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Running Away From Home

29 Oct

rockwell_runawayWhen I was very young I stuffed a backpack full of comic books, sandwiches, and trinkets as I set off to discover a new world…a world without my parents.  I ran away from home.  I hopped the fence in the back yard and paused on the other side, the perfect place to start my new life living alone AND be able to witness my parents’ dismay as they searched frantically for me.  Front row seats!  I made base camp and hunkered down for the long winter ahead of me, but I was prepared so long as I rationed my Skittles and PB&J Sandwiches.  Day became dusk, dusk became night, and I became restless.  Why was no one looking for me?  I’d left a long note explaining why I’d left home and how displeased I was with the cruel punishment of having to brush my teeth twice a day, the bathing regimen, and the rules around doing homework.  Still…no one came.  I had announced that I was going to run away and had clearly not shown up for dinner!  Still…no one came.  Then it hit me!  They must be searching for me in the front yard!  I packed up base camp, climbed the fence again, and snuck up to the house.  Much to my surprise, my mother and father were sitting calmly in front of the TV watching the news.  Where was the APB?  Why were there not helicopters with search lights?  How come people weren’t trudging through the fields looking for me with hounds?!!!  I ran away dammit!!!

alvin-and-the-chipmunks-the-chipmunk-adventure-dvd-cover-40I decided to make camp in the tree fort in our backyard, it was quite dark and it would be nice to sleep somewhere familiar before heading east for New York City in the morning.  The city was only 1,380 miles from Wichita, KS but it seemed quite achievable on the Rand McNally road atlas I had swiped from the library.  Damn…out of Skittles…I’ve really got to be careful with my rations, there’s a long road ahead of me.  If Alvin and the Chipmunks could go around the world in “The Chipmunk Adventure” movie I could make it to New York.  And if I can make there…well, you know the song.  I took a large bite out of my last PB&J sandwich as I debated where I could find a hot air balloon in the morning.  Supplies were running low.  I needed to occupy my mind to prepare it for the journey.  I skimmed a few Mad Magazines I’d brought for the trip along with a few Spidermans.  I’d read these before.  If only I had new comics!  I wonder if you can trade PB&J sandwiches for comic books?  Surely the good man at the comic store will barter for a sandwich made with Jiff Crunchy Peanut Butter.  I finished the last PB&J sandwich.  Damn.  Now its just me…and Apple Bear.  Apple Bear had been with me since the beginning, a gift on my 1st birthday.  He was an orange bear wearing a blue bib with an apple on it.  He squeaked when you hugged him which was comforting when I was lonely.

<SQUEAK!>

Shhhhhh!  Apple Bear!  You’ll give away our position!

I looked towards the house.  There was no movement.  Surely they heard Apple Bear and would come running to the back door to see if I’d returned only to have their hearts broken when I stayed hidden.  It would crush them!  They’d never know what to do…  The backyard lights went out.  My parents were done watching the news and my dad had turned off the lights!

<SQUEAK!> <SQUEAK!> <SQUEAK!>

Fine.  So they’re not looking for me.  I’m still running away.  I’m just going to stay here till they get worried and THEN I’ll run away.  Seconds turned into hours, hours to days, and days into years as time passed in and out of a decade and back over a millennium.  About 10 minutes had passed.  <SQUEAK.>  Apple Bear was hungry and scared…I was fine.  <SQUEAK.>  Okay, okay, okay…you talked me into it.  Apple Bear wanted to go back inside and how could I say no to those button eyes?  I gathered my camp into the backpack, climbed down to the ground, and tip-toed across the yard to the back door.  It was unlocked.  I came in and found there was no dinner waiting for me at the kitchen table.  There was no fanfare as I walked in the house.  All was quiet and normal.  I dumped the backpack in the hall and walked into my parent’s room to find them in bed reading.  “I’m back!”  I announced.  “Okay,” said my dad.  “I’m just staying for the night,” I assured them.  “Sounds good,” my mother answered.  They didn’t really look up from their books.  I left their room.

That night Apple Bear and I tried to sleep but couldn’t.  Why had my parents not cared that I ran away?  I could be half way to Kansas City by now!  The thought made me shudder…alone in the dark somewhere in the Flint Hills.  I was happy to be back in my bed, my back hurt from trying to sleep in a tree, and the wind was howling outside.  My mind raced and at last, sleep took me.

20141015_100827About 30 years later my son Max, a mere 3 years old, tried to run away twice in a week.  Granted, these were smaller escapades but they were very intentional moves.  In my recent entry, Max ran away at an event and hid because he wanted to play alone.  Following that incident that rattled me to the core as a parent (thinking I’d lost my son in a crowd) Max and I had a long conversation about running away and what it meant.  To my surprise, he ran away days later when my wife picked him up from school.  He took off running from the front door of the school, sprinted down the sidewalk, and Kate had to track him down by car and then get out to football tackle him.  He was perceiving this all as a game.  When I came home from work that night I found him sitting at the table eating alone as Kate told me the story in the kitchen.  I couldn’t believe he’d done this!  He could have been hit by a car!  We had just talked about this.  I was beside myself, so I decided to do something bold and make a statement that he wouldn’t soon forget.  “Do you trust me?”  I asked Kate.  She looked concerned.

