Monthly Archives: September 2011

There She Goes Again

Ah, fall. The time of back to school, cooler weather, football and… business trip season for my Lovely Bride.

She usually travels for work in October and early November and then again in late January and February. This year started early, however, because she’s one of six chosen from 400 for a leadership development program held with another university on the West Coast. Factor in travel days plus visits to her prospects in the Northwest, and she’s gone all week.

I don’t begrudge her this time at all, because it’s energizng her in her work, which provides well for our family. And really, it doesn’t change my routine one bit. While the kids have been at school this week, I’ve kept busy with another freelance article (assigned on Thursday, due on Tuesday – awk!), and we’ve had workers cutting holes in our attic walls all week installing central air conditioning. (I want to drop the window units out of the third floor window, but it would probably crack the patio.)

The hardest part comes after the children go to bed. Then there’s nobody else to help with the dishes, the laundry and walking the dog. There’s nobody to talk to. And worst of all, there’s nobody else to fold the damn socks.

Because of the time difference and the intensity of her class, we’ve been limited to just a few minutes on the phone when the kids get home from school and she’s got a few minutes for lunch. Then when Lovely Bride called last night, I got verbal diarrhea:

Me: TodaywewenttotheAmericanIndianMuseuminWashingtonbecause

schoolwasclosedforRoshHashanahandthekidsloveditbutgotoutofhand

acouplatimesandtheACguyscouldn’tputtheductthroughyourclosetsothey

hadtoputashinytubethroughEddie’sroomthatwe’llhavetodrywallaround

andthenewspaperheldmyarticleforaweekandmightaskmetomakeitintosomething

elseentirelyandIgotthestationwagon’srotorsresurfacedbecausethebrakes

werepulsingandnowitmightcost$1,000toreplaceacracked“subframe”andI

gotanatticinsulationestimatethismorningbecauseweshouldseeaboutthat

whiletheatticisalltornup,don’tyouthink?

Lovely Bride: What?

I try to limit the whining about her absence, especially after I ran into a friend whose husband is in India for two weeks. Turns out she stays up way when her spouse is away, too, because there’s nobody to go to bed with at night. And compared with military spouses whose loved ones are gone for months or a year or more, I really have nothing to complain about.

I have tried to man up and call in some chits for a little relief. Neighbor pals watched Carla while Eddie had a soccer game Monday and practice Wednesday. And I used some “baby bucks” from our neighborhood babysitting co-op Tuesday night so I could go to a Safe Routes to School meeting for our neighborhood.

It was a big step for me to actually ask for help instead of just suffering through and dragging my 5-year-old to soccer and then snapping at her to quit acting like a dirt monkey. When I’m actually paying attention to what she’s doing, that is.

The National Museum of the American Indian was terrific, but the kids almost liked better throwing rocks into puddles on the National Mall.

During our Washington museum trip yesterday, I brought along neighbor pals Caleb and Tina. They’re the same ages as Eddie and Carla, so it’s a beautiful matchup. It actually keeps my kids out of my hair better when playmates keep them busy, though the excitement made the 40-mile interstate drive a wee bit hairy at times.

My kids were crestfallen when I made them go inside for supper the minute we got home – at the very moment neighbor kid Harris came scootering up the sidewalk. I was honest with Eddie: I didn’t want him to go out because I couldn’t bear fighting with him when it was time to come in. If he could promise to come in without complaint, then he could go out for half an hour. Ditto Carla, whom I dumped with a mom across the street watching her kids play outside.

Okay, they both said.

But then when I came to fetch Eddie, he flung his scooter down. I grabbed it and told him I was taking it away for three days because he knows not to throw it.

“But YOU made me lose the race!” he wailed.

Huh?

“I don’t care about the race,” I told him. “I care that you don’t break your scooter after I told you not to throw it down like that.”

“But the more you remind me, the more I forget!” he cried. Cue the waterworks.

“But Eddie, I didn’t remind you. Time to come in.”

Lovely Bride reminded me that spitefulness and gotcha aren’t two of the best parenting tactics in the book. Yes I know, I answered, but I thought we agreed no more nagging from Daddy.

