Thursday, March 29, 2007

Teaching Vegetable

In retrospect, in wasn't the best parenting idea I've ever had.

My seven year-old asked me, "Why do onions make people cry?"

"Well, Gabriel," I said, "Onions give off a gas when you cut them. The gas irritates your eyes and makes you cry."

Other parents would have stopped here. Other parents would have turned back to their television sets. Other parents would have absolutely nothing to write about in their blogs.

I, on the other hand, cut up an onion and both Gabriel and I took a whiff. You know what happened?

Nothing. Neither Gabriel or I cried. Not a sniffle. We took another whiff and still nothing happened.

About five whiffs in, we both started to cry. Gabriel was amazed. I felt like the coolest dad in the world. That feeling lasted right up until the moment Gabriel's right eye started swelling up.

I learned a few things that night. For instance, if you're relating an anecdote to a doctor and her first response is, "You did what?", you've probably made a medical mistake of some kind. I also learned that people cry because onions give off a very, very diluted form of sulfuric acid and that some fathers actually suffer from a very, very diluted form of "stupid".

A dose of Benadryl quickly fixed Gabriel's eye, so there's no long term harm. But you know what? I'll think twice the next time I have the urge to teach "vegetable".

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Great Hemorrhoid Exodus

I would have posted last week, but I was afflicted with gout.

I realize that many of Grim Richard's readers might confuse gout with goiter, and are now incorrectly picturing Grim Richard with a humongous neck. Frankly, that makes me want to giggle. But I won't giggle and I'll tell you why.

First, I have to be careful with health jokes. When you have three readers, losing even one goiter-afflicted reader can be catastrophic. I know this from personal experience; who can forget the Great Grim Richard Hemorrhoid Exodus of '05?

I can't. That was a pain in my....

See? That's how slippery this slope is.

Second, every time I giggle, it makes my enormous, blood-engorged foot throb. For those who don't know, gout is a build up of "crystals" in the joints - especially the big toe - that results in painful inflammation. This is medical jargon that means that my enormous, blood-engorged foot is throbbing. The pain is excruciating but there is a bright side. Every time I write "enormous", "blood-engorged" and "throb", Google accidentally sends married, middle-aged men to my blog.

The final reason I won't giggle about goiter is this:

I am old now and I realize God is punishing me for making health jokes earlier in my life. I used to think ear hair was hysterical. Hemorrhoids made me laugh. Constipation? Ditto. Well, I don't laugh about them anymore, young whippersnappers.

And you know what?

I really, really regret all the male boob jokes.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Naplete

My wife likes to sleep.

Maybe "likes" is too weak a word to describe how much my wife likes to sleep. My wife sleeps the way Olympic athletes train - with dedication and often past the point of injury. My wife is so dedicated to sleeping that she has purchased actual equipment to improve her sleeping ability - and I'm not referring to the prerequisite bed or pillow. She has vitamins, special teas, orthopedic inserts and sheets with a thread count so high that you don't actually sleep on the bed - you instead quietly slide around like human sausages in a giant teflon skillet.

My wife is something more than a sleeper, something more than an athlete; she is a nap-lete.

Her latest piece of training equipment is circadian clock from the Sharper Image catalog. The inventors of this alarm clock/lamp have mounted a special light that begins shining dimly about thirty minutes prior to her scheduled wake up time and gradually brightens until the whole room is lit. This graduated lighting is meant to gently and naturally wake you in the same way that a sunrise does. This feature is kinda cool.

The clock also makes natural sounds that increase in volume; this feature kinda sucks. We tried the relaxing "Brook" sounds first. Bad idea. It turns out that thirty minutes of bubbling water sounds will not gently wake you; it will only make you urgently need to pee. I did point out that waking this way was both gentle and natural, but my wife seemed less than enthusiastic.

Next, we tried the "Wind" sounds. The only thing that could have made this setting more terrifying was if the clock makers had added actual moaning ghost sounds to the desolate haunting sounds of wind. Every day for a week, I woke up scared and depressed. And I needed to pee.

