Jack, Shani, and the Green Folder that Ruined Christmas

I will first draw your attention to the change in title. For this episode, we are NuckolBRAWL. And for this NuckolBrawl tale, I bring you back to Christmas morning of 2016. The family is in the living room, around the tree, taking turns opening presents. Things are joyful and sweet. Shani has just unwrapped the scarf that Alex knit her.

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Suddenly, a realization strikes Jack Nuckols:

“Wait! I’ve got presents!”

On the last day of school before holiday break, Jack and his two friends had gone downtown to buy presents. Jack spent the afternoon and evening out with his pals getting gifts. They even went to dinner at the Chinese place when they were done. I thought it was such a nice idea. I was proud of him. The thought of it warmed my heart.

So back to Christmas morning…

“Wait! I’ve got presents!”

Jack grabbed his backpack and began rummaging around inside it.

“I didn’t wrap anything, but that’s OK, right? Hang on…this is for…”

He pulled out a small cellophane bag and peeked inside.

“Oh wait! That’s my egg roll. OK…here we go.”

He pulled out gifts for each of us:

  • For Alex, he bought a stuffed purple penguin. Alex snatched it a gave it a snuggle
  • For me, a bottle of hot sauce with a skull key chain
  • For Shani…

Oh no.

Oh dear God, no.

I stared in horror.

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You could feel the floor crumbling away beneath the entire room. It was like a sand castle slurped away by a wave.

Jack had given his mother a green folder as her holiday gift. It had cost him 99 cents at the most – his egg roll had cost him more. It was a gift of monumental thoughtlessness.

When it comes to things like this, I have an internal debate. Do you let it go and forego the drama to follow? Do you laugh it off and let Christmas go on.

Shani had no such debate. She retreated to our bedroom and a fog of gloom descended upon the world. Jack grew sullen and withdrawn.

And with that, Christmas was ruined.

But could it be salvaged?

Read on…

Could this man save Christmas?

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I made the first attempt. I went up to our room and consoled Shani. I talked to Jack and told him how badly he’d hurt his mother’s feelings. I went back and forth like the moderator for disarmament talks between warring countries. I finally got Jack to go up to our room and talk to Shani.

Two minutes later he came storming back downstairs.

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Could these two save Christmas?

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An hour later, Shani came back downstairs. She sat on the couch in a sad slump. I called up to Jack and asked him to come down for a second. I said that had to show him something. As soon as he was halfway down the steps…

“Dad and I are going for a walk.”

“Bye.”

Alex and I grabbed our coats and shot out the door.

We lapped the block slowly. Fifteen minutes later, we came back and poked out heads in. Shani and Jack were sitting silently on opposite ends of the couch. Both were curled up like pillbugs.

“Let’s do another lap.”

“Good idea.”

We did two laps this time. The final result…

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Could the Mulvihills save Christmas?

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That afternoon, the Mulvihills came over for happy hour. It’s a tradition our families share each year. We get together on Christmas for happy hour and then go out for Chinese food.

I figured that Shani couldn’t possibly keep up the gloom with friends over. She’d have to put on a good face for guests.

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Dead wrong.

 

Could the George Michael save Christmas?

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After a semi-stilted happy hour, we headed to Philly for dinner. In past years we’d done Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean BBQ. This year we took it up a notch and rented a private karaoke room in Chinatown.

So picture the scene. 4 adults (one of them emitting a fog of gloom). 4 tweens (2 boys, 2 girls). It’s not a recipe for uninhibited fun.

We were doing some lame signing when suddenly our phones lit up with news alerts: George Michael had died.

Next thing we knew, the moms were belting out Careless Whisper, Father Figure, and more. This was a moment of unity. George Michael had gone so suddenly. Who has time to dwell on bad things? Live to the moment! Enjoy each other now!

But the tweens just looked at us with disdain and embarrassment. Before long we were struggling to keep the fun going.

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Then things went from bad to worse. I looked to see that “Hello” by Adele was next. My thought: worst possible song. It’s slow-paced and hard to sing. Plus it’s sad as hell. What could be a worse choice?

The first verse came out as a mumbled dirge. Then the music swelled into the chorus and suddenly…

“Hello from the OUT SIIIIIIIIDDDE! I must HAVE CALLED A THOUSAND TIIIIIIMES!”

