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JeffsLife


Loose-Toothed Boys; Building; Vivian and Little-o; Quite an Enterprise; Number Sentences; Follow That Shine; The Ned Baron; A Fish Story; Sleep Away; Loop Cards; Off With Ned; Tonight's Reading; Sing Out Strong


Loose-Toothed Boys

Ned and I were walking home with the snap-together model plane I'd just bought him when he said, "Thank you, dad. This is a perfect gift for a loose-toothed boy." Ned is loose-toothed, or was.

Maybe a week and a half later, he and Alex and our babysitter came through the door and Ned began showing his gap. He was bursting with pride. Jill wanted to cry. Ned's face was also smeared with blue, but I don't know what was going on with that. That night, Jill had Ned write a note to the tooth fairy. On the note he also drew a picture of himself smiling and holding his tooth. Soon after, he went to sleep.

"So five dollars?" I said to Jill. She wavered on the amount, saying it was too high. Oh Christ. I happen to think you should give a kid about the same amount for his first baby tooth as a gallon of gasoline costs. I know when Jill reads this she'll think I'm even further off my rocker; she's hatched the idea that I throw money at Ned. Nonetheless, about 9:30 or so that night, Ned was firmly asleep and Jill and I agreed on leaving him a $5 bill. Then we both discovered that all we had was twenties.

Ned deserves a good gift from the tooth fairy. First, it's his first baby tooth, which now we have in a tin up on the bookshelf. It's tinged with blue; I asked him about it last night, and he replied, "Oh, that's ink." It's a little bigger than a BB. Plus, first grade has been a bitch for Ned, partially because he had a fabulous kindergarten teacher, and partially because none of us saw coming his whole days spent planted at a desk, writing, writing, reading, writing. For some reason we never saw coming the real beginning of Ned's training as an American worker.

Ned's makes the best of it. He sticks to his homework, resisting what I think Richard Yates termed "the luxury of collapse" whenever he incorrectly guesses that a word ends with C instead of K, or when he puts the tail of the small G on the wrong side.

It's also worth noting that in that drawing of Ned smiling and drawing a tooth, Ned also drew Alex smiling and holding a tooth. I think that was nice. Alex has been losing teeth for a while; the last one was I didn't even notice until I looked over and happened to see a smear of blood across Alex's cheek. Another was gone, bottom front. God knows where it went (we've looked). We have none of Alex's baby teeth, and like they say about prime real estate, they aren't making any more.

We dug up five singles for Ned, and Jill wrote him a note from the Tooth Fairy, telling him that the first tooth is special. I remember the feeling: the wobble, the lean, the itchy stretch of gum that's getting ready to push a tooth out and push the owner of the mouth one step further down the road. Jill still feels like crying.

With the passing of teeth, I like to tell myself, the boys are growing into what I hope will be Prime Dad Years: blobs no longer, using a toilet with about the same accuracy as dad. Years when I can just plain do more stuff with my sons, like building model airplanes, years after toddlerhood and before the they dive deep for about a decade into the teenage years. When they re-surface, who knows what they'll think of dad.

Ned's been asking about his grandparents, and to see pictures of me as a baby. "Your dad died?" he will ask, and I'll say oh yes, many years ago. "That's sad," Ned will say. There are some pictures somewhere, black-and-whites of my dad in "the yard" in a white T, hair combed back and a Raleigh stuck in his lips, beside my shockingly young mother in her dotted dress, both of them looking like members of the French Resistance. Of me there are fading color snapshots with fat white borders, and in the borders, in fine black letters, are the month and year of the printing. Remember those?

I e-mail my sister in Arizona, the only family guardian left of these treasures, and tell her to find someone to help her scan the photos in and e-mail them to me, so the photos will never have to leave her house. That's best for those photos; they're not making any more. (October 2006)

Building

I was going to talk about Ned's homework here, but I've decided to put that off, which is ironic as I was going to be writing about Ned putting off his homework. Anyway, I'm going to talk about model kits.

I built models all through those years when I should have been dating. A year ago I started in on Ned about this and bought him a snap-together Mir space station, which sadly held together about as well as the real thing. More recently, he and I built a 1/72-scale snap-together Tomcat Navy fighter. I bought it for him when he was losing his first tooth. "This is a great model for a loose-toothed boy," he proclaimed. The plane is now atop our dining room bookcase, minus the missiles and one horizontal stabilizer. That's okay: We're not building these models for show, or even for keeps.

For Christmas I have stashed for Ned a 1/48-scale snap-together Tiger I, one of the main German battle tanks of World War II. (Happy holidays! Tanks for the memories!) I built this very kit in 1978, when it was made by a different company. I painted it flat dark green, with dirty amber camouflage stripes. I then lovingly melted one of the fenders as if the tank had hit a tree or boulder, and with a hot safety pin scraped and scarred one side of the turret; I painted the scar gray, with a little silver to depict freshly shot-up metal.

"Tanks for the memories" is not mine, but from the 1975 catalog of a Japanese model-kit maker named Tamiya. Those who have looked at this catalog and maybe have added "Tamiya" to their spell-checker will appreciate what I'm trying to do to Ned. We do other things, of course: We're playing the old American Heritage game Dogfight (Ned has beaten me twice), and soon I hope we play Hit the Beach! and Skirmish. Those who remember those games will also appreciate what I'm trying to do to Ned. (And hey, I appreciate Sorry as much as the next guy, but Dogfight's in the Smithsonian!)

Tamiya made the premier kits when I was building. They had the sharpest detail and the smoothest decals, and I could never afford them. About the best I ever did was the Stuart, a small American tank from World War II, in 1/35 scale. I think the kit cost about $9 in 1977. Today, however, I have a job and I also have a Tamiya Flakpanzer kit in Jill's front closet. I bought that kit a few years ago at a church sale; it was $2, and unopened.

"Dad," Ned has asked, "can we build that toy that's in mom's closet?"

Poor baby. Okay, first off it's a model kit and not a toy. And second, I could barely have handled the 1/35th Tamiya Flakpanzer even after I'd reached the age when I should have been asking Kristi Immel to a movie.

A month or so ago, I bought Ned a snap-together (we'll get into glue later) Patton tank, and when we got to the painting my heart swelled at how adept he was at "weathering" the tank with tiny streaks of gray, for worn paint, and tan, for mud. (Alex is also quite good at figuring out how pieces go together.)

