Saturday morning: somewhere in the 18th century

Due to fungus, bugs, and perhaps the psychological distress of destructive boys invading their ecosystem, we’ve lost several trees. We can’t say which of the above killed the Maple in the back yard, but it joined the ranks of the standing dead a while ago.

Falling limbs have turned this tree into a minor hazard. A branch could fall on one of the kids, but childhood is fraught with risks, so I let that slide. My Edgar Allen Poe tree gave the back yard a Gothic charm, and the kids need to learn to keep their heads up anyway. But when a snagged branch poked me in the temple last time I tried to mow around the trunk, it was the last straw. That menace was about to fall like the House of Usher.

 

The Poe Tree

It’s curtains for you, Edgar.

Our neighbor owns an electric chain saw that she’d borrowed back from us for a few days, since we weren’t using it. In order to determine whether the chainsaw had the horsepower to cut through the trunk, before I went to the trouble of reclaiming it from its owner, I gave the trunk a couple whacks with my ax. (Technically, it’s a splitting maul, but splitting mauls don’t capture the imagination like axes do).

The wood wasn’t so tough, so I gave it a few more whacks. Those few more whacks turned me into Paul Bunyan. The notion of chopping down a tree with an ax captivated me. Why shouldn’t a man chop down a tree with his bare hands instead of waiting until the lady next door gets home so he can borrow her power tools?

An old lumberjacks’ trick: use your rest breaks to take pictures.

I always like to find activities to distract my masculinity before it turns toxic. Chopping down this tree had my masculinity skipping like a child in knee pants. I highly recommend the activity to anyone suffering dangerous levels of manliness.

After some short breaks to catch my breath, because my woodsman skills have been in decline for the past six generations, I toppled the tree with a soul-satisfying crash. I put my ax away and, just like the true pioneers of yesteryear, went inside for a well-deserved Gatorade.

My wife looked up from Netflix. “What happened? We heard a loud crash.”

“You didn’t rush to see if I were hurt?” I asked.

“I sent the little one to look out the window,” she reassured me.

Every strong man needs a good woman.

Seriously, she would have paused her movie if the preschooler’s assessment of my injuries warranted such drastic action.

down and out

Didn’t even hit the house with it.

Having reassured my worried family, I went out to clean up the debris. I thought I might build a log cabin out of my timber, but our frontier Homeowners Association won’t let us put up a 4×4 shed, so they probably wouldn’t approve my sod roof designs.

I cannot tell a lie; there’s a euphoria in going all George Washington on a Cherry (okay, Maple) tree. It’s a stirring experience – makes you want to party like it’s 1799.

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Field of painful dreams

When I was in little league, I got a colored T-shirt with a stenciled team name on the front and a cap with a solid color in front and white mesh on the back (the kind farmers wear when they are out combining corn).

Baseball has come a long way since then. Big Brother’s team has jerseys with numbers, baseball pants, socks, and caps with real Major League logos on them. Parents pay significantly more for sports leagues now than mine ever did, so I guess there should be more stylish outfits to get dirty.

This is Big Brother’s second year in a kid-pitch league. The kids pitch to opposing batters, unless it takes more than five pitches to get the batter out, in which case the coach finishes him off. Elementary school boys are not the most accurate throwers, and there are no walks issued, so this system keeps the game from bogging down into a wild-pitch duel.

Big Brother has a strong arm, but like all the elementary school boys, he has some control issues. Most of these stem from his fear of hurting the kid up to bat. He can throw a number of good strikes during warm-ups, but when a kid steps into the batter’s box, Big Brother’s head fills with images of hardball carnage leading to predictably wild results. As he explained it himself: “I’m a good pitcher as long as there’s no batter.”

Baseball can be a cruel and ironic game.

batting practice

Getting in some batting practice from a pitcher that probably won’t bean you.

Kids need to face their fears, so he was scheduled to pitch the first two innings of their opening game. He nailed the first batter in the back. The boy lived, and after wiping a few tears, even trotted down to first base.

I wouldn’t have wished Big Brother to hit a batter, but in the long run, it may have saved future batters from pain. Big Brother realized he wasn’t likely to kill or maim another kid with a wild pitch and stopped worrying so much about it. He relaxed and recorded a couple of strikeouts in two scoreless innings on the mound.

The flip side of this fear is getting hit with a pitch while batting. In this case, fear hinders a kid with a good swing from playing up to his potential. Somehow, I don’t think getting nailed by a pitch will help him relax, so there needs to be an alternate solution for this.

It’s difficult to be a good hitter when you are leaving your bat on your shoulder until you determine whether or not to duck. He needs to learn the mechanics of hitting in the proper order: step into the pitch first, then assess whether you need to dive out of the way. That way, if you are not ground zero, you still have a chance to contact the ball with the bat.

