Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Welcome to the Lazy Lawn-Mowers Club

Any homeowner from Upstate New York knows the four seasons: Shoveling, Spreading Mulch, Mowing, and Raking. 

Right now, we are deep into mowing season.  So deep, in fact, that we’re in the rare time when the heat stunts the growth of the lawn, and it only needs to be mowed once a week.  This is far more manageable than the twice-a-week mows, which are needed from early Spring through mid-July, and again from late- August until the leaves fall or the snow flies, whichever comes first.

Like most, I take a certain amount of pride in my lawn.  Just, not that much. 

I rarely have time to mow on the exact day my wife thinks it needs to be done.  And, let’s just be honest, mowing twice a week is nearly impossible.  That said, I certainly don’t want to be that guy on the block known for the long lawn.  

As wet as it was this year, I fear I may have become that guy.

Friendly Neighbor Hand-me-down Toys ...
Or Best Lawn-based Insult Ever?
In my defense, it was a very wet spring.  If you failed to mow on the only day of the week it didn’t rain, you’d have a jungle out there by the time the rain stopped long enough to mow again.   

I missed the optimum mowing window more than once this mowing season.  I’d stare through the rain-spattered windows at my long, wet lawn, as my wife reminded me its "needs-to-be-mowed" status and as the neighbors would drive by real slow just shaking their heads.   

The worst of it occurred during our vacation week.  I’d planned to mow it the day before we were leaving, thinking it would grow just a little too long the week we were gone, but not too much to get attention.   Of course, it rained for a solid three days before we left, and I didn't get a chance to give it the pre-vacation cut.  By the time we got back from our annual excursion, the lawn had gone more than two whole, wet weeks without so much as a trim.

I practically needed a machete just to get the lawnmower out of the shed.  And it took me two mows over the next three days just to get caught up.

In the midst of the catch-up mows, I went out onto the lawn one morning to find a little gift:  Someone had deposited two plastic kid lawnmowers right in the middle of our yard.  These were toddler toys that looked like they’d been enjoyed for quite a few years.  

Maybe it was just a friendly neighbor whose kids had outgrown these toys, and thought my young brood would play with them. 

Or maybe it was the most clever lawn critique ever.  Maybe all the neighbors had talked, and come up with a plan to get these crappy toys from some yard sale and stick them in my yard, in a subtle tribute to my lawn-care lameness.

I still don’t know.   

Now that we’re in the summer doldrums, I’m staying on top of it without any problems – except for the darn crabgrass.

So, I’d like to take this opportunity to publically apologize to my neighbors and the rest of the lawn-mowing world, and ask if I can be let back into the well-kept-lawn club.  Besides, did you see the lawn of that guy on the corner?  It’s a total mess.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Missing When Summer Break Was an Actual Break

Few things can change your opinion about something as efficiently as a change in perspective. 

Take summer break, for example.  When I was a kid, I loved summer break, or summer vacation, or whatever you want to call it.  More than two whole months off from school?  What’s not to like? 

Then I became a parent of school-aged children.  And oh, how my perspective has changed.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love summer.   But from the day school gets out until they go back after Labor Day, my wife and I spend almost every second that we are not working or sleeping, coordinating the full-time entertainment and transportation of our four children.

I know, I know. That’s what parents do (when teachers aren’t available).   But it seems things have gotten worse with the recent generation. 

Where I'll be spending most of my
summer.  In our minivan, on the road.
(This is stock image. Our van is much
older, and less sleek looking)
When I was a kid, we’d spend half our summer days in the woods behind our house, and the other half at my grandmother’s house on Lake Ontario.  We were very lucky, I know.  

But the days were ours, free from schedules, camps and swim class.  Sure, I remember going to one summer camp for one summer – a day camp at a local community college.   Other than that, we entertained ourselves.  Okay, maybe an exaggeration.  My parents always did their share to keep us busy with activities.  But still, it was different.

Now, I’m on the road a few hours each day picking up, dropping off, and delivering one or more of our children to the various camps they attend, so that their parents – my wife and I – can continue to earn a living. 

Take just our oldest as an example:  the summer began with a two week theatre camp, full day.  Now she’s in a one week soccer camp, which is only half day.  Next week she goes to a two week session at a real camp, meaning a camp in the woods with a lake.   Her two sisters have their own camps, as well.  

These are all just day camps, not spend-the-nights like in the movies.  That means we are carting their little butts all over town -- twice a day, every day.  And that’s not even counting the swim classes they all take at different times throughout the week.

It beats the alternative, which is them watching television all day long as we work, with them saying how board they are fifty-thousand times before the sun sets.  (For those who don’t know, my wife and I both work full-time jobs from home.  We’re very lucky, I know -- Sort of.  But that’s a whole other blog.)  

I wish we had enough funds to have one of us take the summer off, just to hang with them.  It’d be nice to play in the yard all day, or do outings to the library, and the park, and the zoo. But we have four kids, so money remains tight.

Back when we started this brood, we swore we wouldn’t be the type of parents that over-schedule their kids to the point where we’d end up just a taxi service for familiar little strangers who’d rather be at some random activity with their friends than spending time with their family.  Swim.  Soccer.  Dance … every minute scheduled.  We were against the whole notion.  We weren’t going to be those parents.

It seems to have happened anyway.

So tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day after that, my wife or I can be found most mornings, at lunch and in the evening, cruising the local roads in the minivan, trucking our kids all over creation.

It gives me two thoughts. 

First, I have new-found respect for teachers, and bus drivers.  And I'm not just saying that because I'm a Democrat.  

