Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Whose children are these?

Yesterday, two things happened that made me think I should call the hospital to see if any other parents who delivered at the time we did have reported possibly swapped babies.

I know that thanks to the secret decoder bracelets, triple-check confirmation at every hand off and the baby LoJack clip on the umbilical that these kids are ours. They were as closely tracked as nuclear warhead, maybe more closely.

But still...

I was preparing dinner in the kitchen, opening packages, chopping vegetables and so on, so I left our pullout cupboard where our trash can is pulled out. That way, every time I had a tip from a carrot stick to pitch, I could just toss it in. Jewel came toddling into the kitchen, however, marched straight over and slammed that cupboard.

"Hey," I said. "I was using that."

She didn't even look over her shoulder at me as she marched off to clean up the next mess she found. Somewhere out there, some OCD parents have a PigPen that they're wondering how to handle.

And then, as I was eating a quesadilla, 3B walked up and announced that he was hungry, despite having finished dinner 10 minutes prior. Before I could ask, he looked at the salsa and sour cream atop my meal and announced, "And I don't want any of that because I'll never eat pizza."

OK, first off, pal, it's a quesadilla, which is flat bread, cheese, toppings and salsa, not pizza, which is flat bread, cheese, toppings and sauce. Second, somewhere out there, some communist parents have a pizza eating machine child that they're wondering how to handle...because who doesn't love pizza?

But then I remember that I saw these two beautiful babies being born, and I know that for all the tracking technology they were the brutes of the nursery and there was no mistaking them--seriously, I did wonder, but then I walked down the row...teeny baby, tiny baby, teeny baby, ohgoodlord my baby.

Besides, their beautiful faces are a dead giveaway that they're Mama's and the stubborn old goat gene is a dead giveaway that they're mine.

Papa Bradstein will ride 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Perching, flitting and secret languages-our first family dinner

Today would have been Mom's 79th birthday. It's only fitting, then, that we had our first family dinner last night during which we all sat around the table together.

This was made possible by the letter J and the number, wait--crap, that was Sesame Street, not dinner.

Dinner together was made possible by Jewel's graduation from high chair to booster seat. Just as her brother decided by himself it was time to get out of the crib and into a big boy bed, Jewel just started climbing into big girl chairs to eat rather than her high chair. Taking the hint, we bought her another booster seat--her first is at her babysitter's house--and she's never looked back.

Being strapped in, she was a captive audience for dinner. Her brother? Eh, not so much, but he did stay at the table after field trips to pee, get books to read and find cards to play War with. In fact, he was still there, eating away, after the rest of us had departed. Mostly because he was still shredding cheese. Oh, did I mention that he had to go find a block of cheese to shred?

Mama was probably glad it didn't last too long since she was perched atop our tall bathroom stool for the duration. Yes, we do have enough chairs to go around, but no, don't ask me why they aren't all actually around the table. Despite the perching and flitting about, we had a fun time eating together.

For starters, we all like to eat, although 3B might like the socializing more than the eating...hence the books, the cards, and the side projects. We also all like to be together. 3B and Jewel have gotten to that point where they can make each other laugh, are developing inside jokes and will soon, I'm sure, have their own language. In addition, Mama had them out scootering around the lake and playground all morning, and that got everyone off to a good start.

It looks like it will be another beautiful day here--85 during the day, down to 60 or so at night--although without the dense fog of yesterday morning. Five degrees cooler on each end and it would be just like home, just like what Mom would taunt me with when I called to tell her about snow, sleet or sweltering heat. Just like what I would ride my bike through coming home from school.

For all these reasons and more, I'll be thinking of Mom on her day, today, but for now I've got to get on my bike and ride. Mom wouldn't want me to be late to work.

Papa Bradstein will ride 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter: a shagadelic frenzy

Easter brought about the age-old debate: be responsible parents or let the kids eat themselves into a sugar guzzling frenzy?

Of course, frenzy won out as we explained to the kids that it's a holiday all about the shagging after all...or something. I figure if we ever move the kids out of the Old Testament, we can explain the real meaning, so they'll know why a bunny pooped out chocolate-filled eggs under the couch cushions.

