Monday, August 16, 2021

Caterpillar in the tree...

And she's off. Ten hours away. Officially a Tar Heel. The hole in our home and our lives is palpable. And measurable. "How many plates?" The boy asked tonight, after we coaxed him to set the table. "Just five," I said. He left her spot empty, like a missing man formation. 

We know she's just embarked on a great adventure: College. What an amazing rite of passage we have. We’re excited for her. Truly. But it is hard for us. For 18 years we woke her and fed her and loved her as best we could. Which wasn’t always enough. Now, we’ve set her free. 

Some worry whether their kid is ready for the world; I worry the world isn’t ready for ours. She is an unstoppable force. Of all the highfalutin jobs my wife and I have had over our years, raising her and her siblings was by far the most important, and challenging, and rewarding, and draining, and... well, you understand.

They warn you it goes by fast. It does. Eighteen years in a flash. Now she’s ready to make her mark. And we’ll all be better for it.

For the most part, I held it together when we dropped her off. Just a few slight tears. A bit of a lump in the throat. But nothing embarrassing. Then we drove home, to the play list she’d put together for the trip down. (It’s like Gen Z’s version of the mixed tape). 

Quite a few “Carolina” themed tunes, of which there are many. But then one played I knew was meant for me. 

“Flap your wings now you can't stay. Take those dreams and make them all come true. Butterfly, fly away.”

Man, that kid.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

I was on a podcast. Check that box.

When you’ve written a blog for as long as I have, there are several crowning moments.

Like the time I passed a guy in a stairwell and he looked at me and yelled, “RUDDYBITS!”

Or when I was in the local grocery store, and a mom who was friends with my sister came up and told me she enjoyed my blog. That was shortly after I’d written about my child barfing in that same store, so it caused mixed emotions.

Undoubtably, the top “accomplishments” that stand out for me over the past 9 (holy crap) years are getting to write for the Washington Post and that ski trip to Gore almost 5 years ago that a magazine actually paid me to write. I’d be remised to not also mention how my blog introduced me to the Dad 2.0 community and helped me make fatherhood friends from across the globe. That led to being a spotlight blogger at the 2019 conference and speaking in front a few hundred people more talented than me, which was a blast. Those are the “best ofs” from over the years, for sure.

But, a close second place – or third or fourth, but who’s counting – is getting to talk about this entire blogging experience, and how it ties into my fatherhood journey in general, on a Podcast launched by a couple friends.

The Men on Men Podcast tackles many of the same issues I always tried to, talking about things dads deal with in a humorous and thoughtful way. And in the latest episode, I spoke with the men about my time being the “frontline” parent and all the fun that ensued. I love this podcast and these guys and certainly hope you will give it a listen.

I was a guest on this podcast

I always joke that podcast are the new reading. Which they kind of are. People used to start a smart sentence with, “I read recently…”  Now people say, “I heard on a Podcast recently…”

This was the first time I was a guest on a podcast, and I proved my old self-deprecating adage that I write better than I speak. Still, it was enjoyable. One less thing on the bucket list.    

But it got me to thinking how I really haven’t written much lately. At least not here. It’s been a combination of busy at work, focused on Twitter, and lack of motivation due to the pandemic. You know, I don’t have a lot of regrets, but not writing more this past year is likely going to be one.

Then again, maybe I’m just done.

Maybe appearing on this podcast was the final act. The pinnacle. Or the last gasp.

This blog has served an essential purpose, it has helped me chronical the part of parenthood that turns into a total blur years later. And maybe someday, I’ll be able to look back at old posts and be like, “Oh yeah, remember when that happened,” about something I wouldn’t otherwise have remembered. (Actually, I did that yesterday).

But, the truth is, writing here doesn’t help the way it used to. I don’t hold out any hope that this is going to lead to a book contract. Or that I’m going to go viral with one of my barf stories and end up on Good Morning America, after which, of course, we’d be set for life.

And for some reason, self-publishing the intimated details of our daily adventure for free doesn’t give the endorphins it once did -- or provide the therapy I likely need. It was always kind of like being an artist who paints pictures and then hangs them down by the mailbox for passersby to glance at and say, that guy always was a bit odd. Slightly talented. But odd.

Frankly, with three teens in the home, my life isn’t the constant source of humor it once was. Now, it’s more like a slow-moving horror movie. And if I wrote about that. Well. It would be like the biopic of the suburban dad who descends into madness, but in blog form.

There are things I wish I'd written about but didn't: like school musicals or my pride at my daughter's involvement in the High School Improv Club. I went to a High School that had one room for the cafeteria, the auditorium and the gym. We didn't have an Improv Club. Or a school musical. Or a track team for that matter. So, I wish I'd written about that stuff.

This is starting to feel like that Facebook post where someone announces they’re signing off, while the rest of us just scroll by. Yeah, yeah. Whatever. And all the poster is really doing is yelling into the void.

And, who knows, maybe something will change inside of me and I’ll need this space again. It has been fun. And, if you do like it and are just discovering these posts, there’s 152 more – just enter a key word in the search bar on the right. You can start with a common term, like “poop.”

I’ve even been thinking lately about using this space to share some of the great recipes I’ve grown to depend on over my years in the family kitchen. Kind of a “Dad Can Cook” thing. We’ll see. It starting to sound like my trip to madness is complete. But why not. I’m no better a chef than I am a writer or a parent. And, a general lack of expertise seems to be my most endearing quality.

