October 16 – Halloween Countdown

I love October. I love Halloween- and October is a month of Halloween, or pre-Halloween. It is the Season of the Reason, if the reason is pleasin’ with spooky shit. I dig the spooky shit.

My wife, who I love very much, and I got married on this day eleven years ago.
Eleven fucking years. Goddamn.

That means? That means we’ve been together for about… eighteen? No, that can’t be right. I love getting old with you, Annika. And I love celebrating Halloween all month long with you and our kids.

We’ve watched a LOT of Scooby-Doo with Sam and Grace, and this year they are both on board with the joy of the Universal Monsters (at least when teamed up against Abbot & Costello).

Maybe next year we’ll show them one of OUR first horror movies…

Happy Anniversary!

the Riddle of Wood (part 2)

So the kids have Viking fever.

Part of child-led parenting (and homeschooling) is letting the children figure out what they are interested in and encouraging it. This often leads to some funny and weird rabbit-holes of study. But overall, it works well for us.

“I want to be a warrior princess, like Astrid from How to Train Your Dragon.” Grace told us.

Well then, I told her, you want to be a Viking.

shield faces

So we’ve been working on shields. The outer-layer is single-ply cardboard. The shield boss is a biodegradable paper bowl. The rear layer, grip, and edge are still being constructed. But there will be more pictures shortly.

Sam thinks Vikings are cool- “they are like Pirates, but they don’t have cannons.”

Grace likes weapons training.

“I am really good at blocking,” says Grace- and she is. She is fearless. She yells out entreaties to Thor when she fights. Not sure where she got that from. She also likes to kneel with her sword in front of her and put her forehead on the pommel. “Don’t I look so tired from the fighting?” she asks. She is very dramatic. “Thor, give me strength.”

I ask both kids what is more important, the shield or the weapon. They both tell me it is the shield.

“Also, I can hit you with my shield,” Sam reminds me. “So even if I don’t have a sword, I can still fight.”

“Axes are better than swords, because you can break shields with them,” Sam adds. “And then you are gonna lose.”

We spend a lot of time talking about the farming, sewing, knitting, mending and sharpening that would be the daily life of any Norse family. But c’mon, they are 4 and 8 years old. They really love the fighting.

the Riddle of Wood (part 1)

I think Sam was about three when we got him his first lightsaber. One of the 9.99 (or 11.99? It was five years ago, I dunno) collapsible flick-yer-wrist lightsabers. No light up, battery powered noisy stuff. Plus, with the economy model it was affordable to get a 2nd one. This was pre-Grace. The 2nd one was for me, so I could fight back.

We had neighbors with a little boy roughly Sam’s age. He seemed like the average little boy to me- loud, boisterous, sort of mindlessly destructive. A lot of his play seemed to involve things crashing. Once, they threw out a lightsaber- nearly identical to Sam’s. Except this one was battered, bent, and half-destroyed by violent play.

It bummed me out. I rescued it from the trash, used hot water and more or less straightened the plastic blade. Good thing too, because soon Grace showed up and we needed a third lightsaber.

We don’t use the lightsabers much anymore- wooden swords have replaced them. But they are still in a bin, and with the exception of the rescued one, neither is battered or bent of broken from destructive play.

I am not humble bragging. I am full on bragging. I’m proud. My kid’s haven’t shattered their toys. They haven’t crashed their cars together or thrown their airplanes into walls. I think a large part of this is because I never taught the kids/showed the kids that these were “JUST” toys. If they break their toys, the toy stays broken and ceases to be- so why be destructive?

We gave Sam and Grace wooden swords when Sam was- I dunno, six? GL was three? They’ve played with them A LOT since then. But we’ve taken the time to explain to the kids that while they are toys, they are toys with potential consequence.

High horse time- I think giving kids “safe” swords, soft-cell foam swords that “they can swing till they are tuckered out, little buggers can’t really HURT anyone!” is a terrible idea.

I don’t say this like: “We Made the BEST parenting choice and you all suck!” because I didn’t make this choice and my wife didn’t either. It sort of happened.

But now, looking back: why are my kids so good with their wooden weapons- how is it we have had no bloodshed, no broken stuff, no broken swords, no tears and very few minor (knuckle) bruises? Because we taught them to respect their weapon play.

