Thursday, May 27, 2010

Really? We're Still Calling It a Revolution?

Mike Denning asked to be a member of our Austin Stay-at-Home Dads group, and I denied him because (a)he lives a couple hundred miles away, which would kind of be an obstacle to his participation in play dates, and (b)he probably only asked to join to promote his movie. I watched the first of the 4 parts of his movie on his Facebook page, and I'm baffled by the assertion that people still treat SAHD-ing like an odd choice that breaks cultural traditions and stereotypes. I almost never encounter that kind of reaction from people I meet. Maybe I'm just oblivious to the negative reactions other dads report, but moms are almost always friendly on the playground and tell me it's great that I can do this and that I'll treasure these years for the rest of my life. Dads tell me they wish they could do it, too. And I'm not talking about just the heart of "Keep Austin Weird" Austin, where the hippies and the hipsters and the alternative lifestyles abound. I'm talking about the conservative, white, Williamson County suburbs. I'm talking about Dallas. I'm talking about outside of that bizarre liberal bubble in the middle of hardcore red-state Texas, I've never drawn stares, or disgusted looks, or insinuations that my lazy dependence on my wife will lead me straight into the fires of hell.

This is the conversation that I had with one of my ushering co-workers last weekend that is remarkable only in that it almost never takes place. When I quit my full-time job, I thought I'd be having this talk all the time, but I really don't.

"So what do you do? This isn't your only job, is it?"

"No, I have a couple of other part-time jobs, too."

"I mean, what's your full-time job?"

"Oh, I take care of my son."

Long pause. "Oh, that's cool." Another long pause. "You only have one kid?"

"Yeah, so far."

"Oh, that's cool." Long pause. "So what do you have a sugar mama or something?"

Seasoned Traveler

On Monday, Thumper and I gave Aerie a couple of nights to herself and flew to Dallas to visit my parents. It was his first airplane trip, and an experiment on my part to see if it would be easier than the three-and-a-half hour drive. When you factor in the airport experience four times, I wouldn't say it was easier, and it certainly wasn't cheaper. But it was an adventure.

He was a little nervous at the Austin airport as we checked our baggage and went through the security line. A TSA employee chatted with us while we waited, though, and Thumper began to relax a bit. He told the guy that we were going to visit Grandma and Grandpa and the Dallas Zoo, and that his favorite animal is the gorilla, who says, "RAHHRRRRRR!!!" He has been given this impression of the gorilla by the very cranky Kerchak in No Nap for Tarzan. As we discussed the impending trip over the past few weeks, he had periodically expressed some trepidation about meeting such cranky animals face to face, but I repeatedly reassured him that zoo gorillas mostly just sit and stare off into space.

Once we got through security ("Why you taking my shoes off?"), Thumper squatted by the window while we waited to board, watching them load luggage into our plane. ("Is that's our plane? Why?") Once we were aboard, he repeatedly asked, "Now are we flying? Now are we flying?" as we taxied around and waited our turn to take off. When the engines began roaring in earnest, he yelled, "What's wrong with the plane?" So if you have a fear of flying, and you were on that flight with us, I apologize. There was not, as I loudly reassured him, anything wrong with the plane.

He was excited by the takeoff, later reporting to Grandma and Grandpa that the plane went really fast, but after that he quickly reverted to boredom, though the apple juice he was served mid-flight cheered him mightily. He was also confused about where exactly Grandma and Grandpa were going to be, thinking they were at the Austin airport, then that they would be on the plane. And since they had outdated info about which terminal we'd arrive at, they weren't there while we waited for our luggage, either. But when he saw them pull up to pick us up curbside, he literally jumped for joy.

We had a lot of fun with Grandma and Grandpa, playing at their house and visiting the zoo. Grandpa cleverly left a Hoppity Ball deflated and lying casually discarded in their living room; Thumper instantly wanted to know what it was, what it was for, and what it did, so he and Grandpa went to the garage to blow it up. Here he is enjoying it while having a conversation with Grandma shortly after she suggested that maybe he not hammer on her wind chime quite so persistently:

The only reason he didn't cover his face as I took that video was that I used my iPod, which he has not yet realized is also a camera.

By the time we visited the zoo, Thumper had missed a couple of naps and had a late night in the hotel, so he was fairly subdued. Luckily, Grandma had the idea of renting a stroller, which saved the day. Thumper rode from exhibit to exhibit, then leaped out of the moving vehicle without warning Grandma, who was driving, to get a look at each animal. There were a couple of school groups there, so sometimes he had to fight for a spot at the glass:

Since he still has an aversion to having his picture taken, all of my zoo shots are of the back of his head. I could get a shot of his face if I got him while his hands were busy:

But then he'd quickly revert to his extremely strict no pictures policy:

And of course, no trip to the zoo would be complete without an in-depth conversation concerning the universal need of all animals to poop and pee:

When we got home, he reported to Aerie that he saw gorillas, but that they did not, surprisingly, "RAHHRRRRRR!!!" at him. So, there. Now he's a seasoned traveler who has experienced a real zoo. I think, though, that some of his favorite moments were the afternoons we spent at the motel, resting and recuperating if not actually napping:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Conversationalist

"Hey, what are you eating?"

