Awesome Toy: DO NOT TOUCH!

We have a toy that gets assembled no more frequently than semiannually. It’s not the Big Loader or the Big Big Loader (both of which exist). No, it’s the Big Big BIG Loader. It’s not very hard (for an adult) to put together and get working. Addison could probably do it on his own by now. But it was Colin who wanted to break it out this time, his first truly conscious experience of it.

Once everything’s in place, it’s actually pretty fun to watch. Two front loaders (or scoop lifts), a dump truck, the top loader thingamajig (I’m not exactly a construction vehicle expert), and a whole series of machines that do some pretty complicated things for a toy intended for children three years and older.

Colin loves it. He can’t stay still or quiet while he plays with it. But he also can’t play with it. He dances around following the truck, narrates the action, and positively glows as the action unfolds. But if he touches anything, the whole process breaks down.

Being an active learner who loves to be part of the action and use his hands and physically engage his environment, Colin doesn’t do super well with just standing by and watching. So, while this toy is something he loves, I kind of hate for him to love it. If he’s near it, it will break. The well-oiled machine will not work. The system will become chaos.

But when I walk into the room and say, “Oh no, it’s broken again!” he just smiles as big as his face can stretch and says, “Let’s fix it!”

And that’s just a great way to look at life, so he wins.

Run, Shmun. We Sit for Dunkin.

I’m no fan of going out to eat with children in tow. There are families who can do it. There are places any family can do it, but that usually involves eating in front of an animatronic rodent. I don’t like eating in front of rodents, animatronic or otherwise, and my family isn’t one of those that sits and waits, quietly enjoying the ambiance of a grown-up establishment. I’ve heard a lot of suggestions for places that are great for families. You know why those places are great? Because we aren’t there.

When we go out to eat, the conversation never stops. Unfortunately, the context of the conversation is usually, “Sit down! Sit up! Face forward! Don’t stab your brother! Give the nice lady her dentures. Do you have to go potty? NO, NOT HERE! GO!”

Stuff like that.

But there is one place we can all go at the same time without the aid of creepy, bug-eyed, motorized mice. No playland, no toys, no music, no distractions. Just donuts.

I kid you not, when the boys walk into Dunkin Donuts, they are on a solitary mission: get donuts. They wait in line. They order themselves. They stand patiently. They sit when they’re told. They don’t get up. They respond kindly to every question asked of them. They eat every bite and make every effort not to drop a single sprinkle. They don’t push. They don’t yell. They just eat donuts.

Heather and I? We breathe. And also eat donuts, which is nice too.

I don’t care if it takes longer to eat there. I don’t care if the food is bad for us. I don’t care about anything when we’re in Dunkin Donuts other than the fact that my sons behave impeccably from the moment they set foot in the parking lot. On even the worst day, it’s a guaranteed moment of tranquility. You don’t pass those up if you can get ’em.

Once we leave and the sugar rush sets in, the ironclad fortress of peace and harmony becomes a delicate bubble, but for those few minutes, we’re a family who can eat out. Yes, I know Dunkin Donuts is not eating out. It’s just a place we can pretend we’re not all-out loco.

The Cubs Can’t Hit. Ever.

I haven’t had much to say about the Cubs lately, but if you haven’t read this over at ACB, you should do that right now. Unless your happiness is inextricably linked to the Cubs’ offensive production. If that’s the case, don’t read it. Erase the link and block the website. You may never smile again.

From Bears to Tears (try not to let that rhyme)

The risk of building anything is the fear that it will fall.

On Sunday, Addison cried. Three times. Three. Separate. Times.

No, seriously, this was about 10 seconds later. Addison totally saw it coming.

The first time was immediately after the Bears lost to the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. Through the entire second half he had been begging to play Wii, but when the game was over he disappeared. I figured he had given up. A few minutes later, I heard the whimpering.

He had buried his head in the pillows of the guest room bed. He was sobbing. I asked if he was okay. He was not.

“I wanted the Bears to win!” He was as angry as he ever has been when denied Wii time, which is pretty much the zenith of his anger.

“I know. Me too.” Pause. Realization. Peace. “But they lost. I’m sad, too.” It felt good for me to say that. Any angst I had over the loss (and their was plenty) had dissipated at just admitting the fact and trying to help him do the same.’

“I hate the Packers. They’re stupid.” Here’s where it was my job to tell him we don’t use words like hate and stupid and that we have to learn to lose graciously.

“Yeah, they are. But they won.”

“I wish Sam Shields [who caught the game-clinching interception] wasn’t even on the field. And B. J. Raji is a big, fat stupid-head.” Heather would later inform Addison that it isn’t polite to call people fat, but I stood with Addison in this case; not because it’s polite, but come on, the guy weighs 350 pounds, and that’s part of his job. Let’s just face fats. Not a typo.

