My son has lived and breathed Star Wars for months now, ever since he first encountered the Lego Star Wars game for the Wii.  He’d never seen the movies. (A situation we’ve since rectified by letting him view the first three.  The original three. The holy trinity of Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi that God and Nature intended.)

So for months it’s been Darth Vader, the “Robot that Freezes People” (R2D2), and the “Guy that Walks Slow” (C3PO).  Then my son went to Disney World and met Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers in the flesh. It scared the wits out of him and seemed to scare him straight of any aspirations to become a Sith Lord.

The severity of this might have gone unnoticed if it hadn’t happened right before Christmas.  Suddenly, our son who’d spent months asking for everything Star Wars was opening his presents from Santa and complaining that he didn’t like Star Wars anymore.  We had a quick talk, about graciousness when you’re receiving presents and that he might as well steel himself for more Star Wars presents from his grandparents.

It turned out OK in the end. Most of the presents he got were more cartoonish depictions of the Star Wars universe, and after a little hesitation, my son took to them.  It turned out that he was traumatized only by realistic depictions of Darth Vader.  That’s understandable.  It’s hard to look the devil in the eye.

During my talks with my son, though, I found myself saying things like “Darth Vader was good in the end, so why don’t you just decide that it’s the good Darth Vader. You can like the good Darth Vader and not the bad one” or “Boba Fett’s a mercenary.  Mercenaries can hunt bad guys just like they hunt good guys.”  Essentially, I was telling him that he could create his own Star Wars universe, that he could make it into what he wanted.

It made me think of J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories.”  In that essay, Tolkien laid out a set of conditions by which he thought stories did or didn’t qualify as fairy stories in the classic sense. One of the more interesting ideas in the essay, if I remember correctly, was the idea of Creation: that you could create something that was a fairy story as long as it had consistent rules and logic that the reader could use to suspend disbelief.

So here I was basically telling my son to create his own Star Wars if it kept him liking the game and the movies and the toys.  I gave some thought later as to why it meant so much to me, when I might have just shrugged if he decided he suddenly didn’t like other things. As both of my children have proven, interests can be fickle and fleeting things.

It was Star Wars, though, that helped set me down the path to geekdom (buying a paperback copy of the The Hobbit at a yard sale when I was 12 would seal the deal), and despite all of the affronts that George Lucas has inflicted on the franchise, the Star Wars universe means a lot to me.  And it means a lot to me that my kids at least get the chance to experience imaginary worlds and creations like Middle Earth, Earthsea, the Federation, the Tardis, and so on.  After that, they can certainly make up their minds to roll their eyes everytime their parents start gushing about Firefly or the latest Neil Gaiman book.  But I won’t let a chance encounter at Disney World snuff out my son’s interest before it gets a chance to catch fire on its own.

I suppose, in the end, that my makeshift tactic for talking my son down would be Lucas-approved. He was very much in the Joseph Campbell school when he filmed Star Wars, and Campbell was always a big proponent of myths and legends adapting and evolving and being repurposed to fit new times and cultures.

So crisis averted this time.  My son has a much more relaxed attitude about the whole thing now.  I don’t have any idea what I’ll do, though, if we go to Dragon Con or something and he gets spooked by someone dressed as Gandalf.

Note: I currently have two WordPress blogs that don’t typically overlap, but in this case they do, so I’m posting this entry on both. I don’t know if there’s blog etiquette or standard operating procedure for that sort of thing. I’m just happy to be posting. :)

“Mama said a lot of things and ‘be thankful’
was the one she never minded saying twice.
Thanks to her I can think clear enough
to be thankful that she died before tonight.”
– The Drive-By Truckers, “Ghost to Most”

When I was growing up, I lived next door to my grandparents.  They had friends and relatives over to their house several nights a week to play cards, and the door was always open for any unscheduled visits that anyone wanted to make.  The card games usually consisted of Rummy, but there were the occasional Uno games as well, and at a pretty young age, my grandparents and great aunts and great uncles would let my sister and I play. And heck, sometimes we’d win. Not usually, but sometimes.  When my grandfather wanted to lay the smackdown on you at the card table, he could do it without even trying, his face only occasionally moving past a wry grin. He once caught my teenaged cousins playing poker for money at one of the Christmas trees (we called our family Christmas party the “Christmas tree” — we may be the only people who did such a thing, because I’ve never heard it anywhere else).  He didn’t say anything. He just sat down, started playing, and cleaned them out of every dime they had.

