The Day I Lost My Son In A Crowd

14 Oct

DG_BotanicaWichitaGarden-1Last weekend my wife Kate and I took the kids to Botanica, Wichita’s Botanical Gardens, for their annual event “Bootanica.”  My mother got tickets for us and being the awesome grandmother she is, offered to come with us so she could help keep an eye on the kids.  So we all piled into the car and headed downtown along with every other family in Wichita.  Botanica does an amazing job creating family friendly events, recently opened a kids garden, and is a fantastic place to take the boys when they want to run and Kate and I want to talk.  Max (3) is used to going to Botanica and running around while Dodge (1) is still pretty attached to Kate and I.  Max had no idea how crowded the event would be and announced in the car that he wanted to play alone at the garden.  We explained it was going to be crowded but I don’t think that meant much to him.  Once we got there it quickly became obvious, the combination of amazing weather and this awesome event had turned out a record crowd.  We chose to go at lunchtime to wear the kids out for a good afternoon nap.  As we walked in kids were being carried out by parents as the kids screamed and wailed…I knew this would be my fate soon.  Max doesn’t transition well between activities, especially events and most definitely at nap time.  I smiled to each parent walking past me in the opposite direction with their kids flailing, the kind of smile that’s parent code for “I feel ya buddy, I’ll be in the same boat soon.”  They smiled back.  Parent code…we’re all in the same boat.  Then Max saw the activities and went barreling in!  Here we go.

TreehouseAt first he was always within arms reach…just playing alone.  He didn’t want to be touched or talked to, he wanted to be alone.  However, every few seconds he’d glance over to make sure I was near by…then he’d go back to whatever he was doing…alone.  He got a temporary bug tattoo, saw an owl, pet a snake, made a mask, danced to music, bounced in the bouncy-house, ate snacks, got candy, and of course…ran.  As the day went on Max started running ahead of us and then, as if by some magical force field, would stop about 50 feet away and wait for us to catch up before taking off running again.  He took me through the kids garden where we played on drums, climbed forts, dug in the sand, and rendezvoused with Kate, Dodge and my mom.  We ran into old friends, friends from school, and so on.  They all asked, “Where’s Max”  To which I would look around and then say, “Over there.”  …and sure enough, there he was, playing near by.  There was a moment when I followed him over to an activity and then couldn’t find him…for a second I thought I’d lost him but then there he was next to Kate.  I dismissed my emotions as me being the classic nervous self that I am and thought back to when we took Max to the Arboretum.

Max running across the meadow at the Arboretum.

Max alone at the Arboretum

At the Arboretum I had intentionally let Max run out of site because I wanted him to know he could play alone.  I wanted him to know there are places where parents are not watching over you, and when kids know that, it inspires a whole different style of play.  However, that was the Arboretum on a day when hardly anyone was there.  This was Botanica and it was packed to the gills!  Oddly enough, the night before Kate was telling Coach Marshall about how scared she got having Max and Dodge at the Final Four when the Shockers went two seasons ago.  We put more tags on Max’s clothing than a checked suitcase and even wrote our phone number on his arm!  Kate panicked at the Georgia Dome and shouted to me, “What were we thinking bringing them here?!”  My answer of course was, “So they can always say they were here!”  I panicked too.  Everything worked out fine.

Me and Dodge at The Final Four

Me and Dodge at The Final Four

At Bootanica, it was time to get the little guys to bed so we scooped up Dodge and started ushering Max away from the kids garden.  We were at one end of the gardens and had to make our way through the kids garden, through the mob where the activities were, past the dance area, past the main gardens, and back to the front gate.  Max charged ahead.  Then, for the second time that day…I thought I lost him.  He’s tall for his age.  He was wearing a bright blue KC Royals hat and a neon orange hoodie with Dusty Crophopper on the front.  He was also wearing a bright white kato mask he’d made at one of the activity stations earlier.  Then…I saw him.  I’ll never forget it.  He was standing right in the middle of the path where all the paths came together.  He was staring at the rock climbing wall he had asked to try earlier but I had told him he was too little for.  Next to him was the bouncy-house he had played in earlier and not wanted to leave.  He was this little blue and orange dot in a sea of older kids and adults as traffic swelled around him.  He was about 300 feet ahead of me and at 6’4″ I could clearly see him from above the crowd.  Then…I couldn’t.  I assumed he was making his way back towards us but for the first time that day, I couldn’t see that blue hat and orange sweatshirt.  I hustled my pace and got down to the exact spot he’d been standing in when I saw him from the top of the hill.  He was nowhere to be seen.  Having been fooled twice that day the literal first thought I had was, “That little shit…I’m gonna give him an earful when I get my hands on him.”  I waited and looked around.  No Max.  Kate and my mom caught up to me and asked if I could see him.  I couldn’t.  The crowd seemed to get louder and swirl more.  “I’ll bet he’s in the bouncy-house again!”  I said as I walked over.  No Max.  The crowd got louder again and swirled more.  I looked to Kate…she looked to me…and the panic set in.  I jumped up on a bench and looked through the crowd.  “Max!”  I shouted.  No Max.  Something wasn’t right.

