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The Crappiest Thanksgiving

3 Dec

Norman-Rockwell-Thanksgiving-thanksgiving-2927689-375-479My wife Kate and I look forward to Thanksgiving all year because it is the holiday that combines food and family…something we both love…though I’m partial to food (sorry family).  Every other year we spend the holiday with Kate’s family in St. Louis which means there are tons of kids running around, multiple turkeys in the ovens, hundreds of relatives and friends, and general family awesomeness.  This year we were especially looking forward to it as our oldest son (Max) is almost 3 and can run with the big boys now without needing constant supervision.  Our youngest (Dodge) is 9 months and there would be so many people who wanted to hold the baby that Kate and I could drink and feel like real people for just one day.  It was going to be magical…but things didn’t go to plan.

ShockersSprintRonBakerMax was so excited to stay in a hotel that he couldn’t contain himself.  On Tuesday morning he asked me as I headed out the door to the office if we were going to go to the hotel.  “Not yet buddy, after your nap we’ll pack up the car and drive to the hotel.”  Max ran upstairs immediately, read himself a book, and promptly tucked himself in for a nap at a little after 8 AM…5 hours before his regular nap time.  We got to Kansas City that night and checked in to the hotel before heading to a Wichita State basketball game and leaving the kids with a sitter.  Max was eating room service in bed and watching cartoons while Kate and I chugged beers at the Sprint Center as we watched the Shockers win the CBE Hall of Fame Tournament.  It was a great night and everybody got what they wanted!  That was when the fun ended.

When Kate shook me awake the next morning I could tell it was going to be a rough day.  The double Makers Mark on the rocks from 2 AM with a Coors Lite chaser at The Quaff Bar & Grill had left my head split in two and Kate wanted to hit the road within the hour.  So…Dada rallied.  I rallied hard.  Shower, breakfast, Advil, checkout, valet, and on the road in 45 minutes.  Nice.  My headache ebbed somewhere around Columbia and it was clear, vacation had begun!

Gates Boys PajamasWe arrived at the St. Louis hotel before the rest of the family and checked in to discover they did not have adjoining rooms as we had requested.  On one hand this meant privacy from my mother and father-in-law while on the other it meant more space and extra hands to help with the kids.  I’ll take extra hands and a party over privacy any day so I set about negotiating with the nice woman at the front desk.  The hotel was under renovation so some rooms were vacant but slated to be revamped the following week.  I was able to finagle a deal with the older rooms to get a king bed in one room for the in-laws and 2 double beds in the other for me, Kate, Max, and Dodge.  Sure they weren’t the 2 queen beds we requested which would have been better…but who cares!  Its vacation!  When we went into the room it was obvious why they were renovating…the room was pretty rough around the edges and I said, “Who cares, it’s just a place to sleep at night…we’re going to be out and about all day.”  Kate agreed, “Who cares.”  Famous last words.

120The following morning, Thanksgiving Day, I awoke with the stomach flu.  Kate thought I was just being a wuss from the hangover the previous morning, rallying, and then drinking with the family Wednesday night.  Nope…something was severely wrong.  Having spent my life battling various issues with my gastrointestinal tract, stomach bugs hit me hard.  I wasn’t going anywhere that day no matter how hard I tried, and by 2 PM it was obvious I was going to miss Thanksgiving dinner.  I cried.  Yes…I cried.  I tossed and turned in my double bed (which I’m too big for) with fever dreams of gravy-laden turkey legs, Iowa corn, homemade stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie as tears rolled down my face.  I was a grown man crying over food.  I told Kate to leave me, that she should take the kids to Uncle Shaun’s house and have fun.  Then she locked eyes with me, set Dodge down on the floor, and ran to the bathroom just in time to make a kneeling donation of her own to our reverse Thanksgiving feast.

