Took the last batch of tomato sauce and decided to make a meal of it. Garlic, kosher salt, olive oil, brown sugar, then out to the herb garden for marjoram and basil. To amuse myself (sometimes I do) I brought in a couple of very large catnip leaves.

Now, a lot of people, given such a raw material, will smush it up and rub it on the couch, but how pedestrian is that? No no, I also have an eight year old boy at my disposal, so…

I smushed up the leaves and rubbed them on his forehead.

Last I saw him, the cats were dragging him by the scruff of the neck to the dark place under his bed. One hopes we’ll be able to find him for school tomorrow.

The hard side of parenting

I write a lot about the positives. I love amusing anecdotes.

But it’s not always easy. If it was, everybody would do it. It’s harder with special needs and gifted children. Oh, so much harder.

We (and by “we” I mean any of us in a parental role to a child) often come into conflict with our children. We have the dicey task of weighing what they want versus what they need or what is safe or what is moral or (just as often) what we can afford, and children don’t often listen to logic when they hear the word “no.” Often as not, they just stop listening entirely.

Jami had a part in a show at school, but we have family plans for the night of the performance (and neglected to tell his music teacher before she gave him a solo). I will be videotaping the dress rehearsal and he wants very much to be a part of it, but that just isn’t an option. Another kid will be doing the part and needs the rehearsal time, so his mother and I have told him his involvement ends tonight.

Michelle tried to console him. He performs quite a lot, he’s on a few DVDs already from other shows, we’re going to see the Mythbusters Live! Let the other kid have a chance. Not knowing how else to express his feelings, he made a rude gesture and was firmly, emphatically, and loudly banished to his room. Michelle had that “don’t step into arms’ reach or I will throttle you” look in her eyes. He had the “So that’s what my impending death looks like” in his.

I coaxed him out later, and with him sitting on my lap for quite a long time talked to him over the same subjects. I appealed to his better nature: the other kid’s parents are going to expect to see their boy on the DVD. He wasn’t having it.

You owe your mother an apology for your gesture, I changed the subject and sent him on his way. He mumbled something in Michelle’s general direction as he walked by. He is in his room just at this moment, crying bitterly into a crumpled blankie (and, it should be noted, making sure we can hear it.)

Katie had a 1200 word research paper with an annotated bibliography that she only started typing the day it was due. She got to 600 words and stopped. Over the course of four hours, Michelle and I cajoled, beat upon, insisted, wheedled, and pushed – hard – to get her to not stop working on it. I took her paper twice and marked it up, adding in notes for who, what, where, when, why, and how. Details details details. Working just from my notes, she could have filled it in like a Mad-Libs sheet and more than met the minimum length requirement, but somehow she just couldn’t wrap her mind around it.

By the end, she was all but collapsed in front of her computer, staring dejectedly at 750 words of insufficient material. I stepped into her room to check on her.

“I’m doing horrible,” she said indistinctly, talking into her hands. “Go away.”

I don’t know how other parents would have reacted. My own would have stayed to try to talk me off the ledge, so to speak. Saying such a thing was not allowed. I would have been forced to write, forced to communicate. Michelle, were she brave enough to have popped off like that, might have been paddled by her dad. Her mother would have insisted on communication and a completed assignment (though admittedly I’m just guessing here since it never happened.)

Over the years, we’ve taught our children that it’s okay to get angry. We do, a lot, but we make sure the anger doesn’t last, and that the anger doesn’t intrude on the rest of our relationship. Many times I’ve harshly come down on either child one minute and chatted about what to have for supper in the next. We get angry about issues. We walk away when we need to, and make sure to walk back as soon as we can. They need to see that. (It would be great if Michelle and I could do that as well with each other, but we’re still working on it.)

I am content to let my children cry. I can walk away and let them sob. I recognize that sometimes, that’s what they need.

I walked away from Katie (though, key point here, I didn’t stay away.) Because I didn’t push, she will get a  failing grade on the paper, but what would pushing have accomplished? It wouldn’t have improved the paper, or our relationship.

I let Jami walk away and collapse on his bed to cry. He’s ten and male, narcissistic and self-absorbed to an astonishing degree. He is also very sensitive and empathetic, and at the crucial moment in our story had shut down emotionally anyway. He needed to cry it out.

It comes down to picking your battles. It comes down to taking the long term view.

