“Daddy, will you come lie with me?”
The Boy is having trouble falling asleep, and when this happens, there’s only one real solution: to climb into the bed with him and let him fall asleep curled in one’s arms.
I’ll admit that there was a time that I was growing tired of this. It was an almost nightly ritual, and with so many things I needed and wanted to do in the evening once the kids were asleep, I just wanted him to drift off as quickly as possible.
But over the last couple of years, another change has happened, which has altered my outlook on stretching out with the Boy in the evening. The Girl, now almost eleven, requires little to no bedtime assistance, and some nights, I have simply kissed her goodnight and turned out her light. She’s growing up, and in doing so, she’s developing her own evening routines and rhythms, and unlike the Boy, she no longer gets scared as she’s going to bed.
It struck me, then, that E will be following suit soon. No, not really all that soon, but soon enough. A few years and the whole bedtime ritual in the house will look entirely different than it does now. A few more years and neither one will really want K or me to lie in the bed with them, stroking their hair, whispering to them to lie still and go to sleep. And I will look back on this time when I could have done it with a tinge of regret that I didn’t do it more often.
Which is why, when the Boy asked if I would lie down with him, I did so without hesitation.
The Girl got her report card today, and much to her surprise, she didn’t get that B. Turns out it was on the second quarter reporting period — which means she has a hole to dig herself out of. But at least the streak remains.
The Girl tomorrow will be getting the first B she’s ever made on a report card. It’s in social studies, and it weighs heavily on her.
“I got an A on the study guide,” she told me this evening, “but I got a C on the test.”
I don’t remember when I got my first B. Probably on my first report card. I can’t remember when I got my first C, but I think it was in junior high. I do remember getting the one D I ever received: earth science, ninth grade. I think I made all As and Bs in college, but if I had, I would have not graduated simply Cum Laude but rather Summa. Or so it seems to me.
Obviously grades were never all that important to me. Sure, I wanted to do well, but I didn’t beat myself up over it. I sat back and watched everyone who was interested battle for valedictorian and salutatorian honors, and I think I slipped into the top 10% of my class and was somewhat pleased with that.
The Girl’s biggest concern is remaining on the All A Honor Roll. Will this disqualify her for end of year honors? I had to admit that, despite being a teacher, I really didn’t know. Again, I never really worry too much about it.
My own students come to me sometimes worried about their grades. My English I Honors course has had the dubious distinction of being the first B for several students over the year. I express my regret, point out that I don’t give grades but that they earn grades, but in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “It’s not such a big deal really.” For them it is: it’s a high school credit course, which means it will count toward their GPA.
I’ve had students’ parents have their children repeat English I in high school to get that A. I’ve even had one mother require her daughter repeat because her A wasn’t high enough. “Your class was much harder,” the girl wrote later in an email.
So I try to comfort L the best I can, suggesting that it’s not the end of the world. She dries her eyes and says, “I know.” But I know that doesn’t help all that much.
We went back to a favorite park this afternoon — the kids and K went the short way in the car; I went a somewhat longer way by bike, just to see what the route was like.
I found myself out of suburbia and in the “country” in a matter of kilometers, and I got to thinking about taking a new way to work when I ride. It would double my current distance, but 90% of the ride was so much more pleasant.
This meant that everyone got a headstart on the walk/ride.
That meant I missed all the manhole climbing that inevitably takes place. Still, there are mysteries: did Clover jump up or was she placed? Certainly the latter.
I also missed all of L’s silly games. I don’t know if it’s just a little way to exert a bit of control over the Boy or if she’s actually enjoying it, but she sometimes proposes to E that they play something that place her clearly in a place of authority. Today, she had to check the bikes every time we reached one of the walking-only wooden bridges.
I finally caught up to them just as they were climbing off yet another manhole cover. The Boy was ready to leave the slow girls behind, but first we had to walk across yet another bridge.
And then we got the idea for the picture, one that’s instantly become one of my favorite portraits of the two of us.
His expression is just classic E: so serious, trying so hard to be such a grown up little boy.
