Thursday, February 19, 2015

Eight Years and Two Quarters

The greatest questions are born during the rare instances when the flip of a single coin reveals no answer.  Neither heads nor tails, the coin stands unabated and unwilling to give its consent.  It’s the inexplicable teeter of awe and improbability that allows us to feed our desires to make educated guesses and articulated arguments….   It’s the spontaneous moments of curiosity that leads us on the path of self-awareness and academic success, and as a parent, these are the questions I seek from my daughters.  The, “Who, what’s?” - - “Where, whens?” - - “Why and how’s?”  The fantastical moments, wrought with exhilaration that welcomes a dive into an unexplored discussion of middle ground.  At least that’s how I felt, until my 8-year-old daughter asked me to tell her about the first time I got pubic hair.

I had never been more ill prepared for a question in my LIFE!  Thirty-seconds ago we were talking about Sugar Fairies and lip-gloss! 

“Um what’s that?”  I said, hoping to god I misheard her tired little voice.
“Well mommy and I have been reading this book about puberty and they were talking about getting pubic hair….” I didn’t hear anything after that; she may very well have been giving me the directions to a Stargate porthole in a lost Peruvian language for all I know.  My heart was racing, eyes watering, I felt like I was gonna faint.  

“Oh, well ah… Go to bed.  That’s not a nice thing to say.  I love you?”  I shut the door and left the room.

By the time Cathy got home I’d sweated through three shirts and chugged down a bottle of room temperature chardonnay while spinning-off 23-miles on the stationary bike.  I was a disaster.  
“You are never gonna believe what your daughter said to me tonight.”  My tone was firm, slurred and alarming to say the least.  Cathy, who was visibly concerned, put down her bag and rushed over to the bike where I’d been peddlin’ and cryin’ like a crazy man for the last 53 minutes.
“What’s going on?  Who said what, what’d she say?” 
I lean in close, put my sweaty arm around her shoulder and whisper as light as I could, “Lucy.   She said… rather she asked me about (I clear my throat) ‘pubic hair.’” 
“Oh? What did you tell her?”
“I told her to go to bed?  I might have told her it wasn’t nice?!  Why would she say such a thing?  She’s eight? I wigged out and ran.  I couldn’t bare the thought of a follow-up question.”  Cathy gives an exasperated roll of the eyes, “Really?  That’s what you went with?”  She shakes her head, explains the book and explains to me for the FIRST time, that she told Lucy she could come to either one of us if she ever had any questions, thoughts, curiosities or blah-blah about puberty.  I’m not sure if the nausea I’m experiencing is from my wine-cycling experiment or the fact that my kids are getting to that “age?”  I mean, I guess I feel slightly better knowing that there was a running dialogue, rather than a statement of desperation on her behalf, but it just seems too soon.   
Cathy assures me it’s fine, “We’ll get it all figured out in the morning.” She says as she helps me off the bike, “You’ll be great!”  Her confidence is warming. 
“I will be, won’t I?  I can handle this.  I was just caught off guard.  I’ll just apologize from my crude behavior, let her know that she can come to me for anything and we’ll be back to talking about bubblegum and the disgusting nature of ‘fruit-on-the-bottom’ yogurt in no time.”

I WAS WRONG!  In fact, since apologizing to Lucy for my caveman attitude, she’s become a very aggressive landmine of puberty seeking facts and questions.  She’s a walking onslaught of awkward narration and inappropriately timed inquiries.  I find myself answering questions about “Periods.  Acne.  Tampons and Body odor.”  With, “Mom.  Sea Breeze.  Mom and Soap.” Then…. THEN… Just as I was settling into a groove of competency, she started stringing together hypothetical situations that fall somewhere between every Dr. Seuss book ever and the Porky’s trilogy. 

“Dad?” She says.
“Hmmm?”  I’m leery by the tone of her voice and the fact that it’s been nearly fourteen minutes since our last awkward moment.
“You know how one day I’m gonna start my period?”
“Uhhh huhhh.”
“You know how it will probably happen unexpectedly?”
“Umm Okaaaay?”  At this point, I’m fairly confident I have no worldly idea how this is gonna play out, but I’m hanging in there.
“Well... when it does happen, and if it is unexpected, I hope it happens while we’re at Kohl’s.”  You see?  This is not a normal question.  Nobody in their right mind has thought about a follow-up to that specific sequence of words.  Yet, I am now more curious than anyone EVER in the history of Earth, to find out why my daughter thinks Kohl’s is a safe haven for early menstruation.
“Oh yeah. Why is that?”
“Well, they have machines that sell tampons in the Women’s Room for a quarter.  Just in case, like you never know.”  I almost die of joy.  It’s one of the most logically serious and sweetest thing I’d ever heard her say.  It’s the honest observation of a little girl waiting to enter her place in a big world, and it’s perfect.

