Friday, June 27, 2008

Connections

Since I dove into social networking almost a year ago now, I have felt connected to people that I have never met in the real world. I feel like I have friends all over the place. It is true that this is the very surface of a friendship, kind of like the guy the runs the local convenience store that you make small talk with when you see him every few days.

The difference is that so much more is shared with my virtual friends. I see personal pictures, videos, and read private thoughts of people who may only be represented by a small icon in Twitter. I carry on conversations with people while our avatars in Second Life are sailing around the island by my second life home. I visit blogs and learn out how others work, live, and what they are passionate about.

My Fail Whale Tshirt!

Joe at the Mini Mart and I share almost nothing of substance. We only talk about the weather, sports or gas prices in 30 sec snippets. Funny, but all of the conversations end the same, "What are you going to do?" As in, "The ____(insert weather, Redskins, or gas prices here) stink, but what are you going do?" I am not sure how it became acceptable to insert a question into the closing of a conversation, but what are you going to do? Then I usually say something like, "See you later," or if I am feeling especially friendly, "Take it easy."

It is extremely important to me that I maintain, and hopefully improve, my real world relationships with my family and friends, and never short-change them while I explore social media. While I have thrown myself into the exploration of social networking tools with great enthusiasm, I will not allow my real world relationships to suffer for any reason. Virtual relationships should extend what is possible in the real world, not take anything away from what you already have. Amazingly, I have found that both worlds can coexist and my virtual social experiences have made me a better teacher, and a better communicator in the real world.
This weekend I have my first virtual job. I volunteered to be a tour guide at the Alamo in Second Life (SL) for ISTE during the NECC conference. I am kind of nervous, because no matter what anyone thinks, an avatar is a representation of yourself and I really want to do a good job.


Mission Padre- Alamo Tours
I will be leading tours at the Alamo as a Franciscan Monk. My first real purchases in SL were my monk outfit and skin for my Monk. I also thought it was important to have some gestures, so I bought four. I can't remember how much it cost in Linden Dollars, but in total it was about $5 US. I don't know if that is a good price or not, but I am happy with my purchases.

I am not sure why I decided to be a Monk, but I literally jumped at the chance. Peaceful acceptance of the universe seems appealing to me at this point in my life. I have always struggled and fought with life, but I have come to understand and appreciate the gift I have been given. All of my anger and conflict of the past have only hurt me, but I didn't even consider that at the time I chose the role. It just seemed to fit at the time. A monk with three children. I think the church would frown on that.

I was going to try to adopt an accent for my character as I did over hear another tour guide doing that and it sounded great, but as I mentioned before all of my accents sound like bad Irish from a drunken Leprechaun. I figure that I should probably stick with speaking in my regular voice, sounding like a bad cartoon character would distract from what I am trying to accomplish. I don't mind being laughed at but I don't think anyone from ISTE would think it was funny...

I am a little disappointed that I can't be at the conference, but being able to give this tour does make me feel like I am part of what is going on in San Antonio. Otherwise, I am pretty sure I would be upset. I think half the people I follow on Twitter will be there. I am sure I will get Twitter updates, blog entries and maybe even some video and pictures from NECC, but I can't help but feel like I am missing something (besides the free drinks and goodies that get handed out).

Next year the conference will be in Washington D.C. I am planning to go to that one because it is reasonably close to home, but it is a whole year away. I will just have to hope for the best and try to plan ahead. It is nice to think that I would meet people in real life that might tolerate me because they have come across me in a virtual exchange. After all, what what is the point of being a part of a social network if you never actually connect?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Triskaidekaphobia

I don't have a fear of the number 13, I have a fear that one day my wife will wake up and realize that she has made a terrible mistake. Amy and I have been married for 13 years today.

She is too good for me. She understands me and tolerates my ridiculous behavior. Her smile makes the world a better place. I am a very lucky man.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Near Death Experience

I have learned a new respect of anything in a bottle that says hot sauce on it. For about 40 minutes on Saturday night I was on fire. It was the most unbearable experience I have ever had.

