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.
As a runner, I always understood the word “milestone” in terms of distance. How long it’s been since you hit the last the one. How they’re important markers on the road of life. How they pop up and symbolize something so significant that you have to remember it, memorialize it and celebrate it by screaming out, “Dude, who knew I could fit a whole bag of Cheetos in my mouth!” (Not sure that last one has anything to do with running, but …)
When I hear the word “milestone,” I always focus on the “mile,” and never the “stone.” Only, recently I’ve come to appreciate that second part of the word a bit more — what it really means. How important it is to the greater construct.
Mile-STONE — an event of great significance … that wallops you on the head. I believe the term comes from ancient Greece where the swift marathoner Runesius won a country race, only to be bludgeoned in the head by an archrival with a rock. “Boy, that milestone sure did wallop Runesius!” someone remarked, and the rest as they say is history. (Or at least, that’s how I picture it.)
This new meaning of milestone has come to me as my daughter winds down her school year, which seems loaded with significance and change on the horizon. This week, for instance, marked her last performance with the children’s choir at Memorial Presbyterian downtown. She graduated. Apparently, she isn’t a “children” anymore.
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!
I was told a cautionary tale about a boy who got a drone. It cost several hundred dollars and was as top of the line as you can get. He charged up the battery. He went through his pre-flight check. He set it all up at a park and lifted of gracefully. Then promptly set it down in a lake.
Plunk! Goodbye expensive drone.
I thought of this story as my daughter and I set up her drone for its first flight in a park down the street. Big, menacing oaks with mighty claws loomed over us. Cars passed by on the street within controller range. Obstacles and dangers were everywhere.
But that wouldn’t be us. I was going to be careful with her new Christmas present. I watched a Youtube video!
“The key,” I told my daughter, “is to take it slow. Go easy and don’t liftoff too fast. I’ll go first because I have experience with these things. I’ll just hover it about eye level and then land it carefully. OK? It’s not going to be super exciting, but it will be safe and cautious.”
“Dial it down please,” said my wife to our 10-year-old daughter.
“I can’t,” she replied. “It’s Christmas and I’m really hyper!”
She didn’t need to point out that obvious fact. She was bouncing off the walls. Riling up the dog. Dancing about. Speaking so fast that she sounded like an auctioneer on fire. I worried that maybe she had stuck her finger in a light socket, or had taken up drinking espresso.
But no: It’s Christmas!
When you’re a kid, it’s just about impossible to contain your enthusiasm this time of year. And when you’re a Christmas kid — born during the season — there’s absolutely no hope.
That’s exactly what my daughter is: A Christmas kid. Born on Dec. 26.
In fact, she began her long journey into the world on Christmas morning when my wife’s water broke while we were opening presents. The little child didn’t seem too concerned that we were an hour away from having family over, or that I might want another cup of coffee. (At least she had the decency to drag the labor out and didn’t emerge until the next day.)
It is better to give than it is to receive. Yes, yes this is true. But it is definitely easier to RECEIVE than it is to GIVE. Especially when your family won’t tell you what they want and it’s only … holy cow juice! … like a week until Christmas!
Forget giving, I’ve got to start BUYING!
But I’m stumped this year. It’s always hard, but it seems this year it’s been especially difficult to come up with ideas. Or pry ideas out of people. That includes my daughter, who turns 11 the day after Christmas. Maybe it’s a tough age — an age when toys of yesteryear don’t quite cut it. Instead, electronics and other big ticket items are more important.
Conversations in my house sound like this now:
Me: Child, why is your homework all over my desk?!?
Child: Because I needed the computer for it AND I don’t have a computer OF MY OWN in my room … hint, hint, hint …
Me: YOU’RE NOT GETTING A COMPUTER FOR CHRISTMAS!!! AND YOU’RE NEVER ALLOWED TO DATE BOYS!!!
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?”
Dads shouldn’t be allowed to shop for back-to-school supplies. It’s a common fact. An unwritten rule. A law that some enterprising politician ought to propose. Everyone
knows it. Dads know it. Moms know it. Poor little kids know it. Yet, every year, millions of dads still do it, and catastrophe unfolds.
I speak from personal experience.
I don’t say this in some macho, chauvinistic way. Like it’s below us or that real men should be out chopping wood instead of grabbing loose leaf paper. No, it’s more that we’re an impatient, easily-frustrated walking embarrassment to our family. And we don’t know a No. 2 pencil from a … well … a No. 3?
I went with my wife and daughter shopping for school supplies the weekend before she started fifth grade. It wasn’t my cup of tea.
The way I see school shopping: You grab a bunch of stuff and throw it in a basket. You have maybe a 50-50 shot some of it is what you need, but more importantly, you’re on the way home!
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.