It’s my birthday today. Lisa and the kids wrapped my presents in brown paper bags, which they decorated themselves. On one of them Lisa wrote a quiz about me and recorded the answers the kids gave when she asked them.
Red and black are the correct answers.
Q: What does Dad like to eat?
Q: What does Dad like to watch on TV?
Girl: I don’t know. I just can’t right now.
Q: What does Dad like to drink?
Girl: I don’t know I said!
Q: What did you get Dad for his birthday?
Girl: I know–a card!
Girl and I go up to Boy’s school twice a day, when we drop him off in the mornings and pick him up again in the afternoons, so as far as she’s concerned, the crossing guard is always monitoring the intersection at the school car park. The first time it snowed this past winter, on a Sunday morning, we took her out for a walk, and our route ended up taking us to the school. She expressed confusion and dismay that the crossing guard wasn’t there.
She had the same reaction this past Friday when we went up there around lunchtime, to eat lunch with Boy on his birthday. “Hey!” she exclaimed as we crossed the deserted intersection onto school grounds. “Where’d the crossing guard go?”
“It’s not time for the crossing guard to be here,” I said. “Probably she went home.”
“Yeah!” she agreed. (She’s in the habit, if you provide her with information, of acting like she is the one informing you.) “She’s at home with all the other crossing guards!”
Then this morning, we had two crossing guards at the school entrance–one standing on the corner, supervising, while a trainee directed traffic from the centre of the intersection. Some time after we dropped Boy off and returned home, Girl came up to me. “There were two crossing guards today,” she told me. “They love each other! And they’re girls!”
I gently corrected both of these assumptions. (The trainee crossing guard had, in fact, been a dude.) A short time later, Girl came up to me again.
“There were two crossing guards! One’s a girl, and one’s a boy. They’re friends. Just like Mum and Dad. And they have baby crossing guards!”
It occurred to me soon after I became a parent that one day I’d be faced with a dilemma. One day, Boy would come home from school and tell me something he had learnt that day, probably in history, and I would know that what his teacher had taught him is incorrect. Probably it’d be something the teacher believed to be true. If I correct him, then that leads to the strong possibility that he goes back to school and attempts also to correct his teacher, leading anywhere from him being simply dismissed to actually getting in trouble for disrupting the class. (In fact, I’m going to have raise “strong possibility” to “virtual certainty”, given the know-it-all personality he inherited from, well, either one of his parents.) But if I don’t correct him, then he continues labouring under a factual inaccuracy, and he helps perpetuate a widespread myth.
Today, first-grade Columbus Day, we hit that mark for the first time. Because of course today, he was taught that in fifteenth-century Spain, the wise men of the age believed that the Earth is flat, and that Columbus proved them wrong by discovering America. (I’ve never quite understood how the discovery that there’s a land mass west of Europe demonstrates the rotundity of the Earth, as opposed to leading to the more logical hypothesis that the edge of the Earth simply lies west of the Americas.)
And today, I responded to him with, “Oh, that’s really interesting.” There’ll come an age when the best response is to correct that sort of thing, but six ain’t it. Unfortunately.
Then he asked, “What does this mean?”
And I told him, “It’s like saying a swear word.”
He thought about this. “You mean like when you say, ‘I swear I don’t know the answer’?”
So I explained that, no, a swear word is a very bad word that you shouldn’t ever say. Does he know any swear words? He shakes his head. Does he know the F word? Or the S word? Shake of the head; shake of the head.
Then his face brightened. “Oh, I know the S word! I’m not going to say it, though, because you shouldn’t say it ever.” I smiled and nodded in agreement and approval, and then he adds, “Unless you’re talking about a Dalek.” I kept smiling and nodding for a moment until what he said penetrated, but then before I could ask what he meant, he ploughed on. “One kid thought I said the S word, but I didn’t, I said soccer.”
“Ah,” I said. “Okay.”
“I would never use the S word, unless I was using itfor real, you know? Like, for what it’s really used for. Like if you’re talking about a Dalek.”
You guys. He thought the S word is sucker.
We’ve just moved. We closed on a house last weekend, and we moved all our stuff over this weekend. It’s a local move, but it’s a move from a two-bedroom flat to a three-bedroom house, so we’re very happy with it.
Today, in addition to Moving Day, was also Girl’s third birthday.
And it was the first match of the new season for Boy’s soccer team. In fact, the movers were still bringing stuff into our house when it was time to leave for the match, so Lisa took him on her own while Girl and I hung out at the house. After the movers finished and left, it was just the two of us. She was in the basement watching TV while I was doing a little unpacking on one of the upper levels.
She came running up to me. “There’s an alligator downstairs! Dad, there’s an alligator downstairs!”
Of course my immediate assumption was that she was playing pretend, but I gave her a second glance when I realised how genuinely frightened she looked. “Can you show me where the alligator is?” I asked.
She looked at me like I was a moron. “No.”
So I headed down to the basement. And stopped at the top of the stairs, when I saw a little guy who looked very much like this on the bottom step. Her alligator.
I went to get a couple of cups to trap and release the thing, but it had vanished by the time I got back–presumably into the AC vent that’s right next to where it was scurrying around. So I told Girl it had gone, but she wouldn’t return to the basement without me holding her hand. My luck, she’ll be the one who finds it again in three days.
