Lettuce Head

Can I hit my daughter with a head of lettuce?  She’s about four aisles away, right behind the strawberries, next to the cantaloupes.  It’s a pretty good distance from me and of course, I’m no longer sure of my aim.  Getting old sucks.  My arm isn’t what it used to be and I think I need glasses.  But barring all that, yup, I think I can make the throw.  

She’s standing next to her brother.  If I’m lucky, I could get some ricochet and catch him in the face.  A two for one kind of deal, an 8-10 split with a prayer.  I would need to take off the plastic though from the head of lettuce which I don’t think I want to do.  I would have to buy it then.  

Little Hoss’ hands are waving in the air, her face snarling.  The hands are going to create a little bit of a defensive structure, a weave of flurry that makes it pretty much a wall.  Her brother, the nine-year-old has his hands moving around while he talks, too.  Without meaning to, they seem to be working together.  

I don’t know what they are saying.  That isn’t to say that I can’t hear them.  I can hear them just fine.  Everyone in the God Damn grocery store can hear them.  The cashiers and the stock boys can hear them.  The people in the next town over can hear them.  I’m just not listening to them.  The words shoot toward me, pummel me, the anger in them.  There are acquisitions, excuses and blame all being passed around.  The same shit that we’ve been dealing with since 7 this morning.  

“You are being too loud and I can’t sleep,” my daughter accused her brother this morning. 
“I’ve got the TV on mute.  I’m not being loud!”
“You are being loud and now I can’t sleep!”

And on and on it went.  It troubles me that they were being loud while arguing about being loud.   When they are that screamy, that early in the morning, I don’t think they realize what is happening.  At that point, they are being loud enough to wake me up.  Then, from nowhere, I hear the toddler scream and start to cry.  When did he get up?  At what point did he enter the fray?  Seriously, what the hell is going on and why is he crying.  I can only assume that he saw a battle going on and would not be denied glory.  Head first he would have charged, yelling his battle cry so that the gods of Valhalla would hear his woe.  

I might be able to hit the toddler with a kiwi.  

It’s going to be tough though.  He’s not as tall as the other two and his head doesn’t reach above the little half shelf they are all three standing by.  And let’s not be cruel here, a kiwi might be a little harsh.  It’s hard, like the apples that I held moments before while considering what I’m going to do about the arguing today.  That’s why I switched to the lettuce.  Heavy enough to throw with a good solid center to keep it flying straight.  It should break away on impact which should lessen the blow.  I'm a responsible parent. 

Can’t use romaine lettuce.  There’s plenty around me, the fresh kind, not the prepackaged stuff.  But it’s going to catch too much wind and not go very far.  An orange is too bright, they might see that coming.  Carrots have points, I don’t want to put an eye out.  I just want to knock some sense into them.  I have a whole arsenal of fruits and vegetables at my disposal.  And with them oblivious at the other end of the fruit and vegetable section, I have time to be choosy.  

Tomatoes.  I have plenty of tomatoes right around me.  Tried and true tomatoes, the fruit flinging projectile of angry mobs for centuries.  I could use the big old fashioned tomatoes and get some easy juicy splatter.  But then I might hit someone else, collateral damage of the sample lady night to far away from them.  The Romas are intriguing.  A tomato with a bit of aerodynamics to them.  I think the vine-ripes are not going to be very good.  Unless I can find a strong vine, then I can use it as a bolo.  I like that idea.  

Something happens.  I can see the toddler’s head start jumping up and down.  His little blond hair barely visible over the strawberries.  Little Hoss is more animated and it looks like she is actually stomping her foot.  Bubba Hoss appears to be all in.  Nine-year-old righteous anger, right there on his face as he points at his older sister and younger brother.  Escalation.  That's what I’m seeing here.  Ok.  We can do that.  

I pick up a watermelon, a very unripe one, and walk closer to my children.  The watermelon is heavier and I need to get within range.  


Little Hoss Gets a Phone

My daughter is crying, tears coming from each eye like it's a race to her chin.  She hiccups a little bit when she tries to catch her breath.  Slobber from the mouth, refusing to look at me and my wife.  As a father, I feel that I have sufficiently done my job.  I'm a good Dad.

Little Hoss has her first cell phone.  Is 11 too young?  I don't know, I've been fighting this for at least two years.  There was a time that I was of the opinion that "You aren't getting a phone until you are at least 16 and engaged to a nice young boy that requires no dowry."  My wife thought that maybe that was too harsh.  So fine, I switched my opinion.  We could marry her to the church.

