There comes a time in every parent’s life when they are faced with the sudden and shocking realization that their children are no longer children.
Monday morning I pulled an undershirt out of the drawer, and there at the back of the collar, just above the imprinted size and manufacturing information was the letter “L” written in black Sharpie.
Uh oh. It has happened. My oldest son’s clothes and my clothes are now so confusingly similar in size that my wife has resorted to coding our wardrobes to prevent mishandling. Like so many other of her schemes, the labeling was brought on by my complaining.
After Christmas, when each of us Wallace men received a new package of Hanes undershirts as gifts, I reached into my drawer, pulled out a fresh white T-shirt and slipped it over my head. Knowing that my workouts have been reduced to running, I felt sure that the snugness of the shirt was not caused by my rippling muscles.
I pulled it back over my head and discovered the truth: “M.” What happened next is somewhat in dispute. I may or may not have ranted like a lunatic about my children’s underwear ending up in my drawer, and I may or may not have made a statement such as “What’s next? Carlton’s Batman briefs tucked in with my boxers?”
Carla didn’t acknowledge my critique. She’s acquired the tone deafness that comes with 17 years of marriage. She just casually mentioned that I do most of the folding and putting away of the laundry. There is a fairly good chance that it was me who committed the heinous laundry foul of putting Barron’s mediums in my drawer.
Carla responded by doing what all mothers do: she relied on her resourcefulness and fondness for labeling to come up with a solution. So now, as a 40-something year-old man, I have been reduced to having my name written in my underwear like a third grader heading off to summer camp for the first time.
What I am discovering, though, is that her system is not consistent. While some of my undershirts have an “L” written in it, the boys’ shirts have a series of dots, or dashes, I can’t tell which. In the Wallace Family Underwear Morse Code, one dot means Barron, two dots means Harris and three dots mean Carlton. Except when it doesn’t.
Apparently when she was labeling our new shirts, she lapsed into other classifications. For example, one of Barron’s shirts accidentally has two dots with one of them marked through and the letter “B” written next to it. There is more written on this shirt at the nape of the neck than the fine print on a pharmaceutical ad in Reader’s Digest.
While I can usually eyeball the difference between Barron’s T-shirts and those belonging to his younger brothers, I tend to mix his and mine or Carlton’s and Harris’s. You would think a glance at the label would clear things up with the younger two, but when I have to look at the label, the Hanes people have made things inexplicably complex. All of the boys wear an “M.” I don’t understand how these stair-stepped children each about four years older than their sibling can all be wearing medium undershirts, but this quirk in the space-time continuum is undeniable.
Carla has very patiently explained that Barron is now wearing an adult medium, Harris is wearing a youth medium and Carlton is wearing a toddler’s medium. See why I am confused?
Perhaps my confusion and irritability over this whole issue is derived from the truth that my children are growing up. Despite the fact that my own father tells me frequently that the time will pass too quickly, it still comes as a surprise when these moments catch me off guard and I realize just how fast their childhoods are evaporating.
All parents go through this, I know, but that realization makes these epiphanies no less unsettling. With every passing day I wonder if I am doing enough to prepare them for what life is going to throw at them. I contemplate what our relationship will be like through their teen years and on into adulthood. I hope and pray that as their innocence transitions into knowing, they will somehow understand that my love is greater than any mistake they could make and my joy is inextricably linked to theirs.
The next time you see me squirming and fidgeting at the neck with one of my T-shirts, just nod knowingly and understand that I’ve once again made an undergarment selection error and I’m coping with parenthood.
At what moments do you realize life is fleeting? What are the circumstances that jolt you with the terrifying realization your children are growing up too fast? If you’ve been down this road, share your wisdom. If you’re going down this road, share your pain. Leave a comment, and we’ll all be better for it.
With so much noise in our lives in the New South, I often fail to listen to my children.
Now that school has started again, I have a daily opportunity to engage with my boys on a meaningful level each night at the dinner table.
It’s the favorite part of my day.
This week we sent our two older boys back to school. Our youngest must wait until the more reasonable start of the day after Labor Day. Back to school brings many challenges – social anxiety, homework, time management – but it also ushers in the return of the “How was your day?” conversation.
I ask this question at the dinner table every night, but during the summer I am more likely to get shrugs, “I don’t knows” or a recounting of a convoluted plot line from “Adventure Time.”
What I discovered this week as the boys headed back to their respective schools with loaded backpacks in tow, is that I actually look forward to this part of the day most of all. Yes, in the beginning, there is a lot of excitement and talking over each other and general rambunctiousness. But we are already settling into a routine.
By simply asking “What happened at school today?” I get a window into their world. I hear names of friends and classmates I don’t know. I learn about their reactions to teachers’ instructions or correction. I am asked for input on how to handle difficult situations with peers. The picture of who they are becoming comes into a little bit clearer focus.
Take Harris, my middle son, for example. He’s been eager to tell me how he’s setting up his first writing assignment. He likes to write in his journal, and the fact that he is excited about expressing his thoughts makes me happy. He spent the last two weeks of summer vacation talking about starting a blog.
