Thursday, May 31, 2012

Do Svedonya, Gospodin Johnson

A few weeks ago, I received an email from my childhood friend Anita Hatch (nee Sharp). She was writing to tell me that one of our sixth grade teachers, Mr. Johnson, had passed away in April. Howard Johnson was tall, lanky and terrifying. And he had a great influence on me.

Mr. Johnson was my first Russian teacher. He had learned the language from Soviet soldiers while he was on his LDS mission to occupied East Germany a few years after serving in WW II (during which he received a purple heart). He brought back his love of the language and culture, and shared it with generations of Midvale Elementary School students. For some of those students that introduction grew into their own individual love - and that is true of me.

He also taught his classes very much in the European style: you stood when he walked into the room, and he was rigorous in his lessons. I think he must have sensed that I wasn't challenged in my regular homeroom (headed by a teacher, who had spent her entire career in kindergarten and first grade classrooms...), so he would routinely pull me out and have me join his class.

I learned a great deal from Mr. Johnson.

He was also the only person I've ever known - well, the only non-Greek - who pronounced my surname perfectly.  But that skill was also a big part of his singly most annoying habit. From the the very first time he learned my name, way back when I was in first grade, whenever he saw me - in the hall, in the cafeteria, in the playground - he would loudly bark, "Katis! I always wanted to marry a nice Greek girl like you're mom!"

No little kid wants to think about his mom being married to someone besides his dad...especially not to one of the teachers!

The last time I saw Mr. Johnson I was  mailing my grad school applications. His eyes lit up when I told him I was about to graduate with a degree in Russian, and was off to study international relations. For a moment there was a connection, a tangible example of the influence a teacher can have on a student. Then he said it, "Katis! I always wanted to marry a nice Greek girl like your mom!"

Rest in peace, Mr. Johnson. Spasebo bol'shoe.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I'm Not Radar

My little brain is chock full of useless, trivial information. Not the good kind that can win drink bets in bars or get me on to Jeopardy either. I mean crap that's just taking up gray matter that could've gone towards my actually understanding math.

I like to joke that one day I won't remember by middle name...but I will know that former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson's is "Kooi"

Among all that worthless information is the plot of an old M*A*S*H* episode. When actor Gary Burghoff left the show, he took his his Iowa farm-boy character, the lovably psychic Radar O'Reilly, with him. In the first episode after his departure, the administrative duties Radar performed are transferred to Max Klinger, the cross-dressing Lebanese from Toledo, played by Jamie Farr.

Throughout the episode people complain that Radar did it this way, that Radar would have known about that, etc. Poor Klinger couldn't compete.

I know how he felt. Since taking over so many of the "hands-on" parenting duties from Kelly, I've been told that I don't make snacks correctly, that I don't tie skate laces properly, and even that I don't cut the lawn right!

But just as that fun-loving medical team in the Korean War got used to Klinger's style, the boys are getting used to mine. I just hope I can knock some of the unnecessary clutter - like1970s television storylines  - out of my memory and start filling in the freed-up space with useful information: like the right way to fold underwear!

Friday, May 18, 2012

You Make My Heart Beat Faster

Today is my parents' 63rd wedding anniversary. You read that right: 63 years! That's a long time for anything, yet alone a marriage.

Has their life together been smooth sailing every day? Has it been picture perfect? Has it been free of conflict and adversity? No. Like all marriages, Mom and Dad's has had its ups and downs, its trials and tribulations. The difference between their relationship and those of so many others is that my parents have persevered and triumphed over these challenges.

They have taught me that there are certain marital fundamentals that are both universal yet specific to each marriage. They've shown me:

  • It's OK to disagree with each other (even publicly) but the goal must always be compromise
  • You're a team, every issue you face needs to be met with a united front
  • Laugh a lot - with each other and at each other.
In a time when half of all marriages are dissolved, my parents' commitment to one another stands out as a noble example of what can be. And it warms my heart to know that after all these years, like the lyric from the Matt Nathanson song  - they look at each other and think, "you make my heart beat faster."

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Dangers of Two Dads

I've written before about the dangers of having two dads.  Well, the other day on walkies we discovered that someone had made a swing out of a block of wood and some rope, and positioned it right over the now-full canal. So, yeah, why not let the boys try it, right? My mother was horrified. The boys...delighted!

