Hold On Daddy's Coming!

Stories, rants and reflections by a clueless father of three

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You Can’t Handle the Truth: Life at Naval Justice School

Lieutenant Junior Grade Jim Howland, reporting for duty. Kind of.

Well folks, the Navy has sent me back to Newport, RI to get my knowledge on at Naval Justice School – ten weeks of learning all the fun stuff that comes with being a military lawyer. More on that in a bit…

I left January 22, and I assure you I was in a glass cage of emotion. Leaving Jackie and the kids was incredibly hard for me – in fact, there may or may not have been tears as I hugged Jimmy and Riley goodbye. What?

Anyway, my sadness quickly turned into anger as I paid toll after toll after painful freaking toll heading north on Interstate 95. $6 to get out of Maryland. $13 to get through Delaware. The farther north I went, the more I shelled out. At one point, I actually considered this a violation of my Constitutional right to travel.

And this, my friends, is why people hate lawyers.

Eventually, in a moment of golden irony, I hit the New York City skyline right as Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ rendition of “Empire State of Mind” came on the radio. In retrospect, this was probably not a coincidence. Either way, the volume went up and so did my whiteness factor. What can I say? Big lights will inspire me.

Fortunately, I arrived at Naval Station Newport safe and sound. And pretty much broke.

So. First day of class, and there I am. Hopelessly lost in a room of about 25 Naval Officers and 35 Marines. I knew two of them. It took very little time for me to notice a stark contrast between the Marines and the Sailors. Allow me to expand a bit…

First, Marines just talk differently. They say “rah” all the time, regardless of the appropriateness. They all have crazy stories from Officer Candidate School and The Basic School, and they are not afraid to share them. During the first few months of college I would meet people who went to the same high school and always wanted to talk about how awesome their experience was. Well, that’s kind of how it feels when I’m around these guys. Fortunately, their stories are hilarious.

A few other things: they dip, they curse, and they are not your normal lawyers. In fact, they all hate it here, and would much rather be in the forest somewhere with their faces painted and a rifle in their hands. Oorah?

Anyway. Class begins at Zero Seven Thirty and goes until Seventeen Hundred. To clarify: we do absolutely nothing at Zero Dark Thirty, and the only thing being fired at us is PowerPoint Slides. But I assure you what we do is dangerous.

Here’s what we’ve learned how to do thus far:

-write wills (well, technically a computer program actually writes it);
-write letters (with fancy letterhead!); and
-write…more letters.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a theme.

We’ve also had a riveting debate over whether the Navy Correspondence Manual should require two spaces after a period, or just one. I for one am a fan of two spaces, but I tread carefully because this debate gets personal.

You may be thinking: when are we gonna learn how to bust “Code Reds” out of Guantanamo Bay? Well, we haven’t had that class yet. But I did spot a Code Red Mountain Dew at the Commissary. So that’s exciting.

On Thursday mornings, we partake in a fun little activity called “Pain Before Breakfast.” This is a five mile run at five thirty in the morning. Five. Freaking. Thirty. Of course, attending Pain Before Breakfast is entirely voluntary – kind of the same way you “voluntarily” get in the car when a mob boss pulls up and asks you to join him. And in case my Executive Officer happens to read this, I would like to go on record as saying I absolutely love Pain Before Breakfast and look forward to it every week. Smile.

Fortunately, Pain Before Breakfast is not the only way I strive to exercise – I’m also on the basketball team. For a good laugh, watch me play basketball. Seriously it’s hilarious.

As for Newport, it’s beautiful, but it’s cold. If the low temps don’t make you miserable, the wind will. Sometimes I drive literally across the street because, trust me, it’s worth it. I brought my golf clubs with me thinking I might be able to get out and play. Those poor clubs have been sentenced to solitary confinement in my trunk for the next seven weeks.

