Choose Your Superhero

I could hear the boys playing in the other room. Daryl was being the typical older sibling bully, trying to manipulate the play as he saw fit. I was once the older sibling; I remember exactly how it goes.

“Ok, Hal. I’m Hawkeye and Black Panther and Thor. Who do you want to be?”

“I want to be Thor!”

“No. I’m Thor. You can be Antman. Or Hulk. Or Ironman.”

“No! I don’t want to be Ironman! I want to be Thor.”

“You can’t. Why don’t you be Antman? Antman is cool.”


“Ok, fine. You can be Thor and Hulk, but I’m Hawkeye and Black Panther.”

“I want to be Superman!”

“No! You can’t be Superman. We are playing Avengers!”

I had been trying to get Daryl’s attention for some time. I finally raised my voice loud enough to be heard. “Daryl! Come here!”

When he entered the room, I said, “Quit trying to control everything.”

“I’m not!”

“Yes, you are. You are taking all the best characters and leaving him the leftovers.”

“No I’m not. I took my two favorite ones and then he can pick his two favorites. Besides, he doesn’t want Hawkeye anyway.”

“That’s beside the point. You should pick one and then let him pick one.”

He got a sly grin on his face. “Well, I’d just pick Black Panther first since I know he wouldn’t pick Hawkeye, so it’s the same difference.”

Sighing, I asked, “Why can’t he be Superman?”

“Because that wouldn’t be fair!”

“Why wouldn’t that be fair?”

“Because I can’t defeat Superman!”

“None of the Avengers can beat Superman?”

He looked at me like my intelligence ranked somewhere around that of a slug.

“No, mom. I don’t have any green Kryptonite. Hawkeye doesn’t have any Kryptonite arrows. And Black Panther doesn’t have anything Kryptonite either. Superman is like the strongest, toughest guy ever. You can’t beat him without Kryptonite.”

“Oh, ok,” I responded before walking down the hall to share the amusing conversation with my husband.

As I recounted the tale to him, Jane jumped in and said, “Thor could beat Superman. Thor is really strong. And he’s not just a superhero. He’s a god.”

“Pssshhhht! Whatever. Thor wouldn’t stand a chance against Superman.” My husband looked affronted.

And with that, I got a glimpse of what Daryl might be as an adult. My husband began speaking with great authority on the relative strengths of various superheroes plus some history on comic books in general.

And I learned the main, most obvious reason that Hal could not possibly be Superman. With much the same tone his son had used, he explained, “He’s not even in the same universe.”


Another family car ride conversation…

“I really like that silver boat,” said Hal. “Bubba said there could be two people in it but there can’t. There can only be one person in it.”

Daryl responded, “A thousand people could fit in it.”

“No they couldn’t.”

“Yes they could.”

“NO. They couldn’t!”

“Yes they could.  A thousand ants could fit in it.”

“Oh. I thought you said people.”

“He did say people,” I said.

“Hey. Ants are people too!” added my husband at the same time Daryl said, “Ants think of themselves as people.”

“You don’t know how ants think of themselves,” I objected.

“Yes I do. I can talk to ants.”

“Hey,” my husband said in his usual attempt to stir things up, “As long as their siblings have children, they are ants.”

“Only if they are female,” said I in my usual role as straight man, “Otherwise they are uncles.”

“Hey. This is the 21st century. We don’t discriminate like that!”

Mommy Comes Home

For awhile before my husband got a C-PAP machine to wear while sleeping, I was in the habit of wearing earplugs to bed. I am a hopelessly light sleeper and he snores. The earplugs took some getting used to mostly because the silence was truly deafening. It was like total sensory deprivation. When I would remove them in the morning, the sound – even of a quiet house – seemed so… rich. Intense. Almost too much.

Returning to my boys in my house after spending a week in Washington, D.C. felt much the same. While the trip had its frustrations and its own sources of exhaustion, it was basically a get-away. Jane was a pleasure, my time was largely my own. No one was screaming or bouncing off the walls or acting out. It was a reasonably quiet, reserved vacation.

