The many itches of summer

You haven’t seen a lot from this blog over the summer. There’s a good reason for that: I’ve been super busy scratching my butt and fantasizing about my retirement years. (Notes to self: 1- You are over 50 and still have three children under 11; 2- You will never retire; 3- Milk those fantasies.) In between these important activities, I’ve been doing a lot of writing, only not blog writing.

This is me fantasizing about my retirement lifestyle.

I’ve been writing things that you (i.e. the world in general) may never see. If these things do find the light of day, it won’t be for a few years. That’s the way writing goes though. You’ve got to really want to do it, because you can’t be motivated by any promise of fantastic rewards.

Now is the point where I contradict myself, because that is a blogger’s prerogative. I don’t really want to do it; I have to do it, because that’s who I am. It’s hard work, and I’d rather be spending my summer playing outside, but for some strange, intrinsic reason, I have to do it.

So that’s what I’ve been doing instead of regular blogging.

Sometimes bloggers apologize for having posting sporadically. I won’t do that, because I think it implies your life is somehow incomplete without regular doses of me in it. I’m not quite ready to make that assumption yet. However, if some atonement is necessary, I offer a fun and quick piece of flash fiction from my other blog (from which I’ve also been too absent). It’s sort of based on a true story, or a true fear anyhow, and it’s merely one quick click away: Last of the Good Proctologists (Reading time: 2-3 minutes)

Happy last days of summer to all my northern hemisphere friends!

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Vastness of father’s ignorance inspires child to stay in school

Big Man graduates from preschool tonight. It will be a proud and happy moment for his parents. Proud because it’s another step completed on his journey to becoming a man of substance. Happy because it means the end of tuition payments. Big Man is learning on your dime for the next 13 years, Dear American Taxpayer. He’s a public school boy now.

That’s not to say we’re turning him completely over to you. We will continue to work with him to master riding a bike and tying shoe laces. And we’ve already done all the nasty potty training stuff. All we really need you to do is teach him Calculus and whatever other sundries he needs to get a full college scholarship. We’d like to make a habit of this not paying tuition thing.

Buster’s preschool graduation day, two years ago. He is currently pursuing a post-Kindergartenal degree in Homework Evasion.

Big Man is mentally prepared for Kindergarten. He’s a boy full of curiosities, who is slowly being disappointed to find his father does not know everything. He is coming to understand that his pathway to knowledge runs through Kindergarten, and then high school. Any information gleaned from Daddy is supplemental at best.

The other day, for instance, Big Man and Daddy were observing a Roly-Poly (a.k.a. Pill Bug) in its travels along the length of a twig. “What do Roly-Polies eat?” Big Man asked Daddy.

I could probably see what it’s eating if I knew which end the mouth was on.

“I don’t know,” Daddy naturally replied. Daddy knew the fascinating fact that Roly-Polies are crustaceans, but he didn’t know the mundane facts of what they eat. Children never ask the right questions.

“How do you not know what Roly-Polies eat?” Big Man asked. (“How do you not know?” is becoming one of his standard questions as he discovers how many basic curiosities Daddy is unequal to.)

“How do you not know?” Daddy asked in rebuttal.

“I never went to the high school,” Big Man asserted. “You went to the high school, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” Daddy confirmed. “I went to high school, but not to the one where they tell you what Roly-Polies eat.”

Big Man shook his head at yet another of Daddy’s maddening ignorances.  “I’ll ask Mommy.”

Now, Mommy is pretty smart, but her knowledge of bugs revolves around how to neutralize them before they bite, sting, or burrow into an ear canal. “Mommy may not know,” I told him.

“What?” Big Man asked in exasperation. “She didn’t go to the high school either?”

If we have many more of these conversations, Big Man may become convinced he is the first generation in his family to graduate preschool.

And since he’s in the first generation of his family that didn’t jump straight into Kindergarten, that little son of gun would be right again.

Goodnight half moon

If you’re not from Central New York, you may not understand the significance of this little bakery gem.

Not the perfect example, but a respectable effort.

It’s a half moon cookie, not to be confused with New York City’s black and white cookie, which looks similar to the naked eye, but is something else entirely.

