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Officer Mike’s Backseat

An alarm from the construction site a couple of houses down brings a volunteer police officer to the street. After verifying that everything is okay at the property, he pulls around, parks his car, jumps out, and asks the kids (who had been riding their bikes) if they wanted to check out his police car.

Fisher immediately begins parking his bike. Cory looks to Daddy. Daddy nods. She starts parking her bike. Papa and Officer Mike begin chatting about boats in Discovery Bay, volunteering on the police force in Los Altos, and the officer’s day job (commercial construction for companies like VMWare and Google). While Fisher and the neighbor boys turn the police lights on and off, Cory whispers in Daddy’s ear, “His name is Mike, just like yours.” She smiles.

Officer Mike shows his shoulder-mounted camera, extra bullets, and taser. He explains how much it hurt when he was tased in training, turning it on (pointed to the street) to show the red light and engage a bit of electricity for them. The kids are quite impressed. Although neither seems to ever want to be tased, Fisher does have that “I get to pull a trigger?” gleam in his eye.

A short time later, Daddy walks around the vehicle as they contemplate the bars on the back windows and the thick plastic barrier between back seat and front.

C: They need that there because the bad people sit in the back?
D: Yes.
F: So, they don’t do anything to Officer Mike?
D: Right.

Pause.

C (in quiet voice): Have bad people been in that seat?
D: Probably, Cory. If they’ve been arrested by Officer Mike. Do you want to get in the back there behind those bars?
F/C (shaking heads “no”): Uh uh.
D: Good. (Pause.) Just remember that when you are fifteen.
F: What did you say, Daddy?
D: Nothing, guys. Nothing.

Friday night moves along.

The St. Louis Slytherins?

Last night’s game between the Giants and the Cardinals may have been the first time the twins have ever watched baseball.

At dinner, Daddy explains that Uncle Timothy and Aunt Therese, who live in Kansas City, are excited because the Royals have already made it to the World Series, but that the rest of Daddy’s Missouri friends and relatives are pushing (ad nauseam on Facebook) for the Cardinals to beat the Giants so that it’s an all-Missouri contest. The twins don’t really understand any of that.

Just before bedtime, Daddy and Papa turn the game on at about the bottom of the fifth inning, Cards up, 3-2. The conversation goes a little something like this…

P: Foul ball.
C: What’s a foul ball?
P/D: [Explanation.]
F: Can we go read Harry Potter?
D: In just a minute.
P: A bunt! Oh, it’s a foul.
C: What’s a bunt?
P/D: [Explanation.]
P: A strike.
C: What’s a strike?
P/D: [Explanation.]
F: Can we go read Harry Potter?
D: In just a minute.
P: A fly ball.
C: What’s a fly ball?
P/D: [Explanation.]
P: The inning’s over.
C: What’s an inning?
P/D: [Explanation.]
Pause.
C: Did the Cardinals score a point?
D: It’s not called a point in baseball. It’s called a run. And, no. You have to get someone all around the bases to score a run.
C: Like kickball?
D: Yes.
F: Are Uncle Tim and Aunt Therese at this game?
P: No, this game is in San Francisco. That pitch was a ball.
C: What’s a pitch?
P/D: [Explanation.]
F: Can we just go read Harry Potter?
D: In just a minute.
C: Why does that boy have to catch all of the balls?
D: Because he’s the catcher.
F: Daddy!? Can we go read Harry Potter now?
D: In just a minute.

Eventually, Daddy and the kids go read a chapter. Hermione gets the idea for the Polyjuice Potion to trick Malfoy while Papa mans the TV. Nothing much happens.

The gang returns to watch the final couple innings. As soon as everyone sits back down, the Giants hit the first home run to tie the game up. “What’s a home run?” The Giants hit another home run for the win. Pandemonium on the TV. “Did they win the World Series?” Kids head off to bed.

F (the next morning): Daddy, I have a connection!
D: What?
F: The er, uh, eh Cardinals are like Slytherin. And the Giants are like Gryffindor. And that’s why I want the Giants to win. Hagrid is a giant, right?
D (laughing): I like that connection. Just don’t tell anyone in Missouri about that one.
F: Okay, Daddy.

