Archive of articles classified as' "Featured"

Back home

Ten Rules of Parenting

19/01/2009

About a week ago, I published my First Rule of Parenting. Turns out it was really my Second Rule of Parenting.

You see, Michelle Catalano of “a big victory” fame found the original essay and emailed it to me. The essay was published at a now defunct website for goofballs like me who, for some reason, the state allowed to keep their children. The website’s name was “Raising Hell.”

Michelle found some of her old essays too. She posted a couple. Take a look.

I thought I had ten rules. The original essay only had seven. When I first wrote the essay, I had two children. Now I have three.

The extra child and extra years afforded me three more rules. Now there is a nifty, round ten. Enjoy them. Use them. I wouldn’t steer you wrong.

:::

I am a registered nurse. And I was the first among my friends to have children. As such I’m often asked for advice on raising and caring for children; and when I’m not asked I’m usually tossing something out there anyway.

Over the years I’ve developed my Rules of Parenting.

Read them. Commit them to memory. And don’t leave the nursery without them.

Jim’s First Rule of Parenting
Prior to the baby’s birth, I tell all moms-to-be (and the dads too, if they’re not too distracted by the Ranger game) to read everything they can regarding babies and childcare.

Subscribe to every magazine. Grab every brochure and flyer at the obstetrician’s office. Absorb everything. Study tirelessly.

And when the child is born, throw all the books and magazines away. Forget everything you read.

None of them were written about your baby. None of them.

Jim’s Second Rule of Parenting
Don’t kill the baby. Ever.

Most people think I’m kidding with this one. I assure you, I am not.

There will be a time — I can’t predict when that time will be, perhaps the child hasn’t slept in 36 hours, perhaps she hasn’t stopped crying for 12 hours, I don’t know — but there will be a time when the sleep deprivation kicks in full force and you haven’t showered for days where the unthinkable almost sounds sane.

Resist the urge.

Don’t kill the baby. Ever.

I’ve been thanked for this one. A lot.

(You can see this rule in a different form here.)

Jim’s Third Rule of Parenting
Don’t ever tease, kid, or otherwise joke with a social worker from the Division of Youth and Family Services. Their senses of humor are not well-developed. And they take their jobs very seriously.

Trust me on this one. I made the mistake so you won’t have too.

Jim’s Fourth Rule of Parenting
Trust the Mom.

If you are the Mom, trust yourself.

Mom’s instincts are keen.

If Mom thinks something is wrong with the baby, then something is wrong. If Mom thinks she knows what it is, follow her to the end.

If Mom thinks the baby is ready for solid food, then solid food it is. If Mom thinks … well … you know what I mean.

Jim’s Fifth Rule of Parenting
Never. Ever. Disturb. A. Quiet. Safe. Child. Ever.

Not even to ask how they’re doing. Not even to praise them. Not to tell them it’s lunchtime.

Don’t say anything. Just peek. Acknowledge to yourself that the child is safe. And go about your business.

If you disturb the child you run the very real risk of upsetting the Cosmic Equilibrium and altering God’s Unknowable Plan. All hell will break loose.

Your morning/day/evening (yes, all three) will be ruined. And you’ll probably lose sleep and argue with your spouse.

It’s not worth it. Leave the kid alone.

Jim’s Sixth Rule of Parenting
One Saturday morning when she was very young, my daughter climbed on my bed and, with deep pride and sincerity, told me, “You can put your finger in your hole and it doesn’t even hurt.”

I did not to panic. Instead I just said, “Huh? How about that. Go wash your hands, and then come on back to bed with me and we’ll watch some cartoons.”

To this day, I have no idea which hole she was talking about, how she found it, or if she ever did it again. I never asked. It’s probably none of my business.

That’s a good rule, I think. They’re going to touch their bodies. Don’t freak out about it.

Similarly, there will be a time when they want to be naked. Hopefully it’s not when the reverend’s wife is over for tea and crumpets. I say, let ‘em be naked.

Unless she’s on the couch with her 17-year-old boyfriend. And then there’s a whole other set of rules. Starting with:

Jim’s Seventh Rule of Parenting
At first I was going to say, “Trust their decisions.” Screw that. The Seventh Rule has to be: CONDOMS!

I always thought I would be the prudish dad. You know the one: “No sex before marriage!” or, better yet, “No sex while I’m still alive!”

But it’s not going to happen that way. She will have sex before marriage (and before my wake) — so will the other two. And I don’t want any grandkids before it’s time.

If my girl even hinted to me that she needed, ahem, protection there would be a case of condoms in the trunk of her car before the engine even warmed up.

Condoms.

Jim’s Eighth Rule of Parenting
Just be around. Have some sort of routine.

When I look back at being a kid, the best thing in the world was knowing that at 5 o’clock Pop would be home and at 5:30 there would be dinner on the table.