3B's favorite gift was a tube of Egyptian characters that he used to play Egyptian chess. This is a game with one rule: 3B wins. Seriously, that's what he says at the start of each game: There are no rules except that I win.

Hey, when one of your pieces is the Pharaoh, it makes sense.

To be fair to 3B, whichever piece he declared to be bishop still moved diagonally, rooks moved straight ahead and sideways, knights jumped over pawns to move and queens did whatever they wanted. Of course, directions were all relative on the grid-free surface of the Persian, the dining room table and the bedspread.

Jewel's favorite gift wasn't an Easter gift at all, although she enjoyed all of those too. In fact, she enjoyed a lot of Easter gifts, since it took her about 7 seconds to figure out that if she shook a plastic egg and it didn't rattle with contained candy, there was no need to bother attempting to open it. She's no chump.

What she liked most were two items we got for her on Friday: her own scooter and helmet. Being the second child, she was allowed to scoot without a helmet until now. You know, the first child never goes outside without 11 protective layers of bubble wrap and the second one...wait, how did she get outside? She's where? At the corner bar, ordering a pizza? Yes, I'll be right over...I mean, as soon as I finish my beer.

So, we went to our local bike shop--big sacrifice for Papa, that trip--and got little missy a new lid that's all hers. Of course, when we showed her the wall of helmets, the only one she wanted was the pink and purple one her brother has, which is too big for her, even when she wears it backwards, as she does about half the time. It is a good reverse time trial look.

Then it was off to le Target for whatever scooter wasn't either recalled for slicing kids fingers or bought out by parents who actually plan ahead for holidays. This ended up being a Radio Flyer scooter--my first scooter, or somesuch--that is wide enough for her to stand on with both feet side-by-side and be pulled along.

Before we got this and I actually did it, I thought my daughter would never allow such a thing--someone else to do what she was perfectly capable of doing on her own, or even that which she had to struggle through to develop some capability of doing on her own--but that's exactly what she did. Not for long, mind you, but for the boring portions, like the shuttle from our building over to what we call the racetrack, which is the circle at the end of the cul-de-sac.

But, when we got there, it was off to the races...of course. Easter morning, she and Mama went out for a long scoot, then a walk down to our neighborhood coffee shop and park while 3B and I stayed in, playing Capture Daddy's Egyptian Chess Pieces in 1,000 Different Ways.

Jewel hasn't stopped scooting except at the end of yesterday's trip to Green Spring Gardens when sugar DTs set in pretty hard and she became a weepy mess until we could get back to the car where Mama had stashed a bag of methadone-flavored jelly beans.

Hope your holiday was a shagadelic frenzy.

Or something more appropriate.

Papa Bradstein will eat nothing but Peeps for 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Mongolian mad hatter

Mama arrived at the Mongolian head shaving ceremony just in time for the first shot of vodka. After that she, of course, needed a beer chaser, as she did after the second shot. After that we bowed out rather than join the tight circle that had formed.

This was in part due to Mama realizing that she was, in her words, "getting lit" and my absorption in being, as Mama describes it, the Mongolian mad hatter with the kids.

We had given the girl who was getting her head shaved a tea set, which she opened as soon as she tore the wrapping paper off. And tearing the paper off didn't take long, since Jewel had gotten it started for her.

Suddenly, all 65 children at the party--OK, maybe only 6, but they were coming at me from all sides--descended on the tea set, which was made for, apparently, one girl and half a doll. This meant that I had to suddenly switch into hostage negotiator mode, where the cups, saucers, creamer, plates, sugar bowl and a variety of lids were hostages and the 65 kids were the kidnappers.

While not all of us were using the same verbal language, we were all speaking the universal language of have-versus-have-not with the local dialect of gimme-that-now. I was improvising with the tools I had at hand, which fortunately included a half empty water bottle, that I could dole out sips of tea from...until someone poured most of it out onto the carpet.

I was feeling a bit like Jesus with the loaves and fishes but without the son-of-god powers. Let's just say that everyone survived, but maybe some kids had to drink tea out of the creamer.