“I know. But we have to lose with grace and dignity, Addison. They won, and it’s not like a video game where we can retry until we get it right. It’s over, and we have to accept it.” Again, this felt good to say, and I was really hoping it was a lesson he could learn with some completeness much earlier than I did (seeing as though I was essentially just reaching that awareness myself).

It looked like it hit him, like something profound had dawned. And he asked me the question of timeless importance: “Can I play Wii?”

I’ll accept that as moving on.

The second bout of tears was a direct result of Colin running off with Addison’s glasses. Addison needs his glasses. For seeing. Normally it doesn’t produce tears (although the retaliation often does). I figured he was just a little raw. Poor kid. I don’t like seeing him cry, but I did remind him that sometimes it’s good to cry just to express the sadness and acknowledge its significance. Back to Wii.

The third time, though, was the most troubling. Heather was still helping clean up after a party we had long since departed (around halftime of the aforementioned football disaster). The boys and I were eating dinner. Mid-bite, Addison broke out into sobs again. I figured it was the Bears grief resurfacing. Nope.

“I miss Mommy!”

“Me too, buddy, but she’ll be back soon.”

“I hope she makes it.”

I assured him that she would. I also told him that I have thoughts like that, too, sometimes. I didn’t go into detail beyond that, but I do get afraid of car accidents and sickness and miscellaneous acts of God. I convince myself it’s just foolish imagination, but whenever Heather and the boys return from any absence whatsoever, they bring a rush of convincing relief along with them. Prior to that rush, though, Addison needed more reassuring.

So we talked about what we love about Mommy. That she’s so full of love we can’t take it. That she has a heart so big and strong and generous that we always feel like we’re the most important thing in the whole world. That her hugs are magical. It helped. We were happy. But we were very, very happy when she got home.

We all (and if you don’t, please nod along as if you totally do) fear missing out on what we wish for and losing what we have. Even seven-year-old boys. And thirty-five-year-old boys. I was glad to be reminded that it’s okay to cry about it and just as important (but not necessarily more so) to move on.

And this morning, I was pleased to see how Addison had chosen to move on. Three days later. Last night when I checked on him, he had put his glasses back on. That usually means he’s been reading. This morning, Heather found a copy of I Love You Forever under his pillow. You know the one. It’s about holding on to who you love, not to stop them from moving on, but because you’ll never really let go.

Of football games, yes. Of Mommy, no way. Regardless of what it is we might lose, though, that’s no excuse not to keep dreaming, keep loving, and keep ready for the tears that are all too certain. It’s cool, though, they’re worth it.

10 Things Chicago Athletes Aren’t Allowed To Do

As a favor to new Cubs Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, Fernando Perez, and returning fan favorites Kerry Wood and Reed Johnson, I thought you’d like to know the rules. They aren’t all that complicated, nor do they make a lot of sense, but they are undeniable and unforgiving. These 10 things, you simply cannot do and expect to be accepted by the Greatest Fans in the World ™.

10. Show too much emotion.
9. Show too little emotion.
8. Get injured.
7. Play while injured and make your injury worse.
6. Play while injured and try to avoid making your injury worse.
5. Miss time due to injury.
4. Put off surgery too long.
3. Accept a no-trade clause much less invoke it.
2. Have dinner.
1. Under any circumstances point out that any of this is the slightest bit silly or that the Greatest Fans in the World ™ include temperamental, irrational, racist, ignorant, or otherwise mercurial members among their ranks.

Just don’t do any of that and also play awesome, and this town will love you to pieces!

Quade to Treat Players Like People

Last weekend Mike Quade said something that, while repulsive to some, was actually quite brilliant. Here’s the quote, courtesy of Paul Sullivan:

“Are you going to deal with ‘Sori’ the same way you deal with (Blake) DeWitt?” he said. “No.”

Steve Rosenbloom thinks that’s ridiculous.

Maybe he was intimidated by big-money players. Maybe he wanted them to say nice things to help him lose the interim tag. Whatever, the fact is he didn’t bench Ramirez when he gave up on some defensive plays and generally played dodgeball in the field. Nor did he bench Soriano for an utter and typical lack of hustle out of the batter’s box. What’s worse, Soriano’s stylin’ came in Quade’s first game. Soriano stayed in the game. Soriano was in the lineup the next day. Message to Cubs players: Become a big-money veteran.

There’s a reason Steve Rosenbloom works on his own. He and other like-minded (is it right to use the word mind about someone who refuses to think?) individuals opine that the only way to communicate to players is by benching them. Fredi Gonzalez is apparently one of those people. That’s how he handled Hanley Ramirez. It worked out well. I’m sure the righteous indignation made his final month of employment the very best ever.

