Sunday, December 31, 2006

Just Buy Some

For those of us in (Southern) Wisconsin who miss a little bit of snow at Christmastime (instead of these drizzily Seattle/London holidays of 2006), here's a thought.

Colorado Woman Selling Snow on eBay

Fake News

A recent poll taken in Southern Wisconsin 1 showed that 95% of respondents believed global warming is taking place.

In a related story, 97% of Colorado residents polled believe global warming is a load of crap.
1 Where it hasn't been below freezing (during the day) for 3 weeks.

Monday, December 04, 2006

I Thought The Election Was Over

The other day Benjamin and I were out shoveling in front of our house. He decided to go check the mailbox. There was a letter in it and he seemed surprised, "Hey! There's a letter." He paused and appeared to be looking at it. Then for a reason I've been unable to determine, said, "Ahhh, it's just Democrats," and closed the mailbox.

Fortunately, it wasn't a political solicition for 2008 already. I was either too tired from shoveling the 6-inch layer of snow from the walks (or too distracted thinking, "Hmmmm, that might be good blog material") to try to get him to explain what his comment meant or where it came from. I note that some of us over a Thanksgiving visit spent a good lot of time shooting the proverbial breeze with a fairly conservative uncle of Benjamin's. I'm sure Democrats must have come up at least a few times.

Even said uncle, though, has never blamed the Democrats for receiving mail, junk or otherwise.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Packing List

  • pants
  • shirts
  • socks
  • Winne-the-Pooh toothbrush
  • Thomas (the Tank Engine) underpants
  • books
  • swimsuit
  • personal flotation device
  • light-up sword
  • toddler stacking cups
  • velcro bear-paw catch game
  • railroad engineer's cap and neckerchief
  • 3-D Thomas Halloween costume
  • necktie
  • dress shirt
  • dress pants

Sounds like a suitcase full of stuff for the whole family. In reality, it's just Benjamin's "packing list."

We and some friends took a little overnight trip (just into the city) for some fun "kids'" activities. My wife and I were amused by Benjamin's "packing list." We had him pick out some of the clothes and things he's like to bring; the above are some highlights.

As to the tie and dress clothes, those were not our idea, nor did he need them. While he was packing he decided he wanted to wear a shirt and tie. Our destination? The children's museum. (Almost all of you, even those without kids, must know that despite the haute name, a children's museum is a glorified indoor playground with educational displays that the kids manipulate, yank, push, climb on, etc.) No formal attire required.

So with items from baby toys to business dress, my wife and I were just amused by Benjamin's electic selection.

And, yes, he did wear the dress clothes to the children's museum. He was the only person, not the only kid,  the only person  in the place wearing a tie, . . . . and it was (of course) as cute as heck.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Operating While a Preschooler

I had a very disturbing dream last night that we let Benjamin drive our car and he drove down the street and out of sight (very safely and straight, I note). We were distracted and didn't follow him and when he came back a couple of minutes later he told us he had run into a child, he thought the child was seriously hurt or maybe even dead. I was horrified for this child, his family, and for the psychological scar that hurting this boy would leave on Benjamin. I was shattered with guilt. Strangely the guilt was not about letting Benjamin drive our car, but about letting him get out of our sight. Of course in the dream he was 5 years old, not 4-1/2.

I don't generally have prophetic, mysterious dreams. My dreams are almost always pretty transparently connected to something in my real life or something I've heard or seen. Though it's not a very mysterious nightmare, I am trying to figure out where it came from. A few days ago, while looking on the internet for information on booster seats I ended up at a car safety website, It warns about common accidents with kids, kids getting hurt or killed by getting backed over, by setting the car in motion, by getting caught in power windows, etc. It includes testimonials - close calls and tragedies - a couple of which I read. It's sobering information, probably stuff I didn't think about enough before I stumbled on that site.

One of the points the site brought up, which I hadn't really thought of, was why few (if any) American cars have power windows that work like garage doors, with a sensor that stops the window from closing if there is something caught or in the way. Another safety feature the site's backers favor is safer power window switches (ones that are difficult for children to activate accidentally).

I'm not sure what I think about all of that. We can't danger-proof every aspect of every product. On the other hand, these features don't seem that difficult or costly, and apparently on several European models these features are standard equipment. More information is on this "" page: Power Windows Press Release. What do you think?

Turning back to my dream, the website didn't  discuss letting 5 year olds independently operate cars on city streets. The bit about Benjamin going off on his own in the car may have been connected to my recent exaggerated anxieties about some things Benjamin did in school. A few times he innocently did and said some silly things to another boy who took offense at them. The boy is known to his parents and teacher to be kind of sensitive. Nevertheless, I was surprised and didn't know what generated the behavior in the first place. The situation seems to be over and never was a big deal. Nevertheless, it riled up my worries. I think both the conscious anxieties and dreaming about what happens to Benjamin and others when Benjamin is out of sight (and not under the guidance of my wife or I) are probably some of the early symptoms of the trouble many (or most?) parents have letting go.

Anyway, one truth is that parenting worries haunt parents even in their sleep, and - so long as it doesn't get out of hand - that's probably not a bad thing.

Meanwhile, Benjamin's driving privileges have been revoked until he's at least 23, even in my dreams.

Friday, October 06, 2006

October Surprise

You know it's political season when name recognition extends to four-year-olds. Benjamin today picked up a flyer from a realtor, pointed to the realtor's portrait on the sheet and asked if the man pictured was Jim Doyle. Jim Doyle is our governor here in Wisconsin currently running for re-election.

True, Benjamin is not quite ready to identify the Governor by sight. Nevertheless, the Governor, with all due respect, would be, I think, much complimented to have someone mistake the much better-looking, younger, and much less bald realtor in question for him.

Hey, Mike Timmins1 of Homestead Real Estate, if you're out there, you've got my son's vote.
1 Names changed to protect the innocent

Thursday, October 05, 2006

First Days of School and Railroad Crossing Therapy

Benjamin has started school and we all had a hard time with it at first. It is hard to turn over care of your child to someone else, particularly to people to whom you are not close. This statement is almost hackneyed, I think, because it is true of so many parents. I don't think I could understand this before I became a father. I doubt I even understood it a couple years ago, when Benjamin was little and this time was so far in the future.

Once the time was upon us, even though we selected his school with great care and deliberation, we were nervous and questioning ourselves.

He started a daily pre-Kindergarten program at the school to which we think we will send him for Kindergarten, 1st grade, etc. When we dropped him off he was cautious and serious for the first couple days. This made sense. He was feeling the effects of a big change in his routine, but was really interested in what was going on in school and wanted to be there.

On the second or third day, Benjamin said I should be sure to drive him home past a railroad crossing, because that would make him feel better. (Benjamin right now is very consumed by all things trains. Also, he has before asked us to drive him past a railroad crossing when he was in a bad mood.) Feel better?  What was wrong? He said he was bored because he'd had school that day and that he had missed me. (Bored!!? )

The following day he'd mentioned that he'd cried at school. Cried? (I remained calm so as not to betray my surprise and pity.) I asked why, and he said that he had missed his mama and me.

We talked to his teacher and she said he had cried for a little bit kind of out of nowhere. She asked what was wrong and he said he didn't know. The rest of the time, though, he was involved, acted normal, in a good mood, etc. The next time he cried, he did tell his teacher it was because he missed us.

These happenings set off a spate of self-questioning of our school decision, whether he was ready  for school, how we should approach it with him, etc. We were also afraid that while we were preparing him for the transition to school by talking often and positively about it as something to excitedly look forward to, he got the message that it was a very important duty and that he couldn't tell us anything negative about it.

And what was the deal with the 'bored' thing? We talked to Benjamin about that. We finally got to the crux of it once our conversation went this way:

"Are you bored when we take a long ride in the car?" one of us asked.


"Are you bored when you're just sitting on the couch doing nothing?"

"When you guys are with me, or when you're not with me?" he countered.

Huh? Ohhhh. He didn't know what 'bored' meant. In his mind it was the same, we discovered, as being homesick or missing us.

Despite these emotions, he very much  wanted to go to school, he always told us, because he really "likes all the activities."

