A Tale of Two Attitudes

I begin with ALEX.

He is at an incredible age. The perfect age. He is young enough so he wants to hang out with me all the time. He is old enough to take hiking and have great conversations. We’ve gone hiking together every weekend the last month and spent hours talking about countries he wants to visit. We snuggle on the couch and are making our way through Arrow on Netflix.

But there is a downside.

When a show ends he reaches over and clamps onto me like a dog with a bone. “You’re not leaving!” he squeals. He’s like a human bear trap. CLANK!

He will follow me from room to room. If I go in the kitchen, within minutes he is sitting in there with me. He chatters away and asks he if he can help me chop vegetables.

I’ll announce, “I’m going to the gym” and he’ll immediately say, “no you’re not.” Then he’ll spend the next 15 minutes asking why I need to go and can’t I stay with him.

At least once a day during the weekend I’ll snap at him: “ALEX, for God’s sakes! Give me some space!”

But for the most part, I’m reveling in it. I’m trying to take as much as I can get, because I know what will happen when he gets a little older…

Which bring me to JACK.

First off, Jack has stopped using consonants when he speaks to me or Shani. He mumbles under his breath like those “buds buds” guys selling drugs on the street.

I’ll be reading on the couch. He’ll come down in a hoodie (always a hoodie).

“Dallesco.”

This translates to: “Dad, let’s go.”

I often don’t hear him.

“Cummahdalesco.” (“Come on, Dad. Let’s go.”)

And when the boy is gone, he is gone. I’ll drop him at the gym where town basketball games are played. Doesn’t matter if he’s playing or not. He’ll run the scoreboard or do whatever. He and his hoodied crew will go downtown and buy bulk candy at CVS. They’ll play football at the middle school. They’ll wander to each other’s houses, flop onto the couches, turn on the TV, and then all stare at their phones.

He’s got a group of about 10 boys that join up, separate, and re-join in various groups in various places. They’re like a weird group of amoeba forming and reforming in different configurations. Sometimes I’ll come home and find them draped on my couches.

Cayooorerapieceorsumthee?” (“Can you order a pizza or something?”)

But he’s a clever boy. He’s lost his power to speak, but he’s still finding ways to communicate with me. Last weekend, I drove him to the gym. He turned on the radio to my classic rock station and started signing along with Pink Floyd.

“Aha!” I thought. He’s trying to send me a message through this radio. He’s showing me he knows the words to classic rock and he’s doing it for my approval. There’s still a human in there trying to communicate! He’s in there!

I got to the basketball gym and he hopped out of the car before I’d even fully stopped.

“Jack!” I called after him.

He took a step back towards the car.

“Can you come back for a second?”

“What?”

“Come back. Sit.” He got in, completely impatient.

“What?”

It was my turn to not communicate.

“What do you want, dad?”

I sat there.

“Dad! What! I need to…Oh…”

He smiled.

“Thank you for the ride.”

He was off.

“Love you!” I called.

“Love you too!”

Then he was gone.

2017 Geo Bee

FLASHBACK: 1 YEAR AGO. THE 2016 GEOGRAPHY BEE.

Alex was one of 12 kids in the Geo Bee last year. I thought he had a chance to win in. The boy is good at geography, regularly reads an Atlas for fun, traces maps and puts them up on his walls. And he studied some by taking geography quizzes online.

One by one, kids got eliminated until it was down to just two kids — one of them being Alex. At this point they go into the final round. His competition was a girl named Britney B, and Britney B was trouble. Britney had come in second the previous year and had apparently been preparing to win with incredible drive. Alex was against a deadly foe – and it was an epic battle.

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Only two competitors remain.

Alex and Britney went mono-e-mono for 17 rounds. It was 40 edge-of-your-seat minutes before Britney finally knocked Alex out by naming the country south of Libya (Chad). Britney deserved it and she won.

