Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Boogerfreezing, bluegrass, and a broken axle

Three years ago, we were just getting used to the news that we were pregnant and driving to Fredricksburg to hang with good friends from CO and their family. Our CO friends were also pregnant, and so we had lots to talk about then--and ever since then, although we haven't seen them as much as we'd like.

One of the reasons for that is that we live across the country from each other. Another reason is that they've had a second girl since then, which complicates travel. Had they been traveling this year, the 12 feet or so of snow they've gotten this month in their corner of CO might have been another complication, as the 35-mile an hour winds have been for us here.

Despite the wind chill here, which is well below buckass cold and approaching boogerfreezing cold, we trekked over one town to the first night celebration that featured both Rocknoceros and Mr. Skip. After the Rocknoceros show, which was thankfully moved indoors due to the face biting cold, we chatted for awhile with Williebob and Coach Cotton about hats, music, and kids going to school. Oh, and some of us played a vigorous game of chase too.

Even though Williebob and Coach Cotton are regular parents just like us--except all of their musical wonderfulness, of course--Mama admitted that she was a bit star struck after talking to them. That's likely because she spends all her days with a boy who idolizes them, copies them, and asks to hear every song they've ever recorded. The very same boy who, when he meets Rocknoceros, clams up.

Tonight he did talk a little with Williebob, but mostly he just listened as we talked. That matches what he does when they play, which is to sit almost perfectly still and take in the whole show while all the other kids run around, dance, and jump up and down. If you didn't know better, you might think that he wasn't engaged in the show at all, but when he comes home and repeats what they say and sing verbatim, you see that he was totally engaged in the show to the point that he couldn't think of anything else, like dancing.

And tonight he may well have overloaded, since right after Rocknoceros was over, we went next door for a full set from Mr. Skip, accompanied by a New Year's feast of french fries, crackers, Craisins and granola bar. As we walked away from that gig to the car, we passed a bluegrass band playing in another venue, which, of course, 3B wanted to go see. Guitars, banjos, mandolins, drums, what more could a boy want?

We told him that they were going to bed just like we were, so he couldn't see them, but that we'd look for some bluegrass shows around that we could go see. All the way to the car he was asking "want to see some green grass." When we were done laughing about that, we said that it was bluegrass. "Where is the bluegrass?" I told him that it mostly grows in Kentucky, a statement based on absolutely no facts whatsoever, but I wasn't going to stop in the boogerfreezing wind and Google up bluegrass, so my supposition will just have to do for now.

As soon as we got in the car, we cranked up the Leftover Salmon and String Cheese Incident for 3B. Some of their tracks that we have are even legitimate bluegrass tunes, plus there's the bonus that one of them is named after one of 3B's favorite snacks. No, I didn't even attempt to explain Leftover Salmon's name to the little vegetarian.

By the time we got home, the car was finally warm, 3B didn't want us to shut off the Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass, and it was well past bedtime. We did manage to lure 3B into bed by showing him pictures of Uncle Brother #2's broken's too long a story to go into here, but 3B's been fascinated by axles for a few weeks now. And so now, rather than driving deeper into Dixie as we did three years ago, I'm sitting on the couch with Barky curled up at my feet as 3B and Mama slumber their way into the new year.

I'll probably join them before 2009 arrives, which means that even though the circumstances are different, we're spending this new year much as we did three years ago--warm, surrounded by family, with many happy memories to talk about.

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Meet the new year, same as the old year, just newer.

This photo was on the cover of the free WaPo rag this morning. And lest you nonlocals become concerned about declining standards at the Post, I'll explain that the Express prints all the wire reports that are fit to snark about and no more.

Because I'm working with camera phone technology that's at least three years old, here's the full caption...

On the ball: Workers perform a test of the New Year's Eve ball on Tuesday in Times Square. Up to 1 million people are expected in New York City Wednesday to help usher out a year marred by a recession fueled by a mortgage crisis and Wall Street's meltdown. In hopes of better fortunes, 1,000 balloons reading "Joy," "Hope" and "2009" will be released five minutes before the ball drops.
Which is sure to guarantee a joyful and hopeful 2009 for everyone except the endangered species who ingest these glad tidings and die as a result of them. Or the folks downwind from NYC who wake up to find their yard full of airborne litter from their neighbors.

I'm planning to join NYC in their spreading of good cheer this new year as soon as I can find a print shop that can fit "schadenfreude" onto a balloon.

And really, why do these ball droppers believe that 2009 will be any different than 2008? Or even 1908? After all, there are still over 600 plutocrats who are willing to shell out $14,000 to sit in a room and watch their daughters present themselves to the world for marriage the same way that farmers line up along the rail at the county fair to watch their livestock auctioned off for slaughter. See? Everything's fine with the economy!

Although, I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised that so many people turned out...
The director of the ball, Margaret Hedberg, brushed off the $14,000 cost of a table — “Watches cost more."
And everyone's sporting that kind of bling. Hell, in 3B's last BK kids meal, he got a plastic Disney princess and a Rolex, although honestly, I wasn't that impressed. I'm waiting for the meal that comes with a DBS.

But amid all this good news from those whose balls drop in public once a year, endangered species, and robber barons, there is a spot of bad news for the five people left on the planet who somehow believe that Microsoft makes worthwhile good tolerable working products. Apparently, at 2 a.m. this morning, both all Zune 30s died (from David Connell).

Actually, come to think of it, that brings me some hope and joy for 2009.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hot time in the ice town

As I'm loading up the car tonight for our trek south tomorrow, it's starting to sleet. However, in the cold, I'm kept warm by thoughts of our happy Christmas, which included video chats with three of my siblings, Brother #2, Sister #1, and the newest blogger in our family, Sister #2.

