These Long Days



These Long Days

I’ve introduced myself to these long days
By calling an encore on the night.
With careful work at setting the lights,
A midday search
For the artefacts of worth
Has led me through that curtained little backstage place.
My small audience sees the fluttered drape.
And now
I’ve walked out into these full days
By pushing on an unmarked door.
It was swollen stuck against the floor,
It’s damp age
Beholden to the craze
Of the movements and exhaustions of too many fronts.
The sound of its shutting behind me is blunt.

Morbid Recreation

     The weather came on strong today, if a little gradually.  Everyone knew it was coming.  We talked about it for a couple of days – Thursday, gonna be hot, man.  The School even sent an email  suggestion  ultimatum, ordering us to apply sunscreen to the children before school, and send them with a backup for later.  The School thinks itself helpful.  Or at least I have to tell myself that, in spite of my hunch that The School is simply fulfilling its primary mission, which is to not get sued.  But seriously, it was supposed to hit 80 degrees.  It might have done that eventually, but I didn’t check.

     We all get a little stupid on this first hot day, and choose to ignore what we know, which is that the morning is still MYGODMYNIPPLES.  Our temperatures peak at about 5:30 PM, even in the dead of summer, and until about June you can just forget about those moderate and fine mornings.  We’ll have sun with our coffee from time to time for a while, sure, but warmth?  Come on, I’m not even gonna get spider webs in my face on the way to the car for at least another month.  The spider webs are how you know, you know:

“Alright you two, just get to the- OH MY GOD IS IT ON ME?!  IT’S ON ME ISN’T IT?!” 

     Yep, even with a face full of spider web, I still have time for apostrophes.  Like I said, it’s too soon for that, but we still get up and put on shorts and t-shirts and flip-flops (without socks this time), and maybe even throw out a casual suggestion that we have breakfast on the patio today.  Which of course is stupid, because everyone knows you can’t eat on the patio until it’s warm enough for the bees to drive you back inside.  Paging Dr. Kevorkian.

     Still, it was a beautiful day.  I used it for unusual things, the greatest of which was the rare opportunity to take my son on a brief tour of the campus where I am attending college.  There’s something sort of backwards or sideways about that, I don’t know.  Aren’t dads supposed to visit their kids’ campuses?  It doesn’t really matter because it was us, together.  As always, he wanted “shoulders.”  Even as his vocabulary grows and the stilted locution of childhood stitches itself together into real communication, he occasionally opts for the throwback of a singular loaded expression.  For a ride atop the old man’s back he will slowly move, as we walk, from alongside me to directly in front, and as I almost trip over him he’ll simply say “shoulders?” I have a hell of a time saying no. I hoisted him and he steered me around the campus.  It’s a community college, small and without much to show.  A five year old has a different set of standards, though, and a crummy little clock tower with perfectly accurate time had a hidden quality:

“That’s the slowest clock in the world, Papa.” 

“No, son, that’s the second slowest.  The slowest clock in the world will be hanging on the wall in your classroom.  Then you’ll get a job and absolutely freak out when you see that someone took it down and put it on the wall in your office.” 

     I forgot to take him by the Aviation Maintenance Technology building, where he (and I) would have loved a gander at the airplane engines they have.  Boeing just donated the Pratt & Whitney from a 777 to the school in February.  Maybe I should change my degree.

     I did take him by my classroom, where I will sit tomorrow.  It is odd.  I am of two worlds, or perhaps two characters, when I am there.  I feel very old sometimes, even though I know that “going back to school” is not uncommon.  There are other old people there, every one of them attempting something noble, in a country where such a thing is immanently possible.  And then I feel very juvenile.  Not in a strictly age related sense, but in a maturity sense.  As if what I’m doing is more whim or farce or pot-stirring than anything else.  A morbid recreation for some guy who’s rapidly running out of excuses and validity.  It isn’t, though.  Not completely.