It didn’t matter if Pop was in a bad mood (and he never was) or that dinner included lima beans (and you’d still be eating them cold at 7:30. alone. in a darkened dining room). What mattered is that it happened. And all was right with the world.

Just be around.

Another thing that went a long way with me when I was a teenager was seeing Pop at a golf tournament. I didn’t know he was there. He didn’t tell me he was coming.

He waited along the fence on the 13th hole of some course neither of us had ever played before. I don’t know when he got there or how long he waited to see me. We didn’t acknowledge each other.

But he was there.

We never mentioned it to each other. It still means the world to me.

Just be around.

Jim’s Ninth Rule of Parenting

Wing it. That’s right, wing it.

Make it up as you go along. That’s what your parents did. And that’s what their parents did. And that’s what their parents did before them.

It seems to work. Why change now?

Jim’s Tenth Rule of Parenting

The most important rule of all: Love them. That’s it, just love them.

1 Comment

Gender Crisis

9/01/2009

On the last day of fourth grade, my daughter came off the bus crying inconsolably.

“What’s the matter, Baby?”

sob I got an F sniffle

My daughter was then and always has been a wonderful, prideful student. She’s always gotten A’s, and would not have it any other way.

“An F? In what?” I asked.

With more sobs and sniffles, she handed over the report card. I opened it.

An A here and a B there. No F’s.

“Where’s the F, Baby?”

She took the report card from my hands, closed it and, tears still in her eyes, pointed to a spot on the front of the card.

There it was. Under her name, under her teacher’s name, and under her class room number:

“Gender – F”

3 Comments

Nan’s Boob Trilogy

4/01/2009

Things you need to know:

  • When I was 8-years-old, I moved in with my maternal grandparents. From that day, Nan and Pop raised me.
  • Nan taught me how to play the organ. One of the songs she taught me was the drinking song, Little Brown Jug. (You can catch it on youtube here.)
  • Nan had a radical mastectomy in the early 1970s. A radical mastectomy is a complete amputation of the breast including the underlying chest muscles and lymph nodes. It leaves a cave of flesh where once there was a breast.
  • I am a Registered Nurse by education and license.

In nursing school, an introductory lecture on mastectomy started like this:

“As symbols of her gender, of motherhood and womanhood; as tools of her attractiveness and sexual abilities a woman’s breasts are very important to her. Disfiguring breast surgery, especially amputation, can be psychologically and spiritually devastating. A women’s self-worth and self esteem are often intractably tied to her breasts.â€

I must have made a goofy face. The lecturer noticed.

“Do you have a question, Mr. McCormick?â€

“Well, I don’t mean to disagree, but — Are you sure? Because that has not been my experience.â€

And then I went on to tell her several stories about Nan’s boob:

Part I

Nan was not a cut-up, but she was a funny woman. She was never one to tolerate insults, especially from those in her care. And that was all of us.

This is a tough old bird that you never wanted to mess with. However, she and I had a special arrangement. I could needle her and she’d take it. We traded verbal blows with each relentlessly.

One day, when I was in my teens and sitting on the couch watching television and Nan crocheting in her chair across the room, we got into some verbal jousting. I eventually got in a great zinger.

Nan was not one to be outdone, even when she had nothing left to say. She reached into the neckline of her shirt, pulled out her fake boob, and threw it at me. It landed, heavy and warm, in my lap.

A teenage boy, especially one that had yet to handle his first real breast, has no rebuttal for that.

She wins.

Part II

Same couch. This time Nan is sitting there with me. Pop is between us. His arm around Nan’s shoulder. It’s Sunday. We are watching The Lawrence Welk Show.

All is quiet until Nan abruptly stands up and reaches into the top of her shirt while saying, “Goddammit, Herb. If you want it that bad, here. I’m making tea.†And placed her fake boob, heavy and warm, into Pop’s hands. And walked into the kitchen.

A husband of nearly 50 years, especially one with a blank stare and his wife’s boob in his hand, has no rebuttal for that.

She wins.

Part III

As you’ve just read, Nan had a prosthetic breast. She never opted for plastic surgery to remake and remold her old breast. Who knows? In the 1970s this may not have even been an option.

Prosthetic breasts have to be replaced from time-to-time. I guess they wear out, especially when one was as busy with them as Nan apparently was.

My sister once helped Nan order a new boob out of a catalog. When it came in my sister was aghast. Neither she nor Nan realized that the suffix “-BK†stood for black.

Nan opened the box and there, in her hands, was a dark brown prosthetic breast. My sister was so embarrassed that she was nearly in tears, “I’ll send it back! I’ll send it back!â€

“You’ll do no such thing,†said Nan stuffing the plastic and silicone breast into her bra. “It fits perfectly.â€

That’s when I started whistling that drinking song that she taught me on the organ: Little Brown Jug.

A woman, especially one with a fake black breast in her bra, has no rebuttal for that.

