Friday, June 5, 2009
My father died just before Christmas last year and yesterday I got around to going through his things. It's not something you ever picture yourself doing even though it's a job almost all of us can expect.
My dad and I had a few rough years recently..well a couple of rough decades really. He was Southern, and a drinker, and he had made some very poor life choices that somehow I became responsible for in the end.
I have tried to remember him young and successful, flying airplanes, sailing boats, telling stories, holding everyone enthralled in that rolling honey boil of a voice. I have tried remembering being the apple of his eye and following him on a thousand adventures.
Going through his things there weren't too many reminders of those times we spent together that were good. Mostly I saw evidence of his downward spiral. There was a box of old photos and cards that I had given him and other personal scraps of memories that conjured the bright times...but all in all my father just wasn't there.
Strangely enough, it was an old flannel coat that brought him back to me. A snuggy jacket he had worn on wood cutting expedition's, and fishing trips, and working on my house and in the garden. A coat he had only worn in old age and never in his hey day. But somehow it held the smell of him, the essence of him...woodsmoke and fresh air and Irish Spring soap and tobacco, that I recalled from my early years when he was still my hero.
I tossed it in the dump with most of his other things...but for some reason I couldn't leave it and I scrambled back in and pulled it out and held it pressed to my face. Then with my eyes closed and my nose in old flannel I could remember going to Pleasure Island on the boat and looking for pirates, and watching the thunderstorms roll in together from the safety of the garage, lightening bugs in a jar, learning to sail by starlight, talking late into the night, and being tucked in, and a million other moments.
A large part of being a father, of being a parent, is making mistakes...but hopefully if you do something right, you will be remembered for more than that. You will be greater than the sum of your left overs..
You will linger on in as a scent, an adventure, a gentle touch in the large dark night. You will be remembered.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Women have a lot of weird hangups about food.
Arguably food is there to eat. But women have given it a weight and importance that goes beyond it's abilities to nourish. They talk about it gingerly, discussing the ingestion of food with the careful phrasing of cocktail conversation about Far Left Politics and the Second Coming.
It's a topic that is socio-political, cultural, genetic, and economic.
If you mention food to a woman you will find yourself in a conversation about dieting, coupon clipping, additives, and organic properties. You may be judged with the intensity of the Nuremberg Trials on your contribution to the state of the world.
If you talk to a man about food he will pretend to listen while he eats it.
Now I know there are calorie counting Jareds out there, and skinny artistic ascetic guys who are happy with a saltine cracker and a glass of water, and conscientious SAHDs who make sure that there children eat breakfast from the farmer's market, or have a balanced meal.
Many men I know are foodies, gastronomic wunderkinds that cook without measuring or timing...that create buffets fit for a king while making good conversation and holding a glass of wine or a beer.
These are not the guys I'm talking about.
I'm talking about the other kind...the kind that eat whatever they want because..here's the kicker...it tastes good...and food is fun and tasty and hell... it's here right? Somebody made it so somebody's got to eat it.
These are the kinds of men a weekend parent strives to be.
Successful weekend Momdadding has a lot to do with food. Sometimes our weekends kind of revolve around it. Eating is a big part of the celebration, the letting go, kicking back, and letting it all roll attitude of a Weekend Dad.
I can plan big outings, and camp in the yard, and play Star Wars action figures for hours, and the kids will tell me at bedtime that the best part of the day was the pizza.
I'm was born in the South, so I'm no stranger to food.
It is the focus of births, weddings, divorces, and death. It is the answer to every equation. And most of the men cook as well if not better than the women.
I was raised on chicken fried steak, and chili, and gumbo, and beef in all it's incarnations. I like Hershey's syrup on chocolate ice cream, and I know that pimento cheese is actually a food group. I was taught how to gnaw bones. I believe a meal can consist of a meat and two starches and no vegetables.
In Heaven I will eat fried shrimp every night and still have a small ass and clear arteries.
When I was little we owned a restaurant and often I was the advertisement...the skinny little girl in the window eating her way down though a pile of ribs.
When I was a teenager I became a calorie counting vegetarian and broke my father's heart.
As a mother I am careful to make sure my children have a balance or healthy close to the earth foods and the occasional surprise meals made like I remember.
