Archive for October, 2010

Today

Today my parents left after two weeks of indulging the grand kids and fixing our beat-up house and tolerating our animals. They loaded their bags into their red truck and inched away, a Norther blasting leaves off trees, the sky furnance blue, summer becoming fall.

Today Slade returned to daycare and Eli walked the long hall to Extended Care and Sally and I became parents again. “No video games till you pick up your LEGOs,” we directed Eli. “Gentle,” we reminded Slade.

Today the dogs’ leashes remained on their hooks and Slade ran up the driveway where the red truck had been and Eli told me he already missed his Grammy and Papoo.

And today I told Eli I already missed them, too.

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Slade

Note: I wrote this about Slade back in June, got distracted or busy or drunk, and never posted it. I’m sharing it now, more for me than you, because (a) I’m too lazy to write something new and (b) I’d like a record of Slade at 20 months for my own lousy memory.

Slade is loud, and Sally and I aren’t the only ones who know it.

After I dropped Slade off at daycare the other day, I heard him wail. I was walking down a hallway several classrooms away when a child erupted, and I knew, without a doubt, that the piercing noise was coming from my son.

The teachers must have known, too, because one of them, in a classroom at the opposite end of the place from Slade, announced cheerily, “Slade’s here!” There wasn’t uncertainty in what she exclaimed. She didn’t say “I think Slade might be here” or even “Sounds like Slade’s here.”

No sir.

She knew just as well as I did who was making all that commotion.

It’s hungry. It’s always hungry.

Slade’s new word is banana. This morning, he dashed to his high chair. “Nana” he implored. Other mornings, he runs straight into the kitchen, points at the bananas on the counter, and repeats “nana, nana, nana” until Sally or I shuffle in blurry eyed and feed the boy.

Last week, on a morning when I’d gotten up with Slade before sunrise and already fed him a full breakfast, Sally ambled down the stairs barely awake. Slade saw her, waddled into the kitchen, and pointed at the bananas. “Nana, nana, NANA, NANA,” he demanded.

“It’s hungry,” Sally muttered lifelessly, looking at nothing in particular outside the window. “It’s always hungry.”

Head butting

Slade’s favorite new pastime is head butting. Sure. I know. Head butting. The 20 month old finds it hilarious. His parents, trying to keep the grinning toddler from denting the wall or braining the cat, find is less so.

We mentioned the head butting and the noise and the hitting—another favorite pastime—at Slade’s pediatric appointment. As we shared this with the doctor, Slade broke free, ran to a basket of children’s books, and tossed one across the floor, talking loudly all the while. The doctor said something about different children having different abilities while Sally scooped up the animated toddler.

Different abilities? I see.

Then he told us the head butting and hitting would continue for another year.

Another year? Swell.

Slade freed himself again, this time running across the room, whacking a low-lying cabinet with both hands, and squealing happily. “You see this?” Sally noted to the pediatrician. “This is what he does.” The doctor nodded and told us we should try to channel his energy in constructive activities.

Like what?

“You might try karate,” he suggested.

What’s in a name?

The day Slade was born, 10 weeks early, barely three pounds, unable to breathe on his own, I drove home to pick up clothes and toiletries for Sally and to clean up the blood that had gushed out of her and onto the bed and the carpet and the tile and the toilet and the bathtub. As I scrubbed and washed and threw away, I kept thinking about Sally shivering in the hospital bed. And I kept drifting back to earlier that morning, meeting my nameless son as he slept in the incubator.

The baby would have to be strong to make it, I realized. He would have to find a way.

And sitting on the bathroom floor, blood all around, rain now hitting the window, a calmness crept under my skin. The boy would make it. I knew it at that very moment, there in the bathroom, the rain coming down. He wouldn’t give in.

And that’s when I decided the name Slade would suit him well. He would have to be a fighter, a survivor, a stone. He would have to be a Slade.

And I see now that he is becoming that. He’s fearless, lean, tough, and hungry to be alive. He is Slade. And I’m proud of him, even when he whacks and wails and head butts.

This is Slade just after he was born.

hpim3551

This is Slade now. The boy likes hats.

When I grow up, I want to be a ninja

This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun.”
Clark Griswold

We logged 2000 miles on the family vacation in August, driving first to New Mexico to see family—good people, strange people—then road tripping it in the station wagon to Port Aransas, the epicenter of the Redneck Riviera, with our old pals the Tubres.

On the road, both the kids threw up, the dogs had the squirts, Slade—21 months old then—talked and yelled for hours that felt like weeks, and Eli, when not playing videos games or watching movies or vomiting, asked lots of questions:

Eli: How many roads are there in the world?

Me: 300.

. . . . .

Eli: What if you couldn’t ever go pee ever again?

Me: Uh.

Eli: I bet you’d die. Everybody has to pee and poop.

Me: Except butterflies. They don’t poop.

Eli: No, Dad, you’re wrong. Everything poops. Ever. Eee. Thing.

Me: Except butterflies.

. . . . .

Eli: You know what I want to be when I grow up?

Sally: What?

Eli: A ninja.

Sally: A ninja? You want to be a ninja?

Eli: Totally, dude. I’d kill all the bad guys. Pew, pew, pow, pow. That’d be awesome.

. . . . .

Eli: What if everybody in the whole world moved to Texas?

Sally: Um.

Eli: It’d be crazy, dude. Everybody would be fighting everyone all the time.

Sally: Good thing you’re going to be a ninja then.