And maybe I'll wake up tomorrow to a headline that says, "Blogger's Heartfelt Goodbye to His 3 Readers Goes Viral."       

So, I’ll keep this channel open in case I am so inspired.

But for now, thank you for reading. And be well. It's not goodbye, but until I see you again.

*Passes torch to podcasting friends

RuddyBits out.

I repeat, For now.

P.S. Follow me on Twitter.

Monday, March 1, 2021

One Last Time Up a Mountain

The dad stood atop the tallest ski hill in the east, 4386 feet above sea level, looking out at the surrounding mountains and down a steep slope of white. It’s one of those views that make you say, holy crap, I’m on a mountain.

Then he turned to his kids and lowered his goggles.

“Alright, we’re gonna take our time, wait for each other, and stick together,” he said. “We got this.”

And off they went.

I turned to my kids and could see the concern in their eyes.

“What he said,” I muttered with a less cool lowering of my goggles.

It was our only trip to the top of Whiteface Mountain. Accomplished thanks to an intimidating chair lift that takes you into the clouds -- with signs noting the famous mountains you‘re higher than along the way.  

“I think I’m scared,” my 17-year-old daughter said when we passed the sign telling us we were higher than Vermont’s Jay Peak. And there was good reason to be.

After filling my kids with dread, the lift eventually deposited us atop the Adirondacks. It was on us to get down in one piece.

We’d decided to take the family skiing during Presidents Day week due to a break from online school and the mental need to do something, anything. It was a calculated risk.

Like most people, we’ve had very few adventures away from home over the past year. Mostly local hikes here and there, and a few trips to a nearby beach with no crowds. We’ve taken the pandemic health protocols seriously, and always wear masks and social distance and make sure not to do all the things that can spread the virus. But this ski trip felt needed.

Before we planned the trip, we read up on the health protocols at the mountain and on articles about the relative safety of skiing as an activity during a pandemic. Masks required all the time. Limited lodge access. No virus breakouts recorded. It was in the same state and would only require a long car ride to get there. It all checked out. So, we weighed the decision against our increasingly debilitating cabin fever and went for it.

But there’s another reason we did this. And that’s because it was likely the last time we could.

A lot of people have given up things they love as we as a society and a world try to fight this pandemic. With a daughter headed to college next fall, most of what we’ve given up and what she’s given up are the lasts. Her last school musical. Her last school dance. One last normal year with all our kids living at home.

The last family ski trip wasn’t going to be another casualty. Not if we could prevent it.

I don’t want to give the impression that we spend a lot of time, typically, galivanting around the country going skiing. We don’t. That’s not who were are or who we can afford to be. Most winters we just ski at our local little hills a few times. But, we’ve also taken trips to bigger hills, once memorably to Gore Mountain and more recently to Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont. These trips were the culmination of the many years we spent teaching our brood to ski, which was no easy task. Though, it got better.

We’ve also learned over the years that special events, like family ski trips, are the flowers in the garden of our memory. They’re the times that stick with you, when the day to day fades into the background of your life story. And who couldn’t use some flowers right now?

I also don’t want to give the impression that we will never take another family ski trip. We well might. Maybe our eldest daughter will come back from college for a weekend, and we’ll be able to find time and money enough to make it happen again. It just doesn’t seem likely. And when your kid is quickly becoming an adult, those last family moments together are tangibly fleeting.

In the fall she goes to school. Where, we’re not yet sure. Someplace far away, she says. I’m trying not to take that personally. But going to a college that’s cool and big and challenging is something she’s been focused on and dreaming about since before high school. Like most parents, I’m proud that she has a solid plan, and I slightly dread that it’s about to happen.

I just hope that we’ve raised her with enough guidance and support that she willfully decides to come home from time to time. And that she desires to go on a family ski trip again, or something akin to it, because we’ve given her a reason to want to spend time with us.

The truth is, I’m a little scared myself right now. I know life always brings change. And, if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that you won’t always see the changes coming. But sometimes you do. And that can be hard too.

Our family is about to change. The four kids under our roof are about to become the three. We’re one step closer to being empty nesters. And to grandchildren. Oh my god. I’m getting old.

I just want to stay at the summit of the mountain with my kids and my wife nearby. Looking out at the world and the adventure ahead, with all the fear and excitement you’d expect and ever want. But, things do change.

Not to spoil it, but we did make it down from the summit of Whiteface Mountain in one piece. And it certainly was a day to remember for the ages. Filled with gondola rides and ski fries. And even a few smiles.

And, between now and next fall, we’re going to do our best to enjoy the lasts that remain. The last trip to Hilton Head. The last days at the beach. The last campfires in the backyard.   

Hopefully, no matter what the future holds, and where we all end up after the pandemic is over and this family is separated by many miles, we’ll always remember to take our time, wait for eachother, and stick together.

Here's other articles you may enjoy: Learning Lessons from a Little Boy, One Smiling Moment -- The Truth Behind an Okay Photo, and To the Lost Little Girl in DC: Watching You Find Your Mom Made My Day.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Rink and the Not-So-Great Flood

The PVC pipe rolled away, the tarp flattened, and a few hundred gallons of water began flowing toward the boy and I, our hands drenched, freezing, desperately trying to hold back the flood.

“Fuck!” I cursed out loud.

Failure. The big, dumb project had failed.