Parenting, much like life, is a work in progress. It’s full of juxtaposition and philosophical nonsense.  There is no pamphlet on this planet that can teach you the instinct and common sense you need to raise a child, you live it innately. Eating because you’re hungry, sleeping when you are tired and loving because it is uncontrollable.  I am currently nine years into a lifelong contract of parenting and any advice I'd give, is simply for the sake of courtesy.  So... do what feels right, and be prepared to NOT have a plan.  It’s for that reason alone, I’ll always carry two quarters in my pocket every time we go to Kohl’s, because just in case like, you never know. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Big Bad Me

By the time I decided it was “only” five stories high most of the damage had been done.   I had been standing at the base for several minutes and watched as little humans were dropped in, looped over then shot out of the tube like fleshy wet bullets.  It felt like a good idea, an opportunity to lasso in my age and replace it, for just a minute, with youthful exuberance.

Cathy tried to steer my attention elsewhere.  She reminded me about the time I spent hobbling around Navy Pier with chunks of elephant ears pasted down the front of my shirt because the swings that looked “harmless enough,” crippled my equilibrium.  Deep down I knew she was right, but when a beautiful Siren calls, the temptation to "Hulk out" with what little testosterone I have left, is far to hard to resist.  The curves, the lines, the laughter… Ooh man, I knew it was not to be trusted.  You know, there was a time (1997) when I thought I was some kind of low-grade superhero.  I was at the top of my game, a small city bad-ass born with the innate ability to steer clear of sketchy situations and the ulterior motives people tend to hide in casual tomfoolery.  That was a top three summer.  Now, I approach life like a baby in a mid-life crisis.  Common sense begs me to stay away, but an unreasonable amount of curiosity and fraudulent machismo often convinces me to follow the pretty woman who “Pssts” me down a dark alley.

“It looks like fun right?  I mean… it’s a slide, just a big wet slide.  It’ll be fun - - Right?  Right?!”  I beg her to agree; she doesn’t say a word, only motions that she and the girls will be waiting for me at the Lazy Lagoon.  As they walk away, my inner demons give way to battle once more.  Pro.  Con.  Pro.  Con.  I can make the right decision.  For the love of God, I have 38 years worth of experience on this Earth and I know, I KNOW, that if you’re wrestling with the idea of doing something for more than 30 seconds, odds are you should take a deep breath and walk away…WALK AWAY!!!  The Lazy Lagoon looks nice, but it doesn’t look exciting, so I begin to climb. 

I have little to no emotion while I mosey up the stairs.  I’m neither nervous nor excited.  I’m just a confident grown-ass man going against my better judgment. 
I’m gonna walk up those stairs and enhance my day with a refreshing trip down a five story-one loop water slide.  

As I stand in line, I begin to collect a bit of crucial information that was overlooked or undisclosed during my decision making process. First, from the base of the slide, five stories doesn’t really seem that tall, but as I stood on the platform I was convinced I could see Germany.  Second, you have to step on a huge digital scale before you enter the slide.  Your weight and a green light determine whether or not you have enough mass to send you through the loop.  I mean, there’s an honest-to-god weight, velocity, and gravity formula involved.  Finally, the door.  You didn’t just go up, sit on your butt and gently push yourself down.  No-no-no, you step into half a tube and onto a piece of clear Plexiglas and then told to cross your arms so as not to have them separated from your body during the fall!  Next, a steamy milk-ish colored door seals you in, “Clank.  Whoosh.  Next?”  The six kids behind me seemed really excited, so I let them cut in front.  I let another one jump ahead, because I felt my suit was not properly tied and when I thought I heard some loose change in my pocket, I let a couple more kids go while I looked for it.  Then...

“Hey buddy, you’re up,” says a small prepubescent voice.

I look over the edge and see Cathy and the girls waving at me from that lovely, Lazy Lagoon. From up here, it looks a little nicer, maybe even a little exciting, but I do not wear defeat well.  I turn for the scale.  With one foot on, I’m halted by a 16-year-old in a red tank top, who is apparently running this operation, “You can just hop right in, you’ll go down just fine.  In fact you’ll go faster than most these kids.”  I’m not sure if he’s being efficient or insulting me.  In either case I thank him and proceed to step into the tube.  I look down at my feet and realize I’m floating above the rushing waters as they spill inside down throat of this thirsty demon…. I-immediately-regret-my-decision-to-partake-in-such-a-ridiculous-and-callus-act-of-arrogance.

“Cross your arms over your chest and keep them like that until you get to the bottom.”  The boy in the red tank top yells.  I nod, but I don’t know why.  I want to step out, but the door begins to close around me S-L-O-W-L-Y.  I begin to hyperventilate and the clear tube is starting to fog up from my heavy panting.  Suddenly, I remember that scene from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure where a time traveling Napoleon has this euphoric wet slide experience at Waterloo in San Dimas, CA.  He’s smiling, laughing and slowly twisting through the turns, it’s pure joy.  That’s what I want, that’s the kind of slide I should be on... not this!  THIS is some NASA astronaut training shit, that's about to go down.  I hear a voice.

