The Long Trail to Happiness

When Action Girl and I decided to have children, one of the things that I couldn’t wait for was to find out what their “thing” would be. Everybody’s got a “thing.” At least, every kid seems to. I think a lot of adults forget their passions when they get lost in adolescence and are forced to focus on areas of academia where minimal interest resides. That and peer pressure, of course. There is no cleanser more astringent than the scorn of your contemporaries. So many childhood passions are lost through these effects and I wanted to be a powerful force in the corner of my children’s imagination versus the rest of the world. The older I become, the more sure I am that a person’s true strength lies directly within the sphere of their passions.

Thomas Jefferson once said that a man who loves his work never works another day, and I think that’s about right. He also said that he was all about freedom and yet owned slaves, so I’ll grant you, you do have to keep an eye on TJ. Still though…

My son, Short Stack showed his cards early on. There was a brief flirtation with trucks, which is far from unusual for small children, but that had ended pretty abruptly the moment he saw his first rocket.

I believe he was two and a half.

He’s six now and has been focused like a laser on his own personal prize since the day he realized that that he could have something to do with them. Like any parent, I ask my kids every so often what they want to do for a job when they grow up, just to test the waters and see where the wind has shifted in the previous weeks. Last week, Short Stack’s answer was, “I want to build propulsion systems for new kinds of rockets.”

Oooooh kay.

My four year old daughter, Lulu Belle though, is a very, VERY different little critter. She want’s to be a cowgirl.

Or maybe a fairy.

Nope… a cowgirl.

Or princess.

Maybe a cowgirl princess?

But Pirates are good too!

Hey, dad. Did pirates ever play with cowboys?

Tell you what, dad. You be Dale Evans and I’ll be Roy Rogers.

YEE-HAW!

(I love the fact that I somehow wind up being Dale. Better than being assigned Pat Brady, I suppose.)

And that’s about how it goes. She loves playing dress-up from her considerable pile of costumes she’s amassed and they all get a work out, but the cowboy hat, vest, sheriff’s badge and pink handled six shooter get by far the heaviest work out.

The fact that we can not possibly live farther away from the Western Plains and still be within the boundaries of the contiguous United States only adds to the perplexity on how this all got started. To the best of my knowledge, I never pushed the cowboy lifestyle to my children, but Lulu Belle seems to have embraced it with a fervor previously reserved only for children born between 1940 and 1955. When it comes to requested video entertainment from my young daughter, it’s usually black and white episodes of the Lone Ranger or the much loved, Roy Rogers. She knows all the names of the characters, their horses, origin stories and will back them up with her own cap gun when things get tough.

Clayton Moore would be proud.

So now, I know. Lulu Belle wants to be a cowgirl. I’m not sure how this translates into a life for her, let alone an income stream, but we can deal with those details later. What I do know is that right now, it makes her the happiest. When her brother discovered his love of aerospace, I pandered like hell to it. His room is an homage to NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Shuttle program. When he was four, I took him to the Kennedy Space Center to watch the shuttle Discovery take off. I’ve tried as hard as I could to feed him what he craves the most in the hopes that it will allow him to be as happy as he can be.

Now it’s time for sister.

The trick is, since the 1960’s have long since ridden off into the sunset, finding good cowboy material has gotten substantially trickier. We watch the old shows on YouTube. We dress up in cowboy gear, though some of it has to be manufactured right here in our little house due to scarcity in the market. We talk in cowboy-ese and naturally, she has her very own Wonder Horse! You remember those, right? The giant plastic horse mounted on a frame by means of exceptionally squeaky springs.

If there is anything she loves more than pretending to be a cowgirl, it’s making up stories, (Can you guess what they tend to be about?) and this has now spilled over into bedtime. For the last little while now, once the bedtime books are all read and the light is out, she’s hit me with a request which I find hard to pass up. She wants a story, as she puts it, “You tell me. Not from a book.”

I’ve told her stories about me growing up. I’ve told her stories about things her Mom’s done. I’ve told her fables as best as I can recall my Aesop. The thing is, if you don’t have a theme, it’s hard to pull up a good story on the fly. That’s when she pointed out the elephant in the bedroom.

“Dad. Tell me a story about a cowgirl!”

It took a minute or two for me cook up the basics, and an additional night for us to ascribe names to the players, but we’ve gotten it worked out pretty well now.

In a valley in Wyoming, sits a small ranch. The road that runs in front of it will take you to town. The paths that lead away from the ranch will take you to the high pasture and then on to the aspen forest. Another path goes to the pond while a third leads to Big Rock, which has a breathtaking view of the valley below. To the West, the Rocky Mountains tower, capped in snow. The inhabitants of the ranch are a girl of unspecified age named Annie and her Horse, Thunder. Thunder, naturally, lives in the big red barn next to the corral. There’s also a shed where Annie keeps her tools.

Now all she needs is a friend. Enter some occupation diversity.

In our very first story, I also introduced Piper and Scout. Piper has short, red hair and lives in Colorado. Scout is her trusty, silver airplane with the big blue stripe that goes all the way down each side. They met when Piper got lost and had to land at the ranch for directions as the evening closed in. Naturally, Annie invited her to stay for dinner and the night and the two have been best friends ever since.

Sometimes the stories are just about Annie and Thunder. Sometimes they’re just about Piper and Scout, but her favorite stories include them all.

It’s still trick to come up with a believable and engaging story arc off the top of my head, but I must confess, I think I’m enjoying them just as much as she is. With each evening of me kneeling on the floor next to her bed in the darkened room, the world of Annie and Piper gets more and more vibrant. We now know about the fixed hole in the barn roof, how long it takes to ride to town and the tree Annie chopped down up in the aspen forest. Last night, I couldn’t help my self and after my little cowgirl was asleep, I sat down and wrote out that night’s story.