Have you ever had an idea that got stuck in your craw and you just had to get it out? That’s exactly how I found myself trying to build a backyard ice rink.

I’d thought about it for years, and would often Google cost for kits that are sold to do such a thing, like E-Z Ice. But those kits are expensive with mixed reviews. And we do not have extra cash for such a folly.

But this fall, with the second surge of the pandemic bearing down and a few cold months being trapped in our house on the horizon, I decided to make it happen.

After a bit of research, I found there were basically two approaches for the DIY rink: Wood boards and braces, or PVC pipe. The key being that if you go for the PVC pipe, you better make sure you have a flat, level area, because you only have a few inches to play with to get the thickness of ice needed for safe skating.

The first step, before deciding materials was finding the right area. With the biggest tape measure I own, I went into the yard and found a 20-foot by 30-foot rectangle that seemed fairly flat and level. PVC it was.

I swung by Lowes and Home Depot to price out PVC parts, figuring I’d need 10 sections of 10 foot 4-inch PVC pipe, along with 4 corners and 6 other connectors. I’d also need a tarp. The pipe and connectors priced out to be about $160. But neither store had the right tarp.

Thank goodness for the internet. A 24x36 tarp would set me back $125.

So, I spoke to the wife, who kind of shrugged, and said go for it. The next day, I dragged the boy (10) to the big-box stores and purchased the pipe. (I got the PVC at Lowes and the corners at the Depot to save a few bucks). The boy went happily, as this was for him after all -- (and his 12-yr-old sister -- as a replacement for the hockey they’d played in recent non-covid years. I also figure we’d all need a reason to get outside this winter.

The tarp was ordered that afternoon, opting for white – which was the right call – and 2-day delivery.

When it arrived, we began the construction, and it was the easiest darn thing I ever built. Of course, it still needed water. Which is important.

The temps we’re predicted to drop below freezing in the coming days, so we got the hose and started filling. This would be the moment of truth. Would the pipes hold? Would the tarp leak? Would the area be level enough?  I’m a worrier by nature, so of course, the hours filling were spent pacing and tinkering.

After a few hours of the hose running, we had four inches on one end, and nary a drop in the other. Not knowing a darn thin about what the future would hold, I was concerned that, if I decided to just let the shallow end be thin and be avoided for the winter, we’d certainly see a skate go though it and rip the tarp, spoiling the entire rink.

So, I decided to raise the pipe on the deep end, forcing the water to cover the entire area.

The boy and I jammed a few pieces of chopped wood under the corners – their shape creating a ramp that, with outward pressure on the pipes, would push them higher. I figured that seemed smart. Then I got some extra paving stones and went to put them under the long parts of the pipe, so the entire side was even.

I lifted the pipe and tucked in the paver.

That’s when the great breach happened.

The pressure from the building water had found a weak point when I was adjusting the pipe height, and boom, leaving the boy and I befuddled as the water rush past us, chilling our fingers instantly.   

I sat back on my knees and collected my thoughts.

“Stay calm.” I instructed.

And I grabbed the edge of the tarp and stood up straight. It wasn’t as heavy as I expected. “Hold this,” I said. The boy dutifully took the tarp’s edge. While I gathered the PVC pipe that had rolled away, and secured it again with a rubber mallet, this time as an inch of water sopped my shoes and the ground around us.

Pipe reattached, and securely placed on the pavers and wood, he let the tarp go, and the water again rushed toward the high end.

This time, the PVC wall held. About half of the water had spilled out into the yard. But, within minutes, it had absorbed into the thirsty ground.

Knowing what failure looked like, I began cautiously filling the rink again, while the boy worked to remove the leaves. 

By that evening, we had at least 3 inches of water throughout the rink. The pipes held. That tarp didn’t leak. And, after a few cold nights, we had skateable ice.

Now, we spend time most days skating and playing small hockey games.

The boy loves it. Though not nearly as much as my wife.

I also discovered a whole world of people who build rinks in their yard each winter. The Backyard Ice Rinks group on Facebook has 23,000 members. Apparently, mine was not such a novel idea. And some of these rinks are impressive – like full size hockey rinks.

Ours is a little small. But we enjoy it.

Though, next year, we’ll likely build a bigger one.

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Many Ways I'm Not Superman

There’s a theory out there that claims the side of the head a man parts his hair on says all you need to know about his personality, his potential in life, and his success.

I heard about this “hair part theory” recently on a podcast, which is the new reading. It used to be that some schmo would have to write something down so others could begin sentences with, “I read recently that” blankety-blank. And then all the rest of us would automatically give it credence because the schmo wrote it down. Now, all anyone needs to do is say it out loud and everyone who hears them gets to begin sentences with, “I heard on a podcast that…” and they sound like Einstein.

Anyway, this podcast claimed the most successful and notable men always part their hair on the left side of their head. And that left-side-parters emit some sort of cosmic vibe that communicates their awesomeness to the world.

This theory isn’t new, apparently. It’s been around for some time. So long that the hairstylist for the movie Superman used this subtle difference in hair part to distinguish between Clark Kent and his Superhero alter ego.

Mr. Kent parted his hair on the right, and, when the big switch would occur inside a phone booth somewhere, Superman would emerge with his hair parted on the left. My own sub-theory is that, because Superman parted his hair on the left all those years ago, it further reinforced this notion of a dominant side on which to part your hair. But, what do I know? I don’t even have a podcast.