After my wife and I talked about it extensively, and explored it with Benjamin, we agreed on an idea. Maybe he could take something with him to school to cheer himself up, like a picture of us or something.

"No, I don't think that  will help. How about a railroad crossing sign? That will make me feel better."

That's right. So now he carries a little toy railway crossing sign from his train set in his pocket. In case he is a bit sad because he misses us, he can just take it out of his pocket and look at and that will cheer him up. As far as I can tell from his reporting, etc., he's never actually done that, but he knows it's there.

We were still concerned, so my wife checked William Sears (Dr. Sears) website. We found it was common for attachment-parented kids to react this way. Dr. Bob Sears's article suggested walking your child to his classroom, perhaps staying a while (and other measures if the child does not become comfortable). Though other parents rarely do this at Benjamin's school, we started taking him right up to the room for a quick goodbye. Sometimes it feels a little awkward to seem like the doting parent. (I'm sure part of that feeling comes from being a teacher and hearing colleagues in Kindergarten talk about clingy parents hanging around the door making it so much harder for the child to get used to staying.) Nonetheless, it's helped Benjamin. He's 4  years old. It's the right thing for right now.

The tears have subsided and, thanks to some patience, talking and a little "R/R X" sign, Benjamin is much more comfortable and happy at school.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Howling Good Time

I learned some strange things today. I learned that in Egypt people put a certain kind of napkin over their chests to keep the flies away . . . at least according to Benjamin. He told me this interesting "fact" while demonstrating at the lunch table. He elaborated, saying that they use Venus flytrap napkins (though his own napkin was not only devoid of toothy plants but was plain white).

Earlier today I learned that we have at least one howling centipede in our house. Now sometimes when I see a particular large individual of the common type of centipede we have in our house, I want  to howl. Anyway, Benjamin told me to look; he was running a pocket comb along the floor so that the teeth looked like moving legs. Then there was a loud howl. "It's supposed to be scary," I was told. I recoiled in play horror, not dissimilar to the way I would react if indeed I saw a real yellow, 50-legged, inch-high howling chilopod crawling on my floor.

For better or worse, apparently this is what staying home all day with me does to one's imagination.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Post-Teaching Stress Disorder

I liked teaching elementary school, but it could be very stressful. So when I was on that helpful break in the summers, the first sign of school supplies on the store shelves always caused my throat to tighten a little bit. I knew I had better start the mad rush to get the classroom and plans for the year ready.

My issues with time, compulsion, attention, etc. would always conspire to make it a less than smooth ramp-up, though I always made it work somehow.

Since I went "on hiatus" from that profession these last years, I do tense up when I see those school supplies come out. Then, however, comes the sigh of relief and the little smile when I remember that September 5th will just be another day, and that my class size this year is again just 1 — or 2.

The subconscious, however, is less relenting. The night before last I had my second end-of-the-summer teaching nightmare.

Vicarious Nerves

My first one was caused by listening to my niece, who will be starting her first year of teaching this school year, describe what's on her plate in the next month. The first year is always tortuous, with little experience and having to set up everything without really knowing what you'll be doing. Moreover, unlike in some professions, you can rarely have someone just come and help you because all your colleagues are at their busiest exactly when you are. You close that classroom door on the first day and you're never alone, but you're on your own.

Well, getting ready for the first day and the first year is plenty. My niece is also coaching volleyball and has games before the school year begins. Right, not uncommon. But wait, there's more! She's getting married on Labor Day weekend. Not just an intimate little affair with a few family and friends. It's a weekend-long extravaganza at a YMCA camp up north, with lots of folks flying in from the groom's native country.

I think this particular niece is the most organized, practical person in the family, so if anyone can do it well, she can. As for me, the anxiety started buzzing just listening to it all. That night was the first nightmare.

Nightmare 1: What grade do I teach?

I arrived at school to set up my classroom. I wasn't sure if it was the first day of school or the day before, but either way I knew I was in trouble. If only I knew which grade I would be teaching . . . or which room was mine; that would help so much. I didn't want the principal — played in this dream by a former boss — to know, however, that (a) I was ill-prepared (b) I didn't even know where to go. So I wandered the halls hiding from her while looking for clues: an empty classroom with nothing set up, or the like.

I was too conspicuous and nervous; I was having no luck. I hovered discreetly near the office hoping to find the boss out. Then I could make a dash to my mailbox. Certainly something in there  would tell me whether I was a 2nd grade teacher or a 5th grade teacher. Of course, I dreaded notes saying, "Why isn't your classroom set up?" and the pile of paperwork I surely already needed to have turned in.

I never did find my classroom and was not in recent memory happier to wake up in our humid, messy bedroom, with my son moaning for his mama as if I was merely an intrusive butler. Not happier, perhaps, until this last teaching dream.


The school year had begun a few weeks earlier, but I was sick at home the whole time. I went to school for the first time after recovering the afternoon before I was going to start work again. I knew that my class had been run by a disparate chain of substitutes about whom I knew nothing. Though I again desperately wanted my mail, I avoided the office for fear of the very same principal.

All the other classrooms were embellished and organized nicely, with signs and displays on the doors and inviting bulletin boards. I arrived at my room. Someone had begun to put a display on the door, but it appeared to be made out of plain white paper and cut paper grocery bags. It was something about Hawaii. Most notably, on each classroom door the principal had put a label with bold black print that said, "PROFESSIONAL," except on my door. My door's label said, "UNPROFESSIONAL."

Inside, the room was organized chaos: desks oddly arranged, half-unpacked boxes used to organize stuff, piles of books and papers scattered about. Given the clues I saw, I believed last sub' was trying to manage by being "the cool teacher" but not maintaining control.

Before or during my absence, I apparently failed to get anything ready for my class this year. My principal hunted me down and sternly asked me what I'd been doing all these weeks. I said, "Well, first, trying to get better."

"Well, that's good; that's good, of course. What else?" she answered.

I mumbled something about some plans I had come up with, and said I'd be working there late that night to get things together.

She said that was a good start and left me alone. I stood alone in the disarray trying for hours to organize, to figure out what the subs had been teaching and to plan even just one lesson. Instead, I just ended up moving piles around, and becoming more and more muddled.

One of the challenging kids in the class stopped by. (He must have forgotten something.) His taunting attitude I felt was ominous. I debated whether I would be trying to get the little . . . whatever . . . on my side, or to come down hard on him with discipline.

The dream ended in the frazzled cloud of confusion before the next day's crashing failure had even begun. I woke up anxious but ultimately relieved.

Awake: Blessed "Boredom"

So again I feel blessed that my only lessons, of late, are largely spontaneous ones involving teaching common expressions so that Benjamin can appreciate certain knock-knock jokes, as well as learning the locations of various operational and disused railroads around town.

And, sometimes, I even get to abandon — almost — all responsibility and be the student, as yesterday, when Benjamin taught me a game involving bopping a beach ball around the living room. It was called "Nic Nic Nic Nic Nic Nic," and it's great therapy for PTSD.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Candy Program Scuttled in Committee

I previously discussed negotiating with Benjamin ("Negotiations with a Preschooler"). Well, Benjamin still tends to propose deals that don't quite have a "carrot" in them for those on the other side of the table.

Yesterday he said to his mom, "Let's start doing this. How about every day when you come from work, you bring me candy?"

He doesn't even eat that much candy. If you give him a big piece, a little bag of something, a lollipop, or a popsicle, he doesn't even finish it. We have candy hoarded from a few parades and holidays back, which we must cull as it gets stale. Maybe he's a candy collector. The end result is that I eat too much candy.

We like that he rations his own candy for whatever reason, so were not about to upset the balance — or the overflowing candy basket — by delivering. The daily candy program is a no-go.

Friends and the Fuzz

While I'm doing housework or driving, etc., I like to listen to radio, internet radio or podcasts. Here's a story I heard the other day that's kind of sweet. It poses the question how long until you're an "old friend." The answer? Two years, unless . . . . . .

If you're a libertarian, parts of this story about the court case of "United States of America v. $124,700, in U.S. Currency" may anger you, but I like the funny bits. You have to listen to the audio for those.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Magic Cats

The other day Benjamin, apparently out of nowhere, said, "Tigger is a Guernsey." (Tigger is the corn-on-the-cob-eating cat.) I don't know where he got 'Guernsey' from, but I didn't bat a proverbial eyelash. Holstein, Guernsey ... this is Wisconsin; these words are in the air.

