Category Archives: parenting

Today I Am A Man

Many years ago, I remember seeing a cartoon depicting a pubescent bar mitzvah boy at the bimah (altar of a synagogue), addressing the crowd: “Today I am a man.” Down in the congregation, two middle-aged men snicker knowingly at each other: Yeah, sure, kid.

Since becoming widowed early in the year, I’ve wondered what the typical reaction is among my fellow widderfolk to this particular and very unwelcome life lesson. Of course, although certain general patterns can be observed, when you get down close enough, every reaction is unique.

And I wonder: Is this the final lesson that life has to teach us? For me, that lesson, at the moment, seems like this: You will be loved, if you’re lucky, but just know that all those who loved you will die and leave you bereaved — or else you will die and leave them bereaved. Drink a wedding toast to that.

Is the acceptance of death — your own death — the true marker of maturity? More than marriage, parenthood, self-sufficiency, all those positive things? Does the negative really end up overwhelming all the positive things in life?

Or is it not a negative at all? What dreams may come, as that guy once said?

for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.

Or to put it another way, maybe we’re not supposed to know what happens after; it’s not part of the parameters of the game we’re inside of.

One thing’s for sure: Childhood ended a long time ago. And even my 11-year-old sons, who must soldier on without their loving mother, are living a real-life version of one of those cruel ol’ Disney cartoons, like Bambi or Dumbo. Except that their father is still around, and hopes that will be enough, hopes that it will be enough in the end to forestall catastrophe.

And he hopes he will not succumb to bitterness and anger for the rest of his days, having seen very clearly, with personal intent, what life has revealed itself to be.

“Today I am a man…”

In search of a park for everyone

Last month Mrs. Pogoer and I took the kids to visit Morgan’s Wonderland, a new park in San Antonio built with special-needs kids in mind, although, as our visit proved, you don’t have to have special needs to think it’s a really special place. Donna took the photos and I wrote the article (although my byline seems to vanish and reappear at odd moments). I think the article speaks for itself, so I’ll shut up at this point, blogwise. Hope you enjoy reading the piece and if you’re in the neighborhood, stop by the park itself and have some fun.

31 things about me

1. When I was about 11 or 12, I ran a race with my sister in the driveway of our house, racing toward the garage door, and stopped by putting my hands out on a window of the selfsame garage door. My right arm went through the window, slicing open the underside of my arm. I required stitches at the hospital. I still have a long, curving scar reaching nearly from elbow to wrist, plus a small scar shaped like a fish on the underside of my right wrist. I don’t mind the scars. They’re part of me now.

2. In 1983, while driving down a mountain on Maui, my sister drew my attention to a picture in a magazine of a pig at a luau, and I looked at it, drove off the road and down a cliff. The car was stopped by a thicket of bushes, and we were both fine. A few feet in either direction and we would have probably died there.

3.  Despite the evidence of #1 and #2, I do not consider my sister to be a jinx.
4. My wife and I were born eight minutes and about 25 miles apart on a hot day in July.

5. I spent my last birthday ending in a zero alone at the Pivo in Cvetje (Beer and Flowers) Festival in Laško, Slovenia. It rained.

6. Although that had its charms, my next birthday, which also ends in a zero, will be spent someplace else.

7. I am good at putting on accents and imitating voices, and have a pretty good ear for pitch. Or think I do.
8. I believe I have suffered some hearing loss from my years of clubgoing (mainly in Boston), although not badly enough for it to be a serious handicap.

9. Politically, I am more liberal now than I was in high school.
10. I didn’t go to a funeral until I was 29 years old. Over the following six years I went to three more.

11. I like drawing cartoon heads and have done so from an early age. My wife thinks I missed a calling as a cartoonist.

12. I like to sing, but have never done so in public apart from one evening of karaoke in the Water Tank bar in Austin, Texas. My wife tells me I could be a good singer if I took it seriously.

13. I lived in Ljubljana, Slovenia, from the fall of 1996 to the end of 2001.

14. And I haven’t shut up about it since.

15. I saw Bill Clinton speak in the center of Ljubljana to a massive crowd in the pouring rain on a June day in 1999, and later wrote about it for publication. A photo I took from the press bleachers shows a sea of umbrellas in Kongresni trg.