I like to think I'm doing something for Ned beyond showing him what color Germany painted its military vehicles on the Russian Front. I hope I'm giving him something to hold onto. The first time we visited one of Manhattan's few remaining hobby shops, for instance, the old guy behind the counter gave Ned a balsa wood glider, free. "These gliders are fun. Hobby shops should be fun," the man told Ned, looking forward perhaps not just to the day when Ned might walk in with some real cash, but also the day when another young person will have joined a club that's at once solitary and nurturing.

This Christmas I also have stashed a snap-together starship Enterprise and a snap-together Klingon battlecruiser. "Ned," I asked him a couple of weeks ago, "if you built another model, would you like a plane or a tank or a spaceship?"

"Spaceship!" he cried. Before I know it, of course, I won't be able to write ahead of time about Ned's Christmas presents without ruining his surprise.

I hope his passion doesn't get diluted by math and playdates and all the other stuff Ned has to handle. Does building excite him, truly, deep in his heart, like swimming after school and knitting with his mom? I hope building stays fun for him, but let's face it: Not that many people have added "Tamiya" to their spellchecker. (December 2006)

Vivian and Little-o

I had a goldfish. He died when I was about Ned's age, my first pet to die, and as I stood in the backyard that afternoon beside my mother and my fish in a matchbox and as I stared into the raw earth of the hole, I heard my brother remark to my father in the background, "The Kennedy funeral."

On a recent Wednesday night, I went in to the boys' room for a look at the bowl, and saw them floating. I walked back to Jill who was at the computer; I must have looked like JFK had been shot again. "Jill," I said, "Vivian and Little-o are dead."

"Whaa-aat???" She breathed the word out in that way she reserves for dire shocks.

Vivian and Little-o were shimmering orange and white beauties given to Ned by one of our babysitters only a week before. They arrived in a square plastic carrying bowl. Poor Ned, poor Ned, I think, watching him sleep. For an instant I feel I must wake him; I'm almost unable to bare this news myself. Of course I don't wake him. I drape a napkin over their bowl and take it into our bedroom. Jill and I conclude that maybe their bowl was too small. "I hope their time with us was happy," Jill says, "that they didn't just spend their last two days gasping and choking." Ned named them. Little-o was slender, and spent a lot of time in the bottom of the bowl. Vivian is the name of Ned's first-grade teacher. Poor Ned. Death has touched our home for the first time.

Next morning, I ask him to the couch. "Ned, I have some bad news about Vivian and Little-o."

"They're dead?" he says. How did he know? He's only six and I think he shouldn't be able to guess, somehow, that it was for me to tell him. He buries his face in the couch cushions and seems to weep. Jill comes over and he hugs her. "I want you write about this," he murmurs. In a minute, however-

"I see you smiling," Jill says to him. Smiling? Well, the fish were only here a week.

At Ned's request, we take them to the Harlem Meer, a pond in nearby Central Park. As Ned stands on the concrete steps leading down to the water, Alex tugs at my arms. The New York City ducks that live in the Meer cruise over to see what we've got. "The ducks will eat them!" Ned cries. We hustle him away.

"I don't think the ducks would eat them, do you?" Jill asks me later.

By Thursday afternoon, I'm scouting bowls and new fish in Petco. I take a quick liking to the black fish with the bulging eyes, and the one-gallon fishbowls. "When you have one fish, it's in a fishbowl," Ned has informed me. "When you have two fish, they're in an aquarium."

What we buy: a $30, 1.5-gallon tank/aquarium with a filter and a tube that makes bubbles; black and white pebbles; a hollow rock with holes in the side so they can swim in and out; and a long-finned goldfish destined to be named Supergold and a black fish will bulgy eyes that Ned names Black Bat.

I tell Jill that Black Bat -- who quickly learns to shimmy into the hollow rock and peek out - looks like a cross between our old Burmese cat Mimi and actor Steve Buscemi. Especially after I say that (Jill has a thing, I think, for Steve Buscemi), she admits to beginning to love Black Bat. "Never thought I could feel something for a fish," she marvels. In the decades since the afternoon of the raw earth I've lost Soda, Tiger, Rowdy, Bugs, Hotspur, Monroe, and Mimi. I know what is to bury a pet, though none was a fish.

Jill scouts the Web for tips on not killing Supergold and Black Bat. One day later she e-mails me. "From everything I've read," she writes, "these stupid fish are going to get big, like anywhere from 4 to 5 to 10 to 12 inches. Gross! Horrifying! Just imagine a 15-inch, silent, glowering Black Bat."

Vivian and Little-o, you gave your lives to make us fish owners. (January 2007)

Quite an Enterprise

Alex and Ned will learn together for a while, side-by-side, until that one grade when Ned surpasses Alex. "Ned will eventually be more the big brother," a friend said recently, and the trend has already begun with Ned calling some of Alex's video choices "baby shows." "Is he gonna watch this when he's a grown-up?" Ned demands to know.

Every now and then, however, a show comes along you watch as a kid and as an adult. At seven one morning Ned says to me, "Hey dad, 'Star Trek' is on!" My first thought is not delight in having Kirk and the old crew back on my set where they belong, but wonderment at what in hell it's doing on at seven in the morning when TVLand clogs its airwaves every evening with "Little House on the Prairie" and "The Andy Griffith Show." And not the ones with Don Knotts.

"Hey," Ned says, "that's the ship we built!"

Dad does not give you bum gifts, Ned. He was referring to the snap-together model kit I gave him during the Christmas/Hanukkah/Ned's Birthday Blizzard of last month. The prize present, the kit that to build with my son would consummate my fatherhood: the Klingon battlecruiser. First one I passed to Ned on Christmas morning.

He unwrapped the box and said, "Dad, it's great! I love it! What is it?"

Ned had no frame of reference for a Klingon ship. I mentally ran through the episodes for one with a Klingon ship in action. Not many episodes fit that bill, at least few that would impress Ned, as special effects when "Trek" was made had more to do with flashlights than computer graphics. There'd be no shortcut to sharing the show with Ned.

Not long after that, Ned found "Star Trek" -- or "Trek" as fans knew it for all those years when they should have been asking girls out, or "TOS" ("The Original Series" as its come to be known in the wake of spin-offs. I could never wholly jump in the saddle with the corporate tone of "Next Generation" ("TNG") or the neighborhood feel of "Deep Space Nine" ("DS9"), and TOS seemed to be have been penned by guys who'd fought in World War II, and who set to the stars their own Big Three (Kirk, Spock, and McCoy) to fight for the free galaxy.

