Carol Week: The Final Countdown

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This is the first year my girls have been into Christmas music. Like really into it. My 4-year-old likes “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” but they’ve both particularly latched onto “The 12 Days of Christmas,” which my wife has declared to be “my song with the girls,” because she’s already tired of it.

I don’t mind singing it with them—even repeatedly on the same car trip—though “with them” is a bit of an overstatement. Caroling sessions usually go like this:

Me and the girls: On the first day—

Secondborn: No. Let me sing it myself.

Firstborn: We’ll sing it by ourselves.

Me: OK.

They tend to be able to get up to the five golden rings, with my 6-year-old carrying her younger sister along lyrically. Then they start to get hazy.

The girls: On the … ssss … sss …

Firstborn: Sev— no, sixth day of Christmas

Both: My true love gave to me! Six … … …

Secondborn: What is it?

The girls: …

Firstborn: Dad?

Me (singing): Geese a-laying!

Secondborn: Dad! We’re doing this ourselves!

This goes on, in terms of number and item/character. My first-grader can count into the hundreds with no help, but for some reason the rising tally of 12 gifts throws her off. Sometimes she works her way up with no problem, but usually she asks me to intervene, and then I’m asked to bow out again until the next lapse.

The girls: Twelve drummers drumming! Eleven … …

Me: Pipers—

The girls: Pipers piping! Nine—

Me: Ten—

Secondborn: Dad!

Firstborn: Ten lords a-leaping!

Firstborn: Nine … …

Me: Ladies—

Secondborn (simultaneously): Ten lords a-leaping!

Firstborn: (simultaneously): Nine ladies dancing!

The girls: Uh …

Firstborn: Dad?!

Me (miming milking): Eight—

Secondborn: What?

Me: Maids—

The girls: OK, OK! Eight maids a-milking!

Secondborn: Now just us again.

As frustrating as it is musically, it’s really very sweet. And it’s way less annoying than Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” I can’t stand that song.

What are your favorite/least favorite carols and songs?

Waiting Week: Worry Wednesday

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We’ve been to the E.R. a few times.

There’ve been falls and head bumps, exams and x-rays. When my firstborn was really little, we found her with an open package of penny nails, several of which were in her mouth.We didn’t know what to do. So we watched and waited. That night she woke up screaming, twisting around and arching her back. So we rushed to the hospital. I was understandably and justifiably worried.

One x-ray of her digestive system later showed she hadn’t actually swallowed anything sharp. We have no clue why she’d been acting as if she were an inside-out pincushion, but now I worried that we had her x-rayed for nothing, that we had irradiated her. I’m not one to let the answer to my worry allow me to stop worrying.

Since then, I haven’t done well with the wait-and-see medical approach. Waiting means worrying.

When my secondborn climbed up on a small picnic table on our patio and fell off headfirst onto the concrete before anyone could grab her—and then started crying and vomiting—we rushed her to the E.R. Turns out she was fine. The doctor told us that throwing up isn’t necessarily a sign of a concussion in children that young. But upon checkout, we got the requisite speech and paperwork: Keep an eye on her for a while. If she develops any of the following symptoms, come back.

That’s the part that tears me up. For the next 72 hours or so, I braced myself for the worst. Forget that a medical professional told me she was fine and the likelihood of any long-term (or even short-term) issues was incredibly small. There was a chance (however unlikely) that something bad was happening in my girl’s brain—something no one could see—and I was powerless to do anything about it.

I equate waiting with powerlessness. If I had the power, I would have the answers when I wanted them and wouldn’t have to wait for an all-clear sign. And I don’t like feeling powerless.

At 34 years old, I find myself jealous of older people, people at the ends of their lives, who can look back and see that all their children survived and thrived, that everybody made it through, that even the big stuff turned out OK. I know that’s not the case for everyone—bad stuff happens.

I just need to figure out how to balance that knowledge with appreciating and enjoying and having peace with what I have and where I am now.

How do you deal with waiting?

Thanks Week: Over the River and Through the Woods

Thanks Week: Over the River and Through the Woods

When we begin a five-hour drive to visit our families for the holidays at 5 a.m., the trip goes something like this:

Firstborn: *sleeping*
Secondborn: *sleeping*
Thirdborn: *sleeping*
Wife: I love you!
Me: I love you! And hey, Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me is on! We should always do it like this.
Wife: We’re here!

