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Disney Loves Company

The family Grinch recently endured  survived  returned from a magical trip to Walt Disney World. Truth is, we had a wonderful time. Exhausting, but wonderful. One thing that I noticed was the fact that each day became less hellish. What was met with dread on day one (Yes, we have to take a car, then a tram, then a ferry to the Magic Kingdom…Yes, the wait time for this ride is 50 minutes…Yes, the line to greet Mickey is longer than the length of our home state) was, by day three, met with acceptance, even contentment (Wow, the monorail takes half the time as the ferry…Cool, the wait time for this ride is ONLY 45 minutes…Aww, look at those poor suckers waiting in line for a photo op with Mickey).

But not to worry. This post is not a park-by-park summary of our stay. Rather, it’s a reflection on my first trip to Disney, when I was just about my oldest son’s age–10. For some reason, every experience I have as a dad is reimagined through the lens of myself as a boy.  And as we sat on the plane, ready for takeoff from Philadelphia International, I watched my sons quietly working through the sticker books that their mom makes sure they have for each plane ride. I was impressed with how seasoned they’ve become as airplane passengers. Even though traveling today takes the patience of a saint, it has become somewhat enjoyable as the boys are getting older–maybe not enjoyable, but at least manageable. And it was with this observation that I hearkened back to my first time on a plane, traveling to Orlando, Florida–to visit Walt Disney World.

The year was 1980. A time of feathered hair and large combs peaking from the back pockets of Wrangler jeans. A time when my teenage siblings dabbled with Sun-in and Dexatrim. A time when the ominous face of the Ayatollah Kohmeni stared up at me from our doorstep every morning when our neighbor, Kevin, delivered The Bulletin. A time when a news anchor by the name of Ted Koppel informed the nation each night about America’s hostages. It was during this time of familial and political upheaval that my parents decided to bring us to Disney. ALL SEVEN OF US–nine including them.

Yes, we loaded up our duffel bags and set out for the Sunshine State.

Honestly, I don’t recall much of our actual visit to Disney World, except for the fact that so much that is there today was non-existent: Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Universal…None of those existed yet. But, I do recall our plane trip down there, and  its abysmal aftermath.

I wore my Mickey Mouse shirt–not the t-shirt, but one with pearly buttons that snapped and had little vignettes of Mickey in pioneer gear. I loved that shirt, and felt like Disney royalty wearing it on the plane with my favorite pants, a pair of Toughskin kakhis. We were flying TWA (Trans World Airlines) and my mother assuaged any fears we might have by saying that we were sure to make it there safely since TWA stood for Traveling With Angels. “Do angels hold up the wings?” I asked, nervously. “Of course they do,” she assured me.

Once on the plane, I sat with my sister and brother who were closest in age. The rest of the family was scattered throughout the cabin. Freedom. Such freedom that it felt like I was flying first class. Freedom to order sodas and peanuts, and pretzels, and more soda.

Boy, was flying fun back then! My brother and sister and I just lounged around the seats chewing wads of gum to ward off ear popping. And we struck up a conversation with a girl across our row, who got out of her seat and chatted away with us, all while hanging in the aisle. Each time the stewardess walked by–yes, that’s what they were called back then, stewardesses–I would ask for another drink or snack. She must have liked us, because she obliged every time. I didn’t know what Disney was going to be like, but this plane ride was enough of a highlight for me. “Are you kids behaving?” my mom asked on her way to the bathroom, lit cigarette dangling in her hand. “Yes,” we all said in unison, including our new best friend from across the aisle.

As we approached Florida, the plane began to experience turbulence. The fun was over. Everyone to their seat, lap belts fastened. Once settled in my chair, I felt anything but. The ride turned bumpy and the half-dozen sodas percolated in my stomach with all the peanuts, chips, pretzels, and candy I had consumed in the past two hours.

“I’m going to be sick,” I said, looking at my sister.

