Archive for June, 2011

Little Griswald endures rain soaked road trip

The Little Griswald, or Lil Gris, our 2002 Honda Odyssey with 125K miles that I’ve praised here, carried us safely from Chicago to Philly on our longest family road trip to date. The 900-mile trip was all about the rain.

Scattered thunderstorms thwarted our plan to camp with the kids on the shore of Lake Erie near Port Clinton, Ohio, about 1/3 of the way there. Instead the kids urged us to keep on trucking. The boy (5) wanted to play with his Uncle and, I suspect, to keep playing with his Leapster; our daughter (3), who had started asking “When are we gonna be at Nona’s?” a half hour outside of Chicago, agreed with her brother. Then we hit the storms.

Night fell and the mountains of western Pennsylvania rose, the outline of their broccoli heads shocked with lightning, like a very real Missile Command. Not five minutes before the lightning started, I answered Heather that I was fine driving on, bored but fine. We didn’t have a chance to laugh about it. Soon, the windshield was swimming, the reflectors in the center line of the road were disappearing, and only semis were left on the interstate. The road rose and fell, past signs warning of ice on bridge and steep grades ahead, but I drove on, trying to keep the taillights of the nearest semi in view. We passed a few exits, deliberating if we should wait it out, how long we might be sitting nowhere, my wife nestled in the back seat between the two kids, who were not worried. They weren’t sleeping, either.

Something in me wanted to get through it, not to arrive as much as to keep going until I couldn’t go anymore, to pit my endurance with the elements against my judgment of what’s best for my family. How bad could it be? After about a half hour with the seat moved up and my neck sore from hunching over the wheel–twenty miles at most–the storm stopped,the black broke and I could make out clouds again. I uttered some nonsensical man chants. Wife necessarily mocked me. It was premature. More storm. It lasted longer this time, the deliberations a bit more urgent, the terrain more winding, taillights disappearing, the distant exit ramps glinting like sequins yet muddling that which was road and which was ramp. We passed mountain exits with no services, a valley exit with no vacancies, comments from the backseat such as, “We should buy new windshield wipers,” until finally, after a total of 1.5 hours and maybe 50 miles, I conceded.  We pulled off in a town that smelled like weed, Clearfield, PA, transported the kids to a hotel bed, then had a couple beers outside our motel door. My shoulders were stiff, the kids were asleep, the beer was good.

I told her, boasted maybe, that it was the toughest driving I’d ever done. Being a good wife, she complimented me. Rocky Mountain snow storms, Nebraska hail and electrical storms, this was harder because of the duration and most importantly the cargo. Why press on? Part of it was willingly, as if it were my rite of passage for being a bona fide road-tripping dad. As if there were a badge. My dad still tells the ice storm story, driving past jackknifed trucks, and though I don’t remember such details of our biannual road trips to Tennessee, I remember that it felt safe. Maybe I was trying to earn that feeling.

Perhaps I’m glorifying my self-importance or perhaps that prideful feeling was not for getting through the storm but for getting off the road.

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Imparted wisdom for Father’s Day

Knowledge: knowing which tool to use will get you farther than knowing how to use it. The latter you can figure out; the former is why there are dads.

There was no farting here

Endurance: Pitted in a test of manliness, two young brothers see how long they can endure their father tickling their nostrils with one of his chest hairs.

Strength: The same young brothers, duped by their father’s call for “lap time”, squirm and fight to free themselves from his toxic grasp after he unloads one of his silent ass killers.

Patience: Golf. Goddamn golf.

Love: It is an action not a word and is thusly expressed in actions, not words.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

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Learning to read

My boy can read. He’ll be entering kindergarten in the fall and though there were a handful of students who could read at his preschool, they were not mine. I’m not bragging—even posting this might be unseemly—but here’s the thing: I’m fat, unemployed, underpublished, and I have more hair on my back than my head. My son reading is the proudest moment of the year.