"A piece of gum."


"It makes my breath smell fresh."

"Daddy, I have no idea what you're talking about."

"It smells like mint, so when I chew it, it makes my mouth and my breath smell like mint."

"Daddy, I have no idea what you're talking about."

Friday, May 21, 2010

How We're Spending Our Days

Ever since we went to that flea market, we've been doing a lot of this:

And I mean a lot. As in every single day, for at least an hour and sometimes more. A little over a week ago, we ran into a dad at the playground at Central Market and his daughter, who was just about Thumper's age. She had a LIKEaBIKE that Thumper absolutely loved. They kindly let him give it a try while the dad told me about his three kids who were all riding two-wheel pedal bikes without training wheels after learning to balance on that unusual contraption. When I got home, I looked them up. After choking on the $400 price tag, I looked up "balance bike" on Craigslist and found a used Park Racer for a much more palatable $35. So we got it.

He loves his new "cheetah bike" and is the envy of the neighborhood kids, even the big kids who already know how to ride a two-wheeler without training wheels. So now we have to drag both bikes around with us whenever we play on our street or at the playgrounds. After a week, he's getting pretty good at coasting, and can even make some long, graceful, looping turns with his feet up.

I tried to get some video, but he still refuses to let me take his picture. This is the conversation we have every time I pull the camera out:

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Sometimes the mood strikes to do Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge.

This is simply idle speculation on my part, but it seems to me that sharing a bed with a writer of erotica would have its benefits. I would happily consent to be your research subject, baby. What precisely would happen, if...? Is it actually possible to fit bodies together like that? What sound, exactly, would one make? Let us study the subject together. I will vow under oath and sign before a notary consent forms and non-disclosures. I don't have to be the hero of your story as long as I can act it out with you, before and after.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Have the Dads All Become Moms?

I've been frustrated with my dads' group for a long time now because they're very inactive. There are 195 members, yet the message board is virtually silent, and when we drive all over town to go to the daily scheduled play dates, more often than not we're the only ones who show up. Of the 195 dads, over the past year I've probably only seen 7 or 8 dads at the playgrounds, and another 4 or 5 who come to the Dads' Night Out events at area bars and restaurants every month. On a good week, there will be 2 or 3 dads at one of the week's play dates, and none the rest of the week. That seems like a remarkably low participation rate to me.

So when the dad who regularly schedules the play dates went out of town and asked me to make the schedule for a couple of weeks, I tried to shake things up a bit to see if it would attract more dads. It wasn't a huge success.

A few weeks ago, when we were at yet another play date with no other dads, there was a moms' group there having a play date of their own. I got into a conversation with a couple of the moms about what the secret is to a successful play group, and their answer was, more or less, "I don't know. People come. Why wouldn't they? Isn't that what they joined the group for?" I could only hypothesize that maybe dads just don't care as much about cooperative action as moms, that we're genetically predisposed to going it alone.

Now, though, I have a new theory: we've all joined moms' groups.

A couple of those moms that talked play groups with me suggested I join their group. They said I'd be the only dad, but they didn't think it would be a problem. For a couple of weeks I let the idea simmer: me? in a moms' group? And then I came to the conclusion that I'm the only man on the playground most days anyway, so why not at least know the moms? Why not at least let Thumper play with kids he knows, too? So I requested membership. That was over a week ago, and they still haven't responded at all, so maybe they don't want any dads in their moms' group. Or maybe they're furiously debating the pros and cons. Or maybe they just forgot about me.

And then, talking with a mom down the street that we frequently run into when we go out front to ride the bike in the afternoon, I learned about a neighborhood play group she belongs to. She told me I should join and gave me the Yahoo! address. So I requested membership. They replied instantly, invited me to meet them at the local playground yesterday, and after that meetup, immediately approved my membership. We met with them again today. It's kind of amazing. I'm not driving 45 minutes to the far side of Austin just to be the only one who shows up to the scheduled play date. Instead, for two days in a row, I drove five minutes to be one of a handful of parents. Two of the moms today were also there yesterday. I knew their names. I knew their kids names. It was kind of cool.

Yesterday, before going to meet with the neighborhood group, I posted to Facebook: "Off to go audition for a moms' group. I hope the boy brings his A game." One of the dads in my old group commented, "haha, you could join the one I am in :)" And it suddenly dawned on me: the dads aren't inactive. They're just inactive in the dads' group because they're all too busy with their separate moms' groups. Dangit! If I'd only known sooner, I could've transformed into a mom a long time ago and saved myself a lot of frustration.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

That's More Than I Won on the Nickel Slots in Marksville

A week or two ago, I asked Thumper what we should get Mama for Mothers' Day. He said, "A toy."

"What kind of toy?"

"A duck."

So we went to the mall to look for a duck. We didn't find any, but we did stop by Dollar Tree to pick up some soap. Aerie likes this soap, and the only place we can find it without paying shipping is, for some reason, Dollar Tree at the mall.

