Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Poodle Diaries

The last thing I expected to receive when I picked up our dog from the groomer was a handwritten note detailing the present condition of her vulva.

Don't get me wrong. I do care about our Poodle, Lily. Apart from occasionaly urinating on our carpets, she's just like one of our kids. In fact, over the years, she has probably urinated less on our carpets than the kids have.

We've used several different groomers since Lily joined our family seven years ago. One that we really liked required us traveling the backroads of our rural county thirty minutes one way, but four dollars a gallon for gas and two hours wasted shuttling a twelve-pound poodle for her tonsorial teasing are strong motivators to make a change.

When we finally found someone closer we trusted -- meaning the dog wouldn't look like she was attacked by rabid squirrels with trimmers, or come home missing a limb -- we were ecstatic. At first, we found our groomer's unsolicited medical advice helpful, since it led to us finding out Lily needed surgery for bladder stones.

The thing is, when I bring Lily to get groomed I'm not expecting a full cavity search and dental screening every time the shampoo bottle comes out. It's like when you bring your car to get the oil changed and they advise you to consider new wiper blades, an air filter, and a tire rotation. Chances are I'll smile and nod and completely ignore their advice. Same goes for the dog. I've brought her in to get the chocolate shake washed off her head, not to seek counsel from the Dog Whisperer.

In the past few months, we've been given heartfelt and well-intentioned mini-lectures about the importance of weight loss, tinged urine, underbelly tenderness, and loose stool. Time before last, I even went home with a couple of dirty Q-Tips in a plastic baggie. I'm pretty sure she said they were covered in earwax. At least, I hope that's what she said it was.

Now we've moved beyond the transient comments into documentation on the observed details of the dog's hoo-ha. I half expected the comment about Lily's swollen vulva to be attached to a police report and a rape kit from the Pinehurst CSI lab.

Maybe the Schnauzer around the corner has some explaining to do...

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Monday, June 27, 2011

"Want I Was Askew For"

By the time I was a kid, jokes about the lack of flying cars and other futuristic technologies dreamed of in the earlier parts of the 20th century were already pretty well worn out.

For all the advancements of science and engineering, I try to keep in mind that decades of hard work by hundreds of thousands of people to develop modern computers seem to have culminated in my children's ability to play Monopoly on our iPad instead of on foldable cardboard.

Sure, I can swipe a shard of plastic through a machine that automatically deducts the correct amount from my checking account, but it doesn't change the fact I still have to wait for an under-paid, under-trained, under-enthusiastic part-time employee at the RDU Airport Breugger's Bagels to charge me way too much for a poorly made turkey sandwich. And, yes, for the fifth time, I do NOT want mayonnaise!

In a day and age when we can send people to the moon -- which I should already be able to book for my next vacation, according to the prognosticators of the 1960s -- shouldn't I be able to list thousands of ways in which trillions of dollars of NASA research has improved my health and minimized my ecological footprint on the Earth? So far, all I have to show for it is powdered drinks, cordless power tools, and the hope that I'll never need anti-shock trousers.

Communication seems to be the aspect of life most significantly impacted by the wonders of technology. I can listen to any song, or watch any movie, on my iPod while I'm traveling across the country at roughly two-thirds the speed of sound. Just so long as I don't try to do it while we're taxiing to or from the gate, or right after we take off, or during the last few minutes of our flight. In fact, if my flight is a short one, it's best if I limit my iPod use to the terminal. I can scrape the mayonnaise off my bagel while P!nk encourages me to be expletively perfect.

Phones have come a long way, as well. I remember when my father hung our first non-rotary phone in the kitchen. It was amazing. I'm fairly certain the buttons lit up. It had a stretchy cord long enough for me sit around the corner in the living room. And when we got our first cordless phone? We might as well have been the Jetsons!

Now we have the joys of modern cell phones. Through audio, text, internet browsing, photo sharing, video feeds, live feeds, and triangulated satelite navigation, I can keep in constant contact with the world.

