Thursday, December 30, 2010

Go See Dog Poopies

York is a magical city--one of England's most sought after tourist destinations. There are ruins hundreds of years old. There are the Roman walls that surround the city, whose stones still tell the stories of centuries past. There are Viking remnants and festivals. There are museums, statues, shops, cafes, tiny cobblestone streets and even an ancient castle.

And there are dog poopies.

Yesterday, for Tyler, dog poopies were what it was all about. After being couped up indoors for a couple of days playing with new presents and having long talks (that part Jen and I did when Tyler was sleeping), we decided it was high time to get outdoors again.

So Tyler grabbed his large uptruck, held onto the shovel, and we went for a long walk up and down our street. We saw old people and young people and middle-aged people--all of whom received a warm "HELLO!" from Tyler and he and I and his uptrucks strolled past them (sometimes, but infrequently, forcing them off the sidewalk in order to allow his uptruck space to drive past).

We saw Christmas trees in windows with a variety of lights--some red, some blue, some white.

We saw the morning mist mixing with the beginnings of early afternoon fog.

And we saw two monstrous dog poopies.

Tyler stopped dead in his tracks, released the shovel by which he had been pulling his uptruck, and he reached out his mittened hands and proceeded to grab the dog poopies and try to pick them up.

"Whoa! Tyler--no, no very yucky dog poopies. No picking them up...yucky, dirty, eeewwie." These were the first words my mouth could utter while I watched my son grab hold of the dog poopies.

Tyler immediately obeyed (yes!) and dropped the dog poopies. Then he looked at me with a quizzical visage, as if wondering, What's really so bad about dog poopies?

Then, Tyler began to translate his thoughts into words, and he said, "Hold it right here." He pointed with one hand to his other hand.

"No Tyler--no hold dog poopies. Dog poopies stay on ground. Right there. Yucky, dirty, eewwwie." I pointed to the spot on the ground where the dog poopies sat.

Tyler thought for another few moments. Then, out he came with, "Eat it."

I couldn't help the bursting laughter.

Then: "No, Tyler, no eat dog poopies. Yucky, dirty, eeewwwie. Your tummy will say, YUCKY YUCKY YUCKY OWIE! if you eat dog poopies."

Tyler thought, then said, "Daddy eat it."

"No Tyler, Daddy's tummy will say YUCKY YUCKY YUCKY OWIE! too."

After another moment, Tyler finally tried one last time: "Hold it?"

"No...remember: yucky?"

Tyler bent down to pick up his uptruck shovel, then said, in farewell, "Dog poopies stay right there."

And off we went, back towards Lesley Avenue.

Later that day, after Tyler had finished his nap and we had all eaten lunch, Jen joined us for an afternoon walk. We said HELLO! to people, we saw the lights on the Christmas trees, we found a variety of trees.

And, indeed, in Tyler's own words, we made sure to "go see dog poopies" one more time.

We didn't eat it, though.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Our Longing

I'm not sure why it is that whenever life grows calm, and quietness saunters all around, I turn to poetry. If I sit long enough in a chair, or on a couch, or on the carpet, or on half of a pillow, or even should I lean (for a long time) against a wall, it's like my fingers start itching and I wonder, Do I need to apply some lotion? Lotion-y goodness? Slimy slippery stuff to the rescue?

And sometimes, indeed, it's true: my skin has cracked a bit from the coldness, and lotion is what it's all about, Home Slice.

But other times, in these quiet moments, when the need for lotion is quelled or calmed, my fingers itch for another reason. And they creep towards that fountain pen Jen bought for me for my birthday, and they whisper, Poetry! Poetry! We want POETRY! (Okay, it's kind of a loud whisper--more like a chanting kind of whisper, I guess).

This morning, they did the itching thing, and here's the poem they crafted:

Our Longing

Power is more parasite than partner--
This, we know.
We don't crave control:
Crushing dead leaves yields
Only the sound of a show.

Longing for voice,
We walk the long way
Round the world's stage.
Should one, even one,
Meet our eyes and hear our words,
We'll spend our lives
Singing that reprise
In a theater where
Power is absurd.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On Not Missing the Bus

Before this year, the last time I remember missing the bus was when I was 11 years old and in the seventh grade. It's a vivid memory: me dragging my backpack behind me, running wildly after the bus, screaming out, "Wait, wait, PLEASE!"

But Mrs. Burgee--kind bus driver as she was--had a policy. And that policy was: if you weren't waiting in the line when her bus came to its squeaky halt, you weren't getting on the bus.

I hated missing the bus. Watching that yellow ride traverse forward without me, chugging along, thinking, If only I had spent less time putting glops of gel in my hair, I would have made it!

