Tag Archives: dad

KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 0

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Dear Rory and Quinn,

I remember a day, not that long ago, when your mother and I were sitting on our kitchen floor together late, late at night, staring at our photo wall and reminiscing over various trips, adventures and explorations we’d gone on together.  This was back before she was pregnant, back before I had cancer, back even before the thought of children was something “real”.  This is back when we simply spoke of these things in thoughts that mostly began with, “Imagine when…” and, “Could you ever imagine…”

She asks me how many kids I’d like to have and I ask her if she’d rather have a boy or girl first.  She tells me she’s always wanted a daughter with bright red hair and I tell her I want to learn to camp and be an “outdoors” family.  I lie down and she puts her head on my stomach and I run my fingers through her hair and I shut my eyes and try to imagine what our child would look like; a game I’ve never been very good at; like staring into a crystal ball, all I can make out is fog and blurry figures.

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She asks, “What if we can’t have kids?” and I say, “We’ll steal one.”  She laughs and my eyes float over pictures of me with Kaidance and Jade with Clementine and the four of us – two humans and two dogs – driving down some unmarked dirt road with cows and pasture in the background.  Jade asks me if I think it’ll be weird and I say, “I don’t know,” and she says, “Like, this… what we’re doing.  What we are.  This dynamic… Will it be gone forever?” and again I say, “I don’t know…”

She sits up and looks at me and says, “But it’s kind of exciting, isn’t it?  It’s like, Hi, welcome.  Welcome to our weirdness.  Bring your own special brew and add it to the mix,” and then she mimes stirring a cauldron.  She says, “Our kids are probably going to be kind of weird, huh?” and I say, “Hopefully.”

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She sighs happily and lies back down and the two of us stare at that photo wall for the next five years while pictures come and go and people come and go and friends come and go and disease comes and goes and then you’re here, infiltrating our home and our hearts and our photo wall, taking over everything, one frame of existence at a time.

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I remember Quinn rolling over for the first time in the living room.  I remember her rolling over for the second time on the changing table and me thrashing out blindly in the dark and catching her halfway to the floor.  I remember teaching Rory to walk on our Christmas vacation in Montana; me on one side of the room and Grandma June on the other, Rory waddling and weaving back and forth.  I remember the first time Quinn walked all the way to the grocery store and back all by herself… I mean without assistance.  Obviously, I didn’t send my one year old to the store alone…

I remember when you both started sleeping through the night and I remember teaching you your colors and how to count to ten and basic animal noises.  I remember when you each started properly pedaling on your tricycles and climbing up and down stairs and jumping off of furniture and brushing your own teeth and potty training and speaking in complete sentences.

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I have had so much fun with the two of you over the last two and a half years and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for us.  You two are the absolute coolest people I know and you make me laugh every single day and bring more happiness to me than I probably deserve.

Thank you for reminding me of compassion and humanity and kindness.  Thank you for showing me how to accept those around me without asking questions.  Thank you for showing me a renewed sense of adventure and for challenging me to be the best man and father I possibly can be.

Thank you.

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Now, I need you to do it again.  I need you to help me.  Tomorrow a very special package is being delivered into our care and I need the two of you to help your mom and I make sure that he or she feels welcomed into The Weirdness.  I need you to show The Baby everything you’ve shown to me.  I want the four of us – two adults and two children – to lie on the kitchen floor and stare at that photo wall and watch a new invader populate the frames with us.

Tomorrow, our lives are changing forever.  Together.

Tomorrow is an enormous day.

Shut your eyes… can you picture their face?

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KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 1

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Lying in bed last night, Jade and I staring at her belly, we watched The Baby shift and move under her skin.  With only two days to go we’re in The Zone wherein her belly most resembles something out of a cheap sci-fi movie.  Her guts shift and move, maneuver with liquid ease.  The right side is solid with ridges and divots; running my palm over her stomach feels like she’s swallowed a handful of oddly shaped rocks.

In the other room Quinn screams.  I ignore it because… well, this is what Quinn does sometimes.  She doesn’t necessarily want or need anything… except to see if one of us will appear at her whim.  When Jade and I still owned Kaidance (our large Rhodesian Ridgeback for any first time readers) we could hear her bark and know what she wanted or needed.  If there was someone in our yard, coming through our gate, she had a very aggressive, violent sound.  If she wanted to go outside or eat, she had a very high-pitched yip.  If she was happy that we’d returned from a long day out, she would just have this very middle of the road bark, neither aggressive nor naggish.