Give a kid a foam weapon, and the hit HARDER. We gave Sam & Grace weapons that they learned to respect.

That last part sounds creepy. I promise I don’t chase after them, swiping at their little legs and arms screaming: “NO PRISONERS!!” in my worst Peter O’Toole impersonation (it sounds like a confused Lance Henriksen).

Still. I’m proud of them. This weekend we are making viking shields. I’ll let you know how that goes.

On Harrowed Ground

The ennui of a world without Halloween is tough to adjust to. Grace helped with un-decorating the apartment, but Sam preferred to sit and watch the last 30 minutes of Toy Story 3 rather than deal with it not being Halloween.

Grace was fine with it- as I said- until her candy bucket (factory-felted black and orange with an owl on it) and her Snoopy pumpkin car got put into the giant orange bin.

Now both kids were rebelling- how could we expect them to live in a world without Halloween?

Annika talked gently and calmly to them about how Halloween is just the first of many holidays that stud the Autumn-Winter cycle.

Christmas is easy- the kids are constantly reminded of it throughout the year- hell, anytime they see a picture of a snowscape or watch a movie or tv show that has a snowy setting, they will point out that it “is Christmas time!” there.

For years, I have heard my son explain how in The Empire Strikes Back Luke is at Christmas when he fights a monster and gets hurt and then the bad guys come.

Thanksgiving is a bit less represented. Sure, there is the Charlie Brown special- with the popcorn and Peppermint Patty being a horrible entitled ass- but thankfulness for a kid as a special “day”, that is a weird idea to communicate.

We’re lucky, I guess, the kids seem to be pretty thankful about the little joys in life without having to be told they should be. Well, Sam is anyway, Grace still has a hearty dose of toddler solipsism- she really can’t understand why HER schedule isn’t EVERYONE’s schedule much of the time.

Halloween is down- all but the 86 image slideshow/screensaver on my log-in. Thanks is coming soon (no trailers for that), and then Christmas and New Years (“Uncle Shelby and Bri come over and eat” night) and birthdays…

Ah, Christmas.

“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!”

Is it any wonder that my favorite Christmas story is the one with ghosts?

Experiments In Terror

Decorating continues:

Sam- as you may recall- has never been afraid. Not of anything. He’ll play scared, because that is fun, but he is almost utterly fearless. Last night he was watching the hypnotic random changing of the horror-movie photos that make up my screensaver. Bill Moseley in his Day of the Dead inspired fright makeup from the finale of House of 1,000 Corpses pops up.

“Hey, is that a guy- or a bad guy?” he asks me.

“What do you think, buddy?” I ask.

“Hmm. I not sure. Maybe a good guy.”

My kind of kid.

Grace on the other hand, seems to feel that delicious frisson of fear- she shrieks with glee when startled, or when Sam makes a monster noise. She hides her eyes when watching Beauty & The Beast or Aladdin during the “scary” parts.

The Halloween decorations continue- the black raven came out next.

“Nevermore!” exclaims my wife happily.

“Ooooh, a bird! Too skeeery!” shrieked Grace.

So I whistled the bird-theme from The Magic Flute, and had the bird hop around the furniture for a few minutes. It seemed confused.

“Daddy, maybe the bird is hungry?” Sam asked.

“Good idea, it might be,” I said. The bird whistled louder and hopped on Sam’s shoulder. Sam giggled.

“Oh, here bird. I have some food in a hand!” Sam holds out his hand, palm up. I make the bird hop down his arm and peck gently at his hand.

“Oh, Bird really hungry.” He says happily.

“Oh! Dat bird is mine! I to try. I to try!” shrieks Grace, holding out her hand.

The bird pecks gently at her palm.

“Oh! Dat mine bird. Hi bird!”

Phew. So now the bird is ok.

She is great with pumpkins and black cats, bats are birds and thus ok. She loves all the owl stuff.

Years ago, Annika and I bought one of those “ground-crashed witch” decorations. Legs, hands, a hat (with wig) and cape. The idea being you plant it in your yard with plastic stakes, put a broom next to it and voila- a witch has face-planted on your property.

Well, we live in LA and have no yard, so at some point we started a-fixing it to the wall with tacks and nails- it looks like the Witch slammed into the wall and is stuck there, presumably moments before sliding down with a ‘hilarious’ noise-effect.

