Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Things I Didn't Even Know I Knew

I was recently reading a story from a fascinating book called I Thought My Father was God, a compilation of short stories from National Public Radio's "National Story Project" that unlocked a swirl of memories I didn't even know were tucked away in the brain.

I had an incredibly vivid flash of what my grandmother's silverware felt like in my hands. It was heavy. It had a deeply carved and intricate pattern to it. And I remembered how I used to run my young fingers along the handles of the knife, especially, to feel the flowers etched in silver. Which then led me to recall how that silver on the table meant it was a special occasion. And how the dining room table in her small apartment would be stretched to its max with leaves and a small children's table was set alongside so we all felt like we were eating together. And Gram also had these brightly colored stretchy terry cloth "coozies" for the highball glasses, which were etched with the family monogram, that we used to love to put on the glasses because it made them feel nice. And then I thought of the homemade chocolate sauce she made for topping vanilla ice cream -- alway just vanilla ice cream at Gram's house. That sauce was the highlight of the year -- the sweet, smooth and sometimes gritty taste, heated just perfectly, and pooled over the top of each dish.

And that's how we knew something was special -- the heavy, carved silver, the stretched out table, the terry cloth coozies, the monogramed highballs, the homemade chocolate sauce for vanilla ice cream. No one ever said it was special, we just felt it. The carving in the knife. The crammed in close feeling at the long dining table. The nub of the terry cloth stretchy. The sweet sugary grit of the sauce.

Most surprising to me...I didn't know any of it meant something to me...or correction, that it means something to me -- because it's still right here, vivid in my brain.

So I wonder, what do Mom in Progress and I do now that our girls will recall, for no reason at all, that makes them stop, awestruck, and relive a special moment. I suppose it's the things we don't even recognize, that require no thought or planning, no special recognition or need for words. The things that are there, that have meaning, even though not defined. And that's really part of the beauty of life...of being a parent...of being a child. There's a power and a mystery far beyond that sometimes, someday, sneaks up and makes itself known.

And my, how sweet that is.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

One of Those Days

Today is one of those days where everything just goes wrong, and every decision you make seems bad.

About 2 weeks ago, our garage door opener on one side broke, so we've been doing the manual up and down to get in and out with the car. The repair man has been uber booked, so we haven't been able to get it fixed yet.

So, last night, I realized we're in the house at night sleeping with the garage door closed but not locked on one side. So I flipped the lock on the door from the laundry room to the garage, just for peace of mind.

Now is where you're invited into the chaotic life of the McNallys in Progress. This morning, we're zipping around late (of course and as usual) for church, trying to get kids in coats and out the door. Mom in Progress and I both were out the door at the same time, when I hear her behind me say "Oh no, the door is locked isn't it" as it shuts behind us. And it gets better...because we're so smart and organized, we don't carry keys to our house on our key rings. My mother-in-law has one, our nanny has one, but we never had dupes made for ourselves. That's what garage door openers are for, right?

So we're locked out. We called a locksmith on the way to church and arranged for them to meet us after church. Apparently, we have the premium brand deadbolts and locks that are pick proof, so the guy couldn't help us unless we drilled the lock and replaced it, which he estimated would cost over $200. We decided that was ridiculous, so we sent him on his way and decided to drive to the in-laws (an hour trip) to get the key.

The problem is, we were running late for church, so we didn't feed our poor cat, Miss Cally, thinking we'd just do it when we got home from church. But she had some dry food left over from yesterday, and plenty of water, so we figured we would be back in the afternoon to take care of her and she would be okay.

We stopped at the market so the girls could all go to the loo, then got gas, because, in typical fashion, the tank was on empty -- are you sensing the pattern of haphazardness here? And we're on the road. An hour and 10 later, we pull up to Nana's and all hop out, prepared to stay for a nice Sunday dinner. But Mom in Progress and I had to run to Target to pick up some TP, paper towels, napkins, Ziplocs (again, all on empty chez Progress), so we ran out, leaving the girls (a nice break!)

