Friday, November 13, 2009

Eight Down, Three to Go

I think even the most casual of my blog readers would know that I'm all about safety. That's why when Wifey left last Friday, I gave her cell phone to the girl with strict instructions: if she became concerned or nervous, or found herself waiting for me with her brother at school, she could call me.

I gave her the standard lecture about having a cell phone: it's not a toy, no playing with it, no bragging about it, no losing it, no using it to crack nuts, and all that jazz.

From that day to this, she's not used it at all, not even when I showed up fifteen minutes late to pick her up. I was very proud of her; after all, it's hard to resist temptation, and I know that having the phone made her feel like a big girl.

It drove her brother nuts that I gave her the phone. He confronted me about it one morning, in fact.

"Dad, how come you gave her the phone? Is it because you like her more than me? Is it because you think she's smarter than I am? Is it because you think I'm dumb? Is that it?"

"No, it's because I don't feel comfortable giving mommy's cell phone to somebody who can't always remember to put on pants in the morning."

"That's not true and you know it!"

"Son, you're not wearing pants right now."

He looked down (he wasn't wearing undies, either), then looked back up at me, and said in the most serious fashion possible "Good point, daddy. Never mind."

And then he went back upstairs to finish dressing.

So this morning, on the way to drop them off, I had to flap my gums. "I guess this is your last day carrying mommy's cell phone, huh?"

"No, I still get it Monday."

"Mommy comes back Monday morning, so I'll just give her back her cell phone," I said. "So this is your last day. Enjoy it, huh?"

"Yeah, I guess so," she says, wistfully looking into her backpack.

She waited ten whole minutes to call me.

I was on my way to work, driving about twice the speed limit, when the phone rings.

"Yeah?" I say.

"Daddy, I just wanted to make sure that you were going to come pick me up this afternoon after school. You're gonna come pick me up after school, right?"

"Of course!" HONK! "The phone's not a toy!"

And I hung up.

When I got to work, I immediately lept into action and started goofing off and reading sports news and stuff. I was deep into Peter King's riveting inside into gun control (read: moronic bloviation) when my cell phone rang again.


"What is it now?"

"I wanted to get a water and I asked the teacher and she said I could go to the water fountain at the end of the hall but it doesn't work so I was going to go to the other water fountain but it's not in the hall and I'm not sure if it's okay. Do you think it's okay?"

Sigh. "Yes, but I don't really think this is something you should call me about. The phone's not a toy, honey!"

"Sorry, daddy."

I suppose you can guess what came next: in between my other, more pressing work, I had to mediate three fights, RSVP a birthday party, calm her anxiety about dying someday, and assure her that I would indeed come pick her up.

I eventually just turned my phone off.

When pickup time came, I was standing out in front of the school talking to some of the mothers when the girl came bounding up to me.

"Give me the phone!" I said.

"Oh, that. Well, see, I kind of lost it. You stopped answering it, and I put it down, and I can't remember where."

At least it's not a camera phone full of naughty pictures or something, I suppose.

I was ready to go, but the boy's teacher caught up to me and asked me if I'd be willing to come help the class with their unit on simple machines. She'd asked me because I'm an engineer and Wifey had told her I might be willing to come do a demonstration with the kids.

Damn her!

I was not exactly thrilled about this until the teacher made her proposal to me: "I thought it might be nice for the children to build a catapult."

"Oh, well, why didn't you say so?" I responded. "Of course I'll help. Can I use some hot oil and burning pitch? Can we declare war on the middle school?"

She laughed. "Of course!"

I'm not sure she realized I was serious.

I suddenly realized the fortuitous position I was in: Wifey was away, I had license from the school to build and fire a catapult with a group of second graders, and the bank card was burning a hole in my pocket.

"Come on, kids, we're going to the hardware store!"

As we prepared to leave, the girl had one last little bit of information to share with me.

"You know there's a dance tonight, right?"

"I know." I also knew that the girl had two different boys currently pursuing her, and that if I had to go to an elementary school dance with the boy the likelihood that I'd get to knock out a rough model for my catapult was pretty slim.

But good parenting (and the knowledge that the girl would complain bitterly to Wifey, who was already mad at me) made me ask the all-important question.

"Do you wanna go?"

"Well, not particularly," she said. "But I guess I can go."

"But do you want to go?"

"I want to go," the boy said.

She shrugs at me. "If you want me to go, I guess I can go."

"I want to go," the boy said.

"It's not your dance," I told him. "Honey, tell me what you want to do."

"I don't want to go," she said. "But everybody else is going, so I guess I'll go. But I don't really want to. But if you want me to, I'll go. So I guess I'll go."

"I want to go," the boy said.

"Listen to me," I told her. "I don't care. It's your dance. You wanna go, we'll go. You wanna stay home, we'll stay home. It's totally your call."

"Then we'll go," the boy says.

"Shut up, boy."

"I guess, you know, if you think I should go-"


"I want to stay home," she says.

Whew! I got to look like a caring, considerate father and not go to the dance. I mean, it just doesn't get any better than that.

But for the record? I didn't want to go, and now I love my daughter more than this morning and I'm definitely getting her something good for Christmas.

We went to gymnastics, as always, where the boy sprained his foot and the girl almost got in a fistfight with this kid that won't leave her alone. He doesn't speak any English, and I told her he probably spoke fist, so she should explain things to him that way, but she's reluctant because the school teaches non-violent resolution to problems;

It's like Ghandi U or something. I'm a skeptic of the approach, personally. Some people just need need punching.

After that was over, though, it was on to the second-best store in the whole world (next to the electronics store): the hardware store!

I'm getting giddy just remembering it.

You know what the best part about going to a hardware store in a foreign country is? You can not only find tools that you didn't know you needed, but you can buy the foreign version of tools that you already have!

I had decided to knock out my proof of concept catapult in PVC pipe. It's cheap, sturdy, and easy to work. So I rounded up everything I needed, resisted to urge to buy several new saws, drills, workbenches, and whatnot, and sped home as quickly as possible to start building my catapult.

Of course, the stupid wiener kids started whining about how the had to eat. I unthawed a pizza and fed it to them, which they of course hated since they're perverse about such things, and as punishment I sent them to bed.

Two hours later, I had…my catapult!

And tomorrow I'm gonna fire it. I'll probably start on something simple like a tennis ball, and then work up to complicated stuff like plants or cats or whatever I can lay my hands on.

All I know is that tomorrow will be a glorious day: catapult firing and a trip to the electronics store!

Wifey should leave more often!

Eight down, three to go!

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