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.


(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.

Carnivore Girl

Our kids have a variety of nicknames. I rarely call my son, “Short Stack” to his face, though he will respond to it if you say it repeatedly in a loud clear voice and somehow manage to break through the impenetrable attention-wall of whatever he happens to be doing at the moment. Usually toy trucks or toy trains. Either way, whatever it is, it’s almost always more interesting that what an adult will tell him. Getting through is a tough job. Lulu Belle has quite a lost of nicknames as well but is easier to get her to pay attention to you. I’m guessing that this is because she hasn’t fully discovered the thrill that trucks and trains can bring and unless we can convince Short Stack that sharing is good, she never may, either.

What I have noticed about their nicknames is that I seem to have a theme based list that I draw from. What they get called tends to depend on what activity we are doing at the moment. Mealtime is the perfect example. Short Stack goes by the moniker, “Fruit Bat” while Lulu Belle proudly wears the label, “Carnivore Girl.” You don’t need a second guess why they are called what they are.

My wife, Action Girl has had a varied and meandering path she has followed when it comes to food. As a child growing up in rural Vermont, she was daily presented with a dizzying menu of far reaching proportions. Though she had spent her entire life in the Green Mountain state, he parents were transplants from Jersey City and Yonkers. Though the baked ziti and casserole recepies common to church suppers and Rotary meetings found their way home from time to time, the kids were just as likely to find a plate of linguini and clams, calamari, or matzo ball soup staring back at them from the dinner table. Her parent’s, remembering their metropolitan roots, were creative, often to the consternation of the younger inhabitants of the household.

With this varied gastronomical background, Action Girl made an early discovery. She really, simply, honestly, didn’t care for meat in general and red meat in particular. At an early age she and her older brother who couldn’t stand vegetables, (He ate peas one at a time, swinging each one down individually with a gulp of water, pill style) came up with a lively and lucrative trading business at the table when their parents weren’t looking.

Later on, after she grew up and eventually met me, I witnessed the carnage that was her attempt at eating steak. The ‘meat to be eaten’ to ‘meat to be discarded because it looked yucky’ ratio was about one to one. My inquiry if she would like a set of silver dissection needles with her meal was met with that special scathing gaze that girls work at perfecting, starting at age nine. Done correctly, it can actually leave marks.

Then, one year she scored a great adventure/summer job. She would be working in Colorado on a dude ranch. It would be tough to be away from her for so long, but I knew it was something that she really wanted to do. She had spent her whole life in New England and going out west to work on horseback was going to be one of those magic, life-defining kind of moments. It was. It was also full of buffalo meat.

In one letter, she told me how they had been served buffalo sausage for breakfast, buffalo burgers for lunch and buffalo steak for dinner. She also remarked how there were brownies for dessert and she was eyeing them suspiciously, suspecting that some buffalo hand managed to work its way in there somehow.

When she returned later that fall, she was a committed vegetarian.

But that was fine! We got an apartment together when she returned and she leaped into her vegetarianness with gusto. Action Girl has never let me down in the kitchen and her more than excellent talents shone through in her endeavor to make us wonderful meals with no meat included. She succeeded. We happily lived the vegetarian life for well over a decade and during that time, though I had not abandon my carnivorous ways, I never felt like I was missing it at home. Burgers were had when we went out for dinner or over to friend’s houses, but at home, the meals were delicious, filling and critter free. I was fine with this. It worked.

Then, years later, I walked though the door after a long day at work and found… a pork roast.

I did walk into the right house, didn’t I?

I checked.

My wife was there.

My stuff was there.

The address was, in fact, correct, but the dinner table did not lie. A beautiful pork roast was waiting there for me. No. For US.


Thirteen years of happy vegetarian eating had gone to the wayside for one, compelling and undeniable reason. She was pregnant with our first child and her body had one demand. No pickles or ice cream. MEAT! NOW!

Happily, I rolled with it and for the last four years, we’ve been an omnivorous family.

Some of us more than others.

Our son, whom started my lovely wife’s journey back to the meat eating side of life, is not easy to get meat into at all. The only way he will even consider it is if it’s in chicken nugget form, fish stick form or hot dog shape. Outside of those three, you can forget it. He will, however, devour just about any kind of fruit that you put in front of him and in any quantity. He actually thinks of applesauce as dessert! Or as he calls it, “kazzert.”

Lulu Belle will eat fruit as well if she’s in the mood and if it’s one of her favorites. Meat, though? That’s different. As she chomps her way through it, she will sometimes actually say, “Om nom nom nom!” as she chews with the same gusto normally encountered in the company of carnivores of the four legged variety. Some day, I’ll have to give her a turkey leg and film it for posterity/hilarity.

There is an excellent chance that someday Lulu Belle will be subjected to some heavy peer pressure that eating animals is bad and that she shouldn’t do it. It seems to be a stage that a large segment of adolescent girls (and a few boys who want to go out with these girls) go through at some point in their lives, and I have an unfortunate tendency to roll my eyes when I encounter this. Action Girl, who always was squeamish when it came to red meat, honestly had gone off it after her, ‘All buffalo, all the time’ diet and I can respect that. She didn’t wan to have anymore, not because she felt badly for the buffalo, but because she honestly didn’t like it.

Some folks believe that relying on animals for our own purposes is wrong as well, and I can respect that too, providing they turn in all their leather shoes, handbags, belts and stop eating Jell-O. In my book, anything else is hypocritical and can therefore be legally mocked. (Mocking, by the way is 100% animal free)

Some day, it could happen that Lulu Belle or Short Stack decide that meat is not for them and as I say, providing that they mean it, I’ll back them up 100%. I’ll always back them up if they mean it. They can count on me like that.

On the other hand, if Lulu comes home from sixth grade some day and announces that she doesn’t like meat anymore, I’m sitting her down and getting out the video of her in the highchair with the turkey leg.


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