Momma’s Karma

My son is off at a school retreat this week in a remote part of the state.  It’s a state park up near Kentucky and was hit pretty hard by the ice storm, for those of you who know the area.

So, the kids have 30 minutes a day where they let them have their cell phones to call their parents.  I have the schedule on the fridge, so I wait each evening for a call.

It’s the 3rd day, and so far, nothing.

Mom, if you are reading this, stop laughing.  I get it.  Your curse worked.

If I call you tomorrow night, will you please lift the darned curse?  I know it’s ironic and funny, but I’d really like to know how he’s doing.

I know, I know.  Join the club.   Sorry, Mom.

To Trillian, On The Eve Of Her Eleventh Birthday


Tomorrow, you will turn 11.  I can’t believe it’s been eleven years since you were born.  Eleven years ago, most people were concerned with a huge presidential scandal that put the country on the road to impeachment, or with two baseball players who were on a collision course with home run history. 

But, those things, in my mind, were only distractions.  For on September 11th of that year, after the craziest 3 days I have EVER lived through, you came off a plane and into my life.  You’ve heard the story countless times: the surprise call from your brother’s social worker, the frantic scramble made on both sides of the Pacific to get you home, the Northwest strike, the unexpected road trip to Detroit,  your brother’s prescient reaction to meeting you for the first time (he was supposed to give you a toy – a photo op for the grandparents – but he instead threw it at you and walked away).

I know that sometimes you delight in these stories.  Sometimes you roll your eyes.  I understand both reactions.

What I haven’t told you is that I was scared to death that night.  Excited, but scared nonetheless.  Having only brothers when I was growing up, I knew nothing of girls, and knew I’d be winging it for the next 18 or so years. 

For your part, you were afraid of me, as well.  You took to your mother right away, but when I tried to hold you the first time, you pushed me away.  I remember being disappointed – I had heard so much about the father-daughter bond, and at that moment, it looked like I’d never experience it.

That’s The Place we were when we first met: a little afraid of each other.  It was the first of many Places we’d find ourselves  through the years. 

There was the Place where we had discovered each other’s imaginations.  I would tell you Chicken Stories every Thursday night at bedtime, and you would take in every word, until you fell asleep.  The next Thursday, you would retell to me all that you remembered, and I’d have to pick up the story where your memory left off and complete the previous week’s story before you’d let me move onto the next one.

There was the Place where you were hurting, after losing your grandmother and home and all your toys within the span of a couple of months. For the first time in your life, you started acting out.  I didn’t know what I was supposed to do as a father, so I just loved you twice as much as before.

There was the Place where you discovered that I was wrapped around your finger, and learned to bypass Mom and ask Daddy first.  And I gladly obliged, much to the chagrin of your mother.

There was the Place when we discovered just how alike we are.  I remember so well, there was a particular day when your Mom and I were upset about something.  You proceeded, without any prompting at all,  to clean the kitchen.  I was floored seeing this; I thought that particular behavior (cleaning when people in the house are upset) was my own strange behavior.  I never taught you this.  Let me tell you, to see yourself reflected in such a way is startling, and at that moment, I am certain I could not have loved you more.

So many of the Places are just blurs.  I was so foolish, always rushing you on to the next stage of your life, never appreciating the Places we were, while we were there.  Please forgive me.

I am trying so hard to appreciate the Place we are at right now.  The fact that we sometimes seem like kindred souls – a mutual whimsical nature, being better at logic than we’d like to be (we both are drawn to the artistic side of life), the emotional sensitivity, even our taste in food.

I love your sense of humor.  Never lose that.   I love that you still have a sense of wonder, that something as simple as an icicle can bring squeals of delight from you.  I love how you are smarter than me, but I am still Daddy.  I love how we can have these incredibly deep conversations, and I learn as much from you as you learn from me.

The Place we are allows us to get into a water hose fight on a hot July evening, and not even need towels.  We just sit on the front porch as the sun sets, and we feel the cool caress as the warm summer breeze dries us, and the fireflies begin to light, and we talk about nature, and you place your head on my shoulder – and I feel as if my body cannot contain the love and joy and beauty.

I do not want to leave this Place.

