Monthly Archives: December 2011

Looking Forward to Sugar Cereal and Life

The father of my childhood friend was a genius. He never used words like saxicolous, I never saw his SAT scores or overheard a neighbor talk about his IQ, but I knew, even at the age of seven, that he was brilliant. Today, my opinion of him remains the same; the only thing that has changed is my reason for believing he was so smart.

My friend’s dad did the shopping for his family, but it was more than buying eggs. He had a rotation. Every time he went to the grocery store, he’d take one of his three sons. That son was his personal assistant and the official family cereal-chooser. When my friend told me he could choose any cereal (that he wasn’t limited to Cheerios, Cornflakes, and Rice Krispies) and that, when they were in the check-out lane, his dad would always lean down and encourage him to select any snack, I about lost it. Who was this man and did he teach courses on genius fathering?

A dad that let his son choose whatever cereal he wanted and candy — images of Butterfingers, Sweetarts, and Big League Chew electrified my being  — had to be the next Gandhi, Mother Teresa’s Uncle, or at least the long lost brother of the Ninja Turtles. He was giving and awesome  — gawesome. I knew he was the wisest of men; he got us little guys; he won over his sons (and me) with sugar cereal and gawesomeness.

Today, I still admire my friend’s dad. I look back and still conclude that he was brilliant, giving, and awesome — I won’t combine all three — but, what I realize now is that, his smarts had nothing to do with grocery stores, bubble gum, or even sugar cereal.

Starting a family and becoming a father has let me in on a secret. Because of his father, my friend had something to look forward to every month. Isn’t the magic behind traditions, holidays, birthdays, vacations, weekends, and movie releases found in the excitement that comes with looking forward? I respond with a loud, boisterous, and reassuring YES.

Some might be thinking, “big deal.” Well, I am thinking, “What a discovery!”

Want to know why last year’s birthday wasn’t nearly as exciting as your tenth birthday? I don’t know about other people, but these years, with a few exceptions where rude people remind me I’ll be turning ___ in so many months, I hardly even think about my birthday until the month before. Unlike my worry-free younger years, life distracts me until it’s basically too late. I know this isn’t the case for everyone; there are plenty of individuals who still get giddy at the thought of a birthday six months away (and I applaud them), but why?

My childhood birthday was awesome because I looked forward to it. I looked forward to much more than a day; I looked forward to the the events of the day (and I knew them well). Birthdays in my family included, but were not limited to, going to a dollar movie with all my sibs, ordering 5 Buck Pizza and buying generic grape, orange, and root beer soda.  It included a cake or lemon meringue pie (for me) with candles on top, and usually some small, but ever so exciting, toy. It may not sound that great to some but it was heaven on earth to me. I loved birthdays. If my next birthday followed my childhood birthday agenda to a tee, I would be thrilled.

So what does it all mean?

The idea for this post came after Rinda and I had a great conversation about easy ways to make life wonderful. We concluded that starting and maintaining family traditions was key. Rinda’s family is pro when it comes to getting excited about traditions. The amazing thing is, their traditions are simple but make things so much more enjoyable. For example, whenever they go to the beach they always order “the best” calamari from the same dumpy old bar; when they go to Disneyland, they can’t leave without eating “the best” sour cherries and churros in the world — they get more excited about the food than the rides. Brilliant.

Rinda and I want Claire’s life to be simple but ever so exciting. How can we help make that a reality? We have challenged ourselves to start and maintain a simple family tradition for every month of the year. These traditions will be planned, marked on the calendar, and spoken of regularly. As the years go by, more traditions can join the table.

This last Christmas was incredible for many reasons. My whole family (with the exception of Christian, that jerk) was present, we had a schedule of events and we did them! Most exciting — and I promise I will post about all of this in detail — were the returning traditions: our annual Home Alone movie watching Marathon (1 and 2 back to back with Little Nero’s Pizza, throwback Pepsi, and ice cream sundaes), our Christmas Eve Twas the Night Before Christmas gift exchange, and the Christmas Eve cracker and cheese fest.

See what I mean? Simple things to look forward to = an exciting life to live.

Traditions can start today. You can call making a new, homemade Christmas ornament each year a tradition, even if Great, Great, Great, Grandfather Merle, from the Highlands of Scotland, never did it. I give the world my permission to do so.