Me: Tigger is a Guernsey?
Benjamin: Yeah!
Me: How do you know?
B: He does Guernsey kind of stuff.
Me: Like what?
B: He's moos.
Me: He's moos?
B: Yeah, he moos.

Now our cat has many unique abilities, but to date I've not heard him moo.

What abilities? Well, he his very sympathetic. Whenever someone is crying, he rushes over, wide-eyed, to offer his assistance, or at least to sniff them a little bit. This happened a number of times in these past few days, what with the hoof-and-mouth and all. Unfortunately, a cat in your face doesn't do much for painful sores in the mouth. (If anything it annoyed the boy more.)

I think I mentioned this before, but Tigger can catch food in his mouth like a dog, but only if it's shrimp. Sometimes he even catches it with his paws.

We also have magic cats, though their abilities seem limited to opening doors when no one is around. We discovered this ability not long after we acquired Tigger.

We had a friend who had found this very friendly cat she called "Tigger." The friend lived in the country and had to leave the cat outside much of the time because Tigger and her German Shepherd had personal differences. Every time we went to see her, Tigger would run up and purr and rub on us. We often asked our friend if she would let us take Tigger, since she had to leave him outside anyway. At a Halloween party she had, when she was a little tipsy, she conceded.

Though we were scheduled to leave town overnight the next day, we thought we'd better take Tigger home with us right away lest she change her mind when sober. We had another male house cat at the time, and of course they hissed and growled like crazy when they met. Unfortunately, we couldn't stay to help them acclimate. Instead we closed them in separate rooms with separate food and facilities.

When we come back they both walked up to us together at the door purring, shoulder-to-shoulder, like they'd been friends their whole lives. I should be wondering at their amazing ability at unaided reconciliation, and actually I often have. Diplomats around the world today could probably benefit from their abilities. But what keeps bothering me is, how did they get that door open? Either they can use door knobs, or they're magic cats.

They have done it since and they will do it again. But never when we're watching.

Me: Tigger, moo.
Tigger: Meow.
Me: Can you moo, Tigger? Moo?
Tigger: PurrrrrrrrRowww.
Me: Moo, Tigger. Can you moo?
Tigger: Meow.

Well, there's only so much you can expect from magic cats. They're still cats, after all.

Electric Shock Game

"Electric Shock Game" for sale at C. Crane.

Uhhhhhh . . . . . . How  is this fun?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Benjamin has been crying, shrieking and moaning a lot these last few days since he got "hoof-and-mouth."

OK, well it's not really "hoof-and-mouth" and I know that because when the first kid-of-a-friend got "hand foot and mouth disease" and his mom emailed us, she included a link about the virus. The article had a prominent clarifier that it is different than the "hoof-and-mouth disease" (or "foot-and-mouth disease") contracted by cattle. It's a good thing she did that, because in the minutes before I got to the link I nervously thought, "Is that the human version of that 'hoof-and-mouth disease'? Did they get that at the petting zoo? We were at the petting zoo . . ."

So, anyway, "hand, foot and mouth disease." Apparently it's a common childhood illness; symptoms include painful sores on the hands, (yeah, that's right), feet and mouth.

Benjamin's tongue hurt and at first we thought he had bitten it. But when we looked, we saw the 3 or 4 nasty-looking blisters. And that's how the 4 days of him shrieking or moaning in pain sometimes only when he tried to eat or drink, other times every few minutes. The poor little guy. Even on alternating doses of ibuprofen and acetaminophen, he would complain of lots of pain and had a horrible time eating and drinking.

We don't know for sure that it was "hand, foot and mouth" virus. Some of the clues, however, are hard to argue with. We avoided contact with the first child we knew with the virus. We did, however, spend an evening with a second kid friend who had it but was not supposed to be contagious. We were all in very close contact with him. Maybe he was still contagious after all. It's obviously been going around town, though, so maybe we got it from a grocery cart handle; who knows?

Another clue were the sores in my mouth. I recalled that I had some unexplained sores on my cheek just recently and 3 or 4 canker-like sores were forming on my gums. I also had a strange little blister on my hand, a sore throat and headaches for a while (other symptoms). Usually, only kids get this disease, but adults can get it. And I was in a lot of close contact with cute little suspected vector number one.

Anyway, the shrieking, moaning and crying made the last several days a challenge. And that was just me. (Kidding.) Of course, one of the hardest parts is not being able to do anything else to take the pain away from Benjamin. In my experience, pain relievers don't do too much for throat or mouth pain. We tried a local numbing medication on his tongue sores, but the initial stinging was too much for him to bear.

Benjamin is a slow, distracted eater to begin with. With every bite feeling like a stab in the tongue, each attempt at a meal became a major project, from finding foods that wouldn't sting or scrape, to breaking them into little bits, to coaxing him to actually eat it.

Nights too have been rough (rough mostly for Mrs. OccupationDad who is the light sleeper and the one Benjamin wants to snuggle up to when he wakes up hurting and, moreover, the one has to go to work in the morning). Since we "co-sleep" with Ben, we all awake together and wish we could do something to make the pain go away. (If you're shocked by the co-sleeping, you probably didn't notice the "Attachment Parenting" links in the sidebar. Worry not; it's a good thing.) I do get up for medicine or water or whatever might be needed.

Basically, when you have a sick child, life largely reverts back to when you had a baby. Night waking, holding, frequent comforting and reassuring, more loud "preverbal communication," often bodily fluids need to be removed from clothing and bedding. And, again, that was just dealing with me. Kidding!

Finally yesterday, the shrieking dwindled, and Benjamin ate a relatively normal solid-food meal without tears. So things are looking up!

Moral: If it comes to your town, beware the "hoof-and-mouth."

Friday, August 04, 2006

May I Ask What You Paid for This Piece?

The other day I came downstairs to find Mrs. OccupationDad and my son sitting at the table eating and "playing 'Antiques Roadshow.'"

My wife was in the middle of considering an early 21st Century toy "Hello Kitty" toaster "from Japan" that Benjamin had brought in for her to appraise. She showed my son the maker's mark on the bottom, and gave him a little information about it. It appraised at about $100 - $120 because of "condition issues" and because it did not have the "original toasts."

When she stated the value of the object Benjamin made the "brrrrrring" sound and called out, "Bring out that treasure box" (indicating the graphic that comes up on the show with the appraisal amount).

Benjamin brought a number of other artifacts for my wife or I to appraise that day. Never have kids' meal toys fetched such high prices!

(Disclaimer: These appraisals were for play purposes only and therefore pretend. Your "Hello Kitty" toaster may not be worth $100. Please see a qualified appraiser or memorabilia specialist.)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Our Cat Eats Corn on the Cob

Our cat eats corn on the cob. Simple and to the point. Some set-up or fluke? Well, there is butter on it, but he was not just licking the butter off. (Our other cat was doing that, trying to figure out what the corn-eating cat was after.) No, the cat was chewing the kernels off and eating them.

We left the room, not having cleared the table, and returned to find the cat had stolen the cob and had taken it down to the floor for consumption.

Actually, knowing this cat, I wasn't that surprised. Before we got him, I thought cats ate meat (including fish and seafood) and drank milk and water. Period. (Garfield and his lasagna notwithstanding; he is, after all, a cartoon cat.)

Our corn-eating cat's favorite food is shrimp. He can smell it frozen at 50 yards and goes so wild for it that he'll catch a little piece in his mouth like a dog. His broader set of food preferences, though, are somewhat diverse and strange. Like his cartoon counterpart, he likes pasta, though he prefers it plain. If you drop a piece of spaghetti near him he'll eat it, but he backs away first then paws it, to make sure it's dead.

If we break out the canteloupe he'll start meowing and meowing — not quite the shrimp meow — but persistent. He'll eat several small pieces at a time. If denied and a rind is left accessible, he'll dig it out and eat whatever "meat" he can scrape off of it.

He's not quite as agressive about cucumber, but he will ask. Again, if peelings are around he sample them.