Maybe I should calm down.  It’s only been a week.

Genny Made Cupcakes

I was in the yard a couple of days ago when I realized that I had dropped the rake and was floating towards Genny’s porch with my nose in the air.  Bringing me out of my stupor was the boy child, hanging from my ankle, his toes barely tickling the grasstips.

“Papa, where you flying?”

Genny’s that kind of neighbor. 87 years old, I think.  Cupcakes were in the air, just after lunchtime on a Wednesday.  I’ve written about her before.  And she seems to come up whenever I think about our house.  Yeah, she’s that kind of neighbor.  I saw her with a bag or two at her back door yesterday and took the boy over to help her in the house.  The boy loves her and wants to see her almost as much as the dog does.  But the dog has something of a fatal attraction thing going, and I fear her reaction when Genny is finally gone.  Lucy just might do what old couples seem often to do, and simply choose to fade away once her reason for living has left.

She tries not to let us help, and I suppose that’s normal.  Natural.  If you sit down after a very long march, it’s too likely that you won’t get back up. (Just a little rest.  Just a little rest.)  But help we do, when we can catch her.  And yesterday she was back from an appointment at Group Health downtown, having done what we insist she stop doing: take a shuttle.  I’m home every day now, and I can take her anywhere she wants to go. But she won’t do it.  I’ll just have to catch her, I suppose.

Group Health has a gift shop, because when you build a place for people to be born in and to die in, full of medicines and chemicals and wires and gizmos, then gifts and parking validation are the next two most natural things you can offer.  Genny goes to the gift shop, because when you can’t remember when you were born, but already feel like you’re looking back on your death, thinking of your neighbors’ children is the next most natural thing you can do.  She brought back a nice bow for the girl child’s hair – Genny knows that a Dad needs a little help when it comes to doing his daughter’s hair before school.  For a man nearly forty who grew up with two brothers and no sisters, a hurried ponytail is the least most natural thing you can do.

The airplane spinner in the picture up there is what she brought back, wrapped, for the boy.  He fiddles with it, and it has the kind of coarse finishing and pointy bits that terrify the modern conscience.

“Dis wever hurts my finger.”
“I’ll wrap some tape around it.  You want me to spin it for you?”
“Nope.  I got it.”

He works at it, and he’s nicer to it than he is to most of his toys.  Don’t know if it’s because he knows anything about it, or Genny, or what.  I just know it’s true.

“Papa, I can’t get it.  Can you spin dis for me pweese?”
“Of course, bud, here we go.”

It spins awfully fast, too, which makes me think it came out of the shopkeeper’s special box of old-fashioned toys from the back room.  Nobody would build that buzz saw of whirling aluminum today.

“AGAIN!  All my pwanes are weaders.”

I wish I still thought like him.

The girl, of course, wants her new bow just so.  Fusses with it, and makes me check it.

“It’s perfect, gorgeous.”
“Thanks, Papa.  Can we go show Genny now?”
“Her lights aren’t on, kiddo, so we’ll have to wait until later.”

But Genny made cupcakes.  On a plate, on a doily, on an otherwise empty and polished dining room table in her beautiful house.

“Here, Dominic, I made these for you and your sister yesterday, but you were too fast for me and I couldn’t catch you.”
“Yeah, we’re pwetty fast, huh?”
“Yes, you are.  You work so hard out there with your Papa that I thought you could use a treat.”
“I really like dee rake and dee shubbel.”
“Make sure your sister gets one, too.”

He made sure.  We’re trying to make sure.  Genny always makes sure.  And she also makes cupcakes.

To the Honest Pleasure Seekers

Errythang gonna be alright this mornin’.

The incidental oracle strikes again.  I remember posting this picture to facebook.  I thought I was being pretty clever:

I can’t believe it’s finally here! Andy’s 14,418th day of school!