As a weekend dad I am re-learning how to love food for food's sake. To eat food without worrying about where it came from, what it will do while it's in me, and where it's going.
I eat therefore I am.
Eat something, anything. Lot's of things that you normally say no to.
Eat them where you want, when you want, and revel in it.
Food is fun Weekend Dad novices!...this is perhaps the greatest secret in your Momdad arsenal. Your kids will appreciate it if you let them have two Popsicles before dinner and skip salad. They will remember it in their old age.
And there is nothing better than eating anything smothered in cheese and feeling absolutely no guilt or responsibility about it.
To get you started here are a few of our favorite recipes.
My Dad's Texas Chili
Really really simple. Really really easy.
You might want to play with the proportions a bit until you find the combination that makes your taste buds say Yee Haw.
1 lb ground chuck
1 very large onion or two smaller.
2 tsps of minced or chopped garlic.
3-4 Tbls of chili powder
1 Tbls cumin
Brown your meat and soften the onions. Just before they reach desired brownness add garlic and spices. Stir together until ingredients are an even red color (from the chili of course). Add water until the chili looks about like the amount of soupiness that appeals to you. (For me it's about 1 1/2 to 2 cups) This mixture will be watery and will thicken more as it cooks.
Cook on a med low heat for at least an hour, adding water as you cook to keep it at the original level. Do not allow the water to cook away too much or you will lose your flavor. Stir occasionally and stir again before dishing out.
This chili is probably runnier than you are used to and it's packed with flavor. You can eat it plain, over a burger, or like my family does...over a pile of vermicelli with cheese melted on top. We call it Texas Spaghetti and boy is it good stuff!(My dad actually used to cook a hot dog or two in the chili toward the end and eat it on the side. It's dang good but only for the strong of heart.)
Servings: We feed one adult and three kids with this and still have some left overs.
Calories: There are no calories in Texas, sugar.
Philly Steak and Cheese Tater Tots
Great for movie night. Sometimes we each get a fork and eat these out of the pan.
One each red and green bell pepper
One large onion
1 lb of boneless steak (breakfast or other thinly sliced boneless. Feel free to use the good stuff but you'll put so much cheese on top you'll hardly taste it.)
Take one bag of Tater Tots and cover with sauteed onions, bell pepper, and steak strips. Top with mozzarella cheese and pop in the broiler until cheese melts.
Servings: Up to five portions or one generous one.
Calories: 10,867,042 per serving.
Avocado Tomato Dogs
We used to have a hot dog steamer that made these perfectly. We finally had to throw it out after ten years when it started shocking the chef. I don't know if they make them anymore but boy is it a good investment.
Boil, steam, nuke, or grill your dogs of choice. Really you should be eating the all beef ones, but if you like ears and tails in your buns than go for it.
Warm your buns.
Spread a layer of mayo on the bun and stagger two slices of red ripe tomato (beefsteak preferably) and two slices of ripe, (not too ripe) avocado. Add pepper and eat.
These are really really good and elevate the hot dog to more of a meal.
Servings: A child will eat one or two and an adult could pack away four (ahem...not that I would know or anything.
Calories: The amount of calories one finds in a hot dog, some mayo, a bun, tomatoes, avocados, and pepper.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Put something together without a man
Okay boys the secret is out.
It actually isn't that hard connecting electronics. I mean it isn't well-house science. All these years I thought I needed a man to hook up the tv-dvd-vcr-receiver-speakers-projector-second telephone line-multiple computers.. Turns out I needed two fingers some spatial skills and a lot of patience.
One of the coolest things I ever got (but don't ask me how because it's a long story involving a church, a crazy lady, a sudden death, a race car driver, and a policeman.) was a projector. It's the kind with the two hundred dollar light bulb in it...the kind that's kind of nerve wracking to use around children who are attracted to bright light and disaster like moths. Anyhow...
After staring at a jumble of inherited electronics while watching my fifteen year old television with a stereo/mono switch for a sound system, I decided to try to piece it together. And the short story is I did...and it wasn't that hard.
I am just sending a shout out to all the ladies...if you are staying in a bad marriage because you don't know how to program the dvd player to record a movie or network your computer...get out now.
It's very doable. I think the discovery that a woman can plug wires in and run cable may be a key component in a second feminist movement.
But I digress...I am the man of the family now and I don't have time for all this hen talk.