And speaking of confinement, I call Jackie (now 36 weeks pregnant) at night to check in on her and see how she’s hanging in there. Here’s how our nice little conversations go…

Me: so how was your day?
Jackie: it was fine. JIMMY, PUT THAT DOWN RIGHT NOW!
Me: Nice. What are you getting into tonight?
Jackie: I don’t know. RILEY, YOU DO NOT KICK YOUR BROTHER!
Jackie: HEY JIM, I GOTTA CALL YOU BACK. (click)

Good talk.

And as much as I miss the kids, I do not miss getting up with them at night. No chance. Eight hours of sleep is a glorious perk of my time here, and I know that when I come home we will have a newborn. Here’s another perk: I have a maid. And she’s awesome: she is a mother of two who works 5 days a week, and then goes to school at night because she wants to become a teacher. God bless ‘Murrica!

So that’s Naval Justice School. I’m just doing my part to kill the terrorists one legal ethics opinion at a time. More to come.

Code Red. Oorah. Over.

The Old “Remember? We Talked About This…” Response

My wife and I have been married for over five years now.  And since my wife reads this blog, I would just like to highlight that they have been THE FIVE BEST YEARS OF MY LIFE!  From day one, we’ve always known that communication is extremely important, and now that we have kids that scream, laugh, poop, bathe, eat, get sick, and need someone to put their boots on, it’s more important than ever.  Fortunately I’ve learned a thing or two about marital communication.   

 For instance:

– “Hey when’s dinner?” is not the first thing I should say when I walk through the door.  And it’s best if I don’t say this ever. 

– Telling my wife to “chill” or “relax” is a very bad idea.  Very very bad.  

– In a similar vein, repeatedly asking my wife “what’s the matter with you?” “are you tired?” or “is something wrong?” will earn me the following response: “I’M FINE!” (and that’s a lie). 

– When my wife tells me about how someone hurt her feelings, it’s not my invitation to fix the problem.  Usually, “I can’t believe she said that” is the most supportive comment I can make.   

– Referring to my wife as “MA’AM!” in the middle of an altercation makes said altercation much worse.  

– When my wife says “I’m done talking about this,” it’s usually not true at all.  Typically, this means we’re just getting started.

– “Would you mind if I check the scores real quick?” means I will be watching college football for the next three hours.  My wife is catching on to this…

– And most importantly, tone is everything.  Compare “would you like me to give the kids a bath?” with “SHEESH DO YOU WANT ME TO JUST GIVE THE KIDS A BATH OR SOMETHING?!?!”

There are many more.  But the important thing is that I’m learning how to navigate myself through many of these marital mazes – for the most part.  But there’s one blaring exception; a verbal trap for which I have yet to find an escape.  It’s the old “Remember? We talked about this….” response.  As in, “remember?  We talked about you fixing the bathroom sink this weekend…” 

Let’s break this down a little bit farther, shall we? 

First, the “Remember?” aspect of this phrase is not actually a question at all – it’s a courtesy.  Indeed, my wife knows darn well I don’t remember.  I never remember.  My conversational memory has a shelf life of about 20 minutes – and often much less.  You could literally tell me all your plans for the weekend, and I still might follow up with “that’s cool, so what are you up to this weekend?”  Are you serious??? 

I’m no physician, but I’ll go ahead and diagnose myself with a bad case of selective memory.  For instance, I can tell you off the top of my head that Tony Romo went to Eastern Illinois University, and that RGIII ran a 4.33 at the 2012 NFL scouting combine.  I remember that George Newton is the name of the dad in the movie “Beethoven,” and that my first diorama was a depiction of the explorer Sir Francis Drake.  I even remember the quadratic formula!  How awesome is my memory???

And yet, I couldn’t tell you for the life of me when my wife’s weekly bible study begins, and rely heavily on Microsoft Outlook to remember her birthday.  I’m not even close when it comes to guessing my children’s weight, and our family doctor’s name is Dr… I forget.  And the garbage goes out on…Tuesday? 