Within minutes of entering the house, I was on sensory overload. The boys were still hyped up from their own vacation and seeing Mommy again pushed them over the edge. The dog was also excited to have the clan reunited. She was running around, jumping and licking, and in general adding energy to the room. My husband was trying to show me the gifts he had purchased. I was handing out my gifts to the boys. Jane was making plans for the evening.

When my husband left to take Jane to meet her friend at the theater, I found myself alone with children I had grown unaccustomed to wrangling. I managed to sort the dirty laundry from the suitcase into piles on the floor before retreating to the bedroom and closing the door. I called my mom but she was at volleyball and unable to visit. The noise in the living room was ratcheting up louder and louder. It seemed wise to investigate.

The scene that greeted me literally made me dizzy. The boys were prancing around the room, laughing and giggling, waving their arms in the air. They almost looked like natives dancing around a fire. When they saw me, the hilarity redoubled. The real shocker wasn’t their activity though. No, it was their attire.

They were wearing our dirty laundry. Each was wearing either my shirt or Jane’s. Under the shirts, they had layered swimsuits and bras to give themselves the appearance of breasts. The strutting and dancing was performed with chests thrust forward and calls of “Look at me! Look at me!”

I wondered why I had thought my husband was being so generous to me when he said he’d run Jane into town. I was too tired and overwhelmed to yell or laugh, either one. I just pulled the undergarments off the hysterical boys and in a fit of desperation asked, “Who wants to watch Dr. Who?!”

Waiting for the Elevator

Jane and I were headed to a metro station that we had not been to before. As we waited across the street, I studied the area. There did not appear to be the usual large multi-escalator entrance. Instead there was a small elevator door tucked away in a bit of an obscured corner. I watched as small crowds waited for the elevator. Around the corner of the elevator, facing the street, was a young heavily tattooed man sweating and lounging on the ground. He was not wearing a shirt and was stretched out on his side with his head propped up on his hand. Above him was a cardboard sign like street beggars might have. Hand lettered on the sign were these words: “A good lay for too little pay.”

Surely that doesn’t mean what it sounds to me like it means. I wondered about the man but he didn’t appear to be bothering the people waiting for the elevator. By the time we crossed the street, however, everyone else had made it down to the station. I pushed the button to request the elevator and waited. A few feet away, there was a painted panda statue. I told Jane to stay put and walked over to take its picture.


As I walked back, the man looked up at me. “How many pictures of that did you take?” he asked.

“Three,” I replied. “It’s a big enough memory card that I’m not too worried about it.”

He looked at my camera bag and I began to get a bit nervous. I returned to Jane and pushed the button again. Surely there’s too many people about for him to try anything… then again, this corner is a little bit hidden. About then, I saw him stand up. I glanced at Jane and wondered what I should do. He leaned against the corner of the elevator and looked me over.

“Excuse me,” he said, “I find myself attracted to you. Are you attracted to me?”

My mind descended into a cold calm as I considered my options. Ignoring him did not seem like an option. A gentle demur did not seem likely to end the discussion. A polite affirmative would undoubtedly bring on further advances. I felt that a negative response, no matter how politely put, might anger him.

“I’m married,” I said in a firm voice, looking him in the eye, “I don’t make it a habit to discuss who I am or am not attracted to.”

Silence hung between us as he parsed what I said. He finally asked, “Did you just tell me to f**k off?”

The possibility of danger was still present in my mind but I did not feel particularly afraid. “I suppose so,” I answered, “but in a nicer way.”

With that, he returned to his lounging location. I pushed the elevator button a couple more times. Jane turned to me with her eyes as wide as saucers. I began to consider whether we should leave the area. But the nearest metro station was a mile away, uphill. Soon an older gentleman approached. Finally, we had company.

“Does this go to the museum?” he asked.

“This is an elevator to the metro station. Where are you trying to go?”

“Oh. I was told the zoo was this way.”