Grace wore that witch hat for 2 days straight “Dis is mine beyooful hat.” so Witch stuff is ok.

We’re making progress.

Shelby came over last week (wednesday AND friday- we were lucky) and congratulated us on starting Halloween early.

“Look, if Christmas decorations can go up after Thanksgiving, why the hell can’t Halloween start mid-September?”

Wise man, our Shelby.

Today we are going to hang cobwebs, and then do some October-crafts with orange construction paper.

I love this time of year.

Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans

This morning one of the security guards asked if my kids were ready for Easter.

Beyond the kind of annoying automatic assumption that my family is Christian, “ready” for a holiday two weeks out?

Ok, for Christmas I understand asking if the kids are “Ready” two weeks out. But Easter? Is that a big “holiday” in most Christian households?

Regardless.

Two weeks is a long, long time in the mind of my kids. Hell, for Annika and I “two weekends from now” is a vague kind of nebulous thing.

“Is that a weekend with or without a payday?” is usually our only question (I get paid every other Friday). Two weeks from now. What will we be doing 2 weeks from now?

Sam is 5 going on 6 years old. Grace is 2. I’m thirty-seven. Dude. I could actually have a mid-life crisis, because in another 37 years I’ll be 74. Sam will be 42 going on 43. Grace will be two years older than I am right now.

We celebrate life by living- because we don’t know what else to do.

Missing My Son

There is a Tom Waits song off the Orphans albums called “Missing My Son”.

I have never listened to it.

I love Tom Waits- I have since I was eight or nine years old and my mom bought a cassette tape of Swordfishtrombone to listen to on a family outing from DC to Baltimore. I know a number of his songs by heart, and several that I don’t know the lyrics to have imprinted their melodies so firmly in my subconscious that I wake up with the music in my head and new lyrics imprinted nonsensically over them…

But I have never listened to “Missing My Son”.

It is sitting right there in my media player- right after “Dog Treat” and before “Top of the Hill” from Real Gone (Windows Media Player has arranged the albums alphabetically, and I am lazy and allowed it to). I could just click on it. But I never have.

Maybe it is because the title makes me deeply sad. Maybe it is because I think of it when I am at work and I miss my son. Maybe the idea of Tom Waits- who I am pretty sure has two sons, both of who play with him- missing one of his children bothers me deeply. He is the raconteur, the balladeer, the hoarse sound of a human ratchet making music with his soul.

I am aware, intellectually, that he is a deeply private man. I had no idea what his wife, Kathleen Brennan, looked like until Waits was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and they cut to her with tears in her eyes while he thanked her. (or maybe she was a double that he has for public appearances, who knows?)

But love- long lasting, suffering, difficult to articulate romantic love I can understand. I have loved my wife for more than a decade, and I still can’t always find the words to describe it.

And while I can appreciate an artist/poet/songster singing/writing/talking about romantic love… parental love is something completely different.

What if it is a worst-case scenario fantasy about losing his son? I don’t know if I can handle that.

As he has aged Waits has become more overtly political, writing songs about the horrors of politics and the futility of war (or is it the futility of politics and the horrors of war?)- could he be writing a song about a fictional counterpart who has lost a child? Do I want to hear that?

I can’t fathom the idea of losing one of my children- but especially my son, Sam. Maybe because I’ve known him longer- I certainly adore Grace, my daughter. But I am more afraid for Sam, afraid of something happening to him.

When I thought my wife was dying (she got better) I attached myself to Sam fully. I knew I would be there for him and he for me no matter what. If Annika had died, I would have become a single parent and a new father within moments- and I would have been okay. Oh, I would have been a mess- I would have mourned. But I would have had someone to focus on, to take care of, to protect and nurture.

The thought of losing him- after I made that pact with him (and yes, it was to wander both roads like outcast demons along the river Sanzu between heaven and hell) is to much.

So to think of my favorite musician, the poet who I appreciate the most, writing about “Missing My Son”. I just don’t think I’m ready to listen to that.

Hey- and maybe it isn’t so dire, maybe it is about a kid going to college. Or going to the corner store to get ice cream.

