Dad, Cammy, and the Snake

Remember those days when your kid couldn't figure out how to smile on cue?

Remember those days when your kid couldn’t figure out how to smile on cue? 

Cam, as you know, loved going to the garage and working with his Papa. Once, when he was about five, he and Dave spent a Saturday morning at the garage with Dad. It must have been a rather light-duty day, although Dave doesn’t really recall exactly what they were doing. When they came home, Cam came running into the house, holding a jar. “Lookit!!!! Mommy, lookit what Papa gave me!!!!” he said with excitement. And when I looked into the jar, I saw a Headless. Freaking. Snake.

My five year old son came home from Dad’s garage with a dead snake in a jar.

Dave later told me the story: when they got to the garage, Dad said, “Is that a snake by the door?” –and indeed it was. It slithered to the side as they went in, where Dad picked up some old, heavy car part. He dropped the part onto the snake, then briskly picked it up again. “Dead!” he announced. “Head came right off!” Then, as Dave related the story: “He dumped out an old Mason jar of nuts and bolts, and stuffed the snake’s body into the jar. Then he handed it to Cameron and said, ‘Here. You can take this home with you. Now go see if you can find any more snakes for your jar.’ And then he looked up at me with that smirk and told me to get over there and help him. Julie, there was nothing I could do.”

I tried to find the photo of a thrilled little boy, standing in front of the building with his canned snake, but I couldn’t track it down. So instead I’ll give you this shot of Dad and Cammy, chilling out in the truck bed some weekend. See how thrilled Cammy is here? That’s how he looked every time he hung out with Papa.

    The Time I Learned About Crying

    I'm in the green dress, at about the age that I learned about crying.

    I’m in the green dress, at about the age that I learned about crying. Also you can see where I got my sideburns.

    Once I had a conversation with another parent about kids’ emotions, crying in particular. This other parent was of the opinion that all kids should be allowed to react to any and all of their emotions, completely and fully, at all times. Which sounds pretty good in theory. However, I was (and still am) of the opinion that, while children should of course feel all of the feelings, etc.– they should also at some point learn that they can control themselves. Yes, even while in the grip of The Feelings. When I have discussions like these, I am reminded of a meeting I attended a few years ago. The architect with whom we had been working had never done a performance space before; rather than asking us all for guidance, he made apparently random and ill-advised choices on his own (e.g. no window at the box office counter), then defended them vehemently in the face of rational objections (box office staff could simply answer the phone, what’s the problem?). After about a month of craziness, this gentleman exploded spectacularly at a meeting. Faced with a simple and easily-corrected math mistake, which everyone at the table could see but he refused to acknowledge, he suddenly threw his papers in the air and stomped out of the room.

    He threw his papers in the air.

    I’ve never seen that before or since. Stop and think about your last meeting: did anyone throw their papers and dramatically huff out? (If yes, then please allow me to Skype in at your next meeting.) And as the rest of the group looked around at each other in disbelief, horrified but also sort of thrilled to have witnessed it– that might have been just me– I had this distinct thought: “That guy never learned to control his emotions.” Or more specifically, and as I tell my own children: you may not be able to control how you feel– but you are always responsible for how you behave. Dude let The Feelings dictate his behavior, which is maybe acceptable in a toddler, but at some point, we all have to get hold of ourselves, no?

    So anyway: I remember very clearly the first time I learned this lesson for myself. Dad and I were at church by ourselves; I was maybe 5 years old. I started feeling sick, but when I told Dad, he blew me off (totally understand that one; I know that if I fell for that “I don’t feel good” thing every time my kids used it, they’d never go to school). But this time it was legit: about ten minutes after my queasiness began, I threw up onto the kneeler. Dad had to handle the entire situation on his own– while Mass continued around us and other churchgoers watched avidly– and the entire time I was sitting there on the pew, wailing like a fire truck. (FYI if I remember correctly, he cleaned it up with one of his cloth handkerchiefs. I know you wondered.) Then Dad took me by the arm and propelled me past all the gawkers and out the door. When we got to the car, he deposited me in the back seat. Instead of getting in, though, he just stood there for a second. In retrospect, he must have been homicidal; I know I would have been. He said to me, “Why are you crying? Are you hurt?”

    I stopped abruptly. I had only been crying out of habit: if you barfed, then you would also cry. I had never questioned that sequence of events before. I thought for a second, trying to see if I was indeed hurt. “…..No,” I said.

    “Are you still feeling sick?”


    “Is anything wrong right now?”


    “Then stop crying. You don’t have to cry every time something happens that you don’t like,” Dad concluded, and he got behind the wheel and drove us home. I never forgot how amazed and self-actualized I felt: I could choose how I responded to circumstances. I could choose to be in control of myself. It was like Dad had given me a superpower.

