Monthly Archives: September 2013

KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 6

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It’s Sunday night and I’m driving to church solo.  With everyone we know being sick, we’ve decided to try and quarantine our children into the house and Bubble-Boy them from any diseases.  Six days pre-baby would not be an ideal time for the two kids to come down with the drowsy, coughing, dripping, sleeping, scratchy throat sickness.  Welcome to the world, new baby!  GERMS!

After serving in the Info Center and directing people hither and tither, “Water Baptisms this way, New Believers Packets down stairs, Sign up to Volunteer here,” etc, etc, so forth and so on, I make my way to the balcony and stare down at a man named Robert who gives a sermon about faith and obedience and about going out into the world.

How do you become those disciples in the Bible?  DO YOU become those disciples in the Bible?  How do you go from the person you are now to the person you are called to be?  Well, like everything in life, you take it one step at a time.  You wake up this morning and you pray on your way to work.  You read a chapter from your Bible.  You let someone slide into traffic.  You hold a door.  You reflect the love of Christ and you go out into a dark world completely fearless knowing that God has his arms around you.

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On my drive home I speculate about what I could be doing; what are my next steps.  I don’t pray enough.  I don’t read my Bible enough.  I pray with my kids at night and over meals and I read them stories from the children’s Bible but am I raising them to invest in faith or am I merely showing them what a Christian going the motions looks like?

So I have to question myself and wonder, when people look at me – maybe not just the quick sideways glance – but when they look at me, do they know that I’m a Christian?  Do my actions and deeds in my public life reflect someone who cares?

I come home and sit down for a late dinner with the kids and I say, “Let’s pray,” and both kids shut their eyes and Quinn even curls her hands beneath her chin and I think, “God, please let me do this right.  I’m not just trying to raise operable adults.  I’m trying to raise children who love You and feel compassion for The World around them.”

I pray for our food and the children repeat, I pray for a small list of sick people we know and the children repeat, I pray for protection over my dad, who is currently oversees with the military and they repeat.  I say, “Amen,” and we eat.

After dinner Quinn asks if we can go swing and, it’s pitch black out and well beyond her bedtime but I figure, “What’s ten minutes?”  We go outside and I sit on the swing and she in my lap and as we rock back and forth, she looks up at the stars and says, “Dad!  Look!  Stars!” and I say, “Yes, that’s right,” and then she says, “Dad, give me a kiss,” and so I do.

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Thirty feet away, through the darkness of our lawn, over our patio and on top of the steps leading into our back door, I see a small figure shyly emerge and look around.  It speaks.  “Daa-haaad??”  It’s Rory and he suspects we’re out here but can’t see us way out in the back, his eyes not yet adjusted to the light.

I shout, “We’re right here!” and his face follows my voice but I can tell that he still can’t see me so I say, “We’re swinging!” and he jumps off the back steps and runs, fearless, into the darkness, positive that his father is out there.  He runs straight to me and says, “Let’s swing!

As I push he and Quinn I wonder how I can be like that; how can I run into the darkness, believing my Father is out there, waiting for me with some ethereal and eternal swing set.

The first step, I suppose, is to jump off the back steps.

I get into my car in the morning and listen to a chapter of The Bible on my iPhone, hoping and praying that concentric circles ripple out from every decision I make and affect those around me in positive ways.  I pray that my decisions influence my children, who influence the world.

Remember, every free thinking world changer had a dad.  And remember, if you’re reading this and you are a dad, it is your responsibility to create and inspire change, not only in your family, but in your world.  You are a guiding light, a beacon and the Make-Or-Break point for each child in your life.

There are no excuses for being a bad example.

Grab your children, embrace them, and send them out into a dark world that needs compassion.

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KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 7

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I’m filling up the sink with hot water to do some dishes when Quinn says, “Let’s go swing, Dad!  C’mon!  Let’s go swiiiiing!” and I say, “Quinnie, I really need to do these dishes,” and the final word hasn’t even left my mouth before I realize the utter absurdity of this statement.  Dishes?  Dishes?!  I have to do the dishes instead of swinging with you?

Gimme a break.

“Well…” I say sheepishly.  “Maybe for just a bit.”

Outside in the back yard, Quinn hops onto the swing and Rory jumps onto the wooden horse and I push each of them in turn until they’re both pelting back and forth at heights and speeds that are beyond reasonably safe.  Quinn shouts, “Higher!  Faster!” and so I do, her head now going totally level with the top of the swing.

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I give her one final shove and she pushes away from me, reaches the precipice and the swing seems to pop and comes down with a jerk that throws her a little off balance.  It reaches its back most position, rises, rises, peaks and drops and she jolts again.  As she passes the lowest point, her feet drag on the ground and she begins to say something that sounds part “Help,” and part scream.  About three quarters of the way up, she lets go of the chains and rockets off the swing and into the air while I stand helpless.  It’s all happening so fast.

She maneuvers through the air like a clown shot from a canon and comes down hard, landing on her butt.  She shouts, “MY BUUUTTTT!!!” and I quickly pick her up and brush her off and, trying to downplay the event, I say, “Are you okay?  Sometimes that happens.  No big deal.  Can you walk?”  She says, “Yeah…” and then crawls onto the horse with Rory.

I give them a round of pushes before Rory says, “SLIDE!  SLIDE!  LET’S GO DOWN THE SLIDE!  C’MON, GUYS!”  And this is how he is at parks with strangers.  “C’mon, guys!  Follow me!  Let’s go down the slide!  C’mon!”

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ABOVE: THE KIDS PLAYING WITH ONE OF THEIR FRIENDS ON THE HORSE… THE HEADLESS HORSE… THE HEADLESS HORSE WITH NO FEET…

So I run up the slide, into the tree house and Quinn and Rory both follow suit.  Inside, Quinn spreads her hands wide open and says, “Welcome to my Little House,” and I look around and say, “I just love what you’ve done with the place,” and she says, “You want some food?” and I say, “Sure.  What have you got?”  She says, “Watermelon,” and sticks her hand into an imaginary box, pulls some out and hands it to me.  “It’s delicious!  What else have you got?” and Rory says, “MALT-O-MEAL!” and I say, “You have Malt-O-Meal up here?” and he says, “Yeah!”

