Monday, April 21, 2008

Heave (the) Ho(e)!

So, this weekend I began the long, arduous process of building a new patio. The patio won't be huge, and while deciding just what kind of patio, exactly, I'll build, one major factor in every household decision for me is: how much will this cost me?

Now, I've learned from past experience (read: mistakes) not to be too cheap, otherwise you end up with a patio that, over the winter months, allows underground beasts to rearrange your bricks, forcing you to start over, only to repeat itself the following year.

So, yeah. I'm doing this right this time. But it also means I'm forgoing the absolutely beautiful bricks in favor of the old 4" X 8" rectangular standby.

Anyhow, so far, I've started digging. And, you know, I'm not as young as I used to be...but I figured that with all the working out I've been doing, I shouldn't have a whole lot of problem with getting 6" of topsoil out of the way.

I'd be wrong.

After a little more than an hour of shoveling, I was done for the day, my back sore, and bruises forming on my heals. I had managed to dig out trench only about 2 feet wide, and 15 feet long.

So, here's where being a father can be great (perhaps even moreso than the actual act it took to become a father!). Because I have two strapping young boys who were just hopping at the idea of doing some real "manly" work and digging. I handed over my shovels and let them at it.

Remember what I said about wanting to save money? Well, this was great. Free manual labor! They weren't complaining that they weren't getting paid, so why should I? Unfortunately, that little while angel over my left shoulder (known affectionately as "the conscience") pointed out that, after two days and 2 hours of work by two of my boys, we were still only halfway done. They were tiring out, so I let them know I'd pay them $1 per hour.

I thought I was being rather generous. Until I told my wife. She informed that I was being a cheapskate. I mentioned they actually didn't mind doing it for free. So, we compromised...and I ended up paying them $2 per hour instead. (Okay. So compromise sometimes means admitting that your wife was right.)

The shoveling isn't done, yet. But it is close to done...and I have two very happy boys who have, at the time of this writing, have earned $6 each.

Tonight, hopefully we'll finish the job. Heave ho, boys. And I'll heave the hoe. Then comes the next back-breaking part of this process: laying the foundation. I wonder if they'll do this part for $.50 per hour. (Because then when my wife tells me that I'm paying them too little, I can double it to $1 per hour.)

Friday, April 18, 2008

My Daughter Beat Me Up!

In this corner, we have our first contender: a bearded, weight-lifting, treadmill-running, health-food-consuming born and raised in Michigan, racing treacherous winters and scorching summers...Ryan Bruner!

And in this corner, we have...his four-year-old daughter!

Round one. Ryan's looking fierce. Arms swinging, sweat forming on his brow. He dodges to the left, dodges to the right. Ooh! He takes one to the upper jaw. Then another in the gut. Then another and another. He manages to jab one right to his daughter's nose, but she's quick to recover and pummels him again. He's down for the count!

And that, my friends, is how things are in my house. No, it isn't a new discipline technique. And no, it isn't an attempt to toughen up our daughter. And NO, I'm not abusing anyone. (If anything, she's the one abusing me!)

No, nothing like that. Welcome to the world of Wii Sports...where you can beat up your kids (or your kids can beat up you) and have a blast doing it. Or sore arms.

Well, we did it. We bought a Wii. Well, first we searched for a Wii, but thanks in part to the coordination efforts of a friend of mine, I managed to buy the last one from a shipment of them to Wal-Mart a few weeks back. I got it all connected up, and ever since, our family nights have consisted of beating each other up, or attempting to make four strikes in a row (so far, no one has managed that one), or hitting one out of the park.

And so far, here's what I know. I'm good at bowling, and that's about it. My eight-year-old beat me at baseball. My ten-year-old beat me at tennis. My six-year-old...well, he hasn't beat me at anything yet, come to think of it. And my four-year-old? Well, she currently holds the Bruner-weight championship title. She's managed to go three rounds with her oldest brother a couple times, but usually she wins in the first round.

It is kind of funny to watch, too. Her "Mii" (which, for those who don't have a Wii, is simply a character you create on the computer to look like yourself) with braided pig-tails throwing punches at my bearded Mii with glasses.

There are, of course, down sides to the whole Wii Sports addition to our home. Such as my six-year-old deciding to take boxing outside the virtual arena and into our living room. That was nixed immediately. But in general, it has been a lot of fun to be playing together as a family. It has even taught our kids a lesson in team spirit. When my wife was getting down about failing to pick up even a spare after several frames, the boys were quick to cheer her on. It's also provided opportunities to realize that it isn't who wins that matter, but that we're having fun along the way.

Anyhow, that's our life, so far, with a Wii. My daughter beat me up. But don't worry, next time, she's going down, I tell you. Down.

Can you tell that I love her?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Firecracker, Firecracker

I was always a bit of a weirdo, even as a kid.

Back in the first grade, the boys on the playground would taunt and tease the girls. Personally, I couldn't stand for it, and so I found myself being a traitor to my kind and coming to the defense of the girls. Of course, in hindsight, I'm sure the girls could have held their own just fine...but at least I felt like I was making a difference in the childhood irrational fear of cooties.

One side effect of this was that I found myself playing with the girls moreso than the boys. This also meant I had an inside scoop into a world generally off limits to the male gender. I got to see what it was girls liked to do when the boys weren't around. (Or, at least, when all the boys except me.)

It was then, in the first grade, that I learned my first cheer.

Firecracker, firecracker, boom, boom, boom!
Firecracker, firecracker, boom, boom, boom!
Boys got the muscles!
Teachers got the brains!
Girls got the sexy legs,
And we won the game!

