Labor Intensive

We visit my in-laws on Cape Cod from time to time. One day may include some work that needs to be done around the house. Like other homes and families, spring and summer days may involve mowing the lawn. An autumn day would involve some raking and bagging.

Sometimes a day might call for a project larger than some simple yardwork. This happened recently on, of all days, Father’s Day. A day that normally calls for father’s everywhere to relax and be celebrated was a day this father and my wife’s were called upon for a project.

It is only fair to mention it wasn’t just the fathers who answered this call. My wife was among the others who assisted in this.

We started at the beginning. We needed to dig a hole. I grabbed a shovel and broke ground. Dirt was dug. Dirt was cleared. It was moved to a tarp that could be moved if we needed more room. The Boy assisted wherever he could. The whole was measured. It wasn’t quite deep enough. I did more digging. Some rocks were struck, dug out, and removed. When I do projects like these, I’m always hoping I come across some type of artifact: an old coin, a relic from early settlers, a remnant of an Native American village. No such luck. Just rocks and dirt.

The hole was done. We measured to make sure. It was deep enough. We mixed the concrete. I helped to mix. My arms were sore from digging and now they were getting a different workout from mixing the concrete. I asked Wife if she noticed the workout my arms were getting. She looked at me like I was weird. She still hasn’t fully realized how wonderful I am.

We scraped the last of the concrete. It wasn’t enough. We needed another batch. My father-in-law and I go to the hardware store for more concrete. I put the bag on the counter and move it from the counter to the truck and from the truck to the backyard. Concrete is mixed and poured. Poured and smoothed and still not enough. It’s time for another trip to the hardware store for more concrete. We’re still in the midst of Coronapalooza. Restaurants are open but sparsely populated. I suggest to my father-in-law we stop somewhere for a beer and maybe some chicken wings or onion rings. We can just tell the folks at home there was traffic on the street and a line of people at the store. My idea is turned down.

We return home. I bring the new concrete to the backyard. I lug it, pour it, mix it. Wife still doesn’t notice my arms. The lack of notice can be sad sometimes. The latest batch is laid out. The concrete dries and sets. We have successfully installed the base for the new clothesline.

Poured and set

Fun and Games

School is out. Children all over are rejoicing. Home-schooling parents are rejoicing with them.

Now is the time for a glorious respite from the routines of math, English, and science. Attentions have turned to swimming and riding bikes. I have been looking forward to this time. It means I can stop being a taskmaster making children fix an inverted letter or number and start doing things and having fun.

Or so I thought.

I wake up to the same routine I had when we were home-schooling. I get my coffee, check mail and comments from adoring fans and readers, do a little writing and enjoy the time I have to myself before the Miracles of Christ make their appearance. Inevitably, they do and we begin the daily routine.

One of The Gaggle is usually the first one up. This child proceeds to find a screen to satisfy their minute attention span and begin their morning. Alas, the battery is dead or dying and the child comes to me with the disturbing news. Can I plug it in? I could but the child knows where the plugs are and could plug it in on their own. This, of course would require some effort and there is a smart TV plugged in and ready to be watched. Could I plug it in for them. I could but I am in the middle of something and, as I said before, everyone knows where the plugs are.

The Gaggle walks away huffing and rolling her eyes. I had the audacity to tell this poor, innocent child to do something on their own. The humanity. Who does that?

I return to my reading and writing for a few seconds. The Gaggle returns. Where is the remote? I have no idea. I don’t watch the TV in the living room. Can I help find it? I ask if they have started looking for it. “Well, I don’t know where it is.” I tell them to try looking for it. Another eye roll. More huffing. I hear muttering complemented by blankets being thrown about the living room. No one helps. No one cares.

I get up from my work to check on the latest Amnesty International case. I ask what the problem is. “I just asked if you could help,” is the answer. I direct The Gaggle to the arm of the couch where the remote has been the whole time. After the program has been selected, they ask if I can get them breakfast. I direct them to the pantry where the cereals are. “But I’m watching something.” That’s nice. This is a state of the art remote control complete with a “Pause” button. They can pause the show to get their cereal. Another eye roll. Previously, this same child was able to move a stool and get whatever they wanted on the top shelf of a cabinet or the pantry. Now they are helpless.