Bittersweet, as it seems like only yesterday he was drinking Mickey’s Big Mouths on his way to jumping out of airplanes and – what was his favorite little saying? Oh yeah: “I’ll never get married or have children. Depend upon it.” What an adorable little dreamer he always was!

Well, he’s really on his way now, and it isn’t terribly hard for us to see the day when he finally gets a job and makes something of himself. Ok, so it IS kind of hard to see, but we remain hopeful!

Go out there big boy and makes us, um, sort of ambivalent about admitting our relation to you!

School Boy

     Joke’s on me, eh?  It’s two hours until I sit down in a classroom for the first time since about 1996.  I’ve taken online classes, and one sort of dreary writing class on the University of Washington campus.  Nights, once a week.  The class was all women over 50, and me, and the instructor.  I started out by grumbling in my head about the absurdity of it all.  By the time it was over it was obvious that no matter what these people were or were not capable of writing, they all were at least capable of writing something.  And more importantly – of liking it.  They were out there finding their fun.  Pleasure seekers – honest ones.

     Well the clock’s running down on me now.  In every grand and corny metaphorical way there is, and also literally.  Thankfully my kids are pretty well capable of getting themselves ready for school.  Two years ago that was not the case.  Of course two years ago I was still potty training The Boy.  It’s good to sit here now, thinking about how far they’ve come, and to be able to say “I did that.  We’ve done this.”  We’re going to have some work done on our house, and when it’s finished we’ll be able to say “that’s beautiful.”  But aside from some creative input (and the endless hours of work it takes to pay for it), we won’t be able to say “we built that.”  There’s extra in there, and I am boundlessly grateful that we made the choices we made a couple of years ago, so that when the kids tackle their mornings -and eventually tackle whole piles of madness – without us, we can say “we built that.”  We get to have – we get to be – the extra in there.

     The best part?  That no matter how able they are to get ready for school without me, I’m not able to get ready for school without them.

I Am Infinity’s Fulcrum

Balance has nothing to do with being still.  Hell probably involves sitting on a see-saw that doesn’t move.

There are three days remaining until school starts for me, for the first time in over 10 years.  People carp about college.  Not worth it.  Scam.  Hustle.  Degrees are meaningless.  A worthless piece of paper.  It’s easy to say that when you have a degree or three and they haven’t severed themselves from the Starbucks wi-fi long enough to get you a job.  I’m not so sure.  I’ve seen degrees matter.  I’ve seen their lack matter.  It sure as hell matters to me.  I am about to re-enter “civilization” for the first time in over two years. The civilization that is marked by elbowed ribs and thumbed eyes, adults in cargo shorts and Dr. Who t-shirts making six figures and not being able to afford rent. 

In this civilization, being a stay at home parent puts you in a stark minority, though I suppose that might depend a bit on geography.  It has certainly been the case for me. I have been the lone housewife, at parties and (oh God) “functions,”  listening to the positioning, the jostling, the clandestine wedgies being given in the guise of clever anecdotes.  I honestly don’t know if TV shows are about people, or the other way around.  This is the civilization.  The civilization whose members continue to be forced into defining a greater measure of their personal value by what happens when they’re not at home.  It’s been easy for me to see it from over here, the switching of places where we feel valuable.  It’s been easy to become dedicated to a family this way.  To say, and mean, that jobs don’t matter, that money doesn’t matter, that we could do with SO. MUCH. LESS and still love and laugh and shore up our foundations with each other’s help. It’s been easy because my boss has been my family, and my paycheck has been cashed in hugs and thank yous.  It’s been easy to settle into the idea that a college degree really isn’t important.  And certainly, fundamentally, it is not.  If I look at my family and find myself saying that “I cannot do this without a payday that comes from a job that comes from a degree that comes from college,” then I am no kind of Father.  I need to be able to look at them and say “I can turn them into Gods, and the only thing I need for that is us.”  We are meant to be our own greatness – the state does not confer it.  But also I won’t homeschool them on a dirt floor if I can help it.  This is balance. 