I win.

Everybody sing!
Ha-ha-ha, Hee-Hee-Hee
Little brown jug, how I love thee

3 Comments

On All Things Big and Small

24/12/2008

From the feedback regarding my essay “Dirge of the Butterfly“, I am compelled to explain and expand upon my relationship with God and Soul and Existence and Spirituality and All Things Unknown and Unknowable.

I am not an atheist.
I am not a deist.

I do not believe in an Unknowable God.
I believe that the True God cannot be known.

I do not have a personal relationship with God.
I believe that God may be that Relationship.

I do not believe that God can break the rules of nature.
I believe that God may be the Rules of Nature.

Sometimes I look back to the religious traditions of my family. I come from a long line of people that believed that Jesus was tortured and punished for the sins of all people that came before him and all the people that came after, that he died as a sacrifice on a cross, that he was resurrected and sits, even now, at the right hand of God. That Jesus, in deed and in fact, is the Son of God.

I believe that Jesus is God’s Son, but only in the way that you are God’s Child and I am God’s Child. I don’t believe that this is very far off from what Jesus taught when he was alive.

I don’t believe that Jesus had to be resurrected to give validation to the things he taught. I believe that what Jesus taught is far more important than the mystery of his death and the myths that have sprung up, like flowers, after it.

Life, I am certain, is a Great Ocean on a dark, starry night. And all that we see and do, touch, taste, smell, and hear are but ripples, waves, and reflections on the water’s surface. I believe there are untold and unknowable mysteries in the depth below the waves and in the space reaching to and through those stars. There is more to life, Constant Reader, then what our senses perceive. Of this, I am certain.

I do not believe in the supernatural. Anything that Is, by very definition, is natural.

To the ancients, lodestones were magical, supernatural things. Now we know them as mundane magnets. The history of science has revealed many lodestones. And there are many more yet to be discovered.

But, like magnetism and gravity and the wave-particle nature of atoms, we feel their vibrations and see their effects every day. Perhaps this is the nature of déjà vu and premonitions and the like. Perhaps this is the Nature and the Essence of God.

One vaguely pretentious and condescending commenter noted that “Intellectual understanding is the booby prize” that I should “Follow my own lasting happiness (to) discover all that matters,” as if following my “happiness” (my daemons, my inner thoughts, the magical nature of me) has not lead me to these conclusions. Dear Constant Reader, it is this exact following that has lead me down this road and not the interminable treatises of a thousand thousand other Seekers.

At some point I realized that the Unknowable Nature of God and the Unknowable Nature of His (again, forgive the pronoun) existence is just that. Unknowable. And it’s okay. I was not given a handbook when I left my mother’s birth canal that said, “Start here and seek the One True God. If you get it right, you don’t have to worry about (insert cultural/religious prize of finding the One True God here) ever again. You win. Hosanna!”

I also realized that I don’t need magic to feel Spiritually filled. All This is magic enough for me. That a single point of everything and nothing, a “singularity,” exploded to form a universe with all its tricks of space, matter, and time is magic enough already. That it all has culminated from that single point of nothing-and-everything to me writing this and you reading it is more magical than I could dare expect or even imagine. That, Constant Reader, is the Essence of God. That is God.

I don’t pretend to have come to any conclusions. And I don’t have one answer. Not one single answer. Because I realize:

Any answers that can be made
Are not the True Answers.

1 Comment

Rust Never Sleeps

11/12/2008

I originally wrote this essay about 10 years ago. I’ve updated it a little. A friend reminded me about it and thought it would make a good companion piece to yesterday’s post: Deliberate Movement.

It starts early. Maybe you’re forty-five or fifty years old:

  • Your notice your feet are numb –
  • You develop a sore on your foot –
  • It doesn’t heal –
  • They amputate your toe –
  • And then your foot –
  • And then your lower leg –
  • You spent most of your time in a wheelchair because the stump that used to be your leg won’t heal –
  • You can’t wear your prosthesis –
  • You can’t get it up anymore –
  • You can’t empty your bladder –
  • You get frequent urinary tract infections –
  • They stick a tube into your penis from time-to-time –
  • Your fingers buzz –
  • You’ve had surgery after surgery after surgery –
  • You’re mostly blind –
  • Your intestines don’t absorb the food you eat –
  • And, even though you eat, you’re malnourished –
  • You have heart disease –
  • You get tired simply trying to stand–
  • Your kidneys fail –
  • Three days a week for four hours or so, you’re hooked up to a machine that cleans your blood (dialysis) –
  • Your memory fails –
  • You get confused easily –
  • You have a stroke –
  • They cut off your other leg –
  • You don’t recognize your family –
  • You have another stroke –
  • You have a tube in your stomach because you can’t eat or you forget to eat –
  • You forget who you are –
  • You fade away …

Welcome to Type II Diabetes. It happens — A LOT. I see it everyday.

