Saturday morning: somewhere in the 18th century

Due to fungus, bugs, and perhaps the psychological distress of destructive boys invading their ecosystem, we’ve lost several trees. We can’t say which of the above killed the Maple in the back yard, but it joined the ranks of the standing dead a while ago.

Falling limbs have turned this tree into a minor hazard. A branch could fall on one of the kids, but childhood is fraught with risks, so I let that slide. My Edgar Allen Poe tree gave the back yard a Gothic charm, and the kids need to learn to keep their heads up anyway. But when a snagged branch poked me in the temple last time I tried to mow around the trunk, it was the last straw. That menace was about to fall like the House of Usher.

 

The Poe Tree

It’s curtains for you, Edgar.

Our neighbor owns an electric chain saw that she’d borrowed back from us for a few days, since we weren’t using it. In order to determine whether the chainsaw had the horsepower to cut through the trunk, before I went to the trouble of reclaiming it from its owner, I gave the trunk a couple whacks with my ax. (Technically, it’s a splitting maul, but splitting mauls don’t capture the imagination like axes do).

The wood wasn’t so tough, so I gave it a few more whacks. Those few more whacks turned me into Paul Bunyan. The notion of chopping down a tree with an ax captivated me. Why shouldn’t a man chop down a tree with his bare hands instead of waiting until the lady next door gets home so he can borrow her power tools?

An old lumberjacks’ trick: use your rest breaks to take pictures.

I always like to find activities to distract my masculinity before it turns toxic. Chopping down this tree had my masculinity skipping like a child in knee pants. I highly recommend the activity to anyone suffering dangerous levels of manliness.

After some short breaks to catch my breath, because my woodsman skills have been in decline for the past six generations, I toppled the tree with a soul-satisfying crash. I put my ax away and, just like the true pioneers of yesteryear, went inside for a well-deserved Gatorade.

My wife looked up from Netflix. “What happened? We heard a loud crash.”

“You didn’t rush to see if I were hurt?” I asked.

“I sent the little one to look out the window,” she reassured me.

Every strong man needs a good woman.

Seriously, she would have paused her movie if the preschooler’s assessment of my injuries warranted such drastic action.

down and out

Didn’t even hit the house with it.

Having reassured my worried family, I went out to clean up the debris. I thought I might build a log cabin out of my timber, but our frontier Homeowners Association won’t let us put up a 4×4 shed, so they probably wouldn’t approve my sod roof designs.

I cannot tell a lie; there’s a euphoria in going all George Washington on a Cherry (okay, Maple) tree. It’s a stirring experience – makes you want to party like it’s 1799.

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Mr. Owl, why do they keep making brown Tootsie Pops?

Remember this guy?

“Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”

Wise

When you have to say “I don’t know,” but you want to appear wise about your own ignorance.

Mr. Owl is almost as old as I am. The Tootsie Pops he’s selling are older. Tootsie Pops were my favorite lollipop in those days. My boys seem to enjoy them as much as I did.

In all the years I’ve been eating Tootsie Pops, one thing has never changed: the chocolate ones (wrapped in the brown paper) are horrible.

All the other flavors are delightful, but the brown ones just plain suck. Even the texture is off-putting. The worst part is the brown always seem to be the most plentiful color in the bag.

study in brown

How did an orange one survive this long?

This is a photo of our candy bowl. It could have been a photo of any waning stash of Tootsie Pops from my childhood. The other colors disappear but the brown ones just sit there forever. Eight kids grew up in my house. We competed like wolves for treats. The brown ones collected dust.

Today, the tradition continues. Big Man is our most avid fan of Tootsie Pops. Whenever I see him with one, I tell him he shouldn’t be eating that color. “The [insert non-brown color] ones are for me,” I say. “I bought the brown ones especially for you. Those are the ones you should eat.”

He laughs like that’s the most ridiculous thing ever mentioned to him. “No. The brown ones are yours,” he answers. “You have to eat them.”

For a long time, I wouldn’t buy bags of Tootsie Pops simply because I feared my house would become full of uneaten brown ones and I’d have to move my family to a place with more storage.

But the orange ones won’t stop calling my name.

I stave off temptation as long as I can, but between me and a bag of Tootsie Pops I’m the biggest sucker.

Why do they keep filling the bags with the awful brown ones?

The world may never know.

Summer vacation is where the heart is

With two weeks of school left, the boys’ minds are in summer vacation mode already. Nobody wants to go to bed at night, nobody wants to get up in the morning, nobody wants to get dressed, and certainly nobody wants to go to school. The boys learned a lot at school this year. I don’t know where they learned how to phone it in, but that’s one life skill they seem to have down.