Start traditions. Start living. Find ways to look forward to life.

What are some of your simple or not-so simple traditions? What do you look forward to? Please share in the COMMENTS!

UNFUNNY HUSBAND MOMENT: Rinda wanted records (vinyl) for Christmas. I bought her two. To trick her on Christmas day, I also bought a calendar that looks like a record when wrapped. When she was opening it, I told her to be careful, it could break; she was thinking “this is definitely a record,” she was wrong; it was a calendar jam-packed with pictures of wolves in their natural habitat.

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Holiday Throw Up – A Life Lesson

If you are spending Christmas at the dwelling of or with parents, in-laws, relatives or strangers, here are a few things to remember:

1.) Ask how old the left overs in the fridge are BEFORE you eat them.

2.) If you get sick, do it near a clean bathroom and preferably near one that has a comfy rug on the floor.

3.) If you are sick and vomit is close to or already launching out of your mouth, make sure the bathroom light is on.

I guess it’s important to ask how old the chili in your parent’s fridge is before you dive in. Now, when I say “dive in,” I don’t really mean dive in — I never would have fit in the Tupperware and the chili was far too shallow.

A little background.

Tuesday was a good day. Rinda and I slept well on the two twin mattresses that were pushed together to form a king size bed in my younger brother’s bedroom (he got the couch). Little Claire slept soundly in her pack-n-play. The Christmas decorations were inviting, the food abundant, and the family fun to be around.

Because I was still determined to make healthier life decisions and since I celebrated the end of my diet with a steak ranchero plate from a favorite Mexican restaurant the day before, I was more than willing to join my wife, mom, two sisters, and brother-in-law in an early morning workout session.

My sister, a workout guru, muted the sound on her Jillian Michael’s DVD, blasted her bad radio music, and we got started. It was to be a 45 minute workout and I was worried about my stamina from the very beginning. I’m not one of those men who says things like, “I could plow through this workout session blindfolded, in ten feet of water, both hands tied behind my back and wearing Uncle Arthur’s army boots.” I made it through 30 of the 45 minutes. I knew I was out of shape when I, on my back and barely able to breathe, looked over and saw my mother still high kicking and punching the air.

*Since then, I have plowed through multiple workouts (pat me on the back next time you see me), but back to the story.

After a healthy breakfast and a few hours of work, I found myself again in the kitchen, eating a quick-lunch before Rinda and I left for a day of errand running. My quick-lunch was the last bit of some left over chili and a hand full of oven fries. All was well, I was ready to go, and then it hit. Suddenly, I felt like I’d been reading in a moving car for months, all while an unknown neighbor kid was swatting the back of my head. I tried drinking Sprite, lying down, and a standing long jump, but nothing worked.

WARNING: TMBI (too much barf information) to follow!

Before I knew it, I was sprinting to the bathroom. Even with the light off, the first projectile was a direct hit. I heard the impact and felt the splash (despite popular opinion, there are times in life when having a beard is a bad idea, vomiting is one of those times). In a desperate attempt to stop barfing in the dark and let there be light, I lunged for the switch — bad move — the urge hit me mid-way to the light switch and the second missile exited halfway back to the target, showering the wall with a  mix of chili, fries, and bile. The result was a modern art display worthy of any dark coffee shop/gallery that uses bird stencils or old records to decorate the wall behind the cash register.

I emptied my gut and slouched to the floor before calling for Rinda (interesting that there comes a time in life when mom is no longer the barfer’s relief). Rinda stood in the doorway with Claire and comforted me as best she could.The biggest comfort was little Claire smiling and laughing for her dying father. I wanted so badly to reach out and hold her; knowing that she loved me unconditionally and wanted to be near me, even in this state, was a ray of light in a cloud-filled sky.

I don’t know why, but it made me think about my role as a father and it made me sad. For a moment, food poisoning was going to keep me from caring for Claire, and I didn’t like that. What else in life (both in and out of my control) could prevent me from being the father I needed to be to this little creature who depends so heavily on me?

After spending the following two hours on the floor, wanting to die, dry heaving, and wanting to die some more, I arose victorious.

