Tree Frog Shine

You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. 

You can but it is difficult. 

And if it is Colgate you won’t get the stripes as cleanly the second time. TikTok says you can magically get the stripes no matter how many times you load it back in but I don’t trust anyone on TikTok. That nozzle isn’t magic. 

I saw a delivery guy go viral for finding a floating broom in the middle of a neighborhood around Halloween. He stopped in the street and made like three videos in utter disbelief at this magical bewitched floating Harry Potter Nimbus 3000 fucking broom. He was shaken. The video got seven million views and three hundred and fifty thousand comments. The full range of speculation. My favorite was the conclusion that obviously the witch had fallen off and the broom’s default holding pattern had taken over and was waiting on its master to recover. Like a jet ski without a rider. 

Not to brag but I’m basically famous-adjacent because I know the witch behind the whole thing. Which doesn’t really count because they didn’t get famous from it so… I’m obscure-adjacent. 

Where was I? 

I think I was setting the stage for not being able to travel to the past. To erase a misstep. To undo knowledge once it is gained. That is important this time of year. The one tradition that we have held for the children and our own selfish purposes is the tradition of inviting small stuffed elves into our home and thereby, their employer; Santa. 

Now… we have four children and their ages are getting into the range of non-belief and skepticism. That’s fine for most things. But my younger two really enjoy the Santa season. It is still fun to see the elves move around and get into trouble. It is still fun to get a stocking and sort out all the personalized choices that the man-in-red makes for them. As it so happens, the stockings became the issue this year. 

Christmas Day we pull out the stocking and sort all of the knickknacks. Each stocking got a pack of flavorful Trident gum. One was Tropical Orange and the other Watermelon. Each came in a pack of three so we chose four of the six and doled them out on Christmas Eve to make the stocking complete. The remaining two we set aside for our own purposes. We then placed the stocking on the hearth and retired to bed. 

Did you notice the error? We didn’t either. 

Fast forward. Christmas morning is a success. Brunch goes well. We eat and wade through torn wrapping paper and lie around like the lazy sacks of Christmas waste all day. As we are finishing the day and handing out some evening melatonin, Donna Threeto looks on the bedside nightstand and notices an unopened pack of Trident Tropical Orange. She then looks in the trashcan and saw the packaging that all of the packs came in. 

Like a puzzled puppy, she tilited her head to one side and said, ‘”huh…”. Then I saw it. The little childish twinkle got a little dimmer and she became just a degree more solemn. 

“Do you help Santa sometimes?” she asked.

“Yes honey, most parents help Santa.” I replied.

And that was it. She quietly walked into the kitchen and got a bowl of ice cream. 

Supermom and I both knew. She knew too.

It is one of those moments that is tiny but underpins a change in perspective. Less magic and more cold reality. 

Today was a little bit of that for me as well. We have a traditional day-after-christmas gathering with my father’s side of the family. My Grandmother has always loved Christmas and poured all of her energy each year into selecting gifts and giving them to her very large family. She would accumulate things over the year and they always had specific thought and purpose. In recent years she has struggled with Alzheimer’s and our tradition has been reduced to symbolic envelopes. This year the tradition was reduced further because she wasn’t in the room to watch the envelopes get handed out.

This feels like the last year we will carry that torch. The flame might have flickered out.

My aunt brought a large box with jewelry. Pins, button covers, bracelets, necklaces, broaches, and several other types of accent pieces. All had one thing in common. They had to be related to frogs. Greatmother built a reputation as a lady who enjoyed frogs in all of their whimsy. If something could be adorned with a frog then she had it and here in this box were years of the hoarded frogs. We spent part of the afternoon sifting through the collection and taking the ones that caught our eye. Tokens to remember a once powerful lady who has grown frail.  

Each trinket I looked at, I wanted. I could see a unique color or shape or detail that might have made it special to her. There is one where two frogs, who are clearly friends, are sitting on a log and just passing the time. They are happy in each others company. I grabbed that one. There is a Mardi Gras frog and I remember she had trips to New Orleans. I grabbed that one. There is a shiny smooth tree frog that looks like it is climbing a tree and looking back down. There wasn’t much to associate it with so I passed it over. It feels like passing those details over is letting part of her die. And doing while she is sitting in a wheelchair in the other room, wondering where she is at, seems especially cruel. I would love to have her sit and recount the special memories that each one represents. To tell me about trips and friends and how no matter where she traveled in the world, frogs were common ground. Maybe that is just a sorrowful thought that sounds good but is not something that would have been given the time.  

