Sibling rivalry: Talking Dogs versus The Loop of Agony

The cooler, wetter weather has caused us to move much of our sibling rivalry fighting indoors. There are plenty of indoor toys, let alone game screens, to argue over, but our latest, loudest feuding has been over Netflix.

Buster likes Star Wars shows, especially those that combine the franchise with LEGOs. What could go wrong when the two most awesome things in his world are combined? These programs may not be very entertaining for adults, but at least they are not fingernails-on-chalkboard painful like his second favorite: Power Rangers. There are many different incarnations of Power Rangers, and some stab at my brainstem less brutally than others. The most plentiful episodes, though, seem to have been produced by a Junior High A/V class under a substitute teacher.

Even Big Brother’s eight-year-old sense of production values is offended by this Public Access Channel version of Power Rangers.

Buster’s greatest Netflix adversary is Big Man, with his weakness for talking dogs.

Big Man loves puppies, a group that includes all dogs, regardless of age. He likes the baby puppies best, but even the old puppies are good. There are lots of tolerable dogs in cartoons, but Big Man doesn’t care for cartoons. He likes live-action movies. While it seems quite natural for Scooby-Doo to talk, I get a little freaked out when I hear Don Knotts’ voice come out of a real dog. Don Knotts’ voice was unsettling enough when it came out of Don Knotts.

Will the real Deputy Fife please stand up?

There are more movies featuring talking puppies than you probably imagine. As a parent who has now watched a good many of them, this makes me sad. The only thing that makes me sadder is that somehow there aren’t enough movies featuring talking puppies.

I’ve learned not to lament the discovery of another talking dog movie. Finding another talking dog movie is a minor miracle. A new talking dog movie gives us a 90 minute reprieve from having to watch the old talking dog movie one more time. That’s something to be thankful for.

Buster might not mind the dog movies if they didn’t take away from his Star Wars/Power Rangers time. As soon as he sees the first hint of closing credits, he’s on the remote. Big Man’s movie is over and it’s his turn to choose. It’s only fair, except that when a Power Rangers episode ends, the next episode starts automatically. This may be the single greatest cruelty anyone has ever done to me. I call it the loop of agony.


Go! Go! Power Rangers! Go! Go! Unplug the TV before the next episode starts!

You might think this would be the perfect time for me to go out into the peaceful, cold rain and read a book. I would be content with that, but the kid who’s not watching his choice isn’t about to let me go where there be mud puddles without sloshing along beside me. Besides, everyone else in my family is counting on me to convince Buster that Power Rangers is really over before the next episode auto-starts.

Day 17,940

Today I outlived my father.

Before anyone sends condolences, I should clarify. My father died in 1976. Today I am one day older than my father lived to be. I am 17,940 days old, which translates into 49 years, 1 month, and a dozen days.

How do I know this? Microsoft Excel.

Why do I know this? That’s harder to say.

Probably, it is for three reasons: Big Brother, Buster, and Big Man. If not for them, and all they’ve added to my life through fatherhood, I likely would have never thought about this milestone.

The eight years I had with my father boil down to about five years of faded memories. Beyond that, he’s mostly hearsay from others and conjecture on my part.

For most of my life, I recalled my father through the eyes of a child – the last eyes that saw him in real life. My own children have allowed me to relate to him as a father.

Children are remarkable adapters. When my father died, I adapted to the way life must be without him. I lived as children live, thinking about today, leaving yesterday behind. My mother pulled double duty to provide her children good childhoods.

Like lots of kids who lost a parent, I considered my life to be normal. I never felt sorry for myself. That hasn’t changed, but something else has. Once in a while I feel sorry for my father. This empathy is a gift to me from my own children.

As a child, I coped with, and moved past, my own loss, and that was the end of it. I didn’t consider things from a parent’s point of view. I couldn’t conceive of the tragedy of being pulled away forever from a house full of young lives embodying all your hopes and dreams. I didn’t appreciate the sadness in not being there to share the joys and sorrows.

I don’t know what comes after life, or if there is a time or place for a departed soul to feel the sting of this separation, but now I feel it for him. I feel it when I realize how precious my boys’ smiles, and even sometimes their tears, are to me. I feel it when I think about how much they have to learn and how much I need to teach them. I feel it when I realize that most times I am called by name, that name is “Daddy.”

On my father’s 17,939th day, he had eight children, aged 5 to 19. The next day, we all were forced to rebuild our lives without him. Faded, with my memories of him, is the sadness of losing him. More vivid to me now, is a sadness for his losing us.

I visit this sadness now and then. It reminds me to enjoy the great gifts of fatherhood while I can.

I dont want to miss a thing.

I don’t want to miss a thing.

Onward Christian toddlers

Big Man found Jesus.

He discovered the New Testament, anyway. If my Catholic youth doesn’t fail me, that’s the part of the Bible about Jesus.

