Monday, August 30, 2010

Those Lovely Tough Questions.

With a child comes questions. Elle enjoys asking questions. We don't get the straight "Why" for every question. Myself or wife tend to get the type we can't explain with a one sentence answer. Many times the response requires some research on our part as parents. With the answer given to her it often leads to about ten follow up questions. But, this is part of the charm that we love about Elle. Allow me to share some of the gems from the inquisitor.
Where was I before I was born? 
Why do people tell lies? 
If you move an ant how does it know how to get back home? 
When I grow up and become a mom, whose going to be the dad? 
Are white blood cells really white? 
When am I going to be old enough to take an adventure around the world? 
Why's water wet? 
How do butterfly's communicate with each other? How does it know where togo? 
Why's Space called Space?  
How does your body know how to move? 
How do they make fireworks change color when they explode? 
Can you ever find the end of a rainbow and is there a pot of gold at the end of it? 
The questions may come at any time. Which keeps us on our toes and helps us study up for those answers to the lovely tough questions.

Friday, August 27, 2010

See if mom gets it.

Elle getting artistically silly.
Since being a stay at home dad and to put more broadly since starting my journey through fatherhood being Elle's dad has been a phenomenal experience. Even before she was born kicking and dancing about keeping her mother up most of the night I thought she was pretty cool. Seeing her grow and hit all those "first" has been a great to witness. One of her characteristics I have grown fond of is her sense of humor. Especially in the last year and even more so the past few months. From pure silliness, inside jokes and a little bit of sarcasm it make the day fun. It brings a levity that makes me focus in on the moment and be able to forget any troubles weighing on my mind. As stated before I thought she was pretty cool from the beginning but, I think she's cooler now. I miss a lot of the gems she may present throughout the day but, when the memory catches them I'm more than happy to share.

Elle and I have this way of taking something random and turning it to a running joke. For example Elle's grandparents to her to a nature preserve one weekend and when she came back home she was very excited about seeing a Bob White. Which is a type of bird who gets it's name from it's particular call. Some how this turned into a something fun for the both of us. It will start out by substituting the word white for anything we can think of. She'll say "Bob blue" then it's my turn. Once we run out of colors we move on to anything that comes to mind first. "Bob bathroom, Bob Robin Hood", "Bob Elle" and so on. I'll say "Elle see if mom gets it." "Mom do you get it, I don't think she gets it."How this started I really don't know. It can start with a bird or my aversion for the smell of garlic emanating from the apartment next door. Once we walk to the back of our house and my nose detects the smell, "oh no it's the hot steamy garlic". Elle will soon follow suit, "the smell of hot steamy garlic drives me crazy." "I know it drives me bananas." With that it begins again. It's just one of those fun things we do.

From Wednesday night around nine o'clock my wife and I are settled into bed. We hear footsteps and see Elle's shadow as she approaches our door. She pokes her head into the doorway and the slips in gently closing the door behind her. Very politely Elle says, "excuse me mom and dad, I have a problem". We proceed with the obligatory, "what's the problem. Elle".
"Well, you see I went to turn on my fan and it wouldn't turn on. I tried flipping the switch back and forth but, it wouldn't turn on. Then I tried the top switch but that's just the light and it made the room bright but, the fan still didn't move."

"Elle, I turned the ceiling fan off by flipping the switch up on top of the fan. Because, I noticed you kept on turning it on even when I asked you many times not to. So, that is why the wall switch will not work."

Elle suddenly get a very serious look on her face her hands turn into fist and see places them in her armpits almost resembling a pair of wings.

"Elle why do you have your fist in your pits?"

"I have my hands there to show you I'm serious and upset. You shouldn't have tricked me by turning the fan off. It's not a very nice thing to do to someone by tricking them. I'm very upset."

She proceed with her rant for a good amount of time. We sat up in bed listening intently as she was weaving her rant around in different directions. My wife had to hide her face in my shoulder to hide her laughter. Soon Elle caught herself and started to crack up at how silly her faux seriousness was.

"So, Elle are you really upset or is there some other reason your not in your bed?"

"Well, mom can I sleep in your guys bed and dad I forgive you for turning the fan off."

One of her "serious" looks.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Glue-stick, glitter, a butterfly and smiles.

