Wednesday, September 17, 2014

School Time

During these first two weeks of my daughter Grace being in kindergarten I have made a discovery.  Not a huge Columbus-bumping-into-the-New-World discovery, but a profound discovery in my little realm.  I guess I am ratting out stay-at-home moms and dads that have been hiding a dirty little secret: if you stay at home or work nights and your kids go to school full-time every day, you actually have TIME FOR YOURSELF!  Six uninterrupted hours to exercise, to read, to go to the grocery store by myself, to lay on the couch listening to sports radio-why didn't anybody tell me this before?  Chores, without your little "helpers", are completed faster and you have time for fun.
And this revelation has led to other minor discoveries.  For instance, did you know they play non-kids movies at the theater during the day? It's true!  Real grown-up fare complete with curse words and innuendo starting before sundown.   That's right, the opportunity exists to watch a matinee that is not about talking cars or smart ass woodland creatures without someone begging for $75 gummy garbage or having to pee just as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man is showing up.  (Side note: I am so glad that I caught the Ghostbusters 30th anniversary re-release on the big screen.  It holds up, still funny as hell.)

Or, did you remember that the beach can be a place of peace?  I love taking  Grace to the beach; we managed to average a beach day a week all summer.  She had a blast crashing in the waves and learning to ride a boogie board.  But as sure as the incoming tide, no beach day went by without the following conversation:

"Grace, are you having fun?"
"Yes Daddy, but are we going to ride rides today?  Will you help me make a sandcastle?  Where is the closest mini golf place?  Are we going to ride rides today?  Let's find some shells!  I can't wait to get a funnel cake. Or maybe an ice cream cone.  Wait, I'll get both and mash them together!  Are we going to ride rides today?  When can we go to the boardwalk?  I bet the games are open now.  Which way is Candy Kitchen? Can I bury you under the sand now? Do you want to save some time and just dump all your money right in the ocean? Oh, and are we going to ride rides today?
"Um, can't we just sit and watch the waves?"

Besides her constant activity, I am hyper-vigilant about keeping an eye on Grace near the water.   There is no quiet day at the beach with Grace.   Twice, though, since the beginning of school, I was able to achieve just that.  Rare is the occasion I allow myself to be rocked to sleep by the rolling surf lullaby.  Grace is in school? Doze, baby, doze.

Today, between naps I noted the change in the demographics of beachgoers after Labor Day.  Today, it was mostly just me and some old folks.  Yes, older than me, even.  I thought I had crashed a Cocoon cast reunion.  I kept waiting for a waitress to show up with a Denny's Early Bird Specials menu.  Actually, that would have been great; I would have loved a Moon Over My Hammy right about then.  These guys were cool, though.  They were simply looking for a little peace, a little ocean breeze on their face, a little more sun on their leathery hides.  Most importantly, they were looking for it quietly.

You know who is not cool, though?  The other group joining me and the RV Brigade on the beach. The scourge of the resort town, the Obligatory Seagull Feeders.
Look, mam, you may be new here, but unless you are conducting some important  Avian  Feeding Ritual Research project, and your sagging prison tattoos and cut-off jorts make this seem incredibly unlikely, just keep the french fries in the bucket, okay?  Nobody wants to get crapped on by sky rodents.  I don't come to Baltimore and feed the smack junkies.  Maybe you could extend the same courtesy on your vacation.
Don't you just want to choke these people with the very crumbs they are tossing in the air?  Because they are never the ones that get shit on.  It is always some innocent bystander.  Fortunately, I did not get crapped on, was not forced to beat somebody up, and concluded a peaceful morning in Ocean City.

My schedule is not all sunshine and giggles, however.  I have two days off during the week, but my wife, Amanda, has weekends off.  We stagger the schedule like this to reduce the babysitting coverage we need for Grace.  This produces three results. One, my wife and I never have a regularly scheduled day off together and, thereby, we never have a full family day off together.  Two, when I work evening shifts I drop Grace at school at 9am and then don't see her again (awake anyway) until the next morning. This is a bummer.  And, three, Amanda's two days off are wall-to-wall Grace.  She is not afforded the school time freedom that I have during the week.  I feel a little guilty about this.  A little.  But I think I have devised a plan that will allow us to have boatloads of free time off together.  Today, I applied for the Avian Feeding Research Grant.  Tomorrow, we get the tattoos.

Friday, July 11, 2014

All That Glitters Is Not Gold.