Barron seems to be hung up on the quality of food served in the middle school cafeteria. Each night we’ve been getting a food critic’s view of the menu, presentation and service of that day’s lunchroom experience. He seems to think it was better in elementary school. He’s already becoming a grumpy old man! “Back when I was in elementary school, they gave us a full plate, and the fruit was fresh and ripe and you had enough time to eat!”
At Carlton’s pre-school, they put the children in a circle at the end of each day and sing a song: “Carlton, Carlton, what would you say? What was your favorite part of the day?” He brought that tradition home, and often we’ll go around the table and sing that question to each family member in turn. The dog can’t bear the singing, but it’s music to my ears.
I know it’s just the first week and harder days are coming. There will be procrastinated projects, math tests, over-commitments from extra-curricular activities, band auditions and hours of reading and journaling, but that’s OK. To me, these are opportunities to enter my children’s world and be a resource to them and help them learn.
My mother and I formed strong bonds over math homework the ill-fated year I took honors Algebra II and honors Geometry at the same time. She was my nightly tutor, and she hung in there with me despite my frustrations and protestations. And in those rare “aha” moments, we were able to share a sense of accomplishment.
Don’t get me wrong, I love summer. It’s great to see your kids invent ways to fill their time and get much-needed rest. I enjoy taking time off from my work to be with them and go places and do things the school schedule won’t allow. But it is in the daily experience of life that I derive the most meaning. These ordinary times are when my relationships with my children are deepened.
So welcome back to school. If you or your kids haven’t started back they soon will. I hope you are able to greet that day with open arms and enjoy the dinner table conversation that night with an open heart.
What kinds of stories or information do you get from your kids after a day of school? Do you welcome “back to school” or dread it? When do you feel that you bond most with your children? Take a moment to reflect and share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment below.
Every January since 2008, I have been participating in the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby, a diabolical scheme in which a young boy and his dad are supposed to transform a 1.25-by-1.75-by- 7-inch block of wood into a 5-ounce vehicle capable of speeds up to 140 miles per hour.
If you are an engineer or a woodworker or have a son who is an engineer or a woodworker, this is great fun.
If you are an ordinary Joe without the right tools or access to the right tools, it can be a gut-wrenching activity fraught with peril.
The most stressful part of the entire affair is check-in. This is when you take the fruits of your (and theoretically your son’s) labor and hand it to some pimply-faced boy scout or adult leader who carefully inspects your car to ensure it can lawfully compete in the next day’s race.
I have approached the table with my heart racing and fear welling in my soul.
That guy with his pencil and his template board that’s cut to mimic the dimensions of the track, studying his notes, measuring with his little ruler, has absolute power over you in that moment. I hate that guy.
Last night, I was that guy.
I don’t really know how it happened. I’m currently a den leader and an Assistant Cubmaster, learning the ropes from our seasoned Cubmaster. Because I’ll be taking on even more responsibility next year, I had to learn the ways of the Pinewood Derby this year from Reed. That meant I sat, as his understudy, judging people’s hard work, marking off the 15-point checklist and banishing them to the work table where they could alter their cars to meet the specifications.
After inspecting about 50 cars, I got to the point where I could just tell by looking which ones wouldn’t make it. My day job is public relations. I had to use every one of my tricks of the trade to communicate bad news in a way that a 6-foot-6, 300-plus pound dad would hear me without snapping my pencil neck.
I am also a seasoned church goer with years of experience working with people on their spiritual journeys. I had to use every counseling technique in my arsenal to comfort the teary-eyed mom who had employed all possible resources to get the car built but had come up short on wheel clearance.
I recognized the emotions on their faces. I knew the pain they felt. I have been there. I have been banished to the work table to frantically add weight, straighten axles or align wheels, all with my boys staring over my shoulder, looking at the clock, offering helpful reminders such as “Dad, we’re not going to finish it in time!”
What I needed then and what I needed last night was a giant dose of perspective. This, I think, is the real benefit of Pinewood Derby. Yes, I have written before about how the derby gives you an opportunity to work on a project with your son. And that’s still a valuable gift.
But having sat in the seat of judgment for two hours, feeling the tension rise up my spine until my neck and shoulders locked up, I realized that this was a child’s event, not a matter of life and death. The worst possible outcome was disappointment, which is really just a teachable moment for boys and their parents.
So today as the cars race, I will be otherwise occupied at my church. Carla will have the boys huddled around the track with 100 or so members of our community, watching the engineer and woodworking dads reap the rewards of their hobbies. They’ll cheer for each other, and Harris’s aircraft carrier will hopefully receive some design recognition if not capture a first, second or third in speed.
After all the cheering dies down and the elementary school cafeteria is cleaned and reset for serving lunches, I hope we can take a deep breath, recognize the good from our investment of time with our sons and get that giant dose of perspective.
But then again, there are only 364 days until the next Pinewood Derby.
Have you been that anxious parent at the Pinewood Derby check-in? Do your child’s or grandchild’s activities make you a nervous wreck? How do you cope? Leave a comment below and help us all get the invaluable perspective we so desperately need with our children’s activities.