I can even begin typing a blog about the woman at Breugger's Bagels (who ignored me while I tried to get her to understand I wanted the Asiago bagel instead of the Asiago softwich) while I'm standing right there in front of her. Unfortunately, the intuitive auto correct keeps trying to change every other word. Here is a sentence auto correct helped me type: "If we spec. Half the time listener to what im staying I MIG just get want I was askew for."

I wonder if Gutenberg -- German printing press inventor Johannes Gutenberg, not semi-beloved American actor Steve Guttenberg -- could ever have imagined such automated efficiency?

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Monday, June 20, 2011

Getting Old(er)

"What are you doing?"

It was a fair question. The Italian was simply going about his day, probably hunting down his elusive iPod or glasses, when he came upon me lying on the floor in my bedroom. My back was pressed down on the carpet while my legs were as straight up the wall as possible, my right leg signicantly more bent than my left.

"I'm stretching out my hamstring," I told him.

He nodded and stared at me for several seconds before asking "Why?"

The honest answer, of course, is I'm getting to the age when simple things -- like crossing your foot under your butt and sitting on it for longer than ten minutes at a time -- can throw your back out for the rest of the week. In this instance, I was coping with the effects of having neglected to stretch either before or after my morning walk on the treadmill, which is what I told him.

"Oh," he said, and wandered away to continue with his life.

After swimming at the pool yesterday, my right shoulder was recovering from the shooting pain that followed the not-too-smart activity of flipping the kids out of their tubes. The boys weren't too bad, but Our Daughter is a full-fledged young adult. Why I thought I could flip her like she was still a 50-pound eight-year-old, I'll never know.

I was stretching my arm in several various poses that seemed to make the shoulder feel better when I noticed the Italian behind me.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

I explained to him how certain simple activities -- like lowering and raising the track of the foldable treadmill -- can cause more discomfort than an hour spent running at full speed on the darned thing. I explained how under certain circumstances, merely pulling a shirt over your head and twisting your arm in just that wrong way can send pins and needles shooting down to your fingertips and make you see stars.

"Oh," he said. I'm pretty sure was shaking his head when he walked away that time. It probably didn't help that I wasn't wearing a shirt.

Then today, while working in my office, I accidentally closed the desk drawer on my finger. I let out a little "ow" and gripped the tip of the pinched finger in my other hand. The Italian came over to see what my minor commotion was all about. He glanced down at my finger and then up at my grimacing face.

"What is it now?" he asked in a slightly disgusted tone.

It's going to be a long summer...

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Friday, June 17, 2011

Snaily! Oh, My Snaily!

There's something about the Mom creature that inspires the kinds of gifts not always showered upon their Dad counterparts. My Lovely wife and I have been parents exactly the same length of time, yet scattered throughout our house is an inequitable number of artifacts professing love for mother.

I dare to suggest our house is not unique in this way. Tour any home in which children reside and you'll see what I'm talking about. I guarantee, for every "#1 Dad" polyester tie hanging in the back of the closet you'll find seventeen "I Heart Mom" picture frames, three "World's Greatest Mom" coffee mugs, several bracelets sporting representations of the children (complete with matching birthstones), and a blanket covered with screen-printed images of the kids.

In fairness, one year I did receive a sweatshirt with the legend "Dad's Gang" stitched above likenesses of my children. Unfortunately, I'm a displaced Yankee living in North Carolina, so my annual window of opportunity to wear it is only three-and-a-half weeks long.

But you can keep all that Mom-biased, kitschy bric-a-brac that will be stored away in plastic bins on the other side of the basement once the kids go off to college. Of all the arts and crafts projects that have wandered in our door over the past fourteen years, only a few items rightfully deserve their permanent place in the china cabinet.

For starters, there's Bob The Big-Mouth Pirhana, created by the Italian in art class for Mother's Day. It is, without a doubt, the ugliest collision of clay and paint ever created, which is exactly what makes him so grotesquely adorable. The German's variation is strangely similar, just without the three-inch long teeth.

This May, the boys brought home a set of penguins. What penguins have to do with Mother's Day, I don't know. One year earlier they gave their mother Easter-themed bowls that, back in the 1970s, we would have called ash trays. As delightfully nonfunctional and irrelevant to the season as these figurines have been, there is one that holds the tightest grip on our hearts.