We've learned not to leave bread or buns out. He'll just claw a little hole in the bag and just have a little snack, making a 2-inch crater in the crust, but usually managing to render at least 3 pieces inedible.

He can't be the only feline who has odd cravings. What cats (or other pets) do you know with unusual appetites?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Speak Softly but Carry a Big Pillow

The other day Mrs. OccupationDad was trying to get Benjamin down for a nap. She read him a story and then had him lie down, staying with him. He was kind of antsy, wiggling around and talking. My wife told him that he should try to close his eyes and rest.

He responded by saying, "No, you have to get me to sleep like Dada does it."

"Oh," my wife answered calmly, "What does Dada do?"

Then my son slandered me, "He yells at me."

You will allow me to defend myself, yes? I do not yell at my son. If I did, I would have to be pretty dense to do it at naptime. I stay with Benjamin until he falls asleep. Most of the time he just lies quietly and eventually falls asleep; he such a good little guy. Sometimes he needs to snuggle or bury himself under a mountain of pillows or something. Sometimes I doze off before he does. Occasionally, he will be all restless and he'll be playing with something on the bed, while I'm there falling asleep. Whether my catnap is intentional or not, when Benjamin's flopping on the bed, or digging his feet into my side, I wake up and crankily whisper, "Please just try to lie still" or "I can't make you sleep, but it's not time to play." But even this crabby-Dada scenario is fairly rare.

Now back to the story. My wife knows I don't yell, so she asked our son, incredulously, "Dad yells at you?"

Benjamin lowered his voice; in fact, he whispered, "Yeah, … but he does it very, very quietly."

Monday, June 26, 2006

Legal Emigrants

Benjamin and I were reading the book Honkers.   In it, a girl, staying at her grandparents farm for a time, helps them hatch and raise some goslings from abandoned Canada Goose eggs.

We've read it a few times, so Benjamin is very familiar with the story. On one of the pages, the grandparents first show the eggs to the girl in a barn. In the picture, some white geese are standing near the Canada Goose eggs.

Now, I must mention that I told Benjamin (regarding the migration part of the story) that the Canada Geese, flying south, are off to spend the winter in Mexico. I now realize this is not accurate. Maybe I was thinking about many songbirds and Monarch butterflies (eastern populations). It turns out most Canada Geese only migrate to the central and southern U.S., though some do go as far as Mexico.

Anyway, Benjamin looked at the picture of the white geese and the eggs and said to me, "Those farm geese can keep those Mexican geese's eggs warm until they hatch."

¡Muy bien!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Say Nothing

It's funny I should mention my "answering service" (in the last post). Today Benjamin answered the phone and shortly thereafter announced that his dada was going poo and that I could talk after I was done going poo. Gosh, I sure hope the window was open wide enough. I wouldn't want to keep the neighbors out of the loop.

So we're working on "can't come to the phone" or "not available" a little more. I also threw in a brief discussion of traditional ideas about privacy, what information people may or may not want to have, etc.

Now, Benjamin has watched a "Bob the Builder" episode (from a library DVD) a lot lately. It's one where Mr. Bentley has an anniversary surprise for Mrs. Bentley, and the machines must "say nothing" to preserve the surprise.

When my wife was home for lunch, I told her today's telephone story. "That's really funny," was her addition to the "teachable moment." By contrast, I quizzed Benjamin, "So if someone calls and one of us is on the potty, what could you say?" (Yeah, I know. I'm no fun.)

Benjamin grinned and responded, "Always say nothing."

That, indeed, was Muck's summation of the lesson for that "Bob the Builder" episode.

I propose a modified version: "When it comes to surprises [and poo], always say nothing."

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Very Affordable Answering Service

Our son likes to answer the telephone. Not only do I enjoy listening to him answer — in his cute little, 4-year-old, but educated way—, I'm not above taking advantage of it . . . a little.

He easily learned, "Who's calling, please?" and to tell us whom it is. (Also, he is now learning to not be quite so candid when he answers and I'm indisposed. "He's in the bathroom; he needs privacy" [or more vivid descriptions] are being replaced by, "He's not available right now.")

Anyway, when telemarketers call, Benjamin can come in quite handy. He is fully in the habit of asking who it is. And, stickler that he can be, he'll keep asking until he understands sufficiently to repeat to my wife or me what the caller has said.

I haven't had the heart, yet, to have him lie to them. It's not that I feel that guilty about fibbing to the solicitor. It just seems sad to have an innocent child do your dirty work. I've thought a number of times of telling Benjamin to tell the friendly new caller all  about our trip to Disney world, about how his train set works, or about what happened in our last game of Candyland. Benjamin has become remarkably long-winded in his descriptions and storytelling of late (don't know where he gets that from), so I'm sure he'd have a lot  of interesting things to say. But, again, I don't want to exploit his good-natured interest in sharing with others, nor do I want to have to unteach this strange phone etiquette.

Nevertheless, I savor some of Benjamin's natural phone interactions with telemarketers. Sometimes businesses call and representatives either can't hear Benjamin (perhaps because of a bad connection somewhere between here and Bangalore); or they mistake his cute little voice for that of a 2 year old; or maybe they just don’t want to give the upper hand to a child. Whatever the reason, they insist on speaking to Benjamin in a slow, loud, condescending voice: "I need to talk to your mommy. Please get your mommy."

Meanwhile he's been trying to nicely ask, "Who's calling, please?" He answers their request politely, but firmly, "My mom's at work; my dad's here. I need to know who's calling, please."

"Can I talk to your daddy?"

Benjamin now becomes, louder and slower, realizing he's dealing with someone not quite at his level, "WHO'S CALLING, PLEASE?"

After a few exchanges back and forth, the caller finally identifies her/himself, "Well, … MY . . . NAME . . . IS 'MARY.'"

Of course, I don't know "Mary," so I must whisper to Benjamin, "Ask them, 'From where?'"

Usually they revert to "I need to talk to your daddy" a few more times. Then they give in, "OK . . . I'm from 'Cap - i - tol One.' Will you be able to say that?"

"Dada," he turns to me, "It's Mary from Capitol One. She wants to talk to you."

"Thank you," I politely respond. Then and only then is the helpful representative permitted to speak with me.

'How do I know what the caller is saying to him?' you ask. I'm listening on speakerphone, of course. But far be it from me  to rudely interrupt the cordial conversation my son is trying to have.

Why do I thus allow telemarketers to waste even more of our time by going through all of this? I guess I take a secret formerly-secret pleasure in the whole thing, especially with the ones who talk to him like he's 1-1/2 years old. Yeah, I know, it's a sad state of affairs. I'm far too easily amused and have too much time on my hands act like I have too much time on my hands.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Out of the Closet, Finally

We spent quite a while today closed inside a little closet.

I had Benjamin pick out his shirt today. He chose a campground
shirt that, as he quickly reminded me, glows in the dark.

He wanted to see it glow, so we "charged it up" next to the light bulb and closed the closet door. "It's glowing!" Glowing stars, fireflies, a lantern and a moon.

He wanted to do it again. And again. And again. Our closet light has a pull-string switch. He had a hard time finding it in the dark, so he began asking the fireflies to help him find the string. (I helped the fireflies.)

He wanted to do it again. And again. And again. I could see that I — literally — needed an exit strategy.

I could just say, "All right, enough of this. We're done." I could if I wanted to hang out with an angry 4-year-old for the next half hour. It always works better to ask something like, "How many more times?"

In this case the answer was, "Three." I could deal with that. We charged up the shirt one last time and he got to wear it . . . glowing. And out we went.

Finally, out of closet. With a few stretches I've almost got all the kinks out of my back, legs and neck.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Heaven of Peace Tower

Benjamin: "Dada, this is one of the tallest towers in the world. "
Dad: "Wow! What is it called?"
Benjamin: "Well, it's called the 'Heaven of Peace Tower'"

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


I think our recent trip may have had an impact on our son.

When he woke up from his nap today, he just lay there pensively for at least 15 minutes.

Then out of the blue he said, "Excuse me, Dada. I have a question for you."


"Do you know where I can get a Disney map?"

