Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Moment of Perfection

I'm sitting in the park. It's 73 degrees and sunny, with a light breeze. Little Bear is running around with a similarly aged boy, just shouting because they are young and able to shout. The Boy is riding his bike around the park, and The Baby is climbing and playing. Every fifteen steps or so, The Baby stops to pull up his pants, having inherited his brothers' lack of behind.

In short, this is a brief moment of absolute perfection.

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Location:Whipple St,Pittsburgh,United States

Saturday, March 8, 2014

From Wednesday

A couple of nights ago, we were just finishing up getting the boys through the bath, brush teeth, calm down rituals, when The Baby (who had moved himself into his bed for stories), started crying, "Daddy! Want Daddy!" Considering that he usually wants nothing to do with me around bedtime, I've evolved a ritual of reading a story in Little Bear's bed then asking him about his day; then reading a story in The Boy's bed then asking him about his day. Instead, The Wife and I tagged each other and switched. The Baby wanted to read "There's No Such Thing As A Dragon," then watch the "Get Healthy Now Show" (requested as "Watch Get Healthy Show!") to go to sleep. He participated in the story reading, then laid his head on my chest and was asleep before the first muppets started dancing. (Yes, I watched the remainder of the show, knowing he was asleep. Don't judge me.) The Wife came in to let me know that things 1 and 2 were asleep as well, then she went downstairs to work and I went directly to bed. It was a rough weekend. I shouldn't say rough. It was chorus retreat weekend, and it was an awesome weekend of music, companionship, fellowship, and song. Our coach, Paula, was as amazing as ever, and we worked the chorus hard all night Friday, all day on Saturday, and all morning on Sunday. It's tricky because, as director, I'm "on" all weekend - on my feet, on duty, always listening, always watching, always learning. It's very challenging to keep your brain open to new ideas and new concepts for that stretch of time, and I'm not used to being on my feet that much. So, by the time Sunday afternoon came along, I was pretty well whipped. Not to mention, but the boys and The Wife had a weekend-long sleepover at Grandma's house, thanks to The Wife and The Boy performing at his school talent show, The Wife coming for the Saturday of retreat, and her teaching at Sunday school. So, it was a wonderful weekend. Just rough on the body. I don't like being away from my family. I know that I >should< sleep better - no little feet kicking me while I sleep, no household sounds and beds creaking and such. I just don't sleep well away from the family. I miss my wife, and I miss the little people that share our bed. There's something about tiny little bodies cuddled up close: they're warm and comforting. It's too quiet without them. (Little Bear snores.) So, a couple of nights away rarely leaves me particularly well rested, especially when those nights away revolve around staying up late. The Boy's talent show performance went quite well. He performed "Perpetual Motion," with The Wife on piano, from the Suzuki violin book. It was a cute show; they had pairs of fifth graders who served as the MCs, and there was a nice mix of kids playing various instruments, singing with recordings, dancing, and other assorted human tricks. He made a nice impression, and the 5th graders who announced him were very complimentary. I like his school an awful lot - not quite as much as he does. "Daddy, do you know what I love more than you? My school." Okay, Boy, that's fine. I hope it keeps up. He was accepted into the gifted program in the district - not a shock, particularly since several of his classmates had told me (when I was there a few weeks ago) that the smartest kid in class was The Boy. Also, not a shock because the genetic apple doesn't fall far from the genetic tree; there's intelligent people on both sides there. I just know how quickly and thoroughly this broken educational system can suck the life out of school - when you tell teachers repeatedly that they're incompetent and uninspiring, and when you remove resources from the classroom with such regularity, and when you have your entirely curriculum centered around performance on a standardized test that doesn't measure what it's supposed to measure.... well, a kid like The Boy, who does more faster than his fellow students, can get lost in the shuffle. For now, though, he's happy. I know 2 & 3 are happy, because the preschool is a great place for them, and their teachers love them. I do worry about Little Bear, though, for next year; he's a really sensitive kid who wants nothing more than to make the authority figures happy. He's the kind of kid that can get shattered by a careless teacher.

Friday, February 28, 2014

From Tuesday

This week is an amazingly busy week: quartet coaching Monday, chorus rehearsal Tuesday, quartet coaching Wednesday, The Wife's quartet on Thursday, my chorus retreat on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and then I start training for my new position at work (a promotion of responsibility, if not of salary) on Monday morning. So, of course, this is the perfect time for the congestion / throat cold that's been going around the house to hit me.