"Honey, you are not religious.  Like, at all."
"Quiet woman!  I'm making fatherly decisions!"
"You don't even say God Bless You when someone sneezes."
"Make me a sandwich!"

Those were some pretty rough conversations.  She's 11 though!  I mean 11!  She's at that age where she still likes to snuggle with me on the couch.  Little Hoss will occasionally play with some Barbies if no one is looking and her toddler brother is with her.  She still calls me Daddy.  Not Dad--Daddy.  She's a little girl, my sweet pea, my destroyer of everything quiet.  A phone is crazy talk, the thoughts of a loose father with loose morals.  A man that is willing to thrust his daughter out into the world without any preparation at all.

And she's a little girl that requires training bras.  She's a little girl that likes boys but won't talk to me about it because it embarrasses her.  I can hear her whisper with her friends and cousins but the conversation ends as soon as I enter a room.  Giggles follow me when I leave.  She's a little girl that understands fractions and her introduction to Algebra.  A little girl that wants to stay home by herself when I take the boys to soccer practice.  My sweet pea, my little girl that doesn't snuggle with me on the couch as much as she used to.

Fuck.  She's not a little girl anymore.

She goes to girl scouts and volleyball practice.  She goes into the store and uses my debit card to grab a gallon of milk.  She is going to start staying home for a bit by herself.  In fact, there is a shit ton of time that she spends not around me at all.  Little Hoss has built herself a life outside of me.  She is starting to gain independence.

We were finally able, thank you Jesus (see, I pray!), break away from our cell phone provider.  We switched to antoher carrier.  When we did, because of a great deal they were having, Little Hoss got her very own phone.  It was free and like every responsible father, I could not turn down a good deal.  Nor can I turn back time.

We gave her the phone and she immediately left me.  The string between us cut with a text.  She jumped on the couch and her fingers began moving faster than court stenographer.  She would send me a text:  Dad, what's Aunt Shell's number?  I would text back.  Dad, do you have my cousins numbers?  I would send them to her.  She is out in the world, the cold fucking world that preys on kids.

First off, how the hell does she even know how to work a phone?  How does she know how to text?

"All my friends have phones, Dad.  So does all my cousins."


Thinking about putting my daughter into a convent has blinded me.  I should have prepared her better to be out there.  She has google on her phone.  There is internet on that thing.  There are chat rooms and in one of them lurks Chris Hanson.

So my wife and I sat my daughter down that night and had "the talk."  It used to be that having "the talk" was just going over sex.  Dad puts his pee pee in Mommy's Ho-ha.  They wrestle a bit and eventually your mother thanks God and it's over.  A baby eventually comes around.

But now, so much different than my own childhood, "the talk" has to encompass a whole shitload of issues that I never had to.  We have to go over inappropriate texts--both of the bullying kind and the dick pic kind.  We have to go over people in chat rooms, how some may not be the people they claim to be. That she should never go into chat rooms at all and, to be honest, I'm not sure they even exist.  But just in case, we have banned them.

We talked to her about digital predators in digital white vans promising treats and love if only she would meet them somewhere.  My mind reeled, it ran from one nightmare scenario to another.  And I laid it all at her feet.

I invited my wife to tell my daughter of some of the inappropriate things that people have said to her.  It's a world that I have no experience.  It's rare that as a young teen anyone would say anything to me other than my dad telling me that masturbating should only be done in the bedroom, put your junk away son.  That was our talk.  Uncomfortable but hey, at least it was quick.  (HA).  Hearing my wife's stories, I now have a whole list of people that I have to track down a beat up.  So Mr. Old Man from 1988--I'm coming for you.  Eventually.  I know that you were somewhere in Indiana at the time.  We got a score to settle.

Cat calling, conniving, false promises, predators.  All of it.

"Does that really happen, Dad?" She asked me.  She called me Dad.
"Damn right.  Not if you were in a convent but it looks like that's not an option for us.  So yes, that happens  And sometimes it happens a lot."  My tone was serious, more serious than I think she is used to from me.  That's when the sniffles started.

And to drive the point home, in my over protective father mode, I pulled up Reddit.  I went to a subreddit called /r/creepypms--which is not what I thought it was when I first saw the name of it.  This is a place where women of many ages post all the creepy shit that people send them.  I didn't let my daughter read them of course.  I just showed her how many there are, page after page after page.

