There is in my home tonight a great excitement that has built. I’ve been doing this teaching thing for a long time but the first day of school (the one with the kids and not just in-service meetings) is always a terrific time for me. This year it’s a bit different. Having walked away from education a couple of years ago this is my first “first day of school” in 2 years. And even though I started working at this school in January it wasn’t quite the same, jumping in mid-year. This year I am the vice principal. This year my nine year-old daughter (she of broken wrist fame) is joining me at this school. This year Netflix will hopefully release season 3 of The Crown but that might just be wishful thinking.
Tonight my sweet little girl and I ate dinner and then began what I hope to be a nightly ritual. We packed our lunches together. I still can’t believe how fortunate I am. All parents are the primary educators of their children. But I get to do it in a very real way. Short of homeschooling this is a great option for me. It combines two things I love – teaching and my kids. I can’t wait to drop by her table in the cafeteria and drop dad jokes on her and her friends. She’s a little nervous but she’s also excited and I think she’s happy because what other little girl gets to bring her awesome dad to school every day?
Speaking of the broken-boned one, we picked up her new eyeglasses today. Before getting out of the car at the ophthalmologist my daughter asked ever so kindly if I could help put pants on her stuffed bear. I don’t even ask anymore. But the cast was getting in her way. I may not be the best dad but I try as evidenced by the picture she took.
The tail has to go through the hole. Don’t ask.
After packing lunch we gathered her uniform and I ironed her shirt and mine. Then she brushed her teeth as best as she can with that cast on and I read her a book before watching her drift off to sleep. This is going to be awesome. My wife and son? They were out shopping, buying us a big bag of fun things to keep in my office like Twizzlers and protein bars. I didn’t see any pony bottles of gin but that might come later.
I got myself a “nun Bell” for recess!
Speaking of my son… I’ve been prepping mentally that I should probably deliver some kind of father-son talk to him one of these days. He’s 11 and it certainly seems appropriate. The only thing is how to do it. I prayed about it and discovered a wonderful (if not someone older) book called Listen Son. The book, written by Cardinal Stritch (yes, Elaine Stritch’s Uncle) in 1952, is a series of conversations between a father and his son. What I like is that it presents the facts in a straightforward way while focusing on the virtues of manliness, chastity, and honor. I can work with this.
Tonight I came in from grabbing a smoke on the porch and son asked “Daddy will you read to me tonight? I don’t care what it is.” Perfect opportunity, I thought. So I grabbed the book and sat down with him. Two things happened.
First, about mid-way through the first instruction my son stopped me and said “It sure sounds like you’re reading a script.” Perceptive, that boy. In fact it kind of is a script. I brushed it off by saying “Yes, son, this is an important topic and I want to get it right for your sake.”
Second, I concluded with the line “remember that what we will discuss is sacred and does not need to be talked about with others.”
For some reason at this point the boy asked “Where’d you get this book.” And without missing a beat and with as much honesty as I could muster I said “Amazon.”
We both immediately burst into laughter.
“A sacred topic brought to you by a minimum wage factory worker,” replied my son.
Readers of this blog (both of you) will note by now my penchant for orthopedic insult. That is, doctors trained in the fine art of examining deficient skeletal systems and then mending them tend to have a field day with yours truly. Scratch that – most bone docs hear my name and look for the nearest window out of which to leap headlong.
We could start, of course, with the traumatic injuries suffered when I was thrown from a burning building at the age of 4. I’m sorry, I’m just taking in that last sentence and realizing how awesome that makes me sound. Seriously, it could well be a source of great sorrow and the wellspring of a thousand phobias but I look upon it like a phenomenal story to tell at a bar. “Hey Harvey, what’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you?” Me (thinking for a moment): “Well, let’s begin…”
That fall resulted in hundreds of microfractures which eventually manifested themselves in degenerative disc disease. This led to my first spinal fusion at the age of 23. And another spinal fusion at 36. Together these two surgeries accounted for the complete removal of two discs from my spine, an autologous bone graft from my hip, countless titanium rods and screw that sometimes set off airport magnetometers, and the delightful fact that inside my body right this minute can be found 1) cadaver bone, 2) my brother-in-law’s blood, and 3) a bovine bone “donation”. I know you’re all caught on that last bit too. Yes, there’s a freakin cow bone in my spine. Moove on. Modern medicine is udderly fascinating.
