The anticlimactic middle school drop-off

Is it wrong as a parent to want a little drama? A little upset-ment? A little kicking and screaming and “Why world?!? Don’t make me go!”

Is it wrong to think that starting 6th grade — this major milestone, this turning point in the lives of the Thompson household, this big new, adventure — shouldn’t be so easy?

Or is that kind of selfish?

Because the first day of school — of middle school! — was pretty anticlimactic. Downright dull, and even un-eventful. It felt a bit like every other day.


MY BABY IS GROWING UP, PEOPLE! (And she doesn’t seem to mind.)

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Going political cold turkey

It doesn’t matter what you are — Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green, left, right, center, North By Northwest, slightly off — chances are you could use a break from politics. We all could. If there’s one thing that can bring us together as a nation, it’s that we collectively need a vacation from ourselves. Or at least our government. Or the shenanigans of our government. Because it’s too much, right? And it would be good to get some time away. To catch our breath. To forget there is such a thing as Washington (aka, Hootenannyville.)

Which is why I decided to get away from it by going cold turkey on politics this week. It would be good for me personally — a cleanse, of sorts — as I’m kind of a political junkie. Only I fear it’s becoming more of an unhealthy addiction. I have an app on my phone called “Flipboard” that lets me quickly flip through the latest stories. It’s become a constant habit!

So, this week I resolved to go without political news completely. I would refrain from anything political, and then write about it in case you want to try it, too. Here’s how it went:

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Giving up Cuban coffee, and going against the family

There are some of you who know my mother. See my mother. Talk to her on a regular basis. And because she doesn’t read this column, I ask you for a favor: NEVER mention what I am about to write.

Because that will be it for me. Over. I will be banished. Cast off from the family. Written out of the will. Seated at the uncomfortable corner at Christmas dinner with the chair that could collapse at any minute. Called a “traitor” and someone who disrespects his heritage.

Why? It’s all because I’ve given up on Cuban coffee.

Oh, the horror! The shame! I am truly a bad son.

Yes, it is true. I now brew Starbucks mass-produced grounds in a super-easy 4-cup American-style coffeemaker. It takes mere minutes and can be done in one easy step.

I have traded tradition for simplicity and convenience. And truth is, I really like it!

I realized recently I don’t want to give up a half hour every morning just for proper percolation! To put on the leather apron and gloves and goggles for when the molten caffeine starts to spit sparks. All for an early morning jolt. My new little coffeemaker can do it in a fraction of the time.

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On becoming mom … for one weekend of travel

“You’re mom now,” my daughter said. We were at the airport waiting on a flight to Detroit. She was holding a wad of chewed-up gum as thick as her fist.

I was dumbfounded. Unsure what to do or say. So, I tried something deep and insightful: “Huh?!?”

“You’re MOM!” the 11-year-old repeated. “Mom always has a piece of paper for my gum. Don’t you have a piece of paper?!?”

“Paper? I don’t have any paper. I don’t have anything! Go spit it out.”

She stood there and stared at me. Might have even sighed.

“You’re mom now.” What did that even mean?!?

We were traveling together. Just dad and daughter … alone. On the way to see my sister perform in the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. A super-fast trip. Two nights. It was the first time we had gone somewhere so far, and so long, without my wife.

No mom. (Could we manage?)

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Now back to coverage of the Florida Summer Heat Games

“Now we return you to live coverage of the Florida Summer Heat Games where native Floridians prove their mettle in a series of insane outdoor events testing their courage, their stamina and their ability to overcome sweltering temperatures and oppressive humidity. For these competitors, household projects take on epic proportions in weather that could cook a rack of ribs quicker than you can say ‘BBQ.’”

“Today we have competitor Brian Thompson, who is tackling a small wood-working project that he SHOULD have done in the cool temperatures of April. But that’s the beauty of the Games, Bob. Dumb people doing dumb things in the kind of heat that will buckle a bridge.”

“You’re so right, Jay. And Brian has his work cut out for him, doesn’t he?”

“He sure does. He already passed the Sweat Stain Rorschach T-shirt Test when he went inside for a drink of water and his daughter pointed and laughed at what she said was the shape of a three-legged elephant in a party hat. I personally saw a lion-tailed macaque throwing up, but it’s hard to make everything out in this heat haze.”

“That’s right, Jay. Brian has been working on a project that should have taken him all of three minutes, but he’s managed to turn it into a day-long affair thanks to his incompetence and this insufferable heat. Now, he did survive the morning’s Mosquito Mowdown, when 15,000 blood-sucking skeeters descended on him, tapped his jugular and drew 12 pints. He turned white as a ghost and started hallucinating, but after nearly cutting off a finger in the power saw, he regained his composure and pushed on. It was a sight to see, and boy did we hear some salty language!”

“I tell you, Jay, I was really worried when he decided to dig around in that stack of paint cans. He has 42,000 rusting cans stacked 18 feet high in that shed, and he went rummaging in the middle of it to find a gallon of yellow for his wife. When that thing wobbled and came down on his head, I thought he was a goner for sure! But he has shaken it off and come back strong.”

