Category Archives: Parenting

We Need to Talk About the Mensch on a Bench™

I was not going to say anything.

I mean, there are plenty of products out there on the market that I’m not going to buy for my home, so why go out of my way to pick on the Mensch on a Bench™? If the topic were to come up on conversation, I’d just say, “Not for me,” and change the subject. I would let it go. I don’t disagree with the message to our kids: be a Mensch (a person of high moral character). I say it all the time to my kids because it was said all the time to me by my grandfather (of blessed memory). I think the world needs more menschlichkeit and if some hokey doll can help with that, then what’s the harm?

But I can’t….

mensch on a bench

Image: Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones via Flickr

I mean I could, but then I got a promotional email inviting me to “Welcome a Mensch into your family!” I could ignore the Mensch on the Bench™, but when he entered my inbox he crossed a line and I can keep silent no more.

I hate the Mensch on a Bench. I hate everything about him. I hate the concept. I hate the cheap imitation of a (creepy) Christmas tradition. I hate that he holds onto the shamash candle needed to light the other candles of the Menorah and that kids are told that if they misbehave he may not let it go, resulting in no lit Menorah and no presents. I hate the ultimate focus on gifts as a reward for good behavior (distinctly unmensch-like). I hate the slogan urging us to put more “Funukkah in Hanukkah.” I hate the Mensch’s “origin story” — he stayed up all night making sure the Menorah in the Temple didn’t go out so the Maccabees could get some sleep, AND HE WASN’T EVEN GRUMPY ABOUT IT THE NEXT DAY!

Most of all, I hate the picture of “normative” Judaism his white, bearded, talit-wearing, short-and-dumpy physique projects. In the companion book he anachronistically pals around with the Maccabees but still dresses like a 19th Century Polish Hasid. Because, as we’ve all come to be taught, the ultra-Orthodox Jew is the Jewiest Jew there is, imbued with all the moral authority of “authentic” Judaism (when he isn’t spitting on immodestly dressed 8-year-old girls, demanding sex-segregated busing, delaying the departure of Israel-bound flights or demolishing a town’s secular education system). This is the personification of a mensch.

ladies man

Image: The Wu’s Photo Land via Flickr

Hanukkah isn’t Christmas. If your kid wants an Elf-on-a-Shelf better you should give him or her one, than embrace this B-minus, novelty shop, moralizing troll. Move the Elf around the house. When the kids are asleep post your ironic “Elf in the Hot Tub with Barbie” photos to Instagram. Then when they wake up, teach your kids how to be mensches by your behavior: by how you treat them and how they see you treat others. Talk to them about the injustices in the world, big and small, that you and they can do something about. Hanukkah already has a mascot — the Maccabees, who overcame tremendous odds to defeat a much more powerful enemy in the cause of being able to worship freely.

I don’t bear the creator of the Mensch on a Bench™ any ill will. From the website, he seems to be a nice guy, with a background in the toy industry, who just didn’t want his kids to feel left out around Christmas. He’s singing the right song, just hitting the wrong notes in the process. While kids like their toys when they are young, once they get older the toys don’t matter so much as the lessons we teach them. And I contend that parents can teach their kids better than the Mensch can.

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Filed under Jewish Stuff, Parenting

I Created a New Word For Little League Parents

Paterkinderschlagenangstentspannen

Paterkinderschlagenangstentspannen (pater•kinder´schlagen•angst•ent´spannen) ¹ (noun) The feeling of dread a parent has watching their child batting in little league and the subsequent feeling of relief when they get a hit. ex: Josh was filled with paterkinderschlagenangstentspannen as the Wolvog swang the bat and hit the ball sharply past the third baseman’s outstretched mitt.

It came to me while I was watching the Wolvog at-bat. I needed a word. A word for that feeling a parent gets when watching their child bat during little league, particularly those early years of little league when they’ve taken the ball off the tee and are hurling it via a machine through the air for the kids to hit. And you can strike out. Ok, so perhaps we’re talking about a league where you get more than three strikes before you sit-down, so the training wheels aren’t all the way off, but still. It’s time to start learning that you’re going to fail sometimes. Some days you’re going to fail a lot. Just as tricky: parents have to learn that they’re going to have to sit there and watch their child fail sometimes.

