Beatrix and the Oscillating Blade

Last night I was about a third of the way through The Book with No Pictures when I heard a brrrap behind me and to my right, as if Bea had shuffled a deck of cards. She yowled. I looked up from B.J. Novak’s instant classic, which is usually the only book Cora will tolerate at bedtime anymore, and saw blood.

“What did you do?” I asked. She held up her bashed fingernail and I determined she wasn’t hospital-level injured, so I kept asking.

“What did you do? Did you stick your finger in the fan? Why did you do that?”

“Waaaaaaaaaaaah!”

I tossed the book on their nightstand, scooped Bea up, and headed downstairs. Cora was right on my heels.

“Gina,” I said as I rounded the corner into the living room.

Gina slid on her socks from the hall into the kitchen like Tom Cruise in Risky Business. Her eyes were huge.

“She’s okay,” I said, “but she’s bleeding all over the place. I think she stuck her finger in the fan.” We headed to the bathroom.

“I thought you guys were kidding around at first,” Gina said, “but then I heard you call my name and I was like ‘omigod.'”

Bea squirmed and boohooed in my arms. I laid her across the sink. Gina had gotten a wet washcloth while we spoke and started cleaning the blood off Bea and me.

“I didn’t see her but it made the sound,” I said. “You know, like when you stick something in a fan.”

“We’re going to have to put it under the faucet, Bea,” Gina said.

“Noooooo,” Bea said.

I took her hand and ran it under the tap. She continued to complain but didn’t struggle. Her finger had already stopped bleeding, and I could see it had come from a small slice at the tip.

“Yeah,” I said, “I know that sound from when I was a kid, we were always sticking shit into fans.”

“Bea, you don’t stick your finger into fans or it will chop it off and you will go to the hospital,” Cora said.

Gina applied antibiotic ointment to Bea’s finger and folded a big adhesive bandage, which was shaped like a cupcake, over it. The novelty dressing was a bit floppy, so she grabbed some medical tape, wrapped it around once, and tore it off.

“There,” she said. She wiped Bea’s tears with the damp cloth and searched us for any remaining blood.

“Thank you,” I said.

Bea still in my arms, Cora and I trudged back upstairs. I put Bea down in her bed and grabbed The Book with No Pictures with the intent of picking up where I’d left off. I sat down beside Cora and opened it to the part where I’m a robot monkey.

“Hat Back,” Bea said. “Hat Back.”

“Okay, okay, let me finish this first and I’ll read it,” I said. I cruised through the remaining twenty pages in record time and got up to put the book back in my office. It’s autographed and technically Gina’s, since I got it for her along with signed copies of The Bassoon King by Rainn Wilson and Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling as a Dunder-Mifflin themed Christmas gift, so I don’t want the kids to wreck it.

“Hat Back!”

“Okay, okay.”

I retrieved I Want My Hat Back from its home in Bea’s bed and performed it with all the gusto I could muster after the previous ordeal.

When I finished, I placed the grimy, jacketless thing back into Bea’s bed.

“Hat Back,” she said. “Twinkle Little Star.”

I bent down over her bed rail and sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” while I finger-combed her hair, still damp from their bath. She breathed deeply and sniffled.

“I love you,” I said, and I stood and turned around to attend to Cora’s bedtime requests.

“I want the Mary Poppins good-night song,” Cora said.

“Twinkle Little Star,” said Bea.

“Uh,” I said, “Okay Bea.” I turned back around and began my encore.

“Why does Bea get two songs?” Cora asked in the pause after the first line.

“Because she’s hurt,” I said, and kept singing.

By the time I’d finished, Bea was out. I turned back toward Cora and sat on her bed.

“Mary Poppins,” she said.

I sang “Stay Awake” and only had to make up about half the lyrics. She didn’t notice, or at least she didn’t mind.

“Another song,” she said.

“Okay,” I said, and did “White Christmas,” which is normally her first and only request. Sometimes I phone it in, but yesterday I committed. She was out or well on her way by the time I had finished crooning my heart out. I kissed her on the head and quietly left the room.

Bathtime, storytime, blood offering to the fan gods and all, they were in bed and resting by 8:30 pm. I silently hoped they wouldn’t get me up at 6 am, but we all know hope is a mistake.

It ended up being 6:45 am, by the way. Tired and chronically yawning, but grateful, I made it to Cora and Bea’s respective schools and work on time. Bea’s little bandage was still hanging on for dear life when I dropped her off at day care. I can’t think too much about her standing there in the middle of that room while her supervisor vacuumed, so loud.

Bandaged Bea with a big head of hair, moderately tangled, and pink jelly shoes she can put on herself. Oh Bea. We’re only little once.

Anniversary 2: Electric Boogaloo

Gina and I were married on January 11, 2016, which was the day before her birthday and the day after we returned from what may be tied with the Dallas Fan Existential Crisis as most angst-filled convention we’ve ever attended. David Bowie had died the day before, which had a little bit to do with it, but we’d reached the ends of our ropes in other ways.

There’s no pretty way to say we were losing our minds living apart, which was one of the judge’s requirements prescribed during my previous divorce. It’s a completely understandable arrangement; I can imagine how less responsible parents might have a series of strangers shacking up with them, and I can further imagine how that could be detrimental to their children, but it still seems a bit nanny state to me.

Gina has always loved the girls, and it is a testament to her huge heart that we’re even together. I’d like to cite my charisma and devastating good looks here, but we all know no amount of game can make up for having two kids from a previous marriage and going through a brutal divorce process. I’ve said it before, but Gina really is the patron saint of stepmothers, and I’m not sure what I’ve done to win this lottery.

The tone of this love letter is already different than some I’ve written in the past, so let me make something clear: I stray from any sort of negativity when I talk about our relationship in public, and I’m absolutely going to hold to that pledge. Not that I have anything to complain about when it comes to Gina, but it really is a death knell when I see some of you folks whining online about something your significant other did. You need to address that shit in private, otherwise it’s emotional abuse, plain and simple. I’ve been guilty of this in past relationships, and every time it pops up on my On This Day app, I cringe.

