Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Happy All Hallows, everybody! Didja miss me? Hey, not to make excuses, but I'm going to make excuses. I have a 7-year-old. The week before Halloween is a crazy, crazy time for those of us with kids — and besides being crazy, it’s just exciting! Because candy! And parties! And scary things! Oh, we love us some Halloween.

Last week, we made our annual pilgrimage to the Chesterfield Berry Farm pumpkin patch. It’s quite a hike out to Moseley, but there really are no substitutes. We found that out the hard way the year The Boy was born, when we tried to take the easy way out and go to a closer-in pumpkin farm that was a more convenient drive. There was no corn pit, no corncob cannon, no pumpkin shake — none of the things that we look forward to at the Berry Farm every year. And the hayride out to the pumpkin field was on a flat wooden pallet without sides, pulled by a tractor. There’s a picture from that trip of Tad in the distance, standing in the middle of a sad and straggly pumpkin field, holding the baby Boy with one hand, and flipping the bird with the other. That picture pretty much sums up our feelings about rival interloper pumpkin farms. For us, from then on out, it’s been Moseley or bust!

But that was last week. This week was spent preparing for, discussing and anticipating Halloween night. The Boy decided early on this year that he would be Ben 10, one of his favorite cartoon characters. We tried to talk him into something a little more showy and exciting, since Ben 10 is, in essence, a small boy with a wristwatch. If you know The Boy, though, you know that once his mind is made up, there’s no persuading him otherwise. Ben 10 he would be! We quit trying to argue. We have learned to pick our battles.

Fortunately, he already had an Omnitrix, so that was taken care of. We took him to the barber on Sunday — yes, under threat of hurricane — to get a spiky new haircut. Our plan was that we would go to Target or Old Navy and pick up appropriate clothes early in the week, but Sunday night he came downstairs bursting with pride, wearing a white undershirt with a crooked red stripe scrawled down the middle of it.

“Look, I made my Ben 10 shirt,” he said, sticking his little pigeon chest out as far as he could.

“Um ... isn’t Ben’s stripe black?” I asked, but I knew the answer already. The wide black stripe is the only recognizable feature of Ben 10’s shirt. It’s really the whole look.

“Yes, but I didn’t have a black marker,” he said, pulling the hem of his shirt out in front of himself so that he could admire it.

“That’s a great shirt,” Tad said tactfully. “Would you like me to get a black marker that we can go over the stripe with, so that we can make it darker” — and here he traced a line down the middle of the shirt with his finger that did not follow The Boy's line at all — “and maybe a little straighter?”

Too far.

“No!” The Boy barked, taking a step back. “This is my shirt, and it’s the shirt I’m going to wear! The stripe is just how I want it!” He started pacing in a circle, the way he does when he’s about to speak his mind, which is most of the time. “When you make your own Halloween costume, it is not supposed to be perfect! You want it to have flaws, so that people will be able to tell that you made it yourself! That’s the whole point of making a Halloween costume! It’s what makes it special!’

We both apologized for our ignorance, and told him again that it was a lovely shirt indeed. Not that he needed our praise, mind you. He was all about the shirt. He wore it proudly on Monday, and insisted on sleeping in it that night. Because it was awesome, and it was his.

The next day, Tad put the shirt in the wash so it would be nice and fresh for Halloween. You know where this is going, don’t you? If you have kids, you do, because, like us, you probably make sure to only give your kids washable markers. The shirt came out of the dryer fresh, clean and without any sign of The Boy’s vaunted stripe.

The Boy handled it a lot better than we thought he would. I think by that point, he was more focused on the candy that would be coming his way soon. He and Tad got to work with a black El Marko, and, though he was a little light-headed from the fumes by the time he got to Baboo’s to meet up with his crew, he was the most realistic Ben 10 anyone on the trick-or-treat circuit had ever seen.

Granted, only the kids knew who Ben 10 was, anyway. A couple of the door greeters asked who he was supposed to be, and he said “I’m a boy named Ben,” which made them laugh in such a way that I’m pretty sure they thought he was making some kind of minimalist statement and going as himself, or as a random other kid. But whatever! He ended the night with a bucket full of treats and a sleepy smile, and on the way home, he proclaimed last night to be “the best trick or treat night ever,” so I think it all turned out just fine. A happy Halloween one and all, and happy half-price candy day to the grown-ups.