"Ned, you're going to like this show," I said. "It's a got a lot more action than the newer one." First episode we watched - and taped - was the one where kids survive a colony's being wiped out by an alien. The alien uses the kids to launch a takeover of the galaxy, and sneaks aboard the Enterprise and he does pretty well until he runs into William Shatner.

(I, a Trek guy from about 1971, in fact know the title and could take a good guess at the original airdate of this and every other episode, but I feel that that would somehow alienate readers.)

(I do not answer to the labels "Trekkie" or "Trekker.")

Ned got behind the kids episode, and was especially taken by how the alien changed in appearance from a kindly old fat uncle type to a slag-encrusted gorgon. "Did he die at the end?" Ned asked.

"No. That's the way he really looked," I replied. "The children and the crewmen were seeing things. And so were you all through the episode!"

I ask Ned what he thinks is going to happen, how he thinks each story will end. "They're solid stories," notes Jill. Pretty soon Ned is also showing a mind for tactics, such as when we discover a supposedly dead Captain Kirk costumed like a Romulan ("The Enterprise Incident," original airdate Sept. 27, 1968). "He's going to board the bad guys' ship!" Ned cried.

And after another episode ("Spectre of the Gun," Oct. 25, 1968): "Then Captain Kirk pulled out his gun and was going to kill that guy!"

"But Captain Kirk didn't kill him, did he, Ned? That was the whole point. That's why the alien at the end there let the Enterprise approach his planet -- he had seen that Kirk was peaceful!" Solid.

So many strange new worlds out there: the gangster one, the Nazi one, the evil Enterprise, and the one with the Tribbles. The big question is, how do I think this story is going to end? (January 2007)

Number Sentences

In afterschool, before he went swimming or did his hour of art of bongo-drumming, Ned did all his homework. Except math. "I want to do it at home," Ned said. His homework involves finding different ways, or "number sentences," to write five, such as "3+2=5."

It appears that yet again, I too have homework tonight. In the cab, I ask if Ned knows of any ways to write 5, and he holds up four fingers on one hand and one on the other. "Four plus one is five," he says.

Though first grade is getting smoother as the light again hangs around until, well, 5, school has been hard for Ned this year. His progress has been undeniable but slow in writing, and he finds it a stumble to sound out the letters of words. In a typical exercise, I might tell him the next word of the sentence he's trying to write. "How do I write (blank)?" he invariably asks. "What's the first letter?" I ask back.

"Awwww!!" Ned sputters.

"Ned, whenever you ask me that, my first question is always going to be the same."

He claims to have written about three books in "worktime," an hour a schoolday devoted to something academic that the first grader wants to do. Ned says that soon he's going to give the books to me to give to my boss, for editing. After that, Ned is going to sell the copies for $2 ($1 for family members).

Over Christmas break, Ned/all of us had what Ned/all of us came to call a "killer" homework project involving some aspect of Charlotte's Web. Out of a variety of what I thought complex ideas, Ned selected doing a scene from the book using little cardboard figurines. He worked on it a few hours a night after about three evenings of vacation had passed, and as an author I assured him that the only way to tackle a sprawling project was a few hours at a time.

The killer began to fray him. One evening, Ned demanded to know why I'd thrown out a big cardboard box a few days before, as he needed it to build Fern and Wilbur. Then he went on about the pinata he was going to build for his imminent 6th birthday party. "I need newspaper and regular paper," he proclaimed in the tone of the overworked, "and cardboard which I don't have because you threw it out!"

"Talk to mommy about this project," I say. "She's right on top of it. And before you need any of that stuff tonight, you need to do your math homework."

Ned is not angry most homework nights. He is, of course, distracted. In this sense I think he's learning a great deal about being an office worker someday. "Ned, do your math homework before your cookies. It shouldn't take you long."

Math seems okay for Ned, though I do have to keep remembering to say "take away" instead of "minus" when helping him with subtraction. Last time I had to say "take away" instead of "minus" over math, Nixon hadn't yet run for a second term. Ned also still uses props to count. "I need your fingers," he'll say to me when the sum is 12 or higher. Jill uses Legos to help him count. I like to think that the dice I bought Ned in Vegas have helped, too, in addition to teaching him to spell such words as "natural" and "boxcars."

As I'm singing Alex to sleep one night, Ned - who's again running late on his homework - comes in to the bedroom and roots in the Lego box. "I'm on the road again," he says. I have idea what he means, and I sense that before I know it I'll have no idea how to do Ned's homework, either. The other night, for instance, our 15-year-old babysitter brought his homework along to do after the boys had gone to sleep, and he was asking me what a "convex polygon" was. I had an idea, an idea about as clear as the ones that netted me a C in high school algebra.

Number sentences I can handle. I get Ned revved one night by showing him that 6+6=12, 6+7=13, 6+8=14, and so on. "Notice how the number after the 6 keeps going up by one each time, Ned? And what happens to the total number each time, too?" He got all the way to 6+17=23, which thrilled him, and which I know that many adults couldn't figure out without using my fingers.

Once or twice he's stayed excited about math past bedtime. "It's time for bed, Ned ..."

"Awwww!!"

"You can do math problems tomorrow before you go to school," I promise, "if you're good!" (February 2007)

Follow That Shine

On parent conference night, I squeeze my butt onto a miniscule chair in a room festooned with learning, and it seems quickly obvious that Ned is one his teacher's favorites. She says he often wants to do several things at once, seems to love to learn, is right on target for his grade and age on most aspects of language and math. He has filled almost half a ream with stories and little books and writing exercises. "He's such a joy," his teacher says. "He always explains his thinking." In fact, his teacher seems to be kind of hurrying this conference along to get to the parents of troublesome students when she says, "Ned already thinks of himself as a writer!"

She says he has to concentrate on re-reading, as latter portions of his Batman epics duplicate what happened in the beginning. (Some writers get paid a lot of money and write like that, I think.) He also has to work on properly making capital and lowercase letters. But Ned already thinks of himself as a writer. Oh Jesus no! How am I supposed to support this kid until I'm about 78? After the conference, Ned and I go down to the Scholastic book sale in the school lobby and buy him an $8 set of model skulls. Many of these lie scattered about the desert of publishing, Ned, I feel like telling him.

