Rockford Ignacio

“Dad, we just bought a rat!” Eli exclaims on the phone.

“You bought a what?”

“A rat, Dad. His name is Rocky and he’s white and I’m going to feed him cheese and I’m going to hold him and he’s totally awesome!”

“Well, that’s, um, well. A rat? Really? Hey, put your mother on.”

“He’s very sweet, honey” his mother explains. “And just wait till you see his testicles. They’re so big they drag the ground.”

“A well-endowed rat,” I say and exhale deeply, loudly, deliberately. “That’s just we need.”

“See, that’s my thinking, too. I’m glad you understand.”

“Wait. Hang on. That’s not really what I meant.”

And that’s how it happened, how Rocky—full name: Rockford Ignacio Lesley, but only when he’s in trouble—became the family rodent:

I’d include a picture of his testicles, but this is a family site, and all the shit here is G rated.

Slade/It/Whatever

Sometimes we call him It.

“What’s It wearing?” Sally asks Tuesday evening as Slade wanders around the living room with a dog food bowl on his head.

“It’s my hat, Mommy,” Slade answers.

And then Wednesday evening: “Did you hear that?” Sally asks after we put the boys to bed.

“That what?”

“That Thud.” Sally looks slowly left and slowly right like she’s about to share a secret and adds, “It’s still awake. . . And I’m pretty sure It’s up to something.”

***

Early today, at 3:00 or 4:00 this morning, It slides out of its bunk bed, waddles down the hall, and climbs in bed with Sally and me.

“Ouch, Slade,” Sally grumbles. “Be still.”

And later, “No talking, Slade. It’s night night time.”

Later still, It sticks a finger in my ear. I grunt, lift my head off the pillow, and peek at the clock. 5:05. Wonderful. Just wonderful.

“Hi, Daddy!” It whispers.

I grunt again, which makes It giggle, and It hugs or maybe tackles me.

For an instant, I go back to three years ago, almost to the minute. I go back to Sally waking up in drenched sheets, to Sally telling me to call the doctor, to pink blood on the carpet, the bed, the tile, the wall, and all over the toilet. I go back to driving to the hospital, almost certain the baby is dead.

Then I fall back asleep.

“Slade, do you know what today is?” Sally says from inside the bathroom.

I glance at the alarm clock. It’s 5:55 now. Swell.

“Today’s my birthday!” It exclaims in the bathroom.

I slip back in time again, to three years ago, to the waiting room, to the nurse who says placental abruption and C-section and significant blood loss and NICU. I slip back to Eli telling me we should name his brother Pick Pack while we sit, we wait, we hope. I slip back to Sally shaking in the hospital and a 3-pound baby wired to strange machines.

I get out of bed, three years almost to the second that Sally was cut open and our unnamed son was pulled into this life. I make my way into the bathroom.

“It’s my birthday!” It proclaims when It sees me, grinning, raising his arms like It’s won something.

And, you know, maybe It has.

***

Slade. It. Slader Tot. Your Son. Slader Tater. House Tornado. Feral Toddler. We have lots of names for our child, but whatever we call him, we’re grateful to the bone that he pulled through three years ago today, even if he sometimes sleeps too little and ends up in time out almost daily and has a thing for silly hats.

Happy Birthday, Slade/It/whatever. We sure are glad you’re around.

This was Halloween:

Picture a caravan of decorated golf carts, red wagons, bikes, and families shuffling along on foot. Picture kids racing from house to house in pink and blue twilight. Picture princesses, Thomas the Tank engines, and one Darth Vader. Picture open containers.

Picture a dinosaur toddler and a zombie 7-year-old eating candy and eating more candy and staying up past their bed time.

Picture a wiped out mom and dad, stretched out on a couch and recliner after the dinosaur and zombie bathe and brush teeth and put on PJs and fight sleep. Picture open windows in a still house, the thick night seeping in.

Picture the wiped out parents turning off night lights and pulling up covers and feeling something gentle and shared and fleeting in the zombie and dinosaur’s bedroom.

Picture crickets and white stars somewhere outside. Picture deep sleep.

How I became a mommy blogger who definitely doesn’t have a drinking problem

So somehow I ended up writing a restaurant review for a mommy blog and somehow that review turned into an ode to booze. Ahhhh booze. Magical, glorious, mystical booze. Is there anything it can’t do?

Wait. What? Don’t look at me like that. I don’t have a drinking problem, okay? I mean, sure, I start my day with three Coors Lights and a pint of Dickel and sometimes a bloody mary, but who doesn’t?

Damn it. Stop it. I can see you sitting there with your mouth open, slowly shaking your head, your right eyebrow raised in disapproval. I can quit anytime. I mean it. Anytime.

And besides, the write up isn’t just about liquor. It’s also about flyswatters, and I know you adore flyswatters.

You can find my review over at Lake Travis Moms, a blog run by Kim, a neighbor and pal who vacationed with us in New Orleans this summer and still seems to tolerate us.

Lake Travis Moms, incidentally, is loaded with useful stuff for Lakeway-area parents. Want to discover where kids eat free, for instance? Or when Elmo is making an appearance at the Hill Country Galleria? Or where you can get a jack-o’-lantern pizza for cheap? Lake Travis Moms will set you up. That blog will get you what you need.

