For His Eighteenth Birthday – 5/16/05

Monday Poem, A Year and a Day

For His Eighteenth Birthday – 5/16/05

The barrel is warmed by my hand’s reverent grip,
rounded edges looking improbably soft.
Its walnut stock, marred here and there,
each scratch a story I can never know.

This is my Grandfather’s gun.
A long ago present from a father to his son.

A harsh gift, some would say, viewed through the lens of today’s world.
Yet a tender and well reasoned one for so long ago.

The hours it has spent hanging over his young shoulder.
The woodland glades it has crossed, reflecting the autumn sun.
The ducks and pheasants that have fallen to it,
and the dinners and sandwiches they later became.

I am told it is a good gun. A collector’s piece, now.
I am told of its value, but I know its real worth and I am rich to have it.

This is not my gun.

I am but its steward.

It will be kept clean and dry,
oiled and shining,
just as he kept it.

This is my Grandfather’s gun,
and always shall be.

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The Big “Three”

Today is my son, Short Stack’s birthday. The whopping big “three” has been achieved and with the messily devoured cake and ice cream, the presents and family, our son has enjoyed himself thoroughly.

Three years seems like such a short time to me now, but for him, it’s been his whole life and I try to remember that when I have the opportunity to do something with him or by my self. It’s so easy to put off playing when there are things to do, but as the old chestnut goes, “He’ll only be this age once.”

I try hard to make time for the playing.

It’s been an amazing time over these last three years. I’d wanted a family for a long time and waiting for things to come together financially and domestically before starting one was hard. I may be an only child, but I’ve always loved the idea of having children of my own. Short Stack was the perfect way to start off. He’s sweet by nature, smiles by default and is relentless in his quest to find out “why.” He makes us laugh almost daily. He may have only been part of our lives for a brief time, but I can’t quite remember what it was like before he joined us and I look forward to each day I have with him and his sister.

That’s not to say that he was easy on us in the beginning. Oh, no.

It’s funny how the horror shows of infancy fade from memory or morph into funny stories to be related to friends over the dinner table. It’s like showing off your scars long after the wound that made them has long since stopped causing you pain. You laugh, nod knowingly compare war stories and have another glass of wine. It all makes for good conversation, but when it was actually happening, you would have happily slept in the unfurnished basement in an effort to escape the six month old who refused to stop screaming no matter how far you bent your will to making them happy.

Short Stack has turned into a great little kiddo, but as a baby, he was tough. During the day, he was almost always a peach. He’s smile and burble. He’d playa and laugh. He’d fool just about anyone into thinking that we’d hit the easy kid lottery.

Then, the “witching hour” would arrive.

The witching hour was right about dinnertime and from that moment on, all bets were off. Our sweet little baby boy would turn into the fussiest baby on the planet and there were damn few things you could do to placate him. Usually, it was just me, alone in the evenings. Action Girl often works second shift and that left me with my dream come true, strapped to my chest and screaming like an air raid siren as I paced through the neighborhood, drying to get him to calm down. Being outside had two benefits. Firstly, he loved being out in the fresh air. He still does. About three quarters of the time it would get him calmed down and possibly even asleep. The other benefit was that if he didn’t calm down and continued shrieking and carrying on, it didn’t bounce off the walls like it did in the house. I doubt that the neighbors liked listening to it much, but I was in pure survival mode at this point. I’m willing to bet that our cats appreciated he being gone for an hour or so.

Then there was getting him to bed. This was an exercise worthy of any martial arts dojo. Everything was laid out in preparation for bed and followed a perfect trajectory. Deviation in any way spelled doom. The last step of the rigmarole was laying him in his crib, whereupon he would grab my arm and pull it to his tiny chest. My job was to not move and pretend that the top of the crib was not cutting off the blood flow to the rest of my arm. Then, I’d wait.

Pull the arm out too soon, and he’d wake up and scream.

Pull the arm out too fast, and he’d wake up and scream.

Try to wiggle fingers in a hope to keep the blood from pooling and the arm from going numb, and he’d wake up and scream.

If the screaming started, the only thing to do was to start the entire night time rigmarole form step one and be on the job for another twenty minutes to a half hour.

