Friday, March 27, 2009

"Ship" Happens ...

… And that’s not just what one whale said to the other whale when he bumped his head on the hull of a passing oil tanker … more than a pithy double entendre … this has become something of a motto in the Owens House, courtesy of Sister-Baby.

**WARNING** in spite of the innocent face of it’s subject, the following post is rated PG-13 (parental guidance both suggested and solicited).

So … we’re all sitting in the living room on a wintery Saturday afternoon, watching Gordon Ramsey’s cooking show on the BBC America cable station. He was making some kind of a lobster dish and, to prepare, he took a live lobster and cut it in half while it was still moving. After the collective “EEEE-ooooo” we let out, Abigail felt obliged to speak her mind. “What is that,” she asked. “Lobster,” her brother replied. And after a brief pause, “Well … I won’t be eating any of that lobster SHIP.” And the expression on her face showed that she was completely serious.

The rest of our expressions weren’t nearly so serious … Jared was rolling with laughter while Shemetra and I were holding back our own laughter with the appropriate amount of parental indignation. Had she just said what we thought she said … did Chica just say a cuss-word? Well, no, not quite -- there was, after all, a distinct P sound at the end of that word, not a T. Still, there could be little doubt as to the intent of the remark.

In dutiful-dad fashion, I immediately began my investigation. I turned to Shemetra who spends a great deal of time navigating the streets of Boston in our little car (an activity that tends to increase the use of such spicy epithets). “I say things,” she insisted, “but not THOSE things.” Further pursuit of this suspect being hazardous to the health and well-being of the investigator, I turned my attention to the most likely culprit. Brother-Man watches Abby for a couple of hours every day after school ... and we all know the kind of foul language that can come from the mouth of a teen-aged boy. “Wasn’t me, Dad.” A likely story … in fact the SAME likely story that had become his mantra ever since, at the tender age of seven, he became aware of the concept of plausible deniability. Only this time, I actually believed him. When it comes to his sister, Jared has something of a puritanical streak … he is often a more attentive and protective custodian of her formative character than I am. Though I don’t doubt that he says things among his friends that he wouldn’t say among us, I am pretty sure he watches his mouth around his sister.

I was about to start blaming some potty-mouthed little kindergartener when I realized who the culprit was – none other than Chef Ramsay himself! Before the newly sliced lobster had stopped squirming he (Ramsey, not the lobster... though if lobsters could cuss ...) had let fly the very word in question no fewer than five times. Of course, censorship was declared forthwith.

But too late, I’m afraid. Later in that week, I had told Abby that she needed to clear all of her toys out of the living room before supper time. “Dad-DEEEE,” she complained. “Don’t 'daddy' me, Miss Thing, get on with it.” She did … but as she walked down the hall, Shemetra heard her say under her breath, “I’m so tired of this SHIP.”

Well, so we talked later and she has since stopped using the word. But I know she knows it and that she will undoubtedly use it again. Here’s my night mare:

Abby on the playground at recess in the midst of a rip-roaring game of Dora the Explorer. Sister-Baby, is of course the titular protagonist of the drama and, as it unfolds, the lad portraying Swiper the Fox is circling in, preparing to abscond with Dora’s back-pack or Boots’s boots or something else of value. Instead of the iconic, obligatory (but somewhat cumbersome) catch-phrase, “Swiper no swiping, Swiper no swiping, Swiper nooooooo swiping.” Abby turns around lending her own defiance to the sweet an unobtrusive character of Dora: “Dude,” she says “chillax … enough of this swiping SHIP. You’d best step off, yo.”

“Aw, c’mon, DaddyO,” I say to myself. “She’s still your sweet little girl – and always will be.” That’s the story I’m sticking with then … at least until some appalled nun from Sacred Heart Elementary school calls me saying that we need to talk.

And even if/when that happens, I guess its part of raising the bambinos. I’ll just shrug my shoulders and go to the meeting. It’s par for the course when it comes to parenting. SHIP happens.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

That Guy ...

Okay, revealing another guilty pleasure … I like Bruce Willis movies, particularly the “Die Hard” series. I know they are gratuitously violent and filled with improbable if not impossible feats of derring-do but I just like them …

So, anyway, in the latest installment (the name of which is so corny and ridiculous I am too embarrassed to repeat it) the following interaction takes place: Super, resilient, indestructible hard-boiled detective John McLane, having just defeated an entire cadre of crazy bad guys, is riding in a car with the young fellow he has just rescued from said baddies. Paraphrasing, John says, “What’s wrong?”

“I’m not with all this hero stuff,” young dude says. “I’m not that guy.”

“Believe me, pal, I don’t like doing this stuff anymore than the you do.”

“So why are you doing it?”

“Because I have to – because there’s nobody else here to do it.”

“And that is what makes you that guy.”

And so now … last week there was a big conference at my place of work. Required that everyone wear jacket and tie. I decided to buck the trend and wear a bow-tie instead of a regular neck tie. I like bow-ties – always have. Mammacita made me stop wearing them when we first married … said they made me look like an old man. Now that I am an old man they make me look … well … like me, I guess. Anyway, one of my colleagues said she liked the look. I thanked her and told her I was thinking of converting -- all bow-ties all the time. “You know if you do that,” said my friend Mike, “you’re gonna be that guy. Are you sure you wanna be that guy.”

The two coincidental uses of the same phrase got me thinking about identity. How much of it is reputation and how much is role (job title, spouse, parent etc.). How much of it is the “real” me and how much is mere affectation, put on to portray the guy I want to be … or to conceal the guy that I think really am. Such were my thoughts, until I remembered that I am (and forgive my French here) a grown-ass man. I am way past all that kind of thinking. The fact is that I am not who I thought I was going to be back when pipe-dreams and ambition consumed me and substituted for integrity and character. I am actually pretty all right with the person I have become.

And the other thing is, just because I have come to a particular age doesn’t mean that I have stopped “becoming” ... something more or better or just other than who I am right now. Now, I’m obviously not gonna be John McLane and I am pretty certain I want to be more than just the guy with the bow-tie …

Saw a story on TV the other day about a minister who leads a small congregation somewhere in the US. They don’t have a building and the minister doesn’t take a salary. Every dime they collect when they pass the plate on Sunday is then given away to people in need. They pay people’s rent, and help them with their medical bills, and feed them and keep them warm. Sounds cool to me … wouldn't mind being that guy.

The President in his speech to congress last week mentioned a corporate ceo who took every penny of his substantial yearly bonus and distributed it to the people he felt who earned it – the people who work for him and run the company. How ‘bout being that guy.

In the Bible Jesus talks about a particular type of generosity. He speaks of a kind of indivudual heroism that is as real as it is unsung. He says that you should give in such a way that your right hand doesn’t know what your left hand is doing. A worthy aspiration …I’d like to be that guy.