Sunday, November 17, 2013

Birthdays and Ketchup

You might wonder why I am writing about September in November. I might even explain, but I gave up on silly things like caring shortly after Kindergarten. Just ask my Mom.

For example, Angie wanted to take the boys to the last Lighting of the Castle for this year. There are only three castle illuminations a year to commemorate the destruction of the castle by the French, and given the summer we've been dealt, I can understand Angie's frantic demand to make the last one in September. I should have cared that the light show doesn't start until after 10:00 PM and it is followed by a fireworks show down by the river. But I didn't.

As we saddled up the horses to ride, Tommy broke down into a sniveling mess because the Velcro strap on his shoe didn't stick the first time he closed it. It didn't matter that the second time he tried, it worked as intended. His melting point focused on the fact that it hadn't worked the first time.

It was about that point that Angie and I exchanged a mutual look: You need to stay home with Tommy.

Shortly after, I innocently asked Angie why she was putting on her boots and she retorted with a question that made it mutually understandable that I would be the one staying home to play the crying game with Tommy. Fine, go! I don't care.

The show was spectacular, or so I found out later. I was too busy trying to force cranky four-year olds to go to sleep amid loud booming and flashing skies. Yeah, good luck with that one.  

At least Angie had a good time, which is really the only thing that I cared about. Get it?

After the show, Angie's mind took a step to the left and somehow thought it would be a delightfully brilliant warp to buy the boys frozen sugar.

Angie proudly showed the pictures when she came home, but I didn't care. I mean, come on - what could she possibly do to top that?

'Woman! Are you actually flaunting a picture of how you bought the boys a Coca Cola dessert after an ice-cream dinner?'

'Yeah, but look - the Coke bottle's label says "David".'

I chose to ignore insane female-types. In fact, I chose to ignore just about everything at that point. I don't care.

The boys were still bouncing when Bensheim had their street festival. Peter wanted to try to do a flip on their bungee cord ride. Unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, Peter has a conservative brain that would not allow him to do silly things like flipping in mid-air.

Fortunately, depending on how you look at it, David's brain is, hmmm... different. Yeah, different.

'Whoa, Papa! Check this out! I can do a flip-to-flip!'

I looked over at Peter, who had just failed his 8th attempt. He looked crushed. Maybe it was because David had managed to nail it on his first try. Or maybe because 20 seconds later David had figured out how to do a backward flip. Or maybe it was because Flipper-not's Papa could simply not stop cracking up. The reason didn't matter, though. I didn't care.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, this is a catch-up blog. The name should have given it away, but in case it didn't the next blur of pictures should nail home the point. The name should also give you the hint that a few birthdays might be included. The first was Kent's 50th boat ride.

Despite the seasoned look of a sailor, no - it wasn't a party to mark the 50th time that Kent has been on a boat. It was, however, a kick-ass way to celebrate a semi-century of living. After a three-hour tour, the Skipper rounded up the crew and we headed over to the Brass Monkey to regain our land legs. I found mine. For a little while.

After a hard night of partying like rock stars, nothing hits the spot like a double-liquid breakfast consisting of caffeine. After getting wired for sound, Angie and I decided to go for a picnic. It started out loud and, well, pretty much stayed that way. Nature hates us.

The boys only stay focused if you give them tasks that don't require a lot of time and are fairly easy to accomplish. Their first mission was to climb on top of the sign with the general rules for the park, including one that forbid children from climbing signs. Luckily, I didn't care.  

On the trails, Peter was the first one to discover a mushroom.

One mushroom. A single shroom that unwittingly launched 'The War of the Fungi'. David countered with an offensive that, frankly, put Peter's solitary victory to shame.

Tommy wanted to join the fight as well, but he, um, hmm... let's just say he couldn't even find the battlefield. At first, it was a challenge. After 45 seconds, it was a sniveling meltdown of mass proportions. Luckily, my brain is sharper than a sushi knife.

'Tommy, you know what - just stand there and smile. I'm sure there is a mushroom somewhere.' 

Tommy wasn't exactly content with his wise father's words of wisdom, but for some reason, only known to me, Tommy's father didn't care. I was too busy setting up our picnic table.

'Yeah, this is Johnson calling again. I've called twice now asking why the bucket of wild mushrooms is taking so long.'

'Papa - what is a "bucket"?

I ignored urges to start rhyming and left the table to try and smack Peter in the forehead with a Frisbee.

After 30 minutes of near-hits, we moved on to check on the family tree. A few years ago, I carved 'PEDATO' (PEter, DAvid, TOm) into a chunk of deadwood and our trips to nature always include a check to make sure that the boys' carved logo still lives in infamy.

