In a perfect world every child would get their own cow eyeball

Who doesn’t love neuroscience? For a couple of hours, every spring, we can’t imagine anyone not having fun with brain studies. These are the hours we spend at our university’s annual neuroscience fair.

The boys get to see some fun exhibits and collect a little free swag. I get to revisit my theory about the neurons in the heads of little boys. In a nutshell, this theory posits that random testosterone spikes surge up the spines of boys to the brain neurons, causing entire lunchrooms full of synapses to have violent slap fights, resulting in periods of frenzied naughtiness. I have yet to get any of the science fair officials to endorse my Theory of Frenzied Naughtiness, but it’s only a matter of time.

The big draw at the fair is the cow eye dissection. You have to sign up in advance of one of the dissection programs – cow eye supplies are limited. In the past we’ve always arrived after the sessions were full. This year we got there early and secured a pair of eyes for our family.

While we waited for our session to begin, the boys touched some brains, did some surgery, and invested in the longevity of their own fledgling cerebrums with free bike helmets. Free bike helmets and cow eyes – and I always thought the only perks early birds got were worms.

Ever wondered what a Zombie buffet looks like?

He preferred performing surgery on the cherry flavored brain.

Wrapping up some precious little noggins.

In the dissection room, we donned our rubber gloves. If you can get a two-year-old and a four-year-old into rubber gloves before the event is over, you earned your cow eye. Nobody deserved those eyes more than we did.

Big Man and Big Brother shared their eye with Mommy. Buster worked with me. You might think an eyeball would be a hard nut to crack with a little pair of scissors, but if you squeeze that bovine peeper tight in your other hand, you can snip your way into the gooey center without difficulty. It helped that a couple of strategic slits were pre-cut for us. I had to wonder who got the plum job of scoring a hundred eyeballs. They should get an A on their freshman midterm.

We put our two best surgeons on this case.

Look: there’s a toy surprise inside.

There were nice, big placemats for us to work on, but every time Big Brother had a question, he would carry his preservative-dripping eye over to me, trailing eyeball juice on the table. The scientists were tolerant; this must not have been their first experience with young surgeons.

Knowledge gained, we left the operating room to go paint a brain. I don’t know a better way to wind down from a tense operation than with a little light brain painting.

A little orange makes it think better.

Then we sampled a magical berry extract that makes lemons taste sweet. It was interesting, but I’m not sure I want sweet lemons. I’m just an old prude, clinging to my traditional values about citrus. Before I could break into a rant about how the younger generation and their newfangled science was ruining tart, my family took me home.

The new breed of mountain men: more cute, less mountainy

If having children means one thing, it’s saying goodbye to your simple pleasures. This is why I don’t read anymore. Now, when I want to relax, I go to the kitchen and pour apple juice into a plastic cup. What do I do for fun? I pour apple juice.

Another simple pleasure I’ve missed is walking in the woods.

Up until now, there’s always been one kid  too small to make a worthwhile walk in the woods. Strollers are fine for neighborhood walks, but only the jogging stroller could be useful in the woods. We have a jogging stroller, somewhere. It’s been banished to the basement for eight years as part of my wife’s prejudice against vehicles without steerable wheels.

Baby carriers? Nope. Not gonna do that to my walk in the woods. I am precious few years away from needing someone to carry me. I’m not going to waste this time pounding the final nail into the coffin of my posture.

Last Sunday, when my wife proposed going for a walk, I said I would like to do that very thing, in the woods. In the following silence, my family looked askance at me, wondering with their eyes if there were not sidewalks in such a place.

Buster, the adventurer, was first to sign on to the expedition. I knew I could count on Big Man to join as soon as he saw the two of us putting on our shoes. Big Brother was reluctant, having reached the age of philosophical objection to the act of walking for its own sake.

Since no neighborhood kids were playing outside, Big Brother caved in to going with us. The only detail remaining between us and the woods was the traditional parental argument over adequate apparel. A day in the mid 50˚s, brings out the sharp differences between Mom and Dad over the necessity of hats and gloves. Mom won, and the boys started out overburdened with accessories that will hinder them developing into proper mountain men.

Mom is lukewarm to anything having to do with nature, but fearing hats and gloves would be discarded the moment we were out of sight, she decided to come along.

It was a beautiful day for an adventure.  People got dirty, but nobody fell into freezing cold water, though that temptation was present. The boys learned that steep hills become slippery slopes when covered with fallen leaves. I discovered there is still at least one biting insect flying around our parts in mid-November.

Best of all, nobody required carrying, not even me. Big Man was standing on heavy legs by the end, but he soldiered through. Maybe he’ll make a mountain man yet, despite how cute he looks in his winter hat.

At the end of the day it was unanimous: we want to do this again. Now, if I can only get them to read with me, we may rediscover the simple pleasures.

 

No country for young boys

My wife and I just finished driving to California and back with our three boys. We live in the Eastern Time Zone, so this was a substantial road trip.