Don’t be fooled.  Infants and toddlers are no different than your run of the mill domestic canine.  When they cry, they tell you exactly what they need and you either give it to them or you don’t.  And sometimes, in my opinion, what they need, is to be ignored.  If I go running in there in the middle of some fit they’re having, the only thing I’ve taught them is that if they cry long enough and loud enough that it is I, and not they, that will finally break.  No, thank you.  This is MY house!

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Now, I can already hear the rustling in the seats and the hands going up and the objections being raised.  Listen.  I’m by no means suggesting you fully ignore your child.  Children are small creatures who need our help to survive but… I’m just saying that we, as adults, should just make sure that they need our help before we go in and smother them in it.  Baby bird needs to learn to fly on its own.

In fact, even as I write this, Rory sleeps while Quinn sits in their room saying, “Dad!  Moo!  Dad!  Dad!  Dad!  Moooooooo!” and I can’t tell if she’s hoping to genuinely garner my attention or if she’s mocking my weight, hoping to lure me in with insults.  In any event she does not need me and if I ran to my children at the first fart they made, I’d spend all day chasing smoke.

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Quinn and Rory have been sleeping through the night since they were six months old and we have people approach us on a regular basis and say, “You guys are so blessed to have kids that were born such good sleepers,” and we just smile and nod but let me say this now…  These two kids showed up at my front door with a predisposition for screaming and full moon parties.  In fact, for the first few months we owned them, we were sure they were at least partly feral (and in most regards, they were).  Children are wild animals – I say this with complete sincerity.  They run on instinct alone and it is our job to train them, not the other way around.

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The Belly twitches and adjusts itself, sending ripples and waves over the surface.  I lean down and place my face on her stomach and kiss her taut skin.  I hum a song; just random notes that I think sound soothing.  I place my finger in her belly button and say, “BEEEEEP,” and something hits me on the cheek.  A fist?  A hand?  A foot?  An elbow?  A buttocks?  I have no idea.  The Baby just slapped me across the face with a tiny brick and Jade says, “You just got slapped!” and Iaughs.

Quinn screams again, louder, same tone.  I roll over onto my back and ask Jade if she thinks it’s a boy or a girl.  She says, “I don’t know.”  Quinn screams one more time and then nothing, silence.  A moment later I hear her little feet march back to bed, I hear springs squeak under her weight and then, truly, silence.

I say, “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if it just had completely jet black hair?  Just totally left field from The Children of the Damned?”  Jade nods and The Baby shifts again.  I say, “AH!  I’m so flipping excited!  I just want to cut you open and take a look!” and she says, “Uh… don’t, though.”

She says, “Are you going to watch the C-Section?” and I say, “I hope so!  I want to!”  I say, “Let’s put a smile on that belly!”  Jade says, “Are you ready for this?” and I say, “It doesn’t matter, does it?”

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I pick up a book and Jade tinkers on the laptop for a bit and my eyes start to get drowsy, heavy, sleepy.  The words on the page start to blend together and I read and reread and reread the same paragraph two, three, four times.  Just get to the end of the chapter, I say to myself.  One… more… page…

Everything goes dark and then Quinn is screaming.  Screaming.  Not crying.  Her voice is in full tilt wailing, red faced, most likely.  The world comes back into focus and the blurry edges turn crisp and everything is sharp.  I hop out of bed, certain that someone has finally actually broken into my house to steal my children.  I open the bedroom door and jog down the hallway, reach out to push open the door and…

…Quinn is lying in bed, chest down, holding her head up and howling (again, picture a feral wolf) while Rory is dead asleep.  I stand in the doorway and say, “What are you doing?  What’s wrong?” and she says, “My leg!  My leg is stuck!  Dad!” and I imagine a coyote in a bear trap sounding not dissimilar.  I swing open the gate, saunter over to the bed and, assuming she’s somehow entangled her foot in the iron bars, I give her a tug but… no, she doesn’t move.  She truly is stuck.  Rory, still sprawled out on the bed, doesn’t even stir when I jostle the mattress getting up and down.

