Tag Archives: firstborn

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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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.

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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.

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Birthday Week: Kicking Worry

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As I noted over the weekend, my daughters each started an activity recently: softball for the 6-year-old and ballet for the 4-year-old. My wife and I committed the family to months of weekly or multi-weekly activities. The girls loved the first days of their respective pursuits and went to bed happy. My wife and I celebrated by watching the Bronies documentary streaming on Netflix that night. It made us both get all teary eyed.

Last week ended well, but this week didn’t start off so great. My 4-year-old woke me at 4:45 a.m. on Sunday asking for water, then more water, then some food. She had refused to eat dinner the night before, so I guessed she was fairly hungry. I made her a bowl of cereal and toast. At about 6 a.m., she started throwing up, an activity that—unlike ballet—continued for another 14 or 15 hours.

On Monday, I wasn’t feeling great—nobody in the family was, except for our first grader—so everyone (but the first grader) stayed home. And though she was keeping down food at that point, my secondborn then declared, sobbing, that her throat hurt. Of course, throwing up for an entire day will make anyone’s throat raw, but I immediately began worrying about antibiotic-resistant strep throat, since she had strep a month earlier.

Before you judge me, know that I’m about to fly soon—I’m heading to New Orleans for the Dad 2.0 Summit later this week—and I’m a terrified flyer in the best of times. Louisiana is currently in the grip of what meteorologists are calling a “once-in-a-generation winter storm.”

Tie all that up with a particularly stressful season at work and you’ll get an idea of why my mind is racing many miles a minute.

I’ve written about dread before in the Shallows, and that’s what really gets me: Dread that something bad will happen on (or to) my flight. Dread that my kid will get really sick. Dread that the flight will be fine, but my kid will be seriously sick while I’m far away.

My trip is coinciding with my 35th birthday. Here’s to hoping that 35 marks a year of less worry—less to worry about and less energy given to worry from my end. On that note, I’ll be writing Worry Wednesday posts only occasionally. I’ll still write on Wednesdays, but I don’t want to give all of them over to what’s eating away at me. I still want to leave that door open, though, since there’s something therapeutic about pouring it all out.

Sometimes.

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Awkward Week: Up to Bat

I have little to no athletic ability. Sure, I can sink wadded up balls of paper into across-the-office trash cans—typically when no one’s looking—and I play a pretty mean game of table tennis, but I’ve never played team sports or anything. Not really.

My wife swam in high school, but she isn’t what anyone would call athletic either.

As our firstborn has demonstrated both talent and interest in sports, we figured it would be a good idea to get her into something official, hence our first-ever foray onto a softball diamond this afternoon. Actually, my mom played softball for years, but I usually spent her games looking for bottlecaps.

I’m not a sports guy, if you couldn’t tell.

I’ve tossed a ball around with my 6-year-old from time to time, so she at least understands the concept of throwing and catching, but as I walked her toward the sign-in tables and paired-off lines of girls lobbing (overhand!) pitches into each others’ mitts, I realized that I should’ve talked to her a little more about the game.

“Do you know what you do after you hit the ball?” I asked her, pointing to home plate as we passed. “In a game, after you hit it?”

She thought for a moment, then: “Throw it back?”

“You run,” I said. “Run to first base.”

I got a blank look in return.

Fortunately, based on my observations from this morning, she’s a quick study and will likely trick everyone into thinking her parents know at least a little bit about softball. I mean, she’s not perfect right off the bat or anything, but she’s confident and has good hustle and is coordinated enough to actually connect a bat with a ball, or later throw that same ball in the direction she intends it to go.

I’m excited and nervous about this new phase in parenting, in life. I don’t know the team sports environment, either from personal experience or as the parent of a participant since this is so new.

We also chose today to start dance lessons for our 4-year-old, so we felt like cliche parents today for the first time: loading three kids into the minivan and shuttling everyone from home to rehearsal to home to practice to home.

So it begins.

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Awkward Week: Freaky Friday

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My family gets a farm box delivered each week, part of what’s called a “CSA” program, for “Community Supported Agriculture.” Basically, we pay for a share of what local farms produce, and the literal fruits (and vegetables) are delivered to our door.

This week, we received a lot of bok choy, which prompted my 6-year-old to collect it all and array it on a chair in our living room, giving each piece a Laura Ingalls Wilder-esque name.

“This is the bok choy family,” she said. “Here is Ma, Pa, little sisters Mary and Carrie, big sister Laura, and little baby Gary.”

Then she added: “So, which ones should we chop up first?”

My wife commented that the whole scenario sounded like a “Little House on the Prairie”/axe murderer mashup, but my daughter did subsequently singlehandedly prep and cook ginger rice noodle soup for the family for dinner tonight, so I’m not worried.

At least, I’m not complaining.

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Outside Week: Worry Wednesday

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Taking the kids outside of the house means exposing them to germs. Forget fresh air; people don’t cover their mouths when they cough and sneeze around town.

Since I can’t actually isolate my children, they do get sick. My son started getting a fever on Tuesday evening—101.4 going up to 102—which pretty much shut me down with worry for the rest of the night. Yes, despite me knowing that it’s not even that high of a fever.

It’s not so much worry as it is dread, I think. Author Orson Scott Card once wrote about dread: “It is that tension, that waiting that comes when you know there is something to fear but you have not yet identified what it is. The fear that comes when you first realize that your spouse should have been home hours ago; when you hear a strange sound in the baby’s bedroom; when you realize that a window you are sure you closed is now open, the curtains billowing, and you’re alone in the house.”

(I’m pretty sure that’s what I remember reading from a story collection of his back in high school. I couldn’t find the quote firsthand, so I turned to the Internet for help and can’t vouch for its total accuracy. I mean, it seems fine, but often so do words of wisdom mistakenly attributed to Einstein and Lincoln.)

Anyway.

At bedtime, I read a story packed with similes to my girls, and we took turns practicing creating some of our own: “We are as cozy as … ”

“Mice!” my firstborn said.

“We’re as sleepy as … ”

“Mice!” she said again.

I then turned to specifics of our family, saying one girl was as sweet as … and the other was as fun as … . Then I threw out: “Your brother is as sick as … ”

“A sick baby!” my secondborn shouted.

While my firstborn said, “Cancer!”

The little dude’s fever was gone the next day, and I know modern medicine has relegated to folklore the idea of teething causing a temperature rise, but darned if he didn’t have a giant tooth sticking out of his gums where there was just a little sliver of white before.

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