That's when the tears started.

So my daughter has her phone.  There are rules, of course,  No texts without me knowing and only to people that I know.  No apps unless I know what they are and give approval.  Child safety talks, precautions.  My wife and I have complete and total access to the phone whenever we deem it appropriate.  All that and more so that at least we are sending her out into the world fully padded and with a safety net.  And of course, if anyone from 20/20 ever contacts her, she should immediately come to me.

At the end of the talk, I sat down on the couch.  Tired, exhausted, nightmares fresh behind my eyes.  She came and sat next to me.  She leaned over and put her head on my chest, I put my arm around her.

"People are weird, Daddy."

"I know, sweetpea.  Now show me what a Bitmoji is."


The Noise of Summer

The tent was hot, the kind of hot that makes certain male body parts stick to other body parts.  No breeze at all, just the constant sound of my nine-year-old snoring.  Soon, his sister began talking in her sleep.  Something about braces, it’s been on her mind a lot over the summer.  How can it be so loud on a camping trip in the woods?  It’s supposed to be quiet where only the sounds of the insects chirp you off to a nice sleep.  I didn’t sleep at all and woke up the next day wanting to take a nap.  

Our next trip was to Houston.  Three kids, a mother in law, my wife all packed into the van.  Eight hours the first day that turned into ten hours because that’s what happens during road trips.  The next day of driving was only supposed to be four hours.  The traffic jams in Houston decided to extend that by two.  You could measure how long we were on the road by how loud it was in the back.  We started off with soft voices, easy conversations.  We ended with screams and accusations of “You are on my side!” It was the same way going back.  

Boy Scout camp was held a week after we got back from Houston.  More camping.  Still hot.  Louder though, so much louder.  What’s louder than three of your own children?  20 boys that aren’t yours that have discovered the joys of farts, running and fidget spinners.  It’s impossible to read a book, to really get into it, with that much chaos going on.  Then we gave them knives.  Now there was a bit of blood mixed in with the loud.  

In Mid July, we took a trip with friends to the lake.  They have a house that they get the use of once a summer.  Right there on the lake, hidden behind some trees with a big porch where you could sit and listen to the yelling of our families.  There’s also a little amusement park nearby which is great for adding scratching metal sounds as you walk.  If you wait up at night a bit, say around midnight, you can finally get to that quiet.  The park shuts down, all the kids are asleep and a glass of whiskey on that porch can be heavenly peaceful.  However, Bacon Hoss had an accident at the amusement park that required four stitches on his eyebrow.  He didn’t sleep very well.  By the next morning, when I went back on the porch, it appears that the bugs enjoyed my leftover whiskey very much.  

Every year, at the beginning of August, we take what has now been called the “Dad’s Trip.”  The name implies that it’s only dads, five of us actually.  It’s not.  The five dads do come, but so do our children.  In total there are 21 of us.  We pick a direction and try and find what there is to find.  We visited a replica of Stonehenge which allows the children’s voices to bounce off the rock so there is an echo.  We saw Johnny Cash’s boyhood home, a quaint little cottage in northern Arkansas that is perfect for making 21 voices compact and grating.  We ended that trip at a vacuum museum, that’s a real thing.  A vacuum museum has a lot of vacuums.  A lot.  From every era.  The kids decided that now they liked vacuuming and turned most of them on.  My ears rang for a good hour after we left.  

Yesterday the kids went back to school.  They had new lunch boxes, fancy new shoes, and bright smiles.  The day before I asked them if they wanted to do any more adventures, perhaps camp one more time.  The kids ran from me, even the toddler.  I put them on the bus, wished them the best of luck, and went back into my house.  

Quiet.  No sound but the A/C kicking in.  I sat down and looked at the black screen at the T.V.  There were no jumping thuds from upstairs.  I didn’t hear anyone laughing at all.  The dog was asleep on the couch, not a single time did he bark or try and chase anyone around.  I checked my phone, no one had called.  I should put away the camping gear but the garage is quieter than the house.  Outside, there was a garbage truck but it was far off.  I could hear its engine rev and then fade as it went up the hill.  There were no hugs, no sounds of tears being dried and nobody asked if I wanted to play with them.  The silence is louder than the screams.    

I miss the noise.  


