After making all the cuts for that Nativity scene I wrote about a few days ago I was cleaning up the scraps of plywood from the floor of my garage and came across this.
A remnant shaped very much like the Golden State. This is fitting since the friend who lent me the jigsaw is from Palm Springs. Perhaps I’ll varnish it and give it as a gift. It might make a nice cheeseboard for his kitchen. Then again like every other California transplant to the Lone Star State of late it might just try to turn us blue.
*Having mentioned that my kids have been getting a kick out of old posts, here’s one I wrote in July of 2012. My son was 4, my daughter was 2. Timmy was apparently a 5 year-old Navy Seal. And I have no idea what I had gotten myself into. Reading posts like this reminds me of what a beautiful life God has given me. Here’s to good health, good fortune, and God’s blessings on you all!*
I took my kids to “the Tubes” this morning for some playtime. The Tubes are, as I’ve written before and as you might imagine, a large, indoor playground consisting of an endless series of large plastic tubes. Children climb through the tubes, scale the netting, and slide down another long tube. Somewhere along the way, I am convinced they are required to capture a flag and then plant it at the summit as a mark of their paramilitary prowess. It’s not unlike Marine Corps boot camp.
On this fine 102 degree Texas morning the tubes – in the air conditioned and fairly dark interior of the local Bible Church – seemed like the place for a quiet and energy-zapping excursion. Tire them out, bring ’em home, nap time.
From the moment we arrived, however, I could tell something was different than most other times we’ve been to these tubes…
High above me I could hear the faint whispers of Alpha Company.
“We’ve got to rescue Timmy!” cried one excited yet hushed voice.
“Here’s the plan,” whispered another “we come at them from the yellow slide. Landon, you’re the tallest. You go down head first and punch them in the teeth. Then Skyler will follow with his signature throat chopper…”
What exactly was I listening to, I wondered. From another section of the tubes I could hear the counterassault being planned.
“Chris, guard Timmy with your life and for God’s sake don’t let him trick you! Cooper, be on guard for, well, just be on guard. Skyler, you run out and create a di-ber-geon.”
Other than the slight difference in the pitches of these voices I could barely tell if I was listening to the voices of little boys or little girls. The names certainly didn’t help.
I cautioned my own kids: “Listen, kids, I don’t know what’s going on up there; but go and play and try to stay out of their way. Got it?”
They nodded at me and happily ran up the first set of padded steps. Funny, I thought , playgrounds today are so “safe” with all their foam coverings and plastic and generally boring designs so as to keep any child from ever experiencing a whiff of the pains of life and yet the SWAT teams above me seem to have found a way around that. All the while I could hear poor Timmy whimpering. Couldn’t tell if he was injured or trying for that “di-ber-geon” spoken of by Tyler or Taylor. Screaming erupted briefly. I think Landon figured out that Timmy was faking his injuries. “Shut your mouth, Timmy, or I’ll shut it for you!” Holy God we praise thy name… Was I still in Texas or had I migrated to Juarez?
At one point a summit appeared to be taking place. Through the rope nets I could see what looked like three boys and three girls sitting around in a circle, gesticulating wildly. “You want what?! Do I look like I was born yesterday?” bellowed one of the girl figures. I could take this farce no longer. With a slight bit of fear in my heart and an equal part of amused bewilderment not uncommon to me considering how often I find myself in these bizarre situations, I looked up.
“Skyler? Landon? Shaniqua? Hate to be the one to break it to you but you kind of were born yesterday in the grand scheme of things. Timmy? Timmy? You OK up there, buddy?”
I don’t remember what their words were that finally broke the stillness but I think they were something like “Kill the tall one!” It would appear I had unified the opposing forces and freed Timmy at the same time. See, and you didn’t know I was a peacemaker.
“Quickly kids, let’s go!” I yelled at my own two kids and their cousin Campbell as we bolted for safety. With one over my shoulder and the other clinging to my leg I took giant strides toward the parking lot and back to the law and order for which the great state of Texas is known. Clearly, the Tubes were some kind of extraterritorial property of the Soviet Gulag.