 Unfortunately, some other mom must've gotten wind - it's been cut down!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mama Mia

I think just about everyone has heard the story of my time on paternity leave: how on the morning of the third day my "work wife" Teresa banned me from calling the office anymore "just to check in;" and how my mom burst into fits of laughter when later that afternoon I called her to confess my guilty feelings for just wanting to get back to work.

Well, today was my first full day as Mr. Mom. So far it's gone off without a hitch.

And this morning waiting for me when I walked into the kitchen was a Mother's Day present from Niko...for me. According to the card, I'm the "best mom in the world." Wow. That was sweet.

As I opened the card, and saw the little rainbow window decoration and hand print he'd made for me I reflected for a moment. If we could live exclusively on Kelly's salary, would I decide to stay home full time? The answer came to me almost immediately, Hell no! :-)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Lessons of the Fathers

Some of the most interesting lessons I've learned about being a dad have come from the mistakes we've made along the way.

Let me give you an example: for his birthday Gus decided he wanted money rather than actual gifts. That way, he argued, he could buy whatever he wanted. Knowing how particular he's become as he's growing older, money seemed like a really good idea to us. And that's exactly what we told our family when they asked what to get him - money, so he could get whatever he wanted.

The lesson learned? It's hard to nix purchases when you've already established that the birthday money is for whatever he wants.

 And thus, today he came home with his new purchase: a corn snake.

Our arguments to try to persuade him in a different direction were repeatedly met with the same, self-assured response, "Whatever I wanted."

Next year we'll remember to put some stipulations on "whatever."

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Happy Birthday, Gus

Today is Gus' birthday. He's 9.  I can hardly believe it.  I wish I knew more of the details of his birth - beyond his mom stumbled into an Orange County emergency room complaining of stomach pains and gave birth to a 6 lbs. baby boy.

Something that he'll be able to share with his family one day. A story like my Aunt Tina being born in a taxi cab, or the on-going joke between my dad and me that he didn't care enough to be there for my birth. I was already more than two weeks late, and at my mom's insistence -  and against his better judgement - he went bowling. No sooner had he left than I started pushing my way out. My Aunt Amelia took Mom to the hospital, barely getting us there in time.

What I can share with Gus is the first time I ever laid eyes on him. We were nervous knocking on the door of his foster mom's house. Gus was in a "Johnny Jumper" bouncing around. Just six months old, he looked like a little old man staring at us as we entered the room.  But for me the words to John Lennon's Beautiful Boy finally made sense. It was pretty much love at first sight for me.

And I can tell him about the first night he slept in our home. I placed a plate of sweets on the nightstand in our bedroom hoping the Fates would rewrite on his forehead a better fortune for him (it's a crazy Greek thing), and how I woke up every few minutes to reach over to make sure he was still breathing.

I can share how I remember the first time he crawled - it was on December 4th, his papou's birthday - and how we made animal sounds to make him laugh. Or how I would put him in the backpack, grab two dogs and take him on walkies with me; inevitably, he'd take his hat off and toss it at me, forcing me to ask strangers to help me put it back on him.

Hopefully he'll understand the positive impact he's had on my life. How he has influenced everything from which homes we've bought, cities we've called home, and jobs I've taken, to the fact I have another son.  All of these decisions had him top of mind.

Maybe, just maybe, that first night as he snored away in a borrowed playpen while I tossed and turned listening for signs of his continued breathing, those Fates nibbled on sweets and wrote a much better fortune for me.

Happy birthday, Gus. May you live to be 100.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Lesson from a Little Stranger

We all have good days and bad days. Sometimes we're on the top of the world and sometimes we want to pull the covers over our heads and go back to sleep.

I admit that my day was heading toward that "covers over my head" option today. I just wasn't feeling it; I'm discouraged, feeling down, and the thought of a full-blown pity party sounded perfect.

Then I saw the news that Avery Canahuati, a 5-month old with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, passed away. Her parents chronicled their daughter's short life on a "bucket list" blog. Sharing it with the world was their way of celebrating the beautiful life they'd been given, while educating people about SMA.

If they can celebrate the really lousy hand Life's dealt them, then I can man-up and realize that my day isn't so bad after all.

If you'd like to read Avery's Bucket List, here's the link.