It also included several concerts...or an evening-long concert, depending on how you view the breaks for technical assistance and snacks. And yes, I have become a roadie for my son.

Here's a little taste of what kept us laughing all through the fifth night of Hanukkah, courtesy of our new Flip camera...

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Waiting for Christmas blues

How we've been passing the time at Grammy's while we wait for the fat man to sing...

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

and also...

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The boy is father to the man

As a boy, it's interesting listening to Erin and Kristin talk about raising boys. Even though they sometimes drift into their She-Woman-Man-Haters-Club schtick, they touch on a point of interest for me: the gender bias in education. The bias is the result of many overlapping and intersecting factors, but whatever the cause, as the parent of a boy, it's a concern.

It also raises an interesting point about my own early schooling. One of my former classmates recently started a group for our elementary school on Facebook and people have been posting class photos, and looking through the years, I am reminded that we had a balanced mix of male and female teachers. Because our class was always so large that we were split between two teachers, I ended up only having one of the male teachers, but they did share in my teaching since we would switch between classrooms for various topics, all go on field trips together, and so forth.

Speaking of school pictures can we talk for a moment about child clothing fashions from the 70's? OK, that's a whole 'nother story, but those clothes...I'm just sayin'.

Maybe having that male presence in school made the difference, but maybe not, since I was only at school seven hours of the day. Greater influences were Mom and Dad, who were so worn down experienced from raising my five older siblings that they gave me some latitude to be myself, even if that meant I wasn't following the pursuits they would have chosen for me. It wasn't so much a matter of letting boys be boys, but of people are people.

Yes, I did regular boy things--I played army, loved playing and watching sports and listened to far too much heavy metal and punk rock--but I also loved theater, writing poetry and cooking and baking. Mom and Dad met me wherever I was--at the soccer field or in the kitchen--no matter what their personal preferences were for me.

Beyond that, they would extend themselves to learn about my interests or behavior, which they did for all of us kids. After Mom died, Brother #2 discovered a Townes Van Zandt CD on top of her stereo cabinet. He knew that he had recently mentioned Van Zandt to Mom, and so she must have gone right out and bought the album and listened to it. Part of Mom's reason for doing that was that she always loved music, but another part was that she loved her son and wanted to hear what he was hearing.

Other than asking once if I wouldn't rather be an economics major--I'm sorry, have you forgotten all of my math grades from high school?--they consistently supported my interests, to the point of driving to Montana to see a show that I was production manager for. OK, it wasn't hard to convince Mom to come, since the show was in Glacier National Park, but still, she came. Likewise, when she came to visit me in Colorado, Mom hiked up to the Devil's Causeway, even though a thunderstorm was threatening.

This all required not insignificant efforts from Mom--Dad died before most of this happened--but she kept at it for me and my five siblings. Similarly, I've had to make efforts to meet 3B where he is--how many times can I play jump around before I puke? how many times can I say, "don't put that truck/lovie/fiddle in your butt" while I'm changing his diaper? how many times can I ask him to put his coat on because it's colder than...well, it's really cold outside, only to have him say, "I want to be cold"?

The answer is, endlessly, because while it's sort of funny to complain about and yes, sometimes mildly irritating or nauseating to me, it's who 3B is, and I love him.

However, all of these efforts require us parents to set aside part of ourselves, to get uncomfortable and to give up our way of doing things to do them the way someone else does. None of that is easy. My small efforts haven't been easy, and I can't imagine what it takes to do something like drop a child off at college and drive hundreds of miles away, leaving my child in the company of hundreds of hormonal strangers. But, I hope that by the time I get to that point, it will be an incremental change, not the revolution that it appears to be now.

I also don't know what it's like to be a woman raising a boy, but it broke my heart to hear the Manic Mommies talking about never having understood boys, not understanding boys now, and likely never understanding boys--that they would just have to learn to tolerate them.

I'm not saying that parents have to remake their personalities in the form of their children's, but it seems to me that there could be some more flexibility. For god's sake, we make our kids sit still, stay quiet, mind their manners, follow the rules and take endless car trips during which they're strapped in place for hours on end. Is it asking so much that we try to meet them where they are, do what they want to do? That we try out what they're doing, even if it stretches us out a little?

I used to respond to 3B's requests for me to play the guitar by saying that "Daddy doesn't know how to play the guitar. Mommy does." And that would always take the wind out of his sails, mid-concert. Finally, one day I said, "OK," grabbed the guitar and started strumming away just like he does, and he loved it. Now I play with 3B whenever he asks, although these days he's becoming more of a solo act, and I love it as much as he does, even though I still am the Mayor of Suckville on the guitar.

I assume that if we have a girl next, I'll be out of my comfort zone more often, but I hope that I'd embrace that and get beyond it, just like I hope the Manic Mommies can get past their discomfort with their boys, which probably has something to do with the fear of the unknown, just like my unease with guitar playing did. As I biked up and down the trail to the ranger station in Colorado that I lived in for a summer, I came up with some axioms based on mountain biking. One of them is that the only way through fear to to go through it and come out the other side.

Sure, you may end up sliding off the edge of the trail, down the mountain toward the waterfall, scrabbling for handholds and trying to snap your shoes out of the pedals, but you've gotten through your fear. Now that your fear is behind you, the world is open to you once again...granted that you survive, that is.

What about you? How do your kids challenge your sense of self?

