Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Random Tuesday post-Thanksgiving edition

After carefully reading this entire post, please to click on the purple button and go to the Un Mom where you will receive further instructions.

It's been so long since I have played the Random Tuesday game, I don't know if I remember how to be disjointed.  Lemme just stretch out here for a second.  Don't want to pull anything.

If you're like me, you have an uncanny sense of when you have just stepped in dogshit.  There is nothing with quite that viscosity.  There is no mistaking it for mud or mashed potatoes or turkey giblets, even before the odor hits your nostrils.

Speaking of dancing, you should watch this.  You probably already have.  But if not, you should.


Here's a picture of Cobra wearing a beautiful Thanksgiving sombrero while she eats breakfast and keeps her eye on the reflection in her shot glass of a couple bad hombres behind her:

Here's bunch of other random pictures from Thanksgiving:

Cobra and Butterbean playing "Pop goes the weasel."

Butterbean trying to eat the decorative Indian corn we were using as set dressing for our official non-denominational holiday greeting card of good cheer

So over Thanksgiving we went to that city I talked about in the post where I almost died from turkey. We hung out with family and friends and people we had never met before, and had an intimate little Thanksgiving dinner for 29, and then spent a few days doing fun stuff with the twins and their cousins and aunts and uncles.  It all went pretty smoothly, really.  

Stella the dog came along with us, and was an excellent traveler and houseguest.  Except for the embarrassing episodes of gas, which her hosts really brought upon themselves by feeding her table scraps even after they had been warned not to.  Also, I didn't really notice this myself, but after my sisters-in-law took her for long walks, they reported that the hipsters in their stylish neighborhood were stunned by Stella's beauty and frightened by her great size, being used to little dogs that ride around in Chanel bags.

Two of the twins' aunties that we visited are photographers, so the holiday card photo shoot was quite the production, with full-on light setups and everything.  Here's a behind the scenes look:

We had a little trouble keeping the girls from squirming and trying to throw or eat many of the props, which had previously been centerpieces for the Thanksgiving feast, and looked edible and may have smelled like gravy.  I think we got some good Christmas card shots though. 

Random blog administration stuff:

I'm not exactly sure why, but I have created a Beta Dad facebook "page," and I hope you will click on it and "like" it so I guess all your friends will see that you "liked" it, and then they will start "liking" it too, or something?  And then they will start reading my blog?  Somebody told me that's what I should do anyway.
I also opened a facebook account under the username "Beta Dadblog," and you should "friend" me if you feel like it.  I have a better idea of why I did that.  Oddly enough, with very few exceptions, my facebook friends on my regular account are people I know in real life, and the idea of intermingling my real-life friends with my blog-i-verse friends confuses me to the point of panic, even though the intermingling would be mostly digital.  See?  Ironic, right?

Lastly (on the blog-whoring front), there are some more buttons scattered in strategically random locations that will allow you to share this blog through all your fancy social networking websites.  If you feel like it.


One last thing.  I'm really excited about this crazy project I'm working on (so far only in my imagination) for Christmas for the girls, in which I will finally use my carpentry skills to make something fun for them.  Unless you consider the roof over their heads "fun," in which case it will be the second fun thing I have made for them.

I'm mentioning this project here in an attempt to pressure myself into actually following through with it instead of copping out and buying them a Barbie Dream House.  But I think I'll save the details for a future post in which I can actually demonstrate some progress.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gluttony, the deadliest sin: a Thanksgiving cautionary tale

Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays I can get behind, and that's because it's all about gluttony.  And thankfulness.  That's important too. I am deeply thankful for the bounty the Good Lord has placed before me in so many aspects of my life; and I hardly ever complain about the areas in which He screwed me over royally: hair, torso-length, sense of direction, and math.

I am especially thankful at this time of year for an opportunity to exercise my gluttony in a socially acceptable forum. It's just too bad that I don't love turkey all that much.  I wish those damn pilgrims and Indians had rustled up some chicken-fried steak lo those many years ago.  Nonetheless, I usually eat a good kilo or two of the fowl out of holiday spirit and just for the sport of it.  For me, at Thanksgiving, side-dishes are where it's at.  Also pie.

Most Americans have experienced the after-effects of Thanksgiving gluttony, which usually hover somewhere between indolent satisfaction and bloated regret.  People who allegedly care about your health might tell you that it's a bad idea to stuff yourself beyond the point of discomfort.  But those people are killjoys and Grinchy McScrooges.  So while the following story contains some practical advice for avoiding holiday deaths, please do not construe it as an indictment of gluttony itself, which, while potentially deadly, should not be considered shameful.

Several years ago, we traveled to a city not too far from where we live to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with some family and friends.  Since my wife doesn't like me giving away too many geographical details on the pervert-ridden interwebz, let me just say that this is a city known for it's entertainment industry and institutionalized narcissism.  It's like an American version of Bollywood.

The feast was hosted by my wife's sister's husband's half-sister at the home of one of her "industry" friends, a sprawling ranch house at an exclusive address.  There were probably twenty-five guests there, four of whom we knew.  Almost all of them were involved in film or TV.

You might think that provincial working folk like Dr. Mom and me would have been intimidated in this semi-glamorous setting, but you would be wrong.  I was teaching high school at the time, and Dr. Mom, of course, was healing the sick and raising the dead like she does.  I felt confident that our realness would be a breath of fresh air to people who are used to associating with industry phonies and flakes.  They would appreciate the scope of our self-sacrifice and heroism from having studied movies like Awakenings and To Sir with Love.    

After a pre-dinner cocktail hour during which I won over our new friends with harrowing stories of teaching at an urban public high school (sure, it was a performing arts magnet school, but there were a lot of dance-fights and I was constantly breaking up sing-offs), we sat down to eat.

I've never been one to cleave to social niceties when it comes to eating.  I'm happy to be the first person to hit the hors d'oeuvres spread or line up at the buffet table.  Someone's got to do it, right?

So I made no pretense of dainty eating habits at this event.  I tore lustily into the vittles while swilling wine and chatting boisterously with my companions across the table.

Just as I was reaching the climax of a riveting story about damn kids these days, my words dried up.  It was as if someone had hit my "mute" button.  My mouth was moving, but no sound came out.  I tried to inhale but could only take in quick sips of air.  I flashed my interlocutor the raised index finger gesture, universally understood to mean "just a minute" (or "we're number one"), and pounded my fist against my chest.  Still no air.

My wife noticed my pounding and gesticulating and became concerned.

"Are you choking?" She asked.

I nodded and put my hands on my throat in the gesture universally understood to mean "I'm choking" (or "I enjoy auto-erotic asphyxiation").  By this time, everyone at the table was hip to what was going on, having worked on medical dramas or played doctors on TV.

Dr. Mom flew into action.  She grabbed my arm and dragged me into the kitchen, not wanting to make a scene at the table.  It was pretty unlikely that I would die or endure much brain damage before we got to a secluded space, and decorum is important to my wife.