“Well, use this!” she said, fetching me the barf bag from my seat pocket. As I struggled to open it, I could feel the bile in my throat. I had seconds to react. Finally, I pried the bag open, and as I pushed my mouth towards its opening, we hit a major air pocket. BUMP! The vomit missed the bag and spewed all over my shirt (Oh, Pioneers, Mickey!) and my favorite pants. I was covered in remnants of our junior happy hour.

“Mom, Michael threw up!” Erin yelled.

“What?” said my mom, a few rows up.

“MICHAEL THREW UP!!”

Thankfully, my mom came back to get me. She and the stewardess walked me to the bathroom. I sat on the toilet while my mom wiped my clothes. The stewardess–she really was an Angel–kept rinsing towels and handing them to my mom. The plane rocked its way to the runway, and I jumped from the tiny toilet seat crammed in the bathroom with my mother and another. “Welcome to Orlando,” a voice sang over the intercom. I stifled a moan.

I exited the plane, damp and smelling of a mixture of Coke, bile, and pretzel salt. I felt groggy. Hungry yet full. Excited and embarrassed. We were in Disney! I had to move on.

After getting the luggage, we made our way to the rental car company. My dad stood at the counter, and 16 eyeballs bore into his back. “What is taking so long?” someone finally whined.

“I’m sorry. There’s been a mix-up,” said the man behind the counter. “You rented a van, and vans are at our other facility. We’ll have to take you there.” He looked at the gaggle behind my father. “All of you.”

All of us AND our luggage. And so ten of us–TEN- squeezed in to a four door sedan. The nine of us and the rental car worker. As we tried to figure out seating, everyone was getting grumpy. My six siblings lapped it in the back seat. My mom sat between the driver and my dad in the front seat. And me? Where was I? I was crouched in the well of the passenger side, scrunched up against the glove compartment, sitting on my dad’s feet while whiffs of evaporating throw up stung my nostrils…

How many people can say they’ve ridden in a car looking up from the glove compartment?

My son’s voice brings me back to the present.”Dad, my ears hurt,” he says as we begin making our descent into Orlando.

“Okay, buddy, do you want some gum?” “I’m chewing gum!” he cries, showing me his mouth. Uh-oh, the meltdown is about to begin.

“Try to yawn…stretch your mouth…hold your breath AND your nose and then blow.” I look like I’m playing charades as I mimic each movement. Nothing is helping and he is inconsolable. He writhes in pain then attempts to kick the back of the chair in front of us, so now I have to hold down his legs. I try to bribe him. Give him candy. I know he’s in pain, but really? Really? This seems a little extreme.

Finally, when it appears he can take no more, we reach an altitude where his ears clear. Ahhh. I can see he’s still upset, and I want to try to make him feel better. I reach for his hand and squeeze it tight. “Did I ever tell you about my first time in an airplane?” I begin. “It was also to Walt Disney World”…

My oldest brother, Charlie, and I. There's my Mickey shirt, pre-tragedy.

My oldest brother, Charlie, and I. There’s my Mickey shirt, pre-tragedy.

 

 

All the kids with my dad before our flight to Disney. My glasses seem to be made out of the same plastic as my bangs.

All the kids with my dad before our flight to Disney. My glasses seem to be made out of the same plastic as my bangs.

All smiles in the park. One of the only pictures I know where I am sporting cleavage.

All smiles in the park. One of the only pictures I know of where I am sporting cleavage.

 

TWA boarding pass. Smoking? YES!

TWA boarding pass. Smoking? YES!

The ONLY picture of our family in front of The Magic Kingdom. The beauty of a Polaroid camera--you know how shitty the picture is instantly!

The ONLY shot of our family in front of The Magic Kingdom. The beauty of a Polaroid camera–you know how shitty the picture is instantly!

Dying to tell you…

I spent Saturday night at my brother’s house with family and friends. His house is always lively, where anyone is welcome, where shouts of playing and laughter echo through the halls–and I’m just talking about the grown-ups. It was a great time, and always fun to catch up with friends new and old.