“Ahh,” I said, “You want to go on up the road. It’s that way.” And with that, our sane, likely safe companion thanked me and headed in the direction I pointed, leaving me alone with my twelve-year-old daughter and a mildly threatening man.

Before I could decide how much attention to pay to my concerns, a large, strong-looking man arrived. What I wanted to say was, “Hello! You look big and strong. Will you be my protector? That guy over there is making me nervous.” Instead, I struck up the conversation with, “I’m starting to doubt the elevator is ever going to come.”

With that, we began to discuss the elevator and the weather and we enjoyed each other’s company until the elevator took us down to the metro and we parted ways. Jane and I sat down on a bench, looked at each other, and laughed.

Bubba Bob

We are nearing the end of our gender-separated vacation. Jane and I have one more full day in Washington, D.C. with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. My husband and the boys are heading home tomorrow with Grace’s boyfriend, Bob. While we took in the city-dwelling sights, the boys were looking at the splendors of nature: visiting Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and other great camping destinations.

With a two hour time difference and spotty cell phone reception on their end, we haven’t spent a tremendous amount of time in contact with each other. Tonight, I was stretched out on the bed in our hotel, trying to recover from over-indulging at the Ethiopian restaurant we visited tonight. I was bored and had tried, unsuccessfully, to contact my husband.

As I cruised YouTube on my phone, it suddenly rang. My husband! Yay! Grace looked up. “Where are they? Are they still on the road?”

“No,” I replied. “They are in for the night.” She scrambled to grab her phone and then sprawled across the other bed. Within minutes, I could hear Bob’s voice through her phone. We each greedily began exchanging information with our significant others.

After awhile, my husband said that Hal wanted to talk to me. I talked to my four year old for a few brief minutes and then he asked if I wanted to speak to… Bobba? I wasn’t sure what he said but figured he meant “Bubba” since that’s who I always talk to next.

“Sure! I definitely want to talk to him,” I said.

I then listened to him call out to people, asking where Bob is. Bob? No, wait! I want to talk to Daryl! I sighed as I waited for it to get straightened out on the other end. I could clearly hear Bob’s voice through Grace’s phone. I then heard Hal ask his Daddy for Bob.

“Why do you want Bob? Are you done talking to Mommy? Let’s let Daryl talk to her now.”

“But she wants to talk to Bob!”

I was laughing by the time my husband got on the phone. “No, I don’t want to talk to Bob. I thought he said ‘Bubba’. Can I talk to Daryl now?”

I’m not used to Daryl sounding so excited on the phone. He had obviously had a great time on the trip. After we talked for a few minutes, he asked, “Do you want to talk back to Daddy now?”

Before I could answer, I heard a panicked and indignant Hal call out, “NOOO!!!! She wants to talk to BOB!!”

Daddy explained the confusion to him and we all had a good laugh over it on our end. He was so cute trying to fulfill his understanding of my wishes. But, really… Bob’s a nice guy and all but why would I want to talk to him before I talk to my own son?

Stand By

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time. There was a short line at baggage check-in and an equally short line through security. We arrived at our gate in plenty of time as well and bought breakfast at the nearby Whataburger. We had been a little tense on our way there. I had not gotten much sleep. Grace, my sister-in-law had gotten considerably less. I had added to the frustration by forgetting to confirm my reservation Monday morning, forgetting indeed until late, late that night. Since we were flying Southwest, that meant Jane and I were late in the boarding order. We were unlikely to get to sit together and might even have trouble catching our connecting flight in St. Louis.

So, at Whataburger, we sat back and relaxed. We joked about ways that Grace could try to keep the seats next to her open for us. We knew we had plenty of time. But we had a problem. Neither adult was actually awake. Grace was fully aware of what time it was but mistakenly thought our departure time was 20 minutes later than it was. I knew exactly when our departure was but was paying no attention to the current time. As we ate our breakfast, our fellow passengers boarded the plane not 30 yards from us. And flew away.