As I slowly, oh ever so slowly extracted my arm from my son’s snoozing grasp, I’d work hard at pacing my self. I was the ninja. I was imperceptibly slow in my movement. For extra entertainment, I usually also had to pee as well. To slow my self down to mitigate the risk of upset my tiny but loud applecart, I’d turn on my internal music collection and mentally play back every single note of the Beatles, “A day in the life.” The entire time, my hand was slowly, slowly pulling away. When the song was done, I would be free, but not a second before.

This worked, right up until it didn’t. That was the breaking point.

The fateful evening when I had stood on my head and done all my tricks to no avail, I had had it. I kissed him, told him I loved him and when down stairs. All I can say is “thank God for head phones.” The screaming for “DADDDDDY!” went on for over an hour. He got hoarser and hoarser and I ground my teeth down lower and lower. When he finally stopped, I waited another good hour before venturing up to check on him. My nerves were shot and though it was murderous to go through alone, I was happy that Action Girl wasn’t home. She’s tough in a lot of ways, but I seriously doubt that she could have lived through the tidal wave of guilt that had been thundering down the stairs at me that night.

As I carefully crept into Short Stack’s room, the sight the appeared to me was somewhere between heart breaking and hilarious. There he was in his crib on his knees. Both hands were over his head grasping the vertical bars that held him at bay while his tiny noggin sagged down like that of prisoner who had lost all hope of escape. He was fast asleep. With great trepidation, I carefully uncurled his hands from their grip and laid him down. Much to my relief, he didn’t even stir.

This was not the only night of these shenanigans, but it was the most memorable. Eventually, he got better at falling to sleep and just about the time of his second birthday, he consistently was sleeping through the night. Then, Lulu Belle came along…

It’s been a log time since we’ve had a full night’s sleep on anything like a consistent basis but that’s all right though. To quote my Grandma, “ I’ll have plenty of time to sit still when I’m dead.” I knew the work load of having children was going to be epic and I also knew that I had no real idea of how hard it was going to be until I got there, and I was right on both accounts! I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

These days, my hobbies gather dust and my “to-do” list gets longer and longer as I fail to accomplish items faster than new ones accumulate and yet, I’m happier now than I could have ever imagined. I have two of the most wonderful kids in the world and a moment spent with them trumps a year doing just about anything else.

I can’t wait to see what we’ll do next and I’ll do my best to savor each and every moment at is passes us by forever. They’re only this age once, after all.

Happy Birthday, Short Stack! We love you more that we could ever put into words. What adventures we have to look forward to together! I can’t wait!

But I will.

Happy Birthday, buddy.

dad-and-john

Dangerous Birthday Presents

Action Girl is not an easy person to buy a gift for.
That’s putting it mildly. She’s fiendishly difficult to buy a gift for, and with her birthday coming up fast, I was in a bit of a panic.

Over the years, I have made progress in working out what she likes for prezzies and what falls flat. Clothes? No way. She’s very particular about clothes. Dustable knick knacks? You’ve got to be kidding. Jewelry? That depends. She likes bracelets but never wears them because “They get in the way and bug me..” Necklaces have the same issue. She likes the idea, but the actual wearing of them is another thing. Rings? No. I don’t cal her “Action Girl” for nothing. Rings are far too delicate and would get crunched or wacked very quickly. Her wedding ring (in fact, the only ring she wears) was actually selected very carefully based on durability and looks. The Durability issue, however, came first during the selection process.

So, that pretty much leaves me with earrings. She loves earrings and she has lots of them. I have been buying her earrings for all sorts of occasions for years now and have followed the progression from ‘long and dangly’ to “posts, only please” and lately, back to ‘long and dangly’ again. The problem is that I almost ALWAYS get her earrings. She always appreciates them but it was starting to feel too easy, to obvious. I needed something new.

I also wanted something that said “I love you” in a new and interesting way. I love spending time with her and we used to do a lot of out door activities together such as mountain biking, skiing and rock climbing, but since the arrival of our kiddos, that’s been pretty much a memory. So, I spent some time thinking about an outdoor sport that we could do, just the two of us, that wouldn’t take too much time and we’d both enjoy. Then I had an idea. It was risky, but I hoped that she would like it.

