Friday, January 31, 2014
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
You might remember that a very kind fellow blogger, Larry, at Me, Myself and Kids Blog, took it upon himself to feature a song I wrote on his site. I had read his blog before and his post titled "Ain't Feeling Love For the Monthly Bus Pass" really got me to thinking.
It's that feeling of exasperation at knowing, owning even, your flaws. When I read about poor Larry losing stuff all the time, I winced at his words. Each item in his list of losses hit me like a shoe because, I understood his frustration, sensed the burden – comic at times, tragic at others – that a simple fluke in biological design can yield.
You see, I'm hard on things. I guess it may sound funny, but, it's a real thing. This shirt I'm wearing, with the frayed collar and the missing button on the pocket flap? No, I did not inherit this, in fact, uh, I got it last Christmas, and it is LLBean, and I've worn it out. That Loveland sweatshirt, with the hole in the armpit and the unraveled waist, well, I got that about six months ago.
Oh believe me, it's not just clothes. I bought a new Chevy S-10 in nineteen-hundred-and-ninety-one. I sold it when the boys were born, almost nine years ago now. A milk-horse in the Middle Ages suffered less than that poor truck. Radiator after radiator after starter after alternator after radiator... ad naseum. Tires wearing out, rust eating the bed, the ceiling fabric drooping, clutch slipping all before their time. It was constant. I was hard on that truck.
In the late nineties, during a period of change for me - like now, like always, really – I bought some new furniture. “Heirloom quality” they said. Now, knowing how hard you are on stuff leads to the understanding that you have to get better stuff. So I bought a beautiful chocolate leather chair and suede couch. Both now sit in the basement, a broken spine on the couch and leather worn through on the arms and seat of the chair. Worn out. Spent.
Tents and toasters and washers and dryers and disposers and eyeglasses. Shoes, shirts, underwear, socks; sheds and mowers and shovels; well, everything, really. My wife didn't really understand what I meant when we first married, about being, sort of, hard on things. She does now. I wear things out. I break stuff. I broke a friend's two-hundred dollar chef's knife, snapped it in two. I sat on a brand new Saturn once and the whole front quarter panel fell off underneath me. I touch a zipper and it's stuck. String-trimmers vex me and don't get me started on computers and phones and audio and/or video equipment.
But, just as Larry has, I have learned to accept my, uh, eccentricity, no, malady, no, curse... no, my gift. Yes, gift.
You see, I loved that truck. It was my first truck and the first new vehicle I'd ever owned; it was deep blue and white, a V-6, and it got me where I wanted to go. Long road-trips, downtown parking, mountains, deserts, coasts, Route 66 - all experienced sitting in that worn-down-torn-up-fabric-blanket-covered comfortable, important bench. I was hard on it because I needed it and I knew its importance.
The furniture? Yeah, it got worn out. The couch broken under the weight of the jumping and giggling and fighting and dreaming and reading and hoping it endured from the minds and bodies of the young boys who grew up on it. The worn-out arms of that beautiful library chair I bought so many years ago, worn through by the dear little butts of the babies and toddlers and preschoolers and, even now, third-graders, who perched on them reading about trains that can and wolves who puff. They wore down because of love and purpose and the beautiful disintegration that is the haunting result of growth.
My son, Nick, loved a shirt, a white shirt with a a simple Xavier University logo on it. He wore it all the time and I couldn't really get it clean in the end. I remember it was way too big for him when he got it and it was showing his belly when I finally, uh, retired it. It was stained, graying, fraying, thin. I watched him put it on once this last summer and, as it settled over his tan torso and his cute little towhead popped out of the narrow neck hole, he sighed, smiled and sort of gave himself a little hug.
I asked him why he always wore that shirt, knowing, deep in my heart, the answer already. “I don't know, I love this shirt, I just do... it's so soft and it smells right and it feels like a hug when I put it on.” This tired shirt I have on, well, that above there, what he said, is exactly why I am wearing it. I understand what happens, I know what he's feeling. It is safety, familiarity, security. It is a constant amazement to me what things seem practically genetic.
