Larry’s last days

Trees at dusk.
Trees living their best life.

I’m sure you are aware of the loss we all experienced last year when we needed to have a tree removed from our property. If you are not aware of Larry the Tree and the memories he provided the entire family (The Oppressed), allow me to once again share the story of our beloved tree and the day he was taken away from us in a cruel and heartless decision made by Wife and me. Here is the story that honors his memory. Larry the Tree – Drink your juice (and Other Crimes Against Humanity) (brave-daddy.com)

The Oppressed continues to remind me of what happened to Larry and how he is in a better place, no thanks to her parents. I thought it would be nice if you got it straight from the fingers of my daughter. Here it is, the life and times of Larry in her own words.

My father thought I should write a story on his blog (I am The Oppressed). I decided I will write about the famous Larry The Tree (from the perspective of The Oppressed). Now to begin:

One day I was doing schoolwork and I heard my parents were hiring someone to kill my good friend Larry the tree. They told me he was dead but he was still standing and dead things can’t stand; not to mention they killed him on this birthday, Earth Day. They also said they’ve never heard of the tree being named “Larry”. Well, if they took the time to pay attention, they would know his name. It was brutal. I mean, watching your friend die is 100% not ideal. Not to mention the same day Larry was killed, a Barbie doll (named “Tom”) was buried after suffering injuries from a head ripping. Larry’s funeral was small. I put up a grave, put flowers down, and prayed. Only me and two of my friends were there. I wore a black dress.

This is the true story of Larry.

A potted tree.
R.I.P. Larry

Larry the tree

April 7, 1966 – April 22, 2020

Last words: “I don’t want to die.”

(The birthdate and final words are accurate according to The Oppressed)

It’s Time for Coffee

Children are learning things every day. Sometimes they learn on their own and sometimes Wife or I need to teach them.

We had one such teachable moment with one of The Gaggle. They wanted to get a coffee. I stopped at a drive-thru so they could get one. The order was a little difficult as they kept changing their mind as to what it was they wanted. God bless the poor person taking the order. They never lost their temper or raised their voice once. Upon receiving the coffee, I drove away. I could see the look of disappointment in The Gaggle’s face as we made our way home.

“This is black,” they said.

“Yes. You wanted a black coffee,” I reminded them.

“They don’t put cream in a black coffee?”

I put my hand on the child’s shoulder and said no, they don’t put cream in a black coffee. That’s why they call it a “black coffee”. If the child had wanted cream, they should have said, “coffee with cream.”

“That’s dumb,” they said. “I should sue Starbuck’s”

I tell the child to go ahead and try, but Starbuck’s doesn’t care what just happened where we were.

“I mean McDonald’s.”

“Again,” I say, “Knock yourself out, but it’s not McDonald’s fault.”

“Wait,” they say as they look behind them, hoping to catch a glimpse of where we were. “Where were we?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I’m driving. I need to look forward so I can see where we’re going.”

“Well, wherever we were,” they say as they turn back and get settled. “We should sue them. They screwed up my coffee.”

Of course they did.

Child on the Go

“You know I can’t stand still.” – AC/DC

The chair is only in the room for decoration.

One of the complaints about baseball is that it takes too long to play. In Major League Baseball, steps have been taken to help speed things along. There were some people who didn’t like the batter stepping out of the box after each pitch. The pitcher would walk around the mound, blow on his hands, wipe sweat off his forehead, grab the resin bag, motion for the hot dog vendor to bring him something to eat, run to the bullpen to see if anyone wanted something. There were little things that were taking time away from the game itself.

I think of this as I tell you about my son, The Boy, who can take the simplest task and turn it into a union project that makes the Big Dig look like a quick run through a fast-food drive-thru. For my friends who do not live in Massachusetts, look up The Big Dig.

We’re still not sure what it is exactly that ails The Boy. It could be Ants in the Pants, hyperactivity, boredom. Pick something. We’re open to suggestions so we can identify it and treat it.

One of the Gaggle first noticed it about the boy. When the family sits down to dinner, it will be a matter of seconds before he is out of his seat, running around the table, playing with the cat. It has now reached the point where The Gaggle will watch the clock and let everyone know how long he was able to sit still.

This constant need for movement and inability to stay in one place is not just limited to the dinner table. One of the underlying issues of The Homework Wars involves Boy Genius’ stroll around the bedroom after writing one word. After two words, he needs a snack. Three merits a bathroom break. Four? He’s tired and he needs to lie down on his bed.

Math involves the same. He does one problem and he needs the bathroom. Wait. I haven’t dressed yet. I need breakfast. (I made it for him two hours ago.) He wants to check on Kitty. He wants to see if Doggie is okay. He just needs to lie down on the floor because David had five apples and gave two to Omar. The mental stress of that calculation may have wiped him out. He needs a nap and maybe a snack. Maybe he just needs to use the bathroom. His room is upstairs. He needs the bathroom in the basement, of course.

