A peek into the Venderley Universe


One Shouldn’t “Trust Fall” Alone

Among many other things, my boys are daredevils. This is expected of boys, but mine appear to take this expectation to an extreme. Their aunts and uncles are often shocked breathless to find their youngest nephews standing atop the back of the sofa, and are then alarmed as the boys gleefully jump onto the cushions below.

“No!” They admonish. Then to me: “you can’t let them to that!”

I’ve long since learned I can’t prevent my boys from climbing, but I can advise them on how best to come down. That said, while the boys weren’t getting hurt or breaking anything, the spectral word “yet” loomed in the corner of the living room, behind the sofa, casting shadows.

This afternoon, I got a call from my mother – the saint who is our boys’ daycare.

“I’m looking for some clear tape,” she stated. “I need to patch up your window.”

I replied: “Tell me more…”

Now and then, Zachary becomes what can best be described as “puckish.” He will stand on the couch with a grin that nearly splits his face in two, rolling his eyes as far back as he can as though he were trying to see what’s behind him without turning his head. And then he will fall backward into the couch cushions, giggling insanely. It’s as if he’s performing some solitary “trust fall.” One of these days I should get this on camera; it’s fantastically cute. Yet I dare not take my eyes off him. It’s fantastically terrifying. Because while he typically positions himself in such a way that there’s plenty of couch for him to fall back on, one never really knows. Something could go wrong.

Something like…


The couch was in front of this picture window. Zachary misjudged his distance, and bonked his head right where you see the duct tape. This is the main impact zone; the cracks actually run across 2/3 of the glass. The whole thing looks pretty damned scary.

Zachary is fine. No cuts, bumps, or bruises that we can see beneath his thick head of hair. His grandmother had freaked out. His grandfather (with whom he was playing at the time this happened) had freaked out. Zachary had merely wondered what all the fuss was about. In fact, Mom tells me that the boys were more upset at the noise made by the packing tape dispenser than Zachary had been after his head bounced off the window.

I’m not quite sure how to end this, so I’ll just say: boys.

Awakening and Taming the Dragon

The Beast

The Beast

The boys have developed a fear of the humidifier.

This is a reasonable thing: the machine makes a noise not unlike the mixer or the hair dryer, and those noisy beasts terrify them. So when I brought out the Vicks V3800 to help manage their coughs, the loud whirr of its fan sent the boys into fits.

The problem is this: Nicholas is fascinated by buttons. The V3800 has four of them. Within his reach. Two of them glow.

This morning, Nicholas gave into his curiousity and pressed one of those buttons. The humidifier’s fan kicked into life at its highest setting. Moist air struck Nicholas’ shins. It would’ve startled the coughs right out of both my sons, if one could cure coughs the same way one cures hiccoughs.

Nicholas’ face contorted in alarm. He loosed a powerful wail and ran to me.

But then…

Nicholas turned around after two steps, ran back to the humidifier, and pressed the button that had awakened it in the first place. After that, he sought safety within my arms.

I spent the next five minutes telling my son how absolutely brave he was.


March 2013 Writing Contest Finalists

A while ago I decided to start writing again. Not in my blog (obviously), but elsewhere. One of the ways I selected to motivate me to get my pen to paper: writing contests. I had chanced upon this one a few months back, and this month, one of my submissions was selected as a finalist.

No, Mom and Dad, it’s not the New Yorker. But it’s pretty darned cool all the same.

Musings of Mistress of the Dark Path

Dublin, IrelandWe have two finalists for this month’s contest.  There were a couple of other entries that did not qualify, but were fun to read.  You can see them here.  Thanks to everyone who submitted their stories.  The following contestants are the ones who are up for the judges to vote upon.  Please do congratulate them!


*Mark Henwick
*Paul Venderley

Below will be a review of the contest stipulations for those who did not see them, followed by the two finalists’ stories.  Contestants, you are welcome to tell your friends and family through blogs, twitter, Facebook, or any other site to let them know your story has made it to a finalist spot.  They are free to leave words of encouragement below in the comments section.