Here’s something I’ve learned: that doesn’t get easier. This is the second year of baseball for the Wolvog and I die on the inside a little bit every time it’s his turn at the plate. I hope he gets a hit. I hope if he hits it right at a player from the other team, that the fielder drops the ball, or mis-fields it, or blows the throw to first base. Worse than that, I hope that if there’s other runners on-base that they tag that kid out rather than my kid. But I hope above everything else that he doesn’t strike out.

This particular fear of the strike out runs counter to current practice in major league baseball where striking out has reached all-time highs. Perhaps earning an average of $3.2 million takes some of the sting out of walking back to the dugout after whiffing. Perhaps reaching the highest level of professional sports gives them the confidence not to care very much more if they strikeout rather than pop or ground-out. An out’s an out after all. Get ’em next time.

But for some of us (and our children) who have not achieved those heights, the strikeout is synonymous with utter failure. You even look a little foolish, swinging your bat through the air, a little off-balance, while the ball sails by unmolested. You end up looking and feeling unbalanced, awkward, exposed and impotent. That moment when you swing the bat and don’t make contact with the ball can feel like everyone at the ballpark is pointing and laughing at you in slow motion. It’s embarrassing. The greatest choreographer couldn’t come up with a movement more filled with futility, frustration and raw failure than the feeling of swinging and missing that third strike. (Sexist linguistics aside, there’s a reason a guy unsuccessfully hitting on a girl at a bar is said to have “struck out.” Failure + a dose of humiliation = struck out.)

But of course, you have to keep all of that on the inside. You need to tell your child the exact opposite. Everyone strikes out – Babe Ruth struck out all the time. You’ll get ’em next time. Choke up on the bat. Shorten your swing. Remember to step toward the plate, not away. Keep your eye on the ball. No tears. Keep your confidence up, half of hitting is mental. There’s no crying in baseball. Which is bullshit. But in any case, learn to keep your shit together even though you’re dying on the inside. It’s an important life lesson and there’s no easy way to learn it. Sorry kid. You think this hurts, wait ’til you fall in-love.

But. If he hits the ball, it can feel like disaster averted. A call from the governor. The sun bursts through the clouds and the angels sing the Hallelujah chorus. Your child will be filled with confidence. And even-tempered, well-adjusted and sociable. They’ll say later in life that they were blessed with a happy childhood and not hate their father for making them play baseball!

There’s no word for that, so I turned to the Germans who have a word for everything, but unfortunately do not play baseball. Or at least don’t play it very well. While I was sitting and watching the Wolvog’s team in the field I cobbled together a new German word — because if they can have words like Verschlimmbesserung (a supposed improvement that actually makes things worse) and Fingerspitzengefühl (the ability to think clearly about many individual complex events and treat them as a whole) then why not a word that contains all the emotions detailed above.

Thankfully Google Translate made the task fairly easy and thus I came up with Paterkinderschlagenangstentspannen. Pater (father) kinder (children) schlagen (hitting) angst (fear) entspannen (relax).  Please send a nickle every time you use it from here forward.

You’re welcome.

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Filed under Lies, Man Stuff, Parenting, Weekends

Baby Teeth

The Chickienob had a tooth that would not come out. It was loose, but wedged in-between two adult teeth that weren’t allowing it much wiggle-room. Every night for weeks, she would come downstairs during one of her multiple bedtime-stalling maneuvers and complain that she couldn’t sleep because the loose tooth was too distracting. As a parent in this situation I have two contradictory priorities: 1) Get the child back to bed as quickly as possible. 2) Indulge my amateur dentist cravings.

Most nights I am pretty good at sticking to #1 and ignoring #2. Unless the tooth is hanging by a thread, I’m pretty quick to send her back to bed with the promise that if she really really wants the tooth to come out now, I can do it, but it will be very painful and very bloody. Occasionally she’ll try to call my bluff at which point I’ll usually make a half-hearted attempt to pull the tooth before fixing my eyes on her and telling her that as her daddy, I just can’t bring myself to cause the pain that removing this tooth would result-in. Having gotten this affirmation of love, if it feels genuine to her and not a ploy to get her back to bed, she’ll back-down. Sometimes she’ll even throw-in a comforting comment meant to show that we are equals in the tooth removal game. Something like, “I really do want this tooth out, but if it starts to bleed a lot then it will get all over my pillow-case and ruin it and I don’t want that to happen.” We all have our considerations, she means to tell me. Yours include not causing the people you love pain. Mine include avoiding hard-to-get-out stains.

