The Gout That Stole Christmas

“Don’t mind me, I’ve just got the gout again,” Grandma Lu Lu said as she limped toward the back bedroom of her suburban Chicago condo. She lived across from the High School where NBA star Dwayne Wade played. He built them a new gymnasium, and invited Kanye West to christen it. My grandmother wasn’t there. She was probably at the library, or more likely, on the couch smoking cigarettes. There is no one that can smoke cigarettes like my grandma. She’s been sucking down Pall Mall unfiltered smokes since she was thirteen, though she may have moved on to filtered or cheaper ones now. There must be some weird loophole in the smokers’ contract that says if you smoke enough of them, and they don’t actually kill you, cigarettes will make you stronger. At this point, I think they are keeping her alive. Hey, whatever works. Fending off “the gout” might be a different story.

“The gout, eh?” I responded, looking over at my future brother in law for a reaction. She had actually said “the gout.” It was fucking classic. You can’t write dialogue like Grandma Lu Lu is known to spout, and boy can she sure spout it. She’s a gossip queen who is also a master of the art of complaining. We can talk on the phone for an hour and I’ll say ten words tops. But I like it that way. I can listen to her go on for days. She’s opinionated, she’s stubborn, and she can be funny as hell whether she’s trying to be or not. She also apparently has “the gout.” “Where are you going?” I asked.

“There’s some candlestick holders that I wanted to give you…unless you don’t want them,” she said before taking a final drag from her smoke and stubbing it out in one of the many ashtrays scattered around her place. “I know other people want them, so you do what you want,” she continued as she wrapped the two silver plated candlestick holders in plastic Jewel-Osco grocery bags. The scent of a thousand cigarettes wafted out of the bags as she shook them open and placed the holders inside. I tried to figure out why I was chosen to receive the candlestick holders while trying on one of the wigs that she had on a shelf in the back of the room. My brother in law tried unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh, and I hurried to replace the wig before Grandma looked up.

If other people want the candlestick holders, I’ll take them, I thought. Though, I was suspicious of their actual value, and knew I would never have a use for them. Grandma Lucy has been offering up her belongings for the past twenty years in preparation for “her time,” but within the past few months she has actually been giving the items away. Today she was trying to talk me into taking a white Christmas plate and the candlestick holders. I had my eye on a few other things in the condo instead, but I was trying to get out of there before the emphysema kicked in.

“Why wouldn’t you want this Christmas plate?” she asked me, as if I was trying to turn down solid gold bars, “Do what you want, I don’t care.”

Not wanting to argue with my little old grandmother on Christmas, I smiled and told her I’d love to take it. She hobbled into the kitchen for another bag as I pretended to toss the plate like a frisbee at my brother in law. He remained silent aside from a slight giggle. “What’s coming with us Gram?” I asked while piling the smoke scented presents into both of our arms. Most of them tagged for her newest great-grandchild.

“Don’t be in such a hurry. You’re acting like your father,” she said as she returned from the kitchen with a bag for the plate and a few more for the presents. She took the presents out of my arms and put them back down on the table. She looked me over and asked me what was wrong. “Are you mad at me or something?”

“Not at all Gram, I’m just hot,” I replied, “What do you have the heat cranked up to? Ninety?”

“You’re just like your Uncle John,” she countered, “He was crabbing about the heat last night too. You guys should all just stay home if you hate it here so much.”

I knew better than to complain about the smoke as well as the heat, so I unzipped my coat, walked out of the room, and hit up the ever present candy dish on the coffee table in the next room, hoping for something other than gum drops, circus peanuts, or any of the other various inedible candies that only my grandma seems to find. I tried to take a deep breath but it was like breathing in a tobacco sweater. I was about to pass out. The combination of my winter attire, the heat, and the dense, smokey air was enough to do me in. I needed to get out of there quick. I passed up the candy dish, grabbed two handfuls of bags, asked my brother in law for the keys to my sister’s jeep, and sprinted down the stairs and out the front door into the cold, crisp, Chicago Christmas air. I tossed the bags into the car, remembering my grandma’s advice to be careful with the presents that were inside one of them about a second too late. I took a couple of deep breaths, cherishing every molecule of the precious fresh air before heading back inside, and bounding up the steps to grab what I hoped was the last of the bags.

