Archive for the 'Bonding with strangers' Category

Super Bowl kids

February 6, 2011

Andrew Hicks

EDITOR’S NOTE: Andrew once again dashed his daily productivity goal and did not have this blog posted before midnight. The culprit this time? Super Bowl XLV. Now, don’t assume for a second that Andrew cared a thing about the game. He had to double check which teams were playing before the game started so he wouldn’t look like a moron at the party. Andrew never watches football and, in fact, spent most of his high school years at a Christian school whose homecoming game took place on the soccer field against schools with names like Because He Died For Us Central.

Let’s not forget, though, Super Bowl is one of the major party days every year, and until just a few months ago, Andrew was a major partier. Super Bowl is only partially about the game. It’s also about gathering, eating a ton of food and talking over the game. Andrew estimates that this Super Bowl, the first since he quit drinking, he paid less attention to the game than when he was matching Anheuser Busch ads one beer per commercial.

The domestic takeover of Andrew’s life, though, was ever-apparent at this year’s Super Bowl party. He went with his wife and kids to the next-door neighbor’s house. Andrew’s two kids plus the neighbor’s four kids plus the neighbor’s best friend’s two kids plus another neighbor’s kid outnumbered the adults in attendance. Seven adults, nine children, and it was a completely new experience for Andrew to have his child playing in another area of another person’s house with other kids.

He had to frequently quit watching the game — no major sacrifice, but still — to go upstairs and check on his 2 year old, who was perfectly safe the entire time. Oh, and when one kid climbed up on Andrew’s shoulders during one of these visits and begged Andrew to take him for a ride, Andrew obliged him, not realizing that all the other young kids were going to see this, think it was awesome and each want their own turns. Then beg for second turns directly after completing their first turns.

Andrew quickly felt every bit of how out of shape he was, which he supposes is some kind of basic irony, considering Super Bowl is supposed to be the ultimate show of the atheletic strength and agility of the few contrasted with the passive, indulgent consumption of the many.

Oh, and Andrew wants to add that he was tired of people talking about Christina Aguilera messing up the national anthem immediately — partially because he couldn’t come up with an easy, decent joke about it. He is grateful, however, that the Aguilera incident caused entertainment gossip shows to dig up a hilarious 2003 clip of Michael Bolton having to check the lyrics of “The Star Spangled Banner” that he wrote on his palm. Funniest part was, people were still asking Michael Bolton to sing the national anthem at major events in 2003.

FAMILY PICTURE OF THE DAY

Baby Silas, ready for transport.

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Group appetizer binge

January 22, 2011

Andrew Hicks

EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog post was also written twelve hours after the midnight cutoff, while Silas slept and Sarah ate yogurt and watched “Caillou” in her highchair. Two things Andrew has learned about “Caillou” so far — 1) It’s not pronounced “Kaloo,” and 2) The dad on the show cuts his lawn with an electric mower. Andrew’s grandpa had an electric lawnmower when Andrew was growing up, and Andrew was surprised to learn the cord didn’t always seem to be in danger of being run over and chopped up by a giant, rapidly rotating blade. Electric lawnmowers do just seem vaguely uncool, though, like when you see a kid wear a helmet while riding his bike at 8 miles per hour.

Tonight, Tiffany made an impulse stop into the supermarket. She was in the mood to fire up the oven, shove in a continuous stream of frozen appetizers and make a night of eating them and having fun. This wasn’t a couple boxes of wings, either; it was a Noah’s Ark affair — two of everything. Potato skins, jalapeno poppers, toasted ravioli with meat sauce, popcorn chicken, spinach dip, chicken fries and four Red Baron pizzas.

Our abundance of unhealthy food led us to consider doing the impossible: having people over. In 2007, we arrived in Springfield broke, living in a tiny apartment and not knowing anyone. Just as quickly, we were pregnant. Then we had a baby. Then we were pregnant again. Then we had another baby. Along the line, we moved into a house twice as big as the old place, and just recently we got our layout and setup the way we want it, based on the humble quantity and quality of furniture we do have.