“Three.” It’s a countdown.  It’s a prerecorded robot lady voice and it’s not comforting.  I look at my feet.
“Two.”  It’s not a lady; it’s the sound of the Devil.  It’s the voice you hear when you play a Sheryl Crow album backwards!  My chin is quivering.
“One.” The floor gives way and for a split second I hover above the hole like Wile E. Coyote after realizing he has just raced a bit to far over the cliff.  Then my body begins to fall leaving my head level with the boy in the red tank top.   I hold up a sign that says “Yikes!”  I try to let out a scream, but the only sound to come out of my body was a very faint “Oh.” 

The speed at which my body begins plummeting to Earth had only ever been achieved in a dream.  I tried to close my eyes but the force of resisting air has my eyelids peeling over my forehead.  I feel no sense of joy, no exhilaration; just regret.  I see visions of fire, war, steam, babies crying and raw meat…  It’s clear I’ve hallucinated myself into a U2 video. 

The loop is a non-factor; I’m going way to fast to even remotely comprehend the fact that I’ve just defied gravity.  My main concern is my swim trunks, which are stuck so far up my ass I can feel mesh on the back of my throat!  What started as a small wet wedgie has progressed to the point where I’m manically worried that this colon-cleansing ride will rip me lengthwise into two pieces.  And then… It’s done.   It's over.  

I’m spit out of the tube and down a long straight-a-way.  The water is a bit deeper and my feet provide the resistance needed to slow me down.  At the end of the ride stands another boy in a red tank top.  I look at him and I’m overcome with emotion.  I literally have no idea what to do.  He has no sympathy or compassion for what just happened, he simply tells me to move.  I stand up, but there’s more blood in my head than my feet, this makes me hobble.  As I pull my shorts down off my nipples I’m suddenly overcome by that weird panicky don’t let them see you cry in public feeling. My eyes well up and I begin that bottom-lip-sucking-in-silent-cry you get after having the air knocked out of you, or after being hit in the face by a baseball.
The only legitimate option I had at this point was to run away, run far away from slide.

By the time the girls stop me from frantically meandering through the park, I’m back to my normal shade of pasty white and my eyes have stopped watering. They’re eager to hear about the ride.  They ask about the temperature of the water and how many steps there were.  They ask how long the line was and if there was a lifeguard.  Finally, they ask whether or not I’ll be going back down?   I hug them.  I hug them hard.  Cathy has that “I told you so look” on her face.  I kiss her and I want to renew our vows. I ask the girls about the Lazy Lagoon, “BORING!” they both screamed. “Nice,” I replied, “let’s go there.”


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Picture

All I can tell you about the picture is that it’s perfect in every way. It is perhaps the only known photo to carry every single human emotion on the face of the Earth. It is splendid with exhilaration. Oozing with terror. Overcome with joy and speaks to an infinite sadness. Every time I look at it, I have a hard time remembering anything else that happened that day; there is only this moment.

Let it be known, I did not know I was going to do this prior to stepping in line. It was a spontaneous reaction to a complicated thought bubble as we rolled over the last hill. The girl next to me, let’s call her Skeeze, (to protect her identity I did not use Elizabeth’s real name because she wishes more than anything that this picture would go away. But every year I have to remind her that awesome doesn’t go away, awesome gets awesomer). Anyway, she did not want to go on this ride and as a result had been screaming the whole ride - - THE WHOLE RIDE.

By the time we stepped off the ride, a crowd of eager adrenaline junkies had gathered at the photo kiosk. People were gawking and cringing while others were mad their faces had been cut off, but over in the corner, an event was happening. A horde of sun-blistered faces were pointing and laughing, laughing and pointing, laughing and… laughing at something. I had an idea, but really - - I had no idea. The butterflies that had been filling my tummy were unleashing a euphoric feeling of accomplishment. Little did I know, we were about to stumble upon one of the single greatest picture in the history of time - - A frozen moment, which would forever change the landscape of our lives.

I thought about the implications this could have. I thought about all the great works of art: American Gothic, Afghan Girl, The Sistine Chapel, that pizza from a Norwegian bakery circa 1996, and Nicole Kidman between Dead Calm and Moulin Rouge. I thought about how this could benefit future generations of… whatever?! Most of the onlookers saw a slice of Heaven that day. Others saw a missed opportunity, but for the six of us it represented everything great about our friendship. It was security. And confidence. And love. It was a sweet slice of life taken on a ride that specializes in pants crapping. This picture says a thousand words and each word is perfect. For nine long years this picture has been treated as folklore in the circles we share. Seen occasionally, but talked about often, I’ve decided to unleash it for all. It has to be out there for everyone to enjoy. Please take good care of it.
For Jen, Mike, Cath, Jason and Skeeze* (Not Elizabeth's real name)