Were We just tougher back then?

All across Michigan, schools have been canceled due to the extreme snow and cold. This means that Facebook will light up with us older, tougher folks complaining about school never having been canceled for snow and cold when we were younger. I might have joined in on the chorus, but truth be told, I’m jealous.

When I was younger, school was never canceled because of extreme snow and cold. If it had been, I might still have my best friend, Jimmy.

Jimmy and I would walk together to the bus stop, which was eight and a half miles away. Neither of us had coats, so we would steal newspapers from driveways and paper boxes along our trek to stuff in our clothing to act as insulation. On the worst of the cold mornings, we would light our newspaper coats on fire for extra warmth . . . it’s just what you did back then to survive.

On one particular minus-forty-two degree day, Jimmy and I were making our way through the chin deep snow towards our bus stop. We had already successfully warded off an attack from one of the roving packs of rabid neighborhood dogs, and escaped the gang of kidnappers who would prey on children walking to the bus stop. . . . so it had actually started out a good morning. Making the morning even better, we had just found the last roadkill carcass needed to strap to our bare feet to act as snowshoes. After fashioning our carcass snowshoes, Jimmy and I continued on our way.

A mile later, we in the middle of our third frozen-river crossing required to make it to the bus stop, when suddenly, the ice began to crack, and Jimmy fell through. He flailed wildly, trying to keep his head above the frigid water, but despite his efforts, he was beginning to go under.

Using a technique that I had learned earlier that year from a bus stop safety film, I fashioned a rope out of thread pulled from my burlap underwear, and was able to pull Jimmy from the icy river waters. He crawled to the shore, thanking me repeatedly for saving him, but deep inside, I knew it would probably have been more humane to simply let him drown.

Even if he did survive, I could tell from the pale blueness of his fingers that he would no longer be able to use them to complete the eleven hours of homework that was assigned to us every night, let alone, be able to hunt the possum, needed during our walk to the bus stop, for food to keep himself alive. I kept these thoughts to myself.

It was still another mile to the bus stop, so I knew I had to keep Jimmy moving. I switched out his wet insulation newspapers with some of the dry ones from my shirt and covered his head with a hat I made from some of the corn husks that my mom had sewn together to make the pants I was wearing.

I did my best to prod and encourage Jimmy’s shivering body to keep walking. I gave him bits of carcass jerky that I had ripped from my roadkill boots, but he was fading fast.

When we were a few hundred yards from the bus stop, Jimmy finally collapsed from exhaustion and hypothermia. I tried to get him back on his feet, but to no avail. I could see the headlights of the bus in the distance. There was no way I could get Jimmy there in time.

“I’ll never forget you, Jimmy!” I said tearfully, as I quickly covered him with the remainder of my newspaper insulation and lit it on fire to keep him warm in his final hours.

“Please don’t leave me,” he pleaded. But I knew that if I missed the bus, it would be Jimmy who would succumb to the kinder fate by freezing to death.

I kissed him on the head, and skin tore my lips having frozen to his icy hair . . .  and then I ran the rest of the way to the bus. As I sat down in my seat and looked back down the road through the window, I could see a truck stopping near Jimmy’s collapsed body. I knew I would never see him again.

Back in those days, there were greedy opportunists who would drive the roads on such dangerously cold mornings looking for the bodies of kids who had frozen to death along the bus routes. They would load up the victims and sell them to dog food manufacturers to be ground into dog food.

For thirty-five years now, I have sadly thought about Jimmy every time I fill a dog dish with food. So complain about school being canceled due to cold? Not I. I thank the Lord that my kids will never have to live the rest of their lives with the image of poor frozen Jimmy being loaded into a dog food truck.

 

Pasta Hoarding.

pasta

In our house, there is a delicate balance between not having enough pasta, and having way too much pasta.
 
I’m not a list maker . . . Sort of a maverick when it comes to shopping. . . So at the grocery store, while staring at the rows of pasta, I try to remember if I was last angry because we didn’t have enough of the right kind of pasta, or angry because the supply of pasta was enough for the whole county.
 