Furthermore, when I’m writing about celebrations of love, I try to keep it positive. There’s something missing, though, if I act like nothing was ever hard (haha, maybe I should say difficult). Holy shit, guys, it wasn’t just difficult. At times, it was devastating, but it wasn’t because of us. It was baggage, circumstances, and the world. We’ve won such a victory here, but there’s no reward without a struggle. I’ll save the happy sappy shit for our legal anniversary on January 11th or Valentine’s Day. Today, however, a day before April 16th, which was the day we celebrated our marriage publicly with our friends in a mostly-traditional ceremony, it’s time to get real.

The first thing I did when we arrived home on January 10, 2016, was crack a beer and put Space Oddity on full blast. Life was short, and we were going to get married.

This wasn’t some Vegas, Elvis impersonator-associated notion. Gina had survived a harrowing car accident a few weeks before when she totaled her car and escaped with a few bumps and scratches. She only drove home that night because a court order said she had to spend the night under a different roof than my children, otherwise she would have been safe with me. I don’t believe in fate, but if you want to call that a sign, I’m not going to hold it against you.

So, the next day we drove to the Craighead County Courthouse, got our papers, found a Justice of the Peace, got married, Gina moved in, and we lived happily ever after, The End.

Oh wait, something else occurred a month later, and a month after that she showed me a positive pregnancy test. I’ve strained my brain trying to remember which time it happened, but I can’t peg it down. It had to have been early February, and I’m certain it must have been a great time for everyone involved.

I have to tread carefully on this next part, because there were a few days of sitcom, no, rom-com level misunderstanding as we both assumed the other person wasn’t ready for this even though we both were. No one wanted to say the words, but every time we discussed the situation, it was more along the lines of “What are we going to do,” not, “Holy shit this is amazing.” I mean, we had just gotten married, and it was time for stability and relationship building, not cranking out babies, right?

The standoff finally ended one day when she said, “We have to talk,” and I started spilling my guts. We had our Hollywood moment, or something close to it, when we realized we both wanted the same thing and that we were also terrible at communicating sometimes. Conflict resolved, set sail for parenthood (again).

(Willie, if you’re reading this, you were always wanted – though you were a bit of a surprise – but Gina and I were also terrified of upsetting each other. Thank you for being here, and thank you for teaching us how to talk about Important Things.)

Gina and I held a public wedding ceremony at Lake Frierson on the 16th of April that year. Only a handful friends knew we were already legally married, and next to no one knew she was pregnant (although I’m sure they’ve done the math by now). The girls were in attendance, which was wonderful, and I have to say it was the most pleasant wedding I’ve participated in. Third time’s a charm.

I’ve told the tale of how Willie was born, which I hope you’ll read if you haven’t had the chance. I think about it often, and I frequently thank him for being here.

I thank Gina, too, but not enough. I thank you again here, love, for all you do. There’s no way I can repay you, other than being here and loving you and Willie.

As we journey into our second year of marriage and our first year of parenthood together (my fifth, personally, but who’s counting), I cannot pass the day without marking it. Though there’s no traditional precedent for dual anniversaries, I think we’ve earned January 11 and April 16.

I love you, Gina. It’s still an adventure.

Stones

Yesterday after Bea and I fetched Cora from preschool, we headed over to Goodwill to see if they had any decent picture frames. This is a post-convention tradition for me, and I’ve come away with good finds in the past.

“Can we go to the playground by our house?” Cora asked.

“We can after this,” I said. “First we’re going to Goodwill.”

“What’s Good-wheel?”

“Goodwill.” I said. “It’s the charity place where we drop off our stuff. You can buy things there too.”

“Ohh,” she said.

Bea played on her tablet. Cora spent most of the ride describing the things she’d seen at Disney World.

“Dad,” she said, “Have you been on the Tower of Terran?”

“It’s the Tower of Terror,” I said.

“I know what it is,” she said. “That’s how I like to call it.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve been on the Tower of Terror. It makes me sick. Didn’t you think it was scary?”

“Yeah,” she said, “It dropped me lots of times.”

“Bea said she wanted to bring home some ‘ghosties’ from the Haunted Mansion,” I said.

“Yeah,” Cora said. “It was full of monsters. There was one in the cart.”

“Did you see the big fireball at Indiana Jones?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said, “Bea hid under the seats. There was a big rock and they tried to squish him with booby traps.”

She also claimed she didn’t get to ride Pirates of the Caribbean, but she’s not always a reliable reporter. I’ll have to ask her mother.

As we pulled into the parking lot of the Goodwill building that used to be Books-A-Million (attached to a Planet Fitness and a Burlington Coat Factory that split the building where Kroger used to be, which was a Wal-Mart before that), Cora said, “Dad, can we go look at the stones your dad is buried under?”

“Sure,” I said. “Do you want to go after this?”

“Yes,” she said. “I want to see them and touch them.”

“Okay, but first we have to go get some frames.”

I hopped out of the van and opened the sliding door so I could release the girls from their car seats. While I undid their restraints, I told them they had to hold my hands before we started toward the building. When we’d made it across the parking lot and through the glass doors, I released the girls and paused to hang Gina’s aviators on the collar of my Doctor Who t-shirt (I have yet to find a pair of shades I like better), and they sprinted ahead of me.

I made my way along the left wall toward the back, where they keep their wall hangings, and the first thing I noticed was that someone at Goodwill had adjusted the prices up to weird totals. The frames used to be marked “$1.00” or “$2.00” and now the lowest one I could find was “$2.57” and it was trash. Just about everything else was three dollars and up, which was devastating to a guy who’d walked into Goodwill with seven dollars in his pocket and expected to make a haul.

The girls had found a kids’ exercise bike ten feet behind me. They’d been arguing over who was going to ride it first and Cora had won out. “Dad, can I buy this?” she asked as she pedaled.

“How can you buy it?” I replied. “You don’t have any money.”

“Aww, but I need it.”

“You have a real bike at home. We don’t need more junk. Let’s go to the stones. This stuff is garbage. I can get new ones for this much at Target.”

I walked back toward the exit and the girls started weaving in and out of the clothing.

“Hey,” I said. “Hey.”

Cora went into the jeans and they swung precariously on their hangers. Bea followed her lead and ducked inside.

“Hey, do you want to go to the park?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Then walk right.”

They plunged beneath the racks again.

“Okay, I guess we’re going home,” I said. A tank-topped gentleman on the other side of the fixture looked unimpressed.

