Alive Again… sort of

Easing back into my former role as a professional adult, I will be performing at a charity “Story Slam” next week. And not as Captain Dad, but in my old New Yorker cartoonist identity.

If you happen to find yourself in the neighborhood of Chicago on Oct. 16, I invite you to check it out. There are lots of great storytellers on the bill, so it should be good fun.

Freewheelin’

Another thing that happened this summer was that the training wheels came off my younger daughter’s bike. Unlike her older sister, who cannot hide her slightest emotion, Lucy tried to harden her face like she was all business. But the triumph was too great. The smile broke through her attempts to hide it.

This was just a week or two before school started. Before, as I have mentioned, both girls were in school all day for the first time ever.

The training wheels had come off for me too, then. So to speak. I’m freewheeling in my days again. For six and a half hours, at least. And I’m certainly manic enough to make a productive workday out of that.

In other words, I’m a (mostly) working dad now. My wife drops the kids off at school, and I pick them up. A common occurrence in many families. Or some variation of that.

My days of full-time Captain Dadding are behind me. Nearly a decade, over in a blink.

That leaves me three choices for what to do with this blog.

One, I can exploit my experience and become a pundit. I can tell everyone else how to raise their children, which is all that parenting pundits do. Even when they start out trying to do something nobler, the punditry system only accommodates advisor-consultant-heckler-know-it-alls.

No. Sorry. I can’t do that. As long as people are raising their kids—actively raising them—then I choose to trust them to figure out what works best for their family.

Two, I can wring my memories for a few more funny stories and hope to draw a few more readers and sell a few more books. Well, a few more copies of the book that’s already out, at least.

But, fun as that may be, it eats up a lot of my work week. And the effective hourly rate doesn’t come close to minimum wage.

Which leaves me with Three: Move on. Be a responsible dad and try to provide more for my kids’ future. Heck, their present. Tuition hasn’t stopped, after all.

freewheelingWhen we took the training wheels off Lucy’s bike, we put them back on again for long family rides, simply for safety and convenience. But that was temporary. We know that they will only be a distant memory by the time the next bicycling season begins.

One can’t help notice the comparison to how I have tried to reboot the blog this past month.

The wheels have to come off.

There are other books to write, projects to conceive, and there are always cartoons to be drawn. And sell. And if all that fails, there’s always a real job.

I’ll still probably post here from time to time. Since I began, not quite three years ago, I’ve published more than 350 posts. It’s probably hard to quit something like that cold turkey.

Before I ride off, though, I want to thank you for your support. Your hand on the seat, if you will. Staying home with kids can be a lonely, isolating pursuit, no matter how vital and ultimately rewarding it may be. Your simply being here—letting me share some of what rolls around in my head during the day, stuff I couldn’t share with my only companions because they wouldn’t understand—has helped me stay upright. Thank you. Deeply, sincerely, thank you.

Now, as Lucy so earnestly instructed me, “Don’t let go until I tell you… Okay, let go!”

The Girls and a Country Song

Confession time. I’m a country music fan. (If you still say “and Western,” please give my regards to 1980.) The music, at its best, actually says something. And in recent years it had gotten pretty good. For a while.

I also liked that it had a tradition of being family friendly, which is important when driving with two impressionable minds in the back seat.

But it seems that the high riding of country in an otherwise tanking music economy went to the heads of a few people, and the same frat boy mentality you saw take over Wall Street infected a once more gentlemanly world.

So, in the last year or so, I have had to have my finger hovering over the button to change stations in a blink. Otherwise I’d have to answer questions about “Daisy Dukes,” “painted on jeans,” “shaking your moneymaker” and other, much more objectifying portrayals of women.

Meanwhile, two other young girls, barely ten years older than mine, seem to have noticed the same thing. And they had the talent to express themselves. Maddie and Tae, a couple of 18-year-old singers, now have a hit called “Girl in a Country Song,” which deliciously skewers what has come to be called Bro Country. I cheered when I heard their song.

The Girl in a Country Song

But what is flabbergasting to me is that one bro country band actually had the stupidity to criticize them. One band member charged, “I don’t know one girl who doesn’t want to be a girl in a country song.” Of course, if you saw the man, you’d understand. He doesn’t look the sort who would be allowed to call on the likes of my own daughters. Or any self-respecting man’s daughter.

No, they’d face the dad Rodney Atkins so well described in a song when my girls were just a little bit younger. And country was awesome.

Danged If You Don’t, Danged If You Do

Here are some things I did not do at lunch yesterday:

• I did not place a complicated order that required food preparers to vary from what was on the prescribed menu.