Here’s hoping Timmy doesn’t get recaptured… or they just might take him down.
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.
Since Monday’s post was all about my son I think today’s post should be all about my little girl… right after I relate one additional thing about my boy.
This morning — Tuesday/Day 6 — my son and I did something we rather enjoy doing and that we had previously done three years ago on a trip to the same town. We climbed to the top of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. See pictures below.
Why wasn’t my daughter with us? That’s because she was having too much fun hanging with her new girls. From the moment we arrived she gravitated to the other young ladies and it seems they’ve been having quite the time of it. They all screamed something at each other in some sort of “girl code” and then took off for the beach to paint their nails or something. I really don’t know and I’m afraid to ask.
This afternoon my daughter proved once again how she can probably make me do just about anything. The girls (by now a sizable pack numbering somewhere between 8 and 12 and with no discernible leader having emerged) were looking for something to do. Stepping away from the other wolves girls my daughter approached me as I was walking toward the beach.
Daddy, where’s your credit card?
I did not like the sound of this.
“What do you need it for, Sweetheart,” I asked.
“It’s just that the other girls want to go get iced coffee,” she replied, looking almost forlorn.
I knew she couldn’t care less about coffee. She was having so much fun with her new friends and worries that if they all went off on a walk to the donut shop and she stayed behind she’d be somehow out of step with them. Hey, I get it. I’m kind of the same way. They call it “FOMO” – fear of missing out. It’s why I don’t like to sleep.
Being the awesome dad I am I hatched a better plan. Instead of coffee we’d take all the kids for ice cream. This way no one would have to pretend to like coffee. Who doesn’t love ice cream? We walked to Dairy Queen and enjoyed our treats while my son regaled us with the history of that franchise. He’s been watching YouTube videos on corporate America.
And while we were in that shopping plaza we spotted a place I almost immediately regret having spotted. “Look girls! That place does henna tattoos.”
I suppose there are few better ways (or worse) that a father and his daughter can bind together than getting inked up. And it’s henna. It will wash off in a week. She chose a llama. They’re big right now. Me? Well, let’s just say I was feeling patriotic.
The rest of the day was filled with more pool time, a wonderful dinner, and great conversation with our friends.
My daughter is happy her daddy is so cool. Her daddy is happy his daughter is so happy. The other she-wolves probably think we are both strange and amazing – a combination that cannot be undersold in life.
For Indian ink and happy memories with my little girl I am most thankful. Let’s see what tomorrow brings…
Dedicated to Annie DeLisle for reasons known to her.
Well here we are again! And by “we” I mean “me” sitting in a hotel room in a strange place, laptop on hand, pictures uploading to the cloud, bizarre canned cocktail nearby, cataloging the day’s memories, and reminiscing about the past – both years past and hours…
By the way, wasn’t it swell of me to start this post with a relatively short paragraph containing just two sentences, the second one ridiculously long and ending with an ellipses? Thought so.
By “here we go again” I mean to say that the very thing that was the catalyst to this blog and the forthcoming book(s) is now underway yet again. All the way back in the summer of 2008 and with a six week-old boy in tow because it would have been kind of wrong to leave him home alone, my darling wife and I set out to take the road trip we had talked about taking since we were dating. Six weeks later we returned to our apartment in Northern New Jersey, the boy now a man doubled in age. For 48 days we criss-crossed the continent reaching the far point of the Vegas Strip. I was a brand new dad and had fancied myself a pro at fatherhood. It’s hard to blame me since I had the best role model. My old man always did not only what was best for us but also made use of what he was good at while doing it. As a result I know every cerebral dirty joke every told. What I was good at (in my mind) was writing. So at the end of day one I found myself in a hotel room in Northern Virginia, playing with a happy infant boy, adoring my life, and reaching for my laptop so I could “pen a few lines to remember the day”.
Those lines exceeded 2500 words.