So I ask for a bowl… and how about some sugar?  And some butter?  And some milk?  May I have a spoon to stir it?  Thank you very much.  And then I blow on it and taste it and it is just like my imaginary mother used to make.  I ask Rory if he wants a bite and he says, “Yes, please,” and so I tell him it’s hot and to blow on it first.  He does and eats off the invisible spoon and says, “Mmmmm…”

I ask Quinn if she wants a bite and she says, “Yes, please,” blows on the spoon and then bites my thumb.  “OW! YOU BIT ME!” and she smiles.

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ABOVE: ONCE YOU SEE THE LURKING CREEPER, YOU’LL NEVER NOT SEE HIM.

Rory asks if I want to go down the slide and I tell him we should put the Malt-O-Meal in the fridge and clean up first (the irony being that I’m more concerned about cleaning up imaginary food before play instead of actual, real life dirty dishes).  He says, “Okay,” and takes it from me and, while he’s storing it, says, “It’s gonna be cold.”  When he turns around, he seems to have forgotten about the slide and says, “I’m still hungry.  You want a jelly sandwich?” and I say, “Sure, if you’ve got jelly,” and he says, “Yeah!  I do!”

He hands me bread and he hands me jelly, which I have him open, and then he hands me a knife and I slather the bread good and then cut it into three individual pieces so we can share.  I hand one to Rory and he goes to eat it but I say, “Wait!” and he freezes.  I hand one to Quinn and she cups it in two hands, staring at it.  Finally, I pick up my own slice, so thin it’s nearly invisible, and say, “Let’s clink them.”  This exercise essentially amounts to “Cheers,” or the clinking of glasses.  I taught them the cup thing a few weeks ago and now they like to clink everything from celery to chicken.  We’ve had to instill a rule at the dinner table that there’s only one clink per meal because two clinks is considered bad luck.

I say, “Ready, set–” and we all three say, “CLINK!” and knock our sandwiches together and eat.

“That was fantastic,” I say, “But not very filling.  Do you guys want to go inside and make some mac and cheese?” and they both scream, “YEEEAAHHH!” and we all disappear down the slide, Rory first and then Quinn sitting on my lap.

Man cannot live on imaginary bread alone.

I go inside and, wouldn’t you know it, the dishes I need are dirty.

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KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 8

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I grew up in a small town in South Dakota where the blackest kid I knew was a white guy named Andrew that wore Ecko hoodies on a regular basis and fancied the musical musings of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.  That isn’t to say that the town was filled with racially charged rednecks by any stretch of the imagination… there just weren’t any minorities (save Native Americans) that populated the area…

…until I was in seventh grade.

I remember The Black Family that moved in right across the street from us and the girl and boy, who were cousins, I believe, that began attending school with me.  It wasn’t until this point, me being 12, that I had actually seen a black person that shared my demographic in real life.  My Phys Ed teacher in elementary school was African American and he’d regularly make jokes about having dark hands and light palms.  This was a funny gag when I was a child but it’s only now that I understand what he was trying to do; he was attempting to take an impressionable group of kids and turn race differences into a kind of off-hand joke and show us that it didn’t matter.  He was black but he was just a teacher like everyone else.  He was funny and he had five fingers and we were the same.  He knew that at some point we were going to turn into adults and we would be exposed to all of the nasty stereotypes of racial profiling and the fear-mongering that comes along with it and he was trying to stay one step ahead of the game.

Now, twenty-some years later, the racial diversity is one of the things I love most about Los Angeles.  A day doesn’t pass where my kids aren’t surrounded by at least four different ethnic groups.  In fact, living in Van Nuys, being white actually makes us a minority behind Hispanics, African Americans and varying cultures of Asians.  Side note, I hate that, while I write this, I’m terrified of using the incorrect terminology when describing someone’s race.

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ABOVE: AUDREY’S FIRST BIRTHDAY.  FIFTEEN WIDE!

I took my children to the park today on a Dad-Date and when I arrived, there was only one other fellow there – a half white, half black guy, about my age, who’s son looked exactly like a four year old version of Will Smith.  He had these great big, shiny eyes and that really charming smile that gets him all the parts.

My kids meander over to the slide together and not forty-five seconds pass before Will Smith Kid approaches them, points at a wooden mouse that has been designed into the forest decor of the playground and says, matter-of-factly, “That’s a mouse.”  Rory looks at the kid and says, also very matter-of-factly, “That’s a squirrel,” and the kid says, “Nope.  That’s a mouse.”

And that’s it.  For the following hour, Rory and this boy were inseparable.  They climbed and ran and balanced and jumped and swung and played and when the Will Smith Kid went to his dad to ask for something, Rory followed right along and sat down while they did whatever business they attended to.  Those old song lyrics,  Ebony and Ivory, living together in harmony, pop into my head and I’m not sure if it’s funny or racist.  That R word gets thrown around so often, I feel like I’ve actually been accused of Hating Blacks just because I’ve had the audacity to publicly disagree with some of Obama’s political maneuvers.

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ABOVE: STARING CONTEST.

I sit on a bench, watching the kids and marveling at how easily they integrate with one another – not just racially, but socially.  As far as I knew, neither of them had even asked the other’s name at this point and, even though they weren’t really speaking to one another, per se, there were no awkward silences.  In my head I try to prep myself for Rory asking me why the boy’s skin was a different color.  How would I respond?  What would I say?  How could I be poignant but prose?  I would need to say it in a way that was certain not to minimize The Other Child and not somehow offend the parent.  I end up with, “Some people just have different color skin.  Like shirts.  His shirt if blue and your shirt is red but you’re both the same.”

Of course, neither child asks because neither child cares.  This is 30 years of racial diversity training being projected onto me by myself.

Behind me, the gate creaks and I turn to see an older father walk in with his son, a scrawny kid in a red baseball cap.  The dad says something in Russian and the kid takes off towards the sand pits, carrying a bucket filled with beach toys with him.  He finds some shade, takes a seat and begins to dig.

Quinn leans over to me and says, “I want to play with those toys,” and I say, “Those toys belong to that little boy.  Why don’t you go ask if he wants to share?” and without pause or hesitation, she runs to him and sits in the sand and says, “You want to share?” and he hands her a shovel and then Rory and Will Smith Kid are there and the four of them, from four different backgrounds are all playing together in the dirt.

The Russian Kid, as far as I know, didn’t even speak English.  His dad would periodically shout things at him in that broken tongue that reminds everyone of Vodka and mobsters but the child never said a word.  Just shared and played, happy to have friends.

