Let It B

IMG_1232I got my 4yo son a drum kit for Christmas, not some little flimsy Toys R Us unit, but a real miniature one by way of our local pawn store. B loves it and has already declared it the best Xmas present he received. I set it up down in our shed and have taken my electric guitar and amp down there, too.

So far, I’ve gone down and turned on the space heater and let it warm up a little before we get bundled up and head down to the shed where B sits at his little stool and gets going by whacking away at the skins. Then I begin to play, usually just an E chord with the “gain” turned up for maximum fuzz, which B seems to approve of but depending on where I go from there it can all come to a halt.

B and I have been jamming for months and months, me on the electric or acoustic guitar, B on an old single drum that one of my brothers was going to throw away but instead bequeathed to us. For weeks and weeks, months and months, I’d play a simple blues chord progression and B would bang away. I also introduced a couple other tunes, like a bastardization of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” or Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and far Away,” or just a few crude melodies I’ve strung together on my own.

At some point, B began to pick up the beat and as he did so he gained confidence in his perceived musical abilities. This is when he began to seize control of our band as I quickly went from band leader and lead singer to merely the guitarist.

Now when I play something he recognizes, he quickly stops drumming and barks at me to stop. “That’s an old song,” he says. “We’re not playing any old songs, only new.” I shake my head. I have limited abilities on the guitar and am stretched to create on the guitar but nevertheless shrug and begin banging on an E chord again but reach for other chords.

He also changed the name of our band. I initially called us Hot Junk which I thought was a good name for a garage–or shed–band but then he overruled me. “Our band is called the Camo (as in camouflage) Color,” he announced one day, and he reminds me of it every time I drift into a familiar riff. We are only supposed to make new music, and when I don’t and he brings the hammer down on me I just swallow his abrupt direction.

It’s kind of funny to me, but still a little abrasive being bossed around to such a degree, especially within a creative context. It always reminds me of the famous scene from the Beatles’ film Let It Be when Paul McCartney tries to tell George Harrison what or not what to play. “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play,” George says, “or I won’t play at all if you don’t want to me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.”

I need to memorize this quote and start saying it back to B. I know he will be unfazed by my truculence, but maybe it will make me feel a bit better about being bossed around. Either way, we are Camo Color and we only make new music. There is no changing that.


Things I Can’t Live Without #7: Crockpot

I am no cook and that goes double for the wife. However, I was given a 6-qt. crockpot a couple years ago, and then last year a 2-qt. one, and they have changed everything. All of a sudden I’m able to prepare dinner most nights of the week, and it’s really hard to imagine life without my crockpots.

The real genius of the crockpot is that it’s so easy and inexpensive. For instance, Mama’s sister gave me a beef barley bean stew mix for Christmas. I browned some stew beef I got on sale at Food Lion along with an onion and put that in the crockpot along with the mix and beef broth, plus some mushrooms and salt and pepper, six hours later I had a hearty, savory stew–the kind that might help you survive a frigid night in Alaska–that we ate for dinner the past two nights. I’ve got enough left over that I’ll freeze  the rest and dig it out later this winter.

Since the stew mix was a gift it was an exception to the recipes I generally use that are simpler and in smaller quantities. Often, I will look in the fridge and pantry to see what kind of ingredients we have and then simply Google that along with “crockpot” and some kind of suggestion will come up. For instance, I had a few slices of pork  in the freezer and after searching found a simple enough recipe. In the 2-qt. crockpot I added a can of baked beans and a little mustard and ketchup. Eight hours later, I had a surprisingly tasty pork and beans ready for dinner.

Occasionally I need a break from the crockpot fare–something that isn’t cooked for hours and hours and seeped in whatever it has brewed in–so we’ll have pasta or maybe carry out from a local eatery. I think that’s what we’ll do tonight, but then it’s back to the crockpot. Tomorrow, I think I’ll try some beans–perhaps Pinto, with some chili and garlic powder, an onion and a dash of red pepper. Too bad Mama won’t eat legumes, but we’ll figure out something, perhaps I’ll throw in a little sausage or ham to make it more appetizing. Voila!

Brother From Another Mother

Sometime this summer I started to call my sons “brother,” especially my three-year-old, then adding “I’m your brother from another mother.” I don’t know why really, it was nothing predetermined, but since then I’ve had plenty of time to think about its significance. I’ve decided that part of the reason I say it is that I want my boys to believe that we are all in this together, that we can only be a successful family if we’re all trying our hardest, but there’s another layer. Rather than just a dad, I do want to be a brother of sorts, a brother in arms, their friend and companion who they feel they can talk to about almost anything–their hopes and dreams, fears and insecurities, and just day-to-day events–in a way that I never could with my own father.

