Just trying to do what my dad did

“Dad, English Premier League Soccer is on.  It’s Everton vs. Newcastle today.  I made nachos.  Do you want to come watch it with me?”

The truth is, I do not really want to watch it today.  I love watching soccer, but I have stuff to do and I really have no vested interest in these teams.  However, much like every Saturday, I will sit down in my chair an try to watch at least half of the match.  For the next 90 minutes plus added time, I am going to be bombarded with the history of players whose names I can not pronounce. I will hear all about their stats and how much teams are paying at the transfer window.  Ben will critique the manager’s tactical decisions, inform me which teams will soon be relegated and point out all the things he would do different if he was playing.  Clearly a fourteen year old boy knows more than the top players and managers in the world.

Why do I do this every weekend? First, the boy makes really good nachos. Second, it reminds me of one of my favorite childhood memories.

In 1987, for some reason, I was in really into baseball.  That year, he Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays played each other in the final game of their seasons. After 161 games, they were deadlocked and the divisional championship came down to the last game of the season. In 1987, my dad had back surgery and was laying in a hospital bed on game day.  I do not remember who suggested it, but my mother dropped me off at the hospital to sit in my dad’s room and watch the game with him.

I was excited because it was just my dad and me. I sat in the chair by his bed and for the next nine innings, I impressed him with my knowledge of the players. I entertained him with the statistics of every player who came to the plate and regaled him with my knowledge of the season. I was on my game and eagerly pointed out the mistakes the Tiger manager made because, after all, a teen boy in Kalamazoo, Michigan obviously knew more about baseball than Sparky Anderson who had only been around the Major League for a couple decades.

The nurses came in every few innings to check on us and my dad introduced me to every one of them and told them about how I was spending the game with him.  I remember them smiling. When my dad’s meal came, there was an extra Jello, pop and apple sauce under the metal cover,  My dad hung in there. I remember being a little baffled about how he could possibly slip in and out of sleep during such an important and tense game. In hindsight, I am pretty impressed that he could stay awake at all.  The combination of painkillers and baseball would put me in a coma.

The game ended. I am going to go purely on faded memories on this next part. The Tigers won the game 1-0.  Frank Tanana pitched a complete game shut-out and the only run scored was a solo home run to left-center field in the first couple of innings by Chet Lemon.  Or maybe it was Larry Herndon. I always confused those two. I want to say the game ended on a weak grounder back to Tanana.   I will have to fact check those 30+ year old memories later. I remember my dad thanking me and once again telling the nurses that I had spent the whole game with him as I left. I am not sure it it was pride of morphine talking. Probably both.

As a parent, I feel like I screw something up every single day. I am constantly worried that some day, my kids will remember me as some type of ogre who snapped at them for not putting their games down fast enough, for being too loud, or for making my living room a bigger mess than a frat house on Sunday morning.  I definitely over think it but I really try to counter all of that with small things like watching a soccer match with Ben or suffering through an overly complicated board game James (seriously, when did  games stop coming with spinners?).

Will Ben remember, or care, that I spent a good chunk of my Saturday morning watching an inconsequential match with him?  Probably not.  However, maybe one of these games something special will happen. Maybe not. Maybe he will simply be having a crappy day and me listening to him reporting transfer rumor will make it better.  Maybe he will remember that. I don’t know.

I am sure most of these Saturdays will fade from both of our memories.  However, almost every time I settle in and the barrage of information starts, I smile for a second and remember sucking Sprite out of a styrofoam cup in a hospital room over thirty years ago with my dad.  Maybe some day, my boys will sit with their son or daughter and grind out a football game, basketball game or dance recital (oh, please let it be a dance recital) and think of me.  I can hope.

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Dragons

Every  night the dragon came and every night Keri fought it.  At first, it was a minor nuisance.  A small little lizard that appeared at sunset, scratched at her window and was easily chased away.  But in the past months, it had grown. Not only was the dragon larger and more fierce, but it was fighting longer and longer. Still, it was always beaten back by sunrise.

Keri continued to deliver wood to the villagers. A few of them whispered of seeing strange lights and noises coming from Keri’s land at night, but few thought much of it. Keri continued to bring wood and what business of theirs was it? After all, nobody really believed in dragons.

The monster continued to grow and Keri’s battles now stretched throughout the night.  While once, she had been simply able to chase the dragon away, she now spent the evenings fending off its attacks.  She no longer troubled herself with trying to beat the dragon back but simply tried to survive until the dragon grew bored and fled.  Worse yet, the dragon now brazenly stayed until the first rays of sun stretched over Keri’s land.

