Monday, November 29, 2010

Photo Finished

I love a good photograph.

Every couple years we dress everyone in matching shirts, like the people in those horrible stock photos you find in new photo frames. We head to the mall in Durham and pose for seemingly endless snapshots. And going into it you know you're going to get real high-quality pictures only if by the end you're close to tears from yelling at your kids to stay still, smile, sit up, don't kick your sister, and for God's sake stop untucking your shirt!

Not that the fidgetiness is the children's fault. After all, you're the one who booked a lunchtime studio session and forgot to pack any fishy crackers or YooHoos. If they've turned into whining little ankle biters it's only because they haven't eaten since 7:00am and their blood sugar levels have dipped well out of "cranky" and deep into "monstrous."

More often than not, the camera man or woman works some kind of magical charm and we end up taking home four hundred dollars worth of pictures of the very same people we see every day.

Not so tonight, however.

In a manner quite uncharacteristic to our frequently well-planned approach to life in general -- or I should say, my Lovely Wife's well-planned approach, since I am more like a clusterbomb of disorganization -- we didn't even begin coordinating our attire for our 4:50pm photo session until somewhere between 4:00pm and 4:10pm.

I should point out we were not driving the hour-and-a-half to Durham this time. The photo session was at our church in Southern Pines, just fifteen minutes away, and the ultimate goal of the session was to produce a single church-directory-worthy picture of our five-person clan. We accomplished that goal but it didn't stop the photographer from snap-happily clicking away another couple dozen times to try and produce that gem of a picture we wouldn't be able to help but buy fifty copies of for all of our relatives, living and deceased.

While we had a great time taking the pictures, once we sat down to view the results we immediately began tearing them apart.

"My left eye is closed," our Darling Daughter said about one.

"Why does he look like a possessed demon in half the pictures," I said of the Italian.

"My arms look so fat," my Lovely Wife complained. "Do I have my mother's arms?"

"Your arms are nothing, look at my big floppy ears!" I said. "Those things don't stop growing 'til you're dead!"

In some of the pictures it looked like the German was recovering from a stroke that left him able to smile with only half his face. In almost every picture I was smiling so hard you could see more gums than teeth. And there wasn't a single picture in which we all appeared comfortable. We looked more like the poster family for some new hemorrhoid cream.

But my favorite picture was the one with just me and my true love of eighteen years, my Lovely Wife. With me sitting and her standing with her arm around my back, it looked like I was her terminally ill husband and she was propping me out of my sickbed for one last shot to send the grandkids before throwing me in a pine box. Even the expression on my face suggested I might be dangerously close to needing a change of diaper or a fresh colostomy bag.

If nothing else, this round of photos proved I need to stand at least eight feet back from the rest of my family to appear in proportion with them. Either they are tiny people with tiny heads, or I am a lumbering oaf with a head the size of a prize pumpkin.

From now on, we'll leave the family portraits to the professionals -- the nineteen-year-old college kids who run the franchise shop at the mall.

© 2010 Mark Feggeler

Friday, November 19, 2010

The First Break

About a week ago, the German fell and broke his thumb. Being the diligent child he is, he didn't break just any old bone, he broke the growth plate -- the part of the bone structure responsible for ensuring his thumb develops properly along with the rest of his body.

As a caring parent whose responsibility it is to ensure the safety and well-being of my children, I responded accordingly when he entered the house holding his hand and crying.

"Can you move your thumb?"

"It's just swollen. You probably just sprained something."

"It'll be okay with a little ice. Or is it heat? I'll look it up online."

"Go show your mother."

Unfortunately, my Lovely wife's responses were amazingly similar to mine. We iced his hand and by the next morning some of the swelling had improved but he still babied his hand and didn't seem able to move his thumb with full range of motion. So, we did what all concerned parents should do -- we spent the day shopping in Fayetteville and took the entire family to play indoor laser tag.

By the next morning, it was obvious we couldn't rely on a "time heals all wounds" approach. After going to school to participate in the Veteran's Day program -- hey, he had a line to perform -- I signed him out and brought him to the family practice our children have gone to since our Darling Daughter was born 13 years ago. Sad to say, it seems we need to change practices. Not only did they leave it to us to find an orthopedist who would take our insurance, they ushered us out the door with crappy x-rays and no sort of treatment or stabilization whatsoever for the German's hand. I'll leave it at that because I'm still too pissed to write about it without excessive use of foul language.

Fortunately, we located an outstanding orthopedist who took our son's injury seriously. After a thorough exam, followed by a three-dimensional CAT scan of the injured hand, our second meeting resulted in the confirmation the German would require surgery to realign the bones and insert a pin to hold them in place. What the swelling had hidden and the standard x-rays did not show was how his thumb was off kilter by 35-degrees.

Now, both my Lovely Wife and I are free-cryers. You give us half a reason to well up and we unashamedly will. Just the thought of the German being admitted to the hospital was enough to choke me up.