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Papa Bradstein's personal auto industry bailout plan

Dear Car Companies,

I would like to request a few features for myself and other parents who drive or ride with kids:

  • A built in vacuum cleaner. It can be one of those plug the hose in the hole in the wall deals that they have in restaurants or a DustBuster that charges while the car's running, just something that sucks up crap that I don't have to carry seven floors down to the car.
  • Swivel front passenger seat. Because trying to find the one toy that 3B wants that he threw to the far edge of the back seat, where it might have bounced under my seat, into the map pocket on the door, or back next to his car seat while it's dark and we're bouncing down a road through stop and go traffic is like trying to get out of a straitjacket while riding on a buckboard. Once I've dislocated my shoulder, the rest is easy.
  • Lights under the front seats. Do I really need to explain this?
  • A microwave, not a glove box. Seriously, is this Elizabethan England, where ladies don't leave the house without gloves and a parasol? No, this is economic apocalypse America, where ladies, laddies and daddies are constantly driving through snack and meal time and don't even have enough money to pull through the bucket o' transfats for a buck (plus a free stent in the kid's meal!) joint on the corner. It doesn't have to be big, just enough to heat a tofu pup or a cup of mac and cheese.
  • Also, a refrigerator. You saw that coming, didn't you? But have you ever noticed how kids sort of live on milk and yogurt drinks and cheese and how all of those things need to be cold? And yes, I would give up one or three or five of the 63 cupholders in my five seat car for this. Especially the awkward ones that are round cavities in the door, but that don't really hold any cups that exist, but that allow you to claim more cupholders per car than your competitor.
  • Fuel efficiency. I don't know if you've noticed how the economy has been recently--oh wait, I guess that you have--but that's making small purchases harder to make: bread, milk, gasoline. So, it would be great if I could get some form of fuel efficiency without having to buy a car that looks like a SAAB jumped over the back fence, hooked up with the neighbor's CRX and had a litter of cars. You could probably do this by returning to building normal cars that don't have enough horsepower to haul a battleship up the side of a building, especially once you remove all the weight those extra 58 cupholders was adding to your cars.
If you do this, and if I still have a job, I promise that I'll buy one car a day until you're all out of bankruptcy...or whatever euphemism you're going to use.

Papa Bradstein

This offer is not compatible with other offers. Dealer participation may affect savings. For bonus cash, car companies (offerees), must provide retail delivery by January 1, 2010. This offer is only available when described terms are met in all 50 states, on all seven continents and on the nearest planet capable of sustaining human life, where we will all have to flee when global weirding really takes off. Estimates of how many cars may be purchased are dependent on the assumption of a 5% total payment made by offerer against the full value of the car whenever he damn well pleases, including in his own sweet time, and the assumption that the offerees will pay the remaining 95%. Residency, mileage and other restrictions or cancellations of this offer might apply at any time, depending on the mood of the offerer; such restrictions or cancellations of this offer might include, but not be limited to application of the I Lost My Job clause, the You Still Make Crappy Cars clause, the And They're Ugly Too clause, the Don't You Understand Satire clause, the I Thought It Was Funny Enough To Be Satire clause, and the Capriciousness clause.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Your mission, should you choose to accept it

Talk Amongst Yourselves: The Cultural Differences Edition

It's naptime but I'm still up since Mama is working and I'm wired from too many mimosas and the fun of having good friends over for brunch this morning. It's a couple that we haven't seen for too long and we did some fun reminiscing and catching up between concerts and strip shows from 3B.

Yes, 3B did make it down to his birthday suit before they left--and he didn't even have any mimosas. That's the Californian in him, I guess.

We were planning to get together with this couple for a booze scenic cruise on the river, but it's been hard to find babysitters with spare time to look after our naked cowboy while we enjoy less mature company than what 3B offers hang out with friends.

Speaking of hanging out, I've been sitting here reading the NYTimes and the WaPo instead of doing laundry and cleaning up. They're full of stories about culture clashes and I find myself wondering what anyone else thinks about these stories.

Since I can't invite you all over to brunch--or rather, I have, but you all turned me down, muttering something about virtual friends aren't real friends and distance and time and immutable laws of physics and that Barky takes up the whole couch--here's my reading list so far.

What do you think?

The Accidental Breadwinner

"Jackie Onassis told me to never marry or mix your money. I took her point."

Redefining the Pajama Hour
"Getting past that 11:35 barrier was like slipping into a world that was cooler, hipper, more spontaneous. In the heyday of late night, the era of Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, people even smoked on TV and drank from coffee cups stuff that might not have been coffee."

11:30 is late for I becoming a baby boomer? Oh, the horror!

Different Rules for Different Cultures: Be Prepared
"Sometimes a little cultural shock therapy can be beneficial."

They're Having Babies. Are We Helping?
"School social worker David Wynne states the obvious: 'Whatever we're doing, it's not working.'"

... and ...

"Cynthia Quinteros, however, has a theory. 'I feel that the community is afraid to talk about all the girls who are getting pregnant,' she says. 'Once you get pregnant, they do everything for you, but they ought to be doing all they can do to show girls how difficult their lives will be if they have a baby. I love Angel, but if I didn't have him I wouldn't have to work after school, I could study more, I could be a normal teenager.'"

Woman Blinded by Spurned Man Invokes Islamic Retribution
Amini said. "These crimes are violent reactions to sexual limitations in this country."

In public life, men and women are often segregated in Iran, and sex before marriage is illegal.

Amini said she doubted that the sentence against Bahrami's attacker would reverse the trend. "Social violence will not be cured with more violence," she said.

... and ...

"It's a harsh sentence, but she really had to go through a lot. I don't know what I would have done if she had been my daughter."