I don't want to stomp a young fire that I've felt for a long time, no matter how fleeting it might be in Ned, but I do realize one reason he's gone this route. What I say to him often boomerangs back when I don't expect it, such as when during the conference when he lugs in an aircraft carrier and a tugboat he built with a classmate out of cardboard boxes and plastic soda bottles. "These are the submarines!" Ned exclaims to me, pointing to the bottles fixed to the back of the carrier with masking tape. Last May, Ned and I visited the Intrepid, the World War II carrier until recently a floating museum on Manhattan's west side. On that visit, they told Ned he wasn't yet old enough to go on the submarine that was also part of the museum. And last fall they used a tugboat to tow the Intrepid away for refit. Boomeranging.

"How much is Alex's book? The footprint book?" Ned has asked. I tell him $23.50. "Who decided how much the book should be?" he asks. I tell him that is an excellent question. I pause a moment, then tell him again that it is an excellent question, surest sign that a parent doesn't know the answer. Later, I learn Ned has settled on a $2 cover price for his Batman story, half-price for family members. He always explains his thinking.

"What are you looking at?" Ned asked as we walked past a bookstore. I told him I was looking to see if they had Alex's book. "The footprint book? Soon you'll be looking to see if they'll have my book." Alex the Boy, the second book, will be, if published, dedicated to Ned. And he compares every book, at least in thickness, to "his book." "You write more than that, dad! Your book is thicker than that, dad! Is my book that thick?" Does he mean Alex the Boy or Batman?

Ned likes to proclaim he has a reading difficulty, and I sure know society doesn't need another writer who hates to read. Ned has also said, from time to time, that he also wants to be a scuba diver, or maybe a chef. "You could be a scuba diver who cooks on the boat and then writes about it," Jill suggests. Sounds good, as either of the first two could get me off the hook well before 78.

Ah Ned, think about it. The rejection (first word everyone thinks of when somebody says they want to be a writer), the hours alone in a room, the bounced checks, the heartbreak and pain, the editors, the tiny checks, more editors, the ceaseless hustle that makes you sometimes feel you'll bust. But then, Ned, if you are serious about this, a story will find you, and you'll think yourself ready. If you're lucky and if you give the work just the right amount of thought, the words that you put there, right there for good, will shine enough for people to follow them back to you. People who still themselves shine in your past, and the words will have brought you the gift of maybe a second shot at their friendship.

Then there are the people you will always have wanted around when the words began to shine a little. "This is a good book, Jeff," Jill said one night, re-reading the footprints. Twenty-three fifty, indeed. (March 2007)

The Ned Baron

"'Dogfight' is a light version of WWI air combat. The Germans and Americans each get six biplanes divided into two squadrons of three planes each. Each squadron gets a hand of combat maneuver cards, and players move one plane from each squadron engaging and evading each other. For each plane shot down, you receive an ace token that entitles you to hold a larger hand of cards. Anti-aircraft guns guard each home squadron, and the lucky flyer has the opportunity to strafe the enemy's planes on the ground." - From the really cool site www.dogfightgame.com

One hundred and sixteen squares. Six little plastic planes, moved by dice. One 45-year-old, and one 6-year-old.

"The deck has only two 'Loop' cards, Ned, so be careful you don't leave the tail of your plane exposed if you don't have a 'Loop' card. Don't show me your cards, Ned!" He folds them against his chest, crinkling them! They haven't made these things since the 45-year-old here was a very little boy.

If you're attacked from the side, I explain to Ned, play a "Barrel Roll" card. If you're attacked head-on, play your highest burst card. We start slow, just using two planes a side and a few cards. I help Ned pick the cards, position the planes for his next move ("You can't move that way, Ned; when you ended your last turn, you left your plane pointing the other way ..."), and learn such tricks as putting the tail of your airborne plane against the edge of the playing board when you haven't drawn any "Loop" cards, to prevent the enemy from attacking from behind.

I know this game. I played "Dogfight" with my older brother Lee when I was a kid. When he grew away from getting his ass kicked over the Western Front, I invented a solitaire version, and even - as time ticked disturbingly into my teen years - imagined and documented careers of fictitious pilots on both sides who lived and died like meteors. World War I pilots carried no parachutes, but they fought in a time of honor, when victors saluted the vanquished just before the latter smashed into the ground.

The game is part of the American Heritage series largely of the 1960s, and the series included "Skirmish" (little plastic Redcoat soldiers), "Broadside" (little sailing ships), "Hit the Beach!" (little destroyers and bombers), and "Battle Cry" (little Civil War guys). "Dogfight's" board is a lavish depiction of a battlefield, from the warbird's-eye view of the hangers and the field hospitals, up towards the artillery nearer the trenches, to the brown strip down the center of the board that's lined with trenches and dotted with what are supposed to be the foot soldiers' helmets. On each side of the board is a little drawing of a crashed warplane.

I believe only "Dogfight" is in the Smithsonian. It is also on ebay (starting at, incredibly, only about $10), along with its replacement parts. "Ned, don't bend that!"

I was unsure when to start Ned on the Big DF. The biplanes and the stands they sit on during play are fragile -- plastic may not biodegrade, but it doesn't stand up to kids well, either. I try not to snap at him when Ned drops one of the tiny green disks used to designate the German aces, or when he pulls his playing card from the wrong deck.

He does pretty well in the warm-up games. I hope he likes this; we've kind of drifted away from model-building after the ships of "Star Trek," a show I watched in syndication as a kid but which now isn't on anymore. Syndication isn't what it used to be.

"Ned, would you like to try a real game?"

I write to the doctor who oversees dogfightgame.com, telling him that I have introduced Ned to the game. "I'm pleased you enjoyed the site," the doctor wrote back, "and that Ned already has his head in the clouds. Happy gaming!"

Ned has a lot to learn. He shows his cards accidentally. He challenges my anti-aircraft batteries recklessly, and sometimes without even attacking my defenseless airfields once he manages to get through the guns. He plays carelessly.

He beats me two out of three games. "Ned, how many 'Loop' cards do you have, anyway?!"

Ned's a lucky flyer. He does a little chair dance. He must learn to salute the vanquished. (May 2007)

A Fish Story

An e-mail comes back from my brother Lee, who's been a fisherman longer than I've been a "Star Trek" fan: "I got your call, but we were completely bombed at the store so I couldn't answer. Great news about Ned and his obviously inherited talent for fishing. It's always gratifying when I hear of a kid's success and their discovery of the outdoors. Fishing with dad and the fish are biting - can't beat that."

