Sunday, March 23, 2014

Never Too Big...

J Bean (5) started sobbing to Vv today after basketball class that she didn't want to grow up. She was worried she was going to get too big for me to flip her around and hold her upside down. When they arrived home, Vv told me about it so I went and found J Bean sitting in her dark room pouting cross-legged in the middle of the floor. Grabbed her up, threw her around like a bean bag, held her upside down on the ceiling and asked her what was wrong.

"I don't want to grow up ever, not even a little. You won't be able to pick me up and toss me around anymore." She said with a fat lip.

"I'll always be able to pick you up and throw you around." I promised. "At least for as long as you want me to because I'm super big and super strong."

"No you won't. I will always want to, forever and ever." She whimpered in despair.

"Are you going to be bigger than Mommy anytime soon?" I asked.

"No, I don't think so."

"Well, I can pick Mommy up, she may not want me to, but I can do it. Go ask her."

20 seconds later, I have Vv over my shoulder in a fireman's carry and then into a Mr. T style Airplane spin until Vv's protests put an end to the manuever.

Lifted J Bean again, held her upside down, so she hung in front of me face to face like a little dangling SpiderMan. "Believe me now?" I asked.

She giggled, laughed and asked for more spinning; I obliged.  I guess she won't be growing up today. Not on my watch.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Another Installment of "I Like to Move it"

The one in which we all put down devices, close up those laptops and pump the volume for a dance party with any little ones around. This is one of Link's favorites right now. Every 5 seconds he finds me, points to the stereo and says "Nu Sick Knee Yun Lauer!" rough translation "Music. Neil Young, louder" and when he says "Neil Young" he doesn't mean I can select any jam of my choosing, he means only "Oh Susannah" will do. Enjoy!


Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Bear and Freddie's Boots


It’s 102 in the shade and there ain’t no shade.









I'm trudging along behind a red International Farmall tractor in the middle of a tobacco field. The tractor grumbles rhythmically. The engine's stutter punctuated by a clanking rain cap over the exhaust as it crawls along the rows.


Plants, tall as a man surround us on all sides. Thick leaves attached to central stalks. Blooms, or “suckers” as we call them, crown a portion of the crop. The air is tainted with half-burned fuel, tobacco tar and cigarette smoke. My nose wrinkles and the noon sun narrows my eyes to slits. I look like the crankiest 12 year old to ever work a field. My face all squished up like I just took a bite from a fresh lemon. My expression, however, does not accurately represent my feelings of excitement. I've never worked on a farm before today. 
























































I broil slowly. The heat is oppressive, but I want the resulting red neck. 


I need it.


If I am to become bona fide in my old, yet new again, hometown the red neck is a prerequisite. You see, I’m known as a “city boy.” Despite a birthplace only 20 miles away, I’m not of this place. My family left the Flatlands when I was a toddler. My father was in the service during my formative years. Now, after more than a decade away, it is time I become acclimated to the ways of my southern kin. Cropping tobacco seems as fine a place as any to start my training.


My uncle Freddie owns the farm and acts as foreman to the harvesting crew. He isn’t around anymore, but I can’t walk under a pale moon without thinking of him. When I hear the heat song of locusts or catch a whiff of a tobacco pipe, which resembles the aroma of an old curing barn, it takes me right back to a cool southern night and I can hear his heavy boots on the pavement as we walk side by side. We'll get to more on that in due time, but for now you should know Freddie taught me how to work through pain, how much I could accomplish even outside my element, and more than a little about being a man. Face your fears, live up to your responsibilities, laugh when you can, apologize when you are wrong and sometimes when you are right, forgive. I am thankful for the rain and the slick Georgia clay that led to an unexpected adventure over twenty-five years ago. I wish I could tell him just how much one long walk meant to me so long ago. I can't do that, so I'll tell you instead. 



Uncle Freddie is a monumental man.


To my boyish eyes, he looks as if he just stepped out of an old western or perhaps a Marlboro billboard. He is the oldest, and at 6 feet, the tallest by far of five siblings. A tattered trucker hat tops his thick, black hair with silver linings above the ears. Freddie’s eyes smile constantly and his mouth obliges frequently. His hands, large and rough. His handshake, a five pound hammer. Skin beaten by the sun. Well past a farmer's tan, more of a leathery hide.  His uniform, an old worn-thin plaid shirt, sagging blue jeans and boots. A cigarette dangles from his lips, an afterthought. Its ember flipping around precariously as he talks and laughs.



In the field next to the old farmhouse, we’re trundling along one of the longest rows.


