Saturday, September 29, 2012

Four Tommy with Love

Tommy might not remember his 4th birthday, but I sure as hell will. Peter probably will too, but we'll get to that breaking news in due time.

For undue time, I'd like to flash back to 1:00 this morning, when Nicole, Angie and I were wrapping gifts, blowing up balloons and drinking beer. This by itself was not unusual - we even do some of those things on a nightly basis. Unusual was when Angie blurted out 'I know it!' and grabbed the phone.

We found out later that Angie had apparently been ignoring our conversation and had been listening intently to the radio station instead. SWR3 was on and they had posed a riddle.

Mr. Palushka looks into the face of a woman and realizes he's ruined. Why?

People could then call in and ask three yes/no questions.

Angie nodded at Nicole and me and we naively assumed that she was really paying attention to what we were talking about when actually, she was busy digesting the clues as people called in.

He was not married to the woman. The woman was not alive. It was a picture of a woman. He had a company. He was now bankrupt.

'I know it!'

'Yeah, okay. That doesn't really fit with what I just said.' 

Before I could scratch my head as to why Angie was frantically calling someone at one o'clock in the morning, I heard the radio DJ announce that they had an Angie Johnson from Heidelberg who thought she had the right answer. Yeah, that happens a lot, actually.

'I think it's because he paid a lot of money for the rights to use the Mona Lisa for a cosmetic company selling eyebrow brushes and realized after finally looking at the painting that she has no eyebrows.'

For a few seconds you could only hear the DJ and the entire SWR3 staff applauding and shouting in the background.

'I can't believe it! I thought for sure I had another 30 minutes - amazing! Congratulations!'

Angie went on to explain that her son Tommy had a birthday today. The DJ asked Angie to please not wake him up, but told her that they would send us an SWR3 stuffed animal for his birthday. Cool!

Luckily, Angie and I have been trained to only get four hours of sleep, so going to bed at two and having a house full of kids who had spent the night wake us up at six was not a problem. No, actually it was several problems, starting with the sun, which was shining way too brightly for my liking. My ears were also dawning on the realization that Tommy's voice had actually gotten louder overnight. To make problems grumpier, I didn't have a coffee in my hand, even though I had clearly demanded that Angie make me one. Her self-perceived witty comment about being banned from the kitchen didn't help solve the problem, either.

As Angie and I worked hard to fix each other's problems, the show moved on. Loudly.

You can really measure a kid's age by how they respond to gifts. At age one, they suck on the wrapping paper.  At age two, they eat the wrapping paper. At age three, they rip the wrapping paper to shreds. At four, though, they actually look at the wrapping paper. And giggle?

Okay, at age four, they don't giggle. They give the wrapping a brief glimpse and still just rip it to shreds. Maybe the humor gene doesn't kick in until later. Angie is coming up on her 40th and I'm still waiting, so it could take a while.

Boys will be boys and the group of overnighters immediately zoomed in on the 'aliens trapped in vials of snot' gift.

I turned to Angie and asked her what moron gave him that lovely gift.


I deemed that moment to be the wrong time to ask about my coffee and wisely disappeared into the kitchen. Nicole jumped in and showed the boys how to use toys that Angie will most likely regret buying. 

After several hours of disgusting Angie with extraterrestrial mucus, it was time for Tommy's fan club to stop by. 'My Ute' was at the top of Tommy's guest list.

Judging by Ute's smile, she knows all too well that Tommy doesn't need a bag full of sugar to get his motor running. Judging by Tommy's candy-eating grin, I don't think he cares. He gets this from his mother.

As Ute was gleefully shifting Tommy into second gear, Peter was shifting into overdrive while playing hide and seek in the garden with Sebastian. Despite very wise advice that has been repeatedly given by a sexy father-figure, Peter decided to hide on the garden wall.

The reason I constantly yell at Peter that he is not allowed to play on the wall is simple. On one side, the fall is short and ends in grass and mud. The other side is not so short and ends in pavement. Peter decided to fall down the side less traveled.

I was upstairs welcoming guests to Tommy's birthday party when Peter face-planted the sidewalk. Luckily, Sebastian is good at the seek part of the game, especially when the hider begins screaming his head off and promptly rang the door bell. Me, thinking it was another guest, answered with what I thought was a witty welcome.

