Wednesday, July 31, 2013

On The Road Again (first world problem edition)...

“I hope they don’t confiscate the fresh peanuts in my suitcase. Perhaps, yelling at the staff of such a small airport was not a great idea when I was irritated upon arrival a week ago,” I think as I load the bags and my little tyrants into the rental vehicle for our ride to the local landing strip. We have been in southern Georgia for a week. The heat has been a been factor in everything; an oppressive, wet and heavy heat that I can’t say I miss. I need fresh green peanuts, which are not to be found in the Windy City, because my (non-south Georgian) wD fe has fallof it all of it allen in a big way for boiled peanuts. It is true I did not marry a country girl, but she does like my music, southern cooking and boiled peanuts so she’s a keeper (even if she does pronounce peanuts as “penis”, but that’s another story regarding one of her early conversations with my mother regarding her love of peanuts…)

We arrive at the Mayberry airport and Subway (the sandwich shop, not the trains) complex two hours ahead of time as the airline recommends.  I refer to it this way because the Subway sign is just as large and with bigger print than the Airport sign and the establishment receives more traffic than the terminal. I set J Bean on a bench with a pile of bags and drive (20 feet) to the rental car return, which is a parking spot that says “Park Rental Here.” The contrast with O’Hare is stark, but hey, it’s here and it saves us a drive from Jacksonville when it works out.  After returning our car and receiving great ticketing service we sit down to wait for the security area to open. Yes, security is closed. Apparently, with only three flights a day, they only open security 30 minutes before boarding to screen the 15-25 passengers who will be flying in the puddle jumper. We know this, but I forgot;  My first slip of the day. Oh well, we’ll have a seat and wait. I let the little one’s walk around as I can literally see the entire airport from my seat. No sooner do the tyrants walk across the room than Officer Friendly comes out of his office (which is far too large for such a small building) and tells me my son’s sippy cup is upside down and might leak and that I should take it from him.  “Thank you, that one actually seals up pretty well and doesn’t leak, but I’ll keep it over here if it makes you feel better.” I’m rolling my eyes on the inside, but the man seems like a nice guy and has been almost helpful and only occasionally annoying on previous trips.  I wonder what you have to do in a medium sized south Georgia county to be banished to airport duty indefinitely? It wasn't punishment for lack of potential milk spillage diligence; I can tell you that much.

I receive a text from the airline 15 minutes before the local airline personnel inform us our flight will be delayed an hour; meaning security will not open yet either, apparently there is no need to bother until it is confirmed our plane is in the air (plus there is no Subway beyond security). Later we learned it would be an hour and a half, putting me into Atlanta a full 11 minutes prior to our connection. Oh joy. During our wait we took advantage of the onsite sandwich artist’s shop and watched with amusement as J Bean shared art work (scribbles on Post-It notes) with strangers and Officer Friendly paced around calling people to task for one thing after another. He nailed us for walking 15 feet from our luggage and indicated I needed to stay close before the guys in the blue shirts started running around and screaming. I don’t bother pointing out that he knows it’s my luggage and he knows where I am and that he could potentially share that information with the Blue Man group (TSA's) who don’t seem to be noticing anything other than the delay in their lunch break.

Later, on the plane, it becomes evident Link is in an overtired and manic stage. This is bad news. Normally, this doesn't happen until later in the day if we miss nap time and it usually involves much head shaking, screaming and grabbing, destroying and/or throwing anything and everything he can get his hands on.  It’s a short ride to Atlanta, and we arrive and collect our fold up wagon which had been checked plane side (as in on the Tarmac in Mayberry) a full 12 minutes (score!) before our connection is supposed to depart. This means, conservatively, I have 7 minutes to get from the end of Concourse C to the end of Concourse A. I won’t make it. There is little doubt of that, but just enough hope that I tell J Bean to scream at me if Link tries to stand up and to hold on. I run at a good pace past about 15 gates before slowing for a breather (not wishing to have a heart attack in the middle of Hartsfield International). J Bean pipes up from the wagon, “Daddy! We only have a few minutes, why aren't you running!?”

“Daddy can only run so far kiddo. We’re hurrying as fast as we can.”

