Pictures at an Exhibition: First Grade parent-teacher conference

The results of the First Grade teacher conference were similar to the results of the Kindergarten conference. The boy is doing pretty well academically, especially in reading and writing. He’s okay in math, but he sometimes gets a little frazzled by the clock during the timed quizzes.

The surprising news is that he actually knows how to tell time. At bed time he acts like the clock is some mysterious Nordic Rune that is beyond hope of translation. Ever since Daylight Savings Time began, he places no trust in clocks anyway, with their new trick of sending him upstairs before dark.

Like last year, we gained insights into the workings of the boy’s mind through his creative work.

For Valentine’s Day, the kids put together a book called, “Love is . . .” Here’s our boy’s page.

distant kiss

With enough practice, you can kiss them and still not violate the restraining order.

The longer your lips are, the more discretion you have about how close you want to get to someone you love. If the combined extendibility of the kissing individuals’ lips is greater than 6”, you can completely avoid intersecting your personal spaces.

This picture shows a great leap in maturity, as he would have been kissing a Ninja Turtle last year.

For their 100th day of school, they made a book about what they would do with $100. Hence:

football gloves

I have no idea what anything in this picture has to do with football gloves.

Why would he want to spend $100 on football gloves? You might even wonder what football gloves are.

Football gloves are worn to help catch the ball in wet weather. The boy and his friends play football at recess. Apparently, one of the kids has such gloves. Therefore, he desperately needs football gloves. I told him he should learn to catch first.

On the back of the $100 page is this.

Old boy

You can tell he’s old by his gray hair.

In 100 years he will be a 106-year-old boy, still with prominent red lips. He will have huge, misshapen hands (no doubt maimed from not having football gloves), gray hair, and no feet. The loss of feet is lamentable, otherwise he’s a good looking 106-year-old. Even the kids whose nice dads bought them adequate sporting goods won’t hold up much better than that.

Hanging on the walls were cutouts of George Washington the kids had made for Presidents’ Day.

wooden teeth?

“With all these splinters in my gums, I may never smile again.”

All the other Washingtons were smiling. When the teacher asked our boy why his was not, he replied, “Maybe he’s embarrassed about his wooden teeth.” He gets credit from me for being half right.

With the cutout was a familiar page. We’d seen this question last year.

presidential to-do list

If Washington is not too big a man to sell snow globes, neither is our boy.

Some things never change. He still holds the philosophy that the President’s primary duty is as Commander In Chief of the armed forces. He still would not be reluctant to use the armed forces, or for that matter, lead them personally. This year he’s added a new layer of sophistication. Armies are expensive. Not wishing to raise taxes or cut social spending, he’s discovered the perfect solution. He’ll  open a gift shop, just like he noticed Washington did at Mount Vernon. Now that’s learning from the master.

The year I peaked as a manly man

His name was Richard. I don’t remember him being around during Kindergarten, and I know he was gone by junior high. I don’t know where he came from or where he went. He rode my bus in third grade and we threw down every morning.

I recall as little about why we fought as I do about why he came and went so quickly. He showed up out of nowhere and wanted to fight, like those guys wearing suits and sunglasses in The Matrix. In third grade, I was not one to back down from a fight. That’s funny to me now, but it’s true.

matrix agent

Time has treated you well, Richard. You haven’t lost a step. (Warner Bros.)

By third grade, every inch of my body had been kicked many times over by dairy cows and I’d been cuffed plenty by older siblings. Taking on humans of my own size and weight was almost a vacation.

I was a scrapper, and so was Richard. Maybe I called him Dick; more likely we just didn’t like the cut of each other’s jib. Whatever the reason, we got to the back of the bus and went at it. It was mostly wrestling; third grade is early for fist fights. We’d tussle for a while, then the bus would pull up at school and it would be over. I went into school as if the fight had been a part of my morning routine no more noteworthy than brushing my teeth.

Next day, we’d be right back at it.

old bus

Of course, those were the days before cameras in the back of the bus. You could settle your differences without going viral.

