Spin

Last week Michael’s mommy bought a couple of new note boards for the refrigerator. High tech LCD pads, these units allow scribbling of whatever notes you like, such as shopping lists or recipes. They can be written on with special styluses, but to erase them means erasing the entire board: there is no way to erase part of the surface, as you could with a white board. She made it pretty clear to all the residents of the home that they are not for random scribbles or weird drawings, lest we desire certain doom.

So when I came down this morning and found Michael standing on a stool in front of the refrigerator, I was alarmed. “This is really neat,” he said as he drew on the forbidden board.

“Your mom said not to draw on that, Michael! It’s for her lists and nothing else. You know we can’t erase what you’re doing without destroying her list!”

“It’s okay,” he assured me.

“I don’t think so. She’s not going to be happy you messed up her list.”

It wasn’t long before I heard his mom making her way down the stairs.

“Mommy!” Michael said as he ran to her. “I made some special drawings just for you because I love you so much!”

“Awww, you’re so sweet!” She said as he brought her over to see his artwork on her board. “That’s so nice, Michael!” She leaned down and picked him up for a big kiss.

Michael’s grandmother and I just shook our heads in disbelief. Michael grinned at us both from over his mother’s shoulder.

“That was pretty darned smooth, kid,” I said.

His grandmother quipped “Maybe he’s going to grow up to be a politician.”

Why I Have Glitter On My Face

It all started over the Christmas break at school, which they now call the “Winter Break” so as not to offend people who don’t celebrate Christmas, although why it suddenly offends people who as far as I know have not banded together and issued hue and cry over the labeling of a school vacation period without checking to see whether some others might be offended because they don’t celebrate winter I will never know, and Michael had no school of course so naturally it was necessary for him to stay at home during this time which is okay for the most part since his mom and I both took some time off because we wanted to visit with Michael’s Grandma in eastern Oregon during part of that time anyway, and by the way if you’re ever over in Joseph, Oregon you MUST drop in on Arrowhead Chocolates as they make and sell not only amazingly wonderful chocolate there but they also create and sell absolutely the best mocha latte my wife and I have ever had, something we practically cried about knowing that we wouldn’t get another taste of one for quite some time, but after we came home there was still a week left of Christmas – I mean Winter break and Michael’s mom and I both had to get back to our jobs, but since Michael’s mom only worked two of those days it was easiest just to enroll him in a day camp run by the YMCA, one he had attended before in the summer time and he really enjoyed, so we did that and on the very first day they all did arts and crafts, the craft (or perhaps it was the art) for that day being the creation of a customized pencil, and in Michael’s particular case that meant the use of copious amounts of glitter in various colors all glued to a pencil using a glue that was designed to not merely release its bonds after some period of time but actively eject it like a grenade, which is what happened to Michael’s pencil, which he forgot to take into the house when leaving the car after that first day, meaning it remained to roll around on the console in the van throwing vast plumes of glitter here and there until after two weeks I finally had had enough and scooped up the now mangy pencil and tossed it into my computer bag, where it continued to scatter glitter across all of the contents of the bag, including my computer, mouse, headphones and notebooks, which meant that everything I touch on a regular basis to do my normal day-to-day career function is now bedecked with sparkly fairy dust of the saturated primary color variety, and of course this means that with every casual movement of my hand from any one of my work accessories toward my face, glitter is transposed to said face, which means that every day, without fail, I end up with glitter on my face, and I probably will until I retire, and why on God’s green earth I decided in the first place that putting that pencil in my computer bag was a smart thing to do I will never know.

This is why I have glitter on my face, and thank you for being discrete in mentioning it to me.

Pause

I had a doctor’s appointment across town this afternoon.

I’m always up for an excuse to leave the office behind for a little while, so to venture out would be a nice diversion.

It was a routine semi-annual visit. I was treated to an extra twenty minutes hanging around in the waiting room sifting through magazines about golf, luxury homes and geriatric disorders. After studying his notes and performing the obligatory stethoscope functions, the doctor delivered the usual wrap up: stay the course, exercise more, eat less, see you in July.

This doctor is on the fourth floor of the office building. The same floor as the skybridge back to the parking structure. This is why I parked on the fourth floor of the structure, because there’s something awesome about using that skybridge, being way up high and affording an excellent view of the surrounding buildings and grounds, and the traffic far below.

And today, that path was better still.