Maybe in some phase of the Industrial Revolution, it made sense to treat every laborer exactly the same. Keep everyone at the factory in place. Forget individuality. The commoners can have their dignity when they go home, but at work you treat them like two year olds and put them in time out when they’re naughty.

But this isn’t 1832, and the Cubs aren’t children. Enlightened employers realize that impartiality doesn’t require blanket uniformity. Respecting the individuality of each team member calls for some amount of personalization in the way you relate to them. That holds true for any workplace. The need for specialization is even more pronounced in baseball.

Think it’s important to treat everyone exactly the same? Why on earth would Quade do that? The Cubs don’t pay everyone the same. Alfonso Soriano makes about 45 times as much money as Blake DeWitt. If Mike Quade wants to use playing time to send a message stronger than that, he’ll have to bench Soriano until the year 2078. If he wants to send a real message, however, he needs to communicate like an adult.

Some people viewed Starlin Castro‘s benching last year as a punitive act, but I think Quade’s decision was a bit more sophisticated than that. A player will respond to his own mistakes much differently when he’s 20 than when he’s 35. The time off gave Castro a chance to slow down his reaction and deal with it thoughtfully (or “reflect,” as Quade put it). I don’t know if it was the right move, but it was a thoughtful one, not the loud-mouthed, drill-sergeant approach Rosenbloom is calling for.

Benching Ramirez and Soriano would do nothing but disrespect them. Beat reporters, columnists, and bloggers have no obligation to show respect to players, but Mike Quade does. Treating multi-millionaires (or $400,000-aires, for that matter) like children isn’t macho, it’s mindless. I’m glad Mike Quade understands that.

Hitting the Emotional Target

A writer’s arsenal consists of necessities, luxuries, and preferences. I contend that there are really only two necessities: a medium to record the words and a chair to anchor me in front of said medium. Having a defined topic and all the facts I need to write about it intelligently, those are luxuries. Everything else—home vs. Starbucks, alone vs. in a crowd, pen & paper vs. computer, online vs. unplugged, business casual vs. business pajamas—is a matter of preference, and the choice usually depends on the subject, tone, and purpose of the copy.  One of the big preference battles for me is silence vs. music.

I almost always choose music over silence when I write. (At the moment, it’s an iTunes genius mix based on “Forever My Friend,” by Ray LaMontagne.) Some of my friends absolutely cannot write with music in the background. It’s too distracting, they say, and I agree it can be. But music tends to put me in the proper emotional context to write with an immediacy and focus I just can’t produce on my own.  To me, hitting the emotional mark is one of the most crucial objectives for any writer.

Some instances don’t require a lot (or any) emotional consideration whatsoever, but those aren’t the forums I typically tackle. I write appeals, articles, stories, devotionals. The facts of the matter usually comprise the skeleton of the copy—without them, my words are just a flabby mess of sappy sentiment— but emotion is often the meat on the bones and always the heart and soul of what I write. You don’t need music to write like that, but I prefer it. And that’s not really the point. Continue reading “Hitting the Emotional Target”

American J-Lo

I’m more than a little depressed and disappointed that the only thing that can animate this blog from dormancy is American Idol. Seriously, at the end of last season I didn’t even like this show and I didn’t really like myself for ever having watched it. Any chance of retaining me as a viewer was obliterated when Fox announced Steven Tyler and J-Lo would be replacing Simon and the other non-Randy judges.

That’s it. The show’s over. I figured it would get canceled out of general hilarious outrage. Then I could finally go back to hitting you with the occasional anecdote about my kids or thoughts on baked goods and whatever.

Then came the commercials. Randy Jackson. Steven Tyler. And J-Lo. I realized that a) they really are going through with this and b) I like looking at J-Lo. I don’t mean that in a Steven-Tyler-likes-looking-at-slender-young-girls kind of way, I just don’t object to the sight of Jennifer Lopez, okay? Shut up.

Suddenly it dawned on me that my American Idol viewing had done a Brett Favre. I mean come back from retirement. My American Idol viewing doesn’t take pictures of its junk. It doesn’t limp off the field after interceptions. It doesn’t . . . you know what, this metaphor isn’t helping. I realized I wouldn’t be able to stop watching AI just yet, okay? Shut up.

So there it is. Back on my TV. There are people who look like Oompa Loompas and who want to be Miley Cyrus and who sound like jake breaks. I don’t care. There’s still the occasional emotionally manipulative story and three or four people who can sing. And J-Lo. I’m watching it.

Shut up.