Monday, February 22, 2010

Boogie While You Can

Last Friday night, I had a big date. I showered up, ironed my best dress shirt, picked out a tie, and donned my sharpest dress coat. Then, I headed out the door for an evening of dinner and dancing in the company of a beautiful young woman. And she wasn't my wife! No, the young woman I'm speaking of is my six-year-old daughter, Emerson. This past weekend, Emerson and I hit the annual Valentine's Day Daddy-Daughter Dance at Emerson's school. My little princess looked gorgeous. Watching her descend the stairs in her little black dress, just a touch of make-up, and a Shirley Templesque hair style compliments of her mother's talent, my heart melted. Thoughts of, "My gosh, she's becoming a little woman," rushed through my mind. Fortunately, I was quickly reminded just a few moments later that, for now, she's still my little girl. While Meredith removed her digital camera from its case, I barely had time to utter the words "Where'd Emerson go?" before I looked outside to see Emerson zipping up and down the driveway on her scooter in a formal dress and heels. I was just about to yell, "Emerson, be careful," when, WIPEOUT!--she hit the concrete, skinning her knee, flipping backwards, and nearly ripping her dress. Unable to see if she was hurt because of the skirt that now covered her face, I rushed over to make sure Emerson was okay. "I'm fine," Emerson said. "I just skinned my knee." After taking a moment to brush her off and add a Hannah Montana band aid to her ensemble, Emerson and I took our place in the front yard and posed for pictures before we departed for our big event.

The evening was a blast! It will always live on as one of those precious memories I'll treasure. Upon arrival, I presented Emerson with a corsage. She smiled and said, "Thank you, Daddy." Then, being a clumsy man and not wanting to cut the evening short by accidentally impaling my daughter, I enlisted one of the young ladies on hand to help with the actual pinning. "You look beautiful," I told Emerson. "This flower itches my neck," was her only response. We then made our way into the ballroom (a.k.a. the gym). After treating ourselves to a delightful meal of Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets, barbecue meatballs, and Little Caesar's Pizza, it was time to hit the dance floor.

Accompanying your six-year-old daughter to a dance can be a little tricky. She's right at that borderland between wanting daddy close and wanting daddy to back off so that he doesn't embarrass her in front of her friends. I'd barely finished my last meatball before Emerson spotted a group of her little pals and bolted from the table. Wiping some sauce from my lip with my napkin, I couldn't help but grin as I watched them huddled together in a little group, giggling, talking, and dancing together to some song I'd never heard of. Sitting there with three or four other dads who'd been ditched just as quickly, I watched my daughter and her pals in between my own conversations with the other fathers about work and sports. Emerson and her girlfriends looked like miniature teenagers hanging out at a high school homecoming dance, while me and my fellow dads sat there dateless like members of the Chess Club.

Then, suddenly, things changed. The DJ began blasting KC and the Sunshine Band's "Boogie Shoes." It's a song the kids and I sometimes sing and dance to at home when we're goofing off. Immediately, Emerson's face lit up, she began jumping up and down and motioning to me like crazy to join her on the dance floor. Finally noticed, I jumped up like the geeky kid in science class who'd somehow won a wink from the head cheerleader and rushed to join my daughter. The other dads soon followed, and we all put on our boogie shoes and shaked our booties. We danced to KC and the Sunshine Band, Cool and the Gang, the Jonas Brothers, and more than a couple of Miley Cyrus songs (And the Jay-Z song was on y'all). Of course, when you get a bunch of dads in a big room dancing, it's not always a pretty sight (especially when most of those dads are middle-aged white guys). Some of the dads there were pretty good dancers. I'd even go so far as to say that a few had rhythm. But, for the most part, the dancing wasn't good. Some of it was even downright disturbing. There were a couple of times when I almost called 911 to report men having seizures. But, since the shaking and flailing always stopped when the music did, I eventually figured out that the only medical condition we guys were suffering from was an incurable case of severe Caucasianitis.

And that's pretty much how the night went. It was a balancing act in which I did my best to read my daughter. After a little while, I got pretty good at knowing when it was time to jump in and boogie and when it was time to take a step back and let her run with her little crew. Emerson gave me a tight hug and a big "I love you, Dad," when the night was over, so I guess I did okay.