Seven Feet Two

During a measure-fest, Daddy discovers that Cory has passed four feet tall.

C: How does my body keep getting taller?
D: Well, you keep eating good foods, and your body takes the good stuff in those foods and makes more of…you.
C: But, how?
D: Your stomach and your intestines break the food down so that your body can pull all of the good stuff out. And then your body puts that stuff together to make you bigger. Your bones get bigger, your muscles get bigger, your skin…
C: But, I don’t eat bones. Daddy, remember when there was that bone in that chicken nugget? I didn’t like that. I didn’t eat that, so…
D: No, you didn’t eat that. It’s a good thing. But, you don’t have to eat bones to make bones. Your body can make bones out of calcium and other things.

Pause.

C: Will I be as tall as you someday?
D: I don’t know. 6’2” is pretty tall for a woman. That would be cool.
C (grinning): Then, I’d beat you at tennis!
D: You might beat me at tennis anyway.
C: I could be as tall as Maria Sharapova. She’s taller than you, right, Daddy?
D: Yes, I think so.
C: Does that mean that she’s 7’2” or something?
D: No, silly! That means that she is 6’3”. Or something.

Pause.

C: I think I’m going to be 6’3”, too.
D: Okay, sounds good. We’re gonna see. But, Cory Bee, can you do me a favor?
C: What, Daddy?
D: Can you slow down just a little bit? It’s hard for me to see you get so tall already.
C: Sure.
D: Because if you get much taller, you won’t be able to curl up on my lap in the morning, so…
C: Jason told me today that with my new hoodie and pants, I look like a college.
D: You mean a college student?
C (smiling): Uh huh.
D (hiding a little sadness): I can see what he meant. (Shaking it off.) You know, on second thought, Cory, bring it. You get to 6’3”, I’ll shrink to 6’1”, and we’ll see who beats whom on the court! Bring it!
C: I’m gonna beat you!
D: Think so, do you?
C: Yah, because I’ll be taller…and you’ll be old and stuff.

Her long legs aren’t yet fast enough to escape Daddy’s. Lying on a bean bag on the floor in her room, laughing from all the tickling, she doesn’t look anywhere near four feet tall.

Developing “Good Sense”

D (reading “Nightsong” to Fisher): “Use your good sense,” Chiro’s mother said.
F: What is good sense, Daddy?
D: That’s exactly what Chiro asked!

Pause.

D (back to the book): “What is sense?” the little bat asked. (Turning the page.) His mother folded him in her wings and whispered into his waiting ears, “Sense is the song you sing out into the world, and the song the world sings back to you. Sing, and the world will answer. That is how you’ll see.” (Pause.) “Now fly from our cave to the pond where we bats like best to eat. Have your breakfast, then fly home, but do not go farther than the pond, not unless your song is sure.”
F: Daddy, what does that mean?
D: Which part?
F: Your song is er, eh, uh sure?
D: Well, Chiro’s mother is telling him not to fly too far from home unless his “good sense” is sure. That means, don’t try to go too far until you’ve learned enough to be able to go that far safe and sound. You need to learn how to make good choices and see things clearly before…
F: Chiro can see things clearly because of his echolocation, right?
D: That’s right. He sings his song out into the world, and the song bounces off of things and comes back. Then, he can hear…
F: I know that already. That’s his echolocation, right, Daddy?
D: Right. Do you think his good sense will be good enough for him to fly beyond the pond and come back safely?
F (whispering): I think it will, Daddy. I think Chiro has good sense.

Pause.

D: “Now fly from our cave to the pond where we bats like best to eat. Have your breakfast, then fly home, but do not go farther than the pond, not unless your song is sure.” And then she let him go. (Pointing to the picture of the little bat Chiro falling.) Do you see him falling?
F: Uh huh.
D: Now, he will have to use his good sense to see the world around him.
F (whispering again): I think he will do good, Daddy.
D: Do you think that you have good enough sense to go far away from Papa and Daddy?

Pause.