Eventually, we decided it was time to go sit by the gate so we could hear better. Grace confirmed that the screen showed our flight. We sat and waited. Some distant part of my brain noted that all the people were gone. That was for an earlier flight, some equally distant part answered. Eventually Grace commented that it seemed like they should be calling us to board now. I looked at my watch to see that it was 6:50 about the same time she remarked at the paucity of passengers waiting at the gate. When I took a closer look at the screen, I saw that the flight had departed. I’d like to say that woke us up, but really, it didn’t.

Southwest took care of us and directed us to another gate to board a flight to St. Louis, warning that our prospects from there were bleak and would likely involve us arriving in Washington, DC late in the evening. It would be much later before I would think to wonder about our luggage.

In St. Louis, the helpful man tried to find a way to get us to Reagan National earlier. But the cold hard fact was that the next flight did not leave for nearly six hours and was full. We’d be on stand-by with very little hope of getting on board. I had taken a nap between Dallas and St. Louis so was feeling a bit more like myself. “What about Dulles?” I asked. Surely getting to some part of DC was better than sitting in Missouri.

That query got us back on the same plane from which we had just disembarked, now on its way to Chicago, where we were assured we would easily get to board a plane leaving for Dulles just before noon. We then learned that the folks in Chicago were not quite as helpful. They didn’t seem as confident that we would get that flight as the nice guy in St. Louis. The best I could get was a “probably”. But then they received word that the plane had a weight issue. They might not let us on. We also learned that we couldn’t find out anything about our luggage without going to a baggage claim office, which we couldn’t do there without risking missing the flight.

I had met a woman in the bathroom who had been placed on stand-by for the same flight. I saw her later with a boarding pass and she encouraged me to talk to the ladies at the desk again. They said they were not approving stand-bys and didn’t seem to hear me when I said that they had for “those two ladies over there”. Then we started getting anxious. We moved to seats right next to the desk, where I suspect we sat staring at them like hungry wolves.

A lady with a stroller approached and asked about the flight too. She was given the same answer as us. At this point, a war started up in my head. There was a woman with a two year old trying to board a plane. Compassion told me that she needed the flight more than we did, that we could better handle sitting at the airport for a long time than she could. Survival instincts growled we were here first.

The lady at the desk started a conversation with the lady at the gate that was broadcast over the speakers. We looked back and forth at them as they discussed our fate. We must have looked like we were watching a tennis match. Back and forth, back and forth. Eventually, the gate lady held up 5 fingers. Room for five people. We jumped up and gathered our stuff. The desk lady sounded like she said a name – Barbara? Oh, no! What if other people are waiting ahead of us? She was printing stuff out. And pointedly not looking at us. My heart began to sink. And then she turned to us and said, “You are in luck, ladies.”

With that, we boarded the plane. The last leg of our flights was relatively uneventful. I was sitting next to someone who did not smell nice and we hit some turbulence, but I was just happy to be getting to DC without too much delay.

When we left the plane at Dulles, I realized that our adventure was really just beginning. Up until then, our fate had been in the hands of others. Other than deciding to try for Dulles instead of Reagan, we had simply asked for help and done what we were told and waited. Now we were at an airport unsure of where our luggage was or how to get to it.

“Ok, Grace,” I said, “we are going to go down to baggage claim. I’m going to ask if they can help determine where our luggage is. You call the hotel and find out if they have a shuttle from here.” Only, there was no one at baggage claim. The sign said to go to the ticket counter. While Grace and Jane watched the luggage return from our flight on the (very) remote chance that our luggage had somehow followed us, I went searching for the ticket counter.

There, I was assured that our luggage had made the journey to Reagan and was told there were shuttles available. At first, I didn’t understand that they essentially meant taxis that hold lots of people and go wherever you pay them to take you. But for $49, we were on our way to our original destination airport. Luck made us the second drop-off from the shuttle.

We walked into the baggage claim office and I said, “We sincerely hope that our luggage arrived about 11:30 this morning. We missed our flight but are here now.”

