I Scream, You?

Sample wares from an ancient ice cream truck.

One spring, an ice cream man posted up just past our school, just after the dismissal bell. It was an excellent move. The kids would line up with their quarters and nickels and dimes for an orange push-up, the coned nutty-buddy and the rectangular ice cream covered in a topping and served on a stick.

I wanted to eat ice cream on the way home from school, too. Mom did not agree. She thought it was too close to dinner time–school getting out at 3 pm and plates on the table pretty religiously by 5 pm. Plus, she was thrifty. She was not one to waste a penny on overpriced convenience food when she could get an entire box of frozen treats for the price of the two ice creams for me and My Sib.

We pleaded as little kids do. I’m sure we made the normal arguments of “all the other kids,” which was likely followed by a standard parental response about the wisdom of following them off of a cliff. We likely then went to bargaining, promising to do extra chores or offering a sacrifice to be named later. Not super effective. Mom was not easily moved. Check that. Mom NEVER changed her mind. She considered equivocation a huge weakness. Actually more like an unrecoverable error. We tried anyway.

Plan B? Ask Dad. Now this was the reasonable guy. He was open to begging, especially when it came to seven-year-old me. I fancied myself persuasive. But, as it turned out, there was no way that Dad would overturn Mom for an after school treat. Our childish desire to eat ice cream did not tip the scales. Nope. Not at all. Yet, it was really too much for us to walk past that white truck with the entire school partaking of sweet frozen ambrosia.

Next option? Thievery. 

We didn’t have any money, but Mom did. Over the course of a week or so, we pilfered coins out of her wallet. We cased the truck, selecting then reselecting then returning to our original goodie of choice. The day arrived. We were going to put our plan into action. After school. 

I don’t know how My Sib felt, but I felt like a grown up. I held my coins tightly in my fist as I waited my turn. The bigger kids jumped in front of me. I was a little lost in the crowd. My Sib was a year older. She found our way to the window. I felt rushed. The paper wrapped ice cream was in my hand and my money gone without me fully savoring the experience. But, there was the ice cream. 

I had selected the ice cream sundae cup. There was a little bowl full of very hard, very frozen ice cream with equally hard and equally frozen strawberries around the edges and halfway down the container. I had a small, thick, flat wooden spatula for a spoon. It could dig into the tundra. My Sib had the cone with the chocolate and nut crown. We had a little less than a fifteen minute walk home to eat the evidence of our crime. 

I think we were nervous. I don’t think we particularly enjoyed the ice creams, but were thrilled at our most clever execution of our plan. We talked about what we would get next time. We had to dump the wrappers. I’m pretty sure we just threw them on the ground. Litterers, too. 

We were not without pride when we walked into the house, after defying all the rules. We procured the cash, bought and consumed the forbidden contraband. Well done, small people, we thought. But, you know what pride goest before. 

Dad and Mom called us into the kitchen. We were not alerted to any danger. They were relaxed. Mom asked how school was. I went on and on about my day. I figured the more I said, the further we were away from the events we were hiding. I soon got into sharing about my reading group or spelling words or flash card math. Dad smiled at us and asked, “So how was the ice cream?”

Without missing a beat, I grinned and nodded and said, “It was GOOD!” My Sib snapped her head in my direction. My little hand lifted to cover my mouth that was now wide in horror. How did he know?!? The next few minutes are a blur. A combination of super slo-mo with everyone talking in that slowdowned way and a flurry of sped up words and fluttering hands and washed faces and off to our rooms. There were tears of humiliation and guilt. Especially when it was explained to us that we stole from our mother. That’s on the same level as drowning kittens, copying off someone’s test or lying right to Jesus’ face. 

This was the worst thing I had ever done. And my lack of discretion under cross examination made me the goat in My Sib’s eyes. Not a good partner in crime. I was pretty much the worst. I felt so sorry for myself, for being so awful, that I cried and cried in my room in the most dramatic fashion. I think my mother came to my room to recommend that I cease and desist with the theatrics. 

We were told that there would be no dinner, and that we needed to go straight to bed. They relented, and we ate dinner in our pajamas. You can be sure I cleaned my plate as I ate in silence, my stomach in knots. My Sib whispered to me that I was forgiven. We went to sleep. I don’t think I dreamed about ice cream that night. 

Parents must have complained because the truck soon disappeared, never to taunt or tempt the second and third graders at Norman Rockwell Elementary School again. I’ll never know if my parents called. They may have, but they were tricksy. They knew things. They were superhuman. They were out of my league. 