WELCM_EXTR_1_EWe spent all Thanksgiving Day taking turns in our Holiday Inn bathroom that desperately needed to be renovated.  The sagging wallpaper that had once been a funny joke was now a reminder that we were in hell.  “Who cares!”  Ha!    Friday was slightly better but  we were weak with dehydration and nutritional deficiencies.  The boys were fine however.  The family began to speculate that it must be food poisoning since only the two of us had it while they and the boys were fine.  The consensus was that it was the homemade venison jerky my uncle Carl had given me in Kansas City…a treat I look forward to all year.  I refused to throw it away and insisted that it had to be something else…but no one else was sick.  “It must be food poisoning.”  I almost cried again over loss of food.

Gates Thanksgiving 2013On Friday I managed to eat 3 bites of eggs and half a pancake before going for a walk in the Laumeier Sculpture Park next to the hotel.  That night we had a little gathering at the indoor pool of the hotel for those brave enough to visit.  I washed my hands profusely just in case.  I had a little left over turkey (cold) and drank 1 light beer.  I felt better…not 100%, but better.  We had planned to stay till Sunday and either catch the Shockers play in St. Louis or the Chiefs play in KC, but after 60 hours of living in that damn Holiday Inn with one excursion to IHOP and one 20 minute walk in the park I was ready to call it quits and just go home.  We raised the white flag, packed the car, and started driving west down I-70 first thing Saturday morning.

20131130_165137Somewhere west of St. Louis and east of anything else Kate and I both heard it…a sound only a parent knows.  It’s the sound of your child’s stomach about to wretch.  “Kate!”  I shouted as she turned around to try to get a plastic bag in front of Max who was dead asleep.  It was as if someone turned on a sprinkler in the back seat of my car…my beautiful car.  Only the sprinkler didn’t send water across the leather seats and wood-grained dash…it sprayed eggs, potatoes, french toast, milk, orange juice, and of course…maple syrup in all directions as my poor sweet little 2-year-old woke up in horror.  Why did we give him french toast that morning?  Why?  I’ll never be able to smell it again.  Max’s poor stuffed animal “Muffin” the bunny rabbit took the brunt of the puke.  The rest was actually pretty well contained to his clothes and of course every crease and crevasse of his car seat.  In all truth, I could care less about getting a little kid-puke in the car and was more concerned for my little man.  He was a champ.  Plus, now I knew it wasn’t the venison jerky!

We pulled off at a truck stop immediately and Max stood by the car totally terrified where both Kate and I comforted him and explained he had done nothing wrong.  I went inside and bought…

  • 2 rolls of paper towels
  • 1 industrial size wet-wipes container
  • 1 gallon of water
  • 1 64 oz Mountain Dew trucker mug
  • 1 Powerade
  • 1 Banana
  • As many plastic bags as the man at the counter would give me

Max and CupKate took Max and Muffin inside to get rinsed off while I removed french toast bits from the car.  Most of the trouble makers were in the car seat so I pulled the cushions and wiped everything down.  Okay…not bad.  Max came back in new clothes and felt right as rain but we knew that wouldn’t last.  Some college kids pulled in next to us and vacated the car in disgust as their dog had just puked in the back seat.  Apparently I-70 is the Pukeway to Hell.  Their dog had gotten into a bag of pork rinds that hadn’t settled well with the little fella.  Kate laughed at them in understanding and motioned to me cleaning the car, the soaking wet stuffed animal, the car seat in dismay…the college kid said, “You win.”  Yay!  We win the Puke-a-thon!  We piled back in the car and taught Max that if he felt his tummy get ouchy again to put his chin into the 64 oz Mountain Dew mug and let er rip.  He puked 3 more times between St. Louis and Kansas City and passed out with the mug in his lap where “Muffin” should have been instead.  He was yet again a champ!