    That architect could have used some of Dad’s simple life rules: one that would have really come into play at that meeting is that, if you’re wrong, you should just say you’re wrong. (Everyone usually knows it anyway.) And of course: you don’t have to cry every time something happens that you don’t like.


      Home Movie Dad

      Remember this? Hilarious.

      Remember this? Hilarious.

      Over the holidays, we watched a bunch of movies from when we were kids, and even some from before we were born. It’s always fun to see the plaid pants and giant clown bowties my brother wore, to pinpoint the exact year that Mom decided Betsy would look cute in a frizzy perm, and actually I didn’t remember that my grandma had an impressive collection of print pantsuits.

      We also saw some film shot in Jamaica, at my parents’ honeymoon. Which reminds me that,when my parents got to the airport to leave for their honeymoon, they realized that Dad had forgotten my mother’s plane ticket. This was 1968- it wasn’t like they could text someone to email them a new copy. They had to buy her a new one with traveler’s checks or something. Dad’s explanation for forgetting his new wife’s ticket? “My mom packed my suitcase.” Still cracks me up.

      Anyway. In these movies, Dad is prominent: he’s pushing one of us on a new bike. He’s holding court with a bunch of guys at a barbecue. He’s frequently filmed holding one of us in one arm, sort of absentmindedly, like he held babies so often that he hardly even noticed. (In one film– taken on a sunny day– he can be seen in the background, removing his cap and putting it on the head of the sleeping child in his arms. So sweet.) While watching these movies, we made a game of trying to figure out what Dad was drinking: Old Style a couple of times. Budweiser. He was a connoisseur of beer– and in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised as a college student, when he could always identify at a glance the random beer in our fridge. He is present in nearly all of these films in some capacity. It’s so wonderful to watch him, in his element, surrounded by loved ones. He was such a great dad.

        Dad Was a Beauty Queen.

        OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWatching the Golden Globes last night reminded me that, when we were kids, my dad was part of a charitable organization in our town. And one year, as part of their nonprofit fundraising, they decided to dress up as women and hold a beauty pageant. Who knows where this idea came from, except that it probably seemed like a fun sendup of pageants, and also like something that people would pay to come and see. Dad was one of the contestants, in some wig that (I think) my mother used to actually wear, and a full face of makeup. And, naturally, Dad won the beauty contest. Mom has an incredible photograph of Dad after he won, looking hilarious and ludicrous and fun.

        Dad was presented with flowers as well as a crown and a cape; Jill and I dressed up in them for years. In the crown and cape that our dad won in a beauty contest. We had no idea how bizarre that was.

        Anyway. I just thought you should know that my dad, along with everything else, was actually a pageant queen in his youth.

          Almost Three Years?

          My brother is probably trying to explain the Greenhouse Effect, with which he was obsessed at about this age. Meanwhile, Dad just looks awesome.

          My brother is probably trying to explain the Greenhouse Effect, with which he was obsessed at about this age. Meanwhile, Dad just looks awesome.

          One week from today, it will have been three years since Dad won peace in his battle with cancer. As always, it seems like forever and it’s only been a blink. I continue to try, every day, to honor and celebrate his memory rather than mourn his loss– not because I’m that amazingly self-aware, but rather because I can’t function if I focus on everything my family has lost.

          I can’t even function when I type it out like that. I just spent five minutes, staring into space.

          And if my dad stood for anything, it was for never giving up: never stopping, always moving forward. He would channel his energy into progress. So that’s what I try to do every day. When my son remarks offhand, “Did you see the mismatched rims on that LeSabre?” I work on being happy instead of sad. And when my little one tells me that, when she wakes up at night and feels afraid, she thinks of Papa protecting her– I make it a point to tell her how lucky she is, to have this guardian angel.

          So. Today, instead of being sad, I will tell you one sweet thing and two fun things about my dad: the sweet thing is that, against all probability, Dad loved the song “Wind Beneath My Wings.” He had a tape of it– a tape— and he used to play it when he went to bed at night. He requested that this be the song for the father-daughter dance at Betsy’s wedding, in fact. And then, at the wedding, he had it played three times in a row, so that he could dance with all three of his daughters. The first fun thing is that yesterday, I had to remove about a pound of lint from the laundry drain (no, that isn’t the fun part). It was even grosser than you think it was; I called Dave at work, mostly to commiserate. Since he was at work and unavailable, I said that I wished Dad was home, so that I c0uld call him. “He’d come over and do it for me,” I said. Dave said, “No he wouldn’t. He’d call me at work, tell me to get my ass home and clean out the drain so that his daughter didn’t have to do it, and then he’d say, ‘Come on over if you need to borrow any tools,’ and hang up. One hundred percent.”

          Actually, this is totally true.

