Browsing Tag

Wonder

Health & Fitness & Oreos

An Apology to the Other Parents on the Team

My son is the worst player on this team.

He seldom kicks or throws. Mostly, he skips. When the ball rolls his way, he falls on it, like a grenade, or picks it up and runs, which is frowned upon in soccer. Unless you’re the goalie. Which he isn’t. Because they don’t have those in his league. But that does not stop him from lurking in the box. Not in an effort to deflect scoring, but rather to hang from the goal post and entangle himself in the net. Last week, he started a game of tag during the second quarter. He swatted an opponent and yelled, “You’re it,” before running away down the sideline.

On the way to today’s game, we talked about hugging, and how we weren’t going to embrace our teammates so hard they fell over. “Purple Penguins don’t hug,” I reprimanded, but he has the memory of a goldfish. Just now, I watched my son ninja kick a child who was trying to pass him the ball, and I wonder if we shouldn’t have stuck with the embrace. Afterwards, he ran over to the bleachers to offer onlookers high fives.

Since we only play four on four, everyone rotates out frequently. But even on the sideline my kid is trouble. He karate chops the water bottles, kicks the practice balls into the woods, and sometimes leaves the field entirely to come lay on my blanket and ask me for his post-game apple juice.

He is prone to lollygagging, even during play. When he gets tired or bored or a hankering to cloud watch, he simply lays down in the middle of the field. The other kids dribble around him, or leap over, like cheetahs to his sleeping gazelle. But today, the warm-up seems to have made an impression on him. He’s been doing arm circles for most of the third quarter.

I am embarrassed every time we come here. For the first few practices, I apologized to the other parents. “He’s small for his age,” I said. Or, “He’s never like this at home.” But an apology is only as good as the mitigation of the offending behavior, and it is obvious that my influence over sport decorum is limited at best.

In fact, the only card I really have to play is to pull him from the team. It is likely that the other children would have a better experience if my kid was not there. Every chain has its weak link, every ladder its bottom rung, and every litter has its runt. When it comes to this soccer team, my child is all of the above. Of course, I remember studying group behavior in a college psych class. Even when the “problem child” was removed, someone else just stepped in to take his place. I tell myself that if it was not my son somersaulting in midfield, it would simply be someone else’s.

The one thing we have going for us is that Coach Fox is obviously short-listed for canonization. At the close of every game, he and Henry exchange fist pumps, and he says, “Great job today, buddy!” As though he really means it. As though he has utterly forgotten that Henry spent the bulk of the first quarter grabbing him in the ass.

And so week after week, we don shin guards and bright purple socks, and my son, the runt, the problem, the slacker, happily reports for duty on field 5, much to the dismay of parents and caregivers. Because despite Henry’s skill-less-ness, this is his favorite sport. He wakes up every morning asking, “Is today a soccer day?” And let’s out a squeal when it is, it is, it is.

He is the worst player on the team. There is no doubt about it. But what separates us from the animals, I think, is that we let all the children play together. Cheetahs and penguins, goldfish and gazelles all have their time in the sun. It is a game, after all. And they are children. Ninja kicks and all.

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Babies

How The Worst Typhoon In History Taught Me To Appreciate Crying Babies

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Adapted from Our New Book, Here Be Dragons

 

I never really liked babies. I love my own, of course. But that’s a genetic imperative. Other people’s babies? For most of my adult life, my feelings ranged from mild disinterest to barely concealed annoyance. I never found their outfits particularly cute or their peek-a-boo games terribly entertaining. And travelling with them on airplanes? I always said I would rather be stuck in the back-row-middle seat next to the toilet, than be sitting anywhere near someone else’s baby in flight. Until, that is, I went to the Philippines. In November of 2013, forty minutes after sunrise, in the wake of the worst typhoon in recorded human history, I changed my mind about kids.

When Typhoon Haiyan made landfall on November 8, 2013, it brought sustained winds of 196 miles per hour, and gusts topping 250. Had it hit the United States, its outer bands would have stretched from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, CA. I flew into the disaster zone with a medical relief team, on one of the first Marine Corps C-130s carrying aid workers. We landed on a pitch-black runway in a city with no lights. Amidst the rubble of a military barracks, we established our forward operating base.