Yesterday was her birthday. She informed us all that she was turning twenty nine again this year, since it went so well the other times and we made plans to get up at a reasonable hour and do something she enjoys. On the morning, we packed Short Stack and Lulu Belle into the wagon and headed off strawberry picking. Short Stack is still to young to remember doing this last year and we were a bit dubious about how this would work out. We shouldn’t have worried. As soon as he got his empty pint box, he transformed into a dump truck (his favorite thing to be) and made about fifty trips back and forth from us to the quickly filling flat. He dubbed it the “flat bed”. If any activity can involve trucks, he’s happy. Lulu Bell mostly got hoisted along in her car seat and watched clouds and bugs.

We finished up picking and after a quick cleanup to get the strawberry juice off of Short Stack’s face, hands, chest, neck, ears and arms, we headed back. I had told Action Girl that her present was at my shop. I got the obligatory, “You didn’t have to get me anything” speech but there was no way that I’d let her birthday go by with out something given. As we got closer, I got more and more nervous. This was either going to work or really, REALLY bomb. When we pulled in I tried to explain that this was… an unusual gift. It was something that she didn’t need and probably never thought of getting. I explained that I got it because I wanted to spend more time with her and I thought this might be a good way to do that.

Boy, did she look confused and perhaps, just a little bit worried.

I ran in, got it and came out with this…

It’s a M96 Swedish Mauser built in 1917 and it’s in fantastic shape. For those of you who haven’t read the “In a Nut Shell (bag?)” page or missed the other posts I’ve made about firearms, or the fact that the name of the blog comes from two of my favorite fire arms, let me just say, “I love shooting.” Though her upbringing did not involve guns, Action Girl has turned out to be a very good shot. The problem was that the high power stuff I shoot tends to kick her around too much and thus, she doesn’t go with me very often. She likes the little .22 caliber rifles we have but they are really only good to about fifty to seventy yards and for accuracy over distance, you need more power.

My sweet Action Girl… truth be told, is a power junkie. Just ask her. Her idea of a boat is a center console, 25 foot Mako with a couple of 225’s on the back. She can drive any piece of heavy equipment you can name and handle it flawlessly. She drives multi-ton sea going vessels for a living. She, to put it succinctly, likes power.

The Swedish M98 Mauser is nothing to sneeze at. The bullet it fires may be smaller than most of the military cartridges if the day, but at 6.5 millimeters in diameter, it’s still plenty big; just not big enough to bruise your shoulder after a morning at the range. It is also very beautiful, as old rifles go. My hope was that if she had the right rifle and the knowledge that it was hers, then perhaps she would feel compelled to drop the kids with the grandparents and go shooting with me some Sunday mornings.

Big gamble. She was either going to love it or hate it and I was really nervous. I put it in her hands, told her what it was and… a big smile broke across her face. Then she started working out how we could slip away this weekend so she could go and shoot HER rifle! *phew!*

So, we have a ‘date’ this Sunday to go and punch some holes in paper targets at 100 yards. I’ll bring one of my usual rifles and this time, she’ll have her own. I can’t wait. And the best part is, neither can she. I wonder what earrings accessorize best with a rifle?

New dad, old friend, only brother

A quick entry for now. I’ll expand on it later tomorrow, but I wanted to seed it today.

As of 1:17 PM EST, my good-as-blood brother, The Doctor is a father for the first time. His Daughter and wife are doing very well and I got a great phone call from him today around five-ish with all the details (weight, height, etc).

As I said, I’ll expand on my thoughts tomorrow morning, over coffee. I just couldn’t let the day slip away with out saying “Welcome” to her and wishing the happy parents all our love.

We can’t wait to see her!

[following text added the next day]

The Doctor and I have been fast friends since the third and fourth grade. I’m actually one year his senior but he’s always been about a grade level ahead of me so it somehow works out. Both of us are only children and for what ever the reasons were for a eight and nine year old, became each others de-facto brothers. In fact, we often have referred to each other as “My brother”. The only real thing that kept us from spending just about every waking moment playing together was the fact that we lived on opposite ends of town with the added bonus that I live in the valley and he live on top of Mt. Everest. Actually, it’s called Chapman Hill, but to a non-driving nine year old, it was much the same. In both cases, Sherpa are involved. Just that in my case, the Sherpa are my parents.

When ever possible, were are at one of our houses together and having a blast. Being “only-ies”, we were used to self entertainment and more than once, what ever parents were around would feel compelled to come and check on us, since they hadn’t actually heard either one of us say or do anything for the last hour. What they usually found was both of us engrossed in our own individual project. Usually something like painting a lead figurine or working on a model or playing on the computer. We’d both be off in our own world and having a great time, but totally independent of the other. Our folks used to find that fairly amusing.