rendering_v2After a few minutes passed we decided to split up.  Kate stayed at the foot path intersection with Dodge while my mom went back to check the kids gardens.  I traced our path back the way we’d come.  I hustled over to the owl and snake display.  No Max.  I checked the only activity center we hadn’t visited yet.  No Max.  I jogged to the dance area and surveyed the sea of kids.  No Max.  Oh God…I’ve lost my child!  Suddenly I thought of the movie “Minority Report” and that terrible scene where Tom Cruise loses his son in plain sight at the public pool…and never finds him again.  “Maaaax!”  I called out, scaring the kids around me.  Then I thought the worst thought I’d ever had…I thought of all those crying kids at the front gate being carried out by their dads.  What if one of those dads wasn’t the kid’s dad.  What if that was some stranger kidnapping a kid and the kid was crying.  Who’d know?  Who could tell the difference between a kid crying because he didn’t want to leave and a kid crying because he’d been stolen.  Stolen!  A human being!  My son!  My Max!  My heart leapt out of my throat as I sprinted to the front gate.  No stranger was going to drag my son out the front gate screaming!  I was going to put Botanica on lockdown!  I reached the gate and surveyed the area, “You seen a little kid in a Royals hat come through here?”  I asked the ticket-taker at the gate.  She shot me a look as if to say, “Buddy, the Royals are in the post season for the first time in 29 years…what kid isn’t wearing a Royals hat?”  Then, I caught a glimpse of something orange and blue out of the corner of my eye.

I found max alone by a fountain pretending to be a race car…doing laps.  I must have had some crazy look on my face because when I grabbed him he took one look at me and started crying.  My brain went back to that place where I was going to give him an earful when I found him.  Well…I found him…and all I could do was hold him and try not to cry.  I rocked him back and forth as I said over and over and over, “I thought I’d lost you, I thought I’d lost you, I thought I’d lost you…”  Then I think Max was rocking me more than I was rocking him.  Max had only been alone for about 10 minutes.  He thought it was pretty cool.  I wanted to vomit I was so scared.  I called Kate’s cell and we all reunited.  Max was overtired.  I tried to explain why what he had done was wrong but he just started crying…so we tabled the conversation for later.  I carried Max out the front gate, he cried because he didn’t want to go, other parents gave me the nod of understanding…parent code.  I couldn’t stop thinking about those people I had nodded to on my way in…and the kids they were carrying…and how the kids were crying…and how it all seemed so normal just a few hours ago.

Dennis_Rader_booking

Dennis Rader (BTK)

That night after dinner I told Max that not everyone is nice.  I told him that not everywhere is safe.  I told him that there are bad people in the world and sometimes bad things happen.  It pained me to tell him this, especially during a time when he’s struggling with a deep fear of the dark at bedtime.  We talked about why running away was so dangerous, why I was so scared, and why he shouldn’t do it again.  We talked about strangers and agreed that if someone he doesn’t know tries to take him somewhere, he’s supposed to scream as loud as he can and run straight to someone he knows.  “Stranger Danger.”  Old school…but it works.  I have no idea if it makes sense to him…but sadly we’ve reached the point in life where it needs to be part of the conversation, and it makes me miss living in Bolton Landing where everyone knows everyone.  Wichita is a little big city.  It isn’t big like when we lived in New York City and it isn’t small like the town of 5,000 Kate grew up in.  Its about 400,000 people.  Most people know people here and the strangers are pretty hospitable.  Wichita has its rough spots, rougher than some may think.  I was born here just after the BTK killings slowed in 1977, and then ramped up again in 1985.  My house now is actually 1 block from BTK’s first victims in 1974.  The Wichita Massacre was only 14 years ago…and still haunts me when I drive past that neighborhood.  There are bad people out there and at some point the only thing between my children and them will be what I’ve taught my children.