Today I feel healthy and I am glad I can hold my daughter. I want to always be able to provide my daughter with the best care — that requires that I make wise decisions in all areas of my life.

Who would have thought a holiday vomit session would have taught me such a lesson?

Life. Weird old, good old, life.

UNFUNNY HUSBAND MOMENT: I got sick and was vomiting when we should have been running errands. Rinda did NOT think it was funny at all; it stressed her out.

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Christmas Before Thanksgiving — An Annual Argument

NOTE: I want this post to cause heated arguments between those who are FOR and those who are AGAINST celebrating Christmas (in particular, listening to Christmas music) before Thanksgiving (mostly joking).

Normally, I try not to be a man of contention. I don’t like to stir the waters, to cause a scene, to bite back in rage. But, and this is a big but (with one “t”), I get pretty saucy every time November 1st colorfully floats down from the trees, hits the ground with a hush, and peaks over the jack-o’-lanterns.

Crawling through boxes to the dark and forgotten corners of my garage in search of a dusty rake or climbing a ladder aimed for my drains with dish gloves and a garden shovel in hand is not what releases my impudence; it has everything to do with the attitude in the Thanksgiving air — an attitude that has nothing to do with gratitude.

The attitude, if put in to words, would sound something like this (probably spoken in a foreign accent that sounds “evil” when overdone): “Christmas before Thanksgiving is the devil, meaning: bad, dumb, not good.”

Just to get it out of the way, I am a hypocrite and bias. I am as ardent a lover of pre-Thanksgiving Christmas celebration and faithful a hater of those who are against early festivities as many are haters of pre-Thanksgiving Christmas and those who support it.

Okay, so I don’t hate those who get mad and post Facebook statuses whining about how their roommate is listening to Little Drummer Boy on November 2nd or about how their local supermarket is already selling candy canes, but I do find them annoying; as they, I am sure, loathe me — he who starts celebrating Christmas with an annual viewing of The Nightmare Before Christmas on Halloween night, followed my around the clock listening to Christmas music (commercial and spiritual), decorating, traditional movie watching and book reading, and so much more. Yes, I am that guy, the one who even Christmas lovers call overkill or O.K. for short.

You have heard the catchphrase, “where’s the beef,” well, here is my beef:

In all my conversations with those who hate celebrating Christmas “prematurely,” I have yet to hear a reason that really makes sense. I will now attempt to make sense of what I have heard.

1. “One holiday at a time. Let’s not skip over Thanksgiving; it, too, is important; don’t cheapen it.”

I have zero interest in getting political or American historical here, but, what I will say is this, if Christmas for you has anything to do with Jesus Christ — His being born on earth so He could save all mankind — then is that not the thing you should be most grateful for? Isn’t that the PERFECT way to celebrate thanksgiving — to put Jesus at the top of your I Am Grateful For… list? You don’t even have to forget or overshadow all the other things you are grateful for.

If Christmas for you is not so much about Jesus’ birth, but more a time to remember, recall, and celebrate the joy and goodness that still abundantly exists in the world today; a time to step up and be a little kinder, a little less selfish and more giving, then is embodying the spirit of Christmas early, bad? Isn’t reminding yourself to be more grateful an attempt to be a better person? Shouldn’t you be grateful for the ability to improve in life?

An aside: I support a Christmas that celebrates both the birth of Christ and the spirit of Christmas (what I consider to be mankind’s attempt to emulate Jesus Christ).

Now, if Christmas is ALL commercial for you; just a stressful time to dwell on “corporate schemes” to make money, to get stuck in crowds at over-packed malls, to never find the perfect gift, to spend money you don’t have, to high five The Grinch and chest bump pre-changed Ebeneezer Scrooge; well, then having Christmas arrive early would be a reason to cringe.

2.) “If you start celebrating now, by the time Christmas rolls around, you’ll be burnt out with everything Christmasy.”

This is the argument that most makes sense to me. But, truth be told; it is very difficult for me to imagine being over-Christmased. For me, two months is too little time; it’s never enough. I find that if you healthily mix the commercial with whatever else Christmas means to you, you will find it’s hard to get too much of a good thing.

3.) “I don’t have a good reason for hating pre-Thanksgiving Christmas celebration. I probably had a parent who hated Christmas music before Thanksgiving and so, without reason, I’ll do the same.”