My Quest for Fire began a little over a year ago. Something inside me said, "You need to find hot food." I know, it is weird to have little voices in your head, but don't worry, it was actually more like a craving. Kind of like that need for morning coffee, or the desire for chocolate that comes out of nowhere around 3:15 pm.

I have always liked spicy food, but this desire for something hot was really a new level of heat. For the past 12 months, I have been eating jalapeños on almost everything. At home I have Cajun Hot sauce, something called Road Kill hot sauce, green Habanera Hot sauce that I really love, hot Vlasic sandwich peppers and some crushed red peppers. If I wasn't sweating when I ate, I wasn't happy. Dinner time was all about the heat, putting layers of jalapeños, hot pickles and various hot sauces in a search to get the right level of heat. I used to enjoy the search for heat.

Saturday night I stumbled across a nightmare. I small inconspicuous bottle of something named 357 Mad Dog. This sauce is so hot it is technically borderline not a sauce, but a cooking additive. Not being a cook, (unless you call someone who uses a microwave oven a cook) even if I had been told that 357 was not a sauce ahead of time, it wouldn't have meant much to me.

Now I understand. I have tried to explain to my oldest son that I tell him things not because I am trying to be mean, but because I don't want him to learn things the hard way. Sometimes learning the hard way is a much more valuable lesson, but man do I wish someone had said something to me before I grabbed that bottle!

I took the family unit out on Saturday. We were celebrating my oldest son's birthday and had been rock wall climbing, and to the movies to see the Incredible Hulk (Awesome movie!). At dinner time we decided to visit the new Z Pizza near our house. After discovering that we would need to wait for 20 minutes, we adapted and choose Firehouse Subs instead.

I had a conversation with some of my Twitter friends last week (in person- how odd!) about Firehouse Subs. I thought because of the name, that it had hot food. I was told no, it was because the place was started by firemen. But then someone said that they do have a bunch of hot sauces on the counter. I was excited again.

Remembering this conversation, I took the family into the store and we all ordered our food. Sure enough, there was a long line of hot sauces. Everyone got their food and started to eat. I wandered over to the bar and grabbed the first bottle I saw.

I didn't look at the bottle, or ask anyone about it, I just opened it and looked inside to see the smallest drop of reddish brown stuff. I remember thinking, "Why didn't they throw this stuff away? Its empty."

The one drop in the bottom of this tiny bottle was enough to light up 50plus bowls of chili to blowtorch level. I am so not kidding here! I have learned a lot about pepper heat in the last couple of days. There is something called a Scoville Scale which was created to measure the heat of food. The reason the stuff I had was called 357 was because it measures roughly 357,000 Scoville units on the scale. Compare this heat to the little jalapeño at between 2,500–8,000, and you can see that there is no comparison. Once, I ate a full Thai pepper, sitting at only 50,000–100,000 Scoville units, and regretted it. The Thai pepper that I had was not close to the incredible heat I that I was about to experience with 357.

So, I pick up this bottle and I basically empty it onto my sub. I am surprised the sub did not dissolve! I ended up with 10 or more little dots spread evenly on my sub. About the time I am finished one of the guys at the counter asks me what I am doing. I said that I was adding hot sauce to my sub. He says something like, "Dude! What are you doing! That is the hottest stuff we have." I had wandered to the hot end of the counter, but I am not worried. Then the other people behind the counter chorus in, "Oh no..." Someone said something about an ambulance as I tried to keep my game face on wondering what in the hell I have just done to myself.

Not showing any fear, I calmly closed my sub with a smug little smile while teenaged boys mocked me. I put them out of my mind, labeling them immature punks who don't know what real heat is. Hubris, or pride, is one of the seven deadly sins. One should always be aware of this sin.

I returned to the table a little shaken, but I was determined to show these juveniles up. The first bite was not bad. I felt a bit of fire but nothing unusual. Feeling better, I went about the business of eating my sub. Four bites in, and my mouth is cooking. I am impressed. This stuff is hot. By the time I finish half of the sub I am on fire. It feels like I have a lava sandwich. It is crazy super hot! I am sweating, my face is red and my wife is asking me if I am alright.

