Outside Week: The Sun

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I don’t get outside as much as I should. I don’t take the kids out as much as they should get out, either.

I see photos of other parents taking their children out for bike rides or hikes and wonder, Where do they get the time? And, more importantly, Where do they get the energy?

Part of the problem is that my wife and I start the bedtime routine at 6:30—a time requested by my exhausted firstborn when she began kindergarten. By the time I get home from work and we all eat dinner, there’s not many minutes left for a trip anywhere.

Sure, I suppose we could take a walk around the block. And as I type this, I’m wondering why we don’t. And as I type that, I’m remembering that a simple stroll through our complex is anything but, since one kid will start complaining that she’s tired and wants to be carried, which will prompt the other to want to be carried—both by the same parent, both on the shoulders. Since that’s physically impossible, it becomes a fight.

In preparation for a jog-a-thon at my firstborn’s school earlier this year, she suggested training by running laps around our complex in the mornings. We tried it, and the first attempt started strong with a burst of enthusiastic speed, followed by a dawdling hunt for sticks and leaves that resembled letters so she could spell her name out of items from nature.

It’s not like we’re cave dwellers. We do take walks, and by “we” I mean “my wife and kids while I’m at work.” We aim to get out and about on the weekends: to local parks, usually. When it’s warmer, we swim at the pool or play games in the spa. And we just signed up my firstborn for softball and my secondborn for ballet, so there’s activity right there.

I don’t really have any good excuses for not getting out more, though. I mean, I do have excuses, but they’re not good ones. And I certainly don’t want to be mumbling something about tight schedules while my pasty children shield their eyes and hiss toward the sky, “The yellow face! It burns us!”

How do you incorporate the outdoors into your (presumably) busy life?

Imagination Week: The Pool

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My girls love going to the spa/pool at the center of our condo complex. A trip there can be a bit difficult, since the 6-year-old wants to spend her time in the cold water, while the 4-year-old wants to stay in the warm water. I have to act as a sort of mediator, saying, “Well, now, it’s not that frigid over here” and “Sweating is good for you! If you’re too hot, just sit on the edge there for a while.”

What the girls do agree on, however, is that they’re mermaids. They love to play the Mermaid Game, which can range from the two of them being mermaids that I’m trying to catch—either to eat or to put into an aquarium or mer-jail—to the three of us being mer-folk in search of treasure.

I have a lot of fun seeing where their imaginations take us, but I do often end up mediating once again.

My firstborn once declared that our mer-journeys would take us to “the Depths of Dismay—the Depths of Spain.” That meant the pool. We jumped in there, then found ourselves pulled back to the spa by my secondborn.

The girls were actually very good about pushing for their respective path through the game. Nobody got angry or rude. Still, it was a bit like a war of imaginations. My firstborn likes to set up elaborate scenarios that will take us to, say, every filter in the spa and pool. My secondborn tends to solve such pretend dilemmas very easily.

“I found a map!”

“Me too!”

“It says there are four treasures.”

“I found them all!”

“No, it says that those are not the real treasures. The real ones are in the deepest—”

“My octopus got them!”

I can usually get the girls to take turns leading the story, which typically turns into a cold vs. hot adventure, with me bearing the brunt of the constant temperature shifts. Still, the sunken chests packed with gold, pearls, and various gems and jewels make it worth it—as do my girls’ pruney fingers and satisfied smiles when we finally step onto dry land, towel off, magically grow legs, and head home.

Imagination Week: Wishes and Dreams

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I fell asleep earlier than intended last night. Hard. I didn’t even brush my teeth, except at 2:30 a.m. when I woke up and stumbled to the sink in a sudden panic at the thought of cavities.

A regularly scheduled Worry Wednesday post will come later today, but in the meantime, I wanted to share this song my 6-year-old was singing to herself a few weeks ago.

I reminded her about it this morning by singing it back to her as I woke her up, and she said, “Dad, dreams don’t always come true.” She thought I’d made it up and had no recollection of the song itself.

I’m glad I’m writing these things down.

Memory Week: Freaky Friday

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I didn’t intend for this week to become a doodle gallery, but cleaning my desk(s) for the New Year yielded so many examples of what happens when I get a pen in my hand.