Only now, in early 2011, does it seem natural to invite a friend or two or maybe four over to hang out. But we don’t usually actually do it. We arrived at the decision tonight sometime between 8:30 and 9, and we found a pair of couple friends available and willing to come over with their 7-year-old daughter.

In the period between realizing people were coming over and people actually coming over, we force-cleaned the neglected areas of the house. This provided a missing degree of accountability; the house would not have gotten cleaned otherwise.

The bringing of the 7-year-old daughter was key to our plan. Tiffany and I get pockets of time to ourselves — some time individually, less time as a couple. Sarah plays with us, and she plays by herself, but she rarely gets to play with another kid. This turned out to be good for everyone. Kid time for the kids, adult time for the adults, and oven-warmed appetizers for all. Silas even had a fortuitously gracious sense of timing and decided to sleep through almost the entire affair.

Sarah and her new little friend played well together, and the rest of us hung out and cracked jokes and played Guitar Hero. I haven’t done Guitar Hero in a couple years (at the peak of my abilities, I did an alright job playing songs of average difficulty, which makes me perfectly mediocre), but I enjoyed making fun of the entire Rush 2112” track* and its pretentious Spinal Tap/Stonehenge spoken-word nonsense breaks.

The friends we had over went to high school with my next-door neighbor, who bundles and buddies up with me almost daily for outdoor cigarette breaks, so we went as a group to retrieve her. She’s a single lady with four small kids, and it was going on midnight by this time. But through the magic of a double baby monitor, we brought the neighbor over, and sounds of peaceful kid slumber from next door filled the monitor**.

I happened into an unexpectedly poignant moment amidst all this. Sarah had already gone to bed***, and I went upstairs to check on our friends’ daughter, who had been lying on a blanket in Silas’s bedroom, watching The Swan Princess. I peeked in the doorway and saw the little girl holding a large white rectangle with medical-blue borders.

“Know what this is?” she asked me.

I didn’t. I thought maybe she’d found it in the back of a low dresser drawer, with all the stuff we’ve been given and never use. “Where’d you get that?” I asked.

She said, “It’s my pee pad. I pee all the time when I sleep.”

I had instant flashbacks to the bunk beds I shared with my younger brother. He was in the top bunk, with a rubber mattress cover. Sometimes, when he’d wake up and shift position to where his lower leg hung off the side of the bed, his body weight would depress the mattress and cause dribbles of his overnight urine to splash down in my direction.

“It’s no big deal,” I told the little girl. “A lot of people do it. My brother did it until he was like ten.”

“They say it’s disgusting,” she said back, “they” being the other kids, I imagined.

I wanted to give an impassioned speech about how it’s not disgusting, it’s a common problem, and screw those other kids. Having just written the “Rejector or rejectee?” blog post, memories of feeling like an insecure weird kid are still floating around freshly in my brain. I’m siding big with the underdog right now.

Letting other people’s jokes, opinions and snide comments hold you back is counterproductive and criminal, although I have to admit I’ve cracked plenty of jokes and snide comments over the years when I should’ve just kept my mouth shut.

Little moments like the above just provide quick reminders that I’m one of the grownups now, and any support, encouragement and rational thought I can provide for those younger than myself can only help. And beyond those things, I can also provide skins, poppers, toasted ravioli, popcorn chicken, spinach dip and pizza. Which makes the process of getting people to spend time at your house that much easier.

*I mean, this song lasts a ridiculously long time. “2112” is both the title and the duration of the song. It is two thousand, one hundred and twelve minutes long.

**The neighbor had to leave abruptly, and Tiffany and I realized later that we still have her monitor base, and she has ours. Theoretically, either one of us would be provided with daily opportunities to eavesdrop. If nothing else, though, we could coordinate our smoke breaks this way by speaking into the air. We wouldn’t even have to reach for our phones. The Information Age is so pathetically astounding.

***Sarah acted like she was going to fall asleep for about two minutes before remembering she had a new play pal who was still in the house. It was all crying from that moment until we relented and let our wide-awake toddler get up to play some more.

