Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"Coming in Second" at DadBloggers

If you want to, read about how Benjamin didn't like me until he was 4 years old over at The post is called "Coming in Second."

Friday, January 26, 2007

Détente in the House of Mouse

Check out, a blog by a friend of ours. She has some good, funny pieces on there.

Her latest is about some field mice that taunt her cats. That reminded me of some of our mouse adventures of yore.

Many years ago my wife and I rented a farm house. We're pretty big suckers for animals. (Ya' think? Maybe that has something to do with us having had four cats and a dog for a several years.) Anyway, we took in a couple a few no more than five of the begging farm cats that roamed the area.

Being an old farmhouse, the structure was not as tight as modern houses, and we were lucky it was impervious to possums, forget about mice. The cats, no doubt, kept the house relatively free of rodent scat while the mice kept the cats fit and entertained. When these events took place while we were asleep or gone, no problem.

However, when they caught mice in our midst, this was another story. Yes, I know about the balance of nature, the circle of life, and several other ecological clichés. I know the predator-prey thing is going on all around us every hour of every day.

I'm just too damn Disneyfied to watch the little mice's hearts beat in terror as our friends scoop them up in their fangs. Moreover, I have some little hang-ups about watching anything being disemboweled in our kitchen, mouse entrails on our living room carpet, etc. The dead pigeon that one cat brought home was quite enough, thank you. Ten years later it's still hard to forget Nighthawk straining her neck to carry its heavy, plump, juicy body across the barnyard, her plopping it down on the breezeway floor. I remember its wings splayed out like perfect charcoal-grey fallen-angel wings, the dripping stigmata on its breast. Yeechhh.

So at least once, when the cats were having their fun catching-and-releasing one particular victim before making the kill, I couldn't stop myself from intervening. I neither cared for the notion of the mouse (cuteness aside) relieving itself in our cupboards, nor in the cat's finding the critter later and leaving its gushy remains on the bedroom threshold for our bare feet to discover in the morning.

When one of the cats, between teasing releases, had the horrified thing in its teeth, I grabbed the cat ran to the door, threw it open and started yelling, "Let it go! Let it go! Let it go!" Finally, I put my finger in the cat's mouth, and against the force of all nature, pried his mouth open until finally the mouse leapt farther than I've ever seen something so small jump and rocketed off into the shrubs.

Crazy? Maybe. But our "marriage" to these half-tame, half-tiger lap-warmers is an open relationship. They pretend to be civilized and eat by-product-crunchy-O's. We pretend to respect all their hunting, scratching, licking, hairball-horking instincts. But really, we fawn over Mickey Mouse and Stuart Little, and they kill stuff. As long as each of us keeps our "improprieties" to ourselves, no one gets hurt … that we know of …

Friday, January 19, 2007

Backlash to Come (No pun intended)

I read that a California legislator wants pass a law to ban spanking of children who are 3 years old or younger. (See "Spank A Kid, Go to Jail"
or No-spanking law ….)

Personally, I do not approve of spanking. I think the more you escalate punishment with your child, the more you have to escalate. My wife and I rarely raise our voices with our son, never mind spanking. We don't need to raise our voices or spank, if we so much as use an urgent tone with him, he is practically in tears. It's not out of fear of something severe. We just rarely have  to use that tone; he's not used to it, so calmer warnings have an effect. If he doesn't respond to verbal warnings, a "time-out" is more than enough convincing. Why? Firstly, I believe our son is well-attached to us and wants to please us as much as we want to make him happy. Secondly, when we give positive or negative consequences, we follow through and are consistent, and I believe he has internalized this.

Those things having been said, a law against spanking is probably a bad idea. Granted, spanking a baby or very young toddler goes beyond bad parenting. I believe such treatment, at the very least, adversely affects the child psychologically and hurts the parent-child relationship. The problem is that there is a large population of people in our country who feel that as a part of their freedom as parents they have a right to spank, and this right is well entrenched in their social philosophy. With the linking of the news of the anti-spanking proposal on the "Drudge Report," this segment of the population has already tagged the idea as a ridiculous product of the lunatic fringe. This bill is likely to create nothing but backlash.

Moreover, the law seems marginally enforceable. Public social service agencies and law enforcement have a difficult enough time catching and sorting out cases of much more severe abuse. Nevertheless, hoping human service agencies find those individual cases where spanking crosses the line seems the best we can do at this time.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

O'Reilly Kidnaps Common Decency

We'll return to the weight story soon, believe me.  First, however, I have to pile on Bill O'Reilly, because he deserves it.