That’s The Gaggle. Let’s move on to The Boy. The Boy is in elementary school and this is the time I have been waiting for. No strollers. No high chairs. Summer is here and that means hours of throwing batting practice. Maybe a game of catch. Baseball or football. I don’t care. He can pick. A break for lunch and then some more playing.

Wrong. We play catch for a couple of minutes and then he is inside. He needs a break. He has to use the bathroom. He needs a drink. Whatever it is he is doing, the call of Roblox or Minecraft has captured his attention. Baseball can wait. Outdoors can wait. He has all day. We have all summer.

The backyard is to the right but The Boy has found something a little more interesting straight ahead and to the left.

Other members of The Gaggle are playing with Kitty and hanging in their room watching YouTube. The Oppressed has my phone and is trying to explain to me why most of my music is, at best, questionable.

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School’s out. Now, get out.

This new week brings us to the end of another school year. The Oppressed, The Boy, and The Gaggle welcome the end of another year in elementary school and high school and the added challenges brought upon by home schooling in this gauntlet they call “Coronapalooza”. God willing, the little Miracles of Christ will return to a physical school building when September rolls around with its gentle reminders of changing seasons and crisp air that brings cooler and eventually colder temperatures.

But all that is in the future. Now, we rest and savor the warm weather and look fondly upon the memories created by the ungrateful walking miracles who have never endured harsher treatment than the cruel injustices imposed upon them by Yours Truly. These assignments were not handed out by their beloved teachers they came to know and love within the friendly confines of their school. Nay, these blatant violations of humanity and common decency were thought up by me. The same one who refuses to let them drink soda with every meal. The one who won’t allow them to stay in front of the television all day everyday.

Gone are the mornings of running around looking for a charged device for an already-started class meeting. We will fondly remember the six-hour Polish Hostage Crises over copying four or five sentences and having three words done at the end of said six hours.

Another project nowhere near completion.

We will not be chasing cherubs around the backyard or down the street while a yet-to-be completed math assignment (or problem) sits on the table. Reading a book (or a word) together will wait until the leaves turn and weather changes. Then, at that glorious change of the seasons, the children will be (please, Jesus) palmed off to the teachers who will no doubt be eager to make up for lost time and hear about what they have done over the summer and how they are ready to resume work in the classroom.

School’s over. Goodbye.

Yes. The time now is for campfires and more lamenting about how bored they are without a screen. Stars? That’s nice. They can learn about that on Wikipedia or YouTube. We don’t want s’mores. We want ice cream. There’s no ice cream? Why don’t you love us? The smoke is getting in my eyes. The big spray smells. We’re bored. Can we watch TV?

Daddy needs a drink.

Rightfully Mine

One of “The Gaggle” has been with us for a few months and this child has since infringed on things, animals, and people that I hold dear. This person is a nice person: Helps when we need it, asks for help when they need it. They even ask when they need or want to use something. But sometimes…

Kitty and I have taken a liking to each other. I had always been a “Dog Person” until Kitty came to us. With The Wife at work and the Miracles of Christ at school, it was just me and her. We hung out. She kept me company while I folded clothes, washed dishes or cooked. I would wake up with her on or next to me. A couple of confirmed kills in the Mouse Department have cemented her standing as a beloved member of our household.

The Gaggle will run into the house, sometimes body-checking me out of the way. She will yell, “Kitty!” and find her and pick her up. She will cuddle Kitty and make sure I see them in a moment of tender cuddling. The Gaggle smiles. Kitty and I are not amused.