Once in the kitchen, she threw her arms around my midsection from behind, and despite weighing about half as much as I do, lifted me off the ground with a powerful thrust.

I was a little dizzy by that point, and I don't know if my recollection of what happened next is accurate, but in my mind's eye I see a hunk of white meat hurtling through the air, hitting a hanging saucepan with a muffled clang, and landing on the tile floor right in front of a lounging tabby cat who casually devours it.

After I got myself back together, we headed back to the dining room.  I was feeling a bit foolish, and dreading the awkwardness that would follow.

But my fears were misplaced, because as we approached the table, the guests erupted into a hearty round of applause.

What could I do?  I took a deep bow and then gestured toward my wife, whereupon the applause became louder, and shouts of 'brava' could be heard above the din.  These were people who enjoyed a great performance.

So take a lesson from me.  If you don't already know how to do the Heimlich Maneuver, check out this video.  The life you save could be your own.  Or more likely the greedy blowhard sitting next to you.


Here's a picture from last Thanksgiving (the twins' first).  It's one of my favorite pictures of the girls when they were really little.  Their weird aunt--my youngest sister-in-law--staged this one, creating all the props out of crap we had lying around the house.  The pilgrim hat and feather in the headdress are made out of a shopping bag, and the headband is wrapping paper.  I take credit for the buckle on the hat, which I forged out of aluminum foil.    


Monday, November 22, 2010

How my kids are blowing my mind lately

Last night I was changing Butterbean into her pajamas when her babblestream took on a familiar sing-song cadence.  It sounded something like, "AH-sa, AH-sa, AH FAH DAH!"  Then she toppled herself off of my lap and onto the bed.

"Did you hear that?" I called, a little breathlessly, to my wife who was in the bathroom helping Cobra brush her teeth. "She was just singing Ring around the Rosie!"  My wife had heard it too, and confirmed that I wasn't imagining things.

Ring around the Rosie (which, given the morbid connotations of "ashes" and the communal collapsing at its finale, still creeps me out a bit even though the myth that it's about the Black Plague has been thoroughly debunked) is featured in one of the couple dozen books that the kids order us to read to them every night.  They seem to like it okay, but it's not one they usually get excited about.  We've chanted it maybe fifty times, as compared to, say, No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, which we've sung a good 20,000 times.  But for some reason, it was in Butterbean's head last night.

Likewise, Cobra has started saying "two-toe," whenever she wakes up from a nap.  It took me a while, but I finally figured out that she was looking at a decal on the wall above her crib that's part of an underwater motif in the nursery.  And although the "two-toe" ("turtle" in standard English), is one of the least visible species of critter in our menagerie of books, puzzles, and toys; it's the one she's apparently been contemplating.

Is there any accounting for the random bits of information that they latch onto out of the constant rush of stimulus they confront every day?  Is there any way to focus them on certain aspects of the stimulus flow, and should we even bother to try?

(Lest I come off as overly analytical in my reaction to their recent surge in language acquisition, I should mention here that my heart swelled with the pride of a genius's parent when Butterbean busted her first nursery rhyme, and it melts like butter from the sheer cuteness of Cobra's little voice and the way her mouth moves every time she says "two-toe.")

Acquiring language might be the most obvious sign of intellectual development, and I talked about that already a little bit here, as well as how amazing I think it is that they can attach words to not only things, but also to depictions (photos and drawings) of those things. 

But lately I've noticed the twins trying to figure out something even more basic, yet more complicated than the names of the things, and that's the nature of things. 

Last week, for instance, we went to the home of some friends, and they had a four-foot tall marionette of a giraffe draped over the banister in their foyer.  I thought that the children would really enjoy it if I made it perform a little dance while I sang "The Lonely Giraffeherd."  Instead, both of them screamed and clung to my legs, wailing and shuddering even several minutes after the offending puppet was removed to another room.  They love giraffes in picture books, in (small) stuffed toy form, and even at the zoo; but this dancing toy was somehow just too grotesque for them.

A similar thing happened with a chicken puppet they used to love when they were infants, when  I would use it to distract them and stop them from crying.  That puppet could do no wrong.  But the other day, when I first pulled it out of the bin where it had been languishing for months, and made it cluck and peck at the kids just like old times, they shrieked and recoiled.

After a while, they grew to accept the chicken again, and even gave it kisses; but they will not tolerate much pecking from it, and biting is right out of the question.

And when we went to the aquarium, although they were all over the tanks full of weird sea creatures, banging on the glass and yelling at them, they were very wary about the stuffed-toy versions of the seahorses, starfish, and eels in the play area.  It made me wonder if they lump the live animals behind the glass in with the video images of animals they've seen on the computer screen, while the stuffed animals they can touch are more "real," and therefore more scary to them.

From what little I remember of the linguistics class I took in grad school, there's a difference between learning language and acquiring it.  Acquiring language involves hearing it and soaking it in, but also creating theories about how it works, and testing those theories out through attempting to put words together in such a way as to get your parents to do exactly what you want them to.  It follows, then, that a child's discerning the natures of things would be a process of trial and error as well, rather than a matter of having them demonstrated by an adult.

That's part of the reason that I'm not taking the twins to any "classes" or trying to teach them schoolish stuff, as a lot of our parent-friends are.  The other reason is, of course, laziness.  People we know have their toddlers taking sign language class, music lessons, tumbling, and watching all kinds of "educational" DVDs.  At the moment, however, I can't see any reason to impose that kind of formal instruction on our kids.

I've got nothing against sign language, and it's pretty cool to see a kid sign that he wants more milk on his cereal and a new yellow spoon and a napkin and by the way his diaper's dirty.  But our kids are already acquiring two languages (English and Vietnamenglish), and with their telegraphic caveman grunts, we can almost always figure out what they want. Music lessons?  For what?  Is watching Daddy play air-drums to Weezer songs not instructional and inspirational enough? It seems to me that walking in a busy park is a much more intensive educational experience than watching a video of a puppet counting fruit, and negotiating the playground provides more than enough exercise and coordination-building for our kids.  And beyond the physical world, they have their books, which they devour (often literally) in great quantities. 

I won't be surprised if we start taking the kids to some kind of program or another eventually, but it will probably be mostly for the purpose of socializing them.  But for now, just getting a handle on what's happening around them at home and on our daily adventures to playgrounds, parks, the zoo, and even stores and restaurants puts a lot of demand on their little brains.  And also on mine.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Fish and the Furious

I was going to write a real post today.  A real feel-good meditation on the wonders of children learning about their world.  Seriously.

But I got a little sidetracked by some of the comments on my last post, and then by re-reading what I had written, and so I figured I would write a quick follow-up to that instead, and save the magical, miraculous minds of babies for another day.

In case you don't feel like reading that post, here's the quick and dirty, using the terminology of the department where I used to teach at Very Large State University:

Project: Through an anecdote about his own reaction to a difficult pet, the author presents a cautionary tale regarding the issue of anger, particularly as it concerns men.