It turns out hardball wouldn’t be nearly so complicated to learn if it weren’t for the hard and the ball.

 

 

Everybody’s talkin’ at me

Sunday was Big Man’s 4th birthday. That meant a Saturday trip to the store in preparation for the big event. This, in theory, would give me a chance to use the new coupon binder my wife had made for us. We are not extreme couponers by any means, but if stores mail you little pieces of paper that are worth money, you might as well use them.

In my head, I had planned out everything I needed to do in order to run a successful errand. The first step was to grab the coupon book on the way out. On my way to do that, I was interrupted. “You wanna drop this extra pizza off at Fran’s house on your way?” my wife asked. Why does my wife have an extra pizza? It’s a long story, but let’s just say she’s a natural redistributor of goods from areas of surplus to areas of demand.

I took the pizza. I left the coupon book. This happens to me often on my way out the door. As a man, I can think of only one thing at a time. That thing used to be sex, mostly, but as I’ve gotten old and domesticated, it has changed into things like coupons books. Family members see me going out as the time to make requests of me, new thoughts which drive the old thought, about why I was going, completely out of my mind.

I did make it to the store, but I paid full price.

coupon organizer

Our new coupon binder: handsome and useful – especially when you remember to take it to the store.

On Sunday morning, I went to pick up the birthday cake. I fled the house before anyone could make me lose my focus on cake.  At the store, I ran into a friend who’d bought Big Man an ice cream maker for his birthday. I volunteered to pick up the half & half and ice to make the ice cream. The ice was by the door, so I’d grab it on the way out.

I got the half & half, and a few other things my wife texted me to get, and headed for the checkout.  If I hadn’t passed the cake mix aisle I would have left without our cake. Good save, Duncan Hines! I got our cake and went through the checkout, only needing to pay for the bag of ice.

Apparently I had left my Don’t-Talk-To-Me face at home, which is odd because my wife says I wear it whenever I go out. I’ve been trying it on at home lately, but nobody respects it there. The young lady bagging the groceries saw our Paw Patrol cake and went off about her little nephew. Of course, when your Don’t-Talk-To-Me face fails, you have to be polite, even when it makes you forget to present your coupons, the ones you brought all the way to the store this time, to the cashier.

“My nephew this; my nephew that.”

“Uh-huh. Uh-huh, that’s nice.”

Needless to say, I had to go back to into the store for ice.

Big Man had a happy birthday, but I’m the one who aged.

The perfect birthday gift for a boy who loves tools and belts.

What lies beneath

In matters of the heart, our boys are all boy. When it comes to demonstrating emotions toward each other, that demonstration usually takes the form of a punch or a blind-side tackle. Sure, they play and joke together, but when one inspires a deep feeling within another, that feeling is generally somewhere between annoyance and anger.

That’s what makes it so much extra soft and fuzzy when the moon turns blue and they show some genuine warmth for each other.

Last weekend was Big Brother’s league basketball tournament. This was the biggest tournament of the year, and he had been looking forward to it. The Thursday before the tournament, Big Brother got sick. We thought he’d be better in time, but when he woke Saturday morning it became clear he wouldn’t be able to play.

He and I were both disappointed. As he sat in his pajamas, coming to terms with disappointment and his physical discomforts, Buster took me by the arm and whispered into my ear. “Can you make him stay upstairs and you come downstairs with me?”

Big Brother didn’t look like he was going downstairs in the next few minutes, so I just went down with Buster. “Can you get me paper and a pencil?” Buster asked, leading me toward the drawing paper the boys use to make birthday cards for their friends’ parties.

I got him a piece of paper and a crayon, because crayons are better than pencils for Hallmark occasions. He sat at the dining room table and folded the paper into card form. Looking up at me, he said, “I need help with the words.”

I nodded. “What do you want to say?”

He told me his thoughts and I spelled the words for him. He wrote the letters as I dictated.

 

The best cards are made of crayon on paper.

All the words were his. Only the spelling was mine, except for the word “BAeTter” where he kind of got ahead of me. It didn’t matter. The meaning was clear.

A mouthful for a boy to say to his brother.

Big Brother came downstairs. Buster made me stand guard so Big Brother wouldn’t come into the dining room. When Buster was finally done with the illustrations, he handed the card to Big Brother with the understated, brotherly tenderness that comes with the single word: “Here.” “Here” is the most caring word in a boy’s lexicon when it accompanies a hand bearing a heartfelt gift.

Big Brother read the card. He didn’t know how to react. At last, the brotherly instinct took over. His face brightened just a bit. “That’s really nice,” he told Buster. He put the card down on the coffee table and life went back to normal.

Everything that needed to be done or said was done and said. The exchange lasted a brief instant, and that was exactly the right length for it. If it had gone longer, it would have turned fake.

This was real, and it had to be allowed to sink down underneath, where brothers keep it.