And yet, I can feel the tug of Time.  I know the next Place is not far away.  I can see it in the changes in your mood, the changes in your body, and to be honest, the changes in mine.  You are so smart, and so kind – I truly can’t wait to see the things you are going to do with your life.  But, for the first time, I am in no hurry to see those things.  They can wait.

So, Trillian, before we move on, before every “I hate you!” and “I forbid you”, before boys, and clothes, and whatever causes you are going to dive into, before cars and tassels and fights and tears…

Can we not linger in this Place for a while?  Let’s just breathe the air and sit side by side here, just being.  I know your life is calling, and you’ll have to go…one day.  I do not want to hold you back, but I would love to have just one moment more.  Right here and now.  We will never be in this Place again.  Believe it or not, one day you will miss this place, too.

Can we not linger here, for just a little while longer?

Happy birthday, Trillian.  I love you.

A Bar Mitzvah? Are You Crazy?

In October, (yes I know it’s almost 10 months away), my son turns thirteen.  I’m thinking about doing something that will probably mortify him, mystify friends, and may even tick off a few people.

I want to give him a Bar Mitzvah.

OK, not a Bar Mitzvah, exactly; we aren’t Jewish, and a central tenet of our religion holds that he will not be a “Son of the Law” – he will instead one day be freed from the law.  Yet, as with so many things, we can find the roots of “right” ways to do things in the Jewish religious traditions.

Stick with me here.

I’m a big believer in most of the concepts in John Eldredge’s book Wild At Heart.  Especially the idea that what drives us as adults is a “wound” we received from our fathers, usually in the early teen years.  Unlike Eldredge, I believe it’s true for women as well as men.  I am convinced that who we are is shaped by our relationships with our mothers in early childhood, and our relationships (or lack of them) with our fathers as teens/young adults.

None of us quite measure up, we are all rejected by our fathers in one way or another.  It could be a small but profound rejection, or outright abandonment.  From then on, we are forever wandering the earth like Esau, desperately craving the blessing that should have been ours.

I truly believe this with all of my heart.

There is a profound,exponential power in the act of a father standing up before friends and family and saying, “This is my son [daughter], in whom I am well pleased.”  I think that such a moment has the ability to completely alter the course of a child’s life.

Wouldn’t a simple, quiet blessing be enough?  I don’t think so.  I think humans have an inner need for the profundity of ritual; it’s found in every culture in the world.

Yes, my kids will have confirmation at school and at church.  But, once again, it’s not the same thing.  Yes, they will go through the rituals of becoming spiritually adults (or accountable, if you’re a Baptist), and these things are vitally important, but equally important, if not more, is The Blessing.

I cannot imagine what my life would be like now if I hadn’t spent most of it trying to please my father (most of the time doing it subconsciously).  To have had his blessing.  What if I had gone forth into the world, knowing I already had it?

Now, I know I must be careful.  There is a strong possibility that I could highly offend my Jewish friends, and I want to design this celebration  in a way that is culturally/religiously sensitive.  nm, you’ve got a year to set me straight.  I want the spirit of the whole ritual and celebration, not necessarily the substance.  I do not want to run the risk of making a mockery of a very holy tradition.

Also, I have to be careful NOT to undermine the central tenets of my own religion.  Even with a blessing, it’s very important to me to teach my kids that they will never be whole without a relationship with Jesus Christ.  I know many Christian friends who think a Bar Barakah (Son of The Blessing) is a kind of heresy.  I know I’ll need to be careful.

Sometimes, I think about what I am planning and wonder if I’m off my rocker.  And, I may be.  But I’m also dead serious.

Posted in Kids. 10 Comments »


For the second time in as many years, it has happened.  Last week, we met with our kids’ teachers.  The one concern, out of all the meetings for both kids, was Zaphod’s algebra homework.  The teacher said that he tests well, but he turns in incomplete answers on his homework because he doesn’t properly follow directions.

(I should add here that the kids are doing just fine.  This was a singular nitpick)

Now, Zaphod does his homework in the car on the way home (in order to free up time for important things like video games), so my solution was simple: no homework till he gets, well, home.  Also, I would start checking his algebra homework daily. 

(Lintilla has already given up, because algebra wasn’t her strong suit 30 years ago – she doesn’t remember any of it now.  But, the stuff Zaphod is working on is about at the level I use every day in my line of work – that’s kind of sad when you think about it.)