Programming note: For nearly two years, New South Essays has been published on Friday mornings. Because of my job change, I’m finding that Saturdays are working better. I hope you’ll stick with me as I move to Saturdays. To ensure that you never miss a weekly post, click the email subscription link on the right. Thanks!
I was minding my morning business a few months back, checking the daily media mentions of my employer, when I ran across an article with the ominous lead sentence: “The video game is 40.”
I nearly fainted.
Immediately, two conflicting thoughts flashed to mind: “Has it really been that long?” and “Have video games really only been around for 40 years?”
Fast forward to Christmas. During our visit to my parents in Lake Wales, Fla., we took the boys to see “Wreck it Ralph,” one video game villain’s quest for heroism that featured a walk down arcade game memory lane with dozens of characters from video games of the past. It was one of those occasions when the boys stared at me in wonder as I laughed out loud at what they thought were inappropriate moments.
On the night we arrived in Florida, not long after opening our gifts from Mom and Dad, we discovered my mother was obsessed about one Christmas gift she ordered on Amazon that didn’t get delivered in time. True to my parents’ form, they had ordered one for each of their three sons, but it had not arrived for any of us. Sitting at her computer, Mom diligently followed the tracking number across the country and each morning over my coffee she updated me on the shipping status of the mystery gift.
Honestly, I had forgotten about it by Wednesday when I returned to work. With the resumption of my routine, Christmas and its gifts were far from my mind when the UPS truck pulled up outside our home. Then I remembered there was one more gift to open.
We made the boys wait until after supper before diving into the plain cardboard box. I could not have predicted the bizarre emotional reaction I felt when the “Atari Flashback 4” emerged. I stared at the box, not with the eyes of a 42 year-old father of three but with the eyes of a 10-year-old on Christmas morning unwrapping a pulse-quickening, hours-wasting, life-changing, dream-making device. It was the Holy Grail. It was my Red Ryder BB gun. It was the most amazing device my brother and I had ever seen.
Desperate to plug it in and get started on the 75 games that came pre-programmed on the slightly smaller console, the boys pleaded and begged for me to set it up. As I examined the contents, I had that strange feeling of deja vu. The console and power pack were smaller. The joysticks were wireless. There were buttons on the front of the console where the little levers used to be. I was both taken back in time and a little confused.
So I did what any parent does in those moments: I sent the boys to bed. I needed time to sort this out. No, I didn’t need help plugging it in and turning it on. I needed to sort out the complex emotions this gift evoked.
By the time I got home from work on Thursday, the boys had figured out how to hook up the system. The family was gathered in the living room around the “old TV”. As I made my way from the kitchen, I could hear the rumble of tanks. The appropriately named “Flashback” did just that, taking me back to my youth when my brother, Lee, and I would press the red buttons and strain the vinyl-covered stick as we tried to put English on the bullets coming from our tanks.
Video games have played a part in my life almost since I was old enough to play them. Seeing that Atari’s Pong had turned 40 and then seeing this “Flashback” console made me wonder what will be the retro toys my boys will find memory-provoking 40 years from now.
I can’t imagine where technology is headed. I just hope my boys will have positive memories from their wasted hours playing video games together. For me and my brothers, the memories are what made the wasted hours worth it.
So what’s your earliest memory of video games? What was your favorite? Were you an Atari or an Intelivision person? Did you blow untold fortunes in quarters at the arcade? Share your memories by leaving a comment below.
When Barron and Harris piled into the back of the new Hyundai, eager to ride with Daddy after another great meal at Los Hermanos, they had no idea we weren’t following Carla home.
We had already had a pretty good day. It was one of those rare days when Carla and Carlton still had preschool, but the older boys were already out for Christmas vacation. They hadn’t seen my office since I changed jobs, so other than having to get up earlier than they would have liked on their first day off from school, they didn’t mind coming downtown with me for a few hours and checking out my new digs.
It really was fun having them around. Even the rain-soaked commute, which lasted an hour longer than usual, was bearable with the two of them making up dialogue between the commuters they spied around us in the seven-lane-wide traffic jam on I-85.
They spent the morning playing Stratego and watching “Batman Begins” on the TV and DVD player in my office with the always cautious Barron keeping the volume low to avoid disturbing the almost empty hall. My co-worker, Robert, did get a little jealous when he came by to ask me about a story he was working on only to discover that Batman was on.
I treated them to lunch at The Varsity where they ate like it was their last meal. Barron scarfed down a double bacon cheeseburger while Harris had, in Varsity parlance, a “naked dog” and cheeseburger. They finished it off with a mountain of fries and frosted oranges. I drove them back to my building by way of the central campus, showing them the academic buildings, the football stadium, Tech tower and various residence halls, which they said reminded them of Hogwarts.
“The magic we do here at Tech is called ‘engineering,’” I said.
Carla was soon picking them up, and I was off to my 3 o’clock meeting. Before shutting down for the day, I checked out movie times at the theaters near us in Lilburn. Carla and I conferred with a quick phone call to confirm our plans, and I clicked a purchase of two children’s tickets and one adult ticket for the 7:30 showing of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
We both arrived at Los Hermanos at almost the same instant, and I winked at Carla, who returned a knowing smile. Our meal was delicious, and the boys continued to chatter away about their day at daddy’s office.