My mom was there, and also enjoys reminiscing with our friends– the people she watched grow from boys and girls into men and women. One of my brother’s friends, Dom, was regaling us with stories of my dad, and the years disappeared as he recounted spending weekends at our house as a teenager.

As we were leaving, my mom gave Dom a big kiss and said, “Be sure to come to my funeral, Dom?” “Mrs. Trainer!” he replied, shocked, “I’ll see you again.” “I’m only teasing,” she said.  He hugged her tightly. “Well, don’t talk like that!”

But talk like that she does. Daily.

I have been preparing for my mom’s death for as long as I can remember. My mother has always been fixated on death–hers and others. I know the reasons–a father dying in front of her at five; an only child due to her mother’s numerous still-borns.

Sure, I understand why. But that didn’t help my youthful angst. Angst that lie with me in bed each night after kissing my mother and saying, “I love you. See you in the morning.” And her reply: “God willing.” Angst that rode next to me in the passenger seat as I drove to places with my mother’s directions, explained in tragic landmarks: “Go up to the road where that little boy was killed on his bike, and then turn right at the funeral home where Uncle Jimmy was laid out…” Angst that stayed with me for decades–each day a body count from the news she watches, each week a report as to how many people we know–or I do not know, as is often the case–who are sick and dying.

Yet, in my later years, I do not meet her comments with anger or angst. I laugh. And I laughed when she said this to Dom in the kitchen. My mom, the Gram Reaper.

My wife was indoctrinated into my mother’s morbid ways early in our marriage. During that first year, my mom came to our house one Saturday afternoon with coffee and a garment bag. As she handed the bag to Pam, she announced,”This is my funeral dress, hon. I want you to be in charge of it.” Pam laughed and cried at the same moment. I just shook my head and smiled. Yet, that dress has hung in my wife’s closet for over 13 years–it has moved two times with us. Pam has her job.

At school, the teachers marvel when I mention the various paraphernalia I receive from my mom: a handful of “Living Wills” to distribute to my friends; the deed to her cemetery plot; her living will. And most recently, the letter announcing she can officially have her funeral mass at the Villa where she resides in an apartment building run by the Sisters of St. Joseph. “Here you go!” she announces one night while over for dinner, thrusting it towards me with the gusto of a high school senior who has just been accepted to college. “Now, I just need to make a copy for everyone else.” “Why?” I ask. “You didn’t even need to give me a copy. I’m sure Sister would tell me when the time comes.” “I just thought you should have it.” Translation–you may not have thought about my death in the past few days, and I didn’t want you to forget!

If there is one thing that is unforgettable about my mom, it is her passion for all things tragic. She has had her share, as have I, as have all of us. But the funny thing is, the more I have embraced my mom’s sense of the tragic, the more I have made it my job to emphasize the comic. “You’re going to outlive us all!” I say when she hands me the latest item for her funeral. And she just might. She’s beaten both breast and ovarian cancer. But I know that does not comfort her. There’s no fun in dying if no one’s there to mourn.

Last year, after reading the book This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper–a book about a dysfunctional family sitting Shiva–I had an epiphany. I called my mom the next day. “Mom, I have a great idea for your funeral.” “What is it?” she said, excited I had started to take a genuine interest. “Well, you know how Jewish people sit Shiva for seven nights?” “Yeah.” “Well, to eliminate any drama, why don’t each of us take a night–each of your seven kids could have a night where they get to sit with you, and their friends can come and pay their respects. And other relatives can come whenever they like.” “There’s a thought,”she said, but I got the feeling it allowed for too little drama and not nearly enough pageantry. It sounded like the right approach to me, though.

