The door to the boys' bedroom is closed, which is unusual for late evening. I knock gently.
"Come in," politely calls a distinctly unhappy voice.
I poke my head in, and see The Brawn lying sideways on his bed, an arm sticking up straight in the air, an extremely disgruntled expression on his dirty face.
"What's wrong, buddy?" I ask. "Everything okay?"
He sits up and frowns. He grumbles something I don't quite catch.
"You can't what?"
"I can't snap."
"Oh," I say, relieved that for only the third time in my fathering career, here's something I can maybe help with.
I have him show me his technique, and I correct it. Soon he's...well, not snapping, since there's no sound accompanying his movements, but his form is very nearly correct. All that's now required is some patience and some practice, two things for which six year old boys are widely renowned.
Then I have an idea. You can find out how to do anything online. I google "how to snap" and bingo. The ftop hit lays out the exact steps—all of which merely confirmed I'd advised him correctly—and the fourth or fifth hit is a video that looks like just the thing.
We click through. The Brawn mimics the motions, looking down at himself to make sure he's doing it right. So he misses when the video really takes off.
He looks up for the final few seconds. "Wait," he says. "What was that?"
I play it again. He watches silently. When it's over he just keeps staring at the screen, then turns towards me. He doesn't say anything.
"It was a joke," I explain.
"Oh," he says. He thinks. "Can we watch it again?"
We do. This time he smiles. When it's over, he laughs. Then again, harder.
"Can I have an egg?" he asks excitedly.
My children are, as everyone who's ever met them will whole-heartedly attest, often (but not always) to the chagrin of their own offspring, the best ones ever born. But they're not blessed with what you would call an overabundance of The Funk.
Until now. In the past few months, it's suddenly become very obvious that I finally have a child who seems to have been born with an innate sense of rhythm.
(Indeed, whilst writing this, I played a tiny bit of the linked video, and he immediately began bobbing in time. When I closed it, he looked shocked and hurt. When I opened it again, he said, "keep this on.")
Naturally, Top Management is delighted by this turn of events, barely able to stop grinning whenever The Beast starts up his banging on stuff.
I, on the other hand, feel like I'm in a film from the 1930s: those drums...those blasted drums. Won't they ever stop?
I am given to understand I was the same way as a child. Top Management informs me that I still am—the same way, that is, not a child...I think—but I find that hard to believe.
Either way, I cannot imagine how the hell my parents and sibling put up with it. (My good lady wife and offspring are a bit easier to understand: they pretty much have no choice, as I am too large for them to move.)
And now I can sadly add "No bongos before 7 a.m." to the list of sentences I never thought I'd have to say.
The Golden Weasel is practicing for the winter piano recital. She hits several bone-rattling clams during her halting rendition of "Greensleeves."
"I'm actually really good at this," she assures her grandparents. "It just sounds like I'm not."
She begins another run through, then adds, "Sometimes when you practice a lot, it makes the notes sound kind of blurry even though they're not really."
"Hey," I say to the five-year-old as evening turns to night. "If you're done with all these puzzles, you know you need to clean 'em up and put 'em away."
The Brawn looks down at all the puzzles on the floor; he'd gone on one of his sporadic puzzle sprees a few hours earlier.
"I just thought," he says, adopting what I'm sure he thinks is a generous tone, "that people might like to look at them."
The five-year-old says, "There's a little thing of milk on the side of the cup."
"It looks like a drop of white blood."
As I ponder what makes white blood look like blood rather than, say, milk, he tilts his head to study the rare albino plasma droplet, then gulps it down, erasing all evidence it ever even existed.
I look up in surprise at the five-year-old calmly getting undressed.
"...what did you say?"
He looks me dead in the eye. "Shit."
"That's what you almost said. You almost said 'shit'."
"No I didn't."
"Yes you did."
I cast my mind back furiously, feeling unjustly accused while entirely aware of just how regrettably possible his version of events is. And yet...I really don't think I even came close to having any reason...
"When you told me get ready for bed," he clarifies. "You almost said 'shit'."
"I did?" Again, for the record, I really don't think I did.
"Yeah. When you told me to put my pajama pants on, you almost said 'shit'."
I truly no kididng don't think I did.
"...oh. Wait. Shirt? Pajama shirt?"
"Instead of pajama pants. Yeah."
Sweet vindication is mine.
My kids, man. As has already been proven, they don't play when it comes to posing the gravest of serious queries, probing the depths of the mysteries of humankind's existence.
So when my 16-year-old came in as I was writing, A Look upon her face, trepidation immediately was felt.
"I have a question," she said hesitantly.
I braced myself.
"There's an upcoming episode of Teen Titans called "Boys v Girls," and we were wondering, if Robin, Beast Boy and Cyborg fought Starfire and Raven, who would win?
(My children may not be like other teenagers.)
"Dad. Dad. Daddy."
I look down at the small boy punching my leg. He looks like he's got something seriously weighty on his mind.
I squat down and he reaches out and takes my face in his hands, hands which have been playing with tinkertoys for hours and are distinctly grimy.