F: No. I am only five, so I can’t just fly to London or something, right, Daddy?
D: You are probably right. It’ll take a few more years, I think.
F: You mean that I can er, eh , uh have echolocation!?
D: Well, not exactly. Not the same kind as Chiro. He’s a bat, and you’re a child. But, you do have to learn to use your good sense before you go out there into the big world on your own. You don’t want to go too far from home until you make sure that your good sense is really good.
F: Is your good sense really good?
D: I think so, Fisher. As I got older, it got good enough for me to go far from home and be happy and safe.
F: Because you just lived in Kansas, right?
D: Well, Missouri, but right, Fisher. Far away from here.

Pause.

F: Daddy, I don’t want to go out there just to London or Austin by myself. Can I just stay here with you?
D: Of course you can, Fisher. For quite a few years yet.
F (leaning his head against Daddy’s): Thanks, Daddy.

Pause.

F: Oh, I thought when I said, “Thanks, Da…”
D (smiling): You’re welcome, Fisher.
F: That’s okay.
D (turning back to the book): And then she let him go. (Turning the page.) Chiro fell into the cold air for an instant, then flapped and turned and…”

(“Nightsong” by Ari Berk and Loren Long, Long of Otis the Tractor fame, is an awesome book, beautifully illustrating a bat’s use of echolocation, with colors perfect for Halloween season and with a message perfect all year round.)

Unclean Hands

D: I’m not hugging you because you didn’t shampoo your hair. I’m hugging you because you told me the truth. Thanks for telling me the truth, Cory.
C (hugging back): Okay, Daddy.
D: Now, let’s go wash your hair, okay?

She grouses all the way to the bathroom and all the way through the conditioner, but she gets it done.

At sixteen, driving home from Jeff Sahm’s house in a bad thunderstorm, my mom’s Ford Escort slid and slammed into a stop sign held up by a four-by-four. The post ended up trapped under the car, preventing it from moving. A good samaritan stopped in the pouring rain and helped me pry the downed sign from under the car enough so that I could pull out of the ditch. From there, as the rain began to taper off, I drove to Bowles Elementary, the school closest to my house. I pulled up next to a light to assess the damage. There was a long vertical dent along the back passenger side of the car. And there was a ton of mud from the embankment all over the front of the car.

So, I did what any scheming sixteen year old would do to preserve driving privileges! I used water from a big nearby puddle to wash most of the mud off the car. I drove home and quietly pulled the front hose out from behind a bush and sprayed those hard-to-reach places. It was all very 007. I then washed my hands, hid my muddy, soaked sweatshirt behind a bush, and went into the house, directly to bed. Dad left for work the next day without noticing anything about the Escort. Mom drove her car to work. That night, Mom came home. Nothing. Then, Scott came home and was like, “Who hit the car?” A bit later, Dad said that it looked like a van or truck had parked next to it, the door having slammed into the Escort’s side. I sat there listening to all this speculation quietly, when Mom chimed back in that, actually, she did remember parking next to a large van at Sears on the way home…

Okay, so I didn’t affirmatively lie. No one asked, so I didn’t have to. There were precious few things that I did as a pre-teen or teen, that could have had serious consequences and that I felt the need to lie about to my parents. Even my siblings’ shenanigans were all pretty harmless, and compared to them, my teenage years were seriously vanilla. (A few years later, I did end up confessing what had happened to the Escort…to laughter.) But, just because that’s what my childhood and young adulthood was like doesn’t mean that my kids’ experiences will be the same. Different time, different place, different pressures, etc.

So, I have always wanted to plant seeds early on that communicate to the kids that they can tell us the truth, even when the truth is something that, all things considered, should probably warrant punishment. When I can tell that they are lying about something relatively harmless (have you brushed your teeth, have you shampooed your hair, etc.) and I convince them to fess up, I always hug them and thank them for telling me the truth. And then, I walk away, the matter ended. A couple of times, they’ve asked if they are going to be punished, and for the small things, I’ve turned it around: “Do you think you should be punished?” Surprisingly, they most often say “yes” and suggest something mild. Pretty win-win.

D (drying her newly conditioned hair): Thanks, Cory, for telling me the truth. You can always tell me the truth about stuff. I’m your Daddy, and I’m here to help you.
C (tired): And you can’t even help iffin you don’t know the truth, so…
D: That’s right.
C (reaching up for a hug): Daddy, can you help me put my jammies on?

It probably won’t work. But, you gotta start somewhere.