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Lies, Damned Lies, and Star Wars

I seem to recall swearing up and down not even a month ago that I was going to reset my evening activity schedule and commit to writing and/or reading instead of spending three hours staring, slack-jawed, at a screen full of bright colors and explosions. In fact, there’s probably evidence of said promise in the recent archives of this website, as opposed to the time I shook my fist at a random doll-shaped cloud and swore I would hunt it to the ends of Creation and take my revenge  upon it for dolls being so damned creepy.

Good thing nobody ever found out about that.

Unfortunately, though, not unlike my plan to get back at Baby Pees-A-Lot, my best intention to do productive things after the kids go to bed seemed to have failed miserably last night. Once again, my feet were kicked up on the ottoman by 10:30, and I was staring, slack-jawed, at moving pictures of bright colors and explosions.

But it’s okay! I swear! I had, well, reasons.

Yesterday, my birthday present came. Now, yes, my birthday is actually in March, but as the father of a large-ish family with minimal wants, it’s often difficult for me to decide on gift requests. I mean, I want a Tesla, and a yacht would be cool, but neither of those is really “gift-able” so much. At least not for my friends and family.

My parents, with what I assume is the typical annual exasperation, finally settled on an Amazon gift card, when I told them I’d kind of like to update my home theater. Actually, update isn’t probably the most appropriate term. I mean, I did already have most of the necessary equipment, but the room wasn’t wired for surround speakers and my receiver/audio processor was roughly the size, shape, and weight of a World War II Tacoma-class Frigate.

There isn’t exactly adequate space for the USS Burlington in our relatively new Ikea TV-stand. The wacky Scandinavian designers are pretty space efficient. Also, like the USS Burlington, my old surround sound processor was basically ancient. Let’s face it, a piece of electronic equipment that’s 10 years old or older is effectively an artifact more worthy of being tracked down by Indian Jones and cataloged into a dusty museum than being plugged into an actual electrical outlet. I mean, the thing didn’t even have HDMI ports. Zero. Zilch. None. My problem wasn’t so much “Oh noes! It only has one HDMI, how can I ever connect my cable box and Xbox and Apple TV. Woe unto first-world-me”, but, seriously, like, how will I ever stream “The Avengers” in HD and 5.1 Dolby without a EE degree from MIT?

Long story short, I finally bought a new processor, which you probably already guessed since I pretty repeatedly referred to The USS Burlington-model as the “old” or “previous” one in the paragraphs above. So I ended up using the ole birthday gift cards to get this one, which is both reasonably priced and has a much more moderate physical footprint.

Of course, that was only half the battle. The room wasn’t ready. We had the basement finished several years ago, but for reasons behind my comprehension, I didn’t have it wired for rear sound. I can only assume it’s because aliens were in possession of my body at the time, and it’s readily accepted that non-terrestrial beings have telepathic abilities, limited their need for home theater sound. Sure, ET may have had to phone home, but he didn’t need surround speakers.

Which means that between ordering my new toy and it arriving in time for Star Wars Day, I had some work to do.

Like, running speaker cable (In mostly obscured ways), putting in a speaker wire junction box (I cut out the drywall myself! Man card redeemed!),

and finally mounting the rear speakers I’ve had in storage for more than 4 years to a wall.

.
Nver mind that I was drilling holes in my basement walls at midnight Tuesday in preparation for everything, or that for the 6,327th time since our Wedding Day, the Puddinette questioned both my sanity and her own decision-making capacity when it came to spouse-selection. The point is that last night, I dropped the new receiver into its Ikea-forged home, hooked up enough wires and cables to morph into a Gordian Knot behind the TV stand as early as this morning, and reprogrammed my Harmony remote for the new hardware.

And thus by 10:30 PM, I had Star Wars: The Force Awakens cued up and ready to pan to a Star Destroyer right after that familiar opening scroll.

So, look, I know I didn’t tell a single soul “May the Fourth be with you yesterday,” and I didn’t write anything or read anything last night. Well, not counting stereo instructions, but those never count. But after the kids went to bed and my new toy was all set up, I settled in without a twinge of guilt and reveled in Star Wars in all it’s Dolby Digital 5.1 glory. I’d say I have no one to apologize to.

