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?”

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Flight Time… Part I

Keeping a kid focused enough to maintain positive forward motion is a tricky thing to do. You’ve no doubt heard the expression “herding cats” before and that might be a fairly good description except that I find the cats more predictable. Over the years I’ve discovered that the best way, often the only way, to get a kid or two to move in the desired direction is to give them a job. Thus empowered, they will stay on task, oh…. for at least thirty to forty-five seconds. That’s double what you can normally get!

“Okay Buddy, here’s what you need to do. All the seats are numbered and we need to find the ones that belong to us. Can you help me do that?”

With a resounding, “Yah!” and his mission thus given, he was off, down the isle to find seats 23A and B.

Again, I have some good stuff to say here about our carrier for this flight. JetBlue does something that I was deeply grateful to find out. Others may do it too, but I don’t know about them so I’ll just sing JetBlue’s praises.

They let you pick your seats when you book on-line with the aid of a little airplane diagram.

Even though I’ve done a good deal of flying in the past, I’m always a tad bummed when I find out that I’ll be sitting over the wing for the duration. The only thing worse is when you find yourself in the last row with the seat bolted permanently in the uptight dinner guest position. If you’re really lucky, it comes with the fuselage mounted engines just on the other side of the thin aluminum wall. I’ve actually had to turn on the subtitles for a movie I was watching because of this. The headphones simply didn’t go up high enough for me to hear the dialogue.

With this flight though, I had none of that to worry about. We were positioned perfectly, half way back from the trailing edge of the wing with Short Stack, naturally, in the window seat. Th view should be wonderful and I had even put us on the right hand side so that he might just catch a glimpse of the Space Center when we were nearing our destination.

As he kneeled there, face smunched against the Plexiglas, I was taken with how small he still was and, just for a moment, felt like I was being somewhat unfair to be dragging him off on this crazy excursion. The next twenty hours or so were going to be rough. Little sleep, lots of walking, crowds. What was I doing? Then… I saw Rick getting into his seat a few rows up. He spotted me too as he was folding himself in, stopped, smiled warmly and winked as he gave me a big thumbs up. That was all the validation I needed. The last shreds of doubt washed away in the shared enthusiasm and I set about getting the two of us ready for take off.

Short Stack and I had been over and over what he could expect for the flight. The unknown is scary after all, and the last thing I wanted was my four year old freaking out and trying to be worn as a hat while the plane climbed out. The crying kid on a plane is always a horror show and I wanted to be sure it wasn’t mine who was melting down. He’s not a scaredy-cat, but he really doesn’t like it when the unexpected occurs. He wants to know about it all, BEFORE! We had covered the seat belt, the sound of the luggage being loaded, the whine of the engines, how the seat in front of you can move a bit, even the “Ka-THUNK” of the wheels coming up that so often makes more than a few adult passengers’ knuckles go white when they hear it. He was all set and he was excited, right up until I belted him in.

“Daddy. I don’t think they make these seats for little boys.”

Much to my sadness, I saw that he was right. They don’t.

After all my hype of how cool flying was going to be, I looked down at my son and saw his problem. The very top of his little red head was almost exactly level with the bottom of his window. He had a perfect view of the wall, but nothing else. If he looked up and out, all there was to see was sky. Bummer.

Time to bend a few rules again, I see.

“Hang on a second, Buddy. I’ll see what I can do for you there.”

Quickly, I stared to rummage around for anything that might give him a boost. Since we were heading for tropical weather, I didn’t have much but I did manage to fold up my flannel shirt and his rain coat and cram them under his butt so he could just barely peek up and out when he stretched his neck to its full extension. I badly wanted to put him on my lap, but I thought that might not go over well with the flight attendants. He could see now. Barely.

Once we were all packed in, seated and ready to go, the plane pulled out and started to taxi to the runway. Finally, the excitement started to show on Short Stack’s face as he cast his gaze rapidly around the plane and relied on me to give him the play by play of what was happening out our window.

“Are we taking off yet?” His head swiveled like a crazed lawn sprinkler.