I’ll share it with you, if you’d like… But you have to wait for bedtime.

Flight Time… Part II

I have a certain phobia about kids and airplanes, which originates from a long flight I was on to Europe many, many years back. We were aboard a 747 and if you’ve never been on one, let me tall you, those things are truly massive. They are so big inside as to almost seem unreal. They have not one, but two isles which divide the seats into three rows. On the window sides, there are three seats. In the middle, they are five across. On this particular flight, I was in the most windowless seat possible: dead center. It was a very full flight and there was no hope of me finding a less hemmed in spot to spend my many hours over the Atlantic, and resigned to this fact, I tried to convince myself that it wouldn’t be too bad. That’s when the clueless dad traveling alone with his young daughter showed up.

The little girl was perhaps two or so and the father was talking to her as they took their places in the seats directly in front of mine. I was mostly engrossed in my own preparations for the flight and so, wasn’t paying that much attention to what he was saying until a horrifying sentence cut though my thoughts like an errant Exacto through a fingertip.

“You’re a big girl now, right? You don’t need diapers now, do you? Right?”

Heywhatsaywhatdidyousay?!?!?

What really scared the beegeebees out of me was the way he said the last, “Right?” There was a serious lack of conviction when he spoke that word. In truth, it sounded more like pleading than reassurance.

This did not bode well.

It was dinnertime when the inhabitants of the surrounding seats found out that, no, in fact she was not a big girl and that, yes, in fact she did need diapers. The odor of tinkle started to waft though out the area and we did our best to pretend that we didn’t notice the small army of flight attendants armed with roll after roll of paper towel as they tried to clean up the mess and deal with a semi-apoplectic father who was obviously way outside of his comfort zone.

Things were going as well as could be expected and I was doing my damnedest to block out all the action and associated Lysol and other odors that went along with this flying superfund site. That’s about the time the little girl, who was utterly unphased by the entire episode, decided to pitch in and lend a hand with the cleanup efforts. This consisted of grabbing a big handful of wet paper towels and… dumping them over her seatback.

“All gone!”

The wadded up towels landed with an audible plop directly onto my meal, of which I had taken not single bite. If the plane had been in a dive and pulling over eight G’s, I seriously doubt that I could have crushed my body any deeper into the upholstery in my effort to maximize my distance from the offending sight on my tray table.

The entire episode was, as you can see, seared into my memory and the image of the soiled seat cushion being removed, to be stored who knows where, is still vivid in my mind.

I did not want to be the doofus father. Not ever.

Though Short Stack is easily twice the age of this little girl from my past, he’s still a munchkin, and when a four year old tells you that they have to pee, you have possibly fifty to sixty seconds to get them to a lavatory. Possibly much, much less.

My head whipped up to look at the seat belt sign which was still illuminated with its smug little circle with a line though it. We were still climbing and who knows when it was going to go off. I looked back at the bathroom door and the flight attendant who was sitting opposite it.

CRAP!

I waved.

She didn’t see me.

I waved again with more animation and either managed to catch her eye or at least be too obvious to ignore.

With a less than enthusiastic demeanor, she unbuckled her belt, stood up and strolled the few feet to my seat. She looked like she had been doing this job for a long, long time and she was looking pretty burned out.

“My son needs to use the bathroom. Right now.”

I was doing my best to impart the urgency of the situation by attempting to make my eyebrows disappear into my hairline and do a grimace/smile. I would either look like I meant it… or deranged. Either one, I felt, would work. What ever the case, what she said next was spoken with the weariness of a veteran of the service industry whom has seen this sort of thing go very badly before. Possibly to her. Possibly more than once.

“The seat belt sign is still on, so I can’t tell you that it’s okay for you to get up… The bathroom,” she pointed to the rear of the plane, “is right over there.”

And with that, she returned to her seat and buckled back in. If that wasn’t an invitation to break a rule, then I really don’t know what one is.

Having received my tacit clearance to get my kid to the rest room rather than soak a seat cushion, I immediately tucked Short Stack under my arm and made a run for it. After a fitful moment of trying to get us both in the miniature broom closet, the door latched and everything taken care of, crisis was happily averted, we returned to our seats just in time for the captain to come on the PA and let us all know that though we still wouldn’t be allowed to smoke on the flight, we could now get up and move around the cabin.

It’s all in the timing.

The rest of the flight went far better. With the green light from the cockpit, I happily let Short Stack free from the restraints and gave him my most stern, “I’m not kidding now” look when I explained that he was in no way allowed to put his feet on the seat in front of him. When the flight attendants came through with drinks and snacks, he actually laughed out loud with pleasure at the notion. He was in great spirits and so was I. It was going to take us about three hours to get to Orlando and it would be right through the heart of what at home, is nap time. Here, now, with a good night’s sleep under his belt, a grand adventure begun and free orange juice and pretzels being delivered to him at thirty-five thousand feet, there was no chance that he was going to be nodding off.

Zero.

The good news was he was having a ball and on his best behavior. Short Stack is a great kid (if I do say so myself) and I rarely shrink from any opportunity to take him somewhere or do something with him. Normally though, there’s an added variable. One that makes things… unpredictable;

His little sister, Lulu Belle.

She too, is a dream to take off gallivanting and we’ve had some really fun times together as well. Both kids are a lot of fun, follow direction well and tend to be well mannered… until they’re together. That mixture can be explosive.