It is nearly half a mile through the field from a dirt road on the north to highway 168 bordering on the south. At our current pace, I wonder if I'll make it through the day, or if spontaneous combustion will end my shift early. When we reach the highway, half an hour from now, we'll look longingly at the inviting shade of the dense pines across the roadway. Then the driver will turn around slowly in the fine gray soil and start back toward the dirt road again. Up and down a dozen times and this field won't even be half done. The day will eventually give way to evening and the barn will be full before that happens. At least, I hope so, and George assures me.

I imagine my headstone inscription as I attempt, with little success, to shield my entire body from the sun with my small ball cap as I walk. The epitaph will read, "Here lies Eric. Bear caught on a dog day. Shoulda known better, city slicker."



Since it's my first day on the job, Freddie can’t trust me to do anything important. I walk behind the crew picking up dropped tobacco or pulling any missed ripe leaves I might spot along the way. I'm not even wearing shoes. I can't recall why that is, but in retrospect it seems ill-advised. 


Taking a turn on the tractor is out of the question since I didn’t grow up driving one. Behind the wheel, I might run over some of the crop or wind up "bear caught,” endangering the whole crew. It will be a few more days before I start real work and learn more about the bear. Freddie and others warn me. Bullshit to scare the new guy, I figure.


I am wrong.


For those, like me, who don't know: "bear caught" is the close relative of heat stroke. When the sun's rays beat down with constant force I can only describe in terms of pressure and the only shade is cast by circling buzzards, you just might find yourself drowning on dry land with the world spinning out of control beneath your bare feet.


(Where the Hell are my shoes?!)

If you notice a shortness of breath and a feeling of overwhelming dread while cropping it is time to get off your feet as the next step is usually passing out, vomiting or both. AKA: Bear Caught.



Behind the caravan is the safest place to walk for a greenhorn. If I faint, at least I will not be run over back here. Atop the tractor, Bobby is in the captain’s seat. 
He’s a grumpy, red-faced, round man in his sixties who is often late and occasionally falls asleep at the wheel. He's been known to miss the turn at the end of a row from time to time and can’t be relied on to react quickly to foolish city boys who might fall down where they shouldn’t oughta have no business doing so.



Progress is slow.


The tractor is pulling a stick harvester and the trailer brings up the rear of this 3-car rolling assembly line. Sticks of tobacco will be piled neatly on the trailer as they are completed and the “stackers” will leap from trailer to harvester and back again fetching completed racks as we move across a dry sea of green and yellow. The body of the harvester has two stations in the center and two more hanging off each side; suspended like gull wings by a metal sliding arm which creates a veritable finger guillotine between the sleds and the main body of the contraption. 


This dangerous meeting of metal on metal enables the sleds to be folded in for travel or adjusted for different size rows. I don't put my hands up there because I've been warned and it’s always covered with grease to facilitate the scissor action. Another relative once showed me the scars where he lost four fingers and had them sewn back on after resting his hand casually on such a bar at the wrong moment some 25 years previous. Amazingly, his digits still function, but his piano playing days came to an end that summer. 



Each of the four stations have a low, forward-facing seat where a “cropper” can encircle the bottom ring of leaves from a stalk with two hands, gather them in a bunch and hand them up to the rear-facing stringer who is perched on a chair above and in front of the cropper. The stringer wraps each handful with twine, attaching them to a stick which hangs overhead. The end result is a stick just over 4 feet long with large tobacco leaves hanging from its length, save 6 to 8 inches on either end enabling the sticks to rest atop rafters in the curing barn. 


Later the sticks of tobacco will be manually hoisted by my older, and braver, cousins into the dizzying heights of an ancient tobacco barn so rickety looking I don't really want to stand in it, much less climb to the top with a 30 pound stick of fresh tobacco. During the hanging process, my Uncle Freddie barks orders and jokingly chastises anyone who hesitates by asking if they “need to go change their dress.” He also makes us smile with his infectious laugh as he regales the crew with stories and one-liners. Despite his jovial nature in the shady barn, I take notice of some well-hidden concern shadowing his face. Limber boys, fearless as any trapeze performer, jump from rafter to rafter and seem to swing effortlessly from one to another overhead while hoisting sticks into the furthest reaches of the towering structure. The downturned corners of my uncle’s mouth and the darting way his eyes glance at the “hangers,” most of whom are his nephews, betray the fact he has probably witnessed someone fall from the upper rafters somewhere along the line. 



He’s probably seen a lot of things, I imagine.


“Hold up! Gotta change a spool!” someone yells at the driver.  After another series of curses and calls to stop, the request finally makes it past the engine noise and the 6 pack of Busch the driver has quietly downed in an attempt to beat the heat and boredom of his job. 



The hard sun remains my main concern.



As the caravan comes to a halt, croppers and stringers catch their breath and take long pulls on their sweaty water bottles. Many of them douse themselves with cool water, the sensation followed by involuntary gasps and then exhalations of relief. I find myself envious of my cousin George with his spot under the shady tarp and a rusty iron seat. He’s already a seasoned cropper. 