Snaily was one of the first ceramic misrepresentations of artistic expression to cross our threshold. He joined our family years ago when Our Daughter had her turn at elementary school arts. Along with Snaily came a lovely angel in a red dress, one wing slightly chipped, and a Cheerio-shaped halo propped atop her head.

As you can guess, My Lovely Wife was presented the adorable angel and I, in what I initially considered a "gotta give Dad something" concession, received Snaily. It seemed fitting. Mom gets an angel -- a representation of peace and love descended from the heavens -- and I get a gastropod. Take away the shell and it's a slug.

But out of the blue, a shower of oohs and aahs issued from My Lovely Wife. Something about Snaily tugged at her heartstrings and she immediately moved beyond coveting straight into laying false claim to my Snaily.

We continue to spar back and forth about Snaily. We often discuss what would become of Snaily should we ever divorce. I argue that since Snaily is mine he should go with me, but she says she'll fight for custody. I remind her, politely of course, it will be a cold day in hell before I agree to relinquish ownership. I guess we'll have to stay together for Snaily's sake.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sleep Tight

Rituals are funny things. They take over your life in ways you never expected, only to disappear with the slightest change in your routine.

We are ritualistic about breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We are ritualistic about waking the same time each weekday morning, showering at the same time, brushing teeth, walking the dog. We are ritualistic about hanging our clothes in the closet, or placing them always in the same spot in the same drawers of the dresser. T-shirts to the left, socks to the right, third drawer down.

Children require similar ritualistic behavior for their proper development and the parents' sanity. Perhaps the most important ritual, at least for the sake of our sanity, is bedtime.

Since Our Daughter was two months old, bedtime has been sacrosanct. It was important to us that she be able to put herself to sleep in her own bed without endless rocking, or a bottle, or us rubbing her back, and she obliged splendidly. Several years later, so did our sons.

As Our Daughter grew to become a communicative toddler, we changed from the "lay 'em down and let 'em sleep" approach to the bedtime story. I, or My Lovely Wife, would read to her from one of the many board books in her room. As she learned the meaning of the strange shapes on the page, she would read along with us.

After the book was finished and put away, I would delay the inevitable for a few more minutes. Invariably, she would ask me to make up a story of my own. We had a tendency to repeat the same story over and over, sometimes using her stuffed toys to act it out. I wish I could recall the details of the story, but it's probably all the better lost to time. I'm certain it wasn't anything all too creative. As the years progressed, the books grew more complex and the playful imaginings gradually were tucked away.

I must admit to both fretting over and longing for the end of the bedtime ritual for some time. While I wouldn't mind a few extra minutes at the end of my busy day, I don't know if I'm ready to trade the enjoyment of seeing my children off to bed for the simplicity of a peck on the cheek and a muttered "g'night" as they head to their rooms.

When Our Daughter turned thirteen last year, I suspected the end was at hand. After all, how many teenagers really want their fathers tucking them in every night? But she didn't stop tracking me down at the appointed time and dragging me off to do just that. At least, not straight away.

Little by little, here and there, the signs of change began to show. Several times during recent months, bedtime has come and gone without my noticing. When I finally realize it, I'll climb out of bed where I might have been dozing, or climb the stairs from the basement where I was working on my book, only to find the television and lights off, and her fast asleep in her bed.

Standing there in her doorway, taking stock of how the trinkets of childhood have been replaced by the necessities of teen life -- a hair dryer where a doll used to be, a computer desk where a toy chest once stood, makeup and jewelry gradually taking over the domains of Barbie and Polly Pocket -- I'm struck hard by the imminent death of a lingering ritual.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Monday, June 6, 2011

Yankee Bacon

My Lovely Wife and I are diametrically opposed when it comes to our internal thermostats. It isn't uncommon for her to dress in layers and carry a jacket on days when I'm ready to pack my shorts with ice cubes.

Historically, winter is for me, summer for her.