'If you brought loud instruments or presents with a lot of small pieces, you're not welcome.'

'Uh,...Peter fell off the garden wall and landed on his face.'

'I'll be right there.'

I raced down the steps five at a time and found Peter curled up in a ball on the sidewalk. He was conscious, which I took as a good sign. His arm was bending in strange places, which I took as a bad sign. I scooped him up and carried him upstairs.

'Right! I'll get the ice-pack. Angie, go get the car. I'll meet you at the corner.'

Cooking aside, I love Angie for many reasons. One of them is her ability to keep calm in situations where you really need both parents to not freak out. I was borderline, but still keeping it together. I carried broken Peter to the corner to be rescued by Mama.

'Make sure they do a CAT scan. He also says that he can't feel his left arm - I think his wrist is broken. Call me when you have news.' 


'Do you have your cell phone?'


'Well, that makes it a bit tricky to give me updates.'

'I'm blocking traffic - do we really need to discuss this now?'

'No, but take my phone, just in case.'

Luckily, my iPhone also has a camera that is brain-dead simple to operate. Angie figured out how to use it shortly after the pain killers had kicked in.

As the doctor's finished setting the cast, the party was shifting into third gear. Lauri showed up and started screaming for Tommy to 'open up the cool monster truck so we can play with it!'

Sami and I were still discussing the usefulness of wrapping paper when Peter returned.

'Peter, do you understand now why you are not supposed to climb the wall?'


David was standing next to him. He looked at Peter's face, then his cast, then at me.

'Papa, I am never gonna climb the wall either.'

Well, at least Peter may have avoided future nose dives from the garden.

Tommy walked over, gave Peter and hug and then demanded to know where his present from them was. Peter and David raced off to get THE gift that they hadn't been able to shut up about for the last week. They had picked out a kick-ass remote control off-road monster truck that could flip over and still drive on either side. Tommy was ballistically impressed and immediately disappeared with David to take it for a test drive.

As with any battle scar, it sucks getting it. Once it's over, though, you definitely need to brag about it. Peter spent the rest of the afternoon calling everyone who has ever given us their phone number. 

Ladder Talk:
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That we give Tommy his birthday present.
David: That I can play with all of Tommy's new toys 'cause they are so cool.
Tom: That I am now four and have so many new toys.

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: Papa, I think you know that - when I fall off the wall.
David: When Peter crashed on his head from the wall.
Tom: When Peter go whaaaa-bonk and he need to the hospital.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: To go to the movies.
David: To play on the computer.
Tom: To have a party again why that was so cool.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho

Heigh ho, Heigh ho,
It's off to school we go...

Trust me, I frisked the young punk for hand grenades and razor blades before letting him graduate to first grade. Before allowing David to walk through the metal detectors and into the halls of bullyhood, I was busy photographing very unhappy children.

It started out with what I considered a good idea (I know, I'll force-feed Tommy a sugary ice-pop so that he doesn't fall asleep again during the church ceremony), followed by the first round of tears (But, Papa! My fingers are cold!), followed by what I also considered a good idea (I know, I'll just thermalize cry-baby's fingers with gloves!), followed by ice-boy's second meltdown (But Papa! I can't feel my fingers to do the ice-pop up!), followed by what I considered was a funny idea (I know, I'll grab the camera!), followed by Angie coming in and screaming at Tommy to stop screaming.

'You do realize how hypocritical you sounded just now, right?'

'Shut up, Steve. Let's go - we're going to be late to church.'

'Well, certainly the church tolerates tradition.'

Angie stepped briefly out of character and actually ignored me. I was torn, to be honest. On one hand, I was glad to be spared of whatever quippy bark she would have normally unleashed on me. But still, if you go through the bother of coming up with a witty response only to be ignored, it can be rather demotivating. I even ventured off to warn Angie that ignoring me could put future witty responses at risk, but she had already left with the boys.

I caught up with everyone on the way to the church. David and Tom were wilder than usual and shortly before going in, Angie cast me a familiar look. I immediately took David off to the side and she grabbed Tommy. Independently, we whispered the same warning. Only I'm pretty sure that her version didn't rhyme.

