Give it the old middle school try

There’s an old American phrase: “Give it the old college try.” If you are not American and old, you may not have heard it. To give it the old college try means to lend a task your best effort, even if you believe the challenge may go beyond your abilities.

Saturday morning, we woke up to six inches of new fallen snow. I went out to shovel. Buster was planning on coming out to help, but when I told him he had to wear his snow pants, he decided he’d rather stay inside and whine about how much he hated wearing snow pants.

The snow was wet and heavy – the kind they refer to as Heart Attack Snow, because it takes down so many older gentlemen like me through overexertion. I didn’t experience any coronary events, but it was slow going through the heavy snow.

When I was half way through our driveway, Big Brother came outside, wearing snow pants and not whining about it, which made him my favorite kid for the moment. I asked him to grab a shovel and begin on the neighbor’s driveway. Our neighbor does helpful things for us, and I’m trying to teach the boys to be neighborly.

Big Brother went to work on the neighbor’s driveway and kept up a good pace for all of three minutes. Then he came back, complaining of tightness in his shoulders. I told him that’s what hard work feels like and if he did it a little more often the tightness wouldn’t come around so quickly.

I said he could take a break, which he understood to mean he should go inside. He did reassure me that he might come back out after a while.

A good day’s work – when you are 11 and disinterested in work.

There was no sign of him when I finished our driveway and sidewalks. I walked to the neighbor’s driveway to see what Big Brother had accomplished before his shoulders gave out on him. He’d cleared a fine-looking rectangle with sharp right angles. His work was an ode to geometry – a very small ode. Seeing the extent of his industry inspired me to think of the old college try.

I don’t know why it made me think of the old college try, because there was no evidence of it here. I’m calling what he had given “the old middle school try.” The old middle school try is what happens when your dad asks you to do something and it turns out to be harder than you thought, so you come up with excuses to give up after a few minutes.

I couldn’t leave the driveway in that condition, so I finished shoveling the snow. Thanks to the old middle school try, nearly 10% of it was already done for me. By the time I was finished, my shoulders and forearms were sore. It’s right that I should have more sore spots than the kid, since I’ve had the benefit of college and he’s only been to middle school.

 

When you wish upon a chicken bone

A couple of Sundays ago we smoked a whole chicken. After all the meat was cut off, I showed Buster and Big Man the wishbone. I explained that if two people tugged at the wishbone, the person who got the bigger piece when it broke could make a wish. Buster was lukewarm to this chicken bone voodoo, but Big Man was intrigued.

Big Man wanted to give the wishbone a good yank right then, but I insisted we wait a day until it dried out. I put it behind the sink to dry and Big Man only asked three more times that night if it were ready to break.

The next morning, before school, he asked me again. He came home from school asking about the wishbone. It was dry by then so I let him pull it with me. Using all the structural physics he has learned up to Kindergarten, he deftly twisted his end upward so the greater stress applied to my side. My end broke, leaving him in possession of the larger part, and the right to a wish.

Winner! Winner! A day after the chicken dinner!

“I wish for a tower of candy!” he announced without hesitation.

I had hardly disposed of my losing sliver of bone before he began asking when his candy would appear.

“I don’t know,” I told him. “That’s the thing about wishes; sometimes they come true and sometimes they don’t.”

He furrowed his brow. “What good is a wish if it doesn’t come true?”

“If all wishes came true, you could have everything you ever wanted,” replied the man without a handy tower of candy. “And we know that isn’t the way it goes, don’t we?”

Reluctantly, “Yes.”

“We’ll just have to see if this wish comes true. But you have to be patient. Even wishes that come true can take a long time.”

He inquired about his tower of candy for a few days, then moved on to other concerns. I almost forgot about too, once he quit reminding me every 20 minutes.

At the store, some days later, I recalled the wish. For about $5 and a few pieces of tape, a modest tower of candy was assembled and left where he would find it.

Not quite the Swiss Colony tower of chocolate, but for the price of a broken chicken bone, not bad.

I expected him to be disappointed at its size. I imagined him envisioning a tower taller than himself. He said not a single word of complaint. He was happy to have the candy, but he was thrilled that his wish had come true.

It wasn’t about candy; it was about magic.

I made sure to remind him that although this wish came true, it doesn’t happen all the time. Soon enough he will be wishing for a car, and I can’t patch that together with tape.

Seeing his wish come true was a precious moment, but it didn’t stop us from switching to smoked pork ribs. We need to steer clear of animals with wishbones before I’m overcome by wishes.

You can depend on the Tooth Fairy – eventually

Our Tooth Fairy has always been flaky. She was unreliable when she first started calling at our house, and she’s unreliable still.

Poor Big Man had to have a tooth extracted. He took the news better than his big brothers would have. He didn’t cry or have to be dragged kicking and screaming. He was stoic about the entire procedure.

At five years old, I’d have faced such a procedure as impending doom. When I was eight, it took six medical professionals to hold me down to take blood, and that didn’t leave a hole, so at five I would have fought gum and nail over my bad tooth.

Big Man’s courage amazed me. He faced the dentist with aplomb. He even asked to take the extracted tooth home.

He wanted to examine his tooth as soon as he got home. It was saved in a tiny treasure chest, and he revered it like a treasure. Seeing my child’s tooth, complete with roots, not at all resembling the nub that would eventually have fallen out on its own, made me feel guilty for the operation he had endured.

The name of this chest seems a little ironic for the holder of a tooth that couldn’t be saved.

Big Man showed no regrets. He was fascinated by his tooth. He turned it over in his fingers, pointing out interesting features to me. It was all very clinical.

Except it wasn’t, really.

Big Man gets attached to odd things for brief periods. He instantly became attached to his separated tooth. He carried the little chest around the house with him for days. He fretted over losing it. He even wanted to take it to his soccer game.

We talked about selling the tooth to the Tooth Fairy, but he wanted to keep it for a while. He wasn’t ready to give up such an interesting specimen.

Until he was, suddenly and without notice.

Four days after the extraction, when I woke him for school, he reached under his pillow and pulled out his treasure chest. “The Tooth Fairy didn’t give me money,” he announced with disappointment. He was more upset about this than having the tooth pulled in the first place. “I want my money!”

The attachment was over, but our Tooth Fairy didn’t get the memo. “You have to tell your parents when you put your tooth under your pillow,” I told him, “so the Tooth Fairy knows it’s okay to take it. That’s the rule.”

“No it’s not.”

“How do you know? Did you even go to the library and ask for the book of Tooth Fairy rules?”

“No. But that’s not a rule.”

“Let’s test it. Put it under your pillow tonight and the Tooth Fairy will know it’s okay to take it.”

This was far from satisfactory, but it was better than sleeping with a tooth he no longer cherished night after night. He waited another day for our unreliable fairy.

It was a special tooth from a brave boy, so the next night the Tooth Fairy made amends by leaving a little extra.

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!