Keri began having difficulty making her deliveries on time. Most of the villagers quickly forgave her, but whispers began.  Some wondered why Keri continued to wear long tunics in the heat, but others caught glimpses of the bruises or the long, bloody claw marks that ran the length of Keri’s arms from where the dragon had raked her.  While Keri’s deliveries had once been a source of peace, she now caught glimpses of the dragon stalking her.  Even during the day.  A tail disappearing beneath the underbrush beside the road.  A curl of smoke coming from behind a pile of rock.  Always there. Always waiting for sunset.

At the town festival, a battered Keri was approached by the Men in Orange.  Her head swam from her drink, but she eventually told them that she was fighting a dragon. To  her surprise, they did not mock her. They believed her. They slammed their steins on the table and swore their allegiance. The Men in Orange told her to light a signal fire when the dragon next attacked. They would come riding and together they would kill the dragon.

For weeks, Keri lit a fire every night that the dragon arrived.  As the dragon pummeled her, she stared down the road desperately searching for a sign of orange. It never came and she stopped lighting fires. Occasionally, a neighbor would wander by and throw rocks at the dragon, but it had grown far too powerful to be repelled by stones.  Finally, at dawn, the dragon pinned her to the ground. The morning sun hit its face and it was unfazed. It leaned forward and hissed into Keri’s ear, “This is the last time I leave. You will never be rid of me” and flew off.

Keri delivered wood and feared the coming night.  She did not know if the dragon’s threat was a promise to torment her forever or if it intended to carry her away.  Her last stop was a reclusive old man. He noticed Keri’s bruises and told her that he had seen the dragon following Keri. He pitied her and produced a sword that he claimed had killed dragons for generations.  Keri skeptically took it and and returned home.

That night, the dragon came and Keri killed it. There was no battle. The dragon approached and the sword easily pierced its scales.  Keri looked at the dead dragon in disbelief. Its body began to shrivel and shrink before her. She quickly cut off its head and hid it away.

Every night, Keri slept beside her sword but no dragons came.  With the dragon gone, smaller monsters that troubled all of the villagers began to occasionally approach Keri’s land. Goblins, spiders, and trolls were quickly disposed of. What chance do they stand against a sword that kills dragons? Eventually, even they stayed away from Keri and nothing bothered her.

A year later, Keri no longer slept by her sword and had it safely hidden underneath her floor boards.  The village prepared for its annual festival.  As the people danced in the commons, Keri rode into town and mounted the dragon’s head on a stake in the village square. The crowd momentarily hushed before everyone began talking at once. The children ran to the head in order to see a monster.  Some sat in silent disbelief as they had never believed in dragons.  Others murmured that they had thought they had seen dragons around.  Neighbors apologized for not having better weapons than stones. The Men in Orange swung their swords in the air and roared that they would stand beside anyone to kill dragons if they would only light a signal fire.  Some claimed to have killed dragons themselves.

The festival wore on for days and the dragon became less of an oddity. Merchants traded goods.  People gamed. The Men in Orange filled their cups and danced.  Someone produced a chicken with two heads. Children flocked to see a dancing bear.  Keri removed the dragon’s head and threw it in the lake.

Keri lives quietly on her land now.  She delivers wood to the village. Time has passed and she barely remembers the dragon.  Occasionally, she is startled from her sleep by a scratching noise at her window but it is always a branch from a tree.  A shadow falling over her causes her to flinch but she knows the shadow is only a hawk and not dragon wings. Still, she watches.

The village exists. Its wheels turn. They still gather every day to work, talk, and play before returning to their own lands and whatever waits for them there.  Keri believes there may still be dragons out there but does not believe they will bother her again.   She delivers her wood with a smile and confidently walks through her lands unarmed.

Real parenting milestones

You always hear about the cute little milestones.  First steps, first words, first tooth falling out, first haircut, first time going to school.  These moments are supposed to be so magical, but I am going to be honest with you.  All the little Hallmark milestones are nice but they have not elicited the biggest emotional responses out of me.  Let me break down the real parenting milestones.  The milestones that actually elicit the biggest emotional responses. Some good, some bad, but these are the important ones.

First Day without the Diaper Bag

More than any other day, this day brought a tear to my eye.  The first time you can yell into the other room, “Hey boys, we gotta go” and then simply walk out of the house is the single most liberating moment of parenting.  No more hoisting a 75 lb diaper bag onto your shoulder. No more checking their shoes.  No more wondering if you restocked that bag with back-up underwear, wipes, flares, or snacks.  No more wrestling the boys into the car seat.  No more pinning down the flailing little monster with 17 layers of coats while you desperately try to fasten a 5-pt harness onto what looks like a writhing mini-Michelin Man. No more trudging into the snow looking like a Sherpa.  The day when the time between announcing that it’s time to leave and putting the key in the ignition is under 37 minutes has been the greatest day of my parenting career.