On Friday Elle asked if she could get some supplies to do some crafts. We had a trip planned for the grocery store so craft supplies could easily be added to the shopping list. While I carefully inspected cuts of meat Elle and her mother were doing the same when it came to what they needed for their craft bonanza. First thing Saturday morning Elle was ready to dive in to her projects. She meticulously selected images for her mother to cut from a stack of magazines. Once Elle felt satisfied that her pile of pictures were complete she moved on to arranging, gluing and glittering. This went on for a solid five hours with a small break for lunch in between. Elle moved seamlessly from one project to another. When we called an end to the day of crafts the room was filled with trophies of her day of fun. I stayed present in the background just watching and enjoying the two most important ladies in my life having and sharing quality time with each other.  I slipped out of the house to make a quick stop at the grocery store. Because I'm notorious in my own mind for always forgetting a key ingredient to whatever meal I'm putting together. When I arrived home I was greeted at the door with a special surprise that Elle and mom had put together while I was out. It was a token of appreciation that meant the world to me. After a full day Elle crashed pretty easily. Many nights as pictured below she will fall a sleep while reading and we have to tip-toe into her room and peel the book away from her hands. It was a weekend of good moods and all around enjoyment of our time together. 

A nice surprise to cap off the weekend was Elle's chrysalis that her gram had found for her finally hatched. Once the butterfly was ready to fly she would release it. Elle couldn't wait to show her mom once she got back from work. While I was cooking dinner they both went out into the yard for the great release ceremony. From the window I could she Elle running back and forth flapping her arms. Once they got back inside Elle's excitement couldn't be contained. She demonstrated in the kitchen how she had to teach the butterfly how to fly because it had never done it before. But, once it got some practice and coaching it flew so high in the sky. Both mom and Elle were beaming with joy and that's what I love more than anything seeing them both happy.
Bentley-Elle's nighttime guardian. Always asleep but, at a moments notice he'll spring into valiant protector. 
When we see this we know she's asleep.
The early morning surprise. Still not ready to fly.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Screen Saver Wins Again.

At times publishing a blog post comes very easily. Especially when you have a daughter with a creative imagination and great sense of humor. Other times bringing a thought from a rough idea to the actual stage of being published is a process in its own respect. When it comes to a lengthy or impassioned post, many times the subject materializes that day, other times it take several days to a week of marination. What will start as one idea will often morph into another as the words hit the screen. Of the nearly fifty published post another twenty lay in a purgatory as drafts. They tend to stay as drafts due to time or just being stuck.

One of the character flaws that I posses is being overly self critical. Partially due to upbringing and another part genetics. On top of that lovely trait, the written word had never come easily to me. One teacher in high school told me that my writing style read as easily as Braille.  It's a combination of this, plus the tendency of my thoughts to wonder that often leads to a post either being stuck in the draft queue or turning into something completely different than it was intended to be. For example, The Joy of Cooking originally started as a recipe for paella. From 21 to 31, What I have learned about being a father, and The Nasty Bits, Mr. Fix-It are just some of the many ideas that lay in the constant status of "Draft". Each week I pay a visit to my friends in the draft queue and make a little progress, sentence by sentence. One day they may receive the pull from purgatory and make it to a comfortable published status.

Ideas tend to hit me in the wee hours of the night when everyone else in the house is asleep. They form beginning to end and instead of taking the inspiration from the night time muse to paper I leave it in my head. Come morning or a free moment to salvage the previous nights memories to the computer, usually the screen saver wins. Consistency seems to reign as I always rinse and repeat. The silly thing is that I have journals around the house for exactly this and yet I still manage to do the same. Even in this post I have lost track of the screen saver's win count. With this post: one draft down and still many to go. Maybe I'll have to MacGyver a reading glasses chain and adapt it for a notebook.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I Can Manage.

This past Friday my wife and I had dinner with one of her high school friends and husband who are expecting their first child. Not having many friends that are either married or have children it was a very refreshing. The couple glowed with excitement and asked for any insight on what to expect. We happily answered what we could and at times struggled to remember what Elle's infancy was like. Once we got home from dinner both of us were snapped back to a time that seemed so long ago. It has been a little over three and a half years since Elle made her debut into our world. The speed in which the time as flown by still seems unreal. We stood in the kitchen and talked about how much Elle has changed and grown. We tend to get caught up in the day to day grind it's easy to forget about how far we have traveled on this journey together. One of the random thoughts that came to me while we talked was about little things we do as adults that we don't even give a second thought. For example when we eat not much thought is given to the actual mechanics of the action. It's an action that feels automatic. There was a time not long ago that Elle was dependent on us for the process of actually eating. Now she wants to help set the table and can eat her meal without any assistants. The point I made to my wife is that there are so many of those second nature actions that we helped shaped for our daughter. Elle does so much on her own it makes us forget how much we had to do for her.