Maybe because the drinks were finally doing their work, calming my nerves in the midst of the firefight, I somehow managed to keep my cool during the whole episode.

3B loved it, which is a good thing, since the girl whose party it was is a neighbor in our building and loves to play with 3B, so I'm sure we'll see the tea set again. While he was busy with that, Jewel was roaming the floor on the motorized car and pedal trike. She loved pushing both around, not wanting to use the motor on the former and being too short to reach the pedals on the latter.

She would let me push the motor button and steer her around, as she held her feet up in the air much like you'd throw your arms up on a roller coaster. But only for a minute, then it was back to the quiet, but resolute, "I'll do this myself" determination that marks just about everything Jewel does.

3B also loved the car and trike until it got too crowded to ride them. Then, other than the tea set and the meringues and sugar cubes he snacked on, there wasn't much to distract him. And there wasn't much for him to eat. Perhaps that's how he kept ending up in time out.

Or perhaps it was me and those shots of vodka and their chasers. Or perhaps sleeping in that morning, which was a beautiful gift from Mama, threw me off. Or perhaps it was just the end of a long day and I wasn't feeling it.

Whatever it was, it didn't end well.

I sent 3B out to the patio to sit in time out. I told him that if he couldn't hold it together, we were leaving the party and going straight upstairs. When I went out to get him, he couldn't hold it together. Maybe it was a reaction to something I said, maybe it was just time to go, but whatever it was, I told him we were going and he said that he was going to sit right there. I was already walking past him, so I grabbed his shirt sleeve and pulled him along with me. In the process, it knocked over the chair he was sitting on.

Now, I know that he doesn't like being pulled around like that. Who does? But I felt I'd given him enough chances to do it himself. When he refuses to go to time out, I always ask if he'd rather walk or have me carry him there, and this was no different. And yet, something was different.

We were leaving a happy celebration on a bad note, and it disturbs me to this minute. I'm sure it had an effect on him, but I doubt that he's replaying it endlessly as I am, wishing for a different ending each time. In fact, when we got upstairs, he was happier and easier to get along with for the rest of the night than the whole time at the party.

That's oblique proof that perhaps he wasn't that happy at the party. It was stressful, after all, even if he wasn't the Mongolian mad hatter. Or perhaps he was happy at the party, but just happier at home. As Mama reminded me, he puts himself in time out, we don't. In fact, our goal is to help him not behave in such a way that he ends up in time out.

Perhaps that's what bothers me so much: I know that I wasn't modeling that behavior at the end of the night. I know that no matter how often I play loaves and fishes with tea sets, I'll never be able to walk on water, but I'd still like to be as perfect as possible for my kids, and so I'm disappointed in myself. Angry at myself. And a little sad for 3B, although by the time the elevator hit our floor, he was skipping down the hall, laughing, so I don't think it really stayed with him that long.

But I'll take that disappointment and that anger and use them to fuel my drive to become a better dad, so hopefully some good will come of it. And I'll take that little sadness and listen to some deep blues today, which will hopefully wash me clean.

Papa Bradstein will not drink any tea, or vodka shots, in his 200-mile ride across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. But maybe some when he's done. Please support his ride.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

What is unknowable


As I flew home, that lurking feeling came closer to my consciousness, but never surfaced. It was large, dark and mysterious. It felt as if I were at the bottom of a hole dug so deep into the Earth's crust that if I were to scream, my voice would never be heard.

It also felt as if a hole had opened in the bottom of my soul that was big enough that it could swallow the moon...and me along with it.

But it was as if I were blindfolded and bound in a cave and suddenly realized there was an enormous creature in the chamber with me that could not only see me and move me about, but also was a part of me. I could sense its size from the deep notes of its slow breathing and the shuddering of the ground when it moved about. At times, it even brushed against me and I could feel its cold skin, and sense its tremendous weight.

But never could I fully apprehend it, know it, understand it.

To this day, I can't fully describe this feeling, but I know it is still with me. I know that it feels like loss. It has the tremendous weight of sadness. It has the tremendous darkness of a place where seeing isn't possible. It is a void, but it's not something I avoid.