I walked out front and placed a lock on the gate to our fully enclosed backyard without Max seeing me.  When he finished his dinner I said, “Max…come with me.”  I escorted him to the back door, walked him outside, and sat down on the back stoop with him to discuss running away.  We discussed how he had run away because he wanted to be alone.  So, I gave him what he asked for and said, “Okay Max, you are free to run away and be alone.”  Then I walked back inside and closed the door behind me.  Max wasn’t sure what to do at first and kind of played, then started fake crying.   Day became dusk, dusk became night, and Max became restless.  Why was no one looking for him?  It had been 15 minutes.  He sat down and waited on the back porch.  When that didn’t work he started kicking my grill.  I came out and started packing up the yard as if winter was coming, “Oh…hey Max, what are you still doing here?  I thought you’d be half way to Kansas City by now.”  Before he could ask to come inside I looked up at the stars and said, “No moon tonight…going to be a dark and cold night…winter’s coming.”  Then I went back inside, closed the door behind me, and turned off the porch light.  The tears began.  Kate, Dodge and I sat on the couch and watched TV while Max looked in through the window, like my parents did to me all those years ago.  Kate and I counted the minutes on the clock wanting nothing but to go outside and scoop him up into a hug, but we pretended to not hear him.

It tore my heart out!

Max was outside for less than 25 minutes, of which he probably played for about 15.  When he plays outside this time of night he might be out for over an hour.  It was a warm night and he was appropriately dressed.  All was fine, except the situation had been turned on him.  I went outside when the fake cries stopped and I couldn’t pretend to not hear him any longer.  We sat on the stoop and once more discussed running away.  I asked him if he wanted to come back in, to which he said he did.  I then asked if he was going to run away again because if so, I didn’t want to waste my time reading books and cuddling.  He said he would not run away and ran into my arms for a hug instead.  I held him and said, “Max, you may come inside but first, you have to create the rule about what your punishment will be if you run away.”  Kids are told so many rules when you they’re young.  Put your shoes on, stay in line, go to bed…so many rules that are being blindly handed down to them by adults.  Max is at the age where he’s wondering who put the adults in charge and why?  Max thought for a bit then said,  “Running away is against the rules.”  I nodded and said, “That’s a good rule.”  Max continued, “…and If I run away again I’ll have to live outside in the dark.”  I hugged him again and said, “Yes, if you run away that would mean you were running away from Mommy, Daddy, Dodge and this house.”  I prodded further, “That’s the consequence of your own actions, what happens if you break the rule and run away from Mommy or me like you did today and we have to chase you?”  Max thought some more and said, “The rule is that I go to bed without books or cuddles.”  I agreed to Max’s rule and we shook on it and affirmed what it meant.  We went upstairs, Max brushed his teeth, he used the potty, and he climbed into bed without books.  Max hugged Muffin, his stuffed bunny rabbit.  “Did you miss Muffin?”  I asked.  “Yes,” said Max.  “Is it good to be back home?”  I asked.  “It’s good to be back home,” Max replied.  “Are you going to run away again?”  I asked.  “No,” said Max, “…and if I do I go to bed without books or cuddles.”  I nodded and asked, “…and who made the rule?”  “I did,” said Max.  “Its my rule,” he said as he rolled over and pulled the covers up to his neck.  He was asleep before I left the room.  Max…the king of all wild things.

where-wild-things-are-rumpus

The topic of running away has not been an issue since and this weekend Max started playing in the front yard by himself, respecting the boundaries set forth about not riding his bike into the street.  There are rules about what happens with Max if he breaks the rules, but Max is now setting the rules and self enforcing them.  Max is also aware of the positive example he needs to set for his little brother, Dodge, whom he helps obey the rules to keep him from danger.  Sometimes the best punishment is to give no punishment, rather the perception of consequence.  Max was never grounded to the back yard, he was never told the few minutes outside were a punishment, and he was free to do what he wanted.  His experience outside was the realization that when he got what he asked for it wasn’t what he really wanted.  He realized the consequences of his actions.  He created his own punishment, and then…his own rule.  He’s very happy to have created a new rule and the reprimand that comes with it when (if) the rule is broken.  Kids are kids and rules will be broken…but running into the street was not something I was going to mess around with.  Max is much younger than I was when I packed up and ran away to the backyard with Skittles and PB&J’s, but I get why my parents didn’t budge all those years ago.  I’m not saying we should be tossing our kids in the backyard and jumping to extreme consequences…but when it comes to running away and risking that precious three-year old life I love and value so much I’ll do anything to keep him safe.  I’m also a big fan of making hugs, affection, and positive reinforcement a crucial part of every parenting decision I make.  You never know…one day you’ll wake up and your kid will be a big stinky teenager who is too cool for hugs.  When they run away or do something beyond stupid at that age, take them down to the city jail and ask the on duty officer if they’d be willing to lock them up for a few hours…or send them to boarding school.  It worked for me, albeit a performing arts school.  ;)

Max and Dodge

Max keeping Dodge from running into the parking lot.

 

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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.

keep-calm-and-parent-on-6

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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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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:

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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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