Argument: He suggests that if anger is recognized and addressed within the self, it is less likely to be indulged or expressed violently.

Here are the things I wanted to say about the post and the comments:
  •  Stella is fine.  She didn't even get sick from eating hobo shit.  She's at her usual level of skittishness, or maybe slightly lower than normal because I'm making sure to give her a lot of reassurance and keep the children away from her except when they are being mellow.  Cobra had a nice petting session with her yesterday morning.  We've had two fine walks since the recent unpleasantness.  She shows no signs of PTSD.  Everybody's happy.
  • It might have sounded like I don't like my dog.  I do. You should see how proud of her I am when she's pulling the kids around in a wagon.  A couple commentators suggested that I might want to find a new home for her.  I've felt like that a couple times, but it always passes.  I'm glad to have her around, and I wouldn't get rid of her unless I thought she was becoming a danger or a liability. 
  • It may have sounded like it would be really difficult for me to keep from going off on my kids, given my loss of control with the dog.  But as Seattle Dad said in the comments, there's a barrier keeping (most of) us from going too far with any anger we feel towards our children.  I don't know what all is in the aggregate that makes up that barrier, but I know it's tangible and impenetrable in my case. 
  •  A reader scolded me and quit following this blog because I'm a dog-kicker.  That's fine.  I'm sorry she left, but some people have hard and fast standards regarding what they will and won't consume or patronize.  I respect that, but that's not how I feel about anything except the most egregious crimes against humanity.  And Autotune.  There are a lot of people I like to talk to, or whose work I like to read or watch or listen to, even though I don't agree with their perspectives or approve of some of their past actions.  
  • I'm a bit (maybe too much) of a moral relativist.  Even though in my world, it's never okay to hit a child or a pet (and I don't excuse myself for the "foot-nudge"), I don't condemn outright everyone who would do either of those things.  In other words, I don't always see a bright line between discipline and abuse in the case of other people, although  I know where the line is for me.  There's a continuum: harsh words-->leash-check-->foot-nudge-->shock collar-->ass-whupping-->etc.  And your position on the continuum is based on your conscience and your context.  In some contexts, spanking children is totally acceptable.  In some contexts, hitting a kid on the head with a shoe is considered okay.  I know where I stand philosophically on the continuum (spanking is over the line for me, for instance) , but I'm reluctant to judge others, since none of us have much control over our context.  (Of course, society provides some bright lines; i.e., laws, that can be helpful.)
  • If you want to have a discussion here about discipline, anger, violence, gender, whatever, that might be cool.  Or you could watch these very relaxing videos and think about all the fun you'll have this weekend.



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mr. Furious

Not long ago, it was considered perfectly reasonable to beat animals in this country.  And in most of the world, it still is.  When I got Mac the English Sheepdog (a.k.a. "Rocket Scientist"), my first dog aside from the one we had to leave in Moscow because he was too psycho, my uncle gave me a book about dog training that included tips like running leads from a car battery to a piece of raw meat and leaving it lying in the yard to teach the dog not to eat found objects off of the ground.  I never tried that, but I did use the very coercive (and effective) training methods from the book, which included meting out corporal punishment when Mac was bad.

When I got my next dog, Greta the Rottweiler (a.k.a Best Dog in the World), the conventional wisdom about dog training had changed.  I took her to obedience classes, and I read a series of books by the Monks of New Skete, who advocated a training method based on  pack dynamics.  There was no hitting involved, or even much coercion, but the answer for almost any challenge to the human's status in the pack was the "alpha roll," wherein you roll the dog on its back forcefully and hold it there until it realizes who is boss.  They also advocated a "chuck" under the chin to get a rowdy dog's attention.  Greta was an alpha bitch, who humped other dogs and lifted her leg to pee, so I had to roll her a few times when she got too big for her britches, and even chucked her chin once or twice.  She always got the message quickly though, and we went right back to being best buddies. 

The current preferred training methods are based on rewarding the dog with love and treats.  And that's what I have done with Stella.  This may be just as effective as the more heavy-handed approaches.  It may even be more effective, as the gurus claim.  But let me tell you, it's extremely difficult to use the light, happy, voice that you did in puppy kindergarten when your 120-lb. neurotic dog is seriously pissing you off.

I've had all kinds of problems with Stella, none of which are really her fault.  I mean, how can a dog, or anyone else, be blamed for her personality? I blame myself for getting a super-fancy boutique dog and for taking the first one that I was able to get my hands on.  I'm afraid that in many ways we're just not suited for each other, even though the breeder had an "expert" do temperament profiling on all the pups, and I had to fill out a ten-page questionnaire, which supposedly revealed that we were a perfect match.  So I guess I blame the breeder too.  I've said it before: Stella's great when she's outside pulling a cart or just running loose; but in the house the best thing we can do is keep our distance from one another.   

You have probably guessed that there's been another Stella incident.  Or an incident set in motion by Stella that turned into an angry Dad incident.  This time, thankfully, the kids were not around.

By the time I went out to take Stella for her nightly one-hour walk last night, I was already a tiny bit grumpy because I hadn't gotten many items checked off my to-do list and it looked like I would be up late.  And there were the usual half-dozen or so cosmic injustices gnawing at me as well.

Stella and I were walking through the park, as we do almost every night.  I always let Stella run off-lead at night.  Oh yeah.  There's another thing she's good at--not running away.  Don't say I never said anything nice about her.

So we're doing our usual loop, and she's stopping to nibble rabbit turds, as she sometimes does, and I figure that's kind of gross, but mostly harmless.  She lingers at a little stand of hardwoods and I wait, engrossed in a podcast of All Things Considered.

Something--probably the passage of a certain amount of time--tells me that she is up to no good there in the darkness.  I call her, and she eventually ambles over to me.  Sheepishly.

I see some debris hanging from her mouth, and suspect the worst.

I grab her under the jaw and smell her breath.

Yep.  Hobo shit*.

Stella cringed, sensing the gasket that was about to blow.  Not only was it disgusting at the moment: I could also look forward to being waken up at four in the morning when she had to go outside to vomit.  In fact, being waken up for the vomiting would be the best case scenario.  Waking up afterwards...well, you can imagine.

I cussed.  I yelled.

I kicked my dog.

That's right.  I kicked her.

Okay, if it were some kind of martial arts contest, I probably would not have scored any points for it.  It was more of a foot-nudge, really, thrown from a very awkward squatting position.  But it made her yelp.

Go ahead--report me to PETA.  I'll foot-nudge them right in the ass when they come to my door.

But seriously, I was beside myself with ineffectual rage.  I am fully aware that beating or yelling at a dog for something it did more than two seconds prior does nothing but confuse and scare the poor beast; especially one as sensitive and...um...prone to confusion as Stella.  But my reaction had nothing to do with logic.  I needed to release the furies lest they consume me from within.

The Monks of New Skete suggest that when a dog steps out of line, the owner might, after dealing with the immediate damage, hold a little training session, both to reinforce positive behaviors, and, of course, to remind the animal about the hierarchy in the home.

