One man’s coffee . . .

The other night, Big Man saw me pouring hot water into a mug. “Are you making coffee?” He asked.

“No. I’m making tea.”

“Oh,” he said. “I want some coffee with strawberries in it.”

I made a face. “Strawberry coffee? That sounds horrible.”

“It sounds good,” he insisted.

“How do you know? You don’t even know what coffee tastes like.”

“Yes, I do.”

“How? You’ve never had coffee.”

“Yes I have.”

“When?”

“At Andrew’s house. His mom gave it to me.”

“No. She didn’t give you coffee.”

“Yes she did. We went out to play in the snow and then we came back in the house and she gave us coffee because we were cold.”

“She wouldn’t give little kids coffee.”

“She did. She gave all the kids coffee. She put it in cup just like that.” He pointed at my mug. “And we all drank coffee.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. With marshmallows on top.”

Swiss miss coffee

We don’t have any, but some of the fancy preschoolers have coffee that comes with the marshmallows already in it.

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How I got old and met your mother

Buster was nosing through my things and found one of the many watches I no longer wear because the battery died and I didn’t get around to replacing it. I’ve collected several watches over the years. They sit in a box with their dead batteries. It’s my way of holding back time.

Buster showed me the watch. “Look. I found and old, old, old, old, old, old watch. It used to be yours when you were a kid.”

That means I’m one or two olds older than the watch. It’s true, I’m old. I’m 50, which isn’t old in general terms, but it is old for the parent of a kindergartner. When Big Man gets to kindergarten I’ll be two years older.

Time all over again

An old watch on a young wrist.

To Buster: The abridged story of my relative elderliness

Yes, Buster, I am old, compared to your classmates’ fathers. It’s not the way I planned it. You see, I was supposed to marry my high school sweetheart. Only, I didn’t have a high school sweetheart. The best I could do was a high school crush. It’s considerably more awkward to marry your high school crush. Unlike all the romance you’ve projected onto her from afar, a marriage is something that both parties should be aware of.

Then, I was supposed to marry that wonderful girl I met in college. But you see, Buster, I was too focused on my studies in the field of beerology to go around falling in love. There was that one potentially wonderful girl who might have turned my head, but she was either less wonderful than I thought, or she spent every single Friday and Saturday night washing her hair. It was probably the latter, because one night I saw her walking arm in arm with a frat boy, and he looked like he knew a lot about conditioner.

But that was okay, Buster, because once I made a name for myself, it would be easy to find a wife. Turns out it’s harder than you might think to make a name for yourself in retail management. Plus, when you hit your late 20s, all the college kids who work for you think you’re over the hill. And when you assign them to clean the store’s bathrooms, they think you’re horribly old – like wicked stepmother old.

Then I got to my 30s and it got harder to meet people, including people to marry.

But here’s the good news, Buster. One day in my middle 30s, your mother came along and everything fell into place. It took a while to convince her where everything’s place was, but it worked out perfectly in the end, because now I have her, and you, and your brothers in my life.

See, Buster, if I’d married according to the plan, you wouldn’t be you. You’d be somebody else, or no one at all. I wouldn’t like that. I waited a long time for Mommy and you kids, and maybe that makes me a little old, but it was worth the wait. You’ll never find a man more satisfied at being old.

Never too old to be a young dad

Time to pick up the kids from elementary school. Better get the donkeys saddled. (Image: Russell Lee/US Farm Security Administration)

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.

 

The sledding hills have changed but the cold feet are the same

When I was a kid, we used to sled down the big hill behind the barn. There were two runs, neither of them safe by today’s standards. The front run was straight and long. A barbed wire fence ran across the bottom of it. The side run was shorter, but steeper than the front run. At its bottom was a six-foot drop into a creek bed. Along the edges of both runs were thorny bushes and, here and there, a small tree. It was great.

Nobody got killed, although there was at least one snow suit torn by barbed wire. The worst injury I remember was when I ran my sled into the prickers and scratched my cornea. I had to wear a patch over my eye for three days. It wasn’t even a cool pirate patch – just some cotton taped over my eye.

If it sounds like I’m just blowing hard about how tough a kid I was, I’m not. I was so shaken by the idea of wearing cotton taped over my eye for three days, I fainted right there in the doctor’s office. This was the first time a doctor made me swoon. It wouldn’t be the last.

My children don’t sled as much as I did. We don’t have cow pastures with big hills in them. We have to drive to a hill. Mommy is not on good terms with winter and I don’t enjoy being cold nearly as much as I used to, so sledding isn’t common.

I feel guilty about this, so sometimes I put on my thermal skivvies and take the boys out. We go to a park with a big hill. Devoid of barbed wire, tree stumps, and watercourse embankments, the hill is safe by 21st century standards. This is a good thing; emergency room waits are much longer than the wait for our old family doctor used to be.

The most dangerous part of our modern, suburban sledding is getting up the hill with all the other park-going kids chomping at the bit to slide down. It’s kind of like outdoor bowling.

Big Brother headed for the steepest part of the hill, but the little boys wanted to take the path less traveled. This was gentle slope with deeper snow, where sometimes gravity alone was not enough to get them down the hill. My job became to push them down the hill and then pull them back up.

the power behind the sled

This fancy sled comes with a 1-Kidpower outboard motor.

Eventually they got brave enough to try a spot where I only had to pull them back up. This was major breakthrough for my sledding longevity. I even got to ride the sled down with them once.

One thing that hasn’t changed is feet still get cold in the snow. When Buster’s feet got cold, it began the 20-minute process of collecting all our people and sleds at the bottom of the hill. It’s hard when your feet hurt but you still want to play in the snow. I remember that every bit as well as the eye patch.