The Wolvog almost never asks me to pull his teeth. He manages the process on his own, usually presenting a bloody chicklet at the unlikeliest of moments, like in the boarding area of the Orlando Airport before our flight home from Disney World or at multiple Paneras around the greater Washington Metropolitan Area.

But I would guess that of all the teeth the Chickienob has lost, I’ve ended up pulling out the majority of them. The first time I did it, I found it a remarkable landmark in parenting. I wasn’t a kid who liked having his teeth pulled, didn’t like going to the dentist (who does?), didn’t particularly care to observe bloody, quasi-medical procedures. But there I was, calmly extracting her tooth, issuing commands like “wider” and “Rinse and Spit.” I asked for pictures to be taken. When the tooth came out in my hand, I held it aloft, pinched between my thumb and forefinger like a tiny Excalibur.

There have been a lot of teeth since then. I’ve honestly lost track. Melissa doesn’t pull her teeth. Just me. Melissa doesn’t even like to be in the room when its happening. So between the Wolvog’s self-regulation of dental extraction and Melissa’s repulsion, the whole teeth-pulling routine has become something of a special ritual for the Chickienob and me.

So the other night, when the Chickienob came downstairs, I gave the obligatory tug and determined that the tooth would probably come out easily (and I was confident that I had at least a few dollar-bills in my wallet), I set about trying to get it out. She had her head tilted back but was still trying to see what I was doing out of the bottom of her eyes — a look that communicated both her trust in me and her creeping suspicion that all children develop that maybe their parent doesn’t really know what they are doing. The tooth really was jammed in-between those adult teeth (incisors? cuspids? I really don’t know). I had to practically twist the tooth 180 degrees before I could tug it out.

Gross right?

It came out with a satisfying “click” and to judge from the Chickienob, not too much discomfort. She flashed a bloody grin and ran off to rinse and left me holding the tooth. As I listened to her gargling and spitting it dawned on me that she only has a finite number of baby teeth and like I said, I have no clue how many I’ve pulled out. Which means I have no clue how many are left to pull. Which means I have no clue when this part ends. Perhaps that was it? Perhaps I was holding the last tooth I’ll ever pull out of her mouth. Later I Googled how many baby teeth a child will lose and was surprised that it was only 20. I don’t know what number I was expecting, but I thought it was higher. I thought I had more time with her as a little girl.

She went back to bed, her tooth in the tiny pillow Melissa used as a little girl. When she was asleep we slipped in and placed a dollar bill inside the pocket (thankfully we didn’t forget). I wondered if she would stop believing in the Tooth Fairy before she ran out of baby teeth. I wondered again, whether I would ever get to pull another one of her teeth. Whether she would go on trusting me that completely. Whether I should have been a dentist.

In my mind I keep going back to that moment. We were in the kitchen. The tooth came out and she ran off to rinse and spit and marvel at all that blood. I sat in the kitchen holding the tooth. In the morning, her smile would be different — if only a little bit. Those adult teeth were already crowding into the gap and reminding me that braces seem unavoidable. The feeling, if I can describe it is the bittersweet satisfaction of knowing that you’ve done part of your job as a parent, and that soon, you won’t be needed to perform that function anymore.
(Image: By Uncredited WPA photographer (Works Progress Administration photograph via [1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

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Filed under Parenting

Clearing the Decks

I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts recently and was having some trouble doing so. Then I remembered, “Hey, I’ve got this blog just taking up [cyber]space.” So I decided, for the moment to rejuvenate this place to help put things in order and perhaps even receive some helpful feedback. So here is a small brain-dump for my own purposes.

1. I’ve been experiencing a lot of real estate envy lately. This was aroused by a trip to Takoma Park to pick up a cheesecake to celebrate a co-worker from Capital City Cheesecake (Oreo and Strawberry cheesecakes for the record – both delicious). Then there was the article in the Post about the “Post-Hippie Takoma Park” which sort of put into words what I find so attractive about that area

“Takoma is getting older, or at least the activists are getting older and not as engaged,” said Eric Hensal, who moved to the city in 2003 and who is running for a seat on the City Council. “It’s almost like Takoma really is at the post-hippie phase.”