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In the car today, just the two of us, we chat about my brother’s party. “Isn’t Dom funny,” she says, “the way he remembers all those things about being at our house?” “He’s a riot,” I say. “It was good to see him.” Then the conversation quickly turns to death. She begins, “You know, we had a guy in this week from Holy Sepulchre Cemetery–a real young guy, handsome, to talk about planning our funeral costs.” “I know, you told me already. The one Sister had a crush on.” She laughs. “Guess how much less it is to get cremated than buried?” “How much?” “He said seven-hundred dollars.” (I can’t tell if that’s good or bad.) “Oh!” I say, “Are you going to be cremated?” “I don’t know.” Then she launches into a story about someone who buried a box of their relatives ashes on top of someone else’s grave. “Didn’t cost them a thing,” she says. I try to comprehend this logic. “What happens if they have to bury someone else in that grave?” I ask. “Oh, I don’t know,” she says, now wondering.

“So, if you get buried, who will you be with?” I ask, although I should know. The answer comes without pause: “Pop [her stepdad], Daddy, and Phil.” Phil is a neighbor who died in his thirties–long story on how he got to be in the family plot. “Oh, God!” I say. “You can’t be buried with those three–you’ll never rest in peace. That settles it–you’re being cremated.”

We laugh. My mom and I laugh. It may sound like a weird approach to others, but that’s what we do. It’s certainly what I do. And in a strange way it makes me feel closer to her. I don’t shut down when she brings up this sorrowful topic. I no longer yell at her out of fear and confusion. I just acknowledge it, and then try to see it from a lighter perspective. It helps.

As we drive, I feel this sense of satisfaction. My mom and I driving around on a cloudy Sunday afternoon in November.

I try to change the subject so she’s not thinking of her impending demise too much. “So,” I say, “do you have any funerals this week?”

 

Photo: Courtesy of Steve Hardy, flickr.com

 

Sunscream

While my friend is away this week, I’ve been watering her beautiful gardens and taking care of her pool–a job I relish because the boys and I go swimming everyday.

Yesterday, however, I was there by myself. It was the perfect day: bright, crisp, a gentle breeze and a cloudless sky. As the sun danced off the water, I was drawn to lie on a raft and just float in the pool.

Why is it that in these moments I feel guilty? When we are at rest, and our mind is clear, we should commend ourselves, not chastise.  I pushed those feelings of guilt aside, and as I closed my eyes and the raft drifted aimlessly, my thoughts hearkened back to other memories.

Now if you’re normal (and I know at least two of you reading this are), then you might imagine my mind sailing back to other peaceful memories of floating, like my honeymoon in Napa or a trip to the Virgin Islands. No. Not me. My mind drifted back to childhood, to a memory that is seared in my mind’s eye. You see, whenever I’m on a float in a pool, alone, I end up thinking about a time when I was six years old.

Although it’s hard to believe, when I was very young, my family had a pool. An above-ground pool. A legit above-ground pool. The kind that is meant to stay up for several seasons. The kind that had a filter. It was the most extravagant toy of my youth. And one day, I remember walking out to the pool by myself and climbing the ladder and getting on a float and drifting off to sleep. The reason I remember this, the reason it is seared into my memory, is because I slept for so long that when I was awoken by my sister, I was badly sunburned. I spent the next week nursing a blistering burn–literally popping blistery bubbles all over my skin. If you’re grossed out, imagine how I felt? Sunburn_flickr_02 About a decade ago, I had to go to a dermatologist for a skin check. I had a “questionable mole”. The mole got the answer I was hoping for–not cancerous–but in the process, I received more insight. For some reason, I found the doctor’s questions humorous. As if the answers were obvious and she was teasing me.

Have you ever had a sunburn? Ahhh, yeah. I grew up in the seventies.

Have you ever had a blistering sunburn? You mean sunburnS, plural. Is there another kind? I basically shed more skin than a snake in my youth.

People who have had even one blistering sunburn before the age of fifteen have a fifty percent greater risk of WAHWAHWAHWAH…At that point, I had to block her out. One blistering sunburn? I was human bubble wrap back then–all seven of us kids were.