When in doubt, buy pasta . . . Although it can lead to a cupboard that looks like this.

The Danger of Pancakes

I love pancakes. My kids love pancakes. Sometimes I make them shaped like animals because my girls think it’s the greatest thing in the world. Sometimes I make pancakes for dinner.

The only problem with pancakes is that pancakes involve maple syrup. And maple syrup involves stickiness. Even as an adult, I cannot manage to get through a pancake meal without being plagued by stickiness. I try hard to contain the syrup and its stickiness properties to the end of my fork, but without fail, it will work its way up to my fingers. From my fingers, it will then travel to forearms, face, shirt, the table top, and even the dogs head.

My young girls fare even worse. By the time they have finished their animal shaped pancakes, their sticky hands and faces have collected pancake crumbs, lint, dog and cat hair, small pieces of napkin, and whatever else happens to be a floating around. They end up looking like a mop just before you rinse all the crud out of it. And heaven forbid the syrup gets stuck in their hair.

If one is not careful, the stickiness can spread from my daughters to the table, chairs, pets, door knobs, toys, and nearly every other surface in the entire house. On pancake day, it is not uncommon for one of our cats to be seen running around the house with a sticky pancake fork stuck to its back, and leaving sticky pancake crumb paw prints.

I’ve often thought that a man could get rich if he invented syrup that wasn’t sticky. But until someone does, a next best remedy might be to make young children eat pancakes naked in the bathtub. That way as soon as they are finished, you can just turn on the shower and wash all the stickiness away.

……

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That’s not Funny.

It seems to me, that when entering the world of having children, we are expected to leave our sense of humor by the door. Joking is permitted in nearly all aspects of our lives, with the exception of infants and children.

Shortly after the birth of my first daughter, Hannah, my mother-in-law arrived at our house and asked where the new baby was. I simply answered, “I put her in the dryer because she was making too much noise.”

She did not find it to be the least bit funny and in fact, you would have thought that I had just committed a murder right in front of her. I started to explain that I was just only joking, but then my razor sharp wit took over and I added, “The dryer only amplifies sound. If I was going to stick her in an appliance, it would have been the dish washer.”

This sent her into a rage, “YOU DON’T EVEN JOKE ABOUT SUCH THINGS!”

It would seem to me, that when it comes to joking about sticking infants into appliances, the general consensus is that if I joke about it, then I have to actually do it.

A few years later, I was left alone with my two daughters and four of their cousins while all the mothers went shopping. One young niece started singing, “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round.”

Before long, all of the other kids had joined in, and after ten minutes of the same phrase being repeatedly sung by six loud children, my sanity began to wear thin. To make the concert more bearable, I decided to compose a second verse to the song, and have them perform it when the mothers arrived home from shopping.

The second verse went like this, “The cheeks on my butt make lots of sound, lots of sound.”

The six of them performing this new verse in front of their mothers, did not go over any better than the daughter in the dryer joke. You would have thought I had taught them all to swear like sailors. In fact, one of my sister-in-laws still won’t let me watch her children alone any more.

Perhaps my brand of humor is a bit much when talking about something as precious as our little children, but I think everybody could lighten up a little bit too . . . because if you don’t, I will come to your house, and glue your children’s feet to the ceiling and wrap them in Christmas tree lights . . .  That is a joke, I would never glue their feet to the ceiling because the blood rushing to their heads would make them pass out. I would only glue children’s feet to the floor.

 

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Single Family Asylum

What Would/Did You Do?

We had just pulled into the parking spot of our family vacation destination, and had begun unloading our luggage into the room where we would stay for the next four days. It had taken us four hours of driving to get here.

