Tag Archives: dodge

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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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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Forward-Facing Car Seats and the Ornate Box Turtle Refugee

2 Jun
Max & Dodge Back Seat

Facing Forward

This weekend my wife Kate and I loaded the kids into the back seat of the car and drove to St. Louis and back for a wedding.  We knew it was going to be rough since its about an 8 hour drive from Wichita and Dodge (1) isn’t a fan of being stuck in a car seat too long.  Max (3) is a road warrior and just watches the world go by outside his window, plays nicely, naps, and is a delight.  Dodge, to my surprise, traveled VERY well on this trip and I think Max’s presence is rubbing off on him.  However, the main reason Dodge did as well as he did is because this was his first ever experience riding in a forward-facing car seat…and wow did he love it!

Stretching Out

Stretching Out

His feet have been dangling out of his rear-facing car seat for weeks and my back seat is covered with his foot prints from kicking the backrest.  He was ready so we figured this would be a great time to test it out.  I strapped him in and took him for a spin around the block first to see how he reacted.  I heard squeaks from the back seat that at first I thought were cries, then I looked back and saw what was going on…uncontrollable glee and laughter.  Apparently facing forward in the car is the coolest thing since ice cream.  We added Max to his regular seat and the two of them played, looked out the window, and were happy little boys.  For us it was so much easier handing back food, toys, books, etc. throughout the trip and Dodge was content to sit for longer periods of time because he could see where he was going.

Max's Horse Ride

Max’s Horse Ride

We drove 8 hours on Friday with 1 major stop, getting us in at 2 AM.  Dodge slept in the car while Max looked out the window and pretended to be Lightning McQueen from the movie Cars searching for Mack along the interstate.  They partied hard at the wedding where Max rode a horse danced for about 2 hours straight and worked up a kid-sweat so stank-a-bunch we had to bathe both boys when we got back to the hotel that night.  Sunday we made our way back west and stopped off at our usual location: Ozarkland just off of I-70.  It is our regular stop.  We snag lunch at the McDonald’s next door which has a playground so the kids can burn off some energy, then we go to Ozarkland where Max picks out a small toy to play with on the drive home, and we usually get home around 4 PM with a stop for gas around Olathe, KS.  This time Dodge picked out a toy too and Kate and I decided it was too nice of a day to not go the scenic route…so we pointed the car south towards Jefferson City and then headed towards Lake of the Ozarks.  Somewhere along the route I did the math and realized I spent 18 hours driving, 18 hours awake, and 12 hours sleeping.  The 50/50 ratio of sleep to awake time was intense but at least I got to take the scenic route.

ozarkland

Growing up playing in Lake George nestled at the feet of the Adirondack Mountains…I’m never impressed by Lake of the Ozarks which is a dammed up river filled with mud, debris, and lots of chop.  However, the surrounding terrain of the Ozarks as you head west on 54 has amazing overlooks and moments where you forget you are in the Midwest.  It is a beautiful drive.  Max passed out somewhere around Macks Creek and Dodge followed suit around El Dorado Springs.  Kate and I bumbled along pointing out wildlife, enjoying the curves in the road, and counting the amount of armadillo road-kill along the route.  I never knew there were so many armadillos in Missouri.  We saw llamas, reindeer, deer, hawks, turkey buzzards, an eagle, kites, cattle, horses, sheep, chickens, rainbows and all the fun stuff that city kids miss out on.  The boys woke up and we pointed things out to them as we passed.  We stopped off in Iola, KS for root beer floats at the A&W and one last restroom stop before the home stretch to Wichita.  Then it began…

The astounding amount of Missouri armadillo death along 54 between Jefferson City and Nevada was rapidly eclipsed by Kansas’ squashed turtle death along 54 between Iola and El Dorado.  I’d swerve the car to avoid these little guys and my boys would ask why I was swerving.  We told them there were turtles in the road and this confused them greatly.  Then I decided to make Kate put her money where her mouth was.  She constantly talks about her family’s policy growing up that any found reptile or small animal could live in the bathtub for 1 night and then be set free.  I said we should rescue a turtle.  Kate…not a fan.  I reminded her of the bathtub.  She pointed out the turtle she wanted to save.  We picked him up from the center of the road on 54 just north of Toronto, KS.  The boys named him “Dusty” from their favorite movie, Planes.  Dusty had been scuffed by a car at some point but was not squished or missing any appendages.  I gently made a quiet home for him in a box and we brought him home.

Front Yard Ducks

Ducks in the front yard greeting us home.