There's this sensational story in the news about finding Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby who had both been abducted some sick predator. Apparently the former boy, who was held for four years, had some "freedom" to go outside, use the computer and telephone, etc. Some are wondering why he didn't just contact the authorities or his parents.

Oprah Winfrey interviewed the parents of both boys and Shawn Hornbeck today. Off camera, Oprah claimed, Shawn Hornbeck said he didn’t contact his parents, "because he was terrified."

Bill O'Reilly, a couple of days ago, not only wondered why Shawn Hornbeck didn't walk away or contact someone, he speculated that the boy may have liked some elements of living with his kidnapper, because he didn't have to go to school, could play all day, etc.

Others have been outraged and even another Fox news host, Greta Van Susteren, challenged his comments.

He implies that by pointing out that this child did not try to escape and should have, he can make parents aware of the danger of abduction and scare them into teaching their children survival skills.

Survival skills? Like when someone kidnaps you and "terrorize[s] [you] with a handgun", do what he says so he doesn't kill you or someone else. When you're 11 YEARS OLD,  this may be the only survival skill you can come up, even if  you were lucky enough to be prepared by Bill O'Reilly — an honor trauma that Shawn Hornbeck didn't have the good fortune to receive.

Read here where O'Reilly does not apologize: Anger Over the Kidnapping of Two Missouri Boys. That's what he headlined the "memo." It ought to be called "Anger over the kidnapping of common decency." Among other things he says:
After teaching teenagers in high school, it is hard for me to believe that a normal kid would stay in a horrible environment when escape was easy, especially if the child had confidence in his parents. No question this monster Devlin made threats and intimidated Shawn. But teenagers have brains and Shawn had the freedom to get away if he wanted to.

It boggles my mind that Mr. O'Reilly expects an 11-year-old being threatened by a large man with a gun to behave no differently than his students. Given his comments, perhaps he forced kids to take his class at gunpoint.

Given Mr. O'Reilly's harshly-worded opinions (over the years) about those who victimize, blaming the victim is particularly unbecoming.

I'm at a loss for words for Mr. O'Reilly. His comments go beyond ignorance and insensitivity. They are repugnant in the extreme. I question the man's humanity.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The End of an Era

For my whole life, basically, I've been able to eat and eat and eat with impunity. But that's all come to an end.

Youth and Teaching: Great Weight Control Plans
I was skinny as a kid and as a young adult. About four years ago I became a more moderate weight. I chalked this up to the change in lifestyle. As a teacher, I was quite stressed (… but, yeah, it was all good stress [eustress] … yeah, sure it was …). I hypothesized that this almost constant stress kept my metabolism high and/or that the nervous activity from the prompted burned a lot of calories. Unscientific codswallop? Probably. But that's my "theory".

Being a Househusband: NOT a Great Weight Control Plan
Moreover, the eating opportunities of a househusband versus a teacher are vastly different. As a teacher, breakfast was a quick affair. There were never second helpings at lunchtime as I wolfed it down at my desk while marking papers or planning lessons. I was lucky if I finished my food. Sure there were frequently snacks in the teacher's lounge … they say. But who has time to go to the lounge?

As an at-home parent, I spend half the day in the kitchen it seems. Sometimes it's easier to eat than not to eat, like when Benjamin (a very slow well-paced eater) has been eating for 45 minutes and leaves a little of everything on his plate.

The Gluttony Glory Years
Throughout both of these periods, I ate lot. Mind you, I'm not talking competition grade eating, but people did not hold back with the hollow leg or tapeworm bromides. At meals, family and close friends would without question pass unfinished food to me and (assuming it passed germophobe standards) it was not wasted. I was beloved by many a German grandmother.

The End is Near
About two years ago I noted that the stay-at-home dad "freshman 15" was not leveling off. It then came to my attention that I was no longer in the middle of my "healthy weight" range, but near the top.

In Benjamin's baby and toddler years, true, I wasn't keeping off pounds by being frazzled over getting my grades done nor by hiking between copy machine and classroom. I was nevertheless carrying a kid around a lot, first in that $#@% unwieldy carseat/carrier, then in a sling, and finally just on my hip. Ultimately he became fully mobile, and the living was easyToo  easy.

It's all over now. I was at the CDC website looking something up and ended up at their Body Mass Index Calculator. I am officially 2 pounds overweight. Overweight?!!!? 