All those folks from the older generation are gone now.  There are one or two left, but none from that core group whose elbows I always seemed perched on, checking out their cards.  My grandmother died after several strokes, while cancer got my grandfather not too much later.  Various faces of old age and disease took the rest.  As a child, I thought they were immortal.  In my mind’s eye, they were never young — I only knew them once the wrinkles started coming in — and they never changed. They were the rock solid foundation of our family.  After I grew up and went off to school, and got busy with my halting and laughable attempts at getting my adult life going with some momentum, it was always comforting to know that they were there.  That they were still going square dancing, that one great uncle was still telling hilarious tales to whoever would listen about his fear of airbags in cars, and that you could count on my grandfather to give you his honest opinion about whatever stupid thing you thinking about doing (He wasn’t a negative person; I genuinely came up with some stupid stuff).

It’s hard not to feel unmoored as a result. My parents are still here, as are their brothers, sisters, and all of my cousins and their children. It was that older generation, though, who made sure we had reunions, Easter egg hunts, and Christmas get-togethers.  It was a generation rooted in tradition, from those regular card games, to my grandfather’s ritual of giving all the boys in the family five bucks and a package of tube socks every Christmas.  Now that they’re gone, the clan doesn’t get together anymore, except at funerals. We tried a reunion recently, and it went well.  We’re a quiet family, though, and my wife was a little startled when we walked into the banquet hall and everyone was just sitting there staring at each other.  That’s just how we roll until the sweet tea starts flowing and loosening everyone up.  Not sure if we’ll have another one, though.  Summer’s rolling around again, and I don’t hear anyone talking about doing it. As it was, I think it was my sister who was the driving force for that last one, and she lives seven hours away, while the rest of us all still here living close to each other.

We’re fortunate in the fact that my wife’s family still maintains some of their old traditions. Her mother and father both died fairly recently, and that has caused some of her family’s traditions to change, but the larger clan still does what it can to maintain some sense of community and continuity.  Plus, we’re able to get our kids downstate on a fairly regular basis to play with their cousins, whom they absolutely adore.

We’re also lucky to have my mother keeping the kids a couple of days a week while we work. There’s the obvious benefit of saving on day care costs, but it also creates some continuity because they’re essentially getting a bit of the same raising that I got (although, apparently, with more ice cream and freezer pops).

Still, it’s sobering to think that in some ways, our kids are being raised not knowing the deep and wide-ranging familial ties that my wife and I grew up with.  I think they’ll turn out fine, but there’s something to be said for realizing that you’re part of something bigger than yourself, even if that “something bigger” is an older generation that’s keeping an eye on you and ratting you out to your parents.  I miss that older generation, even though I didn’t see them as much in my later years because, you know, life gets in the way and you’ll make sure to get by there next time until there aren’t any more next times. It’s very unlikely, on my side of the family, that my children will really know many of their relatives. Apart from my male cousins and I getting together for infrequent boys’ nights (where we joke that we don’t even know the names of each other’s children), we just don’t gather.  They’ll fare better on my wife’s side, but that side of the kids’ family tree lives four hours away.

It’s not the kind of thing that would have made my grandparents proud, the way their descendents have pretty much forgotten their shared roots, or even how to communicate with one another. Heck, only about five of us are even on Facebook (if you count my sister running silent under an alias), and I’m the only one who occasionally posts.  So we can’t even lamely say that we at least know what each other is up to.

And it’s not like, if I got off my butt and helped call a yearly gathering of the tribe, that it would help much.  One of the reasons that I got to see so many family members on a regular basis is because we lived next door to my grandparents.  People were always coming by to see them, and us kids would just run around for a few hours getting into God knows what while the adults talked.  There’s not a central location like that anymore.  These days, it sure won’t be our house. We’re loners. So’s everyone else.

Welcome to the family, kids, the nicest bunch of hermits you’ll ever have the chance to maybe meet (at once-a-decade reunions, funerals, and chance meetings at hardware stores).

Wow, 2010 was the last post.  It seems like yesterday, like so many other things involving kids.  The kid count’s still at two — and staying there — and they’re turning into quite the fun pair of oddballs. I’ll be getting back to posting here soon for the two of you that check every once and again.  I’d like to promise a regular schedule to such updates, but that might be a little ambitious at the moment. See you soon!

Unlike most mothers and fathers in America, the missus and I looked at our baby daughter and said, “She’ll be crawling soon. We’ll need to store the swords higher.”

Yes, swords.  My wife is quite the RenFest fan (although we haven’t been to one since the kids were born, but I can see us taking them out to one when they’re a little older). I spent a few years studying Iaido before the knees started screaming that they just wouldn’t accommodate certain wazas.

