Archive for the Family Category

A Tough Lesson This Father’s Day

Posted in Family, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2016 by Mike
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Alice Wren’s floaties.

No one expects to jump into a swimming pool to rescue his young daughter on Father’s Day, but that’s what happened to me just a few short days ago. And let me make it clear right out of the gate: I wasn’t the hero.

We were enjoying a beautiful Sunday afternoon at the community pool with some of our neighbors. We’d ordered food, had a couple of beers, and passed a few idle hours between the water and the shade of the umbrellas. Three families, each with young children between the ages of four and eight. Our daughter, Alice Wren, is the youngest. She’s not a fan of going underwater so Alice wears floaties on her arms when she’s at the beach or pool. The swim class she took at UNCW last year helped some but she’s a long way from swimming independently and cannot tread water or keep herself afloat without inflatable assistance. She adores the older kids who live nearby, especially the girls – Veronica and Audrey – who are fun and smart and good swimmers.

The pool was pretty crowded—families everywhere, people swimming all around the pool, throwing balls, lounging on noodles, diving for coins and trinkets, dads launching their kids from their shoulders. The shallow end was crammed with the little ones, with babies held tight by their new moms and toddlers bouncing tirelessly on waterlogged feet.

I was at the table with the adults. Ted Johnson, our neighbor and friend, was facing the pool and said the words that changed everything, “Hey guys, is everything ok with Alice?” I turned around and looked into the pool and saw her instantly. She was right near the rope separating the kiddie pool from the deeper swimming lanes—it’s where the bottom of the pool begins to slope downward and the water level was at Alice’s mouth and nose, and rising. She wasn’t waving or making any noise at all, but she was certainly in trouble.

In an instant I was running towards the pool. For some unknown reason, in the small gap between the table and the edge of the pool, I shed my shirt and tossed it over my shoulder while in mid-air over the water so it wouldn’t get wet—a detail that is symbolic in ways that I don’t fully understand yet. I landed a few feet from Alice, slogged a few steps through the waist-deep water, and scooped her up in my arms. I told her she was OK, told all of the shocked faces around us that she was OK, and patted her back hard as she expelled water down my back between hard sobs. I vaguely recall turning back to the poolside table I had just left so dramatically and pointing to Ted and mouthing Thank You. We walked to the edge of the pool where Carrie, my wife, leaned down and said, “Give her to me.” So I passed my child up to her frantic mother and stood there in the shallow end like a man cut loose from his old reality, stricken and alone.

Alice ended up vomiting up more water onto her worried mother as they paced around the periphery and I returned to the table with our friends and tried to make sense of what had just happened. As we discussed and watched her condition—she seemed healthy though she was quiet and visibly shaken, understandably—the prevailing fear was the thought of potential secondary drowning. For those of you that missed that piece on your local news affiliate, secondary drowning (which we actually confused with dry drowning, as it turns out – click here for how they differ) is somewhat rare but could happen if a person takes in water, it gets in the lungs, the victim appears to be good though lethargic, the lurking danger sloshes around, undetected, the individual goes to sleep later, has an pulmonary edema in his or her sleep, and never wakes up. So, though we considered secondary drowning a remote possibility, our own crushing guilt and raw fear led us to the car and a frantic ride to the Emergency Department in Scotts Hill.

Carrie drove and I rode in the back beside Alice’s car seat, anxious to keep her awake and engaged. Our fuzzy understanding of secondary drowning led us to the conclusion that if she fell asleep, she may never wake up so it was my job to keep her awake. It was like she’d been drugged; she could barely keep her eyes open and it was all I could do to keep her from falling asleep. I sang to her, asked her endless questions, squeezed her cheeks and made farting noises, pointed out a hundred things in the passing scenery, and told Carrie to hurry. She had put on the hazards and was keeping it together remarkably well despite the fragile state of her young daughter in the backseat.