“Dad, don’t put it into reverse until I buckle my own seat and you stop crying?”

“I’m sorry son. I’m just so happy.”

First time ordering off of Adult Menu

This one just sucks.  “Dad, I don’t want a mini grilled-cheese with apple slices and a plastic cup of juice.  I want the Bomb-Burger with fries and a Coke with refills!”

This milestone is not sad because you realize that your son is becoming a young man.  There is no moment when you sadly look at the boy before you and see a pudgy little baby cramming Puffs and Cheerios into his mouth. You do not flash back to a tiny infant drinking 6 oz of milk, belching and falling into a bloated, post-meal coma.

What you see is your bill tripling.  What you see is the waitress carrying away about a third of that Bomb-Burger because your little glutton power chugged 40 oz of carbonated sugar before the meal even showed up.  You are sad because you know you are going to be eating out far less.

Toileting

Obviously, when the kid starts using the toilet there are a million obvious pluses.  Obviously, you are done with diapers. You are done with wiping stinky butts.  The diaper bag shrinks or disappears.  Your hands are not longer chafed from the constant washing after handling wet underwear.  There is no longer that hint of “used-diaper” smell that has always lingered in your house.

Here is the real pay-off.  You no longer shackled to a littler person’s excretory system.

“Dad, I need to use the potty.”

“Yup. Better do something about that.  Hey, when you’re done, why don’t you grab me on of those Girl Scout Tagalongs on your way back?”  Pure magic.

First sleep-over

Yes, your child is growing up.  Yes, this is a new level of independence.  Maybe some people are even a little sad that the child no longer needs them quite as much.

But you get to have sex again! And foreplay does not involve the phrase, “Do you think they are asleep?”  You do not have to sneak into each room to double check that they are deep into the REM phase of sleep. You do not have lock your door and set so many security cautions that even semi-sane Tom Cruise from Mission Impossible can not drop in.

True the ultra-erotic bedroom banter of “Wait..Shhh.. shhh.. be quiet! Do you hear Ben?” ends.  You do have to live without my personal favorite, “Don’t move.  I’m serious. DON’T MOVE! Maybe he’ll just flush, wash his hands and go right back to bed. Steady… steaaaaady.. I think he’s almost back in his room… Hooold.. Hooooold… I think he just closed his door…Hey! wake-up!” but it is so worth it.

I got my fist speeding ticket after dropping my boys off at their sleep-over.

First Time Watching Awesome Movies

I had no problem living through years of animated movies and TV shows when the biggest danger was that maybe, just maybe, Daisy wouldn’t be able to finish Goofy’s birthday before the surprise party. Will the Wiggles eat their fruit salad? Will the Imagination Movers finally not be able to brainstorm an idea to get Warehouse Mouse his cheese? Will a Higglytown Hero please just save the day! I’m fine with that.

However, it’s a very special day when you can sit down as a family and watch a Hobbit slog across Middle-Earth for over nine hours without fast-forwarding, editing or trying to explain that those forty arrows probably just tickled Baromir. No son, he’s dead. In fact, every time you ever see Sean Bean, you can just start preparing yourself that he’s going to die. Cows kill Sean Bean.

 

The expansion of movies that we can now watch produces sentimental, deep conversations such as…

“Dad, Aragon just chopped that orc’s head off!  That was awesome. Why are you crying again?”

“Come here and hug your dad.”

I’m not stupid. My boys are not watching anything related to Westeros and I have limits, but being able to watch a show that we all enjoy is an incredible parenting milestone.

“Dad. Are the clones good or bad? I mean, they help the Jedi, but they will eventually be Stormtroopers and they are bad, so are they good, bad, or just do what they are told?”

“Sshhh, little one.  Yoda is about to lay the hurt on Dooku. This is going to be awesome because for years I have carefully planned out the correct order to show you these movies so that when you eventually suffered through these prequels, you would find these next forty-five seconds amazing. Why?

Because I know what the important moments really are.”

THE Day

It was not supposed to go down like this.  There is a bead of sweat rolling down the side of my face as I realize I have made a terrible mistake from which I am not sure I can recover. Staring across the ping-pong table from me is a grim-faced eleven-year old boy who is flexing his knees and taking every shot seriously now.  He thinks today is going to be the day.  He thinks today is the day he takes down his old man.  I have always let him stay close before pulling it out at the end but today I regret that. I have intentionally flubbed a bunch of shots but a few errors on my part (and great shots on his) has left me three points from losing.  He thinks today is the day.