My wife began removing clothes from the suitcases and laundry baskets (poor people luggage) and putting them into the dresser drawers provided in the resort room. We had already gotten past out usual argument about whether my clothes should be left in the suitcase or put into drawers like everyone else’s. A thought flashed through the back of my mind, not even a complete thought, more like the formations of what could turn into a thought. It involved not being able to recall seeing Natalie’s “Blanky” in the time since we had departed home.
Like nearly every parent knows, Blanky was a beat up, tattered child’s blanket that Natalie had held tight since she was an infant. Her grandma had sewed its remnants onto another piece of cloth to act as a backing. This due to the fact that the original Blanky had worn to a state where it was more “hole” than material. It reminded me of some precious historical relic, The Shroud of Turin or some flag that had endured many hard fought battles. 
“Where’s Blanky?” I whispered quietly to my wife.
She scanned around the room then paused for a moment thinking, and then looking back at me with shear terror in her eyes.
“We don’t have Blanky!!!” she answered in a slightly elevated whisper voice.
Just then, Natalie paused in the doorway of the room and looked at the two of us like she suspected something was going on. My wife and I froze . . . as if any movement or or sound would alert the child to the absence of Blanky.
Finally, Natalie went back to bouncing around like she had been.
The next minute or two involved an argument between my wife and myself using our whisper voices, and even whisper shouting. Statements were made such as “I thought you were going to …”, and “no, I was busy packing all the . . . ”
Once the whisper shoutings and blame assignments had concluded, it was on to the real problem . . . What to do about the absence of Blanky. 
What would you do? Or in some cases, what did you do? 
Opt for inconvenience and peace by driving home to get it? 
Endure the wailing and gnashing of teeth that would surely accompany a vacation without Blanky? 
Chance it with a substitute?

The Way it should BE.

As I walked in the door after my long day at work, I was met by my two daughters.

“How was your day, dad?” they both asked as they gave me a big hug.

“It wasn’t too bad” I replied, “What smells so good?”

“Oh, Natalie and I made nachos, tacos and burritos for dinner . . . after we finished cleaning our rooms and doing our homework.”

“That’s wonderful girls!” I said, giving each a big hug.

After a quick shower, I returned to the dining room where we all sat down to one of the best meals I had eaten in quite some time. In fact, it was so good, that after eating each delicious taco, I would get up and hug my wife and daughters and they would hug me back, telling me how wonderful my taco breath smelled.

Upon finishing the excellent dinner, the girls cleared the table and washed the dishes, and then the four of us retired to the living room to relax and watch a little TV. My wife brought out a heavenly double chocolate cake that had been made for desert.

“What should we watch?” I asked.

“How about something with rocket launchers and zombies!” replied my daughter, Hannah.

“Yes!” added Natalie, “and with fast cars and explosions!”

“Are you sure?” I asked, “Don’t you girls want to watch your stupid teenage drama shows?”

“No father, you have worked hard all day, we want to watch your show.”

“That sounds wonderful” I said as I hugged and kissed both girls.”

As I turned on the TV, my wife brought me a huge piece of the chocolate cake and my slippers.

“Thank you my lov- . . .”

Before I could finish my sentence, I was interrupted by a loud crash and a sharp pain in my nose. I winced in agony.

When I opened my eyes, my wife was gone . . .  and there was no sign of the chocolate cake she was about to hand me before the loud noise and the pain. Instead, I was lying on the couch with my daughter Natalie sitting on my chest. My daughter Hannah was standing at the end of the couch near my head, violently swatting at her sister with a tennis racket. Natalie was kicking back at her with her feet, in an attempt to ward off the blows. And with every second or third kick, her leg would come down with a thump on my face. Hannah’s racket aim left much to be desired as well, in that every other swat would crack me on the nose with the follow through. There was also a half-eaten piece of pizza lying face down on my forehead.

“WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?!!!!” I demanded.

“Hannah stole the last piece of pizza!”

“Well Natalie keeps changing the channel from my show!” Hannah answered.

“I thought you girls wanted me to watch my zombie movie . . .” I said, somewhat confused.

Both girls looked at each other as if I had just spoken to them in Latin.

“Where did you get pizza? Aren’t you both full from the dinner you made me after you cleaned your rooms?” I asked.

Again they looked at each other and then both broke out in loud maniacal laughter.