Turns out that it was easy to bust us. We both had ice cream all over our faces. No napkins. A flaw in the henious plot. I overheard my Dad telling the story to my uncle. Still, they were good.

Anyway, that’s why I don’t lie. I’m just not any good at it. But I still eat ice cream in a little cup. I pay for it with my own money. And sometimes I eat ice cream for dinner. I’m grown, now. 

That Sinking Feeling

The moment the SUV plunges into the thin ice on the mostly frozen lake. As captured on the local news.

“Oh man. Erich’s dad is so much fun.” The boy was breathless. They had a great time at the cabin. They made fires. They cooked on the made fires. They ran in the frozen woods at night with flashlights. Erich’s dad told the best ghost stories. He didn’t tell his mom, but Erich’s dad let him puff a pipe.

Mr. Bronch most definitely did not let him smoke, though. Sure, Erich’s dad was smoking. The boys asked him about it. Mr. Bronch didn’t want it to be a magical mystery, so he let all of them put their mouths on the lip of the pipe and suck or blow or whatever they did. It wasn’t a lesson in smoking, but a lesson that smoking wasn’t unknowable and wasn’t that important. But they were all sworn to secrecy. They very much liked that.

It was just an overnight trip, but it was the best day in the boy’s life. His own dad had many more rules, was always invoking said rules and was a big stick in the mud. You always had to do a safety check on your helmet before you got on your bike. You had to come in the house if it was thundering. You needed to do your homework before you could play your game–even though everyone else could do both. You had to go back and apologize to the second baseman you taunted after you stole that base. You always had to go to the bathroom before you left the house. Is there no privacy?? Just too much of the words “must” and “should.”

Mr. Bronch was good with them doing whatever they wanted. He didn’t intervene if they argued. He even jumped in on the one battle that got physical. That was hysterical. They all laughed so much they forgot what started the fight. But they remembered getting out of Erich’s dad’s headlock. And eating a huge bag of potato chips with a big jar of dip when they watched the movie that Mom did not want them to see. He got a little nervous, though, and looked away when they had that part with the lady without her shirt on. The guns, though, he was down with that. When that guy blew the other guy’s brains out? Erich’s dad told them it was all fake. They knew that mostly already.

“So can I go back to the cabin next week? Please?” His mom looked at him and shook her head.

“Not next week. Erich won’t be with his dad. Have him call me and we can figure out the next time.”

The next time wasn’t for a few weeks. But he was pumped and primed to go back. There would be him and Erich and Tom Jr. and Levi. And, of course, Mr. Bronch. They were going to bring their skates and skate on the lake.

His dad made him repack his backpack. “Where’s your toothbrush? Did you pack an extra pair of socks? It’s going to be cold. Here’s your ColdGear leggings. Just pack them!” Jeez. This was so annoying. He was sure that Erich’s dad didn’t poke in Erich’s bag.

Then his dad made him practice lacing up his skates. Seriously? And he went through a classic safety checklist. When he rolled his eyes, his dad grinned a little and said, “Guy, I just want you to be prepared. I trust you to do the right thing, but a little practice doesn’t hurt.” He went through the drills. He gave his dad a dap as he scrambled out of the car, his backpack swinging in his arm. He didn’t take the time to loop it over his shoulder. He was gone.

“See you tomorrow!” he chirped as he ran up the driveway to Erich’s dad’s big black truck.  The truck was running, but there wasn’t anyone in it. His dad parked the car. The boy rolled his eyes in his brain.

“What? Dad. It’s fine.” Erich’s dad came out the garage door, carrying some bags.

“Hey Tom.”

“Hey! How are you? Haven’t seen you for too long, man.” Erich’s dad grabbed his dad’s hand and pulled him in close for a hug.

“Yeah. Too long. You guys should come by. I finally got the direct gas line to the grill. We can put steaks and burgers on all winter.”

“Sure, but I think that your wife likes me not so much.”

“Don’t be paranoid. She can be friends with both you and your ex. She’d love to have you by. She was asking how you were doing.”

“Tell her I’m just fine. I talked to her last week anyway. She should have asked me then.”

“Sure, whatever. She was just doing logistics. Between my job, her job, the kids and her mom’s been sick.”

“No. Not her mom? That’s tough.”

“We think she’ll be fine. But it’s just a worry now until we go through the checklist of docs. Getting old seems to suck.” His laugh was a little hollow.

“We’re not going to do that, though. Get old that is. We have too much shit to do.” Tom’s laugh was full. They were interrupted by a yell from the tumble of boys in the front yard.

“Get OFF of me!” The boy’s dad looked over to assess the situation. Erich’s dad put his bags in the back of his truck.