At the clinic, she was evaluated and given a chest X-ray, which came out with negative findings of fluid in her lungs. The prognosis was good and the PA said that she was going to be fine. Our pediatrician’s office had been called and their protocol for these situations was conservative, erring on the side of caution. They wanted Alice to spend the night in the hospital for observation, figuring if something did arise it would be most prudent to have her near a medical team in those crucial moments. So Carrie and Alice Wren took an ambulance to the downtown hospital—which Alice voted the coolest ride she had ever taken—and Foster and I checked off items from an unending list of things they would require during their sleepover. We drove down to the hospital to visit and resupply the girls.

To Alice, her stay in the Betty Cameron Women’s and Children’s Hospital was like a resort vacation. She had a doting team of wonderful nurses, a suitcase full of toys and books and games and Wonder Woman pajamas from home, her sure and steady mother, and a kid’s recreation room that was expertly designed to distract young people from the pains, fears, and boredom of protracted hospital stays. We were very fortunate. This is an indisputable fact. And there was no greater reminder of that than walking down that long hospital corridor and wondering who was behind the other room doors. What horrors had brought those other children there? Car accidents? Cancer? How long would they have to stay? Who was getting the worst possible news? Even more, who was leaving without the gravely hurt child they had brought in? These thoughts haunt me still and I can’t help but feel that we merely stepped into that terrible place, had a peek, and were fortunate to back out of it without a scratch.

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Alice cooks in the hospital’s recreation room.

Horrible stories in the news have a way of numbing us. The observer stands at a safe distance where he can make judgements and recreate the scenario in his own imagination, reacting more admirably, making better decisions, and acing the parent test the other parent flunked. Those stories make us feel comparatively safe but simultaneously vulnerable. Most parents, me included, think we’re on the ball. We’re all over it, completely tuned in to every moment. We are vigilant and the threats are kept away by the triple sentinels of laser focus, foresight, and a weird animal intuition that develops when you bear young. But we had a lapse of attention. There’s no other way to look at it. And believe me, any criticism issued from another parent pales in comparison to the criticism we’re raining down on ourselves. Any real or perceived cries of How could they let that happen? are background noise to our own defeaning, pulsating, shrieks of guilt and self-accusation. Not to each other, thankfully, since the complete lapse of attention happened on a shared watch. We co-own it and return to our combo-guilt whenever we look at her.

When seeing those same horrible stories on Facebook or the news, it’s hard to imagine that there’s a little person behind the picture that is eventually posted—the picture that was taken at school or during a candid childish moment that caught her essence, and now, in death, has to tell her whole life story in one simple image. There was a little life force behind the headlines—you lose sense of that when you read the story. It’s impossible to fully imagine what the child was like. What his little personality was like, how he or she touched and impacted the lives of friends and loved ones and classmates. And you think of the moment in those stories when you realize it’s never going to be the same—you can almost pause the scene and look at the frame of time when everything changes. The moment when the alligator explodes out of the seemingly benign Disney lagoon, when the dad closes and locks the car door while the toddler snoozes in his car seat.

When I pause that day’s events in my mind’s DVD player, I often stop at my jump into the pool—when I stripped out of my shirt. Why was my stupid shirt so important in those frantic seconds and where was that quick thinking and attention a few minutes earlier when Alice was making her way down the steps of the swimming pool without her floaties? She told us later that she was going out to be with Audrey and Veronica. She must’ve felt like a big girl at that moment and didn’t stop to think about her floaties. Once she was down the pool stairs she maybe thought she could walk all the way to them, and when she was suddenly on her tiptoes and swallowing water she couldn’t process the issue or comprehend the danger. I try not to think about what she was thinking because I can’t bear to think that she was wondering why daddy wasn’t helping her yet.

The fact that this happened on Father’s Day intensifies it all. My young daughter spent the night in the hospital on Father’s Day due to, at least in part, a momentary lapse of my attention. But another dad stepped up huge. Ted Johnson – what made him notice? There was another grown man, likely a father himself, standing practically night next to her in the pool as she inched into ever deepening water. How did he not notice? It’s not his job to see her, assess her swimming skill level, and scoop her up just in case—but he was right there? Ted had to identify her from 50 feet away and recognize the signs of an emergency situation, of a potential drowning, words that are painful to fathom or say when it’s your own kid in the water.