• I did not take more than two napkins—even for a burrito.

• I did not have to make multiple trips back to the counter for more straws, spoons, drinks, etc.

• I did not have to caution anyone on proper behavior.

For the last week now, I have had the freedom to choose when and where I eat my lunch and the leisure to eat it in the company of my own thoughts. For the first time in nearly ten years. Even the manager noticed yesterday. “The kids in school?” he asked. Yes, we were regulars there.

I told him of my newfound liberty. Like everyone else I’ve told, he asked me what I was going to do with all my free time. “Work!” I answered like the long-time dry workaholic embarking on a medically sanctioned bender.

did_at_lunchIt wasn’t long, though, before I noticed some other things I didn’t do at lunch yesterday:

• I did not play table hockey with the wadded up burrito foil and straws.

• I did not have anyone to hold my hand in the parking lot.

• I did not have anyone tell me my how beautiful my daughters are.

I thought, Danged if you don’t, danged if you do. Yes, danged. Because, even though I’m alone now, I’m still in the habit of watching my language.

And that way, I guess, a part of my girls is always with me.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

It was an adventurous summer. I mean, we saw the Cahokia Mounds. For real! With the kids! What kid wouldn’t be enthralled by the sight of a large mound and the knowledge that, hundreds of years ago, people (though we don’t really know who) built that mound (for unknown purposes) and lived near them—until they gradually moved away (for unknown reasons)? How exciting!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This summer everything seemed exciting. To me, at least. This summer marks a transition. My younger daughter, as of this very week, is in school ALL DAY. For the first time in nearly ten years, I get to live like a quasi-full-time adult. Most of the time, at least. Which is way more than none of the time, so I will try not to complain about the occasional half days at school.

But back to the kids. It was an exciting summer for them too. Did I mention the Cahokia Mounds? I did? You mean I didn’t save that for the big, killer finish? Oh, well. The summer started with a family reunion in Phoenix. In June. Just when you want to be in Phoenix. Seriously. The hotel fares in June there are terrific.

And we were just a few hours’ drive from the Grand Canyon, which none of us had ever seen except from an airplane. So, naturally, we thought it would be worth seeing from—you guessed it—an airplane.

summer2014aNot the jumbo jet kind we were used to. The little kind, where you get to see everything up close, instead of at the observation rail with everyone else. It was a splurge idea, to offset the hotel savings.

And it made me wish we were back at the observation rail with everyone else. Because guess what! The Grand Canyon is windy. And the four of us, who never ever get airsick in the usual flyover plane, were all clutching desperately to our airsick bags. Someday, though, when I have the stomach to look at the pictures we blindly took, I’m sure I will think it was beautiful.

Back in Illinois, we enjoyed big adventure as well. Make that Big Adventure-on-a-Stick, because we spent a couple days at the State Fair. The kids went on all the rides they were tall enough to be allowed on. And, thanks to their Grand Canyon training, they didn’t get sick. That even made me brave enough to join Lucy on the Tilt-a-Whirl. And I didn’t get sick either! Unless you count turning green and not being able to look at food for a couple hours being sick.

summer2014bAfter a quick visit to a friend’s farm (where playing with sparklers was the big thrill), we headed toward the Cahokia Mounds, where we stopped just long enough to see the Gateway Arch in St. Louis from the top of the tallest mound. Minutes later, we were actually in St. Louis.

Special Parent Alert! Read this next paragraph very carefully.

If you ever find yourself with kids and a few hours on your hands, within 100 miles of St. Louis, you must—repeat, must—visit the City Museum in St. Louis. It’s more of an indoor-outdoor play place than a museum. Except that description doesn’t do it much justice. It’s an enormous old industrial building that has been adapted by some overgrown kids with waaaaaaay too much time and money—and imagination—on their hands. It’s more magical than Hogwarts. Or, do you remember the wacky maze-like tunnels from the set of the movie “Hugo”? Well, they are lame in comparison to the City Museum. Lame! Go online, look at pictures, but know that they don’t even scratch the surface of how cool this place really is. And I’m not even getting paid by the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce for saying this.

Believe it or not, however, there was something even better that happened to the kids this summer. Kids. Other kids. For the first year ever, there were other kids on the block to run around and play with. They swarmed from house to house, in and out of yards. A free-range pack with no agenda but to have fun. Together.

summer2014cThe best part of summer vacation, then, was simply being at home.

That’s something I had always dreamed of for my kids. And something they’ll always remember. Even if they forget the Cahokia Mounds.

Hitch Hike, Baby

hitch_hike