Well, I guess you might be wondering what this has to do with being a Dad. It's funny, I always find myself a bit surprised when I actually arrive at some point, like, conclusion, I mean. But, for once I started with one: know yourself. I know I wear things out, Larry knows he loses things. It could be anything – tardiness, gluttony, loudness, a dark sense of humor, a weak spot for Disney Movies – but, by knowing it, this weakness, this flaw, you are made better.
My other son Zack is an “absent-minded professor.” I have seen him standing in front of the fridge shaking his head because he doesn't know why he's there; he gets into the shower with his socks on; he puts jeans on for bed; tries to eat his pencil instead of the pretzels and his shirts are constantly on backwards. But, you know what, he knows that about himself. He thinks it is silly and interesting and, most importantly, okay. “It's what makes me, me,” he said once.
Oh, I nearly forgot. That grand old Chevy still runs, I see it parked at the Post Office all the time:
And Nick's "Blue Blob" shirt as we used to call it... yeah, I've still got it, stuffed in the rag chest of drawers, which isn't so much for rags as it is for memories and the hope of childhood. I found a picture of him in it. Ignore the rally cap and the popcorn box sleeves, that's actually a story yet to be told:
And since I am shuffling around in the old picture folder, I am actually wearing the shirt I spoke of earlier in this pic:
And that bandanna, I'd worn it so thin in the eight or nine years I've had it that just about a month or so ago I tore it tying it up on my head. I went to put it in the trash but... it ended up in the rag drawer.
From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the back seat ..."
"I ripped it out so we wouldn't hurt it."
Well, that's the sensible thing to do...
It's cold out there today, I am glad you could step inside and warm up.
Friday, January 24, 2014
So, here's how it all went down. I wanted to post something today. I wanted to post some stuff that they boys have done - I've been sort of getting away from that a little. Actually, I've got a backlog of fodder a foot deep but I wanted to couch this in a positive light.
So, I scan a few things, blunder about as usual with the chip watchagidget from the camera, get it all together to put on the blog, I get ready to light my candle and then I realize...
It's five degrees outside. It's maybe sixty where I am working in the unfinished basement corner I call my "office." Well I really never call it that, but...
So, I decide to use a laptop upstairs. Clever.
Right, so, let's see. I will load the images onto the blogger page create-a-post, uh, place and then I'll save it and go upstairs. Okay, now it wants a title. These are just odds and ends, I don't really know how I am even going to make a cohesive post yet... I'm just cold.
I type in "Odds and Ends" stumbling over whether to capitalize 'and' - as I always do - and then I think again. These are really sort of odds and odders.
So, now you are caught up. As an aside, I'd like to tell you that I brought up my candle - new ones, Thanks, Marci - and the cat, Paige, singed her little pink nose out of curiosity.
So, let's play odd or odder. What is oddest here?
The actual concept of this school project, which seems to be a four panel sort of pyramid thing on which they were to write categorically specific New Years resolutions. Here is the whole thing - one of the cats nibbled on the point there, yes, the same one who just singed her whiskers - it's, well, three-dimensional:
This is the first panel (note the excellent spelling):
So, now, here is the second panel. It's a little more, well, difficult to understand. The copy there on that bottom triangle of the - what the hell are these things even called? - quadrathingee says: "My to do mor (more) often work with my brother more to make more songes for are (our) band.
I am assuming the category is "to do more often." You may remember from the post "Memorize This Moment" that the boys are a songwriting duo, but, I am not sure if I mentioned the band they are in called "Second Place Sluggers." So that's fairly odd, don't ya think? Well, it indeed gets odder. Take a closer look at the artwork above:
(Hold on I have to go downstairs to scan this in a little better detail, I didn't really have a plan today, if you hadn't noticed.)
(Damn, it's cold down here...)
Right, so I am back upstairs and in the warmth and brightness of the living room. Yes, I know, I shouldn't have left the candle lit. The cat appears to have a few whiskers left and most of her hair, although I did leave the disassembled quadrathingee dangerously close to the focus candle
We were looking at the boy band above. Clearly the boys are rockin' their orange hair there on some old-school mics. But, um, what of the logo above? It says 2 Place Sluggers, that's pretty hip and that seems to be a slug (because a snail wouldn't make any sense) being crushed under the weight of a plump, suggestive, well, tomato, I think. Well that makes sense, right? But, why is there a dismembered leg and shoe - neatly tied - hanging odiously. Is it about to kick the happy not-snail? Odd...