But however I chase after it, this feeling stays just out of reach, past the edge of what I can know. Perhaps that is its purpose.

Papa Bradstein will ride 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cleanliness is next to godliness...and they're both under that pile of laundry over there

Mama always says that I'm organized and that Jewel must get her inclination to put things away from my side of the gene pool, which is the shallow end, for those of you keeping score at home.

What I've tried to explain to Mama is that I'm the least organized person I know, but that I'm more impatient than I am disorganized. As a result, I've trained myself into certain habits that keep me from wasting time. However, they have limits...ask me where my keys are and I can always tell you. Ask me where last year's tax return is and, well, you might as well ask me what Kepler's Third Law is.

Actually, that's a bad parallel, since I know what Kepler's Third Law is, having had to explain it to 3B as we go through the nerd alphabet that hangs in his room. And I can Google Kepler's Third Law...last year's tax returns? Not so much.

But, perhaps I wouldn't ever lose our returns if I gave them to Jewel to file. She puts everything away when she's done with it and takes her trash straight to the trash can, which makes one of us in Casa Bradstein who does all of that.

Honestly, it's a little eerie to watch. It's as if we were dropped onto the set of Night of the Living OCD. At first, I don't think we noticed the pattern because Jewel is so quiet and unassuming about it. Unlike her brother, who seriously had me set up an audience of stuffed animals for his slide guitar concert last night because in rock videos "there's always thousands of people in the audience," Jewel will simply finish playing with a toy, stand up, walk it across the room and deposit it where it belongs before moving on to her next activity.

No fans. No fanfare. Just fine motor skills at work.

Jewel is either less patient than I am, or she swims in the deep end of the gene pool. Being her proud Papa, I know it's the latter, of course. Also, the former isn't possible.


Word of the day: bump. It's Jewel's most recent favorite word and she uses it all the time.

Papa Bradstein will impatiently await the end of his 200 mile ride across Massachusetts for two days. Please support his ride.

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Carry that weight


With that feeling lurking, I put the last few items into my bag, wheeled it out to my brother's car, hoisted it into the back seat and dropped myself into the front seat.

As he drove me to the airport, we talked, just as we had talked the day before with our sister as we drove her to the airport. I'm unsure now what we talked about. Perhaps we talked about bikes. Or coffee. Or music. Or KFOG. Or the weather here compared to back home in Washington--state for my sister, DC for me.

The topics and our words don't so much matter to me now. When I was younger, I would have focused on the words, dissected them, pondered them, but now I'm think more about the content of those words. Each of them is a little cup, carrying a message, a feeling, and just like I don't remember the cup, I remember the coffee, I remember the feeling--the weight of it, the warmth of it--not the words that carried it.

What I remember about sitting in the car on the way to the airport both times is that feeling that I love hanging out with my siblings and that I can't wait to do it again.

Perhaps that's why I still couldn't quite touch that lurking feeling.

to be continued...

(Yesterday I mentioned that our home is an Eichler and meant to link out for those unfamiliar with the genre. Thanks to the innernetz you can learn more and see more. And yes, it's OK to be jealous.)

Papa Bradstein will carry his weight 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jewel's sublime language skills

The other day I bragged on 3B's vocabulary and Spanglish. Again.

After all, he's always been our chatty one with a gift for and interest in languages. Then again, his sister hasn't been old enough until recently to speak if there were ever a quiet moment for her to do that in if she could.

Recently, however, her vocabulary is taking off in English and Spanish. Three days a week she's with her babysitter* for the entire morning, where she only hears Spanish, and she likely has a larger Spanish vocabulary than we know of, but Mama and I just don't know much Spanish.

But we know some words, and so it was clear the other morning, after Mama told Jewel that as soon as breakfast was over they would head out to the babysitter, that Jewel said, "I'm done. Vamanos."

My delight in this is multifaceted: she's learned so many words so quickly, she's bilingual, she's going to be able to explain all those Sublime lyrics to me.

