Sympathy for the Vivi

Vivi, Vivi, Vivi. She loves doors, doorknobs, locks, keys – all that stuff. Today, in a necessary advancement of her portal-related skills, she locked herself in the bathroom. Shannon immediately called me, but managed to jimmy the door open just after I picked up.

That’s the least of her trubs right now, though. Bedtime is the worst, for everyone. I can feel my heart rate increase around seven, when we start giving her the ten- and five-minute warnings about bedtime, and even Julia often gets edgy. Usually, nowadays, Vivi holds it together pretty well for most of the routine. She says night-night to her mom and sister, sits quietly in my lap for a story or two (not even asking, much, anymore, for a third or fourth or nth story), and then asks for her two nighttime songs: “Doo-Doo Uppa Ba Ba,” which translates into English as “Twinkle Twinkle” (the “uppa ba ba” part is her attempt to say her favorite line, “Up above the world so high”), and “Ba Be Bee Bee,” a.k.a., “Rockabye Baby.”

After hearing those in my mellifluous falsetto, she snuggles into her pile of stuffed animals – including, most importantly, the quartet of Ung, Dub-Ya, Biggie, and Munnie (her silky, her bear, Piggie, and Bunny), and asks for “dewwow” and “ink,” her yellow and pink blankets. I put those over her, and then head for the door. Roundabout the time my hand touches the knob, she starts the screaming, and doesn’t let up for the next ten, fifteen, thirty minutes. As Shannon might have said, lo those many days ago when she still blogged, “Not. Pleasant.”

Today, though, things were worse than usual because, first, she threw her stuffed-animal friends out of bed, and then, after I retrieved them, refused to lie down, saying over and over, “Bet! Bet! Bet!” I was mystified, until, disgusted with me, she patted her bottom and shrieked it at me – she was saying “Wet! Wet!” She’s increasingly interested in potty training, and now suddenly can’t stand to be wet. So while Julia crawled into her own bed, I changed Vivi’s diaper and settled her into her crib again. Five minutes later, she was out.

Vivi, Vivi, Vivi. She is a handful – or two, or four – but I feel for her. Her reach so exceeds her grasp, she can’t help but be mad at the world, and most of us in it.

First Book

As Julia edges toward being able to read on her own, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own reading history. In an IM conversation the other day with a friend whose son – both bookish and newly bespectacled, so you have to like him – read the first Harry Potter in one day – I suddenly remembered reading my first Hardy Boys book in what must have been the first week of Mrs. Bauer’s second grade class.

I had been disappointed in Mrs. Lesperance’s first grade class when I could only choose books from a certain section in the library (I’d read all the Richard Scarry books already: the Man was keeping me down even then), and I had really wanted to read the books that my friend Mark’s older brothers were reading, like the Hardy Boys. So when, early in second grade, the librarian said we could choose any book we wanted, I zoomed over to the long shelf of blue-and-black Hardy Boys books. I checked out The Secret of the Lost Tunnel, perhaps because it was the first one I saw, perhaps because I liked the cover art, perhaps because I was mildly obsessed with a weird little root-cellar thing we had at our house, or perhaps because I had an early love of the double entendre.

Secret of the Lost Tunnel
Secret of the Lost Tunnel

I read the book in the time it took to wait for the bus, ride the bus home, and walk up the driveway. It was a long bus ride, and a long driveway, but still – I had that shit down: I remember being able to correctly finish sentences that my dad read out from the book.

God. Nowadays I can barely remember to read a book, much less what I read.

That being so, the aforementioned friend (he of the readery son) and I are engaged in a little parallel-reading exercise that might interest certain readers of this blog – mostly the literate ones, but also lovers of Victorian fiction who may or may not be red-haired. We’re making our way, three chapters a week, through G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, available in a snazzy Vintage paperback ($8.95) or at The book is described as “a zany mystery story filled with often surreal twists that turn more traditional thrillers on their ear,” and it’s certainly that, so far. (One of the main characters has red hair, Rob!) You’re welcome to pick up the book and read along with us, perhaps making a comment of two. You can find our amateur lit-crit at The Blog Who Was Thursday.

Having It

In reply to my lovely wife’s plea…

Though this summer has not been the very best one of my life, I’m glad to have lived it, and looking forward to the fall and winter. During these last few golden sunny months, people I know have been diagnosed with cancer but are facing it with enormous strength and will and humor; have been burglarized and horribly sick but, again (what is it with our tough friends?), are dealing with it with laughter and fortitude; have faced unexpected surgery but – that’s right – have persevered.

Sure, China spent billions of dollars on facilities that were used for 14 days of sports competition, in a city where babies die every day in poverty, but great powers have always done stupid things to impress each other, and at least this one didn’t involve killing anyone. Gas and grocery prices have increased astronomically, and while they’re not coming down much, they have generated – I think – some real thinking about how to get America out of our terrible growth-at-all-costs morass. The health care crisis in this country continues to spiral out of control, and might spell doom for my children’s generation (truly, even for my own) if it goes unchecked – but, again, there finally seems to be a modicum of political will to figure out some way to provide here what every other citizen of an advanced society already has.