“And good thing, too, Bob, because next up is the Weed-and-Wilt. This is a must-see event! Competitors notice weeds in their front yards and impulsively decide to pull them up right then and there, all under the hottest heat of the day! We put a pan of bacon out to check the temperature and the whole thing caught fire and melted. It’s going to take all of his strength to pull this one off.”

“Jay, he’s stumbling a bit and holding an insightful conversation with thin air, but he’s got a good anger face going and seems totally focused for someone whose body is likely to go into heat-induced cardiac arrest. So, I think his odds are about 50-50.”

“We’ll find out right after this commercial break …”

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Lessons from walking into a pole while looking at a phone

I walked into a pole.

A pole!

A big, giant, sticking-straight-up-out-of-the-ground pole. In the sidewalk. Screaming, “hey stupid! Don’t walk into me!”

I walked into it. While looking at my phone.

It kind of hurt. I bumped my knee. My arm hit it so hard that my phone spun out of my hand like a boomerang and into the street.

My wife was walking along next me: “Oh my gosh!” she said. “Are you OK?” I think she thought I had been shot. Until she noticed … “Wait a minute … did you just walk into that pole?!?”

I walked into “that” pole. Yes. Yes, I did.

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The worker’s summer survival guide

It’s a painful, soul-destroying moment: The morning you wake up and realize your vacations are done, the Fourth of July Weekend is past and all summer holds for you is heat and kids who sleep-in until 2 p.m. because they don’t have school or jobs or any care in the world.

It’s the summer doldrums. When the working stiffs exhaust their vacation time and go back to the office to stare down the year ahead. Harumph!

But don’t despair, fellow weary workers, as there are easy ways you can hold on to that summertime vibe and feel just like you’re still on vacation. Here are a few tips that work for me:

• Grow an uneven, slightly haggard beard. It should look like a beaver pelt that Lewis and Clark brought back from their expedition. Nothing screams vacation more than lax hygiene standards and a who-gives-a-darn mound of facial hair. Throw in a twig or a coffee stirrer for added authenticity. When your co-workers start asking if you’ve developed a drinking problem and discuss an intervention, then you know you’ve got it just right!

• Read books by really intellectual, high-brow authors, and then take up writing bad poetry that you believe will usher in some kind of new literary renaissance. (Co-workers will believe it is just another sign of your drinking problem.)

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Miss Independent and the business meetings

“I’ll meet you in the parking lot after my job,” she said.

“Your what? The where?” I asked.

“The parking lot!” she said. “I will meet you in the parking lot. Don’t come in. Don’t stand by the street waiting for me. In fact, just have the car ready and put it in drive. I’ll meet you in the parking lot at 12:15 … unless, of course, I have a business meeting. Then I might be a little late. So, I’ll text you.”

A business meeting?!? Text me?!? What the heck is going on here?

It was Memorial Presbyterian’s Vacation Bible School. My daughter is 11 years old. She was “working” as a volunteer there. Assisting with science experiments. Walking little kids to the bathroom if they had to go. Handing out cookies.

There were no power lunches and meetings in the boardroom. No water cooler banter and secretaries reaching out to schedule strategy sessions with VPs.

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The California mountain emergency chicken call

This was the phone call I received. It was from my mother. I was in the mountains of California, and it was early morning. I answered it, worried something might be wrong. I was right. Something was wrong … I answered the phone. This is the call I received.

Mom: Brian!

Me: Yes, mom. What’s wrong?

Mom: I hate to bother you on your vacation, but this is really, really important (long pause) … There is a chick in the backyard!

Me: Hold on, say that again?!? It sounded a lot like you just said, “there is a chick in the backyard.”

Mom: What?

Me: A chick in the backyard!

Mom: That’s what I just said … how did you know?

Me: I didn’t know. That’s what you just said.

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Mysteries of the summer vacation

Somebody explain to me how you can pack enough clothes for a 10-day trip to the mountains of California, yet only wear the equivalent of three days worth. Layers upon layers of unworn jeans, shirts and shorts sat stacked up inside my suitcase. There were enough socks to open up my own store. Why did I bring all those clothes? With so many options, why didn’t a single thing match?

And, most perplexingly, did they multiply? Because as I tried to re-pack everything into my suitcase for the journey home, nothing fit anymore. Same number of clothes, yet the stack was twice as tall. I had to wear four layers of clothing on the flight, and bind the bulging suitcase shut with heavy cable and duct tape.

Oh, the mysteries of traveling.

My family and I ventured out to Yosemite, Kings Canyon and finally Los Angeles. We rode horses down mountain trails and across rushing creeks. We stared wide-eyed at waterfalls, all super-charged this year by the heavy winter snowfall. We marveled at 1,800-year-old sequoias that were wide as a house and tall as skyscrapers. And we wandered star-struck through a backstage tour of the Paramount Studios lot in Hollywood.

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