So when I started high school, I felt waves of relief each morning as I hopped on my bicycle and rode the three miles to school. I never had to worry about missing the bus--and if I was really running late, my dad loaded my bike into his trunk and he would kindly drop me off on his way to work.

So, it's been years since I missed a bus--18 years, to be exact.

But this past October, when Jennifer and I and Tyler began our new life in York, England, that seventh-grade trauma came back to haunt me as a grown man, husband and father.

Like anything bad that happens in middle school, some experiences are hard to forget. Missing the bus in York is especially hard to forget because we didn't just miss one of them.

We missed three.

It was October 9, and we were finally going to do it: after a little over a week in our new home, without a car, Jen and I had decided it was high-time we start exploring. So, we asked our neighbors where the buses can be caught near our area. They told us the # 7 Bus gets you most places you'd want to go, and it stops about a five minute walk up the road.

So, we got the diaper bag set, extra juice, snacks, and our camera, and out the door we went in search of the # 7 Bus.

And what great timing!

Just as we arrived at the bus stop, we saw a glorious # 7 Bus come streaming towards us. I smiled wide. This is going to be no problem at all! Living without a car will be easy--maybe even more fun!

I held Jen's hand, looked her in the eye, and smiled. Tyler was excited, too. "Beeeg Bus! Beeeg Bus!"

My smile feel flat off my face at approximately the same moment that the # 7 Bus flew right past us, not slowing in the least.

I turned to Jen. "Hhmmph. Maybe that one was full or something? Or maybe off-duty?"

Jen responded, "Yeah, that could be. But it looks like another one should come soon. It says here the # 7 Buses come every ten minutes or so."

My smile returned. Surely, I thought, the next bus will have room, or will be in functioning order.

Ten minutes later, another # 7 Bus made its way down Fulford Road towards us.

Tyler: "Beeeg Bus!"

Jen: "Let's hope this one stops..."

Me: Of course it will, it doesn't even look half full, there's no way it isn't going to--"

And as this second # 7 Bus whooshed past us, I can't lie to you: I was starting to get kind of ticked off.

As we waited, I started thinking to myself, Maybe there is some kind of secret code? Or maybe we are on some British version of Candid Camera, and someone is filing this whole thing--just to see how we're going to, no, that can't be. Maybe I just need to sort of flag down the bus--make sure they know that we ACTUALLY want to get on it...yes, yes, surely that's it.

Ten minutes later, as a third # 7 Bus came rushing towards us, I held both my hands up over my head and started jumping up and down.

The driver smiled wide as he hit the gas and streamed past us.

Almost entirely out of ideas, and getting ready to hang our heads and walk home again, I decided that it was better to ask than to stew. So I started asking everybody who walked by.

"How do you get a bus to stop and pick you up?"

The first two people had no clue.

The third--an older woman wheeling some sort of bag along--responded with a warm smile, "Why, just stick out your hand like this." She proceeded to stick out her arm perpendicular to her body, and hold it politely there.

When the fourth # 7 Bus came roaring towards us, I didn't jump. I didn't wave my hands. I calmly and respectfully held out my arm--perpendicular to my body as the woman had shown me--and tried to look as British as I could.

The driver hit the brakes and stopped perfectly in front of us.

Flash forward two and a half months: it's December 22, and Jen and I decide we're going to head into the city with Tyler to do some last-minute Christmas shopping and visit the Yorkshire Museum (which we affectionately call the DINOSAUR MUSEUM! for Tyler's sake).

It didn't hit me until we were already on the bus how comfortable we've grown with living in a new place, and doing without many of the comforts we had come to previously depend on and think of as so essential.

We talked with excitement and we flagged down the bus, hopped on, and got off at the exact right spot.

After all, we had made this trip more than a few times in the last two months.

And as we returned home, Tyler atop my shoulders, regaling all who would listen with his vivid memories of the dinosaur skeletons and the video of the Golden Frog, I had to smile again.

This time--and hopefully never again--no bus has passed us by to wipe that smile off my face.

Indeed, my smile remained as I fed Tyler lunch and put him down for his afternoon nap. And the single line running through my head that tied itself like a thread to my smile was this: We live here; this is our home.

And man, does it feel good to be home.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Keep Calm and Query On!

If you've read much of this blog, you know that Winston Churchill's slogan during the war, "Keep Calm and Carry On!" has become a rallying cry of sorts for us here.

Going through intense withdrawal from the car, the job, the microwave, the drying machine?

Keep calm and carry on!

Winter Vomiting Virus come to hang out with you for a bit?

Keep calm and carry on!

Your boiler breaks in the middle of the frigid winter, leaving your home heat-less and forcing you to camp out within your walls for a night?