There... will... be....NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.....

burping, no yelling, no screaming, no hitting,
no farting, no punching, no blinking, no spitting,

no tickling, no drinking, no crapping, no joking
no touching, no belching, no kicking, no poking

no grabbing, no sneezing, no eating, no prancing  
no giggling, no laughing, no picking, no dancing

no peeing, no goofing, no tapping, no licking
no munching, no swearing, no whacking, no flicking 

no playing, no smirking, no twirling, no bashing
no crying, no gaming, no flipping, no smashing

My catchy poetry was religiously interrupted by church bells and a personal invitation from Angie to join everyone else inside. The fact that I wasn't close to being done with my prep talk had little effect on the holy bouncer.

'Get in. Watch Tommy.'

I was actually glad to get 'Tommy duty'. He's fairly easy, provided you have an iPhone.

iPhones are the electronic babysitters for my generation of offspring. They're more addictive than Pringles. Plus, they teach kids how to learn tricks that some mothers will never grasp. Like 'on'. Or jump forward to chapter two, where the concept of 'off' is covered.

[Editorial comment: Please note that I have not named any specific mothers. Any assumptions that you might or might not make might or might not end up with me on the sofa, so please don't communicate them to any naggy female-types that you might or might not know.]

I don't want to make any editorial comments on the fun factor of church, but I think Tommy was praying for it to be over.

After the ceremony, Angie wandered over to collect us.

'Aahhh, poor guy. Did that sermon tucker you out?'

'Sure did. Tommy looks tired, too. Someone should wake him up - it looks like we need to go to the school now.'

David was behaving shockingly well considering that he is David. So were Angie, Barbara, Grams and Opa, but I was trying to focus on small folk inclined to act asinine.

Throughout the entire day, David did not act asinine at all. Even at the school assembly, he quietly watched the show that the older kids had organized for the newbies. After the show, he also quietly watched as they called all of the kids up to the stage and sent them out one by one to be welcomed. He was also quiet when all of the kids' names had been called out and he was the only one sitting squat-legged in the middle of the gym.

Luckily, Angie realized that they had forgotten to call his name and rescued him before his whole new class went into the school. After that, we were on our own for forty-five minutes as the new kids had their first 'class'.

To help pass the time, we played hide-and-seek with a local tree hugger.

'Uh, Tommy - we see you.'

'No you don't - I'm not here.'

This fun little game used up most of the time. The rest of the time was spent taking bets on how quickly David would earn an hour of detention. To my wallet's pleasant surprise, David came out looking proud and devilishly angelical. I was proud, too.

David wanted to leave immediately. I know this feeling from when I was forced to go to school, but it was his first day. It became clear to me why when he grabbed his School Cone and took off racing for home.

The School Cone is a German tradition to bribe kids into liking school. It's full of candy, toys, chocolates and school supplies. We lost David after 'candy', though. He was too busy racing Peter back to the house to check out his loot.

I found it interesting that Peter took such an interest in being all big-brother like.

'Hey, buddy. Whatcha got in the bag?'
Ladder Talk:
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: That David was by my school today.
David: That I went to school with the big kids.
Tom: When I play with Lauri fast the whole time.

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: When you didn't let me play on the iPhone by the church.
David: When they forgot to call me name by the school.
Tom: That I cry why I not Sarah a kiss.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: I want to go in the pool.
David: Play silly David.
Tom: I want to go to Grams & Opa.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Homeward Bound

Our flight didn't leave until 6:30 PM, so we had a leisurely breakfast and almost contemplated jumping in the pool one last time before I posed what I like to call 'an organizational question'.

'Hey, Angie - what time do we need to check out?'

'We fly at 6:30.'

'That wasn't my question.'

'We fly at 6:30.'

To make a long story dumber, Angie had assumed that checking out shortly before dinner was all part of the 'all inclusive' package. I walked up to the front desk to check and made sure to flash my wristband.

'Hey, what time do we need to clear the room?'

Apparently, the power of the blue bracelet runs out on the day you fly out. The guy behind the counter looked at his watch and yawned.

'In five minutes. There's a fifty dollar late check-out fee if you would like to....'

I ignored the concierge and immediately whipped out my alpha male hat. In the middle of shouting very important orders, Angie had the audacity to put on her Sunday hat and inform me that she needed at least twenty minutes to color coordinate the clothes before packing.