It just so happens that in recent weeks, I started parting my hair on the right side, like Clark Kent.

After years of parting on the left -- for no real reason other than I’d done it that way since ending my Tom Petty, part-in-the-middle phase in High School -- I finally gave in to the fact that certain cowlicks made me more naturally a right-side-parter. What a weird word cowlick is, by the way. I mean, how long did we have to share space with our bovine friends to come up with that one?

Oddly enough, since I made the switch to a right-side part, people have been complimenting my hair. Which is something that has never happened before in my entire life.

What it’s told me, however, is that – despite my visions otherwise – I am much more of a Clark Kent than a Superman.

This is the paragraph where I shift gears and head in a different direction, seemingly. You see, as this hair-part realization occurred, I unrelatedly but simultaneously came to the conclusion that the white whale I’ve been chasing quietly for the past decade might never get caught.

That was way too opaque. Let me try again.

I’ve got this affliction called writing. And I’ve got this dream about getting my writing published. But not published in magazines or major websites, as I’ve done that. But books. And not books like print them myself and sell them out of my van, but like lit-agent, publishing house type books. New York Times best-seller type stuff. Far-fetched, right? 

Well, with this in mind, I’ve written books: memoirs, and literary novels, and an MG realistic fiction. MG means middle grade, a genre I really liked reading these books to my kids. Heck, I even once wrote a picture book that I horribly illustrated about a kid who loses her balloon and imagines that it went to the moon. Balloonie Went to the Moonie. It was a metaphor for death and loss. It was cute. Way cuter than it just sounded.

These books were like my lottery tickets. One of them was going to be the answer to all our challenges. And the next one was going to change everything. My life’s dreams lived in each of them.

While everyone else has been waking up, or getting ready for bed, or pursuing their own hobbies that border on afflictions, I’ve been writing, and editing, and pitching literary agents. They call that querying. And the process sucks as bad as the word.

What querying means to most writers is random rejection. It’s not random in that it comes from nowhere, because you essentially ask for it. It’s just random in when it arrives. I’d be coaching a soccer practice and look down at my phone to see an email that says something like, “Thank you for sending your query. I read it with interest. Unfortunately, it’s not right for my list right now. But don’t fret, publishing is a subjective industry. Another agent might love it. Now, piss off.”

I may have embellished a bit. But, like that, rejection would arrive randomly: in line at the grocery store, or on a lunch break, or on a Saturday evening. Or on Christmas Eve. How cruel must you be to hit send at that point?

Anyway. The latest book I wrote was really going to be the one. It's good. And quirky. I had a bunch of agents ask for the full manuscript, which is like getting to first base in the publishing world.
Yet, in recent weeks, those full request have generated even more rejection. Deeper and more personal rejection. Quote, It didn’t pull me in. Your main character failed to grab me. The execution wasn’t what I’d need to see to champion this project going forward. Sprinkled in there were compliments, too. There's a lot to admire here. Your scene setting was commendable. Each rejection felt like the “it’s not you it’s me” kind of break up. And each makes you realize that you're not as good as you want to be.

 So, just as I’ve come to realize that my hair is of the Clark Kent variety, I’ve also begun to conclude that publishing might just not be in my future.

Another gear shift. In other news, my daughter this week went on her first college tour. She’s a junior, and ready to get out of Dodge and take over the world. She’s looking at big name schools with the perfect programs for all her dreams. I’m excited for her, but I can’t help but thinking about the cost.

It’s not just because I’m cheap, but rather, as my eldest gets ready to head off to school, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m still paying my own student loans. And there’s no way, with four kids, even with two decent jobs between us, that my wife and I will ever be able to pay for these types of schools.

I never thought that would be the case. I always figured something would break our way. Some big job would come along. Or some ship would come in. Or some book would sell. And it just hasn’t.

She’s not worried. She’ll borrow to make it happen. Which feels like defeat to me. Because, while I’ve rarely worried much about my own lifetime of student debt, I lose sleep worrying about my inability to prevent my kids from their own.  

It’s been a strange couple of weeks, all things considered. Realizing I’m not Superman, or publishable, or capable of paying for my kid’s college.

First world problems, if ever there were any. I know. 

Still, if you see me. Just tell me you like my hair. That it suits me.

I’m trying to embrace the fact that I’m not Superman and never will be.

Like the article?  Here's others you may enjoy: New Year, Few Expectations, One Fish, Two Fish, Dead Fish, New Fish and Kid Quotes from a Family Hike,

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Unstoppable Car Meets the Improbable Branch

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a cocktail meatball, I think I know.

Let me start again.

My kids and I have a little game I call, “What are the chances of that happening?” It’s not so much a game as a question I always ask after something random and highly unlikely happens. It’s a game because it has a set answer. No matter the actual odds, we always say, “100 Percent.”

It’s a dad thing.

Last weekend, however, something happened that was so unlikely that…

One more try. I’ll just say what happened.

Here goes.

On Saturday morning, I was driving my daughter to get the bus at the High School for an 8:00 am departure to the CNY Model United Nations event at Syracuse University. Yes. She’s an MUN nerd. But let’s not get sidetracked. We still love her.

So, we’re driving, and chatting, and I’m thinking about the fact that I had no real plans for the day, in part because it was ridiculously warm out for January in Upstate New York and all the usual things, like skiing, sledding, skating, building snow forts, etc., were not possible. Apparently, I'm a large child during winter. 