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Looking about, I keep wondering if I should go talk to the half white / half black guy – Will Smith Kid’s dad – but then I think, “What?  Approach him out of the blue?  Awkward and Creepy.  What do I say?  Ask his name?  What’s he do?  What music is he into?  How old is his son?  And then what?  Awkward Silence.  Maybe he just wants to hang out alone… looks like he’s playing on his phone anyway…”

I look back at my kids, or rather, this group of kids – some new girl has joined the club while I’ve been lost in thought – and I think about all the things I’m trying to teach them and then think that it wouldn’t hurt me to take a lesson or two from them from time to time.

I end up leave without speaking to the man.

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KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 9

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I open the fridge and Rory squeezes between myself and the food, points and shouts, “Eggs!  I want eggs!  Dad, I want eggs for breakfast!” in such a frenzy that I wonder if his mother has been feeding him.  “Uh, yeah.  Eggs sound great.”  I pull out the eggs, the cheese, the jelly, the butter and some frozen meat that I throw in a bowl with warm water to try and thaw out.

Behind me, Quinn walks into the room dragging a doll in one hand and a medical briefcase filled with toy hospital supplies in the other.  She shouts “Baby’s hungry!” and I assume that she is talking about her cabbage patch and not herself in third person… but one never can tell…

I ask her if she wants eggs and she suggests cookies and I say, “How about eggs?” and she says, “Noooooo!  SEEER-EEEE-AAALL!  I want cereal, Daaaaaad!” and I say, “….you want…..eggs then?” and she goes to the cabinet and pulls out some generic brand chocolate cereal.  I stare at the bag and wonder why I’m fine giving her this but battle the cookie.  I make a mental note to purchase something made strictly of bran next time I’m at the store… something with less flavor.

Jade gets down a bowl, pours the cereal, pours the milk and Rory says, “I want cereal!” and I say, “You want eggs,” and he says, “NO!  Cereal!” and I say, “Should I make enough for both of us?  Are you going to eat cereal and eggs?” and he gets really sad, like I’m calling him fat and just stares at the table.  I say, “Rory… you can have both, I just need to know how much to make.  Do you want cereal and eggs?” and he says, “Yes.  I want cereal-” and then he stands up and shouts, “-AND EGGS!”

In a moment of pure inspiration, I fold a piece of bread in half, bite out the center, butter the edges, drop it in the pan and crack an egg into the hole; ah yes, a One Eyed Joe.  I chop up the meat, fry an onion, toss some cheese on the Joe, make some coffee, flop it all onto a plate, jelly the toast / egg concoction, do it a second time and then sit down next to Rory, who’s just finishing his cereal.

“Bone Ape-tit,” I say and chuckle, remembering the popular SNL Jeopardy sketch.  I hand him a fork and ask if he wants me to cut it up but he says, “No,” very adamantly.  I say, “Okay,” and wait for him to change his mind.  He stares at the jellied bread, pokes it once with his fork and says, “I don’t want the egg.  Take the egg out,” and I say, “Too late, pal.  The egg is hiding inside and it is (take a bite) delicious.”

He shoves the fork at me and says, “Cut it, please,” and I do.

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ABOVE: “And this alleged “missing cookie” was what color, you say?”

As Quinn nears the end of her cereal – she’s a considerably slower eater because she stops every few bites to dance (whether there is music playing or not) – I begin feeding her bites of fried onion and sausage until my plate is scraped clean.  “Dad,” she says, “Dad… I want more.  I want more eggs.  I want… One Eye Joke,” and I laugh at her mispronunciation and say, “It’s all gone.  Daddy ate it all… but you could ask Rory for some of his.”

Quinn stares at Rory, realizing her fate rests in the hands of The Monster with Many Mouths and says, “Roar…” and he sticks a chunk of food in his mouth.  “Roar, will you share?” and he sticks another chunk of food in his already full mouth.  I say, “Rory, do you want to give Quinn a bite?” and, instead of responding, he just slams his fork into a chunk of toast covered in egg, picks it up, exams it, places it back on the plate and rubs it around in jelly, having decided that it wasn’t quite up to his standards and then he lifts the fork and……. hands it to Quinn.  With a full mouth, crumbs and debris falling from his slavering maw he says, “Hee yu oh, Quee,” and she takes a big bite and says, “Tank, Roy.”

I give Rory a squeeze and I kiss his ear and I whisper, “That’s such a good boy!  Thanks for sharing!  You’re such a good sharer!  Where’d you learn to do that?  You’re so good!” and then he shoves another glob into his mouth and says, “Roy eaddin goo,” and I translate this as, “Rory eating good,” something else that we regularly applaud them for.  “That’s right!  That’s right!  You are eating good!  Eating good and sharing!  You’re a good boy!  You’re a good brother!” and then he sticks his fork back into the toast and gives Quinn another bite, back and forth, back and forth until the plate is empty and then they both go outside and play while I do dishes.

Mr. Mom.

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ABOVE: ME TRYING TO CONVINCE RORY THAT BEETS CAN’T BE BEAT!

At lunch my wife leaves to visit a friend in Burbank for the afternoon, which means I’m on kid duty solo; a daunting task for someone less experienced but I find that if I just put some frozen peanut butter in the dog’s Kong shell and toss it out in the dirt, they pretty much entertain themselves for an hour or two.

Quinn walks up to me and says, “I need a kiss, I’m going to work,” and I lean down and kiss her and say, “Gonna bring home some bacon?” and she says, “YEP!” and walks over to the jammed baby gate, blocking her from leaving the house and says, “Can you open the door for me, please?”

I laugh and suddenly my internal clock – which is typically wrong – starts telling me that 1pm (nap time) is approaching and I need to get on making lunch.  I grab my phone, flip it on and see that it’s already 1:30…. and I still have to feed them…. and make the food… and they’re not going to be in bed until 2…. oh, dear.

Ah, well!  It’s not everyday that…. I don’t know.  I try to make a reasonable excuse for how behind schedule I am but nothing comes to my mind.  Instead I just mumble something to myself about how play time is educational and then I watch as Rory tries running down the slide, trips, stumbles, falls, hits the grass and does a somersault.  He lays there for a moment before standing up and holding his head, checking for blood.