The next morning, at first light, we boarded a Philippine Air Force Huey and headed south. What we saw confirmed our worst fears. Nothing was left intact. Even the sturdiest buildings had their roofs ripped away. The storm surge had rushed for miles, reducing houses to matchsticks. Ships lay hundreds of yards inland, like toys dropped amid the debris. I have been in warzones. But nothing compared to the devastation I saw flying along the Philippine coastline.

We circled the village of Tanauan and identified what we assumed was the clinic. Between the scattered rubble and crowds of people, there was no way to land. So we diverted to a strip of empty beach a few miles away. As we approached, people sprinted towards the descending helicopter. The pilot hovered a few feet off the ground, and we leapt. As our ride lifted away, a crowd of villagers gathered. We had been warned that they might try to take our supplies. The opposite was true. They were hungry and scared, but grateful, and they helped us make our way to the clinic.

The makeshift hospital was set up inside the former city hall, one of the only buildings left with walls still standing. Hundreds were already gathered, seeking medical help. Most had walked miles. Wounds were starting to fester, and the air stank of gangrene. I made my way to the second floor where a surgery was underway.

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All day and all night, patients arrived in a steady stream, bearing gaping, jagged gashes, many of them showing signs of gangrene. For a rookie like me, those injuries were at least straightforward. Open, clean, disinfect, pack, and bandage. That I could handle.

The “injury” that knocked me off balance, oddly enough, had nothing to do with the typhoon. Late one evening, a pregnant woman arrived on the back of a moped. She was in labor, but struggling. The clinic was blacked out, lit only by the occasional flashlight and our headlamps bobbing up and down as we worked. Patients lay huddled in groups on the floor. Our OBGYN led the expectant mother to the “operating table,” and immediately determined a normal delivery was out of the question. Because of how the baby was positioned, a C-section would be necessary to save the lives of both mother and child.

The surgeons decided to begin the operation at dawn. When the first ray of sun split the horizon, I said a prayer. Please help this mother. Please save this baby. As the surgery began, a few of us huddled on the floor around a camp stove. Someone brewed a pot of tea, and we sat in silence, sipping from tin mugs, straining to hear the doctors talking softly to each other as they worked. Then, a sound I will never forget. A baby’s cry, healthy, strong, and defiant.

I felt the sun warming my neck, looked down into my cup, and wept. I tried to make my tears less obvious. My team in the Philippines included some of the toughest people I have ever known: combat medics, Special Forces operators, a paratrooper from the French Foreign Legion. When I looked up, I could see we all felt the same thing—our faces wore identical expressions of exhaustion and relief, but above all—joy. That baby may have been crying the loudest, but we all joined in varying degrees.

Six hours after that sunrise, we called in a Philippine Air Force helicopter to evacuate our most critical patients. A cardiac case, an amputee, a new mother, and a six-hour-old baby girl were airlifted to Manila. Miracles do happen. Even in the wake of tragedy. To this day, whenever I hear a baby cry, I smile inside.

Even on airplanes.

A version of this article originally appeared on Fatherly.com.

Awesomeness

We Have Some News. . .

No, I’m not pregnant.

Whenever a woman reaches a certain reproductive age, this is the only “news” that truly lives up to the announcement of NEWS. Sorry to disappoint.

And, no, Ken and I are not getting divorced.

I always find it odd when people think I might be going there. As though it was only a matter of time before I got tired of his shenanigans and he had his fill of my crazy. No splitsville yet. Though he is on notice for the broken sailboat he brought home from West Virginia three weeks ago Tuesday.

The real news is that we have written a book. Together. Without getting divorced. And without anybody getting pregnant. And largely because of friends/readers/wacky people like YOU, a publishing house bought it, and our book will be available on October 11th, 2016. Bonkers.

Here Be Dragons is about how we – you, all of us, actually – were pretty awesome before we became parents. We sailed oceans. We tried skydiving. And then the kids came along and peed on everything. And they made us sad and tired and angry. And we needed to sneak ice cream when they weren’t looking and hide drinks in the garage just to survive the days with those adorable little monsters who took over our marriage and kind of ruined our lives. And then, just when we thought we were never going to make it – never going to drink an entire cup of coffee uninterruptedly again, never going to drive from point A to point B without 19 arguments and 4 bathroom stops, never going to become the grown-ups we’d always planned to be – we figured out something even better: how to be a family. We found joy and purpose and laughter and adventure. Sure, our days are still hard sometimes. But they also got awesome again. Here Be Dragons is the story of that journey.

And we are really excited (and nervous and shy and terrified, actually) to share it with you.

