Ben & Rita’s Road Trip 2010: DAY 3

Another great road trip. Can’t believe this was seven years ago. Enjoy!

Harvey Millican: Raising Your Kids Without Lowering Your IQ

Waffle House

Today was all about one place; one man; one word: Biltmore, or as I have to come to refer to it, the Appalachee Revenge! There’s a story behind this.

Constructed in the late 1800’s (I didn’t say “built” because it’s Biltmore and the two “built’s/Bilt’s” would have driven me crazy); the Biltmore Estate is the largest private home in America. George Washington Vanderbilt (yes, crazy name, I know) was the youngest of three sons born to William Vanderbilt, son of Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt. The Commodore had built his fortune first in shipping and then in railroads (hence the statue of him in front of his train station, Grand Central Terminal). When the Commodore died he left $100 million to his son who then doubled that fortune in ten years’ time. Most of that tax-free money went to George’s two older brothers who ran the family industry. George had to settle…

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Benedict and Rita South by Southwest, 2011:Day 6

Tonight I decided that the time had come for me to make use of these old family stories of mine and turn the blog into a bedtime story for my little angel. I really enjoyed re-reading this one. Perhaps you will too!

Harvey Millican: Raising Your Kids Without Lowering Your IQ

There is a show on HGTV that I have always liked. It is called House Hunters. In this show the hostess, Suzanne Whang, cheerfully narrates the story of an individual or couple who is looking for a new house. First, a note… The programing on HGTV has really declined since the housing bubble burst. A few years ago the network had a whole slew of shows dedicated to the art of house flipping. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it refers to the practice of buying a house with the express intent of performing a dramatic makeover and then selling it. In good economic times this can be a lucrative, if not risky, deal. For instance, a person might purchase a house for $200K, carry the mortgage for two to three months (usually while carrying a mortgage on the house they actually live in) and then sell it for $400K…

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I’m a Hurricane!

I’ve been busy with work lately.  The beginning of a school year is always hectic for the teachers and administrators.  I’ve barely had time to watch the news.

Imagine my shock when, driving to work at 6:30 this morning, I saw a large electronic sign overhead flashing “Avoid Texas Coast/Harvey Making Landfall”

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I’m even on the Drudge Report!

What do you know?  I’m famous!

They named a hurricane after me!

I accept this honor on behalf of Harvey’s everywhere.

On the other hand, if it turns out to bring death and destruction then I renounce this storm.

But it is kinda’ cool…

They Sold the Farm!

Some of you know that my vision is terrible. Not my “vision” vision but my actual eyesight. 

I was told when I was ten that it would get progressively worse until my mid-twenties and then level off; maybe even get better. 

They lied. I’m almost 40 and it’s still getting worse. Granted it’s not getting worse as quickly as it once was. 

Nevertheless yearly eye exams are not a luxury for me. I have to get in to the optometrist or I can’t see. 

I am currently sitting in the chair. 

This is fun. 

What in the world does that say?

I’ve already been run through the battery of pre-testing options. There’s the puff of air. Still not sure what this one is for. Then there’s the “big E” test. Newsflash: I can’t even really see the “E” at this point without my contacts. 

Some tests are new. A retinal photograph has replaced dilation. This is nice as I really never liked stepping out into the mid-day sun after one of these visits looking like an anime character. 

But they got rid of one of my favorite tests. For almost thirty years I’ve been coming to these visits and looking into a giant box at a picture of a farmhouse. Again, the purpose of this test has never been explained to me. I always assumed it had something to do with focus. Then again it could just be a way to calm me down, not that I’ve ever been agitated at the eye doctor. 

This test is so ridiculous.

Truly the farm was a peaceful place. If you’ve ever had this test you know what I’m talking about. It was in a field. I imagine it was in Iowa. There was a lot of corn. I made up a backstory about the farm. It was owned by an elderly couple who’s children had moved away after industrialization had rendered their role in the agri-business field redundant. This couple now wait at home for someone to visit. Once a year I pop into their lives. I feel like such a voyeur. But I think they understand. They’re just happy for the company. Their rotten kids never bring the grandkids – Kip and Karen – around. Brats. 