“Noooooooo,” the girls moaned in concert.

“Okay, let’s go.”

Two customers on their way out held the doors open for us and we entered the parking lot.

“Thank you so much,” I said. “Thank you.”

At the edge of the sidewalk, Cora grabbed my right hand immediately. Bea prepared to spring across the asphalt.

“Bea, you have to hold my hand,” I said.

“Nooo.”

I grabbed her right hand with my left and she pulled away hard. I tightened my grip.

“You’re hurting me,” she said.

“Stop pulling,” I said. “You have to hold my hand or you’re going to get hit by a car.” We started off across the parking lot.

“Nooo.”

We were halfway to the van and she still hadn’t let up. I could feel her little knuckle bones grinding on my palm.

“Bea. Bea. You’re going to get hit by a car and die,” I said.

If the statement meant anything to her, she didn’t acknowledge it. I picked her up with my left arm and carried her the last thirty feet.

I opened the van, they climbed in, and I crawled into the back and buckled them in. Cora knows how to fasten her own belts but she often won’t, and Bea has no idea.

After we were all secure and had set sail across town, Cora asked again if we were going to the stones. I said yes, we were, and after that we’d go to the playground. She asked again if we were going to get out so she could see them up close.

“Yes,” I said. “We’re getting out.”

“What if the gate is locked?” she asked.

“There is a gate,” I said, “but it’s open during the day.”

We turned left into the Jonesboro Memorial Park Cemetery and drove about a hundred yards to Dad’s plot. I pulled over to the side of the narrow, paved path, stopped, and got out to open the doors. I looked toward the office, which was about fifty more yards down the path. There were three vehicles parked in front, but we were otherwise alone.

I do not visit my father’s grave often. Sometimes years have passed between, but I always experience great anxiety, as if someone is going to ask me what I’m doing there. It’s a completely unfounded fear, but it’s horrifying to imagine someone bothering me at a vulnerable moment. I recalled the local controversy about people playing Pokémon Go out there and I told myself I wasn’t going to take my phone out of my pocket just in case someone thought I was gaming.

I freed the girls from their harnesses, and they sprang from the van and ran across the grass, which the recent frequent rain had made vibrant.

“Which one is it,” Cora asked.

“Right here,” I said. I pointed to a reddish-brown stone.

“What does it say?” she asked.

“‘Robert O,‘ which stands for Owen, ‘Talbot Sr,’ ” I said. “I’m Robert O. Talbot Jr.”

Cora had already noticed what looked like a pile of flowers between us and the red-bricked office building. “Dad,” she said, “I want to go see it.”

“Don’t go over there,” I said.

“Why?”

“That’s where they put the babies,” I said. “You don’t need to be running around in there.”

“Babies?”

It had been a while since I’d looked at it, but the free plots the cemetery offers for infants looked a bit crowded. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought it was a dump for misplaced fake flowers. On closer observation from my place up the hill, I could make out rows. The words “mass grave” popped up in my head, but something else in there told me not to be disrespectful. I wondered why it couldn’t be at least a bit larger, in rebuttal to myself.

Well, babies are small.

“Yeah,” I said. “We don’t need to be messing around in there or they’ll kick us out of here. Look,” I said, and pointed to two footstones next to Dad’s grave. “That’s his Mom and Dad.”

Cora returned to my side and looked down. “Ooh,” she said. Bea floated around behind her, shadowing her wanderings.

“What does that say?” I asked, and pointed to their last names.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Yes you do,” I replied. She can read, and she knows how to write her last name, but sometimes she won’t go through the trouble of sounding things out. “Look, it’s T-A-L-B-O-T, Talbot.”

“Oh,” she said. “Can we go look at the other stones?”

“Well we’re not walking,” I said. “We can drive around and look at them from the van.”

“Okay!” she said, and walked toward the van with Bea in tow.

I turned and looked back at Dad’s headstone. “Welp,” I said. I clenched my teeth and popped a quick two-finger salute.

The girls were behind me and they’d started to touch the Forbis crypt. “Hey,” I said. “This isn’t a playground. Someone is buried there. Don’t play on it.”

“I’m not,” Cora said. “I just want to feel it.”

She ran her hands over the stone. Bea stood beside her, barely visible. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my S7, and fired off a quick series of photos before shoving my phone back into my pants in record time.

I snapped seven photos, but this one is my favorite.

I looked around. No alarms went off. No one rappelled out of a black helicopter.

“Come on, guys,” I said. “Let’s get back in the van.”

We loaded up and I drove around the back side of the graveyard. Occasionally I let my eyes wander to the dates on the stones. Things got older at the the far end, although there were more recent burials dotted in, and at the rear there was a mausoleum, as well as a field of plots without headstones.

“There are a hundred million stones,” Cora said. “A hundred eighteen million.”

The pavement ended and a bulldozer sat beside a new dirt road. I wheeled the van around and headed back toward the exit.

“I want to see the babies,” Cora said.

“We’ll drive by them again on our way out.”

“I want to see their faces.”

“They’re buried, Cora, there’s nothing to see.”

“Huh?”

“They’re dead, that’s why they’re out here.”

“How?” she asked.

“Sometimes babies get sick and sometimes they die.”

“I thought just old people died,” she said.

“No, anyone can die,” I said, “which is why I tell you guys not to run out into the street. That’s what I mean when I say something can kill you.”

“Oh, okay, like when Bea tries to run into the parking lot.”

“Yes,” I said, “exactly like that.”

“If you get hit by a car and die then they bury you!” she said.

“Yep.”

“Let’s go to the playground,” she said.

“That’s where we’re going,” I said.

“Hooray!”

We headed down Fox Meadow Lane and turned right onto Caraway Road. There’s a wonderful playground right down the street from our house at Miracle League Park, which is connected to the Southside Softball Complex. A couple of happy families were already there playing, and the girls joined right in.

We swang, and swang, and swang, which is Bea’s favorite thing. She loves to go high, as she says, and I pushed her as hard as I could. Her swing hit bar level over and over. The line went slack and she jolted down.

“I’m flying!” she yelled. “I’m flying! I’m flying!”