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“So, HOW CAN I HELP?”

It’s funny you should ask. Luckily, there are a bunch of ways you can help:

  1. Order a copy. Or eight. Buy one for your Mom’s birthday, your Dad’s retirement, your sister’s housewarming party, or for that cousin you don’t even really know who is having a baby shower and you don’t want to go, but you at least want to send her something that isn’t a rattle or a blanket.
  1. Help us spread the word. Tweet, Post, Pin, Snap, or Instagram us. Walk around your neighborhood whacking a frying pan with a wooden spoon and shouting our names. Whether you are high-tech or low-, we welcome the vibes.
  1. Write a review. If you have a blog or a typewriter, if you write for your school newspaper or the Chicago Tribune, we would be honored if you would give us – our work, our stories, our fashion sense – a little shout-out. And, on October 11th, Amazon reviews will be open for business. We would really love it if some of you guys would write us a review. It only takes like 3 minutes and those ratings really help.
  1. Drive around with Here Be Dragons in your car. (To sign up, send us a message with “Junk in Your Trunk” or “Dragons in My Wagon” in the subject line — info@dadvmom.com). We are looking for a few good missionaries. You never know when you might wish you had a copy to share with a friend or stranger. Plus, we would love to get this book on shelves in independent bookstores and libraries.
  • If there is an independent bookstore you frequent, go in and ask them if they will sell our book. If they say yes, hand them a copy.
  • Ask your local library if they will stock it. Sometimes, there is a lady behind the desk who does the ordering. Sometimes, it is a guy in a hat. For our library, there was a form.
  • Ask your book club if they will give it a whirl. There are discussion questions for reading groups already in the back of the book.
  1. Invite us over. We already have book events scheduled in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Cleveland, and we are scheduling more. We are equally at home in auditoriums or living rooms. We can talk at libraries and bookstores, pancake breakfasts, church luncheons, or supper clubs. We’ll come to your PTA meeting or your military spouses’ tea. We’ll bring books. We’ll make people laugh. We’ll serve pie. (<–Okay, Ken wants a disclaimer here. We only serve pie sometimes. But that’s just because some places have weird rules about pie and other places are way more cookie or brownie friendly, but come and see what dessert appears in your area.) We love to talk to folks about the horror/wonder of raising children.
  1. Send us warm thoughts. Even if you can’t buy the book, tweet, or meet us, we still love knowing you are out there. Post a comment here or on one of our social media sites. Let us know how you are doing. Let us know when DadvMom.com makes you laugh or cry or throw things.

My mom has priest friend, Father Bob, who has an expression: “So, is it yes or yes?” When he has a couple of projects that need doing – tree limbs that should be trimmed near the parking lot, a committee that wants staffing after Christmas – he goes before the church congregation and says, “So, is it yes or yes?” Are you going to help me in this way or are you going to help me in that way? The expression makes me laugh, but man, he gets things done.

It can be tricky to ask for help. We don’t want to bother you guys. We know you are busy. But we are literally a mom and pop outfit over here, and we can’t do this without you. Check the list above, check it twice, and let us know if it is YES or YES. Let us know how you can help.

As always, thanks for reading,

Annmarie and Ken

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Adventure

Tour-onto

We are in Canada for a few days.

We were not sure what to do here.

So we made a list.

Everyone got to pick something.

Henry wanted to ride a “train.” He had been watching streetcars rumble by from our third floor window.

Lizzie wanted to go swimming.

Katie wanted pizza.

I considered their typical kiddo ideas and thought maybe someone should choose something, anything, unique to this particular city. I scoured a web page of family-friendly sights and learned Toronto has a zoo, an aquarium, some nice beaches, and a tower. Since we have just moved away from Southern California, we recently experienced a zoo, aquarium, and beaches out there; that left us with the tower. So after breakfast—which we ate nearly at lunch time, since we had spent so much time making our list—we ambled over to the base of the CN Tower. Standing beneath it, the thing was impressive. Really. It dwarfs the surrounding buildings and high-fives the sky with its awesomeness. We were excited.

Except we probably should have ridden this wave of excitement somewhere else.