The weather outside was grey, cold, and rainy. It matched my mood perfectly. I walked through the glassy corridor as slowly as I thought I could get away with, feeling the cool wind reach right through the panes as the raindrops clattered noisily against the metal roof. If I had nowhere to go and nothing to do, I would have stood there for ten minutes or longer, hands on the railing, soaking in the ambiance of the rainy afternoon.

There’s something about a rainy day that provides a mental reset for me, lets me clear my mind of whatever might be troublesome or weighty.

I drove back to work with the radio off and the windows partway down so I could soak in the solitude of the rain, and listen to its own music.

Back to work, back to staring at a computer screen and solving problems.

Some day I hope to have time to enjoy a rainy day properly, without urgent agendas, serious concerns or clamor.

Kiss and Drive

Michael had an awesome bus stop a couple of years ago, when he first started riding the bus to school. It was awesome because it was just up the street and across on the corner, sandwiched between the entrances to the two cul-de-sacs there. There was something friendly and welcoming about that bus stop; Michael had a decent rapport with the six other kids there.

Then the school district transportation department decided that Michael would be better served at a different bus stop. The one down the street, where no fewer than twenty kids drop their backpacks in line and run around like wild weasels. This bus stop did not feel welcoming or friendly.

So this year I’m driving Michael to school. It’s on my way to work, mostly, and it doesn’t make me late, much.

It’s just another time we can talk and I can coach him on being a boy. And potentially a man. We talk about all kinds of things, but usually whatever’s chief in his mind at the moment: worries, bullies, zombies, angry birds, chocolate, anatomy, and why there are some shows on Cartoon Network that are definitely off limits.

The school employs what parents of elementary kids know as the “Kiss And Drive” lane, in which a parent pulls up to the school in a particular lane, and without parking, lets their kid climb out and head off to school on their own. After a requisite goodbye action (wave, handshake, fist bump, etc) the parent is to drive off. Hopefully this happens quickly enough that the line can move fairly quickly and nobody gets blocked in.

For Michael, the requisite goodbye action is a hug and a kiss.

He unbuckles as we creep up to a stop, then he stands and gets on his backpack, gives a quick hug and kiss, and he’s out the door.

At least, that is how it started.

This evolved over the course of the year to a more lengthy process: don backpack, hug and kiss, feint to the door, then a “what the heck” expression as he comes around for another hug and kiss before stepping out.

And more recently it has added a third iteration to the hug and kiss process.

All of this extra display puts our car squarely in the category of “excessive hang time” and “unreasonable lane blockage”

At first, I was anxious about it. I can’t block traffic! Must get out quickly!

“Michael,” I’d say, “Let’s get on with it! We’re holding everyone up!”

He would persist in his routine, though, despite my urging. Every day he would do two or three Hug/Kiss/Repeat combos, sometimes followed by a Stand Outside And Wave.

Today at drop off, something broke loose in me.

I didn’t hurry him out. I let him show his affection as much as he wanted to. As much as he needed to.

The other drivers didn’t honk, they just quietly pulled out and around on my left and went past. Nobody was annoyed, nobody was put out. The world didn’t come to a standstill just because my kid wasn’t through with his separation routine.

As you make your way through each day, counting through items on your checklist and watching the clock tick, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the procedures, and miss the substance of the journey. As an engineer it’s difficult for me some times to realize that the reason I do the things that I do is to support the family that I love… but that there is more to it than the sum of the individual accomplishments.

Some times life really happens in the spaces in between, and that part shouldn’t be tossed out.

Breakfast of Champions

Morning, time to deal with the usual ablutions.

“Michael,” I said, “What would you like for breakfast?”

“I dunno,” he said. He always says that. He says that when asked about his preferences for breakfast, for lunch or for dinner. I’m not really sure why I even ask any more.

“Well, let’s see what we have…” I open the cereal cupboard to reveal the cornucopia of breakfast time comestibles. A dozen boxes of heavily processed and vitamin-fortified grains in various shapes, sizes and flavors.

I notice that Michael’s mommy has been to the store recently and procured a couple of boxes of some of the seasonal cereals: Count Chocula and Yummy Mummy.

I pull out those two boxes and study them.

“Look here, Michael. This is what these guys used to look like when I was young. See? Count Chocula doesn’t look so goofy,” I say, holding up the previous box against the newer one.

“Yeah, he looks better without that weird smile,” Michael points out.