Blood Deposit

It was my mistake, my miscalculation.  I forgot that when dealing with a multinational corporation that you should always bring a bucket of blood first.  It’s got to be a full bucket too, not just some half bucket shit.  And not the blood of a cow.  Hell, no.  It’s got to be from your own veins, a deep cut that reaches your soul so that not only do you give blood, you give your very fucking essence.  

And forget about getting anything actually done, just a hint of customer service without that blood.  They are going to get that one way or another.  My request was simple, but I didn’t bring the blood.  I want to change cell phone carriers please.  

“Sure, no problem!  Let me just press some keys on this computer a bit,” the rep said to me.

“What does pressing keys do?” I asked.

“Oh, absolutely nothing!  I just like the sound of it.  Now, did you bring me any soul tainted blood?”

“No.  I did not.”

“Hmm, well that’s not good.  It looks like I can’t help you.  Maybe you can call back 10 or 12 times and then we can think about helping you.”

I tried getting smart after the 4th phone call.  They caught me.

“Sir.  Sir!  Calm down.  This is only the 4th time you’ve called and we still don’t have a blood deposit.  Please call back many more times before we will help you.”

My request was simple.  I just need my phone unlocked so that I can switch carriers.  A simple phone call, right?  We are not under any contract, have had the phone long enough, no problem.  Yeah, there are problems.

On the 7th call.

“Sir, your phone is already unlocked.”  I could hear this person, Athena, eating children while talking to me.

“No, it’s not.”  I’m checking the website now.  The new phone company has checked.  Nothing is unlocked.  

“Sir, I’m showing that it’s unlocked.”

“It’s not unlocked!”

“Are you saying that our computer system is wrong!”  I could hear Athena gulp down the limbs of the children and wash it down with the tears of a puppy.  “How dare you, sir!  How dare you!”  Then she hung up on me.  Seriously, that part is completely true, as well as the children eating bit.  

I tried begging on the tenth phone call.

“Please! (sob)  Please, for the love of God!  Help me!  Unlock my phone! (sob)”

“Are you crying?  Any chance you can gather those tears into a plastic bag and mail them to me, at your expense of course.”

“Yes, yes, whatever you want.  Please just unlock my phone.  I want to quit the phone company.  Please.”


I took to social media.  My wife posted to social media.  I called again and again.  I talked to supervisors.  I performed satanic rituals to summon phone unlocking gods.  I prayed to whoever would listen only to find out that no one was listening.  I emailed the CEO.  The fucking CEO.  I have not gotten an answer back.  

With a scratchy voice, deprived of the will to even eat a donut, I once again called after yet another email denying that my phone was unlocked while also assuring me that it was unlocked in the same sentence.  

“Beth.  Beth.  I need your help.  No one can help me Beth.  Please, unlock my phone so I can switch carriers.  Please Beth.  I can’t go on, can’t.

“Oh, your phone is unlocked.  No problem.  It’s been unlocked for a whole week actually.  You could have switched at anytime.  Isn’t that super?”   I hear Beth smile through crooked and evil teeth, the sound produced makes your heart flutter unevenly.   

“What?  Beth?  For realsies?”

“Yup.  For real.  Your blood deposit went through just fine.  Took a while but we got it.  Thank you for your business.”

Fuck you, Beth.  Fuck you.


I Want To Sleep

One of them opens the door.  I'm not sure which one at first because I refuse to open my eyes.  If I do that, that nice little sleep seal will be broken and then I will officially "Be up."  I don't want to be up.  The bed is warm, the down comforter perfectly placed around me to keep out any cold.  My pillows bunched up in just the right spot, with my head almost floating rather than laying on anything.

"Daddy!  Wake up!"  It sounds like the littlest one, the toddler.  He's the only one that calls me Daddy.  The other two call me "Hey" or "You".  I should spank more I think.  But "Daddy," said in that high pitched whine, we are clearly in little boy country

"No.  Go Away."  Simple and straight to the point.

"Wake up!"

"What time is it."  He's a toddler, he can't tell time.  Of course, I know this and that's why I asked him.  It's like asking a computer what the value of Pi is.  There is no answer.  He'll spin his wheels forever.
"Um," He says and then takes off, little feet slamming the carpet.  So loud, why do they have to be so loud in the morning?