No attempt to understand this mind set will be made.

I want to end with this: forgive my written bitterness — not very christmasy —  and, I love Christmas, even commercial Christmas.

Somehow, commercial Christmas always takes me back to what I consider to be the true meaning of Christmas. I love that stores decorate before Thanksgiving and play Christmas music once the turkey is tupperwared away in the fridge; I love the colors, the emotion, the busyness (I even loved it when I worked retail for years); I love that a man in William Sonoma got the whole store clapping their approval in an attempt to convince a manager to allow an employee to accept a gift from him (obviously against the rules), I love the movies (I have a long list of must-watch Christmas flicks) and the books (each year I read Christ’s birth story in The Bible,  A Christmas Carol and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever); I love it all. Somehow, the energy in the air, the want to give, the excitement to receive, and the symbolism always reminds me to look up “to that blessed star which led Wise men to a poor abode” (borrowed from Dickens). It reminds me that I am blessed and can bless the lives of those familiar and unknown to me.

I didn’t really want this post to cause fights or sporadic sibling wrestling matches, but I do want it to open up conversation. Why do you like or not like celebrating Christmas before Thanksgiving? What does Christmas mean to you? Tell me in the comments below.

UNFUNNY HUSBAND MOMENT: I end my yawns loudly and musically. My yawn is as follows: “YAWWWWWN…AHHHHH, I FEEL GOOD! Na na na na na na nuh, I knew that I would now, SO GOOD, SO GOOD, I GOTTA YOU oo oo ooo ooo. WATCH ME NOW!” My wife LOVES it.

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My Diet, My Breakdown

DISCLAIMER: So as to not disappoint you when you find no breakdown worthy of a trip to the ER in this post, just know that my breakdown was me being depressed (quite depressed actually) that I couldn’t eat an inviting slice of supreme style pizza in an open box, on my parent’s kitchen table; all because I was vacationing in Diet Land.

When I started my diet I weighed 168 pounds. Not bad, except that I should weigh 150 pounds. Now, I don’t expect you to cry me a river or write a book listing 184 reasons the residents of earth should feel sorry for me; just know that I didn’t feel comfortable or good at 168. So, I set a goal — I was going to lose 18 pounds.

I’ve never been on a diet; not really at least. I’ve had three days here or a week or two there that I made wiser food selections and actually exercised, but that’s grown-up, normal life stuff, right? Or at least it should be. A diet is something else.

One of those embarrassing photos where the husband (me) pretends to also be expecting (taken forever ago):

Let me be a hypocrite and do something that always annoys me — offer a definition of the word diet, found on the world wide web:

Restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.

And I will include the awesome sample sentence that was attached to the above definition:

“It is difficult to diet in a house full of cupcakes.”

Fact. Except, truth be told, I’m more of a pie guy. Although, there is this cupcake place in Phoenix, AZ that will send you traveling, bare foot, on clouds of flavor and joy, all before you are surprisingly dropped in to an abandoned alleyway just to have your insides murder you; all for your time piece.

One more thing: not only would it be difficult to diet in a house full of cupcakes, it would be difficult to live in a house full of cupcakes. I’d like to imagine myself swimming through the cupcakes like Scrooge McDuck swam through his money, but get real, swimming through cupcakes or trying to move around in a house full of them, would be awful, and sticky.

Back.

I wanted to weigh 150 pounds; and so, like the definition says, I restricted the amount and types of food I ate — I started a low calorie, limited food option diet. I could eat most white meats, red meat sparingly, vegetables, and fruit. Other than Total for breakfast, that was basically it. The menu was fine; I’ve always loved and eaten fruits and vegetables; I enjoy chicken breast and fish; all was well or so I thought.

The first week was great; I didn’t mess up or cheat; I even discovered that pickles have no calories. That was all before visions of Mexican food, thin sliced cheese pizza and Tom Yum Ghai danced in my head.

The blues I was feeling were not caused by eating yet another chicken breast with broccoli and 6 baby carrots as a side, they were caused by seeing my wife eat the steak ranchero plate from one of our favorite Mexican restaurants; it was my sister and mom bringing home a Costco supreme pizza, of course after 7 pm — when I can no longer eat — and of course, after I’d already consumed my limited calories for the day (like I could eat the pizza anyway).

