A true Superstar delivers the pasta

We have a house full of fleeting superstars. For one week every year, one or more of the boys is the superstar student at his school. Apparently, third graders have outgrown the notion of revolving notoriety, so only Buster basked in the limelight of stardom in his preschool this year.

Being a superstar is not all fun and games. There are responsibilities associated with the honor, and this is what a superstar’s parents are for. Any superstar worth his salt requires a poster board with pictures of himself in all his glory. Parents are usually good for making these, and even when they are not, they can be counted upon to recycle the one from last year into a presentable placard.

As a parent of an annual superstar, the most daunting responsibility is supplying a healthy snack to the class. The key, and vexing, word here is healthy. As the child of a simpler time, healthy snack is the epitome of oxymoron to me. Healthy is an adjective that belongs paired with the noun leftovers. The noun snacks deserves a more appropriate adjective, like sugary. The following sentence illustrates how these combinations were intended to be used in conversation: There are plenty of healthy leftovers remaining in the corner, where we shoved them to prevent their impeding our access to the sugary snacks.

To me, a snack is an item 90% of kids will readily eat. I don’t know how to make anything healthy that meets this criterion. I’ve heard some parents know how to make healthy both fun and delicious by constructing adorable designs with various fruit bits and toothpicks. I’m not young and hip like those parents. I am just old enough to know that both fun and delicious take a back seat to pain when the toothpick shard hits the soft gum tissue.

Besides, my kids like their fruits segregated, so they can be analyzed, and probably rejected, separately.

This year, Buster chose spaghetti as his healthy snack, proving he is a genius in addition to being a superstar. I was taken aback by the logistics of providing spaghetti to a classroom, but Mommy went with it (after approval from Buster’s teacher), proving where Buster inherited his superstar genes.


Making spaghetti the Superstar way.

Making spaghetti the Superstar way.

She bought disposable bowls, forks, and wet wipes. We cooked spaghetti and cut it up into short strands. This, with a bowl of warm sauce, filled up the insulated bag, covering the two secret packs of Oreos tucked underneath. Every superstar keeps a an ace in the hole.

Buster’s teacher reported the spaghetti a success, but wondered why Buster didn’t want any for himself. Here’s the thing about Buster: he’s a forward-looking superstar and spaghetti was yesterday’s idea.

He confirmed he didn’t eat any spaghetti. “But,” he said, “I ate an Oreo.”

Judging by the empty containers, his classmates feasted on spaghetti and Oreos. They and their teachers are all superstars, allowing us to get by with a more-or-less healthy snack, unsullied by the mockery of me trying to stab blueberries with toothpicks.

In 1975 backpacks were for hikers and all my school supplies fit in my pocket

Elementary school starts on Monday, which means we will be spending the weekend completing the scavenger hunt known as collecting the supplies on the school list. Big Brother is entering 3rd grade. I suppose that makes him an upperclassman in his school. I’m sure this will be reflected in his maturity level going forward.

Big Brother is expected to show up at 3rd grade with a veritable bounty of supplies. I showed up for my 3rd grade with a shirt, pants, and shoes. Everybody was fine with that. Eventually, I acquired a pencil, and after that, an eraser. They need a lot more stuff to write with now. Maybe they’re more furious writers; they probably press down harder on the pencils.

Our supply list consisted of the clothes on our backs and anything useful we could find in the woods. (Image: Lewis Wickes Hine)

Our supply list consisted of the clothes on our backs and anything useful we could find in the woods. (Image: Lewis Wickes Hine)

They need a bunch of sandwich bags too. If sandwich bags hadn’t become a staple school supply I believe the zip-lock people would be out of business. What American eats a sandwich small enough to fit in a sandwich bag anymore?

Buster starts preschool in a couple of weeks. This will be his last year there before Kindergarten. How can I be sure he’ll be ready to move on to Kindergarten next year? Because the public pays for Kindergarten, while I pay for preschool. So if Buster can’t read by this time next year, he’s officially a taxpayer liability.

Big Man will start preschool next fall, which is another reason Buster has to be out of the pipeline by then. Do you think Frank and Jesse James were allowed in the same preschool concurrently? Some things are just too much to ask of society.

I’m not sure Big Man will need two years of preschool, and my wallet tends to agree with me. I never went to preschool and I learned to read and write somewhere along the way. I’m mostly all caught up to the other readers in my age group by now.

My knowledge of letters and numbers was of little concern to my preschool teacher. It was more important that I have soft hands. (Image: Frances Benjamin Johnston)

My knowledge of letters and numbers was of little concern to my preschool teacher. It was more important that I have soft hands. (Image: Frances Benjamin Johnston)

My wife says she wants him to start preschool mostly for socialization reasons. He’s pretty good with other kids already, and sometimes I think she almost agrees he doesn’t need it. But then she takes a good, hard look at his social train wreck of a father and is reaffirmed in her conviction to spare no expense in preventing that tragedy from happening again.

It’s hard to argue with her when uses visual aids to convince me: like a mirror.

Once I get over the adjustments required by the new school year, I will settle down to the knowledge that Buster goes to a very fine preschool and Big Brother’s elementary is equally good.  The tuition and the supply hunting are a small price to pay to cement my children’s futures – though Big Brother is about to find out his future can be cemented just as well with a 24 pack of crayons as with a 64 pack.