I lean back, grab the head board and pull once, hard.  The bed slides across the floor a few inches, scraping along the fake wood, and I reach down, grab her by the waistband on the back of her PJs and lift her into the air, free of danger.  I say, “Are you okay?” and she says, “Yeah,” and I say, “Good.  I love you.  Go to bed.”

Rory still sleeps.  Neither of them make another noise until morning.

I go back into our bedroom and lie down next to Jade.  I put my hand on her tummy and say, more to the baby than to my wife, “You see that?  Take note.  You’re next, little fella.”

I kiss the baby and go to sleep, thinking about the restless nights that await me later this week with midnight feedings.

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KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 2

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I put the kids in pull-ups and dress Quinn in her jammies before chasing Rory down, pinning him to the ground and wrestling him into his footies.  He screams and laughs and swats at me the entire time while I do impressions of Macho Man Randy Savage and say, “I’m gonna come at ya from the top rope!  And I’m gonna give you the elbow!  And I’m gonna drop you to the mat, see!  I’m gonna pin you down for the big ah-1-ah-2-and-ah-3-count!  The ref is going to ring that bell and I, NOT YOU, will be the reigning Heavy Weight Cham-peen of the World!” and Rory stands up, clothed in black and white stripes and points at me and says, “………..NO!” and then me, in my regular voice, I say, “Roar, you gotta work the crowd a little more.  They came for a show.”

Quinn jumps on my back and I spin her around my body like a swing dancer, dropping her onto the wood floor.  I grab her by the feet and say ONE-TWO-THREEEEE! and then I push her as hard as I can, sending her sliding across the room.  Rory shouts, “MY TURN!” and lies down.  I say ONE-TWO-THREEEEE!” and I slide him as hard as I can even though he only travels about half the distance since he weighs about twice as much.

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Quinn comes back, Rory comes back, Quinn comes back, Rory comes back, Quinn comes back, Rory lies down and points under the couch and says, “I put that there,” and I say, “What’s that?” and he says, “Look.  I put that there,” and I lie down on the floor and stare under the couch.  I see a bunch of dirt, a couple of toys, an old string cheese wrapper and a container of sour cream.

I say, “You, uh… which one did you put under there?” and he says, “Blue one,” which, of course, is referring to the sour cream and I say, “When did you do this?” and he says, “Don’t know.”  I shudder at the thought of what could be inside the container.  I grab the lid and pull it out, leaving a streak of wetness in its wake.  Jade gags and says, “Just throw it away,” but I say, “No… we should look.  We need to look.  We need…. to know… what’s in here,” and she says, “No.  No we don’t,” but I say, “Could still be good,” and then I rip the cap off and wish I hadn’t.

Rory says, “Is that gross?” and I say, “Yes.  Very,” and I throw it away.

When I come back Rory is playing with Clementine and I sit down and then briefly look away to watch Quinn when he suddenly screams and starts weeping with such force that I’m certain Clementine has finally bit him.  I look.  No blood.  Clementine slowly walks away (human emotions make her very uncomfortable).  I say, “What’s wrong?” and Rory says, “AAAAHHHH!” and I say, “Did you poke yourself in the eye?” and Rory says, “NOOOOOO!” and I say, “What happened?” and Rory says, “CLEMENTINE….. LICKED……MY EYE!” and sure enough, his eye is all red and irritated from the dog’s rough tongue.

I say, “It’s okay.  She was probably just trying to drink your tears.  They keep her young”.

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I push Rory across the floor again and I push Quinn across the floor again and then Rory lies down but says, “DON’T THROW ME IN THE FAN!” (referring to a box fan on the floor with no cover and spinning blades exposed) and I say, “Uh…. okay….” and I wind up to slide him but he twists his head at the last moment to look at the fan and then his whole body sort of follows suit and he just kind of rolls instead of rocketing out and I say, “You can’t turn your head when I’m doing this – you have to – you have to just stare at the ceiling,” and he says, “No…… no….. don’t throw me in the fan,” and I say, “Rory.  Why would I throw you in the fan?” and he says, “No…..” and I say, “Besides, even if I WANTED to throw you in the fan-” and Quinn lies down in front of me as I say, “I couldn’t.  Watch, I’ll even try to throw Quinn in the fan – I can’t push you guys that far,” and then Quinn is standing up and saying, “No!  No!  Dad, no!  Don’t push me into the fan!” and I say, “I’m… okay, I’m sorry I said that.  I’m not going to push you into the fan.  I was just making a point that if I wanted to, I probably couldn’t – or rather – couldn’t.  Watch.  Quinn, lie down.”