Alex came off the stage. His face was all red and his expression was bizarre. That’s when I realized he was holding back tears. He was trying to make his way back to me and Shani, but his class mobbed him. Twenty-six fourth graders surrounded him, unsure of what to do. They muttered “good job, Alex” and other nice stuff. They were all a bit somber.

But one kid knew exactly what to do. Max L, and autistic boy in Alex’s class, burst through the crowd and sacked Alex with a bear hug. He literally lifted Alex off the ground.

Max L’s hug had the effect of turning on a magnet surrounded by iron filings. Instantly the entire class, all 26 of them, clicked together into a group hug with Alex at the center.

That is a moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

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Love from the 4th grade.
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Hug from Shani. Note Alex’s red ear.

NOW…imagine a super villain from a movie. Lex Luthor defeated. Sauron vanquished. The villain slinks back to their lair with a heart set on revenge. The villain plots, rebuilds, smolders, grows stronger…

In this movie, the super villain is Alex.

He would email me worksheets and blank maps to print at work. He spent his birthday money on geography quiz books. He downloaded geography trivia apps. He found learning modules online. He drove me, Jack, and Shani nuts making us quiz him on the rivers of Asia and the capitols of Africa.

FADE OUT OF TRAINING MONTAGE.

RESOLVE TO: GYMNASIUM, PRESENT DAY. KIDS AND PARENTS FILL THE SPACE. TWELVE CHILDREN ARE LINED UP ALONG A TABLE ON STAGE. IT IS THE 2017 GEOGRAPHY BEE. ALEX NUCKOLS IS AMONG THE 12 KIDS.

CUT TO AUDIENCE. MIKE NUCKOLS WATCHES WITHOUT TALKING TO ANYONE. THERE ARE VISIBLE SWEAT STAINS AROUND BOTH ARMPITS.

Look, I’m not gonna spend too much time talking about myself, but if you know me and think I’m a nice guy, you are mistaken. I am in that audience and I am sizing up each of the other 11 kids with nothing but malice in my heart.

“Shani — who is that kid? Is he in accelerated math? No? Good. Very good.”

I’m also checking out parents. I know some of these competitive bastards and I wouldn’t put it past ’em to try and mouth the answers to their kid. Well, not on my watch, Tiger Mom!

Oh, I should also mention that among the competition is Alex’s best friend, Aidan. Actually, we’re gonna take a few minutes to talk about Aidan.

I will begin by saying: I love the boy. Aidan is articulate, polite, imaginative, truly kind, and a semi-professional pain in the ass.

When Aidan sleeps over, he and Alex bed down surrounded by stuffed animals and special blankets — and neither are the least bit self-conscious about it. We have a wooden hockey stick that is only allowed in the basement. Aidan brings it upstairs every time he comes over. Aidan will lead Alex to my tool bench, drape cords and power tools all over both of them, and they will play space cops for hours. I bought an expensive set of 2-way radios for canoe trips and I hid them in the basement so my kids wouldn’t play with them. Aidan found them in less than 20 minutes and he didn’t even know I had them.

In truth, I find Aidan and Alex’s friendship somewhat magical. They spend a lot of time laughing hysterically together and they’re a little bit like a comedy team.

However…at that moment, my favorite thing about Aidan was that I was pretty sure he wouldn’t beat Alex in the Geo Bee. I knew Aidan had only started studying once he qualified and I know his parents are super cool (which means no risk he’s being force-fed geography for weeks).

So the Geo Bee starts. Alex breezed through the first couple rounds, and I was pretty sure by that point that there were no ringers I had to worry about. All the kids were smart and pretty good at geography, but none of them seemed anywhere near Alex’s super villain level of knowledge.

One by one I watched them get knocked out, nodding with satisfaction.

And through all this, Aidan was hanging in there. He would crow out his answers loudly and he got every one right, except some obscure question about a country in Africa I’d never even heard of. Aidan obviously didn’t know, so he joyfully called out: ITALY!

But I’ll be damned if the two finalists weren’t Alex and Aidan.

Three questions. Whoever does better takes the crown.