This story had a happy ending.  We found Max playing alone by a fountain.  However, the mere possibility that it could have had a terrible ending has rattled me to the core and changed my view on parenting.  I despised hover parents, and to ensure I never became one I gave my kids free reign to run free in the Kansas sun…to play without the watchful eyes of parents.  Now?  I think I’ll let them get a little older before they’re ever alone, till then they can have the illusion of being alone…and that’s fine by me.

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Video

What If I Told You I Could Make Mama Appear?

8 Oct

Super-DadSometimes kids are just going to throw temper tantrums, like my son Max who is 3.  Max’s automatic reaction to everything is to say “no” in defiance without recognizing what he is saying no to.  Then he processes it and throws a tantrum.  For example you could say, “Max time to stop playing and go get an ice cream cone.”  Max’s automatic response would be, “NO!!! I don’t want to stop playing!!!”  To which I reply, “Okay, so you don’t want an ice cream cone?”  To which Max naturally throws a tantrum and screams, “…But I WANT an ice cream cone!”  He does this stupid little foot stomping shoulder shrugging motion while making the whiniest sound he can muster.  It literally makes me laugh it’s so stupid, but I try not to let him see me laugh because he’s feeling real emotion and all that crap.  Instead, I’ve taken to videoing him overreacting and then showing it to him later when he’s calm so he can see for himself what he looks like when he throws a tantrum.  Its pretty clear its annoying and he picks up on that right away.

However, every now and then you gotta mess with your kids.  Your parents messed with you…now its your turn!  Sometimes videos just time out perfectly, like in this video where I hone my Super-Dada ability of making the Mama appear right before a tantrum goes from explosive to nuclear.

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My Film Selected To Tallgrass Film Festival 2014

30 Sep

I am happy to announce my short film, “From Wichita With Love,” has been selected to screen at the 2014 Tallgrass Film Festival.  The screening will be the film’s world premiere and I invite anyone in the Wichita area to come to the Noon screening on October 19th to see what all the hubbub was back in June when we competed in the “Down To The Wire 24 Hour Film Race.”  My fearless team and I tackled a daunting task, competing in a 24 hour film race using film (not video) as our medium.  The film received “Honorable Mention” in the race’s showcase and will screen before a live audience for the first time in 2 1/2 weeks among 5 other films that competed.

From Wichita With Love Poster

20140621_172339After the festival I will speak more about the film, the process, the race, the festival, and the insanity of shooting on film in a 24 hour film race.  Til then, I have to thank Wade Davis and Kate Van Steenhuyse for producing this with me and pushing me to create something different.  A very special thanks to Chris DeVries who starred in the film alongside Wade Davis, two of my most favorite people who brought me to my knees with laughter and delivered amazing performances in what is my favorite film I’ve made to date.  Thank you to Cindy Hand for helping more than she realizes and going outside her comfort zone to create something artistic.  Thank you to Jim Siebert for calling me out on this idea and giving me the encouragement to try.  Thank you to Jonathan Dennill for staying up til the wee hours of the morning with Wade and I as we completed the post production and gave fantastic advice and outside perspective.  Thank you to David Thompson for his patience, his car, and his willingness to take on a non-speaking role last-minute.  Very special thanks to Conan Fugit for volunteering his time in weeks of planning and very late night to conduct a last-minute telecine to digital for submission.  Thanks to Nick Brown and the entire staff at Moler’s Camera for working with me in planning and tech to make sure this was all physically possible.  Thank you to Melissa Gerlach and her dog Mocha, Tamara Winfrey and Myra DeGrandmont for watching my children, and everyone who made the film happen.  Thank you to Tallgrass Film Festival, Creative Rush, my fellow DTTW Film Racers, the Tallgrass selection committee, and anyone who chuckled when they saw this film.  Last, and dearly important, thank you to Luna…our cat.  She hates doing anything but she put up with all of us filming her and keeping her up way past her bedtime.  She’s a sweet old cat and despite the fact that she pee’d in my file cabinet in 2004 I must remember that at 17 years of cat-age, I’m lucky for every day my wife Kate and I get to spend with her and she will be forever immortalized in this dorky 3 1/2 minute film with her spot-on performance as “Steve.”