There was a 15-minute line to buy tickets. Which was nothing compared to what we were told would be a 2-hour wait to board the elevator. The kids nearly fell to pieces when they heard the words two and hours in the same sentence with the word wait. And really, they were the reasonable ones. I, on the other hand, was the nut job, the out-of-touch parent who intended to press on. To wait is good for children, I told myself. It teaches them attributes once celebrated in 1950s movies. Patience. Gentleness. And that thing about good things coming to those who. We would have a nice conversation. Maybe share a snack. Read all the interesting photo captions about the years 1973-1975, when the strong Canadian people constructed this tall tower to the sky.

And man, we made an effort. We looked at black and white photos of concrete being poured. We examined small models of the CN tower, which, while interesting, had nothing on the actual tower we had seen while walking in. We read about lightning, and how the whole place is grounded with copper wire. And all of that took about 17 minutes. Then Lizzie wanted me to hold her. Henry was hungry. And Katie wanted to blame me repeatedly for getting us into this stupid, touristy mess. But the more they complained, they more I dug in.

In high school, I had a driving instructor who talked to us about one-way streets. “One day, you may accidentally drive down a one-way street. Cars will head toward you. You will wonder what is happening. When you discover that you are driving the wrong way,” he said, “at that point, YOU SHOULD STOP AND TURN AROUND.” This wisdom seemed simple enough. If you realize you are heading in the incorrect direction, don’t keep going that same way. Then, one day, I did indeed find myself on a one-way street. It took at bit before I realized it. But when I did, I just kept on driving. It never occurred to me until afterwards that I should have stopped and turned around.

The same thing felt true yesterday. At any point, in the, say, 97 minutes before we reached the base of that elevator, I could have redirected us. I could have called it. I could have said, “Um, yeah, let’s go ride a train, swim, and order a pizza.” So what if those things weren’t very Toronto-y? Instead, we got in a line of people and the more the kids whined and complained, the more I insisted we stay there.

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Eventually, we made it up. And it was okay. Lizzie learned to take a panoramic picture with my phone. Katie studied the outline of lake Ontario. Henry counted skyscrapers. All three of them enjoyed a few minutes standing on the glass floor hundreds of feet in the air. But then we waited in line for the restaurant. And the bathroom. And the elevator to get back down.

Hundreds of (Canadian) dollars and nearly five hours later, we wandered through an outdoor exhibit at the Toronto Railway Museum on the way back to our hotel. The kids climbed in a caboose, sat in the cupola, and pretended they were railroad workers on the ladders and berths. They were curious and clambering and happy, and all ten minutes of it was free. This was how we should have experienced Toronto. Briefly, almost accidentally, and on the cheap.

I have made this same mistake before with our kids, dragging them into and across quintessential city sights. In San Francisco, I insisted that they walk with me down Lombard Street, and blocked out their voices when they complained along the Golden Gate Bridge. In Los Angeles, they were too hot at the Griffith Observatory and underwhelmed by the Hollywood sign. In New York City, they loathed Central Park. I have never had the opportunity to bring them overseas, but I envision my children equal parts bored and angry from the Great Wall of China to the Great Barrier Reef. I can just see myself shushing them in front of the Mona Lisa and dragging their tired feet along Venetian canals. As their mother, I feel this is my job. To introduce them to the great cities and wonders of the world, to plant the seeds, and assume that worldliness will sink in years later. Even though these sightseeing expeditions are a misery.

But after this week, I have begun to think differently. Love for a place can take many forms, and wonder is just as likely to flourish in an ordinary neighborhood as it is from atop the most celebrated sight. I learned to love London in its parks and theaters. My fondness for Paris was born in an afternoon of chocolate croissants and shopping for shoes. And Athens came alive to me in the music I heard in the taverns once the sun went down.

Today, because Henry wanted to, we hopped on a streetcar just to see where it would take us. We had no agenda, no sightseeing itinerary, no plan. We rode until we saw an interesting line of restaurants. We hopped off and ate pastries and ice cream, ambled along a cool row of eclectic shops. And when the first child started to complain, we hopped back on the streetcar and rode it back to the hotel to swim. Afterwards, we ordered pizza. And our love for this city was born.

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Awesomeness

Day 3: Detour

Today began with a detour. Ken wanted to see a cave.

Yesterday, it was a meteor crater. Tomorrow, probably some rocks. I tolerate my husband’s little sideshows because they:

  1. get us out of the car
  2. make him happy
  3. give the kids something new to complain about.

Because unlike their father, our children seem only to want to see two things on this trip—Cheetos and Minecraft (ßwhich, for anyone fortunate enough not to know, is a game that will consume your child’s soul from about the age of 7 until, I dunno, maybe forever).