I’d even just opened one of my cans of Diet Rite as I drove, which is this no calorie, no sodium, no caffeine soda I drink – even in the mornings – which is probably awful for me.

Anyway, driving and chatting and sipping a crappy soda, and BAM!

An explosion! (It sounded like one, anyway).

Suddenly there was glass dust everywhere, and my daughter and I were just like, “Holy Crap!”

“You okay?!”

“I’m okay! You okay?!”

“Think so.”

We looked up at the now-fractured-into-a-thousand-pieces windshield and saw a branch sticking straight into the glass a solid ten inches. It poked through about halfway between us, just down from the rearview mirror.

For some reason, I kept driving. Probably because she had to be at school within minutes, and I calculated that she would miss the bus if we stopped -- One of the many things I thought about as my mind raced and processed what had happened.

We’ve had a bad string of luck with our cars the last year and a half or so. A bit less than a year ago, this same car got hit as it was parked on our street. A neighbor in a much bigger vehicle slid on some ice and took out the rear left corner. It probably should’ve been totaled. Instead, it spent three months in the body shop while I drove a rental, racking up thousands of dollars for the other guy's insurance to cover.

That accident was on top of the general car troubles you tend to have with Jeeps of similar age -- brakes, tires, ball-bearings, the transmission, even a battery that stopped working because some piece inside of it broke. Add to that four other incidents with the van in the same time frame. Those included my wife ending up in a snowy ditch; my wife hitting a curb and blowing out a tire; my wife hitting an actual bear on the Pennsylvania Turnpike; and my wife hitting a landscaping boulder at a mini-golf course.

I thought about this string of bad luck – and bit of bad driving by my better half -- as we chugged up the hill toward the school, peering through a windshield with a spiderweb of crack and a giant branch sticking out of it.   

As we drove, the branch, standing straight up in the air, began to lean in reaction to the wind and our momentum. As it did so, the shattered windshield creaked, raising concern that it might fall in on us and cover the car and its passengers with thousands of shards.

I grabbed the stick to stabilize it and kept going.

“That could’ve killed one of us,” I said, reflecting on the falling branch, as my daughter agreed and laughed. The only proper reaction.

We were lucky, to be honest.

After we parked and she darted toward the waiting bus, texting her friends about her brush with death, I got out and stared at this seven-foot-long stick that had fallen into our lives, and thought about the unlikelihood of what just happened.

Think about it. A car moving at 30 miles per hour, the wind blowing just enough to knock a branch loose, the branch falling on the perfect angle and with the right speed to spear the windshield of the moving car like an expert hunter.

If the branch had tilted a bit, it may have bounced off. Or if we were 2 seconds sooner. Or two seconds later. 

The math. The odds. The impossibility of it all.

What were the chances? I thought to myself.

The answer: I'm guessing 100 percent.

Like the article? Here's others you may enjoy: New Year, Few Expectations, One Fish, Two Fish, Dead Fish, New Fish and Kid Quotes from a Family Hike,

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

There Are No Working Air Conditioners in Hell

I have no evidence about the existence of an afterlife, but I can confirm that Hell is hot. Really hot. And sweaty. And there’s lots of grumpy, arguing people. All of whom I’m related to, apparently.

This past week, my family and I completed our annual pilgrimage to Hilton Head. The day after we got there, the air conditioning in our minivan went kaput.

It just so happened that this southern vacation destination that we’ve visited annually the past few years was also experiencing a warmer than usual stretch. The typical high temperature this time of year is about 90 degrees. Each day beat that average by between 5 and 8 degrees. When you factor in the humidity, the heat index was pushing 110.

And, apparently, the heat index is directly related to how often my children fight with eachother.

This is the only shady road in South Carolina.
Okay, so it wasn’t actual hell. It was South Carolina in the summer with no AC. Which is close enough. And it was vacation. So, right about now, you’re rightly thinking these are a first-world problems, and I should get a grip.

Clearly, you’ve never been in a van with my kids as hot are blew out the vents and hotter air blew in the windows. I actually cried while driving and listening to the bickering. It wasn’t so much that moment as the thought of the 934 mile drive home we would have to endure at the end of the week.

That looming trip home made me curl up in a fetal position with a bottle of rum and want to melt away. Which almost happened.

When I hit rock bottom and ran out of rum and sweat to give, I turned to my old friend Google and taught myself how to recharge the AC with coolant.

The back story is that we knew the AC was having problems before the trip. It started to struggle a few weeks before when my wife was out of town with the van, and she had to pay way too much money for some service station to recharge the AC. That fix lasted a few days before the air being spewed through the vents warmed up a gain. That told us we had a bigger problem. So, we took it to our trusty car guys and they charged us even more money to change some leaking tubes, giving us the false sense of security to drive south in the beast.

When the car AC stopped working in South Carolina, I knew that an expensive fix from a local service station would not last long enough to get us through the week or make it home. Also, we were running out of money, thanks to some sale my wife discovered on our second day there that caused her to blow our entire budget on gifts for the year ahead. But that's a story for another time. Or for never.

About halfway through the sweltering week, I watched videos on how to recharge the car's AC unit myself. It was surprisingly easy. And not that expensive.