That’s not to say that we didn’t like collaborating. Far from it. To give you an idea of how close we were as kids and how strong our friend ship was and still is, I will give you an example so bold that it will make some of you go “Wow!”. Other’s might not get the significance, but I can’t help that.

We pooled our Legos together in one pile.

We both had a lot of Legos, but together we ruled the Lego universe. For those who don’t see what that means, I’ll just say this; once you put your Legos in with someone else’s, there is NO hope of figuring out who’s is who’s. AND WE WOULD DO JUST ABOUT ANYTHING TO GET MORE LEGOS!

That’s the kind of friendship we have.

Well, we grew up, went to schools, got married and moved away. The Doctor went off to Cornell and then to Dartmouth, got his Royal Smartypants certificate and now he studies how to save the world from infectious diseases. I went off to my own college experience, got my Fairly Smartypants certificate and tried to save the world from Third Graders. We stay in touch mainly through email but try to get together a few times a year.

So now, he has a baby girl. It’s amazing to think back to those days of playing GI Joe’s out in the woods and building secret Lego bases in the couch cushions and to now think about our growing families. Action Girl and I have two and now The Doctor has one as well.

The fun part will be when we can finally get together and all our kids can play with one another. Our daughters are only 6 weeks apart and Short Stack can lead the bunch on adventures in the yard. It’s going to be great. The thing that I really hope for is a comment that The Doctor made last year about maybe finding work here and moving to the area. I know it’s a huge long shot that he could find something in his field here, but the thought of having my best friend and brother living across town, not to mention our kids knowing each other well, is just too good not to wish for.

Who knows… maybe some new infectious disease research center will sprout up down town. I can only imagine the uproar over that! However, you can bet that I’d be the one standing opposite the protesters, cheering on cholera!

Welcome the the world little kiddo. You haven’t met me yet, but you have an uncle who will do anything for you.

Now where’s that box of kazoos and the drum set I’ve been saving for her?

A sea of yellow.

I have said in the past that one of the things I was looking forward to the most was finding out what Short Stack’s passions would be. I know they change as we grow, but every kid seems to have one thing in particular that lights his or her fire. For me, it was airplanes, for Action Girl it was matchboxes (The little cars, not an actual box of matches, thank goodness). What would Short Stacks be? Dinosaurs? Space ships? Pirates? I’ll give you a hint… VROOOOOOOM! DUMP! SCOOP!

Actually, if you ask Short Stack, it’s pronounced “ROOOOOOM! DHOOMP! DOOOP!”

Action Girl and I were careful not to steer him in any particular direction and let him find his own passions. We got him toys of all types and with out any particular gender alignment. He has trains, tools, blocks, horses, dolls, and even a miniature stroller to push. Something in his blood though cried out for heavy equipment. He loves it. Loves it more than applesauce; and that my friend, is saying a LOT.

Over the last few months, we’ve been buying him truck toys of different types. Our favorites are by a company called Siku. It’s a German toy maker with an eye for detail, solid construction and actual lead-free paint. What a bonus! They’re a little more costly than most of the Chinese made stuff (I almost said US made, but we all know that’s a fantasy, these days) but it’s really a quality made toy. They have heft to them and are very realistic.
frontloader.jpg

The best part is that he knows what all the equipment is called. He will happily explain to anyone who will pause more than half a second what each truck is and what its exact function is. In his two year old voice he points out, “Dat’s an excabator. It doops! Excabator have a big dooper. Dat’s a front loader. It has wheels. DOOOOP! Dis is back hoe. Has a tiny dooper…” and so on. He’s very worried that you might be misinformed and wouldn’t want you to make an embarrassing faux pas and call the skid steer a bucket truck or something. He’s helpful that way.

So now that his second birthday has passed and since everyone who knows him, knows his passion, we are awash in a sea of miniature machinery. He’s a very, VERY happy boy. I can’t wait for the weather to warm up enough for me to open up his new sand box for him. It’s going to be a good summer in the sand. In the mean time, Short Stack forwent his usual plush jellyfish that accompanies him to dream land and instead, drifted off clutching his brand new CAT 430 back hoe. And yes, he’ll let you know it’s a 430. He knows the make and model. Just ask him.cat-430.jpg

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