Picking up Grandma Lu Lu on Christmas has been something I’ve done since I learned to drive. I’m usually joined by a sibling or cousin, but it’s always me, it always ends up taking a lot longer than it should, and I always come back smelling like Joe fucking Camel. It’s tradition. A tradition that I have grown to love, despite the second hand lung cancer. A tradition that will probably come to an end before my son will get to accompany me on the task. But there will be other traditions. Traditions that I look forward to starting with my new family, and older traditions that I look forward to continuing. I am a big fan of traditions, and I want my son to be as well.

My generation and those younger seem to care less and less about history and traditions. That’s why I care more. I’ve had hour long phone conversations with Grandma Lu Lu where I’ve asked her question after question, trying to learn about our unique family story. She always wonders why I want to know these things, and she’s not always easy to interrogate. She was the rebel in her family. She smoked, she danced, and she refused to speak to her mother and father in the language of their homeland. As a second generation Armenian-American, my Grandmother Lucine Chakmakjian tried to get as far away from her family history as possible. She married a non-Armenian in a sparsely attended ceremony and became Lucy Miller. She was a free-wheeling, independent, American working woman. She cared more about the present than the past, which isn’t a bad thing, unless you’re trying to learn about that past. She’s not the best source of the family story, but I have thankfully been able to still get plenty of them from her.

Someday I will tell my son the stories of his crazy great grandmother’s life and the stories of our family. Stories about escaping genocide, marrying the poor one, and living in apartments over-stuffed with family. I will relay tales of Chicago Armenian neighborhoods, big bands, birthday cards, and blizzards. Pass along what I know of the print shops, steel factories, sandwich shops, and high school football games that have played parts in our past. He’ll learn about what it was like for her to have a husband in World War II, and a son in Vietnam. I will share with him her recipes and her records, her pictures and her letters. I will tell him how much she cherished everyone around her, including him, and how much everyone cherished her. I want to keep the roots alive and strong.

I will also pass along the stories of his Great Grandma Dorothy. My Grandmother the nurse, the waitress, the working mom. The artist; the boss of the family; the one who made him laugh hysterically every time he saw her; the one who I also grilled for family knowledge as recently as last week. I can’t wait to relate the stories of romantic elevator meetings, streetcars, and concert halls; stockyards, casinos, and golf courses. I will delight him with great tales of Welch coal mines, murders, and unwed mothers; orphanages, adoptions, and his great-grandfather’s ties to the Menomenee tribe. I will wow him while recounting his great-great-great-grandmother’s voyage on the Lusitania, his great-great-grandfather being sold to a farmer before his eventual violent rescue, and his great-great-grandmother’s hitchhiking trip to Florida. I will tell him about all of this and so much more.

I wonder if he’ll even know his Great Grandma Lu Lu? I wonder if he’ll be old enough to remember his Great Grandma Dorothy? They are both amazing women whose lives I have admired for years, and whose quirks I have grown to love. I know I was lucky to be old enough to have had some great memories of at least one of my great-grandmothers and even better ones of his great-grandparents. But, I also know that as I am welcoming this wonderful child into my life, I will have to start saying goodbye to some very special people that he may or may not ever even know or remember. It makes me sad, but I am ready to bear the torch of tradition for my family. Their stories and traditions will keep them alive for my son, and hopefully his. I can’t wait to tell him those stories; stories about those that came before him; stories about where he comes from; passing along to him more than just DNA and silver plated candlestick holders.

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The Night Before Christmas Vacation

I spent all day today introducing my son to the greatest Christmas album of all time, Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait. Sure I love Frank, and Johnny, and Bing; The Chipmunks, Nat Cole, Neil, and “The King.” I’ll give Barbara Streisand her props, too because that Babs’ A Christmas Album is better than great. Her versions of “Jingle Bells,” “Favorite Things,” and “A Christmas Song” have been molded into my DNA. But as a complete album, Christmas Portrait is the preeminent example of success in the genre. The bar was set in 1978. It bettered everything before it, and hasn’t been matched since. There is no argument.

I sat Jack in front of the tree with a bottle while I tried to pack my bags for our fifteen day yuletide road trip. Looking more like a bearded homeless guy that ate Karen Carpenter, than either of the siblings, I hurried from room to room gathering a random selection of clothes, books, and chargers, singing along and making grand hand gestures to him while walking past. He was only mildly amused. But that’s okay, he needed to be paying attention to the album anyways. Sure, one may think it’s only a Christmas album, but it’s so much more. There are lessons to be learned with repeat listens; lessons about song arranging, lessons about quaaludes, and lessons about eating disorders.