“Who wants to ride with me?” I asked nonchalantly as we headed for the parking lot. Of course Carlton wanted to but couldn’t. He was due for an early bedtime as indicated by his lack of composure at supper.
The boys climbed into the back of my car, Harris’s booster seat still in position from the morning commute. We followed the minivan to the neighborhood, but when Carla turned in and we kept going, the boys began to get suspicious.
About three miles from the theater, still completely in the dark about our destination, the moment happened that will stay with me from this day long after the details of Bilbo’s adventure grow fuzzy in my memory.
“This is like something Paw Paw would do,” Barron said.
“What? Kidnap you?” I responded mischievously.
“No… you know, act like he missed a turn then take you some place fun.”
Barron got it. He connected this whole plan for me in a way that I hadn’t even understood myself. It wasn’t the joy of tricking or even surprising my children that gave me so much pleasure. It was that I was able to do for my kids what my dad had done for us.
You see, Barron was right. My dad frequently would take us somewhere without telling us the destination. Sometimes it would be amazing, and other times pedestrian, but every time became more exciting because of the unexpected.
“Dad, where are we going? You didn’t turn,” we would say in protest.
“To the moon,” he would answer.
My brother, Lee, and I will never forget the Thanksgiving night when he suggested we go for a ride. Four hours later we ended up in Houston for a great family weekend at Galveston and San Jacinto and other Texas landmarks.
With a simple trip to the movies, I had lived into the best of the Wallace family tradition. Just like my dad, I was able to turn a mundane car trip through the suburbs into an adventure.
“I guess it’s kind of appropriate,” Barron said.
“What is?” I asked.
“You took us on an unexpected journey to see the unexpected journey movie.”
The older I get, the more I believe the best parts of our journey are unexpected. I believe we all could use a little more adventure in our lives. I guarantee you’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.
What unexpected journeys have you taken? Did your parents ever surprise you with an unexpected trip or gift? Have you been able to surprise your kids? Leave your story in a comment below and share your tale with us.
November brings with it a number of seasonal peculiarities: falling leaves, premature Christmas decorations, cooler temperatures and now, in the New South, daily thanksgiving posts on Facebook.
I’m not sure when the trend started, but taking the month of November to post “What I am thankful for today” status updates has caught on. Yes, there is the expected reaction of satire and mockery, but overall what fills my Facebook newsfeed these days is more genuine than humorous.
My wife started the November Thanksgiving Facebook status updates last year and has continued the tradition this year. She reports that it’s more difficult to come up with something on harder days, but she always manages to post. So far she hasn’t been guilty of that prayer practice of small children who merely recite their thanksgivings to God by looking around the room and mentioning everything they see: “Thank you, God, for my socks and for Lego and for puzzles and for squirrels and for Thomas the Tank Engine…”
One of the most difficult disciplines is regulating your attitude apart from your circumstances. If we surrender control of our mood to the randomness of life, say a bad commute home from work or a vomiting child, then we will most likely be miserable most of the time.
However, if we approach each day with the reminder of all that’s good in our lives, we can ride the waves of life rather than be drowned by them.
I haven’t participated in this new Thanksgiving tradition simply because I haven’t really thought about it. I don’t know that I could come up with 30 days of thankfulness in the moment each morning, so to send you into Thanksgiving week, I’m offering a month’s worth of thanksgivings all at once (in no particular order):
A faith that is strong enough to endure challenges but flexible enough to grow when confronted with truth.
Carla. Simply stated, the best wife I could have ever been fortunate enough to marry.
My parents. They instilled in me early on the right priorities and have offered encouragement and guidance when I needed it most.
Barron. A dad couldn’t ask for a better oldest son. Responsible, creative and funny.
Harris. Like the crème filling of an Oreo, he makes the middle the best part. I particularly enjoy our talks.
Carlton. Resourceful and self-reliant, his zest for life re-energizes.
My in-laws. Gracious, generous and always delightful to be around, they make visits to their home a respite.
My brother, Lee, and his family. I have the utmost respect for his ministry and know he has more integrity than just about anyone I know.
My brother, Lyle, and his family. I don’t get to see them enough, so each visit is a treasure, and I know he is preparing for a life-long ministry that will touch many, many lives.
Our home. Not only do we have enough bedrooms for everybody, we have space to open our home to friends and family on a regular basis, and we are always the better for it.
Good friends. You know who you are. No matter what segment of my life they enter through, my closest friends enrich my life with laughter, challenging ideas and support. I could have listed each of you as a separate item, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll just lump you all into one entry.
My neighbors. You never want to take for granted having considerate and friendly neighbors. Even just a smile and a wave add something to my life.
My job. Working at Georgia Tech doesn’t just pay the bills. It stretches and challenges me while giving me the opportunity to form new relationships with quality people.
Parkway Baptist Church. A place where I can serve, learn and enjoy the company of fellow travelers on the road.
My daily bread. Haven’t missed a meal, and I don’t take that for granted knowing there is real poverty in the world.
Good health. Despite a nagging shoulder/back strain right now, I enjoy exercise and nothing makes me feel more alive than a good run.