We both sighed.

She gets home Saturday morning on the redeye and will get some shuteye while each kid has soccer. Then it’s overnight to Virginia for my dad’s 75th birthday party.

Then on Sunday we get to be a family again.

All four of us.

In our own home.

Fun In The Sun

Today I chuck my full-time job as at-home dad to share my article in The Baltimore Sun. One editor rejected an August pitch about how parents can survive the waning days of summer without eating their young, but he said a project with bloggers writing about cheap weekends still needed a Mommy blogger.

Ahem.

You mean a parenting blogger?

I’m one of four local bloggers in a package about the ultimate cheap weekend. See the Brady Bunch-inspired front page here or jump straight to my piece here.

A few ideas got cut for lack of space. Others are less timely as the weather cools. But file them away for next summer, because they were huge hits with my kids.

So here are the bonus ideas for you.

At no extra charge.

STREAM STOMPING

Nothing suits a warm fall day like a trip to Baltimore County’s Double Rock Park. Point your GPS to the corner of Texas Avenue and Glen Road in Parkville, and drive to the second play area in the back. In Stemmer’s Run, the wide stream down a steep slope behind the bathrooms, your kids can chase tiny fish, build dams and drop football-sized rocks into shallow pools. And like my 8-year-old son, try in vain to smash the tiny fish.

Meanwhile, you can marvel at the dense woods and wonder if you’re still in Baltimore. Teens might text their pals how lame nature is, but younger kids will probably go for this. Wear shoes you can get wet and swimsuits you don’t mind getting dirty. And don’t forget the bug spray and a change of clothes.

HOURS: dawn ’til dusk

8211 Texas Ave., Parkville, Md., 21234

BABY COWS

Answer at least one of your kids’ incessant questions with irrefutable proof and show them where milk comes from. Inside the shop at Perrydell Farm Dairy near York, Pa., which sells ice cream, baked goods and other dairy items, start your self-guided tour by looking on the wall to find papers with dairy farm facts. Out back in the “milking parlor,” watch workers attach machines to beachball-sized udders as cows give eight gallons of milk a day. Wait until the red doors open, then step around the storage tanks and stand your kids on milk crates to see.

Afternoon milking time starts daily at 3. Then children often like to help bottle-feed a dozen enthusiastic calves at 4 p.m. My kids jumped when they felt the calves’ tongues, which were muscular, ropy and sandpapery all at once.

Then sit at a picnic table as your kids run off their ice cream crazies in the corn maze for a while.

HOURS: 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. Monday – Saturday; Sundays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

90 Indian Rock Dam Rd., York, Pa., 17403; 717-741-3485

BEACHES IN BALTIMORE

Don’t want to go take a hike? Head to the other end of Maryland and try the Hammerman area of Gunpowder Falls State Park. Just north of where White Marsh Boulevard meets Pulaski Highway, head four miles east on Ebenezer Road past Rump Shaker Farm.

No, really.

Halfway along the park’s 1.2-mile loop you’ll find ample parking, dozens of shaded picnic tables and a long sandy beach. Along this wide stretch of the Gunpowder River, a few miles north of where it joins the Chesapeake Bay, my children spent five hours in and out of the water, building sandcastles and harassing Canadian geese. For $3 a vehicle, there’s hardly a better bargain in Baltimore.

It was hard to get my kids to stop to eat – except the $1 a scoop ice cream at the snack bar, which also serves hot dogs, hamburgers and snoballs. Walking to the nearby watersports area – which rents kayaks and other water gear starting at $15 an hour – I saw the area needs better trash pickup. The best part: my 5-year-old daughter napped on the ride home.

HOURS: 8 a.m. to sunset

7200 Graces Quarters, Chase, Md., 21027

PICK YOUR OWN

Show your kids where food really comes from by visiting a PICK-YOUR-OWN FARM. (Find nationwide listings here.) For listings by county, scroll down and click on the map. Try our family favorite, Shaw Orchards, on the state line. Even as toddlers, my children could pick blueberries and strawberries — more landed in their tummies than in the buckets. This month, expect apples, pears and melons. Before you go, check online to see what’s ripe.