Over the final two days of the trip, I bought 4 cans of R-134a refrigerant. That cooled things down long enough for hope to grow that we could actually make it all the way home with this temporary fix. It’s only a 14 hour drive, after all.

However, in life, and in this particular experience, I’ve learned that sometimes hope is the enemy of acceptance.

On departure day, I loaded up on cans of refrigerant at the Walmart in Hilton Head, and we turned our ship for home.

If we were smart, we would have biked the 934 miles home.
The first can lasted about an hour into the trip. The second only lasted 40 minutes. And the air coming out after the procedure first wasn’t even all that cool. By the third time we stopped the car along the side of the road so I could top off the AC with refrigerant, there was no discernable change in the hot air blowing through the vents.

Hope was lost. And heat was our reality. 

for the next 12 hours over two days of driving, the sweating was epic. The fights were legendary.

And I can confirm that Hell is hot. At least, my version of it.

Here's other articles you may enjoy: Vegas, Baby!, Dog Responds to "Mystery Poo" False Accusations, and Tip of the Hat to Single Parents, and Thanks to My Backup,

Friday, March 15, 2019

Watching Your Kids Fall Down

Down he fell again, this time landing on his back. I could practically feel the rock-hard ice reverberate through his little body. Pads or not, that one had to hurt.

He hesitated, worrying me that he was actually injured this time. Then he rolled over, scrambled to his feet, regained his balance, and skated on — certain to crash land again in the moments ahead.

It was a cool November morning during his first hockey practice when I realized my son didn’t know how to skate.

We’d gone skating before as a family over the years, a few times at the outdoor rink downtown and once or twice on a pond near our house. But not often enough for my 3rd grader to feel truly comfortable on the ice. And it was showing.


He fell again, likely the 50th time he’d hit the ice in the first half hour. Each time, I watched him, waiting for the tears to come, for him to skate off the ice — or crawl or crash — and announce that he was done with hockey.

He’s wanted to play hockey for years, bugging me to let him each year when I get obsessed with how deep into the NHL playoffs my team will go. This past year, my team won it all, and we watched every game we could. After they hoisted the Stanley Cup, he made his mom and me promise we’d sign him up for hockey in the fall.

So, we did. We just forgot to teach him to skate first.

One of the things I’ve always struggled with as a parent is watching my kids fail. What parent doesn’t want to protect them from some of the pain and disappointment life has for all of us?

I distinctly remember the feeling I had when I got cut from a travel soccer team in fourth grade. I was devastated. I don’t want my kids to go through that kind of rejection.

The boy, while not on his rear at hockey practice
As a parent, I often prepare my kids for potential setbacks, saying things before soccer tryouts like, there are so many kids that I’m sure lots of good players are going to get cut. Or telling them before play auditions that even getting a call back is something to be proud of.

That’s how I prepared my high schooler for her audition for this year’s school musical. Last year, she didn’t make it – as most freshman don’t. So, this year I prepared her for any potential disappointment.

“There’s so many talented kids, dear.”


“All you can do is give it your best.”

Along with a few;

“No matter what happens, we love you.”

I was surprised when she expressed frustration with my attitude on the matter. She liked that it was hard to make the musical and just wanted me to believe in her.

I've begun to realize, I’ve been so worried about preparing my kids for failure, that I’ve been undermining their confidence.

It seems a strange thing to admit in an age when most parents do a disservice by filling their kids with too much confidence, convincing them they’re the best at everything, when they’re just average. And sending them out into a world that is going to level them with reality in the years ahead.

That’s a mistake in itself.

Parents can make that one even worse by further protecting their kids from that eventual leveling by stacking the deck in their favor. That’s become clear recently, as we’ve seen wealthy parents across the country who have been so concerned about protecting their offspring from life’s disappointment that they’ve spent thousands of dollars and resorted to cheating so they can get into the college of their choice.

What those parents did was wrong.

But I understand the instinct. Believe me, I do.

That morning in November, I wanted to run out onto the ice – or skate, or something – and pick my son up and give him the biggest hug I could.

And, if I could’ve figured out a way, I probably would’ve made sure all the kids who tried out this year made the high school musical, just to spare them all, and most importantly my daughter, from the potential pain. But I didn’t.

I suffered as they struggled, and I worried as they worried.

In so doing, I’ve come to realize there is a balance to be had. Kids need confidence, for sure. But they also need to know the hard work it takes to get better at things, whether it’s hockey, or soccer, or singing, or school. And they need to know it’s going to take a lot of hard work on their part to reduce the number of disappointments in their future.

If I didn't know this already, it became obvious watching my kids face their challenges.

In the months before the musical auditions, my daughter put in the hard work. She worked on her singing, and she spent hours in dance classes improving her skills and even learning a whole new dance style.

And, guess what. She made the musical. She even had a speaking role and was a part of a few big dance scenes, including the tap dance number. Who knew she could tap? I was so proud of her. To top it off, the show was amazing.

As for my son, after that first day of practice, the one where he fell countless times, he skated over to me waiting by the boards and exclaimed, “I love hockey!”

Then he looked at me, and said, "I got better. Didn't I, dad?"

Boy, did he.

Now he’s been playing a few months, and he’s improved so much. He rarely falls, and he's even been scoring goals.

I’m the first one to admit I don’t have this parenting thing figured out. But, I’ve certainly arrived at the conclusion that a bit of failure and disappointment doesn’t hurt kids all that much.

In the long run, it might even help.