16. I have visited 20 countries in the world aside from the two I’ve lived in. I’d like to visit many more before I die.

17. On my short list of places I’d like to visit that I haven’t previously: Russia, Bali, Bulgaria, Thailand, Turkey, Israel, Serbia, Iceland.
18. One of the most daring (or craziest) things I’ve ever done was spend two weeks as the second-oldest camper participant in Outward Bound Romania in the summer of 1998. I think the main reason I stuck it out was that I didn’t want to be talked about as “the American who quit.” (You can read an extended diary of my experiences here.)
19. Most people think I’m younger than I actually am. Including me.

20. I’m probably the only person who has interviewed both Richard Hell and Joel Osteen. (Not at the same time, alas.)
21. I saw Bambi for the first time at the age of 31. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone younger than that see that sick movie.
22. In person I may seem quite introverted, although not nearly as much as I used to. I am more comfortable as an observer than as a participant, in the way of writers.

23. I interviewed Joan Jett at a club in New Hampshire in 1984. It wasn’t one of my better interviews.

24. I participated in plays and musicals in high school and can still sing much of the score from “Guys and Dolls.”

25. While in high school, I amused myself by writing parodies of the plays I was acting in and showing them to my fellow performers for their amusement.

26. One of these fellow performers suggested I abandon plans to become an actor and focus on writing instead. This was good advice.

27. I like all different sorts of music, but always seem to come back to new wave, punk and garage rock (both original and neo).

28. Since marrying, my wife’s tastes for cabaret, classical music and opera have rubbed off on me. To a certain extent.

29. My wife never ceases to amaze me.

30. I am the proud father of two nearly four-year-old fraternal twin boys who couldn’t be more different, yet delight me in equal measure. Yes, it’s worth it.

31. My favorite quote is from Raymond Williams: “To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.”

5, 4, 3, 2, 1, yeah, whatever, blah blah blah it’s 2009

Today I received another in a frequent series of amusing e-mails from my brother-in-law Jeff in the Twin Cities, who is at least as much an omnivorous observer of pop culture and the absurdity of the passing scene as I am. This time, Jeff alerted me to this story in the Huffington Post about the inevitably fast-approaching apocalypse of “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2009,” featuring this teaser:

ABC-TV’s 3½-hour live extravaganza will include performances by Natasha Bedingfield, Fall Out Boy, Jesse McCartney, Ne-Yo, Pussycat Dolls, Solange and Robin Thicke. Fergie hosts the Hollywood segments.
To this, Jeff (who is eight years younger than me, by the way) appended simply, “WHO?”

I suppose [I replied] you can consider yourself officially out of the Desired Demographic when you don’t recognize a single one of the “names” on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. (In truth, the names Natasha Bedingfield, Jesse McCartney, Pussycat Dolls and Fergie ring vague bells, although I couldn’t name one of their songs or tell you what they sounded like if my life depended on it).

In any event, I was amused by the quote from Dick Clark (who is now four years older than my parents’ favorite Guy Lombardo was at his death, and is, as the headline put it, is “still ‘rockin'” (definitely in quotes) despite walker, wheelchair”) about the musical entertainment he prefers to take in in his off-hours:

“My wife and I may join friends for dinner at a restaurant, attend a movie or just grab a bite to eat by ourselves away from home,” Clark wrote. “Occasionally, we’ll attend a music concert. Recently we’ve seen Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, Frankie Valli and Cher.”

Now that’s cutting edge for you (I also appreciated Clark’s qualifying word “music” before “concert,” to distinguish it from, say, a trigonometry concert). As for me, I’m old enough to have seen Guy Lombardo in person, though not on New Year’s Eve — it was one summer in the mid-70s at the Jones Beach Marine Theater on Long Island, at which he would arrive in his boat, and post-show, lead his orchestra in a few dance favorites for his myriad of fans in an adjoining tent. I’ve long forgotten even the name of the show we saw, but Guy on the bandstand lives on in my memory.

It may have been at this concert, or a similar one, that I picked out a middle-aged man strolling back to his car and asked him for his autograph. He protested that he was not with the show (as I well knew), but finally relented and signed my program. Walking away, I heard the guy’s wife exclaiming to him, “You’re crazy!” Wish I still had the program signed by the distinguished Mr. Cohen, but time’s a bitch.

