What Got Into Him?

Warren Dunes
It's a big dune. And it was too hot to scale it on this particular day.

Colin cracks me up something fierce.

Today, we went to Warren Dunes in Michigan, and the entire way there he was going on and on about how he refused to go in the water. If anyone mentioned water or swimming or waves or Lake Michigan or dihydrogen monoxide, he would yell out, “I’m not going in the water!” Heather suggested he might change his mind. Colin insisted, “I don’t want to change my mind!”

We got it, Colin. You’re not going in the water. I thought Heather might snap because he wouldn’t. Stop. Saying it.

So the first thing he did upon arrival at the beach? He ran away from us, straight into the water, where he stayed for about an hour. Raising this kid is going to be fun. Well, it already is.

When we left the beach and headed to the parking lot, Colin (and Addison) insisted on something else, though this was of the wantingto actually do something variety. Colin couldn’t wait to go on

The Hippo waterslide
Estimated height: 6 billion feet

the big bouncy thing. Only the big bouncy thing wasn’t for bouncing, it was a gigantic water slide. A gigantic, inflatable water slide. In the past, Colin has tended to share my abject fear of heights, so when he came upon the apparently wobbly plastic steps leading up the mountainous chute of watery doom fun, I figured he would turn away shivering and refusing to set foot on even the lowest step.

And then he climbed it. The guy manning the stairs had to hold him back until it was his turn. Colin climbed the stairs so fast (and pushed past the slowpokes waiting at the top) that by the time I got to the other side to take his picture, I heard someone say, “Ha, look at this kid!” as a squealing blond-headed ball of glee whizzed by.

We let him and Addison go again and he cut in line again so quickly I missed the photo op then, too. Now, I wasn’t surprised that Addison was willing to do this. He would jump out of a plane onto this slide without being asked twice. I did get some video of Addison’s second turn down the Hippo. Well, it was about the second half of his second trip down. It’s not really worth the upload, but trust me . . . they both had lots of fun. And the slide really was 6 billion feet tall. Give or take a few billion feet.

The point is this: something about the call of the water turned my three-, wait, no, four-year-old son into a fearless bundle of derring-do. So now I’m officially the chicken of the family. I guess I’m cool with that. I just wish this whole kids-growing-up thing would slow down a bit.


Angry Birds

This post: not about Angry Birds, the app I’ve never played. I have enough addictions without adding an angry one. No, this post is about anger and how infectious it can be.

So why birds? Maybe because birds of an angry feather stay the flock together. Maybe because when people get really angry, they flash a bird or two to express their rage. Or maybe I just thought the title Angry Birds was a good way to draw traffic. Who can know?

So where was I? Oh, yes, anger. Anger is sticky. I usually save my anger for two groups of people: those who I love most and those I don’t think I’ll ever see again. I’ll yell at the guy in the car in front of me who waits two seconds after the light turns green before getting started. (It’s green, you moron, move . . . TODAY!) I won’t yell at the pizza guy who doesn’t realize my pizza has been sitting on a shelf behind him for 10 minutes. I won’t yell at my neighbor for failing to clean up the giant pile of firework crap he blew into my yard, but I will yell at my kids for not eating their dinners expediently. Or I’ll raise my voice.

See, that’s another thing about anger. We don’t admit to it. I’m not angry, I’m frustrated. I’m not yelling, I’m raising my voice. I’m not punching the wall, I’m looking for studs with conviction. DON’T LAUGH AT MY DANGLING MODIFIER. I wish there wasn’t this stigma with anger. It should be okay to say, Yeah, I was yelling. Yes, I’m mad. Because it feels as though half the madness of anger is the emotional combustion that results when we feel prohibited from expressing our anger in the first place.

But permission to be angry isn’t the solution to all our problems. In the “people I don’t know” category, I could tone down my rage just by relaxing a bit about trivial things like traffic and Cubs baseball.

The real challenge, though, is the anger we feel and express at home within our families. I get angry when my kids don’t listen, when they disregard rules they’ve known about for years, when they get angry with each other. Yeah, that last one’s fun. STOP YELLING! But anger feeds itself. I get mad, she gets mad, they get mad until we’re all mad. Those are the best days..

I think (I don’t know, it’s just a theory) that the best way to diffuse anger is not to use it. I mean, when something makes me angry, I tend to use that anger to fuel my response. Hence the yelling. Or the biting sarcasm. Or the breaking stuff. But when I do that, I pass my anger on to the next person. It’s crazy how it works. If I yell at someone, nine times out of nine and a half, I’ll get yelled at in response. And the yelling dissipates slowly once we all realize we’d rather not be yelling. We really would enjoy the not yelling, if we could give it a try. We all know this. But when we all begin sharing our anger so generously, it’s rather difficult to return to stinginess.

I think I’d find myself less yellish if I could use my anger only as motivation to act or speak, not as fuel or the guiding force. Like, I’m angry, I should do something. Why don’t I take Thing 1 aside for a chat about throwing food. Or, why don’t I think up a reasonable punishment. Not, I’m angry, ROAR, SMASH!

