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?

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?

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.

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?