We ride two elevators, a tram and cross the distance of about half a mile only to arrive exactly at departure time. “Is there an airplane heading to Chicago still at the end of that jet-way?” I inquire with the gate agent, gasping for breath and drenched in sweat. “Sorry, just missed it, she’s gone.” He replies. He becomes the 4th person today to compliment on my fold-up wagon at the exact moment I managed to pinch my daughter’s arm (hard) between the handle and the front support bar. J Bean, of course, goes into hysterics as if her arm was actually just removed from her body by a passing train. It’s a good pinch, I try to comfort her and we make a pit-stop in a family restroom to pat it with cool water (they only have warm), change Link’s diaper and dole out the first sucker of the day in an attempt to cease the crying of my firstborn. Once the sobbing subsides, we are able to grab a bite. Despite the offering of healthy choices, my children seem to never swallow anything but junk food on travel days. They just won’t eat any of the things they usually would. Instead of happily devouring a banana, Link will squeeze it and paint himself with it. J Bean will make outlandish proclamations like, “I don’t like chicken. Never have, never will.”  What the Hell? Chicken is the most common meal in our home. Oh well, “have a yogurt parfait with 5000mg of sugar instead. I’m going to have a tall iced coffee and see if I can find something your brother won’t throw on the ground.” That thing turns out to be pretzels, he sucks on them first getting all the unhealthy sodium he can before handing them back to me in a soggy heap. Time to go, connection flight is boarding soon.

We find our seats on our backup flight (which is only an hour later thankfully) after a Battle Royale involving Link and my cup of coffee. No. You might eat shit all day, but you cannot have my coffee, sir. Turns out this flight, or at least our section, is the Chuck E Cheese of air travel. Of the 9 seats in our row and the two in front of us, four of the seats have children under four years old and there are three “lap children” (Link is a “lap child” and all lap children are under two). There are four parents in the section and one random young guy dead center of it all whom I actually have pity for,  in spite my own rough luck today. “Excuse me, I don’t mean to offer unsolicited advice… but if there is an empty seat or cargo space anywhere onboard, you should seek it out. This could be an ugly ride. Look around you,” I offer to the twenty-something. He tries unsuccessfully to relocate and now I wish I hadn’t said anything. Link looks at him as if to say, “Oh yeah! You’re my Huckleberry. Ever tried to catch chewed up shortbread cookies? Do you enjoy having your seat kicked? This guy can't stop me for long.”

As we take off and the landing gear retracts, I realize simultaneously that Link has crapped himself and that I did not update our car service (no we’re not loaded, but it’s safer than a taxi and cheaper than parking at the airport for a week) with our new flight information. If I don’t inform them, I’ll probably be charged for not being there when we said we would and we will have to wait for them to dispatch another vehicle for us (one that can hold me, our luggage and our two car seats).  The fasten seatbelt sign will be on another 10 minutes, diaper has to wait. Sorry, random dude sitting in kiddie Hell; Let the hazing begin. While holding Link, whose only goal in life is to get underneath the seats and figure out how to inflate an emergency life vest, and dealing with the barrage of questions and requests from J Bean I realize I can connect (and pay for) in-flight Wi-Fi and have someone call for me or maybe email the company; so that is good news and thanks to some good online friends, we make that happen.  Once that is handled (which takes far too long on a mobile device with two squirmy, tired and cranky kids) we wait for an opening in the bathroom line. There is no line really, because you can’t wait in line at the front of an airplane (federal regulation after 9/11) so what you really do is wait for someone to come out and make a mad dash with two kids in tow and hope to reach the bathroom 25 rows up (the rear one is blocked by the caravan of beverage service) before some oblivious yuppie in first class stands up and walks into the lavatory just as you are within reach. During one of these sprints, the forward flight attendant steps into the aisle ahead of me asking the first class citizens if they would like a hot towel, cool cucumbers for their eyes or a nice foot massage. As I approach and wait patiently for her to finish an interaction she looks at me irritably (with a toddler in hands and pre-schooler tagging along) and asks sharply (as if I were being rude for not interrupting and saying excuse me), “Do you need to get by?!” It takes every ounce of will power in my possession not to retort with, “Nope, we’re just out for a stroll, wanted to check out the first class accommodations. This is nice. Ya’ll got any of them good cookies up here?”