“Nope. We’re just getting to the runway.” This is where I got to shine with my airplane nerdiness. What my son is to rockets, I was to airplanes and I followed that passion all the way to my pilot’s certificate. The flying I do is strictly for fun and the planes are a heck of a lot smaller than the one we were in, but the principle’s the same and I knew what was happening in the cockpit and the tower and I gave him my best running commentary as we bumped along the taxiway.

“Ok, we’re probably going to hold short here for just a few seconds while the tower checks things out for us and then, when it’s our turn, we’ll pull on to the runway.” Eyes wide open and brain humming, he took it all in with rapt attention. Just like I promised, a few seconds later, we turned on to the runway, lined up and listened to the engines throttling up.

“Here we go!”

In what I hoped was a reassuring gesture, I put my hand on his knee and was rewarded with his own small hand pressed into its back. The roar of the engines blocked out any comments that he might have made but he was obviously loving this. It wasn’t a rocket, but at least he was in the air! Then… he looked at me with some concern and touched his ears. It was the cabin pressure changing and he had no idea what to do about that.

Whoops!

When I was a kid, I lived in a valley. It was a good sized valley and because of this, when you left our little city to go anywhere, you changed altitude quickly and steeply. Because of this, your ears popped. I don’t recall a time when I didn’t know what to do when the pressure started to build up and you needed to let it out. You just yawn, swallow hard or chew some gum or something. It was simple. My own son lives in very different geography. Our house is at sea level, or just slightly above. There are no nearby mountains, deep valleys or winding, climbing roads that snake up the backs of ridge lines. He’s a flatlander and lives his life at about thirty feet above the sea, unless he’s actually standing on the beach… Then it’s less.

No one likes to wait too long when it comes to popping ears so I looked for a quick fix and my eyes fell on his sippy cup. It’s an ingenious little spill proof device with an integral straw. It works very well, but you really have to suck on that thing to make it work. I had just topped it up and now handed it off to my ever more worried looking son.

“Here! Suck on the straw. That will help.”

Without a moment’s hesitation, he started slurping away and only stopped once to let me know that it was working. The plane climbed. Short Stack drank. We kept climbing. He kept drinking. And then… he was out, but the plane wasn’t. The poor kid had just slurped up a ton of water and was casting about in more than a slight panic.

“Here. Just do this. You need to yawn.”

Helpfully, I did some exaggerated yawns for him which he dutifully started to mimic… sort of. Rather than opening and closing his jaw like a guppy, he decided that it was best to just leave it hanging open. He did this for a long, long time which I found somewhere between humorous and unsettling.

“Ok, Buddy. You should be fine now. You can close your mouth.” He was having none of it. Not until he was sure. Until then, he was doing his best to look like a jet intake. I decided to let the humorous side of me win out over the unsettled one and let him continue his long, silent, solo.

“Ah haa-ha hoo hee.”

I replied with a stifled smirk as I looked at his tonsils. “What’s that, Bub?”

“Ah haa-ha hoo heeee!” He looked earnest in his statement, but Lord only knows what it was. Between the engine noise and the lack of any enunciation on his part, it was impossible to understand him.

“You’re going to need to close your mouth and talk normally, Short Stack. I can’t understand you at all.”

“I have to go PEE! Right now!

RED ALERT!

And Away We Go… Part III

As I sat back in the waiting room chair, I noticed someone else obviously enjoying the play filled happiness so openly expressed by my boy. A few seats over, a man a little older than myself sat amongst scattered carry-ons and smiled as Short Stack posed Neil with his little flag, just next to the triumphantly returned Shuttle. I knew that smile. It was the unmistakable look of a father remembering.

When he realized that I was watching him watch Short Stack, he smiled a little uneasily and looked for something safe to say. “He’s got quite an imagination, hasn’t he?”