There’s nothing you can do with antique fuchsia you can’t do with heliotrope.

This too is an important lesson in his education.


It will be quiet someday; meanwhile, let’s have some noise

Someday they’ll stop calling me Daddy. My name will change to Dad. I won’t mourn that day. There will be, I hope, benefits to them becoming self-sufficient. Maybe I’ll even catch up on my reading.

In the next few weeks, Buster and Big Man will turn four and two, respectively. There are no more babies in the house. I’m happy I haven’t had to heat a bottle in a year, and I look forward to the day the last one says goodbye to diapers. Maybe we’ll take a vacation with the diaper money.

I appreciate all the things Big Brother can do for himself, from making a snack to going to the bathroom without me having to know about it, although sometimes he still likes to announce his intentions. I’m sure I’ll enjoy feeling less like a servant in my own home when the little boys can do things for themselves. I may even gain weight from all the sitting down for more than two minutes in a row I plan on doing.

I imagine being able to go places without someone falling asleep in the car, or what really blows my mind: going places by myself. The really fine thing will be spending time with each individually, free of the competition that comes so naturally between them and turns them into a raucous mob. I’m looking forward to talking instead of shouting over the din.

The raucous mob does settle down from time to time, but always in Daddy's chair.

The raucous mob does settle down from time to time, but always in Daddy’s chair.

I look forward to many good things that will come with my boys getting older, yet I am old enough to know I can wait for those things. They will come whether I appreciate the days preceding them or not. It’s best to appreciate all the days; they never come around again.

There are days when keeping on top of all these boys’ needs runs both parents ragged. In spite of this, my wife would go on having babies forever if that were possible. I’m too feeble for that, but I will concede that nobody hugs quite as good as toddler. I will further admit that nobody’s mind matches the waterfall of discovery of a preschooler’s. And while I’m at it, nobody’s imagination is more entertaining than a grade schooler’s.

As much as I look forward to more peace, I’m in no hurry to say goodbye to toddler giggles or preschool jokes or grade school stories. I can’t hold onto them forever, and I have no desire to. I only want to enjoy them to their fullest while they are all around me. I want to experience the things yet to come, but I can be patient for those seasons to have their place.

Time doesn’t need my help. It moves too quickly already. Sometimes it’s easy to anticipate the future at the expense of the present. I hope to catch myself when I fall toward this trap; though I will not mourn the day I become just Dad, I will, a little bit, mourn the loss of the day when I was Daddy.

We got the milk, now let’s tackle those cookies

Buster, our three-year-old,  struggles to pronounce certain consonant sounds. The most famous of these is the k or hard c sound. Buster has always compensated for this lack by substituting another sound where the k goes, usually a t. Hence, milk becomes milt and work becomes wort.

We’ve learned to recognize these hybrid words, allowing him to express himself. At the same time, I have been trying to train him how to pull his tongue back into his mouth in order to pronounce the elusive k.

where's that tongue?

Civil Defense workers searching mouths for the elusive k sound. Everyone did their part to help the war effort. (Image: Ann Rosener/U.S. War Information)

Our practice had yielded limited results. Then one day, he requested a bowl of cereal. When I asked if he wanted milk in it, his answer was non-committal. “Yes, milk or no, milk?” I asked again.

“Yes, milk,” he replied, clear as bell, whenever a bell perfectly pronounces the word milk.

I did a double take. “What? What did you just say?”

A smile of recognition stole over his face. “Yes, milk,” he belted out proudly.

I picked him up and hugged him. “You said, milk. What a brilliant boy! You did it!” I gushed as I spun circles with him in my arms. He beamed at me proud and happy at how proud and happy he’d made me.

When Mommy came home, he ran to her to show off the word milk like she’d never heard it before. More hugging and spinning ensued.

In the week since, he’s showed his mastery of milk to the next door neighbor and anyone else who happened by. When it’s eluded you for all your life, milk becomes powerful juice.

Even when I was a child, Mr. K stood in  the shadows of Mr. M and Mr. T.

Even when I was a child, Mr. K stood in the shadows of Mr. M and Mr. T.

The other night, Buster, Mommy, and I were enunciating about milk. I happened to be about to eat a cookie that Buster had his eye on. “I’ll give you my cookie if you do two things,” I told him. “First, say cookie.”

Up until now, cookie has always be tootie. Buster thought hard. “Cootie,” he said, followed by “Tookie.” Getting two hard c sounds into one word is daunting work.

“Okay, that’s close enough. Now say candy.”

Buster focused. “Canny.”

“That’s so close. You got the c right but you left out the d.” D has never been a problem for him, but apparently there was no room for it in a word that already had a c.

“You’re very close. Try one more time.”

Buster looked longingly at my cookie. The pressure was too much. He couldn’t focus on the c and hit the d too.

“I know you can do it. One more try,” I pleaded .

Perhaps he saw the cookie drifting away from him. He looked at me hopefully, then shifted his gaze to the always compassionate Mommy. He took a deep breath and said with clarity and confidence:


Sometimes it’s not the cards in your hand; it’s how you play them. He won two proud smiles and a cookie.