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Back To School

17 Aug

While putting in 10-14 hour days at the office isn’t my definition of a “fun time,” I do appreciate the fact that it is a change of scenery that affords me perspective on family, parenthood, and my children (2 and 4) I might not get if I were home all day with the boys.  My wife Kate, however, spent the summer home with them…and we agree they are gremlins.  Adorable, sweet, loving, terrifying gremlins.  They have grown up so much and are sooooo sweet!  But don’t turn your back on them…they’ll eat you alive and they always travel as a pair.  I’m not sure if we fed them after midnight, maybe they were exposed to bright lights, and we definitely got them wet since we spent the summer at the pool…but whatever mogwai was left in them has turned to full-on terrifying gremlin as they decimate the small town of Kingston Falls that is Kate’s and my sanity.

We have looked forward to today for a while, Kate more than me.  Today is the first day of school!  For both the boys and Kate.  Everyone is out of the house!!!  We took those gremlins to get haircuts yesterday, bought them school supplies, drenched them in soap, polished them up and…tada!  Cute little boys again!  So please, help me congratulate my wife Kate…she survived the summer and didn’t go crazy despite the constant barrage of…

“Ma! Mama! Ma! Mama! Maaaaaa! Mamaaaaa! Ma! Ma! Ma! Ma! Maaaaaaaaa…!”


“Watch me!”


School’s back bitches…and I know one Mama who’s stoked to be back at the head of a college classroom.


Dodge & Max heading to their first day of school, Fall 2015

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Turning 4 Years Old

26 Jan

birthday4Since about late August Max has asked almost every day when he will turn 4 years old.  “Is it today Dada?”  He asks in that sweet voice of his.  I reply, “No Max, today is Halloween.”  He nods in agreement, “Right Dada because my birthday is January 26 and today is Halloween which is…”  He leaves the sentence open-ended for me to finish, “October 31.”  “Right Dada…so January 26 is…?”  “3 months away.”  Max nods in agreement and starts counting on his fingers as if he’s calculating how much fuel Apollo 13 needed for a safe return trip to Earth…or as he calls it, “Urf.”

Thanksgiving came around and we again had to explain that his birthday was still 2 months away.  It was about this time that Max stopped referring to himself as a three-year old and starting calling himself “Almost 4.”  It reminded me of when my wife Kate and I moved to Wichita and would then travel.  People would ask where we were from and we’d reply, “Wichita, Kansas…but we just moved there from New York.”  It was our little qualifier (like Max’s) that the answer was more complicated than a single word.

Three?  No…oh no.  “Almost 4.”  “Almost Wichita.”

Max's Christmas Croup

Max spent Christmas in the E.R. with a bad case of croup that gave us all a scare.  Turned out a little steroids and some lollipops were all he needed to ask if his birthday was coming soon.  “Well Max,” I replied, “Today is Christmas and you have plenty of toys…I wouldn’t worry about presents for a while.”  Putting on his serious face he answered, “Well, Dada…today is December 25 and my birthday is January 26 so is next month January?”  It was a good question.  “Yes, next month is January.”  Max smiled.  “Almost 4.”

IMG_5124Since New Years it has been a daily part of our family routine to take Max to the calendar and show him how many days and/or weeks are left till his birthday.  He has asked his grandparents, his teachers, and even the servers when we dine out.  Turning 4 has consumed him.  Finally Kate and I asked, “Max what do you want to do for your birthday?”  There was no pregnant pause.  There was no air between our question and his answer.  Max had planned his fourth birthday down to the minute…and it was an exact repeat of his third birthday.  “I want to go to the airplane museum, play inside the airplane cockpits, eat cake and open presents in the big room, then we’ll go see the big airplanes inside, then we’ll go up to the control tower, and then we’ll go outside and race on the tarmac and the first one to touch the nose of the big airplane wins.”  This was very clear direction.  Kate replied, “Well, Max…that’s exactly what you did last year. Don’t you want to do something different?”  He did not.  Kate looked to me and shrugged.  I shrugged back.  Airplane museum ahoy!  Max was about to run off he turned and told us the 2 things he wanted different this year: (1) He wanted his friend Kellen to be there and (2) he wanted a “Dusty Crophopper Birthday Cake with pontoons (not wheels) when he’s painted red for Planes Fire and Rescue the movie.”  Kate and I nodded in amazement when Max added, “Strawberry…I want it to be strawberry inside.”  This was a three-year old kid (“Almost 4”) who knew what he wanted.