First comments with strangers are always a little tense. You never know how people are going to react these days, especially if they are alone with their young children. As a society, it’s been drilled relentlessly into our heads that everyone is a potential killer, kidnapper, or investment banker and you simply should never open your self up to potential danger. It is perhaps a safer way to live life, but it’s also, in my estimation, a far less fulfilling one as well. I think that as we seem to be stuck in this “watch your back” society, we have also become hungry for the chance to connect with our fellow planet walkers. Generally, I’ve found that if I make it clear that I’m approachable, things nearly always end up with me getting a new friend, even if only for the length of the conversation.

In short, I’ve never learned not to talk to strangers.

“Oooh, yah.” I shifted so I could chat more comfortably. “If it involves rockets, he’s a happy boy. If it doesn’t, well… he’ll make it into one. Just watch.” Short Stack obliged by busily turning his hands into a makeshift lunar lander and lifting off from the Sea of Tranquility with Neil balled up in his little fist.

Seeing that I wasn’t about to give him the “Who the hell are you?!” look or ignore him entirely, he straightened up as well and smiled broadly. “Looks like he’s got some serious focus there. It’s great to see a kid so into what ever makes him happy. My son was like that too. Now he’s at the Air Force Academy and loving it. It’s where he always wanted to be.”

The thing is, I love moments like this. I had no idea who this man was before right now, but I was about to find out. I’m a pretty good judge of character and posses a well tuned “gut” which I have learned to listen to very, very carefully and it rarely leads me wrong. This guy was dressed in a clean t-shirt, sweat shirt and shorts and if that was a bit overexposed for Maine in April, it could be easily forgiven since everyone in the waiting area was, after all going to the same tropical location. If he looked out of place here in New England, it was I who would look silly in Florida dressed in long pants and flannel. I also noted that he was guarding a sizable mound of luggage so he wasn’t traveling alone. Since I hadn’t seen his companion yet, I guessed that she was off looking through the duty free shops and that he was no doubt getting bored.

Bored is good. It makes people chatty.

His name was Rick, and he and his wife lived right here in Portland. For a day job, he drove for a national delivery company and on his off hours, taught children’s gymnastics. They, as it turned out, were going to Florida to watch their daughter compete in the National Cheerleading Competition. I found this out in all of five minutes of friendly chatting. He was just the sort of person I was hoping I’d run into.

For me, adult conversation has become a pretty rare commodity. As a stay at home dad, most of the topics that I get to cover each day are either space or bunny related. As Short Stack is fond of pointing out, “Lulu Belle is sorta’ into bunnies, but I like rockets.”

I do get to talk with my wife when she gets home, naturally, but if it’s before eight o’clock, it tends to be filled with a lot of interruptions from various short, household individuals. Topics are brought up but never concluded due to diapers that need changing, toys that need fixing or simply children who want you to focus on them rather than… anything else, actually. After eight, we are both so tired that forming coherent sentences and complete thoughts can be pretty hit or miss. Mostly, all we want to do is plug in and watch a movie together before our eyes cross and we shuffle off to bed.

I love to chat with new folks and although being my children’s primary care giver has been a far more rewarding experience than I ever expected it to be, I do miss meeting people and simply talking like an adult. When Rick’s wife showed up, she immediately took a shine to Short Stack and within a few minutes, my boy was telling her all about rockets, Space Shuttles, Neil and what we were going to see when we finally got to Florida.

For Short Stack, Florida had become a sort of mythical land, visited only by near magical means. It’s too far away to see and too far away to drive to (so far as I’m concerned) and although we had shown it to him on a map, geography and scale are hard to grasp when your primary modes of transportation are a tricycle and size six sneakers. To him, it’s simply a distant unknown land like Atlantis of Camelot. For most kids this Shangri La is synonymous with Disney World but Short Stack doesn’t have a clue about that. Far from having the Disney Channel, our home has been without television for long before he was ever born and I see no reason to change that now. Why would I want to risk overwriting his love of all things space with a seven foot mouse? What he wanted was to go to the Space Center and I’ll take that over “The Happiest Place On Earth” any day.