So I figured Stella and I would work on some "heeling" to get ourselves re-focused.  But Stella would have none of it.  She was so freaked out from my outburst that all she could do was cower and cringe.  Which just made me angrier.  For some reason, her all-encompassing fear offends me more than any of her other shortcomings.   I dragged her by the collar.  I shook her.  I cussed some more.  And even I was not surprised that this didn't help matters.

Finally I had to let her back off the leash and, once I had cooled off, use the cloying puppy-kindergarten voice to convince her to follow me home.

Now Stella is sleeping across the room from me.  There is no sign of hoboshitvomit.  I've cooled down enough that her presence does not offend me; but a nuzzling moratorium is in effect until further notice.

Although Stella and I will probably be all right--she's just a few feet away from me, and I'm not seething at all--this is the kind of incident that makes me worry a little about my kids.  There have been times when I have felt similarly frustrated with them, usually when they were screaming and wailing incessantly, apparently for no other reason than to torture me.  And there have been times that I have, in "comforting" them, jiggled a little more vigorously than I probably needed to, or squeezed their arms harder than was strictly necessary to get them to STAY AWAY FROM THAT DANGEROUS THING.

I don't think I'll ever kick (or foot-nudge) my children, or alpha roll them, or cuss them up one side and down the other as I did with Stella last night, but I can imagine making them flinch every once in a while.  And that's not the kind of parent I want to be.

I guess there are websites dedicated to demonstrating how likely men are, statistically, to physically abuse their families.  I've never visited one, but I've seen daddy bloggers rail against these "sexist" sites.  But I don't know. I suspect we are more given to anger and violence than women, for whatever reasons.  And that's why we need to be as vigilant about these impulses in ourselves as any gratuitous man-basher is.     



*I won't go into details about how I was able to identify the scat so readily: suffice it to say it was not the first time a dog of mine has gotten into that particular delicacy.

Monday, November 15, 2010

How I lost my karaoke virginity in a crappy motel in West Virginia

Snowshoe, West Virginia.  January, 1998

Near the top of the mountain, there's a series of switchbacks that makes me a little dizzy every time I drive up this way. 

It stopped snowing sometime early this morning, but the plows haven't been able to keep up.  I'm in four-wheel drive, but I still slide through the corner, which makes the toxic stew in my stomach churn and foam.  I slow down a bit, but the next turn sloshes the roiling sludge up one side of my gut and fills my throat.

No time to pull over, and no where to do it anyway: the shoulder is banked up with snow.  So I open the door and lean out as I take the next right-hand switchback, jettisoning last night's Salisbury Steak dinner special and the fuming dregs of all the beer and liquor that bartender kept forcing on me.  My eyes water as I try to focus on the road again.  I close the door and open the window, spitting into the cold fog.  I feel a little better.

I woke up this morning pretty sure that I wasn't going to ski today, but then I talked myself into it.  I hadn't spent last night at the Marlinton Motor Lodge just so I could wake up and drive back to Charlottesville.  I figured after a couple runs my hangover would fade.

The storm had hit Charlottesville on Wednesday afternoon, and by yesterday morning, it was almost two feet deep and still coming down.  My partner and I had been hanging siding on a house in a subdivision that didn't even have paved roads yet.  There was no way we could get in there.  So I decided to jump in my Blazer and drive the three hours to Snowshoe, ski all day, and then drive back home.

The skiing yesterday was about as good as it gets around here.  Shin-deep powder, mild temperatures...but it's still, you know, West Virginia.  Not exactly a skiing Mecca.  But it's the best we've got.

It snowed off and on yesterday, and after the lifts closed it started falling hard again.  I called my partner from a payphone and asked how things were going back in Charlottesville.  He said the whole town was closed down, so I said, screw it, I'm gonna spend the night here and ski again tomorrow. 

I didn't have enough money to stay at the resort, but I knew there was a motel in Marlinton, about 20 miles away, where rooms were around thirty bucks a night.

I checked into my room and there was nothing to do; so I walked over to the 7-11 and got a six pack of Corona, the closest thing they had to decent beer, and watched some of the movie Billy Jack on TV.  I noticed that the sign in front of the motel said Thursdays were karaoke night at the bar.  I figured that might be some good entertainment.
In all the years I've lived in Virginia, I've heard people make fun of West Virginians.  Like they were a bunch of ignorant, toothless rednecks.  And while it does turn out that West Virginia has the highest rate of edentulism in the country, I've met a lot of cool people here.  I know shitloads of rednecks in Virginia, and in a lot of ways they're pretty interchangeable.  They all love hunting, Nascar, and Top 40 country music, and hate taxes, unions, and fags. 

But West Virginians are not so predictable.  They tend to be more independent thinkers--maybe a little isolated from mainstream values, so likely to make up their own.  I come here maybe a dozen times a year to ski, mountain bike, and hike, and I always meet some freaks when I do.

So I was hoping that karaoke at the motor lodge's restaurant/bar would be worth a laugh.  But I didn't think there would be much turnout in this weather. 

My ski clothes were all I had to wear, since I thought I was just coming for the day.  I had worn neoprene bike tights under my black North Face shell pants, but I sure as hell wasn't going to wear tights to dinner.  So I put my ski pants back on, and my black sweater, and headed to the restaurant.

Besides me, there was one couple eating at the restaurant.  The bartender was also the waiter, and we chatted for a while about this and that: the weather, where I was from, the usual bullshit.  I asked him if he thought the karaoke thing was going to happen and he said, yeah, definitely--the regulars are very serious about their karaoke.  He asked me if I was going to sing, and I told him no--hell no--I'm just gonna watch.

Dinner was filling--that's the best I can say about it.  I had a drink before my food was ready, and the bartender brought me another one that I didn't order, so he didn't charge me for it. 

The karaoke host showed up a little late due to the snow, and started setting up his equipment.  And sure enough, as he did, more people trickled in, got drinks at the bar, and talked.  Everybody seemed to know each other.

When I went to get another drink, the bartender introduced me around and joked that he thought I would probably sing if they all encouraged me.  The guys--and it was all guys, no ladies so far--were all friendly and kind of excited about the storm, swapping stories about the wild rides they had been on to make it to karaoke night.  A couple of them had been on the road for more than an hour.

I hung out at the bar as the karaoke started up. 

The first few singers were just awful.  The next three were even worse. 

And they made some odd musical choices.  Sure, they warbled a couple popular country tunes, but a number of these bearded lumberjack-looking guys seemed to prefer pop ballads like Journey's Open Arms.  That's what I'm talking about when I say these West Virginians are unpredictable.

Whenever anyone finished their song, they would come back to the bar, and order up some kind of shooters for them and their buddies, like B-52s or Kamikazes.  The bartender would always make too much and pour what was left in the shaker into a glass and give it to me.  After a while I didn't even know what I was drinking anymore.