Thus, we plotted a course for Carlsbad Caverns, which sits—my apologies to the locals—deep in the corner pocket of nowhere.

Just after Albuquerque, we got separated. Ken, child-free in the big truck, was able to travel at roughly the speed of sound, whilst I, driving the minivan/clown car pulled off 14 different times for coffee, ice cream, hot dogs, apple juice, and then so various individuals could poop and/or pee. (Yeah, okay. I see now how those stops were probably related.)

And, of course, because I was playing a Math game with Katie while listening to Henry tell me how “that cloud looked like an alligator” and “that cloud looked like a meatball,” I missed the exit. Which would not have been that big a deal, until Ken called to say he was already at the caverns and where was I and could I please try not to be late?

Of course we were late.

Ken phoned every 10 minutes to check on our progress.  We skidded in shoeless and needing to pee (again!?) at 4:51 just in time for the final elevator of the day.

I learned no facts about the Carlsbad Caverns. How deep they were? Who found them? Why they were there? I intend to Wikipedia this info shortly.

But they were spectacular. Hundreds of feet underground, we emerged from the elevators, and turned to see enormous white caverns. Miles bigger than anything I had imagined. And rather than dark and dank, much of it was gently lit to reveal glowing structures. Vaulted cathedral ceilings dripping with piercing stalactites. Naves of calcified crystals and stalagmites. Glassy water ponds, and quiet stone seats for rest and reflection. Strategically placed lights gave the whole place a reverent glow. We spent over an hour wandering the caves, peering into seemingly bottomless pits, finding shapes in the stones. Katie saw the seven dwarves, Santa, and a Christmas tree. Henry found jellyfish and spaghetti, and Lizzie found a small theater populated by the tentacles of a giant squid. Rather than another one of our forced family marches, it felt like a religious pilgrimage. Everywhere I looked, I saw relics – statues of saints, a prayer nave, a series of benches that seemed ready for church. The cavern was even laid out in the shape of a cross.

It is a good thing that while I was down there, I did not know about the bats.

Nearly half a million bats sleep by day in a chamber deep within the Carlsbad Caverns. And most evenings, they emerge all at once to feed.

Of course, Ken needed to see this.

My husband does not know the meaning of enough is enough.

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At 7pm, more than satisfied by our journey through the caverns, and on the cusp of hangry, I allowed myself to be ushered by Ken down to a stone amphitheater to meet Ranger Lacey.

At 7:30, she said it would be any minute now.

At 7:45, she mentioned that if they were coming, they usually would have emerged by now.

At 8, she said that occasionally, due to weather or circumstances beyond our understanding, the bats did not come out at all, and the park had to close, and yeah, that was a bummer, but you could always come back to the middle of nowhere New Mexico another time.

The kids were getting restless. Folks began to leave. Even Ken was ready to call it.

But at 8:07, the bats flew.

I expected to hear the swooshing and whooshing, screeching and maybe the scraping of claws (confession: most of what I know about bats is from cartoons). Instead, 400,000 animals formed tornado after bat tornado, dipped and circled soundlessly, before lifting to the sky in flight. I sat with hundreds of people in utter stillness. 500+ folks silent as a church. Cell phones strictly forbidden. Watches set not to beep. So we just sat there, strangers in the twilight, mystified and united by bats.

Well played, husband.  A pretty great day.

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Despite my hope to capture reverence and beauty, all of my photos of the caverns look like the mouths of aliens.  You can see way better images here.

Also, even though WE could not photograph the event, others have.  Do a quick Google search of “photos of bat flight Carlsbad Caverns” to see what I’m talking about.  Pretty rad.

Photo credit for the banner image on this page: Carlsbad Caverns National Park. © Chris Walters Photography

Awesomeness

Cross-Country Day 2: Your Singing Is Hurting My Band-Aid

 

We had some trouble getting out of the motel this morning. Our plan had been to awaken early, pack up quickly, and head to the Grand Canyon swiftly before the heat of the day and the arrival of the weekend tourist buses.

But leaving LA yesterday took a physical and emotional toll, thus we were all bonkers tired this morning, plus the kids wanted pancakes, and then Henry cut his foot during one of his epic leaps from one advertised-as-a-queen-but-totally-a-double motel bed to the other while Dad was trying to nap, so it was nearly noon when we finally made it down to the parking lot—which was empty, except for two vehicles, both ours.