My breakdown. I do not exaggerate when I say I stalked the pizza like a lion stalks a gazelle. I paced around my parent’s island, pretending to be casual but casting dangerous eyes at the pie. Rinda kept telling me, “James! Get away from the pizza, that’s not going to help. You only have 4 more days of your diet, you can do it!”

She was being a good wife; but that didn’t change the fact that I wanted to punch every diet, especially mine, in the neck and lunge for a slice; and then proceed to scarf it down — like Buzz did with Kevin’s cheese pizza in Home Alone. Instead, I chose to pout. I literally sat down at the counter (right next to the pizza) with hate and gloom painted all over my grill. Rinda: “What’s wrong? I was just trying to help you out, you have lost so much weight already. If you want to eat a slice of pizza, go ahead.”

I had lost 11 pounds but I didn’t care about the weight loss, I wanted pizza. When she saw me, still mad, Rinda said, “James! just eat some pizza.” I resorted back to my 4 year old self and whimpered, “you’ll be disappointed in me;” she kind of laughed (I am almost 27) and she said, “James, I’m not going to be disappointed, it’s one slice of pizza.” My sister chimed in with, “if it’s going to make you unhappy…just eat a piece of pizza.” Needless to say, I did not eat pizza that night.

Instead, I chose the mature route: I stood up, packed our things, and we left my parent’s house, leaving my family and their blasted pizza behind.

I have since assimilated that it was not the particulars of the diet that was making me unhappy, it was the lack of choice — I felt like I was trapped. From this diet I have learned the importance of balance. Go ahead, eat the things you like, even the unhealthy ones, but if you do, make sure the other meals you eat (that day or the rest of the week) are healthier; and for heaven’s sake, do some exercise.

Now, by no means am I a champion exerciser — the only time I’ve ever been to a gym is when they forced me to lift weights in 8th grade. I don’t like rooms full of exercise machinery. However, I do love being outside, especially in the morning; and so I use that as inspiration to get out and a run a mile or two. I like movies; so I watch one while I’m on a stationary bike; I like Rocky; so I pretend I’m him while I jump rope. You get the point — if you hate exercising (traditionally speaking), find an activity you do love and add exercise to it. Do you like bad radio music? Do some jumping jacks while you listen to it (not while driving).

I have lost 12 pounds. I have two days left in my diet. Pray for me.

UNFUNNY HUSBAND MOMENT: I’m a genius when it comes to reworking the words of existing songs. Rinda just LOVES it when I roam around the house singing my rendition of Hakuna Matata: “hakruna makrata, crhat a cronderfuld craze, hakruna makrata, craint no crassin craze, crit creans no crurries cror the crest of crure crays…crits crure croplem cree, cricosophy, hakruna makrata.” Thank you. Thank you. I know. I know.

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Beard and Boy: A Short Story About Success

A fictional story with a powerful message:

When I was a young boy, I was repeatedly told I could not grow a beard. Most people told me it was impossible, my parents said it wasn’t allowed. It was heartbreaking. Some of my biggest heroes wore a beard: Jeremiah Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, the wolf-version of Michael J. Fox in the movie Teen Wolf, Jesus, Bill Walton.

Time and time again the same arguments and insults were thrown in my face to break my spirits—you’re 9-years-old, rubbing your chin won’t make the hair grow, you’re not manly enough, you don’t have what it takes, your heroes have gone through puberty, you haven’t—and yet, no claim or insult changed my mind, I knew what I wanted and I would work hard, as long as it took, to make it a reality.

Mom said I was being ridiculous. Uncle Randy told me I was too anxious to grow up and twisted my arm until I repeated after him that, “being an adult is dumb.” But I wasn’t being silly, and I didn’t want to be 17 or 57 for that matter, I just wanted what so many took for granted: facial hair.

My friend Art wants to play major league ball, my cousin Nedward plans to win best stamp collection at the annual competition. Art and Nedward aren’t heckled, laughed at, or thrown up on, they’re encouraged. Where is my cheering section?

It didn’t take long for me to learn that a fool’s journey ends when no one will go with him—or split the gas costs. A dreamers journey never ends, even if he has to go at it alone, in someone else’s shoes, or no shoes at all.