“If George can do it, so can I… right?” I think to myself.


It is only my ignorance of the job which leads to the thought. A few weeks from now I'll remember my leisurely strolls behind the harvest train fondly and wonder why in heck anyone would want to be a cropper. 



George is my senior by less than a year, but has lived here his whole life. He’s just as much a part of this county as the old barn on the edge of the field. A tight crew cut, a quick laugh, square glasses and an aura of experience are his stand out features at this age. He’s been working on the farm for years already and seems to have been vaccinated against the bear during his tenure. He has a gun. His own gun! We go fishing together when we have the opportunity. We roam the considerable wilderness around his home or play Duck Hunt for hours on his Nintendo before a sleepover.


In spite my city ways, George and I are like peas and carrots except when we are more like oil and vinegar. We can usually resolve disagreements with a scuffle and a hug. Fisticuffs be damned. Blood is the tie that binds and we never hold a grudge that lasts half as long as one of our black eyes. 



As I look on, George is in the low seat of a center station on the harvester. In front of him, a gorgeous teenage girl with curly brunette hair, an easy smile, a maroon top and tight blue jeans that might have been purchased from his Daddy's corner shop in town a few years back though they probably didn’t fit like this back then.  His vantage point seems better than the rear of the trailer and uninterrupted horizon dominating my scenery as the forgotten caboose. I look away quickly, hoping neither the girl nor her brother notice the slack-jawed admirer.


George plucks and passes clusters of leaves so hard and fast throughout the day his fingers hurt and tar presses into every nook and cranny. Sweat drips from the rim of his glasses to his turquoise t-shirt. George is wearing knee-length shorts, we call them jams, and high-top sneakers. This will be his style of work clothes for the season unless those pesky hairs on his legs start to thicken before harvest is over. They will become bristly magnets for the sticky tobacco tar as George’s voice begins to crack. The trained eye can tell by the way he looks at the stringer this change will come sooner rather than later. Judging by my jealousy, I’m not far behind.


“Owww! What the Hell?!” I shout, enjoying the newfound freedom of cursing in the field. I dance around barefoot in the silty soil after stepping on a discarded butt from the harvest train’s conductor. The crew laughs at me and Freddie glances back quickly, sees that I’ve suffered no major injury, and shouts an unconcerned "All clear! Go ahead!" in the direction of the driver. 



We sluggishly make the rounds and inch our way toward a distant mirage. I’m beginning to believe the oasis is not an illusion and my hope for an end to the workday is gaining definition along with the buildings around the big house which are coming into focus through the undulating heat waves.



Weeks pass. At this point I’m a respectable cropper and have only been “bear caught” a few times. I spend most weekdays in the field and nights between with my uncle at his mother-in-law’s home. Ms. Olive is a kind woman with the same lovely eyes as her daughter, my aunt, whom Freddie is married to. Uncle Freddie doesn’t have children and his wife is at their own home in town as she has a job at a local dealership. Ms. Olive is elderly and busy with meals and other household chores, so in the evenings I find myself with much more freedom than I'm used to.



After work and before supper, I roam the farm like a lost boy.


I discover plows and trucks as old as the creek bed, other farm implements of unknown origin and purpose, and hand tools wielded by farmers long dead. I find abandoned barns with corrugated rusty-steel roofs and walls more air than lumber after the slow wrecking ball of time has done its thankless job. The barns rest unnoticed among the pines only a stone's throw from the northern tip of the longest row in the main field. There is a flat-pond behind the house, basically a low-lying area that holds water in the rainy season. It is dry this summer but surrounded with clear boundaries of briars laden with blackberries.


There are the two weary and beaten grain silos dominating the eastern border of the property, the sad fraternal twins cast long shadows in the evening. One cylinder is faded gray with sections outlined in oxidation red while the other appears to be its negative exposure. Both are capped with rusty tin roofs. When I open a door to the red silo I catch the musky odor of old soybeans and possum leavings. Dust sifts down from above, highlighting the bolts of sunlight piercing the rusty pock holes here and there.


In the woods, behind the main barn, there are squirrels and rabbits to track and a drainage pond which stretches to the highway. Along the edge of the pond I battle hordes of mosquitos; my only allies, an army of dragonflies who feast on the plentiful parasites. Occasionally, I catch a glimpse of a skink whose colors and reptilian head combine to give them an uncanny resemblance to a water moccasin, at least to the inexperienced eye of a city boy. The pond is a sea of minnows, frogs, lily pads and cattails. I drop a line in that big puddle a few times throughout the summer, but never catch anything more than a small box turtle. 