Our daughter might be the only one at the prom with one of those rings that doubles as a poison container, her own mead tankard, and a clear understanding (in case of, you know, a zombie apocalypse breaks out during the prom) of what constitutes an efficient cut.

The boy will probably be a “Hulk smash!” kind of guy.  But right now, he’s all grabby with everything he sees. So no swords within reach of him, either.

But as Penny Arcade often proves, we aren’t considering all of the possibilities…

From time to time I’m going to go into beard-scratching mode and try to lay some wisdom down on y’all. I don’t claim to be particularly wise. But I’ve been around for about forty years now, and you tend to pick things up, even if it’s just on the strength of some monumental mistakes.

Today, I want to talk to you about negativity. Now, when you guys hit your teenage years, you’ll hear me rant and rave a pretty good bit about how sullen the two of you are being, but that’s natural.  You’re going to think you know everything, that no one outside your circle of smug friends knows anything at all, and that the whole world — especially the pair of speed bumps known as your parents — exists for the sole purpose of keeping you down. But you won’t be the first, although there’ll be no telling you that, either.

But don’t let that turn into negativity or cynicism.  Your generation will have a lot to blame my generation for, but don’t let that get in the way of accomplishing something yourselves.  I used to consider myself a cynic, until two recent quotes set me straight.  One’s from Stephen Colbert’s 2006 Knox College commencement address:

Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying yes begins things. Saying yes is how things grow. Saying yes leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say yes.

The other is from Conan O’Brien’s last episode of The Tonight Show.  O’Brien had many reasons to be bitter, and he took his frustration out on NBC in hilarious ways, but when it came time to say farewell, he showed class and wisdom:

All I ask of you, especially young people … is one thing. Please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism. It’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.

So maybe your dear old sarcastic dad might not be such a cynic after all.  I might be pessimistic about the effectiveness of certain people or institutions. I might even be angry about their ineffectiveness. But at the very least, that anger is at least rooted in a belief that things really can change.  So I don’t know how much that really qualifies as full-blown cynicism. Besides, as long as I listen to music the way I do, I don’t think I can ever truly be cynical.  The music geek’s eternal quest, after all, is to find something that lights a flame in his spirit just like that first flame got lit back when we were discovering our parents’ Beatles records.

But you’re going to run into something even worse than cynicism in your lives, and that’s out-and-out negativity.  I’ve catalogued what I think are a few major types of negativity you might encounter. At least, these are the kinds that I’ve met:

“Woe is me, the whole world’s against me”
You’re going to meet talented people, people who should be on top of the world doing what they love, except they’re not. For whatever reason, they’re working a job they don’t like, or not getting the chances to let their talent shine the way it should. In some cases, there might be legitimate reasons that this happens to people. The world’s not fair, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get to follow your bliss. But beware of the person who refuses to look at his current situation as the result of his own decisions.  These people are just draining.  Not only is it exhausting to listen to their constant litany of complaints, but the very second you make the mistake of thinking they want any honest input, you’ll find that negativity directed towards you.  It’s really not worth it, and I’d say that of all the negativity you might encounter, this one might be the worst.  Seriously take a step back and decide if the plusses outweight the minuses of having a person like this in your life, wasting time yoiu could be using to create or accomplish something with their nonsense about how nothing’s their fault.

“You freaking idiot”
You probably won’t meet this person until you’re older. Maybe you’ll be stuck in a study group with this person. Maybe you’ll be working with them every day at your job.  But you’ll meet someone who’s decided that everyone else is clueless and incompetent.  It’ll even filter into his ways of talking to people, to the point that you can append the phrase “you freaking idiot” onto the end of anything he says.  If you want to get fancy, you can even use it as an embedded clause, as in “Well, you freaking idiot, I think it should work this way.”  To a point, it’s funny to watch this person’s head explode every time he has to deal with the more rogue, loosey-goosey personalities in your group, but overall, his attitude just brings everyone down.

“But enough about you, let’s talk about me”
I ran into this type of negativity when I first went off to college. I’d call one of my friends and start telling him what I was up to, and he’d inevitably interrupt to crack a joke about it, or to change the subject to himself.  He wasn’t egotistical in this way. He’d just been unable to go to college like he wanted, and he felt a bit insecure about it when I brought the whole “college experience” up.  It took me a little while to figure this out, and to be fair, this friend isn’t a negative person. But that experience did clue me in to the fact that a lot of people later in life could make themselves feel good only by cutting my experiences or stories or thoughts off at the knees.  Granted, my thoughts aren’t always worthy of being aired — they usually aren’t, thus the quiet in-person persona you know so well — but it’s no fun at all to deal with someone who feels threatened by a conversation that’s actually a conversation.