He looks me dead in the eye and asks, with all the gravitas a five-year-old can muster, "Can we get a cuckoo clock?"
The Golden Weasel approacheth slowly.
HER: Dad? Paul Ra...Rave...Rev...
ME: Paul Revere?
HER: Yeah, him. Was he a president?
ME: No, sweetheart.
HER (eyes growing big): He was a king?
ME (thinking): ...are those really the only two options here?
ME (saying): No. He wasn't a king.
HER: Then...what was he?
ME: Well, he was an American citizen.
ME (stopping to ponder the logistics of that statement): I think.
HER (disappointed): Oh.
I hate to think of what a disappointment I must be: not president, not king, just a citizen and not even a famous one. Well, best she learn now, I guess.
The 8-year-old is at the kitchen table, practicing drawing lessons from one of the roughly seventeen thousand how-to books Top Management has acquired over the years. She begins humming a song she and I had sung—or, more accurately, "sung"—together a few nights earlier: Bob Dylan's "Stuck Inside of Mobile (with the Memphis Blues Again)," a song that, for reasons even I don't entirely understand, is one of the songs I play most frequently on the guitar and which she and her 13-year-old sister therefore have a certain fondness for.
I decide to play the original and call it up on the iTunes. The Golden Weasel listens for a few verses and then says, "he doesn't sing it like we do," which is very true. She then wonders, "why does he talk it instead of singing it?"
I explain about style and technique and touch upon the differences between sprechstimme and sprechgesang and the history of each.
The next song comes on, another we'd sung—"sung"—together the other night. She listens to the first few verses and then, judging by the affectionate smile on her face, thinking she's bestowing upon her parents her highest compliment, she says, "this is yours and mommy's song."
"It Ain't Me, Babe."
Go 'way from my window
Leave at your own chosen speed
I'm not the one you want, babe
I'm not the one you need
You say you're lookin' for someone
Who's never weak but always strong
To protect you an' defend you
Whether you are right or wrong
Someone to open each and every door
But it ain't me, babe
No, no, no, it ain't me babe It ain't me you're lookin' for, babe.
Go lightly from the ledge, babe
Go lightly on the ground
I'm not the one you want, babe
I will only let your down
You say you're lookin' for someone
Who will promise never to part
Someone to close his eyes for you
Someone to close his heart
Someone who will die for you an' more
But it ain't me, babe
No, no, no, it ain't me babe
It ain't me you're lookin' for, babe.
Seems her talents for drawing doesn't extend to lyrical analysis. Or maybe she just doesn't know the word ain't.
I look down and see a bunch of legos under one of the stools near the piano.
"Hey, come pick these up," I say to the boy I miraculously know without even asking is responsible.
...in the mighty wiki, if not the official dictionary, is a shot of me with all four of my daughters, watching Randy Newman on Austin City Limits. The Bean was there from the first—if there's some sort of music thing on the tube, she's there. The others drifted in when they heard him singing Toy Story's "You've Got a Friend in Me," but (perhaps aided by homemade chocolate chip cookies) stayed for the duration. The middle two marveled at his piano prowess. They all agreed "We Love L.A." should be our friend Krissy's ringtone. The Golden Weasel picked up a new nickname, courtesy her older sisters: Short People. And all four hung on every note and syllable of the finale.
Not the worst hour of my life.
I come into the kitchen and notice one of the two junk drawers is open. A foot away, the Golden Weasel sits at the kitchen table, hard at work.
"Hey, are you going to close that at some point?" I ask unreaonably.
"Hm?" she says, looking up. "Oh, right."
She dashes over and, rather than close it, begins digging through. "I'm looking for something that hasn't been used in a long time," she explains.
"Oh?" I say, foolishly thinking I could maybe help. "What?"
She looks at me, perplexed. "Anything."
The Golden Weasel puts a tinkertoy creation down on my desk.
"This is The Wheel of Doom™," she says. "It—wait."
She pauses, then holds her hands out, palms facing forward. "It's The Wheel of Doom™," she says again, only this time her voice goes down as low as it can (which isn't far) on the final word, adding a certain heft, a certain sense of, well, catastrophic annihilation. "You have to say it the right way. When you just say 'The Wheel of' it sounds like it could be something pretty or fun. But then when you say the last word—Doom (and this time she makes her voice quaver in a ghostly manner)—then people know right away what it's really like."
I consider the sculpture, its neon colors and friendly shapes, and wonder how on earth anyone could ever consider it pretty or fun, anything, really, but an object of abject terror.
"Okay. So it's got lasers here and here, and here and here, and these ones spin around but these lasers spin around and go up and down, so it can pretty much kill anything anywhere right away."
She unleashes an incandescent smile, spins and dashes away. Two seconds later, she's back.
"Oh, and it's made of lava."
One of the very few good things about having a kid in college is that when she stumbles across an image she's pretty sure you'll like, she IMs it to you.