I’d actually seen one of these lizards (very possibly the same one) crawling across our front doorstep last night, and I took note of it because I’ve lived on the banks of the Potomac River for eight years now, and this was the first time I’ve seen a lizard like that around here. Like a little, creepy-crawly piece of Florida running around my yard.
Today I found the kids watching an episode of Arthur titled “Muffy and the Big Bad Blog,” in which one of the kids started a blog. The blog initially becomes very popular, but soon enough, the episode devoted itself to teaching kids that social media will ruin their lives as it inevitably becomes a conduit for gossip and the destruction of their privacy.
However, between the two main plot points–between the blog having its first bloom of popularity, and then turning into an instrument of gossip in order to restore that flagging popularity–there was a brief moment when Muffy ran out of things to say, encapsulated by Arthur exclaiming, in a combination of bewilderment and disgust, “Now she’s blogging about … blogging?”
I don’t know whether it was conscious or not, but I loved it: a brief moment before we get to the designated “lesson” of the episode, during which the writer slipped in the real reason to be wary of blogging (or microblogging): the inherent, narcissistic self-involvement so many of us seem prone to when we sink our teeth into the medium.
Last night a friend of Lisa’s came over for the evening, which led, in the course of events, to a conversation about how it’s a fairly unusual thing nowadays for me to get to interact with another adult besides my wife. “It’s almost like I never have any grownup contact whatsoever,” I quipped, eliciting giggles from the ladies. “It’s almost like I only became an author so I could pretend the grownups I write about are my friends.”
And then I stopped, because suddenly, that felt a bit too honest.
“You know,” Lisa said, “if your characters are meant to be friends … you write a disturbing number of books about Nazis.”
The book whose current working title is The Zero Hour
Words yesterday: 2656
Words total: 5945
Time spent writing: 11a.m.-2p.m.; 4.30-5.30
Reason for stopping: family woke up/family got home
Darling: He tried to stammer out a defense–he’d been caught redhanded at something he didn’t know was a crime.
Tyop: She took one of his hands in both of his
Words that boggled Word: redhanded, fräulein, de facto, Zippo
New words today beginning with C: coroner, crevice, commissar
When Girl and I pick Boy up from the school bus every afternoon, we typically go to the park for half an hour. The other day we got there and found a couple of mothers with three kids between them, a year or two younger than Boy. Boy immediately picked out the girl in the group, as is his wont, and the two of them started playing together, gathering up all the acorns that have been falling from the tree overhanging the park and stuffing their pockets full of them.
After the other kids had left and we were alone at the playground, Boy idly asked me as he played, “Dad, do you think schools can climb up high on the playground like I do?”
“Do I think what can climb up high?”
“Girls,” he repeated. “Like the girl that had all the nuts. Do you think girls can climb up high on the playground like I do?”
“How do they get down again?”
“… The same way you get down, I’d expect.”
“Down the slide?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Sure.”
“But Dad! Girls can’t use the slide!”
“Because girls aren’t people!“
I was horrified. “They most certainly are.”
He looked at me like I’m a complete tool. “No they’re not, Dad!” Such an idea would just be silly.
Yeah. He wasn’t saying girls. He was saying skirls. As in, his tongue was having an impossible time wrapping itself around squirrels.
You know, like a squirrel that gathers nuts.
Over the past few days, Girl has learnt most of her body parts, so this morning, when I had her stood up on her changing table, I was reviewing them with her. “Where’s your nose? Where’s your head? Where are your feet? Where’s your tummy?”
She got them all right, including one or two I didn’t know she’d know, so I said, “High five!” and she gave me a high five with her hand at shoulder height.
Then, out of the blue, she held her hand up for a successive high five, stretching her arm as high above her head as she could reach. “Up high!”
A few minutes later, as I was busily typing this adorable story to Diane over the Instant Messenger, Girl got up from where she was sitting playing with an annoying talking toy on the floor, ran over to me, and handed me a giant piece of carpet fuzz or something.
Absentmindedly, I took it from her and deposited it on the table next to me.
And at that point, noticed it was a wasp.
Like, an alive wasp.
I’m not going to lie. There may have been a bit of screaming like a girl, and a bit of running across the living room flapping my hands in terror. When I got back, the wasp was trying to climb inside my laptop by way of the USB port. So I killed it dead.
I’m going with the theory that it came in when I told Boy off for standing with the front door open on the way out to school this morning. Because the only alternatives I can think of are that we’ve had a wasp in our home all night, or that wasps have free access to our home.
So, when he held the door open this morning.
By my calculations, New Zealand is supposed to end tomorrow night at midnight, Eastern Daylight Time. By that time, Lisa will be asleep, but I’ll still be awake. If we haven’t heard from New Zealand by 12.30, then we’ll know it’s real. At that point, I’ll wake up Lisa and the kids so that we can be awake for our final sixteen or seventeen hours in an unapocalypsed Virginia. (It’s unclear to me whether this apocalypse that is supposed to roll around the world at 6p.m. local time for twenty-four hours respects Daylight Savings Time or not.)
If we have heard from New Zealand, and we know everything’s fine, then I’m not going to wake up Lisa. Instead, I’m going to call a cab. While I’m waiting for the cab, I’m going to change clothes, and leave all the clothes I’ve been wearing all day in a pile on the floor beside Lisa’s side of the bed. Then I’m going to get the kids up, and leave their pyjamas in their beds. Then the three of us are going to go check into a hotel for the night.