Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Good Hair

As I've written about before, my oldest son is quite the reader. Last night we were sitting in his room, reading the scriptures together, and I made mention of the fact that he had been blessed with the talent to read. I expressed to him that I didn't really know why he had been so blessed in that regards, but that I felt that Heavenly Father had a plan for him to use that talent wisely.

Then he said, "And my hair, too!" I laughed at this unexpected outburst and it turns out that he is quite proud of the fact that his hair sticks up in the front with a very nice "whoosh" effect -- like he's been wind-blown or something. Most people would believe he was cursed with a terrible "cow-lick", but not him.

When I told my wife about this little conversation, which still cracks me up, she told me that last year in school a little girl in his class had told him that she didn't like his hair. Apparently he was quite disturbed by this, so my wife explained to him that he was very lucky to have the "whoosh" effect going for him, and pointed out that most of his peers use a lot of hair spray or hair gel to get their hair to stick up just like that in the front. Clearly that lesson sunk in, and he now knows that the "whoosh" effect is a good thing, even if it is a bit unruly at times.

In any case, it's good to know my son recognizes his blessings. He knows of two right now: he reads really well, and he has good hair. Wish we were all so lucky!

Cucumber Princess

My daughter, just under six-years-old, is a funny little one. Last night for dinner, my wife cut up half of a ten-inch cucumber into roughly 1/8 inch slices and set them on the table as part of the meal. Also on the menu were grilled cheese sandwiches, grapes, and a few leftovers from the refrigerator.

My daughter, unexpectedly, decided she didn't want the grilled cheese sandwiches -- wouldn't touch them -- and she eyed the cucumber slices warily. This surprised us, as she's normally really into cucumbers. We reminded her of this, but she just said, "Not today."

Well, with nothing on her plate, the rest of the family started eating. Soon, though, she snuck one cucumber off the serving plate in front of her. Then another, and another. Before we knew it, the entire plate of cucumbers was empty. I had managed to snare three slices before they were gone.

My wife was undisturbed by this, and got up to slice the remaining half of the cucumber. She came back, extracted three of them from the plate -- two for her, and one for our younger son (who didn't touch it) -- and proceeded with the rest of her dinner. Again, before we knew it, the plate was completely empty! My older son hadn't even had one single slice.

Since she consumed nearly the entire cucumber by herself, I was somewhat concerned that she had a mis-balanced meal (which she clearly did), but my wife and I just ended up laughing about it. Makes me wonder, though, what does a ten-inch cucumber do to a little person's constitution? My wife will find out today while I'm at work, and I'm expecting a report.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Book Review: The Deathly Hallows

Last night I finished reading the seventh Harry Potter book. It was very good. My wife had been extremely frustrated with me because she had finished reading it after only a few days and wanted to visit with me about what I read. To this end, I think I read about four hours yesterday, as she made every excuse to get me to read and literally dictated that I not play with the kids and instead read the book. How crazy is that, eh?

In any case, I thought the book was very good. It was a fitting and satisfying ending to the long march that the novels have been. I do feel that the epilogue left something to be desired since Ms. Rowling did not fully flush out the "where are they now". Happily, she granted an interview and filled in some of the details, which was printed by the associated press.

Spoiler Alert - Stop Reading Now if you would like to remain blissfully ignorant of the outcome of the characters. To wit, the article went on as such:

Harry Potter, who always voiced a desire to become an Auror, or someone who fights dark wizards, was named head of the Auror Department under the new wizarding government headed by his friend and ally, Kingsley Shacklebolt.

His wife, Ginny Weasley, stuck with her athletic career, playing for the Holyhead Harpies, the all-female Quidditch team. Eventually, Ginny left the team to raise their three children -- James, Albus and Lily -- while writing as the senior Quidditch correspondent for the wizarding newspaper, the Daily Prophet.

Harry's best friend Ron Weasley joined his brother, George, as a partner at their successful joke shop, Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. Hermione Granger, Ron's wife and the third person of the series' dark wizard fighting trio, furthered the rights of subjugated creatures, such as house elves, in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures before joining the magical law enforcement squad. The couple had two children -- Rose and Hugo.

