The Lady IS A Tramp

20120218-121156.jpgHaving kids means you’re going to have times when your sides split with laughter over an unintentional turn if phrase.

Last week, my mother-in-law sent us a few Disney DVDs. Among them was “Lady And The Tramp”, and it came in handy when our dog died last Saturday. We all watched it as a family to help with our grief. Simon, our dog, had been a tramp before we adopted him.

Today, G found a picture of Lady in a Disney alphabet book that A was looking through. He couldn’t remember her name, so I started quizzing him to see if he could. The conversation went something like this:

G: Dad! There’s the dog from that movie!

Me: Oh yeah! What’s her name?

G: I don’t know.

Me: What’s the letter on the page say?

G: L

Me: So her name begins with an L sound. Do you remember her name? It’s in the name of the movie.

G: No.

Me: What’s another name for a woman?

G: TRAMP!

Me: Bwahahahahahahahaha! (Pause) the title was “Blank And The Tramp”.

G: LADY!

It’s all about how quickly you recover.

The “Real” First Day of Kindergarten

I really didn’t see it coming the day it hit me that G is starting to gain some independence. I expected it, even prayed for it, but still wasn’t ready when it came so suddenly. Last week, G walked himself to his kindergarten classroom.

In our house, we have been counting down the days until G started kindergarten. Where we live, the schools run on multiple calendars and some even go year-round. G’s first day was just after the Fourth of July. He went one day for staggered entry – each day a small group of kindergarteners arrive and get a tour of the school and take a few readiness assessments. To me, this was a breeze. Bringing G to his classroom that first day was, emotionally, no different than any day I had dropped him off at daycare or preschool.

Even the next week when he started going full time, it was really cool to walk him downstairs from my own classroom where I teach fifth grade to his kindergarten room. It was a little out of the way for me, but I really enjoyed it. I never suggested G walk himself down, either. But somehow, he got the idea, and next thing I know he was doing it.

Out of the blue one day last week, G asked to walk himself down the stairs. We said our goodbyes. I hugged him a little tighter that morning, and I watched him trundle off for the stairwell. My heart broke a little in that moment to see my boy going off on his own. No tears for me, but emotion, yes. It was bittersweet. I miss bringing him to his classroom already.

Verdict: Guilty of High Cholesterol

We got confirmation of something we knew was very likely. G has the same hereditary problem I do: high cholesterol. It may seem strange that a 5-year-old has to worry about his cholesterol, but he does, and so do I. It comes from my father’s side of the family, and it killed my dad at 34 and his dad at 36.

Even though I expected it, it is kind of a big blow for me.

I found out after my dad died that his cholesterol was 640. It’s supposed to be under 200. Later I learned it was hereditary, and it hits in mid-30s. All of his brothers have had some kind of heart trouble.

I know what’s ahead for G, and I’m not happy about it.

But I want his experience to be different. Mine started when I was teenager, and right at the time that cholesterol became a bad guy. Most people didn’t understand it, and everyone though it was just a middle-aged man’s concern. My friends’ parents thought I was crazy when I said I couldn’t eat lunch at McDonald’s because I had high cholesterol. That wasn’t something a kid should need to worry about, surely. One friend’s mom openly called me a liar. (She apologized after my mom set her straight.)

We are at least a little more enlightened these days, I hope. Time will tell.

Now it’s my job to teach G all that I have learned. Unfortunately, we can lower our cholesterol by changing our diets alone. I’ve tried that too many times and failed every time. But he’s too young for medication, so diet and exercise is all we have for him right now.

He’s already very active, so we just need to find ways to trim fat and white carbs and sugars from his diet. That’s easier said than done. We all have a sweet tooth and a love for rich foods. After we broke the news, he was most upset that he can’t really eat much cheese anymore.

This is the first of many changes afoot; all good for us as a family. They’re just not the changes we’d choose to make right now.

 

 

 

Fatherless for 22 Years and Counting

It was 22 years ago today that my dad died of massive coronary. I didn’t get official word that heĀ  died until a couple of weeks later, though.