Over and over and over again the sickest people I meet, the people who are wearing out and rotting away at home and in hospitals, are those who have “Adult Onset Diabetes” or “Type II Diabetes.” Ten years ago when I first wrote this little piece, you seldom heard about it. Now it’s everywhere.

I’m willing to bet that more than half the people in your local hospital are there because of complications of diabetes. I’m not kidding.

And I’d give you two-to-one odds that either you or me (or both of us) will one day sit in a hospital bed with complications resulting from diabetes.

It scares me to death. Depresses me sometimes.

And I don’t even think that science has a handle on it. There’s lots of confusion.

It’s my professional opinion (and I’ve been a Registered Nurse for almost two decades) that our bodies simply wear out. The system that processes all those starches and sugars that we eat becomes less and less efficient until, one day, it doesn’t work anymore. The doctor who finally figures it out for you gives you a diagnosis: “You have diabetes.”

Our bodies were not built to break down and break down and break down and break down carbohydrates. Day after day. Week after week. Year after year. We wear out.

Dr. Tamir Katz is not talking specifically about diabetes but, as far as I’m concerned, he has as good a handle on this stuff as anyone.

Give his website a read. Buy his book (the e-book is less than $4). Give yourself a chance.

1 Comment

Deliberate Movement

10/12/2008

“I always sleep with my head to the north and my feet pointing south,” my new friend reported when I asked him how he stayed so fit. “It keeps you inline with the earth’s magnetic field.”

Generally I put very little credence in such claims, but you didn’t see this guy. He had a back as straight as an iron rod, flat belly, wide shoulders and narrow hips, and a handshake that grabbed your attention far more confidently than your hand. He also had that certain shine and smile in his eye that whispers, “I know something that you don’t know.”

“Do you mind me asking how old you are?” I asked.

“Not at all. I’m 89-years-old.” You’d have thought he lived a fit 65 years or so. He went on talking about why he was so fit. “Every movement should be purposeful and direct. They should start at your legs and vibrate up. Do you know what I mean?”

I thought I did and said so.

“And breathe. You must breathe,” his eyes burned into mine. “You can live days, even weeks without food. A little while less without water. But you need air. Lots of it. A few times each minute.” He paused to make sure I was paying attention. “Breathe. Not like this,” he panted taking shallow breaths in and out of his mouth. “But like this,” he pulled air deep into his nose and held it for a moment. I hardly saw him exhale. “Your body, your cells need the oxygen.”

Where did you pick this up?

“I bought a yoga book and taught myself.” He described the book a little and talked about the author, some English guy. “Americans don’t know yoga,” he said. “They’re so impatient. Everything has to happen quickly. McYoga. Happy McYoga. If you want to learn yoga, have someone teach you the basics and stick with the basics. You won’t need anyone anymore. Learn as you go. Stick with a good foundation. And don’t go to an American.”

Yoga? How long have you been practicing?

“Oh. I don’t practice it. It just is. It’s like asking me: How long have you practiced walking? You don’t practice, you just walk. To me, yoga is purposeful movement.”

How long have you been purposefully moving?

“I guess I picked up that book in ’45, maybe a little early. I’ve been living like this for 60 years.”

Exercise?

“I walk. I move my body. I don’t have a formal exercise program. When I noticed a little flab around my midsection,” he grabbed his waist, “I started doing leg lifts. Have you ever done them? They’re not as easy as you think. I do a set with my head north and my feet south and then turn around the other way. I always keep in mind that I have to stay in harmony with the earth. It got me back to trim.”

When I asked him what he eats, he went on a big diatribe about the evils of hydrogenated (trans) fats. “The big companies introduced them to bakers in the thirties. It was cheaper and had a longer shelf life than what they were using. Before you know it every baker in the country was using it. The stuff is no good for you. I won’t eat it.”

And then we touched on my personal pet peeve, high fructose corn syrup. “That stuff’s in everything you drink except for water. I drink water…”

Alcohol?

“You get to a point with yoga that your body doesn’t want it, doesn’t need it, doesn’t miss it. I don’t drink alcohol because I don’t want to. No other reason.

“I eat a lot of vegetables. Remember, when you cook them, use very little water and cover the pot. Don’t cook them for too long. Just long enough to make them tender. Flavor with salt, but only kosher salt or sea salt.”

I generally eat my vegetables raw, uncooked, I remarked.

“Even better, if your stomach can tolerate it. Just remember to eat good foods. Try to stay away from the processed stuff. Move your body. Be purposeful and deliberate. Walk. Breathe. Really breathe.”

And with that, he shook my hand one last time. Long and harder than what is usually comfortable. I squeezed too. “Good,” he said. “Now release slowly. Slowly. See, we shared energy. We are brothers.”

He winked and then walked away. Purposeful. Deliberate.

