Don’t Go Out the Front Door (Or Under the Kitchen Sink)!

It’s funny how being a parent alters the way you look at things. If you’ve been there (or currently are there), you know what I mean – cleaning up traditionally repugnant substances like poop, vomit or any other of the vast variety of sputum becomes, through some reverse transubstantiation, as mundane and ho-hum a task as sweeping up cracker crumbs. The point being, if you’re a parent, then you just don’t get freaked out about the same things you used to.

The same could be said for situations that don’t involve the body’s by-products. For example, a couple of evenings ago while Lizzy and I were getting supper ready, Sarah popped out the front door unattended for a bit of pre-dinner running around. We don’t normally have a problem with this sort of thing, as long as we know where she is and we’re able to check on her every few minutes or so, so we let her do her thing while we went about setting the table.

Upon coming back into the house Sarah proudly informed us that she had made a “garden” on the front step (see picture). We went out to have a look, and, sure enough, she had gathered various flower petals and arranged them in a neat pile, surrounded by carefully chosen twigs, on the stone tiles in front of our door.

Lizzy and I both oohed and aahed accordingly while Sarah bounced into the house, proud of her achievement. And really, who can blame her? Look at her choice of color, the arrangement of the material, her selection of found objects – quite impressive, if you ask me.

“It’s my garden!” Sarah beamed, hopping about in the living room.

“How nice!” Lizzy beamed in response.

“That is beautiful!” I offered enthusiastically, beaming even brighter.

“Yes!” Sarah beamed some more.

If you haven’t noticed, we’re one of those families that tends to beam a lot.

We were just at the point where even the cats were about to start beaming when Sarah, buoyant as ever, added:

“Somebody died there!”

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those movies where the family moves into a new house and the littlest one – usually some dour, brooding type – stands at the top of the stairs and utters an ominous and foreboding non sequitur like “It’s in the cellar,” or “Why is the floor all red, Daddy?” and the parents brush the statement off with a distracted tousle of the kid’s hair and a casual “Aw, how cute…now go play with your new Heretic Necklace, Dakota!”  Well if you have then you know that the child’s announcement would have in actuality portended the demise of both the house and family, most likely at the hands of some ancient daemon or disgruntled Native American’s curse. Additionally, you’ve probably shaken your head incredulously, questioning how any adult could possibly have be so clueless as to have missed the obvious warning.

But there we were, all smiles in the living room as Sarah, skipping over to the dinner table, reiterated her statement that her creation commemorated some poor soul’s demise. Lizzy and I exchanged a chuckle, mused on our daughter’s creativity for a moment, then went back to the dining room.

I mean, are we crazy? Sarah’s flower and stick arrangement turns out to be not just a spontaneous and girlish burst of creativity but instead memorializes some imaginary person’s death and here we are, thinking, “Oh, kids….” Next thing you know walking out back and finding Sarah drawing chalk pentagrams on her Melissa & Doug easel while speaking in tongues will be a common occurrence, as will waking up in the middle of the night after some fitful dream and finding her standing over our bedside in the dark, brooding silently.

Of course, just this morning while getting ready for school Sarah amused herself by opening up the cabinet door under the kitchen sink, happily muttering “Monkeys, monkeys, monkeys…” so maybe the whole death-shrine thing is nothing to worry about. I mean, I’m certainly not going to believe a four year-old’s claim that there are anthropoids under our sink, so why give credence to anything else her healthy imagination feels like producing? Just encourage and move along, right?

I guess the desensitizing aspect of parenthood serves a pretty good purpose. Otherwise we’d be far too grossed out to clean up any of the messes, or too concerned about monsters in the closet – or, say, monkeys under the sink – to function properly. And while I may never know if anyone did ever die on our front door step, I can say with a pretty high level of confidence that there are no monkeys, under-sink residing or otherwise, anywhere in the house.

At least, I don’t think there are.

Aw, crap.

Run, Jason, Run!

I have decided to start jogging again. It’s no secret to those who have actually seen me swell in girth over the years that I’m not the spry, lanky chap I was around the time Lizzy and I were married, and while Lizzy seems unfazed by my appearance I myself am starting to get pretty fed up.

