Tuesday, March 29, 2005

#30 - Debt Is as Debt Does

Being a normal family, Mrs. Woody and I deal with debt. It's not that we're big spenders, by any means (and I do mean any means). We've just had circumstances over the years that have kept us in the gunsights of a couple of credit cards. Fortunately, both cars are paid off (210K miles on the Honda and counting!) and things are looking up. I measure this in the decided lack of nag calls from creditors. The smarmy ones where the friendly computer calls you and expects you to "hold" for a "very important message" from one of their representatives. I've written elsewhere about computerized phoning, which I consider to be a terrorist activity subject to provisions of the Patriot Act.

Anyway, we have debt, but it's not a real issue at the moment.

So, explain to me why having a fine on our library cards can cause such a panic?

I have successfully put off any number of creditors over the years. I've been harangued by the experts. I have stared down (figuratively, of course... they never show their faces) such luminaries as Bank of America, Ameriquest, and MBNA. I have pooh-pooohed Discover and American Express. I can even hold off my utilities for a week or two until my next paycheck arrives and I can keep them from disconnecting us.

But levy a fine on my library card, and the world comes to an immediate and complete halt.

It's no secret that Mrs. Woody and I are dedicated homeschoolers. That is to say, Mrs. Woody is a dedicated homeschooler, and Woody provides vital services such as being a taste-tester of questionable culinary creations. Mrs. Woody is, however, the Headmistress of our academy, and the Woodyettes are her devoted students. Part of Mrs. Woody's game plan has always included a weekly trip to our local library. Our particular branch has a terrific children's librarian named "Miss Regina," and she does a weekly story night that the kids love. We also have a steady supply of library books in our house. The Woodyettes (7 and 5) are both avid readers. They're very much into series like "A to Z Mysteries" or "Magic Tree House." "American Girl" is a perrenial favorite. They've been reading "Little House...," "Nate the Great," and all things Potter.

Last night I took the girls to Story Night. While they listened to Miss Regina read stories about dinosaurs, I was at the checkout desk pleading for my life. "I have come to redeem myself from Purgatory," I said. The librarian chuckled and said, "Here to pay a fine, hm?"

I was in no position to quibble. Our library cards are the only things standing between us and an Amazon.com-induced bankruptcy.

I gladly - even gratefully - paid the fine. It was unusually hefty since we got caught in a web of circumstance that prevented us from getting our books returned for something like two whole weeks past their date. Still, seeing how excited the girls were at being able to check out some books that they really, really, reeealllly, pleeeeeeeze Daddy can I get this one, pleeeeze, pleeeeze, pleeeeeeeze! wanted was worth every penny. All 1,920 of them.

You can't put a price on a reading child.

Friday, March 25, 2005

#29 - Grandpa Blogging!

The Inner Dad also has a secret life as The Inner Grandpa.

I've always enjoyed my family dynamics. Seems I never do anything the easy (or, at least, traditional) way, and putting my family together has been no exception.

I served for awhile as a Sunday School teacher, working with the 16 through 18 year olds. I actually enjoyed that calling, because they were old enough to get most of my humor. Kids need to get my humor if they're going to learn anything from me, and I don't always remember to make it age appropriate. Just a week ago I substituted in Woodyette Number One's Primary class and had the kids rolling on the floor, but that may have been because their little heads were about to implode.

In that Sunday School class, I one day introduced the concept of family. I started off by saying something like, "I have three children (Woodyette Number Two was still in the oven at this point). My first child is younger than my oldest child and my youngest child was my first experience with pregnancy."

[Wait a beat or two...]

"Before I married Mrs. Woody I was an adoptive parent."

[Lights go on.]

"Ooooh! You were married before and adopted your kids!"

But you should have seen their faces before I explained myself.

Anyway, the truth is that I have two other children from my first (or "starter," as Mrs. Woody puts it) marriage. My son is 17-going-on-making-his-father-89 years old. He lives with his Mom and has a step-Dad, who, as far as I'm concerned, came from Smallville. As parents I salute them for being able to deal with this hormone-explosion who carries my name and causes most of my gray hairs. He's a good kid, but this is a tough age.

My oldest child came to us as a teenage foster child. We knew instantly that she was a perfect fit with our family, but had to wait until she turned 18 to do an adult adoption. She married a terrific young man in the Air Force, and they are currently stationed in Washington, D.C. They have a daughter who is every bit as adorable as her mother was (um, is!) and who also happens to be a year older than my older Woodyette. Confusing, I know, but at least it gives me something to talk about at church socials.

My granddaughter just turned 9. Her Mommy called me the other day to tell me that she is doing her very first science project. Grandpa couldn't be more tickled. There's a kind of poetic justice in watching your child go through the same hoops she put you through whenever a project or report was needed at school. It just feels... good.

The topic, in this case, is the solar system, and my granddaughter is doing a poster on Saturn. Good choice. I've been happy with mine ever since we drove it off the lot. [Rim shot.] She struggles a little with memory, and this has been a great way to motivate her to remember details. "How many moons?" Mommy asks. "About 30!" she enthuses. Grandpas love to hear that sort of stuff.