Well, except myself. I fell asleep about the same time the First Order <redacted for spoilers> because cold medicine. Also (and this is probably the bigger culprit), I get sleepy early on school nights because I get up at 6:15-ish and I’m not 23 anymore.

So I guess the only USS Burlington thing in my basement home theater room now…is me.

Pud’n

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A Monday Haiku, Threatening Great Expense

Front door needs replaced
Put off for many moons, now
Adulting brings tears

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This Is Not The Day You’re Looking For

I keep thinking today is Thursday. It’s not; it’s Wednesday. That’s unfortunate, too, because Thursday usually means wrapping up the week’s homework with the kids, looking forward to “casual day”, and, if I’m lucky, designating it Beer and A Movie Night.  Wednesday, on the other hand, means baseball practice, more homework, taking the recycling out, and wondering if I’ll get though the day without any yogurt-brained yeehaw acting like that whole camel/hump day thing is actually funny at this point.

It’s not helping that Oldest Son’s baseball practice has already been cancelled for the evening, as apparently the boys’ practice field conditions are somewhat less than optimal. But, then, considering the sky vomited weather last night like a fraternity on dollar Jager-bomb night*, that coach’s cancellation email didn’t come as much of a surprise. Considering what it was like last night, his team’ll be lucky to hit the field again before Memorial Day.

Oh, yeah, you weren’t there last night. Here, I took some helpful video:

I know, right?

Anyway, rain notwithstanding, tonight’s cancellation doubled down on my already “Feelin’ Thursday” situation because it means I don’t have to go anywhere tonight. No practices, no errands, no sitting in the car (or an uncomfortable set of bleachers) with a book and a pale, drooping sun. Since Thursday is only night of the week I occasionally have a reprieve from the Uber-Dad** routine, it makes sense why I’m feeling Thursday.

Which is why tomorrow morning’s alarm clock is going to be a sadistic monster. Because I’ll no doubt wake up and believe that for a few, brief, precious ticks of the clock, that it’s Friday. That I can wear jeans into the the office and not tuck in my shirt, that the work day will end early and evening will be filled with laughter, mojitos, and a patio lit with only bug-repelling tiki torches and string of Christmas lights.

Well, okay, so my Friday nights are basically never filled with mojitos or a patio set like a Corona commercial. Plus, it’s still April, meaning the sub 70 degree temps we’ll be experiencing in this neck of the woods on Friday night isn’t exactly conducive to the pretending San Miguel is all around us.

But, whatever! I’m still going to feel cheated at 6:37 AM tomorrow, when it inevitably strikes me that it’s still actually Thursday and not the Friday of my dreams. And that I have to wear Dockers and uncomfortable shoes to work.

Which leaves me with basically one and only one reasonable option. I think I might need to take some of my extra free time tonight and go to the bookstore tonight. Because the bookstore is never a bad idea, and then tomorrow morning, even as I’m beginning to come to terms with living Thursday twice, at least I can look at all the new books I impulse bought with a smile.

Pud’n


*that is, forcefully, uncontrollably, and continually
**I really want Uber-Dad to mean, like SuperDad! or WonderDad!, but it most cases, it really just means…Taxi Dad.

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RIP, Your Purple Highness

I’m as shocked and saddened as everyone else. But even after having most of the day to think about it, I don’t think I can put it any better than I did on twitter earlier.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go listen to Let’s Go Crazy about 27 times.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsRest In Peace, Prince.

Pud’n

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A Day In The Life

I’d fully intended Monday’s post to stand as a sort of personal affirmation about the shift in my nightly focus away from binging on superheroes in high definition and towards kicking ass and taking names my own self, on my own projects. However, shortly after the post went up, it was pointed out to me that perhaps the piece went a smidgen too far in suggesting I’ve spent the majority of my 40’s being a Slothy McSlotherson. I mean, sure, I have my mid-afternoon, Saturday-nap moments, but, just, no. Long gone are my days of watching The Hunt For Red October while dosing on a couch. In fact, I quit having time to be a squishy, comfy slother-type in late 2002, right about the time I wrote this post.