“They” say the happiest and saddest day in every boy’s life is the day that he realize he can beat his father. Video games do not count. It is the day a boy can beat his father at some physical activity.  It is the happiest day because the boy realizes that he is growing up and becoming a man.  However, at the same time the boy suddenly has to face the fact that his dad is not a mythical, invincible deity, but simply a man. A man who is starting to lose the fight with Father Time.  Essentially, the boy kills his hero.

I vividly remember my day. In middle school, I was fast. I was very fast. At an extended family gathering, I mentioned this and my dad made some comment about keeping me in my place.  Not thinking he would ever accept, I challenged him to a race. To my shock, he accepted and my aunts and uncles, and cousins, and grandparents all headed out to the street to watch.  I trudged through the yard already embarrassed because I knew there was no way I could beat my dad. I just never thought he would accept the challenge and now I was going to look dumb. My mom even pulled me aside and said, “Why are you doing this? You know you can’t win. You’re still a boy.”  I knew she was right and I knew that I had put myself in position that I was going to be hearing about for a long time.

At the start line, my dad looked down at me and said, “We are only doing this once. This is you’re only shot. No excuses” I nodded and got ready.  My entire family was out there and my uncle started the countdown.  “On your mark.”  Deep breath.  “Get Set…..” and my old man cheated. He was three strides down the street before I realized I had to move. This was my one shot and I started from behind.

I remember going as hard as I could. I also remember feeling a bit puzzled at how quickly I made up the “head-start.” I was surprised at the half-way point when  I was a couple strides ahead of him and feeling like I had not really even hit my stride. I was in a little disbelief by how much I won by and how I eased up a little at the end because it did not feel right.  Later, I snuck back out there and stared at the street. I was elated because I knew I could out-run grown men and I had beaten my dad. At the same time, there was an odd sense of disappointment and general weirdness. I was too young to put words on it, but later I realized it was the sadness “they ” say every boy feels when he beats his dad. Sad that his hero is really just a man who is starting to get older.

And now Ben thinks today is the day.  I can see it in his eyes. He is not jabbering about Pokemon anymore.  He is not talking about soccer. He has stopped trying to do fancy shots.  The only smile I see is the smile he is desperately fighting to stifle every time he scores. Ben thinks he is three points away from something special.

I know it’s not the day because I have intentionally let him stay close and then made some mistakes. It still takes effort to make the game close without making it obvious that I am tanking.   However, he does not know this. The scoreboard does not know this. The scoreboard says the day is three points away.

I know the day is coming. It is inevitable.  I will feel proud and a little sad.  He will be elated with a weird feeling he can not pin-point.  When that day comes, I want it to be real. For him and me.

I have three points left to make sure I push the day back. Fortunately, Ben is eleven-years-old and is starting to choke. All I have to do is keep the ball on the table and he screws up two points.  On the third point, I put a ton of backspin on my shot and watch his little dreams crumble as he bashes the ball into the net.

He drops his paddle, falls to his knees with a huge smile and yells, “Nooo!”  Ben gets to his feet laughing and gives me a huge hug.  “Dad! I almost beat you!  I thought I was really going to do it today!”

“Yeah buddy. It was close!  You will get me some day.  Today is just not the day.”

The day?”

“Don’t worry about it. You’ll know it when it gets here.”

**Addendum:.  My dad read this blog and recalls our race.  He told me today that he knew the only way he stood a chance was by cheating.

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Broken Bones and Princesses

As I talked about in my last blog (https://theaccidentalselfie.com/2016/09/10/moving-on/), my job has changed and I now work entirely in middle schools.  It is a pretty drastic change but I am adjusting.  I enjoyed my time with elementary kids and have decided to write a short series about some of my favorite elementary memories (details altered to protect confidentiality and, more importantly, to keep me from getting in trouble).  Yesterday, I went to the juvenile home to work with a young lady. As I entered the facility I realized that I was not going to be working with many cute little kindergartners anymore and started thinking about Renee.

Renee was a super-cute kindergartner. She was the girl with the really big glasses, ponytails, dressed in sparkly girl clothes,  and  carried a Cinderella back-pack. She even had little unicorns attached to the backpack. I think I saw three unicorns one time. Basically, when a class of kindergartners walked by, people looked at Renee and said, “awwww.”