All the children were immediately Cora’s “friends” even though she’d never met them before, and she had no problem telling their parents what to do. “Help me up here,” she’d say to one if I wasn’t within arms reach. I spent my time pushing, swinging, or climbing. The playground is a great place to exercise, so I got some in while the girls got theirs.

Bea pulled herself through a rolling-bar conveyor contraption and counted each rung overhead out loud on the way through. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,” she said with a grunt between each number.

There was a hammock-like swing at the back side of the playground and it was vacant, so I went over and reclined in it. All I could see was the sky and the candy red bar overhead. I put my boots up on the chains. The first quarter moon was up to my right, its white half glowing against bright blue. The wind occasionally gusted, which swung me a bit, and I could hear the soft, high-pitched squeak of hinges, the low rumble of the breeze, and children playing.

“It would be a nice day to fly a kite,” I said to no one in particular.

Fluffy light and dark cumulus clouds raced across the sky, and I considered them through my borrowed shades. I pulled my phone out of my jeans pocket and snapped a photo, then I zoomed in on the moon. It was pixelated and blurry. I clicked it off, lifted my butt, and shoved my phone back into my pocket.

“Nope,” I said to no one, again. “Can’t take a picture of that.”

Always Bea Closing

Last night Gina made chicken korma and we listened to the Trump rally while we ate. The korma was amazing. I regret ruining what was otherwise a delightful meal with his ranting, but I was too curious to turn it off.

I often wonder what you guys will do, you few military folks lefty enough to tolerate my idiotic fairy tale ideas, when he orders you to do the unthinkable. It’s coming. I never ask you to your face because I don’t want you to be compelled to answer. For your safety and everyone else’s, you best keep that shit to yourself until the time comes.

“I can’t make the bunny pop. Will you close it?”

Bea accompanied me to work this morning. She saw the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind and said it was Willie swimming after a ticket.
“It’s not a ticket,” I said, “it’s a dollar.”

“He’s swimming for a dollar in the deep ocean!”

“Yeah, it looks like it,” I said. “I’m pretty sure it’s a swimming pool.”

She found a panda book she liked and asked me if she could take it home. “You read it and leave it here, like the library,” I said.

“Oh.”

There was a time when I would have bought that and anything else she’d touched. My kids don’t beg for shit much, especially Bea. She was a tiny sack o’ taters when the Second Great Empire of Bob Talbot fell, so she doesn’t know grief-stricken, fiscally irresponsible Dad. Father of Seemingly Endless Funds disappeared near the beginning of her era, a fact I often lament, but I don’t know that it could have happened any other way. I had to go there so I could come here.

It’s still a kick in the gut. eBay is a slap in the face. Thirteen years in retail and unsustainable living by the skin of my teeth is a knee to the balls. Nothing adds up, but I can’t complain much. My investments walk the earth, or are carried, and this is life. This is my proud duty. I only wish it weren’t so precarious.

Bea’s mother came to get her at nine. I forgot Bea’s medicine, so I’ll have to run it by the dress shop on my way home. Cora used to say her mother made princess dresses there. It’s nothing that glamorous, more like dealing with prom teens and bridezillas all day, but if anyone were made for that, it’s the ex. She also excelled at AT&T customer service, if you see what I’m getting at. She’s not easily moved.

My guts hurt and I hope I haven’t contracted the flu. I’ve had the shot, but I’ve also had fluids sprayed into my eyes 28 Days Later style so there’s no telling. Maybe it’s stress or the two pounds of Indian food I packed into my body last night. In any case, I’m off lunch, and I can’t always count on my stealth SwiftKey skills to get me a thousand more words.

Excuses, excuses. I’m telling you, though, the life of an unpaid freelance retail gonzo journalist, dadblogger, and space communist ain’t all its cracked up to be. It’s often lonely, and while there are rewards, they don’t pay my mortgage (Willie is pretty cute but giggles aren’t fiat money, yet).

This is the rambling I’ve been accused of recently, but who am I trying to impress, really? Were you on the cusp of handing me a check until I made my ninth nested pop culture reference? I don’t think so.

From my temporary office in the greeting card aisle, I bid you adieu. At least it’s not the toilet, but it can be, for a price.

Quarantined

Posted from the Sway Fun office.

The kids are already asking where the potty is. Bea wants the swing.

“Daddy, hold me get up the baby swing!”

Cora is gone. If the restrooms are locked, I’m sure she’ll pee wherever.

You can get this shit spinning like an astronaut test.

Yesterday morning I woke up early and reached for my phone. It was on silent, but I had a feeling. I had a text and a missed call from the ex. Cora had contracted the physician-confirmed, kid-tested, mother-approved influenza.

We’ve all been vaccinated, a fact which will delight every Granny Clampett backwoods science denier and David Avocado Wolfe fan. I could have sworn I heard Jim Carrey’s maniacal laughter echo down from Crowley’s Ridge.

My hands are freezing.

I was in the middle of an eye doctor appointment this morning when the girls arrived at the office. I was happy to see them, of course, but not while I read the first three letters of the second line. I’d expected them to wait outside, but their mother somehow forced her way into the back. The doctor laughed it off, which was nice of him.

So the girls are both on Tamiflu, just in case, but they seem fine. They’re as beserk as ever, and they aren’t feverish. Last week, Bea had a mild fever, and I’m thinking she may have had the undiagnosed (except for Doctor Bob) flu then.

Their mother bribed them into taking their medicine with a trip to Disney World. They didn’t know she had only spoiled the surprise vacation she’d planned for months, so it was a convenient enough tale. They’re joyfully chugging it down, but I’m afraid they’ll expect a plane ride next time they’re sick.

Bea is already getting whiney. I’ve taken a couple of breaks to push swings. The Sway Fun makes a great office. The sun almost makes me forget I can’t feel my hands, and there’s a cup holder.

Don’t worry, I realize how irresponsible it may seem to have a sick kid at the playground, but she’s fine. Cora might be more wired than normal. Since they’ve been vaccinated, she has a mild case, and the drugs seem to be doing their work. She probably could have gone to preschool, but we’re taking advantage of the doctor’s note.

It’s better safe than sorry. I’m looking at you, mumps patients.

Once Bea collapses, which will be soon, we’ll head home and go straight upstairs. The top floor belongs to the girls today. I’ll play nurse and do the full CDC scrubdown before I return downstairs. Willie is only four-and-a-half months old, and it’s not worth the risk.