But the evening was encouraging for another reason too. It was encouraging because it reminded me that there are a lot of awesome dads out there. In this day and age, when we hear of fathers who neglect their families for work or who just aren't around, it was inspiring to look around the room the other night and see fathers dancing, laughing, and being silly with their little princesses. I couldn't help but notice that every single father I saw looked like he was having fun and that there was nowhere else on earth he'd rather be than right there, in that moment, with his little girl. One guy in particular, my friend Andy, had to fly out early the next morning because he'd broken up a business trip just so he could be home to take his girls to the Daddy-Daughter Dance. "It's not the most practical thing," he told me, "but I wasn't going to miss this." Now that's what fatherhood is all about. Ten years from now, Andy won't remember the deals he made on his business trip, but he'll remember that dance--and so will his daughters.

We dad's have a precious, but oh too narrow window with our kids. We are blessed with a short amount of time in which our daughters want us to be their date for the evening, want to hug us and sit on our laps in public, and aren't embarrassed to say "That's my dad," when people see us dance. We get a few years in which our sons want to be Dad's best bud, hang out with him all the time, and brag to his friends about how his dad is the biggest, strongest, and smartest dad in the world. It's a special time. But it will one day end. So my advice, dads: boogie while you can! Dance while the music is still playing and your little girl is still jumping up and down, waving to you, and calling at the top of her lungs, "Come on, Dad! This is our song! Let's dance!" You'll always be glad you did. Even if you suffer from Caucasianitis.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Little Guys Time

This past weekend, my wife, Meredith,took our daughter, Emerson, on a road trip to visit Meredith's grandmother in Virginia. That meant that I was alone with my two small boys, William (age 4) and Carson (age 2), for four full days. It's an adventure any time I'm alone with my boys. But I knew going in that playing single dad for that many days would be quite a challenge. Still, I welcomed a little guy time with my little guys.

The highlight of the weekend was the snow that arrived Friday afternoon. Powder Springs received around three inches. That might not sound like much if you live in Minneapolis, but in the Metro-Atlanta area, three inches of snow is enough to shut down schools, close businesses early, and send every mom within a hundred mile radius racing to the store to buy milk and bread. I'm not sure why southern moms have to hoard milk and bread when it snows. It seems to me that the most important supply to stock up on would be toilet paper. After all, I can drink water and eat Spaghetti O's if I have to. But the idea of having to wipe tender fannies with Brawny paper towels for three or four days really makes me cringe. Apparently, however, moms know that if you get snowed in without milk and bread, your chances of survival rank somewhere just below the Donner Party's.

As the flakes continued to fall most of Friday, my sons' excitement grew as the ground became less and less visible under the freshly fallen blanket of snow. Although I had planned to work most of the day from home, I knew that my writing would have to wait. How often does it snow in Powder Springs, Georgia? I had to put my work aside and take William and Carson outside to play. So, sliding my laptop aside and making a conscious effort to NOT think about how far behind I was falling on my projects, I gathered together the boys big coats, gloves, and hats, and prepared my little men for an afternoon on the great white tundra.

It wasn't a quick process. First of all, I had no idea where the boys' snow boots were. Meredith would have known in an instant. She's equipped with the standard mommy data base that tracks the location of everything from winter clothes to summer bathing suits. It doesn't matter where it's stored. If it belongs to the kids and is in the basement, garage, a closet, a car, hidden in the wreckage of the Titanic, or buried with Jimmy Hoffa, then Meredith knows where it is. Not me. Most days, I can't even find matching socks or my own razor. I knew the boys' snow boots were probably in the garage--but everything's in our garage! Fortunately, after a long search, I found William's snow boots (half-way home, one pair to go). But despite my best efforts, I could only find one of Carson's. Unable to convince my youngest son that pretending to be a one legged elf hopping around the North Pole would be fun, I had to come up with a different plan. Since I couldn't find his second snow boot, I bundled Carson's feet up as warmly as possible and slipped on his rain boots. Combined with his puffy jacket and winter hat, he looked like a Teletubby about to go in search of the deadliest catch.