Anyway, Monday was the first day of this new policy.  And just like last year, when he got his grade, he got more answers wrong on the homework I had checked than any homework he had done previously.

It’s not that I don’t know the material.  My work programs use much of the same algebraic logic, and they work just fine, thank you.  No, I think what’s going on is that Zaphod gets his habit of not understanding instructions from me.  Many of you probably already know this from episodes of my responding on your blogs to things you didn’t say.  For a man with a flair for spouting flowery prose, my comprehension skills are crap.

Now, I have to write the humiliating email to the teacher, explaining why my son is now on his own when it comes to math homework.  If I want him to get good grades, I need to stay as far away as possible.

It is a good thing to get knocked down a notch or two every now and then.  We often become so full of ourselves, we refuse to see that maybe we don’t know as much as we think we do.

I pray you get the same epiphany, no matter how painful it might be in the moment.

Slant Eyes

I’m musing over how to “handle”, if I handle it at all, discussing with my children the whole Spanish Basketball Team making slant-eyes for an advertisement thing.

I have nothing really insightful to say about this yet, except that I’m not really interested in some deconstruction of power and privilege as it relates to race.  That’s grad-school intellectual wanking, and, as enjoyable as that might be, such thinking is not helpful when you have the immediate situation of a child looking to you for guidance.  I have to put away youthful introspection – it’s time to be a grownup.

Middle school is approaching.  As I recall, if middle school students can’t find something about you to make fun of, they’ll just make something up.  The chances that my kids will have ‘slant eyes’ made at them are, IMHO, pretty good within the next few years.

I realize that most likely I will be teaching my kids to react to ‘racial’ things the way a white male thinks a person of color should react.  But, I don’t see how I could do anything else – I bring who I am and my own experience to the table.  Some might say that this is a good argument against interracial or international adoption, but to Hades with that.

This even ties in with still larger issues.  We want to raise healthy, happy children (like everyone else), but Lintilla and I must do that in the context of a fallen world.  There are dangers, toils and snares everywhere, and, as much as we’d like to only teach the kids how to navigate the clear waters, we would be doing them no favors if we didn’t cover thoroughly the dangerous, rough seas.  And most importantly, how to discern between the two.

It’s a fine line; I want them to be strong and confident in who they are, not taking crap from anyone.  Yet, I don’t want them to be knee-jerk, overly sensitive  jackasses, either.

So, I guess I need to think some more about this.  But not too long – time’s a’wastin’.

Posted in Kids, Race. 2 Comments »


So, Trillian came through the root canal just fine.  The whole day yesterday was a surreal experience.

Here I am, sitting in the lobby, and in between thought sessions about how I was going to shuffle money around for all these big checks I was writing, I fretted a whole lot.

I worried that Trillian would come out all swollen, maybe even bleeding, and most of all very angry for making her go through all of this without warning.  I felt a huge amount of empathy and foreboding.

She came out into the lobby after the root canal…laughing.

I almost did a double-take.  She wasn’t swollen or bleeding, or even in a lot of pain.  Instead, she was enthralled with the fact that she couldn’t feel half of her face.

She asked her brother to poke her in the jaw (I stopped him).  She asked for a drink of water so she could enjoy the fact that she couldn’t hold it in.  She grabbed her lip and moved it in all kinds of directions, laughing the whole time.   She was just short of manic, and giggly.

On the way home, she informed me that, yes the needle did hurt – a lot.  And they had to give her three shots of “antiseptic”, as she kept calling it.  She did not enjoy that at all.  But to her, it was worth it to know the novelty of being completely numb in one part of her body.  That, and seeing the smoke and dust fly as her tooth was drilled, and still not feel it.

I don’t know why she enjoyed it, but she did.

Then, the anaesthetic wore off.  At that point, she ceased to be having fun.  Luckily, they had prescribed her Tylenol with codeine, so that took the edge off a little.

Through it all, even when the fun turned to pain, Trillian was good natured about the whole thing.  She was so brave, I was at a loss for words. 

It’s funny – I see so much of Lintilla and me in the kids.  It’s neat to point to this attribute or that and say, “that’s just like me”, or “that’s just like her mother”. 

However, what’s far cooler is when you see something in your child that is totally unique; it doesn’t seem to have come from environment, nor heredity. 