There’s an alternate scene that I visit sometimes. When I rewind the action to the moment where Ted is about to sit down at the table and he sits in another chair instead, one facing away from the pool. And no one notices Alice walking across the shallow end. Not one notices she’s in trouble and I can’t watch the alternate scene beyond that part. Forever, it will be Ted noticing and me not noticing and the gratitude and guilt will bubble together endlessly in a stew of memory. But I thank Ted, I cherish my friend and neighbor for having my back like no one has had it before. My love and appreciation and awe for the magic he pulled that day will endure long, long after Alice Wren has hung up her floaties. And on each Father’s Day, I hope he feels that profound gratitude.

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Getting back on the horse.

 

 

Shooting from Deep

Posted in Family, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2016 by Mike

I’ve never had a good memory and as I approach middle age, it’s getting harder to recall instances from my past with anything close to crisp precision. Everything is gauzy and disconnected, with only snippets surviviIMG_3971ng intact. My local library’s section on memory is maybe 5-6 books wide so I checked out Marilu Henner’s Total Memory Makeover for lack of a better choice. Oh, Marilu Henner? She was on Taxi in the late 1970s and I loved the show as a kid, but borrowing her book made me feel as girly, self-conscious, and out of style as if I’d just bought a Thighmaster.

But Marilu Henner, as it turns out, is one of only a few people on the planet with Highly-Superior Autobiographical Memory. These people are able to recall, with stunning detail, any day of their life—what day of the week it was, what they wore, the big news stories, what they had for dinner, and so on. I don’t need my memory to do all that, I just want to remember better. I feel a huge disconnect from my past and I hope there are tools in her book to help me pave those muddy, pot-holed dirt roads that lead back to my earlier memories.

Books we read can permeate our lives in unexpected ways. While I’m reading Henner’s book, I’m also reading Pat Conroy’s My Losing Season, a touching memoir about his years as a college basketball player at The Citadel, among a hundred other themes. I pick up Conroy before bed or when my computer’s booting at work or on the treadmill to distract me from the pain of exercise or when I’m embarrassed to be seen with a Marilu Henner book. Pat Conroy’s lyrical prose has always enchanted me and the way he writes about the South Carolina Lowcountry—a place I also inhabited for a few key years of my life—teleports me back to those mossy, oak-lined streets that dapple light like no other thoroughfares in the world.

Conroy died about a month ago after a quick decline from pancreatic cancer.  As a tribute and a way to hear his voice again and remind myself that at least that essential part of him will never die, I’ve gone back to read this book. I picture Marilu Henner and Pat Conroy waiting on a bench by the bus stop, patient and still, standing by until I call them back to the quiet places of my mind, those pockets of reading time between work and sleep and the lunacy of domestic life.

So maybe permeation is a natural thing with these books, along with a weird overlap. I spend a lot of time investigating artifacts from my memory with Marilu, then go back to Conroy where he mines his own head to reveal his 20-year old self that suited up for The Citadel basketball squad, the young Conroy that came before the writer Conroy. Likewise, through memory, I’m getting reacquainted with my younger, ball-player self. It’s like we all meet in a half-lit gymnasium—Marilu, young Conroy, old Conroy, young me, and old me—a bizarre lineup indeed, each of us laced up and taking part in these dreamy pick-up games.

When I close my eyes and concentrate hard enough I can smell a hot gym. I can hear the hollow echo of a rubber ball pounding against hard wood and the squeak of dozens of pivoting and cutting sneakers. I can occupy that space between dribbles when anything can happen.

