In 1975 backpacks were for hikers and all my school supplies fit in my pocket

Elementary school starts on Monday, which means we will be spending the weekend completing the scavenger hunt known as collecting the supplies on the school list. Big Brother is entering 3rd grade. I suppose that makes him an upperclassman in his school. I’m sure this will be reflected in his maturity level going forward.

Big Brother is expected to show up at 3rd grade with a veritable bounty of supplies. I showed up for my 3rd grade with a shirt, pants, and shoes. Everybody was fine with that. Eventually, I acquired a pencil, and after that, an eraser. They need a lot more stuff to write with now. Maybe they’re more furious writers; they probably press down harder on the pencils.

Our supply list consisted of the clothes on our backs and anything useful we could find in the woods. (Image: Lewis Wickes Hine)

Our supply list consisted of the clothes on our backs and anything useful we could find in the woods. (Image: Lewis Wickes Hine)

They need a bunch of sandwich bags too. If sandwich bags hadn’t become a staple school supply I believe the zip-lock people would be out of business. What American eats a sandwich small enough to fit in a sandwich bag anymore?

Buster starts preschool in a couple of weeks. This will be his last year there before Kindergarten. How can I be sure he’ll be ready to move on to Kindergarten next year? Because the public pays for Kindergarten, while I pay for preschool. So if Buster can’t read by this time next year, he’s officially a taxpayer liability.

Big Man will start preschool next fall, which is another reason Buster has to be out of the pipeline by then. Do you think Frank and Jesse James were allowed in the same preschool concurrently? Some things are just too much to ask of society.

I’m not sure Big Man will need two years of preschool, and my wallet tends to agree with me. I never went to preschool and I learned to read and write somewhere along the way. I’m mostly all caught up to the other readers in my age group by now.

My knowledge of letters and numbers was of little concern to my preschool teacher. It was more important that I have soft hands. (Image: Frances Benjamin Johnston)

My knowledge of letters and numbers was of little concern to my preschool teacher. It was more important that I have soft hands. (Image: Frances Benjamin Johnston)

My wife says she wants him to start preschool mostly for socialization reasons. He’s pretty good with other kids already, and sometimes I think she almost agrees he doesn’t need it. But then she takes a good, hard look at his social train wreck of a father and is reaffirmed in her conviction to spare no expense in preventing that tragedy from happening again.

It’s hard to argue with her when uses visual aids to convince me: like a mirror.

Once I get over the adjustments required by the new school year, I will settle down to the knowledge that Buster goes to a very fine preschool and Big Brother’s elementary is equally good.  The tuition and the supply hunting are a small price to pay to cement my children’s futures – though Big Brother is about to find out his future can be cemented just as well with a 24 pack of crayons as with a 64 pack.

There’s nothing you can do with antique fuchsia you can’t do with heliotrope.

This too is an important lesson in his education.


Come sit in the love

One day, Big Man was sitting between my wife and me on the short couch we have in the back room. We are not particularly wide people, but with the multiple throw pillows our modern design culture demands at either end of a sofa, we made a snug trio. Buster came into the room, and not seeing a convenient nook into which to wedge himself among us, declared in disappointment, “I wanna sit in the love.”

It’s adorable to hear your four-year-old phrase a situation like this, and that was the trouble. You can hardly refuse a request to join the love. As comfortable as you might be, you can’t say, “Sorry; no room,” to a kid who just wants to be included in the circle of familial affection. You can say it in a heartbeat to a boy who wants a spot on your couch, but when that couch is the Love Boat, you have to shift your reluctant butt, jettison a throw pillow or two, and let down the gangplank.

It’s all worth it though, to reinforce a child’s appreciation for his family. That is, it would be worth it if there were any hope of that appreciation lasting more than one fleeting second. Unfortunately, love is always warmer when you are watching it from off the couch.

I don’t remember how our little lovefest ended, but it’s a safe bet it degenerated into a squabble between Big Man and Buster. An overpopulated sofa will cause that. So will almost anything else you can imagine.

Four-year-olds and two-year-olds can find a way to fight about anything, because it’s not about the thing, it’s the you got it; I want it sentiment. On that same principle, four-year-olds can find innumerable things to fight over with seven-year-olds. You would think a seven-year-old would run out of things to squabble over with a two-year-old, but that’s where you’re wrong. It turns out there is still a lot of two-year-old left in a seven-year-old. My wife might tell you there’s a lot of two-year-old left in a 48-year-old, but I disagree; I act much more like a four-year-old.

Sometimes you can share a tiny bit of space and time with your brother.

Sometimes you can share a tiny bit of space and time with your brother.

But sometimes you need the whole couch to yourself.

But sometimes you need the whole couch to yourself.

All of this fighting is how we are sure the love we sit in is real. None of them would have such vigorous disagreements with other kids. It’s only their brothers who inspire such depth of emotion. Only their brothers could ever send the message, “I’m kicking you because I love you.” Granted, that’s not the entire reason for the kicking (“You’re in my spot, Butthead!”), but it wouldn’t happen to someone less dear.

These boys have built the foundation for a lifetime of devotion to each other through their tireless efforts at fussing and feuding. It’s hard work being such a good brother like that. So, sometimes you’ve got to let all that love settle and just go sit in it for a minute.