I dug out a "Magic Kingdom" map from the trip. He opened it up and shouted, "There's the monorail!!!" He liked the monorail a lot.

I would tell you more, but I have to go. He needs to show me something "really interesting" on the map. Something about "Main Street USA" and a "steam train."

Assigned Reading

Another backdated entry is up: "Geek in Paradise or 'Honey, I Shrunk Your Self-Image'"

Also, I posted an entry — "Negotiations with a Preschooler"
— at Dadbloggers.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Returned from the World — Back Down to Earth

We're back from Disney World. I wrote some entries on the vacation, but chose not to go on-line there due to Disney's magically high Internet access rates. (We were fortunate to be able to stay at one of the budget Disney hotels.) What about dial-up? Well, Disney has magically turned any phone number not on their property into a long distance call from the hotel.

To fill in the gaps, I'll post these entries backdated to when I wrote them. "Disney Daze," dated May 17th, is now up.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Geek in Paradise or "Honey, I Shrunk Your Self-Image"

One of the things that contributed to my staying up much of the night before our trip was the fact that I lost my eyeglasses. Now, I've lost a contact lens before (putting one in or taking one out, cleaning one and even walking into a tree branch). I've even lost a whole pair of contact lenses in their case. But I've never before lost a pair of glasses.

It all comes of vanity and greed for comfort. These demons compelled me get new contacts and promptly lose my glasses. 1

I looked in the house, the car, called the optician's office, turned several little bags inside out and even dug through the garbage. No luck. And we were leaving the next morning.

I found an old pair of my glasses from 8 years ago (or so). The prescription is not strong enough and they are bigger and dorky-looking.

When we left, I saved my "contact time" for later. In the car, plane, bus, etc.: glasses.

By the time we got to the gate at the airport from which we departed, I'd forgotten about the glasses. So I walked into the restroom at the airport and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. With my current hair style configuration, my tired, unshaven face (that saved me 8 minutes earlier) and those hideous glasses, I did a double take. I looked like a washed-up Rick Moranis impersonator on a bender.

Why should I care? 'Tis it not dandy vanity? Well, I did care: enough to complain about it to my wife. She took a few seconds to really have the good look at me that our running around that morning had not afforded her and gave an amused snort.

Vain self-consciousness quickly deteriorated into humiliation after that when, every time my wife — who, in our 12 years of marriage, has seen me in all manner of states of disrepair — commenced to laugh  at me every time she looked at me for more than 2 seconds.

While this sad state of affairs is perhaps the culmination of the ill karma for the vanity and lust-for-comfort that began this whole thing, it has also compelled me to wear the contacts whenever possible. I'm also handling them more carefully than I would handle precious jewels.

Vanity: deadly sin. Ridicule: powerful motivator.

1 I haven't worn contacts for a year or so. (I had worn gas-permeable ones. My eyes had grown drier, so they became uncomfortable. I wore them less and less. Then that pair became the pair I lost in their case.) Lately I've been thinking that I'm ready to try some of the newer types of soft lenses.

As the trip approached, I thought about I look lots better in contacts, plus I don't like glasses constantly sliding down nose when I sweat, as I will in the Florida heat. Contacts would fix that, too.

So I made a last minute appointment. It was the day before we left. I got new contacts; they were great! I wore them home. I stored my glasses in the small shopping bag with the solutions, etc. That's the last I saw of them. Fine, but I'm not supposed to wear the contacts full-time yet. [Click to return to text where footnote link was.]

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Disney Daze

We made it to Disney World! Healthy and happy! And almost awake!

We had to get up at about 4am to prepare to go catch our flight. I know, it could be a lot worse. Really, if you go to bed a little early, like Benjamin did was coaxed into doing, you're fine.

If you're a fool and you procrastinate, manage your time poorly and stay up until 2am the night before still getting ready (even though you started packing days earlier), like me, then you're not fine. You get weird symptoms like a sore throat and weird headaches and you fear you're getting sick again and it'll ruin everyone's trip. You know, though, that it's all just your own damn sleep-deprived fault.

I could just take a nap on the plane. But we flew affordably. Coach on a 717 is nothing to complain about when your destination is Disney World!!! Nevertheless, the 5 degrees that the seat reclines isn't that conducive to sweet repose.

So after checking in, a little lunch and a little fun, a nap saves the day for the whole family. Unless the Disney Magic Express (due to postponing the trip) isn't quite as magic as could be in delivering the luggage. It was coming, no doubt, but during naptime. Did I wait for them? Are you kidding? I hit the hotel bed like Donald Duck landing on Goofy's head. Yes, I did it knowing full-well I would soon wake up going, "Wha'!? Wha'!? Wha's goin' on!!?" and proceed to open the door, throttle the caller, take the bags, leave a tip on the unconscious "cast member" and go directly back to bed. And that's what happened. Except the bellhop, she was a cute kid, so she was spared.

Oh, and in my semi-awake stupor, I . . . uh . . . forgot the tip. So Julie or Kelly or Caitlyn or Courtney or whatever your name is, if you read my blog, stop back at the room; we have a shiny Sacagawea dollar with your name on it.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Life Lessons in Advance of a Florida Trip

A friend whom we will see when we go on our Disney World trip tomorrow sent me the link to this article, perhaps to get me "psyched" for the trip: Alligators

Now, I think it is part human nature and part American denial-of-death and hope-of-banishing-all-risk-of-danger to hear about tragedy and start thinking, "Now why couldn't this be me?" Or, "How could I avoid this fate?"

In that spirit, I take away the following life lessons from the aforementioned article.
  • Don't snorkel alone in an alligator-infested swamp.

  • Don't hang out with alligators while on drugs. They may impair your ability to run for your life.

  • Don't jog alone in ethnically-alligator neighborhoods.
OK that was callous. I do feel the horror and sympathy. Many of us deal with it using humor.

And I take the caution to heart as well, especially after the following exchange with a travel agent and Disney specialist.

My question:
Are there any sand beaches along any of the lakes on the Disney property that are open us as Disney guests? I'm wondering about a place we might be able to take a break and just sit on the beach, perhaps wade into the water?
... there are nice beaches at the resorts around the Magic Kingdom resorts (Contemporary, Polynesian, Grand Floridian and at Fort Wilderness) as well as Caribbean Beach. Anyone can go on those beaches, but you don't want to get in the water. First of all, it's not allowed, and secondly, it could be contaminated water (and most water in Florida contains some size of alligators). You're welcome to hang out on the beach and play in the sand.
Got it. We'll stay out of the water.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Experimental Travelers

We're ramping up — again — to go to Disney World.

But why  are we going on a full-fledged vacation when we're spending thousands on the adoption and trying to save thousands more for the same?

Practice. We plan on taking Benjamin with us to China. Because of how close the three of us are and our attachment parenting history, we're quite convinced this would be the least traumatic option. Secondly, we think going to China with us will be quite an opportunity for him to get a glimpse of another culture and his sister's ethnic heritage. Moreover, we would like all  of us to start bonding with our daughter right from the moment she joins the family.

So, yes, practice. Benjamin has never been on an airplane before. We'd like him to have that experience before he hops on a 15-hour  flight. He's a patient child, and a good traveler. He can be, however, kind of anxious. We would like to know what things will keep him calm, comfortable and occupied on a flight. Also, we'll have to wake him up very early in the morning to catch our flight. He'll experience having to get on transportation at a specific time, waiting in long lines, waiting for buses, large crowds, etc. Of course there are hundreds of things for which we won't  be able to prepare him (or ourselves for that matter), but it's a start.

We  also have to practice. Practice packing light, limiting our luggage, and staying organized during a trip. (We're . . . OK, I'm  notorious for over-packing, having extra bags, and constantly losing stuff when we're on vacation.) Other than my wife's short business trips and one long-weekend trip (all by car), we haven't really gone on vacation since 2001. So we're out of "practice" ourselves.

So, do any of you have tips about traveling with kids or traveling in general?

Blessed With a Patient Little Fella'

We are so thankful for Benjamin; he is such a good little guy. When we had to postpone the trip, he didn't complain at all. He just said, "OK," and went about his business. He's never once said he wished we would leave now, or asked how soon we will be leaving. He is very  patient.