Keep calm and carry on!

And it strikes me, now, that this is also excellent advice for a writer.

If you want to write, if you've dreamed of writing, or if you love the way words sweep, sleep, or creep together, then chances are you've hit your moments of crisis.

Perhaps you've hit that wall where you sit down at your computer, and all your brain can say to your fingers is: It ain't happening, today, man. No way, no how.

And even though you respond to your brain by saying, Hey, I promised myself I was going to at least get one page a day, no matter how terribly awful and dreadful the writing is, your brain simply lays back and falls asleep, while the little blinking cursor of Microsoft Word still mocks your efforts in perfect rhythm.

Or, maybe you've gotten those glorious 200 pages of a novel, and you've revised it, and you've reworked it, and then you've revised some more, and you've asked a friend who is also a writer to read it, and you've incorporated her revisions into further revisions, and then you look at it and you speak to it as if it were a real, live human: You exist! YES! You are here, all 200 pages of you!

But then, perhaps, agents and editors aren't--for some strange reason--as thrilled about your 200 pages as you are.

Or, perhaps you've crafted two novels, and both have been published. Yet you sit down again at the computer, and your brain still won't release the critical voices that would prefer you sit quietly and do something else with your time. For goodness sakes, clean out your belly button lint already, will you!?

Whatever form your writing foe takes, Keep calm and query on.

No matter how little you feel like it, no matter how futile it sometimes seems, you must keep writing. You must continue to send out queries. You must continue to make contact, believing that the words you scribe do possess all the possible power and beauty in them to affect one life.

One small life.

In one--just one--possibly big way.

When I was in my third year of teaching, I gave a novella assignment for my 11th grade students to complete. Over the course of three months, they would be required to write 70 pages of fiction.

They flipped.

I relished the chance to challenge them with something of which they thought themselves incapable.

But every one of them rose to the challenge. Week after week, they crafted their pages, brought them into our classroom, and we shared our woes, joys, hopes, and fears about writing with one another. I gave them the challenge because, Lord knows, I needed it myself.

Sometimes, the process of writing can become so mystified and covered in an aura of secretiveness, or placed on the top of some hierarchy, or portrayed as only accessible by the smartest, or the most educated, or the "talented" or the "gifted."

All of that is one load of crappola.

I would have to side with Toni Morrison on this front, when the Nobel-prize winning author powerfully claimed, "If anything I do, in the way of writing novels (or whatever I write) isn't about the village or the community or about you, then it is not about anything."

Some of the best stuff I have ever read wasn't produced in the highest escahalons of society, or by those who would seek to make a name for themselves for that purpose alone.

Indeed, to this day, the best poem I have ever read was one written by a previous 7th grade student of mine named Mike. He called it, "Walking at Night," and it moved me more deeply even than my other favorite poem, "When You Are Old," by the great Yeats himself.

All this is to say that to write you only need two things: a heart and a pencil. (Well, maybe a pair of hands and some paper would help. And while we're at it, throw in the brain, and a desk, maybe a room with a view...)

You do not need a degree. Indeed, one of America's greatest authors, Gore Vidal, never even graduated college.

You do not need permission. Indeed, many of the world's most powerful works were written by people who had teachers that told them they would never do anything of value.

You do not need money. Look at the words of Anne Frank--they burn with the fire of redemption and love, yet her room certainly had no veranda.

You do not even need praise (though if you are a writer, you certainly think you do). No matter what anyone says about your writing, there is only one person's opinion and voice that truly count: your own.

And should you choose to wade through the waters of fear, worry, criticism, and lack of discipline, you may find that the words you craft do, indeed, end up making a difference in one life.

And that life may be your own.

So yes: keep calm. When it seems a hopeless endeavor, and you're onto your fourth novel, and you feel like something isn't clicking...keep calm! Just keep writing. Keep reading. Let yourself continue to believe you need to create, and that the words you craft may, indeed, reach the village one day.

And yes: query on. When it seems that little you write makes an entry into the world, remind yourself that this is the case for all writers--even the truly remarkable ones. They craft pages and pages and pages that will never see the outside of a desk drawer, or a hard drive. Keep writing, and keep sending your work out into the world, whether to magazines, publishers, agents, or even the trees and the birds (more than a handful of poets have honed their own lines reading them aloud to, yes, the birds and the bees). Query on!

You never know when one word may meet another and start a relationship that just won't quit, and hey, don't you want to be around to watch what happens from there?

On Walking

Before England, the longest winter walks I did were from our apartment to the car.

Apartment to car. Drive to work. Walk from car to school. Teach. Walk from school to car. Home. Walk from car to apartment.