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

What I really want to know is, are you kind? (4 of 4)

It's a balance, because I want him to know that his actions create reactions and have consequences, but I don't want him to be scared of those or to learn to overreact from me--from my time in theater, I know there are plenty of performers who will gladly teach him that if we wants to learn it later.

I want to believe that a consistent approach--we've chosen time out--will eventually extinguish the behavior even if it seems to have little effect now, but I also want to scoop him up and comfort him and tell him that despite his current frustration, hunger, fatigue, that everything is OK. Of course, what I do is put him in time out and hug him and kiss him when he comes out--after he apologizes.

But what to do when the little Brainiac in time out asks for water? asks for a soft lovie? or stands up and waits until I come over to sit back down? or takes off his pants and diaper and starts examining his diaper?

Yes, he's learned that we can't very well put him in time out when he's already in time out, so misbehaving in time out has limited consequences. Also, he doesn't mind time out. In fact, he'll put himself into time out when he wants to stop whatever it is we're doing.

Don't want to go to the car? Slug Daddy and you know that he'll have to stop and put you down on the curb in time out. Or does that break Mom's rule about not disciplining kids in public?

When I'm trying to pop my eye from the back of my skull back into its socket or trying to reattach my lip to my face, it's not so easy to consider all of these questions and my responses calmly. It's also easy to lose track of our shared goal: a return to calmness.

If I can remember that goal, I generally do OK, but it's always hard to remember that 3B doesn't mean to hurt me when he looks me dead in the eye, grabs my nose between his fingers with their razor sharp nails and yanks it like it's a chain saw starter cord. He just wants to get his way.

Just like that comedy magic act didn't mean to raise my blood pressure 40 points in an hour; they just wanted to get their way. And the correct answer to that kind of behavior hasn't changed: Be kind. As the Dalai Lama said, "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."

About that act? They capitulated before the end of the lunch break, of course. After all, there's no shortage of ego in show business, and there's no better food for an ego than being able to say that you're part of a sold-out blockbuster.

How about you? What balance do you find it difficult to maintain in your life? How do you do it?

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Friday, December 12, 2008

What I really want to know is, are you kind? (3 of 4)

Although The King may dispute whether that third season was markedly different, I did the best I could to live by that credo. That doesn't mean that I didn't have my moments; it was a demanding environment. The first week of my first season, I promoted a good guy to crew chief only to have to fire him later that week, and in that final season, I had to fire one quarter of the stage crew at one time. One lesson I learned at that theater was that unless you're caught in a recession, in a political appointment, or with a despotic boss, you don't get fired by someone else--you fire yourself.

Despite all that, my new slogan must have worked to a certain extent, since that's the season that I met Mama, who's not only the most compassionate person I know, but also the least likely to tolerate any meanness.

This has made it hard on her when 3B has done what, in an adult, would be considered mean, like hitting or pinching in frustration. I've tried to remind her that while he does know that he'll get a reaction from us, he doesn't really understand that he's hurting us, or what it means to hurt someone.

Of course, that's all well and good until he socks me in the eye or tries to pull my lip off of my face.

Then, several conflicting reactions flash through me:

  • React without emotion.
  • Emphasize the hurt, not my anger or frustration.
  • Fuck, dude, that hurt!
It takes me back to that moment with The Producer. I know 3B can see my reaction on my face. I also know that he can see what I do with my reaction. Do I stay calm? Become angry? Use polysyllabic epithets?

Tomorrow: Dude, where's my lip?

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

What I really want to know is, are you kind? (2 of 4)

But my role wasn't to react emotionally--it wasn't my role to react at all. My role was to return their response to The Producer, so I stood and waited for the howling and clattering to die down. When I reported back to The Producer that the act was, in fact, going to hold to their position and therefore require us to reprogram a three-hour show during our lunch break, he replied by asking me how I was doing.

I replied that I was fine, even though I was reeling from my thoughts about the consequences of this showdown. The Producer said, "I can see that it affects you. I can see it in your face." I replied again that I was fine and left to start planning for a show with a hole in it, but his comment stuck with me.

I had come to the Follies at an emotional low point in my life. The events that led me there are too common to repeat here, other than to explain that they led me to revoke my trust in everyone and, as The King describes it, remove my heart so that my feelings would be revealed to no one. In fact, at that point, I'd rather feel nothing at all because any happiness only reminded me of everything that I had lost, bringing back the hurt and the anger.

When The Producer told me that he could see the effect of this conversation on my face, he wasn't relating anything new about me--my face has always been an open book--but he was revealing to me that my defenses weren't impregnable. Despite my best efforts over two years, I couldn't keep myself from reacting. I felt betrayed by my own weakness, but I also felt a small glimmer of hope that perhaps I could become a normal person again.

This balance led to many internal debates throughout the remainder of that season. Could I keep my defenses up? If I did, what of myself was I giving up? This was no idle debate at a theater in which, during my first season, the entire crew would be lined up on stage after each performance and told that they could, perhaps should, be fired en masse that moment and replaced with far more skilled technicians from Los Angeles before the next show.

I considered all of this through that season and through the weeks off that summer and returned the last season with a new mission statement: Be kind.

Tomorrow: Are polysyllabic epithets kind?

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What I really want to know is, are you kind? (1 of 4)

On Facebook, I've been reminiscing with former colleagues about the time they had to chase off the bum who was pissing in the 64-year-old stripper's pink bathtub in the alley and other good times from our work at granny's tits and feathers show.

It's reminded me of another story from those days, when I had to fire one of our headline acts between performances because they wanted a pink spotlight. We were at the beginning of our season, during which we ran 10 shows a week. In a 700-seat theater, we enjoyed ticket sales approaching 100 percent throughout the season. So it wasn't as if we had the time to find another headline act or that nobody would notice--in fact, it created a hole in the program that 7,000 people would notice every week. Not to mention the work the cast and crew would have to do to work around that gap in the program. No, I fired them because I had to.