Like booze. That’s what I need. Wonderous, amazing. . . Damn it. You’re looking at me funny again. I told you. No problem here. I mean, it’s not like I drink two bottles of bourbon for lunch. Sure, maybe I drink one, but that’s just because it’s good for my circulation. Everybody knows that.

Dudes, I’m like famous and stuff

Okay, not really, but Story Bleed magazine just published an essay I wrote awhile ago. It’s a sentimental piece about monster trucks, people I want to beat up, Metallica, and kids growing up. It’s called Grey Days. Give it a gander at storybleed.com for the next few days.

Also, appearances to the contrary, I am not high on paint fumes in the picture they included. Honest.

Dusk

Sunday afternoon, the neighborhood next to ours catches fire. We sit with our neighbors, Cord and Jamie, on their deck and stare at smoke and fire engines and helicopters dropping water on orange flames a mile away. We’re safe where we are, the blaze the other side of the lake, the wind blowing it to the east. So we sit. We stare. That’s all we can do.

“We should probably take a shot now,” Cord says after a few minutes.

“We probably should,” I say while Eli and Slade race around the deck and propane tanks explode across the lake and black clouds rise like mean skyscrapers.

We eat fish tacos and take a tequila shot there on Cord and Jamie’s deck, the smoke sometimes black, sometimes white, the children oblivious to the trees and cars and houses burning so close by.

“What would you grab if you had to evacuate?” Cord or maybe Jamie asks. Kids and pets, I say. A laptop, possibly. Important documents, if there was time.

But everything else, the furniture, Eli’s and Slade’s drawings, the flat screen TVs, the china we’ve never used, would be left to burn. Some of that stuff matters; most of it doesn’t.

***

The next afternoon, which is Labor Day, the phone rings.

“Your dogs are down at the lake,” a neighbor tells Sally.

“At the lake?” Sally says. “That’s just wonderful. We’ll be right there.”

From the waterfront park, smoke still snakes above the trees from the neighborhood just across the narrow lake. 24 houses have been destroyed, we’ve heard on the news. 30 more damaged. 4000 people evacuated. We swim at our waterfront park and laugh about our dogs escaping and watch Eli and Slade bound off the boat dock into green water.

“Helicopter, Mommy! Daddy! Helicopter!” Slade exclaims each time a helicopter buzzes us with a giant sack of water sloshing underneath it like a saggy boob.

By that afternoon, a wildfire is igniting houses 15 miles to the north of us, and another, this one to the west, has grown to over 6000 acres, and another, east of town, has roared to over 25,000 acres. In our front yard, the air is the color of copper, and flakes of white ash drizzle on the grass. From which fire, we can’t tell.

As hazy dusk settles, someone pounds on the front door just after we put the boys to bed. Sally and I look at each other.

“Fire at Running Deer and Jack’s Pass,” a woman we’ve never seen yells and runs up the driveway. Running Deer and Jack’s Pass. That’s a block away.

Horns honk outside and Sally gets the boys up and I push Snurp in the cat carrier and we grab the laptop and leash the dogs and locate birth certificates and find car keys.

“Fire at Running Deer and Jack’s Pass,” I hear again somewhere as I open the front door and step into purple twilight.

At Jack’s Pass and Running Deer, the spot of the fire, I see a jeep, a car, and a motorcycle stopped in the road, but nothing burning. A dozen or so people stand on the edge of the street, looking down a steep hill. Cord is among them. He’s holding a shovel.

“Where’s the fire?” I ask.

“We just put it out,” Cord says.

“How’d it start?”

“Some dude threw a bottle rocket out of his truck and then drove off.”

“You’re kidding me,” I say. “Some prick shot off fireworks? That’s not dumb; it’s deliberate.”

***

All this week, lying in bed, washing dishes, parking my car, I’ve been thinking this: What if the wind hadn’t died down just a few minutes before? What if nobody had been there to see the smoke in time at Jack’s Pass and Running Deer? What if that asshole in the truck had started a fire that swallowed Slade or Eli or Sally?

It didn’t happen, I tell myself. We’re all fine, I remind myself.

And I feel better then. But not much.

***

When I was in middle school, my father told me the story of Beowulf as we drove home from Des Moines on a black February night. My old man, an English professor, explained the notion of fate in that poem and how, in many ways, the story was existential. Existentialism didn’t mean much to the 13-year-old me.

But this did: “In Beowulf, it’s not if the monster comes but when,” my dad said that evening. “The monster always comes. King Hrothgar. The other characters in the epic. They all accept that in the middle of the night, the monster comes.”

And I think that’s what I’ve really been thinking about this week. The monster in the truck shooting the bottle rocket. The monster smoking in the woods. Smirking. Biding. Coming for you. Coming for them. Coming for me.

Breakfast of champions

I’m pretty sure that this is what my parents, who are visiting from New Mexico and coming up with novel ways of spoiling the grandkids, gave Eli and Slade for breakfast:

That’s right. Ice cream and Butterfingers. For breakfast. Christ almighty.