Luna Lovegood, Harry's airily distracted friend with a love for imaginary animals who joins the fight against Voldemort in the Order of the Phoenix, becomes a famous wizarding naturalist who eventually marries the grandson of Newt Scamander, author of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them."

And what Muggle, or non-wizard, song would have been played at the funeral of Albus Dumbledore, the most brilliant and talented wizard the world had ever known?

"Surely 'I Did It My Way' by Frank Sinatra," Rowling told her fans, referring to the song "My Way," written by Paul Anka but popularized by Sinatra, among other singers.

With this, I now have closure.

Interestingly enough, I had originally resisted reading the first book for a long time, as I have a tendency to try to steer clear of all things that popular culture says is "cool." Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me and I found it to be a very engaging novel that kept my interest. For me, this was a big deal since I nearly always read science fiction for entertainment.

In any case, I soon discovered that with each book, Ms. Rowling would evolve in her writing. The first book was juvenile and crisp, the middle books were bloated and in desperate need of a better editor, but towards the end, she pulled things together again into a well-written prose that will no doubt be considered among the finest of the classics. (To me, the very term "classics" can generally be translated into "boring", but not in this case.)

Happily, it ended well. I am sad to know there are no more books planned, as I always want to know what happens next, but it's fitting that it ended where it did. It'll be interesting to see what else comes out. I expect to see plenty of additional fan fiction, franchises, and other novels set in the same "universe" (think the insanity that is Star Wars). In any case, I do hope that Ms. Rowling doesn't return to this storyline. It feels to me that doing so would over-stretch it and would just leave the stench of greediness on the whole thing.

And now that she's done with that, I'm curious to know what else she has in mind ...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Meek Shall ...

My oldest son is a wonderful little boy. Just shy of eight years old, he's a very bright kid who follows instructions pretty well and is showing us every day how helpful he can be around the house. My wife and I have worked very hard to teach him to be honest and to adhere to the Golden Rule. He's still just a little kid, though, so he tends to be self-centered, but by and large he's ended up being a delightfully meek little boy, intellectual and kind.

He struggles, however, with relating to other children his age. Most of the children who live around us (and there's quite a few that are the same approximate age as my children) come from families that are either single-child homes and/or where both parents work. Consequently, the children are doted upon by their parents, who also do not share our same standards for child discipline. Often times, the children spend all day in daycare only to come home and be essentially ignored by their parents. (It sounds pretty dramatic, but this strong and general statement is a pretty close approximation of the truth.) As a result, nearly all the kids in the neighborhood could be classified as "hooligans".

Well, with summer being in full swing, our children are not oblivious to the fact that all the kids in the neighborhood run amok late into the night. During school, my children were pretty consistent about getting to sleep by 7:30 or 8:00 pm so as to ensure they got enough sleep -- the results of this was clearly shown in their school performance. However, as summer has progressed, we've been allowing them to stay up a little later, my oldest especially, and nearly every night they hear the shouts and yells of the children out on/in the street. It is natural that they are jealous and want to go join the fray.

So, like good parents who don't want their children to be miserable, we've been allowing them, on occasion, to go out and play. This has wreaked havoc on their normal bed-time routine, so they don't get to bed in an orderly or timely manner, but most days, they have a great time and come home happy and exhausted.

Except last night something odd happened. I had been resisting allowing my oldest to go out and play (being two years older than his sister, his bed time is somewhat later) for reasons that I can't really describe, and after exhausting all of the reasons and delay tactics I could come up with, including assigning him many chores to do before he could go out (which he did with unprecedented speed and exactness), I finally allowed him to go and join the others.

So, out the door he went. He was back in 5 minutes, sweaty and crying.

Apparently he had gone up the street to join a group of kids, and they didn't welcome him. They whispered about him and soon they were tackling him to the ground and teasing him. With his injuries from the local water park (see earlier post) still healing, he was sensitive to the state of his arm -- expressed this -- and they were so cruel as to actually tackle him to the ground and then step on his hurt arm. Now, I'm not positive that it went down as I've described here, but this is what I was able to extract from him between sobs.