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As we set out for the Canyon, I was reminded of why I had skipped it on my three other cross-country road trips. It is not exactly on the way to anywhere, except, I guess, to itself. The kids argued about the iPad, and Henry complained the music was making his Band-Aid hurt, and Ken and I wondered aloud about whether the gal at the front desk had been exaggerating when she told us about the 30-45-minute long line just to get into the park. With Henry’s bum foot and this crazy heat, there would be no hiking, and what was the point of visiting the Grand Canyon if we were only going to look at it?  I had half a mind to just turn us around again to keep driving.

But then we saw the helicopter.

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Yes, it was expensive.

Yes, it was (initially) terrifying.

But then, it was just awesome.

The pilot played the theme songs to Chariots of Fire, Star Wars, and 2001: A Space Odyssey as we headed toward the Canyon, but then when he reached it, he cut off the music and let nature speak for itself.

Hovering above the Grand Canyon made it look simultaneously big and small, made us feel both all-powerful and insignificant. And after I overcame my fear of all of us plummeting to the ground in a fiery crash, I enjoyed the ultra-modern journey backwards in time.

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We got back to the car and the kids resumed their arguments about whose turn it was for the iPad and who would pick the next movie. But I hardly listened. I floated above them, my mind full of rusty red rocks, and I piloted our minivan east.

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Time Travel

A Father’s Day Promise

When I was 5, my father made a promise he never intended to keep. He had returned from a long trip, with presents. I got a fossilized shark tooth and spent the next month asking about fossils.

At some point, my father made the mistake of describing a massive fossil bed somewhere in Germany. I begged him to take me. There were good reasons that could never happen: Dad knew nothing about fossils; Germany was far away; I was 5. But I would not be deterred.

Eventually, my father relented. “Fine, I promise we will hunt fossils in Germany.”

For more than 30 years, I held onto that promise. That’s not to say I held my father to it. Eventually, I understood how absurd it was. But I wondered why he agreed in the first place. I kept telling myself, “A promise is a promise.

Becoming a parent changes everything, even logic. It turns out a promise is not a promise when made under duress to a child. As a Navy pilot, I went through a prisoner of war survival program, which included tactics for withstanding torture. This is training every father should undergo. I learned there that a forced confession, like a forced promise, is not real.

A few months ago, I made such a promise to my daughter. I do not remember the specifics of my breakdown, only Katie’s pleading. “Daddy, if I make good choices can we hike the Great Wall?”

“No.”

“Daddy, I know you said we can’t.  But if I eat 10 vegetable, can we?”

Multiply that question a thousand times and the answer transforms. “Yes … I promise.”

Since then, Katie has told everyone that Dad is taking her to China. Even her teacher was impressed. “So you’re hiking the Great Wall with your daughter? Amazing!”

A pledge to a child can be a beautiful thing. I’ve promised Katie that when we swim into deep water I will not let go. I’ve sworn I will always love her. Some promises, however, cannot be kept. My father did not take me fossil hunting.

dadvmom.com_promises_GrandpaHStill, what lay behind his promise was never betrayed. It lost its original form; time, and the pressures of parenting, transformed it. But it emerged something beautiful, a reminder of adventures we did have. My father and I dove the Florida Keys, we canoed Loch Ness, we hiked the length of Hadrian’s Wall.

Sharks lose thousands of teeth in a lifetime. New ones roll forward to replace the old. Occasionally, a perfect tooth falls to the ocean floor. Sometimes, sediment buries it before nature’s harsher elements wear it away. If everything happens just right, time and pressure transform it.

Millions of years pass. Maybe one is uncovered and brought home as a gift. A fossilized shark tooth has no real “tooth” left in it; minerals have replaced everything it was. Still, it stays true to its original form.

Katie and I will share a thousand adventures, even if they aren’t the ones she imagines today. Someday, we may snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. We may fly to Texas for a hamburger. And maybe, just maybe, we will walk the 1,500 miles from Shanhaiguan to Jiayuguan, and laugh at all that time and nature conspire to change.

A version of this essay originally appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered.

Adventure

Kids in Canaan

We camped Joshua Tree over spring break.

Hiking the mile or so to our wilderness site, Henry tripped over a pricker bush and skinned his knee. Katie bumped her head on a tree branch and somehow got burrs in her hair. When we made camp, Lizzie knocked over our flaming stove during dinner.

