Archive for category: Fairly Odd Parents-Present

Parents Con Solo

04 Jun 2001
June 4, 2001

horoscopeShe must have taken pity on us as we told our tale. For when we finished she suggested our daughters spend the night at her house so we could go out for our anniversary!

We were in shock! It was hard enough finding a babysitter for any evening (the reason for our plight), let alone the entire night! Why this was unprecedented (in our house). This was a first! We gladly and immediately accepted.

So on Saturday, around 4, we dropped both of them off. We felt secure for she was my daughter’s teacher and we knew her boys, the same ages as our children, loved to play with them. We immediately headed for the opposite side of the beltway to our favorite restaurant. Bliss. Conversation. Uninterrupted. Margaritas. Bliss.

Then on to a movie, the first we’ve seen outside of a Blockbuster box in about six months. Pearl Harbor. Not our first choice but the only one that fit our timetable after our luxuriously slow dinner. My wife agreed after I told her it was mostly a love story.

All of this was wonderful. But, up until this point it wasn’t much different than if we’d gotten a babysitter. When we came home it was quiet but the kids would have been asleep at that time anyway.

The next morning I woke up at 7:15. I turned to my wife, who is not a morning person and said “Honey, you want to do something really different?” She turned over, eyes immediately open, and nodded. “Let’s get up right now and go to the Georgetown Fleamarket! We’ll get some coffee and a scone at Starbucks.”

We were out of the house in 17 minutes! We just got out of bed, put on our clothes, threw a little water on our faces, and out we were. We were amazed at how many people were driving around at that hour! As we headed out she said it had been so long since we had gone to this fleamarket, she’d hoped it was still there. I replied “It doesn’t really matter. We’ve already done something we’d never have been able to do with the kids.” And we were in a great mood for the rest of the day!

Par for a Saturday Morn

12 May 2001
May 12, 2001

horoscopeThis is a momentous day! First, it’s Le Premier Fauchage de Pelouse du Festival de Saison, a holiday celebrated throughout the known suburban world this time each year (at least in the northern hemisphere). It’s also the fanciest way of saying I mowed the lawn for the first time this season! I never knew that translating mundane tasks using Babblefish could make my life seem so rewarding. But more on that in a minute.

Part I

The day started early. I got up at 5:30 am (on a Saturday I’d like noted) to get to the county’s aquatic center to register my children for swim lessons. Registration began at 8:30. Knowing parents as I do (and knowing to what lengths we’ll go to do something of importance for our children), I was sure I had to get there as early as possible. There were, after all, only 10 slots and only one class we were interested in.

And I was right. I arrived to a crowded parking lot at about 6:40. One man dawdled, trying to figure out if this was the right place. I expertly drove around him, parked, and walked as quickly as I could to what I hoped was the front door (without drawing attention to myself).

I saw a group of parents sitting quietly, facing a picture window through which was the longest pool I had ever seen (NBC Olympic coverage not included). I asked which was the end of the line, found a chair, and unwrapped my paraphernalia. I had come prepared. CD player/FM radio to play the latest from Destiny’s Child (too early for NPR), morning paper, two books (appropriate!) I’m presently reading, and my Palm. If I could have stopped at Starbucks I would have, but time was of the essence.

I was twelfth in line. Rules stipulated that no one could hold a place for another parent and that you could only sign up one additional child not of your immediate family. I had two but how many did the others have and what classes were they interested in? With only ten places in a class I didn’t feel I had this locked up. But I would have to wait, so I relaxed.

Time moved slowly. The woman in front of me was reading Tony Morrison’s latest and the man just behind me was reading something in Japanese. Considering he was Caucasian, I wanted to strike up a conversation but decided against it. The line grew longer behind me. As it got close to the appointed time my entertainment focused on watching arriving parents’ faces as they realized how long the line truly was. I kept my smugness to myself for I didn’t want to tempt the Swimming Lessons gods.

With about 20 minutes to go I called my wife to go over all last minute contingencies (if we could only get one child in the class were any other classes our second or third choices?). The time had arrived and we were told to line up by the door. I did finally turn to the man in back of me to tell him I felt I was lining up for a lottery. He smiled but there was something about it that told me that flexing my severely limited, if expertly voiced, Japanese would not have yielded a lasting relationship. Finally it was my turn. I felt like I was ordering from the Soup Nazi, not that the man behind the desk’s attitude was bad. I just had been warned to be prepared with my order: class number clearly stated, proof of residency in hand along with my checkbook.

As he pulled the two class holders from his file I finally breathed a sigh of relief. I noticed two numbers on each of the pieces of paper he gave me: 9 and 10. My kids had just made it and, of course, it was all worth it (my coffee sacrifice included!). I’m sure this will not be the last time I scurry for them. But it was my first and something I will cherish.