And that ultimately included most of my outdoor time, except for the occasional play-time in the snow. But if there was ever a place to go, amidst 20-degree weather, there was no way I was going to actively choose to walk there.

Now, all that has changed. In the absence of a car, our feet must bear the brunt of most travel.

And I love it.

Last night, Jennifer, Tyler, and I all took the 25 minute stroll to the Fishergate area of York, to visit another couple with a young child. It was an evening outing, and the icy air combined with the pitch-black sky (already!) made it feel like something of an adventure.

By the time we arrived to the other family's home, being welcomed in and served tea and crumpets while our children ran around, playing with toys and other objects-that-could-become-toys, the warmth that engulfed us made the walk there that much more special for some reason.

To go from the coldness of the outdoor air into the warmth of a home is, perhaps, one of life's greater joys.

As the evening progressed, Tyler became ever sillier, shouting out, "I like cows!" to which he wanted Jen and I to respond, "I like cows, too!"

Tyler: I like couch!

Luke: I like couch, too!

Jen: I like couch, too!

Tyler: Kate?

Kate: (the mother of the other child): I like it, too, Tyler.

Tyler: Phil?

Phil: (the father of the other child): Yup, me too.

Tyler: May?

May (the one-year old daughter): Aaahh!

Tyler: I like cookies!


By the time we said goodbye, and entered the frigid air again, the walk home felt, well, kind of giddy. At 7pm on a Saturday night, here was my wife, myself, and our son walking along Fulford Road in York, the large busses streaming past, the night sky sparkling, the moon fresh and full.

Arriving home, yes: we cranked our heat.

Tyler built with his blocks while Jen and I talked about how much stinking fun it was to walk.

Just to walk.

Then, this morning, as we all arose to go to St. Oswald's church, we layered ourselves for another walk.

And finally, this afternoon, we bundled up once more for a trek to a local farm to get our Christmas tree. Tyler knew exactly which tree he wanted. He pointed to it, and even though its top was sparse, Tyler was assured it was the best one of the lot.

As we wrapped it securely in the stroller, and Tyler hung out on my shoulders, the walk home felt good. It felt fresh.

Yes, it also felt incredibly cold.

But entering our warm little home, I felt the rush of gratefulness that comes when you travel from one extreme to the other, and I wouldn't trade anything for such a journey.

Especially not a cold walk or two.

(Or three.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rambo Vs. Atticus Finch (Part I in FIGHT THIS! NOT THAT!)

It is a cold morning. Snow lays heavy on tree branches. The sun has not yet risen. A solitary bird (yes, a mockingbird) sings sweetly. Front doors are just starting to open for the morning paper. On a sidewalk, the silhouettes of two men can be spotted, talking in low voices.

Rambo: Atticus, I'm glad you agreed to meet me here this morning. The siuation could not be more dire, and we're in need of every good man who can hold a gun. And let me tell you, word has gotten around that you are a remarkable shot--the way you killed that rabid dog and all.

Atticus: Mr. Rambo, it's nice to make your acquaintance, and I've always said that it's best to meet with someone face to face, no matter how you think you may disagree with them. In meeting, one often finds that the human heart is more similar than not.

Rambo: Huh?

Atticus: What did you want to ask me?

Rambo: Good--I like a man who gets straight to the point. I want you to join my army.

Atticus: Which army might this be, Mr. Rambo?

Rambo: Well, it was originally the United States military, but they refused to fight the war that they needed to fight--the war that basically said Yo, Wussies, fight this war or else! And the military wouldn't let us fight the GOOD FIGHT, you know? All those feminists, equal rights people, and civil rights groups getting in the way of WHAT WE NEED TO DO AS A COUNTRY, and as the human race.

Atticus: Allow me a moment to catch my breath, Mr. Rambo. And, as a personal request, would you mind putting down the AK-47 as we speak?

Rambo: I don't put this gun down for many men, but because I respect you, Atticus, I will.

Atticus: Thanks.

Rambo: But only for three and a half minutes.

Atticus: Then let me ask you this quickly: who do you want to fight?

Rambo: Sweden.

Atticus: Sweden?

Rambo: Yes.

Atticus: The entire country, or just someone named Sweden?

Rambo: The entire country.

Atticus: Can you share your reasoning behind this desired assualt, Mr. Rambo?

Rambo: There are a lot of reasons, Atticus, most of which I can't go into. But I will share these three: 1) I have so many huge guns (both on my body and actual weapons) that I feel this insane craving to use them fast. I haven't gotten to employ them since, like, a long, long time ago; 2) Sweden is always so annoying, you know? Just kind of sitting there pretending like it's all friendly and everything. But I'm thinking, What if it's not? You know? Sweden could be preparing a massive take-over of the United States, which absolutely NO ONE would ever expect. Except for me, that is. Finally, 3) All of my guns have been loaded and then reloaded thousands of times, and the process is becoming very boring without anyone to shoot at.

