Thursday, December 30, 2010

We're a movin' on up, to the sky, to that deluxe apartment in the sky (imagine singing here)!

This month, we moved. Why would you possibly move in the middle of the holiday season, you ask? Well, we looked at the calendar and said, “Hmmm, the second week of December, situated right between Thanksgiving and Christmas seems a bit slow, how about we add a little drama?” Seriously though, all I can tell you is that we found our dream home and we simply couldn’t pass up this opportunity. Unfortunately, this created a challenging dilemma for me, the man of the house.

You see, I, like most men, subscribe to a unique style of social etiquette. In fact, “unique” is the perfect way to describe it. Ann Landers would have nothing to offer me in this area as it has nothing to do with the placement of silverware or the philosophy or timing of an RSVP. Rather, it has more to do with what we (and by “we” I mean those of the male persuasion) call the “Guy Code”.

The “Guy Code” is a set of rules that most men apply to the way they operate in their daily lives. A classic example is the “one seat” rule at the movies. I recently took my father-in-law and brother-in-law to see the remake of “True Grit”, a legendary guy movie. I sat down in one seat and my brother-in-law sat next to me . . . with one seat between us, thus, the “one seat” rule.

Another recent example of a test of my commitment to the “Guy Code” is when I asked a bunch of my friends to assist me in moving. Now, any man will tell you that this will test of any guy friendship for a couple of reasons; First, I broke the number one rule of the “Guy Code” – Never ask for help. Unfortunately, my family has a lot of stuff, including large appliances that I simply could not move myself, so I was pushed into a position where I had no choice. Second, I put myself in debt to a bunch of my guy friends, all of whom will need a favor at some point in the near future. This all but guarantees that in 2011 I will be assisting in moves, loaning my vehicle out, and dog sitting. What is worse is that because I am indebted to my friends, I can’t make up an excuse as to why I can’t help.

The stress of a move; putting everything you own into boxes, renting a truck, breaking the “Guy Code” and becoming indebted to your friends, loading and unloading, and then taking everything you own back out of boxes in a short period of time, experiencing buyer’s remorse about leaving a home you’ve put 6 years of hard work and sweat into, and doing it all during the holiday season, can take its toll. So, I go back to the original question, “Why move to a new home during this time of the year?” To answer that, I’ll explain by telling a story. Shortly after moving into our new home, we took our children out to feed the horses in the neighbors pasture and put out corn for the deer and my son simply looked at us with eyes wide and a huge smile on his face and asked, “Am I dreaming?” I guess that sums it all up. Welcome home Ryerson family, welcome home.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Christmas list of a child

Once again, it is that special time of year. It is particularly exciting in the Ryerson household because our children are now both of the age of understanding the spirit of Christmas. When I say they understand, they know what Christmas truly means – the birth of Jesus and the spirit of giving. But like most kids, they also know it means gifts from Santa. In fact, for the first time, my son has prepared a “list” for Santa. He values that list as much as anything he owns and he is constantly revising it (when I say “revising”, I mean adding to it).

Just before Thanksgiving (a little premature to me, no thanks to Wal-Mart’s Christmas displays), he asked for a piece of paper and pen and started the list in detail. What is most entertaining about this effort is that he does not yet know how to write, so the “list” was a well organized, bulleted list of scribbles. Eventually, my wife simply suggested he circle the items he most wanted in the sales catalogs that were coming in the mail daily (thanks to you too, Target, Sears, and Toys-R-Us). You probably already know where this is going . . . yes, he circled everything in the catalog (including wrapping paper, which was a bit strange, but I guess he wanted his gifts to look nice too).

Because he values his list so highly, he ultimately assumes everyone else does as well. An example of this belief is when he recently got in trouble at preschool. When asked about the incident by my wife on the way home in the car, he compounded the situation by lying about it (a fatal flaw we all made as kids until we realized, mommy’s know EVERYTHING). My wife confronted him on the lie and he immediately apologized. Knowing that he needed to do more to make it up to his mommy, he said, “Mommy, what do you want for Christmas?”

“I don’t know,” she responded.

“Well, mommy, I’m going to get you something from your list.” Problem solved, right? Just get something off of mommy’s list and the world is right. I must admit, I’ve tried that as a solution to some of my own trouble in the past. He’ll soon learn that doesn’t fix everything, but in his case, he does have the cute factor over me.