Dodge GatesWe pushed on through to Wichita despite the plan to spend the night in KC…ragged and weary we stumbled back home where we had the hardest conversation ever with a 2-year-old…explaining why he can’t have any dinner before bed other than a little more Powerade and a few crackers.  Though he put up a fight he was exhausted and asleep in his own bed hugging a bowl before his head ever hit the pillow.  Dodge cried all night and vomited the next morning.  We were officially all sick.  Yay!!!

081Being sick sucks.  Being sick when you have to care for kids sucks even more.  Everyone being sick at the same time sucks more that the previous suck, and having it all happen over Thanksgiving and missing out on all the fun, food, and family is like the Turducken of sucks.  It’s a sucks, inside a sucks, inside a suuuuucks!  So this Thanksgiving I’m thankful for family that doesn’t mind getting sick with you to help take care of kids, adjoining hotel rooms, Powerade, Immodium, interior car detailing, my wife for taking care of me before she got sick, and my kids for being amazing once they got sick.  Turkey and gravy is nice…but family is better, and I’m thankful I got to spend Thanksgiving with my family…albeit in a Holiday Inn bathroom in Saint Louis.

The family photo in the park...my 20 minutes of freedom from Holiday Inn.

The family photo in the park…my 20 minutes of freedom from Holiday Inn.

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The Meaning Of Father’s Day

17 Jun

YoungBudRyanWhen I was little I remember Father’s Day meaning my dad would sleep in, we’d make breakfast in bed for him, give him cards, and then he’d watch golf all day while my sister and I went off and did whatever we’d normally do.  I would always ask why there wasn’t a Kid’s Day?  My mother would tell me, “Every day is Kid’s Day.”  I don’t think I really understood that till yesterday when I got the real deal Father’s Day for the first time.  I celebrated this holiday when Max was a baby, then when he was 1, but yesterday…2-year-old Max, 3-month-old Dodge, and my wife Kate, and my parents taught me the true meaning of Father’s Day.

I woke up to tiny morning-breath in my face.  Max, my two-year-old, was pretty much standing on top of me waiting for me to wake up.  I sleepily opened my eyes and Max blurted out the words Kate had instructed him to say, “Happy Father’s Day!”  I thanked him and pulled him in for a hug which also came with a morning-breath kiss.  Kate and Dodge brought me breakfast in bed where the four of us sat and watched cartoons together as Max became more and more hyperactive.  Max gave me a homemade giraffe he had made at summer school, dodge coo’d and smiled in my arms, and Kate made everything easy.

Max_RobotHeadI then moved downstairs where I claimed the entire couch to myself and filled the TV with SportsCenter, movies with explosions, and Discovery Channel mockumentary about mermaids.  I napped as well.  Food was brought to me, kids were kept at a distance so I could sleep, and things were fantastically relaxing.  Max decided he was going to be ROBOT MAX for the day (he places a colored box over his head and says “ROBOT MAX” to everything) which is great because you can give him commands and he will execute his duties…he also takes tiny steps and is easy to chase if need be.  If he takes off running it usually ends abruptly with him going box first into a wall or inanimate object.  I love ROBOT MAX.

The afternoon was spent at my parent’s house where family play-time was bountiful.  “Papa Doo & G.G.,” as the grand kids call them, have toys that are kept at their house so it is like a reunion every time they go over.  Plus there is the pool…and let me tell you, I think Max might be a fish!  For the past few weekends since summer arrived in Kansas we have been working on Max at the pool.  While he enjoyed the zero depth pool at the YMCA, he has been deathly afraid of any water higher than his waist…till recently.  Once I found the right life vest for him that fit him the way he liked…he began spending more time aquatic than on land.  This is fine with me as I am a water person!

