Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Avery: The Quarenteenager

Today is going to be a rough one for me.  I have a daughter, my oldest daughter Avery, turning thirteen today. 

This is tough for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that we are locked in our house and unable to give her the great “so you’re a teenager now” birthday party.  I want, for the purposes of this post, to ignore that little part of this whole birthday and focus on the “my little girl is fast becoming a little lady” part of it.

On her birthdays, Avery likes to ask me about the day she was born.  It was truly a comedy of errors and I think it makes her feel special that after all of the things that went wrong on that day, we still decided to dip our foot back in the pool and have her sisters. 

When Adrienne was very pregnant with Avery, we went to the doctor for what was supposed to be a well-visit at our doctor.  Clearly, everything wasn’t well as our doctor instructed us to get to the hospital stat.  To my experience, when a doctor says “stat” it’s almost never good news.  It’s never “you have a clean bill of health. Go get yourself a sammich stat”.  As it turns out, we went from planning for the birth of our first daughter to inducing delivery in the course of just a few hours. 

For the sake of an expediency that Avery didn’t afford us, it will suffice to say that Avery birth required hours of natural delivery and then a C-section. My wife often claims that she gave birth twice in the same night without the benefit of twins.  The doctor thought she may have nicked Adrienne’s bladder during delivery and would have to explore that problem while I sat in a dark room for a little girl who was ready for mom to feed her for an hour and a half and she didn't hesitate to let me know it. There's the fact that her little feet were so small that her sensor anklet kept slipping off making the hospitals “kidnapping alarm” go off constantly.  It was an extra long stay at the hospital and days without sleep.

It was a crash course in parenting that all parents go though.  It was an unsettling beginning to a wonderful adventure. 

If I were to use one work to describe Avery, that word would be ‘kind’.  Her default setting is to think of others before herself.  Maybe that’s something that every parent thinks of their own children but with Avery, it’s so incredibly accurate. 

Over the years I’ve watched Avery take her birthday money to buy treats for her sisters, her friends and her cousins.  She is appreciative and generous.  She doesn’t judge people based on anything besides how they make her feel.  Popularity and other external factors just don’t matter to her.  I’ve watched birthday after birthday where Avery invites kids from every avenue of her life and try to get all of them to get along, regardless of their interests.  She can’t understand that simply being nice isn’t enough for everyone to be besties.  I envy that part of her as it’s something I have truly lost.   If she is entitled to a special dinner, or gets to choose a movie, she asks those around her what they want and makes her decision based on that.  Hell, for her thirteenth birthday dinner she decided the menu almost exclusively on what her sisters like to eat while watching movies.  Incidentally, she didn’t take me into account when she chose a menu of cheese sticks, pizza rolls and little smokies. 

Long story short, she is a special kid.  My favorite time with her was shortly after her sister, Macy, was born.  Macy, for a long time, didn’t see the value in anyone who couldn’t produce milk.  In our little household, that eliminated Avery and me from any real utility. 

What that meant is that Avery and I had to fend for ourselves in large part.  During those months, Avery became my little buddy.  We became inseparable, and that is something that has continued for the decade since. 

The lesson here.  None really.  I just want to celebrate a wonderful little lady who will always be my little girl and my little buddy.  I am proud of the woman you are becoming.  It astonishes me that someone as good as you came from my parenting, clearly you leaned heavily on your mother in that department.  I’ve said to you dozens of times, “I can be your friend and I can be your Dad.  I’ll always pick Dad first, but my favorite times is when I can be both.”.  Well, Avery, I can tell you, that for the last thirteen years, I been both more often than not.

Now, go get your homework done and clean your room, just because you’re becoming a teenager in the middle of a pandemic doesn’t mean I have to turn off being dad!

I have an addition to this post today.  I want to say a giant thank you to those of you that took the time out of your day to do a drive-by happy birthday for Avery.  Seeing friends and family pour past the house was a surprise to her and the numbers were a surprise to me. It was something generally reserved for YouTube. We did everything we could for her but the fact that so many people swung by and yelled their warm wishes her way meant more than anything we could have boxed and wrapped in pretty paper.  

She said it was the best day of her life.  

And she's been to Disney.