4 Comments

If You See Kay …

9/12/2008

I once heard that the word “fuck†comes from a time when Britain was having a population shortage and one king or another wanted to increase the number of serfs under his rule. “Fornicate Under the Command of the King,†he ordered. “F.U.C.K.â€

This, however, is wrong.

I’ve also heard that “fuck†is an acronym for “Forced Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.†A term that was emblazoned onto rapists as punishment.

This also is untrue.

“Fuck†may have come from the German words “ficken†or “fucken†which mean “to punch or penetrate.†It may even be a word twisted from the Latin “futuere†which was slang for intercourse. But I think “fuck†comes from the Scandanavian word “fokken†which means “to breed cattle.â€

Googling the word “fuck†produced 195 million results. I didn’t check them all.

I forgot to check Wikipedia when looking up the origins of the word “fuck.†I hope they agree with me, because the Wikipedia is now the source for all knowledge in the known universe.

While doing research for that little bit I learned that 61% of men in one study or another had sex with a woman they didn’t like. My guess is that most of them were having sex with their wives.

Sperm 1: How much farther to the fallopian tubes?
Sperm 2: A long ways. We’ve only just passed the tonsils.

According to kamasutra-sex.org:

The ancient Hindus believed that life had three purposes: religious piety (dharma), material success (artha), and sexual pleasure (kama). All three were equal, and the erotic was celebrated as the seat of earthly beauty. In the Hindu world the pursuit of sexual pleasure was revered as a sort of religious quest.

For the sake of all that is holy, I’m considering changing religions. Or perhaps I already had and hadn’t noticed.

According to The Kinsey Institute there is a continuum of homosexuality:

  1. Exclusively heterosexual;
  2. Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual;
  3. Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual;
  4. Equally heterosexual and homosexual;
  5. Predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual;
  6. Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual;
  7. Exclusively homosexual.

I’ve often wondered about this. I mean, if you’re a guy and you think Brad Pitt is kinda cute, that’s a little gay.

Threesomes are all the rage now, right? I think those guy-guy-girl ones are a little gay too.

And what if you pick up a woman in a bar and are getting orally pleasured by her in the parking lot and you give her the obligatory reach-around and find a package? You just got oral from a guy. That’s gay. (Maybe that’s what the people at the Kinsey Institute describe as “incidentally homosexual.â€)

In the United States the word “fanny†means buttocks and might be used as a euphemism for said buttocks when talking with children. But in the United Kingdom it’s a vulgar word for vagina.

In the previous sentence I almost wrote the term “female vagina.†As if there’s a guy out there who has one. I know that some men are pussies but I can’t imagine a scenario where one is an integral part of his physical being. And if it was, you’d never get him out of the house.

The term “mother-fucker†has Oedipal overtones but is not based on one having intercourse with one’s mother. Instead it is derived from American slave owners raping a slave’s mother.

Hamlet:
Lady, shall I lie in your lap?

Ophelia:
No, my lord.

Hamlet:
I mean, my head upon your lap?

Ophelia:
Ay, my lord.

Hamlet:
Do you think I meant country matters?

Ophelia:
I think nothing, my lord.

Hamlet:
That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs.

That’s Shakespeare using the c-word. Certainly it is. He’s playing with us. He’s playing with words. It’s funny. I think.

I’ve heard some starting to use the phrase “cunty†to describe a person who is slightly south of “bitchy.†Believe it or not, the first person I heard use “cunty” was Martha Stewart’s daughter, Alexis. Of all people, I thought she’d be cunty. She’s not.

Finally I leave you with a joke (I started with one in the title, I’m not sure if you got it). Good luck trying to figure it out:

“I’ve invested in coffee.â€

“That’s funny. I don’t see you in coffee; I see you in tea.â€

6 Comments

Why Men Fear Vasectomies

3/12/2008

Prelude

Four years ago my last child was born. He is thirteen years younger than my first child, and seven years younger than my middle child. I make a joke saying, “My wife has sex with me every six years.” No, really; it’s a joke.

The Baby, as we call him, was a surprise. He is an uninvited, though not unwelcome, guest. He is a lust baby — and it wasn’t my lust this time (but that, as they say, is another story).

The Wife-Beast had been talking about getting her tubes tied since the Middle Child was born (during these times we didn’t call him our Middle Child; we called him our Thank-god-it’s-our last Child). But I kept saying, “That’s major surgery for you. I’ll get a vasectomy.”

Any guy who says “I’ll get a vasectomy” doesn’t really mean it. I certainly didn’t. No sane man volunteers for a vasectomy and means it. I bet that in the history of that particular surgery an appointment with Dr. Cut-nut was never made the day after a guy said, “I’ll get a vasectomy.”

Needless to say, weeks after Baby Number Three was born I rallied my courage and  made my appointment.