We are trying the "Birds" setting now and I have high hopes. If everything goes well, my wife will awake feeling energetic and refreshed. Plus, after a couple of weeks, my wife says I might be able to have a small drink before bedtime.

The only downside so far? None of this actually wakes my wife up. And I'm really, really starting to hate fricking birds.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Knots

My grandmother died at between 7 and 8 p.m. on New Year's eve. I remember it because we got the news in my car while we traveling home on Interstate 95. I think we were in North Carolina. I know it was dark because I remember looking at my wife in the glow the dashboard lights and saying, "My grandmother just died." I was confused because I felt absolutely nothing at all.

Gabriel, my seven year-old leaned forward into the glow and said, "Wow. She didn't even make it to the new year." I thought for a second that his comment was inappropriate, but I didn't say anything because I couldn't summon any emotion of my own.

But Gabriel didn't stop. He got a weird half smile on his face and he said something as if he had just mulled it over and decided it.

"I'm not gonna die. I'm gonna live forever."

And then I felt something. I desperately, devoutly wanted him to be right.


One of the CDs we listened to that night was "The Black Parade", an album from a band called "My Chemical Romance". As you might expect, the CD is a melodramatic, gothic affair and it owes more than a little to Queen and Pink Floyd. My wife and I love it because it's an album written for kids who think that adults don't understand them. It's an album for climbers lamenting the long trip up the mountain and not the climbers who fear the quick fall down.

The title song, "Welcome to the Black Parade" is four minutes and 39 seconds long. Even the band acknowledges that the song is melodramatic, but that's exactly what I liked about it before I heard the news about my grandmother. Afterwards, I liked the song even more because right in the middle, apropos of nothing else, it has the words:

"Sometimes I get the feeling she's watching over me."

I liked these words even though I didn't feel that way at all. I just desperately, devoutly wanted to feel that way.


I'll tell you why my grandmother was cool. When she was 48, after years as a Navy wife, she dropped everything and went back to college. Nowadays, fifty year-old women go back to college all the time, but that wasn't the case nearly 40 years ago. My grandmother summoned the courage to go back to school, earn her teaching degree and then begin a whole new life teaching children. She taught children so well that she was interviewed by the newspaper more than once. She worked on something every day, though I never realized it back then.


I'll tell you why my wife is cool. While we were in Florida over Christmas, she borrowed a skateboard from some little kid playing in the cul-de-sac street where my in-laws live. I don't know why she did this or what impulse overtook her. She rode the kid's skateboard until he had to go home and the next day we began searching for a skateboard for my wife.

We found it at a Quicksilver surf shop - a purple longboard with the elephant god Ganesh emblazoned on it. It's a beautiful skateboard and I felt a tiny stitch of jealousy when she bought it. I don't think I was jealous about the skateboard. I felt jealous because she wanted to skateboard.

Earlier that day, while we were looking for the skateboard, she had had this conversation with a skateboard salesperson:

"I'm looking for a skateboard for a beginner," she said.

"How old is the child you're getting it for?" asked the guy on the phone.

"The child is 34," my wife giggled.


It wasn't until the memorial at the funeral home that my grandmother's death really hit me - and I wasn't the first to feel the grief. I could actually see the grief traveling around the flowery, faux church chapel, jumping from person to person. At first it reminded me of a lit fuse sparking its way toward its conclusion. But after it hit me and I started crying, I recognized it for what it was. It was an elaborate knot untying itself, decades of ravels, snarls and braids coming undone.


I was driving today when that unraveling feeling hit me again. I looked around at my family and the feeling left me. My skateboarder wife sat beside me. In the back seat, my two year-old daughter was sleeping with a skateboard helmet on her head - I don't know why. My seven year-old was playing with his Nintendo DS and my four year-old son was earnestly singing along to his current favorite song in the world.

So paint it black and take it back
Lets shout it loud and clear
Defiant to the end we hear the call
To carry on
We'll carry on,
And though you're dead and gone believe me
Your memory will carry on

You can probably guess what song it was. It's melodramatic, but that's just how we like it. We are making knots here and the job requires big, loud singing. It requires kids who want to live forever and mothers who never stop trying new things. The best people never have the biggest funerals. Instead, we honor them by tying knots.