My Sous Chef

Jami walks in to the kitchen as I’m clearing counter space, emptying the dishwasher, scrubbing my favorite saucier (i.o.w., getting ready to make supper), and says, “Dad, can I be your sous tonight?”

No, no punchline. Just a proud moment: one, that my son knows what sous means both in and out of this context; and two, that he wants to help me cook.

And now, a punchline. After roasting, mincing, and tasting a fresh jalepeno, I grabbed a tasting spoon from the holder by the stove, grabbed a couple of pieces and offered them to him. This is standard procedure: you have to taste to know if the seasoning is right, and you need to be familiar with your ingredients. “Want a taste?”

He remained completely straight-faced.

“Not after the sound you made after YOU tasted it, no.”

Age and Perspective

Michelle had borrowed my pocket knife. As the morning was busy (we were at a feis, getting ready for the day) and Jami and I left the room early to get him downstairs to practice, she tossed my knife into her purse and forgot about it. Later in the day, I went looking for it.

“In my purse,” she said, making no move to help. It’s a soft-sided thing, a quite perfect example of the “bag” half of “hand-bag”, and while attractive it isn’t easy to dig through looking for something so small especially when, being male, “purse” is just the short form of “terra incognita.” After a minute of pawing through years’ worth of detritus and making no headway, I up-ended the thing on the bed, spilling the contents for easier sorting.

“Dear god,” I said, horror writ large on my face, “It’s like an archaeological dig. I just need one of those sifter racks…”

I picked up a receipt, checked the date. Two years old. “I don’t believe it,” I continued theatrically. “Why are you holding on to a receipt for a hot chocolate?”

Katie got up and came to see what the drama was about. I started playing to her Audience of One.

I picked up a piece of paper with a grocery list from months ago. “I didn’t know papyrus could last this long.”

I held up a pen. “There’s a museum that would pay dearly for a pen that signed the actual Declaration of Independence. I’ll bet it still has Hancock’s fingerprints on it.”

Michelle sighed and kept reading.

I held up another ‘artifact.’ “Can you believe it? To be present for the building of the pyramids, to carry the dust of centuries…”

Katie getting into the spirit of the thing, gasped and reached into the pile. She held up a coin.

“Oh my god!” she exclaimed. “A dime from the nineties!”

There was a long moment of silence.

“The nineties? That’s what you’ve got? Really? That’s old to you?”

She looked at me, the look in her eyes the expressive equivalent of “I wonder, if I’m quick and very careful, can I put the pin back in this grenade?”

“It was the first … oldest thing I could think of,” she said, in a voice that shrank with every syllable, until by the end it was a mouse-like squeak.

Another long moment. Then, without looking out from behind the magazine she was reading, Michelle said:


Mowing the lawn

My dad was one of those “throw him in and see if he swims” kind of dads. If you sank, well, you could damn well hold your breath and walk back to shore, then. My siblings may have different memories of him, but by the time he and mom got around to me – and I wasn’t planned, it should be noted – he was different. The stories I heard of him from years before didn’t match the dad I knew.That unpleasant dichotomy is a story for another time.

Anyway, I try not to be that kind of dad. Oh, I’ll throw the kids in, but I’ll make sure they’ve got a rope tied on. Metaphorically speaking. Continue reading Mowing the lawn


I am of the few people in the solar system – probably the galaxy and beyond – who doesn’t care for cupcakes, who can’t see what the big deal is about buying a small portion of a cake piled with enough frosting to make me wonder why one bothers with the cake parts at all – and I have apparently failed in some way I cannot fathom.

Continue reading Cupcakes

Defying Gravity...and Dad's Peace of Mind

Ahh, Old Shawnee Days. Music, carnival rides,dancing contests, games, carnival rides, crafts, shopping, carnival rides, horrifying fried foods of every description, and carnival rides. Mostly carnival rides.

The Driscoll School of Irish Dance dancers took the main stage at noon or thereabouts. We arrived as we always do, an hour and a half early, and got to walk through the festival before its official opening, and it was on that walk that Jami saw his post-dance goal.

The Anti-Gravity.

The anti-gravityIt’s one of those ride I would have enjoyed thirty years ago but the mere sight of now makes my stomach churn. Nevertheless, I saw him see it, and lucky for him I’d come prepared. Seems a shame, I thought as we were getting ready to leave the house, to take the kids to a place like that and not make at least a couple rides possible.