So, my daughter knows that Grandpa wants photos of the poster and a complete debriefing after the fair. She has a digital camera now, so no excuses! Grandma Woody (heh!) will likely put them in a scrapbook sometime soon.

I don't get to see them too often nowadays, but I can still participate.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

#28 - Help! I've Been Annied!

Among the countless things a person might enjoy on a Saturday, you might not think going to an elementary school production of "Annie" would be one of them. I certainly didn't think so.

For one thing, I burned out on "Annie" years ago. It came out at the height of my Cynical Period as I was between high school and going on a mission for the church. Suddenly, the entire country was inundated with "Annie" wannabes. At least half of them lived in my home town of Simi Valley. At least half of them appeared to be LDS.

Not long after my mission our stake put on a production of Broadway vignettes, one of which was (surprise!) "Annie." My parents and I split music director duties, and Mom drew "Annie" duty. Whew! A couple of years later, as I was entering my starter marriage, I was asked to assist Dad as an assistant musical director for a touring company version of "Annie." In a rare moment of lucidity, I bowed out before the production actually toured. They folded a year or so later after lawsuits killed the production. Seemed "Annie" was still a "hot" property even a year or so after the movie came out, and the copyright holders were none too pleased that anyone (even from Podunk, USA) would dare to compete with the "official" touring company.

By that time I had long since had my fill of precocious little girls with the lung capacity of a dirigible.

Skip ahead a couple of decades. My own precocious little girls (same lung capacity, but much more shy!) both enjoy "Annie." They have the 1982 version of the movie in their catalog. This is the version that Leonard Maltin called "claustrophobic," and I have never disagreed with him on that point. I can watch it, oh, once every two or three years without getting nauseous. You know that cutesy scene in "You've Got Mail" where the little girl sings (badly) "Tomorrow?" Hurl time.

So, given all that, you can imagine my trepidation at watching an elementary school production of this over-hyped musical, especially given that my own kids don't (and won't ever) attend public school. Not once, but twice. On the same day.

Woodyette the Elder has two little friends from church who do happen to attend this particular elementary school. They have become good friends over the past year, and the Woodyette's one regret is that she can't play with her friends during recess. They all go to a book club that meets at a local library every week. Mrs. Woody thought it would be a good show of friendship to have the Woodyettes go to the show and support their friends. It was decided that all of us would go to the afternoon show to see one friend (the show had two casts to accomodate all the kids) and then the older Woodyette would return that evening with one parent or another to see the other friend.

From the moment the lights went down and the canned music began, I found myself being strangely entranced by the entire experience.

If I were to look at the whole thing from a strictly critical point of view, it would have been a complete disaster. In the first show, key characters mumbled lines, cues were dropped, "Annie" didn't quite have the top notes required for the role, and the staging was fairly wooden. Not surprising given the fact that they had to get 50 or more kids on stage during the production numbers and give them something to do other than perform personal hygiene for parents and family (and a few hundred others) to see.

Still, once the house had been called, the actor in me - the one who has performed in more than a handful of community theater productions over the years - got into the show. Generally speaking, when I witness a bad production of anything, I feel embarrassed for the performers. My worst nightmare is to be in a production that falls flat for any reason. In this case, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the fact that the kids were up there having the time of their young lives. It didn't matter to me that most of them looked like deer in the headlights at one point or another. When it came to crunch time, they went through their moves with all the precision of the Keystone Cops without a rehearsal.

I loved it. Twice, even.

So, the next time an elementary school decides to do a production of some hackneyed, full-of-itself musical, I'll probably buy a ticket.

Maybe even two.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

#27 - A Mind of Woodyette's Own

Woodyette the Elder has decided to blog.

She's been bugging Daddy for weeks now to have a blog of her very own. Being not-quite-eight, I haven't really given it much thought, but she's been persistent. So, Daddy finally helped her create one.

Announcing: Jelly Woodyette

There's a whole insider-only explanation about "Jelly." That's a polite way of saying you won't hear about it here.

So, she'll be coached on such wonderful stuff as privacy issues and appropriate content (such a concern at this age!) and then... PUBLICATION.

The world may never be the same.

I know I won't.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

#26 - There I Spied Her

"Where do you think you're going?" I asked her. She appeared to be struggling, as if not sure where she was or where she needed to go. I regarded her with pensive eye.

"Slippery in here, isn't it?" I continued. She seemed to pay me no heed, as if I were the least of her troubles. As opposed to the giant danger I truly represented. I watched her move back and forth. Gliding, really. Hanging from a thread I couldn't see but understood to be there.

I flicked some water in her direction. That got her attention. Instead of tentatively moving across the sheer face of the cliff, she suddenly understood that there was a new imperative. She acquired an immediate sense of purpose. Unfortunately there was little by way of shelter. A few vague early morning shadows flicked across the cliff, but offered no protection. No sense of safety.

She also seemed to struggle with the lack of foothold. Occasionally there would be a misstep, but she would somehow attach that thread to an unseen anchor and pull herself to relative safety once again. A few steps in one direction or another, then another fall. How she maintained her composure enough to reattach that thread time after time was beyond my capacity to understand.

