Tuesday, January 24, 2012


"Are you here today for a birthday or special occasion?" asked the cheerful Build-A-Bear employee as she led us to the giant blowy stuffing machine.


Cassandra has had a slight eye turn problem for the past couple of years. It's not at all noticeable just by looking at her. We only see it when we bring a pencil slowly towards her nose, the way someone learns to cross their eyes. At a certain point close to her nose, one or both eyes give up and shoot in the opposite direction. This could be a horrible hindrance to her future, severely limiting her opportunities in the pencil-staring industry.

Actually, it could cause problems with her reading ability, if gone unchecked. Something to do with her eyes converging on the page. So we have her in vision therapy, doing eye exercises on the computer. It was supposed to be weekly, and now we're back to four times a week. With homework, dance, gymnastics, and play dates there's never a good time to do these exercises. Therefore, it has become quite a struggle to get her to put much effort into them at all. (I have to admit that it's my wife bearing the lion's share of this burden.)

In an effort to keep Cassandra interested, we've turned to the tried-and-true parenting technique of bribery. She'd been asking for another trip to Build-A-Bear Workshop for a while, and I wondered if letting her pick out six or seven outfits along with a new friend would give her weekly incentives to do her eye exercises without complaining. A few weekends ago, we went and picked out a koala Cassandra had seen in the catalogue and accessorized with a box full of outfits. KiKi (inexplicably pronounced "kay-kay") was the reward for that first week of exercises, and she has since earned KiKi's glasses.

We weren't sure what to do about Alex. If he got a bear not as a reward but just as a gift, would that diminish Cassandra's incentive? If he didn't get one, would it be punishing him for not having to do eye exercises? We really didn't have any comparable task or behavior-change for him to achieve. I was also wondering, would he even want one--is he too old for this now? (I don't think so, but then I was the guy with stuffed Chip 'N Dale dolls in my college dorm room.)

Things actually worked out about as well as we could have hoped. Alex was interested in getting a new friend and a single outfit, and Cassandra didn't say anything about it being unfair that he got a bear without having to "earn" it. Alex doesn't play with Donou (the bear comes with a doughnut, as well as sprinkles on his ears and nose) as much as Cassandra plays with her animals, but he still likes having him around.

My children are growing up quickly, but in this era where it seems everything is pushing them to mature more quickly than ever, it's nice to see that there's still "kid" in them, yet.

And this was way cheaper than American Girl would've been.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Am a Character

There was a point this afternoon, when I was shoving Peanut Butter M&M's in my face and washing them down with a Coke, that I became suspicious that I was an incidental character in some romantic comedy. I quickly looked around for the two attractive women watching me across the room, trading observations such as, "That's what happens when they get married. Is that what we're trying so hard to get to?"

I didn't find them, but I'm pretty sure they were there somewhere.

The Lunch Date and the Nearly Broken Promise

Two weeks ago, I used my lunch hour to drop off a too-large-for-the-bus art project at school and stayed to have lunch with Cassandra in the school cafeteria. I asked Alex what day in the next week he'd like me to have lunch with him, and we decided on Friday.

Last Friday, I was running errands over the lunch hour with absolutely no memory of making that lunch date until it hit me out of the blue. Unfortunately, I don't have a brain that alerts me before I'm going to miss something. No, my brain alarm goes off when "HOLY CRAP YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE SOMEWHERE ELSE RIGHT NOW". That's useful.

Sometimes that alarm means a mad dash (and questionable driving etiquette) to get somewhere only fifteen or twenty minutes late. In this case, though, that wasn't an option. The kids get only about half an hour to eat lunch before they're ushered outside, and I was across town. I probably wouldn't have even made it to the lunchroom before Alex went outside.

So I spent the rest of my afternoon feeling pathetic, and apologized to Alex when I got home that night. I had considered stopping at Subway to take home the cookie he was looking forward to sharing with me at lunch, but I knew that Friday dinners are usually eaten at restaurants with ice cream or shakes as dessert. It turned out just as well that I decided not to, since he had a special presentation in one of his classes that included a couple of snacks for the kids attending.