But I don’t know and I’m not going to find out anytime soon. I’m too scared.

We’re supposed to let our children blossom and grow, not shelter them but rather aid them and help them become strong and good.

Sam is only 5, and we have a long adventure ahead of us before I need to let him go.

But I dread it. I dread it so. And I am so afraid of something taking him from me.

Imaginary Creatures

Father’s Day is this weekend (so is Deadlands). Annika and the kids got me a really cool Lego set I’ve been coveting for some time- early present. Last night I sat at the craft table and built it with Sam helping- he’s getting really good. It was a long build- maybe 2+ hours with multiple kid breaks. By 8:30 or so Sam was exhausted, but didn’t want to give up. He told us he was going to sleep and lay down on his kid sized soft armchair and curled up. We covered him with the play parachute and he fell asleep almost instantly. So far, five is a very magical age.

Grace has a conspiratorial grin- she wants you to be in on the joke. Sam has a devil-may-care grin, the fun is usually of his making and while he likes to share it, his joy is wild and terrible and entirely his own.

My dear friend Nova’s new book- Imaginary Girls (go get a copy, it is really-really-really good!) arrived on the loading dock yesterday- a big day. I gathered the drivers, loaders and security guards around to marvel at the beautiful cover. They were dutifully impressed that my friend’s book looked so nice. “You should read it, it’s pretty on the inside too” I said.

Our security guard, a cantankerous old lunatic who pisses on all parades, tried to get my goat: “Eh, if she’s really your friend, is your name in the book?” he sneered.

I flipped to the back pages and showed him. He saluted me while going away. “I know when I’m licked!” he conceded.

I am very proud of my friend, and touched to have made her honor role.

I was going to write more about Deadlands, but that is for later.

Gracie dances to music, especially if I sing to her. We’ve been cleaning the apartment- spring cleaning and reorganizing- and we cleared off the front porch. Now Gracie can go out and stare down at the world beneath her feet. She loves it out there. I remember going out in the pre-dawn with Sam when he was a toddler, and also in the early evening, to find the moon and stars with him. Sam liked to be held while we searched for the lights in the sky, but Gracie prefers to stand on her own legs and look down rather than up. She likes to look at the moon, but she is more fascinated by the cars and animals and people below.

She notices things (she has a high cognition roll, like her old man) whereas Sam is more a creature of imagination- at least in his observation (or lack thereof).

Both children play by themselves and more and more with each other. They will hide under furniture and behind doors and giggle so I can find them easily. I listen to them play, and I watch the crows on the telephone wire, and I try to focus on the positive aspects of change. Growth is a good word- Half my blood comes from people of the earth, farmers and ranchers- so growth is a good word. It means they gain experience and health and solidity and, well, grow.

But they are still wee creatures of fantasy, sprites of the imagination. There is something ethereal and magical about them and I fear that going away. I dread the days when I can’t find them so easily.

My father visited not long ago and was struck by Sam’s “otherworldliness”. His word, I would never have thought of it. Maybe because of Sam’s speech issues he seems more elfin to my dad- combined with his coloring and features, his tangles wisps of silky hair- I can kind of get it. He is our changeling, Puckish- always running even before he could really walk. Gracie is more solid- our Goblin Princess, we called her. She keeps getting more and more beautiful and now I only see the Goblin when she is grinning that evil conspirators grin at me.

Sam’s emotions run hot- great joys and sorrows and whipsawing back and forth in a few moments. He is a creature of the air. Grace is- again- more solid. She is of the Earth. Feet firmly planted in the dirt. Sam floats, Gracie stomps, heavy footed.

Annika and I cling to each other, watching them crash and flow. Some days (hours, minutes, seconds) we marvel and wonder, some days (seconds, minutes, hours) we cringe and grit our teeth. Always we love.

Nova’s book is about love and sisters. I truly love my little sister, but I don’t think I could have understood the deep, fierce, love she writes about in Imaginary Girls if it wasn’t for my kids.

So lucky.

Hang On St. Christopher

A couple of years ago my buddy CP and I were walking down to the liquor store to grab some beer. As we walked- doubtless discussing something important like the boobs of our wifes or what gun would be best in a ZomPoc situation- we passed a little old lady who put her foot where there wasn’t sidewalk. The LOL starting to pitch to the side and probably would have careened into traffic or crashed down to a nasty hip injury, but one of us stepped foreward and caught her by the arm.