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I say, “Let’s eat!” and the kids come inside where I start making mac and cheese – that staple of youths and poor people the world over.

As we wait for the water to boil, I pull out my amplifier, plug in my guitar and let Rory strum on it for a bit but he keeps saying, “Too loud,” and turning the knob down, down, down, down, until it’s off and there’s just the natural acoustic noises resonating from the body.  I try to explain the point of the amplifier to him but he seems more intent on just strumming.  Quinn, meanwhile stands in the corner shouting, “Spider!  Spider!  Daddy!  A SPIDER!!” and I keep saying, “Don’t worry about it!” and then Rory has found a giant boot and is putting it on, presumably to smash it.  He stands by Quinn and she points and Rory doesn’t see anything so he gets down on his hands and knees and begins to investigate.

Fearing for them finding a black widow or brown recluse, I put down the guitar and kneel down beside them.  “Where?” and Rory says, “Under mom’s shoe!” and Quinn says, “Under the floor!” and I look around, turn up nothing and walk away.

The noodles are ready, the powdered and processed cheese is dropped in along with milk, butter, salt, pepper and love.  I pour one-third into a small plastic purple bowl for Quinn and one-third into a small plastic yellow bowl for Rory and, because I hate washing dishes, I just eat my portion out of the the pan.

I sit down next to Rory, who hammers through his lunch so fast that I have to wonder if he did hard time in his past life.  He turns to me and says, “MORE MAC AND CHEEEEESE, PLEEEEEZE!” and I say, “Listen… I appreciate you saying ‘please’… but there is no more mac and cheese,” and he drops his fork and wails and says, “NOOOOO!  I want more Mac. And. Cheese! and I say, “I’m sorry, but that’s all we made.  I’m going to clean up now,” and as I carry his bowl away from him, I see Quinn standing on the bench and swaying slowly to no music playing anywhere and say, “Hey, Rory… maybe you could ask Quinn to share a couple bites with you,” and I see her open her eyes, filled with panic, and I say, “… since you gave her all those yummy breakfast bites this morning.”

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This statement has a strange effect on Quinn.  She sighs and sits down and says, “Here, Roar!  You want some mac and cheese?!” and he walks over to her and she feeds him a bite and then another, and then another, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth until their lunch is gone.

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KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 10

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Nap time.

The word rolls off your tongue like honey.

And, just like honey, getting the children to sleep can be a sticky situation.

Jade leaves the house to get the mini-van / family van / mom mobile / chick magnet mucked out and I whistle for the kids’ attention.  They both slam on the brakes of their tricycles and Rory holds up his hand as though he’s about to strike a bargain… the same bargain that he tries to strike every day, every night, everything, everywhere, “Five more minutes.”

It’s a decent grace period and it works out well for all of us so, before he can speak a word, I say, “Five more minutes.”  Now it’s a gift from me to him and not something that he weaseled away.

Both kids turn and place their feet back on the pedals, spending the following 360 seconds spinning in circles.  I finish the load of dishes I’m doing by hand (what year is this??!) and shout, “NAP TIME!” and Rory says, “NO!” and I say, “Yep,” and then walk away.  Twenty seconds later they both come tearing into their bedroom and, so they don’t try to pull this one over on me once they’ve been tucked in, I say, “Do you have to go potty?” and, strangely, no part of me cringes using that ‘P’ word.  It’s become part of my vernacular.  In fact, I even use it when talking about myself from time to time in social settings.

Quinn goes to the bathroom but Rory skips out, instead using his additional half a minute to meticulously line his trains up, back to back to back, which he must do before beginning his next task, whatever it be; bed, dinner, breathing.  Quinn flushes the toilet and I follow her into the bedroom where I find Rory standing on the humidifier.  I tell him to get down and, “Don’t stand on that; it’s not a toy,” and he says, “I was standing on that,” and I say, “I know.  Don’t,” and he jumps into bed under the covers.

I tuck them both in, give them their kisses and say, “If you stay in bed and don’t get up and DO go to sleep – then when you wake up, you’ll get a piece of candy AND we’ll go to the park, okay?” and they both say, “Okay,” so I give them one more kiss, ruffle their hair and walk away… and I’m not even at the end of the hall when I hear them both jumping on the bed and laughing.

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So I turn around and walk back down the hallway and just before I open the door, I suspect they hear my boots on the floor because I hear them both DROP onto the bed and I hear the quick SWISH of covers and when I open the door they both have their eyes closed, feigning sleep.

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Quinn slowly opens her and says, “We sleepin'” and I say, “Yeah, I heard you sleepin’.  Go to sleep,” and then I shut the door and walk away.  I sit down in front of the computer and do the first thing that every parent does when their kids go to sleep… I get on Facebook.  Three posts into my social media binge, I hear the baby gate (which is worthless because they can now open it) swing on its’ hinges and Rory says, “Daddy… I have to go pee,” and, since he’s potty trained and doesn’t wear diapers anymore and only wears pull-ups at night, I get up and take him to the toilet and say, “I asked you, do you remember?” and he says, “I’m peein’!

Shut the lid, wash the hands, pull up the pants and, “Daddy,  my pants are wet,” and I ask, “Did you wet your pants?” and he says, “No,” and I say, “Why are your pants wet?” and, like he does when he either doesn’t understand the question or simply doesn’t want to answer it, he just repeats his original statement but with a little more emphasis.  “My paaants are weeeet,” and then he makes a noise that sounds like an owl coughing and I assume this is his version of a whine.

Take off the pants, take off the underwear, put them in the laundry, get him back to the room and find Quinn standing on top of the humidifier.  “Don’t stand on that!  Get down!  Get in bed!”  My demands are coming in quick, staccato bursts.  “Bed!  Covers!  Sleep!”

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ABOVE: I GIVE HIM A PERFECT ’10’ ON HIS FIGURE 4.

They both crawl into bed and something glistening on the floor catches my eye.  “What is that?” and Rory looks at the puddle of clear whatever-it-is and says, “Rory took this and drank it!” and he points to the humidifier and it’s only now that I notice that the water jug that attaches to it has been placed back in upside down.

I squat by the device and say, “Did you… did you… drink out of this?” and he says, “Yeah, Rory drink out of that and make mess,” and I say, “Ah… oh-kay.  I’m going to go get a towel.  You get in bed,” and I leave and when I return Rory is playing with his trains and I say, “You need to go to sleep,” and he says, “I need to play with trains.”