Clearly these children are not his friends. To make matters worse, apparently some of the parents of the children were sitting in their driveway and saw the whole thing -- not once interfering. It could be that the boys were simply wrestling with him -- the boys are known to be involved in karate, ride motorcycles, and be involved in other "manly" things -- and my son completely mis-interpreted what was going on, but clearly he was unhappy about it all and literally ran home in tears.

I spoke with my wife late last night, and it was so very much more evident the difference between my children and the children in the neighborhood. There are some things about our family that make us different from the rest:

1) My wife is a stay-home mother, so she is there all day, every day with the kids.
2) We are devout members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and follow the commandments as best we can, and are actively involved in the religious education of our children.

We teach our children our standards and are deeply involved in their lives. We spend time and read with them every day. We teach them to avoid harmful drugs and other harmful substances in any form, and to treat their bodies with respect. We rigidly encourage them to give service, to be honest, to be kind to one another, and to show love to one another. We maintain standards of modesty, never swear, and restrict the access by our children to violent or otherwise immoral media. We do not have a console game system in the home (though do have computer games), and limit how much television/computer time they have. We are regular in our habits, always eat meals together at approximately the same time every day, attend church weekly, and take time to read the scriptures with our children, and we pray as a family every single night.

None of the neighbors, as far as we can tell, do any of the above. This makes my family quite unique compared to them, and this makes my oldest son different from the rest. He has been blessed with many skills and abilities, circumstances and talents that set him apart from his peers. I believe he has been blessed with them for some great purpose that I can not even fathom at this time. He has a great mission in life to fulfill, and if it takes the neighbor kids beating him up to realize that mission, then so be it.

Nevertheless, my heart aches for him.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Beautiful Institution of Marriage

Two weeks ago, my family took a trip to Utah to go visit our families. Both my family and my wife's family live within about an hour of each other. The 4th of July holiday week seemed a good time to go, but we were also blessed to have the opportunity to attend the wedding of my wife's little brother. He's the last of our siblings to get married and he was married in the Manti Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on July 7th (7/7/07 ... a very busy day to get married ...).

For those unfamiliar with this church, a temple is a very special place. It is not used for normal Sunday meetings, but is used exclusively for weddings and for other like-ordinances. A marriage solemnized in a temple is one that has the potential to last for eternity. This is one of the greatest blessings that anybody can aspire to receive in this life.

So it was with great anticipation that we attended his wedding. Since we live in California and everybody else in my wife's family lives in Utah, we don't exactly get together very often to visit and we had not had an opportunity to actually meet the young woman that my brother-in-law was to marry. The first time we saw her was when we were in the temple; she was dressed up all in white and looked simply radiant. I can't think of any better place to meet a new member of the family! We had, of course, seen pictures, but meeting her there -- let's just say she looked radiant.

The wedding went beautifully. Her family were very kind and it was so very cute to see the two of them just being silly and happy together. They are both very young, and will probably struggle financially as most new couples do, but they are so very much in love that I'm confident they can overcome pretty much anything. I did take one very cute little video with my camera that we'll be sure to send to them: it's a video of the entire family out on the temple grounds being corralled for pictures. With the entire family whirling around them, talking and laughing and generally making it difficult for the photographer, the two of them are just standing there, looking into each other's faces, completely oblivious to the chaos around them. It was a beautiful moment, and I'm glad I caught it on camera.

The two of them are kind of flighty, though. The day of the wedding, they misplaced the rings ... twice! It caused some amount of anxiety on their part, but all worked out well in the end. I am hoping that this apparent collective disorganization of theirs was a result of their wedding excitement, and not typical behavior.

My brother-in-law's truck (a very old, very beat up truck that my father-in-law gave to them) was even decorated with Oreo's and cans on fishing line on the back. And as a surprise to everybody, they mounted a few soda cans that were unopened so that when they drove off the cans burst open and sprayed all over the place. It was a nice touch.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The 5 am Father

When I was a small boy, I always marveled at how early my father would get up to go to work. On those rare occasions when I needed to get up at the same time he did (usually to leave for a scout camp or something), it was nothing short of a horrible experience. I complained bitterly, dragged my feet, and generally made it miserable for everybody awake at that obscene hour.