This Tuesday, I asked Alex which day I should come to lunch, and he said Wednesday. Part of me wondered if that was so that if I screwed up again, I'd have two more opportunities to try again.

I made a note on my Google calendar, put a Post-It note in my bag with my wallet and keys, and wrote a reminder on my cubicle white board. I couldn't blow this again.

Today when I got to school with my standard lunch-date bag of Subway, I waited for Alex's class to come downstairs for lunch. I had made sure to ask him this morning which set of stairs they use, and I wanted to be there plenty early so I wouldn't have to try to find him in the crowded cafeteria. Especially these days, when individual kids are obscured in a blurry sea of winter coats and hats.

Alex was second in line when his class came downstairs, and he was rubbing his eye. As I said hi and fell in step beside him, he leaned his head into my side in a way I understood to mean he was a little upset about something. I imagined it was something that hadn't gone his way this morning, or some interaction with a classmate had upset him. He wasn't crying, but I could tell something was bothering him enough to make him hold back the tears. I planned to ask him if he felt like talking about it as soon as we sat down, or if he wanted to wait until tonight so it wouldn't be in front of his classmates.

As we found our table, he told me what was bothering him: "I thought you weren't coming again." I felt like I been punched in the stomach; I had no idea that I was what he had been sad about.

Because I hadn't said specifically where I would meet him, he thought I'd be outside his room. I usually wait somewhere between their classrooms and the cafeteria, and I thought the foot of the stairs right in front of the cafeteria entrance made sense. So it was really just a simple misunderstanding, and one that didn't even last that long. It can't have been more than five minutes from getting their winter gear on and lining back up upstairs to the time they came down, but I can't imagine what he was thinking for those five minutes.

I know there will always be times when I make my children angry with me, whether it's for insisting they pick up their mess, help with a chore, turn off the TV, or finish their video game time. But I honestly didn't expect to cause them such disappointment. Not at this age, anyway. Perhaps when they're teenagers and realize I'm not Superman, but not now.

Even though today's lunch worked out and Alex seemed to get over things quickly enough, now I can't stop wondering what he was feeling last week as it dawned on him, "Daddy's really not coming today."

Parenting is hard. Especially when you're not Superman.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Holiday wrap-up

The holidays are over, and you'd sort of know it from looking at my house. I took advantage of the weirdly temperate weather and took down the outside lights before it snowed on them even once (I put them up after our one-and-only dusting of less than an inch.) However, the inside decorations are all still up. It wouldn't surprise me if we spend Valentine's Day taking down the Christmas tree.

We had a pretty good time over the holidays: Annette's parents came over for Christmas Day, we traveled to Illinois to see my family, and we took a trip to Dubuque to see the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium's Polar Express 4-D 15 minute movie.(The fourth D is that they fill the room with steam whenever the train is on-screen, and you occasionally get water sprayed on you to simulate snow.) The kids seemed to enjoy it, and we spent a couple more hours visiting the museum exhibits.
New Year's Eve was extremely low-key. Cassandra had her first slumber party without Mom (they attended a Brownie sleepover a few weeks before) and seemed to have a good time. I have to admit that it felt odd to not have the entire family home, but I guess it only becomes more of the same from here on out. Annette, Alex, and I did the countdown and shared a family hug at midnight. We did have to pull Alex from his video game, but that's not an uncommon thing around here.

Next year, I think I need to take the week before Christmas off, instead of the days between Christmas and New Year's Day. Even knowing that I often feel that Christmas whizzes by and trying to take steps to slow things down this year, it was over before I knew it. Maybe heading into Christmas with an entire week with no work will let me enjoy the season more. I felt a real sense of disappointment the few days after Christmas with how soon it was over. Didn't this season used to stretch on forever when I was a kid?