Friday, May 22, 2009


In Which We Emerge from the Basement...

Instead of writing about the birthdays that fall in spring in my family, I seem to be filling the space between them. Mostly that's by accident, but some of it's by design. Not my design, though.

"Dad, do you write something about me every time I have a birthday?" the Brownie asked me last month. She was asking with The Voice. Like her mother's Looks, the Voice tells me more than mere words could ever say. In this case, it dictated my answer for me, sparing me the trouble of thinking, which I suspect my elder daughter thinks I don't do anyway.

"Wellllll," I began, "I guess I don't have to. Would you rather I didn't this year?"

The Brownie did an amazing impersonation of a bobble-head doll, then gave me a "yes" that was three aggrieved syllables long. "I'm glad you figured it out!" she added.

Yeah. My daughter's kind of getting a mouth on her. She doesn't seem to have inherited it from me, because so far as I can tell, it's not getting her in trouble at school. Clearly, it's her mother's mouth. Her Lovely Self was so quiet in school, teachers would call her parents to ask if she had a speech impediment, which caused my in-laws to impersonate bobble-head dolls themselves, because they would get all kinds of sass from their eldest girl.

But it's not really sass the Brownie is giving me, so much as she's asserting her independence. That doesn't mean it doesn't sting a little. At the majestic and all-knowing age of 8, she has her own friends, her own plans, her own agenda, and they don't include us so much. By "us," I mean the males of the house.

Thomas takes it on the chin the hardest, being the closest sibling and therefore the natural object of all scorn. He cannot be anywhere within a 10-block radius if the Brownie is in the back yard, playing (or more often, talking and giggling) with her friends, although my son insists that is just fine with him. He actually does seem to bear it all with a certain quiet resolve. I had no idea just how much resolve.

Poor old Blaze, though, has fallen from the Brownie's grace, and that has been hard to see. The other day, when she got off the bus with her girlfriends, he once again defeated all doors and locks and got out through the garage to meet her in the driveway, ever the faithful companion and protector. He jumped around her and her friends in his big galumphing way, but it broke my heart a little to see the Brownie push him away and squeal, "Ew, Blaze! You're so fat and stinky!" And all the girls laughed and ran off to the backyard. Tail wilted but still wagging, Blaze watched them go and made to follow, but by then I was outside and had a hand in his collar. "Oh, don't," I muttered, dragging him back inside. "Have some respect for yourself."

And of course I've been getting my share of disdain, too, although the Brownie's latest outburst caught me a little by surprise. I didn't think she really knew that I wrote anything about her, but of course, nothing escapes her. She's known for years, and apparently has never forgiven me for it, not since the time I posted pictures of her pissed-off fish face.

"It needs to stop, Dad," she said. "If I want a bunch of people to know about me, I can write it for myself. I'm eight years old now, you know. Kids can do a lot if grown-ups would just go away and let them!" If it were any other child saying this to me, I'd be a little startled by the articulation and assertiveness, but then, this is the same woman who at 4 interrupted her own teary temper tantrum to inform me that she wouldn't have to cry if I would just follow her directions. So I quietly acquiesced and slunk off, fat and stinky, to my basement.

That's how it's been for the past few weeks, and to be honest, it's just as well I was forbidden to write about the Brownie. Because the truth is, a couple of days earlier, I had taken on a huge pile of freelance work--way more than I ever have before (or ever will again). From about seven in the morning til very late in the afternoon (and then again on into the evening) I wrote and wrote and wrote some more. My day was marked not by the passage of the sun (there are two windows in my basement, both of them well out of view from my little cell under the stairs), but by the noises that filtered down from ground level. Most of the day was punctuated by the pitter-patter of the Éclair and the steadfast clack-clack-clack of Blaze following her from room to room. Then, things would be deathly quiet for an hour or so--nap time for the Éclair, and for poor Blaze. And then, not long after that, an explosion of sound--excited paw clacking, the squealing yawn of the front door, followed by the twin Booms! of bookbags hitting the floor. Then the general mysterious muffled sounds of girlish murmuring and giggling from somewhere in the back yard. So it went everyday.

And then there was a new sound pattern. Several afternoons--and continuing for a solid 10 days--I would hear the unmistakable pounding of Thomas coming into the house, followed by Blaze. There would be some noises--Thomas talking a low voice, the squeal of what sounded like a door, some more noises from Thomas. Then I'd just hear Thomas say something emphatic...followed by nothing much. This went on and on, all through the late afternoon, it seemed. After a couple of days, I noticed (in that back-of-the-mind way you notice things when you're a parent in your house, but distracted by work) that after Thomas said his emphatic word, I'd hear a low growl from Blaze, sometimes a low growl accompanied by the briefest clatter of feet.

After a week or so of this--and in particular on a day where I was staring at the screen, trying to solve an annoying writing problem--the endless repetition of this got to me and I pounded up the stairs and threw open the basement door, just as Thomas was dropping a giant piece of roast beef into Blaze's mouth.

"This is what you've been doing? Sneaking him treats all afternoon?" I asked (okay, asked in a shouty kind of way). Thomas and the dog both looked at me, abashed, and slunk off--to the front yard, since the Brownie and her coterie had taken over the back yard.

Next day, though, he and the dog were at it again. But I had a lot to write, and I was ashamed of myself for snapping at Thomas, so I just let it go. And anyway, by then I had eaten all of the roast beef so all Thomas would have to give Blaze would have been dog biscuits, so no harm done.