These traits are simply gifts from God; they brighten otherwise gloomy days with sweet surprise.

‘Brace’ Yourselves

We had the first of three dentist/orthodontist/endodontist appointments for the kids today.  The news on Zaphod took me aback a bit.

His mouth is so crowded, his teeth are coming in at such angles – they will have to take four teeth (two top, two bottom) before they can even begin straightening him out.  As most of you who have been through this before, the “straightening” out part can take up to two years or more.

They want to take four perfectly good adult teeth out of his mouth. 

What’s bad about it is that we really don’t have much of a choice.  This isn’t some vanity thing – his teeth are literally destroying one another by the angles they are coming in.

The cost is a little bit of a concern, (Disney World might now be in jeopardy), but what I’m most worried about is Zaphod.  He was already quite worried about having to have braces; now, the thought of multiple extractions is scaring him to death.  And I don’t know how to make it any less terrifying for him.

The only saving grace is that we have an appointment in two weeks (after school, thank goodness) in which they will make really cool computer models of what Zaphod’s mouth will look like when they are all done.  That’s the only thing he’s looking forward to out of all this.

Next, we go to the endodontist to see if they can save one of Trillian’s teeth (which is quite cracked).  Then, back to the dentist for a sealing.

I’m going to need a drink before this day is over (so will Zaphod).

Update The hits just keep coming. Trillian is getting a root canal at this very moment. Lovely. The only good news, this cancels the need for the 3rd appointment (today at least). When they asked if I wanted to do it today, I thought it best to get it over with before she had a long time to stew about it.

Important (Part 5)

Hoo boy.

Zaphod turns 12 this October.  Trillian is 10 and a half.  Zaphod has the cutest little peach fuzz starting to grow above his lip.  Trillian is “sprouting”.  Both of them are moody, snarky and snippy in such a fashion that the only way to explain it is that hormones are starting to get to work in their bodies.

I even see it in little things.  My early risers are slowly starting to stay up (and get up) later, no matter what time I send them to bed.  Both of them are starting to develop their own taste in music.  Trillian, who has always kept me at arms length since she was a baby, now has started to warm to me; it’s a shame, NOW that she’s older and somewhat heavier (but still with a bony behind), she wants to sit on my lap all the time.

And now it seems like the subject constantly discussed at our house is sex (and other worldly pleasures).  Oh, we still talk in generalities concerning the plumbing of sex, but we’re pretty specific about the morality and effects of it.

Even more shocking is that I constantly seem to be issuing warnings concerning those pleasures.  When did I get to be such a fuddy-duddy?  Especially considering the fact that I’m pretty fond of pleasure myself.  But, it is what it is.

I’ve somehow become the parent who sucks all the fun out of everything.

The world will entice them with one night stands, frat parties, buffets, pot, and lots of shiny things.

What they hear from me is pregnancy, disease, date rape, hangovers, weight gain, health problems, car payments and credit card bills.

Come to think of it, I’d roll my eyes at me, too.  I’d be surprised if my kids don’t grow up convinced that I think sex is dirty and fun is evil.  If they only knew…

Anyway, I think I do this because I know that all of this will fall on deaf ears very soon – if it isn’t already.  Very soon, no matter what I say, the pursuit of pleasures of all kinds will be the overriding theme of their lives.  It will not fully subside until the hormones start to decrease when they get about my age.  Hopefully, my admonitions will be in the back of their minds when the right moment arises.

If I could say what I really want to say to my kids about pleasure, I would say this: It is a wonderful sail, but a horrible anchor.  It can give your life enjoyment, but it can’t give it meaning. 

For a while, the former will be enough for them.

I do not think the pleasures of this world, even the desires for them, are inherently evil.  I do not think the “consequences” of acts that bring us pleasure are “punishment”.  I do find it interesting that nothing pleasurable in this world seems to be without price, but that is just one of the mysteries of the universe, and a far cry from the concept of vindictive “punishment”.

I do, however, think that most people (including myself at times) get lost, and lose the ability to put the pursuit of pleasure into its proper place.  It becomes our Master – and ironically, pleasure is possibly the cruelest Master of all.  It has been said: meaninglessness comes not from being weary of pain, but from being weary of pleasure.