I think everyone else had already sung by the time the guy with the handlebar mustache took the microphone.  The murmuring stopped as his song started.  It was something I knew from my childhood but it took me a few seconds to recognize it: I Started a Joke, by the Bee Gees.  But why?  That wasn't even from Saturday Night Fever, which at least had some campy retro-novelty value.  What a weird selection.

But, by God, he nailed it!  I got chills after the first line, and they lasted throughout the song.  I hate to admit it, but I even got a little choked up.  You should listen to that song sometime.   You would get a lump in your throat too.

Things started getting a little fuzzy by then, and the next thing I knew, I was up on stage with the mic in my hand, singing Folsom Prison Blues.  I had never karaoked before, and I had always thought it was pretty lame.  But there I was, in front of a dozen or so of my new best buds, singing my heart out. 

And I gotta say: I tore that shit up.  I was the Man In Black, even if it was black Gore-Tex.

After my first number, everybody slapped me on the back and bought me drinks, congratulating me on losing my karaoke virginity.  The bartender complimented me profusely, telling me how surprised he had been to hear such a big baritone booming out of a slim guy like me. 

It must have been the combination of the drinks and that special camaraderie you feel when you're pinned down by a storm together, but I felt really close to those guys. 

And I couldn't wait to get back on stage.  I filled out the request forms as fast as I could, mostly for Johnny Cash songs, since they're all in my range.

I asked my buddies why there weren't any ladies at karaoke night, and they said it was because they were afraid to drive in the storm.  I was like, That's bullshit! Why don't you make some calls and get some chicas up in here? It wasn't like I wanted to hit on them or anything--I have a fiancee, for crying out loud--but it just seemed like a shame that there were no chicks to swoon over my buddies and me.  And maybe sing some duets.
No ladies ever showed up, but we kept rocking till--I don't even know how long it went on.  I just have little snatches of memories that I'm piecing together.  The guy with the handlebar mustache singing more Bee Gees, plus some Earth, Wind, and Fire.  Drinks that looked like Pepto Bismol. The bartender telling me how handsome I was.  A number of times.  A group rendition of Margaritaville.  Waking up sweating in my ski clothes with heater cranked all the way up.

I'm not sure exactly what I stumbled onto last night.  The bartender was definitely into me.  Right?  But what's up with a bunch of guys in the hills of West By God Virginia getting together every week to sing Bee Gees and Journey songs?  Is that what passes for a gay bar here?  Or is it just what any bunch of dudes would do if they didn't give a shit what anybody thought?  






Friday, November 12, 2010

If I were a hooker

We had a little excitement here yesterday.  In fact, technically we were victims of a crime.  But thanks to the ever more abstract nature of currency and commodities, it has so far amounted to little more than an inconvenience and an interesting topic for dinner conversation.

Dr. Mom called me at lunchtime yesterday.  The kids were threatening to melt down, having missed their morning nap due to a zoo meetup with my Asian Mommies group.

"Is my wallet in the office?" she asked.

I bounced whining Cobra in one arm and cradled the phone against my ear with my shoulder as I opened the door to the office and kicked some empty boxes over to see if there were any errant wallets around.  Nothing.

"Damn it!" She said.  "Did you charge anything on the Master Card today?"

She had gotten an email alert about some unusual activity on one of our credit cards.  I hadn't bought anything.

It looked like someone had snatched her wallet out of her bag in her office.

"Bastards!" I said.

Her clinic is in a rough part of town, and some of the patients are kind of sketchy.  The vast majority of them are just working stiffs who can't afford insurance; but there are also some punk-ass kids, gang-bangers, drug-seekers, and other hyphenated riff-raff who get their medical care there.

There was a very small amount of  cash in the wallet, and we quickly canceled the few cards that were in there.  But still, the thieves managed to go on quite a little spending spree on the dime of our bank and credit card companies before we realized what had happened.

By the end of the day, a storyboard emerged, sketching out how the crook(s) had spent his or her (or their) afternoon:

1) Picked up some equipment or phone cards or whatever else they sell at the Cricket Wireless store right across the street from my wife's clinic (we didn't get many details on that transaction.)

2) Filled the gas tanks of two cars--one with the credit card, one with debit.  (This is conjecture based on where the charges were incurred.  They could well have spent seventy bucks on Slim Jims and Slush Puppies.)

3) Used both our credit and debit cards to buy fifty bucks worth of food at McDonald's.  (That's a lot of goddamn McNuggets!)

4) Rented two DVDs from Redbox.  (I hope we can find out what movies they got.  I'm guessing they won't return them on time.)

5) Bought $112.00 worth of groceries at Food 4 Less.

6) Tried and failed (because we had frozen that card by the time they got there) to buy a thousand dollars worth of clothes at Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Gap stores at the outlet mall.   

Since the charges on the cards would be forgiven, and the missing cash and actual wallet didn't constitute a loss worthy of teeth-gnashing and garment-rending, Dr. Mom and I wound up processing this affront by playing a variation of a game we like to call, "If I Were a Hooker."

This game developed organically, based on the kind of unfiltered commentary that only people who trust each other implicitly to neither judge nor publicly repeat their observations would dare utter aloud.

The game usually takes place on the stretch of road between our house and Dr. Mom's clinic--four miles of hardscrabble strip-malls, ethnic storefronts, and working-class housing tracts populated by some of the most colorful people I've seen anywhere.  Among the immigrants from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America--whose cultural perspectives on vehicular and foot traffic transform driving, walking, and biking into sometimes harrowing adventures--you will inevitably see some unsavory characters staggering around.  This roadside bazaar of humanity prompted the first round of the game, when I said something like, "If I were a bum [shorthand for 'self-employed homeless person'--my wife knows what I mean], I would invest in a bike and rig up a trailer to haul my bottles and cans to the recycling center." This led to a good twenty-minute discussion of the economics of scavenging.

Later, my wife, upon seeing some cling-wrapped women on the street corner, mused, "If I were a hooker [she uses this term non-judgmentally instead of the politically correct but clunky 'sex worker'], I would wear much more comfortable shoes."  Thus the name of our heuristic process for exploring the motivations of the marginalized was coined, and another line of inquiry into lives on the fringes of society was opened.

So, by playing "If I Were a Hooker," using the few details we had about the purchases the larcenist(s) had made, or tried to make, with our stolen cards, we were able to cobble together a profile of him/her/them.

"If I were a credit card thief," Dr. Mom said, "I would buy a bunch of high-end electronics before the account was frozen."

"Yeah," I said.  "Or jewelry.  Something I could sell to a fence later.  I sure as hell wouldn't go to McDonald's."

"A fence?  Do people still use that term, Barretta?"

And on we went like that, questioning their odd decisions and coming up with theories that brought us closer to knowing the criminals behind the theft.

Fifty dollars worth of McDonald's and two tanks of gas.  Sounds like a big group. A group, or a gang?  But, Food 4 Less?  What gang-bangers would shop there?  Thrifty ones, I guess.  When I first heard about the Food 4 Less charges, I thought, it's just some desperate sonofabitch trying to feed his family in this shit economy.  But after discovering the info about Redbox and Old Navy, I started to imagine a bunch of good-for-nothing kids behind it. 