One of the great joys of parenting a young child is that your house will always be filled with "art".  Refrigerator doors full of art.  Playrooms stuffed with art.  Desks completely hidden under an avalanche of art.  Parents can take great comfort in knowing that our little Rembrandts and Cassatts are churning out new masterpieces faster than we can hang them.  We are, of course, complicit in creating this onslaught. We scour craft stores for projects to stoke creativity and stave off boredom.  We stock up on supplies so our kids have something fun "to do" once outdoor playtime is complete. We find websites like "101 Uses for Pine Cones" and "Cheerios: Not Just For Breakfast Anymore". Thanks to parents like me, even though like only one guy in America still smokes a pipe, the pipe cleaner industry is booming.  We send our kids off to preschools and Sunday schools, storytimes and camps, all of which apparently follow the same model: Learn, CRAFT, Snack.  Learn, CRAFT, Snack.  What we  are left with are houses that look like the aftermath of an explosion at the construction paper factory, piled high with tissue paper flowers and Fruit Loop rainbows.

Of all the "supplies" that have invaded our home for these projects, I've come to loathe one more than the rest.  I can abide the crayons and finger paints.  I don't mind the uncooked rice breaking loose of the glue.  (Memo to new parents: the uncooked rice/macaroni/cereal never sticks to the glue.) I don't mind tripping over rubber stamps and ink pads.  What I can't stand is the glitter.  Ubiquitous, pervasive glitter.  A colorful spectrum of tiny garbage swirling about.  It shouldn't be in your home.  See it even has "litter" right there in its name.  Glitter for craft projects.  Glitter that sheds from every dollar store tiara your little princess owns.  It is as if your worst enemy broke himself into a bajillion shiny pieces and scattered himself throughout your life.  I say throughout your life because glitter gets everywhere.  It is bad enough that leaving the playroom you look like you dropped a week's pay in the Champagne Room with a "dancer" named Cinnamon, but the glitter gets dragged throughout the house.  I found some on clean kitchen plates the other day.  I see some on the couch cushions as I type right now.  If I wanted a glittery, fancified couch pillow I would purchase a Bedazzler from television.  I've shown up to work unaware that I have glitter stuck in eyebrow and on my tie.  I don't want to sparkle like some sullen teenage vampire.  I don't want someone to think I stole Liberace's coat.

So what are you to do to escape this insidious decoration?  I don't know, but here is what you don't do-try to vacuum it up.  Sure, some of it gets sucked up, but the rest of it gets blown around, suddenly airborne like some zombie flu that even Brad Pitt and Will Smith working together can't stop.  All you can do is raise the Glitter Index to red and hope for the best.  Like sand in your swim trunks, no matter what you do, it is going to be with you all day.  What's next, are the evil sorcerers that produce this ghastly stuff going to mix it right in the paste so it literally sticks with you? Wait, what's that you say?  Glitter Glue? Aaaaaaaah....

Friday, May 23, 2014

Embrace the 99%

The other morning was one of those mornings.  We woke up to a giant hairball and pool of foamy cat vomit strewn across the kitchen floor.  This was actually somewhat of a relief because the cats usually find the toughest-to-clean, most upholstered places in the house to upchuck.  The kitchen floor is much easier to clean than between the cushions of the easy chair or a basket of clean laundry.  My relief was short-lived, however, as a walk into the living room revealed that my cat friend celebrated his kitchen hairball victory with a celebratory piss on the couch cushions.  With feline murder on my mind, I set about cleaning up the messes.  Right on cue, mere minutes after I cleaned the kitchen floor, the over-sized couch cushion, which my wife has successfully previously laundered in the washing machine, caused the washer basin to go unbalanced flooding the kitchen floor.  Seven sopping bath towels later the flood was contained.  With messes fixed it was time to get ready for Grace's Pre-K graduation.  Of course, I discovered the shirt I planned on wearing, my last clean shirt, had been bombed by a bird while on the clothesline.  Wow, pee, puke and poo.  That's an animal bodily fluid hat trick!  Even Jungle Jack Hannah doesn't get that lucky.  What was there no raccoon that could scurry into my home and ejaculate in my shoes for good measure?  Later, after graduation, Grace's teacher was complimenting me, telling another mom I was like Dad-of-the-Year because I always had my stuff together regarding Grace's schedule.  I just chuckled to myself thinking I was glad she hadn't seen me hours earlier, clad only in boxer shorts and undershirt, wading through the middle of my kitchen pond shaking my fist at the cat and shooing Grace from the room.

I tell you all that to tell you this: none of it really mattered.  There were times these events would have left me cross all morning, but not anymore.  You see, I, Bryan Hailey, negaholic, pessimist, Debbie Downer, am trying something new.  It is not easy, but gratitude is the answer.  We, the unhappy among us, spend so much of our time focused on what is going wrong.  The truth is so much is going right.  Call it whatever New-Agey phrase you want - Attitude of Gratitude, counting your blessings,whatever-it works.  If you focus on the 99 percent of things that go right every day, you have nary a moment to focus on the 1 percent that isn't working.  Think about it-we take so much for granted.  Why not celebrate that our car starts every morning or that planes don't fall out of the sky?  Why not delight in the fact that our bodies function properly far more often than they don't?  Embrace the simple.  Marvel at the mundane.  Never take for granted the 99 percent.  Derive your strength from it.  Look around you and note what is working, what is going right, what makes you feel good.  The 1 percent may not be repairable, but you will never know if you ignore the 99 percent.  Be grateful for it.  Revel in it. Put your faith in it.  Then you will be ready to tackle the 1 percent.