As I patiently await him to complete the four-word sentence he merely needs to copy, he laments over his unfair lot in life. He throws himself on the bed and wails to anyone in the house who will hear. He slaves everyday on his work. He works so hard but his father doesn’t know it. He wishes he had a nice dad. Other dads don’t make their sons do this. I remind him every kid in his class has the same assignment as him. Of course, that doesn’t matter. His classmates have nice parents.

Time for another nap. Not in his bed, though. This time, he needs to go downstairs and lay down on the couch. One of the Gaggle, done with their work, is watching TV. The Boy thinks he’s no one will notice him under a blanket. He is found and he runs back upstairs. Hopefully is hiding in his room… At his table… in front of his work with a pencil in his hand. We all have our dreams.

Prince of the Road

Being a foster parent gives you numerous challenges everyday. There are things to deal with for school. There are doctor and dentist visits. Meetings with social workers. Another wrinkle being a foster parent can bring is a change in the order of milestones.

Our children range in ages from 17 to six. We will be celebrating a driver’s license before we will celebrate graduation from elementary school. We will help prepping for a high school final exam before dealing with middle school orientation. Things like these are perfectly normal for a family that doesn’t exactly do “normal”.

One of the Gaggle has their learner’s permit. This person has made Wife and I proud. They have shown initiative in their life and work. They looked for and got a job. They sought out how to get their permit and they are looking into driver’s ed.

The child and I have been out on the road getting practice and experience whenever we can. They do well most of the time. Then again, there was this one time…

I fancy myself an amateur craft beer and bourbon critic. One time nearly became a “Four-finger Night” as a neighbor likes to say. We were driving around town. The Gaggle had a few rounds behind the wheel under their belt and kept improving. We were making our way home. On our right was one of those glaring-red stop signs. Painfully obvious to me right away. Somehow, the Gaggle didn’t see it until we nearly passed it. Being the diligent person and stickler for rules, they slammed on the breaks as soon as they recognized their folly. I exclaimed an expletive and put my hands up to shield myself from the dashboard in case the seat belt didn’t work.

The Gaggle apologized. I reminded them to keep their eyes open when driving. They promised to do so and thanked me for the advice. As we continued our way, the route called for a left-hand turn. Unfortunately for our driving novice, this was one of those clearly visible streets that somehow remained hidden until you were halfway by it. Most people would continue on and make the next turn and make their way back to it. Not the Gaggle. Our driving dynamo saw the nearly passed street, slams on the brakes, and cuts the wheel for a hairpin turn that would make Vin Diesel proud. If they ever start casting for “The Fast and the Furious 17”, I think I’m signing the Gaggle up for it. Wait. They haven’t made part 17 yet. Have they?

We continue. We’re almost home, much to my relief. I think the car’s relieved, too. I instruct the Gaggle to make a turn. Maybe they were thinking about the turn they almost missed. Whatever it was, they make this one a little premature and we’re on the left side of the road, practically on someone’s front lawn. I thought I heard a mailbox scream and a lawn gnome reciting a prayer. I tell the child the laws haven’t changed and we’re still driving on the right side of the road. He apologized and literally rights the situation. We get home. He apologizes again before we get out of the car. We get inside the house. People inside ask how it went. We both say it went great. I poured a bourbon.

Brothers and Sisters

As of right now, we have five children: two elementary-aged children and three teenagers. Wife says she doesn’t have teenagers. She has five small children.

The three teenagers will start their day with some breakfast. One may take some coffee with breakfast. Another will start their day with a body check as they walk by one of their siblings. After delivering the body check, they will run around the kitchen trying to avoid whatever retribution the checked is trying to deliver. This will go on for a couple of minutes with both children who are wearing socks on a hardwood floor. What could possibly go wrong?

After breakfast and the accompanying cardio, it is time to begin the fun adventures of homeschooling. Sometimes, all three children will be in the same room looking over the assignments and offering whatever moral support they can. This usually comes in the form of, “You’re such an idiot!” or “Will you shut up?!” Meanwhile, Wife is downstairs dialed into a meeting with other business professionals making sure her phone is on “Mute”.

After a rigorous morning, it’s time for lunch. The Gaggle will try to fit one more hit to the back or push someone to the bed one more time before running like Hell downstairs to be the first to the kitchen and first dibs on whatever it has to offer. After pushing, shoving, and reminding each other how stupid or “sus” they are, everyone finally finds something to eat and sits down at the table. A meal is shared over how easy the other’s subjects are and if one had the other workload, they would have been done with the day already. This, of course, prompts another to yell, “Liar!” across the table and they could have been done with everything already if they really wanted to make them all look bad.