“And Yummy Mummy… I don’t remember ever having that one before,” I said, reaching in and grabbing the box for comparison. “Looks like we have a new box of that as well,” I said seeing the other box in the cupboard.

“What’s that?”

“It’s just another one of those cereals. This one I think is supposed to be cherry flavored. Like Boo Berry is supposedly blueberry flavored, this one is cherry.”

“Oh, I see. I like Count Chocula better,” he says.

“Of course! It’s chocolate!” I reply.

“Chocolate is the best!”

“I wish they hadn’t changed the pictures though,” I lament. “They didn’t need to make these guys look so goofy.

“So you used to have these when you were little?”

“Yes! And they looked like these (holding up the “retro” boxes) instead of these (holding up the modern boxes). And I think they were available all year long,” my memories bringing me back to those halcyon days of simpler needs and a higher metabolism. I could eat two bowls and still run a mile at school in PE class, and have no problem riding my bike the three miles to and from.

“They’re so good… it’s too bad they don’t have them all year long,” he says wistfully.

“Yeah it is too bad.” (pause) “So… which one do you want for breakfast today?”

“Cheerios!”

“Good choice.”

 

Then one day, it’s over

From a very young age Michael has enjoyed his morning drive with his mom.

Lately it was getting extremely awkward, as Michael has been getting bigger and bigger and less able to sit with any level of comfort on his mom’s lap as they pulled out of the garage (again… not “driving”, just a ride to the end of the driveway).

But he was insistent. He absolutely HAD to ride with her or the morning was not right. And if the morning started out wrong, the whole day would go downhill from there.

I’m not sure exactly what was different about the fateful day he opted to not go.

It was the typical morning: mommy had just put on her shoes and was gathering her things, Michael was occupied with his DS or something on television, and his mom called out to him: “Okay, Michael! I’m going off to work now! Do you want to ride?”

Ordinarily, he would instantly drop what he was doing and run to get his shoes on so he could go with her.

But one day not too long ago, in response to her call he gave her a goodbye kiss and said “No thanks.”

Actually, I don’t recall what was said, if anything.

He knew she was going. He knew what it meant. He knew that he’d be missing his morning ride.

And he chose not to go with her.

His mom was stricken. I did my best to provide comforting words: “It was bound to happen some day,” I said. “He still loves you, I think he’s starting to see he’s just too big for the ride,” I said. “At least he still kisses you goodbye!”

Small comfort. Hollow words. I don’t think anything could possibly fill the void his mom was feeling. Her little man was growing up. Just this little bit, just this tiny increment. But as small as it was, it was huge.

His mom got in her car, placed her coffee and lunch box in their places, and pressed the button on the garage door opener. She stared straight ahead.

“I love you,” I said, while hunching within the driver’s side window frame.

She just turned to look at me with pleading eyes, as if to say “Can’t he be little for just a little longer?”

As his dad, my hope is for him to grow up quickly and leave behind the childish things. My goal is to see him learn how to be self-sufficient, how to solve his own problems and handle his own stresses. In my mind, his decision to not ride with his mom is a sign that he is on the right path, by willingly setting aside one more aspect of small child hood.

But as a husband, I grieve with my wife for what she loses in the process: a tangible connection with that little baby she had. That little baby that now smiles only in photographs, that now giggles and crawls only on the video screen.

It’s good and bad, happy and sad. Life rolls on inexorably.

And one day (hopefully not in this decade) there will be grandchildren. Maybe one of them will want to ride in the car on her lap.

Tips For Teens: Loading a dishwasher

Hey, teens!

Have your parents saddled you with the awful chore of doing the dishes? Ugh! So gross. You have to touch other people’s leftovers and mess!

And why? It’s not like you made the mess, right? You usually rinse off your dishes, when you remember to bring them to the sink, assuming you can find them in your room because sometimes they get knocked under the bed or get left under a pile of clothes because you didn’t have time after school to clean up and it’s boring and anyway it’s your room!

But as I was saying… I have a great tip for you.

When your mom or dad forces you to load the dishwasher, follow this simple guideline: less is more.

Remember it!

Don’t bother loading the little stuff like silverware and glassware and plates and bowls… go for the big stuff! The larger the better! Why bother loading twenty little things, when you can load one huge thing?

Easy Load!

It’s a real time-saver.

And when your mom or dad complains that you didn’t do the dishes, show them that you did your best – you loaded it up and there was no room for more.

Good job, and so quick!