She does so and I say, “ONE!  TWO!  THR–” and she tilts her head to look at the fan and I stop because I’m just going to send her rolling head over heels if she does that and she says, “Dad?” and I say, “Yes, Quinn?” and she says, “Don’t throw me into the fan.”

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I stand up and say, “It’s bedtime.  Let’s get outta here,” and Rory runs into the kitchen and opens the fridge and says, “I want this,” and he holds out a bag of small peppers.  I open the bag and hand it to him, watching as he examines each color in turn, finally settling on a fat orange one.  “THIS one,” he squeals, handing me the bag back before running off.  Quinn enters the kitchen, stares at Rory with his pepper, stares at me holding the bag of peppers and I’m of course expecting her to ask for one so I sort of freeze but instead she just runs off.

I zip up the bag, open the fridge and put them back… just as she runs back in all alone and says, “Dad!  I want a pepper!” and so I pull the bag back out and open it up and hand it to her and she examines each color in turn before fixating on a specific red one and then vanishing into her bedroom where I follow closely behind.

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Inside, I tell them to get in bed and that we’re going to say our prayers and then read a book and they both get very excited about prayers when we’re going to read a book afterwards so they curl in very close to me and repeat everything I say with equal measures of earnest and enthusiasm.

After prayers are over I read a story about The Bernstein Bears trying to find a place to have a picnic while constantly being plagued by garbage trucks, school children, mosquitoes, rain, lightening and locomotives.  At the end, in case you were wondering, they have a picnic at their kitchen table.  Full circle.

I close the book and say, “THE” and both children in unison shout, “END!” and then I pick up Quinn’s cabbage patch doll and I cradle it in my arms and I say, “Shhh…. shhhh,” and I bounce it up and down and rock it back and forth and say, “Baby wants to sleep.  Are you both ready for the new baby?” and I say, “Rory, do you want to hold the baby?” and he says, “Yeah,” and so I hand it to him and he cradles it and says, “Shhh…” and then throws the baby at Quinn and I say, “We probably shouldn’t do that.”  Then, while I pick up the doll and begin to cradle it again, Rory strikes out at it and I wonder if this is going to be a recurring theme over the next few weeks.

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I hand the doll back to Quinn and I grab Rory and say, “I’ll cradle you!” but he’s not very happy about it and starts screaming and thrashing about so I just start chewing on his ear and he starts laughing and hides under his blankets.  I give Quinn eye kisses (left eye to left eye, right eye to right eye, butterfly kisses) nose kisses, (nose to nose, eskimo kisses) and then kiss kisses and then do the same to Rory before turning their music box on and saying goodnight and walking away.

For the next 30 minutes I sit in the living room, rubbing Jade’s back while we watch Parenthood and listen to the gentle noises of the children not sleeping.  Eventually, I stand up and walk back into their bedroom to find them both sitting on the floor playing with toys.  They both scurry under the covers like gophers but, instead of instructing them, I kick off my boots and lie down, curling them both close to me, Rory at my side, snuggled in the crook of my arm and Quinn on my chest, listening to my heart.

I rub their backs and I think, “This is it.  We’re in the final stretch now.”

And, like the finale of a great drama, it is the perfect way to end things.

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KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 3

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Today is a fairly special day that, similar to Columbus Day or Victory Over Japan Day, will be celebrated without streamers, kazoos or national parades.  It is, as most things of this nature are, bittersweet.

Today is our last day as a family of four before The Process begins.  Obviously nothing clinical is being thrown into full swing at this point but The Family is beginning their slow descent towards us, circling the fresh meat like buzzards.  KAW!  KAW!

My mother-in-law, whom I love and respect dearly (June, you do read this blog, correct?), will be gracing us with her wisdom, compassion, charm and, overall humanitarian efforts as of early tomorrow afternoon.  I make a point to mention this because there is a strange transformation that becomes children when their grandmother (the Royal grandmother, not specifically this one) is in presence.  The children seem to… how do I say this politely… they seem to forget that I am their father and that Jade is their mother.  Or rather, they seem to forget that we are alive… or that we ever existed… or that I’m standing right next to them asking a question.