One day I was standing in the office when Renee and staff came flying in. Renee was white as a ghost and it looked like she had a new elbow. She had fallen and her arm was obviously broken. It literally took a 90 degree turn between her elbow and wrist and was just flopping.  Renee was standing in the office screaming, kids were panicking, and one staff member wretched when she saw the arm. I got Renee out of the office and into a backroom. We elevated her arm, got ice on it and I got most of the adults to leave. There were too many people.

At this point there was nothing to do but wait. Renee was screaming and every time she moved I could see the bones shifting. I could not calm her. Finally, I noticed her Cinderella backpack on the floor and said, “I met Cinderella.”  Renee froze and said, “Really?”  I knew I might have an in.

That summer I had gone to Disney World.  Their Festival of Fantasy Parade features a lot of Disney Princesses. I had a great spot and had taken a ton of pictures to share with a co-workers daughter.  It took over 40 minutes before we could get a paramedic to school (long story. don’t ask).  For forty minutes, Renee and I sat and looked at pictures of Aurora, Rapunzel and Tinkerbell.  Occasionally, she would glance at her arm, look me straight in the eye and start screaming.  When this happened I would make up a story of getting to meet a princess and she would listen.  I only had so many pictures so after a few minutes, I was stuck fabricating conversations I had when I supposedly had met Belle or Anna.  I was desperately creating fiction to match my pictures. I had to. When I stopped, she remembered her arm and would start screaming. And when she screamed, she moved. And when she moved, I could see bones shift.  Forty minutes is a long time to talk to anyone. Try having a conversation that long about my favorite princess or spinning stories to a hysterical five-year-old with a shattered arm. Throw in a bursting bladder from the gallon of coffee I require to survive my day and you have some of the longest forty minutes of your life.

The paramedics eventually took Renee.  She ended up having multiple surgeries and was out for quite a bit of time before returning with a bright pink cast. Of course it was pink.  Why do I like this story?  Super cute girls getting their arms busted should not make for favorite memories.

One.  It makes me feel a little less weird about being a thirty-nine year old man with pictures of Disney Princesses still on his phone. I really need to synch my phone one of these days.

Two. Disney stuff is powerful.  Seriously, that girl sat for a long time, in a really nasty situation, and was largely mesmerized by pictures of fictitious characters. I find that amazing.

Finally, Renee reminds me how resilient kids are and how so many of them can cling to positives and forget negatives.  Renee came back and talked to me every time she saw me in the hallway for the rest of the year.  She never once mentioned surgery. She never said a word about what must have been serious pain. The only acknowledgement she ever gave me about the accident was to once show off her pink cast.

Instead, every time she saw me, she would wave, cock her hips to the side, put her fists on her hips and say, “Hey!  Do you know who the princess of the day is today?”  I would have to stop, make my eyes wide and reply, “No!  Who is it today?”  Renee would throw her hands up in the air into a dramatic pose and say, “Iiiiiit’s Elsa!”  or “It’s Merida !”  My job was to pump my fist and say, “Yes. One of my favorites!”

I do not get a lot of positives in my line of work. By the nature of my job, I rarely am told good things. People come to me when they need something or something bad has happened.  If things are going well, I am not needed.  I see and hear things that are hard to forget and really affect how I see our society.  That’s just the nature of being a school psychologist.  That’s also the reason I have to occasionally remember the Renees of the world.  The tough little ones that move past adversity and focus on the bright, happy spots of life.  And if that means I have to be referred to as “The Princess Guy,” I’ll take it.  Small price to pay.

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When did I get old?

Today, I dropped my youngest child off for Middle School Orientation.  Somehow Ben has made it to sixth grade.  As a drove home, I wondered where the time had gone and if the next six years will go by just as fast.  I also felt really old.  I have two kids in middle schools. I must be officially old, right?

A few other things that make me realize that I have to accept the fact that I am “old.”

Born on Date:  Every store has the sign that says, “To buy alcohol you must have been born by this date in 1995.”  1995!  In 1995, I was legally sitting in a bar buying beer. People who can legally buy beer today were born while I was a junior in college. I still had hair when 21-year-olds were born. Those signs kill me.

Roller Coasters:  I took my kids to the amusement park, Michigan’s Adventure, this week.  I used to love roller coasters. I would walk off them and instantly return to the line. If no line, I would ride them back to back without question. Those days are GONE.  After riding two wooden roller coasters, I felt like I had let a boxer work over my body for twenty minutes.  I will admit , half way through the second coaster (which is notorious for being rough) I was kinda happy to look over and see Ben’s face a couple shades of green.  Yeah!  He’s not having fun!