So far Toddler B’s rolling with it but it will need to be more than simple semantics (is that the right word?) as we both grow older. In fact, it will be tricky. I’ll have to walk a fine line between authority figure and compatriot. More than anything, I think it will require a deep understanding of who they are and a real honesty with who I am. Easier said than done, especially the latter, as I’ll have to open myself up in a way I’ve never felt comfortable doing, but I’m willing to put in the work, whether it means subjecting myself to therapy, for instance, or Transcendental Meditation–not sure how that would help, but anything to not repeat the same old patterns.

Or maybe I should just get us some boxing gloves. One night this past week, a co-worker started to talk about his two teenage sons after I mentioned I had two little boys. He said that as early as the age of three he had purchased him and his sons boxing gloves and headgear. When they got older and in an argument he would ask them, “Want to settle this with the gloves?” A couple minutes of pummeling each other and the issue would be resolved, he said. Boxing seems like an unorthodox approach–I’d be surprised to see it in any parenting magazines–but I told the co-worker I could see it being effective. “That would get rid of any passive aggression,” I remarked. Later that night, I mentioned the whole thing to the old lady who recoiled at the idea of me and Toddler B battling it out in the ring.

I’m sure B would love to beat me in the head and body but I’m not sure how much that would solve in the long-term. And I don’t see how a combination of the two would work, a pugilistic Freudian system of some sort? So I think I’ll go with the former, trying to crack the nut that is my skull without the aid of fists. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Baby Socks and the Christmas Boogie

I wrote before about how kids allow a parent to relive “youthful pleasures,” and that is certainly true this time of year. Were it not for my children, I would not have a big Christmas tree in the living room nor all the presents under it. And I certainly wouldn’t be listening to Christmas music nonstop as we have for the last few days, most definitely not the Christmas with the Chipmunks album which has been in heavy rotation.

Rather than just reliving, though, we’ve begun starting our own Christmas traditions. Chipmunks Christmas was always around it seems when I was a kid–as were ones by Dr. Demento and John Fahey, among others–but I recently downloaded a version that has a 1968 collaboration with the band Canned Heat that I’d never heard before. Listed as “The Christmas Song,” it should be called the “Christmas Boogie” because it’s an uptempo rock and roll jam that we’re killing around here. I think we played it five times in a row yesterday morning. B gyrates wildly to it, I join in. It’s our own new tradition.

Then there’s the Baby Sock Advent Calendar, an idea that Mama got from Martha Stewart. Basically, you stretch 25 baby socks along the fireplace mantle, they are like mini stockings (although not real baby socks because we need ours. The increasingly resourceful Mama made some with fabric and a needle and thread), and we’ve put a tiny different object–mostly toys–in there each day. We told toddler B that an elf brings them and it’s the first thing he thinks about every morning. “Look what the elf brought me,” he says, sometimes more ecstatically than others. A recent morning it was just a seashell, so he wasn’t too into that one, but he’s received a couple of Matchbox cars, a Beaver finger puppet, a plastic snakehead, and some chocolate in the shape of coins wrapped in gold foil.

It’s been fun for me and Mama, too, playing the role of the elf, so I think we’ll continue to roll with it for the next few Christmas’s (although it may get a little tricky as baby G grows up and we need a another set of mini-stockings). I guess Christmas traditions are like anything else in life, you try and see what works for you. For instance, some people (like me) love eggnog, others (like Mama) hate it.

This year, we are having Christmas at our own house–after celebrating the last few at Nana and Papa’s. As a result, we are hosting a Christmas Eve dinner. I’m calling it the first and last annual Christmas Eve Spectacular because I have a feeling it will be exhausting and not entirely pleasant (our two extended families under one roof?). Perhaps this won’t become a tradition. If so, I’ll be fine with baby socks and the “Christmas Boogie.”

When Is It Okay to Lie to Your Kid?

On Saturday, I took B to Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall to do a little Christmas shopping, mainly for his mama. I told him and tried to explain that he was not getting anything for himself–that is was too close to Christmas–except for maybe a gumball (which is de rigueur when we travel downtown). He was fine initially and didn’t really bug me at the first store but within thirty minutes started demanding a toy and after a few minutes I cracked, telling him “maybe something little.”