OccupationDad is many things; many unpleasant things even. But he is not overweight. Something had to be done. It has begun and it is not pretty.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What's a Benjer?

Speaking of nicknames, how did my son become Benjer? Is it just a cute diminutive of Benjamin? Not exactly.

Contrary to popular myth, it is not the case that I accidentally transposed the names of Spencer, our late dog (God rest his soul) and that of my son, outright calling my son "Benjer" by mistake. We're getting closer, though.

In fact, I blurted out the amalgam "Spenciman" at the dog one day, and instantly thought to myself, "Spenciman, . . . that's funny. I guess if he's 'Spenciman', then 'Benjamin' must be 'Benjer'. Heyyyy, I like that! "Benjer". (Yes, it's true; this is what my mind spends its time and resources doing.)

So, at some appropriate silly moment thereafter I called him "Benjer." The boy and the wife . . . they both liked it and it caught on, as did its variant "the Benjer."

So, yes, I gave my son part of the dog's name on purpose.  And, no, you can't call him that …unless we say so.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


I started out as "Dada" ('a' as in last), my wife as "Mama." These monikers have remained consistent until Benjamin's fourth year — with the exception of The Wiggles phase, for which time he referred to us as "Greg" and "Anthony" respectively.

Some time last year he would substitute "my Mom" and "my Dad" when talking to other people. A few months ago Benjamin began occasionally calling us by our first names. It's not really a "Hey, Homer" syndrome1, since he does this only for utilitarian reasons, like when talking to other people (in place of "my mom" or "my dad") or when trying to get my attention down the aisle in a store, when I won't answer to "Dada!!!"

Benjamin loves to "play" with language. For example, he invented the "huggle" — part hug, part snuggle — and identified the "hisby lion" (I still have no idea what this is). Our names were inevitable targets.

So about a month ago we became "Momsy" and "Dadsy." Not too long ago "Momsy" was shortened to "Müms", where 'ü'=oo like in book. I became … I don't even know how to write this … it's in between "Düds" and "Dids."

Often he appends his own diminutive suffix to these, yielding "Mümsit" and "Düidsit" or "Mümsis" and "Düidsis." And it hasn't stopped there. Recently our cats Tigger and Ginger have become "little Tiggsit" and "little Gingit."

He uses these new names everywhere. The result is that that when other people hear him calling out "Düidsit", I'm pretty sure they think he's either speech-delayed or Swedish. The upside is that Benjamin has no problem getting our attention in public: I'm confident we're the only "Mümsit" and "Düidsit" in the store.

1As in:
Homer [Simpson]: After all, you wouldn't be here today if I hadn't become the responsible head of a household.
Bart [Simpson]: Hey, Homer, can we have a can of frosting for lunch?
Homer: Okay.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

In Which I Use the Phrase "Daily Constitutional" Thrice, and Enjoy It Thoroughly

After my daily constitutional [noun] this morning, I sat down at the computer to work on the weblog . . . (I made some joke about a daily constitutional to my mother-in-law [age not-disclosed … but she was born in the 1930's] the other day. She knew exactly what I meant.)

Anyway, today was my second day of daily exercise in a row.  Call it a tacit New Year's resolution, or just having a little time now that the holidays are over. I think calling it a "daily constitutional" will somehow motivate me. Of course, I think a lot of things.

I got up at 6:30am and took a walk. It was very nice. I underestimated, however, both our unusually mild winter and the capacity for brisk walking to heat up my body. 38oF may be warm for  dawn in January, but it's not warm.  I also followed the inspired plan of walking a scenic stretch along the lake where there are far fewer annoying trees and houses blocking the wind. Note to self: when walking outside in winter, wear a winter coat.


My wife apparently had some sort of intestinal virus last week. Our memories of the horrible stomach virus of ought-5, which laid waste to the whole family, were still so vivid that we lived in fear for days: segregating all eating utensils and cups, washing our hands every two minutes … my wife even quarantined herself for a while.

While her illness was not enjoyable, it didn't turn out to be the scourge we'd experienced before. And fortunately neither Benjamin nor I caught it!

So when I quasi-randomly link-skipped over to this post (an imagined letter from a detergent manufacturer). I became empathetic and grateful … but mostly amused; it's pretty damn funny.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Chasing Trains

I wrote a thing about one of the pastimes Benjamin and I acquired this past year. It's titled "Chasing Trains." It's at DadBloggers.