Archive for February, 2011

The Unsinkable Gracie Goose

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

One never truly knows how some nicknames take root. Sometimes it’s a flaw, sometimes a strength, and sometimes it’s neither. As a matter of fact, you could know a person for a lifetime and never quite figure out where a nickname like “Streak” comes from. You might even prefer to leave it a mystery. Some nicknames are not even nicknames at all. I hardly consider “Jimmie” a nickname when the person’s real name is James or “Jack” when his name is John. That’s just laziness.

My wife has a nickname for me. When we took marriage classes as a prerequisite for our wedding (right after the Latin 101 and Biology 201 liberal arts requirements), they made it a point to ask each of us separately what nicknames we had given each other as terms of endearment. We agreed on both, which surprised the instructor. I call her “Dear” and she calls me “Ass”.

Nicknames will also tell you more about a person than their real name ever will. (I guess there’s a reason my wife call me “Ass”.) Still, the truth is that today a majority of baby names are picked out before the child is ever born. No one ever says, “Gee, dear, I kinda think she looks like a Margie rather than a Rhonda. Just look at the freckles under her eyes.” And so we get hung with names that don’t fit, don’t match and always seem wrong.

My daughter Grace is a perfect example. We had the name picked out about two hours after conception and we had no idea what she looked like. So when she was borne, it was already too late to change the decorative lettering over her crib from “G-R-A-C-E” to “T-R-A-C-E-Y”. I even remember making jokes to family members visiting the hospital about how we had no idea if she was going to be graceful enough. I may have even made the jokes twice to the same people, but after a 36 hour labor, no sleep and 20 cups of coffee, I could barely tell the difference between my father and my sister.

Two year later we knew we had made a mistake. It’s not that she’s clumsy, but she’s not exactly graceful either. When Gracie enters a room, she bounds onto the scene. Infused with plenty of charm and an infectious laugh she is what I like to refer to as “unsinkable”. And in true Gracie form, every fall is accompanied with an equally boisterous “I’m OK!” as if the room suddenly stopped the moment she fell into the end aisle canned food display at the grocery store – which they often did. As a result, you will never hear me refer to her as “graceful”. And so almost immediately we began to refer to her as “Gracie”. (Yes, I know, all the Jimmie’s out there are saying, “Pure laziness.”) Still, it didn’t catch. Grace rolled off the tongue as she rolled down the sidewalk.

In time we tried to rhyme. After all, no one thinks of grace and ballerina type elegance when you yell across the playground “Gracie Goose – did you skin just one leg or two?” Instead they’re focused on the “Goose”. Did that man actually refer to his darling little girl as fowl?

In time, it stuck and soon we dropped the Gracie altogether. We yell “Goose” across the playground, we cheer for “Goose” at the first-grade play and whisper “Goose” at the movie theater. She responds and we slowly change her name to fit her personality.

One day it will end. When she’s old enough to be embarrassed, she’ll insist that I start calling her “Grace” again. Something tells me that it will be the same time she stops holding my hand on long walks. But then again, maybe by then she’ll be graceful enough to not need it for balance. I just hope that she keeps her unsinkable spirit.


Sunday, February 6th, 2011

One inch on the frozen ground and nothing to do. Welcome to Cincinnati in February. To the north you have lakes for ice-fishing and ice skating. To the west there are mountains for snow-skiing and snowboarding. To the east you have year-round snow for snowmobiling. Here you have one-inch of slush, flat ground and no lakes. And so all we have is board games.

Brooke asks me what we should do. She’s really asking what we can do as a family after working a nearly 70 hour week. I shrug. We’ve already been bowling, wall climbing and cleaned the house for the third time this week. All that’s left is board games. And this is what we do in Cincinnati. It’s always like this in February – it just normally takes us until the third week to get here. It will take another month to forget how little fun we had.

To understand how we play games, you have to understand us. Brooke is highly competitive. Even at Chutes and Ladders I remember her taking far too much pride in beating the kids up the ladder. Gracie’s got a lot of her mother in her as well, although we never quite know what game she’s playing. She has her own rules and is insistent at following them. I think this comes as a defense mechanism for Brooke’s competitiveness. After all, Mom can’t win if she doesn’t know the rules. I’m the impatient one. It better be simple, fast and clear. 45 minutes is my maximum tolerance, whether it is with a movie or board game.

Each year somehow we think it will be different. Each year we are wrong. This year is no different. First we start with Battleship – only this is the Electronic Battleship (apparently pins and plastic ships based on a Go-Fish model was far too easy). As Brooke and Gracie prepared their battle strategies I couldn’t help but notice how the instructional manual was organized into chapters and was bigger than most of the oncology books I’ve read in the past year. After reading the manual for myself I truly began to believe that it may, in fact, be easier to operate a real nuclear sub than it would be to play this plastic board game.

Next we turned to Monopoly. Simpler game – with more brazen capital zeal than you still see on Wall Street. Obviously a perfect fit for Brooke’s competitive, blood-thirsty, kick-you-where-it-hurts tycoon loving nature. But with Gracie’s creative rulings, “Go Directly to Jail” was merely a suggestion and not a commandment – especially when it meant she couldn’t collect her $200. And so we moved on.

Next it was Disney Sorry. Mom was the villains, Gracie the woodland creatures and I the pink princesses. Still, that too did not end well as Mom proceeded to unleash Sorry card hell on all opponents universally, whether it was Bambi or Cinderella. And so Gracie and I closed the board, leaving Mom to finish her touchdown dance alone.

Ultimately we ended with poker. Not exactly family night, but it did work. Gracie satisfied her creative rulings with wildcards (not sure if that’s a true element of poker, but it worked). Mom appeased her competitive cravings by raising the pot from pennies to nickels and I could understand at least one game beyond checkers. True, it’s not a game for every family, but it is our game for February. And in Cincinnati, anything to keep you from going crazy is a good thing – whether it is poker or evenings with the family.