I nod my head, because I can't speak, and there is still a half to go. Have I mentioned that I am a stupid man? I am truly an idiot. A smart man would have trashed the sandwich.

I looked at the other half of the sandwich and I knew that I had to eat it. I could not allow mere children to laugh at me. I took a moment to let the heat to settle, and I believed that this was the top of hill. There was no way it could get hotter than this...

I was wrong. I think part of the secret of this hotness scale is that it takes a while to soak in to all of the sensitive areas of a mouth. It is diluted by the food and doesn't always make direct skin contact. Chewing allows the heat to spread.

The second half of the sub was painful to the point of torture. Yes, I tortured myself just so some kids could not mock me. I am very mature.

I am trying to ration my drink at this point. Liquid really does no good, it is only a small oasis in the scorching Sahara of what was my meal. Small, gargling sips seemed to help for the briefest moment before the raging inferno that was my mouth continued with renewed intensity. I decided that it would be unmanly of me to run for a refill at the soda fountain.

The whole sandwich is gone and I am in agony. Amy is laughing at me, only because she knows how stupid I am and what is really happening. I still am having a hard time speaking. Crying is not an option as real men don't do this, but there is an urge to jump up and run screaming around the parking lot like a cartoon character from Looney Tunes.

I finish my drink and I am able to walk with a deliberate air of nonchalance to get a refill. This is when I realize that my attempt to impress the workers behind the counter have failed because their collective ADD had kicked in and they had forgotten about me. I am walking around trying to be cool and they don't even notice me.

The incredible heat has not abated and now I am concerned that this will be a permanent condition and that I have coated my mouth with some sort of fire paint. I am almost to the point of panic, and then I see the yogurt sign.

I immediately over-rule my wife (who has fielded earlier questions on this topic from my children) and declare to the table that the Doss family is getting yogurt. Right! Now!

The do-it-yourself yogurt store is two doors down. We have never been there before and as we walk in a nice young lady asks us if we have been previous visitors. I say no. She begins to tell about the procedure, when I suddenly realize that manners are for people who are not on fire. I nearly topple the poor girl over as I bull rush the stand with the empty bowls. Fire also does not give you time to decide over various flavors and toppings and I bee-line it to the vanilla dispenser. I am enraged to find that the spoons are at the register and that my family is busy making thoughtful (read- time wasting) decisions. I hastily grab a spoon and tell the cashier that she needs to ring me up now. Forget the rest of the family!

Frozen yogurt was the smartest thing I did all day. There is a magical property in yogurt that amazingly put out the fire in my mouth. By the end of the bowl, I was giddy with relief. Now Amy really laid into me. "Hey Captain Hot Sauce!" she says while the embarrassment turns my ears a nice shade of red. I may never live down this episode. Foolish man that I am I deserve it.
My quest for fire seems to be over. I don't know if it is gone forever, but the memory of the heat that I endured seems to be enough for me. Perhaps one day I will summon the courage to pull out my green habanera sauce and use it, but right now only the thought of plain food is in any way appealing to me.

Learn from my mistake; Read the label. Ask questions. Never try to impress teenagers.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Dunkin' Donuts

Looking back on your life, what was the “worst job” you ever had that ironically helped prepare you to one day become an educator?

Special thank you to Linda Bilak for tagging me for this meme. Of course, I did almost beg for it on Twitter!

The first real job I ever had was when I was 16 years old. I was the "porter" at a Dunkin' Donuts near my house. The best definition for porter is the person who is responsible for doing all of the things that no one else wants to do. I was lucky enough to have a car and a girlfriend at the same time, and I needed a job to support my interests.

Being a porter was the worst job I ever had, but I learned many things from this job that prepared me to be a educator, and a better person. For a young man inexperienced in the ways of the working world, lessons were everywhere. Thank goodness I was a quick learner.

Uncle Sam gets his cut.