“I don’t want to do it, even though I enjoy it”
I throw this one in because you’re going to see it in me. As I get older, I dread going into new situations — for no other reason other than they’re new.  Heck, I even dread things I’m familiar with that I know how to do. For example, if I get tickets for a show at a venue I’ve been to a dozen times, I start thinking, “Oh, the parking. Oh, the crowd. Oh, the hassle.”  But when I get there, I have the time of my life. It’s something I’m aware of, and I try to combat it, but I’m afraid it’s a symptom of age. You just get comfortable and kind of dread new things. To be fair, your mother does not suffer this affliction, and you can count on the both of us to constantly be pushing the two of you out into the world to experience new things.

That’s all I can think of for now. I’m sure there are more. Heck, there’s no telling what kinds of new negativity technology will bring about, so consider yourselves “blessed” to be part of that brave new world going forward.

My son just had his nine-month check-up.

He’s been a hoss since the day he got here, sitting somewhere above the 99th percentile in height since he was born.  I admit to taking a perverse sort of pride in this. His sister’s going to be tall, and while we want her to top out at a reasonable height for social reasons, it’s pretty much the sky’s the limit with the boy. Especially if he can support us in our old age with a lucrative basketball contract or something! :)

But on his most recent checkup, he landed in the 96th percentile on height.  My wife told the pediatrician, “His dad will be disappointed.” The pediatrician replied, a little startled, “What? Does he want him to be 6′ 10″?” My wife responded, “Probably.”   Now in all seriousness, I don’t care how tall either of them are, and I know these percentiles are really only valuable for seeing if something lags or spikes when it shouldn’t. The genetics on both sides are that they’ll be tall, so they’re stuck with that, whether they like it or not. Still. The 96th percentile.  I’ll definitely have a talk with him about his lack of ambition at the yearly family review.

And he’s apparently only in the 67th percentile on weight. This figure makes me want to sneak in the pediatrician’s office at night and check their scales. The boy’s like a sack of greased bricks — a sack of greased, crying bricks — when you try to pick him up.  There’s NO WAY he weighs only 22 lbs.

But I guess he needed to take time off to grow a giant brain, since his head grew by leaps and bounds this time around.  In my more sarcastic moments, I tend to believe he grew his skull just so it would give him better timbre and projection in his crying fits.

The pediatrician asked about a couple of developmental milestones. They asked if he was waving bye yet.  This sounds kind of advanced for a 9-month-old, but apparently he should be doing it.  He’s not, but it’s not something we’ve really tried to get him to do.  Besides, why wave bye when my family’s traditional farewell, “Y’all come with us!” will do just fine?

Or maybe he’s a vengeful sort. Not waving bye implies, “I’ll be seeing you later. Oh yes I will. And I will bring the crying, and I will bring the volume.”

Actually, he says goodbye by crying. Even when you just walk behind him. So the developmental milestone known as separation anxiety?  Check.

They also asked if he was picking things up with his thumb and forefinger.  He does this when you give him something small enough, but he doesn’t seem to care for it.  After all, it’s not a very good grip for grabbing something fist-sized and slamming it into the TV screen a dozen times before you can get to him.

So all told, a pretty good checkup.  Still no answers for getting him to sleep through the night. I guess he’ll just have to grow out of that one, since nothing we’re doing seems to make a difference on that front.

When I told my general practitioner I wanted a vasectomy, he referred me to a urologist he knew. “A good man, a gentle man,” he said.  And he assured me that, if my insurance didn’t cover this particular urologist, he’d find another “gentle man” who could do the job.  I have to admit, I liked the sound of that, this emphasis on “gentle.”  Even if the whole “gentle man” angle might ultimately take me, if there were insurance problems, into an illicit but cuddly world of underground vasectomies.

So I set up the appointment and met the urologist, a very personable fellow full of jokes and practical advice like:

  • “Go with frozen vegetables instead of a bag of ice while you’re healing. They’ll adhere to your contours better, and they won’t turn to water when they defrost.”
  • “When you get ‘back in the saddle,’ do it from a male-dominant position at first. You don’t want some wild thing on top of you before you know what you can take.”