I remember being drawn to this rather risque cheer because I got to say the word "sexy", and managed to get away with it. And I suppose it isn't the most PC of cheers. But, I was in the first grade...and this was the 70s.

So, flash forward to the present. Today, I'm actively involved in various musical groups at my church, the most recent of which is the choir for kids in fourth through sixth grade. I admit, I kind of push the kids. I take music seriously, and expect them to not only sing...but sing well. But, being an adult among kids means you risk becoming a staunchy old man. What to do, what to do?

Last weekend, we had a special Saturday rehearsal for the upcoming program, and during the break, three of the girls decided to work on a cheer of their own. And the door was opened unto me. I had my opportunity to connect to these kids in a way that showed them I'm a kid at heart. So, as they finished their cheer, I offered to show them mine.

Of course, it wasn't nearly as exciting without my pom-pons, of course. But I soon had them enthralled. Enthralled that an adult such as myself would make a complete and utter fool of himself. They laughed and giggled, and when I was all done, they wanted me to do it again.

Mission accomplished. That's all it thirty-second cheer...and I'm suddenly the coolest thing since, well, whatever kids think is cool these days. Ironically, I earned their respect by acting like a weirdo.

It seems to be the same with my own kids. They may know to obey and follow our rules and even want to please us...there is something about just having some fun together that makes them want to obey and follow the rules and please me. If I'm having trouble with one of my kids, it is often a sign that I'm not spending enough "fun time" with them. And frankly, I don't spend enough fun time with them. With everything in life vying for my time, sometimes such a simple thing can become lost in the daily grind. But it is when my daughter says to me as I'm getting ready for work, "Are you staying home today?", that I realize I need to be more weirdo with my kids. I need to be embarrassing. Because, ultimately, that's what kids want. They want a father they can be embarrassed by. Because embarrassing fathers are fun.

Now...if only I could find my pom-pons...

Monday, February 25, 2008

To be Young Again

Ever since I started writing my young-adult novel(s), I have increased my daily intake of young-adult reading material as well. It makes sense, to read the type of books you want to write. Right?

But something interesting has happened in that time. I discovered I like books for the young-adult (henceforth referred to as the YA) more than I like books for adults. At least, generally speaking.

Of course, there are exceptions. Recent adult books I read and loved include: The Kite Runner; 1984; and The Thirteenth Tale.

And as much as I can rattle off some great adult books, there is just something about YA books that attract me in a way adult books don't. In some cases, it is the imagination of it all. Exploring the world through a child's eyes, or exploring worlds that seem long-forgotten once we grow into adulthood. I think, too, there is a level of innocence about YA books. Not that YA books don't tackle some sensitive and serious issues. After all, The Chocolate War is, to this day, controversial and often tops the list of books to ban. Which is a shame, since it is a great book. (I don't think it should be banned...although, I also don't think my 9-year-old is ready for it just yet.)

Yet, I think the innocence I'm talking about is more like innocence lost. YA books show the blinders coming off the innocent character, discovering that the world is far more harsh than their own lives might have them believe. Perhaps it is a story about an ophan girl who has never known love, trying to find her place among her knew family. Or perhaps it is the story of a boy who discovers he's a wizard...and that ultimately, that magic can never bring back his parents. Or maybe it is about a girl who simply wishes to be "pretty" like the rest of the world, but learns that perhaps being pretty isn't all its cracked up to be...that people can love you for who you are, and not what you look like.

Mostly, I think reading YA allows me to return to my childhood. To be young again. I hear most adults complain about their adolescence as a time they never wish to return to. But I liked my YA years. It was a time when everything was new, when there was self-discovery, and there was a passion about things that I've lost as I've aged.

It is ironic, really. I started reading adult books when I became a teen. It wasn't until I became an adult that I started reading books meant for teens.

So, next time you're in the library or bookstore, head to the young-adult books and take a look. There's a lot of great material there! It's your chance to be young again.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Mister Know-It-All

You want to know something? I'm a really annoying person.

Thing is, I don't mean to be. I'm also a very nice, compassionate, intelligent person. Yet, I can't seem to help being a Know-It-All.

I don't mean to say that I actually know it all. I don't. Not even close. I just come across that way. Really, it is more that I'm a stickler for accuracy...and so if I read or hear something that isn't quite right, I have this innate need to set things straight.

Of course, on occasion I've been wrong about what I thought wasn't quite right. But, generally, I tend to keep a lot of unimportant facts and details in my brain that really don't matter to anyone else. Worse than that, however, is that I end up telling people these unimportant facts.

I swear, if my wife ever considered divorcing me, it would be over the times I decided to "correct" something she said. Never mind the correction was completely beside the point of the conversation. Yet, in those times, I can almost see the flames of annoyance in her eyes. Then I have to come up with some clever or witty cover to douse her irritation with me. (As it turns out, I'm neither clever nor witty most of the time.)

I wonder why it is. I mean, it's not like I've never written or said anything that wasn't 100% accurate myself. And, honestly, I find it terribly annoying to be corrected when that happens. I, of course, have to come up with something terribly clever or witty to hide the fact I didn't know what I was talking. (And as it turns out, I'm neither clever nor witty most of those times, either.)

Yet, knowing that...knowing that being a Mister Know-It-All is just annoying, I can't seem to stop myself. It is a disease, really. And so, I must apologize right here and now to each and every person who had to roll their eyes at me. And while I'm at it, I'll apologize to each and every person who will inevitably have to roll their eyes at me in the future. Because I'm a flawed individual who just happens to Know It All. I can't help myself. (Annoying, isn't it?)