This was the first time that taxes were deducted from my pay. Even though I was supposed to get that money back at the end of the year, each check had some small portion taken out. I worked a couple of hours a day after school and Saturdays for a few hours, and only made fifty dollars a week. Every bit that came out of my pay had a real impact on my teenage lifestyle.

Taxes- get used to it. It's what supports our country.

Nothing is all bad.

There were things that I hated about that job, but there were benefits. Chocolate éclairs were my favorite. You have to understand that about a third of all donuts were thrown away on every 8 hour shift. After the first time I was asked to dump a few dozen donuts into the garbage, I decided that liberating a few of the fresh ones off the rack would not be a problem. So I developed a method of walking by the rack, grabbing an éclair and shoving the whole thing in my mouth while continuing on my way. While this is technically stealing, the ownership and the other employees all participated in this practice. As long as you did not gorge yourself, no one said a word. The ones that were thrown away- you could eat as many you wanted, but there is a reason they replace them with fresh ones.

Try to look on the bright side of everything.

No matter what, there is a worse job waiting for you.

I was the guy who did all of the nasty, dirty, heavy and hard work. I swept, mopped and cleaned glass- that was easy stuff. I took out the garbage- there was a never ending mountain on most days. Still, this was easy.

I was also in charge of cleaning the bathrooms. Public bathrooms are especially rough in a 24 hour location. When people drink they get hungry late night for donuts, and do not use their best manners and hygiene. I hated Saturdays. It was like people couldn't find the toilet! I am not going to get into details, just use your imagination and then try to picture it even worse than that. You can clean an amazing number of things with a mop.

But bathroom duty still was not the worst. The worst part was the grease vat. This is the giant tub that holds and heats the grease that the donuts and other food items are cooked in. Thankfully, this particular device is not cleaned very often (from a workers perspective, not a patron's). Normally you just add more grease, which comes in large cinder block sized chunks, and it slowly melts into the vat with the old stuff. Eventually, the little bits of everything that is cooked in the vat falls to the bottom and stays there. At some point it must be removed.

Every 3 months or so, the manager would decide that the whole grease vat needed to be switched out. Grease in liquid form is hot, if you have been spattered with grease from cooking at home than you have an idea what it feels like. So you get burned, and there is also a vapor that rises from the hot grease and it sticks to everything. The secret is to drain out all of the grease in liquid form, but if there is no place to put it, you have to let it cool and become solid again. There was no place to put the grease, so I had to do it the hard way. Cool grease turns back into a white solid and clings to everything. The idea was that scoops of white gunk were easy to throw away.

By the end of the day I was covered in grease. A shower doesn't get that stuff off and the smell sticks for days. But like a toy in a cereal box the best part was all of the little pieces of food at the bottom of the vat. I stopped eating éclairs after seeing that congealed mass of food bits and grease.

You might have a bad job, but it could be much worse.

Have a mentor, or be a mentor.

It has been a long time since I was 16, so I don't remember my mentor's name, but he was the "Muffin Man." The muffin man was a full timer who made the muffins everyday. I think he got a kick out of watching me do things in a stupid way and then he would show me how to do it right. He wasn't my boss, and he had no reason to interact with me, but he did.

The muffin man would clue me into the mood of the owner and what I should look out for when dealing with the other workers. He showed me how he made muffins, and what all of the large kitchen machines did and how to be careful around them. He was very cool to me, and I have never forgotten how he helped me.

Help anyone who might benefit from your experience.

When someone pays you, they get to yell at you.

I think one day I did not sweep the parking lot fully. It was a minor thing, but the owner came and yelled at me like no one ever had before. He cussed at me, called me names, and questioned my manhood. I was furious, I literally saw red. I was 16, young and strong, and I wanted to kill that man. But thankfully, I didn't. The first step to adulthood is self control. To do the opposite of what burns inside of you is more difficult than anyone can describe, but it makes you a better person. Besides, the man was paying me and I had a girlfriend who liked what $50 a week could buy.
If you get yelled at by your boss, remember where your paycheck comes from. It is easier to take that way.

When you do anything, do it right the first time.

This kind of goes back to the previous lesson. I got yelled at because I didn't do my job right. I didn't think it was important and it showed in my work. I was wrong and really deserved what I got.

