Trying to Make the Grade

I woke up last Monday morning to something new – there was no sense of anxiety.

At least it seemed new for the first day of the new school year. I’m not going to say there weren’t any problems at all. My son was already in full Do-I-have-to-go-to-school mode. But all-in-all, it was a good morning.

My son wasn't the happiest of campers when it was time to return to school this week.

My son wasn’t the happiest of campers when it was time to return to school this week.

Everything ran smoothly. My son got up, ate, dressed, got ready. We have a routine. And as long as we follow it, things go pretty well. Usually, if we get off the routine, it’s my fault, not his.

It was interesting to see him start a new school year, his fifth grade year. It’s hard to believe he’s already that old. Like many parents, I often wonder where the time has gone.

But one thing I’ve never had to worry about are his grades. He’s always done well in school, and so far, he’s off to another good start this year.

Grades. It’s often how we determine how our kids are doing. If they’re making good grades, we often tell ourselves that our kids are doing well. But poor grades? Well, they better start working harder. Life is tough, they’re eventually going to make a living, etc.

I suppose that’s one indicator of how kids are doing, how well they’re adjusting, how well they are learning to balance responsibilities at school and home with other activities they enjoy. But certainly it’s not the only way. There are other factors to look at.

At the same time, what about us, the parents? How do we determine if we as parents are doing a good job? How do we know if we’re earning a “passing grade” raising our kids?

Sure, we can look at our kids grades at school. If those grades are good, then we can pat ourselves on the back.

But what about all the other things we’re supposed to be doing as parents? Are we meeting the needs of our kids on a daily basis?

Are we there for our kids when they need us?

It’s hard to do well on a job well when we start with no real experience. Sure we can read books on parenting, but really that doesn’t always mean much when we’re faced with parenting problems on a daily basis. We are then forced to learn on the job. And often, in retrospect, we wish we had handled things differently. Better.

All we can do is try to be the best parent we can be. To teach our kids the things we think are most important. To teach them responsibility. Being courteous to others. Earning and taking care of their money and possessions. And that’s just the beginning.

There’s no real way to know how well we’re performing as parents. Sure, we might get a few indications along the way, but nothing definite.

It would be like taking a class for an entire year with no tests. And then at the end, you take the test, yet you were never really sure what to study for. But in the case of parents, the class lasts for years before the grade is revealed.

In our case, we just have follow our instincts as parents. And in the end, we can then look at our kids to determine the grade we deserve.

 

 

I’d Like to Report a Case of Parental Abuse

I need someone, ANYONE, to please send help my way. I’m the victim of parental abuse, and it’s not pretty.

My son is MAKING me watch Avatar – not the movie, but the animated TV show about a bald kid with arrow on his head.

Can you say “Excessively Cruel”?

Now if I was a kid – you know, like my son – I might think the show was pretty cool. I mean it’s got a pretty good story line, an intriguing plot, some laughs, and some really cool things that happen.

The Avatar is this cool kid with an arrow on his head - not that I like the show or anything.

The Avatar is this cool kid with an arrow on his head – not that I like the show or anything.

Not that I like it, of course. I’m an adult! My son is MAKING me watch it.

It all started earlier this summer when my daughter introduced him to the show on Netflix. They both seemed to have a lot of fun watching it. And my son, as you probably guessed already, loved the show.

The show recently started playing on some channel I didn’t know we got – in fact, I didn’t know we got any channels other than ESPN and the Weather Channel. I was quite amazed.

So my son decides that since Avatar is such quality television, that I need to watch it, too – no matter the consequences.

Sigh.

I’ve been able to stay awake for most of it. And have even managed to stay off of my cool, new smartphone while I watch. avatar 2

Basically, the show is about this Avatar kid. The Avatar is a long line of people who are charged with protecting the world and making sure it’s peaceful and in balance between Air, Water, Earth, and Fire. As each Avatar dies, a new one is born. So this one Avatar dude, Aang, has been missing for about 100 years because he ended up frozen in some large iceberg or dessert or something. Well, these two kids about his age from a Waterbending tribe find him and rescue him. Now the Avatar is roaming the world in search of training so he can prepare himself to fight the Fire Lord.

Not that I’m really paying attention to what’s going on or anything.

Well, my son is at school. I guess it wouldn’t hurt if I went ahead and got today’s episodes over with. It was kind of at a cliffhanger when our episode finished yesterday. Or, at least, I think it might have been. I’m not completely sure. Did I mention my son is making me watch this?

 

Kids Beginning to Decipher Dad’s Code Words

Pssssst.