All of that is just to explain how Thumper came to associate Dollar Tree with buying gifts for his Mama, which becomes pertinent right about here:

This morning, when we were driving our Meals on Wheels route, I asked him if we should go look for a present for Mama again. He enthusiastically told the next client on our route, "We're going to the dollar store to buy a present for Mama!" I asked him what we should get her, and he said, "Something breakable."

So we went to the mall today to look for something breakable. This time we found something. It is indeed breakable, but it didn't come from the dollar store. Perhaps it's a sign of insecurity, but it seems important to me to make that clear: I did not buy my wife a Mothers' Day present at the dollar store.

Anyway, after we shopped, we proceeded with our usual routine for the mall: lunch at Chick-fil-A, a quarter or two into the candy machines, and then some "playing with the kids" at Kidgitville, or whatever it is they call that playscape outside Dillard's.

There's a skylight overhead, and it was warm, and I started to doze off. So before we left, I decided to buy an energy drink out of the nearby vending machine so I wouldn't wreck the car on the way home. I put in three $1 bills and selected a $2.50 Monster. The coin return started dropping coins one after the other. I thought, "Oh great, it's giving me nickels." I looked inside and they were gold, so I thought, "Oh great, it's giving me Chuck E. Cheese tokens." When it finally stopped clinking, I pulled out the stack. Thumper said, "What are those?" and I could only answer, "I don't know." I'd never heard of them before, but they looked like legitimate U.S. $1 coins. There were twelve of them, plus three quarters. Turns out they actually are legitimate U.S. money! So near as I can tell, I'm up $9.75, plus a Monster. Today's my lucky day!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

And I Ran; I Ran So Far Away

I ran my first official 10K today! I ran the whole way, without stopping or walking! As a wheezy, gray-bearded man overweight by a good fifty pounds, this fact is still a little stunning to me.

It was the Longhorn Run, and it was a beautiful day for it, overcast and cool with no rain. It was a beautiful course, too, running all through campus and finishing in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

It was a thrilling feeling standing at the start with 2,500 other orange-clad runners (me, a runner! weird...) and hearing the University president fire the cannon to start us on our way. I tried to run at a pace that felt familiar from the few practice 10Ks I've run working my way up to today and not worry too much about what other runners were doing. My biggest worry was that my practice route was fairly flat, and I didn't know how much up and down I'd have to do on this course.

I loved being part of an event that was big enough to shut down traffic. We meandered through tree-lined West Campus, where a volunteer stood next to sign that told us we had just passed 1,589 yards, the total rushing yards Colt McCoy ran for during his career at UT. There were also signs marking the 3-mile and 6-mile points, but I was glad that there weren't more regular landmarks; it freed me from worrying about how much distance was left and made it easier to just run and forget about comparing my performance with previous runs. I just ran at a pace that felt good.

And I was passing people! And I kept running when other people stopped to walk!

I had pretty much zoned out by the time we made the turn from San Jacinto onto 24th, but I heard the runner next to me say, "Oh, shit." I looked up the hill toward Speedway and remembered getting out of breath carrying Thumper up that same hill on the way to an ill-fated business meeting a few months ago. But I told myself to just keep moving, and I did. And I didn't die!

When we turned from Speedway onto 21st, we were looking down the hill at the southwest corner of the stadium. My heart leaped, knowing that we would enter the stadium at the southwest corner to finish. I wanted to sprint down that hill, but I thought there might be some stairs to run up to get us to field level, so I kept my pace. I'm glad I did, because part way down the hill, it became apparent that runners were turning left at the bottom, not right. We would enter at the southwest, but we would have to run a lap around the stadium first.

It was a good thing I didn't take that sprint after all, because the hardest part of the course was just ahead. Turning from San Jacinto onto 23rd, we were looking up the steepest hill on the course. Appropriately, its apex was at Robert Dedman. I imagined course planners chuckling at the irony of the name. Many people walked up that hill, and many walked after that hill, but again, I told myself to just keep moving. And I did. And I didn't die!

At that point, runners who'd already finished had come back down the course to cheer us on. "You can do it! Looking good! That was the last hill; you're almost there!" I felt great. I couldn't wait to run through the tunnel at the south end and burst out beneath the scoreboard, crossing the finish line and stepping out onto the field to the joyful cheers of friends, family, and my fellow runners. I pictured it something like this, with smoke and music and video montage and all (jump to around 2:10 if you're the impatient sort).

But no, it wasn't quite like that. We crossed the finish line at the entrance to the tunnel, then sort of just dribbled out onto the field, where we were directed up and out again to where water, fruit, and a live band awaited us. I thought the post-race festivities would be happening on the field, but I suppose I can understand their desire to protect their million-dollar grass and hustle us away from it as soon as possible. I also didn't wear a watch. I looked at the scoreboard to see if the official race time would be ticking along up there, but alas, it wasn't. And I didn't have the presence of mind to ask anybody what time it was, so I don't know how I did relative to my previous personal best of 1:09. We ran with microchips on our shoes, though, which we turned in at the end of the race, so hopefully results will be posted online somewhere.

Then I came home, ate a lunch lovingly prepared by my wife, and played Play Doh with Thumper. The End.

UPDATE! I finished in 1:01:44! Woo hoo!
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