Secondly, dressing small children for a day in the snow is not easy. It's not like most days when I just make sure they're wearing a warm coat and then let them run outside to play with their buddies. No, there are winter hats to pull down over little ears. There are layers of clothes to put on to keep little bodies warm and dry. The process was made even more challenging by tiny appendages unable to grasp that only one of them is supposed to go in each finger of a glove. When all was said and done, getting just two little boys ready to play in the snow took nearly forty minutes. Given the amount of time and effort it took to get dressed, I made the executive decision that we were going to remain outside until our lips turned blue and ice sickles hung from our tear ducts.

Playing in the snow was fun. We hooked up with our friends and had a blast. Somehow, I became the target of a snowball blitz. William and Carson got a kick out of hitting their old man with all the snow balls they could make. Meanwhile, cries of "Get Mr. Howard!" rang consistently from the mouths of the little girls next door. I don't know how I became the object of all the little people's snowball wrath, but I guess there are worse ways to spend an afternoon. Plus, I have to admit, I got in a couple of good shots myself. Oh sure, I mostly let the kids hit me and then giggle as they ran away. But, on occasion, my evil side took over and I couldn't help but unleash a direct hit, busting William in the head or whacking a neighbor's child in the back as she unsuccessfully tried to retreat to cover. The kids loved it. Even if the initial jolt left them a little stunned, I'd cover my tracks with words like, "You okay, William? Daddy didn't mean to hit you in the face," or "Oh, I'm sorry sweetie. You'll be able to see again as soon as that snow melts." All the while, I was giving myself internal high fives and thinking, "Eat snow, Pee-Wee! There's more where that came from!"

At night, the boys and I lived off of pizza delivery or dad's culinary skills (which consist primarily of reading a box and following directions regarding how to heat frozen dinner entrees). We watched a couple of movies and stuffed ourselves with popcorn. I even let William and Carson skip baths a couple of nights. After all, we're guys. Who cares if we smell a little bit when we're having a guy's weekend.

Today, thank goodness, Meredith and Emerson are coming home. The three of us are anxiously waiting. After all, even on a good day, Daddy still can't hug or make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich quite like Mommy. And, as much as I love my boys, I miss my girls. I also need some help. For four days I've refereed twenty-seven fights, given ten spankings, cleaned one pair of pooped-in underwear, and unclogged one toilet incapable of flushing cardboard despite Carson's multiple attempts. Yep, despite my deep affection for my sons, with each passing moment I find myself growing more and more understanding of species that eat their own young.

I'm grateful for the little guys time I got this weekend. I'd wish it on any father with sons. I know that I will always appreciate it as a special time I got to spend with William and Carson. But I also take it as a reminder of how much I need to express appreciation for my wife. If I have even a shred of sanity left, it's because of all she does to keep things running at home and to help take care of the kids. I hope my sons appreciate her too. After all, she's often the only thing standing between them and being eaten.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Day in the Fatherhood

The Fatherhood is a chaotic place. It's a place where daytimers, calendars, and the best laid plans are filed under FICTION at the local library. The Fatherhood's not dull. It's often enjoyable. It's at times frustrating. It's life shot from the hip. Kids keep life full of unanticipated twists and turns. Fortunately, most of the unforeseen swerves aren't major (although some are). Usually, they're minor bumps in your day. But still, even relatively small bumps can damage your car and bruise your butt. As a dad, you just have to choose to have an attitude that doubles as a good set of shock absorbers.

Take, for instance, the other day. I was home alone with the kids while Meredith was working at a client's office. While playing with my two boys in the backyard, one of the little girls next door, Mae, decided to come over for a visit. Mae is a sweet, well-behaved little five-year-old. She and her sisters are best friends with our kids, and we love her to death. Mae is energetic, strong-willed, and never shy about demonstrating her impressive ability to ask 122 questions per minute. She also believes that she must be standing within at least six inches of any adult with whom she is having a conversation. One thing's for sure, she'll never be accused of flying under the radar.