Part I of the Jim’s Vasectomy Trilogy

Men have been taught from a very early age to protect their testicles. We even develop games like Take a Bow to sharpen our protection abilities. Take a Bow is a game where one guy sidles up to another guy, shoulder-to-shoulder, and wrist-flicks him in the nuts while whispering in his ear, “Take a bow.â€

As an adolescent my friends and I had a very effective drill for sharpening each other’s nutsack defense. We called it the Scoot Ball. The Scoot is a euphemism for one’s scrotum and enclosed testicles. The Ball was not really a ball but a pair of dirty socks wrapped with athletic tape that roughly approximated an oblong ball.

The Scoot Ball had one purpose: To be thrown, without notice and with extreme prejudice, at your friend’s testicles. My awareness of the environmental dangers associated with groin exposure were acutely enhanced because of this dreadful, little game.

Most of my adolescent days were spent in Joe’s parent’s basement. The following scene was typical of a teenage boy attempting to get into Joe’s basement:

Door is cracked open. Entrant only peeks head through door. He scans the room. Three or more boys are sitting on couches, chairs, and/or floor watching television. Most have throw pillows over their laps. Those that don’t have throw pillows over their laps have their hands cupped over their genitals and worried looks on their faces. Except one. He’s the one with the wry smile and the Scoot Ball.

Still it is proper and expedient (you never know if there’s a room-wide conspiracy to have your jewels attacked) to announce, “WHO HAS THE SCOOT BALL?!†Sometimes you’re told. Sometimes you’re not.

Quickly and sidewise, the entrant tiptoes to an empty spot in the room. Often the entrance includes a sneak attack at a throw pillow or a full-frontal assault at the holder of the Scoot Ball. Attacks on the Scoot Ball, while not rare, must be done with extreme caution because it necessarily opens one’s boiler to direct Scoot Ball assault. I’ve seen more than one man go down this way.

One friend was furiously attacked with the Scoot Ball while he was lying supine with his hands locked behind his neck and groin carelessly exposed. The attacker scored a direct and devastating hit on my friend’s jewel box. The room gasped and groaned. My friend didn’t budge. We waited. He smirked, looked at his assailant, and said, “They were cleverly tucked between my legs.â€

Almost thirty years later he still gets mocked for that comment. He also gets mocked for wearing a cup that was at least two sizes too small. We called that cup “the Beady.†I don’t know why.

If this seems cruel, it’s not. It’s crucial preparation.

Even in my fourth decade of life, I have amazing groin defenses. Sometimes they’re a bit hair-trigger and extreme – yes, I’ve knocked down over-aggressive toddlers who toddled too close to that area. Three-year-olds are crotch-height, and they are seldom in full control of their wits, bodies, and limbs. Fast moving three-year-olds are the menace of every testicle on this planet.

Most men are willing to sacrifice a kid or two in order to protect their family bags. It’s true.

So think about all that ground-work. Over the course of many years, moves have been practiced, reactions sharpened, awareness keenly honed. And then after two or three kids your wife wants you to willfully close your eyes, drop your pants, and pay a stranger hundreds of dollars to approach your twig and berries with needles, knives, and other sharpened tools of malevolence. It’s silly if you think about it. And explains most men’s trepidation when discussing vasectomy.

On to Part II: Count Down to V-Day

3 Comments

Little Old Farmhouse

26/11/2008

In the winter of 1945-’46, 32-year-old Herbert R. Peterson returned home from the war. Home was the sleepy, central coast of New Jersey. Home was a small, whitewashed house on Clayton Avenue. Home was his wife, Ida Mae.

After the war, all was well with the world.

Soon Ida’s pregnant sister, Laura, and her five children were rescued from illness and poverty of the slums of Baltimore by the grace of Herbert. When George was born it was obvious that the house on Clayton Avenue was too small.

The Herflickers owned property in Toms River. Herbert’s sister, Hazel, married one of the Herflickers. Herbert (now Uncle Herb) entered into contract with the Herflickers. Herbert bought a 40-year-old farmhouse on a half-acre of land on Cedar Grove Road. Uncle Herb, Aunt Ida, Laura and the children moved into the old farmhouse.

Laura would tell the children, “I may be your mother, but you listen to Aunt Ida”. Everyone listened to Aunt Ida, or felt the love of a wooden spoon on the bare spot just below where your shorts ended. Or, if Aunt Ida was in a particularly perky mood, you’d get a headshot from the spoon.

That old farmhouse on Cedar Grove Road became the hub of many worlds. If you were a teenage boy living in Toms River in the 1950s, Aunt Ida and Uncle Herb’s house was the place to be. Not only were there four boys to hang with and Charlie Tiffany next door and cars to race in the back (if Aunt Ida didn’t catch you), there were two beautiful sisters, Shirley and Helen. The neighborhood boys, I’m told, would shimmy up a tree on the northeast edge of the property and peak through Helen’s window. This was a popular event every afternoon when she came home from school and changed out of her good clothes. All that and Aunt Ida would feed you.

