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Joe is the youngest of five, in an Irish-Catholic family from Detroit. I am the oldest of two, half Jewish, from the suburbs of New York by way of Connecticut and Ann Arbor.

His family intimidates the hell out of me.

When Joe was growing up, he had to eat exactly what his mother cooked. Every night. Sometimes he got to choose what kind of canned vegetable they would have with dinner. As a child I frequently ate cereal for dinner, because that’s what I wanted, although we ate most of our meals at Zingerman’s deli.

Last Saturday we went to Joe’s sister’s house, because his oldest sister, Kitty, was visiting from her home in Alaska.

We had pasta for dinner because his brother-in-law was carb-loading in preparation for a half-marathon the next day. He’s also the CEO of some company. His wife, Joe’s sister, is the CFO of a different company.
The other brother-in-law was wearing a hat with the name of his rugby team. His wife, another of Joe’s sisters, also plays rugby. She also played on the Detroit team of the only national women’s football league in history.
His 10-year-old niece, a competitive gymnast, was gearing up for a meet.

I should point out that Kitty, in her fifties, is a professional ski instructor who recently battled cancer and walked to the hospital for her chemotherapy.

As for Elliot and myself, the latest additions to the family? He had a sore throat, and we had to cut the evening short because I developed a bad case of diarrhea.

I am not normally an over-the-top relationship person. I do not have my relationship status posted on Facebook. I would never dream of using a couple photo as my profile picture. Ever. I do not use baby talk. I don’t make out in public. I don’t ever say “we should make this a couples thing!” In fact, I am vocal in my hatred for couples.

And I do not send cutesy text messages back and forth all day long.

Today, however, I was feeling inspired, and sent Joe a text message that said “I love you.”

The response? “You’d better.”

Today after I picked Elliot up from school, he asked me: “Have you ever heard the story of King Midas?”

“Yeah, I have,” I said. “Did you hear it at school?”

“It’s in the reading corner.”

“Did you like the story?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty good,” he said.

“Did you get what the moral of the story was?”

He thought for a minute. “I don’t know.”

“Well, what’s the lesson that King Midas learned?”

“Oh! Yeah! Never listen to spirits when they ask you if you want to make a wish.”

“That’s a good one,” I said. “But what else?”

“Umm, don’t wish that you can turn things into gold!”

“That’s good, you’re getting there,” I said. “Why don’t you want to wish you could turn things into gold?”

“Oh! Yeah! That’s the lesson! Don’t hold your daughter’s hand when you’ve wished you could turn everything you touch into gold and it came true! Because then you’ll turn your daughter into gold!”

“What about don’t be greedy?” I asked.

“Huh,” he paused. “No, I don’t necessarily see that.”

Tonight, as I was cutting Elliot’s toenails, I discovered a tiny pebble that had been lodged under one of them. I flicked it into the sink.

“What if that was a magic pebble?” he asked.

“Do you think it was a magic pebble?”

“I think it was,” he said.

“So what do you think is going to happen?”

“The whole house is magic now.” He turned his head away from me and whispered, “House! I wish for sixty six tongues!”

This morning Elliot told me that he’d like to start taking karate again. I told him I thought that would be fine, but also that I think that we should get him into a team sport that he can play in school. Here is what he said:

“Maybe. But the thing is, my strengths are really more things like robots, technology, the body, math, albegra… alge… algebra. That kind of thing. I’m just not really interested in standing around in a field playing basketball. I’m not that kind of guy. I have better things to do with my strengths.”

The argument is pretty air-tight. Except for that basketball being played in a field part. We’ll have to set that one straight before some 5’11” second-grader does.

Now that Christmas is over, I thought that I would share some memories of the holiday season as we in the Miller-Barrett-Lilienfeld clan experienced it (what’s really amazing is that, in a clan of three adults and one child, we have three different last names).

For me, this will be remembered as the Christmas that I received a dutch oven from my mom.

Christmas preparations at our house.