Now get back to the couch and finish off season two of “Drop Dead Diva” on Netflix. Don’t forget your bag of Flamin’ hot Cheetos.

Twelve Ounces of Grief

It was just a soda. Well… a soda and french fries.

But it was the core of a great deal of grief and anxiety for Michael yesterday.

It was a hot day; hotter than we’re ever prepared for in the ordinarily cool and rainy Portland, Oregon. We were heading to a baseball game. A minor league team was playing in the local stadium and we had three tickets given to us by friends. I’d finished up buying two more tickets to accommodate sisters and we headed out the door.

First stop, McDonald’s for a quick little bite for Michael. Chicken McNuggets, a small Dr Pepper and some fries. Concerned parents please note that this is a fairly rare occurrence; going through McD’s drive-thru for Michael is reserved for special occasions.

The stadium wasn’t too much farther along the road, and Michael dutifully ate his protein first. Unfortunately, he decided that it would be nice to continue his game of Plants Vs. Zombies on his DS rather than attending to his drink and fries.

We arrived at the stadium with twenty minutes to spare, Michael clutching his drink and fries while I held his game and other stuff. We figured he could finish up after we got inside.

Then, just at the gate where bag inspection was going on, we saw the sign: No Outside Food Or Drink!

Uh oh.

“Michael, we’re going to have to throw these away,” his mom said gently.

He looked up at her, completely stricken. Throw them away? In the garbage? But…!!!

“We can’t bring them in, sport,” I said. “They won’t let us.”

“No!” he said.

“Yes, we don’t have any choice. They won’t let us bring them in. We can’t keep them in the car, they won’t be good any more.” his mom repeated.

“Really, you do,” I said.

His face pinched and reddened as he slowly lowered the cup of soda into the garbage can, hoping somehow there could be a last-minute reprieve; that there had to be a way to save them. I could feel his conflict, his utter and complete dismay that such a thing could be allowed in a world of justice and love, that something he’s barely even had a chance to taste could be just wrested away from him and flung into the pit of endless loss and waste.

He let them go…

…and burst into tears.

His mother tried to console him. She tried her best. She bribed him with a foam finger. She bribed him with a baseball cap. She swore he’d get a snowcone, a drink, cracker jack, anything.

I walked beside him, saying nothing.

His sister was stopped at the bag check, and forced to dump out her water bottle. The water she’d brought from home was forbidden in this place. This had a slight effect on Michael, knowing that he was not the only one to be targeted… but the effect was small (later his sister and I thought of good excuses as to why she had to bring in water: “It’s prescription water!” “It’s my late Aunt’s moisture!” “I’m collecting the sweat of all the minor league players and this will complete my collection.” “This isn’t for drinking, it’s disinfectant for cleaning the seats.”).

The tears continued steady and strong as fresh waves of grief washed over Michael as he continued to relive the horror at the gate, as he considered anew the injustice, waste and loss.

I had to admit, I understood exactly how he felt. This was something I grappled with myself as a kid, and the sense of helplessness, dismay and loss crush you slowly and unendingly like a grinding stone.

His mom assured him that we would stop by McDonald’s on the way back and get another soda and fries. That seemed to help quite a bit. “We’ll do the Scooby-Do ending, where everything comes back to the way it should be,” she said, waving her hands in front of her face to indicate the magic of a TV flashback return.

Eventually, as the game progressed, the tears abated and his smile returned. At some points he even was inspired to get up and dance along with the pop music during the inning breaks, and was overjoyed to see himself displayed up on the jumbotron twice, busting a move.

By the time we left, he was all smiles and his old chatty self.

We stopped by McDonald’s on the way back, got that small Dr Pepper and fries, and closed the matter entirely.

He had his soda and fries again. Life was good.

The soda remained untouched on the table after we got home.

It wasn’t so much that he wanted the drink to actually DRINK it, just to HAVE it.

That’s good enough.

Adapting

There are many changes going on in our lives this year.

You might recall from recent news that Michael’s mommy has a new job at a brand new hospital right near by. Gone are the days of getting up in the wee small hours to see her off. Gone is the huge long commute. And at least for the summer, she’s home for dinner every night.

And there are big changes where I work, and while I can’t really talk about them too much, I will definitely say they are very much unwelcome changes: fundamental environmental changes that have not been felt in this company since its founding. Changes that have left my co-workers and myself scratching our heads and wondering.