I never really knew much about Karen or Richard Carpenter while listening to this album on my parent’s turntable all those years. Before today, I was never really sure if Karen Carpenter’s “eating disorder” wasn’t really just a “coke habit.” I didn’t know if they were married or brother or sister. They were like the original White Stripes, with more issues and less color coordination.
She was apparently quite the anorexic, eating upwards of one hundred laxatives a day with unnecessary thyroid medicine. He gobbled sleeping pills in equal amounts and had no trouble just riding the coattails of his sister while turning the nobs and nodding off. Those must have been some Christmases in the Carpenter household, and they made one hell of an album.

The album is like a quintessential Christmas movie or stage show, without the visuals. It flows seamlessly between secular and religious tracks in a variety of genres. You have to listen to the entire thing, which is easy to do without even noticing. Richard lisps his way through the effects laden “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and then your off into the racing instrumental orchestral overture. There’s an overture for goodness sake. It’s got all the hits that your holiday requires, but what sets this album apart from all of the others, is that even the originals feel like classics. “Merry Christmas Darling,” and “Christmas Waltz,” definitely are. Karen plays the perfect female lead. The album is pretty much all her. She’s your mother, lover, and mistletoe mistress, and she nailed all of her parts. Richard mostly chewed sleeping pills and went along for the sleigh ride, but his arrangements are perfect. It’s a verifiable success from start to finish, and I can’t get enough of it this time of year.

It was kind of weird listening to an album with my son that I first listened to with my mom. I love how music can span generations like that. An album has become a tradition. That to me is the pinnacle of success if you are a musician; to make something that becomes an integral part of someone’s life. I’ve never listened to any other Carpenters album, but I’ve listened to their first Christmas album more than a few times, every single year of my life. So far, my son has too. I looked at him over by the tree and tried to take in the moment. He was working on a dump.

I’m excited to create Christmas traditions with my son, but it’s obvious, for the next few years, all the memories will be mine, not his and not ours. There’s time for that. For now, it’s time for pizza, beer, and holiday cheer with new friends. The kind of people that you meet and immediately feel like you’ve known forever. There’s a lot of people in Omaha like that. Like everything else here, it’s been a wonderful surprise. A fucking Christmas miracle. Here’s to fifteen days, two cities, two families, two holidays, a wedding, and a seven month old! Karen Carpenter pray for us all.

Tall Boys and Short Stacks: Transitioning To A No Income Lifestyle

“Three bucks,” one of the usual bartenders said while handing over a PBR tall boy can. I fumbled through my cash and handed him a five while trying to figure out why it wasn’t only a buck. I swear PBR was always only a dollar, though, at the point of the night when I’ve moved on to PBR, my memory can’t always be trusted. I took my change, tipped a buck, and noticed that everyone around me was drinking the same thing, including the David Cross looking guy with the handlebar mustache.

The PBR tall boy can is the official beer of downtown Benson. I was out a few weekends ago during one of those Omaha local music showcases and I think the entire neighborhood ran out. I was sitting at the end of the bar in Burke’s Pub around last call with the infamous Dr. Sanchez, when it happened. There was no more PBR. None. I’m more of a High Life guy when it comes to cheap beer, so I took it in stride and bought a round of the champagne, but others took to the streets ready to riot, in that polite Omaha way. I even read an article the other day about how PBR is the newest “hipster beer,” especially since we are in a recession. Apparently everyone is a hipster in Omaha.

I however, was not drinking this PBR tall boy to be hip. I am not a “hipster,” I’m much cooler. I also was not drinking it for my usual reason, because I was six IPA’s in and it was last call. No, I was drinking PBR because it was the most beer for the buck, and my job doesn’t pay well. Actually, it doesn’t pay at all. It’s a nice thought, but you can’t pay for beer with the love of your son, and he doesn’t have enough pull around here to get me free guest list spots at The Waiting Room.

I took a swig from the can and turned around as “Instant Karma” came on the house speakers during a set change between bands. I headed towards the stage and took a spot against the wall by the merch table and the bathroom, passing a guy that looked just like the bearded John Lennon. I did at least a triple take, shook my head and shrugged. Instant fucking karma is right. This PBR is some crazy shit I thought, as I tried to coax some flavor out of my next sip while checking out the CDs on the table in front of me. I haven’t bought a CD in months, and the two Hopluias I drank before switching to PBR killed any chance of breaking that streak.