Hello?  Hello?  Echo?  Am I a ghost?  Boo.

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I say, “Candy,” but it has no effect.  I say, “You want to come sit with Da–” and the kids are gone, disappeared around the corner where Grandma is washing dishes.  I am being one-upped by a piece of cheap ceramic with carrots crusted to its surface.  At this point a fish holds more appeal than I do.  I say, “Let’s take a bath!” and they say, “Grandma!  Bath time!” and I slump my shoulders and walk outside, dejected, feeling like the cocker spaniel from Lady and the Tramp.

I know why the caged bird sings!

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At night I say, “Bedtime!  Let’s go read a–” and Quinn will shout, “BOOK!” and I’ll say, “Yeah!” and she’ll say, “Grandma, read me this!” and I’ll decide that, hey, if ya can’t beat em, join em!  So I sit in the bedroom but both kids just fight for space on her lap while I sit awkwardly nearby, the third wheel, listening to a fairy tale that I bet I could read better just give me that shot!

Eventually I stand up and leave because I feel like the lurking man hiding in shadows in the children’s library and it’s even giving me the willies.

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But I also know that, come Monday and come the new child, that it is she that will smooth over the rough spots and it’s she that will make sure our kids don’t feel neglected in those first weeks and it’s she that will put this little baby on such a high pedestal that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to reach it.

I try to imagine Rory having a son or Quinn having a daughter or Baby 3 having a family so large they get their own reality show and I wonder what type of grandparent I will be.  I realize that parenting isn’t over when my children turn 18 or 20 or 30 or when they move out or get married or become President of their Local Elk’s Lodge.  It ends when… it doesn’t end.

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You just hope that you raise your children into the most fruitful adults they can be because at some point you’re going to have to sit back and watch them do it themselves and watch them make your mistakes or learn from them and when you get an opportunity to attach yourself to Third-Gen-You, you’ll do so with every bit of energy you have.

You’ll steal your grandchildren away for as long as you can and hug them and read to them and life goes on and on and on.

Do I begrudge The Grandparents for stealing my children away from me, sending my pride reeling into the streets and damaging my ego beyond repair?

No.

I actually plan to do the same thing to my kids in about 25 years.

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KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 4

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When you have children, two things will drastically change forever.  The first is, obviously and, in a broad sweeping movement, your life.  You will forever feel as though part of your heart has been trapped outside of your body and is meandering around the world alone and you’re just trying to do everything in your meager power to protect it from all of the dark and nasty stuff that’s out there.

The second thing that will forever change is your dreams.  And I don’t mean this in that goal oriented I want to own a house and be mayor of a small rural town sort of way.  I mean it in the Nightly Subconscious Sleepy Time way.

Goodbye Dreams About Being Buried Alive And Falling From The Sky And Being Chased By Beasts Who’s Description Escapes You In The Waking Hours Except For The Words, “It was so real… It was just… horrible… and so real.”  Hello Dreams About  Your Children Teetering On The Brink Of Death Just Out Of Your Reach And Ability.

It is a regular occurrence for me – a regular occurrence – that I dream of my children playing on railroad tracks that I can’t reach, a train barreling towards them, or the two of them crossing a bridge far above a violent  river that begs to swallow them up, me knowing that they’re there but having no idea where the actual location is.

Last night I dreamt that I had enlisted in the military (the first red flag that should have alerted me that this was nothing more than a nocturnal movie) and was stationed on a base that was built right on the ocean.  A large interconnected system of excessively swervy roads allowed you to navigate the premises but the edges weren’t guarded and you were constantly in danger of sliding off the side.  Perhaps you’ve driven on tall mountain roads that presented a similar danger.  The concrete was always wet from the constant onslaught of waves and spray and the roads curved in nonsensical U-Turns as though Dr. Seuss had designed the base’s layout plan.

In my dream I was an even worse driver than in real life and my brakes never seemed to work.  The U-Turn would approach fast and I could never slow down enough to make the hard cut and… over the edge I would plummet, into the cold waters below, screaming and bracing myself for impact, over and over again.  It never got easier.