My vivid basketball memories are strewn across many ages and settings. I remember getting called for traveling two straight times down the court in 6th grade—I had replaced another point guard (Marilu says dig deeper and I come back with the name and face of Chris Embler, much to my surprise) and I couldn’t quite figure out when I could take the two allowed steps. And I remember the crowd’s palpable disappointment in the new guy moving the ball down the court like a fullback on the run. I wasn’t ready for the spotlight—it was Chris Embler’s spotlight—and back then it felt as bigtime as Madison Square Garden. See, I suffer from an embarrassing lack of coordination with footwork. I couldn’t skip for a long time and my brother and stepdad would laugh at me mercilessly. Picture how you would simulate galloping while astride a broomstick—that’s how I skipped. And though the first memory (traveling in basketball) brought up a totally random ancillary memory (skipping like a goon), Marilu says to welcome what she calls sporadic memories as they still fill in the blanks. The initial memory also led to another embarrassing memory that took place in an aerobics class when I was out of sync with every other participant and then yet another memory where I couldn’t learn dance steps in a play where I was Brer Bear and the young cast had to dumb down the dance break enough for me to do it. (Marilu pats me on the shoulder and tries to give support, knowing that I will be spending a lot of time retrieving memories that make me look like an idiot. You know, Marilu, maybe that’s why I forgot all this shit in the first place?)

I don’t remember much of anything from my elementary school teams, even though I played as early as 3rd grade. All I can recall are some of the goofy team pictures and the vaguely familiar faces of the boys and my young, thin, boufy-haired effeminate self but I can’t retrieve a single memory of those games. Fast forward to maybe 7th grade, as I lay on the floor of the French Broad Elementary School gym with the other boys on the team practicing our form and follow-through—shooting up towards the ceiling, and the balls in their magical rotation descending towards our soft, awaiting fingertips. Then I remember being in the middle of a game, willfully ignoring open teammates (Kevin Gregg) to try to score and pad my puny stat sheet and my coach (Mr. Martin) reminding me that it’s a team sport. I remember taking an elbow to my braces-filled mouth and having loose wires and braces digging into the hamburger meat of my upper lip – and having to bring my wrecked mouth to the orthodontist (Dr. Taylor). Then I’m on a series of long bus rides returning from away games with my girlfriends from different times in my life (some were cheerleaders, some were players on the girls’ teams) when I was all hands and they had to deploy a staunch defense in the face of my relentless offense and how old that must’ve gotten to every one of them (names withheld to protect the innocent).

I must’ve shot on 100 different goals–Cookie’s house, the court in the public square in Cozumel, the goal by the dunes on Hilton Head, the empty echoing gym of Monmouth University, the goal at The Cave in Campobello where I learned the art of dribbling on gravel—same game in a hundred different locations. Our driveway in Weaverville, where I lived from 2nd grade to my freshman year of high school, played host to countless 2-on-1 contests. Scott Hardister and I would play against my older brother Dave into the darkening evening and my mom would yell down from the deck for us to come in and eat and we’d play until the food got cold (sorry, Mom), taking the same shots from our same sweet spots. Then we’d come in and eat and do it all again on the Nerf goal in the den.

I had a lot of time as a kid to improve my game and add weapons to my modest arsenal but, once I got to high school, all I ever wanted to do was shoot from outside. I was a mindless animal and the 3-point line was my invisible fence. Crossing it would cause a shock of indecision and disorientation—8-foot jumpers were harder and required a whole different set of shot mechanics so I camped out behind the line and waited to launch bombs. When a mob of guys would descend on the gym between classes for epic games of 21, I remember lighting it up. I could run and gun and shoot from deep. Though those memories run together, they are pleasant to think about, and I feel that for a string of years, at least during hot streaks, I was a real shooter. And though I was a guppy in a small, whitebread pond and we’re talking about games of 21 between classes, I was draining bombs at will.

High school games were different. I had no confidence in my skills in the more formal and pressurized game scenario, against kids that weren’t my buddies, in front of people in bleachers all looking directly at the court. I made some but missed most of my high school field goal attempts. Coach Lasher, a macho guy who could deflate my confidence with one withering glare, usually played other teammates who could penetrate or shoot closer, anyone whose game had evolved beyond standing out beyond the arc waiting for a clear moment to heave one up. For our opponents, it wasn’t hard to figure out my strategy and this oversight didn’t even occur to me until long after graduation, when a revelation like that meant nothing.

Add up all the camps and hours spent in driveways and gyms, watching endless plays on televised games, throw in some teenage insecurity and a tough coach, and you somehow end up with a kid stuck at a perimeter fence with only one option in mind. There was a single play drawn up in my head—launch a three if you’re open and haven’t shot one in a little while.