You people did that for her.  Thank you.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

350,000 Scovilles Of Fun - Also, I'm a Terrible Person

Okay, boredom has set in on some level.  Of course, we spend our mornings doing homework and regular, grown-up style work, and we run and ride bikes and play, but we were looking for something new.  Something fun.  Something inspirational.  Perhaps something dangerous that didn’t involve standing closer than six feet to someone. 

It took us days of thumb twiddling to come up with an activity.  Then, from the far side of the internet.  From deep inside the YouTube machine came a show called Hot Ones.  Billed as a show with “hot questions and even hotter wings”.  The features celebrity guests eating progressively hotter wings while answering questions asked by the host/ demon of hot foods, Sean Evans. 

Now, I’ve long claimed to be a terrible salesperson, but I somehow convinced my two oldest children that filming our own version of the show would be a perfect way to pass the time.  My oldest was a reluctant participant, but my middle, Macy, grabbed onto the idea the like a dog to a bone.  She insisted on show quality sauces.  She insisted on difficult questions.  Hell, she was the one that insisted on multiple camera angles. 

Things really started falling into place.  I had a few sauces already.  In the limited shopping we were allowed to do we were able to find a couple of more.  We weren’t able to find “Da Bomb” or “Blair’s Mega Death Sauce” like the show, but we put up a reputable showing with one sauce boasting 100,000 Scoville units (the heat measure of a pepper – a jalapeno coming in around 2500 units) and our hottest sauce being between 350,000 and 400,000 Scoville units.  We even received an ad from a wing shop the morning of the contest saying they would deliver us wings to our front door.  That was more than coincidence, I thought, the angels were smiling on us.  Smiling on us for at least for a while.

We ordered the wings, we set up three different cameras, I wrote questions for the girls as I would be playing the host and we staged the sauces and five wings on the table for each of us.

It was show time. 

Wing one went down for everyone easy enough.  Wing two was Siracha.  No problem.  Child’s play. Three was where it started getting interesting.  It was an El Yucateca XXXtra Hot.  It sat around 11,000 Scolvilles.  My eldest began having serious doubts.  It was hotter than she was planning on eating.  It was nothing compared to what was coming. 

The questions were coming as well.  “If you had to kiss a boy, I mean you had to, who would it be?”  and “You could go to space camp or get an iPhone X, which would you take?” (Thank Christmas they both took space camp)

Next up was this Habanero/Orange/Garlic monstrosity that even had me nervous. 

We each took the wing.  We bit down.  Nothing.  Sweetness sure, but no heat.  Then another bite.  We all smiled.  “Pffft, what’s the big deal?” we each thought to ourselves and then with each other aloud.  Then we realized our mistake.  The orange was a Trojan horse.  The sweetness gave way to what could be described as a penny dipped in battery acid.  We had all made a tremendous mistake taking another bite.  The second bite offered the same orange sweetness but this time it was paired with the heat of the first bite.  Not just unpleasant in flavor, it was also the realization that food may never taste the same again considering the damage we had done to our tongues. 

Then the questions, “Getting a red card in a championship game but your team still wins or score three goals but your team loses” and “you can have any pet you’d want but you’d have to give up one of your own pets, would you?”  Turns out both would take the red card and still win, but one would need a new tank in the back yard for her new narwhal.  Sorry Obi.

We all looked apprehensively at the final wing.  350,000 Scoville units staring straight at us.  I wasn’t particularly nervous about the previous wings.  The smell of this one completely cleared my sinuses.  I don’t know if it was the wings they had already eaten, the boyfriend related questions or the anticipation of this final super spicy wings, but they were both sweating like, well, the oldest profession in a place of worship. 

My wife shook her head at the table full of idiots as we bit down into the final wing. I think, and I say ‘think’, as things became a little rushed with that last wing, I think it made for good camera.  This wasn’t a ‘creeper’ like wing four.  This one was right up in your face.  It made its intentions known quickly and with rigorous authority.  My oldest, Avery, drank one glass of milk, then another, with the ability generally reserved for fraternity parties.  Macy tried to waive air into her mouth.  I didn’t know that move was used in real life, Tom & Jerry, for sure, but not in the flesh.  Myself, I tried to keep up a stiff veneer, a move I learned from the show our dumbassery (sp?) was based on.  He does a much better job. 