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I mop up the water, flip the jug around, turn the humidifier on, get Rory in bed with his trains, tuck Quinn in, kiss them both, ruffle their hair, dim the lights, mumble something about the park, shut the door and walk away and then I hear a thunk-thunk-thunk but, instead of going back, I decide to take things to The Next Level.

I don’t like going here but it’s necessary when the little ones simply won’t listen to reason.

We have a baby monitor that hangs near their ceiling and looks down on them, sort of resembling a giant black eye and, since it looks so weird and scary, they are, understandably, afraid of it.  Also, it’s remote controlled so I can move it around, which they really don’t like.  Also, it has a voice feature so I can talk through it, which they really, really hate.

I walk into our bedroom, pick up the monitor and watch them for a minute or two, giving them, what I feel, is a fair amount of grace period to do as I’ve asked them three times.

I watch as Rory stands on the humidifier and uses it as a step to get into bed, where he leaps from his mattress, onto the floor.  Thunk!  And then Quinn follows suit.  Thunk!  And then Rory stands back on the humidifier and jumps.  Thunk.  Quinn stands on the humidifier, preparing for her second jump.

I lean forward and press my finger against the key with the microphone picture on it and say, “Get. Off. That.”  And Rory lunges under his blanket like a rabbit into its hole, covering his head and toes and Quinn drops like the Rapture has hit her and lies completely still, staring at the eye of Sauron without blinking.

I say, “Go. To. Sleep.” and she shuts her eyes and rolls over and pulls the blanket over her head.

I haven’t heard a noise since.

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KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 11

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I wake up in the gray morning hours and have to pee but am afraid to get up because I know if I get up, the dog is going to get up and if the dog gets up, the dog is going to have to go outside and if I open the door to let the dog outside, the alarm system on our house is going to go BEEP-BEEP, which it does to alert us every single time a door is opened and I know that when that BEEP-BEEP beep-beeps, it’s going to wake up my kids and then I’ll be awake and, frankly, I just don’t want to be awake right now.  Sleep is calling to me like a Siren and I don’t know if I can resist.

This says a lot about me as a person.  I would rather allow my bladder to explode than crawl out of bed.

Finally, unable to hold the stretching pressure in my gut any longer I get up, take the dog to the door and BEEP-BEEP.  Now I can hear the kids suddenly start to shuffle around in their room so, instead of going to the bathroom and just accepting my fate, I panic, skip the restroom, race back to bed, close the door behind me, leap under the covers and pretend like nothing is happening.

But, as we all know, sweeping problems under the rug doesn’t make them go away… it just makes for a really lumpy and disgusting rug.

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ABOVE: INSPIRED BY THE “OCCUPY WALL STREET MOVEMENT”, THEY MAKE THEIR MOVE.

The door knob shakes and then turns and in walks the blanketed duo with their usual, “I’m ah-WAKE!” and “Mornin'”.  My wife doesn’t move or grunt or make any acknowledgment of our visitors and I think to myself, “Playing hardball, eh?”

Quinn walks over to me and I lift her up onto the bed and she snuggles in with me while Rory meanders, seemingly aimless, around the room, acting like he’s lost.  I suspect that he’s still in some sort of transitional period when he places the blanket back over his head and begins moping around like a ghost.  “Rory, what are you doing?” I ask, just as he walks headlong into the dresser with a hard thunk.

He lifts up the blanket and rubs a spot in the middle of his forehead.  “Owwwww…”  He walks over to me and switches places with Quinn, who slithers off the bed.  I try to pull him in close but he says, “NO!  DON’T TOUCH ME!” and I’m almost offended because, for some reason, I feel like I’ve violated his bubble in some way.

Suddenly, my wife screams and I jolt upright.  “What’s wrong?!  Is the baby coming!?”  My wife takes a breath and says, “Where did you come from?” and I see that Quinn is standing just inches away from her face, staring at her, waiting for her to gain consciousness.  Quinn laughs and jumps up on the bed and now the party is in full swing.

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Quinn leaps onto my stomach and says, “What does a giraffe say?” and me, stumped, I say, “Uh….” and then I make noises that sound like eating grass.  She repeats the noise and says, “What does a dinosaur say?” and, well versed in dinosaur calls, I say, “GGGRRRRRR,” but it’s really throaty and menacing and not like a dog growling, which is what that word that I wrote looks like.

She repeats the noise and asks, “What does a teddy bear say?” and I say, “A teddy bear says…” and then, trying to imagine what a reasonable and realistic answer would actually be, I say, “Huuuuug Meeeee,” and Quinn says, “Okay,” and then lays down on my chest, wraps her arms around my neck and gives me a kiss.

Good morning?

No.

GREAT morning.

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Mark Pickerel – “Burn the Shrine” Official Music Video

A few months ago I had the pleasure of visiting Seattle and directing a music video for Mark Pickerel and his Praying Hands. I hope you enjoy it.

Directed by Johnny Brookbank
Produced by Nick Antonie

Director of Photography: Chris Harrison
Cam B: Ian Knippel
Cam C: Nate Rogers

Performance Cam Ops: Lonnie Callies & Johnny Podhradsky

Production Manager: Crystal Lane
Playback: Tyson Pickerel

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KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 12

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I think that one of the hardest things for a working father (or mother) can be the thought that you’re not having enough of an influence on your children since you seem to be MIA more often than not.  Turns out it takes a village to raise a child because the parents are both slaving away at 9-5s for the better slice of their life.

Children constantly get equated to a piece of clay – something that can be formed and molded – and I think what’s so interesting about this is that we all picture some potter with his wheel, the lump of formless clay spinning and taking shape and becoming something beautiful – a vase or a mug or a decorative, commemorative ashtray – but we forget that clay is very soft and very pliable and it’s not just the big sweeping movements that change its shape and form.

I remember holding a ball of wet clay in my art class when I was a Sophomore in high school.  The brown mass was sticky and dripping and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, “I don’t know how to be a potter (parent),” and yet, that’s exactly what was expected of me.  Someone had given me this formless object / child and told me to mold it / raise it into something beautiful so that I got a passing grade / created a functioning human adult.

You see what I’m doing here?  I’m creating a simile between my high school art class and raising children.  Stick with me.  Try to keep up…

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ABOVE: ME IN HIGH SCHOOL.  ME, A BAD ASS.