The next panel is his "to improve" quadrathingee quadrant:
That's him, in the "spelling bee" spelling the word 'spelling' which is funny. Yes, yes he did misspell improve, and, truth be told I just misspelled 'misspell.'
I didn't get all the words when I photographed this but I am not going back into that basement to scan it - the candle might burn the cat, or the house, down:
It says, My somthing not to do eneymore" Bite my nails. It's a toxic thing... odd.
Zack made a beautiful calender at school. I'll show you the months another time. The cover is odd don't you think:
I am absolutely not sure why that imagery has been chosen. It is by no means reflective of the theme of the whole thing because that has remained indiscernible even after considerable, uh, consideration. Really, really, odd.
Here are a few basketball plays Zack figured up for the Nerf basketball team. The name and affiliation change frequently but they are in the "Basement League." I think the heart play is cute.
This seems to be a sketch of an area at Hogwarts. It's good to have a couple of "fun" rooms. I've no idea where this one came from. In fact I found it with the page from the playbook underneath the couch...
The arbitrariness of it all is sometimes off-balancing. For instance, this I pulled out from under a little stand that holds all the art supplies for the boys in the dining room. It came out suctioned on the end of our trusty Tyson, uh, butt first, as it turned out:
Truly, all I could think to say was: "Oh, I'm sorry, uh, Je, um, bobol." I had never seen him before in my life.
Very odd, odder even.
I should sum up but it's so cozy up here... Note to self, if you take apart a quadrathingee you will never, ever, get it reassembled. It's a curse thing, I think.
Worst summation ever.
From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat..."
"You win some. You die some."
This post as been dying from the get-go...
Thanks for stopping around today and I'm sorry about not being in my usual place. It's complicated, and don't mind that burnt hair odor. It's fine... everything is fine... out, out, damn candle.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
I am woefully ill-prepared for today's assignment. For instance, I'm not sure if there should be an apostrophe in that last sentence. And, I said I'd be brief...
Bloggers abound, good bloggers don't. Me, Myself and Kids, by Larry Bernstein, is a very good blog. His writing is concise and witty, always clever, always poignant and, well, I find myself very moved by his heartfelt prose. He tells stories. I love the story-tellers.
Larry approached me and asked if he could share the song I wrote for Nick and Zack called The Nick and Zack song. Since I am trying to be brief, as you can see from that concise former sentence, I will not wax on about the wave of emotions I felt. You know - how people are nice, what a nice gesture, hey, he likes me. How a simple affirmation from him made what I do seem worthwhile, today, and perhaps for my boys in the future. He made me feel valid and essential.
This is going well...
Listen, we throw stuff up and out of ourselves – we artists and writers and hopers and dreamers and lovers and poets, you, me - hopefully towards others. My song landed on Larry. His words had already landed on me.
Here is a link to the song post on his beautiful, clean, enviously professional page, Me, Myself and Kids. I'd look around a while if I were you. But, uh... well, you'll come back here, right?
Oh... here's a picture of a very odd balloon giraffe and a blue, fuzzy cat-lemur-bat-bear-squirrel, they're indigenous to New Zealand... or Turkey, I mix them up.
Why are you still here?
Here's why. I wanted to tell you something else. I didn't realize what going back and remembering that song would do for me. Like a forgotten photo or the long lost scent of a lonely cabin, hearing that song again, really listening to it, sent my mind afloat in an absolute sea of sweet memories. For that I am sincerely in Larry's debt - thank you, sir.
Babies, toddlers, boys.
Love, honor, cherish.
Oh, right, brief...
I first introduced the song in this silly post. If you happen to be new here, it's a good piece to start with.
Sunday, January 19, 2014
It's actually quite simple, really. The boys wanted some cake. We needed a reason to have cake - I'm not sure why that is, in retrospect - so...
It is a very good idea to have an imaginary bear make your cakes when you are a very bad baker. I believe he baked it for his own birthday.
When I showed it to the boys they went right along with the story of how Bear-Bear and I made it and argued over who would do the writing on the cake - he won. I even put a little flour on Bear-Bear's nose to add a bit of realism.
