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Roughhousing Interview

21 Aug

An exclusive So Long Freedom Interview with Max and Dodge on the hot topic of roughhousing and beating up Dada.

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First Day Of School

19 Aug

Today is the first day of school for both Max (3) and Dodge (1).  I say School…but it is Preschool.  Maybe Dodge is in Day Care?  I don’t know…all I know is they are not in the house and my wife Kate is back teaching the fall semester at Wichita State.  Yay!  Sanity shall return to the daytime of our household!  This is Max’s second year and he was very upset to learn that his best friend is in a different classroom this year.  His best friend stopped taking naps over the summer and Max still zonks out for a few hours in the afternoon…which I’m all for.  Max didn’t seem to mind once he saw all the other kids and the toys in the new room.  “Bye Dada!”  Zoom!  He was off and playing.  Dodge was the same way.  Last I saw he was playing with a seesaw blue dog and saying, “bye.”  That was it…no fanfare.  Max is back and Dodge is in.

Kate and I tried to take one of those pictures all our friends have of their kids at the front door but Max wouldn’t stop making monster faces and Dodge kept standing up to look and see what I was taking a picture of…so these blurry pictures are what we got:





I think the second one on the steps would be a sweet album cover for them if they released a single.  They did start a band over the summer called Spaceship Monkey.  Max plays the triangle and Dodge plays the tambourine.  We’re still working out the sound, and genre, and practice schedule.  It’ll come together.

Like her mother leaving after a visit, Kate cried in the parking lot after saying goodbye to the boys.  I quietly celebrated inside and consoled her as I imagined what things might be like when they go to school 5 days a week in the years to come.  Kate was fully aware of how good this is for them developmentally, socially, and how Kate would get her days back to actually work…but as she put it, her “Mom emotions” kicked in.  I think I danced…my “Dad emotions” kicking in…kicking my heels together in the air as I leap for joy.

So Long Summer!

Spaceship Monkey Album Cover

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Roughhousing Brothers

16 Aug

GatesBoysAwhile back I wrote about the importance of dads roughhousing with their kids and the developmental skills it helps develop in children.  I took the advice of a friend and started roughhousing with Max, who was 2 at the time, before bed and the results were awesome…he slept through the night and we developed a special bond.  Now Max is 3 and he has a little brother Dodge who is 1.  Dodge is the toughest most stubborn person I have ever met other than that ugly dude I see in the mirror every day.  Max likes to play “tackle” which involves running as fast as he can from the kitchen, down the hall, and into the family room where he them plows through me as hard as he can…then he gives me a few piledrivers for good measure…then repeats.  This was too rough for Dodge so we lightened the game up.  Dodge would ever so cautiously and gently push me with his tiny hands and I would pretend to fall over like a large tree (I’m 6’4″) while in the process scooping him up.  We would crash to the ground in pretend slow motion as I said, “Bwah!  Bwah!  Bwah!  Bwah…”  Dodge loved this and the game became known as “Bwah. Bwah, Bwah.”  We play it every night before bed.  Max loves it too.  Dodge gets gentle bwahs while Max gets more intense bwahs.

We are learning to set our boundaries.

Now Dodge is 17 months old and he has started tossing piledrivers like his big brother.  I’m getting the crap beat out of me.  The other day Dodge gave a piledriver to the tenders, confirming there would be no baby sister in his future, while Max sat on my face and farted.  Sorry…tooted.  They’re back in school and you can’t say fart…or booty.  Seriously?  Booty?  Another discussion.  The point is, the little buggers are ganging up on me.

They have become a unified Bwah, Bwah, Bwah front!

hoganlegdropFor the past 17 months Kate and I have done everything in our power to keep Max from hurting Dodge.  Now?  One look into Dodge’s steel blue eyes during Bwah, Bwah. Bwah and it is clear to see its only a matter of time before Dodge is the big kahuna round the Gates house.  So…I stopped separating the boys and started letting them roughhouse.  Guess what?  The 1-year old can beat up the 3-year old.  It will be more evenly matched soon and eventually one of these roughhousing bouts will escalate into a fight as they always do, that’s what boys do.  Its inevitable.  Til then, here is the adorableness of Max and Dodge roughhousing before bed where the loser gets tickled and the winner…also gets tickled.