When we begin a five-hour drive to visit our families for the holidays at 5 p.m., the trip goes something like this:

Secondborn: How much longer till we get there?
Wife: Um … about four hours.
Me: Let’s listen to a CD. I got one of dragon stories.
Thirdborn: *crying*
CD: “The Last of the Dragons,” by Edith Nes—
Thirdborn: *screaming*
CD: —she wore a—
Thirdborn: *shrieking*
CD: —told him—
Secondborn: I can’t hear! Stop it!
Me: *shutting off CD*
Firstborn: Turn it back on!
Me: Let’s wait until the crying stops.
Firstborn: Turn it back on!
Thirdborn: *crying*
Thirdborn: *crying*
Thirdborn: *quiet sniffles*
Me: *reaching for the play button*
Thirdborn: *screaming*
Firstborn (whining): My back hurts!
Wife: Stretch your arms up. Way, way up! That will help!
Firstborn: No.
Wife: It will help!
Firstborn: No.
Thirdborn: *crying*
Secondborn: *whimpering*
Me: What’s wrong?
Secondborn: *crying*
Wife: Are you going to throw up?
Me: What’s wrong?!
Secondborn: *sobbing”
Firstborn: My back!
Secondborn: *weeping*
Me: Fine. Don’t tell us.
Secondborn: My tummy!
Wife: Get your bag if you’re going to throw up.
(rustling noises)
Firstborn: I want the blue bag!
Wife: It doesn’t matter which bag you have.
Secondborn: She won’t give me my bag!
Wife: Give her the bag.
Firstborn: No.
Secondborn: My tummy!
Wife: It’s a throw-up bag. I gave her the blue one. Just hand it to her.
Thirdborn: *screaming*
Wife: Give her the bag! Now!
Me: Are you going to throw up? Is she going to throw up?
Secondborn: No!
Firstborn: *angrily huffing*
(more rustling)
Secondborn: How much longer till we get there?
Wife: Um … still about four hours.
Me: *crying*

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I’m thankful for safe travel, no matter how much screaming is involved.

Toy Week: Brick House

Toy Week: Brick House

We were riding down the elevator at Barnes and Noble with an employee of the bookstore yesterday, and my girls spied a stack of animal-themed Lego boxes on a dolly she was leaning on.

“What are those?” my 6-year-old asked.

“These?” the worker said. “These are Chima. It’s a boy thing.”

Maybe she was trying to have some moment of solidarity with my daughters, like “Boys and their weird hobbies, am I right?”

But I bristled.

“Oh,” I replied. “My girls are into Ninjago right now.”

I hoped that retort would be enough to indicate to her that girls can like Lego stuff, too, but I don’t think she noticed. She probably didn’t even know what Ninjago was—because to her, it’s for boys.

Plus, from a strictly sales standpoint, I don’t know why someone would turn off an interested party to a potential sale, no matter their gender.

Despite being a boy myself, I didn’t know what Ninjago was until last year, and even then it was a hazy concept my daughter brought home from kindergarten. She recently discovered an animated series on Netflix, and I’ve watched some of it, so I’ve recently learned quite a bit about the Lego characters who fight by spinning themselves into living elemental tornadoes.

I grew up with Lego sets, but they were the basic kind, with no plans or directions. Then came the Pirate and Castle systems, but even with the themed kits, there was a lot of possibility, and mixing everything together yielded amazing combinations, like Robin Hood-style tree forts with billowing sails and mounted cannons.

In college, I met my brother (as an only child, I decided to pick a sibling when the right one came along) when a guy I sang with in choir invited me back to his dorm room to play Lego. We were eventually best men in each others’ respective weddings.

So Lego sets are awesome.

The best thing about them, though, is that no matter which ones you get, they’re all about creation and working with what you have to do what you want. Feel like following the directions down to the last brick? Go for it! Want to scrap the blueprints and piece together something out of your own imagination? Anything goes!

It’s a great life lesson.

Having a floor-focused 1-year-old running around means Lego pieces are hazards in our house for the moment, but I’m still planning to get some Ninjago stuff for the girls for Christmas. Don’t tell them.

I’ll have to supervise, or course, to make sure no little plastic pieces get lost and/or eaten, but I don’t mind. I get really excited about these kinds of things.

But these presents will totally be for my girls. What would I want with spinning Lego ninjas?

Fight Week: Siblings

Fight Week: Siblings

I’m an only child.

Ah, some of you are saying. That explains it.