Question 1: The newly-established Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is off the coast of which US state?

No brainer, Hawaii. Alex would definitely get that. But when they called on him…

“California.”

And my heart sunk. Crumbled. I pictured myself congratulating Aidan and pretending to mean it. Then Aidan (bless his heart) called out his answer:

“California.”

And the boy was suddenly welcome in my home again.

Question 2: The endangered snow leopard can be found in this Asian country?

Both boys said Russia and got that wrong too.

Question 3: This country, north of Nicaragua, is home to the Patuca River?

Alex held up his answer and I could tell he knew it was right:

“Honduras.”

Aidan’s answer?

“ITALY!”

Let’s go to the video…

Here is a photo of the still best friends…

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And finally, here is a shot of the well-deserving, 2017 Geo Bee Champion:

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12th and Final Play of Christmas (thank God)

 

Fa-La-La

Empty living room. “Deck the Halls” plays. As we reach the first “fa-la-la”, SHANI, MIKE, JACK, and ALEX all pop up from behind the couch and sing horribly.

FAMILY
Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.

Empty kitchen. Family pops out over the counters.

FAMILY
Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.

Empty master bedroom. Family pops out from behind the bed.

FAMILY
Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.

Empty dining room. Family pops out from behind the doorway.

FAMILY
Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.

 

END SCENE. END OF PROJECT.

 

 

12 Plays of Christmas (11 of 12)

Introducing…the 12 Plays of Christmas. Over the next 12 days, I will write 12 one-act plays that illustrate life in the Nuckols home. Additionally, we will perform these plays for you and put them up on the site.

 

PEPPER

MIKE, SHANI, ALEX, JACK are eating soup at the dinner table.

MIKE
(picking up the new holiday pepper shaker)
These things are USELESS.

ALEX
They are not. I like them.

MIKE
They don’t give you pepper.

JACK
Yes they do.

MIKE
OK, let’s race. Go.

Jack starts to pepper his soup. Mike gets up, goes to the kitchen, gets a container of pepper, returns and peppers his soup. He does this before Jack is done peppering his own soup.

MIKE
Useless! HA!

SHANI
(she has never looked up from her meal the entire time)
You’re ridiculous.

Alex takes Mike’s roll and spikes it in Mike’s soup.

ALEX
Bad Daddy!

 

END SCENE

12 Plays of Christmas (9 of 12)

Introducing…the 12 Plays of Christmas. Over the next 12 days, I will write 12 one-act plays that illustrate life in the Nuckols home. Additionally, we will perform these plays for you and put them up on the site.

 

Snuggle

SHANI is in the kitchen on the phone. ALEX enters.

ALEX
Snuggle?

SHANI
We’ve got good momentum for the SMART initiative and
I think we’re going to get into Moorestown school for it.

Alex tries to cling to her leg. Shani shoos him away.

Scene shifts to the living room. MIKE is watching a show on his phone. ALEX enters.

ALEX
Snuggle?

MIKE
Alex, I’m watching a show that’s not appropriate for you.

ALEX
Sons of Anarchy?

MIKE
Yeah – they just beat the crap out of a bunch of white supremacists. It was awesome.

Alex leaves.

Scene shifts to upstairs hallway. Alex opens Jack’s door.

ALEX
Snuggle?

JACK
Get out of my room!

Scene shifts to Alex’s room. Alex dumps all his stuffed animals onto the bed. He buries himself in it all.

ALEX
Snuggle.

END…WAIT

SHANI, MIKE, and JACK all rush into the room and jump onto Alex.

SHANI, MIKE, JACK
JAMS* SNUGGLE!

END SCENE.

*”JAMS” snuggle is our cutesy/annoying term for a snuggle involving our entire family. It stands for Jack, Alex, Mike, Shani.

 

12 Plays of Christmas (8 of 12)

Introducing…the 12 Plays of Christmas. Over the next 12 days, I will write 12 one-act plays that illustrate life in the Nuckols home. Additionally, we will perform these plays for you and put them up on the site.