No matter what you do in life, do your best. If it is sweeping or cleaning toilets, do it right. Do your job like the fate of the universe depends on it. Maybe it does.

The reality is that time does not always allow us to do our very best work on everything, but you can still do your best with what you have. Someone else may do it better, or maybe worse, but you can only do your best. Don't compare yourself to what others do. When you have done your best, you know it and you can be at peace with yourself.

Do it right, or don't do it at all.

Take responsibility for yourself and what you do.

I learned to be on time, dress in the proper uniform, and remember my duties without being constantly reminded. I knew what my job was and I would do it without anyone asking me. I would also take on additional chores because they needed doing. I got paid to do something, so I stayed busy.

If you have a job, do it by the rules, don't sit around taking up space.

Seek opportunities for learning and growth.

Once, one of the donut people didn't come to work, but her job still needed to be done. So, that day I filled donuts. That was heaven compared to the normal things I had to do. I could have done what I always did and still got paid, but instead I learned something new, and helped out. The world is full of new things to learn and do.

Try something new everyday.

Treat everyone with respect.

Finally, one day I decided I had enough. A new owner had taken over the store and he and his family treated me like trash. By this time, I knew my job and did it well, but the new owner and his family acted like I wasn't even human. I decided it wasn't even about money anymore. Even if they had paid me more money, I wasn't going to work there one more day. The end of the shift came, and I gave my official zip up polyester blend Dunkin' Donuts shirt to the girl behind the counter, and announced I was not coming back to work.

All people are equal, never look down at anyone.

I have never forgotten what I did for that Dunkin' Donuts job. It has been a great measuring stick for every job since, and a reminder of what a bad job can really be like. I am truly thankful for the wonderful job that I have today, as well as my past experience doing less appealing things. Sometimes I hear coworkers complaining about their teaching job and I always try to catch myself before I fall into that trap of negativity. No matter what happens in my teaching job, it is way better than cleaning a public bathroom, or being elbow deep in semi-solid grease.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Joel McDonald - 1776


Sprout for 1776

This afternoon I had some unexpected time alone. No one was at home, so I played with a flash gadget creator, Sprout. Very cool! When Flash was new, I played with it and had dreams of doing fun things with it, but my life has taken a different path. The Sprout interface lets you do just about anything that Flash can do for you, it has templates that you can start from and it has a lot of functionality that you can add with just a click. I had a lot of fun playing with it. And best of all, it is free!

I usually like to have some kind of direction when I play, so I attempted to organize my school system's next Twitup. One of the guys in our group, Joel McDonald, is going to be in play, 1776. As a group, we discussed trying to go and see the play, but it can be difficult to get everyone to nail down a day. The Sprout gadget was a try at organizing a day, but I decided not to explore all of the options that were available to me. I embedded links and a youtube video. One link in the Sprout leads you to Joel McDonald's Twitter page. All of the others lead to a private SharePoint site (anyone who is not in Virginia Beach schools can not access the site, sorry!).

So, to sum up; Sprout is very cool, and VBCPS Twitter people- visit the SharePoint site and vote for a day to see 1776!

TNT

When there are no teachers or students around, school is a very different place for me. There are lots of boring tasks that must be completed. Cleaning and moving computers top the list. Of course, I must find something entertaining to do, so I throw on my headphones and jam.

The other day I mentioned on Twitter that I was taking my Karaoke on the road and I did get a comment or two. I decided this morning that I needed to do something to entertain myself, and maybe even share my foolishness with others. So I made a work video jam.

Enjoy.

video

Yes, I am an idiot and I don't care. If it makes you laugh, then I did accomplish something.

:-)

Monday, June 16, 2008

10

This Thursday, June 19th, is my oldest son's birthday. Calvin will be 10 years old.

According to Einstein, time is relative to the observer. If you are a stationary observer, your clock moves faster. It seems that I have become very statue like. Time seems to fly by me, and my son, who was an infant only yesterday, is becoming more man-like in thought and appearance in front of my eyes.