“Daddy, I want to go to bed,” Bea says.

Welp. That’s all she wrote.

See you on the flip side.

Beaventures

Bea and I went to the revenue office, which is what you city slickers call “the DMV.” At the time I tapped this into my phone, there were seven customers at the counter and someone had just called out for number 67. I held ticket 88.

Some Neo-Nazi would have had a fantastic day after pulling this tab.

Right after we got seated, a nice gentleman in the row of seats in front of us turned around and said, “Here, you want this?” He had a piece of paper between his fingers. Was he giving it to me or Bea? I thought he was kidding, so I stared at him slackjawed and dumbfounded until he said, “I gotta go.”

Before my brain could put together the fact that he was about to offer us his spot in line and bail out, the man currently sitting on the other side of Bea snatched the ticket from his outstretched hand. It was number 77. My stomach flopped. I started trying to come up with speed-related clichés to write here, but they all sounded banal except for “He who hesitates, masturbates.” That definitely has a ring to it, but it also sorta implies sexual assault, so instead you can have this metaconversation in its place.

A woman yelped and giggled because she had pulled number 94. She said she was going to have time to take a nap. They called 71, 72, and 73 to the desk, and then 74, 75, and 76 came in quick succession. The impatient crowd had apparently thinned itself out. Swiper (no swiping) startled beside us and lifted his ass from his seat on the call of  “76” before he realized he was one announcement short of freedom.

77! Swiper popped up there like he was in a big hurry. The nausea I’d felt for snoozing and losing had almost subsided. He had been there first, anyway. 78. 79. Bea was playing a Strawberry Shortcake game on Cora’s tablet. We had just been at the assessor’s office and Bea had started crying for a cooking game on the way back to the van. 80. She didn’t have one downloaded, but Cora had left her tablet in the backseat, and she did. 81. 82. Thanks, Cora.

Bea’s cake. Also pictured, Swiper’s legs, which will live in infamy.

It’s a good thing, too, because there was no wifi in there and there’s no data plan for a Kindle Fire. You iPad folks are spoiled rotten. My shiny new Samsung barely works indoors unless I’m at home. I used to come up with conspiracy theories about bad phone reception (83) but the simple fact is that metal framed buildings are big-ass Faraday cages. Now, whether or not the business owners are glad their engineering is a de facto signal blocker is another discussion entirely.

Bea briefly sang a song about eating cake, and the guy behind us sighed. 84. 85. He was probably sick of waiting, but it was hard not to internalize everything with my Dad Instinct. 86.

To their credit, the employees were cranking through these folks.

87. I’d decided not to run like Swiper. I considered picking Bea up. My wallet had curved my spine on the hard plastic chair and my back hurt.

88.

I shoved my phone into my pocket and set off without Bea. This is where the live dad blogging ended and the adventure began.

“Come on, Bea,” I said. I’d made it halfway to the other end of the long counter. The receptionist had her hand up.

“All the way down here,” she said.

Bea had just left the aisle we had been seated in. “Dad,” she said, “I need to go potty.”

“Uh,” I said, as I stood with my back to the receptionist. Forty or so people stared. Why are people so damned quiet in public buildings and why are going-on three-year-olds so loud? “Let’s get this done and then we’ll go.” I felt a disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out, “Bad Dad.”

“Dad, I need to go potty,” Bea said.

“Oh, it’s okay,” the receptionist said. “I can get started on this and you can take her back there, all the way back and to the right.”

“Oh wow, really? Thank you so much. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay, I have a two-year-old. I know how it is.”

I shoved my stack of paperwork at her and threw Bea over my shoulder. The employees behind the desk cooed at her. We busted up into the employee restroom and did our business in a relatively timely manner, ran the coo gauntlet again on the way back, and arrived at the desk to find the receptionist had already finished registering the Dadmobile.

“How old is she?” she asked.

“Not quite three, her birthday is in June.”

“Is this your first?”

“Oh no. I have two others.”

“Oh, I should ask you for tips. We’re having the hardest time getting my daughter to go.”

“I really have no idea,” I said. “They have a potty in the room at day care and they kinda make it happen.”

“Oh, where do you go?”

“Uh,” I drew a blank. She started to give me a weird stare so I made something up. “Um, Helping Hands Day Care. They’re great. They got my oldest one going on her own.”

She mentioned the name of her day care, which I promptly forgot, and concluded our transaction. I thanked her again and we were on our way. Cue more coos from the citizens of Jonesboro.

Like Father like Daughter.

Next, we stopped by Cora’s doctor’s office to pick up records for kindergarten registration. Bea allowed me to listen to NPR on the way there, which was a treat. If Cora is in the vehicle she’d have already flipped out about watching a DVD. Yep, I own a van with a DVD player. I’ve arrived.

NPR’s brain trust had a pretty level-headed discussions about Jeff Sessions and Russia. I realized again why I could never be a politician. Even the representative for the Democrat opposition was interested in fact-finding and procedural investigation. He was obviously concerned but at the same time his demeanor was so even keeled he might have been discussing a questionable speeding ticket. I, on the other hand, am prone to vituperation. I might suggest Sessions recuse himself onto a rocket into the sun.

“Well Steve,” I would say, “it’s a big shocker that the guy who Coretta Scott King said was, and I’m paraphrasing, an inexcusable douchenozzle, turned out to be the entire bag of douche.”

This is some pretty serious cake building.

We acquired the paperwork without too many roadblocks. There was a tense moment when the receptionist suggested the vaccination program might be down, which would have necessitated a future return trip to retrieve the records, but she teamed up with a coworker to find a workaround.

“Are you nervous about kindergarten?” she asked.

“A little,” I said. “She’s already been going to preschool, so I think she has the hang of it, but it’s going to be a new place.”

“Yeah, new places are always difficult when you throw them in there, but it’s good she’s had some experience.”

We got up to leave. Bea was tired of walking, so I picked her up.

“She’s so sweet,” the receptionist said.

“I know.”

Procrastination had been nipping at my heels, and with every task I considered going home and putting everything off until my next free day, but no day is really free when you have three kids. There’s no time like the present. In that spirit, I set a course for The Mall at Turtle Creek, which will never not sound like a battle.

