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.

 

How many days ‘til Christmas?

How many days ‘til Christmas? I get asked that a lot lately. Mostly it’s Big Man asking the question. His Kindergarten class hasn’t worked their way up to subtraction from such a lofty number as 25 yet. Sometimes Buster will ask me. He knows how to subtract from 25, but why should he have to, when he could just ask a parent? As part of their Christmas cheer and good will, parents should always be ready to announce how many long, tedious days remain between a kid and the most prized morning of the year.

Yesterday it was requested I ask Siri how many days ‘til Christmas. Apparently, my calculations have run up against some doubt in the elementary school mathematics community. Perhaps my results don’t seem optimistic enough. Siri’s information, on the other hand, is ironclad.

I didn’t ask Siri. I will not be doubted.

Big Brother doesn’t ask me about the countdown. He’s trying to play it cool. Or maybe he’s going straight to Siri behind my back.

I wonder what Siri got them for Christmas.

I have more reason than Siri does to know how many days ‘til Christmas. I know exactly the number of days because, to me, they are not long and tedious; they are short and fleeting.

There’s not enough time. People want me to show up for work; others want me to attend holiday events; the schools want to have plays and concerts, the whole time softly coercing parents to show up to support their children. And the kids’ sports programs and music lessons have no mercy either.

Tell me, oh great and powerful Siri, when am I supposed to make Christmas happen?

Siri relaxing and enjoying the Holiday Season in her own unhelpful way.

The Christmas season seems like it would be fun, if you could afford a moment to enjoy it. Imagine sitting down to a nice Christmas movie with your family, without being haunted by the myriad things left to do before that hard deadline that equals 25-0.

As I recall, when I was a kid, Santa Claus picked up a lot of the slack. Saint Nick came through every year. Now, not so much. He’s older now, so maybe he can’t do the heavy lifting he used to do. I guess that’s a valid excuse; I just wish he had let us know he was getting ready to wash his hands of the whole making kids merry thing.

Perhaps Santa could have apprenticed Siri into the role. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if she did a little more than just talking Christmas up to the kids?

Well, maybe I’ll get to relax after Christmas. Boxing Day should be good, except for all the Christmas mess, and the kids wanting to play with all their toys at the same time and getting overstimulated.

But I don’t have to think too hard, or really even get up out of my chair to put a kid in Timeout. So, yeah, the day after Christmas should be fine.

The burden of helpful children

If you live among deciduous trees, you know dry leaves are much easier to clean up than wet leaves are. If you live with an 11-year-old, you know this is the sort of fact he must learn the hard way.

There are many, many things an 11-year-old has not learned yet. He has learned it’s not nearly as fun to help Dad with yard work as it seems like it should be. Hence, he doesn’t offer to help as much as he did when he was young and callow about such things.

Occasionally, Big Brother will be overcome with the nostalgic temptation to help out. If he were older and better disciplined, he might be strong enough to overcome this temptation. But he’s not older, so everyone will pay the price of his weakness.

During the prime season to clear leaves from our lawn, it rained, and rained some more. Then we got a snow storm. Most November snow melts within a day or two. This snow covered the ground for a week.

Even after the snow melted, the nights were cold, leaving a thick layer of frost on everything. If the sun warmed the day, this frost melted into another soaking for our lawn of leaves.

The back yard leaves, undisturbed by overzealous children, wait for the unlikely combination of dry weather and a weekend.

Saturday morning there was an ample frost. When I went out to clean the gutters and found the leaves collected there were frozen in place, I determined it was not the right time to mess around with the leaves on the ground. Big Brother didn’t get the memo.

While I found other chores, Big Brother came outside and decided it was his morning to be helpful. He grabbed a rake an made a pile of wet leaves on the front lawn.

When it gets to be late November, even thinly spread leaves need a little luck to dry. A pile of leaves is nature’s permanent wet sock. This was the wet sock Big Brother saddled us with, only it was in the middle of our front lawn, so we couldn’t let it be permanent.

There were two options: spread the leaves back out over the lawn like some ass-backward fools, or go ahead and bag the soggy mess. We chose to charge ahead, though I think Big Brother would have preferred a plan of action that involved going inside and letting the pile shift for itself.

It took a lot longer to clean up that pile than it should have, with those wet clumps clogging up my leaf vacuum every 30 seconds or so, but it gave me a good chance to teach Big Brother a few lessons. Aside from the difference between wet leaves and dry leaves, he learned that when you start a job, you don’t leave it half done because it’s taking longer than you expected.

Probably, the lesson he took nearest to heart was to put up a better fight against that rare and unexplainable impulse to make himself helpful to Dad.

The opposable thumb of our family

Buster and Big Man got into a debate, separate and apart from the many outright fights they have over LEGOs, somebody calling somebody else Butt Cheek, or the billion other potential provocations. This debate involved no hitting or kicking, probably because I intervened before it had a chance to run its normal course.

The debate revolved around the fingers of the hand as they related to our family structure. We happen to be a family of five, which means each person gets to be represented by a digit on the standard human hand.

They agreed that Daddy was the middle finger, because of its relative length, not because of its proclivity to become rude when left unattended. Mommy was the ring finger, because in our family, ring fingers run slightly taller than index fingers, just like Mommy is still slightly taller than Big Brother. Conversely, Big Brother was the index finger.

The point of contention was over which of the debaters was the pinky finger and which was the thumb. Each boy claimed to be the pinky finger and relegated the other to the distant position of the thumb.

The thumb is set apart and stands on a lower pedestal than the rest. This is what they saw when they looked at their hands. It was different and apart. Nobody wanted to be either of those things.

Our family hand print as debated by Buster and Big Man. Image Credit: Buster’s right hand.

They went on casting each other in the role of thumb, without a thought to its uniqueness or value.

Because the debate was becoming annoyingly monotonous, somebody had to step in and tell them who was right and who was wrong.

“You’re both wrong,” I told them. They looked at me with incredulous faces. How could they both be wrong? There were only two positions in question, and between them, they had all the possibilities covered.

I held up my hand and pointed out the fingers. Daddy was the middle finger. Big Brother was the ring finger. Buster was the index finger (although there are certain properties of the middle finger that suit him best). Big Man was the pinky, and Mommy was the thumb.

They stared at me dumbstruck. How could Mommy be the lowly thumb, the digit nobody wanted to be?

How little they understood the miracle of the thumb, the digit that brings all the fingers up to their potential.

“It’s true,” I told them. “Mommy is the opposable thumb of this family. She’s the one who makes it all work. She is what separates us from the animals. Without her, we might as well be a family of skunks.”

Somebody farted.

Well, Mommy does her best to differentiate us from a family of skunks, but she has her work cut out for her in this house full of stinky boys. Sometimes I think she should move away to someplace nice and let us revert to our natural state, but a good thumb never abandons the hand.