Give it the old middle school try

There’s an old American phrase: “Give it the old college try.” If you are not American and old, you may not have heard it. To give it the old college try means to lend a task your best effort, even if you believe the challenge may go beyond your abilities.

Saturday morning, we woke up to six inches of new fallen snow. I went out to shovel. Buster was planning on coming out to help, but when I told him he had to wear his snow pants, he decided he’d rather stay inside and whine about how much he hated wearing snow pants.

The snow was wet and heavy – the kind they refer to as Heart Attack Snow, because it takes down so many older gentlemen like me through overexertion. I didn’t experience any coronary events, but it was slow going through the heavy snow.

When I was half way through our driveway, Big Brother came outside, wearing snow pants and not whining about it, which made him my favorite kid for the moment. I asked him to grab a shovel and begin on the neighbor’s driveway. Our neighbor does helpful things for us, and I’m trying to teach the boys to be neighborly.

Big Brother went to work on the neighbor’s driveway and kept up a good pace for all of three minutes. Then he came back, complaining of tightness in his shoulders. I told him that’s what hard work feels like and if he did it a little more often the tightness wouldn’t come around so quickly.

I said he could take a break, which he understood to mean he should go inside. He did reassure me that he might come back out after a while.

A good day’s work – when you are 11 and disinterested in work.

There was no sign of him when I finished our driveway and sidewalks. I walked to the neighbor’s driveway to see what Big Brother had accomplished before his shoulders gave out on him. He’d cleared a fine-looking rectangle with sharp right angles. His work was an ode to geometry – a very small ode. Seeing the extent of his industry inspired me to think of the old college try.

I don’t know why it made me think of the old college try, because there was no evidence of it here. I’m calling what he had given “the old middle school try.” The old middle school try is what happens when your dad asks you to do something and it turns out to be harder than you thought, so you come up with excuses to give up after a few minutes.

I couldn’t leave the driveway in that condition, so I finished shoveling the snow. Thanks to the old middle school try, nearly 10% of it was already done for me. By the time I was finished, my shoulders and forearms were sore. It’s right that I should have more sore spots than the kid, since I’ve had the benefit of college and he’s only been to middle school.

 

Two good reasons why your pizza can’t be pepperoni

Buster (1st grade graduate) and Big Man (preschool graduate) were playing a video game together. From what I overheard, the game allows players to create and name their own pizzas to sell to the customers in the game. Big Man was designing the pizzas and Buster was helping him type the names of them into the iPad.

The first pizza was not at all controversial. Big Man decided to name it “Ham” and Buster typed the name. Everybody is happy, presumably even the virtual customers.

The second pizza was more problematic. Here’s what I overheard about this troublesome pie:

BUSTER: Okay, what do you want to name this pizza?

BIG MAN: Pepperoni.

BUSTER: You can’t name it pepperoni.

BIG MAN: Why not?

BUSTER: Two reasons.

BIG MAN: What?

BUSTER: First of all, it’s not pepperoni. And second of all, I don’t know how to spell pepperoni.

Sorry. Wrong pizza. We’ll just take that one back to the kitchen.

I think they ended up naming it “Apples”. I don’t know if it had apples on it, but Buster, after some mental strain, reached deep back into first grade and remembered he knew how to spell that.

Portraits of the artist as a 1st grader

As of noon yesterday, the school year is officially over. Truth be told, we’ve been phoning it in for a couple weeks now. Even though this June has been cool and wet, the sun still stays up late, and that’s enough to make it feel like summer vacation.

Besides, with all the field trips and special events that end the year, it’s hard for anybody to concentrate on homework or any straggling, late-year tests. The birds in the trees say it’s summer, and who should know these things better than them?

The boys have spent the last week cleaning out their lockers and desks. Our house looks like a paper recycling plant with a year’s worth of schoolwork dumped from their backpacks in daily doses. Most of this rubble of their educations is going straight to the real recycling plant, but there are a few gems that merit saving.

Big Brother is old enough to realize that if he throws it out at school, he doesn’t have to carry it home, so most of the reams of school-year detritus are supplied by Buster. In 1st grade, you dutifully bring it all home, hand it to your parents, and it becomes their problem what to do with it. Your problems are over until fall.

Of all the things Buster brought home in the final cleanout frenzy, this is my favorite.

Nothing quite captures the melancholy passage of time and turns it into a model prisoner like regular self-portraits from elementary school. Here are a few highlights:

He came into 1st grade with the maniacal smile of a comic book villain. He was also suffering from a lack of sleep, or maybe pink eye. The colored pencils had not been distributed yet, so it’s hard to tell.

By December he’d gotten his color back. A few months of solid rest made him bright-eyed, and even perhaps a little dilated. In preparation for a cold winter, he’d grown a nice pair of warm eyebrows.

Now, at year’s end, he looks like such a nice boy. He might be a little dizzy, but the end of a long year will do that to you. He’s been crowned and earned a star, which are both great confidence builders for a six-year-old. I struggled to figure out what “6 set” meant for a while before I realized it was his disordered spelling of “best”.  He is the best 1st grade graduate. I wasn’t expecting this, but I’m extremely proud to learn he earned that honor. I’m sorry to all the other 1st grade graduates that they did not win this award, but 2nd grade, and another chance, is right around the corner.

But for now, enjoy the summer, and maybe help Mom and Dad bundle up papers for a trip to the recycling center.

Let me check my calendar

Every year I make my wife a calendar for Christmas. I upload photos of our boys to one of the online photo gift sites and lay it all out there. It can be a tedious process, but she enjoys the end result and it gives us a kind of memory book for the year.

The cover is always a nice shot of the boys together, often gathered around one of their favorite weapons from the year. You know, a sweet shot of loving children and something that throws bombs.

My wife takes more pictures than I do. If I want to amass the best collection of photos to use in compiling the calendar, I need access to her pictures too. We have a shared drive on the cloud where we dump all our pictures together, which is easier than hacking into her phone. Well, it used to be easier.

Nearly every adult American now walks around with a camera on his or her person at all times. No one takes advantage of our snapshot existence more than my wife does. She is a visual hoarder, taking pictures of everything and anything.

If there is a stray dog in our neighborhood, my wife has a picture of it. Something’s on sale at Target? We’ve got photos of the merchandise and more of the sale sticker. School permission slips, sales receipts, suspicious-looking loners who might be involved in human trafficking? We’ve got it covered.

The problem is that all these photos are automatically uploaded to our photo sharing cloud. When I need to find photos of people we actually know, I find myself wading through a bunch of pictures of random stuff I can’t identify.

Arranging the useful photos into a calendar is difficult enough. All the extra pictures means added scrolling through to find the useful ones, and excessive scrolling is the bane of the personalized photo gift maker.

Since pictures of our actual children are getting harder to locate, I told my wife I will make a calendar of all her random shots next year. Maybe I’ll make one for the entire neighborhood, so everyone can find their lost pets and be on the lookout for that shady character who walked down our street last April.

Here’s a taste of what it would look like. Is this the new direction the family calendar should take?

January: That lovely salad the waiter set down in front of the stranger at the next table.

 

March: The donuts you like, just in case I happen by the bakery department next time I’m out.

June: The unmarked van you pursued all day, waiting for the captive inside to fashion some sort of “HELP ME” sign.

 

October: The mysterious coat left at our house after the Halloween Party.

November: The random cat sniffing around our garage. Not pictured: 3 lost dog posters; none resembling this cat.

December: “Is this a good deal? Do we need a TV in the pantry?”