In the past, Takoma Park officials balanced such issues as national immigration policy and nuclear proliferation with more parochial concerns, such as traffic. But these days, there is a feeling that the city should focus more on issues that directly affect its residents, such as a ban on chemical pesticides, council member Tim Male said.

“People are realizing that there’s places where our voices will really have a big impact and there are places where it won’t,” said Male, who moved with his wife to the city a decade ago. They now have two children.

It’s not that I dislike where I live. We have a great school for the kids. Through them we’ve met other nice families with parents I enjoy spending time with and who provide a sense of community. Our area is actually more diverse than people give it credit for, so it’s not stereotypically suburban-homogenous and it’s a place lots and lots of people would be thrilled to live. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t long for a shorter commute, a slightly more walkable area and a different kind of a sense of community that’s socially engaged but locally focused. A single family home there would be a bit of a stretch for us and we’re comfortable where we are so nothing is likely to happen any time soon. But a fellow can dream, can’t he?

2) I’ve lost about 16 pounds over the last three months. All the credit goes to Melissa who convinced me to start using MyFitnessPal, not as a diet, but as a lifestyle change that develops healthier eating habits. Now I track my meals every day, and it’s almost like I haven’t actually eaten until I enter the information in the meal tracker. Like they say in this commentary on Marketplace, it can become an (unhealthy?) obsession. Now, every day I try and eat fewer than 1,900 calories and most days I succeed. It really does become habit forming.

3) Despite working in a building with full fitness facilities available to me for free, I have not lost any of this weight by exercising. That’s not meant to be a brag, more an indication of how overweight I really was. However, having shed these pounds has made me think about exercising more. One day when I brought the kids to our community pool, I swam some laps for the first time in many, many years. Perhaps 500 yards, but it felt good to be doing something. Next week I went out and bought a pair of goggles and that weekend, combining several “adult swims” I swam closer to 1000 yards. Now I am trying to figure out how I can work swimming a few times a week into my schedule. Again, there’s a pool where I work, but I am beginning to see the value of scheduling stuff like this away from work so that work doesn’t have as good a chance to subsume it. I’ve consider joining a Masters Swim Team, but I think to begin I’m just going to try and get to bed a little earlier and make it to the local aquatic center before I go to work.

I was a competitive swimmer until I got to high school and joined the water polo team (yes, my school had a water polo team). I was okay, but I got tired of going back and forth. I always lost count of my laps. I didn’t know what to think about when I was swimming and my late-adolescent brain was too crowded a place for me to get outside of in the isolation of a pool. I thought it was boring and I had gotten to the age where either you start training really seriously or you stop. So I stopped. Today I wonder if I would have gotten bored if they had the gadgets that are available today like waterproof MP3 players and digital lap counters. I am trying to get motivated by promising myself that if I really do begin swimming regularly and stick to it, I’ll get one or two of these gadgets.

4) Since last spring I’ve been following the Washington Nationals really closely. I made the conscious decision to designate the Nats as my primary baseball team because I wanted my kids to be able to root for the home-town team. I figured if that were going to happen, I would have to lead by example. Little did I know that in the process, my wife would transform in a Nats Superfan. The kids have also really taken to the team, particularly the Wolvog, who was playing youth baseball for the first time this year. We’ve taken them to a bunch of games and fortunately, this Nationals team is both a really likable bunch, and amazingly successful at this point of the season. If they keep winning the 2012 Nationals could hold a particularly special place in the kids’ lives, like the 1978 Yankees and 1986 Giants did for me. Those teams for me become a kind of gateway to thinking and feeling what it was like to be a kid with heroes and the magic of a championship run. Players like Ron Guidry, Thurmon Munson, Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms always place me back in a time of innocence and simple joys that being a fan can provide. I’m hoping Gio Gonzalez, Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman can occupy a similar place for my kids.

*+*+*+*

That’s the brain-dump for now. Perhaps if I do this a little more frequently, the posts will be more coherent. In any case, consider this post a small step back to more regular writing, kind of like the first few days of counting calories were kind of sucky, but now it is more habitual. In any case, I’ll hit publish now and we’ll see how long it is before I hit it again.