As you can see, my memory is great with regards to information that could easily be found on Wikipedia, and terrible when it comes to stuff I learn through day-to-day conversation.  So when my wife asks me if I remember a particular discussion, odds are I’m already in trouble.   

And then there’s the dagger: “we talked about this.”  Somehow my wife and I have tons of conversations about all kinds of relevant things – all of which go right over my head.  Attending a Father’s Day luncheon with my wife’s family? We talked about it.  Replacing the burnt out light bulbs? We talked about it.  Watching someone else’s kids next Saturday?  You get the idea.  Apparently we talked about all of this. 

So naturally, “remember, we talked about this” is a functional conversation ender.  I’m left with three entirely undesirable options:   

1. Claim that I do remember the conversation.  This one is dangerous because it requires me to provide details, and I never remember the details.  Where did we talk about this?  When did we talk about this?  What color shirt was I wearing?  These are the kinds of things that one must know when disputing the specifics of an interaction, and there’s pretty much zero percent chance of that happening.  If I take this approach, odds are I’m bluffing: I don’t actually remember a thing. 

2. Concede that I do not remember the conversation.  If I don’t remember the conversation, then I have absolutely no street cred when it comes to disputing its details.  Watch:

Me: “I don’t remember talking about that!”

My wife: “Well we did.”    

Me:  “Oh.”  

3. Insist the conversation never happened.  This is the route I usually take, but it’s ultimately a dead end because proving that a conversation never happened is ridiculously hard.  Furthermore, my wife is either insanely good at remembering details, or else she’s a ridiculously good bluffer.  Watch:

Me: “We never talked about this!”

My wife:  “Yes we did. You were sitting on the couch messing around on your tablet.  It was last Saturday, right after dinner.”

Me: (Hangs head cuz it’s probably true).  Checkmate. 

At least I’m not alone:

True story: as I am writing this this very post, my wife calls me and tells me we’re babysitting my niece tomorrow night.  Why?  Because my brother-in-law has his office Christmas party, and we agreed that we would watch her a few weeks ago.  You know what’s coming: 

“Remember? We talked about this…”  

Oh right.  Of course we did.    

A pic from a photoshoot my wife planned.  I'm sure we talked about it though...

A pic from a photoshoot my wife planned. I’m sure we talked about it though…

 

A Naughty and Nice List of Popular Christmas Songs

My wife thinks pretty much all Christmas music is great… which is pretty much 100% false.  Look, I hate to come across as a scrooge (especially after my last post), but my kids need to know that some of the most popular Yuletide carols are incurably cheesy, outdated, or downright confusing. 

As a newly licensed attorney, I’ve done them a service and put some of the biggest Christmas hits on trial.  And I do solemnly affirm that what you are about to read is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but…you know…the  truth. 

Frosty the Snowman (every single version)

This one is no contest.  Indeed, there are certain Christmas songs that are terrible to me no matter who sings them.  When it comes to Frosty the Snowman, you could give Alicia Keys a piano and a full year to make this song easier to swallow and it still would go down about as well as a Cinnamon Challenge.  Which leaves me with one question: does anyone (besides my wife) actually like this song?  Be honest…    

Verdict: Naughty (and jury recommends the death penalty)

The Twelve Days of Christmas

“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…” – ok, just stop right there.  See, to me this song is the Christmas equivalent of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” only more annoying because usually people who sing “99 Bottles” quit at about 97.  This song goes on for 12 grueling days, while my tolerance for it lasts about as long as I can hang with Crest Whitening Strips (which is like 3 days).  By the Fourth Day of Christmas? I might actually ask that you switch it back to Frosty the Snowman… 

Verdict: Naughty on all 12 counts

Feliz Navidad (by that Puerto Rican guy who sings it) 

Quick: name every single Christmas song sung in Spanish off the top of your head.  Ha, knew it.  This is the only one.  And I’ve only ever heard one version of it, too.  But the dude who sings this song sounds so genuinely happy to be wishing the listener a Merry Christmas from the bottom of his heart that it’s hard not to rock out to this one.  It’s a classic. 