Upon arriving home I found I was the only person on the block who did not mow my lawn over the weekend…and my lawn was now inhabited by ducks.  Max asked if we could keep the ducks too and I told him if he could catch one we could.  He chased…they flew…I laughed.  Then I looked up Dusty to see what I could find out about him.  From what I can tell he is probably a she based on the coloration of her eyes.  She’s an “Ornate Box Turtle” which is Kansas’ State Reptile.  They live about 50 years though some live to be about 100.  While popular in pet stores because born in captivity, wild box turtles may not adjust well if removed from their micro habitat which they may search for the rest of their life.  My heart sank reading this.  Online there are websites dedicated to reasons why NOT to take home wild box turtles and websites dedicated to HOW to care for wild box turtles and how they can make for a great pet.  As I type this I am sure those who believe in NOT keeping wild box turtles will be commenting on this.  It is also illegal to sell or transport box turtles out of Kansas.  In some instances it is illegal to keep them.  Here is what I found:

“Because of the overall threats to these fascinating animals, there are restrictions on their use. Neither of the Kansas box turtle species may be bought or sold in Kansas or be transported out of the state for sale (K.S.A. 32-1002 and K.S.A. 32-1005). Kansas regulations (K.A.R. 115-20-20) do permit the legal keeping of up to five individuals of each of these species providing the keeper has a valid hunting license or is exempt from needing one. Therefore, any person under 16 years of age or older than 65 may legally keep up to five each under their own possession.”

Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism

Since I have a valid Kansas hunting license, only have 1 box turtle, and have no intention of transporting or selling this turtle I’m not breaking the law.  Here is our current plan for Dusty:

  1. We brought her home so we’re going to see how she does for a day or so
  2. She ate a bunch of lettuce, ate a slug, and drank some water last night
  3. We are going to create a real habitat for her in the back yard this week

If he/she does well and seems content (she’s still small/young) we will consider keeping her.  If she does not do well or seems disoriented I know exactly which mile marker I was at when I picked her up and we’ll make a day trip adventure with the kids to take Dusty home next weekend.  I’d personally like to keep her.  I don’t want the kids over handling her or scaring her but I like the idea of them learning to observe her.  That said, if she’s not going to do better in captivity I’ll return her home.  The conundrum for me is that returning her home is probably the right thing to do…but 5 more minutes on that road and she would have been squished.  If we put her back who’s to say she won’t just get squished a few days later?  So if she can be happy with us…isn’t that better than being squished?  We shall see.  Till then, Dusty is on vacation in the back yard and the first reptile we’ve brought home.  What do you think, should Dusty stay with us or should we make a 3 hour day trip to return her home?

Click HERE to find out what happened next.

"Dusty" the Kansas Ornate Box Turtle

“Dusty,” the gender confused Kansas Ornate Box Turtle

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Dodge’s First Bike Ride

20 May

NCFD_Fullpage_templatesWeekends are a time (as a father of 2) to eat things covered in melted cheese, grow a quick beard, and wear basketball shorts like women wear yoga pants.  Its my fatness time.  In my basketball shorts and un-tucked & over-sized tee-shirt I might seem athletic to the FedEx guy or neighbors when I answer the door…but I’m not…I’m relaxing…horizontal style.  However, I peeled myself away from couch patrol to take the kids on a bike ride to the park with Mom, and it was fun.  Dodge (1) had yet to ride in the trailer and Max (3) wasn’t a fan the first time we took him out when he was little.  Turns out the key to success is brotherly love.  The two of them shoved each other, tickled each other, invented games, made screeching sounds, and pretty much had a blast as I towed them down the bike trail.  Every bump in the trail was greeted with hysterical laughter from the rolling 60 lb kid bucket behind me.  They cheered for me to go faster as I lost my breath going up a gentle incline and shouted with glee when we banked around corners on the downhill.  My poor heart pounded rapidly asking me “Why?  Why?  Why?!!!  Why are you doing this…don’t you know you took a blood pressure pill a few hours ago?”  Then the athlete I used to be started to kick back in and reminded me of how I used to ride my bike to work, how I used to go to the gym 3 times a week, and how I used to only order melty cheese things once a week.  “I can do this!  I could bike everywhere!  Cars suck!  This is AMAZING!”

Dodge lost interest soon after Max started a game called “Kick Dodge.”  The wind began to howl and the final push home took everything out of me as I towed those kids down our street and into the driveway against 40 mph gusts.  My wife rolled in next to me with a huge smile on her face…my chest made a smiley face of sweat back at her.  The kids ran in the yard, I chopped down a tree that had died, and everyone napped hard that afternoon.  It was Dodge’s first bike ride…and I can’t wait to do it again.

Max & Dodge in the bike trailer for Dodge's first bike ride.