“Made dinner? Cleaned our rooms? HAHAHAHAHAHA!”

I was more confused.

“Remember? You said I had worked hard today, so I could watch my show, and you guys made tacos and nachos and burritos for dinner, and we were hugging, and you said how wonderful my taco breath smelled . . .” I sputtered.

I stopped talking as my brain began to piece together the facts.

The girls started in with their wild laughter again, “HAHAHAHAHA! You’ve been a dead lump on the couch since you got home! HAHAHAHAH, he said his breath smelled good! HAHAHAHA!”

As the girls walked off, laughing hysterically, I began to realize that it had all been a dream. There was no taco dinner, or hugging or even chocolate cake.

My wife sat across the room with an amused smile on her face. I tried telling her about my dream, but had to stop when she began laughing as hard as the girls had been.

Being disappointed about not actually having a taco dinner or hugging, I decided that I wasn’t going to miss out on the chocolate cake. I rose from the couch and went to the little diner down the road from us, where I ordered a large piece of double chocolate cake . . .  a man can only handle so much disappointment in one evening.

Second Child Syndrome.

“Dad, how come there aren’t any pictures of me?” my younger daughter asked as she sat on the living room floor looking through the family pictures.

“Of course we have pictures of you,” I replied and grabbed a box of pictures to prove my point.

As I began flipping through the photos, I was alarmed to find that there really were no photos of Natalie. I mean we had the normal burst of photos taken within the month or two after she was born, and a few school pictures, but then the Natalie photos seemed to just taper off to nothing. Frantically I searched three more boxes, but all I came up with was one photo of her tonsils that we took to compare with a picture of normal tonsils in a medical book, and a shot of the back of her head taken when she had apparently wandered into a picture I was taking of my lawn mower.

As for our firstborn, Hannah, there were pictures of nearly every event in her early years. There were pictures of her birth, her first week, her first month, and all the months following. There were pictures of her first solid food, her first steps, her first bloody nose, Christmas programs, and playing in the snow, rain, and sun. There was even a picture of her first poop on the potty…and not just one of her on the potty…I’m talking about a picture of the actual poop.

Embarrassed and not knowing what else to tell Natalie, I simply said I was sure there must be a whole box full of her pictures that had been misplaced somewhere. And although it seemed to satisfy her for the moment, I still felt terrible at our failure to photo document our second child’s existence.

It bothered me so much that I even spent a few late-night hours attempting to cut out Natalie’s face from some of her duplicate school pictures, and gluing them onto some of the abundant photos of Hannah that filled the boxes. But try as I might, I couldn’t get the perspective between the cutouts of Natalie’s head and photo bodies of Hannah to match up quite right. The resulting pictures looked like mutant alien children with freakishly large or too-small heads, so I was forced to abandon my efforts.

My wife and I didn’t intentionally decide not to take pictures of our second child, nor do we love her any less than the first. I think that we are just more relaxed as parents, having survived our first one. Maybe a little too relaxed.

As I thought about it, I realized that it applied to more than just picture taking. One time, Hannah got some dog food out of the dog’s dish and ate it. My wife and I panicked. We rushed her to the emergency room, convinced she would succumb to dog germs at any second. But after a few eye rolls, the doctor on duty assured us that she would pull through, and indeed she did.

So having been through a few incidents like that with Hannah, we were a little less uptight when Natalie came along. So less uptight that when Hannah came in the front door and informed us that Natalie was picking dead bugs out of the car radiator and eating them, my wife’s only reaction was to tell Hannah to make sure that Natalie brushed her teeth when she was finished so that she wouldn’t have dead-bug breath.

Likewise with the pictures, after trying so hard not to miss photographing a single moment with Hannah, we realized that you just end up with mounds of pictures that make you wonder why you took so many of them. So we were not as camera crazy when Natalie came along.

We love both of our daughters very much, but I guess we went from fretting too much with the first one, to being a little too relaxed with the second. I think if we would have had a third child, we might have actually been able to get it right.