You’ll fight better after a bit of rest.

It’s bedtime, so cuddle up with your favorite paperweight and go to sleep

None of our boys have ever become attached to a particular security blanket.  Buster once had a short phase when he wanted to take a Star Wars Lego Stormtrooper in the car with him wherever we went, but he kept losing his Star Wars guy in the back seat, so he decided Lego people were too slippery to make constant companions. And those volatile little dudes were always losing their heads.

Big Man had a stuffed dog he liked for a while. But he also exhibits the family trait of being inattentive. He could rarely remember where he left his puppy and no matter how much he called for it, the disloyal mutt would never come. He was often so aggrieved by his fair-weather dog that he would refuse its companionship at bedtime. “No puppy. No puppy,” he declared as he waved it off.

I’m not saying Big Man doesn’t like to sleep with a favorite object. It’s just that the object changes from night to night.  Last week he insisted on taking two plum-sized rocks to bed with him. Why would a boy want to sleep with rocks? He’s fascinated with pebbles and coins and buttons, and whatever little trinkets are fun to put into pockets, and maybe these rocks were awesome mega-pebbles. Or maybe it’s because rocks will never turn their backs on you like moody plush puppies do.

Before that, I think he snuggled up with an empty spray bottle. Somehow the spray top went missing and he lost his fascination with it. Meanwhile, we never got to use it and the shower mildew thrives.

Getting ready to cuddle up with a day planner.

Getting ready to cuddle up with a day planner.

Yes, he sometimes wants to take a toy to bed with him, but he’d prefer a calculator or whatever other office supplies he can get his hands on.

Sadly, there are some things he’s not allowed to cuddle in bed, as much as he’d like to. It can be difficult for a two-year-old to understand the problem with taking a power cord, or a box of thumb tacks, or a loaded stapler to bed. He’s sure he can handle them, and gets angry at whoever makes him give up his new pet, which, as far as he knows, is OSHA. It’s always handy to have a government regulatory agency to deflect your child’s anger.

And post-it notes! Jackpot!

And post-it notes! Jackpot!

I guess it’s a good thing he doesn’t have a single bedtime favorite. I’ve heard stories of parents traveling long distances to retrieve an inconsolable child’s security object. We don’t have to hurry home for anything as long as there’s an Office Depot within reach.

I suppose there will come the day when he’s heading off for college and I’ll wish I had some childhood favorite to present to him as a bond to home. I’m sure he won’t even remember his puppy, and I think the damned thing ran away anyhow. But, he’ll probably need paper clips for school and we’ll likely both have a good, nostalgic cry when I hand him those.

The blog days of August

The blogging world slows down in the summer. Some bloggers take a vacation. Some try to rediscover the real world. I, on the other hand, have just been slacking. It’s not my fault though. I blame society, because society is convenient to blame for everything, with its constant breakdowns. But mostly I blame this intellectually stifling season called summer.

It’s harder to get motivated to write in summer.

First of all, it tends to get hot and it’s harder to think when you’re hot. My best ideas leak out through my sweat glands in summer. Then, all I’m left with are horrible images of an old man perspiring. When the humidity hits, I start thinking again. I start thinking about the mechanics of breathing. I start thinking about how sweating like a pig is supposed to cool a body down. Lying science!

I can't do my work.

I can’t do my work.

The boys want to be outside, running around like maniacs who laugh in the face of the heat index, instead of staying cooped up in the house where I can easily hear and see the funny things they say and do. They become totally selfish and don’t care at all about their responsibility to give me good blog material.

Since between one and two of the children are too young to be outside, running around like unsupervised maniacs, I find myself always outside running around like a supervising maniac, preventing kids from changing neighborhoods like the wind. I can’t type while jogging, let alone at a full sprint. We might be outside until dark, which is practically tomorrow in summer.

As Captain Oates famously said, "I am just going outside and may be some time." It should be noted that Capt. Oates was never seen again, and it wasn't even hot weather.

As Captain Oates famously said, “I am just going outside and may be some time.” It should be noted that Capt. Oates was never seen again, and it wasn’t even hot weather.

Then they want to stay up late, because, hey, there’s no school in the morning and it’s still kind of light outside. This leaves me hardly any time at all for a muse-provoking scotch on the rocks, because, hey, there is work in the morning and it’s going to take me two hours to fall asleep in this heat. Kids tend to supply zero writing prompts when they are standing between you and a quiet nightcap.

This makes me grumpy. When you are hot, sticky, and grumpy, it is the perfect time to write – if you are due to fire off another angry letter to the electric company. When you are grumpy, you tend to lash out at people, which is just what the utilities need and expect. Unfortunately, utilities probably make up a minority of your blog audience. So you should probably just go to bed and stew in your own juices until you fall asleep, as figuratively as you can manage.

All of this not thinking and not writing leads to large gaps between blog posts. This is not the end of the world because your audience is outside playing and getting heat stroke too.  The real problem comes when you get frustrated and give up on the thinking altogether because you figure you can still do the  writing without it. That only ever leads to a third-rate blog post.

And I hope you enjoyed it.