My career high was 17 points against Spartanburg Day School when I hit five 3-pointers in the second half. It was the only time when one of my shooting streaks happened in an actual game and I don’t know how or why it happened then. I was never able to harness it again. The other memorable highlight was when I was elected by my teammates to participate in the 3-point contest at Furman University’s Team Camp. I made it to the finals and came in second to a guy who hit 1 or 2 more than me in the 45-seconds we had to drain as many as we could. I have no idea who the winner was but I like to think it was Steve Kerr and why not, it’s my highlight reel?

It’s weird because I remember having a good reputation as a passer but can’t recall any standout assists. It’s like my selfish memory wants me to be the star of any clip its held onto and doesn’t see the appeal of a firm bounce pass.

While the team dynamic is central to the game, basketball is also one of the few sports you can play by yourself. All it takes is you, a ball, and a hoop to put it through. We have a goal at home and to hear my 7-year old son dribbling and shooting out in the driveway fills me with an athletic kinship, a connection nearly as deep as blood.

I know he’s out there imagining valiant battles between teams, with him embodying every single player. I come out to join him and he says, “Carolina is beating Notre Dame 144 to 68 and Brice Johnson just made a three-point play,” summoning players and concepts that he heard on last night’s telecast. I tell him to work on his dribbling and learn to go left or right, show him the difference between a spin move and crossover, walk him through the artful fluidity of the pick and roll. I try to instill the team mindset early as we execute improvised drills together. It dawns on me that I may be using my son to make up for my own shortcomings from decades past, but I let it go since it will only make him better—it’s up to me to play it off as nothing more than wise instruction rather than the psychological baggage that it probably is.

There are a lot of benefits to having kids but a major one is getting to play games again. Even better, you get to go back to the very beginning and go over the basics. You catch and throw and explain the most elementary of rules and basically do the sport all over—and going back to the beginning can spoil an adult. If you have an adjustable goal and little kids that are just developing their skills with basketball, you get used to having it set to a low height. A regulation basketball goal seems impossibly high after shooting for years on an 8-foot goal. The rim may as well be nailed to the top of a telephone pole. Getting it up there relies on the muscle memory of long unused muscle, muscles that have atrophied in these middle years and forgotten how to do their job. They can’t handle the assignment anymore. Shooting beyond that familiar arc on a regulation goal is a ludicrous proposition now. It’s a heave that could slam off the backboard or fall feet short, depending on how much leg I give it.

Foster has just concluded his rookie basketball season with some other 1st and 2nd graders. His team went 7-1 and he learned a lot in just a few short months. Since the early games that I once played are now lost to me, I wonder if he will remember his first basket and how perfect it looked? It’s hard to imagine that all these moments will be fuzzy memories when he’s an adult, if remembered at all. He will need his own Marilu book to help dig them up, his own Conroy to give them meaning and poetry.

Every skill and point yet to come can be traced back to this pollen-coated concrete driveway. When I go to his games, I will shuffle into the gym as an aging dad. My son will be the player and I’ll be the ride. The skills I had will be decades away and my peak a distant hill on the hazy horizon. I will take my seat in the bleachers and feel his adrenaline in my blood.

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Reflections That Arise From Near Constant Playings of Kidz Bop CDs

Posted in Family, Gags with tags , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2016 by Mike

As a parent, when you’re not watching repeated viewings of the same movie (see Reflections That Arise From Near Constant Viewings of The Croods), you’re in the car listening to the same songs over and over again. And even though you control the knobs, it is never your favorite album coming through the speakers. The kids may be in the back seat but their loud whining will break you down every time. Parents of young children know that their own wants and preferences are meaningless and they won’t have control of the entertainment devices again until the kids are shipped off to college.kids bop final

We have a 7- and 3-year old so we listen to a lot of Kidz Bop. Kidz Bop is a music label/marketing brand that produces child-friendly versions of popular songs. Picture a boy band five years younger with two of the boys replaced by quickly budding 5th grade girls. Swapping verses between singers and using the choruses as a chance to sing loudly and emphatically as a unit, the Kidz Bop Kids bring youthful energy to hit songs you’ve likely never heard before.