I know this is only an illusion, but I secretly want time to stop so that I can hold my children forever. This is an unreasonable fantasy, but I can't shake it. Honestly, it doesn't seem like it was that long ago that I was anticipating Calvin's arrival.

I was probably better prepared for birth than most men are at that point in life. In college I had to take all of the classes in child development. I was the only guy in a class full of young women during the birthing video. Every girl watched me to see how I would take the miracle of birth displayed on video before me. I treated it like a fat shot of tequila in a biker bar. I stared directly at the screen and didn't flinch. Any display of weakness in a situation like that is the kiss of death. I was young and single and was not about to eliminate any potential liaisons.

I also had the benefit of being man in a female dominated profession. The things that women discussed in front of me when they accepted me as non-threatening were always very interesting. When my wife became pregnant I had been a kindergarten teacher for 8 years. That is 8 years of listening to girl talk. I must have picked up something.

My wife and I took those pregnancy classes together, not Lamaze, just the regular birthing classes. Amy was having none of that non-epidural birthing, and I don't blame her one bit (any man that thinks he knows what is best for a woman during childbirth needs to shut the hell up). The classes involved talking about all of the changes that were coming, reviewing anatomy, and watching birthing videos. Really just review for both of us.

The only problem was that I was not prepared for the overwhelming emotional response that was coming. We had a day to prepare for Calvin's birth. At our last OBGYN visit (yes, I went to every Dr's visit for all of my children), the Doctor turned to us and said, "Do you want to have a baby today, or tomorrow?" We picked the following day. I had to cut the grass, I don't know why I had to do that, but at the time, that is exactly what I said. So I cut the grass and worried about all of the things that I had not yet completed in preparation for our new arrival.

Calvin's birth was as smooth as they come. I held Amy's hand and let her squeeze me very tightly while practicing the breathing that everyone tells you to do. The Doctor said, "Ok, here he comes," and bam! He was out. I was presented with this small, wiggly bundle that I could not see. It took me a few seconds to realize that I was crying. That was the most wonderfully overwhelming experience that I have ever had. It really did not change with my other two children, each time I had the same reaction. Overcome with the beauty and magic of life.

And now Calvin will be 10.

Once, when Calvin was almost one, I was holding him up while he tried out those wobbly little legs that all babies have, and I felt like I was in control. I was protecting him while he began to explore the world. Slowly he moved is feet forward. Then out of nowhere, his feet kicked out from under him and he went limp, banging his chin on the coffee table, and opening a small bloody gash.

I was devastated. My perfect baby was scarred for life by my careless parenting. How could I have been so thoughtless? It took me a long time to forgive myself. I finally realized that I had done everything possible to protect him, but that is just not enough. Life is hard, and no matter what you do, you can not protect your children for all that life throws at them. This is the one thing that they don't cover in the birthing classes and the hardest lesson that all parents must learn. Maybe that is why I want to stop time and just hold my babies...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Number 1, Dad!

The comma is in the correct place. This is not about me, or any other father (if you want to see who the Number One Dad is <- click the link, and grab a Kleenex). This blog entry is about my children and how I am concerned with something that you might think is just a "wee" problem. That's right, this is about tinkling.

When my oldest son was about 2, my wife Amy and I introduced Calvin to the great outdoors at my brother-in-law's house. It is a remote location and my wife and I were attempting to get him on the potty training wagon. Then the flood gates opened. We haven’t been able to contain things since.

Back at home, Calvin would sneak out to our yard, whip it out, and practice his new skill. Once, when he was about 4 years old, he climbed up into a tree about 5 feet off the ground just so he could pull his pants down to his knees and water the bushes. I have proof! I was afraid to say anything to him at the time because I thought I might scare him and he would fall out of the tree. I couldn't go out there for support because I didn't want to get sprayed. So I did want any technology inclined father might do, I took a digital picture. I was going to post it here, but I am sure that is not appropriate!

While I do find urination funny at times, I have to try to hide my true feelings and enforce rules that will keep my children from embarrassing me at the next neighborhood picnic. At other times, application of these rules will keep my kids from getting beaten up.