The truth is that I try to cling to things as surrogates to my own memories. It hurts to think about not having a lucid moment where my grandmother sees me and loves me the way she always had. She smiled at me and there was a brief second of maybe recognition but she wasn’t there. Her eyes are smaller and unfocused. Her mind wanders on the little things and she is rarely present beyond the moment at hand. Her light has all but died as well. I sit here tonight with tears streaming as I write and I mourn for someone I haven’t yet lost but I haven’t brought myself to visit in the past year. Too busy is a pitiful excuse. 

Our traditions are changing and there is this ongoing season of loss hanging over our heads. It is heavy. Then I look at the other end of the family tree and things are looking brighter. Children are happy and healthy and growing into young adults. It is important for them to learn the hard lessons and hopefully through a couple of generational layers to dull the sting. So we carry on and smile. We request things of Santa and welcome his elves into our homes. And for the next little while, when I wear a suit at work, there will be a small frog resting on the lapel. 

Greatmother has had a great life and is owed a giant slice of gratitude for who I am today. If you find yourself missing someone who might not even be gone, this post is for you. You’re welcome.

-Underdaddy to the rescue. 

Sole Mate

Some of my best pondering comes from answering small questions from the kids on topics that are mainstream and seem innocent but upon a little inspection they are pretty terrible ideas.

One of my children asked me the other day, “Daddy, do you believe in soulmates?”. Awww, cute.

I thought for a second and asked a follow-up, “Do I believe in the idea that two souls are predestined to compliment one another like Yin and Yang and exist in effortless bliss? That they seek each other out and when they find their match there is an instant and permanent bond?” 

She smiled and said, “Yes. That.”

Do I believe in that? Hmmm.

No. 

I don’t. 

Honestly, I can’t think of a more toxic approach to romance. 

I think there are people who you meet and you know, in mere seconds, that you share something with them. Humor, interests, attraction. There are clues or vibes or energy that says “hey, this is my kind of people.” I have lots of friends that I’ve met this way. I knew in 0.2 seconds that I wanted to date Supermom. I think there are also people who you meet who you know almost instantly, “f* this asshole”. They cause your hair to bristle on the back of your neck. Something inside tells you that friendship is very unlikely. I believe in the power of first impressions and the feelings they create. But that isn’t something predestined.   

No… this idea of a soulmate is really a terrible one. 

For one, what happens if soulmates are a thing and yours gets hit by a bus? What if it is seconds after you meet or, even worse, seconds before? Do you get a runner up soul-mate? Are you doomed to go through life seeking someone less than perfect for a mate? And that brings another question. Do you even have to find a soulmate in the first place? What if you aren’t interested in a partnership at all. The current birthrate and beer commercials suggest that most humans are interested in mating but some people aren’t. Are they leaving someone stranded? Who is pairing people up and then sending them out with the stork to later find each other like a sexy game of Where’s Waldo? 

Or what about this one… Let’s say I’ve taught my children that soulmates are a thing because Disney or whatever and then they grow up and get married to someone who they feel fits the description. Then the marriage becomes terrible but they hesitate to make a change because somewhere inside we created this emotional trap of a soulmate. They are genuinely concerned that this is their one shot and by “giving up” on this idea they are settling for something less than ideal. That would suck.  

Don’t even think about the stalkers who are convinced that the uninterested target of their affections is actually their soulmate. They feel a divine purpose to stay in pursuit and awaken this feeling in their victim. What would have happened if Sleeping Beauty woke up and thanked the charming prince for his kindness and bravery but then moved on with her life and left him in the dust? I don’t want my daughters chained to some toxic dude because they feel that a) he earned it or b) the universe ordained it.

Or Snow White after the creepy dude kissed her knowing that everyone thought she was dead. They thought she was DEAD. Everyone did. This dude opened a casket and kissed a hot chick he found while walking in the forest. This is a romantic story but all I can wonder is what is wrong with men. If I was an eligible bachelor strolling through the woods and came upon a well-preserved dead girl in a glass coffin on a vine covered altar I don’t think the emotion would be aroused. Or even affectionate. Curious maybe but certainly not drawn to open the Tupperware container and bestow a kiss. That’s how you get zombies, Steve.  