One morning Richard banged my head against the metal wall of the bus. Richard and I had pushed each other’s skulls into this metal many times, but this time my scalp caught a protruding rivet. Blood trickled down my face.

I was taken to the school nurse and there was talk of stitches. I was reconciled to being kicked by cows and having my head banged into the wall during a fight, but I truly feared doctors. I had tried to fight doctors once when they wanted to draw blood. It was no use fighting a doctor; they’d just call in more and more of their friends to hold you down until they could stick you with a needle.

he'll cure you if it kills you

This is still what it looks like when I go for a physical examination.

I didn’t get stitches, but the damage was done. I lost interest in my daily bouts with Richard. It wasn’t worth facing a needle.

Gradually, I lost interest in fighting altogether. I lost daily contact with cows. I grew soft, to the point where I can no longer imagine what I would do in a fight. Besides run away, that is. Probably I would cycle my fists in the air and puff out my chest, hoping to bluff my way through, a la Fred Sanford. Let’s hope it never comes to that.

Now I have three boys. I want them to be tough, but I don’t need them to be scrappers. I want them to be mentally tough – able to stand up to adversity and handle disappointment.

They should walk away from their Richards. The world has tilted away from scrappers now that differences between children are resolved administratively.

The world has become much more enlightened since my boyhood – everybody except the dairy cows.

The three words that best describe you are Stink, Stank, Stunk

Conventional wisdom says wildlife is the innocent victim when people move into the swamps. The animals in our neck of the swamp couldn’t be happier that such a generous species came and built houses for them to live under.

Here comes trouble

Doesn’t matter the season, these guys are always ready to drop in.

The deer love our gardens. Our bird feeders save the squirrels untold time and effort finding 18 square meals per day. The “Little Man who lives under the porch” (probably a woodchuck, though ethnic origins shouldn’t matter) burrows himself into our hospitality often. Field Mice have bunked with our accommodating cat.

life in the suburbs

Then there was this guy, who took a four-hour nap in our back yard last fall.

In February, a skunk set up housekeeping under our deck. We’ve entertained skunks before, but this one was special. Every night it would light up our house with the tangiest batch of squeezin’s we’d ever breathed.

Having repelled its kind before with ammonia-soaked rags, this was our first defense. But when it is 0°F (-18°C) outside, ammonia does more freezing than stinking. Skunks stink grandly at any temperature.

It got so bad it kept us up all night, and some of us puked. My wife claimed it was making her uterus contract, which seemed a stretch, but maybe not.

Animal Control would attempt to trap the skunk for many bags of gold, but for some reason they didn’t feel confident of success. They said it was probably a female, attracting a mate.

That tore it.

It’s one thing to be smoked out of your home by some poor creature protecting herself, but we run a respectable household. She could do her whorin’ elsewhere. We weren’t about to stand idle while Pepina Le Pew advertised booty calls with her Love Potion Number Noxious.

le pew

Get your girl, Pepe, or you’re gonna find your brood a little larger than you bargained for. (Warner Bros.)

My wife had the first whack. “I went out with a baseball bat, but she wasn’t there,” she said.

“You realize you could have got sprayed?” I asked.

Her voice was monotone, the cold, murderous voice of exhaustion. “Yeah, but she’d be dead. It’d be so worth it.”

I bought stuff skunks dislike and air freshener. Lots of air freshener. All the different brands.

I tied dryer bags of Stank Skank’s least favorite things all around the deck. (The air freshener was for us.) My fingers were good and numb by the end, but that was a small price. We put as much noise and light on the area as we could.

It seemed to get her out from under the deck, but lonely boys with time on their hands still came looking for a little stinking tenderness at night. Periodic whiffs of her jilted lovers’ agonies sent us spiraling into Post Traumatic Skunk Disorder.

We built a snow berm around the deck to make it harder to use as a kiosk for their scented love notes. With the help of used kitty litter we seem to be making progress. The attacks are fewer, but I won’t declare victory until we can invite company into our house again.

snow fortress

The arrival of March means our snow fortress is melting. I hope this doesn’t mean a pick up in business for the brothel.