Immediately following this video Max head-butted Dodge.  Dodge cried out, “Owie!”  Dodge then head-butted Max sqare in the nose.  Max cried.  Dodge laughed hysterically.  I feared for my life.

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My Boys’ First Movie Theater

14 Aug

1982I have racked my brain to try to remember the first movie I ever saw in a theater and I don’t know.  I can remember my sitter, Mrs. Riordan, taking me to see Fantasia when I was very little but I’m sure my parents took me to something before that.  Its hard remembering back that far and it seems 1984 is kind of the cutoff point for my memory.  The Black Cauldron, American Tale, Goonies, Howard The Duck, The Muppets Take Manhattan and so on.  I can remember Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981) and E.T. (1982) but it is hard to say if they were my first or if I saw them after they were first released in theaters.  Maybe my folks know but both my boys were baptized into the light of the projector on the same day.  Sunday, August 10 2014 my wife Kate, her mother Kathy (Nan), and I took Max and Dodge to see what they had been asking for:  Planes: Fire & Rescue!

Max (3) is afraid of the dark and hates loud noises so I was prepared to leave early if need be.  To date the only theater experience he’d had was the dolphin show at the Atlanta Aquarium which was a disaster resulting in months of nightmares.  Dodge (1) is pretty much down for whatever so long as there is juice and food there.  I (30-something) am an over-controlling grownup with anxiety being around large groups.  Fun!

warreneastI prepared Max by telling him exactly what was going to happen.  I explained that the lights would dim, there would be previews which are like commercials for other movies, and then the movie would start…and the movie was going to be like watching a TV the size of our house.  Max had many questions about the dimming of the lights and if we could leave the lights on.  I explained I didn’t control the lights and unlike TV we could not pause it so any bathroom breaks would have to take place prior to the movie.  The theater we were in did not have a cry room and that ended up being fine because everyone there was either a kid or a parent.  Almost every parent uttered the same thing to each other in the minutes leading up to the movie, “Mine gets scared before but settles down once the movie starts.”  The room seemed to swell with nervous kids…one would start to sniffle, then another, then tears from the back row, then cries from the front, then a wave of crying followed by the returning tide of “shhhhhh” from the parents.  Max and Dodge looked around and took it all in.  I snuck off and grabbed a bucket of popcorn, a large water, and a box of Goobers.  Then the lights went down and the curtain opened.  Showtime!

Planes-Fire-and-Rescue-PosterMax was pretty scared of the THX sound demo and covered his ears.  Dodge was enthralled.  The previews got Max relaxed and laughing and he scooched closer to me in his seat till he was hugged right up next to our shared armrest.  He clutched his toy planes in his hands, Skipper and El Chu, as the opening credits rolled and the boys’ eyes lit up like a Christmas tree.  Planes!  Lots of planes!  On a giant screen!  I think Max forgot to breathe and then caught himself before he blacked out.  Dodge was like a moth to the flame, sitting in Kate’s lap with his mouth agape.  I pulled the giant popcorn bucket from under my seat and Max hugged it as if it were his most cherished stuffed animal as he and Dodge devoured the contents.  Occasionally, Dodge would shout over to me for more popcorn or juice which we all shared.  Max stayed quiet the entire time and only once burst out shouting with a question for me before remembering we were in a theater.  Time flew by…flew…eh?  See what I did there?  Cause the movie was Planes.  Fire & Rescue.  Okay moving on.


When the closing credits rolled Max would not leave until his eyes and brain had soaked up every last bit of the film.  We watched every credit and listened to every song.  He was a fan.  To my surprise Dodge had stayed awake and engaged for the entire film!  He had occasionally found the kids sitting behind us more interesting and of course there was the popcorn…but he sat still(ish) for almost 2 hours!  It…was…lovely.  Max and I had put a good dent on the Goobers when the lights came up and he stood for the first time.  We all asked if he liked it and he jumped for joy while shouting, “Yeah!”  Then he took off running down the long hallway of the theater with his arms out like wings.  Dodge took off after him, wings spread wide.