It’s such a cliche: moderation in all things is key.  This is the reason we try to protect our children from their desire for pleasures when they are in their teens.  It isn’t until they are in their twenties (if even then) that they have the ability to enjoy life’s pleasures in moderation, and with the proper mindset.

So, for now, I get to continue being a hypocrite to untrained eyes.  I love a good hearty breakfast, I drink beer (sometimes a little too much), I enjoy the female form in general and Lintilla’s in particular.  I chase Lintilla around the house whenever the chance arises.  I imbibe in pretty much all the world has to offer, within the proper boundaries.

And I issue a whole lot of warnings to my children about these very things.

Commute Conversation

Trillian: I’m going commando.

Me: Come Again?

Trillian: After swimming at camp, I didn’t want to wear underwear. [FYI – she’s wearing jeans].

Zaphod: Oh, that is just sick!  I could NEVER go commando!

She: Why?  It’s pretty comfortable.

Me: Zaphod and I have…er..things that need to be constrained.

Trillian: His deflated balls?

Me: Huh?

Trillian: Last night we were shooting roman candles.  My flaming balls had a report.  His were silent.  He had deflated, flaming balls.

Zaphod: She said “balls”.

Did I tell you I have a 10 and 11 year old?  And they Iowa tested at near or above college level.  Yet, they are a weird combination of Beavis and Butthead and Paris Hilton.

To fathers: nothing can prepare you for the day that your daughter blurts out that she’s, at that very moment, going commando.

Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child

While we’re in the mode of criticizing Disney, I was fascinated by Tracee Sioux’s rant against Hannah Montana.  It’s a great read, if only for the passion displayed:

But, if it’s a choice between YOU and ME in my daughter’s life. Well, I pick ME. Because I add quality and you, well, you don’t. When your snotty, bratty, disrespectful banter comes out of my daughter’s mouth – well, to be completely truthful, I feel like slapping her. I don’t. But, really, it shouldn’t take so much effort to stop the impulse.

Also, you’re not really age-appropriate no matter how small you make the t-shirts or commando market to Kindergarteners and pre-schoolers.

She’s right – Hannah Montana (and none of the other programming marketed at tweens) is not appropriate for a 6-year-old, IMHO.  In a few years? Sure, but by then, tweens will be on to the next big thing.

As an aside, if you treat child-rearing as an expression of your politics, (if you read Tracee’s blog, you know this is true about her, she makes no bones about it) all I can say is that you are in for a rude awakening in a few years.

But, that’s not what I wanted to talk about.  Later in the rant, she links to an older article in the LA times by Rosa Brooks.


At first, I thought it was satire.  I read it three times to make sure.  SHE’S SERIOUS:

You didn’t think Disney was going to stand idly by while you engaged in those little feminist critiques, did you now? Pause for a moment to consider the fate of the princesses’ mommies in those Disney movies. “Cinderella” and “Snow White”? Mothers killed off by mysterious illnesses. “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin”? Mothers all missing; presumed dead.

Disney really has it in for mommies: Even when you leave princess-land, it’s the same pattern. Bambi’s mom? Shot dead by a hunter. Nemo’s mom? Eaten by a barracuda. Of all the major princesses, only Sleeping Beauty (a.k.a. Aurora; like all criminals, she often goes by an alias) has a nuclear family, not that it does her any good. But given Disney’s track record, I wouldn’t want to underwrite her mother’s life insurance policy.

Now, I’ll admit that it is kind of interesting that in so many Disney stories, the mother is absent or killed off.  More on that in a minute.  But to infer that Disney does this as reaction to feminist critique?

Sigh.  It’s so stupid, I can’t even mock it. 

My theory is more literary (hello?  not everything is political.  In fact, few things that matter in life are). 

There are few things in the world the evoke more sympathy than being a motherless child.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but fatherless (either in reality or in practice) children are a dime a dozen.  And they have been that way for centuries, thanks to wars and workplace dangers.  It’s just the way of the world that we have more sympathy for the motherless child than the fatherless child.

I’m sure there are other reasons, but these fairy tales span centuries, and the theme has been around far longer than feminist theory.  Smarter people than me could try to explain why the mothers all die in fairy tales, but if you try to blame it on the patriarchy without backing it up, I will have to remain in mocking mode.