I will continue to aid them in suspending their disbelief.
The magic is in the making, or the baking in this case.
To celebrate. To cherish. To honor.
To show them that they are loved, with actions and props and stories and stuffed animals in the kitchen.
Plus... he's a really sweet bear.
From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."
Nick (age five): ...my pretend mama told me a joke: "You can't go to bed without your grill." Hahahahahahaha...
I don't get it, I'll ask Mom...
Thanks for stepping in today. I know you've a lot to do and I appreciate you taking the time to take a look here.
Monday, January 13, 2014
I find these things all the time, little things, temporary things, junk, trash... and in them I often find amazing treasure. I was actually holding this little gem...
And then I noticed this...
The one there on the top, well, it had this written on it:
And that other one? This:
So, there you have it, these are no longer paper towel tubes, they are, really and truly, a Sowrd (sword) and a wand. It says so right on them.
Imagination. I love being in its presence, not just in the boys, but anywhere, really. But, wait a sec. You know what, I am not talking about the fruits of imagination - Art, Literature, Music, you get it - but the process of imagining, the thing that goes on when we turn the tangible into dream, idea into art, love into words. It is a most remarkable opportunity I have, we have, we parents, to watch that primitive impulse to make up, to conjure, to manifest things from nothing. It's so beautiful and simple and innocent and true. I sometimes get mad at myself for forgetting that I can do it, too.
We are, right now, deep into the Harry Potter series, book four, I believe. We read every night before bed, usually as the boys have a piece of fruit or a cookie, for a half hour or so. By wife is a marvelous out-louder reader (I just can't think of a better word for that, 'narrator' isn't right, oh well...) and we've been doing this since before the boys can remember. In fact, often of an evening, my dear Marci will read to them as a fire cracks in the living room for an hour or longer. It seeps into their imagination. It shows them storytelling. It gives them heroes. I don't need to list the many reasons we do this, that seems obvious, but I will say this:
The boys love it.
Here are some spells the boys have been working on.
Nick's on the left there was the original, as I saw it, they worked together on the second there, which Zack printed. As you can see, "lit" originally was a turn minichur (miniature) come up from the ground spell is now simply, turn small. And finally, Zack spent probably a good hour or so finalizing them all in this very "official" as he called it, list:
It's a damn shame they only have one wand between them. I think they should try the "Sh" spell backwards to see if they can transform their "sowrd" into another wand.
It is a joy and an honor to be privy to all of this. It is also a joy and an honor to show it to you, now and, perhaps, some time ahead.
From Marci's "...things you don't expect to hear form the backseat..."
"Could I have access to your heaviest shoe?"
Nick said that and it is really my favorite on in this series thus far. Who builds such a sentence? I mean is this a threat or, jeez, I do not know...
I am glad you could stop by today.
(I tease about Nick's spelling, and, in his defense, he is aware of it and working on improvement. However, if I gave you these two spellings, 'sword' or 'sowrd' which seems better? Yeah...)
Thursday, January 9, 2014
I don't really advocate for much. I do not champion causes. I don't really like to be pushy or boastful, I don't want to endorse or rant around here, I just want to show you some silly kid things and tell you what I've been thinking, that's all.
So, when a blogger I know, Rachel Macy Stafford, asked if I could take a look at her then soon-to-be-published book, I didn't know what to say.
I just looked up the word champion: transitive verb : to fight or speak publicly in support of (a person, belief, cause, etc.)
Well, you know what, I will champion her cause. I like transitive verbs. And, I believe in her. So, what can I do to help here, maybe something like this...
Rachel's book Hands Free Mama is subtitled with this perfect distillation of her message: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters. She advocates making ourselves more available to our children, and each other, by freeing our hands of the devices - and our minds of the distractions - of everyday life in this frenetic twenty-first century. She does this with a gentleness that is both healing and redemptive. She leads you to look in on yourself, on your actions, with purpose, and then she teaches you to reach out with grace.
No, that's too heavy handed... Let's see.
A couple of stories? Yes, that would help.