The difference of how you interact one with a child versus corralling two or more is night and day. One on one, you are sharing an experience. You are listening and they are telling you things. They ask you questions and you give informed answers. You can almost see the knowledge moving from you to them. Then they point out something that you totally missed and you see how amazing they are. It’s a wonderful experience. When it’s two of them together, your role switches directly to referee. Your number one job is no longer to listen, but to keep one of them from smearing a peanut butter and honey sandwich in the other’s hair and failing that, to get the one with the honey dripping into their eyes cleaned up while sending the other to the time out chair and making sure they stay there. Being an only child myself, this is all unfamiliar ground to me and I admit, I’ve found the work more than a little challenging. Being solo with just one, either one, feels like a walk in the park now.

Looking down at Short Stack, quietly playing with his Shuttle and other toys, I missed my daughter, but simultaneously was reveling in the notion that for the next four days, it was just us guys. Just we two.

As we closed in on the end of our flight, I craned my head over my son’s and looked out the window… and there it was. Sticking out into the sea, just off the Florida coast was the unmistakable barrier island that is the home to the U.S. Space Program. It was Cape Canaveral. No doubt.

“Look Buddy! Look! Somewhere down there is the Space Shuttle! It’s right below us!”

I jabbed the window repeatedly with my index finger and he, snapped out what ever he was imagining at the moment, pressed his nose flat in the hopes of seeing the unseeable.

“Is it taking off?!?!” There was some real worry there.

“No, no! Not yet! That doesn’t happen until tomorrow… well… today… but much later.” Again, I remembered that we were arriving just in time for the launch. There would be very little downtime and sleep was going to be illusive. We’d be down there, right there, later tonight.

There was a lot to do before then and not that much time to do it in.

As we came in for a landing, Short Stack dutifully started draining his sippy cup again in the effort to deal with his popping ears. When that was emptied, he resumed his venus flytrap pose. The touchdown on the runway was nice and smooth and as soon as I deemed it safe, unbuckled him so he could again see out the window.

“Is that really Florida?”

“Yup, it sure is.” Palm trees scooted past as we taxied to the gate.

“Really? All that? That’s all Florida?”

I’m not entirely sure what he was expecting, but I assured him that it was indeed Florida and that, yes, I was sure.

“Oh.” He thought for a moment and then resumed scanning out the window. “But where are all the rockets?”

Tickets, Part IV

As things turned out, timing was actually going to be on my side for once. That particular Thursday morning we would all be visiting my in-laws in central Maine. Because of my wife’s somewhat unusual choice of profession as ferry captain, it means that her workweek is anything but the Monday through Friday, nine to five routine which most folks live in. Much of the time she works second shift type hours and weekends fall… well… wherever they can. We’ve done Tuesdays and Fridays; we’ve had Mondays and Wednesdays. You name the combination and she’s had it. All, that is, except for Saturday and Sunday. That’s something that just never ever happens in her line of work except for the very most senior of the senior captains, which se is not. Not yet, anyway. With her current schedule however, our weekend, for the moment anyway, was Wednesday-Thursday. That, and because I’m a full time stay at home Dad, my weekends are… frankly, never. BUT! I don’t have an office to go to. That is, unless you count the kitchen.

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and after the various pleasantries about the drive, how we’ve been and what should we feed the kids, I explained the situation to my wife’s folks. Tomorrow morning we were going to need the computer. All of the computers, actually.

Being a huge tech geek and former I.T. director, I admit that I like computers. That’s not quite right. I LOVE computers. I like them powerful and portable and I had made darned sure that my wife and I had our laptops with us and ready to go when the time was nigh. To make things even better, my in-laws had just recently switched from the slow-as-tar-in-January connection that they had to a super fast cable connection full of wonderful high speed broadband goodness. Now, it was time to stop rowing and start hoping.

After reading and then rereading the rules of the game on the Kennedy Space Center website, I explained it to my wife.

“Okay, here’s how it works. At eight forty-five the site will open a page that will let us in to a virtual waiting room. Once the virtual waiting room fills up, they will close it off to new arrivals, so we have to be very, very fast on that.”

“And then we can buy tickets?” Action Girl looked a little groggy as she hovered over her steaming mug of coffee, but she was doing her best to look attentive.

“No. Not quite” This was where things got interesting. “That gives us the chance that we might get picked at random while in the waiting room to be allowed to buy tickets, providing that someone else hasn’t hovered them all up already.”

“That’s stupid.”

“Agreed. But that’s the way they play. And it’s not over yet. IF, we get into the waiting room and then IF one of us gets picked then we will be given exactly two minutes to fill out the information to order the tickets. If we go over the two minute mark, we get bumped back into the waiting room, but by then it will probably be too late to get picked again.”

Blank, semi-caffeinated eyes looked back at me. One eyebrow arched and was followed by a very flat, “What?”

“Yah, so we need to be ready.”

“I’m gonna need more coffee.” And with full mugs in hand, we sat down and got prepared.

I set the two laptops up on the dining room table and once they were set at the right page on the Kennedy Center’s website, I then attended to my in-law’s machine. Everything was ready and we all had our jobs. Mine was the laptops. My wife’s was the other desktop computer. My in-law’s was to keep the kids entertained and prevent them from trying to climb into our laps and demand to watch (in my daughter’s case) kid shows such as Miffy, Kipper or Maisy Mouse, or (in my son’s case) videos of rockets or the Space Shuttle. This had an added difficulty factor being that the page we had to wait at was covered with a rocket and space motif. Once Short Stack spotted that, the pleading began instantly.

“Later, I swear. Right now we need to do something important.”

“But Daddy, can’t we just watch one video? Puh-LEEZE?