Instead I say, “Yes, we are trying to get to the bathroom and we're going to have a problem if we don’t make it before another passenger does at this point.” She wisely lets us by and I shoehorn myself, my daughter and my son into the 2x2 “room” with no changing surface. Even when there is a changing counter that folds down on an aircraft, it is far too small and within reach of all paper products and assorted buttons without one all hope is lost you might as well change a child in a port-a-potty it has just as much utility for getting the job done. With a 4 year old added to the party, you might as well try to change a child in a sardine can. By the way, why are there ashtrays and razorblade discard slots on airplanes? You just told us it would be a federal offense to smoke on an airplane so why do you tempt people? Who uses a disposable square blade these days anyway?
We manage to get J Bean on the toilet and Link changed despite his best efforts to rid the dispensers of TP, Kleenex and paper towels and he only hits the call button once resulting in a “We’re fine!” (which is a lie) to the inquiring flight attendant. If she could see inside she would see we look like participants in an attempt to break the world-record for number of people who can fit in a phone booth and we are wading in a sea of paper products. I imagine I will look like Chris Farley in Tommy Boy (see clip below) when I fall out of the little lavatory. After a cursory clean-up, we exit. 

The flight is mostly uneventful beyond the normal screaming (harmonized with the other nearby children), a few items thrown, a sippy cup pressurization incident (think “Old Faithful”) and wrestling with the tiny ball of tyrannical ball of energy that is my son. It does appear J Bean’s fascination with the airplane safety card and “Urgency Landings” is making some nearby newbies nervous as we encounter some turbulence. “Won’t it be fun to go down that slide on the wing after we have an urgency landing Daddy? Look there is fire in this picture! Do you smell smoke?"

In order to ward off the coming tantrum and to help with hurting ears during descent, I offer suckers. Yes, I gave a small sucker to my toddler. Sue me. His lips are blue from eating it too, so he wears the evidence like a scarlet letter of my bad parenting the rest of the day. That doesn't phase me at this point, we are in code red after 10 hours away from our departure from my Mom’s place so I have no regrets. I do what I have to do. On the ground now, the ordeal is almost over; or so I think.

Before I can exit the jet-way I receive a call from the airline that my bags are missing which turns out to be a false alarm, they are just letting me know my bags fared no better sprinting across the airport than we did before missing the connection.  I am pleasantly surprised to see our car-seats on the baggage claim conveyor belt a few minutes later. Next to our car seats is a large black wheeled suitcase. Hey, we have a large black wheeled suitcase! That must be mine, no need to check the tag (or so my brain tells me in its exhausted state). I mean who would have thought some marketing and manufacturing geniuses would make more than one piece of luggage that look similar in this day and age? Crazy talk, right?! We’re off to the races! I make my way with two kids, a book bag, the aforementioned big black suitcase, the wagon, two car seats and two children out of the airport and to our rendezvous zone. Our ride arrives and I install the car seats in the SUV and buckle in both kids as the driver loads the luggage. Fortunately, the vehicle is very large; but due to a miscommunication during my in-flight coordination they thought we needed two car seats, rather than that we were bringing two car seats. So we had more car seats in the vehicle than your average Target. Oh well, water off a duck’s back after the previous 10 hours. We’re in, we’re loaded and we’re outta here.


Must be the airline calling to tell me about my bags again, oh well, I’ll answer. Instead of a friendly airline employee, I find myself on the phone with a frantic woman who seems to think I have her bag and that she definitely has mine. My mind replays the bag pickup in slow-mo. “I’m terribly sorry, that is entirely possible as I am an idiot. What can we do, where are you?” I say. After she calms down a bit we figure out she is where we were picked up and we need only circle around. It is kind of an adventure in itself due to the hoops taxi’s/limos in Chicago must go through before they are allowed to pick up someone at the airport. As we approach the loading zone I informed J Bean, “I’m going to get out of the car for a minute and a woman out there might yell at me a little bit, but it’s OK and I’ll be back in here and we’ll be on our way momentarily.” The woman was forgiving and I was apologetic and we now have the correct bag and are on our way again.