I put it together, turned on the projector, threw a sheet up on the wall, and sat back to watch "The Hulk" Momdad style..with a plate of Philly Steak and Cheese Tater Tots and a bucket load of tolerance...enjoying the movie even while the little kids "played along" with it...jumping up and down on the couch and growling at each other and saving each other from peril.
The Tots helped.
Hook something up without needing to be hooked up.
Live life without a manual and figure things out on your own.
Friday, May 29, 2009
The strangest thing is happening at my house.
My kids are playing together.
I am an only child. I have no point of reference for siblings. Having more than one kid has been like orchestrating a science experiment without a control group. Each child's birth has deepened the mystery to me.
As an only, I spent my whole childhood playing with a huge cast of imaginary friends and fantasizing about having brothers and sisters. I even pretended to be my own twin for awhile.
I grew up in a sibling free wasteland, a place where there was never anyone to understand how stupid, unfair, or ridiculous my parents were being, a place where I opened my Christmas presents alone while the folks watched, a place where a bunk bed was unnecessary even though I wanted one.
When my children multiplied I expected them to appreciate how lucky they were to be born into a herd, a gaggle, a pod, of other children.
I thought they would spend their days together planning escapades, building forts, and fighting pirates in Neverland.
What a bunch of BS.
Naturally, as most people that have brothers and sisters and who do not think the Parent trap was a true story know, the last thing you want to do is hang out with your siblings.
They not only don't spend time commiserating about their parents, they use them to plot against each other. They fight over
They agree that they do not like each other.
Being the kind of parent I am, I'm constantly enouraging them to do something together. I keep an album (a very small one) of the few times they have hugged, kissed, or sat near each other willingly.
But something has begun to happen this summer. Summer, the time I dreaded all year because it meant they would be stuck in the same house, same car, same yard for days on end...summer when my job as referee would kick over to full time...they are beginning to see one another as people they might want to be around.
The teenager has actually talked to Liam and Isabel, she has let them come into her room, she has tickled them and chased them and admitted once or twice that she thinks they might someday become human.
She has picked up the baby without being asked and hugged him and made him giggle.
I am beginning to think she might be human too.
But it is the middle children that have really come around and left me wondering if I'm hallucinating.
They have willingly turned off the TV and played together for days...yes days... on end. They have played Spiderman, and Pet Store, and Star Wars, and Princess and race cars, and dollies.
Not only are they playing together cooperatively but they are shifting back and forth across gender preferences and finding ways to appreciate each other's interests.
Wisely I have sat back and let it happen. I have sat on my hands to keep from applauding. I have taken only a few pictures, casually, so I don't alert them to the miracle that is happening.
It is something to see after years of expecting, then hoping, and then finally convincing myself that I had the wrong idea.Of admitting sadly that siblings were punching bags not playmates.
It turns out all I had to do was be patient.
Do I think this will last?...well...I am an only child. I grew up believing in fantasy. There is part of me that does think that they might stay this way...that soon they will begin to snuggle up in bed and share secrets and plan the next days adventure...that they might actually come to love each other.
Hey what are you laughing at?
Better clap your hands quick buddy, before a fairy dies.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
How to Hang a Spoon on Your Nose
-Hanging a spoon on one's nose requires only a metal teaspoon, a nose, and a little self confidence.
Here's the secret that makes the Cool Mom skill work: Your child needs to huff on the spoon to get it really fogged up. That's the only way it will stick.
First have your child shine up the spoon and his nose with a napkin. Now have him take a deep breath and gently exhale into the curved in side of the spoon. Tell him to really fog it up.
Then with his head held regally and tipped slightly back, he should gently but firmly press the spoon onto his nose.
The tip of the spoon should be near the bridge of his nose. The part where the handle begins should be near the end of his nose.
Have him press firmly on the back of the spoon for about five seconds. Once the spoon sticks, have him stop pressing and slowly remover his hands.
It will take a few trys but you'll get it. The spoon can hang in place for an amazingly long time...as long as ten or fifteen minutes with practice.
This is a great thing to do with the "I'm so bored" crowd. It also works on car trips and makes family dinners more fun. I suggest that you practice first so you can impress the kids. Go ahead...you know you want to.