My draining second job will go on a one-term hiatus between January and May, but then pick up right where it left off in June. Over that time, we can tap our small but big-enough savings account, and I should see a nicely-sized raise at my regular job. I have just as much faith in humankind as I ever did, what with seeing my wife work hard alongside other volunteers to skillfully and rapidly solve an ugly situation at the preschool where my daughter goes. My nieces and nephew are poor minority children with no father and multiple medical and mental-health conditions, but they are better off than many kids in their shoes because they’ve got at least two families – my parents-in-law and my siblings-in-law – who are there for them, literally and figuratively. Economic disparity is everywhere I look, not least here in Northfield, but I’m hopeful that by putting a smart man in the White House this fall, we can start to close the gulf between the have-too-muches and the have-too-littles.

And sure, people buy and build ridiculous houses right around the corner from our place, but those houses don’t necessarily make them happier, and certainly don’t make me unhappy – just amused. It’s all a bit depressing, but I fall back on what I know about history and think about how glad I am that it’s not 1938, or 1908, or 1808, or 1508. Those were some tough times, and I’ll bet the summers of those years sucked a lot more for a lot more people than this one did for us.

And but so what makes me happy these days? My wife, even as she hunts for the clouds behind the silver linings, and especially my two girls. Hearing the younger count impeccably to ten in her squeaky little toddler voice is as wonderful as it is a challenge to tactfully answer the older’s question about where mean people go when they die. I’m also cheered by the wonderful weather, by the promise of a snowy winter, by the return of my favorite sports, by my regular job, by hot coffee… Too many things to list, really, but they sum up every day to making everything worthwhile.


I got my olde aull-terrayne velocipede fixed up at the shop today – those new brakes are great. This evening, I celebrated by watching the mountain-bike races from Beijing, which are archived on the NBC website. The races themselves are good, and the setting – a beautiful park smack in the middle of the city and riddled with narrow trails – is amazing. If you don’t have the stomach for four hours of viewing, settle for the montage of crashes in the women’s race, which is fun to watch too.

The Pre-K Vote

I think the voting age should be lowered to 4. The other day, Julia heard an Obama soundbite on the radio and exclaimed, “Who’s talking? I like his talking!”

She has formed a committee of Playmobil figures to make a recommendation as to her views on Biden.

Pitch In

As I headed into the backyard with the girls this afternoon, I called to Julia that I needed to hurry because Vivi was already outside. Putting on her oversized pink shades, Julia told me, “Daddy, when I’m older I’ll take care of Genevieve and you can just relax. I’ll do all the hard stuff with her and you can just pitch in when you want.”

Can I get all that in writing?

Home Again

We’re back home from Summer Vacation 2008. As I told Shannon, “It was great, and kicked my ass.” The ride home was uneventful and not unpleasant. The only downside is that I’ll now have the Barney theme song in my head for weeks after easing the last hour of the drive by run a couple episodes on the laptop.

Neither girl napped a wink on the way home (stop me if you’ve heard this before), but on arriving home, they tore into their almost-forgotten toys and had a great time playing until dinner. After dinner, they were hustled into bath and then bed, where Julia said, “But I don’t want to go to sleep! I’m not *yawn* tired!” To her credit, she realized how ridiculous this was, and relented. After hearing her two songs, Genevieve screamed for about two minutes, then dropped off as well. A nice quiet night, all in all.

No Need for Parody

As the Olympics show over and over and over, Americans as a group are prone to inadvertent self-parody. Blogging offers a wide field for this kind of dubious accomplishment, but it’s easy to find other examples. Athletes, for instance: on Wednesday, I laughed as two American hurdlers held up “we’re number 1!” index fingers during an interview after the 110m final in which they finished second and third.

A certain kind of Christian comes up close behind the grandiose athlete, and even overlaps him to some extent:
Xian TKD
Someone smarter and meaner than me can figure out a funny way to combine turning the other cheek while clad in sparring equipment.

And then there are the real-estate developers. Worst of the lot.

Exhibit 1: The only “shores” are the sides of the cement-lined drainage ditches. Nice big-sky views, though…
Horizon Shores

Exhibit 2: “Now Renting”? Really? Don’t you mean “Now Accepting Deposits on Which We Hope to Earn Enough Interest That We Can Prevent Foreclosure on This Half-Completed Pile”?

Compare and Contrast

Shannon and I had a wonderful night-and-morning out. Our only regret was that we unknowingly came home two hours before Shannon’s mom expected us. We coulda read magazines at the coffeeshop until noon! Now that we know this, we may try to cash in our unspent chips the next time we can trick Nonna into taking the kids.

Anyhow, we did have a very busy, fun, and relaxing time. I got as much sleep as I’ve have in years, and that was just the unconscious part of the 18 hours. We also had a great dinner (see below), decided on the spur-of-the-moment to go see a strange but good movie (a truth of thirteen years of marriage: Shannon’s openness to impromptu decisions is directly proportional to her state of relaxation at the time the decision is made), had a great slice of cheesecake after the movie, read in bed for a few minutes at the hotel, went to sleep early, got up late, and then got coffee at a nice coffeeshop in Moorhead. Oh, and I didn’t have to listen to a single second of baby-monitor noise!

