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Greg Bardsley

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They won’t let him be ‘him’

My poor son, Jack.

He says to me,  “No one is letting me be me.”

His eyes beg for sympathy, his lower lip eases out. He asks for a hug, and I open my arms with a heavy heart — my 8-year-old is hurting, and he needs me.

“What’s going on?”

“No one’s letting me be me.”

“Okay, but tell me more?”

“Like mom. … Tonight. … Not letting me …” Jack burries his face into my chest and mumbles, “pick my nose.”

“Jack. That was at the dinner table. You can’t pick your nose at the dinner table.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not having this conversation with you. If you need to pick your nose, go to the bathroom. Nose-picking at the dinner table will always get you in the dog house. Always. And it would be a disaster on a date.”

We hug a little more, and then I ask, “Who else is not letting you be you?”

He tells me about school. Apparently, some of the rules and procedures and curricula don’t jive with my expressive, language-oriented, naturalist son.

Math? Don’t even go there.

Penmanship? The banal work of simpletons who obviously don’t care about more important things, like how volcanos happen or how the White Oaks Elementary “bug club” might someday undermine the world’s insecticide companies.

He says, “I wish school had just two subjects: talking and reading.”

I nod in concession. That would be nice. I must admit.

And these are the things we say

“Honey,” she says, “I was sprawled out on the floor from exhaustion today, and I was looking at the ceiling, and I was thinking, we should’ve painted it a ligher shade.”

Later, I say sweetly, “I think it might be because of the fact I got two hours of sleep last night, but my vision is blurring and I can’t see colors. Would you mind showing me which piece of paper is yellow? Dylan needs a yellow piece of paper.”

“Oh, of course,” Nancy says, fighting off a smile.

Later, she says, “Honey, maybe it’s because I never fell back asleep aftrer taking care of Dylan’s wet bed at 1 a.m, but I’m losing my equilibrium whenever I walk. Do we have a cane around here?”

And so it goes.

Later, I say, lispy and slurred, “Honey, what’s my middle name again? I’m drawing a blank.”

“Are you serious?”

“Well, it may have something to do with the fact I’ve haven’t slept in 36 hours, but I can’t remember my middle name.”

And so it goes.

“Honey, I was passed out on the floor today, and the boys were running around me and racing Hot Wheels over my legs, and when I came to I think I saw a plate of mac-n-cheese under the couch.  I think it’s from that movie night Jack had last month. Would you mind getting that?”

And so it goes.

Someday we’ll get more sleep. I hope it’s before the boys leave for college.

Sunday …

Sunday morning. Heavy lidded. Half asleep. The sound of little feet padding into the bedroom. Open an eye. Dylan’s light-brown hair, a few strands sticking out in various directions. He throws his three stuffed animals — Goggy, Trotty and Dragon — onto the bed and climbs up. I pull him toward me. The boys had been gone for the better part of a week. I open an eye again. His giant almond eyes are looking at me, happy. He snuggles closer. We hug, Goggy, Trotty and Dragon smushed between us. I doze in and out, open an eye now and then. Big almond eyes looking at me. Quiet contentment. I pull him closer, and he sighs, happy.

Open an eye. Blond hair sticking up everywhere. Jack. Crawling up the bed, to the other side. In a moment, I have both of my boys in my arms. Totally silent and calm. No fighting or feces-centric insults. Is this real? A cruel trick of the mind? We lay there for a good half an hour, completely silent.

Could it get any better? Yes, it could. “Mommy” could be here. …

Sunday evening at SJC. Southwest flight 3843 from Burbank. Dylan and Jack sitting eagerly. Jack has picked out purple tulips, Dylan deep-orange sun flowers. Dylan grasps his bouquet with both hands, holding it out, looking down the aisle, past the security point. Finally, they see Mommy and bolt toward her, people parting for them. I guide our little group hug to a nearby bench seat.

Sure, we had our first family fight within 20 minutes, but that’s beside the point. Bliss is like a sunset — a brief, sweet and beautiful moment, gone in a minute. Until the next time.

The grandaddy of all loose teeth

My 6-year-old Jack has a loose tooth. It is the granddaddy of all loose teeth.