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July 15, 2012 · 8:59 pm

Only Losers Think Everyone Should Win: Thoughts on Competition from a Graduate of the Billy Martin School of Sportsmanship

Melissa and I were watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics the other night when an ad came on the television, that said something to the effect of, “Right now, everyone’s tied.*” Melissa approved of the ad. I did not. And we began talking a little bit about how this was reflective of our different views on competition. She likes the idea that for a moment everyone’s tied. Nobody has lost. We’re all here for the warm-and-fuzzies of participating in the Olympics. While that emotion is certainly a nice one, it just doesn’t ring true to me and I suspect for any of the athletes participating in the Games. Every single one of them came to win — even the guy who is fated to come in twenty-fifth in a field of twenty-five believes somewhere in his gut that he could come out of nowhere and shock the world (his brain knows better). I think the concept of “everyone’s tied” only works as being representative of the hope the everyone, even the Moroccan skier, could be a winner.

But this raised the larger question of how to talk to the kids about competition. I was a very competitive kid. Like, waaaay too competitive when I really got into it. When I was 10 or 11 I got called-out for tagging up at third base before the ball had been caught and I flipped-out to such a degree that even Billy Martin would have been saying, “Whoa, calm down there kid, just a Little League game.” Even writing about it now, I get mad, because I had led-off the inning with a triple and I know, and I mean KNOW FOR A CERTAINTY, that I tagged up properly. That, plus the teenage umpire had a brother on the other team and I think that might have influenced the call. It’s been over twenty-five years and I’m still pissed.

Part of growing-up (and a hard part at-that) has been learning how to positively channel that competitive energy without going over the edge to the dark side. I’ve tried a couple of different approaches. One was to completely remove myself from those situations where I get too competitive. I don’t play video games, I don’t play racquetball or tennis because eventually I’ll get so into-it, that I’ll forget I was supposed to be having fun. Or, if I participate I have to consciously not care about winning — which usually means I lose, also no fun (plus the people you’re playing against can usually tell, and that’s no fun for them either). I’ve yet to really be able to reach what should be my goal, to try my hardest and be happy with that.

So, I admit that I am perhaps not the best role model for my kids when it comes to competition. I’d like to be as zen about it as Melissa seems to be, but I think that the desire to compete and win is an irrepressible evolutionary trait of men (and many women). Every time I think, “Maybe now I’m old enough and wise enough and mellow enough not to lose myself too much in a game” (particularly a physical one) I find that eventually, my temper and grumpy sportsmanship surfaces. Just recently I lost my temper playing Wii Fit Rhythm Parade. Let me repeat that: I lost my temper playing a game in which my Mii was dressed like a drum major marching to a beat. I thought I did pretty good by only lightly tossing the Wii remote when it was done, but apparently I didn’t toss it as lightly as I intended. Sorry ’bout that, Mel.

But here’s the thing — it wasn’t my parents who either through intent or neglect made me this way. In fact, they were usually pretty horrified by my behavior when I would go all Lou Pinella on some poor 15-year-old who only thought he was helping-out when he agreed to umpire his brother’s Little League game (NEAR-SIGHTED, CROSS-EYED MORON!). So, does anything I have to say really have any chance of influencing how my kids behave in the thick of competition? I hope so. I can already see some of myself in the Wolvog’s fits when he gets frustrated at a game.

And the Olympics is probably the best example of how to conduct oneself with intensity in-competition and grace in-defeat. So we’ll be watching with the kids and maybe they’ll pick-up on the fact that when you try your hardest and still lose, you can do so with pride and learn from your loss. But I also fear that they’ll pick-up on the truth that winning can be a drug, and when you’re longing for it, you are capable of behaving in ways that you won’t always be proud of. It’s a lesson I’m still trying to teach myself. Because I truly do believe that how you play really is more important than if you win or lose…

But I still think the concept of everyone being tied is kind of lame.

This is what he said.  Click here to find out what she said.

* If you know what ad I’m talking about please email me (notforprofitdad [at] gmail dot-com) because it is driving me crazy that I can’t remember and I’ve wasted way too much time on YouTube trying in vain to find it.

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Filed under He Said She Said, Man Stuff, Parenting

My Kids Love Me So Much They Hate Me a Little

I have great kids. They are smart and funny, kind and caring. They can immerse themselves in their own imaginary worlds for endless hours of creative play merging Lego’s, Playmobil, Hotwheels and My Little Pony. They can amaze Melissa with their intuition and ability to help out when she needs it most. The three of them develop a rhythm to their days and weeks that is somehow both orderly and zany.