I wasn't exactly with Ned at that moment a few days before, at grandpa's lake house on Memorial Day. I was chasing Alex, who'd run into a neighbor's lake house - long story - when I heard Ned down at the dock yelling up through the bamboo, "Dad dad dad!" What tree was he snagged on now?

I got to the dock, and at the end of Ned's sagging old fishing rod I saw what must have been a 10-inch bass. At least I think it was a bass.

Well, I had warmed up the lake for Ned, as a few minutes before Alex darted for the neighbor's I'd landed a crappy - at least I think it was a crappy. I'd seen the fish strike in the shallows, going for one of the lures that Uncle Lee sent Ned for his sixth birthday last winter. I hauled in the crappy, who was maybe a respectable five inches and with a dot of red and blue near his gill. "Gross," said Aunt Julie. "Throw him back. Why don't you go fishing in the ocean?" I threw him back.

Ned's bass was about as thick in the middle as a bottle of steak sauce, gold and brown, with one wet bullet of an eye staring up from the bottom of the creel that Uncle Lee also sent to Ned for his last birthday. Uncle Lee and Ned are the only people I've ever known who owned creels.

Ned and I look at the gold and brown gills rise and fall. "Well Ned," I say, "you could let him go. You can just maybe catch him later in the summer."

Silence.

"You could let him go. It's your call."

Ned keeps watching the gills. "He's my first fish," Ned says at last. "He means a lot to me." I tell Ned that it's his call completely, but again I say that he could let the fish go. Ned doesn't budge.

I guess it's a bass; I guess it's edible. Who's going to clean it? Last time I cleaned a fish, I had an Algebra II quiz the next day. "Look up cleaning bass online," I tell Jill back at the house.

"You're going on the grill, buddy," Ned says.

If Ned hadn't been a 6-year-old boy from Manhattan, he might at that moment have been a 54-year-old co-owner of a furniture store in Bangor, Maine. All through my childhood, my brother would vanish every spring and summer weekend morning with a tackle box and a barbecue chicken in a "CAUTION: HOT!" bag, and return hours later with a jingling string of gold-and-brown buddies on a chain. Lee took me fishing when I was five, when I caught a sunfish off a bridge. He took me fishing when I was 14, when I caught a sunburn in a canoe. He taught me how to clean a fish.

Uncle Rob, at the lake house, snaps a photo with his phone, then I ask Ned to join me in the cleaning, figuring he should see what happens before the grill. The gills are still rising and falling, though more slowly, in the bottom of the creel, so I lift the bass out and slap his head twice and hard against a rock. Let's see, get the head off. Twist. Toss it in the shallows, then cut off and toss the tail. Slit the length of the fish. Ned watches as I slosh what looks like lemon pudding out of the innards. Just like years ago, before that quiz, the fish's spine is still the bitch.

Ned gets a few mouthfuls of white, grilled bass beside his lunchtime steak. Later that afternoon, back on the dock, we have no further luck, though I can see the head in the shallows.

By the Tuesday after Memorial Day, the photo is zipping over the Net; one of its destinations is Uncle Lee. "Ned has talent!" he e-mails back. "Little fish lore for you. Hold the subject a bit higher, wear light solid colors so it shows up better, and, above all else, hold the subject out at arm's length as far as possible. This of course is absolutely crucial in the fish appearing LARGER than it actually is. This is legal, and expected of any self-respecting fisherman." Next time, Ned will know. (June 2007)

Sleep Away

For the first time in his life and ours, Ned slept somewhere else without one of us. It was at summer daycamp, a one-time overnight outing that promised a campfire, a moonlit walk in the woods, the thrills of the ghost story and of sliding into his sleeping bag after 12 straight hours in the outdoors.

"They specifically said at the orientation that they provide sleeping bags!" I inform Jill, who like me has just been informed that they don't provide sleeping bags and that Ned -- who doesn't have one -- will have to bring one.

"Well how could they?" she replies. "Think of lice and stuff like that." So our night before The Night of One Child Home (that would be Alex, and it'll be the first time for him too since late 2000) started with Jill rapping out an e-mail to the building list to see if anyone had a sleeping bag.

Ned had not only never been away without us overnight before, he'd never been away overnight without us in the woods. His overnight was Thursday. His bus pulled up to the curb right on time early Friday evening, and he crawled off looking like he'd spent a week on Guadalcanal: his jeans muddy cuffs to belt loops, his eyes red slits. His T shirt was inside out, the same T shirt he'd left wearing on Thursday morning.

"Mommy," he asked immediately, "is the Milk Lady real?"

Ned conferred with Jill by the rear of the bus while waiting for Alex's turtle suitcase, which he'd borrowed, and the neighbor's pricey down sleeping bag, which I was glad to see returned, unlike much Ned has lugged to camp this summer. We went to what has become our regular Friday night pizza place to de-brief. Jill poured Ned a few drops of Merlot in a lot of water. Ned immediately looked through the glass. "It's a red-wine world!" he exclaimed.

His major activities overnight included dinner, something I think was called "The Dead Ant" game, something I think was called "The Nice Course Game," a night hike, bed, and breakfast the next morning. "The night hike wasn't that good, but the food is good," Ned assures me. "Spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. Pancakes and bacon for breakfast." Jill asks how many pieces of bacon they gave him. "Just two," he says.

I ask Ned about the something I think is called the Dead Ant game, which I believe is played to music and may be like Musical Chairs. "First you dance around something something with if you get three people, say 'Hoop,' then you get five people." When Ned relates how the counselor said, "Stop the music!" Ned gets a faraway look his eye, as if remembering a good Merlot in Paris during the war.

In the Nice Course Game, "You have two jump ropes, you crab walk to another something something, hoop five times, then you kick a soccer ball, then you come back." Oh. Did you have any trouble going to sleep, Ned? He waves away that notion with one hand. Did he think just for a minute that he was home when he woke up in the morning? "No," he answers, smiling, "because I was in a sleeping bag!"

"I told you before you went to camp that every scary story you were going to be told was untrue and that you shouldn't be scared. The Milk Lady is just somebody with white hair," explains Jill. Yeah, somebody who kills children.

The night hike also let him down. "We didn't see anything, just sticks," says Ned.

"He said a lot of bad things happened," Jill eventually reported. "He said he saw a bear."

"I was kind of making a joke," Ned replied later. "But dad, when I was waiting a took a big dirt rock and threw it against a tree and it went sphrew! I pretended acorns were hitting me in the head. I didn't," Ned concludes, "have any fun at all." He takes another sip from his red-wine world. (July 2007)

Loop Cards

Like it was my fault that Ned left his double-ace's ass in front of my machine guns in our latest game of Dogfight.