The story: the family and I recently returned from a short-ish trip to the East coast to attend a cousin’s wedding and visit, for five days, with my mother and her husband Neil at their home in New Hampshire. We had a great time, of course, but I’m afraid that while there I perhaps took too advantage of the freedom vacations usually allow the weak-willed. You know what I mean – you eat and drink like there’s no tomorrow, stay up late, rarely shower, that kind of thing.

I also made the mistake of looking over some old photos of myself that my mother had gathered in an old shoebox. Now I know that looking at twenty year-old pictures of oneself is inadvisable to just about anybody, but to say that I was thinner in those old high-school pictures would be a significant understatement, on par with saying that Al Pacino used to be a more nuanced actor or that journalism used to be a more viable career choice.

How thin was I? Well I’ve never been blessed with much muscle, at least none that didn’t require about a decade or so at the gym to develop, and I’m only five and a half feet tall. Add to that what must have been a raging metabolism and lots of bike riding and you get a teenager who graduated High School weighing about a hundred and twenty eight pounds.

Now in college, of course, that changed drastically.  The discovery of an almost unlimited access to all the food and alcohol any eighteen year-old could ever ask for resulted in the rapid addition of about forty – that’s right, forty – pounds onto the Miller frame, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that it was accomplished before December of my freshman year. Consequently I spent much of my ensuing college years in a state of rotundity not unlike that of your average Manatee or pot-bellied pig.

I lost the weight after graduation, and kept it off for years thanks to a better diet and an unshakably peripatetic lifestyle. But then came marriage. Then parenthood. Then a move away from one of the country’s most walking-friendly regions (Boston) to Southern California, where there is hardly any public transit system and where one can’t get anywhere worth going without hopping on a damned freeway and sitting in traffic for nine hours.

Gradually, I’ve seen my weight creep up since arriving in Long Beach, an inexorable and unappealing incline that has, as of this writing, engendered about twenty pounds of me that weren’t extant a mere three years ago.

I had already been contemplating a strict change in lifestyle, and had even, in the past couple of months, gravitated away from eating heavier foods and to a more veggie-centric diet. But apparently no one told my weight, which continued to inch higher. The once-reliable metabolism, it seems, must have decided to check out early.

So all this past week I’ve been running, sometimes with Lizzy and sometimes alone in the early AM. Nothing big, just a couple miles a day, but we plan on working our way up in the mileage department once the limbs and frame get used to the abuse. Also we’ve decided, being the trendy types that we are, to run sans footwear, an endeavor we’ve undertaken not just because the concept is intriguing but because, at least for me, it removes from the process the whole cumbersome business of putting on socks and lacing up shoes. I mean to say, when the act of getting up and jogging is already in a constant battle with the non-act of staying in bed, knowing that you’re going to have to struggle blindly with the footwear might just be enough to tip the scales toward the latter.

I’m still getting used to a couple of aspects of this jogging thing though, one of which is my mental state during the run. Now I know that a couple of miles or so is not nearly long enough to put any runner into an endorphin-induced trance or “zone,” but I had hoped that my thoughts might at least run a bit more strongly toward the positive. Exercise is supposed to help the mood, right?

Sadly, that has not yet been the case, as I have found that while jogging my mind is filled with an unending interior monologue. And what the interior monologue has to say isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s not so much a monologue as it is a diatribe.  If I’m not cursing the sidewalks or grumbling about politics, I’m thinking catty things about a friend’s interior decorating choices or fantasizing about besting the drunk guy who made fun of me at the wedding last week (because I was drinking a white wine and apparently looked “English”) with a barrage of searing insults before raining blows down upon his head.

Once, and I swear this is true, I lurched pass a sign outside of a church that read “Live Simply, Care Deeply” and thought, “Fuck you.” I mean, what’s up with that?

And as if that weren’t bad enough, I’m forced to deal with certain – how should I say it? – anatomical aspects of running. I won’t go into too much detail here, but let me just say that when one has just started jogging and is wearing a brand-new pair of running underwear under his shorts, one finds that after only a few yards or so one’s, um, male thing immediately misplaces itself and winds up pointing, under the force of the underwear’s vice-like grip, in a direction one is not typically accustomed to.

But all in all my new hobby had been a success. That is only if you don’t measure the success of exercise by the number of pounds shed; this morning, after almost a week of running and dieting, I ventured onto the scale to find that, give or take an ounce, I hadn’t lost anything.


I can’t wait to see what my interior monologue has to say about that one tomorrow morning.