As our departure time got closer, I realized that I had a problem. In my care was my little boy who had been slurping away dutifully on a sippy cup full of water for the last hour and a half and it was just about time to strap him into a seat from which he would not be allowed to get up for a good twenty minutes. The safe money was in finding a bathroom now. The issue was that in addition to the boy, I was also dragging around a stroller, his backpack, my own ridiculously heavy backpack with my laptop in it AND my Man Purse™.

A brief word about the Man Purse™…

…I love this thing. Normally, I would scoff at taking an extra bag just to carry a few extra items. After all, I do have normal sized pockets, unlike ninety-nine percent of women’s pants. Seriously, what’s the use of having a pocket that’s an inch and a half deep? I don’t know why that put them on women’s jeans at all. Because my pockets are filled with all the things that most ladies would have in their hand bag, like my wallet, cell phone, money clip, used tissues, four pounds of change and three pounds of lint, I need a removable, backup pocket for child care related items. Actually, it has become a must for me. With two munchkins who are always seemingly in need of a snack, a drink, a change of pants, a new diaper, a rocket or a toy bunny, I’ve found it indispensable and have fully embraced the concept. Actually, I feel a little naked with out it. Selection however, was tricky.

A courier bag is really too big for what I wanted and most other commercial shoulder bags, let’s be frank here, look way to girly for me.

In their defense, I think they are supposed to appeal to girls, so that’s fair, but unhelpful for the Dad-On-Duty who wants to retain the façade of Mr. Toughguy. I needed something suitably manly AND useful. What I found was a genuine, WWII British surplus gas mask bag and it. is… AWESOME!

The pouch for the gas canister neatly holds drink for the kids, the main area is capacious enough for changing supplies and toys and there’s even an extra pouch for paper items… like plane tickets. Made from super heavy canvas with steel fasteners and brass grommets, this thing is near indestructible as well. The non-adjustable strap needs no adjusting and hangs right where your hand falls naturally, perfect for dealing with a gas attack from either German infantry or a stinky two year old. In all its glorious olive drab camouflage, it completely fulfills the manly requirement and if someone decides to make fun of me for it, I can always hit them with it. A satchel full of wet diapers can pack a whollop!

So… the bathroom. The bathrooms were in sight of where we were sitting, so it wouldn’t exactly be a trek to get there but I didn’t relish the idea of dragging all my stuff through the tiny doorway and setting it down on the questionable damp men’s room floor. Overhead, the safety announcement ran through the P.A. system on an endless loop.

“Please keep your luggage with you at all times and report any suspicious or unattended bags immediately.”

I looked at Rick and his wife and made a quick judgment call that they probably didn’t work for international terrorists. I mean, between the delivery job and the gymnastics, when could he possibly fit in attending the meetings? It was time to be a rule breaker.

“Hey, Rick. Could you do me a big favor?” I tried my best to look earnest and non-terroristy. “Could you watch our stuff so I can get Short Stack here to the bathroom before we board?”

“Yah, no problem. I’m not going anywhere.”

There’s something funny about all these rules we have at airports now. We know that someone put them in place for a reason, but it seems like, the more that are piled on us, the less likely we are to take them seriously. It’s certainly not uniquely an American trait, but it seems to be endemic to us. We’re an unruly lot and the fact that my waiting area friend was so happy to flout a regulation in the effort of helping out a stranger gives me some hope for this country. One should never take rules as being unbendable, I believe.

After returning, I thanked him and we chatted some more until it was boarding time.

“WE ARE NOW BOARDING ROWS ZURGLE-BURGLE THROUGH FLURZZBE FOR FLIGHT 234, DIRECT TO ORLANDO. PLEASE HAVE YOUR PASSES READY.”

“What did they say?” There was no hope of me figuring out what they just said.

“Eh, who knows?” Rick and his wife were already gathering up their stuff. “I always just get in line.” He added with a wry smile. “It’s just easier that way.”

I smiled back and Short Stack and I joined the throng funneling in though the doorway down to the ramp. As we walked along, I looked down at my son, trotting along happily before me, rocket backpack bouncing with each enthusiastic hop.

He was going for a jet ride!

He was going to Florida!

He was going to see rockets!!!