So I took him to a toy store where I wanted to look for small items to put in his stocking. While there B seized on a package of fruit-themed Silly Bandz that fit not the wrist but on fingers. I tried to persuade him that he wouldn’t like them but he was sticking to his guns. I didn’t want to have a showdown with him right then and there so I grabbed a couple of things for his stocking and went up to the counter. “$11 something,” the lady said, and I paused for a moment because it seemed exorbitant but then handed her my card so we could get out of there.

Next we went to the Discovery Museum where B could play for a few minutes but while I sat there the price of the nearly worthless purchases stuck in my craw. It was too much, they were clearly overpriced, and I would take them back when I didn’t have B. I decided I would try to get him to the car and then when he asked where his Bandz were I would say I forgot them at the store–which is what I tried.

Now, let’s be honest, every parent lies to their kids and I would think quite a bit (I hope we’re not the only ones). It’s often over quite insignificant things–like if there’s any candy left–and often the kid just accepts what I say and moves on, but not on Saturday. First, he wanted to go back to the store, when I said we couldn’t his eyes started to get a little wet, but I figured it would pass. By the time we got home, he was getting emotional, and when we got inside and he told his mother he started to sob. It was breaking my heart so I said I’d go check in the car where, lo and behold, I found them. He dried his eyes and smiled. Jeez, I thought to myself.

Of course, the Bandz were a complete waste of money. They are too big for his little toddler fingers and worse are now scattered at random spots on the floor. I will take back the two other items today but am now out $6 for something B no longer cares about. Rather than lying, I realize, I need to just take a courageous stand and be willing to battle it out with my toddler. It’s just so hard.

What’s In My Kids’ Names?

Toddler B and I were in a store this weekend looking at Christmas ornaments when we came across ones with first names printed on them. There was a little red one with his mama’s name on it and I showed it to him. “Is there one with my name on it?” he asked. “No,” I said, trying to think of the right way to put it. “You have a special name that not many people have so it’s not on an ornament.” B looked puzzled.

We call him by his middle name which is an unusual family name that I’m willing to bet very few people have and that people often get wrong. I also bequeathed Baby G with a distinctive name that already gets twisted when spelled. He will never find his on an ornament either. To compensate we gave them very commonplace first names, but that was little compensation for B this weekend. He passed on an ornament bearing his straightforward but barely uttered first name.

All of this is ironic. Given the name Jayson, I’ve spent most of my life correcting people or just leaving it misspelled–sans the y. It’s always been frustrating, yet for some reason I did the same thing to both of my kids. Sorry guys.

Poppy Is a Permanent Part of Me–Thanks to Acme Tattoo

Three years ago, my babies’ mother began to talk about getting a tattoo that would be dedicated to our then freshly born son, B. Neither she nor I had a tattoo at that point but she’d wanted one for years–since college–and now she finally had a reason. So I bought her a gift certificate from a local tattoo parlor and gave it to her for Christmas. That way, she wouldn’t just talk about it forever but have to go get it.

So one night in the ensuing weeks she went and when she returned home an hour later she had a “B” on her forearm, tasteful and discreet, just blue ink. It hurt to get it, though, she said, and made me promise that if we ever had another kid I’d be the one getting the next tattoo. Sure, why not, I agreed. The possibility seemed distant and remote at that point.

Then we went and had baby G and Mama started to get a gleeful look in her eye when she’d bring up the subject of my tattoo. On my birthday, she backed me into a tight corner when she gave me a certificate with an appointment for October 18 already set up. I have an extremely low threshold for pain so tried not to think about it, but with less than 24 hours to go it crept to the front of my mind. What was I going to get and where would I get it?

The appointment was for 4pm but by 2 that day I still had no idea. I was vaguely thinking of just copying Mama’s and getting an ink blue “G” on my forearm but that seemed so unoriginal and a little boring. Then while in the shower 45 minutes later an idea hit me. Baby G was originally nicknamed “Poppy” and we still call him that regularly so I thought to myself, why not get an actual poppy flower tattooed on my forearm. I bounced the idea off my sister who was coming along for moral support (and, sadistically, she wanted to be there as a witness if I fainted–if you know me, not too farfetched of a reality).

She liked my idea and so less than two hours later I walked out of the tattoo joint with a little orange flower on my forearm (I didn’t faint after all). That night I woke up around 2am and was jarred out of the immediate fogginess by the thought that I now had a tattoo. I laid there looking at it in the faint light of the nearby digital clock, second guessing myself, but then realized that it was too late because it was now a permanent part of me–like Poppy himself.