So, I look to my right and there’s this girl over there and she is making, what I would consider, a functioning vase.  It would hold water or fruit juice and it was shapely and pleasing to the eye as well.  She acted with the grace and precision of someone that was born for this.  Me, I stared back at the lump of clay in my paw and shifted it to my other hand and noticed that every little touch I made, altered it.  It was so delicate that even my finger gently resting upon it’s surface would leave a mark.

It wasn’t only the broad strokes that shaped it.  It was also the gentle prod.

Should I be concerned that I’m not shaping my children because I find myself trapped in an office halfway across the city?  No.

When I come home from work, I read with them, I listen to music with them and I play guitar with them.  I explain to them how a record player works and I introduce them to Frank Sinatra and Nirvana.  My son loves a Veggie Tales parody called Lord of the Beans and yesterday I told him there’s a book called Lord of the RINGS that he might enjoy when he’s a little older.

There is a burning fire inside each of them.

Likewise, the burning fire that is inside of me, is music.  I can’t play it very well but I love listening to it, reading about it, going to live shows, discovering and sharing new bands, hanging out in record stores, etc, etc, etc, on and on.  This morning, I walk into the living room in my boxer briefs being tailed by The Boy and I say, “We’re gonna need some tunes, Roar.  Why don’t you DJ this party?” and, naked as a newborn, he scurries across the floor, squats down in front of our record collection and begins to meticulously thumb through each sleeve.

Dean Martin?  No.  Culture Club?  No.  Meatloaf?  No.  Pavement?  No.

He pulls out my copy of Foreign Spells by The Young Evils and says, “I want to listen to THIS ONE, Dad!” and then the record slips from it’s sleeve and hits the hard wood floor and I inwardly cringe and say, “Alright, hand it over,” and he clutches the eight inch square to his chest and says, “No!  Rory do it!” and I say, “Okay, okay.  Rory do it,” and with the agility of a chimp, he leaps over a mound of toys, maneuvers onto the couch, hops through a pile of folded laundry, into the clothes basket and onto the arm of the couch where he is eye level with me.

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ABOVE: TO SEE RORY AND QUINN IN A MUSIC VIDEO I DIRECTED FOR THE YOUNG EVILS, VISIT: https://vimeo.com/59783476

His tiny arm reaches out and he slowly and delicately opens the plexiglass lid.  “Okay, Dad… Okay…” and he tries to take the record off it’s hub but I stop him and say, “Don’t touch that – remember – we only touch the buttons, not the records,” and he says, “Only buttons.  Yep,” and then I bend down to pick up the sleeve for the record that’s currently in there and by the time I stand back up, the Tegan and Sarah album that was on the turntable is now hanging halfway off, the plate is spinning and the needle has been knocked off it’s mount and is just scraping up against hard plastic.  I make a sound like a cat being tossed into a wood chipper and quickly correct all the mechanical travesties.

Rory hands me the record, which I promptly place onto the circular disc and he says, “Rory press it!” and I take a step back as he hits the START button.  The arm rises and the needle lowers and the record spins and he says to me, “Music is here and then goes here and comes out here,” pointing to the needle, record and speakers respectively and, while this isn’t the exact mechanics of the device and is perhaps an over simplistic view, it truly is close enough for me to say, “Yes, that’s right!”

I had explained the process to him once before and now he repeats it before every listening experience like a mantra or prayer.  “Music is here and then goes here and comes out here!”

As the first guitar riffs roll out of the speakers, Rory turns and leaps from the arm of the couch, onto the cushions and begins jumping up and down, his wiener headbanging with him.  He screams, “Jump, dad!  Jump!

And it is in this moment that I realize that I am making a difference in my little piece of clay.  In the few moments that I get to spend with my children in the  morning and in the evening, I am able to leave my thumbprint on them.  As he jumps up and down and laughs, I realize that he’s not just jumping but he’s enjoying the music and he has picked out a very specific record.  I know this because it’s one of two that he always picks.  The other is Nirvana’s Nevermind.  He loves listening to Smells Like Teen Spirit and then jumping and spinning in circles at “that part” in the song that gives you chills every time you hear it.

Now, me, I am opening up a world of music and reading to them and I’m so thankful for that opportunity but I know nothing of sports and hunting and fishing and “man things”, although I am a bit of a fanatic when it comes to camping / sleeping in dirt.

But this, truly, is why it takes a village to raise a child.  I know that I can rely on my brother-in-law, Jordan, an avid outdoors men, to teach my children about guns and hunting and cleaning animals and being a Republican…

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…and I know that I can count on my other brother-in-law, Jarod, a fantastic artist and accomplished architect, to teach my children about art and design and being Liberal…

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…and I know I can rely on my other-other brother in law, Jesten, to teach my children about football and craftsmanship…

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Could I do this alone?  Sure.  I could squirrel this clay into some kind of dish-resembling-object that would hold water.  But that’s not what I’ve been entrusted to do.  I’ve been entrusted to create a beautiful fountain and so I rely not just on myself, but on everyone around me.

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ABOVE: MY FAMILY AT DISNEYLAND WITH MY CHILDREN.

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ABOVE: MY OTHER FAMILY AT DISNEYLAND WITH MY CHILDREN.

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KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 13

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The four of us are sitting around the table, eating stew that my wife has made in the crock pot using mostly leftovers.  It contains taco meat, fiesta chicken, bits of pot roast, grilled elk and a bunch of fresh vegetables.  The word medley comes to mind but I know that it doesn’t quite do it justice.  I take a bite of what I identify as beef and say to my wife, “Listen…babe…” and she turns to me because that’s always my opener when I’m about to strike a bargain that weighs heavily in my favor.  “Listen…babe…” I say, “What if you clean up here,” and I wave my hand over the table and my bowl of Carnivore Delight, “and I’ll go put the kids into pajamas and put them to sleep.”

“SOLD!” she screams and we all stand up, parting ways.

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ABOVE: QUINN’S LATEST INVENTION.