Back when I was in college, a troop of elderly gentlemen would periodically spread out to the various corners of campus and hand out copies of the New Testament to passersby. One day, I came home with a dozen New Testaments in my bag; I just couldn’t say no to those kindly old men, and the echoes of my Catholic youth warned me against saying no to Jesus.

The New Testament Men don’t come around as much anymore, but I did run into one of them a little while back. As any one-time Catholic worth his salt would do, I graciously accepted the book, took it home, and immediately forgot about it.

Last week it turned up in Big Man’s hands. Big Man has taken a shine to books. Having seen the eagerness with which Daddy sneaks a minute of reading here and there, and watching the erudite Big Brother read his 20 minutes a day (most days), Big Man has become captivated by the secrets within books.

Up until now, Big Man’s favorite books have been the ones with pictures of babies, or animals, or preferably, baby animals. But there’s something about this New Testament he’s taken a particular shine to. Maybe it’s the right size, or the feel of it is just right, or maybe he’s been touched by the Holy Spirit. I’m not wise enough to say. What I can say is he carries this book around with him more religiously than he’s ever toted a teddy bear.

Reading the Good Word.

Reading the Good Word.

On Saturday, he and I ran some errands. He insisted on bringing his book. He carried it through four stores. When he held it up against his chest, he looked like the worlds shortest preacher man marching through Target.

In the fifth store, he rode in the shopping cart. He set his book down on the toddler seat beside him, leaving him hands free to reach for cookies, but as soon as we moved to the pasta aisle he checked to make sure it was still there.

Little preacher man.

Little preacher man.

There was a moment of panic when we got back home. He asked, “Where my book?” I couldn’t remember taking it out of the cart, and God only knows when someone will hand me another New Testament. But a miracle saved us; I found it in Big Man’s car seat.

I could read something exceptionally spiritual in a two-year-old’s sudden fondness for the Bible, but this kid has a history of glomming on to unusual objects for a couple weeks before progressing to his next obsession. It’s a unique choice for a security blanket, but none of his choices are straight out of the Toddler’s Manual of Style. And if it does have a deeper meaning than I appreciate, well, I suppose there are worse people for him to be hanging with than Jesus.

Everywhere I turn, somebody’s growing up

Big Man and I went to the store for groceries. As I lifted him into the toddler seat of the grocery cart, he noticed the advertisement card clipped to the front of the cart. He looked at the bottle on the ad, gave me one of those I’m about to say something hilarious grins, and announced to the world, “We need wine.”

His impressive vocabulary notwithstanding, I drove our cart away from the world in haste. It’s not so bad that a two-year-old can identify wine, and it’s not unusual for children to say they need items they can name in the store. But when those two things come together, it sounds like sketchy parenting.

To add insult to injury, I rarely drink wine, so he must have learned about it from somebody who didn’t have to look like the abusive parent in the store that day. Now, if he’d said, “We need beer,” or “We need a fifth of Tomintoul,” that would have been on me. If he had requested Tomintoul, I would have been more proud than embarrassed, because it would have proved his genius: first in learning a word like Tomintoul, and second in appreciating how low Daddy is on good scotch.

Despite the impression the child gave you, this is not our family car.

Despite the impression the child gave you, this is not our family car. (Image: Carol Highsmith)

I’m glad he can identify a wine bottle. He knows it’s not for him and he won’t confuse it for apple juice. I just wish he wouldn’t talk about it like it’s animal crackers.

Meanwhile, Big Brother’s third grade pictures were taken this week. In the morning, Mommy laid out a handsome sweater vest for him. I went downstairs to make my lunch, wondering if he would balk at wearing a sweater with some wild claim that his friends were wearing football jerseys.

I came back upstairs expecting to hear Mommy ask, “If all your friends jumped off a cliff…?” Today, they’d have to jump without him. He came out of his room shaking his head. “I can never find the right tie!” The clip-on he held in his hand was apparently not the right tie. It was also, apparently, not his only tie. Since when did an eight-year-old need a selection of ties? I wonder how many ties our little Alex P. Keaton has. I may need to borrow one sometime.

Not the right tie.

Not the right tie.

Buster does yoga in preschool. The other night he showed us some yoga positions he’s learned. He demonstrated the Tree and the Airplane. The airplane looked more like a lame duck to me, but my yoga eye isn’t as advanced as his. Maybe I’m taking it all too literally. I have little doubt he’ll be teaching me to see the metaphor and appreciate the symbolism in the form by the spring semester.

This is an airplane for as long as the Master of the Peaceful arts can keep his balance.

This is an airplane for as long as the Master of the Peaceful Arts can keep his balance.

This is the airplane doing a scene from "Sully."

I believe this is the airplane doing a scene from “Sully.”

People always warn us, “They grow up so fast.” As someone who longs to have a conversation, sit down, or merely think my own thoughts for 30 seconds without being interrupted, I’m not worried about them growing up too fast.

Well, most days I’m not.