20140621_210737In all honesty, this film stirred my tanks and reminded me what I like to make as a filmmaker and artist.  It reminded me why I do what I do.  It reminded me that just because video is easier it doesn’t mean its the best option.  It also introduced me to new friends and turned good friends into best friends.  What more can you ask for in life than to make something fun with people you love?  So come join us on Sunday October 19th for the world premiere of “From Wichita With Love.”  Hopefully, it will make you laugh.  We had a lot of fun making it.  Tickets $10.

"From Wichita With Love" being rinsed after being developed by hand.

“From Wichita With Love” being rinsed after being developed by hand.

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1956 Sunset Coral Thunderbird

24 Sep

20140918_143811For the past few days I have had the good fortune of driving a convertible 1956 Ford Thunderbird complete with whitewall tires, continental kit, rear wheel well skirts, over-sized steering wheel, and those iconic tail fins.  If that weren’t enough to draw your attention…throw in the fact that it is the rare color of Sunset Coral Pink.  Amazing…one of those insanely rare colors to come out of the 50’s on cars like the two-toned Fairlane, Galaxie, and Mercury.  Having the entire T-Bird wrapped in the color…its a show-stopper to say the least.  So much so that it has been almost dangerous to drive around Wichita thanks to all the gawkers.  In the past few days I have…

  • Had a car list completely into my lane while staring at me
  • Had a truck almost rear-end the car in front watching me in the rear-view
  • Had a truck jump the curb while staring so hard they forgot to turn
  • Had a van stop mid intersection blocking traffic to stare
  • Had a mom let go of her stroller which bonked into a wall (took picture)
  • Had a car intentionally box me in to slow me down to get a better look
  • Had a creepy car follow me for 10 minutes trying to find out where we lived
  • Had a guy flip me off and yell at me for not taking him for a ride

Aside from these experiences I have had a car directly on my front or rear bumper swerving to take a picture everywhere I go.  So…I have been the guy speeding past and switching lanes to get away and try and have some space.  I know…boo hoo poor me, I have to drive an awesome antique car.  Trust me, its fun getting waved to by everyone and talking to people wherever I park.  That’s the fun stuff.  However, having people almost run me off the road or smash into each other while gawking or taking a picture?  Not cool.  The jumping the curb one was my favorite because the guy was so full-on jaw-dropped as he turned left at the intersection of Douglas and Washington that when he jumped the curb I saw his jaw bob up and down.  Full slack-jaw.  Luckily no one was walking on the curb or they would have gotten a Dodge Ram surprise.  The car behind him wasn’t a fan and gave him the horn and finger.  That’s the other thing I’ve seen/heard alot the past few days.  Horns and fingers by people getting cut off by the gawkers.  I get honks and waves…the gawkers…not so much.

20140923_092535My boys are in love with it so I of course installed a car seat for slow cruising.  Dodge (1) loves all the old fashioned knobs and buttons while Max (3) just thinks its cool that it has no roof and is pink.  I like both.  Max has begged me to go fast but I refuse to with as much insanity as I’ve experienced on the roads of Wichita the past week.  So we just cruise the side streets together pointing out cool things to see and waving to all the joggers and bikers who are moving at a similar pace.  Max is beside himself with sadness that the “Pink T-Bird” is getting shipped back home to New York and has announced that his favorite color is now pink…and gold…and also red…but mostly gold…and oh yeah, pink.  Dodge just likes spending time with his Dada and I’ll take it any way I can get it.  “T-Bird” is his newest word.

20140923_092525The best driving has been at night when the air is cool, the sun is down, and there are less cars on the road.  Cruising.  Driving just to drive.  I’ll go under a street light and suddenly people see its Sunset Coral Pink and it gets their attention.  I drop the accelerator and clear some space…reminding them that I’m not selling Mary Kay products and it is in fact a sports car.  It takes me back to when my wife Kate and I were first dating and we’d cruise Route 9N along Lake George, NY and park somewhere to stare at the stars.  It is impossible to drive this car without your right arm around the passenger seat side of the bench or your left resting on the door.  Its a car made for snuggling and I am going to miss my sunset cruises with the boys…driving around College Hill Park, the Eastborough Duck Pond, and of course the Douglas drag.  I’ve never heard Max talk so much and it has been awesome bonding time.  Dodge is learning new words every day and he sits with me in the car and asks so many questions…its awesome.  I can’t wait to take them for rides this summer when we’re back in New York, I also can’t wait to ride with Kate and no boys.