When the time came early Thursday morning to bring him to Outpatient admitting, I was concerned about our ability to hold it together in front of him. The last thing anyone -- especially a 9-year-old boy being wheeled through a hospital for his first ever surgery -- needs is to be surrounded by blubbering idiots over-reacting to everything anyone wearing scrubs has to say.

"He'll need to wear this gown."

"A gown?"

"And when we take him back we'll take him in a wheelchair."

"A wheelchair?!"

"Here's the remote for the television."

"Remote?!?!?! Waaaaaaaaaaaah..."

But we held together well, even when we entered the staging area and they inserted the intravenous line into the back of his right hand. The German was amazing. He watched the entire process like it was a documentary on the Discovery Channel. When I looked at my Lovely Wife, I could see the tears beginning to build in her eyes. At last, was I finally being given the opportunity to lose control?

As it turns out, no.

Not long after the IV went in, the nurse added some "happy juice" to the flow. Several seconds later another nurse asked Nathan why he was there. He lifted the cast to his face, stared at it blankly, and finally answered, "I lost track of everything."

We couldn't help laughing.

The nurse turned to us instead for answers to her questions. The German interrupted a couple times with seemingly disassociated comments such as "Max-A" and "Nellcor," both of which were written on the pulse oximeter taped to his index finger. Little did we realize that general anasthesia could be the solution to his dyslexia.

In the end, our brave little man made it through the entire day without an "ouch," a whimper, or any apparent fear. Most shocking is that his Mother and I made it through without a single tear.

© 2010 Mark Feggeler

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What Price Movie Night?

Let's set the record straight from the get go: we are a Disney-loving family.

We've spent enough money on Disney movies, vacations, toys, clothing and other assorted paraphernalia that our children ought to be entitled to Disney-funded college scholarships. When we travel to Disney World, we schedule and map the experience ad nauseam. We know which park we are visiting on what day, where we will be eating at exactly what times, and we carry a customized itinerary with us lest we forget.

Some time in early 2011 we will board the brand new Disney Dream -- our first Disney cruise. Not that we're obsessing, but my Lovely Wife and I have read every blog post and watched every snippet of construction video Disney has thrown out to the cyber world. I could probably walk the ship, bow to stern, with my eyes closed and tell you exactly where I was.

Such is our fascination with and admiration for all things Disney.

So, when the German and the Italian selected a classic Disney feature cartoon for our family movie night this evening, I was suitably pleased. Which one did they pick? No, not Cinderella. Not Dumbo, either. Not even Jungle Book. The Italian nominated and the German seconded The Sword in the Stone.

Released in 1963, The Sword in the Stone was the last animated feature released while Walt Disney was still alive. It was a financial success at the time and fairly well received by the critics. Of course, this was only one year before Gilligan's Island premiered on national television and won the hearts of millions, which goes to show even fifty years ago you couldn't put much stock in public opinion.

It might seem strange to those of us too young to recall but the Disney studios did not always sustain the film-a-year average the company has maintained since 1985. At the time of its release, The Sword in the Stone was only the third animated feature film from Disney since 1955's magical Lady & the Tramp, and it would be another four years before the release of the passable Jungle Book. This makes it all the stranger to me that the film should lack not just one or two, but all the ingredients that make other Disney films delightful. You'd think with that much time to pull the project together it would work on at least one level.

But our sons had happily and jointly selected the mercifully short film for our viewing. Although I know they were more excited about the prospect of a shared family experience than which movie we ended up watching, I still didn't want to hurt their feelings by ragging on the film they had picked. I remember my younger days spent playing songs for all in the house to hear and thinking how much fun everyone else must be having listening to my music. Doesn't everyone want to hear "The Tennessee Birdwalk," "You Can't Roller Skate In a Buffalo Herd," or the flip side of the "New Zoo Review" album for the millionth time?

If my parents could humor me way back then, then I can do the same for my children now, especially when all they really want is to snuggle up next to us and share an hour or two. Unfortunately, our love for our children didn't make the movie any less painful to watch. After 79 minutes of horrendous story-telling, screeched dialogue, and mind-bogglingly disassociated musical interludes, the only reward necessary for our time served was the smiling faces of our boys as they thanked us for letting them climb into our bed for a movie night.

© 2010 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rug Doctor No More!

Each year -- when just the right amount dirt, grit, blood, vomit, dog pee and food stains have ravaged our contractor-grade beige carpets -- we run to the local grocery store and rent the Rug Doctor.

Renting the Rug Doctor is no small task. The machine itself is awkwardly heavy with a bizarre weight distribution. No matter how I position myself, I've yet to lift one into my van without later thinking "I shouldn't have done that."

Then you have to buy all the chemicals. You really need only two chemicals but they sucker you into buying the spot remover for pre-treating those tough, set-in stains. I'm sorry, but if dragging a fifty-pound monster that spews soap and hot water, abuses the carpet with rotating scrubby death, then sucks out the dirty water with the power of a jet engine doesn't get out the spot, neither will a few extra squirts from a nine-dollar bottle of the same exact soap.