I’ve never been much of a consumer, but as I watched Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies take the stage, I remembered a time in the not so distant past when I could buy things from merch tables at shows whenever I wanted to. I remembered when I could afford to drink microbrews all night instead of PBR, never once thinking twice about leaving a tip. I remembered the countless nights of freely buying rounds for my friends. Now, I’ve got a budget. Now I sometimes have to embarrassingly and reluctantly skip a tip. Now I have to sheepishly ask my wife for cash on my way out the door. It’s fucking weird.

Not having a personal income is hard to get used to. You feel less free. You feel like a cheapskate. Sometimes, you feel like a kid with a crappy allowance. I’ve always been one to pick up the tab, now I have to defer to Mommy Warbucks. It’s odd to go from a weekly paycheck to complete co-dependence. It’s one thing to be the secondary bread winner, it’s another to not bring in any at all and have to bake it at home.

Going to play poker once a week with friends feels so decadent now. Now, losing is more heartbreaking. Dropping twenty or forty bucks on poker night used to be a small price to pay for good company and conversation. Now I’m trying to stretch out my short stacks and praying to break even. It’s only a matter of time before I’ll have to skip a week here or there. I really can’t justify asking my wife for enough cash to play cards especially when I’m not catching any and coming home empty handed.

The money issue is relatively new to us now that my bankroll has finally dwindled down to double digits after four months of my stay at home dad career. My wife is now paying my car payment and credit card bill. She’s also paying all of the other bills that I used to pay and the ones that she always has, out of our singular income, while I stare with amazement, shame, and fear at the balance of my checking account. It’s hard to leave the house without my wife and her debit card. I can’t even really buy her Christmas presents. I am quickly becoming completely dependent on my wife outside of our home, while I am becoming more independent as a father inside of it. It’s not an easy transition to make, though I’m thankful that she’s generous, understanding, and an all around team player while I adjust to life as the unpaid equipment manager.

On the bright side, not having to deal with money, bills, stores, co-workers, bosses, and commerce in general, is freeing in other ways. I feel like I’m off the grid, but instead of going “Into the Wild,” I just spend time at home with my beard, my dog, and my son. I don’t need to buy clothes, because I rarely get dressed. I don’t need gas money, because I rarely drive anywhere. I don’t go to the grocery store, well, because I can’t afford it. It’s a stress free lifestyle, but one that still is going to take some getting used to, especially since I’m a big fan of going out and doing things and those things always seem to cost money. No more working in radio means no more free concert tickets, CDs, or beers bought by your biggest fans. I now have to actually pay the piper for the passions I’ve gotten hooked on through the years, and if I’ve learned anything from the rock and roll lifestyle I’ve flirted with for the past decade or so, it’s that there is always a cover charge and the beer isn’t free unless you’re in the band.

We knew making the shift to a one income household would come with its challenges, but we also knew that the benefits were important enough to us to try to make it work. My son doesn’t have to go to daycare, and we don’t have to pay for it. I suppose that’s the biggest justification. As long as we’re able to do so, I know we prefer it this way. So far, so good. I leave the house a bit less, I drink cheaper beer sometimes, and I’m starting to play smarter poker. I’ve cut back on the shows I’m going to and I’ve had to get creative about being able to secure the music I want to listen to. But, I also get to spend my days in my Homer Simpson slippers watching my son learn and grow and drool. Every second is priceless, and it’s all worth it. It doesn’t pay, but the benefits are great and I’m getting good at this stay at home dad gig. I’m even getting good at doing the household chores. One day soon, if I play my cards right, I may even ask for an allowance. Until then, PBR me, ASAP, I’ll buy the next one.

Just Another Snow Day in Oma-Hoth

Today was the 29th anniversary of the day John Lennon was shot. Today was also a snow day. The city of Omaha has pretty much canceled Tomorrow as well. Shit, every Omaha school, except the University was canceled yesterday afternoon before it even started snowing. The top four stories on all three 10PM network newscasts last night were about the snow. They honestly gave tips on how to keep your children safe while sledding. The cancellations numbered in the thousands.