Speaking of carving with sharp objects, Peter impressed me but not losing a digit when he amazed us with his 'apple crown' trick.

'Wow, Peter! High-five!'

Speaking of fives, Tommy celebrated a semi-decimal.

In addition to noise and energy, Tommy brought POWER to the table.

Tommy saved the biggest gift for last, which is exactly the opposite of my approach when I was his age. It could explain why Christmas for me normally started with a lot of excitement followed by a series of incremental disappointments. In hindsight, maybe Tommy's approach is wiser. Maybe.

For the last two years, Tommy has wanted a big-boy scooter. Two years ago, though, Tommy could not ride a bike and he hated wearing a helmet, so you can probably guess what we've been working on since then. If you can't, I don't care - Tommy loved it.

For the next event, I won't dwell on it. I took Peter to teach him how to play darts. At this point, I would like to state that Peter is a very eager learner. And apparently a shit-hot dart player.

We played a game of 301. I made a point of explaining to Peter that darts, like chess, is one of the games where I simply will not let him win. He understood this. I also explained that we would not be playing 'baby rules', meaning that in order for him to win, he would need to double out.

Peter spastically threw at the board, but somehow managed each time to hit a triple something. I wasn't worried, though, because to win he would have to double out and actually hit a number he was aiming for. For Peter, his final close was a six.

'Peter, that means you have to hit a double three to win.'

'Papa, I know that already.'

Mr. Know-It-All proceeded to nail, with his first dart, a double three.

'That's great, Peter. Let's go home and play chess.'

We went home, but Peter was selfishly distracted with bragging to anyone who would listen to him that he kicked my ass at darts. Luckily, this only included everyone. You know what, though - I don't care.

After our father-son bonding moment, I thought a godfather-godson moment was in order. Sebastian is one of Peter's Godfathers, which means three guarantees: burgers, popcorn, and 3-D Star Trek. We kicked off our back-to-back movie marathon with some greasy hockey pucks.

Peter discovered that when the big boys hang out without Mama, different rules apply. Like in real life.

After tripling the amount of caffeine that Peter has ever had in his life, we kicked back for a four-hour popcorn frenzy.

Spending half a day indoors letting Peter fill his belly with coke and popcorn made putting the boys to bed, um...well, put it this way - the next day we decided to go for a long hike along the river.

Things were going fine until we started. Then Peter and David started fighting like brothers. They kept chasing each other and growling. At the point that Peter almost punched David into the Neckar, Angie and I decided to split up the boys. She got David and I drew the would-be drowner and Tommy, who was too busy collecting 'banana leaves' to take sides.

At various checkpoints, Angie and I tested the waters by letting Peter and David look at each other. Let's just say that the waters failed the test. Ferociously. I don't know even know why they the hell they were fighting, but just to be consistent, I didn't care.

I actually did care when David ran up and snatched Peter's bamboo stick. Peter had found it along the river and had been delicately carrying it around for hours, apparently intent on treasuring it for life. David didn't understand why Peter thought it was the coolest thing ever produced by nature. He just knew that Peter liked it. That's when Destructo Dave came in and, you know, did his thing.

Peter screeched like a wounded bat. Angie growled at David, who tried to explain between giggles that it was somehow Peter's fault. Tommy ignored the mayhem and turned to ask me a question for the fifth time.

'Papa, you like my banana leafs?'

Papa didn't answer. Instead, he let his internal beer-compass lead the Family Feud to The Brass Monkey, a liver-friendly establishment that had a sign promising a 'Happy Hour'.

After 59 minutes, I thought about lodging a formal complaint, but then I remembered - I don't care.

Instead my thoughts turned to Peter, who has recently taken up gymnastics.

His motivation for picking a sport that builds your upper body strength may be related to certain recent events involving David and a bamboo stick. David has been training in hockey, though, so it could turn out to be a rather interesting Winter Olympics.

So, right, back to Birthdays. We'll start up that fun with David, who chose to invite a soccer team of friends to get their game on.

But wasn't his birthday in May? This is true, but we never had his birthday party. The reason is simple - we are the Johnson's. Fashionably late bores us. We like to keep people on their toes. Are they celebrating five months late or is it seven months early? I'd probably answer the question, if I cared.

Barbara, on the other hand, actually planned and celebrated her birthday on time. Not sure if this has more to do with it being a party of if she was worried that the mussels wouldn't keep. My stomach is glad that she did not adopt the Johnson's method for event planning.