A bit of background.

It all started in the fourth grade. I was in Miss Kelly’s class (or Miss Kill Me as she was popularly known) and we had to give a historical presentation. Points were given for creativity. I’d seen the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and I agreed that the best way to make a history report come to life was to go back in time and kidnap the historical figures you’re studying, time travel with them to the present day, and then ask them to talk about how much things have changed, but, since I didn’t have a time machine, or enough money to build one, I decided to dress up like Charles Darwin instead.

Here’s me dressed up and ready for my presentation (sorry about the lighting, my mom took the picture in our garage!):

Charles Robert Darwin. A copy made by John Col...

Image via Wikipedia

I borrowed my dad’s rain coat, my neighbor Tilly’s former husband’s bowler, and I bought a Santa Clause beard (made from real Peruvian alpaca hair) at a thrift store. At first I was hesitant to be dressed up and in character but that faded as soon as I walked down the halls of Grover Elementary. Not once did anyone giggle or mock or puke on me. There were a lot of stares but aside from that, people were polite: one student opened a door for me, another addressed me as “sir.” At first I assumed it was because I was wearing an adult rain coat and a grown up bowler, but no, I removed them to go to the restroom and was treated with the same degree of respect to and from the john—a student even complimented my beard as I washed my hands. It was then that I realized people respected me because of the Peruvian alpaca hair glued to my face. Discovery: beards demand reverence and respect. People take you serious when you have a beard and I wanted to be taken seriously.

Some might ask, “Why not continue wearing the alpaca hair?” Two reasons: 1.) I didn’t want to be an imitation, some cheap knockoff, I wanted to be the real deal, and 2.) the alpaca beard slowly disintegrated and I couldn’t find or afford another one.

I got a C on the presentation but won best costume. But let’s get serious, who cares about all that, I had found what I wanted in life, something that most people don’t realize until they are much older.

For the most part, the rest of elementary school was fine. None of my peers could grow beards either, so I looked like everyone else (ugh!).

Junior high was tougher. My friend Eriberto had a crustrache and my friend Rod grew six inches over the summer simply by telling himself he was tall—everywhere he went, he thought tall, everyone he met, he looked down on, every door he entered, he ducked through—and it worked, he went from 4’9 to 5’3 practically over night. Apparently the method only works with height because no matter how hard I convinced myself, my uncle still teased and called me Little Miss Peach Fuzz (a double diss since I’m a boy and I really want to grow a beard, but am struggling).

High school was hell (sorry, there’s no other word to describe it). Half the football team and most of the girl’s softball team had nice facial hair. People who could care less, who were just lazy, were living my dream. I won’t lie, one day, after staring and screaming at the mirror for almost 3 hours, I slumped on to the floor and almost gave up. But something whispered, “No, not yet, not before proper inspection.” I wiped the tears from my eyes and did what I’d done every day for 11 years, I checked my face.

On the lower east side of my neck, right above the adam’s apple was a 2 inch hair. To most, that is nothing, an anomaly, something to be plucked and disregarded; to me it was a ray of hope in a dark and dreary wilderness. It kept me going.

Over the next 5 years that hair grew to be 8 inches. Girlfriends hated it, my mom didn’t understand it, and my uncle once tried to cut it off while I slept, so I stabbed him in the armpit. I didn’t let any of it bother me, I didn’t quit. I slapped the naysayers and the dreamkillers in the face. I worked hard, I kept on keeping on, I pushed forward.

I’m 27-years-old-now and have a full (well pretty full, all except a little patch under my chin) red beard. I wear it and don’t trim it with pride. Once in a while I’ll show up at my old elementary school and offer to do an assembly on success, but they always say no and then escort me off the property. No matter. I never leave without pleading that they share my one word secret with their students: perseverance. That’s right, perseverance, against all odds, perseverance.

If you happen to see a starry-eyed white kid with a ratty, not-so-full-beard, don’t judge. It could be his external demonstration of success, his way of saying to the world, “I made it, I beat the odds, I proved the haters wrong, I do have what it takes, I am manly enough, I have hit puberty (like my heroes), and I came out with a trophy, a hairy one, attached to my face.”