With Max clearly comfortable in the pool I have started working on skills he can use at the lake this summer as well as rules.  The rules are simple:

  • You must wear a life vest if you are by the pool
  • No running no matter what by the pool
  • No getting in the water without an adult

The skills we have been working on are jumping in the water and how to swim.  Swimming is easy in the pool where there are no waves but in the lake there is always some motion and our bay tends to swirl slightly causing everything to drift to the west…like a current.  Max is good at using his legs but hasn’t quite mastered the arms part of the doggy-paddle which he’ll need to navigate the waters of Lake George.  He has become fantastic about jumping in from the side of the pool to my arms and can easily get in and out from the steps…but there are no steps at the lake and the height from the dock to the water is a bit higher.  So I taught Max how to go up and down the ladder in the pool and to jump to me from the diving board.  Pretty awesome for a 2-year-old!

Shortly after that video, Max dove head-first into the water from the diving board and I started teaching him how to dive.  He is fearless.  The other great thing is that he is comfortable swimming in the deep end which is great since the lake is about 6 feet deep off our dock and about 15 feet at the raft.  My biggest fear is him having no fear of the water so at the end of every swimming session I have him take off the vest and step into the pool to me.  He sinks like a rock to the bottom without the life vest and comes scrambling to the top with his arms going and his feet kicking.  I give him a second to recover before he is about to go under again, then I grab him and scoop him up in my arms where we talk about our water safety rules and why we always wear a vest by the water.

Luger SteaksThat night we had a feast.  Peter Luger’s steaks on the grill, dining outside, my boys, my dad, my family…it was great!  I got my dad two goofy cards and a submersible iPhone case like the one used to record the videos above of Max.  Dodge sat in my lap and smiled at me as we drank fine wine and talked about the world.  Then, my dad gave me the look.  I know this look well.  I love this look.  It’s the look that means, “Night swim?”  I nodded back and we slowly snuck away from the table and cleaning duties.  It was our day…why not.  Three generations of boys climbed into the pool as the stars lit up the sky and the water cooled our bodies.  It was perfect.

Gates Boys PoolIts true…every day of the year is “Kid’s Day.”  Yesterday was my favorite Father’s Day with my dad because we got to share the experience together.  I remember him teaching me to swim, playing games with me, and also how we gave him some time off to just relax.  I thought Father’s Day was just about the relaxing part…but after my morning of napping I got itchy feet and wanted to do something fun with my kids.  I wanted to feel like a dad on Father’s Day.  There is no finer feeling than having fun with your child and feeling them hug you.  As I tucked Max in to bed 2 hours past his bedtime he told me, unprompted, that he loved me.  He looked me right in the eyes and said, “I love you Dada.”  Nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.  I squeezed him tight and asked if he had a fun Father’s Day?  He said, “Yup, let’s do it again tomorrow.”  I explained it was once a year and then I asked him a question I should have asked when the day began, “Max, do you know what Father means?”  He had no idea.  I explained that “Father” is another word for “Dada.”  He replied, “…and Mama is the other father.”  No,” I explained, “Mama is the mother.”  You could see him realize what Mother’s Day had been all about and what Father’s Day meant.  He hugged me once more and whispered in my ear, “I love you Dada…Mama’s my sweetheart.”  I called Kate into the room and asked him to repeat what he had just said and he did, “You’re my sweetheart Mama.”  Best feeling ever!!!  There is no better feeling than knowing your child loves you…but hearing it means all the world.

Mom…Dad…I love you.  I know you have taken on the roles of being grandparents to my and my sister’s kids but you will always be our parents.  Mom, you are MY sweetheart.  Dad, I will always go night swimming with you.  I love you both and I can’t thank you enough for spending my childhood teaching me how to be a parent now.  I am simply following your example and in return…my sons love me.  Thank you.  Happy Father’s Day.  Happy Mother’s Day.  Every day is kids day…but it should be Parent’s Day.  I love you.

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Dodge’s First Few Hours

1 Mar

Dodge’s first few hours have been very calm and he is a happy guy. He went skin-to-skin immediately after delivery and rooted right away. He fed immediately and is in great health. So far the first 12 hours of his life have been full of eating, sleeping, and being held by grandparents. Very precious time and we are looking forward to taking him home Sunday morning.