Since the cold, rainy November morning when adulthood settled over us like a slightly itchy wool blanket that rubs the wrong way on occasion but still keeps you pretty snuggly and warm, things have gotten pretty complicated on a daily basis around la Casa de Puddin. Take my Monday, for instance:

6:21 AM – iPhone alarms goes off. Why 21 minutes past the hour? Who knows. Maybe I like the non-standardness of it. Maybe I just overshot :20 and was too lazy to change it.  Maybe Siri is a pain. Whatever the explanation, I swat at the chiming phone like a drunk college kid chasing a fly in his dorm room: It’s dark, there’s no space, a lot of stuff is potentially about to get slapped off a table, and there’s really no telling if anyone knows what’s going on. If lucky, my brain does what my consciousness is not yet capable of, and signals that I need to get up and wake the kids. If not, repeat 9 minutes later.

6:24 AM – Stand in daughter’s doorway and try not to bark at her like a drill sergeant that it’s time to get ready. Even though she requires 2+n2 the amount of time my sons need to prepare for school, she slumps back into bed and pretends I am merely a grunty, disheveled remnant of some night terror.

6:25 AM – Tell daughter again to get up. Wait until she is weaving in place beside her bed, and then turn on her light out of spite. WIsh her a good morning and remind her I love her.

6:26 AM – Wake sons. Threaten them with a military academy if they don’t at least attempt to make their bed like civilized people.

6:27 AM – Verify daughter is still upright. It’s a lucky morning! She’s both upright AND moving.

6:30 AM – Hit the shower. In most sports that indicates the end of the competition. If only. This is Extreme Adulting. Showers must come first.

7:10 AM – Wrangle the 3 middle school-aged kids into the car for delivery to school. Yes, there’s a bus. No, they don’t ride it. My own middle school busing experience, lo, the many years ago, was basically a daily surrender of my dignity and all self-worth for 35 minutes (both ways) in a yellow, mobile version of The Lord of The Flies. I’m not putting my kids through that. At least, not when I’m going to work anyway.

7:35 AM – Drop kids at school. Wish them a good day. Begin to twitch due to lack of AM caffeine. Snarl unintelligibly at other drivers, Muttley-style.

7:45 AM – Acquire coffee. Relinquish down the sharpened weapons.

8 AM – 4:30 PM – Work feverishly in the vast, deep software mines in search of the elusive Varigated Project Milestone.

4:30 PM – Leave work in order to take Oldest Son to his baseball game. Pray that traffic isn’t a complete cluster of broken downs, rubber neckers, and incoherent rage so that you make it home in time.

5:01 PM – Arrive at home, just in time. Thank the Seven Lords of Ragged Asphalt you survived your commute once again. Say hello to whatever children appear upon your arrival (none will, except Baseball Kid, because ride). Briefly nod at wife, whose touch from years past you remember much the way an amputee might remember the way that arm ached before a storm. No time to think about that though. Go to room. Change out of workday business casual and into shorts and a “dad shirt” in the roughly the same amount of time Linda Carter needed to spin on that Woman Woman outfit. Leave for baseball game. Verify my fly is zipped. Trust me, after changing clothes that fast, it always pays to verify.

6:00 PM – 8:00 PM – Watch 25-30 middle school boys play baseball. Marvel at the range of possible sizes of “middle school boy”. Root for son. Pray he doesn’t strike out. Cheer when he singles and then proceeds to steal two bases and score.

8:15 PM – Drive home. Congratulation Baseball Son on winning. Contemplate the previous 14 hours. Wonder idly if some slavering ancient Greek monster actually just ate your entire day. Seriously…where’d the time go?

8:30 PM – Consume reheated dinner. Bask in the warm glow of being informed the dishwasher is leaking. Contemplate fleeing the house in abject terror. Stay instead; flight requires energy.

8:45 PM – 9:15 PM – Attempt to diagnose dishwasher issue while simultaneously helping with middle school homework as needed. Identify the dishwasher’s problem as having approximately Twenty. Vomit-Inducing. Years. Of caked-together foodgooputty smushed into a single self-aware mass that’s clogging the dryer vent. Attempt to explain the similarities and differences between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam to Middle Son for his Social Studies homework while cleaning Glutinous Gooputty out of dishwasher vent with an old toothbrush, a clenched jaw, and an iron will. Gasp occasionally to avoid hurling recently consumed reheated dinner back up.