Oh, come on. The only thing it explains is my complete surprise at how siblings interact day to day.

When I was little, my parents periodically checked on me to see if I was doing OK with being what the French call un fils unique. But they didn’t want to be direct for some reason—maybe they were worried they’d bias me toward wanting a little brother or sister based on their word choice—so they came in at an angle, asking me how many kids I wanted to have when I grew up. My unfailing answer: 13.

Them: Why?
Me: So they don’t get lonely.
Them: Are you lonely?
Me: No.

Repeat every half a year or so. Even as a little kid, I was messing with their heads.

But I did enjoy being an only child. I could do what I wanted when I wanted—within reason, of course—and I never had to share my toys or take turns or anything. Two of my lifetime best friends—brothers who lived on my street—were literally seconds away from my house, and I could play with them at a moment’s notice, then leave or watch them go home when I felt like it. They were like brothers I could shut off when I was ready to be an only child again.

Now with three kids of my own—two of whom seem to have looked up “sister behavior” in the Really Big Book of Familial Cliches—I’m routinely dumbfounded by the way my children act toward each other.

My girls—one 6, one 4—go from cuddling to screeching in less time than it takes to say, “Who wants hot cocoa?” They both want the same mug. They want to race to the kitchen. They make up the rules as they’re running from the couch where they had just been reading while snuggled in a blanket—rules that give the rule-maker an advantage and declare what the winner gets to do, how much cocoa she gets, which prizes she’ll receive, how she’ll get to help me pour the milk or scoop the chocolate. They push and grab at each other in an effort to win their made-up contest. And then someone gets hurt. And then someone cries. And then someone shouts.

And then one gets the other an icepack from the freezer and delivers a mumbled apology. Or starts freaking out more. It depends on the day.

They freely share clothes and compliment each other on their fashion sense, except when they’re angrily accusing each other of stealing outfits. The older one frequently goes out of her way to say how bad the younger one looks in certain ensembles. I thought this sort of dialog only happened in sitcoms to convey family strife that can be overcome with a few words of wisdom after 23 minutes of hilarious tension.

They bicker over who gets to wash their hands first, and then they either patiently take turns or a fight breaks out. They each complain that the other isn’t doing any work when they’re cleaning their room; such complaints are often delivered listlessly from the floor. Glasses of juice and milk have to be exactly even, as do slices of cake, bowls of soup, and rounds of Plants vs. Zombies played on the iPad.

I have never before met two people who seem to love and anger each other so thoroughly. The little one tattles, which is behavior we’re discouraging, although the habit does alert us to the older one’s often ill-thought-out and dangerous antics. We make allowances for tattling if the tattler makes the house a safer place via the tattling, but that’s a fine line to walk with a 4-year-old, who still sort of equates tattling with lying, and so maintains she’s not tattling when she says her sister stuck her tongue out at her. “But it’s true!” she insists when we tell her to deal with it herself.

The older one can be quite mean to her little sister, but her little sister often relentlessly copies her—another behavior I thought had been made up by uncreative TV writers—and goes out of her way to push the exact buttons to get a big reaction. These are the sorts of buttons only someone who knows you intimately can push.

I don’t think I will ever truly understand what it’s like to be stuck with someone who shares your parents with you. All I can do is stand back and watch. And referee. And call my wife in to look when I peek in their room at night to see the girls sharing a bed, holding hands in their sleep.

Did you fight with your siblings? Or are you lucky like me? (Or did you wish you had a dozen brothers and sisters?)

Fight Week: Veterans Day

Fight Week: Veterans Day

My 6-year-old daughter has a particular interest in military holidays. While we’ve sometimes forgotten about fireworks on the 4th of July, we’ve made a point over the last several years to visit the nearby cemetery for Memorial Day services. This is the same cemetery where she’s waved at kids we can’t see, but it’s a different section, across a busy street—which, apparently, ghost children won’t cross, because she’s never indicated seeing anyone her age running around this particular stretch of headstone-dotted grass.

My daughter enjoys the Memorial Day music and ceremony. Maybe it’s because our schedules and home and lives are so chaotic, there’s an appeal to the order of a military operation. Everything is crisp: the salutes, the barked orders, the folds in the immaculate uniforms, the flag snapping in the breeze.

