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.

Rough in the Diamond

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I totally faked out a bunch of other dads today.

At my daughter’s softball practice, I put on a glove, walked out onto the field, and played catch with her.

Classic, right?

These other guys—and a couple of moms—had no idea I’ve never played a team sport in my life. Likely only one or two of them noticed that I had to borrow the glove, since I don’t own one myself.

But there I was, the 1997 star of my high school production of The Music Man, the guy who opted to take ballet instead of P.E., the son who read one of the Chronicles of Narnia books through a Lakers game he attended with his parents, and I was totally throwing a ball around with my kid.

I’ve tossed a ball back and forth with her lots of times, sure, but that was just playing around. During this practice, I Iooked like I knew what I was doing. Roughly. I even caught the ball with my opposite bare hand when my firstborn’s enthusiastic throws went wildly askew—a move that impressed her to no end.

I must admit that I paid close attention to her coach when he came around to explain how to stand. “Elbow up!” he said. “Keep this hand high, and turn your hand so the ball’s facing this way! Make sure you look like the Statue of Liberty!”

I kept my elbow up. “Give me your tired, your poor … ,” I thought to myself as I prepped to lob another ball my daughter’s way. When I felt someone looking directly at me, I rolled her some grounders.

I was a confident kid, but my firstborn has way more personal confidence than I do now. She jumped into softball with an enviable enthusiasm, not caring that she’d never so much as touched a real bat before her assessment day.

She’s recently been talking to my wife about the future, probing for information about what she can be when she progresses beyond elementary school and gets closer to adulthood. She wants to know how laws are made. After quizzing my wife on various rules and realities, my daughter has decided—completely on her own—that she wants to be a child model to earn a lot of money until she’s old enough to go to law school. Then she’ll use her earnings to get a law degree so she can practice as a lawyer. But that’s only until she turns 35, at which point she’ll run for president.

I know a lot of kids say they aspire to be the leader of the free world. I don’t know too many who map out their steps to getting there from first grade.

Maybe someday she will. Maybe someday she will help the homeless, the tempest-tossed. Maybe someday she will lead this country watched over by the woman who lifts her lamp beside the golden door.

If I can venture into the world of athletics for the first time in my 35 years, for her sake, anything is possible.

I Love it When She Uses the Oxford Comma …

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My wife’s Valentine’s Day present to me this year now hangs above a drawing I gave to her for Valentine’s Day two years ago.

I thought about arguing that I’m more geeky than nerdy, but 1) I realized I shouldn’t nitpick a Valentine’s Day present, and 2) I remembered how I get about grammar. Plus, “talk geeky to me” doesn’t carry the same pun value.

I totally love my wife.

‘Who is REALLY caring for your children?’

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My wife came with me to the recent Dad 2.0 conference in New Orleans (thanks again, Cottonelle, for the trip!), where I attended sessions and workshops while she drank cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde, visited cemeteries, and otherwise explored the city.

I’m joking. Mostly. While she did sample more of the local cuisine and color than I did, she actually attended some sessions, too, and visited the sponsor booths and suites, and met and talked with dads from around the country. She was an active attendee, and I was excited and proud to be able to share the experience with her.

My wife works with developmentally delayed infants and toddlers, a job for which she attended a conference of her own on Tuesday earlier this week. The day after she got back, she surprised me with this e-mail:

“Yesterday, I went to a conference in a neighboring city. It was nothing like Dad 2.0, with all of its glitz and swag (the entirety of my ‘swag’ for this one was a printout of the PowerPoint presentation and a folder—in my color choice—to store it in). No Lee jeans, no Starbucks (in fact, the first announcement of the morning was an apology for the fact that they forgot to buy Half and Half to accompany the industrial urns of watery coffee). I left my house at 5:45 in the morning and returned roughly 12 1/2 hours later. The conference was attended primarily by educators, child development specialists, child advocates, and foster parents.

“During the breaks, I chatted with the people at my table. One woman asked if I hoped to have children someday. I informed her that I already have three children. She declared, ‘Oh, you do not look old enough to have children at all!’ Bless her heart. Of course she asked my kids’ ages. I told her. Upon learning that I have a toddler, she asked how I could get away from him for an entire day to attend a conference. I assured her he was safe and sound with my husband/his father, and I had no concerns about being away for a day. Then she said, ‘Sure, but who is REALLY caring for your children? You must have a nanny or a daycare provider. A man couldn’t possibly handle a toddler and two older children ALL DAY LONG.’ I was shocked. I’m sure I said something about my husband being an amazing father and just as capable of caring for our children as I am. But mostly I remember working very hard to keep myself from expressing my outrage in a way that was sarcastic, rude, or unproductive.

“I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but this conversation—and the sentiment behind it—was repeated all day long as I chatted with more and more conference attendees. I am disheartened to realize that in a room of more than 150 professionals who work with children for a living, so many people are clinging to the idea that men cannot be competent (if not excellent) caregivers.

“I am thankful for Dad 2.0 and the blogging world that is working hard to change stereotypes of men and fathers. I am happy to see small changes in the media and advertising that are depicting involved, loving fathers. I hope to see more. I hope, as each year passes, fewer and fewer people react with surprise and shock when I say my children are with their father for the day.”

I was humbled and grateful to read my wife’s perspective, and though I have flown solo with the children before, I do have to point out that the two girls were in school for part of this particular day, and a friend did watch the kids for a couple of hours in the middle of the day since I edit two weekly newspapers and we were on production deadline. But I did get everyone out of bed, dressed, fed, brushed, and packed up in the morning; had the toddler with me in the office for the first third of the work day; handled all of the school drop-offs and pick-ups; edited articles for two newspapers with and without kids tugging at my sleeve; gathered up all the kids for the third third of the work day; drove them to an appointment in the late afternoon; and took all three back into the office with me at the end of—and past the end of—the work day because a computer crash in our production department deleted several files and I had to re-approve already-done work in order to make sure the paper could get to the printer late but intact.