Halfway up the street, we heard an awful noise. One of the wheels (by the way we already need 4 new tires) was grinding and squealing. So we turned around and came back. No garages are open on a Sunday, and my brother-in-law called a buddy who said it's probably just a stone or something lodged in there. So we decided to run to Target anyway to test it. And it wasn't as bad, but here and there it acted up. So, we decided to stay over tonight, just to be safe, because tomorrow's a holiday and we don't have to work. So at Target, we bought some PJs for the girls, toothbrushes, contact lens stuff, etc. etc., plus all the other stuff we needed and guess how much we spent? $200. The price of drilling and replacing the door lock.

And poor Miss Cally is still in the dark house, eating day old dry food. We're awful.

Anyway, the girls are excited to have an unplanned sleepover at Nana and Grampa's house, so it works out. BUT, we have learned our lesson: stop being disorganized! We have to get it together. Life is too short to be running 50Ks just to get to church. And I think, finally, we got the wake-up call.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Kindred Spirits

I was in New York all week last week for American International Toy Fair. Like any good dad does when he's gone for that long, I went in search of souvenirs for my little ladies, especially since I would be gone on Valentine's Day. Though I was looking for souvenirs, I ended up finding an unexpected community with kindred spirits.

I went to the American Girl Place at Rockefeller Center -- a bastion of commercialism and homage to American style and history. From overpriced doll clothing to a cafe and theater, the place is a multi-floor wonderland for any little girl...and a vexing disaster for most dads.

Much to my humor as I was browsing, I encountered no fewer that two dozen other men, undoubtedly on business trips and also in search of that perfect gift to take home. We all looked a little dazed and confused, some overwhelmed, some downright pissed. And the best were two, on two separate floors, who were on their mobiles saying "What does she look like? What's her name? Elizabeth? The one in the pink dress or the blue one?" I couldn't help but chuckle at the tought of mom on the other end trying to guide dad to make the right choice, and I was thankful Mom and Progress and I had been through the catalog before I left home, so I had the visuals locked in memory.

$167 later (holy moley), I ended up with two little doll outfits for Valentine's Day gifts, plus a slew of others to save for upcoming holidays and birthdays.

I have to say the sore help were friendly and accommodating, and had I had my ladies on my arm, we would have had a blast. So I'm looking forward to loading them into the car this spring to drive in and check it out.

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Trick or Treat, I Love You

Ummm...when did Valentine's Day become mini Halloween? I have been away all week on business, and I came home to find a candy explosion -- as if a pinata had been whacked and cracked all over our kitchen.

Apparently, kids today not only exchange Valentine's cards, but attach everything from candy bars to pencils to stickers to lollipops and everything in between. What gives?

Whatever happened to the days of pasting heart shaped doilies to construction paper cut-ups of hearts? In my day, nothing said "Be mine" like a big hunk of dried gluestick seeping out from the edge of a doubled-up heart that we squeezed into the top slot of a foil wrapped carboard box at the front of the classroom.

In the case of both of my girls, many kids didn't even write their own love notes -- the tos: and froms: neatly handwritten by Mom with L-O-V-E. I was astonished to find even one parent had typed labels to put onto the little plastic baggie full of Valentine's favors and treats -- perhaps so all the rest of us parents would see who it was from and feel one-upped.

Come on. Seriously. I must have missed it when Martha Stewart moved in and taught everyone in our town to micromanage a simple classroom Valentine exchange. One could say it's a sweet gesture, but one could also argue we're teaching our kids that a simple "I HEART U" isn't enough -- layer on the sweets and treats and gifts and goodies if you really want to say "LUV U LOTS." If it weren't for school vacation week, we might see some small trinkets coming home for President's Day on Monday, or maybe gold coins and baggies of Lucky Charms to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

What has happened to old fashioned creativity? When the time and elbow grease invested in making or writing out Valentines was the best way to show a little LUV? Fortunately, our countertop was laden with homemade love letters and Valentine pictures, and our girls wrote their own Valentines out for their friends, but apparently that makes us out of the loop.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

To be a Man or a Dad, That is the Question

I just flew across the country and picked up a copy of Best Life magazine, where I found this story. It carries a subhead: "you don't have to enjoy playing with your kids to be a great dad," that has me wondering: how now brown cow?