In the bedroom I strip the kids out of their filthy, booger stained, food caked, dust-crusted clothes and begin to dress Quinn in her nighttime wares, which usually just consists of a pull-up since she refuses to keep her clothes on.  Rory, meanwhile, hides under a blanket and lies completely still.  I turn to him and say, “Where is Rory?  Quinn, where is Rory?  Here’s his blanket but I don’t see Rory,” and I hear a little giggle slide out from under the mound of softly undulating fabric.  “Well,” I continue, “I guess we’d better just start jumping up and down on his blanket and hope there’s nothing under there that will get crushed!”  There’s another soft giggle and then Quinn is hopping up and down on the bed, seemingly to “warm up” and I pause to wonder if she actually knows her brother is hiding under there.  I assume that she does and is simply excited to “get her crush on.”

I stand up and count to three and throw my entire body weight down onto the little blanket, hunching my back and forming a small enclave in my torso for him to – sort of – fit into.  I jump once, twice, again and again and again, and Rory is laughing and Quinn is pulling at my shirt because I think she wants me to move so she can have a turn to stomp on his body.

I pull the blanket back and I say, “What the H-E-C-K are YOU doing under there?!”  And he laughs and grabs his blanket and pulls it over his head and, always a sucker for the unexpected, instead of repeating the process I ever so quietly lie on the wooden floor and slide myself under their bed… waiting… waiting… waiting…

Eventually I hear Quinn giggle and I can see a shadow moving on the floor and so I let out a little growl and I hear her squeal and then Rory sits up and says, “Dad?” and I thrust my arm out from under the bed and curl it onto the top of the mattress with an enormous snarl and both kids scream and I grab Rory’s leg and begin pulling him off the bed.  His little hands grab for the bed frame but it’s useless because me, being a monster, am much stronger than a defenseless little boy.  I yank him off the mattress where he collides with the floor and laughs and I say, “Come to me, little boy, I am going to eat you!” and he screams and says, “Don’t eat me, Daddy!” and he kicks out of my hand and I try to grab him again but he’s gone too far and I don’t want to expose myself to the light (what with being a monster and all) so I go for the little lamb that’s wandering around at the back of the herd.  My arm curls back onto the top of the mattress and I hear Quinn scream and then, because there’s only about eight inches between the floor and the top / bottom of the bed where my nose is, I actually feel her jumping because the slats are mashed into my face but it stops quickly enough because ah-ha!  I’ve got her and I pull her off the bed and this little goat isn’t getting away.  I drag her under the bed kicking and screaming, her fingers pressing against the wooden floor until she’s been gobbled up like some little character in a fairy tale.

I shout, “Jade!  Come find Quinn!” and my wife comes meandering in, expecting to see me but only finds Rory on the floor, still in his dirty clothes saying, “Monster got Quinn!” and my wife says, “Uh… Quinn?” and I say, “Shhh!  Quiet!  Don’t say anything.  We’re hiding!” but Quinn says, “I’m right HERE, Mommy!” and, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before but my children are really horrible at Hide-and-Go-Seek.  Quinn shrieks, “I want to hide ah-gain and Rory says, “I want to count!” and so he goes with my wife and I quickly pull the venetian blinds aside and make Quinn stand tip-toe on the very edge of the windowsill and hang on for dear life while I try to make the blinds look as natural and unlumpy as possible.  Ultimately, I end up just leaning casually in front of them like, “What?  These blinds?  Don’t mind them.”

Twenty seconds later Rory comes tearing back into the room with my wife close behind.  Rory says, “QUINN!  QUINN!  WHERE ARE YOU!?” and Quinn, she is, if I do say so myself, in a fantastic hiding spot.  Very unexpected and, as of last night, previously unused.  It’s very difficult to find new places to hide in an 8×8 box with one bed, a tent and a bookshelf in it.

I hear Quinn mumble something behind me and I say, “Shhh!” and Rory says, “QUINN, WHERE ARE YOU?” and then my wife says, “Quinnie, where aaarrreee you?” and my daughter just can’t take it anymore.  She leaps from the windowsill, out of the blinds, over my shoulder, onto the bed, pops up, throws her arms in the air and shouts, “I’M RIGHT HEEERRREEEE!” and Rory says, “Found you!” and I say, “Uh… sort of.”

Before I can say, “Okay, bedtime,” Quinn runs out of the room and says, “My turn to count!” and really, truly, it wouldn’t be fair otherwise.  The only problem is… where do I hide this kid?  In the closet behind old clothes?  Top of bookshelf?  Under pile of dirty laundry?  No… I’ll sneak him right out of the room!  I turn to grab him and his little feet are just sticking out from under the bed and I say, “Rory, get out here,” and he says, “Daddy, I’m hiding!” and I say, “We already hid there!  C’mon!  I got an idea!” and I grab him by the ankle and yank him out and, while he’s hanging upside down like a possum I silently tip-toe into the bathroom and set him down oh so carefully into the tub and I gently reach up and with the lightest fingers, I begin to slide the curtain to the right, in order to block us from — Rory grabs a clumsy handful of the shower curtain and yanks it — SWISH!  SWOSH!  CRUMPLE!

I hear Jade laugh in the other room and I know we’re busted.  Go team.  Quinn shouts, “–nineteen…twenty!  HERE I COME!” and then she runs past the bathroom and into the bedroom and I think, “At least we fooled the little one,” but before that thought is even out of my mouth Rory is shouting, “QUINN!  WE’RE IN HERE!  IN THE BATHROOM!  IN THE SHOWER!” and I’m trying to hush him but he’s laughing and wrapping himself up in the clear shower curtain and pressing his face into it.

Quinn runs into the bathroom and points at me and says, “FOUND YOU!” and I say, “Never choose a 2 year old to be on your team in the International Series of Hide-and-Go-Seek Olympics.

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ABOVE: “And thank you for Mommy and thank you for giraffe and thank you for diarrhea.  Amen.”  And that’s straight from the mouth of babes.

Properly worn out, we lie the kids down – Jade and I together, even though she cleaned up the dishes already – and we say our prayers and we shut off the lights and we give Quinn her baby and Rory his trains and we turn on the music box / pony that plays It’s a Small World and say, “Goodnight!” and, “We love you!” and, “See you in the morning!” and, “Sleep tight!” and, “Bye-Bye,” and, “We’ll leave the door open just a crack, okay?” and then the ritual and the routine is over and it’s just the two of us, my wife and I, and our family is one day closer to the arrival of the baby and I try to imagine how much fun it will be to play Hide-and-Seek with an extra person.

We turn and, instead of going into the living room, we slowly tip-toe into our bedroom and turn on the baby monitor and watch the kids go to sleep on the tiny black and white screen.