My folks were divorced and I hadn’t talked to my dad in a long time. I decided I wanted to call him, and maybe see him, after being out of school for about a week. I hadn’t asked to do that in a long time, and in a strange twist of fate, I happened to call his place of employment looking for him 22 years ago today. The man on the other end of the phone told me that he had died the night before, and that he was just finding out about it. I was stunned, of course. After a few more questions, I found out he had changed to a different work location. They weren’t very helpful when I called there, so I had reached a dead end.

I went on with life for the next few weeks. I didn’t know what to think. It could have been a trick. It could have been true. I put it out of my mind and went to visit with family for a week or so. But when I came home, my mom had the death notice from the newspaper where he lived and it was true. It’s one of those moments you’ll never forget living through. You remember everything, and I still do. I remember the exact layout of the room we were in, how we were sitting on the couch, and the look on my mother’s face when she had to break the news to me. I remember which lights were on, for goodness’ sake.

It was also a moment that changed my life forever for another reason. I found out that I have a hereditarily high cholesterol, as do all the men in my family. It’s something I’ve battled since, and while I’ve avoided a heart attack, I have not won the battle with myself and my ability to stay fit and keep my cholesterol low.

In the years since my dad died, I went through a long grief process, but most of the pain of loss is gone. That was until this week when I had to explain to G about why my dad was dead. G is 5. He has lots of questions. Those questions are often very pointed. He’ll make a good trial attorney someday.

G and I were in the car when he started asking about it. A few minutes earlier, while we were still at home, I was trying to teach him how to snap and whistle. I showed him a neat snapping/clapping trick that my Uncle Bob taught me a long time ago. G loved it.

He got a little confused when he asked about it in the car, and he asked when my dad showed me that. We had to do some sorting out, for example, my stepdad isn’t my actual dad. The snapping trick was shown to me by my uncle. My dad is dead; my uncle is not. Then the questions started about my dad, and suddenly I was back on that couch in my living room watching my mother say the words, “Your dad did die, Tim.” Suddenly, the pain of loss was poking its way back into my gut for the first time in over a dozen years.

“How did your dad die, dad?” G asked.

“He died of a heart attack,” I answered.

“What’s a heart attack?”

“It’s when your heart stops working, and your blood doesn’t get pumped through your body anymore,” I said, trying to make the words accessible to him.

“Why did he have a heart attack?” G asked, apparently satisfied with my previous explanation.

“He didn’t take care of himself, G. He drank beer, smoked cigarettes, and didn’t sleep a lot.”

“Why didn’t he take care of himself?”

“He didn’t know any better. He didn’t know he had a high cholesterol that was going to make his heart stop.”

“So he died because of his cholesterol? What’s cholesterol?” See what I mean? I’m being cross-examined here.

“Cholesterol is the stuff in your blood that we say is bad and you and I have a lot of it. That’s why we can’t eat certain foods because they’re bad for our blood,” I explained.

“And he didn’t know those foods were bad for his blood? How come no one told him?”

“No one knew the foods were so bad. He didn’t know they would hurt him,” I said.

“Well we know, dad, so we won’t eat those, right?”

“Right.” And that’s when I changed the subject, but the feeling of loss hasn’t left me since.

I’ve now reached an age my dad didn’t. He never saw his 35th birthday.

I’ve lived without my dad almost my entire life anyway thanks to a combination of familial missteps, but his absence has always been noticeable. As a boy, I missed him because he wasn’t at my ball games and such. As a teenager, I missed him, but I didn’t fully know why until I was older. I needed a dad to help toughen me up and point me in the right direction (advice about girls would’ve helped, too). As a young man, I missed having that grownup relationship men have with their dads. As a father myself, though, I miss him more than I thought I would. And the conversation with G really brought that into focus. G has a great relationship with my stepdad (Gramps), as do I, but even G notices the absence of my natural father.

So, wherever you are, dad, just know that I’m thinking of you today, as I do each year on this day. You weren’t ever really a big part of my life, but you’ve left a big whole that no one will ever fill.