Enough of that rabbit hole. Back to the main event. If I don’t believe in a soul-mate then where does this idea come from? What’s behind the allure?

I think our desire for an everlasting reward from a long struggle comes from a place deep inside where we want finality and certainty. We need a goal post. We want to know that a struggle is worth it. Love, like most good things in life, takes energy and effort. We want something that we can cross off the list and say “Done”. Soulmate, check. 

We do this with other things too. We decide that the next milestone is the key. If I can just get “x” then I will be happy or safe or something. 

Its why diets fail. Its why rich people and celebrities still suffer from depression. Its why empires rise and fall. We enjoy the challenge and the excitement of changes and compliments on our progress but once we achieve the goal. Now what? Oh… just some maintenance? That sounds fun.

Anything you worked hard to get should be worth keeping. And if it is worth keeping then it will take effort. Purposeful effort. I myself need that reminder a hundred times a day for a hundred different things. I still can’t figure out how our little white dog Jasper is worth any effort at all but Supermom has his back.  

Oh well. Such is life. 

If you are dubious on the ideas of soulmates then I guess this post is for you. You’re welcome. If you firmly believe you were granted one from the universe, then good for you. For myself, I believe I found an amazing partner. I couldn’t imagine a better person or path for my life. If I thought soulmates were a real thing, she’d be a shoe-in. But we work every day to take care of our love and our family. Does it help that we are both amazingly sexy creatures of unlimited physical and mental desire? Of course. Sure. But that’s icing on the cake. We share our journey as well as our destinations. We piss each other off and lift each other up. We support each other’s crazy ideas. But there is nothing guaranteed or automatic. I hope my children see the purpose and the effort and know that the life you live is the life you have chosen by doing the little things day in and day out. Don’t wait around to find your soulmate, work to become one. 

-Underdaddy to the rescue. 

Vehicular Homicide Pt 2

On Christmas day at 6:30 am some nutso domestic terrorist detonated a car bomb in downtown Nashville. An RV bomb is more accurate. The RV is the cover photo for this post. There were three injuries and no loss of life (bomber doesn’t count) but millions of dollars in damages and probably a total loss of some historic properties that won’t be replaced. A terrible event that could have been much worse. 

I mention this event for posterity and also to contrast and compare with the events I’m about to share so that in hindsight they will seem not-so-bad and even comical. 

So a few stories back we established the fact that Papaw is an immortal anomaly who haunts the dreams of OSHA inspectors every night. (Occupational Safety and Health Administration for my overseas friends) OSHA makes the recommendations to not stand above a certain height on a ladder or to wear safety glasses. Those kinds of things. Things that are too cumbersome for a man on Papaw’s schedule. 

No sir. This board has to be cut on this table saw immediately. Who has time for safety glasses or hearing protection or even proper wiring. Not Papaw. Safety third. 

The other day I had a very Papaw-esque encounter and I just found it too fun not to share. 

Papaw: (calling on the cell phone) Hey can you give me a ride home from work?

UD: Sure, what’s up?

Papaw: Ahhh, my truck’s got a flat tire and I had to park it and Mamaw had to bring me to work.

UD: Okay. No problem. I can be there in just a little bit. Say, I thought you had an air tank that you carried on the truck?

Papaw: Well… the tire is pretty damaged. And I lost the spare. And my extra gas can. 

UD: Hmmm. That sounds like one hell of a flat tire. Did it explode or something?

Papaw: Yeah, I hit something and tore my tire all to pieces and I it knocked some stuff off the truck.

UD: Oh wow. What did you hit? A deer?

Papaw: I don’t know. I ran off the road a little and hit something hard but I didn’t see anything.

UD: Did you stop.

Papaw: No, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal but then my tire went flat.

UD: Did you look at the truck once you got stopped?

Papaw: Yeah something red on the bumper and down the right side.

UD: Jesus. Was it blood? Did you hit a person? Am I an accomplice to a crime?

Papaw: No, no, its paint from something.