Atticus: I see. Have you slept recently, Mr. Rambo?

Rambo: I don't need sleep. I just reload my guns whenever I get tired.

Atticus: I see. Have you recently read a good book, or visited with friends

Rambo: The way I see it, books are for people who don't know how to reload their guns. And friends are for people who need help reloading their guns, which I never need help with.

Atticus: Have you tried putting your energy and strength towards something which doesn't require shooting a gun at someone?

Rambo: Why?

Atticus: Have you ever tried it?

Rambo: Guns solve problems. This is my war. I have the guns. I must solve the problem--if only the wussies would get out of the way and let me do it!

(In the distance, the mockingbird sings sorrowfully, flying closer to where Atticus and Rambo speak.)

Rambo: Excuse me, Atticus, let me take care of this measly little creature...

(Rambo picks up his AK-47 and begins firing. Atticus Finch--with a strength no one, and certainly not Rambo, would ever have guessed--grabs the gun from Rambo's thirsty hands and empties all the cartridges from it.)

Rambo: (In shock from the strength of the older man) What did you do that for?! The stupid bird is getting away! Look!

Atticus: (Shakes his head and offers up a silent prayer) It's a sin to kill a mockingbird, Mr. Rambo. And it's a sin to kill for courage, too. Courage is more than a man with a gun in his hands.

Rambo: (Utterly confused) Then...then...what is it?

Atticus: Follow me; let me tell you about it.

(As the first shafts of sun peek through snowy tree branches, Atticus and Rambo walk off, talking deeply. Rambo's gun remains on the ground, empty, already becoming buried in the light dusting of snow that begins to descend. Fade to black.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Return of Remarkable Rain; Starbucks; Poetry!

Today, we were graced with the glory of rain.


It was the first of the wet stuff we had seen in three weeks, and as we watched it wash away the final remnants of snow, we felt giddy.

Kid-like, really.

Goofy with excitement that it felt like March and yet it is only mid-December.

Everywhere we could see green grass, revealing itself more and more as the day wore on until, finally, at around four in the afternoon, as I walked next door to pick up a Santa Clause outfit in preparation for my first official appearance as old St. Nick, all I could see was green.

As lovely and playful as it was to live inside a snow globe, it feels just as lovely and thrilling to see gobs of green everywhere we look.

The appearance of Spring in December called Jen, Tyler, and I out of our house--which felt marvelous after being cooped up with the three-way virus for a while--and we went on an adventure.

To Starbucks.

I know what you're thinking.

You: Starbucks, man, really? That's an adventure?

Me: Heck yeah!

You: Why?

Me: Because, now that we don't have a car, going anywhere outside of a twenty minute walking radius of our house feels like, well, and adventure.

You: Ah.

Me: Yes.

You: Anything crazy happen on your adventure?

I'm glad you asked! It was an adventure filled with mechanical bears in the mall-area that houses the Starbucks where the bus takes us. But not only mechanical bears. Our little outing also included: books (books!), puzzles, running laps around Christmas trees, huge boats hanging from ceilings (well, one huge boat, hanging from one ceiling), and a Really Cool Moment.

This was the Really Cool Moment: As the three of us sat in Starbucks, Jen and I sharing a venti Christmas blend coffee, Tyler guzzling down his Naked blueberry juice, I just kind of looked up at both of them and thought, Man...whoa...they rock. Jen and Tyler are awesome.

And for a guy on his 30th birthday, I can't imagine a better gift than this realization--than knowing that I am thankful for my wife and our son, and that they make me want to be a better man.

Okay, if you're still with me, I'll now ask forgiveness for the cheesy line above, and I'll ask for forgiveness for borrowing it from Jack Nicholson's character in As Good as It Gets. But as cheesy and as plagiaristic as it is, I have to report it because, well, because it's how I felt watching Jen and Tyler.

And since this blog has already begun waxing sappy / poetic, I'll take this opportunity to lean into a poem I recently scribed, thinking about what a son or a daughter really wants from his or her parents. (I'll also thank Ernest Hemingway for letting me borrow one of his titles for a line of the poem!) And here we go:

The Unspoken Plea

When fears abate
A certain reality arises:
The recognition that the moon glows,
And the sun also rises.

The rain of terror
Never lasts long on our hearts;
When the gathering grace speaks,
The Wizard of Oz departs.

Look, then, at your son, your daughter:
Fill him with the words of yes;
Surround her with the words of hope.
With your voice, destroy regrets.
With your eyes, forgive distress.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Winter Vomiting Virus

That's what the UK National Health Service is calling it.