Are you alone? Good. I need to talk to you about something without any meddling kids around.

If you’re wondering why I’m whispering, I’ll tell you. I’ve got some bad news: I’m afraid my kids are catching on to my Dad Code. And I’m afraid they’ll tell their friends, and before long all of us parents won’t have ANY secrets from our kids.

Bad News Alert! - the kids, although they look innocent enough, have broken through my DAD CODE LANGUAGE!

Bad News Alert! – the kids, although they look innocent enough, have broken through my DAD CODE LANGUAGE!

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to happen. But we need to change some of our Parent Code like RIGHT NOW.

I admit it. I goofed up. I used the same code too many times. It all started about a year or two ago. Any time in the evening when my kids wanted me to watch something, I would say “I think I’m going to stretch out on the couch to watch this,” which is basically our code for “I’m about to go to sleep for as long as this show lasts and possibly (probably) longer.”

Well, everything was fine for a while, but after I did it a couple of dozen times or so, they caught on. THEN they caught on to some of my other code words. Here are some of the basics:

I’m a little bit hungry = Let’s load up the car so I can pick up two or three of Big Macs and a Filet O Fish sandwich (I love saying Filet O Fish!)

Can you help me with cleaning up the house = I’m going to pretend to wash dishes while you two do all the rest of the chores.

I won’t be out too late = Don’t wait up for me.

I’ll be there in a second = I’m in the bathroom.

I’ll be there in just a minute = You may as well watch a couple of movies.

I’m cooking something healthy for dinner = How long does this frozen dinner have to cook in the microwave?

I’m going to buy groceries. I shouldn’t be gone long = I’m going to Wal-Mart to try (and probably not succeed) and find these eight simple items. If I’m not back by tomorrow, please send a search and rescue team for me.

I’m sorry, there was only one cookie left = there was only one cookie left AFTER I ate more than half the package.

I have a date coming over for dinner = This is a person I’d like to see again, so please stay in your rooms until at least tomorrow and maybe longer!

And so it goes.

So I’m afraid I owe you an apology. I’m afraid I’ve ruined things for everyone. I really didn’t intend for this to happen (which = I never gave this a thought.)

I’ll tell you what, how about if I start working on some NEW code words. I’ll be happy to start working on that as soon as I can (which = right now, I’m watching a Canadian Football League game, and then I have a bunch of other important stuff to do . . . )

 

The Girlfriend Handbook

Writing a blog has been great for my dating life. No, it’s not many (any) dates, but it’s done something even better: My blog has answered a lot of those typical first-date questions.

And that saves me a lot of time on dates, so I can do more of the important stuff while I’m on my dates, you know, like drinking beer and scoping out potential new dates.

For example, if a woman asks me what my most embarrassing moment is, I can immediately direct her to my blog post of how I accidentally broke into someone’s house, How I Unwittingly Became a Criminal.

Or is she asks another typical first-date question, such as, what kind of food do you crave when people vomit, then I can very coolly and nonchalantly say, “Well, you can read about that in my blog post I’m Feeling Sick – Can You Get Me a Taco?

And sometimes they might even ask me a very non-threatening question, like “Are your kids fairly normal?” And my quick reply, of course, would be “Have you ever read my blog?”

However, as you might guess, I can’t possibly write all the blog posts that can answer ALL of the potential questions I might be asked on a date.

You can see my Girlfriend Handbook is what you might call a little light in the content department.

You can see my Girlfriend Handbook is what you might call a little light in the content department.

Or can I . . .?

Presenting (sound the trumpets) my handbook of first-date questions and my answers. This way, any potential date can read this and already know the answers so I don’t have to waste a lot of time talking and getting acquainted on a date. Keep in mind, that I’ll always try to steer the conversation to topics that I’ve covered in previous blogs, again saving both me and my date valuable time. So here we go . . .

“Are those your real teeth?” Yes, surprisingly, these are my real teeth, and I still have ALL of them. Not only that, I’ve never had a cavity.

“Do you keep your bedroom clock set to the right time?” No, actually I keep the clock next to my bed 22 minutes fast? That way I always have a few extra minutes every morning, but I have to do some cipherin’ to know exactly how many.

“Do you wear soft pajamas to bed?” Actually, I sleep in the . . . uh, let’s move on to the next question.

“What’s your favorite food for dinner?” Fried chicken.

“What’s your favorite fast food?” Pizza . . . with everything!

“What’s your favorite junk food?” Hostess Ding Dongs! Or a Snicker bar. Or a Milky Way bar. Or chocolate ice cream. Or sometimes apple pie can be especially good. Or . . .