And my wife’s uterus? Someone explained it this way: She was smelling the pheromones of the dominant female in heat. Her body was syncing itself to that lead.

I was a little surprised at how easily my wife rolled over for a skunk. But I felt better when I recalled that she was about to go get her Alpha crown back with a baseball bat. Now that’s my girl.

I’d like to thank all the little people

I’m not good at this.

Blogging Award Nominations are odd creatures. They aren’t given out by some panel of blogging experts, but by individual bloggers as a show of appreciation and support for other bloggers. They are  touching gestures and a means of community-building within the blogosphere.

As a Virgo of German heritage, I’m not practiced at touching gestures. As a Level 1 Introvert, I’m not the best architect of community.

Even so, I am resolved to do my best.

Syracuse-based blogger Mark Bialzcak recently nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Thank you, Mark. I first started reading Mark’s blog because he lives about 90 minutes up the Thruway from where I grew up. I continue to read his blog because he is a great blogger. Being a fine writer can make you a good blogger, but it takes more than that to be a great blogger. Great blogs have a charisma that draws and keeps readers. Mark has a gift for celebrating humanity which makes his blog like a never-ending Super Bowl party. I admire that.

It’s a great honor to be nominated, and I would still be basking in that honor, except that it always comes with homework. This is where the edges of honor become tinged with my laziness. There have been times when award nominations have caught me pressed for time and lacking the inspiration to respond publicly. It’s never been because I didn’t appreciate the honor. I’m trying to do better.


The easy part of the homework is displaying the award badge. Done.

As part of the homework, I am supposed to list 7 facts about myself. Let’s see how this works out.

  1. There have been times in my life when I could have vanished from Earth for months without anyone knowing. Now, if I’m five minutes late home from work: Amber Alert.
  2. I am getting close to publishing a new novel, A Housefly in Autumn. This will be my third book of the modern era. I define the modern era as the time after I got my first clue about what it takes to publish decent books.


    It’s my award and I’ll use it to pimp my new book if I want to.

  3. I have one pre-modern era book that I am tempted to take out of print, but my wife claims reading it made her fall in love with me. Maybe I should just take my personality out of print.
  4. I have four unpublished novels, all written B.C. (Before Children). You haven’t made it in the literary world until your “lost” material is published after your death. I’m counting on the posthumous material to put me over the top (so to speak).
  5. I have another blog about reading and writing. It’s tone is generally more serious than this one. So if you think this one isn’t funny at all, you could head over there and not laugh on purpose.
  6. I used to be an avid reader, cross-country skier, and home brewer; now I have three kids and no hobbies.
  7. I’d like to thank all the little people (ages 6, 2, and nearly 1) who made this award happen. And my wife, who while petite in stature, must stand tall in character as the only female in a family of five. Despite the whining you might read from me here, I am thankful every day for my kids and my wife. They have saved me from a life where I could ski off the edge of the world with a book in one hand and a beer in the other, without anyone noticing.

    My Little People.

    My Little People.

For the last bit of homework, I’m supposed to nominate 15 other bloggers. I’m going to fudge this part. I’d like readers to check out these blogs, but it’s hard to visit 15 new blogs in one sitting. So I’m cutting it down to three. These are three of my go-to blogs – the ones I try not to miss. They are smart and funny and heartfelt, but see for yourself.

Also, because they’ve all already posted similar acceptances for other awards, I’m not holding them to the homework part. They are all Very Inspiring Bloggers, and I happily nominate them for this award, but they are welcome to view this as a simple appreciation of their work from another blogger and leave it at that.

Naptimethoughts – A parade of embarrassing moments and a festival of descriptive euphemisms for human body parts.

Ah Dad – English isn’t his first language. From the words he finds to describe the frightening sights he sees at the gym, you’d never know it.

South of the Strait – How does a funny, insightful writer deal with a family health crisis? By tickling your funny bone and tugging at your heart strings all at once.

I’m going to ignore the fact that I cheated and call the homework done now. Sorry I broke the rules, Mark, but as I may have mentioned, I’m not very good at this.