Even when a degree is admitted to have some importance, it is only to say that the degree carries too much weight where a thing like “earning power” is concerned.  To pursue it is just a hunt for a bigger paycheck, a sign of base materialism.  It is a generally agreed upon bad kind of ambition.   Another imposed contradiction where we are to never, ever settle for less, yet still keep a saintly aversion to desiring anything more.  I am a Father.  I cannot teach my children about ambition with that kind of ambiguity.  Further, people are often far too proud of their poverty. It’s useful to say “I re-shingled my roof for 7 bucks because I had to.”  But to continually say “the dirty scraps of your affluence are my caviar” is regressive humility.  Stand as an exemplar, not an example.  Of course society is replete with those examples, of people who have the degree – the degrees – and as the saying goes: nothing to show for it.  The reasons are far too diverse to put a diagnosis on that.  Anything from abject laziness to a shift in worldview can make that college education seem wasted, but I think there’s a lot less evidence than people realize for an argument that a college degree is a worthless scrap of paper.  Alas, it is a world of hyperbole out there, and unlike balance, hyperbole is an exercise in forced stagnation.

My excuses are not stagnant.  They are leaving me.  The second child is starting kindergarten in the Fall.  Times have changed a ton since the salad days of patriarchy and, incidentally, happy marriages.  Nowadays, having an open schedule from 9:00 – 3:00 five days a week means that keeping the laundry done and house clean won’t be good enough.  And ohbytheway, I don’t recall the oppressed women of our recent past complaining about having to do all the yard work and household repairs on top of the usuals.  Dad came home from work and did all that.  I wonder how many stay at home dads have handed the keys for the shed or garage or workshop to the working wife and said “evenings are tight and weekends are short, but that fence won’t mend itself while the grass magically shrinks.” 

I digress. 

With the task looming over me of finding a job, suddenly that meaningless degree, that useless piece of paper, has a cacophonous absence.  Two years of fathering, two years outside that fold of casual acceptance, two years of exposing people’s limited social range by answering their probes with “I’m a stay at home Dad,” has taught me a bit about what goes on out there.  I have always been cynical.  Now I am cynical but careful.  A considerate skeptic.  These conversations with people that start, every single time, with “what do you do,” get awkward very quickly.  They’ve invited me to go mountain climbing and I’ve come to base camp in a speedo and snorkel.  They expected pants at a minimum, and could have dealt with that. Because people can handle being confronted by different experiences, but only if they’re pretty much the same.  I’ve seen “pretty much the same.” I’ve sat at the donut shop with my five year-old, surrounded by glowing laptops and nattering keyboards, watching the mute quest for ever more, evermore, go on and on and on. The Boy just natters at me while sitting on my own laptop, nothing mute about him, his soul stowed away on a rocket ship to the future.  But it’s still a future that knows the difference between ever more and evermore, and solely loves the latter.  All I know is that this can only go on if we are careful and we do things right, which I think we are. 

I sit here on Skype sometimes, midway between my parents and my children, staring at my beginning and my end without even turning my head.  Tenuously anchored in my role as infinity’s fulcrum.  The weight of literally everything is on my left, and there it is again on my right.  Suddenly everything I do must be done by degrees, because like I said up top, balance has nothing to do with being still.  Balance shifts the best weight to the best place.  Sometimes imperceptible, sometimes epochal, always essential.  You can’t just drop an anvil on one side and expect someone else to clean up the mess.  So I move. I shift the weight.  A long time ago, that shift put me in the Army. On April 4th, it will put me back in school. While I may not want a degree any more than I want a cubicle, I can at least see that degree doing what history asks of me, which is to shift the balance and raise my children toward the future by degrees, while my parents settle back.  Shel Silverstein knows where this is going:

The Little Boy and the Old Man

Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the little old man, “I do that too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
“I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
“I know what you mean,” said the little old man.