Even the University finally closed just a bit before noon and canceled tomorrow’s classes too, so my wife’s got a couple of snow days. She’ll spend them critiquing my parenting skills and my improper usage of burp cloths, and I’ll remind her, under my breath but most likely to myself, that I don’t visit the university and tell her how to use her Power Point presentations. I don’t go down to her work and heckle her, as Seinfeld would say. But it’s official now, she’s staying home. All of the neighbors are home. All of the kids that go to the middle school across the street are at home. Everyone is home everywhere, and they are all intruding on my “stay at home” lifestyle. Snow days are so bittersweet now.

All of the cancellations have scrolled continuously on the bottom of every TV channel and have been read exhaustingly on all the radio stations for the past twenty four hours. It gets old very fast. I mean, I understand posting and announcing the school closings. Every kid with a heart is waiting on that glorious announcement. My brother and sister and I used to sit by the radio for hours praying for Our Lady of the Ridge to intervene on our behalf and tell the nuns to close the school. It rarely happened. Us Catholics always had to go to school. I think we had four snow days total in my 12 years of schooling…in fucking Chicago.

What I don’t get is the posting of every other single event that is not important enough to smash your car over by driving to it in a blizzard. In my radio days, I used to have to read them over the air myself until I realized how stupid it was. If all of the schools are closed, even the Catholic ones and the Universities, there’s a good chance your yoga class, bible study, or Mommy and Me meeting is probably canceled as well. No massage class; no weigh in for Weight Watchers; no craft bazaar. If there’s a foot of snow, there’s probably no Tai Kwon Do.

You’d think it never snowed in Omaha. Hell, you’d think it never snowed anywhere the way people seem to react no matter where I’ve lived. It’s the same everywhere. Snow turns people into little kids, some, into kids with mental disabilities. It can either be a winter wonderland, or one big fucking game of king of the mountain with idiots and assholes. You never really know in the snow. It’s unpredictable. The rule of law always seems to be suspended in the snow. You feel like you can get away with stuff. There’s always a chance you may end up in the belly of a Taun-Taun.

Speaking of, the only thing that wasn’t stopped by the great Blizzard of Aught Nine was The Force. Star Wars in Concert was in town at the arena and the word on the internet was that it was not going to be canceled, no matter what. C3PO was in town and everything. We had wanted to go, but we don’t have a babysitter and my job doesn’t pay. Besides, it was Jack’s first blizzard anyways. We were going to make the most of it with or without George Lucas. I planned to listen to the Beatles and play in the snow with my son.

I remember my first blizzard. Well, I remember the pictures at least. I was stuffed into a snowsuit, holding my Grandpa and my Dad’s hands, snowdrifts taller than me. Looking at pictures from a time that you can’t possibly remember is kind of like waking up on that random Saturday in college, hungover. You don’t remember the night before, but you have a feeling that it was one hell of a great time. Because of those pictures, I’ll never forget that snow day, despite the fact that I can’t remember it. All I know, is that I’ve kept searching for that ultimate snow day ever since. Even though it was probably anti-climactic, and I don’t remember a second of it, I can’t help but feel like that was the greatest snow day of all time. It’s like how people always claim that high school or college was the best time of their lives. It’s funny how we are able to romanticize things that we don’t really remember, and probably never actually happened.

Today, the goal was to create that first snow memory for Jack, or at least the pictures for him to look at years later and falsely reminisce about his role in The Great Winter Storm of 2009. We zipped him into the slightly too big second hand Tommy Hilfiger snowsuit Grandma had bought him, his arms and legs too short still to make use of the attached mittens and boots. He was one part the kid from A Christmas Story and one part drooling invalid. I was way more excited than he was. He shit in his snow suit and cracked a patronizing smile. Julie grabbed the camera, and we ventured out the back door to make some memories.

Less than ten minutes later he was back inside. Jack took to the blizzard as you’d expect a sixth month old to take to laying in the snow and having cold snowflakes blown into his face, which is not very well. Though, I think he could have handled it for a bit longer, and possibly gotten used to it enough to enjoy it, Mom put the kibosh on that as soon as his cheeks got red and his drool started to freeze. I got them both to hold out long enough to snap a few pictures before they scurried back across the snow covered wooden deck, through the back door, and up the stairs to the house. Memories made, despite not living up to whatever expectations I had before stepping outside. Fuck it, I thought, we’ve got some pictures. Snow days will be more fun when he’s older anyways. I grabbed the shovel and walked around to the front of the house to start shoveling the driveway and the sidewalk, though I knew it would be like digging sand out of an hourglass. Hey, I’m a sucker for a lost cause.