On a less festive note, all parties have to end sometime, and this is the final installment of the Parental Rites blog. It debuted in November 2008, and it’s been a great four years. I hope you’ve had as much fun here as I have. All the past blogs are still online, so click on back for the greatest hits, and I hope you’ll keep up with us via my monthly column in Richmond magazine. Thanks so much for reading, and for all of your comments and feedback!

Now, if you will excuse me, I am definitely not going to go steal Reese’s Cups out of my son’s Halloween bucket, because I would never.

I was all set to blog about our delightful trip to the Chesterfield Berry Farm to pick out our pumpkin, but then breaking news happened. Tad called from home to inform me that a mystery package had arrived, addressed to The Boy. Of course all home-school activities ceased while they examined the package and readied themselves for the grand unveiling. Tad assisted with the unwrapping. and the box was opened to reveal, in his words, “an embarrassment of Domo-kuns.”

Apparently, The Boy’s friends Iggy and Lucy, from many states away, saw that he was Domo-deprived and took pity on him with a shipment of Domo-kuns, and little outfits for said Domo-kuns to wear, and other delightful goodies of various sorts. What a fabulous surprise! Needless to say, no more schoolwork is being done right now.

“Was he surprised to get a box of Domo-kuns in the mail?” I asked Tad, because I know I would have been gobsmacked.

“Actually, no,” said Tad. “He opened the box, snatched up a handful of Domo-kuns and said, ‘See? That penny I threw in the fountain worked! My wish came true! Told you!’ Then he ran off to take them to the playroom, and that’s where he’s been ever since.”

Ah, well. So maybe it wasn’t a surprise, but it was definitely a treat. Thank you, Iggy and Lucy for making a wish come true. You are wonderful!

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Last night, as usual, The Boy was lamenting about how terribly we treat him, and how horribly deprived he is. Why, if he didn’t occasionally get seconds on thin gruel, he’d have nothing to look forward to at all! It is a hard and thankless little life he leads, that’s for sure. He really is a saint to put up with our horrible mistreatment of him.

In case you are wondering how he spent his weekend, he went to a fall festival and a party. Both of which had bounce houses, which, in his 7-year-old mind, are what heaven must be like — a giant bounce house. He also visited a couple of playgrounds and two bookstores, where he had many books read to him and — and — he was allowed to purchase a new Bionicle Hero Factory book on the murky promise that he would read it for his reading log. Oh, and speaking of Bionicles, he had some money saved up, and he was therefore permitted to shop on eBay Friday night for a Bionicle wristwatch, which is now on its way. And there was pizza. Did I mention pizza? And Sweet Frog? He rounded out the weekend with cake and ice cream for his cousin’s birthday at Baboo’s house last night. So, you see, obviously we’re cruel taskmasters.

But here’s the problem. He only has one Domo-kun. And one Domo-kun is obviously not enough Domo-kuns for anyone, and it is apparently all our fault. What’s a Domo-kun, you ask? Well, it’s a ... it’s kind of a ... it’s got a ... um. Just watch this: 

Yeah. That. Anyway, he has a little stuffed Domo-kun that he won at the State Fair last year. But that is only one Domo-kun! One lonely, solitary Domo-kun. And, according to The Boy, “Most other kids have at least 10,000 Domo-kuns!”

That was a show-stopping statistic right there. We both stopped what we were doing and looked at him.

"I have to question where you're getting your numbers,” Tad said matter-of-factly. “I’m not sure your statistics are valid.”

“He probably got that one at the same place as he got the one he told us Friday, about how he break-dances 20 percent of the day,” I noted. That particular statistic was offered as proof that he is a more effective ninja than Tad. Because that much break-dancing would definitely improve your ninja abilities.

“He should just go ahead and run for office now,” Tad sighed.

And why not? His statistics might be more valid than a couple of the ones I’ve heard from actual candidates. A bounce house in every yard, and a Domo-kun in every pot! Or cage, or whatever you put those things in.

Oh, well. Hey, there will be pizza and frozen yogurt at all of the rallies. That should at least get us the grade-school vote.

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Last night, Tad had solo plans for the evening, so The Boy and I did what we usually do when we are at loose ends — we headed across the Nickel Bridge to hang out at my parents’ house. It’s one of the great things about living right across the bridge. We can be there in just a couple of minutes, and, if anybody gets cranky or tired or is no longer on their company manners — not naming names, you understand — we can jump back into the car and be home just as quickly.

