Tag Archives: parenting

Secrets

Originally posted September 10th, 2013

My parents were late blooming hippies. They met in the summer of ’68, still in plenty of time to latch on to the whole hippie vibe. I was born in ’69, and around that time my father joined the army.

Why he joined the army depends on who you ask. If you ask him, he’ll tell you it was because he wanted to give something back to this country that had done so much for him. My father had been forced to leave his homeland, Cuba, when he was 11 years old. He’d had everything taken from him, and in the United States he’d found a land of amazing opportunity. To this day, he swears that joining the army was his way of giving back.

My mother will tell you it was because he was looking to piss off my grandmother as much as possible, and the only thing more aggravating than marrying a gringa was to join the army and possibly get sent overseas to fight in Viet Nam.

He didn’t get sent to Viet Nam, and instead I spent the first 4 years of my life growing up on army bases around the south. Four years later, when my father’s term was up, the whole hippie thing had started to fade, and my parents had some serious catching up to do.

They bought a VW bus, which they immediately installed flowered curtains over every window in. They took off the VW symbol on the front of the bus, and replaced it with a hand-painted yellow sun. And they started smoking pot. I can still remember running into my parents’ bedroom, jumping on the bed, and nestling in with them, the bottle of Blue Nun wine (more of a jug, really), and the ashtray with the roach clip on a leather thong with wooden beads.

These moments were the pleasant balance to the times they fought, when I would have to stand between them and hold up 1 finger towards each of their mouths. My 5-year old sign that it was time to stop yelling at each other and calm down.

Early on, I thought our family was just like every other family. That we were the norm. I thought that every TV only got PBS (my parents hid the knob to change the channels, and told me that was the only channel we got) I thought every TV only got PBS until I attended a friend’s birthday party and spent the entire time glued to the screen, watching King Kong with slack-jawed awe.

I thought everybody’s dad talked to lots of other pretty women on campus whenever they went for bike rides through the local University without mom.

And I thought that everyone smoked pot. There was one time, in the Sears Roebucks, when we were looking for a specific tool my father needed. He was always working on that VW bus, it was the only way it would stay on the road. At my first show and tell in kindergarten I proudly announced that I’d spent the weekend helping my father drop the engine on our bus. He would call out the tool he needed from under the bus, and I’d dig through the tool box and hand it to him.

So there we were, in the Sears Roebucks: I was scouring the aisles, looking for the tool my father wanted when I came across a treasure trove of an entirely different kind. I’d found a bin, full of something I immediately recognized: “Hey, dad, check it out: Roach clips!” I shouted at full volume across the tools section.

He ran over and quieted me down, quickly acknowledging what I’d found, and informing me that I was never to call them that in public. “In public,” he said, “we call them alligator clips.”

“But why?”

And that was when I found out that our family was different. Our family had secrets.  And I was tasked with keeping them.

When my mother threw the 5-gallon gas can at my father in the midst of their last fight, calling him all sorts of names and unaware that I was watching from in hiding behind our car – I knew that stayed with me.

When my mother started dating my father’s sister’s ex-husband after my father left us, I knew I couldn’t call him uncle Steve anymore. At least, not in public.

By the time uncle Steve moved us to a 120-acre plot of land in Mendocino County to start his own pot farm, I was an old hand. I knew the drill. (He’s dead now, and all of the ex-partners from that venture have moved on, so I can talk about it without fear of being hunted down)

And in my teenage years, when my mother would call me into her room to drunkenly lament how our father, or uncle Steve, or Cincinnati Jim, or whoever had let her down: I would hope that this was only my secret, and that my brother wouldn’t have to shoulder this burden once I went to college.

When I met my wife, we both agreed that we didn’t want to repeat the mistakes of our divorced parents. We committed to do all of the things right that they had so gloriously done wrong. We have an 8-year old son, and he couldn’t keep a secret to save his life.

I view that as a sign of stellar parenting.

Truthiness in Parenting

There are hundreds, even thousands of things those parenting books don’t bother to tell you about. Enough to fill a few books with, to be sure. The books all cover the basics, the things you would expect to need to expect. Few of them have broken ground to cover that which is unspoken truth, those things that parents hear at playgrounds or parties, and knowingly nod their heads as if to say, “Yep, happens to us too, and no-one ever bothered to tell us about it.”

Driving at 75 mph on a one lane road in the middle of Idaho with lots of oncoming traffic trying to make your flight on time is a bad time to learn yet another unspoken truth: your child will throw his bottle in the car. When you least expect it. Do not swerve.

Some other truths include: don’t waste money on toys; a steel bowl, wooden spoon and a box will last any toddler months. And, if it is going to break, it will break while your child is touching it. Or, your child’s behavior will be inversely proportional to your vested interest in the gathering. I could go on, but I wouldn’t want to ruin my book deal.