I started digging out Julie’s car while casually watching my neighbor shovel out his, next door. We had gotten a couple of inches two nights before, so after he left for work yesterday I had shoveled the rest of his driveway and sidewalk and cleaned off his wife’s car for her. Today, I noticed that he didn’t stop with his own car and started cleaning off her’s as well, probably trying to make up for yesterday and not wanting to get showed up by his friendly neighborhood stay at home dad with nothing else to do. He was obviously saving face with his neglected wife, and I laughed a little to myself as I swept a few inches of snow off our windshields.

“Hey man,” my neighbor called to me as I threw some snow with the shovel at the window Jack was looking out of, “Thanks for cleaning off my wife’s car and stuff yesterday, you made me look bad.”

“No problem, but that wasn’t my intention,” I responded, knowing full well that that was slightly my intention, even if I didn’t want to admit it. She must have talked his ear off about how nice I was for doing something he should have done. I imagined her staring longingly out the window and wishing for a second that I was her husband; the thoughtful one. Cleaning off your wife’s car is just something you should do, I thought about saying, knowing that he’d never again leave me the chance to show him up in the husband/dad/neighbor department.

“That’s what neighbors are for,” I said instead, and started to shovel faster so he wouldn’t feel the need to come over and help, just to repay my kindness from yesterday. “When I get into the snow removal groove, I just can’t stop. I love it,” I continued. It was pretty much true too. I love being out in the snow, and I really do like helping my neighbors. I get it from my Dad, who always cleared off our neighbors’ driveways when I was younger, though he usually had a snow blower. I have only a shovel which I tossed onto the front porch after one last trip up the driveway. I looked up and smiled at my wife and son waving to me from inside as I told my neighbor to drive safe to wherever he was going. I sat on my porch swing for awhile, surveying the early stages of the blizzard, enjoying the stillness and silence of Bedford Ave. I love when the snow shuts everything down. I think we all need that to happen sometimes, it’s good for the soul.

I opened the front door and stepped inside into the somewhat shocking warmth of our living room, Christmas tree in full glory, and stomped the snow from my shoes. It was a bad day to start looking for my boots, and I never found them, so I had to make do. Surprisingly, my feet were still a bit warm. I kicked them off, put The Beatles rooftop concert bootleg on my stereo, and headed towards the kitchen to watch my wife make hot chocolate.

Oh glorious hot chocolate! I swear, as kids we probably played in the snow for the express purpose of coming inside to mom’s hot chocolate with mini marshmallows in the tall white Disney character mugs. Mine was always Porky Pig. I remember consistently burning my tongue and the roof of my mouth on that very first sip, before settling in to the comfort of the cocoa and trying to make it last as long as you could. Seconds on hot chocolate were rare, until we started making our own.

I sat at the top of the steps to our back door, alternately gazing outside and watching Jules in front of the stove and Jack rolling around the kitchen floor. She boiled the milk in a saucepan while trying to dig out any powdered chocolate she could find from the cupboard. I reminded her to grab the bag of mini marshmallows from the top shelf. It was probably a couple of years old, and even made the move from Illinois, but it was there for just such an occasion. A blizzard without mini marshmallows can quickly become a snow day disaster. I smiled at Julie while we both looked at Jack, waiting for the milk to heat up. I turned back to the door and watched the snow fall outside. “Don’t Let Me Down” was coming out of the speakers in the living room. It was the middle of the day, and the scent of hot chocolate was beginning to take over the kitchen. The window to the back door was starting to fog over. It was beautiful outside, and cozy inside, even on the kitchen floor. I was warmed up before the first sip. I had found my perfect snow day moment, on the first snow day that Jack won’t remember. I took a mental picture, this time.

I glanced at my Blackberry to look at the photos from earlier, and noticed a missed call and voicemail from a new Omaha friend. In an odd twist of fate, the snowstorm led to the lack of a babysitter for them, which then led to my eventual invite to the unstoppable Star Wars spectacular later in the evening. He even had some free beers coming to him at the micro-brewery downtown. I was psyched about these new, random plans for the night, but something told me I probably wouldn’t make it. We probably wouldn’t make it. At least not without a Taun Taun, and mine must have run away.