It’s just so difficult sometimes. Okay, always. Our family’s been a gang of four for four years now, and each of us has gotten really adept at knowing exactly what makes the other three angry. I suppose we should be learning what makes us all happy. And we do know how to make each other happy. We’re happy more often than angry. But when the anger does inevitably flare up, it’s just a matter of taking the time to think before responding. Maybe.

I think it’s possible. You know those people who always manage to stay cool no matter how angry everyone else gets? They make me so mad. But I guess they’re on to something.

UPDATE: I figured I’d add a Friday Playlist of one to this post: Broken Edge, “No Shelter,” from the Karate Kid soundtrack. Because it’s so angry.

Addison at the Bat

The scene was slightly sullen for the Cheesetown Six that day.
Just half the roster found the time to lace ’em up and play.
For May was full of rainout dates, and June was soggy, too,
But after this rescheduled game, their season would be through.

The score? It was ignored in this, the littlest of the leagues.
Wins and runs meant nothing to the boys in blue fatigues.
Just three outs separated these delinquents from their summers.
They’d find new noncommittal games, march to beats of different drummers.

But one young man in royal blue had outcomes on his mind.
This last at-bat would bring rewards of the most glorious kind.
He competed not for trophies gold, he played not for a ring.
He swung not for the fences, no; he yearned for Burger King.

The deal he’d struck that morning with the Devil . . . well, his dad,
Required he get a hit that day, and the boy already had.
That knock was on the infield, though, and the contract specified
His hit must reach the outfield to warrant burgers broiled (not fried).

But after two trips to the plate, young Addison was miffed.
Against one kid and then a coach, the fledgling slugger whiffed.
So if he failed in his last chance to torch the outfield grass,
His royal BK dining opportunity would pass.

“You can do it!” yelled the baseball moms to Addison, “You can!”
And to acknowledge he’d heard their cries, he gestured with his hand.
He strolled with nonchalance to his place beside the dish.
His carefree stance belying the stark fierceness of his wish.

He gripped the bat with fingers strong as tree roots just the same,
But he tapped the plate politely (when pounding is his claim to fame).
He barely glanced as toward the catcher’s mitt the baseball soared.
And when the umpire yelled, “Strike one!” mighty Addison looked bored.

“That was low!” his father may have shouted with shock both loud and vehement.
And Addison, mighty Addison, may have nodded in agreement.
But the protest didn’t faze him. He just turned with cool resolve.
He knew that after four balls sailed, pitching duties would revolve.

There are no walks in this league, see. Wildness has no reproach.
The eight year olds, after hurling four strays, give way to the coach.
So despite his father’s urging, “Swing if it looks good to you!”
Addison just struck a patient pose as the umpire called, “Strike two!”

Reality took over. Burger King hung in the balance.
Addison assumed a piercing glare worthy of the late Jack Palance.
No tapping this time: POUND, POUND, POUND, his bat attacked the plate.
He’d seize the moment now and ditch his customary wait.

“You can hit this kid, I know it!” yelled the deal-making dad.
The pitch zipped down the middle. Our hero swung with all he had.
His bat ripped through the atmosphere; it could have leveled trees.
The fielders’ hats flew off their heads from the manufactured breeze.

A roar, a gasp, a popping glove, then dust and hopes did fall.
The crowd sat shocked that his ferocious swing had missed the ball.
But just a fraction of a second after sullen silence fell,
The quiet shock was shattered by a most triumphant yell.

“THAT,” his father shouted, “WAS A SWING WORTH BURGER KING!”
And his son’s soul went soaring like an eagle on the wing.
Though that dad wished his son had hit the ball, he’d never tell.
For Addison didn’t just strike out . . . he struck out really well.

Mighty Addison, King of Burgers
Mighty Addison struck out. And was rewarded with Burger King.

Role Model

It’s funny, Addison’s going on a field trip today. And it’s not the type where they go across town and look at flowers or pumpkins or Christmas trees. It’s the kind where he’s got to ride in a bus for an hour. A lot of parents (and maybe one of the ones in this house) are pretty nervous about sending their kids so far away, but I’m not at all. Should I be? Eh, he’s fine. The truly frightening moments for me come when he’s with me.

One of the scariest realizations I’ve ever come to as a father was when I saw how determined Addison was to imitate me. I would make him laugh, he’d try to make other people laugh. I like the Cubs, he’d say he liked the Cubs. He’d wake me in the morning to see I slept without a shirt, off went his shirt. I’d lose my temper, he’d do the same. It’s not always cute.

By the time Colin came around, I knew the drill. I had to stay on my best behavior at all times. (Right. That happens.) But I knew that there was a strong possibility there would be two mini-me’s running around. Only I was dead wrong. Colin doesn’t imitate me (not nearly as much as I expected). No, Colin . . . imitates Addison. Addison likes Transformers, Colin loves Transformers. Addison sleeps with his sleeping bag on his bed, Colin does the same. Addison plays games on the Wii, Colin watches intently. (Sometimes this flattery annoys the living crap out of Addison, but that’s another story.)