When we got off, I played the good-dad and asked  if they enjoyed the rides and wanted to go again. Secretly I was praying that they were scarred for life and would never make me get on that medieval instrument of torture again. Frankly, I was convinced that I needed at least fifteen minutes before my internal organs returned to their original locations.  Fortunately, neither child wanted to go for Round 2 with the wooden devils and I was able to wait for my liver and kidneys to switch places.

Video Games:  I can’t even.  I want to continue to game. I grew up gaming. The games look cool but there are so many stupid buttons.  I get overwhelmed just looking at the control pads.  I mocked my father for never being able to master holding down “A” and “B” to make Mario sprint, but I kinda get it.

It does not get any easier when I am just trying to make my guy jump while my children are repeatedly killing me and mocking me to my face. “Hey James!  Watch what I do to Dad this time!”  I can send them to bed and stay up late practicing so that I can shove it in their smug little faces, but I just fall asleep or get mad and watch Impractical Jokers reruns. Old.

My body has betrayed me:  I have never been a good looking man. I get that and the baldness doesn’t help, but do I really have to go gray too?  I shaved my head the other day and looked at the hair on the ground.  It looked like someone had skinned a skunk in my yard.  Apparently my head and face look like Pepe Le Pew . And seriously, my body quit growing hair on my head long ago, but has decided to occasionally sprout giant ropes of hair out of my ear?  I’m about six months away from being Walder Frey.

While I’m on it, when did standing up become a deterrent?  Sometimes I will look around and think, “Is there anything else I should do before I sit down? ”  I mean, I could get something to drink, but then I’d have to stand up and walk forty feet to the fridge. Screw that.  Really?  The act of raising myself out of a chair is enough to make me pass on things? When did that happen? Wow. Old.

My Toys:  Two of my favorite toys when I was a kid were Electronic Football and my Shogun Warrior. Anyone remember these?

 

Do you know where I last saw them?  Behind glass. In a freaking museum. I am not joking. My childhood toys are on display at the Kalamazoo Museum. Guess what is in the neighboring display case?  A fossilized mastodon tusk!  My childhood is feet away from a hairy, extinct elephant.  That just seems unnecessarily cruel.

Clothes:  I hate buying clothes. I have the same issues as most guys but now, in addition to puzzling through concepts such as as “matching,” and “tacky” and “so last year” I need to somehow incorporate the term “Age appropriate” into my shopping experience.  I am not ready to throw in the towel and start dressing like Season 1 Walter White, but I also live in fear of being the 42 year-old bald dude who is trying to look twenty-five.  Clothes are a constant challenge of trying to end up in the “age-appropriate” wasteland between sock-garters and a black T-Shirt with skulls and wings on it. My wife remains oblivious to my challenge and only tosses in the occasional, “Yeah, that’s fine” or “That’s good enough.”  Maybe she is smart enough to realize it’s time to just throw in the towel.

However, as previous blogs have stated, even I know it is douchey for a 40+ year old man to wear a sock hat indoors or in the spring/summer.  Let’s be honest, it’s douchey for anyone between the ages of 1 and 100. If you are 101, you can wear whatever you want.

DAD!!:  I work in a female dominated profession and as a result have a lot of female friends. I spend a lot of my time working with the younger teachers as the veteran teachers generally have their game down pat and do not want me messing with it. Ever. At least once a year I get a comment like, “I was worried you were going to come in here and criticize everything I do or be really boring, but do you know what? You are actually kind of fun. You remind me of my dad!” Old. Just old.

My boys’ ages: My kids are closer to voting than diapers. They are closer to college than kindergarten. James and Ben are closer to graduating college than I am. That cute 25-year-old waitress is closer to James’ age than mine. Both boys are probably closer to their weddings than I am to mine.  It’s realistic to think James (13) may be closer to the birth of his first son than I am to his birth.  Seriously, this section makes me feel like I should be getting free coffee from McDonald’s.

Every  now and then, life reminds me that I am getting older. Let’s be honest. It is pretty much daily.  However, I still do not feel old.  I am in better shape than I have been since I was eighteen.  The last time I was at my current weight, I was a sophomore in college. Really it is just a number. Cliche, but true.

And here is my biggest take away. No matter how old I am. No matter how many times life reminds me that I have probably crossed that line into being “old” there is nothing anyone can do to make me act my age!  So, who wants to go Streak the Quad?

Discovering the True Legend of Manitou Island: One Man’s Journey

Sorry for accidentally posting an unfinished draft earlier. Like many men, I suffer from premature post-ulation sometimes when I am really excited.