The easy thing to do would have been to simply explain why I couldn’t. I could just tell him that we were all trying to get tickets for him to go and see these things in person and just how awesome that would be. He is three, and the idea of putting off a little enjoyment now for a lot later on is a difficult concept for him to grasp, but I had met with some success there before. The very real problem was possible failure. Very possible, actually. I had no idea what our chances were to get launch tickets and the idea of getting him all cranked up to see something that would blow his mind that much… and then not making it out of their hideous little virtual waiting room… well, I just didn’t think I could deal with that sort of guilt. I know it wouldn’t be my fault, but still, the look of a deeply disappointed child, YOUR deeply disappointed child is just too withering for me to want to get anywhere near.

I’d rather eat bugs.

So, with my in-law’s best attempts to get him distracted, Action Girl and I sat, drank more coffee and waited.

8:36

*Slurp*

8:41

*Slurp, slurp*

8:44

“Get ready…” I didn’t take my eyes off the clock on my laptop. The clock that is set via the Internet, so you just KNOW it’s right.

8:45 “NOW!”

Three clicks and all three computers navigate away from their page and into the waiting room. “Okay, so we’re in. Now we wait.”

Here, I give my wife some serious credit. While we had been waiting, it was her idea to copy down all our information, credit card numbers, addresses, names, etc, on another document on the computer. Then, if one of us got in, we could simply cut and paste it all into the appropriate fields without worry of error. That, and it would be faster.

Brilliant!

It was all set to go and just as I had hoped, BING, I was in.

The computer that got he magic pass happened to be my own and with a whoop, I quickly focused on filling out everything perfectly. Easy! And as I typed, I realized that it was going to be even easier than I thought! The information that is so commonly needed on forms like this is cached in your computer’s browser memory and the auto-filling took over as I zipped though. Names and phone numbers appeared without me having to do a thing! The only thing that made me pause was when I had to decide on the type of ticket.

Causeway or Space Center?

Causeway was a better view.

Space Center had stuff to look at.

What to do?

I looked at my son who was at that moment playing with his wooden Space Shuttle, making a low pass about three millimeters over his nose as he added rocket noises for effect. He worships rockets. He loves them. He needed to be surrounded by them when the moment came. That, and like I said, they had bathrooms.

Space Center, it was.

I clicked the appropriate button and hit “Complete”

I reached the end with time to spare. I smiled… then went bug eyed.

Instead of being shown the “You’re all set, you lucky boy” page, I was looking at my form again with a message stating that there were, “some errors.”

WHAT?! WHERE?!?

As I looked down the list of information, I realized that I had been sabotaged by my very own machine. Auto-fill had been less than perfect, but that didn’t stop it from trying! Here and there, I started to see where, in an effort of helpfulness, my computer had put down things that didn’t make sense. Phone numbers that were in wrong fields, Addresses that were either incomplete or overly so. I had to do some quick triage.

A few seconds of work and… “Complete.”

“There are some errors that we…”

AAAAAGH!

I scanned though the form again looking for the offending fields and tried and mostly failed to stop swearing in the presence of my children. I felt like I was an involuntary contestant on some evil game show. I do not know who programmed this site or decided on its rules, but I can safely say that if they were present at that moment, I would have elbowed them in the groin. “Accidentally,” of course.

“Third time’s the charm?” I clicked “complete” again and mumbled through clenched teeth. “Come on you bastard. Take it!”

“Congratulations! You are reserved for two tickets at the viewing area at the Kennedy Space Center for STS-131 on March 13th.

(Note to readers: We didn’t’ miss nor see the launch already. It was rescheduled for April 5th. More on that later)

I’m not certain, but it sounded to me like I let out at least three lungs worth of held breath as I rocked back in my seat and smiled. We were in. We had the tickets. Nothing would stop us now.

“Hey,” My wife said excitedly. “I just got picked from the waiting room! Do you need any more tickets? Are you sure you’re all set?”

It was an odd moment and a possibility that I hadn’t really considered. Did I need any more tickets? I had heard about tickets being resold on eBay for over a grand each and the reality of that notion hung there in the room like low fruit. “No. I’m all set. We’ve got what we need.”

Let someone else get the tickets. Perhaps there was another father and son who were dying to go. Perhaps they were still languishing in the waiting room thumbing through dog eared virtual copies of Field and Stream and LIFE Magazine. To take there dreams away would be totally unfair. Hopefully, they’d get called up next.

With that, we shut down the computers, stood up, stretched and topped up mugs with more coffee. We did it.

“Dad, NOW can we watch some rocket videos?” His Shuttle was gripped in his hand as he looked up at me.

“Yah, I think we can now. What one do you want to see?”

With that, I sat back down, reopened the laptop and let him scurry into my lap as I punched in the URL for YouTube and searched for the NASA channel.

“Let’s watch that one!” and a little finger shot out to direct me to the chosen clip.

“Sure Buddy.” I was one happy dad, and now so was he. All we needed to do now was get there.

Cookies in the Freezer

I was always a little confused by what exactly a Girl Scout was. As a youngster, I remember seeing the cluster of girls in their green and brown uniforms with their various ranks displayed as quarter sized badges sewn onto a sash that was worn like an earthy version of those seen at a beauty pageant. Rather than reading, “Miss Russet Potato”, or some other title, the little dots showed the trials and tribulations that the wearer had undertaken and mastered.

This was a foreign world to me. Not only did I have no sister to demystify the organization for me, but I was never part of the male version either. Boy Scouts, though they undoubtedly did neat stuff, had one major flaw as I saw it. They still had to follow directions given to them by adults. Though I was hardly what you would have called a rebellious child, I was happiest when doing what ever I wanted to do. I would put my head down and get through the things that were expected of me, but when it came to unstructured time which I had control of, there was just no way in hell that I was going to put it in the hands of more people who would be telling me what to do, where to do it and how it was to be done.