In those days, my father would usually leave for work before 6 am (meaning he'd have to wake around 5 am), carpooling with some coworkers of his. With his one-hour commute and the 10-hour workday, he would usually get home around 6 pm. I thought he was crazy and never understood why he didn't leave later so he could get a little more sleep.

So just this morning, I was grumbling about how I had to get up so early, when it occurred to me that I now get up at around the same time he used to. I get up around 5 am nearly every day of the week, except on Saturday. My work -- also a 1-hour commute -- recently went to a 9-hour workday, with every other Friday off. So, in order for me to get home at an early enough hour to spend any time with my wife and children before they go to bed, I need to get up by 5 to be out the door by 6 to be at work by 7.

When I made this connection, it suddenly occurred to me why he woke up so early. He did it for his family. He would go to work early so he could get home at an hour where he could spend time with his family, just like I do now for my family. My father wasn't crazy -- he just wanted time with his kids!

So now, I understand him a bit better. I understand why sleeping in on the weekends was such a special thing for him -- even though he still usually woke up at 7 am, which, to me, wasn't exactly late enough to be considered "sleeping in" (but it sure is now!). I understand why he was sometimes grumpy after coming home from work (he was really tired and maybe, just maybe, he had had a bad day at work). I understand why Sunday afternoon naps were so important to him. I understand how it is he used to fall asleep in the recliner watching (or not, as the case often was) TV. He wasn't crazy at all, he was simply sleep deprived, and was doing it to himself of his own free will, just so he could spend time with us kids every single day because he loved us.

Now I'm just like him. I came to the same solution to the time-crunch problem that he did -- I now sacrifice sleep so I can be with my children. I do not brag about it, it's just the way it is. My children need me to be with them, and I want to be with them. Isn't it funny how age does make you smarter? I finally get it! I just wish my own kids would be a little more understanding when I fall asleep on the couch at perfectly random times. After all, it's tough being a 5 am father. I'm sure they'll figure that out one of these days ...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Spacecraft Headaches

Two nights ago, the spacecraft I work on had some sort of an anomaly. Two of the instruments "safed" themselves -- put themselves into a "safe" configuration and stopped collecting science data. In the aerospace industry, "safing" events are almost always bad in that they signal that there's something wrong with the spacecraft -- usually very wrong.

In this case, it seems there was some kind of a software process that got stuck in the onboard computer. The hardware for the instruments failed to detect a "heartbeat" from the flight computer, so the instruments decided conditions were not so good and threw in the towel. The remainder of the spacecraft appears to be healthy and is continuing operations normally, but our flight software geeks are all up in arms because they don't know what caused the problem. They're being conservative, which is good, but being conservative will probably translate into shutting down operations for a good long period of time while they puzzle out what caused the problem.

In this case, though, I think they goofed. Today, they suggested that they might want to keep the two safed instruments powered down for several weeks while they looked into the problem, which prompted our Project Scientist (the biggest cheese on the project, next to the project manager) to state, "Well that's basically saying that we've failed our mission success criteria." It was a beautiful moment in that it got the spacecraft guys, who tend to be focused more on the hardware and less on what we're actually doing (collecting science data), to come to solutions faster. You see, one of the instruments that safed is tasked with doing global mapping of the atmosphere of Mars over long periods of time. Missing several weeks of data puts a huge gap in their data set, which will make it impossible to complete their objectives. Sometimes the hardware guys forget that the whole reason we're doing this is for the science data that we collect.

For me, this whole thing means a lot of work. The small team that I manage are all scurrying around trying to figure out what this means for us. We're likely going to be constructing several command products -- most of which won't end up being used. It's an awful lot of work for very little gain, but it is necessary to keep the spacecraft operating.

So much for the quiet weekend I was hoping to have. My wife was planning to buy the newest Harry Potter book and spend the whole weekend reading it while I chased the kids. I hoped to either take them to the beach or to the local amusement park where we have season passes. Now it's likely I'll need to stay home near the phone in case things get out of hand. It's what I get paid for, but it doesn't mean I'm not allowed to grumble. *grumble* Hmm ... maybe I'll send my wife with the kids, and I'll stay home and read Harry Potter!