I recently had the privilege of backpacking on North Manitou Island for four days and three nights with a Boy Scout troop. For those of you unfamiliar with it, North Manitou is a primitive island in the middle of Lake Michigan with no electricity, running water, no designated campsites, or raccoons. No raccoons! Raccoons can live anywhere. They live in my yard. The fact that raccoons have forsaken this island should tell you something.

Chippewa legend says that a mother bear and her two cubs tried to swim Lake Michigan to escape a fire in Wisconsin. The two cubs could not make it, drowned, and formed North and South Manitou Island. I have discovered how the islands were truly formed. Centuries ago, Hades was married to a beautiful, but equally evil, bride. One day, the bride consumed the last of Hades’ bacon. Upon discovering the betrayal, Hades killed his wife and cast her body from the underworld and into Lake Michigan. Today, her body floats below the surface of Lake Michigan with only her breasts poking above the water to form North and South Manitou Islands. Manitou is actually Chippewa for “Lucifer’s Lost Love Lumps.” The natural beauty of the demi-goddess’ cleavage draws many-a-man to her, but what they discover there is horror…..

Day 1
The ferry drops my family off. As the ferry departs, I glance back at the boatman. Before my eyes, his images shimmers and slowly transforms into the hooded figure of Charon. The cloaked figure slowly raises an arm and extends a long, boney middle finger to me and fades into the mist.

The troop fills up with water at the only portable water site and begins its 7 mile death trek across the island. After 1.5 miles a figure slithers next to me and asks, “I wonder why you did not fill those extra water bladders at the fill station? Would have made less water filtering later.” I wonder why this helpful question was not asked 1.5 miles ago but I notice the filed teeth as she grins at me. Quickly I recognize the Harpy and realize there is no point in bandying words with this one. I put my head down and prod James and Benjamin onward. Camp is made and endless trips to Lake Michigan to collect water for filtering begins.

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Day 2

The morning reveals another Legend of Manitou. When Jabba the Hutt was finally slain by an ultra-hot Princess Leia he was cast into the underworld. Hades took his body and hovered over North Manitou. Hades proceeded to place the fallen gangster into a giant colander and pushed his body through the billion tiny holes. The resultant billions of tiny slug-like Jabbalings were showered over North Manitou Island.

Every morning, the billion sluggy Jabbalings attempt to gather together to reform into Jabba and earn passage back to the land of the living. My tent, shoes, and other property was the gathering site for this unholy Ragnarok every morning. My tent and rain fly were so covered in slug juice that I was convinced Slimer from Ghostbusters had a wet dream over my campsite. My mornings consisted of destroying hundreds of Jabbalings to prevent the Hutt’s return to earth.
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The Harpy notices I have brought two books. She approaches and states, “Nice books. That’s not how I would pack books, but whatever.” I begin to use rocks to sharpen a stick.

Day 3

Day three dawns with the promise of the return seven mile hike. It also dawns with massive black clouds and high winds coming toward us. In a panic, our camp is broken down and a fastpack is started. We are going to get very wet and just hope we can get packed and rain gear on before it hits. During the frantic packing, Ben declares, “I have to poop and bad!” I grab the shovel (remember no plumbing, no pit toilets) a roll of toilet paper and run to a field with Ben. The wind and black clouds are really very cool but I have no time to enjoy them as I set to digging. Ben jumps up and down yelling, “Dig faster! It’s coming!” I am not sure if he is referring to the apocalypse in the sky or the earth-shaking bowel explosion that I am about to witness. As I hold his shoulders while he hovers over the pit, the first thunder crash explodes as Hades’ slams his refrigerator door after another search for bacon is unsuccessful. Life is about to suck.

At the site the fully-packed-Harpy skips past and states, “I started packing earlier.” The Harpy is about to die. The last bit of equipment is packed and Armageddon breaks loose. Hades’ baconless temper tantrum is unleashed in a torrent of driving tears, slamming of doors, and flashes in the sky as his refrigerator door light flickers on and off while he continues his fruitless search for bacon. We begin the walk of the damned.

The storm stops and the sun beats down on us. Hades has placed a curse on Ben’s backpack. When it is on, he transformed into a mopey, crying, injured shell of a boy. Once the cursed equipment is removed, he bounds through the trail with joy and abandon. I spend almost two miles in a rubber raincoat with the sun beating down on me, my 45+ lb backpack on my back and Ben’s 25lb cursed pack in my arms. My sweaty, dehydrated body drops his pack at the check point and straps it on him for the remainder of the trek. No matter how severely cursed, he will carry his pack the rest of the way or be left for the scavengers. After all, that is why I had two kids. I always have a spare. Be prepared.