Where was I?

Oh yes, the farm is gone. All that remains is a hot air balloon and there isn’t enough Valium on earth to get me in that thing.

There’s also the omni-present “better/worse” flipping lens test. Yeah… as I’ve said before, leave the room, doc. I’ll flip it around and find what works. Then I’ll call you back in and you can write it down. 

St. Lucy, patroness of the blind, pray for us!

UPDATE: They just upped my script. -4.25 in both eyes and I get to try daily wears for the first time!

They Took My Boy Away

I haven’t had the will to write these past few days.

That’s because they took my boy away from me.

True he may not have been legally mine in any legal way.  But from the moment he walked through the door from customs just three weeks earlier, Sylvester was ours.

Sadly, my will to keep him as my adopted son was not strong enough to evade the hand of time, tide, and that damn exchange program.  Apparently the terms were something along the lines of “you take him for three weeks then he goes home”.

Vicious.

Now we are left childless except for the two children I fathered biologically and who live with us and are the light of our life.

Alas, poor Sylvester.  I can only imagine the horrors in your Salamancan soul as you boarded that plane and headed for… New York?

Wait, what?

Son, listen, I know you’re becoming a man and all that but I am your father and I don’t recall giving you permission to run off to the Big Apple like some common tourist.  Now I see how it goes down.  You and your “group” are going to “sight-see” and then what?  They’ll coral you up and shove you on a plane and send you back to Spain.

OK, it sucks.  We really enjoyed our time with him.

A few nights before his departure I took him along with a friend and his two sons and my real son to a Rangers baseball game.  Gee that was fun.  He said baseball is his favorite even though he never gets to see it in Spain.  “Didn’t I tell you, Sylvester?  Texas connects us.

The night before he left we took our Sylvester to our favorite barbecue pit.  Once again, our growing boy’s eyes popped out of his head.  “So much food!!” he said, his English clearly improved from his first day in our home.  The thing is that on the way to the restaurant he insisted he wanted to pay.  Something about us having been too kind to him and him wanting to return the favor.  I said something like “It’s OK, son, you’ll have plenty of time to take care of American Daddy when I retire” but he wouldn’t hear of it.

Texas barbecue isn’t cheap and I’ll leave it at that.

So the next morning came.  He spent the night before packing.  He even asked for a scale, convinced that his suitcase would be overweight.  He’s lucky he wasn’t overweight after how we fed him.  Only the best of Texas for my boy!  I got up early and drove him to the airport on my way to work.

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My babies in front of the great State Capitol of Texas

He looked up at me as we were saying our good-bye’s in the terminal.  “Three weeks ago, was happy.  Today is sad.”  I gave him a card for his impending birthday.  We had stuffed some cash into it to make up for his kind gesture the night before.  “No no no,” he said.  “I cannot take this.”  I looked him in the eye and said “Son, I know there comes a time when every man thinks he can tell his father what to do.  He’s grown up.  He can take care of himself.  I know you’ve got a deep seated need to prove yourself in the world.”  His English wasn’t good enough yet to understand lines from after school specials.  I finally said “Trust me, they only take American money in New York.

Speaking of New York I was happily able to reassure him that he’d have no problem finding someone who spoke Spanish in Manhattan.  Granted it might not be good Spanish but he’d understand.

And like that my little bundle of joy was gone from my life.  They grow up so fast and abandon the nest.  We’ll certainly miss him.

And as I was wondering today if he’d even remember us I got a text from my Spaniard.  It read simply:

“I am home.  New York was huge.  I cannot find Dr. Pepper anywhere in Spain.”

Don’t worry, son.  We’ll ship you some.  American Daddy’s got your back.

Teaching the Boy Idioms

I’ve just wrapped up a three day out-of-town conference.  My new boss graciously offered that I take my wife and kids with me.  I had fun hearing all about work-related things while my wife and the gatitos had fun swimming, touring, eating, etc.  In the evenings we reconvened for a late dinner and family time.  One of my kittens, the adoption-in-waiting Sylvester, already seems tired of Texas heat.  When asked if he wanted to swim one evening his response was “Um…  Maybe.”  And that maybe sounded very much like how he says no.

