Monday, June 30, 2008

The Cute Crusader

After three years, I have come to a realization about one of my children: Grace is a superhero.

No, hear me out. First of all, she's got the beginnings of a very kick-butt "origin story":
Conceived of the best cells from her mother and father by scientists in a high-tech lab in Los Angeles, cryogenically frozen for three months, thawed, implanted in an ex-military host, born on a high-security military base, and raised by a team comprised of a psychologist, an elementary teacher, and a human resources professional, she is:

The Gracinator
Clearly her first super power to develop is Super Vision. After all, she actually wears glasses now because her eyes are too powerful (i.e. farsighted). Any kid can be nearsighted, but not The Gracinator. She actually sees distance too well. Because her right eye sees so well that her brain was actually starting to ignore the left eye a little, she has to wear a patch over her right eye for an hour a day. That's right, part of her treatment is to handicap her vision. I expect that at some point the ophthalmologist will tell us to patch both eyes so The Gracinator can start to develop her x-ray vision or sonar or whatever her next sensory super power will be.

Another obvious super power is Super Cute. She is just unreasonably, gratuitously cute. Putting on her "flops" (flip-flops) and walking around the house? Cute. Dressing in her tutu and practicing ballet? Cute! Sleeping on the floor with her little butt stuck up in the air? Cute cute cute. Saying "that's my boy!" and "there's a smile!" with the twins? Super Cute. I could go on and on.

So although many kids have their childhoods documented on Flickr and YouTube, I'm thinking perhaps the experience of The Gracinator can only be properly documented in another way: comic books.

Harrison will have to draw them, though. He is, after all, The Artist, The Gracinator's sometime arch nemesis, sometime mentor, always seatbelt helper (The Gracinator has trouble latching her car seat). And he can draw better than Dad.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Perfect Size

I used to teach a High School Marching Band. It was a way of life. About this time each summer I would be preparing for Rookie Drills, in which I got to work with the incoming new members and teach them to march. It was my favorite kind of teaching, helping intimidated not-quite-ninth-graders gain confidence and some skill in the fundamentals.

One of the things young rookies would learn was the standard step size. You see, a marching band field has "yard lines" painted on it every five yards. It was an arbitrary pattern, left over I think from when marching band fields used to be used primarily for some other activity. Most music has beat patterns that are grouped into four beats (i.e. 4/4 time). So to allow a marching band to march straight down the field, hitting the yard lines at times that made sense, the band marches with "8 to 5" step size, meaning that every eight steps they go five yards.

No self-respecting marching band ever marches this way any more, but no matter. It's a standard, much like a "foot" was originally the length of a person's foot, or a "decibel" is the volume of one of the bells of the famous windchime designer Ferdinand Deci*.

To fit eight steps into 5 yards, it turns out that each step must be exactly 22.5 inches. Therefore I helped the new marchers to learn the standard "twenty-two-and-a-half-inch" step.

So you can imagine my pride, at their recent doctor appointment, upon hearing that both of my newest children are exactly 22.5 inches long. There's something very fitting about that at this time of year.

At the appointment I also learned that Kennedy weighs some amount of pounds, two ounces, while Shepard weighs the same amount of pounds, eleven ounces. So Shepard weighs more. This is the kind of boiled-down-to-basics summary you get when Dad is in charge. Although it really seemed to annoy Grandma Labuta that I couldn't remember the actual number of pounds**.

Anyway, I have too many responsibilities nowadays to teach marching band, but I like to think that the twins could participate if necessary, even if their contribution at this point was to lay in the grass as a visual aid.

* I totally made up the part about the bells.
** I should have made up some number of pounds.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Few Things

  • Like so many, our lifestyle doesn't allow much room for error. I went out of town for a conference for a few days and it just about brought this house and Grandma Labuta's to their knees! The same thing would happen if anyone else left town.
  • Being a parent of four, for me, is like some unique part of Hell: When I'm here, I sometimes long for peace and quiet and the ability to think without interruption. Then when I go away and get the chance, I immediately can't wait to get back. I spent three days up north with a gorgeous private room at the resort pictured at left. Fireplace, whirlpool tub, indoor/outdoor pool, wireless Internet, free drinks in the bar, full kitchenette, all day in tech training - couldn't wait to get back.
  • Harrison had some boys (first time with just boys) over yesterday for a "pool party". That is the way to have a party. The whole thing was outside. They had a blast, and when the whole thing was over they went home and we went inside. The slight mess of potato-chip crumbs blew away. Heck, I could do that once a week. Boys-only took more energy than a mixed party, though.
  • Our Scrubbing Bubbles Automatic Shower Cleaner continues to work pretty well for us. Well, it works well for Sarah. I must confess I always enjoyed the convenience of a shower that seemed occasionally to clean itself as if by magic (A secret: husbands share the secret knowledge that Magical Cleaning Forces will work on the shower, toilets, and floors if you just wait long enough). Despite our positive experience, though, the gadget website Gizmodo has a review that is somewhat less positive.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Today Harrison James Orwig, the First Orwig Son, was officially the first Orwig of his generation to complete the First Grade. He has already made his First Mess and had his First Fight with the First Orwig Daughter. His father expects the First Boredom to arrive tomorrow.