The act was a British comedy magic duo, and they were good, but they suffered from an excess of ego, which is fairly common in show business. Yes, even at granny's tits and feathers show. As a standalone act rather than individual performers, they were also used to being able to dictate the needs of their show, which included their look.

They had never met The Producer, however.

The act and The Producer quickly reached amiable agreements about schedule, wardrobe and pay--especially pay. When you're over 50 and you've been on the road with performing act for most of your adult life, there's nothing like a guaranteed paycheck for a year, especially if that year is spent in Palm Springs, where I would go for a swim in the outdoor pool before work while the rest of the country was still scraping off their windshields and shoveling out their walks.

What the act didn't like, however, was The Producer's insistence on using a white spotlight. They felt that it was too harsh, made them look cold, and generally ruined the experience of their act for the audience--never mind the uproarious laughter and regular standing ovations.

I won't detail the tennis match that ensued between The Producer and the man of the act, but suffice it to say that when two strong willed men lock horns, there's not much that a bystander can do to prevent a knife fight. Being too old to safely wield knives, the men threatened each other with another cut: the act swearing to cut itself out of the show if they didn't get their way, and the producer returning the sentiments in kind.

So it was that between the matinee and evening show one day I was playing Henry Kissinger to their Israel and Egypt when the ultimatum came from the producer: tell the act that because their position is firm they have been cut from the show, final paperwork is being prepared for them, and they need to leave the premises as soon as possible. I went across to their bungalow and delivered the message.

That conversation was about as pleasant as being in a knife shop while a tornado blows through it.

Tomorrow: I give myself away.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Santa's second life

According to Google, Santa's nothing but an avatar.

And, according to NORAD, a homeland security threat...does he have to take off his shoes at the airport?

Of course, that's all lies, since we all know the real story of Santa Claus.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

My serious vocational error

Today, I got a voice mail message that consisted of Mama asking 3B what he wanted to say to daddy. After she asked several times, Mama got the reply that 3B had been chanting before my voice mail picked up, "Want to call daddy at work. Want to talk to daddy."

There's nothing quite so heartwarming or so heartbreaking as getting called at work by my son, who just wants to say that he misses me.

It makes me wonder where I made my serious vocational error.

Why is it that I can't have a home office--although if you look at that setup the other way, I'm not sure that I'd like to live at the office.

Why am I not paid to play all day on children's toys in beautiful European mountain ranges, after which I receive professional massages?

Why is it that we believe that men are naturally better at this constant departing? Is it because our genetic makeup allows us to recover faster from the heartache? Have we just learned by watching our fathers before us, who learned from their fathers? Or are we really that bad at housework?

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Naps, craps and existential crises

If it's true that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then this blog is in a handbasket, floating down the river Styx.

I can't count the times I've meant to write a little update here only to be interrupted by a coughing fit, a waking toddler, a dog who needs to crap, another coughing fit, a nap, the well founded anxiety that if the market doesn't rise like Lazarus out of the grave it's dug for itself that I'll be out of a job before Memorial know, the standard distractions.

Between naps, craps and existential crises, I have scrawled a few notes about the past few days on beer bottle labels, dog food bags and in the margins of the want ads.

Last week marked the second Thanksgiving in my 40 years that I hadn't gathered with my siblings for a meal. However, we were joined by Grammy and a friend from my past job who was a holiday orphan. While 3B and I coughed and played the day away, Mama and Grammy made enough food to stuff all of us turkeys several times over.

Before dinner, we were able to videoSkype with Sister #1 and #2 and their kids while they were waiting for Brother #2, who had to stop to get a new rear axle on his journey north. After our dinner, Brother #2 had gotten his new rear end to Sister #2's house, so we again videoSkyped while he sharpened up the snickersnee.

Our friend had brought over tasty wine and I set the red and port on the balcony to chill a bit. After dinner, when Grammy took 3B out on the balcony to play, he reached over, grabbed both bottles by their necks and announced, "These are my beers."

See why I can't make fun of Britney?

That's not the only bon mot that 3B has dropped this week. He's picking up language fast enough that I've been checking under his crib mattress for correspondence course material. You read this blog, so you know I'm not capable of expanding his vocabulary beyond the seven words you can't say on radio or television. Then again, he does spend most of his day with Mama, a healthy safeguard against my influence.

Some that stood out to us:
  • Want that creature to say, "Silly Mr. Skip!"
    -- Creature? Where does he get these words? The Mr. Skip reference is a long story.
  • Oh, do you want to go get your squeeze box? OK. Yes, I do. But wait--first I have to put on my shoes.
    -- 3B clearly doesn't need us for conversations.
  • I want Eeyore to play Jump Around. [Papa grabbed the small Eeyore.] No, I mean the big Eeyore.
    -- Really, Papa. Don't be a dumb ass.
  • I pooped from all that food.
    --Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

On Sunday, we thought it would be wise to run three errands with a toddler: go to BJ's, Target and PetSmart. Honestly, 3B is a good shopper for his age. The truck carts at BJ's help. Well, they help 3B. For us, they turn shopping into a workout since they're as easy to maneuver as steering a dead whale with a toothpick.

Target required tag-team parenting--one shopping while the other entertained 3B with Christmas trees, bicycles, the entire toy section, baseballs, bats, helmets and gloves. At some point we also had to surreptitiously leave behind the first item 3B picked up and latched onto as we came through the doors: a pink sequined purse.

