Counting life by tens

When it’s a new year, we look forward. When it’s a new year, especially one that ends in zero, some of us look back. I’m a backward gazer.

January 1970

I was a toddler, about a year away from starting my first job. It’s possible farm kids enter the workforce sooner. My first job entailed sitting on a rock and calling the cows down from the pasture at milking time. I did such a good job of it, I was promoted to jobs with more responsibility. I regretted that none of these higher jobs involved sitting down.

toy tractor

1970: Already working with tractors.

January 1980

I was in 7th grade. My father died in 1976, so we no longer operated the farm. I was excited for the 1980 Winter Olympic in Lake Placid. It was a big deal having the Olympics in our state. On weekends, they showed Nordic events on TV. Afterward, I would put on my skis to race around the perimeter of the cornfield. I wore my watch so I could try to beat my best time.

Becoming an Olympic biathlete was my sports dream, but it never had a shot. We didn’t have any ski clubs and there was no Internet to help find such things. I just skied around the field, enjoying the dream for what it was.

January 1990

I had graduated college the spring before and moved to Los Angeles. I quickly discovered that my freshly printed degree in Video Production was an express ticket to working retail sales in that town. I worked in the Glendale Galleria, selling personalized mugs and engraving glass and metal. Beginning at minimum wage, I was bumped up to $6/hour when I became a competent engraver.

I was at a drive-through ATM one day when my car began to shake. The ATM screen promised me I had no money for repairs, but after a minute the car calmed down. I drove home fearing a breakdown, but the car behaved. Turning on the TV, I breathed relief at learning it was only an earthquake.

It was around New Year’s, 1990, when my mother called to tell me she had cancer. She played it down and assured me everything would be all right. I believed her, because when your mom says it will be all right, you make yourself believe her. You make yourself believe her for as long as you can.

Lost cause

1990: My Los Angeles office/dining room.

January 2000

We survived Y2K; that was good. California and a few other sojourns were long past. I was already working the same job I have now; a fact that gives me pause. I was single and living in a tiny loft apartment. I wouldn’t meet my wife for two more years.

After years of fits and starts, I started to take writing more seriously. I submitted a novel to POD company, not realizing how immature the writing of a 32-year-old could be. I don’t know if blogs existed yet. I certainly hadn’t heard of them.

January 2010

I had a kid! I owned a house! Not to mention the whole marriage thing. After years of assuming I would grow old in my little apartment with a growing pile of unpublished manuscripts (my version of cats), I had people around me to help me grow old. (I mean that in a good, easing sort of way – mostly).

I’d worked for the same employer for 10 years, which felt kind of odd. Who does that? But there was more waiting for me at home than edits and rewrites, so things were good. I would start this blog within the next two years.

Florida vacation

2010: Father of one. Since children 2 and 3, I don’t get to sit so comfortably anymore.

January 2020

I have three kids now – still only one wife. I have published three more books, all so much better than that first one. This blog is eight years old. I hope it has a few more years in it. Tonight, I will coach 6th grade basketball practice, which is just one of the many cherished privileges my children have offered me.

And now you’re all caught up.

P.S. Almost forgot. I have a cell phone now. I held out for decades, but you know how we young fellows are susceptible to peer pressure.

 

Are you sicker than a 5th grader?

This school year is off to a fine start. In four weeks, I’ve missed a combined five days of work nursing sick kids. That’s 1.25 days missed per week, and it’s still warm out. I can’t wait to see what January looks like. Maybe I’ll be lucky and get fired by then, so I can open up my in-home hospital ward full time. It’s too bad nurses don’t wear the traditional white uniform with the Red Cross cap anymore. I bet I would rock that outfit. Scrubs do nothing for my figure.

I used to tell my wife I would happily become the at-home parent once all the kids were in school. I should be careful what I joke about. Now that all the kids are in school, I am being sucked into at-home parenthood whether I like it or not. This is not our best case scenario, as we’re a family that needs two incomes more than ever. Furthermore, we will continue to need two incomes until forever.

The snot and puke season normally starts around New Year’s Day and runs through the next New Year’s Eve, but it’s typically heaviest in the winter months. This year, we’ll be heading into those heavy months with a viral momentum. We’re really going to hit the ground puking.

I can’t decide between the casual, shirt sleeve frock (right), or the full, formal dress uniform (left) for my new school day outfit.

Aside from the normal viruses, we have in the past year contracted Hand Foot and Mouth Disease and Impetigo. At first, I suspected the doctor was just making up these names, as I’d not heard of them before they came home from school. But it turns out they’re real diseases kids get in the 21st century.

I grew up in a little ranch house, crowded with seven siblings, in the 1970s. If you had to pick one decade to be especially disease infested, wouldn’t you guess the ‘70s? But I don’t remember any of us getting diseases like this. We got the pukes for a day, then went back to school the next. Or we caught a cold and went to school anyway. Nobody caught anything you had to actually ask a doctor about. Our only spots were chicken pox.

I can’t remember any of us being down with the Flu. We might have had a cow with Hoof and Mouth Disease, but she kept that to herself. We once heard rumors of a kid, two towns over, getting Strep, but we couldn’t verify it since we rarely went more than one town over in our travels. It sounded bad though. Strep seemed like the Black Death to us. Now, my kids celebrate the Vernal Equinox with a case of Strep each year.