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I’m Giving You This Baby

When I was six-years-old my first little brother was born (I had two older brothers and two younger sisters). Christian showed up 7 weeks premature and was placed in an incubator for ten days so his lungs could properly develop. When he finally came home healthy, I joined the ranks of boys who love the idea of their “first baby brother.” That didn’t prepare me for what happened next.

Days later.

I was holding Christian when my mother gave him to me. Let me explain. My mother turned to me and very matter-of-factly said something along the lines of, “He’s yours. It’ll be your responsibility to take care of him. I’m giving him to you, to be your little buddy.” Most readers are probably thinking, oh cute, I was thinking oh crap. Well, I probably didn’t think the word “crap,” but I perfectly recall my emotional response–I was scared. I was still little. How was I supposed to take care of someone else? Retrospectively, it reminds me of Bill Cosby’s comedy bit, where the Lord asks Noah to build a ship and stock it with two of every animal, and all Noah can respond with is “riggght.” I’m sure my mom was just being cute, encouraging her 3rd son to take an active role in the life of her 4th son, but I took it all very serious and very literal. In my mind, it was my job to provide for Christian, to protect him. Whatever I did, he did, wherever I went, he followed, and I was okay with it. I even taught him karate lessons (a great excuse to practice all the moves I learned from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). I stopped calling him my little buddy when he grew taller than me, joined the navy, got ripped, and then covered his muscles in tattoos, but I still consider him to be one of my best friends. That life experience, and my response to it, was close to home when my first child (Claire) was born.

From left to right: my friend, Jeremy “Dangerous” Warner, Christian, me.

Claire was ripening inside my wife for 286 days (5 days past her due date) and labor was 30 hours long. It could be said that she was long-a-coming. [Read full birth story here.] I was more excited to meet my daughter than I was to see Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows – Part 2. When I held Claire for the first time I didn’t know what to feel. I was happy, but she wasn’t mine yet. I had just witnessed her dramatic entrance into the world but I didn’t feel like a dad yet. I went with her to be cleaned and it was there that it hit me–I was this beautiful creature’s father. And she was beautiful, even though she kept sticking her tongue out (definitely my kid). As I observed them wipe her off, put her in a diaper, and then had the opportunity to wash her hair, I knew–she was mine; it was my responsibility to care for her; she was my little gal.

If I felt little as a kid, when my mom told me to care for Christian, I felt miniscule when I took the freshly cleaned Claire in my arms. I felt like the Little Drummer Boy, anxious to present my best gift, but doubting the worth of anything I had to offer. However, feelings of inadequacy melted away as quick as diapers needed changing, baby needed comforting, and mother needed love. I took to fatherhood like crows take to rotting roadkill. I’m not saying fatherhood is easy or that I am particularly good at it, and I still find myself muttering what were You thinking sending her to me?, but all in all, I feel great (thanks largely in part to Claire’s awesome mother, Rinda).

People love to say “your life will NEVER be the same,” and they’re right (to a certain extent), but what they forget to say is, your life will never be the same and you won’t want it to be (90 percent of the time). There’s something incredible and inexplicable that happens to your life and home when a baby is a part of it and it’s worth the differences. Still, be ready for your house to smell like baby poo, no matter how often you take out the trash full of baby tacos.

I plan to write a future post that goes more in to detail about my at-home adventures with Claire (including examples of my teasing or “terrorizing,” as Rinda would call it), but for now, I’ll leave you with a photograph of Claire (it was her idea).

UNFUNNY HUSBAND MOMENT: I firmly believe that only Robert Redford and people with dark hair should grow facial hair (the 70’s was a different story). The rest of us look like schmucks. I have dirty blonde hair. My unfunny husband moment for the last 4 months: a beard. I’ve always wanted a beard and it literally cracks me up every time I look in the mirror–I look terrible in a beard. Sweet Rinda makes sure to drop little hints about how handsome I look clean-shaven but it’s not working, this joke is too good. I promised not to shave until after Christmas (for no real reason). Maybe this fall time beard growing can become a lasting tradition. Either way, I’ll be sad when It’s gone, my funny points will go down drastically.

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Don’t Call Me Zeemo — The Early Days of James Alexander

My nickname growing up was Zeemo Butts. Don’t ask me why, just trust me, it was fitting.