And thus the routine continued, until today, when I finally finished all of my freelance work. Almost all of it was due next week, but I had decided I wanted to finish it all before my birthday, and the holiday weekend. So it was with a light heart and a full bladder that I came upstairs to stretch my legs and have a celebratory pee. It was stuffy in the house--and warm outside--so after the requisite stretching and celebrating, I cranked open a few windows downstairs, then went up to the bedrooms to do the same. I found a few other chores to take care of--putting my socks in a drawer, leafing through Wednesday's new comics that I hadn't quite got to read. Downstairs, I heard a door slam, heard Thomas and Blaze pounding around, tuned them out. Through a bathroom window, I could hear girlish squealing down in the backyard, tuned them out.

At length, I remembered to finish opening the windows, and as I was opening a side window in my bedroom, I heard a noise outside that was like boyish pounding around, but not quite. It was like giggling, but not quite. I pressed my head to the screen so as to look down at the ground below and saw two--no, it was three--huddled forms at the corner of my house. I couldn't see who it was, but I could hear them. "No! Can't see! Go around the other side like last time!" one--or all of them--seemed to say.

Just Thomas and some friends playing hide and seek, I thought, and returned to my comics.

But just then, very clearly, from somewhere in the neighborhood of the stairwell, I heard Thomas hiss, "Shh!" and I remembered he was in the house. Which was now very silent. It was the loudest possible silence, though, the silence of Children Trying To Be Quiet.

After three weeks of being buried in the basement, my Daddy Sense was tingling, permeating the very walls of the house. I knew instantly that two--no, it was three--unknown boys were now running crouched and fast around the front of my house. My son, either with them or not (I used the extra gear in my Daddy Sense and suddenly divined Not), had shushed the dog (probably locked him up in his kennel, lest he give Thomas away) and was somewhere downstairs, almost certainly near the back door, but not within view of the girls, or the Brownie would have yelled at him.

The girls... I thought.

My Daddy Sense only extends so far, so I went to window in my bathroom for a look. Because of its quirky placement high up on the bathroom wall, coupled with the fact that the yard curves down and away from that side of the house, this window commands almost a bird's-eye view of the back yard. I could clearly see the Brownie and three of her friends, another 8-year-old girl, and the neighbor girls, Bee and Kay, who are 10 and 12, but who still hang out with the Brownie. They were no longer murmuring and gossiping, but were instead making use of the old wooden swingset in our backyard, which includes a couple of sturdy swings set up high (big-kid height) and an even higher trapeze thing. It was a warm spring day today, and there in the leafy confines of our backyard, the girls, younger and older, were in high spirits, engaged in various acrobatics on the swingset.

In point of fact, they were swinging or hanging upside down from either the swings, the trapeze, or the beam of the swingset itself. I couldn't pick out my daughter from among them. Because, as I said, they were all hanging upside down. With their t-shirts or tanktops falling up, over their faces. Exposing their bare chests. Instantly, as though bleach had been hurled in my face, I averted my gaze from this unfortunate if innocent display of immodesty.

And of course, it all clicked into place. Those little peeping perverts! I thought, as I bolted from the window.

This was not a time for letting my daughter have her independence, I decided, as I surfed down the stairs on my heels. This was not a time for hiding myself in the basement like some fat, stinky dog--clearly, I'd been in the basement too long!

It was time to go all Dad on somebody's ass...

Uh oh... And happy 41 on Saturday, MM.
and mm rides again!

*sigh* poor blaze. growing up is hard on everybody. some neighborhood boys are about to get a verbal can of whoop ass directed there way.
Why do I think dad's ass is about to be handed to him somehow?
OH NO! I have an eight year-old daughter! I'm not ready for this.

I don't think Thomas is, either, I just have to believe that he and Blaze are looking out for the Brownie and friends, even if they don't know they need the help. I have faith in Thomas and Blaze.

Also, if she's not thrilled about having you write about her in general, I'm sure you got the Brownie's written approval to write about her unintended exposure, right? She was good with that, I'll bet. ;)

I hope your birthday is happy.
it hurts when that happens.

Now I am waiting for the Ass whoping that is coming next post.
Oh Lordy.... this just can't be good.

But~ I hope you had a wonderful Birthday :)
My first time here (came via Suldog via his interview with Authorblog) and am so in love with any man who would "go all Dad on somebody's ass" after reading what those guys were up to!

Am following now so will be back again and again.
Happy birthday, MM! A day late, I think.

You've reminded me to have more compassion for and patience with my dad, particularly since I was such a daddy's girl growing up.
I predict that what was gogin on was not exactly what you htought it was. Are you sure those girls were as innocent as they seemed? Maybe the youngers, but a 12 year old should know better.
Happy Birthday!

You have my sympathies. Isn't the definition of boys in puberty 'perverts'?

I hope it turns out that it wasn't what you thought it was but....
A word of warning - make sure you get some parental monitoring software on all computers in the house.

Trust me.
Hope this comes out with a different ending than what it would appear. If the boys were peeping, though it is with a zest for curiousity, it is something that needs to be discussed through the parents as well. Hope you were reasonably calm but most of all really hope it was not as it appeared.

You are about to learn one of the hardest lessons of parenting, I fear...

...That things are in NO WAY the same as when we were kids...

Love to everyone at the Mansion.

Old Auntie Thim :)
My heart bleeds for poor Blaze. Thank goodness for the Eclair.
I think I'll wait for the climax before commenting, except to say "Happy Birthday, MM!"
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