“I’m going to make you a birdhouse . . . I’m going to make you four birdhouses!” If one is good, four must be great, right? My wife responded by laughing and saying she would love that as a gift and smiled the rest of the drive home. That cute factor is very effective.

Tonight, after driving around the community and looking at Christmas lights, or “Mismer wights” as my daughter calls them (talking about cute factor, we actually don’t correct her from saying it incorrectly because it is so adorable), we got home and prepared for bed. My son crawled on the bed next to me and whispered, “Daddy, don’t forget, we need to build mommy a birdhouse for Christmas.” When did this become “we”? I didn’t lie about getting in trouble at pre-school!

Nonetheless, hearing him whisper in my ear his desire to “give” rather than to “receive” (even if it was originally inspired by making up for a lie), let me know we are doing something right. This week, we’ll be going to the hardware store to buy supplies to build mommy a birdhouse or maybe four. . . and we know she’ll love it, even if it wasn’t on her “list”.

It's a Wonderful Life

Recently, we made our annual pilgrimage to visit Santa. Now, I don’t want to brag, but Santa is a personal friend of mine and he always gives my children a little extra time. Unfortunately, in the past, the visit to my friend Santa was an interesting mix of joy and terror. One of my two children has always been at the point of amazement and wonder that all children feel at Santa, but they were always at that stage of fear of getting to close to the man and the legend, the actual Santa Claus.

We have many family photos from previous years where one or both of the children are in an early stage of terror only seconds after sitting down in Santa’s lap. I’ve often wondered about this phenomenon, the screaming child on Santa’s lap. The best I can figure, it is like meeting the most mythical figure in your life, in person, for the first time. As an adult, we’d probably feel intimidated and stand in awe. As a child, we screamed and cried, this why most all of us have an annual Christmas photo of our screaming children in Santa’s lap.

This year, my son and daughter were both excited about seeing Santa in person with the ability to give the full accounting of their entire list (for more about the infamous “list”, see last week’s column). I had to explain to my son that he was not going to be able to tell Santa everything on his list; he needed to prioritize and tell Santa the most important thing on his list. Santa knows everything on the list anyways, right?

So, the moment arrived when the kids had their opportunity to tell Santa exactly what they wanted. My son did not delay and he quickly found his position; I could tell he knew the weight of this moment. He understood that this moment would impact that glorious morning of tearing wrapping paper off of gifts. After some polite conversation, the question finally arrived, “Young man, what would you like for Christmas?”

Without hesitation, my son looked Santa dead in the eye and with a focused and determined voice, he responded, “I want a hot tub with jets.”

In unison, my wife, Santa and I asked, “What?!?!” I wasn’t even sure where he would get an idea when my wife burst into laughter. She had recently given him and my daughter a bath in our tub, which is equipped with underwater jets. They poured bubble bath in the tub and the jets expanded the bubbles literally over the top of the tub, with both children giggling uncontrollably. He remembered that moment and decided that he wanted that tub in our new house (we recently moved to a new home . . . one without a tub with underwater jets), not because it was a toy, but because it created a joyous memory.

On a recent drive, after a long period of quiet, my son simply said, “Charlie Brown is a blockhead, isn’t he? But he sure picked out a nice Christmas tree.” That is when it hit me; our lives aren’t about the perfect gift, they are about the perfect moments of uncontrollable laughter. Those are the moments we need to cherish and live for. This is wishing you all many “moments” of laughter this Christmas season.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

"i" before "e" except after "c", is not a principle I abide.

I am a miserable speller. I simply cannot spell (over the course of reading this column, you could probably make a strong argument for my poor grammar as well, but that is NOT the focus of this article so please reserve your judgment). My fourth grade teacher, Mr. Ford, would be very disappointed to read this revelation, but I would also guess, he would not be surprised. You see, I was never a good speller. As far as my writing is concerned, one of the greatest inventions of all time is spell check. In fact, spell check has been made spelling so friendly that on my computer it not only highlights words that are misspelled, it also auto-corrects commonly misspelled words (a great example is that I just misspelled, misspelled and without deleting a letter, the computer fixed it for me – ignore the irony).