HOURS: Monday – Friday 8-6, Saturday 8-5, closed Sundays.

21901 Barrens Rd. South, Stewartstown, Pa., 17363, 410-692-2429

Blow Your @$%*& Nose!

Does your kid produce this volume of tissues in 2 days?

I don’t know what it is with my 8-year-old son that renders him unable to blow his nose. To my satisfaction, that is.

All I want is for mucus to actually leave his head so I don’t have to hear that horrible shnurking sound of someone who can’t find a tissue. And of someone who’s going to damage his ears. And I want him to blow his nose more than once on the tissue and not just ball the thing up after a half-hearted, mucus-free blow.

Yes, I know I’m stark raving mad to actually care about this. And I pride myself on not hovering over my children, to mixed results. But if you had to listen to the shnurking as much as I do, and you went through tissues like we do in my house, and your kid left balled up tissues all over creation, you’d start to micromanage the nose blowing, too.

At first I just pecked and pecked at him.

“Eddie, blow your nose.”

“No, actually blow.”

“Don’t just wipe and toss.”

“You have to let your nostrils be open for the mucus to come out. Don’t pinch your nose shut the instant you start blowing. Then nothing comes out! Now come here, and I’ll help you blow your nose.”

Eddie: “Da-aaaaaddddd!!! Owwww!”

It got so bad that my Lovely Bride finally blew up – at Eddie and at me. It’s not like I enjoy it, but no more nagging on the nose-blowing, she said. And no more leaving snotty tissues on the floor, she told him, unless you want Daddy to send you to nose-blowing class. (We threatened a real-live, pay-for-it manners class last month, but it would have ruined the last week of summer.)

I’ve tried being really positive when he does a big snotty blow.

“Yaaaaaay! What a good nose blowing! Doesn’t that feel so much better?”

But it sounds really fake. Then he drops the tissue on the rug and the celebration ends.

Try using a trashcan, kiddo.

I finally realized that it’s about obedience and listening. And I know I’m just like Eddie – if a rule or law is stupid, then I shouldn’t have to follow it. Like going 60 on an interstate or our elementary school principal’s reminder not to walk dogs to school with your children because they might frighten other kids.

I just want him to realize that on little things like this, I’ll get out of his hair a lot quicker if he just sucks it up and follows directions.

Months ago, we had a big bed-making brouhaha, and I just didn’t get it. When I was growing up, if Mom said to make your bed, you made your bed. Why put up a fight? Now I embrace it as a way to straighten up your room, get ready for your day, and, most importantly, not crawl back into bed. So I made Eddie miserable over taking both pillows off, stretching the sheet tight, folding it down at the top, smoothing out the comforter and getting both pillows back off the floor. Eventually, I learned to accept just about anything as a made bed, except when it has a huge lump in the middle. Just get it done.

Of course, now Eddie is old enough to ask why you have to make your bed when you’re only going to mess it up again at the end of the day. Sigh. Because I said so, that’s why!

So with the nose blowing, it’s kind of the same thing.

You just can’t go around shnurffling all the time. And you can’t pinch your nose shut as soon as you start to blow because you might as well not blow at all.

So if I tell you to blow your nose, then BLOW!

Oh, and we’re having him tested by a pediatric allergist next month. Maybe there’s a pill for this.

Today, I’m A New Yorker Again

Ten years ago, this morning, I passed through the World Trade Center on my way to work. My shift started at 7 a.m., and I changed trains there every day to reach my office in Jersey City. Being in the news business, my coworkers and I got word of the attacks immediately. I phoned my wife at work in Upper Manhattan and told her to turn on the news. Before I knew it, my building was evacuated with the instructions “Go West!”

We didn’t have cell phones, so I called my parents in Virginia and she reached hers in Atlanta, and they got word to Lovely and me that we each were okay. I’ll never forget how incredibly blue the sky was that day – primary election day and the first day of school. I had left the windows up in our Brooklyn apartment, and I worried I would find our dog and cat covered in ash.

When we started dating, people asked when we were getting married. Then at the wedding in 1998, people asked when we were going to have children. In 10 years, we told them, just to shut them up.