Cooking With The Boy

One of the things I always loved to do since I was a kid was to cook. My mother did it out of necessity, but my grandmother did it with passion. Some of my best memories with Nana are working alongside her in the kitchen. It’s been important to me to pass this onto G, and someday to A.

About a year ago I bought a plastic lettuce knife at Williams-Sonoma with a gift card and it quickly became G’s. It’s the size of a regular chef’s knife so I took the chance to teach G some knife skills along the way.

Today we made some watermelon and red grape salad and G took on the job of dicing the melon. He sliced it a little more than diced, bit that’s OK. I grabbed a little video of it because no one would believe me that he can handle a knife so well at just 5 years old. So here’s my proof.

The Value of Teaching Your Kids Oral Editing

G is at the age where everything that enters his mind comes out of his mouth. This is often very cute. He will say “the darndest things” all the time and I wish I had a recorder for almost all of them.

But then there are times when you can see it coming that what he is about to say will neither be cute or appropriate, and sometimes downright embarrassing.

We had one of those moments yesterday. After talking the entire 35 minutes it took to get to the mall, G kept right on chattering his way through visits to Pottery Barn Kids and the Apple Store. So I knew what to expect when we went to Barnes and Noble: He would jibber-jabber about everything he saw; books on display, calendars for sale, toys that interested him.

He lived up to expectations, too. That is why I quickly turned him the other way when I spotted a middle school-aged girl on crutches. I quickly noticed that she was a recent amputee and that her right leg still had a gauze would dressing. There was no knowing why her leg was removed so close to the hip. Was it an injury? Was it cancer? That wasn’t for me to know. My job was to quickly steer G away and change he subject to distract his anticipated line of questioning. It worked.

We went upstairs to the children’s section to get G some Junie B. Jones books, and I thought we were safe. But when we went back downstairs, the girl went by us, and before I knew it G spotted it and started talking about it.

“What book are you looking for, daddy that girl broke her leg!” Yep. He said it just like that. If I could have amputated his lips, I would have done it on the spot.

This was obviously was a teachable moment. How I played the next few seconds was important. I got down real close to G and in a serious soft voice I said, “Don’t ever talk about another person like that again. Understood? That girl does not need you calling attention to her leg or any other part of her body. Got it?”

Message received. G didn’t say much after that and we left the store a few minutes later anyway. Later, when we were in the car, I explained why what he said was wrong. There were a lot questions about why her leg was amputated, and I did my best to answer them. But I’m not so sure we are clear of these moments yet. Only time will tell.

The Beach and I Are Not Friends

The beach and I are not friends, but we tolerate each other. Let’s say we have and understanding.

20110619-021704.jpgWe just wrapped up a weekend in a very nice Wilmington hotel where we visited both Wrightsville and Kure beaches on North Carolina’s Cape Fear Coast. It was a mixed experience. We had lots of fun with the kids in the sand and surf, but it comes at a cost that is almost unbearable for me. I’m just not a fan of lugging half a living room and a galley kitchen to sit and bake on the sand.

This all goes back to when I was a kid and it was just me and my mom. We would venture to the beach for a day and I would be done by about lunchtime. About that time she would be turning her chair to get a better angle on the sun.

We would bring her trifold chaise lounge that weighed 15 pounds, a metal cooler that had a 1962 vintage. All I got was a towel and a plastic pail and shovel. Lunch consisted of soggy and sandy tuna sandwiches and soggy chips. Boo-hoo, right? Call the whaaaaaa-ambulance! Yeah, yeah.

Well, it sucked, and I’ve hated the beach most of my life because of it.

Not all of my beach experiences are bad ones. I have lots of good memories on the beach, even as an adult and a dad.

So now I have a challenge to figure out what it is I like about the beach. I’m beginning to realize that I like to put on sunscreen before I get there. While there I want something to do like build a sandcastle or go on a seashell hunt. And I want to bring as little with me as possible. That last part is crucial. I also want to find a beach that is a reasonable drive, has nearby parking, and isn’t too crowded.

Because all I really want is my kids to have good memories of their childhood’s on the beach so they will one day enjoy the beach with their own kids.

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