I'd done everything I could as a self-respecting member of the Imperial German Army Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte) who'd jumped out to a three-plane in the game, even to the point of sacrificing one of my aces to teach Ned how to let his two airborne fighters work as a team.

In Dogfight, a "Loop" is the card you play when an opponent's plane attacks one of your planes from behind. There are only two "Loop" cards in each squadron's deck. Each player has two "squadrons" each of three little plastic biplanes. One side (German) has red biplanes, the other (American) green, just like in World War I ("Almost a hundred years ago!" I say to Ned, to which he replies, "WHAT!?"). The planes move according to rolls of the dice, and players engage with cards of attack ("bursts") or defense ("loop," "barrel roll").

Ned has won four games in a row since I taught him to play Dogfight last winter. And I'm no slouch. I played Dogfight as a child, and have longed to play it again.

When we sat down to play this time, Ned did a little chair dance. "I'm gonna whip your butt! I'm gonna whip your butt!" he chanted, sounding a lot like the leaders of France, Germany, England, Austria, and Russia in August of 1914. I knew I shouldn't let Ned get away with saying "butt" or maybe even "whip," but other lessons were in store for this day.

Ned is getting excellent at moving his planes around the board and using them to attack individually, but in this game his dice rolls consistently stranded his planes a spot of two away from the best positions. I used this match-up to teach him a little about having his planes work together and protect each other's weak sides (depending on what defense cards are in each plane's deck), and moving the two planes as a team to the best parts of the board. But in this game he'd lost three planes to my one, and he squirmed and groaned a little louder over each shoot down.

Even as I slid the tiny red Fokker towards the tail of Ned's double-ace, I wondered, "Should I do this?" He's obviously capable of playing this game and winning - in none of his four wins did I hold back - and you know, sometimes bad stuff just happens in back of us all.

Ned's ace went down; he cast his cards across the board. "You didn't deal me any 'Loop' cards!" he cried. Then he was crying for real on this long, rainy Sunday afternoon and slamming himself into the broom closet door out in the kitchen.

"Ned, come back here."

Slam slam slam.

"Ned, come back here now or I'm picking up the game!"

I refuse to raise a kid who's only happy when chanting about kicking butt, who can't understand early that 4 and 1 is a pretty good record for a 6-year-old against a guy who was playing Dogfight when the First World War was little more than 50 years in the past.

I slowly pick up the cards and carefully wrap the rubber bands around them. I drop the dice and planes in the box, and fold up the board. "Noooo!" Ned cries.

"Ned, we will play another time. We'll call it a draw."

A few moments go by. Ned calms down, and I ask him to sit on the couch with me. I ask him if he thinks he should be punished for the way he reacted. He slowly nods. "No," I respond, "it's not a matter of being punished. It's a matter of learning a big lesson."

"But you didn't deal me any 'Loop' cards!"

Well, if you're going to teach your kid, speak plain. "Ned, it's all up to chance, like rolling the dice," I say. "When I shuffle the deck, I don't plan what cards come up on top. Ned, sometimes life doesn't deal you any 'Loop' cards." This is true and clear, and I'm proud of having said it to him.

We all find something else to do until mercifully it's bath time on Sunday night, and everybody has to get ready to go back into the world on Monday morning. Just once more to the subject, though. I ask Ned when he's in the tub how he'd react if he had it to go through again. "It'd be okay," he says.

And if you're winning? Do you do a chair dance?

"Just go 'Yes!' once," he says, pretending to pull his arm to his side in quick celebration, "and then let it go." (August 2007)

Off With Ned

The three-day trip Ned and I took to Maine I saw as an investment. Ned caught a fish on Memorial Day at grandpa's lake house, and even as I hacked at the flesh of the trout that I'd misidentified as a bass, I knew Ned needed to know my brother better.

Alex would've gone, too, except he still had daycamp, so Jill also had to stay in New York. She's more of fish orderer than a fish catcher, anyway. I suspect they'll go next time. I suspect there will be a next time.

Jill had told me Ned was a great traveler, and he got tested early as our flight left the gate precisely on time but had to sit 90 minutes behind a stack of planes waiting to take off from LaGuardia. "The flight to Maine will be shorter than this wait," I assured him. Jill had packed two books, Spiderman and I-Spy. I'd had packed the latest Fine Scale Modeler. Ned flipped the pages of the magazine and sat, just like all the grown-ups on the plane. He also had his tray table down while we were waiting to take off. "Ned, that has to go up," I told him.

"But we're just sitting," he replied.

My brother Lee and his wife Diane met us at the airport. "This is not my brother, Ned, but stay with these folks anyway," I said. (Was that really not Uncle Lee in the airport? Ned would periodically ask over the next 72 hours.) Lee vanished at that moment, claiming he had to go to the men's room. He was gone a long time, then soon re-appeared and plunked a MAINE baseball cap from the gift shop on Ned's head.

We had only half of Thursday and all day Friday and Saturday; our flight back was at dawn on Sunday. Lee and Diane's new house has three BRs, a sunken living room with fireplace, six fat cats and three slim Tuxedo ones (all as leery of strangers as my brother is' "You're about their first little boy," Diane said to Ned), and a pool built into the deck.

Lee hates the pool for the work it creates, and added that if he ever looked at another house and it had a pool, he wasn't going to buy the house. "Ned swims like a fish," Lee did add.

We spent most of late Thursday afternoon in the pool, me chasing toy plastic torpedoes that Ned kept tossing in. Then it was time for dinner in a restaurant where periodically the fake pine tree and the stuffed raccoons, moose, buffalo, and woodpeckers would burst into automatronic conversation. The steak was good. Ned had fish and chips, which he hardly dented.

Lee, the consummate New England outdoorsman, showed Ned the room where he keeps guns, rods, and other hunting and fishing gear. Ned seemed quiet and respectful as Uncle Lee answered his questions, at least until Ned pointed to the picture on the wall of Larry Bird. "Who's that?" Ned asked.

"Who's that!?" said Lee, a Celtics fan for more than a generation. "That's the greatest basketball player who ever lived, that's who that is!"

Ned finished the tour quietly, then asked, as Uncle Lee closed the door, "Is Diane allowed in here?"