I look at the time as we hit a wall of traffic on the interstate. 5:25pm. Rush Hour. An hour later we have traversed the 12 miles home with a very unhappy Link. I ordered pizza (this trip is getting expensive) so we’d have something to eat at home after being gone for a week and I tip the driver for the headaches I have caused when we arrive home. I am fortunate in that our friend and pet sitter shows up soon after our arrival (because I forgot to tell her when we’d return, what is wrong with me?) and she helps me with the pet care and the kids (even reading a bedtime story to my eldest) and makes a great batch of Bloody Mary! I highly recommend you have a friend who knows how to make a mean cocktail meet you at home if you have been traveling with children alone and will be coming home to an empty house. Friends are great! I also recommend you find a few thousand people to read your inane complaints about first-world problems and who will support and encourage you and validate your fury with those who cross your path along the way. It is a boost which is hard to describe during travel. Thank you for reading, Parenting Partners, it means a lot to me and I hope you continue to enjoy the mishaps, successes and failures of a Dad on the Run for many moons.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Objects in the Mirror are Closer Than They Appear.

I see my son throwing food around the room, "Don't do that!" I might yell. Then I think about his point of view, he sees me throw things in the garbage, toss clothes in a basket, and make toys go to their homes with a hook shot. What is he supposed to think?

I see him (and hear him) yell at me or his sister and I recall that I yell (despite my best efforts) at him and his sister. He sees his mother and I raise our voices. Of course we taught him that too.

I'm a terrible parent. What kind of example am I putting forth? The child acts as a magnified mirror lit up by midday sun. There is no hiding from the blemishes of my personality that gleam in the spotlight of my kids.

As I beat myself up silently, he comes over and offers a hug and a smile. I tickle him and he let's out a guffaw of pure joy. Music plays in the background and he bobs his little head to the beat. We go for a walk and he looks and points with wonder at all the sights, beaming with the intensity of a supernova.

My daughter asks "Daddy are you OK?" with genuine concern every time I cough or stub a toe. She inquires about my mother's condition when she sees her use a walker. She shares toys with strangers, teaches (or tries to) her brother how to hold a crayon. When we see a homeless person, she'll ask why they sleep on the street and wonder if there's something we can do for them. She makes friends faster than you can say "what's your name?" and gladly helps me in a million ways with cleaning and caring for her baby brother. Sometimes the mirror is more kind than others. I'm a great parent! She's watched her mother and I do these things. Her kind actions are a flattering reflection on us.

The truth is we're not "good" or "bad" parents. We're just a couple of grown up kids doing our best to reflect the best of our parents and to hide the worst. Just as they were. Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear, but don't forget to look forward. No matter how well or how poorly we did today, tomorrow we'll look at a new face and decide what images we'll project for our kids once again. Smile into the mirror and it will smile back.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Jack and the Bean Talk.

"I don't like blacks." The words hit me like a surprise left hook. Did my 4 year old just say that? Despite our attempts to surround her with diversity and teach her that people shouldn't be judged based on physical traits? How did this happen!? Which of the parents from her preschool is responsible for introducing this idea? Is it related to the recent Trayvon Martin murder case? How do I handle this? Careful, carefully. Say the right thing. Let's delve into this a bit first, calmly.

"WHAT?!!!?," I said as close to the audible range of yelling as one can get while maintaining some deniability. I didn't yell, I just spoke loudly.

"When you make case of dias (quesadillas for those who don't speak J Bean), I don't like it when you melt the blacks on there."

"You mean black beans?"

"Yeah, I don't like when you melt them on there or put spicy sauce on them."

"OK, those are black BEANS and they aren't being melted, I just warm them up. Why did you call them blacks?"

"That's their nickname."

"No, lets not use that OK?  'Beans' is an important part of their name we should keep that piece."

I'm thinking of the instances where this will come back to haunt me at the grocery store. "Dad, did you get some blacks! Mom says we need more blacks! Blacks are on sale this week! Make sure you get the good blacks! Dad, there's some blacks over on aisle 4."

I'm glad to know I don't have to wade into the language of race just yet, but it is time to do so and time to research the best way to go about it. We've talked about how people look different from each other in many ways and how that has no bearing on who they are on the inside, but we haven't labeled races or discussed how and when to address it so far. We'll skip the black beans for now and find another snack that she's happy to share with friends of any shade without concern or even awareness of the lines adults tend to draw around the melanin in another's skin. Next week, I think we'll try refried beans.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Sing me a song... Now.

J Bean orders me to sing a song and is getting lippy as I'm busy with Link. As I sometimes remind her, "I'm the Daddy and I don't have to do what you tell me all the time, I'll sing with you later though."