My neighbor stopped over to borrow my shovel, since his wasn’t doing the trick, and offered to shovel my driveway in exchange. I told him that wasn’t necessary and went back to perusing the local news reports on TV, weighing the pros and cons of trying to meet up with my friend. They were predicting the heaviest snowfall to occur right around showtime, with a blizzard warning going into effect around 9PM. Even if I could make it out of my neighborhood and downtown, there was no guarantee that we would have made it back without ending up in a ditch. My friend and I deliberated internally, on Twitter, and over the phone for a few hours, Taun-Taun, and Hoth jokes aplenty and oh so nerdy. By 5PM, the snow was falling harder, the wind had started to pick up, and our street still hadn’t been plowed. My anticipation for a night of free microbrews and hot Star Wars action was starting to dwindle with every inch of snow that now completely covered my once shoveled driveway.

Part of me still wanted to go, and I had noticed online that a bunch of people with tickets were still planning on braving the storm. I had lucked into a ticket, and wanted to try to make it happen if at all possible, though, without a four wheel drive vehicle and still no sight of my Taun-Taun, I knew it wasn’t looking good for this Jedi. Especially now that I had a kid. My daddy instinct seemed to kick in, and what would have once been an exciting, adventurous decision to brave a blizzard for a concert in the city with a friend, was now pretty clearly, a bad option for two dads to be choosing. We clearly would have ended up in a ditch on the way home, having to cuddle together under the blanket in my trunk to survive; our families worried sick.

We decided to ignore the temptations of the dark side, be responsible family men, and drown our sorrows in beer and cheese in the comfort of our own homes. Driving around Oma-Hoth without four wheel drive in the middle of a blizzard for a Star Wars concert was no longer a rational choice. I guess you make different decisions once you have a kid. It took me a minute or two to accept that as fact, and I’m sure my partner in arms felt the same way. We were not Jedi’s any longer, we were Dad’s, with wives and kids, compact cars, and suddenly no plans for the evening except watching the snow fall.

No, I didn’t get to see Star Wars in Concert after all, but I also didn’t end up in a ditch, on someone’s front lawn, or in the belly of a Taun-Taun, so that’s something. I got my pictures of Jack outside in the blizzard and I introduced him to the Beatles rooftop concert and Rubber Soul. I ate enchiladas and chased them down with Fargo on DVD and strong beer, while my guilt-ridden neighbor shoveled my driveway in the dark. It was a damn fine snow day here in Oma-Hoth, and Jack won’t remember a second of it. But I will, so let’s do it again tomorrow. May the Force be with us all.

Mirror Ball

Sometimes I like to stick Jack in front of the mirror and let him babysit himself. Hey, sometimes you just want to take a shit or a shower in peace. Sometimes you want to eat a sandwich or make a phone call. Sometimes you want to masturbate. It’s perfect, but I don’t know how much longer it’s going to last now that he’s starting to figure out that he’s the little man in the mirror.

I’ll often put him in his walker and set him down in front of our full length mirror in the bathroom. He can stare at the mirror for close to half an hour usually, before getting bored. At first he used to alternately smile and hide his face, possibly thinking that the baby in the mirror was not a reflection of himself, but another baby. He’s pretty social, so it works. The other day though, he started to figure everything out. He stared into the mirror, looked back at me, back at the mirror, and back at me. He looked confused; then he smiled; then he went back to looking confused. Then it seemed to click, he smiled again, and he turned his attention towards the toilet paper roll. A little bit of innocence lost to that first connection between his synapses; his first realization. Once you realize that you’re looking at yourself in that mirror, everything changes.

I imagine being his age is like being stoned on really good weed or psychedelics 24/7, with the added bonus of someone wiping your ass for you. Everything is amazing, and you want to taste it all. I’ve often wondered what Jack is thinking; what it must be like to experience things we take for granted for the first time, or even better, the second time, when recollection kicks in and you can really start to examine and take it all in. What was going through his head the first time he saw a cloud? Heard the rustle of leaves? Felt the wind on his face? The sights and sounds of the outdoors must be pretty intense to a six month old. You’re just getting your bearings, and suddenly your plopped down on the front lawn, grass tickling your face for the first time, and the intense smell of wet dirt entering your virgin nostrils. Then a dirty, exhaust pumping, loud as hell dump truck drives by and scares the shit out of you.