          The second fun thing is that, once, Dad was washing dishes after dinner (this is very unusual; normally all the kids cleaned up after dinner. No idea why Dad was in the mix on this occasion). I have told you before, how delicate was the protocol when working with the person washing the dishes: if you tried to dry an item and found it was still dirty, then you had to politely place it to the left of the sink. Never, ever, ever directly into the sink: dropping dishes directly into the dishwater was tantamount to punching someone in the face, and I can’t really explain that except to say that was our sibling dynamic. But: since Dad was the dishwasher, we kind of thought this rule didn’t apply that day. Someone dropped a plate splashily back into Dad’s dishwater with a casual, “Still dirty, Dad.” Without a pause, Dad grabbed the plate, pivoted, and spun it directly into the trash can. “Now, do that again and see what happens,” he said, returning to the dishwater.

          No one did it again.


            This is a Gross and Embarrassing Story. FYI.

            I was reminded of this story earlier today, and because you read this frequently childish and puerile blog, I thought you might enjoy it as well:

            Once, years and years ago, I went to a New Year’s Eve party at the home of my date’s friend. I had not been dating this gentleman for very long at all (no, it was not Dave). Midnight arrived, we all celebrated, and my date and I decided to head out to another party. He said, “Let me just use the bathroom, I’ll be right back.” I had my coat on and was thanking the hostess when the bathroom door opened a crack. My date’s face appeared. “Um, there’s no toilet paper in here,” he said.

            Then I spent ten minutes, awkwardly making small talk with the hostess while we waited for my date to finish his business. And also trying not to die.

            That is all. Enjoy your Thursday.

              Bean Boozled: the Stuff of Nightmares

              You think this would be no big deal. You are wrong.

              You think this would be no big deal. You are wrong.

              Yesterday, I referenced the game Bean Boozled, and the fact that the adults in my family foolishly played this game over the holidays. It’s very simple: you spin the spinner and you take your chances. The green ones are either Pear or Booger-flavored. The speckled ones are either Peach or Barf. You won’t know which you get until you put it in your mouth. Sometimes, you’re faced with the possibility of Stinky Socks, and instead you get Tutti Frutti. Other times, well….. enjoy watching me gag. By the way: I’m dressed like a lunatic because we were about to go for a run in really cold weather. Also, yes I was wearing two hats but only because I was about to give one to Jill, Lloyd Christmas-style. (Remember this? God, this movie will never stop being funny to me. “Harry, your hands are freezing!”)

                Back to School Bullet Blog (Only, I’m Not Back to School Yet)

                • Start at the back of the line. Move forward until you reach the front of the line. Tell your child to exit the vehicle. Drive away.  (You might want to print this out and tape it to your steering wheel.)

                  Start at the back of the line. Move forward in the direction of the arrow until you reach the front of the line. Tell your child to exit the vehicle. Drive away.

                • Confidential to a few parents at** this morning’s dropoff line: I see that you have forgotten, over break, how to drop off your children in an orderly fashion. Please study the diagram above to help you figure out what to do as you approach the school. Two helpful hints: if your car is directly blocking the dropoff line, you should move out of the way. And if you bypass the entire line and almost slam into the car in front–jumping ahead of everyone else to let your precious snowflake out of the car– then you’re doing it wrong and everyone hates you.
                •  I found a note this morning from Gabby to Addie J, wishing the J a good first day back. And then my heart exploded.
                • Obviously I have work to do today, if I am to return to class myself. And clearly I have no desire to do any of it; this is when I fantasize about being one of those superwealthy people who never work a single day in their lives, but rather spend their great-great-grandparents’ fortune. I could call Jeeves right now and be like, “Jeeves, I think we’ll spend this week on the yacht. Please make the necessary travel arrangements and pack my underwear. Also, can you see that the nail polish I spilled on the custom teak deck has been removed, in advance of our arrival?” (I tried to find Jeeves this morning, in fact, but that guy is never around.)
                • Who besides me began playing Trivia Crack over the holidays? …Because I love it. But what makes me furious is when my son, or my niece, or whoever, will ask me a Trivia Crack question, I’ll provide the answer, and then they’ll say, “Thanks! ..Now I’m beating you.”
                • (But they don’t beat me.)
                • One of my sister’s holidays gifts– besides a virus and some car trouble, that is– was Bean Boozled, a Jelly Belly game where you spin a dial and then eat a jelly bean, the flavor of which will be either innocuous (Peach) or awful (Rotten Egg). If I can find it, I’ll post the video of me, prerun, finding out whether I got Chocolate Pudding or Canned Dog Food. A word of warning: do NOT play Bean Boozled. It’s not worth it.

                **I say “at this morning’s dropoff line,” rather than “in this morning’s dropoff line,” because as far as I could tell there were at least three skew lines in the general location of the school. Get it together, my God.

                  Happy 2015!!