Aunt Ida’s family would come up from Baltimore and stay at the house on Cedar Grove Road while they vacationed on the Jersey Shore’s pristine white beaches. Uncle Herb’s family would tear the engines out of cars in the garage. The garage was the old barn. Uncle Herb and one of the boys (Eddie) converted it into a garage.

Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends would all gravitate to the old farmhouse on Cedar Grove Road. Who could ask for anything more?

Mickey met Helen at the old farmhouse on Cedar Grove Road. I don’t know if Mickey was one of the tree-climbing boys. My guess is that he was. Mickey and Helen fell in love.

One dark evening, Helen quietly left that house and didn’t return. Mickey and Helen eloped. About a year later she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. The boy apparently had a large head, which was difficult for Helen to — umm — pass. The trauma laid her up for weeks. Thank God that Helen and the boy had Shirley, Helen’s younger sister. Shirley fell madly in love with the boy. And the boy madly in love with Shirley. (I have it on good authority that they’re still madly in love and though Shirley has two boys of her own still calls Helen’s boy her first-born.)

Fast-forward seven years; Helen and Mickey have been divorced three years. Helen and the children were living in Union City when she didn’t come home one night. The boy was left on the street with his 4-year-old sister. After a couple of foster homes, the children moved in with Mickey. But that didn’t last long. Circumstances weren’t quite right and life got complicated.

Re-enter Uncle Herb, Aunt Ida and the old farmhouse on Cedar Grove Road. The judge asked Aunt Ida, “What if the mother comes back and tries to take the children?” “I’ll break her fucking neck” is the answer that has survived legend.

Aunt Ida and Uncle Herb became the legal guardians to Helen and Mickey’s children. And there, in the old farmhouse on Cedar Grove Road, Uncle Herb and Aunt Ida raised two more children. All the while, the old farmhouse maintained as the hub of a large extended family. So large, in fact, that Helen’s boy often couldn’t tell you how he was related to one visitor or another. Just that they are “part of my family”.

Fast-forward again. Uncle Herb gently died in his sleep a year and a half before Aunt Ida breathed her last in January 2002. Holding her hands were Shirley and the boy’s wife, Sandi.

Herbert Raymond Peterson and Ida Mae Peterson’s will directed Shirley’s husband, Jeff to sell the old farmhouse on Cedar Grove Road. (Jeff, I have on good authority, had shimmied up that tree to see Helen in her undergarments). The proceeds of the sale would be distributed among the six original children

My mother is one of those children, Helen. Uncle Herb and Aunt Ida are my Nan and Pop.

And Sandi and I  bought the little old farmhouse on Cedar Grove Road. Three more children are being raised there. And, in the wonderful spirit of Uncle Herb and Aunt Ida, the little old farmhouse on Cedar Grove Road is once again glowing with love, family and friends.

:::

If you haven’t realized already, Jeffrey in yesterday’s story is the Jeff (aka Uncle Jeff) in today’s story. Aunt Ida, of course, is my Nan.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. This has our family’s greatest holiday. Christmas was dwarfed by it. Everyone came to the little old farmhouse, and Nan fed them a Feast For the Ages.

Many of the original Thanksgiving gang has passed: Nan, Pop, Uncle Ray, my mom, Aunt Marie. Others in the family have moved away: Uncle Johnny, Tommy, Lisa, Suzanne, Amy, Uncle George (kinda), Christopher, Patrick. The late comers are all gone or drifted after Nan and Pop died: Aunt Marie, Dwayne, the Tiffnays, the Herflickers. Even my sister only shows up every other year — her husband’s family demanding the odd year.

So it was left to my wife and Aunt Shirley. They’ve kept the tradition alive. The Thanksgiving feast has gotten smaller and smaller over the years. This year I feared it might only be me, my wife, and our three children, and Aunt Shirley and Uncle Jeff at the Great Feast.

How wrong I was. The little old farmhouse will host 29 people this year. Perhaps its biggest Thanksgiving ever.

Not only is my family coming, my wife’s family is too. We will be wall-to-wall packed with family and love and stories. There will be four — count ‘em — four turkeys! Uncle Jeff will have a new audience for his stories.

Nan would love this. This is what she lived her life doing — making sure people, family had a place to get together and celebrate each other. Thanksgiving being the perfect occasion to do it.

Thank you, Nan. Thank you, Pop. Thank you, Little Old Farmhouse.

5 Comments

Johnny’s Dead

25/11/2008

“Johnny’s dead,” said Jeffrey.

“We’re all dead,” said Eddie. Eddie was right. Eddie was always right. He stared to cry. He wasn’t crying because his brother had just died. He was crying because he knew that, as the youngest, he’d be elected to tell Aunt Ida.