Back in real time, almost four-year-old Luka, on my lap, is ready to play the “movers game” and also informs me that “I’m ready for my hula dance” and “I’ll fix your head.” (And not a moment too soon.)

Happy New Year, and see you around the aether in ’09.

The horror of the informal bank teller culture in this land

Is it July already? Yeah, I have to admit it…11:11 p.m. on 4 July, dan neodvisnost in Austin, as I type this, and fireworks are still a-explodin’ out the windows. Leo had some trouble getting to sleep (not unusual) and Mrs. Pogoer took him out for a spell to witness the incendiary devices wafting heavenward, until things got a bit too hot and heavy with the things going off 10 feet away from him; he liked the displays but flinched from the noise, and Mrs. P brought him inside (he didn’t want to come in, but fell asleep right away without delay). Luka, exhausted from a full day of jumping off tables and couches and screaming for Mickey and Pooh cartoons, slept through the whole thing without a peep.

In any case, it’s lately occurred to me that I haven’t really done the sort of cultural observations for Texas that I did for the Slovenes, although some of the customs in Texas are just as odd for me (a native New Yorker who lived his whole life in the northeastern US before heading off to Ljubljana) as some of them Central European ways. Maybe more so, since this is, after all, supposed to be my native land. (Well, yes and no.)

After a good five years in Austin, for example, I still can’t get used to the informality of people in the service industry, particularly bank tellers. As opposed to banks in Slovenia, where everyone dresses up and calls you sir or ma’am (well, actually it’s gospod or gospa), walk up to a teller in an Austin bank (dressed in a short-sleeved shirt and no tie, or a polo shirt; every day is Casual Friday here) and he or she will call you by your first name (duh, it’s on your deposit slip or check) and ask you something like:

“So how’s everything going today, Jim?”

or

“Got any plans for the weekend?”

I know I should just play along with local customs and pretend I think the teller actually cares about the answer to either question, but, I dunno…I still find the whole rigmarole intrusive and think about responding, “So, if we’re on such good terms, Bob, how about lending me $100 until next payday? C’mon…it’s me.”

On top of this, the bank’s usually got a TV in a stand clamped to the ceiling and everyone on line is forced to watch Fox News or a similar horrible news broadcast about terrorism or rising oil prices or the latest disaster (for example, it’s been raining almost nonstop in Central Texas for the past two weeks and everyone is waiting for their houses to float away any day now, and this can’t be good for the roses). If you have to have a TV in a bank, let it be tuned to the Food Network or VH-1 or even Lifetime, Oxygen or BET. We’re already in a bank, we don’t have to have the real world shoved doubly in our face.

Austin is usually OK, but Texas? Sheesh.

I’m just sayin’.

I’m not dead, I just have twins.

Yes, I know. It’s been over two months since I’ve put anything new up on the board. Where does the time go, you ask?

It’s not that I’ve abandoned the blog, or even have writer’s block. It’s just that, you see, my wife and I are raising these two 26-month-old homunculi and if you’re not aware of this, children do take up a lot of your time. No, really. They do. Especially twins. Especially two-year-old twins. Although you get warnings about this kind of thing, you really don’t believe that the real “New Dad” greeting card should read something like, “Congratulations. You have children. You will never have time to do anything else except raise children, ever again. Ever.” Until you’re actually there. (By the way, being a twin yourself doesn’t count. You were on the receiving end, toots.)

I’m quite aware that the Neal Pollacks of the world, ever-anxious to prove their continuing hipitude in the face of parenthood, make a big deal out of the whole Alternadad thing (yes, I too own a Ramones T-shirt and even wear it occasionally. As for smoking weed, well…no, don’t really see the point at this point, and Mrs. P. would object to it stinking up the room). I know that there are a ton of bloggers out there, some of whom are quite worthwhile reading, focusing on their kids and the raising of same. (The wife herself rarely misses a day without doing her own blog of sorts, but it’s hard to find since it’s in the nature of a moms-of-twins bulletin board to which you can easily upload the latest photos, and she doesn’t even like me to be reading it so I’m certainly not going to link to it here, sorry). Me, I can’t help thinking that writing about your kids with a mass audience in mind is exploitation of a sort, and besides, there is so much interesting stuff going on in the world that even with the dawn-to-dusk (and often more like dawn to 9:45 p.m.) parenting thing going on, I don’t want to limit myself to the doings of Leo and Luka, fascinating and hilarously universal though they may be.

