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.”


“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.”


“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.


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.


A Valentine’s Day massacre to call our own

Nothing sucks away the Valentine’s Day spirit like Valentine’s Day. This probably holds true in all situations, but it is especially evident when you have children in elementary school.

Valentine’s Day means school parties, which means preparing a bunch of those little waxed ticket Valentine’s cards.

Most public grade school classes contain twenty-some-odd students, making it perfectly natural that the cards come in boxes of 16. If you search hard, you may be able to scrounge up a box of 32 cards, but the prizes (and they need to have prizes now) are not as good.

power ranger valentines

A 32 count box of valentines – more precious than gold.

The boxes I unearthed came with temporary tattoos and glow-in-the-dark stickers. These were not on the lollipop level, but gradeschoolers need additional sugar even less than they need tattoos.

Having limited the number of boxes to buy, and spared dozens of children’s parents from the effects of an added sugar rush, I thought I’d won Valentine’s Day.

I had not.

This became apparent when it came time to prepare the cards. Big Brother was able to address his by himself, but he needed help fitting the tattoos into the little slots in the cards. Those little slits were difficult to find, and impossible to neatly slip the corners of tattoos squares into. It would have been so much easier to ram a lollipop stick through there. Valentine fail #1.

Buster’s cards were worse. With his unconfident penmanship, he could not make his pencil write dark enough on the waxy paper. I gave him a pen that writes smoothly on wax. Valentine fail #2. The pen also smears smoothly on wax. I dictated the spellings of the names of his classmates to him while he wrote the letters and promptly smeared them as he moved his hand across the paper.

We used the extra cards to replace the worst monstrosities. Having learned our lesson, we let the ink dry and folded them so he could write his name without touching the recipient’s name. Then it was time to attach the glow-in-the dark stickers.

More tiny slits! Valentine fail #3. The stickers were harder to fit into the slits than the tattoos were, especially when attempting to do it without touching the ink already on the card.


can you find a tiny slit?

Somewhere on this card are slits for sliding a sticker into. Good luck!

Finally, we were ready to fold up the cards and seal them with the little sticker hearts universal to these kits. We’d just fold the names up inside and not worry about smearing anymore. Valentine fail #4.  We got a good way through this process when it occurred to me that with names folded inside, Buster wouldn’t know who each card was for.


Did you guess right? Congratulations! Only 23 more to go!

This must be a common mistake, because there are about four hearts for every card in the set. We ripped the hearts off the cards, folded them the other way, so Buster could try to interpret the smeared names on them, put them into a baggie, and tossed them in his school bag with the last of my Valentine’s spirit.


Mashed potatoes, gravy, and the power of of suggestion

If you’ve ever had to feed kids, you know a story just like this one.

For Sunday dinner I made the boys roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy. I went to the extra trouble to make the gravy from scratch because store-bought gravy is always likely to turn at least one of them against me.

History said I should have an easy time selling this meal. There aren’t many meals that somebody won’t complain about, but this one should have been in that small set they all could live with.

Except History can be turned upside down by a seemingly innocuous event.

While I was mashing the potatoes, I added some cheese, like I do every time. Big Brother happened through the kitchen and saw this. The sight left him aghast. Apparently, he has never seen me mashing potatoes before.

“Ewww! You’re putting cheese in the potatoes! That’s gross!”

I explained that all the mashed potatoes he’s ever eaten had cheese in them. I was not convincing. These potatoes were tainted. Little did I know, it was not only the potatoes.

Buster had overheard the cheese kerfuffle, but not necessarily the specifics of it. After the first taste of his gravy, he grimaced. “This gravy tastes like it has cheese in it!”

For the record, I did not, nor do I ever, put cheese in the gravy. Also for the record, these kids love cheese.

I reassured him there was no cheese in his gravy, but my words were futile against the evidence provided by his discriminating tongue and suggestible subconscious.

cheese gravy

Better dump a lot of gravy on to drown out the cheese in those potatoes – unless the gravy is made from cheese. (Photo: Russell Lee/U.S. Farm Security Administration)

Dinner proved to be a struggle, with only Big Man willingly eating his food, because he didn’t care if it had cheese as long as it tasted good.

On Monday, I gave us all a break and fed them grilled cheese sandwiches. Nobody complained about the cheese.

We still had leftover roast and potatoes to eat and by Tuesday I was up for another try. As I was warming it, Buster made a skeptical request to taste the gravy so he could go to full Battle Stations by the time I put his food in front of him.

He took a tiny taste and proclaimed. “This tastes like it doesn’t have any more cheese in it.”

Thank goodness for our cheese-absorbing fridge.

Big Brother overheard. “There’s not any cheese in this one?” he asked, meaning the leftover potatoes.

“No,” I replied, not really lying, because the conversation was actually about the gravy.

Nobody complained. Half way through dinner, Big Brother declared: “I would rate this food five stars.”

“What about last time you had it?” I asked, wondering if I should hug him or put him in a head lock.

“Not even one star. Half a star.”

I guess my dinners get better with age. Maybe it takes time for all that nasty cheese to settle out.