Down time. It may be infrequent, but when it happens I cherish it.
Lilburn. A great community filled with a diverse population who are involved and care about their children and is not so far outside the perimeter.
Functioning vehicles. This may be a “knock-on-wood” entry, but for now, all systems are “go” on the station wagon and minivan. Never dreamed I would ever be thankful for a station wagon and minivan.
Google search. Everything is knowable. No more struggling to remember which actor played in which movie or what the lyrics are to a song stuck in your head. It really has become our brain supplement.
Fantasy football. A diversion I allow myself. It’s fun whether I win or lose.
Summer vacation. We always go to Santa Rosa Beach, and it’s one of the highlights of the year for our family.
Sunday afternoon naps. Forced to take them as a child, naps are now the most-anticipated event of the week.
Scouts. The experience has given me so many opportunities to spend quality time with my boys that no matter what rank they achieve, I know it has been a worthy investment of time.
Saturday morning pancakes. I contribute so little to meal preparation in my household that it’s nice when I get to prepare our weekly pancake breakfast. Even I can’t mess up pancakes.
Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg’s millions of dollars of profit notwithstanding, this has been a great way to keep in touch and reconnect with friends from all over the world.
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Not only was it a fantastic place to work for 10 years, it’s a worthwhile ministry doing amazing things worthy of support.
Christmas vacation. Always includes a trip to Florida and time with both sets of grandparents. Beautiful weather, rest and great memories.
Writing. Even though I don’t get to do it enough, I am enriched by each opportunity to express my thoughts. My book will get finished someday.
Blog readers. You put up with a lot of lackluster writing, but you have hung with me for nearly 20 months now.
Share what you are thankful for by leaving a comment below, then share this post with others!
Raise your hand if you ever envied your sick child’s excused day of lying on the sofa watching cartoons and napping.
OK, so I’m the only one?
No? You say you have felt that way, too? You have been burning the candle at both ends until there’s no wick left and you still haven’t found a way to extinguish the flame?
A week ago today I came home from a business trip to Pittsburgh to find Carlton vomiting. Welcome home. I can’t really complain because Carla had been dealing with it all day. The 24-hour stomach virus ended up lasting 72 and required at least four changes of bed linens. Seriously. Four.
The kid would run around all day without a symptom. He would go 18, 20, even 24 hours without vomiting and we would think we were home free. Then he would fall asleep at night, completely exhausted. Several hours into my own REM cycle, his cries would send us scrambling to his room where the evidence of his illness hit our nostrils before our eyes could adjust in the darkness. It was not remotely pleasant.
But Carlton was sick during the weekend. It was such a relatively busy weekend that I didn’t have time to envy him. Carla and I juggled him as we kept up our pace – she bought groceries, I went to a deacon’s meeting, she took Barron to youth group, I took Harris’ Cub Scout den bowling, and on and on, back and forth. We didn’t slow down at all.
Monday came and Carlton cleared the 24-hour hurdle. He was pronounced cured, so he could return to preschool on Tuesday. Carla’s day of teaching preschool was not threatened. We held our breath, hoping that our mandatory household hand-washing regimen and antibacterial wipe-down of every surface was enough to keep the scourge at bay.
Alas, at 3 a.m., Harris was knocking on our bedroom door giving off that now all-too-familiar malodorous clue that something was amiss. The cycle was repeating.
Fortunately, my two meetings of the day were such that I could phone in, and my very understanding supervisor permitted me the opportunity to work from home. This allowed Carla to carry out her plans for her preschool class without having to get a substitute, and everything else was fairly normal.
Harris was no distraction at all. After about 10 a.m., there were no more symptoms. He simply lay on the sofa with “Tom & Jerry” dueling in front of him. He ate a couple of crackers and drank a juice pouch at about 2 p.m. and seemed to perk up a little.
As I stood there conducting my visual scans for any hint of his condition an unfiltered thought burst into my consciousness: “Wow, I wish I could be sick.”
What? No. I didn’t mean that. No one would wish to have the awful stomach bug. It had completely paralyzed our family a couple of years earlier when we all shared it. That experience was seared into my memory. I couldn’t possibly want another dose of that.
I edited myself.
“What you meant to think was ‘I wish I could have a sick day.’”
See, public relations people even put words in their own mouths.
It’s not that work is overwhelming. I’m thoroughly enjoying my new job, and the challenges and fresh problems to solve and new people to meet have been invigorating.
It’s not that I don’t believe in service to my church. Serving as a deacon is a privilege, and every interaction with the families I care for is sacred and brings me closer to my community and to God.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy serving as a Cub Scout den leader. Those boys with their boundless energy and endless curiosity love tackling new challenges together and learning new skills.
It’s just that sometimes it all has to stop in order for me to get my bearings again. You know what I’m describing, right? It’s like when you’ve got nine browser windows open with at least two of them streaming sports highlights and one playing country music and your computer can’t process the data fast enough so the machine just locks up.
The real truth is that our bodies do the same thing. Whether it’s a head cold or a stomach flu or exhaustion, if we don’t have the good sense to slow down and rest, our bodies will force down time on us.