Apparently, at least based on what my friends have said, all urologists are like this when talking about vasectomies. Maybe it’s to keep us at ease.  Maybe it’s a sense of “welcome to the brotherhood” (as my urologist had undergone a vasectomy himself). For whatever reason, all of my friends’ vasectomy stories involve wisecracking urologists who joke about the whole thing right up until the last stitch is knotted.

I’m a fairly private person (despite the irony that I’m writing about this on a blog), but there were a few people I felt comfortable talking to about my decision.  It was interesting.  When I told some people that I was getting a vasectomy, there was this odd moment in their eyes, as if they were saying, “Why isn’t your wife getting fixed instead?”  This was mainly from older people, who came from a time when it was less common for a man to do such a thing. Where I work, though, it seems like every guy I know has one, which seemed to line up with my urologist’s statement that a man my age with a couple of kids is the poster boy for vasectomies.

In the leadup to the procedure, I admit I milked the whole situation.  Any time my wife made a comment where I could even remotely turn it into a lament about the huge sacrifice I was making, about how I was turning myself into half of a man, about how the pets would hiss at me because they knew something in my chemistry was off, I did so.  And I made sure to show her the illustrations from the pamphlets (which hadn’t been updated since the late ’70s, from the looks of the pornstaches on most of the men) that showed wives waiting hand-and-foot on their heroicly recovering, recliner-bound menfolk.  My wife knows to ignore this kind of thing.  Besides, she knows that I’m not dumb enough to make a real complaint when she’s sitting across the room, our giant two-month-old son draining her for sustenance every two hours.

But I have to admit that there is a strange sense of finality to it. Even though my wife I are sure — quite, quite sure — that we’re done having kids, there’s a sobering sense of “Well, that’s it, then. A good set of genes cut down in its prime.”  Once I got over that, though, I gave the boys a fond farewell. A cold snap was hitting our area of the country, so I had a good excuse to use the new car’s seat warming feature every morning, free of any guilt that I was cooking my genetic material to a wobbly-swimming crisp.

The procedure itself really wasn’t that bad.  Not something I’d rush to again, but really just more uncomfortable than painful. Definitely not something to let your imagination run wild with, though, trying to figure out what all those vaguly numb, odd sensations down there are all about.   When the doctor walked in, he asked me if I’d changed my mind. I told him no, that I was sure I wanted to go through with it.

“Has anyone ever backed out?” I asked him.
“No, they never have,” he replied.
“It’ll happen one day,” I said.
“Probably,” he agreed. “The closest I had was a couple of weeks ago. I walked in and the guy was crying — I mean heavy weeping and sobbing. I asked him if he was sure he wanted to do this, and he replied, ‘My wife told me not to come home if I didn’t!’”

Once we got started, it was a strangely casual scene. There I was, not only with my goods out for all to see, but also with a man pulling things out of those goods and snipping them.  Nurses would come in for this or that, the urologist and I had a good long conversation about how we found ourselves in our respective careers, he told me funny and sad stories about things he’d run into as a doctor. Really, it was about as much fun as you can have while you’re voluntarily cutting your bloodline off at the pass, so to speak.  I’m generally pretty curious about medical stuff, and I would have loved to have watched the procedure, but figured the doctor really didn’t need me sitting up watching him do his work. I did glance down once towards the end, though, when he was stitching me up. I swear he had both ends of the string pulled up above his head. He was either tying the tightest knot of his life, or he was pretending he was a puppetmaster.

The recovery was fine, too. We sent my toddler daughter off to spend the night and the next day at grandma’s, since my little one has an uncanny ability to accidentally knee, punch, or headbutt me between the legs about three times a day.  I spent the rest of the day on the couch with the aforementioned bag of veggies, asking my wife to do all kinds of little things for me, and then I coasted through the weekend, doing pretty much nothing at all. There really wasn’t any pain, but if you’ve ever been kicked in the groin on the playground or the like, you may recall a vague feeling of nausea that seems to travel up your abdominal muscles.  Just a weird queasy feeling that was never more than a mild annoyance.  About a week-and-a-half later, I was back to 100%.

So now, until all of the followup visits prove otherwise, I’m considered a “dangerous man.”  After seeing the illustrations of what’s done, it’s absolutely amazing to think that you could ever have a vasectomy and still get someone pregnant. But I do know at least one person who had one, and then had twins.  And someone else I know had to have their procedure redone because the first one wasn’t good enough.  Needless to say, my wife’s not getting anywhere near me until we find out I’m clean.  And I’m sitting here thinking, wouldn’t it suck for this to be when my body decides to unlock some Wolverine-like healing power?


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