And she's right. This is pretty much my favorite drawing ever. Not just because I unironically use the adjective "peachy" all the time, but because these two antipodal fruits succinctly sum up the yin-yang relationship of me and my beloved Top Management.
The distinctive sound of small feet approaching shreds the deep sleep I'd happily been in.
When I force myself to lift my head slightly, I see a small shadow in the doorway.
The shadow sees my movement and comes to stand next to my side of the bed.
"I swallowed my spit," the shadow whispers.
The Golden Weasel is drawing at the kitchen table as I'm doing the dishes. I've got a playlist of several hundreds songs and when it's a song she recognizes, she hums along with the stereo. It makes me very, very happy.
Except tonight, when I gradually become aware of her sweetly, softly singing "la la la la la" to a song I don't think she's ever heard before.
Do. Not. Like.
The Golden Weasel comes in from a walk with her siblings singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" because, apparently, she's determined to prove she's actually a cartoon character.
When she finishes the last line—"life is but a dream," for those with serious memory loss—she fortunately stops, rather than starting right over again.
"Except for me," I say. "My life is a nightmare."
"Oh!" she says, getting a glass of water. "Why?"
"Because you're my daughter," I snarl.
She calmly takes a drink. "That's nice," she says, and pats my arm, before going to play with her My Little Ponys.
The five-year-old has been playing happily in the corner, chattering away under his breath. He breaks off and starts looking under things: the table, the stepstool, cushions, a shoe.
Finally, he comes over to me. "Have you seen Teal?" the Brawn asks.
I don't remember which toy Teal is, if I ever knew. I have an image of a light blue monkey, or maybe it's a bear? Is that Teal? Cerulean would be a more appropriate name for it, I think. Either way, I think that toy, whatever it is, belongs to his brother.
"I'm sorry, pal—which one's Teal?"
The Brawn looks at me strangely and says slowly, "it's a color of dot paint? Sort of blue and sort of green?"
Oh. Yeah. That.
The 5-year-old comes in from playing with the little boy next door.
"Do you know what happens when you leave a fish too long in the oven?" he asks.
It never even occurs to me that this might be the set up for a joke; his delivery far too sincere, he's clearly about to convey how cool it was when the kid's father ruined dinner just now or something along those lines.
And, indeed, the boy makes a squiggly gesture with his hand, as though illustrating how the poor fish was burnt to a thin, twisty crisp.
"It turns into bread," he says, awestruck.
Now, admittedly, my understanding of chemistry is only slightly less lacking than my knowledge of physics, but even so, I have to break it to him. "Yeah, I'm pretty confident that's not correct."
As he goes off to wash his hands, it occurs to me that the manner in which some sort of bizarre transubstantiation meets alchemy was just explained to him was more or less the same way I learned about sex. Which might be related, in some way, to the fact that I have six children.
The 15-year-old muses as we toss a tennis ball in the backyard.
"I've often wondered if it would be possible to get through an entire day by saying nothing but quotes from books and movies and stuff."
"Well," I respond. "I'm home."
She laughs. The 8-year-old looks disgruntled, knowing that, while it's true, I'm back after being away overnight, she's also missing out on a reference. "It's from The Lord of the Rings," her sister explains.
"Between that and Star Wars, I'd think you could get through a whole day," the 13-year-old opines.
"Hm," the 8-year-old says. "The only quote from that I really know is by Yoda. 'To be or not to be, that is the question'."
Her sisters look at her to see if she's trolling them. She isn't.
"I think you mean 'Do or do not—there is no try'," the 13-year-old says gently.
Six of one, half dozen the other. Or, as Captain James Tiberius Kirk once said, "It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
Twenty years ago today was the loneliest I'd ever been in my life.
I'd had my share of lonely times before that—as the youngest kid by a decent margin, maybe even more than my share. But I'd never felt anything like I felt on May 14th, 1994.
I'd been hanging out with my groomsmen, having a great time, when suddenly I was told it was time to start and I had to go wait in a backroom for the ceremony to begin.
So I'm hearing the music I picked out, played every so beautifully by a trio we'd hired, and peeking out, I can see my brothers and friends from college escorting people down the aisle and smiling and laughing and I'd never felt so isolated before, so absolutely crushingly alone.
Fortunately, just a few minutes later, my brother Jay came and kept me company, which helped considerably. And then a very, very long minute or two after that, we went and stood up at the front and the music shifted and I saw walking towards me the most gorgeous person I'd ever laid eyes upon.
And shortly thereafter we were married. And it's been twenty years and I've pretty much never been lonely since.
Thanks for choosing so poorly, love of my life.
You think by now I'd know better. As of today—sigh—I have 54 years' worth of girls.
So you'd think I'd be the last one to view the fairer gender through rose-colored glasses. It's not like I'm not oh so well aware of just how...let's say very very human the femalé of the species is.
And yet I'm still surprised when I'm making the cake with the birthday girl, who wanted red velvet cake, and as we add the wet ingredients the batter goes from a dull brownish powder to a vivid, garish, viscous vermillion, and she gives a low, dark chuckle and growls, "Mmm...blood."