The funny thing is that I always had a mild fascination with the “Scouts”, be they the boy or girl variety. The friend who I have been closest with my whole life, The Doctor, eventually attained the rank of Eagle Scout and many, many weekends I was left on my own while he want off with his troop to camp in the woods, paint park benches or… do what ever else Boy Scouts do. I believe there was some sort of a “Jamboree” thrown in there somewhere. I have no idea what that was about.

As far as our friendship was concerned, he left the “Scouting” stuff at the door when he came over to play and we never really talked about it. The only time I actually saw him in his uniform was during his Eagle Scout indoctrination ceremony and I think it was odd for both of us. It was held in a church hall, long after he, himself had left organized faith far behind on his personal road. There were, naturally, big American flags hanging up, just at the time he was starting to seriously question what our country was doing in the world and it involved jumping over symbolic sticks… which both of us found mildly humorous. I still have no idea what the sticks were about.

Now, lest I offend, let me say that I do not in any way look down upon those who choose the Scouting life. In many ways I was jealous that it just didn’t seem to fit with me. I love camping. I like doing projects. I LOVE riflery, which you can, if I’m not mistaken, get a merit badge in. I would have lived at the rifle range. For some reason though, I instantly chafed at the idea.

I think it was the neckerchiefs.

cub-scout-fred

If the Boy Scouts confused me, the Girl Scouts baffled me. I had a lot of friends in the neighborhood and we all lived on the edge of some serious forestland. We all lived in those woods and the girls whom I spent many a long day playing with were of the rough and tumble sort. Tom Boys, to be succinct. They were right there with us, scraping their arms on branches, skinning their knees and peeing in the bushes. These girls were FUN! When I looked at the groups of Girl Scouts patiently waiting for their den mothers to direct them to what ever fun that awaited them, I couldn’t help raising an eyebrow at their neatly pressed blouses, perfect and jaunty barrettes and those brown knee skirts.

SKIRTS?

To my mind, skirts were reserved for things like school and church. The girls I knew never opted for skirts and why would they? They offer poor protection form thorns and rocks and then there’s the whole tree climbing issue. The Girl Scouts uniforms were all done in dark green and tan, giving the illusion that they could step into the jungle and take on the Vietcong, but really… it was like having an camouflage bathing suit. What’s the point? Then there were the merit badges.

I knew that the girls didn’t get to do the same stuff that the boys did. A topic that is still to this day, a point of some grievance by Action Girl. She was cast out of her brother’s Cub Scout den when she started to have too much fun doing all the projects that the boys were doing. When offered the trade to Brownies (the Girl Scout starter rank) she balked. Sewing and singing just didn’t stack up well against setting things on fire and using hatchets. She will forever be a disgruntled Boy Scout wannabe.

The Girl Scouts do, naturally, have on major feather in their barrettes, however.

The cookies!

For those who live beyond the borders of the United State, I hope, with heart felt sincerity, that whatever country you live in has an equivalent to a Girl Scout Thin Mint.

thin-mints

Every year, Girl Scouts in the thousands pour out of meeting lodges and church basements and hit the pavement, going door to door in their neighborhoods with long sign up sheets and catalogs showcasing various cookies that can be ordered from Girl Scouts of America. It’s a fundraiser for the organization and one that I believe, will never leave the G.S. of A. short of funds. The cookies offered are not available in stores anywhere to my knowledge and even if there were an equivalent, it just wouldn’t be the same. The beauty of Girl Scout cookies is that the ordering happens months before the cookies actually arrive. Just long enough for you to have totally forgotten that you put your name down for an obscene quantity of sugar and chocolate covered snacks. They are divine. They are to be savored. They have just arrived!

A hand made sign on a lamp post down by the store gave notice that the cookies were on their way and would be arriving on Saturday and I mad darn sure that I would be around. As I say, there are many different cookies that the Girl Scouts sell and many of them are very, very tasty. It doesn’t matter though. I just want the Thin Mints.

A mint flavored chocolate wafer covered in more chocolate and bundled in a sleeve and two sleeves to a box, I wait for them with anticipation every year. I thought that they were perfection in a cookie until my Wife showed me the error of my ways. There was, in fact, a way to make them even better. They need to be kept in the freezer. Oh, ho ho ho. I’m in heaven. As I write, there are two boxes in the freezer, one having been mildly pillaged and two more in the deep freeze in the basement. I’m hoping that I’ll manage to forget all about them until mid summer, but that’s a long shot. I can hear them calling to me just now.

So, I still don’t understand the draw of the Scouting life and though I know that the Girl Scouts have beefed up the types of merit badges they offer to include more outdoorsy kind of activities in the hopes of appearing less… 1950’s, I’m still clueless as to what their goals really are, but that’s ok. They just need to keep me in Thin Mints and I’ll keep handing over the contents of my wallet to the nice young girls on the front step in the brown and green uniforms. At least I think they were Girl Scouts.

If Lulu Belle ever decides to join their ranks, I am truly doomed. Doomed and in a sugar coma… So I guess I won’t know about it, at any rate. And now… If you’ll excuse me, I feel a freezer raid coming on.

Company in Bed

Short Stack is in tough shape at the moment, but on the mend. He’ll be fine thanks to the miracle of modern medicine and unlike parents of just a few decades back, we have no life altering concerns about our son’s current health. He has pneumonia, though not a very severe case. What the illness has done has turned our normally lone wolf-ish, self entertaining kiddo into a baby lemur who just wants you to be with him. Preferably within reach. Very preferably, actually in his tiny grasp.