In college at Plattsburgh, NY, when the temperature broke into double digits, you traded out the really, really heavy jacket for just the really heavy jacket. Shorts and t-shirts came out as soon as the mercury topped 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

You learn things about your body in that kind of unreasonable coldness. For instance, your legs can handle 18-degree gusts of wind for the two-block walk from the dorm to the raquetball courts, but your arms can't. So, go ahead and wear the gym shorts just so long as your top half is wrapped in two t-shirts, a sweatshirt, a hemp hoodie, and a parka. If you're walking into the wind, hold your raquet like a groin shield to keep the giblets from freezing.

Yes, the Great White North was something I could figure out. Then I moved to North Carolina, which really wasn't a very smart thing for a pigmentally challenged person like me to do. Moving closer to the equator should require a permit process in which you answer a series of questions.

Do you burn easily? Yes.

Have you ever blistered? I get blisters on my blisters.

Do you ever tan? Does a faint gray hue count as a tan?

Have you ever burned on an overcast day in December? What year?

How many third-degree sunburns have you had? Third degree is for sissies.

You get the idea...

If you fail, you're assigned a southern-most latitude based on your paleness that you are not allowed to cross without signing some sort of waiver. Fail really big and you get free igloo construction training and a pamphlet about the many different uses of walrus blubber. Unfortunately, this process has yet to be implemented.

And while I've gotten smarter about slathering myself with sunscreen and wearing hats on sunny days, there have been plenty of times when I've ended up looking like a lobster and smelling like 190 pounds of Yankee bacon. The worst is when we've had other people's kids with us at the pool and severely underestimated their tolerance to the Carolina sunshine.

"Sorry we turned your kid into a bacon bit! She really enjoyed the water, until it started vaporizing when it came into contact with her skin..."

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Drawers For Their Drawers

Our twins are different from each other in almost every way. Hair color, eye color, height, body shape, facial features, personality, favorite foods. You name it, they don't share it.

Even their clothing is unique. The Italian wears mostly blue and the German mostly green. I can't recall exactly why those colors, but it very likely has something to do with the way green goes so beautifully with the German's red hair and green eyes. Blue for the Italian? Well, blue is a good color for boys and green was already taken.

We've never subscribed to the notion of purposefully dressing the boys in matching outfits. Not that it hasn't happened. It has. We simply don't go out of our way to treat our children like life-size dress up dolls. As they age, their tastes in clothing are gradually diverging. For instance, the Italian loves tattered clothes -- the holier the better -- while the German would surely throw away all his torn jeans if we didn't force him to keep a pair for knocking around in.

Several years ago, my Lovely Wife read (or heard, or saw) an interview with older twins who said the one thing that bothered them when they were children was having to share a birthday cake. That year, I made two identical Spider Man birthday cakes. For one pirate-themed party, one cake was a pirate ship and the other a pirate hat. This year we had one big ice cream cake with the Mythbusters logo on it. Hey, nobody's perfect...

Despite our best efforts to ensure each boy is afforded every opportunity to develop his own distinct personality, we have failed miserably in one critically important area. In their closet is a dresser that has a drawer full of community underwear.

There has been no "left side mine/right side yours" practice put in place in the underwear drawer. Britches get pulled willy nilly each day from a single stack, potentially alternating wearers on a regular basis.

As a normally responsible parent, I can justify to myself that it's all in the family, so what's the big deal? But when I consider it from the perspective of someone whose brain has not been warped by years of parenting twins, the skeeve factor of sharing underwear is undeniable. As the youngest of three brothers, I honestly cannot recall being handed a stack of my brothers' old Fruit of the Looms in all the years of hand-me-downs I had to endure. Bell bottom corduroys maybe, but never underwear.

So, what do we do? Do we initiate a discussion about the sanctity of the individual's right to sole ownership of undergarments, or do we let the issue alone until one of them (probably the German) complains?

And if we do separate their drawers into separate drawers, I might go into laundry meltdown. I already can't tell the difference between my wife's and daughter's clothes. How in the heck would I tell the difference between one ten year-old boy's underwear and another's? Check for racing stripes?

I'm open to suggestions, but I wouldn't mind waiting a little while, like until they go to college, to get this issue sorted out.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler