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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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.

Food Week: Lego My Order

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First of all, my Admiral Akbar Lego mini-figure arrived today. So that’s cool. Though I’m a Trekkie at my nougaty heart, that heart has a chocolaty Star Wars shell sprinkled with sweet goodness from about a dozen other fandoms.

As I took the toy from its package and mentally pondered how best to set it up on my desk, I was reminded not of my Lego-filled childhood, but of a trip I took to a fast-food restaurant when I was a freshman in college. Join me in reliving a carefree evening in the late ’90s (insert wavy visual distortions and a shimmering sound effect here) …

I was hanging out with some friends—some older friends, because I was cool like that—at an off-campus house where we were watching Beauty and the Beast. This was the Disney movie, not the Linda Hamilton TV series—because (have I mentioned?) I was cool like that. Then someone voiced a hankering for a double-double, that twice-mystical hamburger creation available only at In-N-Out burger, the nearest of which was only half an hour’s drive away. So a good number of us crammed into a few available vehicles and drove.

Most fast-food eateries take your order, assign you a number, and then call out said number when your order is ready. Indeed, that’s how this In-N-Out burger does it today, but back then, the cashiers actually took down customers’ names and used them to call guests to pick up their food. As we waited in line, one member of our party decided we should all give names from Star Wars, to which I readily agreed—because, etc., etc.

I, of course, chose Admiral Akbar, the Mon Calamari Rebel military commander known most famously—to geeks, anyway—for shouting, “It’s a trap!” in Return of the Jedi. Who wouldn’t?

The In-N-Out employees clearly weren’t impressed with our idea. As our orders began arriving from the fryers and assembly lines, the guy at the pick-up counter flatly monotoned into the microphone: “Han. Darth. Your orders are ready.” We thought it was marvelous.

“Yoda. Luke. Your orders are ready.”

My friends picked up their bags of burgers and fries, their shakes and sodas. Then, when my turn came, I grabbed my order as the worker called out, “Jawarhalol. Your order is ready.”

I pride myself on knowing some pretty obscure facts and characters from Star Wars, but this name was new to me.

“Jawarhalol?” I said loudly, turning to the crowded restaurant. “Who’s named Jawarhalol?”

A man who’d come in after us—a man I’d never seen before—glared at me as he picked up his dinner. I looked back at him, realization striking me like a rare well-aimed blast from an Imperial stormtrooper. I was unsure of how to explain why I seemed to be mocking him in front of my friends and all of the other good people trying to enjoy In-N-Out, so I just stood there.

He didn’t say anything either, but I’m sure he was thinking, “You’re one to talk, Akbar.”

I don’t know when that restaurant made the shift from names to numbers, but I’d like to think that my friends and I prompted the change. In-N-Out Burger apparently couldn’t repel cleverness of that magnitude.

Doodle of the Day

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Life has been a bizarre and unsettling mix of work busy-ness and housing uncertainty for the last few weeks. In short, the owners of the condo my family rents are coming by for an inspection today–the first such visit in the four years we’ve lived here. We’re worried that they’re prepping to sell it, which would trigger our third forced move in six years.

In light if that, here’s a doodle.

Green Week: The Luck of the Irish, Part 2

Green Week: The Luck of the Irish, Part 2

This is what the leprechauns thought of the trap the girls set. The food was mostly eaten, the teacup bathwater was sloshed around, bits of greenery were strewn about, and chocolate coins were tucked in various nooks around the room, along with a note that read, “5 gold coins for each girl and 2 for the boy.”

I have a lot of fun with this each year, which is weird, because I don’t like the Elf on the Shelf. At all. But this seems similar somehow.

What do you think? Are St. Patrick’s Day leprechaun traps cute and imaginative? Or taking yet another holiday too far?

Green Week: The Luck of the Irish, Part 1

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My girls make a leprechaun trap each year on the night before St. Patrick’s Day. This year, they decided to veer away from the sort of device that catches wee folk, and instead opted to make a cozy retreat—one that would be so inviting, no leprechaun would ever want to leave.

This palace features a grand, wood-block staircase; a big-screen mirror-TV; a couch; all-new carpet; a soaking tub; a dry-relaxing tub; gold bracelets; food (cabbage, cilantro, a cutie, and a Trader Joe’s fruit jelly); and several other amenities.

Who would ever turn down an opportunity to live in such luxury?

The Party You Are Trying to Reach is Unavailable

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The text from my wife read, “We’re at the movie. I had 2 shots of honey bourbon before we left (yay for not driving)! Feeling very luxurious. I love you!”

I didn’t encourage my wife to go out with a friend this evening to earn any special treatment from her, but the thought of her buzzed and happy and feeling thankful when she got home certainly made me optimistic for, well, the sort of evening that unfolds when my wife is buzzed and happy and thankful.

I put away dinner and got all three kids into their pajamas at the closest to bedtime we’ve been all week. The thirdborn, at 19 months old, has a strict routine he wants to follow every night. It involves a particular book about a puppy (which I couldn’t find tonight), and humming a hymn, and holding hands to pray, and turning a white noise generator to “ocean waves,” and hugging three stuffed animals before pushing them away, and then flopping around forever. My wife usually goes through most of this routine with him in our room while I read three stories to the girls in their room.

