License to Quill

quill

So … this happened. My wife and I decided to get tattoos for our ninth anniversary. Since we’re almost to our 10th, and since we recently discovered a local artist we like, we decided to make the appointment.

The image, in case you don’t recognize it, is a quill. It pairs nicely with my wife’s inkwell.

inkwell

My firstborn took the tattoos in stride. My secondborn, the 5-year-old, declared that she liked them, but not if they stay forever. “I just want you to be my regular dad,” she said, making me feel inexplicably guilty. “I want you to be like you were before.”

I told her that I love her even when she gets permanently taller, which didn’t seem to translate. After a night’s sleep, however, she seems to have come around, asking to see the ink and noting that she likes it.

A Midsummer Night’s Underwear

A Midsummer Night's Underwear

The first day of summer is one of my favorite holidays I never really celebrate. My win-the-lottery dream is to buy a huge acreage and install on it an outdoor theater on which I can stage an annual production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” once the sun goes down on the longest day of the year.

I still like to mark the day, even if I don’t have any particular revelry planned.

This year, my wife gave me underwear covered with bugs to recognize the importance of June 21. She gets me.

And now I have something to wear when I’m feeling a bit Puckish.

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Summer Week: Little Women

Summer Week: Little Women

Since before my firstborn could talk, I’ve read three bedtime stories a night. Actually, my wife has done a fair amount of that reading, and sometimes honored guests (grandparents, aunts and uncles, favored friends) get the privilege, and occasionally the kids’ behavior has been so horrid that they’re told to go straight to sleep, but when I say that I read my children three bedtime stories a night, and that I have for years, it’s basically the truth. I am the story reader of record in the family, and while my wife is also a bookish person, I’m more of what you would charitably describe as book obsessed. A bibliophile. I like what books look like on a shelf and stacked on tables, I feel a peace settle on me when I enter a library or bookshop, I can’t get enough of their smell, and—most of all—I love the words inside: how they read, how they sound, what they mean, why they mean what they mean, what we can learn from them, what they’re telling us, what they’re not telling us.

I read to my children just about every night because I know that children who are read to are more likely to become solid readers, to gain advanced language skills, to be wonderful people (right?). I read to my children because I work in an office all day and want to spend time close to them in the evening. I read to my children because I want them to associate time spent around books to time spent around me, in a safe, cozy, loving environment. I read to my children because books are important to me, and my children are important to me, and I want my children to recognize the importance of books, as well as their own importance.

I read to my children because there are so many stories I want to share with them.

I read to my children because I can’t not read to my children.

Though most of this reading has been picture books and short chapter books, we’ve recently made the jump to longer books. We started “Little Women” some time back, but recently took a break from that to blast through “The Phantom Tollbooth,” which proved to be a great choice. My girls would chant “Milo and Tock! Milo and Tock!” as they were getting ready for bed each night we spent exploring Dictionopolis, Digitopolis, and all points between.

We’re back to “Little Women” again, which the girls are enjoying, though in a different way. There are a lot of large and archaic words and terms, and my now-5-year-old secondborn asks a lot of clarifying questions, which is fine and understandable, but also breaks up the flow a bit. I don’t mind. Much. Still, I wonder how much they’re catching.

We recently read the chapter in which Amy maliciously burns up her sister Jo’s handwritten stories, and my girls were scandalized. Perhaps forgetting their own daily squabbles, they shook their heads, tight-lipped, at the sibling-vs.-sibling battle. But when Jo decides to ignore her petulant sister and refuses to forgive her, my daughters gasped out loud. Both of them. Even if other stuff is going over their heads, they recognized the seriousness of this broken relationship.

I’m looking forward to many more books to come. My firstborn is already reading “Little House in the Big Woods” on her own for a summer book challenge, so I’m thinking we might try “The Hobbit” next.

What were your favorite childhood reads?
and/or
What are you reading or looking forward to reading with your kids?

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Summer Week: Dinner Conversation

Firstborn (eating ice cream): Where does the word “dessert” come from?

Me: You know, that’s a really good question! I think—

Firstborn: Where does the word “grave” come from?

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Finals Week: The Lunch

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Thanks to the stellar math-a-thon fundraising efforts of my firstborn’s class, they get a pizza and ice cream party tomorrow on the last day of school, which means today’s lunch was the last I had to pack for the school year. That’s a big deal for me. To celebrate, I went with one of my daughter’s favorite sandwiches from our family’s first-grade menu: salami (nitrate free—or is it nitrite free?) and basil. She’s told me repeatedly throughout the year how much she loves this sandwich.

This morning, she whined about having to eat it, complained about the basil, and tried to pick it apart before I put it into her lunchbox.

My wife also pointed out that lunch responsibilities are now falling more firmly on her shoulders for the summer.

I, however, am choosing to remain in my good mood.

(If you’re wondering—and why wouldn’t you be?—my firstborn got 98 out of 100 math problems completed in five minutes correct. I don’t usually brag on this blog, but like I said, I’m in a good mood.)

What are you having for lunch today?