I think I actually said something like “First step is a doozy” or “careful there miss!” as I aided the LOL back to her feet, but I don’t recall. CP and I like to tease each other somewhat mercilessly, so “Lifesaver Klein” was bandied about a bit, and when I intervened in a domestic altercation taking place in my garage a few months later, rousing cries of “Did you wear your cape?” could be heard.

Please understand- I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Boy Scout. Nontheless, when Annika and I discovered that Sam adored hiking (and that we did too), I filled a zip-lock bag with some band-aids, draw-out salve, wound wipes and the like and tucked it in the bag we would leave in the car when we got to Vasquez Rocks or The Devil’s Punchbowl.

Then came the time we saw the guy get thrown by his horse and suffer a head wound that had me wishing I had EMT training. He survived, but it was scary for a few moments (it always is when someone loses consciousness), and since that time, the first-aid kit has gone on my belt whenever we hike or climb.

I feel kind of douchey- like I’m some paramilitary dad or something. Now, understand: that is MY fault. I approved the cool MOLLE attachment coyote-brown milspec pouch that Annika picked out to keep the first aid gear in. I’m the one who suggested a web-belt with canteen pouch for carrying our water supply. So if I look like an out-of-shape Airsoft enactor, it’s my own damn fault.

On Saturday I took the kids hiking at Placerita Canyon with our friend Jim. The web-belt now has the first aid pouch (which also has room for the digital camera), a 1 quart canteen, and a general purpose pouch that we tuck diapers, wipes and a wet bag in for Miss Grace’s needs. With that much weight pushing down on my hips (I am prone to a bit of a hip problem if I carry too much on them for a time) I said “eh, fuck it, so I look like a retard” and picked up a pair of old Y-frame suspenders to help distribute the load-out weight on my shoulders.

I guess I don’t look too much like a creepy wannabe guy. I just really like the drab coloring and rugged functionality of surplus gear.

Anyways, as we set out on our epic uphill climb (15% grade! And Sam walked the whole 3 miles himself, there and back!) we passed some young kid with a gory elbow. Seems he’d taken a nasty spill near the top of the trail and janked himself up on some rocks, and he was a little concerned that the Nature Center had a first aid station.

“Let me take a glance,” I said. I had just re-packed the first aid kit that AM, so I knew where everything was, cleaned and dressed his wound and sent him on his way. The kid was almost absurdly grateful.

“I think he was worried about bleeding out,” Jimmy dead-panned as we hiked on.

The thing is, I kind of like having the 1st aid kit. I’ve used it on a nasty scrape Sam got across his chest when he made a poorly timed jump, and on my own self for a few minor injuries.

But I get to a point where I start to worry. Should I have a tourniquet in there? What if there is a BAD injury, a Holy Shit injury. What about a snake bite? We live on the edge of a desert biome; a rattlesnake bite isn’t an unrealistic concern. But are snake bite kits even viable?

I just found out today that my friend Keith’s kids were in a really bad car accident- they are all ok, but I cannot imagine how terrifying that was for him and his wife. What good does being prepared do then? And how prepared is prepared and how much water should you really have in your closet for when the Big One hits and…

I never used to worry much, because it was just me. And Annika can take care of herself. But with kids…

I remember Sam and I saw another dad out with his two kids at Vasquez Rocks once. He had a huge fucking Rambo type knife on his belt, tied down to his thigh. Now I have a knife, it’s a folding blade attached to a Gerber multi-tool. I usually just stick it in a pocket when we go out- not because I think I’ll need it, but because it is small and compact and “what if”.

On the one hand, guy kinda was asking to be chuckled about. He had a giant fucking machete lashed to his hip while walking around a state park where you have to work extra hard to get out of sight of a house, and there are tourists everywhere (unless you go way into the back country, like we do, but he wasn’t). But maybe he was just “what if”ing it. At what point do we stop being “prepared” and start becoming goofy assholes?

The rural New Mexicans I worked with on crews in Colorado often carried a chunk of Osha root in their pockets, because a snake will not bite someone carrying it (they told me). And are things like first aid kits and snake bite kits and pocket knives just our Norse safe travel medallions, Hindi good luck bracelets, osha root and St. Christopher on the dash?