Verdict: Simpatico (which means nice)  

Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer (any version) 

That “all the reindeer” just looooooved Rudolph after one foggy Christmas Eve is likely false.  In reality, Rudolph’s hero status probably lasted a few days (at most) until the in-crowd reindeer got jealous and started asking questions like “who does this Rudolph guy think he is?” I mean, did everyone at Hogwartz love Harry Potter just because he had special abilities?  Heck no, and in fact he spent his entire childhood fighting off haters because of them.  Which is why I might buy it if “some” of the reindeer loved Rudolph after his epic Christmas Eve performance, but I refuse to believe “all” of them did. 

Proposed alternative ending: on the very last Christmas Eve of Rudolph’s eligibilty to guide the sleigh, Vixen starts a slow-clap “Rudy” chant that the entire North Pole gets into, which prompts a reluctant Santa to put him in with the rest of the squad.  Later, awesome orchestra music plays in the background as Rudolph is carried off the football field snow.  Why not?    

Verdict: Hung Jury

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas (any version):

First off, the concept of a “white Christmas” is totally overrated.  Christmas is the 2nd busiest travel time of the year, so one person’s enjoyable White Christmas is another person’s cancelled flight – thanks a lot.  Second, snowstorms are awesome when they trigger school cancellations and telework policies.  Christmas Day?  We already have that one off, so any Nor’easter on that arrives with Santa is a wasted snow-day as far as I’m concerned.  Instead, why not dream of a “White Tuesday, January 23”, and roll MLK Day into a nice four-day weekend? 

Verdict: Naughty

Walkin In a Winter Wonderland (any version):

Speaking of lyrics, these ones are downright confusing. First off, I don’t know who Parson Brown is, so I would have a hard time pretending that a snowman resembles him.  Secondly, as a kid I always thought they were saying “later on, welcome spider” (vice “we’ll conspire”).  Naturally, I had questions about why a spider would be featured in a Christmas song, but didn’t think too much of it because other random animals (i.e. the bluebird, the new bird, etc.) make cameo appearances in this one as well.   

Verdict: Naughty

Little Drummer Boy:

This song is usually good when the right person sings it (can we say Justin Bieber featuring Busta Rhymes???).  My only issue here is the notion that some ox and some lamb actually “kept time.”  I’ve always wanted to know: how exactly did they keep time, and why was it even necessary?  I mean, did Mary and Josph put this Drummer Boy on the clock or something? 

One last question (well, two): if keeping time was such an important task (which I presume it was because it’s mentioned in this song), then why would it be delegated to an ox and a lamb when there were three perfectly qualified Wise Men standing right there?  Could this have been Bethlehem’s version of a quarterback controversy?  Clearly I can’t get past this!  

Verdict: Mistrial

Rockin Around the Christmas Tree (you’ll know which one I’m talking about in a second…)

There’s only one version of this song that I kind of like, and it’s the version featured in Home Alone that plays when Kevin McCallister tricks the evil Wet Bandits into thinking his family is celebrating Christmas at home (they were actually in France).   Big props for the life-size cutout of Michael Jordan featured in this scene. 

Note: and speaking of life-size cutouts, am I to presume that these were the evolutionary precursor to the Fathead?  I mean, that would make sense…

Verdict: (Kind of) Nice

All I Want For Christmas Is You (by, you guessed it, Mariah Carey)

A friend once told me he and one of his buddies listened to “All For You” by Janet Jackson on repeat for the entire duration of a road trip through the Midwest just to see if they could do it.  And because I’m a huge fan of awesomely terrible ideas, I hereby create the “All I Want For Christmas Is You” Challenge. To win, you must drive the longest distance in a car listening to nothing but this Mariah Carey gem on repeat.  Winner gets the special edition DVD of Love Actually!

Verdict: Nice the first few times, Naughty the next 1,582 times..