If you listen to enough of these albums, you will start to make weird observations. Here are some of mine:

  1. Do pedophiles listen to Kidz Bop CDs in their cars and houses? Seems like they would.
  2. I imagine the contract for a Kidz Bop Kid would last 3-4 years, maybe from 11-14 years old – covering the span of time that the kid can dance and sing, but before gangliness and acne show up.
  3. Those contracts must be quite rigid: the kids likely have to maintain fitness, style, and can’t pursue solo work to avoid one becoming more popular than the group and putting the whole dynamic in turmoil.
  4. Though reluctant to admit it, these songs can be educational. Kidz Bop 29 has the song “FourFiveSeconds” on it and one lyric confounded both my wife and me. Four or five seconds from what?? Turns out the word is wildin’ and, according to the Urban Dictionary, it means: “To do something really over the top, extreme, crazy or wild…” and the stiffs over at Oxford Dictionaries define wilding as, “The activity by a gang of youths of going on a protracted and violent rampage in a public place, attacking people at random.” So again we see the importance of the apostrophe. We’ve also learned that the “or” between the fourth and fifth second is unnecessary; we now use this phrase around the house to sound hip (e.g., “Kids, we’re about fourfive seconds from supper—wash your hands.”)
  5. I think they should build a show around Kidz Bop Kid tryouts so we can see young naïve hopefuls get dream-crushed by heartless judges – we could watch the show with our own sniffling children and say, “Do you still want to be a rock star?”
  6. Grown-ups are required to bash kids’ music but honestly, the more your children force the CDs on you, the better they become. Now when I hear the original artist singing a song I’ve only heard from the Kidz Bop Kids, I always prefer the Kidz Bop version. The production is of high quality, the performances are crisp and perfectly engineered, and the song’s message is now universal and safe for consumption. Are people trying to whitewash material for kids? Some people are but most are helping them grow up too fast. Kidz Bop music helps put off some conversations until it’s time to have them. And you can dance to it, if you’re a kid, or working from home and no one else is there to witness such a thing.
  7. Who has the job of rewriting questionable song lyrics into sanitized kid-friendly versions? They should make a throw-back album and try their hand at 2 Live Crew, featuring the song, “We Want Some Pudding.”

 

 

 

 

 

A New Kind of Birthday

Posted in Family, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2015 by Mike

Tomorrow is my grandmother’s birthday and it’s the first year she won’t be here to celebrate it. She was 86 when she passed away last December. Even though she’d had health challenges for the last 2-3 years of her life, the real end happened suddenly and dramatically over the span of one blur of a weekend in an Asheville hospital, when we watched her vital signs fall away to nothing and held hands around her and braced for that second when her heart finally stopped. It was like witnessing a ship sink and the moment when the vessel you know so well slips away forever.

Now we’ve arrived at her birthday, soon to be followed by the anniversary of her death, and those two dates add a blanket of loss to the season. The specter of the big holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s – approach like trucks in the fog.

I’ve thought about her a lot over the past year. I miss all of the conversations we used to have on the phone when she’d check in—those are gone. It’s been hard to handle the silence. Her name is still on the caller ID, so when it rings and I see “Nanny Home,” I know it will be my grandfather. My lost, sad grandfather who’s a different man now.

People like to think of their deceased loved ones as somewhere else, always in a better place. My disbelief system prevents me from placing her in some kind of heavenly, eternal setting. I can’t believe it so I can’t conceive of it either, as much as I would like to. Believe me, there are times that I crave some kind of sign from her, a signal, just a brief passing feeling or glimpse of something, or an audible sound, a wisp, footsteps anything, but to me she’s just gone. The promise of seeing her again in another incarnation is off this table and so is the comfort that such a thought would bring.

For her birthday I plan on doing all the little things she liked me to do, whenever I’d see her, the small requests, her sweet preferences, no matter how insignificant.