I find wild muscadine grapes dotting the wooded area of the property. They are the size of a small marble and dull black when ripe. Their flavor pales in comparison to the scuppernongs I enjoy from another tended vine in the yard. The scuppernongs are three times the size of a wild muscadine and grow in sweet bronze clusters. The trick is finding them before the birds and the neighbors. I squeeze a thick-skinned grape between my thumb and forefinger and spit the seeds onto the ground before swallowing the slimy, yet satisfying, glob that remains. Afterwards, I put the grape skins on the tips of my fingers and imagine I'm a green frog leaping from tree to tree.


There is an upturned oak with dirt-bombs clinging to the horizontal disc of its roots which provide ample ammunition for waging war on an imaginary enemy or the wayward squirrel tracking my progress. Despite its resting place parallel to the ground, the huge tree holds onto life not unlike its roots used to grip the earth. I wonder what to call a “live oak” after it dies.

I don't know where I find the energy for these explorations, but it is a daily ritual and I don't return to the big house until the dinner bell rings. Ms. Olive lays out spreads worthy of a king but meant for a growing farmhand and his giant uncle. I’m thinner despite consuming copious amounts of sweet tea, peach cobbler, biscuits, fried okra, stewed tomatoes, ford hooks, and fried chicken of the like that has probably passed from this world forever.


While I am scrubbing the day’s tar from my hands with pumice-laced GOJO in preparation for supper, I look up into the mirror matching gazes with an unfamiliar dark face smeared with dirt and with eyes I like to believe are starting to sparkle with some of that backwoods experience I've been so desperately pursuing. I inquire aloud if GOJO is flammable. No one answers. It sure smells like it and my eyes water from the acrid fumes.


I wonder to myself if I’ll ever be as tough as my uncle, but I already know the answer.


This evening, Uncle Freddie asks me to tag along as he checks on the barns scattered about our corner of the smallest county in southern Georgia. We load up in his 4x4 two-tone Ford pickup and hit the road. A strong breeze swirls within the cab as we careen down the highway. We’re probably within the speed limit, but after a day in the field it feels like we’re riding a cruise missile. 




On the radio, Hank Williams is chasing rabbits, pulling out his hair and howling at the moon. 
Freddie’s Boston Terrier, “B.A.,” as in Baracus (or was it Bad Ass?), smiles an impossible grin with his head hanging out the window, his tongue flapping wildly in the wind and a jaw seemingly unhinged like a rattler’s as he gulps in the last drops of the day.


We stop and check on several barns; Uncle Freddie confirming propane levels, inspecting the burners and examining some hanging leaves by rubbing them between his calloused fingers. The barns are made of logs and mortar predating my grandparents and they all smell of propane, musty wood and sweet tobacco. I love that smell.



As we exit the last barn, the curtain of night has fallen completely and the moon is on the rise. The twilight is long gone and it’s nearly bedtime with another day of harvesting ahead. The constant buzz of cicadas is now eclipsed by the chirping of crickets and a cacophony of frogs in the roadside ditches. The small frogs croak with a near machine-like consistency, but every 15 to 20 seconds the unmistakable bellow of a bullfrog rises above the noise as he asserts his dominance over the night and all who hear him.


“Load up, kid. It’s time to go,” my mother’s big brother says, in his deep barreled voice.


He lets fly a sharp whistle in B.A.’s direction. The small dog is investigating a nearby thicket, but is still the first one in the cab. He seems somewhat reluctant to allow me into his usual spot as co-chief. As Freddie turns the ignition, Johnny Cash is crooning about "The Wide Open Road." My uncle throws the column shifter into low gear and hits the gas. 




The engine revs and we go nowhere. 



He tries reverse, we hear the wheels spin and we can feel the truck sink just a bit. He glances over, tells me to stay put while he hops out to engage the four wheel drive hubs on the old pickup truck. Back in the cab, he tries again; and again our only movement is downward. Now he’s out and his hat is in his hand while he scratches his head aggravatedly, surveys the area and mumbles under his breath.


I hop out of the cab with B.A. close behind to assess the situation. After I've exhausted all manner of pointless questions and offered nothing in the way of solutions, Freddie tells me to gather some sticks. We work together to put some debris under the tires in the hopes of creating some traction. This goes on for a spell and we make no progress. I take a turn at the wheel while Freddie pushes and I press the gas too hard spraying him with mud and causing him to trip and fall. My throttle enthusiasm also clears the items we had managed to jam under the wheels.


“Dammit, Eric! Shit fire!!” Freddie shouts at me as he takes to his feet throwing his hat down and kicking in the general direction of B.A., who had taken the spill as an opportunity to lick some mud off his master's face. The little black and white dog retreats quickly, though he was in no real danger. I have a strong urge to follow him into the brush lest I catch a boot to my own rear end, but I held my footing, sheepishly looking down and kicking at some loose gravel with my hands stuck deep into my pockets.