The main two chemicals you need are the cleaning solution and the anti-foaming agent, although I've never understood the anti-foaming bit. I know you put it in the dirty water collection container to keep the dirty water from sudsing over and wrecking the Rug Doctor, but I can't help feeling foolish spending $20 for a chemical whose sole purpose is to keep the shampoo I just spent $40 on from foaming. Seems cosmically counter-productive to me.

And for all the size, weight and girth of the machine, it has a really small bladder. Seriously, I've known hamsters with greater constitutions. Seems like every three sweeps along the carpet requires either the emptying of the dirty water or the refilling of the cleaning solution.

Anyway, as the title of this post suggests, we no longer need to rent the Rug Doctor. It can stay forever chained in its cage at the grocery store with its siblings.

We are now proud owners of the Bissell ProHeat CleanShot 2x. For $200, we were able to purchase not only our liberation from the rentable monstrosity -- which, let's face it, probably holds lingering traces of a hundred other families' grit, grime and spilled fluids -- but also the freedom to deep clean our carpets at whim.

With a carefree filling of a tank with water and the loading of only one concentrated cleaning solution, we are free to attack whatever carpet-contaminating catastrophe comes our way.

The best part? No anti-foaming agent!

© 2010 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dancing Away From Monkeys

We humans like to think of ourselves as advanced beings, intellectually superior to other animals, granted dominion over the creatures of land, sea and sky by a higher power. How can we not be superior?

Take a look at your typical domesticated canine, for instance. Despite a rich history of anthropomorphisizing the skills and talents our beloved best friends, what can we point to as being their greatest accomplishment? The most advanced thing our poodle can do is flip her empty food bowl around to let us know she's hungry. That and a reasonably sound mastery of her bowel movements are really all she has to her credit.

Some domestic pets aren't even that smart.

Years ago I had a teddy bear hamster name Bologna. I was all he had. If not for me, he would have slept in pea-soaked shavings surrounded by mounds of his own poop, foraging for his own little pellets of food. I kept him clean and fed, bought him a wheel and a plastic ball to run around in, and even lavished him with special treats. The worst thing I ever did to him was name him Bologna. But every time the evil little fluff ball could, he'd bite me.

I suppose you could say I should have learned the "once bitten, twice shy" lesson but I stubbornly waited for him to learn the "don't bite the hand that feeds you" lesson. Neither of us gave in, but since the lifespan of a healthy teddy bear hamster is only three years, you could say I won out simply by the fact of not being a hamster.

However, while my life expectancy might dwarf that of a semi-exotic rodent, a recent exercise in corporate team building got me wondering just how far our species has danced away from monkeys, as a commentator on BBC America Radio recently described the evolutionary process.

If you've never participated in a high ropes course, let me explain it for you. Imagine your basic playground jungle gym. Now bring it into the woods, feed it anabolic steroids for a few months, hang some ropes from the highest points, and there you go. Throw in a couple tons of dangling logs, a few rock-climbing walls, and some port-a-johns to complete the scene. The entire complex looks like a minimalist Cirque du Soleil stage.

Despite the safety of the groin-compactors the instructors like to call harnesses, it's difficult for me to be comfortable with the idea of trusting a group of people that can't manage to turn in weekly reports on time, or even agree on how they should be filled out.

Honestly, we can't retain basic instructions long enough to properly carry out the most basic of our job responsibilities, so why exactly am I supposed to be satisfied with a four-minute review on the importance of belaying? Doesn't the instructor realize most of us are too focused on trying to pry 3-inch wide straps of canvas out of our asses to understand what she's saying about climbing safety?

In order to survive the day -- by which I mean avoiding a scene in which I am peer-pressured forty feet into the air by a boisterous mob of cheering adrenaline junkies -- I volunteered to be one of the first to go up the rock-climbing wall. When finished with that, I climbed a ladder to a thing that looked like two obese telephone poles mating in mid-air while dangling from an unreasonably thin wire.

Although my success was middling with both events, I admit to finding the experience invigorating. It seems preposterous the amount of satisfaction, and splinters, one can get from climbing a pole. All good things do come to an end, unfortunately, and once high enough for my liking I asked to be lowered to the ground.

The most entertaining part of the day for me was listening to one of my coworkers proclaim the animal-like qualities of the strong performers. One team member who scrambled to the top of a pole in a matter of seconds was praised as having the climbing skills of a lemur, while another was matter-of-factly labeled a spider monkey.

I'm not sure what animal my attempts might have called to mind. Probably not something too complimentary but I think I'm okay with that. My feet were designed for flat surfaces, not the rough rounded edges of towering obstacle courses. Let the lemurs and spider monkeys of the world have their fun scaling heights and leaping into the great abyss tethered only to a vague hope in humanity and a first-time belayer.

I'll keep my feet on the ground and ponder whether some of us haven't danced a little farther away than others.

© 2010 Mark Feggeler