“What’s your favorite thing for a woman to wear?” Do I really need to answer that one . . .

“Do you have any pets?” Do kids count?

“Do you have any kids?” Do pets count?

“On our first date, would you rather take me to a romantic dinner, a comedy club, a party, or a Monster Truck show?” Hey, you left out rasslin’.

“I understand you’ve written a book. Is it a best seller?” Ummmm. Next question! And HURRY!!

“What is your best feature?” Without a doubt, it’s got to me my charming personality and my ability to really take the time to get to know someone on a date. Oh wait . . .

“If you were stranded on a deserted island, what’s the one thing you would want to have with you?” A way off.

Well, I’m sure there are other important and pressing questions that could be asked on a first date, but I think I’ve covered most of them that I haven’t already written about in my blog.

Now I’ll just sit back and wait on the ladies. After all, how can they not be moved by such a sincere blog post as this . . .

 

 

 

 

Blood, Sweat, and Toilet Water

As parents, we all have moments when we’re not always paying complete attention to our kids when they’re talking to us. But there are certain key words that always catch our ears.

And that’s what happened to me recently.

There I was, minding my own business trying to do something important like watch wrestling or American Ninja Warrior, and my son was talking to me, or at least I think he was.

“Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, toilet water, blah, blah . . . ”

Whoa! Rewind a sec.

What did you say, I asked.

There are some things I just don't want to see in the toilet, and waterbending is one of those.

There are some things I just don’t want to see in the toilet, and waterbending is one of those.

My son stopped his story and looked at me with a smile. “I said, I tried to bend toilet water one time.”

Well, uh. There’s a comment you don’t hear every day.

Now normally I would be as lost as you are at this moment. But this time I had a little more of an idea of what he was talking about than I normally do.

You see, this summer my daughter introduced my son this animated show called Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s about, well, it’s about this boy called Aang who is, well, an Avatar who is, well, an Airbender.But not only can he bend air, but he can also bend water, fire, and (you guessed it) water.

Ok, maybe I don’t know as much about it as I thought. But my son loved the show. And after he watched all the shows with my daughter, he wanted me to watch it with him. I tried to put it off as long as I could with some VERY IMPORTANT CHORES, like washing our egg shells and dusting the ice cubes.

Finally I relented, and I have to admit, I’ve been enjoying the show.

But when he mentioned trying to bend the water in the toilet, I was, as you might guess, I trifle concerned.

What did that involve, I asked, as visions of his hands, feet, or tongue swirling around in the toilet bowl.

“Nothing,” he laughed. “I knew it wasn’t real. I was just pretending.”

Whew!

But some of his comments seem more serious than others. Like the way he woke me up this morning.

My son may not actually be able to bend water, but he can do WONDERS with ice cream.

My son may not actually be able to bend water, but he can do WONDERS with ice cream.

I was still lounging in bed, still enjoying the feel of just waking up and not having a care in the world, when he came in my room.

“Dad, I may have some bad news.”

Uh-oh.

“I’m afraid there may be some blood in the house.”

Ok, except for characters on the Friday the 13th movies, I doubt anyone else in the history of the world has had the pleasure of waking up to that thought.

Must. Stay. Calm. – I repeated to my self several times quickly before answering.

What do you mean, I asked, instantly imagining him practicing juggling with the kitchen knives again.

“I let a lizard in the house, and I’m afraid the cat is going to eat him.”

Whew number 2!

Where’s the lizard now, I asked, relieved.

“He’s behind the couch.”

So I’m still in bed, there’s a lizard behind the couch, and the cat’s hungry. That sounded very much like a problem that could solve itself with me remaining in bed the whole time.

But I suppose it could have been worse. He could have set the cat on fire, and the cat could be behind the couch.

But there would have been an easy solution to that, too. That would have been the perfect time for him to practice those waterbending skills for real.

 

Don’t Just Turn the Other Cheek, You Need to Wash It, too

Yesterday, I heard the words every parent dreads.

“Dad, I did something embarrassing this morning.”

I was in the bathroom at our Sunday School, and I was hoping I had misunderstood  him. “What?”

“I did something embarrassing in Sunday School this morning.”

It’s amazing how many thoughts can race through your mind in a matter of just two seconds.

My son, in a much less embarrassing moment for him.

My son, in a much less embarrassing moment for him.

Did he pass gas? Did he hit someone? Did his pants fall down? Did he wet his pants?

Or worse, maybe he revealed something that happened at home. Something about me! Maybe he confessed that I let him watch Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda!