“Oh my God, Bruh. You’re so sus!”

During lunch, Wife and I will check in on the future of our country. Things are going great for one (pick one). It’s the other two (pick two) that are having trouble. Then again, they wouldn’t have so much trouble if they weren’t so dumb. This is where one will try to climb over the table and assault the other, who is trying to hide under the table from the attack. The third is preventing them from hiding under the table so they may have the proper retribution. Wife and I step in and direct everyone back to their corner – I mean, seat – and instruct them to finish their lunch. They will have another class starting soon.

Lunch ends and they go back upstairs. This is hastened some by someone trying to get one more jab at someone and then run. One or two will run after them. They are usually directed to their own rooms. Two go to one room. One goes to another. More schooling. After the day comes to a merciful close, we are reminded again by all of the Gaggle how smart they are. Each maintains they are the smartest. Each one is reminded by the other of their stupidity. Wife reminds everyone she doesn’t have teenagers. She has small children.

Dinnertime approaches and we sit down to find out about each other’s day. One of the Gaggle talks about his ever-growing list of girlfriends and how it’s so hard to keep track of all of them. Another calls Casanova “Sus” and reminds him of his looks. They tell him the list of girls who are repulsed is longer than his list of “girlfriends”. The first laughs and says how foolish his sibling is for thinking that.

Dinner is over. Some people hang around in the dining room, especially if there’s a fire in the fireplace. One of The Gaggle finds Kitty and spirits her away to the bedroom because Kitty “loves” them the most. I have a drink and unwind from the day and the verbal barbs that accompanied it. Tomorrow is another day sure to be filled with more sibling love and tenderness.

Good Talk

We survived the summer. You did too, I take it. Congratulations!

I love talking to my children, especially when they get back from school or an activity. I like hearing about what they did, who they talked to. I like hearing about everything that happened in between the time they left the house and the time they returned.

My children have a way of downplaying whatever they did and wherever they went. They did nothing. No one spoke to them. They talked to nobody. They sit alone. They eat alone. They go to somewhere and just stand or sit there the entire time until it’s time for them to leave.

The Boy has a friend who has been going to school with him for a couple of years. I would pick them both up and take them home. Walking to the car, I would ask them what they did. The boy’s friend would answer, “Nothing! We did nothing!”

A new school year has descended upon us. I am excited for my kids. I am eager to know about their new rooms. Where they sit. How is the room set up with Coronapalooza? They don’t remember. School was okay. Great. We’ll be back tomorrow, Dad. Relax.

This week, I saw The Boy had a drawing in his hand. What was it? I asked what he had drawn? Was it a picture of something he did during vacation? Was it a drawing of the family?

“It’s just random coloring, Dad,” He said to me.

Good talk.

Art Depreciation

I carried the equipment back to the van hoping my last half-ounce of sanity would hold out for the ride home so I could hide somewhere until the next crisis presented itself. Unfortunately, the next crisis presented itself before the bag was dropped in the van.

I was the proud coach of not one, but two baseball teams last year. I coached The Oppressed and one of The Gaggle on one team, The Boy on the other. Both teams presented their own unique challenges. No matter what team had the practice or the game, I had more of The Gaggle sitting on the bench presenting an additional set of challenges to my parenting strategies and my overall sanity.

There was one particular afternoon where I had to remind myself I love my children and the work I was doing on the baseball field. It had been a challenging afternoon with the budding stars of the diamond that day. I had the usual two children telling my why one should be playing first base and not the other one. Another child was mesmerized by the blades of grass surrounding them, the occasional dandelion in the grass, and anything else not relating to baseball. I found that to be rather odd since baseball was the reason we were all gathered there on that particular day.

The game that particular afternoon mercifully came to an end. I carried the equipment back to the van hoping my last half-ounce of sanity would hold out for the ride home so I could hide somewhere and recharge until the next crisis presented itself. Unfortunately, the next crisis presented itself before the bag was dropped in the van.

I couldn’t help but notice the back of a seat had been touched up a bit by an artists touch. Now, the van at that point had been seven or eight years old but I didn’t recall artwork being included in the list of options when we bought it.

Art exhibits ‘A’ and ‘B’

I took a deep breath and calmly called the children to the back of the van. They dutifully assembled and saw the work of art that wasn’t there that morning. I asked them if anyone wanted to take credit for the new work gracing the back of the seat. There were no takers. We get home. Everyone sits at the table. The first thing I do is demand that anyone with “Stupid Pills” hand them over to me that very instant. There is obviously some mental damage here and I need to curb it.

Next, I inform all of the Miracles of Christ that everyone will be punished until the Real Rembrandt steps up and lays claim to the work. They hear me. They understand but they all tell me, swear to me that no one sitting at the table did it.