The flip-side of that virtue is that, in dealing with him, like in dealing with his time-impaired papa, one has to be very patient or very persistent. Like when you want Benjamin to finish eating a meal in under 45 minutes.

Nonetheless, even his  patience has limits. The most recent  time we played Candy Land, he got sent way back on the track after an already long game. After that delay, he  decided to read the "magic rule" allowing us to finish the game sooner. (After he won, though, he wanted me keep going until I too got to Candy Castle.)

We are pretty sure we're spoiled with him on patience. While he does have some other traits that can be difficult, in the scope of kid challenges, we'll take 'em any day. Once number two joins the family, like with any new addition, we'll probably see just how spoiled we are.

As to any quality with a child you don't yet know, it's impossible to predict. I'm human, so I can't help but speculate. Will being adopted influence her patience or other long-standing character traits? Surely it will. But how? If she has spent her infancy in an orphanage, sadly, she may be well used to waiting. By contrast, some orphans from foster homes are rightly showered with attention and care. Further, we've heard stories of orphanage-raised babies who, once they get a feel for their lifelong mom and dad, don't want to let go of them.

We will judge none of it but just give her what she needs. I've met and heard so many stories of biological siblings who are almost polar opposites, I think the most shocking thing would be if she were just like Benjamin. We're not counting on anything except a child that we will love no matter what.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Meet Bob

This morning my son was printing his name. Instead of a 'B' he wrote a 'D'. When I suggested he make the line longer and add another "hump" to turn it into a 'B', he thought of an easier route.

"No, I'm just going to change my name," he told me.

He did not, however, choose a 'D' name. "I'm just going to call myself 'Bob' now." He chuckled, "I named myself after my Uncle Bob."

This story reminds me how over a year ago he named lots of his toy characters, bears, figures, his hobby horse, etc., all "Max." One day we were out somewhere; someone new we'd met asked him his name. Without warning he grinned mischievously and told her it was "Max."

Later that day he was back to "Benjamin," which he's been since . . . until today.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Stuck on a Gooey Gum Drop

My son and I were playing Candy Land this morning. Now who doesn't like a good competition or game of chance for a diversion once in a while?

I didn't check the clock when we started, but I knew  it had been well over an hour. And we were almost no closer to someone winning than we had been 45 minutes earlier.

Somewhere, on the "Other Side," some guy named Milton or Bradley or Hasbro was laughing his head off every time I got sent all the way back to that gol' darn "Peppermint Stick Forest."

I couldn't take it any more. We had to do something else, so I used a variation of a trick I heard Grandma perform the other day. She "found" some "magic passes" in the refrigerator that gave her and Benjamin free passage to the "Candy Castle."

I  "found" a "magic rule" in there. It was a proclamation by "King Kandy": " … anyone who shall draw a purple card shall skip all the purple squares and proceed to the very last and shall have the privilege of entering Candy Castle!!!"

Well, you know  what happened. Draw. No purple. Draw. No purple. Draw. No purple. Draw. No purple. Draw. No purple. Draw. No purple . . . .

I had to rig it. When he was looking away — Benjamin, not King Kandy; even the King was getting bored — I slid in a purple card ripe for one of his upcoming turns.

Hurrayyyyyyy! Benjamin is victorious!! And we all win a chance to do something else.

Myself, I'm really looking forward to doing the dishes.

Two Riveting Hours of Television

My wife said to me the other night that she had seen a promotion saying David Blaine was going to attempt to hold his breath under water for 9 minutes. "Then it said," she went on, "'tune in Monday for the 2-hour special event.' That should be more like a 9-minute special event, shouldn't it?"


Personally, I would give them 5 minutes for intro', 9 minutes for the stunt, 5 minutes for the EMT's to determine a winner, and 5 minutes for post-game analysis. A few commercials. 30 minutes: bam! Done!

I didn't watch it. Actually, my only motivation to watch it would have been to see how they managed to pad the thing out that long.

How did  they fill 2 hours? (Oh, and I suppose I should ask, need I send a sympathy card to the Blaine family?)

Sunday, May 07, 2006

"Card-Carrying Breastfeeders"

I read on BloggingBaby about a new Kansas breastfeeding educational initiative. Nursing proponents are making cards available to breastfeeding moms. Women can then hand out the cards if harassed for breastfeeding in public. The card states that it is a woman's right and has numbers to call about the law or nursing.

See Kansas now has card-carrying breastfeeders.

As I commented on that post:

Good for Kansas!!!!!

In a park once, a teenage or young-adult daycare teacher with her group of kids once warned a breastfeeding friend of mine, "Um, I don't think you'll be able to do that here, we're bringing a bunch of kids over here." Indeed! My friend, of course, told her she had to,  had every right  to, and would continue feeding her baby right where she was. (Good for her!) I thought, "What a good thing for those kids to see — how a mom does and should feed a baby, and that it is nothing to be ashamed of!"

The young daycare teacher was surely just ignorant, but probably didn't believe my friend. What a great educational opportunity a card like the Kansas one would have been!

We Should Be at Disney World: A Close Call

We are supposed to be at Disney World right now. We postponed our first substantial vacation in many years, and thank God we did.

It all started last Saturday afternoon when Benjamin told us in a tired voice, "I have a terrible  headache." Now, this could have meant a lot of things (as my discussion of kid symptoms explores). It turned out to mean 'I'm going to be miserable for three days and puke a lot.' The poor little guy!! Fortunately, we were at home when learned. Less fortunately, we were scheduled to leave for DisneyWorld in three days.

To Convalesce At 38,000 Feet Or Not To ...
We quickly looked into what costly consequences we might be up against if we rebooked for a later date. Meanwhile, Benjamin got pretty  much better, and we considered going. We took into our minds, however, enough of his Dr. Jeckyll-Mr. Hyde convalescing behavior. We thought about it and imagined having Ben's first plane ride begin with us carrying him on board, terrified, balling and saying, "I won't go! I won't go! I do  want to go! I do  want to go! I won't go! I won't go!" Nausea or not, we would have had to use the complimentary sanitary bags located on the back of the seat in front of us before the jet even began to move.

That experience would have forged lovely memories and associations to prepare Benjamin for his third flight — probably later this year — when he will be cooped up on the plane with us for a relaxing 18-hour jaunt to China.

Further, our clean-up-puke time had severely restricted our get-enough-rest-so-you-enjoy-the-trip time and our neatly-packing-suitcases time. Had we gone, we would have had to run out the door with a house in shambles to return to.

Though it doesn't sound like a good thing, my wife luckily began to feel queasy just when we had  to make a decision. That clinched it.

Thankfully, the cost of delaying the trip was quite reasonable, all things considered. We'll be going a little later in May.

Providential Decision Affirmed: The Crud Hits Me Mid-Week
Incidentally, the virus hit me mid-week, fast but hard. Benjamin was not  kidding when he said "terrible headache." Man alive !!! (I've never had  a dagger stuck through my head, but I feel like I now know what it feels like.) I'm so glad I wasn't paying $100's/day in 88-degree Florida to lie in a hotel bed, moaning, aching, with a 103-degree fever, praying I wouldn't vomit, not having the energy to convince my wife that she must take Benjamin to the park herself and try to get him to go on rides he's afraid of because he's tired and moody, only to hear later how he refused; to force my wife to alternately listen to my feverish babbling and Ben's crying about how he really did  want to go on the Dumbo ride now. I was quite able to moan and enjoy my delirium in my own bedroom much more affordably, thank you very much.

I obviously have no idea what our vacation will hold. Nonetheless, I just know  it will be better than the one that almost was.

New Old Posts

So I was writing the other day about Benjamin and me tagging along on my wife's business trip to a conference.

I have now posted the entry about the benefits of not acting like "the help" (or those around us in different jobs in general) is invisible: "All From a 'xiang jiao' [banana]" (I backdated it.)

Even though we often end up plopped down amidst interstate exits and mini-mall sprawl, I always enjoy these trips. I tried to explain why in this entry—

"Business Trips: In which Benjamin Meets an Orange Moose and is Awarded His Very Own Shoehorn"

—that I wrote for DadBloggers.