I caught a lot of other folks smiling broadly at him as his obvious enthusiasm and sweet nature contagiously spread behind him like a wake. He was off on an adventure and pleased to be doing so. I had a deep and real urge to say, “That’s my boy!” to everyone I could.

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…”

Go Home Again

In the past few months, I’ve been traveling a lot. I’m not going that far geographically, only about three hours drive, but it most definitely is a world away.

The day before Christmas, I sold my business of the last ten years. This was, as you can imagine, a difficult choice to make and one that took a lot of introspection before the final, irrevocable decision was made. The trick, as with any business sale, was finding the buyer. As I put the word out that my company was for sale, I started to really discover what was going to be needed of me to make this happen. I was a manufacturer of a specialty home item and though it wasn’t rocket science, any prospective buyer who didn’t have a direct background in this process was going to need a lot of hand holding. This meant that I was going to be doing a lot of direct instruction and thus, away from home for an appreciable period of time. There was no escaping that reality.

The first individuals whom really looked interested were a very nice couple out in California. I spent several hours teleconferencing with them as they tried to make their decision to buy or not and though I was excited at the idea of selling, I also thought about how hard this was going to be. I would naturally have to go out there and show them the ins and outs of the business and that would take my time and their money. Then, I got a call from another company with some serious interest. They wanted to talk and… they were just one state away. Better than that, they were in my childhood hometown. As the California folks waffled and the economy got bleaker, I heard from them less and less and from the new folks “back home”, more and more. In the end, the new folks bought it.

In one day, most of the shop was packed up on a truck and moved lock, stock and barrel to its new home and plans were made for me to put on my instructor’s hat and follow along until they had everything in hand. Finding a place to stay three or so days at a time was no problem at all since my folks still live there and don’t mind seeing my face turn up on their door step or hogging up the bathroom first thing in the morning. I don’t get back to my parent’s home much and it’s rather a novelty to be there again.

One of the complications of this is my other loved ones. My dear Wife would be left in the house with two small children running on 100% pure high octane crazy, and though we both love them immeasurably, being “on duty” solo for days at a time can grind you down faster than an eraser in the hands of a third grader. In an effort to keep things as easy as they could be for Action Girl, I took Short Stack with me on several of these trips. Sitting in the passenger side back seat, Short Stack would watch the world go by one truck at a time with a “director’s cut” commentary going for the duration. In an effort to improve his view, I’d remove the headrest from the front passenger seat, thus giving him a much appreciated and unobstructed view of the road. He’s a great traveling companion and never complains about anything. He will point out every single piece of heavy equipment that you come across and ask you roughly a gazillion unanswerable questions though. You just have to deal with that. His favorite is to point to a random street as you drive along and say, “Why are we not on that road?”

Once I got to our destination, my parent’s would watch Short Stack and I’d get to work. I really didn’t get much of a chance to look around town since I was there to instruct, not reminisce, but I was taken with how much things had changed. The changes, in fact, were almost all I could see. The new plazas, the missing fields, the giant bypasses and the new roundabouts. Where had my little hometown gone? My view of my past home, colored in fading Kodachrome, matched up badly against what I was looking at now and it made me a little sad, even if I knew very well that things inevitably change. My days were full of instruction and work but it was good to see the torch being passed as well. I was happy with my decision and the buyers were the right ones to carry it forward. When I’d get home it was to my old house, my parents and my son. Talk about things changing with time.

My last trip back to instruct was solo. Action Girl decided that though she loved her one on one time with Lulu Belle, she needed some verbal company while I was gone. It did take some of the pressure off for me, being on my own. Even if I didn’t get out to poke around town much, I did get to work late and finish up the lessons, thus insuring that I was done traveling for extended periods of time. I promised my self that I’d be back in the springtime, just to enjoy being there and perhaps go hiking with the family. Running out for lunch on the last day, I decided to take a back route I remembered from my childhood. The small roads wound through residential neighborhoods I hadn’t passed in a lifetime and as I crossed a small bridge, I had a flash of a face race through my mind.