And it lives up to every bit of its name.

First, it's definitely a cold, wintry virus--both literally and figuratively. Literally, because the virus was born amidst freezing temperatures and aloft huge mounds of fluffy white snow. Figuratively, because the virus is certainly cold-hearted, like a viper, or a python, or a rattlesnake, or another snake, or something else that has no warmth at all in its heart.

Second, I'm glad that the NHS lets us know right up front that it is a VOMITING virus--just in case we were confused about what this virus was going to do to our throats and tummies. Indeed! There will be vomiting galore! Vomiting everywhere!

The NHS was right about that one. Good call.

Thirdly, it's certainly a virus, in the most virusy sense of that word. It spreads. It leaps tall buildings in a single bound. It jumps from person, to person, to person. (Just like a virus.)

Tyler came down with it first. Upchuck tally: five times, all in one session.

Then I caught the virus. Upchuck tally: twenty times, spread equally throughout five sessions.

Finally, Jennifer caught the virus. Upchuck tally: twenty-two times, spread throughout four sessions.

This Winter Vomiting Virus activity began in out little home on Lesley last Wednesday evening. Tyler had woken from his nap upset, and while I attempted to soothe him--rub his head, scratch his back, you know--he proceeded to deliver a massive waterfall all over me and his room.

I phoned Jen, who came rushing home from her office on campus. And here I will admit: Jennifer is calmer and better in a pickle than I am. In a pickle, I begin to wonder what in the heck to do: eat the pickle? Throw the pickle away somewhere? Or I ask, WHY DID THIS PICKLE HAVE TO COME FIND US TODAY!?

Jennifer, meanwhile, calmly assesses the situation, trusts that all will be well, and then carries on. (Indeed, she's a role model for me of Keep Calm and Carry On, the sign that now hangs on a wall as we descend our stairs.)

Tyler calmed down, the upchuck on his floor was sanitized, and we all eventually took a deep breath.

Until the next day, when I phoned Jen at her office again.

I felt the gurgling, you see.

In the tummy.

Jen came home yet again, and this time, she and Tyler stayed calm while I did some enormous spewing.

The next day, we all stayed home, in our pajamas, and watched massive amounts of Blue's Clues, Barney, Bob the Builder, The Fibbles, and Thomas the Tank Engine. For a family that watching basically nothing on the television, we all kind of collapsed and spent hours hanging off the couch singing ridiculous songs that would stay in my head late into the night as I was trying to fall asleep.

But before sleep that evening, yes, you guessed it: Jen felt the gurgling.

In the tummy.

Sparing the really icky, yucky, gooey, gassy details, we all made it to Monday morning.

As I type these words, Jen is at the office on campus.

Tyler is napping.

I am writing.

Monday morning never felt so dang glorious.

And the rub of it all is that making it through a tough virus like that--a cold-hearted virus--makes us realize that life isn't about perfection. It isn't about trying to live in such a way that nothing bad ever happens, no mistakes are ever made, or you never get sick.

Because, after all, let's face it: no matter what, you're going to get sick.

Even if you lived inside a bubble, hey, you're going to get mighty sick of that bubble, right?

There's no way to escape some vomiting in this lifetime (the literal vomiting, or the figurative kind). What we realize after our little dance with the cold-hearted snake is this: what matters is the way you learn to lean on one another, fortifying each other for the dreams and the journey ahead, reminding each other that nothing good ever happened without trial.

The difficulty of our pain and the height of our joy are both second to the way we love each other through either.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Morning Poem

Today, Jennifer and I woke to the alarm, trying to start a new routine of waking early, before our little man beckons us arise with the sound of his melodious voice regaling the glory of UPTRUCKS!

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about revision--the hard work of revising writing, rewriting sections, re-envisioning characters and ideas and scenes. But this has led me into pondering the revision of life, too--the hard work of, well, revising sections of our lives, the characters we've become, the ideas we house, and the scenes we people.

So, during this early morning, I scribbled the following poem on revision:

After Birth

First attempts sprout like fire--
Their germination is surrounded
By the warm air of possibility.
But coldness always comes,
And busy hands tire.

Hold the palms you would forsake
Before your very face.
Breathe softly onto them,
Warming them for the task ahead.
Learn to believe again.

Revision does not leap in flame,
But its dream is still the same:
To grow a new creation,
To release it by name.
It will sprout legs and walk to tame
The beasts of doubt, despair,
Fear, and fame.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Glory of Routines

7:14 a.m. - Tyler wakes up; begins reading The Monkey Puzzle or The Birthday Book in his crib; Talks to the truck posters on his wall

7:18 a.m. - Jennifer and I roll towards one another, asking with our eyes, Morning already...really?