Max & Dodge in the bike trailer for Dodge’s first bike ride.

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Giving Kids Freedom To Explore & Be Alone

9 Apr

silo1I grew up in what is now a well-know neighborhood on the east side of Wichita just outside of Andover, KS.  We moved there when I was 9 and back then, it was just a culdesac of houses out in the middle of some fields.  In time, the city grew around it as did other neighborhoods.  I remember when they dug the underpass for the highway.  I remember when the fields I used to play in became a gas station.  I remember when they knocked down the old silo we used to climb to build a housing development.  I remember when they built a bank next to the pond where I used to go to catch wild turkeys.  Everything changed.  The fields of prairie grass I used to run through as a boy on the outskirts of Wichita are now a laundromat, a hotel, condos, and the K-96/Kansas Turnpike Interchange.  It was inevitable…Wichita was (and is) a city rapidly expanding, searching for her borders.

sandpilesWhen I was 9 I would come home from school, grab my bike, and head out the door to the familiar tune of my mother’s voice saying, “Be back in time for dinner!”  That was it.  “Be back in time for dinner.”  Simple.  What was there to be worried about?  We were kids surrounded by fields with dirt bikes.  We were free.  Our parents didn’t hover over us, ask a million questions, and go play with us on a injury-proof playground.  They trusted us…like their parents had trusted them.  My sneaker-clad feet peddled as hard and fast as I could as my Huffy BMX dirt bike whisked me away to…well…the dirt.  That’s where dirt bikes go!  For us it was “The Sandpit.”  The Sandpit was a few acres of fields, trees, streams, thorn bushes, and giant 50 foot high piles of sand for the golf course that occupied the majority of the rural block my neighborhood was located in.  Later in life we’d race go-carts here, build airplanes from broken pallets and scrap wood, and rickety tree forts 30 feet above the ground.  We’d set off fireworks, catch frogs, have stick fights, have real fights, and just…be…kids.

That place doesn’t exist anymore.

When the brick walls of the new housing development sign went up and the fields were dug into deep pits for future ponds, it was the end of an era.  It was also the end of a certain way of parenting.  The dangers of life were catching up to us (or so we may say).  The Sandpit is now a winding row of mansions where the wealthiest of Wichita reside with golf course views, private ponds, water fountains, statues, and smooth sidewalks.  Parents ride bikes with their kids as SUVs slowly crawl along the street giving way to golf-carts.  There are no sticks to be found for stick fighting.  There is no dirt to play in, only manicured lawns.  No one has started a bonfire in the woods for over 2 decades…they’d be arrested!  It is Suburbia.

Dodge in the backyard

Dodge in the backyard

I was recently sitting in the backyard of my house with friends discussing how things have changed.  My boys played in the background as they climbed on their fort, kicked soccer balls, and pretended to be race cars.  The discussion was about how people (myself included at times) had become hover parents despite our efforts to not helicopter around.  I pride myself on not hovering, but circumstances simply don’t allow it (or so we may say).  We live in a neighborhood with city traffic, though our street is a quiet tree-lined family street, we are just 1 block off a major thoroughfare.  I have a fence and inside the confines of my yard…anything goes.  Outside?  “Max…stay close to Dada!  Dodge, take that out of your mouth!”  I am a hover parent.  Hover-ish.  I don’t lord over my kids at the playground and follow them around…but I do recognize dangerous potential and try to steer them away from it.  However, if I see one of them is going to fall and get hurt I tend to let it slide.  Not the kind of hurt where we go to the hospital but the kind of hurt where you skin a knee or bonk your head.  The kind of hurt you learn from.  I stop other parents from stopping my kid.  “Let them fall.”  I say.  Then they do.  Then they cry.  So I ask them, “What happened?”  They tell me, and by the time they are done explaining they are not in pain anymore.  I ask them, “Are you okay?”  They say they are.  I ask them if they want to keep playing and off they go.  Whatever hurt them before they are now naturally cautious of because they learned.  Sitting on the back porch Max trips and falls hands first and gives himself a stinger in the arm.  Dodge later walks without looking and bonks his head on the patio table.  My wife Kate and I brush it off and the kids do too.  Turns out the other couple sitting with us has just read the same article we have.  Their kids are all grown up so we have a perfect generational gap to discuss between their parents, my parents, their childhood, our childhood, their kids’ childhood, and our kids’ childhood.  It makes for fantastic conversation over beers and the first sunny day of Spring.  The discussion is spurred by 2 things:

  1. An article about an adventure playground in Wales called “The Land”
  2. Our visit to the Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plain, KS that morning
Photo by Hanna rosin at "The Land"