“Hello. Nursery School? I’ll be working from home today. Just pile the macaroni on my paper plate next to the glue and I’ll get to it first chance I get.”

Big Brother has a project due in a week. He hasn’t started it because maybe school will get over for the year without anybody noticing his wasn’t done. And once he moves on to middle school, they can’t touch him. The statute of limitations for fourth grade ends at the elementary school door.

Now that the weather has turned nice, it’s hard enough to corral all these open range rustlers into the house at bedtime, let alone get them into their beds. When you do get them all herded inside, they’re sweaty and grimy. Baths are nobody’s favorite, but a bath is five minutes that can be stretched into 20 when a boy needs to stall bedtime. Being clean is a small price to pay for that.

These boys have never owned a sense of urgency about getting ready for school in the morning, and the waning school year has lifted them to new heights of lethargy. Nobody’s in a hurry to get out of their pajamas, and when they do, Buster and Big Man would rather run around throwing underwear at each other than put on clothes.

Do they care that helping Mommy overcome all their morning tomfoolery puts extra pressure on me to get to work on time? Short answer: no. Long answer: not in the least. This morning I told them they were going to make me late.

“And then you’ll get fired,” Buster replied.* “And that will be good for you ‘cause then you’ll get to stay home all day with us.”

I could ride bikes all summer long with the kids.

I don’t know what Buster thinks he’s going to be doing at home all day when school’s still in session, but I think he’d learn quick enough he doesn’t want to spend his summer in the company of a ne’er-do-well who can’t hold a job. Clearly, he hasn’t thought about where he’s going to get a summer’s worth of popsicles when the gravy train stops rolling.

If I keep working, I will definitely miss out on lots of fun this summer. There will be the incessant fighting over bikes, scooters, and video game controllers. Being there for all those precious moments would put the cherry on top of unemployment. We could probably even afford metaphor cherries. They’re a dime a dozen with my blogger discount.

I’m going to try to make it through these last days of school without fulfilling Buster’s prophesy about getting fired, but this is only because I don’t know what’s good for me.

*You just earned yourself a summer reading program, my friend.

Field of painful dreams

When I was in little league, I got a colored T-shirt with a stenciled team name on the front and a cap with a solid color in front and white mesh on the back (the kind farmers wear when they are out combining corn).

Baseball has come a long way since then. Big Brother’s team has jerseys with numbers, baseball pants, socks, and caps with real Major League logos on them. Parents pay significantly more for sports leagues now than mine ever did, so I guess there should be more stylish outfits to get dirty.

This is Big Brother’s second year in a kid-pitch league. The kids pitch to opposing batters, unless it takes more than five pitches to get the batter out, in which case the coach finishes him off. Elementary school boys are not the most accurate throwers, and there are no walks issued, so this system keeps the game from bogging down into a wild-pitch duel.

Big Brother has a strong arm, but like all the elementary school boys, he has some control issues. Most of these stem from his fear of hurting the kid up to bat. He can throw a number of good strikes during warm-ups, but when a kid steps into the batter’s box, Big Brother’s head fills with images of hardball carnage leading to predictably wild results. As he explained it himself: “I’m a good pitcher as long as there’s no batter.”

Baseball can be a cruel and ironic game.

batting practice

Getting in some batting practice from a pitcher that probably won’t bean you.

Kids need to face their fears, so he was scheduled to pitch the first two innings of their opening game. He nailed the first batter in the back. The boy lived, and after wiping a few tears, even trotted down to first base.

I wouldn’t have wished Big Brother to hit a batter, but in the long run, it may have saved future batters from pain. Big Brother realized he wasn’t likely to kill or maim another kid with a wild pitch and stopped worrying so much about it. He relaxed and recorded a couple of strikeouts in two scoreless innings on the mound.

The flip side of this fear is getting hit with a pitch while batting. In this case, fear hinders a kid with a good swing from playing up to his potential. Somehow, I don’t think getting nailed by a pitch will help him relax, so there needs to be an alternate solution for this.

It’s difficult to be a good hitter when you are leaving your bat on your shoulder until you determine whether or not to duck. He needs to learn the mechanics of hitting in the proper order: step into the pitch first, then assess whether you need to dive out of the way. That way, if you are not ground zero, you still have a chance to contact the ball with the bat.

It turns out hardball wouldn’t be nearly so complicated to learn if it weren’t for the hard and the ball.