The children’s menu cut & paste game

Whenever we take the kids out to eat, I feel like I’m playing a game of culinary Tetris, rearranging the meals to fit the appetites of children with varying tastes. If Big Brother isn’t going to eat the fries that come with his cheeseburger, that means Buster and I can share them, which means Buster will only want half his macaroni and cheese, so if I eat half Buster’s mac & cheese, and half of Big Brother’s fries, then I don’t really have to order a meal for myself. But will there be enough left over for Big Man’s burgeoning appetite?

Kids have no conscience when it comes to wasting food, or the money that went to pay for it. As the one who has to make the money cover all our needs, I have a slightly different attitude.

Restaurants seem to have perfected the art of sizing every kid’s meal to be the perfect amount of food for 1.5 children, priced accordingly. This is surely the unconscious factor in our decision to have a third child. Now, all we have to do is work on getting them to agree on two meals to split three ways.

Not how it was meant to be used

“Let me know when you figure out the economics of feeding me. I’ll just be right here under this high chair.”

Playing the mix-n-match restaurant game is even more difficult on vacation. The chicken strips in a strange eatery may differ slightly from home-town cooking, throwing the entire table into rebellion. The serving sizes are a wildcard, and the prices are sure to be higher. God forbid it’s one of the fancy-pants joints that cuts their fries on site or has a notion that pizza is something that should be reinvented.

It is especially difficult when Daddy can’t read. This happened on our most recent visit to Washington D.C. So full of himself at finding a burger joint amidst the upscale restaurants, in which feed himself and the two older boys, Daddy decided the menu said what he wanted it to say, rather than what it said.

Using his best gastronomic puzzle-solving skills, Daddy deftly planned out the purchase that would feed all three perfectly, and for only about $12. He confidently approached the counter and ordered the cheeseburger with fries and the macaroni and cheese. He was met with a blank stare. After an awkward moment, the young cashier explained, “We don’t have macaroni and cheese.”

“Of course you do,” Daddy remonstrated. “It’s on the menu.”

The young lady screwed up her face. “There’s no macaroni and cheese on the menu.”

Daddy probably rolled his eyes as he grabbed a nearby menu and promptly pointed out the line that clearly indicated the availability of grilled cheese sandwiches. “Hmmm,” he hawed. “I could have sworn that said macaroni and cheese.”

It’s hard to be quite as deft about plan B when you’re on the spot.

Thirty minutes, and $29 later, they exited, carrying a doggie bag containing a completely untouched grilled cheese sandwich and nearly two full orders of leftover fries.

I guess Daddy’s brain went on vacation too.

Hay still smells good, but Daddy’s done with cows

For some strange reason, it smelled like a haymow on the second floor of my building yesterday. It’s not the kind of space that should smell like hay. Maybe somebody was just wearing an extra dose of Barnyard by Calvin Klein. Whatever the reason, it sent my mind reeling back to the 1970s.

The images in my memory were not ones of attempting to lug hay bales as big as myself, or of scratching up my arms on the rough edges of cut hay. They weren’t of getting blisters in the joints of my destined-for-office-work fingers from the friction of baler twine. They weren’t of trying to balance on a moving wagon while keeping out of the way of bigger kids who could actually heft the bales up onto the stack.

My memories were of building forts with bales in the mow; of playing hide and seek and tunneling between the stacks; of the hay smelling fun, not being the odor of sweat and hard work.

haymow diplomacy

Ah, those good old days! Making forts, hiding out, and negotiating international treaties in the wonderland of the haymow. It was good to be a kid. (Image: Ridson Tillery – US Farm Security Administration)

My wife once asked me if I regretted my children not having that kind of upbringing. I said no.

They’ll have much more opportunity in their suburban childhoods than I had in my rural one. They will have schools with more resources, and a wider variety of people with which to interact. They will miss out on some particular brands of fun, but they’ll miss much of that fun merely because it’s not the ‘70s anymore. Even in the country, it’s 2015, with 2015 rules and regulations.

A farm life would be good to teach them the value of hard work. It might teach them that you can smell bad and still walk tall, as long as you smell bad for a good reason, and only when necessary. It could teach them humility, as it did me when my job was to hold cows’ tails. Cows’ tails can get to be very – let’s call it grimy – and having to hold them tight can make a young dandy have to swallow a good portion of his pride.

All the cows are doin it

Even with a friend along to help talk to the cow into it, I still don’t want to do any more milking. (Image: John Vachon – US Farm Security Administration)

There can be many character benefits to a farm life, but I don’t want it for my boys. The selfish truth of the matter is I don’t want it for me, because if they lived on a farm, I’d have to live there too, and I don’t want to. I don’t want to start work at 4 a.m. and knock off after dark. I don’t want to carry blisters on my still perfect-office-worker fingers all through haying season. I don’t want to coerce milk from an animal who doesn’t feel like giving it up, or even one who does. I don’t want my livelihood held hostage by the weather or a far-away commodities market. And I never want to have to grab hold of another cow’s stinky, sticky, wet tail again.

I’ve decided the second floor of my building smelled more like a silo. Silos were always dark and damp inside. I never had any fun in a silo.

“I wanna do it!”

Whenever I go outside to do some man work, which hasn’t been often lately, I find an eager huddle of young helpers circling my ankles. You’d think we keep these kids chained in the basement for all their enthusiasm about going outside to dig a hole.