I left the doctor’s office feeling very scared.

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When my wife and I were dating, I remember telling her my pool/blister saga while on a road trip. We were driving in the car one summer afternoon. “I just wish we had sunscreen back then,” I said, finishing my story somewhat awkwardly. Here she was, getting a glimpse into my wacky upbringing.

She looked at me with a sad expression, “Honey, we did have sunscreen back then.”

NO! No we did not. There is no freakin’ way we had sunscreen.

“Really?” I said, trying to mask my anger.

“Unhunh,” she said with a nod, feeling bad about being the bearer of such news.

“But that doesn’t make sense! Why would my parents not use sunscreen? We could always afford the Noxema afterwards to cool our scorched bodies. My mom even joked about how rich she would be if she had stock in Noxema.”

I was incredulous. I thought about all the times we were left out to bake in the sun like little potatoes: The trips to Wildwood, the days swimming in the pool, every outdoor event of my youth, with nothing but my white Irish skin to fight off the evil sun’s rays. And this was before the era of willfully laying out in lounge chairs with tin foil and baby oil.

What were we thinking back then? What!?

Sweetie,” Pam said to me, trying to draw me back from the past, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just pretty messed up, you know?”

“You know what’s more messed up?” she said.

I did not.

“What?”

“The fact that you were in a pool by yourself at the age of six. How could you be out there so long by yourself?”

Oh. My. God. I had never thought of that! In all the times I’d thought of that event, it was the sunburn that made me mad. I couldn’t even claim I was a good swimmer. I even failed swimming lessons. (More on that saga here ).

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And now, a decade and a half later, I think about how different my children’s experiences are. Christ, we put sunscreen on them if they’re coming to the food store with us. We sit outside the bathroom as they take a shower in case the water turns hot or they need a fluffier towel.

So different from my own experience as a kid. So, so different.

Then, the other day, Pam tells me that the FDA just announced that kids should no longer use spray-on sunscreen as they are inhaling too much of the fumes. Cry me a river, I think. When I was their age I was inhaling second-hand smoke. Hell, I had even tried a few cigarettes by their age.

Just sayin’.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to go water my friend’s garden. And not to worry, I’ve got SPF 50 on this bald head of mine.

The Bitter Pill of Aging

Two dollars and forty-nine cents. That’s all my most recent depression cost me. Lately, I’ve been down. The reason? I’m starting to feel old–I mean FEEL it.

Ever since I turned forty, my stance has been, “I love getting older. It gives me more of a perspective. More wisdom.” But now that I’m forty-four, I’m not so sure.

I dodged feeling sad last year when my eye sight changed. Maybe because they now call them “progressives” instead of “bifocals“, and technology has erased any trace of a line within the lens, my shift in eye sight seemed like just the latest change to my prescription.

And despite the fact that my now-favorite co-worker Bev called me a baby on my recent birthday, I feel I can’t hide from this aging thing any longer.

And that’s why I ended up buying this:

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I only take one prescribed pill a day, but I also take some vitamins and supplements, like fish oil to fight high cholesterol. And sometimes I’d forget to take my medicine, and a few times I took it twice. Other times, I would mess up and mistake a vitamin for my prescription… I was careless and clueless.  I’ve needed this for about five years now. I knew it would help me avoid any mix-ups. But I put it off. Getting a pill dispenser meant I was old. O-L-D!

Yet, the reminders just kept coming.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to some younger teachers at work, both in their twenties, and I started to say, “Just wait until your middle-aged like me.” And I had a mini-panic attack. As the words were about to roll off of my tongue, I realized that I had never actually called myself “middle-aged”. My lips became stuck and I  actually stuttered when I started to say mmmmmiddle-aged. Awkward.