“From Dallas?” he asked. Our hearts lightened. Next thing we knew, we had our luggage. Our luck held out in that the hotel shuttle arrived within moments of us reaching the waiting point. And then ours was the first hotel stop. And then the hotel lady informed us there was a complimentary dinner in less than an hour, complete with a free glass of wine. Then she gave us too many dinner passes so that complimentary glass of wine became two glasses of wine.

It was if the cosmos was compensating for the rough and stressful day with a nice, relaxing evening. Bedtime was another story all together, but the evening… the evening was nice.

Daryl Fishlegs

There’s this character in How To Train Your Dragon that makes me think of Daryl every time I see it. His name is Fishlegs. Being a very large beefy boy, he looks nothing like Daryl. But he runs commentary and quotes stats constantly, to the great annoyance of the people around him. And that is very much like my middle child.

Take the scene where the instructor starts listing the different dragons they are about to face. As he names each one, Fishlegs reports its stats:

Gobber: Behind these doors are just a few of the many species you will learn to fight. The Deadly Nadder…
Fishlegs: [speaking rapidly] Speed Eight, Armor Sixteen…
Gobber: The Hideous Zippleback…
Fishlegs: Plus Eleven Stealth, times Two…
Gobber: The Monstrous Nightmare…
Fishlegs: Firepower Fifteen…
Gobber: The Terrible Terror…
Fishlegs: Attack Eight, Venom Twelve…
Gobber: [shouts] Can you stop that?
[normal voice]
Gobber: And… the Gronckle!
Fishlegs: [whispering to Hiccup] Jaw Strength Eight.
(As quoted on

I’ve listened to Daryl rattle off Pokemon stats so much that I burst out laughing at how much Fishlegs sounded like him. And the way he couldn’t turn it off even once people told him to stop.

Then there’s the habit of thinking about things that no one else would think of. Again, from the movie, the instructor was telling the tale of a dragon biting off his hand. Fishlegs responded:

“Isn’t it weird to think that your hand was inside a dragon? Like if your mind was still in control of it, you could have killed that dragon from the inside, by… crushing its heart, or something.”

I can actually read that quote in Daryl’s voice instead of Fishlegs’s. He often wonders about odd things. He’s often saying “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” or “What if…” or “What would happen if you…” Each question terminating with something really oddball.

There’s also the play-by-play and instant replay. While other boys like to play baseball, Daryl likes to relive impressive moments from the game… during the game. Like when he was in left field and the center fielder dove for the ball and caught it right there on the ground. Daryl then told the kid exactly how it happened, reenacting it as if the boy had not just lived it.

Yesterday morning, he was telling me about a video game he enjoys playing. When you read this, be sure you read it at a rapid pace without pausing for breath. This is how he often tells me about things he is interested in. I never have a clue what he is talking about.

“…And so I just have to call out the mice and archer bunnies and then I can usually hold them off until my manna restores. The witch is easy to defeat but the zombie king, he’s tough. All the queens and kings – they can create more minions just by waving their arms so it’s hard to defeat them. The skeleton archers are easy to defeat though. They have polka dot bows on their heads. I like to use my meteor mace. It used to cost 50 manna but then I got the ‘cost less’ manna so now it doesn’t cost as much. It does +5 damage over a regular mace. I’m saving up for an elite rhino. They cost 100,000 gold. I’m getting close. I think I have like 79,000 gold or something like that. I also really like the martial artist kangaroos. I’m really starting to depend on them, but my favorite is the penguin wizard and I can’t wait until I have enough to get a pink dragon. That’s going to be awesome. I’ve maxed out upgrading of my mice and I’ve been upgrading bears because nom-nom spits out lots of stuff so I was able to upgrade a bunch of bears…”

He continued on all the way to church. He doesn’t seem to notice that other people aren’t into the same stuff he is. And he doesn’t seem to understand that if you’ve never played the game, it doesn’t make sense to you. He just loves to talk about the things he loves.