20140810_175911I cannot wait to take them to the movies again.  It was the first movie I have seen in a theater in almost 4 years!  …and I loved it!  Sure, the boys aren’t going to go see Dawn of the Planet of The Apes with me…but maybe Guardians of the Galaxy?  Definitely a sitter for The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies.  Mad Max: Fury Road is coming out soon…just saying.  Sure, I can’t take them to the action shoot-em-ups I like but I can happily go see things like Big Hero 6 if it means we can go as a family.  It’s like a whole new thing we can do when the weather sucks!

I need to talk to my folks and figure out what my first movie in a theater was.  Max and Dodge?

6172036511438You boys were sitting at the 13th Street Warren Theater in Wichita, KS on Sunday, August 10th for the 4:30 PM showing of Planes: Fire & Rescue…and you both loved it.  Max, you got a Fire & Rescue Dusty toy plane a few days later for good behavior and having to give blood which scared you, and you were a champ.  Dodge, you got a light up toy microphone because you loved the music in the movie and were dancing the entire time…you’ve been shouting into it since.  You both hugged Nan extra hard that night (she bought your tickets) and you cried when she had to leave Tuesday morning.  Max, you bawled in the front door waving bye-bye.  You both love your Nan very much.  She cried too.  It was a special weekend and I don’t know if you will remember it when you are 30-something, but I will.  I’ll never forget it.  I love you both.  -Dada.

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Grandma Dawn

5 Aug

DawnLookoutOn Saturday I stood between my wife Kate and my first cousin once removed Barbara as my grandmother Dawn was laid to rest.  Surrounding the gravestone was my family including my sister, my cousins, my uncle, my parents, and those conducting the memorial service.  It was supposed to be a cold rainy day, but Dawn was too nice to have a funeral on a grey day…so the clouds cleared and let the sun beat down as crystal clear blue skies opened up overhead.  My black suit jacket stuck to my back, Kate squeezed my hand, and Barbara read a poem her daughter had written as Dawn Kathleen Preston was finally free from the confines of her body.  Tears rolled down my face hidden behind sunglasses as I stared at that little marble green urn and came to terms with the fact that I was never going to see one of my most favorite people in the world again.  Grandma Dawn was gone.

I’m not much of one to read deep into things but funerals make you question the meaning of life and the happenings of the world around you.  It didn’t rain a single drop during the 48 hours I was in Bolton Landing, NY though it was supposed to be riddled with thunderstorms.  Aside from my flight to Albany being delayed by 3 hours, travel was smooth.  The lake was warm, the air was warm, the water wasn’t rough, and I got a mini vacation…as odd as that sounds…but I like to think that was the purpose of this trip.  I know Saturday, August 2 is a day I will never forget…but it is a day I’ll remember for good reasons.  The service afterward was conducted by my uncle and father in which they set the tone by telling funny stories from my grandmother’s life and our family’s trolley car diner.  They got the whole place laughing hysterically and quickly tears of sadness turned into tears of joy as we celebrated her life instead of mourning her death.  Then, people from the town of Bolton started standing up and adding their two cents…and it was the same message over and over…Dawn had touched their lives in some way that had brought them there that day in love of her.  She was simply put, “A nice lady.”

She was never mean, she always carried a smile on her face, she was generous, she was loving, she gave hugs and kisses, and she cooked for every single person in that town at some point or another whether it be from the diner days or baking later in life.  Her pancakes are still a well guarded family secret.  Her love was felt by all…and if you were forced to think of something bad about her you’d find yourself with nothing to say.  She was just a good person who left a wake of happiness in her path.