We begin the days-long interrogation process. Extra chores. No screens. Early bedtimes. The Oppressed is mad at whoever the culprit is. She, as well as the rest of the innocent parties are missing out on screens: the vital staple of any child’s development and well-being. One of The Gaggle offers to take the heat for everyone for the sake of getting it all over and done with. The rest of the Miracles of Christ will owe them down the road.

My wife and I play a guessing game every night. Whodunnit? We have our guesses and theories supporting those guesses. All of the guesses are good and the theories are intriguing. We don’t act on any of these, of course. We still wait for the guilty party(ies) to take it upon themselves to tell us what they’ve done. We have ruled out one of the children because of a “Tell” they have when they do something wrong. The “Tell” is not there. We figure they’re not involved this time.

Wife and I continue to wait for a confession. The children are put to work in the backyard. All of them, including the one we think is clean. There’s a lot of land to be mowed and tended to. We also have trees with falling branches that make it difficult to cut the grass. The Miracles of Christ are charged with removing the sticks from the grass and moved to the patio. This was happening on one particular day when the social worker of The Gaggle came to visit. She saw the children at work and felt this was a little excessive, even if our vehicle was vandalized. I thank the nice lady for bringing her opinion to my attention.

Time passes and someone cracks. They cave. They did it. Was there anyone else. No. They acted alone. Wife and I have the confession we have been waiting for. The rest of the children are off the hook and we discuss the proper punishment for the individual. But wait… There’s more! The guilty party had an accomplice. Said accomplice was sitting back letting the other take the heat. Brilliant child. A budding mastermind. Somewhere on the other side, Al Capone probably did a facepalm.

Punishments are handed down. I assess the situation and determine the retribution to be exacted. Wife thought the punishments were excessive and feels we should tone them down. I agree under protest. We hand down the sentences and wait for the next crisis to befall us.

Small (Very Tiny) Talk

I started a new job recently. It’s not great. Not glamourous. It is physical but that’s okay. Most of the work I’ve done is physical/manual labor and those types of jobs love me and like to keep me so I guess this is nice and convenient.

We have since moved on from home-schooling to vacation time and I am proud to tell you all of our children have passed and have been promoted to the next grade. The Oppressed. The Boy. The Gaggle. Everyone made it. I’m making another drink.

The Oppressed and The Boy are in camp. It’s a great place. It’s nearby and many of the parents I talk to would like to know if there is a program for grown-ups. This is a camp located within acres on acres of woods. There’s a pond, a pool. You can do archery. you can paddle a canoe. You get there in the morning, swim, play kickball, and eat lunch. After lunch you can go out in the canoe, do a little more swimming, hang out with your friends, maybe have a snack. You play another game and then you can go home. Sounds like a pretty good way to spend a summer day. Right?

My children seem to think so… I guess. I can’t get them to tell me anything about it. I get home. I have dinner. I ask the kids how camp was. “Okay,” they tell me. What did they do? “Stuff.” Care to elaborate? They don’t.

I finished dinner one night. The Oppressed has commandeered Wife’s phone. The Boy is watching YouTube videos. I ask both if they would like to take a walk and talk about their day at camp. The Oppressed runs away. The Boy is too tired.

I guess I’ll just pour a drink and do some writing.

Rightfully Mine

I find myself losing more and more to a certain child in my home.

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.

Come on in

“Welcome to the show.” – KISS

My name is Greg. I’m from Massachusetts and have been a househusband for over nine years. I am a parent and a foster parent You’ll learn more about the cast of characters as we go along, especially the little darlings that have since transformed me from a gentle, live-and-let-live individual into a single malt scotch and craft beer connoisseur.

The Cast of Characters

Me. A college-educated, well-read individual who has turned into a hardened veteran of “The Homework Wars”. Hostage negotiator who frequently deals with hunger-strikes as a result of limited menus and a refusal to cook multiple dishes at mealtimes.

Wife. Mother of “The Boy” and “The Oppressed”. Claims to work in Corporate America but I and a few others seem to think she works for a secretly-funded black-ops branch of the federal government due to long stretches of not being reached and impromptu travel.

The Oppressed. My daughter. Believes I am conspiring with her teacher to make her life miserable and blames me for her not, “enjoying life”. Anti-homework crusader and tireless advocate for oppressed children everywhere.

The Boy. My son. Proudly announces he will work 10 jobs when he grows up. These jobs include building houses and playing a role in a local S.W.A.T. unit. Considerately stacks five or six books in front of his bed for me to read every night.

The Gaggle. Any one or more foster child(ren) that enter and leave our home.

Kitty. Our cat. Kitty likes to think I am her personal climbing post and Wife is her own bed. Kitty enjoys running around in circles at random times during the day and stalking/pouncing on anything that moves. Kitty has already used up seven or eight or her nine lives if you ask Wife.