Friday, May 29, 2009
Stupidity aside, chainsaws have additional benefit as a tool for building social status. There is nothing like the sound of a chainsaw in suburbia to make your neighbors do a double-take. For those poor males within earshot that aren't lucky enough to own one, or perhaps are too timid, you instantly establish a certain level of dominance by dropping a 30 foot tree in your front yard and subsequently slicing it into 18-inch sections. Wear boots and some Carhartt and you'll have them asking you for your expert advice on everything from marriage to plumbing for years to come. Here in the country, however, I've learned quickly that everyone has a chainsaw, and it's more the size of the chainsaw that earns points. One neighbor described my 20-inch Husqvarna as "cute". If you're new in the chainsaw market, cute is not what you should strive for.
Every self-respecting dad, at some point, needs to pass on the love of the saw to his children. This is not an easy thing to do. There aren't really any intermediate steps to using a chainsaw. If you're using it, you had better be pretty sure that you know what you're doing. My dad taught me by making me watch him. And watch him. And watch him. For years. He would cut, and my brothers and I would carry what he cut. At the time, as I stumbled through the woods carrying oak and cherry and whatever other dense, heavy wood that my dad could find, I was convinced that he kept the saw to himself as a way to avoid the misery of carrying wood. I'm still not entirely convinced that this wasn't at least part of his motivation, but as a dad I can now understand the apprehension of letting your kid grab hold and operate a 5 horsepower spinning machine full of razor sharp teeth.
So, I decided to take my Dad's approach - forced observation. One Sunday afternoon early this spring, I decided that I would take down a tree that had partially fallen when hurricane Ike went through last fall. It was hanging precariously over a path that the kids used frequently, and I figured that I could eliminate that threat at the same time that I impressed the boys with how effective and efficient a well-trained logger can be.
If you're thinking that this sounds like a setup, you would be right. I had the boys line up about twenty yards from the scene of attack. Nolan and Evan, the older two, were standing patiently, with their hands over their ears. Braden, my three-year-old, was clearly confused with the whole process, as he had both hands covering his mouth. I considered giving a speech of some kind. Safety, responsibility, awareness, blah, blah, blah, but I decided against it as I was pretty sure that my window of opportunity was narrow. Evan was already kicking rocks at Braden.
To refocus everyone, I decided to fire up the saw. Check the chain, check the bar oil, switch, choke, pull. Pull. Pull. The kids are still looking at me expectantly. Pull. Pull-pull-pull-pull-pull. Nothing.
Me: "Braden, do NOT eat that. Nolan put the rock down. Evan get your finger out of your nose. Pay attention, boys, this is important."
Pull. Pull. Pull-pull-PULL.
Nolan: "Dad, do you want me to get your axe?"
Me: "No Nolan. Saws are much more efficient than axes. That's why people invented them. Sometimes they're just a little hard to start. In a minute here we'll be slicing through this tree like butter!"
Braden: "It's probably wound up enough now Daddy."
Me: "No, this isn't like your cousin's toy chainsaw, B. This is a real saw. It has a gas engine in it that is very powerful."
Braden: "Cousin's saw spins."
Me (through clenched teeth): "So does this one, buddy, only much faster. I just have to get it started."
Pull. Pull. Pull.
Evan: "In some countries, like France, where they don't have gas they just pull the chain saws back and forth on the trees. That works too. Can we help you do that Daddy?"
Nolan: "Evan, that's not true. They have gas in France, just like we do here, right Daddy? Daddy's saw is probably just out of gas."
Me (in my head): "Do you kids really think that I would carry this saw all the way down this very steep hill in the snow and the cold without checking to see if there's gas in the tank? Do you really think that I would be standing here bent over and pulling until my arm feels like it's going to fall off, sweating like a pig, without first checking to see if there's gas in the tank? Do you really think that I would do something like that? Do you see these water proof boots? Do you see this Carhartt jacket?"
Of course, I didn't say that. I've seen all of the movies, and I've seen all of the sitcoms just like you have. I knew that I hadn't checked the tank, and I knew there wasn't any gas in it. I desperately wanted the spark plug to be bad, or the piston to be frozen, or the fuel filter to be full of gummy bears.
Me: "You boys can play in the stream while I get some gas. I'll be back in a few minutes."
As I drug myself back up the hill, I started to tell myself that this was a very good lesson for the boys on why it's important to plan. It was also a decent primer on the basics of small engine mechanics. But I decided not to delude myself. At least things couldn't get any worse. Perhaps I could still salvage our first chainsaw lesson...