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Return Week: Death Becomes Her

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While recently walking through a nearby cemetery, which we used to do more often but now only sometimes do, we discovered a gravestone bearing a name similar to—but not exactly spelled the same—as my firstborn’s. She was excited.

I had forgotten about the find by that evening, but a few days later, as we drove past the cemetery, she casually announced, “Look, there I am!”

I was creeped out to see her pointing out the window at a field of monuments and headstones, but I do have good recall and the ability to think like my kids, so I quickly figured out what she meant.

I’ve mentioned this particular child’s fascination with the macabre before, and instead of trying to sweep it under a sunshiny rug, I figured that interest can be harnessed.

Thus was born the idea for our Summer Mystery.

While at the cemetery, my firstborn also noticed a lone headstone in the middle of an otherwise empty section. This stone is obviously very old: weatherbeaten, spotty, and worn down. She wants to know why it’s isolated. So I told her our summer project can be researching the grave to find out who’s buried there and why. We can contact the cemetery district, the mortuary owners, the historical society. I figured it would be an educational opportunity.

Sound like a fun summer activity, yeah?

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Return Week: Questions and Questions

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“Where do babies come from?”

It’s an easy question. One of the easiest, really. If you’re a parent, you know where babies come from, and the answer really is quite simple, no matter how squeamish you may feel in talking about it with your children.

My wife and I have no problem with that question.

It’s the questions with difficult answers that trip me up.

Every year, my family attends the Memorial Day service at the cemetery near our house. We hear “The Gettysburg Address” from a sort-of Lincoln impersonator, listen to a quartet sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and clap for the men and women who stand and salute when their respective military-branch theme songs are played. As parents, my wife and I are upfront about death.

But as easy as it is to explain to our kids that lungs or a heart or a brain can stop working, it’s difficult to explain why someone would make that happen to someone else.

How do I answer my newly 5-year-old secondborn when she asks, “Daddy, why do we have wars?”

I hate not being in control, not having the answers. I hate it when that same daughter asks me why her stomach is hurting and what I can do to stop it from hurting. Every night. Short of continuing to take her to the doctor for tests, there’s nothing I can do. I don’t have an answer.

I’m still asking questions myself: What drove a frustrated 22-year-old to kill six people in Santa Barbara? Why do gunmen attack children in schools? What will I tell my children when they first hear such reports, when they first receive and comprehend the news that in another school, another classroom, kids just like them were killed—for no reason?

After the ceremony at the cemetery, my firstborn, just about to turn 7, told me that she wants to join the Air Force, like my dad. I told her that if that’s really what she chooses to do with her life, I would support her, but in the meantime, I would try to talk her out of it.

“Why?”

I struggled for an answer.

“Because I would be afraid,” I finally admitted. “I would be afraid that you would die.”

She was undeterred—because Grandpa didn’t die—but I’m not too concerned. She only recently wanted to be a fashion designer/entomologist, which was a career choice that may or may not have involved her creating dresses inspired by insects. I was never clear on the specifics.

I’m not clear on a lot of things.

What if my secondborn’s stomach doesn’t stop hurting?

What if the tests reveal something bad? Something terrible?

What if one of my children does join the military? Sees combat? Disappears from my life?

What if not all of my children outlive me?

What can I do that I’m not already doing?

These are the tough questions. Or, more accurately, these are the tough answers to find.

“Where do babies come from?”

Please. Sperm and an egg are a walk in the park.

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Winter Soldier

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Me: Is Captain America your favorite superhero? Or your favorite Marvel superhero?

Wife: My favorite Marvel superhero.

Me: Interesting. So who’s your favorite superhero?

Wife: Probably … Captain America.

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Assessment Week: Freaky Friday

So here it is.

My first post in days upon days. No doodle to go with it.

What is this world (or at least my corner of it) coming to?

I suppose six months is something like a decade in blog years, but in reality, I’m still figuring out this whole life-work-blog balance. And I’m not doing very well, apparently.

See, with one wife, two jobs, and three kids, I keep pushing blogging off in favor of work that pays and actual human interaction with my immediate family members. I mean, I guess I could technically stop sleeping (which is kind of what I’m doing now, typing, as I am, at 12:39 a.m.), but I’ve been dieting lately too, and I don’t want to give up everything.

I realize that daily postings shifting to roughly weekly postings is a bit jarring to my hundreds of loyal readers, but as I said before, I’m still figuring this out. The Shallows are still very much important to me, and I’m working out some kinks that will allow me (or encourage me) to post here more often. In talking with my wife tonight, I realized that my posts don’t have to be perfect. My life isn’t, after all, and this blog is a fairly accurate depiction of that.

I aim to start posting more snippets. More quotes. More small stuff.

For instance, I could have posted something short yesterday, in honor of my wife’s birthday, when our 4-year-old burst into our room at 6:30 a.m. singing at the top of her lungs: “It’s Mommy’s birthday! Happy birthday, Mom! It’s her birthday! I’m not going to hit her!”

It’s not like the secondborn hits my wife often—or at all—on other days of the year. I think the lyric was just a statement of fact.

And boom: That’s a post.

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