She was a tall and thin with soft features and a warm smile. She was wearing a long skirt, simple blouse and a headscarf as was common in the nineteen-seventies. With her were two boys enjoying the remains of their ice cream cones and talking happily as they walked over this very bridge. I was one of those boys and the other was my friend Charlie. The kind woman was his Mom and I can just recall stopping to drop the soggy ends of our cones over the rail and then racing to the other side to see whose was first as the current swept them away. She had taken us out that day for a walk and other than that brief piece; I can’t recall any of the other day’s happenings. I was probably seven at the time and didn’t know that she wore the scarf for a reason other than fashion though I’m sure Charlie knew.

I remember him being absent from my life for a while not long after that sunny day. The cancer had moved quickly and as friends and classmates, we all tried to fathom what it would be like to loose your mom. The idea alone scared the hell out of us. We couldn’t imagine what he and his twin sister were going through. The only frame of reference I had was the TV show, “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” starring a young Bill Bixby. In the show, Bill’s wife had died and left him and their six year old son alone. I remember it being a good watch, not funny, not sad, but poignant and a bit melancholy at times. It wasn’t hard to imagine the boy being played by my friend.

Charlie and I remained close for years and years and I don’t think even once brought up his mother to him. I don’t know what I would have said at any rate. Bringing up topics like that are hard enough as an adult. When you’re a kid, well… they seem better to leave alone, like a scary dream or dangerous looking animal. The odd thing that struck me as I drove along, away from the bridge and past Charlie’s old house, was the realization that I had remembered that moment with his Mom and the ice creams before. It occurred to me that it popped into my mind whenever I crossed that spot. It had just been so long since the last time I had been by here. I hardly remember her, but I knew her son very well, and I think she would be proud of him today indeed

I lost track of Charlie after high school and haven’t been able to find him since, though I confess, I haven’t looked terribly hard either. We were very good friends once and spent a lot of time playing in each other’s yards. His Father I recall being a little domineering and over protective, but with children of my own now and trying to imagine keeping a family safe and strong through the loss of your spouse, I can’t blame him at all. In retrospect, he was doing an amazing job.

As I drove back to work after picking up my lunch, I took a different route back. I still know all the back roads and remember riding my bike down the shaded, cracked and uneven cement sidewalks, so long ago. It feels strange now to be here again but nostalgic, all the same. It stirs memories that have long lain dormant. I hope I can get back this spring with the family so we can do some good poking around. If time permits, we might go for ice cream. If I can remember, I’ll smile to my self and silently thank Charlie’s Mom for her kindness so long ago. Wouldn’t it be good for all of us to be remembered like that some day?

Hi Ho, Hi Ho….

So today was the big day. Action Girl is back at work and back on the water. After about eight months of being a “stay at home” mom, she’s put her ditty-bag back together, grabbed her charting tools and notebooks and is back piloting sea craft and transporting goods and passengers. Going back to work has loomed large on her horizon for months now and the pressure has been building. We, and everyone who knows her, understands that she’s not the “stay at home” type and though she has had a great time with the kiddos, she’s happiest when she’s hard at work, out on the water. As a bonus, deckhands follow orders better then two year olds do and conversation revolves around topics other than just toy trucks and peanut butter toast. Not always… but more often, you understand.

It was a bit of a mad house this morning as the two of us worked to get the four of us ready for the day. Short Stack was headed to a house with an ample supply of plastic dump trucks, blocks and kids his age whom he knows. Lulu Belle was off to a new place for more hands on, one on one care. Being a two months old, all she really needs are the necessities of life and someone to be attentive. In some ways, she’s the easiest though not the fun one.

I dropped Action Girl and Lulu Belle off first so the baby sitter could get the full, panicked parent rundown. I’d swing back after I dropped of The Boy. Action Girl leaned way back into the rear seats, wiped the peanut butter off one of Short Stack’s cheeks to make a clean spot and gave him a kiss along with wishes to have a great day. After the door was closed, I drove the rest of the way to where he would be spending the day. As he munched happily on his peanut butter pancake, he pointed out various objects of interest.