“Hey, guys. Take it easy. I think Levi said he had enough.” The boy’s dad was good at deescalation. The pile broke up. The boy held out a hand to Levi. Tom Jr went behind him and lifted him up. Tom Jr was the youngest, but only by a Irish twin–ten months younger than his brother Erich, but bigger than all of them.

Erich’s dad clicked the remote to close the garage. The boy’s dad walked onto the porch and pulled on the front door to make sure it was locked. He stopped to give his son a quick hug before he returned to his car. “See you tomorrow!” The boy waved back. Then they all hopped into the truck. Erich had shotgun. The other three fought over who had to sit in the middle. Erich’s dad had them do rock, paper scissors and then told them to shut the hell up. They liked it when he cursed. They felt grown up.

They grabbed their backpacks and followed Erich’s dad into the dark cabin. It smelled of the fireplace and a little must. It was freezing.

“Okay, you guys go ahead and get your skates. I’ll get the fire started and meet you at the lake.” He flipped the top of a beer and shuffled through the branches next to the fireplace. “Erich, first go grab me a big log.”

Erich and the boy went to the back patio and pulled two big, for them, logs off the woodpile and brought them in. They found their skates. Levi and Tom Jr had already gone to the lake. Not like it was far. Just down a few steps, across the slatted cedar walk and down a few more steps to the dock. The other boys were laced up when Erich and the boy caught up.

The lake was plenty frozen. It was mostly smooth, too. As they skated across, it moaned underneath them. The moon provided the light for their games. They decided to run relays just as Mr. Bronch joined them. He skated out beyond their playground and they forgot about him as they swapped teams out for the next round of races.

Crack! Their was a fissure that was growing deep in the ice. Tom Jr. looked up to see if the rest of them were okay. The boy looked at Erich. This was his territory. Then they saw a dark figure racing towards them. He was coming fast. The boys locked their arms to be an impenetrable wall. They dug their skates sideways into the ice. Mr. Bronch was coming like a bullet fired from a gun. The boys steeled themselves and, just at impact, Erich’s dad snowplowed to a stop, showering the line of defense with ice. As the boys doubled over laughing, Tom Jr. lost his balance and fell.

Mr. Bronch pushed him along. Levi gave the next push. Tom Jr was laughing and couldn’t get up. The boy and Erich gathered Tom Jr by a leg each and swung him around the ice. His dad joined in and grabbed the boy by his arm and leg and swung him around and let go. Tom Jr. sailed across the ice and then disappeared. Out of their sight. The moon was behind the clouds. They were cracking up. Tom Jr flew off like a weird rocket.

“Tommy!” Erich yelled. They didn’t know where he was, not for sure. They couldn’t see Erich’s dad’s frown. “Tom?” He couldn’t have gone far. The ice cracked again underneath them.

“Dad, is he okay? Where is he? Is the ice gonna hold?”

“The ice is a foot thick. We are fine.” But he couldn’t see his boy. “Tom!? Hey, Tommy.” He raised his voice a little.

“TOM-MEEE,” Levi screamed. He was still playing. The boy joined in. “Oh, Tom. Oh Tom JOON-YER.” They skated out a bit. They couldn’t see very far, with the moon behind the clouds. It seemed like the wind was picking up. Or maybe it was the dark. “Tom. You okay? Say something.”

The clouds moved and let some moonlight through. Between that and their eyes adjusting, they could see a figure on the ice. Erich’s dad was surprised he was so far away. The four of them skated to the unmoving mass, the boys pulling up to let Mr. Bronch get there first.

“He’s okay.” They saw that Tom Jr was sitting up. Or maybe he was being propped up by his dad. “I’m going to take him to the cabin to warm up a little. You guys can skate for a while.”

Tom Jr was on his feet. He wasn’t talking but was responding by nodding to his dad’s questions. His dad supported him, really steered him, to the dock. “Man, you really flew!” The boys laughed. Tom Jr seemed to laugh, too. Then it was clear he wasn’t laughing, but throwing up.

“Gross!” “Jesus, what did you eat?” “I’m going to barf now.” “Does it taste the same?”

“Skate away from the puke,” said Erich’s dad. He sat Tom Jr on the dock and took off his skates. “He’ll be okay when I get him some water and get him warmed up.” Tom Jr couldn’t focus enough to get his boots back on by himself. His dad shoved his feet in his boots and tried to get him to stand up. Walking wasn’t working. Tom Jr threw up again. He wasn’t too big to carry.