Peter and David had mixed reactions being dished up a bowl of shelled clams.

Peter stared down Opa's beer and probably thought 'Hmm, Opa let me drive his car the other day; maybe, just maybe...'. David's was more straightforward. He has spent hours on the beach with Mama trying to collect shells, so I'm pretty sure his thought was 'What? You want me to eat these?'

Tommy didn't even entertain the idea of eating the 'slimy sting bugs' that he was offered. He had found Peter's iPod nano and was stoned content with skipping dinner.

Barb was quick to accept that our boys would not be eating mussels and, being the favorite aunt she is, she decided it would be wiser than her brother-in-law to dump chocolate sprinkles on a cutting board and hand David a straw.

'Um, Barb, you do realize that David is the one that tends to get addicted to, well, anything, right?'


'Yeah, so maybe we should refrain from encouraging him to snort things with a straw that give him pleasure.'

At least cackling birthday chick reminded me of one thing - I don't care.

A few days later, I also didn't care when my last-born started giving me 'Tommy-oculars'.

Not surprisingly, David had to join in.

Surprisingly, Peter joined in as well.

Okay, I admit, I was not fast enough to capture Peter. He is very much aware now of the blog and for some reason, he has become very conscience when Papa is taking pictures.

Mama knows about the blog as well, but she either has a very short memory of she doesn't care. I sure didn't.

Peter thought I was distracted by Mama. Peter also thought that I could not quickly reposition and get an out-of-focus snapshot of him clinging to being a kid.

Peter completely freaked out on me and demanded that I delete the picture.

'What picture?'

'Oh, Papa! You know!'

'Um, nope. No idea.'

'Come on! It was the one where I was making the silly face.'

'Ah, do you mean this one?'

'Papa! That is NOT FUNNY!'

'You're right, but I DON'T CARE.'

Angie glared at me, but I also didn't care. It was her birthday soon, anyway, so it was time for a party.

'Time? What time is it?'

'Oh, that's right - it's time to Pa-tee!'

It's not a party until a glass gets broken, someone is arrested, or Tommy's Ute shows up in leather.

Angie was happy for everyone that showed up for her birthday party, but Ute was a very unexpected surprise. At that point, someone broke a glass and Angie thought she would round off the party criteria by stealing cucumbers from the kitchen.

Luckily, Angie was not arrested, Yeah, luckily.

After a belly full of stolen food, nothing hits the spot like a game of table soccer.

Angie and Ute's Alex enjoyed a winning streak that was slightly longer than my attention span.

'You guys so totally rocked...oh hey, look - a banana split!'

In Germany, you celebrate into your birthday, which we did. This shot above is a documented proof of Papa's attempt to bribe Tommy into keeping it quiet for a few more hours. Here, eat this!

As Tommy's morning snack was getting him started, Grams and Opa showed up to wish Angie a happy birthday. At one point, Opa and Tommy started arguing over the rules of Sleeping Queens, one of Tommy's favorite games. Thanks Zach & Owen!

Finally, Mama was called over to settle the fight. I think the expressions answer the question of who was right.

Tommy learned how to gloat from his mother, so let's just say he was quite happy. If want to see Tommy absolutely thrilled, though, just stop by our place on Halloween.

Speaking of bat-crazy, Angie decided to go as a Chia pet.

For some reason, Chia pets always remind me of Sea Monkeys. Hmm...monkeys. And that is how we ended up on a three-hour drive to Alsace, France to feed a bunch of monkeys.
Now, three 'Google map' hours translates into a minimum of five hours of driving for anyone with kids. This also meant that we had to stay in a hotel. Words cannot describe Tommy's reaction when it finally dawned on him that we would be spending the night.

When Tommy stopped his kangaroo joy-dance, I tried to get a picture of all three monkeys. This was the closest to normal I could get.

In the morning, the boys organized a tea party.

Peter had created name tags for everyone and when I asked him where mine was, he informed me that only single-digit boys and their stuffed animals were invited.

'What? You mean I can't party with you guys?'

'Nope. You can take a picture, but then you need to leave.'


I know, I know. I should have taken a more adult response, but they started it.

Not sure who started the 'Peace' war, but I'm pretty that Peter was winning.

David's not one to give up easily, so he did the next logical thing that came to his brain.

'David! Stop dumping potato chips on Peter's head!'

It was at that point that one of the friendly park rangers came over and asked Peter and David to stop scaring off the wild monkeys.

Surprisingly, Tommy was the only one calm enough for a monkey to approach.