I thought I would go to the source this morning and ask Elle what she could do on her own without our help.

"Oh, Dad there are so many things I can do. You still try to help me even though I say I can manage. Well, let's see I can brush my teeth, go up and down the stair like a big girl, get dressed and I definitely don't need pull-ups or any baby things. I can certainly pick-up my own toys and books. When I want to I can go to sleep by reading my books but, sometimes I don't like going to bed when you tell me. I almost forgot I can take pictures with my camera and I can write my name. I can help you and mommy when you ask me. But, some things you don't let me help. Dad, I'm a big girl now. I have a pretty smart brain and I'm pretty good at doing things so you can use my help. Mom say's I'm a good helper."

Friday, August 13, 2010

Goodbye, Brotherhood.

Once you become an adult, husband, or father there are many habits that are left at the wayside. At times one just seems to stick around. With it claws firmly intrenched in your back. It's similar to a toxic relationship that you know in your heart and mind that it's bad for you. But, being a glutton for punishment you always leave the door open for the affair to begin again. My toxic partner has been smokeless tobacco. More specifically to keep the brand loyalty honest Cherry Skoal. An extremely bad and unhealthy habit that started as a teenager and has stuck with me some fifteen years later.

The first introduction was made back in the days at the all boys Jesuit prep school I attended. It was in the basement of the schools library. A place not often visited by many of the students. I was parked in one of the many cubicles and next to me was one of my good friends through high-school, Shawn. Unable to focus, a conversation was easily started. But suddenly I stopped talking and noticed Shawn's drink wasn't a Coke, there was a strange bump in his lower limp and he had a propensity to spit in the fore mention soda bottle. Being curious I asked and I was soon introduced to the in's and out's of smokeless tobacco. Most of the kid's at our distinguished prep school would sneak off to the parking lot and smoke cigarettes or at least fake it to fit in. Shawn was one to buck the trends so he went against the grain to get that nicotine buzz. Having the fool hardy teenage mentality of invincibility the first try of Skoal was had. The feelings of fiberglass making tiny cuts in my lip and then the rush of nicotine came with in seconds. No thoughts came to mind, just the sensation of my head feeling as if it would explode. From that moment I was hooked. It was easy enough to get - we knew the places that wouldn't card and doctoring my id helped for those places that would. The habit soon worked its way into my everyday routine. It was done without even thinking and that continued easily from high school to college. On an afternoon coming back from college before my mother even said hello she said "are you putting that tobacco crap in your mouth" (translated from spanish). In a matter of minutes a few medical journals were produced with examples of the damage that prolonged use can cause. I failed in keeping my habit hidden from the sharp perception of my mother (at least she never found out about the tattoos - that was of more concern to me than my use of smokeless tobacco at that time).

From then to now I have been tied to my filthy habit. Countless times I have been able to quit for stretches at a time from three to six months and at one time nearly a year. As the years have gone by it has been progressively harder to quit. The Dark Passenger (read too many of the "Dexter" books) would call to me, whispering in my mind when those points of stress or anxiety would be present. "Go ahead just get one can and after that you'll be fine." I feel my throat tighten up, a heaviness on my chest and my mind race. Before I know it I have that hockey puck shaped can in my hand.  But, one can turned into the habit picking up again. I would place markers on when I would quit: before I hit twenty-five, before my daughter is born, as a New Year's resolution and so on. I have gone cold-turkey, tried a coconut shavings substitute, and prescription drugs. The last batch of prescribed drugs for aiding my attempt to quit gave me the worst nightmare of my life. So much so that it lasted a week and then I was back on the "Skoal Brotherhood" train. I have wanted and needed to quit. But, for whatever reason it last about as long as a relationship from "The Bachelor/Bachelorette".

Hopefully I can close the door and not let my toxic partner back into my life. To pry the claws from out of their comfortable place on my back would be a victory. I want this selfish desire to engage in this habit to fade. From past experience it will be difficult. The withdraw will feed into blurring logic and could easily lead to a moment of weakness. But, I have to think about the other's in my life. I know my daughter and wife love my smile. I should keep it that way and preserve it.

(The title refers to the latest marketing campaign by Skoal, called the "Brotherhood of Skoal".)

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Monday, August 9, 2010

From mindless movie to a great conversation.

This past weekend we got the chance to have a night without Elle. She was spending the night over at her grandparents. When we have nights to ourselves it's often time reconnect and hit the restart button for the week ahead. Some of our best conversations happen on those night. The ups and downs with the pure business of the week it's easy to have an absence of conversation. That absence is fed by tiredness, stress and by not having enough time to finish everything that needs to be done. Many times as soon the weekend starts the week shows up again.