Rest is fleeting in the New South. Busy is the norm.
My wish for all of you is that it doesn’t take a sick day for you to find some down time. In fact, you should go ahead and plan on it right now. Go ahead. Put it on your calendar. Find a day. You need it more than you realize.
If you don’t, your body will.
If you couldn’t relate at all to today’s post, then great. You are a better person than I am. But if you have ever been jealous of your sick child because they got to rest, then you’ve got a problem. Share your story by leaving a comment below, and then go take a nap. You’ll feel better. I promise.
Last Friday night we loaded up the minivan and headed to Lawrenceville for the Gwinnett County Fair. We hadn’t been in several years, and we were overdue for a family outing. This one fit the bill nicely.
I prefer my fairs a little later in the fall — call it a habit formed by 10 years of living in Middle Georgia where the Georgia National Fair in Perry and the Georgia State Fair in Macon hit in October — but as fairs go, the Gwinnett County Fair has all you need. There are rides, both for the kiddies and the astronaut trainees who can withstand whirling G forces. There are animals, mostly pigs and cows the night we went. There are people to watch. How on earth the freak shows can compete with who you see on the midway is beyond me, what with all the piercings and tattoos these days.
And then, there is the food. If you can cover it in batter and fry it in oil, then it will be served to you at a fair. This year we treated ourselves to corn dogs for the kids and Philly Cheese Steak and Italian Sausage sandwiches for the adults.
I am normally a little more health conscious about what I consume, but fried processed meats and potatoes are what you are supposed to eat at the fair. It’s expected. It’s … it’s … well, it’s just plain American.
What I have noticed in recent years, however, is the addition of fried candy bars and other desserts. OK, I’ll give you a fried fruit pie. That makes sense, in a way, and those have been around for years. But who was the first person to put a stick in a Snickers, coat it in batter and deep fry it?
So a couple of hours after our grease-infused supper had settled, we joined the line at a vendor advertising fried Oreos, Twinkies, Reese’s Cups and much, much more.
And I’m happy to report that coating desserts in batter, frying them and adding powdered sugar may kill you, but it doesn’t taste half bad. Yes, I know, it is an assault on your pancreas, but it is a delight to the taste buds.
We all shared each other’s selections. Carla, of course, went with the Reese’s Cups while Harris chose the Twinkie. Barron, who had gone off with his buddy, Noah, got a to-go box of the Oreos, one of which is still in the refrigerator, a persistent reminder of last weekend’s gluttony.
You can count the calories and fat grams of such food. You can even qualify the great taste with an array of superlatives. What you can’t measure is the amount of damage these foods do to your self-esteem. As I sat on the bench outside of the jungle-themed fun house, my black T-shirt getting coated with the tell-tale evidence of powdered sugar, I couldn’t help but think what an awful nutrition choice this was. I knew I should be resisting it with every fiber of my being.
But I stay pretty up-tight most of the time. I finished off Harris’ Twinkie, which he discarded a couple of bites in, while watching him and Carlton laugh and play in the fun house. I watched their faces light up as they zoomed down the giant slide. I swear I could see their stomach’s rising into their throats as they dipped and swooped on the tug boat. I enjoyed their joy.
So if I ate some food that may shorten my life by a few days, I think I can live with the trade-off. The fair has a way of helping you re-prioritize and savor what’s truly important.
Of course, you definitely want to stay away from the “Guess Your Weight” guy. That’s a definite buzz kill.
What’s your favorite fair food? What’s your favorite part of the fair? Share your secret culinary indulgences from the midway by leaving a comment below.
As temperatures rose into the upper 80s, I packed the minivan for a three-night campout at Black Rock Mountain State Park just north of Clayton. With sweat running down my forehead and my patience waning, Carlton and Harris sat in their seats too eager to get underway to heed my repeated instructions to stay out of the van.
We all received anxious hugs and kisses from Carla, and soon we were headed north, the strains of a “Harry Potter” movie on the DVD player.
Last year on Memorial Day weekend I discovered two truths: don’t ever try tent camping in South Georgia in late May and, more importantly, there is no activity that helps you spend uninterrupted time with your children like camping.
My deal with Carlton, 3, since last year was that he could go camping as soon as he learned to go in the potty. He finally crossed that hurdle a few months ago, so his time had arrived.
He was so excited to be going on his first camping trip that he asked me every day for a week “Is dis da day we go camping?”
Dis was da day.
In two hours we were winding our way up Black Rock Mountain, carefully maneuvering the switchbacks. I was thankful I wasn’t towing a camper. The campground was nearly full, but we found a perfect spot with a shaded picnic table a short distance from the “comfort station.”
The echoes of children’s laughter, the crackling of wood in fire pits and the whirring of bike tires gave evidence that family camping is alive and well in the New South. As we set up camp and started the charcoal for supper, I could feel the tension ease in my neck and shoulders. Even with Carlton getting into everything and asking a zillion questions (“What does dis ting do?”) I began to notice small subtle details about my children that I haven’t been able to see in the rush of our everyday, hectic existence.
I hadn’t really thought about what I was after by planning this trip. I enjoy camping, even though I need an air mattress these days, and the boys enjoy it, too. Camping always brings back memories of the camping vacations I took with my family at St. Andrews State Park in Panama City, Fla.