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Loss of a Child

I just found out that my very best friend from college lost his 3rd child at the end of last month. We live far from each other, so don't speak very often, and it was another mutual friend of ours who called to tell me the bad news. I have yet to speak with him about it directly, but even so, I sat in my office at work and shed a few private tears for him. My wife and I have never lost a child, and hope to never do so, but we can imagine that this type of loss must cause the worst possible form of grief. Their baby was only a few months old.

For me, the only thing that would make this kind of a loss bearable is my understanding about the afterlife. I know that families can be eternal. The truest joys in life are gained by those relationships that form within a family. Family relationships do not have to end with this life, as so many people claim, but rather they can endure.

My friend has this same understanding, and I know it gives him comfort, but even so, the loss came suddenly and there is still mourning to be done. I mourn with him.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Worst Snowstorm

My family are unabashed members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. For children ages 3 through 12, we have classes during church for each age called "Primary" classes. During a portion of this period, all the children meet together and usually a few are asked to give "talks" -- mini-sermons, if you will -- about some Gospel subject. My oldest son has been asked to give a talk tomorrow morning and like the slacker parent that I am, I didn't get around to helping him write it at all today. My wife came home late from a work obligation and is still somewhat grumpy with me for not helping him prepare it. Nevertheless, she did tell him to go to his room while we were getting the other kids ready for bed and to think about what he wanted to write. I liked what he came up with so much that I thought I'd share it here, as follows:

My Family Can Follow Jesus Christ in Faith

I would like to tell you a story about faith. Last winter when my family was driving to Utah, there was a snowstorm. We were on the highway and the road was very slippery. There was snow everywhere. My dad could barely see. It was very scary and dangerous. We decided to pray for help. Heavenly Father blessed us. We were able to get there safely.

This story reminds me of having faith in Jesus Christ. Our life is like being in the car in the snowstorm. We could crash and not follow Heavenly Father. Jesus has given us an example and has shown us the right way to go. We will make it through our storm in life if we have faith in him.

My son decided to tell this story all on his own. When he practiced his talk for me and my wife tonight, it was moving that he would remember this experience, and recall how we had prayed that night for help. We were driving in the middle of Southern Utah at the time, and it was the worst snowstorm they'd seen in that area for over a decade. It was truly horrendous, and easily the worst snowstorm I'd ever driven in. To make matters worse, it happened in a tough geographic location. In that area, towns are 1/2 an hour to 1 hour apart -- in ideal driving conditions -- with exits from the freeway being sparse. The mountains go up and down with regularity, which normally cause no problems when driving, but not that night.

It was just after Christmas. The freeways were busy with post-holiday traffic and the semi-trucks were on the move. We had a tough break getting through Las Vegas so we were running quite behind schedule. The sun went down and the storm moved in. Soon snow was piling up on the sides of the roads. Snow plows were nowhere in sight, and all the drivers found it necessary to follow in the snow ruts left by the cars that had driven before them. Changing lanes was problematic as the warm road had converted the lowest levels of the fallen snow to slush; leaving the worn ruts in the snow would cause heavy splashing and the car to slide. Visibility was limited because of the large snow flakes which fell far faster than they should have. The lanes in the road were impossible to distinguish -- only the mile markers and signposts on the side of the road and the ruts we were following gave us confidence that we hadn't left the road altogether. Because of this the two lane freeway soon became one. It was evident that there were less-well-worn paths to be followed elsewhere on the freeway, sometimes to the right and sometimes to the left, but my mini-van does not have four-wheeled drive, nor did it have snow chains on the wheels. Most of the time I faithfully followed the vehicle in front of me, going as fast as was prudent to stay close behind.

Occasionally, we'd see cars pulled to the side of the road. We contemplated doing the same, as we had no idea how long this storm would last. However, with my wife and three young children in the car -- cold, hungry, tired, and scared -- we concluded we had to keep going and not stop. If we did stop for any reason, we were afraid we wouldn't be able to get moving again because of the slippery conditions of the road and the deepness of the snow.

In the cold calculus of my engineer's head, I concluded we had to get through the storm, and do it fast, so I tried to maintain a fairly substantial velocity, which necessitated hazarding lane changes to pass slow-moving vehicles. Again, we were fearful of getting stuck in the snow. Looking back, this was clearly faulty thinking.