Along the way and since then I’ve broken several ribs, a collarbone, the wrist on my dominant right hand (even though I’m naturally left-handed), and every toe on both feet. Come to think of it, I guess I’m a pretty tough dude. For instance, just three weeks ago I broke a toe on my left foot while jumping out of bed one morning to answer the phone. I lost my balance and slammed it into the leg of a table. Ironic that I’d break a toe on a leg… At this point, though, I don’t even bother to get stuff like this checked out. They’d just slap a boot on me, place me under all kinds of restrictions for six weeks, and NOT even give me a decent painkiller. No thank you. I’ll take my chances with sufficient rest and Motrin. Harvey doesn’t have time for such things as six weeks off from jumping rope and lifting weights.
Also, I really can’t afford to be taking it easy when the school year is only two days off. Recall that I am a high school teacher and the vice principal of our school. This school year is especially exciting for me as my precious daughter will be coming to school with me as our newest fourth grade student. Let’s refresh for the occasional reader who isn’t one of my two kids.
Although I do have a twin sister, I also share my birthday to the exact minute with my little girl. This is great fun considering my twin died when we were young. What fun is celebrating your birthday with someone who isn’t even living anymore? I mean, I made the best of it but when God decided to give me another young lady to share the birthday with that was about the coolest thing ever. Factor in that said little girl appears to have received way more than 23 of my chromosomes and things get really fun. We’re looking forward to our drive to school every morning and having Daddy visit her on the playground at recess, and all the fun things that come along with your father being the guy all the other students love but you get the special knowledge that he loves you a little bit more for a whole lot of reasons.
One of the reasons I love my daughter is that she seems to want to be just like me. There was the time she started playing the piano when she was 4 (like me) or the time she mastered roller skates at 6 (like me) or the time she distilled her own blend of botanicals into bathtub gin (like m… OK, you get that point. What I don’t love is when she tries to copy the dumb things like breaking bones. With her it seems to be a straight up thugfight to the death. It’s like “Hey old man, I WILL dominate in this so step off or I will cut you.” Such a sweet girl.
Remember when I mentioned breaking my wrist as a child? Well that was just one wrist. She matched that last Christmas when she fell off her scooter and snapped the left one. Today I had her with me up at school setting up some things in my office. We had just swapped the 7th and 8th grade classroom signs (no it wasn’t a prank) and I asked her help mounting a whiteboard across from my desk. “Sweetheart, can you hand me that screwdriver?” I asked. But instead of a “yes, Daddy” I heard the sound of tears. And it was the hard, painful tears of a “oh no, something’s horribly wrong” variety not the “I’m hungry and bored” variety. I’m a Dad; I know the difference.
I turned around to find my baby girl on the ground. Seems someone had decided to wear a pair of (let’s see if I’ve got this right) wedge heels? You see Mommy had already told her not to wear these shoes she had found from her aunt but someone opted to let human nature put on a great big show and disobeyed Mommy. How did Daddy not see this when they left the house together? Dude, Daddy can’t find a giant can of coffee in my pantry when it’s in the same spot for 8 years running. You think guys – even dads – pay attention to shoes? In any event, my genetic minion, unsteady on her feet in these clod-hopping death traps, tripped over herself and landed on her backside. In the process she put her hands out to soften the landing and incurred what’s known as a “buckle fracture”. She’s getting good at this. Once she stopped crying she said very calmly “Daddy, it’s broken. My symptoms are identical to when I broke the other one.” A trip to the orthopedic urgent care confirmed her claim. So I brought her home to rest with her pretty new pink cast that stretches almost to her shoulder. Five weeks from now and at least $600 later perhaps she will have learned her lesson on obedience. Meanwhile I have to be both discipline dad (instilling the lesson that she really should have listened to her mother) and kind and sympathetic dad (trying to comfort her and console her that the first few weeks of a new school won’t suck because of this). In fact tonight at Parent Night her new teacher already told me that she would be fine with my daughter dictating her homework to me if writing is too difficult. What contest in hell did I just win? I don’t want to do 4th grade homework!