And then I get home from work and they freak-out like ninjas on crystal meth.

We’re going through a phase. Mel tells me it is a phase. Or at least I hope it is a phase. Typical day:

I get up before the kids. Shave. Shower. Caffeinate. Usually around the time I am ready to leave for work they wake up. If they wake up early enough I give each of them a cuddle before I go. This is when the trouble begins. I come into the room and I’m like a piece of bloody meat thrown into a shark tank. The Wolvog and the Chickienob bolt out of bed and shoot towards me — whoever arrives first grabs my leg with one arm and invariably throws a “good-morning “elbow in their sibling’s face. Tears ensue. To prevent this I have taken to setting in advance who gets the first cuddle on alternating days — a decent solution, if only I could remember from day-to-day whose turn it is. This method works best if I enter the room forcefully and announce who gets the first cuddle before they can launch themselves on an intercept course. Fifty percent of the time it works. The other fifty percent one of the following occurs:

a) I screw up whose turn it is (they never forget) and the (rightly) aggrieved party throws a fit. When I backtrack to the award the proper recipient the cuddle, the other child feels (rightly) screwed and throws a fit.
b) I correctly announce whose turn it is, but one of the kids, probably still smarting from the time when I told them it was their cuddle and then backtracked and said it wasn’t, freaks out and throws a fit.
c) They accept the determined cuddling order, but hover over each other in such an obnoxious way that hostilities ensue. Elbows are thrown. Tears are shed.

If there is time before I leave, we move onto breakfast, but not before arguing over who gets to hold my hand with the wedding ring as we go downstairs. If there isn’t time before I leave, someone will throw a fit that they wanted Daddy to give them breakfast. I do or do not give them breakfast, hand out hugs and kisses, and attempt to escape from the Chickienob’s joking-but-not-so-much-a-joke grip as she robotically chants, “It’s the Daddy-trapper. Trapping Daddies.” Sometimes howling and beating of chests accompany me as I walk out the door.

And then I leave and according to Mel, everything goes back to normal. They stop throwing tantrums and get on with their day.

“It’s totally for your benefit,” she tells me.  They pull all sorts of crap with me that they don’t try with her. I wasn’t sure I truly believed it was as simple as that until this encounter the other day:

The kids have to eat a vegetable with their meal. Usually it’s carrots. This was a battle for a long time with the Wolvog, but he has grown to accept and even enjoy his carrots. Except when I give them to him. He insists that I cut them up into smaller slivers for him. When Mel is feeding the kids she doesn’t indulge the Wolvog in this game. He eats his carrots as they are given to him. I however, have been obliging him in this because, frankly I just want him to eat the damn carrots. But the other day, after several morning tantrums and a lunch that he drew-out endlessly and the carrots were still uneaten and he announced that he would not eat them unless I cut them for him, I called his bluff.

“You never have them cut when I’m not home,” I announced in my best J’Accuse!

He looked at me with round, innocent eyes full of love and confusion and said, “But you ARE home.”

And this is the plight of the dad: to be loved so much you’re a little bit hated for not being around enough. Was I this way with my dad? I don’t remember it that way. My dad was loving, but also a little remote and when he had to work, he had to work. I understood not to try and compete with that. I’m not sure what I’m doing that’s different but I have created a different expectation in my kids, and it is sometimes like a knife in my chest. It also gives me some sympathy for the stereotypically emotionally remote fathers of yore — why be an involved dad when you can only do it on a limited time frame?

But I don’t want to be emotionally remote. I love being in my kids’ lives and putting them first whenever that is an option. And every parent has to accept that they’ll have to act as a punching bag for their kids as they struggle to figure out the imperfect choices we have to make in life.

If only I could consistently remember whose turn it was for the first cuddle in the morning…

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Filed under Commuting, Man Stuff, Parenting

I’m An Excellent Driver

We’re spinning around and I’m just praying the car doesn’t flip. I’m trying to remember which way I’m supposed to be turning my steering wheel. Into the skid? I think that’s right, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. We’re out of control.