Last Friday night was not fun for anyone involved. Somehow, and I still don’t know how, Lulu Belle managed to sleep through the entire ordeal of a three year old coughing, vomiting and yelling, “I don’t like this! I don’t like this!” at the top of his lungs.

None of us, naturally, liked this.

sick_kid

It was his first real illness since a bout of croup when he was just a miniature version of himself and thankfully, he doesn’t recall that experience, though we certainly do. After his second round of coughing, then vomiting and then crying, which kicked off the coughing again, things finally settled down and with a freshly made bed and his third set of Pj’s he was succumbing to exhaustion. So were Action Girl and myself. It was three in the morning and we were officially running on our personal reserve batteries. To say that Short Stack was in a fragile state of mind is an epic understatement. Everything was making him cry, which led to the progression of coughing and barfing. We were ready to do what ever made him happy. What he wanted more than anything was not to be alone. Not for one second.

So, with a good deal of leg and arm folding, I managed to fulfill his request and joined him in his bed. His bed, by the way, is built for a toddler and uses a crib mattress.

toddler-bed

Throw in the pile of pillows needed to keep him elevated, a half dozen necessary stuffed animals and a full headboard and footboard and there was not much room left for dad. As I crunched my frame into the corner and he nestled into my arms, I remembered doing just this same thing on the far roomier couch when he was maybe four months old. He had a cold and needed to sleep sitting up so he could breath. It was scarier back then, not only because it was our first time as parents but also because he was so small. I did, however recall having a heck of a lot more leg room. This time, he was bigger, wigglier and due to his low grade fever and fleece pajamas, was like cuddling a coal stove. A wonderful, soft coal stove that you’d die to protect, but a sweat factory, none the less.

As I lay there listening to his breathing get regular and deep, I closed my eyes and was transported to the various times my parents had held me while I stretched out, limp and exhausted after a night of some illness or other and realized now, just how hard it was to live through as the concerned parent. From my memory as the sick child, I also remembered not wanting to be alone either.

My folk’s room wasn’t more than a step away from my own, but when I was sick and didn’t dare move, it seemed like they might as well have been on the moon. I can still pull up the feeling of being alone in the dark while Mom and Dad were just over there, snug in the same big bed, sound asleep. I craved that company and though Mom or Dad would always cuddle with me after stories, my bed was too small for two and not conducive to sleeping with a parent hogging up the majority of the mattress space. As a kid, it always felt like an injustice that I was solo each night while they had each other. No number of plush, foam filled animal friends seemed to fill that void. That and the unmistakable fact that the skeletons in my closet were just waiting for me to nod off before leaping out and devouring me. That most defiantly didn’t help.

One day, in a non-ill state of mind, I hit upon the solution. It was perfect! I could have my own bed AND someone to share it with me. It was fool proof! That night, I brought up the idea to my Father. “What we need,” I said triumphantly, “are bunk beds! That way, you can sleep here with me and we’d each have all the room we need!” To a five year old, this was a breakthrough of logic. Dad was always telling me to stop wiggling when I was supposed to be falling asleep and I always felt crunched between him, the wall and the stuffed animals.

The animals, by the way, were there to keep the skeletons at bay. I figured if magical monsters could get me in the night, then my plush friends might just as logically rise up to be my personal army. That’s why I liked the stuffed seals and the alligator. Those things could BITE!

In the end, I think it worked out for me. I’m still here, aren’t I?

As I recall, Dad mumbled something about Mom being lonely and how that wasn’t fair, but to be honest, it didn’t seem fair the other way either. I thought briefly about a triple bunk but doubted that one could clear the ceiling. Someone was bound to be left alone. I just didn’t see why it had to be me.

I out grew it, naturally, but was glad on the day I no longer slept alone. Granted, the space is nice to have and I do tend to loose the blanket war from time to time, but I do understand where Short Stack is coming from. It’s no fun to be alone in the night, even if Mom and Dad aren’t far away at all. Throw in being sick, and it’s enough to make a three year old cry. Which leads to coughing and other things at times. As I said, he’s on the mend and we’re happy to see him more like him self but he still doesn’t want to be left in his room come lights out time. He remembers having me to cuddle up to that night and he wants it again. I can’t blame him. We’ve talked about how that was a special thing and how it can’t happen every night, and that’s true. It is special. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. I didn’t get to sleep much while shoehorned into a bed made for a child and holding on to my little boy, but that’s not the point. I can sleep later. I’m just glad that I had the chance to make him feel safe when everything he thought he understood went out the window.

With two kids, I’m pretty sure we’ll be doing this again some day. If either of them comes up with my bunk bed idea, I’m going to have a heck of a time talking my way out of that one.

“But Dad, you can sleep with me in my room and Mom can stay with Lulu Belle! It’s perfect!”

“Ummm, yah. Well… You see, Short Stack…”

Rolling Down the Snow

So, last night, the car started acting funny. Actually, there was nothing funny about it. The car was packed to the gills with small, wiggling children, seven tons of groceries and many hard won trophies from the hunt at Target. We had been out since eleven that morning and, naps be damned, we had stayed out until close to three thirty! Sometimes in the effort to have some semblance of a normal life, not to mention trying to actually accomplish goals you set for your self (such as having food to eat) you need to forgo the normal routine that ostensibly keeps your children sane but keeps you anchored to your house. This is exactly what we had done and we had the station wagon full of booty and crazed children to prove it.