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Twas The Day After Christmas

26 Dec
Twas the day after Christmas, when all through the house,
Every creature was stirring, me, my two-year-old, and spouse;
The stockings were empty, dismantled without care,
In them had been 2 planes, an elephant, a cow and a bear;
Max (the two-year-old) had arisen from his bed;
With visions of more presents dancing in his head;
And mamma in her sweatpants, and I in my slacks,
Had just woken our brains from a night of relax,
When up on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the toilet to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The sun on the breast of the iced-over window,
Gave a lustre of deception to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a bird building a nest in my roof’s rotting veneer,
With a flap of its wings so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment I must rid myself of this pestering dick.
More rapid than eagles to the window I sprang,
And shoo’d the bird while calling it names:
“You pest! You rat! You belong in the trees!
You foul, fowl carrying worms and disease!
Get out of my attic, fly away from my roof!
Now dash away! Dash away! You’re as bad as Shia LaBeouf!”
Last night we had watched Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull,
When Shia and Harrison had acted quite dull;
So out through the window I climbed without fun,
With a hand full of plastic, and a staple gun—
And then, in a twinkling, I heard in the ceiling,
The flapping and flopping of each little wing.
As I poked out my head, and was turning around,
Away flew the bird who flew to the ground.
He was quite pissed off being evicted to the cold,
Inside had been warm with rotting wood and new mold;
A pre-holiday construction project that had slowed to a sputter,
And left me with a house that did not have a gutter.
His eyes—how they burned beneath his down so furry!
His beak became pert with hated and fury!
I fired a few staples into the wood that was solid,
And celebrated my victory with a full volume holla;
The entrance to his lair now covered in plastic,
I rid my family of the bird with a move quite gymnastic;
I closed up the window and locked in the heat,
Then stepped on a pointy new toy that punctured my feet.
The two-year-old cried at the obscenities I did shout,
As I fell on the floor while writing about;
Max wanted more toys, more presents, more Santa,
But all he got was some yogurt and a banana;
Christmas was over and we all felt the sadness,
Of the letdown the day after the holiday madness,
Kate tried to stay happy with peppermint tea,
While I took a pill to combat my ongoing anxiety;
I sprang to my car, to my family I gave a whistle,
And away I flew like the down of a thistle.
Back to work I went, ere I drove out of sight—
“Happy Day After Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
The Gates Family Christmas Tree

The Gates Family Christmas Tree (The Night Before Christmas)

A Happy Max and Dada on Christmas 2012

A Happy Max and Dada on Christmas 2012

Life In Daddy’s Shoes

21 Nov

I have to be careful where I leave my shoes as they quickly get snatched up by Max and become a toy.  There is something that captivates children when it comes to dressing up in their parent’s clothes.  I can remember my sister dressing up in my mom’s clothes when we were little and I’d slip on my dad’s shoes and wonder if my feet would ever be big enough to fill them.  Now, Max is doing the same…and it is an adorable reminder of how much these little guys look up to us and emulate us.  It makes me want to be a better dad…and it also makes me check my shoes for rogue Tonka Cars the way a cowboy checks for scorpions in the desert.  Max has gotten quite good at walking around the house in my shoes which is an odd sight because visually it kind of works…like clown shoes.

The truth is he is pretending to be me.  He plays pretend car and drives to work.  He says things like “Come on Chiefs!” whenever football is on.  Whatever I am having for dinner…make it a double, Max wants that too.  It’s not hard to imagine.  Here I am 33 years old going out to lunch with my dad and when the waiter asks me what I want I say “I’ll have the same.”  At least 25% of my wardrobe has to be hand-me-down shirts from my dad.  Is it any wonder that my soul beckons to be back at Lake George every day and I obsess over the Wichita State Shockers?  They were my dad’s passion’s first…and now they are mine.  I wonder what Max’s will be?

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