I’ve showcased some of the random faces I’ve found over the last couple of days, but I saved a few for Freaky Friday. For hopefully obvious reasons.

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I’ve recently learned that there are some people—my firstborn among them—who seem to have to be doing some sort of physical activity while they listen in order to process the information they’re receiving. Fiddling with a pencil, for example, lights up part of the brain that in turn helps to hear and comprehend words coming in. I’m pretty sure that’s how it works.

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While learning about this phenomenon, I realized—somewhat belatedly, I suppose, since I’m 35—that I have to be one of these people, too. I can’t keep still. I’m always either chewing on a pen, sticking one behind my ear, flipping it around my fingers, or—obviously—doodling.

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Sometimes the doodles are repetitive. I found half a dozen variations on a rabbit done in orange highlighter.

But sometimes the doodles make me wonder what dark corners the lit-up parts of my brain were illuminating, and what else is hiding there in the shadows.

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Memory Week: Snow Day

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We found a snowman.

Most of one, anyway.

I took a whole week off of work this season to celebrate Christmas (and the days before and after) with family who live five hours away. On the Friday after Christmas, all five members of my family—plus my parents and my wife’s mom—met up about an hour north of where we were staying. We were in search of snow. My parents had driven the route a couple of days before and had spotted some of the white stuff on the side of the road.

My kids had never seen real snow. Not really. There were a few patches of it, like a beard trying to grow on a 14-year-old’s face, on the ground at a cabin we went to one Thanksgiving when my firstborn was 2 years old, but that didn’t really count. It was more like samples of snow someone set out to see how the whole place would look covered in the stuff before they committed.

Snow has fallen only in books and on TV for my children. It has been captured not on tongues, but in photos and illustrations. My 6-year-old’s dream destination is Chicago because she saw a postcard of it once, and there was snow in the picture. The city has since become this mythical, icy wonderland in her imagination. It’s literally at the top of her list of places to visit, beating out Hawaii and Paris.

I’ve been to Paris, and I had an extended layover in Chicago once. Paris is prettier, but Chicago is certainly cheaper when it comes to surprising her with a trip some day. Maybe for a graduation present.

Anyway, when we arrived at this little gas station/diner blip on the map, we found my parents waiting at a small field of what technically was snow. It wasn’t really white, as so many muddy boots had tromped it over the last several days, and the melting/refreezing cycle had made it pretty gray and hard.

“This isn’t what I was expecting,” my firstborn said.

But my parents soon produced a plastic saucer they’d bought on the way in, and we found a hill that seemed like it would offer a fair run. All it took was one successful slide, and the 6-year-old was hooked.

We took turns rushing down the hill one at a time, two at a time, and even three at a time. And after a while, we walked a little ways to find a swath of untrammeled, powdery snow, perfect for scooping into snowballs and crunching around in. That’s where we also found two-thirds of a snowman, with the topmost third—its head—a lump some distance away.

We took pictures of the kids clambering around on its torso, and we joked that the photos would make it look like we’d been building the snowman. Only later did I realize that, years from now, perhaps my kids wouldn’t be able to recall that they’d just found this snowman. Perhaps, like my daughter’s initial disappointment forgotten as soon as she felt the wind on her face on a downhill run, or like Chicago growing from a generic postcard to a frosty wonderland on par with Santa’s North Pole, the rest of the snow trip would change to become something new in my kids’ minds.

The moment was so magical—the sort you hope for when you set out on an excursion like we did—it has the makings of one of those early childhood memories that flickers at the margins of solid recollections later in life. At least I hope it does. I don’t know what my children will ultimately remember about their first years in our household. I don’t know if they’ll look back and treasure the same moments I do: the bedtime stories read on our patio, breath streaming into the chill night air, everything but our faces tucked under layers of blankets, the book visible only by the light of the electric Christmas tree standing above us; the impromptu family-room-floor picnics; the trip to the aquarium to see sharks and otters through a transparent wall, a whole alien world just a few feet away; staying up far later than any of our bedtimes to watch the summer Olympics each night; the made-up stories; the wrestling matches; the sing-alongs.

Maybe all of these things are registering. Or maybe I’ll be surprised to learn that their prized memories are things I don’t recall: drawings I forgot I scribbled, but that meant something to them; casual, unthinking gestures of everyday activity with greater impact than I realize; a particular time of getting tucked in or visiting the pool or cooking a breakfast.