Photo by Hanna Rosin at “The Land”

The article about “The Land” is one of my most favorite reads in recent history and I highly recommend it.  It is a long read so settle in.  However, it is an amazing recounting of how we got to become helicopter parents, what inspired it, and how places like “The Land” combat it.  It is called “The Overprotected Kid” in The Atlantic.  In it, the author (Hanna Rosin) tells the story of how the “tornado slide” and other unregulated playground equipment changed the scope of outdoor playtime for our children.  “The Land” is an outdoor space where kids can start fires, dig in the mud, and do what kids do…explore their surroundings.  After having read this amazing article I found myself at the Bartlett Arboretum for a private tour with a dozen other adults…and my two kids: Max (3) and Dodge (1).  Robin Macy, former founder of the Dixie Chicks and current steward of the Arboretum, gave the talk as we adults listened.  Max grew restless…he’s a kid…he could care less about the history of the place or the name of a tree…he just saw open space and wanted to explore.  “I’m going right here to this rock Dada.”  Max told me.  I replied, “Okay.”  I could tell he would soon be going much farther than that rock and was sad that I would miss Robin’s talk.  Then I thought of the article about “The Land” and a simple term Kate and I used to say when people asked why we moved to Kansas from New York:  “Good dirt.”  I remember the first time Max put a wad of Kansas dirt in his mouth and spat it out.  I wasn’t worried about him catching some disease or picking up a shard of glass from living in New York City…I just thought, “good dirt.”  I forgot about that somewhere along the line when Dodge was born and started trying to over manage these kids.  So, at the Bartlett Arboretum on a lovely Saturday morning I decided to see how far Max wanted to go…and man did he go!

Dodge in the pit

Dodge in the pit

At first he started testing me by going a few feet farther and farther away from where he said he would play.  I paid no mind and let him go.  Then he asked, “What’s that?”  Pointing at a garden about 100 feet away.  I explained that it was a garden with paths and if he wanted to stay on the path and take his little brother Dodge with him I didn’t mind if he went exploring.  Max took Dodge by the hand and the two of them explored.  Every now and then I glimpsed over and would catch sight of Max ushering Dodge away from something, playing a game, tossing rocks, and being…boys.  It was hard to not go join in (being a child at heart) but this was important for them.  Max needed to feel responsible for Dodge, and Dodge wanted to know that he had control over things in this tiny world.  When the tour moved into the garden where the boys were I was shocked to see there was a huge stone pit with big rock steps down to it.  My first reaction was not fear…but pride.  I was so proud of my son Max for keeping Dodge away from the pit.  That was what he was doing when he was ushering Dodge around.  He wasn’t playing a game or asserting control for no reason.  He was being a good big brother.  He was doing what brothers do – look out for each other.

Max at the Arboretum

Max at the Arboretum

That was the last I saw of Max for a while.  Dodge wanted to toddle around and Max wanted to run…so Max ran.  He crossed the bridge and headed for the meadow and for the first time in his life went someplace alone in nature.  There were no adults around, no other kids, nothing…just good dirt.  I don’t know where he went but he showed up about 5 minutes later by a grove of trees then took off running again while waving a stick around in the air like a sword.  Our paths intersected at the train depot and he took off running to touch the windmill out in the field by the wood pile.  I suspect he would have kept on going if a train hadn’t come along slowly blowing its whistle and scaring him to death.  It was impossible for him to get to the train as there was a creek, a fence, and a hillock between him and the tracks…but he didn’t know that and came running back to me.  We explored the path by the river together and talked about the trains.  Then we got back to the meadow and he was off again, running through the fields and over the bridges.  I helicoptered over Dodge who was dead set on falling in the creek that day and if it was a little warmer I would have let him just to learn a lesson…though at 1 the propensity for repeat trial and error is high.  Max had the day of his life and has asked about the Arboretum every day since.  It was his first time alone in nature…that is an amazing feeling!  We’ll be going back on a regular basis now.