Conversation came easily as we ate our meals of hot dogs, cheeseburgers, mac and cheese, pancakes, bacon, eggs, sandwiches – the menu wasn’t nearly as important as the time at the table. Yes, there was the usual inane rehashing of TV show or movie plots that drives me insane, but there was also deeper reflection.
Harris, in particular, has a habit of saying “I love you, Daddy” when he’s in a good mood. The “I love you, Daddys” were flowing as well as the victory dances when he won six games of Skip-Bo in a row.
We fished, we played at the playground, we took pictures at the scenic overlooks. We even toured the Foxfire Appalachian heritage museum. The trip had just enough structure and activity to keep us from getting bored, but most of the time we built fires, played cards, laughed and talked.
Carlton did fine with camping. He fell asleep the last night a little after six, roused only long enough to eat a S’more (which he called “snores”) before succumbing to sleep again. He was joined in his early bedtime by Harris who couldn’t even wake up enough to join us for a S’more.
So Barron and I passed the dusk into early nighttime with Uno, the old standby of camp entertainment. When the bugs descended, we moved into his small, two person tent and played by flashlight. We talked and laughed. It was unforced and natural, a bonding that I try too hard to make happen at times and then miss altogether at other times.
Yes, my boys are growing up, Barron will enter middle school next year. Harris will be in second grade, and Carlton is rapidly leaving the toddler stage. I can’t always treasure the moments like I should. But when you get out in the woods, you notice everything. And if my boys are anything like me, they’ll remember a lot of it, too.
I had my moments with each of the boys, moments when I saw something behind their eyes, something more than just their outward appearance. I recognized myself and Carla in them. I saw glimpses of their spirit, flashes of their souls. A few times, I even thought I saw their future selves.
It’s amazing what we see when we slow down and set aside all distractions.
Camping isn’t always easy, but it is rewarding. What’s a few bugs in your tent if you are building stronger relationships with your children?
Do you like camping? What do you remember about the campouts of your youth? What do you like to do on camping trips? Where is your favorite destination? Share your thoughts in a comment below.
This week Harris and I embarked on a 4.8 mile journey that has come to represent more than just a hike through the Chattahoochee National Forest.
This rite of passage for my boys began five years ago when Barron was six. We made a similar journey from Amicalola Falls State Park to the Len Foote Hike Inn, and it was Harris’ turn. A middle son not heard often enough and in need of his daddy’s undivided, unplugged attention, Harris had been anticipating the trip since Christmas when I first brought it up with him.
After a quick picnic lunch, we descended 425 steps from the top of the falls to get a better view of one of Georgia’s most impressive sites. That’s when the math lessons started as Harris began calculating how many steps we would take going down and back up.
Half way back up the falls, my mobile phone rang. It was my dad.
“Lance, they’ve taken Lee to the hospital in Winter Haven. He’s having chest pains and numbness in his left arm. You need to pray for your brother.”
About to embark on an important journey with my middle son, I went numb as I said a prayer for my middle brother. Overwhelmed with confusion and worry, I couldn’t help but enumerate the connections between Lee and Harris: middle sons, lefthanders, witty and clever humorists.
Already winded from the steps and questioning my fitness, we quickly found sturdy walking sticks among the fallen limbs and headed into the woods, pausing long enough to snap a few photos.
As we started, I pointed out the bright green rectangles of paint on the tree trunks, marking our trail. I covered the basic rule of hiking: “Don’t step on anything you can step around or over.” The last thing I needed to do was carry a backpack and a 50-pound boy up and down a rocky and root-covered trail.
It wasn’t long before Harris needed a break.
“Daddy, how long is it to the Hike Inn?” he asked, taking a long sip from our water bottle.
I looked at my watch. The hiking equivalent of the car trip refrain “Are we there yet?” came three minutes in. It felt like déjà vu. I couldn’t help but remember taking the trip with Barron and how impatient I had been with Barron’s slowness and fatigue and griping and all the things 6-year-olds find to complain about on their first hike. But this time, it was different.
“Oh, we’ve got about three-and-a-half hours,” I answered calmly.
There are some benefits to being the second born. Harris was the beneficiary of my patience and deep understanding that this journey would be over all too soon. Instead of rushing it, I was savoring it.
Conditions were perfect, and while the sun warmed, the breezes cooled. Up and down the trail we went, discussing such truths as “all that glitters is not gold” as we came across pyrite. Harris wisely added only a small piece of Fool’s Gold to his rock collection.
We listened for bird calls and strained to see any signs of wildlife. We discussed Harry Potter, and Harris enlightened me on arcane theories of super hero superiority. We made little progress the first hour, stopping five or six times for brief breaks, but we picked up our pace when Harris felt a different call of nature but was unwilling to answer that call in nature.
The first half of our journey ended all too quickly. We arrived at the Hike Inn without incident, seeing a bee-infested tree, a black salamander and a sprinkling of white-blossomed wild dogwoods in among the budding and the hardwoods with their newly emerged bright green leaves.