Why would anyone drive cross country with three little boys? Are we crazy?

Apparently.

We went to California for my sister-in-law’s wedding. The cost of flying the family there and then renting a minivan for several days was a big factor in the decision to drive.

Plus, we’re crazy.

Sane people would have gone into debt to fly. Probably. Honestly, I have no idea how sane people think.

Driving 5,000 miles (8,000 km) with a one-year-old, a three-year-old, and a seven-year-old was a fun adventure – the kind of fun that takes years off your life.

I’m older now, and wiser. It’s the kind of wisdom that’s only useful for those driving consecutive days with children, which is something, God willing, I will never have to do again. So, it may turn out to be useless wisdom; that would be the best case scenario.

Happy, soothing pictures from the Pacific Ocean to calm my nerves.

Happy, soothing pictures from the Pacific Ocean to calm my nerves.

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In case any friends out there find themselves with such a daunting journey ahead of them, here are some nuggets of wisdom I learned on our trip:

  • Nothing makes a preschooler have to pee more urgently than traveling a mile past a rest stop.
  • Driving is often touted as a great way to see the country, but America all looks pretty much the same at night. The dashboard lights are the same everywhere.
  • One-year-olds can be amazingly peaceful car passengers, for a little while.
  • Speed limits are unnecessary if there are enough trucks on the road.
  • A three-year-old and a seven-year old can fight over which movie to watch for longer than any movie lasts.
  • Everyone knows “I’ll turn this car around and go home!” is an idle threat.
  • To Daddy, “I’ll turn this car around and go home!” is a beautiful, forlorn daydream.
  • The western states are too big. They should be divided up so kids don’t have to ask, “Are we still in Colorado?” 300 times.
  • A seven-year-old + a third row seat + the Rocky Mountains = puke. It’s simple arithmetic.
  • The rift between the McDonald’s and Wendy’s factions can tear a weary family apart for the duration of the highway break.
  • Regardless of who won the restaurant debate, you’ll have an upset stomach for the next 200 miles.
  • Sprint does not operate a single cell tower within the state of Nebraska.
  • When the Garmin tells you your next turn is in 524 miles, you are someplace you don’t belong.
  • Despite what seems like constant tumult, kids do actually sleep in the car. You realize this when, after arriving home at 7 a.m. and going straight to bed, the kids wake you up two hours later.

Driving across the US and back with small children is not for everyone. Rational, mature, reflective adults have no business attempting it. It’s a fool’s errand, and only we fools know how to do it right.

Flag football: a sport where getting in the way is a useful skill

The oldest son is playing soccer and flag football this year. This is his third year of soccer and first of organized football. Sports get pretty serious in 2nd grade. The soccer team uses a goalie now and there are actual refs on the field. It’s like the World Cup all of a sudden.

Being new to football, we can’t document the changes from 1st grade, though we learned a mouth guard is mandatory. This was a good lesson, and it came in handy when the boy had a face-on-face collision with a teammate during practice. We also learned the difference between soccer shoes and football shoes. When I was a boy, we had one kind of shoe; it was called a sneaker.

Football requires as much determined movement as soccer. This is unfortunate, since the boy uses up all his aggressive play on his little brothers. When it comes to sports with non-related children, he is a passivist.

He is also behind most of his teammates in experience, with a total of two lifetime practices under his belt. Yet he made the most of his practice time in the first game, handing the ball off twice without dropping it, and throwing one almost-complete pass.

presnap

Preparing for the snap in shotgun formation.

look it in

Going out for a pass. It’s not important whether or not he caught it.

But his finest moment was one that won’t show up in the stat sheets. He was playing the 2nd grade equivalent of Wide Receiver when the 2nd grade equivalent of Running Back ran a sweep to his side of the field. My boy threw a crucial block, allowing the runner to get around the corner for a long gain. Now, the 2nd grade equivalent of throwing a block is putting oneself in the way of the kid who is trying to rip the flag belt off your teammate, and I’m not sure my son did this on purpose or whether it was just another manifestation of his innate skill of being in the way, but it resulted in a long gain, so who cares?

All those times when, arms full of grocery bags, I tripped over him as he stooped to remove his shoes, just inside the doorway, paved the way for this wonderful moment. Just because I never played football beyond the playground doesn’t mean I’m not capable of coaching him up a little at home.

So, even though the kid may never develop into a star ball carrier or quarterback, I think there is potential for him in this game. I’ve never known a kid so talented at being in the way. As he proved on Sunday afternoon, being in the way is a vital component of the game of football. I’m not sure he’ll ever be large enough to get in the way professionally, but no one expects that.

As long as he enjoys doing it, whether he carries, throws, or catches the ball, or just puts himself in the way of the right player, we’ll cheer him on. I may even compliment him on his blocking practice next time I trip over him.

football hero

The next generation of football hero. Yup, we’re a regular pipeline of star recruits.