Not pictured: The eight kids to the right waiting for GameStop to open.

Bea and I had to wait a bit for Elite Eye Care to open. I wanted to make an appointment to get some contacts so I can cosplay the Brigadier more accurately. This never occurred to me until last time we attended FanExpo and a photographer requested I remove my glasses because “the Brigadier doesn’t wear those.” I was a bit pissed at the time, but I’ve had time to ruminate and decide he was correct, if not a bit of a dickhead.

A pack of kids hovered in front of GameStop. I’m sure they were hoping to catch an understocked Nintendo device. I’ve been dreaming about a Classic Nintendo since they announced the super cheap $60 multi-game set last year. I could get one today on Amazon for $150, but I’d rather wait. Nintendo has Apple beaten badly on the whole scarcity-of-new-devices front, but they don’t understand that you have to have at least a few to sell instead of banking on the phantom of a inkling that someday, someone might see a Classic set crest a hill under a rainbow like a fucking unicorn and spread its controllers, releasing a spray of Mario coins. As it is, Nintendo can’t properly stock the last umpteen devices they’ve released since last century, so why even bother?

I looked up, and Elite Eye Care had put their easel sign outside the door while I had my back turned. Bea was absolutely done at this point. Her mood was good but her body was no longer willing to mogate, as my mom says, so I picked her up and carried her into the lobby. Somehow, a dozen people had slid in there during the ten seconds I’d been proofreading this very post. Oh well.

There weren’t any appointment slots left today, so I scheduled one for next Wednesday. That’s plenty of time to ship contacts, a process that’s required because I have an astigmatism, so I’m all set. No nitpicky nerds are going to call out my screen inaccurate specs this year. I’m sure someone will find something to pick at, so bring it on, Big Bang Theory. Your criticism is the fire that forges this fine cosplaying blade.

We’re home now. Bea is plowing through my Ritz crackers, and we’ve already done a hundred Bea Push-ups. That’s when she sits on my back and helps me exercise. At 32 pounds, it’s quite a workout.

I’m hoping I can keep that up like Milo of Croton and his bull, but we’ll see. I’m not sure which will give first, my strength or her attention span. It’s still cool to help Dad, and that’s not a thing that lasts forever. Today, though, I’ve got the best errand buddy and workout spotter a guy could ask for.

Dawn

Today we got up at 6:00 am, and by “we,” I mean all of us. Gina, Willie, Cora, Bea and I piled into the Dad Van and dragged our weary asses over to NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital to recognize the nurse who saved Willie’s life just over four months ago.

If you’ve never read my account of that harrowing day, here’s a link. Keep in mind, however, that I was exhausted and a bit angry when I wrote it. I’ve calmed down since then, and last time I saw our OB-GYN I shook his hand repeatedly and got choked up like the sappy old man I am. We’re cool now. That day, not so much.

It was nice to hear my nomination email (which was an extremely truncated, much more positive version of what I’d previously written) read aloud at the ceremony today. If I’d known they were going to do that, I would have added a bit more flourish, but it already read like a Medal of Honor citation. When the head nurse said Sara was selected from 32 nominees, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, I crafted a helluva letter.” As always, it’s all about me. Seriously though, she’s a helluva nurse, and I have her to thank for this sweet little guy I get to snuggle every day.

I’m absolutely pooped and short on time. You’re going to have to make do with that old post and this rump of an update. Sometimes full-time Dad plus full-time book ninja equals tapping out essays on lunch break or on the toilet. No one said it would be easy to have literally tens of readers a day, but I manage.

Hug your loved ones, folks, and thank you again, Sara. There are heroes, still.

TCB in a Flash

Bea is the best errand companion.

Some days I’m consumed by a general malaise. Some days it’s all I can do to drive to work, clock in, and avoid being terminated for bad decisions made in the throes of exhaustion and caffeine withdrawal. Today, however, I am kicking life’s ass.

It’s worth noting this, especially now that the Doomsday Clock has melted down into a Dali-esque puddle. If I get more done before 11 am than most people get done in a week, it’s time for a celebration. Rare Earth or Kool & The Gang, your choice.

Bea and I took Cora to preschool then we headed to the Poinsett County Conservation District office to register wells. That’s right. My family owns six wells, which are registered at ten bucks a pop so the Gubmint can keep tabs on pesky soil erosion. I also found some cool acorns for Cora to give to Totoro later (if you don’t know what this means, go watch My Neighbor Totoro). After that, we headed back to town and visited Trina Smith at Centennial Bank. Bea made out with a cool heart-shaped sucker, and Trina gave us one to give Cora later.

Then we went to the insurance office, the post office, and the CPA’s office, and let me tell you, getting a 2.67-year-old kid in and out of the back of a van repeatedly is a workout. It was just a warm-up, really, because then we went home so I could get swole, bro. I had to sneak the weights out of the bedroom so I wouldn’t bother Gina and Willie, but that’s okay. Stealth low-light dumbbell transport is part of my routine now. I put the ninja in book ninja.

Last and certainly not least, I dragged the old dead television set out into the garage and replaced it with one Mom brought over yesterday. Apparently it’s a hand-me-down from my sister Lauren, so go Lauren! Thanks, sis. The kids will enjoy viewing the four existing episodes of Masha’s Spooky Stories repeatedly on Netflix. I never thought my kids would be watching a weird Russian cartoon, but then again, there are all sorts of Russian surprises these days.

Oh, I almost forgot. I had time to tweet this horrible joke at Steve Inskeep:

Until I saw his name on a book cover last year, I was sure the folks at NPR were referring to their totally tubular coworker, “Steveinsky.”

If he replies, I’ll be the happiest boy in the world.

Gina and Willie have arisen, so I’m off to do other things. Tomorrow morning we’ll attend an award ceremony in honor of someone I nominated. I hate to be so vague, but there’s a tiny chance they’d see this and ruin the surprise. I will say that without them, it’s likely our lives would have been a sad affair for a very long time. I will happily fill you all in tomorrow.

Too bad Keep Calm and Carry On is so cliché. They beat that dead horse to a pulp years ago, and I wish someone had made it viral today instead of back then. It would be a great slogan to rediscover, now that it’s actually time to keep a stiff upper lip. There’s something soothing about taking care of business and getting things done. Maybe it reminds us of what normalcy looks like. If making lists and checking them off is what it takes to get through this thing, well, Bea and I have half a tank of gas, two suckers, it’s nice out, and we’re wearing our seatbelts.