Everyone was belting it out. All the kids. Both moms. My friend Geoff. People were smiling and laughing at each other. Everyone was letting it roar at full volume. I looked across the room and Shani and Jack were singing into the same microphone with all their might. More sushi arrived. We put the song on again and performed an encore. Our waitress brought a tray heavy with Sapporo beers and cans of Sprite.

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Yes folks, the green folder was forgotten. Adele had saved Christmas.

 

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The Problem with NuckolBall

 

So…NuckolBall. There’s a problem. Check this out…

Alex and I drove up to Binghamton last weekend for the premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy 2. On the drive up, we had the most incredible damn conversation. I still can’t believe we went there. It was bold and unexpected and would make a wild story about parenting. A perfect post for NuckolBall.

But Alex asked me not to talk about it with anybody.

See, the fact is, I’ve been struggling for relevance here. There used to be an obvious tension and wonder in my life as a dad. But life has gone from helping my boys figure shit out, to sitting on the sidelines as they figure shit out for themselves. I’m not so much in the know.

This is full on Parenting Phase 2. The transition is over; it’s here.

It’s nice in a lot of ways. Shani and I have way more time on our hands. We slip out to grab a drink together all the time now. I’m in better shape than I’ve been in 10 years. Shani’s leading the South Jersey chapter of Moms Demand Action.

But when it comes to NuckoBall, it’s been a little tough. So…I’m going to try and embrace the situation. Adapt. Which means get ready for some real-deal Parenting Phase 2 posts.

Loosely outlining, I expect to write about:

  • The Sex Talk
  • Jack, Shani, and the Green Folder that Ruined Christmas
  • Things We Screwed Up in Phase One

I’ll come up with some more stuff as I go. But stick with me. This is some funny stuff.

 

A few facts

Fact 1: It rained today.

Fact 2: The rain resulted in Jack’s baseball game being cancelled.

Fact 3: Shani and I took advantage of this surprise opening to ditch the kids and make it over to the Tonewood Brewery. We got seats at the bar and ordered 2 Feugos, which are vaguely bitter and vaguely citrusy. They are delicious in my book and highly drinkable.

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Fact 4: Shani and I have been married for 17+ years.

Fact 5: I am legitimately crazy about my wife. I can confidently say that I’m more in love with her now than I have ever been. We have so much damn fun together. Our day to day life is genuinely romantic. Shani is 46 years old, and I honestly think she is more beautiful today than she’s ever seemed to me.

Fact 6: We returned home in time to catch the Yankees game, where they beat the Pirates.

Fact 7: I watched the game with Jack.

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Fact 8: All is right in the world.

 

 

 

 

The End of the Season

Alex and I were hanging out the other weekend and I mentioned it was almost April.

“Blah,” he said. “It’s almost time for me not to like you.”

“What?” I asked.

“Baseball season. All you and Jack want to do is sit and watch boring baseball. All you talk about. This guy did blah blah blah. That guy is blah blah. And oh my gosh he blah blah blah.”

And it occurred to me: where most people’s lives have four seasons, my life has only two.

  • Alex Season (starts after the World Series and runs through opening day)
  • Jack Season (which corresponds with baseball season)

And I’ll tell ya’ – this Alex Season has been a magical one. We’ve gone hiking almost every weekend, chattering away about managing friendships, countries we’d like to go to, how he’s planning to deal with peer pressure about drugs (he brought this up). We’ve snuggled on the couch and re-watched most of the Marvel movies, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars re-watching. On a snow day we got through both Terminator 1 and 2 (although we skipped the sex scene in 1).

Jack has no interest in movies (unless its bedtime). He usually turns down an invitation to go hiking because he’d rather hang with his friends. And when he does hike with us, he spends a lot of time making sure we all know he hikes faster than Alex.

But in a little more than a week…

Jack Season! We will watch the opening day game together (Yanks vs Rays). We’ll talk highlights. We’ll plot out our trips for the year (Baltimore plus a couple other contenders).

Can’t wait.

But I’m sure Alex and I will slip in a hike or two.

Here are some highlight shots from Alex Season.

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Found an old springhouse
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Tea Kettle Falls in Arkansas
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Pyramid Rock (North Jersey)
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Blueberry Hill Trail
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Robert Frost Trail in MA
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Old Italian gardens on the Leiper-Smedley Trail

 

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.

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 (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 (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