The judges have already been notified to review each of the entries and send a private email to me for the one they like the best. …

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Little Explorers


Zachary climbs atop t he table, while Nicholas wonders what’s on the other side of the gate.

It occurs to me that the children’s song “The Bear Went Over The Mountain” could have been created to discourage toddlers from exploring.

“The bear went over the mountain,” the song repeats a few times, implying that there’s a heckuva lot of mountain to go over. And what did he get for all that effort? “All that he could see was the other side of the mountain.” The song repeats this a few times, implying disbelief that for all its efforts, the bear just got more of the same.

“Why did you go over the mountain?” reporters would later ask the bear.

“Because it was there,” the bear would reply.

“Uh-huh, uh-huh. And all you found was the other side of the mountain. How do you feel about that?”

“Well, frustrated. A little upset that nobody told me that’s all I’d find. There should be a sign or something, you know?”

“Uh-huh, uh-huh. Would you do it again, Mr. Bear?”

“Maybe. It was kind of boring, you know? I’d really like to see what’s over the river.”

But a silly children’s song won’t keep those boys from exploring! It’s in their nature! There are stairs to climb! Lawns to roam!

Tables to climb!
Zachary and Nicholas have topped the end table next to the couch. It makes for good theatre seating when the TV is on. And Nicholas has also found his way to the top of the dining room table, a prime viewing point of nearby environs, and home to a lazy susan, and salt and pepper shakers. Even after the chairs had been pushed away from the table.

Gates to get past!
Yesterday they’d pulled the one in front of the stairs away from the stairs. From there, access to all sorts of rooms for exploring. Once Grandmom secured that segment further, Nicholas climbed over the one that blocked off the living room. From there, access to the TV, the fireplace, and countless other odds and ends that had previously been “safe.”
And then there was this – Nicholas had climbed over the gate to the kitchen two days earlier, so we raised it a few inches , so now… Oh, see for youself.

From there, access to all the wonders of the kitchen!

We blame the dog. She showed them how.

Up, up, and away

When the twins turned nine months old (or thereabouts), I discovered that soft climbers existed. Like any reasonable father, I immediately decided that my boys must have one of their very own, and spent hours perusing the different options to see how much awesomeness I could afford for my boys. There’s all kinds: obstacle courses, mountains, ball pits, community centers, etc. I eventually opted for a basic model: one with a slide on one side, steps on the other, and a cool tunnel in between.

I placed the climber in the middle of the twins’ play area, and marveled as they figured out how to get up and down. Eventually either Zachary or Nicholas would stand on top of the climber and let out a triumphant shout proclaiming: “See what I did!” And they would continue to do so until acknowledged by Mommy or Daddy. Preferably both.

Zachary particularly liked the tunnel, while Nicholas…


…well, he liked it, too — as an indentation. This picture was taken nearly two months after the climber was first assembled.

With Nicholas’ penchant for uprooting the central piece to the soft climber, the climbing feature became less interesting for the boys. Not to worry, however. Nicholas found other things to climb.

(Of course I removed that footstool from the nursery, and replaced it with something more stable. After the fifth take. Of course.)

I record these images with a mixture of pride and abject fear. Pride because: well, look at that video again. That’s freakin’ awesome. Fear because I’m not sure what’s next. And I’m not sure how to protect them from that next thing, aside from moving all the furniture out of my house.

Which brings us to today, and to my mother, who watches the twins while Debbie and I are at work. She’s in the kitchen making their lunch when she says:

“I don’t know what we’re going to do with Nicholas.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

I’m working from home, so she’s able to respond: “Come look.”


That is our couch. The couch was once, among other things, a barrier between those big picture windows and the boys. Nicholas had, recently, learned that he could get on the couch if he were to climb on something that was conveniently laying next to the couch. He was steps away from figuring out that he could, indeed, cause such a convenience to occur.

However, that apparently became unnecessary. Blame it on a sudden growth spurt. Attribute it to developing arm muscles. Credit the power of willpower. Because folks, that is Nicholas standing on top of the couch, reaching for a hook* that had once held the cords to our Venetian blinds. And that is Zachary on the ottoman right next to him.