However, I just realized the lesson Mr. Ford attempted to teach me in fourth grade (it only took me 30 years, so what?), which is – sooner or later you need to know how to spell to avoid looking like a fool. To give you a tangible example from my life, I was recently writing a check for a bill and the amount was $14.71. Now I put that in numeric form in an effort to make a point (or at least give myself a weak excuse for my poor spelling ability), when writing that out on the check do you spell that fourteen or forteen? I know the answer because my spell check is underlining forteen, but if that is not correct, how do you spell 40? You probably know that you spell 40 as forty, but can you now understand my confusion; fourteen, but forty? Where did the “u” go?

To drive the point even further, I recently started a practice in my life that I call “Encouragement Efforts”. It was inspired by a good friend, but all this means is that I write a daily letter to someone I read or hear about that did something that deserves celebration or a challenge that needs encouragement. To make these letters more sincere, I typically hand write them. You see where I am going, don’t you? To my dismay, there is no spell check when you hand write a letter. I realized the “’i’ before ‘e’, except after ‘c’” is a rule I have trouble applying. So much so that I actually started avoiding the use of words like “receive” and “field” because I could not spell them correctly. How ridiculous is that?

What makes it worse is that the auto-correct feature on my computer I described earlier actually trains me to spell words incorrectly. What do I mean by that you ask? Well, out of habit, I spell “receive” as “recieve” as it doesn’t matter how I spell it on my computer because my software will simply auto-correct (in fact, I had to actually turn my auto-correct “off” for the sake of misspelling this word in this column). Therefore, I have trained my mind that spelling it, “recieve,” is actually correct. Can I blame technology? Can I simply say that technology, while is certainly has contributed to great advances in our society, has also served to make me dumber? I would like to abdicate responsibility and say, “Yes it does!”

So how does a guy who cannot spell get a column in the local newspaper? One word; spellcheck . . . or is that supposed to be two words . . . I don’t know. Mr. Ford, I apologize for not paying closer attention, now I understand.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here!

My wife’s family has an entertaining tradition every year on the Thanksgiving weekend. No, shopping at 4:00 a.m. is not the tradition I am speaking of (although I must admit, I did participate in the madness in an effort to collect stories for this column and was overwhelmed with good material, but I digress). The family has a tradition of holding a Christmas gag gift party on the Friday evening following Thanksgiving. This party has all the makings of a wonderful “kick-off” to the Christmas season including the decoration of the Christmas tree, Christmas music, games, and the exchanging of gifts (the twist to the gift exchange is that is cannot be store bought, rather, it must be a “regift”, which often leads to great hilarity).

However, the true highlight of the evening is the fellowship with friends and family that we only get to see a few times a year. The air is filled with laughter and games and kids run through the house playing tag in a crowded living room. This particular night started off with a “bang” as the boys playing ball in the hallway knocked a picture off the wall breaking the glass in the frame. The crash brought a momentary silence to the room as only the sound of something breaking can do. My son, in classic “good boy” fashion, broke the silence with a loud yell, “I didn’t do it!” The room broke out into loud laughter. We didn’t realize he was only warming up the crowd for a later performance.

As the evening progressed through game playing and gift exchange (the most sought after gift ultimately was a mailbox . . . explains the humor of this holiday tradition), the children played heartily until they wore themselves out. Finally, my son was ready for bed. Unfortunately for him, although everyone was slowly getting ready to leave, the house was still full of family. Even though he was having fun with cousins, aunts, and uncles, his drowsiness was getting the better of him. Eventually, my four year old son had reached the end of his patience and he approached multiple family members and simply said, “It’s time for you to go. Its dark outside and its bedtime. The party is over.” Laughter once again erupted.

As we were all sharing the story and laughing about my son’s desire to clear the family out, we prompted him to apologize for being a little rude; funny, yes, but rude. So, he says, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know your car was blocked.” (Cue laughter.) Shortly after, I noticed he was putting on his jacket. I followed him outside only to watch him directing traffic in the driveway and motivating people to head home. “Move your car, it’s time to go home!” he yelled. Once I got him back in the house and everyone was gone or leaving, he asked to turn on the television. That is when it hit his grandfather (or ‘papa’ as he lovingly refers to him) why there was an urgency in our son clearing out the party. Earlier in the evening he had asked ‘Papa’ if he could watch television and his papa said, “Not until everyone is gone.” To close the fun evening, we all burst into laughter one last time. The morale of the story, even fun visitors can stay too long, especially if you are four years old.