Another day, while food shopping, I had to crouch down to get a box of crackers on the bottom shelf. My left knee locked and pain seemed to cement my leg in this position. I could not stand up. I could not straighten my leg. “This is it,” I thought, “I will now have to live in aisle five for the rest of my life.” Luckily, the hurt subsided. But since then, I avoid any crouching tiger positions–although there’s no avoiding aisle five.

Then, I decided to grow a beard for Movember to promote men’s prostate health–and it came in mostly white! One of my students even called me Santa Claus. “I think you mean Santa’s younger, skinnier brother,” I replied.  I wanted to shave it off right away. Damn you beard-for-a-good-cause.

And last week, I had my first migraine. I used to be one of those people who could say, “I don’t get migraines.” Oh, yeah, old man, well now you do. A friend told me that her doctor said that migraines can come on during shifts in one’s life cycle. “And, you know, maybe you’re getting them now because…” Pause. “Because I’m mmmmmiddle-age!” I yell back at her. “Well, maybe,” she says softly.

Then there are the boys. My sons are getting so big. Too big. I know they’ll be taller than me by middle school, and lately they walk around the house like they are auditioning for the role of sullen teenager on next year’s answer to Modern Family. They are content to play on their own. They watch TV and wrestle. I’m more of the guy who brings them Chex Mix or announces when dinner will be. My babies are now young boys–nine and seven.

Recently, several friends have announced that they are expecting. Great news. Yet, soon after learning it, I found myself sad. I’m done having babies. I no longer spend time in the rocker dozing with a drooling child snug in my neck. Everyone uses a toilet successfully (for the most part). Nothing in my house says “Fisher Price“. I am barely able to carry the boys in my arms–not that either of them begs to be lifted. It’s going too fast!!

I knew it was bad, when last week I actually toyed with the idea of having another child. I have adamantly held firm to the idea that two kids is plenty for me. Being one of seven, I like the balance and order that two children (seemingly) affords. Pam and I have always talked about adoption, though, even before we had the boys.  All week, I daydreamed about having a baby in the house. I mused about having a girl this time, and furnishing the now-guest-bedroom with borrowed items from friends and neighbors.

But then I did the numbers. Our youngest is seven, we’re forty-four, I haven’t had to get up at 2 a.m. for a feeding in 5 years. And I would be sixty-two at little Charlotte‘s senior year Back to School night. I’m already tired–now Lottie was beginning to exhaust me.  In the end, reality won over fantasy. Yet, one thing became clear. One of the reasons I’ve been feeling old lately is because it seems as if my kids don’t need me like they used to. They are more independent and I’m a little lonely. Sure, I’m their chauffeur, their human calculator at homework time, and number one fan at Saturday soccer, but it’s not the same as cradling someone you love in your arms, or holding someone’s hand just because, or singing them to sleep.

The other night, when I was being drill sergeant in the bathroom about brushing teeth, the boys and I were thinking of words that rhyme with “brush”. I said, “hush”. Then, I began to sing Hush little baby don’t say a word, papa’s gonna buy you a mocking bird...  Hayden looked at me wonderingly. “I used to sing that song to you when you were a baby,” I said. He nodded, toothpaste foaming in his mouth. A few moments later, when his older brother had left the bathroom, he tugged my arm and whispered, “Could you sing that song to me tonight in my bed?” “I sure can,” I whispered back.

And that’s exactly what I did. I curled in next to him and sang him that song, then a few others from my repertoire from his younger days: “Molly Malone“, “Feed the Birds“, and “Shenandoah”. I think he was asleep after two songs, but I didn’t care. I wanted to linger. Then, I crept out of his room and down the stairs. In the kitchen, I went to the cabinet and opened the W on my pillbox. More certain about things than I’d been in weeks.

“I’m pregnant and I know it!”