My firstborn lost two stories today for behavior issues, which presented a logistical problem akin to getting a fox, a chicken, and a sack of grain across the river. The girls would share one story together. The secondborn would get two more stories apart from her older sister. The boy didn’t want to stay in the girls’ room, and I didn’t want to leave the oldest alone while everyone else went into my room and tried to go to sleep.

So I read everybody a story in the girls’ room, then switched rooms and put my firstborn in my bed and equipped her with headphones plugged into an iPad playing Disney Pandora. I hunkered down on a mattress on the floor with the second- and thirdborn. We read two stories—substituting a second-favorite book about ladybugs for the missing book about the puppy—then turned out the lights.

Surprisingly, it all worked.

My son rolled and kicked, and my secondborn curled up on my legs, but everybody nodded off, one by one. When the last kid started breathing in that heavy “now I’m sure he’s asleep” way, I extricated myself from the tangle, congratulated myself on successfully figuring out the bedtime puzzle, and headed out of the room to do a little last-minute cleaning.

Upon descending the stairs I saw—serendipitously!—my wife just arriving at the back door. I went to let her in. And noticed her tear-filled eyes.

“Are you OK?” she asked, somewhere between a frantic gasp and a sob.

Before I explain why she asked that, let me set some more of the scene:

My son has recently figured out how to open our front door. During this past rainy weekend, I heard it slam and looked out our front window to see the guy purposefully limping down toward the street, one foot shoved into a yellow boot, the other bare. Tonight, I made sure I locked it. I’m getting into the habit.

I locked the back door behind me when I came home from work.

I often turn off my work cell phone in the evening, because it’s my work cell phone.

I left my personal cell phone in the girls’ room when I decided to move everybody into ours. I left my laptop in there, too.

The portable phone in our room (yes, we still have a land line) never made it back onto its charging base the last time we got a call (I’m note sure when that was, because only my parents, the blood bank, and telemarketers call the land line). Its battery had died.

We usually keep a window or two cracked in our bedroom for airflow, but we closed them both during the aforementioned recent rains and haven’t reopened them.

Got all that?

Here are the texts my wife sent me later in the evening, about half an hour before I came downstairs:

“I’m home and locked out.”

“Please let me in the house.”

There were also messages on my phone (“Hello? It’s your wife! I’m locked out of the house. Can you let me in please?”) and the house answering machine.

The Facebook message she sent read, “I’m locked out of the house.”

The white noise generator and faint strains of “Hakuna Matata” coming from my daughter’s headphones, coupled with my humming “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” for my son, apparently drowned out my wife’s shouts from the driveway. And her pounding on the doors. And the doorbell.

My trip downstairs to find her knocking on the back door was serendipitous only in that her own cell phone battery had just died and she was out of options for trying to reach me.

But she really liked The LEGO Movie.

Proofreading Under There

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I found a typo on my underwear this morning.

It was a new pair of underwear, as yet unwashed and unworn—a just-because present from my wife, who found the last pair of My Little Pony men’s boxer briefs at our local Target yesterday. I suppose that some people might call me Brony, a designation I’ve been able to fend off for quite some time thanks to the fact that I have two young daughters.

Every parent knows that children make for the best excuses when it comes to open consumption of entertainment directed at 4- to 8-year-olds. I mean, the only reason I can name the residents of Pixie Hollow, sing most of Phineas and Ferb’s catalog, discuss the Fire Nation’s tactics, and explore the mythology of Ninjago is because I have young daughters. Right?

Sorry, I couldn’t hear your response. I was humming “Everything is Awesome.”

I watch these shows and movies with my girls because I want to see and hear what they’re seeing and hearing. I watch for “teachable moments” to use as springboards for bedtime talks about ethics and morals. (“What would you do if an enemy came to you, asking to become your friend?”) And I watch, admittedly, because I get a bit invested in the characters and plot lines.

Let me put it this way: I’m not regularly agreeing to “just one more” episode of Caillou.

Pegging my own developing fandom on my children only goes so far, however. I mean, my local comic-book store owner might believe me when I say that I’m picking up the latest serialized issue of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic for my girls, but there’s no spinning a pair of men’s boxer briefs. That’s all on me.

I will be wearing these with a bit of irony. Rainbow Dash isn’t even my favorite pony. Plus, there’s the aforementioned typo:

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Dear underwear label writers: The word “it’s” is a contraction, smashing together “it” and “is.” An apostrophe does not make it possessive. But you already knew that, since you used the correct spelling earlier in the same sentence.

I obsess about grammar and word use way more than I obsess about pretty much anything else. But aside from Word Girl, there aren’t many shows for kids about the subject. I’ve yet to see a cartoon that addresses the Oxford comma and saying “champing at the bit,” not “chomping at the bit.”

I haven’t seen much in the way of grammar-based underwear, either, come to think of it.