What happened was, the first of his two front teeth fell out. That was last weekend. Apparently, the new vacancy gave his other front loose tooth space to wander. And wander it has. In the past few days, the tooth has dropped down more, slid right at a 45-degree angle and eased out against his upper lip.

The result: When he smiles, Jack looks like a 97-year-old backwoods moonshiner.

His friends love it. His mother can barely look at it. His desk neighbor in first-grade squealed in shock, then announced that his mouth looks like it belongs to a jackolantern (perfect analogy!). He’s having quite a lot of fun with it and makes a variety of truly funny faces, including a goofy Mona Lisa smile in which the loose tooth is the only one you see.

Every time Jack loses a baby tooth, the Tooth Fairy reaches under his pillow in the middle of the night, leaves a coin and puts the tooth with the others — in a secure, far-out-of-reach container. Sometimes I pick up that container and jiggle the teeth, marveling at how tiny they are, and at how big my first baby boy has become. Looking at them, I can almost smell the baby powder, hear the “gaga’s” and feel the baby fat that is long gone.

Call me crazy, but I’ll be just a little sad to see this latest tooth go.

Love for thy raspberry

My 3-year-old Dylan loves to blow raspberries. He’s pretty good at it.

Usually it’s a slow and gentle raspberry — the tongue is fat and wet, the lower lip is stuck out, the chin is jutted out, the eyes are calm. When he blows one of these beauties, I feel like laughing because it’s hilarious to be with someone who uses the raspberry quite seriously.

If his brother Jack antagonizes him, Dylan blows him a raspberry.

If he can’t get a toy to work properly, he blows a raspberry at it.

If he earns a time-out during dinner, we send him to the nearby garage. He knows it’s useless to resist because that will only bring on worse consequences. So he saunters to the door, opens it, steps into the garage, looks at us one last time, and gives us a raspberry. Then he shuts the door, nice and gentle.

Now he’s realizing that his raspberries are making people laugh, so he’s blowing them like there’s no tomorrow. And he can fly into a raspberry frenzy at any time, any place.

Case in point ….

The other day I tell Nancy that I’ll take the boys to the grocery store. She looks at me like I’ve lost my mind.

“When was the last time you’ve spent thirty minutes in a grocery store with both boys?” she asks.

“Why?”

She’s still looking at me like I’m crazy, and she’s fighting off a smile. “You sure you wanna do that?

Thirty minutes later, at Lunardi’s, the boys are whizzing up and down the aisles, each with his own little “Customer In Training” shopping cart. It sounds like a dozen Roman chariots are approaching my backside, and my skin goes cold. I turn and whisper-yell for them to slow down. A yuppie holding an enormous latte gives us a long, blank stare. An elderly couple passes us, their eyes twinkling at the boys.

In the produce section I’m fingering through avocados when Dylan backs into his “training” cart, which in turn eases into a tower of vinegar bottles. The sound of clanking glass gets my attention, and Jack laughs and hollers, “Whoa.”

“Dylan,” I yell. “Freeze.”

I can feel people watching us. My skin goes cold again.

“Okay,” I whisper-yell. “That’s it. No more cart.”

“Fine,” Dylan says, and marches off toward the bananas, blowing a raspberry with every happy stomp, pumping his arms like he’s pulling on train whistles, encouraged by the howls of his older brother. A woman in a giant denim skirt looks down at him as he raspberry-stomps past her, his brows furrowed in mock earnest, and continues toward the apples and peaches.

I have a full cart of groceries. This cart of groceries has been hard-earned. I am not going to abandon this cart of groceries, I won’t leave this store in defeat. I grab the items out of Dylan’s cart, throw them into mine, corral the boys and high-tail it to the checkout area, whispering to myself, “We’re out of here.”

At home, Nancy fakes innocence. “How did it go?” she asks, heavy on the calm motherly tone.

We look over at Dylan as he raspberry-stomps through the kitchen. Only now he’s inserting fart noises between each raspberry. Jack is still laughing.

“Yeah … Well … It looks like it was a relaxing experience for you,” Nancy deadpans, and she squeezes my forearm. “I’m happy for you.”