The boy kept glancing over at Tom Jr and his dad. Nobody seemed to be very worried, so he worked to ignore his concern. The grownup had this. It was fine. It was getting colder and a big cloud was overtaking the moon. Erich pointed to the house, “Let’s get back in.” Erich grabbed Levi’s skate and the boy grabbed his boot so Levi had to sock skate after them for a little bit. It was too cold to play boot-keep-away for long. Erich tossed the skate back on the dock and ran up to the house. The boy waited for Levi to get his other boot on, and they raced back.

Tom Jr was on the couch in front of a big fire. He had a cloth on his head and a quilt over his body. His eyes were closed. He didn’t respond to any of them. The boy shook his shoulder. Erich grabbed his hand. “Dad. Dad. Dad. Tommy’s hand is really cold. Is it supposed to be so cold?” Erich’s dad had three microwaved hot cocoas looped on the fingers of his left hand. He put his right hand on Tom Jr’s as he handed the steaming mugs to the boys.

“Drink up. Then get your jackets. We’re going to take a side trip.”

When the boy’s dad came to the hospital to pick up the boy and Levi, the boy was more than relieved to see him. His dad wrapped him up in his arms and was surprised with the tightness of his son’s grasp around his neck.

The boy stopped being frightened. He was still scared for Tom Jr. but now that his dad was there, his dull, methodical and careful dad, he was exhausted. And he felt safe.

Empty Spaces

A boring street in an exciting city.

“I’m bored.”

That could have been the tag line to my childhood. It was definitely the refrain to my summers. 

We didn’t have camp or clubs or scheduled activities. Mom would toss us outside and tell us not to come back until dinner. 

There were three of us, but we weren’t that entertaining. We’d go up and down our short street trying to find other kids to play with. They’d be different ages than us, but the older ones had to watch the younger ones so they came along. If we were playing a make believe game, the smallest would be the babies. Or the maids. 

We didn’t split up by gender. There weren’t enough boys to do that. We’d all play together. Except Billy Macaroni. He was too rough. I don’t know who he played with, but one day he clunked my youngest Sib with his cap gun. She fell off the porch and cracked her head on the cement. I got spanked for this–for a reason still unclear to me decades later. Anyway, Billy didn’t play with us. 

We’d play kickball in the street. Someone would yell “CAR,” and we’d all move to the curb until it passed. There was a crack on the curb for first base, a place where the concrete slabs met for second and Mr. Nick’s mailbox was third. We didn’t have officials. Usually people ageeed on a call. There were, however, spirited arguments over certain outs. They never lasted long. They’d be resolved with an agreement for a do-over. It moved the game along, and nobody wanted to have a fight and break up the game and leave us back to being bored. 

One summer we made up a riff on the classic hide and seek. We called it cowboys and Indians. When the cowboy was caught, the Indians tickled them. One of the kids really hated to be tickled. We went easy on him. 

This game spanned houses without kids. There was a great bush to hide behind at Miss Lee’s. That was the demise of the game. One of the older neighbors complained because we’d jump their fences. Only sometimes. Back to bored. 

Another summer, I decided that we’d have a show. We watched musicals so we were putting on a musical. I wrote, directed, played a major role and marketed it. We had like eight or ten kids in it. There were rehearsals for maybe a few weeks. Or maybe a few days that seemed like weeks. We handmade tickets and distributed them to our families. Nobody came to watch. We didn’t actually do the performance. 

That worked out fine. The play was a good distraction from our boredom. It was just a game.

Sometimes we’d just ride our bikes around the block. It was a crazy suburban block that had a bunch of twists and courts and a long stretch next to a main road. We always felt well accomplished after we did that circuit. Occasionally we’d race in opposite directions. It was always exciting to see your opponent pedaling like mad to the driveway-slash-finish line. Even better, when you really beat them bad and were calmly waiting for them. Usually there would be an involved story about disaster or sabotage. More entertainment!

Other times, and for some reason usually after dinner, we’d ride our bikes to the Qik Pik. If very clever, we’d con some coin off Dad and return home with a mouthful–literally our mouths would be full–of Bubs Daddy bubble gum. My favorite was the fruit flavor. The watermelon was disgusting, but the other kids liked that a lot. And sweet tarts. Also loved by many. Also gross to me. 

We watched whatever was on TV that wasn’t the news. Reruns of weak sitcoms and procedurals and tons of old movies. Tons. This was an excellent wealth of data that came in handy when I did crossword puzzles to alleviate my adult boredoms. 