I am standing at a bar with friend of mine, a younger, hip, connected kind of guy with a career in the computer world. We are talking about something important, hops I think, and he notices a couple of leather bracelets I wear with burnt letters spelling, curiously, “live hands free.”
"What's up with those," he asks, and picks up his iPhone which has just done that curious spinning move phones do when only set to vibrate, and begins to fiddle, with both hands, furiously, deftly, practicedly – mindlessly, in truth – as I try to keep his attention.
I try to explain that a blogger I know has a site and a new book coming out about the distractions and devices we put between us and our kids... or friends. She is trying to show overly distracted people how, with actual plans of action and real tangible tools and exercises, to achieve the goal to 'live hands free.'
He looks over his phone at me for a moment and says: "So, that's even a thing...?" He trails off and goes back to his text.
Another time I was coaching first base, a boy I'll call Jon was up to bat, he hadn't connected all year and it was the second to last game of the season, and, he knew it. Finally, after a few foul tips he punches one right up the line at me, I duck and when I came up I saw him beaming and running at me like the colt he had become. The boys on the team went nuts, our coaches went nuts, the other teams coaches, sensing the moment, cheered. In fact everyone went nuts.... everyone except Jon's Dad. No, he had wandered off, his back to the game, phone to his ear, just as he'd done at all the previous games. I watched Jon's eyes dart to where his Dad had been seated, I saw the instant of heartbreak, I saw that boy lessen, get smaller.
No, no, no... that doesn't really help champion her cause, that just simply shows the problem. The problem that sits like an elephant on the dining-room table, no, sits like a giant 1950's computer whirring and spinning and clicking and clacking precursing the tiny devices of today, still whirring and spinning and clicking and clacking and getting in the middle of everything. You know the problem, you've seen it, I know you have. It is as plain and as obvious as the noses on the faces buried in the laptops and phones and tablets everywhere you look... uh, if you could see them.
Well, this is harder than I thought it would be. Mostly, and here is where I don't want to sound smug, I really don't suffer from full hands. I am a pretty “hands-free” guy. When I first encountered Rachel’s blog I was struck by something else, something beyond her deep and important mission, something beyond the heroic stance she had taken and advocates.
In the introduction of Hands Free Mama she tells the story of her distracted, harried self seeing the beautiful loneliness in her daughter, sitting down with her and, in an emotional scene, her daughter lifts up Rachel’s hand and kisses her palm. The first of so many stories, deep, heartfelt, important stories, that Rachel tells as she guides us along a path that she has blazed herself, bravely and without regret.
Twelve chapters - each with a sub-head - some are below:
Acknowledge the cost of your distraction / Awareness
Choose what matters / Deliberateness
Recognize the gift of today / Presentness
See through undistracted eyes / Clarity
Seize the callings of your heart / Compassion
Remember life is precious / Gratefulness
You see what she's done there, presented an action statement using a strong, stalwart verb and then softened that with what is essentially the state to which that action will take you. Simple, essential, perfect. In fact the whole damn table of contents reads like a poem.
Truth be told, I am not the demographic that I am sure the fine folks at Zondervan hope will love Rachel's book – and they will. I am fifty-plus years old, I read philosophy, I pray daily, I play guitar and sing regularly, I drink scotch late into the night and dream into the fireplace. I find the time to do these things. I am very connected to the boys – I know them. What I am trying not to say here is that her “hands-free” message is not what initially drew me to her. Again, I tell you, it was her words, words which she lined up to tell the story of her distracted self, in a car, at a stop light, and the moment that changed everything. I was mesmerized – still am.
There is a section in each chapter that really shows the rich control and the depth of understanding it takes to write from the heart, as Rachel does so well, called the “Hands Free Reflection.” Each one a poem, metered or not, capable of shining alone, but focused on each chapters goal. In Chapter Ten, Let go / Forgiveness, it is a beautiful piece called “Free from the Heavy” and in the last half of it she writes:
We show up.
And we keep showing up.
Because we know someone is counting on us
And when that someone sees us showing up, it means more than we
Then one day, maybe sooner than we think, every sacrifice we ever
made and every tear we ever cried will be exchanged for something
Maybe it will be a tender word, an apologetic embrace, an expression
of joy – whatever it is, we will know because it is the moment we have
been waiting for, perhaps praying for.
