Monday, October 24, 2011

March On By

Sitting in the shadows of towering pines on a raw North Carolina Saturday, the autumn sun setting low behind chilled metal bleachers as our boys struggle to keep from spilling hot chocolate on their lap blankets, the impending end to our first season of high school marching band lies only one week away.

Like many of the phases in the lives of parents, our introductory season as marching band volunteers in support of Our Daughter and her classmates came upon us with a bang, only this time the literal bang of a bass drum. The responsibilities ahead appeared daunting at first. Then, before we knew it, we were in the thick of things, learning as we went. Now that we feel as though we have finally figured it all out, it is time to forget everything we've learned and move on to the next phase.

If the hours and days dedicated to the marching band seemed long to us, they were twice as taxing for our diligent flautist. She learned to march in step with more than one hundred bandmates without missing a beat of the fifteen-minute program they all memorized. My Lovely Wife and I learned how to manage parking at band competitions, prep water stations, and set up pit equipment such as marimbas and drum major stands. We dedicated a few Saturdays and Friday nights. She forfeited several hours after school twice a week since the beginning of the school year. She had to choose between band and ballet. So long to toe shoes and "Nutcracker" recitals, hello to marching in the cold and rain on muddy fields.

The amount of preparation and work that goes into a single marching band performance at a single high school football game is remarkable. One week of summer camp for incoming freshman. Another week of summer camp for the entire band. Monday and Wednesday after school rehearsals until 6:00pm, if not later. Finally escaping home football games at 10:30pm, or returning from band competitions at 11:00pm, only to meet up with friends over tater tots and milkshakes at Sonic Drive In for another hour before wending wearily home.

I can say that while I will miss the activity, I'll appreciate the newfound down time. Frantic flurries of activity can be fun, but they are weak substitutes for quality time. The time has come for the kids to put down their instruments, shove aside the extra workload, and return to the already challenging task of being high school students.

And despite how impressed I have been with the quality of the music the band has created, I will not miss the "Sound of Music" medley they have performed so incessantly that they all surely must be afflicted by nightmares in which a green-and-gold clad Julie Andrews chases them across Austrian mountainsides with a Sousaphone. I've heard "Edelweiss" so many times it makes my butt itch. I can only imagine how the high schoolers who have to play it over and over must feel.

So, although an important chapter for our high school freshman is coming to a close, we will savor a final performance this coming Saturday as the marching band competes one last time. The friendships Our Daughter has forged will carry her through the remainder of the year. And before she even realizes it, we'll be driving her to the 2012 marching band summer camp.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Have a Question

The Italian speaks quickly, determined to make his point and move on like a rapid-fire Nerf gun to the next on his list of discussion topics. He doesn't hold back. Ever.

He talks during the favorite song you're struggling to hear. He talks during dinner. He talks while watching television. He talks to himself in the shower. He talks when using the computer. He even talks when he's talking, sometimes tripping one conversation over another in his haste to express all the thoughts in his head.

In terms of vocabulary, the Italian has the best developed of the five people under our roof. He reads semi-voraciously -- a fourth grader reading at an eighth grade level -- and has the retention of a steel trap, so his stockpiled arsenal of words is varied and vast.

The German is more reserved. He often assumes a distant role, allowing others to take the lead in the doing while he absorbs through observation. No less intelligent than his twin brother, he is deceptively inquisitive. Make no mistake: his silence and the faraway look in his eyes are a facade.

When he does speak it is with great deliberation and lengthy pauses. Whether due to his dyslexia, or simply to a naturally laconic nature, discussions with the German require patience and assistive prompting when he's searching for the correct word or the best way to express a thought. On those rare occasions the German has something to say, it's important to brace yourself for the conversational equivalent of something akin to a cross between twenty questions and Mad Libs.

There are two ways in which these conversations begin. More often than not, he'll walk quietly up to you and state "I have a question."

When this happens, there is only a fifty-fifty chance of being posed a question to which he does not know the answer. It can often be a thinly veiled ploy to draw you into a conversation, or to get you to explain basic details, about something you've already discussed.

His other frequent conversation starter arrives in the form of a question. "Guess what?" the German will ask and wait for you to inquire.

Sixty percent of the time he will enlighten you about some nugget of information he learned during the course of his day. Thirty percent of the time he will recall some shared experience to reminisce about it with you. Ten percent of the time, by the time you respond to his "Guess what," he will have forgotten what it was he wanted to tell you.

But don't worry when that happens. If you're still in the mood for a conversation, all you have to do is find the Italian. Just follow the sound of his voice.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bra Shopping in the Laundry Room

So, I'm stepping into clean underwear after taking a shower. Almost immediately, it becomes apparent this simple first step of dressing myself will not end successfully.

My foot barely makes it through the leg hole and all progress stops halfway up my thigh. A fleeting sensation of disorientation leaves me wondering if the world is shrinking, or if I've suddenly ballooned out of my wardrobe.

Then I notice the lettering across the waistband does not match that of the brand I typically wear. These are Hanes, whereas the looms I prefer yield fruit. Clearly, I am attempting to wear my son's underwear. About time, too.

Not that I enjoy stress testing the elastic in other people's clothing, but it's reassuring to know I'm not the only one who mistakenly sends the wrong under garments to the wrong members of the family. Even though the boys stand far below my height, their clothes are entering that gray zone of no longer being so radically different from mine that they are easily distinguishable as children's clothes. What this means is I can soon look forward to the wrong socks, wrong jeans, wrong shoes, and even the wrong Disney t-shirts cluttering up my closet and dresser.

