Tradition Week (Christmas): Like Kaiju


When I was in high school, my family—along with four others—began an annual summer camping trip that still continues to this day. We head to the mountains to spend five or so days hiking around, building log rafts on the lake, playing disc golf on a course we made up, taking day trips to waterfalls, reading, playing board games, and the like. Or at least we used to. Since most of us kids are now in our 30s, and many of us have families of our own, we’ve slowed down a bit. Hammocks feature predominantly in the activity line-up.

Those five families also get together in the week after Christmas to have dinner each year. My wife, children, and I historically aren’t able to attend the post-holiday meal due to my work schedule, but as I took a week of vacation this year, we were able to make it. Other friends, who now live in other cities and on other continents, weren’t able to come, but I still got to see many of my favorite faces.

Two of my friends, in particular, hounded me with requests to appear on my blog. They waved their arms around and everything. I think they were attempting to do something funny. Something blog-worthy. So forget that I took my three children to see snow for the first time in their lives today. (Actually, don’t forget that. I plan to post about it later.)

I’ve been friends with both of these guys since I was in junior high, and they’re both very tall. One is now a lawyer, and one is a Crossfit coach. One of them I frequently refer to as the funniest person I know, which is really saying something.

We were at one of those all-you-can-eat salad-bar buffet places, and he left half of an avocado on his plate when he went to get seconds—adding a request to not let any passing servers take the avocado along with his messy tray. Not five seconds went by after he left when a server came to our table to ask if he could remove anything. I handed him the entire tray, avocado half and all. But I had a change of heart and rescued the coveted food item before it was gone for good. Then I hid it on my lap.

My friend is the type to appreciate the joke, but he’s also the type to sort of wish I had really gone all the way through with it: to have actually let the waiter clear away the avocado. My friend prefers a good punchline to getting what he wants.

He also “accidentally” spilled some chicken pozole soup down my back when he was walking back to the table and noticing that his precious avocado half was gone.

Anyway, he’s really tall. So is my other friend, which is why I granted their request for a blog appearance tonight. And it’s late.

I miss them.


Toy Week: How Do You Figure?

Toy Week: How Do You Figure?

My wife’s family does a gift exchange for Christmas, for which each person draws another person’s name and handles the gift for him or her. It’s a way to save money and avoid clutter—and the little kids are excepted. Anybody can buy for them.

Before Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law circulates a list for everyone to write down gift ideas for themselves. I filled in mine two weekends back, and then was talking to my wife about it.

“I put some Pacific Rim action figures on my list,” I said.


“Does that disappoint you?”

“No … just … where would they go? You already have a bunch of toys in the garage.”

She’s right, but those are my Lord of the Rings sets, several of which I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to open. The Nazgûl looks so awesome in its box. Plus, those toys had been at my office for a long time, and they came home during a move, and I haven’t got around to finding them a permanent home yet. After several years …

I actually split my time between two offices, and I have a lot of toys on my respective desks: A complete set of Homestar Runner figurines, a set of Umbrella Academy figures, and a Davy Jones action figure from Pirates of the Caribbean sit one one. The other boasts Batman, Iron Man, and a few My Little Ponies.

I grew up on action figures. More than one closet at my parents’ house is still filled with Star Trek: The Next Generation toys and collectibles, including an entire set of Playmates figures still in the packaging and a second entire set for display purposes. Sooner or later I’ll figure out a way to display them all.

No, I don’t really need them, but I do enjoy them. I don’t make them walk around on my keyboard or anything, but I do fondly admire them from time to time, and I like to explain what they are to guests who give me puzzled looks.

They’re sort of like geek badges, I guess, especially the obscure ones: I know what these characters are from. Do you?

After my conversation with my wife, I looked back at the all-family wish list. For herself, she’d listed certificates for restaurants or movies for date nights with me, her husband.

That really put things in perspective.

Still, I hope I get to unwrap at least a kaiju this Christmas.

Reality Week: Fighting Monsters

Reality Week: Fighting Monsters

In addition to my anniversary—the highlight of my recent memory—I’d been looking forward for quite some time to watching Pacific Rim this week. I missed my chance to see it in theaters over the summer, so when I saw that it was coming out on DVD on Oct. 15, I pegged it as something with which to mark the end of a busy batch of days. It features giant mechanical warriors pummeling equally giant—like, Godzilla-sized—monsters (kaiju, to you), and there doesn’t need to be any more explanation than that.

I tend to do organize my busy life that way. I pick some upcoming event on an upcoming day and set my sights on it, thinking to myself, “Just make it to then, and you’ll be fine.” It’s a good way to not get bogged down by daily stresses and sadnesses, of which there are an Artax-sinking plenty, but the method also has some major flaws.

First, it keeps me from the present. I won’t necessarily be fully here if my mind is camping out there.

Second, it’s not a real ending. I get to my Friday (or whenever) finish line, only to find that it’s actually just a checkpoint. I know the race isn’t over, but I still act like it will be.

Third, it’s easily derailed. If I’m burning all my energy and focus with the expectation of a reprieve, and then something happens to delay or cancel it, I’m stuck with a stressed-out self who put all his eggs in one basket and then balanced that basket on the edge of a wobbly table.

Still, I have to admit it’s how I operate, for good or for ill. And despite the method’s flaws, it has its payoffs.

In addition to my regular family and work responsibilities this past week (and, yes, the amazing anniversary on Wednesday, which was a recharging checkpoint all its own), I had a long evening meeting on Thursday and a big freelance deadline on Friday. Plus I recently tasked myself with creating art and text for daily blog posts (if you hadn’t noticed), which has kept me busy.

Around Wednesday, my middle kid suggested a game-centered family night for Friday, and since my wife got me the cooperative Forbidden Island for our anniversary (despite that fact that she likes games like I like jazz: It’s fine in small doses, but not generally my thing, and the longer it is and the more thinking’s required, the more its appeal drops), we had the makings of a solid end to the week. Anticipation mounted.

When Friday finally rolled around, I met my deadline. My wife said she’d make risotto for dinner. Then she picked up the last available Blu-Ray copy of Pacific Rim at our local rental place.

That’s when I started to get antsy. I came out of a work meeting to see I had a voicemail from “Wife”—as she’s literally labeled in my phone—and my first thoughts were not so much concern about whether one of my children was injured, as is often my fear when my cell rings, but that someone was sick or majorly misbehaving and the perfect Friday I had been imagining/longing for/counting on was evaporating.

Changed plans are a staple of parenthood.

But even the fact of plans changing isn’t 100 percent guaranteed.

And that’s reality. Not everything is meltdowns and car troubles, emergencies and Band-Aids and throw-up buckets. Those things will come, yes—and I’m still waiting for another shoe to drop, even as I write this, since my middle kid complained about an upset stomach as she went to bed—but there are also nights when the children don’t bicker; the risotto is cooked perfectly; the family works together to win the game; teeth-brushing and pajama-putting-on and storytime go smoothly, the baby stays asleep; and a huge robot rocket-punches an extra-dimensional lizard right in its face.


I needed that.