In that moment we will shine at the one we love and the one we love
will shine back at us.
And every past mistake that once weighed heavily on our soul will be
overshadowed by the light of a beautiful moment in time.
And at last we will be free from the heavy.
Three words echo back to me from this, tender, joyful, embrace.
That is how Rachel's words make me feel.
So, it occurs to me, sort of late into this I'll admit, that I am not exactly sure what I am championing here. Honestly, I get fired up about everyone’s face in a device. I have seen it lead to unprecedented heights of distraction and, sadly, it can keep us from our kids. I know that. You know that. Rachel knows that as well. But, she goes so beyond showing us that obvious problem. She wants to take you on a journey towards joy. Only a fool wouldn't see the validity of her mission.
That being said, and, honestly, beyond all that, Rachel has a voice that absolutely soars. She tells stories of great sadness, stories we need to hear, stories longing to be told, and then she finds the redemption in them. With a tenderness beyond definition she shows you how to forgive yourself, not for the devices in your hand for they are merely silly props, but for not seeing the good that surrounds us, each and everyone. She makes this so much easier because we understand that she forgave herself.
Hands Free Mama is story-telling at its finest and fine stories always find a way to be heard. Rachel may think that her stories serve her cause, softening the edges of what is a controversial subject, helping her find the courage to voice the pain and ultimate escape from the distractions of a full-on life. But, I think it might be the other way around. I think the depth and tenderness and beauty of these essential stories simply needed a way to be told.
Her words shine brighter than the worthiness of her cause. I can't imagine how anyone other than Rachel Macy Stafford could have pulled that off.
Well, you've stayed this long, perhaps you'll listen to one last story. I had on the same bracelets which, by now, I hope you have realized, are Hands Free Mama bracelets, at the school the other day and a Mom I was volunteering with noticed them and asked me about them. Now, how to put this delicately, this is a Mom who might, benefit, shall we say, from the message of Hands Free Mama, so, I was eager to give her the blog info. We were standing in the foyer of the school so I went rooting around my pockets for a pen and piece of paper. I wrote down the web address of Rachel's site quickly and, as I handed it to her, I realized what I'd written it down on … the back of one of my own blog cards.
“Oh, uh, don't worry about my blog, but do head on over to Hands Free Mama , it's much better.” I heard myself say. True story.
Thanks for stopping by today. All the info to order Rachel's book and become a part of her thriving, joyful community is here:
Rachel Macy Stafford
Oh, and I'd get a hard copy if I were you, those paper pages absorb tears so much better...
Sunday, January 5, 2014
Some guys seem able to throw a blog post together in no time.
However, sometimes they sorta write themselves.
Nick and Zack have been working as a songwriting duo for many years now really (how is it possible to write many years in conjunction with my babies?). When they were little they would start singing short made-up songs - think Children of the Corn or Gregorian chants - mostly in the backseat, mostly at full volume, mostly mind numbingly repetitive and inexplicable. Recently, though, they've been getting their Rogers and Hart on.
Here are three examples, they like to use a word program on the computer to finalize them, they don't really understand the "save as" function so, I am usually left unable to find them so, I scan them. I like scanning. So, with no further ado, except to say "no further ado" and in no particular order:
Yeah, apparently there is a "hopelessly romantic" gene. "I love the way you look at me easy and smooth I love you 'cause we flow together." Memorize this moment, Dad.
"I don't want to say, say, say but I think I may, may, may." Seriously, these are better than most boy band songs.
You write a better line than "ho-ho-ho-holiday spirit." Go ahead, I'll wait...
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for bloggers to, well, exaggerate a little in their writings. You know, stretch the truth or, for real, just make everything up. I have manged to avoid that so far, but, honestly, this seems, well, fabricated.
It's not. Here are the early drafts, made by two hopelessly sweet, dear-hearted, cute, cute, cute little boys:
Sometimes I don't know whether to laugh or cry at their creativity, their preciousness, their souls. I choose to laugh most of the time, mostly because if I start to cry I don't know when I might stop.
From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the back seat ..."
"When you are fishing from the moon, you need a really long line."
Thanks for stopping by today. Hey, I mean that...