The intend plan for our night free was just to watch a mindless movie and decompress. Half way through the feature "Open House" we paused the movie. The movie was less than entertaining so taking a break from it was welcome. What the catalyst for our conversation from that break in the movie I don't recall. Once it started it flowed. The topics were weighed with a heaviness. A pouring of the soul was had by us both. As much as it started heavy it seamlessly morphed into a positive reassuring conversation. It's easy to see the stress of the week on each other's faces. As the day passes you ask one another if "you're okay". The response is often, "fine, I'm just tired". Getting caught up in how the week can sweep us away is dreadfully easy. To have that true other half that fits and truly understands is monumentally precious.  Having the time to just spill your guts and have your other half listen and reciprocate. When we returned to our awful movie three hours had passed. A sense of being cleansed came over us. I haven't had anyone in my life before that truly knows me and has listened till my wife. We have an understanding of our fears and worries. Luckily for one another we have complementary traits that provide a positive influence. But, sometimes it takes a bad movie, a kid free night and time as a reminder of how we are stronger together.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sunday Night Dinner.

We know it's a good dinner when Elle doesn't even say a word during the meal and she asks for seconds.
Slow roasted pork shoulder, 3 days marinating, 6 hours of cooking and 1 hour resting.
Meat free paella to compliment the pork.

Dinner caught Bentley's attention.
Elle jumps in for a quick distraction.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

D.O.D. (Drawings On Demand).

In the past year and a half Elle has really tested any drawing skills I may have. It has become a fun activity that we can do together. Many times to pass the time I'll grab a drawing pad and Elle will provide the inspiration. The subject matter will run the gambit from diagraming internal organs to fables with a twist. Elle has gotten in the habit of commissioning drawings that are to be ready when she gets home from school. It's so she has a "surprise" when she gets home. She happily hangs them in her room above her bed. When we have company she'll gladly gift the pictures. She'll say, "you can have this picture of mine but, you have to bring it back". So as long as she's impressed and enthusiastic about any drawings I can produce I am honored to be drawing on demand.

"The Big Bad Wolf was watching the Tortoise & Hare race and he got an idea."
"How the Tortoise really beat the Hare in a race."

"A hungry dinosaur looking for a tasty human."
"A hiker going bird watching. Surprise a gigantic momma bird."

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Two Coin Caper.

The creative tales that Elle can weave often bring barrels of laughs to our home. Many times, we are easily fooled into thinking that Elle has done something she's not supposed to and she has to explain to us that, in fact, one of our very sneaky dogs, Bentley (who sleeps about 23 hours a day) or Maggie (who's sweet, but not exactly the brightest dog ever), is the culprit. On this particular occasion, I see Elle eyeing two quarters on a table. Having the parental ESP, I quickly tell her not to smuggle the quarters. Just before bedtime I notice the quarters have disappeared. Thus begins my role in Law & Order.

- Duhn Duhn -

Dad: "Hey, Elle, I was in the other room and I noticed the two coins were gone from the table. Did you take them?"

Elle: "No I didn't smuggle them. That's pretty strange but, don't check under my pillow."

D: "If you said you didn't take them why would I need to check under your pillow."

E: "Hmm, it's a really big mystery. I have a really smart thing in my head, so know I can help you solve this mystery. Let's start by looking in the living room. I'm going to help you and I know we can do it."

D: "Elle, I appreciate your help. You need to get to bed. So, your mother and I will work on searching for the coins and I'll tuck you into bed."

E: "Well, okay. But, don't look under my pillow."

D: "I have no need to check under your pillow because you would have no reason to take the quarters and plus you told me you didn't take them."

No answer.

D: "Good night, Elle"

A few minutes pass. Elle comes out of the bedroom.

E: "Hey mom and dad, I know, we should check in the office!"

D: "Thanks, Elle. It's late, so why don't you get your rest and we'll find the coins tomorrow."

A few more minutes pass. Elle come out of the bedroom again and suggests another room to check. This continues until every possible place has been covered. And is always concluded with, "but don't check under my pillow." Finally, about an hour after the great coin search was launched, Elle comes flying out of the bedroom one last time. With a huge smile, she excitedly runs over to us with what she wants to tell us.

E: "Mom, Dad I think I figured this great mystery out. It was Maggie!"

Below is my interpretation of her tale in comic strip form.