Laundry

SHANI is in the living room reading.

JACK
(off stage)
MOM! I need socks!

SHANI
I just did laundry.

JACK
I can’t find any socks.

SHANI
I don’t know how you go through clean laundry so fast.

Scene shifts to JACK’S ROOM.

NARRATOR (played by Alex)
We flash back to the previous afternoon.

JACK announces an imaginary basketball game where he is the hero of the game. As he does so, he takes clean laundry as the ball and stuffs it into the hamper as if it is the hoop.

JACK
And Jack Nuckols cuts left, right, shoots…it’s good! AHHHH!
Lebron moves through the defense. Bounce pass to Nuckols…
Oh my! Staggering dunk!

 

END SCENE

12 Plays of Christmas (7 of 12)

Introducing…the 12 Plays of Christmas. Over the next 12 days, I will write 12 one-act plays that illustrate life in the Nuckols home. Additionally, we will perform these plays for you and put them up on the site.

Cropduster

MIKE sits on the couch. SHANI enters and keeps moving.

SHANI
I had the craziest day. Did you get my text?
I needed to redo the lists from admissions yet again…

She is out of the room and still talking. 

NEW LOCATION

JACK is playing Xbox in the basement. SHANI enters and keeps moving.

SHANI
Jack, I need you to try on your wrestling shoes today.
If they don’t fit we need to go to Dicks this weekend and make sure…

She is out of the room and still talking. 

NEW LOCATION

ALEX is doing homework in the kitchen. SHANI enters and keeps moving.

SHANI
Alex, did you get that form signed today? Oh, and you have carpool pickup
at 5:30, so you’re going to need to eat. Oh, and your towel is…

She is out of the room and still talking. 

 

END SCENE.

 

 

12 Plays of Christmas (6 of 12)

Introducing…the 12 Plays of Christmas. Over the next 12 days, I will write 12 one-act plays that illustrate life in the Nuckols home. Additionally, we will perform these plays for you and put them up on the site.

Voldemort

SHANI and MIKE are on the couch reading the newspaper.

SHANI
Did you see…

MIKE
Don’t say it. I can’t.

They read more.

MIKE
Oh my gosh. This says that he’s…

SHANI
Stop. I can’t hear it.

They read more.

SHANI
He’s…

MIKE
Don’t say it.

They read more.

SHANI
(not ironically)
I’m so happy we started getting the paper again.

MIKE
Me too.

SHANI
Is your coffee empty?

MIKE
Oh yeah it is.

They read more. Mike sighs and takes both cups to refill them. Shani laughs.

 

END SCENE.

 

The 12 Plays of Christmas (5 of 12)

Introducing…the 12 Plays of Christmas. Over the next 12 days, I will write 12 one-act plays that illustrate life in the Nuckols home. Additionally, we will perform these plays for you and put them up on the site.

Truth Machine

ALEX speaks to the audience.

ALEX
Today, I am the Truth Machine. After you say something,
you look at me and say what you really wanted to say.

MIKE and SHANI are in bed. MIKE turns out his light to go to sleep.

SHANI
Is the front door locked?

MIKE
Yes.

SHANI
Are you sure?

MIKE
I specifically remember locking it.

MIKE rolls over and is face-to-face with ALEX.

MIKE
I have no clue if the door is locked. I’m making that up so she leaves me alone and lets me go to sleep.

New location: Jack’s bedroom. JACK is in bed.

JACK (yelling)
Dad? I have a pain right near my shoulder blade.

MIKE (offstage)
Go to bed!

JACK (yelling)
It really hurts!

MIKE (offstage)
Why is the only time you need medical attention is when it’s bedtime?

JACK rolls over. He is face-to-face with ALEX.

JACK
It does kind of hurt, but really I just don’t want to go to bed quite yet.
(Pause)
Do you think he’ll come up?

ALEX
No.

JACK
(turns and closes his eyes)
Good night, Truth Machine.

 

END SCENE