If you know my dad, you know that the only thing on the agenda for last night was the Cardinals-Nationals game on TV. I mean, you know that if you know my dad and you also know that it is baseball season, and who is in the playoffs. I know my dad, but I did not know the two other things. I am not the most sports-savvy person you’ll ever meet. Neither is The Boy. But we’re cool! We’re flexible! If that’s what my dad wants to do, we’re down with it! It helped that there was pizza and cookies. Feed us, and we’ll watch just about anything with you.

“Hey, look at that guy’s hair,” The Boy said by way of banter, pointing to one of the players. I didn’t know it at the time, but since last night, I have learned that said player is Jayson Werth, and his hair is very much A Thing. I actually had not noticed it until The Boy pointed it out, but I guess it could be A Thing if you were not someone who had seen a lot of shaggy bearded people. Me, I go to Lamplighter. Jayson Werth is not so special.

“He looks like a frickin’ Wookie,” The Boy said, shaking his head and chomping on his pepperoni pizza. I winced and hoped my dad hadn’t hear.

“Buddy, let’s not say ‘fricking,’ OK?” I said, quietly, just reminding him that when we are at the grandparents’ house, we can’t be quite as casual with the crude language as we are at home. Where, by the way, all bets are off.

“Fricking isn’t a bad word,” he argued, or tried to argue. I gave him the side-eye in an effort to silence him — but unfortunately, it did exactly the opposite.


My dad rotated slowly around in his La-Z-Boy and stared not at The Boy, but at me. I shrugged and grabbed another cookie, because what the frick am I supposed to do? And besides, I think my dad would let The Boy curse a blue streak in his house if he could ever get him interested in any sports discussion that did not involve the players’ hairdos.

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Me and Mark Lovell, hanging out like we do
Another year, another State Fair come and gone. Ordinarily I am sad, so sad the week after the Fair, because I have a whole year to wait until I am at the Fair again. This year is different, though. Like I said in my last post, I am riding high on gratitude that the Fair happened at all, and I am looking forward to it being even bigger and better next year. I know that it will be, because I have faith in the new owners. Look at how much they were able to do in just a few months! With a whole year, well, I am expecting great things. GREAT THINGS.

Last week, as we were getting ready for our first visit, I told Tad that I was going to find Mark Lovell and give him a big hug. I was already his biggest fan — had been since May 22 — but since then I had read various reports saying that on opening day, when ticketing glitches made for long lines at will call, Mark Lovell showed up and waved everybody in. Mark Lovell is like the benevolent overlord of the State Fair. That or a superhero. I was determined to thank him.

“You do realize that Mark Lovell is kind of busy running the Fair,” Tad pointed out. “He doesn’t have time to stand around and listen to you gush all over him.”

“I won’t take up a lot of his time,” I promised. “I just want to thank him.”

On opening weekend, I did not see Mark Lovell. For all I know, I walked right past him, but I am always Fairdazzled at first, and it makes it hard for me to see anything that is not covered with multicolored flashing lights. We took Monday off, to rest our feet and our wallets. On Tuesday, even though it was pouring rain in Richmond, we headed back up toward Doswell.

The clouds parted as soon as we turned onto Route 30. The rain had cleared out the less determined Fairgoers, which meant that we got executive parking right by the gates. We showed our season passes, walked through the turnstiles, and there, just to the right of the gates, sitting on a bale of hay and talking on a cell phone, was Mark Lovell.

“THERE’S MARK LOVELL!” I shouted, with the cool and subtle countenance for which I am known the world over.

Mark Lovell looked nervous. “I have to go,” he said to whoever was on the other end of the phone. He approached us warily, and I immediately introduced myself as not just the State Fair’s Biggest Fan (so named officially by the Fair itself, don’t forget), but also as his personal biggest fan whether he knew it or not.

That softened him up a little. OK, a lot. He shook Tad’s hand and gave The Boy a high five. He told me about a lady he met who is a third-generation State Fair employee, and how excited she was to learn the Fair would go on. I allowed that she might deserve to share my title. He told us to enjoy ourselves and graciously accepted my hug. “You’re awesome, baby!” That’s what Mark Lovell said to me as he waved goodbye.

“I told you I was going to find him.” I blurted before we were even two steps away.

“Yes, you did,” Tad sighed, shaking his head. “Are you happy now?”

Never happier. Thanks for a great year, Mark. See you next time.

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