  • I will sport a preppy shirt, tuck it in, and wear a belt
  • I will be polite to everyone I meet
  • I will pitch in and help out wherever I can
  • I will shave my stubbly face
  • I will floss, maybe twice in a row
  • I will clean every plate I face
  • I will pick up a Bible and try to find something she would’ve liked
  • I will vacuum the floor of my car
  • I will find a rerun of The Love Boat/Fantasy Island/The Carol Burnett Show/Hee Haw and cover up with a blanket and miss her commentary
  • I will fuss over my kids, her great-grandchildren, and savor them like she did
  • I will bring her back to life through memory and honor her through small gestures
  • I will miss her

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Reflections That Arise From Near Constant Viewings of The Croods

Posted in Family, Gags, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 25, 2015 by Mike

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Any parent of a toddler will tell you that kids will get fixated on one movie and watch it until the laser has burned right through the DVD. Our daughter, Alice Wren, is going through an intense love affair with “The Croods.” It’s her first and last request of the day: Can I watch The Croods? Of course we say yes and reach for all of the remotes – we wouldn’t dream of squashing her young love affair.

But due to the unfortunate open concept design of our home, we are also forced to watch it, unless we spent the waking hours in the garage with the door closed, and what kind of family time is that? The more you watch a movie, the more you start to make connections and decode puzzles the filmmakers planted just for you and the countless other willing and unwilling habitual viewers.

  1. Certain scenes were written to riff on the probably universal sentiment that Nicolas Cage is a shameless overactor. (a.) When the dad character emerges from the cave and reluctantly signals to his family that it’s all clear. The dad is embarrassed to do the weird bird sound – “aaah-oooh, aaah-ooooh” – and you can feel Cage filling the recording studio with his patented brand of cheesy uber-emoting. (b.) When he and Guy are trying to get the large colorful cat to yank them from the tar and he performs with the “acting sticks.” Cage seizes the scene like the character seizes the sticks and the over the top performance, in this one scene in this one movie, is appropriate.
  2. The opening sequence – the epic chase for the egg, which is underscored by a marching band like a halftime show or an NFL highlight film – is one of the better action sequences you will find in any movie. There’s humor, greatThe-Croods-egg-in-beak-scene directing, tension, release, and suspense. Repeated viewings only intensify the fun–I can see this rewiring my daughter’s synapses as she studies the screen every time, hopefully it’s improving the original network. 
  3. This movie surely overplays the running joke “I wish death upon my mother-in-law”–it’s probably used at least six times where the dad is doing a headcount and he’s repeatedly disappointed when he finds that the mother-in-law has survived the latest misadventure. Simply, he wishes she was dead dead dead and that’s a weird point to make over and over again.
  4. If you really think about it, modern man still lives in caves and we only venture out for the necessities–we are plagued by trepidation since danger and horror await us each time we roll away the rock and emerge from our holes and squint into the oblivion of each new day.
  5. Despite his skills on the vibes, Belt should’ve been hurled off a cliff the second time he did the ominous da-da-beltdaaaa thing. And he carries a knife – he’s dangerous and not to be trusted. 
  6. I think the the cave-Emma Stone and the cave-Catherine Keener are just as enticing as their real selves and I think most females would think the same thing about the cave-Ryan Reynolds. And then I think I should get out more.
  7. It’s doubtful that an elephant-sized feline exists in the fossil record. But wouldn’t that be fun? This movie makes you cherish your pets and, if there was more time and an editing suite in this garage, could be trimmed down into a commercial for fostering unwanted animals.
  8. The ancient artists behind the Lascaux cave paintings were probably hilarious and ironic and invented their era’s versions of modern conveniences like umbrellas and instant cameras. In this painting, you can see that early man used rubber duck canes, which can now be found in Disney Stores all around the country.Field Museum 6

Movie Memes for Parents

Posted in Family, Gags with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2015 by Mike

lambs.meme-02-01

shining.meme-02

dumb.meme-01

nerds.meme-01

psycho.meme-01

princess.meme-01

AI.meme-01

jaws.meme-02

shawshank.meme-02

Something in the Way We Move

Posted in Family, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2015 by Mike

This week is the culmination of a year and half of effort to move our family a few counties away. While the entire timeline is hard work, endless prep, semesters worth of research and study, and the coordination and cooperation of dozens of individuals, things don’t really get crazy until the end. The month before you move will affect your long-term mental state. Here are some milestones and things to consider if you’re planning to move in the near future.