Of Puppies and Fairy Dust

Tomorrow marks one year since Tolstoy passed away. I am constantly amazed at how much I still miss the guy. When food hits the ground, I still immediately think, “Oh, Tol is going to love that.” When we get home from a trip, I still hesitate coming up the stairs, wondering how pissed he is going to be that we have been gone.

When he passed away, we had Toli cremated. A few weeks later, a little box arrived bearing his remains. Up until today, that box sat on a shelf in our hall closet. At first, I don’t think either of us had the emotional capacity to deal with actually opening it. Then we were too busy, then it was Christmas. Suddenly, it had been almost a year, and Ryder started asking very pointed questions.

Tolstoy being his normal crazy-ass self with a stick at Crissy Field

Michele had told Ryder that they came and took Tolstoy away, leaving it wide open from there. Ryder was as affected as any of us by Tol’s death, often carrying a picture of Tolstoy to the window and saying, “Come back! Come back!” Lately, he’s been telling us that he wants to fix Toli’s body, and wondering where it was.

We’ve been wanting to spread Tolstoy’s remains at some of his favorite spots: the Presidio, the disc golf course in Golden Gate Park, Chrissy Field, Ocean Beach, Kite Hill… But we didn’t want it to be something we did without Ryder. He obviously needed closure as well.

I floated the dilemma Joel’s way after our last round at Harding together, and his response was brilliant. Tell Ryder that they took Tolstoy’s body away, and sent back a box of fairy dust. And now that we had the fairy dust, we were going to sprinkle it over all of Tolstoy’s favorite places, so he could be there always.

Brilliant! I floated it by Michele, who took a couple of days to think on it, and we decided that it would be perfect. Once we had the chance to casually insert it into a conversation with Ryder, we got his complete buy-in. Hewanted to go spread Toli’s fairy dust, of course! 

Toli being ever so patient with Ryder

In fact, Ryder thought we should make sure to save some of Toli’s fairy dust so we could take it up to Tahoe, because Tolstoy loved it so much up there. Again, brilliant!

Now, when Toli died we had been hesitant to do anything radical, like have him stuffed, or bury him in the back yard so that we could dig up his bones later. But we did ask the guy from the crematorium if he could save some bones for us. He said it was difficult because they grind everything up and fire it a couple of times, but he’d see what he could do.

Today was the first time I’d seen Tolstoy since they took him away. “Fairy dust” may have been a bit of a misnomer, given how little actual dust was in that box once we opened it. We all went to the Presidio and took one of the walks Tolstoy did over 1,500 times. Scattering some fairy dust here, some remains of bones there.

Ryder loved it. He had no preconceived notions of what fairy dust would look like, and was thrilled to finally have some of his own to bandy about. We threw it in root holes of trees, dug little shallow holes and sprinkled some in, and left odd bone remnants in weird places to torment other animals. Along the way, we managed to cull out a pretty good collection of whole bones – probably meditarsals. Maybe next year we’ll do an art project of Tol, about Tol.

For now, we’ve lots more fairy dust to spread, and numerous stops to make.

Letting Go of Star Wars

Originally published August 23rd, 2012

Long before my son was born I had a plan for sharing Star Wars with him. Before I had met his mother (aka The Love of My Life), I had a vision of how I would share the journey through that universe far, far away.

I pictured how much fun it would be to see my child marvel at the size of the Death Star. How shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, he would be when they found out that Darth Vader is really Luke’s father. I was looking forward to the apprehension in his eyes during the first bass-heavy footfalls of the approaching AT-AT walkers.

In short, I wanted him to experience Star Wars the way I had.  Maybe even to grow to resent George Lucas the way that I do.

This whole plan was ruined in pre-school, when some other parents deemed the Star Wars universe appropriate for their then-four-year old son. He inevitably came to school and told my son all about the amazing story he’d been turned-on to. So much for my plan.

In one short afternoon my son went from 0 – 60, learning everything about the Death Star, the death of Obi Wan, Luke’s lineage and more. It would be easy to blame all of this on the other boy, or his parents; or the baby sitter who eventually told him the whole trilogy, shot-by-shot. But the truth is unless I was willing to show my son Star Wars at age 3 (I was not), or lock him away in a cave until age 7 (an inviting but unrealistic plan) he was going to learn all about it.

I wrestled with that long and hard, trying to come to grips with the fact that my Star Wars is not my son’s Star Wars. That out there, somewhere in the future, is a sci-fi or fantasy epic that will resonate so deeply with him he will want to share it with his kids. Provided he still wants kids after seeing what a snot-nosed punk Luke turns out to be.