Nicholas and Zachary are now treating the couch as their new toy. They run back and forth in a nerve-wracking wavering path across the cushions. They throw themselves over the side of the couch to land on the ottoman that sits next to it, circle around, and throw themselves back over. They pause to look at me and just break into that big grin that goes with accomplishment.

I should have gotten video of this, because then you’d see Nicholas calmly turn around and climb down – walk down, almost – from the top of the couch, allaying my fears that his daredevil efforts will result in a cracked head step by careful step. Then you’d see him continue walking to me, and right off the edge of the couch.**

You would also observe the jubilation that comes from discovering a new plane of existence, a world that up until that point in time only the adults could get to. Their laughter, their unadulterated glee, was the only thing driving back the urge to pick both those boys and set them safely on the floor, and then take the couch outside and burn it.

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Take the soft climber out, Dad. We got a new soft climber now.



*yeah, that’s not there any more.

**He was unharmed. He landed with one and a half feet atop the throw cushion moat I’d arranged around the couch.***

***Thank goodness for throw cushions!




My mother, later this afternoon.

“Not sure what to do about Zachary.”

“What now?”


I walked out of the home office to find Zachary standing on an end table.

Didn’t take a picture. ‘Cause I really shouldn’t be encouraging that sort of behavior.

Now We’re In Trouble

When the boys began walking, pretty much everyone we knew informed us that we were in so much trouble. The wife and I would smile and nod, mostly because these folks were speaking from the experience of having children themselves, and apparently the baby honeymoon phase ended shortly after the kids’ first steps.

The boys figured out how to get around, and began exploring their world, and we came to the conclusion that if this was trouble, it was the kind we could get used to.

Yeah, no. We hadn’t seen nothing.

The wife and I dined at Souplantation last night with the boys. We’re at the point where we can feed the boys from our plate, and let them finish off with a nice bottle of formula while we finish off whatever they leave behind for us.

After a few ounces, Nicholas decided to play with his food, like this:


This isn’t a big deal, unless he lets the bottle drop and hit the ground. Then the wife is compelled to wash both bottle and nipple because there’s no such thing as a 5-second rule when you’re in a Souplantation. This, of course, takes time. Time in which Nicholas is wailing that his bottle has been taken away.

At one point, a loud noise was made. Nicholas turned toward the distraction, bottle in hand – the ideal conditions for dropping his bottle. By this time, Nicholas had already dropped his bottle once. Both boys had. Should another wailstorm strike, the boys would be in danger of losing their “well-behaved” status with the surrounding matrons. I reacted.

Jerking up halfway out of my chair, I lunged forward to catch Nicholas’ bottle before it hit the roiling, germy floor. But the bottle remained securely clasped between Nicholas’ hands. And that precious little boy looked at me, eyes twinkling, a slight smile indicating that he had just discovered something fun.

A few moments later, Nicholas turned to his right again, his eyes locked on mine, his bottle clasped in both hands, his expression indicating that he just might drop it this time. After a breath, he turned back to the table. He took a sip, he banged the bottle on the table a few times, and then he did it again. This would happen throughout the remainder of the evening. Sometimes he would add a little flair, holding the bottle in just one hand.

You can’t see the bottle in this picture, but that’s what Nicholas is holding over to the side.

In my limited experience, it seems that when your son goes from playing with his food to toying with his parents, you’re in SO much trouble.

Red Fish and Blue Fish


Here we see two budding voters visiting their local Seventh Day Adventist church to cast their first ballot!

Both were intrigued about what the candidates had to offer: Nicholas found candidate A’s one fish, two fish campaign quite appealing, while Zachary had voiced concern about the equal treatment of those with stars upon thars. They perused the local races with little interest, wondering briefly what “school” was, and why it needed so many board members.

Nicholas wondered afterward if the political process always left a strange taste in our mouths, but admitted it could have been the Pedialyte.

While I can’t share how they voted, I do know that the specific labeling of fish was important to them.

The boys didn’t reallyvote, of course. But they did brave the polls, even though we were all recuperating from a nasty bout of illness that had swept through the Venderley household like a campaigning politician. There are so many firsts a person has, and Mom and Dad wanted to be able to inform their boys that for their first Election Day they did go out to participate in the process, rather than sit around the house and complain about how miserable they felt.