When we got to church, I snatched a piece of paper out of the copier and began to write down as much of the monologue as I could. I started asking him clarifying points so I could get it right. He seemed surprised and then he saw the notes. He got an embarrassed grin, probably thinking this was about to go on Facebook, but then the urge to talk about it won out and he took off again. Thing is, when I actually had time to engage and ask him questions, I had fun too. If for no other reason than I love to see him with his face lit up like that.

What Makes a Geek

Daryl may very well qualify as a full-fledged Geek. And I think he’s pretty much OK with that. I have come to the conclusion that being a geek… or a nerd, I’m not going to try to distinguish between the two, has nothing to do with how smart you are or even what you are interested in. It has to do with your attitude and care factor.

Here’s what I mean. Jane is interested in many nerdy things. She is very intelligent and does well in school. However, she wants to be popular and she knows what parts of her might make that difficult if she let them shine too much… or at the “wrong” times.

Saturday, she was wearing neon green shorts, a hot pink cami, knee-high blue softball socks with white polka dots, and bright orange Converses. Her closest friends would have thought she looked quirky and cool. But when it came time to go to a birthday party, she had toned it down.

“Why did you change?”

“I needed to deweirdify myself. There’s going to be cheerleaders at this party. They wouldn’t understand.”

Daryl, on the other hand, really couldn’t care less what other kids think. He painted his fingernails in second grade and when a little girl told him that boys don’t paint their nails, he responded, “Well, that’s obviously not true since this boy does.”

He once spent two years growing out a rat tail because he wanted to dress up as a Jedi Padawan for Halloween and wanted an authentic braid. Some kids at school called him the “funny hair boy” but he didn’t mind.

I don’t have a problem with either child’s approach. So far, Jane’s desire to fit in has not caused her to compromise her interests and talents. She just acts the way that fits the group she’s with. She’s developing good social skills that will help her interact with a variety of people, not unlike her dad. At least, I hope that’s what she’s doing. As long as she maintains integrity and doesn’t do inappropriate things just to fit in, she’ll be fine.

Daryl is cultivating his independence and self-confidence. He’s not interested in conforming to other people’s expectations. He’ll probably have a better sense of himself than his sister will of herself. But he might have more trouble fitting in with people who lack his interests.

It’s fascinating to watch them each make their way in the world and to see how they each mix the qualities they gained from their parents in different and unique ways.

Speaking Spanish

Hal fancies himself fluent in Spanish. He often asks me if I know what a certain word is in Spanish and then gives me a clearly made-up word when I admit that I don’t know. Today, he asked if I knew what “yes” was in Spanish. Finally, a word that I thought he might have actually learned.

“Si,” I replied, expecting a surprised grin as he recognized my double answer.

He looked confused. “What?”

I studied him for a second before asking, “You don’t actually know what it is, do you?”

“Yes, I do. It’s… ummm… yessk.”

“No, Hal. It’s ‘si’. That’s why I said ‘si’ when you asked if I knew it.”


Jane jumped in and said, “No in Spanish is ‘no’.”

“But with a Spanish accent,” I added. She just looked at me. “Oh, come on! That was a little bit funny… right?”


With the kids away, it’s pretty quiet around here. Just me and my husband and the dog. So you can understand why I was a bit surprised to hear my husband suddenly shout “BOO!” and burst out laughing at the other end of the house.

Apparently, he had headed down the hall and Rose had decided to follow. She was far enough behind that he was able to slip into the closet before she made it to our bedroom. She walked in, looked around, and walked back out. Then she paused, as if convincing herself that he had to be in the bedroom.

She then returned to the room, checked the bathroom, walked back out into the hallway, and again paused.

A third time, she walked into the room and looked around. This time she actually entered the closet, which is not very big, looked on my side of the closet, then turned and walked out without noticing the fairly large man taking up the other half.

This time, she walked farther down the hall so my husband stepped out of the closet and moved to the bathroom. The dog heard movement and hurried back in to investigate. When she passed in front of the door, he jumped out and yelled “BOO!” The dog reacted as one might predict, which cracked him up.

See, all this time I thought my children were away. But, no. The oldest one, the most childish, the one who will never move out, he’s still here. And I’m very happy about that.