The excursion had all in all, gone well. Neither Short Stack nor Lulu Belle had inflicted an emotional meltdown on us and both seemed happy for the chance to do something interesting. The rainy, cold weather had prompted me to do something! By ten that morning, I was looking down the barrel of hours and hours of hanging out in the living room with the kids, slowly going insane to the pitter patter of raindrops. Normally, I’d have jumped into a project, but with both kids home, that was decidedly NOT going to be a possibility. Plus, I didn’t want to.

By the time we were pointed homeward, the sky was looking brighter, the February rain had stopped and Short Stack at least, had managed to nod off for a few precious minutes. We were wrapping up a good afternoon outing. We drove back to the boat terminal and were the first car in line to board the ferry for the trip back to our island home. When the boat was ready, we drove on, parked and shut off the car.

Bad move.

Some time later as the ferry pulled up to the dock, we got the kids back in their seats and turned the key.

“Raur… raur…. raur.”

“Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me!”

My wife, Action Girl, was driving at the time and she was looking at the dashboard with a mixture of disbelief and hate-lasers. If any mortal being had been given that look, they would have had to shield their eyes or burst into a torrent of flame. The car, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care.

“Raur… raur… raur…”

There was obviously no way it was going to crank fast enough to catch. Having to make the other cars behind us wait while the crew went to get the onboard jumper pack was bad enough, but remember, Action Girl is a captain here. This is her turf and she knows every one and they know her. Plus, she HATES to be embarrassed. Needless to say, I wouldn’t want to be the car right now.

So, with a jump, we got home with our cargo. It just about died when we pulled into the yard and after going for a quick spin to charge up the battery, I’m pretty sure it’s the distributor or possibly, the alternator. Either way, it’s not reliable and is scheduled to go in to the garage later this week. Should be a fun drive to get it there.

This morning we all got up early enough to have a leisurely breakfast before heading in our various directions. Action Girl is working an AM shift and needed to be gone on an early boat and Short Stack needed to get to pre-school. Lulu Belle and I were the only ones loafing at home today. Not trusting the car to behave was no problem for Action Girl. She didn’t need it to get to the ferry landing and thus, to work. The question was, how to get my son where he needed to be. His pre-school is on the island and not a very hard walk at all, but as anyone who has gone for a stroll with a nearly-three year old can attest, the power of the “distraction” factor is with out equal. Everything is worth inspecting with deep interest and care when you’re that age. To make matters more patience grinding, Short Stack is in the full blown “why” phase of life.

“What is that, Dad?”

“It’s a parked car.”

“Why is it parked there?”

“Because, the people who own it must have left it there.”

“But why did they leave it there?”

A quick intake of breath as I see the conversational precipice loom before me. “Well, maybe they live in the house next to where the car’s parked.”

“Why do they live there?”

“Everyone has to live somewhere.”

“Why does everyone have to live somewhere?”

I rub my brow in an effort to smooth out some of the rapidly deepening wrinkles. “We all need a place to be, I guess. Look Short Stack! Is that a robin?”

He’ll easily blow past my pathetic attempt to redirect the conversation and pulls things back to the confounding persistence of the car to remain parked there as well as the philosophical need to belong to a place. All this time, we will have moved, oh… two and a half feet if I’m lucky. I try really, REALLY hard to answer each and every question he has, but if we are attempting to actually get someplace, it would have been faster to box the two of us up and mail us than let us walk.

No. Walking there was out of the question. Plus, yesterday’s rain had turned into last night’s snow and a couple of inches of the fluffy stuff covered everything. Remember, two inches to an adult equals at least five to a three year old. If we walked, the tulips would be in bloom by the time we arrived.

Action Girl actually came up with the solution. The roads were still covered and perfect for the sled. When breakfasts were finished and snow suits donned, I packed Lulu Belle into the kid carrier backpack, hoisted her up and strapped her in. Then, we dusted off the sled. Short Stack needed little encouragement to hop in and was beaming from under his knit hat as he hugged his school bag.

“Ready, buddy?”

“YAH!”

The orange plastic sled easily scooted along and as I trudged along, we left a trail of compressed snow, happy laughter and exclamations of glee. This was the best way to go to school ever! The trip took marginally longer than it would have with the car and was defiantly more appreciated. The sun was bright, the wind low and the world sparkled with its clean, while mantle. We arrived without incident and once he was pealed out of his layers of winter clothing, he happily joined the table of other children covered in paste and construction paper. I had to actually ask for a hug and kiss goodbye.

As Lulu Belle and I tromped home, sled tucked under my arm, I looked down at the trail we had only just made. It was still flat and unblemished by footprints. The crisp outline of the track stood out strongly on the smooth snow and it made me think of times long past. Days when the roads were rolled after a snowstorm to pack it down for the horses and sleighs. When children going to school by sled was probably anything but odd and looked forward to as part and parcel of the winter season.

rolling2

It’s days like this that I really love where I live. Being in northern New England provides us with the “Currier and Ives” old world of barns and colonial era houses that I enjoy so much and island living means that traffic is thin at worst and non-existent at best. It also makes the sledding all the more satisfying.

I almost decided to keep walking when we reached our front yard but Lulu Belle was starting to flag and her crib was calling to her. It was, after all, time for the morning nap. I walked up the steps and looked back at our trail, now starting to melt in the morning sun. By the time I need to go collect Short Stack this afternoon the snow would likely be gone or at least, un-sledable. Looks like we’ll be walking after all.

I’ll be sure to pack provisions for the trek. We might be gone for a while and have to make camp.

“But why do we need to make camp, dad?”

“AAAAAAAAAAAA!”