The Trick-or-Treat Switch-a-Roo

Late August, or early September, when most people are gearing up to send their children back to school, the wife stopped at a rack of felt animal pelts in Costco and asked: “What should we dress the boys up as for their first Hallowe’en?”
She was surprised that I responded with disbelief. Hallowe’en had always been fun for me. When we first met, I had gone all-out with my decorations. I’d participated in the costume contests. I’d carried fake furry jumping tarantulas in my pocket. And yet, this past August, I responded with an incredulous: “Seriously?”

“They’re not even one yet,” I explained. “It’s not like they’ll be able to walk around the neighborhood carrying a plastic jack-o-lantern, staring at a bunch of strangers while we stand behind them urging them to say “trick-or-treat.” (We invariably get at least one of those kids at our house a year. This year it was a princess – the first one to “knock.” She stood silently on our doorstep with eyes big enough to rival the plastic pumpkin she carried while I tried to open the Costco bag of candy Debbie had purchased for this occasion.) “We’ll basically be pushing them around in the stroller asking for candy ourselves.”
To which my wife responded: “What do you think for Nicholas: the dinosaur, or the chicken?”

We decided that Nicholas would be an excellent dinosaur for Hallowe’en. Put a few toy houses and Hot Wheels in front of the kid, and he’s a bad film dub away from a Godzilla movie. For Zachary, we selected a lion outfit. And then, on Hallowe’en…

The wife and the twins played in their play area as night fell.
“It’s starting to get dark.” I observed. “When are we going to take the boys out?”
The wife looked up from the giggle-fest she was conducting. “I thought you didn’t want to go trick-or-treating.”
“You bought costumes for them.”
“But I didn’t buy them a pumpkin or anything to hold their candy.”
“So, why did you buy the costumes?”
“It’s their first Hallowe’en!”
This is the same type of infallible logic I use in our conversations all the time. It can’t be broken.

It seemed a shame to come so close to walking around the neighborhood one fine autumn eve, all dressed up in whimsical felt, and to stop short of the goal. So we dressed Nicholas in his dinosaur costume. We dressed Zachary in his lion costume. We squeezed them into the stroller (the padding on these costumes! Cute, but oy!). The plan: just walk. No pushing the stroller up and down neighbor’s front walks, no panhandling for candy. Just a nice stroll under a nearly full moon while goblins and superheroes, demons and royalty ran amuck on the streets.

“But what about the trick-or-treaters?” asked the wife. Unspoken: “How will we get rid of that Costco bag of candy that you just opened for that little princess?”
I loaded the stroller with a few handfuls of candy. “We’ll give candy to any costumed kid we see along the way.”

Zachary was not fond of this little expedition. It was late. The lion’s mane on his head had finally become more annoying than it was worth. As far as he could tell, it was past both his feeding time and his bed time. Every time we paused the stroller, be it to cross the street or to hand out candy to a squadron of confused but nevertheless opportunistic kids, Zachary issued a combined grunt/wail. Nicholas appeared ambivalent, looking around at all the hustle and bustle of a Hallow’s Eve. Perhaps he had chosen to let his brother do all the complaining, perhaps he just decided to go along for the ride.

Next year, we’ll be the parents urging our two boys to the doorsteps of strangers’ homes, encouraging them to say the words we’d practiced with them, to hold out their plastic pumpkins and say “Thank you,” when they receive candy that we’ll probably never let them eat. But also next year, I think I’ll carry some candy to dole out. It’s interesting how a “Fun Size” candy bar can compel a troop of kids to abandon their assault of a neighbor’s front lawn and cluster around us like ducklings waiting for feed. Tricksters are so seldom surprised these days.

Next Time: The Box It Came In

There’s a few levels of concern when it comes to children. There’s the health concern, which my wife is monitoring closely as she ensures everything is sanitized and the boys don’t come into contact with a dirty, germy world that is just slavering at the fangs to make her precious children sick.  There’s the development concern. That’s where I come in, building up my boys to be geniuses, trying to read a few pages to them every night before they grab the book out of my hand and start chewing on the pages, and purchasing toys that, according to the toy companies, are designed to stimulate my boys’ cognitive, motor, perceptual, and emotional skills.