Eeeeeeeekkkkkk!

“Wha, umm, what did you do?” I asked very tentatively.

“Well, the teacher had a packet of M&Ms . . .”

Ahhhhh! I bet he snatched the candy from the teacher and ate them all REAL fast!!

” . . . and we were supposed to guess how many M&Ms were in the package.”

Hmmmmmm, this isn’t sounding too bad, but I didn’t want to commit to safety yet. “And what happened?”  I was scared to hear what came next.

“Well, I guessed 18 . . . ”

Ahhhhhhh! He made a terrible guess!! Oh wait, that’s not too embarrassing.

” . . . and the teacher said to write our answer on our sheet.”

Oh no. Please don’t let this have to do with him saying a word that sounds like the word sheet. Please don’t let this have to do with saying a word that sounds like the word sheet. Please don’t let this have . . .

“But I thought she said CHEEK. So I wrote the number 18 on my cheek.”

That’s it? That’s what was so embarrassing?!

Whew! Another bullet dodged in this little adventure they call parenthood.

A sense of relief fell over me like I haven’t felt since . . . . well, since I found out I passed college biology.

I couldn’t believe it. I started to laugh. I wasn’t laughing at him. But I was so relieved that that’s all it was. And it was kind of funny. Pretty funny, actually.

We were alone in the bathroom, and I laughed harder than I have in a long time. My laugh echoed in the small enclosure, and my son joined in, a bit hesitant at first.

“Son, that’s really not that bad,” I said. “And when you do something like that, all you can do is laugh a little at yourself.”

I wanted to tell him about all the mistakes I had made over the course of my life, but school was starting in just a couple of weeks, so I didn’t venture down that road.

Plus, I knew that there would be plenty more mistakes that he would make in his life. Mistakes that he would find a lot more embarrassing than an “18” written in pen on his face.

The same kind of mistakes that I’ve made. Mistakes where you can only laugh at yourself and hope that you learn from them.

That, and of course, turn the other . . . well, you know.

 

 

A Back-to-School poem

 It was the first day of August

Although gloomy and gray

It was time to buy school supplies

I couldn’t waste a day.

 

It was Tax-Free weekend school supplies

A chance to save a buck.

Sure I’d have to fight the crowds,

But I didn’t give a . . . hmmmmm, duck?

 

I woke up with a purpose,

And jumped (crawled) out of bed.

Nothing could stop me.

I was moving ahead!

 

Oh sure there were obstacles,

There always are.

The cat peed in my shoes,

But at least it wasn’t my car.

 

There was milk spilled at breakfast.

There were bills in the mail.

Will I ever get to Wal-Mart?

I’m moving slow as a snail!

 

I finally arrived,

And the crowd was actually small.

Why, I said to myself,

This will be no trouble at all.

 

So down the aisles I went,

Grabbing all that I needed

To help my son succeed in school

With all the knowledge he would be feeded.

 

Pencils and paper

And a notebook or two.

Oooooo. The highlighters look neat.

So I grabbed quite a few.

 

I couldn’t help but feel proud

As I filled up my cart.

Because usually I do school shopping

On the night before school starts.

 

But as I reached the checkout

I was soon filled with sorrow,

As the cashier indifferently told me

The No-Tax Days Sale starts tomorrow.

 

Running in the Rain

I’ve been lucky the last couple of days. It’s been cooler and rainy.

Normally, August in Arkansas means hot. I have to go running early in the mornings before the heat of the day sets in.

But yesterday, and today, it was cool with a light, steady rain yesterday, and more of a drizzle today. farm road

I like running in the rain. There’s a certain peacefulness.

It’s quiet. The traffic is light, although I do hear a few cars in the distance.

I hear the soft patter of the rain drops hitting the leaves. Hitting the road. Hitting me.

I have to wipe the water from my eyes from time to time. But that’s ok. It feels good. Refreshing.

The grayness of the day reminds me that fall will be here in few weeks. It invites me to come out and play. The child inside me loves still loves to play in the rain. To embrace the playful side of me. Of nature.

The miles stretch out before me. Unending. They’re willing to go as far as I am.

I’m running. Slowly, but running.

But that’s ok. I’m not in a hurry. There will be plenty of days in the future when I have to squeeze in a run during a busy day. Days so hot and humid that it seems a struggle just to breathe. Runs so early that I finish before sunrise so that I can hurry home and start the day.

But today I’m content to enjoy the moment. To enjoy this run. In the rain.

Before and After

Not long after my wife died, I started seeing a counselor. It was a good thing, I think. It was something I did off and on over the next few years.