I made it through Monday and Tuesday without too much effort - only gargling with salt water (and, on one memorable and accidental occasion, pepper water), drinking gallons of hot herbal tea, and drugging myself within reason. Tonight will be a little harder, as I'm having some trouble speaking right now. I'll make it - singing is actual easier on the voice than speaking, if you're doing it correctly - but it's not as enjoyable as it otherwise would be. The good news is, it'll buy me a little sympathy from the coach and let her beat on one of the other guys in the quartet.

Yeah, right. As if. That's what I get for bringing a friend to coach.

Last year, I was sick during retreat, also. I think it's the stress of the approaching weekend: it's SO important, and I really, really want to make a good impression on our coach. Making things even more challenging: The Wife is singing with the chorus this year for contest, and I really want to impress her, as well. She doesn't see me direct from the performer's perspective often, and I want to make her proud. Or, at least, to embarrass her less than I usually do.

The retreat is a few hours on Friday night, about 8-10 hours on Saturday, and 3 more hours on Sunday morning of intensive work on our two contest pieces. We're bring in a coach from Colorado for the third straight year, and she's dynamic: a music educator by profession, and the exact sort of warm, bubbly, touchy-feely, hugable person that my chorus loves. Frankly, that's the sort that I love nowadays, too. It's held in a local Catholic school / center southeast of town, and we'll stay overnight for the weekend. There's a nice party and social event on Saturday night, which is pretty awesome. The ladies do a funny sketch - last year, because we'd been working on the Ode To Joy from Sister Act II, they dressed like nuns and cavorted around.

My chorus is really, really fun and really, really cute. I'm a lucky director.


Little Bear was up and down for quite some time last night with congestion and coughing. I have a feeling that he's going to be our asthmatic kid; The Boy has, thusfar, blissfully avoided any of my breathing issues. (Good thing; he's had enough on his plate.) The poor Little Bear is prone to coughing and wheezing on occasion, and we have an albuterol inhaler around the house for him.


The Baby's response to "What did you dream about last night?" upon first awakening: "Elephants and Batman." I guess he's having normal little boy dreams - animals and playing and flying and super heroes and stuff - but it's really funny how he's responded to the morning ritual. Elephants and Batman, indeed.


The last two mornings, The Boy has woken up with me. I slept a bit later - I'm still having some forearm issues, so I'm running in the mornings instead of lifting - so he likes to come downstairs and watch cartoons while I exercise. It's been nice, because then we have breakfast together; the other two children sleep later. I don't get a lot of one-on-one time with any of the kids, so having some time for a nice, leisurely breakfast conversation is worth its weight in gold. We don't talk about anything worldshaking or of any more importance than the normal days that we've had.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Scarlet Letter

Monday night, when I got home from my front row rehearsal (the dancing part of the chorus), the older boys were awake. I tagged out Mom and finished her story, then did my usual chatting and snuggling with the boys. I did what I usually do: what was the best thing that happened to you today, who did you play with, that sort of thing. Little Bear stood up. "Daddy, I've got to get you something. I have something for you." The Wife intercepted him, he explained urgently that he needed to go downstairs to get something, and she followed him downstairs. A few minutes later, they came back up. "Daddy, I have a red 'S' for you [for Superman]," he said, and The Wife said, "Give it to him in the morning." So, they went (eventually) to sleep.

The next morning went as per usual: I got up and exercised, had breakfast, and went upstairs. Most of the family was still asleep, and Little Bear woke up as I finished my shower. He said, "Wait, Daddy! Don't go yet!" He ran downstairs and came back up with a set of alphabet stickers. True enough, they were red. He took off one of the "S" stickers and put it on my chest. "S is for Superdaddy. You get super powers when the 'S' is there. It'll keep you safe!"

I kept the S on my shirt all day, and - true enough - it kept me safe.


Three times over the past week, The Baby has been in his own bed at 5:15AM when I head downstairs. Once, I've been able to intercept him waking up, shuttling him to snuggles with Mommy. I will note that, on two of those three occasions, the only child in our bed was my oldest son. One glorious, glorious night, there were no children in our bed at all. That was a nice, refreshing change, although the bed was not quite as warm as when tiny little people are snuggled up.