(I’d wondered, as I started looking around, when did toys all do that? When we were kids, didn’t we just get something to play with, and leave it at that?)

A few months ago I purchased these “classic baby beads.” They are meant to “keep baby stimulated and occupied,” and “can be manipulated into an endless number of configurations.” OK, I admit it. This one just looked cool. Plenty of colours to experience. Large, round shapes to chew on. Loud, clacking wood. Plus, it got rave reviews from other parents telling me how their children just couldn’t put it down.

I envisioned the boys being so enthralled with this toy that they’d fight over it. Harsh syllables would be uttered. Tantrums would be thrown. And brother would resolve not to speak to brother for months, if not years. Wanting to preempt such sibling rivalry, I picked up a similar toy from the same company — “orbit baby beads” — with equally bright colours and unique UFO shapes.

I grabbed this wacky thing to the left because, well, it’s wacky. Plus, any dad can buy their kid a ball. I found a creation! Something that could tap into a developing imagination! Something with, again, bright colours and many different features to provide plenty of options for stimulation and play: cute little flags, squeaker at the end, funny-looking pull toy to add a bit of something to explore.

Each of these toys, according to the manufacturer, is supposed to help develop my boys’ perceptual skills.  And they may have done so. I can’t tell (not very perceptive myself). However, I can’t help but wonder how they could aid in the development of a child because I never see them pick it up.

I realize that past performance doesn’t equal future returns. And I realize that every baby is different.  But for these toys I have to pick the toy up, I have to bobble it around in my hands, and I need to make it squeak or clack or whirrrr before either Nicholas or Zachary will pick it up, stick it in their mouth, and set it down again.

All these perfectly, creative, fun little things. My boys’ response: “meh.”

Which brings me to this morning, when my boys spent hours chewing on, pushing around, and yes, fighting over an empty, translucent white Kirkland orange juice container.

I really hope this is helping their motor skills.

Little geniuses.

As a parent, I’m inclined to think that my boys are brilliant human beings, awash in an intellect that far outshines my own (which they can only have gotten from their mother), and ready to seize the world as soon as they can figure out how to seize. And I’m aware that this viewpoint comes from rose-coloured lenses newly-regained, but I have scientific evidence to back it up!

My boys are already exploring the basic rules of math and physics.
Take, for example, Zachary smacking his hand on the door to the nursery, and to the closet, and to the nightstand. He’s obviously applying Mersenne’s laws of sound to the various densities of items within their home (Mommy and Daddy aren’t letting the boys play with lengths of string, so they improvise with what they have, the little MacGyvers…)

His conclusion: it appears that the fundamental frequency of a thing is inversely proportional to its mass. The nursery door serves as an excellent sounding board when smacked, whereas the nightstand only allows a dull thump.

Now consider Nicholas pushing the nursery’s door back and forth. He’s clearly applying Newton’s laws of motion. When the door is at rest, it will stay at rest until it is smacked. The force of the smack will cause the door to move until it reaches either the wall or the doorway. Of even greater interest is that the door will stop once it reaches the doorway, but will reverse its motion once it reaches the wall.

And the twins are also applying theorems of Euclidian geometry in their door manipulation. It appears that the door has two discernible vertical planes: one wide, and one narrow. Nicholas has discovered that it is most advantageous to position oneself parallel to the narrow plane, as there is less chance of being caught unawares by the door when it is set in motion. There’s also the tactical benefit that this positioning allows him to demonstrate that Zachary, himself parallel to the door’s broad plane, has become perpendicular to the plane Nicholas has selected. This is demonstrated when Zachary’s head strikes the door at one point as Nicholas sets the door in motion. We stop Nicholas from attempting to re-examine Mersenne’s laws; Zachary’s head upon the door makes a fascinating bonk.

Of course, all work and no play makes the twins dull boys. Which is why Nicholas devotes a good five minutes to flicking the rubber-tipped springy thing at the bottom of the door. He’s not sure what it’s purpose is yet, but he’s really rocking out to it!


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