Suffice it to say that a lot of stuff has gone on since President’s Day. In the first week of March, for example, Luka came down with rotavirus, an extremely nasty intestinal bug that had us bundle him up to the hospital for a sleepless overnight Long Night’s Journey Into Grogginess. Ugh, the less said about it, the better. The rotavirus affected Mrs. P and I as well, in less extreme but still discomfiting ways; fortunately, Leo was almost unscathed. But suffice it to say that none of us were feeling in tip-top shape for weeks afterwards. (Fortunately, as Mary Worth recently remarked to her friend Toby, “memories are made to fade. They were designed that way.”)

Besides this, I started a new job that occupies my weekends, and recently took on a major short-term writing project in addition to an ongoing one. So with one thing or another, my days are pretty full. And Mrs. Pogoer’s dental woes of late have been another unwelcome distraction. Today, for example, she awoke with a sinus infection and her left cheek swollen to the size and color of a Macintosh apple and, after visiting her dentist in the morning, called a good friend of ours to come with her little girl and visit with the twins for a while, while I accompanied her to a friendly oral surgeon in Pflugerville, where the offending infected molar was smashed and removed. She’s been on antibiotics and resting since the early afternoon, and I pitched in and took over the bulk of the childcarin’ duties until bedtime, which seems to get later and later these days (which doesn’t keep ’em from rising and screamin’ before seven).

I sometimes run into parents of teenagers or older children who reminisce fondly about the days when their kids were toddlers, and how they miss it. I’d like to tell them that they’d enjoy reading Mary Worth.

No wonder people like being grandparents so much — all of the cute, none of the crap.

The next post will be up in less than a week. That’s a promise.

The Sesame Hegemony, along with the heartbreaking innocence of childhood and all that jazz

Bringing up two-year-old twins, I tell Mrs. Pogoer, is “like entertaining lunatics 12 hours a day.”

“Think about how I feel,” she replies. “I’m raising three of them.”

So, last weekend Elmo was in town (or, as Luka and many of his peers call him, ‘Melmo’; I think the Cajuns know him as Elmeaux). As present and former parents of two-year-olds know all too well, there is no escape from the Elmo pathogen: sooner or later, the bastard’s insipidly grinning furry red face will be staring out at you from all corners, including the ceiling (where the balloons wind up until you bat them down with a broom three days later). My mother-in-law, who is a very nice lady, bought Luka an ‘Elmo Knows Your Name’ doll for his last birthday; Mrs. Pogoer duly attached the Shmelmo totem to her hard drive via a port inserted into the little monster’s rump and programmed the Thing to know my eldest offspring’s name, birthday, favorite foods, and for all I know, his social security and future driver’s license number along with political preference. Elmo knows your name, he knows where you live, and He’s coming for you in the night, there is no escape, for He is Elmo and He knows when you are sleeping, He knows when you’re awake, He knows all and sees all, His eye is on the sparrow

Redrum, redrum. There is no escape from this, except time.

Sorry. But in truth, other bloggin’ dads and moms have noted certain religious overtones in this Elmo thing. Elmo speaks of himself in the third person, like a king or a god. (Like Bill Murray’s weatherman character in Groundhog Day, he’s “a god, not the God. I think.”) For Luka and Leo’s peer group, Elmo truly is Toddler Jesus (remember, he ‘loves’ you). Or he may indeed be Satan, or is it Santa (like those older icons, he wears a red, furry coat and knows everything about you). Sooner or later during the day, Luka will demand to view the DVD he prizes above all others, chanting: “MmmmmmMELmow! MmmmmMELmow!  MmmmmmmmMELmow!” ad infinitum, until gratified.