People that know me well may be wondering if I have been replaced by an imposter.  Or if I am drunk at my keyboard at 11am.  I know it sounds very "Serenity Now".  Perhaps some of you will wager when I will blow my stack, Kramer-style, and trash my metaphorical room full of computers.  You may be right.  Be skeptical all you like.  The reality is that life isn't easy.  It smacks you around a bit.  But I am working on it; I am trying.  I am feeling my way through it, 99 percent at a time.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Something's Fishy.

In the age of helicopter parents abolishing little league scoreboards and pleading with teachers to change grades, somtimes I get funny looks when I don't rush in to scoop Grace up when she falls on the playground. If I assess that she is not injured seriously, I let her pick herself up and brush off.  I also don't let her win board games and, GASP, I make her write her homework again if she did not take the time to make a good effort.  I believe, and recent studies including one from the APA agree, that a little adversity, leads to more success for our children. Now this doesn't mean that I don't lend encouragement or that I think you should openly root for your child to fail.  But there is one situation where it is absolutely acceptaple, if not mandatory, to root for your kid to fail: when they are playing the "Win a Fish by Throwing a PingPong Ball in a Jar" carnival game.

Now this a difficult balancing act.  All your outward signals, verbal responses and body language must convey that you are 100% behind the idea of your sweet daughter proudly landing one of those balls in a jar. Meanwhile, deep inside your dark soul, you are tabulating how the cost of a bowl, fish food, and whatever other totally unnecessary, but necessary things fish require is far greater than the two dollars you just forked over for ten ping pong balls. You must stifle a whoop of joy when her first attempt barely reaches the platform of jars.  You must choke down the rage when a ball circles the rim repeatedly before falling off.  You cringe on the inside or share an eyes-wide silent scream with your wife when a ball slowly tink,tink, tinks across the mouths of six different jars.  You use your mouth to blow a breeze subtle enough to go unnoticed by passersby, but strong enough to send a ball on a wayward course.

Then it gets trickier. Then you must face the ethical dilemma when, after eight unsuccessful attempts, your little girl asks you to try to win her a fish.  What do you do when your precious five-year-old, face sagged with discouragement, asks you, one of her heroes, to slay this carnival dragon and take home the prize? My first thought was to pass the buck and tell her what a remarkable ping pong ball bouncer her mother is. My second thought was to throw the ball six feet wide of the table and say something about how, " it must have slipped." But, of course, I did the right thing; I pretended to have a cramp in my throwing arm.  No, I am not that lame. I tossed the ball high in the air and let the fates carry it to its destiny.  (Though if you looked closely you could probably see me leaning, attempting to put a little anti-fish English on the flight path.) My attempt failed to net a fish as did my wife's throw.  Suppressing a smile was easier now. But then came the toughest task, summoning the courage to pull out another two dollars as Grace begged for another ten tries.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Gateway Rub

Men, I want to tell you a cautionary tale so that you may learn from my experience.  I recently visited a new establishment, a kind of place I had never been before.  The type of transactions they conduct here are the kinds that I am used to enjoying in the privacy of my own home, for free.  But my wife told me she no longer wanted to help, so I sought service elsewhere.  I had heard about this place from a friend; you always hear about this kind of place from a friend.  Word of mouth is their lifeblood.

Upon entering the building I saw a several other men, all of whom avoided eye contact.  A woman approached, asking me a few questions about what I was looking for today.  She told me since this was my first visit they would throw in a little extra treatment for free.  Ah, yes, the first one is always free.  That's how they get ya.  After a little further discussion I was told to have a seat and that "Brandy* will be right with you."  A few minutes later Brandy, a reluctant smile upon her face, led me back.  After a little action, Brandy led me to a dimly lit room for my "MVP Service".

If you are still reading this, you may think I am some sort of pervert.  If you do, I submit it is you who is the perv because I am just talking about getting a haircut.

I had gone to uh...the place that Rhymes With SportBlips because The Wife had decided my hair had gotten long enough and thick enough that it may have exceeded her amateur barber capabilities.  I chose Rhymes With SportBlips because I liked the idea of watching basketball while I waited instead of flipping through a decades-old People magazine.  I chose Rhymes With SportBlips because I don't like small talk with strangers and thought televisions blasting the MLB Network might render it unnecessary.  (They don't.)