I watched this aerial ballet for far longer than was prudent, of course. Such a simple problem, but I chose to make it more significant. After all, we are old friends.

The other day I had destroyed her web. No sign of her, that I could see, but the web needed to come down. They all did. It was my duty that day to make a general sweep of cobwebs that seem to accumulate quickly here in Orange County. So, down they came. When I wandered into the bathroom, there was that web I always saw in my shower.

The shower is, by the way, my exclusive domain. My wife has a wonderful, huge oval-shaped bathtub and will take a shower only under duress. The Woodyettes have their own bathroom, so the shower is mine. All mine. Well, mine and the spider's.

We first met three years ago. For those who may study our eight-legged friends, no, I have no idea whether this particular spider truly is the same one I encountered three years ago or some descendent. No matter. They all look alike to me.

Our relationship has always been one of considered mutual ignorance. I pay no attention to her, she pays no attention to me. But the web must go. It's visible. It tells me that some part of the house isn't truly clean, and so it must go. Out comes my duster and away goes the web. But it will return. I haven't killed the spider, and this is a nice dark corner most of the time. She will rebuild. I suspect that was her mission this morning. She was rebuilding, took one little step too far from the web, and...

In fact, this is the first time I've gotten a good look at her (I presume it's a female - don't they generally eat the males?) in several months. Most of the time, here in Orange County, it's the ants. I pay lots of attention to ants. I have killed, by my conservative estimate, enough ants to cover the national debt if you paid me one dollar per ant. The spider gets a few of them for subsistence, I suppose, but I kill the lion's share. Beyond that, we do not appear on each other's radars.

This is why this morning's encounter surprised me so. The silly arachnid never visited my shower before. Why today? Why venture right down into the cone of the volcano, so to speak? Then it hit me.

Ants. There haven't been any lately. Oh, they usually stay underground during the colder months, but rainstorms generally drive them above ground and into my house. We've had lots of rain lately. We've seen no sign of the ants. Perhaps friend spider is getting snacky.

Ah, well. Until the ants return (and rest assured they will return) the spider is on her own. Look, if she gets to looking really miserable, I'll put her out of her misery. I have no compunction. Truly.

All I ask is that she leave me alone while I'm in the shower.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

#25 - Warm Fuzzy Moment of the Evening

You know those commercials where the kids haven't gone to bed yet, but when Mom checks on them they're sitting on big brother's bed while big brother holds forth with a story that he's reading himself? You know that warm-hearted yet vaguely smug smile Mom wears in the cut away? I had one of those moments tonight.

One of the Seven Deadly Habits of Children is absolute silence. Or, at least, silence to the point where Mommy and/or Daddy cannot hear them. This always signals Bad News. This is when Mommy gets that other look on her face and sends Daddy to investigate. In the background, Daddy swears he can hear the strident violins playing the Psycho Shower Sequence as he opens the kids' door and discovers that one or the other of them (he'll never get the straight story from either of them) has taken an artistic interest in their bedroom furniture featuring crayon that Daddy can already tell has soaked into the finish. Mommy and Daddy then spontaneously combust as their blood pressures read 500 over, I don't know, say 15,000. That oughta do it.

Anyway, the kids were making that kind of silence. Mrs. Woody either hadn't caught on yet that there was a lack of kid-generated white noise behind her, or her excellent ears could hear what I couldn't. Anyway, I faked a trip to the bathroom so I could surreptitiously peek in on their dirty work.

Both Woodyettes were snuggled on Mrs. Woody's big, comfy recliner sharing a book between them. The book, by the way, was "What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know," and is one of the guides Mrs. Woody has been using to develop curriculum for the five year old. Since they both can read they were busily combing through the book, finding stories to read to each other. They were taking turns, even!!

Before I could quite catch myself, I had one of those aforementioned sappy smiles on my face.

I must confess that I have those moments quite frequently these days. Seven and five can be challenging ages, but mostly they're cute. Mrs. Woody and I only occasionally have to referee when tempers get short, and when one or the other (or, worse, both!) is tired, all bets are off. Otherwise, these small ones are complete angels.

We get compliments all the time. "What adorable girls you have!" they tell us. "So well behaved, too!" We get this at Church all the time. I usually make some curmudgeonly response, but secretly I know they're right.

Bedtime has arrived, and I need to go have Song and Prayer with the fam. We do this every night. It's our own family devotional and it has worked for us from the time Woodyette the Elder was still a linoleum lizard. Even now they are coming in to tell Daddy that it's time for "Toofies."

Catch ya all later. Gotta go brush now.

#24 - Reason No. 3,672 Why We Homeschool

Teachers like this.

Money quote:
The mooning [of fellow staffers] followed a pattern of unusual behavior, including many incidents that went undisciplined, records show. In October, [kitchen manager Debra] McDow wrote to district officials that Bartlett told her son and other children at Pine Grove that she was "(their) worst nightmare."

You just can't buy that kind of education.