Family vacations aren’t about relaxation and fun. I learned that as a child, and I see that still as a dad. They’re about busting up routines, seeing people who matter, experiencing the world beyond, and surviving. Most of all surviving.

Or maybe most of all connecting with the kids and Sally who I see so little of.

Whatever they are, I believe in family vacations, even if they’re expensive and the car smells like spilled milk for months and my ears are still ringing from the ruckus in the back seat.

In fact, Sally and I started scheming about our next outing almost as soon as we returned, and then the other night, Sally said she and I and the boys should leave the country next summer.

“You’re not right in the head,” I told her. “You realize that, right?”

And then I told her I was game. I suppose that means I’m not right in the head, either.

Indie Ink

Indie Ink is featuring something I wrote today. The something is an attempt at flash non-fiction, and it’s probably more poem than essay. For the life of me, I can’t decide if the something works or fails or what. I suspect I’ve gotten too close to it, too tangled up in the approach, to know. That, and I know pretty much zero about poetry.

Indie Ink is worth a visit if you haven’t been before. You’ll find all kinds of cool stuff there—pictures, poems, short stories, essays, and so on.

The Rabbit Whisperer

Last night, Sally caught a rabbit. I’d just sunk into the couch, the boys bathed and ready for bed, the remote in my hand, my head shutting down, when Sally sprung to her feet and asked, “What is that?”

“What is what?”

“That sound. I know that sound.”

“A bird?” I suggested, sort of watching a football game. ” Maybe a car?” Sally shook her head, disappeared out the front door, and then reappeared less than a minute later holding a rabbit. This one, actually.

This wasn’t my wife’s first rabbit. On a pleasant evening early this summer, Sally and I lounging on the front patio, me mumbling about a meeting at the job, the summer bugs humming in the green all around, Sally stood up and whispered, “I’m going to catch that rabbit.”

“You’re going to what?”

And then she did. She crept over to a small bunny I hadn’t seen and captured the terrified animal.

The next night, on the patio again, Sally picked up an injured tarantula.

“Those things can bite,” I reminded her as she carried the spider away from the house.

“This one won’t,” she told me. “It likes me.”

And maybe it did because the tarantula stayed still in Sally’s cupped hands till she set it free.

The next time someone asks. . .

The next time someone asks me, maybe at a happy hour or a family gathering or the neighborhood pool, what I’ve been up to, I’ll say, “cleaning up shit.”

That someone, perhaps a winner like Yancy McMasters, who you probably know, will smile. “So you mean you’ve taken on a job as a process control manager or a environmental quality engineer or a janitor? That’s it, right? You’ve become a janitor.”

“No,” I’ll tell the grinning jerk. “What I mean is I’ve been using bleach and brushes and plastic bags to clean up turds.”

And then I’ll tell Yancy McMasters about the Lincoln Log Snurp dropped in the bedroom a few days ago and the diarrhea one of the canines squirted on the garage floor last week and and the toddler’s diaper that leaked on my shirt Monday before I’d even eaten breakfast and the dog dookie I scrubbed off the tops and bottoms of Eli’s new white shoes in the yard last night.

Cleaning up shit. This is it. This is what Sally and I have been doing while the blog became fallow.

Okay, yeah, sure, right. We did do other stuff during our hiatus. There were trips and books and fireworks and kids behaving oddly and afternoons at the lake. No doubt, we’ll share those stupid goings on as well.

And that will be a kind of shit, too, only this time we’ll be spreading it, not cleaning it.

The thinnest kid on the field

If you don’t know Eli, you might think he’s smiling as he stands in front of the goal on this muggy fall morning. But his scrunched up eyebrows and damp eyes and head tilted down tell a different story. They tell me the boy wants to cry.

Lift your head up, Eli. Don’t give up.

I can’t do much from the sideline at the soccer game. I clap and encourage and break a little inside and watch as he hides the hurt. That’s all I can do.

Keep trying, Eli. Be strong.

It’s understandable why Eli feels low. Seconds before, the ball bounced off Eli’s shin and into the other team’s goal. That makes the score 2-0, and it’s almost certain that Eli and his teammates are headed towards another lopsided defeat. It’s been a rough season for this team, the only group of first graders in a league of second graders. They’ve yet to even score a goal.

“You’re playing well,” I tell Eli when he comes off for a rest. “You know you guys are doing great, right?” Eli nods and gulps water and doesn’t say anything.

As the game moves on, I lose track of the score. The other team makes more goals and Eli’s team doesn’t make any.

But Eli isn’t conceding. He’s running hard. He’s getting knocked down by the big boys on the other side and picking himself up and charging toward the ball.

And then, just like that, Eli cuts through two defenders along the far sideline, dribbles towards the goal, and hooks the ball cleanly into the net.

Our sideline erupts with cheers, Eli’s teammates give him high fives, and I hear a parent from the other team exclaim, “Oh my god. Did you see that kick?”

And the best part, for me anyway, is Eli, the thinnest kid on the field, jogging back on the grass, smiling as brightly as the sun.

I’ve written very little over the last few months. I could make excuses about long days at work and a toddler who wakes up at 6:00 AM and traffic and dishes in the sink, but truth is I could have made the time. I could have canceled cable and tossed the TV off the deck. I could’ve pounded Red Bull and typed strange stories all night.

I didn’t, though. I gave up.

Sometimes I forget that kids teach us as much as we teach them. But watching Eli on Saturday reminded me that I need to pick myself up and keep writing, even if the others are smarter and better, even if I’m looking down at the dirt.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing, right here, right now.

I’m blogging again.

And I’m trying to be as strong as that thinnest kid on the field.