I hope they remember all of it. And I hope Chicago is everything my girl believes it is.

Late Week: Freaky Friday

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Freaky Friday on a Saturday? It’s Late Week! Anything goes!

Actually, I had most of this post prepared a full day in advance, and I still managed to fall asleep without finishing it Friday night. But this week’s theme is a forgiving one. So I’m declaring this a Late Week miracle!

Now, onto the actual content:

My wife was heading out to run some evening errands couple of days ago, and my 4-year-old was, for some reason, freaking out about the departure: clinging to her mom’s leg, crying, refusing to answer our questions as to why she was so upset. She’s only blubber that she didn’t want Mom to leave.

Before we just pried her off and let her scream—my wife had presents to buy, after all, probably for me!—we tried making my daughter laugh. Nope. She chuckled a bit at my attempts, and then went right back to her paranoid sobbing. We tried reasoning with her. And then I decided to throw her into the middle of a game. I figured that if she suddenly thought she could win—that elusive and undefinable yet desperately desirable state of success my daughters yearn for, whether they’re on their way up the stairs to brush their teeth for bed and decide to start racing or are comparing the juice I poured them into different-shaped glasses to see who got more—she’d forget whatever was bothering her.

“I bet you can’t catch me!” I said, and I darted a bit, as if I were about to run off.

My 6-year-old caught on immediately and tried to help, employing what sounded like some reverse psychology of her own:

“Dad’s a thief! He wants to catch you, kill you, and eat you!” she shouted. “Want to chase him?”

In retrospect, and looking at it actually written down, it seems fairly innocuous. I play all sorts of games where I’m a lion ready to pounce on the girls, or a monster coming to chomp them, or something similar. So I guess the death is implied.

But I never come right out and say it. There’s a difference between sending your kids scurrying by shouting “I’m going to get you!” and “I’m going to kill you!”

I do have a somewhat dark game I break out when the girls are pretending they’re asleep. Sometimes they’ll fake it in the backseat of the van, squeezing their eyes shut and keeping rigidly stoic faces as I unbuckle them and toss them over my shoulder to carry inside. At times like that, I’ll stage whisper to my wife: “Since the kids are asleep, I can tell you this: They seem to be getting to just about the perfect size for eating. Remember: Never let them know!” Then I act all surprised when they sit up and accuse me of wanting to cook them.

Anyway, my 4-year-old wasn’t terrified or anything by her sister’s shout, but it didn’t help either. My wife and I exchanged eyebrow raises, and then we did the prying.

My girl was fine for the rest of the night. Mostly.

Late Week: Remember, Remember, the Efforts of Movember

Back when I was just a fresh-faced young blogger (about two months ago), just starting out with my daily posts and preparing my face for the moustache-growing endeavor that is Movember, I learned that Just for Men hair products was looking for facial-hair-friendly bloggers willing to review the product line.

Eager to test out just how far the Shallows extended, I threw my name into the hat—and I got a response. In exchange for a review, they’d send me a bunch of free products, as well as some Movember goodies, like a T-shirt and stickers. I just had to be honest and post by mid-December. I knew I could do the former, and was reasonably certain I could do the latter. As my grandma sometimes says, “I’ll be there if the good Lord’s willing and the crick don’t rise.”

When the package arrived, I got a little worried. I had thought the Just for Men product line would include moustache waxes or similar products, but it was actually their complete line of hair coloring, from sandy blond to real black. I knew that Just for Men did hair coloring, but I figured a product line involved something more. It was my first product review, and I was already fumbling around.

I let the go-between company know that I was sorry, that I didn’t actually have any gray in my moustache—though I do have some on my temples. They were cool with the situation and encouraged me to move forward however I thought best—but to keep the coloring on my facial hair, if I chose to use it. The stuff I got is formulated especially for coarser hair (though a warning inside the box said to not use it on body hair; I didn’t ask whether Just for Men has a product line for, uh, anything below the neckline—or below that).

I decided to take my dark brown moustache to black and, time and skills permitting, attempt to shave my facial hair into the Batman logo.