The next night I wrote another few thousand. And the night after that I did the same. I shared them with my wife who suggested I post them to Facebook where soon enough I had attracted a small army of “fans”. Long story short, I kind of forgot to stop writing. And every time we’ve taken a road trip since I’ve realized what is the bread and butter of this blog – road trips.
So tonight I present to you Day 1 of a new adventure on the asphalt ribbons of America.
Let’s start with the title. Every good story needs an apt title. The purpose of this trip for us is to visit my mother in New Jersey. And since we love my wife’s mother as well and she and my mom are great friends we asked her to come with us. So we’ll have one grandmother on the trip, another on the other side, and a whole lot of fun in between.
The day began shortly before 3AM when I sprang from my bed, dropped to my knees in prayer, grabbed a cup of hot, black coffee, and hit the shower. My loving wife had stayed up most of the night getting the house ready to be abandoned for a month and packing the car. She insisted I get the rest since I’d be driving. It’s a guy thing. It’s literally the least I can do. I imagine myself in days of old, my family in the back of a coach and me on the bench up front driving the horses. I also imagine horses don’t scare me.
A trip with us is like a trip to the DMV only not terrible or disgusting. However it does take all day to go a few inches. I was going to compare it to trench warfare but I thought it was too soon. Our first stop came just thirty minutes later as we pulled into Buc-ee’s. Click the link to look it up. It is pure Texas and pure awesome. I think we accidentally spent a hundred bucks there. Well, not me. I bought a black coffee and did 25 pushups in the parking lot. Off we go…
About two hours later, driving into the rising sun, we crossed the border into the Pelican State (Louisiana) at Shreveport. The kids and my wife slept soundly this whole time. My Mother-in-law Wilma remained awake long enough for the two of us to discover we were both halfway through a rosary (individually) and so we joined forces. Then she crashed. And I drove. Alone. For hours. Don’t feel bad. I got to count all the pine trees in East Texas along the way.
Perhaps it was the excitement of the rushing and mighty Big River but all my passengers seemed to awaken right before we crossed the Mississippi. After a bathroom break and photo op we stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel in Vicksburg. I got excited as we pulled off the highway. There, right next to the restaurant, was what looked to all the world like an outlet mall. They do come in handy on road trips for all the articles you suddenly remember forgetting to pack once you’re just out the door. Only this one was different. For starters it was only two strips of stores. And 98% of those were closed. As in, didn’t exist anymore. It was sadder than when my dog died in high school. Thank God for chicken fried steak.
As we barreled across Mississippi I decided it was time to indoctrinate the offspring by forcing them to listen to playing some selections my older sister made us listen to on road trips when I was their age. Linda Ronstadt, Boz Scaggs… I’m sorry. I almost drove off the road. Let’s listen to silence, kids! Silence sounds good.
Finally we crossed into Alabama where the stars fell. Not sure if that’s a tourist slogan or if a radiological waste site is actually contributing to the ethereal glow. It is a beautiful place. Here’s where it got really fun for me as a dad. When I was 12 my older brother had just graduated from West Point. Yes, that one. He set out on a trip to Birmingham to visit a friend from the Academy who had left two years earlier and was graduating from Auburn and he took me along for company. I remember the trip well and not just because my brother decided to make the 1000 mile return drive straight through but because our hosts took me to the Statue of Vulcan. Someone from Birmingham once visited New York Harbor and decided the Statue of Liberty would be nice overlooking their city. Instead they got Vulcan. Birminghamanians are proud of their city’s industrial roots so entrenched in the iron industry. In fact they’re known as “the Pittsburgh of the South” even though that city’s lifeblood was steel. Came up with that one all by themselves. Their history of segregation? Not so proud of that one. But they deal with that in several other really neat monuments. Hey, nobody’s perfect. Vulcan is really cool too. Perched on a very tall pedestal resembling a lighthouse, the deity looks out over Birmingham with an anvil at his side and an arrow in his raised hand. He’s even wearing a nifty apron round his waist. Unfortunately that apron was cut for a transparently smaller man. From the rear and shining on the Homewood neighborhood with the brilliance of a large celestial object is the exposed backside of a well-sculpted dude. God? Demi-god? It’s his butt. I remembered all of this and simply had to take my kids for the experience. Both kids laughed heartily when they saw it. Then we went to the top. My daughter even climbed the ten flights of stairs with me (had to get my workout in) and gleefully stepped out onto the viewing platform at the base of the Statue. Before freezing in terror.
