer was “I really like the slocks.” Looking back it shouldn’t have been that difficult for me to determine what this was. It is fairly similar phonetically to the actual word. We played the question and answer game for many minutes and I had exhausted nearly every line of inquiry I could think to devise without the emergence of any clarity. I nearly gave up but it was driving me crazy. Slocks? I had no clue. I knew it lived in the jungle. I knew it had, according to her, two legs and two arms. I knew it lived in trees. I was beginning to consider some sort of cryptid. A sasquatch variant I hadn’t heard of before or something. I still don’t know why, perhaps my subconscious had already worked it out, but I asked how many toes it had.

“Three, daddy. Three toes. I like the three toed slocks.”

“Oh, a sloth!” I was so relieved to have worked it out that I felt an unexpected relation as my brain began to relax.

“Yes, a three toed slocks is my favorite animal.”

My middle child, now seven, hasn’t been so hard to decipher, really, she just has unique ways of putting things. Until recently a trip to the bathroom was preceded by “Oh, I need ta ha’ ta go potty.” Stocking is stonking. Actually is actualty. I’ve daydreamed of hearing her say “Actualty, I need ta ha’ ta go potty before I hang my Christmas stonking.” But no such luck. She’s outgrown everything but the actualty.

A few years ago, though, she horrified me by running into the kitchen screaming “Can you help me? It’s killed!”

Obviously, I made haste to accompany her to the scene of the crime. She stood in her bedroom doorway and pointed across the room. “Can you fix it? It’s killed.”

“What’s killed? I probably can’t fix it if it’s killed.” I was calming down a little, having expected some horrific scene and finding nothing really but a few toys on the floor. No blood, thankfully. No dead mouse. A much less dramatic scene than her hysteria had indicated.

My daughter, very carefully, crept into her bedroom, crossed to the corner and gingerly scooped something up. She tiptoed back to me and dumped into my outstretched hands a headless doll and a doll head. “It’s killed, daddy. Can you please fix it? It’s gots killed.”

I fixed the doll but I still have no idea how she had a concept of removal of head equaling death or killing in general.

One last example before I reveal pout the skeleton dinosaur. Once when the kids’ great grandparents came to visit they began asking my oldest about a cowboy doll she had. She was probably almost five at the time. They would point to various components of the doll’s mode of dress and ask what they were. She knew hat and boots and belt. She didn’t know holster. But, somehow, she did know what a holster was. The doll didn’t have a gun, just an empty holster. My daughter named it “shoot pocket”. We had a good laugh and I worried myself sick wondering how my nearly five year old already knew what guns do and how they’re carried. As far as I knew, she hadn’t ever even seen a gun on t.v. or otherwise.

And now, the big reveal. Not long after my son wanted to “pout the skeleton dinosaur” we watched Jurassic World. I wasn’t paying too much attention to the movie and my son suddenly screamed “That’s pout the skeleton dinosaur!” He waggled his finger at the screen which showed some kids brushing dust from dinosaur bones in a simulated dig site. How or why he came to call that pout the skeleton dinosaur I’ll never know. I just devised theories and bought him one of those little kits where you can dig a plastic skeleton out of soft rock with a plastic scalpel.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…ask your kids any questions you can think of. Their answers might be surprising and fun to decipher.

A don’t…correct their pronunciation too soon. Some people will disagree with this but think of how many words we have that can be pronounced in multiple ways and still understood. This can only happen because it was allowed to. Perhaps your child is some syntax pioneer and it’s very cute while it lasts.

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