When we went on vacation we had to confront the worst of boredom. There was always reading in car, until the car sickness set in. Then it was playing the liscense plate game–which was always a boring bust in Michigan where cars from other states were very rarely sighted. We may have cheated a bit on that game. Then we’d end up making up another game or singing silly songs and eventually and inevitably coming to blows, prompting Mom to turn around and threaten us with pulling over. We never did find out what would happen if we pulled over. There was also some sleeping on each other’s shoulders. No drool allowed, though. Someone’d get punched for that. 

We’d get to the vacation cottage and had nothing to do on a rainy day. We’d figure out all the potential card games from a standard deck of cards. We’d have to re-remember the rules to rummy. We’d find a scrap of paper and play the dot game. We’d fight, too. Nobody was in charge of our entertainment. Nobody but us, that is. 

Someone said that she was recently studying something with kids, and she discovered that they didn’t know what bored was. 

Let me say that again. They did not know what it was to be bored. They always had something to do. Scheduled activities, electronic devices, the movie they wanted on demand, videos in the car. Never the nothingness of boredom. 

They didn’t make up games and negotiate norms. They didn’t lay on their backs looking at the clouds on a sunny day making up stories. They didn’t plot with their siblings about how to get back in the house on a snow day when all the other kids got called home. They didn’t have the downtime, the motivation, the inspiration of boredom. 

Now, I’m feeling lucky for all the hours that I had to fill by myself and all the coping, negotiating, creating and communing. And, I’m thinking that I’d do well to let the battery drain from my phone every now and again. For old times sake. 

Bully Pulpit

A school playground that looks inviting. And fun.

Kyle was the biggest kid in the school. The school itself was small, with just three groups, pre-school, pre-k and kindergarten. Pre-school was in the front room with the guinea pig named Piggy. Pre-k and kindergarten learned together in the next classroom over, on the other side of the kitchen where the littlest kids opened the huge refrigerator door to store their lunches.

Kyle was the oldest. He may have waited an extra year before enrolling, as was the fashion for boys then. Their parents thought it would give their sons, especially the ones younger or less mature, a better start.

Kyle definitely took advantage of his advantages. He was taller and stronger than the other kids. He was more coordinated. He had more words. And he was more aware of the way the world worked, or at least the ways he could work the world.

His mom and dad were full professors at the university. They were old parents with graying thinning hair, knees that sometimes popped and less patience. Their short patience span was manifest in letting Kyle be Kyle. They saw no reason to fully resist him. He could regularly wear them down without too much effort, so why not skip the struggle and just let him be? They were happiest when he was happy. Whether that was an occasional ice cream bar for breakfast, watching more TV than was allowed or skipping his bath some nights, they’d go along to get along.

The school was focused on letting the kids be kids. It wasn’t a free for all. No, not at all. The teachers and their assistants were well in control. They let the children lead their learning via their activities. This worried some parents. They wanted worksheets and homework so that their offspring would be “ready” for big-kid school. The faculty resisted. They guided lessons through the curiosity of the kids. The success of their approach was evidenced by ten years’ of kindergartners leaving their tutelage reading books. And asking wonderful questions. And taking responsibility for their learning.

The kids would make up their own games, build forts under blankets hung from cubbies and publish their own books with stapled spines. Sometimes, when the teachers weren’t looking, Kyle would walk by a classmate and push off of them with his hand. Or, you could say, he’d walk by and shove a kid. If there was any resistance, he would claim that he was misunderstood. If it was an extremely egregious hit, he would sheepishly apologize. His physical outbursts weren’t frequent.

More frequent were his exclusions. His parents thought that he was a natural leader. He would provide value–usually his attention–to some of the kids in order to isolate another. This was a rotating position, the one of outsider. One day you’d be out and the next day you would be part of the group barring someone else. It was fair, in a weird way. Except if you were Kyle, because you were never out. Kyle was always in. Everyone loved him, despite the hitting and despite the emotional manipulations. Kyle was the oldest and the biggest and the best.

There was at least one mother who noticed the dynamic. She noticed even before the day her pre-k son, a year or maybe two, younger than Kyle came home sad that he was sidelined. When her boy told her that he couldn’t play the game around the tree and that he felt left out, she felt left out, too.

“What stopped you from playing the game around the tree?”

“Kyle said that I couldn’t play.”

He needed some tools. They role played and practiced. Sometimes she was Kyle and sometimes he pretended to be Kyle. They sometimes played out their script in the car. There were no further incidents.

The mother brought him into school late one morning, after snack and before lunch. He had a doctor’s appointment. The school was adamant about taking the kids outside everyday, rain or shine, hot or cold, snow or wind, but today the downpour was too much. Some kids were playing “fort” near the cubbies. There were blocks stacked to protect from intruders. Her boy approached the “entrance” to the fort so he could drop off his backpack and hang his wet jacket in his cubby.