Birthday4_02We made the reservation at the Kansas Aviation Museum, Kate made the cake, I picked up snacks, and on Saturday Max orchestrated the repeat of last year’s birthday with a slight change of cake and a new friend.  His friend Edie showed up and I said, “Wow! Edie, you’ve gotten so tall! How old are you?”  Very matter-of-factly she replied, “Five and a half.”  That half was very important.  (“Almost 4”)  The kids had cake, played in the flight simulators, opened presents, and then Max said, “This is the part where we go to the control tower.”  So we went to the control tower.  The kids laughed and played while looking down at the planes on the tarmac as the adults marveled at the 360 degree views.  Then Max said, “This is the part where we go race on the tarmac!”  So we went down 4 flights of stairs to the tarmac where the kids ran back and forth racing while the adults mingled around a 747 with an open fuselage.  Then Max said, “This is when we go back inside to play!”  So we went back inside to play while one by one the guests said their goodbyes and went home till it was just family.  Then I said, “This is when we go home and take a nap!”  Turns out he forgot that part from last year.





Over the weekend Max played with his friends, was showered with affection from his grandparents, played with his little brother Dodge, and was adorned with love from Kate and I.  It was a fantastic birthday weekend…but today (Monday the 26th) is the actual day.  Max is enjoying snacks with his classmates right now that Kate made as they all sing him “Happy Birthday.”  Not too shabby.  For his birthday I got him two books, “The Gruffalo” and “The Gruffalo’s Child.”  They are his two favorite short films so I thought it would be fun to remind him that they were books first.

In hopes that someday this is all still out there online or in print…here is a birthday note to you Max:

Everyday you impress me and frustrate me.  The things that frustrate me are petty and my own issues to work through as a father.  The things that impress me are vast, seemingly more vast than what the normal four-year old comprehends.  You are sweet.  You are thoughtful and caring.  You think of others.  You are imaginative.  You are expressive.  You are so well spoken that I feel guilty when correcting you when you misuse past tenses in sentences, but I know you soak up this knowledge like a sponge.  You look like me…you look so much like me sometimes is scares me.  You wear your emotions on your sleeve (like me) which can sometimes lead to tantrums but more often than not is the birthplace of some of the sweetest things I’ve ever heard another human being say.  You are full of love.  You have so many questions and I love answering them…or trying to answer them.  You are growing into such an amazing little boy and as I celebrate your progress I can’t help but miss the past.  You were my little snuggly nugget…my “snugget.”  I remember the first time I held you, the first time you smiled, your first sounds, the first time you called me “Dada,” when you learned to do things on your own, and how much you have grown in just 4 years.  4 years!  Its happening so fast!  Yesterday you were crawling and today you gave me a high-five on your way out the door and said, “See you later dude!”  Thank you for being my son and teaching me how to be a dad.  Because of you I have found new perspective on life and discovered my place in the world.  Because of you I am able to be a father to your little brother Dodge and not repeat “mistakes” I may have made on you.  Because of you I feel a sense of accomplishment no matter what happens with my day, because if I get to be your and Dodge’s dad I know I’m doing something right.  Yesterday I tucked you both in to bed.  Per the current routine there was much snuggling, hugs, kisses, and your favorite: “Back scratchies!”  As I closed the door to your room (after ensuring there were no monsters under the bed) I spoke out load to myself and said, “I know I’m not perfect…but I think I’m pretty good at being a dad.”  That is thanks to you and Dodge making me feel loved, and me making sure you know how loved you are as well.  You’re my angel Max.  You’re my buddy.  You told me that even though I’m your Dada we could still be best friends…forever.  I agree.  I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine.  Happy Birthday sweetheart.  Only 365 days till you turn 5!  :)  Let’s slow down and enjoy 4, it only happens once.  I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.



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So Long 2014!