Like I said, boo hoo poor me.  I’m jaded, I grew up around antique cars.  They were always in the family or being worked on.  One of the cars I learned to drive on was my grandfather’s 1949 Willy’s Army Jeep.  I’ll never forget my dad drawing a chalk line on the pavement at the town beach parking lot and making me put the car in first and drive up the hill without rolling backwards over the line.  Everyone should learn to drive stick.  One time my wife and I drove to town in the convertible 1951 Willy’s Jeepster…3 on the column and fire engine red.  Awesome car.  We parked out front and went inside.  When we came out a college kid was sitting inside goofing off while his buddies took pictures of him.  When I confronted him he got pissed off that I was on his case about it.  Apparently, he felt that since it was a convertible it was okay to get inside.  It would only be breaking and entering if it had a roof.  Seriously?

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So, if you see a cool old car driving down the street give a honk and a wave (just a wave is fine) and move on.  Don’t go smashing into things with your jaw on the floor and your eyes out the sockets.  If you want a closer look keep in mind there may be small children inside and the driver may be trying to enjoy a little cruise so appreciate the car from a safe distance.  If you have questions you want to ask the driver, wait til you are both stopped at an intersection instead of trying to flag us down while we are driving.  Otherwise, buy a ticket to a car show and ask as many questions as you like there.  Want a ride?  No.  Who says, “Sure! Jump on in stranger!”  Want to take a picture with it?  Okay, but please don’t lean on it, touch it, or get inside it.  Last, please don’t follow us around creepily as we drive around with our children…we have phones and wrote down your license plate.

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Lay’s Salt & Vinegar Chips: PART 3

22 Sep

Okay, so maybe this site has been slightly derailed by my love and pursuit of Lay’s Salt & Vinegar Chips…but this story is deserving of a 3rd chapter. As my constant readers know I have a love for Lay’s Salt & Vinegar Chips but (alas) I have not been able to find them in Wichita since moving here almost 5 years ago. I did what I always do and took up my pen. I wrote to my grocer, my convenience store, Walmart, Target, various retailers, and of course…Frito Lay. While I was so happy to have my local grocer, Dillon’s, reply to me (read here)…there was no greater feeling than receiving the enclosed letter from Leryn Stephenson of Frito Lay which fantastically says, “I understand.” It is rare to get a brand to respond so rapidly let alone so appropriately. My letter to Lay’s was intentionally over-the-top comedic in hopes of getting someone’s attention. It appears to have worked and the response is my favorite letter I have ever received from a brand along with two delicious bags of Lay’s Salt & Vinegar Chips.

Frito Lay BoxWhen I came home from work last week to find a large box waiting for me care of Frito Lay, I knew exactly what it was: Chips! What I wasn’t expecting was the letter so clearly not a form response but an actual person taking the time to read my letter, respond honestly and acurately to it, quote from it, and shoot my own comedy right back at me. Leryn…you got it. This is what customer service is all about! It isn’t about online live chat sessions, customer complaint telephone lines, or Twitter help accounts…its about human connection; the ability to make a personal connection to a brand.

Here is Leryn Stephenson’s response letter to mine (Note: Personal information has been removed):

Leryn Stephenson Letter

Wow…just…wow.  I had hoped to get a response but to get one as hilariously awesome as this…wow.  As much as I loved Lay’s Salt & Vinegar Chips before…I love them even more now because of this.  This not only reinvigorates my love of these chips but also makes me fall in love with the brand and want to support them more because of the people they have working for them.  This is Customer Service, Branding, and Marketing 101.  If only more companies had people like Leryn working for them.  If only more companies encouraged their people to send responses like this.  Wow…just…wow.

With that said I am adding this post to the product review section of the site and giving Lay’s & PepsiCo two thumbs up, five stars, and my humble thanks.  When I write to all of you, my constant readers and those joining the discussion now, it is always my hope to simply be heard and hopefully bring a moment of laughter or insight to your day.  It was wonderful to be heard by Lay’s and thank you for the gracious gift of 2 bags to get me through til I find a long-term solution.  Tonight I’ll be snacking ferociously from the light blue bag with my boys, who have tasted this nectar of the Gods and now share in my love of tangy alkali fried potatoes, and we’ll be thinking of you Leryn Stephenson…and the simple gesture you made that brought some laughter and happiness to my family.  I hope my letter and this story brought laughter to your day as well.

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