Part II

As soon as I got home it was time to celebrate and time to get out the old lawn mower. The first mow of the year is really fun. The tension waiting to see if your children will get into a swim class is nothing compared to wondering whether the mower will start up after sitting through the long cold winter. In addition, I had to remember the whole pre-mow routine. Dress: old everything (made a mistake by wearing my “good” sneakers —it took forever to get the grass stains off of them); face mask for the pollen, old reading glasses to protect my eyes, and my portable CD player. The mask redirects my exhale, steams my glasses, and makes it hard to see where I’m going but my lawn is festooned with boulders (ok, rocks) and branches which have been known to fly up and hit me.

I then had to find where we last placed the key to the mower shed. It took my wife and I 15 minutes to remember when we discovered the lock had rusted over the winter and it wouldn’t open. Then another 10 minutes to hacksaw it off and I was ready to go. Almost.

Of course, they tell you to drain the gas out of the machine at the end of the season (while I have typically ignored this advice in the past, I did try to use up everything in the gas tank this past October). And, of course, don’t use gasoline stored over the winter. I thought about this as I poured the gas stored over the winter into the machine. As I set the choke and pulled the cord, it coughed but started like a dream! I was set to go.

One more thing about our lawn mower. Like most big purchases I researched this one to make sure we got the features and reliability we needed. Since this was the first mower I’d ever bought it took a while to pick just the right make. Because we’ve got a lotta lawn, with some nice little nooks and crannies, we felt a self-propelling model would be best. And, when it works, it does make the mowing experience a pleasure. Problem is, the belt keeps coming off so I generally have to stop at least twice a mow for both my wife and I to put it back on (yes, it takes two of us!). This gets tiring and a pain. The machine is so heavy that it’s a bear to push it up even the mildest incline. And, despite my insistence that the hardware store fix the thing, year after year, the story’s the same.

This premier fauchage was no different. Three times the belt slipped off. I think it’s time for a new mower. Maybe one without self-propulsion (which, of course, would make the thing a lot lighter and, therefore, easier to push).

In years past I’ve thought about doing something creative with my mowing, like blocking out ironic, postmodern sayings in the grass. But my wife nixed the idea. As a compromise, this year I created a simple rectangle of unsheared lawn on the side of the house. I can’t wait to see how it develops as the season progresses.

Ok, equipment problems aside, mowing the lawn the first time is an anal-retentive’s dream. By now the dandelions and wild onion grasses are high. The pressure’s on to keep up with your neighbors (thankfully, we were not the last one’s to mow this year). When you complete the task, you’re hot, you’ve exercised, and you feel like you live in a picture perfect house, right out of Metropolitan Home. And of course, three weeks later you get to do it all over again!

Keep on the Sunny Side: The Right Side

23 Apr 2001
April 23, 2001

As mentioned earlier, I take my daughter to school on the Metro (DC’s subway). Well, actually, I take both of my daughters to school. When commuting downtown with a 4 1/2 and 3 year old at 7 in the morning, you never know what to expect. What are my fellow passengers thinking of this trio of two highly-charged youngsters and one aging adult? Despite my daily scans of their faces, it’s often hard to tell.

horoscopeOn our better days we bake cookies and read books. But mixing make-believe ingredients can quickly change to sibling screams as one invades the other’s space. I don’t know if trying to keep up with my children’s energy is the cause of my morning lethargy or Mother Nature whispering “it’s old age” in my ear. It’s a constant struggle to be attentive and awake, while trying hard not to encroach into the private worlds we sit next to.

The last couple of weeks our journey has been complicated by the fact that the elevators at our destination are out of order. This means I have to use three escalators to get to the surface. The first day they were out of commission I had to quickly devise a strategy for safely getting both kids and the double stroller to the top.

The oldest actually listens to her daddy and is good at following directions (a wonderfully typical first child and God’s way of making sure you’ll want to have another). With supervision she can get on and off the escalator with no problems. I hold my 32 pound youngest in one arm and the stroller with my other hand as we all go up together. Only once has someone offered to help me but luckily each escalator is a short ride.

So here’s the problem. There is an unspoken, but sacrosanct ordinance in the DC Metro that one should always stand to the right on escalators to let others walk past you. With the advent of the Vernal Equinox and the cherry blossoms comes the tourist season. Without any official signs announcing this rule, map-toting out-of-towners have no idea they are in violation and subject to, at best, snears and at worst…

I’m just happy to have control over two children and a stroller. But, in order to do so, I must take up the entire width of the escalator. Friday, as I neared the end of my morning ordeal, just a few feet from the top, I heard a distinctive commuter grumble just behind me. I turned to him and said: “I have no choice, the elevators aren’t working.”