Half moon cookies were part of my childhood. There were many shops in the Mohawk Valley that sold them, but they were not all created equal. There was one little bakery in the village of Fort Plain that made the perfect half moon. They made the éclair to end all éclairs too, but we little boys couldn’t get enough of their half moons.

I remember going to the bakery with my mother, before I was old enough for school. The ladies who worked there knew us, and they never failed to offer me a free cookie as they boxed up our order. I was a shy kid, and even though I wanted that cookie like nobody’s business, I always said no to the first offer. They knew me well enough to not take my no for an answer. I always came out with a free cookie, in spite of my hindering bashfulness.

There are no half moon cookies where I live now. For years, a requisite part of any visit back home was a trip to that Fort Plain bake shop. Those perfect half moons were the delicious taste of childhood at a small-town price that was nothing less than a steal. Then, about 10 years ago, the bakery closed down. I don’t know why, but I suspect a fragile, rural economy and aging ownership had something to do with it.

In the years since, I haven’t had any half moons. Any other bakery’s cookies would disappoint me, so I resigned that piece of my childhood to history.

A few weeks ago, I was overcome by a wave of nostalgia for the half moon. I found a bakery in a different part of the Mohawk Valley that would ship a dozen cookies to me. Emotion got the better of me. Even though I expected to be disappointed, I paid more than I should have for the shipment.

I envisioned sharing the experience with my boys, but they had no interest in the cookies. They’d never seen half moons before, and these cookies were too far out of their experience to be appealing. They wouldn’t even take a taste. So I froze the cookies and ate them one by one at my leisure. They were not perfect cookies, but they were better than my cautious expectations (even after a 3-day journey). The most disappointing thing about them was that none of my boys was interested in sharing in them. Some things must pass away with the generations.

In the end, it was my own sweet journey back in time, and another bitter revelation that you can’t go home again. Childhood, after all, is for children. And that’s how it should be.

A Big Little Big Man

For classification purposes, we have two categories of children: Bigs and Littles. If you know we have three children in our house, you may wonder how both of those labels can be plural. We should have two Bigs and a Little or a Big and two Littles. Instead, we have Bigs and Littles.

This is possible because our middle child, Buster, is a size chameleon. When the conversation is about who has a full day of school and who has a half day, he’s a Big, burdened with long hours of 1st grade learning. When the issue is who should use a booster seat, he’s a Little. This is how we squeeze two Bigs and two Littles from three boys.

Big Brother is always a Big, and Big Man is always a Little. It’s only Buster who turns the majority in favor of one side or the other.

Big Man understands he is always a Little. He also understands other things that sometimes make us wonder if he is not the truest Big in our house:

Over Spring Break, our babysitting situation was cast into flux. We had to quickly come up with a new babysitting schedule for when school resumed. As my wife scrambled to fill in the gaps of the work week with coverage, she ran her plan by me.

The new plan relied upon multiple sitters with varying schedules, meaning I would have to adjust my schedule to make it work. It meant the Bigs would also have to adjust their morning habits to get to school on time.

As we discussed the new plan, we were sitting at the table with Buster and Big Man. My wife asked if the new schedule worked for me. “I can make it work,” I answered, “but how will the Bigs feel about it?”

“I don’t care how they feel about it at this moment,” she replied. “First I need to find something that works.”

Big Man’s mouth fell open. He looked from one unfit parent to the next. Imagine a four-year-old, eyes wide in disbelief, arms extended, hands held out in bewilderment at our callousness. “One of the Bigs is sitting right here!” he pointed out, nodding toward his older brother. “And you say you don’t care how he feels? He can hear you, you know.”

Sometimes he appears older than his years, and with more facial hair.

For the record, Buster was not nearly as outraged as his little brother was outraged for him. But Big Man is right: you should send the children from the room when the façade of household democracy needs to be torn down by the parental oligarchs.

Mommy explained that we all care about Buster’s feelings, but there are sometimes when everybody in the family has to make some sacrifice for the good of all. That conversation was sweet and sensitive, and not entertaining, so I’ll move on to the point.

For a Little to put himself in somebody else’s shoes, and speak with empathy for that person, is a pretty Big thing.