I am really, authentically okay with The Boy jumping in bed with us. He needs extra snuggles. I know that he'll eventually grow out of it, and I don't really look forward to those days. I enjoy snuggles.


At school on Monday, they were making "necklaces" of 100 Fruit Loops. The kids were encouraged to make a pattern and repeat it until they got to 100. He was trying to figure out, at one point, how many fruit loops he had on the line. He determined that there were 6 fruit loops in the pattern; then he counted the number of patterns, counted by six that many times, and came up with the answer of 30. Not bad, for a kindergartener, to figure out how to multiply by 6.

One of The Boy's friends was asked who the smartest kid in school was - he responded, "The Boy!" That was nice to hear. The genetic stock ain't bad, so he should have a few brains in his head, you know?

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Busy Weekend

Friday night, The Wife was singing at temple, so I picked up the kids at Grandma's house. We got home and practised violin without complaining; they let me eat my dinner without being bothered too much. This fulfilled their end of the bargain, so we loaded everybody in the car to go to get some frozen yogurt. Once the normal histrionics subsided (there is always resistance to our policy of Go Potty Before Leaving Home For Someplace Fun), the kids got loaded into the car, just as The Wife pulled up from services. She jumped from one car to the other and we went out.

We like the frozen yogurt places around town - the self-service places. I wind up getting a little bit for myself, mostly because I know I'll be eating a chunk of the boys' yogurts. We let them pull it themselves (with supervision), but they always take just a BIT too much for them to eat. That's fine - part of being a kid, I suppose.

Saturday morning, we had Mispacha Music at Rodef Shalom. That was, as has been par for the course this winter, interrupted by a wonderful snow storm. So, we sang through the songs and played the games ourselves, which was a lot of fun. All three boys were participating. That's such a neat event - Mispacha Music is a song-lead prayer service meant for the littlest of people - and The Wife has been doing a great job with it. A pity that three of the last four months have coincided with multiple inches of snowfall.

(Yet another assurance that I know what I'm talking about: The Wife is now, with reasonable fluency, playing guitar and singing by herself for these little kid things. She told me a couple of years ago that there was no way she could ever play guitar - it was just beyond her. Too much double bass player. I told her that she had spent a grand total of 20 minutes playing guitar, which makes it a bit premature to make that proclamation. I love being right.)

The big highlight of Saturday: we then went west of town to see Stage 62's production of Dora's Pirate Adventure. Dora the Explorer, LIVE!!! It was awesome. We saw this same show from the same group of people two years ago, when it came through town last - actually, technically, this was the third time The Boy and I had seen it, because it was at the Children's Museum a few months before it was at Stage 62. We took all three boys and had been pumping it up for several weeks. It was an awful lot of fun - the show is cute and kind of interactive, and the actors and actresses really seemed to be having fun on stage. We gave each kid a choice at the beginning: either a small souvenir or a candy treat. Little Bear and The Baby picked an inflatable pirate sword, and The Boy picked a ring pop. All were reasonably happy with their choices.

Afterwards, they have a meet-n-greet with the cast for an additional $10, which lets you take pictures with the cast in costume. They also have some fun little crafts and games for kids to play. We got our pictures taken with almost everybody, although The Baby was a little afraid of Swiper. We did that one, as well, two years ago. Same actors who played Dora and Diego, which was a nice thing.

Saturday night, Grandma and Grandpa graciously hosted a pizza and movie party for the boys and allowed us to have a nice Valentine's Day dinner. We tested a sushi place we had never seen before, which was perfectly ordinary. We watched a little bit of television, and I finished most of our tax returns. Romantic evening, no?

Sunday, we had multiple parties happening, all from Little Bear classmates. At 10 was the party for one of the younger classmates. It was held at a community center, with some tables for crafts and a yummy treat table and a pinata - mostly a run around and play party, which was perfect. They had a wonderful face painter, and both of the older boys chose to get their faces painted. We had offered The Boy the opportunity to go sledding instead of going to the birthday party, figuring (correctly) that he'd be the biggest kid there by a couple of years. He chose the party. shrug - up to him.