The Christmas Shoes (the one from that Lifetime movie…)

The only reason this song is on this list is because Hallmark/Lifetime Christmas Movie season is now upon us.  Having endured some of these movies myself, I note that while most of them have predictably happy endings, the movie “The Christmas Shoes” ends about as merrily as does “Titanic.”  Now, I’m not saying that any grown man would get emotional during either movie, but if you happen to head out of the room during the scene where the boy gives his dying mother the Christmas shoes he spent the whole movie trying to acquire, it might be for the best.  Of course, I made it through this scene with no problem.  I’m just saying that in case you happen to have that issue…

Verdict: Naughty (and this writer keeps his man-card)

O Holy Night!

Let’s end on a positive note, shall we? In my opinion, no song represents the true spirit of Christmas more than this one.  And like “Amazing Grace,” it’s one that will move me regardless of whether I’m having a great day or just watched a strand of lights on the top of the house go dark. Our church pastor does a pretty sweet rendition every year at our Christmas Eve service, but I challenge anyone to find a more awesome version than the one by David Phelps.   And if you do end up watching this video, PLEASE tell me you spy the amazing mustache-mullet combo in the background as an added bonus.   (Skip to about 1:30)

Verdict: O so nice!   

Well, that about wraps up my list (and yes, I’ve checked it twice).  Perhaps we’ll have to wait and see how some of these songs do on appeal.  In the meantime, I want to assure my kids that it’s ok to enjoy lots of seasonal music this time of year.  It’s just that if they’re going to listen to Christmas music, then those songs had better be good… for goodness sake. 

Definitely not dreaming of a white Christmas...

Definitely not dreaming of a white Christmas…

Decorating A Baby Nursery (With Help From Top Gun)

When I first started this blog, my intended audience was other dudes who hadn’t had kids yet.  My goal was not to give advice, but to give warnings – all while speaking in a language that fellow cavemen would understand.  Well, women account for about 95% of my readership.  Turns out cavemen like reading about sports and other manly things.  Fair enough. 

With that in mind, I’m about to ride this blog right into the Danger Zone, as before you is a post about how I decorated our baby nursery.  And because I don’t want to lose the precious few male readers I have, I’m going to dress this up with quotes from one of the manliest movies I can think of – Top Gun. 
 
Note: I considered using quotes from an even manlier movie, Face/Off, but it turns out far too many of them contain the F word.  No dice. 
 
I know what you’re probably thinking: mixing Top Gun quotes with a post about decorating a baby nursery is dangerous.  Well, you’re right, Ice…man. I am dangerous.
 
Let’s rewind about one year, shall we?  It was a time when Jackie was right in the thick of her pregnancy.  Aside from the occasional Chinese food run, I was utterly useless.  Eventually, the opportunity presented itself to do one productive thing, and that was design the baby nursery.  This was my shot to contribute.  There was no danger, so I took it.**
 
**Actually that’s false: this was a very dangerous operation.  The nursery was extremely important to Jackie, and if I screwed it up she would have had me flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog (poo) out of Hong Kong!
 
The first thing I needed was a theme for the room.  For people who are having boy-girl twins, this one is a no-brainer: Noah’s Ark!  

I’m not really sure why a story about millions of people drowning to death makes such great fodder for nursery rooms, but somehow it does.  It’s probably because we tend to focus on the fact that Noah and his family got a spot on the Ark; and we tend not to focus on the fact that to all the other Ghost Riders on the planet, the pattern was full.  But who knows.     

Importantly, Noah brought along two of every unclean animal with him.  This is where twins and Noah’s Ark merge: two babies, two animals – obvious nursery theme.  Oh, and just so you know there’s also two “Os” in goose, boys… 

I knew I wanted to make the bottom half of the room into the ocean, and that the ark would go somewhere above the cribs.  Beyond that, I needed ideas.  A Google search turned up hundreds of different designs…

Some were a little too cheesy:

Where are the unicorns?