9:30 PM – Congratulate Middle Son on a good job with his homework. Start the dishwasher for a test run. Wash the food gooputty off hands, face, hair and anywhere else the Glob managed to invade. Sterilize self. Burn clothes for good measure.

10 PM – 11:45 PM – Despite bone-deep exhaustion, somehow manage to edit two chapters of Project Macaroni 2.0.

11:50 PM – 12:50 AM – Read before bed. In this case, devour a healthy chunk of A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab (which you should read, because awesome) Because, sure, you’re tired, but  if you don’t make time to read, you never will read. Also, the Puddinette isn’t asleep enough yet for the nightly Industrial Snoring Assault on her poor, embattled sleep pattern.

1:00 AM – Stumble to bed. Collapse. Curse in abject fear of the alarm set to go off in a mere 5 hours and 21 minutes.

So that was 90% of my Monday. Yes, there are actually a few things I left out, because it’s none of your beeswax, plus, this is my blog, not my therapist.

Ah, who am I kidding? It’s both.

The point, though, is that the timeline above isn’t atypical. It’s how weekdays work around here. It’s also, why the past few months or so, I’ve found myself on the couch most mornings at not-quite-Stupid-O’Clock, with remote still in hand. Because after a day like that, an hour or two of mind-numbing Netflix seems like a pretty tempting exercise.

Even if you are too tired to make it through the whole episode.

But, then, that’s not my problem anymore.

Pud’n

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Replay From the Beginning

I’m sort of embarrassed to admit that for as much Netflix and/or Hulu as I watch, I end up restarting episodes entirely too often. Like, almost “on every day of the week that ends in –y”, too often. But that’s what happens when you fall asleep in front of the TV all the time. Well, that, and also that Netflix conveniently continues to play episode after episode after the falling asleep. Which means that when I get around to trying to pick up where I left off the night before, I’m required to do some NASA-level calculation to figure out where I actually did leave off.

Yes, I said NASA-level. Sure, bounce-landing a robot on Mars from 225 million kilometers away is sorta difficult, but is it as hard as figuring out which chapter of House of Cards to re-watch based on only the episode description? I’m not so sure.

As to constantly having to asses my place in the episode guide, I’ve got no one to blame here but myself. I stay up too late, refuse to admit that at 43 years old my body could probably use more than 5 and a half hours of sleep a night, and basically make poor life choices at 1 AM.  That said? Ultimately, I’m too committed to watching shows these days.

I imagine a lot of people wouldn’t fault me for that last one. This is, after all, supposed to be The “new” Golden Age of Television. And, I mean, there are comic book shows now! On TV! Good ones! As someone who still feels feels the bumpy scars of the Spider-Man and Hulk shows from the late 70’s, believe me, it’s like being born anew.

But.

(There’s always a “but”, right?)

But this is not who I want to be. Being a fan first and a creator second is not who I want to be with this life.

Because as Thoreau put it in Walden, Netflix is bad.

Okay, so maybe he didn’t quite say that. Rather, the pertinent quote, the one you all know, is,

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation

That’s the big one, the one I’ve held in my head since back when I was a wet behind the ears kid in college taking Philosophy 100. It’s the line I’m most apt to bring to mind every couple of years when I take a moment to do a little shoe-gazing about what I have accomplished and have yet to achieve with this life.

Thoreau would further write in Walden:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived

This excerpt, of course, always leads me to imagining my own end of life, where I’m huddled and exhausted at the base of an erupting Mt. Doom, along with my good friend and Master, Frodo Baggins. We’ll look back on our journey from The Shire with pride, and I’ll take comfort in knowing that I was there to help Master Frodo carry the immense weight of that hateful Ring1.