Basically, seeing someone who patterns himself after me develop a behavior clone of his own reminds me of this development from the movie Multiplicity, in which Michael Keaton’s character, Doug, discovers that one of his clones has cloned a clone.

I don’t mean Colin puts pizza in his wallet. It’s just that now I’m realizing that any personality defects I may have passed on to Addison are only going to multiply as Colin learns to imitate them. This probably means I’m going to have to actively involve myself in my sons’ lives to try to help them develop normally or something. I should get on that.

Super Dooper Uper Shmooper Great

Best compliment ever? (Also, I like this picture because it’s not black & white, it just looks that way.)

Last Friday I had the chance to read to Addison’s class. I read a few poems from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and one from Runny Babbit (the flime really tew). It’s a ridiculous amount of fun to go into his classroom and to have kids remember who I am (and to see Addison readily admit that I’m his father). They hang on every word, their eyes light up like bulbs, and they laugh at every funny voice and poetic punch line. They are wonderful children. I could totally be a teacher for 15 minutes every day.

But maybe the best part about it is the thank-you notes they send home with Addison after the day is through. In the past, all the kids have signed a couple of cards, but this time they each wrote individual notes and drew pictures. It did my heart good to read them. One in particular made me smile a little extra wide. I’m sure by now you’ve seen what it said.

The girl who wrote it (I’ll call her C to protect her anonymity) is a twin. The C could easily stand for Cute. Super dooper uper shmooper cute. She always makes a point to thank me for coming and say something adorable. One time it was, “You’re a very nice person.” This time she added, “I really enjoyed it. Please come again!” But the note was the best. I don’t know how kids can form such a glowing perception of someone in such a short amount of time, but it makes me want to live up to it.

I doubt it’s possible, but I’ll try.

Passive Observation

He cuts paper now. If you had any idea how many times he’s asked for
and been denied the use of scissors, you’d know it’s a pretty big deal.

There are milestones of development only a parent notices. Or cares about. Sleeping through the night, first words, learning to walk, potty training—these are things a parent’s friends and family members express genuine joy about when the kid finally achieves success (or frustration when the process isn’t going so well). I get more excited about less obvious stuff.

Like syntax and grammar.

Yesterday, Colin pretty stubbornly demanded that he watch a Veggie Tales movie in the van. On the way to church. As we left church. Maybe during church. The answer was always No. But he persisted in his pleas for  Lord of the Beans. Even the prospect of getting Dunkin’ Donuts didn’t help.

He said, “I don’t want donuts to be eaten. I want movies to be watcheded.”

The dude likes to add an extra -ed to the ends of words, but I was actually pretty impressed with his unorthodox use of the passive voice. I’ve never heard him use that phrasing before, and it gave a completely different feel to his demands. He wasn’t asking just for himself. It was as though, for the sake of the state of the universe, he wanted things to be a certain way. He wanted to live in a world where movies get watched and donuts go undisturbed.

Maybe I’m embellishing his verbal intentions just a bit, but he’s the one who said it. There had to be a reason. That’s my best guess.

But this isn’t the kind of thing anybody else cares about. I mean, it’s not going in his baby book. It’s going on this blog, but I hardly think it will cause anyone to say, “When did our kids start using the passive voice?” I doubt with all my spirit this will make anyone feel jealous (and any milestone worth two bits will stoke the green flames of envy in other parents).

It’s just something I noticed because I’m Colin’s dad. And because I’m a dork.

Look, Your Worshipfulness . . .

This girl knew how to wear her some shoes.
There was a princess party at our house on Saturday. Rapunzel’s a princess, right? Our niece Rosalie turned 5. Hooray for 5. Hooray for Rosalie. Hooray for princesses.
Hooray for dancing.
She whips her hair back and forth.
The dancing was probably the most fun part. That and reclaiming my testosterone-infused lair from the Land of Pink.
Colin: Big fan of dancing.
Addison, too. Dancing, swords, and major air, make a surprisingly good combination.

Two Things

1. Not one, not two, but . . . okay, yeah, two new American Idol Hollywood Week recaps are up at Beth’s place (I Should Be Folding Laundry). I really do mean to brag. They’re both awesome: Wednesday | Thursday.

2. I recently asked Addison what he and I had in common. He said that we both liked to play Wii. Okay. Then he added the best part. “It’s not something we have in common, but it kind of is. We like the colors red and green.” You should know that by this he meant that my favorite color is red while his favorite is green. So you get the part about that being something we don’t have in common. So why is it kind of a commonality? He explained by making a laser sound effect and gesturing with his fingers to air-draw two lightsabers crossing.

Photo by Dori. Awesome by Addison.

Maybe we will rule the galaxy as father and son.

Seriously, I want to see the world through this kid’s eyes. (Who am I kidding? I so do.)

First Thing

When the first two sentences you hear in the morning are . . . 
“Can we snuggle for a bit?”
“You’re the best dad ever.”
. . . it’s already a great day.
Sorry, Thursday, you never stood a chance.