Over the July 4th weekend, I planned on doing one caulking project to ease myself back into the world of the useful. Somehow I was able to complete this project without any of the hindrance known as little boys being helpful. For all the good the project accomplished I might as well have had truckloads of their help.

I meant to relax the rest of the weekend, so as not to lead my wife into the illusion that I would be regularly useful around the house, but we stumbled into a trees and shrubs sale at buzz-kill Home Depot.

hunt and peck

“I wanna do it!” syndrome affects inside jobs as well, like computer work. This one’s helping me write my blog.

For years, we’ve had boxwood, or dogwood, or some horrible wood-suffixed plant growing in front of our living room windows. Whichever [random noun]wood bush smells like cat pee on a summer breeze, that’s the one.

Some half-priced rose bushes were just screaming to take the whateverwood’s place. I, and more importantly, my wife, heard their cries.

On Sunday afternoon, I hitched up my big boy pants and headed out to make the switch. I was followed outside by two boys, who having missed their earlier chance to pitch in, would not be denied this opportunity to help.

The first task was to trim the urinewood so I could get at its roots. The moment I started clipping, Big Brother was all over me. “I wanna do it!” he demanded.

Buster wouldn’t be left out. “I wanna do it!”


I wanna do it!” love for the vacuum cleaner wears thin as soon as they are actually capable of pushing it.

Big Man had been made to stay in the house, and now he looked out at us through the window screen, giggling and making Dada words that certainly translated into a one-year-old’s version of “I wanna do it!”

When boys say “I wanna do it!” what they mean is: I want to use these tools to do something that is less work and more fun than what you want me to do with them.

As soon as I had instructed them what to do with the tools that their budding reservoirs of testosterone had commanded them to co-opt, they were off cutting bits off every plant in the yard except the one I had pointed them at. That one was too hard to cut. Gladiolus shoots were much easier, and proportionally more fun, to clip.

Fortunately, it only took clipping a few flowers for me to get at the roots of the shrubbery, 15 feet away. The task of picking up and carting off their clippings and mine cured them of their desire to help. Anything that resembles cleaning up will do that for boys. They found their own games to play and I dug three holes, free and clear of the burden of help.

It turned out to be a lovely afternoon.

The new babies have big shoes to fill.

The new babies have big shoes to fill.

Doctor say it bleeding

The boys were a  dream over the weekend. Unusually well-behaved and full of imagination, they provided several snippets worth remembering.

It began Thursday night, at the book release party my wife threw for A Housefly in Autumn. There were other events at the venue, with lots of people in fancy clothes attending them. As he helped push our wagonload of books into the elevator, Big Brother looked up and asked. “Daddy, do all these people know you’re famous?”

“No, I’m pretty sure they don’t,” I replied.

“Why not?”

I changed the subject. I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth. I should have said, “Someday, they’ll know,” but I didn’t think fast enough. Anyway, it makes me proud and humble enough to know I’m famous to him.

On Saturday, Mommy went away on an overnight visit, bravely leaving her house in the hands of us four men. We didn’t break the house, as far as Mommy knows, and we had lots of fun. Big Brother invented two new jokes.

Q. What does corn call its father?

A. Pop Corn.

Q. What does an apple call his grandmother?

A. Granny Smith.

You can see the pattern he was working on for his comedy that day.

After jokes came wrestling.

blanket lump

When Mommy’s away, two boys and a blanket lump will play.


Did that blanket just give birth to a Big Man?


You boys go about your play. Big Man’s on the march.


Why is he climbing up the stereo?


Of course! An extension cord will make the perfect addition to the stash of useful objects he keeps in his hole behind the stereo.


On Sunday, Big Brother said he was worried. “Mommy hasn’t called or texted or anything!”

I reassured him that she had texted me. He looked disgusted. “Why didn’t you tell me?” Now that I know he’s a worrier, I’ll be sure to keep him in the loop. He’s right to worry about Mommy’s safety, considering that I’m the only parent he has in reserve.

We were low on food, so I got to do one of my favorite things in the world: go grocery shopping with three boys. Before we left, Buster insisted I help him tear off a piece of Scotch tape. He attempted to wrap the tape around a “Boo-boo” on his baby brother’s finger.

“That’s not a Band-Aid,” I said.

He nodded to reassure me. “It is. It is Band-Aid,” he insisted.

I finally convinced him to leave Big Man alone. He contented himself with wrapping the tape around his own finger. In the car, he tried to convince Big Brother his finger was bleeding.

“It’s not bleeding,” Big Brother insisted, because he’s a pathological corrector, even of  three-year-olds with big imaginations.

“It is bleeding!” Buster shouted back. “Doctor say it bleeding.”

For the rest of the ride, Big Brother attempted to pin Buster down as to exactly when he had been to the doctor.

Buster gave up the argument, secure in his own knowledge that he possessed both a bleeding finger and a Band-Aid. Sometimes, you just have to ignore the skeptics.

Big Man slept through most of the supermarket, and the other boys were surprisingly good. We hit almost every aisle and I didn’t have to break into a run once.

We went home and had sloppy joes, corn on the cob, and watermelon. Then Mommy came home and they ran to her as if she were all that could save them from the collapse of society.

I’m still not as famous as Mommy, but all the blood was imaginary, so I guess we did all right.