I was a ornery little kid. I don’t mean regular kid behavior–occasionally fussy, often-time annoying, great at a tantrum or two when mom refused a second piece of toast–I mean ornery, like those stink-eyed old men who own Scottish Terriers. Each morning I’d stand eye level with my parent’s bed and wake them up by yelling “I want to eat!”

When writing down reasons she loved her children, my mother came up with this for me: I love James because, well, he’s just so ornery. That would seem a lot nicer if parents didn’t find most weird things their kids do endearing. I should know, I thought it was adorable the first time my daughter Claire barfed all over the place. She is almost 6 months old now and barf is barf.

So why am I writing about this? Let’s just say it’s an illustration. In popular films the protagonist undergoes a change; the audience needs to witness that change for it to have any meaning. If Bill Murray wasn’t an a-hole in the beginning of Groundhog’s Day, him fixing a flat tire for some old ladies, later on in the film, would mean nothing.

Now, I am not popular or a character in a film, but I am a person with a story. In my tale, I started as an ornery kid and ended up where I am now–a soon to be 27-year-old who fancies himself far too humorous. Confession: the problem is not that I find myself funny, it’s that I find myself funny and don’t care if anyone else does. Selfish? Probably. My wife Rinda calls it alienating. I see it as a way to keep my chin up as I walk the cobble-stone streets of life.

This is me then:

I’m the dapper dude on the far left (apparently I even dressed like a grumpy old man). Ornery? readers might ask. “You look perfectly normal and even stunningly handsome.” True. However, I never said I didn’t smile (this is a picture, you are supposed to smile), I said I was a grouchy kid. I like to credit my smile in this picture to the hand behind my back. Perhaps I just passed gas, cupped some of it in my right hand, and am patiently awaiting the end of the photo session so I can present it to my older brother Nate (sweatered kid on far right). Alas, that is not true, but it makes me laugh.

So how did I get from ornery little kid to me? Here comes the lesson portion of this entry. I was ornery because I chose to be. I know this for two reasons: my mom tells me so and I have a vivid memory that supports my claim.

1. I am the 3rd of 9 children. I grew up in an awesome home with plenty of teasing and sufficient horseplay. After a sibling teased me or something unfortunate happened, my mom would watch my face and see the cogs click and turn in my brain. She could tell I was deciding whether to laugh or get mad. Almost undoubtedly I chose to get angry.

and

2. I had the seemingly rare opportunity (in today’s America) to grow up a stones-throw-away from my paternal grandparents. My siblings and I loved going to their small farm, and later, double wider. Grandpa let us pick rhubarb out of his garden, grandma gave us sugar wafers, and they hosted regular family picnics–red and white, checkered-table-cloth and all. My grandparents were loving, giving, and always present at important events. They were also teasers, especially my grandma. If my grandmother cracked a joke or poked fun at me, I would scrunch up my face and scowl at her. One day, after a trip to grandma’s, my mom turned to me and said, “you know James, if you don’t stop acting like such a grouch, your grandma’s not going to like you anymore.”

I’m not sure my mom understands the profound effect that statement had on me. I didn’t want to be disliked by my OWN grandma–talk about uncool. From that point on I made a conscious effort to laugh. That being said, it still came as a surprise to my parents when their son, who at the age of four had said, “when I turn five I ain’t going to school and I ain’t going to church neither,” was reported to be the class clown in Mrs. Douse’s kindergarten class.

I guess there is a hidden comic in everyone, even if the joke teller is the only one laughing.

This is us now (of course we are with Flavor Flav at a Halloween party), and then there is baby Claire in a new hat:

UNFUNNY HUSBAND MOMENT (One of these shall be at the end of every future post): One winter day my pregnant wife Rinda and I were driving home from Sunday dinner with my parents. It was cold; the heater was blasting; I let a stinky one. Rinda’s desire to stay warm was stronger than her desire to air out the car. The stink prevailed. Pregnant, emotional, she sobbed, “I can’t take it anymore, I can’t take this anymore.” It was sad and the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. I stifled my laughs.

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If you choose not to continue reading my blog because my first post has two fart jokes in it, I understand. The title of my blog tried to warn you:
You Probably Won’t either (think I’m funny).

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