“Dat car is parked. It’s not going. Da rain is making the car all wet. Dis is a fast road. Cars go fast.”

I slowed down a bit.

We arrived at the house and I pulled him out along with his bag of goodies. He still happily munched away and continued the commentary about the various piles of fresh dirt, the scattered toys and the rain dripping from the trees. As we walked through the door, he immediately started to wiggle.

For half a second, I was afraid that he wanted to leave. I had been found out! He was on to me and knew that I was leaving him!… No. He had a HUGE smile on his face and wanted to get down and dive in to the cluster of kids playing on the floor. I just managed to get his shoes, hat and coat off before he blasted away like a wobbly rocket.

The last minute tips and instructions were given to the sitter and I went to leave. Short Stack was in the thick of it and laughing already. As much as it hurt to not get my last, last, LAST hug and kiss before I left him, I decided it was best to slip out unseen and avoid any tears. Just as I opened the door, his head shot up and he dashed through the scrum to jump up into my arms clamping me in a big hug. After I bent down and returned him to the floor, he was back into the pack of kids in seconds. I effected my quick escape, a much happier Dad.

The car was very quiet when I picked up Action Girl and drove us to away. It’s a very strange feeling to not have our kids with us or at least with a relative and it’s going to take getting used to. Lulu Belle won’t be able to relate her day to us later this evening, but I bet we’ll get an earful from Short Stack.

I hope Action Girl has a good first day back. It’s a little rainy, but the wind isn’t blowing. She has a good crew whom she knows and likes and the runs for her today are nice and simple. I’ll be heading back to my shop and get caught up in my own work. The real trick will be staying until I should. The temptation to come home early is already gnawing at me… and it’s only nine in the morning.

Hmmm… Maybe if I just work through lunch…

You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid. Part III

This was a tense moment for me.

I immediately looked at my Dad, half expecting him to object or refuse it for me. He looked stern, but said nothing.

“You want to try it out?” Grandpa asked. You can guess my answer.

Dad left me alone with my Grandfather that afternoon and I learned to shoot. My very first shot was almost a bulls eye and from that point on, I was totally hooked. We had a great time shooting in Grandma and Grandpa’s back field and I could hardly believe that I was shooting, not only a real rifle, but MY real rifle. I was in heaven.

At the end of the day, my father came to pick me up and take us home. The deal was that for now, the rifle would stay at their house. We lived in a city anyway and there was no place to shoot at home. Grampa had set up his own range on his property, after all. That, and I think Mom would have passed out if we brought it home at this point.

On the way home, I asked Dad the obvious question. I was almost afraid to ask, lest I jinx the dream, but I had to know. “How come you wouldn’t let me get a BB gun but a real rifle is okay?”

“That’s simple.” he replied. “Because it’s a REAL rifle. Not a toy. You will learn how to respect a real fire arm and never confuse it with something to play with. If I feel like you can treat it with respect and show me that you know how to handle it properly, then that day, you can bring it home.”

As always, he was a man of his word. One day I did bring it home and it stayed in my closet in my bed room. I knew with out a doubt that if I EVER got it out with out permission then it would go away forever. I never once wanted to test him on that and so I never showed it to friends or played with it. It was a real rifle, after all. Not a toy.

I still have the rifle my Grandfather got me. He had bought it at a second hand store and had fixed it up him self. He had reblued the metal and refinished the stock and it still looks wonderful. He died only two years later and I miss shooting with him still. When I got to the range, I feel him there with me. He was a gun collector and aficionado. It skipped a generation. Dad couldn’t care either way but I have the bug. I am the proud steward of the small collection of Grandpa’s rifles and pistols and keep them clean and safe. Some day I’ll take Short Stack and Lulu Bell, when the time’s right. I’ll show them the rifle that Great-Grandpa gave me and I’ll teach them to shoot just like he did.

Until then. It’s usually just me alone at the range. Alone other than Grampa, that is.

Who needs BB’s when you can go “BANG” for real?

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