Except, as I dragged myself off the couch at 3:30 AM last Thursday morning and tried to figure out how many episodes of Community I’d sleep through, I realized the truth of my reality hadn’t become quite as monumental as that “Lord of the Rings” moment. I mean, yes, I have a great job that I work said butt off at, a fair bit of responsibility, and a family I couldn’t be prouder of, so I shouldn’t really complain much. But I have hopes and dreams that entail becoming much more than “The Lord of The Couch’s Butt Groove”. 

And if you can’t see the “quiet desperation” in being champion of your own ass crease, well, congratulations, you’re either actually Homer Simpson (which, admittedly, has it’s advantages) or your one of his many, many, MANY devotees.

Believe it or not, I’d rather lean into Thoreau than Homer here.

The tricky thing about Thoreau’s quiet desperation is that it’s not only quiet, but sneaky like a five year old with a heist plan for the cookie jar. It’s an insidious, stealthy thing that blossomed when I innocently binge watched Arrow two winter breaks ago on a brief pause between working on manuscripts, and eventually snowballed into a nightly TV watching habit that compels me to take my assigned place on the basement couch for three hours every night before eventually nodding off and letting the Apple TV autopilot me til dawn.

For me, it’s no way to live. It’s more just a really good way to wait around until I die. And that’s kind of the opposite of My Big Plan.

I want to make it very clear that I’m NOT judging anyone who does enjoy their nightly “shows” (as my Grandmother would call them). The last thing the world needs is another sanctimonious dirtwipe tsking loudly in unfounded self-righteousness because “OMG, while you were wasting your time watching The Housewives of Neverland last night, I was speed-reading Tolstoy and hand-weaving macramé doilies for my Etsy shop.”

Listen, I swear I’m not being that guy. You do you, man, and be happy doing it! There’s nothing wrong with DVR’ing 17 hours of programming a week. If you love it, I encourage it!

But a few years ago I decided I wanted to be remembered for stringing words together into stories that people (hopefully) liked. And I made great progress on that, slowly, on plodding step in front of the other. But then, you know, the slow creep of quiet desperation. One day not long ago, I quit writing new stuff, and instead started waiting for life to happen on its own. And then IPAs Thursdays popped up and, I started reporting for Hulu duty nightly, and, well, look…building up the butt groove in my basement sectional ain’t getting the life I strive for quite done. I’ve gone from being the guy who was always working on something he loved to the guy who’s always streaming something in HD.

And I’m done with that.

So, this? This post? This is me hitting “Start from the Beginning” on my life quest. This is me turning my back on that “quiet desperation”, rolling up my sleeves, and getting back to work.

This is me letting the couch cushions get back some of their old factory condition.

This is getting the DVR to work for me, instead of the DVR working me.

That’s not to say I won’t still watch my comic books shows. I, mean, I want more Arrow and Flash and Supergirl and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and the only way I get them is by watching what’s out there. But from now on, my weekday evenings are for writing or reading or plotting or revising. For Becoming What I Might Have Been and insuring that when I finally reach The End of All Things, maybe there will be a Hobbit there, proud of all I’ve accomplished.

Pud’n


1Okay, so I’m not actually a Hobbit, nor a gardener, and I really hope never to see Mt. Doom.

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A Saint Patrick’s Day Primer

The calendar once against says today is March 17th. You know what means, right? It’s Saint Patrick’s Day, aka, the Feast of Saint Patrick, the one day of the year dedicated to the patron saint of Ireland, a man I’m pretty sure was canonized more for his conversion of Irish pagans to Catholicism than anything having to do with slithering limbless reptiles.

But, hey, what difference does it make? Let’s get wrecked!

Look, I get it…everybody likes a good “bar” holiday. His holiness the Dalai Lama certainly knows I do. In fact, I’ve written about it on several previous St. Patricks’ Days. There’s (probably) nothing wrong with getting sloppy drunk on a weekday. I mean, the NCAA tournament starts today, anyway, so it’s kind of a given, regardless.