Despite my instinct to protect them from even the smallest failures, I probably knew this all along.

After I got cut from that soccer team, I tried again. The next time, I made the team. Then I continued to play the sport through high school.

While I never forgot the pain of being cut that year, it made any success I had later that much better.

So, as hard as it is, let your kids fall down. And then watch them get back up.

You'll both be better for it. 

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Long Way Home

“License and credit card please?” asked the uninterested woman behind the rental car counter outside JFK International Airport.

This was it. I was going to cover the final 250 miles of my quest in a rental. Four hours of driving rather than waiting two days for another flight? Fine by me. I love driving. In another life, I was probably a trucker. So, no problem.

Most importantly, I was going home.

After four days away and serious doubts about getting back due to winter weather disrupting travel across the country, I finally had a plan that would get me to my wife and kids.

I opened my wallet to retrieve the identification necessary to rent a car and … nothing.

My license was gone.
I rifled through other sections of the leather tri-fold holding the vital instruments for my livelihood. Nope. I felt around in my pockets. Empty.

“I don’t have my license,” I replied to the woman, and to everyone, and to no one in particular.
She blinked unsympathetically.
“I don’t have my license!” I repeated, patting myself down like a handsy TSA agent, my voice going up an octave and a few decibels, as panic welled up inside me.
My mind quickly flashed back to a real TSA agent and the last time I knew for certain I had my license, handing it to her at the security checkpoint in San Antonio, along with my boarding pass. She handed it back, and then I recall throwing it into a grey bin to be scanned, along with my wallet, my computer, computer bag, a tightly-packed carry-on, my belt, my shoes, and whatever loose items were in my pockets.
That damn license must be in Texas.
I’d been in San Antonio since Thursday for the latest Dad 2.0 Summit, a yearly conference for social media dads  which is way cooler than it sounds.
My quest to get home began on Saturday evening, the last night there. 
Walking between bars with another dad, a simple text from American Airlines delivered the news that my flight Sunday morning had been canceled, and I’d been rebooked on a flight on Tuesday, two days later than planned.
San Antonia was fun, but Tuesday? Really?
I just couldn’t do two more days in Texas, which would mean two more nights in a hotel room, two more days away from work, and two more days missing my wife and kids.
At this point, some people might think, you’ve got four kids four awesome, loud, quarreling, dish-dirtying kids. And someone just told you that, due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, you had to spend two more days 1,700 miles away from them in a hotel. What’s the problem?
But, believe it or not, I really missed them.
When you’re at a dad blogger conference, you actually spend a lot of time thinking about your kids, and you really want to see them again.
Reading that rebooking text, my immediate response was: Hell, no. That’s when the Mission Impossible music played, which turned out to be the ring tone of some guy I was standing next to on the street corner. But, still.
Flights were canceled from Chicago to Boston 
due to severe winter weather.
Back in the hotel room, I began my own impossible mission. After two hours on hold and another hour of negotiations with American Airlines, I finally found a new flight home. Or, should I say flights.
I also learned from Google, while on hold, that it would take 27 hours to drive the 1700 miles.
My new flight was a three-hopper – San Antonio to JFK; JFK to DC; and DC to Syracuse – leaving at 9:00 a.m. Sunday. That it didn’t get me back home until 11:40 p.m. didn’t matter. That it was a highly inefficient thing to fly to New York City then down to Washington then back up to Syracuse, didn’t matter. That one of the legs of the flight might yet be canceled didn’t matter. If I could get to New York City, that would put me 1,400 miles closer. I wanted to be home, after all. And that’s all that mattered.
At 9:08 a.m. the next morning, it was wheels up.
News of my second canceled flight came in another text, this one as the flight descended into JFK airspace. Probably karma because my phone wasn’t set to airplane mode.
The cancellation was due to 60 mile per hour wind gusts in Syracuse, and the agent at the airline counter told me it was affecting all flights into Syracuse. From DC, JFK, Philly, and Boston, all were canceled. Worse yet, flights the next day were either canceled or booked solid with rerouted passengers.
“You can fly standby on Monday, or I can book you on a flight Tuesday,” she said. Dominica was her name, and she was kind. Which I needed her to be.
It was then that it struck me how hotels in New York City are probably a lot more expensive than in San Antonio.
After standing at her counter for a solid half hour, doing my best pouty face and talking more glowingly about my kids then they likely deserve, we both gave up on the thought of me flying to Syracuse.
That’s when I decided my best option was to just rent a darn car.
I’d driven to NYC before, and even driven to JFK, so I felt certain I could get myself home. Online I went, booking a car with Budget  both the company name and the reason I chose them.
And that brings us back to where we began, with me, at the car rental counter a solid mile from the American Airlines terminal at JFK, realizing that my license was nowhere to be found.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” I said to the Budget rental car lady.
She shrugged. “I could call you a cab.”
A cab. A cab!
“To Syracuse?!” I replied.
She shrugged even less sympathetically.
I stepped away from the counter before I hurt someone – myself included and thought about all the ways I could get home that would be less expensive than a cab: like simply buying my own car and filling it with premium gasoline.
Then I thought about waiting until Tuesday and flying home – which would be impossible to do because I couldn’t get back through security without my license.
And that’s when the real desperation set it. Because, when you're in Jamaica, Queens, 250 miles from home, without the identification needed to rent a car, or to get back into the airport to board a flight in two days, certain things run through your head. Like, which bridge I was going to sleep under that night.
I felt like Jimmy Stewart running through Pottersville, except I was standing still and reality was moving around me. I stood there for a while. Frozen.
Then I started moving again. I called the San Antonio Airport lost and found, nothing, who patched me through to the TSA, nothing. My next move was to go back to the American Airlines counter, outside the security checkpoint, to see if I’d dropped it on the flight, maybe.
As I walked that way, I turned to higher powers.
Now, I’m not an overly religious person. I’m a Catholic. But whenever I lose something important, I slip in a prayer to St. Anthony.
I also called my wife, who is my earthly version of the patron saint of lost things.
As expected, she did her impersonation of tech support asking if the computer was plugged in, which is exactly what I would do to her.
“Did you check your pockets?”
“I’ve been stranded outside JFK for 40 minutes looking for my license in every orifice I have, do you think I checked my pockets?”
She was unfazed and went back to the tech support manual.
“When is the last time you had it?”
“San Antonio!” I replied, only slightly yelling, consciously trying not to let my frustration and hopelessness cause irreparable harm to my marriage. I also tried to channel the advice we give our kids when they’ve lost something and say things like, I already checked there. Our line is, “How can we find what’s lost if we don’t check in places we’ve already looked?”
Still, being on the receiving end of the have-you-looked-here checklist can be very frustrating. So, I brought her up to speed on my status.
“I’ve checked my pockets. I checked both my bags. I already called the San Antonio Airport, I even spoke to a TSA agent there. He was very nice. And, I am so screwed!”
“Where is the boarding pass that was with it?”
“My pocket,” I replied, fishing it out and waving the practically translucent rectangle of paper in the air like a mad man. “No license!”
"And your computer bag?"
“Yes,” I replied, opening the front of my computer bag again, where my two other, now useless, boarding passes for canceled flights were carefully stowed. “I’ve checked there.”
Then I caught sight of a small pocket in the computer bag for business cards. And I vaguely remembered stuffing the cards I got during the conference, and the leftover “Ruddy Bits” business cards I didn’t distribute, into the pocket at some point during the past 8 hours.
I know what you’re thinking: What kind of dork has cards for their dumb blog? You’re right. But I realized after the first blogger conference I attended that cards were a useful thing to have. So, for ten bucks, I got 500 of them printed up. I’ve still got 450. I’ve also since learned that getting blog business cards is kind of like getting tattoos. You will have them forever.
I pulled out the cards belonging to myself and other bloggers I’d met and started shuffling through them like a one-handed black jack dealer.
And, holy shit, there was my license.
“I found it!” I yelled to my wife, into the air, and to everyone else. “It’s here!”
Relief poured over me like a model in a Sprite commercial.
I thanked my tech support, and told her I loved her, and that if all goes well, I’d be home tonight.
Then I went back to the Budget rental car counter to seal the deal on my ride home.
Yet, they had one more surprise left for me. They didn’t have any cars.
A rather rude manager explained to me that all these flights were canceled, and I was the tenth person in the last hour to show up and try to get a car that was booked just moments before. What did people think, that they have cars just sitting around waiting for people.
“You’re a car rental company. So, yes,” I replied.
She didn’t like my attitude either, and I wished I was talking to the uninterested counterperson again.
That’s when I must've prayed to the patron saint of rental cars, because another counterperson, who wasn’t uninterested or rude, intervened and asked how comfortable I was driving a van.
“That’s what I drive,” I told him, squeezing in the fact that I have four kids, so nobody thought I was a pervert. “You know, like a minivan.”
Not "like" a minivan, an actual minivan.
Notice the step needed to get in. Not a minivan.
Within minutes, I signed a contract, refused extra insurance, and had the keys to a rental van – a ginormous 12-passenger, people moving, shuttle van. It looked like a European ambulance without the emergency lights. And I was about to drive this behemoth through New York City and 250 miles north.