“Found you,” I whisper.

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KID COUNTDOWN, DAY 14

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In 14 days, my wife and I will be experiencing a major shift in our family.  A major shift.  Tectonic-Plates-Glacial-Sliding-Landslide type shift.

We’re having a child.

And not just A child, but our THIRD child, which means two things.  First and foremost, it means that we are socially irresponsible by having created more people than will replace us when we “pass“.  BUT… in my defense…you should see the “next generation” of kids growing up around my block.  Trust me when I say that my over population is nothing more than my most desperate and valiant effort to help the human race not dip into The Darkest Abyss.

Secondly, and more importantly, it means that my wife and I are now outnumbered in our own home.  The child-to-parent ratio is all screwed up and there could, for all intents and purposes, be some sort of uprising; an overthrow of government if you will; a Coup.  I’ve read Treasure Island, I’ve read Mutiny on the Bounty, I know how these things work!

I’ve got my eye on you Little Baby Boy or Girl… Papa will be watching you from Day 1…

Now, backstory out of the way, I’d like you to take a journey with me.  For the next 14 days, I’m going to document the final two weeks leading up to The Great Shift.  We are, as most parents are, eternally thankful for our Little Nugget and excited to see if she actually ends up being a she or if he ends up coming out male-wise.  In any event, there is an element of bittersweet aroma in the air because, as all parents know, there is a family dynamic that is in play and whenever you add something to it, the previous dynamic is lost forever and a new one takes its place.  We currently have a set of twins that are, obviously, the same age and we have routines and inside jokes with them (and about them) and we have those quiet, special family moments and those public outings and adventures and these things won’t be gone, but our dynamic, our Everyday that we’ve gotten used to over the last two years, will be transformed.

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ABOVE: RORY (LEFT) and QUINN (RIGHT).

I had this really fantastic couch in college.  I bought it at a Goodwill and paid eleven bucks for it.  I loved that couch and, often times I actually just slept on it.  I even named it.  Couchy.  It stayed with me in the dorms, into my first apartment and then into the duplex my wife and I eventually moved into and then into the first house we rented.  It was well worn and soft and I knew just what to expect.  But one day we had to buy a new couch and we took ‘ol Couchy and set it out on the curb and a garbage truck came and stuck two giant steel poles through it’s back, lifted it into the air and then slowly lowered it into a series of spinning blades that spit stray wood chips out into the street, leaving me behind with only my memories and tears and this awful final image.

The new baby is sort of like that… only without the spinning blades and steel spikes and tears.

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ABOVE: COUCHY BEFORE HE WAS TURNED INTO TOOTHPICKS, A YOUNGER VERSION OF BOTH JADE AND MYSELF AND A LIVING VERSION OF MY DOG.

Let’s get started, shall we?

DAY 14

This morning I was awakened by a loud banging on my bedroom door.  The handle jiggles and I blurt out some incoherent sentence about grapefruits that I’m sure made sense to whatever dream I was having.  The door knob wiggles again and I hear someone shout at me, “Hey!  Hey!  Door’s locked!” and I say, “I know.  I did that to keep people out,” and then I twist the knob and standing there is my son, Rory and my daughter Quinn, both of them holding onto their favorite blankets.  I don’t want to call them security blankets because, well, there’s really nothing secure about them; in the event of a fire, you can’t crawl under them.  In fact, they’re stuffed with cotton so they’d probably be the first thing to just go up like a magician’s flash paper.  POOF!

Quinn shouts, with an energy that should be outlawed at 7:15 in the morning, “I’m ah-WAAAKE!” and then Rory echoes her with, “Mornin’!”  He has this built in drawl that he throws into that word and that word alone so that he sounds like a legitimate cowboy of yesteryear.  I imagine him tipping his hat to me and rolling a piece of wheat in his teeth as I flop back into bed and cover myself up, hoping that they’ll just crawl in behind me and go back to sleep but instead Quinn puts her foot on my cheek and says, “Daddy, I want to snuggle,” and I understand that this is less of a request and more of a threat.

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ABOVE: WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T LOOK INTO HIS EYES…. I SAID DON’T DO IT!

I pull the blankets back and she crawls under the covers and I shut my eyes and think, “I’ve done it!” but then Quinn is poking my eyelids and laughing and saying, “Daaa-dee,” and I say, “Whaaaaat?” and she says, “Daaaa-deeee?” and I say, “I’m sleeeeeeping,” and she says, “No, you’re not.”

Rory begins jumping on the end of the bed and screaming and then he’s dropping onto his knees and landing on my shins and I’m saying to him, “Uck – ouch – eek – oh,” and he’s laughing and I’m wondering if anyone has ever considered building a sort of king sized coffin that adults can sleep in; something with a lid…

I roll over and grab my book from the nightstand, a copy of Big Sur by Jack Kerouac and try to read a few pages in order to transition into the day.  “Oh, we readin’?” Quinn asks me and takes a look inside my book.  No pictures.  She jumps off the bed, runs into the living room and returns with a small handful from her own private library, wherein she crawls next to me, props herself up on a pillow and begins to examine each page with such silent intensity that I’m positive that she is legitimately reading.  Time passes, pages turn, Jade makes a couple pig-ish snoring noises and Rory shoves a toy cow in my face and says, “THAT’S A PIG!” and I say, “That’s not a pig,” and he says, “THAT’S A COW!” and then he arranges each of his animals onto one corner of the night table and doesn’t touch them again.  He’s a very meticulous little boy, similar both to my sister Theresa and my brother-in-law, Jordan, a man who used to iron his money when he was younger.

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ABOVE: THE FORCE…. OF OCD… IS STRONG IN THIS ONE…

I grab my phone to check the time and realize… “Dang, it’s just after 10am.”  At some point in the last three hours when I thought I wasn’t sleeping, I must have dozed off and the kids just laid there (lied there??) and we all slept in until late and, now that I think about it, I do feel pretty refreshed.

Jade sits up and says, “Should we eat french toast for breakfast?” and my kids love french toast (who doesn’t?) and so they scream and say, “YES!  FRENCH TOAST!” and then they’re gone and then my wife is gone and I’m left lying in bed with my book, thinking about standing up.  I look over at the empty bassonet we have in the room and I realize that soon…..

…soon the idea of sleeping in until 10am will be a luxury reserved for bachelors, rich people and the homeless.

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