Freddie is not usually an angry man, but I’m apprehensive as he is the first adult to curse at me. I’ve heard the words, but they have never been meant for me. I stutter and stammer attempting an apology. I’m fighting back the urge to cry. Before I lose that battle, he calls me closer. He reminds me, and possibly himself, that he chose the parking spot and spun the wheels to begin with. It’s not my fault and he’s sorry for cursing and yelling.



I can breathe again. 



All is well with the world again, other than the fact we are stranded in the middle of nowhere. This barn is at least 10 miles from home and nearly half that to the nearest neighbor. A neighbor who happens to be a hand in our crew, but who also happens to own the world’s largest bull mastiff. This hulking beast seems a closer relative to a great grizzly than the toy-sized bulldog we have as a walking companion. Every time we pick up the boy for work, the mastiff peers intimidatingly at the pickup from the porch. The workers in the bed of the truck sit quietly and nervous. Each silently hoping they are not the slowest runner in the crowd as they keep at least one eye on the behemoth until we’re back on the blacktop.


Dreading the walk, we spend some time in the cab and I listen intently as Freddie tries to hail someone on his CB radio. He speaks an unfamiliar language which captivates me and reminds me of Smoky and The Bandit. After 10 minutes with no answer it becomes apparent we are going to have to hoof it. We gather a few things, roll up the windows and begin the journey.


We’re walking down the centerline of a lonely Georgia highway. Light from the near full moon makes vision the least of our worries on the open road. I munch on a Snickers bar salvaged from the truck and we share a half bottle of Mountain Dew during the stroll.


I stay close to the big man, like a shadow.


I notice B.A. doesn’t wander too far either. His pattering feet are quick as he keeps pace with us, sniffing the asphalt and occasionally exploring the shoulder as we walk. A few cars speed by here and there, but it was past midnight when we gave up calling for help and struck out on foot so it comes as no surprise to either of us when none stop to offer a ride.


The days are still warm, but this evening is unseasonably cool. Between the southern humidity and our light clothing, we are chilled beyond comfort. After an hour or so, we come to another of the barns so we step inside to allow the propane heaters a chance to thaw our bones. Warm blooded again, we fill our soda bottle with water and strike out once more.


Sometime after 2am we approach the home of the stacker with the gigantic bear-dog. A quick discussion results in a unanimous decision. We do not want to knock on the door and we need to make it past the house without awakening the huge canine if we are to arrive home with no extra holes in us. Uncle Freddie carries B.A. and we walk quick and silent until we are clear of the monster’s territory.


Even well beyond the dog's hearing I am terrified, like only a city boy could be, by the imaginary dangers I perceive to be lurking just beyond the shadows. Trees line the sides of the road providing cover for all manner of unspeakable evils. 



Freddie is the rock on which I anchor myself. He seems indestructible and shows no sign of concern as we continue our march. 



We walk. We rest. We stop in another barn to warm up and we walk some more. I tell Freddie of the latest video games, a cute girl at school, a truck I hope to buy in a few years and how I’m not sure I fit in around these parts. I listen as he reminisces on growing up with my mother, her sister and his two younger brothers. It turns out, as big brothers, we have a few things in common and 35 years doesn’t really amount to much in the grand scheme of things. He tries to convince me I don’t need to prove myself and that the most interesting people don’t fit in anywhere really. He tells me that I’m alright, for a city boy, and that he’s glad to have me on the crew.


I swell with pride. Or perhaps, it's the unseen monsters in the shadows who shrink. 



As we near our destination, my legs are tired, my mouth is dry. I’m blissfully unaware of how time will steal, so completely, many memories from this summer and this night in particular or why I should hold onto them so dearly. I wish I could go back and tell myself to write down some of those stories instead of passing out on the bed when we arrive home. I’m thankful that I’m able to remember what I do, but there was so much more. I had no idea his time was short.


We veer off the highway and take the last mile on a dirt road. As we approach the big house, the pregnant horizon is ready to give birth to the morning sun. 



The sky has been brightening steadily for the last hour. I am exhausted and even B.A. isn’t smiling any longer as we reach the front door. From within, I can already smell coffee, bacon grease and fresh biscuits. Ms. Olive greets us with a smile and hugs inquiring about where we have been and what we have been up to. Uncle Freddie gives me a cold glass of orange juice, a bacon sandwich then sends me to bed.


Later I realize he went to the field to get the crew moving without laying his head on a pillow. 



I don’t wake up until just before lunch and, of course, Ms. Olive worries over me. She feeds me more than a dozen boys would need in one sitting. After lunch I return to the field with the rest of the crew.  Freddie pays me the twenty dollars I would normally receive for a full day’s work and after supper we enjoy a good laugh as we begin threading hyperbole into our fish tale.