My face was melting when I asked my last question.

“Who is your favorite, Mommy or Daddy?”

The lesson here girls?  Its about fun.  Was it a bit risky eating things that spicy?  Perhaps.  Did we all regret it at the time and again in the morning when our home seemed short three bidets?  Absolutely.  Was it the most fun we’ve had during the stay-at-home order?  Yeah, probably. 

I guess, every once in a while you should truly embrace the absurd.  Do something profoundly stupid.  Throw caution to the wind in search of a great time.  Its how adults become kids again.  Children have these wonderful imaginations that we tend to squash as we get tubby and gray.  We adults need to manifest our imaginations from time to time and the easiest way to do it is through rugged acts of idiocy.  You know how I call the Wild West Relay the dumbest fun thing you can do?  Rugged idiocy, get it?

So, as you get older, embrace the absurd, to a point.  If you aren’t going to hurt anyone, and only slightly hurt yourself, go nuts!

Also, the answer to the last question was unacceptable.  Just because I fed you 350,000 Scovilles of fun doesn’t mean you get to pick Mommy as your favorite.

Also, hope you're feeling better @seanseaevans

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Tale of the Woefully Unqualified Teacher/Chef/Maid

This week was the toughest our household has had it since this whole thing started.  It’s not been awful.  Certainly, people have it a lot worse, but this was a tough week. 

Perhaps I should offer a touch of back story for clarity.  My wife and I are both still working.  We are fortunate in that regard.  It would be more honest to say that my wife is busier than I can ever remember her being.  She wakes up earlier and goes to bed later than ever.  She has about one hundred fifty people in her office and they all, in some capacity, rely on her to help them through this crisis. 

I suppose that’s where the story begins.  While she is working from home, she is always working.  On Friday, she was in one conference or another from 8:30 in the morning until 4:00.  That doesn’t even include her more traditional work duties of recruiting and retention for the office. 

I, on the other hand, can work but have definitely seen my workload decrease.  That’s probably a good thing.  You see, I’ve expanded some existing roles and taken on some new ones.  I am now a teacher, who, in most classrooms, would be seen as the “cool teacher”.  I am the entertainment director of a landlocked cruise ship.  I am a chef, a maid, a counselor and then I am a dad and when there’s time, a husband. 

I have learned to navigate dozens of educational websites who were clearly built by the lowest bidder.  I’ve committed to several virtual happy hours.  I’ve cooked meals with all of my children.  I’ve played board games, video games and done enough crafts to make your mind bleed.  I have somehow managed to keep myself out of the snack drawer and even plugged some running into the time. 

Its been chaos. 

What I haven’t done, at least not enough, is write.  I have three different works-in-progress that I cannot find the time for.  Its inexplicable.  No, that’s not right.  Its simply untrue. 

I guess, in all of the chaos, what I’ve not given enough credit to is the below the surface panic that I have.  I’m not sleeping well and having a few more beers than I generally would.  I guess the writing isn’t coming as I’m not feeling funny.  Not funny or introspective or clever or any other emotion that makes one want to sit at a computer and share their words.  I feel worn physically, emotionally and spiritually.  I feel like a worn-out shoe that still needs to serve.  That I can still do the job, just not at the level that I was designed for.

It seems silly to complain considering the state of things.  People are literally dying out there and my inability to turn a phrase is among my biggest problems. I suppose that’s the point though, isn’t it?  That our normalcy has been upended, further upended to be more specific.  Athletes can’t athlete, lawyers can’t lawyer, teachers can’t teach, servers can’t serve.

The lesson here, girlies?  The uncertainty that’s out there right now is stressful.  Perhaps it’s time to realign what is considered normal.  So maybe looking at all of this through a different lens.  I feel like a worn-out shoe, fine, maybe the shoe is worn out because the shoe is loved.  I’m now a chef and a teacher and a maid.  Really, I always have been but there’s been more help.  Maybe it’s a promotion.  Mostly, we get the chance to spend a lot more time as a family.  There isn’t constant soccer practices and carpools and homework and choir and drama and piano lessons.  It’s just us, for a little while.  Maybe it’s time to celebrate the little wins a little better. 

Now, for the love of God, put your dishes in the dishwasher and your socks in the laundry.  The maid is getting fed up.