Thursday, April 16, 2009
And that, my friends is where the funny comes in for parents. Kids have no common sense. They run at full speed into walls, cry as if they were wronged, and then kick the wall to get even. They throw scissors. They play with matches. They willingly sit and watch Barney and think it's hilarious. They ride their bikes down a waterfall. Yeah, that's right, down a waterfall.
I was feeling pretty proud of myself for how smoothly things were going. The tile was getting laid, the kids were all accounted for. Any parent should recognize those moments of calm confidence as a setup. It's one of those Survivor scenes when a contestant is shown saying "I've got this game under control." You can count on the fact that they are about to be stabbed in the back, publicly humiliated and possibly eaten by an alligator.
Evan came into the house, holding his head and doing one of those "crying so hard that I can't make a sound" numbers. I did a quick triage and noticed no missing limbs, teeth or blood, and began the debrief.
Me: "Evan, are you OK? What happened?"
Evan: "I was riding my bike and hit my head on a really big rock!"
Me: "Oh, I'm sorry. How did you fall off of your bike?"
Evan: "I didn't."
Me: "Then how did you hit your head on the rock?"
At this point, I'm thoroughly confused and checking his pupils for signs of a concussion. Evan is not quite five. He hasn't mastered the art of bike jumping, certainly not to the level of doing leg kicks off of trees, or trying to clear large boulders. Since Evan has inherited my tendency to embellish facts, I figured that I might need to get the story from Nolan, who is all about detail and accuracy.
Me: "What? Evan, that doesn't make any sense. Where's Nolan?"
Evan: "He's down in the stream trying to get my bike back up the waterfall. He told me to ride it down the hill..."
Keep in mind this "hill" is a series of very steep drops, more like small cliffs. The waterfall only runs when it rains. Now as a dad I'm just a little bit proud of the fact that he a) was brave enough to try, and b) actually made it to the bottom in one piece. I had to play sergeant, though, and couldn't share that with either of them. Their punishment was getting the bike back up on their own, which took the two of them almost an hour.
As for me, my punishment was the realization that I could no longer be lax on the helmet thing. Ever since then, each time they want to ride I've got to find the stupid things, figure out which one belongs on which kid, adjust them, and snap them on, all while listening to them complain about how they "make my hair hurt."
Oh, and I have to remind them that they are not allowed to ride down the waterfall.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Before I begin, let me warn you that this is a bit of a monologue. I don't enjoy blogs that are rambling manifestos, and I promise that I won't do that to you. Except for just a little bit this once.
It turns out that I've finally decided on a direction for this blog. Yes, it's obviously about my family. Yes, I tend to focus on the painful and rather funny side of being a dad. That's all good. But there is one overarching theme in my life that is fairly unusual. About eight months ago my family and I jumped head first into an experiment that is likely to at worst kill all of us, and at best turn us into red necks.
We've moved to the country.
I grew up in the sticks, and have romantically fond memories of the experience. Since that time, however, a couple of things have happened. First, I've completed a graduate degree and subsequently developed a successful career in the information technology industry, most recently landing at a major software corporation (one of the biggest in the world). That's turned me into a big-city softie. I spend a whole lot of time behind desks, in front of white boards, on airplanes, and generally not in the country.
Second, I've spawned. For all of you that have successfully reproduced, you'll recognize the process of grand introspection that happens as a new mom or dad. The cliches are all true -- your priorities really do change when you become a parent. For my wife and I, it quickly became apparent to us that we didn't want our kids growing up while being spoon-fed popular culture. Don't get me wrong. We have electricity, running water, air conditioning, a 46-inch flat screen TV, and internet access. We just don't want those things to define us or our kids. We decided that a house in the woods with some property would be the best opportunity for our family to grow up close to each other, the things in this world that are real, and God.
So here's the catch: I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing. Owning a home in the woods is much more difficult than I could have ever imagined. We have seven acres, a 1/4 mile long driveway, and a house that is solid, but needs a fair amount of work. I now own a pickup with a snow plow. I have a diesel tractor so that I can mow my 2-acre yard. We heat with wood, or at least we're trying to. Just keeping things running around here is at least a part-time job.