Solo Dad and the Grand Adventure

Well, calling my day out with the kids this Sunday a “Grand Adventure” might be laying it on a bit thick. The three of us (Lulu Belle, Short Stack and I) decided that rather than knocking around the home stead on such a beautiful July day, that we’d strike out and have an adventure. Action Girl was working a full day today so it was just dad (me) and the kids. For those of you who might not me keeping track, Short Stack is two and a half now and thus, chatty, inquisitive, funny and hard to keep track of. Lulu is only three months and is by far the easiest to deal with as far as kid-maintenance goes. Two caveats… Short Stack, though chatty, inquisitive, etc, etc, is also of the age where he wants to do stuff that is not necessarily on the agenda. This can be problematic. Lulu, though a cooing little ball of pink who fits nicely in a car seat, can go from smile to full on air raid siren in .3 seconds with no rhyme or reason and there is no talking her out of it.

I try very hard not to let these things effect my decisions. I flat out refuse to be held hostage to what MIGHT happen. Life’s too short to worry about all the stuff that could go wrong. I get in a lot of trouble for following that line of thinking sometimes. It’s usually worth it though.

So, the original idea was to zip up the Maine coast to surprise and visit Action Girl. She works as a sea captain and I thought I knew the harbor she was going to be in at noon. Luckily, at the last minute, I called. Nope, she wasn’t taking that route today. I would have missed her and far worst of all, I would have gotten Short Stack all revved up to see Mom and then not have delivered the goods. To put things mildly, that could have been a very bad scene.

So, my choices were to head back home or throw caution to the wind and simply call it a road trip day. I decided on the road trip.

With no particular plan in hand, I picked “North” as our direction. Not only north, but north via pretty secondary roads. This worked for about three minutes. “Where’s Momma? Daddy, where’s Momma? Where’s Momma? Daddy? Wh…”

Ok… have to think fast… “Hey Short Stack, maybe we’ll see a water tower.” Silence from the back seat. Short Stack has a few very important areas of interest in his life. Trucks rate at the highest but there are others that can completely derail his current train of thought as well. Water towers, for what ever reason, are a particularly effective distraction. “Where’s da water tower? I can’t seeeee it.”

The next few minutes were comprised of me trying to explain to my back seat occupant that he couldn’t see the water tower yet because we weren’t near one. I also was stepping on it in an effort to get off Old Route 1 and to the highway. The next water tower was at least ten miles away, and I didn’t know how long I could keep his interest and my sanity. Lulu Belle seemed unimpressed with the entire situation.

After about a thousand iterations of why we couldn’t see the much vaunted water tower yet, it’s bulky green mass finally loomed into view. All was right with the world and Short Stack was grinning from ear to ear. “Dare it iiiiiiiiis!”

As I continued on past it, I was quickly given directions from the back. “Daddy will back up, please. Want to see it again. Daddy… Want to see it again!”

Think, think, think…. COWS!

“Hey Short Stack, let’s see cows!” I was greeted with more blessed silence as this information was digested. We bumped along and the roads got smaller and rougher. I knew that there was a farm down this way and I thought that I remembered that they welcomed the public. Actually, I preyed that they welcomed the public. This is the danger of winging it. “Where’d da cooooooows go?”

Come ooooooon, COWS!

The fates smiled and they had a wonderful little set up for visitors. Diapers were changed, children were fed and shoulders were burped on. Then, we were off to see the cows in the barn. As it turns out, there were far more than just cows. Goats, sheep, and pigs rummaged around in neat, clean stalls and chickens wandered all over. Short Stack desperately wanted to touch a chicken but the combination of his and their skittish behavior made this highly predictable. He never made it closer than a meter. Lulu Belle watched the whole show from over her pacifier, Maggie Simpson style. “Nook, nook, nook.” What a good baby!

We spent perhaps an hour there looking at the animals and riding the thoughtfully provided toy tractor around the barn. After knocking the majority of the poo out of his and my footwear, we hopped back in the car and headed off back down the road. It was lunch time and we needed hot dogs. We discussed hot dogs at length as I scanned the various road side stands. He has a book called “The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog” and we quoted it back and forth as I tried to locate at lunch stand.

Lulu had nodded off and missed the Hot Dog vendor I stopped at as well as our witty banter involving birds and processed meats. The seating arrangements at the stand were fine but rudimentary and I was not going to risk waking her. We continued on with me handing french fries, one by one over my seat into the waiting pudgy hands behind me. After a few false starts, we finally found not only shade to sit in and eat our hot dogs, but a play ground to boot.

More diaper changes, a hundred tips up and down the slide by Short Stack, punctuated by his dad calling him in for bites of lunch and another happy hour passed. I noticed various approving looks from other moms at the playground and I’d be a liar if I said that it didn’t make me feel proud. I was a dad out by my self with my two little kids and we were having fun.

Action Girl happened to be back in port by the time we were ready to head home and we stopped in for a visit. We managed to find her a hot dog of her own at a street vendor and presented it to her with pride. She got lunch and a cuddle from her kiddos and a kiss from me before we headed out for home. Short Stack was pooped and was out cold as we pulled into the drive way. I put the windows down, brought in Lulu Belle and let him sleep.

As I sat down with my daughter, I realized something about the day’s adventure. It had been a success and a good time but the realization hit me that I would be the only one to remember it. Short Stack is still too young for the memory to stick and Lulu Belle… well. This would be my memory, alone. Rather an odd thought, really.

It was a little tricky to pull off, naturally, but it’s a day I’ll always remember as being special. It was my first day out adventuring with the kids on my own and they had both behaved wonderfully. I can’t wait to do it again.

I wouldn’t have minded a little help, though. Next time, I think I’ll check Action Girl’s sailing schedule a bit closer and be in the right port at the right time.

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