But there’s no reason to be sloppy drunk AND disrespectful to an entire culture, you know? So, here’s a quick primer of important things to keep in mind while you’re considering how abusive you’d like to be to your liver:

  1. This is St. Patrick’s Day, the liturgical Feast (or Festival if you’re a time traveler from ye Olden Days) of Saint Patrick, that theoretically falls on the traditional anniversary of the dude’s death. Please bear in mind, then, that all those shots of Jameson you’re popping are intended to commemorate an actual person, who at absolutely NO POINT IN HIS LIFE went by the name “Patty”. Paddy, maybe, although I doubt it. But “Patty”? No. Patty is pretty disrespectful to a fella named Patrick (aka, Padraig), even if he was born in Roman Britannia. So, just…here, read this.
  2. You might be tempted to reference a leprechaun, play some silly leprechaun game, or have fevered, beer-induced dreams of catching a wee, green-jacketed fairy and forcing him to pay you in gold. Don’t. Just….don’t. Can you imagine if some yokel saddled America with a fairytale gremlin mascot? We’d be putting troops on the ground of any nation daring to make even a passing reference to the orange-skinned American Drumpf fairy, who speaks the promise of any wish you desire, but instead steals your mind and soul, leaving you mad and filled with hate.
  3. To honor Saint Patrick’s Day, we recommend ordering one (or more) of the following:Guinness murphysspdsmithor even, I suppose killians

(if you absolutely must, although Killian’s Irish Red is about as Irish as I am. Which is to say, there’s a whisper of Irish descent in there somewhere, but, really, just, no.) Whatever you do, for the love all things holy, pagan, or otherwise scaly, There Is Absolutely No Good Reason For2

bad green beer

Seriously, if you find yourself drawn to watery beer with a few complementary drops of food coloring this year, fine. But don’t tell yourself it has anything to do with trying to pay homage or respect to Irishy things. It doesn’t. A weird jello-green tint in your American beer is much more about you getting shammered than it is about Irish anything. And while I’ll be the first to say there’s (occasionally) nothing wrong with getting your drink on until someone’s face melts, If that’s what you want to do, please do us all a favor and drink your preferred Watery American Lager in it’s natural, nearly colorless hue and instead maybe raise a toast to the Puritans who set up shop in New England in an effort to flee religious persecution. Sure, those settlers will likely have had better beer than you1 (which begs the question of who exactly is the “settler” here), but at least you’ll still get drunk, without offending an entire culture.

And now that I’ve likely offended you, the Irish in general, and probably the Puritans, too, I’d say my work here is done. Time to go find myself a nice Irish stout.

Pud’n


1 Yes, the drank plenty of alcohol. Alcohol was safer and cleaner than the water from that stream yonder that probably had a family of deer pee in it yesterday morning.

2 Seriously, I cannot believe it’s been 5 years since I wrote my finest poetic work ever, I Do Not Like Green Tastes Beer

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The Slow, Torturous March  to Parental Obsolescence, Part I

A few nights ago, after brushing his little, seven year-old teeth while wearing a set of colorful, seven year-old’s pajamas, my youngest son bounced up to me to make an announcement. The bouncing wasn’t a surprise, of course; when you’re seven, if your movement from place to place isn’t primarily bounce-driven, something needs a band-aid, someone’s angry, or a trip to the pediatrician is in order. The bouncing, then, was quite par for the course. The announcement, though, was a little more unexpected. He looked over at the book shelf in his room where we keep the bedtime book we’re currently reading, and then crushed me with a few simple words.

Now, I say “we” in reference to bedtime reading there, but there’s usually very little “we” about it. I mostly do all the reading every night. Not because he needs me to, by any stretch. The kid can read better than many adults I know. Heck, I’ve always thought I was an advanced reader in the 1st grade, and he puts me to shame. But for whatever reason, he has always preferred for me to read to him before bed every night anyway.

That is, at least he used to.

“I want to read to myself tonight.”

I blinked. I’m pretty sure I felt a knife twisting somewhere in my chest.

“Uh, okay, buddy.”

“You can tuck me in and turn off my light and I’ll read with my lamp on. I’ll turn it off when I’m done.”

“Yeah, okay. Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

Bounce.

Just like that, my career as a bedtime reader was over. No warning. No pink slip. No severance pay. For more than a decade prior to that moment, I’d read something – usually something well-read and familiar, at least to me, because, let’s face it, everyone knows you read the dinosaur books and Mike Mulligan at least once a year! – to one of our four kids almost nightly. The count of (mostly consecutive) bedtime readings had to have stretched into the thousands.