But I knew I could do it. I was born to do it. Not because I was a trucker in a former life. Because I was one of 8 kids. Not a typo. And, at one point in the 80s my parents bought a used, turtle-top, 15 passenger van with red and white stripes to get us around. The Ruddy Bus, as it came to be known, originally shuttled people from a Marriot hotel to a tarmac at some airport, and it had big black numbers on top (M-17) so the flight tower could identify it. That people-mover even had a bus door that went "PSHHH" when you pulled the lever. It's amazing what you can find on the secondary market if you know where to look.

In any event, I was ready to drive this big rental van home. It was in my blood. 
I spent the next hour snaking my way through Queens and across the Bronx, pondering the existential question “Am I a car or am I a truck?” each time a sign on a bridge read, “Passenger Vehicles Only – No Trucks.”
Then, for the following three and a half hours, I chugged through New Jersey, Northeastern Pennsylvania, and into upstate New York driving the equivalent of a main sail in 60 mile per hour wind gusts, all so I could see my wife and kids.
Somewhere in New Jersey, I looked back and saw all the empty seats and wished I’d tried to find any other stranded Syracusans who needed a ride. That took care of my guilt quota for the remainder of the ride – Catholic, remember.
And some 24 hours after my first flight was canceled and 14 hours after the plane lifted off from San Antonio, a shuttle bus carrying one passenger pulled into our driveway.
A swarm of kids greeted me at the door. Mission complete.
Because, sometimes, you just want to go home.