Of course, on the flip-side, I see deer every morning in my front yard. Wild turkeys roost in the trees outside of our house. There's a forty-foot waterfall right behind our deck that feeds a stream full of crayfish and frogs. My kids are outside from morning until night, weather permitting, and love being there. They build forts, they drag rocks and bugs and flowers back up to and into the house. They climb up and fall out of trees. It's all good.
So that's it. I suppose whether or not I consciously decided to make this blog about what happens when a geek dad moves to the country with three boys, that is ultimately what it would have been about. There is plenty of funny and plenty of painful in my life as a result of this lifestyle choice. I hope you enjoy it. I do.
Friday, April 3, 2009
- The day he stopped chewing electrical cords. I tried everything to stop that stupid cat from chewing on cords. Verbal warnings, pillow throwing, spraying cords with foul-tasting substances, spraying him with foul-tasting substances. Nothing worked. Until one evening, just as I was drifting off to sleep, I heard the familiar grinding noise that I knew meant he was behind my dresser chomping on the TV power cable. I sat up just in time to see a blue flash from behind the dresser, and hear a Fred Flintstone start-up-the-car-style spin out on the wood floor as Kuchee tried to run from the small electrical fire that had started in his mouth. Once we got the burns healed, we never really had much trouble with cord chewing again.
- The day that he was attacked by a hunting dog. About 15 years ago, Michele and I lived in a small townhouse. We've always believed that cats need to be able to roam outside, and so let both of ours have the run of the neighborhood. One day our elderly neighbor knocked on our door and told me that she would appreciate it if we could find a way to keep our cat from defacating in her flower boxes. Turns out that every day at around lunch time, he would hop up in her petunias while she was eating and give her a squinting stare as he fertilized the plants. A few days later another neighbor told me that he frequently jumped up on her screen and hung there calmly watching her cats freaking out and pissing on the floor. The only solution that I could come up with was to plant a stake in the back yard, tie a string to it, and hook him to the string. For the first few weeks things didn't go all that well, as he would wind himself up so tightly around trees and bushes that I was afraid he would choke.
He eventually got the hang of things though, and we thought that the situation was fairly workable, until the day that I heard from a third neighbor, the one that we referred to as "the Mullet neighbor". The conversation went something like this.
Mullet: "Guessn' your der cat don't much like mah dog."
Me: "I suppose not. Why?"
Mullet: "Weeeell, couple a days ago Ah opened mah door to have a smoke, right? And Mah dog Lug Nut here run outn' the door. Fore Ah could git him, he had yer cat in his mouth shakin him back 'n forth like a coon, right? Course yer cat didn't much like that, so he sticked his back foot upn' mah dog's nose, and put out his claws right far like and then yanked his foot back outn' Lug Nut's nose."
Turns out that Lug Nut dropped Kuchee and ran back into Mullet's house spraying blood all over the carpet, walls, gun cabinets, and dart board. We didn't feel right about chaining the cat to a stake in the back yard after that. I'm quite certain that Lug Nut had ample reason for revenge.
- The day that he learned about underground fences. My next solution to the cat nuisance problem was quite frankly brilliant. Rather than tieing him up in the back yard, what I really needed was a way to keep him away from the neighbors windows. My solution was to get one of those underground fences, put them around the neighbors windows, and when the cat got close he would get zapped. A few times getting shocked and he would stop bothering them. Keep in mind that these fences are meant for dogs, and I should have recognized that when I took the cigarette-pack-sized collar unit out of the box.
I decided that it would be smart to test the plan before I went to all of the trouble of trenching around the neighbor's windows and doors, and so coiled up the underground wire in the living room and plugged it in. I attached the collar to Kuchee and adjusted for size. He walked back and forth over the wire several times and nothing happened. I'm guessing that the metal leads weren't making contact with his skin. At some point they did, though, and he literally did a backflip like I've never seen. That cat was gone up the stairs and under a bed faster than I've ever seen a feline move. Once I found him, I took the collar downstairs and tested it on my own arm. Holy @#$%#! I'm lucky I didn't kill the poor thing! Needless to say, I felt terrible and took the torture device back to the store...
This could go on, but I've already risked too much blog real estate on dead cats. Suffice it to say that our whole family will miss them, although perhaps not as much as I thought. I was very worried about telling the kids each time that I came home from the vet sans cat. They were a little upset at first, but as soon as I told them that they could help dig a deep hole, throw a carcass into it, cover it up, and pound a wooden cross into the ground they were focused on the job at hand.