The More Things Change

Believe it or not, this is not a recent picture. That was Harrison and me in early 2001. I was trying to feed him, deal with my work email, and talk on the phone at the same time. I hadn't showered yet. I was probably trying to get Harrison and Lenawee County in a calm state so I could sneak off to the shower for a few minutes.

Nowadays, that formerly powerful computer is the least powerful (traditional) computer in the house. That once cutting-edge wired headset has been replaced by a bluetooth earpiece. The baby just finished the first grade, and while he would still be willing to sit on my lap like that, I don't think I could hold him. And the father sitting there trying to multitask is . . . well, attempting to write this blog post while doing three other things simultaneously.

Some things do change, I guess, and some things don't.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Graduation Triumph

I remember not being all that excited about my own graduation. After all, there was so much left to do! I was already teaching and playing gigs. I had already started the transition to college. My girlfriend wasn't graduating yet. Most of all, I felt like I hadn't really done anything yet.

I have such a different perspective now, seeing the learning process from the beginning as I am with Harrison. I watch him do his first-grade homework every night. So much work, stress, and sometimes screaming and crying (and that's just Sarah) all year. All of that learning is real work. And it's only going to get tougher. And this is just the first of four . . .

(!) I think I need to go lay down for a moment . . .

Anyway, I have a new appreciation of how much work it will take to go from cute but illiterate new Kindergartner to well-rounded, jack-of-all-trades high school graduate. Even for those whose toughest academic work lies ahead in college and graduate school, that diploma really is a cause for celebration. It represents so many years of toil and so much gradual transformation that by the time you're putting on the robes and the funny hat, you've probably forgotten just how much work and change that diploma represents.

So to see that Claire, for whom everything was so recently was in such jeopardy, has graduated is particularly gratifying. She and her family were thrown a frightening curve just as the end was in in sight and they still managed to pull it off. Congratulations to Claire and everyone who helped.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Baba Who?

Harrison is a reader now, but he doesn't much like it. Harrison reads for information or because of a really compelling story, not just for the fun of reading.

Gracie will "read" through any book she can get her hands on just for fun. Pictures help, but they aren't necessary for her to make up a story. "Yes," I found myself saying once after Grace asked if she could read one of my programming books, "but remember that's about ASP.NET version one. Version three is out now and it's a lot different." Gracie's reading of Harry Potter books is not to be missed. She really gets the rhythm of the prose right, with actual dialog borrowed from her own life complete with "he said"s and "she said"s (much of the dialog consists of people telling Harry to "go back to bed").

Harrison, on the other hand, is much more practical. It's not that he dislikes reading, he just doesn't do it for fun. Harrison reads to learn about his interests. Those interests include dragons, Pokemon, and robots - you know, the usual jock stuff.

So Mrs. Caldwell's suggestion of the Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot series was perfect. Unfortunately, immediately after she suggested the series at Harrison's last conference, his (nearly) middle-aged mother and I immediately forgot it. All either of us could remember was that it was similar in name to something on TV. After a while, it hit us: Ricky Ricardo. It was close enough to find the books on Amazon, so Grandma bought him a set this spring.

Unlike Harrison's Grandma Labuta, who had watched the I Love Lucy series back when they were first broadcast (complete with advertisements for Dinosaur Chow), or his mother and I, who had watched all the reruns on Channel 50 (complete with lengthy ads for the Pocket Fisherman) rather than developing motor skills, Harrison doesn't know anything about Ricky Ricardo. So until he took the time to fully decode the titles, he believed us that he was really reading Ricky Ricardo's Flying Robots. Grace still believes us.

As you can see from the pictures, Harrison is already at work recruiting new fans of the Ricky Ricardo series. He has read them to Grace, but she really prefers to read about Harry Potter and ASP.NET on her own. Kennedy, though, was an immediate fan of the Cuban hero and his bongo-playing robot.

Eventually, Harrison is going to run out of Ricky Ricardo books. Did Gilligan ever do anything with dragons?