2 Jan

Its been a heck of a year filled with up and downs…as life should be.  So Long Freedom began 2014 with a post entitled “Parenting On A Plane,” a look at some of the rules we created for our then 2-year-old (Max) and ways to enforce them.  Max was on the verge of turning 3 and we had no idea that the “Terrible Threes” would put the “Terrible Twos” to shame.  Dodge was 10 months old and referred to as “The Octopus” because he grabbed everything within his reach…seemingly with a multitude of arms.  Time moved forward and the blog marched on.  I adjusted to being Midwestern, my sister got married and landed a role on NBC’s “The Blacklist,” Dodge began using baby sign language, one of my music videos won a few awards, and Max turned 3.  Max turned 3!  Wasn’t it yesterday I posted a sonogram photo of him on here as this journey began?  Dodge learned to walk just before his first birthday, I co-founded an arts organization with my wife and great friend, my beloved Wichita State Shockers went undefeated in the regular season, Max began throwing temper tantrums, and Kate and I instigated the “Good Behavior Chart.”  Max discovered the freedom of playing alone outside, Dodge ate dirt, I finally identified with Wichita as my home, my anxiety got substantially better, the boys took their first bike ride, we adopted and rescued an ornate box turtle, and we returned an ornate box turtle to the wild when we realized they are a terrible pet and it is against the law to “rescue” them.  Max rode a horse for the first time, Dodge started biting, Max got bit by Dodge a few times, Dodge started talking, Max started playing with Dodge by the pool, and Dodge learned that he doesn’t float.  Dodge switched to a forward facing car seat, Max got a booster seat for the car, we vacationed on Lake George, and Dodge learned again that he doesn’t float.  My dad’s best friend and surrogate uncle to me passed away…I love you Ali, thank you for reading with me in your final days on Earth – reminding me there are things bigger than my understanding of the world.  A few weeks later my grandma Dawn passed away…goodnight Grandma, I love you now and always and will always think of you when I have pancakes.  My pear tree had a bumper crop year, I hit my mid 30’s, Max and Dodge saw their first movie in a movie theater, the boys started roughhousing, Dodge started daycare, and Kate rediscovered what its like to not have 2 kids clinging to you all day long.  I made a hand-developed black & white Super 8mm film in under 24 hours as part of a film race which was selected to the Tallgrass Film Festival where it won the audience award for its showcase.  I lost Max in a crowd.  I found Max.  I cried.  I voted in the midterm elections, Harvester Arts found great success, and my 9-year-old nephew (Jake) humbled me when he wrote a Thanksgiving essay at school about how he was thankful for me, his Uncle Boo Boo.  Max got his first haircut in a salon, I lost my bacon, I got new bacon, and lest we forget from the Lay’s Salt & Vinegar Chips letters…don’t come between me and my food.

Max's Christmas Croup

Max’s Christmas Croup

…and that’s just what happened on this site.  Max got croup on Christmas, Uncle Mark brought out the best in our family over the holidays, and our best friends bought a house 4 blocks from our house…3 minute walk…amazing!  In 3 weeks Max turns 4 years old.  That little schmoop!  He’s turning 4!!!  Max is fully potty trained and sleeping in a twin bed…across the room is another twin bed where Dodge sleeps, and he’s started asking to use the potty on his own in the past few weeks.  Dodge turns 2 years old in 2 months.  My nephew turned 10!  There are 2 major milestone birthdays coming up in my family but that’s not my place to say…never discuss age and politics, right?  Yesterday the company I work for nearly tripled in size and I was humbled to be asked to move up in to a senior director position, something I have been working towards for the past few years.  Our cat is dying…not today, but probably this year.  Luna is 17 and time has simply caught up with her, Kate and I are doing everything we can to make her happy and comfortable.  Both boys will be in school, work schedules look to be insane, and 2015 is looking like the year our little family turns the corner and finds our own identity with each other.  Its been a great year…and 2015 has potential to be even better.  Through it all, the best moments of 2014 were the ones I’ve shared with my loved ones…the simple things.  Oddly, the highlight of the year was my grandmother Dawn’s passing.  Her passing was a relief because I know she was in pain and it eases my soul to know that pain is gone.  It simply was her time and she left behind a great legacy and a life too funny and complex to ever fit into a blog.  Her passing allowed me one last trip to Lake George where I was able to visit my favorite spot, feel the sun on my back one more time, feel the water on my toes, the air in my hair, and say goodbye.  Not just to her, but to the lake…which always feels like home, but Wichita IS my home.  I dove down deep in the water and retrieved a stone from under the Commission Island buoy.  It is mossy.  It is orange.  It is my little slice of home.  When I feel lonely or sad I hold this stone and I can remember EXACTLY how I felt that sunny day…Sunday, August 3rd…sun on my back, water on my toes, and wind in my hair.  It is the moment I will always think of when I look back on this year.  It is the nexus of all the events of the year.

So long 2014.

Me and Grandma, 1980.

Me and Grandma, 1980.

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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.


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!


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.


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 (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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