Apparently, monkeys are not scared off by wild giggles from red-hooded five-year olds as long as they have popcorn. Who knew?

At that point, we stopped by a pond and saw three baby monkeys 'playing'. One was perched on a small dock and another came up from behind and drop-kicked him in the back, hurling him into the water. The monkey than howled and chased his brother around the pond. The wet monkey had almost caught up with his brother when the oldest of the three took a branch and tripped his brother, sending him into the water for a second time.

I swear to you, watching the three monkey brothers was like any given Sunday. The only difference was, I was able to laugh while watching the monkey fight.

The boys apparently also recognized the parallel lines and decided to get along for a few minutes.

'Okay, boys! The cute lovey-dovey break is over. Get back to acting like monkeys!'

Peter didn't join in because, according to him, 'David is so mean that I am not talking to him ever again.'

I almost asked Peter what heinous atrocity David had committed, but I simply didn't care.

When we finally got back home, the boys to have an afternoon breakfast.

Yep, you guessed it. I didn't care.

David wasn't the only one celebrating a late birthday, but at least Tommy only had to wait one month. Tommy was given the choice of places to celebrate and he nailed a winner. Happy Kids is THE loudest place a parent can suffer a birthday. It's an indoor playground that smells like sweat and sounds like a soccer match being played inside an elevator.

Tommy also got to choose who to invite, so Lauri was the first of many hyper loud ones to attack. 

At one point, Tommy discovered the gyro-maze.

It had a metal ball and it gyrated. You had to get the ball from the outer ring to the middle by maneuvering through the maze. Most five-year olds try for three minutes and give up. Tommy can be more stubborn than his Mama and her Papa combined, so he spent damn near an hour getting extremely frustrated. I thought I would help by tilting the disc ever so slightly to get him past a tricky part. I put this lightly when I say that he freaked out all over me.

'Oh, Papa! Now I have to start all over again! Go away!'

It's a well-known fact that Tommy would rather curl into ball and cry tears of frustration before asking anyone for help, but every now and then, I just feel the need to check if that strange pattern is still there. It was.

Tommy huffed, reset the 'Wheel of Anguish' and started all over again. Twenty-five minutes later, he yanked on my shirt, looking prouder than a peacock. His victory dance was still in full gear when the food came. It's my birthday and I'll gloat if I want to...'

A few days after Tommy's birthday, his strong head once again flexed. It started with a drawing lesson. We tried a square, but his looked like a triangle. Meltdown. We tried a traingle, but it looked like a square. Meltdown. We tried a circle, but it looked more like a broken egg. Meltdown. I knew I had to change tactics.

'Tommy, how about we just trace your hand?'

Despite the first attempt that resulted in another meltdown, Tommy was able to finally trace his hand. I gave him a high-five and asked him if I could draw funny pictures on his fingers.

'Sure, Papa! Funny faces!'

I proceeded, but I didn't make it far. Ladies and gentlemen, this is meltdown number five.

Tommy's main complaint was that the middle finger was not 'funny'. In German, the middle finger is also called the Stink-Finger. In German, 'stinksauer' means 'stink-angry', which is why I thought it would be clever to make all the fingers funny except the middle one.

Tommy apparently didn't see my artistic wit and went blubbery. After five minutes of trying to explain to Tommy how little I cared about his point, I went searching for Angie.

'Holy pile of clothes! What the hell is this?'

Angie turned beet-red and asked me to stop taking pictures.

'Are we off the record?'

'You're definitely off of something. What is this?'

Angie explained to me that she had 'discovered' a lost pile of laundry that had been shoved into the bottom of my closet. I don't use the shelves at the bottom of my closet and always thought they were where Angie stores bed sheets and pillow cases. Wrong.

Garment after garment brought back memories from years ago. That's right, 'years'. Not 'year', which might imply a multiple months. These clothes had been missing in action for years. We should have picked up the clues over time. 

'Honey, I can't find my blue dress. You know, the one I wore when blah-blah-blah.'

'Yo, woman! What have you done my T-shirts from when I was deployed to Sigonella?'

So yeah, today Angie unearthed the dark secret, oddly enough while looking for bed sheets and pillow cases. After relentless interrogation, Angie caved and admitted remembering this one time, when we had guests unexpectedly dropping by. The house, without advance warning, tends to look a little storm-struck. Her solution was to race around the house hiding clutter, which include a laundry basket of clean clothes that should have been folded. Instead, they ended up being 'The Garment Files'.

I should have really given Angie hell for her wardrobe malfunction, but hey - who cares?