The platform was an open steel grid. Boy was that scary. I had to be brave so she wouldn’t cry. Inside I had three heart attacks. Not figuratively either. Ten stories up and a clear view of the ground below. Maybe this wasn’t such a brilliant plan after all.
Nonetheless we got our pictures and drove on. On our way to the hotel just north of town God must have known I hadn’t closed my exercise ring on my watch. An old woman sat in an old car in the middle of a busy street. She had broken down. My wife said “She needs help.” Good observation. I pulled over, jumped out, and like roaches scattering in a kitchen but in reverse two other people and I ran toward her car, dodging traffic, and pushed her a block to a safe spot.
Finally in the hotel I “did the Dad thing”, even though I was beat, and jumped in the pool with my children. My wife went for food. Krystal’s. Never had ‘em? I’ll tell you more tomorrow. Wilma? She stayed in the room to pray. I needed it – the prayers that is. Later I closed out the day with a Walmart run. I forgot to pack my jumprope. It’s my daily cardio. I start every day with 30 minutes of high intensity jump rope before breakfast and vacation doesn’t change that. How else do you think I can do all this? Prayer? Oh, yeah that too. Made five trips back to the car for forgotten items, and finally cracked open a drink (if you can call it that) with my mother-in-law.
Which brings us to the present. Seems we have some 30 days ahead of us and many more adventures in store. I can’t promise more bareassed statues of Roman gods but I can promise lots of love and plenty of fun and a most thankful heart from this dad of two future saints.
My dear mother commented on my last blog (but on the reposting of it on Facebook, not here). I had mentioned that I think I got my “grit” from her. I learned long ago, kids, that your grandma was one tough cookie. I also learned that toughness does not mean one has to be cruel or brutish or a boor. She’s also one of the kindest, warmest, and most loving people you’ll ever know.
Her comment simply read “I love your grit as well.”
The Rest Is Over
Inspired by these words, children, I think your old man has had about enough rest and recuperation. A compression fracture certainly isn’t the end of the world. Come to think of it, the doctor didn’t even put me under any specific restrictions. That could be because it was almost 6:00 on a Saturday evening and I was their last patient. Nonetheless I believe in the old adage of listening to one’s body as a guide to pain management. And this body of mine is saying “Go on now, old man, time’s running out. You’re not getting any younger and you NEED to do something.” I still have these nifty painkillers they gave me and I’ll continue to take them as needed.
But tonight I was called out on four jobs requiring me to move a few hundred pounds worth of medical shipments. I was leery but you know what? I did it. I figured it out. I didn’t hurt myself (at least the pain hasn’t set in yet) and I survived.
I’ll probably never look like this dude. My feet point in different directions. And I only have two of them.
You know what that means? I’m getting back to the gym tomorrow. And when you read this years from now you’ll see that your dad was nothing if not determined. He’s determined not to be sidetracked. He’s determined not to let pain rule his life. He’s determined not to get soft. And he’s determined to continue to go after the hard things in life. I still don’t think I’ll go anywhere near a trampoline anytime soon but free weights?
Never Give Up
I can’t let myself down. I’m going to get shredded if it kills me
I can’t let you kids down. You deserve a dad who can physically do all you demand of him.
I can’t let the high school athletes down. They look up to me. On this last point I’m mystified because if they could have seen me when I was their age they would have kicked sand in my face assuming we were anywhere near a beach.
Life goes on, my children.
And for everything else… say it with me. “There’s Percocet!”