Veterans Day has caught her attention, too, particularly since she learned that her grandpa, my dad, served in the U.S. Air Force, as therefore is a veteran. She was blown away a couple years back when she learned that. To her, it was like finding out she’s related to the St. Patrick’s Day leprechauns. I think she used to think of veterans as semi-mythical beings—and was probably disappointed that they didn’t magically steal into and out of our house at night on Nov. 11 to leave presents, like little stars-and-stripes lapel pins.

She doesn’t understand war—who does, really?—but she’s also very interested in combat and death, so she wanted to know whether she could visit Grandpa Fish, as she calls him (because my parents have a fish tank and often go fishing), so he could teach her how to properly use a sword.

My dad’s main weapon was actually Morse Code, which he intercepted and translated while stationed in the Philippines during the Vietnam War.

As a kid, I could never remember whether my dad served during the Vietnam or Korean War, probably because we watched reruns of M*A*S*H a lot, and it was set in Korea.

Actually, as a kid, I had a hard time grasping that my dad had any kind of life before I came along. I wouldn’t have put it this way then, but I think it’s because he wasn’t my dad before that. He wasn’t anybody’s dad. He was just a guy, like me.

I’m older now—much older—than my own dad was when he was memorizing, then living and breathing the “da di da dit” sounds he would make when talking about his post years later. As a kid—even a teenager—I couldn’t imagine my dad as being my age. And really, he didn’t exist as my dad until after I was born. My arrival changed him into something new, as my children’s births transformed me.

He’s never taught my daughter how to use a sword. He’s never taught her Morse Code, either, but he and Grandma Fish have taught her how to fish, and she caught her first trout this past summer on an annual family camping trip.

That’s the veteran she knows, and I’m thankful for him. She is, too, as she was sad that we live five hours away, because she wanted to give him a hug on Veterans Day.

I did too.

The Shallows at 6

The Shallows at 6

My 6-year-old recently surprised me with this doodle taped to a metal loop in the headboard on my side of the bed. I told her I’d put it on my blog, along with her comments.

Me: What should I write?
Her: First, I want to tell you about it. I tried really hard to draw it, and I’m interested in doing the way my daddy draws, and his way, and I really like it.

Me: What is it?
Her: It is a picture of me. You can keep asking me questions.

Me: OK. Why did you draw it?
Her: Because I was interested in it. In the way you draw, I mean.

Me: What does it make you think of?
Her: It makes me think of you.

Me: That’s very sweet. Thank you.
Her: You’re welcome. Next question.

Me: Do you think you might have a job that involves drawing someday?
Her: Eh, maybe.

Me: What would you like to do when you’re my age?
Her: I think maybe be a writer like you. For the pictures.

(At this point she dropped a pomegranate seed she was eating and declared, “This could be a major drama,” before getting a towel to clean it up. I found it and ate it before it could stain the rug at all.)

Me: For the pictures? What does that mean?
Her: That means that I really like your pictures and I want to draw like you.

Me: Well, thank you. Let’s do this again some time.
Her: OK.

—bedtime—

Health Week: Freaky Friday

Health Week: Freaky Friday

I chose today’s Freaky Friday doodle with one of Movember’s three main causes in mind: mental health.

While my oldest daughter said today’s quote in relation to a show she was watching—I don’t remember which one now—out of context it looks more like a line from a kids’ version of Milgram’s Obedience Study.

I’m keeping this morning’s post short because I have more to post later. Thanks for reading with me throughout the week, and for the support I’ve been receiving in my Movember campaign.

Fright Week: Happy Halloween!

Fright Week: Happy Halloween!

I chose to spend Halloween Eve carving pumpkins with my family as opposed to crafting a clever and thoughtful post on whatever subject came to mind.

My girls each got to design a face for their own pumpkin, and while my firstborn doodled a 6-year-old take on the classic circle eyes, triangle nose, and jagged smile, my 4-year-old scrawled an elaborate and practically uncarvable (uncarveable?) “spooky ghost,” which proved a challenge to my promise to finish the jack-o-lanterns while they slept—but a challenge I was up for.

So as I write this at 11 p.m., the pumpkins are carved, despite the little flimsy blade breaking off the handle partway through the first eyehole. I just used the mini-saw with my bare fingers, no handle needed.

Then I put some battery-powered candles in the girls’ creations and left them in their room. I hope that if they get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water, they’ll be delighted, not terrified.

(Shallow Note, by the way: This creature is from a series of monsters I drew in 2002, back when I was still trying to draw hands. I have a variation on this guy, in which he has two legs and is wearing a Speedo.)