Even though the pink is a nice complement to the red in 3B's hair, we couldn't get the purse. We consciously got him attached to cloth diapers as his lovies, since they are easy to get cheaply in large quantities, which means that we are never without one. We leave one in the car, one in each stroller, one in the backpack, a few at Mrs. K's, and we've probably lost a few in airports and stores along the way, but we still always have one. So we're not really prepared to switch to pink sequined purses as lovies.

As for the boy carrying the pink sequined purse through Target? Get over it. 3B is quite happy gobbling up his princess gummy vitamins and brushing his teeth with his pink Hello Kitty toothbrush, all of which he picked out, thank you very much.

Besides, isn't this nothing but a man's pink sequined purse?

Honestly, I can't blame 3B. The crap they make for boys is boring at his age, when shiny things rule. Boys toys and clothes and accessories are all drab colors with no personality. 3B likes things that match is bright personality and meet his imagination where it is going. This is a boy who has conversations with characters in his books; why would he not want characters on all of his toys?

Speaking of books, we did succeed in getting him a bookcase at Target, so his burgeoning collection no longer has to sprawl across his bedroom floor--not that it was bothering him, but I was going to break an ankle sooner or later trying to close his blinds. And then it was off to the pet store for dog food.

By that time, it was raining, and Mama and 3B stayed in the car eating chips while I ran in quickly for the dog food, since by then it was time to get home for our nap, crap and afternoon existential crisis.

I'd have more to tell you, but I ran out of beer bottle labels. I'm thinking that 3B has them stashed somewhere, along with his coursebooks.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A reminder of love

By now, you've likely read the story of Moshe Holtzberg...

"The cries of Moshe Holtzberg wounded hearts Monday at a tearful memorial for his parents in India. "Mommy!" he wailed, clutching a toy basketball while in the arms of mourners at the Mumbai synagogue."
Last week, the day before Thanksgiving, a friend of mine from college came to visit with her husband and their two daughters, both older than 3B. The three of them played well together and by the end of their visit they had formed a band called The Barkys and were trooping in and out of 3B's room carrying various musical instruments. They would parade into the living room, play a short concert, bow to raucous applause, then return to 3B's room for a minute to practice, regroup, mill about, whatever marching bands do on breaks. After the brief interlude, one would return to the living room to announce, "There will be a concert in about one minute." Wash, rinse, repeat.

3B carries on this new tradition by himself to this day, announcing himself to be the lead drummer of The Barkys and parading back and forth between his room and his stage on the living room carpet.

As we watched the full band last week, talk turned to the changes that have come to us as a result of parenting, particularly the ones we have no control over. As our children marched back and forth, banging and strumming and bowing, we all revealed that we could no longer bear certain news stories about children. The pain is too intimate, too close to our hearts, too close to our fears, too close to our love, so we pass over them in the evening news, the newspaper, or websites.

The story of Moshe Holtzberg is exactly that kind of story, but I turned the page and I saw that photo and my first thought was that I've seen 3B crying like that over much lesser pains and it broke my heart. Then I saw the basketball, and I thought of 3B clutching at his lovie. And I read how Moshe was calling out for his mommy, and I thought of 3B's loneliness while Mama was in Ghana. I thought of Moshe, alone with the bodies of his parents in the synagogue. I thought of 3B in school at the JCC today. I thought of Moshe, flying to Israel with the remains of his parents, forever now a family of one.

I couldn't stop thinking about it. I still can't stop thinking about it. I can't stop seeing Moshe's face.

It reminds me, though, that even after he bites my head and socks me in the eye, to hold 3B close and tell him that I love him. It reminds me that nothing at work is so important that I should take a later bus home. It reminds me that when I get up, I need to get going so that when 3B wakes, I'm not running out the door to walk Barky or into the shower to get ready to leave.

It reminds me that love, no matter how deep, is always passing.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Jack Johnson is a jackass

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

On Thanksgiving day, I received this missive:

Dear papabradstein,

Video Disabled

A copyright owner has claimed it owns some or all of the audio content in your video 3B Plays with a Friend. The audio content identified in your video is We're Going To Be Friends by Jack Johnson. We regret to inform you that your video has been blocked from playback due to a music rights issue.

Replace Your Audio with AudioSwap

Don't worry, we have plenty of music available for your use. Please visit our AudioSwap library to learn how you can easily replace the audio in your video with any track from our growing library of fully licensed songs.

Other Options

If you think there's been a mistake, or you have other questions, please visit the Copyright Notice page in your account.

The YouTube Content Identification Team

I'm sure the timing was determined by some bucket of bits and bolts, not by the jackass himself, but receiving this on a day when people come together to give thanks and enjoy each other's company was icing.

Let's set the record straight on a few issues here
  • I'm all about artists making money, making lots of it, if they can.

  • I had a choice when I acquired that song, and I chose to buy it because...well, see my first point.

  • As I'm sure you know, jackass, you had a choice--hell, you could have even made money off my video, which is what you're all about it seems.
There are other artists who have automatically granted permission for the use of their songs in videos of mine. Of course, there are others who have refused, as you did, to grant permission. If it's true that a man is known by the company he keeps, then I'm sure that you're happy to keep company with the greatest self-absorbed, cornrowed, plastic surgery victim of our time, who also refused permission.

What is it with you artists who think that by blocking your fans from using and sharing your work you can make more money? Are you really that stupid?

Let's be honest here, jackass, this comes down to money, and my use of your song didn't cost you a dime. In fact, I bought your album so I could use that song, so you made out pretty well on this deal. And you're not playing on street corners, hoping for enough spare change so you can buy a bottle of Boone's to keep you warm while you bunk under some overpass. I'm doing all right too, but certainly none of what I have comes courtesy of you. I'm not making any money off of you, jackass. What I have done is akin to borrowing a cup of sugar from a neighbor.