They knew enough to start buying stuff right away, which suggested that this wasn't their first rodeo.  But for all their wild spending, they were oddly frugal, and they didn't know which stores to shop at to avoid arousing suspicion that would lead to the cards being canceled.

"I would have gone to Whole Foods for groceries if I were them," I said.  "You could spend a grand in fifteen minutes."

"Right," Dr. Mom said.  "And any patient of mine knows that I would never eat at McDonald's.  A charge there would be a big red flag to the credit card company.  They should have gone out for sushi."

"Yeah," I said.  "And the outlet mall?  Why wouldn't they just go to the regular mall and spend twice as much in half the time?"

We kept second-guessing the bandits until we concluded that they must have been teenagers who, though streetwise, were not sophisticated enough to figure out how to really turn a profit on the heist.  And they probably just went to the places where they normally shopped; maybe places where they knew no one would check their IDs if they used a credit card.

In the end, it sucks to think that my wife can't trust her patients, but it's not that big of a deal in terms of actual loss for us.  Dr. Mom filed a police report, but no one thinks justice is forthcoming.

On one hand, I would like to slap the shit out of whoever stole our stuff.  But in a way, it's also a victimless crime.  The credit card companies will suck up the charges, and all we have to do is get new cards.  In fact, by patronizing franchisees that we never would have visited, the thieves may have provided a little stimulus to the local economy.

It's a shame they didn't go to Payless and buy some sensible shoes for the hookers while they were at it.         

Monday, November 8, 2010


I had to take a long, hard look in the mirror on Saturday, and ask myself some tough questions. Like: "Does this really look as non-sexualpredatorish as you think it does?"  Also, "Do you seriously have the self-confidence to walk out of the house like this?"

The image before me was the reflection of the face I'm stuck with.  It's not so terrible, really.  There are some things I would change if I could, but it could be much worse.  One way in which it has failed me, though, is in its inability to grow a thick, luxurious beard.  Thus the angst concerning the latest of my very few attempts at cultivating some kind of organized facial hair growth; to wit, a mustache.

Oh, how I have longed for the ability to hide behind the bushy mask of a Grizzly Adams beard, at least for a short while.  Or failing that, just to sport a modest set of sideburns.  How many problems in my life would have been solved by sideburns?  Pretty much all of them, that's how many.  But alas, it's just not in my genetic makeup. 

As far as anyone knows, my family is mostly extracted from the British Isles; and yet our men tend to have facial hair more typical of Asians or Native Americans.  In fact, my Vietnamese brother-in-law can grow a better beard than me.  It's a travesty, really.

So when a bunch of my imaginary friends from the interblogosphere were all of the sudden growing mustaches for a good cause, my heart sank a bit at first, because I assumed that I couldn't join in the fun. 

I should fill you in, in case you're not currently stroking your philanthropic fu-manchu.  There's this organization called "Movember," that encourages guys to grow mustaches in the month of November to raise awareness and money for research on cancers that affect men.  The proceeds go to  the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Livestrong. 

It's brilliant, really.  Just think about it: if you grew a mustache, everybody you knew would start asking you about it, right?  Because, let's face it, unless you're a cop or a firefighter or in the Navy, a mustache is a pretty outlandish accessory in this day and age.  And when people asked about your anachronistic accoutrement, you would say, "Well, I'm spreading awareness about cancer, and hey why don't you give me ten bucks ya cheap bastard?"    

But my spirits lifted a bit as I thought about it more.  A mustache?  I might actually be able to pull that off.  Compared to the rest of my face, I have pretty solid coverage over my lip.  (Also, if there was ever a neck-beard fund-raising movement, I would totally dominate at that, but I don't see it happening.) 

There was no way I could pull off a Tom Selleck or a Wilford Brimley; but something a little more conservative...maybe a David Niven affair.  Or...or a young William Faulkner!  I could rock that look!

Having mostly convinced myself, I announced my intentions to my wife.

"I'm going to grow a mustache!"  I said.

"Hah!" she replied.  "You and what army?"

That clinched it.  I would grow this damn thing, if not to benefit cancer research, then at least to prove my wife wrong.  I let her know the same.

"And anyway," I added, "the idiom is 'you and whose army'."

"Are you sure?" She said.

"Oh...you won't doubt my knowledge of colloquial English once I have a Faulkner 'stache.  And a pipe."

I could sense her eyes rolling even as she walked away from me.

I took a picture of my clean-shaven mug, as the rules of the Movember game require, and didn't really think about it until four days later, when it seemed like it was maybe time to shave again.

I shaved my whole face except for my lip, and stood back to take it in.  It...it resembled something not totally unlike a mustache!  I shaped it up a little bit and looked again.  I checked it out in three or four different lighting situations around the house.  By God...it was recognizable as a mustache!

Then I went to the kitchen and chatted with Dr. Mom for about five minutes before she realized what was going on with my face and gasped.

"Don't you think it's kind of dashing?" I said.

"You look like a child molester," she responded. 

But she didn't demand that I get rid of it.

And I might have left it there, except that we were going to a pool party that afternoon, and I would have had to explain it to our friends there.  Which of course is the idea behind the whole Movember thing.  But then I thought about the awkwardness.  These friends are not like my old buddies who would be all, "Dude!  You look like a gay porn star from the seventies!"  These are friends we have made through our kids.  Parent-friends.  Friends who probably have not watched much seventies gay porn. 

In fact, the friends at the pool party probably wouldn't even mention the 'stache.  They wouldn't dig the irony*.  They would probably think that I really thought it looked cool.  Which I kind of was starting to do.  But cool in a ridiculous way.  I wondered if I would always have to smirk as long as I had the mustache.  Irony is so confusing sometimes. 

It made me think about the hipster kids.  Do they all know that their neon sunglasses and American Apparel scoop neck tees (and mustaches, in many cases) look idiotic?  Or has the coolness of the attitude rubbed off on the outward trappings to such an extent that it has created a new aesthetic framework in which skinny jeans with baggy asses are attractive?  You can see how I could easily churn myself into a meta-mustache maelstrom.

Then I thought about the reactions I'd get from people I interact with regularly.  Since I don't have one of those jobs, I don't see the same people all day every day.  I see people at the store, the playground, the dog park, etc., but we don't really know each other that well.  Not well enough to say that the other looks like an ass.  And that's the appropriate ice-breaker to get the Movember scheme to work.  If you have to say, "Hey, did you see my weak-ass little mustache?  Well, I'm not really the kind of guy who grows a mustache, but, well...you see, it's kind of a lark, heh heh, I'm trying to raise awareness..." you've lost the sale.  And on top of that, you're starting to freak out because the person you're talking to is staring at you, considering every aspect and quality of your face and your appearance in general.  You're better off just wearing a ribbon or a rubber bracelet.

