I’m not sure who had more fun: My daughter going to her first school dance, or me, getting to go along to drop her off at the school dance. I needed her special permission just to be allowed in the car. I had to keep a low profile. I wasn’t allowed to drive. Like a dog, I was required to sit in the back seat. I couldn’t smile. I couldn’t say corny, obnoxious or sappy things. And I wasn’t allowed to cry, laugh or pontificate.
Any of these things would get me kicked to the curb, or worse! Shoot, I nearly got slugged when I came home from work and said to my daughter — her hair neatly brushed to one side and wearing a wonderful, flowing summer dress — “Boy, you’re the most beautiful girl in the world.” I dodged the swing and jumped over the sofa to safety.
But the short drop-off was still awesome. I pressed my nose up against the window, trying to catch a glimpse of something — anything! — as she walked into the school. “Stay away from boys!” I wanted to scream, but the child lock was set and the window wouldn’t roll down. (Darn kid had thought of everything!)
How it reminded me of my younger days, and my first elementary school dances.
I don’t remember that we had too many. Maybe because I spent most of my years at an all-boys Catholic school in Tampa, which was directly across the street — and two barbed wire fences away — from the all-girls Catholic school.
Kids crack me up. How excited they get about things still months away, like Christmas, the promise of their first cel phone, driving, paying taxes and especially trips.
My 11-year-old daughter is no exception, especially when it comes to trips. She sat down at the dinner table the other night like a business woman ready to discuss our trip to Michigan … in late July! The two of us are traveling out to see my sister perform in the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. We are meeting up with my dad, and it’s just a daddy-daughter trip. Our first. (I’m excited, too!)
But it’s still months away, which is why I found it amusing when she said in her most serious tone, “So, I want to discuss Michigan.”
“OK. Let’s discuss,” I said.
“So, what airline are we flying?”
“Oh, great! The one that killed the giant bunny?!?”
“No, that was United. American hasn’t killed any giant bunnies recently. Maybe a snake. I don’t know.”
Easter just isn’t understood in my house. Oh, as a religious season? A time of rebirth? Sure, but not the other meaning of Easter: Eating enough candy to rot out real teeth, porcelain teeth … shoot, even the teeth on your chain saw.
That it is a time for copious amounts of sugar in the form of marshmallow animals, chocolate bunnies, malted milk eggs and an assortment of candies that seem hatched straight from some mad scientist’s lab. “Hey, how about a chocolate egg with a creamy filling that’s actually like yoke? Just disgusting enough to be delicious!”
And the grocery store is awash in it. Bags of it. All kinds of shapes and sizes. If you want a life-sized chocolate elephant with a jelly bean center, they’ve got it.
But you know who doesn’t have it? The only house in American lacking a dump truck full of sweet garbage goodness: Mine. How is this possible? I have an 11-year-old.
I started rubbing my hands together. Scheming. Thinking about all the tasks and jobs and things I hate to do.
My wife — I can’t even remember why —said to my daughter one day: “It’s time you had some real chores. You need to come up with a few ideas.”
I popped up out of nowhere, complete with a puff of smoke. “I’ve got some ideas!” I said.
I think my daughter hadn’t finished something or tried to order room service after the kitchen had closed. Something that kids are known to do to set parents off, and get them threatened with more tasks around the house.
It was music to my ears. Free labor! Handing off tasks I hate. Giving up household duties that threaten life and limb — MY life and most of MY limbs!
It has vexed me since I was a little child: the Rubik’s Cube. That multi-colored block that lets you shift pieces around in a vain attempt to get all the same colors back where they belong.
The toy maker claims the cube can be scrambled in 43 quintillion different patterns. (I think they made the word “quintillion” up, but anyway, it’s a lot.)
As a kid, I think I tried all quintillion combinations, including busting the bugger up and putting it back together correctly. Or peeling the stickers off and reapplying them in the correct order. I failed even at those.
The little toy haunted me. It seemed so easy, so simple — like there must be a right way to do it. Screaming, pulling all the hair out of the right side of my head and throwing it as far as I could into the neighbor’s yard never worked. (Maybe I needed to do that 7 quintillion times?)