I love to watch Jack getting super startled sitting outside on the front lawn, looking into a mirror and smiling at himself, or better yet inquisitively sprawled out on his play-mat with all of is random hand me down toys and books. He’ll attack an object wholeheartedly and examine every possible inch, curve, and tag. He’ll grab things in ways I would have never imagined, touching them with his feet and face as well as his hands, and sticking items or parts in his mouth that I hadn’t even noticed. It’s as if he sees with his tongue. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before he has tasted every single thing in the house. I recommend passing on a lick of the carpet in the living room if he offers, I think it’s gone bad.

It’s so fascinating to watch him focus on one thing and then move on to the next thing, never spending much longer than a minute or two with any one cardboard book, stuffed Eyore, or plastic set of keys, and always looking up at me for my reaction. I wonder why, every single time he does it. Is it to see what he can get away with, or if I’m paying attention? Maybe he’s looking for approval, or encouragement? That’s all most of us are ever looking for anyways, though it’s also nice to know what you can get away with. More importantly, it’s nice to know if in fact your parents are paying any attention at all to you whatsoever. I usually am, so he’ll crack a smile and return to his explorations. That gets me every time. I swear, I’m in tears at least twice a day with this little fucker. I cried during a goddamn Uncle Kracker song on the radio this afternoon. Exactly. I’ve always been pretty sensitive, but sometimes being with Jack all day is kind of like being on Ecstacy. I’m so into him and the way he smells and feels, I love everything he does with extreme empathy, and there’s a lot of sucking on pacifiers.

Sure, learning not to stick everything in your mouth is definitely a key part to growing up and surviving as a human being, but I can’t help but think the rest of us are missing out sometimes. Perhaps we should still be exploring the world like a sixth month old? We are all too often distracted by meaningless concerns, fears, rules, norms, and schedules, that we forget to truly explore everything around us with all of ourselves. We no longer immerse those selves in the moment. We don’t enjoy the way the breeze hits our face, we don’t stare at the clouds just because, we don’t stop and smell the front lawn. We forget what it’s like to take chances, try new things, and think in different ways. We don’t question what’s normal. We stop really looking at each other, which means we don’t really see each other. We definitely forget to understand each other. We stop making the effort. We don’t use our feet to touch things, and we are afraid to stick anything in our mouths. We stop taking the time to stare at the stars.

At least once a day Jack and I will sit up in his room and turn on the LED disco ball lamp we borrowed from my father in law, and just listen to music and watch the rotating “stars” on the walls and ceiling. He’ll follow the moving lights with wide eyed abandon, taking in the wonder of the spectacle with all of his being. He totally gets into the moment, prompting me to do the same, usually with a few tears in my eyes. The look on his face is priceless, and I don’t want him to lose it. I don’t want him to take it for granted. I don’t want him to take anything for granted. I want him to throw himself into every moment of his life just as he is now, an explorer of life. Touching it all, breathing it in, and tasting everything in sight. Just plain living it, like I am learning to do because of him.

You’re kind of forced to live moment to moment once you have a baby. Schedules are thrown out the window. Nothing is routine. Everything is new. I know someone who once equated having a newborn to living in a city prone to terrorist attacks. You never know when an explosion might throw off your entire day. Everything that you consider normal, is flipped upside down. You are,from the moment that kid is born, through the fucking looking glass. The key, is to stay there. To stay focused on my son, but also on every single other element that is a part of my life. I thought I lived before, but I didn’t know anything. I could have been trying harder. I could have been living more. The biggest surprise of my fatherhood so far is that my son, alive for a mere six months, is already beginning to teach me how to really live, how to really love, and how to stare with wonder at the stars again.

I probably won’t be able to use the mirror as a babysitter for much longer. I know this, and I know at some point he will probably outgrow our daily homemade laser light shows. Eventually, like the mirror, the disco ball light will lose some of its magic. Daddy will lose some of his magic. I can only hope that I can teach him to live like his sixth month old self, and as cliche as it sounds, to look at the world through those eyes. To always seek out that magic. To not be afraid. To cherish every single fucking second, like I cherish these random moments lying on the floor, just two dudes, listening to Hope Sandoval, and thoroughly enjoying each others company in an attic bedroom full of stars.