The movie Pitch Perfect, which spawned the “Cups” phenomenon, is hysterical. Yet, I don’t think it’s something that my kids should watch.MV5BMTcyMTMzNzE5N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzg5NjM5Nw@@._V1_ But they did, at a family party this summer with their cousins. No big deal. They watched it again with the babysitter a few weeks ago. She asked if they were allowed, and they said sure, they had already seen it. Since then, they are obsessed with it. They love Fat Amy, and they come home from school and put on song clips from YouTube. As far as I’m concerned, what’s done is done.  Now, the three of us can be found in various states of a cappella singing parts of the “Since You’ve Been Gone” audition scene. Hayden loves to mimic Amy fixing her boobs before she belts out her line. I can’t help but laugh.

It’s a weird world to navigate. The whole concept of sex, and curse words, and innuendo. Truthfully, I’m more offended by some of the exploitation on The Disney Channel than the stuff found in movies like Pitch Perfect. But it’s made for some interesting conversation. Like: “Guys, you can’t pretend to have boobs and adjust them”; or “No, you can’t watch the scene where they sing songs about sex”; or “Now, just cause they say these words in a movie, doesn’t mean you’re allowed to say them.” The funny thing is, I’m an English teacher. I love words. I do not want to back down from a conversation about words. And I don’t.

Yesterday, we were watching a clip from the movie, and Amy says the word “bitch”. I say, “You know we can’t say that word, right?” Owen says, “pitch”?  “No, the B word.” “What’s the B word?” asks Hayden. “It rhymes with pitch,” I say. “Bitch!” Owen says excitedly. “Yeah, but spell it, don’t say it,” I instruct. “B-I-T-C-H,” he replies. “You don’t have to spell it (correctly, I might add) now,” I say. They giggle.

As a child, I was terrified of being heard saying a curse word. I would not ask my parents what a word meant, and thought every bad word I uttered was one step closer to H-E-double hockey sticks. But it’s cool being on this side of things. Knowing that I am the gatekeeper for knowledge when it comes to curse words, and sex, and life. I am not foolish enough to think that they won’t find some (hopefully not most) of their education in the schoolyard, on the bus, or the internet, but I do plan on being a voice in the fray. Now, I marvel at their naiveté. I smile at their innocence. And I cringe a little at how to approach their inquiries.

Take today. We are in the woods walking the dogs, and Hayden starts quoting lines from Pitch Perfect. “Dad, I love the part when Fat Amy says [pause]. Now, I’m going to say ‘beach’ even though it’s the other B word, okay?” “Okay,” I say. He delivers the line. Owen pipes in, “What does the B word even mean?” “It’s so stupid,” I say. “It means ‘a female dog‘.” We all look at our little black Lab, Rosie, and laugh. “Language is strange, guys. The world decides that certain words are wrong or bad, and it’s important to know that if you say them, you will get in trouble, or people will look down on you. If you called someone a female dog, they would look at you and think you were weird. But if you call someone a bitch you’d get punished. Most curses are words that we have other words for. Ask me some?” They oblige.

“The s-h- word means poop, right?” Owen asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “You can say poop and no one cares, but if you say S-H-I-T you’re in trouble.”

“But crap means poop, too.” Hayden says, trying to reassure himself.

“Yep. And we don’t say that.” I love that they think crap is a curse word. The other day, my friend dropped his son off to play with the boys. As he was leaving, Hayden came out to the driveway and said, “Mr. Bill, Thomas just said the C word.” We both looked at each other wide-eyed. “What’s the C word, Hayden?” he asked. “C-R-A-P,” he spells. Relieved, I say, “Tell him not to say it–you don’t need to run and tell us.” Phew–I was not ready for that conversation.