Recently, the family went to the movies to see Iron Man. Afterwards, Calvin and I retired to the men's room to freshen up. The bathroom at the movie theater had a wall with three urinals all side by side. I was on the left, my son in the middle, and a large biker looking dude on the right. Male bathroom etiquette dictates that you pick a spot, aim, and stare at the wall directly in front of you. Looking anywhere else is frowned upon for obvious privacy reasons. The focusing on the single spot in the target area trick is all about minimizing the splash-back on yourself, as well as the people beside you. Calvin ignored all of this and with his head down, gave it the side to side action, with swirlies, and drew 3 dimensional shapes. The stuff is splashing everywhere. I know this because my sandaled right foot was coated with the spray from Niagara Falls. The biker guy finishes up, steps back and, seriously, does a leg shake to show that he has felt the wrath of the Calvinator. He was wearing shorts and got the full artistic effort of my son's porcelain painting. However, luckily for all of us, he said nothing and left. The "man talk" my son and I had on the way out the door was fun. I pray he never forgets it.

Peeing on another male is grounds for a serious butt-whooping, at any age. I am not sure about the laws that are involved, but I am thinking that urinating on another person is nearly a legally indefensible position. I seriously thought I would need to fight a biker in the bathroom that day to protect my son.

My daughter Savannah is my 6 year old princess, and she is able to perform, what I think, is an incredible circus trick. She does her business standing up, like her brothers. I am guessing that this is a special talent only because I have little experience with ladies doing their thing around me, much less standing around and doing it. I know she has done this several times because my wife has caught her with her feet facing the wrong way under the public bathroom's stall door. This is a remarkable feat to me, but as a parent, it creates problems. This is far from being the socially accepted method for liquid elimination by young ladies.

Savannah can be surprising in other ways at bathroom time. She will often intentionally not put the seat down before she goes to the potty and thinks it is very funny that I insist on the seat being down before she makes her attempt. She will actually fight me, and once she gets in the squatted position with the toilet seat up, she hangs on like a cowboy breaking a bronco, hands and feet wrapped around the toilet while continuing to do her thing, yelling the whole time, "Stop it! I gotta go now!" Isn't that slippery and cold?

Sammy is the youngest of the group, at 4, but you can't leave him out of anything. I don't cook well, and I mix colors in the wash, so the division of labor in the house dictates that I am the bath man. When we are short of time I will run the kids through the shower. Ten minutes before the shower I tell Sam to go to the bathroom. He refuses. I insist. He ignores. Finally, I give up and tell him to follow me for shower time. I have no idea how a child that doesn't have a sense of time can know that a shower is coming before I announce it, but he does. I am pretty sure that he saves up all afternoon, and as soon as he gets in the shower he does his best Manneken Pis immmitation. Amazingly, he can bring the top of his arch higher that his own head! That is some serious water pressure.

Over our recent wedding weekend, I completely forgot to remind my wife of Sam's talents when she attempted to give him a shower. It all came rushing back to me as heard her scream, "Sammy, Nooo!" I rushed into the bathroom, saying something helpful like, "What's wrong?"

Amy said, "Sam is peeing all over the place and the shower curtain isn't tucked in!" I quickly ducked out so I could laugh without getting smacked. It was, after all, a hotel bathroom.

It is tough to figure out how to handle these situations so that years from now my children will not be telling their therapist about how I scarred them for life with all of my crazy potty time rules. It might help if I didn't find it funny, or maybe that does help. What do you think? Am I contributing to the future of public urination? Or, will my conflicting sense of humor and unevenly enforced toilet rules make psychoanalysts wealthy some day?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Road Trip

This weekend my little entourage traveled to Richmond, VA, for a family wedding. My brother David married a lovely young lady, Colleen, over a wonderful weekend. This was a big happening for us, kind of like a family adventure.