One of Michael’s sisters graduated from high school the other day. She’s 18 and carries the official stamp of adult validation, the brand of the education system, the certificate of childhood conclusion. Which means she’s not around the house much these days, except when she needs to do laundry or take a shower or fix her hair or ask for money or feed her boyfriend.

Our oldest daughter has a full-time job and a diploma, and only occasionally makes a visit. Michael’s next-older sister just finisher her junior year of high school, and has ambitions for college life after next year.

And poor Michael, the last, lone child in the house, facing a long and unstructured summer break, is stuck with two parents who are still reeling from the changes to home and work, trying to keep up with the rest of us as we adapt our lives to the changes swirling around us.

Change is good. It stirs up the soul and tests the mettle.

But even so, it will be very nice when everything settles again.

Certified Dork

I don’t understand fashion.

Haute couture is a concept that is entirely alien to me. Someone might try to explain to me the logic and sensibility that form the foundation of fashion sense, but they might as well be explaining the concept of the color chartreuse to a person born blind.

Shoe style in particular befuddles me. As far as I’m concerned, anything that covers my feet completely and doesn’t promote blisters or smelly socks could be considered a quality shoe. I remember when I was in my late teens and I discovered tennis shoes that had Velcro closures. Think of it! The end of the untied shoelace epidemic! I figured this would be the biggest thing since square headlights.

Surprisingly, Velcro shoes didn’t catch on. At least, not for those over six. Undaunted, I kept right on wearing them. I’d instruct my poor mother to only purchase shoes for me that had Velcro straps. No laces! They got harder and harder to find in grown-up sizes; I’m not even sure they’re available any more.

Despite having been forced to wear lace-up tennis shoes, and even (gulp) dress shoes, I have still been completely unable (and entirely unwilling) to understand or embrace shoe fashion.

Which is why I sometimes get frustrated when I’m asked to help locate and select the proper foot attire for my highly fashion-conscious wife, particularly when it’s urgently time to leave for work, and her shoes are scattered to the four winds.

“I need shoes!” she will say to me, making no subtle implication that somehow their disappearance is my fault. Naturally, I can understand this. After all, ninety-five percent of the time it’s Mr. Man here who moves things around and hides things from her. Because there is little in life that brings me more glee than relocating her footwear.

“Where are they?” I’ll ask. This is a stupid question, I know. But yet it still manages to form in my mouth and then cross my lips. It’s almost involuntary, like the way you sneeze when you step out into the sun.

“I DON’T KNOW! WHERE I LEFT THEM!” Now, this is entirely true. They are right where she left them. The trouble is, she did not file a Last Known Location memo with me when she removed them from her feet. Thus it becomes my mission to recall the previous day’s events, starting with her arrival home, and to mentally follow her dotted line path from the garage door into the house, around the lower level and then upstairs to change. Somewhere along this path will be those shoes.

Eventually, I’ll locate a pair. They might have been hidden under a chair, behind an end table, protruding from under the couch, cowering in the laundry room, any number of places.

“Here are some,” I’ll say, holding them up.

“No, not those shoes! I need non-dorky shoes!”

My wife really loves me, I know this. Because she still hasn’t noticed, in our ten years of marriage, that I am a dork. And that as a dork, I do not understand what constitutes dorkhood in anything, let alone a shoe.

And as such, I have no way to respond to that exclamation.

But I have learned, that as a husband, it is possible to side-step certain issues if they cannot be addressed directly. In this case, that means trudging on and looking for more candidates. I am versed enough in her worktime accoutrement to know that there are only certain kinds of shoes that are acceptable, so this narrows the list down considerably.

Each of her shoe pairs has a particular name associated with them, so that I can quickly reference them without having to go into deep description. There are the black clogs. There are the red clogs. There are the beetle shoes. There are the green tennies, and there are the black tennies.

“How about the beetle shoes?”

“No!”

“The red clogs?”

“Yes!”

Ah ha! I’ve made a connection. Score the point for dork boy! I quickly scan the floor looking for the shoes. Today they’re resting underneath the computer desk, one canted at a jaunty angle over the other.

With shoes applied and keys and coffee in hand, it’s kiss-kiss and out the door.

Another morning with a successfully shod wife, and scored points for hubby.

“I’m going to chip your shoes some day!” I call out to her and her car pulls out of the garage.

I wonder if there’s a GPS locator app for shoes? I’m going to have to investigate that.