Next morning I crawled down at six and joined my brother in the living room, where he sat over coffee playing a video baseball game. "Star Trek?" he asked. In preparation for my coming he'd taped a dozen episodes off TVLand, much the way our mum used to put up chowder and an apple pie before I got to town. TVLand showed one of my favorite episodes that morning. My cell phone also seemed to be out of its coverage area. Pity.

Friday was fishing day. In my brother's boat Ned and I had rods out, my brother acting as guide, and we motored to a couple of inlets on the lake before the perch started hitting. Ned hooked about a dozen yellows and I hooked about three before I nailed a couple of white perch worthy of the grill. I reeled them in muttering lines from "Jaws" ("I dunno, chief. He's either very smart of very dumb..."). We trolled, and Ned hit two more white perch and, with Ned manning the sonar, I hit a pickerel - a big slick green thing, filled with bones and teeth. We threw him back, along with the yellows.

We then hit the arcade in a bowling alley where Ned and I bowled a frame while Lee shot pool. I had some good times in this bowling alley about a thousand years ago. Today, Ned beat me by 20 pins. To be fair, he had the kiddie rail up in the gutter. To be honest, so did I.

Then home to the pool, where Ned threw the torpedoes back in just as I was climbing out.

"You'll go in and get'em!" he said.

"No, Ned, I won't. You threw them in. You get'em."

Uncle Lee agreed they could stay in the pool until Saturday.

Friday night we and Diane's mom, a sharp lady and a big supporter of Alex, sat down for lobster, chowder, and corn on the deck. Tough life. I've come to love lobster. Bear in mind that Lee doesn't like it nearly as much as he does steamers. A Sox nailbiter rounded out the evening.

Saturday was visiting day. I took Ned to see my parents' and grandparents' grave in a nearby town; he was most interested in my Uncle Arthur, who was killed in World War II. We left pebbles on all the headstones, and Ned picked a few wildflowers for the graves. Then we swung through the parking lot of my old high school; Ned showed about as much enthusiasm for the place as I used to.

Then it was off to the experience of Aunt Freda. I'd warned Ned that Aunt Freda was a cheek biter - God, she used to nail me! -- but it turns out that her children, once they had children, forced her to kick the habit. "I see a little boy!" she said through the screen door. "Hello DAAAALIN'!" she exclaimed, firing at Ned's his first real broadside of a deep Maine accent.

She looks good, though tired. She had a hip replacement in April, and any way you install it, a new hip puts you through a lot. She broke out the photos, and Ned remained polite for about as long as one would expect before wondering outside to assess Freda's property and hope to find other little kids in the neighborhood to play with (he eventually did: Hannah, a 7-year-old tomboy next door for whom I just bought a "Hannah" New York license plate keychain). In a few moments and before meeting Hannah, however, Ned had returned. "Aunt Freda," he asked, "what's that black thing with rope in your backyard."

"Black thing with rope?" she asked. "Black thing with rope? You mean my mailbox?"

"No," said Ned. "I know what a mailbox looks like. I mean the black thing with rope."

We wandered out back. Ned meant Aunt Freda's clothesline. Being a Manhattan kid, he'd never seen one.

Aunt Freda is the mom of boys, and I can only imagine that having a little guy around again for a little while tickled her deeply. To see my little son run around a house where I'd spent so much childhood time bridged a gap for me that's yawned for a long time.

She was impressed with Ned, too. "Sweethaaat," Freda said to him, "do you know what S-M-A-R-T spells?"

He paused. "No."

"It spells SMAAAAAAHT!"

"SMAAAAAAHT," Ned replied.

We left about 3, well in time to hit another arcade, where Lee and I shot pool and played pinball -- some things do never change; I'm convinced we'll be doing that when we're in our seventies and games are $5 -- while Ned racked up a fistful of tickets playing skeeball. Lee and I strained our own hips in the batting cages before we all played a round of mini-golf and headed home.

The torpedoes were still in the pool, of course. "Ned, you know you're still going to have to go in to get those," I said.

"Uncle Lee said it's okay if they stay in there," Ned replied.

"Well, you ask him, and if he says it's okay, you can leave them there. But you ask him."

So while Uncle Lee readied the four-wheeler to take Ned for a couple of spins around the house, Ned asked him, "Is it okay if I leave those things in the pool?"

"Well, Ned," my brother said, "it's like this. I'd like them out of the pool. What would you like to do about that?"

"Told you!" I said to Ned. He wailed a bit poolside at the temperature of the water -- it was an 85-degree day, for Christ's Sake -- but at last worked out a kind of game where he used the pool float to drift over the torpedoes in the middle of the water, then dove to get them and popped right back up, got on the float, and threw them to me. I steadied the float with the long thing Lee uses to get leaves out of the pool while grumbling.

Ned stopped shivering and put his clothes back on, and he and I played with the gliders he'd bought with his skeeball booty until he found Uncle Lee's radio-controlled monster truck, which I used to chase Ned around the driveway while Uncle Lee finished preparing the real four-wheeler -- a sort of dark gray, mud-splashed dune buggy - to run Ned around and around the house.

"Ned is very smart," Lee said.

Now it's two weeks later. Soon it will be a month, then longer. Strange to be homesick for a place you haven't lived in 30 years, to think about a dawn episode of "Star Trek" over a cup of coffee in a living room in the woods and think of all the other times I watched that same episode in a living room in the woods with another member of my family.

There will, however, be more chances. "I'm VERRRRRY selective who I spend my fishing time with," Lee e-mailed us the day after we returned. "Hopefully, I"ve gained a fishing buddy for life. It's there for him if he wants it." (August 2007)

Tonight's Reading

Why do knights fight?

Why do they have colors?

Why do they have armor back then?

When do they eat?

Why do they guard?

Who chose them?

Who created knights?

When do they get a rest?

When do they go to sleep?

Who made them do this?

Where do they eat?

Is armor heavy?

What colors are there for knights?

What do they eat with?

Since they do not have electricity, what did they use for light?

Ned Stimpson, 11/2007


My name is Ned. I am in second grade. I am learning how to read.

I like many things. I like swimming and fishing. I go swimming at my grandpa's house, on a lake. I go fishing at grandpa's house. This summer I went fishing with my Uncle Lee, too, when I went to Maine with my dad.

I also like to learn about scuba diving in the ocean. I like playing games and making new friends. I like Halloween and Christmas. I like Hannukah, too. My birthday is in December.

My mom is helping me learn to read. I read about 30 minutes every day. My dad helps me to read, too. He has written this story about me so I can read it.