Quickly moving from assessing libel risk to changing a poopy diaper is an odd shift, but not a prohibitively taxing one.

I am fortunate to have giving and flexible friends, bosses, and co-workers, without whom none of this crazy juggling would be possible. I’m amazed and grateful at the help we receive, and at the fact that my wife has a similarly busy schedule—plus she remembers the laundry—and pulls it off.

I’m not doing any of this (or mentioning it) for applause; it’s what has to be done. But I’m sure glad she’s the one I’m doing it with.

The Chaos

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I’m still in the midst of playing catch-up after my New Orleans trip and getting a handle on my freelance work. The above page of doodles is something I dug out of a drawer. It’s from 2002 or thereabouts, and it represents, well, chaos. There’s also a rare hand in the middle there.

In the midst of my busy schedule and tapped mental state, I haven’t wanted to post just for the sake of posting. But every day that goes by without an update on this blog makes me antsy.

Today I had my son with me at the office for a spell, and then all three kids for a particularly busy stretch after a co-worker’s program crashed and took a chunk of work with it. It was a marathon day, a nonstop day. And now I have my work at home. Still, I wanted to post tonight.

Journalist Josh Levs is writing a book, titled Stretch Out, about “American fatherhood” and ways life can improve for families. I talked to him at length while in New Orleans, and he’s looking for more dads and moms to contribute to his research. You can find a list of questions here.

I was happy to be able to give him some potentially usable material, and I can’t wait to read his book. I’ll have to wait until 2015, but I have enough to keep me busy until then, I’m sure.

New Orleans, Part 1

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I was looking for New Orleans. After two days in the city, I was itching to find it. It being an undefinable something I hadn’t yet discovered, but that I would soon recognize as being quantifiably New Orleans. Maybe I was looking for the heart of the city. Or its soul.

But that it can’t be forced. Truth be told, I don’t think it really exists.

The problem is that I was looking for my idea of the city: a fictional amalgamation of various incarnations of the Big Easy pulled from books and movies, music and stories, even visits to Disneyland. I was looking now for a New Orleans that no longer existed and would never exist, a romantic vision that mingled the most haunting and historic aspects of its past with the most poetic and glimmering hopes of what it could be.

As a visitor, I nonetheless didn’t want to be a tourist. As a stranger, I nonetheless wanted this city to be familiar.

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Whatever I was looking for wasn’t in the drunken bustle and hooting on Bourbon Street. It wasn’t in the hemmed-in stretch of water that I belatedly realized was The River. It wasn’t in the unshaven beggars and tipsy street artists, the bands competing for ambient dominance on every block in the French Quarter, the slick nods to voodoo and ghosts and vampires in every corner shop selling suggestive T-shirts and factory-produced Mardi Gras masks.

I didn’t want the New Orleans everyone else got. I wanted my own, private New Orleans—one that met my lofty expectations and revealed to me the secrets it knew I was looking for, even if I didn’t know what they were.

I wanted, I suppose, to be welcomed into a family that had been waiting for me to return to a home I’d never lived in, to feed me with authentic, generation-spanning crawfish-and-catfish recipes, to speak to me with a Creole patois and pull back a beaded curtain to reveal—aha, yes—the New Orleans I’d built in my mind.

My search was, of course, both naively selfish and obviously fruitless. I think we all do this when we travel—if we travel—though we do it to varying degrees. We search for the Hollywood sign in the redwood forests of Northern California. We look for smoky, starlit French cafés in the middle of a Parisian traffic jam.

I do, anyway.

I imagine wandering alone or with my wife along otherwise deserted stretches of parks, museum corridors and galleries, famous and photogenic thoroughfares, architectural marvels and monuments—and then bristle at everyone else doing the same. As author Bill Buford wrote, “The crowd is not us. It never is.”

When I arrive, I complain that I can’t see the city for the tour buses and tacky merchandise and people. Really, I can’t see the city for my own expectations.

And when I realized that—remembered it, really—I was able to find the New Orleans that was there: the solid, welcoming, real New Orleans with wet sidewalks and commercialized mystique. It.

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All history is manufactured, and it’s still being churned out today. Marie Laveau’s tomb. The graffiti on Marie Laveau’s tomb. The historical society member/tour guide lamenting the graffiti, the attempts to remove the graffiti, the attempts to repair the damage made by the attempts to remove the graffiti.

One night, my wife and I ate at an obviously modern restaurant set up in a building erected in the 1780s. We bought locally made pecan praelines that were individually wrapped in plastic and packaged for shipment anywhere in the United States. At another restaurant, we asked about the property’s history, only to learn that our apologetic New York waitress had only been in town for a couple of months and had no idea as to its past. “I think a princess lived here?” she ventured. We sipped absinthe in a pirate-themed bar, where we pushed two chairs next to a gas fireplace and ignored the ATM against my wife’s back. Next door was a bookstore set up in the space where William Faulkner worked on his first published novel. Election-day paraphernalia for a local office littered the streets. Emergency-vehicle sirens split the night in numbers the likes of which I’ve never previously heard.

I had expected a city preserved like a dragonfly in amber. But despite all my looking down for what was crystallized and unchanging, I was fortunate to catch a quick glimpse of iridescent blue-green wings lifting into the muggy Southern air. To catch a quick glimpse of New Orleans.

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