My dad was fond of telling that old joke when I was growing up. In reality, I like some of Kipling’s work. The Just So Stories come to mind. But the focus on Kipling was not why I repeated it here. I opened Facebook this morning and saw a picture of my father (with my mom and me) and for some reason I thought of that line. Still that joke must have made an impact on me. Every now and then my son will turn to me and ask: “Daddy, do you like… Kipling?” We both laugh like little kids.
Where were we my faithful follower? Ah yes, I broke my back. I don’t want to beat a dead horse. That wouldn’t be fair to the horse and simply a desecration of its body. But this is significant. First, it hurts. Second, it really hurts. Finally, it hurts a lot.
Let’s get caught up, shall we?
Determined to do hard things I realized that lifting heavy weights wasn’t enough so I started doing bizarre gymnastics-like things called calisthenics then my wife went out of town and I gave in to the whims of my children and, having prayed to share in the Passion of Christ, did a frontal flip on a trampoline at the age of 41 with two spinal fusions under my belt (literally), and broke my back. This was followed up with a visit to an urgent care facility wherein two pit bulls had been shot and killed by police earlier in the day after mauling their owner to death. That sound about right?
In my last post I quipped that I must be pretty tough that I went almost 24 hours without treating it before being seen. You see, although I probably get my love of dad jokes from my dad (go figure) I think I definitely get my grit (if you can call it that) from my mom. I still vividly remember her when I was a child and a fall from a second story window in a house fire had left her in traction for weeks. She willed herself to get out of that hospital because, as she said: “I had kids at home to take care of. What was I gonna’ do? Lie there forever?”
This morning I walked into my classroom and was greeted by 18 of the happiest faces you could hope to see at 8:45 in the morning. They rose to their feet (as they always do, they’re very polite) and said good morning. Then, having already heard through the grapevine that I was injured they began asking with mouths wide open how it was possible that I was with them. I told my story.
Then it was on to my senior class who literally bowed down for me when I came in. They informed me that two of their classmates were out sick because they “didn’t feel well today”. They then told me they would be texting those two to inform them the the “legend” (their teacher) was a machine, a beast, and the most incredible human being they’d known because he didn’t let no broken back stop him from getting to work.
“Kids,” I said, “I had to demonstrate my toughness for you.” It’s an old teacher trick.
The juniors were last and just as mystified as to my presence. “Kids,” I said, “Who else was going to come in here today and have as much fun with you as me?” They appreciated my being there as much as I appreciated their presence. One of them in particular, an athlete, picked up on my fear of getting soft over the next few weeks. He offered me some advice on exercises I could do and diet tricks to keep in mind during the time when I wouldn’t be able to lift. Nice young man.
Back to the doctor’s office on Saturday, the doctor who came in to speak with me after looking at my X-ray asked me “Do you, um, like, do you lift weights or anything?” I gave a bit of a smirk, nodded my head, and said “Yes, yes I do.” “That’s what I figured,” she said. “It probably saved you.” She had just spoken with the neurologist on the phone because she was concerned with where the break was. It seems that a break like mine could easily have left my paralyzed but for my brute physical strength and charm. I tossed the “charm” in there for fun. But really, being in decent shape allowed me to thrust myself out of the dangerous position I was in and I’m glad that I can see a payoff for all the hours in the gym.
Tonight I’m back out making pick-ups and deliveries as part of my courier job. I’m hoping none of the parcels tonight are particularly heavy but as I previously stated “for everything else, there’s Percocet.”
I think Dad would be proud. I didn’t let a little thing like a broken bone get in the way of continuing to do what I need to do for my family. He taught me well. And Mom? Do I even have to ask? I think she’s probably wondering why it’s even a thing. After all, if memory serves, she broke several vertebrae in that fall. She’s probably reading this and thinking “When’s he gonna’ shut up about it? It was one bone!”
And my kids? Well, one day we’ll determine if we actually like Kipling.
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 email@example.com.
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