Friday, March 27, 2009
I hate family Christmas cards. There's nothing good about them. Well, on second thought, I suppose that it's nice to hear from everyone, and how their kids are doing really well, and are in the advanced program, and can mountain climb and water ski, and have learned Mandarin Chinese, and go to bed at 7:00 pm every night, but only because they get up at 5:00 am to train for their next marathon.
To make matters worse, they always have that blasted picture on the front of the card that is perfect. How do people get those pictures? I've never even once gotten a picture like that from my three boys. Never. I'm assuming that there is a family photo alteration service somewhere out there that I don't know about. "For an extra fifty bucks we can remove that finger from your child's nose, make his eyes look in the right direction and even put a smile on his face!"
Last year, after hours of trying to get a decent picture (I had given up on good, I just wanted something that didn't have anyone making gang signs), I had a flash of brilliance. It suddenly dawned on me how absurd it was trying to convince everyone out there that my family is something that it's not. Give them reality! I had many, many pictures to choose from. The one that you see above was the worst of the lot.
That snapshot is a perfect representation of what our typical holiday photo shoot is like. Nolan was pouting because he didn't have a striped sweater. Immediately after that shot was taken Evan elbowed both brothers in the face. His expression says it all. I couldn't get B's finger out of his nose to save my life. I have at least 20 pictures from that set with him up to the second knuckle. To tie everything together into a nice pretty package, the picture is slightly out of focus.
This is the photo that went out on our family Christmas card last year. Joy to the world. Merry Christmas. This was our way of making everyone else feel better about their families.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Don't get me wrong, poop jokes are funny, but these kids have perfected the art of weaving discussions of flatulence into every conversation in ways that are really quite impressive. It's not just intestinal humor though. I've come to expect the unexpected and to be ready for anything.
So here is a growing list of the most insane things that have been heard in my family over the years. I pray that you never encounter any of these yourself, but I'd be interested to hear your own family's verbal outtakes.
- "Sluurrrrp. Mmmmm... coffee." That came from my at-the-time two year old. There were several lessons in this one. First, mommy should under no circumstances fill a brightly colored cup with whipped cream, sugar, carmel, mocha, and coffee, drink about two-thirds of it, and then leave it within climbing distance. Second, you never, ever, ever want to be anywhere near a toddler that has drunk a third of a cup of coffe. Ever. Third, coffee is a fairly effective diarrhetic.
- "Daddy, what do your buggers taste like?" Horible isn't it? The thing about this one is that how bad the question is depends on where you place the emphasis. "Daddy what do your buggers taste like?" implies that he has tasted others and is just curious about the flavor of mine. If there is no real emphasis on any word in particular, then one might be able to assume that the word "your" is being used in the generic "all-of-mankind" sense, and the kid is just conjecturing and considering. No, he's only three. I need to admint that my three-year-old is eating buggers, and is interested in eating other peoples' as well.
- "Kitties don't get cold in the freezer." That's because they have fur kiddo. Mmmmhmmm. That's nice. Yup. You should tell Mommy that. Go play now... [ten minutes later] "No honey, I didn't know anything about the cat in the refrigerator. How was I to know he was serious? I'm sure he'll be fine. Maybe warm him up in the microwave..."
- "Daddy, butt jam is a lot like toe jam". Butt jam? What in the name of all that is good and decent is butt jam? I know what toe jam is, and I think it's gross. I just hope that there are no crackers involved...
- "An ant just crawled up brother's nose". Now this seems a bit disturbing even when you first hear it. But let me tell you, with every passing moment that you don't see an ant come back out of brother's nose, or ear, or mouth, or out of something, things get a bit more tense. I actually thought the thought "I wonder if it was a queen..."
- "Owwwww... I hit my face on the toilet paper roller!" Yup, the little recessed roller thingy that you put a roll of toilet paper on. He hit is face on it hard enough to get a nice bruise. "How, Evan? How could you have possibly hit your face on that? And why is there a pile of toilet paper on the floor?" Well, it turns out that he was unable to get the toilet paper off of the roll fast enough. To solve this problem he went into a major league baseball-style windup and yanked as hard as he could. In the follow-through his face hit the toilet paper roll. Simple.
I can't be the only one that hears craziness from their kids. Fire me a comment and I'll add it on here...
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Anyway, one of the items that was being discarded (we're not a startup anymore so no more toys) was a kick-boxing dummy with three sets of boxing gloves. I like boxing gloves. Why wouldn't my three boys like boxing gloves?
Let me list some of the things that I've learned about boxing gloves since taking them home to three boys ages 3, 5, and 7.