September 11th changed that.

What were we waiting for?

On September 11, 2002, my Lovely Bride and I had left the country. The pain and memory were too fresh and intense, and we wanted nothing more than to loll about for two weeks in our Happy Place, the South of France. So we did.

We had intended the trip as the “Conception Tour.” I was hoping it would take a lot of practice to make a baby. We didn’t know, however, that my Lovely Bride was pregnant before we left. Eddie’s first cells were built out of mussels, red wine and coffee. Whoops.

Now in 2011, my wife and I were desperate to get out of the house after a week of rain, and I wanted to avoid coverage of 9/11. We found ourselves out for a late afternoon hike at Oregon Ridge Park outside Baltimore, and we noticed a couple of things. There were a number of planes flying eerily low, which happened for weeks after 9/11. We finally have kids old enough to do fun, spontaneous outings with. And hiking was exactly what we were doing in France a year after 9/11. Looking back, we realized she was so tired that day because she was newly pregnant with Eddie!

This year, we debated how much to tell the children about September 11. Previously, we shut out nearly all news of it. This year being a big anniversary, however, we decided our 8-year-old could handle most of it. Just no pictures of the people who jumped. Our 5-year-old had been asking questions she could hardly put words to, making me think she doesn’t understand much about what was going on. But she can understand that bad people slammed planes into incredibly tall buildings, which made lots of people die when they fell down.

We want our children to know about this event that their parents lived through.

That changed us. And changed our country and our world. Hurtful history, but family history.

Our history.

This morning, all four of us watched the memorial on TV, and my wife covered their eyes at parts of ABC’s rebroadcast of its coverage 10 years ago. I don’t think Eddie needs to see a 110-story building being vaporized. Neither do I. Horrible as it was, it was comforting seeing all those surviving family members read the names of those who died. The Brooklyn Youth Choir singing “America the Beautiful” sent me over the edge, though.

Later for church, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to wear an I Love New York t-shirt and grab a bullhorn and tell people all about it – or if I wanted just to hide. I took offense 10 years ago when people called it an attack on America. I felt like it was an attack on my city. Maybe now because I don’t live there anymore, I realize the nation’s outreach to all New Yorkers was genuine and deserved. When the first church song today was “How Great Is Our God,” I just lost it. I squeezed Eddie to me and wrapped my arm around my Lovely Bride and reached for Carla. This is why I’m here. Maybe not to win a Pulitzer, but for this woman. And these children of ours.

It irritated me at first that all of Baltimore was thinking today only of football, and the Ravens’ home opener against rival Pittsburgh. But walking out of church, I welcomed the distraction. I spent the day remembering. I spent the day honoring the living, too, by going on with life. And so did the whole family.

Here, Carla makes "Seven Grape Juice" my mushing up -- wait for it -- seven grapes. Tasty, but a half-ounce of juice just doesn't satisfy.

I fixed quesadillas for lunch. Eddie played the Wii. Carla made “Seven-Grape Juice” (??!!?!) and lost a tooth as the Ravens pounded the Steelers. I jumped up and cheered at her gap-toothed grin. I pestered my son about unloading the dishwasher and keeping his elbows off the table. I fixed my rain water barrel and watched Carla and a friend give new life to my sister’s 70s-era Barbie Dream House with a psychedelic paint job. Lovely Bride painted a desk. Then she and I actually fixed supper together, which we don’t get the chance to do much these days. And after supper, I threw the football with Eddie in the alley. He actually asked if I would.

Because Daddy had no fight in him today, kiddos got mucho screen time.

I told the kids at dinner tonight that I sobbed because I was sad for all the people who died, but also because I realized I have so much to live for. The Twin Towers were really big, and the awful things that happened that day were even bigger, but God is even bigger than all that. And he loves my children and me and Lovely and all the people who died and even the highjackers.

“What’s a highjacker?” Carla asked.

“The people who crashed the planes into those buildings. On purpose,” I said.

“Do you love the highjackers?” Eddie asked.

“No, but I guess I should try. But God does, and that’s because he’s God, and I’m not.”

I really miss New York today.