30 days left – Once the contract is signed, your old house and its attendant issues are someone else’s problem. But fear of bad Karma and crapping on your buyers motivate you to weed your yard by hand since the lawn service was dropped weeks earlier and the grass is being overrun by countless alien sprouts.

24 days left – You start to look at your spouse as a co-worker at a moving company. All of your time is spent planning logistics, stacking, and restacking columns of boxes. You have detailed directions on where every item in every box will go in the new home and you wonder, since every other waking moment is occupied by another task, if your wife is nesting in her sleep.moving1

20 days left – You invent creative recipes to thin food from the pantry. I suggest crock-potting all of the cans of beans you have with the freezer-burned Boca Crumbles sitting on the Antarctic top shelf of the freezer, topped with fried onion straws, and maybe a handful of petrified Bac-O’s for zest.

17 days left – You are on a constant quest for boxes, sometimes driving miles into the country working from a tip given by another gas station (“Mary’s Market may have boxes”) You score a box from Mary and it somehow seems worth the time and gas money. Though infinite in their supply, you find that boxes from the liquor store are small and you’re lucky to pack a single, newspapered shoe in one of them.

14 days left – The house that you’re moving into sits out there like a faint, not quite affordable, mirage. You pull the address up on Google maps often and study every curve in your new road and squint at the satellite images of the houses of your new neighbors to see what clues you can deduce.

12 days left – You survey what’s left to do in your house and see things in 15 minute increments of time and amount of boxes each space represents (e.g., Alice’s closet will take 45 minutes and 4 boxes to pack.) At this point you realize there’s not enough time to do it all so you start the wholesale trashing of irreplaceable family possessions.moving2

10 days left – It’s amazing how well beer helps the packing process, so amazing that your belly sloshes at all times. Three beers is the magic number, anything beyond that slows you down and makes you spend the majority of your time retrieving lost items that you set down somewhere, especially the black Sharpie and the packing tape, which should be secured to your body at all times during the two weeks leading up to the move.

8 days left – To avoid yet another logistical task or phone call to a service provider, you wonder if you can manage okay without cable, trash pick-up, or electricity at your new home.

7 days left – Weird moving logic peaks when you consider buying a fifth of gin to make martinis so you don’t have to move or pour out the half bottle of vermouth still left on the liquor shelf.

5 days left – Due to the numerous idiosyncrasies of your old home, you realize the rest of your time should be spent on drafting an Instruction Manual for the new owners. Article 4, Section 2: Handle of kitchen faucet must be returned to the 12 o’clock position to stop leak; Addendum 2b, Appendix XII: Do not stand fully upright in the attic or you will puncture your head on roofing nails driven from the other side.

2 days left – Since you’re taking your kids to the grandparents while you and the wife suffer through the last grueling days, their countdown is on a faster track that yours. Even though they’re young, you feel the need to tell them it’s their last day and to take it all in while they can. It’s your own nostalgia forcing the issue but you can’t stop yourself. Once you’ve driven them from the old house for the last time, dropped them off, and are alone in the car, you put on your shades and finally play Patty Griffin’s Useless Desires and Jackson Browne’s Looking Into You (songs you’ve been purposefully avoiding until you were ready) and let that nostalgia really stretch its legs.moving3

The End – There’s no reason to divide the last two days into separate units since they run together and are a blur of backbreaking toil, military maneuver-like logistics, and misplacing more stuff. This is the period of time when you count on family and friends to voluntarily agree to haul all of your earthly belongings from one roofed compartment to another. This is when you sweat in brand new places and reek like someone from a life raft but still find yourself in clean, sterile law offices signing documents. Your sense of place is turned upside down and memories and new worries come tumbling out. You wander through your old empty home one last time and recollections fly past like a DVD rewinding on 4x speed; meanwhile, entering your new house as homeowner brings out many large and small imperfections – like the last owner was a hardcore smoker which will require priming, painting, and recarpeting so your young daughter doesn’t get lung cancer the moment she enters her new room – but it’s just Day One of a brand new timeline. And you can hardly wait to get started.