I swim to the shore, make my way to my barracks and deal with this very strange human drama that is going on.  I believe somebody had stolen something and then there was a kind of murder and it was being blamed on me even though I hadn’t had anything to do with it… or maybe I did… it was that fuzzy dream logic that didn’t matter.  As of this point in the dream, I’m sure most of these details are stemming from my dad currently being stationed in Afghanistan (military base) and me worrying about someone breaking into our house and then writing – yesterday – about having to attack them with a knife (the murder).  Where the water motif is coming from, I have no idea, although I do have a fear of open water that I don’t often talk about.

I leave my barracks and begin walking down one of the long pedestrian bridges when I hear a familiar scream.  My daughter is crying and I can hear water splashing and my stomach drops and I start running, my feet sloshing through small puddles.  For whatever reason, someone has placed various cargo boxes along the path that I’m forced to climb over – there’s always something blocking my way!! – and when I finally reach the edge of the bridge, I hear Rory crying far to my left and I see Quinn floating face down and not making a sound.

Which one do I choose?  My dream has forced me into a horrible corner and makes me decide.

The moon is casting a blue glow over the scene and I’m having difficulty making out anything further than a few feet away.  I know I can physically see Quinn and I can physically see that she isn’t moving.  I can still hear Rory, although I have no idea how close (or far away) he is.  I leap into the cold, rippling water, submerging myself into darkness, grab Quinn, flip her onto her back and paddle relentlessly back towards the bridge which, of course, has no kind of ladder or steps to clamber back up, but rather a slippery and mossy side that I can’t seem to find footing on.

I hold my breath and kick my feet as hard as I can, lifting my duaghter into the air and lay her on the surface before turning my attention to Rory and scrambling after him.  I see his head bobbing above the water and then dropping back down.  I dive under, find him, embrace him and begin to pull him towards the side but he fights me, not wanting to be held or constrained or helped.  He’s scared and he’s screaming and pushing against me, shoving his hands into my face and his feet into my stomach and I keep thinking I’m going to lose my grip on him (forever) and he’s going to slowly just sink to the bottom of the ocean.  MY SON!  His face goes underwater and I try to lift him up higher.

Finally at the side I somehow (somehow??  More dream logic) manage to pull him onto the bridge along with myself where I find Quinn lying, totally still but awake.  Awake and alive.  I put them both in the car (where’d that come from?) and begin to drive the three of us back to the barracks, doing my best to keep them safe but… the road is too slippery and my breaks aren’t working properly and the turns are too sharp and I’m going over the side again, both of my children strapped into car seats.  GOD HELP ME!!!

And I wake up.

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KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 5

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Jade comes outside carrying four bowls, each filled with two macadamia nut cookies topped with chocolate chip ice cream, and distributes them evenly amongst us; two adults and two children.  The gentle glow of a fairly pathetic fire lights our faces and my wife says, “Rory, did you help Daddy start the fire?” and Rory stares at the flames and says, “Uh……. no,” and so Jade says, “Did Daddy start this fire all by himself?” and I say, “Uh……. no.  I had the assistance of a chemically soaked and scientifically engineered fire log.”

For all of my “camping knowledge”, I swear to you here and now that I would die in the woods, freezing to death far before starvation ever had its chance at me.  I would die with plenty of fat on my bones and a book of matches in my hand.  I’m fairly confident in my arsonistic abilities in regards to crusty leaves and old Kleenex but a log?  Where’s the lighter fluid?

The children finish their ice cream first and Rory says, “MORE!” and Jade says, “No.  That’s all.  It’s all gone.”  Rory says, “All gone?” and stares into the fire for moment.  He looks back up at my wife and says, “Two more cookies inside,” and I look at Jade and she says, “He’s very astute…”

The children stand up and jump on their tricycles and peddle around in the dark for a few minutes before my cruel urges begin to rise up inside of me.  Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved to scare people.  I’d hide in the dark basement and wait for my mother to come down to do laundry or I’d moan through the vents to send my younger sister into a frenzied panic.  Once I put a full sized mannequin (with arms) in my brother-in-laws room and then watched from a distance as he entered in the pitch black.  I’ve never heard a grown man scream like that.

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ABOVE: RORY WORKING ON HIS “WAIT & LUNGE” MANEUVER.