“Stop!” It was Kyle who stepped out from the group huddled in their “fort.”

“You aren’t in the club. You can’t come in here.”

The mother drew in a breath and felt her hand tighten on the handles of her satchel.

“Kyle, you aren’t the boss over me,” said her son, just like they had practiced. And he stepped over a block to his cubby.

Kyle didn’t miss a beat as he stepped aside. “You can be in the club.”

The boy hung up his coat and stepped back out of the fort. “No, I’m going to paint over there with Emily and Christine.” This second part was a freestyle. Not bad.

The mother’s heart was beating faster. First, because she was afraid, and now because she didn’t need to be. Her lesson was to let him find his own way with her guidance. Perhaps the school was teaching her as much as they were teaching him. They both had a lot to learn.

Bus Sketch II

Little girl looking out the bus window. She's wearing a leopard print coat.

“I gotta pee!”

Eleven heads bobbed up in unison, leaving posts unliked, candies uncrushed and videos advancing unwatched. The heads then turned to the front of the bus. Synchronized.

The toddler had been chirping away unnoticed for blocks and blocks. She was fascinated by everything rushing by, her nose pressed against the big window, her little feet hanging over the bench, her shoulders enclosed by an animal print.

She was full of style from toe to top. Starting from her black punk boots that were laced up half-way and working up to the most amazing glasses with a huge square white frame scattered with scores of little flowers, pink, orange, red, yellow, blue on stems of green. She moved with the comfort of a near two-year old who knew in her heart of hearts that she was amazing and fabulous.

She must have asked her dad for a car, because he said that he wasn’t buying her one. His response was like a scripted response that was a part of their private joke. A little bit like call and response. She babbled some sweet sounds, one of which resembled the word car. Or maybe cow. Or curl. Or cat. Or yard. But her dad knew. He delivered his line.

Nothing she said, however, was as clear as when she presented her pressing need. A cold blast of worry chilled the bus. Passengers wondered to themselves, “Will she make it?”

The mom asked her the unnecessary question that everyone wanted to know, “Do you have to go to the bathroom?”

The little diva nodded vigorously. Her father looked concerned that she might nod the tinkle out. The mom worked the magic of distraction, suggesting the girl sit down and asking a few unrelated questions about school. It seemed to work, or at least the tot stopped talking about needing to go.

The dad pulled the cord for the next stop, and the girl leaned over to pull it, too. The mom was on the far side of the bench and shook her head. “Just let her pull it, okay?” She was working hard to avoid a morning meltdown. The dad leaned forward to make room for the girl to grab the yellow plastic coated wire behind him. The bus lurched and the girl held on tight. Since he had already called for a stop, there wasn’t a beep when she pulled. He adroitly pointed to the Stop Requested light above her head. She was convinced that she had effected that.

Her dad picked up her and his backpacks then took her by the hand. Her mom told her she loved her and would see her soon. The girl parroted back the words–or her interpretation and execution of those words–in her little squeaky sing song.

Kisses were exchanged and there was no peeing on the bus. Ten heads returned to the phones in their hands. One followed the pair off the bus and watched them approach the daycare. That one decided to enjoy the bus like a two year old and left her phone in her bag. She turned her head to the window to watch the cars and look for cows.

never would i ever

Mary Poppins, who is practically perfect in every way, delivers a perfectly sarcastic slow clap.
Mary Poppins, who is practically perfect in every way, delivers a perfectly sarcastic slow clap.

Never would I ever let my kid accidently fall into a gorilla habitat at the zoo.

  • Because I am always vigilant.
  • Because I don’t get distracted by my other children or someone else’s other children.
  • Because I had just told him to step away from the fence because he might fall in.
  • Because I had just told him that, again.
  • Because I have never seen that impish face where he wants to push the envelope too far, and I didn’t realize just how far that little pea brain would go.
  • Because I’ve never egged him on, saying, “Go ahead and let’s see what happens,” as he was testing me.
  • Because I’ve never assumed that a well-established public place would have the barriers to stop a headlong plunge into a moat, or onto a track or whatever the unspeakable.
  • Because I’ve never looked around and experienced that moment of pure terror when you have no idea where your child is.

Oh wait. I have had my heart drop to my stomach and my blood turn to ice as it coarsed through my wicked veins. I have spent seconds, minutes or days in terror, wondering how I could have been so stupid, how I could have been so neglectful, how I could be so horrible. I have donned the sackcloth of recrimination. I have dropped to my knees asking God, Mary and the universe to help undo my error.