Which is why I was so amazed when we visited one of our college friends over the Christmas break. Her 10-year-old son, Lucas, has not only mastered it, but goes to tournaments to compete with his super-fancy, ultra-spinny cube that dances in your fingers and says things like, “Sooie, you got this, baby!!!”
I have four distinct memories of going to waterparks as a child: 1) Nearly being drowned by a crush of friends in the deep end of the wave pool; 2) burning to such a crisp that I looked like a strip of bacon (and smelled like it, too;) 3) drinking no water, aside from what I swallowed while being drowned in the wave pool; and 4) putting my towel down on a beach chair and never — ever! — finding it again.
I grew up in Tampa, and many weekends were spent at Adventure Island. My mother would drop my brother, me and a couple friends off with a towel, a glob of sunscreen to share and some wadded up money we were supposed to use for lunch. (We inevitably blew it at the arcade.)
In summer, we lived at waterparks. In Florida you are required to attend waterparks. It’s the official state bird.
But my daughter, now 10, had never been to one. (When you live close to the Atlantic Ocean, who needs fake waves?)
So when we traveled to Orlando this past weekend so my wife could attend a conference, the two of us visited Aquatica, a waterworld filled with slides, wave pools, lazy rivers and tourists wearing odd bathing suits that leave nothing to the imagination.
I was trying to fight it. Desperately attempting to suppress it. Making my best effort not to show it.
But it came through. I couldn’t help it as we wandered like a pack of baboons through the Kennedy Space Center. My dad. My wife and our 10-year-old. My brother and his wife. And their nearly 3-year-old son, Striker.
I just couldn’t help giving the “toddler stare of disbelief.”
We all do it. Some people are mean about it. Others curious. Then there are people like me who can’t seem to remember having kids at that age. We give off a look that seems to say, “Is that normal?”
It’s toddler denial complex — the belief that your child was never, ever that small, that energetic and that … well … kooky. That he or she came straight into the world refined, sipping tea, asking how the stock market was doing, able to stand perfectly still for more than 5 seconds and always saying, “Dear Papa, how may I make your life more enjoyable?”
What do kids dream about now? Like big future things. Things that make them sigh in bed at night and say to themselves, “If only I had a plutonium-powered homework eraser! That would do the trick.”
I was thinking about this as I was buying a running hydration belt that would also carry my iPhone. (Hydration belt is code for “goofy runner gets parched and needs mini-canteens on his waist.”)
Anyway, the belt needs to carry my iPhone so it will connect to my new heart rate monitor. That way I can see if my heart is still beating after I try to drink water on a long run and crash into a tree … or maybe a moving car.
Anyway, it occurred to me that all the little things that I dreamed about as a kid – super-techy watches that know your location, communicators like on “Star Trek,” devices that allow video calls, little electronic pads that tell you everything you ever wanted to know, including your vital signs – are now reality. Commonplace. They’re here and we have them and even take them for granted.
Panic set in as I walked up the aisle — straight to the front of the line. Where would I put my wallet? How would I protect my bag from the water? What would my hair look like after the deluge? Did I really want to walk around a theme park soaking wet, my pants drenched, people wondering why I would go out in public like that?
“Look, honey! That man wet himself … all over!”
It was the Congo River Rapids at Tampa’s Busch Gardens. I hadn’t been back to the park in over a decade. Now three generations of Thompson — my dad, my daughter, my wife and me — were boarding this wobbly raft. All the riders who just came off were drenched. DRENCHED! One woman was complaining she almost drowned. She wanted CPR from a snappy-looking employee.
What am I an idiot, I thought? This isn’t what grown people do.
To buy a first aid kit, or not to buy a first aid kit? That is the question. The eternal question.
I mean, what would it say about me?
No longer will I be the kind of dad who when faced with a child sporting a bleeding wound tears off a sheet of paper and says, “Here! Hold this on it until the bleeding stops.”
That’s fatherhood at its best right there. (Forget whether it’s hygienic.)
But if I buy this travel first aid kit, I will suddenly be prepared and ready for all calamity in a smart, reasonable and remarkably mature way. Is that who I am?
My family is heading to Colorado soon. The mountains! We plan to do a lot of hiking and outdoorsy stuff, which has me thinking about all the essentials to bring. The things I could potentially need. And the things I just want an excuse to buy: Like the knife that Indiana Jones had. Imagine explaining that one to airport security!