The kids circle and circle and circle the backyard and, just as they disappear behind the table, I leap from my chair and hide behind a piece of wood and… as Rory emerges first from the other side, I crawl out on my hands and knees and say, “YARRRR!” and he jumps and jolts sideways and slams on his brakes and then starts laughing and says, “You scared me, Dad!  Hahaha!  You scared me!” and so, feeling left out, Quinn shouts, “Scare me too, Dad!  Scare me too!” and I say, “Oh… I will… but it will be when you least expect it, Little One…” and they circle and circle and circle and I see my opportunity and it all plays out the exact same but, when I crawl out and yell, “YARRRR!” Quinn just stares at me, nonplussed.

This simply will not do.

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ABOVE: QUINN PRACTICING HER “POUNCE AND HOWL” STANCE.  GREAT FORM.

I crawl back to my chair and stair at the fire and wait… luring her into a false sense of security.  Around and around and around… a few more passes… yes… now is The Time.

I sneak from my chair and hide behind the plank and squat down.  I pull my cardigan up over my head so only my mouth and teeth are exposed… and I wait…

Before long she innocently weaves around the corner and, instead of crawling, I lunge out and, instead of shouting, “YARRR!“, I make a noise that sounds like a hog giving birth (C-section, no pain meds) and I gnash my teeth and shake my tongue and she swerves and jumps and look me right in the mouth and says, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!”

It is The Scream that would have been worthy of the Psycho shower scene.  Her eyes go wide and her jaw drops open and her wail pierces the night.  I pull my hood down and say, “I scared you!” and I laugh and she says, “YOU SCARED ME, DAD!” and I say, “Ask and you shall receive,” before I sit back down to finish my ice cream.

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ABOVE: RORY DEMONSTRATING “DEMENTED MANIAC” WHILE QUINN DISPLAYS “EMOTIONLESS MONSTER”.

The moon rises higher in the sky and the children both yawn and we put them to bed, say their prayers, say goodnight and shut the door before heading back outside to chat the early evening away.  Jade brings out the remaining cookies and we split them and talk about how observant The Boy is.  We play a couple rounds of Words with Friends on our phones and we listen to light jazz by Miles Davis.  She tells me about a parenting book she’s reading and I tell her about a phrase I heard that went something like, “Those who chase security will never find freedom and those who find security have only found purgatory.”

An hour or two passes and the fire dies and I spray the embers with a hose and go inside where I find Jade standing in the kitchen, totally still, a look of panic on her face.  I say, “What?  The baby?” and she says, “No,” and then I hear it too.  There are footsteps in our house.  I reach into my pocket and pull out my knife, snapping it open with a shink and wondering if I have what it takes to stab somebody.  Do I go for their neck?  Guts?  Shoulder?  I’ve always imagined stabbing somebody very apologetically like, “You broke into my house and now I have to defend myself and I’m very sorry because this might hurt just a little bit.  Okay?  Are you alright?  I’m probably going to stab one more time!”

Jade slides open the kitchen drawer and pulls out a butcher knife as tall as she is and I suddenly have blade envy, staring down at my little razor.  It’s not the size, it’s how you use it, I think to myself, pokey-pokey, and then the two of us slowly separate (classic horror movie move!  What were we thinking!?)  She goes around into the living room and I head for the hallway.  I hear the light tap, tap, tap of her feet on the hardwood as I open our kitchen door as slowly as possible, bracing myself for some long-haired drug addled intruder to burst out of the darkness and try to bite me (in my imaginings, most intruders have long hair and try to bite).

I step into the hall just as Jade steps into the other end (our house is designed in a large loop) and we both shrug.  She turns to the bedroom and I turn to the bathroom and then we hear it again.  Footsteps.  In the kid’s room.

In… the kid’s room.

I gently swing open the door and find Quinn marching around, pulling her blanket – she sees me, lays down on the hard wood and pulls her stuffed quilt over her head.

I say, “Go to sleep, Little Lady,” and I shut the door thinking, “You SCARED me, Quinn.”

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ABOVE: A HORRIFIC PHOTO OF A DOLL TAKING A BATH.  GOODBYE, DIRT.  HELLO, NIGHTMARES.

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KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 6

1

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.

2

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.

3

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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