- Boxing gloves do not in any meaningful way prohibit the pain of a direct blow to the groin. Immediately after showing the cool new toys to my kids and helping them put them on, my three year old delivered an upper cut to the groin that sent me to the floor just as effectively as a round-house to the head. I can't blame him as I had just gotten done explaining to them all how boxing gloves were designed to stop punches from hurting other people. They all thought that my writhing was hilarious and took it as an invitation for attack. Which immediately led to my second lesson on boxing glove physics.
- Boxing gloves do not lessen the pain of a karate chop. In fact, they simply add to the mass of a five-year-old's hand. While an ungloved chop hurts plenty, a boxing glove-assisted karate move when applied directly to the nose of an adult has the ability to make one bleed rather impressively. At this point I had had enough, and stood up. One hand cupping my groin and the other over my nose. I made a muffled attempt at telling them to calm down, but this simply set a stampede in motion toward the living room. Moments later I simultaneously learned lessons number three and four about boxing gloves.
- An improperly attached boxing glove will come off at the apex of a swing.
- A boxing glove is heavy enough to knock over and break expensive glass decor. The noise of glass breaking can be heard by a mother four rooms away with a blender on and NPR cranked loud enough to hear over the blender, or so it would seem. It took Michele all of six seconds to arrive and get things under control. Very soon after I had lesson number five delivered to me verbally.
- What kind of an idiot gives a three-year-old boxing gloves? I know the answer to that one.
Friday, February 20, 2009
I say I've almost made it back because there are still moments when I'm reminded that things can regress in an instant. I don't yet dare start taking naps again. If I want to risk reading through the bulletin I still need to be prepared to accept the consequences.
Last week we let the boys each pick out a nature toy to take. Evan of course took T-Rex, Braden took a rubber snake, and Nolan I don't think cared to take anything.
At one point during a prayer I saw Braden stand up. In the video reenactment this is where the slow-motion will begin. He reached over and picked up his rubber snake. Keep in mind this is one of those rubber snakes that is actually about six feet long when fully extended. Anyway, he takes aim and does an Indiana Jones bull whip on an elderly lady sitting two pews ahead of us. It was a direct hit. Right on the head. The poor woman visibly jumped at least six inches off of her pew. Holding her head with one hand, she looked around quickly to see the uncoiled viper draped over her shoulder. I don't know if it was the snake or my kid, but she had an easily identifiable look of disgust on her face.
I didn't know what to do. There is no etiquette for snake whipping in church. I grabbed the snake and pulled it back in, and then grabbed Braden, who was beginning to realize that things were not going to end well.
After the service, I told Michele that she should go and appologize to the lady for what her son had done. She eventually agreed and slowly approached. It turns out that the woman was a visitor who didn't speak any English. I can only imagine the impression that this poor woman left with. What kind of conversations is she having right now with her spanish-speaking elderly friends about the odd snake-whipping rituals that she observed first-hand?
Let me set the stage for a recent episode that drove the whole change of perspective home. Recently, Michele was at the local library with the boys. She was reading to Nolan. Braden was crawling around sampling unidentified tidbits from the floor, and Evan was having the run of the place.
Michele noticed that Evan was periodically running up to a lady and her daughter who were sitting close by. She couldn't hear what he was saying to them, but there was no screaming, so she let things be. After a while, the lady happened to walk by Michele and Nolan.
"Is that your son?" she asked, pointing to Evan, who was stacking books and jumping off of them.
"Yes, was he bothering you?" answered Michele.
"No, not at all. He's a very smart little boy. He was telling us all about humpback whales [one of Evan's current obsessions]. Also he kept talking about a 'baby monster' and telling us that we should hide. Do you know what he's talking about?"
"Oh yeah. He's talking about his youngest brother. He and Nolan here like to play a game where they pretend that the baby is a monster, and then run screaming from him and hide."
Michele later told me that as she told the lady the background behind the "baby monster", the woman got an incredulous/horrified look on her face, mumbled something akin to "how nice", and made her leave. Michele tried to get in a "he loves it, too", but the woman was already gone.
"You know," Michele told me later, "the funny thing is that I was the one that made the game up for them. They were both complaining of Braden following them around and grabbing them, so I told them to run from the baby monster. It was one of my better games, and all three of them loved it so much that they've been playing for weeks now."
Hey, it keeps them from killing each other, and entertains them too. Let's all run from the baby monster!