She sneers at me over the glasses and says, "Well then, I'm the Mommy! And you DO have to do what I say! What about that?!"

My brow furrows, "Twinkle, twinkle little star how I wonder who you think you are..."

Over / Under

Are you an over or an under? I'd settle for either. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Born to Run on the Fourth of July...

The sun is low in the sky and I'm driving behind a tractor trailer in the rain. We're heading home after a holiday getaway on the east coast. The words on the back of the truck say something about the company's best resource sitting 63 feet ahead; I hope they are right. I've always been a little nervous driving in limited visibility, but my knuckles go white on the wheel when I have my whole family in the car with me. I keep my distance behind my blocker. My theory is the truck drivers see more above the road spray and if we were to stumble upon an accident or a downed tree the sheer mass and inertia of the behemoth would cut a path and keep us from the worst. Hands at 9 and 3 o'clock, feet on the ready, headlights on as I watch and wait for the inevitable maniac to come speeding by as if it were the Indy 500 instead of a stretch of highway with dangerous conditions. 

Soon the rain slows then stops, the sun emerges for one last hoorah. I'm able to safely open up the throttle a bit. Red barns with white roofs roll by, lines of heavy clouds signal more rain to come, and toll plazas seem too frequent. Speed traps abound, the radio is playing but it's hard to make out. I just need to make some headway. I need to make "good" time.  When we make it home the screaming will stop... won't it? 

The screaming. Piercing calls of dismay, anger, annoyance, exhaustion, and hunger have been emanating from the back seat from the start despite regular pit stops. The kids seem to take turns whining and crying so as to achieve maximum coverage.
 How long have we been on the road? Was that "Hay un amigo en mi" I heard about half an hour ago? That wasn't the first movie of the ride. Was it the third? I've lost all sense of time and space. Ohio? Indiana? Still Pennsylvania!? That can't be right!  Vv has called for our surrender a few times over the past hour. I have stubbornly refused, certain the tyrants will soon exhaust themselves and fall asleep and we'll enjoy hours of blissful, golden silence from the children. While they slumber we'll play cards on the dash, smoke cigarettes, pour a few stiff drinks and listen to Rage Against the Machine as we cut a path through the night. Not really; that is just how we imagine it would go if only the crying would stop and their little eyes would close. Our ride would instantly become a party wagon, transporting us to a fading memory of youth and freedom if they would just succumb to sleep. No, it's not a minivan dammit! It can't be a minivan because I'm a ramblin' man! The Marlboro Man, a manly man! Oh good grief... is that a poopy diaper I smell? Another one!? Do manly men say "poopy?" Hmm. Back to reality. There will be no poker night in the front glow of the dashboard navigation light; No straight flush illuminated by an ever shrinking 'time to destination.'

"You were right, let's call it a night. See if you can find us a hotel." I mutter from the driver's seat, a beaten man. "Tomorrow we'll get home. I just know it; We'll ride like the wind I tell you!"

I see my wife smile in the mirror, it reminds me of the little girl in the third row (still not a minivan) and I feel a love swell up inside so strong it could swallow the night and everything in it. Sunshine in the dead of night, beaming into my brain from the rear-view mirror despite the auditory assault that is traveling with children. Vv opted for the hot seat in the middle row (not a van) in the hopes she could calm the savage backseat beasts. We've both downed energy drinks in anticipation of driving through the night. Now, instead, we'll enjoy the jitters as we lie motionless and silent in a hotel room; to move is to risk waking one of the banshees which will immediately awaken the other. What is nearly impossible to remember during times like these is that they are the "good times." Every screaming mile, and all the fun we had between, were the cream because we were all together. I'll smile when I read this in 10 years and I'll cry when I read it in 25 years (Lord willin' and the creek don't rise). Later on a lumpy hotel bed, I feel my eyelids growing heavy, finally overcoming my shot of stimulant and in my head Bruce Springsteen sings "Born to Run." It's a lullaby for a ramblin' man, the Marlboro Man, a manly man. 
"In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream. At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines"  
How does the rest of that song go? It is really about driving? I do remember a few lines, 
"we're gonna get to that place, where we really want to go and we'll walk in the sun" 
I think that place is home.