UD: Something?! That could be anything! Was it a kid named Timmy in a little red wagon? (It was nearly midnight so this option was doubtful but I was concerned.)

Papaw: I don’t know son. *exasperated sigh* I’ll have to go and see after work.

UD: How did you not see something? Did you fall asleep?

Papaw: My window was frosted.

UD: Did you not wait for it to defrost?

Papaw: Well I did but the wipers don’t work on the left side (driver’s side) so it was blurry and I just ran off the road a little because I couldn’t tell where the edge was. It was just a mailbox or something.

UD: Okay. But you know that could’ve been little Timmy in a red wagon.

Papaw: But it wasn’t.

UD: But… it wasn’t. 

Y’all. 

This is peak Papaw. 

A chain of preventable events that are sacrificed on the altar of getting something done. In this case, it was “not being late to work so the other guy doesn’t have to work longer.” Epic self-sacrifice to avoid creating inconvenience. If he was in the military he would have been the guy jumping on the grenade or fending off an attack after getting shot thirty times. This is the core of his being and I love it about him but sometimes it manifests in hilarious ways. 

So fast forward and I’ve picked him up from work and carried him home. We passed the scene of the events and there wasn’t much to see. Some scattered debris and a couple of posts where mailboxes and something else used to stand proud at the edge of the road. 

I dropped him off and started back home but slowed down on this pass to get a better look. 

That is when I see the entire grill off the front of the truck, a crumpled light pole with a red cast iron base sheared out of a concrete footing, and two innocent mailboxes scattered into the forest. Someone had stopped and snagged the gas can. The giant spare tire is laying in the grass about twenty feet past the truck grill. 

It looks like the Roswell crash site. I can only imagine the explosive force required to dismantle all of these things and to further imagine that he drove three miles before thinking “that tire feels a little flat, better not drive on it” just makes my day. 

This is a smart man. A strategic man. A thoughtful man. But as a mechanic, he has the idea that cars are disposable and anything mechanical can be stitched back together with enough bailing wire and curse words. 

And he isn’t wrong but damn. My candy ass hits a pothole too hard and I’m sick to my stomach over a disrupted wheel alignment and uneven tire wear. I have a lot to learn.

For those of you wondering. He did go back and replace the mailboxes because he is a stand-up guy. He kept the light pole base because childhood poverty taught him that hoarding is necessary for survival. It will live in the pile of old truck toolboxes until the price of scrap metal rises or he passes it to his children in his will. The victimized truck will live to threaten more mailboxes. I guess its just another ongoing case of vehicular homicide. You’re welcome. And Happy NEW YEAR!

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

If you missed the original Vehicular Homicide or Papaw Stories like The Normalcy Bias or Coon Whisperer click on the link.

The Long December

What a weird season. 

Thanksgiving was weird. Christmas is going to be the same. 

We have had our first brush with COVID in our direct family. My oldest daughter and my mother both have had positive tests. One had some burning sensation in her nose. The other ended up at the ER twice and on oxygen for several days. Things are better all-around and no one else has gotten sick… yet. 

It is one of the most frustrating things imaginable. A slow-moving train of symptoms and the only real solution is to sit and wait. Check temperatures. Check O2 levels. Did you sneeze? Do you feel okay? Do I feel okay?

My dog had COVID. 

And not the dog I don’t like. The good dog got it and ruined the carpet in my hallway. Full stomach dog pukes. Like a dustpan and full rolls of paper towels to clean it up. At all hours. 

And here is a good question. 

Why does dog food have red coloring in it? Aren’t dogs colorblind? Do we really need the mulched soup of ricemeal and chicken lips to be some pleasing array of colors? 

My dog eats cat shit and dead things. Spare me the red dye. 

And Jasper, the little white dog… never showed a symptom. Each time I find him cold and motionless I think, “Thank goodness” or “that took longer than I thought.” But no. He is always fine. He just sleeps like the dead and he is deaf. I’ve found him in every contorted position possible and each time he is alive. I know all this sounds terrible and I’ve made my case before but he’s an asshole. He’s a papercut lemon of a dog.