Is my memory bad or are kids sick more often now than we were 40+ years ago? If so, why? Is it all the anti-bacterial soap? Should we go back to washing their mouths out with good old fashioned lye soap?

Maybe instead of going to the pharmacy so often, we need to spend more time reaching under cows.

The best disappointing loss we ever had

In the small frame, this post is about basketball. In the bigger picture, it’s about learning life. I’ll try not to go into the weeds of basketball getting to the larger point.

Our university’s basketball team advanced to the NCAA Final Four this year. We’ve been spoiled by going to the Final Four eight times in the past 20 years. However, our team has brought home the National Championship only once in those eight trips. This means we’ve had seven instances of build-up and high hopes, followed by bitter disappointment.

Our last Final Four was four years ago, when Big Brother was six years old. He was just becoming conscious of the game called basketball, and wasn’t interested in it as television viewing. The words “Final Four” meant nothing to him.

Since then, he began playing organized basketball. This past winter, his 5th grade team had a challenging season, but turned their fortunes around at the end by winning their league tournament. Not only did Big Brother learn how much effort and determination it took to win such a tournament, it stirred his interest in our university’s team.

He began watching the NCAA tournament games with increased interest. For me, this was a long-awaited perk of fatherhood: watching sports with a child who cared about the game.

It’s a double-edged perk.

Even in 5th grade, it takes long hours of practice.

On Saturday, we watched the National Semi-final together. The game went back and forth, until the opposing team pulled ahead. Then our team came back and got within one point, but the momentum switched again and the other team held on to win.

It was another case of high hopes leading to disappointment. I’d been there before, but it was a new experience for Big Brother. The final buzzer left him lying face down on the couch. I rolled him over to find tears in his eyes.

At that moment I felt proud, which seems a little odd, but I was glad he could develop a passion for something beyond his own person. I also felt a tinge of guilt at my role in turning him into a sports fan. Sports leads to disappointment more often than not. Even the good seasons mostly end with a loss. Nobody likes to see their children disappointed.

But we have to see them disappointed. The character moments are born of disappointment. I talked to Big Brother about keeping perspective. There are so many things in his life, more important than basketball, to be happy about. We talked about disappointment, and how you have to move past it, get on with life, and be ready for what comes your way next.

I didn’t cheer him up much that night. He’ll have to see it for himself. Life is back to normal, with more pressing things that need attention (e.g. school assignments). If my words can just hang out in the background until the next disappointment life hands him, perhaps they can help him see it’s probably not the end of the world.

I would have preferred a victory, but as far as disappointing losses go, this one may have been the most useful.

The Tooth Fairy doesn’t work weekends

The Tooth Fairy is due to make another visit. In fact, he’s overdue. A top-notch Tooth Fairy would have shown up sometime last night. Our Tooth Fairy is middling at best.

Lately, Big Brother has been shedding teeth like a hockey player with scurvy. Perhaps our Tooth Fairy has merely been overworked.

Our Tooth Fairy leaves $1, in the form of a golden Presidential dollar coin, under the pillow for each tooth. Our Tooth Fairy gets these coins from his day job, where he buys them from the big bag of dollar coins nobody knows what to do with. Dollar coins are a novelty in the United States, which makes them great for Tooth Fairies, but troublesome to institutions that are occasionally paid them but don’t have a clue how to bundle them for bank deposit.

Our Tooth Fairy is not completely without an eye to the future. He usually buys two coins at a time, but at the rate Big Brother spits out baby teeth, our Tooth Fairy often needs a day’s notice before he can accumulate the wherewithal to visit the pillow. For these same reasons, he doesn’t work on weekends.

We can afford only two teeth purchases at a time.

We can afford only two teeth purchases at a time.

For the first couple of lost teeth, the loose tooth phase was a big deal, no matter how long it lasted. Two weeks of drama, waiting for the final separation was not unheard of. Now, teeth fall with neither pomp nor circumstance. The only reason I knew there was a loose tooth situation this time was because Big Brother complained it was making it inconvenient to eat his corn on the cob at dinner.

Half an hour after going to bed, Big Brother came downstairs with a tooth in his hand. It was a fine tooth, worth every penny of a dollar, and it took all of 30 minutes of wiggling to extract. I told him to rinse out his mouth and go back to bed. Nobody told him to put the tooth under his pillow.

But he did anyway.

This morning he complained the Tooth Fairy had neglected him. We explained that the Tooth Fairy had already set out on her rounds with a strict itinerary by the time his tooth came out. His teeth must fall out before the Tooth Fairy leaves the office, which is, coincidentally, about the same time Daddy leaves work.

I bought two dollar coins today, which will net me two more baby teeth. I don’t have a use or a want for this commodity but nobody ever told me Tooth Fairying was a profitable business or rewarding hobby.

That’s the way with children. You spend money on stuff you’d rather not have. Teeth are pretty cheap compared to all the other crap. With two more suppliers coming up, I guess we’ll go on buying at this rate.

A smart Tooth Fairy would probably just go ahead and buy out the entire sack of dollar coins in one transaction, but I never said our Tooth Fairy was top-notch.