On our ride home from the doctor’s office my daughter asked me to run down all of my broken bones with her. “But you did break your wrist, right Daddy?” I replied: “Yes I did,” and told her that fun tale. I was just at the point where my mom threatened to “demolish” my older brother Sean for goading me into taking a shot at him and then jumping out of the way so I’d slam my fist into a brick wall possibly leaving me unable to play the piano again when my daughter cut me off.
“So wait, Daddy… You just broke the one wrist? Then I WIN!”
Yes, sweetness, you win. For now.
Talk to me when the few strands left on your scalp are all white because your kid decided he wanted to be just… like… you.
I originally started writing this post about my experience reading some books to my daughter in mid-November. Having finally the time to finish it, I publish it now. Keep in mind we’re currently on The Silver Chair. The fun never ends. With apologies to C. S. Lewis
I need a break.
Yesterday I got called to drive to Lubbock. Lubbock is a city of about a quarter-million souls in the Texas panhandle. It vies with Amarillo for the title of “Jewel of the Panhandle”. I suppose that’s better than it’s former moniker: “Notch #3 on the Bible Belt”. It’s actually a very nice city; it’s just that there’s literally nothing between here (the Dallas-Fort Worth area) and there. And it’s a five hour drive without stops or traffic which, believe it or not, can pop up on the remotest stretches of I-20 without rhyme or reason.
I received my marching orders from my boss around noon yesterday for a package that needed to be delivered no later than 8:30 this morning. Now go back and read where I said that Lubbock is five hours away. Ordinarily I would have taken that information and made use of it. My plan was to grab the kids from school, workout, and hit the sack. If I could be in bed by 7, I figured, I’d get about seven hours of sleep before leaving home at 2AM for the long drive out west. But you know that wasn’t going to happen…
About an hour before the kids got out of school I took my pre-workout meal which consists of a bowl of cream of rice mixed with a tablespoon of almond butter along with 50g of whey protein. For funsies I like to add a shot of bourbon or two. It takes the sting away when I realize by the time I’m taking my post-workout meal that I haven’t made much of a dent in my progress. And the cream of rice is so tasty! I almost wrote that without laughing.
Even though it’s been cold with temperatures in the 30’s I headed out the door to get the kids wearing my running shorts and a hoodie. You have to know from that fact that I was never going to get to workout. I got called to run a different job at 4:30. Then I was informed that the thing I’d be taking to Lubbock wouldn’t be ready for pickup at the airport now until 10:30. One thing lead to another and before I knew it, it was 2AM, I hadn’t slept a wink, and I was heading off to Lubbock. This was not going to be fun.
I delivered the package ahead of deadline, grabbed some coffee, and headed back home taking in the now-familiar cotton fields and oil wells along the drive. I’ve now done this Lubbock run often enough that I know what’s off every exit. Need a Chick-fil-A? Wait until Weatherford. Clean bathrooms? Try the Allsup’s in Abilene. Heading out the final 90 mile stretch on US 84? Check the gas gauge. There’s only one station between Roscoe and Post. My God when did I become this man?
I walked into my house just shy of 3 this afternoon. I took my belt and shoes off, climbed into bed, pulled the covers over myself, and slapped my hand twice on the mattress next to me. That signaled my Jack Russell, Buddy, who dutifully came running in from the family room, hopped on the bed, and curled up next to his master. Man’s best friend indeed.
The Chronicles of the Chronicles
A few hours later I woke up. You’re probably wondering about the title and the Narnia reference. Patience is a virtue Eileen. I’m gettin’ there. I got out of bed and had some dinner. I even tossed a scrap at Buddy for being such a good boy. He, being a terrier, took the morsel and then snapped at me before walking away muttering something about getting some money together so he can “get outta here and find his own place.”