On one foray to the less-traveled lane, I undertook to pass a semi-truck. Moving to the side proved little trouble, but soon I was in the shadow of this vehicle that was pushing a wake in the snow. It splattered my windshield so thoroughly that I could see absolutely nothing. The steering wheel shuddered in my white-knuckled hands, and I truly, honestly feared for my life, and the life of my little family. I pushed the accelerator to the floor to get by, not knowing if I was pointed in the right direction or not. I could have been accelerating faster off the road or closer to the truck, I didn't know. For some unknown reason, going faster seemed wiser than stepping on the brakes, perhaps, again, because we were afraid of getting stuck in the snow. After what seemed an eternity, we found ourselves ahead of the wake and still on the road. I concluded that we wouldn't be passing any more trucks that night, and I have vowed to never drive in those conditions again.

I attribute the fact that we survived that night wholeheartedly to my faithful wife. It was her idea to pray with the children. She encouraged me and never once doubted my driving abilities. I don't believe I merited the trust she had in me, but I was all she had, and I have no doubt that God blessed us that night because of her and the children, and not for my stubborn, calculating head that only wanted to get to our destination.

The fact that my son looks back on this experience and learned something from it has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with the humble woman who was sitting next to me, issuing encouraging words and pleading in her heart for the safe arrival of our little family. If it wasn't for her prayers -- the prayer of the faithful -- we probably would have died that night.

As for me, I've never really spoken about that night with my wife (she'll read this soon enough). I've always been somewhat ashamed of my pride -- the pride that said that only I could get us through -- and my fear -- the fear that insisted that we do not stop -- and my irresponsible risk-taking -- trying to pass that truck -- that could have killed me and my little family that night. I have no excuse. I have only gratitude that we made it, despite my own personal failings. Yes, indeed, I learned a lot that night, too.

Straight from Mars

It's Saturday morning. I've got a need to send a command to the spacecraft I work on, but here I sit at home, unshowered and in a robe, listening to my children make a lot of noise in the other room. But this isn't a problem, you see, because we live in the 21st century. Here's how it works:

-- The spacecraft sends data from Mars, which currently is 11 minutes and 44 seconds away from Earth when traveling at the speed of light. This is how long the data takes to reach the giant, 70-meter wide antenna in the desert up in Goldstone, California.
-- The antenna receives the data and it is converted into bits (ones and zeroes) to be sent across dedicated "telephone" lines between the antenna and where I work.
-- Where I work has machines that receive the data and process it into meaningful information, where it makes it available via a broadcast.
-- I have logged in via the internet, to have this data sent to my home from where I work using my DSL line.
-- My laptop is connected to my DSL via a wireless modem, and the data flows across that connection to my display.

This data contains information regarding the spacecraft. Where are the solar arrays pointed? How much power is available from the solar panels? How much processing time is being used on the onboard computer? What are the temperatures on the electronics boxes? What instruments are collecting data at this time? How much data is back-logged, needing to be sent to Earth? What commands are currently being issued by the spacecraft? Over 10,000 points of information about the spacecraft are transmitted from Mars within mere seconds. At best, the spacecraft can transmit data at a rate of over 6 million bits per second -- depending on the distance between Mars and Earth (right now they're pretty close together).

So, here I sit, in my home, unshowered and in a robe, while data is being transmitted directly from Mars into my home. I looked at this data a moment ago and concluded that all is well, so I called somebody at work and gave them a "go" for sending the command to the spacecraft. It's on it's way to Mars right now. And I know this is true as I sit in my home, unshowered and in a robe.

Isn't modern technology wonderful?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Local Water Park

Yesterday I took the day off from work to spend a day with my family at the local water park. It's a fairly large park with plenty of water slides, large play areas for smaller children, and a "lazy" river in which to float around. We had a wonderful time, and came away with big smiles, a few injuries, a few sunburns, and some very good memories.

Myself, I ended up with a very painful sunburn on my back and shoulders. My wife has already chastised me several times for forgetting to re-apply the sunscreen. And my backside hurts pretty badly from the water slides (can't they make those things so they're a little more gentle?!). My youngest spent the day falling down in the toddler areas, so his knees and lower legs are pretty much thrashed. My daughter has scrapes in some unexpected places, but had a great day.