With all that said, dinner tonight back at the house – exactly 24 hours after dinner out yesterday at Timberlodge Steakhouse in Fargo – was an eye-opening study in contrasts.
8/21: I had just one dinner companion, my lovely and charming wife, though a number of other diners – all approximately twice our age – were also at the restaurant, taking advantage of the early-dining specials.
8/22: I had six dinner companions, including my wife, my in-laws, one of the girls’ cousins, and the girls; only two of these companions would have been able to use AARP cards at the restaurant, though three might’ve been able to order from the kiddie menu.

8/21: My wife was the most beautiful woman in the joint.
8/22: My wife was the most beautiful woman in the joint, though Nonna and the girls are all pretty cute, too.

8/21: I had a delicious meal that was entirely prepared by someone else (the kitchen staff at the restaurant).
8/22: I had a delicious meal that was entirely prepared by someone else (Shannon’s mom).

8/21: I didn’t have to pay a dime for my food, thanks to a gift card to the restaurant. (I did have to pony up a tip.)
8/22: I didn’t have to pay a dime for my food, thanks to the generosity of my mother-in-law. (I did not have to pony up a tip – or even do dishes.)

8/21: Someone else brought me all of my food, over the better part of an hour.
8/22: My mother-in-law brought me my soup, but I filled the rest of my plate myself, and only had time to hurriedly enjoy one big helping of everything.

8/21: I enjoyed a rather good $2 glass of house merlot.
8/21: I would have paid $22 for a shot of whiskey.

8/21: After finishing my meal, I held my wife’s hand over the table while we decided on going to the see the movie.
8/22: While finishing my meal, I let Genevieve hold onto my pinky finger with one slimy hand because she was apprehensive of her teenaged “boy cousin,” who showed up at the table just as everyone else was winding up.

8/21: An hour after finishing my meal, I was settling in at the movie, wondering if I had room for popcorn with melted butter. (Answer: no.)
8/22: An hour after finishing my meal, I lying on the floor of the living room, wondering if last night’s time off would help me keep from getting P.O.’ed during Genevieve’s inevitable bedtime meltdown. (Answer: no.)

8/21: I thought continuously about how great it was to be away from the girls, missed them a little bit more each hour, and frequently voiced my thanks that Nonna could take them.
8/22: I thought continuously about how great it was to have been away from the girls, enjoyed being able to enjoy them again, and frequently voiced my thanks that Nonna took them.


Shannon and I are packing up for our night out and away from the girls, which will start pretty soon now. The four of us had a nice morning at the Red River Valley Zoo. Here are my better three-quarters in front of the rather grand carousel there, having seen the camels, the llamas, the baby goats, and assorted other creatures.


This will be my first-ever night away from the girls when not on a business trip, and as far as I can recall, Shannon’s first-ever night away from Julia except when in the hospital delivering Genevieve. It goes without that this really doesn’t count, and that she’s never spent the night away from Vivi (or both girls, for that matter). I imagine that the two of us will manage the sleeping all right (hotel bed, no infernal baby monitors humming), but I’m a bit worried about whether we’ll remember how to eat dinner without the distraction of monitoring two toddlers. We’ll soon see!

Mystery Coil

In my numerous walks and couple runs around Moorhead, I’ve noticed objects like this in the overhead lines.

Mystery Coil
Mystery Coil

I naturally wonder what the hell it is. Some options:

  1. It’s part of the city’s (decent and cheap) municipal wi-fi service.
  2. It’s a way to manage the civic problem of the many, many people who are sticking their bare feet up on the dashboard of vehicles using Moorhead byways.
  3. It’s an attempt to make the grass grow on any, some, or all of the incredibly patchy lawns in this town.
  4. It’s a public-health effort to prevent suicides among the readers of the horrific stories on the front page of the Fargo Forum. (Thankfully, the paper requires registration to read the articles, so I can avoid hyperlinking to the gore.)
  5. It’s a means to try to help the city’s coffeehouse baristas remember more than one item in an order. On three different occasions, I’ve had the barista need me to repeat a two-item order two times; on one of those occasions, I had to say it a third time. Gawd.

What’s that? People are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan? Perhaps that’s related to these mystery coils, too…

(Update, 8/22: According to a well-informed commenter, this is a “fold-back” created with “extra fiber optic cabling that has been relooped on that strand” to make repair or replacement easier later. I LOVE THE INTERNET.)

Straight Lines

I’ve snuck in a couple runs while here, mostly just to maintain some fitness before a more-intense couple of weeks that will end with a 15km road race in early September. For simplicity’s sake, my runs here in Moorhead have started at my in-laws’ house and consisted of tours of eastern Moorhead. About all I can say of the area as a place to run is that it’s flat and that you don’t have to worry about missing a turn.

Highway 52 Running Path
Highway 52 Running Path