As were were leaving the park – having said hello to a couple of street performers we recognized – Jami pointed to the ride and asked to go. Feeling sick in the heat and humidity, his sister immediately objected.

I get tired of telling my children “no”, but I am often constrained to do so because of time, health, money, and today I’d made up my mind I would not. I feel most poignantly for Jami, who lives in his sister’s volatile and sometimes violent shadow. I handed off the bags I was carrying to Michelle, and Jami and I peeled off into the rides in search of a ticket booth. We didn’t look back and to Michelle’s credit, in spite of the way she was feeling, we didn’t have to.

Shortly, tickets in hand, we stood before

The Anti-Gravity.

Up close, and having never experienced such a ride before, I could see the doubt forming in his eyes, a sort of nine-year-old, “Oh shit…do I really want to do this?” His mouth started running (yep, he’s scared, I thought), quizzing me about how it was going to feel, was it safe?, would he be dizzy?, would he get sick? a non-stop stream of nervousness. I finally stopped the flow of words and said, “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, nobody says you do, not even me, okay?” I pointed to the kids coming off the ride, “But look at them. They’re doing okay, right?”

He handed off his tickets to the ride operator and up he went. Strapped in, he looked excited and a little anxious and a lot happy.

Then the ride started to move.

I could see him pass by, and with every revolution the ride gained speed and his eyes gained diameter. I could hear his voice, yelling “Ohhh myyy gggooossshhh—” ~whoosh~ “Thiiis iiisss aaaawwwesooome—” ~whoosh~ “Wwwooooo hhhooooo–!” ~whoosh~

Then the ride started to rise, in just a few moments perpendicular to the ground, and his voice fell silent. I could see him, still smiling, just experiencing the ride… ~whoosh~~whoosh~~whoosh~

I had to look down: gazing up at the huge spinning wheel was making me dizzy.


When I looked up again, his knees were bent, his head lolling to one side, eyes closed.


I waited for the next revolution, and again, chin on his chest, knees bent, silent.


I raised my hand to the ride operator, intending to grab his shoulder, the words already forming on my lips, “Stop the ride! He’s passed out!”, but the operator had his hand on the stop button, the ride coming back down, slowing.

Then it stopped.

The mounting ramp came down, and behind it stood my boy, bright eyed, rocking on the balls of his feet, excited to exit the ride and tell me all about it.

Uh…I thought.

“Dad! Dad!”

“Soooo, what did you —”

“I discovered the secret to the ride!”

Insert double-take. “You … you what?”

“I was getting really dizzy whenever I’d look down, so I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep! It was perfect!”

“Beg pardon?” (Yeah, I say stuff like that to my children. They’re used to it.)

“That was so cool.” Looking back over his shoulder at the ride that just nearly stopped my heart dead in my chest.

“You … pretended to … sleep.”

“Where’s mom? I gotta tell her all about it!”

“Yeahokayuh-huh…you do that.” He chattered happily non-stop to the parking lot, and the first ten minutes of the drive home.

I guess a little heart attack is worth it.



Re-Doing What I Undid From What My Uncle Did

In 1956, my uncle Vance took a little farmhouse on what at the time was the edge of town and (among other changes) expanded it westward by about 12′, creating an office for his accounting business. Wisely he also added an entrance on the south end so that people coming to visit him for accounting services wouldn’t have to walk through the house. The doorway to the kitchen was served by a dutch door.

My father bought the house in 1970 (to my mother’s never-ending bitterness), and I became the sole occupant somewhere around 1990 when mom moved out to her own apartment and, a few years later, re-married (dad had been dead for nine years) and moved back to the old hometown in Nebraska.

Continue reading Re-Doing What I Undid From What My Uncle Did

Autumn, 2013

This is a wistful time of year for me. I get homesick watching the trees on the hillsides turn on the season, greens going to browns and oranges and reds. Sumac especially, because it’s a plant Mom would always point out to me as we’d drive from our home in Independence to my grandfather’s house in Weeping Water, Nebraska.

“The sumac is changing,” she’d say. Besides dandelions and corn, I think it was the only plant she could identify by sight — though even then only when it began to change color.

Continue reading Autumn, 2013

My, how phones have changed!

On the way to school, my daughter and I were chatting about her cell phone usage. Eventually, the discussion turned into me telling a story, because that’s what happens when you’re discussing something with me. It went something like this:

Continue reading My, how phones have changed!