My oldest came away with his own fair share of scrapes and bruises, too, including chaffing in his groin from a wet swimming suit (which none of the rest of us got, oddly enough). As soon as we arrived, however, he and I were given the green light from my wife to take a walk by ourselves and go on some of the larger slides. We left my wife and two younger children, and headed straight for the biggest and baddest slide in the park -- a big black slide that drops nearly straight down for 20 or 30 feet. For me, this kind of a ride is just up my alley; I enjoy a safe freefall experience in pretty much any manner. For him, he looked at it in awe and practically sprinted up the stairs to the top of the ride.

There we were met by a very short line. Being a Wednesday, we knew the park would be less crowded, but we were still surprised to see the line as short as it was. I later concluded that it was a short line because it really was the biggest and baddest slide in the park.

In any case, he decided to go first. (Okay, I admit it, I sent him first to make sure he didn't chicken out and be stranded at the top of the water slide, like any good dad would.) Before going, I told him to follow the written directions precisely, namely that he needed to lay on his back with his ankles crossed and keep his arms tightly held across his chest. With a smile and an "Okay, Dad!" he bravely went to the slide where the attendant shook his head in disbelief and told him the same things. Seconds later, he was gone. He shot out of sight as he headed down the slide. The attendant looked back at me and said, "Sometimes the young kids don't keep their arms in, but he's ok." Okay, I thought, he's fine. So I quickly follow him down the slide (whoo! what a rush!) and found him at the bottom with a goofy grin on his face, cradling his left arm.

"So did you like it?" I asked.

"Yeah!" he said.

"What's wrong with your arm?"

"Nothing," he said.

Uh huh. So I took hold of his arm and tried to straighten it. Turns out he got spooked and basically had flung his arm out to the side as he took flight off the slide and completely scraped a layer of skin off most of his forearm. I knew immediately the poor kid was going to hurt for a very long time, but I put a brave face on and said, "You're all right, let's go."

The balance of the day, he cradled that arm, sometimes forgetting he was injured when he was sufficiently distracted. When we got home, it was quite late in the evening and naturally we all needed to take a shower to get cleaned up. The last thing we wanted was for his wound to get infected, so we had him shower, too, and told him to gently wash it. Soon he was in hysterics, suffering from quite a bit of pain as we attempted our best to wash it while touching it only minimally. The poor little boy. Finally, after we got him cleaned up and I was walking him to his room to put him down for the night, I put my arm around his shoulder and asked, "Did you have a good time today?"

Sniff. "Uh huh." Sniff.

"Was it worth the pain you're in now?" I asked.

"Uh huh," he said.

And I swear I saw a flicker of a smile. That's my boy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

On Rabbits

My daughter is a very bright little girl, who is also very funny sometimes without meaning to be. For example, as a kindergartener, her teachers would often have her draw a picture of something and compose a sentence or two about her picture. One particular day a few months back, her class was working on identifying various animals, and she composed a sentence to describe the species of her choice, which turned out to be quite insightful:

"Rabbits are veree gud lubrz."

Now, knowing my cute little nearly-six-year-old, I was instantly able to interpret this to be:

"Rabbits are very good jumpers."

But honestly, is that what you interpreted her sentence to be? Or did you read more into this than the innocent message my daughter intended, and gathered insight into the reproductive behavior of the famously promiscuous rodent? As one encyclopedia puts it: "The reproductive rate of rabbits is notorious. The common rabbit breeds from February to October; its gestation period is 30 days and there are five to eight young in a litter."

It seems my daughter unintentionally identified why it is that rabbits breed so successfully. Simply put:

"Rabbits are very good lovers."

Her teachers, at this stage in her education, aren't too concerned about spelling; only that she tries her best. For this particular assignment she got a big red star scrawled on her page for her wonderful picture of a floppy-eared rabbit sitting amongst green grass with a blue sky overhead and the sun shining down. Based on her sentence and its alternate reading, the silly grin that she drew on its face can take on a whole new meaning.

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