Over the past few years, as Our Daughter inconveniently and deliberately matured into a variation of My Lovely Wife, it became difficult for me to determine which garments belonged to whom. I really did give it my best effort at first, but now I try not to waste too many brain cells on something I'm likely to get wrong anyway. When the only significant difference between two bras coming out of the laundry is color of material, it's a hopeless cause.

The best thing to come out of it has been the indirect reinforcement of an earlier mandate to stop placing bras in the dryer. Since my underwear has never been nearly so finicky about the drying process as theirs, I initially struggled to follow this rule.

These days, I search dilligently for brassieres before shifting wet clothes from the washing machine to the dryer. I hang them on pegs around the laundry room so they can air dry, leaving me free of the difficulties of sorting them later and allowing the ladies of the house to shop through the laundry for them at their leisure.

I just hope there's enough room for all our tidy whities once the boys get to be my size.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Naughty Bits

I've discovered the key to bloggerific internet success and I'm ready to share it with you. Lean close to your computer screen and I'll whisper it in your ear.

A little closer.


Here it is. Don't tell anyone, okay?

Naughty words.

You must understand how foolish I felt upon discovering this simple truth after having spent the past two years worrying about the content of my blog posts. Content, feh! What good has it done me to fret over wording, context, grammar and style? Where is the reward for baring my soul (or at least my chocolate cravings) to the world?

Had I known all this time that the key to driving traffic to my silly blog lie in the placement of a few carefully combined mischievous morphemes in the title of each post, I would have scoured the world to quarry a collection of indecorous utterances for just that purpose.

Forget about sentimental stories of my children and Lovely Wife. Forget humorous rants about whatever might be striking my fancy on any given day. Forget, again, any rules learned through years of schooling and professional practice regarding sentence structure and supporting a thesis. They all have led me nowhere in a great big hurry.

Blog post titles such as "Toilet on the Edge," "Pink Snuggie Thief," and "Sissy Hissy Fit" also have not paid off in comparison to the value of the time spent creating them, especially when compared to the traffic generated by two little words in the title of one recent post. What are those two words?

Naked Midgets.

Back on August 11th, I published a post titled "Frilly Beds & Naked Midgets." The post initially received the same immediate response most of my posts receive. There seemed to be nothing remarkable about it. I wrote it, some friends and family read it, and we all moved on with our lives.

But two months later it has not died. It is the most visited post of the 130 I've written so far, with a 60% lead on the next closest post. Each and every day it receives at least one more hit. Think I'm exaggerating? A quick check of the stats shows exactly 31 surfers finding this blog in the last 30 days because they searched for those words and only those words.

So, with the data seemingly backing up my hasty hypothesis, I fully intend from this moment forth to craft salaciously suggestive titles for all future blog posts, regardless of the content. Keep an eye open for my next post, "Chunky Butts."

I don't know what it will be about, but I guarantee it'll rocket to the top of the charts!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Lullaby for Mr. Mushpie

In the book Holes, the mother of one of the main characters sings a lullaby to her tweenage son. It's a touching moment that was not lost on our boys earlier this week as we came to the end of the novel during one of our nightly reading sessions.

I did my best to craft a melody for the lyrics the author had written. The German smiled sweetly and the Italian hid his face under his bedcovers as I sang. The book was closed to the muffled sounds of sniffling.

The German is not typically mischievous, but his reaction to his brother's sudden bout of sentimentality was to find a way to draw out a few more tears by asking if I would treat them to one of the songs I used to sing before they grew too big for lullabies. The Italian immediately protested.

When our children were infants, my primary defense against a baby too cranky to fall asleep was to sing. You'll never see me on American Idol, or even at a local karaoke night, belting out showtunes and crooning ballads. My ability to carry a tune surpasses only my natural athletic ability, if only because I have no natural athletic ability.

Sometimes I would hum a simple melody while cradling one of them in the crook of my arm. A gentle swaying kept them mesmerized by the passing blur of the ceiling above. Other times a proper song with distracting words was necessary to make the tiny bologna loaves focus on my face and the sound of my voice to help them drift away to dreamland. The song wouldn't end until they were resting peacefully in their cribs or pack 'n play.

One song became my go-to staple in the battle against unsleepy babies: "Hymn," a 1997 song by Jars of Clay. I didn't abuse it. Only if other methods failed would I summon its otherworldly power to drain the fight and fuss from an irritable infant. Several years later the song "Evermore" by Alison Krauss joined the evening bedtime playlist. When the German asked for a lullaby the other night, it was one of these two songs he wanted to hear.

"I hate those songs!" the Italian declared.

He doesn't really hate them. In fact, they move him so deeply that he can't keep from crying when they are played or sung. I have the same reaction to the song "When Somebody Loved Me" from the movie Toy Story 2. Wherever I am, whatever I'm doing, whatever mood I'm in at the time, that song can melt me into a pool of tears.

"Evermore" wreaks such emotional havoc on the Italian that it once was responsible for a last-minute counseling session. He would play a game during which he would tell me he loved me to the value of ten. Without skipping a beat he would then say he loved his mother to the value of eleven. I would feign shock and sadness. One night, after he had hit the joke pretty hard, I sang "Evermore" as they crawled into bed. Tears soaked his pillow even before I reached the end of the first chorus. When asked what was wrong, he cried: "I didn't mean it. I love you both the same!"

So, when our troublesome Teutonic redhead requested a command performance of their lullabies the other night, I deferred to the Italian's protests and issued a 24-hour warning to expect the songs the following night.

The advance notice definitly helped. He needed only one tissue to get through both songs.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler