Counting life by tens

When it’s a new year, we look forward. When it’s a new year, especially one that ends in zero, some of us look back. I’m a backward gazer.

January 1970

I was a toddler, about a year away from starting my first job. It’s possible farm kids enter the workforce sooner. My first job entailed sitting on a rock and calling the cows down from the pasture at milking time. I did such a good job of it, I was promoted to jobs with more responsibility. I regretted that none of these higher jobs involved sitting down.

toy tractor

1970: Already working with tractors.

January 1980

I was in 7th grade. My father died in 1976, so we no longer operated the farm. I was excited for the 1980 Winter Olympic in Lake Placid. It was a big deal having the Olympics in our state. On weekends, they showed Nordic events on TV. Afterward, I would put on my skis to race around the perimeter of the cornfield. I wore my watch so I could try to beat my best time.

Becoming an Olympic biathlete was my sports dream, but it never had a shot. We didn’t have any ski clubs and there was no Internet to help find such things. I just skied around the field, enjoying the dream for what it was.

January 1990

I had graduated college the spring before and moved to Los Angeles. I quickly discovered that my freshly printed degree in Video Production was an express ticket to working retail sales in that town. I worked in the Glendale Galleria, selling personalized mugs and engraving glass and metal. Beginning at minimum wage, I was bumped up to $6/hour when I became a competent engraver.

I was at a drive-through ATM one day when my car began to shake. The ATM screen promised me I had no money for repairs, but after a minute the car calmed down. I drove home fearing a breakdown, but the car behaved. Turning on the TV, I breathed relief at learning it was only an earthquake.

It was around New Year’s, 1990, when my mother called to tell me she had cancer. She played it down and assured me everything would be all right. I believed her, because when your mom says it will be all right, you make yourself believe her. You make yourself believe her for as long as you can.

Lost cause

1990: My Los Angeles office/dining room.

January 2000

We survived Y2K; that was good. California and a few other sojourns were long past. I was already working the same job I have now; a fact that gives me pause. I was single and living in a tiny loft apartment. I wouldn’t meet my wife for two more years.

After years of fits and starts, I started to take writing more seriously. I submitted a novel to POD company, not realizing how immature the writing of a 32-year-old could be. I don’t know if blogs existed yet. I certainly hadn’t heard of them.

January 2010

I had a kid! I owned a house! Not to mention the whole marriage thing. After years of assuming I would grow old in my little apartment with a growing pile of unpublished manuscripts (my version of cats), I had people around me to help me grow old. (I mean that in a good, easing sort of way – mostly).

I’d worked for the same employer for 10 years, which felt kind of odd. Who does that? But there was more waiting for me at home than edits and rewrites, so things were good. I would start this blog within the next two years.

Florida vacation

2010: Father of one. Since children 2 and 3, I don’t get to sit so comfortably anymore.

January 2020

I have three kids now – still only one wife. I have published three more books, all so much better than that first one. This blog is eight years old. I hope it has a few more years in it. Tonight, I will coach 6th grade basketball practice, which is just one of the many cherished privileges my children have offered me.

And now you’re all caught up.

P.S. Almost forgot. I have a cell phone now. I held out for decades, but you know how we young fellows are susceptible to peer pressure.

 

How many days ‘til Christmas?

How many days ‘til Christmas? I get asked that a lot lately. Mostly it’s Big Man asking the question. His Kindergarten class hasn’t worked their way up to subtraction from such a lofty number as 25 yet. Sometimes Buster will ask me. He knows how to subtract from 25, but why should he have to, when he could just ask a parent? As part of their Christmas cheer and good will, parents should always be ready to announce how many long, tedious days remain between a kid and the most prized morning of the year.

Yesterday it was requested I ask Siri how many days ‘til Christmas. Apparently, my calculations have run up against some doubt in the elementary school mathematics community. Perhaps my results don’t seem optimistic enough. Siri’s information, on the other hand, is ironclad.

I didn’t ask Siri. I will not be doubted.

Big Brother doesn’t ask me about the countdown. He’s trying to play it cool. Or maybe he’s going straight to Siri behind my back.

I wonder what Siri got them for Christmas.

I have more reason than Siri does to know how many days ‘til Christmas. I know exactly the number of days because, to me, they are not long and tedious; they are short and fleeting.

There’s not enough time. People want me to show up for work; others want me to attend holiday events; the schools want to have plays and concerts, the whole time softly coercing parents to show up to support their children. And the kids’ sports programs and music lessons have no mercy either.

Tell me, oh great and powerful Siri, when am I supposed to make Christmas happen?

Siri relaxing and enjoying the Holiday Season in her own unhelpful way.

The Christmas season seems like it would be fun, if you could afford a moment to enjoy it. Imagine sitting down to a nice Christmas movie with your family, without being haunted by the myriad things left to do before that hard deadline that equals 25-0.

As I recall, when I was a kid, Santa Claus picked up a lot of the slack. Saint Nick came through every year. Now, not so much. He’s older now, so maybe he can’t do the heavy lifting he used to do. I guess that’s a valid excuse; I just wish he had let us know he was getting ready to wash his hands of the whole making kids merry thing.

Perhaps Santa could have apprenticed Siri into the role. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if she did a little more than just talking Christmas up to the kids?

Well, maybe I’ll get to relax after Christmas. Boxing Day should be good, except for all the Christmas mess, and the kids wanting to play with all their toys at the same time and getting overstimulated.

But I don’t have to think too hard, or really even get up out of my chair to put a kid in Timeout. So, yeah, the day after Christmas should be fine.

We must all hang together

It wouldn’t seem right to skip my annual report on putting up the Christmas tree. We were a little later than usual putting ours up this year. The boys forgot to nag about it for a little while which allowed the parental holiday sloth to take over.

Eventually the boys realized there was some hulking monstrosity missing from our already crowded living room. The sloth was chased from the house, but the parent host was made to stay and drag all his tubs of festive cheer up from the basement.

We have an artificial tree (the sloth’s legacy), which the boys were eager to assemble. You don’t get that kind of quasi-LEGO experience with a real tree, no sir. On the other hand, a real tree doesn’t require the dreaded chores of spreading wire branches and fluffing Mylar needles. It’s a Yuletide tradeoff.

Hanging together.

After the first minute of branch-fluffing, I noticed Big Brother and Buster had disappeared. Big Man was still invested though. He helped me test the lights, and gave me tons of helpful advice about where I should run each strand. I was switching the TV back and forth between a basketball game and a football game, and trying to finish cooking a stew in the other room, so he certainly put more thought into running the lights than I did. One way or another, they got on the tree.

The football game was coming down to the wire, so I corralled Big Brother and Buster and made them help Big Man hang ornaments while I let myself become distracted. There was an indirect correlation between the height of the decorator and his enthusiasm for the job, which is why the bottom of the tree is more densely populated than the top.

We have a number of TV character ornaments. Big Man found two from the same cartoon. “I have to hang these two next to each other, because they’re friends,” he told me. I couldn’t argue with that. Besides, I gave up arguing with children about the proper ornament disbursement years ago. Joyful little hands always make a more beautiful tree than cold geometry does. Sure enough, Finn and Jake ended up dangling from the same branch. Friends should always hang together.

Finn and Jake always hang together. It’s what friends do.

Later I noticed Rudolph, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius, Hermey, and the Abominable Snowman hung in a group. So were Homer, Bart, Marge and Lisa. Both television casts were on display near the bottom of the tree, leaving no doubt as to who hung family and friends together.

Why are Rudolph and Hermey in such a hurry?

Abominable Snowman is after them!

Big Man may not win any Martha Stewart Christmas Tree decorating awards, but he’s ahead of the game on empathy. I’ll take that over a perfectly balanced tree any day. It’s a good thing.

 

 

A Valentine’s Day massacre to call our own

Nothing sucks away the Valentine’s Day spirit like Valentine’s Day. This probably holds true in all situations, but it is especially evident when you have children in elementary school.

Valentine’s Day means school parties, which means preparing a bunch of those little waxed ticket Valentine’s cards.

Most public grade school classes contain twenty-some-odd students, making it perfectly natural that the cards come in boxes of 16. If you search hard, you may be able to scrounge up a box of 32 cards, but the prizes (and they need to have prizes now) are not as good.

power ranger valentines

A 32 count box of valentines – more precious than gold.

The boxes I unearthed came with temporary tattoos and glow-in-the-dark stickers. These were not on the lollipop level, but gradeschoolers need additional sugar even less than they need tattoos.

Having limited the number of boxes to buy, and spared dozens of children’s parents from the effects of an added sugar rush, I thought I’d won Valentine’s Day.

I had not.

This became apparent when it came time to prepare the cards. Big Brother was able to address his by himself, but he needed help fitting the tattoos into the little slots in the cards. Those little slits were difficult to find, and impossible to neatly slip the corners of tattoos squares into. It would have been so much easier to ram a lollipop stick through there. Valentine fail #1.

Buster’s cards were worse. With his unconfident penmanship, he could not make his pencil write dark enough on the waxy paper. I gave him a pen that writes smoothly on wax. Valentine fail #2. The pen also smears smoothly on wax. I dictated the spellings of the names of his classmates to him while he wrote the letters and promptly smeared them as he moved his hand across the paper.

We used the extra cards to replace the worst monstrosities. Having learned our lesson, we let the ink dry and folded them so he could write his name without touching the recipient’s name. Then it was time to attach the glow-in-the dark stickers.

More tiny slits! Valentine fail #3. The stickers were harder to fit into the slits than the tattoos were, especially when attempting to do it without touching the ink already on the card.

 

can you find a tiny slit?

Somewhere on this card are slits for sliding a sticker into. Good luck!

Finally, we were ready to fold up the cards and seal them with the little sticker hearts universal to these kits. We’d just fold the names up inside and not worry about smearing anymore. Valentine fail #4.  We got a good way through this process when it occurred to me that with names folded inside, Buster wouldn’t know who each card was for.

Sticker!

Did you guess right? Congratulations! Only 23 more to go!

This must be a common mistake, because there are about four hearts for every card in the set. We ripped the hearts off the cards, folded them the other way, so Buster could try to interpret the smeared names on them, put them into a baggie, and tossed them in his school bag with the last of my Valentine’s spirit.