Friday, May 05, 2006

"I'm Sick": Choosing Wrong

As the other day's sudden onset of Pool-Time Deficiency Syndrome demonstrated, my son's "symptoms" can indicate unmet needs wants. Once in a while they can mean he's bored or doesn't like what we were doing.

Sometimes, several of a child's physical complaints in row are on the safe side of the reality-fantasy divide (which divide toddlers and preschoolers find virtually undetectable). Then, just when you think it's safe to assume the next symptom is more mind than body, the following — an old incident that recent events recalled — happens.

I was with Benjamin at a café, and he started saying his stomach hurt. Given his then-recent history, his mood, and other factors, I was fairly certain he just wanted to go home. With that certainty, I chose to finish my conversation with a friend before leaving. I chose wrong.

There is a high price to be paid for making a wrong judgment on this front. That day I learned that this price can be as high as a father and son, stained (shirt and pants) with vomit (out in public where people are eating) and with no clothes to change into.

The upside of this tale is that most of the consequences fell (literally) on me that day, not on the heart (or the person) of Mrs. OccupationDad. Therefore, there were was no marital peace lost.

And the moral of the story: "The boy who cried 'wolf!' he may be, but if he has a full stomach, take heed!

Friday, April 28, 2006

All From a "xiang jiao" [banana]

Finally my annoying habit of practicing Mandarin Chinese phrases, even as I walk around in public, has paid off. We were at the breakfast buffet at the hotel this morning and I was doing just that with Benjamin. I was asking him if he wanted a "xiang jiao"  [banana]. A minute later the person running the breakfast buffet, a polite, cheerful, middle-aged woman who looked to be of another ethnicity, approached my wife, Benjamin and I and asked incredulously if I had said "xiang jiao" . I admitted I had, now embarrassed. We explained that we were trying to learn Mandarin (because we are adopting from China
) and asked if she spoke Mandarin.

We got into a nice conversation with her — in English, though: ("Wo putonghua shuo de bu hao."  [I don't speak Mandarin well.] Yet.) We learned that she in fact speaks four languages   (And,  she had been trying to learn a fifth, Spanish, from some of her Latino colleagues when she had worked in the hotel's housekeeping department.) She is originally from Taiwan, but has family connections to the Philippines and Hawaii.

We really enjoyed asking her questions about languages, hearing about her travels and family, and seeing a photo of her cute grandchild. She appeared to like having an interchange beyond "Good Morning, Ma'am, . . . we'll be bringing out a fresh bowl of that in just a minute," etc. Further, she seemed to be delighted by engaging Benjamin to use the words and phrases he knows in Mandarin. (One of his favorites is "Wo xiang niu nai."  [I would like milk.] He's a big fan of the "niu nai." )

True, our chat was serendipitous; it did not result from my initial greeting. (Two minutes before our exchange I had offered a homogenous "Hi, how are you this morning" to our acquaintance-to-be and had received a similarly everyday, friendly reply.) Nevertheless,  the result  highlighted the enjoyment and connection to be gained by not pretending those around us with different backgrounds or types of jobs are just wallpaper.

I guess I also found out, perhaps to the chagrin of my potentially embarrassed wife and friends, that the same gains can be sparked by wandering around mumbling in broken Chinese.

A Serving from the Melting Pot?

At her conference, my wife was in the buffet line for lunch yesterday. Behind the buffet line were servers who all appeared to be Latino. One of the conference attendees next to her — a Caucasian guy — was telling another that he had seen a bumper sticker that said "Secure Our Borders." He continued that he thought he would have a bestselling bumper sticker if the same slogan were written in both English and Spanish.

We don't know if the man was oblivious, indifferent, or being deliberately provocative. (My wife thought he was clueless; the staff was, perhaps, "invisible" too him.) Now it's possible   the workers were all citizens and/or legal immigrants and  completely agreed with the sentiment of the bumper sticker in question. (Statistically, though, I suppose that the opinion part of that hypothetical is very unlikely). Nevertheless, the comment — the guy's opinion notwithstanding — seemed insensitive, to say the least.

Without getting into my (complex) opinions about immigration or multicultural issues, the situation makes me wonder. Would this man have been as outspoken about, for example, the war if surrounded by a bunch of soldiers or peace activists, or about abortion if surrounded by a group of conservative Christians or pro-choice feminists?

At breakfast, we again learned the value of not  acting as if the "staff" is invisible just because their culture or income-level or language or education level might  be different than yours.

I hope to tell that story in the next post.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Pool-Time Deficiency Syndrome

We are in Janesville (WI) staying in a hotel. (Mrs. Occupation Dad has to attend a conference here and we came together, like we always do.)

There is free wireless Internet access for me, TLC's "A Baby Story" for my wife and a pool for Benjamin. "Hotels always have pools in 'em," he observed today. Good pattern finding! Maybe we better start staying at Motel 6's to give him a little dose of the real world.

(I wonder if we'll  encounter any exceptions to this pool rule in China. [We're told that the urban hotels in which adoptive families are set up are always pretty upscale. The more rural hotels — typically where children actually join their new families — are less fancy but still nice.] Time  for swimming, though? That's another story.)

Benjamin surely was very eager to use the pool this  morning. We went to the included breakfast thing in a room with a view of the pool. Benjamin is not the kind of kid who would (or did) keep asking excitedly over and over about swimming, running over the pool window and saying, "Let's go, let's go!" You can tell, though, that inside his head he's constantly percolating about it. He did ask a couple of times, "When are we going to go to the pool?" spacing these casual remarks out a bit. This didn't speed things up enough for his taste.

So, near the end of breakfast, he put on a bothered face and made a couple of humming, moaning noises, then said, "Well, . . . I'm feeling really sick today."

"You are?" we replied, wondering what this was about.

"Yeahhh," he continued pathetically, "but . . . I think going in the pool would make me feel a lot better."

We explained to him that you didn't need to be sick to qualify for pool time, that, in fact, it's the other way around — and that he and I would be heading to the pool shortly after breakfast.

A miraculous healing ensued and we've had no more reports or signs of really sick sickness so far today.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Life Near the Fastlane

For those of you who read this blog periodically — all 5 of you — you might  be wondering where I've gone.

Well, I have lots of "material" for the blog in my mind, in notes, and in half-finished stories.

I haven't been able to really complete any because, for a guy who's been living in the "slowlane" it's seemed  like a crazy couple of weeks.

There's the substitute teaching, of course. We've also had an adoption seminar, a number of family (of origin) things — including Easter and multiple celebrations and visits for Benjamin's birthday, family-business tasks, taxes (we have someone do ours, but I help my brother-in-law do his . . . figure that one out), a couple of viruses (relatively mild but annoying nonetheless). On top of all that, a car, an electric line and a dryer have all died (in unrelated incidents) here in the past couple of weeks. Plus, we're trying  to get ready for my wife's business trip (this week) and our vacation (next week).

Gosh, when I put it all in one paragraph like that, it's more understandable. Now I'm starting to see where all the time has gone.

Frankly, though, I'm not above screwing around, and at the end of few of these past days, I've been known to just drop in front of the TV without the energy to write.

I want to fill in some of the "stories" of which I've been making note. (I'll backdate them to the appropriate for organization [anal retentive] purposes.) I'll link them in a current post.

Here are some—
My first day as a music teacher: Clap the rhythm ... on your own knees!

A funny "incident": The Teacher Kicked Him in the Eye

Ben's new friends: "That which we call a [Beanie Baby] by any other name would smell as sweet."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"That which we call a [Beanie Baby] by any other name would smell as sweet."

This is "Sweet Bunny." Now you maybe notice that Sweet Bunny is, in fact, a dog — not that there's anything wrong  with that. His official Beanie Baby tag does not bear this name, but this is what Benjamin named him.

Benjamin is not really into stuffed animals that much, but he likes to snuggle this one, which he received recently from his Aunt. The poem on the tag, which he's memorized, states that this dog likes to snuggle. Benjamin's a stickler for instructions (most  of the time).

This is "Sweet Rabbit," (compliments of the Easter Bunny). The name makes sense. Interestingly, though, he was  named "Sweet Cupboard." Sweet Cupboard, however, had to "have a talk with" Benjamin — this is what he tells us — and as a result he changed the puppet's name to "Sweet Rabbit."