***

We woke-up late this morning. We could see the first snowflakes beginning to fall through the parted curtains in our bedroom. The kids like to stand on-top of the heat register by that window and getting to see the beginnings of the snowfall was a double bonus. We had a busy agenda for the day– some errands that needed running and since we had gotten a late start on the day we decided to punt breakfast and throw brunch into the mix as well. Plus there was cooking to be done for dinner guests we were expecting tonight. Anyway, the last time I checked the forecast, this snow wasn’t supposed to be a big deal.

By the time we got everyone dressed and bundled into the car the snow was coming down a little more intensely. We altered our plan to stay closer to home and changed brunch-out to brunch-in after we hit the organic market. The drive to our first stop was on fresh white snow. We literally passed the salt truck going the other way.

In the shopping center parking lot, by the time we had collected our various prescriptions, purchases and the rare cup of Starbucks and got back to the car it was covered in at least an inch of fresh snow. As I scraped it off the car I noticed that the fresh melt from the drive over had frozen solid to the windshield. On our way to the organic market we drove behind a flatbed truck and I was reminded of the time, the day before the twins were born, when I drove smack into the back of a gardening truck and totaled our car. I was distracted then — I was dialing my cell phone. I was calling to tell my mother that we had gotten our carseats installed and inspected and were officially ready for babies. And then a sudden impact. Breaking glass. An airbag slamming into my face that led to bleeding around my cornea. As we drove behind the flatbed truck this morning, I thought back to what an idiot I had been then and how much more careful I am now. I never call or answer my cell phone while driving. Not even with a hands-free device.

We made quick work of the market — Mel got vegetable rolls she loves, I got a container of vegetarian split pea soup and the kids stocked-up on the ridiculously expensive yogurt they’ve managed to convince us is the only thing they’ll reliably eat for breakfast. As we’re walking to check-out there’s a guy with a sample table of The Switch carbonated juice. He asks if we want a sample, and we accept, feeling a little guilty that he’s opening his cans and containers for us — we’re obviously his first customers of the day. The Chickienob has the Very Berry, the Wolvog has the Grape and Mel and I have a little of each. We actually like it quite a bit — not as fizzy as an Izze and I notice they have a Black Cherry flavor to-boot. We do something I can’t remember us ever doing before: we decide to buy some. What the hell on this weird day, right? Snow. Brunch. Fizzy fruit drinks. We grab some cans and are out the door.

By this time the snow is coming down really hard. There’s a fresh layer of ice on the windshield and the roads are covered in white with no visible pavement. Our route home takes us down a steep hill that I take cautiously, driving in low gear until it bottoms out. We’re on the stretch to home, going maybe 30 mph, when I feel the right side of the car dip and catch a rut. I realize that with the absence of lines on the road I’ve drifted too far to the side and am driving half-on the unpaved shoulder (this stretch of road doesn’t have a curb). I make a slight turn of the wheel to take us out of the rut and we begin to fishtail. I’m afraid we’re going to go straight off the road and I turn the wheel again — I can’t honestly tell you which way, but it was definitely the wrong way. I don’t remember hitting the breaks but I may have done that too. And suddenly…

We’re spinning around and I’m just praying the car doesn’t flip. I’m trying to remember which way I’m supposed to be turning my steering wheel? Into the skid? I think, that’s right, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. We’re out of control. We’ve spun at least 180 degrees and maybe even 540. If I’m not panicking, it is only because I am in total and complete denial that I have fucked-up this royally with my wife sitting next to me and my kids in the back seat. We’ve been putting off getting them proper booster seats, they’re still probably safer in their car seats, but while we’re spinning that’s one of the things that runs through my mind. To my amazement the car coming from the opposite direction never appears. And the truck about a half-mile behind us has plenty of time to slow down so that when we finally come to a complete stop — facing the wrong way on the wrong side of the street — we are miraculously okay.

I slowly do a K-turn in the road and ride the less than half-a-mile left to our house in total silence. We were all freaked out, although the Chickienob later said she liked it because it reminded her of “The Whip” from Dutch Wonderland.

I’ve spent the rest of the day replaying the moment in my mind. Was I going too fast? Was I not paying attention? I think the answer to both is “no.” I tell myself I am an excellent driver — but it seems as believable as it does for Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. I just keep thinking of the eternity that was that spin in the middle of the road. The unreality of it. How even writing this now, it feels like it happened to someone else — especially since there are no practical consequences from it. But it happened to my family. With me behind the wheel. And that’s something I have to take responsibility for.

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