If he were here today I suppose his version would vary quite a bit from the one I have told. What I wouldn’t give to hear it. Tonight though, we agree that damn dog out on Highway 168 is as big as any black bear in Georgia. We also agree this evening we’ll stay in, sip some sweet tea and watch Wheel of Fortune. 



That winter, a few weeks before Christmas, Freddie’s boots took their last steps.


A sudden and unexpected malady took him from us on a cold Tuesday. The news punched me in the gut and the world spun beneath my feet. A feeling not unlike being caught by the bear.


Today, I remain certain I'll never be as tough as Uncle Freddie, but I learned to walk the walk and talk the talk. He seemed to think that was half the battle. He taught me to laugh at the world, enjoy at least some part of every day, and that listening is almost always better than talking. I learned to be consistent in my dealings with others and to present myself as a superhero to children who needn’t worry about things beyond their control. 


Youngins believe in the magic our mentors weave far into adulthood. Faith in their power remains even after an invincible man inevitably proves that this, his greatest illusion, was nothing more.


I've never forgotten to watch for the bear in the many forms he takes, but I will not let fear of him paralyze me.


In the end, some footprints leave no mark in the sand, but I can still hear the clicking of those boots echoing across the southern Georgia night and no one who knew Freddie can deny the impressions he left in their own life.



**Special thanks to my cousin, George, for helping me dredge up some of these memories and some of the important details from a summer of croppin' and the man we both loved.

 Also thanks to my dear friend, Brian Sorrell of 
daddingfulltime.com who helped me find the voice to tell this story that I was, until now, unable to put to paper in a way that matched its significance in my life.

Another thank you, to Bill Peebles of
I Hope I Win A Toaster for offering feedback and support on this story and many others

All of you have heavy boots and leave echoes you may not even be aware of. 



Friday, March 7, 2014

An Open Letter To You.

You ARE a “beautiful snowflake.”

For some reason, this has become a sarcastic comment one makes about others, especially to parents regarding their children and how/why the world doesn't care.  Say what you will, but the truth it is simply a statement of fact. YOU are a beautiful snowflake.

That means it’s even true of me, it’s true of you (yes you, the person reading this right now), and that kid at the store who threw a tantrum and the guy who cut you off in traffic.

I don’t always reach my goals, things don’t always turn out the way I hoped prayed planned. Often it is quite the opposite. Intentions matter little when it comes to results and I find myself looking at poor results in every aspect of my life from time to time. Instead of succeeding, sometimes I’m just hoping to fail less, but my struggles and my successes are mine. They are part of me, as yours are part of you.

There is no single measure of you.  There is not one action that defines you. One story that paints your picture. One moment that epitomizes all moments. You are evolving every second. Whether you think you are searching for nirvana, talking with yourself, praying to a god, or simply changing neural patterns within the electrical box in your head… you ARE special and every thought and every action you take confirm this. It is mathematically impossible that you are not a beautiful, precious snowflake.

Somewhere along the line this obvious fact ceased to matter to some, myself included. At some point, I began to take snapshots of those around me and make judgments about who they are and who they will always be based on nothing of substance. You follow a certain political persuasion and I judge you. You parent differently than I and I scold you. You are imperceptive in one manner and I mock you while ignoring your superior perceptions in another area. You ask me to play a game while I am waging war with the synapses of the world wide web and I shoo you away. You cry and I wish you would stop because it would be easier for me. You disagree with me, so I gnash my teeth and think (on a good day) or say (on a bad day) what a loathsome creature you must be. I forget that we are the same because I know we are different. I forgot you are special. I forgot that I am special.

Enjoy yourself, appreciate those around you and do your best to remember they are a unique creation; there will never be another like them (or you). We can’t change the structure of another, but we can remember we all fall from the same sky and will melt on the same ground. What we do in between is what separates us or bonds us with others. Today I will not spend my time looking for weaknesses in your structure. Today I will play in the snow.

Love,
Dad On The Run


Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Kid Free World? To Travel or Not To Travel. That is The Question.

Regarding children and travel.

A child is not a non-stop source of noise, chaos and discontent for others. There is a spectrum of behavior a child will exhibit, that spectrum varies among children and age. Some items on that spectrum will disturb some people. Occasionally, the result is unexpected noise which could potentially bother or awaken someone outside of your room while traveling. No one is arguing that from my end. The assertion by some, however, seems to be that this set of facts means a person who travels with a baby/child is selfish and entitled. I'm going to get onboard with the argument here for the sake of discussion, but I have a few questions.
Why is it the person is selfish who risks the outside chance a crying fit from their child will occur during the chosen sleep schedule of another guest who happens to occupy the next room, will be a light sleeper, not traveling with children of their own, has no earplugs, really has a problem with noises in the night at a hotel and perhaps even issues falling back to sleep after a disturbance? Obviously that is a possibility, a child might cry and a child might wake up another person (and that sucks) but does it make them selfish? How likely is it and at what point does that probability translate to being an inconsiderate person who should not have even gone on the trip? If there is a 1 in 10 chance a kid might cry in the middle of the night are you selfish for bringing them? What if there is a 1 in 10 chance you'll let the toilet lid slam during a 2am trip to the toilet? Is the line the same for every person or do we allow leeway for those with mental/physical disorders? What is the decibel level and the frequency of an issue which triggers the "selfish" label? There must be such a line, so where does it lie?