Little Bear and I went to "Bounce U" for the second party, which is always an awesome occurrence. It's a big warehouse, with a couple of rooms, which has a selection of climbing, sliding, and bouncing inflatable toys. The kids have an amazing time, and since they spend a couple of hours sprinting around and climbing at a frantic pace, they're usually unconscious by the time they leave the parking lot. The climbing stuff ranges from very easy to quite difficult - I'm strong and in good shape, and I have a hard time with a couple of them. I'm proud that he accomplished the hardest climb, once with my help, once by himself, and once with the help of one of the party assistants. It's a great party place - has to be a small number of kids, and you don't bring anything with you. They provide cake, pizza, drinks, and entertainment. I'm sure it's not cheap, but having a party that doesn't require your clean-up is a good thing.

Sunday night, my quartet sang the National Anthem at the Pittsburgh Roller Derby, which was an awful lot of fun. The Wife and boys came, and T brought his wife and son. A good time was had by all, and the audience was receptive and appreciative. Also, I had never seen roller derby live before, and it was neat. I'm glad we had the opportunity, and I hope we get to go back next year.

Sunday morning, we slept late and went to breakfast as a family. Since it was president's day, I had no work; I brought The Boy to school late and decided to stick around because it was 100 Day (the 100th day of school for the kindergarteners). This needs a post of its own, which I'm percolating in my brain.

In short, a busy and most assuredly non-restful weekend. I'm looking forward to the rhythm of the work week to calm me down a bit...

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Saturday, February 1, 2014

In The Snow

So, the nice thing about being busy in life is that, by the time I notice I haven't written in a while, several weeks have passed. The ultra-nice thing? Things have, in general, been quite positive in our lives so far in 2014.

Work has been interesting for me. I'll be moving departments at some time in the next month or so - hopefully sooner than later, considering that I've been training my replacement for the past couple of weeks (and my cubicle is not quite big enough to share). It's a mostly horizontal move, going from one team with neat, friendly people to another team with neat, friendly people, except that the new team has a whole bunch of new skills that I will need to have in order to move up the ladder. My new team specifically requested me to move, and it is certainly nice to be wanted.

Chorus has been kind of stagnant this month because of the weather. We missed two weeks' worth of rehearsals, which will mean some additional rehearsals scheduled over the next several months - contest is in May, you know, and it's coming a lot quicker than anyone wants to see. We have a half-dozen new choruses in our region this year, so we want to make a great impression on them. Biggest thing I was proud of from the last contest: when the choruses came off stage after they performed, my ladies were the first ones who greeted them, with cheers and hugs and pats on the back. It didn't matter if it was the chorus who would win the Region to go to International, or the chorus that finished in last place: we were there to root them on and encourage something greater. Music is NOT a zero-sum event - our success doesn't mean others must fail. We're going to work our tails off, but we will also appreciate the other chorus' efforts. If we win, then I want every other chorus to have performed their best!

The Boy had his gifted testing last week. The tester said to him, "Since you're in kindergarten, we'll skip the multiplication." The Boy said, "You mean, like 1 times 8 and 2 times 4?" They pursued that section. Another neat bit: Grandma made sure to tell the tester about the cancer and the hearing aids. Ms. B's answer: "You don't get extra credit." I'm fairly certain that he'll be an easy entrant into the gifted program. I'm not sure it means anything - the gifted programs are not that inspiring - but anything to break up the day for him. His mindset during class time is great - he has never, apparently, said, "Why are we doing this? My two-year old brother is doing this at home." I'd like that to last by giving him SOME kind of an outlet.

(Side note, politics warning and sarcasm alert: I know - let's take away music and art and physical education for more math and reading classes. Because, you know, the high achievers want nothing more than MORE time in class with the slower kids. Because that will SURELY encourage them to higher test scores.)

(Second political note: the kids have a silly program called "ST Math," which is a set of math problems with a cute penguin in Flash game form. The teachers are, apparently, graded by how much their students play the game. Because, you know, I'm certain that most of those kids 1) have computers at home, 2) can reliably remember the 10-picture password to get into ST math, 3) have reliable, working technology at home (because Flash isn't on iPads, natch), and 4) have parents who are going to make sure they're playing the games and understand how to use the mouse well enough. This is why education is going down the sh*tter, folks: these are the factors that determine whether or not a teacher has a job each year.)