The boys are now excited about our discussion. Owen says, “Well, what about F-U-C-K?” I’m sad that he’s heard this word–even if he’s just heard it spelled, which I doubt–but I do have to admit it is very cute when he spells it. Oh, boy, I think. I’m searching for words. “It means sex,” I say. (I decide to save the conversation about Fornication Under Control of the King or For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge for another walk.) “You mean pregnant?” Owen asks. “Yeah,” I say slowly, contemplating how far I want to go, and also unsure how he connected the two. “So, Mommy was sexed?” Hayden asks. “Um-hmm,” I say, stifling my laughter. “Mommy was sexed!” Owen says. They crack up laughing. I try to keep the educational tenor of the conversation. “And I don’t really like that so many songs mention sex, and you guys go around singing the word sexy. Like from that song, ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It’.” They are jumping with excitement. This topic has made them more playful than our puppies a few yards ahead. Hayden revs up to do one of his dance moves. He leaps in the air, lands with arms outstretched, then he belts out, in tune, “I’m pregnant and I know it.”

That’s enough sex talk for one day.

Portrait of an Artist as a Weird Man: The Death of Vanity

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For those of you new to my blog (welcome:). This is part of a series that I do, chronicling the doodles that my sons draw of me.

I hate to admit it, but I’m vain. I want to be good looking. Sure, I look like every other white, bald, middle-aged man with glasses, but I do not imagine myself to be as frightening as–well, as my son’s latest rendition of me. Now, you may not believe it, but I do not solicit these drawings–I’m not trying to pile on the pain that has already occurred via my sons’ pencils. Yet, each time the boys draw me, I am hopeful. Not anymore. This picture is ghastly.

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The other day, I asked Owen to take a break from TV. He thought of his options, and then said “Oh, I know. I’ll draw you ‘Owen style.'” I fell for it. I actually thought this meant “cool”. When he ran in to show me the picture, I threw up a little in my mouth. The egg head. The weird tufts of hair. A frigging bow tie–he’s never seen me in a tie, let alone a bow tie. And the mouth. I looked like the saddest, most pathetic person on the planet. (I looked like the person who just found out that they look like this!!)

“Here you go, Dad!”

“Whoa!” Swallow throw up. “This is Owen style, huh? That’s interesting, buddy.” I guess Owen style means draw a caricature of my dad where his inner fears are all manifested on the outside. I have to say, I did like that he gave me some muscles–even if they were bulging out of a green blazer that wouldn’t have fit me when I was his age.

But, this picture served as another reminder–my concern for my looks is futile. My vanity is in vain.

The death knell of vanity rang again a few days after Owen’s latest masterpiece. One of my new freshman classes was starting to feel comfortable with me–maybe too comfortable. During a break in the lesson, one of the girls says, “You look like someone…” Whenever I hear these words, I cringe. It is NEVER good. She continues. “You look like the guy from the movie UP,” she blurts out. “The boy scout?” I ask, willing to take the insult if it makes me appear thirty years younger. “No, the old man–like, a younger version of the old man,” she clarifies, as if it will Pixar-Disney-Company-Up-moviemake a difference to me. Oh, I look like the senior citizen, the grumpy septuagenarian. I just smile, nod, and stagger towards the podium, trying to remain composed and continue with the lesson. “No!” a shout is heard from the other side of the room–this time a boy. “I finally realize who you look like.” He points at me, not in a mean way, but in a way that emphasizes his satisfaction of solving the mystery. “You look like. . .THE GRINCH.” I kid you not readers. The Grinch. “Yeah, I do look like the Grinch,” I say. Dadicus Grinch.

RIP Vanity.

Portrait of an Artist as a Weird Man: Now with Man Boobs

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My son Owen’s latest rendition of me. This was a quick sketch he did the other night to delay going to bed. You can tell it’s summer because he drew me shirtless (which I was not at the time) and he has me wearing shorts. This is his first attempt at giving me hair all over: On my legs it looks a bit like lacy ballet slippers; my beard is actually just a few days of summer scruff, and my chest hair looks like a tattoo of an oak tree. Also, his attempt at giving me pecs makes it appear as if I am in the middle of a gender reassignment–I am not:) Owen is very cute, though. He said, “I’m going to draw you thinking about your 2 favorite things–coffee and cake.” And I think that’s a book flying towards my hands. Got to admit, this boy knows his father–even if he still gives him the arms of a T-Rex.