                  Jill and I were talking last night about Chinese New Year predictions. Chinese astrology predicted that 2014 would be a challenging year for me. I’m a Rat, according to Chinese astrology (shut up, that means something way better in Chinese astrology than it does in an American back alley). Since 2014 was the Year of the Horse– and Horses and Rats are  not compatible– I was told that 2014 would be kind of a tough year. Lots of challenges, lots of unexpected bad news. I should hunker down, be careful, and wait out 2014. Oh, and hang out with Tigers whenever possible, because Tigers protect Rats.

                  Dave is a Pig (again, I’m just talking about Chinese astrology here), so although his prediction for himself was pretty good, he couldn’t do much to protect me from my bad fortune year of 2014. You know who is a Tiger, though? –Jill. Aaaaand right as the Chinese New Year began last year, we learned that she would be moving about 750 miles away. My first indication that 2014 would indeed be a challenge.

                  I was told specifically to look out for injury or illness in June and December: last June, I jacked up my knee while running and strained the ligaments in my right hand while opening a bottle of club soda (if that isn’t the most embarrassing, old-lady injury in the world, no?). My knee healed quickly, but my hand took months. MONTHS, my friends– and what happened in December? The flu ruined our Christmas plans. I had a great opportunity come my way…. only to have it yanked away for reasons beyond my control. I broke a shot glass that had sentimental meaning to me. I broke a beautiful little hand-painted bowl my friend brought me from a Bangladeshi market. I lost a $100 gift card. I blame 2014.

                  Yesterday, we had a couple of little incidents not go our way. As Dave and I said, “2014 wants to be a dick allllllll the way to the end, doesn’t it?” –So while 2014 wasn’t my favorite year by any means, I’m still starting 2015 with three beautiful, healthy children and our healthy extended families. And my Davey. Which makes all of 2014’s misadventures trivial.

                  For real, though: can 2015 be not so challenging?? Let’s hope so. I’ll update you when I get my prediction for 2015, later this month. In the meantime, here’s to you and yours for a happy and healthy 2015– no matter how many gift cards you lose.

                    The Best Gift

                    camaroA bit of holiday illness derailed our original plans. Well, I shouldn’t say “derailed” but rather, “adjusted.” We had our usual out-of-town holiday celebration, followed by a bigger-than-usual Christmas Eve. Then, in place of Christmas Day at my mom’s house, we had a crazy day of displacement: after morning gifts under the tree, we saw a movie, went swimming and had dinner at a restaurant. (What??? Weird.) As it turned out, though, this kind of extended our celebrations in a good way, with my brother-in-law bringing his family in for a visit and then– finally– our big Christmas Day celebration happened yesterday. We’ve been having a lot of fun, spending a lot of time together, giving and receiving lots of great stuff. The best thing I received came yesterday, when my brother Jeff handed me a small wrapped package. “I found this for you,” he said.

                    Some background: when I was in college, I had the most ridiculous and awesome, bright orange, 1976 Camaro. I loved that car so much. It was absolute nonsense on four wheels. It looked like a zoot suit; the hood was long and the trunk was short and it guzzled gas and it went really freaking fast. I had had it for about three months when my college roommate borrowed it, and crashed it. (That particular roommate also stole a bunch of my stuff, and would even steal things back after I had reclaimed them from her. She used to cross out my name in my books and write her name below that. You know that one roommate who was sorta crazy? This was that roommate.) I still remember that awful feeling of having let down my parents, and all the work my dad had put into that car to make it safe for me, and what a terrible person I must be to have betrayed their trust by lending it to an idiot. However, my parents, in an angelic act of forgiveness, fixed the car and gave it back to me. I still can’t explain how much that gesture meant to me.

                    I drove my orange Camaro until I was 25 years old, when some kid named Brett T-boned me on my way to the gym one Halloween. That was the end of the Camaro, and the end of an era. To tell you the truth, I’ve never since had a car that I loved as much as that car (the Saab likes to mess with me too much to take the top slot). I actually called my dad in tears to tell him that the car had been totaled, and then I called a bunch of my college friends who were like, “WHAT?!?! NOT THE CAMARO!!!” It was towed from the accident spot to my place, and subsequently towed to the wrecking yard. I don’t even recall my dad ever seeing the car after the kid hit it.

                    Yesterday, however, I opened the little package to find the hood emblem from my beloved Camaro. Jeff had found it in Dad’s garage; evidently Dad had taken it off and kept it and I never knew. It is from my Camaro without a doubt: I remember Dad taking such car of that car for me that he even took apart the emblem and repainted the stripes. It’s all cracked and chipped from the collision too. So quite naturally I cried, and then I tried to show it to Dave a few minutes later and cried again. I love it so so so much. Discovering, out of nowhere, that Dad kept this seemingly inconsequential little thing is the best gift.

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