Having just finished throwing a ball to my lunatic dog, Zoe, I turned to see Mae climbing over our fence to join me and the boys. Afraid she might fall, I rushed over to help her. I didn't make it more than a few steps before I stepped in a big pile of dog poop. Slipping and sliding the last couple of feet, I reached the fence and helped Mae down. Irritated that the crevices of my right sole were now filled with doggie doo-doo, I sat down, grabbed a stick, and proceeded to clean my shoe as best I could. All the while, Mae stood less than a foot from my nose asking me questions: Mr. Howard, why are you rubbing your shoe with a stick? Mr. Howard, why does your shoe smell like that? Mr. Howard, is that dog poop on your shoe? Mr. Howard, why do you have dog poop on your shoe? Did you know I have a hula-hoop? Did you know I'm almost six? Mr. Howard, are you ever going to wash your car? How long will your shoe smell like that? Do you always say bad words when you step in dog poop, Mr. Howard?

Finally, having survived an interrogation the Obama administration would have labeled as torture, I turned and hopped up the stairs with my poop-covered shoe in hand--my lovable little visitor right behind me. On entering the house, I soon discovered that the door to the garage was wide open and that both my two-year-0ld, Carson, and my dog were gone! A wave of panic rushed over me. Already I could envision the next day's headlines: "Father Loses Son! Unleashes Cujo on Neighborhood!" I rushed outside as fast as I could, Mae following in my tracks, still asking questions. No sign of Carson! My dog, Zoe, on the other hand, was gleefully running from yard to yard as if screaming the words "I'm free!" through interpretive dance. Confident that Carson had gone next door to Mae's house, I commissioned my other son, William, to rush over and check. Fortunately, Carson was there. I then spent the next fifteen minutes pursuing Zoe back and forth through the neighborhood and screaming "Zoe, come!" while passing drivers turned to get a look at the crazy dog chaser wearing only one shoe.

At last, having somehow captured my rebellious canine, I grabbed Zoe by the collar and limped back to the house. Mae kept pace, the whole incident inspiring yet another onslaught of questions. Mr. Howard, how come Zoe didn't come? Mr. Howard, how come you're wearing only one shoe? Isn't your foot cold, Mr. Howard? Mr. Howard, when we get inside, can I have a snack? Did you mean it when you said you were going to sell Zoe to a Chinese restaurant, Mr. Howard?

Returning to the garage, I soon learned that the fun was not over. Unable to turn the door knob, it immediately occurred to me: I'VE LOCKED MYSELF OUT OF THE HOUSE! My only hope was that, in my panic, I had left the backdoor open. I led Zoe around to the fence, then, picked up my sixty-five pound boxer and lifted her up, gently dropping her over the side. I then climbed over myself, every bone and joint in my forty-one-year-old body creaking as I went. Jumping from the top of the fence to the ground, my shoeless foot landed on a pine cone, sending a surge of pain up the leg I'd just skinned while scaling the fence. Conscious of Mae's presence and not wanting to yell any words that could be used against me later, I simply grimaced and bit my lip. Why are you making that funny face, Mr. Howard? Did it hurt when you landed on that pime comb? Did you know that I can paint a pime comb to make it look like a Christmas tree? Do you like Christmas trees, Mr. Howard? What's your favorite part of Christmas, Mr. Howard? Making my way up the stairs of the deck--again--I was relieved to find that the backdoor was, indeed, open. Knowing that my boys were safe next door, I dragged my muddy, pine-cone-punctured foot indoors. Then, I unlocked the door to the garage, let Mae in, and fixed her that snack. (It's hard to eat and ask questions at the same time.) A little while later, my daughter, Emerson, arrived home from school and all the kids went next door to join William, Carson, and Mae's sisters.

And so goes life as a dad. What started as a seemingly simple plan to spend time with my sons and dog ended in one poop-plastered shoe, a mud-stained sock, a briefly escaped dog, and one near missing child emergency. Yep, your typical bump in the road. Just an average day in the Fatherhood.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Hello, loyal Dadlosophites! Thank you, again, for your support and taking time out of your busy schedules to hopefully get a laugh or two reading Dadlosophies. Sorry, but there's no new post this week. You can catch my next entry next Monday, Feb 8, starting at 12noon. Have a great week.