I live in New York City with my mom and dad. I also live with my brother. My brother's name is Alex. Alex is nine years old. His birthday is in June. My mom's birthday is in June, too. We also have a black cat named Toast.

I also have aunts named Julie and Betty. My other uncle's name is Rob. They do not live with us. Uncle Rob and Aunt Julie live on the other side of Central Park. Grandpa lives nearby. Aunt Betty lives in Arizona.

My family lives in an apartment building. We live on the ninth floor. Our apartment has two bedrooms. Alex and I sleep in one and Mom and Dad sleep in another. We live across the street from Central Park. Alex and I used to go to the playground there. Now Dad, who says he cannot take any more playgrounds, takes us to the Park sometimes to climb on rocks. We also stop at the snack bar.

I like to play with Alex. He does not play games and he only likes to watch stuff like Elmo on TV. But he and I like to play together anyway. We like to lie on the couch and have a play fight. He likes to put a pillow on his face and I hit the pillow. Dad says I have to be careful not to hit anything but the pillow!

Alex laughs when we play. I laugh, too. Alex has autism. It is important that Alex learn to play with other kids, Mom and Dad say.

Mom and Dad are very happy that I play with Alex. Dad says that when I play with Alex, I make both of us tired. Dad says this is good. "But don't hit anything but the pillow!" Dad says again.

I also like to play with Legos. I like to build ships, robots, and many other things. Last night, I made two ships and had a battle in the tub during my bath.

I also like to build things at Home Depot. Once a month, I go to the store and they help me build something out of wood. I have built an airplane like the airplanes in the movie Flyboys.

I like movies. Dad and I have watched movies like Flyboys and Hornblower. My mom has taken me to many movies. She took me to see Fantastic Four, Ratatouille, Madagascar, Finding Nemo, and many others. Mom says there are four rules for going to movies. Two of the rules are "No talking during the movie" and "We leave when the movie is done and not before."

We also watch movies at home on Friday night. We have watched Men in Black and Ghostbusters. Mom makes popcorn for us to eat during the movie, and she tells me not to spill any on the couch! Sometimes Alex will eat popcorn, too, but sometimes he just walks around and keeps asking us to put on Elmo.

I have many friends in school. Some of my friends are Big George, Little George, Spencer, Ahmed, and Mathew. We play Pokemon and talk about Bionicles and other stuff that is fun. (I also play Bionicles on the computer.) I am also friends with two little girls who live in my building. Their names are Camille and Jwuiszelle. I go to all my friends' birthday parties, and they come to mine.

My allowance is four dollars a week. I have saved about 40 dollars. I earn my allowance by doing jobs around the house. I take out the trash each night, and I check Alex's backpack to make sure he has snacks to take to school the next day.

That is who I am, and I have read this.

(When Ned finished reading this, he observed, "Actually, I may have 42 dollars. Can I play Bionicles now?") (November 2007)

Sing Out Strong

I was tired three weeks ago that Saturday. Alex was down there on my hand as we stood at the bus stop, me and Alex and Ned, tugging and tugging. I'd had the boys out for a few hours by myself, and I later thought one excuse might be that I had kept them out by myself for too long.

Ned was on the other side of me. He kept singing the same line from some song, probably one on his MP3 player back at the house. He kept singing the same line over and over.

"Ned cut the singing," I finally snapped.

"Why?" he asked.

Because I'm tired. Because Alex is autistic and won't give me a break. Because I think sometimes that you're grown up beyond your years and I'm immature for my years, and I can say things like this to you.

"Because you're not very good at it."

His chin crashed to his chest and his eyes shined, and I knew in an instant that I'd stepped over a line it can be very hard for a dad to re-cross.

"Ned, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it."

Did Mrs. Strathmore? It was early '71, in a tiny room with a piano, off the gym of Vine Street Elementary School in Bangor, Maine. My 3rd-grade teacher Mrs. Strathmore (not her real name) shepherded us in there once a week for Music, which involved her laying her crutch across a couple of nearby metal folding chairs and all of us opening the WWII-era clothbound hardback Music books and clustering about the piano to croak such standards as "America the Beautiful" and "Roll On, Columbia." Usually I held my musty book open back by the chairs and Mrs. Strathmore's crutch, far, as I later realized, from her hearing. On this day, as if by chance stepping in front of a car driven by a drunk, I placed myself next to her.

Columbia rolled to its stop, and she pivoted on her stool to face me. "If you sing," she said, "you must do it with your mouth closed!"

I've never wanted to sing in front of anyone after that, and when they hear the story, people can't blame me. "What a lousy teacher!" some have said. I agreed then and I agree now. Except that 30 years from now, I don't want people saying, when Ned finishes his story, "What a lousy dad!" Maybe I've just been brought up as a dad on Alex, to whom you can say things, yes, but it isn't taken like this: to the heart, obviously, lastingly, like a dart.

I immediately thought Ned had every right to feel the way he did. How many times can you say, "I'm sorry," and still be believed? I tried to touch Ned and he spun away. He wouldn't let me help him up the steps of the bus or into his seat. How many times can you say, "I'm sorry."

"I don't feel like playing my iPod anymore," he said at last, wiping his shiny cheeks. "I want to throw it away."

I like it when Ned's behind the 8-ball, like when I've asked him three times to do his homework, or he's lied to me and said he cleaned out the bathroom trash cans and I check and find he didn't. This bus ride makes me not so much wish that I didn't have kids, as wish that Ned had a different father - one who either wouldn't have said that, or would just let his son live with it.

When we get home, he makes no move to throw away his iPod, but instead slumps in the good living room chair while Alex slides in "Elmo" and mommy looks on silently from the dining room table, sensing that maybe she's not one of the two most important people in the conversation that's about to take place. I hunch on the footstool in front of Ned and lean forward in the way I've seen caring people sit in the heartfelt scenes of sitcoms.

"Ned," I said, "I'm sorry. I know how you feel. Somebody said something like that me once. I haven't wanted to sing since. They were wrong then and I was wrong today. Nobody has any right to say something like that to you, Ned."

"Nobody's ever said it to me before," he replied. Well, okay.

You can say "I'm sorry" about twelve times to a kid in such a situation. "You shouldn't worry about me singing, dad," Ned said the other night. "I sing a lot in school now." I assured him I wasn't worried about singing, and though I didn't mention it, I look forward to the next time he stands in the middle of the living room and sings at the top of his voice.

"I might not sing anyway," Ned says, then pauses, then smiles. Jerk. (February 2008)

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