I know that this whole sharing idea isn't a foreign concept to you, jackass, but perhaps you should point your army of suits to your own words before you set them loose on nice, if foulmouthed, fathers.

Johnson has stated in several interviews that a big part of his success involved his friends recording "bootlegs" of his tracks and distributing them at surf competitions. Johnson has also stated that he supports the sharing of live recordings and bootlegs of his music, many of which can be found here.

"It's pretty crazy. There's stuff I would find online that I'd only given to one friend, so I know how it got there," Johnson says. "It's been a spider-web effect. That's the whole reason all this [success] started. I'm sure there's lots of people who hate [downloading], but I really dig it."
Speaking of your own words, I don't suppose that you have to mean every word that you sing, so I wonder...can you tell me which of these you didn't mean when you sold them to us like a box of used lightbulbs?
If you have two
Give one to your friend
If you have three
Give one to your friend and me
It's always more fun
To share with everyone
I also wonder what it's like. As Ani sang,
I wonder if you miss your old friends
Once you've proven what you're worth?
Yeah I wonder
When you're a big star
Will you miss the earth?

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cold comfort

I was in the lobby of our building, getting punched in the face by 3B, who I was putting into time out for punching me in the face during the elevator ride down from our condo, hearing Barky whine and feeling him winding his leash around my legs in an attempt to get out to pee after a full day in his crate as I held 3B's head between my hands, trying to get him to focus on what I was saying, realizing that he was too young for this technique to work when a neighbor came in and asked me, "What do you think about the management company petition?"

It took all of what little restraint I had left to not deliver the Socratic reply that leapt to the tip of my tongue: Are you fucking kidding me?

Instead, I said, "I've been a little busy," and thought that I'll have to wait until next year for that Father of the Year award.

And so it went last week, while Mama was in Ghana and I attempted to do for one week what she does every week of the year: work full time and raise 3B. The week was by turns wonderful--watching 3B playing with his classmates on the playground and watching him light up as we videoSkyped with Mama--and grueling--the gasping sobbing when I dropped him off at school and watching him melt down and run away from the computer as one of our videoSkypes had a technical breakdown precipitating a small meltdown in me.

That meltdown was the nadir of the week and a reminder of the blessing and curse of my impatience. I'm constantly looking for the faster, and hopefully easier, way to do things. During the week, I needed all the faster and easier methods I could devise for everything I needed to get done, but there are some things that can't go faster--like transitions with a two-year-old.

I was ready for the whole day as soon as 3B woke up, with his snacks and lunch packed, his clothes laid out, and my work day planned around 3B's schedule. But getting 3B into that stroller as soon as he woke up so we could take Barky for a walk in the 20 degree weather was not something that I could prepare, lay out or plan for. Fortunately, 3B will do anything for his gummy vitamins, so I was able to bribe him for a few mornings.

But then he got wise to me.

And so it went last week. At some times, we needed to do things that 3B didn't want to do at that time, or ever. And honestly, they were some things that I didn't want to do either, which didn't make it easier to convince 3B to come along with me. I mean, really? Stroll around in subfreezing temperatures just so I could pick up my dog's steaming poop? Hey, I'd rather stay in too.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with Mom once about doing the dishes. She was telling me that she had to wash them all while I was out for the evening, and I responded that I was going to wash them when I got home, there was no hurry. Mom replied that sometimes things have to be done when they have to be done. That's the truth, which was bad news for my neighbors seeking my signature, because that's just not something that had to get done last week.

As I stayed up late, packing snacks, making lunch, and working, Mom's words kept coming back to me. Now, however, they weren't grating at all. They were a comforting reminder that despite the punching, the meltdowns and the arctic weather, I wasn't alone in this endeavor; I always had Mom with me.

Not that the comfort kept me from asking, "Are you fucking kidding?" when I walked into those icy mornings.

And so it went last week.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Literacy Vandals

Because my other post about grammar vandals was such a hit with y'all, I thought that you'd appreciate this photo, not only for the graffiti, but for the knowledge that I listen to a grammar podcast. Yeah, that's how this geek rolls.

Literacy Vandals, originally uploaded by GrammarGirl.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Royale with Bert

I was looking around for a primer on Amsterdam for Sister #2, based on her comment on my previous post. Specifically, I was looking for the primer on Amsterdam coffee houses, but before I could find that, I found this primer on Europe from Sesame Street, which might be helpful to our new Secretary of State as she tries to repair relations with our European allies.

(And yes, both are from Pulp Fiction, so yes, they use the full depth and breadth of the English language.)

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Drug czar goes to pot

I know that it's the last days of the administration, when you can get away with anything, but you'd think that they would lay off the wacky weed until January 21, especially in the drug czar's office.

Apparently, however, no Dorito is safe in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, because who else but someone who just burned through a bag of chronic would post a Google map showing all the locations where you can buy weed in San Francisco?

You can tell that whoever did this really had the good stuff, since they got 27 locations wrong and accidentally posted the locations of every Starbucks as well. Starbucks? Hey, I don't want no fru fru latte making me all uptight when I'm chilled like this. C'mon man, where's the 7-11? You're not holding out on me, are you bro?

I'm not terribly surprised by this latest product from the same Spicolis who, as the article points out, produced illegal covert propaganda using your tax dollars.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Falling and laughing

Mama's still in Ghana, so I'm doing all the running around with 3B that she usually does. This includes dropping 3B off at school and picking him up. The drop offs are pretty traumatic for 3B, with lots of sobbing, even though he says he wants to go to school, wants to see Mrs. I, his teacher, and wants to go to movement class or music class.