He looked at me and uttered the words I feared most: “You’re a tourist, aren’t you?” I have to admit, I sure looked like one: faded jeans, backpack, two kids, and a stroller. Only my job ID, resting quietly in my pocket, would have saved me from this. For once I wished I had been wearing it around my neck, a civil service accessory no one should be without. I was shocked! Without thinking twice I retorted: “I am a Federal Worker!!” like I was wearing a Purple Heart on my sleeve, wounded in the line of active duty!

The intensity of my declaration surprised even me! “And even if I was a tourist, you should think twice before saying something like that.” By this time we had reached the top and he started to apologize. “Yes, you are right,” he said as he walked away to his job. I wanted to ask him just what he did that made him want to get to his highly-paid cubicle so quickly. But all I could wish for was that he’d think about this the next time he saw a parent traversing the Metro with children.

There’s a dark and troubled side of life
But there’s a bright and sunny side too
Though you meet with the darkness and strife
The sunny side you also may view

Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way
If we’ll keep on the sunny side of life

empty spaceThe Whites

All Things are Simulacrums

02 Apr 2001
April 2, 2001

This morning started out as most weekday mornings do: a rush to get us and the kids ready for work and school and a mad dash to the car, making sure everything and everyone is in place. As we pulled out of the driveway, I said “ding dong”. “What does that mean?” my four year old asked. “Ding dong,” I repeated.

My daughter likes to make up games. She especially enjoys making the rules (the province of four year olds). Often, on the way home from school and work she’ll decide to play a guessing game. You know, “it’s green and has spots on it, what is it?” That sort of thing. “If you can’t think of the answer say ding dong, she’ll pronounce. “If you want some extra time, say dong, dong, dong, three times.”

So, when I, all-of-a-sudden, blurted out those words (I can’t be held totally responsible for things like this at such an early hour!), she was understandably confused. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked again. “That’s a simulacrum, sweetheart,” I said, again not knowing how that came out of my mouth.

horoscopeBut the door was open and she wanted to know more: “A sim…what?” “A simulacrum is a sign [where will this end, I thought]. Ummm, let’s see…a photograph of a person isn’t THE person, but a representation of that person,” I started. I struggled to find an example a little bit more on her level. “The drawings I make for you of ponies and unicorns aren’t really the animals but pictures of the animals. That’s a simulacrum.” By this time we were on the subway and well on our way downtown. She continued to repeat the word and, by the time we took the elevator up to the surface, she pretty well had it and its definition down.

As we got to the foot of the school stairway she provided me with one more surprise: “Daddy, all things are simulacrums,” she announced. I laughed a huge nervous laugh. “You are so right, my dear. They are!”

Roland Barthes would have been proud. Her postmodernist daddy was amazed but thinks he’ll save the plural for simulacrum for another day. Art criticism may be in her future—her near future!

Underground Magic

22 Feb 2001
February 22, 2001

As we walked through the door she began her incantation. Raising her hands before her, eyes closed, she began:

I wish, I wish with all my heart
To fly with dragons
in the land of heart

I stared, transfixed, as she repeated her words again and again. I knew her chant from her favorite cartoon show. And I took special note of a four year old’s version of an often-heard rhyme.

Her eyelids moved to the beat of her voice. When she stopped her eyes slowly opened and looked at me. “Now, I’ll teach you how to make a wish. If you say it two times, you get to make two wishes.”


I smiled a deep smile. It had been a tough day at work and if this was a sign of things to come, I couldn’t have asked for a better one! I looked around, suddenly aware we weren’t alone. We were on stage, as my 4 year old daughter and I always were, in the subway car on our commute home.

Only one man had taken notice of us. Considering the strength of my daughter’s voice, I was surprised more people weren’t watching. As she chanted he smiled, but stifled it and looked away whenever our eyes met. I was now enjoying both of them. The dance between her recital and his face was something special. When we arrived at his station, he stopped just long enough to say what an amazing spirit she had. I was sorry to see him go.

This was the second performance of the day. On our morning commute, as we rode the slow elevator to the surface, she and I were packed tightly with others. In the public/private solitude, traditional in this venue, she suddenly broke the rules by loudly proclaiming “I love you, daddy!” in her best theatrical voice.

The smiles were audible and I felt like her carnival accomplice, her shill, trying to bring unsuspecting people into our fold. She, of course, knew exactly what she was doing.

© 2001-2015 Jeff Gates ISSN 1544-4074