Exhibit A

I once got a Nintendo Switch for my birthday. I use it when I can. The Miracles of Christ have a new found interest in video games. God forbid The Boy plays Pac-Man or Space Invaders with me. (He’s still learning and I try to keep it simple for him.) Everyone, including The Gaggle wants my Switch and “The Legend of Zelda”. It was nice when I wanted to kill a few minutes with the game. I constantly hear a knock on the door. “Do you have ‘Zelda’?” “Can I use it?” “Can I use it now?” “Are you done, yet?” Now, I can barely get my hands on it. It got so bad, Wife bought me another Switch and is considering buying another copy of “Zelda”. I would rather defend what’s rightfully mine. It’s gone so well thus far.

Exhibit B

My cat. My Switch. My wife… Yeah. My wife, too. At the end of the day, The Gaggle and Wife will sit down to some insipid, mind-numbing television show that has since been cancelled (big surprise). I used to get some time alone at the end of the day with Wife. Now, she has decided to kill brain cells with The Gaggle while The Boy and The Oppressed explain to me why they need to sleep in my bed.


(Sung to “Lola” by The Kinks)

I’m stuck here at home with five or six kids

Where they just want screens and want to drink


C-O-L-A Cola

The Gaggle has to sneeze. The Oppressed needs to cough

They do what they must. In a laughing voice they say “’Rona”

R-O-N-A Rona, Ro Ro Ro Ro ‘Rona

Well, I’m not the most intelligent guy

But when the homework starts it nearly breaks my mind

Oh the ‘Rona, Ro Ro Ro Ro ‘Rona

Well I’m not dumb but I can’t understand

Why they can’t figure math but can unlock IPads

Oh ‘Rona, Ro Ro Ro Ro Rona, Ro Ro Ro Ro  Rona

Well, we watch movies all through the night

Sometimes the fireplace has light

The Oppressed or The Boy is on my knee

I wish I could sit with their mommy

Well, I’m not the most intelligent guy

But why is Nintendo Switch

Missing again? Oh, ‘Rona

Ro ro ro ro ‘Rona, ro ro ro ro ‘Rona

I can’t run away

I just lock the door

I lay on the floor

And I start to read

Then I look at them ‘cause they found me

Well, that’s the way that it is everyday

And it will continue to be that way with the ‘Rona

Ro ro ro ro ‘Rona

Two boys and three or four girls

It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world

With the ‘Rona

Ro ro ro ro ‘Rona

Well, Coronapalooza started in March last

The bourbon and scotch are running out fast

The Gaggle smiles with my Zelda game

The Oppressed and The Boy will both do the same

Well, we had a cleaning and learning plan

And the kids are saying no way to that plan

With the ‘Rona

Ro ro ro ro ‘Rona, ro ro ro ro ‘Rona

‘Rona, ro ro ro ro ‘Rona, ro ro ro ro ‘Rona

‘Rona, ro ro ro ro ‘Rona, ro ro ro ro ‘Rona

‘Rona, ro ro ro ro ‘Rona, ro ro ro ro ‘Rona

‘Rona, ro ro ro ro ‘Rona, ro ro ro ro ‘Rona

‘Rona, ro ro ro ro ‘Rona, ro ro ro ro ‘Rona

Men at Work

We had a small problem in the backyard recently. The ladder to the swing set broke. It wasn’t too bad. It was just certain rungs and just one side that needed to be fixed.

This is to be expected. We’ve had the set for years and our yard was the yard that everyone congregated at before Coronapalooza hit us. Countless children have played in our yard and made up numerous games in and around the swing set.

The trouble was brought to my attention one day. I stopped what I was doing to survey the damage and figure out what could be done. A brilliant flash then hit me. I looked at The Boy, who has told all who will listen that he will be working 10 jobs when he grows up. To our benefit, one of the jobs he will work will be in construction. I asked The Boy if he wanted to do a construction project. He enthusiastically said, “Yes,” and ran inside to grab his gear: Reflective vest, tool belt, helmet. We went to the basement to get a measuring tape for his belt. I grabbed a claw hammer, some pliers, a staple gun. I wait for times like these when I can do something with my son. Cartoons and baseball is still a no-no, so I take what I can get.

The father-son repair project “Before” photo. There is no “After” photo.