We’re on a mission from Bob.

The Routine

The girls let me sleep until 8:32 am, which was miraculous. They only woke me up once at 6:24 am to ask for their tablets. When I was a kid, that was time to creep into the living room and watch Tennessee Tuxedo on WPTY. These days, it’s tablet (still pronounced “Talbot”) time, and that’s fine, especially if it buys me an hour or two of additional rest.

My true form.

This has become pretty routine. Sometime between 5:45 and 6:30 am, I’m inevitably roused by stomping on the ceiling directly above my head. I’m the genius who decided the girls’ room should be at that end of the hall instead of at where my office is, at the other end, conveniently located by the upstairs bathroom. In addition to the morning wake-up call, I’ve usually been startled out of sleep two or three times already by Cora’s bounding potty runs.

If the drum-like beats of little feet flying across wood flooring don’t pull me out of my sweet slumber, the rattling of the baby gate at the top of the stairs does. It’s usually just Bea, but sometimes I find both of them up there doing their best to rip it from its moorings. Cora has come up with an impressive strategy where she sits down and kicks it with both feet. The shaking is almost always accompanied by yelling, “Daaa-aaaaad,” and if I’m lucky, there’s singing, which is impossible to sleep through. Believe me, I’ve tried.

If I’ve remembered to charge their tablets, I can usually take those up to the gate and placate the girls for an hour or two. The gate still seems like a weird concept. When I was a kid, we had free run of the house and we usually remained in our rooms under threat of bodily harm until the sun came up. I have stairs, though, so I don’t want to wake up to a kid somersaulting down them, and I’ve experienced the heart-exploding terror of a two-year-old flinging my bedroom door open at 2 am. After a half-dozen times pacing the house, clutching my chest, and seriously considering a trip to the hospital, I’ve decided the gate is the only thing that stands between me and a child-induced early demise. I’ve already given instructions to Gina in this regard. If I keel over after one of their late-night alarms, my epitaph is to read, “Here lies Bob Talbot, killed by toddlers.”

Depending on how hungry they are, there may or may not be another wake-up call after the initial 6-ish affair, and depending on how tired I am, I may or may not deliver waffles to the gate at 7:30 am and request a reprieve. If I’m done attempting sleep, I go ahead and release the krakens. I’m not a fan of the girls eating up there anyway, because I end up finding green mystery food months later.

If I haven’t seen the cat in a while, I check the girls’ closet to make sure she hasn’t decided to spend twelve hours of power in there. Lady has a knack for hiding behind doors that are only opened briefly and usually kept shut. The first two times it happened, I blamed her. After that, I blamed myself. At this point it’s happened so many goddamned times I’m not sure whether she has a death wish or I’m the most irresponsible pet owner on Earth, but I promise I’m not trying to murder the cat. I’m backed up here by enough proverbs, curiosity, nine lives and the like, so rest assured I did not invent cat endangerment.

The girls are good at traversing stairs because they were raised on them, molded by them (I didn’t see stairs until I was already a man, by then they were nothing to me but tiring!), and they are a feature of their mother’s domicile in addition to mine. Cora flies down on her butt at an alarming rate, and Bea sorta bumps along if she isn’t at my feet yelling, “Hold me, hold me.” Often enough, I end up walking down holding two blankets, two cups, and 32 pound Bea clinging to my chest hair like a baby gorilla. I grit my teeth and bear it, because there’s only so many times I’ll have the privilege of carrying my daughter downstairs, but I’ll never get accustomed to the pain.

If waffles haven’t already occurred, they happen now. I’m pretty adept at loading the coffee maker and setting sail for percolation before the toaster pops up. Bea has gotten into the habit of asking for chicken as well, and it’s no hassle to throw a few Dino Chicken nuggets into the ol’ science oven, but I’m endlessly amused by the fact she came up with chicken and waffles all on her own. Left to her own devices, what other wheels would she reinvent? Pyramids on different continents don’t equal ancient aliens, folks. Some things just make so much sense a baby could come up with them.

After tablets get tiresome, there may be television, but today there will be none. When I went to power on the over-a-decade old Ölevia I inherited from my father, nothing happened. After a quick Google search, I learned a couple of things. First, that company declared bankruptcy in 2009. Second, the flashing blue power light means there’s a short and a melted $150 capacitor somewhere in there. Looks like we’re going to be watching our bootleg Real Ghostbusters cartoons on an old desktop PC screen until I figure something out.

It’s 10:40 am and Bea has already self-destructed herself into a naptime. I keep trying to impress on her how splendid Saturdays are. They are precious rest time, especially to kids who spend the week exhausted from early preschool and day care drop-offs, but she doesn’t get it yet. Her vocabulary is shockingly huge for a not-yet-three-year-old kid (her day care supervisors are continually astonished), but her comprehension level sometimes doesn’t match up with her usage. Bea’s big brain doesn’t mean she necessarily has the emotional maturity of an older kid, so we can talk about it all morning, but she’s still going to collapse and throw a fit.

Cora wants me to color her Shopkins playing cards with markers, so I best comply. I’ve done my best to salvage the ones Bea scribbled all over. Cora has recently learned to stay in the lines, an achievement worth mention. There are so many little things that go uncelebrated. A good night’s sleep, a Shopkin unsmudged. I’ve never been good at filling out those baby books. Time has convinced me they’ll only be something else to lose, or something for someone to clean out of a closet in a few decades.

I’ll do it my way, for now, which is standing in front of a shelf, perched by my broken television set, with my left foot up on the entertainment center in a pose Bea hates. “Dad, get your foot down!” she’ll say while she pulls on my leg. That thing Commander William Riker does, I’m doing it now while I hammer away on my aging laptop, and it’s actually pretty comfortable.

All this is comfortable enough. Here in sunny February, out at the end of history, it is all we could ask for.

Neighborhood

Bea and I stopped by Kroger this morning after we took Cora to school. I just realized I forgot to buy Nutella. I also purchased a package of frozen bean and cheese burritos when we already have an unopened package in the freezer at home. Why am I allowed to buy groceries? My incompetence has been proven repeatedly. At least I remembered the important things, like diapers and diet root beer.

