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Dodge’s 2nd Birthday

2 Mar

IMG_5687It was a week in which my youngest, Dodge, grew up in many ways culminating to his 2nd birthday on Sunday.  Dodge is a soft-spoken little boy with soft straw blonde hair and piercingly blue eyes.  He can melt your heart with a smile, he squeezes hard when he hugs, and when he wants something like candy he turns into a screaming devil.  He sleeps stomach down in his bed with his feet on his pillow and his face towards the foot of the bed with his tiny rump protruding into the air.  He spends a good majority of the day pretending he’s a dog with his tongue hanging out, panting, woofing, and occasionally licking things like household objects that shouldn’t be licked.  He’s spent the last two years fending off his older brother, Max, who is almost a foot taller than him and thunderously affectionate to the point of smothering.  He’s shorter, stockier, and has sharp elbows.  We call him “Big D” or “Dodgeball” depending on the situation.  He’s a fantastic little boy on the verge of passing through toddlerhood into boyhood.

Dodge’s 2 year coronation began midweek when he decided to casually toss the F-bomb into conversation at about 7:15 AM to see if he was using it correctly.  “Time to put your shoes on Dodge,” my wife Kate told him.  Dodge smiled wide and happily replied, “Fuck that!”  The look on his face after can only be called sheer joy.  He awaited applause from us as if we were going to say, “Good job!  You used that correctly!”  In his defense…the context was perfect.  He didn’t want to put on his shoes.  However, he’s 2 and gets timeouts for arguing…this got him grounded and there were multiple conversations to follow.

20150301_154547On Saturday Dodge and Max (who is 4) were cooped up inside after snow and sleet covered the land.  They were running back and forth through the living room and slamming into the chairs…trying to knock them over…as boys do.  After successfully knocking a few things over I sent them upstairs to play.  They share a room, there are tons of toys up there, and they can bounce off the walls for all I care…and they did.  They had a great time and played together fantastically.  Then I heard Dodge scream…I mean screeeeeeam!  I ran to the bottom of the stairs to find Max and Dodge standing at the top of the stairs fighting over a toy that Dodge had and Max wanted back.  Max tried to take it away and Dodge hit him.  Max, stunned for a second, hit him back.  Then it happened.  They stood toe-to-toe and started trading punches back and forth.  Tiny fists!  Tiny smacks!  Both had their eyes closed and their arms extended as their little heads popped back every now and then as the other landed a blow.  I was not prepared for this, this is too soon for fist fights!  “Hey!”  I shouted from the bottom of the stairs as I made my way up.  They stopped hitting, and Dodge took this opportunity to hit Max in the side of the head with the toy in what you could call either a cheap shot, a winning move, or a reminder that though he is smaller…he’s not to be trifled with.  Whatever you call it, the toy now belongs to me and both boys ended up grounded.  The fun part was watching how fast they went from enemies to friends working together to get out of being grounded.  I remember it well from days past with my sister.

Then Sunday came.  The big day.  Dodge was 2.  We started off by going to the YMCA to swim in the kid pool where Dodge invented a game where all the adults were crocodiles and he was coming to get us.  It was hysterically fun and the look on his face as he said, “I’m gonna get you!” was priceless.  As always, I slipped away to the deep pool with Max to honor my agreement with him.  Plain and simple: I take Max swimming in the shallow kid pool so long as each time he lets me work with him on real swimming in the deep pool.  We did our usual with the swim board, worked on getting his feet up while kicking, and dunking our head under water.  Then we put the swim board aside and I held Max as he swam with my help.  Then it happened…on Dodge’s 2nd birthday in the YMCA pool.  I felt Max drifting away from my hand…he was swimming.  So I let go.  At first he panicked…then he started kicking and wham!  Swimming.  No vest.  No help needed.  Swimming.  He swam about 10 feet, pretty awesome for his first time.  He did it a few times.  Each time he swam better than before.  It was awesome.

20150301_154554After the Y the boys were wiped and went down for a nap which gave us the time to set up for Dodge’s “Uptown Funk Dance Party” themed birthday.  We had disco lights, balloons, Uptown Funk on the TV, cool sunglasses, cake, cupcakes, and more.  Kate’s parents got Dodge a fedora like the one Bruno Mars wears in the music video and he excitedly donned it as he showed off his sweet dance moves.  He and Max danced, they shouted out their favorite part (“Call the police and the Fireman!”), and it was awesome.  Dodge wore his fedora all day and was keenly aware that it was HIS birthday.  He wore the fedora in the car, he wore it at dinner that night, and he would have gone to bed with it had we not told him it would get smooshed.

As I stroked his straw blonde hair and watched his piercingly blue eyes drift off to La La Land that night I asked him, “Dodge…how old are you.”  He smiled at me and said, “I’m two!”  Then he held up eight fingers.  Close enough.  I told him about the day he was born and how excited I was to meet him.  I told him about how Max held him when he was one day old and kissed his forehead.  I told him how stubborn he was even back then.  I told him about the first time I held him.  Then I told him what I tell both my boys every night:

Dada loves you no matter what.  There is nothing you can do to make me stop loving you or love you less.  Every day I love you more, my love is a tree that grows and grows.  You are special, there isn’t another person like you anywhere in the world.  You are the only you and I love you.

Dodge cuddling Luna, our cat.

Dodge cuddling Luna, our cat.

Then Dodge squeezed me extra hard and kissed my cheek.  “Love you Dada.”  He replied.  I tucked Max in and congratulated him on his swimming accomplishments, sang them their favorite song, blew kisses, and said the same thing I say every night, “Night, night.  Sleep tight.  Don’t let the bed bugs bite.  I’ll see you in my dreams tonight.  I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my babies you’ll be.”  Both boys rolled over and yawned.  “I love you!”  I said.  “LOVE YOOOOUU!!!”  They shout back together.  “See you for breakfast,” I said as I closed the door to their room, “Happy Birthday Dodge.”  Then…silence.  Then, “I’m two!”  I imagine 8 fingers were held up victoriously in the air.

It’s good to be the Dada.

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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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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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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.

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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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