*Babysitter: We've really got to come up with a better term for her. Her daughter was our in-home babysitter, although really she was more like a part-time nanny for us, because babysitter implies she only took care of the kids, but trust me when I say she took care of the whole family.

When our p/t nanny went to college, her mom, who had fallen in love with Jewel, offered to take her in at her home, not wanting to see Jewel go to anybody else. She, too, does more than take care of Jewel.

When we need help, she also will pick up 3B from school and take care of him, she buys Jewel clothes, sends food home with Mama, as well as countless small things the extent of which we'll probably never know.

She's more of a surrogate aunt than a babysitter. Does that make our p/t nanny their surrogate cousin? Yeah, that's about right too. Now I just need blognames for them.

Papa Bradstein will ride 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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I had it coming


I'd known this day was coming for over four years. There was no way I, or any of my siblings, could inherit the house. For one thing, the value of it was far too high. For another, who would want a seven-bedroom house?

No, it wasn't a mini-mansion, it was just an Eichler that my parents added onto so that each kid would have their own room. The ability of each of us to have our own private space was important to Mom and Dad. Any wonder that I chafe at working in cubicles and bullpens?

Not only had I known the day was coming, I had been working, along with my siblings, for over four years to get to this point, to get to the point where there was little enough left in the house that we could start talking seriously to a real estate agent about listing it, what we would need to do to show it, and so forth.

See, as each of us moved out, Mom had filled each room with a different project. There was a room full of genealogical research, one full of photos--OK, several full of photos--and so forth. And there were books in every room. And a piano. And thousands of CDs. And VHS tapes.

Yes, VHS. No, not pre-recorded, although there were some of those. These were all hand-labeled, recorded by Mom.

Almost all of that was gone when I walked out for the last time, and so I had a sense of accomplishment and relief along with a deeper feeling that I sensed lurking, but couldn't quite touch yet.

to be continued...

Papa Bradstein will ride 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Walking out

Forty-three years ago, I was carried across the threshold of the only home I would know for 18 years and that my mother would continue to live in for the rest of her life, dying there a few months after the birth of 3B.

A few weeks ago, I walked out of that house for the last time.

That house has been a tremendous gift to me throughout my life. It's been a safe port in which I've weathered many storms, and just knowing that it's there has made so many other difficulties seem bearable. It's where I returned to live when I needed to, although I was far too old to reasonably be living with my mother. And so it was there that I carried out part of my email courtship with Mama.

to be continued...

Papa Bradstein will ride 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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Monday, April 04, 2011

You've got one month left, what are you going to do?

Thanks to the hard work of my brilliant cousin, I've been given an extra month to gather photos for my jersey.

In the event that you don't remember, or were too lazy to click on that link, I'm offering anyone the chance to put a photo on my jersey of someone affected by cancer.

To place a photo on the jersey, simply donate $100 or more to my ride by May 1.

You can get your own jersey when you donate $250 or more by May 1--this is half the donation amount required last year.
I always carry with me the memories of all my family and friends affected by and sometimes lost to cancer. This is a way for you to make that tangible and permanent and to bear witness to how cancer has affected you.

Not one mile of the 200-mile route goes by without supporters cheering us from the roadside. The rest stops are full of volunteers who support us and each finish is lined with crowds. I was constantly asked by them who the people were on my jersey, and I was proud to share the stories behind the photos with all who asked.

The same happened on my training rides and bike commutes. One photo on a jersey tells a story to thousands of people, just as your donation supports, and perhaps saves, thousands of cancer patients.

Working together, we can make cancer history, but it takes all of us.

Please donate today.

Papa Bradstein will ride 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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Sunday, April 03, 2011

It might get loud

Jewel has been obsessed for some time now with Tick Tock--both the song and the game where she gets in the hamper and we swing her back and forth.

Being a good parent of the 80's, I pulled up U2's 11 o'clock Tick Tock from Red Rocks on my phone for her to watch. She did like it once through, but then 3B watched it five times.

After the second time, he said, "I need to get my guitar to play along."

Papa Bradstein will ride 200 miles across Massachusetts in two days to help fight cancer. Please support his ride.

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