And some were a little too…scary:

Not exactly the Titanic

Eventually, I stumbled upon a simple ark theme that wouldn’t give the babies nightmares. I decided to run with it.

Ahh, just right.

At the time, the color of room was orange, so I primed it.  Then I began to trace the waves of the ocean on the wall.  This was where Jackie and I disagreed: she wanted perfectly uniform waves, and I wanted more spontaneous, random waves.  We debated for a good day or two over this.  Ultimately, I disregarded Jackie’s idea and went with mine…AND BROKE A MAJOR RULE OF ENGAGEMENT!

Once I had traced the waves onto the wall with a pencil, I painted the ocean and the sky with a big brush.  This covered the wall pretty good, but wasn’t as effective for the more detailed aspects of the design.  Ergo, I used a tiny brush to ensure the waves were nice and crisp.  I guess you could say I was too close for missiles, so I switched to guns.

Then I proceeded to draw the actual ark, which was trickier.  The ark I was going for had three layers, which I drew with a level.  The curves in the front and back of the ark had to be re-done many times, which was very time consuming.  In fact, one day I was playing beach volleyball in jean shorts and a sleeveless shirt (while listening to Kenny Loggins) but had to leave early so I could get home and keep working.  It’s true.

Once I finished painting the waves and the ark, I was feeling pretty good about the room. But then Jackie gently reminded me that there’s a rainbow in the Noah’s Ark story that just had to be included.** 

** I’ll note that at the end of the story (featured in Genesis), there’s also a bit about Noah getting drunk and passing out naked in a tent.  For some reason, Jackie didn’t want that part of the story represented in the nursery… 

So to recap: rainbow, in; drunk Noah sleeping naked in a tent, out.  Roger that.

Anyway, Jackie wanted the rainbow to be huge – spanning two walls.  The ark was gonna go over Jimmy’s crib, so this rainbow was Riley’s big feature.  When I told her how hard that would be, she said “Maverick, you big stud, paint the darn rainbow or lose me forever.”  Or words to that effect.

I thumb-tacked a piece of string to the wall, and drew a big semi-circle for the first ring of the rainbow.  Then I moved the same thumb tack up two inches on the wall, and drew another one.  I did this five times, and then painted the rainbow with five different colors.  You might be wondering what I was thinking at this point.  Let me just say that I didn’t have time to think up there. Indeed if you think, you’re dead. 

Then came the clouds.  Sigh.  Clouds, oddly enough, are really hard to draw.  The clouds I originally painted looked really, really stupid.  I re-did them and they still looked stupid.  Several re-dos later and I finally got it down.  Unfortunately, the precise manner in which I completed the clouds is Top Secret. I could tell you exactly how I did it, but then I’d have to kill you. 

At this point, the room looked pretty good but it needed animals.  Lots of animals.  That’s the whole point of the Noah’s Ark theme, right?  Well, we got some decals from Wal-Mart and placed them on the ark.  Then we got some stuffed animals and hung them on the wall.  Finally, the room was decorated.

But I wasn’t finished! Oh no…  I still had two cribs, a changing table, a rocking chair, and a dresser to assemble.  Doing all this would make any man lose that lovin’ feelin – I was no exception.  And let me just say that if I could communicate with the people who write the instructions for these things, I definitely would give them the bird.  You know, the finger. 

The last touch was taking the remaining decals from the nursery and putting them in the bathroom.  It was a simple way to tie in the nursery theme to the bathroom.  Then, Jackie thanked me for my help, and told me I could be her wingman anytime.      

(I think we all know what I said next…).

Here’s the finished product: 

And another…

You'll notice the color-coded closet. Yea, she's good...

And another…

Dang you, clouds!

 And one more…

Why can't we just call it Noah's Boat?

While the room probably doesn’t win first prize, fortunately for me there’s a plaque for the alternates down in the ladies room.  I’ll take it.  Now it’s time to celebrate…

“Tower, this is Ghost Rider requesting a flyby.”

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