Up until last week.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, I suppose. As I said above, the kid can read extremely well, so I should have expected him to be reaching for independence. But I think that understanding perhaps required a level of honesty with myself I wasn’t nearly prepared to demonstrate.

Hello. Reservation for “Willfully Ignorant”, party of one?

At any rate, the little guy climbed into bed and flicked on his lamp while I pulled up the covers and turned off the overhead light.  Then I shuffled over to the door, listening.

“Chapter Six. The first grade class…”

I didn’t hear anything more after that, I’m guessing because I’d somehow become temporarily dumbfounded by my own sudden obsolescence. As I kneaded my feelings like a mushy lump of sourdough for the next few hours, it occurred to me that this sort of thing, was, in the best case scenario, the entire point of parenthood. You have kids, you try to teach them things hoping that they’ll eventually be able to manage themselves without you, and with luck, by the time you’ve reached Valhalla, they carry on by themselves.

Except, that’s not really how it works. What really happens is something a little more insidious. See, if you’re serious about actual parenting, by which I mean, “raising humans capable of humaning for themselves” as opposed to “raising adult-sized dependents who never quite learn to manage their own time or use a steak knife properly1“, your little hatchlings will likely express their desire and ability to fly alone long before you’re prepared for them to hop out of the nest. More specifically, what happens is: you have kids, you try to teach them things, they learn them, and then tell you that they can do it on their own, without you.

At which point you realize that success as a parent necessarily means making yourself mostly kind of obsolete.

Which is the kind of realization that goes well with a sympathetic spouse and a bottle of moscato. Or, lacking either of those, a stiff draught of Arrogant Bastard.

But the funny thing is, even as you succeed at making yourself unnecessary, the sting of it lasts for only a moment. The pride of knowing that you made the picture below possible, that a thousand other books might take the place of the book in his hands over the course of his life? Yeah, that feeling stays with you.

Pud’n


1 Apparently that’s a terrifyingly popular methodology operating under the guise of “parenting” these days

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The Story of How I Broke My Arm In 4th Grade

I wrote a post today on Middle Grade Minded about writing for middle graders, and, more specifically, why I do it. If you’re curious, go check it out. As part of that discussion, I made reference to the time I broke my arm in the fourth grade, just as school got out for the summer.

I later wrote an essay about the event, but for the first time in my young life, I approached the retelling the way a storyteller would, not the way a 5th grade writing an essay would.

My teacher loved it. 

I loved it too.

Of course, what I wrote that day has been gone for more than thirty years. But I still remember exactly what happened that day when I broke my arm. I can still play the movie of it in head, all these years later. And despite years of seemingly trying to damage my memory on purpose, most of the details are as sharp as the day it happened.

So, how did I break my arm in 4th grade? Well, it goes a little something like this

The boy finished pumping the pedals of his burnt sienna brown Huffy at the third house from the start of the cul-de-sac, down at the bottom on the hill. That was as far up as he was allowed to climb without asking someone for permission to go further. Not that the “Land beyond the Third House” was undiscovered country or anything, but any more and he’d be beyond sight of his own house down below.

He swiveled his bike towards his family’s bi-level and straddled the familiar vinyl seat. The hill was so steep. In his 10 years, he’d never seen a steeper one with his own eyes. And this one was his. He could ride it everyday, zooming towards that concrete circle below at break-neck speeds. The sensation of flying down it must be like what those ski-jump guys at the Olympics felt.

No use waiting. With a shove of his Keds, he pushed off and started the familiar descent.

Once at a stable speed, the boy let go of the handlebars, reaching his arms out to both sides. He was a ‘T’ shape now, cutting through the warm spring air like a odd-shaped knife. Halfway down, and short of actually flying, there couldn’t possibly be a better feeling on earth. Hands free, letting gravity do it’s job while his Huffy lead the way.

But, then, why did he only ever let go of the handlebars? What would it be like to stick his feet out too? To be tethered to the bike by nothing more than the connection of that vinyl seat cover? Wouldn’t that be even more like flying?