2014-08-01 14.11.21My sadness came for my dad and my uncle…watching them in the cemetery as their mom went to rest next to their father Bill and their sister Jeanine, both whom died far too young.  Jeanine was 53 when she died of lung cancer and I never smoked a single cigarette since.  Bill was 69 when he passed, the same age my uncle is today.  Barbara clenched my hand and I couldn’t help but realize she and her brother Bob were the last of that generation.  Dawn was my last grandparent, outliving my mother’s mother by 18 years.  18 years I got to bask in the sole adoration of one grandparent…Grandma Dawn.  I was 17 when my maternal grandmother Florence passed away and 10 when both my grandfathers passed away in the same year.  I was a child then.  Now…as an adult, the full consequences and emotions were apparent to me as I tried to process it…and I couldn’t.  It was easier when I was 10…I just cried and cried and cried.  When I was 17 I lamented for time I should have spent.  At 35…I just keep thinking about that green marble urn and I don’t know what to do.  I didn’t know what to do.  So when the skies cleared and the sun came out I did what I think Grandma Dawn would have wanted me to do…I took a little vacation.

Kate and I ate sushi together in Chicago, drank to my grandmother’s memory at 30,000 feet, dined on lobster with family at the club, and plunged into the dark waters of Lake George for a skinny dip on Friday.  Saturday we took an early morning waverunner ride to Huddle Bay, caught up with old friends and family, swam in the lake together, drank together, had a big boisterous meal together with friends, and again…plunged into the cool waters of Lake George to cap off the day.  Sunday we had a big family breakfast, we swam off the dock, went for a long boat-ride, and went to my favorite spot on Lake George: the buoys off of Commission Island.  Kate and I explored the tiny islands to the north, swam along the point, stacked rocks to make a structure above water in the middle of the lake, swam the channel, and enjoyed the company of our family.  It is one of the things we didn’t get to do during our planned vacation to the lake 2 weeks prior.  It was a blessing.  It was like desert.  Its my Heaven on Earth.

My hand clutched a tiny rock I snagged from Commission Island Point as Kate and I ate sushi at Wicker Park in O’Hare before the final flight home.  We took our time during our 2 hour and 45 minute layover to savor each bite, sip our drinks, and enjoy our “date” before returning to our lives as parents with jobs, responsibilities, and needs.  Grandma, however you want to take this, gave Kate and I a date weekend…and it was lovely.  I still see that green marble urn in my mind, I know what I whispered to it before leaving the cemetery, and I know it hasn’t quite sunk in…and that’s okay.  My only fear is that when my father processes it, I won’t be able to be there to hug him the way he has hugged me so many times throughout my life since we are 1,500 miles apart right now.  Mom is there.  My sister is there.  My uncle is there.  Friends are there.  I just wish I could be there, to comfort him the way only he can comfort me.  So I woke up my 1-year old son Dodge on Sunday night and showered him with kisses before handing him to my wife to do the same.  I then climbed into bed with my 3-year old son Max and hugged him as tight as he’d let me hug him while stroking his soft blonde hair and whispering over and over, “Dada loves you, Dada will never stop loving you…”  Then Kate took my hand and led me to bed where I slept for 10 hours…and I dreamed Grandma was standing on the boat waving while I swam around Commission Island Point.

DawnBeach“Look at me Grandma!” I shouted as I stood on a rock.  She waved back and gave that sheepish smile of hers.  I slipped on the rocks and caught my balance, Grandma gave me her look of goofy surprise.  “You can see so deep today!”  I shouted back, then dove into the water.  My ears should have popped at about the 12 foot mark but they didn’t and I swam past the point where I normally turn around til I touched the bottom.  Rocky and smooth.  Calm.  Peaceful.  I placed my feet on the rocks and pushed upward toward the surface and emerged victorious!  “Grandma!  I touched the…”  But she wasn’t there anymore.  Just a warm summer day with blue skies, perfect water, and my favorite swimming spot.

I can’t wait to get back there next year and go for a swim.  I discover something new every year.  It is a special place to Kate and I and for some unexplained reason other than that dream…it will always be a place for me to go and connect with my grandmother, perhaps because it is a better way to remember her than thinking about that small green marble urn.  I don’t know where she is, but for me…I think she’s on the boat some days waving to me when she’s not drinking a beer on the couch or jabbing Grandpa Bill in the ribs for saying something embarrassing.  So…no “So Long Grandma.”  How about, “See you next summer.”

Me and Grandma, 1980.

Me and Grandma, 1980.

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