Maybe you don’t know that. Maybe you weren’t in a position to see my failure. Or in a position to judge me as an unacceptable, good-for-nothing parent. And maybe you haven’t, yet, put yourself in a most awfully human crisis.

I’m thankful that a child was kept safe. I’m saddened that an amazing animal was killed to keep that child safe. I’m sorry that the family is being castigated for the death of the innocent, captive gorilla.

I’m not judging, though. There but for the grace of god, go I.

The Result of a Fundamental Disagreement

Nobody loves your kid like you do.

No. Bod. Dee. So

  • Don’t expect people to want to kiss their snot encased visage. You might be able to look beyond it. Others see green–literally. Don’t put your kid’s face expectantly in mine.
  • Don’t be angry when someone begs off from listening to your child play their musical instrument. Even if they are objectively good (which isn’t that likely) your guests may not want their conviviality interrupted. Even if it is Mozart that is being attempted played. Even at your house. Unless you invited us to a recital, and we had the chance to beg off in advance. No fair bundling your concert with a traditional family get-together, unless you don’t care if we aren’t paying attention and downing shots in the other room.
  • Multiply the negativity above by about one-thousand if the sharing entails a video and people are asked to stop everything, shush, and watch. Shush!
  • An exception is if you are passing around your iPhone with a < 30 second video of something that is funny or is an at-the-buzzer game winning 3-point shot. But only twenty-nine seconds or less. Get to the punchline. Don’t say, “Oh wait, you gotta see this, too.”
  • You want to bring your extraordinarily precocious and mature child you to that adults only event? Don’t ask if it’s okay to bring her or him if “No” will piss you off. That’s not really a choice. You don’t get credit for asking if all you will accept is validation of your parental desire.
  • Movies, let’s go there. Unless it’s a kids’ movie, get a damn babysitter. Their stage whispered cute comments are not what I paid for. Also, they’re only cute to you. See first line in this post.
  • At a sporting event, you bring your children. That’s cool. Other people are not as aware of your kids and their needs as you are. This is especially true in crowds. Your kids are short. They are unusual features of a crowd. They are frequently not seen. I’m not saying stay home, I’m just saying it is what it is. You have to be careful for them, not the strangers. It’s on you if they are jostled or hear curse words. These people left their kids for a reason. They’re off duty.

Let me be clear. I really like your kids. I will make goo-goo faces at them on the subway just to elicit a toothless grin. The drunken old man walk of a toddler really tickles me. I like to sit next to the parent on the plane with the screaming kid to reassure them that not everyone hates them at that moment. Been there.

I watch and like your posts with your adorbs kids on Facebook all the time. I even share some of them. And, it is a known, that I am bonkers for my kids.

But, bottom line, nobody loves your kids like you do.* You shouldn’t be disappointed, mad or rage-quit because of this true fact.

* [Except maybe grandparents. Okay, got me there. This post also applies to them.]

Moshi Moshi

old fashioned rotary phone with the reciever off the hook.

It’s over. I killed the landline.

It was pretty much a waste of budget since nobody has used it in years. We kept the account for Internet–a sluggish DSL service that we never bothered to upgrade because of my absolute HATE for Comcast and because FIOS isn’t an option in our part of Ward 5.

But even after we switched to grown-up Internet, I kept the landline. I said it was because I was being lazy. It was really because I was being sappy.

This was the phone number we had when we we were first married. I put my office number on the invitations to the Spouse’s surprise party and reminded our guests that it would be extraordinarily bad for them to leave a message on our answering machine at home. Only one person did. I don’t think we know them anymore.

This was the line that the Spouse used to tell his Mom that we were going to have a baby. He was instructed to pass the phone over to me. She told me that she didn’t believe him and that she needed to hear it directly from me. Then she whooped.

This was the line that traveled with us from our first house to our current house that delivered more than one conversation with teachers–and more than one conversation with the principal. I dreaded the phone ringing at six o’clock.

This was the line that The Big Guy proudly broadcast his armpit fart version of the ABCs as I sat on the side of the bed in my room on the 33rd floor in a Chicago hotel. The Other Parent had to assist. I pictured the receiver being held inches from his skinny ribs as he went all the way through to X-Y-Z. I don’t remember if that was the call when The Big Guy complained that the Other Parent kept messing up the lunches, but that happened, too. I tucked my boys in via that line every night I was on the road.

This was the line that was attached to the answering machine to which my Sibling delivered a remarkable screed that could be a totally different post except I don’t want to go there. Suffice it to say that I am sorry I wasn’t the first person to hear that message, and I am most sorry that was a very bad turn for us.