No More Sandpit

No More Sandpit

The sun was setting on the back porch as we finished our beers and talked about the Arboretum and “The Land.”  We recounted the old days before The Sandpit was a housing development and the sledding hill was a highway.  I asked, “What’s the closest to death you think you came to when we were kids?”  All of us had to think for a long time, not because we had no answer…because we had so many.  For me it was when they dug those pits that would be ponds with fountains one day at The Sandpit.  They made the ponds and the roads first so buyers could see what their view would be like.  For us kids it was still our playground when the construction workers were done and we rode our bikes everywhere.  Winter came and dropped a few inches of ice on everything and blanketed Wichita in a thin veil of snow.  Clad in snow-pants we trudged through the crunchy ice/snow to get to our silo where we hid the treasures we found in the world like lunch pails, golf clubs, and money.  On our way back we took the usual route through The Sandpit we had for years…now directly over one of the ponds.  I remember the sound it made when the ice cracked and how it sounded deep below me like a spring in a tunnel.  It didn’t break at first and I was sure if I kept running I’d be fine.  Then it felt like I was being stabbed all over my body and everything was dark.  Even my eyes felt like they were being stabbed.  I was under the ice.  It was a pond so there was no current and I resurfaced almost immediately though it felt like I was underwater for an hour.  The ice I grabbed onto around the hole broke away and my snow-boots felt like lead weights pulling me down.  I kept grabbing at ice, it kept breaking, and my body went numb and everything slowed.  Then finally a bit of ice didn’t break and I eventually found myself crawling across the ice to the shore.  Terror was on my face as well as my best friend’s.  I almost died and the thought racing through my head was, “I am so grounded!”  I ran home, hid my clothes, took a hot shower, and never told my parents what happened that day.  As you are reading this I guarantee you my phone is ringing…its my mom reading this for the first time in horror.

Sorry Mom.

[UPDATE: My mom called 3 hours after this published]

Dodge by the Treehouse

Dodge by the Treehouse

I think dangerous situations come with exploring your surroundings.  With good dirt comes thin ice and fast trains.  I can tell you I’ve never gone out on the ice since with the exception of Lake George and only when I’m with people who know the ice.  I promise you Max won’t go near the train tracks because we’ve talked about those trains every day since.  Live and learn…that’s the expression right?  Somewhere between my kids having total freedom and me helicoptering is where I want to be as a parent.  I know that’s a broad spectrum but so is parenting.  I want Max to run, I want Dodge to eat worms, I want my kids to have secrets between them…but I want them to be safe.  There’s the operative word:  “Safe.”  I think for every parent they have to discern what “safe” means to them based on their surroundings, comfort level, and the kid’s ability to handle responsibility…but if we don’t give them responsibility how will they learn?  How will we know if they are responsible.  We build it up.  Right now Max can play in the back yard by himself and Dodge can if Max is with him.  There are things that they can hurt themselves with there…but they are learning to be responsible around them.  Eventually I hope they will be out the door and I will be calling after them saying, “Be back in time for dinner!”  I cherish my childhood and I have my parents to thank for it.  Nowadays, Kate’s parent’s motto is “If we don’t hear from you we assume things are great.”  That’s the message they sent their kids off to college with.  How cool!  Freedom to explore.

Bartlett Arboretum

Bartlett Arboretum

Yesterday I attended the memorial service of a friend.  One of the first of our motley crew to pass away.  33 years old.  It turns out we are not invincible, not everyone comes up through the hole in the ice, and some of us won’t be home for dinner.  This has presented me with the conundrum of wanting to let my kids roam free while holding them close so nothing bad ever happens to them.  That is parenting…right there.  Wanting better for your kids.  Maybe they don’t need better?  Maybe they need more of the same?  I’m alive…and I have my parents to thank for that, and myself.  Yeah…I fell through the ice one day when I was a kid…but I also called my parents to come pick me up from a high school party when my ride got drunk and I didn’t feel safe getting home.  I got busted drinking beers in the back yard and instead of threatening my life my dad let me drink with him so long as I was willing to stay in for the night and hang out with him.  By the time I graduated college I was a square…got it all out of my system in high school.  How?  My parents’ trust.  I don’t think they trusted me to always make the right decision, but they trusted me to figure out how to get out of a situation and ask for help when I needed it.  If they didn’t hear from me they assumed things were fine…and things were fine.  So I’m just going to keep parenting my kids the way my parents did and the way my wife’s parents did, and instill trust in my kids.

There are more dangers in life now (so they may say)…or are we just hyper aware of them because of the internet, regulations of playgrounds, and less sandpits surrounded by fields?  I think kids need time alone.  They need time alone in their rooms to play, pretend, and read.  They need time alone in nature where they can swing a stick and run like the wind!  They need their own shelf in the refrigerator where they can get their own snacks and drinks.  They need their own privacy when and where they don’t feel like they are being watched…and they know when they are being watched.  They behave differently when they aren’t being watched.  They need secrets.  We have secrets…why shouldn’t they?  So don’t be shocked if Kate and I move out to the country one day…we’re just continuing our search for good dirt and the life decisions (and possible hazards) that come with it.

Max running across the meadow from the sound of the train.

Max running across the meadow from the sound of the train.

The Bartlett Arboretum. Max is somewhere out there.

The Bartlett Arboretum. Max is somewhere out there.

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