I swear it: I’ll never so much as crack a grin at another one of Dylan’s raspberries.

Some things never get old

Some things in life never get old. For males, it’s bathroom humor.

I will admit it. I’m not immune to the stuff. It can still make me laugh. It can make me laugh hard. And if all the bathroom-humor-oriented movies, books, stories and web sites out there are any indication, I am not the only adult with this weakness.

But now I have two sons. And there are times when, as their father, I really shouldn’t be laughing and pointing and nodding and even tearing up at their potty humor (namely, when at the dinner table or in public). But sometimes it’s damn tough, and I find myself forcing a straight face as I tell them to cut that out, you don’t talk about poo-poo sandwiches at the dinner table. And there are times when even my wife fails to keep from laughing at what our 3-year-old son Dylan has come up with.

Which, of course, causes Dylan to beam with pride — fortified by the laughter of his audience — as he resolves to dive deeper into his potty-humor repertoire.

For Dylan these days, songs, monologues, jokes and games centered around “poo and privates,” as he calls his subject matter, never lose their luster. He just can’t get enough. Case in point: This weekend, the boys were wondering how many days have passed since they’ve been born. I worked out the math, and they were fascinated. Then Jack wondered how many days have passed since “prehistoric bugs” roamed the earth and even offered his best guess: “Three million, two hundred, fourteen-thousand, twenty-five trillion and seventy-two katrillion days.”

I turned to Dylan. “And what’s your guess?”

Dylan takes a deep breath. “I think its been two-four-ten pee-pee-pillion, one diarrhea-rillion and one poo-poo-pillion days.”

I stared at him and bit my lip, fighting the urge to grin, thinking, Ah, to be three again.

Minutiae Monday — “Unwanted views of my mid-section”

Let’s dive right in with this week’s serving of minutiae:

One of my son’s teammates in T-ball likes to take a load off atop of third base, where he proceeds to pour handfuls of dirt over his legs until his dad hollers for him to stand-up. … Watching my 3-year-old fly down a steep hill on his Razor scooter brings my stomach to the base of my throat. … The master-bathroom mirror in our rental house must have been made for very small people, which explains why all I see of myself are some very unwanted views of my mid-section (can’t even see my shoulders) … I have to admit: I do like fried rice. … One mommy + one daddy + two boys + one queen bed + 5 in the morning = Daddy taking his pillow and stumbling to the couch. … Sunglasses keep breaking on me. I’m like the Bermuda Triangle of sunglasses. … I’ve entered a period in which people from my college days are contacting me. … The same unopened can of “Pork with Natural Juices” has been with me at every job I’ve had since I graduated from college in ’91 (as a reporter, I used to cover “government pork”; plus, I love pork and lard humor). I plan to open it when I retire. … At dusk last night I dug up and replanted a hydrangea.

Hotel Grandma

We should all be so lucky to check in at Hotel Grandma.

At Hotel Grandma, located in the Cow Hollow district of San Francisco, you are treated like a prince the very moment you check in. You are greeted with open arms and a gushing smile. A fancy glass bowl of “chocolate balls,” as you’ve come to call them, awaits you. Your “transportation” to Hotel Grandma (Mom or Dad) is graciously sent back to San Carlos, and once they are gone, it’s just you and your host, Grandma, who will grant you nearly anything your heart desires.

You’ve decided you’d like to ride Muni trains through the city all day? Let’s go.

You’d like to walk Nickie the St. Bernard to the Marina Green? Let me just get his slobber towel.

You’d like to plant seeds in the lush city gardens at Hotel Grandma? Would you like a cookie in the garden?

Oh, a grilled cheese and a rich vanilla milkshake at Mel’s sound nice right now? Let me get the keys.

You’d like to enjoy my undivided attention as we hug in the front room for 90 minutes? Let me get the blanket.

You’d like to bake cookies all day? But of course. I have the butter right here.

You’d like to stay up late and watch insect documentaries? At what volume would you like the TV set at?

