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.


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.


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.