The possibility of waking another person seems to be the issue we want to focus on, at least in relation to my recent letter. So what about the traveler who is traveling with a service animal and the neighbor who is allergic? What about an early riser who wants to get a run in and lets the door close too hard? What about a night owl? The horny couple? The guy with sleep apnea? The person with irritable bowel syndrome? The elderly man who needs the TV louder to hear it? The loud phone talker with insomnia? The heavy walker above? The reverse warning beep of the man with an electric wheelchair? The false fire-alarm because someone burned some toast in the lobby? The pregnant woman who keeps flushing the toilet that shakes the pipes in the wall near your head? The guy who designed the passing elevator? The landscape crew that arrives too early? There are many people who make noises in the night. I agree some of them are inconsiderate. Some of those noises will awaken some people, others will sleep right through them. This is why I think setting personal expectations for silence in a hotel environment is the point of view which is entitled and unrealistic.

The anger displayed by some over children's part in occasionally waking up someone should at the least be equally distributed among all the potential and common bumps in the night, shouldn't it? Why all the ire toward parents and/or children? Those who don't care for children are not aware of them until they present a disturbance, if that were the only time I took notice of kids I would have a poor opinion of them as well, but I also happen to take notice of the way they talk with others, hold no preconceptions about others, trust others, and look at the world. It is refreshing if you ever pause to appreciate them when they are not having "one of those nights/days."

To be honest I don't appreciate disturbances either. When I am disturbed I take steps to let others know, or I just deal with it rather than churning over all the ways the one disturbing me is an evil person. Calling out one who bothers you as selfish is often off-base. The woman in the next room with food poisoning is selfish? What about the guy who took a shower and forgot to turn off his alarm ahead of time? Maybe we're all just people, trying to enjoy our time and wishing we wouldn't cause anyone else a problem but recognizing that sometimes we do. How do we handle those situations? That's my question. Do we make our dissatisfaction known so something can be done, or do we write a letter in an attempt to "ruin someone's vacation" because that's what we perceive happened to us? Do all the rain clouds just follow us around, too?

It's bad luck when our sleep is disturbed, it's unfortunate, and I feel sympathy and empathy for anyone disturbed, but it is not a fundamental character flaw, an indication of entitlement or selfishness for someone to travel with a child. It is just part of life, sometimes other people or things make noise. That is why some establishments offer us all the chance to get away from many of those disturbances and, personally, those are the places I would choose to stay when I am looking for the perfect getaway sans kids and away from snoring neighbors et al. Short of doing so, I'm going to assume the quality of my sleep is a crapshoot in a crowded hotel, I might not like my bed, my phone might ring for no reason, someone in the hall might wake me up. My first reaction is, "That's life. Deal with it." I understand you may feel differently, so what are your thoughts? Where is the line between "living" and "selfish living"? Who decides what that line is? Is the decision solely given to the perceived victim? I'm very interested in your input here.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Don't Like Kids? How Very Childish.







An open letter to the miserable person who slipped this message under my sister's door in a hotel in Colorado this morning.


Dear Parent of Infinite Wisdom,

First of all, I only write this in order to reassure my sister and brother-in-law that they are not doing anything wrong. You are undoubtedly a nasty person regardless of the situation you find yourself in and how others are treating you, so on the off-chance you even see this I hold little hope it will effect your outlook on life. Is it fair for me to judge you by one nastygram? At least as fair as your judgement of someone based on what you can hear through a wall, I suppose.

In your haste to pass judgement on others and whitewash your own memory of what parenting is like, you have forgot to check yourself for the very inconsideration and selfishness you abhor. You decided to lash out at others who were unaware of your plight or discomfort, at least until you left a cowardly letter after the fact at which point any opportunity they might have to try to alleviate your unfortunate situation had passed. Perhaps, if you had yelled back or pounded on the headboard then the thinness of the walls would have been more evident to the struggling parents. Then again, such an act of directness would have identified yourself as the petty selfish person you are. Personally, I think you knew that, which is why instead, you decided to lay your opinion out anonymously and with no consideration of what was happening within the room or who the people are you were addressing. You knew all you needed to know; "Someone is doing something I don't like! I should cry about it." Sound familiar? The baby was cutting teeth, what is your excuse?