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Teacher Kicked Him in the Eye

"The teacher kicked him in the eye," was what the student told them in the office, but I didn't find that out until later.

I had taken an assignment to sub in kindergarten.

The students were a little chatty and silly, but it was a well-behaved group.

At one point, the kids were all seated on the floor as I was in front of them leading a reading lesson. One of them raised her hand and told me her finger was hurt. I walked between the kids to get to her. I thought maybe she'd cut her finger; when I got close, though, I could see it was just a just a sore hangnail or something like that.)

Meanwhile, behind me I heard a scramble of voices and then sobbing.

I turned around and saw one of the boys in the class had his hand to his eye. He was the one crying, but the poor little guy was trying to restrain it.

I could see that, as I had been walking by (balancing to make sure I didn't fall on the kids in front of me), the heel of my big shoe must have caught him right by his eye.

I rushed back to him, "Oh my Gosh! Oh my Gosh! Tyler, I'm sorry; I'm sorry! Tyler, are you OK?" (Names changed to protect . . . you know the drill.)

Well, I took the poor fella' aside and told him he could sit down and rest. I had another student go to the office for an ice pack. Tyler was OK, and was feeling fine a few minutes later.

An educational assistant returned with an ice pack (and the student I'd sent). "They" (in the office) wanted the E.A. to bring Tyler back to the office, just so they could check if he was OK. That surprised me, . . . but fine.

Not too long after that he returned. With the other ensuing classroom adventures of the day, I didn't think much about the incident again.

At the end of the day I went to the office to get a form. One of the secretaries greeted me with, "How did your day go? Sounded like you had a little incident down there today."

I wrinkled my forehead: for a few seconds I didn't know what she was talking about; I had put it out of my mind. "Ohhh, Tyler ! Yeah,  I feel so bad about that. I'm so clutzy. I was walking in between the kids and I caught the poor guy with the back of my shoe."

She laughed, "Oh, well, one of the kids came down and asked for an ice pack, and I asked him, 'For what?" and he just said, 'The teacher kicked Tyler in the eye.' And we were like, 'Who's  your teacher?' and he said, 'Mrs. Stadelmann.' We looked at the board [with the sub's listed on it] and I was thinking, 'What's going on  ?'" Note that not only was I a sub' they had never had there before but also probably the only man in the building besides the gym teacher and one of the custodians.

We discussed the "incident" in more detail, and I asked when to expect a subpoena. We laughed and they assured me not to worry about it now that they understood what had happened. However, they said they had already had to contact Tyler's mom just to let her know, since she's a teacher and all. Great , I thought. (There are two types of teacher-parents, those who are extra understanding of their kids' teachers and those who are hyper-critical of the same.)

As for me, next time I send a kindergartener with a message about an injured child, I'd better send a note, especially if I'm the cause of the injury.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Clap the rhythm ... on your own  knees!

Welcome! We're so glad you were available to sub' here today.
My first day subbing went pretty well overall. It didn't start with quite the "welcome back" to the district one might wish for.

As I mentioned, I was in for an elementary music teacher. She works at two different schools. I whisked into the office of the first school just at the time I was supposed to get there. It was a little busy so I had to wait a minute.

"May I help you?" They see an unfamiliar man in a tie with a black briefcase. They probably think I'm an educational software salesman.

"I'm the substitute for Mrs. Querin." (Names changes to protect …)

"For who?"

My heart rate doubles; I've started at the wrong school. No. That can't be, I read the information over five times.

"Mrs. Querin . . . ," I pronounce the name a couple of different ways. " . . . music teacher, she starts here and then goes to Franklin," I add, almost confidently.

The secretary believes me, but seems to be trying to hide her bewilderment. She walks back to the other secretary and repeat my alleged assignment.

The other secretary explains who I'm supposed to be subbing for and points to a schedule on the wall. (I would think that they would know a sub' is coming, or least know all the teachers in their building, part-time or not; it is April, after all. Maybe, the first secretary was a sub', too.)

Whew! They direct me and even tell me there is another music teacher down there who will let me know what I'll be doing.

Only 10
The plans were thorough. And her Thursday schedule was thoroughly hectic. Her prep' time for the day: a ten-minute break, a thirty-five-minute break during which she has to travel to the other school, and a half-hour break called "lunch." There were 10  half-hour music classes to teach, ranging from Kindergarten to 4th grade.

Multitask Or Else
Both of the schools have a significant population of lower-income students. Almost all of the groups needed stern classroom management.

It was  my first day, and I had  had a bit of practice "teaching" again at church school.

Nevertheless, I found it difficult to deliver this firm class guidance while trying to choose and find the right songs on the CD player and in the music book, attempting to lead the singing in a way that did not incur infectious ridicule, and (sometimes), trying to prevent musical games from turning into recess-like free-for-alls.

Ultimately, each class went fine.

I do not envy the elementary vocal music teacher, especially "Mrs. Querin," and especially on Thursdays.

"Dada's going to work today" OR Operation 'Occupation: Sub', Day One'

Today I had to say something I've never said to my son before, "Dada's going to work today." I will miss him. Especially after the nightmare I had last night in which he, my wife and I were all clinging to each other for dear life as giant rocks were falling out of the sky. (A little repressed anxiety about subbing, perhaps . . . ?)

Today is my first day substitute teaching. I'll be subbing in an elementary music class. I've taught elementary before (that's my field), but never music.

I hope the teacher has left a very complete lesson plan. Perhaps I should bring a Wiggles video just in case. Or, better yet, The School of Rock. ("Hat tip ..." [as they say on the web] ... "hat tip" to my wife for the School of Rock joke.)

Monday, April 03, 2006

What are you doing in there?

Today I was reminded of a story about something that happened a few months ago.

Benjamin was going through a phase where he would use the bathroom and then stay in there just playing with stuff he found. One day while my brother and sister-in-law were visiting he was doing just that. Just before they left, my sister-in-law needed to use the bathroom, so we gave him fair warning that he'd have to come out in a minute.

When she couldn't wait any longer, we told him, ready or not, we were comin' in.

He was at the sink with a big roll of toilet paper under the running water. Half dissolved tissue was oozing off in the standing water (since the drain was pretty well clogged with the same substance).

In the flurry of vacating the bathroom, making the sink operable again, saying goodbye to my family members, telling Benjamin not to put toilet paper in the sink, etc., we didn't really discuss what on Earth he was trying to do.

Once it was calm, we asked. He earnestly answered, "Well, the toilet paper fell in the toilet. I was just trying to wash it off."

It broke our hearts. Conscientious to a fault. A big soggy, messy, gloppy fault.

April Fool's Day

Oh yeah … April's Fools Day: We explained the concept to Benjamin and he got  it.

His main jokes were:

"Oh, no! Eddie [one of our naughtier cats] peed on the floor …"

"Mama, I peed on the floor …"

"Dada, there's a badger in our house! …"

" . . . . . . April Fool's!"

April 3rd and the jokes — same ones — are just starting to peter out this morning.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

John Travol-tot

I was with Benjamin at church school this week. One day all the kids attending (ages 2 – 9) were together singing and doing hand and body motions to a song they had learned. The accompanying music was upbeat pop-rock.

Most of the older kids were doing the learned dance and motions. The preschoolers were either trying to do the same, just standing there, or kind of wiggling to the beat. Except my kid.

Benjamin was doing this wild free-form dance. I wanted to blame The Wiggles , but this   was no Wiggles  dance. It was an intense, all-out disco dance: turning, arms up, elbows out, up, down, shake, hip-shimmy, etc., etc. Despite being in a crowd, he was taking up a 3' X 8' space on the floor.

Actually, … Benjamin and I are not shy about gettin' down in the kitchen, whether it’s the Wiggles, Mother Goose Rocks, They Might Be Giants, New Order, C+C Music Factory (one of his favorites), Cake, Count Basie, J-Lo, Glenn Miller, Moby, … whatever.

When he was showin' his moves there in the church hall, I didn't know whether to be self-conscious or proud.

Well, anyway, now half the church probably thinks I take my kid out clubbing every weekend. (It's only really  like once a month.)