*excerpted from 101 Secrets A Cool Mom Knows by Sue Ellin and Walter Browder
Monday, May 25, 2009
Even God rested.
Vacations, even the best one's take the stuffing out of you. If there is one thing I'm learning from being a Dad on weekends, it is to relax when I need to. This Monday the kids and I are just chillin' on the couch watching movies talking about the trip. I'm not even going to unpack yet. It's summer...I can have a long Momdad weekend and skip the manic Monday.
Today, if at all possible I suggest you do the same with your young'ens. If the weather is nice, drag out those lawn chairs and kick back with a root beer. Remeber all those boys that have gone to war and fought for you so you can sit back in freedom. Remember all those mothers, and fathers, and brothers, and husbands, and lovers, and sons.
You are one lucky son of a gun.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Everybody say OH WELL
When traveling with children it's inevitable that:
- Someone will fight
- Someone will cry
- That you won't be able to afford certain souvenirs
- That you will get lost trying to find your hotel, then need to switch rooms, and then still have to order more coffee, more shampoo, more blankets, extra towels, and an extra room key.
- The jacuzzi will be out of order
- You will lose your parking ticket
- You will park fourteen miles from any attraction you have to walk to
- There will be no bathrooms anywhere when you need them
- No one will agree on what to have for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, drinks, or dessert
- The minivan will amplify the sound of children approximately 100 times
- You will all wear on each other's nerves
- At some point in the vacation you will swear you need a vacation from the vacation, and that you are never taking one again
A father is often the intervention, and he is almost always the comic relief. While a mother spends her time patrolling the world and her children, on the lookout for misconduct or potential disaster, the father somehow accepts the existence of both, the likelihood of each, and still manages to enjoy the times in between.
It is my most critical lesson as a Momdad. To exist in those spaces.
On my Momdad vacation I managed at last to do that. Perhaps because I had been in a hospital where children were dying. I saw them with my own eyes. Kids with bald heads, and wasted limbs; parents with haggard faces and empty arms.
Somehow, through some miracle or sheer luck...I have four...FOUR children, who are healthy and whole enough to spend an entire day playing with me... running, jumping, fighting, eating, wetting their pants, screaming at each other, finding excitement at new discoveries, laughing, and stopping to tell me that that they love me.
We walked out of that hospital together, and somehow as soon as that sunk in, the trivial inevitable mishaps of life didn't seem like such a big whooping deal any more.
I managed to experience everything on the list above and say "Oh well."
Those are not the things I will remember about this vacation.
I will remember that in the spaces between those things:
- We played in the pool without looking at the clock
- We shopped for breakfast at the farmer's market, my teenager like the chef she someday wants to be carefully selecting each mushroom, each piece of fruit delicately and deftly, silently thrilled by her own knowledge and skill in the matter
- We learned that cherries taste better when they dribble down you chin
- We walked to the famous Arch, it's slender arcing curve nestling just a small coal of pink light before the sun went down. Underneath it we lay on our backs and watched the sky. And then we walked down fifty steps to a flooded street, a surreal scene with puddles of street lights, and signs cocked at an angle and staked in the river. My children waded up to their knees in the Mississippi where the road used to be, delighting in the strangeness of the moment, in the way the water hushed and hid things that they knew had been there. It was my favorite moment of the trip, maybe even one of the best of my life. We had come upon a unicorn, unexpected magic spilling into the everyday.
- At the zoo I rented a stroller that would have been worth my last penny, it held all three little kids and I could have pushed it with one finger. The animals were all out right on cue. We pet stingrays, laying on the wall on our bellies, reaching out while the Rays nuzzled us and splashed and jumped. We could have spent all day there, connecting with something unexpected. I followed the Middle Littles as they ran from exhibit to exhibit, equally excited about lions, chimpanzees, penguins, snakes, sea lions, birds, and even bugs on the ground. Insert all the cliches about experiencing the world like a little child here.
- We sailed home without a hitch, stopping halfway to get a pizza. Instead of eating in the car or the restaurant we took dinner to park. And then after we had eaten, even though it was dark and we were exhausted and road weary and hours from home we stopped and played until late at night, trying rock climbing walls and teeter totters and the tiny tots playground, and the big twisty slide.
We played until there was no way we would get home before midnight.
Don't sweat the small stuff
Be able to tell the difference between the small stuff and the big stuff