Here are a few of the things you didn't know.

My brother-in-law helps more people before you get out of bed and have your morning coffee than you have likely helped in your entire life. He operates on brains and misses out on an awful lot of time with his wife and child so that he can use his knowledge and skill to help adults and children alike (even the selfish ones) with a second chance. He saves lives. This week he is in Colorado for a conference where he can learn to better treat you if you happen to fall from a snow-lift, get thrown from your high horse, faceplant into a tree while skiing down the black diamond trail or have the misfortune to trip over your own self-righteousness and fall down the stairs head first. Personally, I don't blame him for wanting to take his family with him to a convention rather than missing out on another week full of memories so that he can be the best surgeon. It's a great job, a rewarding job, but not one without sacrifices.

My niece usually sleeps pretty well, and is not known for screaming in the middle of the night. If she were constantly having this issue both parents would be in a mental institution and you wouldn't have been disturbed. Newsflash: a night in the room with a screaming toddler is even harder than being next door and not something parents willingly plan for on holiday. From the far side of the wall, one cannot see the parents scrambling, attempting to feed the baby, rock the baby, shush the baby, walk around, rack their brains for a way to make the crying stop for the their sake, for their neighbor's sake and not least of all for the helpless child's sake.

As for my sister, she is a kind and considerate parent, a dependable friend and an amazing wife. She is a first-time mother with a law degree who decided that spending time with and raising her daughter are the top priorities in her life. As a stay-home mother, I'm sure she jumped at the chance to get out of the house. What stay-home parent wouldn't? Sure, it is true, she's still learning the ropes. Can you remember what that was like? Do you remember thinking you knew your child's routines only to learn at an inopportune time that you don't really know much of anything? This usually occurs on the rare evening out with the whole family, or on a crowded airplane or when rooming next to the Prince or Princess of Passive Aggressiveness on the side of a mountain in Colorado. On those occasions, when your child transformed into a yelling, crying, sobbing ball of heartache you might recall your ears burning and your face flushing red with embarrassment. You may remember the hopeful feeling that there will not be a person like you around. Someone willing to belittle you rather than offer support, someone willing to call you a bad parent and a selfish person because you have somehow conspired to ruin their day, their meal or their trip.

Well, guess what, perfect parent?! Your kids ruined things for other people too. As a matter of fact, you ruined more than one evening for others when you were a little tyrant yourself. The same is true for every adult walking the planet, unless their parents kept them tranquilized or frozen in carbonite until graduation. Maybe you didnt' know, but it happened. That is the way of the world, this is not a hermetically sealed, adults only dystopia where nothing unexpected occurs to anyone. If you want to guarantee a trip with those parameters (and since you obviously planned for this years in advance) then plan a little better and rent a freaking cabin or bring a set of ear plugs.

If it's not a child, it will be a dog, if it's not a dog, it will be a group of drunken fraternity members, or a construction crew, or a leaky faucet. Maybe loud lovers, the TV in the next room, or a neighbor who leaves their radio clock on all night that will disturb your slumber. It's always something isn't it? I know the feeling. It sucks, but these things happen. Sometimes they are due to inconsideration and more often due to accident or happenstance. The question is not if, but when, something will taint our dreams of the perfect vacation, dinner or plane ride. I teach my children we can't control the actions of others, but we can control our own reactions. We can choose every day whether to let life's little inconveniences make us miserable, or we can choose to smile and carry on. Better still, we can decide to try to make the world a better place; to lend a hand instead of pointing a finger.

You, on the other hand, choose to spew hatred and judgement on others even when it will bring no change to your own situation. You didn't say anything when the young parents could have done something. Choosing instead to leave a parting note to let them know what terrible people they are. Be honest, the note was not for the good of the world, it was for retribution. It was your way of doling out karma. I hope you are proud of yourself.

I am sorry for you. I'm sorry for your children. Pat yourself on the back for never having your child wake another human (yeah, right) all you want, but when it comes to measuring the value of another person or the extremes of their selflessness (or selfishness) most of us would prefer to take a larger view and maybe learn something about the situation and it's participants before we cast our stones.

I know little about you, maybe you were just cranky and writing without thinking. Maybe you are too stupid to relieve yourself with some Tylenol PM or earplugs or by calling the front desk to ask about options before spending a second night in wretched misery within the 7th circle of Hell. Maybe you are a really great person who helps others with every spare minute not spent on holiday at a ski resort or judging other people's parenting based on cries in the night. Then again, maybe you are just an asshole.


Good day,
Dad On The Run

P.S. Lil' sis. Keep doing what you are doing. Your child is a part of this world and just as much entitled to it as the next person. Those who wish to have a child-free experience have plenty of adults only options for vacation accommodations. Love you.


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