As you've surely guessed by now, I shaved off the mustache.  I just can't handle all of its associations right now.  Maybe next November, when I have more time to become psychologically prepared.  In the meantime, I just donated twenty bucks to Movember through the guys at DadCentric.  I think about seventy percent of their contributors (who are much brasher than I) are 'staching out to fight cancer this year, and you should go to their Movember page and donate something too.  You probably know other dudes who are doing it too, so you could donate to their page if you want.  In fact, you should ask anyone you see with a mustache if they are participating, and offer them money.  Or you can just go to the main Movember site and donate there.  Unless you hate men, in which case you should just sit on your hands.         


 *Note to pedants: I'm using the term "irony" to describe a detached, playful, noncommittal, "of course I'm kidding...or am I?" attitude.  Feel free to rant about how I and others misuse the word.  Just know that I don't care.  Or do I?

Friday, November 5, 2010

My children have turned me into Jackie Chan

It's pretty obvious that pregnancy and childbirth change a woman's body in a lot of ways; but what has become clearer in recent years is that many fathers experience real physiological changes at this time as well.  For instance, research shows that it is perfectly natural for me to gain fifteen pounds during my wife's pregnancy and retain those pounds well after she has delivered the joy-bundles and lost her own "baby weight."  That's my interpretation anyway, and I'm usually pretty good at interpretating.

But that's not the only awesome physiological change I wanted to talk about here.  I have actually read about stuff that happens to new dads on a molecular level, mostly courtesy of Jeremy Adam Smith and his excellent book, Daddy Shift, wherein he pulls a Malcolm Gladwell and makes science (social and otherwise) fun and interesting for people who can't bear the thought of reading a science journal.

In his 2009 article "The Daddy Brain," on the U.C. Berkeley website Greater Good, Smith explains that research shows "pregnancy, childbirth, and fatherhood trigger a range of little hormonal shifts in the male body—but only if the father is in contact with the baby and the baby’s mother. When a child is born [...] testosterone levels drop dramatically in men. Men also gain prolactin, the hormone associated with lactation, as well as cortisol, the stress hormone that spikes in mothers after childbirth and helps them pay attention to the baby’s needs."

I do feel that I have changed since the babies arrived.

In all the areas that testosterone figures prominently, however, I can't discern any difference in myself.  I also read up on prolactin a little bit, and can't see how it relates to any of the changes I've experienced, except for maybe the curious stains on my t-shirts.

But the cortisol--that explains a lot.  If you look it up, you'll probably be struck by the number of negative side effects associated with overproduction of this hormone, some of which come in handy for explaining the deterioration of my body without impugning my lifestyle: decreased cognitive ability, decreased muscle tone, increased abdominal fat, etc.

Essentially though, when it's not running you into the ground, cortisol, sometimes called the "fight or flight" hormone, gets you off your fat ass in a hurry when something needs to be done.  And so far, I'm convinced that coritsol is both my friend and the protector of my children.

You see, I've never been known for my quickness.  In terms of work, sports, intellectual pursuits, and even relationships, my strength has always been stamina.  I'm kind of a tenacious plodder.  This has worked out pretty well for me, and I've always believed that as long as I live to be 140 years old, I'll be able to accomplish every bit as much as many of my peers have, without dealing with the stress they've endured.

But the cortisol has changed me.  I'm not a bundle of nerves or anything--it's just that my fight-or-flight instinct is probably on par with the average mom now, which is way high compared to what I'm used to.  And although there have been moments of impatience and inexplicable crankiness, mostly cortisol has given me a sixth sense about impending danger and children's shenanigans.  And lightning-fast reflexes.

In just the last week, there have been two incidents that illustrate my ninja-like reactions.  The first one was at an afternoon cookout at the home of one of the guys from my stay-at-home dad group.  No matter how I tried to distract the twins with toys and snacks, they wanted nothing more or less than to climb up and down the four steps from the back door to the patio.  So I sat on the steps--of the truncated zigguarat style, where you can walk out the door and descend to the right, to the left, or straight ahead--drinking a beer, talking to the grownups, and recording every movement of the twin on either flank with my peripheral vision.  When the inevitable happened and Butterbean plummeted headfirst toward the unforgiving slate corner of the bottom step, my right arm snapped out like a switchblade and blocked her fall before my brain even registered the danger.

And yesterday I was sitting on our bed playing guitar when Cobra climbed up onto the Ikea love seat-ish thing and started pumping her arms victoriously while balancing on the very edge of the seat.  This is something she does regularly, and I think of it as a motor skills exercise.  But as I hacked my way through "Gavotta-Choro," I must have sensed Cobra losing her balance, because my left hand floated off the fretboard just in time to gently catch her head--which had been on a collision course with the corner of the nightstand--and ease her onto the carpet so softly that she giggled.

To you, these examples may seem considerably less impressive than a John Woo action sequence.  But compared to my pre-fatherhood self, I have become a domesticated Jackie Chan.  Had those falling babies been grounders or passed basketballs when I was a kid, my sluggish hypothalamus would have been all: ball approaching...should run toward...or maybe someone else closer?...no--mine...should take hands out of pockets...do I smell tacos?  And my unfortunate teammates would have rolled their eyes once again as the ball bounced off of my noggin.

When my sisters and I talk about our mom, we often joke about how she could see us with the "eyes in the back of her head" whenever we even thought about misbehaving.  Or how you would suddenly feel her deathgrip on your forearm as you reached for the cookie jar, when you could have sworn she was two rooms away.

It's interesting, but not surprising really, that we remember her using her powers to thwart our fun, but not so much to keep us from harm.  I guess kids just take it for granted that their parents have the ability to keep them from impaling, abrading, contusing or lacerating themselves, so it's not worth remarking on our survival of the perils of childhood.

I wasn't really sure that I would have the reflexes necessary to keep kids out of harm's way.  I was kind of hoping that my kids would be slothful like their old man, so I could keep up with them easily.  But instead, it seems like nature has given me a little kick in the pants, endowing me with the reflexes of, if not my mom, at least an aging action hero.            



Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thoughtful election coverage. Scratch that. Duck butts.

I was going to try to do one of those "Wordless Wednesday" posts, but I don't have any good pictures to put up, and it seems like you really should have something to share if you don't have words; so I'm going to do the opposite and not only use words, but talk about them as well.  Anyway, I was really just trying to get out of writing, because I feel kind of drained, mostly due to this election we had over here in the U.S. of the A.

After Dr. Mom got home from work last night, we took the kids and the dog and walked to our polling station, voted, and felt like good Americans.  Then I listened to the coverage on the radio for a few hours as I went about the rest of the evening, and I started to feel dirty.  Every candidate that opened his or her mouth evoked my Holden Caulfield response: "Phony!"  And we don't even have the tee vee, so we were spared all the horrible ads.  Nor do we have a land line, so we missed the robocalls as well.  I feel bad for anyone who had to endure that onslaught of soul-sucking crap.