By the afternoon, when I pick him up, all of that is forgotten and he's running around the playground with his peeps, having a blast. We talk about his day as we walk out to the car and drive home.

Papa: Where were you when I came to pick you up today?
3B: In the playground schoolhouse.
Papa: What were you doing?
3B: Having a meeting.
Papa: What else did you do on the playground?
3B: I was jumping off two steps.
Papa: What happened when you jumped off two steps?
3B: I fell.
Papa: Oh. Then what happened?
3B: I laughed.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What goes down must blow up

This must be fall because everything's falling: the Dow Jones, our sense of reality, and snow.

To be fair, half of this snow was traveling upward in the eddying winds just off of our balcony, but I'd rather call this season Fall than Blow Up.

Fall...the season when snow falls

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mama leaves

Every time 3B heard our neighbors arrive or leave tonight he would announce, "Mommy is home!" He would also announce that every time the breadmaker would make a sound, or there would be a click, clack, clank or clunk that he could hear.

It all makes sense once you know that we had just walked Mama down to a taxi that took her to her flight to Ghana, where she'll be all week. No, it wasn't a big yellow taxi, but the effect was the same.

And then there were the crying jags. Two or three. But again, it's understandable, and all I can do is hold 3B until he calms down and pray he holds me too.

There are upsides to having a chatty toddler--you know what he did at school, you know what he doesn't want to eat for lunch (or "dunch"), and it's heartwarming to hear him say, "I love you."

Of course, there are downsides, like his remarkable ability to keep himself awake well into the night as he consolidates his memories of the day into his long-term memory neurons. I just spent 45 minutes listening to a fascinating soliloquy through the video monitor. It ranged from the maudlin...a final chorus or 12 of Leave Her Johnny, to the pragmatic..."after you go to the potty, you have to wash your hands in the sink," to the heartbreaking..."You need some comfort. Want Mommy to come in and comfort you."

On any given night, those words cause an ache in my chest. Mama and I always consider going in, and sometimes we do, depending on the circumstances. But even when we do, we remind him that we're here, that we'll always be here, rub him on the back, sing him a soft song, and walk out. What we really want to do is scoop 3B up, tuck him in bed with us, and snuggle all night long.

Of course, if we did that, our bed would become center stage, a trampoline, and an endless Jump Around concert.

Tonight is no different, especially because I know what 3B is going through. More than that, I feel what 3B is going through. And we'll be feeling it together for the rest of this week. If the past is a guide, the first few days will seem long and chaotic, and then we'll get into our new rhythm and time will seem to pass more quickly.

Until the neighbors open their door again.

How much do you think it would cost to send them to Florida for a week? Or should I just change the locks on their door?

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Child psychology, according to a two-year-old

As we were driving home from getting 3B's picture taken with Santa...yeah, a Santa picture--we did it because Shutterfly had an offer that made the picture free and because nothing says Hanukkah like a Santa picture and because we need a new photo of 3B to send out with all the Christmakwanzukkah cards we didn't send last year, so people don't think 3B didn't grow at all over the last year.

Where was I? Right--we were driving home.

And we were talking with 3B about what we had just done:

"Did you have fun driving the train?" [Santa was ensconced in a Polar Express exhibit.]
"Did Santa give you stickers?"
"Do you want to play with them?"
"Yeah, sure. Thanks."
"What does Santa say?"
"Does he say, 'Ho ho ho'?"
"Santa says, 'Ho ho ho and a bottle of rum!'"
Now, that's my kind of Santa.

Mama made cupcakes one night this week. The next morning, 3B spied them sitting up on the counter as I was trying to convince him to eat his Life and blueberries with milk. He was fine with the blueberries, in fact, he picked them all out and gobbled them up in a few minutes, but he was having none of the cereal.

So, having learned everything I need to know about parenting from Bill Cosby, I said, "Sure, let me get you a cupcake."

3B ran over, had me pick him up and said, "I can't wait to have one of those cupcakes."

For a sentence like that, sure, whatever you want, kid--just eat it before Mama comes back. And wipe those crumbs off your face.

The other day, one of the first freezing days of winter here, Mama decided to take the boys on the dog park, playground, coffee shop circuit. Even though she figured that there wouldn't be any kids at the playground, Mama wanted to get 3B out and running around for at least a short while before frostbite sets in, plus he gets busy at the coffee shop, which has a play area overflowing with toys.

So Mama was happily surprised when they arrived at the playground and saw that a girl and her mother were there. The girl was just about 3B's age, and they started playing as Mama and the other mother fell into conversation. They talked about, of course, the kids' ages and sizes--the girl was a head taller than 3B, which is remarkable, since he tracks in the 90th percentile for height for boys. That's one tall little girl.

As the kids moved from one activity to another, the moms' conversation meandered along. While the other mom explained that she was finishing up her residency, 3B and the girl started drumming on one of the stools. Mama asked what the other Mom's residency was in and the other mother replied "child psychology" just as 3B slapped his hands flat on the stool and declared, "The drumming stopped," reciting from one of his favorite books.

Suddenly, as Mama realized what 3B was going to say next, time slowed down and all she could hear was the echo of the other mom's last words in her mind: child psychology.

Then, 3B recited the next line of the story, slowly and clearly, "The executioner raised his great axe."

Really? Child psychology, you say?

Full disclaimer: Mama didn't care one whit about the cupcake for breakfast. In fact, she sent two of them with him to Mrs. K's that day, so I'm in the clear.

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