The writer makes some bold statements that, out of context, really get me fired up:

"Bridling at being with children doesn't make you a bad father. It merely makes you a man."

"Some men are so robust and vigorous they can't--and shouldn't--get small with kids."

I'll let Mr. O'Neill off the "let me tell you something" hook, because he follows-up with:

"Rather than cramming your swaggering self into your kids' little world, sweep them into your roomier one. Take fewer trips to the playground and more to the hardware store...include them in the things you enjoy. Let them be a part of your man's world, rather than shrinking yourself to their size."

Ok, I'm on board, expose your kids to the things you enjoy, too. He understands it's important for men to spend time with their children. But then he says:

"My father didn't do games and he didn't do pretend and he had no patience for the goofiness of kids, and he didn't apologze for wanting be left alone from time to time. He was a man. He had a man's concerns, a man's plans, a man's demons...His self-possession was a come-hither to adulthood. He was fully engaged in his life...so he invited his kids to be intrigued by their futures."

Mr. O'Neill also says something that makes me think:

"One of the worst things you can do as a dad is play with your children when you really, really don't want to...because your lack of interest will leak through your insincere grin. Kids can pick up on the fact that dad is distant and seems kind of mad."

Maybe he's right. Are we doing more damage by pretending to like pretending?

We wonder why today's kids are getting older younger. Perhaps it's because we are always trying to drag them into our lives instead of cramming ourselves into theirs. Where Mr. O'Neill suggests an insincere smile or laugh (hmm...maybe while being "madeover" by your girls, complete with lipstick and nail polish) doesn't do any good for children, I'd argue that having to feign interest in the business of adults isn't good for them either. Sure, we can drag our kids to the hardware store because it makes us feel more like a man, but that kind of togetherness isn't necessarily mutually beneficial or positive. It's still self-centered, it's just in favor of dad, not kids.

Listen, I'm no champ when it comes to always doing the right thing as a dad, but it seems to me that a lack of interest in anything small or goofy--in the business of being a child--isn't the sign of a robust man. A man who bleives he is too big, too strong, too much of a MAN to leave the adventures of his life for the whiles of his children is not a man...he's a jerk. A real man does whatever he has to do to protect, nurture and provide for his family, even if it means getting down on the floor and playing dragon to the evil wizard.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

It Finally Snowed!

We had our first significant snowfall in Connecticut last night. Imagine -- it's February 3 in New England, and we got 4 inches of snow -- the ONLY snow accumulation we have had all season.

Now, I'm from Maryland, but consider myself enough of a New Englander to understand that waiting until Feb 3 for snow is enough to make a good Yankee downright grouchy. Hopping mad, even. We have leather skin -- immune to the elements. We wear a fleece in 20 degree weather. Big parkas are for West Coast wimps and Manhattanite skiiers in Vermont. New Englanders will tell you, if it's winter, the colder the better, and please to have lots of snow.

So this 4 inches is probably all we'll get this year. So Mom in Progress and I gladly bundled up the girlies and headed out for a good winter's romp. There is nothing more life affirming than the peaceful calm after a fresh snow -- the cold burning your cheeks and nostrils, the firy breath in your chest, the sun bouncing light off everything around you.

But even better is the chance to be a kid again: making snow angels, throwing snowballs, eating a fist full of snow, flying downhill on a slippery saucer, and nearly missing the trees at the bottom of the hill.

We had a great time, were chilled to the bone, then retreated inside, snuggled up under blankets next to the fire and had hot chocolate.

For anyone not living in snowy climates, think of some way to let yourself be a kid again and then rush your family to do it. You'll be glad that you did.

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