I checked that I had put on the right hat. I had, and I even pointed at it vigorously so that Angie could see that I was wearing the alpha male hat. She cackled politely and continued with her lackadaisical folding. I then invoked the frustrated-alpha-male-dad rule and went into the other room and began shoving shit into cases of any suit. That worked.

Seven minutes later, I slapped my room key on the checkout desk and stood slightly out of breath, but ready to pounce if the guy so much as glanced at his watch. Instead, the checkout guy checked out my coconut biceps and made the right decision.

'Thank you Mr. Johnson. You can still have free drinks at the bar until the shuttle arrives.'

I almost hugged the guy. Instead, I followed his advice. It had the added value of annoying Angie, who for some reason was refusing to partake in the pre-flight drinkery. Instead, she repeatingly responded that our shuttle left at 5:30 to which I repeatedly responded by pointing to my beer bracelet. This viciously funny circle went on for several hours. Eventually, the shuttle arrived and we packed wild animals into the underhead and shuttled ourselves to the airport.

The first thing I noticed was that there was a really long line for one of the flights. I also noticed that the other flights had really short lines, so I kept my hopes up. Angie brought the aforementioned hopes back down to Earth with a simple statement.

'This is our line.'

Thanks, O Great Bearer-of-Crappy-News. As we waited, the guy next to us picked up his phone and started what I would call an interesting dialogue.

'Yeah, sorry to call you. I just realized that I forgot my boots at your place.'

I checked out the guy's feet. He was wearing flip-flops.

'And I can't find my jacket. Can you look behind the sofa?'

I was so ready to high-five the guy, but Angie broke my eavesdropping and pointed to the main counter.

'Check out this guy. He's been arguing for fifteen minutes and is totally holding up the line.'

I checked out the guy and agreed with Angie's assessment. The jackass was holding everyone up because he had apparently ignored the weight restrictions on suitcases and was dead set on proving to everyone that he was a maroon.

After coming up with several witty nicknames for idiots with heavy luggage, we moved on to waiting for our plane to actually take off. As we were herded into the waiting room, the reason why Greece's economy is in the shitter became clear.

The room was packed full of airport staff who were just standing around chitchatting. There were ten gates to choose from, but not a single one had a sign or any other indication as to which flight was departing from which gate.

Angie and I asked ten or twelve staff members where the gate was for the flight to Germany. All of them looked annoyed that we were interrupting their gossip and simply pointed towards the gates and shrugged.

'It'll be one of these, but we don't know which one.'

'Yeah, but there's ten of them. Could you narrow it down for us?'

They didn't hear me over the laughter that erupted as they continued 'working'. We finally gave up and I resorted to pacing up and down the hallway waiting for gates that started to board.

The flight itself was surprisingly nice. The boys behaved. Angie did, too. The food sucked, but we had expected that and had eaten sandwiches shortly before boarding.  As we landed, we flew over what looked to be the longest traffic jam in history. It stretched as far as the eye could see and we had the aerial view. Enough foreshadowing for ya?

The boys managed to stay awake, which was good. It was two hours past their bedtime and we still had a three-hour car ride that was now guaranteed to be quiet.

We got out of the airport at 10:30 and took the shuttle over to the hotel, where we picked up the car. After loading sleepy kids and correctly weighted luggage, it was 11:00. Great! Off we go!

The first two streets were okay, but as soon as we tried to get on the highway, my sneaking suspicion was confirmed. Two things happened as we entered the traffic jam from hell. First, all three boys starting snoring. Next, Angie turned to one side and wiggled snugly.

'Hey, you don't mind if I zzzzzzzzzzz.......'

After 45 minutes of bumper to bumper, I discovered from a radio update that we were almost halfway through the jam. Since the rest of the ride was boring as hell and only included two hundred unexciting pit stops for coffee, I'll just skip ahead.

We got back home at 3:00 AM. I was dead tired, but the boys were so happy to be back home that they started to wake up. I slapped the snooze button on those plans and spent the last of my dwindling energy on getting them back to sleep. It was nice to be home, though. --------------------------------------------
Ladder Talk: [No Ladder Talk - Papa was too exhausted]
1) What was the best part of your day?

2) What was the worst part of your day?

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?