All the kids in the neighborhood knew Ida Mae Peterson as Aunt Ida. Aunt Ida was the matriarch and Supreme Potentate of an extended family that included her widowed sister and her sister’s six children. “I may be your mother,” her sister once warned the children, “but you listen to Aunt Ida.”

Heaven, Hell, and Earth shook when Aunt Ida spoke, which was often. She ran a tight household and no one wanted to be on the business end of her wrath — that business end usually coming in the form of a head-shot with a wooden spoon.

The never-spoken, open, dirty-little secret about Aunt Ida was that she had a burning love for everyone, particularly the children. Perhaps that’s why they all listened to her. They didn’t fear her punishment; they feared that she’d revoke her love. Hers was that type of love that, if polished, vaulted much more mundane folk into Sainthood.

It is this stern-faced love that was the mortar of a home that became the hub of many worlds. In the late 1950s her home, and the field and woods behind it, became the place where the neighborhood teenage boys gathered and did the things that teenage boys did. One of the things that teenage boys did very well was drool over the two teenage girls that lived under her roof but that, as they say, is a different story.

This story is about boys, Johnny’s death by arrow, and those unfortunate enough to have lived through it.

Johnny was one of Aunt Ida’s sister’s kids. He, his brothers Raymond and Eddie, Charles Tiffnay from next door, Jeffrey Wilson and his good buddy Charles Godfrey, and a couple other hangers-on coalesced at the house one late afternoon in the spring of 1959. They brought with them their bows and arrows and silly-wonder.

Soon a ruckus of only a boy’s sort evolved. “Not here,” Aunt Ida yelled through the kitchen window. “Out in the field!”

With their heads slung low, the gaggle of boys dragged to the field. Charles Godfrey, the most forward looking of the boys, shot an arrow straight into the air. It disappeared into the dusking sky and then reappeared a moment before it THWAATTED into the grassy ground at his feet.

Jeffrey followed, for Jeffrey always followed Charles Godfrey. TWANG, FSSS, silence and the arrow disappeared. THWAAT! Oh, their hearts jumped with glee.

“This is the neatest thing ever,” laughed Johnny. It was at least the neatest thing that day. “How about we all shoot our arrows in the air and see whose comes down last!”

The boys cheered and prepared their bows. “Everybody ready? 1-2-3, NOW!” And, as one, they let loose their arrows. TWANG, TWANG, TWANG, TWANG, TWANG! FSSSSSSSSSssssssssssss. silence.

THWAAT! THWAAT! THWAAT! THWAAT!

Oh, they laughed. All but Johnny who was still looking skyward with delight. “Mine’s still up there,” he smiled. “Wow!”

The boys looked up and then at Johnny. His neck was stretched, his eyes desperately searched the deep blue, and there was an arrow sticking smack-dab out of the center of his forehead. Somehow his arrow landed right in his head. Somehow he didn’t feel it. Somehow he didn’t even see it now. Somehow …

“Oh. Shit,” said Charles Tiffnay.

No one breathed. Except Johnny. “Whaat?” he asked and laughed in that silly way that’s somewhere between delight and fright. He knew something was wrong.

He’d brought his head down to look at his friends. The boys all looked at Johnny, wide-eyed, but no one made a sound. The arrow didn’t move. It was stuck in his head. Sticking straight out of his head. Doubtless lodged deep in his brain.

The hangers-on had already scattered, leaving the core boys alone. In the dark. In the middle of the field. Eddie crying and dead Johnny among them.

No one remembers who told Aunt Ida or even what happened after. Surely hell ensued. Bows and arrows were certainly confiscated. And someone took a wooden spoon off the side of the head, probably Johnny, because that’s how Aunt Ida rewarded stupidity.

Yes, Johnny survived. He’s probably told this story a hundred times to his sons.

I heard it from Uncle Jeff. Uncle Jeff, aka Jeffrey, married my mom’s sister. My mom was one of Aunt Ida’s sister’s girls.

Aunt Ida’s sister is my Grandma; Aunt Ida is my Nan.

Nan raised me.

And this story is part of me.

:::

Postscript: Uncle Jeff is coming to my house on Thursday for Thanksgiving. He is the family mythologist and has a hundred of these stories. This is my favorite and I do him little justice in the retelling.

Uncle Jeff learned his story-telling craft from one of the old masters, Jean Shepherd. You might know Mr. Shepherd as the author and narrator of A Christmas Story ["You'll shoot your eye out, kid"].  In the ’50′s and ’60s, Shepherd had a radio show on WOR in New York. Jeff made sure he was in the car when Shepherd’s show was on.

Listening to Uncle Jeff tell a story is like being in the backseat of a ’58 Plymouth going around the block one more time just to hear the end of the show.

I hope he tells this story at Thanksgiving dinner.

:::

I wrote a little bit more about the house here: The Little Old Farmhouse.

7 Comments