This was the line that I would pick up and answer questions about my music preferences, give my opinion of local politicians, take a CDC vaccination survey, test messages with the PR firm for the electric company, and, my favorite, spend time with a stranger talking whiskey. She asked, “When was the last time you drank whiskey?” and I truthfully responded, “about five minutes ago.” The next twenty minutes were hysterical as I asked her to repeat the five choices on the Likert scale almost every time.

A landline is very quaint. It is from a time before we all had our own personal communications devices. It was a shared resource. It created obligations. If I answered the phone I was duty-bound to “take a message.” I had to make sure that it was passed on. My children have never taken a message.

This landline stopped being of any import probably nine or ten years ago. It didn’t bring the news of my parents’ deaths. It didn’t keep me in touch with The Spouse when I was in the hospital. It didn’t participate when someone made the call from the police department. Nobody left messages on it anymore–especially since robocalls don’t count.

I’ve had the same cell number for about fifteen years. I think that everyone who needs to get me has that new number. And now, the old one is gone.

I dialed the old number. I am not sure why. A lady that I didn’t know answered.

The number you have dialed, 2-0-2-2-6-9-3-0-6-5 has been disconnected. No further information is available.


Colin Powell for Secretary of Education

President-elect Obama visits a school in Chicago.

Look at this picture.

What do you see? I see some little kids who are really, really excited to see the next President of the United States. Their fresh, smiling faces are full of hope.

I want each of these kids to read great books and newspapers, make informed decisions, vote and be responsible for themselves and each other. I want them to go to college, to get good jobs and to always be as happy as they look here.

Prez-elect Obama demonstrates that being smart can be cool–book smart is cool, too. He shows that these kids can be true to themselves AND do well in school and that getting an education is not selling-out.

The Prez-elect can bring this message all the way home by appointing former Secretary of State and Chair of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell as his Secretary of Education.

  1. It would elevate education to a top-tier department by virtue of General Powell’s star power. You take a high-wattage leader and it shines on the entire department.
  2. Powell has been working on youth issues since he founded the America’s Promise Alliance in 1997–including efforts to prevent students dropping out of high-school.
  3. Powell’s pragmatism, commitment to public service and leadership certainly makes sense in an Obama administration.
  4. Powell, too, has a compelling story–a Harlem native who became the first ROTC officer to chair the Joint Chiefs and counselor to four presidents.

Powell gains from this, too.

When he endorsed Obama, Powell said, “I think the American people and the gentlemen running for president will have to, early on, focus on education more than we have seen in the campaign so far.” Being Ed. Secretary lets him put his money where his mouth is. Last, joining the cabinet would aid in rehabilitating Powell’s reputation. To be honest, he’s still dirty from the run up to the Iraq War. A high profile gig at Ed would be a great bookend to his public service.

I saw the picture above, and fell in love with each of those kids. And I want them to have every opportunity to be great people and great Americans. Let’s put a star at Ed.

Giving Thanks

boys walking

I have been quite a laggard in postings. My apologies to my loyal reader. As the turkey roasts, I am thinking about the thanks I am giving.

  • I am thankful that the 17-year-old hooked me up with my new favorite band. Great music to prep Thanksgiving Dinner by.
  • I am thankful that the Spouse has cooked dinner pretty much every night since September 15. AND has done the dishes, too.
  • I am thankful that the 14-year-old has introduced me to the FIERCE sport of wrasslin’. Little girls cried during the last meet. Fierce, I tell you.
  • I am thankful for working in the Bush administration. Without those guys, I would have never learned new levels of tolerance–and never loved so many Republicans. Yes, they are people, too.
  • I am thankful that we have good health insurance, didn’t get dumb in the mortgage market, live within our means and have stable jobs. I pray that the new guys–with our help–make changes so that more people can give this set of thanks next year.
  • I am thankful for Facebook. Sounds dumb, but it’s like living in a far-flung dorm–low pressure way to be in the lives of people you care about. (Sibling, get on the stick!)
  • I am thankful that my mother is a fighter. She has been in rehab 3 times over the past year, after a fall, a broken ankle, and then major GI surgery. Each time we worried that she might be too tired to push her 85-year-self through rehab. And each time she proves us wrong.
  • I am thankful that I have the best spouse, kids and dog in the whole wide world. Bar none. No one can dispute this. Don’t even try.

And I am thankful to you, my loyal reader. I write this mostly for me, but am thankful that you take some of your time to think with me.

Happy Thanksgiving!