We get to the swing set. The Boy needs to measure the steps that are being repaired. He measures and marks them with a pencil. I haven’t removed the nails or the staples yet, but he needs to measure anyway. I remove the staples and nails. The Boy measures again. I line up the rungs and staple them in. Some need more than one. No problem. It just may take a minute or two longer than expected. Suddenly, The Boy needs to use the bathroom. He just went before he started, but he’s Union. On his way back to the project, he sees his bike. He just wants to ride it for a minute before he comes back to work. He never came back. His vest is on the patio. I pick it up along with his measuring tape and the rest of the tools and put them back on the bench. Our two-minute bonding session comes to an end.

Film Lesson

Monday through Friday is for schoolwork. You’ve read about the drama. You’ve read about the running and the yelling. The blood, sweat, and tears that produce a sentence with a word-count that fits on one hand.

On Friday, we celebrate the end of the week with Movie Night. Movie Night happens on Friday and Saturday Nights. We have spent the past few weeks working through the “Avengers” franchise. Good movies. The Boy picked Pokémon. I didn’t think it was terrible. Some members of the household have respectfully disagreed.

My turn to pick a movie is coming. Some members of The Gaggle have dreaded this. I have discussed movies with them from time to time. I love movies. I love talking about them, referencing them, and quoting them. I love all types of movies. On Halloween for example, The Oppressed and The Boy love watching “Frankenstein” and “Dracula”. They are old movies, but the children love them nonetheless.

For one of The Gaggle, a movie being old is reason enough to not watch it. Anything made more than 10 years ago is too old and not worth her time. She says the main problem is me being too old and that is why I can’t pick a good movie. Movies that I think are good (“The Magnificent Seven”) are really bad, and if I pick a terrible (“old”) movie, (“Chinatown”), she will go to her room and not come out.

This has been a point of contention between the two of us. Everything about me is old: My movies. My music. I’m old. She calls me, “Boomer”. Delightful child.

I could educate her about movies but that would mean stepping away from the daily house and homework duties. Wife is working 20 hours a day and the children think this is one big vacation for them. Their daily chores only get in the way of that. A break would be nice. I guess there’s always Movie Night.

Dish Duty

Like every other house, things have been pretty busy here during Coronapalooza. We decided everyone here should have some extra chores to do since me, The Wife, The Oppressed, The Boy, and The Gaggle are all pretty much inside the house 24/7. Speaking of blessings, I’m not sure if I mentioned this but an additional child from the neighborhood comes and stays with us during the day while Mom is at work.

The first round of chores went rather well. I was on dish duty. One of The Gaggle did laundry and she was very efficient with it. After a while things got changed up to break up the monotony. The Oppressed got moved to laundry. We ran out of clean clothes. Another of the Gaggle took over at dish duty. Aaaannnd….

She needed a little bit of a learning curve. That’s where I come in. I am an expert when it comes to easing children into work and responsibilities, so you can imagine the train wreck you’re about to read about.

We started easy. I gave her the things to put in the dishwasher. I washed. She dried. We both put things away. She had to put a plastic cup in the cabinet. She said she couldn’t reach. I reminded her it was closer than the candy she can get at the top shelf of the cabinet. I saw the lip stick out. I saw the look of hope disappear from her eyes. Her bottom lip was quivering. Her hands went up in the air.

“Oh my God!” she exclaimed. “No one else has to do this. Just me!”

No one else was doing laundry, I explained to her. At this point, no one was doing laundry. No one else was cooking, but that wasn’t the point. The point was, the children I did love were assembled in front of the TV playing with the Nintendo Switch. My Nintendo Switch, which I haven’t laid my hands on in about two months… But I digress.

There are other things to go into the dishwasher, but they are under things that need to be washed by hand. I wash. She dries and puts them away. She’s about to put away something that still has water on it. It’s running down the side. I tell her to go over it one more time. More crying. More lamentations. Tears of my children. The ones I love are enjoying themselves. She is a slave. No one else is doing this.