 

We are behind on Christmas preparations. I got a tree and it is the most 2020 tree I can imagine. We didn’t soap it this year which made me sad but the again the damn thing doesn’t have enough branches to soap. Imagine for a moment that we rescued the scraggly tree from Charlie Brown and nursed it back to health. But even though it escaped death and grew into a full-sized tree the damage was done. The branches were warped from malnutrition and grew at odd intervals. Now, standing before us loaded with lights and ornaments, we all look around nervously wondering if someone is going to mention just how garbage the tree actually looks. 

Pitiful

Supermom had a fun crafts project that I got to help with. She made a wall of Christmas movie quotes.

We made gingerbread houses (thanks to my sister-in-law) and even though they look like they were assembled by blind people they look better than our tree. 

Its fine. Everything is fine.

We watched The Dead Poets Society tonight. I miss Robin Williams. It’s a great movie and I’ve been working hard to expose my children to quality entertainment in music, books, and film. I forgot how the storyline feels so very “Catcher in the Rye”. The story is in the characters and requires paying attention. There seem to be less of those types of stories. We don’t have time for them. We need things we can have playing in the background while we do ten other things. 

Yesterday we watched Ten Things I Hate About You and there is a house-party scene that interested me because no one had a phone. I hadn’t really thought about that movie being and old movie. No one was taking photos to share or scrolling through Facebook. No group selfies or texts. I don’t know that you could make that movie these days and get away with the plot devices. All the misunderstandings and miscommunications would be hashed out in the comments section of some viral teenage post. 

Buts that’s what we are up to these days. Sitting around finishing up quarantine. And while it is driving me insane, I feel extremely lucky that my list of complaints is so benign. We have it pretty good and a lot of people don’t. 

If you are having trouble with how the year is wrapping up, this one is for you. Winter is going to feel longer this year. I hope everyone who has love, shares it and everyone who needs love, reaches out and finds it. If you made it this far then go ahead and say hi with a comment. And for everyone who likes a good Papaw story, I have one in the works. Stay tuned and you’re welcome. 

-Underdaddy to the rescue. 

Just Next Door

I have a neighbor and he is in his 90’s. Let’s call him Mr. Jones. He is a really nice and interesting man. He lives alone and I don’t see him out and about much other than his daily walk to the mailbox. We talked a few times but, on the whole, I don’t know that much about him.

But I do notice how regularly he has his yard maintained. (Mostly because mine usually lags behind) He seems to like his yard to be really well looked after.

Mr. Jones’ backyard is a large expanse of Bermuda grass surrounded by tall and aged Oak trees. If storms knock down limbs or water isn’t draining away or the leaves begin to fall he has someone come and fix those things right away. He keeps things looking good. I’ve had the passing thought that it seems like a lot of work for something I rarely see anyone using. 

One of our impromptu mailbox talks led to a conversation about his backyard and how central it was as a gathering place for the teens in a church youth group many years ago. The weekly games of two hand touch football were a big deal in the neighborhood. I could tell that he held some really great memories of the time spent in that backyard. 

Today I heard some voices and laughter from my neighbor’s backyard and I looked over to see a mother and two young children running in the backyard and playing. A little later the dad joined in the fun. Then my neighbor’s son, which would be the toddler’s grandfather, made a few laps around the yard. Four generations of family with a shared memory of laughing with each other in that backyard. 

I thought about how Mr. Jones kept that backyard in top shape probably just for a few chance encounters. For days like today. He holds that space open.

I think of my Great Grandmother who had cable TV because we might want to watch it and bought cheese and Pringles chips because we liked to eat them. I think of my Grandmother who made sure our Christmases were special. My dad who keeps up a pool mostly because the grandkids swim in it and my mom who keeps a farm of animals that she should probably winnow down but because the grandkids like them… 

They were/are all holding a space.

That, to me, is our humanity. Our ability to love the next generation and give them a gift of memories they will open years down the road. Somewhere between receiving and giving is when we discover that the gift even exists.

I get caught up in the stories of the week and my chase for success in a hundred different forms. I forget that I am on the clock. I enjoyed seeing Mr. Jones and his family living in the middle of a moment. It reminds me that while you can’t demand memories be made, you can hold a space open for them and sooner or later they will come along. 

If you enjoy a nice and pure moment, this post is for you. You’re welcome. This is a crazy season for the world in general. Hold open some peaceful spaces.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.