During our ride, the Boy noticed a family riding the opposite direction.
“That’s really dangerous,” he said.
“They weren’t wearing helmets!” This morning, coming home from Mass, E kept checking that I was going the speed limit. I’m pretty sure he’s going to grow up to be a safety engineer. I can see him coming home for a visit and with his new, more diplomatic communication skills, beginning many a conversation with, “Um, Dad, about X you did in the backyard…”
Once we all regrouped back at the car, I headed home another way. I knew the trail we’d been riding on continued a bit further, and my thinking was that I might ride that whole trail to its end next time I rode to work. It will indeed be a pleasant ride, but not for a week like this week, when I have hall duty in the morning and must be at my station at 7:45. The idea of leaving before 6:40 to make it there in time with enough time to change — not going to work.
I got home and checked my stats on Strava and had the same depressing reaction: my average power output for the ride was right at 150 watts. Some perspective: amateur riders are considered decent riders, able to start small-scale races, with consistent power outputs of 250 watts for about two hours. At 300 watts, you’re really a good rider. The pros? They are over 400 watts for a four- to five-hour, 180-230 kilometer race, with the ability to crank it up to 700 watts for twenty minutes or so. That’s so unreal that it’s like watching Tommy Emmanuel’s fingers on the fretboard: “How is that even humanly possible?” I ask myself.
The Boy loves playing with the dog — sometimes, he gets a little too excited about it.
The dog occasionally gets a little too excited as well, taking matters into her own jaws.
And all the while, the Girl has been working on her flip.
The Girl has been singing in the youth choir for about a year now, and she was recently chosen to participate in a small ensemble to learn some more challenging pieces. Last night, she and the other seven members (ages 10-16) sang “Stabat Mater,” an a cappella, three-voice piece in Latin.
We’ve been taking Clover over to our neighbor’s fenced in backyard while we wait to have our fence complete. Our neighbors, who are absolutely the best neighbors one could have, told us to feel free any time to bring the dog over to let her have unfettered free play, and we take them up on that generous offer daily. They even set a plastic chair out for whoever — usually K — is there with the dog.
Right now, I sit in that chair, and I glance over at our house and see K leading E into the house. It’s not clear if he’s hurt or in trouble, or perhaps neither, but for a moment, I’m an outsider looking at my family as if I were the neighbor.
What do I know about that odd family that lives next door?
The wife is a sweet and hard working woman from Poland, who has a slightly noticeable but endearing accent and a penchant for phrasing things in an unusual way. She’s clearly devoted to her children, and spends a great deal of time with them, often down at the little corner recreation area the family has made in the far corner of the lot. She fusses at her children from time to time, but I’ve never heard her yell.
The daughter was such a little girl when they moved here, a regular princess. How she’s changed and how she’s stayed the same. She was always dancing and prancing about as a princess as a little girl, but now I see her out in the driveway sometimes, roller-skates on, improvising some dance routine with the seriousness of an accountant. And how tall she’s grown: she’ll soon be as tall as her mother, I think.
Then there’s the little boy, who is always so eager to help. Every time I’m out washing the car or the camper, there he is, eager to help.
That’s what I think — hope, believe — my neighbor thinks of my family. And what might my neighbor think of me? That I’m helpful, a good father and husband, a good neighbor — all the normal things, I guess.
The Boy was playing a computer game just before dinner. He decided he needed the Girl’s help. She eventually helped him.
That’s the short version of it.
The long version includes coaching the Boy about how to ask for help without being an annoying and intrusive presence and encouraging the Girl to take an active role in helping the Boy through difficult experiences.
She didn’t want to go to the park to take the dog for a walk. At one point, she adamantly refused. Not at one point. Immediately. Had she not done so, I might — might — have considered letting her stay behind, considering what she wanted to do instead, but that immediate refusal made that impossible. K and I pointed out a few simple facts: she hadn’t gotten much exercise today; she was dying for a dog and now not willing to help; there was time for that other activity when we got back; and so on. So she went on the walk with the Boy and me, with Clover leading the way. (Next training task: get her to stop pulling on the lead.) And it’s safe to say she enjoyed it. We laughed a bit, chatted a bit, and she danced down the trail a bit — all typical. And in the car on the way, she did what she wanted to stay behind to do: she read one of the mountain of books she checked out of the library yesterday.