But first, my brother-by-choice—who does have a little gray in his facial hair, even though he’s a year younger than me—agreed to get in on the action, too. My review is supposed to be my own, but as I’ll still be posting my own thoughts, I thought this would be an OK write-up. He and I bleached our hair together years ago when we were roommates, and we’ve given each other haircuts (buzz cuts, but still), and we shared a bathroom mirror for shaving for a few years during and after college. We’re old hats at this.

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You can see some gray just under his lip and to the right. His wife likes it, but he still wanted to give the coloring a try. The application is super easy and quick, and the package—he chose dark brown—even comes with disposable gloves. I mixed the coloring up in a little plastic tray (also included), he brushed it in, we waited five minutes, and he shampooed it out. That’s it.

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He liked how it turned out. The single application made the gray strands take less of a spotlight. I asked if he would have wanted a darker color or a second application, but he said no. After he and his wife left, I turned to my own moustache. I’d let more of a full beard grow after Movember ended, but I was ready to scale back again. I change my facial hair a lot anyway.

As you can see below (despite the weird lighting), I’ve got dark brown facial hair.

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I opened the box of real black and repeated all the steps from earlier in the evening. Easy. I was pretty liberal with the stuff, but there was still a bunch left in the tube, so I could do this a couple more times if I wanted. I waited five minutes, then hopped in the shower. While I didn’t go from brown to jet black, my moustache is noticeably darker. It’s serious. Like, this is a moustache that wants attention. I trimmed it up, and here’s the initial result:

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I like it. I had got some of the coloring on the skin around my moustache and wiped it off as best I could, but there are still some stains as I write this. I’m sure they will fade. That’s totally not something I would typically worry about.

With my moustache blackened like a Louisiana catfish, I started the fine tuning. My tools: two straight razors, a detail trimmer, and a copy of the Batman logo.

A few experimental passes with the detailer in, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. The more I shaved, the more I said stuff like, “I should’ve kept that part,” and “Dang it,” and “Darn it,” and “Dagnabbit.” I really do say “Dagnabbit.” My 6-year-old has started saying it, too, in addition to “Nuts!”—which I don’t say.

I did the best I could, but the Batman logo just didn’t materialize the way I hoped it would. I took a picture anyway, which I won’t post now. I think I’ll hold onto it until the inevitable Fail Week here in the Shallows. My wife, however, thinks it’s recognizably the Batman logo—but as my wife, she’s legally required to say that.

Successful logo or no, the Movember effort was an unquestionable triumph. Friends, family, and an anonymous donor helped me to raise $375; I came in seventh on my team of 50 guys. That group, Dads/Bloggers, raised a collective $15,797. Boston, the city where our group was registered, netted $1,153,223. That’s one city’s total! The final numbers for the entire effort won’t be in until after April, but there has to be millions upon millions of dollars raised in the fight against testicular cancer, prostate cancer, and mental health issues. Thanks to everyone who supported the effort in any way.

I may reward you soon with a photo of my terrible Batman moustache. I also probably have some beard/moustache coloring in your shade, so let me know if you want to try some out. Maybe I can lob a box your way.

Carol Week: God Bless Ye Merry Caterpillars

While cleaning up (at our house) and getting ready for a Christmas party (not at our house), I came into the girls’ room to discover two Christmas beasts crawling around this afternoon. According to my firstborn (dark pink), they’re caterpillars. According to my secondborn (light pink), they’re naked mole rats.

There are lots of animals mentioned in Christmas carols and songs, but I’ve never heard of either of those making an appearance …

Happy holidays!

Carol Week: Freaky Friday

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Kids singing in unison can be sweet. It can also be creepy. It depends on the time of day they’re singing. And the listeners’ frame of mind. And how in-key they are.

It’s not just singing, either. My girls can be very sweet in their general interactions, but they can also freak me out.

Two or three nights ago, my 6-year-old was being mildly rude to my 4-year-old as they got ready for bed, so I dropped some fatherly (though admittedly made up, as I’m an only child) wisdom:

Me: Treat her well. You’ll be sisters your whole lives.

Firstborn: I hope we die together. Like if someone shoots me with an arrow, it goes through me and hits her, too.

Second: Maybe she can be standing in line, and I’m right behind her, and the arrow would go through us and make a big hole.

Me: Uh … that’s … a nice … thought?