Tales of High Adventure

I don’t know where the month of March went. Wherever these things go when they happen and are gone. They come back again, I guess, but never the same.

We all grow- myself mostly outwards, Sam straight up and down, and Gracie by leaps and bounds. Annika has much less hair, and more or less the same amount of fire in her eyes.

Sam is tall, maybe 44 inches, and willowy. Very strong though. He still runs and climbs almost casually, confident in his mountain goat sure-footedness.

Gracie has started laboriously hauling herself up onto things, usually while grinning and chuckling to herself. She is still cherubic, but becoming more angular in the face and body as she gets older. She will always be, of course, the Goblin Princess, but she looks less and less goblinoid as time passes. When she frowns, she looks remarkably like her mother.

Sam has the same open, goofy face that I did when I was younger. As he grows, I recognize more and more of myself. He still loves Star Wars and Lego (and especially Lego Star Wars) and building castles with his blocks, and lightsaber fights- but he also is growing to love playing finger-guns (he runs out of ammo and mimes tossing the empty weapon before drawing his invisible sword or knife), and the kid is a fucking prodigy wizard at Super Mario Galaxy. Boy, does he love Mario and especially “WeeGee”, or Luigi. He even loves the old Super Show from the late 80s, with Captain Lou Albano and Danny Welles.

His mom, who was just up Seattle having an awesome experience (read about it Here) brought him little stuffed Mario Bros, which he now adores with the fire of a 4 year olds passions. I can’t believe he’ll be 5 next month.

While Annika and Gracie were off adventuring, Sam and I did our own here in LA. We hiked deep into the ravines at Vasquez Rocks and found some sort of egg pods in a creek. We climbed and climbed on a huge wind-etched rock that had a series of hollows, crawl-spaces and mini-caves to explore.

There was a man with a female baboon at one of the parking lots at the park- that was sort of random and odd. I kept making SHAKMA! jokes, but Sam didn’t get them. He laughed, because he is a good sport, but he didn’t get them.

We sat at the counter at our favorite canyon country diner and ate a late breakfast. Sam begged for ice cream, at half a stack of toast, then ate one spoonful of ice cream and asked for more toast, which he devoured.

At home, we built castles, knocked them down, and shot at castles and each other with a Nerf dart gun.

There was a power outage Thursday night for about two and a half hours, Sam was bothered that the lights weren’t working, but he enjoyed the candles. When he woke up Friday morning, he jumped out of bed and turned on the over-head light and cheered like he had won a race.

We went to the Santa Monica Pier and rode the roller coaster three or four times, watched the people playing on the beach from high above in the Ferris Wheel, snapped and whipped around on the Scrambler, weaved and bobbed on the Pirate Ship. Sam insisted on riding the Sea Dragon after a little girl told him it was “really, REALLY scary!” while on the pretty tame Pirate Ship.

She wasn’t wrong. On the Sea Dragon, once the ride was swinging out at the extreme of its arc, Sam hunched over the grab bar yelling “Oh, Oh, Oh ‘it! Oh ‘it! Oh ‘it!” He can’t say “sh” easily, if that helps. When the ride finished, we wobbled off and I asked Sam if he wanted to go on it again: “No WAY, Da, no way!”

But he did love the roller coaster. I stopped white-knuckling after the 2nd or 3rd time, I think. I don’t really like rides, but I love seeing Sam so happy, so I fed off his fun and never regretted it- even if I did say out loud “what the hell was I thinking?” the first time the coaster started it’s clackity-clack climb.

Sam adores his “Uncle” Shelby. I’ve known Shelby since I was 14 or so, and I heartily endorse Sam’s fandom. Luckily for Sam, Shelby returns the adoration and on Saturday they played and played from 11 till 5, when Sam and I went to pick up Grace and Annika at the airport.

I missed my wife and my goblin daughter while they were gone, but I will admit that the bed was nice and roomy and even with Sam in it, I never found my legs pushed off the side thanks to someone else like I did this morning.

Adventuring with Sam is exhilarating, and exhausting. Now it is Monday, and after 4 days of high adventure, I am back at low work. I miss the weekend, and the time we got to spend together, already.