And second, I miss when summer break was actually a break.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Underdressed and Overtired

Don’t mean to brag, but back in High School I was pretty fast.  Not sprinter speed, or anything, but fast enough to play varsity sports.

You wouldn’t have known it today if you’d seen me “sprinting” down the block, trying to catch up with the two-year-old boy who'd decided he wanted to go with his mother when she went to drop his sister off at a friends.  Of course, I was barefoot and a bit underdressed for our little neighborhood stroll, wearing my standard-issue, home-project attire.  But at least I had clothes on -- which is more than I can say for the boy.

Many young kids get upset when a parent leaves the house on an errand without them.  I’ve seen one of my daughters cry at the window for a full hour waiting for mommy to come back from the grocery store.

Occasionally, one of the kids has the bright idea to go outside and wait for mommy to come back.  It’s cute to see them sitting out on the lawn staring down the road looking for that familiar blue van's return.  

But in all my days as a parent, I have never had a kid who would go outside and then proceed down the block in hot pursuit of the missing vehicle.  The boy has done it twice.  The first time he was fully clothed, and he slowly meandered down the sidewalk as he cried, “I want mommy.”  He was easy to catch at that speed.

File footage of Overtired Boy on the run
-- properly attired this time. 
This time, he was running as fast as he possibly could, screaming “I want to go,” without a stitch of clothes on.  And his naked little butt is quite fast.  I was rumbling after him wondering whether I was more likely to pull a hammy or trip and crush my only son.  Despite my speed back in my glory years, I was unable to gain any ground.  I felt like I was in a scene from an Adam Sandler movie on parenting. 
For the record, Drew usually has clothes on -- usually.  Lately, he’s been disrobing whenever the urge compels him.  He'd just gone potty, and that was enough.  So it was off with the clothes.  Try as I could to convince him, he wouldn't put his outfit back on.  Then mom announced she was taking his sister to a friend's house for a party.  He wanted to go, naturally.  I told him he couldn't go unless he got dressed.  That caused him to have a meltdown, which ended in his birthday-suited dash down the block as they drove away.
Had he been clothed, he probably would have been able to go on the trip.  The irony was lost on this particular two-year-old.   

The whole being-naked thing is just part of a recent increase in antics by the boy, which my wife attributes to him being “overtired.”  Overtired is how she has explained our kids’ worst behavior ever since she read that book on healthy sleep habits and well-behaved children almost ten years ago.

By my count, Drew has been overtired since he turned two, eleven months ago.   Don’t even ask how long our ten-year-old has been behind on sleep.

You know who’s really overtired?  Here’s a hint: the guy who was just outrun by a naked two-year-old.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

... Had to Cruise On Back Home

It’s that time of year when many of us take vacations, stay-cations or even just a few good, long weekends.  It’s a chance for us to forget about work; to unwind with family; and maybe to enjoy the little ones in our lives.  If you’re a neurotic, anxiety-prone, middle-aged father of four – hypothetically speaking – it's also yet another opportunity to obsess on all that you still want to accomplish in life.
Too much sharing?  Maybe.

I, for one, just love vacation.  I love the feeling you get when you first arrive at your destination, unpack your bags, and are able to mentally and physically step away from all the things that cause you stress on a daily basis – the bills, the work deadlines, the endless afterschool activities, the lawn, the laundry, the everything.   When, for a brief moment, you're able to forget all that junk and fully decompress.  It’s a feeling that really only comes in the first few days of a break from the daily grind. 

Sometimes, I wish I could take that feeling and bottle it.  Then I’m reminded, someone already has.  It’s called rum.

But seriously.  I'm not talking about the rum-induced feeling some of us also get on vacation, but that natural one that umbrella drinks can only try to imitate.  It's that feeling of true vacation relaxation, and it is special.  

Looking for seashells as the sun rises.
Over the course of the week that our family spent away from it all, I thought about that feeling a lot – that Jimmy Buffet-song inspired attitude most of us are only able to enjoy once we’ve set the autoreply on our work email accounts to “out of office,” and after we’ve traveled quite a distance to some random island, or beach, or cabin by the lake. 

Our family chose a beach on a coastal island in a warmer climate for our break from it all.   And relax we did – as much as possible, anyway, for a neurotic, anxiety-prone, middle-aged father of four and his immediate family. 

We spent our mornings on the sand, and our afternoons at the pool.  We planned our meals based on what we wanted to eat, not on what we had time to make between soccer practice and dance class.   And we woke each day because we wanted to, not because we had to.   

We got up early one morning to see the sunrise over the ocean.  We stayed up late one night to watch the fireworks.  We went for long walks in the evening, and bike rides at low tide.  And we got caught in a rainstorm, or two, or three.  But we didn’t mind.  Because we had nowhere else to be, no real reason to stay dry, and no one else we’d rather get caught in the rain with.

And when I thought about all the things I have yet to accomplish in life, all the goals yet achieved, all the stories yet untold, I kept coming back to that feeling.  Sure, I’d like to find great success in my career.  I’d like to be rich.  I’d like to get published.  (Those two are not related).   But what I really want is to do is find that feeling more than once a year.  I’d like to find a way to get that feeling every day.  I’d like to live a life with that feeling as the norm, not the exception.
Maybe that’s impossible.  Maybe, no matter what you do, it becomes the daily grind. And the only way to find that feeling is to break the routine, go someplace else, and do something else, if for only a few days.

Maybe the phrase, "It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there," applies universally to all things related to vacations.  

Maybe you can only get that particular feeling once a year?
I don’t know the answer.  But I’d sure like to try and find it.
Too much sharing?