When my niece and nephew were tiny things, my sister remarked to me that raising your own children makes you relive your own childhood, which is true enough. My childhood ended years ago by any standard (I’m so old there wasn’t even a Sesame Street when I could have appreciated it, and the childhood icon I did appreciate, Captain Kangaroo, is now dead and you can’t even see him in reruns anymore), so I’m glad to be able to live it again. Actually, at this point, I’m happy to relive anything, I suppose.

Whether I like it or not, I’m becoming an expert on Little Einsteins and the Higglytown Heroes and the rest of the current crop of what’s considered the cutting edge in edutainment in the rugrat universe (or as those of you without children call it, “whatever the hell that kids’ crap is”). Of course, the old classics still obtain — Mrs. Pogoer has a fairly complete library of all the great animated classics of Walt “disnae know anything,” and at my advanced age watching Winnie the Pooh still makes me mist up and want to live in the Hundred Acre Wood with Tigger, Eeyore, and Owl (well, maybe not Owl, whom I played in a summer camp theatrical back in ’73, which was possibly an inoculation against the character, who, to tell the truth, was never very likable anyway).

Above all, let us all worship the Great God Melmo, who explains all there is to know about life, all you’ll ever need to know.

So last Sunday, in that great weekend leading up to Mardi Gras, Mommy (or as Luka calls her, “Mimi,”), the twins and I went down to the Holy Temple, a/k/a the Erwin Center in Austin, to see Melmo on Ice — oops, I mean Sesame Street Live — Melmo Makes Music. I’d been mentally preparing for it for weeks — we would march into the maw of the Elmo Empire, confronting the fuzzy red glorp (or as the Sesamstraße folks refer to him, “the cash cow”) on its home turf and emerging battered, but intact.

A couple of days before, Mrs. P. had slipped and fallen on some loose grapes at a local supermarket, severely straining if not spraining her ankle, and lengthy walks, stair climbing, etc., of any kind were best avoided if possible, but she bravely soldiered on, carrying Leo for long stretches while I led Luka along from the parking garage, to a pathway through an urban park, to the cavernous meeting place itself. There were some anxious moments when the guardians of the gate at first insisted we had to discard the tots’ milk and snacks, but Mrs. P.’s persuasive pleading led them to relent, and we found an escalator to our level, and then, oh the hassle, steps and steps down to our seats. Good seats, though Leo promptly spilled much of his milk bottle on one of them and Mommy thereupon held him for nearly the duration.

And then the show started. And…well, it was actually charming. Charming and sweet stuff, eminently suitable for the two-to-five set. Bert and Ernie were there, and Oscar and Cookie Monster, and several muppets I’d never heard of before, and of course, the Great God himself, in his World with Mr. Noodle’s-other-brother-Mr.-Noodle and the goldfish and the whole thing and whaddaya whaddaya. And the making of all kinds of music with all kinds of instruments and stuff. At one point, Bert made a Saturday Night Fever entrance dressed as you-know-who in the white suit, striking that pose, and I wondered how many parents in the audience were old enough to remember the original when it came out. As if that was relevant to anything.

There was a 15-minute intermission which I believe was put in mainly as an excuse to set forth in the crowd hawkers with scores of horribly grinning Elmo-head balloons, going for, wait for it, 10 bucks a pop (the parents knew they were being ripped off, but generally submitted with little grousing except quietly, under their breath). The twins didn’t scream for them, but did object to the show coming to an inexplicable halt (Leo was bouncing and smiling along, and Luka sat rapt and mesmerized by the goings-on). “Let the merchandising begin,” Mrs. P. called to me across the offspring. So, no $10 Elmo-head balloons for us (I’ve taken to using the “Elmo head” as a unit of currency, as in, “today I took my wife out to lunch at a very nice restaurant and it only cost me four Elmo heads and an ear”).

In all, it was a pretty successful afternoon out. (When you have kids, you learn to adjust your standards as to what constitutes a good public outing: “Well, nobody threw up or threw a tantrum, and I didn’t have to change any diapers in the Erwin Center bathroom — I can just imagine what that would’ve been like — so we had, like, a great time!”)

Final word: It’s not for you, it’s for them. And you appreciate it because they do. They sponge it all up and process it and it comes out tomorrow in who knows how many ways. And three days later there are still balloons on the ceiling. And it’s one more notch on the parenting belt, only 10,000 more to go.