The results seem to be pretty much what the reasonable pundits were predicting, so it's not really a big surprise.  Considering that the Democrats (about whom I can't really get excited these days anyway) were outspent seven to one, thanks to the worst goddamn Supreme Court decision in recent history,  they didn't do that badly.  And at least California didn't go all tea-baggy.  But still, the whole business left me enervated.

The thing that I'm psyched about, though, is language.  Specifically the language that is starting to seep into my kids' brains, and sometimes come out of their mouths.  They understand a lot.  I can give them pretty complicated instructions (e.g., "Go to the closet and get your sister's purple socks and bring them to her") and, depending on their mood, they sometimes do what I ask them.  They can identify all kinds of animals in real life and in picture books, and they have a small repertoire of words(ish) that they yell on cue, like "bathtime!" and "bowl!" (which also works as "ball!")

It probably doesn't surprise you that a couple toddlers would start acquiring language, but as for me, it blows my mind.  I had heard about it and read about it, but never really seen it happen.  I mean, it's pretty cool to see them figuring out how to negotiate their world in a physical way, walking and climbing and picking up and opening and closing; but to start figuring out how to refer to the physical world using a symbolic system--that's freakin' human.  We have actual little people living among us.

Here they are negotiating the physical world, at a baby gear store where we were shopping for new car seats:

They seem to be pretty close to each other in terms of what words they know, but Butterbean is usually more into showing off her skills.  She likes to play the "where's the [insert name of animal]?" game with books and pictures and can reliably point out about ten different species.  Cobra will do so when pressed or in the mood, but often gives me a look like, "I'm not your trained monkey, and I'm not going to point out every stupid critter in this book."  Then she shows me who is in fact the trained monkey by making me cluck and bark and neigh for her entertainment.

As if recognizing words and sounds isn't amazing enough, the fact that they can identify stylized cartoon drawings as elephants and cats really floors me.  I don't see how even a grownup person with limited exposure to zoology and children's literature, much less a baby, could tell that a Sandra Boynton rhinoceros was supposed to be the same beast as one drawn by Eric Carle.  But somehow they know.

Their spoken vocabulary is pretty limited at this point, but I think it is poised to explode into toddler poetry at any moment.

They've been saying "mama" and "dada" for months now, and of course, "shoes" was their first common noun.  Since then, they've added "cheese," and, as I mentioned, "bathtime" which we all chant as we march from the dinner table to the tub.

They also can approximate a couple Vietnamese phrases (Dr. Mom speaks a lot of 'Namese around them), like "đi chơi!" ("go play!"), which is what we holler as we stamp toward the door on our way to a fun outing; and "bướm bướm" which means "butterfly," but is easier and more fun to say.

Another word they like is "bowl."  They probably picked this up because Dr. Mom and I tend to say that word with all kinds of drama, drawing it out and accompanying it with ridiculous mugging.  This is due to an incident years ago in Costa Rica, when we witnessed an Ugly American repeatedly demanding a "BOOOWWWWLLLL"  from the waiter in an heladería,  because it bothered him to eat his ice cream off of a plate.  In any case, the girls have a lot of fun with this word, and will sometimes sing it out for minutes at a time.

"I can't eat out of this!  Get me a boooowwwwlllll..."

In just the last couple of days, there have been times (especially bathtimes for some reason) during which the twins will imitate almost any word or phrase we say.

Also, they have discovered the comedic value of butts*.  You can see where this is going. 

Last night in the tub, Butterbean started slapping Cobra on the behind, which made both of them (okay, and their parents) laugh a lot.  I offhandedly remarked, "Butts are funny."

That encouraged Butterbean to say, "Butt butt butt butt" for the next two or three minutes, as her parents tried to suppress their laughter and twisted pride.  

In an effort to distract Butterbean from her butt-filibuster, I waved a rubber ducky in her face, and said, "Duck duck duck duck," to which she responded, "Duck butt, duck butt, duck butt." 

Words are powerful.

*Like the ability to recognize animals from grotesque caricatures, the appreciation of butt jokes seems hardwired into the human genome.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why Halloween Matters

Okay.  I see the appeal of playing Halloween with the little kids now, even if they're too young to eat candy or know what the hell to make of all the costumes, decorations, and packs of freeloading hooligans roaming the streets.

It's all about taking pride in how cute your kids are, even though you didn't really have much to do with it.  It's not like you spent months training them to make adorable expressions and strike charming poses and gambol about like carefree fawns (and if you did, that's not cute at all, it's just creepy).  All you did is have the foresight to procreate with someone whose genetic material combines in a pleasing way with your own.  Or if you adopted, I guess you just got lucky.

I realized this when we took the girls to a special Halloween event at a bookstore on Saturday, and the sight of them careening around in their homemade (in a Vietnamese sweatshop) costumes caused seemingly reasonable adults to clutch their chests and gasp with delight.

The reactions they got made me feel awesome.  About myself.  Look what I (and my wife, of course) had created!  Who cares about my jowls and my chemo-hair?  I have cute children, and that proves that I was once hot.  In fact, having one or more of them near me mitigates most of the flaws in both my appearance and my personality.

I had already been aware of this phenomenon to some extent in everyday encounters with people; but crank up the cuteness to eleven with wings and headgear, and the returns are increased manyfold.  It almost makes you understand why people get their children involved in pageanting*.

Once we had gotten a taste for parading the costumed children around in public, we took every opportunity to do more of it.  Yesterday morning we took them to our local farmers' market in their costumes, where the effect was heightened by the bucolic setting.  There was really no reason to let them linger at the flower vendor's tent for more than a few seconds, as they would have been just as content to poke around in a trash pile.  No reason, that is, except for the gratification of hearing passersby cry out, "Oh my goodness!  It's a little ladybug in the flowers!  *Gasp* And a bumble bee too!"

That's right, lady.  Pretty mind-blowing, no?  And you never would have guessed I had it in me to sire even one, would you?  I have got it going on. 

"Let me get that pollen off your shoulder"

"Do I look like an idiot to you?  I saw these flowers at Costco for $1.50!  I'll give you a buck and a quarter for 'em."

"That's seventy-five cents you owe me, pal.  C'mon--it's not that complicated.  Don't try to shortchange me either!" (Butterbean's all I love it when she does this!)


Photos shot on my iPhone because we didn't want to look like we brought the kids to the farmers' market just for the photo ops.

We didn't stop there, either.  Last night we toted the girls around a neighborhood that's significantly more gentrified than our own and legendary for it's Halloween spirit, collecting candy ostensibly on their behalf.

And though the rush you experience from snarfing down three Nestle Crunch bars and a box of Nerds while your wife's back is turned is sweet indeed, it hardly compares to the life-affirming experience of absorbing perfect strangers' adulation of your loin-fruit.        


*Despite what your fancy dictionaries might tell you, "pageant" can be and is used as a verb.  I was going to provide a link to one of the first sites that comes up when you Google "pageanting," but I didn't have the heart.  It made me sad and I didn't want to come off as an elitist a-hole.  But don't let me stop you from looking it up if it makes you feel good to laugh at people whose passions you find distasteful.  


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