Harris headed straight to the restrooms to see the amazing non-flushing, waterless, composting toilets Barron had described.
Standing beside a sign that said “No cell phones, please,” I checked mine. The battery was nearly dead, and service barely registered a faint signal. It was enough to see that Lee was being kept overnight in the hospital, a battery of tests scheduled for the next day. I looked out over the rolling green hills and low fog and offered another silent prayer for my brother.
The inn was exactly as I had remembered it, inviting and comfortable without being fancy. We stowed the gear in our bunkroom, toured the facility and gravitated to the Sunrise Room where a number of games and puzzles beckoned. Harris settled on one he had never played – Stratego.
He picked it up quickly, and soon he was giving me a run for my money. I explained how I had grown up playing thousands of games of Stratego with Uncle Lee, becoming an expert in the process. I couldn’t help but make yet another connection between my middle son and my middle brother.
Harris became obsessed with the game. We played three times before supper. He enlisted the help of several of the other kids who were staying at the Hike Inn with their families during their spring break. Anna and Will, a sister-and-brother combo from Cincinnati, Ohio, served as his war advisers, but my supremacy over a 6-year-old held.
The dinner bell rang, and we were summoned to a family-style meal. The rule at the conservation-minded Hike Inn is you must eat what you put on your plate. The goal at every meal is to generate less than 4 ounces of table waste, a policy Barron had briefed Harris on before the trip. We ate family style getting to know the folks at our table, replenishing our energy stores after the hike.
As we passed the green beans and pork roast, I could almost hear Lee ask, “Anybody want any more rolls?” This innocent-sounding question has been our family’s “last call” for the food in question since Lee learned to talk.
Soon, we were back in the Sunrise Room where Harris chose to skip the evening’s program on hiking the Appalachian Trail. The Southern terminus of the “AT” was just a few miles from the Hike Inn at Springer Mountain, and the Hike Inn’s manager had completed a thru-hike in 2008.
I explained that a thru-hike was a nonstop hike from Georgia to Maine or vice versa, and that it usually took six months. Harris couldn’t wrap his mind around a six month hike.
After a few more games of Stratego, we showered and settled into our bunks. We read a book and with my battery waning and no electrical outlets in the bunk rooms, I checked my phone one more time. A Facebook message from Mom confirmed that Lee was stable. Harris and I prayed for Uncle Lee one more time and drifted off to sleep.
Awakened by the soft beat of a drum, we were dressed and ready for the day by 7:30. Well-rested and sipping my coffee, I gave in to Harris’ plea for another game of Stratego before breakfast. We ate another hearty meal, and we were soon packing to leave.
Harris bought a Hike Inn T-shirt, adorned with a trail map on the back, at check-out, and by 9:30 we and our new friends from Cincinnati were headed back to Amicalola Falls. As Kevin and Shelly and I conversed easily about all the things parents talk about, our kids bonded along the trail, buoyed by each other’s presence. Then, when we least expected it, Harris fell.
Tripped by a root that looped out of the ground, his left foot caught and his right knee came down hard on another root. His left elbow and right hand were a little scraped up, but from the wailing, nearby hikers may have thought someone had a fatal injury.
Shelly tended to his superficial wounds with a mother’s tenderness, distracting him from his injuries by asking him to read the instructions on an ice pack from her first aid kit. I was grateful she was there. Again I was reminded of my trip with Barron. He, too, had fallen on the way out, scraping up his knee and tearing a hole in his pants.
Sometimes, our children fail to heed our warnings and the examples of their siblings. Some falls just have to be repeated.
Anna took my pack as I carried Harris on my back for a couple hundred yards, crossing a creek and seeing a water snake. The encounter helped distract Harris from his injury, and soon he was moving under his own power again, and I was able to relieve Anna of my pack.
Still seeking that moment of profound parent-child interaction, I trudged on, trying to relish the experience while being concerned for my brother. About that time, Harris came back from his new friends and joined me at the rear of our little traveling party.
“Daddy, I just want to walk with you for a little bit, OK?”
“Sure, Harris. I’m glad you want to walk with me.”
“Thanks for taking me to the Hike Inn. It was the best, especially that game – what’s it called? Stras-ty-go? Can I get that game for my birthday?”
Almost 24 hours to the minute from when we had set off, we emerged from the woods into the upper parking lot at the falls. We said goodbye to our new friends, snapped a few, last photos and headed for home.
When my cell signal returned, I paused at an intersection and checked Facebook. Lee was posting, his sense of humor returned. He complained about hospital food and having EKG sensors pull his abundant red chest hair out. Mr. Lee, “the Wolf,” was going to be OK.
The stress of being on a local church staff had evidently caused the episode, and there was no evidence of a heart attack or any damage to his heart.
Relieved, I said a prayer of thanksgiving and told Harris that his Uncle Lee would be OK.
We spent the hour-and-a-half drive home sharing our “favorites” from the trip. Harris decided he wanted to go back to the Hike Inn with the rest of the family.
Whether we can convince Carla to make the trip remains to be seen, but I’d gladly go back into the woods with Harris any time.
Next time, though, Lee better stay out of the hospital. Middle kids always have to do something extraordinary to get some attention.