Bea was pretty helpful and only dropped her tablet five times. Those engineers at Amazon know what they’re doing, because that sucker bounced and safely came to rest every single time with her device intact. She did give me a scare in the canned vegetable aisle when she launched into straining grunt mode. This usually means she’s laying something the size and consistency of a goose egg in her drawers.

“Are you pooping your pants?”

“No, I’m pooping in my diaper.”

“Don’t you want to use the potty like a big girl?”

“No.”

I checked her and she wasn’t even pooping. We have these false alarms from time to time. Maybe she’s confused by gas or cramps. I’m 38 and it still throws me for a loop. I know some of you guys are into intelligent design but you cannot convince me that someone sat down and decided we’d need to not only shit out our asses but be inconvenienced and confused by it. Wait, let me prepare your rebuttal for you. Adam and Eve didn’t have assholes until Eve bit the apple. There you are. We can hand-wave this and blame women all in one go.

As we rolled through the mostly-deserted aisles, populated only by grocery stockers, I found myself singing songs from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I can’t help but get a bit emotional when I do this. You guys can argue all day long about what Jesus would have thought about Trump, and I can’t really refute that shit. For every verse I could quote, there exists another that waits to be twisted against it by people with bad intentions. We have Fred Rogers on video, though. I don’t have to argue over the interpretation of texts when I can log onto YouTube and watch him passionately and successfully defend PBS funding against a hostile Senate committee¹.

I recently saw a guy “thank the LORD” that Fred Rogers wasn’t around to defend public television against those who seek to destroy it. It took under ten seconds of clicking to find out his political affiliation. I’ll give you three guesses.

I’m trying to remind myself that the folks who embrace musclebound capitalist Rambo Jesus are in the minority. I really am, and it’s silly, even, that I have to do this. The shitty militant atheist inside me reckons your vast and varied interpretations of the man are about as historically accurate as Robin Hood. I guess what gets me more riled is when folks have forty years of television to reference and access to multiple interviews where people ached to find some controversy (there was none), and still they discount one of the top five kindest people to breathe our polluted air.

PBS funding is about $445 million a year. Trump has cost taxpayers $10 million going to Mar-a-Lago this month. Add in Trump Tower, DC, and daily trips between all three. I’ll let you do the math, but suffice it to say there’s a way to budget Big Bird if we stop dropping that much money on Small Hands.

So, we rolled through Kroger while I sang my hymns. It is nice to be moved. I used to think something was wrong with me if I got verklempt, but I’ve realized what a wonderful thing it is to feel, especially when it’s brought on by song. I’m not a young man anymore or an old man yet, just a man, but I never had a good example of who or what I was supposed to be in this regard that wasn’t a problem. That is, except for Fred Rogers. I’ve cobbled together (sometimes conflicting) influences over the years, but he’s the head of my pantheon. Forgive me if I to go un-Rogerian lengths to defend him.

How the mighty have fallen.

My personal deities aside, it feels a bit weird to buy groceries where the Indian Mall² once stood. A decrepit Sears looms like a headstone over the grave of good times, but it too will soon feel the dozer blade. Babbage’s, later Game Stop, was in that patch of tall grass pictured above. I don’t know exactly how many hours I lingered and stared at their wall of PC games, but smashed together it must total something between a day and a week. I’d furrow my brow³ and pace back and forth as I decided what my computer would run and what I could afford. KB Toys was across the hall to the right. We purchased the first Final Fantasy game there, about a million years before Bain Capital took over the company and scrapped it. Apparently there was no hooker with a heart of gold to save that place from liquidation⁴.

Poltergeist potential or not, it’s a damned nice grocery store. As a trembling wad of clashing ideas, I often find myself admiring shiny new capitalist enterprises. I’m a landowner and a retail manager, so I might be the World’s Shittiest Space Communist, or at least the most hypocritical. If they can make a film about Dalton Trumbo, the vilified, vindicated and venerated rich Hollywood screenwriting communist, though, maybe I can pull it off without looking as ridiculous as the cabal of Reds in Hail, Caesar.

I tend to narrate everything I do when I’m with the kids, so when I picked out the aforementioned burritos, Bea was convinced I’d meant Doritos. I should have known, because she’s nuts about the latter, and she pronounces it like “burrito” despite my repeated corrections. I didn’t realize the discrepancy in our respective definitions of burrito until we’d arrived home and started unloading the van.

“We don’t have DO-ritos, Bea,” I said, “we have BU-rritos.”

“But I want burritos!”

“Bea. It’s Do-rito. Burritos are filled with beans. Do you like beans?”

“No.”

“Hey, how about a Fiber One bar?”

“Okay!”

Here’s some unsolicited advice to new parents: Misdirection is one of the most valuable tools in your bag.

“Are you ready to go potty now?” I asked.

“No. I don’t have to.”

“Come on, Bea, let’s give it a shot.”

“I don’t want a shot!”

It looks like we’re going to be buying size 6 diapers for a little while longer.


¹ I link to this weekly these days and I’ll never stop. I’ll probably do it more when they start dismantling public television and radio.

² If you aren’t from around here, yes, it was called the Indian Mall. It opened in 1968 and   was named after the Arkansas State University sports mascot.

³ I’m aware that I overuse the brow furrowing but guys, I furrow the shit out of my brow. I don’t know what else to tell you.

I really wanted to run with this Pretty Woman metaphor and draw some parallels between Mitt Romney, Richard Gere, and Jason Alexander, but I have readers who keep me honest and one of them would have pointed out that Mitt retired from Bain a year before they purchased KB. Chuck Palahniuk wouldn’t let this stop him. Hell, he wrote a book about a guy who travels through time and becomes his own grandfather by repeatedly getting rabies. Somehow I can suspend disbelief for the time travel but not the rabies. You get rabies once, and if it’s not treated immediately, you’re fucked. Once I based an entire essay on the notion that caterpillars turn into goo in their chrysalis before they emerge as a butterfly. One of my dutiful unpaid fact checkers let me know this is demonstrably false. I didn’t scrap it after it had been published, but I’m not going to be a terrible liar by doing it on purpose, no matter how sweet it feels.