It was my first time at the park. One cannot help but notice the Joshua trees, with their hardened and mangled trunks, flourishing despite the heat and lack of water, pushing up resolutely from the sandy soil like arthritic hands defying the surrounding landscape. But just as astonishing, perhaps even more so, are the miles of volcanic rocks throughout the park, ancient upwellings of magma near the San Andreas fault, forced to the surface as the ground shifted and millions of years of overlayers eroded around them. Though they came from beneath the earth, these stones appeared to have been dropped from the heavens, littering the terrain like remnants of a giant’s set of toy blocks. Boulders twenty feet high tottered on slabs fifteen feet across, with more rocks crammed in between.

dadvmom.com_letthemplay_KatiecrawlingOur children, like most children I suppose, held the trees in low esteem. The rocks, however…they beckoned. Our hike the next morning found Lizzie, Henry, and Katie scrambling up the boulders’ faces, jumping from ledges, squeezing through crevasses, and climbing to new heights.

In the beginning, Ken and I tried to keep up. He clambered behind, while I shadowed the kids from below, ready to catch the first one who missed a step, or at least break a fall as a child slid from a rocky shelf. But soon the heat and our aging ankle joints got the better of us. We sat on an outcropping while the children continued their games alone. Up, around, over, and through. The three-year-old combat-crawled through a narrow cave. The six-year-old surveyed miles of wilderness from a rocky perch. Even the eleven-year-old shook off her tween-ness to scurry, summit, and conquer.

Severed from gadgets and electronics, iPads and phones, our children could have been any children, from any land and any time. They did what young people do—they challenged themselves and found strength from the earth. At one point, I counted nineteen things that could have harmed them–spiny cactuses, crumbling rocks, a drop to a hole that was surely a snake den. But resting on my old bones, on an even older rock, I realized that the one thing that could have harmed them most was the insistence of my protection.

I’m not sure how long the kids carried on like that while Ken and I reclined in the shade. It seemed a moment frozen in time. We put our cameras away and basked in the beauty of the land around us, the wide open space, and the strength of our children’s joy. We watched them grow like trees from rock.

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Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

Be One Another’s Cul-de-sac

A friend and I spent the evening at church tonight. We broke bread with families who needed some. We listened, laughed, and prayed.

After the dishes had been washed and the food put away, we lounged together in a basement rumpus room. The kids invented a new game — ping-pong dodge ball — and the adults daydreamed about a cul-de-sac community where we could let our children play safely all day. Some nights, we all mused, we could wheel our barbecue grills out to the curb for a neighborhood buffet instead of cooking and eating dinner alone.

I drove home feeling both thankful and dispirited. So many of us have so much. We build our homes up and out and bigger and more. We have dishes for twenty, but only ever use five. We build fences where we could plant flowers. We schedule ourselves so tightly that there is no room for generosity, magnanimity, or an impromptu dinner with the people next door.

We make it easy to forget to share.

But we can be better. I can be better. In a world of gated communities, security passcodes, and election seasons that divide rather than unite, summon your kindness, and unleash your love. Be one another’s cul-de-sac.

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Awesomeness, Birthday-mania

Take-Your-Daughter-to-Work Week

Once again, the job I love had me on the road last week. It was a quick trip, a day transiting through Istanbul and three more in Germany for a half-dozen meetings over beers and bratwurst. It’s the kind of jaunt I would have loved before kids, when I did not have to worry about them missing me, and me missing them. Plus, my departure was set for a couple days after Katie’s birthday, which is never ideal.

My brother, who lives in Germany, said, “Why don’t you bring her?” I poked around online, found cut-rate airfare, and made plans to meet up with my brother’s whole family in Munich. On Katie’s birthday, my present to her was an envelope with plane tickets, her passport, and 100 Euros (thanks Grandma). Two days and 10 time zones later, we were feet-dry in Deutschland. Between my work meetings, we saw castles and museums and ate pretzels until we were stuffed.

Most of all, we talked, about the kinds of things that only come out when you spend hours and hours with someone you love. We staggered through our jetlag together, and spent one too many midnights watching bad movies on German Netflix. Towards the end we began plotting our next adventure. Thailand?  South Africa?  Vladivostok?  As a father, it’s easy to bemoan the fact that my little girl is growing up. Too often, it happens while I am gone. But there is an upside. She’s becoming an awesome wingman.