Crass leg cast stories

September 22, 2010

Tiffany, my wife, thinks my blog might have become too crass. She points to two consecutive posts that use the word “dump.” I counter that, of late, I’m writing about desperate times and desperate measures. I’m confined to my bed 90+% of my waking hours. A dump* is a break from this routine and, thusly, a positive answer to my ongoing question to myself, “What was interesting enough about my day to write about?”

When I’m all healed, I will go back to writing about taking poetically beautiful walks in the warm orange sunshine while staring longingly into the panoramic blue sky and Illinois corn fields. Till then, I’ll write about the accidental dribbles that escape the not-quite-wide-enough mouth of the pee jug**.

All that was a build up to the following story, which will surpass Merely Crass and fall into the domain of Supremely Gross. Skip three paragraphs down if you have a low threshold for the disgusting or are currently eating a large, extra-saucy bowl of spaghetti bolognese.

Here goes: My mom told me she used to work reception for an orthopaedist in the plaster cast days. A patient came in, complaining of discomfort and a mysterious, overwhelming odor. The nurses took him into an exam room and cut a window in his cast to check things out. The smell got exponentially worse as the nurses discovered a treasure trove of maggots. Crawling in and around his open wound. Feasting on the mangled flesh.

The moral? It could always be worse. Don’t bitch about having to spend a month in bed, having food brought to you while you watch ’80s SNL clips on YouTube.

…and we’re back.

Yesterday, I visited the ortho doc who performed my surgery. My splint was removed, and it was my first chance to see the swollen, bruised mess of stitched-up incisions on both sides of my left ankle. I should have taken a picture to share, but, you know, I don’t like to get gross in my blog. The doctor proclaimed everything was looking “pretty damn good,” which is complex medical lingo I don’t completely understand but sounds promising.

I spent most of the visit bonding with the nurse, who removed my stitches, taped me up and put on an actual leg cast. It’s amazing how much easier it is to converse with strangers when you have a wife and kids as catalyst for ice-breaking. These types of talks used to go, THEM: You married?  ME: No, I sleep until four everyday.  THEM: Got any kids?  ME: No, kids suck. I go out drinking all night, every night.  THEM: <evil eye>

This fiberglass cast is the exact same type of cast I had when I was nine and fractured a metatarsel in my right foot. Kids, when your mom and dad tell you not to ride your bike without your shoes on — listen! It wasn’t so bad, though. My healing metatarsel and I stayed inside and played computer games during gym class while the rest of the kids were outside running cross-country.

That might have been the exact moment when I reached the “Fit or Fat?” fork in the road and permanently went down the wrong path. Looking back, I think the fork in question was stabbed into a giant breaded pork chop smothered in brown gravy.

Having a cast on again reminds me of a bad dream I had 23 years ago, while I was on the mend. In the dream, school was in session. We had just started taking a very important standardized test on one of those “fill in the bubbles” sheets scored electronically. My leg was itching like crazy, consuming all my attention. I couldn’t take it anymore. I grabbed my sharpened #2 pencil and jammed the eraser end down into the cast, scratching up, down and all around like crazy. It felt amazing.

Then I reached down a little too far and lost my pencil in the depths of the cast. I freaked out. It was the only pencil I had. How was I going to get the pencil out? How could I finish the test? I couldn’t get anyone’s attention. The other kids were consumed with their tests, and my teacher was at her desk, reading a book while her Sony Walkman headphones blared. Strains of Cutting Crew’s “I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight” wafted through the classroom as I waved my arms wildly and screamed at the top of my lungs.

Wow, what a relief as I woke up, realized it was only a dream and ran off to the living room to enjoy a large bowl of Fruity Pebbles and an episode of “Heathcliff” I’d already seen a dozen times.

I made most of that up, incidentally, but I do remember scratching my leg with an upside-down pencil and being worried that it would fall into the cast. So that flight of fancy was at least loosely inspired by a true story.

Oh, my wife also said this blog is not staying true to its premise — namely, that it’s here to chronicle days spent taking care of my kids. With this entry, she’s absolutely right. I don’t even mention Sarah and Silas until the very last sentence.

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* = Three consecutive posts

** = Five consecutive posts, I believe