Little Bear is still wearing Superman shirts every day. I bought the first three episodes of the Superman Adventures television show for him - it's a three-part story that tells the origin of Superman. He kind of understands Superman from the Justice League cartoon and Superfriends, but I'd love for him to get a real FEEL for the character. The neat thing about Superman: because he's basically invulnerable, when he's written well, he'll usually try to solve a problem by talking about it before he punches through a building. Plus, he's obsessive about putting others' needs first. I'd love Little Bear to get those lessons instilled at a young age.

The Baby is starting, just a bit, to turn the corner on the whole potty training thing. He's almost entirely pee-trained; he will poop on the potty more often than he used to do. When I took him to Sesame Street Live, I didn't even bring the diaper bag; yes, it was an oversight, but he did great! He's probably the best eater in the house right now in terms of his willingness to try new things and eat a wider variety of foods. The others are good eaters, too, but The Baby might be the widest.

The boys and I and Grandpa played in the snow today, building a snowman and throwing snowballs and such. It was pretty awesome. We hit it at exactly the right time: it was warm enough to have slightly melty snow, which sticks well; ad we were outside just long enough to have a great time without worrying about getting too cold.

Tomorrow afternoon, we have a family portrait scheduled at Rodef for the new congregation directory. Not gonna lie: kind of excited about that.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Cold That Lasts Forever

The Wife just texted me to let me know that she was picking The Boy up at school. Ms. B, her teacher, said that he just wasn't doing very well, so - discretion being the better part of valor - she went to go get him. I wonder, considering his medical history, if we're always going to take a softer approach with him in regards to sick days. I know, with Little Bear, I tend to be a lot more cavalier: "He's not as feverish as he was. I'm pretty sure he's not contagious anymore, so send him to school." But, with The Boy, we tend to respond to every little thing with a lot of close attention.

It makes sense, right? We educated ourselves quite thoroughly on the long-term effects of his chemotherapy drugs, and we are extremely well aware of the higher incidence of kidney issues and other forms of cancer (particularly leukemia in the teenage years). I would wager that we know more about the frequency and quality of his bathroom emissions than many parents of kindergarteners do for that exact reason - we're also aware of the higher incidence of intestinal blockages in patients who have had his surgeries. I've called it the Sword of Damocles before, and it truly is. We're thrilled he's through the other side of treatment, but we don't relax much.

On the other hand, we're a lot more chill about the other two students. Little Bear dives off the slide and earns some chin stitches? Whatever. It's unfortunate, and we feel for the kid, but we're not going to flip out about it. I mean, my oldest son had 10% of his body mass removed in the form of a tumor. 5 stitches on the chin is, literally, nothing.

I could see it coming, hindsight being 20/20. Last night, I got home slightly later than normal from work - you'd think that people in Pittsburgh would know how to drive in the rain, considering the amount of rainfall here, but you'd be mistaken. I had a quick dinner, then called the boys, one at a time, in to practice violin. They hadn't played in a couple of days because they've been sick, The Wife has been sick, and I've been significantly slower than normal (going through the same illness, but much slower and much less intense). So, after dinner, we were set to play. Little Bear came in, flipped the f**k out, and refused to play. I tried my usual jokey ways to calm him down and get him ready to play, but he wouldn't. Lacking patience and time (I had a 7:00 meeting to attend), I offered him the choice: either play or, being too tired, go to bed immediately. He chose bed. I called The Boy in, tried to talk him into playing, failed, and offered the same choice. He chose bed.

Granted, this caused an enormous meltdown, because bedtime without playing violin doesn't come with stories or snuggles or talking or songs. Just, put on your pajamas, brush your teeth, give a hug, and go. This would have been around 6:30 by the time both boys were "settled" but upset in bed. The Wife texted me at 6:45 to let me know that both boys were asleep.

Little Bear was up around 5:30 and causing some minor mischief: opening and closing our bedroom door, playing with the Trio blocks, putting on various costumes. I finally got up at 6 (I'm still on hiatus from exercising until Thursday), and we went down and had breakfast together.

The Boy grudgingly woke up at 6:45 and went to the bathroom. He looked entirely asleep when I saw him there, and I figured that he might not be quite back to normal. Looks like I was right. Don't get me wrong - knowing what I know now, I would still have sent him to school. I don't want him to get the idea that he shouldn't go to school at the slightest touch of a bug. But, he was kind of wiped at that point, even after he had cleaned up, taken a bath, and started to remotely resemble a human being.

It will be really nice when this cold has worked through our respective systems and pushed forward. I'm tired of everyone being sick.

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