I suppose I should clarify that David is technically my ex-step brother. I say this not because I care about technicalities, but because this seems to be of great interest to my children. I understand that they need to have a mental picture of the family tree, but there is some sort of shame attached to defining your relationship in the term "ex- step bother," or even just "step brother." It diminishes the relationship somehow because these words are a way to distance people from one another. I have tried to explain to my children that relationships are better defined by the feelings you have for people than by the names that we give to our associations. It probably does not help that my relations are so out of the ordinary that even adults have a hard time grasping the ties that place me in family gatherings, but that is the state of my family. The most important thing is that they love me and my little nuclear family, and I really couldn't ask for any more acceptance than that. So, I spent some time Saturday with all three kids explaining the complex relationships that we share, answering their questions, and telling them that it is impolite to bring all of this up repeatedly with every person they meet. They got the hint and by the end of the weekend Calvin couldn't get over the fact that he had a new aunt. He was very excited about that, and the possibility of new cousins someday.

The Jefferson Hotel is a beautiful place. It is probably one of the best hotels and one of the finest restaurants in Richmond. The wedding party was invited to have dinner there Saturday night. I wasn't in the wedding party, but I guess because we came from out of town, my family circus was invited to attend. I was very excited to be there for a couple reasons. Most importantly, it really made me feel like I was a part of the family. Also, I lived in Richmond for most of my first 23 years and had only been in the Jefferson once as a laborer during the hotel's restoration in 1983. I knew this place was a bit too nice for the likes of me, so I adopted a disguise of refinement and tried on my best manners.


The best picture I took all weekend was of people I don't even know. Bigger picture here.

I coached the kids as we were going along on how to behave, what things to say, and how to eat like polite little people. I think I should say that our normal family dining out experiences includes some kind of Happy Meal toy that the kids break just before running off to play in the giant plastic tunnel and ball pit. The kids were really very good about the whole thing and behaved better than I could have hoped for. Calvin, my oldest son, completely cracked up our table at dinner. After about a hour he adopted a new fancy accent that was almost English. He was saying things very formally, such as, "Father, don't you think that this flower arrangement is lovely?" and "Mother, would it be possible for me to eat Samuel's remaining chicken?" He has been taking acting lessons and really got into his character so much that we had to use the secret "stop talking" hand signal.

Calvin and I into "Infinity, and beyond!"

The kids have had no previous experiences with a five course meal brought out over a period of 3 hours. We usually practice some form of speed eating, either by accident, or in a rush to get to the next thing on the schedule. Leisurely dinners are unheard of at our house. The table setting at the Jefferson was a mystery to the kids. All of the plates, silverware and glasses spread out in front of them were like some kind of art project that they were almost afraid to mess up. Sammy, my four year old, was as good as gold. He didn't toss any silverware on the ground, like he normally does, or get up and run around the table. It was like aliens had taken over my children's bodies!

One of the most interesting things to happen was that Savannah wore two dresses in two days! My little 6 year old tomboy never wears dresses. She did pick them out especially for this occasion, but to see her in a dress that you didn't have to fight to get her into, was very nice. Both of her dresses were sleeveless, I think she planned it that way to show off her Pirates of the Caribbean temporary tattoo. Actually, the whole family did have to go and get new clothes for this event. It seemed wrong to wear our same old clothes. Besides it is nice to dress up every once in a while in new clothes and feel important.

The wedding was held at Celebrations on the Waterfront. The ceremony was held outside in front of the Swift Creek Reservoir. It was very beautiful, but a tad on the warm side. The food was outstanding.

video
An "Air Concert."

I thought it was amazing that my brother and his wife met on an online dating service. It also surprised me to know that they are both into online gaming and the World of Warcraft. I have known this for a while but it really hit home when at the end of the ceremony the priest introduced the newly married couple. As part of the introduction, he gave their "WoW" user names and commented that they can often be found online working to accomplish numerous tasks together in their virtual world. The world has changed dramatically over the last 18 years in how people meet and interact, but the feelings that people develop for one another haven't changed at all. I do not think that these virtual connections cheapen relationships, or that they are just a passing fad. I think there is a depth in these connections, and that they enrich our relationships in many surprising ways.

I wish David and Colleen a long and happy life together.