7:19 a.m. - Jennifer and I pretend to be asleep after our silent exchange

7: 24 a.m. - Tyler: Uptrucks! Uptrucks on wall! Red uptruck! Yellow uptruck! Bob Builder uptruck! Uptrucks!

7:27 a.m. - Jennifer and / or I sit up in bed. Deep breath. Lay back down.

7:29 a.m. - Tyler: Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday all the uptrucks...Happy Birthday to you!

7:32 a.m. - Jennifer and I arise, knock on Tyler's door.

And so the day continues.


Even if we don't create routines, we have routines. Routines are like the ozone layer--at times, they may be thinning in our lives, but they're always, always there. Even if they're bad ones, we've got them.

Jennifer and I are realizing more and more how essential creating good routines really is. For Tyler, we've got it pretty well set. Bedtime, naptime, meal time, play time, truck time, snack time, dance time, playgroup time, outdoor time--you name it, chances are we've got it built in to some sort of routine.

And if we miss a routine-oriented item (i.e., hey, we're having a blast...let's not worry about the nap today! Let's keep frolicking in the foot and a half of snow!) we know that decision will return to haunt us later on in the form of some child who has switched roles with our son and instead wants to purposely try to disobey every single direction we give (even if that direction is: Eat ice cream!).

But it's only dawning on us now that Jen and I aren't that much different from our two-year old.

Okay, true: we are pretty different from our two-year old.

But, in one way, we're not.

Even though both of us tend to resist any routines (spontaneity is where's it's at, G-Funk!), we're starting to realize that disciplining ourselves to keep somethings as routines can help us as much as routines seem to help Tyler.

Case in Point: bedtime and waking up.

I used to wake up at 6a.m., get dressed, put my shirt and tie on (okay, most days I would wear a tie, but hey, teaching effectively is possible in blue jeans and a comfy shirt, too, right?), eat breakfast, get in the car, drive to work, and work.

But now I have a little more flexibility. Well, I could sleep in a little later...

But what I realize is that I miss waking up early! I miss the feeling of getting out of bed (even though I feel tired) and grabbing that massive mug of coffee, taking it to the bathroom, and having some seriously good reading time while I drink my a.m. caffeine loading with cream.

The routine--though it feels hard--helps create life.

It seems most things are this way. Writing doesn't always feel easy. We can't always sit down at our computers and have angels appear on our shoulders, feeding us lines that would make the Muses blush for shame.

But the routine of plopping our bums in the chair, staring at our computer screens, and allowing the mediocre lines to usher forth--the act itself readies the way for some more pricey gems to flow. The discipline itself can create a path for the inspiration to show up.

In resisting routines because they feel hard, or because they sap the energy from life, may, ironically, create the very situations where life feels hard and energy is sapped.

By making sure I get Tyler out the door to our playgroup, where he can bump into other toddlers, practice sharing, and exchange a hug or a high-five every now and again, I am helping him to learn something good about living. He's learning that even though watching Barney at the Zoo for the fifty-first time may seem like more fun, in actuality, getting outside, and doing what's planned is pretty stinking cool, too.

Routines--in their own humble ways--can be glorious, too. Not in the everydayness of them--no, probably not then.

But I would venture that after weeks and months and years of practicing them, we might ourselves looking at our lives and saying, Hey, word up, Dawg! Check it out! I've written 200 pages of this novel that I had been trying to get off the ground for years!

And even if the routines don't produce the results we'd hoped for--especially if they don't produce results--that is no reason to doubt the glory of said routines. Instead, we need to look for the ways they've grown our muscles, our hearts, and our wills to live in ways that promise to make this life worthwhile.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Silence, Complicity, & Resistance

As a teacher, I saw the phenomenon all too often: bullies were emboldened by the silence of the mass of students who knew what was happening, but did nothing.

And I experienced the same sense of silence when I was in middle and high school myself: seeing someone else hurt--whether physically or emotionally--at the hands of a bully (almost always a male student), I remained quiet and lived to regret my choice to not act or speak.

Where does bystanderism get its pulse? How has it become so normalized for most of us to think to ourselves, Well, I'm not doing it, so it's not my problem...

I used to show a powerful documentary in my classes called Tough Guise. Jackson Katz, an anti-violence educator and author of the book The Macho Paradox, explores the message of media towards men. His thesis is that men are socialized into thinking that violence and toughness is how men become men.

Katz connected media images of men with guns, who embody toughness, and real-life domestic abuse, other violence, and homophobic and misogynist perceptions and beliefs.