My sons Dylan, 3, and Jack, 6, love Hotel Grandma. Can you blame them? At Hotel Grandma, and at Hotel Grandma’s affiliate establishment, Hotel Jennifer (run by their aunt in Lower Pacific Heights), you are loved and cared for extra-special and taken to the far corners of this world-class city. You enjoy a close bond with a loved one, and it’s a gift you’ll likely carry with you the rest of your life. You are granted furlough from the tougher realities of your regular life in San Carlos and all its time-outs, household “jobs,” strict adherence to bedtime parameters, parent-sharing with an annoying brother, and (the horror) limited say in what is served for dinner.

Needless to say, checking out of Hotel Grandma (or Hotel Jennifer) and returning to San Carlos can level quite a shock to the system. A sense of injustice permeates your mind, and tirades seem to be the favored response. You sob and mope. You sigh loudly. When you are given a consequence for failing to do as you were told, you fold your arms and shout, “You are a bad … bad … bad Daddy,” and your lower lip pops out. You announce, “You guys are torturing me.” Sometimes it is all too much, and you are compelled to collapse into a mound of tears (a favorite tactic of Dylan’s).

The injustice.

To which your Daddy replies, “More content for your memoirs someday.”

As I write this, Dylan is checked in at Hotel Grandma. I know he is having a wonderful time and is enjoying my mother’s undivided attention — and what a gift that is in life. But I know that when he returns, there will be that adjustment period, just as there is for his older brother Jack. But the way Nancy and I see it, it’s the price we gladly pay for the boys to have such special people — a loving aunt, an adoring grandma — in their lives.

Do any of you parents out there have similar problems with your kids after they’ve returned from Grandma’s House?

‘Sorry, myself’

On Friday, my son Dylan and I were planning three days of one-on-one time.

“Jack and Mommy will be gone,” I say. “So it’ll be just you and me.”

He nods, smiling. “Yep.”

“So what should we do?”

Dylan thinks about it. After a while, he offers, “Puzzles?”

“That sounds like fun.”

Dylan grins. “And Caltrain rides?”

“We can do that. What else, do you think?”

Dylan pauses. Finally, he whispers something I can’t hear.

“Say it again, honey.”

He covers his eyes and smiles. This time he whispers just a little louder. “Donuts.”

dyl_chim3.jpgWhereas my 6-year-old Jack might prefer a trip over the hill to the lighthouse, or bike riding at Stanford, or a hike into the nearby “wild,” I am finding that Dylan is quite happy just sitting with me at Donut Delight on Laurel Street in San Carlos and munching on a chocolate sprinkle, or riding Caltrain to nearby Palo Alto, where we buy a “fireman book” and get grilled cheeses with fries. Alone, without his big brother around, Dylan chooses to have Daddy help him build a little town out of blocks and Lincoln Logs. When he accidentally knocks over some of the blocks, he turns and says, softly, “Sorry, myself.”

Yesterday, after pancakes at the Depot Cafe at the San Carlos train station, Dylan wanted to launch his new rocket. I had given the rocket to Dylan and Jack for Christmas, having believed the statement on the box that assured, “READY TO LAUNCH!!!!”

At the park, I realize it is not “ready to launch.” It is ready to be assembled.

Dylan stands and watches. “Daddy, my brain is telling me to play with the rocket.”

“Not yet, honey.” I squint at the microscopic ignition instructions.

An hour later, our fingers numb from the cold, my knees stiff from squatting, we count backwards from five. At “zero,” Dylan pushes the red button, and the rocket fires off the launch pad with a loud crack and some impressive hissing. It streaks into the sky. A family playing touch football stops to gaze skyward. Dog-walkers come to an abrupt halt. Dylan stiffens with excitement, then squeals. The rocket reaches about 1,200 feet, at which point the nosecone properly disengages from the fuselage and the parachute wad slides out. People cheer.

The applause stops when the parachute fails to deploy. Suddenly, “Daddy’s Christmas gift to the boys” has become a free-falling object of destruction that is plummeting back to earth, gaining speed at an alarming rate. Someone from the football game yells out, “Houston, we have a problem.” Dylan jumps up and down as the rocket plunges into the upper branches of a distant stand of trees, which is where is hangs tonight.

Today is my last one-on-one day with Dylan. I think we’ll do some puzzles.

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