Now, I can't say Rhymes With SportBlips is like a whorehouse.  How could I, I've never been to a whorehouse?  I do know, however, that a haircut shouldn't feel skeevy.  And at Rhymes With SportBlips, it does kind of feel unsavory.  The haircut is normal enough, but that MVP treatment gets a little sketchy.  You are led to this darkened room and have a seat in a recliner for the shampoo.  The next thing I know, the chair is vibrating, I have a hot towel on my face (Which feels fantastic, by the way.) and the shampoo has morphed into a full-on head massage.  I don't know about you, but I feel a head massage is a pretty intimate bit of business.  It felt great, though, and there lies the lesson gentlemen.  Don't let the MVP head massage be a Gateway Rub.  Because who knows what you'll go looking for next time. 

*Name changed to protect the innocent. And because I have no memory of the stylist's real name.  For the record, Brandy was courteous, professional and was probably far more skeeved at having to massage my lumpy head than I was by having my head rubbed.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Step Away From The Candy Bar...

I should have known better.  Tuesday, I found myself with a sweet tooth, so I went rummaging through Grace's Valentine's candy stash.  While certainly not as prolific as the Halloween stash, the Valentine's candy bag, thanks to Grace being enrolled in two different schools, was impressively filled.  Surely, she would not miss a few stolen pieces.  Among the sticky lollipops and chalky "Be Mine" hearts I spied a full-size Baby Ruth.  Jackpot.  I'm not really sure who doles out full-size chocolate bars to their 5-year-old's classmates, but Jackpot nonetheless.  All was well until Wednesday night when Amanda, also feeling a chocolate craving, asked me if I wanted to split the Baby Ruth her co-worker had given her on Valentine's Day.  Oops.

In our nearly eleven years of marriage I have made enough boneheaded moves to learn Amanda's looks of anger and disappointment.  Sometimes you get what I call the Glare.  This is when you stupidly try to explain yourself.  Sometimes you get the Flare, the tiniest flexing of her nostrils, as she breathes in, weighing the idea of choking you.  This is when you don't even consider trying to explain yourself.  Sometimes you get the Glare and the Flare.  This is when you get in the car in pursuit of a replacement Baby Ruth.

I am exaggerating (a little) about Amanda's reaction, but that should have been the end of the story as we laughed as I headed out the door for a new Baby Ruth.  I told you earlier, I should have known better.  Leaving the driveway, I considered my shopping options.  There are three convenient stores within two minutes of my house.  I don't usually shop at any of them considering they are all poorly lighted, populated with shady characters and filled with questionable aromas of indeterminate origins.  Needing just a candy bar, however, I figured one of these was preferable to the chain gas stations or grocery stores ten minutes away.  Nope.  The first place was seedy, smelly and had a register that wouldn't read my debit card.  The second place was seedier, smellier and filled with blank eyes and vacant stares.  I'm pretty sure the dreaded Zombie Apocalypse is here; instead of feeding on human flesh the walkers are simply feeding on smack, meth and 24 oz. beers.  Unfortunately, what store number two was not filled with was Baby Ruths.  Aisles of snacks and munchies, not one Baby Ruth.  Store number three, while better-lighted and having a friendly proprietor, also sold no Baby Ruths.

Now nearly fifteen minutes into what should have been a four minute errand, frustration is starting to set in.  Instead of being 10 minutes into the next episode of House of Cards, I am on my way to the chain store.  Imagine my surprise when it turns out WaWa also doesn't sell Baby Ruths.  I ask the employee stocking the candy shelf from a giant cart of snacks if they sell Baby Ruths, maybe I am just missing them.  He just looks at me and shrugs.  Seriously?  Does the owner of Scary Store #1 have some sort of Comcastian monopoly over Baby Ruths in this town?  Now, completely perplexed and regretting my weakness for candy a day earlier I do what I should have done at Scary Store #2 (Or would have done if not distracted by the fear of stepping on a used needle.): I go all in on the sweets, grabbing four different candy bars and a doughnut for good measure.  Surely, something in my newly purchased sugar cornucopia will appease the Wife.  Fortunately, the register reads my debit card just fine.  I am smiling until I read the total price.   $6.66.  Ah, Baby Ruth you were a devilish snack choice, indeed. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Today Is The Day

Arise from your slumber,
Shake off your long winter's nap,
Feel the warmth on your face,
Reach for your cap.

Gather your friends in this time of hope,
Witness the first page of this yet written story,
A tale of ballplayers,
And their search for pennant glory.

Limbs to be loosened,
Hearts to be won,
Skills to be honed,
Under the hot southern sun.

Our Birds have flown South,
Dawn breaks on a cherished day of sport,
It matters not yet what summer will bring,
For this glorious day, pitchers and catchers report.