This is a story about one of my kids and our fascinating relationship. My daughter is very much like her old man in many ways. By that I mean that her brain seems to process interpersonal relationship in the same way I do. This can be a good thing. But one area where I think we diverge in our thought patterns is how we pay attention to another when that person is reading to us. OK, so I can’t say I’ve had anyone “read” to me as such in many years but you get the point.
Two years ago I endeavored to read the seven book “Chronicles of Narnia” to my son. I had read the first three when I was young. I’m glad I got through all seven with him. I thoroughly enjoyed the series as did he. Within the past month or two my daughter asked when I would be reading the series to her. It seems she cannot be left out and if he got something, she wants it too. For instance there was that time she wanted her tonsils out just like her brother. Or how about the time she demanded life would be no good unless she could also play basketball. I still think it odd that she asked why she hadn’t been circumcised.
Or I could look at it as “she wants some time with Daddy”. And for that I’m happy.
We zipped through the first book in the series. And for the record, the ONLY way to read them is in the order in which they were written. The effort of some publishers after the fact to rearrange the series into some kind of chronological order, to me anyway, does not work. Forget for a second that Narnian time does not work like time in England. There is something to be said about reading such an epic tale in a way that leaves mysteries – past and future – intact. So many times I find myself saying “Ah… so that’s why that happened so many books ago,” even though it was an event in the “future”.
As soon as I returned The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to the library I picked up Prince Caspian. This one took a little longer to get through. We were into a season full of distractions like Halloween. Try settling any 9 year-old down to hear about a barbarous battle on a fictional hill after demolishing a bag of Kit Kat’s. But we trudged on right through the scene were Glenstorm and Trufflehunter savagely attacked Rum Tum Tugger and Mungojerry before beating Miraz to death with a the severed arm of a centaur named Bobby.
All the while my precious darling was doing her level best to pay attention to all the details. In fact, she followed the story quite well. Her brother had a better time following but that’s because he didn’t stop to ask questions. With her it’s “Wait, Daddy, why did the White Which do that?” or “Wait, Daddy, Where was the train station located? Like couldn’t they find it again and go home?” or “Wait, Daddy, do you think unicorns can really poop glitter?” You know, esoteric comprehension stuff like that.
Finally, Caspian the Tenth restored to the throne of Narnia and the Telmarines (I hate them) returned to whatever pirate island they came from, we moved on to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Night after night we read a few pages at a time. I didn’t mind because I was enjoying the time with my baby. Her observations are amusing and she really seems rapt in the sound of my voice. It’s a sweet picture of a sweet girl and her old man.
But those observations do tend to make me reach a breaking point when I’m tired. She had already asked about how the dragon died on the island. “I don’t know.” She had asked about why Caspian was sailing on this voyage again. “Let me recap the entire first five chapters, dear.” She had told me that a friend at school has an iPhone X and it’s not fair because she gets everything. “You know what she doesn’t have, lady? A freakin’ father!” Oh wait, that wasn’t supposed to be verbalized. Falling asleep in her bed one night I read the following line from Cousin Eustace: “Well, anyway, I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly towards me.”
As I read the words between yawns I could see my little girls hazel eyes (same as mine) grow wide with excitement.
“I know! I know! I bet it’s Aslan, isn’t it!?!?!”
I slammed the book shut and said “Well who the hell did you think it was?! He’s the only lion in the whole damn series!”
And because she has inherited my sense of humor she took this not as a rebuke but for the humor it was and we laughed.
I read a few more pages. Eustace stopped being a brat. And my daughter drifted off to sleep.
Folks, I got off all that social media nonsense a while ago. Sorry but I'm not on Twitbook, Facepalm, YouHu, WingWang or any of the others. Maybe an event will happen to make me change my mind like Peter and Paul coming down with flaming swords and commanding it be so. Until then, read the blog and if you feel a comment is in order or you feel like sharing a tip or suggestion for a topic, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harvey is a funny, witty and interesting read. Want to know what's going on in the world of Harvey? Then make a point to subscribe to his blog! You just never know when those pesky Weebles will show up. Hmmm, speaking of Weebles - haven't heard from them in a while (wink). Seriously, you just never know what to expect and whatever you find, it never disappoints! -- Debbi Robertson @ Photos and Facets