The gaggle enduring her daily torture. The never-ending pile is behind her.

She throws herself around the kitchen. She falls to the floor in the direction of the open dishwasher. Her face misses the corner of the door by millimeters. She yells. I pushed her. I punished her for not working. She wipes her face on the towel. I have washed five dishes during this episode. There are more things to dry but she needs a new towel. “You wiped your face on that towel,” I tell her. “You need a new one.” She throws the towel in the air. She has to get a new towel. Where are the towels? I tell her they are in the same place they’ve been for the past six month. She goes to the drawer for another towel, muttering to herself about her lot in life. Her mistreatment. The shame of it all. The humanity.

Home-fooling Around

Our adventures in parenting include taking care of our own children, children in our neighborhood, and some foster children. Our record of biological/foster combo is five. With the recent addition of a child from our street coming over for the day while her parents go to work, we now have a new record of six. Thank you. We’re very proud.

Like other households from sea to shining sea, we are tasked with home-schooling our children. This is easy with some children (The Gaggle). It’s not so easy for others (The Oppressed and The Boy).

We normally start school around 9:00. This is about an hour later than when it started when our children actually “went to school”. Sounds good, right? You’re starting later. You’re waking up later. You know lunch is going to be longer. This sounds like a good deal. Unless, of course, you happen to be The Oppressed or The Boy.

The Boy’s assignments consist of writing exercises. There are three-letter words in front of him. He identifies the letters. says the words, and then writes the words. Apparently, this is work more in line with PhD candidates. Rather than just say and write the 10 or 12 words in the assignment, The Boy would rather pitch a fit and try to run to Wife. Wife is working at home. The Boy sure she’ll save him from this torture. Writing words. Who does this to children?

Five hours. Six words.

In the afternoon, after a leisurely lunch, I have The Boy sit down and do his reading. I am a taskmaster if you don’t know this already. Just ask the Miracles of Christ. I select a book that may have about 20 pages, large type, and pictures. Allow me to explain “reading”. I read the book and he chimes in when it comes to “the, as, a, now” and other challenges that make “War and Peace” look like something you start and finish on a subway ride.

The Boy tries to run. He wants another book. This one is too hard. (Google “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”.) I’m mean. He hates me. No one else does this to their children. In the time he spends throwing himself down on the ground and cursing my name, we could have read this book and “War and Peace”.

The day is done. The Boy goes to bed and prays for himself and the rest of the abused, overworked children around the world who have to read two or three words on a page. I sit down with my laptop and a bourbon and start writing more words in one night than children have to read in an entire week. This, of course, is a lie. Just ask the children.

Larry the Tree

We had a tree growing in our front yard right next to our driveway. Yes: had. The tree was dying for a long time and we had been getting rainstorms and windstorms. We didn’t want to take the chance of the tree falling on our house, or worse, falling down on a child.

We called a tree company to take care of the tree, who was suddenly “Larry” and a beloved member of our family according to The Oppressed. She vehemently protested the decision to, “murder Larry”. The execution was carried out on Earth Day of all days.

The oppressed protested. She was furious. Trees give us oxygen to breathe. We’re killing the Earth and its inhabitants if we take this tree down. I explain to her a tree is not giving oxygen if there are no leaves (needles) on it. The tree is already dead. All this is fruitless against a nine-year-old expert on trees and ecology. We don’t care about the environment. There is a mark on the cruel, heartless men who have killed Larry. Wife and I, who are paying these men, are just as culpable.

The deed was done. Larry was cut down, ground up, and taken away. The stump was all that was left of Larry. The tree workers were coming back to grind the stump. The Oppressed wasted no time in constructing a memorial for Larry to remind the neighborhood and the murderous tree workers of what had once occupied the spot on our front yard.

Larry’s memorial. The sign reads, “Here lies Larry the Tree X(“

There is a positive to this story. The Boy asked the tree workers if they could put another tree in Larry’s place. When the workers returned to grind the stump. They left a Japanese Maple tree. The Miracles of Christ were overjoyed to see it.

Faith restored