She wanted to stay behind to read.
I can’t get some of my students to read a paragraph without griping, but she wanted to read. She’s chewed through an unbelievable 2,700 pages so far this school year, and she’s gotten hooked on a new series, which I’m ashamed to say I can’t even identify. Given her year-long obsession with mythology, it’s not hard to guess about the subject matter. But that number, which she shared during breakfast today — 2,700. That’s just impressive. I’ve read 39 books in 2017 so far. That’s probably a touch over 3,000 pages, but that’s over the course of almost nine months. She’s read almost a third of that in a ninth of the time.
So the choice was this: force her to get some exercise and share in the companionship of a walk or let her read. Had she not forced my hand with her fussing obstinacy, I’m not sure what was the right choice.
I was too lazy to import and work on the handful of pictures I took of the morning light in our backyard, so here’s one of a fruit and vegetable vendor in Warsaw over the summer getting ticketed for not having the proper paperwork.
Where’d I get that 3,000 pages? I was tired. Somehow I did the math in my head so incredibly incorrectly that it’s laughable, but now that I realize that, I’m too tired to go back and rewrite it. L’s better at math than I am, too.
He runs around the pack of children that are kicking wildly for the ball, circling the periphery without ever penetrating. At one point, the ball comes right to him. He looks at it and then glances around, his expression saying, “Well, I’m not really sure if this is mine or not, and I don’t really want to take it from anyone unfairly.”
I’ve told him several times that he has to penetrate that group, force his way in, push people out of the way if necessary.
“I try,” he insists, but I’m not convinced he even realizes what he’s doing. I try to take a video of it, but the sun is shining right into the phone, making dark silhouettes of all the players.
Even in the best of conditions, I’m not sure he would see the issue. When he runs, he does so with such intensity, such ferocity — his arms pumping wildly as he runs as fast as he can — that you would be forgiven for thinking he’s running down a challenge of existential significance. He sprints towards the ball, then slows and resumes his position as an outsider, a virtual on-looker.
On the way back to the car, he shows once again that it’s all irrelevant, that there are more important things to be concerned with, both as a child and a parent. Particularly the latter. Holding his Gatorade that he got as an after-game snack — most parents just bring juice boxes, but someone went all out, I guess — he declared, “I’m only going to drink half of this. L likes Gatorade, too.”
I’ve never been good about tool maintenance. Other things are a different. The bike I ride to school looks and rides like it’s brand new. My chain is always glistening; my cables are always in tip-top shape; my bottom bracket spins like there’s no tomorrow.
But tools? I let perfectly good things wear out. Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do? But when we retired our lawn mower a few months ago and bought a new, shiny Honda after a fair amount of research, I decided things would change with that mower. I began hosing it off thoroughly after each job, even the underside of the mower deck. (Having a fuel shut-off valve helped a lot.) Today, I took it a step further: I dug out an old brush and actually brushed off the stains forming on the underside of the deck.
“If you could only get that way about our cars,” K is surely saying to herself.
We usually are going counter-clockwise, Clover and I. When we reach the yard — that yard — we approach it blindly. I know it’s there, but a stand of trees hides that fact. Clover knows soon enough when we’ve reached that spot, though: the two dogs come tearing at her, barking madly, stopped only by the fence. She pulls and pulls the opposite way, but I pull her in close to me, pet her and reassure her.
“It’s okay, Clover. They won’t touch you.”
Eventually we make it past the house, but she’s positively terrified.
That’s been the reality for a while. Today, we went the opposite way. When we approached the road from up the street, she recognized the house almost immediately, hesitated, then walked on. The dogs came out; the dogs barked; Clover kept walking.