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Sylvester and his new sister (don’t mock me) light a candle and pray for American Daddy

Not sure what image of Texas in summer they gave him at the orphanage airport but it’s kind of what we do in Texas in July if we’re anywhere in sight of a concrete basin filled with chlorinated water.

The conference ended this morning and we decided to take our new addition to the family to a place that is sacred to all Texans.  No, it’s not that Czech gas station in West that sells the little danish-type pastries (though that’s probably on the itinerary for the return).

We took our Sylvester to the Alamo!

When we got out of the car I began to explain to the boy that San Antonio was founded by Spaniards and was indeed once part of Spain.  He seemed interested.  Mildly.

As we headed down the street toward the Alamo itself my young man held his right forearm aloft in the late afternoon sun.  He held it right next to mine.  I tan very well and from late April until November I resemble George Hamilton.  Sylvester looked back and forth between our two arms for a moment and proudly remarked with his trademark Madrilene smile:

“I am becoming black now!”

To which American Daddy promptly replied:

“No.  No, you’re not,” as I quickly glanced around to make sure he hadn’t said this in earshot of any actual black people.

Then I had the joy of explaining the subtleties of color nuance to my exchange son.

“See, Sylvester, this is called tan, not black.”

“But, it is very similar to black man, no?” said he.

Before we hit the Alamo, perhaps we’d better visit the Civil Rights Museum first.  Otherwise this adoption might be in jeopardy.

How strange that just three weeks ago I wasn’t sure I even wanted an exchange son.  No we can’t imagine our world without him.

Raising an Exchange Son

My little bundle of alegría is getting bigger every day.

Nearly two weeks into his stay in our life forever, Sylvester – that’s my foreign exchange son – is already holding his head up on his own, walking erect, and babbling.  He might be expressing high level thoughts in a language not my own.  Who can say?

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One day we will teach you all about where you came from, son.

It dawned on me while I was brushing my teeth tonight that I should have asked him to call me “Big Daddy” as I called my father before me.  That would have been nice.  I suppose there’s still time; though he is growing like a weed.  He’s already over 5 feet tall, the little gremlin.  Someone got fed after midnight…

I’m already planning next year’s “Gotcha’ Day” festivities.  My wife says we may have to move them up to sometime in the next week.  “He has to go home,” she says.

“Honey,” I replied, “this is his home – his forever home.”

She mumbled something about delusions and international law.  I reminded her about our “passports and .45’s” discussion of the other day.  Ooh!  And my son, the biological one, picked up a nifty fu manchu-style fake mustache the other day!  I’ll bet one of us could use that at some point.

Our neighbors next door host a family get-together every weekend.  We sometimes walk out onto our porch late on Saturday night just to hear the authentic music and smell the grilling of fish.  Our neighbor on the other side calls it their “la familia parties”.  He says it with the thickest Texas accent and it sounds quaint.  We don’t mind because it’s all family and I think it’s neat to see how they celebrate that.  I’m from a big family too and we like to party.  What an unusual world we’ve brought you to, Sylvester.

Last Sunday my wife asked him how he could possibly sleep with the mostly mariachi-sounding music in the driveway outside his bedroom at 3AM.  “It’s OK,” he said.  “Maybe they are Mech-ican?”

Indeed, son.  He’s already learning so much about culture.

Took the lad to the batting cages yesterday.  He’s never swung a bat before but he did the old man proud.  Once he got into the swing of it (no pun intended; and note to self: begin working in more Dad jokes) he really knocked it out of the park.  Also note to self: stop using baseball metaphors when talking about baseball.  After a fastball came screaming down the line from the pitching machine, my little Spaniard knocked that mother back to the black hole it came from.  “Yay Sylvester!  White Daddy is so proud!”

Maybe I’ll get him a gun rack for his next birthday.