Camp is made. My wife and I crash in our tent. After three days and nearly 20 miles of hiking the odor in the tent serves as a natural bug repellent. I roll over, look her in the eyes and say,
“I love you, but you are disgusting.”
Our eyes lock. My wife stares deep into my soul and states, “You repulse me.”
We lay happy and silent as a married couple who will never be able to look at each other sexually again.

At 2 A.M., I leave the tent to look at the stars. It is breathtaking. With no light pollution, the sky is incredible. I stand for nearly half an hour just staring at the sky. From my spot in the Underworld, I wonder which of the million stars that I see is the land of the living. I wonder if I will ever be able to return.
 

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Day 4

Final camp is broken and the exit point is only a mile away. As I eat another breakfast of trail mix, I reflect on the things that I have missed for the last four days. Ice, chairs, food that I have not had to carry, a shower, a new set of clothes, a pillow, the list goes on. I pull the dirty laundry bag out of the tree. Yes, it was that foul. The last Jabbaling is evicted and camp is broken. We get to our extraction point three hours early. I take no chances.

I sit on the dock and realize that I will forever be a changed man. One does not spend four days on the breasts of Hades’ discarded bride without losing a part of his soul and a gallon of blood to tics and mosquitos. I only hope that there is enough left of me to return to the real world.

The ferry emerges from the mist. Charon makes no disguise this time and my party recoils at his site. I step forward and drop four coins into his skeletal hands and state, “Passage to the Living.” He nods and allows my family to board before rowing us back to land. As I step off the ferry, he hisses into my ear, “Do not return.” I nod. Charon once more cloaks himself in the disguise of a college student and allows more damned souls to enter his ferry to cross to Manitou. I wonder how many will return.

Lying to my Kids

I think every parent strives to be truthful and transparent with their children. At least that is what we say. Truth be told, any real parent delicately sprinkles in a healthy dose of lies to their children. It is kind of like trying to sneak vegetables into their food. Sometimes it is just easier. Below are some of the bold-faced lies I tell my kids.

Lie: Go ahead, Ben. Take the last piece of bacon. I would rather you have it.
Truth: I want that bacon. Sometimes when you are cleaning up every bit of food on the table and I walk away hungry, I wish you still ate out of jars. Wild animals have it down. The alpha gets all the bacon he wants and the cubs get what is left. I am still the alpha but I am stuck here watching you inhale all the bacon and acting like I am happy about it. Lies.

Lie: I really have no idea what happened to your Halloween/Easter/Christmas candy.
Truth: For years I actually told you that evaporation and erosion were the causes of your depleted candy caches. However, you are older and wiser now. You no longer buy that line. At least now, I can just blame it on your mother and you accept it.

Lie: Knock that garbage off or there will be no movie night or extra video game time.
Truth: Nothing short of murder is going to cancel those events. Those hours of electronic babysitting are probably more important to me than they are to you. If the digital respite gets cancelled, I bet that I would be shedding more tears than anyone else in the house. Cancellation of those events is more of a punishment to me than anyone else.

Lie: I was just taking a nap.

Lie: You’re right, this show is awesome!
Truth: Most of your shows are crap. You are older now, so getting to watch movies and shows that are actually cool (Avengers, Star Wars, etc) saves me. However, do you remember when I told you that “Walking with Dinosaurs” rocked? Remember how I said that the 17th viewing of the Curious George movie was just as good as the first? Doodlebops, Planes, Thomas, the Yogi Bear movie, and any DVD that came with a toy? Cinematic Lobotomies.

Lie: Mom and I will talk about it.
Truth: The answer is “No” and that is not going to change. I mean, mom and I will laugh about it later, but that is the extent of consideration this idea is going to get.

Lie: Just smile. I won’t put this on Facebook.
Truth: I am going to get sooooo many “likes” for this!

Lie: You are just going to have to trust that I know best.
Truth: I am an idiot. I am stumbling through this whole parenting thing like a frat boy at Mardi Gras. I have absolutely no clue what I am doing. Do I know what’s best? Probably not. Honestly, I am just trying to not mess you up to much.

Lie: I have no idea what those rabbits in the yard are doing.
Truth: Lucky rabbits. I know exactly what’s up. Hope you’re having fun while I am sitting in here watching Rugrats. Rabbits get Easter, Trix, Jessica Rabbit, front-yard follies, and a whole series of Loony Tunes adventures and I am cleaning up Cheerios.

Let us be honest. When it comes to our kids, most of us are pathological liars. Want a real truth?

Lie: Sometimes those lies bother me.
Truth: I’m totally cool with it.