Like baldness and fatness, learning to read doesn’t happen all at once. You don’t wake up one morning to discover that your penis has disappeared under your belly; it’s a slow, gradually foreboding shadow. Reading is the opposite: a growing light.

Tall Tales, from Bone creator Jeff Smith

He started with letters, of course, and letters are nothing more than symbols that make sounds. The collection of letters that constitute words are more fluid sounds. Sentences then, especially when he’s staggering through them, are songs. What a joy to see language transform in the eyes of a pre-reader to the voice of a reader. Despite its ubiquity, the melody of words takes years to string together. This small phenomenon—learning how to read and the observation of it—shows how complex reading is. I used to entice him to read by saying it unlocks the secrets of the universe: now that he’s reading I no longer feel like I’m bullshitting him.

About two years ago he “read” his first book: Go Dog, Go! Then came Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo. He memorized them based on the pictures. Then he made up stories to go along with pictures in other books, same thing his sister is doing now. Both kids have been read to in the womb, every afternoon and night, and letters have always been around. We’ve been doing a sight word flash card game for a few months now, where he gets bonus points for finding a rhyme or using it in a sentence. Letter and word cognition were taught in preschool. The true engagement we have with reading comes from good stories.

Favorites are any Mo Willems, from the Pigeon to Knuffle Bunny to Elephant and Piggie, the wordplay of Dr. Suess and P.D. Eastman, and superheroes distilled into Learning to Read books. Over the past few months, the boy has demanded we read and reread (third time in as many months) the nine-book epic graphic novel series, Bone, by Jeff Smith. The letters are all caps, the narrative is obvious on the page, and the tone of the dialogue can be discerned through the awesome illustrations. He wanted to know what the characters are saying, I think, so he could escape into that world by himself. The enjoyment was shared by us—in the first two cycles, at least. How cool to be turned on and tuned in to the same stories, to be sharing those songs.

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Killing Angry Birds

Angry Birds have eclipsed their tipping point.

Pigs will die

The phrase, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, means “the moment of critical mass” or when the object of human interest goes from the marginal to the mainstream.

Have no doubt that these Angry Birds have launched themselves into the consciousness of the developing world. (Holy crap, I just uncovered a cinematic trailer!) The simple game, produced for $100,000 by a small Finnish company called Rovio, involves six different types of birds being launched by slingshot into shaky or sturdy fortresses of the pigs who stole the birds’ eggs. You get points for slaughtering the pigs and mass destruction. There are many levels and themes, from cowboy pigs to urban nighttime pigs, there’s a free version, a new seasons version, and an advanced for-pay version. And now comes the tipping point: merchandising. Stuffed birds with their trademark angry eyebrows and their angry squawking, Facebook pages, and the tell-tale sign that the craze is on the decline—because once a craze goes mainstream it’s already dying—a family of four clad in a family of Angry Bird t-shirts.

And we were that family.

To be clear, we never put our kids in matching outfits(except Halloween—which is our parental right for another year or two), Wife and I never wore matching cardigans, and we have no tattoos that complete us. But Wife bought the shirts and we donned them in the most obnoxious venue possible: Six Flags Great America. Oh yeah, and we wore them with as much genuine pride as hipster irony, a contradiction that cannot co-exist so the pride won out. At least 12 different people, different genders, race, ages, and roller coast preferences, complimented them. I’m sure there was double that number mocking us.

The Birds tipped into our lives from a 2010 NY Times article. I tried it, downloaded it, and now suffer my five-year-old’s daily demand. We play live versions now, in snow forts, where I’m the big fat bird and the kids are pigs, or in the living room, constructing crude Lego shelters protecting piggy banks. It is that rare game—simple enough to play, challenging enough to keep playing—that appeals to multiple generations, from the cashier at the diner playing on her iPad to the group of four kids huddled over a phone as parents make nice dinnertime talk.

And now it’s dead. I reckon there’s only a month left in those t-shirts before we start getting egged, or bombarded by pieces of raw pork.

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