This was the first year that I bought a real Christmas tree. But our revolving LED tree was broken, so it was moving in a more elliptical manner than I thought was safe or attractive. Plus, I covered the tree in multiple layers of tinsel and a revolving LED star on the top, so it was still in the realm of our traditions.

After we decorated the tree, I turned off the lights so we could experience its full glory.

“What do you think?” I asked Elliot.

“Yeah!” He shouted. “Take that, other people’s Christmas trees!”

Christmas morning at our house.

Elliot was at his dad’s house, so Joe and I exchanged gifts Christmas Eve. In the morning I woke up and was suddenly filled with remorse over one of the gifts that I had given him; an item that I had previously been really excited about.

“I just realized,” I said, “as a guy, are flannel sheets with snowflakes on them kind of … gay?”

Christmas dinner at our house.

Christmas dinner was attended by Elliot, me, my mom, and our friends Davy and Josh D, who may as well be family at this point. Davy was a last minute addition, and came bearing gifts of food that had obviously come from gift baskets given to him by people he doesn’t really know. And yet, Elliot was still talking yesterday about the fact that Davy gave him chocolate-covered graham crackers for Christmas.

The biggest hit of Christmas dinner was a side dish that I like to refer to as “angry biscuits.” Angry biscuits are the result of kneading and rolling when you’re really pissed off at your family.

Angry biscuits.

The main topic of conversation was the fact that my mom had given me a dutch oven for Christmas.

Josh D: “Yes! Dutch oven!”

Davy: “Hahahahaha! Wait. I kind of forgot what a dutch oven was, but I knew it was something funny.”

Elliot: “What’s a dutch oven?”

Me: “It’s that pot that grandma gave me for Christmas.”

Josh D: “Your grandma gave your mom a dutch oven for Christmas.”

Later…

Josh D: “I explained to your mom what a dutch oven is. Both kinds.”

Me: “There’s another kind of dutch oven?”

Josh D: “It’s when someone’s going down on you and you fart.”

Me: “You said ‘going down on’ to my mom? Gross! You can’t say that!”

Josh D: “I didn’t. I said, ‘When someone’s kissing you in your special place.'”

Me: “Ack! That’s even worse!”

After dinner, Elliot went upstairs to watch Christmas movies with my mom, and Davy, Geoff and I had Geoff’s outsourced Indian personal assistant call our friends, wish them a “Happy Christmas,” ask them how their families were doing, and report back to us via email.

I liked getting seeing the email subject: “Geoff Lilienfeld has accepted your meeting request.”

It made me feel like I had really accomplished something.

Let me try to reproduce the phone call I just received.

Me: This is Jordan.

Indian-accented woman who is clearly located in a large room full of other people on headsets: Yes, hello, is this Jordan Miller?

Me: Yes. Who’s calling?

IAW: This is (name I didn’t catch). I am calling on behalf of Geoff Lilienfeld.

Me: My brother?

IAW: Yes. He would like to know what you are purchasing for your mother for Christmas.

Me: I’m sorry? Is this a joke?

IAW: No, it is not a joke. Your brother would like to know what you are purchasing for your mother for Christmas.

Me: Did he hire you to call me and ask me this?

IAW: Geoff has hired my company to handle his personal business. So I am sort of like a personal assistant.

Me: You’re my brother’s personal assistant. (My brother is 24 years old and his Facebook picture is of himself eating a giant piece of pizza, most likely at 4 a.m.)

IAW: It’s like that, yes ma’am.

Me: Ummm. Okay. Hold on, let me walk to another part of my office. … Okay. You can tell him that our mom and I decided that the adults wouldn’t give presents this year, that we would just do stocking stuffers.

IAW: Your brother would like to know what he should purchase for your mother.

Me: If he wants I can just get her stocking stuff and he can chip in. I’m guessing it’ll be around 75 bucks total. Maybe a little more. If he can’t chip in that’s okay, I’ll still put his name on it.

IAW: Okay.

Me: Okay. …

IAW: Thank you.

Me: Thank you too. Bye.

IAW: Goodbye.