Not wasting a moment for second thoughts, his feet abandoned their assigned posts at the pedals, and now instead of an ‘T’, he was an ‘X’, careening towards the bottom of the hill. The houses below were getting bigger and bigger. He felt like a bird. a powerful, graceful, majestic one. Like, an eagle or something.

And yet…

The scary part loomed ahead. A jagged, bumpy pad of concrete where the hill met the cul-de-sac, cracked in places and always full of gravel. He rocketed through it, bouncing across the uneven surface. He’d done it a thousand times, and it had never caught him up before. It was nothing to worry much about. 

Except this time wasn’t like before.

This time, he was only barely in control of the Huffy under him.

The bike hit a crack and shimmied to the right. Without hands or feet in place to control it, he reacted by instinct and shifted his whole weight left.

Too much. The biked leaned precariously, nearly tilting in process.

Panic – a grown up-sized sharp, electric jolt – shot through the boy. His feet found their designated assignments again in half a heartbeat, and his hands squeezed the familiar, cracked plastic grips of the handlebars. He tried to turn the Huffy, shifting it back to the right, hoping to bring it back into balance.

Too late.

Or, maybe, too much.

He’d turned it too hard, and the wheels lost their purchase on the pavement below him. The whole bicycle slid sideways, taking him with it. He was going down. It was going be a rough one.

And then the boy’s mind…lurched.

Time.

Slowed.

Crawling.

By.

But yet, as he looked to the sky, a spring-time palate of piercing blue and cottony white spiraled around and around over head. The whole world was spinning a thousand miles an hour. How could the sky possibly move THAT fast? Had the Earth been launched from its orbit?

But wait. What was happening? Something else was going on, right? As if he was watching the entire thing play out like a movie, on cue, the scene wiped from one view to another. An arm…someone’s arm, or maybe no one’s?…stretched out in front of his eyes,

falling,

falling,

falling.

Pavement — hard, angry, sun-baked concrete – raced upwards to meet it. No force in Heaven or Earth could stop the two from meeting, from crashing against each other.

A scream split the air. 

Only much later would the boy realized it had been his voice.

The arm, his arm, smacked against the concrete, which showed all the tenderness of, well, a slab of concrete. And even still, that wasn’t the worst part. The worst thing was when that arm bounced. The elbow struck first and popped, lurching back up towards the sky like one of those rubber super ball or a fake chicken or something. It had been nearly flat, held straight out, when the arm first touched the ground. But after that bounce, it wasn’t any longer.

It bent the wrong way.

The angle of his elbow pointed to the sun overhead.

His mind snapped back into normal speed as his elbow and the rest of his arm crashed into the pavement.

Someone screamed again. This time it wasn’t him. At the same time, a strange sensation fired through him. Not pain, exactly, but something maybe a little better, and yet somehow far worse. A uncomfortable numbness where the boy knew there should instead be searing, lancing, agonizing pain.

It was years later that he found out about medical shock.

“MY AAAARRRRRM!” he shouted in a jumbled a heap beneath his forgotten Huffy, not yet having the courage to move. People raced to him from every direction. They pulled the bike off him, helped him find his feet, and gingerly cradled his arm. Someone else, an adult neighbor, guided him up the driveway to his house. By that point, the poor high school girl charged with watching the boy that afternoon had come outside to see the commotion first hand. Her face was tight, and her eyes danced in an unfamiliar way that he didn’t yet realize hinted at fear. Still, she kept it hidden, and assured the boy in soothing tones that everything would be all right. That his father would be home soon and they’d go get something called X-rays.

He staggered inside and settled onto the couch to wait, snuffling uncontrollably every few minutes. At least he wasn’t crying anymore, but that was small comfort against the odd sensation of numb pain pulsing outward from his elbow.

One of his brothers rolled his burnt sienna Huffy into the garage. He didn’t know it, but a wrapped cast, a pair of surgical pins, and six long weeks of summer vacation would all come and go before he had another opportunity to ride that bike again.

And he never rode it down the hill without his hands on the bars again.

Pud’n

A Haiku As A Lame Excuse

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Work ate today’s post
Job work, homework, too much work
Puddin’s a dull boy

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