It's summer.  Summer is for sleeping in and taking long naps.  It's one of the really great perks of being an at-home-dad.  I'm on duty 24/7, 365.  I'm never off.  I work until every little eyelid actually closes and doesn't open again.  I'm on at 3 am when one has a bad dream, doesn't feel well, or accidentally thought it was time to get up.  But in summer at least, we are all supposed to be able to sleep in.

I hear the feet come back in.  There are some other feet with it this time too.  Bigger, they make a larger sound.  I can feel the floor shake a bit as they come closer to the bed.  Seriously, are we stepping on bugs as we walk?  Maybe we are just trying to test out the floor joists, make sure they are stable?  There is no reason other than those that I can think of that would account for why there is an earthquake walking into my room.

"Dad."  It's the oldest one.  She has been summoned by the great and terrible toddler, destroyer of sleep.

"What."  I hope I sound surly.  I put a tinge of annoyance in my voice, made it a little louder than it's supposed to be.  I'm hoping that they can get the idea without me saying another thing.  They do not.

"It's 7:15.  Time to get up."

"No.  Go away."




"If I get up we are all going to do chores.  We are going to clean the garage and then do yard work.  When that's done, we are going to re-shingle the roof, give the dog a bath, and talk about the importance of saving your money in a volatile stock market."

My daughter leaves without saying anything.  I can feel her sigh though, that came through loud and clear.

"I'm hungry!"

Crap.  I forgot about the toddler.  He's still here.  

"Hungry!"  His little hands start smacking my face.  He's going for the eyelids.  I squeeze them tighter.  "Hungry!"  He's no longer speaking in sentences but as a native from a 1600's Carribean island greeting weary explorers.

"Go tell Bubba to get you a bowl of cereal."  I hear the little feet go away again, my eyes still closed, my comforter undisturbed.

What kills me is that during the school year I have to drag everyone out of bed.  They are slow moving, blankets held on to tightly like they are some sort of life line to the world of sleep.  They move at a speed that even a sloth would be disappointed in.  Breakfast is eaten even slower, milk dripping on the table, cereal over poured into bowls.  That's 9 months of the year.  And then summer comes and all of a sudden they turn into a bunch of god damn go-getters.  Can't waste a day, not a summer day!  There are things to do, youtube videos to watch, parts of the house to mess-up.  The day isn't truly seized until I have had to clean the kitchen 4 times before 5 pm.

More footsteps enter my room.  Softer, a bit quieter.  At least this one is showing some god damn respect, some decorum for the tired father that just wants ten more minutes.

"Dad." my older son says.  Nine but seems to at least have gotten the point that I will be more receptive to voices that are not demanding.


"We are out of milk."

"Use water."

"What?  Gross."

"Make some toast.  You guys can make toast without burning the house down."

"Oh, yeah.  Peanut butter toast!"  He runs away, hitting the doorjamb of my bedroom on the way out.  I feel the house shake again.  Shit, I'm going to really have to check the shingles now.

If I try really hard and believe in myself, I bet I can go back to sleep completely in five minutes.  Maybe I can make to 8 this morning, 9 if they decide to play video games.  They can play all morning as long as no one wakes me up.  It's win/win, a mutual beneficial situation.  More of a symbiotic relationship rather than the parasitic one.  Man, that's a dark analogy, isn't it.  But every parent knows that it is an apt one.  I should call my mom soon, see if she is up and would want to babysit tomorrow from 7 am to 9.

I hear the toddler scream, not one in pain but the one he uses when he's pissed.  There are words in that scream if you pay close enough attention.  It's a combination of "no," "stop" and the unformed "fuck you older siblings!"  But mostly, it's just screaming.

"No!  You sit down and stop screaming."  It's my daughter, her voice as loud as her stomping feet.

"Bacon!"  It's my other boy, weighing in for some reason.  And then "Sissy!"  He's just yelling at both of them.  I like my middle child, my son.  He's an equal opportunity blamer.

Then the crash, the bang, the thing breaking somewhere downstairs.  It could be a bowl, it could be a tray of ice cubes being thrown on the floor.  But more than anything it sounds like the garage needs to be cleaned up and the yard mowed.

Now my eyes snap open, the dim sunlight from my window making my vision a bit blurry.  I rub my eyes as I walk, I curse to myself as a I rub, I yawn as I curse.  School is two weeks away.

But so are afternoon naps.  Afternoon naps on a Tuesday is way better than sleeping in on a Monday.