And Katz is spot-on. Indeed, when I think about one of my all-time favorite men, Atticus Finch from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and compare him with images of men shown in today's media, I fear for boys everywhere.

Consider what Atticus tells his children: "I wanted you to see what real courage was all about, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway, and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."

Atticus explains courage as, essentially, perseverance in striving towards what is just and kind and good within society. Indeed, Atticus defends a black man on trial in the deep south, at a time when everyone else in town would prefer to unlawfully kill this man, or at the very least, choose silence over justice.

But compare the words of Atticus to those that served as the byline for Hollywood's newest Rambo film release. The words are etched in my mind, even though I saw them three years ago underneath the movie title. In italic font, Rambo's slogan read: Heroes don't die; they just reload.

Even rewriting the words, my stomach turns and I feel physically ill.

This is the message boys receive is from fake masculine figures like Rambo--men who would prefer violence and aggression to the real courage of which Atticus Finch speaks.

It is time for men to resist and protest this message of gendered violence and masochism. Men are not inherently more aggressive, violent, or prone to gun-use than anyone else. However, our culture has normalized masculine violence to such an extent that we no longer see slogans like the one for the newest Rambo film and think, something is seriously wrong.

Instead, we might say to ourselves, boys will be boys.

The time for boys being boys is over.

Instead, it is high time for boys and men to start being human beings--to act with the kind of courage which Atticus Finch demonstrates for his children.

After all, anyone can fire a gun. Such an act takes no real courage, no real strength of spirit. Anyone can reload.

It takes something much more noble to practice the hard art of peace, to do the gritty work of social change, to persevere along the path of justice and love and transformation.

We can begin to change our culture--and the expectations of masculinity eschewed by it so frequently--by questioning and protesting what the media so often delivers, and what boys and men soak up and recapitulate in their schools and societies. Instead, we can all start to practice the art of not remaining silent, not agreeing to complicity.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

An Itsy-Bitsy...

Disclaimer: If you are already feeling a bit queasy, do not continue reading. If, generally speaking, you have a weak stomach, do not continue reading. If your sense of humor is limited to sit-coms, clever jokes, intelligent come-backs, or thoughtful commentary, do not continue reading. If you have never potty-trained a child, you may not want to continue reading. If you have potty-trained a child, but found the process serious, exhausting, and not-at-all-funny, you definitely want to stop reading immediately. If you are highly proper and polite, you may want to call it a day right here in paragraph one.

It has begun.

The sprinkling.

The tinkling.

The drops on the toilet seat.

The playing with different body parts to see what they're all about, how they function, and how fascinating and gleeful it is when stuff shoots or plops out of them--whoa!

It isn't full-fledged potty-training (yet). Tyler is still fully-dressed in diapers, and he deposits of his bodily liquids and solids into said diapers. But, we're starting to slowly encourage him to do his business on the porcelain (or plastic, maybe?) pot.

We weren't planning on starting just yet, but then Tyler picked out a book from our little Fulford Library here in York. The book's title? Tinkle, Tinkle, Little Tot.

And for the past two weeks straight, it has been his absolute, hands-down favorite book. We read it before every nap and nighttime sleep.

"Read potty book! Read potty book!" Tyler yells, his voice full of anticipatory joy.

The book, by Bruce Lansky (in case you want to get a copy yourself) is full of poems written to famous children's songs. For instance, there is "An Itsy-Bitsy Poo-Poo." There is also "The Tushy Pushy" (instead of "The Hokey Pokey").

One night this week, after eating tacos (no, it's not going there, don't worry), as we were all sitting around the dinner table, Tyler suddenly busted out with the lyrics for "An Itsy-Bitsy Poo-Poo."

All the words.

Jen and I eventually joined in, and we sang most of the tunes from the potty book.

An Itsy-Bitsy Poo-Poo
Was floating in the bowl.
I wiped my bum with paper,
And flushed it down the hole.

As we sat at the dinner table, singing ridiculous songs about a very normal and natural bodily function, I watched my wife and my son. Both smiled large, and both had that sparkle in their eyes that said: does it get any better than this?

Okay, okay, Tyler's sparkle wondered if it could get any better. Jen's sparkle may have actually said: Can you believe I am singing potty songs like this? Can I believe this?

Fast forward to this morning. After using the potty myself (without prepatory songs, though I may soon initiate those songs as a part of my routine), I walked downstairs to find Jen and Tyler cuddling on the couch, watching a little of Barney's trip to the zoo.

As I stood in the doorway, watching them lying together, cosy and warm while our 15th inch of snow laid itself lightly on the previous layer, I had to ask that question myself: Does it get any better than this?

If it does, I hope potty songs and cuddling are still, somehow, a part of it.