I thought most of it was good. And helpful. But there were a few things I didn’t agree with.

One thing that always struck me was the phrase “starting a new chapter in your life.” I’m sure I’d heard that phrase before, but it seemed different now somehow. And the first time a counselor told me that, I thought about it for a long time. books

And what I finally realized was, that wasn’t accurate at all. Losing someone you love, someone close to you isn’t like starting a new chapter of your life.

It’s like starting a whole new book.

In a way, it’s like everything is the same. And yet, nothing is the same.

And I don’t mean the obvious: the person is gone, you miss that person.

To borrow a line from Vinnie in Pulp Fiction, “It’s the little differences.”

You don’t just go to the store to pick up a few things. You coordinate your shopping trips.

And you don’t pick up something that you know that person likes. And no one picks it up for you.

The smell of the house changes. (Yeah, I know, I know. I should clean more. No! I don’t mean it changes that way).

Things around the house that were important to your loved one? With time constraints and personal preferences, you kind of let those things go. And you find that you actually liked them after all.

Over the last few years, I have found myself looking back not at my life, but at my two lives. The life before my wife died, and the life after. I look back on the time before, it seems like that life was just a few weeks ago. Where did 10 years go?

But then I also look back over these past 10 years . . . Sometimes I feel bad about poor decisions I’ve made, or the many times I’ve come up short in parenting or careering or whatever-ing.

But other times I can’t help but feel a little proud of the person I’ve become. Of the way the kids have grown up, and the people they have become, and the bright futures before them. I sometimes marvel at some of the adversities we have overcome together.

A new chapter in our lives?

Hardly.

But when we encounter tragedy in our lives, all we can do is pray. Persevere. And retain the hope and strength to start a new book in our lives.

 

 

The Thing About Pot Pies

As a single dad, when it comes to cooking, it’s just like the old adage: it’s either sink or swim.

Except in this case you get three choices. it’s either learn to cook or go hungry. Or order a pizza from Domino’s.

I’m not a cook by nature, more by necessity. I started off with some fairly simple recipes. For example, in one of my first attempts to cook, I added raisins to my grape nuts.

Look! I cooked something!!!

Yes, learning to cook has been a trying experience for me over the years. And trying for my kids, too.

But it had its upside as well. For example, you know how a lot of kids groan and complain at dinner time with “We’re having this again?!” Well, my kids can’t say that because they don’t even know what it is I’ve attempted to cook.

I used to buy those sorry potpies that took FIVE minutes to cook, but that was waaaaaay too long to wait for dinner.

I used to buy those sorry potpies that took FIVE minutes to cook, but that was waaaaaay too long to wait for dinner.

One of the first things I had to learn as the cook of the house was to have all the tools I needed handy. I made sure I knew where (get ready as I’m about to use some cool cooking buzz words I’ve learned over the years) my SPATULA and KNIVES were. It was good to have a can opener on hand because soup doesn’t taste nearly as good while it’s still in the can. And while you never see them on a cooking show, I’ve found it’s always good to have a fire extinguisher right there on the kitchen counter.

I know what you’re thinking: the extinguisher would take away from the appearance of my kitchen.

Ahhhh. You see, that’s where I was using the ole brain to think. I adapted by changing my kitchen’s theme to fit the extinguisher. I call the theme of my kitchen “Early Office of Emergency Services.” In addition, I have some other kitchen necessities that those pretty boy chefs on TV will never tell you about. You know, important stuff, like band aids, bandages, a diagram of the Heimlich maneuver, and an essay I wrote a few years ago called “The Nutritional Value of Burnt Food.” I keep it handy because my kids and guests often want (need) to read it.

But this is a great time to be a man with poor cooking skills. You see, a lot of companies realize that there are a lot of busy (stupid) men like me out there who think it’s cause for celebration every time we bring water to a boil.

And so, you can go to the store and buy meals. These meals come with pictures of delicious dinners. And get this, the meals often LOOK like the pictures.

And I’ll tell you something else: a lot of these frozen meals come in a variety of appealing colors. Heck, I thought all food only came in one color. I was kind of like the Henry Ford of cooking: I’ll cook food in any color you want, as long as it’s black.

So yeah, there’s been a bit of a learning curve when it comes to the kitchen. But that’s ok. I keep repeating, it not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

Unfortunately, that journey often leads right back to the Pepto-Bismol bottle.

But see, that’s where I was thinking ahead once again. Because the bottle is right there on the counter, nestled snugly between flour and the oxygen tank.